(1983) is a personal favorite horror film of mine. I own a 35mm print of this film, and I’ve seen
it projected three times in the last 15 years. The image looks very similar to
the VHS Vestron Video release which I first rented nearly 30 years ago: it is
dark, murky and difficult to see all of the important details. Fortunately, all
of this has changed thanks to the fine folks at Synapse Films who have
correctly presented the film in the proper aspect ratio and re-mastered the
image beyond anything that we have seen thus far. Curtains, never released in any other home
video format (except for several DVDs duped from that old VHS release), is now
finally available on DVD and Blu-ray, and the result is spectacular.
Eggar and John Vernon star as actress and director team Samantha Sherwood and
Jonathan Stryker attempting to bring the story of a mental patient, Audra, to
the screen. When Sherwood has herself “committed” to an actual mental hospital
to research the role, Stryker leaves her there with plans to make the film with
a different actress and engineers a casting call at his estate without
Sherwood’s knowledge. Curtains
fails to give more than just a hint as to his motivation for doing this
(sleeping with two of the actresses he auditions seems to be one reason), but
it does set up some truly creepy set pieces, the best and most memorable of
which include a large, sad-eyed doll on a rain-swept road, a masked killer
wielding a sickle on a skating rink, and a (somewhat prolonged) chase through
corridors inside of a theatrical warehouse which calls to mind the backstage
milieu in Michele Soavi’s Stage
Fright (1987). The logistics of the murders make little sense, but
then this is a thriller, so it’s wise not to think too much about it and enjoy
it for what it is.
film’s strengths lie in the casting, the music, and the cinematography. Eggar
and Vernon are terrific, and Lynne Griffin, an actress we see far too little of
these days (she’s the suffocation victim in the original Black Christmas), is hilarious as a comedienne vying for the role.
Linda Thorson is great as Brooke Parsons, an elegant actress who discovers
Lesleh Donaldson’s head in a toilet!
Paul Zaza has created a brilliant score for this film. The “sting” that
punctuates the film’s opening title sequence as the word Curtains is cut across
the screen can also be found in Prom
Night, a film that Zaza scored before Curtains.
I’ve often wondered if this score was originally composed for Prom Night and then
rejected. It’s a score worthy of a soundtrack album and it deserves to get a
release from Intrada, Varese Sarabande, Buysoundtrax.com, or Kritzerland.
a sucker for Canadian horror films that take place in the snow (The Brood (1979) and Ghostkeeper (1981) come
to mind), and Curtains
is my favorite, hands-down. One of the strangest and eeriest movies I’ve seen,
the film has always gotten a bum rap. Far from a perfect film, the production
had a lot of rumored problems from the word go and it seems that at this point
in time the movie is more notorious for what it was originally intended to be
rather than what it in fact is. Filming began in November 1980 and continued
for months afterwards. The original director, Richard Ciupka, hand-picked by
the producer due to his previous and well-regarded last-minute takeover of
1982’s Melanie, had his name removed
from the film due to the fact that much of it was not what he himself had
filmed. The ending was changed, as were several key plot points, and what
results is something of a convoluted narrative that possesses an air of
extras on the Blu-ray are plentiful. In addition to the sterling and brightly
colorful transfer, there is a 35-minute documentary called The Ultimate Nightmare: the Making
of Curtains by Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures. Key players
in the film take part in being interviewed as do those who worked behind the
scenes, particularly composer Zaza admitting his embarrassment at having his
name on the credits and wishing that he had been fired during the film’s
production, which is unfortunate given that his music does for Curtains what John
Williams did for Jaws (1975). There
is also a 15-minute documentary made at the time of shooting simply called Ciupka (pronounced
CHOOP-ka) and it features some behind-the-scenes footage on the set of Curtains.
is also a feature-length audio commentary moderated by Edwin Samuelson with
actresses Lesley Donaldson and Lynne Griffin and they are quite amusing to
listen to. Audio interviews with the late producer (courtesy of the Terror
Trap), actress Samantha Eggar (courtesy of yours truly), and the theatrical
trailer round out the extras.
has been written about the scenes that had been shot for Curtains which ended up
on the cutting room floor. Up until August 2009 these scenes existed but,
amazingly, the decision was made at that time to destroy them. Why the footage
sat in a vault for 26 years and was subsequently tossed in the era of DVD and
Blu-rays is an incident that is not only unfathomable to me but it raises the
question of who ordered the footage dumped. It doesn’t matter at this point,
but I am grateful that the original source materials survived so that we all
can see Curtains
the way it was intended. Although I have been a fan of the film for 28 years, I
feel as though I am really seeing it for the first time.
Rudolph directed two forgotten horror flicks in the early seventies before joining
Robert Altman’s team; he served as Altman’s assistant director and in other
positions for several years. In the interim, Altman produced Rudolph’s third
feature film, Welcome to L.A., which
premiered in 1976 and was released to the general public in the spring of 1977.
best work is obviously inspired by Altman’s method of telling the personal
stories of an ensemble of quirky and neurotic characters over a sprawling
canvas (M*A*S*H, Nashville, A Wedding, Short Cuts, for example). Rudolph’s Welcome to L.A. does just that, only this
writer/director’s style is even more loosey-goosey than Altman’s. Rudolph’s
approach is much more poetic, slower, and dreamier. More serious, too, I might
Carradine plays Carroll, a character much like the guy he played in Nashville—a songwriter who is coolly
arrogant and a cad, but all the women love him anyway. He’s been living in
England when his agent and former lover, Susan (Viveca Lindfors), hooks him up
with singer/musician Eric (Richard Baskin, who wrote all the film’s songs); so
Carroll comes back home to L.A. He doesn’t get along with his millionaire
father (Denver Pyle), but manages to seduce his father’s girlfriend,
photographer (Lauren Hutton). Throw in the realtor of his rented house (Sally
Kellerman), a seriously-disturbed and unhappy housewife (Geraldine Chaplin), and
a wacky housekeeper who vacuums topless (Sissy Spacek), and we’ve got a real
merry-go-round of one-night-stands (in fact, one of the songs beats us over the
head that they’re “living in the city of the one-night-stands”).
are other men, too—Harvey Keitel is quite good as Chaplin’s husband, who
happens to work for Pyle and has his sights set on some co-stars, and John Considine,
who is married to Kellerman—he, too, manages to have dalliances with other
female cast members. The entire movie’s “plot,” as it were, is how all of these
characters will hook up with the others in the space of a few days.
what the movie is really about is
loneliness. These people are middle-to-upper-class Hollywood types and they’re
caught in the malaise that Los Angeles of the mid-seventies had become (and
Rudolph’s filmmaking smacks of the 1970s in look and feel—not that this is a
bad thing). The picture seems to be saying that even if you’re rich and
beautiful/handsome and talented, you still need love and connection—but
unfortunately, the one-night-stand mentality is a dead end, as many of the
characters learn. And Carradine’s character, something of an omniscient
angel/devil, floats through this world caring about nothing but himself, but
therein lies a central truth—this guy is the unhappiest of them all.
film is beautifully shot, and if you can get past the somewhat now-pretentious
and arty device of people looking into mirrors and delivering soliloquies, you
may be impressed with the mise-en-scene.
Some folks, I remember, criticized Baskin’s songs and singing as being
annoying; on the contrary, I’ve always found the movie’s soundtrack to be very
well done. After all, the point of the picture is that it’s a musical journey
through vignettes that dramatize the lonely search for interconnection.
film is available as an MGM burn-to-order title. A card before the movie claims that the transfer was made from the “best
sources possible,” which means they probably used an existing print rather than
negatives to strike the DVD. Colors have faded significantly and the image
looks rather drab, which is unfortunate.
Nevertheless, if you’re a fan of Rudolph, or Altman, and you want to experience
something different that was hitting the art house circuit in the
mid-seventies, take a look. I would place Welcome
to L.A. near the top of Alan Rudolph’s idiosyncratic, but usually quite
and sexy housewife Ellen (Gigi Darlene) likes nothing more than taking out the
trash in her neglige. Unfortunately this turns the janitor into a rapist, who
gets his comeuppance when she kills him in self-defence. Instead of telling her
husband what happened, Ellen goes on the run and finds that the world is a
cruel place to sexy outlaws. Ellen moves from abusive situation to abusive
situation before coming perilously close to being caught by a detective. Is
Ellen a victim, or does her penchant for nudity mean she really is a "Bad
Wishman is a somewhat fascinating character. Almost fifty by the time she
directed her first film, she started out with "nudie cuties"; tame,
often comical films mainly shot in nudist camps. These films, including Nude
on the Moon (1961) and Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1963) feature
the kind of corny plot-lines and creaky acting that would have seemed dated in
1940s B features. However, working outside the studio system and therefore not
worried about the Hollywood Production Code, what Wishman could do was shoot
boobs. Lots of boobs. The nudist camp film had grown in popularity in both the
US and Europe during the late 1950s and no matter how bad these were, they
would always make money. As her films became more violent and exploitative they
became known as "roughies". Women were generally the victims of male
aggression and subjugation, and there was a focus on rape and violence. Bad
Girls Go to Hell (1965) falls into this latter category, and it is often
hailed as one of the sleaziest films ever made. What was perhaps unusual was
the fact that Wishman was a female director working in a very male-dominated
genre. Her films can be seen as more than just sexploitation, and Wishman gives
her female characters a sense of power and freedom. Despite the degradation
they go through, the women in her films often win out over the men. Sadly, in
this particular film, the ending suggests that women will always be victims, and
it could even be their own fault. Doris Wishman was a controversial filmmaker,
and this film is unlikely to win her many feminist admirers. She went on to
achieve permanent infamy with the pair of films Double Agent 73 and Deadly
Weapons (both 1974), featuring the uniquely-endowed Chesty Morgan killing
men with her enormous assets.
DVD of Bad Girls Go to Hell has been put out by Apprehensive Films, and
the print is the same found on Something Weird's earlier release. It is a
surprisingly good picture for such a low budget grindhouse film. It is a real
slice of the greasy underbelly of 1960s American life. The soundtrack is also
fun, featuring some great 1960s instrumental pop. This DVD features an awful
short film which has nothing to do with Doris Wishman, and left this reviewer
confused as to it's inclusion. Also featured are some trailers for other
Apprehensive Films DVDs, mostly of the obscure exploitation variety and again,
not related to this film at all.
the world of the Jewish Conservative Orthodox community, a divorce is truly
final only when the husband presents his wife with a “get”—a document in Hebrew
that grants the woman her freedom to be with other men. Likewise, the wife must
accept the get before the man can re-marry, too.
is the crux of the story behind Hester
Street, an independent art-house film that appeared in 1975, written and
directed by Joan Micklin Silver. Starring Carol Kane, who was nominated for
Best Actress for her performance as Gitl, a newly arrived immigrant to New York
City in 1896, and Steven Keats as her husband Yankl, who, in an attempt to
assimilate, in public goes by the name “Jake.” Jake has been in America for a
while and isn’t looking forward to the arrival of his wife and son from Europe,
for he has begun an affair with a wealthy, assimilated actress in the Yiddish
theatre named Mamie. When the very traditional Gitl arrives with her son, the
Gitl meets Bernstein, an Orthodox man who is much more suited for her
requirements, seeing that Jake has become something of a capitalist cad.
Therefore, she needs a “get” from Jake so that both husband and wife can
divorce and go their separate ways. That’s when Mamie’s money comes into play.
beautifully rendered this period drama on a miniscule budget. Location shooting
took place in and around New York’s lower east side, where much of the flavor
of the late 19th Century Jewish Orthodox community is still pretty much the
same. Replace the cars with horses and buggies, get the correct vintage
costumes, and you’re more than halfway there. The dialogue is mostly in Yiddish
(with English subtitles), thus making it an American foreign language film—an
oddity in 1975, to be sure (although Coppola’s The Godfather Part II appeared a year earlier with a great amount
of its dialogue spoken in Sicilian).
plays Jake as a rake and a rascal, but our perception of him is not that of a
villain. In many ways, he is the generic immigrant who came to America and
sincerely tried to assimilate, become “American,” and leave the Old Country
traditions behind. His fault is that he dreams of making big money in the States and this becomes his all-consuming desire,
forgetting that he has a wife and son. Kane’s character and spot-on portrayal
not only illustrates the role of females in the Orthodox community, but in many
ways is a commentary on the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
Hester Street is a terrific
little film that went out of print on DVD years ago and became a collector’s
item on the resale market. Kino Lorber has thankfully re-issued the movie on
Blu-ray (and DVD). Filmed in black and white by Kenneth Van Sickle, the picture
is grainy and flat—much like the early silent cinema of the that era!—which
actually is quite appropriate for the movie’s setting. There are no extras.
Hester Street is an excellent synagogue
discussion-group item for American Jews who want to explore the immigration
scene and the topics of tradition and assimilation; but it is also a good
educational piece for non-Jews who want to learn a little bit about New York
history and the Jewish Orthodox religion. Recommended.
last of Woody Allen’s “early, funny” films, 1975’s Love and Death, is a delight, especially for those in the audience
who already have an appreciation for Russian literature (e.g., Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky)
and classic foreign cinema (e.g., Eisenstein, Bergman). Unlike his previous
works in the late sixties and early seventies, Love and Death is targeted more to a hip, intellectual audience,
the one that has pretty much remained his loyal following ever since. It was
after this picture that Allen began to specialize in the art-house, mature, and
less-zany comedies about relationships that became his trademark (Annie Hall was Allen’s next film, in
you’re able to get all the references to War
and Peace and The Brothers Karamazov or
to Battleship Potemkin and The Seventh Seal, then Love and Death is indeed one of the funniest—if
not the funniest—pictures Allen ever
made, as well as one of the best comedies of that decade. Not only is the
movie’s script witty and smart, the two stars—Allen and Diane Keaton—are in top
satirical form. Keaton, specifically, comes into her own with dead-on comic
are terrific gags all the way through, such as when Woody has to enlist in the
Russian army and finds himself berated by a tough, all-American, black drill
sergeant. Or the one about his father that “owns a piece of land” (and he carries
it around with him). Or the ongoing pseudo-philosophical discussions between
Allen and Keaton that contain such lines as—
Allen: “Nothingness... non-existence... black emptiness...”
Keaton: “What did you say?”
Allen: “Oh, I was just planning my future.”
plus for the movie is its score, almost all of it taken from orchestral pieces
by Prokofiev. The composer is a perfect choice for his music’s liveliness and
obvious Russian flavor. You’ll actually find yourself humming the main theme
(from Lieutenant Kijé Suite) for a few days after a viewing.
making his previous few films in the U.S., Allen shot the picture in France and
Hungary; afterwards he swore he’d never make a movie outside of New York again.
For him, it was a horrible experience having to deal without the comforts of
home. At one point during the shoot he contracted food poisoning. Allen
eventually broke his homegrown decree in 1996 and has, more often since 2005,
made several films in Europe and England.
Time’s release is limited to 3000 copies. Ghislain Cloquet’s colorful
cinematography looks great, but I’m not sure the image is that much better than
the original MGM/UA DVD. The only extra is the theatrical trailer and some
other Twilight Time trailers.
Nevertheless, if you’re a Woody Allen fan, and
if you don’t already own the DVD, you’d better grab this collector’s item fast
while there are still copies available. It’ll warm the cockles of your heart.
And, you know, that’s just great—there is nothing like hot cockles.
The Blu-ray contains an isolated music and effects track, a collector's booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo and the original theatrical trailer.
The 1951 film The
Tales of Hoffmann, the acclaimed British adaptation of the opera by Jaques
Offenbach, was an early influence on major directors like Cecil B. DeMille,
George Romero (who said it was “the movie that made me want to make movies”)
and Martin Scorsese. They were drawn to co-directors,
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger’s inventive camera work, vibrant color
palette (each of the three acts has its own primary color) and smooth blending
of film, dance and music. According to
an interview found on Powell-Pressburger.org, Powell wanted to do a “composed
film” – shot entirely to a pre-recorded music track, in this case, Offenbach’s
opera. Not having to worry about sound meant
he could remove the cumbersome padding that encased every Technicolor camera
and really move it around production designer Hein Heckroth’s soaring sets.
(Heckroth’s work on the film earned him two 1952 Oscar nominations.)
The film’s extensive
restoration was sponsored by Scorsese’s Film Foundation and the BFI Film
Archive, in association with Studiocanal. The entire project was overseen by Powell’s widow, longtime Scorsese editor
Thelma Schoonmaker. In fact it was
Scorsese who had introduced Powell to Schoonmaker, resulting in their 1984
Ms. Schoonmaker – on
location in Taiwan to work on Scorsese’s next film, Silence - said the director was obsessed (in a good way!) with her
late husband’s and his partner’s work. She stated that Scorsese says their films are “in his DNA.” He was particularly interested in The Tales of Hoffmann because it taught him about
moving the camera, capturing the body language of actors and “celebrating the
emotion of music.”
Aside from the film’s
pristine new look (which took over six months of “very intense” work), this
version features 6 minutes missing from the Third Act, apparently cut by
producer Alexander Korda who had wanted the filmmakers to drop Act Three
entirely! Another gem found in BFI’s
vaults was an epilogue the directors shot to introduce the opera singers who
voiced the dancers appearing in the film. As Schoonmaker recalls, “Sinceno
sound track was found for it, I created a sound track of applause and music
from the film. No one had ever seen this
epilogue, because it was never on the original release prints.” It’s
a delightful piece of filmmaking whimsy that has gone unseen for over six
The film had been
previously restored in the 1980s using the Technicolor three strip Interpositive,
but during the intervening years, the three-color strips had shrunk, creating
fuzzy images even after restoration. But as Schoonmaker relates, this version remedies
that, and then some… “The new restoration was able to digitally
realign the three strips perfectly. The
rich color of the film was rebuilt layer by layer, an arduous process, until
the restorers were satisfied the film looked as it had when it was first made.
Overseeing the entire
process along with Schoonmaker was a true student of the film – Martin Scorsese!
“Scorsese knew the film intimately
having screened it many times on a 16mm print and through watching the Criterion
DVD over and over again.” Schoonmaker
recalled, noting, “I had watched the film with my late husband, Michael Powell and
so Scorsese and I were able to guide the color restoration.”
The film boasts a joint writer,
producer, director credit, which was quite rare in the 1950s. Schoonmaker explained that, “only Michael
directed on the set, but he admired Emeric’s contribution to their films so
much that he agreed to sharing the remarkable title (for the time) ‘Written,
produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’ long before
that kind of title was used as much as it is today.” The prolific duo made 19 films together.
The Tales of Hoffmann’s
influence on Scorsese can be seen in his gritty 1976 masterpiece, Taxi Driver. As his three time Oscar-winning editor points
out, “He (Scorsese) says the dancers in the film taught him so much about body
language. And the eye movements of (actor)
Robert Helpmann were a direct influence on De Niro’s eyes in the mirror of the
Having worked with the
director on revered films like Raging
Bull, Casino, Goodfellas, The Aviator
and Wolf of Wall Street – in fact on every
Scorsese film since 1980 – Thelma Schoonmaker should know!
The Rialto Pictures
release of the restored and expanded The Tales
of Hoffmann opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday March 13th,
with other cities to follow.
Iconic Hammer actresses Martine Beswick, Veronica Carlson and Caroline Munro. (All photos copyright Adrian Smith. All rights reserved.)
RETRO-ACTIVE: THE BEST FROM CINEMA RETRO'S ARCHIVES
(The following article was originally run in November, 2014)
BY ADRIAN SMITH
around sixty special guests in attendance, the Westminster Central Hall on
Saturday the 7th of November was packed to its domed roof with excited Hammer
faces including Caroline Munro, Valerie Leon, Madeline Smith and Martine
Beswick were providing some glamour, but the organisers managed to make the
event extra-memorable by securing the presence of Edina Ronay, George Cole,
Freddie Jones and others who had not signed autographs at a fan event before.
At times queues to meet them ran out of the building and down the street! Other
rare UK appearances were made from Veronica Carlson and Linda Hayden, flown in
from the US to meet their fans. It was an incredible opportunity to meet an
amazing selection of Hammer stars, directors and producers.
huge selection of original Hammer film memorabilia was also available courtesy
of the brilliantly eclectic stalls around the hall. Prices ranged from the
eye-watering (£250 for an original poster!) to the affordable, with
hard-to-find DVDs, magazines, novels, t-shirts and more on offer. Between
browsing fascinating lobby-card sets and collecting autographed photos, I'm
sure several fans had to make more than one trip to the nearest cash machine.
if this alone did not make this a must-see event, there was also a busy
schedule of events throughout the day overseen by genre scholars Jonathon Rigby
and Sir Christopher Frayling. Peter Cushing's personal secretary Joyce
Broughton tearfully shared her feelings of this much-loved actor (who was
praised throughout the day by many who knew him). Joyce said that she would
never reveal the location of Cushing's ashes, as he requested that his last
resting place not become a shrine.
Ward and Robert Tayman, the latter also attending a fan event for the first
time, discussed their experiences making Vampire Circus (1972). For
Lalla it was her first film role following acting school. Robert's sense of humour
was the driest and most sardonic of the day and he was clearly enjoying the
opportunity to talk about his role as Count Mitterhaus.
Shelley made a lot of films for Hammer, from their WWII prison-camp dramas to Quatermass
and the Pit (1967). She revealed that she had swallowed one of her vampire
teeth during a scene on Dracula - Prince of Darkness (1965)! She also
expressed her gratitude to Hammer film fans for making her feel so good, and
revealed that co-star Julian Glover referred to the film as "Quater-piss
on the Mat" because of the smell of rank clay on the set!
Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell (1974) reunion saw Dave Prowse
meeting up with Shane Briant, Madeline Smith and Philip Voss. Although in poor
health, and beginning with an admission that his memory is causing him
problems, Prowse was in good form and enjoyed talking about his playing
Frankenstein's monster for the second time in a Hammer film.
Shne Briant, Sir Christopher Frayling, Philip Voss, Madeline Smith and David Prowse.
director Peter Sasdy made three films for Hammer including Taste the Blood
of Dracula (1970) and was very detailed in his discussion of the directing
process. Beginning his career in television, he had brought a new look to the
Hammer gothics with his take on Dracula, and continued that with Countess
Dracula and Hands of the Ripper (both 1971), all rather unique
entries in Hammer's late horror films.
event organiser Thomas Bowington was joined onstage by Caroline Munro, Veronica
Carlson and Martine Beswick, all three of whom were entertaining and honest in
discussing their time with Hammer. Martine shared the problems she had
experienced on Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) when demands came
through for her to appear completely nude, Veronica praised Freddie Francis,
her director on Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1868), and Caroline
never has a bad word to say about anyone, even when she was left buried in a
hole in the ground during a rain storm whilst everyone else took a tea break
during the shooting of Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972).
Robert Tayman, Lalla Ward and Jonathon Rigby.
As the distance between classic Hammer and the 21st century continues to increase, eventsof this scale are unlikely to happen again. The good news however is
that The London Film Convention holds six events a year in Westminster!
