Apr 3, 2014

Hallucination Strip

Maybe it's because I am not an old hippie or young hipster, but I have always found Bud Cort (Brewster McCloud, The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou) and his one-note adult-baby quirkiness to be an intolerable bore and his role in Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude (1971) is one of the most overrated in all of cinema history, though I must give the actor some credit for being rather adventurous in terms of choosing the roles he played, ranging from the eponymous protagonist in the never-released Hitlerite comedy Son of Hitler (1978) to portraying a low-camp Freud alongside Klaus Kinski in The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (1984) to the voice of a talking computer in Electric Dream (1984). Undoubtedly, one of the most bizarre and absurdly against-type roles ever played by Cort was as an antique-thieving and drug-dealing far-left student revolutionary in the somewhat obscure and rather idiosyncratic Italian poliziottesco-psychedelic hybrid Roma drogata: la polizia non può intervenire (1975) aka Hallucination Strip aka Allucinating Trip directed by and co-written by one-time auteur Lucio Marcaccini (whose only other film work involved working as an assistant director on a couple films, most notably Vittorio De Sica's Academy Award winning work Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini (1970) aka The Garden of the Finzi-Continis) and co-penned by Fulci collaborator Vincenzo Mannino (The New York Ripper, Murder-Rock: Dancing Death). A considerably convoluted work that manages to be simultaneously artsy and trashy, anti-bourgeois and anti-communist, and anti-drug and LSD-ridden, Hallucination Strip is a peculiar piece of oftentimes kaleidoscopic celluloid counter-culture chaos featuring a rich pansy momma’s boy receiving a bath from his momma and maid, perennial baby-face dork Bud Cort pretending to be a ballsy neo-bolshevik bad ass, bourgeois communist scum protesting about the bourgeois and having to read salacious works by Gabriele D'Annunzio in high school, and a swarthy middle-aged Sicilian as the biggest and most ruthless dope-pusher in Rome. Featuring a shockingly well done and over-extended LSD dream-sequence of the orgasmic Oedipal sort that climaxes with an exceedingly effete young nobleman leaping to his death prematurely after having a rather bad yet beauteous trip that would make Freud's panties wet, Hallucination Strip is sleekly surreal style over substance that reminds one why—for better or worse—LSD creator Albert Hofmann probably had the greatest unintentional influence on cinema and literature. A philistine equivalent to Liliana Cavani’s I Cannibali (1970) aka The Year of the Cannibals and Luchino Visconti's Gruppo di famiglia in un interno (1974) aka Conversation Piece as directed by the half-braindead bastard son of Fernando Di Leo and Carmelo Bene, Hallucination Strip is surely the sort of aesthetically whimsical artsploitation that could have only been made in 1970s Italy.

Petite man-boy Massimo Monaldi (But Cort) is a would-be-cool-guy with a fast motorcycle who thinks having Trotsky-esque facial hair makes him some sort of chic revolutionary when in reality he is nothing more than a petty high school criminal whose most audacious form of political activism is complaining to the teachers at his high school about having to read the decadent prose of D'Annunzio and the poor conditions of hospitals. Due to his self-stylized counter-culture rock-star-commie persona, Massimo is hated by his friend’s exceedingly wealthy parents, which is no surprise since he is an immoral thief who steals from his comrades' families, not to mention the fact he feeds his pals drugs. Indeed, in an absurd plan to ostensibly fund a trip for both himself and his yoga-digging friends to go to the ‘fabulous Orient,’ Massimo steals a 17th century French antique snuffbox from the rich prick father of his girlfriend Cinzia Roldi (Annarita Grapputo). Needless to say, Cinzia’s father calls the cops as the snuffbox is apparently worth millions and soon Massimo finds himself being watched by a semi-Serpico-like cop (he supports‘free joint’) named De Stefani (played by Marcel Bozzuffi, who is probably best known for playing Pierre Nicoli in The French Connection). Massimo has a pansy would-be-poet mama’s boy friend named Rudy (Settimio Segnatelli whose only other film role was starring alongside lapsed Warhol star Joe Dallesandro in Il tempo degli assassini (1975) aka Season for Assassins) who is a bit of an eccentric fellow as both his Madre (Eva Czemerys) and maid give him baths as if he were a helpless newborn baby.  Indeed, Rudy is the kind of socially retarded dude who cannot so much as walk without looking absurdly autistic.  Massimo attempts to sell the snuffbox to Rudy, but he is saving his money for a ‘liberation rite’ aka party where he and a bunch of friends will have a drug orgy of sorts.  Of course, Rudy wants Massimo to procure the dope and LSD.

