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October 31, 2008

Happy Holloween!

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Dillinger (Max Nosseck - 1945)

Posted by peter at 12:23 AM

October 30, 2008

In the Folds of the Flesh

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Nelle Pieghe della Carne
Sergio Bergonzelli - 1970
Severin Region 1 DVD

The erotic promise of the title is quickly eliminated when it revealed that the folds of flesh in the title refer to a different body part, the brain, in a quote that may or may not have been written by Sigmund Freud. A quick google search brought up more references to the painter, Lucien Freud. Had this been a film about Lucien Freud, or even by Lucien Freud, it would probably be better than what Sergio Bergonzelli concocted, and made a bit more sense. Even more disheartening is that this less than thrilling thriller was the final film for Eleonara Rossi Drago and close to the end of the line for Pier Angeli.

My main reason for bothering with this film was Eleonora Rossi Drago, whose passing was barely noticed. I'll see other films with her as they become available, but I am starting to suspect that there isn't much worth watching after Le Amiche and Violent Summer. The harshly lit In the Folds of Flesh does nothing to complement Ms. Rossi Drago or the actress billed here as Anna Maria Pierangeli. Seven years apart in age, the younger actress is suppose to be Rossi Drago's daughter, although they could have, and probably should have, played sisters. Seeing these two actresses as they appear in this film, it is almost hard to imagine that they were popular Italian screen queens fifteen years earlier.

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For a story about guilt, trauma and memory, In the Folds of the Flesh is not very well thought out. I'm not one to demand that this kind of film make a lot of sense. A flashback with Rossi Drago as a concentration camp prisoner marched naked with several other women, and forced to watch others die in a windowed gas chamber, is gratuitous on several levels. The use of a prism lens for Pierangeli's memories of murder are the height of creativity, lending a meaningless psychedelic touch to various beheadings of several unfortunate men. Some of the costuming choices forced on the actors are likely to make contemporary audiences squirm and cringe more than the sight of Rossi Drago disposing of body parts in a tub of acid.

More disappointing is that we have another reminder of the haphazard availability of older films on DVD. Several bloggers have posted on films they would like to see, many which are not viewable in any home format. Among the older Italian films I would like to see rescued with at least as much care as given In the Folds of the Flesh, there is Visconti's Sandra starring Claudia Cardinale, or Sign of the Gladiator, a peplum shot in part by Michelangelo Antonioni. At least get more films of Eleanor Rossi Drago when she was hot, such as the one with a poster that made a lasting memory on one impressionable youth.

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Posted by peter at 12:00 AM

October 28, 2008

Denver International Film Festival 2008 - The Line Up

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The complete list for the Denver International Film Festival has released. I anticipated some of the films that would be included. I am hoping some of the people who check this site out will write to me quickly about any films I should make a point of seeing, especially those without any US distribution deals. As it stands, I will be seeing a few more films this year because I am taking time off from work. Also I am to be getting a few more screeners than last year.

I do have to admit a certain disappointment with the schedule this year. The annual Aurora, Colorado Asian Film Festival has been discontinued. I was hoping that the DIFF schedule would make up for that absence. The Thai martial arts film Chocolate and Nami Iguchi's Sex is No Laughing Matter are the only features. There is also the three part Tokyo! consisting of shorts by Leon Carax, Michel Gondry and Bong Joon-ho. Films I would have liked to have seen would include The Amazing Truth about Queen Raquela, Wonderful Town, Ashes of Time Redux, and Sparrow. A tribute film to Kon Ichikawa would have been a nice touch.

Speaking of tributes, three films to remember Paul Newman? I won't argue about The Hustler, and I haven't seen Nobody's Fool. Admittedly I am in a minority as I don't love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Had someone asked me though, I would have screened a more original "buddy" film, Paris Blues with Newman and Sidney Poitier as ex-pat jazz musicians, and WUSA because of its topicality regarding right-wing radio.

I will be covering some of the work by Colorado filmmakers, including a series of experimental films. Stan Brakhage use to be a regular at the festival, showing his own work and introducing films by others. There will be a tribute to Carolee Schneeman at the Denver Art Museum that I will probably attend.

Also as one who loves documentaries about filmmakers, I am also considering No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos and Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.

