Thursday, August 25, 2011

Blu-Ray Review--MONAMOUR (2006): or, Tinto Brass's World of Asses

Mention the name Tinto Brass to fan of exploitational cinema, and you're bound to see a little gleam appear in his or her eye. As the writer and director of Salon Kitty (simultaneously one of the most lushly artistic and one of the grime-encrusted sleaziest examples of the Nazisploitation subgenre) and one of the directors of the historical epic Caligula (probably the most expensive and star-studded exploitation movie ever made), Brass has already staked out his place in the pantheon of Exploitation Godhood. Even if none of his later movies could possibly harness the power of that one-two punch to the crotch he delivered in 1976 and 1979, Brass has laurels enough to rest his haunches upon well into retirement.

But like many a movie-making madman, for Brass, resting on a pile of shrubbery was never an option. Film is not a vocation for men like Brass, Franco, and others--it's sustenance. They have to make movies, or else wither and die from creative starvation. Sure, the public's tastes change, the budgets get smaller and smaller, and perhaps the edge is dulled as the visionaries get older and their eyes less sharp, but they're still out there, making movies on whatever scale they can--because they must.

All that's by way of introducing Brass's 2006 movie, Monamour, recently released on Blu-Ray by Cult Epics. The film shows that Brass still has an eye for magnificent composition, lush design, and gorgeous Euroflesh of the highest order. It also shows that age has softened none of Brass's perverse obsessions, which here are in full and varied display. As a result, Monamour plays as either the dirtiest mainstream movie you ever saw*, or else the most lavish porn ever made**, with only the actual penetration scenes cut.

This is, of course, a recommendation.

* Caligula excluded.
** Ditto.

The plot is basically Unfaithful (2002) all over again. Prominent literary editor Dario (Max Parodi) has come to Mantova for a literary festival, bringing along his beautiful, free-spirited, and extremely restless young wife Marta (Anna Jimskaia). Six months into their marriage she is feeling the wane of what was once a passionate affair--no longer do they make love in public while bemused duck hunters look on, and she hasn't climaxed since she said "I do." (Marta records all this late at night in her journal--sitting at her writing desk, pantsless, while Brass gives us an up close and detailed view of her open marrone degli occhi.)

While looking at some explicitly sexual murals at the famous Palazzo del Te (including one of Jupiter's Erect Cock), Marta meets and mysterious stranger, Leon (Riccardo Marino), who seems to have been built in the same Sexy Factory as a young Antonio Banderas or Unfaithful's Olivier Martinez. Like that latter Latin Lothario, this Roman rapscallion uses the silent, forward, borderline-rapey seduction method that always seems to work in stories like these. Before you know it Marta is blowing Leon at a literary fest dinner, having anal sex with him in cafe restrooms, and dancing drunk and nearly naked in public squares, stopping only to quaff more champagne and stick her tongue down the younger man's throat. Of course it's not long before Dario starts getting suspicious (Marta's sudden distaste for wearing panties in public is one clue; her ass-baring dirty dance with Leon at the Lit Fest Ball is another), which paradoxically inflames his dormant desire for his wife to new heights. Is Marta's affair a marital tragedy, or a new kind of happy ending?

It's probably just as well that I don't have Blu-Ray screengrabbing capabilities as yet, because I would be hard-pressed to find a single frame of this film that I could post here without the Blogger Police shutting me down. As I said earlier: this is a porn, only without the actual penetration. Everything up to the very border of that--and I mean EVERYTHING--is present and accounted for. If you don't like seeing puckered starfish, turgid tube-steaks, spot-lit lady-parts,and lots and lots of simulated sex (of just about every configuration), then you had best stay well away from this one. Tinto also tips his hand as to his own personal "special needs," as we get many lovingly filmed odes to asses of all kinds, not to mention several scenes of Marta and her brazen confidant Sylvia (Nela Lucic) chatting while on toilets or otherwise squatting down to urinate.Threesomes, lesbianism, anal, masturbation, simulated-or-possibly-not oral sex--whatever floats your boat, chances are Brass has it covered.

So why does Brass tease the line of pornography without actually barreling over? Perhaps he thinks it's ugly, and Brass's work is about nothing if not the beauty of desire. The movie is sumptuously filmed, the compositions are striking and often gorgeous, and the sex scenes orchestrated for maximum artistic erotic impact. Whether the manner of sexual congress is to your taste or not, you still have to appreciate the artist's eye he brings to even the sleaziest material. It's a beautiful film to look at, and there's always something eye-pleasing on screen. With Monamour, Brass shows once again that he doesn't so much tread the line between sleaze and art, as he denies the existence of any such line.

Also included in this 2-disc set is a short film by Brass, Kick the Cock, which explores the ins and outs of special needs culinary study. Special features include making-of featurettes for both films, director's commentary, and trailers.

