Monday, July 7, 2014

Some of My Favourite Things About Don't Touch the White Woman

Hey kids! Welcome to the latest edition of a series I like to call, "Some of My Favourite Things." Begun waaay back at my old blog, The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World, this is basically a series where I take an intriguing movie of some sort (usually one of a more cult-esque demeanor) and let ya'll in on (and this part should be obvious) some of my favourite things about said intriguing film. So, without further ado, here are some of my favourite things, in no particular order, on Marco Ferreri's 1974 oddity, Don't Touch the White Woman. And oh yeah, for those concerned with such things, there may be some spoilers ahead. Ye have been warned.

The Title Says It All - Obviously when talking about Marco Ferreri's French/Italian hybrid Don't Touch the White Woman, something must be said about that title. Played as a recurring gag (or jag) throughout the film, General Custer's Indian scout Mitch is repeatedly told this (or scolded about this) by the white men around him. When I told my friend Max that this was the movie we were going to watch on a certain night (and it looked just stunning projected onto the big screen of the arthouse cinema my wife and I ran back in the day), he instinctively assumed that I was acting the fool, and making such a title up. But lo and behold, it was indeed Don't Touch the White Woman - or Touche pas a la femme blanche in its native French (and I use the term native in several different manners of ironic twist) which we all watched that night.

Ferreri's Absurdest Take on the American Western - Placing characters such as General George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Sitting Bull smack dab in the then-current 1974 Paris - with Richard Nixon as the beloved president - and setting the climactic Battle of Little Big Horn in the recently demolished remains of the old Paris marketplace was a fine and ridiculous how-do-ya-do. Mixing and matching time periods, Ferreri's film is a comic absurdest delight.

The Prowess of an Italian Master - Marcello Mastroianni as General George Custer, extremely vain and quite pompous (this may actually be a rather accurate portrayal) and kicking up his boots in a ridiculously comic salutation of sorts, is at his batshitcrazy best here. His dandy demeanor, desire to change uniforms for each battle and constant militaristic attitude, not to mention his arrogant style of wooing, is great comic fun. This may very well be Mastroianni's most enjoyable non-Fellini performance.

The (far from subtle) allusions to both Vietnam and Algeria - Nixon is president here, spying down at everyone from his overly prevalent framed pictures. and an obvious (and quite legitimate if you ask this liberal critic) Leftist attitude toward the military, as well as a revisionist outlook on American/Indian affairs of the time (the Custer time that is). The Algerians are even thought of as an Indian tribe, and thus are treated in the same cold, hateful manner by the white people in the film. Everything is indeed politics.

The Altman Connection - Or should I rather say, the Altman feel. Predating Altman's own Buffalo Bill movie by two years, Ferreri's movie plays out in a very Altmanesque manner (or does Altman's film play out in a very Ferreriesque manner?), with characters speaking over top of each other and musicians following around acting as the film's balladeers, as well as an overall constant sense of mayhem. Then again, perhaps it was Ferreri who influenced Altman. Hmmm...

An Ode to Iron Eyes Cody (well, not really) - Ugo Tognazzi, long before he became the prancing star of La cage aux folles (a role played by an equally prancing Robin Williams in the remake), plays the aforementioned Mitch, the man to whom the warning of the title is told. Of course, just like everyone's favourite roadside crying Indian, Mr. Iron Eyes Cody, he is not really an American Indian (and doesn't even look like one, given a tanning session before filming began perhaps) but full-blooded, and full-bodied Italian. His leading of a sweat shop manned by white women (with the ever-watching eyes of big brother Nixon peering down from the wall) and his defilement of one of them is one of the many highlights of this crazy ass movie.

The Hippy Culture Cometh - The use of what appear to be real period hippies as the Indians of this so-called Little Big Horn. I mean really, who needs the noble savage when you've got a city full of hippies who will walk around in the background for, well for pretty much anything you are wiling to give them. We even get one who looks an awfully like that self-declared anti-hippie, Jim Morrison. Perhaps he didn't die in that bathtub after all. I mean he did live in Paris when he "died".

The Best Buffalo Bill This Side of the Pecos - Michel Piccoli may very well be the most batshitcrazy Buffalo Bill in cinematic history. Played by everyone from Roy Rogers to Joel McCrea to Clayton Moore to Chuck Heston to Paul Newman to Stephen Fucking Baldwin (even Buffalo Bill himself - as himself! - appeared in several early silent films) but I can't think of anyone who made the man look like a stark raving lunatic more than M. Piccoli. From his white eyeliner to his big-boobied back-up dancer to his bizarro (almost) one man show to his eventual maniacal cowardice and grandiose hissy-fit, Piccoli is the premier batshitcrazy Buffalo Bill.

The (New) New Wave - I cannot confirm this was on purpose, and it may very well be a "just me" kinda thing, but the talking heads who we first see at the beginning of the film, and who recur throughout as nosy, do-nothing politicos, remind this critic of a certain band of outsiders (if you will pardon the pun) known collectively as the Nouvelle Vague. The two main ones even resemble the new wave's leaders (for lack of a more apt word) Godard and Truffaut. Again, it is probably all in my imagination, but isn't imagination what cinema is all about? Or maybe it's not...

Catherine Deneuve as a Redhead!! - I am sure I need not say more, but I will anyway. Looking spectacular as a blonde is Mlle. Deneuve's normal style, but here she goes fiery red for her role as Custer's love interest, Marie-Hélène de Boismonfrais. Perhaps it is in keeping with the batshitcrazy aspect of the film itself - after all (and this will get some angry comments I am sure, but I sincerely mean it in the most complimentary fashion possible) most redheads I have known have been quite batshitcrazy themselves. Perhaps it is just to make the already drop dead Deneuve look all that hotter (which probably is not actually possible). One of the final moments of the film, after the slaughter at this makeshift Little Big Horn, shows a now dead Deneauve covered partly in an American flag. Except for the whole dead part (unless you are into that - and who am I to judge) this is a pretty spectacular image on the screen. An image which unfortunately cannot truly be captured here in a blog post, so I will leave you with a different spectacular image, and let you see the rest on a bigger, more proper sized screen. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


3 comments:

  1. Never heard of this film. Sounds like one wacky western. I'm a big fan of the spaghetti westerns. Would this be a baguette western?

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  2. You should really check it out. And I think, since it is a French/Italian hybrid, this might be more of a Pasta Francaise western.

    Thanx for stopping by. See ya 'round the web.

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  3. I have not heard of this film and now must try to find a way to see it. I know, in my little part of town-there is no way I can find this but maybe I can watch it on the computer-not the best but this sounds thoroughly entertaining

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