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BLACK ON WHITE [Nero Su Bianco; a.k.a. Attraction; The Artful Penetration; Barbara, The Yes Girl] (1969) / L'URLO [The Howl] (1970)

If you mention Tinto Brass to most culturally-illiterate US moviegoers, all you'll get is a glazed-over stare. But if you also tell them that he directed the X-rated all-star debacle, CALIGULA (1979), I'm sure they'll perk up -- even if they lie their asses off and tell you they've never actually seen the movie. Personally, I had the infinite pleasure of watching that huge, steaming loaf on Times Square, at a matinee screening full of Japanese couples and nodding-off junkies... This double dose of Pastaland psychedelia offers up his real talents, of mixing a hallucinogenic art-house style with a cocky sense of humor -- as well as enough undressed flesh and eroticism to keep upscale deviants amused. Unfortunately, while visually splendid, neither of the pics made much sense since the prints were in Italian, sans subtitles. Then again, I bet they wouldn't make a whole lot of sense if Tinto himself was sitting next to me, explaining every unfathomable moment as it happened. Imagine Jean-Luc Godard flying high from a fistful of peyote, or better still, Dusan Makavejev without his sledgehammer political rhetoric.

Our first, BLACK ON WHITE, actually had a NYC theatrical run back in October '69, but the combination of a dull ad campaign and merciless reviews quickly killed the film. A year later, it popped up on the US sexploitation circuit with racier new titles like THE ARTFUL PENETRATION or BARBARA, THE YES GIRL. It's too bad, because despite its puddle-depth, the film features the type of counterculture cheesiness that kept '60s drive-ins in business, in combination with a technical polish that other pics could only aspire to. Anita Sanders stars as the lovely wife of Italian businessman Nino Segurini, and when dropped off in the middle of London, she plans on spending the day roaming ultra-trendy locale. As she wanders through Hyde Park, the film suddenly looks like a 4th-rate roadshow of HAIR, with hippies decked out in their grooviest (nowadays, make that goofiest) threads. There's even a rock band perched high up in a tree, annoying the supporting cast with their insipid tune, "The Better Side." On a crowded subway, she spots a handsome black man (Terry Carter, who later played BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA's Colonel Tigh) in a white turtleneck, who gives her the eye, and thus begins her afternoon of fantasy and frantic editing. The remainder of the movie is set around the question of whether or not Anita is going to 'get it on' with this stranger. And even though this decision is supposed to have emotional weight, it seems like much ado about fucking. Because even though this was lensed several decades ago, I doubt the prospect would've been all that shocking, since Carter is so clean-cut and homogenized that he could've stepped out of THE COSBY SHOW. To make matters worse, Anita's wishy-washy attitude will quickly grate at your nerves. You wish she'd just screw the guy or not, instead of making the poor schmuck follow her around town, while she fantasizes about the two of 'em together. Worst of all, just as she decides to go all the way, hubby arrives to pick her up, and this cocktease runs back to him -- leaving the stranger (and more important, the audience) unsatisfied. If any of this sounds erotic, little of it seeps though. Perhaps Tinto was too preoccupied with his crazed imagery (like a hairdressing salon where all of the women have cow heads), or hot 'n' heavyhanded symbolism. In addition, this certainly captures the most annoying aspects of Hippiedom. Remember face paint? How about people handing out Mao's Little Red Book? And speaking of annoying, the band Freedom provides the wall-to-wall music, and to put it as nicely as possible, these assholes suck! Plus they never seem to take a breather, or leave Anita alone. She gets on a double-decker bus, and there they are, along with all of their instruments! They're harder to shake than those damned Jehovah's Witnesses! Despite all of these problems, it's refreshing to see a filmmaker unafraid to go wayyyy over the top, even if it's at the expense of simple coherency. In that respect, I really began to dig the movie. It's a tripped-out affair, with high kudos going out to the entire technical crew, especially the fine experimental camerawork by Silvano Ippoliti. Though inane as hell, it's the not what the movie is saying, but the way it splashes its attitude across the screen which makes it worth a look.

Of the pair, L'URLO is the true mindfuck classic. Though often naive, it's also boldly idiotic, with enough trippy style to fill a dozen ordinary 'cult' movies. In the end, it seems more like a low-rent. high-exploitation Fellini than the man who would later pump out tawdry sexploiters like the Nazi-bordello epic SALON KITTY. Sultry Tina Aumont stars as Anita, who runs away from her staid fiance (Nino Segurini) in the middle of their very bizarre wedding (outdoors, in a demolished alleyway -- and what's with the guy with his head covered in shaving cream?). From then on, she has a series of disjointed, taboo-shattering misadventures with a much more exciting stranger, Coso (Luigi Proietti). First, she strips and changes clothes in the middle of a crowded, double-decker bus. Then the bus stops in the middle of a countryside, Keystone Kops-style police attack, and it's set on fire as the riders dance about. Following that, they're picked up by a passing car, only to stand on its hood and pee on its windshield; visit a hotel that indulges in absurd fetishes; and are nearly captured by a small band of white cannibals (not without first tasting their human-on-a-spit, of course). Then, entering a town under military attack (which explains the decapitated heads used as decorations), Coso is almost gunned down by a military firing squad, while Anita is gang raped by the soldiers. In response to this type of hospitality, the two soon instigate a full-scale youth revolution. If you haven't gotten the picture yet, this is a severely silly movie which revels in the comic possibilities of sexuality -- particularly in the face of a dull-as-dirt society. It's also gorgeously edited for maximum delirium (like when a couple's lovemaking is intercut with a duck having its head chopped off). Ultimately, it seems to make fun of anything or anyone it touches, with the couple running into vapid EuroHippies and continually defying the establishment (to no great effect, in the long run). Most important, this is a showcase for Ms. Aumont's allure. Silvio Ippoliti's camera adores her -- and so do we. With her heavily mascara'ed eyes, groovy hip boots and slinky lingerie, she'll engage even the most perplexed male's attention (and the fact that she's often in some state of undress doesn't hurt matters either). Drop dead gorgeous and dangerous around the edges, this Hollywood-born brunette (and daughter of actor Jean-Pierre Aumont) makes today's scrawny, over-hyped supermodels look like The Golden Girls. It's unfortunate that her career never took off, fluctuating until the mid-'70s between forgettable schlock (TORSO) and high-profile art-house pics (Fellini's CASANOVA, Bertolucci's PARTNER). There are plenty of other naked bodies along the way (not all of them pretty, mind you), while Brass fiddles with the medium -- sticking in sped-up footage, flipping from color to b/w, and integrating loads of stock footage (from war atrocities and Hitler, to more recent anti-Vietnam protests). In the end, L'URLO is a wondrously whacked-out mix of sex and social politics. Without the subtitles to tell me what the fuck was going on, it's difficult to say whether it's brilliant, or simply brilliantly strange. A handful of acid beforehand is recommended, though not necessarily required.

© 1997 by Steven Puchalski.