Friday, October 19, 2012

Sylvia Kristel (1952-2012)


This has been an unkind year to the great stars of 1970s erotic films and the fans who loved them: Lina Romay, the muse of Jess Franco, died of cancer at age 57; Rebecca Brooke, aka Mary Mendum, the star of several films for Radley Metzger and Joe Sarno, died in a drowning accident at age 60; and now the news comes to us of the passing of Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel, internationally famous as the star of Just Jaeckin's EMMANUELLE, two of its direct sequels and several spin-off franchises, as well as various films by such distinguished directors as Claude Chabrol, Walerian Borowczyk, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Curtis Harrington, Roger Vadim and Fons Rademakers. She was also 60 and had been fighting cancer for some time.

EMMANUELLE was her fourth film and it had the advantage of reaching screens around the world just as Erica Jong's 1973 novel FEAR OF FLYING had defined a zeitgeist of sexual liberation and empowerment for women. What Jong's novel described, the film (based on an autobiographical novel attributed to Emmanuelle Arsan) depicted -- and male and female audiences alike flocked to see it. Playing off the aftermath of DEEP THROAT-generated "porn chic," it was picked up for US distribution by Columbia Pictures, who cleverly took the onus off its X rating by proclaiming, with a wink, that "X Was Never Like This." 

In order to pay my respects, I took the opportunity last night to screen Sylvia's film for Claude Chabrol: ALICE, OU LA DERNIERE FUGUE ("Alice, or the Last Escapade"). It's an important title in her filmography but there has not yet been an official release anywhere in an English-friendly presentation. However, for those of you who don't mind watching a film on your computer, Kindle or whatever, ALICE is available for viewing on YouTube in its entirety, with optional English subtitles. 

Though Sylvia Kristel starred in numerous films suitable for adults only, it would be wrong to describe her -- as so many obit headlines have done -- as an "adult film actress." The aforementioned Lina Romay and Rebecca Brooke performed in hardcore as well as softcore films, but Sylvia never did, and it's probably a tribute to her acting ability that so many people thought otherwise. In ALICE, she appears nude only once and covers herself quickly and demurely. If one ever needed proof of her abilities as a serious actress, this film is it; I've rarely seen a film so reliant on a single woman's ability to hold the viewer's eye and attention. It's one of those dream-like movies (like Mario Bava's LISA AND THE DEVIL or Louis Malle's BLACK MOON) where what little story is there is slippery indeed, making Sylvia's heroine Alice Carol (yes, the movie is a kind of "through the looking glass") the only fixed point on its compass. It's a bittersweet reminder of what a magnetic, vital screen presence she was and -- strangely enough -- how well she wore clothes. She doesn't have a lot of dialogue so we must watch her closely to follow her through this labyrinth, which offers us few other rewards and none so gratifying. She was so comfortable with her body that her clothes seemed like natural extensions of her, comfortable to the eye and comfortable on her, the fabric not quite touching her skin yet clinging to it. She walked across the screen like a whisper of sophistication, inviting olfactory fantasies of top shelf perfume, with a gentle zest about her most casual movements as if she kept a favorite disco song always playing somewhere in her head. Speaking of Sylvia Kristel in clothes, it should not be overlooked that she had the talent to ascend from her early roles to featured parts in major studio productions. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she became a Hollywood player, appearing in such pictures as THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, THE CONCORDE... AIRPORT '79, THE NUDE BOMB and PRIVATE LESSONS. But Sylvia had the intelligence to know that bigger films weren't necessarily better for her, and she focused on work closer to home and her real passion, painting. She wrote about this, and much more, in a 2006 autobiography called UNDRESSING EMMANUELLE.


