Monday, 22 December 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, 18 December 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, 15 December 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, 13 December 2014

Art Beat

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

Saturday, 6 December 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, 4 December 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, 4 November 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, 20 October 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, 2 October 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, 29 September 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, 16 September 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, 23 August 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...

Sunday, 10 August 2014

John Waters on Pink Flamingos

Continuing a series recalling little nuggets heard on film maker commentaries. In this installment John Waters remembers filming the most infamous scene from his most infamous film. Waters once said that even if he had discovered a cure for cancer, he would still be best remembered for the scene where Divine samples a little... present left by Pat Moran's dog...
How can I tell this story in a new way ? We just waited and waited and waited. He wouldn't go. Somebody, I can't remember who gave the dog an enema with a hair applicator and dye bottle...and he did it - once. Later that night they all got together and Divine said "Oh God, am I gonna get sick from this?" They were all smoking pot and hash and they called Hopkins hospital and Divine pretended he was a mother and said "I have a retarded child and he just ate dog shit" And they said, "Well he'll be alrite. He could get the white worm, check for that". And they all howled on in a hashish frenzy !
John Waters, Pink Flamingos (New Line DVD, commentary index point 91:18)

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Ah Bill Was Here...

I can just about fit this in before the day slips away... On this day 17 years ago the great William Burroughs passed away due to complications from a heart attack he sustained the previous day. I've been reading Burroughs since I was a teenager - I can't quite remember if it was Cronenberg's film that led me to Burroughs, but any seeker of strange worlds will inevitably discover his most famous work Naked Lunch. It's a novel I re-read every year and it remains one of the most astonishing works of 20th century literature. For this post I wanted to share one of my most prized possessions, which is a Burroughs autographed copy of his 1977 book The Third Mind written in collaboration with Brion Gysin. The signing of the book comes with an interesting story - in 1979 Michael Butterworth to whom the book is dedicated to was looking to publish Burroughs' next novel Cities of the Red Night in the UK under his Savoy publishing company. Butterworth and his Savoy partner David Britton met with Burroughs at his home at The Bunker on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where the copy of The Third Mind was signed. This story was told to me by Michael Butterworth himself who sold me the book to raise funds for a new Savoy venture. And without further ado, here's one object I would run back into my burning house to save...

Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Art of Talking

This blog passed an invisible milestone this morning with just over 1000 comments racked up among these pages, so if you've ever taken the trouble to leave a comment on anything you've encountered here, I'd like to say thanks very much - even to the guy who left a comment to say I clearly didn't understand the meaning of the word spendthrift. Thanks dude. Comments are the things I prize most on this blog - it means that someone has read something I wrote and is moved enough to write back. Even the spendthrift guy. One of the best things about receiving a comment is how it can kick start a dialogue, which is often more entertaining than the post than precedes it, especially when it zigzags off topic into unexpected zones of discussion. So thanks once again and please keep 'em coming !

Edgar Allen Poe writes a comment: It's plutonian shore you zounderkite !

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

An Echo of Silence

More Nordic Blues.... I remember at the time thinking that was a really clever title... A peculiar set of circumstances today led me back to the review below, which I wrote and posted on Amazon way back in April 2000 for the VHS edition of Ingmar Bergman's The Silence. This was the first film review I ever wrote and I was so sure of its brilliance, a job offer from Empire seemed inevitable. Still, it's not so bad, it's readable, and relatively short and painless. Amusing to see that Amazon's product review editors effectively bleeped out the word masturbation in the line: Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism - the ellipsis marks should read masturbation. And so without further ado, here's one of my early ejaculations...

Along with Cries and Whispers and The Seventh Seal, Ingmar Bergman's The Silence is his best work, a film mesmerizing in its still potent power to disturb. The film charts the deterioration of the relationship between two sisters who book into a vast hotel in a nameless foreign region. Tensions mount and hostilities soon arise as both sisters can only find futility in their search for a warm, compassionate and tender relationship. Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) has a compulsive sexuality, which prompts her to have sex with strangers, while Ester (Ingrid Thulin), a cold repressed and alcoholic intellectual agonizes over her lesbian feelings for her sister...

