Saturday, December 29, 2007

New Franco Doc Goes on Sale Sunday Night!

Brian Horrorwitz' long-awaited documentary ANTENA CRIMINAL - MAKING A JESS FRANCO MOVIE is finally going on sale at the Trash Palace website tomorrow night -- Sunday night/Monday morning -- at midnight. You may want to make arrangements to be there because there are certain benefits to being one of the first seven people to order a copy.

ANTENA CRIMINAL is a new documentary that chronicles the making of Franco's 2000 crime thriller BLIND TARGET, filmed by Horrorwitz, who was cast to play a supporting role in the film. Brian showed me a rough cut of the picture a couple of years ago and I found it very interesting even in that state -- more interesting than BLIND TARGET, frankly -- including some candid scenes that have stuck with me ever since. I'm very much looking forward to seeing the final cut.

The two-disc DVD-R set includes: ANTENA CRIMINAL (84 minutes), an exclusive interview with Jess Franco (25 minutes), outtakes and deleted footage (from ANTENA CRIMINAL, not BLIND TARGET - 50 minutes)a Photo Gallery with complete score (21 minutes), documentation of ANTENA CRIMINAL's World Premiere (8 minutes), a trailer (3 minutes), and liner notes by Pete Tombs of Mondo Macabro. Each copy of ANTENA CRIMINAL comes with a free DVD of Sub Rosa's release of BLIND TARGET. The low, low price for the whole package is $11.98 plus shipping.

Horrorwitz writes about the sale: "Here's how it works: The DVD will go on sale December 30th at the stroke of midnight (that's this Sunday night / Monday morning). [Editor's note: That would make it technically December 31, but you know what he means.] The first 7 orders that come through the Trash Palace website's order page each get a free autographed photo as follows:

"Customers # 1 to 3 each get a beautiful color glossy 8 x 10 still of Jess Franco and Lina Romay from the 1970s with Lina licking Jess' face! It is signed in gold ink by Jess and black ink by Lina!

"Customers # 4 and 5 each get a color glossy 8 x 10 still of Jess from DR. WONG'S VIRTUAL HELL, his name and a "secret Asian message" signed in gold by Jess Franco!

"Customers #6 and 7 get a color glossy 8 x 10 still of Lina from "Dr. Wong's Virtual Hell" signed in black ink by Lina Romay!

"In order to qualify you must be one of the first 7 customer at or after 12 o'clock midnight this Sunday night / Monday morning via our website. Any orders coming in before midnight will count as pre-orders but will NOT qualify for the photo giveaway."

For more information on ANTENA CRIMINAL (check out the trailer!), click here. To go directly to the secure order form, use this link.

Deeper Into OZZIE & HARRIET

There is no shortage of new things to watch here at Chez Watchdog -- the new BLADE RUNNER briefcase edition, the MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. set in its similar attaché case, and much else -- but Donna and I have become absorbed in the myriad pleasures of Mill Creek Entertainment's monolithic-in-its-own-way 12-disc box set THE ESSENTIAL OZZIE & HARRIET COLLECTION, which contains no less than 100 "complete" episodes.

Regrettably, not all of the episodes are quite complete -- it seems that the original cuts of some episodes got misplaced along the way when they were re-cut for shuffling back into the original run as retrospective episodes, at which time the first couple of minutes were lopped off to make room at the end for a newly-inserted Ricky Nelson performance -- but an impressive percentage of them are intact, even to the point of including their original commercials for such products as Coca-Cola, Aunt Jemima Pancake Mix, and Kodak camera.

THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET has an undeserved reputation of being bland family comedy. With many of its best episodes co-authored by future GREEN ACRES scribe Jay Sommers, it's often delirious in its comic convolutions of ordinary life and sometimes downright surreal, as in the classic episode "Ozzie's Triple Banana Surprise" (also included here). The shows benefit all the more from being seen in their original broadcast context, as the Nelson family would also often appear in the commercials adorning their program -- and so would some other surprising, familiar faces.

Case in point: Here is a frame from one of the show's Kodak commercials, which finds Ricky Nelson aiming his Kodak camera at actress Joyce Taylor. You may remember Joyce as Beatrice Rappaccini in the best segment of the Nathaniel Hawthorne anthology film TWICE TOLD TALES or as the female lead in Edward L. Cahn's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but this is her closer to the beginning of her career.

Around this same time, Joyce was the female interest in an episode of OZZIE AND HARRIET called "Ricky the Bullfighter" -- shots from which, featuring her, later turned up in Ozzie's 1961 promotional film (the prototypical "rock video") for Rick's hit single "Travelin' Man."

No, this isn't a scene from LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD; it's an even more bizarre pairing of actors in a different Kodak commercial, found in Mill Creek's offering of the episode "David the Law Clerk." Here we see future ZOTZ! co-star Julia Meade extending the palm of her hand toward actor William Berger -- who would subsequently appear with Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney in a classic Halloween episode of ROUTE 66 and then relocate to Europe, where he founded a commune for psychedelic experimentation and appeared in such films as THE MURDER CLINIC, Jess Franco's LOVE LETTERS OF A PORTUGUESE NUN, and HERCULES II with Lou Ferrigno.

A star comes down from the heavens, alighting on Julia's hand...

... et voila! It becomes Kodak's then-new Starliner camera!

If they still made commercials as trippy as this, psychedelic communes might well be more prevalent today.