While Massimo is initially skeptical about getting Rudy dope for his hip ‘happening,’ he finally gives in after his friend makes the following rather melodramatic and even hysterical plea, “This party isn’t a whim at all. It can bring a magical moment in my life. In closing an absurd existence I’ll begin to live at last. The thing is all the time now I’m obsessed with a doubt. It’s insidious like an illness… That is I’ll never be able to live my own life. I’ll have to stop this absurd existence or I might as well jump off the top floor.” Ironically, it will ultimately be the drugs that inspire Rudy to jump out of his window. To get drugs for Rudy, Massimo gets involved with an unsavory and equally swarthy fellow who goes by the name ‘The Sicilian’ (Maurizio Arena), who has a hitman (Leopoldo Trieste, who appeared in small roles in big films like Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Godfather: Part II (1974)) that is leaving bodies around Rome. Though Massimo manages to get rid of the snuffbox and get the drugs in what seems like a win-win transaction in his deals with the Sicilian, little does he realize this tradeoff will ultimately create an intricate web of death and conspiracy. Needless to say, when Rudy gets high on LSD, dreams of lizard people and having sex with his mother, and inevitably jumps to his death from his balcony, Massimo faces trouble from both ‘good cop’ De Stefani and the Sicilian, not to mention the fact that his girlfriend is institutionalized. Indeed, De Stefani, who goes against his commander’s orders in terms of investigating the dope-dealing business, uses Massimo to get to the Sicilian. To De Stefani’s chagrin, he finds the Sicilian dead, as he hopes to use the dealer to get to the mob. De Stefani also learns that the mob wants to kill Massimo, but things may be too late.

While Hallucination Strip is unquestionably a celluloid mess it sorts, it is also a relatively entertaining and aesthetically pleasing mess that is certainly worthy repeat viewings. In a recent interview with the film editor Giulio Berruti (who is best known as the director of Suor Omicidi (1979) aka Killer Nun starring Anita Ekberg and Joe Dallesandro), he revealed that Hallucination Strip director Lucio Marcaccini was a sort of indecisive ‘anti-auteur’ who had no idea what he was doing and essentially allowed everyone else on the film crew to help guide him to directing the film. Indeed, as Berruti explained regarding Marcaccini, “He was rather short, with a kind of Charlie Chaplin moustache. He was very thin and had very meek eyes. But he didn’t seem to be the director of the movie. He seemed he just happened to be there by chance. There were the gaffer, the assistant director, the lead actor, the extras, the secretary; all of them were telling him how he should work. And he tried to follow everyone’s advice before starting shooting a scene.” Hallucination Strip star Patrizia Gori was so unaffected by working with Marcaccini that she did not even remember being directed by him (!), or as she stated herself, “Honestly, I don’t remember the director because he was a newcomer, and I don’t think he did other things later.” Regardless, someone was responsible for directing a number of fantastic dream-sequences in Hallucination Strip that rival some of the best surrealist scenarios ever directed by the likes of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Carmelo Bene. In its use of psychedelic body paint on slender statuesque bodies, Hallucination Strip also reminded me of melancholy arthouse effort Veruschka: Poetry of a Woman (1971) starring German supermodel Veruschka von Lehndorff and Lucio Fulci’s psychedelic psychosexual giallo A Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971), but such aesthetics were characteristic of that drug-addled period of heightened consciousness. Of course, narcotic-inspired Marxist politics were also in fashion in that time, but luckily Hallucination Strip portrays the student activists as misguided hypocrites who, despite being rich and pampered, complain the world is an unfair place full of big mean fascists who keep the working man down. In the end, virtually all of the main hippie degenerates are either dead or have ruined their lives, thus making Hallucination Strip a sort of pseudo-moralistic cautionary tale that criticizes the very people the film was made for, thus making it an archetypical work of Guido celluloid sleaze. Featuring a mostly highly complementary score by marginal Italian composer Alberto Verrecchia (who, like many people in the film, also worked on Il tempo degli assassini aka Season for Assassins that is unfortunately degraded by a token hippie gospel song entitled “We Got a Lord”, Hallucination Strip is undoubtedly a work of its zeitgeist, which is thankfully long gone.

-Ty E

No comments: