Sep 24, 2013

Ugly, Dirty and Bad

 Undoubtedly, the Italians are not only the greatest cinematic exploiters, but also the greatest self-exploiters and if any film demonstrates this, there is probably no better example of this than the delightfully degenerate, great tragicomedic Guido-sploitation Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976) aka Brutti, sporchi e cattivi aka Down and Dirty directed by Ettore Scola (A Special Day, What Time Is It?). Set in a sub-medieval maggot-infested micro-Third World shantytown in inner city Rome, Ugly, Dirty and Bad is the superbly sordid and sleazy yet hysterically hilarious tale of a magnificently miserly slumlord of the pathologically criminally-inclined sort who has four generations of his own family living under his rickety rat-infested roof as if they are the prisoners of a death camp run by Goombah hobos. Co-written by Sergio Citti (Ostia, Bawdy Tales)—the sole filmmaker protégé of Pier Paolo Pasolini who himself came from the slums of Rome as proud members of the sub-proletariat (Citti taught Pasolini ‘rare’ Roman dialects) and featuring actors like Ettore Garofolo of Pasolini’s Mamma Roma (1962)—Ugly, Dirty and Bad is like a slapstick poverty porn of the absurdly anti-erotic sort, featuring incestuous heterosexual trannies, father-in-law rapists, poverty-ridden playboy models, and a family that may not agree on much aside from the fine points of familicide. Starring Nino Manfredi—one of the most prominent actors of the “commedia all'italiana” (Italian-style comedy) genre—in the lead role as a pathetically greedy, one-eyed patriarch who is willing to kill his entire family to keep his well ‘earned’ insurance money he obtained in a quicklime accident that cost him the hefty price of half his vision, Ugly, Dirty and Bad is a radical remainder that the fall of the Roman Empire was not exactly the best thing for what would become the racially despoiled Italian non-race. Apparently, originally envisioned as a documentary, Ugly, Dirty and Bad is nihilistic Italian neo-neorealism from a deranged dagowop netherworld where people are willing to do anything and everything to hold on to what little they have in regard to a life, like maggots on a corpse, except less dignified. Probably the best unintentional cinematic arguments for the merits of Cosa Nostra, Ugly, Dirty and Bad is, indeed, ‘ugly, dirty and bad’ but it is also brilliantly cynical and masterfully misanthropic in an almost tragicomedically transcendental sort of way. If you ever thought about what it would be like to see a motley crew of ghetto Machiavellians without teeth fighting tooth and nail for mere self-preservation, you can do no better than Ugly, Dirty and Bad, a film that even trumps Werner Schroeter’s Nel regno di Napoli (1978) aka Neapolitanische Geschichten aka The Kingdom of Naples—a work apparently hated by many Italians upon its release due to its unflattering portrayal of poor garlic-deprived Guidos—in its all-encompassing cultural pessimism and aesthetic and thematic grotesquery, albeit done from a mercilessly mirthful angle. A celluloid contradiction of the age old Italian saying “Africa begins south of Rome,” Ugly, Dirty and Bad is a uniquely ugly remainder that even the greatest and most illustrious civilizations can degenerate to the level of slime-ridden savages not much different than those found in the Congo or Brazil. 

