Italian director Luigi Cozzi was born in 1947. As a 10-year-old boy, he caught the first run of “Godzilla” when it came to Italy in 1956. He was hooked, inspired, in love. How couldn’t he be? What kid isn’t?
“Godzilla” disappeared from Italian screens for 20 years. In 1977, Cozzi decided to re-release the movie in Italian theaters (he couldn’t afford “Gorgo,” but wanted to capitalize on the coming release of Dino De Laurentiis’ “King Kong” remake). He bought the distribution rights and did what any self-respecting filmmaker would do with a cinema classic and no legal pressures: He recut the movie to his own satisfaction.
The original “Gojira” is no stranger to alternate versions. When it first came to American audiences, the production company “Americanized” it, adding in new scenes and an entirely new story starring Raymond Burr. It’s an impressive piece of work; without knowing the original, it’s hard to tell the difference between the new material and the old. Jewell Enterprises also sliced and diced the subtext about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, making the movie a lot more of an adventure and less of a social commentary. “Gojira” was renamed “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” and many believe it to be a lesser picture. They both have their merits.
So anyway, Cozzi decided to take the cut of the movie sent to him by Toho — they would only supply him “King of the Monsters,” not “Gojira” — and make it more palatable for his late-’70s audience. He added “Futuresound,” a reworked audio track with new music cues, most of which feel decidedly unnatural. He recut the movie itself, excising exposition and adding in actual newsreel footage from World War II destruction. Last, but not least, is the use of “Spectorama 70,” a gel layer added to create a colorized “effect.” He wanted to colorize the movie, and I guess you could say he succeeded.
It’s like watching “Godzilla” on acid.
“Cozilla” is the fan nomenclature for Cozzi’s version of the movie, and it was pretty difficult to find until recently. The Internet has opened many doors, however, and you can now view it on YouTube.
As someone who loves “Godzilla,” and who has seen the original and the American cut multiple times, “Cozilla” was worth watching simply to witness it. I don’t think the changes improve the movie, but they create a much different feeling. Many of the destruction scenes are now expanded to include actual footage of real destruction, real death, real catastrophe. Combined with the psychedelic coloring, the whole of the movie becomes something of a, well, nightmare.
If you enjoy the other “Godzilla” movies, you’ll probably enjoy watching “Cozilla” for the novelty. It’s an aberration, an oddity from a different age of cinema when regional remixes were more common and acceptable. We expect films, more than any genre, to achieve perfection in their construction. Sure, schlock is a thing and I love it, you love it, we all love it. But even in schlock, we expect the seams to break, the zippers to show, the acting to suck. But this wasn’t created as schlock. “Gojira” is a movie many consider to be fundamentally perfect. On some levels, I picture Cozzi rushing into the editing room with an axe and a vat of colored gels. On another, I recognize that there’s a historical precedent for versions of classic movies like “Cozilla”; hell, “King of the Monsters” is essentially the same thing.
My experience this month has given me a lot to consider, not just about the relative quality of the movies I’ve watched but the fact that — more than any other genre — the trappings of horror seem deeply stuck within the cultures of their moment. Sure, the basic bits — the shocks, the surprises, the gore, the openness to sexuality or violence — are all universal, but their depiction isn’t. Horror and genre provide superstructures through which we can understand other cultures, past and present — even if it’s just understanding what scares them.
I mentioned previously that “Gojira’s” nuclear subtext was ripped out of “King of the Monsters,” and I find it interesting that Cozzi decided to accentuate Godzilla’s rampage with stock footage of actual World War II destruction. It seems appropriate that Europe, a country that, in 1977, still reeled from aftereffects of World War II and the Cold War, and Italy in particular, with its very notable horror stylings, would add this kind of material.
It makes the movie distinctly macabre. It emphasizes the war aspect of the Godzilla story. It probably wasn’t on purpose. It’s lovely.