In honor of Godzilla's 68th birthday (Nov 3) here's my praise and love of my favorite version of that original classic, a truly one-of-a-kind--colorized, bastardized, lionized and ionized--remix from 1977 by Italian cult luminary Luigi Cozzi. Impossible to find anywhere these days but on a stream culled from a VHS dupe, its sound and image warped by the ravages of time, you'd think it something to be ignored and forgotten except as a strange footnote in the Godzilla Wiki. But no! Even mangled and re-duped, dubbed, and dumped for dead, it still flows like a psychedelic special report from your coziest nightmare.
Just to give you the meta-meta origin: know that there is the original Japanese version, very cool yet somber and kind of a bummer. Then there is the Americanized version, with the critiques of Hiroshima edited out and pervasive footage of Raymond Burr reacting and interpreting shuffled in. Cozzi too that version, put the Hiroshima / Anti-American subtexts back with a vengeance, remixed it with a new score, drenched it in strange psychedelic color, and shuffled in artsy Hiroshima footage, especially in the opening, which begins with stylized high-contrast, color-drenched, slow-mo images of everyday Japanese life (maybe culled from old documentary), A-bomb tests, wreckage, and--cleverly--footage of a bomb-blasted Berlin (if I know my WW2 documentaries, and I do) all set to a wild ominous, irresistible elctro-score. Its new colors are not 'colorizing' as you and I understand it today, but colorizing branches far and wide, adding extra strange patina to the strange images, merging perfectly with the tracking problems and other image issues. Add a new soundtrack all of it wobbling and wavering and accompanied often by the sound of a whirring projector and you have a kind of found object accidental Brechtian re-paradise for late-night dozers and dosers.
Dig the provenance of this unique art object: it begins as a 1953 black-and-white Japanese monster movie, it's then imported to America and "Americanized" with the social commentary about Hiroshima, and the soapier histrionics removed (i.e. all the male crying), and copious footage of Raymond Burr reacting to things added (his near-constant narration helping to undo the need for either subtitles or dubbing). Let it simmer for a couple of decades and then that version is colorized, dubbed into Italian, has actual Hiroshima footage added (amongst other changes) given an Italian theatrical release with a kind of 1977 Italian version of "Sensurround," then later recorded onto VHS, which is then apparently thrown off a train into a river, then left out in the sun for 20 years before finally being subtitled and uploaded onto YouTube, where it lives--and thrives!--to this very day.
That's four layers of meta and three different directors! It begins in Japanese with Ishiro Honda, then 'Burred' American by Terry O. Morse, then made Italian vivid, colorful and profound by Luigi Cozzi. The combination results in the best, the ultimate, the only version that feels truly 'complete.' Not only profound, but moving, elegaic without being soapy or pedestrian.
Just to preface: I'm a huge Luigi Cozzi fan (see my gushing appreciation of his other films here). His imagination and love of the genre is so all-consuming it brings his work way past the boring and familiar things that hold up other directors, i.e. pacing, classical-style narrative, character arcs, romantic arcs, and heartfelt dialogue. Instead, Cozzi gives us everything great about Italian versions of America sci-fi movies, with an endearing primitivism that captures the essence of why we want to see a movie in the first place, especially one we want to watch over and over and never get bored, the way children never get bored of their favorite bedtime story - because myths never age, and are never fully known, never fully consumed.
All of which is to preface this: my adoration of his 1977 Godzilla redux hinges on a developed love for his unique and endlessly rewarding sensibility, combined with not being a huge fan of the Japanese version of the film or the Raymond Burr-insert Americanized version. The whole endless fight to get that one-eyed scientist to use his oxygen destroyer is the kind of hyper-emotional Japanese romantic triangle soapiness that frightens a lot of Americans away with its tearful, prolonged, over-the-top histrionics. But the Burr footage drags too --inserting way too many shots of him watching events (if an American didn't see it, did it really happen?) and way too much narration. Cozzi goes for broke in the opposite direction, removing more footage from both version than they ever would, none of it, as it turns out, worth keeping, then padding the remix with footage of radiation burns, slow-mo PTSD, and-- realizing it's the most important element of the picture--expands the climactic monster scene outward, splicing in a full naval bombardment adding overkill to overkill, and letting everything else--the parts that make getting there a bore--go dissolving into the sea--keeping only the skeleton, which no mere convention can e'er burn away.
I would have loved to hear this in a theater wired for Sensurrround or whatever it was called in Italy (you can read up on its history here) , with Godzilla's thundering stomps (some of which appear only in the Cozzi version) making the floor shake. I know that will never happen, but the meta refractions of its current only surviving 'print' give Cozzi's flawless nutcase instincts just the sort of contexutalizing they needed, the final post-modern boost to make Godzilla finally not only resonant, but a work of found art.
