Thursday, April 2, 2015

Post-Apocalypse All'Italiana

Mad Max fever is currently revving up on the Web, and with the fourth film in the series due for release this summer, I had an idea to check out a more modest vision of the apocalypse courtesy of two Enzo Castellari films, The Bronx Warriors from 1982 and The New Barbarians made the following year..

The Bronx Warriors, or to give it its slightly clumsy full title 1990: The Bronx Warriors is not strictly a post-apocalyptic film, rather it posited a future where whole tracts of urban neighborhoods have slipped into lawlessness and become no-go zones. Looking at the locations where Enzo Castellari and his crew filmed, it appears the future had already arrived, with the action framed against endless blocks of rubble-strewn, abandoned tenements. In the film, Ann, a young runaway and daughter of a wealthy industrialist takes refuge in the Bronx where she hooks up with Trash, the leader of a biker gang called the Riders. Ann's father who has been grooming his daughter to take over his multi-million dollar corporation sends Hammer, a ruthless, sadistic police lieutenant into the Bronx to retrieve Ann by any means necessary... Inventive, energetic and propelled along by a sure-fire confidence, The Bronx Warriors is one of the great Italian action films. Not nearly as grim or ultra-violent as similar films that followed in its wake, Castellari's film often feels like a Western in disguise, in fact the rousing climax has the gangs of the Bronx pitted against heavily armed riot police on horseback. As well as raiding ideas from Escape From New York, the film takes inspiration from The Warriors, with the Bronx kitted out with even more outrageous looking gangs, like the roller skating Zombies or the camp, toe-tappin' high-kickin' Iron Men. Leading man Marco de Gregorio at least looks the part if nothing else, while Fred Williamson playing Bronx kingpin The Ogre, and Vic Morrow, effectively appearing in Lee Van Cleef role bring much class to the picture., not to mention Zombie-leader George Eastman who effortlessly livens up every scene he appears in. An excellent beginning...

The ever industrious Enzo Castellari quickly followed up The Bronx Warriors with another post-apocalyptic film, and this time, it genuinely was, with The New Barbarians set in the nuclear ravaged wasteland of 2019. To say that The New Barbarians leans heavily on Mad Max 2 would be a kind way of putting it, the film a virtually remake of George Miller's film, right down to the customized vehicles and gloomy looking leading man. In the film, a nomadic loner named Scorpion driving a souped up Firebird car defends an isolated community against the Templars, a sadistic religious sect intent of purging the earth of the human race. Putting aside the film's shameless plunder of George Miller's film, The New Barbarians is severely compromised by the production's penny-pinching budget, the entire film taking place in the same damn stone quarry throughout (in some shots, the excavation machinery clearly visible), or the same stretch of abandoned road, all to numbing effect. Even the vehicles look strictly low-rent, a few dune buggies tricked out with spiked fenders, the occasional rotating blade or in the case of Scorpion's car, an impossibly dainty rocket launcher in the booth. And yet, The New Barbarians is strangely compelling, thanks to Castellari's heroic attempt to make something out of nothing - the idea of the Templars cashing in their horses for automobiles is rather good, and there's one particularly out-there moment where the subtle homosexual subtext of The Road Warrior is picked up and ran with - but I will leave that for unsuspecting viewers to discover themselves. Cast wise, Fred Williamson returns to the fold and he's easily the film's biggest asset, as does George Eastman, playing the Templar's leader with disarming intensity. Incidentally, the film comes with a health warning for the inclusion of Giovanni Frezza (or Bob from House by the Cemetery) playing a whiz kid mechanic. You have been warned.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Remote Viewer

I'm pursuing a Coil obsession at the moment (is there any other way to experience Coil?) and I'm thinking about the various film references scattered throughout their work. There is the unused music for Hellraiser of course, but I'm thinking of song titles like Tenderness of Wolves, Vanishing Point, Red Queen (possibly a reference to the 1972 giallo The Red Queen Kills Seven Times). And there's the homage to Pasolini on Coil's second LP, with the song Ostia (The Death of Pasolini). The Horse Rotarvator album also contains a song referencing Salo, entitled Circles of Mania, and getting back to Hellraiser, one of the titles from the Worship the Glitch album We Have Always Been Here is a line of dialogue from Hellbound: Hellraiser 2... Elsewhere Coil have sampled dialogue from Salo (on the track Homage to Sewage), The Wizard of Gore (pictured below) and Trash (Further), Performance and Trash (Further Back And Faster), The Reflecting Skin (Omlagus Garfungiloops) and Marat/Sade (Answers Come In Dreams 1). In addition the track Further Back And Faster samples some dialogue from a Charles Laughton spoken word album based on Night of the Hunter ("The fingers of the left hand, those of the right spell... hate"). Have I missed anything ?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Juliette Gréco

