Thursday, March 15, 2007

Unreleased RIFLEMAN Episodes Start Tonight

You may remember my blog from last January about THE RIFLEMAN, which listed quite a number of episodes from Seasons 3, 4 and 5 that were not included in the last of MPI Home Video's now-OOP box sets of the classic Western series. For your easy reference, click here.

Larry Blamire has written to alert me that the first of the unreleased RIFLEMAN episodes, "Closer Than a Brother" (#98), will be airing tonight on Encore Westerns. The channel's RIFLEMAN hour begins at 7:00pm eastern, and "Closer Than a Brother" airs tonight at 7:30. For the next week or two, every episode being shown in this hour slot will be previously unreleased on DVD. So now's the time to print off that list of episodes and keep an eye on EW's program schedule.

Thanks, Larry!

Cronenberg at 64, Cronenbook at 25

Today is David Cronenberg's 64th birthday, and the perfect occasion to go public with some news I've been keeping quiet for awhile.
Some background first: Perhaps some of you know that I spent most of the 1980s writing almost exclusively about Cronenberg's films, beginning with a series of CINEFANTASTIQUE set reports -- and finally a cover story -- about the making of VIDEODROME. I was the only journalist granted access to the set, which was closed to protect the film's revolutionary storyline from being leaked. I visited for nine full days. My deal with CFQ was to write a book-length article that would appear as a double issue. This issue happened to coincide with the editor's marriage and, by the time he and his wife returned from their honeymoon, VIDEODROME had opened and closed -- a huge boxoffice flop. CFQ had an unfortunate history of bad feature article choices (KRULL, THE BLACK HOLE, etc.) and it was decided to literally cut the losses by editing my material down to a single issue feature. (I was, of course, being paid by the word.) Then it was announced that Cronenberg had been signed to direct THE DEAD ZONE for Dino De Laurentiis, which prompted the decision to assign me to cover that filming for a special double issue that would cover both films, to be published about a year later. (I was, of course, to be paid on publication.) I visited the set of THE DEAD ZONE for a few days, wrote my article and sent it in, whereupon the editor got cold feet -- Stephen King movies were not doing so well at the boxoffice, so it was decided to run my coverage of both Cronenberg films in a single issue. This whittling-down process was agonizing on a monetary level, but that agony was nothing compared to reading what the magazine had done to my VIDEODROME manuscript. Piers Handling, the head of the Academy of Canadian Cinema, had told me that it was the finest production history of a Canadian film he had ever read -- he included a section of the manuscript in a book he edited, THE SHAPE OF RAGE: THE FILMS OF DAVID CRONENBERG, as it was originally written, while CFQ published an abortion, so greatly condensed that my work couldn't be simply cut; it had to be paraphrased. I was so angry when I read the results that I temporarily lost the power to speak, and it ended my ten-year affiliation with the magazine.
My original manuscript then went into a file cabinet, where it resided for the next 20-odd years. Criterion welcomed portions of it into their marvelous DVD of VIDEODROME, but there was a much they didn't use. In fact, material exists in my files -- like a lengthy Q&A with Cronenberg, which I conducted after my first viewing of the film -- that was omitted from the original manuscript because I didn't then have the time to include it and meet my original deadline. After that first deadline had passed, there was no reason to add anything more because pages were already being cut.
Now that you have the messy background, here's my very neat announcement:
Later this year, in the fall, Millipede Press will be publishing my VIDEODROME book as the first offering in an exciting new trade paperback series called "Studies in the Horror Film." If you've seen the BFI's "Film Classics" and "Modern Classics" series, or Continuum Press's "33 1/3" series about rock albums, the same principle applies here... except this series will consist of uniform numbered books devoted to the in-depth study of individual classics of horror cinema. Publisher Jerad Walters is anticipating that later books in the series will run, on average, about 20,000 words and 144 pages, but VIDEODROME -- being a full production history -- will likely be a bit longer. I'll also be adding some new material to help the book bridge the years of its long sleep: hard as it is to believe, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the manuscript's completion.
I've been working with my original typescript to recreate it as an editable computer document, and reading through it again has been an uncanny experience. The book puts me back on the set in so many ways, back into the warm and funny camaraderie of the people who made it, and I think fans of the film and Cronenberg's work in general will be impressed by the level of intimacy it achieves with its subject. I honestly can't remember reading another book quite like this -- it will give you the VIDEODROME you know, of course, but also the VIDEODROME you don't know unless you too were there, the one that David Cronenberg didn't quite know even as he was writing it by night and directing it by day. In other words, it will put you in the midst of Cronenberg's creative process, his wrestling with the raw idea of VIDEODROME. That's what reading it has been doing for me anyway, and it's been so long since I wrote this book, it feels like the work of someone else, a better writer than I remember being at that age, who was somehow privy to my own experiences.
I've been out of touch with David Cronenberg for a long time, so it's interesting to resume touch with him again through my writing, which was so sympathetic and attuned to him and what he was doing. Wherever he is, whatever he's doing, I wish him much happiness on this, his Paul McCartney birthday. As the aged onion skin of my typescript is being rejuvenated on my computer screen, I reflect on those words I was among the first to hear -- "Long Live the New Flesh!" -- and pass them back to their author with many happy returns.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

