Saturday, April 19, 2008

Klein / Marker / Borowczyk

My review of Eclipse's THE DELIRIOUS FICTIONS OF WILLIAM KLEIN (including MR. FREEDOM, pictured) is now available for reading in the new issue of SIGHT & SOUND and also available on their website.

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

Got a Pendulum and Feel Like Swingin'?

If VIDEO WATCHDOG's current Roger Corman/Daniel Haller issue has you itching for some audio accompaniment, we heartily recommend this week's installment of Rue Morgue Radio, which is devoted to the Debonair Dean of Delirium himself, Vincent Price. Our good friend Lucy Chase Williams, the author of THE COMPLETE FILMS OF VINCENT PRICE, is RMR's special interview guest. This must-listen entertainment -- richly endowed by Vincent's choicest bon mots and trailer-speak -- goes into Rue Morgue Radio's archives after tomorrow, but by all means seek it out. Otherwise you may feel, in your heart of hearts, a hole the size of a medium grapefruit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bewitching Hazel

I took this photo of Hazel Court in her living room,
surrounded by her art, in 1993.

Actress Hazel Court died yesterday morning at the age of 82 -- which, to me, is a sentence of which neither half makes sense. Wasn't it only fifteen years ago that I had the good fortune to visit her at her home in Santa Monica, California, to kiss her hand, to drink her tea?
I took this photo of her that day, as she showed her gentleman callers around her living room: she stands surrounded by family photos and some of her own works of art, her hands at rest on the dorsal fin of one of her sculptures. Also on display in the room was a beautiful white sculpture of a nautilus shell, so perfectly smooth and proportioned that I told her it looked like something truly made by the sea. She liked that compliment, she told me, being an Aquarian.
I had always admired her as an actress; she was as comfortable in period pictures as in contemporary ones, she could be prim, saucy or serious. Also, I had always admired her as a woman -- and I do mean always: I have vivid memories of being dazzled, in my single-digit years, by the galaxy of freckles revealed by some of the low-cut gowns she wore in some of the Poe pictures. (Thankfully, these can be seen once again in the latest DVD and HD presentations, proving they were not figments of my overactive young imagination.) So my expectations before meeting her were great, but the woman I met that afternoon was extraordinary. Warm, civilized, artistic, full of humor, bawdy in the nicest possible way, completely charming. I sent her roses the next day, so that she might remember me a little longer, but we never spoke or met again.
One meeting fifteen years ago, yet the news of her death has touched me surprisingly deeply. I can't really process the news as yet, nor am I ready to pay her achievements proper tribute. I watched THE RAVEN in HD tonight, mostly to spend some time with her in semi-lifelike resolution. She was fun and in her saucy mode, she looked enchanting as always, but it was just a performance; it wasn't her. The people in her life were fortunate.
Coming out later this year from Tomahawk Press is her autobiography, which carries the misleading title HAZEL COURT: HORROR QUEEN. "Horror Heroine," absolutely -- she's up there with Fay Wray, Gloria Stuart and Valerie Hobson. To my mind, "Horror Queen" suggests something that Hazel Court was not and perhaps could never be. She played some duplicitous, conniving, and downright evil women, but they were always warm-blooded. This small criticism aside, I'm very much looking forward to reading her book and pretending that it's just her and me, listening as she recounts her life story.
There is a second photograph that I had planned to include here, a photograph of the two of us together. I don't think of myself as particularly handsome, nor do I feel I photograph well in my own opinion, but, in this photograph, I do look handsome -- perhaps because I was aspiring to belong in a photograph beside Hazel Court. As I say, I had planned to post that photograph here, but on second thought, I'm keeping it to myself, for myself. I don't want anything to detract from the singularity of photo above.
Today is for Hazel Court alone, with my affection.

Monday, April 14, 2008

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #139

Information and sample pages now posted on the VW website here, now.

Something Extra with Your Morning Coffee

I'm like the character that Quentin Tarantino plays in PULP FICTION: I take my coffee seriously. I started out in young adulthood as a tea drinker, very fond of my jasmine and lapsang souchong teas (always with two teaspoons of honey, please), but, when I spent a fateful week house-sitting for Cincinnati legend Irma Lazarus in the latter months of 1974, there was no tea to be had... so, needing something warm to offset the chill weather, I sampled her house blend of coffee. It was her husband's personal blend of chocolate almond and mocha java beans. I was converted with my very first taste: this wasn't anything like the instant Maxwell House or freeze-dried Taster's Choice coffees my mother used to drink while chain-smoking her breakfast. The chocolate almond had just the right semi-sweet quality, its bitterness cut by the velvety smoothness of the mocha java. I left the Lazarus home a confirmed coffee enthusiast.

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...

Jean Marais. Fantômas himself, the fabulous Beast of Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête!

Sacha Guitry. Actor, writer, producer, playwright, a true creature of the theatre.

Martine Carol. The star of Max Ophüls' Lola Montés, Henri Decoin's unforgettable ATOMIC AGENT aka Nathalie, Agent Secret (which no reader of this blog has yet sent to me, I am sad to say) and, evidently, some Esther Williams-type movies.

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)...

Eddie Constantine!

I couldn't resist bidding on this one, which I scored for just a few bucks. He now occupies a permanent place on the round flat base of my Sony flatscreen monitor, next to a same-sized figurine of the Frankenstein Monster holding a pumpkin and a whitish stone chip from the Great Pyramid of Giza brought to me by my friends Wayne and Jan Perry. Now I can look down from my work and there's a little golden Eddie (or Lemmy, if I want him to be) giving me a wink and a "thumbs up."

This kind of premium was commonplace in the 1950s and '60s, when you could find gift towels or drinking glasses in boxes of detergent. I've recently seen DVDs in boxes of breakfast cereal, but they aren't nearly so enticing -- the movies carry a whiff of junk that didn't sell, and it doesn't make them any more desirable to know they've done time in cellophane wrappers inside a cereal box. Celebrity figurines, on the other hand, are an ideal premium because they're fun and serve no real utilitarian purpose. It's not going to happen, but wouldn't it be cool if we could open a can of Chock Full o' Nuts or a bag of Zavida coffee beans today and find little golden figurines of celebrities inside?

I'll trade you my Matt Damon for your Dirk Bogarde. Okay then, how about my Joaquin Phoenix for your Philippe Leroy?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Toast to Dieter Eppler (1927-2008)

Dieter Eppler, a German-born but quite international actor whose career encompassed everything from Edgar Wallace krimis and Italian vampire films to the occasional art film like Jerzy Skolimowski's DEEP END, has died in his hometown of Stuttgart, Germany at the age of 81.

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.