Feb 23, 2014

The Howl (1968)

Before becoming one of the most internationally renowned celluloid smut-peddlers and arthouse-pornographers, and disastrously getting involved with working with poof novelist Gore Vidal and Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione on the ultimately botched Italo-American erotic epic Caligula (1979) starring Malcolm McDowell, Guido auteur Tinto Brass (Salon Kitty, Senso '45), not unlike many European filmmakers of his 'bobo' (aka bourgeois bohemian) generation, made exceedingly experimental and revolutionary socio-politically-charged cinematic works, with L'urlo (1968) aka The Howl being arguably his most aesthetically ambitious and accomplished, if not innately incoherent, cinematic work to date. A work that gave Brass the distinguished honor of being nominated for the ‘Berlin Golden Bear’ award at the 1970 German International Film Festival (aka ‘Berlinale’), The Howl is an exceedingly erratic and explosive celluloid bomb of the aesthetically terroristic sort that iconoclastically assaults everything that old school Hollywood stands for. Indeed, like fellow goombah artsploitation filmmakers like Alberto Cavallone with Quickly, spari e baci a colazione (1971), Salvatore Samperi with Cuore di mamma (1969) aka Mother’s Heart, Franco Brocani with Necropolis (1970), and Liliana Cavani with The Year of the Cannibals (1970) aka I cannibali, Tinto Brass demonstrated with The Howl his solidarity with the dope-addled far-left student movement of the late-1960s and the anti-establishment spirit of his decidedly degenerate post-nationalist zeitgeist. Starring European arthouse counter-culture superstar Tina Aumont (Modesty Blaise, Fellini’s Casanova)—the proud progeny of French Jewish actor Jean-Pierre Aumont (The Cross of Lorraine, Castle Keep) and Dominican-born Hollywood diva Maria ‘The Queen of Technicolor’ Montez (Arabian Nights, Cobra Woman)—in the role of a bride-to-be who decides to bail out on her wedding with a wayward revolutionary and go on an orgasmic psychedelic odyssey of no-return ostensibly involving the mind, body, and soul, The Howl is the sort of unwaveringly surreal quasi-metaphysical black comedy that could have only been sired in early-1970s Italy. Politically and morally speaking, The Howl is unequivocally one of the most ridiculously retarded and patently preposterous celluloid works I have ever had the bittersweet opportunity of seeing, but aesthetically speaking, it is an insanely idiosyncratic celluloid work that deserves to be compared with the films of Federico Fellini, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Luis Buñuel, Fernando Arrabal, Dušan Makavejev, and Vera Chytilová, yet still manages to stand on its own as a singular, if not oftentimes pretentious and pompous, piece of culturally corrosive and aesthetically explosive celluloid TNT. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis (The Serpent’s Egg, Blue Velvet), The Howl was actually the bizarre result of director Brass—a proud member of the so-called ‘Italian Radicals’ aka ‘Radicali Italiani’ political party—convincing the producer to produce a film based as a political manifesto as opposed to a conventional screenplay. Declaring, “The time has come to blow up the screen!,” Brass ultimately created a curiously creamy counter-culture wetdream featuring hippies “fucking the muck” (aka copulating with dirt), wind-up toy fascist dictators, sexually impotent anti-war activists (one lady states she does not have to care about the war since she cannot achieve an orgasm), strikingly gorgeous quasi-gothic runaway brides, dirty and literally tree-hugging hippie cannibals, and other gloriously grotesque things that prove that at one point in his early filmmaking career, the Italian filmmaker had the potential to be a ‘Guido Christoph Schlingensief’ of sorts. 

