Sunday, May 18, 2008

Robert Heinlein on Blogging

"In the absence of clearly-defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it."

This Robert Heinlein quote appeared as "Quote of the Day" over at the House Next Door blog's "Links for the Day," today. It was given no citation or context, so I cannot say what brought this prophetic insight about, but, to me, it says very concisely what I was trying to say about the dangers of blogging a week or two ago. The irony of announcing that I intended to step back from blogging, only to redouble my efforts here, has not been lost on me, I assure you, but over the past week, this blog has been valuable to my personal decompression. As for my goals, I'm working on them.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #140

Though the prevailing tone of this blog has recently been one of crisis and mourning, things are looking up now that another exciting (and surprisingly upbeat) issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG is at the printer!

This issue is unusual for presenting, for what I believe is only the second time in our 18-year history, a feature article licensed from an existing book. When I read Rikke Schubart's SUPER BITCHES AND ACTION BABES: THE FEMALE HERO IN POPULAR CINEMA 1970-2006, I was greatly impressed by the quality of its writing and analysis -- but also frankly surprised by it, considering the book's unabashedly exploitative title. I was particularly pleased by its chapter on Japanese actress Meiko Kaji, whose work in the "Female Prisoner Scorpion" and "Lady Snowblood" films I admire, so I decided to license it from McFarland and Company, in the hopes of introducing Ms. Schubart's work to an audience that might otherwise overlook it. It was a treat to subject such quality writing about such a picturesque subject to a full color layout. Also in this issue is David Del Valle's heartfelt tribute to the equally colorful Hazel Court, whom he befriended for many years. With our focus given over to these two actresses this month, VW #140 is particularly rich in images of dazzling feminine beauty -- but there is a good deal else to recommend it.

For proof, in the form of a near-complete list of contents and free sample pages, visit the "Coming Soon" page at our website here.

JPL at THE LAST MOVIE

About a month ago, Dennis Hopper hosted a screening of his film maudit THE LAST MOVIE (1970) at the Silent Film Theater in Los Angeles. There was a Q&A session after the screening, during which Hopper was surprised by a question from cast member John Phillip Law, who was in unannounced attendance. Filmmaker Howard S. Berger had the foresight to capture the Q&A on his camcorder and thoughtfully sent along this link to his YouTube posting of John's amusing dialogue with Hopper and their reunion in the lobby afterwards. A touching record of what appears to have been John's last public appearance.

I also want to note that I told John's daughter Dawn about the great outpouring of affection that followed the news of his death online, in numerous blogs and discussion groups. I assembled links to all the JPL memorial blogs and threads I could find and sent them along to her, so that she can read them and print them out for preserving/sharing with other family members.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Closure

I spoke today to John Phillip Law's daughter Dawn, who told me that his cause of death was pancreatic cancer. It had been diagnosed last January, so the sixth month scenario mentioned in my previous posting was approximately right. For some reason -- perhaps because John was so perennially handsome and youthful, and exuded such an expansive spirit of life -- I couldn't find a sense of closure in all this without knowing how and why, so I pass this information on to those of his friends and fans who likewise need to know.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

More On JPL


JPL as the Red Baron in VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN (1970).

Though the cause of John Phillip Law's death remains unreported, it was disclosed by Chris Casey today on the Spaghetti Western Web board that John's good friend, actor Ted Markland, had been keeping the confidence that John was told he had about six months left to live. With this in mind, I'm thanking God that I finished the Bava book when I did and was able to get it into his hands.

In brighter news, correspondent Simon Birrell informs me that Carlos Aguilar, the author of the Glittering Images/Bizarre Sinema! book on Jess Franco, is about to release an in-depth book about the life and career of John Phillip Law. Simon writes: "It's terrible that John missed it by a few weeks (although he got to see the proofs). The book will be released in a bi-lingual (English & Spanish) edition with a ton of photos and illustrations."

Addio, Diabolik

I may have posted this photo here once before; it shows John Phillip Law, disc producer Kim Aubry and I at the recording session for the DANGER: DIABOLIK audio commentary back in 2004. And now the LA TIMES has reported John's death, two days ago, at the age of 70.

