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December 30, 2014

Verdun: Looking at History

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Verdun, visions d'histoire
Leon Poirier - 1928
Carlotta Films US All Region DVD

Even if there is no specific interest in World War I, or in this historic battle, as a work of cinema, Verdun should be of interest as a lot of what is commonplace in film and television has its roots here. What is significant is the combination of large scale historical recreation, a fictional story, and some incorporation of documentary footage. As is mentioned in one of the supplements discussing the restoration of this film, there is also the unmistakable influence of D. W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein.

Not exactly as "lost" film but one that was only available in shortened versions, the film we have is the complete two and a half hour version, restored from a print in the Moscow archives. Poirier's recreation of the battle scenes, done with World War I veterans, was so convincing that his footage has been misinterpreted as having been shot at the scene of actual fighting, and used in other documentaries on Verdun.

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But it addition to the convincing footage, are the other questions regarding making a film about a national even, especially one that is emotionally loaded. Just as, to give a recent example, how does a filmmaker responsibly recreate any part of the events related to September 11, 2001, so too was this a problem for Poirier. As reported in the discussions by those involved with the restoration, there was resentment in Poirier's choice not present the German soldiers as villains, but with the same dignity as the French troops. One also needs the perspective of history, with Marshal Petain, re-enacting a moment from 1916, still considered very much a popular hero at the time the film was made, a hero so beloved that it enabled his ascent to the leadership in France in 1940, and the personal and political disaster that followed.

An example of Poirier's cleverness is in using documentary footage from a parade of German soldiers. The solders go by an open barn or storage shed. We can see some soldiers peering out from the dark interior. Poirier cuts to a shot of his actors as the soldiers looking out from inside the building. It's the kind of moment that viewers are use to seeing now, taken to an extreme in something like Forrest Gump, but still a new technique at the time. On a more intimate level, Poirier frequently uses close-ups of hands - a woman giving a soldier a small crucifix before he goes off to battle, hands manipulating a compass. The mechanics of war are best illustrated with a shot of the soldiers manning a cannon, with each of the four soldiers having a distinct function in loading, shooting and unloading the cannon.

As the French soldier, who is followed into battle, Albert Prejean is best remembered for his association with Rene Clair's films The Italian Straw Hat and Under the Roofs of Paris. As Prejean's younger brother, Antonin Artaud appears briefly in the scenes at home, occasionally reading a book, and generally looking pained.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:30 AM

December 28, 2014

Coffee Break

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Winona Ryder in The Dilemma (Ron Howard - 2011)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:12 AM

December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

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Teresa Wright in Something to Live For (George Stevens - 1952)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:38 AM

December 22, 2014

Billie Whitelaw: 1932 - 2014

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It was a two year burst. I saw Start the Revolution without Me, Leo the Last, Gumshoe, Eagle in a Cage and Frenzy, all theatrically at the time of the original theatrical release, all in chronological order. It's not like I actively went out of my way to see movies that featured Billie Whitelaw, but somehow, for this one actress, it worked out that way.

Even when she wasn't playing an aristocrat, there was something regal about Whitelaw's presence. Not conventionally attractive, her face wasn't soft. Not soft was her gaze which dared the viewer to look at anyone else. She was attractive because she was unobtainable. Look, but don't touch, at least not without expressed permission. Since that period, I have seen a couple of films made before and after. For that one brief period over forty years ago, as far as British cinema was concerned, Billie Whitelaw was the Queen of England.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:32 AM

December 21, 2014

Coffee Break

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Jenny Slate in Obvious Child (Gillian Robespierre - 2014)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:58 AM

December 18, 2014



Kim Hong-sun - 2012
Well Go USA Region 1 DVD

Probably not the first choice for viewing in the holiday season, Traffickers is a relentlessly grim look at black market organ transplants, inspired, as they say, by true events. The film cuts between several characters, seemingly unrelated, until they are gathered on a run down cruise ship that travels from Korea to China. One of the passengers, a wheel-chair bound woman, is abducted, with surgery done by a drunk, discredited doctor. Even when one thinks all the narrative pieces have come together, Kim has a couple more surprises at the end.