The Silence is a strange film fueled by strange passions and emotions. It's rather minimalist in style, for Bergman rarely ventures outside the empty hotel, which is peopled only with a ghostly elderly porter and a troupe of circus dwarfs. With Sven Nykvist's camera exploring the space of the vast hotel corridors, it may for some recall Last Year at Marienbad but I think the film has more significant parallels with David Lynch's enigmatically bleak Eraserhead, both films sharing similar themes and a dark ambiance. Symbolically, the film is not a difficult as other Bergman dramas. The sense of decay is omnipresent throughout the film - the sisters' relationship, Ester who is suffering with a terminal cancer, and the region itself with its streets patrolled by tanks, suggesting the whole damn thing is about to slip into war. And Bergman's superb use of the hotel, which the characters seemingly can't escape from, takes on almost Kafkaesque proportions. Made in 1963 The Silence still remains strong, with scenes of sex, nudity, ...and alcoholism. The film ended an extraordinary trilogy that began with Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light; a series Bergman made which addressed his evaporating religious faith. Incidentally, look out for the funny scene in Woody Allen's Manhattan where Allen is horrified by Diane Keaton's merciless criticism of the film...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Crisis In A Hot Zone - Revisiting Black Hawk Down

Just two years after Spielberg forever changed the look of the war film, Ridley Scott's 2001 picture Black Hawk Down borrowed Saving Private Ryan's aggressive visual intensity to portray the devastating power of modern mechanized combat. Some 13 years on, Scott's film takes it's place alongside Alien and Blade Runner as one of director's finest works, with credit due also to producer Jerry Bruckheimer for not diluting this huge 100 million dollar production with his usual commercial excesses, a lesson learned perhaps from the critical mauling of Bruckheimer's previous film Pearl Harbor. Originally Black Hawk Down was to be helmed by Con Air director Simon West who brought Mark Bowden's 1999 account of the battle of Mogadishu to the attention of Bruckheimer. Scheduling conflicts with West's 2001 film Tomb Rider forced him to opt out (he retains an executive producer credit on the finished film) and the film was offered to Ridley Scott who was enjoying something a second wind with Gladiator and Hannibal.

Ridley Scott has long professed to being a fan of James Cameron's Aliens, and one imagines Scott relishing the idea of making his own combat movie. Although Black Hawk Down and Aliens are literally worlds apart, both films deal with marines stranded in hostile territory ill-prepared and ill-equipped for battle. Black Hawk Down is a brutal, exhausting wholly immersive war film, if one wanted to experience the noise, the disorientation and savagery of urban combat this is the film to see. Scott places his cameras right at the centre of combat and never flinches from the gruesome details of warfare, the mangling of bodies by bullets, bombs and shrapnel, including one particularly harrowing moment of improvised field surgery when a medic plunges his hand into a gaping wound to clamp a leaking artery. Scott's visual sensibilities are as sharp as ever and punctuates the ferocious pace with arresting images - a helicopter stirring up a vortex of dust and strewn rubbish, or a shot of a marine carefully placing a comrade's severed hand into his satchel, presumably to return to its owner.

The film is fitted out with a fine cast, among them some well known faces which can be hard to spot among the crew cuts and combat gear, (look fast and hard for early appearances by Orlando Bloom and Tom Hardy), and while the rangers have little or no back story screenwriter Ken Nolan (and various uncredited writers) invest the principle players with memorable bits of business to hang to their characters - Eric Bana's delta force loner and self-confessed war-junkie, Tom Sizemore's no-bullshit battalion commander, or Ewan McGregor's wet behind the ears desk clerk plucked from the office as a last minute replacement. The film was criticized for offering little Somali perspective in the film, except for a token dialogue scene between a Black Hawk pilot and his captor, but the film unapologetically sets out its stall as a blue-collar combat movie, pro-military, and light on political analysis. For the definitive account of the events of October 1993, Mark Bowden's book is required reading...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Taking the Stand for The Walking Dead

All you have to do is stay on the pedestrian catwalk and in no time at all you'll be... strangled by the walking dead. 
Larry Underwood, The Stand
I've just spent a very pleasant few hours catching up with Season 4 of The Walking Dead, which for reasons unclear to me now, I'd been putting off seeing for months. I'm about half way through at this point and I can safely say this has been the strongest series so far as Southern cop Rick Grimes and a rag-tag band of survivors desperately cling onto the last vestiges of civilization in the increasingly eroding world of the living. Despite the show's somewhat listless narrative drift and the endless scenes of people aiming guns at one another, I find it all compulsively watchable, whether it be the astonishingly gory head trauma inflicted on the zombies, or the unrelenting bleakness of it all as the fortunes of the survivors wax and wane, but mostly wane given the show's eagerness to kill off cast members at any given moment.

