Monday, November 23, 2009

Footprints on the Moon

Footprints on the Moon
Le Orme
Aka: Footprints, aka Primal Impulse
Directed by: Luigi Bazzoni, 1975
Italy, 96min
Distributed by: Shameless Films Entertainment

Footprints on the Moon is a strange little oddity which at first plays out like a well crafted mystery movie with a dash of sci-fi, courtesy of a sub plot where the main character, Alice, keeps having strange dreams of an astronaut being left on the moon. Who are the astronauts and who is Alice are the main questions you will ask yourself while enjoying Luigi Bazzoni’s surreal “lost” movie Footprints on the Moon.

Florinda Bolkan [star of Lucio Fulci’s magnificent Lizard in a Woman’s Skin 1971, Don’t Torture a Duckling 1972, and the nunsploitation classic Flavia the Heretic 1974] pouts and sulks her way through the movie as she tries to understand how she has lost three days of her life. At start Footprints holds a fascinating plot that takes on grand proportions, but is somewhat fumbled at the finale. Alice is a translator and when she gets to work one day in the early stages of the movie, her bosses tell her that she’s been replaced because she’s been missing for several days. Alice can’t for the life of her understand and is completely confused by the claims that she’s been missing. It’s almost Giallo territory as she starts her inquiries to her whereabouts during those three days. After finding a torn up postcard on her kitchen floor, and having a good old chat with her friend Mary [Ida Galli, aka Evelyn Stewart from Mario Bava’s The Whip and the Body 1963, Duccio Tessari’s The Bloodstained Butterfly 1971 and Lucio Fulci’s The Psychic 1977] her search takes her to the mysterious and abandoned resort referred to as Garma.

At Garma, Alice encounters the gallery of odd characters that will be leading her along on her quest, but almost everyone of them give the impression of recognising her, even though she has never seen them before… or has she? At first Alice cannot understand how the people at Garma talk to her with familiarity, until she meets the sinister little girl Paola…

Alongside with Bolkan is one of the most recognisable child actors of Italian genre movies from the seventies/eighties - the wonderful Nicoletta Elmi. Anyone who’s seen a handful of the classic Italian genre pieces will recognise her on sight, her burning red hair, her freckled face and those deep deep blue eyes make her appearance a memorable one to say the least. Elmi featured in her first film when she was four years old and already two years later 1971, she was in Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice (although uncredited you can’t miss her appearance). The same year she made her entrance in the genre that she’ll forever be associated with, the Italian horror flick. Again uncredited, Elmi plays an important part in Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve 1971, in 1972 she’s George Lazenby and Anita Strindberg’s murdered daughter in Aldo Lado’s splendid Who Saw Her Die?, and from there on you can see her in such epics as Flesh for Frankenstein 1973 (Directed by Paul Morrissey or Antonio Margheritti depending on who’s story of the production you want to believe) Dario Argento’s landmark Giallo Profondo Rosso 1975, and Massimo Dallamano’s The Cursed Medallion also from 1975 where Nicoletta gives her best performance as a possessed evil child. A year later Elmi vanished off the screen for several years but when she made her “comeback” it was with Lamberto Bava’s highly entertaining monster/possession classic Demons 1985. Gone were the childlike features so often associated with her previous characters and instead was a beautiful woman with red burning hair, freckled face and deep deep blue eyes. After two TV movies in the back half of the 80’s Elmi gave up acting and completed her studies and became a doctor instead. It’s an amusing though of arriving at the hospital and your doctor turns up and it’s Nicoletta Elmi who you have seen as the sinister child (and as an adult in Demons), it would definitely spook me if it ever happened.

Anyway, back to Footprints. Alice goes about her quest - where did those days go, who is the Nicola character that so many people at Garma keep referring to her as, what is the meaning of the yellow dress and the red wig, and what are those strange dreams all about. As the intrigue tightens, more questions are posed. And the key seems to be held by the mysterious Henry [Peter McEnry]. Henry who at first keeps safe distance to Alice, not revealing that they have know each other for many many years (yet another sub-plot of confusion) eventually comes out of his shell and explains that he and Alice where childhood lovers many years ago and he’s held his distance as not to scare or confuse Alice.

Then there’s the top billed name on most of the marketing materials for this little gem, Klaus Kinski. Now I’d be quite disappointed if I where a Kinski completist searching out Kinski movies and stumble upon Footprints, because of that false marketing with Kinski at the top billing. Kinski as Blackman, the strange leader of the scientific experiment on the moon, is just in the movie for a few minutes and only in flashback sequences, so I don’t really feel that he brings anything to the movie, more than his presence. So don’t expect to see good old Klaus freak out and act sinister as he did in so many other great Italian genre pieces as his part in Footprints is almost on a cameo level. Which is a shame, with some more freaky Kinski in here and perhaps bringing his character into the real world I’m sure that Footprints wouldn’t have stayed lost for so long.

The movie comes to a climax and all of Alice paranoia, confusion and mental illness drive her to devastating conclusions which have her taking terrible and fatal actions against the characters Alice see as her antagonists. It’s a dark ending with a simple, but haunting reveal in the last moments to show what is reality and what is not before Bazzoni takes it to the limit with a very surreal and bizarre final sequence. It’s also here that I feel the ending leaves more to demand s the climax isn’t satisfactory – even though it is very eerie and fitting for the flick – but the easy way out with an explanatory text as the movie comes to an end annoys me. Just imagine how that fascinating insanity thread could have been used so much more. Think of a last reel with Alice in the psychiatric ward after she’s confronted the spacemen, Blackman, now that would have been terrifying exploration of mental illness. What clarity would she reach? What would happen when she realizes her mistakes and what she has done in her state of mental disorder? It would have made for a great ending, and a more effective way of showing Alice time in the institution.