I'm in shock. John and I met several times: I was a guest in his home, a passenger in his cluttered car; we went to the movies together, and were collaborators on a wonderful DVD commentary track (which I'm so grateful to have now as a souvenir of our rapport). We talked about the things we'd do the next time I came out to California. When I sent him an inscribed copy of my long-promised MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, he sent me an effusive note of congratulations. (It's thanks to John that the Bava book contains those never-before-published shots of Catherine Deneuve as Eva Kant. He had complete stills sets filed on every picture he had ever made.) I was very much looking forward to seeing him again in LA next month; there was even some talk of having him present me with the Saturn Award. And now this.

I can't believe we won't have a next time, that I won't be able to introduce him to Donna. The cause of his death hasn't yet been reported, but the facts aren't going to make this news any easier for me to digest. He was a youthful 70, still handsome, still a very young guy in spirit and hadn't lost any of his professional ambition. He was always auditioning, checking his car phone for messages from his agency; he loved to work and loved knowing that a handful of the films he made had become cult pictures, movies that earned him a niche in popular culture, that would outlive him: THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, BARBARELLA, DEATH RIDES A HORSE, DANGER: DIABOLIK (of course), CQ and -- as I always insisted whenever in his company -- THE LAST MOVIE. On the occasion of our first meeting, he was so impressed that I knew and loved his crazy Sergio Bergonzelli movie BLOOD DELIRIUM that he ran back into his house and came back out with a large rolled Italian poster bearing the title DELIRIO DI SANGUE as a gift. I'm told it may be the next best thing to one-of-a-kind because the film never had a theatrical release.

After the session, John gave me that catalogue he's holding (from the 2003 FantaFestival, where he and Lamberto Bava had been Guests of Honor) as a keepsake and inscribed it "To Tim, my Video Watchdog... It was a pleasure to work with you!" It was much more than a pleasure for me, my friend; it was one of the best days of my life. I thank our friend Kim Aubry for making it possible.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

He Does It Because He's Driven

Aside from being intermittently bothered by action spectacle that was too frenetic to mentally process, I quite enjoyed the Wachowski Brothers' SPEED RACER. Anyone who tells you it's profound is pulling your leg, but it's a clever adaptation of anime to... (ha! I almost called it "live action") something else, a kind of psilocybin cotton candy, the sheer vertiginous beauty of which at times engenders feelings not unlike rapture of the deep. A good point of comparison is Joel Schumacher's BATMAN FOREVER -- as my late friend Radomir Perica told me, maybe it's not a good movie, but it is a masterpiece of visual design. (In other words, Schumacher dropped the ball, but his production designers were at the top of their game.) Therefore, if you have an artistic bone in your body, SPEED RACER is something you should see, just to see how some other cutting edge artists of the moment are thinking graphically. Be aware, though, that the racing cars drive sideways more often than straight ahead, and the chimp gets down with some screaming kung fu. The connoisseurs among you will appreciate that Emile Hirsch (as Speed) and Matthew Fox (as Racer X) actually sound like Peter Fernandez.

There's an interesting little thread about the movie over on the Mobius boards that provoked the following Ballardian outburst from Yours Truly, worth preserving here:

Someday, long after we are all gone (maybe sooner), all the digital mapping done of actors like Christina Ricci to achieve scenes in movies like this will be reused to create super-realistic fetish videos in three-dimensional, interactive, holographic PalpaVision. No plot, just light and shadow and synthetic flesh. It's inevitable, given the ways of devolution, that the trend of remakes will eventually devolve to three-dimensional re-imaginings and re-explorations of individual scenes and shots. Movies like SPEED RACER are a training ground to get us there.

Dish HD Giveth and Dish HD Taketh Away

Today is May 14th and Dish Network HD package subscribers are seeing some drastic changes in their channel lineups. I'm delighted to see the addition of MGM HD, about which I've heard very good things and from which I've already recorded a stupefyingly beautiful copy of the John Carradine programmer REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES (!) and a lovely letterboxed transfer of BLAST OFF (aka THOSE FANTASTIC FLYING FOOLS), not available on DVD. There is also now Cartoon Network HD, Bio HD, ABC Family HD, Universal HD (which I stopped counting as a premium channel when they began including HD commercial interruptions in their HD movies), and many others, some of which are in Stretch-O-Vision rather than real HD. There are also some new non-HD channels, such as the Universal horror channel Chiller. Thanks to Chiller, I'm now snugly back in the nightly habit of watching THE ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOUR.

