Tuesday, May 31, 2011

1. The Thirties: The Age of the "White Telephones" - part one

by Ernesto G. Laura
Compiled by A.N.I.C.A. (National Association of Motion Pictures and Affiliated Industries) Rome, Italy - Edited by CIES Soc. Coop. r.1 (Institute for the Promotion of Italian Motion Pictures Abroad) Rome, Italy - under the auspices of the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment

Among the various genres that go to make up Italian cinema, comedy has proved to be the most enduring. While it is perfectly true that historical epics like FABIOLA (1949), mythological films like LE FATICHE DI ERCOLE (THE LABORS OF HERCULES: 1958) and adventurous Westerns, modelled along the lines of, but not copied from, the American classics, like PER UN PUGNO DI DOLLARI (FOR A HANDFUL OF DOLLARS: 1964), emerged from the Cinecitta studios, only comedy succeeded in outliving a more or less extended season of popularity and is to be found throughout the entire history of Italian cinema.

A fondness for joking, for pranks and satire is typically Mediterranean. The urge to smile has ancient roots and does not denote superficially or emptiness, but indicates rather the assuming of a serene and hopeful approach to life. Cheerfulness has helped Italians through many difficult moments in their history.

A glance at the past history of the theater in Italy is all it takes to realize how important, indeed predomianting, comedy was. While Greek theater was distinguished by tragedy, Roman theater was distinguished by comedy. Ridiculing conventions and mocking the powers that be were later the basic ingredients of the finest gem of 16th century Italian theater, LA MANDRAGOLA (THE MANDRAGORA) by Niccolo Machiavelli. The work of Italy's most important 18th century playwright, Carlo Goldoni, is wreathed in smiles. And as to Luigi Pirandello, Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934, the most distinguished playwright of the century, he began by writing one-acters for a Sicilian comic actor, Angelo Musco, and delightful humorous stories, and even in his most dramatic works preserved a distinct touch of irony.

But to get back to films. As we shall see, the so-called "Italian-style" film comedy is different from other types of comedy to be found in the history of the medium. In fact, it always sets the characters and the comic situations into a very specific framework. It is not only a question of a well-defined Italian landscape or of language or even dialects, but of an intimate relationship with the customs, events, periods and problems of contemporary Italy. In its present form, this particular kind of film emerged and became successful in the early '50s. But it didn't come into being just out of nowhere.

Without going too far back in time, it was in the '30s, that is at the advent of sound, that the Italian film industry, after a long economical crisis, tried out more or less every kind of film but reaped its greatest successes, also abroad, with comedies.

Friday, May 27, 2011

David Warbeck acting without words on GIU LA TESTA

From: David Warbeck

The Man and his Movies

David Warbeck was interviewed by Jason J. Slater

with the assistance of Harvey Fenton, Julian Grainger and Michelle Perks.

The interviews were transcribed by Matt Pelton

Q: How do you feel about being seen as an Action Man type character?

How do I feel about it?

Q: How did you feel about it in those days?

Amazed! Well, initially amazed when I went off to do Sergio Leone's A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE and that sort of stuff. I wasn't really acting, I just got my head shot off!...

If you actually think it and put yourself properly into the situation, for some reason the eyes telegraph the intent of what's going on without any dialogue...

...if you remember the one I did with James Coburn in A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE; we had to do a whole complicated conversation with no words, where he has to tell me with his eyes that has to kill me because of the politics. And my eyes have to say "I want you to kill me and I understand why you have to kill me. I still love you as my best mate and friend. Please kill me. You have to." So he shoots me and in my last few seconds of dying, my eyes say "I forgive you, you had to do it." And he's saying "You're dying with my love." We had to do all that stuff and I thought this would never come over. I think probably the highest compliment I ever had in my life was in the Camden Town food market one day when one of the stall boys cried out (falls into mock barrow boy accent) "Oi! Dave! You're in that film!" And I said "Oh, yes, yes, yes," and he said, "that was brilliant that sequence." And he told me what I just told you and I was flabbergasted and I said "Oh, you've read the book or something?" and he said "No, no! That was brilliant that. It was really good that you could do that without words." So that's going back to everything with being "action man"; the trick here is telling a story through a million things; the head turns, hand on a gun, the way you respond to it. It's all visual stuff and I'm very, very lucky.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

David Warbeck on Bobby Rhodes

Tony King, Bobby Rhodes and David Warbeck in L'ULTIMO CACCIATORE, aka THE LAST HUNTER.

David Warbeck
The Man and his Movies
David Warbeck was interviewed by Jason J. Slater with the assistance of Harvey Fenton, Julian Grainger and Michelle Perks. The interviews were transcribed by Matt Pelton

Q: What about Bobby Rhodes?

Ah! Now Bobby Rhodes, he's an absolute sweetheart. He's an Italian black.

