Did you happen to record Monty Python’s Flying Circus
when it was shown on PBS back in the 1970s?
Do you still have the tapes?
Is there a
If so, please write to me. Thank you!
THE WORKS OF TINTO BRASS
If you know the whereabouts of any prints of this film, in any format, in any condition, in any language, please write to me immediately. Many thanks!
According to the interview that Tinto Brass gave to Mario Gagliardotto (Obiettivo Brass), the banning of L’urlo aroused considerable curiosity, and so Jane Fonda and some others asked if they could get a private screening. Brass obliged, and the Italian-language film, without subtitles, shown to a mostly non-Italian-speaking audience, elicited awe and laughter. Among those in the audience were Vanessa Redgrave and her then-boyfriend Franco Nero, who, when the lights went up, approached Brass and asked if he could write a script for them. This is what he concocted, in collaboration with Franco Longo. Carlo Ponti agreed to produce, but when he backed out, Brass said to Redgrave and Nero, “Let’s do it anyway!” The three of them pooled what little money they could scrape together, presold distribution rights, and with the resulting funds, made this 16mm extravaganza in England, and partly in English. Brass later stated that Vanessa Redgrave was the finest and most brilliant performer he had ever worked with.
Before going on to learn about Dropout, let’s first refresh our memories about another movie. I assume that if you’re reading through this site, you’ve probably seen the movie version of A Clockwork Orange. Several images from that movie leave a lasting impression, including three pieces of art, which it turns out were not created for the production at all. They were
Remember those? Thanks to my friend Marco Fornier, I learned who did the sculptures: Herman Makkink. It took me forever to figure out who did the painting, but a query from a reader compelled me to check for the umpteenth time on Google, and there was the answer — on the same web site no less: Herman’s brother Cornelis Makkink, who had a total of nine of his paintings in the movie. In case you don’t know, A Clockwork Orange was filmed in 1971, a year or so after Dropout, and opened during the Christmas season, December 1971. According to the IMDb, Kubrick and his wife visited the Makkink studios at S.P.A.C.E. in 1969, and thus their discovery of this artwork perhaps preceded Tinto’s discovery. (Perhaps. I think some of the plastic sculptures in Nerosubianco, filmed in 1967, were Cornelis’s creations.) I had previously wondered if Kubrick, who served as his own projectionist in the screening room built into his house so that he could check out what every other filmmaker was doing, may have borrowed the idea to use these artworks for A Clockwork Orange only after having seen Dropout. Alas, the best explanation is probably that Stanley and Tinto separately discovered the Makkinks’ work at about the same time, and each licensed the rights to use the same pieces. Life is nothing but coincidences. Remember also that back in 1968 Paramount Pictures, which then held the film-rights option on Burgess’s novel, had hired Tinto to direct the picture, which was to have starred Mick Jagger as Alex and the Rolling Stones as the Droogs. Tinto’s schedule couldn’t mesh with Paramount’s strict deadlines and so he lost the job. Life is nothing but coincidences.
Dropout is one of the rarest and hardest-to-find movies on the planet. But from these stills we can gain a sense of things. It’s interesting to study the compositions and framings, and this helps us understand why Stanley Kubrick is so widely regarded as a genius while Tinto Brass is widely regarded as a hack. My own assessments are not so extreme, but they certainly reverse the order. Kubrick, in collaboration with his cinematographer John Alcott, was after iconic visuals, and achieved those iconic visuals by licensing or commissioning other people’s works of art, filling the screen with them, and holding on them for lengthy amounts of time. He also had a photographer’s eye (as he should have, since he had begun his first photo business when he was still a school child), and shot moving images as though they were still photographs, perfectly lit, perfectly composed, perfectly framed. All else, including narrative, was secondary to the photographic perfection. Tinto, on the other hand, is an impressionist who’s more concerned with emotions, confusion, disorientation, ambiguity, and a desire to inspire among his audiences empathy with his characters. A study of his earlier films, 1963 through 1979, reveals a fascination with messes, untidyness, lower-class squalor, dilapidated edifices, bleak landscapes, and the hopeless desperation to escape from all the madness. Yet his freest characters — Bonifacio and Kim in In capo al mondo, Vittoria in Il disco volante, the Yankee in Yankee, Bernard in Heart in His Mouth, Barbara and the American in Nerosubianco, Coso in L’urlo, Immacolata in La vacanza, Hans Reiter in Salon Kitty, Drusilla in Caligula, Ophelia in Action — will never escape. They are trapped. But it is only in being trapped that they can gain any sort of sane perspective on the society around them — or, if not a sane perspective, at least a poetic sensibility. Such content forbids iconic images, and you can search Tinto’s entire canon in vain for the one singular image that sums up his body of work. You will find unforgettable characters, unforgettable situations, unforgettable gags, unforgettable insights, but no unforgettable images that could become popular poster items. Tinto litters his set with unusual objets d’art and objets trouvés to create a general sense of disorder. Stanley Kubrick, on the other hand, lights them brightly and displays them as though he were shooting a documentary on the artists. Critics and intellectuals (I am neither, I hope) tend to prefer order, or the appearance thereof, over randomness, and that’s why slick images trump any other quality in a movie, as far as many people are concerned. We should also remember that Tinto’s mentor was Roberto Rossellini, who in his own movies despised anything that looked well-made. He wanted his stories to be well-staged, but he never wanted them to look like professional studio products, and sometimes he went out of his way to make them look cheap and inept. That, surely, is why his movies were so hard to find, until just the past four or five years when he was finally rediscovered by a small coterie of admirers and his movies started being released on DVD. It is impossible — absolutely impossible — to have a good understanding of Tinto’s movies until you’ve delved into the baffling, vague, occasionally painfully bad, occasionally debilitatingly boring, but ultimately brilliant works of Roberto Rossellini.
