09 March, 2009


A Girl Is A Gun: Michel Piccoli embarks on a strange adventure in Marco Ferreri's DILLINGER IS DEAD.


Get over it! Dillinger is coming!

Marco Ferreri's DILLINGER E' MORTO (1969) is a film I've only had the opportunity to see via what looks like a 6th generation video dub from an Italian TV broadcast in the 1980s. I've had this now ancient video for about 20 years.

The good news is that this unsung masterwork has finally had its belated US theatrical debut in New York City [it first had a MOMA showing in 1970] last week and a 35mm print from Janus is going to be making the rounds. I kind of doubt that this limited theatrical release will include where I live but I'm sure hoping that a much deserved new DVD presentation from these elements will follow in due course.

I was rather irritated by the New York Times review which blasted this 40 year old film for its treatment of women and allowing the protagonist to get away with... Well, hopefully you can see the film. It may be politically incorrect in today's world but the film is a sharply ironic illustration of everything which was socially "correct" in sexual roles when it was made. Manohla Dargis may find the film flawed by "tedious high jinks and rank sexism" but the film luxuriates in its structural daring and questioning of sexism as a symptom of a smug culture. The review goes on to ridicule the film's evocation of the theories of Herbert Marcuse and Orphic symbolism, concluding "All this might be tolerable if Mr. Ferreri's attitude toward women were not as ugly as his sloppy visual style."

Well... I beg to differ. This "relic" from the 1960s is just as spot-on today as it was back then about the ongoing war (has a truce ever been declared?) between men and women. Visually the film at times resembles a Warhol canvas of that era representing familiar pop cultural icons. Gas masks play in key role in the story and iconography (cf Jess Franco's BLUE RITA).

Ferreri (1928-1997) is as dead as Dillinger and as easy a target. Remember, here's the man who gave us the gourmand's delight, LA GRANDE BOUFFE (1973), which I saw in Paris that year along with a stunned audience. Here was a director who gave you the sense that he liked to make people squirm as a prod toward transformational thought or any kind of thought.

The great Michel Piccoli is magnificently "closed" as the demented Glauco who spends most of the running time preparing a meal as a radio blares pop songs and vintage local adverts. A "plot" never emerges, only a droll track of seemingly random, odd moments which move toward something violent while unfolding in unpredictable increments... . Some find it maddening, I find it enveloping. The final image, which finds Glauco transported toward an unimagined new reality, is a stunner.

And the fact that there's hardly any dialogue in the film along with the exquisite, narcoleptic presence of Anita Pallenberg earns it extra points from me. Oh yes, the folksy John Dillinger himself makes an appearance during Glauco's long night of the soul. DILLINGER E' MORTO would make a fascinating late-1960's-take-on-1930's-gangsters double bill with Arthur Penn's BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967).

Other favorite and recommended Ferreri films include the 1981 Charles Bukowski adaptation TALES OF ORDINARY MADNESS (the fearsome Pauline Kael was one of its few advocates) and the round-the-bend 1974 anti-western DON'T TOUCH THE WHITE WOMAN!

Jean Luc Godard was one of the few critics to praise DILLINGER E' MORTO and he should know something about annoying the status quo. Ferreri, who made several films in Spain (EL PISITO; El Cochecito), was also a sometime Jess Franco crony.

See DILLINGER IS DEAD if it shows up where you live and hope for a DVD as soon as possible. End of rant.

(c) Robert Monell, 2009


scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Monell said...

great one. Have you seen Ferreri's FISTS IN THE POCKET???

Haven't seen that one. Hopefully a new R1 DVD will emerge of DOD after the 35mm run.

scott said...

It appears Robert that I had the wrong director entirely!!!! I've deleted my post now... duh!

Still, this Piccoli film sounds intriguing!