in the summer of 1964, A Hard Day’s Night,
starring The Beatles and directed by Richard Lester, is arguably the second
most influential British film of that decade (the first being Goldfinger, coincidentally released the
same year.). Why? For one thing, it brought The Beatles to a worldwide audience
that was just getting to know them through their music. Secondly, it spawned
imitations and knock-offs (The Monkees, anyone?) and is arguably the genesis of
music videos—where would MTV have been without it? Thirdly, the film itself was
innovative, fresh, and surprisingly funny (those long-haired boys from
Liverpool could actually act!).
of the best things about the Criterion Collection’s new deluxe box set of the
film (dual Blu-ray and DVD, three discs) is the short extra, On the Road to “A Hard Day’s Night,” an
interview with author Mark Lewisohn, that documents how The Beatles did not magically appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964,
already brilliant, already at the top of their game. In fact, as every serious
Beatles fan knows, their story began in 1958 when John Lennon met Paul
McCartney in Liverpool at the ages of seventeen and fifteen, respectively, and
they started playing music together and writing songs (George joined not long
after at age fourteen!). The first four years embodied a lot of work gaining
experience, honing their skills, and creating an act that would change not only
music itself, but pop culture. The Hamburg days, the early shows with Pete
Best, the gigs for peanuts, the obtaining of managers (first Allan Williams, then
Brian Epstein), auditioning for producer George Martin, being rejected by a
major record label, and then finally landing a contract with one—these were all
things none of us in America were aware of when we watched the four lads
perform on Ed Sullivan. What we saw
was a tight, talented band, and it seemed as if they’d come from nowhere.
(Apologies to UK readers, who of course knew how great the band was all through
to A Hard Day’s Night. Kudos to
United Artists executive David Picker, who greenlit a three-picture deal with
producer Walter Shenson (Picker was also responsible for green-lighting Dr. No, a little picture featuring a
character named James Bond). Picker had the foresight to make the deal with The
Beatles in 1963, well before the
band’s appearance on U.S. television. Apparently his instincts were good. If he
hadn’t done it then, someone else would have much later, and I dare say the
results would not have been as good.
was no accident that American director Richard Lester was hired to helm the
movie, either. He was living in the UK and had directed British television,
especially those crazy guys known as the Goons (Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers,
Harry Secombe), who were forerunners of that type of English humor we Americans
found odd but grew to love, especially by the time Monty Python came around.
The Beatles were fans of the Goons, so they figured Lester was their guy. It
was a perfect match. Lester not only brought out that odd British humor, but he
also combined the elements of the British New Wave in cinema (the “kitchen-sink
dramas” of the “angry young men”) and the French New Wave (radical editing,
improvisation, hand-held camerawork, low budget), and created something very
then there’s the music. Did you know that the song, “A Hard Day’s Night,” was
written overnight, on demand by
producer Shenson, because they needed something that matched the title? Not
only was it a good song, it was a massive hit
song! Imagine that... “Hey boys, could you write a number with the title in
it?” “Sure, Walter, we’ll have it for
you in the morning.” Bang. Oh. My. God. And that’s not to mention all
the other great tunes in the film. (For my money, the UK version of A Hard Day’s Night, the album, is one of The Beatles’ five best
this is a Criterion release, you can expect nothing but an outstanding transfer
of the film itself—4K digital restoration, approved by Lester, with three audio
options—monaural soundtrack, a stereo 5.1 surround mix, and a DTS-HD master audio
on the Blu-ray. Wow. There’s also an audio commentary by some of the cast and
extras are wonderful—some we’ve seen before, but others are new. A nice piece
on Lester, Picturewise, is narrated
by Rita Tushingham and features Lester’s early work (and there’s the obligatory
inclusion of Lester’s The Running Jumping
& Standing Still Film). In Their
Own Voices is a new piece mixing 1964 interviews with The Beatles with
behind-the-scenes footage and photos. A longer 1994 documentary, “You Can’t Do That: The Making of ‘A Hard
Day’s Night’” by producer Shenson, also includes an outtake performance by
the band. Things They Said Today is a
2002 documentary about the film featuring interviews with Lester, Martin,
screenwriter Alun Owen, and cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. And there’s more,
buy me love? Forget it! The Beatles, Walter Shenson, Richard Lester, David
Picker, and everyone else involved with the film certainly bought enough love
for us... and we’re still basking in it.
Criterion Collection’s A Hard Day’s Night
is a must-buy.
The Hollywood Reporter visits Jerry Lewis at his home in Las Vegas and finds the 88 year old comedy legend as opinionated, cranky and funny as ever as his career undergoes yet another renaissance. Click here to read
Neil deGrasse Tyson is universally regarded as one of the top astrophysicists in the world. He hosts the popular Cosmos series and is a ubiquitous presence on American television as he promotes the study of science and astronomy is layman's terms. Nevertheless, the generally calm, cool deGrasse does have something that irks him more than the flat-earthers who continue to argue that the planet is only a few thousand years old and that humans romped around in the presence of dinosaurs. Turns out that a routine question from TMZ regarding his opinion of the movie that bastardized science the most, set deGrasse into a humorous "rage" when he immediately recounted how the 1979 Disney flick "The Black Hole" continues to irritate him to this day. deGrasse said that the scriptwriters didn't even make a token attempt to convey the actual science behind real black holes and claims that, had they done so, they would have also turned out a more compelling film. deGrasse isn't a totally stick-in-the-mud, however. He acknowledges that the Bruce Willis blockbuster Armageddon was also amiss when it came to science, but he gives it a pass because he feels it was a very entertaining film. Click here to watch the interview.
After being attached to the forthcoming "Ant-Man" Marvel super hero flick for a staggering eight years, director/co-writer Edgar Wright left the project he has been nurturing on the basis that the studio made changes to his script without his permission. Variety presents nine other examples of high profile film productions dating back to "The Wizard of Oz: and "Gone With the Wind" that saw directors replaced, mostly due to "creative differences". Click here to read.
Dee became a Broadway sensation as the female lead in A Raisin in the Sun. She also played the role in the acclaimed 1961 film version opposite Sidney Poitier.
Ruby Dee, the acclaimed star of stage and screen, has died at age 91. Dee was part of a generation of African-American actors who broke through racial prejudice and elevated the status of black characters in film and theater. She won both Emmy and Grammy awards and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2007 for American Gangster. Dee enjoyed a creative collaborative relationship with her husband, the late actor Ossie Davis, who was a legend in his own right. In addition to their contributions to the arts, Dee and Davis were also fervently involved in the issue of civil rights. For more click here.
On his web blog Hill Place, writer Shaun Chang catches up with former actress Cristina Raines for an exclusive interview. Raines had prominent roles in such 1970s gems as Michael Winner's The Sentinal, Robert Altman's Nashville and Ridley Scott's The Duelists. Interestingly, this accomplished actress gave up the glamour of show business for a career in nursing. Click here to read.
One of the most sought-after film scores in
the last 40 years has finally been released on CD. When released in 1968,
Michael Reeves’ classic Witchfinder
General (released in America as The Conqueror Worm) , starring Vincent Price (in arguably his finest role) featured an
equally impressive score by Paul Ferris. At the time of the film's initial
release a 45rpm record of the love theme was issued in England, but not a
complete soundtrack. Thought to be have been lost forever, the original
1/4-inch master tapes were found in the vaults of recording studio De Wolfe Ltd
Recently-discovered box containing reels of the original score.
The tapes, which are the original recordings, and not a copy, include
every cue used in the film, and are now available on a CD for fans of this film
(and the music) to enjoy at long last. Released by De Wolfe Ltd, the 3-sided
gatefold sleeve reproduces photos of the newly discovered tape box and reel
itself, and also comes with a 12-page booklet detailing the film's history. For
this author, this is the 'find' of the decade!
MPI Home Video has released producer/director Dan Curtis' 1973 production of "Bram Stoker's Dracula" on Blu-ray. The film was shot for American television and starred Jack Palance as the legendary vampire. The production was released theatrically in some European markets and this Blu-ray is the theatrical cut. In general, vampires had been good to Curtis and he returned the favor by popularizing them in his high profile TV productions such as "Dark Shadows" and "The Night Stalker". For "Dracula", Curtis enlisted some top talent, aside from Palance: legendary screenwriter Richard Matheson and acclaimed cinematographer Oswald Morris, among them. He also spent rather lavishly on the project with location filming in Yugoslavia and England. Matheson's intelligent script follows the Stoker novel in most major respects with the exception of jettisoning the character of Dracula's fawning slave Renfield and the accompanying subplot set in an insane asylum. The action begins with Jonathan Harker's (Murray Brown) arduous journey to Dracula's foreboding castle in Transylvania. The Count ostensibly wants Harker to suggest some real estate holdings so that Dracula can relocate to England. Upon seeing a photograph of Harker's friend Lucy (Fiona Lewis), he is instantly mesmerized. It seems she is the spitting image of his own lover from hundreds of years ago. They were both victims of Dracula's war time enemies and he has been pining away for her ever since having been transformed into a vampire. Matheson and Curtis very much wanted to add this new plot device in order to give the character of Dracula and emotional aspect that was missing from previous cinematic incarnations of the character. As presented here, Dracula is as much victim as villain. His motives are largely related to his quest to make Lucy a reincarnation of his former lover. Thus, he imprisons Harker in his castle and immediately sets about relocating to a home that is near the residences of Lucy and her fiancee Arthur (Simon Ward). Perhaps in the interest of the 98 minute running time, designed to fill a two-hour broadcast slot, Matheson only briefly alludes to the fatal and murderous sea crossing by Dracula in which the entire crew of the passenger ship dies under mysterious and horrific circumstances-- though there is a haunting image of the last victim strapped to the wheel of the ship with a cross clutched in his hand. Once in England, Dracula wastes no time in ensuring that Lucy becomes his victim. This leads to the introduction of Prof. Van Helsing (Nigel Davenport) who correctly diagnoses her bizarre maladies as having been caused by a vampire. The plot then follows the traditional elements of Stoker's novel with the manhunt on for Dracula and attempts to rescue Lucy and Harker's financee (Penelope Horner) from eternal damnation, both having been victimized by the Count.
The centerpiece of any Dracula film, of course, is the actor who plays the title role. Jack Palance makes for a striking visual representation of the Count: tall, imposing and seething with barely-restrained menace. Palance could chew the scenery if he didn't have a strong director, but Dan Curtis keeps him in check and, if anything, his performance may be a bit understated. Nevertheless, it's a very credible interpretation of the role and Palance deserved the kudos he received. Similarly, Curtis does a fine job as director, drenching the action in a menacing atmosphere and getting fine performances from his cast members. (Davenport is particularly good as Van Helsing). Adding to the commendable aspects of the production is Robert Cobert's fine, atmospheric score and Oswald Morris' creative camera angles. The film is a winner on all counts, if you pardon the pun.
The MPI Blu-ray is also very good indeed. The transfer is excellent and the release includes some interesting bonus extras including brief interviews with Palance and Curtis done in the early 1990s. Palance is surprisingly funny and says he had never seen the production, joking that he might have found it too scary. Curtis insists in his interview that Palance was the definitive screen Dracula, something that others may argue with especially when confronted with names like Max Schreck, Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Nevertheless, Curtis' enthusiasm for the film remains apparent even twenty years after it had been filmed. There are also some silent footage snippets identified as deleted scenes when, in fact, they are mostly just different camera angles. Most interesting is a comparison between scenes in the TV and theatrical versions. The main differences are confined to scenes in which vampires are "staked" by Van Helsing. Predictably, the theatrical takes are far gorier with oceans of blood ejecting from the mouths of the vampires There is also a theatrical trailer that seems to have been intended for the British market.
In total, a very worthy release of a very worthy take on a timeless literary masterpiece.
Cinema Retro's Matt Field and Dave Worrall on the red carpet.
By Matthew Field
headlined an exclusive red carpet event at the Odeon Leicester Square in
London, to mark the 50th anniversary of Zulu – the 1964 epic about
the historic 1879 battle at Rorke’s Drift.
Arriving at the cinema, the Prince told Suzannah Endfield Olivier, the
daughter of the film's director Cy Endfield, that Zulu was one of his favourite
films. 'I watch this film every single year before Christmas time,' he said. 'Maybe
once. Maybe twice.'
Matt and Dave with Cinema Retro contributor Paul Adsacks.
Inside and ahead of the film, guests were treated to a screening of rare
behind the scenes footage shot on location in South Africa in 1964. Cinema
Retro’s Dr. Sheldon Hall, gave the 2,000 strong audience a running commentary
to the black and white footage. Film critic Mark Kermode and Historian Dan Snow
both addressed the audience giving the film a cultural and historical context.
Dave and Matt with Welsh Guards.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who played King Cetshwayo the leader of the
Zulus in the film, was also in attendance. He said in a short recorded piece to
camera “My portrayal of King Cetshwayo, my maternal great-grandfather, was not
only a privilege, but almost inevitable once the idea was conceived. Cy
Endfield and Sir Stanley Baker came to see me at KwaPhindangene to request my
assistance in enlisting the thousands of extras for the Zulu regiments and the
part of King Cetshwayo. But when Endfield saw me, he was struck by the family
resemblance, and persuaded me to play the role myself.”
The Choir of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards performed Men of
Harlech on stage before a specially filmed message from Michael Caine. The
event benefited three very worthy charities - Walking With The Wounded, The
David Rattray Memorial Trust and Sentebale.
Zulu actor Dickie Owen and Henry Coleman a historian of the film who supplied rare footage. Henry also runs a Zulu web site that can be accessed by clicking here.
Finally the audience enjoyed the gorgeous 50th anniversary
digitally restored print of the film. As the lights came up, we began talking
to an elderly gentleman sitting next to us, only to discover, he was in fact 88 year old actor Dickie Owen, who played
Corporal Schiess in the film. In all, a memorable commemoration of a very
memorable British film classic.
well-known that when John Ford, who had worked with actor John Wayne on a
number of films prior to seeing him in Howard Hawks’ Red River, proclaimed that he didn’t know that “the son-of- a-
bitch could act!”
words were apt. Prior to the release of Red
River in 1948 (it was shot in 1946 but didn’t appear in theaters until
’48), Wayne had mostly played the likable, stalwart “John Wayne” character that
had first appeared in Ford’s Stagecoach (1939).
But in Red River, Wayne plays a role
that turned critical and public opinion of the actor’s thespian abilities. He
pulls off a remarkable feat—Wayne’s character, Thomas Dunson, is a first-class
S.O.B., a guy you really want someone to punch out throughout the movie; and
yet, Wayne manages to make him likable. He carries an audience through over two
hours of hardcore western, and he delivers one of his two or three best
performances. It doesn’t hurt that Wayne is ably supported by Montgomery Clift,
who plays Wayne’s adopted son. In many ways, it’s really Clift’s picture—he’s
the protagonist, and the story is seen through his eyes. But wait—maybe it’s
seen through Walter Brennan’s eyes in the original, rare theatrical cut,
released here in a glorious 2K digital restoration on Blu-ray.
fact, I had never seen the theatrical cut, the version preferred by director
Hawks. A longer cut, by about six minutes, was the one that was shown on
television and appeared on previous home video releases. The longer version was
actually intended as a preview for studio execs; it utilizes on-screen textual
transitions (as if the audience is reading from a book) and an extended final
confrontation between Wayne and Clift. The theatrical cut dispenses with the
textual transitions and instead substitutes sequences narrated by Walter
Brennan, who then, arguably, becomes the character through whose eyes we see
the story. Why this version, which originally played to audiences in 1948,
didn’t become the standard edition after that is a mystery; in actuality, Hawks
was quite right—the theatrical cut is the
better one, except for the trimmed final fight between the two leads. As Hawks tells Peter Bogdanovich in an audio
interview included as an extra in the Criterion Collection’s elaborate box set,
the best way to watch Red River is to
view the theatrical cut up until the last few minutes, and then change to the
preview cut at the point when Wayne marches through the heads of cattle to
confront Clift at the corral.
thing that is remarkable about Red River is
that it was Hawks’ first western. He would go on to make a handful more (good
ones, too!), and was known for making pictures in all genres, but the fact that
he went out of the gate with one of the greatest westerns of all time is truly
an achievement. Red River, without
question, is one of the five best
American films of the genre.
story is a fictional account of the first cattle drive from Texas to Kansas
along the Chisholm Trail, the hardships the men overcome, and the battle of
wills between Wayne, the tyrannical leader and father, and Clift, the calmer,
perhaps smarter right-hand cowpoke and adopted son. Hawks manages to capture the
perilous trek with uncanny realism, assured composition and tempo, and drama.
