Milanese Malaise

The Italian film poster for DISORDER (1962).

Any art house patron in the early sixties must have thought modern society was headed toward a complete collapse as witnessed by the emptiness of life and the bored, amoral behavior of characters in films like Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960). That film was mostly a portrait of wealthy, jaded Romans and ambitious social climbers that was probably the most famous in a wave of films that viewed Italian society as a lost and alienated culture. Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962) offered similar views of a world where modern progress and technology had a dehumanizing effect on relationships while Antonio Pietrangeli’s I Knew Her Well (Italian title, Lo la conoscevo bene, 1965) focused on a naïve working class woman who seeks an acting career in Rome but finds herself exploited and eventually discarded by the people that profession attracts. Less well known, Franco Brusati’s Il Disordine (Disorder, 1962) differs from the above films in that it depicts both upper class and economically strapped folks in Milan who share the same sense of disillusionment and despair over their lot in life. Also, it is almost epic in scale and more tragic and heartfelt than the aforementioned titles. 

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Master of Illusions

Director Federico Fellini on the set of Satyricon (1969); Photo by Mary Ellen Mark.

“Fellini’s work is like a treasure chest. You open it up and there, right in front of your eyes, a world of wonders springs up – ancient wonders, new ones, provincial wonders and universal ones, real wonders and fantastic ones.” – Martin Scorsese

The Oscar nominated director of Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) is just one of the usual suspects (along with Woody Allen and Paul Mazursky) rounded up to pay homage to the great Italian director in The Magic of Fellini (2002), a 56-minute documentary written and directed by Carmen Piccini.

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Too Chicken to Watch This Giallo?

Anna (Gina Lollobrigida, left) and her assistant Gabrielle (Ewa Aulin) pose for publicity photos regarding Anna’s successful poultry business in DEATH LAID AN EGG aka Plucked! (1968).

Maybe giallo is too specific a film genre for this movie because it is in a class of its own and works as a violent crime thriller but also as an erotic melodrama, black comedy and a satire on scientific experimentation and marketing. If you tried to describe the movie to friends they’d probably swear you dreamed it or are running a high fever but no, this bizarre, fascinating and once obscure giallo actually exists in various titled versions. The original Italian release title was La Morte Ha Fatto L’uovo (1968), but it has been distributed under such monikers as Plucked!, A Curious Way to Love and Death Laid an Egg, which is the more common title. So what’s with the chickens? The film is set, for the most part, in a poultry factory where a new breed of chicken is being produced in an experimental lab. The opening credits, featuring science classroom footage of egg fertilization, embryos and microscopic life forms prepare you for this strange new world.  

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The Reluctant Libertine

Hollywood’s penchant for remakes is not a new development but a strategy that has served some of our most acclaimed directors in often surprising and unique reworkings of the original source material. Take, for instance, Billy Wilder’s 1964 sex comedy, Kiss Me, Stupid. It was actually adapted from Anna Bonacci’s 1944 play, L’ora della fantasia [The Dazzling Hour], which, in turn, became the 19th century costume farce Wife for a Night (1952, aka Moglie per una notte), directed by Mario Camerini, a popular Italian film director who is best known for a number of 1930s hit comedies starring Vittorio de Sica and a 1954 version of the Greek myth Ulysses with Kirk Douglas. 

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Ernesto Gastaldi’s Seminal Giallo

With a tumultuous background of waves crashing against a rocky coast, a descriptive statement from Sigmund Freud on the meaning of libido scrolls down the screen. Part of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s quotation defines libido as “the energy, regarded as a quantitative magnitude… of those instincts which have to do with all that may be comprised under the word ‘love.’” But the film that follows is not about love but rather the perversion of it starting with an opening sequence in which a child witnesses the aftermath of his father’s violent S&M session with a female companion, an incident that scars him for life.     Continue reading