Oct 12, 2014

From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent

Long before Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, and Stanley Kubrick directed myth making films where they more or less dictated to the audience what they thought the Vietnam War was all about and how evil it was, a little known subversive Guido auteur by the name of Alberto Cavallone (Man, Woman and Beast, Blue Movie) directed a scathing low-budget shocker entitled From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent (1970) aka Dal nostro inviato a Copenaghen aka Sindrome Infernal aka Così U.S.A., which depicts the madness and misery that ensues when two shell-shocked American GIs that saw action in Vietnam desert their post in Wiesbaden,West Germany and hide in Copenhagen with the help of a far-left group with dubious intentions by posing as graduate students working on their thesis. Audaciously anti-American as demonstrated by its alternate title ‘Così U.S.A.’ (which, according to Cavallone scholar Roberto Curti, is a wordplay on the phrase “così usa”, which in Italian means “that’s the way it goes”), as well as critical of both the left and right and the pornography industry, Cavallone’s film may look like an ambitiously directed piece of dago diarrhea, but it also makes Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) and Stone’s Platoon (1986) seem like sentimental humanist flicks by comparison. Cavallone’s subsequent film after the racially-charged Sapphic hit Le salamandre (1969)—a work depicting a messed up miscegenation-based ménage-à-trois between a blonde Swedish-American photographer, her murderous negress lover, and a frog psychologist that temporarily made the filmmaker seem bankable in Italy for the first and last time in his distinctly uneven career—From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent proved that the auteur, who turned down an offer to direct another lesbo exploitation flick starring Florinda Bolkan, refused to play by the rules and would try in vain to be the master of his own destiny. Cavallone’s film depicts two men who also attempt to become masters of their own destinies, only to find themselves physical and metaphysical prisoners in a foreign Nordic nation where they succumb to poverty, predatory married middle-aged homosexuals, the Danish porn industry, Nam’ and childhood incest flashbacks (in that sense, the film has a lot in common with the Amero Brothers' phantasmagoric 1971 blue movie Bacchanale), murderous impulses, and mental illness. An intentionally ugly film that was made all the more effective for me due to the horrendous bootleg print I watched, From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent is, for better or worse, arguably the most nasty and nihilistic Vietnam War flick ever made, as a sort of grating Guido equivalent to Michael Verhoeven’s kraut artsploitation flick O.K. (1970), albeit all the more misanthropic and histrionically acted. 

 After seeing the corpse of their comrade, whose skull was crushed and body ran over by two fellow GIs, American GIs Nick Valenti (played by Tony Di Mitri, who fittingly had an uncredited role in Luchino Visconti’s 1954 masterpiece Senso) and William Cole (played by one-time Pasolini production assistant Walter Fabrizio who, being a Guido Klaus Kinski clone of sorts, was credited in the film as ‘Alain N. Kalsyj’) get scared and opt to go AWOL and leave their base in Wiesbaden, West Germany to Copenhagen, Denmark where a group of leftists have a secret underground network that harbors deserters and other military misfits. Unfortunately, since both men, especially William, saw action in Vietnam and were deeply affected by the sight of gook Napalm victims and child corpses, they will have a hard time camouflaging themselves among the general populous in the seemingly sleazy Nordic city where perverts, swindlers, and sadists seem to be lurking around every corner. Unquestionably, Amero-wop Nick is easily the most mentally stable of the two men and acts as a sort of surrogate parent to pseudo-WASP William (indeed, while a blonde boy, ‘Kalsyj’ is clearly a dirty dago posing as an all-American Anglo), who is a hopeless neurotic with more than a couple screws loose and thus probably not the most ideal man to have been sent to the Asiatic third world to blow away goofy gooks and whatnot. While Nick has real problems with the guy harboring him, William finds himself to be the object of desire of a Danish married couple named the Gustavsens. 

 When Mr. Gustavsen tries to get in William’s pants, he merely smashes the crypto-cocksucker in the balls, but when Mrs. Gustavsen (played by Cavallone’s wife Maria Pia Luzi, who starred in a number of the director’s films) takes out her tits, he reluctantly gives in and finds himself having hallucinations of napalm and gooks being blown to pieces while having sex. After commencing a sloppy coitus session with Mrs. Gustavsen, William seems to become possessed, nonsensically stating, “I get the urge to shoot and shoot. BANG! BANG! BANG! […] This is my sound, I love this sound…BANG! BANG! BANG!,” and proceeds to attempt to brutally murder the unhappily married woman. Meanwhile, due to the fact he has run out of money and cannot find legal employment since he is a so-called ‘undocumented worker,’ Nicky boy begins starring in porn films featuring two chicks and, somewhat symbolically, a Guinea pig. The pornographer Nick works for is a sort of debauched pseudo-Freudian crackpot who rationalizes his scummy line of work with the following absurd theory: “We live in a society starved of tits. We see them everywhere; lemons, oranges, grapefruit…All women must have tits; natural or made of rubber…Of course. Far from Twiggy. The reason lies in breastfeeding…Instead of breasts, they put a baby’s bottle in their mouths when they return from the hospital…So what happens? A trauma.” Of course, the only one really suffering from a trauma in the film is William, though it has more to do with his scandalously sordid relationship with his sister than his mother’s lack of breastfeeding. 