Altman was a very quirky director, sometimes missing the mark, but oftentimes
brilliant. His 1973 take on Raymond Chandler’s 1953 novel The Long Goodbye is a case in point. It might take a second viewing
to appreciate what’s really going on in the film. Updating what is essentially
a 1940s film noir character to the
swinging 70s was a risky and challenging prospect—and Altman and his star,
Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe (!), pull it off.
one of those pictures that critics hated when it was first released; and yet,
by the end of the year, it was being named on several Top Ten lists. I admit
that when I first saw it in 1973, I didn’t much care for it. I still wasn’t
totally in tune with the kinds of movies Altman made—even after M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud (an underrated gem), and McCabe & Mrs. Miller. But I saw it again a few years later on a
college campus and totally dug it. Altman made oddball films, and either you
went with the flow or you would be put off by the improvisational, sometimes
sloppy mise-en-scene that the
director used. And the sound—well, Altman is infamous for his overlapping
dialogue (one critic called it “Altman Soup”). If you didn’t “get” what the
director was doing with sound, then you would certainly have a hard time with
Elliott Gould plays Philip Marlowe. A very different interpretation than
Humphrey Bogart, obviously. And yet, it works. Gould displays the right amount
of bemused cynicism, as if he had been asleep for twenty years and suddenly
woken up in the 1970s. And that’s exactly how Altman, screenwriter Leigh
Brackett (who co-wrote the 1946 The Big
Sleep), and Gould approached the material. Altman, in a documentary extra
on the making of the film, called the character “Rip Van Marlowe.” He is an anachronism
in a different time. For example, Marlowe can’t help but be bewildered by the
quartet of exhibitionist lesbians that live in his apartment complex. And he
still drives a car from his original era. And therein lies the point of the
picture—this is a comment on the 70s, not the 50s.
plot concerns the possible murder of the wife of Marlowe’s good friend—the
friend is a suspect—as well as a suitcase of missing money belonging to a
vicious gangster (extrovertly played by film director Mark Rydell), an Ernest
Hemingway-like writer who has gone missing (eccentrically played by Sterling
Hayden), and the author’s hot blonde wife who may know more than she’s telling
(honestly portrayed by newcomer Nina van Pallandt). The story twists, turns,
hits some bumps in the road, and finally circles back to the initial beginning
may not be one of Altman’s best films, but it’s one of the better ones. It’s
certainly one of the more interesting experiments he tried in his most prolific
period of the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray release, however, doesn’t really improve on the original DVD
release of some years ago. It appears to be a straight to Blu-ray transfer with
no digital restoration of any kind. Hence, the image looks not much better than
the DVD version. Since the soft photography and low lighting was intentional,
any attempt at high definition is lost. The extras—the aforementioned “making
of” documentary, a short piece on cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, an animated
reproduction of a vintage American
Cinematographer article, the trailer, and a few radio spots—are the same.
if you’re an Altman fan and don’t already own the out of print DVD, you may
want to pick up the new Blu-ray. It probably won’t be long before this, too,
like Philip Marlowe himself, is a rare collector’s item.
(This review pertains to the UK Region 2 video releases).
BY ADRIAN SMITH
Armstrong, the writer and star of Eskimo Nell,once said, "It's hard
to wank and laugh at the same time". In the 1970s filmmakers gave it a
very good try however, and the British sex comedy was virtually the only kind
of film being funded. The problem is
that the majority of them were neither funny or sexy. They were generally
grubby and embarrassing for the actors and the audience. One of the pioneers of
the British sex film was director and producer Stanley Long, responsible for The
Wife Swappers (1969) and Adventures of a Taxi Driver (1975) and many
others. An occasional cinematographer on prestigious films like Roman
Polanski's Repulsion (1965), Long often recognised and nurtured new
talent, particularly if he could see a financial reward.
Armstrong had written The Sex Thief for Martin Campbell (1975), a film that
Stanley Long admired, so he approached the two of them with an idea for making
a film based on the pornographic poem Eskimo Nell. Realising that the concept
was so pornographic it was unfilmable, Armstrong decided to pen a tale of
young, idealistic filmmakers trying to make a film in 1970s Britain. Armstrong
wrote himself in as the director, fresh out of film school. After being
rejected by the major studios, he finds himself hired by Benny U. Murdoch (Roy
Kinnear), a sleazy producer who is obsessed with making a sex film based on the
poem Eskimo Nell. In an attempt to raise the finance, they end up agreeing to
make various different versions: a pornographic film, a kung-fu musical, a gay
cowboy epic and a wholesome family film, each with a different star. Inevitably
chaos ensues, along the way spoofing virtually the entire British film
industry, Mary Whitehouse and the Legion of Decency, and the very establishment
Eskimo Nell is a fantastic
snapshot of Britain in the 1970s, and also manages to be utterly hilarious. The
cast includes porn pin-up Mary Millington and TV stars Christopher Biggins, Doctor
Who's Katy Manning and Christopher Timothy, best known as the vet from All
Creatures Great and Small. Some of the comedy is dated, it often manages to
be tasteless, and is probably offensive in its use of camp gay stereotypes, but
the film gets away with it all thanks to the filmmakers' irreverent attitude. Eskimo
Nell is not only Britain's best sex comedy, but also one of the finest
satires of the film industry ever made. Michael Armstrong was an experienced
film director himself, having made horror films including Mark of the Devil
(1970) under very difficult circumstances. Martin Campbell went on to achieve
fame as director of two Bond Films, GoldenEye (1995) and Casino
Royale (2006), putting his sex film history far behind him.
Films have released the film in both DVD and Blu-ray versions, utilising a new
transfer of a 35mm print from the BFI archive. A booklet about the film is
included, written by genre historian Simon Sheridan, who also discusses the
film with Michael Armstrong on an entertaining commentary track. Eskimo Nell
is a terrific film and this new release is a reminder that it was indeed
possible to laugh at a sex film.
one of Woody Allen’s best films, The
Purple Rose of Cairo, released in 1985, is a treat. It’s got laughs and
pathos and is an excellent treatise on the conflict between fantasy and
reality. Purple Rose represents a
period when Allen was at the peak of his powers, when he was considered one of
America’s greatest auteurs, and
before there was the stigma of scandal hovering over his work. In 1985, Allen
could do no wrong, and The Purple Rose of
Cairo does everything right.
doesn’t appear in the film. The picture belongs to Mia Farrow, and she delivers
one of her best and most poignant performances as Cecilia, a meek and unhappy
housewife/waitress in New Jersey during the Depression area. She is married to
Monk (Danny Aiello), who is abusive and pays little attention to her needs.
Thus, Cecilia escapes to the movies and sometimes sits through the same picture
repeatedly. One such picture is the film-within-the-film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, a fictional RKO movie about Manhattan
socialites who have just returned from Africa. They’ve brought along an
archaeologist, Tom Baxter (winningly played by Jeff Daniels), who notices
Cecilia in the audience, falls in love with her, and then breaks the fourth
wall by stepping out of the screen and into the real world. Cecilia and Tom
have a whirlwind romance, even going back into the movie together for a “madcap
hilarity comes, of course, with Baxter’s reactions to the universe of color and
places beyond the scenes in the movie he was in. But his vacating the picture
has caused problems—the other characters in the movie don’t know what to do
with themselves and their story halts. The picture’s producer and Gil Shepherd—the
“real” actor who played Baxter onscreen—comes to remedy the situation. Cue the
love triangle complications.
draws from a number of influences, most particularly Buster Keaton’s 1924 film,
Sherlock Jr., in which Keaton is a
theater projectionist who slips into the movie that’s playing. Allen takes the
premise further, in several different directions, and the result is a bittersweet
comedy that even Allen himself (who is normally self-deprecating about his
work) thinks turned out well. The picture also features an early appearance by Glenne
Headly and Allen regular Dianne Wiest.
Time has released a limited edition Blu-ray—only 3,000 units—which
automatically gives the title collectors’ item status. In terms of picture quality, it appears that the movie
was simply transferred to Blu-ray without any restoration. There is a lot of grain
in outdoor scenes, and artifacts and blemishes can be seen throughout. That
said, Purple Rose is still a
good-looking picture on Blu-ray (the cinematography was by the late, great
Gordon Willis, whose contrasts in lighting work well with the theme of the
story). The only extras are the theatrical trailer and trailers for other titles
released by the company.
forking out $29.95 for The Purple Rose of
Cairo might be of interest only to die-hard Woody Allen fans. I’m not sure
the Blu-ray improves significantly over the original DVD release from a decade
ago. But if you don’t already own it, and you’re either an Allen fan or a
cinephile who appreciates some of the best the 80s had to offer, then The Purple Rose of Cairo is for you.
Kino Lorber was right to bring out Foxes (1980) in Blu-ray under their KL Studio Classics series. The elegant re-issue seems aimed at convincing film snobs that this little gem from the last days of disco finally deserves their attention after a distance of 35 years, during which time it was either dismissed as another insignificant teen comedy of the ‘80s, or as a guilty pleasure. But longtime champions of the film, myself included, need no convincing. We owned the clamshell VHS, we owned the first-generation DVD, and now, if anything, I’d venture to say we feel vindicated that it now carries the stamp as a bonafide classic by a home video label as respected as Kino Lorber. Indeed, a major fist-pump moment comes during director Adrian Lyne’s remark in the audio commentary that Roger Ebert selected it as his favorite film of 1980 and took it with him to the Dallas Film Festival that year.
French lobby card.
Speaking of the commentary, British director Lyne’s (“Fatal Attraction,” “Flashdance,” “9 ½ Weeks”) fascinating and intimate recollections are worth the price of the disc alone. He made his directorial debut with the movie and is at times almost apologetic over what he sees as the wobbly choices of a first-time director. Viewers will note scenes that contain what came to be known as his signature style in movies like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Fatal Attraction”: single-source lighting, using smoke on set to create light rays, and other stylistic techniques from his background as a commercial director. He is refreshingly candid and modest throughout, revealing misgivings over a scene he feels should have been cut or one that goes on too long, as well as revealing funny anecdotes about the actors. Randy Quaid, for example, donned a carnival mask in an umpteenth take of a scene that Lyne felt he just wasn’t getting right; Kandace Stroh had to be screamed at in her face so she could cry, and other funny reminiscences.
Sally Kellerman’s on-camera interview is another bonus, but she seems hard-pressed to remember much about filming “Foxes,” since at the time of production she was also shooting another feature in Israel. As a result she had to repeatedly jump on transatlantic flights between LA and Tel Aviv to shoot both pictures simultaneously. Kellerman is nonetheless a hoot just to listen to, as her trademark breathy, blousy way of talking just seduces you all over again, a la “Hot Lips O’Houlihan.” At one point she interrupts a story to ask her interviewer, “What is Blu-ray anyway?”
“Foxes” is a portrait of a group of teen girlfriends in LA’s San Fernando Valley at the cusp of the ‘80s, mothered by bossy and precocious Jeanie, played by Jodie Foster. They are real Valley Girls at varying degrees of promiscuity and jadedness. The baby-face of the group, bespectacled Madge (Marilyn Kagan) wears her virginity as a badge of shame, while druggie Annie (Cherie Currie of The Runaways) is trying to hide out from her abusive cop father, who wants to commit her to a mental hospital. They’re all trying to act older than they are, hosting awkward dress-up dinners in homes not their own, sleeping around and cutting class. Scott Baio plays a skateboarding drifter who’s dropped out of school and now fills fire extinguishers to make money. He seems to be everyone’s kid brother, when he’s not trying to sleep with one or another of the girls. Jeanie (Foster) seems to be hopelessly devoted to saving doomed Annie, to the point of suggesting lesbian longing, especially given Jeanie’s indifference to her part-time boyfriend Scott (Robert Romanus) but it never goes that far. That’s pretty much the whole plot: a loosely woven series of moments in their lives, punctuated by concerts, fights with parents, and cruising Hollywood Boulevard -- until an inevitable tragedy strikes one of them and closes the story, offering an open-ended but decidedly down take on teen life.
In one of the film’s key scenes, Jeanie and her mother, Mary (Sally Kellerman) have it out at home after Mary has picked up her daughter from another police station. Mary, herself a divorced mother who sleeps around, tells her daughter: “I don’t like your friends….You’re all a bunch of short forty year-olds and you’re tough.” But Mary’s honesty gets the better of her when minutes later she breaks down and admits that when she sees them lying around “half out of your clothes….you’re beautiful. I admit it, you’re all beautiful -- and you make me hate my hips. I hate my hips.” Lyne calls out the scene as his favorite and pays tribute to screenwriter Gerald Ayres for its emotional truth.
Visually, “Foxes” is beautiful to watch in this Blu-ray edition, whereas previous home video issues made the cinematography look murky. “Midnight Express” and “Fame” cinematographer Michael Seresin’s artful camerawork gives the picture a soft-focus and pastel coloring, even managing to make the smoggy sunlight of Los Angeles look like an oil painting. Lyne says he shot some of the Hollywood Boulevard scenes himself, and they give the film an authentic sense of time and place, with glimpses of street life that remind the viewer of a pre-gentrified Hollywood, much like New York’s 42nd Street at the same time.
As Lyne explains, the picture was put together by producer David Puttnam and Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart, who was obviously keen to use the movie as a vehicle for his hottest artists of the time, most prominent being Donna Summer. Her beautiful disco classic “On the Radio” plays over the opening titles, while Cher -- another Casablanca artist -- literally plays on a radio in the opening scene, post-credits. Is it a duel between the two, top disco divas of ‘79-80? Fragments of “On the Radio” repeat throughout the film, taking on a more melancholy tone as the story comes to a close. Euro-disco composer Giorgio Moroder provided the score -- containing echoes of his music for “Midnight Express” (1978) -- and other artists to listen for on the soundtrack include Janice Ian, Foreigner and Brooklyn Dreams. When the girls go to see Angel in concert at the Shrine Auditorium, Lyne confirms in the commentary a suspicion I have had for years: They couldn’t get KISS, who was on tour during filming.
Released between two movies that became classics of the L.A. High School genre, Rock ‘n Roll High School (1979) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Foxes dared to silence its teen audience with issues of heavy drug use and overdoses, teen pregnancy, domestic abuse and premature death. In fact, Lyne reveals that writer Gerald Ayres (“The Last Detail,” “Rich and Famous”) based Jodie Foster’s character on his own teen daughter, whom he accompanied to high school and on friend outings to gain more authentic insights into her world. Tonally, “Foxes” is more of a true companion piece to “Little Darlings” (1980), starring Tatum O’Neal and Kristy McNichol, or “The Last American Virgin” (1982), both of which satisfy their audiences’ demands in the sexual-initiation and awkward-high-school-moments departments, but manage to slip in moments of true pathos.
Someday, perhaps, Jodie Foster will participate in reminiscing about the making of “Foxes” as an indulgence to the movie’s fans, as she has done on numerous other commentary tracks of her other, “serious” films. Likewise Scott Baio. In the meantime, Kino Lorber’s Blu-Ray is the definitive collector’s edition to date and one to enjoy for years to come.
American Andrew Jessel (Tony Randall arrives in Marrakesh on a business trip,
he checks into the hotel and discovers a corpse in his wardrobe. This is the
beginning of a "wrong man" style adventure involving international
espionage and criminal gangs, but thankfully on his side is sexy super-spy Kyra
Stanovy (Senta Berger). The two set off to clear his name and solve the
mystery, and spend large parts of the film having to rescue each other from
assorted dangers, mainly involving local kingpin Casimir (Herbert Lom) and his
psychotic henchman Jonquil (Klaus Kinski). Also thrown into the mix are British
character actors Wilfrid Hyde-White, John Le Mesurier and Terry-Thomas,
providing a combination of plot exposition and comic relief, and the entire
plot builds to an inevitably happy conclusion where wrongs are made right, the
guilty are punished and the innocent get to ride off into the sunset.
Our Man in Marrakesh (known in the
States as Bang! Bang! You're Dead!) is a typical mid-Sixties Harry Alan
Towers production. An independent British producer who had made a name for
himself in radio and television before moving into feature films, he
specialised in European co-productions, pulling in A-list names and finance
from several different countries. His budgets were low, and his scripts were
often second-rate, but he seemed to have a no trouble persuading bankable stars
to take off around the world with him. He always preferred to shoot on
location, and Our Man in Marrakesh is no exception. Aside from some
rear-projection driving shots in a studio, most of the film is shot in
Marrakesh itself, giving it a seedy authenticity which gives puts it on a par
with the Bond films of the time. This film was one of hundreds of Bond-style
films produced during the 1960s. They became known as Eurospy films, although
other countries and continents got in on the act, too. Our Man in Marrakesh
mixes elements of Bond with Hitchcock's thrillers fairly successfully, and Tony
Randall makes a likeable comedic leading man. More fun, however, are the
various characters that rotate around him, most notably Klaus Kinski, who once
again looks unhinged and slightly dangerous. His piercing eyes and ease with
violent outbursts would of course be put to use in better films later on,
particularity in his collaborations with Werner Herzog.
Tasmanian director Don Sharp is best known for his Hammer films Rasputin the
Mad Monk (1966), The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and The
Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), but his cult credentials include films like Curse
of the Fly (1965), two Fu-Manchu films with Christopher Lee (both produced
by Harry Alan Towers) and bizarre zombie-biker thriller Psychomania
(1973), a film that caused such despondency in star George Sanders that he
committed suicide shortly after its release. His direction is uncomplicated and
efficient. Although he rarely displays what could be called creative flair, he
gets the job done, and he was clearly reliable enough to be regularly employed
by producers for whom schedules and budgets were tight.
Our Man in Marrakesh, complete with
James Bond-style marketing materials, is a fun and exciting film with bullets,
car chases, corpses, bikini-clad babes, spies and gangsters, all wrapped up in
an exotic locale. It won't change your life, but it is fun and features more
entertainment value than many other Eurospy movies of the period. This has been
released by Network on R2 DVD as part of their 'The British Film' collection.
This is an exciting five-year plan, launched in 2013 with Studiocanal, to
release over 450 vintage British films. Sadly most of these DVDs have so far
featured very little in the way of extras, with just a theatrical trailer and
an image gallery to accompany the movie. However when films like these have not
been seen in any sort of decent print for decades the DVDs are well worth your time.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW CLIPS AND TRAILER AND TO PURCHASE THIS TITLE.
Years of Marvel Comics. From the Golden Age to the Silver Screen
Roy Thomas, Josh Baker
Hardcover with fold-out, ribbon bookmark, and four-foot accordion-fold timeline
11.4 x 15.6 in.
Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking
with fold-out, ribbon bookmark
11.4 x 15.6 in.
If you take a look at the top 100 all-time highest worldwide
grossing movies, fifteen of them are either Marvel or DC comic adaptations.
According to Box Office Mojo the third highest grossing film of all time is The
Avengers (2012) at over a billion and a half dollars. Comics, it would
seem, are major players in the world of entertainment.
Seventy-five years ago it was all very different. Comics were
for children and were disregarded as both an entertainment medium and as an art
form. Comics were disposable. Because of their ephemeral nature surviving early
copies now trade hands for vast sums. Buying the first appearance of Superman
or Batman will set you back a cool $1-2 million. Thankfully, if you want to
hold the history of these comics in your hands without having to cash in your
life insurance, Taschen have released huge and lavish tributes that, once
opened, will send you whirling back through time to your own childhood and
Four years ago Taschen published 75
Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking, and
it was one of the biggest books this writer had ever seen. So heavy it comes in
a cardboard carrying case with handle, it is crammed with fantastic full-size
reproductions and blown up panels from classic comics and long-forgotten
strips. The dating used here suggests that DC began in 1935, with a comic
called New Fun. DC's most famous sons, Superman and Batman, did not make their
first appearances until 1938 and 1939 respectively. The book is divided into
sections; The Stone Age, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, The
Dark Age and The Modern Age, and each begins with shiny toughened pages. By
discussing some of the things that were going on in the comic industry outside
of DC, one can look at their development in context. There are also fold-out detailed
timelines in each section with a year-by-year breakdown including major world
The book is also a reminder that DC weren't always about
superheroes. Alongside our spandex-wearing favourites were western comics,
science fiction, military comics, funny animals, exotic adventurers, gangsters
and detectives. There are other big names which have been somewhat forgotten by
now, such as Captain Marvel, Will Eisner's The Spirit (despite an ill-advised
attempt to being him back in a 2008 movie), Plastic Man, Starman and The
Spectre. Even supporting characters occasionally got their own comics, such as Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen
("See Jimmy turn into The Giant Turtle Man!") and Superman's Girl Friend Lois
Lane, the latter demonstrating that comics could appeal to both boys and
Also honoured are the many writers and artists who have built up
the world of DC comics over the years, from Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, the
creators of Superman, through to more modern writers like Alan Moore, who with Watchmen
in 1986 changed the perception of what the comic book could achieve.
Of course DC has made a major impact beyond the comics, something
which is included here. It is fun to see some of the toys and games kids would
be desperate to collect, as well as imagery from the many movies and TV shows
they inspired, including serials The Adventures of Superman (1948) and Batman
and Robin (1949) as well as perhaps the greatest example of 1960s pop
culture, the televised Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward (recently
released on DVD and Blu-ray by Warner Brothers); a comic strip brought to life
in full technicolour.
75 Years of DC Comics. The Art of Modern Mythmaking is a book that will most-likely take you the rest of your life to
read and enjoy. For those who prefer something a little smaller to read,
Taschen has also released separate volumes titled The Golden Age of DC
Comics and The Silver Age of DC Comics.
It was only a matter of time before Taschen would give Marvel the
same treatment, and 2014 marks their seventy-fifth anniversary. In 1939 Marvel
really hit the ground running, publishing a comic featuring a collection of
tales featuring amongst others The Human Torch (in this version an android) and
Sub-mariner, both of whom are still popular today. Coinciding with the
beginnings of war in Europe, a conflict which would eventually spread around
the globe, Marvel's comics reflected the fears and ambitions of military
conflict. Sub-mariner became the first superhero to fight Nazis in 1940, and in
1941 Captain America leapt into the fight, literally. On the front cover of his
first issue he is proudly punching Hitler in the face, star-spangled shield to
the fore. This was so controversial at the time that protestors marched on the
Marvel headquarters in New York!
That same year Stanley Leiber was hired at Marvel as a general
assistant and gofer whilst still a teenager. Within two weeks he was
commissioned to write a Captain America story. Signing the story "Stan
Lee", within eight months he was an editor and he went on to become one of
the most important figures in the comic book world. Stan Lee is responsible for
the creation of dozens of classic comic characters including The Fantastic
Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, The X-Men and many more. It is mostly his creations
that now dominate Hollywood, particularly since the creation of the Marvel film
studios in 1996 and their subsequent purchase by Disney in 2009 for a mere $4
Stan Lee was not the only genius working at Marvel, and the book covers
work by many of the fantastic writers and artists employed over the last
seventy-five years including Jack Kirby, John Romita and Steve Ditko. The
author of this Marvel history himself, Roy Thomas, served as a Marvel editor
from 1965-80 and had runs on The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, Conan
the Barbarian and many more.
75 Years of Marvel Comics. From the Golden Age to the Silver
Screen gives us a thorough history of the company and their comics.
There is a detachable four-foot long double-sided timeline giving a
year-by-year history not only of Marvel but comic book development in general.
Obviously a lot of space in the book is devoted to their most beloved
characters, including Thor, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Daredevil and The Avengers
alongside those already mentioned. Like the DC book before it, it is also fun
to discover many other characters and stories that one may have missed, with
names like Werewolf By Night, Captain
Britain, Sgt. Fury and His Howling
Commandoes, Dr. Strange (recently announced as another Marvel movie) and
Luke Cage, the first black superhero. Marvel also published "girls
comics" such as My Love and Our Love Story and created female
superheroes like The Cat, Black Widow and Elektra.
late 1960s some of their comics went psychedelic, and in the 1970s Marvel began
to experiment with some fairly edgy material, such as the sleazy Howard the
Duck, the horror-enthused Tomb of Dracula
or the violent adventures of Conan the Barbarian. The artwork was always
excellent and is beautifully reproduced here.
an early Captain America movie serial
in 1944, Marvel's comics were not used as material for a theatrical movie again
until 1986, with the disastrous George Lucas-produced Howard the Duck. It was not until the movie version of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000) that the real movie boom began. Perhaps
special-effects technology had finally caught up with the imaginations of
Marvel's writers and artists. However some of their characters had found
success on American television, most memorably with the Bill Bixby/ Lou
Ferrigno-starring The Incredible Hulk
(1978). This was produced by CBS who were also responsible for the TV movies of
Captain America (1979) and The Amazing Spider-Man (1977), imagery
from which can also be found in this book.
first appeared in a Marvel comic in 1962. Whether posing on the White House
lawn with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1980 or appearing alongside Barack
Obama in a 2009 issue of The Amazing
Spider-Man, the web-slinger has become closely associated with the real
world, and in particular the city of New York. His youth and quips have made
him one of Marvel's most popular heroes, and in a moving December 2001 issue he
was forced to confront the horrors of 9/11. Unlike DC characters who mainly live
in fictional cities or worlds, the Marvel universe exists amidst our own.
books are a fitting tribute to the worlds of DC and Marvel and the people who
brought these incredible worlds to life week after week. One can only hope that
both companies will continue producing comics and stories for at least another
seventy-five years each.
