Saturday, March 03, 2007

The I's Have It: IDIOCRACY and INFAMOUS

Luke Wilson (right) finds that you can't grow crops with Gatorade in IDIOCRACY, the latest comedy from Mike Judge.

IDIOCRACY
2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

I was eager to see this sci-fi comedy from Mike Judge (KING OF THE HILL, OFFICE SPACE) because I imagined myself in complete sympathy with its premise, so close to the bone that Fox withdrew it from theatrical release almost immediately. It depicts a dystopian future where everyone has become so stupid that the hottest movie around is called "ASS," a feature-length close-up of a bare and occasionally farting behind, which swept the Oscars, including the one for Best Screenplay. (This gag is symptomatic of what's right and wrong with the picture: one's reflex reaction is "Hey, don't give Eddie Murphy any ideas!"; on the other hand, ASS is not unlike some actual important films by Andy Warhol, so the humor doesn't linger or stand up to scrutiny if you're bright enough to know Warhol's work.) While IDIOCRACY pokes fun at symptoms already frightening apparent in our world today, it's not sharp or sharp-toothed enough to make for stinging satire, and its premise -- that intelligent people stopped reproducing while stupid "trailer trash" not only continued to reproduce but engage in unprotected sex willy-nilly with every hillbilly neighbor in sight -- makes stupidity seem a hereditary inevitability rather than an end result of today's willful dumbing-down of our culture.

Luke Wilson is likeable as the hero, an average G.I. Joe whose name actually is Joe, who is recruited along with an equally average prostitute (Maya Rudolph) to spend a year asleep in a Rip Van Winkle experiment, only to awaken through some ill-explained mishap in the year 2505. (I don't get the joke of why the only average woman the Army could find is a prostitute, unless she's intended as an illustration of the "stupid" impulse to fornicate with everyone in sight, balanced with the "smarts" to at least want to turn a profit on it.) In 2505, everyone's a blathering headbanging moron, entranced by explosions and slapstick comedy (the #1 TV show is called OW! MY BALLS!, which is pretty self-explanatory), named after the products bombarding them in advertising from every direction -- so, naturally, it takes Joe awhile to figure out that he's no longer in his own time. The premise is all the movie has going for it, and everything that happens after Joe wises up to his predicament stacks a lot of deadweight onto the trembling framework, failing to sustain interest despite running less than 80 minutes, minus the end credits. All in all, a failed opportunity to tell some bitter truths hilariously. Bring on the remake!

Toby Jones (as Truman Capote) and Sigourney Weaver (as Babe Paley) in INFAMOUS.

INFAMOUS
2006, Warner Home Video

Before seeing this Truman Capote biopic, based on a book by George Plimpton, I was under the mistaken impression that it covered the period in Capote's life after the publication of IN COLD BLOOD. Such an approach would likely have resulted in a better movie, at least a more useful one, than this ambivalent mess, which covers the same events as CAPOTE -- his research of the 1959 Clutter family slayings in Holcomb, Kansas -- but from a more pixieish angle. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, the first act can't decide whether it wants to be a swishy fishy-out-of-water comedy or a solemn drama; likewise, the rest of the movie feels uncertain in its depiction of Capote himself, who is rendered as a shallow, yet deeply troubled and self-delusional caricature of a tortured artist, surrounded by wealthy shallow friends, incapable of keeping secrets or telling the truth, who may or may not fall in love with a murderer on Death Row -- we can never tell.

Future Bond Daniel Craig has some convincing, intense moments as Clutter killer Perry Smith, especially as he's being led to the gallows, and it's a pleasure to see Sandra Bullock portraying a real character (Nelle Harper Lee) for a change, rather than some heroine of a vehicle. I can't tell whether her portrayal is more authentic than Catherine Keener's but I liked Bullock better -- she seems more at home onscreen as a supporting actress, and she's the only other character in sight who's not at least half cartoon. Rather like the two-dimensional richfolk played by Peter Bogdanovich (a poor Bennett Cerf), Sigourney Weaver and Isabella Rossellini, Toby Jones is a slippery facsimile of Truman Capote. He gets the character, but never quite succeeds in fully becoming the person, as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in CAPOTE, but one doesn't know whether to fualt the opportunities offered, the performance, or the direction. Worst of all, while the two Capote films agree on the topic of his essential insincerity, they are frequently at odds factually, leaving the viewer at loose ends about which version to believe. Of the two films, both of which pinge dramatically on Capote's homosexuality, this one feels the more authentically gay to me, yet -- offensively -- it also seems the more shallow and untrustworthy.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Don't Be a Paste-Pot Pete!

Once again I've seen an instance of someone on another film discussion board copying the entire text of one of my postings (yesterday's) and reprinting it elsewhere, in complete disregard of my copyright notice. What is wrong with people? Do I have to make the copyright larger than the text?

Let me explain once again, for those in doubt, what should be obvious. I write for a living. I take the work I publish online as seriously as anything I write for publication. It's my property and clearly labelled as such. What I give to you -- as my audience -- is my time, not my property. These are the terms according to which I give this blog my time. Surely this is fair enough.

If you should read some information here that inspires you to spread the word, links to this page or links to individual postings are gratefully encouraged. You also have the right to paraphrase me: "Tim Lucas said such-and-such on his blog today..." But anyone who chooses instead to cut-and-paste my work should be aware that, in doing so, they are effectively stealing from me, stealing from this blog, and stealing from everyone who enjoys Video WatchBlog, because such unhappy discoveries compel me to reconsider its value to me as a pastime.

If you happen to frequent a discussion board where one or more of my past blogs has been substantially reproduced (say, more than the opening paragraph), you can be sure that my work is "on tour" without my knowledge or approval. Please do me the favor of reporting such Terms of Service abuse to the board's moderator and suggest that my stolen property be removed from their showroom windows; it doesn't reflect well on them. Feel free to link to this entry or my contact address, should they require any input from me prior to taking action. Anyone who protects and defends this blog to this extent will be helping to remind me that the great majority of my readers are actually responsible, fair-minded folk who value what I bring to this blog and want to see it continue.

Thanks,
Tim / VWb

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dark Sky's KILL BABY KILL - Cancelled?

Valerio Valeri as Melissa Graps, posing with her menagerie of dolls, in Mario Bava's KILL, BABY... KILL!

Starting late last night, I've been the recipient of several e-mails asking me this question. Here's a representative letter that arrived in my e-box late last night:

I was wondering if you knew anything about a change in status for the release of the Dark Sky DVD of 'Kill Baby Kill'? The preorder listing for it has been removed from Amazon. DVDPlanet's page now lists it as "no longer available" with a release date of 12/31/2009. Also, it is not appearing under "future releases" on the Dark Sky Films website. Has this release been cancelled?
-- Eric

Eric's letter offers several compelling reasons for how the rumor got started. I wrote back to him, explaining that I hadn't heard anything about a cancellation, but this didn't necessarily mean anything to the contrary; given the evidence he presented, I could well understand his suspicion and felt some concern myself. My involvement with the release is over and I wouldn't necessarily be informed by Dark Sky Films (at least earlier than anyone else) if something happened to bar the disc's release to the marketplace. And if something should prevent its release, I would consider that grievous news, not only for the sake of my audio commentary, but for the sake of David Gregory's return-to-Karmingen featurette with Lamberto Bava, which is so wonderful.