Post-apocalypse Atlanta in The Walking Dead series

I'm not sure why it hadn't occurred to me before now but The Walking Dead satisfies one major itch I've been wanting to scratch for years now and that is to see a worthy adaptation of Stephen King's end-of-the-world saga The Stand, or at least the novel's first and most powerful section Captain Trips, in which a killer flu virus destroys 99% of mankind, and in turn transforms America into a post-apocalyptic wilderness very much in the vein of The Walking Dead. The scenes in the series of people probing dimly lit corridors where something is inevitably shifting in the darkness seem like they could have been ripped from the pages of The Stand, like the scene in the book where Larry Underwood gropes his way through a darkened Lincoln Tunnel strewn with decomposing bodies and automobile wreckage. The character of Rick Grimes feels like he's cut from the same cloth as The Stand's Stuart Redman who emerges from the Disease Prevention Center in much the same way as Grimes leaves the hospital in the first episode of The Walking Dead, both men discovering the extent of the catastrophe that has befallen their world. Similar too are the characters of The Walking Dead's Hershel Greene and The Stand's Glen Bateman - both wiser, older, men who offer advice to their younger counterparts.

Post-Apocalypse New York in the 5-part comic The Stand: Captain Trips

The idea for a film of The Stand was first mooted in the early 80's when Stephen King entrusted George Romero with the daunting task of bringing his 900-page epic to the screen. Ultimately the sheer size of The Stand ruled out a 140min film (or two films, which was considered at one point), and King's screenplay passed from Romero to Mick Garris who turned in a very pedestrian 8 hour television film in 1994. I suspect The Stand in its entirety might be best left read rather than seen, the book suffers from far too much mythologizing, degenerating into a banal clash between the forces of Good and Evil leading to an insufferable corny climax when the hand of God Himself descends upon the Babylonian city of Las Vegas to detonate a nuclear missile. When Kim Newman reviewed the DVD edition of the mini-series for DVD Delirium, he wryly observed that this divine ending looked laughably similar to the then UK National Lottery advert depicting a huge hand pointing at one lucky lottery winner, announcing "It's you!"1 Perhaps Frank Darabont felt likewise and saw in Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comic, a proxy version of The Stand which dispensed with the Tolkien nonsense and focused on characters whose colors weren't necessarily fixed to the mast. Whatever the case may be The Walking Dead series has most likely put paid to any future adaptations of The Stand film, TV series or otherwise, and that I must concede, is probably a good thing...


1. "On its first UK appearance the show was hobbled in its big finish because God manifests in exactly the same way as in a series of TV ads for the then new National Lottery"
Kim Newman, The Stand DVD review, DVD Delirium Volume 3

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a.... large animated hand - The Stand series climax vs. National Lottory ad

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Section 3 List

July sees the release of Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide Part 2, the sequel to Jake West and Marc Morris’ critically acclaimed 2010 documentary which explored the Video Nasties phenomenon and more. Part 2 which comes as a generous 3-disc set follows closely the format of the first film, with the first disc containing a new documentary entitled Draconian Days, which picks up the story in the aftermath of the Video Recordings Act in 1984, right through to the end of James Ferman’s tenure at the BBFC in 1999 which ushered in a more liberal policy at the British Censors office. Spread over discs 2 and 3 is perhaps the real jewel of the set, a huge trailer reel of films which appeared on the Director of Public Prosecutions' Section 3 list (below), films "deemed liable for seizure and forfeiture under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, but not prosecution". As with the previous Video Nasties set, all trailers are preceded by context-setting introductions from among others Alan Jones, Kim Newman, Stephen Thrower and Patricia MacCormack, and given the eclectic range of Section 3 titles, should make for a fascinating couple of hours...

