Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ar-bo-gast

I don't know who's behind this anonymously written blog, but I've been reading it daily and enjoying it very much. Today's piece on the late actor-comedian Rick Aviles (and, at first indirectly and then very directly, the blogger) is impressive stuff -- so revealing that it's hard to tell whether it's the blogger or the reader who's trembling at the candor. Kudos, whoever you are.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Centenary from Planet Arous

Nathan Juran -- the director of such classic matinee fare as THE BLACK CASTLE, HIGHWAY PATROL (Roger Corman's first screen credit), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD, FLIGHT OF THE LOST BALLOON, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, FIRST MEN "IN" THE MOON, and THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF, in addition to his pseudonymously-directed favorites THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN (as "Nathan Hertz") -- would have turned 100 years old today.

Take those credits and add in all his early art directorial credits for I WAKE UP SCREAMING, DR. RENAULT'S SECRET, and some of Anthony Mann's finest Westerns, and his subsequent directorial chores on dozens of episodes of VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS, and we have a lot of entertainment to be grateful for.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

On "Sweet Nothings"

A friendly correspondent notified me today of this very interesting blog, The Savage Critics, where today's posting offers a critical overview of Stephen R. Bissette's TABOO #2, published back in 1989.

This issue included -- among other notable things -- "Sweet Nothings," a deliberately haunting little story by me and illustrated by my sister from another mother, Simonida Perica-Uth. We were venturing out into new realms with this story, certainly in the way it was illustrated (collages of xeroxed photos of Egyptian tombs and monuments), but also in the way the story was told. My literary style has always been... well, stylized, and I wanted to tell this story and others that might have followed in a deliberately spare manner that would seem to resonate down through the ages. Simo and I did a second, even more ambitious story in the same manner, "Clipped Wings," but what with the early demise of TABOO, it was never published. It didn't quite seem to belong anywhere else.

I don't believe I've ever read any printed assessment of the work Simo and I did together before now, but I treasure the memory of Steve telling me, at the time of its publication, that future FROM HELL artist Eddie Campbell, while staying with him, had expressed the feeling that it might be the most adult story he'd ever read up to that time in the comics form.

Copies of this classic issue are still available here at Steve Bissette's Online Emporium.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Digitally Obsessed on the Bava Book

Mark Zimmer's lengthy article about the Bava book and interview with me went live on the Digitally Obsessed website today, and you can read it here. Thanks, Mark!

In the meantime, the shipping ordeal continues and, boy, are my shoulders sore. Our friend Jan Perry has joined the assembly line (yay, Jan!) to help speed things along. I'm not only signing the books, but lifting each 38-pound box to the signing table, cutting them open, removing and unwrapping the books, and then breaking down the boxes for flatter storage. We haven't yet achieved Donna's dream of moving out 100 copies a day, but we haven't given up hope of getting there.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

BOOK OF RENFIELD Q&A

A friendly correspondent forwarded this link to me today, which leads to an anonymous reader's answers to the "Touchstone Reading Group Guide" questions published in the back pages of my novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA. What a nice gift! I've never seen anyone's responses to these questions before now, but I found the insights of this reader to be most gratifying.

It's Honorin' Time!


Jack Kirby would have turned 90 today and I don't want to let the day pass without some sort of acknowledgement. I'd hate to think that some of my readers might not know who he was, but if you check his IMDb page, you'll find that -- more than a decade after his death -- he has more blockbusters lined up for future release than just about anybody else on the planet. Stan "The Man" Lee may be getting all the press, but it's more than conceivable that The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Mighty Thor, The Avengers, The Silver Surfer, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, Ant-Man, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and not least of all Captain America (who he introduced in 1941) would never have made the impression they did on generations of comics readers (and future filmmakers) without the daring draughtsmanship of the man who was rightfully known as "The King of Comics."

To be candid, I have a streak of the perverse in me that has always pushed Kirby somewhat aside in favor of the comics medium's more eccentric masters, Steve Ditko, Gene Colan, and Jim Steranko. Ditko, I feel, created a unique world of comics unto himself, as different to everything else in comics as film noir is different to drama; Colan introduced a more fluid cinematic verve into his visual storytelling; and Steranko elevated comics to the realms of fine art and post-modernism. But, as I revisit Kirby's work now in the Marvel Masterworks reprints, I find it almost ridiculously evident that he was the bedrock upon which the whole Silver Age of Comics was built. Ditko remains my personal favorite, but even I have to admit that Kirby was the best.

