« September 2006 | Main | November 2006 »

October 30, 2006

The Vampire Blog-a-thon: Brides of Dracula

bod.jpg

Terence Fisher - 1960
Universal Studios Region 1 DVD

There are no brides. There is no Dracula. Looking past the misleading title, this is one of my favorite Hammer films. As I understand it, Christopher Lee decided he didn't want to be typecast as everyone's favorite vampire, forcing the film to be re-written. Not everything in the script was revised as a film titled The Vampire's Fiancee would have little marquee value.

Brides remained vivid in my memory as a film I had to see following a preview at a "kiddies' matinee" back in 1962, in Hackensack, New Jersey. Preceding the double feature of Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters and Herod the Great, I saw the previews of several horror movies. Dr. Blood's Coffin and The Leach Woman looked pretty thrilling, but nothing hooked me like the glimpse of those buxom Hammer girls. For a ten year old boy, this was about as hot as possible. As I had moved from New Jersey just a week or so later, I never was able to go to that theater, instead waiting over thirty years, when Brides of Dracula was available on videotape.

Screenwriter Jimmy Sangster and company fudge things a bit by having the chief vampire named Meinster. I guess the name was chosen since it sounds like monster, and muenster would have been, well, too cheesy. I also have always wondered if this film inspired Roman Polanski's Fearless Vampire Killers. David Peel's Baron Meinster is an effete dandy compared to the towering malevolence of Christopher Lee. While Baron Meinster is resolutely heterosexual in his choice of victims, his refined appearance suggests the movies' first metrosexual vampire.

While Meinster's victims provide the eye candy, the best performances belong to Martita Hunt as the Baron's mother, and the hilarious Mona Washbourne as the clueless head of a girls' boarding school. One may think of the derogatory term, usually directed at older women, "You old bat".

I don't know whether credit goes to Terence Fisher or to Production Designer Bernard Robinson, but Brides of Dracula is worth noting for its use of color. Between the sets, costumes and use of colored gels, the film is awash in reds, blues and purples. The story arc is somewhat routine because we all know that Peter Cushing's Van Helsing will vanquish the vampires at the very end. Having the shadow of a windmill become a crucifix is a neat trick. But overlooking any deficiencies in the narrative, Terence Fisher would never be quite as stylish a filmmaker as he was with Brides of Dracula.

For more "Children of the Night", click on The Film Experience link.

Posted by peter at 12:02 AM | Comments (1)

October 28, 2006

Holloween Candy from Jesus

macumbasexual3.jpg

Macumba Sexual
Jess (Jesus) Franco - 1983
Severin Films Region 0 DVD

livingdead2.jpg

Mansion of the Living Dead/La Mansion de los Muertos Vivientes
Jess (Jesus) Franco - 1985
Severin Films Region 0 DVD

Just in time for Holloween come two erotic horror films from Jesus Franco, with a greater emphasis on the erotic. Signing the films as Jess Franco, the films mark Franco's return to Spanish language filmmaking, shooting on location at The Canary Islands. Both films also star Franco's wife and muse, Lina Romay, in blonde wig under the name of Candy Coster, and feature another Franco stock company star, Robert Forster (Antonio Mayans). The two films are linked by characters who stay in seemingly deserted hotels, love slaves complete with chains and dog collars, and women who would be naked at the drop of a hat, except they don't even have hats.

Much of the attention to Macumba Sexual is devoted to the top billed Ajita Wilson (seen above). In the DVD interview, Franco compares Wilson to Christopher Lee, both as tall, menacing presence on screen. Much of the interest in Wilson is due to her history as a post-op transexual who primarily appeared in erotic, if not strictly pornographic, films. What is more interesting about Macumba Sexual is the constant motif of folk art from Senegal, often of animals and much of it sexual. The film is a mobius strip of dreams within dreams, with Romay as Alice Brooks having nightmares about the mysterious Princess Obongo (Wilson). It's not Wonderland, but a remote desert paradise and prison that this Alice discovers. Mayans appears as the writer husband to our Miss Brooks, with a scene that seems taken from Kubrick's The Shining. Much of the film is padded with scenes of Alice's various sexual encounters, but the film also contains nicely framed images of statues and folk art. Franco also appears in the small role of a peculiar hotel desk clerk. For Franco, the majority of Macumba Sexual is his celebration of Lina Romay in full. Who else would make a film in which an international real estate agent makes a sale wearing the smallest, tightest pair of cut-offs, displaying much of Romay's fleshy assets?

macumbasexual.jpg
Candy Coster (Lina Romay) in Macumba Sexual

Because of their similar appearance, the living dead of Mansion of the Living Dead have been assumed to be the temporarily revived version of The Blind Dead. In the accompanying DVD feature, Franco explains what he had in mind when he made the film. Romay is part of a quartet of German strippers whose vacation destination turns out to be a large, virtually empty hotel. The previously used Horror Hotel might have made for a more accurate title. Romay and her plump, self-described "hotties" jump into bed with each other while waiting for the hotel's other guests to show up. Each of the women becomes the victim of the living dead, Devil worshipping priests who have been cursed with immortality. Gang rape is the preferred method of worship. Romay discovers one other hotel guest, a woman chained to a bed, craving food that is just out of reach. The story makes as much lunatic sense as any in the Franco oeuvre. Instead of logic, Jesus Franco delights in those outsized eyes and lips of the uninhibited Lina Romay.

livingdead3.jpg
Candy Coster (Lina Romay) in Mansion of the Living Dead

Posted by peter at 07:28 PM

October 27, 2006

I Vampiri

vampiri.jpg

Riccardo Freda - 1956
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

While waiting for the Vampire Blog-a-thon scheduled for October 30, I had the opportunity to finally see I Vampiri. Cited as the first Italian horror film of the sound era, the film is perhaps better known for being the work of credited director Riccardo Freda and cinematographer Mario Bava. In spite of the title which translates as "The Vampires", the film is not a true vampire film. The story concerns a duchess who temporarily assumes a much younger identity through the transfusions of blood from younger women. Her reverse aging is courtesy of her cousin, a doctor with a basement laboratory similar to those found in the Universal Frankenstein films from the Forties.

The film plays devotes more time to the persistent reporter investigating the "vampire killings". What is worth seeing are the subtle special effects used to make Gianna Maria Canale age, or get younger, on screen. The film also follows Wandisa Guida (seen above), in her film debut, as a schoolgirl who stumbles upon the horrors of the Duchess' castle. Of more interest than the story are the CinemaScope black and white images of secret passageways, scientific paraphernalia, the family crypt and other shadowy goings-on. Both Riccardo Freda and Mario Bava made some more interesting, and in Bava's case, great films. There are times when I Vampiri seems like the first draft of a genre film, unknowingly waiting for the discovery of Barbara Steele.