Just revisited Jean Cocteau's 1950 fantasy Orphée, a truly astonishing film which transposes the classic Greek myth of Orpheus to a contemporary Paris of petulant Left Bank intellectuals and an Underworld that resembles a WWII ravaged city. This is a magician's film in every sense, and Cocteau dazzles the eye with some remarkable devices - trick shots, reversed film, back projection and in one moment, an impromptu costume change between shots. Cocteau's film also features three beautiful actresses - María Casares as Death, Marie Déa as Eurydice and Juliette Greco as Aglaonice. Juliette Gréco's appearance in the film is all too brief, but she's an incredible beauty, and as I watched her tossing her luminous long black hair to one side I thought of an another enchanting actress - Mirella D'Angelo from Tenebrae. Both women do share a similarity I think. Or perhaps it's just Cocteau's mirrors working me over...
I was reading Juliette Gréco's potted biography on wiki and she has lived an extraordinary life, among other things she had a relationship with Miles Davis. Miles writes about first meeting her in 1949 in his autobiography...
I met Juliette at one of my rehearsals. She would come in and sit and listen to the music... I asked this guy who she was.
He said "What do you want with her?"
I said "What do you mean what do I want with her. I want to see her"
Then he says "Well you know she's one of those existentialists"
So I told him right there and then "Man fuck all that kind of shit. I don't care what she is. That girl is beautiful and I want to meet her"


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

I caught just one film over the w/end, but it was a good one - the 2014 Mick Jagger produced documentary Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown. Running a brisk 90mins, the film offered a potted history of the hardest working man in show business - from his early days singing for dimes in his aunt's whorehouse in Georgia thru to the formation of the J.Bs in the early 70's. Incomplete as it was, the documentary still took care of business, with a wealth of fantastic live footage and a near definitive roster of central players in Brown's musical life - members of The Famous Flames and the J.B.'s (including Bootsy Collins and Danny Ray, James' "capeman") who all bring along some priceless anecdotes, as well as the aforementioned Rolling Stone who fondly recalls smoothing a few of James' ruffled feathers when he was displeased with the filming arrangements of the T.A.M.I. Show. And while the film sidesteps the thorny issue of Brown's mistreatment of his women, the interviewees are given free reign to air their grievances about their boss' thriftiness, and his near-tyrannical control over how they played and looked; and I was genuinely surprised to discover James was an unapologetic Nixonite, publicly supporting Nixon's administration (which was only begrudgingly reciprocated by the President). A shame the film wasn't longer, although if you have a copy of the fabulous Soul Power, it pretty much picks up from where Mr. Dynamite bows out.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fulci Centi

I've seen various online tributes to Lucio Fulci today, marking the anniversary of his death, 19 years missed today. With that in mind I wanted to catch one of his films, but preferably not one of his signature works, perhaps something a little off the beaten track such as Perversion Story or Beatrice Cenci - two Fulci films I've had waiting in the wings for ages now but so far have not gotten around to seeing. I said a little off the beaten track - I'm looking thru Fulci's filmography now and any completist would have his work cut out tracking down the director's entire oeuvre. I counted 16 titles from 1959 onwards before I hit the first film of Fulci's I'm acquainted with, the 1966 western Massacre Time. Similarly, I've been lax on my post-Conquest Fulci too - all titles I know by name but have yet to investigate...

And so today it was the turn of Beatrice Cenci, Fulci's 1969 historical drama. This was my first time seeing the film and I was hugely impressed - the deft balance between lucid story-telling (the film based on actual events from 16th century Italy), and a surprisingly sophisticated chronological structure, would make it a fine rebuttal against naysayers who balk at the director's feverish, irrational Horror films of the early 80's. The film is perhaps closer in style and execution to Don't Torture A Duckling - there's not much in the way of explicit gore, but neither does the film flinch from the brutality of the age (one character has a nail plunged into, where else, his eye!), and Fulci laces the carnage with a sense of outrage at the hypocrisy and decadence of the ruling classes and the ease at the which they cannibalize even their own. Required viewing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Seven Days In May

John Frankenheimer's Manchurian Candidate was recently released on Blu-Ray on this side of the Atlantic, and hopefully the director's film Seven Days In May, will follow soon. In this 1964 political thriller Kirk Douglas' military man uncovers a plot by his commander Burt Lancaster to unseat Fredric March's US president who has just signed a controversial non-aggression pact with the Soviets... Frankenheimer is one of the great studio directors of the 60's and Seven Days In May still feels fresher than a lot of cold war films that followed in its wake - this one would be in good company with two other excellent, similarly themed films from the same year - Sidney Lumet's nuclear war film Fail Safe and the Red October-ish submarine thriller The Bedford Incident... By the way I missed the opening credits on this one and was sure the film's stunning deep focus b/w photography was courtesy of the great James Wong Howe, but not so - the man behind the camera was one Ellsworth Fredericks whose other notable film was the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers. If you're in the UK and Ireland, this one is currently on rotation on TCM...


