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October 20, 2005

A Hurricane named Wilma

Some movies with "hurricane" in the title:

Hurricane, The Hurricane, Hurricane Streets, The Hurricane Express, Slattery's Hurricane, Captain Hurricane, Hurricane Smith, Hurricane Island, The Hurricane Drummer.

Some movies with "Wilma" in the title: 'Rameau's Nephew' by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen, Wind-Up Wilma, Wilma's Sacrifice.

I'm a bit too distracted to write at this time. My significant other has been very concerned about the fact that Hurricane Wilma is coming through Florida. After Dennis and Katrina, she doesn't want another couple of days of being stuck indoors, with heavy rains outside and the power off for an uncertain period. We're going to visit Toronto tomorrow for my first time. I may possibly write from my hotel. Otherwise I should be posting again next week when I return, playing catch-up with several films I have received but have been unable to watch. My S.O. is bringing her laptop so we will be able to communicate with the world.

See ya later!

Posted by peter at 09:24 PM

October 19, 2005

Invaders from Mars

William Cameron Menzies - 1953
Image Region 1 DVD

Last July, I wrote about The Red Shoes in response to reading a list created by Martin Scorsese of films featuring the best use of color.

This is his list:

English Language Films (in alphabetical order)

Barry Lyndon (1975, Dir. Stanley Kubrick; Cin. John Alcott)
Duel in the Sun (1946, Dir. King Vidor; Cin. Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, Hal Rosson)
Invaders From Mars (1953, Dir. William Cameron Menzies; Cin. John F. Seitz)
Leave Her to Heaven (1946, Dir. John M. Stahl; Cin. Leon Shamroy)
Moby Dick (1956, Dir. John Huston; Cin. Oswald Morris)
Phantom of the Opera (1943, Dir. Arthur Lubin; Cin. W. Howard Greene, Hal Mohr)
The Red Shoes (1948, Dir. Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; Cin. Jack Cardiff)
The Searchers (1956, Dir. John Ford; Cin. Winton C. Hoch)
Singin' in the Rain (1952, Dir. Stanley Donen, Gene Kelly; Cin. Harold Rosson)
Vertigo (1958, Dir. Alfred Hitchcock; Cin. Robert Burks)

International Films (in alphabetical order)

Contempt (1963, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard; Cin. Raoul Coutard; France/Italy)
Cries and Whispers (1972, Dir. Ingmar Bergman; Cin. Sven Nykvist; Sweden)
Gate of Hell (1953, Dir. Teinosuke Kinugasa; Cin. Kohei Sugiyama; Japan)
In the Mood For Love (2000, Dir. Wong Kar-Wai; Cin. Christopher Doyle, Mark Lee Ping-bin; Hong Kong)
The Last Emperor (1987, Dir. Bernardo Bertolucci; Cin. Vittorio Storaro; Italy/United Kingdom/China/Hong Kong)
Red Desert (1964, Dir. Michelangelo Antonioni; Cin. Carlo Di Palma; France/Italy)
The River (1951, Dir. Jean Renoir; Cin. Claude Renoir; India/France/United States)
Satyricon (1969, Dir. Federico Fellini; Cin. Giuseppe Rotunno; Italy/France)
Senso (1954, Dir. Luchino Visconti; Cin. G.R. Aldo, Robert Krasker, Giuseppe Rotunno; Italy)
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964, Dir. Sergei Paradjanov; Cin. Viktor Bestayev, Yuri Ilyenko; Russia/Ukraine)

I never saw the original Invaders from Mars, but I did see the previews to Tobe Hooper's remake about twenty years ago.

If the story seems cliched, this is probably the film that provided the template for future science fiction films. While nobody thought to control the phone lines in this film, allowing the military to save the day, there were a couple of little twists with the characters that were interesting. A major plot point is that people who have encountered the Martians turn into emotionless slaves, doing subversive work on behalf of the invaders. Menzies shows in close-up, the wicked smile of a young girl who has just set fire to her own house. Conversely, it is revealed that her seemingly emotionless scientist father is exactly that, an emotionless man untouched by the Martians.

I had no idea who Helena Carter was, other than that she was not the wife of the director of Mars Attacks. Those who love Fifties television may get a chuckle out of seeing uncredited cameos from the future Mel Cooley or Lumpy's dad and yes, Beaver's mom. One of the "mutants" was the same actor who played Gort, the giant robot, in The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Menzies, who was the production designer on Gone with the Wind, has shots of a small bridge that are framed to look similar to shots of Tara. A sense of unreality is created with some sparsely decorated interiors and long hallways. In terms of use of color, much of the film is in shades of dark blue, black and brown, with the Martian and his "mutants" in green with ray guns that emit a red light. Even though care is shown in the color and composition of the film, some of the effects are spoiled by the screamingly obvious zippers on the back of the "mutants" rubber suits.

