Thursday, July 15, 2010

Remembering Peter Fernandez

I regret today's announced passing of legendary voice artist and director Peter Fernandez, best-known to the general public as the voice of Speed Racer, at age 83 after a reportedly long fight with lung cancer.
Like many of his colleagues a seasoned radio actor, Peter became one of the main voice staples of the New York-based Titra Sound studios, which resulted in his perenially youthful voice -- which aged sublimely into what David White earlier today characterized as "a gravelly tenor" -- being heard in countless American International pictures imported from Italy and Japan (everything from BLACK SUNDAY and ALAKAZAM THE GREAT to MOTHRA and THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD), as well as dubbed imports like ULTRAMAN, SPACE GIANTS, GIGANTOR, MARINE BOY, PRINCE PLANET and, of course, SPEED RACER.
He went on to direct the English versions of numerous European import features in the 1960s through the '80s, including CINEMA PARADISO and various works by Lina Wertmuller. He continued to work as a voice artist/director as recently as Nickelodeon's COURAGE THE COWARDLY DOG in the late '90s, and last appeared onscreen as one of the racing commentators in the excellent live-action feature SPEED RACER a couple of years ago. He was also a very nice man.


Judy Geeson and Martin Potter as two siblings born under a bad sign in GOODBYE GEMINI.
Here is a link to my review of Freddie Francis' GIRLY and Alan Gibson's GOODBYE GEMINI, two psychological horror pictures from 1969 and now available on DVD from Scorpion Releasing, which is featured in this month's issue of SIGHT & SOUND.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

FILM COMMENTs on Video WatchBlog

My sincere thanks to Ben Simington, Paul Brunick and the editors of FILM COMMENT magazine for including Video WatchBlog on their new list of "The Top Film Criticism Sites." Forty or so other sites were so honored, and with this article including such prestigious bloggers as Glenn Kenney, Dave Kehr, Paul Schrader, Matt Zoller Seitz and Gary Tooze (whose impressive DVD Beaver is referred to as "the next generation heir to Tim Lucas of VIDEO WATCHDOG," making me wish, in my advanced years, that I could bequeath him some of my bills as well as my legacy), to be part of this roll call is a major professional compliment.

Update: Paul Brunick informs me that the list has also been cross-published at SLANT Magazine's The House Next Door blog, click here, which offers a more attractive presentation, share widgets and user comments.

Happy Ba Steele Day

My god it's all so lovely when you can go out and it's a Wednesday and the sun is shining down like golden buttah and you're 23 and brown as toast, sitting outside at a quaint little trattoria with Alberto Moravia, who wants to write a screenplay for you -- molto piacere as long as I don't have to crawl out of another freaking coffin or come oozing around the side of another marble column! Prego, cameriere, another bottle of Valpolicella -- affretatevi, if you please! Federico may be calling!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Buried Pleasures of SUSPIRIA

Every Dario Argento fan, upon seeing SUSPIRIA for the first time, reacts to this shot of Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper) entering the secret domain of Mater Suspiriorum with the same gleeful note of recogition. Here the art direction seems to pay specific tribute to Argento's directorial debut, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE [L'uccello dalle piume di cristallo, 1970]. But upon reviewing parts of the film again, I noticed something I hadn't caught after I don't know how many viewings.

In the opening scene at the Freiberg airport, we are given this subjective shot of the exit, whose double glass doors precisely mirror the double-doored art gallery entrance where Tony Musante is trapped to witness the attempted murder that sets BIRD in motion. Since this scene was not actually shot at a real airport, it is quite possible that this exit was literally composed of the same set components as were used in the earlier film.
Another celebrated SUSPIRIA moment among the eagle-eyed is this almost subliminal image, from Suzy's point of view, as her taxi drives her through the Black Forest. As a flash of lightning casts unbidden shadows, we see what appears to be a maniacal hand wielding a wicked blade.

I've always considered this flash -- which exists outside the main narrative but serves to make the night appear full of unimaginable horrors -- to be one of the movie's moments of real genius. It looks so spontaneous but it must have been extremely well planned. But again, while revisiting SUSPIRIA recently after I don't know how many viewings, I happened to catch another subliminal during the taxi sequence -- possibly unintentional -- for the first time.

