The Italian film industry is known for its knock-offs -- cheap, tawdry, ramshackle productions that would borrow elements from popular films to create second-rate copies for a quick buck. Despite the methods, several of these Italian genres produced some beloved films -- most notably the so-called "spaghetti Westerns" -- while others remained in obscurity. With his documentary Eurocrime: The Italian Cop and Gangster Films That Ruled the '70s, filmmaker Mike Malloy aims to rescue this overlooked Italian genre from obscurity and bring its underappreciated gems to the attention of modern cinephiles.
The doc's two hours of interviews and clips do a pretty good job of highlighting the genre's highlights and shortcomings, from the film's surprising social relevance to the Italy of the day, to the dangerous stunts and hilarious dubbing. In short, the film covers it all -- the good, the bad, and the ugly. Before Eurocrime's special screening at the Oriental Theater on Thursday, August 22, we caught up with Malloy to find out how the film was made, why the Eurocrime genre is so neglected and more.
Westword: As far as Italian cinema goes, this Eurocrime genre seems weirdly unknown, compared to, say, the spaghetti Westerns or their horror work. How did you come to be so involved with it?
Mike Malloy: People come to Eurocrime two ways. One, like I did, you follow Lee Van Cleef and Charles Bronson and Telly Savalas and Jack Palance. You follow American tough guys that you like, and you follow them into the Eurocrime genre, sometimes without even knowing it was a genre, just thinking, "Oh, I'm watching this Italian Telly Savalas movie." Then the other way is you like Umberto Lenzi and all these Italian horror directors, Deodato and guys like that, and you figure, "Oh, what were they doing before their zombie films? Oh, they were doing these cop films."
So you've been a fan of this genre for a long time?
Yeah, I'm 37 now and as a teen I became obsessed with spaghetti Westerns and I kind of grew out of [those] by the time I was in my early twenties. I've devoted my life to tough-guy cinema, that's what I'm known for in my film journalism and the films that I've produced. I'm the co-writer on this new Django film starring the original Django, Franco Nero. I'm flying out to Denver in part to act in Hot Lead, Hard Fury, because this '70s cop stuff is my bread and butter.
How long have you been working on this documentary?
Well, like you I was a film journalist and around 2007 -- I was a print film journalist -- and I saw the handwriting on the wall. I was the film critic for the big paper in Atlanta and they just got months behind in paying me so I just decided to be proactive and do a cinema doc. I started it in 2007, just in time for the economic collapse, so I never really got any real financing. I just struggled along and did it all myself -- taught myself to edit and whatnot. I got a demo to the VP of acquisitions at Showtime at the time and he said, "Hey, Mike, if you can get this made we might be interested." That was the vote of confidence necessary to move forward with the project, it being the first time doing anything like that.
I never made it to Italy. We had a guy in Rome who shot some of the interviews for me. Basically, he does DVD supplements and he would e-mail me and be like, "Hey, I'm going to shoot an interview with so-and-so, do you have a few questions?" That worked out very, very well. A lot of people have complained, "Why is there no Umberto Lenzi?" They throw out some of these names and ask, "Why didn't you get these?" The dirty little secret is some of these guys charge for interviews and we weren't in a position. We paid for some interviews, but we weren't in a position to pay for some of the Italian interviews which come with a pretty high asking price.
It looks like it's been well received on the festival circuit and your Variety review was very positive, if a little spoiler-laden.
What pleased me about that Variety review is the guy recapped so much of the information in the doc, basically in the order that it's in the doc, so the guy obviously wasn't just giving it a casual glance.
The big thing for me isn't that it was made for next to no money. The big thing to me is the fact that I made a two-hour doc and it still did well on the festival circuit. Everybody now, because of DLSRs, are making cinema docs. It's very easy to do, to find some cult cinema topic and make a doc. You do a ninety-minute piece of fluff, you throw in a couple of funny stories, everybody laughs but then they go home and immediately forget it. I figure I've got you in the chair, why not expand it out to two hours and by the time you finish watching it, you're basically an instant expert. I really wanted to densely pack it with information, but the flip side of that is it has to be entertaining and sustain those two hours. I spent a year editing so that it would densely pack in information and be entertaining.
The genre seems huge -- bigger even than Italian horror -- so it seems like two hours isn't even enough to really cover it all.
It was a much more distinct genre [than Italian horror], you know? The difference -- hopefully you got this from the doc -- between any other Italian genre or fad was the fact that it started off as another rip-off genre. You had Dirty Harry, The Godfather and stuff were the inspirations. It started as just another rip-off genre but then as they were making it, they were like, "You know, there's all this violence around." Violent red terrorism, violent organized crime -- it just couldn't help itself, what started as escapism turned into some really relevant social commentary, even though the people may have thought they were just seeing shoot-em-ups, they really weren't. I don't even know if the directors intended these to be as relevant as they were. The real-life crime seeped into the production of the movies. It was very blurred, the lines.
Anything special people should know about the screening?
Yeah, the Hot Lead, Hard Fury guys will be out and because I'm not checking any luggage, everything I'm bringing is wardrobe-related so I'll probably be looking pretty '70s for the screening. I'll give an intro and do a Q&A if anybody is interested. I think they're going to show an old Hot Lead, Hard Fury trailer.
Anything else you'd like to say before we wrap up?
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I'd really like to think I did my due diligence in setting up the subject matter. You don't have to know anything about Italian cinema or this Italian genre in particular to get something out of this documentary. As long as you love cinema and as long as you love history, there's a very entertaining story here. You can walk in knowing nothing and still enjoy the hell out of this. It really is probably the most neglected Italian genre.