Maybe I'm missing something that Scorsese appreciates, but I would cite other films for their use of color instead of Invaders from Mars. A film I would nominate for best use of color is William Wellman's Track of the Cat, a film that appears to be in black and white except for the extremely limited use of other colors. The film, a commercial failure, was John Wayne's gift to Wellman after the success of The High and the Mighty. A boy's nightmare about Martians is somewhat amusing, but the real goods, both in story and artistry, are seen in the figure of Robert Mitchum, a dark figure in a red coat, almost lost in a white plain of snow.

Posted by peter at 05:29 PM | Comments (1)

October 16, 2005

Scary Monsters

Through a link with Facets Video I found a list of the top ten horror films of all time according to Total Film magazine. This list is as follows:

1. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
2. Holloween (1978)
3. Suspiria (1977)
4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
5. The Shining (1980)
6. Psycho (1960)
7. The Wicker Man (1973)
8. Rosemary's Baby (1967)
9. Don't Look Now (1973)
10. Cannibal Holocaust (1980)

The BBC article pointed out that that a significant number of these films were made in the Seventies. I'm not sure if that reflects on the times when the films were made, or on the age and memories of those people who participated in the poll. Four of the films have been remade. There have been announcements of future remakes of Don't Look Now and The Wicker Man. I also read about a proposed remake of Suspiria. Holloween has had about a hundred sequels and inspired several holiday themes horror movies.

While I am an unapologetic fan of horror movies, I have to confess that I have only seen the first nine films listed. The one film that I have yet to see is Cannibal Holocaust, not to be confused with other films with a similar title. The closest I have come to the genre is Big Alligator River which I reviewed a while back.

While I've enjoyed Dawn of the Dead, I am not as obsessed as one fan. I thought The Wicker Man hardly lived up to its reputation, and I actually fell asleep watching The Texas Chainaw Massacre at home. I also like Rosemary's Baby, but Polanski gave me bigger jolts with Repulsion and especially, The Tenant.

The two filmmakers who should be represented on this list are David Cronenberg and Takashi Miike. I don't know if I could choose one film by Cronenberg. I know I wasn't prepared for Shivers, and even after that first date, I still wasn't prepared for The Brood, The Fly or Dead Ringers. As for Miike, he should have made the list with Audition, his most disciplined film.

According to my calendar, a Pagan/Wiccan holiday called Samhain is on the same date as Holloween.

Usually on that day, I make a point of seeing a horror movie, sometimes in a theater, but more often I'll catch something on cable or watch a DVD. I wanted readers to comment on the list, or what film(s) they plan to watch as part of their holiday celebration.

Posted by peter at 11:09 PM | Comments (3)

October 15, 2005

Two "Without a Face"

Eyes Without a Face
Les Yeux sans Visage
Georges Franju - 1959
Criterion Region 1 DVD

Fiend Without a Face
Arthur Crabtree - 1958
Criterion Region 1 DVD

I'm back in Holloween mode today. I live only a couple of blocks from the main Miami Beach branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library, and have been trying to take advantage of viewing the Criterion DVDs in their collection. It has been close to thirty years since I saw Eyes Without a Face, and figured that while I was at it, I would check out the film with the similar title.

Probably more people have heard Billy Idol's song than have, or will, see this film. Georges Franju is a filmmaker one could read about but was rarely shown even in revival houses. Even when I lived in New York City, I had an easier time seeing Judex, which I saw twice. Aside from seeing Eyes once theatrically, I saw a special screening of Thomas the Imposter. Even now, his films have yet to be available on DVD in France. One would assume greater care and attention would be given to the co-founder of the Cinematheque Francaise.

I had to wonder if Alfred Hitchcock had seen the film prior to Psycho, due primarily to the script contributions of Boileau and Narcejac. I also had to wonder how a younger audience that grew up watching more graphic horror would judge Eyes. It seemed odd to think that a film considered too horrifying for film audiences shows so much less than the typical episode of Nip/Tuck on basic cable. What makes Eyes Without a Face a film worth seeing again is watching Edith Scob wearing her mask, a smooth, doll-like face without lines or expression, trapped in the cliche that beauty is literally only skin deep.

