Four strange and unique films, from Sicily to…nowhere.
For our second issue, we have four new films, chosen by David Blot, taken from off the beaten track. Notice to the amateurs: after the republication in June of the BD ” The Song of the Machine ” with a foreword of Daft Punk, the journalist repeats with “Yesterday” today, a BD fiction about The Beatles in the Editions Manolo Sanctis.
Mafioso by Alberto Lattuada (1962)
We are in Sicily for this sharp and funny film, which is remarkably courageous and mocking in its contemporary description of the local mafia. With a script co-written by veterans Age and Scarpelli, alongside a very young Marco Ferreri, Mafioso is a great, truly great film by the largely unknown Alberto Lattuada. Its brilliant star, Alberto Sordi, a master of inertia, camped between Peter Sellers and Jean-Pierre Marielle, plays a white collar Milanese who finds himself back in his native Sicily and who, kind willing fool that he is, winds up agreeing to settle a score for the local mafia. The film takes us from Sicily to New York, starting off as a creaky provincial comedy before turning, driven by its lead character, into a stunning thriller ending. A forgotten classic! Enjoy!
Baby Face by Alfred E. Green (1933)
We’re in New York. Well, not at the beginning. At the beginning, Baby Face (Barbara Stanwyck) is a provincial whore who has worked for her father since the age of 14… Upon reading Nietzsche (yes, really), she decides that as revenge, no man will be able to resist her. Upon arriving in the Big Apple, accompanied as always by her faithful friend Chico (played by Theresa Harris, one of the few black starlets of the time), little by little she climbs her way through the echelons of post-1929 society in a ballet of seduction that begins with the doorman of a bank and ends in the bed of the big boss, played by a very young John Wayne. One by one, her suitors are either disposed of, commit suicide or wind up killing each other… Co-written by star producer Darryl Zanuck himself, this short and staggeringly audacious film precipitated the establishment of the Hollywood censorship code, the infamous Hays Code, which was introduced the following year. “Yeah, I’m a tramp, and who’s to blame ? You, my Father. A swell start you gave me. Ever since I was fourteen, what’s it been? Nothing but men ! Dirty rotten men ! And you’re lower than any of them. I’ll hate you as long as I live !”. In short, Baby Face and Barbara Stanwyck in 1933, is anything but Pretty Woman and Julia Roberts in 1990. Who would have thought?
The Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
We are in Algiers the White. But it is the colour of blood. A very unique film, The Battle of Algiers is one of the most true and original war films. This is no Hollywood reconstruction. The filming took place at the scene of history, just after the real events, and stars actors that had experienced the war first hand such as Yacef Saadi, the influential leader of the FLN, who plays a character based on himself. It was billed as the first production by the Algerian government, yet the technical team was largely Italian. Music by Ennio Morricone (simple, rough, and far from the clichés associated with the maestro). Direction by Gillo Pontecorvo, and above all, and this is the most important point, a script by Franco Solinas. Screenwriter of some of the more political Italian westerns (La Reisa Dei Conti, El Chuncho, Queimada) and the future author of Etat de Siège for Costa Gavras and of Mr Klein for Joseph Losey. Devoid of all romance and any usual conventions of scriptwriting, The Battle of Algiers Algiers is a product of pure action and decisions made on the spot. Despite the involvement of the Algerian state in the production, the film did not turn into a piece of binary propaganda. It tells the story, and boldly so, of a defeat (the Battle of Algiers was lost by the FLN in 1957, before the final victory in 1962). A classic piece of world cinema (Grand Prix in Venice, Oscar-nominated for the script and direction), the film was banned for decades in France. Despite its boundless cinematic qualities, one would be hardpressed to unearth any “positive aspect of colonialism” from it, which was an idea very dear to some at the time.
Incubus by Leslie Stevens (1965)
We are… nowhere really. Incubus is a great American film, twisted and haunting, hallucinatory and poetic, bestial and necrophilic. With a black and white aesthetic that imitates Eisenstein with flair, the film also attempts to evoke a Bergman in its use of symbols: God, the Devil, and women. The whole film is fully interpreted in the Esperanto language – the only instance in the entire history of cinema – and stars, in his debut role, the improbable William Shatner (one year before Star Trek !). A cursed film withdrawn from circulation shortly after its release, following the suicide of two of its main actors, it was found by miracle and chance, thirty years later on a shelf of the Cinémathèque Française. And all of this is completely true. As for the director, Leslie Stevens, he disappeared totally from the cinematographic radar. One imagines he went mad, and is currently living on an island somewhere, speaking Esperanto to himself…