The wonderful thing about cult film fandom is the peculiar obsessions that typify it. I’m thinking specifically here of the enthusiastic loyalty fans have for a given director or performer, whatever said person’s standing in the mainstream film community might be (and very often in defiance of such). Hence, for instance, the following that Joe D’Amato commands. As for performers, let’s think for a moment about character actors. I’ve already documented my great fondness for Michael Ripper, he of the bulging eyes and multiple bit parts in Hammer films. Well, I have in my hands a delightful little tome that does me one better.
Last night, the Winnipeg Cinematheque hosted a launch of Kier-La Janisse’s A Violent Professional: The Films of Luciano Rossi (FAB Press). “Who?” you might be asking. I confess that I was when I first heard of the project. The short answer is that he was a character actor who showed up (often very, very briefly) in over 70 Italian films, in everything from spaghetti westerns to cop thrillers to gialli. His look is a bit of a sleazy, greasy cross between Guy Pearce and Steve Buscemi. The launch was accompanied by a screening of Umberto (Cannibal Ferox) Lenzi’s enormously entertaining Violent Naples (1976), a Dirty Harry variation with John Saxon (speaking of character actors) as one of the lead baddies. Rossi pops up (in, according to Janisse’s book, one of his best roles) as an absolutely irredeemable rapist/thief. His demise (impaled through the throat on a metal pole) is applause-worthy.
Also applause-worthy is the very premise of the evening: a celebration of, and a book about, an actor who has only a very few minutes of screen time in the movie being screened. Janisse’s book has the same engagingly perverse independence. After a biography of Rossi, the bulk of the book is a breakdown of every movie Rossi appeared in. Accompanied by terrific stills and ad copy, the entries are not, as Janisse is at pains to point out, critiques or appreciations of the movies themselves (though she still touches on these aspects, giving the reader necessary context). What the entries concern themselves primarily with is Rossi’s role, which is often extremely small. But each is fully described here, and each entry concludes with two ratings: stars indicating the length of screen time Rossi has, and hearts for the cute factor. Janisse writes, “The latter may seem juvenile, but what can I say – I was reading Tigerbeat before I was reading European Trash Cinema.” It’s that kind of touch, utterly and unapologetically without shame, that is so much a part of the soul of the cult film world.
Is the book informative? Very much so. I defy any reader not to come away infinitely more knowledgeable about the Italian exploitation scene than they were before, no matter how much they knew. And that’s great. But it’s the gleefully off-the-wall nature of the project itself, and its equally left-field execution that marks it as one of the more unique film books of the year.
Now to start tracking down all those films…