Japanese actor Ken
Takakura, iconic leading man in countless yakuza and action films, died at 83
of lymphoma on November 10 in Tokyo. He had long since achieved legendary
status in Japan with his portrayals of brooding samurai, gangsters and hit men.
The characters he portrayed were usually on the wrong side of the law but
adhered to a chivalric code of honor that, while not reflective of reality,
nevertheless struck a deep chord among Japanese filmgoers of the 1960s. Takakura
was most familiar to American audiences for his roles in The Yakuza (1975), directed by Sydney Pollack and co-starring
Robert Mitchum; Black Rain (1989),
with Michael Douglas; and Mr. Baseball
(1992), with Tom Selleck. In each of these he more than held his own against his
high-powered American co-stars.
Born Goichi Oda in Nakama,
Fukuoka, Takakura was witness to real-life yakuza street clashes during his formative
years, which may have informed his acting choices when he began to incarnate
yakuza in his movies. Ironically, he originally aspired to a managerial
position at Toei studios, but a spur-of-the-moment decision to attend an
audition led to his becoming an actor, with his first performance coming in
1956 in Lightning Karate Blow.
Takakura was a competent
if middling headliner in dozens of films over the next few years until his
performance in The Walls of Abashiri
Prison (1965) suddenly thrust him into the front ranks of Japanese leading
men. As one of two escaped prisoners handcuffed together and on the run in desolate,
snow-filled Hokkaido (an obvious homage to 1958’s The Defiant Ones), Takakura’s anti-hero persona finally resonated
with the public. The film was so successful that Toei eventually churned out 18
Abashiri pictures, all starring
Takakura. He simultaneously appeared in several other long-running series,
including nine Brutal Tales of Chivalry
films and 11 installments of Tales of Japanese
The thematic template in
these movies invariably skewed to a standard formula and audience expectations,
with Takakura playing an honorable yakuza, often just released from prison, who
found himself protecting weaker, innocent characters from the depredations of
dishonorable gangsters. If these films held few surprises on the narrative
level, they usually delivered potent depictions of violence, ill-fated love,
stoic machismo and a satisfyingly unhappy end for the hero. Such cinematic fare
was Takakura’s meal ticket throughout the decade.
However, as the 1960s made
way for the 1970s, a meaner, more cynical and considerably more violent style
of yakuza film took hold, spearheaded by director Kinji Fukasaku and budding action
superstar Bunta Sugawara. There was no longer room for the kind of honorable
gangsters Takakura portrayed in his trademark ninkyo, or chivalrous, yakuza pictures. But if he was no longer top
dog, the actor was still a big draw, his charisma supremely intact. While
Takakura still made action films—like the stunning Golgo 13 (1973), in which he played a badass hit man plying his
trade in Iran—he also starred in other types of roles, including an-convict
gone straight in the romantic drama The
Yellow Handkerchief (1977) and, in the latter part of his career, an aging
station manager in Railroad Man
"New Prison Walls of Abashiri".
Takakura made more than
200 films during his life. Among his essential titles are Wolves, Pigs and Men (1964), directed by the great Kinji Fukasaku; An Outlaw (1964); The Walls of Abashiri Prison (1965-1972); Brutal Tales of Chivalry (1965-1972); Tales of Japanese Chivalry (1964-1971); Theater of Life 1 and 2 (1968); Yakuza’s
Tale (1969); Golgo 13 (1973);
several of the Red Peony Gambler series
(1968-1972), starring genre icon Junko Fuji; and many more.
On and off screen, Takakura
upheld traditional Japanese values and masculinity in the face of Japan’s
increasing materialism and westernization. For that he was revered by his
countrymen across political, class and age spectrums. Humble and self-effacing,
Takakura possessed a shrewd insight into his box office popularity. In a 2013
interview he stated, “I think that the reason the general public
identified with the roles I played was that they were struck by my stance as a
man who unrelentingly stands up to absurd injustices. It wasn’t just that I was
just going off to a sword fight, but that my character was willing to sacrifice
himself in order to protect the people important to him.”
those interested in exploring Takakura’s filmography, the best place to start
is www.japanesesamuraidvd.com, which has more than 40 of his films for
sale, all of them subtitled and most of them remastered.)
Bava's Demons, which was released on
Friday, May 30, 1986, is one of the most entertaining and unintentionally
hilarious horror films that I have ever experienced. Set upon an unsuspecting
public with an ad campaign similar to that of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978), the film was
distributed without a rating in selected markets and warned that no one under
17 would be admitted. It's interesting to note that although Demons is quite gory, most of the
violence is fantastic in nature and is fairly tame when compared to the horror
films of the last 10 to 15 years which have tended to be not only brutally
violent but also gratuitous to an unnecessary degree. While a good number of
audience members have a seemingly insatiable and unquenchable thirst for blood
and guts, I prefer horror films that spend more time on character, story, and
style. If gore is part of the equation, that's fine, but it doesn't really
interest me if it's the only point of the film. In Demons, the gore is there and it's messy, but it's not over the top
and is only used to accentuate the action.
Filmed during the summer of 1985 in then-West
Berlin, Germany and at a long-gone derelict theater in Italy, Demons is most definitely an ‘80’s film.
The hairstyles, the clothing, and the music pulsating on the soundtrack all
point to a time that took place 30 years ago. The film poses the question as to
what would happen if a group of randomly selected members of the public were
given the opportunity to see a sneak preview of an untitled film in a theater and
what would happen if they got stuck in that very theater with absolutely no way
of getting out. This is a tried-and-true horror film plot, but it's pulled off
extraordinarily well and has loads of quotable dialogue. Cheryl (Natasha Hovey) and Kathy (Paola
Cozzo) are friends who are presumably in high school or college and decide to
blow off class for the sneak preview. They've both been given complimentary
tickets by a strange man wearing a metal mask over his face. Along with a group of other people, they make
their way into the theater. The audience is comprised of a crazy cast of
characters, most notably: Ken (Karl Zinny) and George (Urbano Barberini) who
make sure that they sit next to Cheryl and Kathy; Frank and Ruth, a married
couple who provide comic relief; and the uproarious Tony (the inimitable Bobby
Rhodes), a snazzy pimp with his two whores Carmen (Fabiola Toldeo) and Rosemary
(Geretta Giancarlo), who he often yells at. Tony and his ladies provide some of
the funniest and most memorable dialogue in the film. While watching the movie
within the movie, strange things begin to happen in the audience. A
disease-like contagion breaks out and pretty soon the audience is fighting for
their lives, attempting to make their way out of the theater as the exits are
As if this motley crew wasn’t enough, a
group of outsiders driving around in a car comprised of one woman and three men
(two of whom are named Baby Pig and Ripper!) are a crazy lot who manage to make
their way inside the theater. An all-out war between the infected audience in
the form of demons and those who haven't been affected breaks out and threatens
all of human kind.
The release of Demons on DVD and Blu-ray has been a long time coming. Don May’s
excellent company, Synapse Films, has done a bang up job of re-furnishing the
film and making it look bright and clear, as opposed to the old VHS and
American laser disk pressings which were notoriously dark and full of contrast,
making it very difficult to interpret the on-screen action. The special edition Blu-ray came out months
ago, but for those of you interested in just the film, the DVD movie-only
release fits the bill. It sports not
only the original American mono audio, but also the much better sounding
European stereo mix. The dubbing is
entertainingly ludicrous and is done by different loopers on the respective
sound tracks. Claudio Simonetti provides
one of his best film scores which is interspersed with period music of the
The discs special features are as
widescreen transfer from original vault materials in the 1.66:1 aspect ratio,
featuring all-new color correction supervised by Synapse Films
both the “International English” stereo language soundtrack, as well as the
“U.S. Mono” English alternate dub soundtrack
U.S. theatrical trailer
English SDH subtitles provided for both English versions
For fans of movies of the
1960s and ’70s, his name ranks up there with the stars who made the major
studio films of that era. Even though he didn’t actually “make” movies, his
work most definitely did. Best known as the artist behind the “classic” James
Bond posters, McGinnis worked for almost every publisher and major magazine for
decades, putting his distinctive stamp on a huge, well, body of work, which
is fully (and gloriously) represented in The
Art of Robert E. McGinnis, a lush 176-page hardback now on sale from Titan
Books. Since McGinnis is one of the most influential and iconic movie poster
artists of the 20th Century, Cinema Retro was pleased to see him
honored in this way.
The book starts with McGinnis’s
journeyman beginnings in the 1950s Cincinnati and New York advertising scenes,
where he toiled away on product ads like so many other young, hungry
illustrators. Most would flourish for a time, then fade into obscurity, but a
chance encounter in NYC with artist Mitchell Hooks (of Dr. No movie poster fame) led to paperback cover assignments that firmly
put McGinnis on the map. In the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, most book covers were
illustrated, and the cover directly impacted sales. The more lurid or
intriguing the art, the better the sales, and McGinnis’s racy (for those days)
cover art quickly brought him attention from publishers.
In 1961 McGinnis painted
his first movie art – Breakfast At
Tiffany’s – and that launched him into the illustration stratosphere for
the rest of the decade. He painted the key art for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale (1967 spoof), On Her
Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, Live and Let Die, Man With the
Golden Gun, and the book cover art on
Moonraker, helping guide the Bond series through major transformations as
different actors took on the lead role. McGinnis’s specialty was the human form
– he painted the heroic images of Bond and, of course, the sultry Bond Girls. The late Frank C. McCarthy handled certain
explosions and action art on some of the early Bond titles. The result was
marketing nirvana, dramatic, precedent-setting artwork that helped make Bond
the hottest movie property around.
McGinnis’ work was everywhere
– from huge billboards to newspaper ads, and, of course, on paperbacks in every
commuter’s briefcase. Curiously, his favorite art from his movie work is for The Odd Couple one-sheet, where he
perfectly captured the essence of neat-freak Felix and super-slob Oscar. Other
Hollywood works like Barbarella and Cotton Comes to Harlem are also
beautifully reproduced in the book, some with his original sketches, so the
reader can see the work evolve.
Each phase of McGinnis’s
long career is chronicled by writer Art Scott, who worked with the artist on
this definitive book. As you might expect, each chapter is profusely
illustrated with gorgeous full-color art – from hardboiled detective book
covers to bucolic landscapes for magazines like Reader’s Digest and Good
Housekeeping, even vivid historical scenes for National Geographic are here. McGinnis also illustrated for a
number of men’s magazines like True
and Cavalier, and his provocative
nudes left little to the imagination, but they also serve as even more proof of
his astonishing skill. These long-legged “McGinnis Women” looked like they
could get up and walk off the page – something I’m sure most Cavalier readers wished they would! The
artist himself chimes in throughout the book, offering up inside stories from
his long career. Thankfully, his creative output isn’t slowing down – just look
at page 95 where his stunning cover art for the 2011 limited edition of Stephen
King’s Joyland is reproduced. That
cover features a pale, yet alluring “McGinnis Woman” in a bikini and holding a
rifle. What could be more perfect?
Art of Robert E. McGinnis is one of those “must haves,” a book
any movie or fine art fan will want to pick up to look through again and again.
It perfectly captures McGinnis’s impressive work, curves, gun barrels and all.
With a list price of just $34.95, it’s a bargain when compared with the prices
McGinnis original art now fetches at auction.
The British Film Institute recently sponsored a major science fiction festival entitled
Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder. Alongside the many film screenings and DVD
releases they have also published several new volumes in their Film Classics
series. These are smaller volumes, around 100 pages in length, with each
focused on one specific film. Included are books on The War of the Worlds
(the 1953 version), Solaris (concentrating mainly on the 1972 Russian
classic, but also touching on Steven Soderbergh's 2002 adaptation), Silent
Running, Alien, Dr. Strangelove, Quatermass and the Pit
Quatermass and the Pit (1967) is seen as the high watermark of Hammer's science fiction
output. A belated follow-up to their two 1950s Quatermass films, themselves
based on a hugely successful BBC TV series penned by Nigel Kneale, the film
works better as a standalone story than as a direct sequel. Unlike those stark
monochrome films, which were shot mostly on location, Quatermass and the Pit
is colourful, studio-bound and uses a completely different cast. Brian Donlevy
had previously played the eponymous Professor Quatermass as a gruff,
no-nonsense American who had stepped straight from the pages of a Raymond
Chandler novel, the total opposite of Andrew Keir's bearded Scotsman. In this
film what appears to be an unexploded WWII bomb is uncovered during tube-tunnel
digging under London. Quatermass soon realises that this "bomb" is
actually a Martian spacecraft, crashed to Earth millions of years ago. These
aliens had come here to interfere with human evolution, meaning, as Barbara
Shelley's character puts it, "We are the Martians now."
Kim Newman is one of Britain's finest genre commentators, and his
writing here is illuminating as he discusses all incarnations of Quatermass,
from the first BBC series in 1953 through to the John Mills-starring The
Quatermass Conclusion in 1979. Even the ill-conceived 2005 remake gets a
mention. He goes into great depth on Pit itself, discussing the production and
the themes of the movie. The book is crammed with footnotes, each of which is
worth reading as they often contain more tidbits of information or humorous
asides. Newman may be a genre fan but he is not above sarcasm where it is
This book demonstrates that although Hammer films must have more
books written about them than any other British studio's output, there is still
room for indepth analysis and commentary on individual significant titles. This
BFI Classics entry is a shrewd and penetrating introduction to Quatermass for
the uninitiated, and a must-have for those who think they already know
everything there is to know about Quatermass and his infernal pit.
You can order from the BFI Classics sci-fi range here:
or rather, infamously, the BBC took a rather cavalier approach to the
preservation of its television output in the 1950s and 1960s. Due to the cost
of videotape, once pre-recorded programmes had been broadcast,the tape was
wiped and used again. For programmes to be kept for repeat use or to be sold to
other territories around the world, the episode would be transferred to film,
and it this process we have to thank that any television from this period has
survived at all.
Out of the Unknown was an attempt to
present serious, adult science fiction on television, adapting well-known and
important authors like John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard and
E.M. Forster. The single play was a tradition by this point, with popular
series such as Armchair Theatre (1956-74) demonstrating the legacy of
television's theatrical origins in live drama. Although largely neglected as a
format today in favour of long-running series, both the BBC and independent
television in the 1950s through to the 1970s ran hundreds of single dramas. Out
of the Unknown presented a different adaptation every week. Commissioned by
Sidney Newman, the man responsible for both Armchair Theatre and Doctor
Who (1963-89; 2005-), the series took the BBCs remit to educate and inform
very seriously. Producer Irene Shubik, quoted in the booklet accompanying this
science fiction is a way of saying something you can't say in straightforward
terms... I tried to get [stories] that had some sort of message."
any anthology, some of the episodes here work brilliantly, others less so, but
they are always interesting and prove the potential that science fiction has to
provide a commentary on the human condition; our fears, concerns and hopes.
From speculations on the potential of robotics to disastrous space missions and
mind-altering technology, Out of the Unknown provided ample food for
thought for its audience on a regular basis and is still fascinating.
series began in 1965 in black and white on the BBC, and ran for four series,
finally ending in colour in 1971. Twenty-eight episodes are completely missing
from the archive. This new box set contains the remaining twenty-four complete
episodes and five incomplete or reconstructed episodes, using a mix of clips,
still images and sound. Fans and amateur archivists have played a major role in
assisting the BFI to gather every remaining element so that this set represents
the entire sum of what has survived. Along with this Herculean effort a wealth
of extra features have been created including audio commentaries with
historians, experts and cast members, filmed interviews and a forty-minute
documentary. The accompanying booklet features in-depth essays and a complete
episode guide with cast and crew listings.
Out of the Unknown is a compelling
glimpse into the television production of the past, when commissioning editors
like Sidney Newman were prepared to take risks and assume a higher level of
intelligence in the audience than one feels is assumed by TV executives today.
of the Unknown is released on 24 November 2014 and can be pre-ordered by clicking here.
Although the term
“Eurocrime” can be applied to films from any European country, it’s most
closely associated with 1970s Italian crime films, aka poliziotteschi, poliziottesco
or poliziesco. The last term is (in
Italian) the grammatically correct moniker for a politically incorrect genre
that was hugely popular in its day, thanks to a sensory overload of stylish
ultra-violence, insane car chases, buckets of sleaze, almost-human bad guys and
renegade cops with big guns, bad attitudes and badder mustaches.
Controversial during its
heyday and critically marginalized in ensuing decades, the Eurocrime flame has
been kept alive by a sizeable and devoted fan base, periodic DVD releases, various
websites and online forums. Another shot in the arm was provided by Roberto
Curti’s invaluable book, Italian Crime
Filmography 1968-1980 (McFarland & Co Inc), an in-depth listing and
analysis of more than 200 films.
Now, poliziesco junkies have even more reason to celebrate with the
recent DVD release of Eurocrime! The
Italian Cop and Gangster Films that Ruled the ’70s, writer/director Mike
Malloy’s documentary homage to the genre that illustrates why these
testosterone-fueled thrillers deserve their place in the cinematic pantheon.
To that end, he rounded up
the appropriate subjects to tell the Eurocrime story—the surviving actors,
writers and directors who created these gonzo films from the ground up. It’s a
cast list that would do any current action film proud: Franco Nero, John Saxon,
Henry Silva, Antonio Sabata, Richard Harrison, Fred Williamson, Luc Merenda,
Tomas Milian, Leonard Mann, Michael Forest, John Steiner, Joe Dallesandro and
Chris Mitchum. Not to mention directors Enzo G. Castellari, Claudio Fragasso
and Mario Caiano.
All of these iconic
figures obviously retain deep-seated affection respect for the Eurocrime genre.
There’s zero condescension and little posturing, and all seem grateful for the
exposure these films brought them. In separate interviews, each relates his
particular history with Eurocrime films; Malloy edits their individual stories
into a collective portrait of the genre that’s as enlightening as it is
Malloy gets them to talk
about Eurocrime’s antecedent genres (peplums, giallos, spaghetti westerns); the
influence of Hollywood’s Dirty Harry
and The French Connection (both from
1971), which introduced a grittier ethos and more conflicted protagonists to
crime cinema; and the social and political turmoil in Italy during the 1970s,
which helped the poliziesco chart its
thematic identity through a critical focus on the country’s political
corruption, pervasive crime (organized and otherwise) and terrorist activity. While Eurocrime films were initially
derivative of the American version, Italian filmmakers quickly stamped them
with a unique identity, one that in turn influenced crime and action films the
In addition to such broad-outline
topics, the Eurocrime veterans expound on what it was like to work in a new
genre that was literally being invented on the fly. Low budgets and short
shooting schedules necessitated a guerilla approach to filmmaking. Directors
often shot without permission on the streets, especially when staging chase
scenes, which sometimes led to policemen pursuing stuntmen on motorcycles in
the belief they were actual criminals. The emphasis on speed and economy led to
an insane number of daily setups. Richard Harrison still laughs at the memory
of doing 120 setups in a day.
Like virtually all Italian
films of that era, the films were shot without direct sound. This allowed for
smaller crews, less equipment and less need for retakes, but initially proved
disconcerting for American actors used to quieter, more-ordered sets. Henry
Silva and John Saxon recall their bemused reactions to the on-set noise and
tumult during takes, countered by the Italian film crews’ bewilderment at their
pleas for quiet.
Live ammunition was sometimes
used during filming (Saxon still seems a little freaked out recalling it
decades later), and most of the leading actors did their own stunts. Leonard
Mann recalls: “We’d do them so fast, you know. We’d be out there just running
around and doing our own stunts. I did almost all of them…The things we did, I’m
surprised we didn’t get killed.”
Speaking of stuntmen, one
of that noble breed is represented in this documentary. Ottaviano Dell’Acqua,
who worked on Enzo G. Castellari’s The
Big Racket (1976) and Heroin Busters
(1977), wryly contrasts the approach of Italian and Hollywood stuntmen: “We
were a little more adventurous. We made things a little more ‘homemade.’” That
DIY ethos contributed to the rough-edged spontaneity that gave the films a
sense of gritty realism, no matter how outlandish the scenarios, action or
Edwards’ 1965 comedy epic, The Great Race,
has been out in various formats for years, but the Warner Archive has finally
given it the royal Blu-ray treatment that’s as immaculate as the dazzling white
car Tony Curtis drives in the film.
The Great Race was loosely based
on the 1908 New York to Paris race and Edwards and screenwriter Arthur Ross
threw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Originally developed at United Artists, the project was picked up by
Warner Bros when UA balked at the rising cost – which eventually hit a
then-unheard of $12 million, making it the most expensive comedy made at that
time. Clocking in at two hours and
forty minutes, it was also one of the longest running. (Unless compared with Stanley Kramer’s
classic It’sA Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which ran over three hours in its
original roadshow presentation.)
story follows two bitter rivals, “The Great Leslie”, suavely played by Tony
Curtis and his evil nemesis, “Professor Fate” (a first-rate, over the top performance
by Jack Lemmon) as they race across three continents from New York to Paris. The Leslie character and his sidekick “Hesekiah”
(Keenan Wynn) take the high road while Fate and his bumbling henchman “Max”
(Peter Falk) use an array of dirty tricks to cheat their way to the finish
line. Achingly beautiful Natalie Wood
plays a reporter gamely trying to cover the race. Comedy set pieces abound, most notably a
saloon brawl that must have used every working stuntman in Hollywood and the
ultimate pie-fight, which cost over $200,000 to film. Beautifully shot by Cinematographer Russell
Harlan (Hatari) in locations like
Austria, Paris, Death Valley and no less than eight WB soundstages, no
expense was spared… and yet the film never received the love it deserved. Critics considered it “overdone”, missing
that the film was Edwards’ homage to outrageous slapstick. Although it earned a respectable $25 million,
it wasn’t a breakout hit. (In contrast,
our beloved Thunderball, which was
released the same year,cost $5.6
million to produce and raked in over $140 million. Talk about a great ROI!)
Natalie Wood in some blissfully skimpy attire.
office math aside, as pure cinematic fun, The
Great Race delivers in spades. Lemmon’s work as the evil villain and a
drunk lookalike prince was brilliant, full of manic energy and a real showcase
for his skill and range as an actor. Tony Curtis gave another strong
performance as the stoic hero who can do no wrong, unfazed by any mishap,
including finding a huge polar bear in his back seat! It’s rumored that co-star Natalie Wood didn’t
want to make the film and had to be persuaded by WB brass, but she seemed to be
having fun and could throw a pie with the best of them. She lit up the screen as an intrepid writer/photographer
trying to break free of early 20th century stereotypes of what a
woman could and could not do. Seeing her
in the various Edith Head-designed costumes reminds one of what a stunning
young woman she was.
to be expected, the image quality is nothing short of pristine in 1080p, with scenes
looking almost three-dimensional in their clarity. The audio was bumped up to DTS-HD 5.1 so all
of Lemmon’s agonized cries of “Maaaaaaax!” sound great, as does Henry Mancini’s
gentle score. The only nitpick is the
lack of any new extras – the disc contains “Behind the Scenes With Blake
Edwards’ The Great Race” - the
vintage studio featurette and a theatrical trailer; both of which were on the 2002
DVD release. They are most welcome, but it would have been even more beneficial if, some years ago, someone had interviewed Edwards, Curtis and Lemmon about the making of this epic comedy. I would have produced those gratis, just to hear more about this
wonderful, if overlooked film. Sigh.
