Monday, July 07, 2008

Guillermo del Toro at the Saturn Awards

Here, as promised, is Guillermo del Toro's acceptance of the George Pal Memorial Award at the 34th Annual Saturn Awards, preceded by a short video prologue and introduced with what I believe are universal sentiments by writer-director Frank Darabont.

I photographed this material myself, and I should forewarn you that the picture goes black for a short time between Guillermo's introduction and his first words onstage. That's because I had to put the camera down and pay the man his due by clapping my hands together.

Not included in this clip is my relevant after-party banter with Guillermo, which went something like this...

TL: Guillermo, did you ever meet George Pal?

GDT: No, I never did, I am sorry to say.

TL: I met George Pal once.

GDT: Do you want me to hit you over the head with this fucking award?

Bava Book Blog Enters the Video Age

Photo by David J. Schow.
Now playing over at The Bava Book Blog: footage of Donna's and my Saturn Award acceptance speech, and John Saxon's introduction of us, which you can access directly here. Press the play button and wait a few seconds for playback to begin. Mind you, this is no Academy Awards speech, where the band chases the speakers offstage and mid-word after 30 seconds. The Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films encouraged us to speak our peace, so I wrote and delivered a speech that, along with John's introduction, runs in the neighborhood of 12 minutes or so -- a running time slightly longer than what is allowed by YouTube. Enjoy.

We also recorded Guillermo del Toro's speech upon receiving the George Pal Memorial Award, and Frank Darabont's extraordinary introduction of him, which I'll be posting here anon. The version on YouTube is only a fragment of the actual speech.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

VIDEO WATCHDOG #141 On the Way

VIDEO WATCHDOG #141 is now back from the printer and beginning to wend its wicked way toward subscribers and retailers. You can read a comprehensive list of its contents here, where you can also click on the cover for previews of two articles.

The cover story is Justin Humphreys' touching and informative memoir of AIP screenwriter (and New World director) Charles B. Griffith, illustrated with many rare and original photos, which provides a wonderful complement to our Roger Corman round table of a few issues ago. The issue also includes several reviews that are feature-length in themselves: Bill Cooke on the FOX HORROR CLASSICS box set (the Laird Cregar/John Brahm set, as we know it around here), Kim Newman's coverage of CHARLIE CHAN VOLUME 4, and my own detailed assessment of the entire SPIDER-MAN trilogy (actually a quartet, as SPIDER-MAN 2.1 is also included) on Blu-Ray. Also featured: Frank Darabont's THE MIST, THE INVASION, and a generous helping of British horror, including BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE and three Amicus titles.

This issue is a particularly happy occasion for us on a behind-the-scenes count: it marks our return to our original printer, Crest Graphics, for the first time since VW #109. While the print quality of VW #112 through 140, done by another local company, was never less than crisp and sparkling, I was personally never very happy with the paper quality, the heavy gloss on the covers, or the way their web press caused the pages to audibly crackle when turned. This new issue is much more like the way I prefer to envision VW: lighter but still readable cover gloss, sturdier paper, pages that turn without sound effects. In fact, owing to a miscalculation on our part, this new issue was printed on heavier stock than it should have been -- 70 lb. instead of 60 lb. -- so there will be a slight reduction in weight with the next. This one is going to cost us a little more than usual to mail, but boy, does it feel like a magazine! And so will the next one, I'm sure. We've always loved and missed our friends at Crest Graphics, and we're delighted to be back with them. I think when our seasoned subscribers slip this latest issue from its envelope, they'll feel back in the presence of an old friend, too.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Would You Believe... MORE Vacation Pictures?

Friday, June 27 -- It's the KALEIDOSCOPE Kids!

Lunch with Joe Dante, his partner Elizabeth Stanley and charmin' Charlie Largent at Musso & Frank's Grill on Hollywood Boulevard -- just a stone's throw away from the Monkees' star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. (We have photos of Donna's visit to that sacred shrine, too, if you're interested.) They make a terrific corned beef sandwich there, an open-faced job so big I couldn't finish it. I remember Joe taking home half a club sandwich, come to think of it.

