Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Per un Pugno di Dollari

A Fistful of Dollars (Per un Pugno di Dollari) is a film directed by Sergio Leone in 1964. This film is part of a trilogy including For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. During the time when the film came out, there were lots of other westerns being made in Italy. Although many "spaghetti" westerns were made before A Fistfull of Dollars, this film is the one most will remember and refer to.

The film starts off with a man (Clint Eastwood) riding into a small town to get some water. From there we can see that there is conflict going on in this town. There was a fight and a shootout going on. This will not be the only time where there is conflict and shootouts. From there the man meets Juan De Dios. Juan says that the people are either rich or dead. This idea is also repeated by the innkeeper. Death and money play a large role in the film. Money is very inportant in that town and is gained only through killing. In that town there are not a lot of people because people are getting killed a lot. There are even feuding families (the Rojos and the Baxters). Some of the locals do not like the man but the innkeeper starts talking to him. The innkeeper talks about the town and the feuding families. Later on the man asks the innkeeper some questions. He asks about what was in the carriage that came into town one day, "Who is Marisol?" and "Who is Ramon?". He does not get an answer but the innkeeper tells him that it is best not to know who Ramon is or see him.

In the scenes where the man meets Ramon, a long take is used and the camera follows Ramon's movements. This shows the importance of Ramon and the meeting of the two men. Ramon is seen as someone who is important but also to be feared. Low angle shots are sometimes used to show importance. Through these low angle shots, it will show them as important and authoritative. Soon the man talks to both families which results on more feuding. He even takes Marisol and her family to the border so they can be free. This is not good since Marisol was captured before and is now the mas freed her. Ramon learns of this and has the man beaten up really badly. But that does not stop the man. At the final shootout, the man takes down Ramon thus ending the feud. The town is now safe.

As mentioned before, A Fistful of Dollars is considered one of the most popular westerns. Even though over 400 "spaghetti" westerns were made between 1962 and 1976 in Ialy, this film is probably the most popular and recognized. This film was also the film that brought Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwod into stardom.
http://http//www.fistful-of-leone.com/films.html,this has information on Sergio Leone and his work
http://http//www.wildeast.net/spaghettiwestern.htm this talks about the spaghetti western genre
http://www.clinteastwood.net/this has information about Clint Eastwwod and his work

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Alberto Lattuada - Mafioso (1962)
Alberto Lattuada did something quite different when directing “Mafioso” (1962). By the title of this film, one may think it is full of action, suspense, and crime, but contrary to popular belief, this film is full of hidden humor. It may sound like an oxymoron, but in this dark comedy Lattuada does a one of a kind job of addressing this taboo subject (in 1962). He exposes the darkness of the mafia, capturing everything from the responsibilities to the perks, all he while incorporating humor and comic relief. “Nino” Badalamenti is a hardworking and meticulous FIAT factory supervisor living in Milan. After years of ignoring his vacation time, and having just earned his yearly bonus, he decides to take his wife, Marta and his two daughters, Cinzia and Caterina, to his hometown Calamo, Sicily. Being a proper, civilized Milanese, Marta isn’t very thrilled to be “watching Italy fade away” as they approach the island on the ferry.
Stereotypes and Humor
Stereotypes are used often within this film. They depict the true rivalry between mainland Italians and islander Italians. Nino later explains that although he may live in Milan, he is “still a Sicilian”. This goes to show the audience that both sides feel the same separation from one another. Once they arrive in his hometown, Nino and his girls, whom prior to this trip have never met his mother and father, are warmly welcomed in the streets amongst a huge crowd of family. Inside Nino’s parents home and examined for the first time, Marta and the children are given odd looks. All three of them have blonde hair, fair skin and are dressed in well-kept clothing, unlike the rest of Nino’s dark haired, dark skinned and rural family members. After introductions, it’s clear that Marta feels out of place. She doesn’t realize that the urban norms she is accustomed to, such as smoking after meals or the way she speaks and carries herself, are not accepted in such a small Sicilian town where people follow old customs. After a hefty meal and post lunch entertainment by Nino, he decides it’s time to go see the Godfather, Don Vincenzo. Before leaving Milano for vacation, Nino’s boss, Dr. Zanchi, asks him to personally deliver a “very valuable gift” to the Don, on his behalf. Marta doesn’t like the idea of being around the Mafia, but Nino explains that when he was a boy he was involved with them, but it merely meant having to be a messenger boy. But now, it seems that Don Vincenzo has a “task”, and it’s apparent that he is highly considering calling upon Nino to accomplish it. During this time, Nino’s father and him are considering some land investments, although after the unusual rainfall, the landlord is now asking for much more money due to the fact that the land now has a “water supply”. A few days later after squabbling over the price of the land, Nino is called to Don Vincenzo’s room to realize that the landlord is also there and willing to give him the land for the original price. Now Nino is in undeniable debt to Don Vincenzo, and vows to repay him in any way that he can. In time, Nino will return this “friendly favor”, when his time comes to show his love, gratitude, and loyalty to the Godfather.
Marta and Sicilian Mores: Mafioso’s Light Side
While this is going on between the men, Marta is trying her best to be optimistic and fit in with her in-laws. She realizes that Rosalia, Nino’s sister, has an unfortunate overgrowth of hair on her body and has therefore developed a complex. Recently engaged to an unemployed lowlife, she’s not even allowed at the beach with her fiancé due to the fact that he feels embarrassed by her. Marta decides to take matters into her own hands and transforms Rosalia from hairy and self-conscious, into a flawless and smooth skinned woman. After revealing Rosalia’s beauty to Nino’s parents, they come to accept her and realize she truly is a good woman. Now that everything seems to be running smoothly amongst everyone, a twist arises. While in town, Nino is invited to go on a trip with his old pals. He explains that he won’t be able to attend due to the fact that he promised his wife that they would leave a few days earlier to visit her parents before returning to Milano. Once Marta hears about this hunting trip though, she changes her mind and tells Nino to go and have fun, now that she fits in with the family she isn’t having such a bad time. Nino is thrilled to go, and now even Don Liborio wants to join! At this point, the audience can somewhat sense that something just doesn’t fit. Don Liborio is being much too kind, and apparently Nino is being much too naïve. This equation just doesn’t seem to add up to happy endings. As the suspicions rise amongst the audience and the story continues to darken, Lattuada does a nice job of incorporating comedic relief.
Nino and the Mafia: the Dark Side
After few hours of sleep, Nino is awakened at two in the morning by his father who serves him a coffee, hands him his gun, and wishes him good luck with a firm hug and kiss on the cheek. He’s a little bit confused by his father’s affection, but pays no attention to why that is and leaves to meet the others. After feeling followed, Nino turns around and realizes that Don Liborio has been trailing him. He takes him to a secret area where Don Vincenzo is waiting for him inside of a car.He asks Nino if he remembers the promise he made to him, and if he was ready to do him a favor. Nino accepts, although according to the Godfather, he can say no to the task if he wants to (which we know is obviously false). He is told he will be going on a “long and short trip”, and that he has to just deliver a letter. He isn’t told where is going exactly, but after a long trip in uncomfortable positions, Nino arrives in New York to realize that he had been fooled. His job is
to kill a man that has been a traitor to them. It will be simple and quick. This is the reason, in fact, that they choose Nino to do this favor for the Godfather. His aim and preciseness make him the perfect candidate.
Same Clothes, Different Film
After successfully accomplishing his assignment by killing the man, we see him return safely to Calamo, with his hands full of game he supposedly caught while hunting. Visibly perturbed, he gets into bed with his wife, near his two children, and cries himself to sleep. The film ends in the same manner it began, with him walking through the factory, supervising the workers. Although he may be wearing the same uniform, adhering to the same responsibilities he’s always had, it’s inevitable that his life is now changed and will never go back to the way it was before. He is Nino Badalamenti, hardworking husband, father and Mafioso, per sempre.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Bird with the Crystal Plumage

