Friday, March 31, 2017

The Week In Review

Rihanna as Marion Crane in BATES MOTEL.

This week's BATES MOTEL episode "Marion" reminded me of what a profound and ultimately humane, sympathetic, inexhaustibly complex work of art PSYCHO is. In attempting to do something different/unpredictable/audacious, the makers of this show, I fear, may have critically misjudged their mission - which I've always hoped was to broaden and deepen the essential tragedy of the story, to make the original film that much more heartbreaking. Donna predicted that tonight's events might happen last week. I thought, "They wouldn't dare." They did. (No dialogue credit for Joseph Stefano either, but perhaps they were doing him a favor.) As with all things, time will tell. Four more episodes to go.

Copies of CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER hit the Arrow Video offices today and will be shipped to retail outlets presently. It doesn't appear to be mentioned on the packaging, but - at my urging - Arrow generously decided late in production to present CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER on the Blu-ray disc in both its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and, for the first time ever, in full aperture 1.33:1. There is absolutely no doubt that the film was intended to be screened only at 1.66:1 because the unmatted version is intermittently hard-matted. Of course, the 1.33:1 TV prints prevailing in circulation over the years represented a cropping of the hard-matted release print. However, all of Bava's special effects footage in the original dupe negative was filmed unmatted, so this disc makes available for the first time a far more generous view of these effects than have ever been seen publicly! Additionally, I believe the intermittent in-camera matting offers some exciting eurekas into how the film was originally shot and assembled by Bava and Freda. In addition to my audio commentary, I wrote an essay for the accompanying booklet about this astounding artifact and what it seems to reveal to us about the secrets of this two-fathered film.

Also in Mario Bava-related news, this week Kino Lorber announced their plans to release Bava's masterpiece KILL, BABY... KILL! (Operazione paura, 1966) for the first time on Blu-ray in June. The disc will include a brand-new 2K restoration, a newly-recorded audio commentary by yours truly (Tim Lucas, the author of MARIO BAVA, ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK), a 20m documentary visit to the film's original locations with assistant director Lamberto Bava, and more!

I've been thinking a lot today about my friend (I consider him a friend) Richard Harland Smith, who has announced on his FB page that his new audio commentary for Robert Wise's A GAME OF DEATH (1945, Kino Classics) is his last. Of course he's not dead, just retiring from a particular beat, but this leads me to eulogistic thinking. I understand that lives change as individuals change and grow, as families change and grow, and I can appreciate what he says when he explains that it's time he started focusing more on life and less on movies. But it also bugs me because Rich is one of the very best audio commentators around; he has always had a rare gift for writing about the movies with respect and appreciation while writing about the personalities involved that makes them seem warmer, more grounded, and approachable. He's grounded too, the cinema has never been a church for him, so what made him such a unique commentator is now leading him to hang up that hat. THE DEVIL BAT, THE DEATH KISS, DERANGED, BURNT OFFERINGS, TWICE-TOLD TALES (with Perry Martin), DONOVAN'S BRAIN, MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD, BLOOD AND LACE, BEWARE OF THE BLOB, PANIC IN YEAR ZERO!... I don't know how many commentaries Rich has recorded but every single one I've heard has given me real enjoyment, taught me something, painted a picture or two that I felt I could step into. This is all too rare, especially among writers and commentators embracing genre films. His ARBOGAST ON FILM blog was a brilliant thing that turned blogging sideways. Who else would even think of using Halloween as an excuse to write prose poems describing 30 different horror movie screams, and then make it an annual event? There ought to be a book of his collected work, so it can dwell somewhere more upscale than in old magazines, some of which I edited. Rich was one of my favorite writers from my years of editing VIDEO WATCHDOG, and I was always honored to present his writing. I guess I'm wrestling with these feelings because I sense that he probably feels, on some level, sorrow because the work could never be as sustaining as it was uplifting. This could well be a projection of mine. But here's to you, my friend; if you never write another word, your voice is always going to linger somewhere in my own regard for film. Carpe diem.

Elvis and director Norman Taurog.
Considering how central and important Elvis Presley was to my early movie-going experience, it's odd that, at my present age, there still remain several of his films that I've still never seen. I can trace the break in our contract to an afternoon in 1969-70; I was about 13 years old and went to see an Elvis movie (CHARRO), but due to an unannounced change in the running times, ended up seeing a Sergio Leone film (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST) instead. It changed my life, and realizing afterwards that the Elvis movie could add nothing of greater substance to my day, I got up and left without seeing it - and, to this day, I still haven't seen it. I've always looked back on this as the first adult decision of my life. However, this decision had a residual result, in that - especially after the wounding disappointment of Elvis' death - I rarely went revisited his movies, even after they became available letterboxed. But now, as serendipity would have it, I find myself taking a short break in my Leone commentary duties to whip up a little essay about Elvis. And perhaps, I find myself thinking, the time has come to finally seek out the rest of those Elvis movies. Funny how life works all of this out. How much funnier to notice.

Now reading Henry Green's CAUGHT. I haven't read Henry Green since the late 1980s but the first 35 pages of this make me want to go back and swallow the other books whole. This particular novel, a postwar reverie about his time in the London Auxiliary Fire Brigade during the Blitz, is one I was always discouraged from reading by an essay I read that described its storytelling as unusually straightforward, but it's anything but. The early chapters (no fire-fighting yet) are consistently surprising, with sudden startling injections of space and shadow, color and vertigo, and frequent are the paragraphs and sentences I reread for the multiplicity of layers in them, which is both dazzling and disorienting, and for the sheer pleasure of going back to see exactly how he managed this or that stylistic effect. The last paragraph I just read before closing the book for the night described the lead character leaving a house and walking to the front gate to return to town, but in that walk he was simultaneously a self-absorbed child, a doting newlywed, and the neglectful father of a young son. Such a great writer.

RIP to Tony Russel (b. Anthony Russo - seen above at left), the Gamma I commander from THE WILD WILD PLANET, one of the standout heroes of Italy's sword and sandal era (THE SECRET SEVEN, REVOLT OF THE SPARTANS), and a familiar voice from the dubbing industry. Tony was a great guy; Michael Barnum interviewed him for a retrospective feature article in VIDEO WATCHDOG 128 (still available, even digitally). He was 91.

RIP German-French actress Christine Kaufmann, whose films included MADCHEN IN UNIFORM, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII (1959, pictured), TOWN WITHOUT PITY, TARAS BULBA (starring her one-time husband, Tony Curtis), Gordon Hessler's MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE (1972), and BAGDAD CAFE. She died after a long battle with leukemia at 72.

And, last but not least, RIP to the great Alessandro Alessandroni, the man who whistled, played guitar and led the Cantori Moderni choir on most of Ennio Morricone's scores for Sergio Leone's Westerns. He also composed a number of scores in his own right, including those for THE DEVIL'S NIGHTMARE (a particular favorite) and LADY FRANKENSTEIN, and performed vocally and instrumentally on many others, including Mario Bava's DANGER: DIABOLIK and the mono film SWEDEN HEAVEN AND HELL (Alessandroni and his wife Giulia provided the voices for the classic novelty song "Mah Na Mah Na"). The particular tenor of his Leone performances - gentle, ragged, weathered, rollicking, acoustic and electric - forever changed many young lives. Mine included. He was 92.

(c) 2017 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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