HOWEVER. And it's a BIG, mother-loving HOWEVER.

Overnight, without warning, all 15 of Dish Network's VOOM channels suddenly disappeared, including my beloved Monsters HD. (The night before, ten of the channels vanished from the Dish channel grid, also without prior warning.) After struggling through the English language with a Dish tech for several unsatisfying minutes, I asked to be referred to their supervisor, who informed me that Monsters, World, Kung Fu, Gallery, Rave, Animania and nine other VOOM channels are presently off the Dish schedule... even though there are new channels assigned for each of these stations on the programming grids on the Dish website. I was told that Dish is currently negotiating with the provider of these stations for their return, in which case they will either be reintroduced as a special package (for which we'll likely be charged a still higher monthly rate) or reintegrated into the lineup. Of course, they might be gone for good. Well, not for good -- for ever.

This situation must come as quite a surprise to my friend David Sehring, the head guy at Monsters HD, who e-mailed me not long ago to inform me of some of the great new titles headed to the high-definition channel this summer -- including the English-language version of BLACK SABBATH. Just within the past few weeks, Monsters HD has shown a number of Hammer titles new to their lineup, including ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF DRACULA (a different transfer than the standard ratio version aired last month on another HD channel) and an especially exquisite-looking presentation of the 1959 version of THE MUMMY. I assume it's carried by other satellite providers, but not by any that I know of in this country.

Many indignant Dish subscribers will likely find themselves now in the uncomfortable position of wanting to dump what is essentially, without the VOOM channels, a pricier subscription service to fewer channels and sign up with the cheaper, more HD-generous DirecTV-- but knowing that would entail returning their DVR hard drives. In my case, that's more than 50 movies in standard and high def that I'm storing in permanent HD quality or waiting to be dubbed for burning to disc. And a lot of the stuff I've recorded from Monsters, World and Kung Fu doesn't turn up on other HD channels.

Dish is promising to have more than a hundred HD channels in place by year's end. Will the VOOM channels be among them? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, please add your name to this online petition to bring Monsters HD and the other VOOM channels back.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

If they ever make a Christopher Lee biopic...

... Amitabh Bachchan has the job! Read an interview with Outlook India.com's "Favorite Bollywood Star of All Time" here.

PS: As reader Bob Cashill notes, "... and Ralph Fiennes for Peter Cushing!"

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to Bob Burns!

Also known as Kogar, Tracy the Gorilla and the little Indian boy from DISTANT DRUMS (???), Rondo Award Hall of Famer Bob Burns is one of fandom's true gentlemen. He's not only a gifted comic actor (he rolls his eyes when I tell him this), DVD commentator, and the owner of the world's most famous basement: he's one of the sweetest, warmest people you'll ever meet outside of a George Pal movie. Here's a picture I took of him and my sweetie at last year's Wonderfest -- and we're looking forward to taking more later this year. Happy 73rd, Bob -- and here's to many more!

Cumpleaños felices, Jess Franco!


Dear Jess --

I did not want the day to pass without wishing you a Happy Birthday. It seems that a month never passes that doesn't produce some never-before-seen movie from your infinite past; it is a continuing process of discovery and delight for so many of us. The new DVD releases of EUGENIE and CECILIA are very beautiful indeed. This year I became a big fan of Eddie Constantine's films, many of which are hard to see in America, and seeing the early films he made with Bernard Borderie and others has given me new insights into the movies he made with you.

I hope that both you and Lina know that your work is loved a great deal by many people all around the world. Although its subject matter is often strange or extreme, it nevertheless makes us feel affectionate toward you both. We all wish we could be with you this evening, toasting your talent and your continued health on this happy occasion! But though we may be scattered all around the globe, you are in our thoughts today and we will still be toasting to you and your generous gift to cinema! I hope this letter finds you in good spirits and engaged in the creation of new work.

