Saturday, November 12, 2005

Faster, Pussycat! Write, Write!

While watching THE FORGER OF LONDON last night, I experienced a feeling that is becoming all too regular with me: a hungry wish that I could summon the clarity of mind (and somehow arrange the cleanness of desk) to focus on just one thing for awhile and explore it thoroughly -- like the Edgar Wallace krimis for instance. I would love to read all the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels, to learn French and read all of Fantômas, and to search out the books that would teach me how to get a proper handle on my life, my physicality, and my disorderly thinking. I wish there were hours in the day for me to focus as much on my physical being as on my cerebral pursuits. I need to cultivate more of an appreciation for working up a sweat, and for a cleaner, more spartan, more inviting working place.

But it also weighs on me that I don't know enough about Jean Renoir or John Ford or Claude Chabrol; I've never seen CHILDREN OF PARADISE though it has been in my collection for years. I want to see more Parajanov. There are too many box sets in my life, clamoring for my time. The temptation to wile away the hours revisiting movies I've already seen, not just once but many times, is too strong; a comfort food for the eyes and a brain too tired at the end of a day to desire new experience. A new experience that might actually be refreshing or revivifying.

And I want to travel. Many of the people who are central to my life and work I have never met. There are many places in the world I know I will never visit, and this is something I probably should have started doing earlier in life, though, for me, it wasn't possible. As Donna says, "Thank God for the travel shows on Equator HD," but as pleasing as these are to the eye and ear, they can't bring you the smells and textures and interaction of another land.

I wish work wasn't so god-damned irresistable. At the same time, I feel I am well behind where I should be. I want to write more film scripts, and actually see some produced. And two novels aren't nearly enough; John Fowles was on the point of finishing Daniel Martin by the time he was my age. I don't want to be remembered only by a stack of magazines. I've got a number of ideas for next books crowding the ether around me, but I have to hold these at bay until the Bava book is out the door. Once I finish my work on Video Watchdog #123, my next task is to go through my manuscript and compile a proper Mario Bava filmography. I always felt that the length of the book itself provided the filmography, but more recently, I realized that, if I don't do this, someone else will go through my book and compile one, so the credit might as well be mine. The current filmographies, even the current biographies, are riddled with errors that need correcting.

I need a vacation. I need to work faster. I wasn't always this much of a Gemini.

My creative energies are chomping at the bit, wanting to surge out in all directions. I wonder if this desire to branch out in all directions, to do as much as possible with my available time, is a result of overseeing the omniverous appetites of my magazine, a desire to serve it best by being better informed, or if it's tied to the fears of mortality that become more pronounced with middle-age. The danger, I suppose, is actually undertaking too many new trivialities when I should be narrowing my focus to just a couple of important tasks, giving them something closer to my whole attention.

Why, I ask myself, did I start this blog? Perhaps to make the panic of a creative life less closeted, less subcutaneous. At least here I know I'm not talking to myself.

Alas, fretting takes time and energy, too.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Francesco De Masi (1930 - 2005)

Word reached me yesterday of the passing of the great Italian film composer Francesco De Masi, who died in hospital this past weekend of cancer at the age of 75. A funeral is being held in Rome this afternoon at the Chiesa degli Artisti on the Piazza del Popolo.

For anyone who seriously loves Italian film music, De Masi shares the pantheon with Nino Rota, Carlo Rustichelli, Piero Piccioni and, of course, Ennio Morricone. Morricone has been the most phenomenal of his generation of composers, scoring more than 500 films in addition to writing concert music and other outside projects, but there are some soundtrack collectors who hold De Masi's impassioned work in even higher esteem. They consider Morricone's music the brain of Italian film music, and De Masi's as the heart.

The bulk of De Masi's music was written for Italian Westerns (ARIZONA COLT, SEVEN PISTOLS FOR A MASSACRE, SARTANA DOES NOT FORGIVE), but he also composed and conducted outstanding music for horror (AN ANGEL FOR SATAN, THE NEW YORK RIPPER), war (INGLORIOUS BASTARDS), peplum (THE TRIUMPH OF HERCULES), swashbucklers (THE MAGNIFICENT ADVENTURER), and spy pictures (KOMMISSAR X). I was able to find an online English language interview conducted by John Mansell in 2002, which I am linking here for your information.