Kirby was the artist of the covers of the first Marvel comics I saw and bought. Even though some of those covers, like TALES OF SUSPENSE #61, TALES TO ASTONISH #63, and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #112, aren't in a league with his best work, when I see them, I feel a remarkably deep-running emotion that literally thrills my imagination. This cover of THE AVENGERS #4, which dates from a bit earlier, is a classic case in point. The image may be still yet it is full of motion. The characters are leaping right off the page, right off the comics racks into the eager young buyer's hands. I find it somewhat indifferently inked (by Dick Ayers, I believe), but the piece is undeniably a classic. (Admiring it anew, I find myself wondering "If this scene was onscreen, how would it sound?" The mind boggles.) Energy was the essence of Kirby's art, and it's fitting that the technique he innovated of using ink blots to denote powerful fields of cosmic energy has since become known among his fellow artists as "The Kirby Crackle" or "Kirby Dots."

Kirby's energetic style was such a point of sale at Marvel that he was hired to draw the covers for even those books whose interiors he didn't draw. Both the Iron Man and Giant-Man stories in those aforementioned comics were drawn by Don Heck, much to my disappointment, though Kirby could always be depended upon to deliver the Captain America stories in TALES OF SUSPENSE. The two full-length books to which Kirby dedicated himself most whole-heartedly were epic in design: FANTASTIC FOUR and JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY, the latter being the stomping grounds of the mighty Thor and the innovative "Tales of Asgard." These were comics that not occasionally, but habitually, transcended time, space, and dimension in their quest for twelve cents' worth of entertainment. If you happened to miss the Galactus storyline in FANTASTIC FOUR #48-50, you missed something I feel was as essential to the 1960s as anything else that took place in that amazing decade. The version delivered in the multi-million-dollar feature film FANTASTIC FOUR: THE RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER is a mere pittance compared to the Krell-boost my young brain once enjoyed for a combined investment of thirty-six cents.

It's perhaps an impossible task to pick a favorite Jack Kirby cover. I can do it with Ditko, Colan, and Steranko, but not with Kirby. Many of Kirby's most ardent admirers consider Joe Sinnott to have been the ideal inker for his work, but personally I've always been more partial to the inking of Chic Stone on Kirby's pencils. This JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY cover (#110), inked by Stone, is one of many that particularly gets my heart pumping; I can remember a splash page from a Thor story during this period that depicted Dr. Donald Blake in surgery which still makes my jaw drop in its attention to detail. And this is perhaps the most mind-boggling of Kirby's talents -- not how he drew heroes, but how he drew the worlds in which these fantastic heroes dwell. Whether it was the interior of an operating theater, the countryside of Latveria where Doctor Doom reigned supreme, a prehistoric landscape, or the blistering voids at the farthest reaches of the cosmos, Kirby never showed himself less than perfectly at home -- a tour guide to mythic places, hyper-realities, and far-flung frontiers that comics and comics readers might never have reached without him. I love this particular cover more, but the cover of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY's subsequent issue astounded writer-editor Stan Lee to such an extent that he refused to placard it with the usual Merry Marvel self-congratulation, allowing Kirby's majestic art to speak purely for itself.

If you're of a mind to celebrate Jack "King" Kirby tonight, which movie would I recommend? Oddly enough, one in which he had no direct involvement: Paul Verhoeven's ROBOCOP. Unlike the official Marvel movie adaptations we've had to date, it's ROBOCOP alone that really nails the look and feel of an upper tier Kirby comic, right down to the hero's questing body language, his square fingertips, and the squiggly highlights on his metallic chest and arms. Plus, it's a great movie. But really, the best way to celebrate Jack Kirby's 40+ year reign in comics is by revisiting the pages he actually drew -- or, better yet, discovering it for the first time, if you haven't had the pleasure. There's a lot of it now available in book form and you can find it here, for starters.

All hail King Kirby! Excelsior!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Delivery Day! Hallelujah!