For best results watch at 4 AM in a Remeron and CBD trance after you've tossed and turned in bed for a couple hours before finally giving up, getting up, moving to my big easy chair in the living room.... And.... bombs away.
For some reason Cozzi can get the very best composers and scores that rival the classics: John Barry does the score for his Starcrash and gets Nino Rota for Hercules. And here, he's got the amazig Fabio Frizzi and Franco Bixo (aka 'Magnetic System) to kick things off for the grand and disturbingly lovely Hiroshima opening, immediately launching viewers into a hypnotic trance.
Then Vince Tempera adds synths in there and under it all is a wise and perfect remix of the best parts of Akira Ifukbe's origial score (that incredible 'Elegy' that only plays over the TV shots of the carnage towards the end, here comes at the beginning too and at the end of the carnage). This haunting music adds just the right mix of comfort, tension and grandeur as we find Burr under the rubble. And when our man is on the stretcher, asking for water, trying to be heard over the din of suffering along the rows of other survivors, the music and color makes it strangely comforting. After being buried in rubble even a stretcher on the floor can be paradise, thirst or no. Ifukube gets that with his elegy, Tempera gets it, and most of all Cozzi gets it. If only Hollywood got it.
You would think expanding the running time by throwing a reel of hand-colorized Hiroshima stock footage up front wouldn't work. It does. We get the before (daily life of the civilians), the explosion (pretty, from a distance), and the after (radiation burns, long tracking shots over the endless grid of rubble). And it's all drenched in weird colors and rendered occult and bizarre by the deliciously ominous Bixio and Frizzi synth music. Even the sky is given a poetic resonance, bleaching out when the sun or bomb get too bright. The result seems like the bomber has flown past the color swaths. When the bomb drops, it looks like a splash of white amidst a Rothko color field. As if draining the warmth and life from the city. When the new credits come up they are over a beautiful, hypnotic sped-up motion of gathering and roiling and dissipating cloud formations which, with the music and the sound of roaring wind, creates an undeniably hypnotic and almost pre-infantile state of rapture.
The combined effect is totally unique. It may be purely the result of necessity (stock footage = the cheapest way to pad), but whether intentional or not it winds up being so much more. Rather than just a document of the global tragedy, the music and colors add intriguing depth. Even today the name Hiroshima still has archetypal power wherever you are so it's not like it's 'stale' or fully 'absorbed' or maybe will ever be.
It helps perhaps Cozzi is not American, so bears no national guilt over its use, Italy being the one country to 'switch sides' and, perhaps to its credit, quickly surrender rather than stand and die for a cause they didn't believe in. Thus we see facets of it through his Italian eyes that we usually cannot when seeing through either Japan's or America's (they're too close to the problem)--that America is the father of Godzilla in more ways than one - we're the Nick Nolte to Godzilla's Eric Bana in Ang Lee's Hulk so to speak.' That's why having an American in the mix is so essential and why it works better that..
The insertion of Burr into Godzilla prior to its American release can seem racist, but once he's dubbed into Italian and we're reading what he's saying via subtitles (i.e. translated back again), all that bad taste goes away and the whole thing becomes post-modern sublime. With the warping wobble of the VHS source giving the voices a strange echo quality that takes him (and the Japanese around him) out of the 'present,' his narration (welcomely truncated for Cozzi's version) echoes through the action like a dream. Welcome everywhere, always up front, he merges into the post-modern warp in a way that's definitely cool. The associations of the Italian dubbing actor makes us automatically re-interpret what we hear as, not just monster movie junk, but an art film ala Antonioni.
4. The use of Ifukube's "Elegy" in the opening sequence of Raymond Burr under the rubble and later after the main attack, and the last part.
In the original American version, the first act has Raymond Burr is unearthed from the rubble, features just a mournful, plodding minor key oboe (or bassoon?). Dull, then it stops for endless exposition and seldom returns. In Cozzi's, the best parts of Ikfube's score, such as the 'elegy' heard only towards the end via TV in the original version, add a grandeur and marvelousness that situates the film right off the bat as something that's emotional, even strangely operatic, especially after the Hiroshima prologue. When I see and hear this first section of the Cozzi film, I think instantly of where I was the evening after 9/11 (watching from across the river in Brooklyn Heights, eating ice cream on the boardwalk--finding it hard to pick an emotion other than a kind of surrealist shock). "Elegy" fits that so perfectly I don't even have to remember it to feel it. Rather than just play for the broadcast, it plays from the rubble slow pans and flows right up into the ocean with the O2 destroyer. Rather masterfully, too. Watch for example the Burr version of the attack - there's no music - no real noise almost - aside from Burr it's quiet for huge stretches until he starts stomping on train tracks and finally omitting a loud growl.
