‘Dellamorte Dellamore’ – DVD Review

Francesco Dellamorte has an unusual problem in the cemetery he watches over in the small town of Buffalora; the dead have a tendency to rise again within seven days of their original demise. Dellamorte has no interest in finding out why they are coming back. Indeed, he is baffled by why anybody would want to come back. Dellamorte is a misfit. Nobody really listens to him. The little old lady who visits the cemetery every day calls him Engineer, even though as he keeps explaining he is not one. The mayor is politely inattentive, praising Dellamorte’s work, while paying no attention to what he has to say. A group of young locals mock him for his rumoured impotence, although Dellamorte later admits he started those rumours so people would leave him alone. He has only two friends, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) his assistant, who can only communicate by grunting, and Franco (Anton Alexander), a clerk at the post office in the village.
Reclusive, while also longing to escape from Buffalora, Dellamorte’s closed-in world is thrown into crisis when he is drawn towards a beautiful young widow (Anna Falchi). She has no interest in Dellamorte until he shows her the Cemetery’s Ossuary and it arouses her. Unfortunately their tryst is interrupted by her dead husband, whose bite seemingly causes her death. Yet Falchi returns to in various guises later on in the film as Dellamorte becomes increasingly disturbed. 
Unusually for a horror-comedy with gore and sick humour, Dellamorte Dellamore takes loss and grieving quite seriously. Sure, there’s exploding heads and killer dialogue and Rupert Everett bludgeoning a zombie-nun’s head in with a blunt object, but there is a mournful aspect to the film. Everybody has lost or loses someone. Dellamorte Dellamore operates on the same level as a fairytale, or a dream, in which strange happenings are possible, but they have a deeper psychological meaning that is open to interpretation. Death appears to Dellamorte, taking form out of burning rubbish on a bonfire and asks Dellamorte to leave the dead alone. Given that the ‘Dylan Dog’ comic books take place in a world where reality and the supernatural exist side-by-side it is entirely feasible that Death does visit Dellamorte. Maybe however Dellamorte is just losing his mind. 
.Michele Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here. A gifted comedy actor Everett makes the most of the dialogue and has a sadness to him which renders the absurdist elements of the film more believable. It is a great performance, one of the best you’ll see in a horror film and it’s a shame the film has never found a wider audience though maybe this will change with this new DVD release. Sadly even Everett undersells it, the only mention of Dellamorte Dellamore in his autobiography ‘Red Carpets and other Banana Skins,’ is a small photograph.
Watch the English language track rather than the Italian version. Genre films in Italy have traditionally used American or British stars to attract funding and shoot scenes in English. Everett’s deadpan delivery is preferable to hearing him being dubbed into Italian.The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray later this month and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore
Special Features
Part of the fun of Shameless releases is going through the trailers for there other releases. Highlights include Who Saw Her Die? (1972, Umberto Lenzi), a giallo starring former 007 George Lazenby, the haunting reworking of Patricia Highsmith’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ The Designated Victim (1971, Maurizio Lucidi) with Tomas Milian, and Dario Argento’s underrated Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971). 
There’s also an Italian trailer which emphasises the Dylan Dog connection and a photo gallery. The commentary with Soavi and screenwriter Gianni Romoli is interesting and gives an insight into their approach to the material. Soavi says the film is about a man who can’t face reality, who refuses to grow up, who “doesn’t want to leave his garden, his enchanted world.” Film journalist and author Alan Jones has also provided writing on the film’s production and photographs for an accompanying booklet. 

‘Sleeping Beauty’ – DVD Review

“Such a sleep works wonders.”

By turns haunting, baffling, risible, voyeuristic, perverse, tender, and funny, novelist Julia Leigh’s directorial debut is a strange one. It may take its title from a fairytale but this Sleeping Beauty owes more to Walerian Borowczyk than the Brothers Grimm. The film may well be a critique of modern young women and their willingness to submit to the desires of men; or a parody of the service industry taking the absurdities inherent in fine dining and raising them to a whole new level.  It may even be a dream for at one point sleeping beauty closes her eyes and the screen goes black. 
                                   
