"The best of this kind are but shadows..." -(Midsummer Night's Dream)

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Til Human Voices Wake Us: THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (1978)


Hurricane Dorian spiraled over the Bahamas over this past Labor Day as I watched the ABC Friday Night Movie THE BERMUDA DEPTHS (from 1978) via Warner Archive DVD-R. Its crystal blue skies and clear crystal water, lovely reefs full of vibrant life, beautiful young lovers, normal sea levels and oceanic temperatures, gleaming white sands, and giant turtle occasionally rising like Moby Dick x Gamera to bump his head on an unconvincing helicopter: it all made nice contrast with the wide-eyed barometrically-hip denizens of 'Weather Underground' on The Weather Channel (on cable) to which I'd occasionally flip to see if the hurricane would ever come our way. It didn't. Not this time. But no doubt: the world is dying. The Great Turtle is gone, a myth, its innards a ghost museum (in Niagara Falls).

But in the meantime, while we wait, let me tell you that once upon a time, circa 1977-79, the whole nation was "that way" about the Bermuda Triangle. We loved thinking about that triangle and what might be hoovering up half the ships and planes that dared traverse it. Its name alone had a sexy sea spray currency, like some strange expensive boutique water that promotes male potency. And turns out it's quite a film, THE BERMUDA DEPTHS, especially, as I discovered this past Labor Day, when regularly contrasted with flips back to the Weather Channel. Moving from a TV movie from 1978 back to a cable weather cannel in 2019? Turns out now, this moment, is the best time for the Triangular vortex of 1978 to open up and lift us all clear of Waterworld 2024. Don't doubt it's coming, landlubber! Argh!  

While in 1978 the corals still throb with life, up in 2019, meteorologists stand before giant maps, caressing the predicted motion lines of swirling energy, pressure, precipitation, like zephyrs in the sparkler air. Electric with apocalyptic anticipation, repeating themselves and their predictions like a coven of witches, chanting national scientific barometric readings like druidic incantations; the meteorologists attempt to guide and shape a thousand Moby Dicks worth of water and air towards their Atlanta headquarters, all so they might stand out in the wind and rain and be lashed while trying to talk to the camera, so we--at home--might feel extra dry and cozy. This is why they do this. Because it's there. 



When I saw The Bermuda Depths over Labor Day, Dorian was circling around the Bahamas, twirling and twirling as if to bring the island chain to some monstrous extinction level vaginal vortex orgasm, a Cenobite maenad rending apocalyptic event. The linked necklace of basic comforts that chokes us in the trap of civilized leisure is snapped, pearls flying in all directions, by such a swirling orgasm! It drowns and destroys and leaves drowning souls clamoring at Noah's moss-slick sides, pairs of serpents coupled in the portholes to nip the toes and fingers of the damned as they try and climb - until they drown, growing Satanic tails themselves, squiggling towards a giant moon/egg/eye in the center of the center of the rift. The weather people cut over to B-roll of Floridians buying bottled water by the Price Club forklift. 

I cut hit play on the DVD player at the commercial, back ... to The Bermuda Depths and to.... her. 


Have I only imagined her?
I still the feel the warmth from kissing her
I'll spend my whole life missing her 
Jenny....
Jenny....
Jennie Haniver (Connie Sellecca) appears, at first, like a distant black flame, framed in the picture window of a rocky outcrop (below): walking closer through the eye of the island where Michael Pitt-lipped wanderer Magnus (Leigh McCloskey) naps. She brings her own theme song--the indelible guitar of Vivaldi's"Concerto in D major for Lute and Strings" RV:93 Largo"--and gazes down at him with loving eyes, evoking a stirring flashback of their time raising a giant sea turtle and her eventual swimming off on its back, leaving him alone, without a word, and he almost drowning trying to swim after her. And then, the night his marine biologist dad decided to conduct some ominous experiment in a grotto under their house. Some unseen monster knocks half the foundation on top of him while Magnus frets upstairs. So many questions, but save them. Slow it down, baby... we got commercials coming.

the music is gorgeous, there are no clumsy voiceovers or scrawls, and no words spoken or read at all for the first 12 minutes of the film- only Vivaldi, and that achingly lyrical folksy theme song (a signature of production team Rankin/Bass)... already burrowing into our souls and leaving us with a plaintive spiritual ache for our own lost ocean loves... Jenny....

So now he's grown and back in Bermuda (he left when his father died) -- they're both adults now (and so is the turtle). They meet again, along the day-for-night shores; we're as obsessed with her as he is, suddenly. But he's there to do a stint on a marine research vessel helmed by Burl Ives, with Carl Weathers--his beautiful black muscles glistening in the blazing blue sun--his shipmate. A marine biologist friend of his late father's, Ives is researching gigantism in ancient triangle species, i.e. a turtle the size of a football field, the animal familiar of Jenny, or maybe the devil, her master, dictating her relentless lure of smitten sailors to the briny depths... of the Bermuda Triangle.

Note similarity in outline of the rock to his hatted head as he sleeps,
Jenny emerging from his pineal gland, or where land meets ocean;
(female/dream/ocean vs. conscious/man/sky.
The folksy wide-eyed black housekeeper (Ruth Attaway) tells our brooding (grown-up) Magnus that Jennie was so vain and beautiful back in the early days of colonial Bermuda that all the men on the island loved her. When her ship was caught in a storm in the Triangle and about to go down she made a deal with "the other god", the "one who swims below" to stay beautiful and young forever, in exchange for an eternity of 'service' to the leviathan. She lives, notes the housekeeper, "out there" in the sea, "what you folks call... the Triangle" If Magnus is comparing notes, he keeps them under his hat. He refuses to believe his Jennie could be a ghost (until that is she reminisces about when her father used to host 'quadrilles' and she invites him to dance to her ever-present Vivaldi soundtrack).... And is it the same turtle that crushed his dad and house? Jennie! NOoooo! 

ABC Friday Night TV movies like Depths made deep and lasting impressions on children like myself (I was 12), who had nothing else to see and only one screen for the entire family, and having no voice in the prime time choices. We all loved In Search Of... (which was immensely popular and helped the Bermuda Triangle become a household name in an episode from the year before), so a movie this weird and wondrous couldn't be missed. 