The DVD also includes Franju's documentary about Paris slaughterhouses, Blood of the Beasts. I still remain an unapologetic carnivore, but for vegans or members of P.E.T.A this film may seem like Resnais' Night and Fog, with disturbing frankness rendered in artistic imagery. The DVD contains two interviews with Franju discussing Eyes, and interviews with Boileau and Narcejac where they explain their history of collaboration and working style. Criterion even included that American trailer from 1962 when Eyes Without a Face was released as Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. At the time, United Artists paired the film with The Manster (half-man, half-monster!). With both films available on DVD, one could recreate this double feature, but it may be like pairing a fine, Parisian meal with a bottle of Sprite.

I tried watching Fiend Without a Face a couple of times on television without success. Invisible creatures killing farmers and soldiers didn't hold my attention. I watched the film with a commentary track conducted by a writer, Tom Weaver, with executive producer Richard Gordon. It was through the commentary that I was clued in to wait for the last fifteen minutes which were said to have appalled censors and film critics. The fiends, when they finally materialize, are big brains with spinal column tails, antennas, and feelers. The stop motion photography looks a little primitive, even compared to special effects of that time. Still, there is a thrill watching these creatures fly in the air, crawl on trees, and terrorize Marshall Thompson and company. Reportedly, the shots of the creatures oozing blood and other sticky matter following gun shots and axings set a new standard for gore in movies. I guess paving the way for the future of horror films is a good enough criteria for Criterion.

Posted by peter at 03:28 PM

October 14, 2005

Clean

Olivier Assayas - 2004
Edko Region 3 DVD

Having seen all of Olivier Assayas' films since Irma Vep, I made a point of seeing Clean. Also, my significant other is a fan of Assayas after seeing Demonlover, so much so, that I got her the special edition DVD of that film. Palm Pictures has the U.S. rights but I don't know their release plans. This is not a visceral film like Demonlover. While more downbeat, Clean has more in common with Assayas earlier films about the dynamics of family relationships.

Maggie Cheung plays the widow of a former rock star who died from a heroin overdose. Cheung also is a junkie. Following her six month in prison, she attempts to clean up her life in order to regain custody of her son. The movie follows her odyssey of revisiting her past before she can create a possible future.

A summery of the narrative makes the film seem like a series of cliches. On a superficial level this may be true. Even having a heroin addict rock star and his Asian wife clearly evokes the legend of John and Yoko. Where Assayas does not take short cuts is in giving his characters their dignity as well as a sense of intelligence and humanity. Nick Nolte has the opportunity to have the kind of multifaceted performance he is denied in other movies as Cheung's father-in-law. By turns Nolte is warm, tough, pragmatic and certainly nobody's fool. Nolte even conveys his character's sense of being a bit above his head at a record company meeting, determining the marketing of his son's albums. Without having to explain himself verbally, one can see that Nolte's character is more comfortable in his remote Canadian town, than dealing with art and business in London. When Cheung's screen son repeats his grandmother's statement that drug addicts are weak, Cheung patiently explains that the reasons for addiction are complicated. Unlike most recent American film that present broad characters and disallow ambiguity, the characters in Clean have individual shadings.

As a movie about the rock music world, the soundtrack is eclectic. Tricky, who I haven't heard in quite a while, appears as himself and is filmed in performance. Three older instrumental pieces from Brian Eno are used. Maggie Cheung also sings, in character, in English, quite well. Interestingly, unlike many of her peers, Cheung isn't a Canto-pop performer such as her Heroic Trio co-star, Anita Mui.

For some comments from Cheung and Assayas at the Cannes Film Festival check here.

Posted by peter at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2005

The Brain from the Planet Arous

Nathan Hertz (Nathan Juran) - 1957
Image Region 1 DVD

I hope that I am not doing a diservice by writing about The Brain from the Planet Arous. It's one of those films that has to be seen to be appreciated. The Nathan Juran filmography should be appreciated for films that are as enjoyable as they are trivial. While Brain is not as good as Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman or Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, it is certainly more entertaining than Hellcats of the Navy, the film that brought Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis together on screen.

Earth is invaded by a giant flying brain with eyes named Gor. Gor attaches himself to scientist Steve March, a noted nuclear scientist, with the goal of taking over Earth and going back to conquer his own planet. Gor decides that March's fiancee Sally is "exciting", providing extra incentive for taking over March's body. When Gor uses March to display his psychic powers, March looks like the guy in those commercials for male 'enhancement" products with his wide eyes and big grin.

This is one very libinous movie. Thanks to Gor, March is seen having sex on the brain, as it were. After his first encounter with Gor, he returns to have a close encounter with Sally, partially ripping off her shirt. The name of the planet rhymes with Eros, although the way March acts, the name of the planet could be Arouse. When he's not hiding in March's body, Gor is flying around in crummy superimposition shots, letting us know that he's hot for this particular Earth girl who refuses to be easy.

