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June 06, 1979 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1979-06-06

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Page 6-Wednesday, June 6, 1979-The Michigan Daily
VISCONTI'S 'THE INNOCENT'

By CHRI
Cinematic
classes run a
lassoing Am
films' broad c
is so endem
tithetical and
mystique of t
that their diss
lost on movi
Atlantic.
For better o
class hatred

Stagey, dry op(
STOPHER POTTER never caught on over here; though it
savagings of the upper may be true that a privileged ruling
n inherently high risk in elite rides its populace just as much un-
erican audiences. Such der the thumb here as do the overt
oncept of social structure aristocrats of the old country, such a
ically European, so an- notion still seems heretical to most un-
foreign to the egalitarian blinking Yanks. The upward mobility
the American experience theory still works its magic; "I'm as
ecting bite is often simply good as you are, buddy !" remains our
iegoers this side of the chanted litany.
AND THAT'S THE problem with a
ir worse, the catechism of film like the late Luciano Visconti's The
and fractiousness has Innocent, whose premise and plot are

,rasans s
irrevocably knotted around a belief in
the inherent dissoluteness and mass
perversity of the ruling class. Placed in
the nimble, witty hands of a Bunuel,
this blanket premise might be pulled
off; but consigned to the operatic,
humorless ministrations of Visconti,
the theme sags under its own ponderous
self-rightousness.
Unfortunately, righteous dicta were
Visconti's stock-in-trade throughout his
glossy, florid career. In The Innocent,
the writer-director's trget for corrup-
tion is one Tullio Hermil (Giancarlo
Giannini), a bored, malignant
aristocrat living in late 19th Century
Rome. Brandishing his professed
atheism like a sword, Tullio wields his
belief as a nihilistic rationale for the
emotional pain he wreaks upon those
around him. Though married, he
engages openly in an adulterous affair
with a rich, vivacious widow named
Teresa (Jennifer O'Neill).
He blandly announces his unfaith-
fulness to his gentle, equally gorgeous
young wife, Giuliana(Laura Antonelli),
telling her soothingly that from now on
he wants to look on her as a "loving
sister" to whom he can tell his
problems. (In one of The Innocent's few
hilarious scenes, a furious Tullio raves
to Giuliana about how Teresa has stood
him up at an outing, while Giuliana's
face reacts with the agonized
bemusement of one consigned to suf-
fering yet still baffled as to how all this
could be happening to her).
PREDICTABLY, TULLIO proves as
hypocritical as he is self-centered.
When Giuliana launches a dalliance of
her own with a successful young writer,
Tullio turns lividly pious-he feels
grievously, self-pityingly betrayed. As
his affair with Teresa cools, he decides
life with Giuliana perhaps wasn't so
bad after all-besides, there's his now-
wounded masculinity to consider. He
seduces his wife back into love with him
(presumably), then learns to his con-
sternation that she is pregnant by the
writer, who has since died abroad.
Tullio and Guiliana settle back into
pseudo-domestic bliss amidst their
riches, yet the writer's unborn child
bridles like a tumor on Tullio's
cuckolded soul. Exercising his twisted,
rapacious logic, he by turns sweet-talks
then browbeats Giuliana in an attmpt to
get her to agree to an abortion ("God is
dead, it doesn't matter what we do.")
Giuliana steadfastly refuses and the
baby boy is born, spurring the morose
Tullio into an even more monstrous
solution. That this act and the film's
subsequent denoument seem more
lurid melodrama then stark tragedy is
symptomatic of Visconti's entire,
frustrating career.
THE DIRECTOR possessed the eye
of a cinematic genius, yet his heart was
that of a pure operatist. Whether
dissecting Nazis (The Damned), mad
emperors (Ludwig of Bavaria) or the
blankness. of the psyche (The
Stranger),Visconti would conjure up
the most haunting visual images
imaginable, then cripple his vision with
plots of such overripe kitchiness that
one would leave the theatre with the
queasy feeling of having eaten four
banana splits in a row.
Visually, The Innocent is often
breathtakingly apt; Visconti's
Beautiful People cavort from mansion
to mansion, garden to garden as though
the entire world were an endless velvet
carpet, a spotless universe im-
measurably far from the poverty and
squalor indigenous to the time but
never touching its rich.

Unfortunately, Visconti loved to
listen to his people talk, and talk they
do: long, leaden orations whose social
pomposity is matched only by their
rhetorical tone-deafness. The director
forces his cast to wallow in the ham of
arched eyebrows, flaring nostrils and
similar soap opera histrionics so heavy-
handed they become almost a
burlesque of the morality play inten-
ded-a grotesque paradox for this most
solemn, non-satirical of filmmakers.
Remarkably, for all their fire.
breathing theatrics, Visconti's actors
J
remain physically immobile; they
strike poses, like grand opera soloists
preparing to rifle moribund bellowings
at an audience. Even the film's
"notorious" sex scenes are so com-
pletely stagebound that the participan-
ts might as well have been modeling for
a life-drawing class.
Giancarlo Giannini surmounts
Visconti's roadblocks enough to effec-
tively convey the narcissistic
malevolence of Tullio, yet Giannini
never seems quite at home playing an
aristocrat compared to the lower-class
hotheads he made famous for Lena
Wertmuller. Laura Antonelli's Olym-
pian body fails to offset her inability to
transmit anything more than a mar-
tyrish masochism, but the usually
bland Jennifer O'Neill comes off
astonishingly well as the seductive
Teresa-who serves as a kind of amoral
Greek chorus to Tulilo's rancorous
deeds.
In fairness it should be noted that
Visconti died before completing The
Innocent and that Giannini himself
completed the direction and subsequent
editing nearly two years later. Despite
the fragmentation inherent in most
such interrupted projects, Giannini's
consummation seems remarkably
faithful to the film's conception, and the
film itself innately emblematic of
Visconti's long career. Regrettably,
that is a dubious compliment at best.
Cheap music
buffs take note!
Modern music lovers tired of
outrageous concert prices will soon
have an option more to their liking, as
Eclipse Jazz will present free outdoor
concerts periodically throughout the
summer.
June's offerings include Vantage
Point, a jazz-rock-fusion group that will
soon put in an appearance at the Mon-
treux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and
the Steve Nordella Band, whose usual
haunt is the Blind Pig. The two groups
will play at Liberty Plaza (Liberty &
Division) from 6:30 to 9:00 on Friday,
June 8.
On June 24, Antares, the Earthworks
Jazztet, and David Swain all will strut
their stuff at West Park beginning at
2:00.
Eclipse promises free music at the
Art Fair in July as well as other com-
plimentary events during the
sweltering months.

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