After its initial premiere, this weird intensely haunting film lay dormant for decades, unseen and gradually considered to be a folk myth. But today, at last, decades later, through the giant claw machine of the Warner Archive, it is exhumed, dredged from the white sand depths, and it is a treasure. Though only a TV movie, it's filmed on location and Bermuda has never seemed so beautiful. Jerry Sopanen's brilliant cinematography plus a color restoration (?) results in a blue sky, clear water, white sand, tanned limb clarity that leaves a hole in the heart, evoking among other things, Dali's magical paintings of Costa Brava. 

A kind of oceanic ghost story, Bermuda Depths sails the same currents as Night Tide and even Beach Blanket Bingo and the unforgettable romance between Bonehead and Lorelei. Maybe it's because I'm a Pisces, but I'm even haunted by the theme song. I was dissatisfied with the end but, after I switched back to the Weather Channel watched the twirling storm still just hovering over the Bahamas, I couldn't stop thinking about it, and her--Jennie-- with her raven hair, perfect olive tan, waterproof no-smudge eyeliner and the ability to reflect light from her eyes so they glow like an inhuman creature.

With perfect blank naturalism, Sellecca gives room for anima projections (contrast other actrresses
too self-aware to be enigmatic; the anima can find no screen in such beings.
Their screens are already too full.... of themselves, to leave room for our unconscious selves.
It's not an easy role to pull off well, as one needs to be--in a sense--a blank screen, to nudge the viewer's anima into using the coiled energy of the far-off hurricane to fire up its projector and WACK! focus right in on Jennie, to get the pining ache that comes from one of the male psyche's all-too-rare reunions with our ever undersea/seen animas. How could I blame the film for being true to the anima's nature, i.e., for all too quickly shutting the projector off again, before we can ever get quite enough? Carl Weathers busting in on us like a big black alarm clock, we can only pine for her to come again the next time we dream.

And this is--alas--the relationship at its purest. The anima appears to us only that her absence may be all the more keenly felt. She does read our letters, even if she doesn't answer. In a way, she even helps us write them - for we're a projection of her unconscious as well.

It doesn't matter anymore. I am glad I bought this on DVD, and that the image is so gorgeously clear I can count the water rivulets down Connie Sellecca's luxuriant gamin limbs. I applaud the way the giant turtle is used so sparingly - appearing mainly at the climax, and fading away with an unforgettable dive into the depths and all the ensuing Tarot-card ready references that connect The Bermuda Depths with the arcane language of the collective unconscious.

My early childhood anima - the mermaid girl from the old Marine Boy 
anime, that used to be on when I was around 3-4. I was so
enthralled I think I cried when the show stopped airing. I still
remember her vividly, though not her name.
Though this dream girl aspect ("have I only imagined her?") often irritates me in other films, it works here as there's plenty of evidence she's more than just a male fantasy or a psychotic hallucination. The men who don't believe she's real are--after all--trying to catch a turtle the size of a Victorian mansion on a boat barely the size of one of its flippers. And besides, she's real to Magnus, and to us, watching. We never see him talking to the air, for example. Though she's never seen by anyone but Magnes (except Eric--at the very end--and then we don't see the version of Jennie he sees, the image that produces such a wave of all-consuming horror, but it's clearly not Connie Sellecca), we know it's ridiculous for Eric (Carl Weathers) and Poulis (Burl Ives) to have no doubt about the existence of the gigantic turtle, and yet to refuse to believe Jennie is real.

And if the Jennie the Mermaid element of the film was all done as some kind of Harvey-Walter Mitty style fantasy we wouldn't even be having this conversation because, ugh, I would have turned it off. Here instead; a film that gets the true nature of anima projection. It knows that if there was some big reveal where a mad scientist is behind it all and/or it's a scam and the scammer would have got away with it if not for those rascally kids, or if the film relied on any rational or even metaphysical 'explanation' for the mysteries, it would undo the spell, and be cheap, I'd be out. But the way it's all filmed, the way the story goes down, it never loses its Jungian "on-the-one" beat, where the film itself is a dream within a dream, only there is no waking, only a renouncement of one layer of the dream, which may or may not be a transition to adulthood, for another.

The problem is--as besets all young boys once they reach the end of Elementary school--Magnes can't get a moment to woo his lady love because of his girlfriend-less rowdy buddies, his shipmates, ie. the Apollonian 'group' of men that lie in dialectic opposition to the male conscious/female unconscious Dionysian pair-bond. In other words, he's trying to score but his buddies won't leave Magnus alone; they find him wherever Jennie brings him, even to a secret, gorgeous grotto (his late dad--whom he learns was 'eaten' by marine life--was washed out to sea; his mom--we learn--was lost at sea earlier).

Why did he not hide, not heed Weathers' manly call. That friendly but nonetheless cockblocking Captain Bligh, rousting Fletcher Christian from his languid island hammock with comely Mauatua for another endless slog across the seas? Without a second thought, presuming she'll be waiting when and where he deigns to look, Magnus leaves his ghostly love to go fishing with Eric and Dr. Poulis, as they set about trying to catch a creature so massive that there is no boat big enough to do anything on but drown should the be unlucky enough to catch such an island-size behemoth.

Earning his masters in marine biology while spending the summer with Poulis, Weathers' Eric mispronounces "coelacanth" but he's letter perfect as the kind of guy whose energy is like a magnet for lost boy souls like Magnus, after pointing out he and his father used to laugh at Magnus as a boy and his imaginary girlfriend, he then shrugs it off with a swig of beer, telling him "you're all right, you're home." Offering a brusque masculine kind of fraternal protectiveness that Magnus is clearly drawn to (or he wouldn't be on the boat at all), Weathers is clearly having a great time here in Bermuda on this shoot, and improvs freely, cracking open beers and filling in Magnus on how he and his father would laugh at his talking to the air.

The idea that Jennie is all in Magnus' mind though never quite washes since there clearly is a giant turtle, and when Magnus mentions carving the initials on its back it's enough to wipe the smiles from both Eric's and Poulis' faces (they've seen the markings). For all their talk of biology, this pair are clearly monster hunters, their boat a mythic equivalent to a psychoanalyst's couch. As Poulis tells Magnus over dinner: "Even in this space age we have yet to explore the real depths!" Those depths are both the ocean and the unconscious. They carry monsters, sure, but also Jenny... So alluring that wherever she comes, "the other god" follows, the monstrous all-devouring creature from the Id.