Sure you can see the strings, and the exploding airplanes look like models stuffed with firecrackers. There is one nice visual touch, when John Agar, the actor playing March, is talking to Sally's father. Indicating horrors to come, Agar's face is photographed distorted behind a water cooler. A similar effect was done by Frank Tashlin with Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models. Discussing his craft, Juran commented: "I approached the picture business as a business. I always did pictures for the money, and for the creative challenges. I wasn't a born director. I was just a technician who could transfer the script from the page to the stage and could get it shot on schedule and on budget. I never became caught up in the 'romance' of the movies."

Juran may have been a pragmatist with no artistic pretenses, but he produced enough cinematic fun that he was certainly more than a hack.

Posted by peter at 12:00 AM | Comments (2)

October 12, 2005

Wes Craven's New Nightmare

Wes Craven - 1994
New Line Home Video DVD

I'm probably like a lot of other people who love movies in that I also love movies about movies. I even took a class at NYU where we saw Contempt and Man with a Movie Camera. New Nightmare is more self-referential than any sustained effort by Godard. To me it was appropriate to watch the film with Wes Craven's commentary which added to the film's doubling up on itself.

Made ten years after the original Nightmare, the story is essentially about the efforts to make a new Nightmare movie with Wes Craven playing himself, and original Nightmare actress Heather Langenkamp as herself. Simultaneous to Langenkamp's meeting with real life New Line staffers, she also has nightmares about Freddy Krueger. As it turns out, she's not the only one with new nightmares. Craven made this film to rescue Krueger from the sequels which reduced Krueger to the Shecky Green of serial killers.

In addition to dreams and dreams within dreams, Craven further has the "reality" of the characters blend into their screen characters. At one point, Langenkamp is not only playing "herself" but also, with self-awareness, forced play Nancy, her character in the first film when she realizes that she is no longer speaking to John Saxon, but to her on-screen father. At a couple of points, Craven shows parts of the screenplay of the scene we have just seen. Craven also plays with Freddy Krueger's celebrity status, creating the word "Freddie-isms" in his commentary. We see Freddie Krueger fans dressed in striped sweaters and fedoras at a talk show, a Warhol style series of Freddie Krueger portraits at the New Line office, and actor Robert Englund doing a parody of himself as Freddy Krueger. At several points in the film, clips from the first Nightmare on Elm Street appear featuring Heather Langenkamp.

Based on what I've read about him, I suspect Wes Craven is a lot smarter than his movies. I suspect New Nightmare didn't fare as well at the box office as the other Nightmare sequels because it was in part an examination of itself and the genre of horror movies. Less deliberately funny, Craven also created tension by contrasting reel horror with real horror, with shots from a real Los Angeles area earthquake. While not a project that Craven originated, the Scream series indicated that audiences were ready to get in on the joke of a self-referential horror movie, as long as it remained a joke for both the film makers and the audience. In some ways this was a twist on the film that established Craven's reputation, the sometimes too realistic Last House on the Left. On that film, the ads admonished the audience to tell themselves, "It's only a movie".

Posted by peter at 03:29 PM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2005

The Brain Eaters

Bruno VeSota - 1958
Direct Video Pal Region 0 DVD

Back in the mid-Seventies, there was a New York City television station that use to broadcast vintage Roger Corman productions on Saturday mornings. When you really think about it, the best way of seeing a cheap little black and white horror movie is on your basic black and white television, which comprised my home entertainment system thirty years ago.

I had forgotten that I had seen The Brain Eaters those many years ago until I saw it again on DVD. The film is less lurid than its title. The creatures are parasites that look like furry snails. Attaching themselves to the back of the neck, the creatures cause humans to turn into enslaved zombies. More effort was probably expended in making the creatures, fur covered wind-up toys with pipe cleaner antennas, than in the actual story. While there was an out of court settlement with Robert Heinlein regarding the story, one could also see bits of Invasion of the Body Snatchers as well.

Overlooking the lack of originality, The Brain Eaters still has its moments of slapdash charm. One scene has a parasite point of view shot in the bedroom of Alice, the hero's girlfriend. After the parasite hops on the bed and onto the neck of the sleeping victim, we next see Alice walking out of her house in a translucent robe. We can tell Alice is in a zombie state because she gets into a car and slams the door with her robe sticking partially out. The actress who played Alice, Joanna Lee must have seen the writing on the wall when her following film was released and she concentrated her talents behind the screen.

