People usually have certain expectations when they invest the time to watch a movie, especially if it has been advertised as a genre film like a western, sci-fi or horror thriller. This must have been a perplexing problem for the distributors of Arcana (1972), Guilio Questi’s mysterious tale of a widow and her brooding son who use fortune telling, tarot cards and seances to con a gullible clientele. The film dabbles in the supernatural but it also flirts with other topics like voyeurism, incest, Macedonian rituals, neglected children, middle class despair and inept bureaucracies. Some critics have pigeonholed Arcana as a horror film and it is certainly horrific in tone and attitude but don’t expect the movie to conform to genre conventions. The director even issues a disclaimer at the beginning: “To the watchers: This movie is not a story but a game of cards. For this reason both its start and the epilogue are not believable. You are the players. Play smartly and you’ll win.” Make of that what you will, I think Arcana works best as a puzzle, even if it is an often inscrutable and unsolvable one that is presented in two acts. Continue reading
If U.S. moviegoers are familiar with the name Tinto Brass at all, it is probably due to the infamous 1979 epic Caligula which featured world renowned actors (Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud, Malcolm McDowell, etc.) and hardcore sex scenes (which were later added by producer/Penthouse tycoon Bob Guccione against the wishes of Brass who disowned the film). Brass had already established himself as a master of art house erotica/perversity with 1976’s Salon Kitty about a brothel in WWII Berlin where the prostitutes were undercover spies. But after Caligula, Brass seemed much happier directing more modestly budgeted, softcore adaptations of literary works like The Key (1983, based on the novel by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki) and Paprika (1991, inspired by the novel Fanny Hill), which showcased his increasing obsession with shapely female bottoms.
In retrospect, his early career is a contemplation of the paths not taken: documentary (Ca ira, il fiume della rivolta aka Thermidor, 1964), avant-garde cinema (L’urlo aka The Howl, 1970) and eccentric genre offerings such as Col cuore in gola aka Deadly Sweet, 1967). Of the latter, Yankee (1966), the only spaghetti western ever directed by Brass, is definitely worth a look. Continue reading