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  Tales of Ordinary Madness Here Come The Pink Elephants
Year: 1981
Director: Marco Ferreri
Stars: Ben Gazzara, Ornella Muti, Susan Tyrrell, Tanya Lopert, Roy Brocksmith, Katya Berger, Hope Cameron, Judith Drake, Patrick Hughes, Wendy Welles, Stratton Leopold
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charles Serking (Ben Gazzara) is an alcoholic poet who tonight is giving a recital of his work with a group of other artists to a small audience. Once he's finished his meditation on style, he goes to sit down but can't stomach listening to a series of folk songs so wanders off stage. As he staggers through the halls of the theatre, he finds one room containing a young girl who claims to be a twelve-year-old runaway, but Serking thinks she's older than that, although this doesn't stop him sitting her on his lap and singing her a lullaby. However, he's the one who goes to sleep and when he wakes the girl is gone, but not before she went through his pockets. It is now morning and Serking returns to his apartment for another day of drinking, writing and, he hopes, womanising...

The work of Charles Bukowski, for that is who Gazzara is essentially playing here, has exerted a fascination over many filmmakers, but Marco Ferreri got in there first with this, based on Bukowski's autobiographical short stories. It was adapted by Ferreri, Sergio Amidei and Anthony Foutz, and doesn't have much of a plot to speak of as it's more of a wallow in the existence of lowlifes, but the director seems determined to shock - and Ferreri was keen on shock tactics - with the result that Tales of Ordinary Madness is, like a lot of deliberately controversial works, more than a little ridiculous. Unfortunately it's not especially funny with it, so laughs are thin on the ground.

The opening sets the tone for sleaze, and it continues with Serking following a young woman called Vera (a typically nutty Susan Tyrrell) that he notices on the streets and is immediately attracted to, saying things in voiceover like "Her ass was like a wild animal's!" (an elephant's? A badger's? A ladybird's?). After a bit of detective work he manages to track Vera down to her home where she encourages him to have sex with her and he's only too happy to oblige, but notably unhappy when she calls the cops, claiming to have been raped. She drops the charges the next day, but we can see from this the type of women that Serking habitually gets involved with.

And none are more damaged than Cass (Ornella Muti), an improbably glamorous prostitute who Serking falls in a kind of love with. Cass has a tendency towards self-mutilation, and Serking isn't really a match for her low self esteem; although he tries to cheer her up in his own way, when she, for example, sticks a large safety pin through her face you can tell she's in a bad way and may not be long for this world. In spite of this, they have a relationship of sorts, mostly as drinking buddies and sex partners as alcohol and sex seem to be a great way of taking away the pain of their lives, if only for a short while.

Gazzara is a strange choice for a Bukowski-style role, as he seems entirely too composed and his greying beard is no substitute for looking permanently sozzled. He seems amused as he lounges around the scenery and locations, and in parts about to burst into song ("That's why the lay-deh...!"), more of a romantic ideal of drunkenness in a Frank Sinatra "One For My Baby and One More For the Road" kind of way. We see him throwing up at one point, and stumbling about a bit, but his hazy demeanour looks more like a cool lifestyle choice so he can slum it among the down and outs and deadbeats. Meanwhile, the pretension, largely staged between the voiceover and the scandalousness, comes across as daft (Serking attempting to insert his head into an overweight woman at one point) and the ending strives for a lyricism that the preceding ramble hasn't earned. Music by Philippe Sarde.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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