I wrote to Dark Sky Films in search of an answer and they responded with a brief explanation of events this morning. I've been asked not to repeat what I was told, so that's as much as I can share with you now... not much, I'm afraid. However, as of this moment in time, I have heard nothing about a cancellation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Good Magazine Picks the Best

Graydon Carter has written an article for GOOD Magazine listing his choices for "The 51 Best Magazines Ever." Being a publisher and editor, I was engaged by his topic and my eyes promptly swept down his list like low-flying aircraft looking for, shall we say, recognizable coordinates. Alas, when I exhausted its possibilities with that glory of the printed page known as TIGER BEAT, I decided I was slumming, resumed normal cruising altitude, and flew away.

I am neither offended or surprised that Mr. Carter didn't include VIDEO WATCHDOG among his selections for the "Best" magazines (explained in a subtitle as analogous to "Smartest, Prettiest, Coolest, Funniest, Most Influential, Most Necessary, Most Important, Most Essential, etc"). In fact, I take pride in sharing his neglect with a large number of infinitely smarter, cooler, and more influential magazines -- including the very ones that inspired me to produce a magazine in the first place.

Not a single film-related magazine made the GOOD list: no FILM COMMENT, no SIGHT AND SOUND, no CAHIERS DU CINEMA or POSITIF, and certainly no CINEFANTASTIQUE, MIDI MINUIT FANTASTIQUE, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN or FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. Evidently these have not influenced lives or our world to the extent of VANITY FAIR (which Mr. Carter edits), HIGHLIGHTS, PEOPLE, or WET.

There is no mention of THE STRAND MAGAZINE (which gave us Sherlock Holmes), ST. NICHOLAS or THE HORN BOOK. Speaking of "cool," there is no CRAWDADDY (which introduced serious rock journalism), no CREEM, no HEAVY METAL (which changed the look of science fiction cinema), nor Michael Moorcock's NEW WORLDS, the zero-ground for new wave science fiction in the 1960s. There's no reference to any of the great pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s. THE EVERGREEN REVIEW is outshone on the list by THE PARIS REVIEW, while MOJO and MUSICIAN are eclipsed by ROLLING STONE and THE FACE. This, despite the fact that Mr. Clark freely allows that neither of his choices for top music magazine has been relevant since before the introduction of the CD. Somehow I suspect that Mr. Clark's interest in music hasn't been exactly vital since the demise of vinyl.

I am tempted to describe this list as an overview of the 51 Best Known Magazines ever, peppered with just enough alternative chic items to look halfway real, and just enough dentist-office-waiting-room titles to appeal to people who don't have the time to haunt newsstands. 21 of these "best" magazines are footnoted to explain that their ranking only applies to specific short-lived periods associated with certain publishers, editors or figureheads; in other words, nearly half the list consists of what the author himself essentially classifies as failed, or at least paled, publications. Durability and continued relevance are evidently no yardstick of quality. (Curiously, while he allows that MAD and INTERVIEW haven't been the same since the demises of William Gaines and Andy Warhol, there is no such footnote for PLAYBOY, which clearly hasn't been the same since Hugh Hefner stepped down as Editor.) The irony is that Mr. Clark's preamble assures us that "magazines -- at least certain magazines -- aren't going away any time soon."

Actually, this is true enough because, if this article tells us anything, it's that -- regardless of waning quality or pertinence -- if your magazine was hot for a little while back in the 1970s, it should last on newsstands at least last as long as the generation that got its cultural bearings from it in their 20s. Especially if it's bought out, or simply sells out. And, if your magazine appeals to a well-monied generation, its chances for a long and profitable if irrelevant life are even better.

A pull-quote in this article offers what I consider an outstanding insight: "Newspapers tell you about the world; magazines tell you about their world." Alas, too many of Mr. Clark's choices read like newspapers, and some have decidedly yellowed. There's a vast difference between magazines marked by a specific personality or viewpoint, which one can visit periodically like an erudite or worldly or sarcastic friend, and magazines that truly map the worlds within our world, affecting our perceptions of the world, life, and art.

You know where I stand.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Marty Rules

Last night, Martin Scorsese claimed his long-deserved Oscar for Best Director. He received it for THE DEPARTED, which also won Best Picture, Best Screenplay (William Monahan), and Best Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker). The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has a long history of either failing to recognize true excellence or to honor the best of its practitioners in any kind of contemporary fashion, but THE DEPARTED is one of Scorsese's finest pictures -- ambitious in scope and detail, fiercely well-acted, and remarkably dense in its cynicism. Its two-and-a-half hours present us with a world in which there is no clearly delineated good and evil, just a hopelessly compromised bureaucratic world in which good things can sometimes happen, if only at the whim of corrupt people. Described by Scorsese as his first movie with a plot, THE DEPARTED has a particularly impressive structure -- and, as remarkable as the film itself may be, speaking as a writer, I have the feeling that William Monahan's screenplay was perhaps the more quantum achievement; it's an amazing piece of writing.

Seeing Scorsese finally win the Oscar -- and to have it presented to him by Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, a veritable three-headed lion of contemporary American cinema -- was one of many moments of requital that made last night's Academy Awards broadcast perhaps the most personally meaningful I'd seen. He didn't direct it, but Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker were largely responsible for the quality of WOODSTOCK, which remains one of the finest documentaries ever and a turning point in cinema history. When I saw MEAN STREETS for the first time, at the Skywalk Cinemas in Cincinnati in 1973, I had the feeling that I was hearing my own generation speak to me through a motion picture narrative for the first time. TAXI DRIVER, of course, is a masterpiece of apocalyptic power. RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS -- inarguably, two of the greatest American films of their century. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said many times before, nor am I even scratching the surface of all he's given us, but these are the principal reasons why it was so invigorating to see his greatness properly recognized -- these, plus the fact that his moment was reserved for a time when he clearly wasn't being awarded simply for being himself, when the award was attached to a work that is in no way a minor addition to his filmography.

And then there was this moment. If any living artist was conceivably more deserving of such recognition, it is Ennio Morricone -- not only the greatest living film composer, but arguably the outstanding classical composer of the past century. The Maestro's emotional acceptance of the Oscar, and his dedication of the honor to his wife Maria, were moving to witness, all the moreso after hearing reprised snippets from his scores for THE MISSION (a landmark), BUGSY and THE UNTOUCHABLES, but it was indicative of the Academy's blindness to such matters that only Morricone's Oscar-nominated scores were prominently represented, and that the brief scroll of titles from his filmography offered absolutely no mention of his magnum opus, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I can't help but reflect in this instance on what I wrote earlier about THE DEPARTED: if it takes the inept, uninformed gesture of people who really have no love of movies to get this award into Morricone's hand, so be it. This doesn't cheapen the artist or his recognition, and we who know better can savor the moment for what it truly signifies. When Morricone spoke of accepting the award in the spirit of the countless other craftsmen who toil throughout their lives, giving generously of themselves to cinema without ever being given similar acknowledgement, I felt that he was referring to the likes of Francesco de Masi, Carlo Rustichelli, Bruno Nicolai, and many others among his gifted colleagues who have begun to leave us.

