Friday, January 18, 2008

A 21st Century CAMILLE 2000

Danièle Gaubert as the tragic heroine of CAMILLE 2000.
I first saw Radley Metzger's CAMILLE 2000 (1969), his erotic haute couture retelling of Alexandre Dumas' "La Dame aux Cammelias", in the late 1990s when First Run Features brought it to VHS. Since I reviewed the film in VIDEO WATCHDOG #48, it has become a personal favorite, its appeal rooted not only in the remarkably touching (and, sadly, prescient) performance of Danièle Gaubert -- who succumbed to cancer in 1987 at the age of 44 -- but in the hauntingly lyrical and spacious beat score by Piero Piccioni, surely one of the most visionary Eurocult soundtracks ever. As much as I've embraced this film in the years since, I have deliberately watched it sparingly because the First Run Features transfer looks so stale; I hoped that someday there would be a DVD release that would put some gloss back into it. So, last week, when I read on the Mobius Home Video Forum about a new German release (from E-M-S) called KAMELIENDAME 2000, with an English audio option, I pounced on it.

Marguerite (Gaubert) warns Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) not to fall in love with her.

The disc is not perfect, but it is anamorphic (a great leap forward in itself); it doesn't have the digital sharpness of an internegative transfer, but for a 35mm-sourced transfer, its film-like qualities are quite acceptable.

The lovers admire themselves in the 360° mirror surrounding Marguerite's circular bed.

Seeing the film again for the first time in a year or two, in this enriched presentation, I was more deeply impressed by Metzger's ability to combine the arch artificial look of Italian pop cinema of this period and a dimension of genuine tragedy. He uses the décor -- color cubes, clear inflatable sofas, mirrored walls -- in a Fitzgeraldian sense, much as Fitzgerald used the flapper era to reflect a hellbound emptiness at the core of the youth culture of his day, and he explores it to a more satisfying and moving degree than any filmed adaptation of Fitzgerald (or Dumas' original story, including George Cukor's CAMILLE) has achieved to date.

Armand goes to Marguerite's friend Prudence (Eleanora Rossi-Drago) for advice in a scene found only in the German version.

The E-M-S disc features the German version of the picture, which features some unexpected variations. If one selects the English viewing option, the film is preceded by a card in German (not too helpful for some of us!) that reads, in translation, "Dear Film-friend: We apologize for the fact that some scenes in this English language version are worded in German. These scenes were cut from the English edition." The presentation includes four instances where German dialogue has been inserted into the English version, most of them less than 10-15 seconds in length. The exception is a 1m 30s scene that occurs between 63:33-65:04, in which Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) visits Prudence (Eleanora Rossi-Drago) in her dress shop to discuss his problems with Marguerite (Gaubert). Most startling of all is the discovery that the German version has a different, less satisfying ending. The US ending is included as a supplementary item, evidently ported from the FRF DVD.

It's incredible to me that Roger Ebert, of all people, could have detested this movie, especially in the same year that he wrote BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS; if your jaw hasn't dropped in awhile, you should read his hideously condescending dismissal of it. As for me, I'm not certain whether CAMILLE 2000 is Metzger's best film -- THE LICKERISH QUARTET, which I haven't seen in many years, enjoys that reputation -- but I feel confident in saying that it's a masterpiece of its kind, an erotic film invested with taste, sophistication, and real emotion.

To the best of my knowledge, the E-M-S disc is presently available to US customers only from Amazon.de. I ordered the disc and had it in my hands inside a week, so I can recommend Amazon.de as a source absolutely. [Update 1/27/08: It is also now available from Xploited Cinema.] A more complete review will appear in a future issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Notes on THE MOTHER OF TEARS

I was able to see Dario Argento's THE MOTHER OF TEARS yesterday and came away with the usual mixed feelings. As I expected, it's not in the same league with SUSPIRIA (1977) or INFERNO (1980) -- its dazzling precursors in the "Three Mothers" trilogy; its visual look is so subdued that it doesn't seem a close relative at all. The new title is better than the Italian one ("The Third Mother") but so bad, it makes me wish Argento would retitle the other two THE MOTHER OF SIGHS and THE MOTHER OF DARKNESS in retrospect, which, were it his franchise, George Lucas would have done before this film even went into production.

Argento has opted to work with a youngish cinematographer (Frederic Fasano, SCARLET DIVA) and production design team (Francesca Bocca, Valentina Ferroni) rather than with the likes of Luciano Tovoli and Giuseppe Bassan, whose visionary skills imbued the earlier films with their all-important sense that "magic is all around us." But the return to alchemical themes alone gives the film an edge that Argento's work hasn't had in decades. In terms of the classic horror setpieces that floated the first two, the third one doesn't really have anything comparable to offer; the terrific stills which have circulated online capture the most arresting imagery for about as long as it appears onscreen. When he allows the horror to linger, it begins to look silly. There's an Asian witch in this movie who is all punked out and supposed to be frightening, but she just looks like a fan emulating an old Nina Hagen album cover.