Posted by peter at 05:54 PM

October 26, 2006

One Venus, One Inch, and Towers

blackvenus3.jpg

Black Venus
Claude Mulot -1983
Private Screening Collection Region 0 DVD

ladylibertine2.jpg

Lady Libertine/Frank and I
Gerard Kikoine - 1983
Private Screening Collection Region 0 DVD

I first became aware of film producer Harry Alan Towers when I attending a critics' screening of his production of Dorian Gray in 1970. This is the version with Helmut Berger in the title role, including a scene that I don't recall was in Oscar Wilde's book, with Gray cruising for companionship in a public toilet. My second Towers production was as an in-flight movie, Treasure Island, with Orson Welles as Long John Silver. The Towers formula would be to take public domain titles and make films that usually belied their modest budgets. Towers own life would make for an interesting movie as he has always managed to take the money and run, several times, and in the process remake some of his films. I don't know if Towers wrote the two screenplays while flying between film locations and angry bankers, as he has been reputed have done, but both films here were written under his psuedonym of Peter Welbeck.

Black Venus and Lady Libertine are the debut DVD releases of a company called Private Screening Collection. Their initial films are both productions that Towers did on behalf of the Playboy Channel over twenty years ago. Private Screening Collection has two more Towers produced Playboy Channel films scheduled for November. Both films are polished productions that almost look like what would happen if Merchant-Ivory made soft core erotica. Both films boast literary sources, Lady Libertine from the anonymous Edwardian era narrative, while Black Venus gives credit to that chronicler of hot lesbian couplings and group sex, Honore de Balzac.

The films themselves are not really meant for serious analysis. Black Venus has the advantage of having the more attractive Josephine Jacqueline Jones, Miss Bahamas 1979, as the star. The film was directed by the filmmaker also known as Frederic Lansac, best known for his film Pussy Talk. The DVD cover for Lady Libertine features future French TV hostess Sophie Favier on the cover. Jennifer Inch as "Frank" does not disguise her feminity with that Dutch Boy hair cut, and is otherwise less alluring than the other female cast members. As the story is about a man who takes in who he thinks at first is a runaway boy, there is a homoerotic aspect to the story that the filmmakers, pardon the pun, skirt.

Posted by peter at 09:07 AM

October 25, 2006

The Cabinet of Caligari

caligari.jpg

Roger Kay - 1962
20th Century Fox Region 1 DVD

Based on the reputation of the original Dr. Caligari, I had wanted to see this 1962 remake in its initial release. Thankfully, my mother convinced me to see Roger Corman's Attack of the Crab Monsters instead. I did see Robert Wiene's film about seven years later as part of my first official film history class. Those kooky sets are great, but I never really liked The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a film. Still, once again, curiousity got the better of me, and I finally saw the remake on DVD.

Roger Kay's version uses a slight variation of the title, but his Caligari is a hectoring, mysterious therapist who seems to be holding Glynis Johns prisoner against her will. Only near the end, during the promised "nerve-shattering thirteen minutes" do we see anything that slightly resembles Herman Warm's settings. This second Caligari has more in common with Psycho and the films of William Castle with its psychological concerns. This visual links to German Expressionism almost seem coincidental.

Opening the film with a scene of a woman driving alone, finding herself trapped in the only house visible from a lonely road, screenwriter Robert Bloch seems to be borrowing from himself. The cinematographer for this second Caligari is John L. Russell, whose previous film was, yes, Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock spent some time in Germany, so whatever expressionism is displayed in his films was from direct learning at UFA. Glynis Johns is no Janet Leigh, and though she has virtues as an actress, being seductive is not one of them.

That may have been the point once the film arrives at its "twist" ending. The attitude towards women by this revised Caligari is misogynistic. Roger Kay and Robert Bloch's conclusion it that there is no greater horror than to be a middle-aged woman.

Posted by peter at 10:45 AM

October 24, 2006

A Bell from Hell

bellfromhell.jpg

La Campana del Infierno
Claudio Guerin Hill
Pathfinder Home Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Juan, or John in the English language version, has just been released from a mental institution. Whether he was rightly committed in the first place is uncertain, although his relatives stand to benefit by inheriting his mother's estate. Nothing stands in the way of a good practical joke as far as John is concerned. An example is his appearing to have gouged his own eyes out. A Bell from Hell has moments of extremely dark humor, as well has moments that are simply dark.

This is a French-Spanish horror film that I would not have known about had I not read Tohill and Tombs' book Immoral Tales. The only information was simply a still of Renaud Verley in the dark, illuminated by a flashlight below his head. While the plot may seem familar, what makes Guerin's film different is following the pranks that John creates, ranging from the childish to those with more serious, and deadly ends. Near the beginning of the film, John is told that the cards he was dealt at birth were "a bad hand". His response is to play with what he has. The film ends with a not totally surprise twist on getting the last laugh,

The caustic view of humanity is stressed in scenes in a meat slaughtering plant. In full color, the shots of cows butchered on screen could be a supplement to Georges Franju's Blood of the Beasts. John works briefly as a butcher before deciding that he has 'learned all he needs to know". While hardly in the league of Hamlet, John continually teeters between conscious and unconscious madness. This internal disunity is reflected in both the images of cows being cut up into parts and also the photographs in John's bedroom which include extreme close-ups of eyes and lips. The title refers to a very large church bell, paid for by the townspeople John is in conflict with, people whose hypocracies are pointed out by John. As it turned out, life had a way of playing a practical joke on Claudio Guerin Hill. A Bell from Hell turned out to be the final work of the filmmaker, who died falling from the bell tower on the final day of filming.

Posted by peter at 11:47 AM

October 23, 2006

Marie Antoinette

marieantoinette.jpg

Sofia Coppola - 2006
Columbia Pictures 35mm film

I had recently read Nathan Lee and Melissa Anderson's respective articles in "Film Comment" before seeing Marie Antoinette. For a while, I felt I had nothing new to add to the discussion. There was a passage in Anderson's article that stayed with me, mentioning the reading of Marie Antoinette as "an allegory of the director's own privileged, pampered upbringing". I do not feel I know Coppola enough to make an assumption.

What may be worth investigating is that the two main objects of at the court of Versailles according to this film are Marie Antoinette and Madame Du Barry. To push Anderson's argument further, if Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette is a stand-in for Coppola, how should one read the casting of Asia Argento as Madame Du Barry? I do not ask this question lightly. Coppola and Argento are both the daughters of well-known filmmakers, and are, to the best of my knowledge, the only two female second generation directors. Add to that, the casting of Danny Huston as Marie Antoinette's brother, again a second generation director as a member of the royal family.

A few months ago, I had proposed a blog-a-thon on Women Filmmakers. The proposal was dismissed by several other people. Marie Antoinette has me thinking the topic is still quite valid, especially in view of the careers of Sofia Coppola and Asia Argento. Both women have what appear to be more difficult challenges in establishing themselves as worthy filmmakers on their own merits. In addition to the fact that both have their fathers listed as producers, Coppola had to overcome to general derision her performance in Godfather III, while Argento has diluted her reputation by acting in too many inferior films. If Coppola has been assessed more seriously since Lost in Translation, Argento is still the Madame Du Barry of Hollywood, judged more for her sexuality and flamboyant behavior, and less on the actual merits of the two films she directed. With the information that The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things author J.T. Leroy does not really exist, and that Argento may have either been a dupe or part of the fiction concerning the author, certainly makes evaluating the second film more difficult, and adds to the gossip.