Hawks once said that the key to a good film was “three good scenes and no bad
ones.” Well, Red River has far more
than three good scenes. The stampede sequence is nothing short of astounding.
went all out on this one. It’s a four-disk set—two Blu-rays and two DVDs
containing identical material. Both versions of the film are included, along
with a couple of interviews with Bogdanovich, who explains the difference
between the two cuts and presents his views on the picture. Critic Molly
Haskell talks about Hawks in a new video interview, and film scholar Lee Clark
Mitchell tells us all about the western genre in an interesting piece. There
are audio excerpts from interviews with Hawks and novelist Borden Chase, as
well as a Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of Red
River featuring Wayne, Joanne Dru, and Brennan. Besides the usual
essay-filled booklet, the box comes with Chase’s original novel, Blazing Guns on the Chisholm Trail, from
which the film was adapted.
Douglas Sirk was known primarily for his “adult” melodramas of the 1950s that
usually dealt with bucking the small-town America social mores of the times. All That Heaven Allows is a prime
example. In lush, bold Technicolor (the superb cinematography is by Russell Metty),
Sirk tells the story of a May-September romance between an “older” widow and a
younger man (in actuality, star Jane Wyman was only 38 when the film was made,
and her paramour in the picture, Rock Hudson, was 30; obviously the intention
was that Wyman’s character is even older, say, in her 40s, since she has
college-age children). The couple must face gossip, scorn, and ultimate
rejection from Wyman’s society friends and even her grown children. The message
of acceptance and tolerance hits one over the head like a hammer, to be sure,
but, granted, at the time the subject matter was most likely indeed scandalous
to most Americans. Now it’s a big “so what.” That said, the point of the
story—that women need to be responsible for their own happiness and not cater
to what other people think—is still relevant today. A mother’s children will
eventually grow up and leave the nest; why should she remain in an unhappy
situation just to please them when they’re not even there?
but yes, Rock Hudson. Looking back at his performance in this and his other
hits of the 50s and 60s and knowing what we know about him today, one cannot
help but view the actor in a different light. And, for me, anyway, I saw right
through Hudson’s performance. I couldn’t believe that a) Wyman fell for the
guy, and b) that Hudson was really attracted to her. In 1955, the audience for
whom the picture was aimed (female, I imagine) may have bought the romance;
today, it’s superficial and frankly unbelievable. If there had been a bit more
spark between the actors and some clues that there were aspects about each
other that they found appealing (other than Hudson’s Adonis good looks), it
might play better. As it is, All That
Heaven Allows is now a curious relic of a time when America had more bugs
up its ass than a mother spider.
Criterion Collection presents the picture in the classiest way possible—a 2K
digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray—and it
looks marvelous. Of particular interest is the extra, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, in which we are treated to clips from
his films that he edited himself; they compile the moments in which the subtext
implies the truth about his sexual orientation. A Profile of Douglas Sirk, a 1979 BBC documentary, features rare interview
footage and is an interesting portrait of the filmmaker. There is more, of
course, in the dual Blu-ray/DVD format package, including an essay on Sirk in
the accompanying booklet, written by none other than filmmaker Rainer Werner
Fassbinder, whose work was inspired by the director’s pictures.
The Cinema Retro archives once again delves into its limitless images to present two great stars indulging in the Hollywood ritual of posing for cheesecake photos: Errol Flynn, seen here in an undated publicity photo at the height of his career and young Raquel Welch in the mid-1960s. Back in the day, stars and stars-in-the-making were subject to many glamour shoots designed to play up their images as sex symbols.
face it, 1979 was a particularly bad year for the Concord. It was the year in
which the ‘Airport’ franchise were about to deliver their latest offering in
the shape of the quite awful Airport ’79
The Concord. However, Airport ’79
was beaten (by several months) to the screen by a cheesy little flick from
Italy, Concord Affaire '79. Directed
by Ruggero Deodato, Concord Affaire '79
is more an action thriller rather than the formulated disaster flick that we
have come to know.Some commentators
have argued that it is actually far better than its ‘Airport’ rival, and to be honest, I would probably side with that
opinion.But let’s be clear from the
start, neither film will ever be described as a classic…
film was not a big budgeted project, the film’s restraints are apparent –
mainly through the use of stock footage of the British Airways supersonic
‘bird’ or the (less than seamless) shots of some average miniature models. But
of course, that is half of the film’s 70s charm and its era defining identity
stamp. Concord Affaire '79 separates
itself from the typical disaster genre film right from the start, largely by
having the plane crash in the first reel. There is no long laborious build up –
this plane is down, crashing into the ocean off the coast of Martinique and
leading us to believe there are no survivors. Of course, that’s not quite true,
Jean Beneyton, the young French flight attendant played by Mimsy Farmer, does
survive the crash. She is captured / rescued by the man responsible for the crash
– Milland, played by Hollywood veteran Joseph Cotton. The film in fact boasts a
string of established stars; Van Johnson plays Captain Scott, whilst Edmond
Purdom played Danker, one of Milland's leading henchmen. Heading the cast is
the ever enjoyable James Franciscus as Moses Brody, an American investigative
reporter who decides to go to the Antilles in an attempt to rescue Jean
Beneyton and uncover the story. From here on, it’s all rather good fun.
Cipriani’s score for Concord Affaire '79
marks its debut release on CD. It’s only previous release was on vinyl LP
consisting of 15 tracks and released in Japan on Polydor records. Whilst
Cipriani sets an energetic pace with his opening main title Danger flight, there are also plenty of
lush romantic cues. The score does however illustrate an age, due mainly to an
overwhelming backbeat of Euro disco, an era which perhaps does not transfer too
easily in today’s society. But of course, its style is very much of its time
and still retains a certain retro charm. The composer cleverly based his score
on variations of a single theme, which is hard to achieve unless in the hands
of someone such as Cipriani. The central theme is used to good effect,
sometimes melodic and rich or in the case of the underwater scenes there is an
edgy dreamlike quality attached. But above all else, Cipriani uses Concord Affaire '79 to indulge himself
deep into a world of synths and electronica, perhaps in reflection of the
futuristic, supersonic era of the film’s narrative. Synth theme in particular is a long, almost operatic homage to a
haunting electro heaven. However, Cipriani never seems to step too far over the
line, and later adds more familiar analogue instrumentation (such as strings)
to the synth sound and as a result, the blending works very well in deed.
Concord Affaire '79
is a curious, almost experimental score, yet Cipriani ultimately succeeds in
making it work. But there are moments where one is left considering, if
Cipriani perhaps deliberated over which route to take when composing this
score. It is certainly an eclectic mix of styles, both in mood and in its
instrumentation. For Cipriani collectors and soundtrack collectors in general, Concord Affaire '79 is well worth adding
to your collection. Consisting of 27 tracks, (7 of which did not make it into
the film), the CD is a huge improvement over the original album and its audio
has been beautifully remastered. Chris’ Soundtrack Corner has demonstrated a full
commitment to Cipriani’s work - with Concord
being the composer’s Sixth title in their increasingly impressive catalogue. We
can only hope there is more to come.
Even astute fans of retro cinematic classics may be unfamiliar with Billy Wilder's 1951 gem "Ace in the Hole". The film was a boxoffice flop in its American release back in the day but over the decades it has become regarded as a genuine classic and one of the best movies of its era. Kirk Douglas, in one of the truly great performances of his career, is cast as Chuck Tatum, a once-lauded reporter for a major New York newspaper, who finds his career on the skids. His cynical nature, overbearing personality and weakness for liquor has resulted in him being displaced to New Mexico, where- out of desperation- he convinces the editor of an Albuquerque paper to give him a job. Within hours, Tatum is bored by the sleepy atmosphere and passive nature of his co-workers, most of whom have no ambition beyond reporting minor stories of local interest. Things change radically when Tatum stumbles onto a crisis in the desert that could make for a compelling story. Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) is the owner of a cafe located on a remote road who finds himself trapped in a cave after venturing inside to look for ancient Indian artifacts. Tatum sees that rescue plans for the man are rather poorly staged by the local deputy sheriff (Gene Evans). He enters the cave at great danger to himself and makes a connection with Leo, whose legs and midsection are buried under debris. Tatum is able to communicate with him from a small opening in a dirt mound and he assures Leo that he will get food, water and cigars while he organizes a rescue team. Grateful, Leo looks upon Tatum as his guardian angel. However, it becomes clear that Tatum is using his relationship with Leo for his own selfish purposes. He sees the potential as one of those "child stuck in a well" scenarios that tends to galvanize the entire nation. By personally taking charge of the rescue effort, Tatum makes himself a national hero overnight, as hundreds of people stream to the remote location and erect a tent city in order to be on the scene when Leo is eventually saved. Tatum, fully aware of American's eagerness to embrace the bizarre elements of any story, also plays up the notion that Leo is the victim of an ancient Indian curse for prowling around sacred tribal grounds.
Tatum has some disturbing factors to contend with, however. The primary problem is dealing with Leo's bombshell, self-centered wife Lorraine (Jan Sterling in a terrific performance). She was already looking to get out of a boring marriage with a boring man and decides to leave town during Leo's moment of crisis. Tatum uses a combination of charm and threats to convince her that staying put and playing the role of loyal wife would be in everyone's benefit. His prediction comes true in the financial sense, as the Minosa's cash-starved cafe begins to burst at the seams with visitors due to its proximity to the cave. Ironically, Leo's life-threatening predicament is finally bringing him the financial success that has eluded him. While Tatum becomes obsessed with manipulating the crisis, he also finds that his dispatches from the scene and his exclusive access to Leo have put him back in demand as a writer. He bypasses his own employer to sell updates to his ex-boss in New York at extortionist rates. He also has a hot/cold relationship with Lorraine, who clearly has a submissive sexual aspect to her moody demeanor. She's excited when Tatum mistreats her, though it's never made clear if their relationship goes beyond the flirtation stage. Tatum gets some disturbing news when he learns that the rescue team can use an expedited method to rescue Leo. Not wanting to kill the goose who laid the golden egg, Tatum manipulates the corrupt local sheriff (Roy Teal) into ordering a more labored method of rescue, even though it will result in a delay of days before reaching the victim. The decision has startling consequences for all involved. To say any more would negate the surprising turn of events depicted in the film. Suffice it to say, the intensity of the story continues to build throughout, making "Ace in the Hole" a truly mesmerizing cinematic experience.
Criterion has released "Ace in the Hole" as a dual format Blu-ray/DVD. The quality, as one might expect, is up to the company's superb standards. The package is loaded with fascinating extras including a rare extended interview with Billy Wilder at the American Film Institute in 1986. In it, Wilder talks about "Ace in the Hole" and other aspects of his career. The film was an early directorial effort for him and the first movie he produced, following his career as one of the industry's most in-demand filmmakers. By his own admission, "Ace in the Hole" was a major source of frustration for him. The movie was ignored by American critics and audiences and even re-titled "The Big Carnival". In the post-WWII era, it was probably deemed far too cynical for U.S. audiences. In fact, the "hero" of the film is a cad, the leading lady is a self-obsessed phony and the local law officials are corrupt. Except for a few minor characters, there is no one in the film with a truly moral center. Wilder says he took heart from the fact that the movie was quite successful in its European release. The set also contains a 1988 interview with Kirk Douglas, who discusses the film and his respect for Wilder in a very informative segment. Most impressive is the inclusion of "Portrait of a 60% Perfect Man", a 1980 documentary by French film critic Michel Clement in which Wilder gives extraordinary access to his private life. We see him at home and at the office with long-time collaborator, I.A.L. Diamond as they laze around trying to come up with ideas for future projects. Wilder comes across as a symbol of Hollywood's bygone Golden Age. Speaking in a thick Austrian accent with his ever-present stogie at hand, Wilder regales the viewer with insights about his family's escape from the Nazi occupation and his unlikely meteoric rise up the film industry's food chain. Almost from the beginning he was a hot property and would remain a revered director, producer and writer throughout his entire career. The set also includes a vintage audio interview with another Wilder collaborator, screenwriter Walter Newman and an insightful and creatively designed "newspaper" with essays by critic Molly Haskell and filmmaker Guy Maddin. Director Spike Lee provides a brief video "afterword" in which he extols the virtues of the film and also shows off a cool original lobby card that he treasures because it is signed by both Wilder and Douglas. Topping off the "extras" is a truly excellent audio commentary track by film scholar Neil Sinyard, who provides so many interesting background observations about the film that it will open any viewer's eyes to the latent meanings of certain sequences and images. Even if you consider audio commentaries to be dry and academic, I do urge you to give this one a listen. It's first rate throughout.
In summary, this is a first rate presentation of one of the most unfairly neglected American film classics; one that in recent years is finally getting the acclaim that it should have received on its initial release. Criterion has surpassed even its usual high standards.
It was 70 years ago today that the greatest invasion in modern history took place, as Allied soldiers stormed the beaches of France to liberate Europe from the yoke of totalitarianism. Their sacrifices were not in vain. Brave men from forces of America, Great Britain and Canada led the charge with free French and Polish forces and supporting contingents from other nations including Australia,Norway and New Zealand. From the carnage, a better world emerged, though Eastern Europe would still suffer under the oppression of Communism for decades to come. West Germany would become a beacon of freedom and democracy, eventually reuniting with East Germany after the fall of the Soviet empire. There aren't many men still alive who can recall serving in the momentous events of June 6, 1944. But freedom loving people from across the globe owe them a debt of gratitude, along with those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Appropriately, President Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Queen Elizabeth are scheduled to attend the ceremonies at Normandy Beach.
For those readers who are history buffs, this is the most appropriate day to recognize so many sacrifices. The two best films made about the invasion- The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan- should be shown to young people in your family so that they gain an understanding of the cost of freedom.
(For Cinema Retro writer Howard Hughes' tribute to The Longest Day, click here)
Nicholas Wrathall turned an introduction to Vidal by his nephew into a rare filmmaking
opportunity. The result is Gore
Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, a new, in-depth look at the writer’s
long and singular life.
took seven years to make,” Wrathall told CinemaRetro, “five years of
interviewing him and I benefitted from the time frame because I got to know
author wrote a number of historical novels including Burr, Lincoln and 1876 along with screenplays, essays and
teleplays; but was best known for speaking out, totally unconcerned about the
feathers he ruffled along the way. In
addition to Wrathall’s interviews, the film makes use of decades of Vidal’s
televised appearances – arguing about sexuality in the 1950s, arguing against the Vietnam War and social inequality in the 1960s, stirring the intellectual pot whenever
possible. Archive footage shows Vidal’s
incredible reach – he was friends with JFK, Paul Newman, Eleanor Roosevelt and numerous
other boldfaced names. Viewers also see
a remarkable progression - from a young, vigorous Vidal, thoroughly enjoying
sparring against arch conservative William F. Buckley, to a more mature provocateur
railing against Ronald Reagan and finally an increasingly frail elder statesman
horrified by American imperialism and the Iraq war. Through it all, Vidal maintained his wry sense
of humor noting that “We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing
because we remember nothing.”
in NY, LA, Washington as well as Italy and Cuba, the film offers a definitive
look at one of the last “intellectual celebrities” of our time. “He was courageous, and provocative, that’s
why Carson and Cavett loved having him on their shows.” Wrathall adds.
with his razor sharp opinions, Vidal was also known for throwing lavish
parties, attracting movie stars, artists and politicians. Ground Zero for these coveted events was his
beloved villa, Rondinaia in Ravello, Italy. In fact, one of the film’s emotional highlights is Vidal’s final visit,
packing up books and memories and staring out at the incredible view one last
time. Actor Tim Robbins reminisces about
bringing his family for a stay with Gore and his partner, Howard Austen - only
to be joined by two other dinner guests, Sting and Bruce Springsteen and their
spouses. There was nobody Vidal didn’t
seem to know.!
notable talking head was author Christopher Hitchens – in one of his last on
camera interviews. He and Vidal had a
complicated relationship – at one point Hitchens was his literary heir apparent
only to be cast out when he spoke out in favor of the Iraq War, something Vidal
documentary ends with a final off camera question – “What is your legacy?”
Although Vidal dismisses it with a sneer, the documentary’s director thinks
that along with being a “writer, essayist and novelist… he was a brave,
outspoken person who lived at the center of our culture.”
Vidal: The United States of Amnesia opens in Los Angeles on June 6th. It is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York.