One of De Masi's earliest horror scores, for Riccardo Freda's THE GHOST [LO SPETTRO, 1963], is full of shuddery passages and vertigo-inducing heights, but it's most memorable for an achingly tender Irish melody that is heard variously throughout the film with full orchestra, on piano, and as a music-box melody. It's one of those melodies that gives a film so much more than the story demanded; it grabs you by the heart and refuses to let go. A still later cue, written for the finale of THE MURDER CLINIC [LA LAMA NEL CORPO, 1966] but also heard at the end of Mario Bava's library-scored KILL, BABY... KILL! [OPERAZIONE PAURA, 1966], is so exquisitely evocative of tender, guarded optimism that it awakens feelings almost too big to seem an appropriate response to a horror picture. When I was asked to provide some music for the memorial service of my friend Mark Upchurch, I sent along an mp3 of this rare track, which is one that I knew he and his brother Alan had loved.

When I heard this news, I immediately thought of my friend John Bender, a columnist for Film Score Monthly and writer about Euro lounge soundtracks in Video Watchdog #104, who had the good fortune to meet Maestro De Masi in 2003. John wrote back to me as concise and fine a tribute as I can imagine:

"I've cried for this great man's passing. There is just so much courage and honesty in his music, an emotional immediacy that can only come from a man of profound integrity and compassion. When I listen to his music, I can hear what it means to be a man, and it is in this regard that I have lost a father."

Thursday, November 10, 2005

WOLFSTEIN!


"Now! The most fright-en-ing Frankenstein story of all, as the ancient werewolf curse brands the family of monster-makers as Wolfstein... Wolfstein! The inhuman clan of blood-hungry wolf monsters!"

Under a crudely animated main title, a narrator uses these feverish words to feebly explain why the movie we are about to see -- FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR -- offers two werewolves and two vampires but no man-made monsters. It's the sort of inane drivel that separates the real, dyed-in-the-wool horror fans from the poseurs. You've got to admire the sheer balls of this kind of salesmanship, the kind that tells you right up front -- even before the story starts -- that you can consider yourself screwed if you came to this movie expecting to see Frankenstein. Of course, with a company like Independent-International, audiences were screwed even when they did see Frankenstein, as in Al Adamson's incoherent DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (1973), a movie which played an important role in the story of why this movie is called what it's called. But FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR is so stylish, and has such a great werewolf, and is so utterly not to blame for what its US distributor did to it, that all is quickly forgiven. A lot of fans worship at its altar.

Before Independent-International got their mitts on it, FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR was a Spanish-German import called LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO ("The Mark of the Werewolf," 1967), the first of numerous horror films starring Paul Naschy, one of the great continental horror stars of the era, who created his own makeup, staged the film's effects sequences, and also wrote the picture under his real name, Jacinto Molina. It was also the first of numerous films Naschy would make about the Polish werewolf Waldemar Daninsky, his most popular character, who would return in such movies as ASSIGNMENT TERROR, THE WEREWOLF VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMAN (aka WEREWOLF SHADOW), FURY OF THE WOLFMAN, DR. JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF, NIGHT OF THE HOWLING BEAST, CURSE OF THE DEVIL, THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD, HOWL OF THE DEVIL, LYCANTHROPUS and the recent TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF. Naschy himself is perhaps an unlikely leading man, being short and stocky and with something of a comb-over even in this early role, but he had been a champion weight-lifter and brought a rare robust quality to his performances, that was not without certain intellectual or brooding shadings as well. His werewolf scenes in FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR are arguably the most ferocious and delirious ever filmed, and reason enough to track it down. The film also features an excellent couple of vampires, played by Julián Ugarte (whom you may remember as a vampire in Amando de Ossorio's MALENKA aka FANGS OF THE LIVING DEAD) and his enticing companion Aurora de Alba -- a voluptuous stiff with gloating eyes who does not like to be kissed on the mouth.

Director "Henry L. Egan" was in fact Enrique López Eguiluz, who had no other major works in the genre, but much of the film's stylistic impact is owed to the particolored scope cinematography of Emilio Foriscot, who previously shot Jess Franco's LABIOS ROJOS (1960, his first "Red Lips" movie) and later worked with Sergio Martino on THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL and THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH. There is a lot of moody scenery and lollipop lighting here...