THE RED SHOES (2005) reviewed

The extraordinary Kim Hye-soo descends into a subway tunnel to suffer a memorably macabre meltdown in Tartan Asia Extreme's THE RED SHOES.

2005, Tartan Asia Extreme, DD-5.1/DTS 5.1/DD-2.0/MA/16:9/ST/+, 103m 45s, DVD-1
This Korean horror film by sophomore writer-director Kim Yong-Gyun doesn't hit all of its marks but is well worth seeing; it's deeply unsettling rather than frightening or abusive, and it has a visual flair (courtesy of DP Kim Tae-Kyung) that at times taps into the stylized wickedness of Dario Argento's work at its zenith. Tropes from other films and filmmakers are evident at times, but there is also a kernel of great originality and promise here. The film is well-acted throughout, but outstanding are Kim Hye-soo and little Park Yeon-ah as a mother and daughter who (in scenes reminiscent of DARK WATER) take a cheap, grungy apartment after separating from the unfaithful man of the family. The mother, Sun-jae, is an optometrist who hires a young separated architect (Kim Sung-su) to design her new offices; she is also a shoe collector who finds an abandoned pair of elegant violet pink (not red) heels on the subway, which she takes home with her. The shoes have an overpowering, irresistible effect on Sun-jae, her daughter Tae-soo , and her sister, all of whom come to hysterical blows in the effort to hold onto them. Sun-jae recognizes the shoes' destructive influence and makes an effort to get rid of them, but they always come back into the possession of her increasingly strange daughter, who claims visitations from her father -- who has not been informed of their whereabouts.
Writer-director Kim has said that his film is about "the extremity of a woman's desire for her womanhood." Part of the shoes' allure is certainly narcissistic and tied to female fantasies of glamor; however, the film's story also encompasses aspects of the original Hans Christian Andersen tale of the same name, the Powell and Pressburger classic, the 1990 Tobe Hooper TV movie I'M DANGEROUS TONIGHT (based on a short story by Cornell Woolrich), as well as David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS FIRE WALK WITH ME (there is even a filthy homeless woman who looks like a deliberate facsimile of the one played by Lynch himself in the trailer park prelude of that film) and some perceptual surprises worthy of A TALE OF TWO SISTERS. Kim makes the notion of the shoes more personal and nationalistic by weaving into this material references to the insecurities attached to bare feet and the Eastern tradition of leaving one's shoes at the door.
After a fairly gripping first hour, the film loses some of its hold with a disappointing, belabored "logical explanation" of its supernatural events, which -- in an appropriate but peculiar swipe from Kieslowski's RED -- involves a woman appearing on billboard advertisements all over town. Despite the choppy navigation of its middle, THE RED SHOES is worth seeking out for its picturesque and poetical set-pieces, its adventurous toying with audience (and protagonist) perceptions, and, most of all, for a magnificent climactic meltdown by Kim Hye-soo, who conveys the most palpable sense of fear and dread I've seen onscreen since Angelica Lee in THE EYE [Gin gwai, 2002]. Frankly, Ms. Kim commands one's attention on an altogether more complex level, being sexier and scarier and disciplined enough to stylize a performance without ever losing touch with its realism. There's no erotic content to speak of, but one of the most admirable things about the film is its ability to pull those punches in a way that baits and intrigues rather than disappoints. Lee Byung-woo's minimalist electronic score also warrants praise and special recognition for sounding original, supportive of the action and atmosphere, and musically interesting all at the same time.
Tartan's disc presents the film in a very nice anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, but especially pleasing are the five-channel audio tracks which sport unusual and sometimes ticklish attention to detail. The extras include a Making-of featurette interviewing the director and principal actors (17m 3s), a "Look at the Visual Effects" (13m 43s), a theatrical trailer that references Hans Christian Andersen and the Bible (2m 12s), and a subtitled audio commentary by the director and cinematographer, which I have not yet sampled.