Just fresh from a screening of Babylon, the superb British reggae film from 1980... Babylon follows a bunch of black British youths as they kick around Brixton in the lead up to a sound system clash. The first half of the film is very much in the mold of a rebellious youth picture - all spliff smoking and antics, but shifts gears in the second half when the film focuses on the bigotry, racism and police violence that Black youth were openly subjected to in this particular era. The film looks fantastic as well, photographed by the great Chris Menges, and director Franco Rosso has a particularly good eye for locations, the film set in and around some of London's most depressed, and dilapidated districts. Linton Kwesi Johnson's long time collaboration Dennis Bovell provides the film's excellent soundtrack of dub, roots and lovers rock. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Silver Globe

Just watched The Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski's extraordinary sci-fi film... This was my second pass at Żuławski's film and it remains as incomprehensible as ever. And yet there is something exhilarating about yielding one's self to the film's strange and mysterious power - the metallic blue filtered wide angle photography, the aggressive camerawork, the jarring jump cuts and sudden tonal shifts, the baroque costumes and ritualized makeup, the spectacular locations and sets, and performances that are pitched at near hysteric levels. I think the film compares well with the 1967 Czech film Marketa Lazarová - both films steeped in seemingly impenetrable mysticism and existing in their own hermetically sealed worlds. The troubled history of the film adds yet another fascinating layer, the film is book-ended by Żuławski's own impassioned account of the cruel fate it suffered at the hands of the Polish State Cinema board. I don't know if Nicolas Winding Refn has ever acknowledged the film, but it seems to me that the director's 2009 film Valhalla Rising owes Żuławski's film a huge debt...

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cat O' Nine Tails

I'm watching the Naked City TV series at the moment and today seemed as good a time as any to revisit Cat O' Nine Tails, starring a well-tanned James Franciscus. I must admit, about 70min into Argento's film the whys and wherefores of the plot had well and truly slipped thru my fingers, but even on cruise control, Cat O' Nine Tails still delights - Erico Menczer's 'scope photography (looking especially fresh courtesy of Blue Underground's BR), Franco Fraticelli's expert cutting, Morricone's modernist score, and all of served with a dash of ghoulish humor - I must presume the quick shot of the gravestone bearing the name "Dario" was Argento's own Hitchcockian cameo. I thought the XXY mcguffin was interesting and in a way forges a tenuous link to Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (also from 1971) in that both films kicked around ideas about criminal behavior aversion techniques. I took a listen to Franciscus' 8min radio interview on the BU disc and he makes an amusing slip, referring to Argento's debut as The Girl With the Crystal Plumage...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Red Beard

Just watched Red Beard, Kurosawa's 1965 picture set in and around a 19th century hospital located somewhere in the lower depths... Toshiro Mifune in his final film for Kurosawa plays the titular Red Beard, less a doctor and more a lion battling sickness, poverty and injustice from his underfunded medical practice. It's a long and leisurely film and over the course of three hours Kurosawa sidesteps his central narrative to include a few interesting subplots, and despite the intimacy of the hospital set (where most of the film takes place), Kurosawa occasionally steps outdoors to startling effect - two lovers meet under a gentle snow shower, a man sifts thru the infernal wreckage wrought by an earthquake for his missing wife. It's a pleasingly idiosyncratic film too - in one famous sequence Red Beard uses his anatomical knowledge to disarm (literally so) some braggarts, and in another startling moment, some women wail the name of an ailing child into a well in an effort to reclaim his soul from the spirits of the dead - a bit of folklore filtered thru a scene which might have wandered in from a Japanese Horror film. Wonderful stuff indeed and it was particularly nice to see cameo appearances from Takashi Shimura and Ozu regular Chishu Ryu.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Heart of Darkness

On this day, March 5th 1977 the future of Apocalypse Now was hanging in the balance. Martin Sheen, the film’s lead actor suffered a heart attack which threatened to permanently shut down production of the film in the Philippines. Coppola and his family had arrived Manila just over a year before, with principal photography starting soon afterwards. The loss of Martin Sheen would have been catastrophic to Coppola’s already troubled epic – a devastating typhoon had destroyed Dean Tavoularis’ elaborate and expensive sets, effectively halting the production, and sending the budget rapidly soaring beyond United Artists’ initial investment. And now Coppola was facing into replacing his leading actor (for the second time) and re-shooting months of footage for a film that he had yet to devise an ending for. According to the film’s documentarian Eleanor Coppola a local priest had administered the last rights to Martin Sheen but fortunately Sheen’s heart attack was less severe than initially believed and the actor was able to re-join the production just six weeks later to complete principle photography.

Monday, March 2, 2015

New York City's Finest...