But the commercial is a great discovery because it dates from 1959, pre-dating the earliest of Berger's known work on film and television.

The OZZIE & HARRIET episode which this commercial accompanies, "David the Law Clerk", rates special attention for a still-astonishing dream sequence in which David Nelson (who finds his application for a job in a law firm troubled by a true but unbelievable number of coincidences) rehearses pleading his case to prospective employer Mr. Ralph Dobson (Francis DeSales) in a court of law. The tour de force sequence, directed by Ozzie Nelson himself, finds David Nelson playing all of the principals except the members of the jury.


David also plays the court stenographer in a single cutaway shot. The only characters he doesn't play, as I said, are the members of the jury, who are all played (even the female members!) by Francis DeSales!

Mind you, no CGI or motion control were used in the creation of this sequence!

This last shot is particularly clever because as the jury foreman stands to deliver the verdict (which he cannot find on his person), he blocks the view of the jury member seated directly behind him, who peeks around for a better look at what's going on. This sort of thing shows tremendous pre-planning, and the trick photography (by DP Neal Beckner) continues to represent a superior, seamless technical standard almost 50 years after it was shot.

"David the Law Clerk" was one of the episodes included in this year's somewhat disappointing Shout Factory release THE NELSON FAMILY PRESENTS THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET, the only family-authorized release of these public-domain episodes to date. (The authorized version is the one that doesn't include the original commercials, sad to say.) David Nelson contributed audio commentaries to some of the episodes in the Shout Factory set, but unfortunately not for this episode, which I imagine would have made for very interesting listening.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays!

On this Christmas Day, Donna joins me in wishing all VIDEO WATCHDOG and Video WatchBlog readers the happiest of holidays. Thanks for looking in, but we're spending the next few days in the company of family and friends -- like our good friend Joe Busam, who took this nifty photo of us last month. Feel free to look around the blog and peruse its vast archive, which now amounts to exactly 600 posts to date (601 if you count this one)... my gift to you.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

FOUR FLIES on Grey Market

One of the most exciting developments of this holiday season is the unexpected arrival of a German gray market release of Dario Argento's elusive FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET on DVD. I've received some e-mails asking me if the rumors are true and, if so, how does it look... so I'll devote today's blog to answering that question.

As these screen grabs illustrate, the 97m disc -- titled VIER FLIEGEN AUF GRAUEM SAMT and credited to a company called Retrofilm -- is indeed real and it looks pretty good. It was also obviously assembled by people who know their Argento movies well. The great bulk of the source material comes from a 35mm print, in English, that looks like it's been around the block a few times; it's a bonafide, old-fashioned grindhouse print, complete with the occasional travelling scratches and thumpy splices... but the image quality, imperfect as it is, is by far the best I've seen for this particular film. If you've only seen the film on one or more of the ratty bootleg videocassettes long in circulation (which happens to also be my story), I think I can safely promise you a viewing of FOUR FLIES that you might consider revelatory.

Closeups like this one, of the blackmailing maniac's mask, are sharp enough to bring out previously unsuspected textures. I always thought this was a facial mask, but it appears to be more of a whole-head mask.

Medium or long shots like this look a bit softer, but still more than acceptable on my 58" widescreen set. If your screen is smaller than mine, the quality will only improve for you.

As always, the sharper the picture, the more attentive we can be to matters of performance and Mimsy Farmer gives one of her most interesting and brittle performances here.

This shot of protagonist Michael Brandon, sharing the screen with Euro great Bud Spencer (as "God") is a good index to the disc's color quality. As you can see by comparing these skin tones to those in the bed shot shown previously, they are prone to fluctuation. Not ideal, but those who saw the film in theaters here in 1972 probably saw something similar.

Earlier I said that "the bulk" of the disc looks pretty good. I qualified my statement because the 35mm print used for this release was evidently incomplete, requiring the Argento buffs behind the scenes to obtain the best possible inserts from other sources to make their presentation as complete as it could be. I didn't notice anything missing from the movie; in fact, there are shots included in this disc that I've either never seen before, or saw in such poor quality that I could never appreciate them for what they were. The scene illustrated here, of Brandon's maid waiting in the park for a meeting with the killer, is one of five or six short patches inserted into the continuity from other sources. They're unfortunate, but it would be worse not to have them in place.
I should also mention that it's a pleasure to see this Techniscope film in its correct ratio, which brings to life fleeting shots like this one -- of the gay private eye investigating the case.

Indeed, the disc salvages so much heretofore obscured detail that, for the first time, I noticed that Argento or his art director used some record albums of the day to wryly underscore the film's death imperative prior to its grand finale: Traffic's JOHN BARLEYCORN MUST DIE and George Harrison's ALL THINGS MUST PASS.
The only source I know for this Region 0 PAL disc is Xploited Cinema, where it is priced at $29.95. The disc includes English, German and Italian audio options, but only German subtitles. A bonus section includes German trailers for this film, as well as one each for Argento's previous features THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and THE CAT O'NINE TAILS. Alternate Italian titles and an extended edit of the film's finale also taken from that version are included, as well.
Of course, VIER FLIEGEN AUF GRAUEM SAMT is not what anyone would call a definitive release. It's really just a deluxe pacifier to keep Argento's fans contented until whatever legal problems are preventing the film's legitimate release can be solved. Anyone who buys this disc will inevitably want to upgrade in the event of an official release, but it's worth the inevitable double dip to have this movie available to us now -- for those crazy goddamn nights when nothing else will do.