As director Tinto Brass recounts in the DVD’s illuminating interview, The Voyeur is based on a 1985 novel by Alberto Moravia, but it took nine years for the film to get made because of Brass’ then-busy schedule (he was making a film about every two years), and the difficulty in negotiating an agreement with Moravia’s wives, two ‘old fashioned feminists,’ who now owned the film rights after the author’s passing.
As long as Moravia’s name never appeared in the credits, Brass was allowed to make his naughtier version of the book, and so he did, infusing the film with his obsessive detail to all things round, erect, supple, hairy, and robust.
The Voyeur isn’t as literary nor political as The Key (arguably his best erotic drama), but it’s among his best erotic films partly because he went at the script and filming with what even he felt was more control than in prior films.
Brass confesses he followed Alfred Hitchcock’s penchant for meticulous pre-planning and concentration on every minutia, and one sees a Hitchcockian nod in the film’s introduction of Silvia (Katarina Vasilissa), as she enters the bedroom of estranged husband Dodo (Francesco Casale): much like Hitchcock’s slow-motion intro of Grace Kelly as she advances on drowsy James Stewart in Rear Window (1954), Brass has a tired Dodo look up as his curvaceous wife runs naked into the room, like some goddess of female perfection.
The director’s editing is much sharper here as well, and Brass constructs some very amusing sequences using some beautifully plotted montages and transitions. A highlight is a kitchen scene between Dodo and his ailing father’s nurse, Fausta (Cristina Garavaglia), where both beat eggs and sugar in respective cups while Dodo tries to find out of his father is the one who’s been having an affair with Silvia.
Being Brass, however, there has to be a few crude elements within the meticulously designed set, so Fausta is dressed in Brass’ weird fixation of buxom women in blazing fifties clothes and eighties hair/makeup/jewelry, and whose boobs are a cough away from exploding beyond their loose cleavage.
Any moment he can insert a shot of a round bottom or beaver fuzz (one used as a cigar humidor), he does, so fans of his schtick will find every Brassian fetish in The Voyeur, but it’s arguably less crude than his other work, and much funnier. The characters are goofy, but never completely cartoonish, and the ridiculousness of some situations, as well as actor reactions hark back to vintage Italian sex comedies
The sole exception is the depiction of male phalluses, and this apparently marks the first time he filmed an erecting penis. That footage is, uhm, stylistically consistent with short shots of gargantuan (fake) phalluses in sex scenes, teases, and moments when Dodo’s father Alberto (Franco Branciaroli) is visited by his nurse and chiropractor, and his huge cucumber kind droops or stands at attention. (Alberto is also balding, which Brass exploits in one extreme reverse angle that renders his bald pate like a giant dick.)
Other above-average sequences include a hypnotic flashback where Dodo sees his mother enter his bedroom at night wearing a shear nightie, and he discovers the virtues of the female form; Dodo and Silvia quite unhappy in a Chinese restaurant; and the estranged couple meeting in a movie theatre, where Dodo tells her to describe her affair, while a scene from Brass’ The Key plays on the cinema screen.
Brass also tosses in a sequence that really has no reason to exist except as filler: a bizarro nude beach where every gender is boffing, massaging, oiling, or sun tanning. Besides a “Porking Attendant” (Ted Rusoff, with rainbow condoms pinned on his jacked) who demands voyeur/peeping tom fee from Dodo, there’s a naked nun jiggling past sun bathers in a partial habit, and as Brass moves his camera or frames wide shots, women spread their legs or stretch upwards so as many beavers are balanced within the frame. It’s the only sequence that doesn’t advance or affect Dodo’s troubled dealings with his separation, and being cuckolded, although the film’s resolution is rather quick and neat, too.
In all of his films, the sets are a mix of Art Nouveau furniture, eighties primary colours, and window and mirror arches that curve at the tip, and Brass makes sure Alberto’s bedroom is filled with pictures of exposed crotches and bum-bums; even his wallpaper is a pattern of pink-coloured deltas.
Riz Ortolani’s score is surprisingly good, and feels less dated, mostly because he lets his sax soloists engage in some sultry solos and improve. The opening cue also functions as the couple’s theme, and is both hot and bothered, as well as haunting in conveying Dodo’s anguish. (Of course, Brass has to sneak in his favourite folk-jazz instrumental in the kitchen scenes between Dodo and Fausta – the same piece heard in Parpika’s main titles, as well as source music in Miranda and The Key.)
Cult Epics’ DVD offers a fairly clean transfer with nicely balanced colours of the uncut Italian version (with optional English subtitles), although its’ obvious from the actors’ lip movements that some scenes were partially shot in English, including those with Rusoff and a few with Vasilissa). Only qualms: the Italian soft-surround mix has distortion when the music increases.
The bonus interview has Brass discussing his acquisition of the film rights, the film’s visuals, his love of editing, Hitchcock, some quick comments on the cast (but very little on fleeting actress Vasilissa) and the Q&A concludes with a walk-on of Angelita Franco, the model/actress set to appear in Brass’ next film, The New Maid, who agrees on camera to grow the requisite hair preferred by her director.
Only is Brassland…
Other Tinto Brass releases from Cult Epics include Deadly Sweet / Col cuore in gola (1967), Attraction / The Artful Penetration of Barbara / Nerosubianco (1969), Howl, The / L’hurlo (1970), The Key / La Chiave (1983), Miranda (1985), All Ladies Do It / Così fan tutte (1992), Voyeur, The / L'Uomo che guarda (1994), Frivolous Lola (1998), Cheeky / Trasgredire (2000), and Private / Fallo! (2003).
© 2009 Mark R. Hasan