Friday, May 08, 2009

The Long and the Short of I VAMPIRI

Original Italian quattro-foglia (four-sheet), artwork by Arnaldo Putzu.

Pursuant to yesterday's post about the new DER VAMPIR VON NOTRE DAME (I VAMPIRI) release from Anolis Entertainment, the company's publicist Ivo Scheloske has sent me links to a pair of richly illustrated German-language web pages that compare the German and Italian versions of the film, and the Italian and US (THE DEVIL'S COMMANDMENT) versions. Danke to Ivo for the links; well worth checking out. The pages also contain links that will take you to where you can order the disc.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Der Nebula von Notre Dame

VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor Kim Newman and I are both honored to have work included in the newly published NEBULA AWARDS SHOWCASE 2009 (ROC, $16 US/$20 Canada), edited by Ellen Datlow.

Kim's contribution is an appreciation of author Michael Moorcock, the recipient of the 2009 Damon Knight Grand Master Award. (The book also includes Moorcock's story "The Pleasure Garden of Felipe Sagittarius," from his recent collection THE METATEMPORAL DETECTIVE.) My contribution is an essay about Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH, the screenplay for which won a Nebula Award.

Kim, widely anthologized, must be used to this sort of thing, but it was a great kick for me to see my name highlighted on the back cover among the likes of Moorcock (a longtime hero), Barry N. Malzberg, Joe R. Lansdale, Jane Yolen, Michael Chabon and the illustrious Kim, among others. I thank Ellen Datlow for inviting me to work in such august company.

Go to your favorite bookstore now and buy it.

I also want to take a moment to recommend another new arrival. The German DVD company Anolis has followed their deluxe edition of Mario Bava's BLUTIGE SEIDE (BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) with an even more lavish presentation of DER VAMPIRE VON NOTRE DAME (I VAMPIRI). Unlike the domestic Image Entertainment release, which included the Italian version only, Anolis adds on the German version (which runs 4m longer than the Italian version, which was cut to appease the censor board) and also THE DEVIL'S COMMANDMENT, the US version containing additional exploitation footage.

Further sweetening the deal is a delightful, hour-long documentary, C'EST LA VIE, interviewing the great Swiss character actor Paul Muller, now 85 and living on a healthy pension somewhere near Rome. The program covers Muller's early life, early work in theater, and the films that preceded I VAMPIRI, then actually shows Muller reacting to scenes from the film, and wraps up with some generous comments about working with Jess Franco and Soledad Miranda on EUGENIE DE SADE. I am not sure I've ever seen Muller crack a smile onscreen, at least not a genuinely happy one, so it was a great pleasure to discover him to be such a charming, chuckling pixie offscreen. He's a very sharp 85, too, with valuable and unfaded memories of his long career.

Also included are trailers, still and poster galleries, and an interesting attempt to reconstruct the pre-credits sequence originally envisioned by Riccardo Freda, which was changed when he was replaced by Mario Bava in a rescue effort that required a rewriting of the narrative. English subtitles are provided, even for the Muller documentary, but these do not extend to Christian Kessler's German-language audio commentary. I'll be covering this important release in more detail in a future issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another CRASH

Bill Moseley in the unreleased film NIGHTMARE ANGEL, Zoe Bertoff's 1980s adaptation of J.G. Ballard's CRASH.
Brett Taylor, who contributes regularly to VW's "Biblio Watchdog" department, sent the above photo with the following letter after the posting of my J.G. Ballard post-mortem:
This fairly mundane still is all I was able to dig up on NIGHTMARE ANGEL, an adaptation of [J.G. Ballard's] CRASH from about 1984. I got it from the director, Zoe Beloff, who was just out of film school at the time. Bill Moseley says it's better than the Cronenberg version, but he would, wouldn't he? It was shot in industrial areas of New Jersey. I think there's some loophole about adaptations where you can do them so long as they're not shown for commercial purposes. I remember Stephen King saying he allowed anybody to film his stories as long as they pay a token fee of $1. So there've been many short films of his stories that have never been widely shown.
I've sat on this still for years. It was supposed to go with my Bill Moseley interview, but then PSYCHOTRONIC went under. I kept hoping they'd come back on the Internet, but after a few years I gave up on that notion. Then I had the vague notion of writing an article on unreleased films, but didn't think the world needed another "Day the Clown Cried" article. Now my interview is several years out of date, and I don't have any particular use for this shot. So I thought you might be interested in it.
I certainly am, and I thought other visitors to this blog would also be fascinated. Now how does one see NIGHTMARE ANGEL, a film I'd never heard of before, and which I don't recall being mentioned in Iain Sinclair's book on the book and film? Purely for non-commercial purposes, of course.
Thanks to Brett for sharing this interesting discovery.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ballard Gone: World at Half Mast

