Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Need more incentive? "Grungily photographed by John L. Russell (PSYCHO) with bottles of hooch in nearly every shot, INDESTRUCTIBLE MAN looks like a dive bar smells..." -- Tim Lucas, VIDEO WATCHDOG #116, page 10.
What are you waiting for? Call in sick.
Monday, June 09, 2008
Donna and I are now starting to work on our next issue, which will include Justin Humphreys' wonderful tribute to the late AIP/New World screenwriter Charles B. Griffith, Bill Cooke's detailed review of the FOX HORROR CLASSICS box set (which a more informed world would have called "The John Brahm Collection"), Kim Newman's continuing inspection of Fox's CHARLIE CHAN sets (covering VOLUME 4, introducing Sidney Toler and Sen Yung and containing the wonderful CHARLIE CHAN AT TREASURE ISLAND), and my own epic-length review of Sony's SPIDER-MAN - THE HIGH DEFINITION TRILOGY, which in fact contains four different Spidey features in Blu-ray (the fourth being SPIDER-MAN 2.1). And that's all the teaser you get. For now.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I look at this album cover, even now, and I thrill to how it manages to look at once traditional and frontier-shattering; how the design manages to accomodate woodwork, marble, ornate metalwork and decal-design; and, most especially, how Kelley so brilliantly revolutionized the art of typography. And the piece achieves all of this in service to the simple central image of a rose. In that way, I find it analogous to the eponymous suite in Vincente Minnelli's AN AMERICAN IN PARIS: both works traverse a history of art to arrive at the fundamental beauty of nature, despite all its thorns.
Kelley and his associate Stanley Mouse spearheaded San Francisco's psychedelic art movement in 1965, when Bay Area concert venues like the Fillmore Auditorium, The Family Dog and the Avalon Ballroom hired them and other artists to design promotional posters, flyers and postcards for their weekend shows.
"We were just having fun making posters," Mouse told Joel Selvin of THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. "There was no time to think about what we were doing. It was a furious time, but I think most great art is created in a furious moment."
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Speaking of which, look who recently published his autobiography! And he's not the only '60s Euro star who has written one: check this out! What do you think the chances are, of these being translated into English? Ja, I agree... but in Germany, both of these stars have recorded Audio CD versions of their books.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
I've been spending some time with the Wallace-krimis again, which has tempted my closer study of Vohrer. His films are sometimes guilty of exposition passages filmed too expediently or carelessly, but on the whole he was remarkably inventive and -- at the very least -- a master of what the Germans call stimmung: mood. Rialto seems to have greatly appreciated what Vohrer brought to the series because, after a fairly early point, he begins to receive a pre-credit possessory card (like the one above) in addition to his actual main titles credit (like the one below, from Neues vom Hexer, 1965).
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
"Back when I was 22," Mr. Perkowski writes, "I over-earnestly pulled off two feature films based on Edward D. Wood Jr. pulp novels and old screenplays: DEVIL GIRLS and THE VAMPIRE'S TOMB - shot on Super-8, 16mm, video, with acres ofstock footage and scrupulous dedication to the angora-ed one. Recently, through acts of dark alchemy, I've assembled them into a viewable form after noticing 9th generation bootlegs floating around of a rough cut of the first film. Here are some rough teaser trailers, with Phil Proctor of The Firesign Theatre doing the voiceovers..."
Here's a link to a couple of fabulous trailers for these homunculic hommages: DEVIL GIRLS (based on a Wood pulp novel) and THE VAMPIRE'S TOMB (based on an unfilmed Wood script that was to have starred Bela Lugosi as "Dr. Acula."). Frankly, I find far more cinematic verve in these trailers than Ed Wood himself ever mustered, and their expressionistic bent, high energy and Super-8/16mm origins actually suggest (to me, anyway) what Andy Milligan -- or, dare I say it, a more nascent Guy Maddin -- might have made of this musty old Wood material.
YouTube is also hosting a rough cut trailer for another Andre Perkowski production, the Hong Kong action pastiche A BELLY FULL OF ANGER, which you can find here (if you can take it).
Should any information be forthcoming about where the re-emergent Wood tributes can be obtained in their entirety, I will let you know.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I was surprised and also pleased to discover that this year's Gold Medal recipient, RETURN TO THE CAFFE CINO, is a history of the off-off-Broadway night spot where Andy Milligan got his start as a dramatist. In fact, the book contains a number of the gay- and S&M-themed plays originally produced at Caffé Cino, including (surprise of surprises) "The Brown Crown," written by my friend and former Milligan repertory player Hal Borske! I guess I'll have to buy it now. Anyway, major congratulations to Hal for being part of the IPPY Awards' #1 choice.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
We finished watching the first season of 24 last night, which was very exciting if also somewhat disappointing. The finale brings to mind all the reasons why most drama doesn't go the "real time" route. As Alfred Hitchcock realized after making ROPE (1948), cutting is necessary to drama; I would add to this that, while real time is an engaging complement to suspense, a certain degree of time manipulation is necessary for drama to achieve its fullest potential, and suspense cannot exist without dramatic content. The real challenge of drama is not to subvert its rules, as this show does quite brazenly, but to find ways in which to innovate within their perimeters without being so crass as to break them.