"They're heeeeere."

The full story over on the Bava book blog.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Stay Tuned

Expect an important announcement over on the Bava book blog within the hour.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

IF.... and NIGHTMARE USA... and My Dish Problem Resolved

My review of Lindsay Anderson's IF...., featured in the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND, is now posted at their website.

Yesterday, Amazon.com delivered to me a fresh, firm copy of Stephen Thrower's new FAB Press book NIGHTMARE U.S.A. I haven't had time to do much more than page through it with great interest, but it certainly looks like one of the most important genre film book releases of the year. I was most excited to discover that it contains a full chapter on MESSIAH OF EVIL (1975), based on interviews with writer-director Willard Huyck, writer Gloria Katz, and the film's editor. I've always been fascinated by this movie and have daydreamed about presenting something like this chapter as a feature in VW someday, but that never happened -- so I'm pleased that someone of Steve's calibre has done the job in our stead. For some reason, I was able to order this book from Amazon last week for $50 or so, but as of now, they seem to have no more sale copies in stock and there's only one "used or new" Amazon store offering it for over $70.

Also, to follow up on an earlier posting, my Dish Network problems have been successfully resolved. We exchanged our VIP 211 MPEG-4 receiver with Dish's 611 DVR, which cleared up the problem with having with hard-matted gray bars cropping all the widescreen programming we were trying to record. The 611 not only gives me the option of storing up to 25 hours of HD programming on its hard drive, but there's an output on the back that allows me to outport a downcoverted signal to our DVD recorder. This is exactly what I needed. You see, the VIP 211 has no downconversion capability. So, for the record, if you're making the leap to MPEG-4 and are interested in recording SD DVD-Rs from your HD channels, my advice would be to stay away from the VIP 211 and go directly for the 611.

Also, I am loving the ability to record HD movies and other programming directly to the 611's hard drive for later viewing at my convenience, rather than having to prepare two sets of timers every time I want to see something that's not on at a convenient time -- and having to miss out on the HD quality I'm paying for as a result. In the past week alone, I've added to my hard drive HD recordings of PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (my first Bava HD!), ISLAND OF TERROR and GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH -- none of which are available on HD or Blu-ray disc, or likely to be at any time in the near future. Unfortunately, hard drive space is limited (and so is my viewing time), so there's a limit to how much I can save and for how long -- but this introduction to collecting movies in my receiver, though only for the short term, is already changing the way I think about recording and giving me thoughts about where all this technology could and should proceed from here.

I'm coming around to the idea that HD's real future is not HD and Blu-ray discs, but as a cable or satellite conveyance system only, that may ultimately help to wean us away from needing to own every film we like, or may need for future reference, for fear that it may never turn up again. What cable and satellite companies need to start working on is wiping the slate clean of all these wasteful channels that sell their souls nightly to Paid Programming and setting up motion picture and television data banks that we can rely upon to do our collecting for us, and pipe down to us what we want to see, when we want to see it, in HD or SD as the case may be. As it us, people are spending hundreds of dollars per month on DVDs and DVD sets and running out of room in the process. I don't know about you, but I would gladly redirect my monthly DVD allowance toward a monthly subscription to one or more such data banks -- as long as I could rely on them to maintain operation and to provide me with the special interest material I want to see. Of course, such a fantasy would require the hiring of management who truly know and love movies in order to become a successful reality, which is something that Hollywood has never seemed too able or interested in managing -- but with Dish Network and other providers offering in excess of 900 channels, it would be nice to see them used for a higher purpose than selling Girls Go Wild videos and male member enhancement medications.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Exciting ERIK THE CONQUEROR News


What better way to celebrate a happy ending to the Bava book auction, and to start a new week, than to make an important announcement about Anchor Bay Entertainment's forthcoming October release of Mario Bava's ERIK THE CONQUEROR [Gli invasori, 1961]?

In addition to my own feature-length audio commentary, I provided to the disc's producers a special bonus: a 28-minute excerpt from my 1989 telephone interview with Cameron Mitchell! This material focuses specifically on ERIK and Cameron's warm feelings about Bava himself, whom he described to me as "one of my favorite people on the planet."