One of her great attributes, in the EMMANUELLE films particularly, is that she wasn't an alienating or objectionable presence to women. She had poise and projected both intelligence and adeptness. A number of her roles, including ALICE, find her questing for and eventually attaining some kind of sensual life education or empowerment, or passing these attributes on. It's said that women cheered when she climbed on top of her male lover in EMMANUELLE, something no actress before her had done quite so triumphantly in a film that played in respectable theaters. But even before her clothes were shed, there was something empathic and vulnerable about her that women could respond to. Most sex stars are designed for men and have something about them that's overdone, that appeals to fetish and objectifies them, but Sylvia's lithe femininity was perfectly pitched to be attractive and appealing rather than intrusive. I haven't seen all of her movies, but I never saw her in a situation that she didn't ultimately allow or control.
VIDEO WATCHDOG will have more to say about this in our 172nd issue, out in early January 2013, when we'll be featuring Lianne Spiderbaby's article "Emmanuelle et Emanuelle," about the EMMANUELLE craze of the 1970s and the films of Sylvia Kristel and Laura "Black Emanuelle" Gemser in particular.

Friday, October 12, 2012

See IL DEMONIO on YouTube


The timing could not be better.

Today is Daliah Laví's 70th birthday and the 170th issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG, featuring my lengthy career interview with her, is arriving in the mailboxes of our subscribers all around the world right about now. One of the most important sections of the interview concerns Daliah's memories of making the film she considers her favorite, with her best performance: a little-known neorealist tragedy called IL DEMONIO ("The Demon"), directed by Fellini's assistant Brunello Rondi and based on the true story of a wild, romantically obsessed young peasant girl whose persistence transforms her into a kind of hellion, subsequently persecuted by her fellow villagers who assume her to be possessed by demons. This film, prophetic of THE EXORCIST in so many ways, was never released in America and, to my knowledge, never issued anywhere in English, so it concerned me to spend so many pages on a film that could not be widely seen by our readers.

But today my friend Jerry Lentz discovered that IL DEMONIO was available for viewing in its entirety on YouTube... with English subtitles! You can see it by clicking on this link.

We sent a copy of the link to Daliah as a birthday present, knowing that she'll be excited to share her best work with many friends who have never seen it. It certainly deserves a wider audience.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

MUCHAS GRACIAS SENOR LOBO book review

Today is one of those days that makes me feel more fortunate to do what I do, because in today's mail I received a review copy of Thorston Benzel's revised edition of his MUCHAS GRACIAS, SENOR LOBO, an overview of the world of Paul Naschy memorabilia.

The original, compact, black-and-white paperback edition was nice but this new, full-color hardcover edition from Creepy Images is lavish beyond belief. It begins with a touching Introduction by Naschy's son, Sergio Molina, who touchingly recalls coming home one day to see his father paging emotionally through the original edition, seeing in many cases for the first time some of the rare materials which had spread his stardom around the world, farther than he had realized. Then Benzel himself follows with a foreword to lend his efforts some background, and some honorable apology for the inevitable incompleteness of what appears to every sense an exhaustive execution of duty. True, there may be some Mexican or Pakistani posters that slipped through his fingers, but still... The text, incidentally, is bilingual, in German and English throughout the handsomely designed project.

The main body of the book collects international poster art, lobby cards, pressbooks and stills for 30 different Naschy films, ranging from 1968's LA MARCA DEL HOMBRE LOBO (US: FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR) to 1988's EL AULLIDO DEL DIABLO (US: HOWL OF THE DEVIL), each chapter initiated with Benzel's careful notes about the film, its production and promotional histories, and the specific difficulties each title addresses to the movie materials collector. Of course, Naschy made more than 30 films but not all of the titles would have sustained a chapter-like focus; for these titles, a special appendix chapter is offered at the back of the book, surveying these titles in brief. It should be noted that the book omits any representation of the two films he made in America in 2004, COUNTESS DRACULA'S ORGY OF BLOOD and TOMB OF THE WEREWOLF, but it's possible neither of those direct-to-video titles generated any paper memorabilia. The book focuses on theatrical memorabilia and does not include, for example, home video packaging art -- which might be one area into which subsequent editions might expand. Among the more sobering discoveries of Benzel's coverage is the great scarcity of authentic Spanish materials on Naschy's films, and also the extent to which those available misrepresent the dedicated writer-actor-director's name (Richard Naschy, Paul Mackey, etc).

As is, however, MUCHAS GRACIAS, SENOR LOBO feels anything but limited in scope. It is a tremendous, jaw-dropping, eye-boggling testimony, not only to Naschy himself, but to all the commercial artists whom his work has inspired all over the world. An obvious labor of love, 18 years in the collecting and two years in production, it's a must-have, not only for Naschy fans but for devotées of monster art in particular.

Here's a link to Creepy Images' page-through preview of the book, which concludes with information about how to obtain your copy.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Thou Mark, Take 2

After posting the preceding dream and giving a further polish to my "Beginning Year Eight" entry, I discovered five malingering postings on my list that were still unpublished and in draft mode, yet included in my number of posts. I checked each of them and found them all to be stillbirths of a sort -- sometimes just a title, sometimes notes for something fuller I never wrote, sometimes even less than that. So I junked them all.

THEREFORE. Some renumbering must be done, and this is my 1,000th posting!

To paraphrase the late, great Tex Avery... anticlimactic, huh?   

I Dream of Bruce

Dreamed that it was late, the wee hours, and raining heavily. Donna and I were working on the back of our television when the doorbell rang.

I checked the porch and, to my surprise, saw Bruce Springsteen standing there, smiling wryly and shrugging his shoulders as if to say "Why me? Why me all the time?" Of course I let him in and he explained that he'd had a flat a block or so away and mine was the first house he'd seen with its lights still on.

"I don't like to go around, waking people up, just to tell 'em my troubles," he mumbled in a chipper, upbeat way, as he stepped inside, shaking the rain off like a sheepdog.

I invited Bruce to take a seat and he chose to sit on the floor of my foyer ("No need to treat me special"), and encouraged me to go back to whatever I was doing; AAA would be there "soon enough."

I walked over to Donna and whispered "Hey look, it's Bruce Springsteen!"

She whispered back, "You're right! Say, do we have any of his albums? Get 'em signed."

I started going through our music inventory in my head and realized we did have one of his albums, my favorite. I walked over to Bruce and told him how I liked one of his albums especially.

"Oh yeah?" he said, looking genuinely surprised. "Which one?"

I told him it was the one about his conversion to Catholicism, but I couldn't remember the title. This was so embarrassing -- to not be able to remember the title of a "favorite" album, a record I was about to ask him to sign... but he couldn't remember it either! I went to look for the album on vinyl but didn't really know what I was looking for.

Finally, Bruce called out from the next room, "Hey, you know, I think it was called somethin' like... BRING OUT THE BODIES!"

That was it! I found the album and brought it back to Bruce with a Sharpie and we both started laughing when we saw it was an Elvis Costello record.

"It could be worse," he finally managed to say. "You could'a handed me my flat tire!" Then we laughed even harder, till we were both red in the face.

I woke up smiling.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Beginning Year Eight

It was seven years ago today that I decided, almost on the spur of the moment, to give this blog thing a try. With this entry, I'm now 998 blog entries further down that road, which hasn't seen any financial reward (because I haven't accepted ads here nor installed a donation link) but has been recognized with a couple of Rondo Awards along the way. That pleases me a great deal.

In recent years, I've let my postings here dwindle in number; I count 25 for the entirety of 2011 and this will be the 21st of 2012, so there's a good chance I'll at least tie last year's output this time around. In defense of my apparent laziness, I can point to the prodigious output of my other blog, Pause. Rewind. Obsess., which debuted at the start of this year and contains more than 170 full-length reviews at present, and also to my socializing on Facebook, which encompasses much of what I would normally do here, and which I find purely and simply nourishing to my soul. I know a lot of people don't care for Facebook, and others resist its siren song much as I once did, but it helps me to feel connected and there are many wonderful people there whose contact I value.

I've recently come out the other end of a long episode in life that might be chalked up to a mid-life crisis; one of its symptoms was an alienation from my life as I've built it from the time I was a teenager. I reached a point where I saw all the things I had collected over the decades as a form of medication to pile up around myself and dull myself to the truth of how empty my life really was. I'm sure that part of this feeling was due to completing the Bava book and suddenly no longer having that big mission in life to give it momentum and a specific goal; another part was the estrangement and death of my mother, but it was also rooted in my genuine dissatisfaction with living only to work.