(For Don L. Stradley's review of the film click here)
Sex may be fun but it shouldn't be funny, at least when it comes to erotic filmmaking. That's my humble opinion, anyway. Most people would seem to disagree and from the inception of porn cinema, goofy comedy has been routinely blended with the more traditional aspects of the genre. Case in point: "Honey Buns", which was shot under the title "Heads or Tails" back in 1973 by director James Chiara. If that was his real name ("nom de plumes" were standard in the industry), nothing more has been heard from his since. The film is standard grind house fare from the period, with fairly low production values and a few exterior shots in L.A. to give the production a bit of atmosphere. Chiara, who is also credited as the writer, provides a familiar scenario: a nerdy male virgin who seems hopelessly destined to have his sexual fantasies remain unfulfilled. Here, our protagonist is Harry (Matt Hewitt, an odd-looking duck with an even odder, hard-to-place accent.) When we first meet Harry he is laboring as a clerk in the small office of a feminine hygiene company. He is working under the oppressive rule of a tyrannical, Captain Bligh-type boss who enjoys berating him in front of his sexy secretary, who he routinely takes into "private meetings" for some quickie sexual gratification. Alone and miserable, Harry's fortunes seem to change when he encounters an eccentric street magician who gives him a magic pill (this was pre-Viagara era, mind you) that allows Harry to conjure up the bed mates of his dreams, each of whom is completely submissive to his desires. However, as with all such fantasies, there is a down side- literally. Every time Harry is about to consummate the act, he finds that the ladies vanish into thin air. The film follows the frustrated Harry as he tries to find a solution to his problem. In between, the viewer is treated to a good deal of hard core action, some genuinely steamy, but most of which is compromised by the presence of this unappealing leading man. It's like watching "Last Tango in Paris" with Jerry Lewis in the Brando role. The movie boasts appearances by two of the cult sex symbols of the day, porn legend Rene Bond and the supremely endowed Uschi Digard, whose appearance is somewhat of a tease. She struts around in a mini skirt but leaves the rest to the viewer's imagination. Most of the film's gags are rather lame and predictable but there is no doubt that there always has been a market for these rather non-threatening porn releases that emphasize humor as much as sexual content.
As usual, Impulse Pictures does a good job of presenting a long-forgotten "B" movie in a fairly respectable manner. The transfer elements are fine although the packaging lacks the informative liner notes that accommodate some of the company's releases.
Timeless Media, which is affiliated with Shout! Factory, has released the classic 1960s TV series "I Spy" in a boxed set that contains all 82 episodes. Although Image Entertainment had released the series previously on DVD, this marks the first time the show is available in its entirety in one set. The show was one of many TV series that capitalized on the recent success of the James Bond films. Suddenly, TV and cinemas were playing spy-related fare virtually non-stop. NBC had some of the best elements of the spymania craze with "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.", Get Smart" and "I Spy". The latter series premiered in 1965 and ran three seasons through 1968. It presented Robert Culp as Kelly Robinson, who uses his status as an international tennis pro as a cover for his activities as a CIA agent. He is assisted by his good friend Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby), who ostensibly is his trainer, but who is also a top spy for the American government. What set the series apart from most of the competition was producer Sheldon Leonard's determination to spend a lot of money on the show. While the men from U.N.C.L.E's "foreign" intrigue was limited to stock footage and back lot sets, the "I Spy" guys really got to travel to exotic locations around the world. Consequently, the show has a glamorous aspect lacking in most other action adventure series from the period. Then there was the fact that in an era of hip spies, Culp and Cosby were arguably the hippest. They traded genuinely funny wisecracks that often seem improvised. The series was also significant from a social issues standpoint. Bill Cosby was the first African American leading man to play a dramatic role in a weekly TV series. He was awarded numerous Emmys for his performance but his presence in the show was controversial during an era when anti-segregation laws in the South had to enforced by gun-toting National Guardsman. Some southern affiliates of NBC refused to air the series. Cosby, who was by then a well-known stand-up comic, always credited Culp for putting his career on the line for him by insisting that either Cosby got the co-starring role, or he would quit the show before it even got under way. There is no real way to measure the impact Cosby's presence on the series had on young African American kids. However, I was in grade school when the show aired and the racial mix in the school was about 50/50. Suddenly, black kids finally had their own TV icon to admire and he was arguably the hippest of all the action stars of the era. Cos looked good in a tux, wooed pretty ladies and was an intrepid man of action.
We have obviously not viewed every one of the 82 episodes contained on the 18 DVDs in this set but a random look indicates the quality of the transfers is top notch. The series has also aged very well and, like the Bond movies, never seems out of date. Culp and Cosby still generate terrific chemistry together as well as with some of the big name guest stars who range from Don Rickles and Jim Brown to young Ron Howard. The only gripe is that one wishes there were at least a few bonus extras to point out the impact of the series and its significance in pop and societal culture. Image Entertainment had released a couple of special DVDs titled The Robert Culp Collection in which the actor provided commentary tracks. Those are not included here so you may want to hang on to them even if you add this irresistible new set to your DVD collection.
If you have $10 million laying around that you don't know what to do with, you might consider buying the iconic apartment seen in the 1961 classic film Breakfast at Tiffany's. It served as the personal residence of Holly Golightly (Audrey Hepburn) and key sequences were shot for exteriors in the film including Hepburn's interactions with co-stars George Peppard and Patricia Neal. It's located at 169 E. 71st Street and is otherwise just another building in the tony neighborhood. It sold for over $5 million two years ago and the current owner thinks he can now double that investment. Interiors were shot in a studio, though a representative for the owner thinks the famed party sequence was actually filmed inside the apartment. One thing is certain: if you want to buy the place, it won't go lightly on your wallet. For more click here
One of our loyal subscribers, Rodney Barnett, has his own addictive retro movie blog, Bloody Pit of Rod. He's located some cool, cheesy 1970s original ads for a line of Planet of the Apes toys. We especially love the "Forbidden Zone Trap"! Click here to view.
The toy image above comes from Hunter's Planet of the Apes Archive, a super cool site dedicated to everything "Apish". Click here to visit.
In a lifetime of reviewing movies, there have been some titles I generally try to avoid. With a few exceptions, Biblical epics aren't my thing, nor is anything with "Adam Sandler" above the title. One retro-based film I've tried studiously to avoid is "Ilsa: She Wolf of the S.S." I've got a pretty liberal attitude when it comes to watching distasteful movies, but the idea of blending Nazi concentration camp horrors with eroticism was too much. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the 1975 film, shot for $150,000 in sets left over from "Hogan's Heroes" (I kid you not!), was a boxoffice smash on the grindhouse circuit back in the day. Recently, I received a review DVD of the film from a company I won't identify, not only because the transfer was lousy but primarily because it apparently isn't available any longer. (The movie is now in the public domain and there are apparently a wide range of releases of varying quality). I decided to finally take the plunge and judge the film as objectively as I could. I've heard that there are very good transfers of the film on the market. Unfortunately, this isn't one of them. The plot centers on a Teutonic goddess named Ilsa, who is the de facto commandant of a Nazi prison camp. Her primary obsession is conducting gruesome medical experiments on inmates in order to prove a bizarre theory that women can withstand more pain than men. (Exactly what scientific value of such research would be is never explained, but real life Nazi quacks such as Dr. Josef Mengele did indeed conduct hideous experiments on helpless people.) As played by Dyanne Thorne, an Amazonian, blonde ex-show girl, Ilsa is indeed an imposing presence. She has the run of the camp and is feared by inmates and guards alike. Ilsa takes special delight in mixing sexual perversions with her daily grind. She has a loyal staff of female soldiers who parade around topless and excel at whipping and torturing female prisoners. Men receive special treatment. If Ilsa finds a male inmate attractive, she treats him to a night of passionate S&M sex, ironically with her playing the submissive role. Yet, there is a bit of a downside. The day after making love to Ilsa, these men are routinely castrated so that they can never have sex with another woman.
Ilsa meets her match when she meets a hunky prisoner named Wolfe (Gregory Knoph), who is cunning enough to make his services indispensable to Ilsa, while secretly organizing inmates to attempt to take over the camp. In the interim, viewers are treated to all sorts of depravities. If these were limited to sex, it would be bad enough (historically, sexual manipulation was indeed an everyday part of life in a concentration camp with certain female inmates allowed special treatment if they served in bordellos.). However, director Don Edmonds indulges in stomach turning sequences of men and women being systematically flogged and butchered under the most heinous circumstances imaginable. In one particularly awful sequence, a beautiful young woman has a noose tied around her neck and she is placed atop a block of melting ice so that she is slowly strangled to death. The fact that she is dying while standing atop a dinner table where Nazi officers dine and laugh in amusement make it almost unbearable to watch- precisely because such "creative" tortures were implemented in the camps.The film culminates in a limply-staged battle between guards and inmates in which the bad guys get their comeuppance.
There are legions of fans of this movie who argue it represents genuine eroticism. There are also legions of people who think it's cool to wear T shirts with Charles Manson's image on them. I can't understand either point of view. Yes, sexual fantasies are just that-fantasies. If you dream of being flogged by an Amazon woman, good for you. However, blending sexual fantasies with real life horror of the Holocaust makes me wonder how anyone can find this film a turn-on. The fact that it was released during an era when there were still millions of survivors of concentration camps still alive makes the subject matter all the more atrocious. There certainly is a place for artistic expression of sexual content in films that push the envelope. (The Night Porter comes to mind, but at least it was a quality film with an intelligent viewpoint beyond shameless exploitation.)
The film was so successful that it spawned two sequels, though they dropped the Nazi angle. I guess that says all we need to know about what passes for entertainment in some quarters.
I suppose there is an audience for anything and I don't argue the producers had every right to release and profit from this claptrap. You just have to wonder how anyone can derive sexual pleasure from seeing screaming women being disemboweled and hapless men being castrated. Call me old-fashioned, but I would personally rather watch "Hogan's Heroes."
Click here to view trailer and judge for yourself (Warning! X-rated and not for the squeamish.)
Click here to order Prime Time DVD (illustrated above) from Amazon, but please note: this is not the DVD we actually reviewed, though it is said to be of superior quality.
The latest grindhouse vintage porn double feature from Vinegar Syndrome is one of their best releases yet. "Sadie" is an unlikely 1980 hardcore "adaptation" of Somerset Maugham's classic story "Rain", though we doubt ol' Somerset ever envisioned the types of goings-on that occur in this film, directed by Bob Chinn, a prolific name in the industry who was born in Hawaii (please refrain from making the old joke "on the island of Kumoniwannaleiya") and went on to direct dozens of X rated feature length movies. Here the titular character is a blonde bombshell played by Chris Cassidy. Sadie is a prostitute living in Borneo and the action all takes place in a low-rent beachfront hotel here she plies her services and receives paternal loving care from the seedy owner of the resort. Sadie is in love with an American soldier on leave to Borneo but finds she can't leave the island because the local Raja insists that he "bought" her in Saigon and that she must become a member of his harem. Sadie is a moody young woman, prone to selfish and occasionally reckless behavior. Her stress level only increases when an Evangelical U.S. senator and his wife and teenage daughter check into the hotel. The senator has married his wife in order to make an "honest woman" of her because she had been unwed when she gave birth to her daughter. Since then the couple has led a chaste marriage, as the senator believes sex is the work of the devil. The daughter, who has just turned 18, has no such beliefs and her raging hormones can't stand the strain as she witnesses the unapologetic free love practiced by Sadie and her friends. Before long, she's joining in the action while Sadie tries to construct a plan to work with corrupt government officials to get out of the country with her lover.
"Sadie" is largely confined to a few rooms in the hotel and there are no exterior shots. Yet the film is somewhat ambitious and rises above standard porn because director Chinn has a degree of skill in presenting a reasonably compelling story. His leading lady fits the bill in terms of the erotic sequences but is weak dramatically. Unusually for this type of film, Chinn gives plenty of screen time to what appear to be accomplished middle-aged character actors who don't get involved in the down-and-dirty stuff. The film is all the better for it. Chinn also knows how to skillfully lens the sex scenes but never overdoes them. There are twosomes, threesomes and orgy scenes but there is plenty of time devoted to at least attempting to tell an engaging story.
Another Chinn film fills out the double feature, thus making this a genuine "Double Chinn" presentation. "The Seductress" is a 1981 film, that like "Sadie", is far more ambitious than standard grindhouse fare of the era. Porn superstar Lisa De Leeuw plays Cindy, a young wife married to Richard, a local commissioner on the Las Vegas fire commission board. He's a chauvinist boor who talks to her as though she is the hired help. She finds out about a "service" that blackmails spouses by having them seduced, then secretly photographed from behind a two-way mirror as they have their illicit liaisons in a hotel room. Cindy engages the service and sure enough, Richard goes for the bait and ends up in bed with Renee (Lee Carroll), who pretends she is also married and is nervous about having an affair. In reality, she is a heroin-addicted hooker. Cindy's plans go awry when Renee refuses to turn over the photos of her husband unless Cindy "fills in" for her at the next night's liaison. If she doesn't, Renee will blackmail her. Cindy reluctantly takes on the task and ends up in a foursome with a cynical hooker and two men, one of whom is also being set up for blackmail/divorce. The plot gets pretty confusing at times but Chinn elicits good performances by old pros De Leeuw and Carroll, though his luck runs out with much of the supporting cast, some of who read their lines as though they are in a school play. Nevertheless, the film boasts a good story line that involves organized crime and a conspiracy to manipulate who sits on the fire commission. The political intrigue aspect has a genuinely creative payoff in the last frames, as Chinn ties it in with real life news footage of the disaster 1981 Hilton Hotel fire in Vegas that was caused by arson.
The print quality of these two features is above average and Vinegar Syndrome has even gone to the effort of tracking down the original trailers for each film. Although both "Sadie" and "The Seductress" are hardcore films, these represent an early attempt to appeal to female viewers who, at the time, might have wanted to experience some X-rated fare without being totally grossed out. Both hold up well today and are probably more creative than the largely indistinguishable fare being made today.
Audrey Hepburn would have been 85 years old this month. As a tribute to her special sense of class and style, the Huffington Post provides a series of photos illustrating Hepburn in the 1970s and 1980s as evidence that her beauty and elegance only became more impressive as she aged. Click here to view
Rod Barnett, writing on his blog The Bloody Pit of Rod, has an intriguing take about what went wrong with both attempts to make The Lone Ranger the subject of big screen feature films. The first debacle, The Legend of the Lone Ranger, was a costly flop back in 1981 but it looked like a smashing success compared to the 2013 Disney version, which is estimated to have lost $250 million despite the presence of Johnny Depp. Barnett's article, written contemporaneously with the release of the latter film last summer, examines why both films veered far off course. Click here to read
The first image we see in Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia, a handsome new
documentary byNicholas D. Wrathall, is
of Vidal at the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C., standing over what will
soon be his own tomb.He’s heavier than
we remember, leaning on a cane for balance. He recalls a few friends who are
already buried nearby, mentions his “pathological hatred of death,” and ambles
away. This is the titan at midnight, crumbling at the edges,still formidable.
The movie’s cryptic opening segues into a respectful,
occasionally moving, look back at Vidal’s life. It’s more a tribute than a
full-blown biography, for Wrathall presents Vidal as a kind of intellectual
colossus, utterly devoid of faults, a near perfect thinker, and the last lion
of America’s golden age of liberalism.The movie stops short of hagiography, but just barely.What keeps it interesting is Vidal, a born
entertainer who, even in his final years, could still spin a tale, drop a name,
or do an impression of JFK.
Vidal seems a natural subject for a documentary - there
have been several already, including a 2004 episode of the PBS American Masters
series - for his life was very much like a long, American novel of the 1920s.
His mother was a ditzy alcoholic. His father was an aeronautics instructor at
West Point, had an affair with Amelia Earhart, and wanted to be the Henry Ford
of aviation. The job of raising Vidal was left to his blind grandfather, the
fiery Senator T.P. Gore of Oklahoma.When
Vidal reminisces about the senator, the respect and awe is palpable.T.P. passed on to Vidal not just his liberal
politics, but also a love of literature, and a fearsome oratory skill.
After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, Vidal
went on to become a scandalous novelist, a playwright, a screenwriter, a
television dramatist during TV’s golden age; he was a self-described member of
the ruling class who struggled to escape it; he never referred to himself as
‘gay,’ but wrote books and essays defending bisexual and homosexual lifestyles;
he was deeply involved in politics, and later, was a TV gadfly, appearing on
The Tonight Show a dozen times, as well as many other programs, even lending
his voice to The Simpsons and Family Guy.
Wrathall taps most of those aspects of Vidal’s past
(not, alas, the cartoon work), but focuses mainly on Vidal the political
commentator, the weary traveler who sees America as a series of shams and
failures, the gruff grumbler. Indeed, the movie shows Vidal holding court at
various speaking engagements; all he has to do is call George Bush “a fool,”
and the walls of the joint practically come down.If the movie has a glaring fault, it’s that
we see Vidal go from being a young author of gay themed novels to a
socio-politico bon vivant, with very little in between to illustrate his
journey. Instead, Wrathall relies on nameless, faceless narrators to offer such
bromides as “Gore was everywhere, like a shape shifter.”
