Film in the Tubes: The Italian Spiderman Movie

Pundits and scholars made bold predictions in the early ’90’s concerning the new World Wide Web’s ability to disseminate information to the masses, and while they all underestimated what the internet would become, there rose a clamor over the information itself. Good versus bad. Culture versus trash. News versus punditry. We all know which side is winning the battle for hearts and minds. This vast repository we have created for information also has an appetite of its own, craving volume to eternally build the noise to some crescendo that, at this point, remains in the far distance. Along with the opposing sides of quality and worth, there exists the obscure — information that would have been lost to time and degrading videotapes were it not for digitization. Look in any video section on any random humor website, and they are there, somewhere: excerpts from foreign, low-budget schlock cinema that has little regard for cinematic excellence or American trademark law. These inept productions laughably maul such cherished personas of pop Americana as Superman, or blatantly insert footage from Star Wars to beef up otherwise weak productions. Never meant to have much life, these turkeys were turned out for quick cash, and were it not for the great information void of the internet, would have remained in obscurity, instead of rising to the slightly more respectable level of kitsch.

Italian Spiderman is a very clever spoof of these films, and ’60’s Italian b-cinema in general. Produced by Alrugo Entertainment, the filmmakers manage to blur the line between fiction and reality, not in the film, but in having created a backstory for the origins of the film, and of Alrugo itself. In the fictional world of Alrugo, The Italian Spiderman Movie is a 40-year old relic recovered from the bottom of the sea and lovingly restored by the grandsons of Alrugo’s founder, Alfonso Alrugo. Why have reality when such fiction beckons?

As for the film itself, Italian Spiderman is visually and aurally engaging, with a script that works well inside the film’s own sense of comedic timing. What began as a spoof trailer that was posted on YouTube has grown so far into ten episodes, between two and five minutes apiece. Each of these small vignettes works on its own, and while a semi-coherent plot does exist when all the episodes are strung together, the progress of said plot is hardly the point. Instead, part of the film’s strength comes from its lovingly derivative atmosphere, drawing from the foreign rip-offs mentioned above, to James Bond (heavily), to just about every hip and/or psychedelic Italian film from 1968. Intentional flashes of bad editing and the unique Italian art of askew overdubs on dialogue are recreated with enough authenticity that many viewers have been fooled into believing they are in fact watching a 1960’s Italian version of Spiderman.

The production leeches the bygone era of the ’60’s through its pores, but unlike many big Hollywood productions, refuses to descend into camp. After all, Italian Spiderman is not just a spoof or an homage to the era — it is supposed to have been made during that era. Stylistically, it is as convincing as the faulty production miscues mentioned above. The color has been processed to look like cheap film stock of the day, and the sets are ambiguous enough to be plausible in any low-budget b-movie from back then. In fact, the sets call to mind not just b-movies, but real dogs that struggled just to get made, filmed partly in a friend’s or relative’s apartment. Italian Spiderman imitates what was available to such hopeless filmmakers as Ray Dennis Steckler or...well, take your pick. But imitation may not be the right word. Alrugo itself has little funding to produce its films, so while it imitates, it works within its own restrictions.

The Italian Spiderman Movie also has an engaging score. Heavy on the essentials of good ’60’s rock (drums, bass, and guitar), the music moves effortlessly from acid-fuelled haze, to funk, to frenetic pounding. In keeping with the theme of the film, it has been muddied somewhat to sound like poor production values, but it still stands out.

The film’s other strength is its star. The Italian Spiderman, himself, is absurd. An overweight, long-haired, mustachioed smoker and coffee drinker, with a costume consisting of nothing that couldn’t be bought off the chino rack at a department store, this Spiderman is light years away from the Marvel product. His powers are fleeting, oftentimes incomprehensible, and ever-changing. He is a leering chauvinist, but wields an explosive punch should a person fail to “Rispetto alle donne!” What makes the Italian Spiderman an engaging character is his stark moral clarity. Whether the morals he embraces are good or questionable, he is never evil. He shies away from no confrontation with his nemesis, Captain Maximus, who, like the Italian Spiderman, must be seen to be believed.

The Italian Spiderman is the ultimate in one-dimensional characters. Adding too much depth to the man would have destroyed what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. That is, creating a man who has no self-possessing sense of inferiority, or ability to comprehend that superheroes are not supposed to look like he does. His fierce gaze feels as if it could melt glass, and, on one occasion, does cause a chicken to lay a pack of cigarettes.

The film is played mostly straight throughout, which only helps. Outright jokes have little place in Italian Spiderman, and are used sparingly. One scene, where the filmmakers attempted a visual gag by throwing stuffed penguins at Captain Maximus during a surf-off, is the only instance where the film feels forced. The rest of the time, the filmmakers rely on a very good overall gag that, as it turns out, has a surprising amount of legs.