Thursday, April 28, 2011

My 10 Favourite Things About Don't Touch the White Woman

**spoilers ahead, for those who worry about such things**

1) Obviously when talking about Marco Ferreri's French/Italian hybrid Don't Touch the White Woman, something must be said about the that title.  Played as a recurring gag (or jag) throughout the film, General Custer's Indian scout Mitch is repeatedly told this (or scolded about this) by the white men around him.  When I told my friend Max that this was the movie we were going to watch on a certain night, he instinctively assumed that I was acting the fool, and making such a title up.  But lo and behold, it is indeed Don't Touch the White Woman - or Touche pas a la femme blanche in its native French (and I use the term native in several different manners of ironic twist).

2) Ferreri's absurdist take on the American Western.  Placing characters such as General George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody and Chief Sitting Bull smack dab in the then-current 1974 Paris - with Richard Nixon as the beloved president - and setting the climactic Battle of Little Big Horn in the recently demolished remains of the old Paris marketplace.  Mixing and matching time periods, Ferreri's film is a comic absurdist delight.

3) Marcello Mastroianni as General Custer, extremely vain and quite pompous (this may actually be a rather accurate portrayal) and kicking up his boots in a ridiculously comic salutation of sorts, is at his batshitcrazy best here.  His long dangling locks, desire to change uniforms for each battle and constant militaristic attitude - not to mention his arrogant style of wooing - is great comic fun.

4) The (far from subtle) allusions to both Vietnam and Algeria (Nixon is president here, spying down at everyone from his overly prevalent framed pictures) and an obvious (and quite legitimate if you ask this liberal critic) Leftist attitude toward the military, as well as a revisionist outlook on American/Indian affairs of the time (the Custer time that is).  The Algerians are even thought of as an Indian tribe, and thus are treated in the same cold, hateful manner by the white people in the film.

5) The Altman connection.  Or I should say, the Altman feel.  Predating Altman's own Buffalo Bill movie by two years, Ferreri's movie plays out in a very Altmanesque manner, with characters speaking over top of each other and musicians following around as balladeers and an overall constant sense of mayhem.

6) Ugo Tognazzi, long before he became the prancing star of La cage aux folles (a role played by an equally prancing Robin Williams in the remake), plays the aforementioned Mitch, the man to whom the warning of the title is told to.  Of course he is not really an American Indian (and doesn't even look like one, given a tanning session before filming began perhaps) but full-blooded, and full-bodied Italian.  His leading of a sweat shop manned by white women (with the ever-watching eyes of big brother Nixon peering down from the wall) and his defilement of one of them is one of the many highlights of this crazy ass movie.

7) The use of what appear to be real period hippies as the Indians of this so-called Little Big Horn.  I mean really, who needs the noble savage when you've got a city full of hippies who will walk around in the background for, well for pretty much anything you are wiling to give them.  We even get one who looks an awfully like that self-declared ant-hippie, Jim Morrison.  Perhaps he didn't die in that bathtub after all.  I mean he did live in Paris when he "died".

8) Michel Piccoli may very well be the most batshitcrazy Buffalo Bill in cinematic history.  Played by everyone from Roy Rogers to Joel McCrea to Clayton Moore to Chuck Heston to Paul Newman to Stephen Fucking Baldwin (even Buffalo Bill himself - as himself! - appeared in several early silent films) but I can't think of anyone who made the man look like a stark raving lunatic more than M. Piccoli.  From his white eyeliner to his big-boobied back-up dancer to his bizarro (almost) one man show to his eventual maniacal cowardice and grandiose hissy-fit, Piccoli is the premier batshitcrazy Buffalo Bill.

9) I cannot confirm this was on purpose, and it may very well be a "just me" kinda thing, but the talking heads who we first see at the beginning of the film, and who recur throughout as nosy, do-nothing politicos, remind this critic of a certain band of outsiders (if you will pardon the pun) known collectively as the Nouvelle Vague.  The two main ones even resemble the new wave's leaders (for lack of a more apt word) Godard and Truffaut.  Again, it is probably all in my imagination, but isn't imagination what cinema is all about?

10) Catherine Deneuve as a redhead!!  I am sure I need not say more, but I will anyway.  Looking spectacular as a blonde is Mlle. Deneuve's normal style, but here she goes fiery red for her role as Custer's love interest, Marie-Hélène de Boismonfrais.  Perhaps it is in keeping with the batshitcrazy aspect of the film itself - after all (and this will get some angry comments I am sure, but I sincerely mean it in the most complimentary fashion possible) most redheads I have known have been quite batshitcrazy themselves.  Perhaps it is just to make the already drop dead Deneuve look all that hotter.  One of the final moments of the film - after the slaughter at this makeshift Little Big Horn - shows a now dead Deneauve covered partly in an American flag.  Except for the whole dead part (unless you are into that) this is a pretty spectacular image on the screen (which unfortunately cannot truly be captured by the corresponding image below).


Samuel Wilson said...

You've gotta also love Serge Reggiani running around in a loincloth as "The madman" preaching the necessity of collective action. That's sublimely shameless. There really is a lot to love about this crazy movie.

Kevyn Knox said...

Yes, he is kookily great. Perhaps that can be number eleven.