Danny Huston, as a director, could never get out from under the shadow of father John. At this time he appears to be concentrating on acting. Huston's career path has gone the opposite of Coppola's. That Huston both appears in Marie Antoinette and has the role of royal older brother seems less coincidence than another way of comparing Hollywood royalty with French royalty. Second and third generation Hollywood talent might always be the subject of unkind gossip. And Hollywood, like Versailles, seems especially unkind to women who may not seem to know their place.

Posted by peter at 03:31 PM | Comments (1)

October 21, 2006

Phone

phone.jpg

Pon
Ahn Byeong-ki - 2002
Tartan Video Region 1 DVD

The image that you see on your computer is an apparition seen by Ha Ji-won on her computer in Phone. This Korean horror film is similar to other Asian horror films in that there is some very nice imagery and obvious craftsmanship, but the story doesn't make a whole lot of sense. In this case there is a cursed phone number, causing the person answering to hear strange sounds and get extremely upset. The phone number has been associated with several people who died under suspicious circumstances. There is also a ghost that plays "Moonlight Sonata", and a little girl who seems to be possessed. Some of the mystery is explained, while the rest remains unanswered. At least director Ahn is honest enough to admit that he was inspired by Ringu.

English may not be their first language, but certainly someone should have talked to the filmmakers who named their company "Toilet Productions". Phone might have been better had more time been spent on the screenplay. The initial premise is that Ms. Ha is getting harrassing calls as a result of her work as a journalist. As she has written articles exposing, as it were, sexual predators, the set-up becomes nothing more than a lurid gimmick quickly forgotten after the film concentrates on the possessed young girl. Even the concept of ghosts appearing on computer screens or speaking over the phone, while creepy, has been done better by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Takashi Miike. Based on what I've been able to find out about Ahn's most recent films, Ouija Board and APT., originality is not his strong suit. Phone is so totally derivative that it can serve as the Cliffs Notes version for most of the cliches of the contemporary Asian horror film.

Posted by peter at 04:58 PM

October 20, 2006

The Most Beautiful Wife

mostbeautifulwife.jpg

La Moglie Piu Bella
Damiano Damiani - 1970
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

The title is deliberately ironic. Damiani's film is based on the true story of a Sicilian woman who was raped in 1965. The rapist was a small time mafioso, and based on the cultural rules that prevailed, the victim would have married her assailant. The woman, Franca Viola, instead pressed charges leading to the conviction of the rapist, going against Sicilian tradition, and became a feminist icon. The fictionalized film is about Viola, but is also about the ingrained traditions in a small town where the mafia has overwhelming influence on everyday life.

The film is also notable as the debut for Ornella Muti in an assured performance that belies her fourteen years. The Most Beautiful Wife is worth seeing just as a document of this preternatural beauty who unsurprisingly became a top star in Italy just a few years later. Much of Muti's performance is in her eyes which convey a sense of understanding of the forces that try to manipulate her into conformity.

One scene in particular conveys the horror that Muti endures. Dragged to what is to be a wedding celebration, she is surrounded by her "fiance" and his mafia family, gorging on food, indifferent to her physical and psychological pain from the rape. There is a brief shot of Muti's parents, sitting alone in a corner, small and afraid. While the rape itself is not depicted, and there is relatively little graphic violence, The Most Beatiful Wife conveys Muti's sense of isolation, and the hostility of her environment.

The DVD comes with a booklet containing for historical background on Franca Viola, as well as the cast and crew. The DVD extras includes interviews with several crew members including Damiani, a director perhaps best known for A Bullet for the General.

Posted by peter at 04:00 PM

October 19, 2006

Dark Waters

darkwaters2.jpg

Mariano Baino - 1994
NoShame Films Region 0 DVD

Not to be confused with the Japanese Dark Water or its American remake, this is a film about some very strange nuns on an isolated island, complete with unusual rituals and some kind of creature in a locked room. Dark Waters begins with a young woman going on a trip to a very remote place by bus. Even without cross-cutting to the bizarre happenings at the monastery, there is enough to suggest that no good will come of this particular voyage.

Dark Waters begins with impressive scenes of a church besieged by water, a few steady drops growing into a destructive flood. There is very little dialogue in the first third of the film, perhaps echoing British actress Louise Salter's own sense of dislocation, filming in remote Ukraine. This is again an example where it is not the story that is of interest, renegade nuns has been established as a sub-genre, but Baino makes the film worth watching for the images. There is a sub-plot involving a painter in the monastery, and the film, like the paintings is awash in reds and blues.

Of as much or perhaps more interest is the story of the making of Dark Waters. NoShame includes among the extras a fifty minute documentary with Baino, Salter and several crew members recounting their misadventures making the film in Odessa and Kiev. Among the problems were missing cameras, not getting the scheduled studio space, securing film stock and mistranslations. For the hardcore collector there is a special edition DVD available that includes a replica of the amulet that is part of the story, plus a 48 page booklet. Mariano Baino also contributed a commentary track along with a video introduction that appears before his film.

Posted by peter at 10:25 AM

October 18, 2006

Red Angel

redangel.jpg

Akai Tenshi
Yasuzo Masumura - 1966
Fantoma Region 1 DVD

One of my favorite actresses is Ayako Wakao. While it's not received that attention of other new DVD releases, I had to give priority to this film by Yasuzo Masumura. Wakao can be seen to better advantage in Masumura's Manji, Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge and Kenji Mizoguchi's Street of Shame. In Red Angel, Wakao is primarily filmed in medium and full shots, often in shadow.

Red Angel works primarily as a showcase for Masumura's themes, or perhaps, fetishes. Wakao plays a military nurse with Japan's army, sent to China in 1939. Making her rounds late at night, Wakao is raped by one of the patients while others watch. From the military hospital, Wakao is sent to a field hospital. Treatment primarily consists of the amputation of arms and legs. While there's none of the gushing blood of M*A*S*H, the sounds of legs sawed off and the crunching of bones is cringe inducing. Wakao falls in love with a morphine addicted Army doctor, and also provides sexual relief for an armless soldier.

Wakao also thinks herself responsible for the deaths of the three men, as well as a nurse who she broght with her to the field hospital. Masumura's films, based on the few I've been able to see, have been about the irrationality of love. Death is likewise presented as having no logic with soldiers dying from disease if not bullets. One of the officers describes soldiers as not humans but weapons. Masumura shows war as reducing everything and everyone to commodities. Soldiers are reduced to missing body parts, at the end of a major battle Wakao discovers the dead stripped of all clothing and weapons. Wakao is valued, or perhaps more correctly, devalued, as an object for sexual release. There are no conventional scenes of sex which is in keeping with the exploration of lesbianism in Manji, or the focusing on women as a collection of parts in Blind Beast.

