Diabolik: a Cultural Revolution Comic on Film

I already blogged a bit about using OBS to produce and stream a class visit Paul Bond and I did for Antonio Vantaggiato‘s Italian Cinema course last week. I wanted to use this post to talk briefly about the clips I chose from Danger: Diabolik and why, as well as how I used my PeerTube instance bava.tv to upload and share them post facto. In fact, I used my YouTube clone to create a playlist of clips I discussed in order to make re-using and discovering them simple, not to mention the ability to embed them here and strategically avoid any takedowns by hosting them on my own space.

Before class Antonio usually starts off with music from the film to set the mood and start the chat, a brilliant approach. So we played some songs from the brilliant Ennio Morricone film score for Danger: Diabolik, and Paul and I were heading bopping our way into the course.

After that Paul and I took a kind of “share a clip and chat about why we think it is important” approach to our reading of the film. A big part of the discussion was focused around demonstrating how Mario Bava’s visual and special effects acumen allowed him to great a truly unique film-rendering of the comic book genre, that was by extension an exploration of the contemporaneous cultural revolution happening in the late 1960s. And to make this point I started with a 40 second excerpt from the 20 minute documentary Diabolik: From Fumetti to Film wherein comic artist Stephen R. Bissette discusses the cultural context of the European super villains as heroic figures, a kind of anti-hero.

This set the stage to discuss specific scenes for their formal elements, such as the comic imagery of the opening shot that has a band of motorcycle police dressed in black leather (reminiscent of European fascism) against the backdrop of the national bank with the imposing “Hall of Justice”-like edifice:

From there Paul talks about the power of Bava’s re-rendering the pan shot to take on the formal qualities of a wide panel in a comic that slows down both the action and time. Paul’s deep knowledge of comic books made this introductory doubly fun because he is a wealth of insight into the numerous levels Bava operates on:

From there we both shared comments on the music, and the way Morricone/Bava use distortion to introduce the “hero” rather than some anthemic pronouncement. It’s almost like Neil Young was taking a page from Ennio Morricone’s score when doing the Soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995).

And then we both talked about the magic of Mario Bava’s special effects, and the way his visual mastery translates quite well to the comic genre. In this movie it’s literally all smoke and mirrors, and the quality of Bava’s effects still hold up, and he did the film on about 20% of the $3 million dollar budget he had: fast, cheap, and out of control!

Paul also talked about masks and the expressiveness of the eyes, not to mention super hero’s masks usually hide the eyes but let you see the face, whereas Diabolik is the opposite:

And from there we talked about the amazing set design and fashion that this film highlights, really identifying the film working on numerous levels across various domains: architecture/design, fashion, and music, and the shot of Diabolik and Eva entering the underground lair and highlighting how impressive the work Bava creates is on a shoe-strong budget was a regular refrain:

The question of the influence of the film between the Bond franchise of the early 60s and the Batman Movie from 1966 came up for discussion, and the press conference scene wherein Diabolik uses the well-labeled “Exhilaration Gas”  not only suggests a link to the contemporaneous camp of the Batman series, but also departs from that series by challenging the law and order dictates of the commissioner, something Batman would never do:

And from there we started thinking through the visual effects alongside Bava’s visualization and interpretation of the hippie/youth movement of the 1960s, stereotyped by drugs, flower children, and an impressive colorized light show providing a psychedelic romp through a fantastical Italian night club.

One of the most beautiful sequences of the film featuring the Identikit is a direct homage to the Pop Art movement, and quotes figures like Barbarella and European fashion models such as Twiggy. It really associates the film with a broader cultural revolution in aesthetic values and tastes, in many ways framing the comic at the forefront of high art—and the ways in which the characters are framed by the empty book shelves in these scenes makes the “bookcase” better than anything else in that regard. Bava is recognizing the impact of the revolution at the heart of the art world with figures like Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

And the next clips highlights the shift in the means of this revolution, returning to the broader theme of the anti-hero as terrorist, which is hard to argue when we learn Diabolik has blown up the financial administration buildings of the Italian government as punishment for their putting a million dollar bounty on his head. It’s hard not to see more contemporary links to 9/11 for most Americans, but I also wonder if the political unrest and violent terrorism of the 1970s in Italy might be a more direct link to the other side of the anti-hero fantasy.

There was another clip wherein Paul discussed the formal elements of comics and the sense of panels and framing when we learn Diabolik has comes back from the dead:

There was another piece before we started the film wherein Paul went through a series of screenshots highlights the various comic book elements of shots, and it was a machine gun presentation that really brought the point home.

And after that we took questions, of which there were quite a few, and then played the entire film through Zoom in HD thanks to OBS. A pretty seamless ordeal:

One of the things this got me thinking about was not only the value of something like PeerTube to share the stream post facto, but also to share all the individual clips that were discussed during the stream for folks to re-watch, study, etc. One of the questions it inevitably leads me to is how are schools managing all the various videos and video clips they both create, share, and contextualize for their community, and how are schools framing this experience? I mean an open source application like PeerTube goes a long way towards approximating the YouTube elements without all the stringent algorithmic pre-emptive takedowns, which would be anathema to the idea of fair use for educational purposes, no? And beyond copyright, where and how are all the recorded videos worth sharing presented for the broader campus community?

If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that video streaming and their subsequent value as course/institutional resources has arrived, and I am wondering how folks are managing these resources so that they can be  more seamlessly shared not only within an institution, but ideally beyond.

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2 Responses to Diabolik: a Cultural Revolution Comic on Film

  1. Eric Likness says:

    That archive reminds me of the Jstor/ARTstor services. Where insititutions share their stuff. There needs to be a MOOVstor for videos too.

    • Reverend says:

      I have to get a look at what Jstor./ARTstor are doing now, and I know Kaltura deals with some of these needs, but the default resting place, I believe, is still the LMS, which is such a shame given the broader potential for creating a network of awesome content for the broader community to engage around.

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