The cornerstone of any documentary about Vidal will be
his televised 1968 debates with William F. Buckley. Wrathall includes a hearty
helping of them here, and they still bristle nearly 50 years after their first
airing on ABC. Buckley is especially fascinating – he’s so effete he doesn’t
even know how to show anger. He bites his lip and cranes his neck like a man
having a fit.Vidal doesn’t come off
well either. He and Buckley were both trying so hard to be witty, and so unable
to conceal their hatred of each other, that whatever topic was on the table
grew cold quickly.
Much of the footage comes from late in Vidal’s life,
when he was bothered by physical problems and needed help getting around.
Hence, we see Vidal being helped up stairs, helped across bridges, helped up
hills, helped onto a stage at the 2005 Pen awards, and carted around in a
wheelchair.These scenes are interwoven
with a sort of “greatest hits” collection from Vidal’s past, where the great
pundit railed at this and that, his words rolling over his enemies like a
tank.The effect is entertaining enough,
and if Wrathall intended to depict Vidal as a fallen hero, he sort of succeeds.
Still, a more thorough and less deferential documentary might have considered
some of Vidal’s resounding flops. Remember Caligula?
Vidal’s long life, which included friendships with
Tennessee Williams, Paul Newman, and other bright lights of our popular
culture, can’t be jammed into a 90 minute documentary. For instance, Truman
Capote is barely mentioned, whichis
akin to leaving Joe Frazier out of a movie about Muhammad Ali.The saucier aspects of Vidal’s life, such as
his affairs with women, are not mentioned here, either.His engagement to Newman’s future wife,
Joanne Woodward, is ignored, although there are several odd photos of the
Newmans with Vidal, including one of Vidal and Newman fondling a statue’s
Wrathall doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of time on Vidal’s
books, or the notion, held by many, that Vidal possessed a great facility with
words but could not quite write a masterpiece. Instead, Wrathall gets cute and
shoots close-ups of Vidal’s pithy quotes, including “Whenever a friend
succeeds, a little something in me dies.” And, “Never offend an enemy in a
small way.”Anyone who doesn't know
better might think Vidal composed blurbs for fortune cookies.
Where Wrathall succeeds grandly is in showing Vidal’s
soft side. It's touching to hear of Vidal's relationship with longtime
companion Howard Auster, and Wrathall is smart to let the camera linger when
Vidal turns melancholy. Watch how Vidal pauses when recalling a childhood
friend who died in WW2, or the way his eyes mist over when he recalls “school
boy’s stuff, at a boys’ school, long, long, long ago.”These moments, and the gorgeous scenery
surrounding Vidal’s Italian home, make the documentary worth seeing. Wrathall’s
movie is like one of Vidal’s novels in that it’s not great, but very good.
(The film has just opened theatrically in New York. Click here to view trailer.)
Seven years after his blockbuster success producing the 1972 film The Poseidon Adventure, Irwin Allen revisited the same story for a sequel, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. The 1979 film represents all the reasons that sequels to most hit films are generally disdained. Yes, there was The Godfather trilogy to buck the trend, but there were also those God-awful sequels to Jaws. Beyond the Poseidon Adventure opens the morning after the capsizing of the cruise ship. Michael Caine is Mike Turner, the financially destitute captain of a small vessel who is facing bankruptcy after losing his cargo in the same violent storm that destroyed The Poseidon. On board his boat are his first mate Wilbur (Karl Malden) and Celeste Whitman (Sally Field), a perky but klutzy young drifter the men have befriended. They stumble upon the capsized wreck of the Poseidon and Turner immediately smells financial opportunity in the tragedy. If he can make his way through the hull and down to the purser's office, he can raid the safe and abscond with the riches that are inevitably stored there. This is the first of any number of absurdities in the script. With the Poseidon the worst maritime disaster since the Titanic, Turner and his crew discover that, with the exception of one French copter that is conveniently leaving the scene upon their arrival, there is literally no other sign of the international rescue forces that would be omnipresent at the scene. Instead, after rescuing the few people who managed to make it onto the hull in the preceding film, those forces are in no hurry to get additional manpower to the scene in order to search for additional survivors before the ship sinks the bottom of the ocean. Inexplicably, while the rescue forces can't make a timely arrival at the scene, a small craft under the command of Captain Stefan Svevo (Telly Savalas) does. Svevo claims he is a doctor who is there with his crew to enter the ship and search for any survivors. (Absurdity #2: Svevo is about to undertake this arduous, grimy and potentially deadly task while attired in a snow white designer suit!). Turner buys his story and forms and uneasy alliance with Svevo and his team, who are also clad all in white and resemble some of those bands of henchmen from the old Batman TV series. Once inside the ship, movie magic takes over and the group finds every chamber to be brightly lit, thus making it possible to move about freely. True, there is the hazardous task of finding your way around an upside down vessel, but that problem is solved when they conveniently find a map that lays out precisely where everything is located. Soon, Turner discovers what even the most naive viewer has already realized: that Svevo is actually a villain with his own agenda. In the third major absurdity, we learn that the Poseidon was transporting plutonium that Svevo wants to acquire for nefarious purposes relating to bomb building. As if that isn't enough it turns out the ship was also transporting a huge shipment of assault weapons and stockpiles of ammunition. It's a wonder there was any room for those joyous conga lines to dance around on that fatal New Years Eve.
Since a hallmark of any Irwin Allen film is the presence of respected actors peppered throughout the production, it isn't long before familiar faces start popping up in every room, like those celebrities who used to stick their heads of windows and make wise-cracks on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In. Slim Pickens, in full scenery-chewing hayseed mode, comes stumbling out of nowhere, drunk and protecting a precious bottle of wine. He pretends to be a Texas tycoon but it turns out he was the ship's wine steward and regards the bottle of expensive vino as a life long dream to acquire the lifestyle that has always eluded him. Then there is Shirley Jones, who emerges and announces that she is a registered nurse, which is certainly more practical to the group than if she were a butcher by trade. Angela Cartwright is a young woman who was on the cruise with her father, a bull-headed Archie Bunker type played by an unusually over-the-top and embarrassing Peter Boyle. Every Allen film needs a sympathetic older couple to wring a few tears from blue-haired old ladies in the audience so this time we have Shirley Knight and Jack Warden substituting for the previous film's Shelly Winters and Jack Albertson. Allen throws in the kitchen sink by making Warden play a blind man. Not to be politically incorrect, but the sequences of Warden stumbling around the upside down wreck of the Poseidon with a cane and wearing sunglasses begins to resemble a Monty Python sketch. Then there is Veronica Hamel as the prerequisite "bad girl" who slinks around in a drenched evening gown showing ample cleavage- oh, and young Mark Harmon has a major role as a young hunk who finds love with Angela Cartwright in the bowels of the sinking ship. If that isn't enough, we learn that lovable ol' Karl Malden's character is terminally ill and the symptoms manifest themselves while he's holed up in the upside down ship. (Somehow Allen showed restraint by not introducing killer sharks to the mix.)
Irwin Allen had the good sense to have seasoned directors Ronald Neame and John Guillerman direct his two biggest blockbusters, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno and they remain enormously entertaining films. However, he became convinced that he could save a few bucks by doing the job himself. Thus, the man known for making disaster movies became better known for the man who made disastrous movies. The first slip was The Swarm, a 1978 flapadoodle that we always refer to as the worst "Bee" movie of all time. The movie was a bomb but that didn't teach star Michael Caine and co-star Slim Pickins a darn thing, since they re-teamed with Allen right away for Beyond the Poseidon Adventure. (Many years later, Caine said he was ashamed of this period of his career when he took virtually any job in order to earn an easy pay check.) With Allen back in the director's chair, Beyond was destined to be another camp classic and it has the look and feel of a TV movie. Caine looks understandably embarrassed, Field is in Flying Nun cutesy mode and Savalas channels his inner Blofeld as the villain. Allen packs in everything from an ax murder (!) to a full blown shoot-out in which every day people turn out to be as adept at handling machine guns as Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. There are some reasonably impressive sets on view but many of the special effects are sub-par. The most hilarious are found in the opening frames in which we see Caine at the helm of his storm-tossed boat in the midst of a hurricane. The sequence was apparently filmed with the ship on rockers and the violent rainstorm was simulated apparently by having some guy off camera spray garden hoses. It's quite possibly the cheesiest effect I've ever seen in a modern, major studio production.
The Warner Archive has released Beyond the Poseidon Adventure as a burn to order title. With the film itself a dud, there is at least the saving grace of an interesting bonus extra: a vintage 22 minute TV special about the making of the film. It affords some excellent behind the scenes views of the production and makes it clear that a lot of talented people put a great deal of work into creating films that often turn out badly. There are also some nice trailers for the main feature, The Swarm, Twister and The Perfect Storm.
Vinegar Syndrome has released another grindhouse double feature of '70s hardcore porn flicks. "The Altar of Lust" is a boring, snoozefest masquerading as erotica when, in fact, it is about as stimulating as an Amway party. Erica Landers (billed in the film credits as "Erotica Lantern" (!), plays Viveca Hansen, a nubile Dutch teenager who is brutally violated by her barbaric stepfather in the only rape sequence ever filmed that is more boring than offensive. She makes her way to New York where she confides her life story to a sympathetic psychiatrist. For whatever reason, the dialogue comes from superimposed voices from both characters that give the impression that the film was badly dubbed. Erotica Lantern doesn't live up to her name, even in an era when everyday women could become major porn stars. She is far from exotic looking and is adorned with a dime store fright wig that gives each one of her scenes an unintentionally funny overtone. The entire "story line" involves her inability to have a stable relationship with men. After being abused by her stepfather, she enters affairs with other men who verbally abuse her (including porn super star Harry Reems, who uses the screen name "Stan Freemont".) One night, she walks in on her boyfriend Don as he's getting it on with another girl. The other woman ends up seducing young Viveca, much to the amusement of Don. However, when the two get carried away with sapphic lovemaking, he realizes there's no room for him in this party and he angrily departs the scene. Henceforth, Viveca becomes obsessed with women, leading her to see the therapist to find out what is wrong with her. The only intriguing angle of the flick is to evoke a bygone era in which gay people were seen to be suffering from a mental disorder. At the end of the flick, Viveca is put back on track when her own psychiatrist gets it on with her, a plot device you can see coming from minute one. The film is unexceptional on every level and will disappoint fans of the genre because the majority of sex scenes are softcore. The transfer, however, is top notch, given that source material for such releases comes from the "take what you can get" school.
The second feature on the DVD is "Angel On Fire", a 1974 flick that attempts to capitalize on "The Devil in Miss Jones". The film opens without credits but Darby Lloyd Rains is the female lead and stalwart male performers Marc Stevens and Jamie Gillis have major roles. The first scene finds Steven, a young hunk, in bed having torrid sex with his adoring girlfriend. However, when she informs him she is pregnant with his child, he verbally abuses her and abandons her without a second thought. He is a lifelong chauvinist who treats women as sex objects and nothing more. He is ultimately struck by a van and killed by driver (Stevens), who has been distracted by the fact that his girlfriend had been performing a sex act on him while they were cruising the streets of Manhattan. Steven finds himself in Heaven and in the presence of a comely female angel who tells him his fate: he is to be sent back to earth, this time as a female. Steven is "reborn" as a good look young woman named Stephanie (Darby Lloyd Rains) who is as sex crazed as his male alter-ego was. Before long, she enters a relationship with an arrogant man (Jamie Gillis), who treats her every bit as callously as he treated his own girlfriend. Speaking of whom, that woman reappears at his apartment and doesn't seem to be overly-startled by the revelation that her former lover has been reincarnated as a woman. In fact, the two get down to serious canoodling right away for the film's primary prerequisite lesbian sequence. As her dependence on her new boyfriend grows, Stephanie finds herself serving as a virtual sex slave to her deplorable lover- and her devotion only increases the more he abuses her. Finally, she discovers she is pregnant- and he abandons her as callously as he once abandoned his own lover. Stephanie is so heartbroken the she begs to die and - Presto! She is back in Heaven as Steven. He tells his angel guardian that he has learned an important life lesson about respecting women. For this, he is informed that in Heaven, sex is frequent and guilt free. She rewards him for recognizing his flaws and correcting them and the two start getting it on. ("If this cloud is a rockin', don't come a knockin'", you might say.) As The Temptations pointed out, everyone's doing fine on Cloud Nine. Angel on Fire is crudely made and suffers from an insufferable performance by Rains. Beyond that, however, it is far superior to "The Altar of Lust" and contains some genuinely erotic sequences. The flick also looks like it went through a meat grinder, with numerous blotches and edits apparent. As with previous Vinegar Syndrome releases, however, this only adds to its appeal.
Click here to watch a preview clips from the double feature.
Criterion has release a deluxe Blu-ray edition of director Peter Brook's 1963 screen adaptation of William Golding's landmark novel Lord of the Flies. As virtually anyone familiar with literature of the latter half of the twentieth century probably knows, the story involves a group of British schoolboys who are among the refugees deported from England out the outbreak of what is, presumably, a third world war. Their plane is shot down over the ocean but it crashes off shore from a remote island. All of the adults die but the boys miraculously survive and make their way to dry land. Realizing their survival is in their own hands, the boys (the age of whom ranges from pre-pubescent to early teens) set about the task of building shelters. They quickly master the essentials of staying alive and learn to start fires and to hunt and fish with reasonably effective hand-made tools. Inevitably, the fragments of a society begin to coalesce but there is stark contrast in philosophies. Jack (Tom Chapin) is an assertive, take-charge older boy who quickly learns he can use his aggressive personality traits to rise to a leadership position. Jack proves his worth by quickly going native and relishing the opportunity to play king. His skills are essential when it comes to providing food for the group. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ralph (James Aubrey), a sensitive and thoughtful boy who rivals Jack as leader of the group based on his intellectual superiority. When the rivalry becomes heated, Jack and his numerically superior group of followers resort to violent methods to suppress Ralph and his friend Piggy (Hugh Edwards), a pudgy and harmless boy who must indulge many degrading insults and taunts. The resulting battle of wills leads to numerous tragedies and a conclusion that finds Ralph alone and being hunted down by his former schoolmates, who intend to kill him.
It's clear that Golding intended to use this scenario as a microcosm for society in general. He initially regarded himself as an optimist regarding human nature but that changed during his service in WWII, when he witnessed behavior that he thought was so horrendous that he became convinced that evil is far more prevalent in the world than he had suspected. That cynicism is carried over into the film, which is such a literate version of the novel that no one is credited as a screenwriter. Director Brook would assemble his cast of young boys (none of whom had any acting experience) and read passages and dialogue from the novel prior to filming each scene. The technique worked remarkably well. Brook's shoestring budget of $300,000 was cut in half after his ill-fated, short-term alliance with famed producer Sam Spiegel, who began to make significant changes to the production in the hopes of making it more commercial. When he insisted on adding a group of young girls to the mix, Brook ended their partnership but had to pay Spiegel half of his meager budget to cover expenses he had never even authorized. Left with only $150,000 in the coffers, Brook (who is primarily known as an acclaimed director of avant-garde theatrical productions) managed to get everyone to the island of Vieques off the coast of Puerto Rico, where most of the footage was shot. Brook could not afford a seasoned cinematographer so gambled on hiring a local still photographer, Tom Hollyman, whose work on the film is simply remarkable (though he would never make another motion picture). Hollyman's footage was supplemented by footage taken by Gerald Feil, who was given a hand-held camera and told to shoot anything he found interesting. The result is a superb compilation of both men's accomplishments. The movie was shot in B&W for budgetary reasons but it also worked beneficially in terms of the impact of this stark, bleak tale. Raymond Leppard's brilliant score combines British schoolboy songs with ominous jungle themes. It must be pointed out that, despite the impressive performances of the young cast members, only one- James Aubrey- decided to gravitate into acting as a profession. The real hero, however, is Brook himself, whose exercise in the ultimate "guerrilla movie making" still stands the test of time as a powerful and fascinating film.
Criterion's special Blu-ray release does justice to the movie on every level beginning with a superb transfer that emphasizes the glorious cinematography. The extras in the set are:
Audio commentary track featuring Peter Brook, producer Lewis Allen, cinematographers Tom Hollyman and Gerald Feil
Audio of William Golding reading excerpts from the book, accompanied by scenes from the film
Deleted scene with optional commentary track
Insightful interview with Brook from 2008 (in which he pointedly says he never made a commercial movie because he refused to compromise with the studios in terms of his artistic vision)
Wonderful home movies taken by the young cast members.
