Monday, September 17, 2018

Some Books, Some Recently Viewed Movies, and Some Self-Promotion

There has been a lot going on here at Casa Lucas - new work coming out of my computer, new work being published, new movies on Blu-ray inundating my senses, and new books getting their hooks into me. I can't devote blogs to everything, but it occurred to me that I could just write a letter to my blog followers and touch on everything a little, and bring these cool items to your attention. Better than getting all bogged down in other new arrivals and never getting around to anything - right? Look for the highlighted passages; that's where you will find links to the various products mentioned.

First of all: SELF-PROMOTION. (Why else blog?)

My book on the film SPIRITS OF THE DEAD (Histoires Extraordinaires) is due back from the printer any day now, but pre-orders are being gratefully received here

Also, stressing this week is the horror fiction anthology NEW FEARS 2, edited by Mark Morris and published by Titan Books. It contains my short story "The Migrants" (no connection to recent news stories), which is only the second short story I've ever published; it's available from Amazon and should be in bookstores everywhere, so please do your bit by buying a copy and rewarding those who are encouraging my fiction career. I'd like to be asked to write more of it.

Streeting on October 2 is the long-awaited Volume 4 of the Joseph W. Sarno Retrospect Series, containing three of his best films: SIN IN THE SUBURBS (1964), CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE (1974), and the until-recently-lost WARM NIGHTS AND HOT PLEASURES (1964). I recorded audio commentaries for the first two titles, and they should give you a nice taste of what to expect from the Sarno book I'm working on.

Speaking of audio commentaries, I've recorded three in the part month, but the two I can tell you about are Sergio Leone's FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) for Kino Lorber and Mario Bava's Vampire gegen Herakles (1961) - which you may know better as HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD - for the German company Koch Media. I have not yet seen Kino's master for the Leone masterpiece, but Koch Media's master for the Technicolor HERCULES film redefines "eye-popping." I've seen the film in 35mm and it was an unforgettable experience; the master retains the hot colors and ramps up the razor focus - this should be your newest demonstration disc. At this time, I am not aware of any forthcoming US or UK release of this title, and I can assure you that it will be English friendly. It will be streeting on October 25 and can be pre-ordered here.


RENEGADE WESTERNS: MOVIES THAT SHOT DOWN FRONTIER MYTHS (FAB Press) by Kevin Grant & Clark Hodgkiss: Kevin Grant's 2011 book ANY GUN CAN PLAY: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO EURO WESTERNS more than lived up to its title, being the first truly substantial study of the genre since Christopher Frayling's groundbreaking 1981 book SPAGHETTI WESTERNS: COWBOYS AND EUROPEANS FROM KARL MAY TO SERGIO LEONE - and the first written with instant access to the films it was covering, allowing for more accurate recall. This new book, co-written by Hodgkiss (editor/publisher/essayist of the fanzine BLOOD, MONEY AND VENGEANCE), fills a gaping hole in the landscape of film criticism by organizing a history of what might be called the American "anti-Western." Beginning with William Wellman's THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (1943) and carrying through to more recent works like THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2016) and HOSTILES (2017), the authors focus on those films that questioned the racism and supposedly justified violence of the traditional Western, to tell stories about the troubled (and sometimes untroubled) consciousness of the characters who lived in those times. The book covers more than 100 films - including the works of Anthony Mann, Richard Brooks, Sam Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Monte Hellman and Sam Peckinpah - and devotes brilliantly conceived and written, yet concise essays of 2-3 pages to each film. It can, but certainly doesn't have to, be read sequentially; it's more fun to browse through and check what the authors have to say about one's own favorites, and then use the book to organize screenings of the intriguing titles you don't know so well, or perhaps haven't seen. Film societies could use this book as a guide to theme bookings. If you're a serious fan of Westerns, this is a rich banquet of a book that I whole-heartedly recommend - and if you're not, this is the book that could turn you. Hardcover and hefty trade paperback with wall to wall color. Also available directly from the publisher here.

ISHIRO HONDA: A LIFE IN FILM, FROM GODZILLA TO KUROSAWA (Wesleyan University Press) by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, Foreword by Martin Scorsese: While it would not be incorrect to describe this long-needed biography as a precious complement to August Ragone's book on Eiju Tsubaraya of a few years ago, it would not fully prepare one for this book's value. Working with the assistance of their subject's family and with relevant quotes from numerous colleagues and co-workers, the authors take us behind the dense curtain of a foreign language to become truly acquainted with the man who created and popularized the kaiju eiga. But it goes beyond this by covering Honda's career in toto, telling us in detail about each of his 22 non-fantastic works, and thereby putting his giant monster epics in perspective in terms of chronology and their perpetuation of consistent themes and interests. This perspective is further lent to those better-known works by refusing to assume the usual fanboy stance. The authors are consistently intelligent, discerning and credible in their coverage and criticism. They are able to tell us when Honda was working tongue-in-cheek, or in all seriousness, when he was making a political or social statement with his work, and even when it was guilty of needless exaggeration - all fine points that are easily lost when we approach his work in English, or with lingering prejudices dating from the "Made in Japan" era when these films were made. All in all, anyone who approaches Honda's films without this book under their arm is flying blind. Hardcover and Kindle, available here.  

THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM (Edinburgh University Press) by Gary D. Rhodes: This is another book that instantly presents itself as sorely-needed, written by the talented and obsessive author of numerous books (always excellent) about actor Bela Lugosi and his key films. The objective of this book, obviously, is to explore the origin of the fantastic fright film in America - leaving out Georges Méliès and Segundo de Chomón and the notion of the "trick" film - but it also painstakingly lays out the genre's premonitory tremors as they were manifest in the fin de siècle literature, theater, magic lantern performances, and illustrated slides of the 1800's. Most of the films covered in this book are no longer known to exist, but Rhodes digs deep into newspaper archives for information and - more importantly - sometimes rapt, sometimes appalled descriptions of horrific scenes staged in small town theaters. This is ultimately not just a book about what it purports to be about, but a book charting the desires and misgivings, the conflicted need, of audiences to be thrilled and spooked, and how these needs were creatively met by various forgotten pioneers. Because so little of the material covered is available to us in fact, the book sometimes carries a perverse frisson of being almost novelistic, an imaginary history but everything the author says is backed up by careful footnotes. Of course, I am skeptical of how a book this valuable might be received by younger horror enthusiasts who eschew anything and everything in black-and-white, but if they had the curiosity to crack it open, I suspect they'd be thrilled and amazed by how very little they know is a new idea. Rhodes is presently working on a second volume to this book, which will cover the years 1916 to 1931. Available here in hard and soft cover. 

THE FILMS OF JESS FRANCO (Wayne State University Press), edited by Antonio Lázaro-Reboll and Ian Olney: I've already noted the arrival of this anthology of academic essays here at Video WatchBlog, but now I've read the book in its entirety. Readers who come to this book without much of a pre-existing interest in the subject may find it a bit dry, but speaking for myself, as someone already fascinated by the ups-and-downs of the vast cinematic continuum Franco produced, I find it a real breakthrough that proves Franco's work can stand up to real academic scrutiny. The chapters I found especially illuminating were Nicholas G. Schlegel's essay about Franco's "re-coding" of the German krimi genre with his rarely discussed Der Todesracher von Soho and THE DEVIL CAME FROM AKASAVA (though I wish he had included discussion of his Mabuse film, Dr. M schlagt zu); Alberto Brodesco's examination of Franco's Marquis de Sade-derived films and where Franco stands as an interpreter of Sade; and Finley Freibert's wildly audacious defense of Franco's DTV productions as avatars of "queer cinema," on the grounds that they tend to infuriate the heterosexual male gaze and often generate narrative through repetition rather than traditional linear narrative. As I mentioned in my earlier blog entry, I am also vastly flattered to have figured so prominently in this history, as someone who helped to pave the way toward this kind of deeper discussion, and that honor also extends to Stephen Thrower, Lucas Balbo, Peter Blumenstock, Christian Kessler, Carlos Aguilár, Cathal Tohill, Pete Tombs, Joan Hawkins, Chris Alexander and many others rarely cited in such literature. The book could have been more fully informed had it partaken of the information found in Alain Petit's essential book JESS FRANCO ET LES PROSPERITÉS DU BIS, or had the contributors been aware that Petit's original attention to Franco's work in the French fan press of the 1970s was the true origin of this ongoing discussion. Hardcover (pricey!) and soft cover, available here.  


Donna and I have been watching Kino Lorber’s two-disc Blu-ray of Michael Anderson’s 1980 6-hour miniseries of Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES. I was pleasantly surprised to find the teleplay signed by Richard Matheson, and Milton Subotsky listed as one of the producers. The first 10 minutes or so are a learning, or rather, forgetting curve, because it’s essential to forgive and look past the outmoded level of its special effects (particularly because they are post-STAR WARS and all the more disappointing for it). But the stories and the performances become fairly gripping soon enough, and it shapes up to be one of the more intellectually stimulating works of filmic science fiction from this period. Of particular interest is the production design of Assheton Gorton, one of the prime movers behind the Continental Op film movement of the 1960s, who brings some truly visionary props and scenics to the project. Though it has its problems - especially the first half of the third and final segment, featuring Bernadette Peters and Christopher Connelly - the whole of it feels more satisfyingly like a revisit to THE TWILIGHT ZONE than either of the revival versions, especially with TZ veterans like Fritz Weaver, Roddy McDowall and Matheson aboard.

Also spent time discovering the films of Korean filmmaker Hong Sangsoo, namely WOMAN IS THE FUTURE OF MAN and TALE OF CINEMA, which share a well-packed and worthwhile Blu-ray Disc from Arrow Academy. Hong is like a more tense and obsessive Eric Rohmer - he's into conversation, confrontation, cigarettes, scarves, casual but conflicted sex, and lots of strong drink, shared by awkward young men and centered young women. A diverting world to get lost in for a day.

Speaking of Jess Franco, DIAMONDS OF KILIMANDJARO (sic) - his 1983 answer to Tarzan movies, with Katja Bienert as Diana of the Jungle - is now available from MVD Classics on Blu-ray, as well as the Franco-associated title GOLDEN TEMPLE AMAZONS. While watching DIAMONDS, I was surprised to see that two members of its African tribe are shown wearing bewhiskered skull masks that - unless I am sadly mistaken - once belonged to members of the Blind Dead. It is not one of Franco's important pictures, to put it mildly. Unfortunately, though the disc looks and sounds fabulous, it includes only the English dub track, which is pretty bad. I once saw a Spanish version that had a completely different (and amusing) main title sequence and was more obviously played tongue-in-cheek. Considering how vivid Daniel White's score sounds here, an isolated music track would have been welcome, too. I couldn't find an Amazon link to the Blu-ray, but I was able to find it at DiabolikDVD.

That's enough for one day! More as time and spirit permit. 

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

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