Cavallone was finding it more and more difficult to paint on his own canvas – his surreal vision and thought, experimental approach to filmmaking and gratuitous imagery were becoming verboten for commercial acceptance. “Zelda” (1974) was to be Cavallone’s last film where he compromised with producers and distributors to make a marketable picture before going solo and painting the town red with his own ventures such as “Blue Movie” and “Spell” (1977). Focusing on female homosexuality, “Zelda” was not of interest to Cavallone because he believed that the film never took risks despite prints being seized by Italian police for twenty days for obscenity charges featuring Turinese actress Franca Gonella – who also revealed all in Polselli’s “Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso/Revelations of a Psychiatrist on the Perverse World of Sex” (1973) – in a scene where she had sex on her father’s grave.
“Spell” was to mark an eclectic medley of surrealistic images, sexual energy, angst and wrath that Cavallone would consummate with distinction, if that is an acceptable accolade, a year later with “Blue Movie.” Chronicling the working lives within a small Italian town, the film follows a number of characters – most sexually frustrated within the boundaries of their mundane and predictable existences – that eventually explode in fury and lust at the local carnival. Cavallone’s inspiration for “Spell” came from when he became disillusioned of Rome and lived in a remote town for five years and realized that the carnival, or other local festivities of the type, were a welcome pressure valve for the locals where everything could be out in the open without fear of reprisal or embarrassment. “Spell” was attacked by its critics, one claiming that Cavallone was not a director, but the material for a mental institute.
It’s understandable to see why art house intelligentsia despised such a movie where the working class and surrealism inspired by the works of Georges Bataille clashed, but “Spell” was more welcome in the southern provinces where people could identify with the non-actors and their lives despite the heavy-handed political and fantastic imagery on offer (the Italian western was also popular in the south for such reasons, the cities less so).
“Spell” is a simplistic tale, electrically charged by composer Claudio Tallino’s score and shocking scenes of astonishing realism that shatter the placid beauty of the sun-bathed town, cobbled streets and simplistic lifestyle. Although Cavallone’s brush paints an obvious canvas of life and death, such as gravediggers exhuming a coffin to eat hardboiled eggs, or a butcher lusting over teenager girls and thrusting himself into a side of cow, the violent spectacle stands out, notably a stranger who is defecated upon (maize porridge and chocolate, claimed the director) before being stabbed between the legs. Macha Magall, a German actress who starred in Luigi Batzella’s video nasty “La Bestia in calore/The Beast in Heat” the same year before achieving success in the theatre, had an opportunity to act as a frustrated wife as well as being prematurely aged. Mónica Zanchi, who was to appear in two other movies in 1977, Giuseppe Vari’s “Suor Emanuelle/Sister Emanuelle” and Aristide Massaccesi’s “Emanuelle e gli ultima canniabli/Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals,” was to be Cavallone’s whipping girl. In one scene, a chicken is killed on camera in front of Zanchi, which repulsed her. Two days later, Cavallone asked her to partake in a scene where she was to lie on a pool table where a butcher would shoot balls between her open legs. Needless to say that Zanchi was furious, but despite her tantrums, the scene was shot.
In the same year, Cavallone wanted to do something different than “Spell,” and after reading the poems from Maldoror by Lautréamont (1868), was inspired to write a screenplay based upon his writings, created “Maldoror.” A tragic love story of acceptance and denial, the film tells of a movie director (spaghetti western regular Gianni Garko) who commits suicide after being snubbed by American photographer Sherry Buchanan after a series of hallucinogenic dreamlike set-pieces fuelled by drug use. Incorrectly reported as an unfinished film, it was completed and screened twice for distributors but failed to gain a theatrical release, possibly due to complex issues regarding finances with its producers and the location and condition of the remaining negative is unclear. Cavallone remembered delightful anecdotes from the movie such as Garko being a “madman” but a seriously professional character actor (in one scene, his character suffers from a limp, so Garko screwed a ball of paper in to the heel of his shoe, that when worn, would cause him to suffer from a large painful blister) and considered “Maldoror” to be one of his best roles. Production was halted for over six hours when police stopped the shoot to investigate a prop – a car with a coffin strapped to its roof, because only an authentic mortician’s car is allowed to do so – and an American actress, who was stapled inside the gut of a real cow.
