Monday, March 16, 2009

Giulio Questi and The Chicken Factory

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert, but I think I may have found the weirdest Gialloever. While I was watching it, that was certainly the thought that kept coming to me as the film unfolded in front of me. What else can you think of a film that when I saw it was shown entirely in black and white with varying yellow, red, and green filters? A film whose music consists entirely of dissonant harpsichord and detuned guitar? A film that takes place primarily in the chicken farm OF-THE-FUTURE? A film that starts with a ménage-a-trois and ends with headless chicken breeding?

Death Laid an Egg
by Giulio Questi
We begin in said chicken farm. The union boys are a little miffed because they’ve been rendered useless by the new machines that run the farm smoothly and efficiently. This means that it’s two owners, husband and wife Anna and Marco, have more time to spend on their favorite pastime: Gabrielle. Gabrielle is a crafty young blonde that Anna and Marco are both sleeping with: the shades of this film in Death Smiles On A Murderer don’t stop there, Gabrielle is played by Ewa Aulin, who played that film’s love triangle vertex, Greta. Now this wouldn’t be much of a film if all was love and harmony at the chicken farm. Things begin in earnest when Marco is nearly killed by a falling wrench in the factory, and the game begins. The next bit of intrigue concerns the fact that someone’s killing prostitutes. It’s probably Marco, because he has a thing for being the last person to see them alive and he wears the all-important black gloves when he's with them. Why else would he constantly look like he’s hiding something? Maybe it’s those experiments he’s performing that Mondalini, the farm’s new PR guy keeps trying to get Gabrielle to steal. Gabrielle is also sleeping with Mondalini, much to Anna and Marco’s displeasure. And let’s talk about Mondalini. He would appear to be some kind of magician or other. At a dinner party that Marco throws, he has everyone partake in some odd game in an effort to expand their consciousness. Don’t ask me.
So, jumping back a few plot points, where do those experiments lead Marco? To the creation of a breed of headless chickens. This ought to increase production, right? Or at the very least give something for Jack Nance to eat at his girlfriend’s house. So with this revelation things start to come tumbling down for Anna and Marco and pretty soon no one has anyone to trust. All in a day’s work for the protagonist of a giallo. The drive-in alternate title this film was given was Plucked. When I was in 4th grade I won the historical fiction contest cause my story about the Boston Tea Party was called Tea’d Off. Maybe Questi was hoping they’d release his film if he gave it a cute title like that. I mean it doesn’t get much cuter than Death Laid An Egg, but Plucked sounds more like a first-wave Nintendo game about cute little chickens. I really can’t think of an Italian film as flat-out weird as this. Headless chickens? Come on, I dare you to get weirder than that! As I said, the fact that the film is shown in a rotating palette of colors, none of which should ever be what you view respected French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant through. I’m not entirely sure what Trintignant was doing in this film!? Best I could tell he’d already made enough prestige films that he would never have to make a film like this for the rest of his life. Maybe he got tired of making films for Rene Clair and Costa Gavras. I guess prestige only pays for so much. Anyway, he’s here and he’s giving it his all, but my, is he out of place! Next to Ewa Aulin and Gina Lollobrigida he just looks bored; Jean Sobieski, father of Leelee, makes good as the sexual svengali Mondalini, but he seems better suited to a Fellini film than a low-budget sci-fi drama like this.
Giulio Questi really didn’t know what to do with his actors. Sort of like Klaus Kinski in Death Smiles, Jean-Louis busies himself doing odd tasks really intensely at the other end of which is a headless chicken. Questi, famous for directing the strangest entry in the Django series (the one with the militant gay cowboys), was better suited and clearly more interested in his bizarre production design, lingering over shots of enormous stacks of bird cages and an assembly line belt that everyone gets a turn riding. Pushing this film into new heights of truly obnoxious absurdity is Bruno Maderna’s avant-garde score. Maderna was a well respected classical musician so it was really no big thing for him to sit down and bang out some mind-blowingly strange music. I hesitate to call it music, because it follows no pattern and the instruments he pounds are all desperately out of tune. When something as frivolous as this came along, my guess is it took nothing out of him to hand in the most jarring bit of percussive sound he could come up with in an hour and a half, take his check and get back to composing symphonies. And yet, I can’t think of anything better suited to footage of flying feathers through a green filter. Death Laid An Egg is truly a masterpiece of the off-putting.

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