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March 26, 2015

Gone with the Pope

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Duke Mitchell - 1976/2009
Grindhouse Releasing Region 0 DVD / BD Regions ABC

Bob Murawski and his team put in admirable effort into restoring, as best as possible, the film now titled Gone with the Pope. For myself, the film and the work involved in making it available both theatrically and on home video bring up a slew of questions concerning both personal filmmaking and restoration.

Shot in 1975 and '76 on less than a shoestring budget, Duke Mitchell's film was still not completed at the time he died at age 55 in 1981. Had he lived to complete the film, had it been distributed, it would have been picked up by some very tiny company that specialized in providing films that filled holes in various theaters' playdates, or Mitchell may have tried to distribute the film himself. Had the film been released, it would have probably been hooted off the screen for its outdated racial attitudes, or the scene, which does nothing to forward the narrative, may have landed on the cutting room floor.

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Mitchell, as an ex-con, gets together with two buddies, and buy the services of a black prostitute. As in his previous Massacre Mafia Style, Mitchell's character refers to blacks as "spooks". The uncredited actress who portrays the prostitute keeps smiling even when Mitchell tells her that she can use her earnings for watermelon and chicken. Also cringe inducing is when Mitchell compares the prostitute's pubic hair to brillo. While I don't think Mitchell, or his character, are deliberately racist, Mitchell seems firmly of an older era, even when attempting to appear contemporary with his too long sideburns, and "leisure suits".

A would-be comic sex scene with one very oversized woman should have been avoided as well. If that wasn't enough, the film has enough reminders of the general awfulness of mid-Seventies fashions.

What redeems Gone with the Pope for some viewers is the impassioned speech Mitchell makes to the too easily kidnapped Pontiff, about the how the Church did nothing to save Europe's Jews from Hitler. And the speech comes off as very sincere. A little further examination indicates that Pope Piux XII had less control over Mussolini than Mitchell imagined, and that there was greater activity in saving not only Italian Jews but, Jews in other parts of Europe, that was not made public.

You do have to hand it to Mitchell to be able to fool some people into thinking he shot part of the film in Rome. The moral is to never underestimate the power of a carefully positioned poster in background behind a close-up of an actor.

What seems to have been the reason behind producers Sage Stallone and Bob Murawski to rescue Gone with the Pope is that the film stands as an example of personal filmmaking - personal in that the film was entirely self-financed, and personal in that Mitchell expressed himself in ways that would make some viewers uncomfortable.

On a conventional level, Gone with the Pope is not very good. Many of the shots look like they were illuminated by a flashlight. Sound Mixer Marti Humphrey did a miraculous job, noticeable in the blu-ray version, of making the dialogue audible. Several cast members appear to be straining to recite the dialogue. There are plentiful lapses of logic, as well as plot holes. As a filmmaker, Duke Mitchell's ambitions far exceeded his budget or abilities. The soundtrack does make clear that Mitchell's reputation as a lounge singer, and singing voice for Fred Flinstone was not unearned.

It is the obvious faults of Gone with the Pope that should serve as reminders that personal filmmaking isn't just the province of those whose viewpoints aren't questionable, or of those whose artistic stature is well established. The film also serves as a reminder that any questions regarding what films are, or are not, worthy of preservation, are both subjective and challengeable.

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Posted by peter at March 26, 2015 07:50 AM