The Bootleg Files: Cozzilla

BOOTLEG FILES 623: “Cozzilla” (1977 Italian riff on “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!”).

LAST SEEN: It is on YouTube.


REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Never commercially released outside of Italy.


In 1976, Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis unleashed a remake of “King Kong” on the moviegoing public. Inspired by the commercial success of this endeavor, Italian filmmaker Luigi Cozzi figured that he could score his box office hit with a monster film. But rather than create a new film from scratch, he sought to re-release the 1954 Japanese classic “Godzilla.” But Cozzi’s simple plan turned out to become a lot more complex than he anticipated, and what he eventually put into theaters is widely regarded as one of the most bizarre productions ever made.

Cozzi contacted the Rome office of Toho to acquire the original 1954 “Godzilla” for re-release. However, Toho would only offer him the edited-down 1956 American version “Godzilla, King of the Monsters!” starring Raymond Burr. Cozzi saw that version as a youth during its Italian release, but the film was out of circulation in Italy for many years and Cozzi bet that there would be audience interest in seeing it again. He secured the rights for a 1977 release, but quickly found that no distributor would touch the film because it was in black-and-white.

Cozzi teamed with artist Armando Valcauda to create a way in which “Godzilla” could be colorized. Since the computer technology used by Ted Turner in his colorization plans had yet to be invented, and since hand-coloring the film frame-by-frame was out of the question, Cozzi and Valcauda came up with a strange solution. They opted to place sheets of colored gels over each frame of the black-and-white film and reshoot it. The colors used were solid and garish, and sometimes two colors were placed side by side over part of the frame while the original monochrome imagery remained untouched. The result was a psychedelic absurdity, with black-and-white people running through scenes where bold strips of color enflame the background. Cozzi and Valcauda called their process Spectrorama 70, giving the false impression that they were presenting “Godzilla” in a widescreen 70mm format. Cozzi admitted that he was inspired by William Castle’s creatively deceptive marketing strategies in pushing Spectrorama 70 on his unsuspecting public.

Complicating matters for Cozzi was the 80-minute running time on “Godzilla, King of the Monsters,” which was too short for Italian theaters in the 1970s. Cozzi decided to expand the running time by inserting new footage from other films into his “Godzilla.” Thus, an irrelevant prologue showing Hiroshima before and after the atomic bombing was added, including grisly newsreel scenes of bombing victims. Footage from “The Day the Earth Caught Fire,” “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms,” “The Train,” and “Godzilla Raids Again” were also added, padding the film by an extra 25 minutes. But while this solved the problem of running time, it gave Cozzi a another headache: new soundtracks were needed to integrate the borrowed footage into the original print.

To give the film a sense of aural cohesion, a new electronic music by Vince Tempera was added. Cozzi opted to expand Tempera’s music into the rest of the footage, thus creating a cross-generational audio/visual mash-up that predated Giorgio Moroder’s rock music version of “Metropolis.” To ensure that audiences didn’t miss a note, the film was re-recorded in something called Futursound, which was actually a variation of the Sensurround system that was briefly popular in the mid-1970s. And, of course, the entire dialogue track was replaced with an Italian-language version.

Cozzi’s “Godzilla,” which has been renamed “Cozzilla” outside of Italy, has to be seen to be believed. This doesn’t look or sound like any other film, and that’s not a good thing. It is a loud, confused, frenetic and visually violent destruction of a sci-fi classic, where a carefully created work of black-and-white filmmaking has been recklessly laced with flashes of bizarre color and inappropriate music. Imagine having an acid trip at the Italian edition of ComicCon and you’ll get an idea of what’s happening in this flick.

As an American viewing “Cozzilla,” the one advantage is having Raymond Burr’s way-too-serious vocal performance erased. While Burr’s presence was the selling point for the 1956 American release, his emotionless performance and stiff reading of corny dialogue seems unintentionally funny by contemporary standards. In “Cozzilla,” that’s replaced by someone who sounds like Mr. Bacciagalupe from “The Abbott and Costello Show.” That may not be an enhancement to the emotional core of the film, but at least it is in keeping to the inanity that unfolds.

Cozzi intended the film to be shown in theaters – he boasted in an interview with SciFi Japan that his production played in the same Roman theater that showed a genuine 70mm work of mind-bending science-fiction shot in color, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” And it should have been able to find its way across the Atlantic: artwork from the film appeared on the premiere edition of Fangoria magazine. But, to date, there has never been any big-screen U.S. release of the film. In fact, the only way Americans can experience “Cozzilla” is through a horrible fourth-generation dupe circulated on bootlegged DVDs and posted on YouTube.

“Cozzilla” has been such a rare film to find that rumors persisted for years that all of its original prints were lost. The YouTube dupe is missing the closing footage, which only fueled concerns that it would never been seen in its entirety again. However, a 35mm print was screened last November at the Fantafestival in Rome. Whether Toho would allow “Cozzilla” to be commercially released in America remains to be seen, but Cozzi insists that he deserves praise for this work.

“Considering all this, I think it’s a miracle what we did,” he told SciFi Japan. “A miracle with a lot of faults, sure, but still a miracle.”

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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