Apr 23, 2014

The Blind Fly

Unquestionably, Romano Scavolini is one of the more curious cases in post-WWII Italian cinema. While best known nowadays for his vicious video nasty slasher flick Nightmare in a Damaged Brain (1981) aka Blood Splash aka Nightmare and his Gothic psychedelic giallo Un bianco vestito per Marialé (1972) aka Spirits of Death aka A White Dress for Marialé, Scavolini spent his early career making highly experimental celluloid poems of sorts that would probably bore his art-allergic horror fans to death. Indeed, with his avant-garde short Ecce Homo (1967), Scavolini anticipated the sort of collage videos that are a favorite among YouTube users, albeit using it for postmodern agitprop purposes, juxtaposing Biblical Renaissance paintings with modern images of war, consumer products, and surgery. Whether Scavolini borrowed the title for Ecce Homo from Friedrich Nietzsche’s 1908 autobiography of the same name or from the words of Pontius Pilate in the Vulgate translation of John 19:5 is questionable, but if one thing is for sure, it is that the director’s first feature A mosca cieca (1966) aka The Blind Fly aka Ricordati di Haron aka Blind-Man’s Buff, which was described as a masterpiece by none other than Italian futurist/fascist poet Giuseppe Ungaretti, depicts a dispirited world of doom and gloom where God is dead and the ‘last man’ reigns supreme. Vaguely inspired by Albert Camus’ novel L’Étranger (1942) aka The Stranger, The Blind Fly is a little piece of black-and-white cultural pessimism that follows a strange and mostly soulless character who steals a gun out of a car, pushes away his loving girlfriend, ponders on fear and mathematics with friends, and ultimately decides to shoot at a crowd of strangers headed to a soccer stadium on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Despite being made in the same country that gave the world Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), Alberto Cavallone’s Blue Movie (1978), Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust (1980), the strangely gorgeous gore of Lucio Fulci, the horror porn works of Joe D'Amato (i.e. Erotic Nights of the Living Dead aka Le notti erotiche dei morti viventi), and the histrionic theatric iconoclasm of Carmelo Bene (Don Giovanni, Salomè), among countless other examples, The Blind Fly was considered so obscene by the Italian board of censors that it was (and still is) banned in Italy and has never had a commercial screening, or as auteur Scavolini stated himself in an interview with www.splattercontainer.com, the work was, “metaphorically burned at the stake by three censorship commissions and by the State Council” due to its perceived blasphemy, pornography, and irrational violence. Made over a year period of random filming after producer Enzo Nasso (who went on to produce Scavolini’s work The Dress Rehearsal (1968) aka La prova generale) gave the director a bunch of 16mm film stock (which the director described as being, “decaying, almost unusable scraps”), The Blind Fly was originally a whopping 6 hours long, but Scavolini decided to cut down the film to about a hour and focus on the curious character of a metaphysically dead murderer named ‘Carlo’ who decides to waste some random people as a rather irrational way of dealing with the fact that he is a heartless void merely wandering this earth who is consumed with nothingness upon nothingness. Described by auteur Scavolini as a “Beckettian movie” and featuring anti-urban/anti-modernist quotes from French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud, The Blind Fly is certainly the kind of rare film that might push the wrong person over the edge, as a film that “shows the absence of God in our society” (which, according to Scavolini, is the best description of the work and how Catholic intellectuals described the film) and offers no sense of solace, but instead, a nightmare of naked nihilism that reminds the viewer why old Europa is on its last gasp. 

 Beginning with a shot of two men laying on the ground as if they are dead, The Blind Fly almost instantly establishes a sense of absurdism, unease, and tragicomedy. The antihero of the film is Carlo (Carlo Cecchi) and aside from his girlfriend (Italian diva Laura Troschel) and a couple friends, he is completely alone in the world, though his loved ones are also beginning to compound his loneliness, as he finds it harder and harder to relate to them. After horsing around with a friend, stealing a pistol he spots in an unlocked car, and buying a newspaper, Carlo goes back to his dungeon-like room and seems to contemplate many things, including suicide, as demonstrated by the fact that he puts the barrel of the gun he has stolen to his forehead. In flashbacks, we see Carlo is having trouble with his girlfriend because after the two make love, he sulks while sitting at the end of the bed, as if disgusted with the ordeal and his incapacity for reciprocating love in a meaningful way. When Carlo meets a friend, he learns the following ‘mathematical’ formula: “Five is killed by Six but Five killed Four. Every number…Any number…kills the previous number just to be killed by the following number […] One is always a victim. It’s the destiny of the first ones…to be victims.” Carlo seems to be rather appreciative of his arithmetic-inclined friend’s pessimism, as demonstrated by his remark to him, “I feel safe with you. You’re always so peaceful.” Indeed, Carlo is proof that misery loves company. After making love with his girlfriend, Carlo kicks her out of bed, but not before remarking, “You look at me like…like I was an old, impotent man,” which she of course denies (but, as Carlo states, he “sees it” in her eyes). Indeed, Carlo is so dead inside that he has nil interest in sex, complaining to his beloved, “I told you I did not feel like making love to you.” When his girlfriend asks him why he never asks her whether or not she loves him, Carlo calls her “stupid” and an “idiot” and proceeds to chase her away in a rather nasty fashion. While randomly sitting by himself at a table in the city, an old man comes up to Carlo and goes on about how he noticed him staring at a young couple. The old man also tells Carlo that the young lady belonging to the couple he was staring at could feel his penetrating eyes on her, as if his hatred had metaphysical powers. Most importantly, the old man tells Carlo that he can tell he is upset by the way he holds a cigarette. Like most activities he is involved with, Carlo goes to a local fair all by his lonesome and plays a game where he shoots a toy gun, which is juxtaposed with shots of him gunning down random strangers. When Carlo meets up with another friend, he confesses he is scared and proceeds to put his gun to the back of his comrade’s head while asking if he feels fear. Juxtaposing scenes of a soccer game with shots of Carlo killing random strangers who are heading to the stadium where said soccer game is taking place, the viewer soon realizes that the antihero has completely lost it for good. After a seemingly schizophrenic montage featuring Carlo running away frantically from the scene of the crime, random dead bodies with animated quasi-psychedelic special effects, Carlo running up to and hugging his girlfriend, and the antihero grabbing his head while in a seemingly majorly melancholy state, the following inter-title pops up: “Standing Still – Alone – Being Defeated – Never – Samuel – It Never Begins – It Never Ends.” Before going on a murder rampage, Carlo is asked by a friend why he is carrying a gun and he simply responds with, “I need it.” Indeed, Carlo needed to kill in a last ditch effort to see if he had any capacity for emotions, namely guilt, but it is dubious whether or not he found what he was looking for upon committing the unpardonable act. 

