Tuesday, December 29, 2009
The first thought which comes to mind is that it may be the first decade to take away more than it gave back, considering the vast number of luminaries who have passed. This year alone: John Updike, Alain Robbe-Grillet, J.G. Ballard, James Purdy, Philip Jose Farmer in literature; Michael Jackson, Ron Asheton, Lux Interior, Bud Shank in music; Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt and Paul Harvey in broadcasting; Patrick McGoohan, Gianna Maria Canale, Paul Naschy, Harryhausen producer Charles H. Schneer, Harry Alan Towers, composer Maurice Jarre, Ray Dennis Steckler and critic Robin Wood in film. This is not your standard obituary listing; it is a hemorrhage -- nay, an exodus.
In past decades, art has always been regenerated, but now, with the arts slowly perishing through a combination of factors -- lack of support, rampant remake-iana, inability to compete with the internet's onslaught of trivial communication and free access -- it seems that the gratification of soul that is the dividend of real art is vanishing from the bottom up, as death scythes the cream off the top.
For me, this past decade has been like an extended "time out" to explore work from previous decades that either got past my radar earlier, or was not previously available, or was not previously subtitled or translated, or needed to be re-read. I can remember joking during the '80s that everything needed to be put on pause so we could all catch up, and that pretty much happened. Here are some of the offerings this past decade that were especially meaningful to me...
Novels: Robbe-Grillet's REPETITION, Nabokov's THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA, Ballard's SUPER-CANNES, Theroux's LAURA WARHOLIC OR THE SEXUAL INTELLECTUAL, Pynchon's AGAINST THE DAY -- but the most meaningful, for me, aside from the one I wrote (THE BOOK OF RENFIELD), was GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner, published in 2001. Honorable mention, if I may, for the completion of my 32-year project: MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.
Films: Terry Zwigoff's GHOST WORLD, Charlie Kaufman's SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK, Lech Majewski's shot-on-video THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS, Jonathan Weiss' searing film of Ballard's THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION, Wong Kar-wai's 2046, Terence Malick's THE NEW WORLD, Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH, Tomas Alfredson's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
Some other 00's movies I loved or admired: MULHOLLAND DR., SIDEWAYS, LOST IN TRANSLATION, ONCE, LUST: CAUTION, ALMOST FAMOUS -- also THE DIRT, the short film starring Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, her best work to date. ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL continues to taunt me, such a near-miss.
Movies I saw this year for the first time that left a lasting impression: CHILDREN OF PARADISE (why did I wait so long?), FORBIDDEN GAMES, Robbe-Grillet's THE MAN WHO LIES, Frankenheimer's GRAND PRIX, Michael Blake's shot-on-video LAUGHING HORSE (an oddball, baffling showcase for the beauty of Irene Miracle, in her most enigmatic role), and the work of Myriem Roussel.
Music: For me, this decade was almost entirely retrospective in a musical sense. The completion and release of Brian Wilson's SMILE (a musical milestone yet somehow more tantalizing as uncoalesced puzzle pieces), DigitMovies' liberation of countless great Euro soundtracks from the CAM vaults, the Beatles and Stones remasters, some great Miles and Coltrane box sets, King Crimson and Pixies in 5.1 sound, the three-disc VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY set. But what made the most difference to me was my own postponed, deep-dish discovery of Françoise Hardy, who did record several fine albums this decade. None meant quite as much to me as my belated discovery of her 1971 and 1996 releases, LA QUESTION and LE DANGER. I recommend the five-disc set 100 CHANSONS as the best starting point, if you can find it; it's the only place you can be exposed to all her facets.
Thursday, December 24, 2009
We were hoping to have our new issue back from the printer in time for a pre-holiday mailing, but that didn't happen... subsequently, our work in the first days of 2010 is cut out for us. My apologies for not assembling a "Favorite DVDs of the Year" list from the lists of our various contributors, as has always been our tradition here, but I was under the gun with another deadline and couldn't manage it. The next issue will feature my own list of favorite discs from 2009 in my editorial, however.
Stay well, and keep checking back. You never know.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I was amazed to discover that YouTube is now hosting what appears to be the entire 25 episode run of the early Japanese anime series PRINCE PLANET (Usei shônin popi), in stellar digitally restored prints, courtesy of MGMDigitalMedia. I saw a fair number of these episodes, imported by American International Television in 1965, circa 1969 when they ran on Cincinnati station WXIX-TV, Channel 19 -- and then they seemed to vanish for decades. A few years ago, I found the theme song footage (very scratchy looking) on a site specializing in such stuff, which confirmed its existence for me... but now, voila, here's the motherlode! Above is a direct link to Episode 1, "A Boy From Outer Space." Just click on "Prince Planet" in the blue fine print to bring up the full clickable episode guide. If you enjoy GIGANTOR, you'll enjoy this. But you WILL want to kill the xylophonist on the theme song (the singing kids too, maybe) after a couple of episodes.