The film's anti-war stance is clear when the armless soldiers discusses how another double amputee was institutionalized to avoid letting the Japanese citizens know how terrible war is. Masumura's critical eye extends to the blind patriotism is his characters, with the nurses taking up arms in a hopeless battle. For Masumura, war is hell, but being a survivor is of no comfort.

Posted by peter at 02:50 PM

October 17, 2006

The Woods

woods.jpg

Lucky McKee - 2006
Sony Pictures Entertainment Region 1 DVD

One would hope that Lucky McKee would get luckier in the theatrical release of his films. May, his contemporary take on Frankenstein, has had more life on cable and DVD following a brief appearance in theaters. More people probably saw McKee's entry in the "Master of Horror" series, Sick Girl, something of a lesbian feminist take on The Fly. Even though McKee did not write The Woods, the film remains thematically consistent with his earlier work. That this film did not play at a theater near anyone has more to do with the studio politics of Sony's releasing films from MGM and United Artists, than with the quality of The Woods, a film far better than Sony's own horror entries.

The story has debts to other films, primarily Suspiria with its setting of a girls school run by witches, and Carrie with the girl who discovers she has psychic powers that she cannot quite control. There is no outstanding reason why the film takes place in 1965 except that it allows for the use of three songs performed by Lesley Gore, including the proto-feminist "You Don't Own Me". According to the legend told in the film, the school is located next to a wooded area that was cursed by witches, and students are sacrificied to the woods. New student Heather (Agnes Bruckner) unknowingly has the power to stop the curse.

Look past the story, and McKee reveals himself to be one of the more interesting visual stylists working in film today. Lots of extremely tilted camera angles, such as the shot above, and a use of space to accentuate Heather's sense of isolation demonstrate the kind of creativity seemingly forgotten by filmmakers with more substantial budgets. The color palette is a muted collection of browns, blacks and grays. McKee even has killer trees that are actually kind of scary, with long sinewy branches that look like veins. The violence is more graphic than in a Val Lewton produced film but like thematic concerns of McKee could be seen as new variations on such films as The Seventh Victim and even Curse of the Cat People with its blending of dreams and reality.

This talk of Lewton is not coincidental. Will McKee need to make a film with a big budget to get the kind of critical attention he deserves? At this point the cult interest developed from McKee's films is genre based. That in itself is not a problem, but most so much writing about film is blind to visual style. In the way that one sees a film that was given little regard when it came out, like Joseph Lewis' Gun Crazy, or Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly twenty or so years later and wonder why no one noticed what these dynamic filmmakers were doing, so I have to wonder if it will take years for the artistry of Lucky McKee to be more noticed. Manny Farber's Termite Artist is alive and well, and those who notice should consider themselves lucky.

Posted by peter at 02:30 PM

October 16, 2006

The Robert Aldrich Blog-a-thon: Hustle

hustle5.jpg

Robert Aldrich - 1975
Paramount Pictures Region 1 DVD

Near the end of Hustle, police detective Burt Reynolds explains to grieving father Ben Johnson, "Don't you know where you live, Marty? Can't you smell the bananas? You know what country you live in, you live in Guatamala with color television." Thirty years after I saw Hustle in its initial theatrical release, that speech stayed with me.

In a collection of interviews, Aldrich discussed his political views which ran counter to his privileged family background, related to the Rockefellers. If film was to do more than entertain, it allowed Aldrich to speak on behalf of those people for whom the American Dream seemed elusive. In Hustle, the ever nostalgic Reynolds mentions John Garfield as a favorite actor. Aldrich was an Assistant Director on Body and Soul and Force of Evil, and stayed a lifelong friend of writer-director Abraham Polonsky. Throughout Hustle, there is repeated dialogue on how easily people can be bought and sold - one of the characters is named Leo Sellers. Like the earlier films that Aldrich worked on as an assistant, Hustle is about people trying to maintain their sense of integrity in the face of easy financial gain.

Going back to Reynold's declaration that the U.S. is a banana republic, I had to wonder what Aldrich would make of the current state of our union. At the time Hustle was made, the United States had its first unelected President, and Aldrich's cousin was serving as Vice-President. Some of the issues raised in Aldrich's The Twilight's Last Gleaming turned out to be prescient, particularly the idea that it really didn't matter who was in the Oval Office because he never really was the person in charge. Aldrich would probably laugh at the news that there would be a time when U.S. military leaders would be the voices of reason, at least compared to the civilians giving the orders. One can easily guess at Aldrich's outrage had he lived during the last two Presidential elections.

Hustle is something of an homage to Aldrich's film noir roots. Even the few scenes that take place in the sunshine of Los Angeles are darkened by the discovery of a dead young woman, or discussions of death and violence. Most of the action takes place in shadowy interiors. The characters are all flawed, either living the "good life" such as Eddie Albert's crooked lawyer or Catherine Denueve as a high priced call girl, while other characters make mistakes in the pursuit of material gain. Like the most pessimistic noir films, being honest can cost someone their life.

There is also discussion of how "the game" is played. Aldrich, who also assisted Jean Renoir, introduces Ben Johnson attending a football game. Several times, Johnson is refered to as "a nobody" in discussing the importance of investigating the death of his daughter. Hustle is about class distinctions and how rules apply within differing hierarchies. For Johnson, justice and a sense of fair play are not allowed by those who make the rules - wealthy lawyers like Eddie Albert, or the percieved gatekeepers, like Reynolds and fellow cop Paul Winfield. While the film is called Hustle because, as Reynolds puts it, everyone is hustling for something, The Rules of the Game would hardly be inappropriate.

Even family life is suspect. Burt Reynolds is a divorced policeman living with prostitute Catherine Denueve. Ben Johnson's marriage to Eileen Brennan is revealed to be fragile. In both cases, the relationships are based on dishonesty and self-denial.

Song and film serve as metaphors for regret and nostalgia. At a couple of points we hear Charles Aznavour sing, "Yesterday, When I was Young". Over a car radio, mention is made of a 1955 version of the song So Rare, released the year that Johnson's daughter was born. Among several film clips used is John Huston's Moby Dick, with Ahab's pursuit of the White Whale as destructive as Johnson pursuit of truth and justice. Denueve and Reynolds take time to see A Man and a Woman, a brighter, idealized portrait of love. Even filmmaking is seen as corrupted as the clip from Claude Lelouch provides a counterpoint to the porno film featuring the dead daughter.

Based on the novel and screenplay by Steve Shagan, Aldrich, who was active in shaping the screenplays of all of his films has made a film that reflected many of his concerns. Hustle could also be seen as symbolic of Aldrich's own life and his stuggle to make films that were as honest and as honorable as possible.

