The beginning of Black Gloves and Razors, lacking a credit sequence or even a title card, feels like a dazed coming-to. Squinting like a captive whose blindfold has just been ripped off, you struggle to make sense of the shadows on the screen. The amplified sounds of footsteps and breathing signal that danger lurks. It’s a disorienting, transportive experience that places the viewer in a role similar to that of the protagonist of a found-footage film. Conversely, the piece’s worn, analog appearance, sprinkled with transfer glitches, different subtitles, and even the occasional network logo, serve to constantly remind us that “It’s only a movie.”
Black Gloves, which plays at Brooklyn’s DIY microcinema Spectacle on Halloween, is a painstakingly created love letter to a genre that was born from a base desire to see beautiful women butchered. For the uninitiated, “Gialli” were ultra-stylized thrillers that reigned in Italian cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. Noise musician and super fan Sam McKinlay created Black Gloves in 1999, using a VCR to record and edit gialli recorded on television or off VHS tapes. He takes about two dozen movies and strips them of everything but the murder scenes, the “money shots.” The effect is jarringly confrontational. “Isn’t this what you came here to see?” McKinlay seems to ask.
McKinlay cherry-picks obscure releases (genre masters like Dario Argento and Mario Bava are notably underrepresented), and exhibits their murders in sequential order, sans commentary. As the piece progresses, our sense of complicity wanes. Like Christian Marclay’s The Clock, Black Gloves eases into a sort of disruptive repetition. We know the endpoint of each scene, even if we don’t know how we’ll get there. Freed from narrative speculation, the desensitized mind begins to wander, noticing the differences instead of the similarities among the vignettes.
This isn’t to say that Black Gloves is a meditative experience. Each entry in the catalogue presents its own challenges. Some transfers are of such poor quality that it’s nearly impossible to discern what’s going on. Others are so forthcoming in their misogyny as to be nausea-inducing. Some are simply more effective than others in portraying fear. During these sequences, all we can do is wait for the image quality to change, signifying the “end” of one film and the “beginning” of another.
In Black Gloves’ final setpiece, a woman wrestles with a home invader. Instead of tensing up with each parry, wondering if she’ll escape, we blithely speculate on how the gloved killer will eventually gain the upper hand and murder her. In the first truly shocking moment of the feature, the “doomed” victim kills her would-be slayer. McKinlay reveals his subjectivity. Once again, he interrogates the audience, this time with “Does it always have to end the same way?”
That shock doesn’t subside, even as the film ends (the realization that it’s over is another surprise; for a non-narrative film, it passes quickly). It leaves a self-selecting audience with questions that range from prosaic (“What was that third movie?”) to personal (“Do I enjoy seeing women in pain?”). McKinlay’s work reflects the moral conundrum that giallo fans experience. It’s a token of kindness, begat from a genre mostly devoid of it.
Black Gloves and Razors screened at the Spectacle Theater on October 5. It will screen again on October 31.