 While auteur Romano Scavolini has cited Samuel Beckett has having the biggest philosophical influence on The Blind Fly, I found the utilization of segments from libertine poet Rimbaud’s Illuminations (1874) to be the most effective in summing up the overall tone of the film, with the excerpt being as follows: “I am an ephemeral and not at all too discontented citizen of a metropolis which is believed to be modern because every known taste has been avoided in the furnishing and the exteriors of the house, as well as in the layout of the city. Here you cannot point out the trace of a single monument to the past. Morals and language have been reduced to their simplest expression, in short! These millions of people who have no need to know each other carry on their education, their work, and their old age so similarly that the course of their lives must be several times shorter than the findings of absurd statistics allow the peoples of the continent. Thus, from my window, I see new apparitions roaming through the thick and endless coal-smoke – our woodland shade, our summer’s night! - new Furies, in front of my cottage which is my country and my whole heart since everything here is like this; Death without tears, our active daughter and servant, a desperate Love and a pretty Crime whimpering in the mud of the street.” Virtually completely silent aside from strategically placed music of the mostly discordant sort (though some German classical music is thrown in for good measure) and a couple lines of dialogue between characters, The Blind Fly is ultimately a severely suffocating, claustrophobic, alienating, and dejecting work that expresses through what is nothing short of raw cinematic poetry the metaphysical crisis of ‘modern man’ (very much in the Jungian sense) and his lack of culture and community in a technocratic world of abstraction, deracination, and godlessness. Indeed, aside from Louis Malle’s adaptation Pierre Drieu La Rochelle The Fire Within (1963) aka Le feu follet, which follows a lonely alcoholic who tries to find a reason not to commit suicide, and Wim Wenders’ Peter Handke adaptation Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (1972) aka The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, which follows an emotionally dead soccer goalie who kills a movie theater cashier for seemingly no reason, The Blind Fly is certainly the most effective cinematic depiction of abject hopelessness and despair in an emotionally glacial metropolitan society of anti-organic mediocrity that I have had the distinguished honor of seeing. Undoubtedly, The Blind Fly is easily auteur Scavolini’s most dangerously intimate work, so it should be no surprise that the director warns on his official website that “it is an hectic film not to be liked by the grand public.” Described by filmmaker/cinema connoisseur Gideon Bachmann (who appeared in a couple Fellini flicks and directed the documentary Ciao, Federico! (1970), which features a behind-the-scenes look at Fellini Satyricon (1969)) as follows, “It is the first all-filmic, all-musical film from modern Italy constructed like a musical composition, moving in movements like a sonata, broken up into chords like variations on a theme, and finally expressive primarily through the images it stimulates in the mind, it is essentially a cry of anguish in a world of emotional voids, a cry of solitude,” The Blind Fly is ultimately a peturbingly penetrating reminder of the power of cinema as an artistic medium if in the right hands, as Scavolini’s film is a virtual declaration of intolerable existential crisis and homicidal tendencies, which he was thankfully able to release in a creative way via the art of film. 

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

In that first picture where the geezer with the glasses is smoking a cigarette he looks suspiciously like Vincent Gallo.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Ty E, after having gotten this piece of rather pretentious art-house nonsense out of the way perhaps you should now redeem yourself (so to speak), (at least in the eyes of your horror fans) by reveiwing the afore-girl-tioned "Nightmares in a Damaged Brain" and "Spirits of Death", after all they are his most famous films ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I`d have to write Scavolini's first name as Ro-girl-o ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

If you see pictures of Pauline Hickey that were taken in 1990 (when the bird was still only 22 ! ! !) its scary because the magic was gone already, in only 5 years the amazing face and unbelievable body had deteriorated almost beyond recognition, (goodness knows what the slag must look like now at the age of 46), but i`ll still always genuinely believe that 29 years ago when the bird was 17 in 1985 she was THE most incredible bird i`ve ever seen, its just such a shame that the magic only lasted for a year or two before it was all over, i wish Pauline Hickey could`ve stayed 17 forever, if there could`ve ALWAYS been a 17 year-old version of Pauline Hickey the world would have been a much more pleasant place ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Oh JonBenet...JonBenet...what an amazing little stunner she was.