A quick afterthought on the movie and I ’d say that the movie is almost a inverted Fight Club 1999, where Alice sickness breaks her down and leaves her a wreck where Jack [Edward Norton] uses his insanity to develop and emerge a stronger person with insight into his temporary madness. Obviously Bazzari and co-screen writer Mario Fanelli (who supposedly co-directed Footprints and also co-wrote the 1971 Giallo The Fifth Cord with Bazzoni) are after some sort of pseudo psychoanalytical thread here but it unfortunately never really reaches the screen, apart from in several small nods during the movie. Alice employers who accuse her of being “ill” when she can’t recall being missing from work for three days; the Alice charm that she wears is, as told to Alice by the old woman [Lila Kedrova] made by a local craftsman who died several years ago (although as Alice obviously has spent some of her childhood here – she realises later – she may have received it then); after Harry has called his friend the doctor (whom Alice in her state thinks is the Blackman character and thinks that Harry is in on the big conspiracy) and the final text somewhat daft text explaining what the heck has been going on. It’s not really there and it leaves me wanting something more satisfying, even though I finally have clarity on what has happened during the movie. Looking at the overall structure Footprints is all about ambiguity, the lack of insight and uncertainty as each encounter pushes the mystery deeper and awakens more questions, there are no half mark answers here, it’s all one big mystery up till the final reel.

The score by Nicola Piovani is fragile, gentle and haunting when necessary and it’s a great complement to Vittori Storano’s splendid cinematography. Yeah that’s Vittorio Storano, the cinematographer of Dario Argento’s debut feature The Bird With the Crystal Plumage 1970, Guiseppe Patroni Griffi’s sleazy ‘Tis Pitty She’s a Whore 1971, and Bazzoni’s previous Giallo The Fifth Cord 1971. The same Storano who also won Academy Awards for his work on Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now 1979, Warren Beatty’s Reds 1981 and Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor 1987 – who said that exploitation cinema leads to nothing?

Their combo of sensory elements really makes the strange atmosphere that ponders the movie. Now on a side note there is an strange but amusing little story about Nicola Piovani that is fitting to tell in the context of Footprints and not knowing who is who… There was and sometimes is an enduring rumour that has been spinning for many years that Piovani is a pseudonym name of Ennio Morricone. Now with the 140 and still counting titles that Piovani has composed (for the likes of Federico Fellini, The Taviani Brothers’, Nanni Moretti, Gianfranco Mingozzi, Marco Bellocchio, and Bigas Lunas), the award winning scores for among others Fellini’s Ginger and Fred 1986, Moretti’s Caro diario 1993 and The Son’s Room 2001, and definitely the 1999 Academy Award for best Dramatic Score for Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful, I’d think it pretty convincing that Ennio Morricone would have come and said that he is Piovani if this was the case. It’s a strange and sad little story, but Piovani is a good sport and tells it with joy and a twinkle in his eye during the lectures and talks he sometimes gives around the world.

Footprints on the Moon is a difficult movie to slot it into any definitive category as it would be out of place in the Giallo niche as it lacks the traditional traits that define that genre, i.e. red herring plots, nudity, sexy soundtracks and gloved killer. (I use the word Gialli niche as Shameless released Footprints as the last title in their 20 title series that also features several other Gialli) I wouldn’t place it in the Science Fiction genre either as there really isn’t any science fiction in it, apart from the cover artwork and flashbacks which actually are re-imaging’s of Alice’s memories of a movie she saw as a child, hence the Footprints on the Moon title. And it is definitely not a horror film, as there is no value of life at stake. One killing doesn’t make a horror flick, but I’d say that Footprints n the Moon fits nicely into the psychological drama niche with a healthy dose of thriller plot, which is why I used the Fight Club reference earlier. It’s a drama about a woman trying to answer what happened during her three day black out which leads the viewer to understand that her mental health is in question, and an amateur diagnosis comes up with the suggestion of Schizophrenia. This drama is driven by a quest/puzzle that the lead protagonist is trying to solve. In other words a psychological drama with thriller traits.

So if you are up for some superb camera work, delicate soundtracks, confused narratives and a great portrayal of a seriously bewildered woman by Florinda Bolkan with the added value of an ominous chid as played by the one and only Nicoletta Elmi and a sprinkle of Klaus Kinski then Luigi Bazzoni’s Footprints on the Moon is something that you may want to check out.

Remastered to 16x9 anamorphic widescreen. Although there are a number of varied source materials, the print looks grand.

Dolby Digital 2.0 English or Italian dialogue available, with optional English subtitles.

The Theatrical Trailer, English credit sequence, a promotional gallery and the US video teaser for the film under the moniker Primal Rage and the marketing scam that the film features Klaus Kinski… Being the last of the 20 titles released by Shameless, they have generously added trailers for the entire back catalogue that makes for quite an entertaining session if you are up for trailer shows. But be warned, there’s a lot of spoilers in those trailers especially the Footprints trailer.

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