I was just as happy to see Helen Mirren's magnificent work recognized, but I was also delighted by the approach taken by the show's producers this year, honoring not only the winners but all the nominees. While the trophy itself is obviously something to envy, it's one's fellow nominees who provide the true measure of one's accomplishment in these categories, and I would imagine that the real honor -- to any artist -- would be to be considered, for example, part of the Academy Awards' "Class of 2007" in whatever category.

My only disappointments this year were related to PAN'S LABYRINTH: why no Best Achievement in Visual Effects nomination? I haven't seen THE LIVES OF OTHERS, so I can't say that Guillermo del Toro was robbed in the Best Foreign Film category, particularly as he was the first audience member to hug the victor, but I do feel that his film wasn't quite paid the full measure of respect it was due... undoubtedly because the Academy has an allergy to fantastic cinema.

Despite this, I found the 79th annual Academy Awards to be something it rarely is: heartening. This year, it was actually about movies that I care about.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Ian Wallace: High and Mighty Traps

This blog gets to touch on the subject of Bob Dylan again today, but under unexpectedly tragic circumstances.

Ian Wallace -- who drummed on Dylan's albums STREET LEGAL, INFIDELS and LIVE AT BUDOKAN, and occasionally with The Traveling Wilburys, but who is best remembered as the drummer for the 1971-73 incarnation of King Crimson (ISLANDS, EARTHBOUND, LADIES OF THE ROAD) and their tribute bands The 21st Century Schizoid Band and Crimson Jazz Trio -- passed away yesterday at age 59, after a five-month bout with esophogeal cancer.

As an interested member of his audience with the latter two projects, I was a former daily reader of Ian's online diary but I drifted away when his suddenly resumed touring/recording career took him away from those writing duties for long stretches of time. We swapped one or two e-mails during those times, I'm sure, and I was very surprised to learn about his passing and his illness when I got online today.

When you read someone's daily diary online, you feel you know them, though it's debatable whether such knowing exists unless they also know you as well. Ian had a tremendous knack not only for diarizing, but for lively, humorous writing, and I encouraged him to apply his twinkle toward a more ambitious writing project, as other regulars did. But then the opportunity to replace Michael Giles in the 21st Century Schizoid Band came along, and Ian seized it. I suspect from his many blogs about the pleasure he took in dining with his fellow Nashvillian, King Crimson frontman Adrian Belew, that it would have been his greatest wish to rejoin King Crimson, which wasn't likely to happen given their current musical direction. His stints with the 21CSB and the Crimson Jazz Trio (whose debut album is most inventive and impressive) were the consolation prizes that allowed him to close his career by reaffirming his place in the band's history and its music's future.

The core of Ian's blog readership was made up of King Crimson fans, though the true measure of his contribution to the band didn't become fully apparent until Discipline Global Mobile (KC's self-goverened label) began issuing KCCC (King Crimson Collectors Club) live discs from their website some years back. Ian's two Crimson albums, ISLANDS and EARTHBOUND, have always been the least understood/appreciated of the oft-mutating band's releases; EARTHBOUND, a live recording, suffered from harsh sound quality and I've personally found that ISLANDS never quite blossomed as a listening experience until its latest remastering. It was usually seen as the weakest of their first four studio albums, but time has been kinder to it than perhaps to either IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON or LIZARD (once my favorite of the first four); it contains at least two bonafide KC classics, "The Sailor's Tale" and "Ladies of the Road," both of which are memorably propelled by Ian's high-and-mighty traps. The live discs of the Wallace KC, which featured Boz Burrell (who passed away last year) on bass and vocals, salvaged the reputation of that lineup, especially the 9th KCCC set recorded at Denver, Colorado's Summit Studios in March 1972. Other such releases, like the 18th volume from Detroit in November 1971, offered perfected versions of the album that EARTHBOUND should have been. A selection of the best of this material was subsequently issued under the title LADIES OF THE ROAD.

When King Crimson dissolved in 1973, only to be reborn as a radically different, experimental unit in 1974, Ian Wallace moved on to drum for Bob Dylan. His playing on 1975's STREET LEGAL, while less "Dionysian" (to use another critic's word) than his phase-heavy drum solo on EARTHBOUND's "Groon," sounds infinitely more chipper; his airy but buoyant drumming on the underrated classic "The Changing of the Guards" allows the grave lyric to levitate, and he kicks "Where Are You Tonight?" into a zone only an avenue or two away from "Positively 4th Street." "Señor (Tales of Yankee Power)" also gives him opportunities to infuse Dylan's work with solemnity and atmosphere. He later rejoined Dylan for 1983's INFIDELS, where many of the songs, including the classics "Jokerman" and "I and I", are launched from Ian's distinctive, reggae-flavored, opening drum fills.

The DGM site has created a page in remembrance of Ian Wallace, which offers two free mp3 downloads, one of them "The Sailor's Tale" (which also features one of Robert Fripp's finest guitar solos, and perhaps his earliest truly characteristic one). Take advantage and give them a listen. Then pop over to his website and read some of his older blog pages and, if you've a mind to, continue reading through his wife Margie's account of his last months -- a document of their mutual bravery. My heart goes out to Margie because, as much as I remember the musician on this sad day, I remember the man of words, of heart and humor, who turned my respect for Ian Wallace into fondness.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Half A Million Served

Video WatchBlog surpassed its 500,000th hit sometime early this morning. My sincere thanks for your continued attention!

I should write about Bob Dylan more often. Thanks to a link posted at the Dylan website Expecting Rain, today has been VWb's biggest attendance day ever -- close to 2200 hits today already, and it's not even 8:00 pm. I've told Donna that we should give some serious consideration to starting up VIDEO WATCHBOB.

Stay interested!

Ubu Swag Dream

David Thomas of Pere Ubu. He sings for all those guys.

Last night I dreamed I was at a Pere Ubu concert. It was in a sweaty little club, just like the time I saw them for real. I'm not a big concert-goer, but my real Ubu show was one of the great shows I've attended: a rainy night at Bogarts in Cincinnati, probably 1987. The band had just reunited after a layoff of several years, and I couldn't believe I was actually going to get the opportunity to see them play. But it got better than that: when maybe 75 people showed up for the gig, the band waved for everybody to come closer to the stage. So I was able to stand about ten feet away from one of my favorite bands as they plugged in and performed all my favorites. Except for one idiot in the crowd who insisted on exclaiming "Little fishes!" at intervals that baffled crowd and band alike, it was everything I could have hoped for. And I got to see them with Allen Ravenstine too, not long before he left the group.