I wish Joe was prepping Charlie's and my Roger Corman biopic script, THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES, but the budget still isn't in place. He's currently in pre-production on two new horror movies, BAT OUT OF HELL and THE HOLE (which I told him will be called ONIBABA in Japan). Joe and Elizabeth aren't giving up on our project, though; they say they have never heard any complaints about the script, but the general (incorrect) feeling is that the story is too Hollywood-inside to be a commercial success. As we all know, it's only insiderly because it happened to famous people like Roger and Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper and Nancy Sinatra (quite a cast of characters, wouldn't you say?); the movie's message is as benign as it is universal. At the very least, it's a future cult comedy waiting to happen, the kind you'll watch again and again as you surf it up on one of your cable movie channels. A major Oscar-winning actor-director has expressed interest in playing Corman, too. If you're looking to invest in a terrific film project, let one or all of us know.

Next on that day's schedule was a long-planned pilgrimage to the Ennis-Brown House on Los Feliz. This fabled location, best-known as the unforgettable exterior of William Castle's original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), has been suffering some signs of age and erosion in recent years, but we found it everything we ever hoped it would be. One side of the structure, the side overlooking the city, has been shored up along its lower hillside -- but what haunted house doesn't have its signs of decrepitude?

The guests will soon be arriving...

Here's one now. Isn't she pretty?

Donna couldn't resist ringing the doorbell to see if Frederick or perhaps Annabelle might actually answer. She also once touched a Van Gogh self-portrait at the Chicago Art Institute, knowing full well that it might set off every alarm in the place. She's so amusing...
We felt stangely at home here at the gates of the House on Haunted Hill. After all, we've been haunting it for many years.

You can't get this close to the house's "front" door, but a camera with a nice zoom lens, pushed through one of the gaps in the ironwork gate, affords a better view than can be obtained in person.

By the way, Charlie Largent took these photos of Donna and myself. Compositionally and in terms of our expressions, this is one of the best pictures ever taken of us. Seeing these pictures for the first time, Charlie told me, "You look like you know the secret to the House on Haunted Hill, and you ain't tellin' anybody" -- but I really can't comment.

This photo was taken on the side of the house that has begun to slip down Haunted Hill. It might be that very room, judging from the leading of the window, where the interiors of Eldon Tyrell's abode in BLADE RUNNER (1982) were shot. It didn't occur to me to take photos of the repair work underway; perhaps, unconsciously, I didn't want to reveal this grand old building's infirmities.

I was there.

I was never here, but we passed it several times in our rent-a-car and I finally grabbed this shot of it. This eye-catching sign of a Los Angeles tailor shop reads like a Zen koan in comparison to the witticisms found on some of the churches we drive by locally here in Ohio ("CHRCH -- What's Missing? U Are!").

Later in the day, David J. Schow took Donna and me to the famous Dark Delicacies bookshop in Burbank. Here I am in the clutches of the store's mascot, who stands guard outside the front door.

Here I'm making the acquaintence of the store's proprietor, Del Howison, whom I once noted in a review is the only actor to have played Renfield in more than one picture. Del told me that he's now played the role four times, in different movies directed by Don Glut. Anyway, as the author of THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA, shaking Del's hand was like shaking the hand of my own character. He's the only Renfield actor I've ever met. We were also charmed by Del's wife Sue, who also runs the store and is camera-shy. She agreed to pose for a picture with us only if I agreed not to post it on the Internet, so I must honor my word. If you want to see Sue Howison, you'll have to troop out to Burbank in your best black clothes.

Earlier in our visit, my friend Lucy Chase Williams (author of Citadel's THE COMPLETE FILMS OF VINCENT PRICE) and her husband Gibby Brand hosted a party for me at their charming house in Glendale -- the approach to which, a blankety mountain range beyond an aisle of skyscraping palms, was literally breathtaking. I left my copy of her book behind for personal inscribing and returned with Donna and David J. Schow on Saturday, June 28 (our last day in town), to retrieve it. It was also an opportunity for two local authors, Lucy and David, to finally meet. I had to smack myself when I got back home and found we had no picture of Gibby... or their excitable mastiff, Ranger. Lucy's a wonderful hostess and friend and it was good to put my arms around her twice this trip. (Although David's doing it here.)
Trivia note: See that uniform set of books just above Lucy's head? They're a set of Robert Browning's poems and they belonged to Vincent Price when he was still a student at Lucy's alma mater, Yale University. Each endpaper is signed "V.L. Price, Jr. '31."