1980 British TV interview with William Golding (one of the few he ever gave)
A new interview with cinematographer Gerald Feil
The original trailer
Feil's 1975 short film documenting Peter Brook rehearsing cast members in Brooklyn for one of his off-beat productions. For those of us who do not "tread the boards" for a living, the rehearsals seem bizarre and resemble an exercise class more than an acting rehearsal. Some of it is unintentionally funny: the kind of pretentious scenario that is often spoofed by Woody Allen, with actors chanting and seeming to run about without rhyme or reason. Yet, who are we to argue? Brook's reputation as a major theatrical director remains firmly intact.
A collector's booklet featuring essays by Peter Brook and film critic Geoffrey Macnab
In summary, the Criterion release of Lord of the Flies is essential viewing for classic movie lovers.
When it comes to documentaries about the American Civil War, it's pretty much acknowledged that the gold standard was set with Ken Burns' acclaimed 1990 PBS series. However, it would be a mistake to dismiss other filmmaker's take on the conflict. One of the most impressive documentaries we've seen is producer, director and writer Chris Wheeler's "Civil War: The Untold Story", a five-episode series presented on two DVDs through Athena Home Video. The series is impressive on every level and rivals Burns' film in terms of educating viewers and providing emotional impact. Whereas Burns relied entirely on photographs of the period and location photography, Wheeler delves into the risky realm of using re-enactments of famous battles. If such sequences are not up to par, the effect can look cheesy and distracting. However, in "Civil War: The Untold Story", Wheeler was obviously working with a very substantial production budget. The battle sequences are meticulously staged and take on the feel of an epic, often evoking the grandeur of the big screen feature film "Gettysburg". The title is a bit misleading. There really isn't much here that has been "untold" but there is plenty that has not been covered in the detail Wheeler goes into. The series begins with a look at the plight of black slaves in the old South and poignantly shows the horror of their living conditions. The show then delves into the complex socioeconomic and political factors that brought about secession and the start of the war in 1861. As with most such series, this one is peppered with plenty of scholarly talking heads, each of whom adds immeasurably to one's understanding of the conflict. I did learn a great deal from the show, including how some famous generals were known to have made enormous military blunders such as ordering frontal assaults on embedded enemy positions, thus resulting in mass casualties. Wheeler's literate script also details how fragile American democracy was by 1864. With President Lincoln's popularity at its lowest point, war-weary northerners were more than willing to make peace with the south. In fact, Lincoln suffered the humiliation of having one of his former top generals, McClelland, nominated to be his Democratic opponent in the election. Violent and deadly riots had already torn apart New York City in protest of the draft. Lincoln had to pull off a major victory or America, as we know it, would have been confined to the dustbin of history. In fact, democracy itself as a form of government would have been doomed. Although we know the outcome of all this, Wheeler skillfully builds these crisis to the point of considerable suspense. He also manages to tell the story of the war through focusing on individual soldiers from both sides as well as freed slaves who found emancipation to be a crisis in and of itself. Where did these poor souls go? With no education, money or support structure, many ex-slaves traded one hellish life for another. Wheeler also points out the the legacy of the Civil War still permeates North/South relationships today. Indeed, even some elected officials call the conflict "The War of Northern Aggression".
The series, wonderfully narrated by Elizabeth McGovern, is completely addictive and you'll find yourself on a viewing binge, looking forward to each successive episode. The only downside is that one would have hoped that Athena had included an interview with Chris Wheeler about the making of this remarkable show. The only extras are some silent WWI-era newsreels that show fascinating footage of Civil War veterans from both sides attending "Peace Jubilees". It's truly surprising how many thousands of these veterans were still alive and well in the era of the automobile. The set also includes an instructional booklet of historical biographies and facts.
"Superb" is not a word one throws around casually but "Civil War: The Untold Story" is a superb achievement.
It’s hard to say
why the brain trust at Troma decided to release Dangerous Obsession on DVD this
year.Perhaps someone thought the
Esquire network’s recent re-airing of the old HBO Dream On series would create
interest in Brian Benben, who stars in this film (originally called Mortal Sins)
as Nathan Weinschenk, a brash private investigator from New York who gets
involved in a complex murder case involving some transplanted Southern religious
zealots. But even if there is a sudden renewed interest in the Benben catalog,
it’s difficult to imagine that even the most devoted Benben completists would
derive any pleasure from this cheaply made 1989 flick with its clichés and hack
dialogue. I can’t even label this one as
decent 1980’s kitsch.
Reverend Park Sung (James Saito) is murdered in his Manhattan apartment,
Weinschenk is hired by rival evangelist Malcolm Rollins’ (James Harper) who
wants to protect his own Manhattan church (‘The Divine Church of the People’).
Weinschenk also ends up protecting Rollins’ lovely daughter (Debrah Farentino),
which adds a little steam to the proceedings. The daughter, you see, has a
complicated sex life, as most women in movies did back in the late 1980s,
whether or not they knew Mickey Rourke or Michael Douglas.
the humor of being a Jew in a nest of bible-thumping Southern vipers. True, the
idea of Southern-fried televangelists setting up shop in Manhattan may have
sounded edgy at the time (this was the 1980s, remember, when Jimmy Swaggart and
Jim Bakker were involved in serious scandals, and TV preachers had become
popular punching bags), but the film is played out in such broad strokes that
any good ideas are quickly crushed by cartoonish acting. Weinschenk, for
instance, has the stereotypical Jewish parents who are oblivious to anything
outside their little household. He also shares
his office with a no-account male relative (I couldn’t tell if they were
brothers or cousins) and there’s even a running gag where the Southern folks
can’t pronounce his name.
the Jewish stereotypes aren’t enough, we also get a lot of TV private eye
clichés. As if he’s auditioning for a role in a network cop show, Weinschenk drives a classic 1950s car, and listens
to classic R&B (I’ll give some points to this movie for including a cut of
Jackie Wilson’s ‘No Pity In the Naked City’). He also thinks he’s a real wiseass,
although his level of wit is restricted to lines like, “Nice work if you can
get it.” Benben curses a lot, too, and
while he can drop the F-bombs with convincing venom, he’s still stuck with playing
a wooden character. The Southern stereotypes are pretty thick, too. The Southerners are all portrayed as bloated,
effete, Jerry Falwell types, speaking in
exaggerated, syrupy drawls; if you told me they were all stoned on Quaaludes
during filming, I’d believe you. The perfectly named Brick Hartney has some success
as the slimy Billy Beau Backus, playing his part like a community theater star
vamping for his friends in the front row. Proving that some people know how to get
out while they’re on top, Hartney never acted in films again.
are plenty of extras here, but none are about Dangerous Obsession. The extras are
solely Troma related, including vintage trailers for The Toxic Avenger, Return
to Nuke ‘Em High: Vol. 1, Badmouth, Poultrygeist, and Cars3, plus a snippet of
a Troma documentary called How To Sell Your Own Damn Movie, featuring filmmaker
James Gunn discussing the dubious wonders of social media.
For those who enjoy
spotting character actors early in their careers, you’ll find a surprising
number of them in Dangerous Obsession. Anthony LaPaglia has a small role, as
does Maggie Wheeler, who went on to recurring roles on Friends, Ellen, and
Everybody Loves Raymond. Anyone who has
watched TV during the past 25 years will also recognize Peter Onorati, who has
made a career out of playing guys named Angelo or Sal. Director Yuri Sivo and screenwriter Allen
Blumberg have worked infrequently since 1989 – Blumberg has directed a couple
of small projects, with Sivo’s highpoint being a couple episodes of the Swamp
Thing TV series.
the plus side, Dangerous Obsession is visually striking, with a sophisticated
use of shadows and silhouettes. That’s no surprise since it was shot by underrated
veteran Bobby Bukowski, whose recent work includes two excellent titles, The
Messenger (2009) and, what is perhaps my favorite movie of the past few years,
The Iceman (2012). Even while strapped
to a no-budget howler like Dangerous Obsession, Bukowski shows the immense
talent that would make him one of the most reliable and sought after cinematographers
of the past two decades. (Hell, he even shot Shakes the Clown!) In fact, I’d only recommend this DVD to those
who want to marvel at how a ham-handed script made on an Ed Wood budget can
feature so many lollipops for the eye. Even the final shot is superb, with Weinschenk and his girlfriend
arguing on a fire escape, the camera pulling back and wheeling around to reveal
a lush New York skyline at what must have been the so-called magic hour. The idea that the evil Southerners are gone
and the New Yorkers can get back to arguing among themselves is trite, but
Bukowski shoots it like he’s practicing for his future.
The Empty Canvas (original Italian
title La Noia), is a 1963 Italian drama waiting to be rediscovered as a
classic by retro film lovers in America.Besides being a solid outing for Horst Buchholz and part of Bette Davis’
1960’s resurgence, this film is a reminder of why French-born Catherine Spaak
was the “IT” European teenager of the period.She was described by critic Rex Reed as "[h]alf kittycat go-go
girl, half petulant defiance, … like a sexy lollipop [with] soft hair the color
of maple syrup.”In The Empty Canvas, the 18-year-old actress gave the best performance
of her career in a role intended to make her an international star.That performance earned a special Golden
Plate award at the David di Donatello awards (presented by The Academy of
Italian Cinema) in 1964.
Based on a novel by
Alberto Moravia, the film follows Dino (Buccholz), the twenty-something artist
son of a rich, American ex-patriot from New Orleans (Davis). Dino has
lost his way in life and no longer feels inspired to paint, or inspired for life
in general, so it seems. He resents his mother and her money, spending as
little time with her as possible.
Dino's life changes,
however, when he meets Cecilia (Spaak), an amoral young woman. Cecilia
has been carrying on a torrid affair with a much-older married painter, who is
Dino's neighbor. Upon the painter's death, Dino and Cecilia slide into a
torrid affair of their own. As their affair progresses, Dino, suddenly filled
with feelings and purpose in his life, becomes obsessed with obtaining
commitment from Cecilia. In the film's penultimate scene, Dino covers
Cecilia's nude body in lira notes in an effort to win her commitment.
Cecilia, on the other hand, is just out to have fun and do whatever makes her
feel good. Dino is in danger of letting his obsession with Cecilia
destroy his life, just as the old painter’s life was destroyed by his obsession
"money" scene, director Damiano Damiani was quoted in The Saturday Evening Post as saying that
"It was the most important scene of her career in her first
English-language picture, one that would either make or break her as an
international star. And she was cold as ice."While she may have been cold as ice in
controlling her nerves, as Cecilia, Catherine exudes a sensuous quality that
leaves no doubt about how a man like Dino could become obsessed with her
charms.In one scene set at an outdoor
cafe overlooking the city, as Rita Pavone sings "Now That You've
Gone," Cecilia dances seductively while Dino watches attentively from a
swing. Without a word being said, you can see Dino's resistance falling
and his obsession budding. That is one of my all-time favorite scenes
from any film.
Shot in gorgeous,
mood-setting black-and-white around Rome in the summer of 1963, the film's set
was a linguistic adventure. Director Damiani spoke English to Bette
Davis, German to Buchholz, French to Spaak, and Italian to others. The actors
spoke their lines in English for later dubbing. It had to have been interesting
to watch Bette Davis try to reign supreme over such an eclectic mix of
talent.In Rex Reed's N.Y. Times
profile of Catherine in 1966, he quoted her as saying: "I acted with
Bette Davis in 'The Empty Canvas.' Everyone in Rome was terrified of
her. I said only one thing to her: 'Hello'."
On a curious side note,
Bette Davis biographer Charlotte Chandler recounted in her book an odd incident
concerning Bette's arrival in Rome for filming. She was greeted at the
airport by Buchholz, who wanted to get things started off on a good note with
the notoriously persnickety Davis. Buchholz leaned forward to kiss Bette
on the cheek, as custom would dictate, whereupon Bette proceeded to put her
tongue in Buchholz's mouth in a more-than-friendly kiss! Buchholz never
knew whether she was just trying to shock him, or whether she had other
It is also interesting to note that Sophia
Loren’s 18th century castle, renovated at a cost of nearly $2,000,000, was
loaned by her to represent Bette Davis' villa in the film.Furthermore, the filming of the garden party,
which provides the setting for the "money" scene, included the
participation of more than 150 leaders of Rome's cultural set, who were there
to honor Bette Davis' first film in Rome.
The Empty Canvas was a hit in Italy
before being distributed in the U.S. in March 1964 by Joseph Levine’s Embassy
Pictures.Levine was quoted by The Saturday Evening Post as saying that
“[Catherine Spaak] will be the biggest new star of the 1960's. This girl
will be the Bardot of her generation. Ten years from now there will be
girls billing themselves as the new Catherine Spaak.”In Bardot tradition, I suppose, some of the
advertising showed Cecilia draped only in a towel and was considered too risqué
in some circles.As a result, some of
the advertising was censored. Levine even took to Variety to express anger about the ad censoring by the L.A. Times and the L.A. Examiner.Censoring can
still be seen on many of the surviving lobby cards for the film.My how times have changed!
The Empty Canvas generally received mixed-to-negative
reviews at the time from American critics, but it did respectable business and
garnered considerable attention for Catherine in the U.S.She was featured on the cover and in a story
in the July 1964 issue of Cosmopolitan, and she was also the subject of
a feature story in the May
2, 1964 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.
was a dream come true for the press, because she was the daughter of well-known
screenwriter Charles Spaak, was the niece of famed Belgian politician
Paul-Henri Spaak, and had married actor Fabrizio Capucci (of the Capucci
fashion-design family) in February of 1963, while seven months pregnant with
their first child.Amazingly, after
giving birth to daughter Sabrina in April of 1963, Catherine shot a film called
The Little Nuns before commencing
work on The Empty Canvas in
July.By the time the film reached U.S.
shores, Catherine and Capucci had already split, including a well-publicized
incident at the Italian border, where authorities stopped Catherine as she was
trying to leave the country with her infant daughter.I am sure that the tabloids of the day were
all over this story.
The Empty Canvas has never been released on DVD
in North America, but it was released by Embassy Home Entertainment in an
English language version on VHS in 1987. With The Criterion
Collection’s impressive recent release of the 1962 Italian classic Il sorpasso (aka The Easy Life), in which Catherine has a prominent supporting role,
the time is ripe for rediscovery in America of her classic work in The Empty Canvas as well.Furthermore, there should be no Bette Davis film
from the 1960’s that is unavailable on DVD
in the U.S.
On a windy night, a black-clad stranger
rides into Daugherty City, Texas.He
flips a coin to ascruffy drunk who is
strapped for the price of a drink. He exposes a crooked dice game in the local
saloon, where most of the townsfolk seem to be congregated.Then he departs.In the meantime, down the street, a gang of
acrobatic robbers breaks into the bank and heists a safe containing $100,000 in
Army payroll money.The getaway crew
escapes town before a wounded trooper can raise the alarm, but out on the trail
they run into the stranger, Sabata, who picks them off with a tricked-out rifle
and recovers the stolen money.
Thus, in under 15 minutes of running time,
Gianfranco Parolini neatly sets up the events that will drive the remaining 90
minutes of his 1969 Spaghetti Western, "Ehi amico... c'è
Sabata, hai chiuso!" -- better known simply as “Sabata,” as United
Artists retitled the English-dubbed version that debuted in the U.S. in
1970.The original Italian
title translates to something like, “Hey, Pal, Sabata’s Here, You Lose” . . .
or maybe closer to the film’s rambunctious spirit, “. . . You’re Screwed.”
Bracketing the opening credits, Parolini
economically introduces most of the movie’s main characters, establishes their
personalities, and through their interactions with Sabata and each other,
defines the interpersonal relationships that will drive the plot.
Sabata (Lee Van Cleef), the sharp-eyed “man
who knows,” as the drunk Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez) calls him, deduces that the
men behind the attempted robbery are the local businessman Stengel, his partner
Ferguson, and their crony Judge O’Hara (Gianni Rizzo).He approaches them and demands $10,000 in hush
money.Refusing, Stengel dispatches one
assassin after another to kill him.Stengel’s henchman Slim, a hulking gunman named Sharky, two hit men
dressed like the Earp brothers, and a nervous killer disguised as a clergyman
all try and fail.With each attempt,
Sabata raises his price higher and higher.
An old acquaintance, barroom minstrel Banjo
(William Berger), one of the supporting characters deftly sketched in the
opening saloon scene, ambles in and out from the periphery, toting his own
tricked-out weapon, a carbine hidden under his musical instrument.Sometimes he sides with Sabata for money,
sometimes he works for Stengel; in any event, not to be trusted by either.He and a greedy saloon girl, Jane, have a
sort of romance characterized by mutual boredom and availability.Carrincha and a mute Indian acrobat, Alley
Cat (Nick Jordan), help Sabata.
