Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lucio Fulci


Andrei Tarkovsky, while he worked in Italy on Nostalgia, attended a screening of Lucio Fulci's first and most celebrated horror film Zombie Flesheaters, and described it in his diary as "ghastly, repulsive trash".

One thing that I like about films is that there really are no respectable ones, none that are quite gentlemen - not even Tarkovsky, although he comes perilously close. There isn't a clear canon, no films that one simply has to have seen to account oneself educated, and I think we just about find it possible to love anything, reject anything, and not stoop to forcing an interest. And film critics are so fallible - people like David Thomson write with as little (or as arbitrarily minute) an attention to detail and as much offhand authority as someone like Pliny the Elder, and it makes them both irritating and unintimidating - it keeps the field open. I like the wretched disservice it does to directors like Lucio Fulci, director of A Lizard in a Woman's Skin, Don't Torture a Duckling, City of the Living Dead, The New York Ripper - unannotated, unassimilated, uncontained within any respectable bounds.

Fulci himself had a complex and divided attitude to his own work. On the one hand he knew he was a hack, working in a variety of popular genres: comedies, thrillers, westerns, horror - whatever made money. On the other, he saw himself as the student of Visconti, the heir of Bunuel, a man attracted to the structures of genre but compelled by a mixture of wilfulness and artistic seriousness to sabotage them. He is well known in this respect for directing two thirds of a film "with his left hand", as the Italians say, and then suddenly spoiling the fun with something jarring, something felt, something truthfully disquieting. I like his work very much, although I started out by despising it. The moment came after sitting through The House by the Cemetery one rainy afternoon and suddenly wondering, what if this apparent incompetence is actually artfulness, what if - just suppose - Fulci knows what he's doing?

I find the shock of the new first communicates itself to me as ineptitude, and the contempt I feel causes me to replay the thing over and over again in my mind as an exhibit for derision until I become half-guiltily conscious of my fascination. The choice is either to reject it with a sort of Stalinist moral sternness, or to submit to it like an infection and see what it makes of me.

Fulci is famous (among horror fans) for what, exactly?

For an obsession with eyeballs and their mutilation, for longueurs punctuated by scenes of grotesque violence, for derivative, badly acted, structureless films which for some reason find themselves banned under the provisions of the Video Recordings Act and accrue themselves an undeserved cult reputation. Only.... Fulci suddenly reminded me now of John Berryman and the Dream Songs, language hacked into pieces, loudmouthed and half-ful of it, grandiose and threadbare, threatening suicide. And I want in the next few posts to focus on a few of Lucio Fulci's films, my favourites, and elucidate some of their virtues (to speak tiptoeingly like I'm critiquing Berryman or someone).

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