The Forgotten: Stain-Resistant

Giuseppe Patroni Griffi deserves attention. His chic revenger's tragedy 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (1971) is one possible way in: you get Charlotte Rampling, an Ennio Morricone score that's just a Jacobean riff on his spaghetti western stylings, lashings of sex and gore, and a design sensibility which pays some kind of lip service to period while being deliriously seventies at all times, so that it would not be too surprising if Oliver Tobias donned a set of sixteenth century tinted shades, or a tie-dyed doublet.

An alternative entry point is Identikit (1974), AKA The Driver's Seat, from the novel of that name by Muriel Spark. It's the tale of a mysterious woman wandering through a nameless city, hoping to rendezvous with "a friend" whom she's apparently never met. In a parallel plot thread, apparently taking place a day or two later, the police are interrogating everyone she's come into contact with. But what has she done to attract their interest? The woman in question is played by Elizabeth Taylor, so the possibilities seem limitless. With cinematography by Vittorio Storaro in the midst of his giallo phase, the results are as lush, decadent, campy, strange and alluring as you can imagine.

Part of the strangeness is Taylor (who was making seriously weird films at this time: think of Secret Ceremony). Gone is the breathtaking beauty she undoubtedly had, and held on to, and even managed to evoke when it had faded. Here, the force of will required to suggest the fabulousness of yore is staggering, but Taylor is nothing if not game. It's not that she's even old, but her figure has filled out and the rather heavy approach to eye makeup seen in Cleopatra has only grown more exaggerated: lurid clothes ("Completely natural colors!" she declares, erroneously) and clown hair add to the shock. As with her ballsy performance in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, some of this is characterization, some of it is just character.

So, we have an odd plot (Spark was a long way from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie with this one) and a faded star, but what makes the whole experience so...special, is, well, everything. Ian Bannen provides ebullient support, and Andy Warhol turns up briefly as an English lord, which is a casting coup of demented genius. You can just feel your precariously suspended disbelief plunging earthwards. It's actually harder to conceive of a piece of casting more gloriously wrong. Pablo Picasso as an American rock star? Truman Capote as a Swedish wrestler? Nothing quite gets there.

(In fact, though, Andy's habitual abstracted hauteur gives him a naturally aristocratic air: tailoring and dubbing take care of the rest.)

But the Warhol walk-on is a mere side-show to this ravishingly photographed, psychologically mysterious, indefinably icky film. The modern urban settings seem to have grown out of the airport that links them, and the people are all airport people: they all come from elsewhere, and have the wrong accents: a woman from South Africa is German, Mona Washburne plays a Canadian, Liz seems also to be playing a German (Lise from Hamburg) and Ian Bannen has no defined point of origin at all. He's one of the odder characters, a smutty fellow traveler of Liz who's obsessed with his macrobiotic diet (at one point brown rice cascades from his trouser leg as if he was made of the stuff), who believes he needs an orgasm a day for health reasons, like Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid.

Every scene in the film is off-center, uncomfortable and distractingly unconvincing, but nearly every scene turns out to have a rational reason for being the way it is. A mysteriously deserted mall is eventually revealed to be unpopular due to a bomb scare the day before, and indeed the nameless city is plagued by terrorist outrages, like the world of Buñuel's That Obscure Object of Desire or Gilliam's Brazil.

So the effect is something like a giallo without visible crimes, a mystery with no focal event, and a spiraling absurdity that keeps coming back to rationality in the most unexpected ways. Ultimately, the sense of uncertain comedy about the whole exercise stops dead, in a climax which is horrific, bizarre, and surprisingly affecting. To say more would be unfair.

I've known I had to write about this for years (and thanks to David Ehrenstein for the annual prompting), but didn't know quite what to say. What can you say? I throw the floor open to any interested parties, and fall back exhausted upon a heap of lovely images:

***

The Forgotten is a regular Thursday column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay.

Responses

13 responses to this post.  Join the discussion

  • David Ehrenstein

    Yes indeed it is a giallo — with “Completely natural colors!” But it doesn’t get to the murder until the very last minute. The anti-heroine’s desire for self-obliteration links Spark to Paul Bowles. As for Andy the casting coup was a personal triumph for him as he had been making drawings and silscreens of Elizabeth Taylore for years. In his transcribed “Diaries” (required reading) he enthuses about standing next to her in the studio cafeteria during the shoot. It’s the kind of “everday experience” he enjoyed to the Max.

