Sunday, May 18, 2008
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
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.
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
Thursday, May 15, 2008
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.
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.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
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.
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
PS: As reader Bob Cashill notes, "... and Ralph Fiennes for Peter Cushing!"
Monday, May 12, 2008
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,
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 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.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Wednesday, May 07, 2008
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
The Man Who Fell to Earth
The Last Emperor
The 400 Blows
The Complete Monterey Pop
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
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.