Sunday, April 29, 2007
The Glory of the Beauty of Barbara Bouchet
The high point of the New Beverly's Grindhouse Festival: the in-person appearance by Barbara Bouchet. Best known in this country for her roles as Moneypenny in CASINO ROYALE 1967 and in the Star Trek episode "By Any Other Name" (the one where aliens take over the Enterprise and turn most of the crew into giant cubes) her latter-day Tarantino-sanctioned fame comes due to her work in mostly Italian films of the seventies including AMUCK, DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, THE BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA, FRENCH SEX MURDERS and various others including the two that were showing, DEATH RAGE and CRY OF A PROSTITUTE. She's lived in Italy since the early seventies, but Tarantino flew her in just for the occasion.
Friday night didn't start on time due to Tarantino's late arrival. At a certain point I went out to the lobby where several people were milling about, including Bouchet herself. Before I could say anything, an older man appeared from inside to greet her, mock-upset that they hadn't started yet. I recognized him immediately as EMPIRE STRIKES BACK director Irvin Kershner. As he complained that he couldn't find any legal street parking, I piped in to let him know where he could park just around the corner. After I told him, someone pulled him away to go to his car and I just stood there thinking, "Wait a minute, Boba Fett, Lando, Hoth..." Tarantino finally showed up several minutes later, explaining that he he been cutting the "long version" of DEATH PROOF, and the show got under way.
Though they introduced DEATH RAGE together, the real highlight of the evening came in between the films when he brought her up front for a Q&A (or a Q&B, as he called it). Sure, Tarantino gets a lot of knocks for his somewhat over-caffinated public persona but this night really showed him at his best. Gracious with Barbara Bouchet, respectful of her and clealy enamoured of her, he discussed her career and asked questions about some of her films. She discussed how she didn't get along with DEATH RAGE co-star Yul Brenner, that she remembered absolutely nothing about CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, called making CASINO ROYALE a "nightmare" but spoke glowingly about David Niven. Making DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING got her arrested when it presented her apparently playing a nude scene with a child. She also said she prefers the slaps to be real when the scene calls her to get slapped. For what it's worth, she's gotten slapped in a lot of films.
Tarantino spoke frankly about various nude and lesbian scenes she had played while she sat there taking it all in with good humor. Seriously, she's played a lot of these through her career. BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA plays its opening credits over a nude Bouchet getting a massage. It's the best credit sequence in history. It's better than SUPERMAN. AMUCK features Bouchet in a full-on love scene with Rosalba Neri. When Tarantino first said the title one person in the audience applauded. Um, I think that was me. Bluntly put, she was wonderful to listen to and is probably more beautiful than any woman of that age that I have ever seen.
Maybe Tarantino said it best when he talked about how when you live in L.A. you get used to seeing celebrities of various stripes--just yesterday I saw Stephen Root (Jimmy James on "Newsradio") at The Grove. But somebody like Barbara Bouchet, who you really only see in twisted seventies thrillers that feel like they came down from another planet, you never think you're going to see her. And when you do, like on Friday night, it just hits home why you sometimes get obsessed with these silly things. Why these movies stick with you.
The first film, DEATH RAGE, was actually pretty good. Sold as a DEATH WISH knock off, Yul Brenner plays a former hit man who gets pulled back into the game when he goes to Naples to seek out his brother's killer. Bouchet plays a nightclub performer (maybe that should read "stripper") who he falls for. Martin Balsam and some bottles of J&B whiskey also appear. The second film, CRY OF A PROSTITUTE, is most notable in how the title has next to nothing to do with the film. Yes, Bouchet plays a character who is referred to as an ex-prostitute and I guess she cries a couple of times, but the film is really a YOJIMBO/FISTFUL OF DOLLARS knockoff with Italian mobsters and Henry Silva in the lead role. Bouchet is a mobster's wife who drunkedly throws herself at Silva and lives to regret it. This one was somewhat duller, but after the high of the Q&A, very little could live up to that.
I couldn't help it, but during intermission I went up to her and told her what a fan I was, how great it was to see her here. I'm sure I babbled a bit, but she was very gracious. I didn't have much of substance to say to her, but I had to do it. If there's anything that Barbara Bouchet represents, it's the fantasy of the high-gloss Cinecitta thriller coming to life and for a few seconds I was able to look at that fantasy as a strange sort of reality.