Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Missing Page in VW #144

Unfortunately, it has come to our attention that there is a missing page in the new issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG. Its absence cuts off the bulk of Michael Barrett's BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! review and the first paragraph of John Charles' review of CHALLENGE OF THE MASTERS. For some reason, instead of page 51 leading to page 52, it leads to a repetition of page 25, a section of M.J. Simpson's Dabbs Greer interview. Mind you, this was not an editorial glitch, but an accident of the printing process. We've had individual issues come back from the printer with strange anomalies before, but this is the most serious widespread error we've experienced -- and our printer is very apologetic about it.
We intend to reprint both full reviews in VW #146 (December 2008), the next issue on our production schedule, for the benefit of those readers without online access. In the meantime, we want to provide immediate satisfaction for as many of our readers as possible. At the top of this posting is an enlargeable jpg. of the missing page, which you can click on to read. Also, this link will take you to a downloadable pdf file that readers with color printers can print-off and insert into their issue. We have also added this missing page to the free samples selection appended to VW 144 on our website -- just click on the cover.
Thanks for your understanding, and please pass the word along to other VW subscribers you may know.

HELP! Yourself


A word to the wise: If you hurry, there's a chance you could score a mint copy of the deluxe box set edition of HELP! (which lists at $134.99) for less than twenty dollars.

Amazon.com's sellers page for the film opens with a dealer called Warehouse Deals whose orders are fulfilled by Amazon.com. They are offering copies of the set for only $16.62, noting that there is a "Large crack on boxed set case. Large cut on boxed set case. Large mark on boxed set case. Large scratch on boxed set case. Manufacturer shrink-wrapped. All purchases eligible for Amazon customer service and 30 day return policy."

Marty McKee, via John Charles, informed me and a group of other correspondents that he ordered a copy and received a deluxe edition in mint condition. Knowing a good deal when I see one, I promptly did the same and today also received a mint condition, sealed copy.

I don't know how long the supply of mint copies will last, so interested parties should roll the dice now. I'm not saying you won't get a cracked, cut, marked copy like the one described by the seller, but Marty and I didn't.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Unveiling the Diabolika and Diabolik Angel

Reader Mark Turner has kindly sent us a link to the Carscoop blog, where he found a tantalizing profile of the new Diabolika car being offered by Fiat. That's right: the great antihero creation of the Giussani sisters is being celebrated with his own car. It's enough to make me want to learn how to drive, or at least a black leather catsuit for Donna to wear as she chauffeurs me from place to place. Wait till you see the tire tread!

Oh, how I wish John Phillip Law was still around to see this! He'd flip. Speaking of whom...

... I've just had the pleasure of reading JOHN PHILLIP LAW: DIABOLIK ANGEL, a new bilingual book by Carlos Aguilar and his wife Anita Haas, published in Spain by the magazines SCI FI WORLD and QUATERMASS. Carlos (who wrote the Jess Franco volume for Glittering Images' "Bizarre Sinema!" series) and Anita befriended John at various Spanish festivals and tributes and got him to agree to a career-length interview, which forms the core of this book, which is also mostly illustrated with stills from John's personal archive. Among the visual highlights are photos from the legendary censored sex scene from VON RICHTOFEN AND BROWN and a couple of stage productions starring JPL as Dracula!

It was the nature of my friendship with John that we mostly talked about one film, DANGER: DIABOLIK, and occasionally the other two films that framed it, DEATH RIDES A HORSE and BARBARELLA, and this book soothed my curiosity about his feelings about his other work while also telling me much more about him as a human being than I ever expected to learn. (I had no idea that he was a distant relative of George Washington, or that he was a Christian Scientist, or the candid details of his past love life and drug usage, or that he had been the co-owner of the first sushi restaurant in Los Angeles!) I'm very grateful to Carlos and Anita for the education and all the more sorrowful that John is no longer among us for further conversation about these and so many other things. I will be reviewing the book in more detail for VIDEO WATCHDOG, but, for now, I will just say that it's a great gift to JPL's fans, as well as an engrossing insight into the actor's life (and I mean "the actor's life" generally, not just specifically) and an object lesson in how to live life to the fullest by putting one's personal search for happiness and fulfillment before professional ambition. Great cover and production values, too. The book's ISBN number is 978-84-612-4501-7, and it can be ordered online here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thoughts On The Need For Critics

In response to the question posed on the cover of the current issue of SIGHT & SOUND -- "Who Needs Critics?" -- VIDEO WATCHDOG publisher/art director Donna Lucas replies, "I do... to take out the garbage!"

We had a good laugh about this (hers was somewhat lustier than mine) but, in hindsight, taking out the garbage is not a bad metaphor for what a critic does. (And this is me, turning a sow's ear into a silk purse: another thing critics do.) Film critics don't work for everyone, it's true; they work for people with little time to spend at the movies, who value their time and need to have the wheat separated from the chaff; they are also for those people who see everything and like to hone their understanding of the films they've seen but not necessarily processed. Critics give the Everyman access to intensive thought and quality conversation. A good critic is someone who not only has a gift for fashioning an impressionable sentence or phrase, but also the depth and breadth of experience as a viewer to approximately assess a new film's standing by using an internal historical slide rule that runs the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous. I really don't care how many John Ford movies a critic has seen; it tells me more if he or she knows as much about the lower registi on the keyboard. It tells me even more if their idea of the lower register is my idea of the middle register. Even Dante had to visit the many levels of his Inferno before he could lend language to his Paradiso.

