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
EARTHY! Brass, Redgrave, and Nero had so much fun making Dropout that they decided to follow it up with an Italian companion piece. Again, the three of them paid for the 16mm production out of their own pockets. Despite having nearly provoked a riot at the Venice Film Festival, it won the PRIZE FOR BEST ITALIAN FILM. This no-budget work plays, looks, sounds, and feels like a folk tale. It’s a must-see, and it’s one of my five or six favorite movies ever. Fiorenzo Carpi’s music, based on Venetian folk songs, is among the loveliest ever to appear in a movie. The lyrics, appropriately, were written by inmates of mental institutions.
This is one of Vanessa Redgrave’s greatest rôles — completely unglamourous. She plays peasant girl Immacolata, who leads not the best of lives. Her seduction of Count Claudio backfires when the count, having turned his attentions back to his wife, has Immacolata committed to an asylum for the criminally insane. Immediately upon her one-month experimental leave (vacation) from the institution, her family reject her and give her to a creditor as a mare. Her subsequent adventures of escaping into the woods, hitching up with a poacher, and squatting with her newfound friends — four Gypsies and a traveling underwear salesman named Gigi the Englishman — end tragically with kidnappings, murders, and more imprisonments. Corin Redgrave (Vanessa’s brother) as Gigi the Englishman gives one of the most appealing performances in movie history. And you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Osiride Pevarello wearing a dress and interrogating a donkey.
Everything about this movie amazed me, but what especially amazed me was the economy of its storytelling. Complex ideas are presented in a matter of moments, and presented more directly and more visually than I have seen done in even the best silent movies. Often this is accomplished by absurd exaggeration. For instance, to illustrate that Immacolata (played by the 5'9" Vanessa Redgrave) is a misfit among her family, most of her relatives are played by midgets. If I had made the film, swiftly explaining that Immacolata’s family are in debt to their neighbor the miller would have presented me with a challenge. Watch how Brass explains it, primarily visually, in about five seconds. In one instance Brass apparently had to go to some length to explain how Immacolata and Alpì went from being prisoners of the Count’s Nazi son to being enslaved in a sewing factory. To speed the film along, Brass simply deleted the explanation, replacing it with a jump cut. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. As far as I know, there’s never been another movie even remotely like this one.
La vacanza, with its wonderful eccentricities, beautiful look and feel, lovable characters, and hypnotic narrative, should have been a midnight favorite. But its minuscule release went unnoticed.
MUSING: There’s a character named Iside (Isis) and another named Osiride (Osiris)? And yet another named Ra?
A POSSIBLY DEAD-WRONG MUSING: Now, why did La vacanza nearly provoke a riot? After reading the New York Times’s account of the world première, I braced myself for the most obnoxious movie imaginable. But when I finally got a copy and plopped it into my machine, I saw a very quiet, imaginative, and beautiful film. What was the problem? Well, about a year later I think I figured it out. Social commitments forced me to sit through one of my least-favorite movies ever, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). I had watched it once before, ages ago, and thought it one of the three worst movies I had ever seen — horribly written, with undeliverable dialogue, and the most excruciatingly silly acting possible. Watching it was a painful experience for me, as well as an embarrassing one. No second-grade class putting on a school play could do as badly. So this time around I insisted on watching it from the booth. That gave me the luxury of being able to shut off the monitor (and invent my own dialogue!). It also kept me away from the crowd, who I felt might well become violent. I was fully expecting the audience, especially the several dozen university students who were required to view it for a class, to lynch the film programmers. When the movie was over I walked into the auditorium, and was completely taken aback to discover that everyone loved it. There was much talk about how delicate, subtle, and intelligent it was. Finally, a college professor friend, who was leading the after-film discussion, made a remarkably cogent and telling observation. He said that we enjoy movies because of the comfort they give us by providing familiar conventions. A ha! That’s it! Apparently many people do take comfort in familiar conventions. I am not one of those people. Familiar conventions depress, irritate, and offend me. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is a two-hour catalogue of the corniest and most clichéd of all movie conventions. La vacanza, on the other hand, contains no conventions at all — apart from its utilization picture and sound recorded onto emulsion affixed to a triacetate base. Those who seek comfort in the conventional will find no comfort here. But those who enjoy being challenged with new points of view, who get off on seeing the world stood on end, and who revel in imaginations that go into overdrive, will have a rollicking good time. (If you’re wondering what my other two least-favorite movies are, here goes: Stagecoach  and The Way He Was . Ranking a very distant fourth for sheer unwatchability is a Carole Lombard movie from 1929 called High Voltage. I have been unable to watch these three films in their entirety. And mercifully, The Way He Was seems to have vanished off the face of the earth — not even the Internet Movie Database makes a mention of it. The loss of the film is no loss, believe me. Now that I think about it, I wonder if The Way He Was was even released. It was a supposed parody of Nixon that played at the Guild Theatre in Albuquerque for a few days in 1974, and it was a truly independent 35mm production, shot by people who somehow rustled up enough money to rent some equipment but who did not have a clue as to what they were doing. That may well have been its only public screening. Actually, I wouldn’t mind locating a print just for the curiosity value. Anyway, I’m sure there are plenty of other movies as bad as these, if not worse, but I hope I never run across them. LATE-ADDED NOTE: Oops. Ran across them. Pretty much everything being made in Hollywood now is far worse.)