Anyway, I promised you a dream, so here goes. When the performance ended, I complimented the band as they passed by en route to their dressing room, then I piled into a line that lead to the table where vocalist and spike hammerer David Thomas settled down to sell and sign exclusive Ubu swag. There was a rotating rack filled with CDs, all indie stuff, but I couldn't find any Pere Ubu on it. I could tell by looking over the shoulders of the people in line ahead of me that there was an album, an old fashioned vinyl album, that Thomas was selling for fistfuls of green cash, and I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw a display card confirming that VISA and MasterCard were also being accepted. (Blogger's note: The band's website features an "Ubutique" that sells such swag, but it does not accept credit cards.)

By the time I got to the table, everyone else in the club was gone... except a guy in a Porter Paints cap who looked a lot like a character actor I've seen many times on television but couldn't put a name to. There were two copies of the album left, unshrinkwrapped but in mylar sleeves, and upon learning that the album wasn't being sold anywhere but at live shows, I bought both copies.

Then I said to David, "I sure would like to have these signed by the band."

"No problem," he said, carrying them off... presumably to find the band, whom I figured were having beers in their dressing room.

After awhile, I looked around and saw David Thomas lollygagging on the floor of the club, signing the album covers with a brightly colored Sharpie. He wasn't only signing his name, he was signing everybody else's name too -- switching the Sharpie from his right to his left hand if the member whose name he was signing happened to be a southpaw.

I yelled, "Hey, don't do that! That's dishonest!"

He yelled back, "No, it's not! I sing for all these guys!" *

That's when I woke up, realizing that he had a point.

To make this utterly personal dream somewhat more relevant to the readers of this blog, I should mention that Pere Ubu have been making personal appearances over the past few years in which they've provided a live underscore to the Roger Corman movie X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES. You can read a bit about the project's background here, and you can actually hear one of the live performances in its entirety by clicking on the movie title link found here (heck, synch it up at home with your DVD and make a night of it).

If you do this, make a point of going to the Ubutique and buying something from the band for real. I just learned that they've issued a 5.1 mix of their first album THE MODERN DANCE, and I'm going to Amazon right now to grab my copy.

Is this the future of commercials? People speak to you in your dreams, causing you to buy their products when you awake?

* My friend Brian Gordon once met David Thomas in a club. He walked over and said he'd like to shake his hand, and David said, "Sure, just let me put my change away first." God knows how many years later, we both still think of that line with amusement... but what David said to me in my dream seems to me equally amusing, and more profound in the bargain. Dreams are funny.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bob Dylan - The Man Who Sold the World

The constellations governing my interests have been aligning into the likeness of Bob Dylan over the past week or so. I was too young to appreciate (or even hear much of) Dylan during the Civil Rights days of the early 1960s, and I was never a big fan during my teens, twenties, or even my thirties; I was pulled in different musical directions in those days. But once I reached my forties, something in me opened to Dylan (probably after I saw DON'T LOOK BACK for the first time) and I began to listen more attentively; he's not an artist to be appreciated passively.

Lately I've been pulled more directly into Dylan's orbit by his wonderful weekly Sirius radio program, THEME TIME RADIO HOUR, which collects songs obscure and familiar from all different eras on a single theme -- be it Coffee, Jail, Women's Names, Halloween, or Tears. Every program is like a court order addressed to the listener to widen their musican horizons, and Dylan's pinched, stylized and often humorous narration provides the perfect accompaniment. So, I've been listening to that, delving deeper into some SACD pressings of various Dylan albums I was wise enough to buy (BLOOD ON THE TRACKS and DESIRE are two favorites because I'm one of those folks who prefer the sound of Scarlet Rivera's violin to Al Kooper's organ), and I also watched THE LAST WALTZ recently. I think the performance of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is magnificent in that film, but I strenuously disagree with NEWSWEEK's assessment that it's "the finest of all rock movies." I'm probably biased, since I've never been a big fan of The Band in terms of their work apart from Dylan, and find Robbie Robertson's thirty-something, world-weary lamentations in the movie about "the road" hilariously self-absorbed and self-important -- you could cut them into a Rutles or Spinal Tap film without doctoring them for comedy in the least. But when Neil Young or Joni Mitchell or Dylan himself step on stage with the former Hawks, the movie assumes its properly mythic dimensions. (THE LAST WALTZ is now available on Blu-ray Disc, incidentally.)

Last night, after reading some Michael Moorcock with BEFORE THE FLOOD spinning in the background, I decided it was time to take this Dylan thing to a head by revisiting Martin Scorsese's NO DIRECTION HOME - BOB DYLAN. (I'm holding off on revisiting DON'T LOOK BACK until the new "1965 Tour Deluxe" edition streets later this month.) I had watched NO DIRECTION HOME upon its initial DVD release in September 2005 and reacted as many other commentators did: it was hard to credit it as a Scorsese film, considering that so much of its footage came from other films, and that Scorsese was clearly not even the person interviewing Dylan. Yet I found that the movie, program, or whatever it is, comes into its own much more with a second viewing, and I could feel Scorsese's guiding hand more palpably in the way all the materials were presented. In fact, as the second half built to its pressure cooker climax, I had the sense that NO DIRECTION HOME was about what celebrity does to you, in the sense that GOODFELLAS is about what cocaine does to you. What happens to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Bob Dylan in those two films is very similar: the humble origins, the gravitation to figures of legend, the rise to power and influence, the fractious relationship with a woman attracted to him for his possibilities (in Dylan's case, Joan Baez), the craziness that sets in, and the escape behind drugs and dark glasses as one's life and art fall under greater and greater scrutiny. Even the editing rhythms are similar: easy-going and graceful, and accelerating irrevocably toward a paranoid, brittle jerkiness that suggests a life imploding and crashing in upon itself.

Of course what makes NO DIRECTION HOME essential viewing is not merely the importance of what it says about Dylan and the media, or about Dylan's trasfiguration of folk music into rock music, or about this nation's lost-flock need for shepherding voices, but its laying bare of the process of Dylan's self-manufacture and his relationship with his art. I've seen a lot of Dylan interviews over the years, and he's not always the most reliable narrator, being a wily scamp when the mood strikes him, but here I get the sense from his sound bytes that he's being forthright and sincere (at least most of the time). We see him at his typewriter quite often, we see him assimilating his musical and literary influences and see all of these things resurface in his art, newly filtered through his own evolving sensibilities, and we respect his struggle to maintain the honesty of that relationship as he is bombarded with flashbulbs and absurd questions ("Would you describe yourself as a protest singer?" "Could you please suck your glasses?") and strangers and friends alike who are trying to shoehorn him into their own schemes and agendas -- social, political and personal.

At the most intense of these moments, parallels begin to emerge pertaining to Scorsese's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. In a sense, Dylan is being tempted throughout this documentary with the possibility of becoming the Messianic figure so desperately wished for in the wake of John F. Kennedy's assassination -- tempted with celebrity, sex, success, money, political clout, indulgence, you name it. All he had to do to achieve this was to walk along the carefully dotted line being painted in front of his own wandering bootheels. As fate or luck would have it, the ace up the sleeve of this Jokerman was that he had never sought or aspired to any of this attention; it came to him, naturally or supernaturally, and this would eventually make all the difference in his refusal to succeed as a symbol of the moment (possibly another assassinated symbol of the moment -- Al Kooper remarks that he left the booing 1965 "electric" tour when he saw Dallas on the list of cities, not wishing to find himself "in the John Connelly position") and the mercurial artist he continues to be all these decades later.

