Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Double Giallo

Friday night at the Egyptian you could see the giant tent being erected in front of the Kodak Theater for the Oscars several blocks down. The American Cinematheque was showing GONE WITH THE WIND in the main theater, a fairly ideal choice to be screened the weekend of the event and it looked like swarms of people were heading in there. Naturally, I was going into the much smaller Spielberg Theater to attend the maiden night of their new Cult Cinema Club for which two films, titles unknown going in, would be screened on DVD via digital projection. Both unavailable otherwise and, safe to say, relatively unknown in this country.

I could try to write out a synopsis of DEATH LAID AN EGG but it would be a lost cause. Directed by Giulio Questi, it defies true description and pretty much defies valid criticism. In some ways it resembles what Godard may have done with the Giallo form if he’d made the attempt in 1968. The plot, best as I can make out, involves a love triangle between a husband (Jean-Louis Trintigant), wife (Gina Lollobrigida) and the husband’s mistress (Ewa Aulin) at a recently automated chicken farm which the wife inherited. Double crosses, prostitutes and murder come into play but so does, more surprisingly, a plotline involving mutated chickens born without wings or feet. DEATH LAID AN EGG honestly feels like a mutated chicken itself through not only its fractured method of storytelling, but the nature of how some of the shocking plot developments are presented in the most casual way possible, leading one to think, “Um, something did just happen, didn’t it? Is the movie aware of it? Am I being hypnotized? What the hell just happened now?” Adding to its use of flash-frames and a music score so harshly discordant that atonal doesn’t begin to describe the nervous vibe it gives off. The fascinating nature of certain giallos from this point in time sometimes give the feeling of a film aimed at the art house (mainly an Antonioni influence) criss-crossing into a mad killer storyline and an extremely odd, sleazy one at that. DEATH LAID AN EGG feels like it’s willingly ripping itself apart while straddling that line and flinging itself off in both, and perhaps other, directions. Sometimes you’re forced to deal with how a film may not in fact be “good” but you have to admit that it has the pull of a mad, delirious dream that you’re not entirely certain if you actually want to remember. It has headless chickens, disturbing flash frames and a considerable amount of nudity. It’s that kind of movie.

After the insanity of the first film, almost anything would have been a retreat back towards normalcy and Maurizio Predeaux's DEATH CARRIES A CANE filled that bill, serving as a more traditional giallo, if traditional is in fact the right word. While photographing her visiting aunt and uncle a woman (Susan Scott) witnesses a girl being stabbed to death by a black-clad maniac. The only thing she can be sure about the killer is that he limps, using a cane. She then finds herself pursued herself, suspecting various people around here and…that’s about it for plot points that could be easily clarified. The film is not without potential and there are some interesting ideas there but even the best scenes feel like they could have been executed with a lot more skill by certain other directors (Maybe Argento thought so as well, since a few things did seem a touch familiar). There are a few effective moments throughout which is good, along with some oddly out-of-place comedy, which is not so good. There’s also a fair amount of nudity, which is to be expected. More mediocre than outright bad, the film manages to feel both overly familiar and more confusing than seems to be necessary.

Since I’ve never seen these films before, it’s tough to tell just how much my response to them is affected by the way I saw them. As it is, the overall strangeness of the two DEATHs, even considering what is expected from the giallo, makes me feel like I viewed them while either half-asleep or drunk and I promise you I was neither. Oddly, that’s how I often find myself viewing these things at home (god bless that two-buck Chuck). For now, I’m a little flummoxed. And yet, I’m absolutely glad I saw them. In that fantasy world where the Cinematheque shows a 35mm print of DEATH LAID AN EGG, I’ll definitely be showing up for that screening.

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