During this period I pursued screenwriting, began to travel more, put myself out there more, and it's been very satisfying -- aside from the fact that I can't get anyone (not even my agent sometimes) to read my screenplays. My first, THE MAN WITH KALEIDOSCOPE EYES, about Roger Corman's adventures while filming THE TRIP, got the immediate support of Joe Dante and his partner Elizabeth Stanley; it's a script everyone loves, which once came agonizingly close to happening with a major star in the lead, but eight years later, it's no closer to getting made. The last one I wrote, an adaptation of Orson Bean's memoir ME AND THE ORGONE, has been greeted by the few who read it as my best work in this field, but getting it made is a much taller order than I can undertake alone. Orson loved it and has given me his written carte blanche to do with it whatever needs doing, ad infinitum. I am thinking the best thing to do might be to adapt it as a stage play, but it's a big rethink and, right now, there is no time. In addition to assembling a new issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG every other month, Donna and I have been devoting a lot of time and thought to developing a new branch of our business, which we hope to announce before the end of the year. She doesn't want me to discuss it yet, so suffice to say, it has claimed a lot of time, hers and mine, because the conceptual must always be thoroughly worked out before something becomes concrete and, hopefully, profitable.

You may also remember that I spent some time pursuing the possibility of becoming a filmmaker, writing one short film project and writing and directing another at The Factory Digital Filmmaking School at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, PA. The first project, BAGGAGE CLAIM, was never completed; what was completed was fairly disastrous, though our actors were wonderful and our crew certainly gave it their best effort. I don't want to go into what went wrong; while I can't say it was entirely my own fault, I do accept sole responsibility. It was a learning experience for all involved and I am happy to say that I left the set with at least a couple dozen more friends than I had upon my arrival, some of the dearest people I've known in this life -- so it was ultimately a good and instructive experience. The second project, a trailer and dialogue scene for a proposed film of my novel THROAT SPROCKETS, which I both wrote and directed, went very well indeed; I managed to shoot a six-minute scene and two-minute trailer (including glimpses of many scenes not included in the main scene) in just slightly more than two days, finishing more than half a day ahead of schedule. The resulting footage was screened at last year's Fantasia Festival in Montreal, where it was well received; it has been kept under wraps since because my producer Robert Tinnell and I still have hopes of getting the feature made -- hopes that, I'm glad to say, were recently revived. It's true what they say about one door closing and another door opening.

I mentioned earlier that I had come to look at my belongings as a kind of medication, as a buffer to my underlying feelings of unhappiness. I've more recently come to an understanding that I was duping myself, perhaps hoping to propel myself toward some meaningful life change by alienating myself from the old one. As it happens, one of the ways I've always coped with depression was to spend a little money and I recently returned to that. Earlier this year, I decided that having MAD magazine on DVD-ROM was not enough; I wanted the actual issues. So, with the help of eBay, I began to reassemble (and exceed) my lost childhood collection of MAD. Wanting to take the best possible care of them, I also bought some magazine bags and boards -- and, as I sat on my office floor, perfecting my archive of freckle-faced, missing-toothed satire, I gradually found myself in possession of more than just magazines; I was coming back into the possession of myself. I got more bags and boards and did the same work to preserve my collections of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, FANTASTIC MONSTERS OF THE FILMS, LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS and MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT.

Doing this turned out to be satisfying on so many unexpected levels. Bagging and boarding old magazines requires that you handle them, and I found myself pausing in my work to reacquaint myself with the full breadth and feel of publications I had compressed to carry around in my mind for most of my life. It only followed that I slowly began reacquainting myself with myself. These things were not a form of medication, after all; they were a form of gratification; they were all extensions of me and the things I loved at different times of life. And throughout this period I'm discussing, I must admit that I spent much of it feeling unloved. I could blame my mother and her emotional problems, I could blame my wife and her necessary absorption into running the magazine, but these wouldn't be the whole cause; the real fault resided within me. I wasn't caring enough for myself. The more I cared for my magazines, the more I doted on them and took pride in them, the better I began to feel about my life and about myself -- the more I came back into the fuller possession of myself. Because I am the unifying force behind my collection; it reflects my tastes, it externalizes and mirrors me, it represents me. It's my womb away from womb, and it nourishes me when I connect with it. I need to spend more time immersed in it.