Sunday, December 06, 2009
With the help of Optimum Entertainment’s new box set import, Kim Newman explores Britain’s most enduring TV spy franchise, beginning with the surviving episodes of Season 1 and the complete Season 2, in the order they were taped!
MATT HELM LOUNGE
Kim Newman reviews Sony’s MATT HELM LOUNGE, a box set collecting the four films based on Donald Hamilton’s spy hero, starring Dean Martin: THE SILENCERS, MURDERERS’ ROW, THE AMBUSHERS and THE WRECKING CREW!
AVI WATCHDOG: Brad Stevens covers Bob Dylan's RENALDO AND CLARA!
VIDEO WATCHBLOG: Just when we think we've seen everything, guest blogger David Kalat turns up IL RAGGI MORTALI DEL DR. MABUSE, an Italian cut of THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OF DR. MABUSE that adds a number of never-before-seen sequences and qualifies as a substantially more entertaining picture!
PLUS Reviews of...
3 SECONDS BEFORE EXPLOSION
THE BEAST IN SPACE: UNRATED VERSION
BOLLYWOOD HORROR COLLECTION VOLS 2 & 3
DEAD OF NIGHT
DETECTIVE BUREAU 2-3: GO TO HELL BASTARDS!
EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR 3
THE GRUDGE 3
LOVE GODDESSES OF BLOOD ISLAND
I RAGGI MORTALI DEL DR. MABUSE (Italian best-ever version of THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OR DR. MABUSE with additional never-before-seen footage!)
RIPLEY UNDER GROUND
DIE TEÜFELSWOLKE VON MONTVILLE
TREASURES IV: AMERICAN FILM AVANT GARDE 1947-1986
Ramsey Campbell on EDEN LAKE!
Reviews of HORROR CINEMA, CALIGARI'S HEIRS: The German Cinema of Fear After 1945 and COMEDY-HORROR FILMS: A Chronological History, 1914-2008!
Douglas E. Winter reviews the music of Erich Wolfgang Korngold on CD, RESIDENT EVIL 5 and more!
Other contributors featured in this issue:
Anthony Ambrogio, Michael Barrett, John Charles, Bill Cooke, Shane M. Dallmann, Sheldon Inkol, Tim Lucas, Richard Harland Smith, Eric Somer, and Brett Taylor.
Release date: January 2, 2010. Order your copy now at www.videowatchdog.com !
Thursday, December 03, 2009
DANCE -- which stars Christopher Gable (THE MUSIC LOVERS, THE BOY FRIEND) as Strauss, the wonderful Judith Paris as his wife Pauline, Kenneth Coffey as Hitler and Vladek Sheybal as Goebbels -- is well worth seeing, serving as a 16mm rough draft of ideas that would later flourish in his masterpieces THE DEVILS (1971) and, most particularly, LISZTOMANIA (1975). Chronologically, it may well mark the point where Russell's unmistakable directorial style approached full boil.
For those who might be wondering, it has only been in the last few days that we learned exactly what happened to my mother Juanita and my aunt Rose. They were not in an accident together, as my editorial speculated from the fact that they died one day apart.
Last New Year's Eve, my aunt's husband Jack suffered a debilitating stroke. He was placed in a nursing home, but their insurance soon ran out. While caring for him, Rose was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given 3 to 6 months to live. After a week, her daughter (my cousin) Kim shared the news with my mother, who was Rose's closest friend and also reliant on her for things like grocery trips. Naturally, she took it badly and said that she didn't want to outlive her baby sister. My aunt's youngest daughter Susan asked her mother to bring her father with her for a visit to her home in Sacramento, in the hope of keeping them out there to care for them both. A couple of days before the trip west, aunt Rose went to dinner with my mother, along with Kim and her family; they all had a great evening together, my mother flaunting a new hairdo and the two of them acting like a couple of teenagers together, as they always did.
Kim received a call from her mother the next morning, complaining that my mother was ignoring her. When she fell out of her chair to the floor, they realized she had been silently stricken with some kind of stroke. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support while testing was performed. My mother had a living will and did not wish to have her life artificially sustained. A series of seizures ensued over the next 2 days. She was pronounced brain dead and life support was removed. She continued to breathe on her own for two days. Rose and Jack flew west to Sacramento on March 4. My mother died early on March 5, between 2 and 2:30am.
Upon arriving at her daughter's house, my weary aunt Rose had immediately stretched out on a sofa, exhausted. The news of my mother's death was communicated to her by phone the following morning around 9:00am Pacific time, and she never got off the couch -- passing away on March 6, the day after, around 1:30pm.
My cousins, sister and I all feel that their real causes of death was that each of the sisters was unwilling to live without the other.