Black Room, The
Blood Lust
Blood Song
Blue Eyes of the Broken Doll, The
Brutes and Savages
Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, The
Child, The
Christmas Evil
Dawn of the Mummy
Dead Kids
Death Weekend
Deep Red
Demons, The
Don't Answer the Phone!
Enter the Devil
Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, The
Evil, The
Executioner, The
Final Exam
Foxy Brown
Friday the 13th
Friday the 13th Part 2
GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm)
Graduation Day
Happy Birthday to Me
Headless Eyes
Hell Prison
Hills Have Eyes, The
Home Sweet Home
Invasion of the Blood Farmers
Killing Hour, The
Last Horror Film, The
Last Hunter, The
Love Butcher, The

Mad Foxes, The
Mark of the Devil
Massacre Mansion
Naked Fist
Nesting, The
New Adventures of Snow White, The
Night Beast
Night of the Living Dead
Nightmare City
Oasis of the Zombies
Prom Night
Rosemary's Killer
Savage Terror
Scream for Vengeance!
Shogun Assassin
Street Killers
Suicide Cult
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The
Thing, The
Tomb of the Living Dead
Toy Box, The
Werewolf Woman
Wrong Way
Zombie Holocaust
Zombies: Dawn of the Dead
Zombies Lake

Monday, 16 June 2014

Pictures of a City

Linked below, a short but sweet history of James Joyce's involvement with the Volta Cinema which opened in Dublin in December 1909, purportedly, Ireland's first picture house but it's debatable. Joyce himself did not stay with the cinema very long, disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm of the Dublin populace for the Volta's program of European imports. There's something very appropriate about Joyce having a connection to moving pictures - apparently the author met Eisenstein in the late 20's, both mutual admirers, and I can see Joyce's influence on the cinema of Godard and Fellini, especially 8½. You can read about the Volta Cinema here

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Disintegration Loops Film

I've just spent a very pleasant hour immersed in the film which accompanies music from sound-artist William Basinski's acclaimed The Disintegration Loops recordings. The film consists of a single continuous video camera shot of the Manhattan skyline on the evening of September 11th 2001. The footage was captured from the rooftop of Basinski's apartment block following the collapse of the second World Trade Center and shows huge plumes of smoke drifting across the city... In the weeks before the disaster, Basinski set to work digitizing an archive of old tape recordings he made in the early 80's, mostly bits of classical music sourced from local radio station transmissions which in turn were manipulated and looped to create new ambient soundscapes. As the years wore on, these tape recordings were packed away and forgotten about until Basinski re-discovered them in July 2001 and intrigued by these long lost works began transferring the tapes to CD. After setting up the recording of the first loop, Basinski noticed the music had become increasingly distorted and distressed, and upon inspecting the playback device noticed the magnetic tape was literally crumbling apart as it was being recorded. Basinski's initial dismay at the condition of the tapes now irrevocably beyond repair, soon gave way to delight as this unexpectedly haunted, terminally ill music began to emerge. Basinski quickly recorded the rest of the ailing tapes resulting in the four volumes of music we now know as The Disintegration Loops.

On a crisp, clear, blue skied September morning, Basinski watched from his Brooklyn rooftop, the second World Trade Center building collapse in a 47-story cascade of dust, smoke, steel and rubble. As these extraordinary events unfolded, Basinski played the disintegrated recordings from the sound system in his apartment, the deeply melancholic dying music resonating with the terrible visions unfolding before his eyes, intrinsically linking the music with the events of 9/11. The following morning Basinski recovered the video tape recording from the rooftop and cued the footage up with the first the disintegration loop piece, dlp 1.1. Running just under an hour, the video recording captures the immensity of the disaster with wave after wave of monstrous hot black clouds of concrete dust billowing out of the crash zone and across the Manhattan skyline. In a sense the film is an apocalyptic re-write of Brian Eno's Mistaken Memories of Mediaeval Manhattan, a 47min installation piece composed of footage Eno shot in and around 1980 of the Manhattan skyline with clouds, birds, and aircraft, serenely drifting across the camera's field of vision. Soundtracking the images is Basinski's music which begins with a simple pastoral melody and gradually with each successive pass of the loop makes its inexorable journey to oblivion, and as evening gives way to night, the image of Manhattan becomes like the music, more abstract and nondescript. The followings screen caps and timings are taken from the DVD of the film included in The Disintegration Loops boxset. The film is available for viewing on youtube

dlp 1.1 - 00.49

dlp 1.1 - 11.22

dlp 1.1 - 28.46

dlp 1.1 - 39.08

dlp 1.1 - 58.33

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013)