These days, cinema buffs searching high and
low for a lost, early work of a modern filmmaker is almost unheard of , as most
everything is readily available on DVD or Blu-ray. However, back in the day,
this was far from the case. Way back when, many early efforts from then current
directorial masters were extremely hard to find. For example, throughout the 1980s,
I can remember looking everywhere for a copy of George A. Romero’s third film Season of the Witch aka Hungry Wives (1972)as well as Martin Scorsese’s debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door? (1967)just to name a few. Another movie I always longed to see was a
strange, little action film called Fast
Company. The reason I use the word strange is because the movie was
directed by the enormously talented, Canadian born David Cronenberg. Although
he is now known for masterpieces such as A
History of Violence (2005) and Eastern
Promises (2007) , Cronenberg once carried the moniker “The King of Canadian
Horror” (due to his unique series of “Body Horror” films such as Shivers aka They Came from Within (1975), Rabid
(1977) and 1979’s The Brood), so,
in the mid-80s, it was quite a surprise for me to learn that not only was there
a lost Cronenberg film out there which was made in between all these
underground genre classics, but also that the movie was a mainstream action
Fast Company tells the story of aging
drag racer Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson (Rich
Man, Poor Man’sWilliam Smith)
and his struggles with cutthroat manager Phil Adamson (John Saxon from Enter the Dragon) whose underhanded
actions affect Lonnie’s long distance girlfriend, Sammy (Deathsport’sClaudia
Jennings), Lonnie’s protégé, Billy “The Kid” Brocker (Nicholas Campbell from Da Vinci’s Inquest), Billy’s girl, Candy
(One Night Only’s Judy Foster) and
their chief mechanic, Elder (Don Francks from 1981’s My Bloody Valentine).
Sort of a slick combination of drag racing
docudrama and exploitation action film, Fast
Company, which was co-written by Cronenberg, is an extremely interesting
and entertaining (not to mention accurate) look at life in the fast paced,
blue-collar world of professional drag racing. By mounting his camera on and
inside the race cars, Cronenberg tells a great visual story while, at the same
time, placing the viewer right into the center of the action. There’s also
solid performances from the top notch cast (it’s great to see Saxon in another
villainous role after watching him play countless cops over the years, while
the usually intimidating William Smith shines as good guy Lonnie), and the film
itself, with its fitting, hard rock soundtrack by musician Fred Mollin (Friday’s Curse aka Friday the 13th: The Series), has a light, fun and
enjoyable feel to it.
If you’re like me and you’ve been waiting
years to see this lost film, you’ll be happy to know that the wait was well
worth it as Blue Underground has pulled out all the stops to bring us an
absolutely beautiful transfer presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio.
The Blu-ray is also jam packed with special features (all of which are ported
over from the 2004 Blue Underground DVD with the exceptions of a poster and still
gallery, and bios of both Cronenberg and Claudia Jennings). Along with the
original theatrical trailer, we have a fantastic twelve minute documentary
titled Inside the Character Actor’s
Studio which features interviews with acting heavyweights William Smith and
John Saxon (appearing here together) who not only recall their roles in the
film, but also talk about what it means to be a character actor as opposed to
being a leading man. It’s a real treat to see these two B-movie icons
reminiscing and joking about their amazing careers and my only complaint is
that the documentary isn’t longer, as I could listen to these guys talk for
hours. Next, we have a second documentary about famed cinematographer Mark
Irwin (There’s Something About Mary).
Here, Irwin fills us in on, amongst other fascinating things, how some of the
more complicated night shots were achieved, and he also talks about the five
“Body Horror” classics he went on to shoot for Cronenberg.
For most viewers familiar with the director’s
work, Fast Company may seem out of
place in his filmography, but to David Cronenberg, it’s simply another one of
his many cinematic children. On the audio commentary track of this Blu-ray, the
director tells us how he himself is a huge sports car enthusiast as well as a
former road racer and, therefore, this film fits right in with the rest of his
works as it has to do with just another one of his many interests. He also
affectionately goes into detail about a plethora of subjects such as how Fast Company is really a modern western
(another thing that attracted him to the project), how this is the first time
he ever shot a scene on a film set as opposed to shooting entirely on location,
and the importance of this film due to the fact that he met many members of his
future filmmaking crew (and cast) here. Cronenberg also explains the state of
the Canadian film industry in 1979, recounts a great story about how John Saxon
praised his direction, and talks briefly about the lovely and talented drive-in
movie queen; the late, great Claudia Jennings who, sadly, died in an auto
accident shortly after completing this film. It’s a very interesting and
informative commentary that, just like the film itself, will appeal to Cronenberg
fans, race car aficionados, budding filmmakers and B-movie buffs alike.
As if all this wasn't enough, the disc
also features Cronenberg’s first two, seldom seen features, Stereo (1969) and Crimes of the Future (1970), making this Blu-ray an absolute must
for Cronenberg completists; highly recommended.
Altman’s 1974 crime drama, Thieves Like
Us,when viewed today, seems to
be a cross between Bonnie and Clyde (which
preceded Thieves)and O Brother, Where Art
Thou? (which appeared twenty-six years later). It’s the Depression-era
story, based on the novel by Edward Anderson, of a trio of escaped convicts who
go on a bank-robbing spree. But it’s also a love story between one of the
thieves, Bowie (played by a young Keith Carradine), and a country girl, Keechie
(portrayed by a young Shelley Duvall), and this is the aspect of Altman’s film
that truly shines. The novel was also the source inspiration for Nicholas Ray’s
1949 film noir, They Live By Night,
starring Farley Granger and Cathy O’Donnell. As much as I like 1940s and 50s
film noir, for my money, Altman’s is the better version.
who had a decidedly hit-and-miss career over six decades, was on a roll in the
early seventies. Thieves Like Us is
indeed one of his hits—from a critical standpoint—although it didn’t
necessarily do bang-up box office. Filmed on location in Mississippi, Altman
and his production team managed to find authentic 1930s settings, lending a
you-are-there feel to the period piece. More importantly, Altman chose not to
use a traditional musical score but instead relied on vintage radio programs to
fill out the ambiance. That part was a stroke of genius.
director also often utilized a stock company of actors, many of whom appeared
in multiple pictures. In this case, besides Carradine and Duvall—who are
terrific in their roles—there is John Schuck and Bert Remsen as the other two
thieves, and Tom Skerritt as a shady service station owner. Louise Fletcher, in
a pre-Cuckoo’s Nest performance, is
effective as Remsen’s sister-in-law, who aides and abets the criminals until
she has a change of heart.
the picture belongs to Carradine and Duvall, whose love scenes are intimate,
honest, and endearing. Their characters are extremely likable and exude an
innocence that is a counterpoint to the violence depicted in the rest of the
picture. The fact that these two relatively unknown actors (at the time) were
cast as leads attests to the New Hollywood attitude of allowing auteurs do their thing. It’s too bad
that the studios clamped down on risk-taking after the 70s.
Lorber’s Blu-ray has A high-definition transfer of the film—which looks fine—and the theatrical trailer and a commentary by
Altman himself as extras. The location scenery—especially the muddy roads, the
rain, and the back-country hills and shacks, are strikingly beautiful, thanks
to Jean Boffety’s soft cinematography.
of the better “lovers on the run” pictures, Thieves
Like Us is worth grabbing.
long awaited rain couldn’t keep Sony Pictures Home Entertainment from
celebrating the DVD release of Woody Allen’s Magic In The Moonlight with a vintage-themed party at The Crocker
Club in downtown LA on December 2nd.
whimsical 2014 romantic comedy stars Colin Firth as a magician on a mission to
debunk a professional clairvoyant played by Emma Stone. The film was well received during its
theatrical run with reviewers noting the strong performances of Firth and Stone
as well as cinematographer Darius Khondji’s excellent work capturing the French
Riviera of the 1920s. (The two are
already collaborating on Allen’s next film.)
the party, guests could circulate among screen-used costumes from the film as a
tarot card reader and astrologer worked their, um, magic. There was also a hip, young stylist on hand
for guests who wanted a quick touch up. (Unfortunately
she didn’t have the many hours this CR scribe would have needed!)
Allen’s Magic In The Moonlight is
available on digital HD on December 2, with the Blu-ray and DVD release on December
(PHOTOS COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)
Fans of legendary director Brian De Palma
lovingly recall how the auteur’s early thrillers contained at least one sequence
which employed the split-screen technique (a device by which two moving images
are projected simultaneously onto separate parts of the screen). This
technique, when used properly, is capable of generating extreme suspense and
involvement in an already enthralled audience. De Palma masterfully used the
split-screen in his still-underrated, 1973 debut thriller, Sisters (as well as in many of his later cinematic masterpieces
such as Carrie and Dressed to Kill), milking certain scenes
for every bit of tension and suspense possible. Now, if the split-screen was
that effective in just a few sequences, wouldn’t using it throughout an entire
film cause maximum suspense and entertainment? That’s the question the
filmmakers of Wicked, Wicked not only
asked, but bravely attempted to answer.
Writer-director Richard L. Bare came up
with the idea of filming an entire movie in split-screen (here dubbed
Duo-Vision) while simply driving home one day. Bare, who is best known for
directing most episodes of the 1960s sitcom Green
Acres, saw the line that divided the road and realized that he was viewing
one side of the freeway and the other simultaneously. He immediately decided to
shoot an entire movie this way. The idea proved to be quite a Herculean
undertaking as Bare had to first write a script which constantly contained two
separate scenes side by side where, normally, there would be only one. More
than up for the challenge, Bare came up with a story involving a disturbed,
young man (Randolph Roberts from Happy Days)
with a mommy fixation who murders any blonde-haired women that happen to be
staying at the old hotel where he’s currently employed. (The young madman also
lives inside the walls of the hotel where he can easily spy on all the guests,
making the plot a fun combination of The
Phantom of the Opera and Psycho.)
The hotel detective (Another World’sDavid Bailey) races against time while
desperately trying to find and stop the masked lunatic before he can reach his
next target: the beautiful hotel lounge singer (played by the always welcome
Tiffany Bolling from Kingdom of the
Spiders who belts out all of this film’s many tunes herself). The unique
movie also features several highly recognizable faces from 1960s/70s cinema and
television such as Scott Brady (The Night
Strangler), Edd Byrnes (Grease),
Madeleine Sherwood (The Flying Nun),
Diane McBain (Spinout), Roger Bowen (M.A.S.H.,1970) and Arthur O’Connell (Fantastic
Voyage). Due to the split-screen
process, the actual filming took double the time it normally would have and the
film’s budget doubled as well. It also took a whopping 32 weeks to edit Wicked, Wicked which is about five times
the amount it would have taken to edit a standard film.
So, was Duo-Vision worth it? Overall, I
have to say no. I think the film would have worked just fine without it (as
well as saved a lot of time and money) because the split-screen really doesn’t
accomplish all it should in terms of suspense here. Also, seeing two actions
simultaneously may be interesting at first, but, after about ten minutes, you
get used to it and it feels just like any other movie. This process really only
works when it heightens the suspense, a la De Palma, and, unfortunately,
Richard Bare, although more than competent, is not in the same league as the
master filmmaker. That being said, I enjoyed the film itself. Sure, the story
is derivative and a bit (intentionally) silly in spots, but it’s still an
entertaining enough psychofilm with a solid, likeable cast and a fun hotel
setting. I also recommend checking it out in order to see the results of the
time and effort the filmmakers put into this extremely ambitious project.
Wicked, Wicked has been released
as a DVD-R from Warner Archive. The film is presented in its original 2:35:1
aspect ratio and, although the colors seem a bit washed out, the movie is more
than watchable. It’s also the only way you may be able to see this film at the
moment due to the fact that Warner most likely has no plans to release it in a
re-mastered version. (Most titles released in the DVD-R format aren’t really in
high enough demand, so money won’t be spent to re-master them properly.) The
audio is terrific and the disc also contains the original theatrical trailer
(which isn’t in Duo-Vision, but, color-wise, is actually much more vibrant than
the film itself) as well as the eye-catching, original poster artwork which is
featured on the DVD’s sleeve, menu and disc itself.
Dr. Mark Davidson (John Neville) comes back to the Space research lab with a
new wife, his government superiors want to know more about her. And why are
scientists all over the world who are also working on the same equation as his
collegues - the ability to use mental projection to travel to the other side of
the galaxy - dying in the exact same way? Could the fact that his wife appears
impervious to pain and unable to blink be a clue as to her potential
extra-terrestrial origins? These are the questions Unearthly Stranger
raises and then sets out to answer in a fairly breathless fashion. Although a
considerable amount of time is spent on men in suits talking to each other in
offices, the film represents the power of a good idea. As Dr. Davidson
gradually comes to learn the truth about his wife it is truly heartbreaking.
Great performances and excellent black and white cinematography give the film a
power it may have lacked in the hands of a more pedestrian filmmaker.
John Krish was best known for his work on 1960s British television including The
Saint and The Avengers, and he packs a lot of plot into the film's
brief running time. Unearthly Stranger most closely resembles an episode
of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, if it was scripted by
John Wyndham (author of 'The Midwich Cuckoos' and 'Day of the Triffids'). In
actual fact the film was written by Rex Carlton, whose best known credit is the
infamous The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962). Where that film fails on
virtually every level, Unearthly Stranger was produced by Albert Fennel
who was also responsible for The Innocents (1961), Night of the Eagle
(1962), and later on Legend of Hell House (1973), all now considered
classics of British horror cinema. His experience, also honed in television,
helped Unearthly Stranger share a similar level of quality.
many other black and white British science fiction films of the period, this
film depicts a 'cosy apocalypse'. The world could potentially come to an end,
but we can be damned civilized about it. As such it would make a good companion
film to The Earth Dies Screaming (1964) or Invasion (1965), the
latter also shortly receiving a DVD release from Network.
British Film' collection was launched by Network Distributing last year and
they plan to release over 450 vintage films on blu ray or DVD over a five-year
period. From classics such as Victim (1961) and Countess Dracula
(1971) to long-unavailable shockers like Baby Love (1968) and The
Nightcomers (1971), and with plenty of other rarities in-between, it is a
project for retro movie fans to keep a close eye on.
Unearthly Stranger can be ordered from Network Distributing here.
of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema
by Richard Nowell
229 x 152 mm
REVIEW BY ADRIAN SMITH
Many books have been written about
the horror genre, from almost every conceivable perspective. Here however, is a
somewhat different approach: the horror industry as an economy. Films, after
all, require finance, and whilst artistic decisions are usually at the
forefront of analysis, without the money men in the background cinema as we
know it would not exist today.
Menace, with a
tribute to William Castle on its cover, attempts to give the reader a history
of the horror genre from the 1930s Universal cycle through to the American
remakes of today. A collection of essays on the horror genre, one will also
find an in-depth look at the re-launch of Hammer as a brand and business
entity, the zombies of Poverty Row and many more. It is a fascinating approach
to the subject and causes the reader to ponder issues in a way they were
probably not thought of before, such as the economic power of atmosphere; what
exactly is atmosphere and how is it defined and turned into a commodity by
filmmakers? Using the unsettling British horror City of the Dead (1960,
U.S. title Horror Hotel) as an example, Robert Spadoni discusses how the
film foregrounds atmosphere over narrative and how the two are often in
conflict with each other.
This collection helps redress the
balance between an understanding of the horror film as an entertainment medium
and as a business. This will be of great interest to fans of the genre, but
also points out wider issues that go beyond horror into the film industry as a
whole. It is often said that you will always make money in the film business
from horror and sex. Perhaps this suggests an obvious direction for Nowell's
few weeks ago, I posted a review of The Criterion Collection’s excellent
Blu-ray release of George Sluizer’s 1988 Franco-Danish film, The Vanishing. This excellent thriller
was well-received by critics and the public alike, prompting Hollywood to step
forward and produce an American remake in 1993. The screenplay, based on Tim
Krabbé’s novel Het Gouden Ei (as was the original), was written by
actor/screenwriter Todd Graff. Sluizer returned to direct the remake, which in
many cases is practically a shot-by-shot repetition. However, there are differences.
not sure who at the conference table decided that the American remake of The Vanishing should have a happy
ending, as opposed to the more-terrifying, bleak finale of the original, but it
happened. Perhaps the studio figured that U.S. audiences would not accept the
earlier culmination, in which the villain triumphs and we realize that the
movie was about him all along. This
time around, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and our heroes win the
cat-and-mouse game that was set in motion at the picture’s beginning.
if you’ve seen the original 1988 version, then you’ll most likely be
disappointed with the 1993 edition. However, if you haven’t, then you may very well enjoy the remake for what it is,
and especially for the extremely bizarre performance by Jeff Bridges as the
creep. And creepy he is. Speaking with a strange accent (or is it merely an odd
elocution?—hard to say), Bridges steals the movie (as did Bernard-Pierre
Donnadieu in the original role). A young Kiefer Sutherland is our hero this
time, and his vanishing girlfriend is played by Sandra Bullock (pre-Speed) when she was relatively unknown.
That said, the real heroine of the remake is Nancy Travis, as Sutherland’s new girlfriend, and this is where the
new movie differs the most from its predecessor.
takes charge of the story in the last act and, without providing too much of a
spoiler, brings a more feminist take to the tale. Is the new ending satisfying?
Sure, from a Hollywood by-the-book standpoint. The problem is that the picture
loses what may have been the point of the original story—that evil can lurk
where you least expect it, and it can, more often than not, win.
Time’s limited edition (to 3,000 copies) high definition Blu-ray looks fine and
dandy; the only extra is the theatrical trailer. Fans of the film may want to
pick this up; but in my book, the 1988 original is still the more effective
(Photos copyright Mark Cerulli. All rights reserved.)
By Mark Cerulli
Last Wednesday, the
red carpet was rolled out on Hollywood Boulevard, the paparazzi were out in
force and the Spiderman and Wonder Woman impersonators had been pushed aside,
at least momentarily, for American Film Institute’s annual film festival.
Retro was in da house for writer/director J.C. Chandor’s new crime drama, A Most Violent Year, this year’s opening
night selection. The director introduced
his third film onstage at the Dolby Theater, joined by his distinguished cast
and crew, including Jessica Chastain and DP Bradford Young. Chandor also pointed out where he was sitting
when his screenplay for “Margin Call” (which he also directed) lost out to
Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris” in the 2012 Oscar race.
the film’s setting – the cutthroat world of home heating oil doesn’t sound
exciting, it provides the backdrop for Abel Morales, a principled young businessman
(the excellent Oscar Issac) to reach for the American dream – if his
competitors don’t ruin him first! Chandor,
a NJ native, perfectly captured the bone-chilling winter of 1981 as well as the
underbelly of this unglamorous but essential trade. Jessica Chastain was a scene-stealer as Abel’s
beautiful but hard-edged wife, willing to reach into her mob past to protect
their business. Screen veteran Albert
Brooks gives a steady, understated performance as their business partner, totally
unfazed by the industry’s corruption even as the violence starts to spiral out
A bit drawn out at times,
the film’s strong performances and meticulously crafted early 80s look more
than make up for the slow pace. One
stunning shot occurs early on when the main character looks out over a grimy
industrial property he’s desperately trying to acquire and across the East
River is the 1981 New York skyline complete with the Twin Towers; a sight many a
New Yorker took for granted until they were gone.
the credits it was on to the famous Roosevelt Hotel – where Charlie Chaplin and
Mary Pickford used to down cocktails - for an after-party complete with open
bar and unlimited schmoozing but curiously no food. It was a headache-inducing combination that
sent this CR scribe heading off to see another acclaimed Hollywood star, In
& Out Burger!
“If a movie makes you happy, for whatever
reason, then it’s a good movie.”
REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*******
BY ERNIE MAGNOTTA
If there’s one thing I love, it’s 1970s
made-for-TV horror films. I remember sitting in front of the television as a
kid and watching a plethora of films
such as Gargoyles, Bad Ronald, Satan’s School for Girls, Horror
at 37,000 Feet, Devil Dog: Hound of
Hell, Scream Pretty Peggy, Don’t Be
Afraid of the Dark, Moon of the Wolf
and The Initiation of Sarah just to
name a few. Some of those are better than others, but all were fun.
When I think back, there have been some
legendary names associated with small screen horrors. Genre masters John
Carpenter (Halloween), Steven
Spielberg (Jaws), Wes Craven (Nightmare on Elm Street), Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Joseph
Stefano (Psycho) all took shots at
television horror and created the amazing films Someone’s Watching Me!, Duel,
Summer of Fear, Salem’s Lot and Home for the
However, there was one man whose name
became synonymous with 1970s made-for-TV horrors. When it came to scaring the
living daylights out of people in the privacy of their own homes, producer/director
Dan Curtis was king.
Curtis’ first foray into television
horror was as a producer of the 1960s classic, gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran successfully
from 1966-1971. Then, in 1968, he produced his first TV horror movie The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
which starred the late, great Jack Palance (Shane,
Torture Garden, Alone in the Dark, City
Slickers) in the title role.
In 1972, Curtis would team with
legendary author Richard Matheson (I Am
Legend, Twilight Zone, Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel) and, over the next five years,
they would create a series of unforgettable made-for-TV horror films. Their
first collaboration is, arguably, their best. The two genre masters would bring
author Jeff Rice’s original novel The
Kolchak Papers to the small screen. Curtis would produce while Matheson
adapted Rice’s story. The film, now retitled The Night Stalker, was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (City of the Dead aka Horror Hotel) and starred the great
Darren McGavin (Mike Hammer, Airport ’77, A Christmas Story) as intrepid reporter Carl Kolchak hot on the
trail of a nightmarish modern day vampire who’s stalking the back alleys of Las
Released to ABC-TV on January 11th,
1972, The Night Stalker became the
highest rated television film at that time and it would hold that title for
many years. The film’s enormous success led to an immediate sequel titled The Night Strangler. This time, Curtis
would not only produce, but also direct from an original script by Matheson. The
film was another huge hit, so, naturally, ABC wanted a third Kolchak adventure.
Matheson wrote a script entitled The
Night Killers, but unfortunately the movie was never made. The Night Stalker instead became a
weekly television series.
Unconvinced that Kolchak could be done
properly on a weekly basis, Dan Curtis decided to bow out of the series.
Instead, in 1973, he produced and directed another great made-for-TV horror
film titled The Norliss Tapes. This
ABC Movie of the Week was very similar to The
Night Stalker in that it involved a writer investing the occult. The movie,
which was set in California, also served as the pilot to a series that,
unfortunately, was never produced. Written by William F. Nolan (Logan’s Run, Burnt Offerings), the film starred Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) and Angie Dickinson (Rio Bravo, Police Woman, Dressed to Kill).
1973 would see three more TV horrors
from busy producer/director Curtis. The
Invasion of Carol Enders which starred Meredith Baxter (All the President’s Men, Family Ties, Ben), The Picture of Dorian
Gray starring Shane Briant (Frankenstein
and the Monster from Hell, Captain Kronos
– Vampire Hunter, Demons of the Mind)
and Frankenstein starring Robert
Foxworth (Death Moon, Damien: Omen 2, Prophecy, Falcon Crest, Transformers), Bo Svenson (Walking Tall, Snowbeast, Inglorious
Bastards, Night Warning, Heartbreak Ridge, Kill Bill Vol. 2) and Susan Strasberg (Picnic, Scream of Fear, Rollercoaster, The Manitou, Bloody Birthday,
Sweet Sixteen, Delta Force).
