Color, 1978, 106 mins. 17 secs.
Directed by Giuliano Montaldo
Starring Flavio Bucci, Brizio Montinaro, Aurore Clément, Tony Kendall, Mattia Sbragia, Ettore Mani, Maria Pia Attanasio, Elisabeth Virgili
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
A mind-bending treat for cinephiles, the made-for-TV movie Circuito chuiso (or Closed Circuit) is a prime example of a cult item still awaiting discovery. That situation is largely due to the fact that this RAI production has been rarely seen since its initial airing outside of dismal bootleg VHS copies you had to work very hard to hunt down, not to mention the fact that this seems like something tailor made to be seen projected on a large screen with an audience. Here the agitation in the air throughout Italy due to ongoing crime and civil unrest throughout the '70s spills over into the experience of going to a movie matinee, with a cast of nameless audience members thrown into a Buñuelian puzzle that challenges the idea of genre itself.
At an afternoon showing of a spaghetti western starring Giuliano Gemma, the audience is comprised of a variety of attendees including an eccentric sociologist (Suspiria's Bucci), a secretive married woman (Clément), and a pair of seeming criminals including Eurocult favorite Tony Kendall. During the a pivotal showdown seen in the western, a gunshot kills one of the audience members -- and when the police arrive led by an inspector (Montinaro), everyone is required to stay inside the building for a grueling period of time to undergo interrogations. When the evidence collecting doesn't seem to be leading to a specific answer, the idea comes up to recreate the situation again to see how it all could have happened...
To say more would spoil the fun, but there's a good reason people have had difficulty decided where to even categorize this one. Calling it a giallo seems fair enough since it is most definitely a murder mystery, but a number of surprising twists veer it into different territory that eventually leads to an unforgettable, intense climax. Director Giuliano Montaldo could be playful, as seen in films like the heist caper Grand Slam, or deadly serious and confrontational with dramas like Sacco and Vanzetti. Here he manages to pull off both, peppering the film with a delightful array of Italian character actors and promotional artwork for homegrown and U.S. horror films ranging from Squirm to The Perfume of the Lady in Black; then he flips the experience back on us with a dark reflection on what it actually means to consume art. It's all great fun while still thought provoking enough to fuel multiple media studies classes.
In a surprise move, Severin Films brought this film to standalone Blu-ray in 2023 as a full-on special edition with a lovely restoration that's a night and day difference from the dupes out there. The DTS-HD MA Italian 2.0 mono track sounds excellent and features optional English subtitles, and thankfully this was one of the lucky Italian TV productions of the '70s that still survives on film. An audio commentary with this writer and Howard S. Berger is included, so no evaluation of that one. Kier-La Janisse, who's been behind some of the most remarkable home video releases in recent years, provides an enthusiastic video intro (11m2s) about the arduous process of acquiring and releasing this film as well as her special affinity for her two favorite bit players. (You'll have to watch to find out which ones they are!) She doesn't give away anything that might affect your viewing, so definitely watch this first if possible. In "Murder at the Matinee" (21m9s), Montaldo (who sadly passed away just before this disc's release) chats about his big prior TV project at RAI, Marco Polo, the inspiration for this film via a Ray Bradbury story, scouting for the right movie theater location, and the process of shooting almost the entire thing inside there with a large cast who worked for very little money. In "Il sociologo: Flavio Bucci: A Tribute" (13m5s), Kat Ellinger presents an informative video essay about the busy actor whose private excesses ran alongside a prolific body of work for many notable directors and alongside some of the era's biggest stars. A newly-created trailer is also included.
Reviewed on November 23, 2023