Warm regards from your friend and fan,
Tim Lucas

The Heart and Soul of Iron Man

I have written here in the past about my unparalleled admiration for the comic art of Steve Ditko and my affection for the work of Jack Kirby, but what you see here is probably my favorite comic book cover of all time: TALES OF SUSPENSE #79. The artist was Gene Colan, who took over the "Iron Man" feature from Don Heck sometime earlier and gave the character unsuspected depts of suavity and grace. What I love about this cover is the dramatic contrast between two super beings -- one who needs protective covering to live, and the other who flaunts his own bare skin as an armor -- as the former is caught up against the wall with a patch of his own bare skin vulnerably exposed.

While it's not perfect, I greatly enjoyed the new film version of IRON MAN with Robert Downey, Jr.; it's probably my favorite of Marvel Entertainment's filmed origin stories to date, and it promises to become one of their most successful movie franchises. One of its few disappointments is that Gene Colan's name is missing from its long list of creative credits because, for me and many other Marvel readers of my generation, Gene "The Dean" Colan was Iron Man. He gave a once clunky character a dimension of streamlined gladiatorial majesty that went significantly beyond even what Jack Kirby had summoned to earlier TALES OF SUSPENSE covers, a dimension that somehow made the armor transparent enough to suggest the spirit of Tony Stark striving within it. That aspect of Iron Man is often visible in the screen character's body language and, whenever I see it, it's clearly stamped Gene Colan -- everywhere except on the screen.

My reason for going into all this is that I awoke today to internet reports that Mr. Colan is not well; his liver is failing him. Writer Clifford Meth, with the approval of Gene's wife Adrienne, is organizing a fund-raising auction over at his Everyone's Wrong and I'm Right blog and seeking auctionable signed books, art and other goods from any professional willing to contribute. I know that quite a few professionals in different branches of the entertainment world read this blog regularly, so I'm doing what I can to get the word out. If you can, please contribute work. If you can't, please follow the auction and bid.

My best wishes to Gene Colan, and my thanks for many years of some of the most exciting comic art I've ever marvelled to. (I loved his blue Stilt Man in DAREDEVIL, too...)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Loves of Mimsy Farmer #1: Robbie Douglas

You won't find any reference to it on her IMDb page, but Mimsy Farmer's earliest known TV appearance took place in an episode of the long-running series MY THREE SONS. The episode hails from Season 3, Episode 10: "Steve Gets an 'A'." It originally aired on ABC-TV on November 22, 1962, thus predating her appearance on the ADVENTURES OF OZZIE & HARRIET episode "Rick's Wedding Ring" by close to a year.

The episode finds Robbie Douglas (Don Grady) unable to focus on his studies due to the pheromonious allure of fellow student Janee Holmes (Mimsy). Father Steve Douglas (Fred MacMurray) insists that Robbie stay at home over the weekend until he finishes writing a theme for his history class, a project that threatens him with missing out on a pre-arranged date at the lake with Janee. Above, we see the girl of Robbie's dreams meeting Bub, a role essayed by William Frawley for the show's first six seasons.

The whole family gathers approvingly around the future Queen of the Giallo, even the usually-immune-to-girls Chip (Stanley Livingston, right).

Janee doesn't take the prospect of missing out on their lake date very well...

... and after issuing an ultimatum, pauses at the door of the Douglas household to shoot Robbie one of those blood-icing PERFUME OF THE LADY IN BLACK looks of hers.

Under crippling sexual pressure, Robbie is compelled to cheat on his homework in order to meet Janee's demands. He accomplishes this by copying one of his father's old history schoolpapers, found in the attic and graded "A." (The existence of the paper is brought to his attention by older brother Mike [Tim Considine], who understands what he's up against after getting a hubba-hubba glimpse of she who was destined to star in RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP, THE WILD RACERS, FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET and MORE.) This frees Robbie up for his eagerly awaited lakeside assignation with Janee, which is depicted in a montage of double-exposed, romantic highlights like this strolling shot...

... this swimming shot...

... this "Polaroid Moment" shot of them smiling and waving to each other, seemingly from opposite sides of the lake...