In 1974, Curtis and Matheson would
reunite for two more made-for-TV films which Curtis would once again produce
and direct. Scream of the Wolf,
starring Peter Graves (It Conquered the
World, Mission: Impossible, Airplane), Clint Walker (The Dirty Dozen, Killdozer, Snowbeast) and
Jo Ann Pflug (M.A.S.H.,The Night Strangler, The Fall Guy), and the excellent Bram Stoker’s Dracula starring Jack
Palance, Simon Ward (Frankenstein Must Be
Destroyed, The Monster Club),
Nigel Davenport (Chariots of Fire, A Man for all Seasons) and Fiona Lewis (Fearless Vampire Killers, Dr. Phibes Rises Again, Dead Kids, The Fury). Curtis’ last television horror film of 1974 would be Turn of the Screw. William F. Nolan
adapted the classic Henry James novel which Curtis produced and directed.
In 1975, Curtis scored big once again
by producing and directing an amazing made-for-TV anthology film titled Trilogy of Terror. The movie, again
written by William Nolan from a collection of short stories by Richard
Matheson, starred the always wonderful Karen Black (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces,
Airport 1975, Family Plot, Burnt Offerings,
House of 1000 Corpses) who headlined
all three tales. The final segment, entitled Amelia, is the most remembered due to Black’s horrifying battle
with the now iconic Zuni fetish doll. Curtis would produce and direct another
made-for-TV horror anthology called Dead
of Night. Released in 1977, the film was once again scripted by Richard
Although 1977 would see the last of Dan
Curtis’ 70s horror creations, there was still one more film to go. Curtis’ 1970s
horror swan song would be the ABC made-for-TV chiller Curse of the Black Widow.
(The following pertains to the UK, Region 2 releases)
Walt Disney before him, Gerry Anderson's name became a brand identifier in
itself, a mark of quality. It is impossible to hear his name without automatically
thinking of puppets on strings, whizzing spaceships and secret island hideouts.
In tribute to Anderson, who sadly passed away two years ago before the
completion of this documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation presents a
brilliantly detailed history of his working life. The film is full of archival
material detailing just how difficult it was bringing life to those puppets,
along with interviews with many of those who worked alongside Anderson, most
notably his wife and long-standing collaborator Sylvia who also provided the
voice of Lady Penelope.
documentary revisits some of the original studios that Anderson and his crew
used and new footage is shot in Supermarionation (Gerry Anderson's term to
describe his use of marionettes) to demonstrate the filmmaking process. Some of
it is surprisingly low-tech but always ingenious. Alongside Gerry Anderson's
son Jamie, Lady Penelope and her chauffeur Parker themselves act as presenters
for the film, and whole sets are rebuilt and then blown up in slow motion. The
documentary also reveals some of the tensions between Gerry Anderson and Lew
Grade, the ITC producer who first bought their shows and then the whole company
itself. It was under Grade that they made the move into colour and produced
their most popular and well-loved show, Thunderbirds. Following the
relative failure of the Thunderbirds Are GO movie in 1966 Anderson went
slightly darker with his follow-up TV show Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons.
Even another Thunderbirds movie two years later did not do well, perhaps
because potential audiences felt they had seen it already on television.
continued to improve the process and develop technology that made his shows of
such a high quality, including early use of video assist, which meant that his
puppeteers could view the action live on monitors instead of just looking down
at the puppets heads. Thankfully, unlike a lot of television production at the
time which was shot on primitive video tape, Anderson's shows were shot on
film, meaning they have been preserved and all look great today.
often claiming to hate the puppets (he reveals that early on he hoped to become
a director like Steven Spielberg) Gerry Anderson nevertheless worked with them
throughout the 1960s before finally having the opportunity to work with real
actors; first producing the theatrical film Journey to the Far Side of the
Sun, and then the successful TV series' UFO and Space: 1999.
Staying within science fiction, all of these shows still made extensive use of
miniatures and the effects that he had developed in his earlier puppet shows.
Distributing have produced this documentary and are releasing it in both DVD
and Blu-ray formats. For
real fans and collectors there is a limited edition box set featuring books,
comics and bonus original Gerry Anderson episodes of early shows like Four
Feathers Fall, Fireball XL5 and Supercar, all restored and in
HD. (This can be ordered by clicking here.)
Steven Awalt –
author interviewed by Todd Garbarini
it’s about time, Charlie!”
Weaver utters these words in my favorite Steven Spielberg film, Duel, a production that was originally
commissioned by Universal Pictures as an MOW, industry shorthand for “movie of
the week”, which aired on Saturday, November 13, 1971. The reviews were glowing; the film’s admirers
greatly outweighed its detractors and it put Mr. Spielberg, arguably the most
phenomenally successful director in the history of the medium, on a path to a
career that would make any contemporary director green with envy. Followed by a spate of contractually obligated
television outings, Duel would prove
to be the springboard that would catapult Mr. Spielberg into the realm that he
was shooting for since his youth: that of feature film directing. Duel would also land him in the court of
Hollywood producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck and get him his first
theatrical film under his belt, 1974’s The
Sugarland Express. It would be the
1975 blockbuster smash success of his second film, Jaws, similar in theme to Duel
in that a seemingly unstoppable monster is eventually put down following an
inexorable chase of cat-and-mouse, which would make him a household name. Yes, Charlie, it is about time that this phenomenal film got its own book, one that
is dedicated to the story’s origin and creation. Painstakingly researched by
Spielberg scholar Steven Awalt,
the aptly-titled Steven Spielberg and DUEL: The Making of a Film Careeris an excellent book now
available in hardcover, paperback and for the Kindle from Rowman &
volume starts at the beginning with Duel’s
author, the late Richard Matheson, the man responsible for some of the most
interesting, frightening, and best short stories of the genre and some of the
most memorable episodes of television’s The
Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) such as Third
from the Sun, Nick of Time, The
Invaders, Little Girl Lost, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, and Night Call. Author Awalt expertly describes
the terrifying, dangerous and death-defying real-life incident that compelled
Mr. Matheson to pen the story, and the fascinating journey it took until it was
published in the April 1971 issue of Playboy Magazine which made its way into
the hands of Steven Spielberg’s secretary. Through interviews with the remaining crew members who worked on Duel, Mr. Awalt covers every aspect of
the film’s inception, creation (actual filming and subsequent editing into
answer print form) and ultimate presentation. What is interesting to note is that although Duel originated as a TV-movie, the film’s success in the form of
excellent critical reception and high Nielsen ratings resulted in the director
being given additional capital to increase it from its standard 74-minute
running time to the more acceptable 90-minute length it required for release in
movie theaters, and it played briefly in select markets in the spring of
1983. It is this 90-minute version of
the film that is known the world over.
with publicity shots and storyboards created by the director, Steven Spielberg and DUEL is the last word on this terrific thriller that the director originally
wanted to make without any dialogue (interestingly, the Twilight Zone episode The
Invaders was originally conceived this way). Everything you ever wanted to know about how
the film came about is covered in this exhaustively researched book. Best of all, Universal is releasing the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection
on Blu-ray, and one of the titles included in this collection is Duel.
I recently spoke with Mr. Awalt about his
book and genuine love for all things Spielberg.
Garbarini: Based on what I have read about you, it is my understanding that you
became a fan of Steven Spielberg after your first viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Please tell me about that, as that is exactly
the same way that I became familiar with his work.
Awalt: Yes, that is correct. My family
and I saw it in the early winter of 1978. I was five years-old at the time, and
my parents had earlier taken me to see Star
Wars in a drive-in during the summer before. So between those two films, they really had a
huge impact on me. I was also familiar with the Walt Disney films, as well as
Jim Henson's work, but Steven Spielberg was the first director who I saw as a real
filmmaker. The story of the making of Close Encounters of the Third Kind is
the one book that I really, really want to write.
I had the exact same reaction you did. I saw Star Wars in the summer of 1977, not at a drive-in but at a
two-screen movie theater. Five months
later for my birthday my parents took me to see it again and this time the
trailer for Close Encounters was
presented before the film. I remember being frightened and finding certain
images from the film to be very intense, like the interrogation scene between
Richard Dreyfus, Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban. Like you, I had been used to seeing the Walt
Disney cartoons. In a way, this was my
introduction to more mature, adult filmmaking. I knew about Jaws in the summer of 1975 and knew some
kids who had seen it. When it came to Close Encounters, I was just blown away
by that film. It's one of the great cinematic experiences of my childhood. I almost feel that after having seen Star Wars and Close Encounters, I was kind of spoiled because I was expecting to
see all the other directors making movies just as great as those films,
especially when you consider that on the heels of that you had The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.
E.T. is actually my personal favorite
Spielberg film. I have a really deep personal connection to the film.
I can certainly understand that. He captures children in a way that I've never
seen from anyone else, except maybe for Truffaut.
Yes, I can't think of any other filmmakers who are as real and as honest with
children. I think that Steven has always been that way, even if you look at Hook you see the way the children relate
to each other.
Garbarini: I first heard of Duel when
Steven Spielberg appeared on The Dick
Cavett Show in June 1981 while doing publicity for Raiders of the Lost Ark. He
talked about Duel and a man being
chased down by a large truck, and I wondered how I never heard of the film, not
knowing that it was a TV-movie. About a
year later, I was in my 7th grade English class and we were required
to read short story collections and write compositions on them. A collection caught my eye, and Duel was one of the stories. I read it and was hooked on Richard
Matheson’s writing. In 1983 I begged my
father to take me to New York to see Duel
during a brief theatrical exhibition following the worldwide success of E.T. but it didn’t last long enough for
us to get to see it. I finally saw it on
VHS in 1988 and loved it. How did you
come to see Duel and what was your
reaction to it?
I saw it on television with my dad, but I don't remember it to the extent that
I remembered seeing Close Encounters in
the theater. I saw Raiders of the Lost
Ark, of course, and Poltergeist was
also a big film for me. However, I don't recall what it was like seeing it for
the first time. My father and I watched Raiders
of the Lost Ark many times together. He introduced me to a lot of great
movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Jaws was also a movie that I saw on
television, I think that was first on in 1980 on ABC, or was it NBC?
It was on ABC, it premiered in November 1979. That took a full four years to come to network television.
Oh, wow. Yeah, that was how our generation saw movies in the days before VHS.
I know, remember that? When a big movie was premiering on television, it was an
event that my friends and I really looked forward to. It didn't matter that it
had commercials, because none of my friends, except for one, had cable
television. Now, forget about it. You don't even have to own the movie; you can simply go to YouTube and watch almost
anything that you want. I found Amblin (1968) on there. When The Warriors was released in 1979, there
was a lot of controversy surrounding it, stories of gangs fighting in movie
theaters. When it came to ABC in 1981, that is how I first saw it. I didn't see
it on cable or on home video, I saw it on network television. I think that’s
how a lot of us saw movies from the 1970s. The networks would sometimes air movies with alternate titles. That’s how I saw Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came? (1970), which aired as War Games and Escape to Athena (1979), which aired as The Golden Raiders, and Ffolkes
(1979) which aired as Assault Force.
Yeah, that's how I first saw 1941
(1979). I have a soft spot in my heart for that film. It's a bit of a mess, but
it has really great work in it. The miniatures are really beautiful in that
movie. Yeah, it was a whole different era. Young audiences today almost don't
know what it's like to go see a movie like Star
Wars in the drive-in. For people like you and I, you'd see a movie in the
theaters, and that it would come to network television and would really be
something to look forward to. Then there was the dawn of home video in the form
of VHS in the late 70s and early 80s. I think that the first movie I saw on VHS
was The Muppet Movie, that might've
been in 1981. Then in 1982 I saw Time Bandits.
What a different era it was back then, having time to watch those movies over
and over again!
I saw both of those films in the theater, but the first home video format that
my family owned was the RCA Select-A-Vision Capacitance Electronic Disc
CED for short, which necessitated purchasing movies. The Muppet Movie and Time
Bandits were two titles that I owned. Star
Wars and Poltergeist with the
first two movies I ever purchased and they were in that format. I just watched
them over and over and over again, on a 13” color TV, no less. Most people don't even remember that system,
they tend to confuse it with Pioneer’s laserdisc format. It's interesting, Jaws was the first movie released on laserdisc;
it was through MCA's DiscoVision line. The movie was spread out the five sides!
Can you imagine?
Yeah, I actually have the letterboxed laserdisc special edition of Jaws, that thing cost $150.
My favorite action film is The Road
Warrior. The stunts and camerawork
are groundbreaking, but there are a few shots where it almost looks like a Mack
Sennett comedy in that the cameras were undercranked and the action moves too
quickly. I never noticed that in Duel.
To your knowledge, was Duel shot
without any undercranking?
There was one shot where that happens, but it actually helps. The frame rate
was actually increased and the camera was overcranked. It's a long shot where
the vantage point is that of Dennis Weaver's character, David Mann, and the
truck is just plowing around the corner coming towards him.
Was there any behind-the-scenes footage shot on this movie, or was it done on
such a low-budget that that wasn't even a consideration?
Yeah, it was very low-budget, even the amount of stills that were taken is very
small. They didn't really have a dedicated on-the-set photographer.
What is the biggest difference between the theatrical cut and the television
The biggest and most obvious difference between the two is the opening. The
first few minutes where the camera begins in the garage, pulls back and drives
through downtown traffic was all added later so that it could be released
Yes, I remember when first saw it I thought, You mean to tell me that they let him do this for a television movie?
I was astonished. But I was completely
Yeah, exactly. The television cut begins with Dennis Weaver's car driving from
left to right in the frame as he is on his way to his business appointment. Of course, the scenes with him on the phone talking
to his wife and his run-in with the school bus were also added later.
Most of those streets look the same today. The last time I was in Los Angeles
was November 2008 and I drove along most of those same roads. I made it a point
to go to Milky Way, the restaurant owned and run by Leah Adler (Steven
Spielberg's mother). She was there that day, and I sat and talked with her for a
while about how much her son’s movies changed my life. It was great walking to
the bathroom as the hallway is flanked with movie posters of his films. When
did you first meet Mr. Spielberg?
In 2006. I originally ran a website dedicated to his movies from 2001 until
2009. So, I had been writing for the website for a while. In February 2006, I
received a FedEx package from DreamWorks. I figured it was stills from his films
or something to that effect, because I had never even broached the subject of
interviewing him. It turned out to be a letter from Steven Spielberg, and he told
me how much he enjoyed my writing and really like the website. Eight months
later he was being given a lifetime achievement award at the Chicago Film
Festival and I met him on the red carpet and we talked for a while. I did a
sort of mini-interview with him. The highlight of the evening, in addition to
meeting him of course, was when he introduced me to Roy Scheider.
I am experiencing major jealousy
pangs right now! (laughs)
God, Roy Scheider. I would've loved to have met and spoken with both of them. The French Connection is my favorite
Oh, my God, I loveThe French Connection.
I was fortunate enough to meet most of the cast members of the film, such as
Gene Hackman, Tony LoBianco, and even Sonny Grosso. The icing on the cake was
meeting William Friedkin. I also met Chris Newman, who recorded the sound on the
film. One of my biggest regrets, however, has not being able to meet Roy
Yeah, All That Jazz is a great film.
Yes, in fact the Criterion Collection released that on Blu-ray. He was great in
Marathon Man, Sorcerer, and The Seven-Ups
from 1973, which is a film that a lot of people don't even know about.
Yes, meeting Roy Scheider was a great life moment for me. And then I guess
around 2011 I pitched the idea of the Duel
book to Steven Spielberg's people and he said yes right away, he thought it was
a great idea. He even invited me out to interview him before I even had a
chance to ask him if I could interview him. I cannot say enough about him, he's
just such a nice man and is so genuine. You hear the story all the time that
when you're in conversation with him, and you think about all the things that
he has going on in his life, he's just right there and he's 100% completely
focused on what you're talking about as he's talking to you. Even in conversations, he's a really great storyteller, which really
isn’t surprising! When I was out in L.A. interviewing him, he showed me a photo
of himself standing next to Federico Fellini and he was talking about this
memory that he had of meeting him in 1973 and there was such excitement in his
voice about this memory that was nearly 40 years-old. He's got such a deep
appreciation of film history and such excitement about it, and he's also one of
the pinnacles of it!
Well, he's just like us. He is first and foremost a movie fanatic. I could
literally spend hours talking to him about not only his experiences on the sets
of his own movies, and I would love to hear some stories that he has to tell
about what went on behind the scenes of his films and so forth, but also his
impressions of other directors and other movies that he has seen growing up and
even the new films that are out now and what's still inspires him. He isn't
just some hack who is out there trying to make money, he honestly and truly
loves this stuff. Were you able to see his early work? I know that he's not a
fan of Amblin, a film that I really
like very much, especially the main theme song. Did you get to see Firelightor any of the short films that he did
as a teenager?
I've seen everything he's done with the exception of his episode of Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, nor
could I find his two episodes of The
Psychiatrist. I spoke to Sid
Sheinberg about it, and he remarked that one of the episodes, called Par for the Course, was one of the most
moving pieces of work he had ever seen. Spielberg was in his early twenties when he did it. The episode is about
death, friendship, and losing a friend. But, like I said, that's one that I
haven't been able to locate and I'm really interested in seeing it. You look at
the The Sugarland Express, for
example, and it's frustrating for me to look back now on even some of the good
critical notices the film got. For
example, Pauline Kael said that Spielberg was very good at moving the cars
around. But, when you look at the movies, whether they involve cars, sharks,
spaceships or whatever, even though those are brilliant and exciting cinematic
creations, and even going back to his early television work pre-Duel, he was always about the
characters. Their personalities and the situations that they get caught up in are
always first and foremost the most important aspects of the story. I've always
felt that he's been an incredibly humanistic director and I think that
unfortunately that aspect of his career has been totally lost on a lot of
critics. Getting back to Sugarland, I don't believe that the cars
are the main focus or the main aspect of that story. The characters are really
special, and the fact that a lot of the leading critics didn't see that at the
time is almost mind-boggling. Still to this day he carries that reputation with
him. It's really amazing to me that when people talk about his work, and I
don't know if this is attributed to jealousy or snobbery or whatever, they just
don't give him the credit that he deserves. I also think that a lot of the
times the critics were comparing him to highly established directors who were
in their fifties and sixties at the time. You have to look at it in
perspective. Spielberg was a guy in his twenties. How many people have that
kind of perspective into the human condition in their twenties? But for him to
have that human angle even in a film like Duel
is amazing. The intercutting between the car and truck - the film is ultimately
about a man and his paranoia. So he has enormous insight into the psychology of
the Dennis Weaver character. What an amazing young filmmaker to be able pull
off something like that at his age.
Would you say that his experience on Duel
prepared him for the desert truck chase sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark?
SA: No, I wouldn't say that because the truck
chase was done during principal photography and was shot by Mickey Moore. Steven
conceived and storyboarded it, but Mickey Moore shot it with the second unit
crew. I remember when I read that and thought,
I really thought that Steven had been out
there shooting that whole thing. But,
despite the fact that he didn't, it works brilliantly in the film and actually
got a lot of subsequent work for Mickey Moore. This is always a tough thing
because I do believe…I don’t want to say auteur
theory necessarily, as I think that's become a denigrated term now, but to deny
authorship I think is ludicrous. Everything
in a film is funneled through either a director’s filter or a very strong producer’s
filter, so obviously when you look at a filmography like Steven’s or any other
dominant and very personal director obviously authorship is something that
should definitely be considered. I still think his fingerprints are all over
it. Don't get me started on Poltergeist,
by the way!
(laughs) I saw that movie the weekend
that it opened. My friend and I sat through it twice. It played next door to Kill Squad.
Oh, I love Poltergeist, even to this
day. The first time that I saw it was when I was playing with some friends and
neighbors. The adults were inside
watching it on television and I basically saw it through the screen door. I
couldn’t hear it well at all, but I was so excited to see it.
I have seen Poltergeist many, many
times. It's one of my favorite movies ever. Thinking along those lines, and
this kind of thing started for me with Star
Wars, it was only in 1977 that I would go back to see a favorite movie
multiple times. Prior seeing to seeing Star
Wars, I don't ever remember doing that. There weren't any films that I had
seen that made me want to go see them more than once, although I did sit
through two screenings of Peter Pan
during a 1976 rerelease in the summertime. Superman
the Movie was another pivotal film for me. For one thing, these movies
stayed in theaters for a very long time, and if friends of mine and I loved it,
which we invariably did, we would always go see them on our birthdays. Our
parents would wonder why in the world we would want to see the same movies over
and over again instead of new movies. John Williams’ music, without taking
anything away from the writers, producers, directors, and actors, the overall
cast and crew of all of these films, I really believe is what makes those films
what they are.
SA: I completely agree and I don't think that the
filmmakers would disagree with that statement at all. I think that they would
be right there with you.
I've read that Mr. Spielberg even cuts to Mr. Williams’ music. The two of them
have gone on to such an amazing collaboration, far more so than the one between
Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann which, as you well know, was
argumentative and often combative. However, Herrmann clearly enhanced
Hitchcock's movies immeasurably. Imagine Psycho
without those strings?
SA: I know!
Billy Goldenberg wrote excellent music for Duel,
in addition to several other shows directed by Mr. Spielberg. I have always felt that his music has been
woefully underrepresented on soundtrack albums. Do you know if there are any plans to release his music from these
Spielberg projects on CD?
Not to my knowledge, no. He is very
underrepresented on disc, it’s a real shame. A lot of the soundtrack album companies are doing a really terrific job
in getting a lot of the scores out there in terms of getting them out of the
vault. However, there really is still so much work to do for scores from that
era. I really think that Billy’s scores need a release. And even John Williams’s
score to Sugarland, this is the only
score from his collaboration with Spielberg that has never been released. Now
this is like the missing link. I have heard from soundtrack producers at
Universal, at least previously anyway, they were very tight with what they
allowed to come out of their vaults. I would love to see a score for Sugarland released, and also for Duel obviously.
Well, with your excellent book on Duel
and the new Blu-ray release of the film in the Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection, let’s hope that this leads
to a soundtrack release.
Sounds good to me!
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG AND DUEL: THE MAKING OF A FILM CAREER" FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "STEVEN SPIELBERG: THE DIRECTOR'S COLLECTION" ON BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "DUEL" DVD COLLECTOR'S EDITION FROM AMAZON
by the late 1970s Richard Burton's reputation was based more on his
hard-drinking and turbulent marriages, he was still capable of demonstrating
his powers as a dangerous and magnetic performer. Arguably by this time he had
lost some of his former box-office draw and was taking roles in horror films
like Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977) and The Medusa Touchto pay the bills, yet he was still a
mesmerising screen presence and in this film can even command the attention of
the audience whilst lying on a hospital bed in a coma.
The Medusa Touch is set in London
and begins with a murder. In the opening scene we see renowned author John
Morlar (Richard Burton) watching news of a space shuttle disaster on TV. Within
seconds he is being bludgeoned to death by a blunt instrument. It is something
of a shock to see the lead actor of a movie being killed before the credits
have even rolled, however, all is not lost. When the police arrive, led by
Inspector Brunel (Lino Ventura), a French detective on some kind of exchange
visit to Scotland Yard, they realise that he is still alive. Just. He is
whisked to hospital where he is put under the charge of Dr. Johnson (Gordon
Jackson) and wired up to several monitors and machines in an effort to keep him
alive. It is then up to Brunel to find out who tried to kill him and why.
despite initially appearing that Burton is merely in this film as a cameo role,
he does actually show up in several lengthy flashbacks as Brunel tries to track
down anyone who knew him. One person who may be able to help is his
psychiatrist, played by Lee Remick. She discloses that Morlar believed he had
the power to cause disasters by willing them in his mind; the so-called
"Medusa Touch". Initially believing this to be a curse, he gradually
comes to the realisation that he can use this power to change the world.
The Medusa Touch features some
spectacular special effects as Morlar's disasters grow and grow in scale and
magnitude, from a horrific plane crash into a large apartment building to an a
royal assassination attempt by demolishing a major London landmark. It does not
take Brunel long to turn from being sceptical of these powers to being in a
race against time to stop Morlar in his diabolical quest.
directed by Jack Gold, The Medusa Touch is pure entertainment throughout
and plays like a cross between The Omen (1976) and an episode of Columbo.