    Gieuseppe Patroni-Griffi is definitely a “subject for further research.” His bisexual ove traingle “Il Mare” played the very first new York Film Festivbal, but wasn’t snatched up for U.S. release. A later film of his “One Night at Dinner” (Jean-Louis Trintignant and a memorable Morricone score) played a few select theaters then vanished. His “Tis Pity She’s a Whore” sound sfascinating. But than every film with Charlotte Rampling is Required Viewing.

  • David Cairns

    Oh, you HAVE to see ‘Tis Pity… it made me want to live in a Jacobean tragedy shot in the seventies. Ravishingly beautiful like you wouldn’t believe.

    La Gabbia, his porny erotic thriller, is kind of compelling too.

  • David Ehrenstein

    He alos, it shoudl be noted, wrote the screenplay for Visconti’s segment of the Sylvana Mangano-starred omnibus film, “The Witches” — “The Witch Bruned Alive” It’s set at an exclusive winter resort in Switzerland where Sylvana as a Jackie O type celeb has repaired for some R&R. Falling asleep in the lobby she’s mulled over by a group of predatory eurotrash — trading catty remarks ad such. Helmet Berger makes his motion picutre debut as a bellboy.

  • David Cairns

    “A ski instructor with a big bum” was La Rampling’s acid description of Helmut.

  • Bobby Wise

    “What can you say?”

    For one, you could have said more about the director. Especially after you mention that he deserves attention. But I guess that’s what the comments section is for.

  • David Ehrenstein

    Like all Italian directors of trhis period Patroni=Griffi is less interested in plot thn moment-to-moment visual layout

  • David Cairns

    He was a master of striking visual effects, and his idiosyncratic sensibility meant he would go on strange journeys to achieve them. If you assume I’m talking about the director when I’m talking about the film, you’ll find I say quite a bit about him.

  • Bobby Wise

    I meant biography-wise, more historical information about him. A lot of people were masters of striking visual effects, and a lot of people have idiosyncratic sensibilities. And no, I try not to assume. Especially when someone is introducing me to a filmmaker I’ve never heard of.

    Sorry for all the quibbles. Thanks anyway for an interesting article with some interesting pictures.

  • David Cairns

    I’m afraid any biographical information you got from me would be the same as is available on the IMDb.

    Glad you liked the post.

  • Mac

    DAVID CAIRNS: You make me want to see the movies you are talking about. And I just want you to know that that is a gift (not that your gift lies in making me, specifically, want to see a movie, as if I was the arch kino-luddite, the Bartelby of audience members). I am headed on over to Youtube to watch some clips, specifically the Warhol, as I’m on a bit of a Warhol kick lately, having just finished Stephen Koch’s most excellent, informative, and insightful Stargazer. When I find the clip I’m going to share it on my Facebook page. I only have 8 friends, but I think 2 of them will be interested. I used to have 14 friends, but I got rid of 6 of them today, including someone I work with, who is sitting in the cubicle across from me. She has over 1000 friends, so I don’t think she’ll notice. I know that Monte Hellman won’t notice that I unfriended him. He has over 4800 friends. To be honest with you, I’m a little diappointed in Monte Hellman as a Facebook friend. All he does is talk about himself and The Road to Nowhere. I mean, the movie was good, but like, doesn’t he have anything else he wants to talk about? It’s a little too much. It’s not like he’s some neophyte director trying to establish himself. The guy made some really good movies, a couple of great ones I think, and other filmmakers, bonafide filmmakers, name check him all the time, and they have, for a while. But like I said, 2 of my 8 Facebook friends are really going to like the Warhol scene from Identikit. And I’m going to credit you. Because I think you should get credit. You seem like you work really hard, and I appreciate that.

  • David Cairns

    Thank you! It’s by no means all work, though — most of it is a lot of fun.

    Hellman has a movie to promote, so I don’t begrudge him using social media or any other tools from skywriting to mental influence. I suspect he may have another Facebook profile just for people he actually knows, but maybe not. All I ever post there are blog links and obscure images…

  • Christopher

    Your article makes this film sound like more fun than I remember it being. I saw it at The EMBASSY, a real grind house on San Francisco’s Market Street back in the 1970s.

    There is one memorable line in it, though, which it helps to read out loud in your best umbrage voiced Elizabeth Taylor Burton impersonation-

    “When I want to Diet, I DIET and when I want to Orgasm, I ORGASM!”

  • David Cairns

    She does have a few good moments of fish-wife shriek — watching Bannen crumble in her path is amusing. Possibly a more ethereal lead would have worked better, but also been more obvious and less fun.

    I can’t decide if the first viewing, when everything is baffling, is more fun that the second, when everything almost makes sense. Almost.

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