Several of the films will get theatrical as well as DVD release. My interest in James Gray's new film, Two Lovers has been piqued knowing now that the film was co-written by a friend from NYU, Ric Menello.

I will determine in the next couple of days what I will see at the festival. Feel free to make recommendations to me in the comments section.

Posted by peter at 12:01 AM | Comments (4)

October 26, 2008

Coffee Break

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Shinya Tsukamoto in A Snake in June (Shinya Tsukamoto - 2002)

Posted by peter at 12:49 AM

October 25, 2008

Corpse Mania

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Si Yiu
Kwei Chih-Hung - 1981
Image Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Corpse Mania owes so much of its style and substance to Mario Bava. There's the killer with the fedora and the barely seen face covered with a white scarf. There's the unusual use of color with whole rooms drenched in blue or red. Corpse Mania isn't a remake of Bava's Blood and Black Lace, but Kwei Chih-Hung must have written some copious notes before executing his own screenplay. In the little more than fifteen years since Bava's film was released, new freedom in film content allowed Kwei to go beyond Bava in sex and violence.

Hong Kong giallo almost describes Corpse Mania. Besides the usual plot points of a mad slasher on the loose, blackmail, and a misdirected police investigation, there's necrophilia. That in itself isn't novel, being the stuff of Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker. What we have here is rotting dead girl covered with maggots necrophilia. The actual act is suggested under a heavy veil of gauze, but there are enough images to let the viewer figure out that sometimes love is better left on a platonic level.

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As it stands, Corpse Mania is one of the more unusual productions from the Shaw Brothers factory. In addition to being one of the studios rare forays into horror, the film takes place, for no clear reason, in the 1930s based on the couple of cars and telephones used by the characters. Prostitutes are murdered, all from the brothel of Madame Lan. Li, had bought the freedom of one of the girls when she was too ill to work, and was sentenced to a psychiatric institute when his act conducted with his recently deceased bride was revealed. Li has only been recently released from the institute when the killings occur.

Those who enjoy Italian horror film may be the most apt to appreciate the familiar tropes - the large, dilapidated house full of cobwebs, the young woman pursued on a dark and lonely street by the killer flashing his blade, the generous splashes of blood. There is a certain yuck factor that might challenge some of the more extreme moments in films by Lucio Fulci or Sergio Martino. Still, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Corpse Mania is a pretty good tribute to the pioneers of giallo.

To find out more accurately the cast and crew of Corpse Mania, check out MKMDb. That's right, the Hong Kong Movie Database.

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Posted by peter at 12:27 AM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2008

Open Letter on the Internet Movie Database

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To Col Needham, Jeff Bezos and whomever else this may concern:

Congratulations on the 18th birthday of the Internet Movie Database. You have been around for longer than many of us have been online or encountered our first personal computers. I know that I have used you for reference countless times. However, like any supposedly mature entity, I have to ask you, with all due respect, to please grow up and truly fulfill your mission.

For many people, like the voters who declared The Dark Knight as the best film ever made, there is no problem with IMDb as a resource to find out what Andy Hopkins did on that production. For those of use whose interest in film may veer away from the mainstream, IMDb can often be unreliable, vague or just plain frustrating. That the job openings advertised are only for techies and not film scholars makes me also question how serious the goal is to provide information on all things cinematic.

Take for example, this spotty filmography of Curtis Harrington. I have attempted several times to set the record straight by adding Harrington's short films to the database. It takes a bit of digging to find even a partial list online. For reasons best known to the IMDb staff, my entries to complete Harrington's filmography never passed their gatekeepers.

Meanwhile, no one has deleted the the misinformation that Spike Lee studied film under Martin Scorsese. Oliver Stone, yes. Spike Lee, no. How would I know? I was there, amigo. You'll have to take my word for it as I am not listed in the credits of Street Scenes, functioning as a lowly production assistant being only a Freshman that Spring. Scorsese was already in Hollywood by the time Mr. Lee came to NYU.

Where IMDb really fails is in Asian films. Nothing at all existed on a film I wrote about a few months ago, Insee Thong. Classic Thai cinema may be too esoteric for the folks at IMDb. On the other hand, there could be more interest with an upcoming tribute to the "Red Eagle" series of films starring Ananda Everingham, made by Wisit Sasanatieng. Even with more current Thai films, consider that someone should straighten out the filmography of Lena Christensen, as well as adding a few more titles. Another example of IMDb falling short is with this title.

