Dillinger is Dead

Dir: Marco Ferreri, 1969. Starring: Michel Piccoli, Anita Pallenberg, Gino Lavagetto, Annie Girardot. Foreign.
Dillinger is Dead

The essay by Michael Joshua Rowin included with this film seems to approach the film's historical aspects, presenting its theme as an overflowing aggression from the director in the turbulent '60s. Rowin addresses the fact that Ferreri - unlike his peers Antonioni, Pasolini, Bertolucci, and Fellini - made films that went against the norm and were arguably ahead of their time. For Ferreri, the '60s meant the drastic change in the importance of politics and culture, which was replaced by materialism, technological stimulus, and constant protest. He claims that Dillinger is Dead is Ferreri's “angriest” work, and that its masculinity shines through its use of a war-friendly atmosphere, "weak" female characters, and phallic symbols. There is no argument that Ferreri was tackling the changes in his world in a way that requires some delving into and critique. My review of Dillinger is Dead is not to go against those made by Rowin and other critics, but to give a different understanding of the lead character. From someone who is familiar with the films of Ferreri's peers, and other Foreign New-Wave directors, there was something fantastic about this film that has nothing to do with political and social change—a quality that is a bit more universal and relevant.

The protagonist of the film doesn't have a name outside of the script, in which he's named Glauco. He manufactures gas masks and is dissatisfied with his work. A colleague gives a long metaphorical monologue on the need to protect people from a deadly society and the alienation that has derived from such protection. Glauco returns home to find a cold and mediocre meal left for him and a beautiful wife who would rather nod off on pills than join him at dinner. Glauco returns to the meal and refuses to eat it. He has a vision of steak and starts to make his own gourmet dinner from a cookbook. While searching for ingredients in the kitchen, he stumbles upon a pile of old magazines in a cupboard. He notices an object wrapped in a dated newspaper. Inside is an old and rusted gun, and the paper is the front page that announced the violent death of Public Enemy # 1, John Dillinger. The gun fascinates him, and it appears to belong to the notorious criminal. He starts to take it apart as he cooks, oiling every part of it and adoring its complexity. His maid, Sabina, enters the story as a lazy, but pretty young woman who doesn’t seem to do any housework. He watches television, soaking in a world that he's removed from—a world with changing technology and young girls who are interviewed on make-up and miniskirts.

The outside world is a place where Glauco has no part, but in his home, it's as if he's a king. He's a modern painter and a dreamer. We see him project home videos of himself with his wife and it's as if he enjoys owning her, even if it's just a projected image from when they were happy. He caresses the images and mimics what's done in them. He fantasizes about being a mime and having an audience. In a sense, the technology around him is crippling; he lives vicariously through it and has issues with the intimate and real relationships in his life. When he's not looking-in on his own marriage, he's attempting to destroy it by seducing his maid. In reality, his efforts to have a small adventure from home aren't working. He returns to the gun and puts it back together, then paints it in a sort of Warhol fashion—enamel red with white polka dots. He returns to the place he found it and discovers its bullets. A change occurs in him slowly, and with the loaded gun he wanders around his house pretending to riddle his flashy belongings with gunfire until the desire to stop pretending becomes too much. His life as a dreamer ends when he puts everything on the line and pulls the trigger on a real target.

Oddly enough, the bold colors and the lead character made me think of Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. The characters are vastly different, but the characters both revolt from their society in a violent way and fantasize about haunting and beautiful scenarios. It also brings to mind Billy Liar, the story of a boy who lives completely in fantasy and never takes charge in his own life. On the more violent side, it reminded me of Bronson, a movie where a dreamer-turned-criminal becomes convinced that he's an action hero and uses that identity for violent ends. I'm comparing Dillinger to these films because I think that the idea of fantasies-gone-wrong is very intriguing. How many times in the last two decades has someone blamed the media for their violent outbursts? Is there a common thread with fantastical people who become consumed by their delusions of grandeur and adventure, ultimately choosing not to pretend anymore? What can be said of our celebritization and glorification of notorious criminals in every kind of media? When comparing the messages that were perhaps subjective for the filmmaker in terms of Italy and the world's sharp changes, the personal changes and risks of an unstable dreamer seem to be more relevant.

Again, I don't wish to undermine formal critiques of Ferreri or this work in particular, but there was something underneath the surface that didn't seem connected to what they were saying. Rowin and a great many others do touch on the issue of technology and alienation, but their critique leans more toward a great many other issues—ones that those who are unfamiliar with the culture might not understand. Instead, I think that audiences can marvel at the technique and delivery of its many themes. The use of bold color, similar to Italian Horror, is sure to impress, and the story of a man who made his fantasies a reality was executed in a way that was wholly original. I think that approaching the film looking for those details would be more rewarding than critiquing it based on its reflection of Italy in the '60s.

Posted by:
Edythe Smith
May 25, 2011 6:18pm
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