Even though the story involves black market criminals, what brings all of these characters together is money, or the lack of it. The ones who profit the most, perhaps unsurprisingly, are those who need money the least.

It is near the conclusion that sense is made of the several flashbacks employed throughout the film. Even with an explanation that is suppose to tie things up, there are a couple of loose threads to the story.

I'm not going to fault Kim for being ambitious with his disjointed narrative, but not everyone can be a Robert Altman or even a Quentin Tarantino. What Kim does, that I liked, was that he would make cuts that the viewer would assume were from the point of view of one character, but are revealed to be that of someone completely different. There is just enough invention to explain why Kim won for Best New Director for the 2012 Blue Dragon Awards.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:33 AM

December 16, 2014

The Long Hair of Death

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I Lunghi Capelli della Morte
Antonio Margheriti - 1964
Raro Video BD Region A

Anybody looking for scares is probably going to be disappointed with The Long Hair of Death. Maybe fifty years ago, there were a few screams at the sight of what was suppose to be the decaying corpse of Barbara Steele, with a handful of maggots moseying around the remaining flesh near her eyeballs. Otherwise, what we have is pleasure of the camera surveying a deep, dark dungeon decorated with spiderwebs aplenty.

And while the experience is nothing like seeing this film theatrically, this very handsome blu-ray does look quite nice viewed on a plasma television. There are several moments when what we see are several shades of black, with only a small portion of the screen lit. Even if gothic horror isn't a favorite genre, for those of us who love black and white movies, this is a treat. One of my favorite images is of the interior of a chapel, with the light pouring in, and the dust motes giving the shot an extra bit of texture, the camera panning from the window to the mourning courtiers.

The film takes place near the end of the 15th century, with a feudal lord burning a woman alive at the stake as a witch. Revenge comes in the form of the woman's two daughters who come into the lives of both the lord and his son. The younger daughter has grown from being a ward of the lord, to wife of the lord's son. There is a bit of mystery regarding the relationship between the men and women that is revealed near the end. A more serious analysis might position The Long Hair of Death as something of a critique of male entitlement and privilege, as well as a portrait of karma, with the film ending similarly to how it begins.

I usually don't do this, but I did see The Long Hair of Death twice, once in English, and once in Italian with English subtitles. Keep in mind that all of the actors were dubbed in both versions, a common practice in Italian movies at the time, but I was hoping that I would hear Barbara Steele's real voice in the English version. The voice for Steele was definitely not British. As it stands, the voices of the Italian actors are stronger dramatically, and reading the subtitles helped clarify who some of the characters were, and their relationship to each other.

Among the supplements is an interview with Margheriti's son, and horror screenplay writer Antonio Tentori, providing a couple of overviews of Margheriti's career.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:49 AM

December 14, 2014

Coffee Break

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Kim Cattrall in Meet Monica Velour (Keith Bearden - 2011)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 08:36 AM

December 10, 2014

Werewolf Woman


La Lupa Mannara
Rino Di Silvestro - 1976
Raro Video BD Region A

In the accompanying interview, Rino Di Silvestro wants to make the case that his film was inspired by a recorded case of female lycanthropy, the only known case. This is the only film I have seen by Di Silvestro, a filmmaker known exploitation movies of, at best, questionable taste. But it is entertaining to see him talk about his films, so thoroughly is he convinced of his own hucksterism.

From what is seen onscreen, it is certain that Di Silvestro was also inspired by classic Universal horror movies. We have the title character seen in Eighteenth Century Italy chased after by torch-bearing townspeople. Unlike the classic monsters, though, this werewolf woman is first seen dancing naked by fire light before turning into a furry beast with a snout more like that of a dog than a wolf. It turns out that the werewolf woman is someone dreamt of by a young woman, Daniela, who almost two centuries later, bears a stunning resemblance to her fabled ancestor. That Daniela acts like a werewolf without the physical transformation makes this film closer in spirit to She-Wolf of London, a minor 1946 Universal horror film in which June Lockhart is led to believe that she is the curse descendant of a female werewolf. The concept of the female werewolf as the basis for psychological horror has been given more recent currency, by a female filmmaker, in the Argentinian Mujer Lobo.