Now I know that someone is going to whine about the cost to really make IMDb good, but there can be an upside. As most of us know, IMDb is owned by Amazon.com. Many of us have bought books and DVDs from Amazon. With many films being made available from around the world, if IMDb improves their information on both the films and the availability of those films on DVD, Amazon would make even more money.

Anyways, my optimism may be unfounded, but I hope that IMDb can actually live up to its potential.

Cordially,

Peter Nellhaus

Posted by peter at 12:07 AM | Comments (4)

October 21, 2008

Two early films by Alexander Mackendrick

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Whisky Galore!/Tight Little Island
Alexander Mackendrick - 1949

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The Maggie
Alexander Mackendrick - 1954
both Anchor Bay Region 1 DVD


Recent discussion on Sweet Smell of Success was a reminder that I should see the earlier available films by Alexander Mackendrick. While on the surface, it may have appeared odd to some that a Scotch director would film a story based in New York City, there as aspects to the earlier films that make the connection logical. The use of extreme angles, the framing of faces, the pictorial compositions of the locations, the respect towards his characters no matter how wrong-headed, and the use of vernacular dialogue are some of the links between Whisky Galore! and Sweet Smell of Success. Add to that the conflict of personal gratification versus the perceived or real needs of a community. The need for scandal or celebrity news is as temporal as the need for alcohol.

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While the citizens of the small Scottish town connive their way to stealing the cargo of hundreds of cases of liquor for their dry community from a ship that crashed ashore in the fog, The Maggie offers a small crew conning their way to stay afloat. The boat of the title is a small dilapidated barge that takes on a job of ferrying several large crates for American tycoon Paul Douglas when no other boats are available. The day "The Maggie" is to be declared unseaworthy, the job is snagged by opportunity and a few fibs. Every attempt by Douglas and the shipping company to correct the error is met by "The Maggie"'s skipper and crew using every possible trick to complete the job in order to earn the needed three hundred pounds. Even when Douglas goes along for the ride, he comes to reassess the value placed on his merchandise. While the citizens of Barra and the crew of "The Maggie" can be considered more sympathetic, as well as obviously comic, Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success might be considered to have the same kind of ethos, in a more raw and desperate form.

While Falco could be viewed as a descendant of the playful characters from Whisky Galore! and The Maggie, there is also the corollary characters that would be seen most brutally in the form of J.J. Hunsecker. Captain Wagett attempts to control activity on the island in the unlikely event of a German invasion in Whisky Galore!. As the local military commander, he is also responsible for preventing the whisky from being stolen by the townspeople. In The Maggie, Paul Douglas portrays an airline magnate who finds his sense of control taken out from under him both by incompetent underlings and crew of "The Maggie". In all three films, the men find that whatever sense of control they had in their particular realms is an illusion. Unlike Wagett or Hunsecker, Paul Douglas' character of Calvin Marshall gives in to the chaos, at first reluctantly, finally surrendering to his temporary situation.

It is probably worth noting that in theory, the film director is suppose to be the person with the greatest authority, while Mackendrick's career can be viewed as that of filmmaker who constantly lost control, finally leaving Hollywood. At the same time, I'm not sure if anyone other than Burt Lancaster really wanted to see a film version of G. B. Shaw's The Devil's Disciple, while a Mackendrick version of The Guns of Navarone is difficult to imagine. What is known is that Mackendrick's last three films were not seen as intended by the director. Reunited with Ealing producer Michael Balcon, Sammy Going South can hopefully be restored on DVD with a version longer than the 88 minute cut for U.S. theaters. The theatrical version of High Wind in Jamaica will probably be the only version we will know. His recent autobiography may renew interest in films starring Tony Curtis, but a DVD version of Don't Make Waves remains to be seen. The film that was intended to be Los Angeles answer to Sweet Smell of Success was recut but MGM and proved as unpopular at the box office. Even though Mackendrick has gone on record as criticizing the notion of the director as auteur, one can still see continuity in both assignments accepted as well as the films originating from the director, in the characters, and the visual style. In this respect, The Maggie can be viewed as almost autobiographical, as the story of a filmmaker who tried to sneak in personal elements into the films he had the opportunity to make, and the director who finally walked away rather than constantly battling the more powerful studio chiefs and movie stars.