TECHNICAL NOTE: The PAL VHS video is a 25fps transfer but the fields are out of phase. How that happened, I don’t know. On normal TV sets (which are almost extinct now) there will be a few moments of noticeable cropping. On modern televisions, there won’t be. The video was taken from a 35mm blowup rather than a 16mm original. The colors in the video are quite weak, with trees looking more blue than green. The original must have looked gorgeous, and it’s a tragedy that the video edition doesn’t do it justice.
ANOTHER TECHNICAL NOTE: Unlike most post-1950s films, La vacanza has little re-dubbing. In most scenes, what we hear on the soundtrack is pretty much what the crew heard on location. While that gives us rather poor audio quality, it compensates by providing us a nice cinéma vérité feel. And at long last, I figured out how something was done. The sound is in sync for only about one-third of the shots. For the longest time I couldn’t understand why. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. So obvious. Why didn’t I catch this before? Tinto would reshoot each scene from several different angles, but when he cut all the various takes together, he could use the audio from only one take. So simple! And it works!
Vincenzo M. Siniscalchi presenta
|Soggetto di (original story by)||Tinto Brass|
|Sceneggiatura di (screenplay by)||Vincenzo Maria Siniscalchi & Tinto Brass|
|Dialoghi di (dialogue by)||Roberto Lerici|
|Direttore della fotografia
(director of photography)
|Musiche di (music by)||Fiorenzo Carpi|
|Consulenza giuridica di (legal counsel)||Sergio Pastore|
|Sostituto procuratore della repubblica
(deputy public prosecutor)
|Sostituto procuratore della repubblica
(deputy public prosecutor)
|Igino Cappelli, Giudice di Sorveglianza|
|Operatore alla macchina (camera operator)||Enrico Sasso|
|Aiuto operatore (assistant camera operator)||Renato Doria|
|Organizzatore generale (general manager)||Marcello Bollero|
|Direttore di produzione (production manager)||Pierluigi Ciriaci|
|Segretaria di edizione (continuity)||Carla Cipriani|
|Aiuti registi (assistant directors)||Peppe Scavuzzo, Osiride Pevarello|
|Vanessa Redgrave’s dialogue coach||Osiride Pevarello [uncredited]|
|Assistente alla regia (asst. to the director)||Girmbruno Legnaioli|
|Scenografia (art direction)||Carla Cipriani|
|Costumi (costumes)||Susanna Dubiner|
|Fonico (sound)||Mario Messina|
|Trucco (make-up)||Pino Capogrosso|
|Fotografo (still photographer)||Angelo Samperi|
|Capo elettricista (gaffer)||Sergio Spila|
|Aiuto (best boy)||Marcello Gardarelli|
|Gruppista (generator operator)||Italo Trombetta|
|Capo macchinista (key grip)||Quirino Fantauzzi|
|Aiuto (grip)||Orlando Zuccari|
|Attrezzista (prop master)||Tonino Marra|
|Assistente montatore (assistant editor)||Elsa Armanni|
|Aiuto (second assistant editor)||Fulvio Armanni|
|Effetti speciali (special effects)||Luciano Anzellotti|
|Missaggio (mixer)||Fausto Ancillai|
|Colore della (color by)||Technichrome|
|Si ringrazia (we thank)||L’istituto Simes per la concessione de locali di villa contarini e le confezioni Siv-Sar per la fabbrica di Donada|
|Canzoni (songs)||“SENTO LE GAMBE DEBOLI,” “GENTE CHE PIANGE RIDE” cantate da Vanessa Redgrave|
“LA GENTE CHE QUI SE LA FA SOTTO,” “A QUALCUNO LONTANO” cantate da Gigi Proietti
|Edizioni musicali (music publishers)||General Music Produzione|
|Produzione (production company)||Lion Film|
| con il contributo del
(with a contribution by)
|Ministero Turismo e Spettacolo [uncredited]|
|Montaggio e regia
(editing and direction)
|PERSONAGGI E INTERPRETI|
|Osiride bracconiere||Franco Nero|
|Il giudice||Leopoldo Trieste|
|Gigi l’inglese||Corin Redgrave|
|Olindo mugnaio||Osiride Pevarello|
|???||Germana Monteverdi [Mercedes]|
|???||Stefano Oppedisano c.s.c.|
|???||Anja Smirnoff Casaroli|
|???||Peppe Scavuzzo (c.s.c.)|