I thank all of my correspondents for the kindness and enthusiasm they have expressed to me about the editorial. Frankly, I didn't intend to write it, but one was due, my back was to the wall, and because the news was fresh in my mind, it was the only thing I was able to think or write about. Because my mother had been a vital player in my early development as a moviegoer, and was such a lover of movies herself, it seemed permissible -- also because VIDEO WATCHDOG has always communicated with its readers about our relationships with movies as the most intimate shared experience. Suffice to say, I'm grateful for your kind indulgence and support.
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
1950, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 73m 52s, DVD-PO
By Tim Lucas
In the second of Lex Barker's Tarzan films, the Lord of the Apes swings to the rescue as the onset of a crippling disease compels the last surviving males of Lionia (who wear leopard-patterned headgear and other wardrobe familiar from the later Bert I. Gordon film THE MAGIC SWORD) to abduct women to repopulate their race. Tarzan enlists the aid of a kindly doctor (Arthur Shields, downplaying his Irish accent for a change) who prepares a serum to cure the affliction, but the vial gets lost along the way when Tarzan learns that Jane (Vanessa Brown) and the doctor's sexpot nurse Lola (Denise Darcel) have joined the list of abductees.
When Lola responds to the rough manhandling of chief abductor Sengo (Tony Caruso, above left) by scarring his face, he puts his own vanity before the survival of his people and attempts to entomb her and Jane alive in the crypt of their recently deceased King. Thanks to Cheta and alcoholic adventurer Neil (Robert Alda, third-billed in a negligible part), the serum is recovered in time to save the young son of Lionia's Prince (THE PORTRAIT OF DORIAN GRAY's Hurd Hatfield, miscast as a devoted family man, albeit with no wife in sight) and the women are freed, with Lola only too happy to stay behind to wiggle her way into the tiara of Lionia's late princess.
Despite a weaker script, principally written by former Laurel & Hardy writer Arnold Belgard (BLOCK-HEADS), it is a considerable tribute to the abilities of director Lee Sholem that his second and last Tarzan picture takes notice of all the flaws and faults of its predecessor and ensures that none are repeated. Lex Barker is here considerably more at home in the role of Tarzan, losing his slippers, leaping dynamically over cameras like a born athlete, and tackling its many physical tasks with invigorating zest. This is also the first series entry to depict Tarzan as a skilled bowman, a trait that would become particularly essential to Gordon Scott's later portrayal. A magically regrown Cheta, now either male or sapphically mating with a female chimp named Coco (left behind in a tender farewell scene), is given only one comedic indulgence after draining a whiskey bottle, stumbling about in slow-motion for awhile but thereafter becoming a valuable aid to the hero in times of trouble. The simplistic story is given some interesting density in the middle with the introduction of a group of Nagasi tribesmen, who are able to merge with, and act lethally from, the jungle environment in the manner of African ninjas.
It is one of the curiosities, and weaknesses, of the Lex Barker Tarzan series that each of the five films presents him opposite a different Jane. In this entry, Jane is played by the Austrian-born Vanessa Brown, eleven years the junior of Brenda Joyce but with a wholesome, spirited quality that suggests a spunky, doe-eyed kid sister rather than a wife or lover. She might have had improved chemistry with Barker, but the plot separates them for most of the running time, and any opportunity she may have had to communicate her own nimble sex appeal is thwarted by scenes constantly throwing her up against French brickhouse fireball Denise Darcel, who loses a silly catfight with Tarzan's second-in-command but nevertheless steals the film as the sly yet uninhibited Lola.
opticals and dissolves are sometimes comparatively coarse in appearance. The sequence of the ascent to Lionia makes use of some excellent trick matte shots, comparable to those in TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN. The Warner Archive Collection presentation is framed in the original 1.33:1 ratio and, aside from some early scratching around the RKO logo, is even more spotless than their rendering of the previous film in this series.
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
Praise is too often quick to go to actors who hide every trace of their craft. But once in awhile, an actor comes along who revels in the traditions of greasepaint and spirit gum and the idea of putting on a show. Such a man was Paul Naschy, who, under his birth name Jacinto Molina, wrote a series of unabashedly imitative scripts that made him, for the better part of 40 years, the cinema's torchbearer for classic horror and its second "man of a thousand faces."
Molina wrote scripts to carve out a place in the cinema for himself as an actor, but it took awhile before he could successfully attach himself to them as director. The films he directed (INQUISITION, PANIC BEATS, THE CRAVING) are not his best, though the little-seen and unexported El huerto del francés (1978) and El caminante (1979) are particularly good. His most capable and stylish collaborators were Javier Aguirre (who helmed the notable COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE and THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE), whose success rate was doubled by Carlos Aured (HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN, THE MUMMY'S REVENGE, CURSE OF THE DEVIL). He played the doomed lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky as many as 13 times, though, rather in the manner of Michael Moorcock's Jerry Cornelius, the character was prone to appear in different countries, timelines and circumstances. It should also not be forgotten that, as he forged his screen persona in a country then under the fascistic rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it constituted a revolutionary act.
The real Naschy is always conspicuous in his work, and his filmography at times unreels like a psychosexual playground in which he indulges all of his fantasies about cinema, women, monsters and violence. One is always conscious that the topless love scenes so frequent in his work were there more for his own pleasure than for any relevance they had to the stories at hand, or even to his films' exploitability, and some of his films contain instances of truly wicked sadism -- the back-peeling in THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI stands out in memory, as do some of the exploits of his incandescently evil Mr. Hyde in DOCTOR JEKYLL AND THE WEREWOLF. As his career matured, Naschy became more open about being the true focal point of his own Universal-derived mythos. In HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987, which he directed himself) he played a sexually tormented actor, as well as the classic movie monsters populating his son's fantasy world. The 2004 film Rojo sangre (pictured above) cast him in a role perhaps closer to his true self and exploited, to a degree, Naschy's own bitterness over having his vast contribution to the popular Spanish cinema overlooked, and becomes the closest thing the Spanish cinema has produced to a self-reflexive horror film along the lines of Michael Powell's PEEPING TOM. Naschy's depression over his country's neglect of his accomplishments was a festering hurt that he was not shy about exploring in his autobiography MEMOIRS OF A WOLFMAN, but many later awards and recognitions for his life achievement came his way.
It is perhaps a kindness that Paul Naschy passed away before the release of Universal's remake of THE WOLF MAN -- in which Benicio del Toro and Rick Baker are sure to take the torch from Waldemar Daninsky's furry paw whether it be warm or cold -- and poetic justice that he sounded his last howl on the night of the full moon.
Monday, November 30, 2009
1949, Warner Archive Collection, $19.95, 72m 54s, DVD-PO
Reviewed by Tim Lucas
In TARZAN AND THE AMAZONS (1945), the first of Brenda Joyce's five films as Jane, Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) was portrayed as keeping certain secrets of the jungle from his mate, including the existence of Palmyria, a lost city in a high-walled valley inhabited only by Amazon women─a curious secret to keep from one's wife. In that film, Tarzan's honor was called into question when Boy (Johnny Sheffield) pursued him there and later led a company of gold-seeking explorers behind its fiercely protected veil of secrecy; in this film, which introduced Lex Barker in his first of five Tarzan performances and bade adieu to Joyce, Tarzan is not only knowledgeable of a secret civilization residing in the uncharted Blue Valley, but aware that the legendary, presumed dead aviatrix Gloria James (Evelyn Ankers) has been living there since surviving a crash that left her co-pilot dead 20 years earlier.
When Cheta (presented here as female) discovers Gloria's journal in the never-found plane wreckage, Jane requests that Tarzan take it to the airplane service in town and have it returned to England, but he initially refuses, knowing that it would only attract the curious. But when he learns that a man has been imprisoned in Nairobi for many years, on a charge of which Gloria could clear him, Tarzan gives the diary to the tradesman Trask (DR. CYCLOPS' Albert Dekker) and pilot Dodd (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE's Charles Grant), who recall that rewards have been offered for any information leading to the wreckage and still more if Gloria is found alive. The value of this discovery is further upped when Tarzan brings Gloria to their office, looking as though she hasn't aged in 20 years─because the people of the Blue Valley have their own personal Fountain of Youth. After clearing and freeing Douglas Jessop (Alan Napier), Gloria marries him and they return to non-specific Africa, where she shocks Jane by now looking her real age, amplified in bad Hollywood makeup terms to make her 50 look closer to 70 or 80.
Tarzan─chastised by the leopard-earmuff-wearing Siko (THE LAND UNKNOWN's Henry Brandon) for betraying his people after Trask's stooge Vredak (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA's Henry Kulky) dies leading an exploratory team into their hidden realm─refuses to compromise himself further by guiding Gloria and Douglas back. Jane, however, suddenly recalls seeing this Blue Valley once before and, being sensitive to Gloria's vanity issues, agrees to lead the newlyweds, and protectors Trask and Dodd, to its point of entry ─ unaware of the looming dangers ahead and at her back.
Directed by Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem ─ who helmed the follow-up TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1950) before directing most of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN's first season and two of Weissmuller's Jungle Jim adventures ─ TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN is an entertaining, if predictably schismatic and occasionally sloppy, passing-of-the-torch adventure. Barker makes a physically graceful Tarzan but the dialogue given him by screenwriters Curt Siodmak (THE WOLF MAN) and Harry Chandlee (OUR TOWN) is too educated to be spoken so brokenly, and Barker hasn't yet assumed the role sufficiently to sell it with the necessary authority. After a dozen Weissmuller films, it's also a bit dispiriting to see the tenderfooted Barker wearing slippers, even in the comfort of his own treehouse, except in those shots wherein he (or his stunt man) vine-swings through the jungle, and his only swimming scene with Jane seems curtailed, beginning with both of them already wet. Brenda Joyce, two years older than her apeman, looks a tad careworn and uncomfortably paired, and the film tries too earnestly to distract its audience from their lack of chemistry by emphasizing Cheta's monkeyshines, which begin with her getting into a box of bubble gum. (In a later scene where the chimp over-peppers a piece of meat and blazes a trail to the nearest cool drink, the sound effects people actually insert someone mumbling "gimme water" into her manic jabbering.)
