The International Writers Magazine: DVD Review
Director: Pier Paolo Pasolini
Stars: Silvana Mangano, Terence Stamp, Massimo Girotti |
How best to describe one of the worst films I’ve ever watched? And, by worst, I mean worse than Steven Spielberg’s big budget, low story crap, for, say what you will about that schlockmeister, but even his garbage is at least technically very competent. And, by worst, I don’t mean Ed Woodian levels of ‘so bad it’s actually good, in a funny sort of way’ bad. No, I mean bad in such a dismal way, wherein every aspect of the film is terrible- from the writing to the acting to the symbolism to the technical schlock work to the scoring to the very raison d’etre of the film. I mean in a why- WHY was such a film ever made?- kind of bad. Ok, I’ve got it. I will describe the film by simply describing it.
Teorema, the 1968 sepia and color film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, opens with what seems to be documentary sepia-tinged footage of a press conference outside an industrial area. Workers and reporters wax philosophic on the meaning of the workers getting control of the factory they are employed in. Apparently, the owner has handed it over to the union. The credits then roll, and we see images of what seems to be a black ash desert, possibly near a volcano. We then are in a palatial home at a party, where a strange young man (Terence Stamp) stands out, for no apparent reason. This is the film’s template. Life is reasonless. Go with the flow, baby. This is the first of what seems to be a rudimentary level film, and one where technical incompetence reigns - from poorly framed shots to shots wherein one can literally see the adjustment of the lighting as the scene rolls, and the shadows of the film cameras in the actual scenes, as well as poor edits, wherein changes between film stocks glaringly show up, as well as amazingly discontinuous shots between location and studio shots. This immediately puts the film at a sub-Ed Woodian level. Few of the characters speak, and when the nameless Stamp character does, it is poorly dubbed, and from afar. The music is de-synchronized from any emotion in the scene, and this is not deliberate, it seems, merely a poor choice of music poorly teamed with the visuals (even worse is the use of Maozart’s Requiem, at all, in this horrid film). This is astonishingly inept and pretentious, at once. The symbolism of the whole film, too, is so manifest and silly- that the young man is some God-like or Satanic figure who purifies or corrupts the bourgeoisie- that it loses all symbolism and becomes nothing than a soft core porno film about a sexually voracious drifter and pervert who seduces a deluded family. But, why would anyone want to watch this? Why was this even made?
But, it starts with their near-menopausal maid, Emilia (Laura Betti). For some reason, she cannot contain herself as she watched him read bad poetry in a lawn chair. She rushes by him, and takes the gas pipe to the stove. He rushes in, stops her, and they have sex- cue the edit. Next, he homosexually seduces (which sort of rules out most conceptions of the Stamp character as God- and, from here on out I’ll just refer to Stamp’s character as Stamp) the dimwitted and red-haired son Pietro (Andrés José Cruz Soublette), by sleeping naked in the same bedroom. The lasciviously closeted Pietro wakes up, lifts up the covers, likes what he sees, until Stamp awakens, Pietro rushes to his bed, and Stamp joins him. Cut.
Next up is the attractive but overly made up mother, Lucia (Silvana Mangano). She is so rapt by Stamp that she undresses on the back porch, as he returns from a morning run with the dog. Naturally, he falls on top of her. It should be noted that each of these sexual interludes is punctuated by cuts to the ashen desert landscape. There is no rhyme nor reason to this as, again, it is so heavyhanded that all reason escapes. The film is so amateurish on every level it’s almost embarrassing, yet astonishingly laugh-free- unlike the films of Ed Wood.
We then get a scene without Stamp. Lucia’s husband, Paolo (Massimo Girotti), tries to have sex with her, but she refuses him, as Stamp has spoiled her for sex with another (although this is short-lived). He reads, after he becomes ill and his legs get paralyzed. Then we get shots of the ashen desert out of synch with melodramatic chanting (non-Gregorian). What? Excelsior! We see Paolo in bed. Stamp comes in, puts his immobile feet over his shoulders, and grabs his thighs. Fellatio seems imminent, but a healing seems to occur, as in the next scene he can walk. Stamp then seduces the mousy, red-haired daughter, Odetta (Anne Wiazemsky, from Au Hasard Balthazar). Before the idiocy of that scene can fully sink in, though, the father and Stamp drive out to a bog, where Stamp lays down in the mud, and the father has him. Curiously, no discussion of VDs nor birth control occurs. Then again, this was the free loving ‘60s. If the easy sex did not clue you in, then Stamp’s silent, [plaintive looks into the ether, a favorite shot in such Eurotrash films of the era], should have been a hint.
