Thursday, August 04, 2005

syndicate sadists [june 26, 2005]

syndicate sadists poster
Do you see that poster to the left? Well, the caricaturing aside, that scene doesn't quite feature in the movie (the setup does, but the dramatis personae are a bit flipped). Regardless, it's interesting, don't ya think?

The initial prospects are not too bright. I forget why I got this DVD, and then A's note reminds me. This dubbed Italian action flick features a rather interesting acting credit -- Joseph Cotten, as the villain of the piece. Then, the damn disc has no subtitle track (the options exist to turn it on, but all you get is probably a NullPointerException somewhere in the embedded software). There's also the director's commentary track. In Italian! Oh yeah. Awesome. Oh well, onward ho.

The previews included a hidden trailer (full-screen) for this flick, a preview for another Lenzi film (more below), and a few other shockers like All the colors of the dark, Duck! The Carbine High Massacre, Lizard in a Woman's Skin (directed by Lucio Fulci, another director I need to get a refresher on), Hiruko.

Lenzi is a name to reckon with in the sub-genre of Italian trash movies. I'm not sure if I could call him the Russ Meyer of Italian trash-o-ramas, but I don't think that moniker would be too overstated. Starting off as a lawyer, Lenzi graduated to a film career starting with film reviewing, then screenwriting and finally directing. His output is varied, and some trailers on the DVD indicate just how nasty some of his films can get.

The sole preview for a Lenzi movie on the disc was for one of his more famous works, The Man From Deep River. This movie is notorious for its claim to being referred to often as the first "cannibal horror film". If the preview is any indication, this adaptation of A Man Called Horse offers some interesting viewing -- there's a lot of nudity, rape, violence and the destruction and consumption of human flesh. Dinner and a movie anyone?

Which brings to our flick du jour. Syndicate Sadists has something common with the cannibal film we just talked about. It has some interesting cross-genre background (with especially juicy [no pun intended] details for trivia-mongers). Here's what happened. On a trip to the US of A, Tomas Milian picked up a book called First Blood (yep, the David Morrell classic). He liked the name of the character ... "Rambo" ... and when he returned to Italy, he asked screenwriter Vincenzo Mannino to write a story that echoed, in a crime form, Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. The title of the film was originally Rambo vs. the City. The distributors, however, thought that the word "Rambo" (which had no meaning in Italian) would hurt the chances of the film, so it ended up getting its eventual title. About four years later, these same distributors bought the rights to the adaptation of Morrell's novel starring Sylvester Stallone and made so much money off it that they apparently nursed some regret that Rambo vs. the City might have not been such a bad title after all.

The Leone parallels (or the Kurosawa parallels, if you want to be exact about the source; and don't even bother bringing up Hammett) are obvious as you watch the film. An outsider (pity he has a name, but then, so did "Joe" in Leone's film) arrives to play rival gangs against each other (the only difference would be motivation).

The film itself is fun to watch. The background score is nicely funky and the theme packs in a lot of brass, synthesizer fragments and phased guitar. There's also an evident sense of style -- in the stances, in the framing (take that simple shot in the opening of Rambo's motorcycle zooming down the road complemented by the large buildings and the train zooming by in the opposite direction), and in the dialogue:

rambo: i wanna talk to your boss
guard: oh yeah? whaddya wanna talk about? haircuts?
rambo: a business deal
guard: what kinda deal?
rambo (taking off sunglasses): non'a your business

Then there's the sequence that provides the only match (half-hearted, if at all) for the cover graphic: Rambo cuffs Conti (bare waist-up); gets him and the girl he's with to go to the toilet; cuffs her hand with the chain passing through the base of the toilet flush; he then unzips his fly, takes a leak, pronounces them man and wife, tosses the key into the bowl, and leaves.

Scalia's murder (getting waylaid by a pair of goons one of whom picks a rock and smashes his head) is nicely done conveying an adequate amount of unease.

Cotten seems to relish his part (being one of the few English-speaking parts (or the only one?) while the others provide dubbing-lip-synch-hell entertainment. Cotten imbues his character Paternò with gravitas and deliberation (and there's an interesting plot twist that adds another interesting dimension as well). I still don't know enough about Cotten's background to figure out what he was doing here in Italy at this point.

The repeated zoom-ins get a bit painful

I wonder if this film was meant to be a comedy as well. There are lines that inundate the narrative that provide either conscious or unconscious jolts of laughter. There's "...while you were away he kinda grew large gonads ..." and "never let anyone think they are anything but themselves." Then there's the great "hole" speech, which puts this film up there with the Bollywood B-flicks (and also provides fodder for adaptation): "Listen Conti: life is just one hole; you start from a hole, you feed yourself through a hole, you shit from a hole, you finish up in a hole. And the one in this barrel will put you into that last hole."

Also liked the last shot which begins with Rambo riding his motorcycle down the expressway. The camera racks back to set that background out of focus while the window's wire grid lines come to the fore clearer and clearer.

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