I didn't know whether producer Perry Martin would want to use the interview as a separate audio feature, or if he might want to shuffle my commentary and the interview together, but he tells me he's done a little of both. The bulk of the interview will be included as a separate audio option, but those parts that specifically discuss certain scenes in the picture will be mixed in with my commentary. I'm looking forward to seeing and hearing the final results, and I'm delighted that Cameron's personal comments about Bava's best swashbuckler are being preserved for posterity on what promises to be a fantastic release.

The ten of you who won the limited edition CD of my Vincent Price and Cameron Mitchell interviews in the Bava book auction, never fear -- the ERIK DVD will contain only one-third (roughly) of the interview that you'll own in its entirety -- with his further discussions on BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, KNIVES OF THE AVENGER and MINNESOTA CLAY.

It's been a long and exciting night, and Donna and I want to thank everyone who participated in our auction and helped to make it such a grand success. I'm tired, but before I hit the sack for some overdue shut-eye, I want to send out Happy Birthday (or Buon' compleanno) greetings to Alice & Ellen Kessler -- the graceful female leads of ERIK THE CONQUEROR -- who are turning 71 today, and to Bava composer Stelvio Cipriani (BAY OF BLOOD, BARON BLOOD, RABID DOGS), who is celebrating his 70th. And finally, according to the IMDb, I was a year early in wishing a Happy Centenary to Lurene Tuttle last year, who actually turns the big 100 this very day. (What do I know? I watched a PERRY MASON episode last night and was tickled to find Lurene Tuttle starring in it... but when the credits rolled, she turned out to be Josephine Hutchinson!)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Ultimate Bava Book Auction Ending Soon!

Just a quick reminder to everyone that our Ultimate Bava Book Auction on eBay reaches its exciting conclusion in less than a day!

Here, in the east coast time zone, the final bids will be locked down Monday morning at 7:39:02 am. On the west coast, the auction ends Monday morning at 4:39:02 am, pacific time.

We apologize for timing the auction's end at such an awkward hour for most people. We hadn't sold anything on eBay in many years, and never anything on quite this scale in terms of page design. It was important for us to post the auction no later than Monday morning, to ensure that the winners' names and addresses would be in hand before the books arrive this week. If you're going to bed early, remember to bid your highest before retiring... or set your alarms to be there for the finish.

Thanks to the many numbers of people who are watching and participating in this historic auction! And good luck!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Centenaries, Centenaries! They Pleasure Me!


Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in old age, for that is how you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, drier skin and creakier bones and varicose veins will affect you in the future -- if you are lucky.

You are interested in the unknown... the mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you visit this blog each day. And now, for the first time, I am bringing to you, the full story (well, the short version) of what happened on that fateful day -- August 18, 1907. I am bringing you all the evidence, based only on the secret testimony of the marcelled-hair soul who was launched that day on a life of prophecy and prediction. My friends, I cannot keep this a secret any longer. Let us call a spade a spade. Let us praise those who have entertained us. My friends, can your heart stand the shocking fact of The Amazing Criswell's centenary?

For years, he told us the almost unbelievable, related the unreal and showed it to be more than a fact. He might never have believed that such a day would come, but yes, friends, the gentleman born Jeron Criswell Konig, better known as The Amazing Criswell, narrator of Ed Wood's PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, was born 100 years ago today.

All of us on this earth know that there is a time to live, and that there is a time to die. Yet death is always a shock to those left behind. It is even more of a shock when Death, the Proud Brother, comes suddenly without warning -- as it did for brother Criswell, on October 4, 1982. Who could have predicted it?

But, fortunately for us, Criswell has become one of the Threshold People, people who are dead but who continue to entertain us from the Beyond. Some sooth-sayers claim that because he took his rest in a coffin in life, Criswell now spends his death in a proper bed. Could this be the reason for his longeivity? Who among us can say? Who are we going to ask -- Jeanne Dixon?

My friend, you have now read this blog, based on sworn testimony. Happy 100th birthday, Cris. And as for the rest of you... Can you prove that it didn't happen?

Friday, August 17, 2007

Dick Miller to Receive Lifetime Achievement Award


And it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy.