Supposedly every frame was hand tinted but as it survives on the streaky VHS the effect seems like the tinter/colorizer was hittin' the pipe, so to speak. Sometimes the color is effective (the red skies during the fires) sometimes it seems to wash around but it never quite fades out altogether. The key scenes of Godzilla trashing Tokyo are the most conscientiously colored, and that's what's important, making the surreal presence of the big reptile and its destruction into something so transformational and shocking/strange/all-consuming it changes our perceptions of color.
Cozzi wipes out whole dull exposition, and connecting and establishing shots of the Americanized and original version, especially with the phone calls, customs, standing around while narration explains things, and door entrances and romantic triangle sudsiness, and instead stretches out the attacks, the devastation, and the retaliation. He 'Cozzifies' it. Whittling it down to the basics, he then had to add footage to get it to feature length but he Cozzified there too, instinctively knowing just the right passages to expand, such as the climactic Tokyo trashing (adding to the aftermath by a section of post-Hiroshima footage intercut with short inserts of Godzilla breathing his radioactive fire breath and the "Elegy" music again. and the final O2 Destroyer ending, which becomes a slow-mo death dance of bubbles and a prolonged surfacing wherein Cozzi tries to goose up the wow factor by intercutting stock footage of naval ships firing all their guns on Godzilla as he surfaces. In the original it's just a quick pop up, followed by a sad sinking, Cozzi replays and slows down the surface death rattle so that he seems to take forever to die, the O2 destroyer below, the naval destroyer above.Instead of all the preparation, the bubbles and the destroyer and all that seem to take forever - it's like the whole movie blends into a blur or white blobs, pink and turquoise sky wipes, slow-motion bubbles cascading past a doomed Godzilla. He knows what makes an emotional, strong image and how to give such images time to resonate, to envelop us in ways too deep to analyze.
7. SOUND RE-MIXING
Cozzi and Co. creates a nonstop melange of every kind of sound that lulls me to sleep;-- there's rushing wind, all bubbling and whooshing, the Italian dub sounding like it's being heard outside a shrill Roman theater before the main feature. The din of conversation and busy Tokyo streets becomes a comforting white noise, alongside what sounds like the whirr of a projector, or brisk wind. When the roar of Godzilla comes along it occupies the low end, but is drowned on on the top. Meanwhile the sound of a dance band playing the night Godzilla first attacks Tokyo has a kind of ghostliness reminiscent of hauntologic music of 'the Caretaker', The (post-dubbed) loud pounding of his footsteps (even when still in the water) sounds like Marley's ghost hammering at my chamber door; the blur of crowd noises, Ifukube's music (sometimes it seems like two different passages are playing at the same time), the ocean roar, morse code-style telegraph beeping (to convey urgent news), the explosions and also.... almost of it almost inextricably tied up with...
8. META-SOUND ARTIFACTING
At times you can hear what sounds like grinding sprockets, and the sound wall kind of wobbles as if going through a flanger. Is it the projector screening the film for the video camera, or the sound of the fire of Serizawa's burning o2 destroyer notes and the whooshing of his lab equipment? Are these intentional or the result of age, transfers, the sound recorded for the VHS in a sloppy duping. When Dr. Serizawa is down underwater delivering the O2 Destroyer for example, the wobbling of the reels seems like the film in the sprockets is shifting as the tracking issues persist at the same time, as if the water and bubbles were leaking into the camera and microphone. Some spots are slowed down to stretch out scenes, which gives the sound and extra warping weirdness. The line between accidental and deliberate effects is wiped away. For the climax, for the underwater climax, for example, the warping and waving of a comforting wall of soothing sounds, with layers of that unforgettable Ikufube 'Elegy,' under bubbling, ocean sound effects, muffled roars, dialogue up on deck and through the oxygen tube, static from the recording transfers, including the whirr of a projector, all laid in front of each other in layers to form a comforting wall of white atmosphere that then warps and wavers from the video tracking issues
Compare it to the original or the Burr version and the soundscape is much more austere. The early scenes of Burr under the rubble and working his way to the Tokyo press room are generally silent, with maybe an oboe or a distant crowd noise. In Cozzi's version a weird radio plays constantly in the background, along with ringing phones, telegraph beeping, the rush of conversations, traffic, and the projector itself; elsewhere morse code bleeps echo in successive layers - the frenzied gull like voices of concerned family members for the crew of the missing vessel. It's a roar in itself, in a good way
9. META VIDEO DISINTEGRATION
At one point we see the reel run out and an End of Part One sign flashes; we see the film running out. Elsewhere the images buckle and jump, and echo! Interestingly, the print waits until about 50 minutes in to really fall apart with tracking problems that happens to be during the big centerpiece of the film, Godzilla's rampage in Tokyo. It's as it the sheer size of the monster and the vehemence of the military response is breaking apart film as we know it. It's one thing to have the image jump around when say, showing a couple on the couch, but with rapid edits of explosions and raging fires as a monster the size of a ten story office building beats the shit out of some electrical wires, before snacking down on a train? That makes perfect sense. Even when the screen goes completely dark, before wobbling back, making the monster scenes harder to see, it fits--as if we're watching it live on TV and the camera signal is breaking up. Sure, eventually it gets pretty annoying but then, the problem dies away... for awhile when the attack is over.
