22 March, 2007

Review: BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX, Vol.1




"I was looking for happiness, but I got lost." Laura Gemser in EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE?

"Come...with Emanuelle," invites the heavy-breathing male narrator on the vintage Jerry Gross Organization US trailer for Joe D'Amato's EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. It's just one of the delightful and pertinent bonus materials on Severin Films BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX Vol. 1. It's especially eye opening when considering the splice-ridden, blurry trailer vs. the gorgeous new transfer that Severin has given the original EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? (1977). After viewing two of the discs and listening to the CD compilation containing three Nico Fidenco "Black Emanuelle" scores, GETTING DOWN WITH BLACK EMANUELLE, my immediate reaction is that this 4000 Unit Limited Collector's Edition box is already a candidate for one of the 10 Best Eurocult DVD's presentations of 2007...and if you are as much of a Joe D'Amato/Nico Fidenco/Laura Gemser fan as myself then it's Christmas in March.

Given the amount of material included on the four discs, along with my preference for shorter to medium blogs rather than epic-length ones, I'm going to split my look at this LE boxset into two separate blogs. First of all, I do appreciate someone at SEVERIN having the wit to call it BLACK EMANUELLE'S BOX, given what we all "think" these films are about. Excellent transfers have become expected from Severin and they continue to dazzle at least myself with these revealing transfers of EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (1976) and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD (1977). They present convincing new evidence of the multifaceted talents of both the late, prolific and always underestimated Joe D'Amato (rn: Aristide Massaccesi, which he uses in both of these features as his DP credit, more about that later) and the Prince of eccentric Italiano cult music, singer-composer Nico Fidenco.

First, some history: my introduction to Joe D'Amato and the "Black Emanuelle" series came during a 1977 theatrical showing of EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (US title) which I attended at the Hollywood Theater in Syracuse, NY, one of those old brick and mortars which specialized in showing cult films like George Romero's MARTIN and the ISLA films at Midnight on Saturdays. I paid my one dollar [!...those were the days] admission and expected a repeat performance of the 1974 French film EMMANUELLE, which I had seen and reviewed in a local newspaper a year or two before. What I hadn't realized was that Italian director Bitto Albertini has created the "Black Emanuelle" character of Mae Jordan/Emanuelle in EMANUELLE NERA, his 1975 exploitation of the French film, which became a surprise hit in the US, playing in much more mainstream venues than dollar Midnight movie houses. I found the French EMMANUELLE to be a rather pretty (in terms of cinematography and locations) bore. In other words a pretty stupid X rated film to which I took my girlfriend after we had a few too many one rainy Sunday afternoon. I can't even remember why on earth we went to see EIB a few years later except that it WAS Saturday Night and there had probably been more liquid persuasion. EIB seemed gritty, grungy and much more disgusting (the mongoose and cobra scene sent my girlfriend out of the theater). And, of course, this Emanuelle was a person of color whom I somehow found much more real and appealing than Sylvia Kristel. Of course, the Italian Emanuelle films aren't really related to the French, Spanish (some by Jess Franco), Asian and US films with the name Emanuelle in the title. Joe D'Amato himself makes clear in the Eurofest interview included as an extra on this set that Albertini, himself and Italian colleagues made sure the character's name always was spelled with one M rather than two, like the French heroine's in the competing series based on the novel by Emmanuele Arsan.


In EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK the globe trotting, sexually available photojournalist has somewhat evolved from the kinder, gentler mold in EMANUELLE NERA of the previous year. D'Amato was a much more innovative and daring director than Albertini and gave the character and action a harder edge, including sequences of graphic sex, rape and violence. This would reach its apex in the notorious entry EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (already out in a deluxe DVD ed from BLUE UNDERGROUND). EIB (onscreen title: BLACK EMANUELLE EN ORIENT) is much milder, almost a lighthearted international sex romp compared to ...AMERICA or the other D'Amato directed Black Emanuelle flick in this set, EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. Set in the sprawling Thai metropolis D'Amato doesn't shrink from presenting the crushing poverty of most of the residents seen in the background, and sometimes foreground. There is a lot of handheld, strikingly framed cinematogrphy, none of it is pretty but all of it is extremely effective in efficently setting the tone and atmosphere of its exotic locations without ever relying on "tourist shots" of easy, photogenic targets. D'Amato always admitted that he was a DP first and foremost who just happened to get into producing and directing. The fact that he was the DP on his best films is what often gives them their only distinguised quality.

Voyaging to Bangkok from her New York City base with an achaeologist friend (the late Gabriele Tinti, who was married to Gemser from 1976 to his death in 1991) the credits detail their oceanliner trip by amusingly intercutting them having sex with the movements of the giant pistons driving the ship's engine. There are a lot of canted camera angles of the local architectural wonders and a general sense of fun as a swinging Republican US Senator (are there any other kind?) and his bimbo wife (FIVE DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON's Ely Galleani) join into the sexual hijinx in between encounters of the sleazy kind with local strippers who get into dripping hot candle wax and projecting ping-pong balls from unlikely places... you get the idea.

A strong supporting cast includes the late Ivan Rassimov (charmingly saturnine as always) as the mysterious local politician who gets Emanuelle involved in a plot for a coup, making her the target of a group of thugs who try to change her mind by raping her and then being nice! This, of course, would all be wildly politcally incorrect in today's pop culture and maybe that's part of its fascination. The fact that corrupt US officials are played by such prolific Italian Eurocult regulars as Giacomo-Rossi Stuart (the hero of Bava's KILL BABY KILL!) and Venantino Venantini somehow keeps reminding us that this is after all mid 1970s European Trash Cinema. The action moves to Morocco, where Emanuelle gets involved with more group sex and near rape scenarios. Toward the end Chris Avram (BAY OF BLOOD) shows up as a writer who tries to impose a philosophy on the entire affair.

Severin has given EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK another of its impecabbly detailed and colorful transfers which one has to only compare in terms of resolution and luminousity to the original vintage theatrical trailer to see how much work has gone into this restoration. The 1:85.1/16X9 transfer from generally very good elements (excluding a somewhat lower resolution opening credits sequence and a few fleetingly visible scratches) would probably surprise even its late director. It's the absolute best this feature has ever looked or will look.

As with the other two Emanuelle features in the set, both the Italian and English language tracks are available, along with removable English subtitles. The Dolby Digital presentation of the Mono tracks has remarkable presence and gives the wonderful Nico Fidenco score a chance to assume its primary place over the admittedly risible dialogues. I would recommend watching both of the D'Amato Emanuelles in English with the Italian subs on. It's nice to have the Italian track there but since these films are set initially in the US and have an American main character who interacts with English speaking Europeans and Asians the Italian track sounds strained and artificial in comparison

Along with the original trailer a 12m video interview camcorded at the 1995 Eurofest Convention is included wherein the modest D'Amato is questioned by Mark Ashworth and Adrian Smith. A very genial and laid back D'Amato answers questions about his work. The credits list this as his only English language interview. The video/sound quality is admittedly substandard but watchable, providing some insight into the character of this often misunderstood auteur. Interestingly, the opening and closing credits for EIB and EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD are in French, obviously indicating these elements originated in France.

EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? (onscreen title: LE VICE DANS LA PEAU) is another D'Amato-directed Black Emanuelle item from 1977, and is more along the lines of the same year's EMANUELLE IN AMERICA in terms of its presentation of scenes of extreme sexuality and violence against women. EIB has its rape scene but this entire feature is built around the concept of rape and sexual slavery as a shameful underside of a societal perversion which thrives on the sexual exploitation and control of women, especially "liberated" women who dress provactively, are intelligent and travel without escort. Once again, top US government officals along with various underclass rapists are part of a worldwide plot involving the abduction of female tourists who are then sent to work in brothels in the Middle East and Asia.

Emanuelle arrives in San Francisco (after having a go with a truck driver in the back of his rig) to investigate and expose the operation. She is greeted by a local journalist (international sex sensation Karin Schubert) who wants "the most famous photo-journalist in America" to help her indict the white slavers. Schubert is brutally raped by the ring's enforcers which only makes Emanuelle more determined. Stopping over in Bombay she meets a world famous Indian guru (frequent D'Amato actor and sometimes screenwriter "George Eastman" rn: Luigi Montefiori), whom she quickly beds and just as quickly exposes as a philosophical and sexual fraud. Moving onto Rome, the Far East and back to New York D'Amato unleashes one gorgeous long lensed impression after another of the exotic locales while allowing Fidenco's increasingly odd musical cues to provide audio counterpoint. The repeated use of Fidenco's song "A Picture of Love" performed in High Bubble Gum style by FIRE FLY has to be heard to be believed, and once you hear it there'll be no forgetting it! I mean that in the most fun sense. But EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD is serious stuff when it comes to sexual violence. The sequence involving the sexual humiliation and gang rape of "Miss Ohio", orchestrated by a group of powerful US Senators as "punishment" for her gambling debt, is truly jaw-dropping and takes on a prescient quality in light of high profile news stories of the last few years. D'Amato seems both appalled and a bit amused that the liberal press, with the New York City based Emanuelle as its representative, is ultimately unable to change the system of representation, although she does get some of those responsible (including, in an amusing cameo, D'Amato himself) busted.

