Wednesday, June 26, 2019

RIP Édith Scob (1937 - 2019)

Farewell to "Our Lady of the Fantastique" - the sublime Édith Scob (b. Édith Vladimirovna Scobeltzine), who has left this world at age 81. More than any other actress, she epitomized for me the essence of the Uncanny onscreen. She is the very avatar of what my own writing about the fantastic cinema has always sought to celebrate. 

Unforgettable in the works of Georges Franju, including HEAD AGAINST THE WALL, EYES WITHOUT A FACE (her signature role), JUDEX and THÉRÈSE DESQUEYROUX, as well as Luís Buñuel’s THE MILKY WAY, Christophe Gans’ BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, Pitof’s VIDOCQ, and most recently, Leos Carax’s THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE and HOLY MOTORS. If a filmmaker needed a figure of enchantment, they went to her - but she could be much more than the characters who, as she said, walked with their feet somewhat above the ground. She also took fierce pride in playing strong, capable, down-to-earth women, as she did in Patrice Leconte’s MAN ON THE TRAIN, Andrzej Zuławski’s FIDELITY, and Olivier Assayas’ SUMMER HOURS. Her filmography amounts to nearly 120 titles in film and television and she also had grand successes onstage.

Most preciously to me, she became a friend and intermittent pen pal after I conducted her longest-ever print interview for VIDEO WATCHDOG #107 with the help of my long distance friend and colleague, Frédéric Albert Levy. Here is a look back at the cover of that issue (featuring Charlie Largent's splendid cover art) and the essay I wrote to introduce her interview, on my short list of the top achievements from our 27-year publishing history.

Édith told me that she loved my introductory essay and invited me to visit her at her home, should I ever find myself in her part of the world. My deepest condolences to her husband, the composer Georges Aperghis, their children, and the grandchildren she so adored.

RIP Milady. 

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.
VIDEO WATCHDOG 107 scans (c) 2004 by Tim and Donna Lucas.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Often Missing Face of the Three Faces of Fear

French poster for Mario Bava's I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA (1963), art by Boris Grinsson.
My ongoing studies of the TV and Movies pages of THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER from 50 years ago brought to my attention that it was 50 years ago, this weekend, that I saw my first Mario Bava film on local television: BLACK SABBATH, aired on SCREAM-IN, WXIX-TV, Channel 19 on June 21, 1969. Though I didn't recognize it as such at the time, it was obviously a turning point in my life - the first of many that would take place in my 13th year.

US half-sheet.

US insert poster.
Something that has always perplexed me about this film - originally made as I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA ("The Three Faces of Fear") - is that, though Boris Karloff is the dominant figure of the film, in which he appears as both host and lead player, he almost never figured in the film's advertising world-wide. This is true for the original Italian release posters, including the set of fotobusta half-sheets generated for the film, in which I believe Karloff is pictured on only one sheet in the set, and even then obliquely. Here in the States, American International Pictures opted to focus on the misleading image of a decapitated horseman galloping along with (one assumes) his own severed head clutched in a free hand, frightening a bevy of voluptuous young women. AIP reserved Karloff's likeness for their insert poster, which focused on the (green) severed head of Karloff's "Wurdalak" character Gorka being lifted by a victorious fist. No such scene occurs in the picture, but there you have it. This image was also adapted to the UK's dayglo quad poster, which deprived the original art of its original impressive complexion.
Italian manifesto art.
All this would later change when I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA was reissued in Italy - Karloff is pictured as one of three component images on the poster dating from this period, and it's on a reissue fotobusta that we finally see the now-famous image of Gorka riding on horseback with his grandson Ivan in his arms. 

UK dayglo quad poster.

Italian reissue fotobusta.

Spanish poster art.
Likewise, there exists a Spanish poster for LAS TRES CARAS DEL MIEDO that pictures Karloff (not to mention a fanged woman who never appears), but it dates from a much-later reissue.

Boris Karloff - then, as now, widely recognized as the King of this particular genre - is unquestionably the dominant figure in BLACK SABBATH, hosting the three-segment anthology in a manner established by his earlier hosting of the popular NBC-TV series THRILLER, not to mention the other portmanteau series THE VEIL, OUT OF THIS WORLD, and COLONEL MARCH OF SCOTLAND YARD. Part of Karloff's exclusion from the film's international advertising can be explained by the fact that he represented the film's co-production arrangement with American International; it was also produced by Galatea of Rome and Lyre of Paris, who preferred to publicize their homegrown stars in the film's advertising. 