Like Tera (Valerie Leon - left) in Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, my own anima (1) was arranging the vision of herself while fixating on lovely Sellecca during my viewing of this film, using the crackling energy of Dorian to start the projector to life again, beaming herself onto Jennie. I longed for her as Magnus does (he spends his time with the boys brooding over her, talking about her to them even as they shrug her off as a figment of his imagination). He loses both Jennie and his shipmates because he refuses her commands, refuses to understand the link -- that she and the turtle are so intertwined that the harpoons pierce her as much as it. He refuses to make a choice, playing stupid when she asks him to cut the harpoon loose. But we know what he must do: choose Jennie over Poulis and Eric and there will be no need for words --thoughts will be told in currents, shifts in oceanic temperature, and a kind of perpetual mix of whale cries muted through bubbles in the current that seems to light up the soundtrack the way sunlight maps the waves in the film's many day-for-night shots. 

Choose the boys and you will all drown. 

Is my anima the dreamed or the dreamer? Does she dream herself across the membrane into concrete space-time reality through dreaming up a dreamer like me to dream her? 

James Villers in Blood would probably purr that we already know the answer to that one, don't we? (CinemArchetype #2)

It doesn't make any sense--that Poulis and Eric would dismiss Jennie but think they can catch a deep sea leviathan with a tug boat and a little net--but that's part of the film's dreamy unease. Even in the safe normal reality championed by Eric and Poulis, things don't add up. They don't have a chance in hell of single-handedly capturing the beast, not really. Their quest exists as a kind of perennial cockblock. Any young man in the throes of a sexual (but ultimately "dry") dream knows that torturous frustration. Our anima will always be ours, only ours, forever.... but first --before she surrenders herself -- you have to just go do one little thing. The boys are calling you back from the siren's rocky ledge, just as she called you away from their slippery gangplank. Their calling back and forth ensures you are never really with either. "Wait here and I'll be back," you tell her. But of course she's never there if you do return. Either that or you never make it back. Not for years.


Magnus, though, too, is an archetype. He's not just some dweeb as so many lesser movies of this sort are saddled with (the sort played by Matthew Broderick or Tom Hanks). He is the Parsifal (and McCloskey does a great job with this vague role); Burl Ives is once again the Fisher King (see #12 of CinemArchetype 24) and there's also Weather as the hanged man (literally, in a tarot sense, as man is dragged to the depths by his foot - those are pearls that were his eyes, etc.) - all on the one side; and the alluring anima, her monstrous familiar (in a Gamera-logical sense) and even a wild/wise woman (Attaway's amazing one scene as the black housekeeper / conjure woman / folksy exposition provider) on the other.

Magnus's choice, to run off and go fishing rather than roll with Jennie in the ripped ruined mansion's depths, is one typical of a certain stage of adolescence, at least it was for me, in fact, I made a similar choice the same year this premiered on ABC. Having to choose between your girlfriend/s and the boys, trying to drag you off to do guys things while she waits and gets pissed-off and/or vows that you will never see her again.

BUT it's because Magnus does go that this becomes myth. If he didn't, he'd be snared in the faerie bower of amor, of eros (1), Aphrodite's scallop shell closing down on the he and Jennie like a submersible honeymoon coffin (ala that round thing Bond and Barbara Bach end up in at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me). In the dream the dreaming ego always goes off with the guys. Otherwise there is no myth, only an enchanted knight slowly dying of hunger under the poppy trees, ministered to by a dozen doting fairies til he withers and dies. 


Some call him Kurma
The production team behind the Depths are Rankin-Bass, names familiar to kids all over the world for the puppet-animated catchy tune-spattered Xmas specials we all saw every December, and still do, like Rudolph and The Year without a Santa Claus; and the first two animated catchy tune-spattered Tolkien specials - The Hobbit and Return of the King), so they clearly knew a few things about how to tap into the deep strain of Jungian archetypal myth that can structure kids' psyches as they merge into the adult lane. Here they're working with same Japanese crew and director: Tsugunobo Kotani, with whom they'd teamed up with for the more-conventional The Last Dinosaur from the year before. But while that movie stayed a 'boy's life' Hemingway meets Edgar Rice Burroughs dissertation on machismo, The Bermuda Depths is infinitely more even-handed and light in its touch. Trying to talk about its brilliance is, as Tyrone Power says in Nightmare Alley, "like trying to put the ocean into bottles."  Like the waves going in and out on those beautiful white sand Bermuda beaches -- it captures that all things are fleeting.  At best, consicousness is just a skittish series of opportunities to practice the fine art of letting go, for one must let go, of everything, in the end - and the end is soon. It's been real, but now the sea nymph must return to the depths, lest she melt into a skull ala Sandra Knight in THE TERROR (1963) and the Vivaldi concerto end, replaced by... Diamanda Galas...


As with all great anima-scapes, when there are so many great elements it's almost better that they don't add up. After all, dreams never do. Too often these affairs get hung up on small details of logic, which your anima, the artist designer of your dreams, realizes rightly are the soul-killing logistics that make daytime so much less wild and thingee than the night. The best TV movies of the era took advantage of the fact that there were no VCRS, no chance to rewind and go "did that even happen?" These movies could do as the dreams did, and leave out whole chunks of logic, presuming we could fill in the blanks while we refilled our glasses and ran to the bathroom during commercials, much as the dreams themselves try to fill in what's missing in our day-to-day thinking. 

By the next morning at school, our own telephone game embellishments might already be added, and no way to prove them wrong - so any holes in its mythic sail were already patched. Decades later and once grim myths / rites of passage like Suspiria and Carrie are known by heart, no embroidering possible. But once upon a time things like Bad Ronald, The House that Would Not Die and Bermuda Depths became the "I'll have to take your word for it" living myths, more scary and strange with every re-telling... gradually peeling away from the land where any normal film made of celluloid and blood could ever do it full justice. 

END
BACK TO THE STORM

Enter 3 meteorologists, tracing their batons back and forth around the barometric reading map like junkies combing the carpet after the last grain is licked off the table, or conjure wives summoning demons from the depths of their cooking pots, roiling like coiling clouds over the Bahamas. Gesturing at the mimetic map as if to move the vortex through their swirling mimetic hand magic.