Monday, March 12, 2007

33 1/3rded -- Not

In earlier postings, I've mentioned that it's become an ambition of mine to write a book for Continuum Press's "33 1/3" series. I've read about 30 of these virulently collectable monographs devoted to classic albums, and even when the books turn out to be something other than what I expected, I always enjoy or learn something from them. Late last year, I sent a multi-title proposal to series editor David Barker, introducing myself and suggesting a half-dozen or so titles I could tackle. He wrote back to inform me that he wasn't reading new proposals at that time, suggesting that I check his blog regularly for updates about when he would be accepting proposals again. So I began to haunt his blog, and eventually there came the awaited cue.
Dr. Barker cautioned everyone that he would consider only proposals about individual titles, and only one per applicant, please. I had some time in which to ponder the question of what to write about, and -- as you can surmise from my choice of illustration -- I finally settled on Jefferson Airplane's 1968 album CROWN OF CREATION. At the time I wrote my proposal, I didn't think it was necessarily the Airplane's best album, but "33 1/3" books seldom are about the best albums of any given musician or musicians -- they've devoted books to Elvis Costello's ARMED FORCES, R.E.M.'s MURMUR, Joni Mitchell's COURT AND SPARK and Sly and the Family Stone's THERE'S A RIOT GOING ON, to name a few (all undeniably interesting and good fodder for books, but hardly "Best ofs"). More importantly, I found I had most to say about CoC and thought it also provided the ideal vantage point from which to discuss the group's other work. So I wrote a thorough proposal and sent it off.
As January rolled around, I found myself with a free month, more or less, and not knowing how available I would be later in the year, especially with VW bound to resume its monthly schedule, I decided to go ahead and write the book on spec.

I finished the book in a matter of weeks (except for an interview I was hoping to add with the album's producer Al Schmitt), in the process convincing myself that CoC really is Jefferson Airplane's finest studio album. I put the manuscript aside as I waited for the proposal deadline of February 14th to come to pass. Shortly afterwards, Dr. Barker's blog presented a staggering list of close to 450 proposals received. Among these were three other Airplane proposals, one for SURREALISTIC PILLOW and two for AFTER BATHING AT BAXTER'S, which were especially antagonizing as the series observes a strict "one book per artist" rule. Even without these, the competition was formidable.
A couple of days ago, on Saturday, I received a form letter from Dr. Barker informing me that my proposal had not been chosen. While accepting this unhappy news, I couldn't help but write back to let him know that the book existed, that I had written it on spec, and would be glad to submit it, especially as it had ended up quite different to the description I gave in my proposal. I'm still awaiting an answer, but I'm skeptical. He's made his choices. Either one of the other Airplane albums was chosen as more a more commercial selection, or they didn't go with the Airplane at all. (CoC scored a gold record within its first year of release and remains the second best-selling of the Airplane's albums.)
So now I have a book about CROWN OF CREATION on file and not a single idea of what to do with it. Having read more than half of the "33 1/3" books, I'm convinced it would be a worthy addition to the series. It's adventurously devised in accordance with the spirit of the band I was writing about -- a compendium of music criticism, music journalism, autobiography and screenplay. I could self-publish it, I suppose, but I'd rather place it with a company with a track record of publishing books on rock music and getting them reviewed and into libraries.
If any of you have any recommendations about where my latest book might find a home, please let me know.

