Oh, hello, December! What's happening? A lot, it seems. Living away from America, I hope Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Kanyemaggedon will forgive my failed attention. I doubt such foggy disinterest would be excused by the swarming ragazzi of the biggest student revolt since '68 - believe me, lads, I'm with you but allow yourself a fleeting, sunny moment of feeling not oppressed and check what your comrades across the pond are paying for their diplomas. Oh, and the latest WikiLeaks Deep Horizon impersonation a la classe diplomatique? I could outshrug James Dean. Let's not be so naïve or obtuse to pretend that politics is anything other than Heathers with heavier weaponry. Speaking of which, if anything should've roused my rancor and set my keyboard aflame, it was last week's bitchfight on the Korean peninsula. At the time, I plucked out a paltry paragraph 'n' a half (since pruned & posted) before returning to more immediately pressing matters. (Hey, if Kim Jong-Il hucks a scud at Roppongi Hills, ain't shit I can do about it. Then again, I wouldn't particularly mind if Roppongi was wiped off the map...)
Somewhere amidst the carnivaliance of Halloween, the apocalyptic blue-balls of American mid-term elections, and the first flurry of year-end retrospectives, my mood cools quicker than the weather. The hysteric tenor and short-frame nostalgia of late fall usually encourages me to close the blinds and batten the hatches until familial obligation bunker-busts my castle of quiet. To justify my withdrawal, I'll usually find some arcane cultural pocket I've yet to explore, and dive in with all the fervor of the newly converted. Two years ago, it was The Prisoner. This year, it's been '60s and '70s thrillers - particularly Italy's infamous proto-slasher mystical murder mysteries. I was nudged towards the giallo genre merely by how bad-ass so many of the soundtracks are. As a good friend & certified giallo junkie argued, Morricone, Piccioni, and Nicolai would likely have been happy composing spaghetti twang & crushed velvet lounge until they kicked their respective buckets. But musically ventriloquising blood-lusty Freudian train-wrecks thrust the composers into savage, alien territory from which almost all contemporary films scores have meekly retreated.
By the way, when I say "train-wrecks," I'm speaking of the general emotional state of gialli characters - but fuck it, I could just as easily be talking about the acting, writing, or editing in many instances. As much as they contributed to film's stylistic lexicon, Mario Bava and Dario Argento's work is more uneven than a Himalayan driveway. Argento appears especially half-talented: his stories piece together with all the finesse & balance of Ikea furniture minus the instructions, and he often cast actors that make the "Garbage day!" guy look like Al Pacino.
But I confess to being a timid tourist within giallo flicks. My tolerance for torture & gore doesn't extend much beyond the Resevoir Dogs "ear scene," so a great many movies by Bava, Fulci, et al. fall far outside my ken. Besides, I'd be slightly concerned if my wife felt Twitch of the Death Nerve was appropriate nightcap viewing. Capers & whodunnits are more our mutual speed. We recently revisited the spy-thriller trilogy that made Michael Caine's career: The IPCRESS File, Funeral In Berlin, and Billion Dollar Brain. I had some misty memory of that last movie from my distant youth, but again, I was shoved towards the movies by a fantastic soundtrack. John Barry's IPCRESS score isn't nearly as iconic as his 007 theme, but the musical contrasts perfectly articulate the discrepancies between James Bond and Harry Palmer: the former is obvious, brassy, crowd-pleasing bombast, while the latter is more clever, subtly variegated, and heavily shaded.
The real fun of old films, of course, is picking apart the archaic behavior & periodic fascinations contained therein. Sub- and paratextual deconstruction is obviously not restricted to artifacts: I'm as curious as anyone if the contemporary "Never Say No to Panda" ads purposefully describe an atmosphere of coercion & violent retribution under Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. But movies are marvelous time capsules for those of us born too late: whereas American slasher flicks of the '80s enacted vengeance upon sex-&-drugs dissolution, the giallo films of the '60s and '70s explored the terrifying conjunction of sex and violence. (Meanwhile, both subgenres frame female sexuality in a questionable, threatening way.) The Harry Palmer trilogy is likewise a fascinating glimpse into England's reluctant, conflicted position within the Cold War, particularly Billion Dollar Brain: the dry, skeptical Brit protagonist is sandwiched between duplicitous, smug Eastern Bloc authoritarians and the (ostensibly worse) Americans, who are either criminal opportunists or messianic madmen driven towards Wagnerian confrontation.
However, what I enjoyed the most was the nagging requisition of the British bureaucracy upon Palmer & his MI5 cohorts. As much as they grumble about the imposition posed by their paperwork, the steadfast observance of protocol appears the only safe route between the militarist East and the wild, wild West.