... and finally, this rowing scene, which finds Robbie heroically paddling a canoe as passenger Janee dreamily cocks an ear to... what is that, a conch shell? A transistor radio? (Okay, we can see why it's not on her résumé...)
Robbie gets caught at cheating, is scolded by father Steve who is summoned to school for a discussion with his professor, and the two men realize that Steve copied the text, too, out of a textbook from the 1870s! There's a last minute curve that helps to save the Douglas patriarch's moral character from reproach, but that's all we get of Mimsy Farmer...
... except for this closing affirmation of her presence in this surreal showcase, brought to us by the fine people at Chevrolet.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Consider Yourself Nudged

Pop over to my Bava book blog, won't you, where some important breaking news has been posted.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Criterion Goes Blu-ray in October

Today Criterion Collection Newsletter subscribers received the following message by e-mail:

Our first Blu-ray discs are coming! We’ve picked a little over a dozen titles from the collection for Blu-ray treatment, and we’ll begin rolling them out in October. These new editions will feature glorious high-definition picture and sound, all the supplemental content of the DVD releases, and they will be priced to match our standard-def editions.

Here’s what’s in the pipeline:
The Third Man
Bottle Rocket
Chungking Express
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Last Emperor
El Norte
The 400 Blows
Gimme Shelter
The Complete Monterey Pop
Contempt
Walkabout
For All Mankind
The Wages of Fear

Alongside our DVD and Blu-ray box sets of The Last Emperor, we’ll also be putting out the theatrical version as a stand-alone release in both formats, priced at $39.95. Our Blu-ray release of Walkabout will be an all-new edition, featuring new supplements as well as a new transfer; we will also release an updated anamorphic DVD of Nicolas Roeg’s outback masterpiece at the same time.

Exciting news on the one hand, but alarming news on the other, as Criterion collectors will be compelled to double-dip on numerous titles. It seems a purely commercial step to add the likes of THE COMPLETE MONTEREY POP and GIMME SHELTER to a list of initial Blu-ray offerings, as both were originally shot in 16mm and are not likely to add much to their original issues in video quality. That said, Criterion should sell a bunch of them.

Signing up for Criterion's newsletter at their website will entitle you, as a subscriber, to the following special deal: $10 off any order of $60 or more placed at criterion.com through Monday, May 26.

Thanks to VW's Sam Umland for the tip.

Postscript 5/8/08: Reader Aleck Bennett makes a couple of good points...

"Just a quick note on the CC BD offerings: while I agree that the COMPLETE MONTEREY POP and GIMME SHELTER 16mm elements probably wouldn't benefit tremendously from the higher resolution BD offers, I do think that they'll both show improvements in these releases. The higher storage capability, combined with much more efficient codecs (standard-def's MPEG-2 is a notoriously 'lossy' and inefficient codec) will allow for less noticeable compression, leading to a more pleasing viewing experience. Maybe not by *much*, given the 16mm origins, but I'm hoping it'll be noticeable... However, where I think the BD releases will surely shine is in the audio department, given BD's support of lossless audio formats. While the sound mixes used on the standard-def DVDs are pretty nifty, uncompressed versions of the 5.1 mixes should be a real treat. Assuming, of course, that they'll be offering uncompressed versions of the 5.1 mixes!"

Monday, May 05, 2008

690


My previous blog entry received a surprising amount of attention -- admittedly, mostly from fellow bloggers. I didn't intend for "The End of Blogging Days" to serve as my final posting but, as I later told a commiserating correspondent or two, if and when I do collect the best of my Video WatchBlog writings in book form, at least I know now that I've got a closing chapter.

I'm not going to shut Video WatchBlog down, but I am going to take a break and try to wean myself from it. This blog was conceived to fill the breach during the period when the Bava book was in production and forcing VW into an irregular schedule. We've been back on our monthly schedule for some time now, but I've continued to write this blog because I enjoy it. I still do; in fact, if it was financially feasible, I would probably stop VIDEO WATCHDOG tomorrow and write this blog full time. (Anyone who's ever paid a printer's bill will know what I mean.) But doing both -- at least the way I've been doing both -- is wearing me down.
When I say this, I'm not just talking about overwork, because blogging typically invigorates a writer's productivity; it has encouraged me to produce writing that I wouldn't have produced otherwise, for lack of an outlet or market -- but I wasn't paid for any of it. In the process, blogging's inviting ease of expression/publication has surreptitiously curbed me from seeking out new markets; I have written and published literally hundreds of pieces here, instantaneously, that I might have sold to other magazines or another (paying) blog site, had I slowed down long enough to recognize the value of what I was doing.