After 25 episodes John McIntire who walked the beat of The Naked City as Lt. Dan Muldoon has bowed out in a shocking and fiery demise. James Franciscus is promoted to the top billing slot while Horace McMahon playing the hard nosed Lieutenant Mike Parker takes over Muldoon's office. I'm about 5 episodes into this change of personnel but finding it hard to adjust - from the very beginning I quickly came to love John McIntire's Dan Muldoon, an Irish cop who brought compassion and justice to some of those 8 million stories... I've just taken a quick inventory of John McIntire performances in my collection - The Asphalt Jungle, The Phenix City Story, Psycho (pictured below), as well as two Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a single Twilight Zone - all of which I hope to catch at some stage...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Doors

Listening to The Doors In Concert album, the Absolutely Live LP portion of the CD, and the remarkable Celebration of the Lizard suite performed at the Aquarius Theater in LA, July 1969. Along with The End from the first album, it's probably my favourite 13 minutes worth of The Doors on record. Oliver Stone recreated the suite for the film and it's the most thrilling part of the movie... Speaking of The End, the live cut on disc 2 of In Concert, recorded at the Hollywood Bowl in 1968 is also terrific. I love Morrison's weird little tangents ("Ensenada, the dog crucifix, the dead seal, ghosts of the dead car's son") and the band are in stellar form effortlessly following Morrison where he goes. I imagine by '68 the band could reconfigure the song into whatever shape Morrison required on the night...

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Love In the Afternoon

I watched Eric Rohmer's 1972 film Love In the Afternoon yesterday and the first hour of bedtime last night was spent pondering the question whether Bernard Verley's character (pictured below) would stray from his wife again or whether his dark afternoon of soul had finally scared him straight ? I tend to lean towards the former, perhaps because I don't particularly like Frederic by the end of the film. One aspect of the film I enjoy is how my opinion of the two lead characters mutates over the course of the film - at the beginning I like Frederic - I like his life, his smart, beautiful wife, his young family, his legal business (his secretaries!). In contrast, I find Zouzou's Chloe troublesome, like an agent provocateur to be carefully managed. But by the end of the film, my allegiances have shifted - I very much like Chloe and am sympathetic to her needs, while I find Frederic rather pathetic... Incidentally, I love the film's brilliantly incongruous credit music, which sounds like an early moog workout. You hope that a check of the credits would yield a "name" (Bernard Parmegiani lent his music to Walerian Borowczyk for some of his early shorts) but Love in the Afternoon's composer, Arié Dzierlatka doesn't ring a bell, and there's little information to be found about him...

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Part Two)

My final post on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which I finally finished last night. I read this book in fits and starts which I regret - the novel is short enough to read over the course of an afternoon and might have benefited more for it... Overall, I thought it was fine, it compares badly to Blade Runner - being one of my favorite films, Scott's picture could not be easily relegated to the back of my mind. My biggest dislike in the book was the Mercerism religion that's interwoven throughout the book - I felt this PKD's ideas on this point were vague and confused. Perhaps my favorite episode in the book - which is not in the film ironically enough - is when Pris pulls the legs off a spider just to see if it could still move, a very powerful and cruel moment that quite effectively stacks the deck against the runaway androids...

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I’m just past the halfway mark of Season 1 of 50’s police series Naked City and by now I have acclimatized to seeing oblivious New Yorkers gawking into the camera when filming calls for a street scene. It’s a nuisance every film maker suffers at some stage I suspect, and it put in mind Chaplin’s very funny 1914 Keystone short Kid Auto Races at Venice where Chaplin’s tramp constantly strolls thru the field of vision of a film camera covering a go-cart race. One could be a little charitable towards the Tramp – film cameras were still new-fangled things even by 1914, although he’s rather brazen about it even after his rough handling by Henry Lehrman’s furious director. If you haven’t seen this one before be sure to check it out, it’s six minutes of wonderful Silent comedy…

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Do Screenwriters Dream of Electric Sheep ?

When it comes to reading fiction, I try to keep the rule – if I've seen the film, I’ll skip the book, but there can be value in breaking this rule: at the moment I’m reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? and it’s illuminated an exchange of dialogue from Blade Runner which has always puzzled me somewhat.

Deckard: "It's your birthday. Someone gives you a calfskin wallet. How do you react ?"...
Rachel: "I wouldn't accept it. Also I'd report the person who gave it to me to the police."

Rachel’s response in the film seems extreme and draconian, but it has more resonance in Dick’s book, where Earth’s animal species are virtually depleted, and what animals are left are coveted, cherished and change hands for large sums of money. This theme of the book had fallen by the wayside by the time Blade Runner’s screenplay was locked down and makes the Voight-Kampff test question about the calfskin wallet feel just a little too idiosyncratic for its own good. Similarly, Leon's line in the film: "I've never seen a turtle. But I understand what you mean" makes him sound a little infantile. But in the context of the book, his admission is perfectly understandable. The perils of adaptation !

Friday, February 13, 2015

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep ?