Watching NO DIRECTION HOME again, I could see that Dylan's story really is the great musical saga of our time, much moreso than those of Frank Sinatra, Elvis, or The Beatles. Not only does its longeivity make it so, but its stubborn refusal to be (as he might have said) classified, denied, or crucified. It doesn't matter that Dylan hasn't known the continued commercial success of peers who didn't actively last as long, or that he didn't live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse. Not only did he write great songs, not only did he write great songs that were infinitely adaptable to interpretation by the common man as well as our most extraordinary musical artists, Dylan was and is (to borrow a phrase from David Bowie) The Man Who Sold the World. He could have had it all -- but he has prefered to live his life on his own terms, or those of his muse, always according to his own values. For a figure of his magnitude to use his position to demonstrate how it's possible to succeed even while opting for a more marginal existence and career may be the most precious gift he will leave to his fellow Americans, particularly as this country has gone from being the land of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger to the billboard of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in 40 short years. In that same period of time, Dylan's body of work continues to rise as one of the unassailable towers of contemporary Western culture. It's there for those of us who know it, want it, and need it -- like so much bread cast upon the waters.

A few sentences ago, I mentioned the remarkable adaptability of Dylan's music, which (as NO DIRECTION HOME shows) has been covered by everyone from George Harrison to Bobby Darin to The Jerry Lewis Singers. The latest example of this phenomenon is forthcoming later this month with the release of DYLANESQUE, an entire CD of Dylan covers by former Roxy Music frontman Bryan Ferry.

I've been able to hear an advance copy of the Ferry album, which doesn't dig very deeply into Dylan's rich trove of back catalogue, sticking mostly to songs already extensively covered by other artists -- indeed, covered by other artists way back in the 1960s. ("Make You Feel My Love" from 1997's TIME OUT OF MIND is one of the few exceptions.) Now in his 60s, Ferry eschews the ebulliently campy approach he brought to his interpretation of "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" on his solo debut album THESE FOOLISH THINGS back in 1973. These new covers are sung in an appealingly dry, vulnerable and reedy voice that offers readier access to the poetical complexities of Dylan's lyrics than the songwriter can usually provide himself, and the musical arrangements (featuring the customarily brilliant guitar stylings of Phil Manzanera), while hardly startling, are keenly felt. If Ferry's own medium-cool persona sometimes stands in the way of his delivering a lyric like "Someone take this badge off of me, I can't wear it anymore," his tribute nevertheless succeeds in its aim to bring us all back home to the man who, once upon a time in America, felt these songs stirring in the ether and wrote them down for the rest of us.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Finally: Anchor Bay's Bava Box Press Release

ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT
HONORS LEGENDARY DIRECTOR
MARIO BAVA WITH THE 5-FILM
MARIO BAVA BOX SET VOLUME 1 DVD
AND NORTH AMERICAN DVD PREMIERE OF KIDNAPPED ON APRIL 3RD


The Screaming Commences April 3rd

BURBANK, CA – During his four-decade career as a cinematographer, special effects designer and director, Italy’s Mario Bava created some of the most beautiful and macabre films ever to grace the silver screen, with unsettling images that transcended the boundaries of land and language. He is celebrated by horror and cinema fans the world over and his influence can be seen in the works of Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Tim Burton and Dario Argento. Now, Anchor Bay Entertainment and International Media Films proudly present The Mario Bava Box Set: Volume 1, a 5-disc DVD collection of five landmark films from the first half of Mario Bava’s impressive career. Bowing April 3rd, The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 features new transfers of the original international versions, along with brand-new bonus materials, of such seminal Bava classics as The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday), The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath), The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Knives of the Avenger and Kill, Baby…Kill!. SRP is $49.98 with pre-book on February 21st.

On the same day, Anchor Bay will also release Mario Bava’s cult thriller Kidnapped, produced by longtime collaborator Alfredo Leone. Available for the first time on DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) features two versions of the film: Bava’s original cut and a previously unreleased uncut version. SRP is $19.98, and pre-book is February 21st.

The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 is the perfect primer for “The Master of the Macabre” with five films that introduced Bava’s frightening visions to horror fans the world over:

The Mask of Satan (Black Sunday)
Mario Bava’s 1960 directorial debut film The Mask of Satan introduced audiences to a new type of horror film – lyrical in imagery, terrifying in impact. Starring British actress Barbara Steele, John Richardson and veteran character actor Arturo Dominici, The Mask of Satan set a different course for gothic horror films, pulsing with stunning cinematography and landmark special effects. Anchor Bay is honored to present Bava’s uncut and uncensored international version of The Mask of Satan, featuring the original Italian score and English dubbing.

The Three Faces of Fear (Black Sabbath)
Horror icon Boris Karloff is our guide for Bava’s 1963 trilogy of terror, taking us through three journeys into the supernatural. In “The Telephone,” a woman is terrorized by incessant phone calls that may or may not foretell greater danger. In “The Wurdalak,” based on a Leo Tolstoy story, Karloff stars with Mark Damon as the patriarch of a family of bloodthirsty ghouls. “The Drop of Water,” adapted from an Anton Chekhov short story, stars Jacqueline Pierreux as a nurse who avails herself to take a ring off the finger of a dead medium – only to realize that sometimes the dead can take it with them!

The Girl Who Knew Too Much
Bava’s fourth film as credited director is a Hitchcockian thriller that many film scholars cite as the first true giallo. Leticia Roman stars as an American tourist in Rome who witnesses a serial killer’s latest killing and convinces a young doctor (John Saxon) to help her investigate the city’s “Alphabet Murders.” For the first time anywhere, Anchor Bay presents Bava’s original international version of La Ragazza Che Sapeva Troppo (The Girl Who Knew Too Much) in Italian with English subtitles.

Knives of the Avenger
Veteran Bava collaborator Cameron Mitchell stars in their third and last pairing in this Norse variation on the “sword-and-sandal” epics so popular in the 1960’s. Mitchell stars as a Viking drifter torn between guilt, vengeance and his love for a peasant woman and her young son. Co-written by Bava (as “John Hold”), Knives of the Avenger re-imagines the American Western as a Viking epic – complete with pillaging and violence, but with a uniquely humanist slant. It features both the English language audio track and the Italian language audio track with English subtitles, presented together for the first time on DVD.

Kill, Baby…Kill! aka Curse of the Living Dead
Giacomo Rossi-Stuart and Erika Blanc star in Bava’s final gothic masterpiece, a hallucinatory tale of a remote village tormented by the specter of a dead little girl. Alternately known as Curse of the Living Dead and Operazione Paura (Operation Fear), Bava’s 1966 stunner has been plagued for decades by inferior public-domain transfers. For this release, Anchor Bay created the definitive presentation, remastered from all-new elements to create the highest quality version ever seen in North America.

