Saturday, April 21, 2012

They Call Me Mellow Giallo (AKA PULP FICTION Part 3!)

We all live in a giallo submarine, giallo submarine, gi--oh...hey! I didn't see you there.

Yep, it's that time again! PULP FICTION time!

So, what's this giallo stuff I'm talking about? Glad you asked! Now, I'm not here to give a dissertation on the meaning and reason of giallo literature and movies. I know most of you are smarter than you look. I'm not going to compare and contrast one director with another. I just want some of the hundreds of people a week who read my post on Marble Hornets to get a taste of something different. And as you know, I've been writing here and there on pulp fiction.

While we were over here in America dreaming of the jungles with Tarzan and Britain was fighting communism with Bulldog Drummond, Italy was producing its own pulp fiction (though a lot of it consisted of translation into Italian of English-language mystery and crime novels) on fairly cheap stock with yellow (giallo) covers.  And just the same way that the chicken follows the egg, the giallo book gave birth to the giallo movie.

I will interject that to Italians, giallo means something different than it does to Americans. We would not, for instance, look at film and consider Psycho anything but a high-quality masterpiece of American cinema. So I won't go there. I'll talk about giallo movies from this neck of the woods.

So, if you're an American, what does an Italian giallo have in store for you?

 Dario Argento's Opera 1987
Damsals, sans braziers. They may scream, they may plead for help in badly dubbed and overdubbed English and it may seem to take them HOURS to die, but they will do it clothed in flimsy lingerie, plunging necklines, or startlingl and unsettling slashes of light.

Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much 1963
Music, sometimes known as noise.  Of course we all know that Italy is proud of its opera. And music in a giallo is essential. So most giallo films will scorch your ears off with the sounds of opera, classical, heavy metal, or in the case of Bird With the Crystal Plumage, what-the-heck-is-that-racket.  And there are times when the music plays such an important part that it takes on an actual role in the film. Check out Dario Argento's Opera for some brilliant use of ear-splitting metal when you least expect it (well, until after the first kill).

The killer. You probably won't see him, but his scenes are extended.  The murder scenes are the longest scenes in the giallo film.  They usually get no more graphic than a gallon of 1970s scarlet paint splashed across a wall, a back, or a bed sheet, but they're long. And who is this killer? Only time will tell. All you'll know is that he is one of the men (or could it be a strong woman?) who may be sweet on the starlet or trying to solve the murders.  Did I mention that there is always a string of them? Murders, I mean.
Umberto Lenzi's Paranoia 1968

Paranoia.  And as we all know, just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.

Black gloves.  They're everywhere. Holding knives.  Reaching into coat pockets.  Snapping photographs. Pulling back curtains.  Who do they belong to? Why does everyone seem to be wearing them? Are they in this year?
Dario Argento's The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 1970

So, do these qualify as pulp, aside from the fact that the books were printed on cheap paper? Let's see what we have.  Crime? Check. A mystery? Check. Exploitation? Check!  Epic battles? Well, yes, in the form of the time-consuming murder scenes. Check! Exotic locales? Well, Check if you consider that you're American and have not likely been to the wilds of Italy where many take place. Heroic adventures? Check! Except the heroes and heroines may not see it as such. A bit more sleezy than we're used to, but pulp nonetheless.

Put all these things in a pot and mix them up and what spills out is a giallo, for better or worse. Mind you, these are not action movies or cop adventures.  That's a different story for a different time.  For now, if you're interested, and want to expand your pulp experience, take a look at some of these listed here and let me know how you like 'em.
Massimo Dallamano's What Have You Done to Solange? 1972 

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