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Blasts from the past - and reminders of an era now gone

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 24, 2010 - The unnamed protagonist in Marco Ferreri's "Dillinger is Dead" (1969) is clearly having a bad night. Played by the great Michel Piccoli, he's a designer of gas masks, bored with his job. He comes home to find his pill-popping wife (played by Anita Pallenberg, best known as Keith Richard's girlfriend or the villain with the eyepatch in "Barbarella") too loopy to get out of bed. So he fixes dinner, seduces the maid (Annie Girardot), watches home movies and quietly goes insane.

Ferreri's film is an unusual artifact, a Pop Art cartoon version of Antonioni alienation. Misogynistic? Well, that might be the case if Piccoli's character wasn't so clearly unstable. "Misanthropic" might be closer, though that too should be tempered by the clear sympathy Ferreri has with his protagonist's slow breakdown. Unreleased in the U.S. until recently and given the usual high-class production by Criterion, the DVD release of "Dillinger is Dead" is like a time capsule of a psychotic breakdown.

A breakdown of another sort can be found in another late-'60s artifact, the 1967 British film "Separation" (from Microcinema International), directed by Jack Bond and written by its lead actress Jane Arden. Like Piccoli in "Dillinger," Arden's character is falling apart, taking on various personas that express her fragmented reaction to her shattered marriage. But compared to the miniaturist psychosis of Piccoli, Arden is all dress-up and play-acting, flamboyantly indulging herself with a character that falls somewhere between the range of two other heroines of the time -- the stunted adolescence of Lynn Redgrave's Georgy Girl and the repressed turmoil of Julie Christie's Petulia -- while falling short of both.

Though the rest of the magazine remains forgettable, the annual film issue of "The Believer" can usually be counted on to provide a rare cinematic find or two. Last year, it offered a selection of documentaries, home movies and TV appearances chronicling Jean-Luc Godard's visits to America; this year, they've compiled a selection of short films from Yugoslavian filmmaker Karpo Godina dating from the post-'68 period when the New Wave movements that transformed Eastern European film were quietly being silence by the last shudder of Soviet dominance.

Godina started out with run-of-the-mill whimsy a la the Czech and Polish films of the day, but soon adopted a unique style of static footage, rapid edits and content presented in such a deadpan manner that the authorities assumed that there must be something subversive about it, even if they couldn't tell what it was. In "Litany of Happy People" (1971), Godina simply photographs representatives of Yugoslavia's many ethnic group in front of their homes and barns, accompanied by a song about much he loved each of them. In "About the Art of Love or a Film with 14441 Frames" (1972), he had access to a full division of the Yugoslavian army, sending them running in various patterns through the countryside while the soundtrack points out that they are never allowed to fraternize with the young women of the local villages. Both films are simple, cheery and, yes, almost inexplicably rebellious. Needless to say, both were banned.

You can find a sample here.

Also on current newsstands: interviews, reviews and an unreleased film from Margarethe von Trotta. But we'll save that for a later post.

This article is from a series on film provided by Cinema St. Louis.

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