There's a heart-stopping moment near the beginning of Frank Pavich's 2013 documentary, courtesy of Nicolas Winding Refn, who is recalling a memorable dinner he attended at the home of Alejandro Jodorowsky in Paris. Very late in the night, Jodorowsky asked the Danish director if he would be interested in seeing his film of Dune, which left Winding Refn momentarily stunned and bewildered. Had Jodorowsky somehow filmed Dune, the film famously abandoned in the late 70's ? What Winding Refn was actually invited to look at was the so-called Dune Book, a huge weighty tome produced for potential financiers, containing the mass of pre-production ideas, sketches, designs, storyboards, and shooting plans for Jodorowsky's projected film. Despite the fact that not a single frame of footage was shot for the film, Winding Ref was clearly awestruck: "Sitting there, 2am, at his house, seeing the book, looking at the images, and hearing Jodorowsky telling me what was gonna happen in every scene....I'm gonna tell you something - it's awesome". Watching Pavich's wonderful account of this legendary lost classic of Cinema, you might well agree.

Like the light from a dead star, Jodorowsky's Dune still shines brightly long after its collapse. Paul Sammon wrote about Jodorowsky's proposed film as early as 1984 in a Cinefantastique article entitled Versions of Arrakis You'll Never See. HR Giger's account of the film has appeared in several of his art books in conjunction with his paintings for the film, as have Chris Foss' conceptual art and Jean "Moebius" Giraud's storyboards and character sketches, which have been published or made available online.  Pavich's film brings all these strands together for what is the most fully rounded account of Dune to date, inching the viewer ever closer to what the film might have been. The heart of the documentary is Jodorowsky himself, at 84 years old discussing in Spanish and his own idiosyncratic take on English, the plans he had for Dune with an enthusiasm and energy of a man half his age. Jodorowsky is one of the great poet-philosophers of Cinema - when El Topo emerged in the early 70's, Jodorowsky declared: "I ask of film what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs". Speaking about Dune in 2013 Jodorowsky recalled an even greater ambition, referring to his film in hallowed terms as "an artistical, cinematographical God"

Alejandro Jodorowsky: "I wanted to make something sacred"

Jodorowsky has spoken on camera about Dune before, in the 1995 documentary La Constellation Jodorowsky, and the 2007 biography Moebius Redux: A Life In Pictures. What's significant about his turn here is the passion with which he recalls the doomed project, the sense of awe he had for the team of collaborators he gathered around him - Moebius, Dan O'Bannon, Chris Foss and HR Giger, his spiritual warriors whom he intrinsically trusted to bring his dream of Dune to life. There's a wonderful moment in the film when Jodorowsky appears upset yet composed when talk turns to the demise of the film, only to have his mood re-invigorated at the failure of David Lynch's Dune, a film maker Jodorowsky evidently has huge respect for, but cheerfully admits his relief that Lynch's film did not scale his own grand ambitions. Listening to Jodorowsky, there's a sense that the Chilean director is taking the opportunity afforded by Pavich's film to settle his affairs - at least in terms of Dune and at the finale of the documentary he sounds a clarion call for film makers to take all the material created for Dune and make their own film of it.

The colossal Dune Book, and a page of Moebius' storyboards inside

Elsewhere Jodorowsky spins marvelous yarns and delights in the serendipitous way the film came together. No sooner had Jodorowsky decided to seek out Moebius as his major collaborator on the film ("my camera" as he describes the French illustrator), both men soon met by pure chance. After an ill-fated meeting with Douglas Trumbull who was first considered to create Dune's special effects, Jodorowsky attended a screening of Dark Star in a nearby theater, and impressed by what he saw, contacted Dan O'Bannon to offer him the job instead. Ever inventive, Jodorowsky explains how he persuaded to Orson Welles to appear as the grotesquely bloated Baron Harkonnen, and his rather ingenious solution for dealing with Salvador Dali's preposterous salary demand for playing the Emperor of the Universe ($100,000 per minute of screen time!). Jodorowsky also recalls with some amusement his first meeting with Pink Floyd (chosen to write part of the score, along with the volcanic free-rock outfit Magma), and his outrage when the band turned up at the meeting in jocular form - "How you don't understand I am to offer you, the most important picture in the history of humanity. We will change the world. And you are eating...big macs!" - the director's fury quickly focusing the Floyd on the matter at hand.

