TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE
A visually fascinating but
dramatically flawed Italian production from the seventies. Freely adapted from
John Ford's classic tragedy of the same name, it tells the story of a
clergyman's son hopelessly in love with his own sister. Well worth seeing, even
though itís not terribly exciting.
TIS PITY SHEíS A WHORE (1974) is precisely the sort of fare I go out
of my way to track down: a strange, bloody and nearly forgotten curiosity. Itís
also a visual stunner, and no wonder, as the director of photography was
Vittorio Storaro. Storaro is often dubbed cinema's greatest living
cinematographer and his eye-popping work here confirms that claim, as just about
any shot could be blown up, framed and hung on a church wall. The art direction
is also first rate: the 18th century monastery that provides the film's central
setting is gorgeously conceptualized, as is the surrounding countryside. (Note:
interested parties are strongly advised to view the letterboxed UK print
from Redemption Video and skip the heavily cut, full-screen abomination released
on VHS in the US!)
There are some heavyweight actors in the cast, headlined by Italian
heartthrob Fabio Testi (whoís appeared in everything from THE GARDEN OF THE
FINZI CONTINIS to WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO SOLANGE?) and British sex pot Charlotte
Rampling (from ZARDOZ, STARDUST MEMORIES, SWIMMING POOL and many others).
During the seventies Rampling graced several Italian dramas, among them Lilliana
Cavini's notorious THE NIGHT PORTER. Rampling's work here is not her best,
essentially amounting to standing around and looking pretty...although that she
most definitely does.
Giovanni, a young man training to be a monk, returns from his studies
abroad to his family's monastery. Upon arriving he locks eyes with a beautiful
woman, and both are immediately smitten. Unfortunately it transpires that the
woman is Anabella, Giovanniís grown-up sister. The two try their best to deny
their affections for one another, but to no avail.
Onto the scene comes the dashing Senor Cerranzo, set to marry Anabella.
Despite her protestations the marriage commences, only to end in tragedy when
Cerranzo discovers that Anabella is pregnant by her brother. In a wild, baroque
finale that would make Ken Russell proud, Cerranzo brutally murders Giovanni,
along with the rest of his family.
Neither an exploitation potboiler nor a stuffy costume drama, TIS PITY
SHE'S A WHORE is something unique, an oft-gruesome period piece related with
admirable focus and economy. Giuseppe Patroni Griffi (whose other films include
the bizarro Elizabeth Taylor vehicle THE DRIVERíS SEAT) directs with a Stanley
Kubrick-like precision, creating a deliriously operatic atmosphere reminiscent
of early Bernardo Bertolucci films like THE CONFORMIST. As with Kubrick and
Bertolucci, Griffi's core talent is in the visuals, or more specifically the
compositions, which are unusual, daring and often downright bizarre.
Undeniably impressive though Griffi's helming is, its sheer obssessiveness
nearly drains the passion from the film, which is never terribly involving
dramatically. Ambiguity and objectivity are two nonexistent qualities, and for
all Giovanni's screaming about the unfairness of his lot ("Just because I'm
her brother my joys are forever to be banned from her bed?"), neither he nor
Anabella ever emerge as compelling characters. In the final analysis what we're
left with is a series of pretty pictures and little else.
TIS PITY SHE'S A WHORE
Clesi Cinematographica Productions
Director: Giuseppe Patroni
Producer: Silvio Clementelli
Screenplay: Alfio Valdarini, Carlo Carunchio, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi
(Based on John Ford's tragedy)
Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro
Editor: Franco Arcalli
Cast: Charlotte Rampling, Oliver Tobias, Fabio Testi, Antonio Falsi, Rick
Battaglia, Angela Luce, Rino Imperio