Bruno VeSota, if he's remembered at all, is for many supporting roles, usually in various Corman films. While he only directed three films, his first, Female Jungle, was one of the earliest releases by American Releasing Corporation, the company that soon was renamed American International Pictures.
VeSota must have really loved The Third Man because there is one scene, in an office, with several shots at odd angles, such as Carol Reed used in the beginning of his classic. Either that, or VeSota and company were stuck shooting with a broken tripod. The version of The Brain Eaters I saw was from the British "Arkoff Collection", which includes an interview A.I.P. chief Sam Arkoff conducted in England about fifteen years ago. For those who really love A.I.P. movies may want to also check here.

If Bruno VeSota and Roger Corman weren't worried about the sources for their story, they certainly weren't worried about music credits either. This film has the only IMDB credit for someone named Tom Jonson. My NYU buddy, Ric Menello is certain that Arthur Honneger's Pacific 231 was used for part of the score. Maybe the filmmakers used Tom Jonson's record collection for the music.

Though he's disguised in make-up, Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance. Even in the world of Star Trek, there is one degree of separation with Roger Corman as only four years later Corman would direct a little film titled The Intruder, starring William Shatner.

Posted by peter at 06:37 PM | Comments (2)

October 08, 2005

Two "Women of a Certain Age" films

The Driver's Seat
Identikit
Giuseppe Patroni Griffi - 1974
Cheezy Flicks DVD

The Mother
Roger Michell -2003
Sony Pictures Classics Region 1 DVD


There are films that I should probably have resisted pairing up. There are certainly films I should not bother to have seen. This is certainly one of those times.

The Driver's Seat may well be one of the worse films I have ever seen. Considering I see on average a different movie every day, I think that's saying a lot. This is not entertaining badness like Plan Nine from Outer Space. This is what the hell was anyone thinking, appallingly bad. Even though the film is based on a book by Muriel Spark, the film still seems like everyone made it up as they went along.

When Liz, in all her blowsy glory, complains about the fabric of a dress, or yells for service in a department store, or just walking past lines at an airport, she seemed to be behaving as the pampered person she's been most of her life. Taylor stomps around Rome, spurning several would-be admirers, declaring that she has other interests besides sex. At least when you see her demanding to go to a Hilton hotel, you know that La Liz carries no grudges against past husbands.

Astonishingly, this film had Vittorio Storaro as cinematographer, and Franco Arcalli as editor. It's hard to judge the photography on this film as the DVD version is a full frame version of a film that was shot in a wider format, and the print seems very washed out and not always in focus. Storaro and Arcalli would work to better effect a couple years later on Bertolucci's epic 1900. Wondering in and out of the film are the terrific character actors Mona Washbourne and Ian Bannen. Andy Warhol appears in a cameo for no particular reason. He's suppose to be playing the part of an English Lord, but all you can think of is that Andy Warhol appears to stop this film dead in its tracks. I guess some people will do almost anything for a free trip to Rome.

Liz Taylor could have possibly starred in the title role of The Mother had she continued to concentrate on acting rather than being a living legend. This is a heartfelt film about age and loneliness. Like other films written by Hanif Kureishi, this is confrontational in its own way. Instead of the rage of Sammy and Rosie get Laid, we are forced to consider the sexual longings of older people. Even the younger actors are drab looking. A scruffy looking Daniel Craig hardly looks like the object of lust. The film contrasts the difference between the body as seen in life and various artistic representations, life as lived in the present tense and life past in writing. The Mother is almost like being visited by a real life relative: you recognize the sincerity, you feel uncomfortable, you're glad you spent time together, and you breathe easier when it's over.

Posted by peter at 04:54 PM

October 07, 2005

The Changeling

Peter Medak - 1980
HBO Home Video DVD

I finally decided to see The Changeling after twenty-five years. Part of my wanting to see it is historical. There was a mansion near where I use to live in the Capitol Hill section of Denver that was said to be haunted and the inspiration for the movie as well. That building has since been converted to several offices after being empty for several years.

The Changeling stands between Robert Wise's The Haunting and Jan DeBont's The Haunting as hauted house movies go. It's not as explicit as later horror films, but after it's not particularly subtle either. George C. Scott moves to Washington state after seeing his wife and daughter killed in an accident. A composer, he wants to move to a place where he can play his piano without disturbing anyone. He moves from a large New York City apartment to a large, haunted house about the size of the palace at Versailles. Things go bump in the night and day, basically whenever the ghost of a dead boy wants to annoy Scott.

I know that The Changeling has its fans. For me it had a couple of good moments. I have seen a fair number of Peter Medak's films. I wish I could make better sense of a career that has one classic, a cult film, and prime cheese. While there was a jolt from a scene with a shattered mirror, seeing Trish Van Devere chased by a wheel chair provoked guffaws instead of chills. The film's best performance belongs, not surprisingly, to Melvyn Douglas. In a relatively small role, Douglas fills his part with a genuine sense of anger and sadness as a very wealthy man with a very dark secret.

In the early part of his career, Douglas appeared in James Whale's The Old Dark House and The Vampire Bat. He closed out his career with The Changeling and Ghost Story. Maybe after almost fifty years, Douglas decided the time was right to revisit cinematic haunts.

Posted by peter at 04:03 PM

October 06, 2005

Partner

Partner
Bernardo Bertolucci - 1968
NoShame Region 0 DVD

His Day of Glory
La Sua Giornata di Gloria
Edoardo Bruno - 1969
NoShame Region 0 DVD

I have to admit that when I see a film like Partner more than thirty years later, I feel distant from the person I was when I saw the film in its New York release. I missed the presentation at the New York Film Festival in 1968, but saw the film in a critics' screening in early 1974. At the time, Last Tango in Paris had been in U.S. distribution for a year and New Yorker Films had hoped there would be interest in his earlier work. For myself, I was a graduate student at NYU and interested in those filmmakers who were "revolutionary" both in content and style.

Partner is an admittedly experimental film by Bertolucci. It is in fact his last such film, followed first by the more classical Spider's Strategem for Italian television, followed by The Conformist. A loose version of Dostoevsky's The Double, the story is of a somewhat hysterical theater teacher and his double, a cool revolutionary activist and killer. Pierre Clementi's alternating between detached and manic, in combination with some of the comic moments, made me think of Partner as the Marxist version of Jerry Lewis' The Nutty Professor.

The Lewis comparison is appropriate as Lewis often make verbal and visual references to other films as does that well-known fan of Lewis, Jean-Luc Godard. Partner is Bertolucci's most Godardian film with a visual style using extensive tracking shots and pans, scenes of Clementi reading aloud from a book on theater theory, as well as uses of music and silence. Bertolucci goes so far in his visual gags to show some theater students in masks reminiscent of the Odyssey characters in Contempt, his own version of the runaway baby carriage from Potemkin, and even shows Pierre Clementi Shoot the Piano Player.

Much of the discussion of theater is based on the work of Antonin Artaud, not coincidentally the author of Theater and its Double. Partner does have its less intellectual pleasures such as my favorite moment, when Clementi is walking alone and watches his giant shadow start moving by itself, turning around to chase after Clementi.

The DVD comes with a documentary that coincided with the release of The Dreamers, Bertolucci's look back at events in Paris in May of 1968. Partner was shot during the time of the May strikes, and used some of the slogans as reported by Clementi. Bertolucci also explains how the film used in camera special effects to film Clementi twice, and used direct sound at a time when Italian films were normally shot silently and dubbed afterwards. The DVD also includes an interview with editor Roberto Perpignani, who worked with Bertolucci on several early features through Last Tango in Paris.

In an act of film scholarship that rivals Criterion, NoShame included a second feature with Partner, His Day of Glory. Seen very briefly in 1969, this film also tries to dramatise the political scene of 1968. Film critic Eduardo Bruno and students from Centro Sperimentale have used the writings and theories from Bertolt Brecht in this story about revolutionaries. A good chunk of the film is of several activists sitting around, discussing theory and action. Bertolucci donated some rushes to Bruno, who in turn redubbed the dialogue of a scene showing Clementi leading his students in street theater. If Bruno's dialogue is more dense and intellectual, the scenes by the two film makers still are somewhat similar in intent and are complimentary. The ending of the film made me think of Bertolucci and his quote from Talleyrand: Those who haven't known life before the revolution cannot know how sweet it is. The interview with Bruno that is part of the DVD is immeasurably helpful in putting this film in context and spotlighting the extraordinary efforts of NoShame in making His Day of Glory available after thirty-six years.

In viewing His Day of Glory, I had to wonder about the fate of a similar project I was involved in. Street Scenes was originally made to be credited to a collective known as New York Cinetracts. Sometime over the summer of 1970, the film was completed with individual credits. Some of those involved have since become quite famous. More or less a documentary about the student protests that followed the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and the killing of students at Kent State University, the film has, to the best of my knowledge, not been seen since its screening at the 1970 New York Film Festival. I had to reflect on the urgency felt at the time the film was made, thinking it would be seen by a much larger, national audience. I don't think a lot of time was spent thinking about who the audience for the film would be, or there was perhaps an assumption that this would speak to other students. I had to wonder how Street Scenes would look after thirty-five years. Maybe it would also be of historical interest to somebody. Would I feel nostalgia or discomfort were I to see it again? I probably will never know. I can only remember my own brief moment of being a revolutionary filmmaker, or more precisely, a production assistant revolutionary.