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Posted by peter at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)

October 19, 2008

Coffee Break

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Jesus Franco, Daniel White and Fernando Montes in The Diabolical Doctor Z (Jesus Franco - 1966)

Posted by peter at 12:07 AM | Comments (2)

October 15, 2008

The Devil's Rain

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Robert Fuest - 1975
VCI Home Video Region 1 DVD

Let's give a hand to Ernest Borgnine. Along with the seemingly unstoppable Mickey Rooney, Borgnine shows no signs of retiring at a still vigorous 91. Among his co-stars on The Vikings, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis, he remains the last man standing. Did Borgnine sell his soul to the Devil? At any rate he plays Jonathan Corbis, "Satan's emissary on Earth" in The Devil's Rain, and he looks like he had a damn good time, too.

Admittedly, my favorite performances by Borgnine are when he is the, ahem, heavy, beating up skinny, little Frank Sinatra in From Here to Eternity, or as Dutch Engstrom in The Wild Bunch, the humanitarian outlaw who states, "At least we don't hang people." I'll also take Borgnine in his Robert Aldrich stock company roles, the studio chief in The Legend of Lylah Clare and the railroad agent in Emperor of the North Pole especially. Too often though, Borgnine is caste as the lovable lug, a variation on his role in Marty.

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The Devil's Rain may be about the denizens of Hell, but the cast seems to be made up of actors who seemed to be drifting in Hollywood Purgatory. William Shatner would seem not to recapture the glory days of his Star Trek television series, while Tom Skerritt was left behind when M*A*S*H elevated the careers of his co-stars. The two appeared with Joan Prather the previous year in Big Bad Mama. Meanwhile, Borgnine and Eddie Albert, the two top billed actors here, would also be in Aldrich's Hustle in December. Keenan Wynn appears as a small town sheriff, while Ida Lupino plays mom to Skerritt and Shatner. The Devil's Rain is almost worth watching just for the cast.

The best part of the film has no special effects or make-up. Dressed in western gear, we first see Borgnine flashing that famous gap toothed smile, offering Skerritt a drink of water from the pump in dusty ghost town. Borgnine introduces himself and explains his mission of recovering his book, a list of names of people who have signed their names in blood. The seemingly friendly smile takes a malevolent twist. It's a familiar theological discussion, God versus The Devil. Where most of the other cast members overact, Borgnine knows how perform is role with just the right level of gravitas. The threat is always hinted at but never fully advertised. It may be within the context of The Devil's Rain that the performance indicates a greater modulation than seen in other films. Or perhaps Ernest Borgnine is giving the devil his due.

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Posted by peter at 07:28 AM | Comments (1)

October 13, 2008

Hollywood Cavalcade

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Irving Cummings - 1939
20th Century Fox Region 1 DVD

The best part of Hollywood Cavalcade isn't in the movie, but in the out takes. One minute and twenty-five seconds of black and white silent footage shows Buster Keaton tossing pies at Alice Faye. It's amusing enough as it is, but for a few seconds there is a moment totally unanticipated: Buster Keaton laughs. Not just a smile, but a genuine open mouth laugh. This is one of those times when I was glad I bothered with the DVD extras.

Had Alice Faye's deleted song, "Whispering" been included, this would have made the DVD version of Hollywood Cavalcade perfect.

The movie itself is fairly entertaining, more so in the first half. A fictionalized version of Mack Sennett and Mabel Normand becomes less fun when the director morphs into D.W. Griffith attempting to make the biggest spectacle possible, eventually becoming an unemployable drunk. Unlike Griffith, Don Ameche's Michael Connors (not to be confused with Mike Connors) gets to make a successful comeback with a talkie. Even though Hollywood Cavalcade makes use of several people who actually were making films in the silent era, it is no place to look for accuracy, even twelve years after the premiere of The Jazz Singer.