In 24 SEASON ONE's final couple of hours, we discover who the second mole at CTU is (the truth is actually tipped-off in the opening montage of every episode). As the commentaries confess, the answer was improvised pretty much as that episode was being prepared, which meant that the actor had no idea that he/she had been playing a traitor for the bulk of his/her performance. This upset the actor, and it does result in a performance that doesn't work quite so well in hindsight as it did when it was in progress, through no fault of the performer's own.
A major character also dies just minutes before the end, an infuriating death that was dealt into the game for -- the creators admit -- no better purpose than to inform the viewer that all bets were off where future seasons were concerned. Anything could happen here, and they had better learn to expect the unexpected. Apparently the actors had no idea how the show was going to end either, because an alternative version was shot (included in this set as a bonus), in which this character survived. Oddly enough, this alternate version isn't particularly satisfying either, for the simple reason that the preceding wrap-up took so much screen time that both endings had to be rushed through. So one is left with the feeling that the storyline simply stops, in keeping with its internal clock, rather than draws to a satisfying conclusion.
My friend Michael Schlesinger wrote in response to yesterday's blog, and his engaging remarks warrant sharing in full:
You're absolutely right about the repetition of certain phrases (my favorite, which came in later seasons: "Chloe, I'll upload the data from my PDA and explain everything when I get back to CTU!"), but you danced around the more telling point: to paraphrase FDR, Bauer is an SOB, but he's our SOB. The right-wingers who make this show clearly see him as a hero, but most of us at home see Bauer as basically a bad guy who just happens to be working for us, and much of 24's brilliance is getting us to root for him instead of booing him.
Season #1 is rather uneven--they don't really understand the cliff-hanger concept, often ending the show with the take-out instead of delaying it till next week. But it greatly improved as it went along, reaching its pinnacle in the absolutely remarkable fifth season. So stick with it.
And most importantly: you're exhausted from watching several episdoes in a row? You're not supposed to watch several episodes in a row!! It's a goddamn serial! One chapter a week--just like the good old days. Where's the delicious tingle of suspense if you see the resolution two minutes later? I'm allowing you one episode a day, no more. I have spoken.
Unfortunately. watching one episode per day from a boxed set release is a luxury beyond the means of DVD reviewers, who are obliged to jump into the deep end and gulp down almost as much water as they swim in. Also, if the real viewing mandate is one episode per day, what's with the "Play All" option on each disc, which indicates a covert encouragement from the show's producers to watch as many as four episodes in a sitting? It doesn't really matter: any progress I make with subsequent episodes now will probably have to be limited to one episode per evening, if I intend to get anything else done. But Mike's endorsement of Season Five is tantalizing indeed.
As my comments have shown, we agree that Season One is uneven; a number of plot threads are dropped without closure (for example, Kim never learns about the fate of her girlfriend) and I also noticed that a couple of episodes cheated themselves of better cliffhangers, which sometimes appeared at the end of the first act in the next episode. But real time is a hugely difficult challenge for any dramatist (Beckett excepted, perhaps), and this group of episodes meet that challenge far better than most. It's one of the most impressive feats of construction I've seen in a TV show, maybe the most impressive; I also find myself looking fondly back at some of the throwaway characters, like the woman cop who takes a bullet in the alley or the fed-up, due-in-court-on-a-DIY-charge waitress whose car Jack commandeers, the latter played by Kathleen Wilhoite (a welcome return by a likably quirky actress I used to see often in 1980s television).
I have my quibbles, but I can't argue with the commonly held belief that 24 SEASON ONE is riveting television.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Donna and I watch as little commercial television as possible these days, so, while we were vaguely aware of the 24 phenomenon, we didn't actually give the show a spin until this box set came into our hands. I don't know how well the subsequent seasons hold up, but the first season episodes are fairly addicting and seem tailor-made for marathon viewing sessions. I think we've done as many as seven in a day, which is, of course, nothing compared to what Jack Bauer (Sutherland) and company are going through. However, watching a show this suspenseful, actionful and unpredictable can take a certain toll on one's psychological health; I personally hit a bump a little more than halfway through the season where I was feeling so emotionally exhausted by the whole thing that I had to take a break. Your mileage may differ, but I would recommend maybe a few episodes a night, tops. Beyond that, believe it or not, it can begin to tear at you.
The series was photographed by Rodney Charters (whose name I first noticed on the old FRIDAY THE 13th series, when he shot David Cronenberg's "Faith Healer" episode) and other Canadian cameramen in a widescreen format, and is presented here in mostly handsome 16:9 with semi-muted color. However, it appears that the series was shot wide in consideration of its future DVD release and domestic/overseas HD broadcasts, and initially shown (and indeed framed) in standard ratio. In the course of viewing, I noticed a couple of glaring camera gaffes that turn the old "boom mike" shots we used to see in unmatted VHS releases topsy-turvy; 24 ushers in a new era of unmatted widescreen transfers that expose area not meant to be seen in the periphery of the image.
Example #1: Here's an image from episode "7:00am to 8:00am," found at 12:40 on Disc 2. Here, Counter Terrorist Unit agent Nina Meyers (Sarah Clarke) finds an abandoned building and phones headquarters, and the silhouette of a camera operator edges not once, not twice, but three times into frame. I've brightened the image slightly to better accentuate the little red bead on the camera, which was very noticeable on my TV display.
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.