Lucy (Emily Browning) is a pretty student who pays for her studies in a variety of ways.  She submits to medical experimentation, works as a waitress in a café, photocopies documents as an office drone, and occasionally prostitutes herself in nightclubs to guys who can’t believe their luck.  Despite earning money she never pays the rent in her shared accommodation.  Lucy is ambivalent, just drifting along, sleepwalking through life.  There is a tender friendship with a withdrawn literary type (Ewan Leslie) who appears to be drinking himself to death but no other emotional bonds.
She answers a personal ad for a waitress with silver service experience placed by Clara (Rachael Blake), a fixer for wealthy clients and arranger of unusual requests. Lucy’s uniform is pink lingerie. She starts serving at weird dinner parties for older men, and one noticeably masculine looking female, at which the guests eat ludicrously prepared dishes overseen by a maître d who looks like a topless version of an extra from a Robert Palmer video. Clara persuades Lucy to become her sleeping beauty, to lie drugged in a bed for melancholy old men to peruse at their leisure though she remains unaware of what is happening to her. 
There is a disturbing sequence when one of these men becomes aggressive, burning her with a cigar, yet even though she is sleeping she seems the stronger of the two.  He is impotent, ugly, and unlovable.  Aware of it too no doubt and perhaps this fuels his rage. Yet Julia Leigh is by no means unsympathetic to the vagaries of age.  One man delivers a startling monologue about his weariness with life.  What makes this moment more immediate is Leigh’s decision to cut from a reverse shot by having the actor directly face the camera as he begins to speak.  Though in terms of the narrative he is talking to Clara, Leigh breaks the Fourth Wall bringing the viewer into the story, another voyeur here to observe but never touch the heroine.
Sleeping Beauty is made up of static takes, the camera rarely moving, just watching and observing.  The acting is non-realistic and underplayed and the ethereal Emily Browning is outstanding.  The effect is unsettling and often this deadpan approach is quite funny. Though it may be inscrutable Sleeping Beauty is all the better for this ambiguity. Leigh has already written the screenplay for another movie, The Hunter (2011, Daniel Nettheim) based on her own novel, but it will be interesting to see what she chooses to direct next.


Extras


Cast & Crew Interviews are fairly short but in Leigh’s case revealing as she discusses her approach to the film and how she wants the audience to be a “tender witness.” Apart from that there are only trailers; one for Sleeping Beauty, the disturbing serial killer movie Snowtown (2011, Justin Kurzel), and a TV mini-series called The Slap starring Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades.

The Black Pirate (1926, Albert Parker) – Screening Programme Notes


In this classic swashbuckler a young sailor (Douglas Fairbanks) is the only survivor of an attack by pirates. Seeking revenge for the death of his father the sailor joins the pirate band responsible and tries to destroy them from within. Proving his worth by single-handedly capturing a ship in a daring feat of bravado the sailor eventually becomes known as the Black Pirate. Matters are complicated however when the pirates capture a beautiful princess (Billie Dove) and the Black Pirate must put himself at risk to keep her safe from harm.

Jane Gardner – Pianist

Jane has accompanied screenings of silent movies in London at the Barbican Centre and the National Film Theatre. This is her second appearance at The Station after accompanying a screening of The General (1926, Buster Keaton) in January.

Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939)

There’s a great story about Douglas Fairbanks which emphasises the playfulness and remarkable agility of this legendary Hollywood star. While filming Robin Hood (1922, Allan Dwan) the producers forbade Fairbanks from performing an elaborate stunt. The sequence involved Robin riding towards a castle, then holding on to the drawbridge as it is raised, jumping on to a chain and climbing 50 feet up the front of the set. A stuntman was hired and seemingly performed the stunt with aplomb. Until it dawned on the production crew the stunt man was standing next to them watching the show. The figure waving to them from above was the real Doug Fairbanks.