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Don Ameche bluffs his way into the director's chair, first by sweet talking Broadway understudy Alice Faye into a contract with with a Hollywood studio, and then convincing studio boss Donald Meek that he and Faye are part of a package deal. The years covered are from 1913 through 1928, with Ameche accidentally inventing the pie fight, while Stu Erwin plays the Billy Bitzer surrogate who discovers lighting techniques as Ameche's cameraman. Alice Faye is the young actress in love with the filmmaker who is obsessed with filmmaking to the point of being oblivious of Faye's feelings. The technicolor restoration is a gaudy visual treat but the fun is in the black and white footage.

The directorial credits tell part of the story, although further scholarship may be required. Irving Cummings is officially the director of Hollywood Cavalcade. The silent scenes are credited to Malcolm St. Clair under the supervision of Mack Sennett. St. Clair got his start in film as a Keystone Kop before making a reputation for himself as one of the top comedy directors in the silent era, tapering into the sound era as a frequent writer-director for Laurel and Hardy. Along the way, St. Clair cowrote and codirected The Goat with Buster Keaton. Cummings also started in the silent era, first as an actor before settling as director, ending as one of the house directors at Fox during the sound era. One of Cummings last acting jobs was in The Saphead with Buster Keaton. For those interested in seeing a complete St. Clair silent film, YouTube has The Show Off featuring Louise Brooks. A degree of authorship should be ascribed to producer Darryl Zanuck who began his career writing for Mack Sennett before creating stories for the dog who saved Warner Brothers, Rin-Tin-Tin. Others having a hand in the silent series starring the famed German shepherd were Malcolm St. Clair and Irving Cummings.

In this bit of revisionist recreation, Buster Keaton acts as a Sennett player among the several genuine Keystone Kops, with Chester Conklin and Ben Turpin making cameo appearances. In retrospect, movies haven't changed that much since Mack Sennett's time. While slapstick comedy may be less visible, Sennett's bathing beauties have been replaced by women with even less clothing, while the cars are driven at faster speeds, and the stunts reach new levels of danger and amazement. When the sound era does arrive in Hollywood Cavalcade, Don Ameche takes a gander at The Jazz Singer. An older, heavier, Al Jolson recreates part of his appearance in the original - but not from any of the expected scenes. At least Ameche gets it right when he mentions that The Jazz Singer is ninety percent silent, before completing his comeback film with sound sequences.

As for the rest of Hollywood Cavalcade, Ameche and Faye seem to attempt creating the kind of sparks of John Barrymore and Carole Lombard in Twentieth Century. Of course it's not as good, but it's better than the more serious tone taken in the second half of the film. Whatever it's merits as a film, much less film history, Hollywood Cavalcade provides a view of Hollywood looking back at the not-so distant past during the same year audiences first saw Stagecoach, Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind.

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Posted by peter at 12:19 AM

October 12, 2008

Coffee Break

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Chang Chun-Ning and Chang Chen in Silk (Su Choa-Bin - 2006)

Posted by peter at 12:25 AM

October 09, 2008

Le Deuxieme Souffle

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Jean-Pierre Melville - 1966
Criterion Collection Region 1 DVD

While it's terrific that Jean-Pierre Melville is getting the Criterion treatment, during much Le Deuxieme Souffle I kept wondering why this film never got a theatrical release in the U.S. During the time I lived in New York City, Melville was a filmmaker I would read about but never see, with the exception of Les Enfants Terribles. I've only been able to start catching up on Melville over the past couple of years. Based on the seven of his films that I have seen, Le Deuxieme Souffle is one of Melville's best films. I try to avoid shopworn phrases but, yes, this is one very cool movie.

Taken from a novel by Jose Giovanni, Lino Ventura is the escaped criminal, Gu (Gustave) Minda, who takes the proverbial last job as part of a high stakes heist. The action takes place during the last week of November of 1958 through the first days of January. Titles appear to remind the audience of what day certain action takes place leading up to the robbery of a shipment of platinum. Gu shows up in time to save old flame Manouche, stepping into the rivalry between two gangsters who front their activities with legitimate businesses. Accepting the heist job, Gu unknowingly is working for the gangster who killed Manouche's business partner.

