Tag Archives: Pop art

CAPSULE: MODESTY BLAISE (1966)

DIRECTED BY: Joseph Losey

FEATURING: , , Dirk Bogarde, Clive Revell, Harry Andrews, Rossella Falk, Michael Craig

PLOT:  Master thief Modesty Blaise and her associate, Willy Garvin, are enlisted by the British Government to protect a diamond shipment to a Middle Eastern sheik from a heist ring overseen by Master Criminal Gabriel.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It certainly is strange, even for a comic book film, but in very much the spirit of its time.

COMMENTS: The current craze of adapting comic-book characters for the screen isn’t just a recent phenomenon. It’s only the consistent box-office success that’s relatively new. But, as Modesty Blaise proves, satisfying the preexisting fan base has ALWAYS been the fly in the ointment.

Purist fans of the British “Modesty Blaise” strip (which at the time was more known internationally than in the U.S., and still is) have long complained that the film doesn’t truly represent the source material. Not being familiar with the strip, I’ll leave it to those with more knowledge of the character to make those criticisms. What is evident, from what can be seen onscreen, is that director Losey, previously known for dramas such as The Servant and These Are the Damned, was going POP in the largest way possible.

The photography (by Jack Hilyard) and design (by Richard MacDonald and art director Jack Shampan) take precedence over anything else in the movie. In retrospect, that might not have been an altogether bad thing. The script—by Evan Jones, based on an original story and script by “Modesty” creator Peter O’Donnell and an uncredited pass by Harold Pinter(!)—appears to be a mess, though the flaw may be in its execution.

The 60’s Pop-art fascination with the comics had its basis in camp. Losey’s approach is no different, going for an arch, self-aware tone, most blatantly during a scene where Modesty, while searching a friend’s apartment, comes across her own comic strip. The movie’s Modesty also can change her wardrobe and hair color at the snap of a finger. Camp also explains the (horribly sung) duets she and Willie have at two points in the film, the last during the final confrontation with the bad guys. The camp isn’t quite as broad as what would soon be seen on television’s “Batman” series; Losey’s approach is more intellectual and narrow, as if channeling  directing a comic book spy film.

The main complaint about the film from purists is Monica Vitti, who in no way resembles the character as drawn. For the film, however, she’s more than perfect, bringing with her the ennui from her roles for Antonioni. Terence Stamp does a serviceable job in his role, basically a pretty boy-toy. The supporting cast (Clive Revell, Harry Andrews) is good, but it’s Dirk Bogarde who runs away with the film as the villainous but fey Gabriel, followed closely by Rossella Falk as his sadistic wife (and beard), Mrs. Fothergill.

Modesty Blaise is not an especially good a comic adaptation, or very weird. Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik both hew closer to their sources and go even more over the top. As an example of mid-60’s cinema Pop Art, however, it is good on its own terms.

DVD INFO: In 2002, Fox released a DVD that was fairly decent at the time—widescreen and anamorphic, although there were no extras. This past summer (2016) brought a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino-Lorber. It includes a commentary by film historian David Del Valle and director Armand Mastroianni which is entertaining—although Del Valle mistakenly credits camera operator Gerry Fisher as the DP. Also in the release are featurettes with first assistant director (and Joseph Losey’s son) Gavrik Losey; writer Evan Jones; and assistant art director Norman Doane. An image gallery and a trailer round out the special features.

58. DILLINGER IS DEAD [DILLINGER E MORTO] (1969)

Dillinger Is Dead throws narrative, psychological, and symbolic common sense out the window… the film’s refusal of clear-cut logic, its contradictory symbols, and its moral ambiguity open it to endless interpretation.”–Michael Joshua Rowin, from the notes to the Criterion Collection edition of Dillinger is Dead

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Annie Girardot, Anita Pallenberg

PLOT: Glauco designs gas-masks by day.  One night, he returns to the apartment he shares with his wife and live-in maid and, while searching for ingredients for dinner, discovers a gun wrapped in newspaper in his pantry.  He spends an evening puttering around the house, making dinner, watching home movies, playing with his various toys, disassembling and reassembling the gun, painting it, then using the weapon in a senseless final act.

Still from Dillinger Is Dead (1969)

BACKGROUND:

  • John Dillinger was a bank robber in the 1930s who became both Public Enemy #1 and a folk hero.
  • Ferreri barely directed Piccoli, giving him only simple blocking instructions and dialogue and allowing the actor to improvise the rest of the performance.
  • This is the first of six films Ferreri and Piccoli made together.
  • Model Anita Pallenberg may be best known for her romantic involvements with two members of the Rolling Stones (first Brian Jones, and later Keith Richards), but she has had small roles in a couple of weird movies besides this one: Barbarella (1968) and Performance (1970).
  • The movie was filmed in the apartment of Italian pop-artist Mario Schifano, and some of the painters works (most prominently, “Futurismo Rivisitato“) can be seen in the background.
  • The observations that the young worker makes to Glauco in the prologue are all paraphrases from philosopher Herbert Marcuse’s essay One-Dimensional Man, a critique of then-contemporary consumerism, mass media and industrialism.  Marhola Dargis of the New York Times believes that the entire movie is an attempt to give cinematic form to Marcuse’s ideas.
  • After it’s initial release, Dillinger is Dead nearly disappeared.  Variety‘s 1999 version of the “Portable Movie Guide” didn’t mention it among their 8700 reviews, Halliwell never heard of it, and Pauline Kael didn’t encounter it in “5001 Nights at the Movies.”  It was seldom screened and never appeared on home video until a 2006 revival led to the film being virtually rediscovered, culminating in a 2010 release by the Criterion Collection.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The gun that may have belonged to John Dillinger, which fascinates the protagonist.  Especially after he paints it bright red and carefully paints white polka dots on it.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Dillinger is Dead is a disconnected, absurdist parable where

Clip from Dillinger is Dead

nothing seems to be happening, and when something happens, it doesn’t make sense. It’s very much a product of its time—the anarchic, experimental late 1960s—yet the world it portrays still feels oddly, and awfully, familiar.

COMMENTS: Dillinger is Dead doesn’t take leave of reality until its very last moments, Continue reading 58. DILLINGER IS DEAD [DILLINGER E MORTO] (1969)