... and the ancient castle locations include the El Cercón Monastery in Madrid as seen in TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD. If the music sounds familiar, that's because the original soundtrack (a downright silly score by Angel Arteaga) was scrapped in the dubbing process and replaced with hypnotic, sitar-driven cues by the great Bruno Nicolai, some of them originally heard in EUGENIE - THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION (1969). I also noticed a stray Gino Marinuzzi, Jr. cue from Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965)!

Media Blasters/Shriek Show have released FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR -- for the first time ever on any video format! -- on DVD, priced at $19.95. If you shop around, you can surely find it cheaper. I want to be enthusiastic; after all, Media Blasters and I-I's Sam Sherman went the extra distance by including the two opening reels originally lopped-off the US release, which are presented here in English for the first time anywhere. Sherman's audio commentary (which runs for 87m 14s of the the 90m 27s feature) is a bit filibustery, but it covers a lot of ground and answers all the questions one might have about the film's title and about the 3-D version of the movie which has long been rumored to exist. (In short, it does... Sherman owns the negative, and he'd love to arrange some screenings of this version, which is composed entirely of unique takes, making it something of an unseen Naschy film.) The extras are superb, including a number of "deleted scenes" (more like deleted shots, indicated by marking excised shots from familiar sequences with an X) which include some samples of the original score, an interview with Naschy, and I-I's superbly lurid trailers and radio spots for the film's theatrical release. There's also a never-before-seen title sequence from HELL'S CREATURES, the original export title of this movie, which is built around a spinning roulette wheel laden with costume jewelry, à la DANGER: DIABOLIK.

So what's not to like? In a word, the transfer. Granted, it's anamorphic, but the framing has been somewhat zoomboxed to omit the spherical bowing at the extreme periphery of the frame, cropping off the tops of some heads in the process. Furthermore, the quality of the source material -- evidently cobbled together from more than one positive print -- varies throughout, sometimes drastically. Waldemar's transformation in chains, as the vampires lure away his beloved (Dianik Zurakowska), is overly dark and coarse-looking, yet followed by material that looks significantly clearer and brighter. Blue regularly seems to disappear from the available palette. Skin tones are often ashen, and brown hair flares orange while Naschy's red shirts and another actor's tweed jacket excite all kinds of chroma-noise. There are individual shots wherein the colors are so intense that it's all the taste you need to know that the rest of the presentation is suffering. Stepping through the disc also evinces regular frame-blurring; even the grab at the top suffers from this, as you'll see by clicking and enlarging the image. There is also a distinct lack of quality control amid the supplements, where the subtitling runs rampant with misspellings, a Spanish print is identified as a German print, and the name of Mirek Lipinski -- a top Naschy fan responsible for contributing and/or arranging many of the disc's extras -- has been carelessly misspelled at least two different ways. (It is spelled correctly on the back cover.) An enclosure includes informative liner notes by George Reis of DVD Drive-In.

It's a fact of life related to business and probable returns that I don't expect a superior domestic release of this title to come along, but I think a more definitive DVD will happen along someday as an import -- perhaps offering the flat and 3-D versions on the same disc. FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR is the sort of title you might be embarrassed to ask for at your favorite video store, but a lot of care and craft went into making this movie and it deserves to be seen and preserved on DVD at its best. I appreciate Media Blasters' release for what it is, and what it accomplishes, and it's acceptable for now. But let's hope it inspires someone overseas with deeper pockets to go the whole distance.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

I Still Dream of Orson Bean

A journal entry from April 23, 2003:

Dream: I was walking down 7th street downtown, mostly nobody around, and entered a department store where I saw a familiar stranger shopping. I couldn't quite place him; he looked like somebody I knew, but he had a little white mustache and, if I ever had seen him, he was older than I had seen him before. I hovered, watching him shop in an area filled with little glass-domed clocks, hoping the name on the tip of my tongue would make itself known to me before he disappeared. Then he got a call on his cellphone, and once he started talking in his funny, boistrous, mock-industrious voice, I knew this fellow was Orson Bean.