 While in the wild jungles of Gookland, William engaged in torture, including the removable of Vietcong members' entire fingernails with pliers and whatnot, but he seems more plagued by the patently perverse relationship he had with his sister than engaging in sadistic forms of warfare. After discovering that William attempted to kill the young wife that provided him with sanctuary, Nick brings his comrade to stay with an unsavory pinko left-wing psychologist named Dr. Max Borg (played by Spaghetti western star Antonio Casale, who worked as an assistant director on Cavallone’s previous film Le salamandre)—a despicable dude that keeps decrepit elderly catatonic cripples and lavish hardcover editions of C.G. Jung books around his office—who diagnoses the deranged deserter as being schizophrenic and immediately begins using him as a guinea pig for his sadistic psychological experiments. Borg is married to a young babe named Ulla and she has much empathy for William, who thinks she is his sister. After discovering incest with his sister is the root of William’s psychosis, Dr. Borg coerces his wife Ulla to play along and pretend she is the mentally perturbed GI’s beloved sister Kate. After telling her to call him ‘squirrel’ (he also describes himself as being, “Tough like a lobster, a crab, a turtle”), William begins talking about his love for his sister and the atrocities that he committed in the war, including offering $200 to the man who killed the most gooks during battle. While somewhat rightly describing Dr. Borg as wanting to kill him (the good doctor may not want to personally kill him, but he is willing to sacrifice him for ‘science’), William also begins fantasizing about suicide when not frolicking around in fields with his pseudo-sister Ulla. Eventually, Nick reveals to Borg that most of his platoon was accidentally annihilated in ‘friendly fire,’ with the same army helicopter that bombed them into oblivion also picking up the surviving members of the doomed brigade. Nick also theorizes that the American helicopter intentionally attacked his platoon so as to stir hatred against the Vietcong. In the end, William is reunited with his sister and the unethical psychologist Dr. Borg finally begins to question not only the conscience of his patient, but his own. 

 As an anarchic work that deals with common yet rarely cinematically depicted plagues that infected American GIs during the Vietnam War, including heroin addiction, ‘friendly fire,’ the coldblooded murder of commanders by the troops, the perennial problem of posttraumatic stress disorder, the use of post-WWII Europe as as an exploited vassal of the anti-Occidental American military-industrial complex, and the disgusting treatment of American soldiers by effete left-wing academics who did nothing about war yet feel the need to always offer their purely bullshit theories about it, From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent was surely ahead of its time and probably attempts to tackle more issues than any other film of its kind, which is unfortunate considering the film is such an eccentric mess of gratuitous shock value, grating Guido histrionics, and glaring incoherence as a signature Cavallone work that is equal parts socio-political agitprop, aberrant avant-garde celluloid art, and excessive exploitation trash. Undoubtedly, one of the most annoying yet sometimes unintentionally humorous aspects of the film is its incessant use of zoom shots, with Cavallone himself even stating of the film some years later in an interview regarding the work: “It looks as if the director had just discovered the use of the zoom lens.” With its use of cheap stock war footage, the Italian countryside in place of the jungles of Vietnam, conspicuously Italian cast to play Americans and Danes, and rather ridiculous dubbed dialogue, the film is just too blatantly cheap and thrown together for most viewers to take its heavy socio-political issues seriously. At the same time, Cavallone’s work has a partial ‘neo-neorealist’ essence about it, especially during a scene that was shot on a handheld camera of wayward character William going around to anonymous Danes and absurdly asking them, “Who am I?” Ultimately, From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent is an innately incendiary and iconoclastic work that belongs in the same category of forgotten misfit Vietnam War movies like Verhoeven's O.K., but also Amero-Guido Buddy Giovinazzo’s Combat Shock (1984) and even Burr Jerger’s General Massacre (1973). Of course, for Cavallone's small but loyal fan base, From Our Copenhagen's Correspondent certainly beats another re-watching of Platoon, as a work that may be technically inept and oftentimes tedious but ultimately has more testicular fortitude than 10,000 Goombah left-wing terrorists. 

-Ty E

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