FilmInt on the Underground: Michael Fredianelli and the Grittiness of Genre
FilmInt on the Underground is a new blog dedicated to emerging filmmakers.
By April L. Smith.
An interest in classic and obscure films led director Michael Fredianelli to filmmaking. While working in an office, Fredianelli set a goal of completing one half hour short per month during the weekends. He admits that his initial efforts to be lackluster but believes this approach is better way to learn the craft than reading or watching movies. Early on, it was difficult getting a cast together so he often was both behind and in front of the camera, jumping back and forth between playing multiple characters and directing. Fredianelli’s early weekend efforts have paid off: he has directed 18 features, in which he often writes, produces and still occasionally acts. The “honesty and gritty, unpredictable realism of the films of the 60s and 70s” is his main inspiration.
This influence is evident in Fredianelli’s film, The Scarlet Worm (2011), a rough, compelling Western that is reminiscent of the popular Euro Westerns of the mid century. Though it has all the toughness and violence of these early Westerns, it contains an element of the spiritual, the refined. It is a study of manners, art, class and soft feminine principles in an environment that is, at best, dusty and dirty and, at worst, violent and brutal. Despite the senseless violence that is on display throughout, there is a deep sensitivity to this film. Visually, there is a similarity to Terence Malick’s Badlands (1973) and The Thin Red Line (1998) in the way that Fredianelli lets his camera linger on a flat western sky set against wind blown prairie grasses. These vignettes – a worn doll beside a mirror, an empty saloon, afternoon sun shining through gently swaying trees – create a melancholy, haunting atmosphere and suggest that this is no ordinary Western. As such, the protagonist, Print (Aaron Stielstra), is no ordinary Western hero/villain: he is an aesthete, and also a rather brutal and creative killer. Stielstra, besides acting in the main role, also scored the film.
The Scarlet Worm is a complex examination of the natural fundamental battle between man and his nature, femininity and masculinity, right and wrong, creation and destruction. It is more about God and judgment then it is about cowboys fighting over territory and cattle (that said, there is plenty of fighting over just those things) as evident in the opening sequence in which Print recounts a Native American’s description of God being infinite like a circle. The film itself feels circular, at times, with book-ended scenes that are almost mirror images, reflections, interspersed throughout with snappy, vibrant dialogue. This dialogue belongs to the time, a type of Western poetry that is a blend of proper language and countrified Old West slang.
His goal with this film was to “make a hard, gritty Revisionist type of Western in the style of Sam Peckinpah or Don Siegel” so there really is no clear good and bad guy in The Scarlet Worm. Instead, there are two complex characters with God complexes that navigate a largely immoral world. The first is the aforementioned Print who has a rather peculiar way of disposing of bodies. When he does bury them in the earth, he refers to his burial ground as a “crotch,” which seems suggestive. The other, brothel owner Heinrich Kley, is played with fervent, yet strangely gentle certainty by veteran Western actor Dan Van Husen. Kley is also a killer, a kind of primitive abortionist, but he rationalizes it as a side effect of his profession and believes his brothel is integral in keeping the violent nature of man under control. Print and Kley are quite similar in that both have high morals and ideals and are deeply religious, both kill because they believe in order, and both seem to be injecting themselves into the domain of the feminine: they interrupt creation, but believe they are creators by creating a better world through killing. Even their names are indicative of a refined versus raw way of creating. On introduction, Heinrich pronounces his last name so it sounds like “Kly.” When Print shakes his hand and repeats the name, he pronounces it “Clay.” This moment creates a juxtaposition of Print and Kley that cannot be ignored; instantly it becomes a battle of the modern against the archaic.
Another veteran Euro Western actor, Montgomery Ford, plays Print’s boss, Mr. Paul. Both Van Husen and Ford lend a real depth and authenticity to The Scarlet Worm. Ford’s slow drawl and, at times, bemused expression and Van Husen’s intense conviction are perfect. On set, Van Husen and Ford shared their experiences making films with Italian genre directors like Duccio Tessari, Enzo Castellari and Lucio Fulci. Through deft camera work and cinematography, Fredianelli tributes the rough Westerns of the 60s and 70s, while also managing to feel thoroughly new. The Scarlet Worm is extremely violent, with plenty of gunfights and much blood spilled, but it is also an entertaining and smart examination of sexuality and violence, male aggression and female passivity, religion and corruption.
Fredianelli’s other work includes I Die Alone, a Korean War film with psychological horror overtones, and Black Cat Whiskey, a Prohibition-era gangster film (both 2013). Despite the budgetary constraints that come with independent filmmaking, Fredianelli enjoys experimenting and is considering making another Western, a post apocalyptic film, and a road movie. His company, Wild Dogs, has two projects in production: Desert Mirage, a “live action/animation hybrid in the vein of Roger Rabbit and Hunter and Hunted, a survival movie with emphasis on practical stunts and action.” Fredianelli’s sense of history, appreciation of the classics and willingness to explore his varied film interests provides him with a unique vision and make him a director to watch.
April L. Smith is a blogger and Editorial Assistant for Film International. For more information on this blog, or to submit a film for consideration, contact aprillynnsmith77