For other postings on Robert Aldrich, please click on the link at right for Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

Posted by peter at 12:13 AM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2006

Frailty

frailty.jpg

Bill Paxton - 2002
Lionsgate Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Especially relevant in these times are the questions that Frailty brings up about the concept of faith. The characters are of no identified demonination which pretty much is the point. While the narrative can be viewed as being about one particularly blessed, or perhaps cursed, family, the themes of Frailty can also be stretched more broadly into that of the so-called culture wars in the U.S., and the wars in the Middle East.

The central narrative, about a man a sees visions that he claims are from God, seems common enough. The man receives messages that he is to kill certain people that God has identified as demons. The man's two young sons are enlisted in the cause, one son believing his father's story, the other son remaining skeptical and fearful about his father becoming a murderer. The family is seen in the still above, the book on the dashboard is titled "Holy Visions".

Frailty can also be viewed as a revision of Night of the Hunter, had the two children been a bit older and Robert Mitchum layed down his bible and took up an ax (not the guitar kind). Without giving away the plot twists, Frailty is intelligent enough to ask not only if an unimaginable expression of faith was sincere, but also very real. These questions are raised through Bill Paxton's character, known only by the name his sons give him - Dad.

One of the few critics who really looked beyond the horror movie trappings of Frailty is Stephen Holden of the New York Times: "(Frailty) is a meditation on faith of several different kinds. Religious faith and a belief in the miraculous is one. Faith in oneself and one's convictions is another. But by far the most important and troubling faith the movie explores is the instinctive faith children place in their parents."

It is quite possible that I am also reading more into Frailty than writer Brent Hanley or director/star Bill Paxton ever intended, but the film has a special meaning at a time when so many killings are done in the name of God.

Posted by peter at 07:35 AM

October 12, 2006

Frankenstein Created Woman

frankensteincreatedwoman.jpg

Terence Fisher - 1967
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

As much as I usually like Hammer films, I have found the Frankenstein series to be rather anemic. While the Hammer Frankenstein monster was always bigger, badder and often uglier than Boris Karloff and his clones at Universal, he (it?) was never as compelling a screen presence for me compared to someone like Glenn Strange in House of Frankenstein. Even with the various films that claim faithfulness to Mary Shelley's vision, nothing has been in the cinematic incarnations of Frankenstein that hasn't been done best by James Whale. Even Kenneth Branagh's version with Robert De Niro as the monster pales next to Ernest Thesiger toasting an era of "Gods and monsters".

This is my roundabout way of saying that as attractive as Susan Denberg may be, she's got nothing on Elsa Lanchester's permanently fashion forward, white streaked beehive hairdo in The Bride of Frankenstein. Even though Frankenstein Created Woman takes place in Hammer's version of somewhere in Germanic speaking Europe, Denberg's costumes are the most horrifying part of the film. Instead of having Denberg appear as she does in a publicity photo, this former Playboy playmate is forced to dress like Heidi.

The film itself tries to get philosophical about how long a soul exists in a dead persons body. As the good doctor, Peter Cushing makes his first appearance coming out of a 19th Century freezer. Clinically dead, Cushing insists that he still had his soul for an hour, and no one can really argue with him about that point. Through some sort of psuedo-scientific hocus pocus that writer Anthony Hinds dodges in off-screen activity, Cushing somehow transfers the soul of his decapitated assistant Hans to the recently deceased Denberg. Denberg goes about murdering the young idlers who killed Denberg's father and pinned the rap on Hans. There is a plot point which was borrowed from Night Must Fall. The final shot of Ms. Denberg plunging into a river could serve as a metaphor for the personal and professional dive she took when she retired from acting.

Posted by peter at 07:40 AM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2006

The Day of the Triffids

dayoftriffids.jpg

Steve Sekely - 1962
Allied Artists Classics DVD

I'm not sure how fair I can be in discussing Day of the Triffids based on the DVD currently available. The company operating under the banner of Allied Artists Classics offers a full screen version of a CinemaScope film, the color so garishly off that I thought it was a poorly colorized black and white film, rather than an abysmal reproduction of a film shot in Eastman Color. So much for the treatment of a film being sold as a classic.

I never read the book by John Wyndham. My understanding is that the film is not very faithful to its literary source. For those unfamiliar with the story, large, mobile killer plants from outer space have taken over the world. Most of the world's population has been blinded by a meteor shower that takes place before the triffids take over. The book was a critical and commercial success, perhaps because some things are better kept to the imagination. Killer plants are more silly than scary in the movies I've seen.

Based on some of the credits, I was expecting a better film. The special effects are by Wally Veevers, who would soon go on to do special effects for Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove and most importantly, 2001. The cinematography is by Ted Moore, responsible at least in part for the look of the Sean Connery James Bond films. Maybe the movie looked this way, but the DVD makes the triffids look like big, evil seaweed with huge, gaping maws.

Fans of Rocky Horror may want to see Triffids for Janette Scott, seen in the above still. Day of the Triffids is also the answer to the question: what became of Howard Keel when MGM stopped making musicals?

Posted by peter at 07:37 AM

October 10, 2006

Italian Film Festival - Part 3

thedestination.jpg

La Destinazione
Piero Sanna - 2003
RAI Trade 35mm Film

It took until Monday to see what has turned out to be the best film of this festival. La Destinazione is derived from Piero Sanna's own life as a member of the Carabinieri. Cast primarily with non-professional actors, the film is about choices. Emilio, a stick-figure skinny young man joins the carabinieri rather than continue unemployment. He is assigned to a small town in Sardinia plagued by high unemployment, limited options and reliance on traditional codes of honor and silence. His developing, clandestine relationship with a young woman is countered with a narrative concerning a personal vendetta between families after some small time criminals attempt to rustle sheep.

The cast, lead by Roberto Magnani as the rookie, and Elizabetta Balia as the young town girl, is effective. In an interview about the film, Sanna places his film within a neo-realist tradition, specifically citing Ermanno Olmi. While La Destinazione is much more polished than the films usually thought of in the neo-realist tradition, I can see his point in terms of both the use of non-actors and primarily using the camera as a sort of passive observer. Sanna's life may possibly be an inspiration for others in that his debut work as director-writer-editor premiered on the eve of his 60th birthday. Sanna was nominated for the David di Donatella award for Best New Director in 2004.

truthaboutlove.jpg

Much Ado about Love/La Verita, vi prego, sull'amore
Francesco Apolloni - 2001
Columbia Tristar (Italy) 35mm Film

The title comes from a poem by Auden, "The truth, I pray to you, on love". In his director's statement, Apolloni aspires to create a contemporary version of Schnitzler's La Ronde. There have been several versions, official and unofficial, but I'm certain that even Roger Vadim, not to mention Max Ophuls, would have thought to include a scene involving a lip-synching penis. It's a small part of this twelve character film, but it is also as utterly hilarious as it is in dubious taste. Most of the thirty to forty year olds are a dull lot in this story of unrequited, unwanted or unexpected love. The performers who do captivate include Pierfrancesco Favino as a musician/artist who by chance meets Beatrice Fazi, a Japanese-Italian visitor. Not saying a word until the end of the film is the charming Gabrielle Pession.