Daniela has enough issues, having been raped at age thirteen, and conflicted about sexuality, both her own and everyone else. Several people are killed by teeth, hands and sharp instruments, with a brief respite in the form of the only man who does not come on to Daniela, allowing the relationship to blossom on her terms. This is arguably a psychological horror film, although the psychology as such is as messy as the killings.

The killings do take place during a full moon, and Di Silvestro uses a repeated visual motif of distant shots of the moon, alone in the dark, as well as moon-like images of car headlights and lamps. In addition to trying to place his werewolf story within the context of a legend, much like the classic Universal films, there are visual moments that also recall Italian horror films from the previous decade, although Annik Borel's nightgown is decidedly more diaphanous than anything worn by Barbara Steele. This was the only significant film appearance by Borel, who previously was in small supporting roles in U.S. films and television, notably Jonathan Kaplan's Truck Turner, returning to small roles in European productions after Werewolf Woman. Cinephiles will more likely recognize the name of Frederick Stafford, the police inspector investigating the murders related to Daniela, from his appearance in Hitchcock's Topaz.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 07:27 AM

December 07, 2014

Coffee Break

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The Lego Movie (Christopher Miller & Phil Lord - 2014)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:20 AM

December 04, 2014

Sweet & Perverse Milly

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Dolce e perversa
Christopher Clark - 1990
One 7 Movies Region 0 DVD

Usually I don't bother with hardcore porn, but I made an exception here. The bait was that this film was supervised by Gerard Damiano. For anyone not familiar with the name, Damiano was most famous for making Deep Throat, probably the most famous pornographic movie ever made. I had also seen his Devil in Miss Jones, his 1973 follow-up which attempted to up the ante with a mix of lesbian and straight sex, plus an ending inspired by Sartre's No Exit. Tried as I might, I was hoping to find some kind of information on the making of this film to find out what Damiano did here, as well as getting a better list of the cast. The version here also has truncated credits at the beginning, so I have no way of knowing which screenwriter was responsible for the poetic line, "C'mon, jizz on my ass".

Unlike the porn movies from the Seventies, there's no attempt at creating anything resembling a plot. Essentially it is about Italian porn star Milly D'Abbraccio coming to America, and coming in America, supposedly in search of guys with big penises. We first see Milly getting clean, taking a shower, showing off her abundant breasts and generously rounded ass. After that, Milly gets really dirty as it were. And there are several scenes with her having sex, including a threesome, with the kind of close-ups of coupling that make me wonder: how did they place the camera there, and wasn't it extremely awkward for the cameraman?

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What makes this film odd is that it seems as if another movie was intended, as in order to get a feature length film, there are scenes that have nothing to do with Milly's American journey. Did the producer run out of money? Did Milly's visa expire, forcing her to return home? Did someone decide that there is only so much you can do with footage of Milly sucking, fucking, and being on the receiving end of some very dedicated cunnilingus? The film cuts to a scene in a strip club, the kind of place where calling it a dive makes it sound classy. A "gentleman's club" this is not. There is also a scene in some other club where there is an on-stage orgy. Is this a performance piece? Hard to tell. Some of the guys seem more interested in their drinks than in the male-female and female-female connections that are seen here, in a variety of combinations and contortions.

What is interesting is that, unusual for a film aimed at an audience of straight males, is a scene of two transexuals getting it on. The two here are quite passable. The way they are filmed makes their sexual identity elusive, especially in the beginning. Unlike the scenes with Milly with the long, uncut, close-ups of Milly's oft-used vagina and the several dicks that find their way into her orifices, the scene with the transsexuals is filmed with enough distance to make the viewer question what is going on in that bed, the kind of question that is answered best with the finger on the freeze frame button. Admittedly, this kind of scene might not appeal to everyone, but as far as I'm concerned, this is what sweet and perverse is all about.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 06:56 AM

December 02, 2014


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A combination of things happened. A bit of fatigue following daily postings from the Starz Denver Film Festival, not getting some expected screeners for review, and trying to catch up on the end of the year screeners meant for voting for the Online Film Critics Society awards. Some of which would be easier if I didn't also have a day job. I will continue to post in December, but not as much as previous months. The screen grab above is from Fear(s) of the Dark.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:21 AM