Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Thoughts on the Aughts

As this first single-digit decade of the 21st century draws to a muted close, how do we begin to tie a bow around it? What has it been? What has it meant?

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

Happy Holidays!

Donna (seen here in our 35th anniversary photo, taken yesterday) joins me in sending to all Video WatchBlog readers -- that most mercilessly teased of species under the sun -- our warmest wishes for a happy and healthy Holiday and New Year!

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

Complete PRINCE PLANET Series on YouTube!

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

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #154

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!

DVD Spotlight:

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...
I RAGGI MORTALI DEL DR. MABUSE (Italian best-ever version of THE DEATH RAY MIRROR OR DR. MABUSE with additional never-before-seen footage!)

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


In one of the most delightful cinematic surprises of the year, and in what must be one of the most surprising turns of event in internet history, Ken Russell's long-suppressed OMNIBUS film THE DANCE OF THE SEVEN VEILS (1970), a "comic strip" biography of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" composer Richard Strauss, has turned up on YouTube in six parts. (You may remember that it was withheld, at the last minute, from the KEN RUSSELL AT THE BBC box set issued a couple of years ago.) Here, before it disappears, is a link to Part 1 that should also provide you with links to the other five parts. The print is timecoded and has turned mostly pink, but mind you, it was shown in B&W during its only BBC broadcast. Don't let these minor annoyances deter you.

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.

Postscript to an Editorial

I'm a bit overwhelmed by the warm communications I've been receiving from friends, acquaintences and other readers about my very personal editorial in the current issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG. It's surprising to me because I haven't changed -- I feel I mourned my mother when she walked out of my life six years ago -- yet I am aware that people's perceptions of me have been changed by it. I want to assure everyone that all the things I wrote about exist in the distant past for me, truly, which is why I was able to write about them in such a calm and controlled manner.

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.

Photographed by Russell Harlan (TARZAN'S DESERT MYSTERY) the year before he shot THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD for this film's editor Christian Nyby, TARZAN AND THE SLAVE GIRL sometimes has a wonderfully silvery nitrate look, though the shots incorporating
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

RIP Jacinto Molina / Paul Naschy 1934 - 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.