Monamour is a slight but sexy film, worth looking at for fans of Brass and Eurosleaze enthusiasts. Cult Epics has once again delivered an excellent Blu-Ray package for material other distributors might not touch with a ten-foot salami. 2 Thumbs. Stay sleazy, Tinto. Stay classy, Signor Brass.


Monday, August 15, 2011

Book Review: MIDNIGHT MOVIE by Tobe Hooper

I recently had to good fortune to watch The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) on the big screen. It's a movie whose imagery benefits from that kind of scale. And not just the gross, disturbing scenes, but also several compositions of surprising beauty--the green grass and yellow flowers as our hapless teens walk toward their doom, the near gothic beauty of Franklin's Daddy's ruined house. It may take a couple of viewings to appreciate, but the dimensions of the big screen help bring it out in a way the small screen just can't.

Another thing it might take a few viewings to appreciate is the film's sense of humor. There's a lot in TCM that is extremely funny--the slapstick of Franklin's roll down the hill with a can of pee in his hand, the insult-comic banter of the Hitchhiker and the Father, some of Leatherface's non-violent antics, and of course the Bronx cheers. But again, for many, these things get overwhelmed by all the terror and intensity of the rest of the film. As I watched the other night, I was struck by how pervasive Hooper's (admittedly twisted) sense of humor is, even in what many consider his most "serious" work.

I mention these things because I recently got to read an advance copy of Tobe Hooper's first novel, Midnight Movie, now available from Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House. It's a wild ride, an extremely enjoyable read, and a work that, like his most famous film, benefits from both the expansive scale afforded by a work of literature, and from its author's strange sense of humor.

In the novel, an eccentric festival organizer in in Austin, Texas, has discovered a pristine print of Destiny Express, one of Tobe Hooper's early films that had been thought lost. Hooper comes for the screening, despite having lost all memory of the film in question due to a car accident in his youth. A motley group of other characters, whom we get to know through interviews, blog entries, emails and even Twitter tweets, also converge at the festival.

But Destiny Express is no ordinary film, and once the screening is over, strange things start to happen to those in attendance. A previously virginal girl becomes a man-eating nymphomaniac, spreading a strange and completely disgusting STD in her wake. An undercover terrorism expert goes over to the other side and plans an attack. And a journalist starts getting up at night to move at high speed through the city, infecting loners everywhere with the strange plague that turns them into violent, rotting, and extremely horny zombies. As Hooper and his new friends Erick Laughlin and Janine Daltrey try to discover whether Hooper's film is responsible for the outbreak, and if so how they can stop it, the plague spreads into neighboring cities and threatens to overwhelm the country.

The novel is told as a series of interviews, newspaper articles, blog posts and emails, an epistolary history of the apocalyptic aftermath of Destiny Express's screening. This gives the book a quick-reading, conversational style that carries you along easily through increasingly wild and bizarre happenings. Hooper writes himself as crusty, cynical, and world-weary but with a cutting wit, an aging hippie for whom movie-making is the only thing worth doing. And while he is the hero of his own story, he doesn't let himself off the hook, just as often having a bitter laugh at himself as at other targets.

The other characters are engaging and often funny, the plot just keeps getting wilder and more disgusting, and while the final explanation of the apocalypse may seem a little easy,the heroes' last-gasp attempt to stop it is a not-so-subtle parable that should please those aspiring artists who still believe movies can save the world.

For fans of Hooper's movies, Midnight Movie is a double treat: it gives us a chance not only to live in the director's head and hear his sardonic thoughts on everything from horror festivals to the film-pitching process to his own work and that of his directorial contemporaries. (We also get a healthy dose of his possibly justified antiestablishment paranoia.) And it also a chance to "see" a Hooper movie too big and expensive ever to be put on screen--the plot is definitely more Lifeforce than Texas Chain Saw Massacre*.) The book is easy reading, which is damned hard writing--Hooper and collaborator Alan Goldsher bring the director's voice out in an engaging, funny way that keeps you turning pages. Hooper is at his strongest when presenting the interviews in a cinematic way, cutting back and forth for sometimes comedic effect. He's at his weakest, though, when emulating news reports and articles, which don't really read like the real thing.

In closing, I thoroughly recommend Hooper's Midnight Movie for fans of the director and fans of horror literature alike. There's sex, violence, gags and gross-outs, sometimes inelegant but never boring. 2.5 thumbs. Here's hoping this won't be the last time Hooper exchanges his camera for a pen.

*Nota bene: In a crushing blow to horror snobs around the world, Hooper repeatedly and consistently refers to his own 1974 masterpiece as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, eliding the space between the "n" and "s" that such scholars have clung to for proof of their erudition. On the bright side, now we can all get over it and move on. 


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