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

That Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein Chair

WatchBlog reader Paul White was the first to respond to my request for frame grabs depicting the prop loveseat I photographed on the set of Larry Blamire's forthcoming DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, reputed to have originally appeared in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).

As you can see, what Larry Blamire's universe has conjoined was asunder in the older film. The make of the chairs is certainly identical -- though, as Larry told me, the furniture has been reupholstered. However, as Paul's grabs show, the loveseat appears in the earlier film as two separate chairs.

Either they were commingled for an intermediary film by a skilled carpenter or, more likely, the chairs seen in the A&C classic are not exactly the same piece of furniture. That said, the loveseat is obviously part of the same matching set and may well have appeared elsewhere in the movie, in another area of Dracula's castle.

What I want to know is, if the D&SN loveseat was actually cobbled together from two once-separate chairs, and Lou Costello sat there first...

Who's on first?

Walk A Mile in Our Shoes

Also known as "More Vacation Pictures." Click, as they say, to embiggen.

On June 20, Donna and I visited Bob and Kathy Burns, whose peerless collection of fantastic film memorabilia provided a wonderful evening of nostalgic distraction. Here I am holding one of Glenn Strange's original Frankenstein boots -- and Glenn's own shoe is still inside it! The outer part feels like felt and the sole feels like wood!

Here Donna achieves her lifelong dream of playing Weena to Rod Taylor's Time Traveller in the actual Time Machine. ("How do they wear their hair in your time?") This Rod is a wax likeness, but his smoking jacket is the original and the rear wheel of the device "Manufactured by H. George Wells" still rotates.

When I was very young, a television broadcast of Wm. Cameron Menzies' INVADERS FROM MARS sent shivers through me, especially the scenes involving the bubble-encased Martian leader. Here I am, in what I call my "Dr. Strange" shirt (which Donna made for me), holding the original prop bubble that the Martian drones carted about from place to place.

Another lifelong dream realized as Bob and Kathy took us to the original Bob's Big Boy in Burbank -- on a Friday, too, when the parking lot turns into a weekly classic car showcase. (Kathy surprised us by proving herself an expert car aficianado who can date '57 Chevy by sight.) The West Coast Big Boy formula differs from the one we have here in the Midwest -- mayonaisse and some kind of red relish instead of our tartar sauce -- but as much as I like the local recipe, I think I may actually prefer the original, which tasted to me like a more substantial, satisfying Big Mac. By the way, I don't make the claim that I resemble the mascot of this fine restaurant, but as I stood outside waiting for our table, children began to climb on me.

Me and Donna with Kathy and Bob. We love them, and we love this picture.

On the set of Larry Blamire's new "old dark house" spoof A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, I bump into actor Andrew Parks -- beloved by millions as Kro-Bar from THE LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, but especially beloved by me as Truphen Newben of TALES FROM THE PUB.

Here's Larry Blamire himself. Larry is usually on his feet, calling the shots, while onset, but I pleaded with him to rest for a moment on this prop chair which -- according to set gossip -- previously appeared in ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. Perhaps one of our eagle-eyed readers can find it and send us a frame grab?

In the lunchroom, we had a nice talk with Rondo-winning artist Frank Dietz and James Karen about Mr. Karen's fine performance in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Donna charms John Saxon at the 34th Annual Saturn Awards.

Here's Donna and me sharing a moment of triumph with our old friend, producer Alfredo Leone, who won the Saturn for his involvement in Anchor Bay's THE MARIO BAVA COLLECTION, VOLUMES 1 and 2. Alfredo kept trying to get my award, and my wife, away from me, but be that as it may... The flash on our camera began to fail us here, and I've done what I can to brighten it. The same goes for the next and last shot of the day...

