HTF DVD REVIEW: Dillinger Is Dead

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  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
    Real Name:
    Matt Hough
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    Dillinger Is Dead

    Directed by Marco Ferreri

    Studio: Criterion
    Year: 1969
    Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 anamorphic      
    Running Time: 95 minutes
    Rating: NR
    Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Italian
    Subtitles: English
    MSRP: $ 29.95

    Release Date: March 16, 2010
    Review Date: March 9, 2010
    The Film
    The television comedy show Seinfeld was famous for being about nothing. At first glance, Marco Ferreri’s Dillinger Is Dead might appear to be in the same category. But buried under the surface of a long night of mostly time wasting indulgence, there is the glimmer of a plot, a man coming to grips with his own dissatisfaction about his life. If that isn’t what the film is about, then maybe it is about nothing. It’s certainly indulgent, and as an art film, it most assuredly won’t be for all tastes. But it is a different film experience for those who are seeking the offbeat or possibly more variety in their film-watching habits.
    Scientific designer Glauco (Michel Piccoli) comes home from a long day at work (testing gas masks in toxic conditions) only to find his wife (Anita Pallenberg) in bed with a headache and requesting two sleeping pills so she can blot out the night. She’s left him a cold supper on the table that’s completely unappetizing, so he sets about preparing a gourmet meal for himself. While it’s cooking, he listens to the radio which plays a varied selection of current Italian pop songs and some Motown classics and begins plundering in the pantry where he unearths an ancient revolver wrapped in a newspaper about the capture and death of gangster John Dillinger. He spends the rest of the evening and morning taking the gun apart, oiling and repairing it, putting it back together, and then painting it with op-art colors. He also indulges in watching home movies where he attempts to join in with the images on the wall doing such things as bull fighting, diving into the ocean, and making out with a gorgeous female stranger. He also sneaks into the upstairs maid’s room for some fun and later caresses his wife’s sleeping torso with a toy snake that he pulls out of a drawer. With the morning comes a new start to the day and a new direction for his life.
    While one never gets the sense that the protagonist is unhappy or dissatisfied with his lot in life (he does, after all, have a good job, a beautiful apartment, and a stunning wife), the events of the evening slowly make it clear that nothing in his life is particularly vital to him any more. Some commentators have suggested the events of the evening may be a dream or a hallucination brought on by the gas he must work with in his job. Others have suggested part of the evening is real and only the final scenes are a dream of wishful thinking. Whatever the underlying truth of the film is, however, it’s undoubtedly true that director Marco Ferreri has filmed these evening larks with attention to making these mundane events visually arresting. There’s a “dance of the finger spiders” in the home movie section that rivets, and once that Dillinger pistol gets loaded with bullets, the mood of the film turns much more tense and unsettling. Watching Glauco early on reacting to events on the television or in the home movie makes for some amusing eavesdropping sensations for the viewer, but the fun gets darker in tone as it gets lighter outside. There’s no denying that the film, whatever it is meant to convey, is an odd duck and not one that many people will readily find identifiable.
    Michel Piccoli is practically the whole show as the designer Glauco. Whether everything was scripted or some of this was improvisational, he manages to hold one’s attention for ninety minutes doing the most ordinary or ridiculously nonsensical things. Both Anita Pallenberg as his wife and Annie Girardot as the maid Sabina are stunning to look at (and Ferreri allows both women to show off their bodies in and out of various bedclothes).
    Video Quality
    The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 is faithfully delivered in this transfer. Though some shots appear dated and slightly wan in color, much of the film looks more than acceptably sharp and colorful. Flesh tones take on a natural hue, and there are details in close-ups that reveal skin blemishes and fabric textures as well as DVD can. There is a yellow scratch early on and a slimmer black scratch later in the film which mar the image quality a bit, but otherwise, the film seems reasonably clear of age related damage. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 14 chapters.
    Audio Quality
    The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track is very typical of its era. The dialogue, what little there is, was all post-dubbed, so there is that dryness and flatness to the sound that’s emblematic of the process. There is mildly prominent hiss present which is easily discernible during the quieter moments of the movie, and there is some upper level distortion in the rich selection of American and European music which crowds the soundtrack.
    Special Features
    Star Michel Piccoli was interviewed in 2009 about his part in the film, and his 12 ¾-minute remarks, in which he offers his own possible interpretation of the film’s meaning, are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
    Film historian Adriano Aprà (who appears in the film as a movie critic on television) offers his opinions about the director’s film career and Dillinger Is Dead in particular in a 2009 interview that lasts 20 ¾ minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
    A Cannes Film Festival roundtable discussion about the director’s long career and his thirty films (he had died some months before the festival) was recorded in 1997 with participants Bernardo Bertolucci, Francesco Rosi, and Aldo Tassone. It runs for 13 ¼ minutes and is in 4:3. There are also some film clips from an interview with director Ferreri filmed a few months before his death which begin and end the sequence.
    The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes and is presented in 4:3.
    The enclosed 33-page booklet includes complete cast and crew lists for the movie, an excellent selection of stills from the film, an appreciation of the director, the film, and its star by film writer Michael Rowin, and excerpts from a series of interviews with the director conducted by Goffredo Fofi and Ruggero Savinio.
    In Conclusion
    3/5 (not an average)
    It’s offbeat, some might even say it’s weird, but Dillinger Is Dead is certainly a movie like no other. Criterion brings the little-seen movie to home theaters with a reasonably good transfer and some enticing bonus features.
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

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