Thus, blogging has become a kind of pacifier for me (hence the illustration); a gratifying pantomime of achievement rather than achievement itself. What precisely has been worn down by this blog, as I have practiced it, is my sense of professional ambition. If I'm going to recover it, it is necessary for me to redefine my duties here, which means giving myself permission not to be here sometimes. More to the point, I need to find and commit to a new, creative side-project that can begin to fill the immense personal void that was left by the completion of the Bava book.

Never fear: Video WatchBlog will continue -- albeit in more realistic, less demanding form, as a place where I can address VIDEO WATCHDOG readers when necessary and post updates pertaining to my professional activities. Later this week, for example, I'll be unveiling the cover and contents of VW #140. In time, I may also surprise us both by posting an occasional bonus review, editorial or photo feature -- we'll see how it goes.

P.S. It may interest readers of "The End of Blogging Days" to know that Flickhead's Raymond Young, similarly disenchanted with toiling on behalf of the Ether Plan for Global Distraction, is currently in talks with us about becoming a contributor to VW. So, as time goes by, if you find yourself missing the kind of fun, in-depth writing about cult cinema that you used to find regularly on Video WatchBlog and Flickhead, you'll know where to find it.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The End of Blogging Days - A Rumination

By way of preamble, I was recently approached by an acquaintence who invited me to join him and some other bloggers in a proposed "horror blog" guild. I begged off, sensing additional responsibilities in that invitation, and I explained that, not only did I not consider myself a horror blogger per se, but I wasn't all that certain how much longer I was going to continue blogging. It's an unremunerative drain on my time and energies, one more obligation every over-obliged day, and a burden of guilt each day when I don't add to the blog. The acquaintence wrote back in merry spirits, responding that these are the same thoughts that assail him and the other members of his guild, so I would have been right at home.

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

The Lindberg Babe and Other Headlines

Do they ever present awards for the year's best DVD cover art? If so, those anonymous folks at Impulse Pictures deserve all possible honors for the adornment they have given to MAID IN SWEDEN, the 1971 Christina Lindberg picture. The disc is scheduled to street on June 24, but my preview copy arrived today and Xploited Cinema is already reporting it as "in stock." The eye-catching cover art is so quintessentially Christina, I can't believe I've never seen this image before. I also like the way her name appears under the title, like the name of an author under the title of a novel. The movie doesn't have a literary bone in its voluptuous body, as I recall, but it's several cuts above the norm for Swedish soft erotica and naturally a must-see for devotees of its doe-eyed star.