On the evening of June 26, Donna and I attended a public interview of actor/author/raconteur Orson Bean at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. Orson's lovely wife Alley Mills -- an actress you may remember from THE WONDER YEARS, now working on the soap THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL -- was there too and we coralled her into this commemorative photo, taken in the building's lobby. Unfortunately, she was feeling the onset of a sore throat and didn't join us for dinner, but we drove Orson to one of his favorite French joints, Lilly's, and talked about a project we're cooking up.
Though he put on a brave and friendly face that evening, Orson looked visibly shaken by the loss of his friend George Carlin just three days earlier. He told me that their friendship went back 45 years, but they became especially close friends only 8 or 9 years ago. He reminisced about how George had been married for a long time to a woman he loved very much, was destroyed when she suddenly passed away and withdrew into seclusion. Then he happened to meet a friend of the Beans named Sally, and they had their first date when the Beans invited them both to dinner. They stayed together from then on. On the night George died, Sally called Orson and his wife Alley and they went over to hold her hand for a couple of hours. Sally was upset, of course, but like anyone who had spent any length of time living with a comedian, mined humor from her pain; she told them how she imagined George at the Pearly Gates, trying to convince St. Peter that all the bad things he said about God were all in good fun.
Orson told us that the true measure of George Carlin can be seen in the fact that he befriended a Christian like himself and, despite his coarse public image, respected whatever life choices made people happy. He even provided an enthusiastic blurb for the cover of Orson's forthcoming book, MAIL TO MIKEY, which is a book about finding God but written in harsh, rather un-Christian language. In a sense, Carlin's last public act will be endorsing a book whose aim, underlying its profanity, is to teach suspicious souls the value of getting on one's knees once a day and thanking Someone or Something for the gift of life.

T & D in This Month's CINCINNATI Magazine

The Tim & Donna publicity blitz continues in the current (July 2008) issue of CINCINNATI magazine, where Jack Heffron's West Side Story section profiles the Lucai of VW fame in an article featuring this fabulous classic-one-sheet-styled art by Owen Richardson. (This is the second time I've been caricatured by a magazine artist in the past year and it feels weird.) Jack's article is called "It Came from Price Hill" (referring to the section of town in which we live) and it features our comments on VIDEO WATCHDOG, the Bava book, and our history as a couple. If your local newsstand doesn't carry CINCINNATI, check their website at (access code RED MEAT) for more details.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Team Watchdog at the Saturn Awards

Here are some shots that were taken by David J. Schow at the 34th Annual Saturn Awards last Tuesday, June 24. Here's Donna and me, posing with our Special Achievement Award.

Dining at Table #24 with award presenter John Saxon, who I complimented on his surprising performance in Dario Argento's MASTERS OF HORROR episode, "Pelts."

Guillermo del Toro meets Charlie Largent -- VW cover artist and Donna's most important collaborator in the design of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. Charlie and Guillermo had a great conversation about GDT's intentions for THE HOBBIT... and now both Charlie and I want to take another stab at reading it!

Donna meets PAN'S LABYRINTH's Faun and Pale Man, and the Silver Surfer, all rolled up in one: Doug Jones. A gifted mime, a very sweet and charming gentleman... and, as Charlie shrewdly noted, "If they ever get around to making a biopic on John Waters, there's your guy."
But all this is prologue to today's new entry on the Bava book blog. Click here for instant teleportation to more pictures and much more text.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Beauty and the Beast

