ISABELLA ROSSELLINI WEARS a gold bodysuit with antennae while lying in a trail of slime. She’s a snail. “I can withdraw my entire body into my shell,” she says into the camera. She slithers backward into an oversized shell behind her, then pops out again to note: “I can hide my vagina and my penis—I have both.”
Welcome to Green Porno, a hilarious series of tongue-in-cheek, two-minute educational films that Rossellini wrote, codirected, and starred in for the Sundance Channel website. A recently released companion book—125 colorful stills with text and a DVD of all 18 episodes—prompts her visit this month for Seattle Arts and Lectures.
When Sundance approached Rossellini for the original Internet content, they suggested only that it be very short and have something to do with the environment. “I always like animal behavior,” she explained in a phone interview. “And I knew that people are more interested in sex, so I thought it might make a funny series to tell how the animals mate.”
Watching Rossellini’s Porno abandon—she raises a knowing eyebrow when wrapped up as an erotic earthworm—should delight but not shock anyone familiar with her career. Brave acting forays feature roles as the masochistic torch singer of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and legless beer baroness of Guy Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World. A modeling resume includes a lovely romp on the beach in Madonna’s Sex tome, which didn’t embarrass but rather disappointed Rossellini (“It was aesthetically very beautiful. But at the end she presented it as if it was a very revealing book, but in fact it didn’t reveal much. She was nude—but that’s not being revealed”).
Being the daughter of legendary Italian neorealist filmmaker Roberto Rossellini and movie star Ingrid Bergman means that living and working according to her own instincts is in her DNA. “My father was the ultimate experimental filmmaker,” she explains. “And so was my mom. She did work with Jean Renoir, with Ingmar Bergman, with my father—she risked the entire career in Hollywood for it. So, in a way, I think this confidence that I have to work with experiments comes with the family tradition. I never heard my parents ever talk about career moves—never. I learned that speech later on and I didn’t know what people meant when they talked about agents advising them about their next move.”
She uses the word “experiment” often and without pretense, her sporadically dented English polished with abundant wit and a divine Italian accent that embraces every phrase: “I always like to experiment. It’s the most fun. Other people find it maybe scary, but there’s nothing you lose, you know? If the experiment doesn’t work, generally these film are so little nobody notice them and then that’s it. If you do a big commercial film that turns out to be unsuccessful then it plagues you for years. So if the experiment works, like Blue Velvet, you’re a hero.”
The new book and DVD certainly exhibit a heroic sense of humor about the proclivities of even the smallest creatures. “After Green Porno,” she laughed, “you might think of a fly on your dish slightly different.”