This new Blu-ray features an excellent transfer and some fascinating behind the
scenes footage of the film's climax in Westminster Abbey. Jack Gold is
accompanied on a commentary track by genre authorities Kim Newman (who has also
written a booklet for this release) and Stephen Jones, where Gold is enthusiastic
and full of praise for all those who worked on the film.
Click here to order and view original trailer. (This is for the UK, region 2 release.)
(This review pertains to the British Blu-ray release by Network)
BY ADRIAN SMITH
A mysterious Englishman with mystical
powers, a sexy wife, a game of cricket and an insane asylum. In different hands
these elements could have been combined to make an Amicus portmanteau film in
the style of Tales From the Crypt or Asylum. In the hands of I,
Claudius author Robert Graves and Palme d'Or-winning Polish director Jerzy
Skolimowski it becomes a strange, hypnotic and fragmented tale that unsettles
and confuses in equal measure.
Alan Bates, who could give Richard Burton a
run for his money in the "brooding intensity" stakes, plays Crossley,
a disheveled yet charismatic wanderer who bursts uninvited into the lives of
Anthony and Rachel with devastating consequences. Anthony (John Hurt) is a
Radiophonic Workshop-style musician who spends most of his time recording
unusual noises and manipulating tape decks. Despite his apparent affair with
the wife of the village cobbler, he is happily married, if somewhat distracted
from her needs by his own sound obsessions. Rachel (Susannah York) is initially
upset by the presence of Crossley, who invited himself in for Sunday lunch
whilst Anthony was too polite to say no. Crossley claims to have spent the last
eighteen years in the Australian outback married to an aboriginal woman, where
he legally killed his children. He explains to Anthony that he also learned
shamanic abilities, including a form of shout that when uttered can kill anyone
and anything within earshot. Anthony is sceptical, yet with his interests in
sound, he cannot resist a demonstration.
This plot setup could lead to a
conventional thriller or horror film, but Skolimowski has created something
entirely unconventional. Crossley is relating this tale to a young Tim Curry at
a novelty cricket match being played between inmates and local villagers, which
in itself seems a highly unlikely scenario. The Shout uses collage-style
editing and an increasingly schizophrenic narrative until we are not entirely
sure what is going on or whose version of events to believe.
The soundtrack is particularly inventive
and unusual, making the most of the opportunity it was given in 1978 of being
one of the first films distributed in Dolby Stereo. When Alan Bates does shout
the audience must have all felt close to death. The cinematography is also
spectacular, making the Devon landscape look both beautiful and dangerous. The
Shout features a terrific cast who really embrace the concept without
hamming it up, something which could easily have happened if a "killer
shout" movie was being directed by anyone else. And if you have ever
wanted to see Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent strip almost naked and smear himself
in excrement then look no further.
This new Blu-ray features a new HD transfer
from the original film elements, an interview with the film's producer Jeremy
Thomas, an audio commentary from Stephen Jones and Kim Newman and a booklet
featuring new writing from Newman and Karen Oughton.
you’re too young to remember it, you’ll recall that Twin Peaks was a short-lived phenomenon on television in the year
1990. The frenzy lasted into 1991 but sadly fizzled out quickly due to the
network’s (ABC) futzing around with time slots, days-of-the-week for airing,
and unexplained hiatuses. What began as the number one show on television for
several months somehow derailed during its underrated second season and lost
its viewership. The program was cancelled, leaving the fans of the series with
an unresolved cliffhanger that haunts us to this day.
Lynch and Mark Frost were the men behind Twin
Peaks. At the time, in the late 80s, Lynch was just coming off the success
of his 1986 feature film, Blue Velvet,
when he teamed up with TV veteran Frost to create a PG-rated show that explored
many of the same themes as Velvet—only
for a television audience. The fictional town of Twin Peaks, in Washington
state, is gorgeous (those beautiful Douglas firs!), has a diner that serves the
best pies in the world, and a seemingly “normal” population of families and
mill workers. However, like in Blue
Velvet, a dark underbelly exists beneath the safe exterior, one that is
supernatural and evil.
thrust of the show’s first season and half of the second season was solving
the mystery of “who killed Laura Palmer?” Once that storyline was resolved, it
was clear that the writers and creators weren’t sure where to go from there.
The episodes did falter a bit mid-second-season,
but for my money, they found their footing in the last quarter with the new
storyline involving master criminal Windom Earle. The show was just building to
a new dramatic peak (no pun intended) when the axe fell.
bounced back quickly, though, and made a feature film, released in 1992,
entitled Twin Peaks—Fire Walk With Me.
Not many people liked it, including the die-hard fans of the show (who had, in Star Trek fashion, begun letter-writing
campaigns to the network with pleas to renew the show). What was wrong with the
feature film? It lacked the quirky humor and most of the eccentric characters
from the TV show and instead focused on the very sordid and tragic story of
Laura Palmer’s final week of life before her murder. It also didn’t address the
cliffhanger ending of the series—or did it? At any rate, the movie failed, and the Twin Peaks phenomenon was over.
the aforementioned die-hard fans formed fan clubs, an annual pilgrimage to the
show’s locations in Washington state, and the cult grew over the last twenty-four
years. It is now generally recognized that Twin
Peaks was way ahead of its time and that it was the catalyst for the
“episodic” television dramas that came after it—Northern Exposure, The
X-Files, and pretty much everything else we watch today on cable channels. Twin Peaks showed the networks that
audiences would stick with a storyline that developed over many episodes. It
was a new way of doing things on television. The show was also groundbreaking
in that it dared to take viewers into surrealistic territory—something that
hadn’t been done since, say, 1968’s mini-series of The Prisoner. Twin Peaks also
began the cult of water-cooler discussions the next day at work. “What did that
mean?” “Who was that dancing dwarf?” “I think so-and-so killed Laura.” “No, I
think whozit did.” And so on.
the years went by, several releases of the show on VHS and later DVD exacerbated
the confusion because the two-hour pilot episode (1:34 without commercials) was
owned by a different company and was never issued in America. People were
buying the two seasons without seeing the all-important, foundation-laying
pilot (and still the best “episode” of the entire story). This was rectified in
2007 with the “Definitive Gold Box” DVD release that contained both complete
seasons, remastered with bonus material (but not Fire Walk With Me). Additionally, over the years, it was learned
that Lynch’s initial cut of Fire Walk
With Me was nearly four hours long and it did contain scenes with the other characters from the town. The
director had been forced to cut the movie down to a manageable 2:15 by
contract, so he decided to just focus on Laura’s story. Fans have been howling
for these “missing pieces” to be released, but the rights were tied up in legal
and financial complexities.
we now have it all. These “missing pieces” have been assembled, remastered, and
edited by Lynch himself to create a somewhat “new” Twin Peaks movie (called, of course, “The Missing Pieces”). This
Holy Grail for Peaks fans, along with
the gorgeously restored and digitally remastered Fire Walk With Me (first Blu-ray release in the USA) and the two
television seasons with pilot, now comprise Twin
Peaks—The Entire Mystery, a lavish box set that begs to be devoured with
several slices of pie and some of that “damned good coffee.”
“The Missing Pieces” emphasizes how much better Fire Walk With Me would have been had Lynch been allowed to release
the longer version. It would have felt more like the television series. There
are sequences that help explain a lot about the ending of the show, too. While
Lynch elected to remain vague about FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper’s fate in the
Black Lodge and his earthly body’s possession by BOB the Killer, there are
clues in the “Missing Pieces” that at the very least address the situation.
theatrical cut of Fire Walk With Me needs
to be critically reassessed as well, now that we’ve seen many more David Lynch
films of its ilk (Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, Inland Empire). It works best if you think of the picture as a
horror film—which it is—and a very disturbing one at that. Sheryl Lee delivers
a courageous and brilliant performance as Laura, far surpassing anything she
did on the television series.
for the two seasons of the show, Kyle MacLachlan is a revelation as Agent
Cooper—this was the role the actor was born to play. Other standouts in the
cast are Michael Ontkean, Ray Wise, Grace Zabriskie, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sherilyn
Fenn, James Marshall, Dana Ashbrook, Madchen Amick, Eric Da Re, Everett McGill,
and Jack Nance.
extras in the box set include new video interviews between Lynch and the Palmer
family (Leland, Sarah, and Laura), and then the actors who portrayed them
(Wise, Zabriskie, and Lee). Very effective stuff. There is a new Fire Walk With Me making-of documentary,
a couple of documentaries ported over from the 2007 Gold box, the Blu-ray
version of the “international” pilot, and some new collages of “atmospheres”
from the show that combine imagery and music into short, themed vignettes.
twenty-five years later, Twin Peaks—The
Entire Mystery serves as a reminder that Lynch and Frost’s show was even
more brilliant than it was first suggested, and that it needs to be
rediscovered and re-evaluated. There is much to savor.
you ever wondered what M*A*S*H would have been like if, instead of
rebelling in a Korean field hospital and taking a satirical swipe at the
Vietnam war, Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland had actually been CIA
operatives in contemporary Paris? Probably not, but somebody in 1974 did and commissioned
a film that would be marketed solely on the chemistry of its two leads. Sadly
no one else involved with movie seemed to think it worthwhile to write a decent
script or throw any money into the project. This film looks so cheap that,
during a scene where Sutherland is washing up, you suspect that he was doing
this between takes as well.
and Sutherland play agents Griff and Bruland, who are both working separately
in Paris until an accidental assassination attempt by their own agency brings them
together. Incidentally this bombing takes place in a pissoire (urinal), which
gives an early indication of how grubby this film will get. Martinson, played
by British actor Joss Ackland, is the Chief of the Paris branch of the CIA, and
to make amends for nearly killing them, he puts them together on a new case.
Their task is to smuggle a defector from the Russian Olympic team back to New
York. However, when rival British agents get involved, it all goes horribly
wrong, and once again Griff and Bruland narrowly escape a CIA bomb. So now they
are rogue ex-agents out to survive attempts on their lives whilst earning money
through shady deals involving French revolutionaries, the Russian ambassador
and the Chinese secret service. Much farce ensues.
film, shot in the UK and on location in Paris, plays more like a Bob Hope and
Bing Crosby Road to... movie, or, with the heavy British influence, the
Morecambe and Wise film The Magnificent Two. Ackland is like a poor
man's Herbert Lom from the Pink Panther films, and Sutherland and Gould
play the film like they used to have fun together a few years ago, but not so
much any more. A lot of the film feels like the director is time filling. A
return trip from Paris to London serves no other purpose than to allow for
stock travel footage. This is perhaps a surprise when you learn that the
director is none other than Irvin Kershner, who started out in film noir but is
best known for saving the Star Wars
franchise with The Empire Strikes Back. S*P*Y*S represents
something of a low in his CV.
reasons most likely forgotten, the film had a score by Jerry Goldsmith on its
US release, but in Europe a new score was recorded by John Scott, a jazz
musician whose career now spans more than fifty years, covering everything from
horror and sexploitation to TV themes and epics. His score for S*P*Y*S,
found on this new DVD release, is fairly conventional, and in all likelihood
the audience will be too busy straining to hear anything funny from the cast to
point of interest here is that the film offers an appearance of Zouzou, who
plays a sexy revolutionary. In the 1960s, through her involvement with Brian
Jones of The Rolling Stones, she became a celebrity and French icon before
trying singing and acting. Addicted to heroin she dropped out of acting shortly
after S*P*Y*S, presumably because she watched it.
of Elliott Gould or Donald Sutherland will no doubt want to pick this up, but
for everyone else it is a less than essential release. With a plot that can be
found in countless Euro-spy and Bond rip-offs, and unable to compensate for
this with sparkling wit or charm, S*P*Y*S has little to offer. Watch M*A*S*H
new DVD release from Network Releasing features a decent print. The colours are
rather drab, but one suspects that is how the film has always looked. As
mentioned, the soundtrack features the European rather than the original Jerry
Goldsmith score. The only extras are a rather brief stills gallery and the
original theatrical trailer, which really hammers home just how great it will
be to see Gould and Sutherland do their thing again. If only it proved to be true...
1982, Meryl Streep had already made a big splash in the motion picture
industry, having won a Supporting Actress Oscar for 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer, and securing a Supporting Actress nomination
prior to that for 1978’s The Deer Hunter and
a Best Actress nomination for 1981’s The
French Lieutenant’s Woman. With Sophie’s
Choice, the actress snapped up the Best Actress Oscar pretty much without a
contest—everyone knew that if she didn’t win, then a terrible crime had been
committed by the Academy. In short, in this reviewer’s opinion, Streep’s
performance in Sophie’s Choice is one
of the greatest pieces of acting ever presented on the silver screen. Period. Since
then, Streep has gone on to prove, over and over, that she is arguably the most
talented actress in the history of cinema, but Sophie remains her masterpiece.
a damned good movie, too, and it should have at the very least secured
nominations that year for Best Picture and Best Director. It’s faithfully
adapted from William Styron’s best-selling novel and it’s beautifully made. And
while Streep dominates the film with her bravura characterization of a tortured
Polish Holocaust survivor, her two co-stars, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol,
are also very good (in fact it was Kline’s film debut as Nathan, Sophie’s
bi-polar lover). Pakula’s direction is sensitive and intimate, although it’s a big story that encompasses three
distinct personalities amidst a backdrop of post-war ennui.
you’ve never seen it, you’re probably thinking, Oh, a Holocaust movie, what a downer, who wants to see that? Well,
there are Holocaust films and then there is Sophie’s
Choice (actually only a small portion of the film reveals Holocaust scenes
in flashback). Primarily it’s a love story, albeit a tragic one. It will move
you and shake you, and you will come away from the experience a different
person. Seriously. This is Alan J. Pakula’s best motion picture, All the President’s Men notwithstanding.
best thing about the new Shout Factory Blu-ray release of the film is the fact
that it’s anamorphic widescreen—which the only other U.S. DVD edition wasn’t.
The disc is worth buying for that alone; however, the 1080p high-definition
presentation looks very good. The soft focus used throughout the picture by DP
Nestor Almendros is perhaps a detriment to the overall appearance of the image,
but still—it’s much better than what we had before. The audio commentary is by
the late director himself.
only extra is a long, recent roundtable discussion between Streep, Kline,
Pakula’s widow, William Styron’s widow, and two of Pakula’s colleagues. The
group goes through the film’s casting and production, revealing many
interesting gems about the business.
Choice is one of the best films of
the 80s. Experience it on Blu-ray today
Author and Cinema Retro columnist Raymond Benson has collaborated with bestselling author Jeffery Deaver on "Ice Cold: Tales of Mystery and Intrigue From the Cold War", a new book that presents a topic both men know well: espionage. In addition to stories by Benson and Deaver, there are contributions from many other talented writers who specialize in thrillers. The book is winning rave advance reviews (click here). Both Deaver and Benson have won acclaim for writing original James Bond novels.
Benson and Deaver, along with other noted authors, will be in New York City for a book launch event at the famed Mysterious Bookshop on April 29 at 6:00 PM. The store is located at 58 Warren Street in Tribeca.
Cinema Retro Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer, who will be at the event, said, "We're very excited by Raymond's new project. He's been with Cinema Retro since our first issue ten years ago and his regular column in which he discusses the "Ten Best Films" of a specific year has become an integral part of our magazine. Additionally, his insightful, on-line DVD reviews have helped www.cinemaretro.com enjoy significant growth in readership over the years. Like all of his other admirers, I'm looking forward to delving into "Ice Cold" and I encourage all of our readers in the New York City area to attend the event, which should make for a fun-filled evening."
"Ice Cold" is available in many different formats from Amazon. Click below to order paperback and Kindle editions.
in the west knows the name – Gaddafi.For over 40 years he was an international
riddle, visiting world capitals yet sleeping in a bulletproof tent; a statesman
who surrounded himself with female bodyguards and, of course, a pariah scorned
by the west for acts of international terror…
Mad Dog: Inside The Secret World of
Muammar Gaddafi , a remarkable Showtime documentary premiering April 11th,
director Christopher Olgiati and his team went deep inside the late despot’s
hidden world. The resulting portrait is
chilling, horrifying and impossible not to watch.
film’s Executive Producer, Roy Ackerman spoke with Cinema Retro about putting together
this daunting and dangerous project. “Chris (Olgiati) and I had worked together before… and he came to me
about doing a film on the Lockerbie Crash and we spent a lot of time developing
that but for various reasons we came to focus on Gaddafi.”
film took three years to research and shoot in ten countries around the globe –
from the United States to the Marshall Islands. (Try even finding them on a
map!) Along the way the dictator’s
finely honed image as a Nationalist Statesman completely unravels, revealing a
desperate and perverse man who preyed on his own people.
any movie is all about challenges, but shooting inside Libya was in a whole
other league – “It was very, very dangerous.” Roy remembers, “we went in three times and there were bombs going off
and car bombs, one time we had to just leave because it was too unstable.”
Libyan footage they did get is apocalyptic and stunning – a Mad Max moonscape
of ruined buildings and burnt out interiors. They also interviewed several people who did business with the regime, including
international fugitive Frank Terpil who supplied Gaddafi’s military with
weapons. Another notable interview was
former CIA officer Valerie Plame who provides perspective on Gaddafi’s dramatic
hunt for nuclear weapons. The producers
left no biographical stone unturned, even interviewing Gaddafi’s plastic
surgeon who told a surreal tale of late night operations in an underground
bunker, the dictator refusing general anesthesia for fear of assassination.
rare archival footage, we see a dashing young Gaddafi as an army officer with a
killer smile, eager to bring his country out of its Colonial past. Gradually he becomes corrupted by his immense
power and oil wealth (one billion dollars PER WEEK), which stripped away everything
but a desire to stay in power at any cost. Outwardly a “family man”, in reality he
indulged an array of dark and repulsive desires that the documentary illustrates
in haunting detail.
final chapter of Gaddafi’s tale is ironic and tragic – Western powers were
willing to turn the page on Gaddafi’s notorious past due to the great equalizer
- oil. Only the Arab Spring, which
ripped through many countries, including Libya prevented reengagement and
ultimately cost him his life. But the
film’s Roy Ackerman felt that if there’s any lesson to be learned from Gaddafi,
it’s proceed with caution – “You do deals with these people, they’re not
stupid, they’ll get a price for it.”
Mad Dog: Inside The
Secret World of Muammar Gaddafi premieres Friday, April 11 on Showtime.
Hustle, one of the
best Martin Scorsese films not directed by Martin Scorsese (James Toback’s Fingers (1978) is another film that
falls into this camp), opens with an amusing sequence in a hotel room wherein
con artist Irving Rosenfeld (a nearly unrecognizable Christian Bale) is
attempting to hide his male pattern baldness. It is April 1978 and confederates Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams), who is
presenting herself as an English aristocrat named Lady Edith Greensly and Richard
DiMaso (Bradley Cooper) are in the midst of trying to sting Carmen Polito
(Jeremy Renner), the Mayor of Camden, NJ. Irving has to get it together and be
convincing (what we don’t know at this point of the film is how conflicted he
is about what he is doing regarding the mayor). He comes to blows with Richard, who eggs him on and ruffles his hair in
a hilarious moment of awkwardness and discomfort, and we wonder if Irving will
blow a gasket and go Joe Pesci on Richard or if he will simply attend to his
ridiculous comb-over. The question of
why they want to sting the mayor is eventually revealed as the story flashes
back to when Irving and Sydney first meet and bond over their love and
admiration of Duke Ellington. They
realize they are kindred souls and their attraction to one another intensifies. As we come to learn, however, nothing is
quite as it seems because as David Mamet showed us in both House of Games (1987) and The
Spanish Prisoner (1997), everyone is potentially a mark and each mark is
played for someone else’s gain. Irving is
married and has a son but like professional thief Neil Mccauley (Robert De Niro)
in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) he is
good at what he does, and in this case he knows how to not only conduct loan
scams but forge fake paintings even when hiding behind a legitimate business of
being a dry cleaner for tax purposes. Unfortunately, he and Sydney attempt to con Richard,
who turns out to be an FBI agent who cuts them a deal: he forces them into aiding
him entrap some other targets and promises that if their help results in four
good arrests, they will both end up with tabula
rasas, effectively avoiding jail time.
Hustle, which opened
theatrically in December 2013, is set within the framework of the Abscam scandal
of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, which also provided the backdrop for the
Al Pacino/Johnny Depp vehicle Donnie
Brasco (1997). It was the first time
in history that undercover FBI agents videotaped the taking of bribes by
politicians. This factors into the film, which was directed by David O. Russell
who also directed Flirting with Disaster
(1996), I Heart Huckabees (2004), and
Silver Linings Playbook (2012). Mr. Russell has meticulously recreated the
1970s to such a degree that you cannot help but marvel at all of the details,
looking carefully to try and spot any obvious anachronisms. Amy Adams stars opposite Mr. Bale (who
followed in Mr. De Niro’s thespian footsteps and gained some 40 pounds to play
the role) and she gives a multi-layered performance as Sydney, impersonating a
refined British woman. It becomes a game
between Irving and Richard trying to tell which person they are talking to, Sydney
or Lady Greensly. Jennifer Lawrence
portrays Irving’s wife, Rosalyn, and proves why she is one of the best
actresses working today. Rosalyn is a
loose cannon. Like Sharon Stone’s impetuous
Ginger McKenna in Casino, she has a
big mouth and messes with dangerous people when she isn’t starting fires by microwaving
metal or vacuuming her house while belting out the famous songs of the day. She hates Sydney and lets her know it, and
underneath the hardened and tough veneer is a woman who is hurt by her
Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995) are obvious stylistic influences here, ranging from
effective use of period music to the inclusion of an uncredited Robert De Niro
as a mobster, Victor Tellegio, who actually speaks Arabic! The scene where he attempt to communicate
with a supposedly wealthy Arab sheikh (in reality a fraud who speaks Spanish
and English) is both tense and funny. Jeremy
Renner is his usual brilliant self as the Mayor of Camden, based upon Angelo J.
Errichetti who in reality served three years in prison for his role in the
Abscam scandal (in the film, which is highly fictionalized, he serves 18
months). Mr. Errichetti passed away
seven months prior to the release of American
Hustle at the age of 84.
The use of voiceover is also effective,
a device that Mr. Scorsese also employed to great effect in his aforementioned
gangster epics. The film runs a quick 138
minutes, but I have seen 90-minute movies much longer than this.
The Blu-ray is the way to go for this
release as it comes with a DVD and digital copy. The extras are slim, which is unfortunate
considering the high number of Oscar nominations and accolades the film
received. They consist of a behind-the-scenes
look at the making of the film which runs 16 minutes, and an extended deleted
scenes section that runs 22 minutes. The
requisite theatrical trailer is also included. I would have loved a running commentary from the director as the film
was obviously a labor of love. That
being said, its exclusion should not detract from your enjoyment of watching
this highly watchable recreation of a specific moment in time in New York and
New Jersey’s history.
of the term "cult film" has been around for some time now, but it
still seems difficult to ascertain a true definition. Cult, it would seem, is
in the eye of the beholder; it is not easily described, but you know a cult
film when you see it. This series of slim volumes (around 100 pages each) from
Wallflower Press sees a variety of writers and academics wrestle their own
personal cult film demons as they give analysis, behind-the-scenes tidbits and
biographical details of all the major players concerned.
of their latest books are on Frankenstein (1931) and Faster,
Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965). Robert Horton successfully argues that
although the original Frankenstein was such a mainstream hit that one
may not consider that it qualifies as part of a cult series, it has become a
cult in the manner of a religion, through its hundreds of sequels and the
iconography that has arisen. The face of Frankenstein's monster, as played by
Boris Karloff, is one of the most recognisable images of the twentieth century.