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The heist is only one part of the film. What Melville is primarily interested in is Gu's sense of honor, the code he lives by, and that he hopes others adhere to. Ventura was forty-six at the time of filming, and is presented as a guy who is starting to get old. Minda makes the leap across the prison roof, but barely is able to catch the freight train that takes him to Paris. Christine Fabrega's Manouche is a woman still attractive, but no longer youthful. Added to this mix is Paul Meurisse as Blot, a police detective who is so familiar with the Parisian gangsters he deals with that he can supply them with their own fantastic alibis before they are offered, spoken with deadpan, sarcastic delivery. Le Deuxieme Souffle is about people who know that they have limited futures. This may be best seen in a shot of Minda, alone on New Year's Eve, ripping off the last page of a daily calendar, leaving only a blank page.

Much of the action takes place in empty, or nearly empty spaces. The buildings are crumbling, while the interiors are shabby and in need of repair. It is not surprising that the only thing shiny and new in Minda's hideout is the lock that isolates him from the outside world. The heist takes place on a rocky stretch of road that gets little traffic. The heist partially takes place in the rain, while another scene is of Minda interrogated in a muddy lot. As in his final film, Dirty Money, Melville likes to put is characters in a nowhere town stuck in crappy weather. Melville's Paris seems empty of people, even during the daytime. Against this austerity is the what appears as a visual non sequitur, at least initially, of a dance troupe performing in a dive more bar that nightclub, appearing in the early Paris based scenes. There is really no reason for the girls to be in the movie from a narrative standpoint, but they do look good making their moves against the cool jazz style score of Bernard Gerard. In the end, Le Deuxieme Souffle is about people who are alone, even when they are with other people, fighting to maintain their individual sense of integrity in the face of compromises imposed by others.

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Posted by peter at 12:11 AM

October 07, 2008

Mother of Tears

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La Terze Madre
Dario Argento - 2007
Dimension Extreme Region 1 DVD

Were my expectations lowered by decidedly mixed reviews for Dario Argento's "return", or were those who had seen Mother of Tears last year or in its theatrical release anticipating the equal to Suspiria, still Argento's best film? Either way, Mother of Tears is for me a better film than I Can't Sleep or The Card Player, and Argento's best film visually since The Stendhal Syndrome. There are still the elaborate traveling camera shots but they are more functional within the context of the narrative. I also imagine that it may take a few more years before Mother of Tears is better understood on its own terms, rather than the reviews which mostly emphasize the connection to Suspiria.

The basic story is of a witch, the titular Mother of Tears, who is accidentally unleashed when a construction crew accidentally digs open her grave just outside a church. The opening of an urn with several small statues of unearthly creatures and an red robe becomes the Pandora's box of nightmares. Random violence occurs throughout the streets of Rome. Witches from around the world fly in by jet, instead of broomsticks, to be with their "Mother", and usher in a new age of witchcraft. It is up to Asia Argento, as Sarah, a student of art restoration, to harness her unacknowledged psychic powers to defeat the Mother of Tears. The witches resemble goth club kids on the loose, diminishing their threatening presence. There is some discussion referring back to Suspiria and Inferno. And while Mother of Tears is touted as the followup to those films, Argento integrates other reminders of his past work, most notably an evil monkey, a reminder of Phenomena, and an eye examination that recalls Four Flies on Gray Velvet. The initial set-up is a contemporary reworking of the set-up for Mario Bava's Mask of Satan, in which long dead vampire Barbara Steele is revived by some accidental drops of blood that drip in her open coffin.

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What struck me about Mother of Tears is a connection, perhaps not fully intended, with The Stendhal Syndrome. In that film, police woman Asia Argento literally gets lost in a painting at a Florence, Italy, art museum. While this condition is not part of the narrative of Mother of Tears, it seems significant that all of the major characters are surrounded by books and art. Not only is there the massive library in the art museum where Sarah works, but the homes Sarah visits are filled completely from floor to ceiling with books, while there are always paintings on the walls. When Sarah is pursued by the police, she runs into a book store. One shot of Asia Argento frames her behind a shelf with graphic novels, comic book versions of Moby Dick and Ligeia. In this scene, Sarah, literally disappears among the books. Mother of Tears should be understood as being about the tension in how horror is represented in art.