Dune's spiritual warriors:
top: Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius (accompanied by a Sardaukar soldier)
middle: futurist designer Chris Foss, bottom: the late HR Giger

Despite the scope of Pavich's film there are some omissions although understandably not the fault of the film makers. Dan O'Bannon passed away in 2009, and Moebius followed in 2012. O'Bannon does make a posthumous appearance in the documentary by way of a voice recording, describing his incredible hallucinatory first meeting with Jodorowsky (who supplied the hallucinogen). O'Bannon's wife Diane is on hand and discusses her husband's happy time working on the film and the emotional turmoil he suffered after the film was abandoned. A key theme in the documentary is Dune's sense of collaboration, with Chris Foss and the late HR Giger remembering the atmosphere of creativity Jodorowsky created for his artists, both men turning in some of the best work of their careers; from Foss' spaceships which look like cosmic tropical fish, to Giger's dark, occult landscapes and citadels of the evil Harkonnen planet.

Chris Foss' design of the stricken Pirate spaceship, with the cargo of spice leaking out of the ruptured hull

For all its lofty ambition there is the inevitable question of whether Jodorowsky could have pulled it off. Pavich's film admirably attempts to answer the unanswerable by using some very tasteful 3D animation to bring to life Moebius' storyboards - the opening sequence alone was conceived as an immense long shot which would travel across the luminous wastes of the galaxy, eventually zeroing in on a pirate spaceship engaged in battle with a convoy of transports carrying the precious Dune spice. Jodorowsky later switches from outer space to inner space in a pivotal scene where Dune's hero Paul Atreides is conceived when a drop of his father's blood is seen travelling through his mother's uterus, the blood then fusing with the ovum in a spectacular explosion of fertilization. Considering Jodorowsky reenacted the conquest of Mexico in an extraordinary sequence in Holy Mountain using costumed frogs, one suspects his Dune could have been very special indeed. Despite the providence the film enjoyed as it took shape, Dune's collapse was swift and brutal. The production was financially secure with enough French money, but the film needed a large American distribution deal to recoup its budget. When producer Michel Seydoux shopped the film around to the major studios there was little appetite to deal with a maverick director and a film which might have ran anywhere between 12 and 20 hours. Speaking about the film's reception in Hollywood, Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz recalled "The worry was it would go way over budget...and it wouldn't have an audience because no one would want to sit through that long a film".

Jodorowsky’s Dune may have ended in failure but Pavich steers his own film towards a positive ending of sorts by celebrating the legacy of the film. With Dune Books deposited at all the various studios, the bones of the film were picked clean in the years that followed. Pavich borrows judicious clips from such disparate sci-fare as Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Masters of the Universe, Contact, Prometheus to illustrate the influence of Dune. Dan O’Bannon in the fallout from the film poured his energies into a screenplay entitled Star Beast which incorporated ideas from Dune, and later became Alien. Jodorowsky himself was still working out elements of Dune with his next film, the underappreciated Tusk, which he opened with a spectacular long shot. More significantly Jodorowsky and Moebius went on to collaborate on a series of graphic novels which were steeped in Dune mythology. The final word goes to Richard Stanley who makes a welcome appearance here, best sums up the film’s enigma: “Dune is probably the great movie never made. It continues to influence us and will go on influencing generations to come, despite the fact that it doesn’t exist, we cannot rent it, we cannot watch it…”

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fear of the Flesh: The Making Of The Fly

When the book is written about DVD there should be a chapter devoted to "false starts", and in it perhaps a note on David Cronenberg's masterpiece The Fly which Fox dumped on DVD in 2000 devoid of extras and perhaps most disingenuously paired with Chris Walas' utterly dismal sequel. Cronenberg fans had to wait five years for The Fly to be released in a stand-alone special edition but their patience was rewarded with a fine, nuanced transfer, a typically erudite director's commentary, plus a second disc of worthwhile extras. The centerpiece of the supplements is the 2005 documentary Fear of the Flesh, a superb 2 hour 41 minute making-of documentary which rounds up most of the major cast and crew members to share their memories of making the film.

