|Vintage Pulp||Sep 21 2014|
This great poster was painted by Italian illustrator Dante Manno to promote Riso Amaro, aka Bitter Rice, one of the neorealist movies that came out of Italy during the post-World War II period. If you watch the movie you’ll find that some elements aren't very “real,” but remember that the term neorealism refers to a rejection of the phoniness of Fascist-era film production, rather than a broad description of cinematic properties. Basically, the movie is about two petty criminals, played by Vittorio Gassman and Doris Dowling, who hide from the cops by posing as lowly rice pickers. What’s real here isn’t the rice pickers (whose female ranks are uniformly beautiful and sexily clothed), nor some of the action (typified by a scene in which the workers break into perfect operatic harmony even though the tune they’re singing is being made up on the spot). No, the realism is in the themes and production values. Riso Amaro deals with weighty issues and was made on location by director Giuseppe De Santis in the rice fields of Italy’s Po Valley in crisp, documentary style black and white.
One of Riso Amaro’s rice pickers is the voluptuous Silvana Mangano, who catches Vittorio Gassman’s eye. Since he’s a criminal, he spies opportunity in his circumstances, and while chasing Mangano also plots to steal the entire rice crop while everyone is occupied during an end-of-season festival. Mangano, who has her choice between the slick Gassman and the honest rice picker Raf Vallone, is symbolically torn between American-style and traditional values. Doris Dowling has the same dilemma to a lesser degree. The choice both make will be crucial. Riso Amaro is a good movie, beautifully rendered, and consistently interesting. Tame today, it’s easy to see how provocative it must have been when first released. As with many films, certain elements resonate more over time, and here the secondary theme exploring tensions between legal and illegal workers fascinate. The legal workers resent the presumed loss of jobs, but the illegals must eat somehow and are willing to toil much harder than the legals. All the while the bosses reap the benefits. Sound familiar? Riso Amaro premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in early September and opened in Italy today in 1949.
|Femmes Fatales||Jan 4 2013|
One never hears her name mentioned today, but Italian actress Isa Miranda, née Ines Isabella Sampietro, was one of the most popular performers of her time. She was a star throughout Europe during the 1930s, and during World War II continued to act in Italian films. As a result, she is linked to fascist cinema, though is not known to be a fascist sympathizer herself. Ultimately she carved out a fifty year career and earned a Best Actress award at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival for René Clément’s Le mura di Malapaga. She’s seen here circa 1935.
|Sex Files||Oct 30 2012|
We mentioned a while back that we had found a stack of Japanese x-rated movie posters, so here’s another one today, a poster for Lasse Braun’s Sensations, starring Brigitte Maier. The art is by William Stok, and if the central figure’s meandering tongue isn’t enough to tell you this is a porn movie, the white substance on her breast and shoulder gives it away. That ain't supposed to be Béchamel sauce, folks. Sensations was made in Germany in 1975, had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival that May, and played in mainstream movie houses in the U.S. throughout the autumn and into the next year. Basically, it’s about an uptight American girl who travels to Amsterdam and gets her groove on. She’s reluctant at first, but as the movie churns along she begins to show more enthusiasm. This kind of sexual awakening plot was a staple of adult film back then, but the exotic setting was something new for American filmgoers, and they made the movie a major hit. Sensations premiered in Japan today in 1976, and you can see more Japanese x-rated posters here and here.
|Modern Pulp||Dec 5 2011|
Tanya’s Island may not be the best sexploitation flick of all time, but it’s surely one of the most earnest. Before she hooked up with Prince and became known as Vanity, Canadian actress D.D. Winters headlined this deeply Freudian beauty-and-the-beast psychodrama about a young actress who lucidly dreams of going to live with her painter boyfriend on a deserted island, only to discover that they are in fact not alone. The imaginary island’s other inhabitant is a sort of tropical sasquatch (but with soulful blue eyes), and within the reverie Tanya develops, her boyfriend becomes jealous and aggressive while the ape seems to take on increasingly more humanity.
Since this all takes place in Tanya’s head, some pretty interesting questions are being raised about the nature of female desire, as well as both the savage and civilized sides of man. Perhaps you’re rolling your eyes now, and that’s fair enough, but a big reason why these seventies skin flicks are great to watch is because the filmmakers took themselves so seriously. Writer/producer Pierre Brousseau even plastered the 1982 Cannes Film Festival with posters in hopes of generating attention for his movie. His strategy probably didn’t boost box office receipts much, but it did increase interest in his lead actress, resulting in her appearance in Playboy, and thence into the arms of Prince. Since Tanya’s Island is indeed about a woman searching for her prince charming, there’s a certain symmetry in this.
But probably the only symmetry you’re really interested in is Vanity’s, so you’ll be happy to know she’s completely naked before the opening credits have finished and remains half or wholly bare through much of the film. And for our female readers, her boyfriend’s member makes a brief appearance as well (though we suspect you won’t find the man attached to that appendage particularly alluring). Soon after this film Vanity would become famous as a singer and consort, and in one of her most memorable songs she cooed: “Ooh yeah, such a pretty mess.” That neatly sums up Tanya’s Island. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1980.
|Hollywoodland||Nov 4 2011|
Since we shared a magazine cover of Jayne Mansfield yesterday, it seems a good time to also show you this photo of her at the Cannes Film Festival. We aren’t sure on the date—Mansfield went to Cannes more than once, but we’re thinking 1964 on this. In most of her Cannes photos, she’s cavorting on the Croisette in a bikini or hamming it up for the French press by dancing the “monkeybird”, but this shot shows a womanly, glamorous Mansfield with Mickey Hargitay and another escort, against a backdrop of journos and fans. The photo says: movie star.
|Modern Pulp||Mar 22 2010|
We saw Sonatine a few years ago and were simply stunned by it. It’s a gangster drama that derives inspiration from the same Hong Kong crime films that inspired Quentin Tarantino. We’re talking about classics like Ringo Lam’s City on Fire and John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow. But the difference is Sonatine is doggedly introspective. There’s plenty of violence, but the overall pace is measured, and the film features a long interlude during which hired gun Aniki Murakawa—played by Takeshi “Beat” Kitano—enjoys some idyllic rest and recreation at the beach with his criminal cohorts. This interlude, wedged between the bookends of the film’s main story, was our favorite part by far, because it humanizes Murakawa, shows him to be a man capable of laughter, even dreams. But it also highlights his insatiable appetite for self-destruction, and the utter emptiness of his soul. In the hands of a lesser director these sequences could have been nonsensical, but Kitano, handling the chores himself, constructs the pieces perfectly and you come away with real feeling for his anti-hero Murakawa. When the problems Murakawa avoided finally come to roost, we can’t help but cheer for him to win. But nothing is as simple as it seems in Sonatine, and nothing about it is predictable. Maybe that’s why, after its spring premiere in Japan, it went on to create a sensation at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival and make Kitano an international icon. Watch this one and you’ll see why.