A Touch of Brass

There’s something to be said when you’re watching an eros film by a veteran (in this case, Provocation / Provocazione, by the infamous Joe D’Amato), and in the back of your mind you’re thinking, ‘Gee, if Tinto Brass had directed this tiresome tale of a fractured and unfulfilled couple, it would be both funny and fun, and better edited and scored by a real composer, not Muzak Italia.’

For more than two years, the films of Tinto Brass have consistently been among the highest read reviews at KQEK.com. I don’t know why. Honestly. I have reviews of films by Bergman, Hitchcock, serious documentaries, cult TV shows, arty stuff, and works from Region 2 land, and yet every month, within the first week, each and every one of the Brass films covered here rack up the highest hits, page views, etc.

Yes, Brass directed Caligula (1979) and Salon Kitty (1976), but he was also part of Italy’s New Wave filmmakers during the late sixties, and made thrillers, gialli, and politically rebellious films. As of this writing, none of these works are apparently available in Region 1 land, so I’m going by reputation and the serious casts and crews with which he worked during his early career.

Clearly something happened after Caligula, because he decided sex comedies and dramas with the popo as its dominant motif would become his only focus. He’s also like the enfant terrible of Italian cinema because he’s rude, crude, and undeniably vulgar in each and every film, and he just won’t go away.

So why Brass? Why should anyone care what this corpulent, gravel-voiced cigar chomper has made for the past 20 years?

D’Amato moved from being a cinematographer – including ‘scope productions – to softcore, then hardcore, then gore, and finally combing all manor of disparate ingredients to create shock films.

Brass, in turn, just seemed to stick with his own favourite themes, and rather than show beautiful women being shredded or bloodily violated, his voyeuristic eye was trained on provocative women placed in silly situations reminiscent of early seventies Italian sex comedies (the good ones), and once in a while, he’d adapt a novel and make a decent drama about obsession, like The Key (1983).

He’s also worked with composers like Ennio Morricone, Pino Donaggio, and Riz Ortolani - the latter the composer of The Voyeur (1994), the latest Brass film to debut on DVD via Cult Epics.

Voyeur is everything D’Amato’s Provocation (1995) isn’t: erotic, funny, sly, and technically proficient, because where D’Amato was balancing his filmed eros (softcore porn) with hardcore porn, Brass still tried to craft some kind of story, which in the case of Voyeur, came from Alberto Moravia’s L'Uomo che guarda.

If you watch Provocation, it’s a by-the-book eros tale, with perfunctory direction towards actors and technical crew. Voyeur is among Brass’ best-cut films (he edits virtually all of his movies) and is maniacally detailed in its set décor, celebrating those activities and body parts Brass adores (to frequently obsessive degrees).

His fetishes for the main body parts are evident in the mounted bedroom pictures, the doorways, and the blasted wallpaper. He’s crazy, but he’s not an incompetent hack, and the fact his films – certainly his best works – are made with an idiosyncratic skill prove he’s still here because he is, in spite of his strongest critics, a filmmaker.

D’Amato could’ve evolved into one himself, but he went bonkers on excess designed to repulse. D’Amato’s camera in Emmanuelle in America (1977) initially embraces the female form, but then he integrates faked snuff footage, and an equine ingredient. He was a far more prolific director than Brass, but his quantitative output arguably eroded any desire he may have had to transcend the genres he was working in during the eighties and nineties.

The two filmmakers did sort of cross paths – D’Amato made his own version of Caligula, as well as Brass’ 1991 film Paprika, four years later – and I’ll eventually do some comparisons between the quality and sensibilities of each filmmaker within those related works.

Until then – assuming you still care by this point – I’ll direct you to reviews of Tinto Brass’ The Voyeur from Cult Epics, and Joe D’Amato’s Provocation from newcomer Mya Communications (reportedly the new incarnation of DVD label NoShame), two very distinct erotic films made within a year of each other.



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