Itʼs the late nineties, and Iʼm a fifteen-year-old kid in Lawrence, Kansas. My eyes are wide open to the twenty-something-year-old students who move about town from the university up the hill, and my ears are attuned to the alternative sounds of the period.
I was lucky if anything atypical happened in any circumstance whatsoever, yet I donʼt remember a moment of boredom from those days. My friends and I existed in our middle-American bubble-- a pre-9/11 microcosm of blissful ignorance, with only a vague understanding of the world outside our little town. Years later, as an adult, I came to understand that that particular feeling has a name: the "velvet rut." I swiftly proceeded to move to Los Angeles.
In those days as an informal film lover I watched as many films as I could get my hands on. Truth be told, I didnʼt know shit from shinola, or even why I liked something. I could discuss Alfred Hitchcock with my music-professor-intellectual aunt with some degree of recall, but I had little understanding as to the whys and wherefores of a particular cinematic scene.
My movie consumption during this era came from two different sources: late night television and the Liberty Hall video store in downtown Lawrence. At home I might be lucky to catch “Night of the Living Dead” on a school night, or maybe The Beastmaster sometime over the weekend. But it was within the sanctuary of Liberty Hall where my love of film became a near-religious experience. Hmm, Iʼll rent The Candy Snatchers from my candy income –– (oh did I mentioned I worked at a candy store, too?), then Iʼll follow that up with 2000 Maniacs and Mondo Cane. Why? Because itʼs a dollar, and the store offered a buy one, get one free bargain deal, too.
I would find myself in some sort of completist competition in my own self-imposed game; consume the entire cult film section of the video store, yes, this will be an accomplishment. One particular evening it might be Paul Morrisseyʼs Heat meets Roger Cormanʼs The Trip. I would repeat this type of genre pairing rental choice for years to follow: a druggy '60s exploitation film followed by an early '70s underground curiosity piece. Itʼs an education and endurance test commingled. If youʼve ever followed a similar path, itʼs safe to say youʼve had to endure quite a few clunkers before you stumble upon gold.
Iʼm fond of those days... a sort of portrait of a young man on the precipice of desensitization. Searching for something his youngster brain doesnʼt even know heʼs searching for. Years go by and more and more films are consumed one after another. Images from various movies begin to coalesce into one giant ball of filth and holiness and then the moment arrives: Elio Petri.
Around this time I came upon The 10th Victim. Petriʼs film about a government-endorsed TV show in which contestants hunt and kill each other; featuring the lovely Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress as the top players of this swinging '60s macabre game. The style, attitude, and swagger of the film blew my mind –– and in particular, the soundtrack. I had seen Austin Powers a year prior which features a scene with the bullet firing bra "fembots," which undoubtedly was inspired by the opening scene in The 10th Victim. Anyhow, I digress….
Almost 20 years later I stumbled across A Quiet Place in the Country which is Petriʼs last film of the sixties and might very well be the paranoid-narcissistic precursor to the Academy Award winning Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion he would direct a year later.
A Quiet Place follows Leonardo played by Franco Neri as the cantankerous young painter who decides to leave Milan with his gallery-curator-girlfriend Flavia played by Vanessa Redgrave and relocate to an abandoned villa in the countryside.
Petri delivered The 10th Victim and We Still Kill the Old Way prior to Quiet Place and the previous films are almost unrecognizable in comparison –– the same guy made those films? The soundtrack alone suggests a radical departure from the previous films. Ennio Morricone delivers one of his more experimental concrete-esque scores of the sixties made in collaboration with the avant-garde improvisational collective Gruppo or "The Group."
Iʼve often thought that Elio Petri himself inhabited a different part of his own psyche to direct a film that showcases the ease of moving back and forth through life in a constant state of daydream.
These daydream states are often showcased by the clever editing of the film, which becomes a sort of back and forth rhythm of mental states for the main character Leonardo [Franco Nero]. It's almost a demented mental tennis match without any players; a ball simply bounces by way of a apparition. Is he a willful participant in this mental game or is this a dissociative episode? Maybe neither? Maybe this is an unrestricted perspective of a young, virile artist on a quest to achieve the highest order of sexual pleasure with a ghost. The film offers no answers here, and rightfully so. In one moment Leonardo [Nero] is present in his material reality; in another, he slips into a paranoid daydream that illustrates his subconscious resentment for Flavia [Redgrave] – — actors that, in real life, found true love decades later.