Dick Miller -- one of the most beloved and iconic character actors of the past half-century, known particularly for his many roles in Roger Corman and Joe Dante pictures -- will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 43rd annual Cinecon, the world’s oldest film festival devoted exclusively to classic motion pictures. The award will be presented by Joe Dante at the gala awards banquet on Sunday, Sept. 2nd at the Renaissance Hotel in Hollywood.

Also receiving awards will be three other actors with significant genre credits: John Saxon, Piper Laurie (an actress who's always had a place in my heart for once marrying a film critic -- Joe Morgenstern of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL) and, of course of course, the time machinist's best friend, Alan Young.

Although you may want to attend just for the banquet, anyone who knows enough about movies to know and revere the name of Dick Miller is strongly encouraged to register for the full conference as well. Over two dozen extremely rare features will be screened -- all but one in 35mm, as well as nearly a dozen shorts (including three chapters of the 1941 Columbia serial THE IRON CLAW). If you love old movies of any stripe, you won’t want to be anywhere else Labor Day weekend.
For more information, click here.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Ultimate Bava Book Auction is Here!

Actually, it's on eBay -- but, believe me, it's worth the trip. Click right here and check out the wealth of production materials and rarities Donna and I have assembled for the 10 lucky winners -- in addition to the first 10 signed and only numbered copies of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK!

What could we possible offer in an "Ultimate Bava Book Auction"? Well, let me put it this way...

You've been pining to hear my never-released KILL, BABY... KILL! commentary? Here's your chance!

You've always wanted to eavesdrop on interviews with the likes of Vincent Price and Cameron Mitchell? Here's your chance!

You've thought of how nice it might be to have some actual manuscript pages from this historic effort? To see how I changed things before they went to press? Here's your chance!

You think 12 pounds and 1128 pages is awfully unwieldy and wish you could own a second copy that could be conveniently slipped into your laptop or jeans pocket? Here's your chance!

And you know what? That's still not even the half of it.

Go to the auction page now (why are you still here?) and check out the full details. Donna and I have worked very hard to make this auction as attractive and exciting and generous as possible. Our goal is to honor this once-in-a-lifetime publishing event by knocking your socks off not once, but twice -- first with the auction, and then with the book itself, which should start shipping shortly after the auction ends!

And remember... If you've already pre-ordered the Bava book, no problem -- you can still participate in the bidding. If you win the auction and have already pre-ordered, we'll gladly refund the price you paid for the book on request! (Some people may want to keep that second copy anyway, since they got it for less than half the cover price, so you'll have to speak up.)

Enjoy!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Orson Bean's New Book

I've written here in the past about my admiration for this gentleman to my left. Actor, author, raconteur, cutting-edge educator (he and his second wife once founded an arts-oriented school where kids were graded for self-expression), stand-up comedian and game show panelist, Orson Bean -- I feel -- has lived an exemplary life. His two works of autobiography, ME AND THE ORGONE and TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH, are amazingly brave and candid works of self-exploration that encompass such matters as his experience in Reichian therapy, the founding of his school, an LSD trip, being stalked by a Satanic cult in Australia, and the failure of his second marriage following a visit to Sandstone (a free sex community) and later experimentation in open matrimony. I should note that the failure of Bean's second marriage was not a failure of the bond between husband and wife; I'm told that Carolyn Bean is still very much a part of Orson's current life with third wife, actress Ally Mills. They all spent last Thanksgiving together.

While visiting Mark Evanier's blog last night, I was surprised and pleased to learn that Orson has written a novel -- his first -- a novella, actually, as the whole thing amounts to less than 125 pages. Originally called MIKEY, it's apparently about spirituality as experienced by people outside of, or alienated by, the Church. Initially, Orson's agent couldn't place the book because Christian publishers found the book too candid (it reportedly includes some profanity and allusions to sexual activity or human sexuality) and mainstream publishers found it too... spiritual. With great largesse, Orson opted to give the book away free online for a short time... until Barricade Press, a publisher in Fort Lee, New Jersey, came forward to express interest in publishing a more polished draft. Now retitled MAIL FOR MIKEY, the book is set to be published in early October 2008.

I haven't read it yet, but I'm betting it's as interesting and as embracing of life and its mysteries as anything else Orson Bean has written.