Barely before the 98 minute film’s midpoint Stamp leaves - for reasons unnamed, but likely as pointless as the rest of the film. The family sees him off, and each member, including Emilia the maid, goes insane. She heads off to a small town, decides to sit in the town square, and refuses to eat nothing but weeds and nettles. After starving herself for some days, she heals a boy whose face seems scarred with leprosy. Then the townsfolk wake one morning to find her floating a few feet off the top of the local church’s roof. Wow! Think that’s symbolic? She is last seen with green hair, and having herself buried alive in an ash heap, and claiming her tears will become a spring. Next to lose it is Odetta. She simply goes catatonic, and is carted off to a loony bin. Third to go insane is out of the closet Pietro. He likes making Abstract Expressionist art, all the while urinating on canvases, and laughing sickly as he destroys his art. Perhaps the only scene in the film worth preserving, though, includes this character basically uttering Pasolini’s mea culpa to the arts word. Pietro utters an ode or credo wherein he extols the virtues of bad artists deluding the masses by doing bad art, yet fervently pushing it so that the deluded masses will think it is genius, by virtue of the fact that it cannot be judged. No, don’t even try to figure that out.
The film then ends on the descent of the parents. Lucia goes trolling about towns picking up college aged mane who bear a passing resemblance to Stamp. First, it’s merely one at a time, then she tries a pair of men in a ditch off the side of a road. Finally, Paolo is the last to lose it. He decides to give his factory to his workers (Viva la Revolucion!), then strips naked in a train station. Then, before one can say Boo! he’s naked, in the ashen desert, screaming as he heads toward the camera. That is the end of the film, which has been a flashback.
Gee, ain’t you moved?
What is really amazing, to me, is that this film came out the same year that many instances of landmark visual art made its debut; films like 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Planet Of the Apes, and a television show like The Prisoner. Yet, this dung heap of a film was also made - with its terrible score, atrocious screenplay, wooden acting, soft core porno clichés, pretentious moralizing, technical incompetence, and on and on.
The DVD, put out by Koch-Lorber, has the film in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are no features, save for a mind numbing documentary on Paolini called Pasolini And Death: A Purely Intellectual Thriller, wherein deluded sycophants wax on of the depth of the filmmaker who, in reality, like his French forebear, Jean Cocteau, was both a terrible poet and filmmaker; although both were commendable artistic frauds. Here is a quote from one of the deluded: ‘I started [writing of the film] the moment in which Pasolini revealed to me the function of death. Because the function of death is everything. If you omit death from Pasolini’s history, it would be like taking Pasolini and discarding him.’ O please, now why don’tcha? Of course, one can only thank the deluded homophobic idiot who killed Pasolini, offended by the Pasolini’s bad pickup lines, for he saved the world from decades more of such garbage like this and Salo, or 120 Days Of Sodom. Both films were classic examples of Eurotrash - a term from the 1960s that meant bad films from Europe with artsy pretensions. I.e.- films that had the depth of a 3rd grade child. And, yes, there is a difference between this and a great film like Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror. But, worse than all of the utter incompetence is the fact that the film offers not a single second of even entertainment- it is so goddamned dull. There is no humor, no élan, no joy. That Ennio Morricone did the score is amazing, considering he is one of the best scorers in film history. Giuseppe Ruzzolini’s camera work, as cinematographer, is ludicrously bad. About the only thing to argue about the film is whether or not Pasolini’s screenplay is worse than the technical failures.
Of course, the fact that the film is a total mess on every conceivable technical or artistic level meant nothing to dull critics, who, instead, tried to view the film as a puzzle, beginning with tits title, which translates to Theorem in English. A theorem of what? Ooh….so begin the spinning of the wheels of justification. How about a theorem of what Pietro declares- how to pull a scam over on pseudo-intellectuals? I could quote from many bad reviews of the film, but why not just turn to that online aggregator of all that is bad and lowest common denominator, Wikipedia, and give you what it claims the film is about, in a section called Scholarly Interpretations- a section that, naturally, provides no citations, but recapitulates much of the idiocy spewed about this film:
A common interpretation by cinema scholars is that the film is a commentary on the bourgeois society and emergence of consumerism through the very beginning of the film. The reporter asks a worker of Paolo’s factory if he thinks there will be no Bourgeois in the future. Because of industrialization and the advancement of technology, working-class people are able to find employment. The more they find jobs, the less they face the class struggle. The more they earn money, the more they consume.
’s quality; a tack that is often employed when a work is so horrid. Yet, this is definitionally not an interpretation, but a summary.
There is another way to look at the interview scene. In The Cinema of Economic Miracles: Visuality and Modernization in the Italian Art Film, Angelo Restivo assumes that Pasolini suggests that even documentary images, which depict facts, fail to show the truth. News can tell the audience only the surface of the events they broadcast. Only by watching the interview of the workers does not tell why Paolo, the owner of the factory gave away the factory. That might be one of the reasons the scene is set in the beginning of the film.
Geez, ya think that’s why? Yet, this sort of writing, lifted onto Wikipedia really does pass for analysis in texts not only on film, but all the arts.
In his biographical work on Pasolini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Enzo Siciliano simply assumes that Pasolini expresses his struggle of being homosexual in the film. On the other hand, Viano believes that Pasolini’s emphasis is not on homosexuality but rather on sexuality in general because the guest equally has sex with each member of the household. Sexuality is considered as passion in Viano’s interpretation.