The animal was killed, skinned and its belly opened, as in the movie, the naked actress would spring forth from within the carcass (a reference to Fernando Arrabal’s “Viva la muerte” (1971), a favorite director of Cavallone, and interestingly a very similar scene is featured in Gianfranco Mingozzi’s “Flavia, la monaca musulmana/Flavia the Heretic” (1974)). Naturally the poor girl was less than pleased to commit herself to be sewn within the belly of a freshly killed cow. The scene took half a day to film with the actress sealed within the cow for the majority of the shoot. Once completed, the actress was delirious, having visions and behaving like a drunk, apparently subjected to blood intoxication from within the cow’s innards.
Whereas “Spell” had alienated the mainstream, Cavallone went for jugular with “Blue Movie,” pushing boundaries that were for most, unacceptable cinema where the director appeared to be in anguish and out of control: absurd in that the extreme content matter was a catharsis for the moral, political and intellectual tapestry. Whereas “Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma” was possibly as far as Pasolini dared go in terms of graphic content, “Blue Movie” could be considered Cavallone’s suicide and blunt force trauma in that he had extinguished all avenues of interest to make a commercial film. Shot and edited in twenty days and featuring unprofessional actors (except that of Dirce Funari who would later appear in Aristide Massaccesi’s hardcore horrors “Le Notti erotiche dei morti viventi/Erotic Nights of the Living Dead” (1980), “Holocausto porno/Porno Holocaust” (1981) and Cesare Canevari’s “Delitto carnale” (1983), a giallo released in two versions: contemporary thriller and hardcore), the director’s inclinations are clear. The title takes its cue from Andy Warhol’s “Blue Movie/F**k” (1969) whereas major elements of the film are taken from Dusan Makavejev’s “Sweet Movie” (1974) and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” (1960). A male fashion photographer, haunted by the horrors of the Vietnam War, subjects a willing model (Funari) to humiliating sexual acts and to become his slave, whereas he meets a beautiful girl (Danielle Dugas) who suffers from sexual anxiety and hallucinations of being raped. The three protagonists’ lives retreat to that of solitude, away from society and consumerism, before imploding in violence.
The narrative is non-linear and almost nonexistent, the movie fuelled by surreal and excruciating imagery, threatening to eclipse the barbarism towards women as seen in Italian shockers Fernando Di Leo’s “Avere vent’anni/To Be Twenty” (1978), Mario Landi’s “Giallo a Venezia” (1979) and Camillo Teti’s “L’Assassino è ancora tra noi/The Murderer Is Still with Us” (1986). Cavallone’s inspiration from Makavejev’s cult movie is obvious: whereas “Sweet Movie” cuts to images of the Katyn Forest massacre, Cavallone uses grainy stock footage of Nazi death camps with bodies piled high and some consumed by fire. Also, in “Sweet Movie,” Carol Laure smothers her body in chocolate: here Dirce Funari does the same but with her own excrement.
“Blue Movie” is certainly controversial and there is more to the film than a work of titillation, degradation and a question of a misogynistic hatred towards women graced with an art house classical score by Bach. Cavallone composes an eclectic series of surreal imagery (some based on consumerism where Coca-Cola cans and Marlboro cigarette packets are filled with urine and feces) and sexually charged dreams. With regards to the latter, Dugas pours a bath that floods with blood. A male arm rises from the depths and grabs her, the camera focusing on her nether region which is adorned by a tattoo of a spider, an arachnid seeping blood from its mouth: the vagina. The scene is intercut with brief hardcore and clips of real human atrocities – we’re in seriously deranged Polanski country. The Italian board of censors asked for a number of cuts but they did not ask for a complete ban, possibly preferring to ignore Cavallone’s monstrosity than to acknowledge its existence. Regardless of censorship cuts, “Blue Movie” is a work of passion and fury by a filmmaker saluting one finger of resistance to authority although it was to be the abreaction of his own self-destruction as an artist. Cavallone was to never reach the dramatic and dangerous heights of “Blue Movie” and was the swansong of violent Italian independent cinema which two decades on still upsets the majority who see the film; it comes to no surprise that actress Funari left the set feeling disgusted. Much to the surprise of Cavallone whose main aim was to “piss off the sexy movie fans,” “Blue Movie” was a success at the Italian box office.
The retrospective concludes with Cavallone’s final films, ’80s hardcore and a complete filmography in Part Three of The Perverse, Deranged and Lost Movies of Alberto Cavallone>>>