Boozie Movies At Danger After Dark! GONE WITH THE POPE Review!
[Back in January regular Twitch reader indiemaker drank a great deal of alcohol, watched Isaac Florentine's Ninja and sent us a wildly entertaining review as a result. He pledges to maintain this tradition throughout Philadelphia's Danger After Dark Festival.]
Ever since I got out of Gone with the Pope's screening this past Monday night at Danger After After Dark, I've been dropping expletives in nearly every fucking sentence I say. It ain't much different from how I normally talk, but I've even developed a bit of an Italian accent. So, in honor of Duke Mitchell's unapologetically offensive swan song, I'm gonna write this review in character to exorcise my newfound vocabulary from casual use.
So, what happens when you give some two bit, lounge signing, deigo with illusions of grandeur 100,000 bucks to make a film? You get Gone With The Pope, a bat shit crazy bit of exploitation filmmaking that could only have been made in 1976.
But what you need to understand before goin' in to this film is that Duke Mitchell doesn't really seem to know he's making an exploitation film. This thing's an epic morality tale of love, loyalty, revenge, and faith.
Those only looking for cheap thrills are gonna leave feeling like they've been conned by a trick with the clap. Sure, there's plenty of gratuitous sex and violence in here, but the tone changes drastically mid-way through and it becomes clear this is a very personal film about one man's journey to make amends with God. But that's also half the appeal of this fucker. It's an authentic time capsule that reminds us of an era when some Joe Schmoe with no real training or expertise in filmmaking could produce a legitimately awful movie but still come away as something of a respected artist. There's none of this self-referential pandering to the audience bullshit of today. Sure, the grindhouse fans are gonna eat this up, but we're really not the intended audience. Gone with the Pope has plenty of humor; crude, mean spirited humor that humiliates minorities and obese women. But the whole of the film ain't meant to be taken as some ironic and offensive riff on the gangster genre. The thing about great cult films is that the artists behind them rarely intended to make them. I'm positive Mitchell thought he was making a movie for the masses, or at least, his Italian brothers.
Don't misunderstand me, I don't mean to be putting the Duke down but those of you expecting a Roger Corman produced version of The Godfather would do better to imagine a Mean Streets directed by Tommy Wiseau.
Here's a bit of a brief history lesson for you twats that ain't in on the know yet. Duke Mitchell was a comedian and lounge singer from California dubbed, "The King of Palm Springs." Despite a few close brushes with celebrity, he never really made it big and it's easy to imagine his vulgar cabaret style routine being a regular standby act at the classy titty bars and second tier Casinos.
In 1976, Mitchell set out to shoot Gone with the Pope as a means to upstage Coppola's masterpiece. Mitchell figured he was better suited to tell the true story of what it meant to be Italian in America. Duke wrote and directed another film, Massacre Mafia Style which did see a theatrical release in 1978 and garnered a small cult following. There's conflicting information whether Pope or Mafia was shot first.
I ain't gonna waste two pages tellin you how Gone with the Pope made it to screens today. It's a pretty amazing story and I suggest you check it out on the website. In short, Bob Murawski, Oscar winning editor of The Hurt Locker - and, more importantly, The Evil Dead and most other Raimi films - tracked down Mitchell's remaining family, haphazardly came to acquiring the original negatives and pain stakingly restored and edited the footage over the last 15 years. This was a labor of love for both Mitchell and Murawski, and it shows.
Gone with the Pope starts as a grungy, violent gangster epic. Duke's character, Bill Boyd is released from prison and immediately brought back in by his Mafioso friends for one last job. He's hired to whack seven guys in Las Vegas and California. He contracts out half the work and goes off to kill 3 men in Cali while also reuniting with his ex lover. It's all pretty straight forward.
Still, Bill isn't sure what to do with his life when he finishes the job, and he's scared he want be able to provide for his woman. Some of his other ex - con buddies fresh out of jail is also falling into booze fueled depression. Bill decides to lift his friends' spirits by borrowing a small yacht, sailing to Italy from California, and getting back in touch with their Italian roots.
Once in Rome, Bill reveals his true plans to his comrades. They're going to kidnap the pope and hold him ransom for one dollar from every Catholic in the world.
Wanna kidnap the pope? Apparently, all you need is a priest custom, a fake mustache, and $50,000 to buy an audience with his holiness. The actual kidnapping of the pope takes up only a small fraction of the screen time.
Bill and the men hit the sea again with the Pope, and the film takes another turn.
Gone with the Pope isn't the sacrilegious fuck you to Catholicism many might be hoping for. Like I said earlier, this is a deeply personal film. This is about one man struggling with his identity as an Italian and wrestling with his doubts in Christ. It's like a Scorsese picture only it ain't got any of the same nuances. Hell, Mitchell doesn't need any of that nuance shit, that's for fucking fruits and dem beatniks.
The other men come to find god and end up going with the pope. Get it? And Bill is left alone. The pope swears not to rat anyone out in exchange for his safe return. Here, Bill makes one of the greatest threats in film history. If the pope decides to fuck anyone over and go back on his word Bill is "gonna murder 300 fucking priests, not just to avenge his friends but also the Jews."
Yeah, that's right. Bill repeatedly berates the pope on the Catholic Church's lack of involvement in World War 2. He lambasts the Church's exclusion of different minorities and calls it the biggest fucking business in the world. There's some heavy, pissed off accusations thrown at Catholicism and it certainly got some applause from the audience.
I was damn well salivating over the prospect of a montage sequence of Bill shooting down 300 priests. But that ain't what this film is about. I won't spoil too much more for ya, but the ending is absolutely wacko. It's exactly the type of wackiness that could only have come out of the 1970's.
A word of warning though, Gone with the Pope includes one of the most disgustingly racist scenes of recent memory. Bill buys an African American hooker for his friends. When they end up too drunk to fuck, Bill spends some not so quality time alone with the trick. The language is horrific; this poor woman is verbally degraded in ways that left the audience gasping. It doesn't help that the lines Duke wrote for the actress are even worse than the ones he wrote for himself. I imagine plenty of people walking out on this. I'm not entirely sure if Mitchell redeems himself with the monologues on slavery and church oppression that come later in the film. Do I think he's a racist? Is the film racist? I'm not sure, kind of.
Again, the film is a product of its time and I don't mean that as some pussyfooted justification for a particularly ugly and inexcusable scene. The film reminds me of the type of ignorant, angry white man in his middle ages who casually tosses around the n word after a few beers only to follow it up with talk about how "the blacks and Indians got a raw deal." We all know this guy, he's our co-worker, our friend, our father. We're embarrassed of him, but we try to make excuses for him too. There's a difference between ignorance and stupidity. There are some big ideas in this and like the salt of the earth men this film reminds me of, it's not entirely stupid, it's just uneducated and a disappointing result of its time and surroundings. The dialogue can be appallingly gross, but it's also authentic. Get a bunch of real wise guys off the street together and get them talking in a bar, this is what they're gonna fuckin sound like.
Also, I hope Grindhouse Releasing includes the soundtrack when they eventually put this out on DVD. The film features a mix of ice cool lounge from Duke Mitchell and the awesome track, Jackknife from son, Jeff Mitchell, which you can hear in the trailer.
I expect Gone with the Pope to get a lot of love from fellow Twitch Readers and expect more reviews in the future as the print continues to travel stateside. Check the website out and keep your eyes peeled to see if it comes to your town, this is an experience best appreciated with a large crowd.
Review by indiemaker and his magical flask.
Around the Internet: