Friday, August 29, 2008
VIDEO WATCHDOG #143, with the Rodd Dana cover, is now back from the printer... for the second time! The shipment was actually delivered yesterday and, a short time into the mailing process, I discovered that the issues were cut a fraction of an inch too tall to fit into our deluxe VW binders! We immediately halted the mailing (none of these copies were actually sent out) and our printer recollected the entire order, cut every issue down to its intended size, then redelivered half the order last night and the other half this morning. So the mailing of #143 is now back on track, and copies should begin reaching our First Class and Air subscribers sometime next week.
Finally, for those of you who have taken an interest in my Vita Nuova, yes, I'm still vegetarian and still swimming three times per week. I don't see either of these things as a fad, but as facets of a new approach to living. I've lost twenty-odd pounds in the past month and am now wearing a belt I haven't been able to pull around myself in at least eight years -- on the third notch. I'm pretty happy about that, though not exactly satisfied, which seems to me the healthiest outlook to maintain.
Friday, August 22, 2008
1971, Dark Sky Films, DD-2.0/16:9/LB/+, $14.98, 98m 54s, DVD-1
Despite its scary title and the violent, druggy, sexist, black magic trappings of its original promo campaign, this isn't a horror film at all, nor a particularly exploitative one; it's actually part character study about a homeless, mostly likeable, cigar-smoking practitioner of White Magic who lives in a storm drain and a satire of the myriad cults arising from the ashes of psychedelicized Los Angeles of the early 1970s, informed to some extent by the gnostic legends of Simon Magus.
Andrew Prine stars as the affable Simon, who starts out with little more than his own seemingly insane self-beliefs and a bag of cheap trinkets (including a "Pentagram of Solomon," a likely nod to low-budget producer Joe Solomon), but quickly ascends the power chain of LA, using genuinely caring relationships with naïve streethustler/minion Turk (George Paulsin─picture Peter Noone with a Jack Nicholson grin) and the pill-popping daughter of the district attorney (Cincinnati-born Brenda Scott, looking intensely vulnerable and distracted), to reach effete socialite Hercules Van Sant (Gerald York). Stiffed with a bad check by one of Hercules' party guests, Simon proves his abilities with a death curse and soon has enough cash and clients to buy into some real accessories, like an oval mirror that allows him to venture onto the astral plane like a Dr. Strange of the counter-culture, and set about his ultimate plan to expose the corrupt nature of the city at large, its officials as well as its lawbreakers and flakes.
There's a jokey Black Mass scene featuring Warhol acolyte Ultra Violet, some non-sexualized nudity and one or two nearly bloodless stabbings, and a goat─but it's all fairly mild, eclipsed by the humor of scenes like Simon's solution to Turk's priapic problem. Scripted by Robert Phippeny (THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY), an alleged warlock himself, the film's cleverly etched characters, general air of hedonism, and baroque dialogue ally it with the more personal works of screenwriters Charles B. Griffith and Robert Thom. There's far more talk than action, explaining the unusually long running time, but hit-and-miss as it is, it can't be faulted for not talking straight. Alternately interesting, intelligent, moving, rambling and incoherent but, as one character says, "At least it's different!"
The anamorphic 1.78:1 mono transfer is colorful and well-balanced but with variable sharpness traceable to limitations in the original cinematography. The supplements, overseen by Michael Felsher, interview an affable Andrew Prine (16m 53s) and director Bruce Kessler (11m 58s), adding on a 1m trailer and a 58s radio spot accompanied by a lobby card slide show. The Prine interview makes the editorial mistake of illustrating his reference to a naked "ditz" on an altar in the Ultra Violet sequence with footage of Brenda Scott in a similar situation, inadvertently denigrating his ex-wife and a serious actress. For a backstage peek into the casting of the blonde on the altar, see Roger Ebert's profile of producer Joe Solomon in the classic reference book KINGS OF THE B'S.
I noticed though your comment about an editorial mistake in SIMON SAYS where Prine refers to a “ditz on a platform” as being mistakenly played under a shot of Brenda Scott from the film which you felt added an unintended backhanded comment about Scott from her former husband.
What was left out of the final featurette due to some audio issues and some fragmented sentences from Mr Prine during the interview were some more direct references to that exact scene in the film where Simon seduces Scott’s character and gets her naked on the platform/slab in his abode. Prine was asked by the interviewer to restate the answer and that’s the take I used in the final featurette, which was more concise but did leave out a few details which were garbled by a microphone squelch in the previous answer. As a result, some of the contextual info surrounding his discussion of this scene was lost. I can assure you he was not referring to Scott personally but her character, and was also not referring also to the later scene(s) with Ultra Violet. I noticed at the time, that this “ditz” reference could be taken somewhat out of context, which is why I chose to use this bit to lead into Prine’s discussion of his fond memories of working with Scott on the picture which I felt would clarify his relationship with her and make it clear that his previous comment had only been about the characters.