Arguably, “Sabata” represented the high
tide of Spaghetti Western popularity in the States in 1970, benefiting from the
box-office success of Sergio Leone’s groundbreaking films and preceding the
decline of the genre as it sputtered toward a slow box-office death in the
mid-‘70s.Where Leone’s movies were
generally panned by mainstream U.S. media on their initial release, but
nevertheless attracted a small early following of more progressive critics,
“Sabata” ironically met the opposite reception.
Major outlets like The New York Times gave
it good notices, but the pioneering book-length studies of the genre by
Christopher Frayling and Laurence Staig & Tony Williams were lukewarm.Staig and Williams dismissed it as “a mixture
of gimmickry and borrowed themes.”Citing Banjo’s hidden carbine, Frayling said that the movie was one of
the “derivatives” inspired by Leone’s scenes in which “guns are fired from
Other commentators over the years have
noted additional Leone influences.Before you see Sabata’s face in the opening scenes, Parolini gives us a
shot down the main street of Daugherty City, framed between Sabata’s boots in close-up
--a favorite Leone visual angle.Paralleling the three lead charactersof “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,”
Parolini (who also co-scripted with Renato Izzo) builds the action around an
unflappable protagonist, an icy bad guy, and a talkative, slippery secondary
lead.Sabata’s black suit, black
military coat, and fanciful weapons recallColonel Mortimer’s from Van Cleef’s break-out Spaghetti role in “For a
Few Dollars More.”
The argument that Leone cast a long shadow
over Parolini’s movie is valid as far as it goes, but then Leone cast a long
shadow over all the Italian Westerns that followed after his enormously
successful pictures with Clint Eastwood.If we acknowledge that “Sabata” often follows the visual and dramatic
conventions of Leone’s movies, it’s only fair to Parolini to note that he
alsodeparted from those conventions in
ways that other Spaghetti directors such as Sergio Corbucci, Sergio Sollima,
and Luigi Vanzi generally didn’t.
For example, like John Ford, Leone held a
sentimental reverence for the sanctity of the traditional family; the families
in his movies symbolize social stability.There are no traditional parents and children in Parolini’s universe,
even if a kid’s chorus heard in the movie’s bouncytitle tune suggests there will be.The only offspring and parent in “Sabata” are
Sharky -- a burly, slovenly adult -- and his gray-haired old virago of a
mother, who berates him verbally and physically for not settling a score with
their neighbors the Mallorys.“They stole
your woman, didn’t they?”she
shrieks.No, Sharky retorts, “you sold
her to the Mallorys.”
Carrincha, who looks a bit like Sharky in
girth and disheveled appearance, laments his life of thirst and poverty: “I
curse the mother who bore me, and my brother, and my whole family.”Almost everything Carrincha says is prone to
exaggeration, so it’s difficult to know whether this sentiment is real or
not.Regardless, it mirrors and
reinforces the satiric relationship between Sharky and his mother, poles away
from the traditional relationships portrayed by Leone and Ford.
Playing with the “trio” aspect of “The
Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Parolini assigns the trickster role of “the Ugly”
not to the boisterous Mexican (in name, at least) Carrancha, as Eli Wallach’s
Tuco was “the Ugly” in Leone’s movie, but to theAnglo drifter, Banjo.This way, Parolini finds not only differences
but also similarities between the two characters, including allusions to a
shared history during and after the Civil War and maybe a shared past outside
the law.This gives their relationship
an extra dimension not present in the relationship between the Good and the
Ugly in the Leone movie.
Critics and fans who appreciate “Sabata” on
its own terms usually employ terms like “hectic and chaotic,” and
“fun” that’s “not to be taken too seriously.”The movie hardly lets up for a moment (none of Leone’s long, measured
takes), but a term like “chaotic” can be misleading if you think it means slipshod.In fact, even though Parolini doesn’t build
the movie around a mystery asLeone does
in “For a Few Dollars More” (what do those seemingly shared flashback memories
by Colonel Mortimer and Indio mean?) or around a character arc as Sollima does
in “The Big Gundown” and Corbucci in “The Mercenary,” “Sabata” has its own
ingenious design.Beyond the action,
stunts, and cynical humor, “Sabata” bears repeated viewing to appreciate the
two techniques that Parolini uses to bring unity to the film.
One technique is
repetition.Little details that appear
in one scene in the visuals or in the dialogue will unexpectedly and sometimes
subtly reappear later in a different context.Slim’s loaded dice in the opening saloon scene always come up 7.There are seven men in the getaway crew from
the bank robbery whom Sabata ambushes.When Sabata checks into a hotel in Daugherty City, Banjo’s squeeze Jane
gives him Room 7 -- “next to mine,” she says suggestively.(Sabata isn’t interested.As Jules Feiffer once observed of Superman,
he is so self-sufficient and self-confident that he doesn’t need to pursue
every woman he encounters, or even to respond to every pass that comes his
Parolini’s other technique is
music.Like Ennio Morricone’s
compositions for Leone, Marcello Giombini’s score is integrated into “Sabata”
as an essential part of Parolini’s fabric.Like Morricone, Giombini
tailors certain musical themes and cues to specific characters in the
story.As John Mansell observes in his
liner notes for a 2001 CD soundtrack edition, Sabata’s theme incorporates “a
rather buoyant sounding guitar piece … interspersed with a solo muted trumpet,
occasional harpsichord flourishes plus the added support of choir, which is
carried along on a backing of slightly upbeat percussion.”Banjo’s theme is a cocky melody plucked on
his namesake instrument, sometimes augmented by jingling bells like those sewn
on his trousers.
But Mansell’s description of Sabata’s
theme, while insightful, fails to note that the theme also incorporates a
glissando passage like the swirling of the wind.Sabata is associated with the wind throughout
the movie.In the first scene,
tumbleweeds blow down the street and lamplight flutters as Sabata rides into
Daugherty City.In the closing scene,
Parolini and Sabata use the wind to the same ironic effect that John Huston
used it at the end of “Treasure of Sierra Madre” and Stanley Kubrick in the
finale of “The Killing.”Although Judge
O’Hara wonders if Sabata is a government agent, and Stengel snaps back that
“he’s nothing -- just a drifter who’s after our money,” the man in black
perhaps suggests his true elemental nature when he advises Stengel in one
exchange: “Don’t shoot at the wind.”
Parolini and Giombini also take their
partnership one step further than Leone and Morricone did in their
collaborations.In Morricone’s scores,
Leone’s primary characters have (in the words of Staig and Williams) their own
“individual musical signatures” -- the template followed by Parolini with
Sabata’s and Banjo’s themes.The
difference is that, in Morricone’s scores, in any one scene where the character
either enters or dominates the action, his theme predominates.Parolini combines his individual themes for
Sabata and Banjo as point and counterpoint in the same scene to underscore the
two gunmen’s shared history and one-up rivalry.
Banjo’s theme sounds a little like the old
military marching tune, “The British Grenadier,” a reminder of Banjo’s allusion
to his and Sabata’s Civil War past on different sides of the conflict: “You in
the North and me in the South.”In their
first meeting after Sabata’s arrival in town, Banjo plays a mocking version of
the tune, in increasingly frantic tempo, as if trying to get under the other
man’s skin.Sabata stops the performance
by shooting one of the pegs off the banjo.“You were out of tempo,” he says dryly.
the end of the film, as Banjo leaves Daugherty City in apparent triumph after a
pivotal final encounter with Sabata, a merry version of his banjo theme begins
to play, bolstered by a fife and drum that underlines the similarity to
military marching music.The jingle of
bells joins in with a close-up of the bells on Banjo’s trousers.The viewer senses that this is the victorious
music that Banjo probably hears in his own imagination.However, Sabata’s wind-theme presently swirls
in.As if in competition, the strum of
the banjo gains tempo, becoming increasingly insistent.Remembering the association of the fast-tempo
strumming with the much earlier scene in which Banjo was humiliated, you may
anticipate that Banjo’s present victory will be short-lived, too.
There isn’t an official 45th anniversary
edition of “Sabata,” but the Swiss label Explosive Media recently released a
new Blu-Ray combo pack that also includes a DVD print, a supplemental disc of
interviews and features, and a nice souvenir booklet in German, copiously
illustrated with stillsand pictures of
various international posters.
“Sabata” and the two Parolini films that
immediately followed it are popularly known as “The Sabata Trilogy,” although
only one is a true sequel.“Indio
Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di . . .,” released in Italy in
1970, was imported to the U.S. the following year as “Adios, Sabata.”Yul Brynner played the hero who wears black,
this time a black fringed shirt and bell-bottom trousers instead of Lee Van
Cleef’s more formal outfit.In the
Italian version, he’s Indio Black; in the dubbed U.S. print, Sabata.
Both movies are strongly linked in casting
and style.Three of the major supporting
roles in the two movies are occupied by the same actors (Jordan, Rizzo,
Sanchez) and fulfill similar functions in character and plot.Dean Reed, who looks like the young Roger
Moore, plays an opportunist named Ballantine who serves as this film’s surrogate
for Banjo.There are several big-action
set pieces, mostly involving Sabata’s mission in Mexico to relieve a tyrannical
officer, Colonel Skimmel, of a hoard of gold during the revolution against
“Adios, Sabata” is an entertaining Spaghetti
with a bigger cast of extras and more explosions than its predecessors.One set piece, in which Sabata sends the
no-good Murdock Brothers to their “just reward” in a showdown at the Bounty
Hunters’ Agency, is particularly well dialogued and choreographed.
But “Sabata” is the better movie, partly
because Van Cleef and Berger had stronger chemistry than Brynner and Reed, and
partly because Brynner’s character is a more traditional soldier of fortune and
do-gooder (he’s friends with benevolent old priests and small children) than
Van Cleef’s enigmatic loner.Although
Bruno Nicolai’s score for “Alias Sabata” is quite good on its own terms, the
title track emulating the full-on symphonic, choral sound of Morricone’s
Spaghetti music, it isn’t as ingeniously integrated into the movie as
Giombini’s composition was.
authentic sequel to “Sabata,” released in Italy in 1971 as "È
tornato Sabata... hai chiuso un'altra volta," reached the States in 1972
as “Return of Sabata.”Lee Van Cleef
returns as the lead character, and Giombini returns as the soundtrack composer,
but unfortunately this movie doesn’t measure up to its predecessors.
As in “Sabata,”Van Cleef’s character rides
into a town where a cabal of seemingly respectable citizens is engaged in nefarious
activity.This time, the heavies are
the outwardly pious McIntocks who trumpet civic expansion in Hobsonville by
raising money for new buildings and businesses.They do so by imposing exorbitant taxes on the town’s goods and
In truth, patriarch Joe McIntock is
conniving with his brother-in-law, banker Jeremy Sweeney, to smuggle the money
out of town for his own enrichment.Sabata, who arrives in Hobsonville as a sharpshooter in a traveling circus
sideshow, following a hunch about something being rotten somewhere, uncovers
the fraud.As in “Sabata,” he demands
blackmail from the bad guys in return for keeping their secret.The McIntocks, reluctant to pay, send a
series of would-be assassins after him.
Again, Parolini employs his stock troupe of
Jordan, Rizzo, and Sanchez in supporting roles, and inserts a slippery
intermediary character, Clyde (Reiner Schone).Clyde, like Banjo, shares a Civil War past with Sabata.Giombini’s music isn’t as ingenious as his
score for the first movie, and the circus aspect of the story never quite jells
with the plot about the McIntocks’ scam; as a whole, the movie lacks the little
visual and aural details that wove “Sabata” together.
Another problem: Sabata loses much of the
steely, enigmatic quality that defined his personality in the first movie.In “Return of Sabata,” an old girlfriend, a
hooker named Maggie, drifts into town, and Sabata shacks up with her.Maggie is never quite integrated into the
story either.Sabata as a mysterious
loner in the original film was intriguing.As a more conventional character with a sexy main squeeze, like a hero
out of a paperback adult western, he isn’t.Still, “Return of Sabata” hardly merits a place among the “50 Worst
Movies of All Time,” as the Medved brothers asserted in their 1978 book.Maybe Parolini has the last laugh: the Sabata
movies live on while the Medved book is long forgotten.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "THE SABATA TRILOGY" FROM AMAZON USA
(For information about Explosive Media's Blu-ray European special editions, click here. For more information, see the story in Cinema Retro issue #29. Click below to purchase).
Gordon Willis, one of the most acclaimed cinematographers of all time, has passed away at age 82. Praised by critics and prominent filmmakers alike, Willis helped transform the way modern movies were shot and had a unique style that defined his work. His most prominent films include The Godfather triology and numerous movies with Woody Allen including the 1979 classic Manhattan, which Willis shot in black and white. It became what many consider to be his signature achievement in motion pictures. Willis never won a competitive Oscar but was honored with an Academy Award on the basis of his lifetime achievements. For more click here
Some of the international movie posters presented in Cinema Retro issue #28, which features in-depth coverage of the making of Zulu.
By Brian Hannan
anniversary showing of Zulu in Britain next month is unlikely to be
repeated in the U.S. where the film flopped. But even the poorest box-office performer has an afterlife. So in 1965 Zulu was pushed out again anywhere that
would have it. That meant it supported some odd, not to say ugly, bedfellows –
exploitationer Taboos of the World in
Kansas City, The Three Stooges in The
Outlaws Is Coming in Phoenix, B
western Stage To Thunder Rock in Long Beach, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini in Des Moines and Rhino in Abilene. They liked it in Long Beach where it supported both
Circus World and That Man from Rio. It was the second feature to None But the Brave in Provo, Utah, and to
two more successful Joe E. Levine movies, Yesterday,
Today and Tomorrow in Ironwood, Michigan, and Marriage, Italian Style in Corpus Christi, Texas. Triple bills
being a staple of drive-ins, it was seen with Viva Las Vegas and Beach
Party in Tucson.
But it was not just support
meat. Almost a year after its release, it topped the bill in Helena, Montana,
with Robert Mitchum in Man in the Middle
as support. In Chester it was the main attraction with Homicidal in support. In Weimar, Texas, it was supported by Tarzan the Magnificent and in Bridgeport
by First Men on the Moon. At the
Cecil theatre in Mason City, Iowa, it played on its own, as it did in Colorado
Springs where it was advertised as “in the great tradition of Beau Geste” (supply your own exclamation
But it was not done yet.
Exhibitors in San Mateo had a soft spot for Zulu in 1966. It played there seven
times, as support to The Great Race, Marlon Brando western Appaloosa, Fantastic Voyage
(in two theaters), What’s Up Tiger Lily?, The Leather
Boys and Lawrence of Arabia.
Abilene brought it back twice, for a re-match with Rhino and then in a double bill with Kimberley Jim starring singer Jim Reeves when it was promoted as “a
true story of the Zulu tribe.” Fremont cinemas also ran in twice – with Return of the Seven and Fantastic Voyage. In Troy and Bennington
it rode shotgun with Elvis in Harum
Scarum. In Charleston it supported Arabesque,
in Winona The Second Best Secret Agent and in Long Beach What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?
The highlight of 1967 had to
be a double bill with The Daleks (Dr Who and the Daleks) in Delaware, or
perhaps the teaming with Batman in
Cumberland, Maryland, or El Cid in
Ottawa. Zulu returned twice to
Fremont to support Africa Addio and John
Sturges’ Hour of the Gun. In Modesto
it played with Where The Spies Are.
In Long Beach it was put on at a pop concert where the headline act was
Organized Confusion (anybody remember them?). These three years of repeated
showings hardly counted as a proper reissue, but it did cast an interesting
light on what may – or may not – have turned into something of a cult film. In
Britain, where it was a smash hit, it was reissued on the ABC circuit in 1967
Brian Hannan is the author
of the forthcoming The Reissue Bible.
Brian Williams and Ron Howard. (Event photos copyright Giacomo Selloni. All rights reserved.)
Earlier this month, Cinema Retro was invited to cover Tribeca Talks, a new live interview series that took place as part of the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. We sent our "Man About Manhattan", Giacomo Selloni to cover the initial event at which Ron Howard was interviewed by NBC newsman Brian Williams. Here is his report:
By Giacomo Selloni
Ron Howard is an articulate film director. So it should come as no surprise that he is also an articulate speaker. He also has a way with anecdotes, as one might expect, given the length and diversity of his career.
"I think it's wrong to think of what I'm in as the movie business," Howard says. "It's the moving image business. I think it's necessary to work in all different mediums." He also says it's hard to call it the film business as the industry moves further towards digital movie making. Part of his process is deciding not only how to tell a story but what medium to use, film, television even the internet. "Some stories might work better on the internet, with little three-minute segments. The audience is always going to tell you what they want," he continued, "the audience clearly wants to have the option to view different stories in different ways."