*******************************************************************************************************

comeintolight.jpg

Come into the Light/Alla Luce del Sole
Roberto Faenza - 2005
Mikado 35mm Film

Until I did a little research, I hadn't realized that Roberto Faenza had also directed Copkiller, the only film to pair Harvey Keitel with the former Johnny Rotten. Come into the Light isn't nearly as fun, being based on the true story of a priest who creates a safe haven and alternative for children in a small Palermo village dominated by the Mafia. Faenza may be sincere in his intentions, but he is also heavy handed. In one scene, there is the close-up of a noisy blender while the mother tries to blot out the sound of her mafioso husband bullying their son. Come into the Light, the only film shown on the closing night of Tuesday, virtually epitomizes this festival of films from Italy. More often than not, one was reminded that good intentions hardly every guarantee good filmmaking.

Posted by peter at 09:17 PM

October 09, 2006

Italian Film Festival - Part 2

laseconda.jpg

The Second Wedding Night/La Seconda Notte di Nozze
Pupi Avati - 2005
1O Distribuzione 35mm Film

I've only been familiar with Pupi Avati through two of his horror films. House with Laughing Windows is unsettling, with some very unexpected twists, while Zeder is an interesting mood piece involving zombies. What was most interesting about La Seconda Notte di Nozze comes in the first few minutes, with Avati compactly conveying the desperation of people in Bologna immediately following the end of World War II. Avati is more indirect in cutting between scenes in Bologna with that of rural southern Italy until it is revealed that the dumpy man who extinguishes bombs and mines in the countryside is the brother-in-law of the homeless woman in Bologna. The film is about deferred dreams fulfilled, and was the most affecting film of the three shown Sunday evening.

whatwillbecome.jpg

What Will Happen to Us?/Che ne Sara di Noi
Giovanni Veronesi - 2004
Filmauro Distribuzione 35mm Film

The second film of the evening echoed earlier films. Once again Italian young people go on holiday to Greece, this time to Santarina, more photogenic, and with better music. This is also the second film in the festival to star Silvio Muccino, who again co-wrote the screenplay. Muccino is only twenty-four but with four writing credits, and a top young star in Italy, he will probably follow his brother Gabriele to the director's chair. Muccino chases Violante Placido to the Greek resort. Ms. Placido is the daughter of director Michele Placido. She is also now making a film about Orson Welles life following his divorce from Rita Hayworth. La Seconda Notte di Nozze features a clip from Lady from Shanghai. The film itself is about three high school friends who go to Greece together for one last holiday after graduation, chase after girls, get high and gain a little more self-knowledge. Hopefully young co-star Katy Saunders, who plays a student infatuated with Muccino, will be heard from more decisively in the future.

maternatura.jpg

Mater Natura
Massimo Andrei - 2004
Kubla Khan 35mm Film

Maria Pia Calzone is fairly attractive. She is also one of the least convincing screen transexuals I have ever seen. What little Massimo Andrei knows about transexuals or transvestites seems to have been gathered from seeing The Birdcage. The only scene that rings true in Mater Natura depicts a politician shifting his public stance on issues after private assurances that he supports GLBT rights. Part of the film is a fantasy concerning an organic farming collective run by the friends of transexual prostitute Desiderio, and Desiderio's attempts to reconcile with her parents, and her love for a man who chooses to get married. Thankfully, this was the shortest film of the night. In the meantime, I was wishing that I could trade the money I spent on the festival pass for a screening of Fellini's last movie. Even the prospect of seeing a film by Umberto Lenzi would be more interesting than the mediocrity that seems to dominate this festival.

Posted by peter at 01:00 AM

October 08, 2006

Italian Film Festival - Part 1

italianfilmfest.jpg

romanzocriminale.jpg

Crime Novel/Romanzo Criminale
Michele Placido - 2005
Warner Brothers (Italy) 35mm film

The Italian Film Festival in Miami Beach began its general run Friday night, following the special reserved opening on Thursday. Considering that this is the fourth annual festival, things were remarkably disorganized at the Regal South Beach 18 where the films are being screened. The one film of the evening began almost half an hour late, making me glad I paid for what I thought would be longer than needed parking. The films at the festival are preceded by an ad for Peroni Beer which is a pastiche that supposedly pays homage to La Dolce Vita but primarily serves as a reminder that you can plant a gorgeous blonde in a fountain, but Federico Fellini and Anita Eckberg are irreplaceable.

As for the opening film, Romanzo Criminale, I might have liked it a bit more had I not seen The Departed earlier that day. Michele Placido can not be faulted for his ambitions. Romanzo Criminale is the fictionalized story of a group of street punks who become powerful gangsters in Rome from the 1970s through the end of the 1980s. The film attempts to duplicate the pull of mob life and the corrupting influence of power and money as in The Godfather films, while grafting the male bonding and pop music soundtracks of Scorsese's Mean Streets and Goodfellas.

Romanzo Criminale is a sprawling film with a few too many characters to keep track of, many with colorful nicknames like Ice, The Lebanese, Dandy and Rat. The narrative also relies on some knowledge of Italian history and politics, with the gang involved in tracking The Red Brigade secretly for the government, and suspected of participating in the bombing of a train station. In a film crammed with effective performances, standouts include Kim Rossi Stuart as the gang leader known as Ice, Jasmine Trinca as his artist wife, Stefano Accorsi as the persevering police commissioner, and Anna Mouglalis as the prostitute caught between the police commissioner and the gangster called Dandy. The Italian Film Academy thought enough of Romanzo Criminale to nominate the film for several awards. Considering that Coppola was inspired by Visconti's The Leopard, while Scorsese has named Fellini's I Vitelloni as an influence, when it came to making the great Italian gangster film, Romanzo Criminale is easily dwarfed by the films inspired by the acknowledged Italian masters.

*******************************************************************************************************

lavolpe.jpg

The Three Legged Fox/La Volpe a Tre Zampe
Sandro Dionisio - 2002
Intramovies 35mm Film

Saturday began less on a less promising note with the kind of coming of age story that the Weinstein brothers could be counted on to import to American audiences. La Volpe is about as sentimental about life and films as Giuseppe Tornatore's Malena or Cinema Paradiso. Dionisio's film is about a poor, eleven year old boy who confuses an American general's wife, the red-headed Miranda Otto, with Susan Hayward. The boy, Vittorio, plays go-between for the wife and her lover, and learns life lessons about class, pride and honesty. A brief clip from David and Bathsheba plays on an outdoor screen. There is virtually nothing in the film that can't be anticipated, nothing that hasn't been seen before in better films. The title refers to a trapped fox that chews off his leg to escape, creating an awkward parable about the traps people find themselves in. During most of this film I was wondering why new films by Marco Bellochio, Nanni Moretti or Michele Soavi weren't part of the film festival line-up. As someone who paid for my festival pass, I would have loved the opportunity to see The Best of Youth which never received theatrical play in Miami Beach.