This level of cartoonishness is supported by the Alex Laszlo score, which focuses on the spritely chimp even as she investigates a crashed plane replete with snake-infested skeleton, and weaves "Brahm's Lullaby" and "Rockabye Baby" into scenes of bedding down at a campsite. For all the narrative drive invested in returning Gloria to the youth she sacrificed for her husband's sake, we are not given the satisfaction of seeing it restored, that privilege being reserved for Cheta, who not only turns into a baby at the final fade, but into a different species.
Only twice does the movie tease us with reminders of the thrill or tension levels attained by earlier films in the series: Vredak's death as a flaming arrow slams into his chest and prompts dark (probably chocolate) blood to spill from his lips, and the moment when Trask dares to halt Jane's escape by firing his pistol near Cheta. Otherwise, the film is conspicuously low on thrills, with the new Tarzan never working up much of a sweat, even climbing aboard a miraculously quiet elephant to secretly trail Jane's Blue Valley expedition. Elmo Lincoln, the first screen Tarzan from 1914's TARZAN OF THE APES, is reportedly here somewhere in a cameo as a fisherman, but he's easily overlooked.
Copyrighted 1948, the film's name is given onscreen as EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS' TARZAN'S MAGIC FOUNTAIN, though Burroughs wrote nothing by this title. Such possessory credit is standard with all the Sol Lesser productions. This Warner Archive Collection release is presented in the film's original 1.33:1 ratio and, though not given any digital restoration, the presentation is only fleetingly blemished and never disruptively so. This "DVD Download" is not available in stores and sold (along with the other four Lex Barker Tarzan titles) only through Warners' online Archive Collection store. The fine print on the back of the box reports "This disc is expected to play in DVD Video "Play Only" devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives." We experienced no problems in playing the disc in our recorders and PC drives.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
VIDEO WATCHDOG 153 (with the PHANTASM cover) is in the process of being mailed out, and VW 154 is in the latter stages of production, with much of the layout done and my editorial yet to be written. The prodigious Kim Newman has provided the centerpieces (or centrepieces) of this forthcoming issue, with a thorough report about what survives of the first and second seasons of the British television phenomena THE AVENGERS (the Ian Hendry and Honor Blackman years, now available in a box set in the UK) and also a "DVD Spotlight" on MATT HELM LOUNGE, collecting the Matt Helm movies starring Dean Martin... so it adds up to a Sixties Spy Special.
As for future feature plans, VARIETY's Fred Lombardi is preparing for us a full report on Lex Barker's five Tarzan films, which I intend to complement with reviews of all six Gordon Scott Tarzan pictures, including two films I've been waiting a long time to see released: TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE and TARZAN THE MAGNIFICENT. All of the Barker and Scott titles are now available online from the Warner Archive Collection. I'm presently going through the Barker titles to prepare myself for the Scotts, and I may well be posting my thoughts about them here. I don't particularly miss blogging, but I miss the way that daily or at least frequent discipline kept my writing muscle toned, so there is a growing yen to be more active here.
My horror script SCARS & STRIPES, I'm told, is getting closer to pre-production, with director Ernest Dickerson having recently turned in his own draft of the script, which has introduced a number of exciting new ideas. Everything about the way this project is coming together gives me a really positive feeling about it. My film agent has decided to go into production, which leaves me without representation for ISHI, the new Native American-themed script I wrote with Diane Pfister. I have a very special feeling about that project and want to see it made, but I've been advised by friends in the industry that the best thing to do is wait for S&S to go into production, and then meet with agents who might take me on. In the meantime, I'm back to working on my script of Orson Bean's ME AND THE ORGONE, which is something I would actually like to direct myself, after which I intend to get started on writing a continuation of Irene Miracle's DAWNLAND project. I have other ideas in reserve, one of which is a contemporary rewrite or reimagining of a classic novel, which could either take the form of a novel or screenplay -- or both. I'd very much like to be writing a new novel, if only on the side, and I know I've been saying that for a long time.
