Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lux Interior (1946-2009)

Donna and I were saddened to learn of the death yesterday of legendary Cramps frontman Lux Interior, who, under his real name of Erick Purkheiser, was a longtime subscriber to VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine and one of the original patrons of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. He was kind enough to send in the index comment card provided with his copy, which he filled out enthusiastically; I've asked Donna to pull it from our files so that I can share it with you in the days ahead.

I was first exposed to the deadly, 'tang-drenched, rockabilly vibes of The Cramps through the movies: as one of the more memorable acts in the IRS concert compendium URGH! A MUSIC WAR and as part of the soundtrack for Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2, where DJ heroine Stretch (Caroline Williams) gives a spin to their classic tune "Goo Goo Muck." Erick, who was 62, reportedly died due to a pre-existing heart condition -- twenty-plus years after an intensely circulated death rumor in the late 1980s. Donna and I send our condolences to Erick's wife "Poison" Ivy Roschach and to his friends, family and fans.

As long as speedometers go higher than the legal speed limit, as long as monster movies occupy the tiniest niche in the popular consciousness, as long as hard-ons hide in tight bluejeans, Lux's raging music will live on.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Bava's Lost Super Giallo Opportunity

Tomorrow marks the commencement of the 59th annual Internationale Filmfestspiele in Berlin. I have a number of friends who are boarding planes today to attend, hopeful of meeting and attracting investors for their current projects, and I wish them all success. Their scripts are all something seldom seen in theaters today -- originals, not remakes-- so they can use all the positive thinking you can send their way. I, for one, don't believe a country that voted Barack Obama into office is interested in continuing to subsist on a steady diet of remakes, but evidently stubborn Hollywood thinks differently. Even flops like THE ILLUSTRATED MAN are being green-lit.

The above scan from a 1965 Italian trade paper reminds us that even the greats of cinema who have now passed on into history, such as Mario Bava, had to spend much of their careers in pursuit of funding. This ad attempted to stir up interest for a 1965 project called 12 bambole bionde ("12 Blonde Dolls"), described as a venture between Bava, actor-turned-producer Ulderico Sciarretta, and Sciarretta’s production company, Eco Film.

The advertisement asks: “Who killed Gino? Who killed Linda? Who killed Paolo? Who killed Romolo? Who killed Raymondo? Who killed Emerson? When these questions are asked, Inspector Klem will answer them!” (Apparently most of the “12 Blonde Dolls” were to be men!)

What is interesting about the ad—which goes on to promise “not just a Super Giallo, but a Colossal Giallo”—is that it says absolutely nothing about the movie's obvious and quite ambitious intention of doubling the body count of Bava’s vicious Sei donne per l’assassino (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE, 1964), a film that had the good fortune to be released all around the world. Instead, the ad hubristically proclaims that 12 bambole bionde “follows the grand success of Crimine a due.” This ultra-obscure title, directed by Romano Ferrara and starring John Drew Barrymore and Lisa Gastoni, was apparently Sciarretta’s first and only film as a producer, issued earlier in 1965 and never released outside of Italy.

Understandably, few (if any) investors were attracted by the ad's questions or its hollow boast of Crimine a due's "grand success." The upswing of this faulty strategy: 12 bambole bionde was never made and Bava and Sciarretta never worked together.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Origins of a Film Critic

Me (third from left) with the Mirror staff, photographed on the ground floor of the then-under-construction new building of Norwood High School in 1971. Click to embiggen.

These have been very interesting times for me: I've been unexpectedly reunited with a long-lost friend from high school, now a successful and well-travelled artist. This has led to a vigorous, fulfilling correspondence and a lot of restimulated memories from thirty-odd years ago, some good and some not-so-good. My friend evidently lost a lot of her old personal photos along the way, and she asked if I might send her some high school pics, which led me and my digital camera back to my long-packed-away yearbooks from Norwood High School. While rifling through the pages of the 1971 and '72 Silhouettes in search of her, I also took a digital snap of this personal shot, which shows me as part of the staff of the school paper, The Mirror. This is where I was first published as a film critic.

Introducing the Mirror staff from left to right: Sharon Nolte, Gary Larrison, yours truly, Jeff Wilkerson, assistant editor Joan Peters, editor Randall Parsons, Rod Best and faculty advisor Miss Danea White. (Not pictured: Bill Howard and Nadine Hoover. Nadine was a sweetie, and I hope she's happy and thriving, whatever her current circumstances may be.)

Randy Parsons was the president of the 1971 senior class, the fellow who spoke to us clueless frosh on Orientation Day, telling us about the school and the innate superiority of upperclassmen while also encouraging us to pursue extracurricular activities. I responded by following him out of the auditorium, calling "Mr. Parsons!" down the hall, and offering my services to The Mirror as film critic then and there. I'd already had some reviews accepted by CINEFANTASTIQUE, not yet published, which gave me this then-unusual measure of courage.

My chores on The Mirror, where I worked through my freshman and sophomore years, consisted of reviewing films and records and also writing/drawing a serial comic strip, Captain Norwood. Unfortunately, only two samples of the strip survive in my archive: the first and the very last, published toward the end of my freshman year. The final strip became a huge cause celebre at NHS when Captain Norwood was finally unmasked and revealed to be the school janitor, Fred Burnett, who became an overnight star. There's a picture in the 1971 Yearbook of Fred surrounded by a gaggle of prom girls, the poor man looking like a deer caught in the headlights of teenage sex. That picture is the success of Captain Norwood in a nutshell. I don't know why I didn't continue the strip in my sophomore year, when Mrs. Janet Fealy took over as faculty advisor. Possibly she wanted the paper to become a little less irreverent, or maybe I decided not to continue with it. I liked Mrs. Fealy; she was remarkably forgiving of my various crimes, like blasting The Mothers of Invention's "Billy the Mountain" on the paper office's turntable when I had no idea that she was sitting in the outer room, grading papers. The look she shot me as I emerged from the room with the record under my arm -- followed by a slow, head-shaking, half-complicit smile -- is one of my sweetest memories of high school.

Some other interesting folks here. I'm the only freshman in the picture. Gary Larrison, the senior standing to the left of me, was the first novelist I ever met. I remember him working on an original novel called THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX, undertaken for Independent Study, in the paper office. I was astonished by the ambition of his project and I asked him about it with great interest; it turned out to be my first glimpse of my own future life. Sharon Nolte, who looks remarkably like Donna looked when we first met two years later, was a nice girl, one of two (the other being Nadine) who cared enough to check on me at home during an extended absence after the 1972 suicide of my best friend, Mike Hennel.

Danea White was the most important teacher I ever had, though I never had the pleasure of taking one of her classes. In addition to being the paper's advisor, she became a personal friend and mentor, and there were a few times when she, her boyfriend (and later husband) John and I used my theater passes to go to the movies together. It was a great time for movies and we saw things like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and EL TOPO, which I then reviewed for the school paper, though I doubt even my senior editor Randy was old enough at the time to be admitted to them. One day, Miss White and John surprised me by inviting me to lunch in that off-limits haven, the teacher's cafeteria, where my presence drew the codfish-eye from a few other teachers who regarded me as something of a ne'er-do-well. I credit Danea's interest in my talent and well-being with keeping me alive during a difficult period and with encouraging me to finally forsake my art interests to become a writer. My only regret is that we're standing so far apart in this picture, the only one ever taken of us together.