So as the swirling moves across time, space, and the spinning planet surface, is Bermuda's cosmic bill paid or will the hammer come down? No amount of blowing or fanning will change that spiral's mind. 


The world ends. The giant turtle comes up for air. 
This is in Revelations. 
This is coming. 

Up at Niagara, the Native American art museum is shaped like a turtle... It's been vacant for 22 years. I was there in 1989 with my girlfriend when it was open and full of Iroquois turtle imagery. The turtle carrying the world on its back, the incessant Falls, the force from which it gains its mighty roar...... my girl, her raven hair and crystal blue eyes... the turtle with the world on its... 

Am I still there? Am I ghost wandering that stricken empty shell? My ex had crystal Bermuda water blue eyes and raven black hair, pale skin and a lovely lips. But though she was everything I dreamt of, the roar of my band, of whiskey, and of inertia, all came first- no amount of hating myself could prevent it. 

Wait right here, I'd say....  I have a turtle to catch. It took me 20 years to get over her loss, yet I was so glad to be free of her (more of that in My Long Day's Journey into NIGHT OF THE IGUANA

Life was always going to be fleeting. We signed the waiver before we sailed. We're bound to remember we are all just waves that crash on the shore and leave only children, maybe, and photos of ourselves and mentions on the web that are only really 'there' if someone reads them. 
see: Godasiyo, the Woman Chief

We were more used to that in the 70s because TV shows came and went, irretrievably. The only way to record was to put your cassette tape recorder by the speaker and hope for the best. You'd at least have the audio. My first mix tape was made this way, holding my tape player up against the radio as favorite songs came on: Fleetwood Mac and Abba mostly, missing the first few seconds of each. Never did I tape the Eagles  --they were, frankly, terrifying. "Hotel California" chilled me deeper than my spine could reach. So did the words "Bermuda Triangle" - it was if the words themselves could suck you under.

The Bermuda Depths' theme song knows that horror, yet is sweet as any Rankin/Bass folksy theme. It might be friendly but it knows the power music had in the age of holding tape recorders up to TV speakers. It knows how we were once so anxious to capture any fleeting images of our beloved we would take photos of the TV, to somehow 'own' a reflection, knowing how futile that is. The sadness in the song "only imagined her" knows the almost religious importance we placed on things like 8x10 glossies, trading cards of our favorite movies, bands, and shows, of decals and buttons, of pictures cut out of magazines, traded like furs and guns. 

Now, in this internet age, the anima is harder to find for being so available. We are flooded with potential anima screens now, like the parade of hurricanes rolling out from Africa and around the and up the Florida coast before peeling out east  towards Bermuda or Nova Scotia. The Weather Channel crew traces their path on the empty blue  screen, commenting and gesturing, but there is no making the 'sea wife' come, only letting her go... when she's ready... Until then, she just sits there off the coast, in the deep, twirling in place, grinding the Bahamas down to a nub. 

 It's only in her absence that she stays forever. That's the anima. 22 years later and the Niagara Great Turtle museum still stands, empty in shell but present in corner real estate. If you see her, say hello, but do not linger, lest your consciousness dissolve in the brine, its husk bobbing up and down in the waves. And she makes way for the next drowning man. 

But isn't that you, too? 

I still the feel the warmth from kissing her
I'll spend my whole life missing her 
Jennie...


NOTES:

Relevant Archetypes:
2. The Anima
4. The Hanged Man
5. The Human Sacrifice
6. The Intimidating Nymph
10. The Wild Man
11. The Wild-Wise Woman
15. The Animal Familiar
25. The Fisher King


(Note: the key to this power is the image - Keep the old tactile 'real' photos of her on the beach or in front of the Falls from when you were young. Never look up her virtual pixel image on Facebook decades later, she will not look the same. No empty turtle shell still immortal just absent this time -your anima will shriek as if you caught it in the morning bathroom before it put its 'face' on. The true Jennie Hanniver at last.. Now your old photos just seem 'dead' - the anima has gone from this screen forever. That's Hollywood, and it's your problem. You looked back. And now your gaze itself is salt. 

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Hurrah for Luigi Cozzi! HERCULES (1983) and the Mighty Cozzi Canon!


Luigi Cozzi is 72 years.... young today. Though he's not made a film in some time, how nice is it he's lived to see his most fertile period become immortalized, his place in the pantheon of trash auteurs assured thanks to the rise of cults like Alamo and boutiques like Shout, Scorpion, and Severin? Truly a birthday wish denied to those who died too soon to see their stars ascend, like Ed Wood. Ignored, too poor to stay high, it was if their cults couldn't rise except like not-so-virgin springs from their own self-despoiled corpses. Well, many of us debauched ignobles would gladly die in anonymity if we were assured of posthumous immortality, even as a cult so-bad-it's-good auteur like Wood. Cozzi may shrink from his "Italian Ed Wood" label, but he gets it. We love Ed Wood and we love Cozzi, way better than we, say, love Otto Preminger or Fritz Lang. Better to be loved than respected, better to rule the cult fest midnight revival screens than bore students in film class. And if you can be alive for it, so much the better. So we see Cozzi these days drifting merrily through the DVD extras, palling around with Quentin and the rest. And hey, Cozzi's great and terrible canon is, for the most part, completely available to all mankind (barring a few later works like The Black Cat/Demon 6 [1991]). Two are even on Prime (in the US)! For now!

I mention Ed Wood for a reason: like his Bride of the Monster, Plan Nine and Night of the Ghouls, Cozzi's most iconic work was released in a very short period, approx. 1978-83--Stretching from Star Wars-influenced Starcrash in 1978 through to Alien-influenced Contamination in 1980, to the Conan-influenced Hercules in 1983 (and its sequel in 1985)And if, as with Wood, we laugh at some of these film's bizarro anti-narrative flights of imagination, it's the best kind of laughter, for it's in a joyful realization he genuinely loves his chosen genre, maybe more than he should for the good of the narrative. He aims for the stars and since he's so ambitious in his aims, succeeding in total narrative 'immersion' on the part of the viewer is never fully demanded. We cheer the way his movies go racing through gonzo set-ups with clear love of the sources they borrow from (recognizing nods to Golden and Seventh Voyage(s) of Sinbad, the 1936 Flash Gordon, and Clash of the Titans in his Starcrash as well as its obvious source). We can watch Cozzi's films, over and over in ways we may not be able to do with the originals, or 'better' movies, because his love of those referenced films is so palpable. 

