Color, 1967, 97m.
Directed by Paolo Cavara
Starring Philippe Leroy, Delia Boccardo, Gabriele Tinti, Giorgio Gargiullo, Luciana Angiolillo, Lars Bloch
Scorpion (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
No other personal statement in the history of film can really be compared to this Italian drama from Paolo Cavara, a former colleague of mondo filmmakers Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi and a co-director with them on the legendary Mondo Cane. Clearly less than thrilled with the tactics taken to get sensational "real" footage in front of the cameras, Cavara went off on his own to direct a much lighter, cheekier offering to the genre with Malamondo before tackling this acidic look at the perils of capturing shocking footage around the globe at any cost.
During a mondo documentary shoot in the desert, director Paolo (The Frightened Woman's Leroy) creates unease in his crew (including horror and sleaze vet Gabriele Tinti as his cameraman) by dangerously chasing a gazelle across the sand (trying to get it to collapse from a heart attack in the process), then stranding them in the middle of nowhere with insufficient food and water. When salvation finally arrives, everyone realizes the experience may have been a set up to amp up the drama for his film in order to see how far they'd be willing to go to survive. That's just the beginning though as Paolo starts a romantic relationship with his pretty English assistant, Barbara (Boccardo), and hauls everyone off to Saigon to capture some of the forbidden cultural practices of the East. In the process he manipulates his surroundings to make the people look as desperate and ignorant as possible, such as setting up a "sultan" to look like a pauper forced to eat butterflies. Things take an even darker turn when he starts to get wind of impending executions and terrorist attacks, which not only puts the crew in danger but sends Paolo into a moral spiral from which he may not recover.
The kind of film you're bound to appreciate far more with some context, The Wild Eye is an essential entry in the history of mondo cinema and its descendants, most notably Cannibal Holocaust and fictionalized modern riffs like Man Bites Dog. Leroy does a fine job as Paolo and even manages to make him seem a bit less reprehensible than he probably seemed on the written page, while Cavara does a fine job of slowly amping up the stakes of the story on the way to the dark, cataclysmic ending. There may be too much languorous travelogue footage for some tastes, but it's all nicely shot in scope and integrated well enough into the main story. Another strong asset is the glittering lounge score by Gianni Marchetti, which has now become far more famous than the film itself and has steadily remained in print from the vinyl era to the present day. As for Cavara, he turned his back on the mondo scene entirely after this, moving on to a pair of respectable gialli (Black Belly of the Tarantula and Plot of Fear), a very surreal comedy (Virility), and a pretty good western (Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears).
The Wild Eye was shot with most of its actors speaking English and later looped by accomplished dubbing artists for most territories, including an American theatrical release from AIP (who marketed it as a sexy European import, which only applies to about 5% of the running time). After that it vanished from the United States entirely for several decades, though cropped VHS releases in Europe and Asia popped up to provide the source for some gray market copies floating around for those intent enough to track it down. The Scorpion Releasing edition available through general release on DVD and exclusively through Screen Archives on Blu-ray offers a fine way to make the film's acquaintance with a pretty solid new HD transfer finally capturing the entire width of the original scope photography. It's not a traditionally pretty film in some scenes thanks to the decision to use natural light and sometimes go into very dark locations, but the gritty, sometimes abrasive texture of the film looks about right. Audio options in DTS-HD mono on the Blu-ray include the preferable English track and the Italian version with optional English subtitles (pulled from the English dialogue, not translated from the Italian).Extras include a rough lo-res theatrical trailer (which has only popped up in decent condition to date on Ban 1's long-discontinued, pre-Synapse 42nd Street Forever DVD) and a new 13-minute video interview with actor Lars Bloch, who recalls playing a member of the film crew and even chipping in a bit behind the scenes (as well as working with directors like Tinto Brass). A European release is also slated in the future from Camera Obscura, though specs and extras have yet to be confirmed.