Consider that Argento has mentioned Edgar Allan Poe as an influence, and that several of the his films have literary sources of inspiration. In horror literature, there is no limit in what can be imagined by the writer or the reader. For the visual artist or filmmaker, the challenge is to recreate what is seen in the mind's eye. While the horror, as presented by Argento, is graphic, due in part to his own predilections, and perhaps due to audience expectations, the images owe much to images of horror in painting. Argento's horror and violence may seem less over the top when placed next to Hieronymus Bosch's vision of hell or the darker paintings by Goya. In this regard, as in Argento's other films, it is not the narrative elements that are of as much importance. What makes Argento continually interesting is his theme of how horror is expressed, whether in literature or in the visual or performing arts. Asia Argento's journey that descends into the literal bowels of hell is only one part of Mother of Tears. The other part of Mother of Tears is the indirect autobiography of a filmmaker continually inspired by artists of the past, while trying to make his own art meaningful to the present.

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Posted by peter at 05:04 PM | Comments (2)

October 05, 2008

Coffee Break

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Yoo Jun-Sang in Wide Awake (Lee Kyoo-Man - 2007)

Posted by peter at 12:47 AM

October 03, 2008

The Garment Jungle

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Vincent Sherman - 1957
Columbia Pictures Region 1 DVD

Completed and signed by Vincent Sherman, The Garment Jungle still is unmistakably Robert Aldrich's film. Photographed, like many of Aldrich's other films, by Joe Biroc, the look of the film literally lightens up during the last third which was primarily filmed by Sherman. Some of the camera angles look as though Biroc shot the remainder of The Garment Jungle as planned by Aldrich, such as an overhead shot which is used in virtually every Aldrich film. There are conflicting reports as to how much of The Garment Jungle is Aldrich and how much is Sherman's work. What seems to be agreed is that Aldrich had conflicts with star Lee J. Cobb and writer-producer Harry Kleiner. Columbia Pictures chief Harry Cohn also was unhappy with the Cohn-type character in Aldrich's The Big Knife. What is ironic is that Aldrich, who was an Assistant Director to Abe Polonsky and Charles Chaplin, was replaced by Sherman, who himself was blacklisted five years previously. And while the background story is highly dramatic, the final film isn't too bad either.

Lee J. Cobb plays the boss of a New York high fashion firm that refuses to unionize. Kerwin Mathews gets to wear long pants as his son who wants to join in the family business. Robert Loggia is the union organizer, while Richard Boone is the "businessman" who keeps Cobb's company non-union for a fee. Gia Scala appears as the young wife of Loggia. There are enough elements in Kleiner's screenplay to indicate that The Garment Jungle fits in thematically with other Aldrich films - the conflicting relationship between father and son, the hope of "the American dream", the independent operator against conformity, bureaucracy and corruption. My guess is that even if Aldrich had completed The Garment Jungle, it would still be regarded as one of his lesser films.

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What may be the best part of The Garment Jungle is the unexpected casting of Aldrich favorite Wesley Addy as an unctuous hit man. Paired with baby-faced Adam Williams, who faintly resembles Ralph Meeker, this may have been a twist on Addy's role in Kiss Me Deadly, on the other side of the law. Addy's understated performance is a marked contrast to the shouting of Cobb and Mathews. Also worth watching are Loggia in his second performance on film, and Joseph Wiseman as a fellow union organizer.

Aldrich probably felt like Cobb's character, being second guessed by several people. One could argue that there are enough similarities between the fashion industry and the film industry. After being fired from The Garment Jungle, Aldrich spent most of the next five years primarily working in European based productions, with uneven results until making Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? starring two actresses famous previously for films directed by, among others, Vincent Sherman. Aldrich was able to conjure one last posthumous dig at Cohn in the Ernest Borgnine's studio chief, in The Legend of Lylah Clare. It should be noted that unlike Cobb who likes to remind everyone within shouting distance that it's his company, Aldrich seemed to know that his own success was possible with the efforts of others. It may have been false humility, yet it seems consistent with his films that he would name his own film production company, Associates & Aldrich.

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Posted by peter at 12:01 AM | Comments (1)

October 01, 2008

Coffee Break

Suzy.JPG

Cary Grant and Jean Harlow in Suzy (George Fitzmaurice - 1936)
courtesy of the Jonathan Lapper collection

While Cary and Jean gaze at each other, I'll be looking at how to make my new apartment a livable space.

Posted by peter at 03:25 PM | Comments (2)