TORINO ’06: seen Mon 13th Nov (including Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Sex Cycle, Bug)

Published on: November 13th, 2006

Saw William Friedkin's Bug this morning across the road in the spanking-new Ambrosio cinema. Still not sure what I make of it, but get the feeling that, the more I ponder the subject, the more I'm going to dwell on the deficiencies rather than the merits. Adapted from a play, and Friedkin makes little attempt to "open it out", although the opening shot is a dizzily vertiginous (and visually breathtaking) one taken from a helicopter, slowly zooming in on the deceptively-named 'Rustic Motel.'
   This is home to washed-up barmaid Agnes (Ashley Judd), whose abusive husband Jerry (Harry Connick Jr) has just been paroled from prison. He comes to call, and finds her in the company of twitchy loner Peter (Michael Shannon); Peter seems pleasant enough in a slightly intense, lonerish way – but soon reveals himself to be in the grip of a paranoid delusion involving government experiments and all manner of conspiracy theories. Peter is convinced he's infested by sinister, mind-controlling bugs – and it isn't long before Agnes has been sucked into his spiralling, frenzied fantasies. If fantasies they indeed are: as the old saying goes, just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean "they" aren't out to get you. Peter claims to be an first-Iraq-conflict veteran suffering from what's been diagnosed as 'Gulf War Syndrome' and, in the current global climate of suspicion and surveillance, his wild rants have the occasional spark of topical plausibility.
   The picture works best in the early and middle sections, when we're not quite sure where Peter (and Friedkin) is taking us (and Agnes). But the final act spirals off into crazed, homicidal, quasi-Cronenbergian blood-spattered histrionics, losing us somewhere along the way. Picture has several thematic and dramatic similarities with Joe Ruben's supernatural-inflected thriller The Forgotten, but wears its intentions much more brazenly and aggressively on its sleeve. Bug – sadly no relation to the mid-70s ecohorror of the same title – is lively, bold and if nothing else has the courage of its own (and Peter's) demented convictions. But it did leave me wondering what on earth the point of it all was, apart from giving Shannon and Judd (in an energetic 'departure' from her usual roles) all manner of thespian meat on which to twitchily chew.

Tuesday 14th, 5.50pm
Nearly halfway through the festival, and I'm struggling to do reconcile the following needs: (A) seeing films, (B) sleeping, (C) eating, (D) socialising, and (E) writing these entries. And it's (E) which is currently feeling the pinch. To sum up yesterday: I watched the first reel of Aldrich's little-shown, (relatively) little-known late-sixties Hollywood satire The Legend of Lylah Clare. Picture was introduced by Aldrich's daughter Adell and his regular collaborator Ernest Borgnine (who looks just as hearty as everyone had told me). 
     The festival had procured what's reportedly the only 35mm print in existence, and it's not in great condition: pinkish tinge throughout, and the projectionist had major problems at first. I bailed at the 20 minute mark, in favour of Claude Chabrol's Hell (L'enfer) showing elsewhere in the same cinema. 1
      1993 drama is based on a story by Henri-Georges Clouzot: tale of a mild-mannered hotelier in a lakeside rural spot, who is driven mad (literally) by suspicions that his young wife (played by a pre-lipjob Emmannuelle Beart) is carrying on behind his back. Made for an unexpectedly apt followup to the morning's Bug (see above), as both pictures join their hero in going off the rails in the third act. In the Chabrol, we become increasingly uncertain whether what we're watching is "real" or the protagonist's lurid fantasies, a somewhat crucial distinction by the time we get to what may or may not be a violent, bloody finale. Nothing out of the ordinary, but I'm glad I took in at least one Chabrol considering how I've been piling up the Aldriches over the last few days.
      Later on (after quite liking Ernie Gehr's Turin-shot short Before the Olympics, then lasting 20 minutes of Mauro Santini's dull, pointless, voyeuristic video-piece noodle One Day In Marseilles) I also dipped my toes into another of the festival's retrospective sections, namely the four-film tribute to noted New York porn auteur Joe Sarno (who was supposed to be here in person but cancelled at the eleventh hour.) I wasn't sure what to expect from Sarno's 1966 The Sex Cycle, but had been anticipating rather more softcore action than the picture actually delivered. There's much more talk than sex in this oddly-titled affair mostly set in a Brooklyn nitespot called the Cocoa Poodle: a real place, as the opening titles ("Bar scenes filmed at 'Cocoa Poodle', Brooklyn N.Y.") rather brazenly advertise.
       Not that the movie would have proved much of a come-on, said Poodle being frequented by oddball characters of various types. Oddest of all being a female "soothsayer" who delivers all of her lines with a robotically sinister poise, her kohl-encrusted eyes staring off camera with malevolent intent. Story alternates between unappetising gropings and more off-the-wall supernatural sequences in which our blonde heroine (Joanna Mills, not cast for her acting ability) is tasked with carrying out the soothsayer's order to "snatch the black mask from the face of the demon," said demon being one of two scantily-clad succubi who materialise whenever Mills puts on a certain pair of magic earrings. The Sex Cycle runs a brisk 70-odd minutes, and is watchable mainly for its camp value, and for its weird, Carnival of Souls-ish vibe…
       Last up was the 10.30 showing of Aldrich's Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte from 1964. I'd been plagued all day by a jaded, seen-too-many-movies feeling, which for a better term might as well call Film festival Fatigue, so wasn't sure how tolerant I'd be of southern-fried Gothic stretched out to 130 minutes. As it turned out, the picture kept me engaged and entertained right through past midnight – though it confirmed my suspicion that Aldrich's movies are often rather longer than their material deserves.
       Picture is a fundamentally daft melodrama about dark family secrets and feuds in an out-of-the-way corner of Louisiana – the wildly convoluted plot a flimsy pretext for stars Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland and Agnes Moorehead to deliver vivid characterisations and let rip with a series of increasingly vicious and violent arguments.
       Plot recalls Aldrich and Davis's previous collaboration What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, with liberal borrowings from Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques: despite the southern settings, it's more Peyton Place than Faulkner, but socked over with sufficient panache by the leading ladies to make for a headiy kind of guilty pleasure. Audience was appreciative, applauding the moment at the end where the villains get their come-uppance (I joined in).
       After: late drinks at the "English"-themed pub next to the main festival hotel, bizarrely named 'The 1870 Huntsman.' Among the drinkers: fellow Torino reportee Gabe Klinger whose musings (and Borgnine snaps) may be found here and are recommended.

Neil Young
13th/14th November, 2006

Bug : [5/10] : US (US/Ger) 2006 : William FRIEDKIN : 102m (timed) : seen at Ambrosio cinema
Hell : [5/10] : France 1993 : Claude CHABROL : 101m (timed) : Massimo
The Sex Cycle : [6/10] : USA 1966 : Joe SARNO : 77m (timed) : Greenwich Village
Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte : [7/10] : USA 1964 : Robert ALDRICH : 130m (timed) : Greenwich Village

Jigsaw Lounge 2006 Torino Film Festival coverage : index page

official site…