Rondo Award Results

They can be found here.

Donna and I had written off any chance of VW winning the Rondo this year, so to receive the Best Magazine Award for the fifth year in a row came as an astounding surprise. We published only five issues in 2006, and the magazine business isn't as healthy as it once was, so it's heartening to know that readers still like what we're doing -- even with bigger magazines like FANGO, RUE MORGUE and the venerable FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND added to the competition this year.

The win for Best Website is especially meaningful to me, because I regard it as a writing award. I feel that VIDEO WATCHDOG's Rondos were awarded in recognition of the work of all our wonderful contributors; I treasure them, but I can't take them personally. So the Best Website Rondo feels like my first Rondo. It's the first recognition I've received for my writing in my 35 years as a writer; the only other award I've ever received for personal achievement was an Art Award that I won at my 8th grade graduation, which still commands a place of honor in my home -- which should give you some idea of how much this Rondo means to me.

I'm grateful to everyone who voted for me, and for everyone affiliated with VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Don't Forget!

Voting for the 5th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ends Saturday night at 12:00am midnight!

Just to remind you: VIDEO WATCHDOG is nominated for six awards (Best Magazine, four Best Article nominations divided between Bill Cooke, Paul Talbot and myself, and one for Best Cover -- Charlie Largent's classic Kong) and Video WatchBlog is nominated for Best Website. There are also numerous write-in categories, and write-in votes are accepted in most categories if you don't find your own favorites on the ballot. A mere click on the link bar above this posting will take you there.

Make a difference! Participate!

Weird Serendipity with Komeda

Who knows why these things happen, but I was sitting here at my desk in Cincinnati, Ohio at the end of a long day of typing/correcting when the thought crossed my mind, "I wonder if there are any Komeda videos up at YouTube?"

I am not being facetious. It really happened that way. I have moments like this.

I first became aware of Komeda about ten years ago (gad... has it really been that long?), when I was chasing down groups whose sound was compared to Stereolab, with whom I was newly enamored at the time, and who weren't releasing nearly enough new music to sate me. When I saw the name Komeda, I knew these characters had to be up to something good. They're a Swedish pop or retropop group who took their name from Krzysztof Komeda, the remarkable Polish jazz musician-composer who wrote the music for Roman Polanski's films through ROSEMARY'S BABY, until his early death in 1969. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY described their sound as "ABBA meets Nico and goes to a new wave film festival," which isn't a bad description. I think they sound like 21st century AM radio might sound if it had followed a natural evolutionary course from the heyday of the 1960s and hadn't devolved into ever-descending circles of Hell involving talk radio and jailbait dancers who get songs in the Top 10 by flaunting their bellybuttons on MTV. Komeda have released four albums so far; I have two of them which I like very much, and apparently I need two. You can read more about them and their albums here.

For reasons I can't explain, a curiosity struck me tonight about Komeda -- very belatedly, it would seem -- that made me wonder what kind of videos they might make. Here's where things get weird: When I looked them up on YouTube, I discovered that their record label MintyFresh Records had posted a few of Komeda's videos only yesterday. Talk about serendipity! So I thought I would share some links with you.

This video, for "Blossom," is one of the most impressively stylized and executed music videos I've ever seen: think Karel Zeman and YELLOW SUBMARINE crossed with Steve Gerber and an irresistible beat.