Yesterday I would have described James Graham Ballard as our greatest living novelist; today, following his death from prostate cancer at the age of 78, I would still categorize him as arguably the most progressive thinker and commentator of our time. He found the beauty in places where beauty did not exist prior to his discovery: in desolation, in anomie, in medical language, in injury, in emotionless sex, in catastrophe, in sterility, in those places where hard corners open into infinite cold, where the imagination turns against itself. In some ways, I feel we continue to live in the 20th century precisely because most of us cannot follow Ballard's writing into the 21st century as it truly is. I consider CRASH the finest piece of writing I've ever read, and it (along with THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION) surely influenced the writing of my own novel THROAT SPROCKETS; CRASH taught me, more than all of Flaubert, more than all of Nabokov, the value of the mot juste, the perfectly crafted sentence and the value of transgression. Ballard himself observed that the book's cult success was not immediate, that it was initially accepted only by "a few psychopaths and amputees."

Somewhere in my archives I have a cassette of an early 1980s interview I conducted with David Cronenberg, during which I asked if he had ever read CRASH, which I expected he would like as it consolidated his obsessions with mutation and cars. He hadn't, but he promised he would. The film he eventually based on Ballard's book had its good points, but is not half so important or daring as the novel; likewise, Steven Spielberg's ambitious but overblown film of EMPIRE OF THE SUN. Jonathan Weiss's film of THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION comes much closer to the mark, making what was oblique and implicit in the original work more explicit while remaining true to its essential spirit and vocabulary.

One of Ballard's typically inspired book titles was A USER'S GUIDE TO THE MILLENNIUM. I feel this title would have been more accurately stamped on the cover of J.G. BALLARD QUOTES, a compendium of quotations from his interviews and fiction assembled by V. Vale and Mike Ryan for ReSearch Publications. I'd call it the perfect bedside book, if it didn't have the most extraordinary capacity to ignite the imagination and keep one up all hours, looking at all and sundry through Ballard's uniquely pitched spectacles. For example, he called Madonna's chromium-plated coffee table book SEX "a Commonplace book for our day, by the Daisy Ashford of the 1990s, as filled with homilies and naive dreams as the diary of any Victorian young lady." He included The Los Angeles Yellow Pages, as well as Burroughs' NAKED LUNCH, on his list of 10 Best Books. Yet he was more than a mere provocateur; these seeming provocations are actually laced with almost perilous insight and keen perspective. He had vision and the courage to use it, the capacity to look at the world around us with the poised disengagement of an art critic. Some called this perspective psychotic; I would call it Godly and the spectacle itself psychotic.

In RUSHING TO PARADISE, Ballard wrote "Contrary to general belief, no one's death diminishes us." Ballard's death enriches us by completing one of the most valuable shelves of literature in English.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

EXPOSED Reviewed

Christina Lindberg in a frisky clinch with Janne Carlsson in EXPOSED.

My review of the Christina Lindberg epic EXPOSED (Exponerad, a.k.a. THE DEPRAVED), now available from the great folks at Synapse Films, appears in the May 2009 issue of SIGHT & SOUND... and also on the S&S website here. This issue should be of especial interest to VIDEO WATCHDOG readers, as it includes Kim Newman's review of the must-see LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, Mark Kermode's survey of recent vampire cinema, and another piece by Kim about "The New Horror" and what it may be lacking.