Giallo Meltdown - A Moviethon Diary
by Richard Glenn Schmidt
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform 2015
This was another of those pesky “other people who bought this who are much cooler than you, also bought this stuff...” recommendations from Amazon and, frankly, I’m not sure if this book is a work of crazed genius or the exact opposite. I’m going to plead the fifth and conclude to myself that it averages out as something in between the two but, most books devoted to Italian giallo films are doing a service to a hugely neglected, although certainly rediscovered in the last decade or so, genre of cinema that mixes mostly terrible acting and bad mystery plots with violence and sex soaked shenanigans. The fact that these films are quite often so beautifully filmed, designed, edited and musically scored that the craftsmanship behind the camera more than makes up for the lack of coherence and elevates the genre to an art form which is possibly the most vibrant in the history of cinema, makes them much worthier of your attention than a lot of the stuff playing in your local multiplex these days.
Now, my main problem with this book is the use of English throughout.... American, Canadian or any other. There are a heck of a lot of typos and grammar clangers in this book and, while I understand that a smattering of these are clearly deliberate, to match the humour of the writer, I still see red when words or letters are mis-used or, in the case of some sentences, missed out altogether. That being said, there’s a fair amount on offer in this tome too and it’s certainly not like any other book on giallo you may have read in the past, I suspect.
The book itself is divided into 13 sections where the writer sits down for three or four days at a time and just binge watches a load of giallo movies... well into double figures, in any one period. I guess we’ve all done stuff like this but Schmidt is a repeat offender and, frankly, when it comes to watching gialli, who can blame him. He’s often joined by his wife LeEtta... who also did the cover art to this misguided gem of a book... and various other friends, mother-in-law and pets, as the moviethons run their inevitable course. It’s not the best structure in the world but it’s not like he’s trying to say huge amounts about the films in question and these are more like reading reactionary notes to the images and situations as they unwind before his J&B stained eyes in real time... even though he’s obviously gone back and edited them to make them more coherent after the fact.
Okay, so I don’t know much about Schmidt himself, other than he seems to be a fairly entertaining guy. It looks like he’s also a blogger for doomedmoviethon.com and cinemasomnambulist.com and this may go some way to explaining his writing style which, to me, seems to be as manic, unfocused and driven as a drugged up version of James Ellroy in one of his more frenetic streaks of twisted prose. Think White Jazz on acid! That being said, his humour runs consistently throughout the text and, although he’s not trying to deliver solid, critical reviews of the films here... he does quite often touch the little kernels of truth about a flick which demonstrates that his somewhat self-deprecating words actually mask a rare insight into the art of film in general.
The films range from the obvious to the obscure and that’s one of the things that kept my interest going throughout the length of the book, to be honest. I’ve got maybe between 150 to 200 gialli in my personal library (and growing steadily) but this guy seems to have seen even more than I have... which means about a third of the movies covered in this book are new to me and, for the most part, went straight on my ‘to acquire’ list... although I suspect I have a fair few of them already, foldered away in my ‘to watch’ movie backlog, which is probably well over a thousand movies deep by now.
The book gets off to a good start when the writer mentions that his wife refers to Luigi Pistilli as the Italian Jeremy Irons. Which is pretty funny, I think. Say that to anyone at my work place and I can guarantee that not a one of them will even know who Pistilli is but, little moments like this are what makes the book readable and, although I found his style infuriating at various times, I somehow could not put the thing down. It even distracted me from my Candy Crush time so... you know... I must have really liked it.
And on it goes. There’s a weird mix of fairly obscure films and giallo classics on show here. I like that the author is totally okay with sourcing copies of the films he wants to watch from... um... illegitimate sources and that he’s up front about it. Over half the films in here are not, and probably never will be, commercially available and I think the writer takes the same attitude as me when it comes to seeking out prints of movies you want to see before you die. If it’s not available commercially, life is too short to wait around on the off chance that it might, one day, become so. So there are a lot of caveats in here about bootleg VHS transfers with Greek subtitles and bad tracking problems. In the case of a couple of the films he’s watching, he even complains that the movie has some of the reels in the wrong order. I have to respect someone who goes to extreme lengths to watch films which he can’t source from anywhere else and, by the looks of it (and also like me) he's happy to upgrade to a proper, commercial transfer, when one becomes available for sale. Or ‘if... it becomes available’, more to the point.
The writer has some nice patter when he’s at his most coherent. Here are a couple of my favourite gems from a book that has a fair few jewels tucked away when you least expect them...
“The beautiful scenery is totally beautiful. Darn it, where's my thesaurus.”
“The killer liberates them both of the burden of keeping all that blood inside their bodies.”
I’m also really pleased he has some of the same problems that I have when I’m trying to review a movie and can’t remember details like character or actor names. At one stage he says:
“Good old Howard Ross is here as the police inspector. IMDB says his character's name is police inspector.”
I’m glad that the guy is this sarcastic when it comes to the IMDB because, honestly, the amount of times it’s let me down in a similar manner is beyond belief. Sometimes it can’t even find the title of the movie you’ve just watched because it’s just not been entered into the database. So, yeah... I can kinda relate to this guy because he obviously has the same kinds of research problems as me to get through.
For all this, though, there was one bit which put me into a red rage, at first, when the writer is talking about giallo master Dario Argento’s Do You Like Hitchcock? He refers to one of the characters in it spying on his neighbours like Cary Grant does in North By Northwest. I was on my feet and angrily ranting up and down the room at this point because, as you know, everybody knows this was James Stewart in Rear Window. After I’d calmed down and read another paragraph, I came to the realisation that maybe the writer was having me on because he then goes on to reference the Hitchcock movie where the two characters swap murders as being The Birds (as opposed to Strangers On A Train). Okay, so this is even more blatantly ludicrous than the first ‘slip up’ and so, I can only conclude that the dude is messing with the reader’s minds for fun. At least... I hope he is.
At the end of the day, Giallo Meltdown is a slightly patchily written but hugely entertaining love letter to a genre of films which has become very popular again over the last decade or more. One thing I will say is that, if you are less than familiar with some of the films he’s giving notes on here, you might find yourself a bit lost. So we come to that old conundrum of the reader having enough knowledge so that they’ll be entertained by R. G. Schmidt’s jokes and observations about a particular film while, at the same time somehow being unfamiliar with classic and basic essentials of the genre such as Argento’s Deep Red (reviewed here) and Tenebrae (reviewed here) or Mario Bava’s Five Dolls For An August Moon (reviewed here)... that you will actually find the writer’s plot descriptions of some use. It’s kind of a Catch 22 situation but I think I’d rather be in the former camp than the latter. Either way, the book is as much about the writer and his companions (and some of the revelations about these companions, although expected, are kinda heartbreaking) and I ultimately had a good time with it. If you’re a fan of the genre and the various actors, actresses, directors and composers (I’m pleased to say he also talks about the music in these things a fair bit), then you should probably give Giallo Meltdown a try. I’m glad I did. I just have to find out what Mountain Dew is now because the author here drinks gallons of the stuff and I don’t think they make it in this country.