"You're sixty, and a grandfather; it's enough to make one check their watch," Brian Williams said about Howard as he asked him questions about his career. When called upon to tell stories about the people he's worked with in his career that has now spanned six decades, Howard's abilities as a story teller came to the forefront. John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Betty Davis, Jimmy Stewart are among the legends he's acted with or directed. Howard recalled his first meeting with "The Duke." He was picked up at the airport in Carson City, Nevada by "The Shootist" dirctor, Don Siegel and driven to the motel where they were all staying. "C'mon," Siegel said, "let me introduce you to The Duke." Upon introducing the young star of "Happy Days" to John Wayne, Siegel handed Wayne a copy of the latest TV Guide that he picked up at the airport. It featured Ron Howard and Henry Winkler on the cover. "A big shot, huh?" said Wayne. Howard later asked Wayne if he wanted to run lines. Wayne told Howard that no one had ever asked him to do that before. Howard was struck by how hard Wayne worked on finding the right spots to insert his trademark pauses and hitches. They weren't by accident, they were part of a "structured performance." "That's one thing all the great ones had in common," Howard recalled, "they always worked a little bit harder than everyone else."
Howard co-starred with John Wayne in the Duke's final film, the 1976 Western classic The Shootist. Wayne considered young Howard to be among the most professional actors he had ever worked with.
Williams asked Howard if he would ever return to acting. "I would kind of like to," Howard replied - much to the audience's approval. Now that he and his wife are empty nesters she's urging him to get out of the house more. He told the story of how he got his first full-length feature directing job. "Kids off TV sitcoms were not from the fertile ground where the industry looked for directors." He made a deal with Roger Corman who wanted him to make "Eat My Dust," a film he did not want to star in. Corman gave him the opportunity to pitch a film that was in the same car-chase vein. "Grand Theft Auto" was the result. Howard co-wrote the script with his father, actor Rance Howard, and it was a major boxoffice success. The rest, as they say, is history. A few years later Howard gave up acting completely in order to concentrate on his booming career as a director, although out of sentiment, he did co-star in the smash hit TV movie "Return to Mayberry" in 1986 out of sentiment and respect for his co-stars from "The Andy Griffith Show".
The subject of politics and popular culture came up. Howard is a great believer in American culture. "We are truly a melting pot nation and we understand how to make it work and grow." Working primarily in Europe for the last few years, he is troubled by the confusing messages the United States sends to the rest of the world, the whole red state/ blue state thing. People are purposely polarized. Moderate ideas, he claims, don't get any attention. The only messages that get attention are those of the extremists. In closing, Brian Williams told Howard that "If our country were to prepare a time capsule, your films would have to be in it - if not you, yourself." A quick look on IMDB as a reminder of his distinguished directorial career may have you feeling the same way.
(Giacomo Selloni is a playwright and serves as Treasurer of the legendary Players club in New York City.)
CINEMA ISSUE #29 IS NOW SHIPPING WORLDWIDE! ALL SUBSCRIBER COPIES HAVE BEEN MAILED.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF ISSUE #29 INCLUDE:
Visiting "The Great Escape" German film locations- then and now- plus David McCallum attends a 50th anniversary screening of the film.
Exclusive interview with director William Friedkin ("The French Connection", "The Exorcist") about restoring his controversial masterpiece "Sorcerer"- and the hellish experiences of bringing the 1977 film to the screen.
Excusive interview with actress Nancy Kwan, who discusses breaking racial barriers in Hollywood.
"The Wicker Man" 40th anniversary. A tribute to the classic British horror film and exclusive interview with director Robin Hardy.
From Glamor to Gore: how horror films saved the careers of aging acting legends such as Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Shelly Winters. .
Paying tribute to the superb supporting actors of "All the President's Men": Jason Robards, Martin Balsam and Jack Warden.
Analyzing Sam Peckinpah's crime classic "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia".
"From 'Rio Bravo' to 'El Dorado': A look back at the Howard Hawks/ John Wayne Western hits..
Lee Van Cleef in "Death Rides a Horse" and "Sabata": the new Blu-ray European special editions.
Memories of legendary 007 cinematographer Alec Mills. .
"The Oakmont Story" series continues with the company's little-seen WWII flick "The Last Escape" starring Stuart Whitman.
The joy of collecting movie memorabilia
Raymond Benson's ten best films of 1988
Darren Allison reviews the latest soundtrack CDs
Plus DVD and movie book reviews.
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Cinema Retro has received the following press release relating to our columnist Howard Hughes' new book:
THE FILMGOERS’ GUIDE TO THE GREAT SCIENCE-FICTION FILMS
Published in Paperback
30 May 2014
£14.99 | 9781780761664
up-to-date detailed companion to the best sci-fi movies of all time
Science Fiction is probably the most popular box office
genre in movie history and has given filmgoers some of their most memorable
cinematic experiences. Outer Limits
takes its readers on a tour of the sci-fi cinema universe in all its
fantastical, celestial glory.
The milestone films of sci-fi cinema from Metropolis to
Avatar are discussed in this Filmgoers’ Guide for anyone who enjoys a cinema
that has pleased and amazed filmgoers since the dawn of cinema. Illustrated
with fine examples of sci-fi film poster-art, Outer Limits goes deep into the most interesting and popular movies
across sci-fi cinema’s many forms, with core chapters used as launch pads to
discuss lesser-known influential movies and follow-on sequels. Howard Hughes
tells the stories from pre-production to box office returns of The War of the Worlds, Independence Day,
Tarantula, Godzilla, The Time Machine, The Thing, Invasion of the Body
Snatchers, Forbidden Planet, Barbarella, Galaxy Quest, Minority Report, Planet
of the Apes, Mad Max 2, Back to the Future, Alien, Terminator 2: Judgement Day,
The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Matrix, Star Trek, Apollo 13, Blade Runner
and many more.
Film writer and historian Howard Hughes is the author
of Aim for the Heart: The Films of Clint Eastwood
(I.B. Tauris) and of the Filmgoers’ Guide
series, When Eagles Dared, Crime Wave,
Once Upon a Time in the Italian West and Stagecoach to Tombstone (all from
I.B. Tauris). He is contributor to ‘The James Bond Archives’, the official
fiftieth anniversary celebration of 007, and writes regularly for film magazine
FOR HOWARD HUGHES’ BOOKS
‘expertly dissected...a fascinating read.’ - The Times
‘offers much to inform and plenty to enjoy...Highly
recommended.’ - Kamera
Hughes is ‘rigorous...engulfing us with history and
myriad detail.’ - Empire
‘Entertaining, illuminating and packed with
information’ - Sight and Sound
‘Hughes is a fan and his enthusiasm, as well as his
research, shines through.’ - Tribune
‘a goldmine of such film trivia, wide-ranging and often
delightful...Hughes is a thorough researcher and knows his stuff’ - The Australian
There will be a special two-day 50th anniversary tribute to the James Bond classic "Goldfinger" held in Oslo, Norway May 22-23. Ken Adam, the legendary Oscar-winning production designer, will be an honored guest along with his biographer Sir Christopher Frayling, Norman Wanstall (who won an Oscar for his sound effects for the film) and actress Margaret Nolan, who played "Dink" and whose body was seen in the classic opening titles sequence. For full information and schedule click here
Joe Dante's Trailers From Hell site presents the original theatrical trailer for John Boorman's classic 1972 screen adaptation of James Dickey's "Deliverance" starring Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds and Ronny Cox and Ned Beatty, both in their feature film debuts. The trailer includes commentary by film director Neil Labute. Click here to view Click here for Cinema Retro's review of the Blu-ray 40th anniversary release.
Every aspect of Alfred Hitchcock's career and films has been analyzed by countless film historians. But writer Shaun Chang has a new angle to pursue: a look at how the menswear featured in Hitch's films provides insights into his leading characters. Click here to read.
Unemployed and disgruntled Ronnie (Robert Buchanan)
hatches a plan to steal ninety sinks as
a means to solving his financial hardship. Recruiting his closest friends,
against the grey backdrop of Glasgow, eight teenagers plan to pull off the
cinematic caper that would define 1979.
Alongside the 60th Anniversary release of Akira
Kurosawa's seminal action masterpiece Seven Samurai, the month of April would
find the BFI with one eye fixed on Japan, and the other on home soil.
With their Flipside label the BFI proudly champions
the rediscovery of British cult films, and the latest film to find itself
inducted into this illustrious catalogue is Bill Forsyth's 1980 caper comedy
That Sinking Feeling.
It is hard to think of two more distinct films finding
themselves on the release slate alongside one another. In spite of being worlds
apart, they share a single similarity, and to the astute eye it is a
singularity that multiplies. That Sinking Feeling and Seven Samurai together
are perhaps a testament to the fact that films, like people, are individuals
but also live within a cinematic or narrative society.
As unmistakably Japanese as is Seven Samurai –
although it would be the seed of inspiration for John Sturges’ The Magnificent
Seven -- Forsyth's Glaswegian crime caper has British cinematic blood coursing
through its veins. It is indelibly a cult British classic,, regardless of whether
or not you’d describe it in that typically English way as your “cup of tea.”
The role That Sinking Feeling plays in the story of
both British and international independent cinema should not be overlooked. Highlighted
in an entry of Kermode Uncut that can be found amongst the extras, Forsyth
discusses how he constructed the film’s budget and how he gathered
non-financial resources that made his debut feature anything but a sinking endeavour.
It positions Forsyth as one of cinema's ingenious independent filmmakers, and
his story allows us to compare the landscape of independent cinema and the
working filmmaker from then to now.
With its shade of social realism through the disenchanted youth, Forsyth and
his cast of characters turn hardship into comedic gold, or at least they
attempt to do so through a caper that more than thirty years on may strike one
as pointless, and even perhaps, as amusing as the film itself. That being said,
with the recent scurrying around for scrap metal and copper that has helped
regional news programmes fill their schedule, That Sinking Feeling may not have
sunk as deeply into the past as one might imagine.
From the outset Forsyth imbues the film with playfulness - the film's title
sinking off-screen to the suggestion of Glasgow as a fictitious place. Add to
that the wry smile that frequents Ronnie’s (Robert Buchanan's) lips and it is
almost as if the film is trying not to laugh along with itself; an infectious
humour that would similarly plague Seinfeld cast members years later.
The fictitious place known as Glasgow is one that
may just intertwine itself with an inner knowing truth that Glasgow is real,
and the grey urban landscape of Forsyth’s debut feature is a reflection that
possesses a certain proportion of truth.
Constructed with a seeming focus on individual moments - the opening monologue,
the science-fiction comedy element and the encounter with a pretentious art
dealer amongst others, That Sinking Feeling is made up of comedy segments that
undermine the fluidity of a narrative gliding towards its destination. Whilst
it does successfully tell the story of a caper, and the forming of a gang, it
decidedly feels as if it is a film of moments that should be appreciated as
Although it is rough around the edges, and it habitually surrenders to the
moment, it should be regarded as both criticism and praise. These faults afford
That Sinking Feeling a vitality that so often can be found in first films where
directors succumb to the moment, a creative energy or instinct. After all, film
is constructed of moments, and the creation of these moments that permits a
film to exude charm and energy is reason enough for celebration.
With a comprehensive set of extras of first-hand accounts, the BFI have pulled
Forsyth's debut out of the shadows cast by Forsyth’s better known and often
more celebrated Gregory's Girl and Local
Hero. That Sinking Feeling may be a
title of introspective truth regarding its own fate.
Whilst the dark confines of the cinema may be the
traditional spiritual experience of the cineaste, to fine connoisseurs of home
entertainment such as the BFI, they are equally a beguiling means towards discovery or rediscovery. If the
truth be told, they possess a greater capacity to take us beyond the film, and
with the restored original Glaswegian audio track and a spate of extras, for
those either not born in 1979 or for those too young to see That Sinking
Feeling on its initial theatrical release, the BFI Flipside release is a
beguiling means of discovery, and for all others re-discovery with it restored
to Forsyth’s original vision.
Martin Ritt's Conrack,
now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time, first hit theaters in 1974.This was a time when new, brash directors
were reinventing American cinema,a time
when movie screens were likely spackled with vomit from demonically possessed
little girls, or blood from the victims of Dirty Harry Callahan's .44 Magnum. Theaters
in your neighborhood were just as likely to be playing hardcore porn as the
latest Paul Newman movie.Ritt's simple
tale of an optimistic white teacher in a schoolroom of dirt poor black students
was a success just by squeaking through to its birth.
Looking at it 40 years later, one is struck by two
things, namely, Jon Voight's relentless energy and goodwill as the big-hearted
teacher, and the very realistic performances from the kids.Even while acknowledging the film's uneven
tone, or what one critic deemed "a crazy quilt of naturalism, farce, and
soap opera all jumbled together," one is still intrigued by Conrack.Maybe the idea that a caring soul might try to educate some people who
would otherwise remain ignorant strikes a primal cord within us.Maybe there's something irresistible about
sheltered folks suddenly realizing there is more to the world than their dirty
little backwater.Or maybe, and this
might trump all the other maybes, we all hated school so much that we wish our
own lives had been enriched, even briefly, by someone like Conrack.
Pat Conroy, a young idealist, takes a teaching position
on a remote island in a South Carolina river delta.He's vowed to grow his hair until the war
stops (the story takes place in 1969) and the locals look at him as if they're
seeing a mythical animal up close, for a towering blonde white man on an island
made up almost entirely of blacks is as odd as a unicorn.The locals can't even pronounce his name,
which creates the movie's title.The
newly dubbed Conrack fends off their suspicions with a grin as wide as the
Bible belt, and then sets about teaching "the babies," as these fifth
through eighth graders are called.He's
shocked to find out the level of his students' ignorance - they can't read,
they know nothing about life beyond the island, they've never heard of Babe
Ruth or Halloween, have never played football, and, Heaven forbid, they don't
even know that coffee comes from Brazil.
Based on Pat Conroy's memoir ‘The Water Is Wide,’ the
story follows Conrack's effort to help these children even as he is met by
resistance from the school's principal, a middle aged black woman (Madge
Sinclair) who believes the children need to beaten with a leather strap, and
superintendent Skeffington (Hume Cronyn), a grinning sadist who likes to grab a
kid by the thumb and twist, a punishing move he calls "milking the
rat."Add to this a local drunk
(Paul Winfield) who skulks around the island like Boo Radley, the talkative Mr.
Quickfellow (Antonio Fargas) who stalks 13-year-old girls with promises of new
dresses, plus the natural reluctance of students who have never been
challenged, and it seems Conrack has entered a world that may be too much for
him to conquer.
Yet, armed with nothing but his enthusiasm, Conrack
gradually earns the love and respect of the classroom. The kids, as meek as
church mice at the movie’s start, are
soon chanting James Brown songs, and dressed up for a Halloween trip to
Beaufort.Conrack's teaching methods are
unorthodox - he tickles, wrestles, and teases the students, and when he learns
that no one on the island knows how to swim, he promptly throws the kids, one
by one, into the river. His freewheeling style gets results. He even gets the
class to sit still long enough to listen to some recordings of classical
music.I like how the kids calmly pay
attention to the sounds coming from the old turntable.In a more contemporary movie, they all would
have picked up instruments, mastered them overnight, and would have then gone on to win a contest
of some kind, for in modern America a story is only uplifting if you can crush
someone and win a prize. But in Conrack,
the kids merely listen; they’re quietly mystified by the music, happy that they
can come close to pronouncing the names of Beethoven or Brahms. Conrack even
picks up one of the younger boys and cradles him as the music plays, inviting
him to close his eyes and sleep.Somehow, Conrack's good intentions get him labeled as "an outside
agitator" and fired from his job. Conrack tries to fight the verdict but
is no match for Skeffington’s power as superintendent. His good spirit bloodied
but unbowed, Conrack leaves the island. To the children he says, "May the
river be kind to you when you cross it."
As one might have expected, reactions to the movie were
mixed: syndicated columnist David Sterritt dismissed it as "an audacious
attempt at mythmaking." Indeed
there are scenes of Conrack jogging along the beach, his class running along
behind him, as if he’s some sort of golden haired pied piper, an image that probably
ruffled some feathers in the super cynical ‘70s. The New York Times gave it a
mostly positive review, but lamented the film's "glaze of sentimentality
that sugars much of the narrative."