Donna monkeys around with Kogar (Bob Burns) on the set of Larry Blamire's A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT. Photo by Frank Dietz.
Tonight, Donna and I returned home from an amazing ten-day trip to Los Angeles -- our first real vacation since we started VIDEO WATCHDOG in 1989 -- so if you're wondering why your e-mail hasn't been answered or your order confirmed, that's why. There's been nobody here except the dear friend who's been taking care of our cats.
What a trip! During our time in California, we picked up our Saturn Award for Special Achievement and shook the hand of Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films president Robert Holguin; Lucy Chase Williams and her husband Gibby Brand held a welcoming party for us in their Glendale home; we lunched with Joe Dante and his partner Elizabeth Stanley at the famous Musso and Frank's; we hung out with Bob & Kathy Burns at their "Bob's Basement" museum (then dined with them and our cover artist Charlie Largent at Bob's Big Boy on a "Classic Car" Friday); we attended a Q&A with Orson Bean at Beyond Baroque in Venice, where we met Orson and his wife Alley Mills, then had dinner with Orson all to ourselves at a fabulous French restaurant called Lilly's; we saw THE INCREDIBLE HULK (eh) at the Cinerama Dome theater; we walked around the Santa Monica Pier with Richard Harland Smith and his two toddlers and trudged through what felt like 20 miles of sand to get our feet wet in the Pacific; we got a private preview screening of Howard Berger's outstanding new music documentary A LIFE IN THE DEATH OF JOE MEEK, followed by an all-night conversation with Howard; we dropped in on Sue & Del Howison at Dark Delicacies, where we left a signed copy of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK for sale, and -- neither last nor least -- we were guests on the set of Larry Blamire's forthcoming "old dark house" mystery A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, where we met Larry (a past VW contributor!), his wife Jennifer "Animala" Blaire, H.M. Wynant, James Karen, Brian Howe, Andrew "Truphen Newben" Parks and renewed old acquaintence with Sketchy Thingster Frank Dietz and our pal-since-the-early-Seventies, Mike Schlesinger, who's producing the picture (which looks like an inspired satire). I got to see some other friends again, meet a few people with whom I've been corresponding off and on for many years, and I even got hugged and kissed by Guillermo del Toro, who greeted me at the Saturn Awards like a long lost brother (and some have said there is a resemblance). Further sweetening the deal: Shintaro Sushi, fresh avocados, Prizzi's, fresh avocados, The House of Pies, fresh avocados, and a pleasingly firm bed at the Hollywood hills aerie of that Wild, Wild Westerner, David J. Schow, located high above the audible a.m. feeding frenzies of local coyotes.
As I'm posting this, I'm so sleepy that my eyes are literally crossing, but I wanted to explain my/our recent absence, during which time we could read e-mail but couldn't respond to it... which is not what we should have been doing on our first vacation in nearly 20 years anyway, and which we're therefore filing under "Fortunate Inconveniences." Watch for more fax and pix in the days ahead, as we begin to upload our own photos.
And a Big Thank You to Frank Dietz for capturing this once-in-a-lifetime moment on the official DARK AND STORMY NIGHT stills camera.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tonight Let's Watch Franco Films in Paris

Tonight, the most ambitious retrospective of Jess Franco films ever mounted begins to unreel at the Cinemathèque Française in Paris. Franco himself will be present to answer questions about his 1968 release NECRONOMICON, in what may well be a 35mm print distinct from the altered version issued in America as SUCCUBUS in 1969.

The Franco retrospective (which consists of 68 films by my count!) will run from today, June 18, through July 31. Here is a link to a complete alphabetical listing of the films being shown, their showtimes and locations, posted by Robert Monell at his website I'm In a Jess Franco State of Mind.

I certainly wish I could be there for this exciting event and send my best wishes to Jess and Lina for this long overdue celebration of their life of work.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sweden, Authorized and Unauthorized

Andreas Frisk of the Swedish DVD label Klubb Super8 has written to inform me that the Japanese Avanz Entertainment DVD release of SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL is unauthorized, and that the Klubb Super8 release is the only authorized release of the film to date.

"The Avanz DVD is most certainly a bootleg," he writes, "since it has burned-in subtitles and it looks like it's taped from TV." (Indeed, the Avanz disc transfer features a rotating TV station bug that reads "Ciao!" I cropped these out of the screen grabs in my previous posting.) "I have been in contact with Avanz," Andreas continues, "and the Italian company that hold the rights to the film, regarding an upload of the whole movie on Google Video that I found. The reply from Avanz confirmed my suspicions: 'We're not original licenser and almost public domain... a rights holder might have permitted it...' 'Almost public domain'... there is no such thing as 'almost' public domain. The worldwide rights holder is the Italian company that produced the film and they are still around, and it is with them Klubb Super 8 made a deal for our legitimate release. It would be great if you could somehow point this out in your blog. I have made an comparison of the two DVD's, check attached files."

I have reproduced the attachment above, which you can click to enlarge. It speaks very well indeed for the superior quality of the Klubb Super 8 release.
I should also mention, to those of you who read and enjoyed my "Cincinnati, Heaven and Hell" posting (thanks to those who wrote to me), that I've been tweaking it ever since it first went up on Sunday; I don't think I've ever revised anything else written for this blog to quite this extent, but this piece has continued to develop as its topic continues to entice my imagination. In other words, if you've read it before and liked it, you might want to read it again because it's probably different now and hopefully that much improved. In fact, I just added some new material to it within the last ten minutes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cincinnati, Heaven and Hell

You tried to warn me then
And I still loved you when
You said the words I could not believe...