I was fortunate enough to receive an e-mail from the star of the film I reviewed in this month's SIGHT & SOUND: Claudine Spiteri of Lech Majewski's marvelous THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. "The cover of this particular edition of SIGHT & SOUND really made me chuckle!!" she wrote. "‘Who Needs Critics'?!!! If there’s one person in the world who needs a critic right now, it’s me!!" Claudine gives an extraordinary performance in this film, which was made in 2004 and which I now consider one of my favorite films of all time... but it wasn't widely seen, and my review is probably one of the most conspicuous it has received in the five years since it was made. Claudine is brilliant in the film, but she has made only one other movie since, a horror film that didn't make particularly good use of her. She is presently retired from acting and working as the director of a British production company. I cherish the note of appreciation she sent to me, and I'm delighted she felt her work vindicated by my review, as this points out another important value of the critic that is completely divorced from the general public: critics can sometimes prove beneficial to careers.

Pauline Kael's famous NEW YORKER review of THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS, in which she heaped high praises on the young director Steven Spielberg, is a classic example. On the other end of the spectrum, I can remember how Lester Bangs' seminal 1970 CREEM piece "Of Pop and Pies and Fun" caused me to jump aboard the Iggy and the Stooges cult when it was still at ground level, when Iggy had yet to bottom out for the first time. John Cassavetes used to tell a story about the first public screening of his directorial debut, SHADOWS: the theater seated 600 and 400 people were turned away; during the screening, the audience began to leave until, by the end of the picture, only the cast and crew and one other person remained; that other person turned out to be Jonas Mekas, who walked over to Cassavetes and told him, "That was the most amazing film I've ever seen." Cassavetes initially wanted to punch Mekas out, thinking his high praise was sarcasm, but he learned soon enough that this is how innovative filmmaking is commonly greeted -- with mass indifference or hostility, and maybe (if the film is lucky) one influential voice shouting hosannas in the void. It's true that the Internet can create curiosity about a new film, as it did with THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT or CLOVERFIELD, but it's doubtful that it can create the same level of cultural excitement as a single well-placed review or think piece; it's too diffuse -- think of Cable TV's 900+ channels times, oh, a million.

In the time I've been writing the "No Zone" column for S&S, I haven't received much written feedback from readers, but I have received other notes of appreciation or forwarded comment from some filmmakers whose work has impressed me. I was very pleased when Brad Stevens wrote to me about showing my review of MYRA BRECKINRIDGE to its director Michael Sarne, who said in reply, "Wow, he really got it, didn't he?" (It wasn't a purely enthusiastic review, either; I simply delineated the good in it and tried to make sense of the rest.) I've also received thanks from independent filmmakers like Jonathan Weiss (THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION) and Pola Rapaport (WRITER OF O) for bringing wider attention to their marvelous work, which was immensely gratifying. After more than thirty years at this job, it still amazes me to find out that some filmmakers really do value evidence that their work was properly understood as much as they prize commercial success and recognition or, failing those, notoreity.

Back in the 1980s, when I was writing mostly about David Cronenberg's work for various magazines, it was my goal as a critic to write about Cronenberg's movies in a manner that represented him as much as they represented me, to reach a common level of clarity that would be equally illuminating for me the writer, for him the director, and also for our shared audience. In watching parts of Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS again on television the other day, I noted the same approach present in young rock journalist William Miller's attitude toward interviewing Russell Hammond and Stillwater -- so it must have been an approach that Crowe brought to his own early work for ROLLING STONE. In the film, William (who started out in this business as young as I did) approaches his job seriously, but also as a fan and a friend -- as I did. I suppose it can be dangerous to wear your heart on your sleeve like that, but what's the worst that can happen? A broken heart is going to make you a better artist while it's healing, and the scar will always be there like a pang in your ribcage to remind you that you've lived. It's better to risk the hurt by fully embracing your subject than to hold back and produce superficial work.

Some terrific writing usually results when a critic drops his/her defenses to adopt the attitude of a fan; unfortunately, I've rarely seen the same happen when a fan has adopted the attitude of a critic.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Boo Hiss

For months now, I have been eagerly awaiting the 9/23 release of KEN RUSSELL AT THE BBC, a three-disc collection from BBC Warner that was announced as including all of the director's early innovative work for the BBC. Though any of the films Russell made for British television in his salad days (ELGAR, DANTE'S INFERNO, SONG OF SUMMER, etc) would brand this set as indispensible, word of its pending release was made all the more exciting by the promise that it also would include his scandalous, impossible-to-see Johann Strauss biopic DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS, which was shown only once in 1970. As far as I know, it has never even been available on the grey market.

The Strauss family was reportedly so upset by Russell's fever dream approach to the material that they blocked it from being rebroadcast, an embargo supposedly still in effect until 2019. Since all of this set's promotional copy lists DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS as included, I assumed the embargo was only in effect where TV broadcasts were involved, but apparently not.

That's right: despite what Amazon.com and all the other DVD outlets are claiming, DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS is not included on KEN RUSSELL AT THE BBC. Months of anticipation wasted, and my day is ruined.

I don't mean to discourage anyone from acquiring what is bound to be a most impressive collection otherwise, but if anyone feels like burning their Strauss albums in protest, I'm in a mood to gladly provide the matches.