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.