LA DOLCE 'ZILLA or Godzilla versus Cozzilla - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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LA DOLCE 'ZILLA or Godzilla versus Cozzilla

Gordon Hopkins gets colorful.
This is the story of the second worst collaboration between Japan and Italy. The story begins in 1956, when a ten year old Italian boy catches a showing of Godzilla for the very first time. Like a great many other young boys around the world, it was a life-changing moment. That boy's name was Luigi Cozzi and it began a lifelong love affair with science fiction and horror. Indeed, years later, as a young journalist, Cozzi would work as a correspondent for Western magazines created by others equally warped by monster movies, most notably, Famous Monsters of Filmland.

But, as the T-shirt says, “What I Really Want To Do Is Direct.” In the seventies, Cozzi worked as director and/or screenwriter on a string of Italian flicks, sometime collaborating with horror legend Dario Argento.

In the seventies, Cozzi was also working as a film distributor. He would buy the theatrical rights to movies made in the fifties and reissue them to Italian theaters. Given his love of Godzilla, it was perhaps inevitable Cozzi would want to try and re-release the original movie.

Just like Godzilla owes his origins to a other giant monster, King Kong, so to did Cozzi's re-release. In 1976, another Italian filmmaker, Dino De Laurentiis, released his lavish, big budget remake. There couldn't possibly be a better moment for Godzilla. So Cozzi made a deal with Toho Studios. They gave him the heavily edited American version, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, not the original Japanese Gojira. It was the American release that had been such a huge hit around the globe.

Only, Cozzi had a problem. Godzilla: King of the Monsters was in black and white and Italian theaters didn't want black and white movies anymore. After all, the new King Kong was in color.

Cozzi's solution? Colorize the film.

Colorizing old black and white movies is a familiar concept today but, remember, this was years before Ted Turner began using computers to add color to classics like Casablanca and The Maltese Falcon. This was long before Turner plotted to colorize Citizen Kane, while Orson Welles fought him from his death bed, declaring, “Keep Ted Turner and his goddamn Crayolas away from my movie!”

So this was not colorizing as we know it. Instead, colored gels, the sort that go over spotlights to make them different colors, were positioned in front of a camera that refilmed the movie. It was not an especially sophisticated or convincing technique. Blue gels would be placed roughly over areas that were sky or sea, red over explosions and fire, green over grassy fields and yellow over faces of the cast. This meant that pasty Raymond Burr had the exact same skin tone as his Japanese cast mates.
As an attempt to make a black and white film more “color-ish,” it wasn't even remotely convincing. It was like watching the movie through a dish of rainbow sherbet. However, it gave the movie a weird, psychedelic look that seemed somehow apropos for the seventies. Some have described the experience as watching Godzilla on acid. Frankly, I think it would be easier just to watch the original movie while dropping acid

So now Cozzi had a “color” Godzilla movie to show, but that wasn't the only change he made. Just as the American distributors did with Godzilla: King of the Monsters in the fifties, Cozzi added new scenes. According to an interview with Cozzi in 2011 at the Offscreen Film Festival in Brussels, “I thought the destruction scenes of Godzilla were great for 1954, but not for 1977. So I bought some stock material of buildings being destroyed and ships exploding and World War II footage.”

That sound convincing, but a more likely explanation is that, with a run time of just 80 minutes, it was too short for theaters, which were used to films at least 90 minutes in length.

Some of the new footage works. A lot of it doesn't. It can be really obvious at times, even if you have never seen the original Godzilla, where new scenes have been spliced into the final product.

Unfortunately, that is not the biggest problem with the additional scenes. Cozzi's version includes a long prologue with actual film of the devastation of Hiroshima after the bomb had been dropped. Ironically, it re-injects the movie with the specter of the atomic bomb that American distributors tried to suck out of the film 20 year previously, but it is still an unbelievable lapse in taste.

Finally, Cozzi added an electronic synthesizer prog rock score that really clashes with the movie, even in its psychedelic incarnation.
The movie never made it to the states, although a lot of promotional materials for it did. For most Americans, it was impossible to see this oddity until the internet made widespread copyright violations a reality.

Yes, I have seen it, and I have to say, watching this version of a well-loved classic is certainly an...experience. I don't want to seem like I am bashing the film. Not too hard, anyway. It was a gutsy, albeit doomed, experiment and has developed something of a following in recent year among kaiju aficionados. Though the official title of this flick is simply, Godzilla, fans refer to it affectionately as “Cozzilla.”

As for Luigi Cozzi, he would, amazingly, surpass “Cozzilla” for cinematic madness just a year later when he gifted the world that most famous spaghetti Star Wars ripoff, Starcrash.

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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