Q: Really? Does he speak English?

Oh, he speaks very good English. I bumped into him outside the railway station not so long ago. Great big guy.

Q: He's massive isn't he? Looks like a killer!

He's a pussycat, he's so sweet.

Q: He's always in Margheriti's films... And he recently made that Western with Castellari, JONATHAN OF THE BEARS. He's dressed just in white and he's big and powerful, on a horse, shiny black head. He looks so imposing.

Oh he's a sweet guy. He knows what to do and he's so modest, almost embarrassed all the time and quiet and gentle.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

David Warbeck on GIU LA TESTA

From: David Warbeck

The Man and his Movies

David Warbeck was interviewed by Jason J. Slater with the assistance of Harvey Fenton, Julian Grainger and Michelle Perks. The interviews were transcribed by Matt Pelton.

Q: Did you think that A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE would mean that you would have a career in Westerns?

No, not at all. I didn't know what it was about. I didn't have a clue! I'll try and make this story short...

I was doing this play in the Birmingham Rep., very prestigious, the last play in the old theatre. We were doing "The Barretts Of Wimpole Street" and I had a ten minute role that got all the applause and one of my favourite friends had to do all the slog work. I said to him "I've worked out how to get applause when I come on stage, let alone when I go off", being all clever and terribly glamorous. Anyway, during this production my agent in London called and said "some Italians at the Dorchester want to see you about some Italian crap", so I went and saw them and this huge guy bear-hugged me at the door and said "Darling! You're the one!", and he literally carried me into the room and there was Sergio Leone, who I didn't know from a bar of soap, and all his family. They all leapt up like a bunch of hyped-up baboons (mad Italian babble noises). "Have a drink, have a drink!" (laughs), and when they calmed down I said "What's going on?!", and they said "You're coming now! To Heathrow!"

But I had to finish the play, another week or two weeks to go so I said, "Hang on just a minute, let me phone my...".

They jumped in, "No, you don't phone blah, blah...", so eventually I got hold of my agent, a guy called Jimmy Frazer and I said "I'm with these Italians," and he said, "Oh God! That crowd! Have they offered you a drink?" and I said, "Yes! That's all they've been doing!", so he said "Get out of there, hit them if you have to, get out, cry kidnap!" (laughs)

Another preposterous story...

So I hung up and said to them, "Look, I've got to go" and they said "Have another drink" (laughs) and as you know I rarely touch the stuff, so I had another drink and was getting woozier and woozier and they said "Now we take you to Heathrow"; they wanted to fly me directly to Dublin where they were shooting the scenes. They filmed all around the world, but they filmed all the Irish stuff on location. That was where I was being shot up and stuff.

So I don't know how I managed to get out of it but I went back to the theatre that night. I spoke to my best friend - who I was giving a hard time about getting all this applause on my entrance - and I asked him this quite recently, about thirty years later, I said, "Did you engineer it so I'd go and do that film so you wouldn't have me fucking up your life?" (laughs), and he said, "Darling, whatever made you think that?"

Anyway, they very luckily got hold of the manager and said that I'd been offered this film part by all these mad barmy people and I was on the plane the next day to Dublin. I did not have a clue what they were doing...

When I got there I met James Coburn, very sweet, charming, he was an absolute pleasure, and none of us knew quite what Sergio was on about, because Sergio did not speak a word of English. Well, he did, he spoke "Yes, No. Stop. Go. Good. Bad". That was it! And he had worry beads.

Basically Sergio was a peasant, and absolute... vomiting at the table, grabbing the waitresses by the cunt peasant, staggeringly crude behaviour. And his cronies!...

One of his reasons for film making, a bit like Russ Meyer, was to get as many birds on the end of his fingers as he could basically (laughs) It's as crude as that...

For example when we got to Dublin he saw this bus... now Sergio loved guns; every time we had a gun sequence he would practice with them, "kapow, kapow, kapow", that would be part of his jollies, and he also likes things like tanks, cars, trucks and buses... you'll notice that this little bus gets about 3 seconds of screen time, and it's the bus from RYAN'S DAUGHTER, which just happened to be parked on the back-lot, so he said "We've got to have the bus!"

And he said "What do we have in the bus? Virgins! Lots of virgins! Schoolgirls!"

They auditioned for the length of time I was in Dublin. The corridor of the Intercontinental Hotel was always lined up with all these virgins being groped and interviewed by this Italian porno crew... all these girls, little Irish virgins.

So finally they got them all on the bus and if you see the film, well... that was their intro to the world of films.

I'm doing a bit of a jump here...

I used to meet Sergio at these Cannes festivals because he was the President of the Committee for some reason... I couldn't believe it, all these imposing desks and libraries and stuff behind him, trying to look like the Gent! But he did become very sophisticated, but not in the early days! He always kept on to me and he wanted me to do ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.