Dropout began shooting on Monday, 1 June 1970. According to the woefully unreliable Cinema X (vol. 3, no. 3 [1970?]) as well as a few other tenth-hand sources, Dropout has Mary (Vanessa Redgrave), a disillusioned English banker’s wife, kidnapped by Bruno (Franco Nero), an Italian escapee from the lunatic asylum at Broadmoor. She is so fascinated by him that she chooses not to run away, but instead to travel with him throughout the land in search of the only witness who can prove his sanity. In the course of their peregrinations, they meet a rogue’s gallery of outsiders — the unemployed, druggies, drag queens, alcoholics, anarchists, and so forth. Though they never locate their witness, they discover the wonders of life through society’s dropouts. The amazing Gigi Proietti also appears in this film.
When I finally saw what little I could make out of this movie, I realized that the plot summary was overly simplistic. Tinto is a bit like me, in a sense. I was raised in a roach-infested apartment complex that was one small step better than a slum. But because everything fascinates me except for sports and pop culture, most people who meet me think I’m an upper-class intellectual. Little do they know.... After decades of living paycheck to paycheck and going mad from ever-mounting debt, and ceaselessly getting into terrifying trouble with the authorities, I suddenly found myself working in a solidly middle-class job. I live surrounded by horrendous poverty with countless people living on the sidewalks and drinking out of sewers and scrounging garbage cans, but I frequently get invited to upper-class get-togethers with some rather famous people. All that leads me to have perspectives different from the typical ones. Tinto seems to have the same perspectives on society. In this story he yanks an upper-class housewife out of her circle and plops her down into flop houses surrounded by meths drinkers and pimps and all the starving disenfranchised who camp out in garbage dumps, where she finds herself chased by the police. Those are the sorts of stories that form themsleves in my head nearly every day as I wander among the different strata in my existence. So I understand what he’s doing. It amazes me, though, how energetically he tells this story. For the first hour or so there’s hardly a moment for the audience to catch its breath. Oddly, nearly every scene is slowly paced, but there are so many scenes, each so completely unexpected, that the story seems to race. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. WE HAVE GOT TO RELEASE THIS MOVIE!!!!!!!!!
At long last, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Alexander Tuschinski who restored/reconstructed some films shown at the HRIFF retrospective in Los Ángeles, I was finally able to see Dropout all the way through, in the Italian dub, with English subtitles. The screener was derived from the only available copy, which was taken from a poorly made, blurry, murky 16mm print that had been battered almost to death through the years. Had there been access to the original camera neg and the original master tracks it would have looked dazzling. Unfortunately such sources are still locked away. It was nonetheless a little gem of a movie. Some people in the audience loved it and found it captivating. Some people in the audience (my friends!) loathed it and found it agonizing. There was no
Another lovely bit was when a meths drinker by a campfire at a decrepit disused train station in London spontaneously begins singing “Avanti o popolo, Bandiera Rossa,” as, of course, meths drinkers do, complete with British mispronunciation. You’ve all noticed this, I’m sure.
If you’re ever lucky enough to see this obscure movie, there are other references you won’t catch. Here’s one I learned about from an Italian friend: Giuseppe Pinelli. It wasn’t until my friend explained this that I suddenly remembered hearing about this incident way back when. Of course, I never had the details and I completely forgot about it afterwards.
Dropout was filmed partly in English and partly in Italian, and it was filmed in direct sound. There was apparently an English-language release presumably with most of the Italian sequences dubbed into English, and, of course, there’s the Italian release with most of the English sequences dubbed into Italian. In the Italian dub we can frequently hear the original direct track, but just as an English speaker is about to be dubbed we can hear the soundtrack
ROBERTO LERICI, the noted playwright, lent his hand to the script. He and Brass would continue to collaborate on five more films, and Brass also thrice directed one of Lerici’s stage plays. Sadly, he died in 1992, in his early sixties.
Distributed by Medusa (Italy),
Titanus International (International),
|Regia (direction)||Tinto Brass|
|Sceneggiatura (screenplay)||Tinto Brass and Franco Longo|
|Dialoghi (dialogue)||Roberto Lerici|
|Prodotto da (produced by)||Tinto Brass for Colt Produzioni Cinematografica, Lion International Film, and Medusa Produzione|
|Direttore della fotografia
(director of photography)
|Musica (music)||Don Fraser|
|Canzoni (songs)||NON PIANGERE |
sung by Luigi Proietti
THE SUN IS SHINING
sung by Middle of the Road
|Musica di repertorio (music excerpts)||Il barbiere de Siviglia, |
|Aiuto registi (assistant directors)||Franco Conge, Giorgio Patrono, Peter Elford|
|Aiuti montatrice (assistant editors)||Elsa Armanni, Fulvia Armanni (miscredited as Fulvio)|
|Costumi (costumes)||Maricia D’Alfonso|
|PERSONAGGI E INTERPRETI|
|Bruno Caruso||Franco Nero|
|Mary Hopkins||Vanessa Redgrave|
|Gigi the Pimp||Luigi Proietti|
|Robert Hopkins||Frank Windsor|
|???||Patsy Smart Darcus|
|Movie Crew||Tinta Brass (Carla Cipriani)|
|Movie Actor / The “Prime Minister”||Tinto Brass|