GONE WITH THE POPE (2010, directed by Duke Mitchell, 83 minutes, U.S.)
THE TEMPTATION OF ST. TONY (2009, directed by Veiko Õunpuu, 110 minutes, Estonia)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
Monday night’s screening of Gone With The Pope lived up to all its perverse promise. Where does one begin? The film was shot in 1976 but never assembled into a final cut by its director Duke Mitchell. Duke’s infamy began when he was the Dean Martin part of a pair of Martin and Lewis imitators known as “Mitchell and Petrillo” (their astonishing act can be seen in the 1952 film Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla).He had small parts in a few crime films during the fifties but disappeared off screen til the 1974, when the nightclub singer wrote, starred and directed a plain-berserk Godfather knock-off called Massacre Mafia Style (aka The Executioner). Duke’s personality bleeds through every frame, it’s a amateur film that is loaded with crazy ideas you would never see in Hollywood.
Genre film lover and Academy Award winning editor Bob Murawski (The Hurt Locker, Spider-Man) took an interest in Gone with The Pope after hearing that the film was languishing in film cans in Mitchell’s garage (Mitchell himself died in 1981). With a rough cut and incomplete notes to go by, Murawski edited the film into a presentable fashion and boy, it is like nothing else you would see on today’s big screen. Rife with non-professionals reading from cue cards, Mitchell’s film follows the hit man Paul, fresh from jail where he has landed into the arms of a wealthy, MILF-y widow. Paul is unfailingingly loyal to his old prison buddies so he takes a job whacking seven men, three in Vegas and four in L.A., in order to set up his pals when they exit the joint. This leads to some beautiful footage of the old Vegas strip as well as some of the corniest nightclub performances ever caught on tape.
Later a round-the-world cruise ends in Rome were Paul gets the brazen idea to kidnap the Pope in order to collect ransom from every Catholic across the globe. Through the course of the film Mitchell comes off like some loudmouth older uncle who has lots of controversial ideas he is itching to share with the world. He pontificates to the Pope about the hypocrisy of the church (although the script draws comparisons to the loyalty of both Paul and Pope Paul) and he lets loose with some jaw-dropping racial teasing of an African-American prostitute at which he wants to wink jokingly, although the sting of his comments is much too harsh to shake. Audacious, ludicrous and eye-popping moments unfold regularly; what Duke’s missing in skill (which is plenty) he makes up for by never being dull. Perhaps what is most captivating is his sense of fashion, the film features endless wardrobe and decoration that you know Duke would describe as “classy.” Ending with a message from God, Gone With the Pope is like a nightmare blind date: it may be ugly enough to knock a dog off a meat wagon but its loaded to the gills with “personality.”
The most visually accomplished film to play Danger After Dark this year screens tonight, The Temptation of St. Tony. Directed by Estonian filmmaker Veiko Õunpuu, St. Tony uses striking black and white chiaroscuro visuals to suggest the surreal ancient paintings of St. Anthony’s trials. St. Anthony has been transformed into Tony here, a middle manager asking questions of morality while he wanders across a dreamscape tthat is turning nightmarish. His wife is brazenly cheating on him, he’s obsessed with the beautiful young daughter of one of the workers he just laid off and after a car crash he drags a dead dog into a swamp that is loaded with severed forearms.
In his second feature Õunpuu’s imagery suggests an the influence of critical heavyweights like Russia’s Andrei Tarkovsky and Hungary’s Bela Tarr, sharing their love of long takes and characters adrift in the elements. Õunpuu’s film also shows a whimsical sense of humor that their films lack, which can provide a giggle though sometimes at the expense of the story’s serious underpinnings. Many diverting scenes unfold, a priest who walks up a wall, the always incredible Denis Lavant as a grotesque Tom Waits-style nightclub Master of Ceremonies and a ghoulish chainsaw scene that seems to spoof the American horror movie classic. Sustaining such an unpredictable landscape calls for a real mastery of drama, and that is a mastery I’m not sure Õunpuu has a complete handle on. By the end Tony’s journey felt like just a pile of parts, but a beguiling pile of parts it is.
The Temptation of St. Tony will be screened at 10 PM tonight at the Ritz @ The Bourse