I've seen Blade Runner in all its various permutations over the years but only now am I getting around to reading Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? I've only scratched the surface of the book but the differences between Dick's novel and Scott's film are already considerable. However one line of dialogue from the book made me smile - during Dekard's first visit to Rosen Industries (or the Tyrell Corp in the film), Rachel remarks on the company's rare and highly coveted, live owl: "All our purchases are from private parties and the prices we pay aren't reported." She added, "Also we have our own naturalists; they're now working up in Canada. There's still a good deal of forest left, comparatively speaking, anyhow. Enough for small animals and once in a while a bird." As soon as I read the line I thought of Blade Runner's original ending where Dekard and Rachel have escaped Los Angeles for the more pleasant climes of Montana.... or perhaps Canada. The line I quoted above doesn't legitimize that disastrous ending the studio grafted onto the film, but for fans who still find some worth in this much maligned version of Blade Runner, it might make it at least bearable...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Adventures of Prince Achmed

Just watched The Adventures of Prince Achmed, Lotte Reiniger's wondrous 1926 German silhouette animated film. In the film, a young Arabian prince is whisked away on a flying horse to do battle with mythological creatures, and with the help of Aladdin and the Fire Mountain Witch, thwart the plans of an evil sorcerer and claim the love of his life. This is absolutely beautiful stuff, with delicate, fluid animation, and vibrant backdrops and textures that anticipate psychedelia by some 40 years. Despite the exotic Middle East setting, this is unmistakably Germanic - it very much feels like a bergfilme and some of the backdrops reminded me of the romantic landscape paintings of Caspar David Friedrich. Jean Renoir called this a masterpiece and it's entirely deserved.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Zontar, the Thing from Venus

More delirum beamed from the dustbin of satellite television and today I watched Larry Buchanan's 1966 TV film Zontar, the Thing from Venus. One for the trash aficionados, with its stilted line readings, flat direction and a NASA mission control room that would disgrace a school play. Not without its own peculiar charm, although the highlight of the film came in the opening credits when I spotted S.F. Brownrigg's name on sound duties. Curiously though, about 29mins in, and for no explicable reason, was a very fleeting shot of a scantily clad female. Zontar-a-go-go as it were... Incidentally, I was looking for a trailer over on a youtube as a taster for the film, and found one of those video reviews, in which the presenter declares the film was directed by Larry Cohen - which is probably the worst thing Larry Cohen has ever been accused of...

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bloody Pit of Horror

I've been slumming it lately, film wise, with one of the backwater TV channels broadcast over here - InformationTV, which among other things shows greyhound racing, programmes for caravan enthusiasts (?), and some interesting public domain curios - albeit, in absolutely appalling condition - think of those Mill Creek boxsets and you're close... Earlier today I caught Bloody Pit of Horror, which I'm a little ashamed to say I hadn't seen before. Despite Frank Henenlotter's enthusiasm for the film, I though it was a bit of a bore until the third act when the film shifts up a gear and Mickey Hargitay gleefully runs amok in his torture dungeon administering all sorts of elaborate Inquisition-style abuse, which goes someway to make amends for the bland cast, horrid art direction and the wildly inappropriate loungy, big band jazz soundtrack... Watching the film I was imagining Hargitay chasing Jayne Mansfield around the Pink Palace dressed as the Avenger, but they were divorced before the film went into production...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Naked City

There are 138 episodes in the Naked City boxset, and I've just watched 3 of them... I've had this substantial 29-disc boxset for some time now, but I'm in a noir mood at the moment and time seemed right to indulge. I've only just scratched the surface of this gritty late '50/early '60's police series but it already fits like a comfortable shoe, the stories are tight and economical and the NYC locations are tremendous - a brutal, unforgiving metropolis peopled by men wearing trench coats lined with guilt and hats hiding their eyes...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Alexander Nevsky

Just watched Eisenstein's 1938 sound film Alexander Nevsky... Leaving aside the thorny issue of state sponsored propaganda, the film remains an incredibly thrilling spectacle, as 13th century warrior-Prince Alexander answers the call from Mother Russia to defend her land against invading Germans (who think nothing of throwing Russian infants onto bonfires). The film's most famous section, the ice battle, where swirling masses of Russians and Germans clash on a frozen tundra is hugely exciting stuff; Eisenstein falling back on techniques he mastered with his silent films - the under-cranked camera, the rapid-fire cuts, creates a sequence of tremendous sweep and motion. Watching the film, I see echoes of Alexander Nevsky in later historical epics like Doctor Zhivago, Andrei Rublev, Conan the Barbarian and Kingdom of Heaven. And I'd like to think that John Ford saw a print of this at Fox and admired Eisenstein's massive monochrome skies...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Edgar Froese

News just filtering thru to me that Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream passed away on the 20th at the age of 70. I've been a massive Tangerine Dream fan since my teens when I used to listen to Alpha Centauri in my bedroom with the lights off (it probably has the eeriest opening to any album ever). Tangerine Dream's sound eventually mutated (diluted?) into a more muzak-sounding new age style from the mid-80's onward, but everything up to 1984's Poland is superb. Froese's solo albums - at least the ones he recorded for Virgin remain essential for any classic era-TD fan. Froese's unexpected death must now surely close the chapter on Tangerine Dream...

It Came from Connemara!!