The transfer of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD is also 1:85.1/16X9; DD, Mono; English and Italian tracks available, with optional English subtitles. It seems a bit soft during the opening credits before exploding into the most breathtakingly colorful transfer of the set. Resolution and detail are just amazing throughout and the original French elements couldn't be more luminously beautiful. Check out the glowing emeralds, deep ocean blues and hot crimsons of the Bombay guru's palace interiors and tell me if the color and definition isn't as good as any contemporary big budget Hollywood feature film showing at any theater in the US.

Curiously, the EATW disc clocks in at just over 97m, about five minutes short of the 102m listed on the back of the box. I'm sure we'll read more about this elsewhere. Also, I haven't yet seen the XXX Euroversion, but I'll attempt to report any variations after I see it later. It's also has a 102m runtime listed on the back of its box. Remember, this disc is NOT going to be included as part of the boxset. I'm not an expert on this particular title, so if someone can clear up the correct original runtime of the non XXX version please feel free to to do in the comment section below.

The inclusion of a CD compilation of 25 Fidenco tracks from three separate Black Emanuelle features mark the EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD double disc as the motherlode of the boxset and worth the price of admission. There are nine cues from EMANUELLE NERA (although the film itself is not in the set), eight from EMANUELLE NERA ORIENT REPORTAGE along with another eight from EMANUELLE PERCHE' VIOLENZA ALLE DONNE? The outre lyrics ans music is all composed and orchestrated by Fidenco and conducted by Giacomo Dell'Orso. The singers BULLDOG perform track 5 "Off Your Body" while SILKY SOUND SINGERS perform "Sweet Living Thing" and "Like a Sailing Ship" is tones that can best be termed...silky.

The coup de grace for me on this double disc, though, is the bonus feature BLACK EMANUELLE'S GROOVE: Interview with Composer Nico Fidenco. For a Euro music collector like myself this is a jam packed 13 minutes of pure joy. Fidenco appears as a impeccably dressed lounge master who, vinyls of the three scores in hand, rapidly and hypnotically takes us through his 40 year and still going career as a songwriter, composer and performer. He's a compulsive talker, charming, self effacing, insightful about his peers. He brackets his work between "technical" assignments like his first score (at the behest of RCA) for the mid 60s Spaghetti Western IN A COLT'S SHADOW and his crazier cues for the 1980s gorefest ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST. He also manages to detail his approach to composing soundtracks for sex films, citing his attempts to present a romantic leit-motif or theme which is then repeated to soften the eroticism and violence. He underlines his basic philosphy as a kind of anti-orchestral minimalism, noting: "When an erotic scene plays to a very sweet, romantic soundtrack, it loses its morbid character." Viva Fidenco! GETTING DOWN WITH BLACK EMANUELLE also comes with a very informative and helpful program insert listing the tracks and their timings. It's illustrated with the original vinyl covers. Fidenco also finds time to squeeze in discussion of his personal memories of D'Amato, Gemser, Ennio Morricone among others. This guy can really TALK!

If all the above weren't enough there is still the fourth disc on this set to consider, the very different in tone SISTER EMANUELLE, also featuring Laura Gemser in the title role. This is directed by Giuseppe Vari and scored by Stelvio Cipriani, a fact which, as we shall see in our next blog, makes a crucial difference. We'll also be considering more of the special bonus features included in the set along with the separately released Severin disc, the XXX European version of EMANUELLE AROUND THE WORLD. Stay tuned...