Also impressive is this colorful video for the tuneful "Cul De Sac" (another Polanski reference).

If you have time to only check out one Komeda video today, go directly to this mind-meltingly wonderful illustration of their breakthrough song, "It's Allright, Baby." I don't know if this piece is authorized or not (it's not a Minty Fresh posting), but it's a brilliant and inspired prank, if it isn't. Particularly recommended to the Eurohorror cultists among you.

Once you've enjoyed that, you can chase it with what is more surely an authorized video for the same song, in that it actually features the band. Like their videos, it's enticing, unusual, bracing, and above all intelligent. Brain food from Komeda's Swedish soul kitchen.

I don't know much about Komeda really, and I fear I'm a bit behind the times with them and need to catch up. But after viewing these videos, I have a sense of distant friends, a feeling that the members of this terrific band and I are connected, under the skin, by the things we both love, a shared aesthetic. This message was smuggled into my knowing from the get-go by their chosen name, and their videos, now that I've seen them, reinforce that impression. They haven't issued an album since 2003; their website hasn't been updated since August of last year -- which makes the weirdness of this serendipity and the cutting edge I feel from these years-old videos all the more mystifying. I hope Komeda are still making music because they seem to me a viable cure for much of the blandness and tacky excess assailing what we laughingly call our culture today. Nothing's wrong with our culture that can't be cured by inspiring more people to step up to a higher standard of taste and common sense. You can find it in Komeda.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

No Vecento

The Rare & OOP DVDs site has announced the surprising news that Paramount has abruptly withdrawn Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900 [NOVECENTO, 1976] from the marketplace. The disc, which marked the first-ever release of Bertolucci's five-hour director's cut in America (there was a Bravo channel broadcast of a moderately censored version in the early 1980s), was issued last December and made my own list of favorite DVDs of 2006. It's still in stores, supposedly, so if you find a copy, I recommend you grab it before the eBay sellers snag them all. Speculation is that a graphic shot of Stefania Casini (SUSPIRIA) simultaneously masturbating Robert De Niro and Gerard Depardieu, with all three actors nude and in plain sight, may be the reason for the disc's retraction.

A tip of the hat to Jeremy Richey's always interesting Moon in the Gutter blog for bringing this news to our attention.

"DON'T LOOK NOW" Special Edition reviewed

1973, Optimum Releasing, DD-2.0/MA/LB/16:9/+,105m 25s, £17.99, DVD-2 PAL

This extraordinary, influential Nicolas Roeg film was based on a novella by Daphne Du Maurier, originally included in her 1971 collection NOT BEFORE MIDNIGHT and republished in 2006 as DON'T LOOK NOW AND OTHER STORIES -- a reappearance testifying to the movie's status as a modern classic. Not only is it one of the most tantalizing films ever to explore the subject of the paranormal, it is also one of the most complete, balanced and satisfying films about normal waking life.

The story profiles a married couple healing in the wake oftheir daughter's accidental death by drowning, the wife Laura (Julie Christie) finding peace through two psychic sisters (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania), while her scoffing architect husband John (Donald Sutherland) restores a derelict church in the waterbound city of Venice.

In telling this story, "DON'T LOOK NOW" (the quotation marks appear onscreen) seems to touch on more facets of human experience than so-called mainstream films tend to do: working, making love, eating, vomiting, defecating, arguing, sleeping, worshipping, doubting, mourning, fearing, laughing, surviving brushes with death, and -- above all -- the fleeting and curiously meaningful déja vu moments that accumulate within and without us throughout our lifetime. Edited by Graham Clifford (with whom Roeg had been working since 1968's PETULIA), the film shuffles past, present and future tenses of visual information as radically as any of Roeg's other works (PERFORMANCE, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, EUREKA and BAD TIMING to name the most conspicuous), yet it remains the most approachable of them all, its fractured visual continuity striking a near-miraculous balance of emotional and cerebral sense, the technique almost organically attuned to the story being told -- namely, John's rejection of his own psychic intuitions.