Posted by peter at 06:46 PM

October 05, 2005

A History of Violence

David Cronenberg - 2005
New Line 35mm film

Fellow blogger, Girish, (see link to the right), wrote about Violence twice. I was planning to see it theatrically anyways because Cronenberg usually is one of the more interesting English language filmmakers around. While I have not read any of his links to other writings on this film, I am also not certain if I have a lot to say about it.

What throws me off about Violence is that it doesn't have the usual framework of a David Cronenberg film. Not that Cronenberg is obligated to make only science fiction horror type films. Maybe it's something specific to me, but when I see a film Cronenberg directed, but did not write or even adapt such as Naked Lunch, I feel that something is missing. I have seen almost all of Cronenberg's features except for M. Butterfly. With Violence, I have same same feeling of distance that I had with Spider and The Dead Zone.

I have no idea if I am missing something being unfamiliar with the source material. I usually do not read graphic novels. The film raises valid questions about the nature of violence, and the choices required to break the cycle or avoid it altogether. Where Cronenberg succeeds in deglamorizing violence is when the character of Tom Stall facially disfigures two gangsters by shooting them. When Tom's son Jack gets in a fight with a taunting bully, there is a sense of catharsis. Any idea of being critical about violence gets set aside because you want Jack to punch out his nemesis. When Jack shoots a gangster, the questions are raised as to whether violence is learned or inherited behavior.

Even the characters sometimes seem ambivalent, that is to say both attracted to and repulsed by the behavior of themselves or others. When Tom virtually rapes his wife, she seems to indicate both physical pleasure and intellectual rejection of the situation. Even the textbook style of of title raises questions as to whether the topic is about a specific family or a treatise on the nature of violence. On the most personal level, what I have to question is how the narrative is resolved, essentially concluding that violence is sometimes needed to end violence.

How seriously am I suppose to take this movie? I've seen enough films to know that usually depicting a non-violent response to violence makes for film that is usully less interesting and more of a civics lesson. On the other hand, if you're going to make a film in which a normally pacifistic person is forced to answer violence with violence, I liked this film better when it was called Straw Dogs.

Posted by peter at 05:44 PM

October 04, 2005

Two by Michael Powell

Ill Met by Moonlight
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger - 1957
Carlton PAL Region 2 DVD

They're a Weird Mob
Michael Powell - 1966
Roadshow Entertainment PAL Region 4 DVD

I was hoping to cover these films last week to coincide with Michael Powell's 100th birthday. Better late than never.

While I am still hoping to see as many of Michael Powell's films are are available, I feel like there is a need to review his career with a bit more balance. While Powell is rightly championed for The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom, some of his films are less interesting than others. For some people, this may sound sacreligious, but to put it in perspective, my love of John Ford's films does not include Donovan's Reef, nor would I force anyone to see a Frank Capra film made after State of the Union. That said, my perspective is that the more films I see by Michael Powell, the more uneven I consider his overall filmography.

Ill Met by Moonlight was the last film by The Archers, that is written, produced and directed by Powell and Pressburger. It's a World War II story about a couple of British soldiers working with Crete partisans to kidnap a German general. As a genre film, it is kind of like The Guns of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen, but with more of an emphasis on thrills and chuckles. Without being too critical, I would say the film appealed to the twelve year old boy in me.

Dirk Bogarde is fun to watch, hiding behind a mustache speaking Greek. Michael Gough, an uncredited David McCullum, and Christopher Lee as a very tall German soldier also appear. The lightness of tone virtually undermines any suspense in the story. The craftsmanship is still here, with the obvious visual motif of shots of the night sky. Beginning with Mikis Theodorakis cheerful, Greek folk style music, Ill Met by Moonlight comes off as a boy's adventure film rather than the dramatization of men on a mission.

If Ill Met by Moonlight is a disappointment, They're a Weird Mob is almost a disaster. The film is based on a novel that was purported to be the autobiography of an Italian, Nino Culotta, in Australia. As it was, the book was written by an Australian, John O'Grady. This fish out of water story made me think of Preston Sturges' The French They are a Funny Race, presenting an English gentleman's view of the French. In both cases, you have filmmakers who have done so much better work in the past that watching these films is painful. The DVD includes a television documentary on the making of the film which is both useful and horrifying. According to this documentary, They're a Weird Mob was made not only to sell Australia to the world (the film made at a time when the country was actively trying to attract immigrants like future Ozzie Mel Gibson), but also to revive the Australian film industry.

