Monday, May 05, 2008
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Now I'll let you in on a little secret. This past weekend, while feeling very frightened and frazzled at the prospect of losing my oldest continuous friend to a recently discovered mass of malignance, I took a silent vow that I would discontinue this blog if he didn't come out of his nine-hour surgery alive. Over this long and suspenseful weekend, I happened to see somewhere -- borrowed from the Cox & Forkum Editorial Cartoons site -- a cartoon of William Shakespeare sitting in front of a computer keyboard, his hand hovering tentatively above the keys. In a thought balloon were the words, "To Blog or Not to Blog... That is the Question." It gave me the feeling that something apocalyptic was in the air, something extending well beyond me to include other bloggers, as well. Could the End of Blogging Days be upon us? So soon?
Fortunately, my friend -- the Best Man at my wedding 33 years ago -- did survive his operation. His wife tells me that his squash-sized tumor had weeded through the musculature of one of his thighs, which had to be sliced through and repaired with muscle from his abdominal wall; this will require him to wear a knee brace from now on, but the mass was extracted before it could infect any of his organs -- so it's a more than fair trade-off. It was cleanly removed, and I'm grateful to be able to look forward to talking and laughing with him for whatever time is now naturally left to us.
But Monday, the day of my friend's operation, did not come and go without its losses. Two of my fellow film bloggers -- Matt Zoller Seitz of The House Next Door and Raymond Young of Flickhead -- announced around that time that their blogging days were over. Matt announced his decision to give up print journalism entirely (including his gig as a reviewer for THE NEW YORK TIMES, an even bigger step) to pursue filmmaking in an interview with his succeeding House blogmeister Keith Uhlich, while Ray simply said "Adios, amigo" with no further explanation.
As film bloggers go, Matt and Ray were major players; I visited their sites regularly, read most of their postings, and I will miss the distinct personalities they brought to the blogosphere. I had an attachment to Flickhead because I saw it as an incarnation of Ray's late, lamented fanzine MAGICK THEATRE, and in my early months of starting to read The House Next Door, I felt myself drawn closer to Matt by my discovery of his first feature, HOME (introduced to me by occasional VW contributor David White), and shortly thereafter by his blog's stunning report of his wife Jennifer's fatal aneurysm, just two years ago (nearly to the day)... as she was performing tasks at her computer. The impact of that posting was all the proof any of us needed that blogs do indeed form communities of the heart, not just of the head, and that the rending pain and disorientation felt by one blogger could be sent down the wire to be shared by everyone who read their work or shared their particular discipline. It was not long after acknowledging the second anniversary of Jennifer's passing with this touching short film that Matt made his announcement, so it is hard not to imagine that it had something to do with prompting his decision.
While I feel jubilant for both Matt and Ray, in that their decisions suggest a newly determined re-engagement of life and all its outgoing possibilities, it will take awhile to lose the habit of wondering what they might be thinking about this and that. At the same time, there is something about the very nature of cyberspace that allows such disappearances to heal over quickly, like the metallic skin of the T-1000. We feel a sense of disappointment that their words won't be there for us tomorrow or the next day or the next day, but regardless of the high quality of their work, the void they leave behind will likely not be felt for long. What Matt and Ray introduced into the blogosphere is still there, and, should it be taken down, something else by someone else will fill its place. Ether minus ether remains ether; you cannot subtract from it.
Come this October, I will have been doing Video WatchBlog for three years. That's three years in which I have initiated no new novel or screenplay project. This blog's numbers are not great in the great scheme of blogs, but they are respectable for a film blog, especially so for a film blog devoted to such outré films and things as I discuss. Last week, Video WatchBlog scored its highest number of daily hits ever when the NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN song posting more than doubled my usual daily average of 14-1500 hits. This proved to me that there is a larger audience out there, interested in things that interest me, that generally do not come here because the larger number of our interests do not coincide. They come here for a day or two, then disappear when our headline topic changes. In fact, this blog tends to attract wider response when it covers things like Bond, contemporary music (my Bob Dylan posts were BIG), comics, erotica -- things other than the horror and fantasy cinema that embody my core historian interests. I sense that large numbers of people aren't as turned on by horror and fantasy cinema as they used to be, at least not in a serious and lasting way as I was, and probably you were, but today's fans don't have the Universal films of the Golden Age and the Hammer and Eurocult films of the Silver Age in theaters to help turn them on. What they do have, that we didn't have back in the day, is a lot of information sources of unequal volume and value vying for their attention -- most of them in the form of blogs.