dillo.jpg

Ginger and Cinnamon/Dillo con Parole Mie
Daniele Lucheti - 2003
Medusa Distribuzione 35mm Film

The film known as Ginger and Cinnamon in the U.S. is available on DVD and has been shown on the Sundance Channel as recently as a month ago. The film is a faintly amusing trifle about a fourteen year old girl with the goal of losing her virginity during summer vacation to a handsome young man of about thirty who unknowingly is the ex-boyfriend of the girl's aunt. Lucheti attempts to make humorous observations about the difference between men and women, youth and supposed maturity, mostly taking place on the Greek isle of Ios, which as best as I can tell is like a low-rent version of South Beach with lamer music. There is one dumb but funny reference to The Simpsons. But when the thirty year olds speak longingly about such television fare as "The Facts of Life" and "Eight is Enough", the dangers of U.S. cultural imperialism become glaringly obvious.

ilmiomiglior.jpg

My Best Enemy/Il Mio Miglior Nemico
Carlo Verdone - 2006
Filmauro Distribuzione 35mm Film

Carlo Verdone is a major star in Italy, who also follows the Chaplin template of writing and directing his films. My Best Enemy may not be the best film of the festival, but it is the best of this evening. Verdone plays opposite Silvio Muccino, who co-wrote this film. Muccino plays a young man who takes revenge for the firing of his mother by hotel manager Verdone, while unknowingly getting involved with Verdone's daughter. There is one funny scene with Verdone conducting a tryst in a supposedly secret lovers' lane, while Muccino discovers the site is popular among voyeurs armed with cameras and binoculars. My Best Enemy trades slapstick for poignancy as Muccino and Verdone go on a road trip, with Muccino looking for the father who abandoned him, and the two looking for Verdone's runaway daughter. This is one of those films that actually gets better as it progresses, though I had the feeling that if My Best Enemy does not get U.S. distribution, it might be counted on to reappear as a Hollywood remake with Steve Martin and Ashton Kutchar.

*******************************************************************************************************

I also want to add a link here regarding the "Giallo and Beyond" series I have helped plan. I don't know more than a couple words of Spanish, but it's always nice to see your name in print.

Posted by peter at 12:05 PM

October 06, 2006

The Departed

thedeparted.jpg

Martin Scorsese - 2006
Warner Brothers 35mm Film

The Departed has expanded and enlarged many of the original elements from Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's Infernal Affairs. Much of the credit should go to screenwriter William Monahan for simply not making a shot-for-shot remake, but reshaping the film to much more of a character study that explores the relationships more deeply than the original. This is not to say that Infernal Affairs is in any way a lesser film, those who haven't seen it are encouraged to view the Hong Kong original and compare. What Monahan and Scorsese are far too intelligent to do a mere remake, The Departed might be better called a re-creation in the image of the filmmakers.

As I wrote about last year, Infernal Affairs was in part about the Buddhist concept of Hell. Co-writer/co-director Alan Mak is a Buddhist, although it should be understood that it is not the same as that expressed by the Infernal Affairs chief villain portrayed by Eric Tsang. The Departed's character are mostly Irish Catholic. While the Irish identity is strong, the attitude towards the Church is ambivalent at best. Identity is a central theme throughout the film. The Departed is about professional and personal disguises.

The title is an interesting choice. A concurrent theme is how the dead influence the living. DiCaprio's Billy Costigan chooses to join the police force following the death of his mother, while the South Boston gangsters' memories of his father is the key to his being enlisted by Jack Nicholson's Frank Costello. Death in The Departed reveals a previously unknown truth about a character.

The almost constant rage of the characters makes The Departed the closest to Mean Streets. It's almost as if one was seeing several variations of Robert De Niro's volitile character Johnny Boy. While the violence is identifiably Scorcese's, there is also almost constant music, with the Rolling Stone's "Gimme Shelter" given prominent play. A brief clip from John Ford's The Informer is appropriate given both the plot and the emphasis on Irish ethnicity. What also needs to be mentioned is that The Departed is quite funny, primarily because of the continual insults hurled between characters. DiCaprio, Damon and Nicholson provide the star power, but the two to watch are Mark Wahlberg as a profanity spewing police sargeant, and Ray Winstone as Nicholson's top thug.

In reference to Mean Street, the influence of that film could be seen most clearly in Wong Kar-Wai's As Tears Go By. Scorsese has been an important filmmaker to several Hong Kong filmmakers. It may have been fortuituous that Scorcese directed The Departed. For those unfamiliar with Infernal Affairs, the film can stand on its own merits. For those who have seen Infernal Affairs, consider The Departed a dialogue between filmmakers.

Posted by peter at 03:22 PM | Comments (1)

October 05, 2006

Imprint

imprint1.jpg

Takashi Miike - 2005
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

When the list of directors involved with the Showtime cable series, "Masters of Horror", was announced, I was intrigued by the inclusion of Dario Argento and Takashi Miike. Argento at his best has been able to sustain an intensity that can be unbearable, as in the opening sequence of Suspiria. As it turned out, Argento's contribution to "Masters of Horror", Jenifer, had some of its violent imagery trimmed before its cablecast. While Jenifer was one of the better received episodes, I had to wonder if Showtime and an unaware American audience was ready for Miike. Those of us who are familiar with Miike were not surprised when it was announced that that for Showtime, there would be no show time for Imprint.

Miike is not a filmmaker one watches unprepared. While some films are better than others, what is consistent throughout his work is how Miike loves to deliberately provoke the audience. Even the relatively benign Gozu features a low-level gangster taking a supposed "Yakuza attack dog", really someone's small pet, by the leash, and smash it against the sidewalk. The scene is absurd and brutally funny. For Miike, nothing is taboo either as subject matter or as something to be depicted on film.

Imprint is based on a novel, Bokke Kyote by writer and actress Shimako Iwai, who has a small role in the film. Screenplay writer Daisuke Tengen is the son of Miike's mentor, Shohei Imamura. The story, about an American man, Christopher, who finds himself in a brothel in a Japanese island in the late 19th Century. A scarfaced prostitute tells Christopher about her life, also revealing the fate of Christopher's lost love, Komomo. The film is elegantly photographed with beautiful use of color, such as a long shot of a bare tree draped with red banners, or a river bank bordered with pinwheels. At the same time, Imprint features excruciating scenes of torture, involving long needles stuck under fingernails and in the mouth. While not as extreme as Miike's Ichi the Killer, it is still ugly to watch. What may have ultimately forced Showtime's hand was the depiction of a back country abortionist who disposes of fetuses in a river. At the beginning, Imprint had the promise of being as elegant and has horrifying as Miike's best film, Audition. Given a free hand, as it were, Miike undermines his art with increasingly over-the-top imagery that is less scary and more silly.

