Obscure Italian film La Gatta in Calore spawns rare soundtrack
Cinema often functions as an incisive social and cultural barometer. At the tumultuous nexus of numerous popular, sexual and political upheavals, late 1960s and early 1970s Italian cinema is particularly illustrative and informative of this. The fluid (and perhaps even torrid) complexion of Italian society at this time is nowhere more starkly presented than in the genre known as giallo, a rash of films produced through the aforementioned era of a strikingly sexual, violent, and psychologically disturbing (some might say depraved) nature with labyrinthine plots, cavernous duplicity, and a predatory sexuality.
Inspired by a pulp-ish style of novella fiction (readily identifiable by their lurid yellow spines) popular from the mid-1960s onwards, this genre produced literally hundreds of deviant cinematic offspring.
Some of those films are today well known (the most obvious examples being the Dario Argento films of the era—The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Cat O’Nine Tails, and Four Grey Flies on Velvet). Far less known (in fact, basically forgotten) today is Nello Rossati’s La Gatta in Calore/The Cat in Heat.
It is safe to say that La Gatta in Calore is not one for the kids.
Its licentious plot centres upon bored housewife Anna (the feline and svelte Eva Czemerys) who, though at first repulsed by him, eventually falls in lust with her opiate-addicted, harlot-employing artistic neighbor, Massimo. Seemingly trapped in his web, Anna’s world devolves into a paranoiac vista of orgies, drug taking, coerced sex with strangers, and general humiliation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as Massimo and his (less-than-charming) pals home-invade Anna (with apparent gang-rape on their minds), she guns Massimo down and he staggers out weeping blood and collapses in her front garden—only to be discovered early the next morning by returning husband (and career obsessive) Antonio. What follows is a heated quasi-confessional from both wife and husband, as more and more details of the lurid proceedings tumble out via flashback.
The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere (and convincingly nightmarish narrative) are perfectly underscored by Gianfranco Plenizio’s sublime music. Notable career jazzman, Plenizio crafted a clutch of film scores (he was also an in-demand conductor), each of them superlative, though La Gatta in Calore is probably the best of the bunch. Opening with Edda Dell’Orso’s stately and evocative vocalization “Voce D’amore,” Gianfranco sculpts the consummate accompaniment for the scenes of middle-class suburban-paradise dismemberment that follow.
Psychologically a close relative to Catherine Deneuve’s character in Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Repulsion, Anna’s fragile frame paces their gated home while preening herself and awaiting the perennially delayed return of her husband, stalking the interiors like a powdered and pampered, caged and dysfunctional, animal. As Anna succumbs to the black vortex of boredom and the iniquitous allure of the bohemian bad boy next door, so too does Plenizio’s score collapse into a well of refracted and distorted voices, mutant strings, and unrecognizable sonic gestures. The dramatic dark heart of the score (amidst supple moments of jazz-bossa and velvet-lounge shuffle) is doubtlessly “Requiem Per Chi Sopravvive,” a black-mass celebration of Anna’s descent into depravity and denigration—a maelstrom of middle-class catastrophe, inferno of privilege gone awry.
Rossati’s 1971 directorial debut (Bella di Giorno Moglie di Notte/Wife by Night) was a controversial film revolving around the premise of a wife who prostitutes herself to advance her husband’s business career. The film struggled to gain censorship approval in Italy, a situation that (upon the film’s eventual release) no doubt contributed to it being a sizeable box-office hit. A sequel (of sorts) was rushed into production, resulting in 1972’s La Gatta in Calore.
The film garnered attention at the time, but its bleak psychological landscape and joyless class-warfare themes may have sunk its chances for wider acclaim. There were even two soundtrack LP releases, one an OST edition on Music Parade, the other a library edition on Beat with an alternate cover—both now very rare and highly sought-after. Today, the film itself is unavailable and essentially forgotten. It deserves better.
However, Gianfranco Plenizio’s score is rightly regarded as a classic, indeed the perfect giallo soundtrack—a supple, jazzy confection. Beginning on an airy wave of ecstatic Edda Dell’Orso, before dissolving into dissonance, disarray, and pathological destruction, every move skilled and creatively satisfying. Thankfully, it is now available again after decades of obscurity, in its very first ever LP reissue.
May this cat be out of the bag at last.
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