All around us, our growing indifference to the world outside our computer screens is causing newspapers with over a century of experience and tradition to topple, venerable bookstores to close, magazines to fold, literature to die. The vox populi has found a soapbox for itself, but here's the bitter truth: anyone with the talent to have earned publication in print -- like Matt and Ray -- is likely to find that blogging, while attractive in the short run, really isn't built for the long run. It starts out as a fun thing, but soon enough you realize that it's not a job, it just feels like one; it's not a career, because it doesn't help you to make the hand-to-hand, face-to-face connections that are necessary to anyone's professional advancement. What it is, blogging, is a daily deal with the Devil to keep producing, to track your numbers and referrals, and to stay abreast of the birth and death dates in the IMDb and all the other blogs kept in your personal blogroll. It's no way to live... but, by and large, neither is the way we live.
As this world of ours continues to place all its hopes for information and community like so many eggs into this ether basket, people ought to know what I am not ashamed to admit: that, sooner or later, it becomes the secret wish of all bloggers to stop blogging. The instant gratification of this format is nice, but it only lasts for an instant. It wouldn't surprise me if all the blogs I check each day -- rather than reading some of the acknowledged great writers whose works I've never read, finishing Thomas Pynchon's most recent book, or starting in on Alexander Theroux's new and forbiddingly long novel -- disappeared off the face of the net within the next year or two. One thing I can promise you about published writers, and generally about any writer of quality: once they have tasted publication, they are in it for keeps, and they will swim upstream toward maintaining that livelihood as long as there is breath left in them. As for Matt Zoller Seitz, to whom I send my best wishes and highest hopes, he's jumping into another stream with stronger rapids -- filmmaking -- but it's still a form of writing and, these days, perhaps the ultimate form of publication.
No, I'm not resigning this blog yet, but, like the wretch who lives in a small room containing nothing but a chair, a table and a loaded revolver, it's something I contemplate every day. For better or worse, so far, other contemplations have won the upper hand.
Donna tells me it's a beautiful day -- 77° outside. So I think that's enough blogging for today.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Overwork and a serious health scare related to a dear friend (I'm relieved to say that his surgery appears to have been a success) have taken the wind out of me, and consequently my blogging sails, of late. I've just finished the bulk of my work on VIDEO WATCHDOG #140, so this is my week between issues to concentrate on viewing and reviewing for the next issue or two. I'm currently working on a lengthy review of the long-awaited DVD premiere of the Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee classic THE SKULL (finally on DVD in its original Techniscope screen ratio) and making my way through Flicker Alley's extraordinary box set GEORGES MELIES - FIRST WIZARD OF THE CINEMA, as well as attending to some shorter reviews. One of these will be devoted to the first volume of cartoons from the PINK PANTHER spin-off series THE INSPECTOR, for which I have discovered a heretofore unsuspected love. Cartoons with titles like "Cirrhosis of the Louvre" and "Napoleon Blown-Apart" -- what's not to love?
For those who are wondering, copies of VIDEO WATCHDOG #139 -- our exciting DOCTOR WHO issue -- were shipped out last Thursday and Saturday to our subscribers and retailers. First class subscribers will either have them now, or very soon.
Finally, in case you (like me) had to miss the first public screening of Joe Dante's THE MOVIE ORGY last week at the New Beverly Cinema, there is primo vicarious info to be had from Glenn Erickson's DVD Savant, the blogs Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur, and also from this Variety report by Peter Debruge. Everyone is describing it as a tremendous and privileged cinephilic experience, and talking up the "Dante's Inferno" retrospective screenings in general as one of the great cultural events of the year. Atta boy, Joe!
Friday, April 25, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Monday, April 21, 2008
The legendary Phyllis Hyman was my first choice to sing the song and working with her is one of the highlights of my musical career. I personally auditioned and sang the song to her while she was having breakfast in her manager’s office. After agreeing to sing the song, she arrived at the studio and, without any rehearsal and only having heard the song sung once at the breakfast audition, sang the song in one perfect take.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Earlier this week, I revisited Chris Marker's classic LA JETÉE as preparation for my next SIGHT & SOUND column, which is about a series of new Chris Marker titles from First Run Icarus Films, and noticed a "Bill Klein" in the cast list -- if it's indeed the same fellow, as seems likely, it's quite appropriate casting for a film so dependent on exquisite photography. (I just checked the IMDb and they report he played one of the men from the future.) Furthermore, GreenCine Daily reveals that today is M. Klein's 80th birthday, and I certainly wish him Many Happy Returns.