From model kits to sweets dispensers, thanks to endless sequels and the repeats
of Universal horrors on TV throughout the fifties and sixties, Frankenstein
provided the monster that kids most empathised with. Boris Karloff became an
elder statesman of horror and was hugely loved and respected in the sixties,
because despite his many other roles over the years, it was the monster
stitched from reclaimed corpses that people remembered with the most fondness.
manages to avoid this book simply being a rehash of the same old material we
have read elsewhere, and he points out in great detail Frankenstein's
ability to still shock today, thanks not only to Karloff's performance but also
to James Whale's inventive and mischievous direction. The film may be over
eighty years old but this does not mean it cannot still be frightening.
Horton is tackling a series of films, and as he argues, a "cult" in
itself, Dean De Fino is taking on what could initially seem an easier task: one
single film by noted smut-peddler Russ Meyer. However Faster Pussycat! Kill!
Kill! is no ordinary film. Made relatively early in Meyer's career, it
marks his move away from "nudie-cuties" and "roughies" into
something new. Although the film borrows freely from other genres (beach party,
biker flick, drag race, juvenile delinquent), he seems to create something
entirely different. From the jazz-infused opening sequence to the improbably
large bosoms of his female cast, Meyer's film is a fever dream that grind-house
fans and art-house enthusiasts can both appreciate.
book is again a mixture of biographical information, behind-the-scenes gossip
and analysis, and each element is equally fascinating to read. Using such
sources as Russ Meyer's own autobiography and other reminiscences the story
behind the making of the scene makes for as entertaining a tale as what ended
up on the screen. He allegedly allowed for no fraternisation between cast and
crew members in order to ensure that all the sexual tension was up on screen (this
was later used as a plot device in Meyer-fan John Waters' Cecil B. DeMented
(2000)). Russ Meyer allegedly allowed this rule to be broken only once in his
entire career, and that was to allow Tura Satana secret trysts with a crew
member. Even he could not say no to her. Satana plays Varla, the leader of a
vicious gang of go-go dancers, and her performance is terrifying. Men are not
safe when she is around. Tura Satana's own history is incredible, and sadly her
recent death has left her memoirs so far unpublished. According to De Fino she
was gang-raped and sent to reform school at 10 and married off to a 17-year old
at 13. She ran away and was posing nude for Harold Lloyd and working as a
stripper by the age of 15, and by 25 she was teaching Shirley MacLaine
burlesque and had slept with Elvis. And then she met Russ Meyer. If ever two
people were destined to work together and form a life-long friendship, it was
Fino makes connections from the film to the cultural and political unrest in
1965. He posits that Meyer was playing out issues from the civil rights and
sexual revolution right there in the dust Mojave Desert. This interpretation
backs up the argument that Meyer infused his films with political relevance,
and explains why his films have survived to be hailed as worthy of serious
attention whilst many of his erotic contemporaries have been forgotten.
books on other cult titles such as This is Spinal Tap (1984), Bring
Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) and Quadraphenia (1979), the
Cultographies series is an excellent way to become conversant in the cult film
of your choice.
Gail Gerber passed away on
March 2, 2014 due to complications from lung cancer. Gerber was born on October
4, 1937 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada and began studying ballet at age seven. Extremely
talented, at fifteen she became the youngest member of Les Grandes Ballets
Canadiennes in Montreal. Quitting the ballet troupe in the late 1950s and
abandoning a husband who was a jazz musician, she moved to Toronto to work as
an actress. She appeared on stage and in many live CBC television dramas. As
part of the act of legendary vaudeville entertainers Smith and Dale (who were
the basis for The Sunshine Boys), she
appeared on The Wayne and Schuster Show
and The Ed Sullivan Show. Moving to
Hollywood in 1963, the talented blonde with a flair for comedy quickly snagged
the lead role in the play Under the Yum
Yum Tree and appeared on such popular TV series as My Three Sons, Perry Mason,
and Wagon Train. She made her film
debut in The Girls on the Beach
(1965) co-starring The Beach Boys before her agent suggested she change her
name and, as Gail Gilmore, she went on to appear opposite Elvis Presley in Girl Happy (1965) and Harum Scarum (1965). She then returned
to the sands of Malibu to co-star with Edd “Kookie” Byrnes in Beach Ball (1965) before growing to
gigantic proportions along with five other delinquent teenagers, including Beau
Bridges and Tisha Sterling, who terrorize a town in Village of the Giants (1965). Gerber had a minor role as a cosmetician
in The Loved One, directed by Academy
Award winner Tony Richardson, and that is where she met its screenwriter Terry
Southern who was riding high due to the success of his satirical
novels Candy and The Magic Christian and the movie Dr. Strangelove for which he co-wrote the script. The two hit it
off immediately and, despite their marriages to others, became inseparable. Gail
even abandoned her acting career in 1966 to live with him in New York then
Connecticut where she remained his longtime companion until his death thirty
years later. During that time she taught
ballet for over twenty five years.
Gail Gerber and Cinema Retro columnist Tom Lisanti at the Independent Publishers Book Award ceremonies in 2011.
After Southern’s death in
1995, Gail spent most of her time living in New York City. During the last
twenty years of her life, she was the secretary of the Terry Southern Trust and
returned to acting playing a dotty old woman in the independent film Lucky Days (2008) directed, written, and
starring her friend Angelica Page Torn; and played a Wake Guest in avant-garde
filmmaker Matthew Barney’s just completed film River of Fundament (2014). She also, with myself, wrote her memoir,
Trippin’ with Terry Southern: What I
Think I Remember (from publisher McFarland and Company, Inc.) where she
detailed what life was like with “the hippest guy on the planet,” as they
traveled from LA to New York to Europe and back again. Gerber revealed
what went on behind the scenes of her movies and Southern’s including The Cincinnati Kid, End of the Road,
and, most infamously, Easy Rider. And
she relived the “highs” hanging out with The Rolling Stones, Peter Sellers,
Lenny Bruce, Roger Vadim and Jane Fonda, William Burroughs, Rip Torn and
Geraldine Page, George Segal, Ringo Starr to the lows barely scraping by on a
Berkshires farm during the 1970s & 1980s. The book received a Independent
Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Best Autobiography/Memoir of 2011.
Scream Factory continues their winning
streak of releasing horror film favorites with their double feature Blu-ray release
of 1988’s Bad Dreams and 1982’s Visiting Hours. They originally released these films together
on DVD in September 2011.
Dreams opened on
Friday, April 8, 1988 and is, in hindsight, eerily prescient of David Koresh,
the leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect who met a horrific end when
the FBI closed in on him and his compound ignited into a conflagration on April
19, 1993 in Waco, TX. Jim Jones and the Jonestown
deaths in 1978 also come to mind. In
this film, the late Richard Lynch plays a cult leader named Harris who
convinces a group of people that love and unity are the only ways to live, and
he shows that love by dousing them all in gasoline and lighting them on
fire. Jennifer Rubin plays Cynthia, a
confused and reluctant holdout who knows that what he is doing is wrong and
attempts to escape, barely getting out with her life. This presumably takes place in 1975 as she
spends thirteen years in a coma and when she comes out of it, those around her try
to get her up to speed on all things that are the Eighties. One of the women who attempts to befriend her
is played by E.G. Daily whom genre fans will recall as the short, plump
sorority sister from Tom McLoughlin’s One
Dark Night (1982). I almost feel as
though her role was cut short as she seems to be a much better drawn character
than others around her who have more screen time. Naturally, Harris keeps appearing to Cynthia,
both as the person she remembers and also in a horribly burned state. Genre fans will be able to figure out the
plot fairly early on, and one cannot help but see more than a passing resemblance
to Wes Craven’s masterful A Nightmare on
Elm Street (1984) and its protagonist, Fred Krueger, and his history of
being burned and invading people’s dreams. Mr. Lynch is a familiar villain to audiences. He was the bad guy opposite Bill Hickman in The Seven-Ups (1973); he tried to rape
Al Pacino in Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow
(1973); and he was part of the team headed by Peter Fonda that hunted people in
Peter Collinson’s Open Season
(1974). Here he is creepy as he terrorizes
Ms. Rubin who, interestingly, made her film debut in A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Warriors (1987), playing a
similar role as a woman terrorized and forced to sit with others in a group
therapy session trying to come to grips with her situation. The references to the aforementioned Elm Street films cannot be overlooked given
the inclusion of actor Charles Fleischer, who also appeared in Mr. Craven’s
While the film elicits a creepy plot,
the mood and texture fail to arouse the type of suspense that is needed for
this type of story. This is an admirable
attempt, but the film cannot help feel derivative as though it has borrowed
from other similar movies in the hopes of riding the more successful outings’
coattails. Another film that dealt with
the subject of a religious cult, albeit in a strictly dramatic way, is Ted
Kotcheff’s 1982 film Split Image,
which featured Peter Fonda as the man who shows everyone the way to
The extras include a feature-length
commentary by the director; a featurette called Dream Cast; a look at the make-up effects; behind the scenes shots;
the original ending; a promo; a trailer; and a photo gallery.
The second feature, Visiting Hours, was released on Friday,
May 28, 1982. I recall the television
spot for the film which was very effective and clever: it depicted a hospital
building at night wherein all the lights in the rooms begin to go out until the
only remaining illuminated rooms form the image of a skull. Unfortunately, the film itself is nowhere
near as clever, as it resorts to textbook horror film clichés which may have
seemed original and frightening 32 years ago, but to today’s jaded horror
viewer eyes they are simply tired, despite a few truly jolting jumps.
Lee Grant, who won an Oscar for her
portrayal of Felicia in Hal Ashby’s 1975 comedy Shampoo, turns up here as Deborah Ballin, an activist who is also
an opinionated feminist who speaks her mind on a television talk show. She unwittingly arouses the rage of Colt
Hawker (Michael Ironside) who sees her on TV; he is just a few sandwiches short
of a picnic and has his own set of baggage that rears its head with flashbacks of
a violent past. Hawker stalks and
eventually attacks Ballin, who is rushed to the hospital and is tended to by a
nurse, Shelia (Linda Purl), who is on the same page as Ballin when it comes to
women’s rights. Hawker makes his way to
the hospital and murders an older patient and a nurse. While eavesdropping on Shelia, Hawker decides
to stalk her and her children, following her home and making his way
inside. On his off-hours, he finds time
to hit up a young blonde named Lisa (Lenore Zann) who is into him until he
becomes rough and angry, eventually taunting her with a knife and raping
her. He then spends the rest of the film
trying to get to Deborah through a series of creepy episodes.
Hours is a missed
opportunity and that is part of what makes it so frustrating to watch. Beset by an almost complete lack of cinematic
style and suspense, the film is obviously following in the footsteps of previous
trend-setting films like Halloween
(1978) and Friday the 13th
Hours is not the only slasher film to utilize sexual politics and women’s
rights as a backdrop for misogyny and mayhem. Dario Argento’s Tenebre
(1982), which was being filmed at the time that Visiting Hours was released, does a much better job of exploring
the troubled landscape of male-female relationships, sexual desire, and revenge.
It’s also highly cinematic, which should
come as no surprise as its style was inspired by Andrzej Zulawski’s emotional
rollercoaster ride Possession (1981),
one of Mr. Argento’s favorite films. The
film also sports character actor Michael Ironside in the role of a brutal
killer who is after Ms. Grant. Mr.
Ironside is excellent, as usual, and really deserves a better showcase. William
Shatner of all people plays Ms. Grant’s boss – the film was released a week before
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan!
Even though I am not a fan of the film,
I would have appreciated the inclusion of a commentary track with the director. However, the extras that are here are fairly
in-depth and enlightening. First up is
an interview with writer Brian Taggert who speaks quite eloquently about his
past and how he came to write the film. Next
is an interview with Pierre David who has worked with fellow producer Victor
Solnicki on David Cronenberg’s best work, including The Brood (1979), Scanners
(1981), and Videodrome (1983). The last interview consists of a visit with actress
Lenore Zann who is unrecognizable today. The blonde perm she wore in the film is now straight, dark brown and
short. The rest of the extras contain
the radio spots, the TV spots, a photo gallery and trailers for other Scream
If you are a fan of these films,
Blu-ray is the way to go.
Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel? I had no f**kin’ idea, but being a longtime music fan,
I was happy to accept the invitation for Cinema Retro to cover the LA premiere of the new EPIX documentary about rock’s
enigmatic mystery man.
Arthur Fogel (currently Live Nation's Chairman of Global Music
and CEO of Global Touring) is one
of the most powerful people in entertainment today. He’s responsible for the mega concert tours
that now sweep the globe, Hoovering up hundreds of millions of dollars in
ticket and merchandise sales and revolutionizing the way people view live music. If you’ve ever ponied up to see The Rolling
Stones, The Police, Madonna, U2, David Bowie or Lady Gaga in the last decade, then
you’ve seen Fogel’s work.
Deftly written and directed
by Ron Chapman, the film takes the viewer where fans never go, deep inside the
concert industry. What could have been a
dry exposition – after all, music is a business so it’s all about money – is in
fact a highly visual and entertaining experience. Chapman and his crew spent several years
roaming the world, interviewing the top of music’s pyramid - U2’s Bono, The
Edge and Adam Clayton, plus their legendary manager, Paul McGuinness. Fogel was a guiding hand behind the tour
everyone said could never happen – The Police’s long awaited 2007 reunion, so
Sting, drummer Stewart Copeland and bassist Andy Summers were also on camera. In fact two thirds of the iconic band showed
up for the premiere. (More on that later…)
Since Fogel is Canadian, the
documentary also interviews Geddy Lee, the seemingly ageless frontman of that
country’s most enduring musical export, RUSH. But the real star of the show is, undeniably, Fogel. In a series of interviews, the low key,
spotlight-avoiding mogul talks about his background, starting out as a rock
drummer then working his way up in a true dog-eat-dog business. Fogel did it
the hard way – by paying his dues and learning, one act at a time. Other talent managers like Guy Oseary
(Madonna) and Ray Daniels (Rush) along with other insiders weigh in on Fogel’s
long string of industry hits and his rare misses like Guns & Roses aborted
2002 tour when the first show was cancelled before the doors even opened,
sparking a riot.
Helping the narrative is
stunning concert footage, mainly from U2’s ground-breaking 360 Tour (Fogel
helped the band achieve their vision of performing in the round), but also of
The Stones, Rush, the Police and lesser know groups like Canadian New Wave pioneers
Martha And the Muffins. Never been backstage? No worries, interspersed throughout is footage of bands going on stage,
heading off stage, rehearsing – even bowing their heads for pre-show
prayers! As if to cement Fogel’s insider
status, none other than Madonna asks him to lead them in their prayer right
before she goes on.
The movie also covers the
tricky issue of digital downloading – how what could have been a huge new
revenue stream became a juggernaut that crippled the entire industry. Again, this could have been another tired retelling
of a story we’ve all heard, but here it’s given a fresh spin by snappy editing
and illuminating interviews with executives who were there. The main takeaway from this very interesting
documentary is that even though the concert field – and the entire music
industry - has changed radically, there are more exciting times ahead. The film closed with a wonderful sequence
showing Fogel returning to his drumming roots by walking onto U2’s massive
stage and playing Larry Mullen Jr.’s drums in an empty stadium. Now, nobody but him could have pulled THAT
After the screening, Epix
laid down a slick party at LA’s storied Chateau Marmont. As expected, LA’s music scene turned out in
force to toast the man himself, and Fogel held court in the VIP section. Concert phenomenon Lady Gaga attended both
the screening and the after party. Used
to seeing her in lavish, often bizarre stage costumes (Remember her jaw
dropping meat dress?), tonight she wore an elegant gown and looked gorgeous –
even if her bodyguards kept most people at arms length. The evening’s only sour note occurred when I
dared approach Police drummer Stewart Copeland for a comment on the movie he
had just been featured in. I had barely
posed a question when he mumbled “Sure, sure…” and made a beeline for the door.
Unfortunately it was Don’t Stand So Close To Me, for real.
Life imitating art?
Ron Chapman is expanding his original documentary “Who The F**K Is Arthur Fogel?”
to include new concert footage and an exclusive, never-before-seen interview
with Lady Gaga.It’s a perfect fit
because Fogel helped elevate her onto the global concert stage where she sells
out consistently. The documentary’s new premiere date is Wednesday, March 19th
have to admit I was not familiar with Lust in the Dust, but as soon as I
saw the names Paul Bartel and Divine on the box, I knew I was in safe hands.
film begins with Rosie Velez (Divine) struggling through the desert on the
world's smallest donkey. About to die from thirst and exhaustion, she is saved
by the timely appearance of a waterhole. The audience is then treated to a
glimpse of his/ her naked behind whilst she bathes, which appears to have a
very unusual birthmark. Also taking in this unsavoury view is Tab Hunter as
Abel Wood, a cowboy of very few words. He is headed for Chili Verde and
reluctantly agrees for Rosie to tag along. When he arrives at this tiny, clichéd
western town he discovers that they don't take too kindly to strangers. Rosie
gets manages to get a job in the bar, which is also a brothel, and Abel learns
that there is a legend regarding hidden gold somewhere in the town. Being the
strong silent type he soon attracts the affections of Marguerita (Lainie
Kazan), bar owner and chief whore, and soon a jealous rivalry erupts between
her and Rosie. Throw into the mix Cesar Romero as the local priest and Geoffrey
Lewis and Henry Silva as bad guys and you have all the makings of a fast-paced,
mischievous comedy western. The plot is nothing new, but it is the
juxtaposition of Divine's constant chatter against Hunter's quiet, thoughtful
delivery that makes this so enjoyable. This is not the first film to use the
"secret clues tattooed on women's behinds" gag, but who cares when it
is this funny? Many of the jokes are borderline offensive, and certainly
tasteless. One would expect nothing less from the director of Eating Raoul
(1982), a dark comedy about cannibalism, and let's not forget that in Pink
Flamingoes (1972), Divine eats real dog faeces on camera.
Hunter had plenty of previous experience in westerns, and had also starred with
Divine before in Polyester (1981) and was able to use his influence in
Hollywood to get Lust in the Dust made, acting as one of the film's
producers. His character is part Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name and part
Franco Nero's Django and as such he has terrific screen presence. All of the
cast are excellent and Paul Bartel manages to hold together what could have
been a mess in the wrong hands.
new DVD release is on Arrow's Arrowdrome label, which presents cult film titles
at low prices but with a minimum of extras. It does feature the original
trailer, a reversible DVD sleeve and a booklet with more information on the
film. Lust in the Dust is hugely entertaining and deserves to become a
new favourite film for anyone who likes their entertainment a little
Poppins (1964) was a
first for me in two ways: one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing in a
theater (I was five years old when it was reissued in 1973 and the Rialto
Cinema in Westfield, New Jersey, the theater where I saw it, is actually one of
the few remaining theaters from that era that is still in business) and one of
the first movies I saw played back on a VCR (in 1980). I could hardly believe my eyes at age 5 and
wondered just how in the world Mary Poppins (she is never, ever to be called
just “Mary”), the chimney sweeper, and her two young charges managed to make
their way into the sidewalk paintings with all of the colorful characters. 40 years later, I could pretty much figure it
out for myself having seen many behind-the-scenes documentaries. And yet even
though the man behind the curtain has been exposed, it still does not detract
from the sheer magic that is this now 50-year-old film, and certainly one of
the longest Disney outings at two hours and nineteen minutes. The songs are pure magic and there is not a
dull one in the entire film, another rarity.
Julie Andrews is positively radiant as
the titular heroine who comes to save the day when Jane and Michael Banks (Karen
Dotrice and Matthew Garber respectively, of course), the young children of the
too-busy-for-children parents George Banks (David Tomlinson) and Winifred Banks
(Glynis Johns), want a new nanny after they drive off their last one (Elsa
Lanchester) in a fit of aggravation. Their
ripped-up-by-their-father classified ad makes its way to Mary Poppins who appears
to be just what the children ordered. She
takes them on several adventures, the most colorful of which involves the
aforementioned jaunt into the colorful sidewalk chalk drawings. Animation and live action match in this
sequence to produce some truly remarkable sequences. The music is infectious and you cannot help
but find yourself humming along with the characters.
Alas, all good things must come to an
end, and the long and short of it is that Mary Poppins, who successfully brings
the children together with their parents, must leave after a job
well-done. While it becomes apparent
that the children now no longer need Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins indeed has
needed the children…and it shows as she flies off.
The film is a great showcase for the
considerable talents of Julie Andrews who was 28 when she made the film and
also won an Oscar for Best Actress. Dick
Van Dyke is a complete joy, bouncing around with reckless abandon. Karen Dotrice and the late Matthew Garber are
very good as the children.
The sesquipedalian jawbreaker Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is
perhaps the film’s most well-known song simply because of its ability to
challenge even the most seasoned logophile. A Spoonful of Sugar and the Oscar-winning Chim Chim Cher-ee are additional delights.
Pamela Lyndon Travers, the author of
the original Mary Poppins stories upon which this film is based, reportedly
gave Walt Disney a hard time as he attempted to buy the book rights from her – he
spent over roughly 20 years courting her. This story has come to light and is featured in the new Disney film, Saving Mr. Banks, and it is receiving a
lot of publicity as it stars Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as Mary
Poppins has been
released on DVD for its 40th and its 45th anniversaries. The new release features a combination
DVD/Blu-ray/Digital Copy and ports over all the previous extras (which are
considerable, though they are only presented in standard definition) and adds
two new ones in high definition: a 14-minute piece called Becoming
Mr. Sherman which features Richard Sherman, one of the writers of
the film’s music, speaking with actor Jason
Schwartzman (who actually portrays Richard Sherman in the
aforementioned Saving Mr.
Banks)talking about the making of the film. The other extra is a Karaoke supplement.
The film looks gorgeous and sounds
terrific on Blu-ray and is a must for Disney aficionados.
Over the years, Friday the 13thhas been called many things. Upon its
release in May of 1980, critics who reviewed the low budget, independent wonder
called it everything from a blatant Halloween
clone (which director Sean Cunningham never denied it was) to an overly
violent dead teenager movie made with no apparent talent or intelligence.
Gene Siskel was so outraged by the film
that he called Cunningham “one of the most despicable creatures ever to infest
the movie business.” Siskel even went so far as to publish the home address of
actress Betsy Palmer (who gives a magnificent performance in the film) and he
encouraged fans to write to her and express their disappointment in her taking
a role in such a ghastly film.
Why did this creepy little horror film
strike such a negative chord in critics all over the country? To answer that
question, we must go back to 1978. The Alfred Hitchcock/Italian giallo-inspired
Halloween was released that year and
was not only loved by the movie-going public, but the near perfect film was
universally praised by critics including Roger Ebert, who rightfully called it “A
film so terrifying that I would compare it to Psycho.”
Critics and audiences alike were in awe of
the way director John Carpenter masterfully built suspense and the amazing film
became an instant classic as well as a box office phenomenon.
Fast forward to 1980; Director Sean
Cunningham decides to make a horror film and very wisely comes up with the idea
to combine two of the most current and successful scary movies: Halloween and George A. Romero’s classic
1979 zombie epic, Dawn of the Dead.
Cunningham would use Halloween’s structure (he would also borrow from Mario Bava’s
groundbreaking 1971 giallo film, A Bay of
Blood aka Twitch of the Death Nerve)
while adding Dawn’s amazingly graphic
and realistic gore effects. He would even engage the talents of the man
responsible for Dawn’s innovative gore,
special FX maestro Tom Savini.
This is primarily what outraged critics of
the time. In their eyes, Cunningham could not match Carpenter in masterfully
building terror and suspense (and there is much truth to that), so, instead,
the filmmaker would rely solely on realistic and bloody effects in order to
scare his target audience. The film was also accused of equating
sex/drugs/alcohol with death as well as being both misogynistic and illogical.