Scorsese on Antonioni

Just linking to a terrific NEW YORK TIMES memoir by Martin Scorsese of how the films of Michelangelo Antonioni impacted his life.

Friday, August 10, 2007

New Books from Bryan Senn and Steve Bissette

Now available from McFarland and Company is A YEAR OF FEAR: A DAY-BY-DAY GUIDE TO 366 HORROR FILMS by Bryan Senn ($35 softcover, 560 pp), a hefty trade paperback generously illustrated with 218 B&W photos and ad mats. It's formatted around a very clever idea: go through the calendar year, find historical events for each day and then find a horror film relatable to each event.

For example, the movie for May 21 is THE MAZE (1953), because it was on that day in 1977 that the longest leap by a frog (33 feet, 5 ½ inches) was recorded. On November 11, the date of the first fatal train wreck in the US (in 1833) is DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). September 16's selection is WHITE ZOMBIE (1932), because on that day in 1915 Haiti became a US protectorate. And the movie for November 5, Guy Fawkes Day? No, not V FOR VENDETTA (2006); it's Antonio Margheriti's THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964), which itself features the burning of an effigy. It's a rare movie fan who could resist at least thumbing through this book looking for the movie assigned to their birthday. (Lucky me: I get MARS NEEDS WOMEN for my birthday viewing.)

What would have likely become an instant White Elephant item if produced as an actual calendar (I know -- I've published a horror film calendar!) becomes a compellingly browsable book (and not limited to use over a single year, either). Best-known for his excellent 1930s horror reference GOLDEN HORRORS, Senn's entries for each film are smart, literate and interesting, and often leavened with quotes from various published sources related to the films. In case you have any doubt that Tom Weaver is the most valuable researcher classic horror films have ever had, just flip through this book at random; Tom's name appears on so many pages, crediting the sources for quotes and background information, he probably deserved co-author credit. Not all the data came from Weaver; there are also citations for works by David J. Skal, Mark A. Miller, Richard Bojarski, Robert Tinnell, David Del Valle, Dennis Fischer, Alan Upchurch, Bob Madison, Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, as well as other articles from the pages of FANGORIA, FILMFAX and SCARY MONSTERS. (Me, I'm not so fortunate -- a few Mario Bava films are included herein, and the entries for BLACK SUNDAY [December 29, Barbara Steele's birthday] and BLACK SABBATH [March 7, the day the telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell] -- tap into my reseach and use at least one quote I obtained from Lamberto Bava, but other scribes are cited as the go-to people for Bava info. Oh, well.)

Senn's YEAR OF FEAR isn't exclusively horror, incidentally. There are several entries for science fiction films (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE) and the odd marginal title like RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS. I could find only one silent film included: 1923's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, an odd inclusion when you realize that NOSFERATU and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA aren't represented and a later version of HUNCHBACK (Charles Laughton's) is. Nevertheless, A YEAR IN FEAR is commendable for providing a welcome structured curriculum for studying a well-considered cross-section of genre fare ranging from the early sound classics (like DRACULA, 1931) to contemporary releases (like DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). And you just might learn some fun things about history in the process.


In other book news, Black Coat Press will soon begin publishing in book form the collected video review columns of VW's own (occasional) Stephen R. Bissette. BLUR is the umbrella title for these volumes, and because our man Steve is nothing if not loquacious, the first volume will cover June 1999 through March 2000. Literate, informative, well worth reading, and well worth having. The very cool front-back cover design, seen above (and incorporating Steve's inimitable graphic stylings), is the work of Jon-Mikel Gates.

Read more about BLUR over on the official SRB blog MYRANT.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Lucas on Lanza on Russell

Donna and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Jason Gargano, the entertainment editor of Cincinnati's popular free paper CITY BEAT. During our conversation, Jason asked me if I'd be interested in reviewing something for him, and proceeded to produce from somewhere in his car a copy of Joseph Lanza's new book PHALLIC FRENZY: KEN RUSSELL AND HIS FILMS. I pride myself on having read every book about Russell's work, so I agreed... and now that review (my first for CITY BEAT) is in print. For those of you who don't live locally and can't pick up the paper around town, here's a link to my review.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dysfunction Cured!