More than just rip-offs or homage, his films become like pagan idols, bowing to down to the celluloid image themselves while being celluloid images. It's the kind of thing we see in the DIY recreations in Michel Gondry's work, or that 1989 Mississippi homegrown student film Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation. Not to say his work is amateur-ish, but rather it makes a kind of reverential ceremonial mimetic magic of genre film as myth. Unlike so many of his less cosmic contemporaries, Cozzi would rather fail on a big stage than just show some fake-breasted frizzy-haired lady racing around an empty warehouse crosscut with a shambling rubber monster for 90 minutes and grab a check. Cozzi's films never skimp or waste time; they zips around from planet to planet, from labor to labor, packing vignettes with savages, monsters, gods, demons, stop motion animation and video infinity effects and most of all... lovely women in strong roles. 

Cozzi loves strong women. There might be cleavage, but it's not leered at, and it comes couched in stylish restructured costumes, attached to strong, capable characters with Bechdel scores that outpace any of his better-known contemporaries. Far ahead of the curve on that aspect, Cozzi gives us a bevy of strong women space captains, CDC colonels, witches, queens, goddesses, and agents of chaos magic. For that alone, he deserves a special lionization. 


So here's wishing you the best of birthdays, Luigi Cozzi. And to celebrate, a deep look into one of my recent discoveries, an unfairly ignored and forgotten relic from Cannon films in the wake of the post-CONAN sword and sorcery craze 

 HERCULES (1983)

When your only takable umbrage with a Cannon neo-peplum is a tacky corset worn by Sybil Danning (above) as the evil princess Adriana, then you know you are blessed by the refreshingly primitivist and un-tacky Coates once again.  File it, as I did, in my emergency reserves, right next to Plan Nine or Mesa of the Lost Women, something to bring on your laptop over Xmas when you need a break from your brother's loud shouting at Alexa to play various "An Eric Clapton Christmas" over and over. Most Hercules films are unpleasant to see once, let alone often (unless the gym muscle rainbow is enuff). But you can see Cozzi's Hercules over and over until the end of time. To get to the perfect 'all-flaw' gem facets of lovely classics like  The Car, The Devil's Rain, and Ghosts of Mars a sword and sandal film needs to have a wild imagination and a love of movies that overrides limitations. Cozzi would rather try for a time lapse change from an old witch face to a lovely enchantress than to just cheat it out with a reaction shot the way lesser directors would. No matter if it doesn't quite work, and better to have a hydra --even if it only has three heads, none of which move, except to slightly raise or lower the necks to breathe fire--than to have no hydra at all. Better to have Hercules stand semi-transparently in the middle of outer space, flexing his mighty self, then to just see him rolling around in the dust behind De Paolis. In each of his 'effects' Cozzi all but salutes some older movie he's clearly in awe of. Like Tarantino, he's a true fan of the genre/s. And if you have find memories of making movies as a kid (or now) and love seeing the seams, ala Ed Wood (like a magic show where the wires are visible), then you love Cozzi.

By now you guessed it. I love Ed Wood, and Cozzi  too. I got the double-sided disc of Cozzi's Herc films only last summer and I've already seen them both four times.

Mirella D'Angelo (Tenebrae) as Circe, the witch
disciple of Athena who helps Hercules
See, Hercules isn't just about a muscle-head smashing foes, there's also lessons in astronomy: we learn the planets were formed from broken shards of Pandora's water jar; we learn how the constellations got their names and shapes (they're all things Hercules threw into deep space during fits of rage), and that the four elements are: night, day, matter, and air. These planets and jars are all shot through with color spectrum prisms, flashing lights overlay people so they all fade like Bert I. Gordon giants. (If you get that reference, this is the movie for you).

We learn that the gods were the first beings fashioned on the earth, and they settled on the moon to better observe and judge the tests of mankind. Thus we find Zeus (Claudio Cassinelli) refereeing a bout betwixt the astringent Hera (Rossana Podesta) and the compassionate Athena (Delia Boccardo) over Hercules' journey, sending in their respective servants on earth to aid or abet him on his epic quest. Perfectly cast as the mighty Hercules, with his huge jaw, dead set against the world, Lou "The Hulk" Ferrigno (well-dubbed by familiar voice artist Marc Smith) has a gift, a way with seeming deep inside himself, unfazed by threats or challenges, but then reacting to stimulus with the sudden reckless energy of a five year-old. His eyes squint to indicate focus on some magical spectacle and widen when roused to sudden violence. When he hears his father has been slain by a bear he drops his harness (he's ploughing a field with a Carnac-like row of massive stones) and shouts "WHAT?" like he just saw his car getting stolen, and goes racing across the fields with these little but super fast steps like a six year-old might run from a barking dog. He reacts fast in fights, like a prize fighter as opposed to a dancer. In short, he is the perfect choice for Hercules because, well, we like him, and he's not a good enough actor to hide his real self from us. We can see he's trying hard, giving it his all, but not trying so hard he casts a dour pall over things. It's a delicate balance.  It's the Cozzi balance.

As Herc's romantic lead/ princess-in-distress, Cassiopea (Ingrid Anderson) spends most of her scenes in sexy hanging white linens, first wearing a veil over her face then, after Herc lifts the veil and gives her a kiss, she's abducted and next time we see her she's wearing a trippy golden crown, natural breasts tastefully cupped by scallop shells (no leering by the camera, but beautiful side views). Made "sweet and submissive" thanks to the 'black lotus' (mmmm) waiting to be burned alive as "a bride" of Minos' captured firebird/phoenix, she becomes a kind of dormant anima to Hercules, keeping him pure so that he resists the come-ons of both his benefector witch friend Circe (Mirella D'Angelo). But both evil (agent of Hera) Adriana (Sybil Danning) and good (agent of Athena) D'Angelo are very much active in Hercules' life, as is, indirectly, Eva Robins as a glam chaos agent named Daedalus (above, left), with the ability to raise up giant monsters from an erector set series of toys atop her giant waxy head in the land between time and space. With her bat-winged gold lamé skullcap and a gold codpiece (carrying weird echoes of her 'heel'-work as the possibly trans girl in the flashback sequences of Tenebrae) its suitable that Daedalus, representing "chaos in the name of science! Science in the name of chaos!" collapses sexual boundaries while staying all the time beguilingly pretty, alighting the eyes of evil king Minos (William Berger) with the macabre delights of her monsters. As Daedalus tells him, time and space are relative, so that miniature mechanical toy monsters made by figures atop a normal skull size head can still grow as large as houses once 'subject' to the atmosphere of earth.