Right after Suzy presses a piece of paper bearing the address of the Tanz Akademie to the glass separating her from the taxi driver (Fulvio Mingozzi) -- another glass barrier! -- there is yet another flash of lightning, revealing yet another subliminal. What? Didn't catch it? Here, have a closer look...
Yes, that's a reflection of Dario Argento himself, evidently directing the scene from the back seat of the taxi! To the best of my knowledge, no one else has previously documented this hidden image (if so, I'll happily credit them) and it's a particular delight to discover after all this time. It makes me wonder how much still remains to be unearthed from the endlessly rich textures and scenics of SUSPIRIA -- buried references to all of Argento's previous features, perhaps?

I can cite two other examples right away. If something seems familiar about Albert (Jacopo Mariani), the malevolently grinning child in the background of this shot, it is because Master Mariani wore the same, or very similar, shoes and socks when he previously stepped into frame at the end of the startling pre-credits scene of DEEP RED [Profondo rosso, 1975]. My thanks to Thomas Rostock for confirming this in his note below. And isn't Daniel (Flavio Bucci), the school's blind piano teacher, an echo of Karl Malden's Franco Arno in THE CAT O' NINE TAILS [Il gatto a nove code, 1971]?

I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I suspect this film still has much left to reveal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Better Beginning: Reprinting VIDEO WATCHDOG #1

Publisher/art director Donna Lucas restoring the images accompanying a discussion of HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN in VW's first issue.

While VIDEO WATCHDOG magazine has been marking its 20th anniversary, VW publisher Donna Lucas has been quietly engaged in one of the greatest restoration projects in the magazine's decades-long history. No, it's not the ultimate exposé of how CATACLYSM became part of THE NIGHTMARE NEVER ENDS, nor is it a meticulous comparison of five different versions of Jess Franco's LA COMTESSE PERVERSE... it's Donna's own painstaking digital recreation of VIDEO WATCHDOG #1.

When we decided to reprint our premiere issue, Donna's first idea was to scan the contents of a surviving copy and turn it over to our printer. Simple, right? However, the realities proved more complex. First of all, the original paste-up boards used to create the issue -- with PMT (photo mechanical transfer) illustrations affixed with spray adhesive to windows cut into each laserjet-printed page -- were long missing. Secondly, the original print job was so clumsily executed that a straightforward scan yielded typographic results that were somewhere south of acceptable. Fortunately, a thorough search of the attic at Chez Watchdog yielded a box of considerable value, containing not only the original layout boards but also most of the original illustrations and drawings that Donna used to create this landmark issue back in 1990.

Original artwork by Stephen R. Bissette and yours truly awaits its chance to be rescanned.
The discovery of the original artwork, as well as some photographic material, proved to be a real godsend to this undertaking, as the scanning of the PMT images, whether from a printed copy or from the original PMT's, tended to throw up some nasty moiré patterns. However, by meticulously rescanning each layout page in high definition from the original sheets, and inserting completely fresh digital scans of the issue's stills and original art from the original materials whenever possible, Donna has ensured that the 20th Anniversary edition of VIDEO WATCHDOG #1 will be much more than just a reprint.
"If you were to ask me what percentage of the pictures are now in better quality, I'd have to say 100% of them!" Donna explains. "Even when I didn't have access to the originals, I removed specks and dots and flaws from what I had to work with. Some pictures that were badly cropped in the original, like the center spread from SUCCUBUS, will be seen in this new printing as they were meant to look the first time. Likewise, some pictures that were too dark in the original issue, like some of the shots from CUT AND RUN, have been brightened, so you can now see the actors' expressions and can tell what's going on in them. We are also printing this new edition on paper that's consistent with the way VIDEO WATCHDOG is printed now, so it will be light and flexible in ways the original wasn't."
The text in the issue has not been changed. The only variation that has been made to the issue in terms of content is its back cover. Whereas the original edition showed an image from the Jess Franco film THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, the reprint edition offers a scan of the same back cover image taken from Donna's and my own personal copy, inscribed to us in gold by Franco and his wife and longtime associate Lina Romay.

"I've always felt that our first issue stood apart from every other issue we did, in terms of quality control -- or the lack of it," Donna says. "When our readers receive this new, improved version of #1, I think they're going to feel like their collection is complete for the first time!"
Orders for the 20th Anniversary edition of VIDEO WATCHDOG #1 (at the printer) are now being accepted here and at our toll-free number, 1-800-275-8395.