When you work in the business of film and video reviewing, there's a constant and sometimes oppressive pressure to cover only what is new. More and more often of late, I've been fighting this sense of regimentation by watching what I want to watch, what I'm most drawn to. The movies I find most enticing at any given time may not be new releases; they may not even be official releases -- indeed, they may not have been released at all. There is, and always will be, a tremendous allure about those unsanctioned titles which can only be seen through the efforts of a dedicated subterranean community. Fortunately, each issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG can support only so much of my own writing, which leaves me a certain amount of time each month in which to truffle out the kinds of movies that can only be found by those who are willing to dig. It is the pursuit and study of these random obsessions that keep me excited about what I do.

That love was just a game
A game to play
Any way
Maybe madly
Or maybe sadly...

A Swede maybe, frozen to death possibly.

I was recently able to realize a long-held dream of seeing Luigi Scattini's mondo film SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL (1968) in English. Judging from the copy I obtained, it must have had an official DVD release in Japan, because it was in English with fixed Japanese subtitles. I looked around the internet in search of the actual disc, but couldn't find it at any of the usual outlets, so I can only surmise it has gone out-of-print.

Could it be really true

My love meant nothing too

And I was only just a passing affair?

Marie Liljedahl - A Swede in danger?

Supposedly a documentary about the peculiarities of Sweden and its people, SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL is a patently false construction -- for example, a segment on a Swedish biker gang ends with the cyclists dismounting to chase a young woman through the woods, whom they catch and then proceed to gang-rape in a coyly filmed and very short sequence. Close-ups of the supposed victim reveal her to be actress Marie Liljedahl, a fact which, at the time, would have been apparent only to those few who had also seen INGA, EUGENIE... THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION or GRIMM'S FAIRY TALES FOR ADULTS.

Trauma? Acting?

Edmond Purdom's narration of a later segment about a secret lesbian club (where we witness the congregation of what Mr. Purdom calls "human wreckage") mentions that the earlier segment's rape victim is among the women onscreen -- hinting that all lesbians share a history of traumatic contact with the male sex -- but Ms. Liljedahl is nowhere to be seen among their number. Other segments profile a kind of permissive barge cruise where teenagers can lose their virginity and gain sexual experience with multiple partners; a nightclub featuring a topless rock band; the birth of a baby destined for adoption; a home for unwanted children; Sweden's supposed epidemic tendencies to alcoholism and suicide; a tour of a Swedish atomic shelter (which looks rather like the dressing room area of a sports arena), and a group of teen girls who run semi-naked through the snow after opening their pores with a nice schvitz in a sauna.

Brother and sister, man and wife -- or are they?

Yes, it was true that

You never did care...

Da dee da dee-dee ( Mah-ná mah-ná), Deet dee-dee deet...

It's during the almost embarrassingly innocent sauna scene that Piero Umiliani's hit song "Mah-ná Mah-ná" is heard for the first and only time in the picture. To be sure, a large measure of this strange film's pull on my imagination stems from my purchase of the 45rpm single -- a song wholesome enough for Cincinnati's Larry Smith Puppets (and later, the Muppets) to pantomime on television -- when I was in my early teens. The Ariel Records label mentioned parenthetically that the song was from the movie SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL, about which I knew nothing, but I can vividly recall the tingles of teenage complicity and transgression I felt when the film eventually opened at Cincinnati's Twin Drive-In Theater, carrying an X rating. I suppose I had already transgressed along similar lines when I bought Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'" from the MIDNIGHT COWBOY soundtrack, but there was nothing conspicuously adult about that song. There was something vaguely creepy about discovering "Mah-ná Mah-ná"'s ties to an X-rated movie; it was such an otherworldly novelty record, an instrumental from a film peopled with unprofessionals, my brain boggled as it pondered what racy spectacles the song might accompany onscreen. Easy Tempo's soundtrack CD contains a list of the musicians who performed Umiliani's score (including none other than Gato Barbieri) and reveals that the vocals were by Sandro Alessandroni ("Mah-ná Mah-ná") and Edda Dell'Orso ("Deet dee-dee-deet") -- both of whom contributed significantly to Ennio Morricone's unparalleled score for Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST the very same year. Indeed, there is a track on the album called "La Signora Cameriera" featuring a distinctive whistle by Alessandroni that evokes "Cheyenne's Theme" from the Leone masterpiece.