I was the biggest producer in Ireland at that time”, chuckles Roger Corman in the affectionate hour long documentary It Came from Connemara!! which I caught yesterday. This film tells the unlikely but fascinating story of Roger Corman setting up a film studio in Connemara in the mid-90’s, a largely rural, Gaelic-speaking region of the West of Ireland. Ever the shrewd business man, Corman was attracted to Ireland for the cheap production costs and generous grants the government of the day were offering to promote film-making. In the five years or so of activity, Corman's factory churned out a considerable stream of low-budget horror, sci-fi and action pics before the market for cheap video fodder began to dry up and Corman upped sticks and moved on. The documentary gathers together a number of cast and crew members that worked at the studio (incl Corbin Bernsen who starred in Spacejacked, and James Brolin who directed Flashpoint, both films from 1997) and despite the long hours and low wages, what emerges from the film is how much fun the experience was and what an invaluable training ground it proved to be. And happily, the studio is today now home to another film production company.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dylan Speaks

Reading an old Bob Dylan interview over dinner (Mojo #51 1998) and was enjoying the sparring between Dylan and his interviewer - despite Mojo's man launching some nice punches, Dylan effortlessly dances (to borrow from Norman Mailer) around his opponent, landing a few stinging blows - at one point Mojo asks: "Is it a burden sometimes to be Bob Dylan ?" to which Dylan replies: "Well, it would be easier for me to be me than it would be for me to be you". Or when asked why he named his record label Egyptian Records, Dylan shoots back with "I don't know. It just popped into my head at the time" Ouch ! Elsewhere Dylan waxes lyrical on the then new album, Time Out of Mind, Harry Smith's Folk Anthology set, and my favourite moment - Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player: "I saw that movie a bunch of times because the snow part of it reminded me of back home where I came from...everything about that movie I identified with"

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Watched the 2011 film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy earlier today and thought it was superb. I had watched the excellent BBC series in its entirety last w/end and quite honestly I feared the film would suffer by comparison. But happily I was wrong, and director Tomas Alfredson brings a fresh alternative to the BBC series - much of the dourness and drabness is now replaced by a distinct urban-ness and more than a few times I was reminded of The Ipcress File and the 70's paranoia cinema of Alan Pakula and Sidney Lumet. Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the screenwriters have managed to condense the book (which ran 5hrs on TV) into a very coherent 2 hours, deftly handling some tricky exposition. Gary Oldman delivers one of the most understated performances I've seen by a leading man in quite some time, and orbiting around him are some fine British and Irish talent - John Hurt, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds. Highly recommended !

Monday, December 22, 2014

Art of Criterion

Criterion have a new coffee table book out for Christmas, which showcases 30 years worth of artwork from their early laserdiscs to the latest Blus. I've always found Criterion art very hit and miss, but one design that has always stood out for me is the in-house artwork for Le Cercle Rouge. Interestingly this cover shares quite a strong resemblance to a book that emerged in 1966 entitled The Naked Society (a book about surveillance) published by Penguin imprint Pelican, and featuring a striking cover design by Derek Birdsall. I wonder did it prove an inspiration for the Criterion sleeve ? If it's mention in the Criterion book, I'd love to know !

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In space no one can drink Budweiser...

The pic below is a blowup of a still from Alien showing a can of beer (held by Tom Skerritt), featuring the Weylan Yutani logo. This little detail was a pleasant surprise as I assumed the whole Weylan Yutani intruige came with the later films, but it appears the mythology-weaving was already underway. By the way, the still comes from a page I found called Typeset In the Future, which examines every bit of typography seen in the film (and elsewhere, 2001 and Moon). Well worth checking out. I love this kind of fan scholarship.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Mover

More Beat stuff... I'm reading Penguin's first collection of William Burroughs Letters (1945-1959) and found this astute description of Neal Cassady, in a 1949 letter Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg: "He is The Mover, compulsive, dedicated, ready to sacrifice family, friends, even his very car itself to the necessity of moving from one place to another. Wife and child may starve, friends exist only to exploit for gas money... Neal must move"

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Art Beat

Browsing thru an excellent Flicker page showcasing Kerouac book covers - here are four that caught my eye...

On the Road (at last!)

Watched Walter Salles' film of On the Road last night, and found it curiously uninvolving. Hard to put my finger on it - it's well directed and acted, it looks fantastic and is richly evocative of the era - but for all its pan-American zig-zagging, the film never leaps off the screen like Kerouac's novel leaps off the page, and it all felt a little too polite and genteel, when I was yearning for something more freewheeling and experimental, even a little rough around the edges. On the plus side, I really enjoyed Viggo Mortensen's William Burroughs, and Tom Sturridge playing Allen Ginsberg with the primal energy of a young Sean Penn...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Handsome Piece of Deformity

Now that we've rolled into December, I'm seeing the first flurries of Best Films of the Year lists, which are a painful reminder that I hardly ever see new films until well after they hit the bargain Blu-Ray section of Amazon. Godzilla and Gone Girl were my only excursions to the cinema this year (I liked both) so with little competition to fend off, my favourite film of 2014 is Under the Skin. I read Michel Faber's debut novel back in 2001 and was a fan. And one of the things I liked best about the film was Jonathan Glazer and Walter Campbell's radical reworking of the novel. A straight adaptation would have presented enormous hazards for any film maker - in the hands of a less talented director, the film might have ended up as just another absurd gimmicky gorefest (one could imagine Neil Marshall fumbling this one), but Glazer and Campbell have quite brilliantly forged a path through the book that is in every way as ingenious as David Cronenberg and Mary Harron's adaptations of Naked Lunch and American Psycho, two novels once considered "untranslatable". Dazzling stuff and a film that pays off with repeated viewings.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