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

The Best Cartoon Show Ever


Some VIDEO WATCHDOG readers were baffled when, back in our 35th issue (otherwise devoted to Ken Russell's THE DEVILS), I devoted the inside cover to a photograph of a couple of marionette ragamuffins and their pet goat. I did it, I don't regret it, and I'm convinced that time will only prove me prescient for having done it. You see, those three characters -- Rudy, Jumpin' Jesse B. and GoGo Goat -- were the stars of my favorite TV show at that time: TNT's early morning series THE RUDY AND GOGO WORLD FAMOUS CARTOON SHOW.
I don't know how many R&GG episodes were made and broadcast, but the show ran for a little more than two years. During that time, the show's restlessly inventive creators -- Barry Mills and Jack Pendarvis -- reconceived the show a number of times, doing everything from running the goat for President to giving the program a title in Spanish. But when they presented TNT with a completely and fabulously freaky, off-the-wall redo of the show called TATERHOLE (imagine Howdy Doody and Afrika Bambaataa lost with Annie Oakley in the zigzag room from TWIN PEAKS for 30 minutes, and screaming for 10 of them), that ended that. A second episode, already in the can, was never aired. One of its highlights depicted supporting character Uncle Carbunkle entertaining the show's young audience with a get-down-wittit logline rendering of Fyodor Dostoevsky's NOTES FROM UNDERGROUND.
It was a cartoon show ahead of its time, and well ahead of its time slot. It was a cartoon show for the David Lynch generation -- hysterical, surreal, funky, irreverent AND reverent. (Jesse B.'s "Black Historama" offered young viewers sketches of important figures from Black History in a respectful rap format.) Entertaining? Certainly. Insane? Whoa, yeah. Commercial suicide? Indubitabubitably... and the heroic thing about this is, the folks behind it HAD to know that. But this was a cartoon show with the power to drag hungover adults out of bed at an ungodly hour -- not to see "Believe It Or Else" for the umpteenth time, but to see what these characters were going to get away with doing on national television today. Sometimes they would have the goat wander through a Fleischer cartoon or a Technicolor scene from an MGM short buried deep in the Turner library; sometimes there would be appearances by members of The Mekons.
This was a cartoon show that was only incidentally watched for the cartoons -- most of which, being from the older, MGM-controlled end of the Warner Bros. library, I already had on laserdisc -- and, if you think about it, it's very rare to find that degree of creativity and invention anywhere on the air. Back in the 1970s, I used to watch Linda Ellerbee and Lloyd Dobyns do their middle-of-the-night newscast OVERNIGHT on NBC for the same reason: not to get the news, which I received incidentally, but to get Dobyns' and Ellerbee's singular and highly personable twist on the news. I watched RUDY AND GOGO because other stimulants of comparable intensity were and are illegal.
I loved this show and wish I had recorded more episodes. It would be PERFECT programming for my current Dish Network DVR set-up. I wish The Cartoon Network could be persuaded to re-run the series in a late night slot (much more appropriate to the tenor of the material), as they have done with Barry Mills' POPEYE SHOW, and let this lost masterpiece find the rabid midnight-toker cult that awaits it. In the meantime, Barry has recently launched a Rudy and GoGo website that offers extant and prospective fans much interesting information about the show and a goodly number of treasures from the vault, including the hilarious behind-the-scenes story of RUDY'S ROCKIN' KIDDIE CARAVAN (a CD project that got "caught up in red tape" after a zillion obstacles impeded its development) and the entire never-before-shown second episode of TATERHOLE in three segments. That one you don't want to miss.
The Links page on the site mentions that Rudy, Jesse B. and GoGo's appearance on the inside cover of VW #35 was their "one of Rudy and GoGo's proudest moments," which makes this mention one of mine.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Bond Where This Came From

This blog has been receiving an unprecedented number of visits over the last twenty-four hours, prompted by our free listen to the never-before-heard alternative James Bond theme "Never Say Never Again," sung by Phyllis Hyman (pictured). Thanks again to composer Stephen Forsyth for this exciting exclusive.

I should mention to 007 devotées who may not be familiar with this blog's parent magazine, VIDEO WATCHDOG, that we've published some of the most in-depth critical coverage of the Bond series to be found in any magazine. We urge Bond fans to check out these back issues:

VW #57, which includes this writer's "Lasers Revoked: Revisiting the Criterion Bonds" (8 pages), Glenn Erickson's "007: A Critical Dossier" -- an in-depth review of the seven titles composing MGM's initial JAMES BOND COLLECTION DVD gift set (15 pages), and a special sidebar on the censored scenes from LICENCE TO KILL;

VW #68 (in low supply!) features Nathaniel Thompson's "Box Sets Are Forever: The Rest of Bond on DVD," a 20-page review/article on the twelve remaining features in MGM's second and third JAMES BOND COLLECTION gift sets;

and, most recently, VW #131 with my feature-length review of the latest Bond film CASINO ROYALE. The link to our page for #131 has a clickable cover that will take you to a two-page sampling of my article. These back issues can be ordered, while supply lasts, through our website or by calling our toll-free number 1-800-275-8395.