Though Cozzi stacks his decks with strong female characters there are also some cool characters on the male side, though their faces are often obscured by unconvincing beards: Gianni (Sartana!) Garko shows up in a crazy red and gold-winged refurbished centurion costume; William Berger (5 Dolls of an August Moon) is the evil Minos; Cassinelli should be familiar to Italian crime genre fans (though with his droopy white beard as Zeus he carries a kind of Linus Roche-ness); and Bobby Rhodes (the pimp in Demons) is the King of Northern Africa, who shows up on a rocky beach for one scene, after being called forth by Circe, to make a deal: Hercules will build his people a waterway in exchange for the magic chariot stashed in yonder cave ("and that's how, with the help of the Gods, Hercules created the great continents," intones the chorus-like narrator, "by separating Europe from Africa"). Rhodes has a pretty cool elephant skeleton litter, but Cozzi's budget couldn't swing a Pegasus, so mighty Hercules has to throw a big temple boulder out of orbit and have Circe fashion a magic rope to tie it to the chariot (there's a great stop motion bit where the rope ties itself into a very cool sailor's knot, seriously, that is some wild-ass knot). Soon Circe and Hercules are soaring across the solar system, completely out of our planetary orbit, being pulled along in an open air chariot by a giant.... rock. Does it get any better?  Lesser directors would never even dare try to get away with that, or using erector sets to make stop motion monsters (i.e. the budget didn't allow the clay most animators would put over the erector set frame).


As he did with Starcrash, Cozzi somehow even manages to get an A-list composer to deliver a dynamite full-bodied score to something that would normally be subject to "library" tracks. He got John Barry to outdo John Williams in intergalactic bombast with Starcrash. Here he gets the legendary Pino Donaggio to deliver a prime mythic, hugely entertaining, even more bombastic score, full of Rocky-style coliseum brass and moody deep string ominousness. Did Cozzi prevent him Donaggio from seeing the movie during his composing, like he famously did with John Barry? I'd almost wager... Otherwise they would have, at the very least, lightened the heroic mood. But it's just that heroic mood that makes it all work. A single wink and the whole thing would deflate like a soufflé.

The dubbing too is all first-rate too, even the minor characters get professional well-recorded treatment, with Donaggio giving every absurd action the benefit of the doubt. This is a film never tries to be realistic, it gets that it is myth in its purest form, and evoking the gods is seldom far from any characters' lips, as it would be in any Greek tragedy. The Gods sometimes even seem to address the camera directly, as if this pre-ordained saga, reflected in macro and micro dimensions as surely as any archetypal myth. This approach explodes the barriers between accidental Brechtianism, intentional Greek myth chorus-style theater and a child showing off his toy collection. Cozzi throws everything he has in the box at us, including Zeus-knows-what kind of filters and pieces of rainbow-reflective mylar held over the lens, mismatched matte paintings overlaid with multi-colored stars (white, red, blue, yellow, green, even purple). It's never too much or not enough; it is, in its sublime perfection, the very nature of magic and exactly what (Greek writer) Ado Kyru meant in his famous quote (1). It belongs in a Criterion Channel triple feature between Godard's Les Mepris and Seijun Suzuki's Pistol Opera. 

Then the sequel in 1985. Lots of light effects, overlays, fan art inspiration, clips from the last film, and everything a-nice.

ADVENTURES OF HERCULES (1985)

Six viewings in and I'm still trying to stay awake through it all, and I don't mean that as a negative. For me, it's like falling into a peaceful dream, one punctuated by occasionally druggy reveries and name-that-influence excitement, like you'd get from a child proudly waving his tracing paper drawing of the Sinbad cyclops rousing you from a nap. My only caveats are the terrible bangs on the clunky   super square wigs of all the women, their 'mama did the costumes based on her memories of how ancient Greek people dressed in 50s bible movies), the tired look of surprise in the 'Colin Ferrell as an old queen trying one last time to get into Studio 54 but his heart isn't in it'-red feather glam of the evil priest (Ventatino Ventinini). Stay awake! A fire monster animation that seems rotoscoped from Forbidden Planet's Monster from the Id (i.e. tracing a trace), another monster looks like a shaggy dog on two feet, and when Hercules sends in his mojo to battle Minos they become rotoscoped outlines of the ('33) King Kong fighting the T-rex and the snake (and Minos' goofy spinning sword fighting from the first film); there's also a (fairly primitive but nonetheless badass) claymation Medusa / giant scorpion hybrid; and plenty of Tron-like light video game effects (a Cozzi specialty), some of which are pretty great, like when Herc punches a ball of light around a canyon. The Nino Rota coliseum theme music is still great but the dubbing is way too-over-the-top and badly mixed (luckily Lou Ferrigno keeps Marc Smith, thank goodness, and he stays refreshingly deadpan but there's a different guy doing Minos's voice and he mispronounces 'Daedalus').

One other issue: all the costumes have grown massive shoulders, their costumes so layered and bulky they look like fairy tale theater refugees, trying to unobtrusively cleaning out the soundstage costume dept. without signing anything out. Dad Zeus is still played by Claudio Cassinelli but instead of his simple tiara and droopy Merlin-style white beard he's given a big 'Santa Clause does Catholic christening' robe with a weird yarmulke-mixing bowl crown. Not a good look. For anyone (those bangs, ugh). Ferrigno however stays shirtless. He's totally shredded.