If the context of his remarks come across as unclear, it was certainly not intentional in any way, but I stand by my editorial decisions in this piece, and hope that this email puts any confusion to rest.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Thursday, August 14, 2008
With frosted sand-colored hair and a cocoa-butter complexion, Laura Antonelli is at her most delectable in Massimo Dallamano's VENUS IN FURS, a contemporary adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's definitive S&M novel. The Velvet Underground captured the spirit of the book better; in Dallamano's hands, it's the Salem cigarette ad-looking story of Severin (Régis Vallée), a perverse would-be philosopher about sexual matters who is happy for reasons buried deep in his childhood only when he's made to feel miserable... up to a point. He meets his match in Wanda (Antonelli), a former stripper and erotic exhibitionist whom he meets at a Spanish resort. Once they discover they're... er, compatible, they marry, move into an Italian villa, enter into a cosplay game of mistress and chauffeur, hire a couple of lesbian maids, and -- this being a product of macho Spain and Italy -- Severin eventually learns the hard way that man was not meant to serve as his woman's bitch. At times it seems more like a writ of bitterness from someone who hasn't quite gotten over a bad divorce, rather than something based on the gospel of whips and leather. It's not great, but there are various delights to be found here, including Gian Franco Reverberi's infectious Eurotrash score (it sounds like the sitarist was imported from the VAMPYROS LESBOS sessions), a classic beauty in its prime, and scads of the most deliriously quotable dialogue you've ever heard. To wit:
1. "If deep pleasure is born most of all from suffering, then this is the woman of whom I've always dreamed!"
2. "It's very difficult to act like a prostitute when one is in love."
3. "You're all the same, you men! When you love a woman, you want to lock her up in the most secret cell of the Pyramid of Chaos."
4. "Women are always forbidden the most amusing things."
5. "Wanda, will you marry me?" "Yes, yes, I will marry you, because I want to betray you, bring you to desperation! I will make you unhappy, you'll see!"
6. "Such happiness as this... almost makes me unhappy."
7. "Sometimes women are whores uselessly, and the vulgar side of this is its uselessness."
8. "You're too beautiful to belong to just one man." (Did I hear an "amen" in the house?)
9. "All I can say is, after two months, you've become like any other husband!"
10. "I must resign myself to being normal."
Need I say more? VENUS IN FURS is available from Xploited Cinema in two different editions: the preferable 16:9 Shameless Screen Entertainment PAL Region 0 import for $24.95 (82m 3s -- trimmed of roughly 55s of a red-tinted scene by the BBFC), and the fullscreen IVC's Japanese NTSC Region 2 import (83m 26s, unmatted fullscreen and reportedly uncut, but if so from the wrong projection speed, with one instance of optical fogging) for $39.95. The material missing from the Shameless disc has been posted on the label's website for free viewing by those claiming to be 18 years of age or older, and involves an extension of a non-explicit rape scene in which the violation becomes pleasurable to the victim. (The tinting on the scene emphasizes that it's a fantasy of Severin's, rather than something that actually happens, making the cut seem particularly gratuitous and ill-considered.) The Shameless disc includes a widescreen trailer featuring alternative takes and shots, some including nudity, not found in the feature version itself.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Monday, August 11, 2008
I'm going through a weird, distracted phase that's tied up with some important changes I've made in my life and my attempts to map out my future. I mentioned a blog or two ago that I've started swimming; I'm now doing it three times per week and have already dropped more than twelve pounds. Also, about three weeks ago, in fact to the day, I decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle and I'm liking that -- although the soup aisle at the grocery store (my former idea of health food), now throws up more "Forbidden" signs than are found in the archives of the Catholic Legion of Decency. I always loved the foods I am now swearing off, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not completely happy about my decision to live without them, but I am, I think, settled. Once you get into this, you realize it's more than just a dietary decision; it's also a code of morality. Until I can learn to cook for myself, which I don't foresee in the immediate future, thank God for the folks at Morningstar Farms.
I started working on a new novel this past week, made respectable progress (maybe 20 pages), hit the right tone, then realized it was not what I should be writing at this time. I hope to get on with the right project sometime this week.
In the meantime, and I recognize the danger of this, I feel myself losing a lot of old interests. I must have more than a month of ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOURs and WHAT'S MY LINE? episodes piled up on my DVR hard drive, but the prospect of dubbing them over onto my DVD recorder to get the commercials out of them is something I'm not ready to face and presently have no interest in doing. I don't understand why I ever collected anything. I have stopped watching more movies at or before the halfway-point this past week than I can count; these are movies that I've sometimes seen and know I like, but it seems a movie has to be really extraordinary to hold my attention these days. Fortunately, there was one: Lech Majewski's THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS (2004), which streets tomorrow on the Kino on Video label. I think this movie is an absolute masterpiece, and it's also the first movie I've seen since my first viewing of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST at the age of 12 that I like so much, I'm actually wary of seeing the director's other works. I feel like I want to be faithful to this one, it's so good. I was faithful to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST for at least 10 years; then I bit the bullet and saw Leone's other films, all of which had their own qualities but none of which ever equalled or surpassed my introduction to his work. Kino sent me three other movies by this amazing director -- THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO HARRY, THE ROE'S ROOM and GLASS LIPS -- and I apologize, but they'll just have to wait till I'm over this one.