Did the high contrast and rapid editing have anything to do with the problems of this transfer? I don't know but I do know watching the HD version on Criterion, the monster is very unconvincing - we can see the scenery better, admire the details of the cityscape he tramples through, savor the detailed craftsmanship that went into each building, but it's clearly a man in a suit in the long shots and --in some others-- clearly a hand puppet. The apocalyptic images of the crumbling press building, as it slowly collapses floor-by-floor is truly impressive in the original. And, of course, one should watch that version often. But it lacks the strange post-modern poetry we get from tbe Cozzi version - the way the melt-down of film and of tape seems to suit the gravity of the scene better.
Here's an example - the attack in the Burr film starts at 50 mins in, ends around 101; in Cozzi's, it starts at 50 mins but then ends - ends 101:12 - so like double the length. Then the end underwater climax in the Burr verison last 6 minutes but the Cozzi version expands to 12, but then goes back to slow motion the explosion and the anguished roar go godzilla - his pathetic rise from the deep only to be mercilessly shelled by the boats, howling and then sinking back down. Cozzi spatters into a full on military assault at the head as if target practice, before it sinks down to the slow motion depths, the sound warped and flangered with the music carrying through a sea of bubbles, almost Wagnerian and triumphant. The beast takes forever to fall back down to the depths. He finally sinks and the sea dissolves again into a sea of bubbles.... We only see a few cutaways to people on the boat but Cozzi doesn't care about them and knows we don't either - we don't even care about Serizawa's brave suicide (cutting his air hose). We're glad to be rid of him and all his crying and tantrum-throwing.
I don't know but when you add the washes of pink, yellow, orange, and green blurring into each other, somehow it all comes together as...
10. HIGH EXPERIMENTAL FILM ART!
The original Japanese version of Godzilla was a metaphor for America's radioactive warping and altering of the Japanese psyche ala the firebombing of Tokyo and nuking of Hiroshima. That version that was then warped and altered by America to suit itself, editing out the Hiroshima references to suit itself, That version then warped and altered, with loads Hiroshima footage added in,
Did Italy's mid-war conversion from Japan's side to America's have any subtextual effect on Cozzi's artistic choices? Either way, he created most astute yet warped meditation on Hiroshima that you're likely to see, especially when the media you see it on has been warped and altered many times over itself. And hopefully so have you!
Thats 10 -- BLAST OFF!
But the cumulative effect of these 10 reasons isn't a downer, it's a great narcotizing embrace, like sinking down to an eternal sleep. The bubbling noises of the surf, the bellowing of the ships. the scratchy vibe, the haunting Ikufube music, the weird washes of cool colors, it all flows and swirls into some wild light-sound extravaganza that satisfies the soul, keeps the spirit engaged and brings frazzled nerves into a pre-natal warm, pulsing tide. Godzilla's oxygen gets sucked out of himself at the end but it flows into us like the cool breeze from a projector's whirring fan when the bulb is off. Protected against the onslaught of man's blind folly for another night, we drift off secure in the arms of Cozzi and his crew, Burr and his crew, Honda and his crew, the Italian dubbers and the English subtitlers, and the signature of time itself (always something that can be stopped or otherwise manipulated in Cozzi films), slowly warping and ravaging its way through a Russian doll-style chain of decomposing media upgrades. It delivers exactly what I want out of a film I'm watching at some godforsaken hour of the night, technically trying to fallsleep, but kind of enjoying that I'm half-awake, nodding in and out, until I'm never quite sure if I'm watching the film or not... did I black out for certain sections or are they just not there? Seen while fully conscious during the day I can find myself frustrated by the lengthy parts of over-the-top tracking issues during God's all-night stomping and torching of Tokyo. But late at night, eyes lidded over, it's truly sublime.
We shouldn't be surprised, it may be Ishiro Honda's baby but Cozzi raises it as his own and teaches it who it really is. Before it only knew it was Vishnu, the destroyer of worlds, now it knows it's Robert Oppenheimer, and it's here to send us to sweet oblivion. . here