Camille 2000 [1969]

Radley Metzger’s “Camille 2000” (1969) is a stylish erotic romance that unfortunately allows its Pop sensibilities to overwhelm its emotional impact. Based on the novel “La Dame aux camélias” by Alexandre Dumas, fils, the film updates the tragic romance of Margeurite, now a promiscuous and self-indulgent jet-setter, and Armand, son of a successful Italian businessman, placing the characters against the backdrop of a super-psychedelic Rome.

Naive Armand (Nino Castelnuovo) arrives in Rome for the purpose of learning the family business, but is rapidly sidetracked in his romantic pursuit of Margeurite (Daniele Gaubert), a beautiful yet distant woman who is the “kept woman” of an elderly duke and a cruel count. Margeurite lives a lavish life of parties, drugs, and sexual adventure, covering up the fact that she is dying of a wasting illness of the fictional sort that keeps ladies mysterious and wan without ever looking truly ill. Her illness has led her to embrace a cynical “seize the day” manner of living, but Armand’s love for her begins to soften her reluctance to connect with him. The two lovers attempt to run away together, but outside forces intervene, leading to a tragic conclusion.

What’s problematic about the film is that, while it’s chock-full of sex scenes, there is very little chemistry between the two leads. Gaubert is truly lovely and the camera *adores* her, but Castelnuovo spends the vast majority of the film alternating between puppy-love and kicked-puppy. The attractive pair doesn’t really generate heat during their on-screen encounters–Armand adores and Margeurite sulks. This is particularly frustrating, because the entire story hinges on the fact that both characters divorce themselves from their natures (he: businesslike, she: noncommital) due to their overwhelming passion for one another. Perhaps the performances were overwhelmed by the aesthetics of the film. While the mise-en-scene is crafted within an inch of its life, the performances are perhaps a bit weak to counterbalance the extreme look of the movie.

The psychedelic look of the film is pretty amazing throughout, and accounts for the majority of the film’s appeal. Lush settings, outrageous costumes, beautiful people, energetic camera work, and an ultra-hip score are the centerpieces of the film. Conceived as a set of still pictures, the movie dazzles. I’ve provided a gallery of screen captures on Flickr to share some of the amazingly groovy styles of “Camille 2000.” Artificial materials such as plastic and mirrors abound, with prefabricated cubes providing the central visual element throughout. Armand and Margeurite make love on reflective surfaces, producing a kaleidoscope of flesh. When Armand first meets Margeurite at the opera, her dress is partially composed of cubes of transparent plexiglas. Ambitious, mobile camerawork is a mixed blessing throughout, working when applied to the many party sequences, but feeling a bit forced in two key scenes. The depth-of-field zoom technique used during one love scene felt a little sea-sick and went on for a bit too long, and the unsubtle, forced transition between Armand’s ruined birthday and the empty yacht after Margeurite has departed was downright cringe-worthy. The soundtrack by Piero Piccioni is a finely-crafted blend of jazz, psychedelic, prog-rock and traditional themes that enhances each scene and provides a plush backdrop for the on-screen fashion parade.

“Camille 2000” is wonderful when viewed as a historical and aesthetic document, but falls short as a compelling romance. Recommended viewing for eurotrash enthusiasts, but probably best skipped by a general audience.

Don’t Answer the Phone! [1980]

Every once in a blue moon, I am exposed to a movie so terrible that it transcends its own awfulness and becomes almost brilliant. “Don’t Answer the Phone!” is such a movie–it’s jammed full of cliches, stilted acting, awkward scripting, political incorrectness, AND it has an exclamation point right there in the title. The movie follows the crime spree of a demented Vietnam Vet Kirk Smith (played with… zeal… by Nicholas Worth) as he rapes and strangles his way through a series of scantily clad models. If you guessed that he’s trailed by a pair of tough-talking police detectives, you’d be spot on (there’s a wise-cracking coroner, too–this movie doesn’t miss a trick).

In structure, the movie feels a little like the retarded cousin of Michael Mann’s “Manhunter,” made six years after “DAtP!” and most likely entirely unrelated to the earlier film (I can’t imagine Mann having an “AHA!” moment of inspiration during a movie where the cops remark on the relative sexiness of the murder victims at each crime scene). A great deal of screen time is spent with the killer, not only during his violent activities, but also while he goes about his everyday activities, which appear to consist of weight-lifting, freakouts stemming from his troubled childhood, and creepy phonecalls to a lady psychologist on the radio. During these phonecalls, Kirk assumes a wacky accent and refers to himself as “Ramone”–it’s as awesome as it sounds, trust me. Granted, Fulci’s “New York Ripper” will always hold the fake-voiced-killer grand prize, but I take my wacky accents where I can get ’em. This kind of inappropriate comedy is present throughout the movie and accounts for the thin layer of slime one feels building up as the plot progresses.

In fact, the inappropriate comedy combined with the overall misanthropic tone of the movie accounts for almost all of the film’s impact–the violence is virtually bloodless, the sex is relatively non-graphic, and there is no build-up of suspense. A bad-taste, campy atmosphere pervades, with rotten dialogue (I’m trying to get “shut up or I’ll tear your tit off” entered into the everyday slang of my household–so far, no luck) and acting styles that range from wooden to Catskills Comedian. I’ll spare you my thoughts on shot framing and cinematography here–there’s not much to work with. It’s assembly-line B-movie workmanship, with a little killer-POV here and a few shots of lonely night-walking there. There are some truly delirious moments, such as a whorehouse bust that’s right out of “Benny Hill,” that make me marvel at this movie as an exemplar of so-rotten-its-awesome movie badness.

Many thanks go out to Stoned Gremlin’s indie production “Midnight Heat” on YouTube for reminding me of my shameful love for “DAtP!”