South Bank Show Originals

Very much enjoying Sky Arts' South Bank Show Originals series, a fantastic archive of early 80's-era interviews conducted by Melvyn Bragg, in conversation with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Some of my highlights of the series have been a cheerful Ingmar Bergman, a tipsy unpredictable Francis Bacon, Iggy Pop fondly recalling the incendiary performances of The Stooges, and one of my personal favorites, Norman Mailer discussing his writing habits, including the ritual of crossing a precariously hanging raised wooden platform to get to his writing room, because writing he feels should be infused with danger. My only complaint is that the interviews have been whittled down to 25mins or so from the 50-odd minute original airings. Still, in an age of TV dominated by cookery programs and talent shows, the South Bank Show Originals are my favourite thing on TV right now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Very Gallant Gentleman

Given his current career trajectory, Liam Neeson films are to be approached with caution but last night I caught his 2012 film The Grey about a band of oil workers marooned in the frozen wastes of Alaska and menaced by marauding wolves. I enjoyed this surprisingly tough, unsentimental muscular adventure film, dare I say cut from the cloth as Deliverance. One shot featuring the men struggling against blizzard winds reminded me of John Charles Dollman's famous 1913 painting A Very Gallant Gentleman which depicts Antarctic explorer Lawrence Oates gangrenous and frostbitten leaving his tent to walk into a ferocious blizzard and certain death, an act of supreme self-sacrifice so that his three companions might continue their journey to safety without him further slowing down the party. Legend has it Oates' final words to his companions before he left were "I am just going outside and may be some time"...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thoughts on Season of the Witch

I caught Season of the Witch this weekend and that fulfills this Horror fan's contractual obligation to watch a Halloween film for October. About halfway thru the film, my wife wandered in and asked me what I was watching, to which I shrugged my shoulders and replied "just some horror movie". Not to condescend Tommy Lee Wallace's film but to explain that this was a Halloween picture would have been far too...complicated. After this screening I can definitively claim the film to be my favourite sequel of the series, and I hope I'm right in saying that the reputation of this much maligned misfit is finally turning. Despite my love for Halloween II (and, I suspect, a badly judged soft spot for the fourth film), I feel it a shame that the series didn't develop into the Twilight Zone style anthology that Season of the Witch promised. I wonder would the film had found a more appreciative audience had it not been released at the height of the slasher boom ? As much as I enjoy Halloween II's great opening scenes - those eerie steadicam shots of Michael Myers stalking the back lanes of Haddonfield, Season of the Witch almost immediately trumps its predecessor with a terrific opening 20mins, culminating in a sequence where a sharp suited gentleman enters a hospital and crushes a man's skull before casually dousing himself with petrol and setting himself alight. It's tremendously self-confident stuff and there's a rather brazen clip of the original Halloween, previewed on a TV set, just to dispel any hopes Myers might put in an appearance. Unfortunately audiences voted with their feet and series producer Moustapha Akkad shamefully arranged a belated recovery for Michael Myers for film number four.

Still, it's fascinating to speculate on how the Halloween franchise might have developed as a series of stand-alone films. Revisiting Season of the Witch, the film's meshing of sci-fi and horror elements put Prince of Darkness in mind and disregarding the Hallowe'en pivot of the projected series, I could almost imagine Carpenter's film as a future installment - if the series produced a film a year, perhaps there might have been Halloween 7: Prince of Darkness. Interestingly, Carpenter's self-penned screenplay for Prince of Darkness was credited to Martin Quatermass, a reference to Nigel Kneale who wrote the original screenplay for Season of the Witch, and later disowned when it was revised to amp up the gore. Consequently Kneale had his name removed from the final film but much of his spirit remains, like the Silver Shamrock company's manufacturing plant which has a neat correlation between the large industrial complex of Quatermass 2. Incidentally, I must disagree with New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby's presumably tongue-in-cheek assertion that the film is "anti-Irish". Being Irish myself I rather enjoy Dan O'Herlihy's Irish toy maker druid recounting tales in his finest Wexford accent of the old country running red with the blood of sacrifice... something I find terribly romantic...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Every Dog has its day

I must be still in a Spaghetti Western mood after Compañeros at the weekend... Last night I was fumbling around looking for something to read and picked up Rebellion's first volume of Strontium Dog reprints from early issues of 2000 AD (and its predecessor Star Lord). Strontium Dog follows the adventures of bounty hunter Johnny Alpha as he travels the spaceways in pursuit of murderers, thieves, gangsters, and other inter-galactic trash with a price on its head. I'd wager that Strontium Dog writers John Wagner and Alan Grant had the Leone's Dollar films in mind when developing the series, much of it takes place in a ravaged, post-apocalyptic 22nd century Britain or on far flung worlds which resemble the arid, dusty plains of an Italian Western, while the character of Johnny Alpha has a Man With No Name flavor - cynical, laconic, an expert gunslinger, and forever the doomed outsider due to his radioactive, mutant genes. In addition the series' chief artist, Carlos Ezquerra gave Alpha a get-up as memorable as Eastwood's poncho and cigars, with Alpha equipped with a large armored shoulder pad, and a helmet when removed revealing a shock of black hair, chiseled face, broken nose and a distinct Roman look.