That's all for now, and that's plenty... but check back in the days ahead and see what turns up. I need to start treating this blog like a gym. Happy Thanksgiving!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
One of the reasons to write anything is arriving at that Moment of Truth when the work reveals why you were chosen, above all others, to write it. That sudden eyelock between the writer and the written in which the work communicates, on a level no one else will ever read, that it knows you far better than you know it.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Monday, November 02, 2009
Donna and I are presently in the latter stages of preparing VIDEO WATCHDOG 153, which will contain an unusually high number of reviews (everything from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD Blu-ray to Richard Lester's THE BED SITTING ROOM to DEADGIRL), as well as an interesting feature article on the making of the 1973 regional horror film MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD, including many never-before-seen, behind-the-scenes photos. For this issue, we'll be swapping out my Video WatchBlog column to include an all-DVD installment of Things From the Attic, for which there has been a lot of demand. I have also written the next issue's AVI Watchdog column myself, focusing on some of the fan-subbed delights available to the lucky members of the file-sharing website Cinemageddon.
While I was in Los Angeles recently, to promote the ISHI script I wrote with Diane Pfister and to introduce and interview Irene Miracle and Keith Emerson at the New Beverly's record-breaking INFERNO screening, I was invited by David J. Schow to participate in recording a couple of audio commentaries for Image Entertainment's release of the complete THRILLER series with Boris Karloff, scheduled for September or October of 2010. David, Ernest Dickerson and I shared the commentary duties on "The Grim Reaper" featuring William Shatner and Natalie Schafer (my favorite THRILLER episode) and "The Premature Burial" featuring Karloff himself. The sessions went really well. I'm told that other episodes will feature commentators like episode director Arthur Hiller, LOST SKELETON director Larry Blamire, filmmaker and soundtrack buff Jim Wynorski, Eighties TWILIGHT ZONE producer Alan Brennert, TWILIGHT ZONE historian Marc Scott Zicree, FANTASTIC TELEVISION author Gary Gerani, and others -- including a dozen or more by Mr. Schow, author of the justly celebrated book THE OUTER LIMITS COMPANION. The producers at Image are also trying to involve some of the surviving actors from the series for comment. Some isolated music scores are also promised. Image's THRILLER, sublicensed from Universal, promises to be the most important archival horror DVD release of next year.
As at least 750 people know, I've been spending most of the time I used to spend here over at Facebook, mostly because I crave the interaction and the exposure to my friends' thoughts and activities. Some relationships I've founded there have truly changed my life, and I seem to be much more focused on my life this year than on my work. This was probably necessary after the time and effort I've applied to this blog, the Bava book, VW and my screenwriting pursuits over the past several years, but it has also been exhausting in its own way. Now that work on the ISHI screenplay is finished, I will be returning to my script of ME AND THE ORGONE, which I abandoned back in February when the ISHI project was brought to me. There is also another script I have agreed to write, about which I'll say more when the time comes.
There are also a couple of novels I have in mind. One is a sequel to THROAT SPROCKETS, already begun, which would take the story in truly unexpected directions; the other would be a contemporary rewrite of a favorite classic novel, a mainstream effort about the changing face of human relationships. I feel so out of the habit of this kind of writing, but know that getting back to it is essential to my sense of well-being.
Also, though the contract is not yet signed, I have accepted an offer for the Italian translation rights of my 2005 novel THE BOOK OF RENFIELD: A GOSPEL OF DRACULA.
But the most exciting news at the moment is that my original horror script SCARS & STRIPES is steadily approaching production, and the producers at Livestock Entertainment have been showing me actors under consideration to play my characters, conceptual art and so forth. As I mentioned above, while in Los Angeles last month, I got to meet Ernest Dickerson, who will be directing the film, and we got along like a house on fire, sharing much the same tastes about horror films and the aesthetics of the genre. He's working on a redraft of the script now and I was excited by everything he said he would be introducing to this draft. Ernest is also preparing an in-title-only remake of RKO's LADY SCARFACE, to star Paz Vega (SEX AND LUCIA), which means he actually has two films in development at present, both with the word SCAR in the title! What are the odds?
I should also mention here that, recently, my ISHI associate Diane visited Ancestry.com where she discovered that she was a direct descendant of Matoaka P. Powhatan (1595-1617), better known as Pochahontas. This was an amazing discovery, but a still more personal discovery awaited me when her eureka inspired me to visit this website. I found no discernible celebrities in my family tree but did learn some new things like my father's birthdate (May 22, 1926) and the circumstances of my maternal grandfather's death at age 29 (bronchial pneumonia). I was also able to trace my mother's side of the family to a John Cartwright, born 1600 in Northamptonshire who became my first ancestor to sail to America, where he died in 1666, in Virginia.
But the most startling discovery awaited me at the opposite end of the familial timber, where my mother Juanita was listed as having died on March 5 of this year, at the age of 80.