MI6 Confidential, the terrific British James Bond magazine, is now shipping issue #25. Highlights include: interview with legendary stuntman/coordinator/second unit director Vic Armstrong; interview with former United Artists head of production David V. Picker; The Cars of Ian Fleming; interview with Lana Wood of Diamonds Are Forever, The Bond in Motion London auto exhibition; the story behind the James Bond Jr. animated series, and much more. Click here to order.
L to R – Senior Archivist Dr. Greg Bradsher; Chief U.S. Archivist David Ferriero; Monuments Men Foundation Chairman Robert Edsel and real-life Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger. All attended a ceremony today (May 8, 2014) at the National Archives in Washington where Edsel donated “Hitler Album No. 6” to the Archive. The photo album has now been reunited with 39 other “Hitler Albums” documenting the looting of cultural treasures in Nazi-occupied Europe that were recovered at the end of World War II. Ettlinger represented the historic group honored most recently in Sony Pictures’ THE MONUMENTS MEN, based on Edsel’s No.1 New York Times’ bestseller, which is now available on Digital and on Blu-ray™ May 20. (Photography: copyright Bruce Guthrie
Cinema Retro has received the following press release from Sony:
CITY, Calif. (May 8, 2014) / PRNewswire — At a ceremony today at the U.S.
National Archives in Washington, D.C., Monuments Men Foundation Founder and
Chairman Robert Edsel donated “Hitler Album No. 6” to the Archive, reuniting it
with 39 other “Hitler Albums” recovered at the end of World War II. Chief
Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, accepted the album from the
foundation and Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger. Ettlinger represents the historic
group honored most recently in Sony Pictures’
THE MONUMENTS MEN, which is based on Mr. Edsel’s No.1 New York Times’
bestselling book of the same name.
Clooney’s action thriller THE MONUMENTS MEN is now available on Digital from
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, starring Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John
Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville and Cate Blanchett.[i]
The Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD are available on May 20, including bonus features
with Ettlinger and Edsel, who worked closely with Clooney during the production
of the film.
brown leather-bound album of photographs donated today was created by the staff
of a special Nazi taskforce, the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR),
which documented Hitler’s systematic looting of cultural treasures in
Nazi-occupied Europe. The ERR staff catalogued the French collections by
creating leather-bound photo albums, including Album No. 6, with each page
containing a photograph of one stolen item with inventory codes denoting the
family to which it belonged. These albums were specifically created for Hitler
in an effort to keep him apprised of the ERR’s progress in France. In May 1945,
39 original ERR albums, along with records that documented the confiscation of
thousands of looted items, were discovered at the Castle of Neuschwanstein in
Germany by the Monuments Men, including Lt. James Rorimer, who after the war
became the sixth Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The albums were
subsequently taken to the Munich Central Collecting Point, where they were used
by the Monuments Men, including Harry Ettlinger, to assist in the restitution
process. The albums were also introduced as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to
document the massive Nazi art looting operation.
the U.S. National Archives has custody of the original 39 albums. It was
believed that additional ERR albums had been destroyed during the latter days
of World War II. However, since 2007, The Monuments Men Foundation discovered three
additional albums, which have since been donated to the U.S. National Archives,
joining the original 39 albums. Album No. 6 was found when an heir of an
American soldier stationed in the Berchtesgaden area of Germany contacted the
Monuments Men Foundation. In the closing days of World War II, the soldier had
entered Hitler’s home in the Bavarian Alps and picked up the album as a
souvenir. The soldier’s nephew, who later inherited the album, was initially
unaware of their historical significance until meeting with Edsel.
Foundation often receives calls on our toll free tip line, 1-866-WWII-ART, from
veterans and their heirs, who don’t know the importance of cultural and
artistic items they brought home after their military service, or aren’t aware
that anyone is looking for the items,” Edsel stated. “This album is just the
tip of the iceberg, and thanks to George Clooney and the success of The
Monuments Men film, global awareness about these heroes of civilization has
increased dramatically. We are delighted, and anticipate that the home
entertainment rollout of the film will continue to help us honor the legacy of
the men and women, and complete their mission by locating and returning works
of art and cultural items to their rightful owners.”
features on THE MONUMENTS MEN include two all-new featurettes that highlight
the making of the film. The first, “George Clooney’s Mission,” features
interviews with Clooney, as well as the rest of the cast, on the elements that
went into completing THE MONUMENTS MEN. The second featurette, “Marshalling the
Troops,” features a cast discussion on the real men and women who inspired the
film. Exclusively available on the Blu-ray Combo Pack are deleted scenes and two
additional exclusive featurettes. “In Their Own Words” is a unique piece that
offers the most comprehensive and direct insight into the hearts and minds of
the heroes, featuring an interview with Ettlinger, one of the last surviving
members of the Monuments Men.
“A Woman Amongst the Monuments Men” features a discussion with Cate Blanchett about
her film character, Claire Simone, who is based on French heroine Rose Valland.
[i]Two-time Academy Award® winner Clooney (Argo, Best Motion Picture of the Year,
Academy Award® winner Matt Damon (Good Will Hunting, Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for
the Screen, 1997), Bill Murray (The Grand
Budapest Hotel), John Goodman (Argo),
Academy Award® winner Jean Dujardin
(The Artist, Best Performance by an Actor
in a Leading Role, 2011), Bob Balaban (The
Grand Budapest Hotel),
Hugh Bonneville (TV’s “Downton Abbey”) & Academy Award® winner
Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine, Best
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role, 2013).
Cipriani's beautiful percussion based score for Joe D'Amato's ORGASMO NERO (1980)
(CSC 014) sits very nicely alongside Chris' Soundtrack Corner’s previously
released PAPAYA DEI CARAIBI (1978) (CSC 006). Both films are among D’Amato’s
island-based sexploitation features and both were scored by Italian composer
Cipriani. Both of Cipriani’s scores are superb examples of Mondo-exotica/erotica
film music. Beyond the percussion based tribal themes there are also many
subtle and romantic pieces that reflect the sun, sand and sexuality – each of
which were often the staple exponents of European cult cinema of the 70s. Yes,
these films were of course adult sub-genres, and in this case the focus was on American
born actor Richard Harrison who plays Paul, an ethnological researcher who is
investigating a little known island tribe. Paul is accompanied on the trip by
his wife Helen (played by Spanish actress Nieves Navarro). Helen subsequently begins
a sexual relationship with Haini (Lucia Ramirez), a beautiful black tribeswoman
who exercises a lusty ‘primitive’ sexuality. Thus begins a fractured love triangle
– a relationship that is further complicated when Paul and Helen take Haini
back with them to the big city. From here on, D’Amato relies on a very familiar
and tested formula, using each occurring situation as the premise for a soft
music is always reliable and often outlives the film itself, and this again
proves to be the case with ORGASMO NERO. Cipriani provides some rich Bossa
cuts, but you are never too far away from a piece of evocative, multi layered
ambiance. Cipriani wisely chose a contrast of styles, an intelligent decision
on his part – as it isn’t hard to imagine how other (and arguably lessor) composers
may have simply relegated it to one particular genre. Fans and collectors of Cipriani’s
work will certainly have little problem melting into this latest release and no
doubt take to it like an old familiar friend.
Lorcan Otway, owner of the legendary New York theater, starts off the festivities.
Actress Arlene Dahl ("Journey to the Center of the Earth") introduces Alan Cumming.
Alan prepares to be "immortalized" in cement for the theater's walk of fame.
On Monday night, Cinema Retro was invited to attend a private party in honor of actor Alan Cumming at New York's legendary and quirky Theatre 80 St. Marks on St. Marks Place. The venue has its own mini "walk of fame" that dates back many decades. The Theatre/bar also houses the Museum of the American Gangster, as it once had a sordid history that included a gangland rubout. Alan Cumming graciously signed the cement block, having been introduced by the theater's owner Lorcan Otway and actress Arlene Dahl. After the party, everyone thundered to the famed bar, where plenty of good brews and live Irish music (and Irish whiskey) rounded out the evening. (Alan Cumming is currently reprising his Tony Award-winning role in Cabaret on Broadway.)
If you are in New York and would like to visit Theatre 80 St. Marks, click here for info.
(All photos copyright Cinema Retro. All rights reserved.)
Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal (2014) is the one of the creepiest, most brilliantly
photographed and edited psychological studies I have seen of late.An utterly frightening and unsettling concoction,
The Canal, which screened last month
at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, pulls no punches in creating an overwhelming
feeling of dread while constantly keeping the audience on its guard.
David (Rupert Evans) is a film
archivist who appears to have a wonderful home life. He and his expectant wife Alice (Hannah
Hoekstra) visit a prospective house, with a canal not far off, to settle in. As Alice inspects the layout, David sees what
appears to be someone walking through the first floor. Vexed, he swears that he saw someone. Or did he? Five years hence their lives appear ordinary with the addition of their
young son, Billy (Calum Heath). Alice
keeps telling David she loves him prior to leaving for work or following mechanical
sex. It arouses suspicion; at a dinner
party, Alice rushes off to speak with a client, Alex (Carl Shabaan), but David
notices intimate exchanges between the two and when she returns to dance with him,
and we see the estrangement on their faces.
At work, David’s work partner Claire
(Antonia Campbell-Hughes) tells him that new footage has come in and needs to
be viewed for archiving. He is shocked
to learn that it is a detail of a 1902 crime scene that took place inside the
bedroom that he and his wife now occupy (this is a point that the estate agent
naturally neglected to impart to the couple.) The footage has the look and feel of authenticity (the effect could have
probably been created in post-production on a computer utilizing a high brow
software package) and director Kavanagh shot the crime scene aftermath with a 1915 Universal movie camera by using the
lowest speed black and white 35mm stock that he and his crew could find. The film delves more into a ghost
story that recalls The Shining
(1980), The Ring (2005), and The Innkeepers (2011) in terms of
imagery and mood. Veteran composer Ceiri Torjussen provides a brilliantly
effective, frightening and memorable score.
David starts to become unhinged. When his wife prepares to go to work, David
pleads with her to come straight home and she promises to. After work, David follows her as she and
Alex, their affair now obviously confirmed, walk to Alex’s house which is
opposite a canal. David follows them
from a distance, and catches them in the midst of sexual passion, leaving him
feeling betrayed and disillusioned. He
stumbles into the worst cinematic toilet seen since Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996) and begins to see
flashes of the murder that occurred well over 100 years ago. Like the best ghost stories, The Canal presents us with images that
give us pause to determine if they are real or if they are just happening in
the mind of the protagonist.
When David’s wife goes missing, he
contacts the police and tries desperately to locate her. The lead officer on the case (Steve Oram)
immediately suspects David killed her and asks him straight out; David is
bewildered by the inquiry. His son Billy
is too young to understand the concepts of disappearance and death; Sophie the
nanny (Kelly Byrne) is concerned for Billy’s welfare but is also afraid for her
own safety and as David becomes more and more frenetic she feels the need to
The film is beset in imagery that
references pregnancy and childbirth; water, as it did in Robert Altman’s
dreamlike 3 Women (1977), plays a big
factor, as does duality. The references
in The Canal are two-fold – there is
the canal where David’s wife’s body is found, and the birth canal is referenced
in a scene of unnerving horror.
Canal had me watching the end
credits in silent anticipation, holding my breath until the final sounds on the
soundtrack ended abruptly. It is a
visceral, gripping film experience, one to be ideally experienced
theatrically. Viewers will get that
chance in months to come when the film is released in 20 market
Explosive Media is an exciting new German company that specializes in releasing excellent Blu-ray and DVD editions of retro movies. The good news is that all of their releases are "region free", which means they will play on any Blu-ray/DVD system. The bad news is that if you don't live in Germany, you might have a difficult time obtaining these unless you order through Amazon Germany or find the the titles through third party sellers. Nevertheless, our considerable European readership will be especially gratified that some excellent titles are now available through this company. One of those titles is The Revengers, a little-remembered but very worthwhile 1972 Western that reunited Wild Bunch co-stars William Holden and Ernest Borgnine, along with another Western icon, the great Woody Strode. The time-worn premise is a familiar one to fans of the genre. Holden plays John Benedict, a successful rancher with a loving family consisting of two sons, two daughters and a devoted wife. One day, while out hunting a mountain lion, Benedict is alerted to the fact that his ranch is being attacked by a band of ruthless rustlers. By the time he makes his way home, he finds a horrific sight to greet him: his entire family and dedicated farm hand have been mercilessly slaughtered. Benedict is overcome with grief but his overriding emotion is for revenge. He learns the band of cutthroats consists of renegade Indians and white men who are led by Tarp (Warren Vanders), who is leading the pack and their stolen herd to a hideout encampment in Mexico where they will use the horses to trade for guns and liquor. Benedict travels to Mexico and hand picks a gang of convicts who are suffering under horrid conditions in a desert prison. He "rents" them ostensibly to do labor in a mine but actually enlists them to accompany him on his seemingly suicidal mission to infiltrate Tarp's camp so he can have his revenge. Predictably, the motley crew double crosses and even robs him- but in the end, his faith in them is justified when they return and inform him they will go with him. They embark on a year-long quest to find Tarp's camp and when they do, a major battle ensues during which Tarp escapes. Benedict and his ragtag "army" continue the hunt but not without some infighting within their group that leads to Benedict being seriously wounded by one of his own men.
The Revengers looked like pretty standard horse opera stuff at the time of its release. At times it's like The Comancheros meet The Magnificent Seven by way of The Dirty Dozen and The Searchers. However, the film plays better today with Holden and Borgnine giving fine performances (the latter is particularly amusing as the sleaziest of Holden's allies) with Woody Strode and an impressive cast of supporting actors adding to the mix. Susan Hayward (in her last film role) pops up briefly as a lonely Irish nurse who cares for the wounded Holden. Director Daniel Mann makes the most of the Mexican locations and there is some truly inspired cinematography by Gabriel Torres. There are also any number of well-staged action sequences including a hell of a battle when Holden's group aids an outnumbered outpost of U.S. Cavalry against an overwhelming number of Comancheros. These scenes feature some of the best horse falls stunts of the era. The only criticism from a technical standpoint is that composer Pino Calvi's score seems dated and more appropriate for an old episode of Starsky and Hutch.
The Blu-ray edition boasts a crystal clear transfer with the film available in both English and German languages. Explosive provides some nice extras including a four-page German language illustrated booklet, a great gallery of original posters and German lobby cards and several trailers for other releases including a terrific promo for Burt Lancaster in Valdez is Coming.
Explosive Media titles may be hard to get in the English language market, but they are worth going to some trouble to obtain.
Click here to visit their web site with links to Amazon Germany.
(In America, Paramount is reissuing the film on DVD, but not Blu-ray. Click here to order)
Paramount Home Video is releasing a special Blu-ray edition of the John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara hit Mclintock! (1963) in May. Here are the details. Pre-order now!
Synopsis:McLintock!presents screen giant John Wayne at his two-fisted best, with the beautiful, fiery Maureen O’Hara as the proverbial thorn in his side. The Duke stars as George Washington McLintock, a proud, defiant cattle baron whose daughter is due home from college. But G.W.’s happy reunion is tempered by the arrival of his headstrong wife (O’Hara), who recently left him. Verbal fireworks explode, slapstick pratfalls bloom… and the Wayne-O’Hara “reconciliation” culminates with the notorious “spanking” scene and the biggest mudhole brawl this side of the Mississippi in this wild, raucous and hilarious Western comedy!
Audio & Subtitles:
·English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, English Mono Dolby TrueHD, French 5.1 Dolby Digital, Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital & Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital
·English, English SDH, French, Spanish & Portuguese Subtitles
·Introduction by Leonard Maltin
·Commentaries by Leonard Maltin, Frank Thompson, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Michael Pate, Michael Wayne and Andrew McLaglen
A new concept in special issue publications from Cinema Retro!- Now shipping worldwide! Order this limited edition now!
Our new line of special issues is called Foto Files. The images are derived from the Cinema Retro archives.
Our premiere issue is dedicated to "Spy Girls" of the 1960s and 1970s. It's an 80-page magazine that emphasizes rare and exciting photographs of those actresses who were "deadlier than the male" in some of the best retro spy movies ever made!
Over 350 photos and film poster artwork from the era
Limited print run. Not available in most retail outlets.
All of your favorite femme fatales from such legendary series as James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Harry Palmer, Bulldog Drummond, Matt Helm, Our Man Flint, and many others!
Among the sex sirens featured in this remarkable collector's item issue: Ursula Andress, Diana Rigg, Elke Sommer, Caroline Munro, Camilla Sparv, Daliah Lavi, Stella Stevens, Gila Golan, Sylva Koscina, Sue Lloyd, Sharon Tate, Barbara Bouchet and many, many more.
Price: USA/CANADA/UK: $15; Rest of the World: $22.00 (all prices include air mail postage). Use drop down box below to order.
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