As it turned out, Michael Powell was not the one to save the Australian film industry. He did get the opportunity to make one last feature, the much better Age of Consent, in which he finally got to work with James Mason who played against the then unkown Helen Mirren. They're a Weird Mob is saddled with heavy handed humor, and almost every cliche about Australians. We see Walter Chiari struggle with the slang, lots of beer drinking, and the "boys" playing in the mud. The film also stars two men who are almost axioms of classic Australian cinema, Chips Rafferty and John Meillon. Powell's discovery, Clare Dunne, is a redhead like Deborah Kerr and Moira Shearer. Her career as a movie star began and ended here. Not only did Powell reuse some music from Ill Met by Moonlight, but further reseach reveals that the screenplay, credited to Richard Imrie, was really by Emeric Pressburger. As such, They're a Weird Mob is a reteaming of The Archers that has substantially missed the mark.

Posted by peter at 04:23 PM | Comments (1)

October 02, 2005

Deep Red

Profondo Rosso
Dario Argento - 1975
Anchor Bay DVD

I always associate October with Holloween, and Holloween with horror movies. This month I will be writing more about horror movies. Some are favorites that I am now writing about, while others will be DVDs that I have seen for the first time. To start off, I am writing about one of my favorite giallo, Deep Red.

I saw Deep Red in New York City in its theatrical debut. I didn't realize that the film was cut by almost half an hour. What I do remember is feeling that sitting in the back of the theater wasn't far enough from the screen. Between the creepy music by the appropriately named group Goblin, and the unsettling imagery, I had seen a film that was more harrowing than Polanski's Repulsion, Russell's The Devils, or Cronenberg's Shivers.

I re-see Deep Red primarily because of the artistry of the imagery by cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller. What critics who can't see past the genre have failed to recognize is that Argento consistently worked with top talent. In this case, prior to shooting two films with Argento, Kuveiller worked with Elio Petri, Marco Bellochio and Billy Wilder. In Deep Red many of the shots are composed so perfectly, taking advantage of the wide screen, playing with both what is seen and unseen. There is an almost vertigo inducing simultaneous zoom and track shot near the beginning. The use of extreme close ups of objects against a black background, and close ups of eyes, hands and a sweat covered brow contribute to the fetishistic atmosphere.

The screenplay was co-written with Bernardino Zapponi, most famous for his collaborations with Fellini. The first screenplay Zapponi worked on with Fellini was the "Toby Dammit" sequence of Spirits of the Dead. Here's where things get a bit twisted: Terence Stamp was scheduled to star in Blow Up until Antonioni decided that David Hemmings was younger and hipper. As a response to the rivalry between Italy's two most acclaimed directors, Fellini cast Stamp in "Toby Dammit". Zapponi and Argento still had Blow Up in mind when they wrote Deep Red. It may also be of no coincidence that Hemmings last name in Deep Red, is Daly, the name of his former business partner, John Daly.

Argento also touches upon elements that he would explore in future films. Macha Meril's character discusses telepathy among insects, a key part of Phenomena. Another scene involving birds, both looks back as a literalization of Agento's debut, Bird with Crystal Plumage, and anticipates the crows flying in the production of Macbeth, in Opera. (Argento was originally to have had the other Blow Up star, Vanessa Redgrave, star in Opera.) The flooded basement would figure more prominently in Inferno, while the house on fire would prefigure the end of Suspiria.

One element that I have not seen discussed in writings on Deep Red is on the significance of identifying Macha Meril's character as Jewish. In the scene in here apartment, the Star of David is seen both in shadow and as the design on a glass table. There is also a Jewish funeral with the traditional Hewbrew prayers and men wearing the skull caps, yarmulkus. Virtually every horror film that I can recall has either Catholic or generic Christian funerals. I would hope a deeper investigation into Argento's work will discuss this anomaly. Googling provided no additional clues.

Among Argento's nicknames is "the Visconti of violence" is reenforced by his working with actresses most famous for working with Visconti. In Deep Red, Argento brought Clara Calamai out of retirement to play a key role. Best known as for starring in Ossessione, Argento pays tribute to Calamai by having the camera pan across a wall with stills from her films. In a French interview, Argento comments that he cast Calamai as tribute to the white telephone films of Italy. For Argento, the Italian cinema he grew up with went from light and white, to deep and red.

Posted by peter at 04:32 PM