Physically graceful with a gift for comedy Fairbanks quickly became a popular star in Hollywood. An early highlight is the short comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne, John Emerson) a Sherlock Holmes spoof with Fairbanks as a detective who uses cocaine for inspiration and solves a crime involving an inflatable beach toy.

In 1919 Fairbanks, his lover Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffiths, and Charlie Chaplin formed the studio United Artists to give themselves more artistic independence. Fairbanks took a huge risk by producing the swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1921, Fred Niblo). Nobody had tried anything like this before. In case it failed Fairbanks made a backup film, an ingenious slapstick comedy called The Nut (Theodore Reed 21) about an eccentric inventor.

Zorro was a huge success and turned Fairbanks into the most bankable star around. Fairbanks continued in this vein playing D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (21) with Niblo again directing. There quickly followed Robin Hood (22, Dwan), The Thief of Baghdad (24, Raoul Walsh), Don Q: Son of Zorro (25, Donald Crisp), The Black Pirate, and D’Artagnan again in The Iron Mask (29, Dwan).

Aware of cinema’s growing cultural importance. Fairbanks helped create the USCLA’S film programme. An innovator onscreen and off he was one of the first to experiment with sound though the technology wasn’t quite ready for The Iron Mask.  Fairbanks first Talkie saw him delivering iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (30, Sam Taylor). His career eventually tailed off and after his marriage to Pickford broke up Fairbanks moved to England. There was one last hurrah in The Private Life of Don Juan (34, Alexander Korda) with Fairbanks as the great lover realising his swashbuckling days are coming to an end.

Chungking Express (1994, Wong Kar-Wai) – Classic

“At our closest point, we were just .01cm apart. 55 hours later I was in love with this woman.”

Wong-Kar Wai’s Chungking Express proved to be his breakthrough movie internationally. Kar-Wai’s previous film, the elliptical Days of Being Wild (1991) won him acclaim, but was a box-office failure. Chungking Express contains certain genre elements; a femme fatale, a cop, a drug dealer, but Kar-Wai is more concerned with romantic longing.

Filmed in and around the Chungking Mansions, a huge residential building in Hong Kong that also contains bars and fast food joints and serves as a meeting point for the city’s ethnic minorities, Chungking Express tells two stories, both about cops and their love lives. Cop No 223 (Takeshi Kaneshiro) becomes infatuated with a mysterious blonde haired woman (Brigitte Lin) he nearly bumps into when chasing a criminal. Cop No 663 (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) begins a flirtation with an eccentric fast food worker (Faye Wong).

Wong Kar-Wai made Chungking Express while taking time out from his martial arts epic Ashes of Time (1994), a troubled production which went over budget. Chungking Express is the antithesis of the expensive and elaborate Ashes of Time. Together with his cinematographer Christopher Doyle Kar-Wai shot Chungking Express fast and on location. This seemingly improvised style of filmmaking recalls the French New Wave. Doyle makes extraordinary use of artificial lighting in the cramped interiors of the Chungking Mansions.

Wong Kar-Wai gives a sense of time moving on, with shots of clocks changing throughout the film, and occasionally speeding up the film so passers by move rapidly past his protagonists suggesting they are out of step with everybody else. The first segment sees Cop No 223 ruminating in voiceover about the break-up of his relationship, loneliness, and the possibility of finding love while he is still young. The first story is noticeably shorter than the second, which makes sense given Kar-Wai intended Chungking Express to be a three part movie.Kar-Wai would eventually film this final storyline as the full-length feature Fallen Angels the following year.

As entertaining as the first story is it pales in comparison to the second as Faye (Wong) falls for Cop No 663. Bizarrely, her attraction leads her to break into his flat at every opportunity and to become increasingly hard to get. The boyish figured, wide-eyed Wong is astonishing. It may be that Kar-Wai felt he might as well shelve the third part and concentrate on Wong and her will they/won’t they/what is she doing? jousting with Tony Leung’s bewildered beat cop.