What do Swedish policewomen do when off-duty? Nude modelling, of course.

Umiliani's alternately spritely, mournful and longing lounge score (currently out of print, but downloadable from here) lends a haunting ambiance to what otherwise would be a peculiarly arid sketch of European despair. Perhaps its most compelling cue is a bluesy torch song called "You Tried To Warn Me" (amusingly listed in the end titles as "You Tried To Worm Me"), sung by Lydia MacDonald. The song's melody is repeated serially throughout the picture, even instrumentally reprised within other cues, though its lyrics make no specific comment about anything in it. Other reprised melodies, like that of "Solitudine," have a greater bearing on the picture, their symphonic strains of overbearing sadness going some way towards describing in music the supposed Swedish sense of malaise -- that bizarre nullity of spirit that blooms only in the land of the midnight sun, compelling the natives to marry their siblings, drink antifreeze, jump off the roofs of buildings, and dance with members of the same sex.

Cavorting at the lesbian bar.

And, though you're gone,

I'll still keep on loving you.

Sweden's Love Boat. Or is it?

With its POV shots of boats meeting the horizon lines of glittering waterways, cars venturing along barren country roads, soulless architecture and a cast of (mostly) nameless people, some of whom are shown leaping to faked deaths from window ledges or sharing a bottle of Aquavit with strangers in a public pissoir -- all set to unexpectedly gripping music that counts, along with 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON, as Umiliani's masterpiece -- SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL is one of those movies that best come alive when watched in solitude in the after-midnight hours. After watching the movie, I seriously considered giving it another spin right away, knowing that a second viewing would inevitably take me to even stranger corners of the night and my imagination. It struck me, unexpectedly, as a Ballardian picture, empathic but strangely clinical, the kind of movie that entices one (at least entices me) to think about exploring it further -- not in the form of a review, but in a work of experimental short fiction. It's not so much about Sweden, I gather, as it's about a place in the imagination called Sweden.

J.G. Ballard's Sweden. Or is it?

Could it be really true

My love meant nothing too

And I was only just a passing affair?

Going to the drive-in. Or am I?

Now that I've finally seen SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL via this DVD-R disc, I find myself wishing all the more ardently that I could have seen it in 35mm when it played at my local Twin Drive-In Theater in 1970. I wish I could find and interview the Ohioans and Northern Kentuckians who went in my stead, like one of those man-in-the-street interrogators from the SCHOOLGIRL REPORT films: What was the experience like for them? Was it what they expected? Why did they go? Because of the hit song? Because of the X rating? Did they curse to themselves when they realized that it wasn't going to be quite the sensational exposé they had been led to expect? Did they snicker or feel revulsion at the grinny brother and his shy-looking sister who (we're told) met belatedly in life, fell in love, and had to leave Stockholm for the anonymity of life in a smaller town? Did they see through the phony parts, which supposedly caused a public uproar when the film was finally televised, many years later, in Stockholm? Did they inadvertently learn something about Sweden, its progressive views on sex, its socialist society, despite Scattini's fictions and manipulations? Did they recognize themselves in it?

A Swedish girl broods in her room -- as I once did. Were they showing "Cincinnati, Heaven and Hell" only four blocks away and she couldn't go?

If I think hard enough, I am there... semi-reclined in the driver's seat of a 1967 Camaro at the Twin Drive-In on that lost evening -- which I actually spent approximately four blocks away, "in my room, in my room," even then grinding my teeth at the thought of the experience I was missing, so close yet so far away. As the film ends, cheap images of atomic devastation followed by splicy, jumpy footage of teenage girls sunning their naked bodies on a riverbank -- nubile representatives of a reborn Sweden -- the closing song ("Sleep Now, Little One") cuts out on my window speaker. It is abruptly replaced by the Twin's stock intermission/exit music, which always began with either The Box Tops' "Cry Like a Baby" or The Beatles' "Lady Madonna" joined in progress. The movie is over, I tell myself; it will never play here again. I sit patiently, savoring the moment, letting the cars around me ignite and jockey for positions in the exiting queues, all of their drivers somehow more eager than I to break away from this shared spell of mystification and return to their mundane lives.