(c) Robert Monell, 2007

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice review Bob, I look forward to more. I used to have a bootleg of EATW with hardcore scenes (more like quick inserts). I don't remember the running time but I do recall the shock of seeing the footage.
It's been some time since I have seen EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK (thanks for your date story, very amusing). It will be interesting to see the film looking its best as I have only seen it via the pale looking VidAmerica (I think that was the label) VHS release.
The only thing that holds me back on getting this set is the the abundance of rape scenes. Not really my cup of tea.
You are so right about Aristide Massaccesi, he had such a great eye. His visuals had a profound effect on my own photography. I had the fortune of meeting Massaccesi a few months before his death, he was very polite and humble. He graciously consented to pose for a photo (he looked very distiguished). To my great dismay I later learned that the film did not catch on the reel. I was so upset, especially when I heard of his passing. I would never get a chance to correct my mistake.

Damian Pring

Anonymous said...

Ya got me. Just ordered the set from DDD for $46.52. Sweet price considering some are selling it for $60+

Damian

Robert Monell said...

Thanks for your comments and reminding me about the Vidmark label. That's the prerecord I used to rent of it and later dubbed. Yeah, EATW does contain very disturbing imagery. And that IS a good price. I still haven't made it through all the extras, I'll be looking at SISTER EMANUELLE next. BTW, the XXX is 101m37s, about 102m. The extra 4 or so m is the XXX stuff deleted from the X version.

David Zuzelo said...

So, will the XXX version of EATW render the disc in the box obsolete after I purchase it? I am really looking forward to this box, but the idea of having to upgrade right away (because I simply don't want to watch a trimmed version) doesn't really make me all that happy.

GREAT review, thanks very much!

Robert Monell said...

It doesn't render the non XXX version incomplete in my opinion, David. That's because the boxset version is a legit release version in its own right. It's simply the "soft" version. The XXX EURO vers has extra hardcore stuff which looks to me as if it were shot as an afterthought for certains markets who allow it. It looks like it was shot at the same time, but that they simply shot these scenes with softcore takes and then did hardcore takes. They don't add anything to the quality of the film, imo. In fact, I prefer the softcore version as some of the XXX stuff is a bit too extreme for my tastes. It's nice to have both versions but I won't be returning to the XXX version. It's like the XXX version of Franco's FEMALE VAMPIRE/LA COMTESSE NOIRE. The one I rewatch is the softer DVD version but I do have the stronger XXX versions for reference. In terms of EATW, both versions can be considered complete in themselves. Thanks for your comments. Bob

Jeremy Richey said...

Wow,
Really excellent and much appreciated post. I can't wait to get this set and appreciate reading your thoughts on it.
Great blog by the way.

Robert Monell said...

Appreciate your positive feedback, Jermey. Welcome to the Franco blog.

David Zuzelo said...

Thanks for the thoughts Robert, much appreciated. I'm really looking forward to this release, no doubt. My questioning of the decision to package the limited edition with a soft version, and then charge for a fuller edition is only related to being budgeted VERY strictly and wanting this over most other items coming out. If this is a case of alternate takes with the same cast that includes XXX material I don't really consider it a porn "insert" edition ala the hard print of Female Vampire-and it should be included in the box. I've ordered the box, I've ordered the XXX version mind you...so I'm willing to pay. My only argument with the "prepared version" being in place here is that it makes me wonder if we went back in time and the Fulci films were coming to US dvd for the first time and something similar happened. If fans (and only 4000) were offered a boxset of "Fulci Zombie Films" and it contained Zombie, City Of The Living Dead, House By The Cemetery and Seven Doors Of Death (the boopyelectro scored cut edition) I'm sure there would be questions asked. If I could then pay for The Beyond on another disc you could be sure I would. These movies are obviously less marketable than those, but the same logic applies. 7 Doors... was a prepared version of The Beyond, but it probably shouldn't be in an expensive-ish limited edition collectors boxset instead of a longer version.
Again, don't mistake me-I'm not angry or even passing on the release (just because typed words do not really suggest tone outside of what the reader applies to it), but it does bum me out a little. In order to get this extra disc to make the set complete (for my tastes) I have to pass on something else. The only discs on order for me are The Bava Box and the two forthcoming Franco titles from Severin. One will have to go and I'll have a disc I really don't need. I'm thrilled for ALL of these Emmanuelle releases and I'll buy them all as I can, I just wish the boxset didn't start it off this way.
Robert, thanks for all your insights on the box-I really appreciate it and also your addressing this particular side of the release has been extremely helpful!

Robert Monell said...