 Proto-gothic gal Anita Annigoni (Tina Aumont) has been arrested for ‘revolutionary’ activity in the past and her corporate executive boyfriend Berto (Nino Segurini) knows all about it because she detailed to him at his request how she was gang-raped by the cops, which is depicted in Warhol-esque black-and-white newsreel-like flashback scenes. Anita’s tragic story about how she was porked by a pernicious pack of pigs arouses Berto so much that he proposes marriage to her, which she reluctantly accepts. Starting where Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) left off, Anita realizes her mistake during the wedding ceremony and decides to leave her hubby-to-be at the altar and run-off with a degenerate counter-culture type named Coso (Gigi Proietti), who sports classic jail stripes and describes himself as, “a heavenly dog.” Anita and Coso hitch a ride with the sort of banal bourgeois couple that the runaway bride would have become part of had she married Berto, but the two strange strangers are soon kicked out of the car due to their erratic and scatological behavior. After taking a double-decker bus into a sort of surrealist Sodom and Gomorrah, the two new non-lovers, who took advantage of the bumpy bus ride by boning on the way, temporarily take residence in a semen-themed hotel from hedonistic hell where every room has its own preternatural sex fetish theme. Assumedly parodying the ancient period pieces of P.P. Pasolini (indeed, I doubt it is a coincidence that Berto is an executive at a company called ‘P.P.P.’), Anita and Coso later get all nice and cozy with some nudist cannibals in love in a ‘family tree’ (in a possibly a Marxist allegory against racial purity and nationalism?!) In a scene with segments intercut from Roberto Rossellini’s Paisan (1946), the two social renegades also go to a Jodorowsky-esque village where people are ritualistically murdered and a would-be-wanton woman complains, “Why should I give a damn about the war, if I continue to have difficulty reaching the climax?,” as if her out-of-order pussy is the most important thing in the world. Anita and Coso also enter a dark theater stage where a toy Uncle Adolf dressed like Napoleon goes on an egomaniacal rant in a scene where absurdist images of Hitler and Mussolini are intercut with that of a monkey. During what is undoubtedly her most iconic commie revolutionary impersonation in a scene that anticipates the infamous bank robbery photo of fallen heiress Patty Hearst, Anita and her comrade Coso kill toy Hitler with a storm of neo-bolshevik bullets. While taking a pilgrimage in a scenic graveyard, Coso is approached by a bitter Negro who matter-of-factly states, “When shit is worth something, negroes will be born without assholes!,” as if he has seen one-too-many Robert Downey Sr. flicks. In the end, Anita dies in a car wreck after driving around carelessly in a sports car while sporting her bridal dress, with her newly cold-corpse being devoured by flames and an off-screen narrator tragicomedically declaring, “A beautiful girl, intelligent but nuts, had a terrible ending. I knew it, poor girl. Terrible ending…better than I expected. Also, it’s not all her fault. We live in an age of syncretism. Whose fault is it? Everyone’s and no one’s. In fact, A is to B as B is to me. Me is to C as C is to believe. Is it clear? See is to believe. See is to believe. Nice. Very nice. Nice. Nice, nice, nice. In any case, nice.” 

 A merry yet morbid celluloid Magical Mystery Tour that seems like it was directed by a spastic and acutely schizophrenic Trotskyite with an actual sense of humor but also just as much pretense, The Howl not only makes for an excellent case against hallucinogenic drug use and loony left-wing politics, but also demonstrates that a serious celluloid artist once lurked inside cinematic titillator Tinto Brass. Rather unfortunately, a decidedly deluded utopian dreamer of the far-left sort also lurked in Brass as reflected in the audio commentary given by the director for the Cult Epics dvd release of The Howl where he pathetically namedrops such slave-morality-loving revolutionaries as Rousseau and Mao Tse-tung. On top of that, The Howling derives its name from Judaic pederast Allen Ginsberg’s obscenely retarded 1956 poem of the same name. Like Ginsberg’s putrid poetry, The Howl would ultimately land Brass in trouble with the law due to obscenity, thus resulting in a four-year ban of the film, as well as a 2-minute segment from the sperm hotel scene being excised from the work. With all the characters, including the beauteous yet mostly mute Tina Aumont, being nothing more than mere ciphers used by Brass to spread the incendiary ideas of his megalomaniac movie manifesto, The Howl ultimately takes the idea of the cinematic ‘auteur’ to pseudo-messianic extremes as if the filmmaker was play-acting at being a communist dictator, so it is only all the more ironic that he would find his niche in the usually undignified realm of high-class pornography. While not even a minor masterpiece, The Howl is certainly a hysterically humorous celluloid treat for the more adventurous cinephile. Apparently, Brass was asked to cinematically adapt A Clockwork Orange but turned it down to direct The Howl (!), which is just one more reason to respect the existence of the film as it would have been nothing short of a cinematic tragedy had Kubrick never got the chance to adapt Burgess’ novel. Featuring great one-liners like, “what a wonderful smell of smegma,” “Latin is simply manipulative action of the class system,” “contemplation is a bourgeois attitude,” “fucking the muck, fucking the muck,” “long live the married couple,” and “Your order is the order of logic. And logic is always false like morale, coherence,” The Howl also makes for a great unintentional satire of the truly ‘reactionary’ and regressive (and now thankfully retrograde) phenomenon that is far-left idealism. 

-Ty E

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