This consideration is most beautifully expressed in Boris Grinsson's French poster art for LES TROIS VISAGES DE LA PEUR, which shows us the faces of  Jacqueline Pierreux and Susy Andersen adorning that of the centrally placed Michèle Mercier, with all three faces encircled by a pair of menacing male hands. The hands might be Gorka's, or those of the threatening caller Frank in the "Telephone" segment, and Grinsson also takes care to incorporate the key source of unease in the film's most celebrated story, "The Drop of Water." As I noted in my book MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK, it was Bava's intention with this film to document fear as it existed in three different periods of history and it seems to me that the French poster is the only one of the many generated by this film to honor that intention.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Opening Day Look Back at the Weird, Old America

Martin Scorsese's new documentary ROLLING THUNDER REVUE - A BOB DYLAN STORY premiered on Netflix today, and I eagerly renewed my lapsed subscription to enjoy it on Opening Day. I had a complicated response to it and probably won't be writing about it anywhere else at great length, but three things I will say:

1) Dylan's alert and seething performances are Punk BEFORE Punk;

2) Joni Mitchell sure had some ace chord changes in her;

and 3) the escalating duel of masks between Dylan and Roger McGuinn during the chorus of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" is as scary as anything in ONIBABA.

Because it's gnawing at me, I'll toss in one more:

4) I've never considered Allen Ginsberg a great poet, but he was a writer - and thus well above playing valet to anyone on this tour, as a requirement of staying on it. Just hearing about this indignity recalled to mind the words "dime", "prime" and "didn't you?"

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

Friday, June 07, 2019

RIP Narciso Ibáñez Serrador (1935-2019)

I regret to report the passing of this Spanish master of horror, responsible for the noted Televisión Española series HISTORIAS PARA NO DORMIR ("Stories to Keep You Awake," which produced 29 episodes between 1966 and 1982), and two great additions to the horror genre during the 1970s: LA RESIDENCIA (US: THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED, 1970) and WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (US: ISLAND OF THE DAMNED, 1976). The son of actress Pepita Serrador and the legendary actor/director Narciso Ibáñez Menta (who played a most impressive Count in THE SAGA OF THE DRACULAS), he was the subject of early coverage in the pages of VIDEO WATCHDOG - see Alan Jones' fine coverage in VW #4 for a fuller account. He was 83 years old.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.

The Americanization of Godzilla, Pt. 3 (Three Strikes)

I saw the new Legendary Studios "MonsterVerse" offering GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS and wished I had brought my iPad with me; it's the kind of film that begs for a play-by-play report on how awful it is. For example: at one point near the climax, Mark and Dr. Emma Russell (Kyle Chandler and Vera Farmiga) - the idealistically opposed (and separated) husband and wife who are presented to us as the emblems of the American Family - are speeding in a commandeered vehicle through a belching hellscape of roaring flames, toppling cranes, and falling flotsam as Rodan and King Ghidorah are fighting in the air almost exactly above them, roaring and tangling ass and looking like some kind of spinning prehistoric swastika in the sky. At the same time they are recklessly (and somehow wrecklessly) navigating this primordial nightmare, Mark and Emma are arguing about - what else? - their kid (STRANGER THINGS' waif Millie Bobby Brown)! They are actually comfortable and accustomed enough to everything that's exploding around them to have a Zuławski-scale, POSSESSION-style domestic row.