I've been keeping Stephen Forysth abreast of the attention his song has been receiving, both here and on other Bond/spy blogs and discussion boards. He responds: "Thanks for the updates... interesting. Your description of the song couldn't have been more insightful and flattering ... thanks. Writing the song came to me easily as I had some previous experience with the Bond thing. I starred in a Bond take-off, FURY IN MARRAKESH, and was flown to Nice then London to meet Albert Broccoli for ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE."

A double surprise here, for me anyway: I haven't been able to see too much of Stephen's other film work, and haven't seen FURY IN MARRAKESH (also known in the States as DEATH PAYS IN DOLLARS), but its IMDb page carries an above-average rating and informs me that it was written by another friend, Ernesto Gastaldi -- so it's something I really ought to see. I'd never thought of it before, but Stephen could have made quite an acceptable and convincing young Bond -- I don't think his revelation about being considered for the role was made known before. It doesn't surprise me that Cubby Broccoli would have shown interest in him for the role, but the casting of George Lazenby suggests it was decided to go with an actor who might merge a bit more comfortably with the Bond created by Sean Connery. Stephen would have provided a smoother transition into, or away from, Roger Moore's characterization, but he had retired from acting by then.

On a closing, different note, I want to mention the passing of actress Kay Linaker (known as Kate Phillips in more recent years) last Friday at the age of 94. Tom Weaver interviewed Kate for our 90th issue about her friendships with directors James Whale and Tod Browning, and the result won the first-ever Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for Best Article. She also wrote the screenplay for the original version of THE BLOB (whose soundtrack Doug Winter will review in VW #140, now in production) and played important supporting roles in a couple of Charlie Chan films, including the general favorite CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND. We send our sympathies to Kate's friends and loved ones, and salute this gracious lady for a long life well-lived.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Bond Theme You Never Heard

You may remember that, last August 6, Video WatchBlog directed you to some interesting videos from the musical career of former actor (and HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON star) Stephen Forsyth. Stephen and I have kept in touch; he's a talented and interesting man, a supportive friend, and always good for a surprise... and the other day, he came to me with a bombshell bit of information. Back in the early 1980s, he wrote a title song for a James Bond movie that the world has never heard.

In Stephen's own words:

During the filming of the James Bond movie NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, I co-wrote the title song for the movie with Jim Ryan. Warner Bros informed our attorney that the song was to be used as the title song in the picture. However, shortly before its release, Warner Bros informed us that the song could not be used because Michel Legrand, who wrote the score, threatened to sue them, claiming that contractually he had the right to the title song. So my song was never released.

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.

Phyllis sadly took her own life in the early nineties. The year before she died, she called me late one night and told me she felt that "Never Say Never Again" was "her best and favorite recording." I have just now made the song available on the Internet (itunes, amazon, emusic, rhapsody, etc.) on an album of some of my early songs. I’d like to make the song available to Video WatchBlog readers to listen to. Enjoy.

I've always thought of NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN as an underrated Bond picture. It's got Connery, an attractive and capable female lead in Kim Basinger, and it's distinguished by one of the series' most intriguing and realistically faceted villains (Klaus Maria Brandauer as Maximillian Largo)... but it's seriously hobbled by its soundtrack, and particularly its theme song (an "all time low" in contrast to OCTOPUSSY's "All Time High"). Written by Michel Legrand, produced by Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendez, and sung by Lani Hall (a distinguished member of Brasil '66, and also Mrs. Alpert), it qualifies as an inexplicable off-day for four very talented people. Its embalmed-sounding, air-conditioned, disco schmaltz sounds more like a love theme from a Joe D'Amato grindhouse picture rather than the curtain-opener of a James Bond movie. The masochists among you can refresh your memory of it here.

Stephen's version, on the other hand, is much more like it. One can hear a John Barry influence in its dramatic unfolding, its alluring and insinuating minor chords, the way it oscillates from vulnerability to bringing out the big guns. It has the mystique and sultry sex appeal that a Bond song requires, and Phyllis Hyman drives it home with confidence.

So, Bond fans... enough of my Q-like preparation, it's time to do your own field work. Here's your link to a lost chapter in 007 history: "Never Say Never Again," sung by Phyllis Hyman -- words and music by Stephen Forsyth and Jim Ryan. Give it a listen; you'll be surprised how quickly Maurice Binder-like images will start streaming through your head.