Now more than thirty years old, "DON'T LOOK NOW" still looks fairly contemporary and has lost very little of its initial power, though it's most vital in its first few viewings, when one is most enthusiastically engaged in the initial decoding of its various color keys and resonating images. Once one has begun to exhaust this engaging process, the film can begin to look overly deliberate, but chances are that you'll still be sussing out new layers to appreciate well into your tenth viewing and beyond. (I've seen it about ten times myself and found myself noticing repeat appearances by the daughter's ball this time around.)

This "Special Edition" import disc makes use of a new Studio Canal anamorphic master that looks quite crisp, immaculate, and colorful. An exciting incentive to this purchase is the addition of a feature-length audio commentary by director Roeg, moderated byAdam Smith. Roeg tends to ramble obliquely and elliptically in a muttering voice, frequently failing to finish sentences and trains of thought, but the track is nevertheless a worthwhile reference for tenacious listeners. Among its interesting revelations: John and Laura's daughter Christine, a role credited to Sharon Williams, was ultimately played by three different young actresses, due to Williams' unexpectedly extreme reaction to filming her drowning scene. The filming of the picture's celebratedly authentic lovemaking scene is also covered in fair detail; incredibly, it was the very first scene to be shot -- in an actual hotel room, with just Sutherland, Christie, Roeg and cameraman Anthony Richmond present, as well as a bottle or two of courage. Roeg's memory fails him on occasion, as when he mistakenly recalls the film being released in America with an X rating; it was actually trimmed (losing a shot or two from the love-making scene, and some of the final murder victim's twitching) to qualify for an R rating.

Still more interesting are two Blue Underground-produced featurettes, "'DON'T LOOK NOW' Looking Back" (19m 31s, interviewing Roeg, Richmond and editor Graham Clifford) and "Death in Venice" (17m 36s, interviewing composer Pino Donaggio), both directed by David Gregory. The former is very good and properly illuminating, with a wicked backdrop for its more coherent Roeg talk, but the Donaggio profile stands out as one of the most pleasingly detailed film music featurettes I've seen on DVD. The composer, visited at his home facing the Venetian Grand Canal, has perfect recall of the circumstances behind this, his first film score, and he speaks unaffectedly about his earlier career as a singer, how he was approached and hired without prior scoring experience, how he developed specific themes and motifs, and how his score for this picture led to his discovery by Brian DePalma for CARRIE and a new and still-thriving career abroad.

Also included are an onscreen Introduction by ROUGH GUIDE TO HORROR MOVIES author Alan Jones, the film's original UK trailer (2m 14s), and a 16-page booklet with numerous rare photos and a sensitive, well-written appreciation by Ryan Gilbey. Available domestically from Xploited Cinema.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Fall of the 49th CandleUH

Somewhere in the world today, Mark E. Smith -- the sullen, piss-minded and logorheic founder and only constant of The Fall, the world's most prolific and stubbornly eternal punk band -- is commemorating his 50th birthday. I'm raising a warm Guinness to toast his productivity, his durability, and his bloggerlike ability to find something of interest to bark and mumble about just about anything. He's one of the few musicians around whose insolent voice seems indomitable, above and beyond silencing. Whenever he does decide to call it a career, or has it called for him, the ensuing silence will come as a shock comparable to the one that followed the Christmas Day death of James Brown. Say what you like about MES, once you've heard him, when he's in the room, you know it; when he's in the world, you know it.

Back in the Eighties, The Fall covered the Kinks' classic "Victoria" and brought a valuable truth into focus: as a lyricist and frontman, Mark E. Smith is the post-modern Ray Davies; no one else of his generation has come so close to embodying the eternal voice of working class England. There's not often the elegance, or poetry, or poignancy of Davies in Smith's work, much less his voice, or in The Fall's endlessly repetitive, droning music, but its sheer volume and pertinence captures the drama -- alternately exciting and depressing -- of intelligence treading water in a tumult of information devolving to infotainment in its deluge.

