Sunday, December 13, 2015

The WILD EYE - BLU-RAY REVIEW

“I can’t stand to see that poor animal die!” exclaims Barbara (Delia Boccardo), to which Paolo (Philippe Leroy) adamantly replies, “Then shut your eyes!”

That’s one of the first dialogue exchanges in Paolo Cavara’s The WILD EYE (1967), a still-pertinent exposé on the lengths some reporters (or documentarians) will go to in order to get the ultimate scoop or indelible image.  Philippe Leroy stars as Paolo, a director of sensationalistic documentaries, who, along with his entourage – which includes Barbara (Delia Boccardo) and his trusted cameraman Valentino (Gabriele Tinti) – travels the world in search of the weird and horrific, but Paolo’s insatiable appetite for capturing anything and everything eventually leads to the team’s moral and ethical breakdown.

Anyone even remotely familiar with Italian mondo films, and in particular the fascinating cinema of Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, will instantly recognize what – and whom (hint-hint) – Paolo Cavara’s film is about.  Director Cavara was, along with Jacopetti and Prosperi, a co-director of MONDO CANE (1962), one of the first and most influential ‘shockumentaries’, and he was quite obviously very affected by what he had seen during his tenure with Jacopetti; in a filmed interview with Lars Bloch (one of the actors from the film) included on this disc, Bloch reveals that this film was purposely made as a sort of “revenge on Jacopetti”.  

The opening of the film sets the tone immediately, as Paolo and a group of what appear to be tourists – including Barbara (Delia Boccardo), her boyfriend John (Bloch) and an elderly couple – are in the midst of racing across the North African desert in hot pursuit of a gazelle, but when their jeep breaks down, they are forced to walk the excruciating 60 miles back to town.  Paolo doesn’t hesitate for a second to film their fears, torment and anguish en route, exploiting every possible moment beneath the scorching sun.  At one point, they come across the carcass of a camel, and as Valentino’s camera rolls, Paolo calmly asks the elderly woman, “What would you give for a glass of water?” to which he rhetorically replies, “Would you give a year of your life?”  In a bizarre turn of events, Barbara is eventually wooed by Paolo’s worldly travels and jet-set lifestyle, even though she knows he “organized” that dirty trick out in the desert.  Even during her more lucid moments, she is fully cognizant that people are nothing more than mere disposable objects or characters to him, which he exploits unsparingly in his films, but this doesn’t stop her from following him off to the Far East, leaving John in the lurch.

During their time in the orient, they visit a rehabilitation centre where a majority of the patients are recovering drug addicts (opium, to be exact), but instead of curing them with “faith” to alleviate the “desire” of opium, as the resident physician demonstrates, they are viciously beaten on camera (all faked, of course) because Paolo doesn’t think that the real, far-less-cinematic method makes for “much movie-wise”.  When Barbara questions him, he simply states, “Reality is boring. Lies are entertaining.”  As they proceed from spectacle to spectacle, Paolo continues to dumb-down his audience, because it’s only a matter of “occasional stimulation that makes the public digest the rest of the film.”  It’s certainly a fitting and still prescient statement in these overstimulated times of ours when most people’s attention spans don’t last much longer than a 6-second Vine Video.  With input from Italian novelist Alberto Moravia, who himself narrated and even wrote some of the more extreme mondo efforts (including Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni’s MONDO MAGIC [1975] and Antonio Climati’s and Mario Morra’s uncompromising SAVAGE MAN...SAVAGE BEAST [1975]), there are further ruminations with existential leanings about just what it is that entertains people, the decline of the western world, and even mass-consumption in our relentlessly consumerist society.

As the film progresses, Paolo continues to put himself and his crew into increasingly dangerous situations, including the secret filming of a Vietcong ambush, during which Paolo takes a beating; to which the latter replies, “Any film of me while I was beaten?”  Later, in a bombed-out Vietcong square, Valentino is shocked at the blatant disrespectfulness of his own, and especially Paolo’s, moralistic convictions, when they shoot – no pun intended – a live execution, which may or may not have been planned by Paolo.  In yet another extreme bit of journalistic incredulity, they are informed of a possible bombing at “The Lion's Bar”, a popular G.I. watering hole, which Paolo insists getting on film both prior to the bombing (“Get good shots of the customers”) and the bombing itself, which finally puts Barbara and Valentino over the edge.

Released theatrically in North America by AIP but never released on domestic home video, The WILD EYE hits both Blu-ray and DVD thanks to Scorpion Releasing.  Available exclusively through Screen Archives, Scorpion’s 1080p Blu-ray presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio with 16x9 enhancement, and is a real beauty, with excellent detail and naturalistic colours.  The mono sound is offered in both English and Italian languages, with the added bonus of English subtitles for the Italian audio track.  Extras include the aforementioned interview with actor Lars Bloch, who reveals all sorts of interesting info on the film, such as trying to shoot scenes in sequence, a method which was ultimately scrapped as unworkable; in addition, Bloch reveals how he inadvertently became the sound assistant on the film, and that Cavara was “a real gentleman.”  The only other extra is the American theatrical trailer.  

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