AN INTERVIEW WITH MARC LAMOTHE
(Translation: Adam Abouaccar)
Italian genre cinema invades Fantasia (once again!) this year, whetherthrough the exceptional program of exploitation films at the Cinematheque, the presentation of the awaited Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s or the DJXL5′s Italian Zappin’ Party.
Ariel Esteban Cayer sits down with Marc Lamothe, general co-director of programming at Fantasia, creator of the Zappin’ Party and architect of this spotlight on Italian exploitation cinema.
Can you tell us how this section was put together and where the idea came to pay tribute to this national cinema?
Some of my favourite genre films and filmmakers are Italian. So it was natural to choose Italy as our destination. When I choose a country to which I’m going to pay homage, I have to be careful because it means that for months, I will be absorbing an obscene quantity of their cinema. Over 240 films have been considered and viewed in the context of this project. Some were watched on fast-forward, I must admit. I held onto sixty. I had to make difficult choices. I do not put too much of an emphasis on the masters because their work is well known, although I underline their input here and there. I went more for the exploration of genres and sub-genres. Having said that, I am not an authority on the subject, I’m just an enthusiastic fan who’s sharing what he loves.
I do not think so. The French market was very receptive to Italian films. I think though that they were dubbed in France, judging from the patois slang that is often heard. An example would be something like: “Hey soldat, qu’est-ce que t’as dans la tête ? Des nouilles!”. We never would have dubbed a film like that in Quebec. Understand that not all of these films would see any U.S. distribution, so much so that one had to often either view them in a theater or on BETA/VHS dubbed in French. This is why my generation was so infatuated with the dubbed versions, it’s how we discovered them.
You spoke to me of a beautiful moment of magic/discomfort when the man who dubs for Sylvester Stallone plays a character in The Bronx Warriors? Can you elaborate? Can we anticipate other funny moments?
Alain Dorval is the French dubbed voice of Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte, Danny Aiello and… Mark Gregory. Perhaps the worst actor of all time. I love Enzo G. Castellari, I think he’s a great director of action movies. But the choice of Mark Gregory in The Bronx Warriors is questionable, even doubtful, like the Dollarama-style plastic skulls on their motorcycles. Too bad, because the film is a delirious vision of post-apocalyptic kitsch. Escape From New York meets Mad Max and The Warriors. The scene on the docks with the drummer and the meeting between Mark Gregory and Fred Williamson are worth the price of the ticket alone. Gregory’s approach to the role of Trash is priceless. All the [the films] aside from Caligula, have dialog that is out of sync, strange and funny.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing Warriors of the Year 2072 by Lucio Fulci on 35mm. A variation on Rollerball grounded in an aesthetic reminiscent of Blade Runner that evokes Running Man with Arnold Schwarzenegger, 3 years earlier. Lasers that go “piouuu”, sound effects generated by 1984 Radioshack keyboards and bearded mannequins that explode, sign me up. I did not really understand why in Quebec, the film had had the title Les Centurions An 2011 as the Italian title is I Guerrieri Dell’Anno 2072. Why 2011 and not 2072?
From Joe Spinell to Franco Nero, Italian cinema is huge for genre actors. Do you have any favourite faces?
I’m more versed in directors’ careers than actors but I really like Edwige Fenech who perfectly embodies the Giallo, Franco Nero, Fabio Testi, Tomas Milian and George Eastman.
You’re also presenting Caligula, a film riddled with controversy that was, for many cinephiles, a landmark film. Do you have any personal experiences to share about this movie and advice for those who have never seen it?
We got our hands on the extended cut in French. Caligula is a risqué film à la Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS. It’s clearly an exploitation film that conversely has certain artistic goals. The choice of actors and the Shakespearian theatre aspect confirms this hypothesis. It remains that the film contains scenes of sexual and physical cruelty that were very scandalous at the time. The film is produced by Penthouse Magazine. This is telling. I think the whole adventure denounces a certain decadence that illustrates the limits of power. I think the envelope serves the purpose well.
Did your choice to present a dubbed version of the film stem from your own discovery process at a younger age? What is your experience in Italian genre cinema how does it inform the confection of your Zappin’ Party and this “spotlight”?
Yes and no. My first romance with Italian cinema certainly dates back to Danger: Diabolik, Black Sunday and Black Sabbath, all seen on late night French TV. The choice is mainly because the Cinematheque Quebecoise does not have original language versions of the films. But even if I had the choice, I would have kept Bronx Warriors French.
My biggest regret is not having found a French copy of the film Burial Ground on 35mm. From a psychotronic point of view, I think it’s one of the funniest dubbings out there. If you find a French VHS, don’t hesitate.
What’s on the agenda for this year’s Zappin’ Party, which is part of your series dedicated to national cinemas, which started, if I am not mistaken, in 2010 with India and Bollywood?
DJ XL5’s Italian Zappin’ Party is divided into five acts. The first is entitled “Once Upon a Time in Italy” and is dedicated to historical genres such as epics and Italian Westerns or “Spaghetti Westerns”. “Profondo giallo e poliziottesco” explores, as its title suggests, the giall and Italain neo-thriller. “The Italian Comedy” showcases the histrionics that seem to strike a sensitive chord with those who are nostalgic. I’m personally not crazy about the films of Con or by Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Histrionics don’t really make me laugh. “The cannibal, the possessed and the sticky” features a mix of horror, cannibalism, zombies, possessed women, inept actors, bodily fluids and juicy gore. “Mutant with the Wind” deals with science fiction, another genre shamefully exploited in the 80s for our pleasure.
Do you have your eye on a country for next year?
I do not know yet. I would love to do Japan, but it’s too broad. I would perhaps combine two or three Asian countries like the Philippines and Idonesia. Turkey also interests me, but to spend a year watching Turkish films, I don’t know. I need a little break. Three countries and over 600 films in 3 years, that’s heavy. I’m just emerging from the Italian experience. I will undoubtedly have an idea in October or I’ll fall in love with a movie and the rest will follow soon after, as usual…
What are your favourite films, or rather, what films would you recommend to the novice wishing to delve into the “dark side” of this national cinema, far from the Visconti and Benigni of this world.
There are so many. Besides Fellini, my favourite director remains Mario Bava. So I would say Black Sabbath and Blood and Black Lace by Mario Bava. Deep Red, Tenebre and Inferno by Dario Argento. One the five gialli by Sergio Martino. For thrillers, I would go with Martino’s The Violent Professionals or Enzo G. Castellari’s Street Law. As far as westerns are concerned, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly by Sergio Leone, Django and The Great Silence by Sergio Corbucci. For sword-and-sandals films, I would suggest Mario Camerini’s Ulysses. The Beyond or Gates of Hell by Lucio Fulci. For post-apocalyptic films, essentially Mad Max knockoffs, I’d recommend The New Barbarians/Warrior of the Wasteland by Enzo G. Castellari.
If someone was only going to see one film at the Cinematheque retrospective, which would you recommend and why?
Without hesitation, the documentary Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s. The film covers so much ground with pertinent interviews and seminal excerpts of the genre. It makes me want to jump right into and explore the Poliziotteschi genre.
Don’t miss Les Centurions An 2001, kicking off the spotlight on Italian Exploitation films at the Cinémathèque Québécoise today at 18:30. Eurocrime! The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the 70s will play Sunday, July 29 at the Cinémathèque Québécoise at 20:30.