The Fall are perhaps the ultimate cult band in that they demand nothing less than total immersion from the listener. Glenn Kenney once borrowed my quote "You can't see one Jess Franco film until you've seen them all" to apply it to them, and it's just as true of their obsessive backlog. In The Fall's nearly thirty year recording career, they've released something very close to 50 albums, not counting countless compilations and repackagings, representing something very close to 30 different lineups. Such overproductivity, as with Franco, encompasses some sloppiness but also glorious epiphanies, epiphanies that might come from an unexpectedly tight band performance, or one of Smith's tossed-off phrasings, or a deadening groove that unexpectedly opens a subterranean door of emotion.

The music is always dense, sometimes surprising the listener by aping another band's sound; for example, the seasoned Fall listener immediately cranks up their attention to the lyric of "Fall Sound" (on the new album REFORMATION! POST TLC) to suss out why the so-called "Fall Sound" has a New Order sound. "Scenario" bends lyrics from Captain Beefheart's "Veteran's Day Poppy" into a somewhat darker balloon sculpture that numbly reiterates the human cost of war. The album's opener, "Over! Over!", turns out to be a rewrite of the kaleidoscopic "Coming Down" by the incomparable (and incomparably short-lived) Sixties group, The United States of America. "I think it's over now/I think it's endingUH," sings Smith, with his trademark curling of his final consonants. "I think it's over now/I think it's beginningUHHHH...!" Smith sings these words with the inflection of Samuel Beckett writing "I can't go on, I will go on" -- sounding bored to brain death one moment and inspired the next -- and he's earned the right. He's still riding the wave.

The lyrics of any Fall song tend to be more inscrutable than not, reading more like Beat graffiti than Beat poetry, but that's the genius of Mark E. Smith: he's more reporter than composer. He writes to reflect the passing moment, not the eternity called into doubt by our ever blackening newspaper headlines. If you want eternity, his fecundity implies, there's always the wait for the next album. There are days when the coming of the next Fall album seems more likely than the coming of another tomorrow. And for that reason, above all, I salute Mark E. Smith. He's there for us, and his contribution, for all its rascally contrarianism, gives one hope.

And because this is a video blog, here's a link to The Fall on DVD.

RIP Otto Brandenburg 1934-2007

The Danish actor and singer, best-known to readers of this blog for his beautiful theme song for the Ib Melchior-scripted JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1963), died on March 1 at age 72. His film career actually began in 1958 and continued till his retirement in 2000; it included the role of "Hansen" in both series of Lars von Trier's influential THE KINGDOM. His song "Journey to the Seventh Planet" was cut from the film's end titles during its entire life on VHS, but happily restored to the more recent "Midnite Movies" DVD.

Here's to you, Otto:

Journey to the seventh planet
Come to me
Let your dreams become reality
I wait for you.

Somewhere on the seventh planet
Out in space,
You and I will find a magic place
Like lovers do.

And while we're up above,
We'll touch the stars
That we have wished upon.
There our love will take wings
And go on and on!

Journey to the seventh planet
In your eye
Let a spark of love begin to spy
For us to share

Seventh planet!
Seventh heaven!
If you learn to care
Our love will be beyond

Sunday, March 04, 2007

RONDO Awards Countdown Begins

This blog has been carrying the banner of the Rondo Awards for the past few weeks, but I should issue a reminder that this is the last week to participate in the 5th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. The voting will end next Saturday, March 10. The ballot can be found at, or by clicking on that handsome-faced banner up above.

If you care about fantastic cinema, its research and its celebration, do your part in preserving the Rondo's standards of quality by bringing your knowledge and taste to bear on the final tally. If you don't see your choices on the ballot, write them in -- at the very least, it will help to make more people aware of those works that slipped through the cracks.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


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

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.

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.

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


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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?