David, I understand your position. I'm not really a fan of hardcore, and some of the scenes which I just mentioned on my eurotrashparadise post [as renegovar] is a big time turn off for me. So, I'm happy with the set and the the softer, shorter vers of EATW there. In this case it does indeed seem that longer alternate takes were shot for a stronger version at the time of production. The XXX stuff for the hard vers of FV was shot sometime later. But I don't really consider it an uncut version so much as a longer hardcore one and I prefer the softcore shorter FEMALE VAMPIRE as well, but that's just my tastes which are more conservative regarding these kind of scenes. I do enjoy and advocate the XXX version of D'Amato's EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, for some reason, in that case the longer stronger vers works better for me than the softer ones. And it all depends on your budget. We're talking about 4 or 5 extra minutes in the EURO version here. Thanks and stay tuned for more comments in the blog above when I get it together later...

Buko-san said...

From the David Gregory interview on DVDManiacs:

"[...] the version of Emanuelle Around the World which will be in Black Emanuelle’s box will not be the XXX Rated version. Most stores will not stock XXX material and so that would severely diminish our ability to get the box out there. And it could certainly be argued that the non-XXX version is more official seeing as Laura Gemser has no part of it — a body double is used in her scene. But then it would be rude not to release the XXX version seeing as it gives Emanuelle in America a run for its money when it comes to shock value!"

Hope this helps !
-Patrick

Robert Monell said...

Thanks, Patrick. I just finished my second part of this long review above. Yes, I understand why he's marketing this separately. Many retail vendors won't stock XXX material. But the boxset is more than worth the price of admission and I found the XXX version interesting in comparison. They both seem to work in different ways. I personally perfer the non XXX version. Welcome to the blog.

Anonymous said...

You said that the opening credits were soft in EATW but the following film was in great condition. The Russian DVD DEGRADATION OF EMANUELLE has a pre-credits sex scene. Has that footage been rearranged after the credits in the French version on the Severin DVD?

Robert Monell said...

This also has a precredits sequence with LG and the guy in the back of the moving truck and then goes into the opening credits. This print just has spectacular color. What I meant was it seems a tad soft at first [image wise] but it seems to sharpen as it goes on and it ends up the most impressive transfer of the three, imo. It's also the best film of the three.

Robert Monell said...

Also, I seem to have lost a comment to blogger problems over last weekend. Someone asked if this was OK to watch with his wife. If it's EATW, I would say it might be an issue due to numerous brutal rape scenes. I certainly would be somewhat uncomfortable watching it with a member of the opposite sex. The others would be no problem, have some brutality against women but are more indirectly handled.

Anonymous said...

What about the title sequence for EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK? I had a Dutch tape called BLACK EMANUELLE GOES EAST that had the titles on black (that they changed position on the screen from credit to credit suggested that this was was meant to be contact printed to a moving background. I like EATW's "Picture of Love" but EIB's "Like a Sailing Ship" is one of the most annoying English language songs written for an Italian Eurocult movie.

Robert Monell said...

You know I think that the battered 35mm print I saw back in the 70s also had opening credits on black background. That was a LONG time ago. But the credits here are in French, obviously from a French source, and the sequence looks significantly different from the rest of the feature, which looks excellent. The pic quality in this credits sequence seems very soft and the color looks off. But this is just the credits sequence. As I said it looks 1000% better than the 35mm print I saw 30 years ago.

Robert Monell said...

And yes, some of Fidenco's cues can cross the line into irratation!

Anonymous said...

You certainly do notice the jump in picture quality from the French title sequence to the rest of EATW. The end credits on this French version which jump around the screen (as opposed the scrolling ones on the American version) were mistakenly used for the end credits of the French version of EMANUELLE IN AMERICA (if the now obsolete German DVD "composite" is anything to go by since it has French opening and closing titles).

I think the French titles on EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK were newly created by the licensor. Sure they probably match the content of the French titles on a film print but the way they fade in and fade out and seem sharper than the footage underneath suggests they're digitally inserted. "Like a sailing ship" is still an annoying theme song (compared to what could have been used - the wailing Emanuelle theme song that underscores her first sex scene with Gabriele Tinti).

Robert Monell said...

Yeah, I was surprised by the credits sequences of both films, especially in EIB. The rest of the time they look great, though. They seemed to go with the best looking elements they could find, which were French.