He yammered into the phone: "I've written a hit song, I tell ya! It's got 'hit' written all over it. What's it called? Are you kidding? I'll tell ya what it's called, my good man! It's called 'My Name Is Love and I'm Gonna Break Down Your Door, But It's Not You I Want - I'm Gonna Grab That Hot Daughter of Yours and Carry Her Away!' What? Are you kidding? The title is not too long! The title is what's gonna sell it! Why, the kids'll eat it up like pancakes!"

He put his phone away, took a piece of paper from a nearby jewelry counter, patted himself down, then abruptly turned to me: "Hey, you! You got a pen?" Before I had a chance to answer, he reached out and pulled a pen from my breast pocket and started scribbling something down, like he was jotting down the lyrics of this crazy song before they slipped his mind. He seemed crazy with excitement at what he'd just hatched. Then he folded the paper, handed my pen back to me, seized both my hands and shook them warmly. "I couldn't have done it without 'cha, but don't let that go to your head," he said, releasing me and starting to move away.

I said, "Mr. Bean, before you go -- there's something I've been wanting to tell you since I was 18." He looked a bit bewildered and came back, saying, "Really? What's that?" "Well," I said, "I just wanted to say 'thank you for writing ME AND THE ORGONE.'" He threw his head back with his mouth in an big O shape, squeezed his eyes shut as if it was all too much to bear, then shook my hands vigorously, even bowing in mock theatrical fashion to kiss them. "Why, thank you, thank you, my boy!" he said, making too much of a fuss. All around this little scene, people in the store who had gathered to watch this meeting of two Americans stood beaming fondly at us and applauding.

Then I woke up. The first thing I thought was, "Shit, watch me get online now and find out that Orson Bean has died." Happily, this wasn't the case and I'm even happier to say that Orson Bean is still among the living and employed.

It was odd of me to have this dream, because it wasn't prompted by anything recent. I hadn't read ME AND THE ORGONE since I was 18 years old. It's an autobiographic account of the failure of Bean's first marriage, his adventures in Reichian therapy, and how he fell in love with and married his second wife, Carolyn. (I must interject here that one of the reasons I was prompted to read this book -- which was passed on to me by an acquaintence named Peter Umbenhauer who taught a course on Wilhelm Reich at the University of Cincinnati -- was that I had seen the Beans together numerous times on the 1970s "candid" game show TATTLE TALES, where I learned a lot about the two of them and came to think of them as possibly the coolest couple on the planet. I got to know more about their background by reading ME AND THE ORGONE, which was a "three E" book: engrossing, enlightening and entertaining. I think Joe Dante must have read it too, because he seemed to know the book when I mentioned it while telling him, years ago, how pleased I was to see Orson Bean pop up in INNERSPACE. But I digress; I digress like hell.

I haven't read ME AND THE ORGONE since I was 18, but the first thing I did after waking from this dream was to get online, confirm that Mr. Bean was alright and then look up his book in the usual search engines, to see if it was still available. It is, and if any of this interests you, you should read it. My researches also revealed that he had since written another volume of autobiography which I'd also like to read. He and Carolyn are no longer together, apparently; he has since remarried to Ally Mills (the mom from TV's THE WONDER YEARS) and I'm sure they're a neat couple, too.

I don't know how much feedback Orson Bean gets on his books, but I want to re-read the one I remember so fondly and maybe read the more recent one too, and satisfy this unrest in my subconscious by dropping him a line of appreciation. Whenever I have a vivid dream like this, some little devil seems to tell me that these familiar strangers -- people I've known all my life in a sense, but who are in fact strangers -- need to hear from me on some level, and it's always an emotional battle of sorts to deny the force of the dream and come to the more sensible conclusion that these people are probably getting along just fine without me.

I don't know why I decided to blog about this two-year-old dream today, except that maybe the seed was planted by the fact that Donna and I dined last night at a wonderful new Argentinian tapas restaurant called The Argentine Bean. And there was an even stranger coinky-dink that occurred as I was writing this, when the aforementioned Joe Dante e-mailed me with this little story about "The Wilhelm Scream," which he says shall be heard again (several times) in the December 2 installment of MASTERS OF HORROR, which he directed.

Now that I think about it, Kate Bush once wrote a wonderful song about Wilhelm Reich called "Cloudbusting" -- which I guess ties today's blog to yesterday's!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Happy Synergy to You

As I mentioned yesterday, today is my Beloved's 50th birthday.