Daedalus and the evil Minos are back as the main villains, and played by the same actors (Berger flashes his best maniac grin once imbued with the power of "cunning, connivance, and chaos:), the lady playing Hera is different and suddenly we get Laura Lenzi (the cute mom in Manhattan Baby) as the goddess "Flora" (?) who thinks it's a good idea to revive the evil Minos (via that old upside down blood donor trick no doubt gleaned from Hammer's Dracula, Prince of Darkness) as he too has a grudge since Hercules killed him in the last film. ("Minos..... not again" groans Herc). Lots of overdressed rebel gods zap in and out of the dimensions of time and space, or stand on giant surrealist mesas above bubbling matte paintings and below rainbow starred outer space, evoking the weird trans-dimensional zones of 60s Jack Kirby comics. When mortal characters step outside space and time they wave their arms around to give off trippy trails, supporting my theory on where the many arms of Hindu deities come from (see my post on Dvinorum Psychonauticus). When Hercules punches a monster the screen flashes a primary color and we cut to the creature flying away in slow motion. Best of all, there is no comic relief. No robot owl or klutzy lance-carrier shall stain the weave of this eventful tapestry!

In short, it's a gem, with lasers, sexy mermaid thought waves (ala Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women?), and crazy painted/scratched-on lightning and laser effects, and a cast that's at least 3/4 women and none are ever being overly sexy or maternal. Sure it's a step down for the mighty Cozzi after the 'heights' of the previous film, but priceless lines like "Quick! Step inside the stone mouth!", "Mother, give me the kiss of death" / "Didn't you say the little people always spoke in truth?" / "your death shall free the souls!" / "Be careful of the queen, Hercules! She is the most evil of all!"and Zeus raising his arms up high "Grow, Hercules! Growww!"  help replace the lack of narrative momentum with a delightfully drifting dreamlike abstraction. If Cozzi's the Italian Ed Wood, this is clearly his Night of the Ghouls and that's no bad thing... if you love Ed Wood. Look fast for a shot of the rock-pulled chariot from the first film pulling into view from behind the moon during one of the many astral zip-arounds. Is it merely a sign Cozzi is using the same footage and was late on the cut, or is Hercules truly outside of time and space, so the past and future exist simultaneously? Both? Both! BOTH = the key to Cozzi mania. Hurrah for Cozzi! Rise and let your burning flesh melt together with the body of your victim! Hercules awaits you, my queen!


 SINBAD OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1989)

Lou Ferrigno is back in Cozzi country for this dopey but impossible to dislike entry in the pre-CGI fantasy genre. His dubbing is different, his hair makes him seem like a juiced-up Eric Bogosian (with earrings) and the sound is strangely mixed and burdened with an overly 'mommy'-like mom (dubbing Daria Nicolodi) narrating to her treacly child via a storybook, but it's still great - a mix of typically looney-tunes Cozzi (he shares the billing) and action-packed Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors and Warriors of the Wasteland). Castellari started it, I think, and the earlier (relatively) ornate village scenes and Thief of Bagdad setup seem his. My Cozzi-holic guess: the great Coates took over from around the 1/4-in point in, when suddenly Jaffar whisks Sinbad onto a wild fractured voyage to liberate various gems from inside various monsters (ala Zeus's thunderbolts in Herc 2!) so we got lots of crazy scenes of monster fighting with very little in the way of connectors and establishing shots (fine with me). Sometimes the dialogue and performance of John Steiner as the evil Jaffar veers far too close to self-aware camp, like telling his female bodybuilder ally, "you're really spoiling my biorhythm." And the implication is once again homosexuality as villainy, but they have a good time doing very little but toddering around a giant weird red geodesic set while watching Sinbad's adventures via crystal ball.  Ferrigno gets to do lots of flexing, as when he wrestles with animated bird cage (a very long sequence in which Ferrigno gives his all) or knocks heads off rock monsters, and has the habit of throwing his sword away at the first sign of trouble, so he can use his fists (though he can't be punching hard, as the foes just bounce back up and attack again). In the most justifiably famous climax, he fights himself --which side won? We did!


Alessandra Martines is the gorgeous princess Alina, whom Jaffar tries to make fall in love him by immobilizing her under conglomeration of tubes pumping red water which enable her to watch her own true love, Prince Ali, try to stand up to the awful temptation of the Amazon queen (Melonee Rogers), part of Jaffar's elaborate evil network. Sinbad gets his own girl, Kyra (Stefania Goodwin - Bronx Warriors), the fun and capable daughter (with refreshingly endearing, natural-voiced dubbing) of a terribly overacting Depp-x-Mike Meyers-ish wizard (with ze ridiculous mustache). There's some great footage inside what must be an actual balloon floating over the water, but just barely, while Sinbad blows into the balloons to keep them from sinking, and then spying Sinbad's boat below them, clearly real people on a real slim period boat, filmed from a real balloon, with the real actors in it.

 Little person Cork Hubbert is another comic relief member, and though forced into some ridiculous contrivances, is at least treated with relative dignity (that I remember); the crew is, as with most crews, a little too 'colorful' for their own good, each trying to make sure you get that this one is a Viking or Asian or Scottish, but hey, they all fight with rollicking good cheer and relative skill (were they stuntmen?) and they don't get in the way when its time for Ferrigno to do some wild feat, like break chains, run and swim in slow motion, knock a horse to the ground, climb up a ladder made of snakes, fight an empty suit of armor that shoots lasers out of its eyes, and fight various monsters, and the temptation of the Amazons!

And most importantly, as with other Cozzi gems, there are a lot of strong female characters, literally, in the case of the bodybuilder friend of Jafar's. Though she never actually gets to throw a punch (her arc fizzles out), Martines is a knockout even if all she does is lay around, and Kyra is a brawler, not afraid to deliver some serious punches and kicks in the battle with the gooey lepers. Did I mention the Amazons? Cozzi forever!!!! As with Starcrash (also with Amazons), the main issue that undoes it, Kyra's aside is a badly-mixed English dub that makes everyone sound like they're right up close to the microphone (i.e. voices not mixed in relation to character's distance). On the other hand, the cinematography is great, giving it a far more expensive patina than one would expect, the boat and balloon are real, right there on the water, and the scenery is gorgeous, that two tier red metal banded supervillain play pen / set is brilliant, and the colorful Middle Eastern decor is psychedelic, and, as ever, Ferrigno is impossible to dislike. So just get over it, whatever's bothering you, and savor the Sinbadness!