Strontium Dog was one of 2000 AD's major series, second only to Judge Dredd, and 10 year old boys like me ate up the fast n' loose pulp sci-fi story lines, with Johnny Alpha squaring off against space pirates, alien brains, Harryhausen-style monsters, maniacal omnipotent computers, and even Satan himself. The writing was at times rather cheesy, like the inclusion of the metal-eating fur-ball alien sidekick known as the Gronk, but the series' outrageous levels of violence and the occasional mind-bending story, like Alpha time-travelling back to 1945 Berlin to arrest Adolf Hitler, made Strontium Dog a firm favourite. Incidentally, the production team that made the excellent 2013 fan short Judge Minty are currently in pre-production on a Strontium Dog film. Watch this space earthlings...

Monday, September 29, 2014


With summertime (or rather the unseasonably fine weather) now firmly on the back foot in this part of the world and with a prophetic sense of timing, I've been laid up with flu all this week which has left me feeling rather low down and depressed. And so today, in search of warmer climes and cheerful company, I looked to my modest stash of Italian Westerns and first out of the traps was Sergio Corbucci's film Compañeros. Made in 1970, Corbucci's film borrows to some degree the mismatched buddy plot from The Good the Bad and the Ugly, with Franco Nero's suave Swedish gunrunner and Tomas Milian's coarse bandit on a mission to return Fernando Ray's peaceful revolutionary leader to the town of San Bernadino for execution by General Mongo, the latest in a line of despots vying for control of  Mexico. Completing the incredible cast is Jack Palance playing Franco Nero's character arch-nemesis, perpetually toking on marijuana cigarettes and sporting a wooden hand and a pet falcon named Marsha (?). If that wasn't strange enough, Palance dubs himself in the English language version with a bizarre not-quite-Scottish lilt for no apparent reason.

Unlike Corbucci's other major contributions to the genre, Django and The Great Silence, Compañeros has a mischievous sense of absurdity. By 1970 the genre had become increasingly idiosyncratic and Compañeros features at least one scene to rival the weirdness of Django Kill, when Tomas Milian's character is left to die with an up-ended basket tied to this belly, and a possum-like creature inside - the idea being that the trapped creature would eventually burrow through Milian's stomach in a bid for freedom. Despite the plentiful gunplay throughout the film, the violence is given a ludicrous touch with Nero and Milian mowing down whole armies with apparent ease, Nero at one point commanding a gatling gun in perhaps a nod to his iconic role as Django. Still, Corbucci working from his own screenplay manages to smuggle in some political commentary including some sharp criticism of American designs on struggling mineral-rich countries, and ultimately it's the film's deft mix of comedy, action and left-wing politics that makes the film more wholly enjoyable than say A Bullet For The General, another great Italian Western of the era. Seasoned Spaghetti fans will of course be well versed in the film but for anyone looking beyond the Leone films, Compañeros comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

First look at Camera Obscura: The Walerian Borowczyk Collection

Last week, I received Arrow's long-awaited Kickstarter-funded Walerian Borowczyk collection and before adding some notes on the individual shorts and films spread across the set's eleven discs (5 BRs, 6 DVDs), I wanted to post some pics of the box itself which is a beauty - thankfully mine arrived from Arrow HQ in pristine condition...

Box front-view

Box side-view, containing 5 keep cases plus accompanying book

Box back view


Book inside

Book inside

Book inside

Individual keepcases, all containing reverse artwork
Clockwise: Walerian Borowczyk Short Films And Animation, Goto, Isle of Love (1968), Immoral Tales (1974), Blanche (1971), The Beast (1975)

Box rear view with edition number sticker

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Kate Bush Story: Running up That Hill (2014, BBC4)

Very much enjoyed this 1 hour primer on the music and art of one of the great mavericks, Kate Bush, from her prodigious teenage days (writing and demoing close to 200 songs including Man With the Child in His Eyes) right thru to her 2011 record 50 Words For Snow. Very few revelations here for seasoned fans but there was plenty of great footage of Kate, performing (sometimes reminding me of another great sensual beauty Anna Karina) and in conversation (culled from archive interviews) and among the celebrity testimonials (Elton John, Tori Amos and some young pop whipper snappers I didn't recognize), I particularly enjoyed contributions from Dave Gilmour, Brett Anderson and in particular Lindsey Kemp... I love this pic of Kate as Eisenstein...