26 November 2003 | dwingrove
Drugged Out On Its Visual Delirium!
Every so often, a film comes along that turns visual excess into an art form. Think of Alla Nazimova's flamboyant Art Nouveau film of Salome in 1922, or Vincente Minnelli's kitsch musical fantasy Yolanda and the Thief in 1946. Spare a thought for Boom! and Secret Ceremony, two 1968 Joseph Losey films with Liz Taylor, or the camp disco extravaganza that was Flash Gordon - the 1980 Mike Hodges remake. It is pointless to complain that such films are over the top. In this very special realm of cinema, there is no 'top' to be had.
Into this small but select group now strides Harap Alb, a rare live action fairy tale by Romania's celebrated animator Ion Popescu Gopo. Adapted from a folk legend, it tells the story of a bad-tempered nobleman and his chronically useless younger son - who dreams of being the mythical hero Harap Alb. This boy is the type for whom the phrase 'pretty but dumb' might have been invented. Incarnated by 60s Romanian heart-throb Florin Piersic, he's a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, full-muscled, empty-headed cross between the 1980 Flash Gordon and Stephen Carrington, the gay son on Dynasty.
Never one to let a lack of brain cells stand in his way, our hero sets off on a knightly quest - only to fall under the spell of another man! Not just any man, but a wicked and sneeringly handsome black-haired demon played by Cristea Avram. (Fans of Eurotrash may recognise him from later roles in a slew of Italian sex and horror films.) Hero and villain spend most of the film exchanging smouldering glances, parading about in provocative states of undress or preening away in silk-and-spangle outfits that Maria Montez would die to wear! Honestly, Harap Alb may rival Ivan the Terrible as the most homoerotic film ever shot under a Stalinist dictatorship.
Their adventures take this dynamic duo to any number of picturesque locales. A Woodstock-era Medieval court, where comely maidens gyrate in fluorescent mauve and turquoise wigs and spangly water nymphs emerge out of the wall. An underground S&M torture cell guarded by hooded musclemen in studded black-leather loincloths. Our hero acquires one sidekick who can drink rivers dry at a single gulp, and another who can freeze fire with his breath. It all seems to end wholesomely enough - our hero in a clinch with a water nymph - but I still have my suspicions about him and that dark-haired demon. Or is that just me?