My mother and I had a difficult relationship, impossible in many ways; we were separated for most of my life, and we had been estranged for her last six years. I still don't know her cause of death, but her sister and only friend, my aunt Rosalie, is likewise listed as having died the day after, on March 6, somewhere in California, so it's possible that they were involved in an accident together. It would have been my mother's first trip to California. We are still searching for answers, even for a burial site, but Rose's daughters Kim and Susan are long since married and hidden behind married names, so I don't know where or how to reach them for further news. Donna and I have written to the house where Rose last lived, in the hope that someone in a position to answer questions will reply. I've written in more detail about my mother in the editorial of the issue now under construction, but it was such a strange, remote way to learn of her death -- oddly typical of the way things always were between us.
Sunday, November 01, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Filippo Brunamonti's biography of Coralina, written with the help of Coralina herself and featuring a tributary essay by Yours Truly, will be published before year's end.
Friday, October 23, 2009
DVD producer Perry Martin (who supervised my audio commentaries for Anchor Bay's MARIO BAVA COLLECTION sets) joined us for dinner with his charming wife Kelly Ann.
THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR author Scott Bradley generously hosted the dinner, much appreciated by all!
Saturday, October 10, 2009
I will have the privilege of introducing and conducting a Q&A with star Irene Miracle prior to a midnight screening of Dario Argento's INFERNO, the hypnotic second chapter in his "Three Mothers" trilogy. This film was also the last project Mario Bava worked on prior to his death in 1980, and I'll speak a bit about the anonymous special effects contributions that Bava supervised for the picture.
This will be Irene's first US public appearance in many years, and my own first public appearance in Los Angeles since the American Cinematheque's Mario Bava retrospective of 1993, so please come out and join us!
I hear the 35mm print of INFERNO looks spectacular, so it promises to be a fireball of an evening!
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sunday, September 27, 2009
This surprisingly stately clip from Jess Franco's 1972 monster rally DRACULA CONTRA FRANKENSTEIN features Alberto Dalbes as Dr. Seward and Geneviève Robert as Almira, the gypsy woman who comes to his rescue. This scene brings to mind something I've always admired about Franco's, and also Mario Bava's, horror films: unlike American movies, where ugly vestiges of our country's puritan foundation lingers, their films never demonize witches, instead presenting them as serious women of intuition and arcane knowledge, who are often called upon to explain to characters who have chosen a more narrow way of living what is out of balance in their half-understood world, and just as often pointing their way to survival. Geneviève Robert is wonderful in this scene, and one regrets that she didn't make more films. Today, Robert is married to producer-director Ivan Reitman and a Reuters photo of the couple attending the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month can be found here.
Incidentally, Jess Franco and Lina Romay are currently in Austin, Texas, where they are being fêted at FantasticFest with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Here is a schedule of related events and I congratulate Jess and Lina on yet another long overdue recognition of their vast contribution to fantastic cinema.
Friday, September 25, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Irene has recently directed her first short film, DAWNLAND, the poetic 18th century story of a young white girl's adoption by and assimilation into the Native American Abenaki tribe of Vermont, which was chosen to be featured at the recent Selento International Film Festival in Selento, Italy. It's a lovely film with obviously personal associations for its maker, who dedicated the film to her mother and grandmother. She intends DAWNLAND to be the first film in a trilogy of related shorts to be collected under the umbrella title "Champlain Suite," referring to the Lake Champlain setting which all three projected stories share in common.
The website is offering copies of DAWNLAND for sale; there's also a clip there for viewing, as well as a "director's statement" about the project. Irene's fans will also be excited to learn that her website is also making available, for the first time, autographed photos -- including choice shots from INFERNO, some of them in color. (She confessed to me that she had a hard time coming to grips with celebrity, and for many years refused autograph requests because she couldn't understand why her signature should be considered more desirable than anyone else's -- so there aren't many signed pictures of her in circulation... yet.) There's also a fully annotated photo gallery to make a visit well worth your clicks, a stunning assortment of film, stage and rare modelling shots.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
In the time I've been playing hooky from this blog, I have, among other things, been delving deeply into an obsession with the music of Françoise Hardy. Ours has been a lengthy courtship; I've been marginally aware of her and her work for many years, principally with her early, so-called "Yé Yé" period and the many striking modelling photos dating from that early Sixties period, some of which were snapped by the unerring eye of William Klein. The first female pop singer-songwriter to emerge in the 1960s, Mlle. Hardy was -- and remains, at age 65 -- such a strikingly beautiful woman that her image is difficult to regard separately from her music, but her music is just as durable and classical as she, rewarding close listening in all of its eras. One might imagine that a voice so plaintive, soothing, vulnerable and articulate could only be crushed if saddled with more instrumentation than a similarly direct acoustic guitar or piano, but over the decades, she has proved herself a remarkably flexible artist with a voice capable of keeping abreast of musical trends and standing up to volume. As for her image, you can visit its many phases in different videos available on YouTube, all of which make it seem incredible that no one has yet assembled a DVD of her archival performances for French television -- there's a wealth of material there that's as compulsively watchable as it is listenable.