This film - the third American go at Godzilla, and the first American "monster rally" fully staffed by Toho creations - was co-written and directed by Michael Dougherty, a 35-year-old Columbus, Ohio native whose scorecard includes the story for X-MEN: APOCALYPSE and the scripts for SUPERMAN RETURNS, the TRICK OR TREAT franchise, and KRAMPUS, which he also directed. Most of his work is co-authored with Zach Shields, so he doesn't come up with this stuff alone. Stanley Kubrick once said that the secret to any successful film was "six non-submersible elements" - in other words, six moments that foreground themselves in the viewer's memory. What the Dougherty/Shields team have spitballed here can be broken down to a number of non-submersibles - in addition to the KRAMER VS. KRAMER heroes, we get the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS shot, the ABYSS shot, the ALIEN 3 shot, the INDEPENDENCE DAY shots, the BLADE RUNNER bad weather, the non-stop emphasis on location print-outs, and Rodan sequences more indebted to 1957's THE GIANT CLAW than anything Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsubaraya ever did. There are also "Easter Egg" references to Toho content - there's a Dr. Serizawa, an Oxygen Destroyer, and 2046's exquisite Ziyi Zhang as twin doctors in a nod to the twin fairies played by the Peanuts in Mothra films - but shouldn't "Easter Eggs" be hidden and clever, rather than a series of Trivial Pursuit cards?

The film gives us a Godzilla that resembles the Rock of Gibraltar, a fire-trailing Rodan, a more bug-like Mothra, and a King Ghidorah whose royal form of address stands in open conflict with the film's title. There is also an end credits coda promising us more of the same. Yes, the occasional image is impressive - but they are all too often second-hand, and don't we deserve more?  

In some ways, this pommelling spectacle is a depressingly accurate portrait of America at the moment: it loves its covert operations, its guns, its bombs, its military, its own swagger; it claims an overriding love of/belief in family, yet it reserves its right to independent action and walking out on the responsibility of individual child rearing for the “greater” good; there is no suspense on offer because the sheer barrage of it all, never clearly seen, never lets up; the overbearing militaristic stance is countered by the reverent ecological viewpoint common to so many Toho films only to deem its advocate "crazy" (and - wouldn't you know it? - "crazy" saves the day). Though the world as we know it is imperiled  nothing is taken seriously, least of all wisdom; when an Asian cast member expresses a meaningful observation, he puts us back at our ease by saying it was something he once read in a fortune cookie. Similarly, whenever the characters are confronted with something of genuinely godlike proportions, they either stare back into its face unimpressed, or crack a cheap joke (including the most-quoted line from Carpenter's THE THING, made almost 40 years ago) to scale its grandeur down. Nothing's bigger than the armed forces in this picture.  

It’s an odd thing to say about movies featuring men in rubber suits, but the original Toho films - at their best - recognize that these kaiju (now called "Titans") are animals, fellow creatures that warrant our awe and respect. Here in the US, where “awesome” has come to mean something loud and trivial, filmmakers have so far been uncomfortable with the "God" in Godzilla and diminish him at every turn by cracking "bigger boat"-type jokes, trailer moment profundities ("God Save the King"), and verbal bankruptcies like "Oh, shit!" And when our armed forces can’t get him to bend the knee to their blazing combat, they find a way to recruit him. This is a long way from Toho's Gojira, who did not concern himself with lowly human affairs but was somehow attuned to which threats were merely personal and which were specifically directed against the planet. Gojira was never recruited because a) it couldn't be done, b) the military had already declared open war on him at every turn, even selling him into outer space slavery in INVASION OF THE ASTRO-MONSTER (1965), and c) his planet, his fight. The rest of us could only watch in wonderment. When the fights were over, what was restored was a kind of armed peace between Tokyo and Gojira. Mutual respect - which you don't get here, not least of all because the human characters aren't real enough to be worth it.

I'm surprised by how many people seem to be enjoying this inchoate mess, which they are comparing to DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968, never a favorite anyway) rather than the more apropos Toho franchise blow-out GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004). When their argument is “It’s only a movie, I had fun, lighten up,” I can only surmise that’s all most people want - a little escapism with enough self-importance attached to help them feel less ashamed about going along for the ride. Trouble is, I'm "deep" (a word which the high school girls of my youth considered the equivalent of "a leper"). GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS wasn't escapist to me; it felt confrontational from the throwdown of its get-go (or should that be from the get-go of its throwdown?) In its unleashed, careening indiscipline, I could readily see most of what's wrong with our world up there on the big screen, lurking behind any number of queasily transparent masks. Such self-exposure should be purging, but in this case, the operatic chaos, the persistence of noise so loud you can't hear yourself think, simply shows us how truly screwed we are - not only by our shown propensity for bad decisions, but by the ironic glee we take as an audience (a society?) in the clusterfucks of others.

(c) 2019 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.