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September 18, 2014

Tinto Brass: Maestro of Erotic Cinema

tinto brass set.jpg

Cheeky! / Trasgredire
Tinto Brass - 2000

Black Angel / Senso '45
Tinto Brass - 2002

Private / Fallo!
Tinto Brass - 2003

Tinto Brass - 2006
Cult Epics BD Region A Five Disc Set

On the package jacket for this set is the anonymous quote describing Giovanni "Tintoretto" Brass as, "The Hitchcock of erotic cinema". I'm going to have to assume this is based more on Brass making appearances in his own films. With that constant, a very large, cigar in his mouth, Brass reminds me more of cigar chomping Ernst Lubitsch or William Castle. I would suspect Brass might even appreciate the comparison to Lubitsch as there are some thematic similarities the two share, although what is hinted at by Lubitsch is totally uncovered by Brass. As for that Hitchcock comparison, one guy is famous for Rear Window, while several of Brass's films could have been titled Rear End.

I also hardly think it coincidental that the picture of the new Blu-ray set has as disc partially out, reading "Ass Cinema".

The five disc set includes the last four features by Brass, plus an interview with Brass discussing his career as a filmmaker, with clips from several of his films. There is also a forty page booklet that has a transcription of the interview, done in 2001. Missing in the interview is any discussion of a name that appears frequently in the credits, Carla Cipriani, Brass's wife and a collaborator on several of the screenplays. My own familiarity with Brass's films prior to this set has been limited to Attraction, a somewhat experimental film from 1967, and The Key, something of a key film in Brass's filmography with a more constant emphasis on eroticism. What the documentary on Brass reveals is that female nudity has been a part of his work since the first feature.

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It may be no surprise that the best of the films here is the one with the least nudity. For Black Angel, Brass took the same literary source used for Luchino Visconti's Senso, but updated the story to the last days of World War II, when German troops occupied Italy, still barely under the control of Mussolini. The woman, "of a certain age", is played by a real actress, Anna Galiena, a David di Donatello (italian Oscar) nominee both as Best Actress (No Skin and Best Supporting Actress (But Forever in my Mind. Entranced by an icy blond German officer, Galiena plays a woman who tries to avoid facing the realities of war, as well as Italy's precarious position, months away from liberation by Allied troops. There is an orgy that might well be a tip of the hat to Visconti's own World War II drama, The Damned. I wish Brass had resisted the need to show that the wife of a partisan, shot dead on the streets by a German soldier, was not wearing any underwear. The film is so handsomely produced that it looks like it was filmed in a more classic style than a film from 2002. Galiena, forty-eight at the time of filming, reminded me of the leading ladies from 1940s Warner Brothers movies, particularly Joan Crawford and Kay Francis. The soundtrack also includes the song made famous in The Blue Angel, "Falling in Love Again", sung in German by Marlene Dietrich. Visually, Brass takes some queues from the German artist, George Grosz, whose unflinching, and often exaggerated look at Germany after World War I. Grosz's work was classified by the Nazis as entartete Kunst - degenerate art.

Of the other three films, Monamour is the best, and might well be interpreted as Tinto Brass's final summation on film, art, and philosophy. The film also has the closest Hitchcockian moment when Anna Jimskaia is stalked by a man in an art museum, bringing to mind Kim Novak in Vertigo. Still, if one is to compare Brass with a more classical filmmaker, it would be Ernst Lubitsch. Several films by Lubitsch are about imagined infidelities, while very real infidelities are part of Brass's films. Whether sexual jealousy, real or imagined, is an aphrodisiac, is subject for debate. The female protagonists in both Brass and Lubitsch films live life on their own terms. In a Lubitsch film, these women are often elegantly dressed, while in a Brass film, the women live in a universe where you're overdressed if you're wearing panties. Ultimately, Brass makes explicit what Lubitsch could only hint at in the relationships between men and women.

The "Making of" supplements are worthwhile just to have Brass explain the wordplay involved with the Italian titles of his erotic films. In this regard, I would hope no one needs an explanation for the double entendre English language title, Cheeky!. Brass also shows himself to be a "hands on" director with his actresses. The frequent motif of mirror shots in these films, as well as the incorporation of large paintings, especially pop art, make Brass's films of visual interest. The frequent close-ups of bush, tush, poles and holes are more interesting in theory as Brass blurs the line between art and pornography. Even a comparison with Courbet's painting, "Origin of the World" will only get you so far. Whether or not one agrees with Tinto Brass and whether his stated intentions actually are realized with what is onscreen, makes this series of interest to the more serious film scholar. And to quote Sir Mix-A-Lot, "I like big butts and I cannot lie".


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 18, 2014 07:53 AM