I'm mostly disappointed that Argento's staging of horror sequences has lost its former sense of beauty so entirely. It has been gone for a long time, and it was only present in parts of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME because Giuseppe Rotunno put it there. The murder scenes included here, especially one involving vaginal impalement, are so ugly and disgustingly misogynistic that they are difficult to watch, and impossible to enjoy from any standpoint of aesthetic pleasure, which is the very hallmark of the first two films in this trilogy. If you recall the slow passages involving Varelli in INFERNO, this whole film is like that, more or less, with a haggard-looking Asia Argento in the foreground, doing a lot of stupid things -- like escaping from a friend's apartment when Satanists break in, then making a call back to the apartment (which she's just visited for the first time!), waking up her friend to tell her to clear out, unaware that the stopped ringing of the telephone will alert the Satanists to her presence and seal her doom. Daria Nicolodi, fairly unrecognizable (Asia weeps when looking at photos of her younger self), is in the movie but only as a Tinker Bell special effect with dialogue like "Run!" and "Go now!"

Speaking of dialogue, we are treated to some more of that lovably loopy Argento dialogue, as in this scene where Asia goes for help to Guglielmo De Witt (Philippe Leroy), "a renowned Belgian thinker." She is greeted (actually barred) at the door by his wary young assistant.

Asia: Would it be possible to see Guglielmo De Witt?
Assistant: He's very busy. Who should I tell him is calling?
Asia: He wouldn't recognize my name.
Assistant: Oh well, come on in.

Jace Anderson and Adam Gierash, the American screenwriters writers of the Nu Image flicks SPIDERS, CROCODILE and RATS, got a lot of PR for writing this movie, and maybe they're the principal reasons why it feels more like an OMEN or EXORCIST sequel than what it really is, but there is no mistaking the auttore of that dialogue.

Moran Atias is an uninspiring Mater Lacrimarum, last in this chain of all-too-mortal immortals, this time with fake boobs, but given the chemical similarity of tears and saline, this may make more sense than I am willing to concede. (Thanks to Richard Harland Smith for that observation.) Her big line is "Who wants to eat the girl?" -- and the "girl" is forty if she's a day. A tight budget hampers what was clearly intended to depict a fullscale breakdown of morality andd society in the streets of Rome, which is conveyed in little two-or-three-person vignettes of beatings which reminded me of the Ludovico Treatment films in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. For all that, the only misstep that actually made me howl in pain is that the man behind the wheel during the obligatory taxi ride scene was not Fulvio Mingozzi. It would have meant so much to have him there.

But mixed feelings means that some of the movie is good, too. Viewers who are well versed in Italian genre film history -- surely all Video WatchBlog readers -- will be hugely entertained by the way Argento weaves familiar imagery from other filmographies into his wicked tapestry. There are a pair of lovers bound together in barbed wire, as in Mario Bava's ERIK THE CONQUEROR, tormented people in shackles as in NIGHTMARE CASTLE, and people getting disembowelled à la Lucio Fulci. Best of all, Mater Lachrimarum is given a domicile that is the logical but wonderfully unexpected successor to the Tanz Akademie of SUSPIRIA and the Riverside Drive apartment building in INFERNO: she lives in Rome in "Villa Graps" from Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL! The unexpected introduction of this beloved location, in my mind the ground zero of Italian horror geography, made me want to stand and applaud (even though this villa has been around for centuries, so Varelli couldn't possibly have built it) . There is some interesting reconjuring of the Italian gothic golden age to be found in Lamberto Bava's recent THE TORTURER too, but Argento really nails it and proves that it could all live again if enough people cared. In fact, the only Maestro that Argento doesn't quite nail is his man in the mirror.

Dario Argento has announced that his next movie -- starring Ray Liotta, Vincent Gallo, and you guessed it, Asia Argento -- is going to be called GIALLO. That's right: an American production with a one-word Italian title, a word known to very few Americans, which till recently still rated an explanatory footnote in most reviews aimed at the genre's cognoscenti. It strikes me as funny but also a little tragic, and makes me wonder if Sergio Leone, had he lived, would be announcing a new movie called SPAGHETTI WESTERN. But if a "reboot" is what it takes for Argento to bring back the magic, more power to him.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In Work Mode

Donna tells me that VW associate editor John Charles dropped her a line yesterday. He said that he assumed, because I hadn't blogged since Saturday, that I was deep in my editorial duties. Indeed I am.

Sorry for the silence. I had intended to blog about Kent Jones' very fine documentary VAL LEWTON: THE MAN IN THE SHADOWS on Monday, but the day got away from me. I have more writing yet to do for the next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, as well as editing everyone else's work, and this is going to be a major, major issue. We're not ready to announce the subject of our feature article/interview, but I can tell you this much -- VW #137 will be the second issue in our history (the first since #112's Donnie Dunagan interview by Tom Weaver) to be released in standard format as well as a limited Signature Edition. Stay tuned for more details.

This is also one of those home improvement weeks, plus our TV is dying and needs to be replaced. (Please, no advice/recommendations -- we know what we want and we're already on the case, not that this makes it any easier.)

It's doubtful I'll have more to post here until next week, but you never know. In the meantime, I have added to the Bava book blog in the past few days...