Rebel. It’s a loaded word, especially in a pre-current-post apocalyptic world where the promise of an edge is something dangerous and sexy. It’s the edge of a pristine blade that whispers to the inner feral within. However, like so many sharpened surfaces, they can become dulled and their sheen robbed by pop culture commercialism and status quo dullards. You learn that many like the glossy whisper of the word but are actually repelled by the nitty gritty work of being an actual, true blue rebel. The kind that hasn’t a pure demographic and cannot be so cleanly commodified. Filmmaker Tinto Brass is precisely this stripe of rebel.
Other words apply to the man too. Revolutionary, stout minded imp, pervert, visionary, aficionado of female posteriors, and a one-man vanguard all puzzle-piece the picture too. Tinto Brass is a one-man juggernaut who, from the beginning, has rightfully owned up to his entire career. Not just the early experimental arthouse titles (The Howl), the sole spaghetti western (Yankee), or even the arthouse-meets-exploitation titles (Salon Kitty, Caligula...kind of), but the latter day films and TV work that are cinched in by two of Brass’ favorite things: sexual anarchy and a well shaped derriere.
It would be easy to write him off as Italy’s Russ Meyer. Too easy. Meyer was a dyed-in-the-wool-artist and I will write all the strongly worded missives till I shuffle off this mortal coil and even then, I may not be above haunting any naysayers. But Russ was more American than an apple pie baked in the centerfield of a well attended, beer-swilling baseball game. His sense of sexual anarchy was rooted in pulp novels and comic books. Iron fisted himbos displaying their lack of wits in the presence of Amazonian goddesses whose personalities were as big as their pulchritude. On the other hand, Tinto’s sexual anarchy is rooted in something more political and surreal. He is absolutely a hundred-percent his own man and auteur.
With 1995’s Fermo Posta Tinto Brass aka P.O. Box Tinto Brass, we see the director on screen as himself as well as the ring-leader for an assortment of mini-stories written as letters of confession to the maestro of cinematic carnality. It’s sugary like candy and as light as angel food cake, which is not a bad thing. In a world riddled with so much shame, angst, and repression with sex, it’s refreshing to see the subject treated with such jubilance, fun, and humor. The latter is key because while sexuality can be such a wild and complicated playground, it is also inherently ridiculous. War and violence are serious, but sex can and should be playful. Absurd, even!
Courtesy of both Tinto and his lovely bespectacled assistant Lucia (Cinzia Roccaforte), we are greeted with a number of stories that involve themes of voyeurism, self-exhibition, swinging, sex work, infidelity, and even obscene phone callers. (Talk about a lost art in the cell phone age!) The impressive thing is that in this corner of Tinto’s cinema, there is little room for shadow but much room for variety. The first short involves two lovers on the beach, which that alone would plenty for a less inspired maestro, but this is T.B. we’re talking about. The girlfriend (Laura Gualtieri) notices they are being spied on by a man who also happens to be making love covertly on the beach. The two steal glances at each other, using the forbidden glances as a rush of excitement, with neither of their partners being none the wiser. The beauty of cinematic fantasy is that the beach is as lovely as it is remote with two conventionally attractive couples, as opposed to the reality where it’s a couple of dudes that look like Pat Robertson buggaring some poor Tipper Gore-look-alikes. When Hell is full, the dead will walk the Earth and then have sex on the beach. Thank god this is P.O. Box Tinto Brass and not P.O. Box whatever Cronenbergian-creature has polluted my once-pretty mind!
The next story is also the best one, centering on a young housewife, Elena (Erika Savastani) who writes Tinto for advice. She is happily married to Guido (Paolo Lanza), but has a double life as a “Lady of the Day” aka a “Belle du Jour.” He discovers a box of condoms in her purse, and she manages to convince him that some kids gave them to her outside a supermarket as part of AIDS activism?!? He eventually buys this or does he?
The scenes of Elena’s day job at the Countess’ brothel are some of the most beautifully shot and edited, not to mention containing the second best scene in the film. Elena/Michelle and her blonde-bombshell co-worker Wanda (Sara Cosmi) are entertaining a portly butcher, with the former orgasmically yelling out “…the power of Italy!” Wanda, or according to IMDB, Sofia, is such a delight to watch. That old Cher song, “Vamp” aka “V-A-M-P” could have been written about this character. She bubbles with the kind of over-the-top sexualized preening and oohing that is normally reserved for barely clad vixen in comic books and pinball machines. This whole movie could have been about Cosmi and her drag-u-lous character and the universe that contains THAT version is a heavenly one.
