Posted by David Kalat on November 19, 2011
For those of you who missed last week’s post, a quick recap: I recorded audio commentaries to both the Japanese and American cuts of Ishiro Honda’s GODZILLA for Criterion, but some of the material was cut from the tracks as the discs were sent to the factory. I am using this forum as a venue by which to publish some of the deleted material.
The most controversial sections addressed the European distribution of the original Godzilla. Last week we saw what happened in Germany–this week we explore the nuttiness of COZZILLA!
In the published commentary, I do talk about how the Americanized version GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS was dubbed into other languages for distribution in various countries—and in 1959, it was shown in Italy, dubbed into Italian, and called GODZILLA IL RE DEI MOSTRI.
There’s nothing special about the IL RE DEI MOSTRI version—it’s just the same as the American version, but in Italian. (One nice touch though—whoever dubbed Raymond Burr’s voice into Italian sounds exactly like him. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was Burr speaking Italian.)
However, it gave birth to something utterly weird.
In the audience then in 1959 was a little Italian kid named Luigi Cozzi, and he fell in love with the movie. Much as seeing KING KONG had turned people like Ray Harryhausen into filmmakers, seeing GODZILLA IL RE DEI MOSTRI turned Cozzi into a filmmaker. He became an acolyte of Dario Argento, and collaborated with Argento on various Italian thrillers in the 1970s.
In 1976, Dino De Laurentiis decided to remake KING KONG—and he poured tons of publicity into that thing. It was such a big blockbuster event movie that everyone remotely connected to the sci-fi exploitation genre was trying to cash in—for example, the US distributors of GODZILLA VS MEGALON promoted that film with a poster that tried to mimic the 1976 KING KONG.
Over in Italy, Cozzi figured this was a perfect moment to re-release GODZILLA, his childhood love, and piggy-back on all the KING KONG hysteria. So he negotiated with Toho for the rights—and the folks at Toho told him that the only version they had available was the American cut with Raymond Burr. Cozzi said, “Sure, that’s fine—that’s the version I know, anyway. You’ve got yourself a deal.”
OK, well, you have to forgive Mr. Cozzi for a surfeit of enthusiasm because he rushed out and made that deal before actually discussing the matter with any of his distribution partners, and as soon as they heard what he’d done, they started tearing out their hair in frustration.
There were two problems, they explained:
#1. GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS runs about 75 minutes, which is OK if you’re fitting it into a double feature in 1950s America, but for 1977 Italy it’s too short.
#2. It’s in Black & White, and nobody goes to black and white movies anymore.
So, Cozzi put on his thinking cap. He went back to Toho and said, I’d like to amend the terms of our deal. I’m going to release GODZILLA in Italy like we agreed, but I’d like permission to add some footage to it to pad it out by about a half hour or so, and I’m going to colorize it. And probably disco up the soundtrack while I’m at it. Whattya think? Toho said, sure, but only if we get to keep it when you’re done.
Cozzi hired an editor, Alberto Moro, and together they started taking stock footage and newsreel clips and things like that and adding them to the movie—these were all grisly scenes, Faces of Death kind of stuff, to enhance Godzilla’s attack scenes with a more R-rated sense of mayhem. While they were at it, Cozzi went into his personal vaults and got out some 16mm prints of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and other Godzilla movies and figured, why not put some of this in as well?
Having padded GODZILLA out with stock footage horror, the next step was punching up the soundtrack to 1970s standards. He called this “FUTURSOUND” which was a fancy made-up word for let’s add a lot of sound effects, remix the tracks in stereo, and wherever we feel like it let’s add some hard-rocking music by Vince Tempera that sounds like the kind of jangly music that Goblin was recording for Dario Argento at the time.
There was one last thing to do—make GODZILLA into color. This was before computer-based colorization, mind you, so there was no existing methodology for this. But Cozzi was already mulling over making a STAR WARS knock-off called STARCRASH, and had bought an optical printer to do the effects with. He brought on optical effects supervisor Armando Valcauda to experiment with using the optical printer to colorize GODZILLA—and he and Valcauda considered the experience to be a trial-run for doing the more demanding effects of STARCRASH.
Cozzi and Valcauda selected colored gels which they cut out and placed into the optical printer, printing large blocks of color onto different sections of the film—it wasn’t colorization as we may know it today, which attempts to create an illusion of realistic color, instead these were bold, stylized color swaths, expressionistic and aggressive—if you’ve seen the Giorgio Moroder version of METROPOLIS you’ve seen something similar. Cozzi called this process SPECTORAMA 70.
I have not had the privilege of seeing this version in its entirety—I’ve only seen clips. But, oh, those clips. It’s a deliriously strange experience—and unsettling. Godzilla fires his atomic ray and the next thing you see is real footage of a real human being being burned alive.
Once you see real people dying in Godzilla’s wake, and GODZILLA turns into a snuff film, the tenor of it changes. I think Cozzi’s impulse was to enhance the atmosphere of apocalyptic horror—and he just needed to amp things up for 1970s tastes. But the apocalyptic dimensions are already pretty intense, so pushing them farther with plane crashes and actual buildings collapsing and people drowning—it’s a bit much.
Toho took the negative after Cozzi was done with his 1977 release, and held on to it for years. They used it for a Turkish release—for reasons I can only guess at—but other than that it has mostly vanished. I’m indebted to John DeSentis whose interview with Cozzi at the web site SciFi Japan provided the bulk of this information.
Cozzi’s version is another case study in how this movie continued to find relevance and meaning such that distributors were compelled to adapt it into local niches—there aren’t many 1954-era movies that were revived for 1977 Italian audiences, with added color. In fact there were none—just this one. Instead of decrying the changes we should marvel at the fact that the movie had enough power to warrant trying.
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