Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "La morte ha fatto l'uovo" ("Death Laid An Egg") (Giulio Questi, 1968)

Glenn Kenny

Sometimes I wonder whether I'm prone to psychic flashes, or if I just have a selectively superb memory of whose powers I'm somehow unaware. For instance. The other night, I was sitting at home, doing my latest re-reading of Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire, as one will, and listening to a relatively recently acquired disc of orchestral music by Bruno Maderna, an Italian contemporary composer who died way too young. (Born in 1920, he died in 1973. Pierre Boulez, a friend, wrote a particularly striking work in his memory.) Maderna's stuff is good; he clearly absorbed all the lessons of the serialists while taking his own route with respect to instrumentation (several of his major works highlight the flute). After finishing with my reading, I did a little more research on the fellow and discovered that he had scored several films over the course of his career. For some reason, I thought, "I bet one of them was Death Laid An Egg."

And whaddya know—Maderna had scored Death Lays An Egg. Now, I had, I admit, seen Death Lays An Egg—I own the 1968 Italian film on a 2004-issued Japanese DVD, as it happens—but I hadn't looked at in a long time. So my question was, had I retained Maderna's name from my last viewing/auditing of the film, or was their something in his music—its deep seriousness, engagement with the world, and wicked hints of the sardonic—that made me associate it with this unique film?

Well, I certainly know the answer I prefer. I like to think I hooked on to a qualitative/attitudinal affinity somehow. This Death is one of the most unusual artifacts of its culture and its time. Now I think we all know that in the late 60s and early 70s, continental European cinema in particular was replete with, or at least produced more than the average number of, genre films that embedded a Marxist critique of Western economic and/or social practices into the thrills of their particular subsets. One of the most famous is the spaghetti western A Bullet For The General, costarring committed leftist Euro icon Gian Maria Volonte (who deigned to work with Godard on his rather less thrilling "Western," Wind From The East) and then similarly-activism-minded Lou Castel (Fists In The Pocket, Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore).

Spaghetti Westerns, which find a natural attraction to storylines involving capital and various forms of power, political and otherwise, are a good fit for such critiques. Giallos, with their reflexive sensationalism and automatic potential for sadistic misogyny, maybe not so much. Questi's films turn the latter quality on its head in the punchline it gives to hero Marco's seemingly compulsive murder of prostitutes, which is a sideline to the film's main story, which concerns, or so it seems, a love triangle between Marco (a more abstracted than usual Jean-Louis Trintignant), his secretary (perky Ewa Aulin, who starred in Candy around the same time; what a year for her!) and increasingly dull wife (one-time Italian cinema sex bombshell Gina Lollabrigida, still a mighty handsome woman). Marco and wife run a chicken-manufacturing concern, overseen by a shadowy corporation; and one of the aberrations it has in the works is a silent, headless and wingless chicken that produces more meat. Anticipating the "man made" chickens of Lynch's Eraserhead by alomst ten years!

Questi's film takes a particularly dim view of the...what do you call them, oh yes, the "means of production," and also portrays Italy in the least tourist-attractive light possible, as a land of highways and cheap motels. Very nearly overwhelmed by this very odd film, Italian-Sex-And-Horror movie expert Adrian Luther Smith wrote of it in his superb genre encyclopedia Blood & Black Lace: "[This] incredible film demands repeated viewings and a major article to do it justice...the influence of Godard is obvious...and there are also nods to Buñuel." Yes, there are, but it's also the kind of dirty, nasty, but strangely brilliant sui generis film that exists, for whatever reason, only in particular nooks and crannies of cinematic consciousness (another good example, to name just one, is Douglas Hickox's 1972 Sitting Target), which makes finally seeing it hit with something like the force of revelation. The 2004 Japanese Region 2 disc, from King Records, is merely an okay-looking non-anamorphic 1.85 transfer that for all its lack of distinction still packs a weird wallop. And of course the only American label interested in it was Blue Underground (whose founder William Lustig is also a big booster of Sitting Target...), but a U.S. iteration can't happen without some rights issues clearing up, I hear...

And Maderna's score? Yes, it is appropriately, ironically, dissonant.

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