Yes, it was true that

You never did care

And, though you're gone,

I'll still keep on loving you.

It occurs to me, as I watch their Mustangs and Thunderbirds and Ramblers inching away and suddenly bolting onto Tennessee Avenue like racehorses, that I will, in all likelihood, never know any of the people with whom I just shared this singular experience, which makes them indistinguishable from the people who appeared in SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL, whom I will also never know. Sometimes, years later, a revelation may crop up in conversation at a party or around a watercooler -- "You were there too?" -- but it occurs so rarely that those other cars might as well be filing out of a theater somewhere in Stockholm.

Knowing that it will be some time before the exits are cleared, I decide to stretch my legs. I get out of my car, light a cigarette and look up at the stars -- the stars that Cincinnati shares with Stockholm and the little Swedish town where the incestuous lovers have hidden themselves away from worldly scrutiny, while consenting to celebrate their love openly in a motion picture that will be shown all around the world. I think about how a movie like SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL is like a message in a bottle, sent from one culture to another... I've found it, I've seen it, but now what do I do with it? A train whistle blows in the distance and wonder where it is going at this hour. Will it cross the Erie Canal? Both Sweden and Cincinnati have an Erie Canal...

Suddenly, a car horn intrudes upon my reverie. The lot is now empty and a man is waving impatiently to me from the theater gate; he wants to close up. I drop my cigarette, replace the speaker on its stand and climb back into my Camaro; I start up the engine and enjoy the slow sensation of my tires rolling over the gravel and the condoms and the popcorn boxes on the way out, my headlights bouncing off the arrows leading to the exit. I take the right turn on to Tennessee Avenue slowly and gracefully. A left turn would take me home.

Cincinnati's Tennessee Avenue... or somewhere in Sweden? You tell me.

I drive past the Porter's Paint store ("Cover the Earth"), past the McDonalds, past Natorp's Garden Center -- looking for back roads at the outskirts of my neighborhood that might click with the torch song from the movie that is stuck on automatic replay in my head.

You tried to warn me...

I continue to avoid the roads that would take me home until well after 3:00 am, celebrating the fact that it is still the weekend, that it is still 1970, knowing that the sun must inevitably rise on Monday and the commencement of a new working week. I know that, as surely as Monday slips into Tuesday, Tuesday into Wednesday into Thursday, my memory of SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL will slip into those fuzzy banks of the brain where we file those unexpectedly important moments we didn't share, the things we finally cannot be sure actually happened. I muse to myself: I'll never see that movie again. They never show X-rated films on television.

As long as I continue driving, holding my responsibilities at bay, my memory of this peculiar and strangely longing, lonely film will stay as fresh in my mind as it will ever be. And so I drive on, reflecting on the places I may never go, on broken hearts and lives half a world away, as I hum once again Umiliani's song about a love affair entered into with reckless abandon.

You tried to warn me.


POSTSCRIPT (6:16am): It must be serendipity... The first response I received to the above fever dream came from reader Lars Erik Holmquist at Stockholm University! Lars wrote to inform me of the happy news that SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL has just been released on DVD in Sweden, where it never received a theatrical release! Here is a link to Klubb Super 8's sales page for the disc, which includes audio tracks in English, Italian and Spanish -- in which the narration is respectively read by Edmond Purdom, Enrico Maria Salerno and... I don't know who. Lars tells me that he contributed some of his paper collection on the title to this release, which features a stills and poster gallery as well as pictorial adornments on the packaging. Lars also sent me these links (here and here) to pages from his own blog, Terror in the Midnight Sun, where he blogged about SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL himself.

POSTSCRIPT (9:42 pm): Reader Miles Wood informs me that SWEDEN, HEAVEN AND HELL was in fact released on DVD in Japan on the Avanz label, back in 2004. An Avanz sales page suggests it may still be available.