Incidentally, also in the cast of LA JETÉE is Ligia Borowczyk, the wife of Walerian Borowczyk, playing one of the women from the future. Her presence reminds us that Chris Marker and Walerian Borowczyk had previously collaborated on a short sf-themed film titled LES ASTRONAUTES in 1959, in which Ligia and at least one other cast member of LA JETÉE were featured. You can actually see this remarkable 14m film on YouTube (click to see Part One and Part Two), but let us hope that a proper release of this collaboration will be among the other Marker and Marker-related shorts forthcoming from First Run Icarus Films...
Update 4/20: Someone signing himself "Bill" reports that LES ASTRONAUTES is included as an extra in the Cult Epics DVD release of Borowczyk's GOTO, ISLAND OF LOVE. It has also subsequently been learned over at GreenCine Daily that William Klein was indeed the Bill Klein of LA JETÉE, and that his wife Janine also appeared in the film as one of the people from the future. Even more interesting to me, Klein was the American narrator of the English version of Marker's classic short -- his track is included on the Criterion DVD. It only remains to be discovered how much, if any, input he had into the film's still photography.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
I was still a struggling young writer and could not afford the special blend that Irma had especially made, but I found Chock Full o' Nuts to be a pretty reasonable substitute -- at least it was then -- and stayed a faithful customer for many years. ("Better coffee a millionaire's money can't buy!," right?) But when special coffees began to infiltrate our local supermarkets in the 1980s, Donna and I went after them like sharks after chum. We're partial to chocolate, vanilla and hazelnut, also to robust flavors like Columbian and Kona; I like an occasional espresso, while Donna favors some desserty variants that don't do much for me, like caramel nut and chocolate raspberry. At the moment we find ourselves favoring Starbuck's Kenya and Breakfast Blends, and a new brand of coffee called Zavida that started showing up in our local stores last year; it comes in resealable silver foil bags -- very sensible, and the coffee in those bags tastes impressively rich and full-bodied from the first bean to the last. (I'm not too keen on their French Roast, though -- nor anyone's French Roast, for that matter.) And I do mean "bean" -- I prefer to grind my own, whenever possible.
Some recent sales on eBay have made me aware that America's coffee makers are missing out on just the sort of idea that inspires consumer loyalty. A few weeks ago, I discovered an eBay seller who was auctioning a series of celebrity figurines that were originally obtained as free giveaways in cans of an Italian brand of coffee called Mokalux. (I would have thought Mokalux was a French brand, considering the celebrities to whom they gave the premium treatment, but this website indicates they were an Italian company -- and have been since 1920.) Imagine the pleasure of opening a can of coffee and finding this little fellow swimming around inside the beans or flakes...
Sacha Guitry. Actor, writer, producer, playwright, a true creature of the theatre.
Yves Montand. The handsome star of THE WAGES OF FEAR and Z caught either at the height of song or in the headlights of an oncoming car.
and last but not least (you knew this was coming)...
Sunday, April 13, 2008
A stage actor from the time of his graduation, Eppler made his screen debut in the early 1950s under his birth name of Heinz Dieter Eppler. Though the Edgar Wallace krimis didn't really come into vogue until Rialto Film began producing them in 1959, Eppler was already an old hand at Wallace by then, having played the role of Sgt. Carter in an earlier TV movie for SDR: Franz Peter Wirth's Der Hexer (1956), based on Wallace's novel THE GAUNT STRANGER. After attracting further attention as the lover of a decapitated and re-capitated stripper (!) in Viktor Trivas' Die Nackte und der Satan (US: THE HEAD, 1959), Eppler made a proud addition to the repertory cast of Rialto's Wallace series, first appearing as Joshua Broad in Der Frosch mit der maske (US: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE FROG, 1959).
The Wallace-krimis demanded memorable faces, and Eppler had a great one. His burly build, combined with his virile features, wavy hair and piercing eyes, made him the ideal henchman, maniac, tradesman or nobleman. During the 1960s, he appeared in a variety of sizeable roles in such well-remembered German productions as (let's stick to the American titles) THE HEAD, THE TERRIBLE PEOPLE, THE STRANGLER OF BLACKMOOR CASTLE, THE WHITE SPIDER, THE SINISTER MONK, THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DR. MABUSE, and Jess Franco's LUCKY THE INSCRUTABLE. He was a particular favorite of director Harald Reinl, who cast him several times in later projects, including a 1966 remake of Fritz Lang's Die Niebelungen and also in Die Schlangengrube und das pendel (1967), the Christopher Lee vehicle variously known as CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD and THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM.
