The Howl (1970)

*. There was a time, specifically in the late 1960s and early ’70s, when Tinto Brass was considered an essential filmmaker and heralded as the next Antonioni. He was even tabbed to direct A Clockwork Orange, a project he had to decline because of a scheduling conflict. This was right around the time when he was making The Howl. Go figure.
*. This early promise, if it was promise, never materialized, and by the end of the ’70s he was dragged (or dove) into the mess that was Caligula and for the rest of his career seemed mainly interested in working on “erotic” films.
*. Today there seems to be a wide range of opinion on Brass, based mainly on his early work. I’ll say up front that I think this is an absolutely terrible movie that I found it nearly impossible to watch, but if you enjoy this style of filmmaking . . .
*. But is it a style? It seems like mere incompetence to me. The photography is ugly. The editing is slapdash and mangled. Visually, one is never quite sure what the point is, even what we’re supposed to be looking at. I guess, in the film’s defence, I can say that this fits with the rest of the movie. The dialogue is gibberish. There’s no plot to speak of. A woman (Tina Aumont) and a man (Luigi Proietti) wander around together, encountering various weirdos. The man does a funny walk like Chaplin and carries a toolbox. The woman makes revolutionary speeches.
*. The point? There’s some kind of crude anti-authoritarian message, what with all the soldiers and cops beating hippies up and shooting people against a wall. Then there’s footage of Mussolini and Hitler and Vietnam tossed into the mix. But this is so vague that I actually found it a bit offensive. I certainly didn’t see where Brass had anything he really wanted to say. It all winds up with a line disparaging logic and coherence though, so maybe that was the point.
*. I could make a snarky point here about how Brass is more interested in tits and ass, but he’s not an erotic filmmaker either. We see a lot of flesh on display, but it isn’t sexy even in the few instances where I think it was meant to be. Hell, Tina Aumont doesn’t even look sexy.
*. Just as wasted as Aumont is the location of the Santo Stefano penitentiary, which had just closed in 1965 and gave Brass a great backdrop for the prison riot scene. Wasted.
*. I’ve seen various labels thrown at it. Psychadelic. Surrealist. It doesn’t seem to me much of either. Certainly not surrealism, which even at its dreamiest had more coherence to its vision than this.
*. Well, there’s not much point saying more about a movie I hated and couldn’t understand at all. Maybe I was missing something, but it all seemed to me like Godard on a very bad day: making even less sense and looking a whole lot worse. Come to think of it, now I feel bad about connecting Godard’s name to this crap. Enough!

2 thoughts on “The Howl (1970)

  1. tensecondsfromnow

    Walerian Borowczyk was a similar case, heralded as an artist, choosing to go down another road. Brass had his pretentions, but his decline was noteable, and I’ve never fancied his early work…The Key is one of his better works.


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