Allegro Non Troppo (1977)

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 in Welcome to Our World | 0 comments

Allegro1

Disclaimer: Images depicting eroticism, evolution, and socio-political satire.

Like many of us, Bruno Bozzetto grew up with images concocted by Disney. He learned ecology from Bambi, which fueled a lifelong fascination with nature, and he learned about classical music from Fantasia, which fueled this fascinating feature-length homage and parody that fuses music, animation, claymation, and live action.

While Fantasia used Stowkowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, director and co-writer Bozzetto turned the idea on its head by calling relatives and even going door-to-door to assemble an orchestra of elderly women. At various stages in the film, the women pass out, discuss nude scenes, and literally fall apart. An emcee mediates the live-action craziness, while promoting it like a publicist, as an animator rapidly draws pictures during the musical numbers. We see the animation as he creates, as do the live audience and orchestra members, who in turn cry, laugh, or applaud. In music, the title translates as, “Play fast, but not overly so,” while in the context of the film it means, “Not so fast!”

The movie is comprised of six animated allegro2sequences to music, and a finalé. The first, to Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, has an elderly creature existing in an ideal forest of the young and beautiful. This creature, however, is balding, flabby, and fills with sorrow as he unsuccessfully pursues young women. The second, to Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 7, represents Western expansionism as cave dwellers advance to straw huts, then buildings, then skyscrapers, to a humorous end. The third, to Ravel’s Bolero, is an evolutionary story as the remnants of a Coke bottle land on a desolate moon-like planet. Starting with a blob, creatures evolve and, in true Darwin fashion, try to eat each other. Soon birds, dinosaurs, monkeys, and humans arrive on the scene. The fourth, to Sibelius’ Valse Triste, follows a kitten in the post-apocalyptic rubble of its former home. We visualize its memory of how the home used to be, with jaunty family members and beautiful rooms. The fifth, to a Vivaldi concerto, shows a bee preparing a picnic in a flowerbed. Suddenly a romantic couple, ignoring the natural beauty around them, tramples and destroys it. The bee, however, gets the last laugh. The sixth, to Stravinsky’s Firebird, begins with a theistic symbol molding life forms out of clay. The creation eventually turns to cartoons with Adam and Eve. Soon the snake and apple tree appear, but the story takes a slightly different turn to comment on consumerism. The finale, perhaps the funniest of all, turns popular endings upside down (a race, a kiss, a rescued damsel) until finally settling on a destructive Strangelove ending and one more poke at Disney.

Like the infamous Robert Crumb, Bozzetto allegro3exposes his subconscious through his drawings. It’s often crude and blunt, sometimes trippy or psychedelic, but always with a sly sense of humor and social commentary. His clear pessimistic attitude comes through wonderfully via satire. The animation styles change depending on the subject. In Bolero, the increased shadow and rain/fire/tornadoes seem filtered through a prism; the sad fourth installment reminded me of Ralph Steadman, Brian Froud, and David Firth; other instances recall Yellow Submarine, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and Rocky and Bullwinkle. It’s mostly silent, with quirky sound effects, and he occasionally depicts nudity; but it won’t likely phase kids who have unclothed Barbie. The black and white live-action segments separating the animated segments are incomprehensible slapstick and run far too long. The elderly women are treated like cattle, as led by the oafish and controlling conductor, while the animator tries hard to be a Chaplin-type character.

Bozzetto is the driving force behind this affair, and eventually fathered a successful branch of independent animation in Italy. After high school, Bozzetto started animating commercials to fuel his own projects – like independent filmmaker John Sayles, who writes sellout screenplays to make his own films. He mostly created animated shorts, including the popular Mr. Rossi series (he makes a brief appearance in Allegro). The DVD of the film includes some of Bozzetto’s best shorts, including the humorously educational Baby Story, Oscar-nominated war commentary Cavalette (Grasshoppers), and anti-conformist A Life in a Tin. Bozzetto made two other features before this one: a parody of spaghetti Westerns, West and Soda (1965), and a parody of superheroes, The SuperVips (1968). After Allegro failed to be a commercial success (Fantasia wasn’t either), Bozzetto retired for a while and never returned to features.

As the emcee says at the beginning, “Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see an unforgettable show – a film destined to become immortal.” He boasts about the union of animation and music – a cinematic first. Though some guy named “Prisney or Grisney” from Hollywood claims to have done it first, his statement of Bozzetto’s ambitious feature-length film is still accurate.

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