 Before the white trash Irish-American Gallagher family of Showtime’s Shameless (2011-presents), there was the miserable Mazzatella family of Ettore Scola's masterpiece of merry meek misery Ugly, Dirty and Bad. The patently perverse patriarch and 'Duce' of the family, Giacinto Mazzatella (Nino Manfredi), is a man without any serious plans, aside from hiding his well earned insurance money from members of his family, not working, and getting so retardedly drunk that he forgets where he hides said money. Four generations living under one dilapidated roof in a shitty shack in a negro-inspired shantytown on the poverty-ridden borderlands of Rome, the world of Ugly, Dirty and Bad is a pleasantly perturbing place where ideas of prostitution start before puberty for young girls, debauched trannies screw their cuckold brother’s wives, fathers shoot their sons over baseless accusations revolving around money, and mothers take pride in the fact that their daughters are featured in porno magazines. With seemingly 20+ people living under one roof and every single one of them poorer than prole piss, Giacinto makes sure to sleep with a loaded shotgun, which he is more than willing to use as demonstrated by the fact that he nonsensically shoots one of his sons after misplacing his money and accusing his entire family of stealing it. As someone who literally stabs his wife Matilde (Linda Moretti) after an argument, rapes his daughter in law, and denigrates his transvestite son Nando (Franco Merli) with remarks like “homo, tranny, faggot…get fucked in the ass,” Giacinto makes for the ultimate archetypical anti-family man. After a short stay in prison for shooting his progeny, Giacinto’s life takes a dramatic change for the better when he meets and instantly falls in love with a young yet morbidly obese prostitute with monstrous bosoms named Iside (Maria Luisa Santella) and does not think twice about taking his new lecherous lady love home and having her sleep in the same bed with his wife Matilde. Naturally, considering Giacinto gives Iside ‘love’ and ‘respect’, treats her to lavish gifts and fine wine, and screws her in front of his entire family, his wife Matilde seeks revenge and enlists the help of a local voodoo master who drives pins in the heart of a voodoo doll representing Giacinto, but that pseudo-magical mumbo jumbo proves unfruitful in killing the sub-proletarian philanderer. Eventually, the entire family agrees to kill patriarch Giancinto by poisoning his macaroni, but like all ‘white’ trash, he survives the ordeal and pays his family back by setting fire to his home at night while everyone is sleeping inside, yet, rather unfortunately, they, also being human garbage, all survive. Determined to rid himself of his family and profit in the process, Giancinto sells the family shack to a Neapolitan immigrant family but the tenacious termite-like tribe fights back and the humble home collapses as a result. In the end, the family that hates each other stays together as Giacinto builds his degenerate dynasty and new shack and lives haplessly-ever-after with his piggy prostitute girlfriend, wife Matilde, and four generations of degenerates. 

 Notably, the family shack featured in Ugly, Dirty and Bad has a peculiar statue of Charlie Chaplin, which is quite ironic considering, instead of pumping up and pleading for the proletariat like the silent commie film star did in his films, Ettore Scola portrays them as acutely accursed criminals and scumsuckers of the innately irredeemable sort. Rather paradoxically, the untermensch cretins of Ugly, Dirty and Bad ultimately somehow come out looking more likeable, at least in my opinion, to any of the cinematic tramps Chaplin ever created as Scola's film is celluloid scatology with a sensitively sordid soul, thereupon making it a cinematic work that could have only been sired in post-WWII Italy. Indeed, without question, no other nation of people is better at cinematically polishing a turd and making it pleasantly palatable than the Italians and I doubt there is a better example of this than Ugly, Dirty and Bad, a film that makes meatball misery, misanthropy, and meagerness seem merry and magical, which is something no Bolshevik agitprop flick has ever been able to accomplish. And I am not the only one to see it this way as director Ettore Scola earned himself the “Prix de la mise en scène” (Best Director Award) at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival for directing Ugly, Dirty and Bad, a work the makes for perfect company with the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini and his protégé Sergio Citti. As someone who has always had a softspot for Italians and Italian-Americans with a lack of self-control, erratic emotions, and a propensity for petty criminality, I find that Ugly, Dirty and Bad is like the Citizen Kane of Guido-sploitation flicks and a work that makes classic American family comedies like National Lampoon's Vacation (1983) and A Christmas Story (1983) seem like prissy bourgeois bullshit by comparison.  A fiercely and foully farcical celluloid family affair for the entire family, Ugly, Dirty and Bad is guaranteed to make even the most perverted and poverty-stricken of pedigrees feel better about their troubled family matters as Scola's film personifies the wise phrase, “if you can't feed them, don't breed them” like no other.

-Ty E

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