In subsequent stories, more about our maestro is revealed, including his passion for seeing beautiful women with unshaved armpits, all but spitting on the “insipid Barbie” look. There’s also his line about film directors, noting that, “…There are no cinematic ones left…Everyone’s a director nowadays.” This is a light, sexy comedy, so this is never really explored, but it does serve as the one true-to-life peek into an artist who reveres the art of film and the auteurs behind it and yet, may have felt like one of the lone survivors of a past era before multiplexes and the blandifcation of the mainstream stranglehold of Hollywood that extended far beyond American shores. Brass is part of a small but mighty brotherhood of European auteurs, like Franco, Rollin, and especially Borowczyk, that no matter what mainstream critics or, even worse, producers, thought, that the waters between arthouse and grindhouse were as muddy as they were connected. If you break down and burn the lines, then real creative freedom can start to build and bloom.
Anyways, it could also just be a throwaway line, but tis the fun of movie exploration!
The rest of the letters range from short and sweet, like a stylish young lady not-so-secretly flashing a camera wielding man, an unhappy wife who finds sexual fulfillment through both a dirty talking stranger on the phone and ultimately her husband, and what ends up being the weakest entry, a married couple that attends a swingers party at a beautiful mansion. A very boring swingers party. There is also the second best letter, where the beautiful Ivana (Cristina Rinaldi) is married to a gambling addict who comes home drunk one night, confessing that he lost a huge bet. Instead of owing money, he owes his two opponents one night with his wife. There is a great languid tone to this short, from the noir-adjacent opening with Ivana lounging around their sparse bedroom, waiting for her ne’er-do-well husband, to the clever la ronde twist towards the end. This segment is prime latter day Tinto Brass.
Tinto’s relationship with Lucia is a complicated one. Scratch that, since the only thing that is really complicated is the lack of human resources at the office since it is sexual harassment central at Brass & company. Luckily for us, this is Tinto we’re talking about, not some disgusting and legitimate psychopath that burdened the world with making Gwyneth Paltrow a star. It’s less creepy and more just silly and weird. Lucia often just seems bemused by her cigar smoking, slightly handsy boss, knowing that ultimately, he’s never going to really get the goods. Their banter back and forth ends up resulting in the film’s climax, where he holds Lucia hostage until she reveals a fantasy of her own. The mind truly is the biggest erogenous zone, since her story involves a Fellini-esque shoe store where the women from all of the past letters smile and pose while Tinto, as the fake-mustachioed salesman, fits her for a pair of boots. Tinto the shoe salesman gets too lascivious with his job, resulting with dream Lucia kicking him in the head. Inexplicably, this cracks both of them up! All of the little left turns up to this point are mere sidewalks and alleys compared to what comes next. Yes. Tinto unzips his pants revealing a massive elephant trunk, complete with the appropriate animal noise?!?! Everyone in the room breaks into laughter and the film ends.
This film ends with Tinto Brass’ giggle-inducing elephant trunk boner.
I think we can just burn the Oscars down to the ground right now. (Really, one should anyways!)
Fermo Posta Tinto Brass, while not one of the great classics from the maestro, is a lot of fun and aesthetic proof that just because a film is sexy fluff doesn’t mean it still cannot be exquisitely made with wit and an expert eye. Cult Epics have certainly done right by Brass with this gorgeous release, with plenty of extras and a lush looking transfer. Even more impressive is if you pick up the limited edition two-disc release, you get one hefty charmer of a supplement with the full length feature documentary, Istintobrass (2013.) Istintobrass covers a good amount of his career and life, with the biggest highlight being the examination of the early parts of his career, revealing a young and creatively fearless man whose veins bled silver nitrate with blood. The quote, “If history keeps running, films cannot keep walking…” is especially unforgettable.
The glimpses of his 1960s work is a sweet though all too fleeting treat, especially his unreleased films that he made with Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. The film makes a solid use of several interviews with Tinto’s past actors, associates, and film writers. The latter bog the film down in parts, creating a need for more show don’t tell, or at least show AND tell. There are a number of titles from Tinto’s filmography that are only briefly mentioned, if at all, so if you are looking for something comprehensive, this might not be your ticket. That said, the clips with Helen Mirren are absolute gold. She clearly has a lot of respect for Tinto, while keeping a great sense of humor by referring to him as, “…a naughty boy.” Also, seeing Serena Grandi interviewed is a rare bonus, especially for anyone who loved her turns in Brass’ Miranda (1985) and, one of my personal favorites, Lamberto Bava’s Delirium (1987).
At the end of the day, the world of cinema and large is better off for having Tinto Brass a part of it. Birth, life, and death are all riddled with anarchy that is sewn into our very DNA, which is one of the innumerable reasons why artists like Brass are needed because he honors this. White-bread thinking and settling is tantamount to a coma of life and time. Artists that buck this, even at their own cost, are lighthouses pointing towards more rewarding shores. In this case, the shores of Fermo Posta Tinto Brass feature vibrant cobalt waters, azure skies, vivid emerald greens, and sandy beaches bedecked with the most alluring curvy women and handsome men that, to quote Prince, are all about getting some sugar on the candy cane.