Saturday, January 1, 2011

Velluto Nero (1976)

The missing link between the Italian art house cinema and exploitation genres, Velluto Nero (black velvet) brings together a cast straight out of a million gore/sexploitation movies (including Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Annie Bell, and Al Cliver) for a film written and directed by Academy Award winner and longtime Fellini scripter Brunello Rondi. The result is a story that plays like 8 & 1/2 with more nudity. Not terribly surprising that enterprising distributors marketed it as another Laura Gemser classic "Black Emanuelle, White Emanuelle", in spite of the fact that none of the characters is named Emanuelle.

There is not much of a plot to speak of, although by now you might be expecting that to be the case. Personally, I'm not much of a plot man anyway; any hack can recycle plot mechanics and most of them do; besides, life doesn't usually have character arcs and beginnings, middles, and ends. Here, there are some interesting events that happen, beautifully filmed Egyptian landscapes and very colorful characters, just like in the Fellini movies. Here too, the storyline is loose and vague. The only difference is there's more sex and violence here. Not like that's a bad thing.

The characters are mostly European ex-pats in Egypt. Crista, played by "Susan Scott" (Nieves Navarro), owns a fancy villa on the Nile and screws around with her Arab servant, played by Tarik Ali. Al Cliver (Zombie) plays a mystical guru figure who spouts esoteric mumbo-jumbo while cott blows him, culminating in one of the best reaction shots in cinema: Scott staring very meaningfully towards the sunset as fake jizz drips down her face. Ziggy Zanger, who sadly only did three movies, plays Crista's bratty young daughter who gets off on teasing her poor Arab servant by showing him her pussy and teaching him to say, "this is not for me"! Even better is the scene in which she screws two gentlemen in the sand next to Egyptian ruins while drinking whiskey from the bottle. (In other words, she's my kind of girl!) Feodor Chialapin is a rich pedophile who hilariously retired to Egypt from Hollywood. Annie Bell is Crista's other daughter Pina, who has sex with Gemser, and is, in some versions, called "Laure" in order to capitalize off her title role in another Emmanuelle rip-off written by the real Emmanuelle Arsan. Finally we have the hilariously dysfunctional couple of Carlo and Laura, a hotheaded and abusive photographer and his model, who he gets off on posing next to roadkill and dung! They're played by real-life couple Laura Gemser and Gabriele Tinti; his dubbing is from the ridiculous "Whatsamattayou?!" school of Italian characterizations, while she eventually is liberated from the creep by screwing a girl and sacrificing a goat!

I think that pretty much covers the highlights of the film too. The characters bicker, screw, wander around, and try to achieve some sort of enlightenment, all the while unwittingly exploiting the locals and getting nowhere. There's a weighty feeling of European decadence and the fact that the story goes in circles without getting very far seems to be the point- so do the characters. Some might dislike that aspect of the film, but I was okay with it.

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