There is also the question as to whether Miike should have made Imprint in English. Youki Kudoh, the prostitute with the deformed face, has appeared in such films as Memoirs of a Geisha and Snow Falling on Cedars. The rest of the Japanese cast often is clearly struggling with English and requires close attention to what is said. Billy Drago may have had a better modulated performance had Miike understood English and the inflections of the language. I have mixed feelings about Imprint primarily because I was hoping that Miike would be introduced to a broader audience. Miike made exactly the kind of film he wanted to make, but lost an opportunity to make himself better known to those unfamiliar with this very unique filmmaker.

Posted by peter at 07:30 AM

October 04, 2006

The Devil Rides Out

devilridesout.jpg

Terence Fisher - 1968
Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD

A film about black magic in the British countryside. Non-believers are convinced by the end of the film that devil worshippers are to be taken seriously. I have to assume that when Christopher Lee and company made The Devil Rides Out, they were hoping to make the equivalent to Night of the Demon or Burn, Witch, Burn. Like the older films, The Devil Rides Out tries to rely more on mood and psychological suspense, but also like the other films, terror ends up being conveyed using special effects. Unfortunately, Devil is less successful in suggesting horror, and more dependent on some obvious and unconvincing screen trickery.

One aspect of Devil that remains worth watching is the opportunity to see Lee as the hero in a film. Lee's height and deep voice give him immediate authority in every scene he's in. While Lee remains watchable, the story itself is never as compelling as it could have been. Even though Devil is more scholarly in its uses of symbols and mythology, there is never any sense of uncertainty that Lee could possibly fail. Someone better versed in British culture might have a better idea, but if one was to summerize the theme of the Hammer horror film, one could say the films symbolize the triumph of Christianity over Britain's Pagan past. The Devil Rides Out starts off as a more thoughtful type of horror film which disintegrates into another variation of Dracula without blood or Dracula.

Posted by peter at 08:15 AM

October 03, 2006

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin

lizardinawomansskin.jpg

Una Lucertola con la Pelle di Donna
Lucio Fulci - 1971
Media Blasters Region 1 DVD

There are some people who are much more enthusiastic about Lucio Fulci than I am. I am willing to read serious evaluations of his work. I even saw The Beyond at a midnight show. While I was impressed by the final imagery of hell in The Beyond, I was also convinced that Fulci relied too heavily on eyeball gouging and not enough time creating a story that could transcend some astonishing gaps of logic. A Lizard in a Woman's Skin is a Fulci film that can probably be appreciated by those who normally place Fulci well behind such giallo specialists as Dario Argento, Sergio Martino and Aldo Lado.

I don't know how much credit should go to cinematographer Luigi Kuveiller, but there is greater care in the visual compositions. There is a nicely composed shot of a detective, Stanley Baker in conversation with Florinda Bolkan, while the statue of an angel bears witness. Bolkan, seen above left, has surreal nightmares about Anita Strindberg which anticipate an unsolved murder. The film is something of a Eurosoup hallucination of hippies, lesbians, orgies,LSD and bloody knives. The title comes from a comment one of the hippies makes about Bolkan which does not make much sense, but is in keeping with the moment when gialli was notable for having titles refering to animals.

While the narrative in primarily about Baker and company trying to identify a couple of murderers, and stop whomever is chasing after Bolkan, it is the dream sequences that are memorable. The film opens with Bolkan, clad in a fur coat, squeezing her way through a crowded train. The passengers are the normal group of people, Fulci cuts to Bolkan, still on the train, pushing her way through corridors of naked people before falling into a black void which contains a red bed. Fulci also distinguishes the film through the soundtrack, with a periodically atonal score by Ennio Morricone, and having Stanley Baker with audible tic of a whistle that sounds like the shriek of a teakettle.

A Lizard in a Woman's Skin will be screened as part of the Giallo Series at the Miami Beach Cinematheque.

Posted by peter at 07:11 AM | Comments (2)

October 02, 2006

Phantom of the Opera

phantomofopera.jpg

Terence Fisher - 1962
Universal Pictures Region 1 DVD

Seeing the Hammer version of Phantom of the Opera again, I have to wonder if anyone seriously thought they could equal, if not better, the 1925 version starring Lon Chaney. I also feel a bit puzzled as to why the story by Gaston Leroux is has been remade so many times. It should be noted that the Chaney version actually was the second filming, the first version being made in Germany in 1916. Of the several versions of Phantom, I have seen four versions, and the ending of one. One version I have avoided is Andrew Lloyd Webber's.

Would Hammer's version of Phantom been any better had it starred Cary Grant? Approached by Hammer to be the romantic lead, Grant probably would have distracted from the narrative of the Phantom, and might have been regarded as too old opposite aging ingenue Heather Sears. Far better had Grant enough of a sense of humor to hide his famous face, if not his voice, behind the mask of the Phantom.

This version of Phantom involves the phantom seeking revenge for the theft of music he has composed. As the Phantom, Herbert Lom is not very scary, and suspense is disappated when he unmasks himself. This Phantom also loses sympathy by slapping Heather Sears around during her singing lessons. The musical thief who takes credit for the opera is played by Michael Gough, who steals the film with his constant smirking, innuendo and indignation when not getting his way.

Edwin Astley's music is certainly more listenable than that from Andrew Lloyd Webber. What is not clear from any information I have found is if he had written the actual opera in the film. The music is a bit too modern for the time when the film takes place, and Joan of Arc was not yet made a saint, but I much prefer it to Nelson Eddy in the 1943 version. One bit of opera humor, and a wink towards Hammer's vampire films, involves a singer auditioning with a song from Die Fledermaus. This may not be the definitive Phantom, but how appropriate that a film about opera be filmed at Bray Studios.

Posted by peter at 07:18 AM

October 01, 2006

A "Gialli" Time in Miami Beach

blacksabbath.jpg

For the past couple of months, I have had the opportunity to introduce a couple of films at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. The October schedule will be reflecting a bit more of my input. Dana Keith, the cinematheque director, invited me to help in schedule the "Giallo and Beyond: Italian Horror Masters" that will comprise most of the films presented in October.

Three films by Dario Argento - Suspiria, Deep Red and Tenebre will be shown because Argento is the best known of the giallo filmmakers, and the one most likely to attract the largest audience. Mario Bava will be represented by Black Sabbath, to be shown with Fellini's episode "Toby Dammit" from the anthology Spirits of the Dead. Fellini has acknowledged that his use of a little girl as the devil was inspired by Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill. Lucio Fulci will be represented by one of his more artful films, Lizard in a Woman's Skin.

There will also be three films from NoShame. In addition to the Miami Beach premiere of Mariano Baino's Dark Waters on Holloween, I will be introducing Emilio Miraglia'sThe Red Queen Kills Seven Times and Sergio Martino's Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have The Key.

Inside the cinematheque will be the exhibition A Suspirian World, a softsculpture installation with performace by Rachael Hoffman and Kelly Boehmer. The cinematheque will feature Monserrattz and DJ Maximus with their Trilogy Of Terror music video release on Halloween Night.

I will mostly be writing about horror films in October as I did last year, with detours to cover the Italian Film Festival and other noteworthy films.

Posted by peter at 09:10 AM