Thursday, 19 March 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, 18 March 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, 16 March 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, 13 March 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, 12 March 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, 11 March 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, 10 March 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, 7 March 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, 5 March 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, 2 March 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...