Available as a separate DVD, Kidnapped (aka Rabid Dogs) has a history equal in drama and scope to its explosive narrative. The harrowing story of a botched robbery by three criminals and the aftermath – taking three hostages during their desperate getaway – Kidnapped was never finished due to a dispute with the estate of the film’s financier who died during production. Anchor Bay’s presentation of Rabid Dogs includes both Bava’s original film – now with newly created opening and end credit sequences – as well as the version known as Kidnapped featuring footage shot by producer Alfredo Leone and Mario’s son and longtime assistant Lamberto Bava.

Equally impressive to the feature presentations are the wealth of bonus materials available on The Mario Bava Box Set Volume 1 DVD:

MASK OF SATAN (BLACK SUNDAY)
International version with English dubbing
Widescreen presentation (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
U.S. and International trailers
TV spot
Mario Bava & Barbara Steele bios

THE THREE FACES OF FEAR (BLACK SABBATH)
International version in Italian with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.77:1) presentation, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: “A Life In Film - An Interview with Mark Damon”
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International & U.S. trailers
TV spot
Radio spot
Poster and stills gallery
Mario Bava & Boris Karloff bios

THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH
International version with English subtitles
Widescreen (1.66:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
Featurette: "Remembering the Girl with John Saxon"
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
International and U.S. trailers
Poster and still galleries
Mario Bava bio

KILL, BABY…KILL!
Widescreen presentation (1.85:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
TV spots
Mario Bava bio

KNIVES OF THE AVENGER
Widescreen presentation (2.35:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
English and Italian soundtracks with English subtitles
International trailer
Mario Bava bio

KIDNAPPED
Two versions: Mario Bava’s original film (aka Rabid Dogs) and a previously unreleased uncut version
Widescreen presentation (1.78:1), enhanced for 16x9 televisions
In Italian with English subtitles
Featurette: “End of the Road: Making Rabid Dogs and Kidnapped
Audio commentary by Mario Bava biographer Tim Lucas
Mario Bava bio

MARIO BAVA BOX SET VOLUME 1
Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV14854
UPC: 0 1313 14854-9 3
Run Time: 441 Minutes total
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $49.98

KIDNAPPED (aka RABID DOGS)
Street Date: April 3, 2007
Pre-Book: February 21, 2007
Catalog #: DV13298
UPC: 0 1313 13298-9 6
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Rating: Not Rated
SRP: $19.98
_______________

It looks like the "new wrinkle" was a subtle title change for the set.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Many Loves of Watchdog à la Mod

William Finley caught in the act of acting in Brian De Palma's
MURDER A LA MOD.

My review of MURDER A LA MOD, Brian De Palma's first stab at the thriller genre, is now available in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND... and on their website here.

Unfortunately, a wee mistake was made in the editing of this review for publication. The third paragraph ends: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot De Palma's own name on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film." That sentence should read: "PHANTOM [OF THE PARADISE] fans will be intrigued to spot the name of Swan, along with De Palma's own name, on the clapboard in a film-within-the-film."

In other news, here's your first advance peek at the cover of VIDEO WATCHDOG #129. John and I finished editing the issue last night and Donna posted it to our printer very early this morning. As you can see, it sports one of the most commercial covers we've ever had; it emphasizes our feature coverage of Neil Marshall's THE DESCENT (by Richard Harland Smith and Sam Umland), Shane M. Dallmann's "DVD Spotlight" coverage of the SAW Trilogy, and interior reviews of HOSTEL and FINAL DESTINATION 3. We hope to attract some new readers, who, upon opening the issue, will sooner or later find themselves (ha ha ha) in the deep end of the pool, 'doG-paddling about in content as wildly cultish and outré as our seasoned readers have come to expect.

There's a fair amount of Cult TV coverage in this issue, including ULTRAMAN, SECRET AGENT aka DANGER MAN, and the Nigel Kneale BBC series BEASTS and KINVIG; then there are our reviews of the 75th Anniversary editions of DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN; some Toho reviews; the long-awaited return of "Things from the Attic"; Ramsey Campbell on Max Ophüls' THE RECKLESS MOMENT, and lots else.

The BIG news about this new cover, however, is that -- for the first time in our 17-year history -- we've allowed a subtle revision of our familiar magazine logo. You may have overlooked it at first glance, but look again: the central HD in "Watchdog" is now more prominent, flagging the fact that this issue heralds our first steps into the exciting new realms of HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc. There's just a few HD reviews herein, and we're keeping them a secret for now... but you can depend on this becoming an expanding feature of issues to come. A near-complete listing of the issue's contents, a hi-res look at the cover, and free review samples will be posted soon in the Coming Soon area of the VIDEO WATCHDOG website.

Also, I was sorry to notice on Mark Evanier's blog today his announcement of the death of comic artist Bob Oksner at the age of 90.

I'm only familiar with a fraction of Mr. Oksner's work, and when I was enjoying it most as a youngster, I'm not sure that I was even aware of his name; DC Comics didn't always play up the names of their writers ands artists the way Marvel did. However, the lower right hand corner of this cover of THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS #73 shows that Mr. Oksner was certainly known and appreciated by his peers. As I kid, I remember thinking that the artist on such books as THE ADVENTURES OF BOB HOPE, THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS, THE ADVENTURES OF JERRY LEWIS, STANLEY AND HIS MONSTER and ANGEL AND THE APE might be an anonymous or pseudonymous Mort Drucker, because the draftsmanship and deftness of caricature were comparable in many ways. In recent years, I've been revisiting some of these classic humor comics from the 1950s-'70s and have found that they're still as funny as they ever were, but my admiration for Oksner's work has grown by leaps and bounds. His work was not only superbly narrative and supportive of the scripted humor (much of it courtesy of THE FLESH EATERS screenwriter Arnold Drake), but it was also funny in itself (not an easy thing) and could also be sexy in an amusing way. (Much of the humor of Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and Dobie Gillis in these comics had to do with ogling shapely girls.) In addition to all that, Oksner could draw monsters on a par with Jack Davis -- my highest compliment.

You can read more about Bob Oksner by following the link above to Mark Evanier's blog today and scrolling down several items.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Fine Art of Saying Nothing

It's now late in the afternoon on Sunday, and I've just spent the last hour involved in a pastime at which I've become rather proficient. I read threads on various movie discussion boards, as I'm sure you do, and sometimes I read something that seems to invite my written response. So I set to it: I get the feelings (aggravated, more often than not) off my chest and onto my computer screen; then begins the slow process of their refinement. This involves the slow berry-picking of all the unwanted barbs that come with raw expression, the cooling of any heat, the complementary sharpening of common sense, perhaps even the borrowing of some accepted wisdom from Bartlett's or some other quotation compendium, in the event that some unimpeachable voice like that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bob Dylan, or Susan Sontag might be wrangled to lend support to my point-of-view. And then, after thirty to forty to fifty minutes of such fevered polishing, when my retort finally stands before my eyes at its most complete, what do I do?

I delete it.

I can't tell you how many times I've done this. In the dozen or so years I have been actively participating on various film discussion boards, I'm certain that I've deleted enough material to fill a book, if not two.