My review of Bret Wood's PSYCHOPATHIA SEXUALIS (Kino on Video) for the August SIGHT & SOUND is now up and functional over at their website.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More Bava in Time for Halloween

It's being announced elsewhere, so I might as well join the bandwagon and report that Anchor Bay's MARIO BAVA COLLECTION VOLUME 2 will be released on October 23. The titles included in this set are: BARON BLOOD, LISA AND THE DEVIL and HOUSE OF EXORCISM, ROY COLT & WINCHESTER JACK, FOUR TIMES THAT NIGHT, BAY OF BLOOD, and 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON. The audio commentaries I recorded are for LISA AND THE DEVIL, BAY OF BLOOD, and BARON BLOOD -- and I recorded them in that order, for those who may be interested in auditing them sequentially and hearing my voice disintegrate in slow motion. The Alfredo Leone/Elke Sommer commentary recorded for Image Entertainment's HOUSE OF EXORCISM release will be ported over for that title.

ERIK THE CONQUEROR (which will be the complete original export version, not the AIP reduction) will be released separately at the same time, also with a commentary by me, which I'll be recording before the end of this week. The closing shot and end card of the film (curiously missing from the German DVD release) has been restored, which should make this gorgeous-looking release of even greater interest to collectors.

Finally, I mentioned here recently that I managed to record the first three commentaries in a single marathon session last Thursday night. Someone on one of the horror discussion boards has suggested that my expeditious work somehow speaks poorly of me and makes the set's extras as a whole seem less attractive, because -- they presume -- the commentaries have got to be a reckless mess. I resent this because, first of all, I don't do careless work and certainly wouldn't boast about doing careless work; I only mentioned the marathon session because I felt so pleased to have succeeded in my aims against the odds and the clock. It was an achievement. Secondly, I didn't set the deadlines for these commentaries, but as a professional, I agreed to live up to them. I refused to let the quality of my work suffer due to time constraints and, if it somehow did suffer despite my best efforts, I wouldn't have released it. As I write this, it remains for those three recordings to be edited and synched to the movies, so I don't know yet myself how everything is going to turn out -- but I think even the raw tracks were on par with other commentaries I've done.

PS: I wanted very much to record an audio commentary for 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON but time simply didn't allow it.

Calling All Bloggers

Lee Marvin in his classic role as Slob in Edward Dein's SHACK OUT ON 101.


Over at Movie Morlocks, VW's own Richard Harland Smith is calling for an August 29 Blog-A-Thon for Lee Marvin to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the actor's death.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ladislas Starewitch at 125

I don't know that any festivals or retrospectives have been organized anywhere around the world to commemorate this anniversary, but the great Polish-born animator Ladislas Starewitch was born 125 years ago today.
A worsening problem with any commemoration of Starewitch is the correct spelling of his name, as there are several. I am using, not altogether comfortably, the spelling used on and in a book about the great man recently published in France. His IMDb page spells his name "Wladyslaw Starewicz," which is how the surname has always looked correct to me, though the given name looks a little wonky. I've seen "Wladislas" too. It's a terrible problem for an artist to have, given how difficult it already is simply to see his work.
Starewitch was born in Poland and made his first short film (LUCANUS CERVUS, about stag beetles) in Lithuania in 1910. It was meant to be a naturalistic study, but Starewitch discovered that the heat of his lighting equipment made the beetles sluggish and resistant to action, so he incorporated what were then known as trick-photographic techniques (read: stop-motion) to get them to do what he wanted. When his family relocated to Russia in 1912, he continued along this line. Over the next eight years, he continued to make animated shorts but he also made some live action shorts as well, all of a fantastic nature. Included in the Ruscico DVD of the wonderful Russian horror film THE VIY (1967), for example, is a Starewitch short called THE PORTRAIT, which remains superbly frightening and is the earliest known film to pull the proscenium trick that later made THE RING so hair-raising. Among the several Starewitch films I'd love to see, I'm most curious about a few other live action pictures he made: RUSLAN AND LUDMILLA (1915), ON THE WARSAW HIGHWAY (1916), and CAGLIOSTRO (1920). In 1920, he and his clan fled Russia to Paris, France, where he picked up his work without dropping a stitch.