Related to all this: I have a dream, internet, and that dream is to finance an all-drag musical based on “Don’t Answer the Phone.” Don’t let me down, people. I know there is someone out there who is up to the task of making this vision a reality.

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh [1971]

“The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh” is an early entry into the giallo cycle of the 1970s, and the film feels more fully-realized and fresh than later films of its genre. Some nice plot elements work alongside elegant cinematography and a very fine soundtrack to save the film from middling acting and a dangerously dry middle stretch of the storyline.

Eurotrash eyecandy Edwige Fenech plays Julie Wardh, the wife of an international businessman (the DVD box implies he’s an ambassador, but dialogue suggests he’s an investment banker of some flavor) with a torrid BDSM affair in her past and a wandering eye for handsome young men. Julie and her husband have moved to Vienna, where a leather-clad, razor-weilding maniac is killing young women. Julie fears that her sadistic former lover, Jean, may be responsible for these killings and spends the course of the film trying to avoid him and prove to investigators that she knows the truth.

The film feels glamourous and sexy from the first moments, establishing the Wardhs as a jet-setting , wealthy couple by opening the plot in an airport. From the airport, it’s on to the Wardhs’ ultra-chic Pop Art flat in Vienna. There is a parade of amazing outfits throughout the film, with sequins, pleating, fringe, bohemian print dresses, platform shoes and other early-70s fashion staples figuring prominently on the screen. The style of the cinematography, which makes excellent use of dramatic shot framing (one pivotal scene is shown as reflected in a character’s mirrored sunglasses) and forced-perspective lenses of various types, underscores the very modern and stylish atmosphere of the film. Dramatic lighting is used throughout, including effective flashback and dream sequences which are shot against an entirely black ground.

In addition to the very strong mise en scene, another of the elements that marks “Strange Vice” as a noteworthy example of the genre is the simmering, consensual eroticism underlying the flashback BDSM scenes between Julie and Jean. Other reviewers have characterized Jean (played by Ivan Rassimov) as a terrorizing brute, but it’s fairly clear that Julie’s response to his violent actions towards her are not one-dimensional displeasure. The sweeping, romantic musical theme that is used throughout the film doesn’t convey terror, but rather an almost-overwhelming sensuousness. By the time the action of the plot is taking place, Julie has developed a fear of Jean, but there is an aspect of ambiguity as to how much of this fear may be directed towards her own wish to sublimate her masochistic sexual urges.

The film is not without its problems, however. George Hilton, as George, Julie’s lover, is… to be kind.. rather wooden. Fenech shines only when she’s in a scene with Rassimov, and Alberto de Mendoza plays Neil Wardh as a non-entity. Also, the middle of the film starts to feel predictable, with the vast majority of fine moments front- and back-loaded in the film’s structure. Razor-killer kills again, Julie gets scared again, Julie feels somewhat wistful again, there’s a replaying of the same flashback… and then just as one is on the verge of losing interest (and, perhaps, hope), everything picks up again and wraps up with a very fine ending. I’m fond of this sort of “limited-cast” giallo, and it’s nice not to be left wanting to hurl a shoe at the screen after another “The Priest Did It” fuckery of a conclusion.

Semi-related: In today’s WTF’ery, there is an Edwige Fenech perfume. I’ll leave that to you, internet, sans-comment.

Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse Burlesque – March 8 at Asbury Lanes, NJ

Confession: I have mixed emotions about burlesque as an art form. It’s a fine example of my dueling Jekyll and Hyde natures. Good Kate gives two thumbs up for performers who embrace the tackier, campier, seedier sides of the art world, while Mean Kate feels like there’s an awful lot of bad, boring, awkward burlesque out there right now and that some serious herd-culling needs to take place. It was with these mixed feelings that I approached this past Saturday night’s performance of “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse” at Asbury Lanes in beautiful and scenic Asbury Park, NJ. My expectations were exceeded by the show, which was hands-down the most fun enjoyable performance I’ve attended so far (and believe me, I get dragged to a *lot* of these things).

The concept of “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse” is to that each short-and-sweet performance is themed around a horror movie trope–vampire, cannibal, and mad scientist, to name three–with a cute exploitation trailer intro by MC Vincent Price Is Right (aka: Neil O’Fortune). The performers approached their material with affection and a nice sense of humor, balancing the cute-naughty aspects with some ghoulish moments (the “Reanimatrix” and “I Spit on Your Lap” numbers both incorporated particularly macabre notes) Early sound-system issues were handled with elegant grace-under-pressure by Mr. Price Is Right and dancer Weirdie Girl. Lady Aye added some texture to the show with her escape artist and fire-eater routines, rounding out an entertaining evening. An intermission trailer reel was provided by Trash Palace. Adding to the fun of the event was the setting–Asbury Lanes is a must-visit venue. It’s a classic bowling alley that features live rock music, a full-service bar, lowbrow original art on display and the best fried snack foods you’ll ever want to nibble on.

Summing up, if you have to get dragged by your friends to a burlesque performance, make sure it’s “Bump ‘n’ Grindhouse.” You won’t even have to exact your revenge by insisting on picking the next film for group movie night!

Painting – Montage: March 6, 2008

Dear internets,

My apologies in advance for not offering up any delilcate nibbles of snark this Friday morning. I have been remiss in my movie-watching, but it’s all for A Good Cause. I’ve actually been applying the fruits of my four-year fine art degree to Projects! I will share with you the first completed painting I’ve created in the past eight years:

Watercolor on paper, 15″h x 20″w
Thank you, internets, for being a bottomless source of weirdness and inspiration. I like to paint food, boobs and cheekbones–it’s nice to think that someone out there likes to look at paintings of food, boobs and cheekbones.