Geena Davis and David Cronenberg on the set of The Fly

It’s almost expected these days that films produced under trying circumstances result in the most compelling retrospectives, watching the film-making process come off the rails in Burden of Dream or Hearts of Darkness can make for utterly compulsive viewing. The production of The Fly by contrast was relatively harmonious, but Fear of the Flesh is no less fascinating for it. While the film wasn't beset by a megalomaniac director or an out-of-control budget, the documentary reveals how two unforeseen crises fundamentally shaped the film into what we know today – the exit from the project of the original director (following the tragic, sudden death of his daughter), and the collapse of Cronenberg’s Total Recall adaptation for which the director had invested 12 months of pre-production work only to find himself effectively in search of work. Cronenberg himself is absent among the talking heads, which is a shame (perhaps he was busy making A History of Violence), but a younger, bespectacled Cronenberg is present in the wealth of video footage that was shot on set, showing the director quiet and relaxed, discussing set-ups with his actors or cheerfully directing the special effects crew to pump more blood and gloop. Despite the lo-fi fuzzy quality of the video footage, much of it is remarkable – we see the Chris Walas’ crew skillfully working the animatronic puppets (which netted the film’s only Academy Award), or Cronenberg himself wearing some bug-eyed glasses and dime-store fly wings, trying out the rotating room set which allowed Jeff Goldblum to crawl seamlessly up the walls of his laboratory. In addition there are outtakes of shots where optical effects didn't quite come off, and there’s some wonderful test film of Goldblum wearing the Brundlefly costume accompanied by a beautiful, fresh-faced Geena Davis.

Beauty and the Beast - Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis pose for test footage of the Brundlefly suit

As for the cast and crew interviewees, all bring vivid, fascinating recollections to the documentary. Jeff Goldblum, who seems as nervy as the characters he plays, remembers some last minute dialogue he added to his adrenalized monologue in the cafe scene; art designer Carol Spier reveals her inspiration for the design of the telepods, while cameraman Mark Irwin tells a hilarious story about Typhoon the Baboon's scandalous behavior on set. One of the more interesting subjects covered in the documentary are the two legendary cut scenes from The Fly – the infamous Monkey-Cat sequence and the Butterfly Baby dream sequence. In the Monkey-Cat sequence Brundlefly splices the baboon with a cat creating a grotesque, agonized hybrid of the two which Brundlefly quickly batters to death. In the second half of the sequence Brundlefly goes to the roof of his warehouse to vent his rage when a piece of fly appendage bursts forth from his body – which Brundlefly appears to eat away in utter frustration. The sequence was of course cut from the final film, which producer Stuart Cornfield admits was done in fear of the audience losing sympathy with Goldblum’s character. I personally don’t lament the loss of this sequence in the film, the actual monkey-cat puppet looks less impressive than Chris Walas’ other designs, which Walas readily admits was quickly prepped and shot right at the end of a hectic shooting day. Less contentious perhaps is the animated Butterfly Baby sequence which was conceived as one possible coda to the film. In the scene Geena Davis is lying on a bed and dreams of her unborn baby hatching from a larvae and flying off into a celestial light. It’s quite a lovely sequence in itself but absolutely belongs in another film. Wisely the sequence was dropped with little regret. Incidentally, both sequences can be found elsewhere on the DVD’s extras disc, and have been cleaned up and complimented with Howard Shore’s music to present them as they might have played in the final film. A very nice touch.

You are what you eat - from the Monkey-Cat sequence

Butterfly Baby takes flight (to the cutting room floor)

All told, Fear of the Flesh: The Making Of The Fly is an essential, near exhaustive chronicle of one of the great classics of 80’s Cinema, and establishes a marker for how a long-form biography of a film should be done. If, like me, you have missed this documentary, it comes highly recommended in conjunction with David Cronenberg’s commentary track. Be very impressed indeed.