In other news: To my surprise and honor, a young punk band from the Glendale, California area has adopted the name of Throat Sprockets. Lead singer Miss Lonelyhearts tells me "I think it's the best band name since Led Zeppelin!" If you go to their MySpace page, you can hear/download their first offering, "Keep Your Distance."
And finally, Jerad Walters of Centipede Press tells me that he has received the first six advance copies of my VIDEODROME book from its Hong Kong printer. He says "They look magnificent!" Hopefully the book's Amazon page will soon be corrected to reflect its "in print" status. In the meantime, you can order the book directly from the publisher here. Copies begin shipping in three weeks. Donna and I have not made arrangements with Centipede yet, but I imagine we will also be selling the book through Video Watchdog.
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
HAZEL COURT - HORROR QUEEN
by Hazel Court
Tomahawk Press (www.tomahawkpress.com), 152 pages, $25.00, trade softcover
British actress Hazel Court passed away earlier this year, on April 15, just a month or two before the announced publication date of her long-promised autobiography. A copy of this sadly timed Tomahawk Press release arrived here yesterday, courtesy of Amazon.com (now offering the book for the sale price of $16.50), and I read it straight through in an evening.
The book's advance word of mouth has been beating the drum about the fact that it contains a never-before-seen color image of Hazel topless, as she was filmed for a continental release of THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959). The photo is in the book, and different to the four sequential filmstrip images previously seen on the inside cover of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #16, but not printed large enough to permit much detail. Even so, it's neither the most beautiful or ravishing image in the book, which is loaded with lovely images of Hazel at all the different stages of her life. The two that particularly took my breath away can be found on the Acknowledgements page (which appears to be post-retirement) and page 38 (a photo from her first professional session at age 16).
As loath as I would be to say this to the dear lady's face, pretty pictures and a nice interior layout aside, I found the book a disappointment. Why? Because the opening chapters are so arresting, so complete and vivid a recreation of her early years, and so revelatory of an unexplored gift for writing, that the later chapters about her life in movies seem sketchy and shallow by comparison. There is an almost palpable feeling of difference here between chapters written by hand and others that might have been obtained otherwise, as through a transcribed tape or ghostwriter. I don't know how difficult a book it was for her to write, if other duties were in the way of her concentration, but the early chapters give us dense, delicious portraiture while the later ones give us snapshots.
The early chapters do offer the reader some insight about how this working class girl from Birmingham acquired her regal bearing onscreen and how she wore those period costumes with such ease. There is also a heartbreaking story about her first love, identified only by his initials, who went off to war and died in 1941, but not before taking the photographs (by gaslight) that led to Hazel's first screen test. Her first marriage to actor Dermot Walsh is almost elliptic in its modest coverage, and none of the reasons for their "painful" divorce are gone into, nor really is the story of how she came to fall in love with second husband, actor/director Don Taylor (obviously the great love of her life). A strange emphasis of photos showing Hazel in the company of artist Fred Yates, with whom the text mentions only one brief anecdotal meeting, begs curiosity. There are also odd instances of padding, with surprisingly detailed film synopses added in (complete with dialogue), and quotes taken from recklessly identified sources. One quote, allegedly from TV GUIDE, is far too long and critical in character to have ever appeared there, and it's an embarassment when the book reaches out to the IMDb for information anyone could find there for themselves. The text is also guilty of some inattentive editing (repeated information, etc) and proofreading (Edgar "Allen" Poe, "Heaven's" no!, etc).
Despite these unworthy birthmarks, it's still a pleasure to spend time in her thoughts and reveries, and a shade of her book's early substance eeks into its latter pages, which focus on her development as a sculptress, her widowhood, and her last years in a log cabin in the High Sierra Mountains. But my abiding feeling about the book, after closing it, is that it makes me wish that Hazel Court was still here with us, so that she might be coaxed into sharing even more details of her life and times as ably as she began to put them down here.
Also included are loving and observant Forewords by her daughter, animation art authority Sally Walsh, and Vincent Price (signed with a "V" I've never seen in his signatures before) and notes of affection and respect from Roger Corman, Ken Annakin and producer Harvey Bernhard.
UPDATE: Reader Stephan Held informs me that the site Movie-Censorship.com offers an identical breakdown of the shots missing from the current PSYCHO DVD with English text. You can find it here.
Furthermore, VW contributor Brad Stevens tells me that this more complete version of PSYCHO used to be shown regularly by the BBC in the 1980s, though he does not know which version is currently being shown.