 PAGANINI HORROR (1989)

A music video shoot at the home of Paganini goes awry when the all-girl rock band start disappearing during the breaks. Seems the ghost of someone masked ala the Phantom of the Opera is stabbing them with a violin after luring them forth via candles that obscure the line between the hororr-themed video and 'reality.' Cool as that all is, it's plenty clear something or someone prevented Cozzi's full vision from being realized; a producer somewhere along the line nixed the kind of lunatic touches that would have made the film distinctly late-80s Cozzi. (I hear there's a German version that includes a prologue showing planetary movements, a celestial hourglass or scales or something indicating the cosmic balance of things!). Some producer expected a gory slasher movie and to the devil with Paganini and moral fatalism! See, Italy had a kind of future's market with titles and a big budget Paganini biopic was coming out, so this was their way to capitalize on the name, but then the movie tanked out before it even reached the gate. So Cozzi lost the high art tentpole he probably planed to use in defense of the high weirdness going on. The story involves a booby trap-rigged house that Daria Nicolodi rents out to a video shoot run by a Dario Argento-style horror maven who can't quite figure out how to keep shooting when the (very cool) all girl 80s Euro-rock band starts disappearing (he solves it by making use of the copious available mannequins). The only way to survive is to master Paganini's final score (copped from Donald Pleasance in a back alley of Venice), before the maestro's masked spirit kills again!


The worst part of it all actually is that Donald Pleasance is dubbed by someone else!! What's the point? His voice is everything! Still, as with the best Cozzis (above and below) what saves it all and makes it a true gem is the real palpable love and respect for the genre, and for strong women, that suffuses everything. When they gaze into camera for the video, you can read deep into the girl band's souls and they're having a high old time making this film. The cinematography is lovely, captured in burnished oranges and browns, with lots of candles, and --alas--it's all too short with a hyper-ironic, if unsatisfying, ending. Maestro! Did you have to call the bassist chick first! Aye shalom!

COZZI CANON CONT. 

STARCRASH (1978)

Starcrash moves so fast from cliffhanger to cliffhanger it has less to do with its obvious 'inspiration' and more in common with one of those compressed feature film versions of the 1936 serial Flash Gordon (right down the helmets, and the hero's escaping his/her stint shoveling fuel into the enemy blast furnace) crossed with the Golden and 7th Sinbad Voyages. And it has even less to do with actual science, which is a relief. The John Barry score is far better than John Williams' score for Star Wars; the sets, guns, and costumes are all super kinky and wild; outer space is laden with lava lamp overlays and stars as varied in color and size as a drunk Xmas tree. Christopher Plummer--decked out in a kind of Versace sci-fi hallucination-- gets to shout out to a far off space ship that he will now "freeze time itself!" and as his son, David Hasselhof has never looked prettier. Clearly Cozzi lavished attention on weird details like kinky cool costumes, crazy sets, and wild giddy imagination, but left choices for the clunky English dub, and editing, in less wondrous hands. The cast is great but only half of them, since the extra value they would have brought doing their own voices is lost. (Plummer keeps his though). There's also the issue of Marjoe Gortner who comes off like a tooth-whitened Vegas magician crossed with an over-caffeinated animatronic Peter Pan (and his hair is curly). Stella has a lot of sexy and slick outfits though, with wide Vampirella collars. The diaper/chastity belt thing is not a good look however. Released in America by New World Pictures, so as with their other films, it has to clock in at under 90 minutes irregardless of how many sets and action set pieces are going on, leading to a giddy rushed feel (Star Wars lest Roger forget, clocked in at a healthy 2+ hours)  (full review here)

CONTAMINATION (1980)

This Italian ALIEN-inspired sci-fi adventure gets a bad rap in some circles but I adore it. Rather than just have some amok alien eating crew members, this keeps itself on Earth in the present, and decides to focus in on the pod-to-stomach-stage, with rows of ugly watermelon slime pods that explode when ripe and cause instant explosions in the stomach of everyone in horseshoe vicinity. I dig the obvious phone book size padding under the victim's shirts before the explosions; I dig the traumatic Freudian-cave-on-Mars flashbacks; the unearthly humming whale-ish noise the pods make when they're fixing to blow. I dig the vibe between the NYC cop who discovers the initial shipment (Marino Mase), the female colonel (!) of the Army's special disease control unit (Louise Marleau) and the traumatized astronaut (Ian McCulloch). The three team up in a sexy 'gentleman's agreement' synergy and head down to Colombia where they're soon ensnared up in a big slimy alien's world domination plan, ala It Conquered the World. 

Louise Marleau's heroine finds a worth opposite number in lovely blonde Gisela Hahn as the evil mastermind's right hand, and I love the alien itself, especially that bicycle reflector eye and the glistening artichoke coloring. Lastly, what really earns my goofball admiration is the Goblin soundtrack. That late-70s-80s European prog rock style has aged well. I don't know what else you need to make you love this dumbass film the way that I do. Whatever's missing, you don't need it.

THE BLACK CAT 
AKA Demons 6: De Profundus  (1989)

A parallel program to the Argento-Bava-Soavi school, this unofficial metatextual sequel to Argento's Suspiria (and sixth in the catch-all Demons series) factors in post-modern self-reflexivity to keep you guessing, including the Mater Suspiriorum  source of sources (Thomas de Quincey's Confession of an Opium Eater). Argento is name-checked and there's even some familiar Goblin cues from Suspiria.Screenwriter Marc (Urbano Barberini) writes a treatment for the story of a witch named Lavania. He thought he made the name up. But there was a witch by that name, and she's rising from her grave a little farther every time the word 'Lavania' is spoken. Her face and hands are grotesque pustules (ala Lamberto's first two films), but she begins to take over the mind of Marc's wife, Anne (Florence Guérin) and causes her to hallucinate guts flying out of the TV. A hot local psychic encourages Marc to change the character's name to something else, but he won't.  Meanwhile, without even knowing the story he's writing, new mom Ann starts to demand to play the role, saying she "is" Lavania. How would she know? But what about sexy Caroline Munro, who starts luring Marc into the sack for the Lavania part? Michele Soavi plays the director. I didn't even have time to mention the undead financial backer! Confused? Join the club. Still I'd rather go on a Cozzi ride-- even if its bumpy, and dangerously near collapsing--than play it safe on some competent piece of junk like Lost Souls or Stigmata -hai capito? (full review here). 


NOTES:

1. "“I urge you to look at bad films, they are so often sublime.”– Ado Kyrou
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