I delete these replies for many reasons, but the major one is usually that, even though these discussion threads may entice me to the extent of having my say, I intend my participation as a fling rather than as a marriage. If you post your participation in such threads, you'd better have the time and passion to stay involved, because once you're in, you're in.

My time is precious yet -- mea culpa -- before I act on impulse, I seldom stop to ask myself: What purpose is ultimately going to be served by this online grappling with some other movie buff, anonymous or unmasked, on a subject ultimately of little consequence, perhaps even to ourselves when all is said and done?

Something I've learned about myself in the twelve years I've been participating on discussion boards is that my work as a critic has encouraged in me a tendency to make my views known, and to sometimes labor under the misconception that, because my views are my bread and butter, they carry somewhat more than the average weight. Anyone who's been posting on message boards for as long as I have, especially those who do so under aliases, has likely fostered in themselves a similar delusional arrogance, but they may not have reflected on the idea long enough to see it as delusion; in fact, they may have arrived on the Internet with arrogance in full and malicious bloom, their alias a licence for baiting others for their own amusement. You never can tell.

One thing I've learned about the strangers with whom I've shared the same time and place online over time is that the Obvious means different things to different people. You can show other people what seems like common sense to you, but there is no guarantee they will see it or, if they do, that they will see the same gradations of gray in the simplest black-and-white statement. Such divergences don't necessarily mean that one is right and everybody else is wrong; it means that our respective lives and schoolings and reading and environments have led us to different places, where rights and wrongs don't always apply or have the same values. The other fellow's stance in relation to such matters, after all, may lead him/her to destinies of ultimate, unknowable good with which we have no right to interfere. One might easily say the right thing, only to have it misinterpreted and the wisdom put to pervese and destructive use. Despite knowing all of this in my heart of hearts, very often I don't pause to reflect on this bedrock philosophy as I roll up my sleeves and draft the preliminaries of a dive into the fray.

A good seven times out of ten, my posting of any remark on a discussion board is followed by a pang of regret, or at least misgiving. I don't post under phony names, and because my name is synonymous with my magazine, I need to bear in mind that I'm not only representing myself when I speak my mind, but also my place of business. This matters to me, and is another reason why I'm so soul-searching about a form of social participation that most people seem to engage in without a second (or, in many cases, even a first) thought. When I post a reply to an ongoing discussion, common curiosity prompts me to return, to check the responses to what I've written, and it's impossible to say which is more aggravating: to unintentionally encourage debate and be called upon to defend one's point of view (if not one's sanity) for days on end, or to realize after days of checking back, that one has had such a definitive say as to stop a thread cold.

As I've said here before, one of the main reasons I write criticism is to make the reasoning behind my views more conscious to myself. Perhaps this is what I'm doing when I spend so much time in the careful articulation of views about various online discusssions that no one but myself will ever see. If that's the case, I can relinquish some of my guilt because the time and effort are therefore not entirely wasted. Possibly it's this muted (if not moot) eureka that was my ultimate goal in writing on this subject today.

Now that's settled, the question is...

Do I post this blog entry or not?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Saga Continues

Late today I was sent an official press release on the Anchor Bay MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 that basically reiterated where I've told you everything stands. Then, almost immediately, I got another e-mail from the publicist saying, "Please hold off on posting the press release. Apparently, there’s a new wrinkle."

What could it be?

Stay tuned.

PS: Joe Dante is back from Berlin, and it seems the TIME OUT report of the Corman biopic going into production was a bit premature. Nevertheless, the meetings he took in Berlin were heartening and things do seem to be looking up.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

And Now the Bad News

I've just been notified by Ed Peters, the publicist for Anchor Bay Entertainment's MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 1, that "the specs [for the set] have changed."

There's no nice way to break the news, so I'll just come out with it: I am now told that the English versions of BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH and EVIL EYE will not be included in the set, after all. I'm not privy to the behind-the-scenes story, so don't ask; I've just been asked to make the announcement. I'm as surprised and disappointed as you must be. All I can say is that I hope my audio commentaries for the three films (and the attendant release of RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED) will be added incentive enough for Bava fans to support the release of the new ABE transfers.

No Confirmation Yet, But

... the online edition of the British magazine TIME OUT is carrying a news story dated the 12th -- two days ago, two days into the Berlinale Co-Production Market -- that puts a very welcome Valentine's Day twinkle into my bloodstream. Charlie and I haven't been told anything yet, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's false or true. I'm guessing that Joe is probably up in the air right now, on the flight back from Germany, so I hope to have more information to share with you once he's back and rested.

Also: Enthusiastic online reviews of Dark Sky's forthcoming KILL BABY KILL (and my audio commentary) from DVD Savant Glenn Erickson and DVD Talk's Ian Jane.

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm Still Here

... just too overworked at present to give much time or attention to this blog. I wrote the first draft of a book in January, and now I'm editing material -- over 150 single-spaced pages of reviews! -- for the next couple of issues of VIDEO WATCHDOG (which should be ready for print by this time next week), my next SIGHT & SOUND column is due tomorrow, and I spent the early part of this afternoon responding to an interview questionaire from the San Francisco-based magazine THE BELIEVER. The day after tomorrow, I'm expecting to receive my first HD player: the LG BH100, the first hybrid HD unit capable of playing both HD DVD and Blu-Ray discs. So I also have wrestling with wires to look forward to... but the unit will probably have to sit in the box a few days before it gets hooked up, as I see my way clear of creating the next issue or two. As always, enjoy the backlog of material in the meantime.

Also happening right now: Joe Dante is in Berlin, Germany, where he's representing THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES (the Roger Corman biopic comedy script I wrote with Charlie Largent, about the making of THE TRIP) at the Berlinale Co-Production Market. This event is open to investor-seeking film projects that have already accounted for 30% of their total budget, and TMWKE (which got a headline mention in a recent VARIETY story about the Berlin market) is one of only three American properties represented among this year's Official Selections. I know that you all want to see this movie happen -- almost as much as Charlie and I do -- so join us in holding good thoughts for Joe through the days ahead.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Six Stanzas of Fear

Meticulous collectors of my work (if there are such people) will want to know that I'm one of the contributors to the current issue (Feb-May 2007, #14) of the Manchester-based poetry zine THE UGLY TREE. This is the second issue in which my work has appeared, after the previous issue's "Crapulous Elektra." I have three poems in the new issue: "The Breakfast Bell", "Mario Bava", and "Think of the Things You Could Drop in Black Ink."

I hadn't read any of these poems since turning them in, but I was particularly pleased upon revisiting the Bava piece. I think I nailed it; I find it picturesque and chilling in the way that Bava's films are, perhaps because I've lived with them for so long -- unlike my other poems, which are usually written on the spot to capture transient moods, frissons, or angles of light.

Where emerald and amber intersect
When clock hands overlap
Dead fingers cut the Tarot deck
As guilt drips from the taps.

That's how it begins. Yes, the Year of Mario Bava includes poetry.

To order your copy, visit the UGLY TREE website here.

Cover Art, As Promised

The Latarnia International forums beat me to it!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS reviewed

Shawna Waldron as a woman whose dreams reconnect her
to a forgotten identity in "The Yellow Sign."

