This film used to be a stock item during the era of the cult-film midnight movie, standing side by side with Phantom of the Paradise, Rocky Horror, The Devils, Harold and Maude, The Gang’s All Here and just about any Marx Brothers movie. The ingestion or inhalation of contraband substances was optional, but far from unheard of, which made the pop-art Yellow Submarine-like imagery of Allegro non troppo go down very well with that particular audience.
Generally thought of as an animated film, in reality this is at least one-third live action — and rather Fellini-esque live-action, at that. An animator (Maurizio Nichetti, The Icicle Thief) is taken down from the wall where he’s been chained for five years in order to animate the film for us, while an imprisoned group of elderly-to-extremely-old women form the orchestra for the soundtrack. The presenter of it all (Maurizio Micheli) is under the delusion that matching classical music to animated images has never been done before — despite getting a call from Hollywood claiming that someone named “Prisney” or “Grisney” already did it.
It’s quickly apparent that this film is unlike anything Disney ever imagined. And in fact, Allegro non troppo satirizes the combined pomposity and squeaky-clean quality of Fantasia at every turn. It almost literalizes Rex Harrison’s line about “serious music” in Preston Sturges’ Unfaithfully Yours: “There’s nothing serious about music. It should be enjoyed flat on your back with a bottle of beer in one hand and as many pretty girls around as possible.”
Of course, in many ways, this merely goes back to the reality of “serious” music, which, after all, isn’t always all that serious and scrupulously clean. Bozzetto’s filmic interpretations of music start off with Debussy’s “L’apres midi d’un faune,” presenting a horny little Pan-like creature (which bears a passing resemblance to a caricature of Debussy) who keeps trying to make it with the naked women who inhabit his forest. That may sound pretty racy, but the original Diaghilev-Nijinsky ballet presented Nijinksy as Pan lusting after a woman and getting pretty intimate with a scarf of hers.
Most, but not all, of the film is humorous. For example, the Sibelius’ “Valse Triste” segment, in which a cat prowling a bombed-out house remembers what life used to be like there, is powerfully moving. But it’s all creative and a reminder of a time not that long ago when movies seemed fresher, braver and just generally more exciting than they are now.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
[The Hendersonville Film Society will sponsor a showing of Allegro non troppo on Sunday, June 26 at 2 p.m., in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community, 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville. (From Asheville, take I-26 to U.S. 64 West and turn right at the third light onto Thompson Street. Follow to Lake Point Landing entrance and park in lot at left.)]