Naturally, as soon as Françoise Hardy became a nationally known artist in 1962, she began receiving offers to appear onscreen. The IMDb credits her with a total of 10 acting roles in film and television, most notably including a short uncredited role as the mayor's secretary in WHAT'S NEW, PUSSYCAT? (1964), an elegant supporting role in John Frankenheimer's GRAND PRIX (1966), and a brief cameo as an American officer's attaché in Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin-Feminin (1966) -- a movie I principally remember for how she seemed to stop time by stepping out of a limousine and walking briskly across the screen in a white pants suit. Rarely has a director so eloquently admitted the futility of art's aspiration to equal natural beauty. But the first filmmaker to cast Mlle. Hardy in a feature film was that renowned connoisseur of French beauty, Roger Vadim, who featured the fledgling 19 year-old artiste in his 1963 feature Château en Suède ("Castle in Sweden", 1963), based on a play by Françoise Sagan.
A farcical thriller, Château en Suède had the misfortune of being released in France a couple of days before the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, which led to dire boxoffice returns. The film was subsequently not widely distributed outside France, though it starred Monica Vitti and Jean Louis Trintignant -- two of the hottest names in international cinema, both captured in the full bloom of their youth and beauty in Technicolor and Franscope. Lopert Pictures Corporation issued the film in the USA under the ignoble title NUTTY, NAUGHTY CHATEAU, but hardly anyone saw it and no copies of this version have resurfaced. My web searches turned up this useful if dismissive TIME Magazine review of the English-dubbed import, dated October 1964.
Thanks to a charming -- but alas, mislabelled -- YouTube video of Hardy performing "Je Suis d'Accord" (a Scopitone misidentified by the poster as a clip from Vadim's film), it became one of the chief priorities of my Hardy obsession to locate a copy of this now-difficult-to-see movie, which was apparently released on VHS in France back in the 1980s. Fortunately, I was able to locate a DVD-R copy from a seller on the P2P (person to person) website iOffer. The frame grabs I've provided here attest to its acceptable quality. I don't speak French, so I couldn't appreciate the fine points of its dialogue, but the film is easy enough to follow on a visual level, and probably best appreciated from a purely visual standpoint.
One of the most intriguing facets of the film is that, like Vadim's earlier production BLOOD AND ROSES (Et mourir et plaisir, 1960), it takes place in modern day but, once we enter the chateau, everyone dresses in 18th century garb. When Trintignant first enters this principal setting, after main titles drive-throughs of various contemporary Paris locations, the film's look takes a sudden turn into something that looks remarkably like Mario Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY (La frusta e il corpo), first released shortly ahead of Vadim's film in August 1963.
Director of photography Armand Thirard (a silent film veteran who had previously shot Vadim's ...AND GOD CREATED WOMAN) presents us with a conspicuously more warm-blooded Monica Vitti than Michelangelo Antonioni gave us in his black-and-white widescreen masterpieces. She proves herself an adept comedienne, and the film would count as pleasurable if only for Thirard's occasional closeups of her.
As family cousin Eric, Trintignant arrives at the chateau under the impression that his uncle Hugo's (Curd Jurgens) first and much younger wife Ophelia has died, an impression we initially share. Hugo has remarried another youngster, Eleanore (Vitti), who is only in it for the money to judge by the "incestuous" affair she is conducting with available "son" Sébastien (Jean-Claude Brialy). Left alone at a dinner table where much wine has flowed, Eric sees a feminine hand creep around the frame of a hung painting, and later has a spectral encounter with Ophelia (Hardy), who is in fact still alive, if something of a nutcase, and lives in hiding with a menagerie of animals while sleeping with Sébastien. Once Eric is enticed into Eleanore's bed, the backstory becomes more pronounced and he soon knows too much about the family's private business to live...
The film has a number of impressive visual moments, including a split-diopter shot that posits Vitti in the foreground and Brialy in the distant background, both in equal focus, and a Bava-like bedroom shot that finds Vitti's and Trintignant's nude bodies obscured by a foregrounded lantern. Unfortunately, its comic content is not as lovely or refined as the rest of it, and we're left with an obvious misfire: worth seeing, but far less than the sum of its nice parts. In one of those parts, Eric confirms Ophelia's physical tangibility by touching her bare knee, a moment that Trintignant and Hardy's co-star Jean-Claude Brialy would later famously reprise with pretty Laurence de Monaghan in Eric Rohmer's classic CLAIRE'S KNEE (Le genou de Claire, 1970).
In Françoise Hardy's recent autobiography LE DÉSESPOIR DES SINGES... ET AUTRES BAGATELLES, she devotes only a single paragraph to her Château en Suède experience, noting that she disliked the early-morning, getting-made-up-and-costumed, and waiting-around aspects of filmmaking, and that she was uncomfortable with scenes that required her to kiss and frolic in bed with Brialy, a fact that is sadly apparent onscreen.