Now, I’ll be the first to say that when it
comes to the art of filmmaking, Friday
the 13thcannot hold a candle to Halloween, but I refuse to agree with anyone who calls Friday worthless, misogynistic and
illogical junk whose only talent can be found in its gore content.
Yes, the blood flows and Savini’s effects
are still as astonishing now as they were 33 years ago, but the entertaining
film works for many other reasons which I’ll list right now.
First of all, just like Halloween, the film has a
documentary-like feel to it. Cunningham simply shows us a likeable group of teenage
counselors (one of whom is a young Kevin Bacon) who are hard at work fixing up
Camp Crystal Lake a few weeks before the noisy children are due to arrive. The
characters have no Hollywood-esque dramatic motivations or conflicts. They are
just a very normal, happy and realistic group going about their daily business.
As viewers, we almost feel as if we’re eavesdropping on their lives.
This technique is greatly aided by the more
than competent writing of Victor Miller who wisely avoids stereotypes such as “the
jock” or “the bitch” and creates a pleasant group of normal and realistic kids.
The wonderfully natural acting of the kids themselves also helps. We like this
group and when the killer’s POV shots interrupt these normal, quiet scenes, it
really has an impact.
Next up is Sean Cunningham’s directorial
style. (For those who have said this film is little more than a gore-fest,
listen up.) Cunningham uses tried and true techniques such as showing us early
on the horror that the killer is capable of, then showing us exactly where the
killer is and, finally, having his likeable characters enter the killer’s space
one at a time. Naturally, this technique produces a fair amount of tension,
suspense and scares.
I won’t reveal the killer’s identity, but I
will say that it’s not our hockey masked pal, Jason. (Jason’s reign of terror
begins in part 2 and he doesn’t don his iconic mask until part 3.) However, once
you know who the killer is and learn the motivation behind the murders, you
will be petrified by the killer’s terrifying personality. Not only that, but upon
repeat viewings of the quieter, early scenes, knowledge of the killer’s
personality creates even more eerie, goose bump-like scares.
Cunningham also creates a nice moody
atmosphere by having half of the film take place during a nighttime thunderstorm.
Combine that with the quiet, isolated camp location and a moving POV camera
which suggests a creepy, violent and vengeful presence always lurking nearby
and you have not only a very scary little film, but a real feeling of almost
I can’t go on about the film’s scare factor
without mentioning the frightening musical score by the great Harry Manfredini.
His instantly recognizable “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” has become a part of horror
music history and now stands tall alongside other immortal horror themes such
as Bernard Hermann’s magnificent score for Psycho,
John Williams’ often imitated, but never duplicated score for Jaws and John Carpenter’s iconic and
terrifying Halloween theme.
Last, but certainly not least, is the final
scare of the film. Without giving away too much, I have to say that it is one
of the most shocking and unexpected scares in horror movie history and second
only to the brilliant ending of Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976). It’s a magnificently crafted scene that can be
credited to Sean Cunningham’s solid direction, Victor Miller’s imaginative
writing, Adrienne King’s subtle and naturalistic acting, Tom Savini’s
magnificent makeup work and Harry Manfredini’s frightening music all working as
one to give audiences the fright of their lives.
Australian release poster.
And that’s just the final scene. All those
elements work together throughout the entire film and help to create a fun,
scary rollercoaster ride. The gore effects work more as a punctuation mark at
the end of a sentence. It usually caps off a tense and frightening scene. It is
not the only technique at work here. As a matter of fact, take the very minimal
amount of gore out of the film and you still have an extremely eerie,
claustrophobic and terrifying film.
As far as being misogynistic, equating
sex/alcohol/drugs with death and being illogical goes, critics couldn’t have
been more off base.
Let’s start with misogyny. First of all,
there is an equal amount of male and female deaths, and Kevin Bacon’s death is
probably the best and most graphic death scene in the film. Second of all, and
don’t read this if you haven’t seen the film, the killer is female. So, if the
filmmakers hated women, the killer would’ve been a man. Saying that this film hates
women is ridiculous.
Next up is the idea that the kids were
punished by death for engaging in sex, drinking and smoking pot. Well, if that
were the case, then why does the final girl survive? Midway through the film she
indulges in both beer and marijuana. It is also revealed that she was in a
relationship with the head of the camp and, although it isn’t shown that they
had sex, the dialogue strongly suggests it. Much like Halloween (the female survivor of that film also smokes pot and
clearly wants to be in a relationship with a boy), this idea of
sex/drugs/alcohol being punishable by violent death is not a part of Friday the 13th, but would be
misinterpreted by future slasher filmmakers thereby beginning that slasher
Lastly is the ridiculous idea that all of
the characters in this film do completely illogical things before getting
killed. This never happens. First of all, the characters are silently killed
off one by one in a Ten Little Indians manner.
The remaining characters have no idea that there is a killer among them, so it
makes sense that they would go about their business as if everything is normal.
Also, once the last two characters sense that something is wrong, they both do
completely logical things. Unfortunately, they are thwarted by the intelligent
killer who is always one step ahead of them.
For example, when they can’t find anyone,
they try to call for help, but, unbeknownst to them, the line has been cut.
(They believe that it’s just out of order due to the storm.) Next, they find a
bloody axe in one of the cabins and immediately decide to leave, but their car
has been sabotaged. Their last idea is to just hike the ten miles to
civilization and get help, but it’s pitch black outside and a thunderstorm is
With the exception of the heroine knocking
out the killer a few times and then either not continuing to pummel her or
throwing the weapon aside, the characters all act logically/intelligently in
every situation, but still get killed which is one of the reasons why the film
is so scary.
So, is it a masterful piece of cinema like Halloween or Psycho? Certainly not. However, it’s far from worthless junk and it
totally works without the effects which, by the way, take up less than sixty seconds
of the film’s 95 minute running time. At the time, those amazing gore effects
were the only things that were new in this type of film, so that’s what critics
mainly became fixated on. Unfortunately, they missed much of the wonderful
craftsmanship that went into the rest of the film.
Friday the 13th may be a dead
teenager movie, but it’s one of the best of its type. While not in the same
league as its predecessors, it’s a much better film than it’s been given credit
for. It’s also an important film in that, along with Halloween, it created a very successful subgenre/formula of the
horror film and, due to being released by Paramount Pictures and becoming a
huge financial success, it gave up and coming filmmakers a chance to break into
the Hollywood system by producing their own low budget slasher films which
utilized the same structure and similar techniques.
To date, the film has spawned ten sequels,
one remake, countless imitations and the character of Jason has become an icon
of fright. Entire books have been written about the series and at least one
book was wholly devoted to the groundbreaking first film. There have also been Friday the 13thcomic books,
novelizations, video games, action figures and conventions. Not bad for a little
movie that has been wrongfully dismissed as an illogical, misogynistic, incompetent
spectacle of gore.
Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976) is one of the greatest American films ever made.
It is also one of the most disturbing,
and it is astonishing to look back and see that a major studio (Columbia
Pictures) released it as is. Although nominated
for Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie
Foster), and Best Original Score (Bernard Herrmann, who also was nominated in
the same year for his impressive score to Brian DePalma’s Obsession, albeit posthumously) by the Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, it won none. The top
honor instead went to John Avildsen’s Rocky,
the story of a streetwise debt collector in Philadelphia who gets the chance to
become a boxing world superstar. Mr.
Alvidsen also walked away with the statue for Best Director, and the fact that
Mr. Scorsese was not even nominated in this category has long been considered
to be one of the most, if not the
most, egregious Oscar snub(s) in the Academy’s history, something the organization
appears to have attempted to smooth over with what is generally considered to
be his consolation prize - his Oscar for The
Departed (2006), a good film but not in the same league as his greatest work
(he lost out on directing Oscars for Raging Bull (1980), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), and The
Aviator (2004). )
Robert De Niro gives one of his
greatest screen performances as Travis Bickle, a lonely cabdriver who deliberately
works long hours because he cannot sleep. He befriends Iris (Jodie Foster), a
12-year-old prostitute whose pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel) raffles off a menu of
shocking sex acts (even by today’s barely-there standards) not heard outside of
a porno film or a sound bite by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford that she and Travis can engage
in for a price. Instead of taking up the
offer, Travis uses his time with Iris to try and convince her to leave the
profession that she is a part of. When
she refuses, he arms himself to the teeth and kills her pimp, her John, and the
lowlife who stands in the hall and collects the money in what was at that point
in American cinema one of the most shocking and bloody sequences ever
filmed. Today, you could probably show
it on network television with few cuts, if any.
What makes Taxi Driver so memorable is the way that it captures New York City
in the summer of 1975 when it was filmed. The city was a terribly depressing and dangerous place to be at that
time, and cinematographer Michael Chapman manages to capture the Big Apple in a
way that few cameramen have - Owen Roizman’s work on The French Connection (1971) and The Taking of Pelham 123 (1974) being two obvious exceptions. In the midst of all of this, photographer Steve
Schapiro took innumerable publicity shots on the set of the film and captured
the cast in their moments during camera set-ups, prior to and after shooting,
and while taking a break. The images are
a fascinating look at the ideas that both Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul
Schrader had about the city and the central character, the aforementioned
Bickle, and how they wanted to get those ideas across to the audience. The city itself is also a character in Taxi Driver and this fact comes out quite
strikingly in Mr. Schapiro’s on-set photographs which are now available for aficionados
of this great film in the form of a new book by Taschen, the glorious publisher of such mammoth
tomes on cinema greats like Kubrick, Fellini, Truffaut, Bergman, and
Simply titled Taxi Driver, this stunning, oversized book is a collection of
beautiful photographs taken by Mr. Shapiro that depict much of the action of
the film and candid, behind-the-scenes shots. It begins with a foreward by director Scorsese, written in 2010 while he
was shooting Hugo (2011) in London,
and it follows with an introduction which is a reprinting of Richard Thompson’s
interview with Mr. Schrader from the March/April 1976 issue of cinema
cognoscenti magazine fave Film Comment;
Paul Garner’s “It’s Dilemma, It’s Delimit, It’s De Niro” essay from New York magazine from May 16, 1977;
Norma McLain Stoop’s essay “In the Middle of the Street in the Middle of the
Night” from After Dark, May 1976; Judy
Klemesrud’s essay “Jodie Foster’s Rise From Disney to Depravity” from the New
York Times on March 7, 1976; Lawrence Grobel’s Playboy Interview with Robert De
Niro from Playboy in January 1989; Richard
Goldstein and Mark Jacobson’s interview “Martin Scorsese Tells All: Blood and
Guts Turn Me On!” from The Village Voice,
April 5, 1976; and Mr. Schrader’s interview with Mr. Scorsese from January 29,
1982, published in Cahiers du Cinema,
during the editing of the eerily prescient The
King of Comedy, its relation to Taxi
Driver as a companion piece included for obvious reasons. The rest of the text is German and French
translations of the aforementioned essays.
The most unsettling images are not of
the film’s bloodshed at the end, though they are quite graphic and colorful and
which friend Father Francis Principe told the director was a little too much “Good
Friday” and not enough “Easter Sunday” when he viewed it at a private screening
in 1976, but of the slow dancing sequence between Sport and Iris, depicted in
the this book. Here is a twelve year-old
girl being told by a man who uses her nascent sexuality for his own method of
making money, that she’s his woman. It’s
really quite revolting, and probably goes on today with all the multiple cases
of sex trafficking in the world. Taxi Driver doubles as a cautionary
tale, its religious themes also present.
When Taxi Driver was released to theaters in 1976, the ending was so
bloody that in order to avoid receiving an X rating from the MPAA, the director
was faced with cutting down the scenes, something he did not want to do. He opted instead to de-saturate, or lessen
the amount of color, in the sequence so it would not look as graphic. This action was incorporated into the film artistically
to represent what the murder scene might have looked like in the tabloids. On the
film’s 35th anniversary in 2011, the film was released on
Blu-ray. Since times have changed, there
was an effort afoot to re-saturate the film and make it look the way that it
was intended to look prior to the color reduction process. Unfortunately, that color negative could not
be located, and there is talk that it might not have survived. Mr. Shapiro’s photographs of this brutally
violent sequence, replicated in this book, might be all that visually remains of
this controversial sequence.
Driver is a stunning
achievement from Tashen, and I personally want to thank Mr. Schapiro for having
taken such amazing photographs of this incredible film. A must for any serious fan of American
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE BOOK DISCOUNTED FROM AMAZON.COM.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE FILM, TAXI DRIVER, MASTERED
IN 4K BLU-RAY DISCOUNTED FROM AMAZON.COM.
Heard was nineteen when she played the title character in Jonathan Levine's
slasher film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane;
she can at least get away with playing a seventeen year-old. Mandy
Lane, which debuts this month on Blu-ray, is better known for its
reputation of having been shelved for seven years following its debut at the
2006 Toronto Film Festival for reasons best served by another article. Up to this point, Ms. Heard was already a
veteran of four films and several television appearances; this is her first
real starring role, as the film rests on her shoulders. She gives quite a remarkably natural
performance and having seen her work since this 2005-lensed outing, I would
attribute her onscreen “nervousness” as the object of affection by
testosterone-driven wolves in her midst to her skill as a serious dramatic
actress than to an inability to relax and just “be”.
Lane represents the epitome of the adolescent female sexual ideal, The Perfect High
School Girl - the girl all the boys vie for; the girl all the girls want to be
or want to destroy. The tone is set in
the film’s opening shot as the camera focuses on Mandy Lane’s breasts,
revealing the dumbfounded stares of the average-looking boys and girls in the
hallway, and conveys their longing cinematically without being
exploitative. She is friends with Emmett
(Michael Welch), a nerdish boy whose desire for Mandy is as strong as all the
other guys, but he tries to hide it. He
just knows that she is out of his league. In some ways, the film seems like it plays like a modern day “horny
teenager” flick, but that would be a cursory dismissal. While the 1980s will probably be remembered
as the birth of the horny teenager horror film, which started in 1978 when
Michael Myers bludgeoned his sister to death after “the sex act” in John
Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), the
films of the 2000s will no doubt be looked upon as the remake era, or most
certainly the “influenced by” era. Sean
Cunningham made Friday the 13th
a superstitious day to be reckoned with, and premarital sex was forever labeled
as a crime punishable by death by deranged killers. Still, young men with
sex on their minds did all they could to get the girls of their dreams into
bed. He Knows You’re Alone
(1980), My Bloody Valentine (1981), The Burning (1981), The Boogens (1981), Halloween
II (1981), and countless other stalk-and-slash films repeated this formula
with much less panache and cinematic style than Mr. Carpenter did in his
watershed film, even prompting a send-up of horror films in the form of Student Bodies (1981), a comedy that
ridiculed death as the inevitable outcome to teenage sex.
Wes Craven's Scream (1996) reignited
interest in horror in 1996 and proved that it was once again viable box office,
so has there been resurgence in the teenage sex and death flick. Unlike
the gawky and under-confident teenagers of a quarter century ago who had to
borrow their parents’ oversized cars to get some action, today's teens are
muscular and sexy model types who seem to have stepped off of the pages of GQ
and Playboy magazines. Most of them appear to have money and their own
set of wheels. In Mandy Lane,
director Jonathan Levine manages to take a very overdone and tired horror
subgenre and make it different and interesting. The obnoxious jock Dylan
(Adam Powell) and his posse of over-stimulated friends, all expertly portrayed
by Whitney Able (Chloe), Luke Grimes (Jake), Melissa Price (Marlin), Edwin
Hodge (Bird), and Aaron Himelstein (Red), invite Mandy Lane to a party at his
house. Mandy agrees, and elects to bring her awkward friend Emmet along,
much to Dylan's chagrin. Once there, Dylan puts the moves on Mandy who nervously
brushes off his advances. This disgusts Emmet who tricks Dylan into a
maneuver designed to impress Mandy but that effectively takes Dylan out of the
game completely. Nine months after Dylan's untimely demise, Red
rounds up Chloe, Jake, Marlin, and Bird for a weekend at his father's mansion
in Bastrop, TX. The locales should look
familiar to Tobe Hooper fans.
caretaker in the form of a much older Garth (Anson Mount) who lives in a shed
in the back is there to oversee the teens and protect them, complete with a
firearm at his side. Mandy, whose parents died when she was young and is
now being raised by her aunt, is invited and decides to go along. Once
there, the guys all descend upon The Perfect Blonde, making no bones about how
much they want to jump hers. Jake is especially aggressive and looks a
bit like Robert Pattinson from the Twilight
films. Mandy is made the most uncomfortable by him, which makes one ponder
why she would agree to spend the weekend with a group of people who all want
the one thing from her that she is not willing to surrender. That
question is answered near the end in an interesting twist.
begin to go wrong rather quickly and it does not take the high schoolers long
to learn that there is a murderer in their midst. Director Levine reveals
the killer’s identity early on and yet despite that, the film remains
interesting enough for the audience to want to see it through to the end.
He directs the film with a restrained hand, which is refreshing when most films
like this tend to hit the audience over the head with quick cuts, loud music
and sound effects in a desperate effort to be suspenseful. The middle of
the film drags a bit but not by too much, and perhaps Mandy Lane would benefit by some tighter editing.
females in the film are snotty and bitchy but not in an overly hateful
fashion. Unlike the shallow vamps in the Black Christmas remake in 2006 and many others of its ilk, Chloe
and Marlin, just like the guys who are all pining after Mandy, are all real
people. Credit must go to the performers in this film. They all
talk and sound like real teenagers who are looking to find their place in the world,
and are concerned with how others perceive them and are the types to surrender
to peer pressure. The script by Jacob Forman is, no pun intended, a cut
above standard fare, providing archetypes that are familiar yet different.
film also possesses a good use of existing music - try to watch the racetrack
scene set to the Go-Go’s “Our Lips Are Sealed” without smirking at the subtle
irony. The score by Mark Schultz is also
The Anchor Bay Blu-ray, which provides a terrific visual and aural transfer, has a
feature-length commentary with director Levine and judging from his comments it
was recorded this year. Mr. Levine
provides an interesting, engaging and very funny commentary seen from the
standpoint of a director who made his first film some eight years ago (he has
since directed three films since Mandy
Lane). At times he complains that he
wishes he had done a certain shot differently, but that is inevitable through
the benefit of time and hindsight. The
standard DVD also contains this commentary.
in all, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane
is an above-average slasher film.
NOTE: If you have a region-free DVD or Blu-ray
player, the French DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film both have a 28-minute
interview with Ms. Heard, shot circa 2006, wherein she talks about the
film. A 14-minute interview with the
director can also be found on this edition. However, there is no running commentary on these versions, which also
possess English-language soundtracks.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER THE ANCHOR BAY BLU-RAY FROM AMAZON
William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), based upon the novel of the same name by
William Peter Blatty, is one of the greatest and most powerful American motion
pictures ever made. With an impressive
cast that includes Ellen Burstyn, Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb,
Jack MacGowran and newcomer Linda Blair, The
Exorcist had its origins in a 1949 case involving the purported demonic
possession of a young Evangelical Lutheran boy in Cottage City, MD who is still
alive to this day, is retired from NASA, and claims to have no memory of the
events that he experienced. Mr. Blatty, who
read about the events at the time, thought about the story for years until he
wrote the book circa 1969, some 20 years later, in the house of his ex-wife in
Coming on the heels of my all-time
favorite film, 1971’s Oscar-winning The French
Connection, Mr. Friedkin never thought of The Exorcist as a horror film but rather as the serious exploration
of the nature of faith and desperately wanted to direct the film. While watching The Exorcist, what is most striking about it is its unique ability
to present the material as something that seemingly could absolutely
happen. The idea of demonic possession
has arguably never been so deftly handled and depicted as it is in this film. Other attempts by filmmakers to create
convincing film explorations of the subject, mostly in the wake of this
enormously successful venture, have largely been ineffective. With the release of the film on Blu-ray in
2010, the film was given a much-needed high definition upgrade and you can read
Lee Pfeiffer’s review of that Blu-ray here. The new 40th anniversary release is identical to the 2010
release in that all the material from discs one and two of the 2010 Blu-ray
appears to be ported over on to one disc for the new release. A second Blu-ray includes a new documentary called
Beyond Comprehension: William Peter
Blatty’s The Exorcist (27:49) wherein Mr. Blatty revisits the Encino, CA house
that he wrote the book in for the first time in over 40 years (now it a guest house
that belongs to actress Angela Lansbury - do you think she knows that?). Mr. Blatty discusses his two aborted attempts
to write the novel and that he was originally a comedy writer(!). Father Karras (the Jason Miller character in
the film) is Mr. Blatty’s alter-ego, and like Karras, Blatty’s mother lived in
a nursing home and passed away there. Perhaps
the saddest revelation is the fact that he lost a son six years ago at the age
of 19 due to heart inflammation.
The second documentary on the second
Blu-ray is an interview with Father Eugene Gallagher (19:47) who was part of
the Philodemic Debating Team and had a professional relationship with Mr.
Blatty and discusses his experiences while Mr. Blatty was writing the novel.
Also included with this 40th
anniversary package is a small hardcover excerpt of the excellent autobiography
by William Friedkin called The Friedkin
Connection and it contains his passages about the making of The Exorcist which is truly a
If you already have the original
Blu-ray from 2010, there is probably little reason to upgrade; get yourself The Friedkin Connection if you have not
(This book was recently reviewed by Lee Pfeiffer. Here is columnist Adrian Smith's take on this volume.)
Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses - Roger Corman: King of the B
Chris Nashawaty Introduction by John Landis
part of the Gothic season at the British Film Institute recently, Roger Corman
sat and signed autographs for well over an hour as the line of fans and
admirers snaked its way around the building. At least 50% of those fans were
clutching copies of this new coffee-table book, a visual delight from Chris
Nashawaty, writer for Entertainment Weekly.
books have been published on the Corman phenomenon, most notably his own
autobiography How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a
Dime. Since that was published in 1990 he has made at least a hundred more.
Until he gets around to updating that volume, which given his continuing
workload in film production seems unlikely, we are lucky that so many other
writers and filmmakers are constantly willing dive into his career.
not as revealing or personal as Bevery Gray's excellent Roger Corman: An
Unauthorised Life, Nashawaty's book is a real joy. He has selected over 150
images, many of which are previously unpublished. Artwork, photos and movie
stills are presented in full colour alongside an oral history of the life and
career of Roger Corman, from his childhood right up to the present day.
Corman's contribution to the movie business is immense, and, as covered in the
book, his honorary Academy Award in 2009 was well deserved. Those lined up to
congratulate him on that night included Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Jack
Nicholson and Peter Bogdanovich. The list of those filmmakers who have
graduated from the "Corman School" is almost endless, and the fact
that he is still making films today means that yet another generation are
learning from the master.
evidenced by a photograph of him on the Hawaiian set of Piranhaconda
(2012), Corman is very much a hands-on producer. He has an almost preternatural
sense of what is going to become the next big thing in the business; providing
teenage movies for the drive-ins in the 1950s, using VHS before the major
studios in the late 1970s or bringing monster mash-up movies to the Syfy
channel (as well as Piranhaconda, Corman has been responsible for Sharktopus
(2010), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (2010) and Dinoshark (2010), the
latter as both producer and star).
well as dozens of new interviews, the book also critically examines some of the
key titles from Corman's back-catalogue, either as director or producer. Attack
of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The
Intruder (1962), The Big Doll House (1971), Boxcar Bertha
(1972, an early film from Martin Scorsese) and even The Slumber Party
Massacre (1982) are all touched on, amongst many more. One can use Nashawaty's
selections as a list for beginners keen to gain an understanding of Corman as a
Christmas just around the corner, this book is well worth considering sending
to the movie lover in your life. It makes the perfect introduction to Roger
Corman and his work, and contains new stories and anecdotes as well as a few
that will be familiar to aficionados. And as he is showing no sign of slowing
down, the Corman story is not over yet.