LA ROMAN DE RENARD (1930).

In the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND, various contributors from around the world were asked to name and write a bit about an obscure film they felt deserved to be better-known. I chose Starewitch's only feature-length achievement, LA ROMAN DE RENARD (1930), known in some territories as THE TALE OF THE FOX. If not for some unforeseen technical delays and distribution problems, it would have become what it was intended to be (and, I think, really is): the world's first stop-motion animated feature with sound. Based on a fable by Goethe, it tells the story of a crafty fox, always up to mischief and talking his way out of trouble, who dares to thwart the ruling of the King that animals should not prey on one another because Love must rule the land. Not only is the script clever and the character design impeccable (in S&S I said that it looked only a step or two away from taxidermy), but the animation -- executed by Starewitch and his daughter Irena over an 18-month period -- remains the most believably fluid and antic until the introduction of CGI, especially in its incredible interpolations of blurred movement.

Starewitch serenaded by the canine hero of his beloved 1934 short, "The Mascot."

Unfortunately, very little of Starewitch's mind-boggling work is available on DVD. LA ROMAN DE RENARD and a collection of short films were issued a couple of years ago as Region 2 discs in France, and these are already hard to find. While watching one of the shorts in one of these collections, LE RAT DE VILLE ET LE RAT DES CHAMPS ("The Town Rat and the Country Rat," 1927), I was amazed to discover listed in the credits as a backgrounds artist Josef Natanson, who went on to become an important matte painter in Italian films during the 1960s. The earliest screen credit for Natanson I had been able to find was for the backgrounds he painted for the classic dance sequence in Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948), but this one credit elucidates a 20-year gap in this important career about which we know nothing.

Here in America, Starewitch fans have had to make due with Milestone/Image Entertainment's compilation THE CAMERAMAN'S REVENGE AND OTHER FANTASTIC TALES, which includes his best-known short, "The Mascot," a 1934 short originally titled "F├ętiche." (It's also available as a $2.99 video download here.) This remarkable story of a puppy who struggles against natural and supernatural odds to fetch an orange to bring to a sick little girl is also known to some people as "The Devil's Ball," mostly due to a lengthy and untitled excerpt that used to run frequently on the USA Network show NIGHT FLIGHT back in the 1980s. That's where I first discovered the work of Starewitch and, all these years later, I'm still eager to find more.

A few of his animated shorts can be found at YouTube, and here's a link to a fine website that will serve as a more in-depth introduction to this brilliant filmmaker and his great works. Happy birthday, Maestro!

Stepping Out with Stephen Forsyth

In case you've ever wondered what became of Stephen Forsyth, the star of Mario Bava's HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON ("My name is John Harrington -- I'm a paranoiac"), he decided he didn't like the roles he was being offered and quit acting circa 1970. Then he returned to his native Canada, where he dedicated himself to a new career in music. I knew about this because he told me so when I interviewed him for the Bava book, but I could never get him to tell me anything too specific about his last 30 years in music. He said that he composed music mostly to accompany performance art, but that was about it.

Now up on YouTube are a pair of fascinating videos from the musical career of Stephen Forsyth. The first, dating from the 1980s, is a rock video called "Step Out of Love" and it actually features Stephen. The song (which he wrote and recorded) is catchy, the choreography is very impressive (I don't think I've ever seen Iggy Pop quite this animated in a video), and he remains very photogenic. By Googling around, I found out that this piece was part of a live Twyla Tharp dance retrospective held in New York in August 1990, reviewed by THE NEW YORK TIMES here.

"Step Out of Love": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThuU5lpqGSQ

And then for something completely different. The second video, dating from the 1990s, is an avant garde piece for piano and dance:

"Helios": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHyuq5EK8l0

The work showcased in these two videos seems poles apart, representing opposite musical disciplines, yet both are very well accomplished. The second piece, "Helios," shows Stephen to be at home in atonal classicism, while "Step Out of Love" presents him as a fine pop tunesmith, vocalist, and (most surprising to me) dancer. And, unlike many other MTV acts of the period that look dated and silly now, Stephen's pop video remains convincing -- it looks like hard work played out with panache -- and the editing still feels contemporary.