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)
The film The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) tells the story of Sam Dalmas, an American writer in Italy preparing to return to the United States. After witnessing an attempted murder believed to be connected to a recent murder spree, Dalmas becomes involved in trying to solve the mystery of the crime, and find the murderer. In this unlikely scenario, Dalmas becomes an obsessive detective with considerable investigative skills. Inspector Morosini provides the high-technology of the day, and the usual trappings of crime-solving; computer calculations of crime evidence, the expert opinions of a psychiatrist, and an audio analysis of recordings of the suspected killer. However, while the technology provides clues, it takes a detective to solve the crime.

The local police do not find the success that Dalmas does in both investigating, and in becoming a target for the murder. Dalmas methodically investigates every possible lead, and just as he is about to return to the U.S., he investigates an artist connected to the murderer via a macbre painting. After an unfruitful investigation, he returns to his girlfriend, who has been stalked and is about to be murdered. He finds that the mind behind the killings is that of the woman who he initially rescued. This twist, while predictible, is only the surface of the film. If carefully considered, the issue of colonialism can be read into the weave of the film.

The website called “Kinoeye” has an essay by Frank Burke that identifies a theme of containment in the film as a metaphor for colonialism – (“Intimations and more of colonialism,” http://www.kinoeye.org/02/11/burke11.php). Indeed, containment is repeated a number of times; the opening where Dalmas is contained between two glass doors at the gallery, the prisoner who helps Dalmas find leads, the painter who is self-contained out in the country, and the bird with the crystal plumage within the film, who is extremely rare and contained in a cage. This sense of containment sets the stage for both physical and psychological entrapment, as well as serving as a metaphor for colonial oppression. Sam Dalmas becomes fixated with the case, which becomes it's own form of containment.

Once Sam Dalmas is obsessed with the case, he is in a way, trapped by it psychologically, even leaving his girlfriend to investigate the painter only hours before they are to fly to the United States. The theme of containment is also associated with aesthetic values. The art gallery, the painter, and the caged bird all pose contradictory values, in that as people and things representing aesthetic beauty and its creation, they are also physically entrapped within their respective environments. While Argento may not represent his Marxist political values on the surface of his film by directly representing an oppressed character, he does present a metaphor for colonial oppression, whereby things of value are appropriated or held captive by an outside force. This metaphor raises the film above that of the “whodunit?” formula, however, the film does contain classic thriller elements.

A glove found at the scene of the crime serves as a classic “Mc Guffin,” an object that provides a clue which may or may not be pertinent to the crime. Upon careful analysis, the police lab and inspector identify the glove as belonging to a left-handed male who smokes Cuban cigars. While this level of detail leads the viewer to expect a male murderer, by the end of the film, the opposite is found to be true. This red-herring technique is common for thriller cinema.
While there are a few lapses in narrative logic in The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, the film is compelling enough to sustain the viewer through the action of the film via its suspense, and this is the film’s strength. While there are obvious comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock, Argento is truly his own filmmaker who avoids the sense of Hollywood kitsch that sometimes appears in Hitchcock’s later films. Argento is indeed a film auteur, and it is unfortunate that his standing in Italian National Cinema has concealed the influence of his artistry outside of his home country.

Useful links on Dario Argento:
Kinoeye: “Intimations and more of colonialism” by Frank Burke

Senses of Cinema: Biography on Argento http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/argento.html

Offscreen: “Dario Argento, Maestro Auteur or Master Misogynist?”