Funny, affecting, and rapturous, Chungking Express is the perfect starting point for those unfamiliar with Wong Kar-Wai’s work. Despite being about urban loneliness and heartbreak the film is directed with a lightness of touch that offsets the melancholy. It aches with the possibility that something magical might just be waiting around the corner.

A Dangerous Method – Review

A Dangerous Method may seem atypically serene for a David Cronenberg film but his restrained approach suits the material. Essentially this adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure and John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method is a series of conversations between four of those involved in the start of the psychiatry movement. Yet all Cronenberg’s thematic concerns are present. They are verbalised rather than shown onscreen which may annoy those who wish Cronenberg would start making ‘body horror’ movies again.  A Dangerous Method is about the things people repress in order to function effectively within society and the emerging approaches to treating them when find they are unable to cope. This contrast between the very formal setting and people’s inner thoughts is more profound precisely because Cronenberg allows them to explain how they feel without recourse to dream sequences or such like.
The film begins in 1904 with Jung successfully treating a young woman named Sabine Spielrein (Keira Knightley) using Sigmund Freud’s ‘talking cure.’ Jung allows her to assist in his experiments and the two eventually become lovers fulfilling her need for sado-masochistic pleasure. A fractious relationship develops over the next decade between Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Freud (Viggo Mortensen) with both men finding disappointment in the other. The first meeting between protege and mentor goes congenially enough but their differences are already apparent. Jung objects to Freud’s inflexibility and his refusal to deviate from his theory about sex being the root cause of human behaviour. Jung wants to improve people not see them as they are. “There are so many mysteries; we have so much further to go.” A wild card entry arrives in the form of rampaging poet Otto Gross (Vincent Cassell) who insists nothing should ever be repressed regardless of the consequences.Spielrein, stunningly played by Knightley in a performance many have derided but I found to be her best work yet, also embarks on a career as a psychiatrist and if nothing else A Dangerous Method should see a reassessment of her contributions to psychoanalytical theory. 
Cronenberg’s movies have always taken a clinical interest in the clash between the body and the self and the possibility of transformation. A Dangerous Method continues in this vein. Oddly enough it recalls not his previous incursion into period drama territory M Butterfly (1993) but his underrated William Burroughs adaptation Naked Lunch (1991) which is also about an emerging group of thinkers, the Beat Generation. Admittedly that film saw people act out their most inner desires, while conversing with giant talking insects, and taking mind-altering substances which transported them into a dream zone. Cronenberg is on subtler form here but this is a fascinating companion piece about the need to understand and articulate the human condition. 

                                      “You can’t live on memories alone.”

I picked Dellamorte Dellamore off the bottom shelf of a video shop in 1995 thinking nothing of it. It had been re-titled Cemetery Man, presumably because the protagonist works in a cemetery. The Spanish title translates as My Girlfriend is a Zombie while the Australians went for the poetic Of Death, Of Love but clearly the US/UK distributors weren’t trying too hard with this one. I thought Dellamorte Dellamore might pass the time. It’s haunted me ever sense. The film has never been available on DVD in the UK before but Shameless Screen Entertainment are releasing it on 27th February.

In this thoughtful, dreamlike horror Everett plays the caretaker of a cemetery whose occupants have a habit of returning from the dead. Michel Soavi has a gift for creating stunning visuals (Terry Gilliam used him on The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and The Brother’s Grimm) and the film’s beauty is complemented by a truly warped sense of humour. Dellamorte Dellamore is based on a novel by Tiziano Sclavi and features a character who appeared briefly in the author’s ‘Dylan Dog’ comics. Dellamorte bears a startling resemblance to Dylan Dog and is essentially an alter-ego for the Nightmare Detective. Sclavi based Dylan Dog’s appearance on the English actor Rupert Everett so the big fella is perfectly cast here and gives the performance of his career. The Americanised version of Dylan Dog (2011, Kevin Munroe) appears on DVD and Blu-ray in March and while it is nowhere near as bad as expected, it is no match for Dellamorte Dellamore