Apr 26, 2013

Death Laid an Egg

I would not exactly call myself a “giallo man”, especially considering my favorite films from the great Guido genre tend to be works that defy convention or barely belong to the genre at all, including Eyes Behind the Wall (1977) aka L'occhio dietro la parete directed by Giuliano Petrelli, Bloodbath (1979) aka Las flores del vicio directed by Silvio Narizzano, A Quiet Place in the Country (1968) aka Un tranquillo posto di campagna directed by Elio Petri, Order of Death (1983) aka Copkiller directed by Roberto Faenza, Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) aka mosche di velluto grigio directed by Dario Argento, and last but certainly not least, Death Laid an Egg (1968) aka La morte ha fatto l'uovo directed by Giulio Questi. Directed by the man who assembled the quasi-surreal gothic western Django Kill... If You Live, Shoot! (1967) aka Se sei vivo spara—a film of no direct relation to Django (1966) that only took its rip-off name due to the financial success of the Franco Nero vehicle despite, in my opinion, being a superior and more multifaceted cinematic work—Death Laid an Egg would ultimately prove to be the greatest celluloid achievement of criminally underrated auteur Giulio Questi's rather brief filmmaking career as a completely unclassifiable pop-arthouse, proto-giallo sardonic sci-fi work of the misanthropic, anti-technocratic, and quasi-Marxist (indeed, the director Questi was a commie, albeit of the rather now-unconventional 'masculine' variety) sort. Featuring a deranged dystopian psychedelic essence and a delightfully discordant score, Death Laid an Egg—a film with indubitably one of the greatest titles in film history—is centered on an all around sexually perverse Ménage à trios comprised of one man and two women who, on top of sharing carnal knowledge, also co-operate a high-tech Faustian chicken farm where they hope to become God and sire a mutant race of futuristic fowl that will bring them massive profits as technocratic prophets, but, unfortunately, mutual deceit of the dark romantic variety gets in their way and the unhinged untermensch of the house seems to have an unhealthy obsession with brutally murdering pretty prostitutes by slitting their throats in a sleazy hotel room. With eccentric and erratic editing by Franco Arcalli (who also acted as the film’s co-writer, as well as the co-writer of virtually every other Questi film and one of the co-writers of the Sergio Leone epic Once Upon a Time in America (1984)) that seems like a Soviet montage on acid and a jarring avant-garde soundtrack by Bruno Maderna (who provided some music to 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), Death Laid an Egg is a trying and—some would say—aesthetically torturous trip that will only appeal to a certain sort of cinephile, but surely not every jaded giallo fan. An absolutely aesthetically and thematically loony labyrinth of the lurid celluloid libertine variety that keeps the viewer simultaneously discombobulated yet hypnotized from the intriguing beginning to its eremitic end, Death Laid an Egg is the thing delectably decadent and dead celluloid daydreams are made of and with a tagline like, “See them tear each other apart. Then see what they do with the pieces” it is all but impossible to resist such a film's cynical charms. 

 Although being the sole male in a bizarre love triangle with two beauteous women might seem ideal to most men, it is certainly not that way for handsome yet weak beta-male Marco (Jean-Louis Trintignant)—a man so dissatisfied with his sex life that he feels the needs to regularly buy cheap hookers and ritualistically slit their throats at the same hotel room, or so things seem from the very beginning of Death Laid an Egg—a biting attack on the sexual and social perversions and pathologies of the bloated bourgeois. Like the protagonist played by Franco Nero in Hitch-Hike (1977) aka Autostop rosso sangue directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, Marco must live with the fact that he is an intrinsically impotent man-whore who married a woman who, although unquestionably dropdead gorgeous, he no longer loves, thus he daydreams of breaking free from the sheer and utter banality of his contrived and unnatural bourgeois life. Indeed, as the sole owner of the high-tech chicken farm where Marco works, wife Anna (Gina Lollobrigida) certainly wears the pants in the relationship, even if she is always taking them off for the much younger babe Gabrielle (Swedish blonde bombshell Ewa Aulin)—the temptress of a third wheel of the terrible threesome that will end in abject tragedy. A somewhat older woman than Gabrielle and most certainly past her physical prime, Anna seems to have a sexually charged, yet jealous infatuation over the young blonde beauty and discusses dismembering her with husband Macro, albeit in an eroticized and figurative fashion. Sort of like the cute yet creepy young lily-licker from Chloe (2009) directed by Atom Egoyan, Anna sees Gabrielle (who even admits “my mother was my only happiness”) as an unspoken rival and perverse mother figure and has a sort of lesbian Oedipus Complex (although, in the end, it seems like she really had a lesbo Electra complex). An ultra-paranoid lady with a rather guilty conscious, Anna—a bourgeois babe and capitalistic enemy of the working-class—is paranoid that her ex-workers, who she fired and replaced with state-of-the-art machinery to save money, are out to kill her as they stare at her behind a fence near her chicken factory, but little does she know that she has more ‘personal’ romantic acquaintances that are out to kill her, albeit for different reasons. Marco is also the rather reluctant adviser/representative of an arcane organization called “The Association” that wants to push the visibility of chickens to the forefront of mankind as the bald chicken-phile Führer of the group believes, “The difficulty we face is that nobody knows poultry.” The members of the Association don’t seem to know shit about chicken shit either as they feel the fowl should be promoted in an aberrant advertising campaign as the “principal actor in the drama of modern life,” by promoting degenerate quasi-Warholian pop-art of chicks as doctors and poultry playboys and proletarians. The Association also hooks Marco up with a suave Svengali character named Mondaini (Jean Sobieski), who begins to conspire with Anna for dubious reasons. Marco, Anna, and Gabrielle have it easy at the chicken factory as they have a magic all-purpose poultry machine called “The Machine” that, on top of feeding and slaughtering chickens, plays acoustic avant-garde music. The Machine, which uses radioactive chemicals, is also being prepared to create mutant headless, wingless, and boneless chickens of the future that will cut expenses and dramatically increase profits. 