Here would have been a good place to add a source, but, again, what interpretation is given, save for the obvious. Really, we have the obvious explanation of the most obvious symbolism, yet the obvious slips by these ‘interpreter’- that this is all just an excuse to crotch-gaze Terence Stamp. But, no, instead, we get this:
A cogent interpretation of this film is basically Machiavellian-Marxian. Pasolini, a longtime Communist, seems to make a critique of both the Italian haute bourgeoisie (the decadent family) and the southern proletariat (the maid). He urges for the appearance of a great man on the scene, a figure modeled after the Machiavellian idea of the 'prince,' to shake things up and straighten the path of Italy. The young, virile man that played by Terence Stamp symbolizes the Machiavellian leader of great 'virtu' who exposes the truth and liberates each of the other characters so they can reach their full potential. In the end, the father, who owns the factory, departs into a desert in a Christian-like search for himself, but simultaneously liberates the factory workers, who thereby become masters of their own destiny.
Like the discloseted Pietro, Pasolini, naturally, tried to obfuscate his horrible art behind platitudes: ‘The characters live the experience [of sex with Stamp] but are not capable of understanding and resolving it. This is the lesson of the movie- the bourgeoisie have lost the sense of the sacred, and so they cannot solve their own lives in a religious way. But the servant is a peasant, really a person from another era.…That is why she is the only one who recognizes the visitor as God, why she alone does not rebuke him when he must leave.’ Yawn. In a word, BULLSHIT.
Even if one were to accept that Pasolini was questioning morality, Christianity, Marxism, etc., the more cogent point is whether or not he did it well. He didn’t. The film’s message and art of conveying it is dull, obvious, unoriginal, shallow, and painfully poseur. Plus, Pasolini has no character development, hence no viewer cares for what will happen next. The film even lacks visual razzle-dazzle for ‘visual purists.’ But, to be fair, it’s not only the anonymous hacks at Wikipedia who perpetrate the continuing mythos of this film. Even ‘name film, critics have. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby wrote:
Having provided each member of the household with an apparently transcendental experience, the young man departs, leaving each to collapse in his own way. Because they are materialistic, rich bourgeoisie, their collapses are elegant and terrifying…. Even though Pasolini is a talented novelist and poet, the film is almost completely visual. The actors don't act, but simply exist to be photographed. The movie itself is the message, a series of cool, beautiful, often enigmatic scenes that flow one into another with the rhythm of blank verse.
Yet, Canby later states the obvious- that the film lacks art. Of course, it’s the last sentence I quote that exists as the DVD’s cover blurb, which is why when bad art is offered it has to be annihilated intellectually; so that no reverse and selected parsing can occur.
Roger Ebert was equally equivocal, which, given how blatantly bad this film is (i.e.- a strong candidate for worst film ever made), is a ludicrous posit:
This review of "Teorema" is going to be a holding action. I don't feel ready to write about this mysterious film; perhaps, a week from now, I'll decide it is very bad, a failure. But perhaps it is the most brilliant work yet by that strange director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, who is a Marxist and a Freudian and yet made the best film ever made about the life of Christ ("The Gospel According to St. Matthew")….
My guess is that "Teorema" is a watershed of some kind, a film out of its own time, a film nothing has prepared us for, but a film that in years to come will be seen as a turning point like early Godard.
None of these comments, as you can see, indicate that I have the slightest idea what I think about "Teorema." Or rather, that I think too many things; that this film is perversely difficult, that it is serene, that it is ridiculous, that it has the power at some subterranean level to remain in your memory long after you think you've dismissed it….But here is a film that needs additional thought. I want to see it again and try to get through to it. (In the meantime, I am forced to give "Teorema" a star rating, and so I give it three, so as not to discourage those who might find it interesting. But perhaps "Teorema" should get four stars, or none.)
I guess it’s too much to ask critics to do their job, which is why most film criticism of relevance has now been taken over by Internet reviewers, not the folk who get overpaid by newspapers- you recall what they were, don’t you? To his credit, though, according to online sources, even lead actor Stamp has dismissed the film as garbage.
So, let me agree with Stamp that Teorema is an atrocity, a painfully pretentious film by a bad poet and filmmaker, whose only virtue is that it does not hit triple digits in minutes onscreen, and falls a bit shy of quadruple digits in spoken words (at least if one is to believe the legendry of the film). If only there existed a show like Mystery Science Theater 3000 to mock the ineptitude of ‘serious’ dramatic films like this, not just the more excusable genre crap that was put forth in the middle of the 20th Century. Any so-called critic that recommends this film, in any way other than having a bizarre fetish for lifeless tripe should be mocked, beaten, and forced to watch this film over and again, like Little Alex from A Clockwork Orange, for, not only is it bad, it is dull, and - zzzzzzzzzzzz
© Dan Schneider September 2013
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