THE WEIRD TALE COLLECTION, VOLUME 1:
THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS
2001-03, Lurker Films, DD 5.1/2.0/16:9/LBX/+, $15.95, 100 minutes (approx.), DVD-5

Lurker Films, the Portland, Oregon-based company behind some well-received compilations of short films based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe, here branch out into different avenues of short form horror with the first offering in a new series, "The Weird Tale Collection." While this disc has some unfortunate presentational faults, the films it collects are worth checking out, made with intelligence and subtlety and show a connoisseur's appreciation for the genre's history and what's best in it.

The program consists of Aaron Vanek's "The Yellow Sign" (2001, 45m 28s), David Leroy's "Tupilak" (2002, 13m 17s), Emilio Guarneri's "Il re giallo" ("The King in Yellow," 2003, 6m 20s), and a 15m profile of weird tales author Robert W. Chambers by French literary scholar Christophe Thill. The films are presented in a variety of formats and different aspect ratios, with "Tupilak" (the only 35mm contribution and the only anamorphic entry) looking the best of the bunch. The disc is best enjoyed on a standard video monitor.

Inspired by THE KING IN YELLOW by Robert W. Chambers, an early collection of dark metafiction that H.P. Lovecraft counted among his most influential readings, "The Yellow Sign" is a contemporary story about a young gallery worker, Tess (Shawna Waldron), who seeks out the reclusive artist Aubrey Scott (Dale Snowberger) to request an exhibition after having a series of nightmares about his work. Scott, who lives in a dank studio surrounded by his disturbing works, agrees to her request on the condition that she pose for him -- an exercise in stillness and concentration that makes her increasingly aware of something animated in a canvas hung on the wall behind the artist... a "yellow sign." Incisively scripted by John Tynes, the film is a good deal more engrossing than most MASTERS OF HORROR episodes, unsettling the viewer with words, ideas, and intimations of other dimensions lurking on the periphery of reality rather than bloodshed. It's well acted by the two principals and disappointed only by one unfortunate scene in which the Sony DV camerawork becomes so busy for its own sake that it upstages the action it should be representing. THE MONSTER SQUAD director Fred Dekker served as associate producer on this project. "The Yellow Sign" is offered in a choice of DD 5.1 or 2.0 audio with a variety of subtitle options, with numerous supplements, including outtakes, "normal" and "profane" audio commentaries, Snowberger's audition tape, and a slideshow.

Dale Snowberger as deranged artist Aubrey Scott in "The Yellow Sign."

Christophe Thill's "Chambers in Paris" documents the years which American author Robert W. Chambers spent in Paris, France, which yielded his obscure masterpiece of terror, THE KING IN YELLOW. For those familiar with the book, Thill's research is a treat as he videocams various authentic locations described in the novel and shows how they look today, which lends a verisimilitude to the fiction that Chambers would have surely appreciated.

"Tupilak," in French with English subtitles and filmed in a two-perf pulldown process called "Multivision 235", concerns the role played by an Inuit avenging spirit in the guilt suffered by two men (one of them played by writer-director David Leroy) who abandoned a dying man during an Arctic expedition. The story is predictable and a bit thin, but the acting is sincere and the film itself is opulently produced, to the extent of a grandiose score performed by the Hungarian Symphony Orchestra. It would be interesting to see such resources and commitment applied to a more ambitious story.

Despite its title, "Il re giallo" is less an hommage to Chambers' THE KING IN YELLOW than a revisitation of the zombie hospital action of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND, redone with lots of digital herky-jerky J-horror scare effects.

THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS is available from the Lurker Films website. As the site acknowledges, mistakes were made in the mastering of these films for disc. Contrary to what Lurker Films suggests, however, "The Yellow Sign" or "Il re giallo" are presented in their correct 1.85:1 screen ratios; the problem is that neither film is anamorphically enhanced, which can lead to some playback problems. For example, on my widescreen set, the image defaulted to a correctly letterboxed albeit non-anamorphic format that I had to zoombox to fill my screen. This was okay for "The Yellow Sign" (though it did accentuate its grain), but in the case of the Italian film, it cropped the English subtitles offscreen, requiring me to watch it in "wide zoom" mode, stretching the image horizontally -- distortive but acceptable, considering how short it is. Viewed on my computer, however, I find that both films play back in a 1.78 anamorphic frame but with letterboxing bars visible, causing the image to be horizontally stretched to 2.35:1 or thereabouts, pulling it out like Silly Putty. I suppose it's possible that the disc could play back on some systems this way, and I disagree that either film is "watchable" under these conditions. Anyone who buys independently made product like this, sight unseen, is already meeting it at least halfway and shouldn't have to forgive anything about the presentation. (Incidentally, the frame grabs used to illustrate this piece come from the slideshow for "The Yellow Sign," not from the film itself.) On the bright side, I would imagine that anyone viewing the disc on a standard television monitor wouldn't have any playback problems.

Lurker Films promises that the problem will be fixed with the second pressing but, unfortunately, this is no incentive to buy the current, flawed pressing. This is regrettable because it prevents me from more enthusiastically endorsing THE YELLOW SIGN AND OTHERS, whose seriousness, intelligence, and literary grounding are otherwise a breath of fresh air in the "tits and blood" arena of DTV horror. It's a series (and approach) I would like to see continue, and graduate to even better things. In the meantime, I think I'll track down some books by Robert W. Chambers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

More Bava Specs from Anchor Bay

On the same day that Anchor Bay Entertainment will be releasing their MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, they will be separately releasing another Bava two-fer feature on DVD.

Also due on April 3 is RABID DOGS/KIDNAPPED, which will present the two extant versions of Bava's cult crime thriller, originally produced in 1975 but impounded when the production was bankrupted and shelved until a belated release more than 20 years later. Anchor Bay's disc will include the following:

RABID DOGS
96 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Tim Lucas audio commentary

KIDNAPPED
95 minutes
1.78/16:9
Italian mono with English subtitles
Featurette: "End of the Road: Making RABID DOGS and KIDNAPPED" with producer Alfredo Leone
Mario Bava bio
Bava trailers

A word about the English subtitles on RABID DOGS. I provided ABE with newly corrected English subtitles for the film -- these were written for the original Lucertola Media release, but they included a mistake or two I've long wanted to fix -- but, at the moment, no one at ABE can tell me whether or not they were used. If they weren't used because a subtitle master had already been created, this could be a little embarrassing for me, as I reference some of the choices I made in my audio commentary, and without my subtitles onscreen, those comments won't make any sense. ABE sent me an advance tape to check my audio commentary for accuracy and placement, but it was wedded to an unsubtitled copy of the film, so I can't tell whether or not they'll be included. I guess we'll all find out together.

In closing, you might say that I've buried today's headline. Contrary to my earlier spec notes on the MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUME 1, I am now told that Anchor Bay's BLACK SUNDAY disc will indeed include both the MASK OF SATAN and BLACK SUNDAY versions of the film! I've corrected yesterday's blog to bring this information up to date.