I believe it's a healthy thing to hold onto a certain amount of dissatisfaction about one's life; it forces us to move forward, attempt change for the better, and it's the only way we can truly effect progressive transformation. I still intend to change my life for the better, to accomplish new things while I still have the youth and health to do so, but I am more embracing now of my past and my individuality. I can accept myself and my own goals as reason enough to try, reason enough to triumph.   

So this is where I am as I begin Year Eight of this blog. Video WatchBlog also externalizes, mirrors and represents me, and I thank you for your continued companionship as my reader, even if I have become something of an unreliable narrator, in terms of attendance, in recent years. I'll try to keep in better touch.   

        

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sweet Offerings from Germany's Subkultur Entertainment


I recently recorded my first Jess Franco audio commentary for the German company Subkultur Entertainment, for their release of DAS GEHEIMNIS DES DOKTOR Z (THE DIABOLICAL DR. Z, 1965), which has just come out. Because the commentary was pre-scripted and required me to pronounce a number of French and Spanish names and titles whose pronunciations did not always come naturally to me, I found it difficult to handle all this while also keeping an eye on the scenes as they unreeled. Therefore, I opted to record my commentary, which is generally scene-specific, in bits and pieces (about 50 of them), which I then sent to Subkultur to synchronize with the image track. I was nervous about the outcome, since it was out of my hands, but I saw the result last night for the first time and couldn't be more pleased. I think it may be the finest audio commentary I've recorded to date, and I am not the sort of person to boast about such things. Suffice to say, I did my best and the folks at SE did a splendid job with it. (Tino at Subkultur told me the entire release required 1,176 hours of work to complete -- seven straight weeks -- but he agrees it is "the toughest but best product of Subkultur." The company acquired the exclusive rights to my commentary through 2017, so it won't be appearing on other releases issued closer to home in the meantime. 

The two-disc set (limited to only 1000 units) looks splendid, but for territorial licensing reasons, the English dub included with Mondo Macabro's earlier release could not be used. The film's soundtrack is offered only in French and German, with my "audiokommentar" provided (on Disc 2) in English with German subtitles. As an added incentive to purchase, the second disc also includes a 4m introduction by Franco and actor Antonio Mayans, spoken in English, and a Franco filmography containing Easter Eggs of more than 30 Franco trailers!

So where can you find this item before its short supply is exhausted? There is an Amazon.de page, but they will not ship to America. As of today, the best sources appear to be Amazon.es or DTM.  However, there is now the possibility that we at VIDEO WATCHDOG may be able to acquire a set number of copies for sale through our website. Stay tuned for more info.

Another exciting new Subkultur release is Tulio Demichelli's DRACULA JAGT FRANKENSTEIN (1969), the Paul Naschy monster rally known here as ASSIGNMENT: TERROR or DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, released for the first time in its original aspect ratio. Also in the cast are Michael Rennie, Karin Dor, Patty Shepard, Fernando Bilbao (as the Farancksalan Monster -- yes, this movie really ought to be called "Dracula jagt Farancksalan") and Walter Barnes.

I also watched this last night and was very happy, after 40 years, to finally see its full scope image. The transfer is often on the dark side, but seeing that the rare glimpses of the sky are still blue and so bright as to threaten to bloom white if pushed further, I'm sure the SE disc producers did all that was possible to remain faithful to, and remain within the boundaries of, the source element, which is otherwise very colorful and very clean. The audio offers only the German track but there are English subtitles -- a direct translation of the German dialogue, not of the English dub track, though the English version followed the original dialogue fairly closely. The musical soundtrack is presented with more presence than it's ever had. The disc is in PAL and region free, and you may find it still in stock at Diabolik DVD here in the States.
Here are some frame grabs to tease and tantalize you (click to enlarge):