 A man stuck in a loveless relationship with a domineering wife who desperately desires love, Marco attempts to convince Gabrielle to run away with him as he hates his job, life, and wife, and with the young blonde he wants to, “find something permanent.” Unfortunately, Gabrielle is from a younger, more machine-like and psychopathic generation, thus she only has her eye on the money and the archetypical ‘modern man,’Mondaini will help her, telling his co-conspirator that they are “much stronger” than miserably married couple Marco and Anna. Gabrielle and Mondaini plan to frame Marco for a murder that he has ironically been fantasizing about committing, but while the married man has deep-seated reasons for wanting to commit the crime and escape his hopelessly humdrum life, the two psychopathic schemers are merely motivated by money. When Marco’s cute little doggy “Blackie” is grinded up in the Machine, he begins to lose his mind all the more, realizing that his life is literally being grinded up by the monster appliance. When the Machine actually ends up successfully churning out living and apparently breathing headless chickens, Marco freaks out and smashes the grotesque miscreations to death, which infuriates the Association and Anna. Before killing them, Anna—in a heated attempt to save their dying marriage—pleads to Marco, “Can’t you see how very important it is?! It's something I always wanted, something we could share between us, something that was ours, something that’s mysterious and now that it has finally come you reject it. You’re too weak to accept it. You’re a coward if you kill them…I WARN YOU!” Of course, Anna’s plea to her husband has the opposite of her desired results and Marco brutally bludgeons the mutant chickens to death, thus symbolically exterminating his marriage and riches in the process. Meanwhile, Anna goes incognito as a pseudo-prostitute so as to surprise Marco face-to-face when he goes to pick up his weekly whore to use and abuse, but Gabrielle and Mondaini have hatched a more malicious conspiracy that will inevitably usher in the end of a Ménage à trios and a marriage. 

 During one especially symbolic scene towards the conclusion of Death Laid an Egg, the leader of the Association verbally chews out Marco for killing the mutant chickens, ironically stating, “Your behavior seems to me outside the realm of any human standard,” as if playing God and creating ungodly freak fowl for monetary profit is a morally glorious thing. Totally breaking with every convention of the giallo aside from the 'whodunnit?' angle, Death Laid an Egg is an aberrant avant-garde assault on modernity, attacking consumerism, the sexual revolution, feminism, technocracy, and Faustian man’s eternal need to conquer, subjugate, and control nature in what is a neo-Grand Guignol hen Hades. As German philosopher Oswald Spengler wrote in his short work Man and Technics: A Contribution to a Philosophy of Life (1931), one of the first books written on technology, “As once the microcosm Man against Nature, so now the microcosm Machine is revolting against Nordic Man. The lord of the world is becoming the slave of the Machine. Their strength is bound up with the existence of coal,” and that can certainly be said of the world featured in Death Laid an Egg, but unsatisfying sexual degeneracy and moral retardation also reign in the film in an apocalyptic depiction of humanity that only sees pessimism for the future. Featuring the celluloid pop art aesthetic and phantasmagorical playboy perversity of works like The Laughing Woman (1969) aka Femina ridens directed by Piero Schivazappa and with the avant-garde wild and wanton weirdness of A Quiet Place in the Country (it should be noted that both film’s had the same production designer, Sergio Canevari, hence the aesthetic similarities), Death Laid an Egg is a curious celluloid work of its time that, although poorly aged in parts, still holds up quite aesthetically and thematically as a work that is more politically pertinent today than it was upon its initial release, even if has been deep fried in psychedelic psychobabble. After all, no one who has ever eaten at McDonalds could deny there is something rather off about their disgusting chicken meat with dubious pink and black chunks in it and after watching Death Laid an Egg, I doubt I will ever be able to eat such fried filth again. Indeed, the film brings truth to Werner Herzog's words, “Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stupidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish creatures in the world,” but as Death Laid an Egg demonstrates, humanity, especially members of the bourgeois, are much worse in a world where men are cowardly chickens and chicks want to be men.

-Ty E

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