One of the stranger turns of Eppler's career was his star turn as the chief bloodsucker of Roberto Mauri's La strage dei vampiri (SLAUGHTER OF THE VAMPIRES aka CURSE OF THE BLOOD GHOULS, 1963). His characterization was a throwback to the tuxedoed Bela Lugosi model of the 1930s, while also charged with the violence and eroticism that Christopher Lee had brought to Count Dracula in HORROR OF DRACULA (1957); in some ways, this blending of influences, combined with Eppler's well-fed physique and the general romanticism of the piece, anticipates Paul Naschy's stylish 1973 stab at the Un-dead: COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE.
Eppler, married since the age of 20 to the same woman -- Magdalene Schnaitmann -- and the father of five children, remained active in films and television series until 2001, when he retired from acting. This Das Neue Blatt news story from January 7th appears to paint a bittersweet portrait of his later years, which found him and his wife still together after 61 years but increasingly dependent upon their children, as a couple of bad falls consigned him to a wheelchair, and his wife began suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It's a humbling, sobering, yet heart-warming glimpse into the private life of an actor who contributed a great deal to post-war German cinema, and to international popular cinema, as a skilled actor and an unforgettable face.
In other words, as a movie star.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The eighth episode of that fourth season, "Get Out of Town," I found especially interesting because it features a henchman character named Stanley, clearly modelled on the persona made popular by the late Rondo Hatton in various Universal horror and mystery programmers, including THE PEARL OF DEATH and HOUSE OF HORRORS. Hatton died with his last picture, 1946's THE BRUTE MAN, still awaiting release -- the victim of a bone-distorting pituitary disease called acromegaly, which had also been responsible for his distorted features.
"Get Out of Town" begins with Mike Barnett entering his apartment, only to be quickly overcome by a gigantic hand that chloroforms him.
No information about the later life of Fred Lightner is yet available, but it seems likely from these photos that he would not have had much longer to live. The point is not whether Rondo Hatton and Fred Lightner really were exposed to mustard gas, or if they -- like many others -- became acromegalic through some other internal process. The real point is that, until now, Rondo Hatton has always been a singular case study among actors, but this sighting of Fred Lightner proves that at least one other, authentically disfigured actor followed in his footsteps to play the sort of character he made infamous.
Monday, April 07, 2008
"Making movies is very hard work, and it's not fun... I eat my work, I drink it, and breathe it -- even dream it at night. But it's supposed to be fun for you, not us. Or scary, or inspiring, or even, once in a hundred times, profound.
"There are shining times, surely -- sitting [on] a good horse at five in the morning, waiting for the first shooting light in Montana, or Mexico, or the Spanish Guadarramas. Struggling with a scene all morning, and arguing through lunch about it, and then suddenly finding the way in, like opening a locked door. Exploring Shakespeare with a camera. Yes, there are wonderful things in it, my whole life, for instance. But it counts too much to be 'fun,' and if you can't understand that, I can't explain it to you."
-- Charlton Heston, IN THE ARENA (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster), pp. 141-142. Copyright (c) 1995 by Agamemnon Films, all rights reserved.
Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will honor the life and career of legendary actor Charlton Heston, who died Sunday at the age of 84. This Friday, April 11, the network will present a 15-hour marathon of memorable Heston performances, including his Oscar®-winning role in Ben-Hur (1959). Also featured will be two opportunities to watch an in-depth conversation between Heston and TCM host Robert Osborne in the TCM original special Private Screenings: Charlton Heston.
“Charlton Heston was a towering man both in person and on screen,” said Osborne. “He was also one of the nicest, most courteous gentlemen I ever met. He will forever stand tall among those rare few we know as genuine Movie Stars.”
3:30 p.m. THE BUCCANEER (1958) – co-starring Yul Brynner and Claire Bloom.
5:30 p.m. THE HAWAIIANS (1970) – co-starring Geraldine Chaplin and John Philip Law.
8 p.m. Private Screenings: Charlton Heston (hour-long career interview)
9 p.m. BEN-HUR (1959) – co-starring Jack Hawkins and Stephen Boyd.
1 a.m. KHARTOUM (1966) – co-starring Lawrence Olivier and Richard Johnson.
3:30 a.m. MAJOR DUNDEE (1965, pictured) – co-starring Richard Harris, Jim Hutton and James Coburn.
I still have my copy of IN THE ARENA -- signed with a flourish that looks downright presidential. Like many, I was opposed to most of Mr. Heston's politics (it shouldn't be overlooked that he was an important civil rights crusader in the 1950s and '60s), but I was greatly disappointed by the way he was treated over the years by people, like Michael Moore, who share views closer to my own. I liked him -- as an actor, as an activist (for speaking out on behalf of what he believed in), for the way he used his clout to get TOUCH OF EVIL made and MAJOR DUNDEE finished; he was also a very good writer. I also liked him for the way he handled my mother.