We had plans to go out for brunch, but we woke late and decided to stay in and domesticate. The rules began breaking last night, shortly after midnight anyway, when I presented her with some gifts, which she distinctly told me not to get for her -- I always get her books, and she doesn't have the time these days to read. So I got her a few books she can look at before bedtime, and also the new three-disc set of THE WIZARD OF OZ, whose new high-definition 5.1 transfer we enjoyed last night. Today, she's been chuckling over congratulatory e-mails from friends and I've been serenading her with mp3s, everything from Carpenters' "Close to You" to Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot's "Bonnie and Clyde" -- and, of course, the theme from "Hawaii 5-0." I sneaked Leon Russell's "A Song for You" into the mix, which was well-intended but more melancholy than was appropriate for such a happy day, so I raised the mood and the tempo by playing James Brown's "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine)," which is just as admired around here but in a different way.

She's starting to get ready for our evening -- we've been invited by our friends Wayne and Jan Perry to join them for dinner at a new Argentinian restaurant in town -- so I decided the time was right to start listening to Kate Bush's new album Aerial. It's very lovely; it's her first album in many years, and it's wonderful to hear something fresh from her, on today of all days. "Mrs. Bartolozzi" is one of those songs that makes you lower your head and smiley-pout, humbled by the expression of a superior artist.

As I started listening to the album, I continued to browse the Internet and learned on the Shockwaves boards that novelist John Fowles died over the weekend. I haven't read Fowles in awhile, which is okay because he hasn't published in awhile; after the death of his first wife, who had been the inspiration for the heroine of his The Magus, he decided there was no point in writing anymore... or at least not in publishing. He wrote many splendid novels and I have particularly warm memories of a season I spent reading his Daniel Martin and the revised edition of The Magus back-to-back. A few weeks ago, his name popped into my head as I was browsing Amazon.com and I read a few pages available there from a new biography and a new volume of his collected correspondence. It awakened some old feelings in me, feelings I hadn't realized I'd missed so much or still cherished. When I think of Fowles I think of books that read and feel like the books I want to write will read and feel. How I would love to have the time to re-read Daniel Martin someday...

Fowles was one of those quintessientially British novelists, a true heir to the walking stick of Thomas Hardy. Is the time for such men now behind us? I wonder. As I absorbed the mild shock of his passing, I realized that I was listening to a similarly, quintessentially British artist, a much younger one, whose long-awaited new album is similarly alive with landscape and eros, its songs apparently unified by the theme of domesticity.

Which brings me back to home and hearth and my Beloved's 50th birthday. Tonight, we celebrate. I will raise a glass to her, to our friends, and to these two others not present at our table who have come to nest in my thoughts today.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Just a Short Sunday Scribble

First of all, thanks to Brad Stevens for visiting the Mobius Home Video Forum and, in their Sci Fi, Horror and Fantastic Cinema folder, correcting a fine point in my original "Cormania" posting about THE TERROR. The stone portal I mentioned/pictured is not located at Big Sur, but on a stretch of Leo Carrillo Beach; I've gone back to my posted remarks here and made the appropriate correction. Brad also offered an interesting breakdown of who-shot-what for THE TERROR, which is worth reading.

I recorded Encore Mystery's showing of THE TERROR and was pleased to discover it's a newer transfer than I used to do the frame grabs appearing in this blog a couple of days ago. That version, as I mentioned, was preceded by an Orion Pictures logo; this new one is preceded by the MGM lion. The photography is much sharper-looking, the contrast is superior, and the color has been brightened and digitally enhanced; also the scene in which Jonathan Haze is blinded by an eagle plays out in this latest version with a day-for-night tint; the Orion version of the scene unfolds in broad daylight. The improvements are significant and admirable.

THE TERROR will be showing once again on Encore Mystery on Wednesday, November 23 at 5:00 a.m. eastern time.

My next Sight and Sound column is due tomorrow and I still don't know what I'm writing about yet, so I can't devote much time to this blog today. Also, tomorrow is Donna's birthday -- a major one... the half centenary... the "Big 5-0" -- and the first of my presents to her was a weekend off. I'm going to go downstairs now, play a little reggae (always a relaxing ambiance for a Sunday), make a nice pot of coffee, maybe rustle up some eggs, and spend some time with my lady fair.