An Interview with Sergio Martino

I'll never forget interviewing Sergio Martino during Cine-Excess VI, back in 2012. It took place in a room at the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgravia, central London. The building is a typical Regency period terraced epic; the kind posh people inhabited in the olden days, and the building is a warren of pokey holes, endless staircases and huge rooms with high ceilings. It was a very hot summer's day morning, and I was feeling a bit nervous. 

Martino and Enzo G. Castellari (who I interviewed the same morning and will publish the transcript soon - I've been sitting on them, hoping to sell them, but no such luck) were about forty minutes late. But that was okay, these things happen. There was a problem, however. The Italian Cultural Institute knew nothing about any interviews taking place that morning and I couldn't get in touch with the PR man who had organised the thing. I feared a mighty cock-up, until a fellow genre critic, from Fangoria, also arrived for the same purpose as I. We chatted away until the maestros of Italian genre cinema landed.

I’d been a fan of Martino's work, the ones I'd seen anyway, and the chance to meet them in person was a remarkable opportunity. The interview location, however, was rather odd. Both took place in large empty rooms. The morning grew even more surreal, when I misplaced my bag and Castelleri - a total gent - helped me look for it. (Now, there's a story/humblebrag for a dinner party.) 

Martino, I'll say it right now, was hard work (Castelleri was brilliant.) With Martino, it was like getting blood from a stone. I'd ask a question and he'd talk about something unrelated, or go off on tangents. Looking back, I can laugh. At the time, I was worried the whole thing would turn into a farce. 

Although Martino speaks good enough English, he chose to answer in Italian via an interpreter. My Italian can best be described as 'school boy level'. The following is an edited extract, really a salvage job.

MC: How did you become a film-maker?

Martino: My grandfather, my father and my mother’s father were directors. My grandfather did the first Italian movie with sound, in 1930. It’s called La canzone dell'amore. [Before that] after the First World War, he went to Germany during the 1920s and made several movies. Mussolini called him back to Italy to make the first Italian sound movie. He was obliged to do so. After the Second World War, he worked with [Vittorio] De Sica and Anna Magnani. My first experience of being on a movie set as a child was being sat on Magnani’s knee. After that, my brother (Luciano) began to work in movies.

What was it about cinema that made you want to follow in your family’s footsteps?

It was a job. It’s in my DNA. My experience of life, especially when I was very young, was [being around the] shooting [of] some movie and after that, I had many friends making movies and the chance to start.

You made your name in the early 1970s with several classic gialli. What attracted you to that style?

They were popular. I took inspiration from American movies. Rosemary’s Baby (1968) was an inspiration for All the Colours of the Dark (1972). The film I made before that, Torso, had a big success all over the world

Your filmography isn’t just restricted to gialli, it’s actually quite varied.

I did action movies, thrillers, comedies, sentimental movies. For me, it’s very difficult to always make the same movie. If I was always making gialli the fantasies [would be] always the same. When I talk to Dario Argento, I say ‘Why the same giallo movie?’ I don’t get it. For me, it’s important to explore. I prefer to change, always.

You worked with the beautiful Edwige Fenech on several movies. What was she like?

The first movie she did with me was The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1972). It was the first big success for her. However, the best roles she did for me were in later comedies. In the horror movies, there was too much suffering and masochism and she was better at comedies. She’s a good actress. I’m so surprised people like her in the terror movies like All the Colours of the Dark. But the audience thinks that she’s very good in those.

Do you find that ironic?

She’s a beautiful, sexy girl. I think it was the men over forty or fifty remember her from when they were younger. Maybe [she was] the first women they saw [naked on the screen] in my films.

One of my favourite film scores ever is by Nora Orlandi, for your film The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh. Can you tell about working with her?

I worked very closely with Orlandi. Also, Quentin Tarantino used the same music in Kill Bill (Vol 2.). He told me. He’s a nice person.

Does it surprise you that your movies, especially your gialli and horror titles, are so popular today with fans?

I think … yes, I was very surprised. These movies were a good success with the audience but not a good success with critics. Years later, there started to be an interest in my movies … Quentin Tarantino [was a fan] and some others. It especially came from abroad. In Italy, they don’t like our generation. Critics would say our kind of movies were not correct. When Tarantino came to Rome a few years ago, and showed his movie, Inglorious Basterds, before starting the projection he wanted to [acknowledge us] ‘Maestro Sergio Martino’, ‘Maestro Castellari’ and gave us a standing ovation. It was a very nice experience for us. I was surprised that he considered us as ‘maestros’.

Maybe a lot of fans don’t know this, but you worked with Nicole Kidman, in the late 1980s. It was a film for Italian television. What do you remember about working with her?

I did one movie with her for television. It was a romantic story about a girl coming to Europe and she meets an Italian guy from an important family, he has an accident and she stays with him. I had been very surprised by her talent. She was nineteen-years-old and came to my house. I told another producer in Italy, ‘I’ve found an actress and you should try and give her some more work in Italy,’ She’s a very intelligent girl. She was taught at her school in Australia that it is not only important to play the part, but also to know what kind of photography the director’s use. She knew about film-making and would make suggestions to me. She was nineteen-years-old! I was so surprised. Never in my experience had an actor knew such technical aspects.

The Mountain of the Cannibal God featured animal cruelty and slaughter. Do you regret those scenes?

About the animals? This movie was a fabulous experience [and] to shoot in Malaysia. The only sequence … the python kills the monkey. I didn’t want that. I don’t know what happened. The producers wanted this sequence. It was an accident. I know we used the sequence in the film, and for that, I apologise.

So there was a pressure from producers to include these scenes?

Yes. The producers would say the audience wanted it. It wasn’t just the producers, more the distributors. They wanted to make money. For me, sometimes I regret it. But there is some other movie, I don’t want to say, but the director did much more than me.


Deodato. He has regrets, for sure.