Monday, 23 August 2010

Once Upon a Time in America site

Just about everything you could ever want to know about the making of the film, its locations, Harry Grey's novel and more:

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Nice remark on Leone

There was a reason why the 2.35:1 frame was invented, and it was Sergio Leone. Some have come close to matching his sense of scene composition, but none have consistently performed photographic miracles like Leone. Leone is a stunning example of why Pan And Scan should be outlawed under penalty of death by being cut in half

From an IMDB review

Friday, 20 August 2010

Bordel SS

France, during the Nazi occupation: A brothel services high ranking SS officers whilst some of the women working there secretly aid the resistance.

This Nazi-sexploitation entry from cult French auteur José Bénazéraf occupies an interesting position. On the one hand it’s clearly a film with something to say and an intelligence behind it. On the other hand it’s limited by the need to present various banal hardcore production numbers.

The film’s setting provides some excuses for its porn-style presentation of sex. The situation of the prostitutes in the brothel broadly echoes that of the actresses in the film, that of the SS men the presumed viewer.

For whether their real motivation is wealth, survival, or political (i.e. secretly serving the resistance) these women are required to make their male partners feel good. If that means lots of writhing, moaning and general acting then so be it.

The men, meanwhile, are desperate: Like their analogues in the audience, they just want to get off, to temporarily forget and get away from everything else in the world.

Bénazéraf, however, refuses to allow this escape, with the scenes inside the brothel being punctuated by news from outside and images of a resistance man going from one contact to another.

The most problematic scenes, from a film-theoretical perspective, are those that present the prostitutes by themselves. Some present insights, by again foregrounding the differences between actor and role and social actor and social role; it’s a nice Sartrean theme if we think of his famous analysis of the waiter who refuses to be reified as just a waiter. Others, however, present the same old pseudo-lesbian stuff for the male gaze in an entirely female situation where the “male gaze” ought to be absent.

Such images give you a sense of a tension between the filmmaker, backer, distributors and the audience. Without them might have something closer to a French version of Nagasi Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, an uncompromising, honest and hardcore film exploring limits and boundaries in relation to early 20th century fascism.

Here it’s worth noting that on the version I watched the title card introduces the film as none other than a Thanatos production or presentation: Can we say mass psychology of fascism, eros and civilisation, eros and thanatos, and all that stuff the ordinary raincoater viewer couldn’t give a toss about. (Not that he necessarily should, of course.)

Unfortunately commercial realities seem to have dictated otherwise: Be perverse but not too perverse, and certainly don’t attempt to pervert the idea of perversion.

And yet Bénazéraf has, in his own perverse way, succeeded. For the thing that is odd about the film in relation is perhaps how it is still frustrating from both mainstream and more sadomasochistic / Nazi-themed porn perspectives: If you want a straightforward hardcore film, there’s too much talk and not enough action, with this also being filmed in an at times unconventional manner, as with Bénazéraf’s penchant for mirror-based compositions. If you want something harder, then Bénazéraf declines to really deliver it, even in the climactic SS torture sequence: Certainly it’s still pretty disturbing and perverse, but not in relation to your obscure 1970s specialist pornos.

The key here is that word, frustration. It is, after all, the name of Bénazéraf’s best known film and is arguably the signature term to describe his work, which even on this showing deserves to be better known, especially for fans of Franco, Rollin, D’Amato or the other more usual suspects.

As a bit of bait and switch to further lure in the curious (even if they may then knowingly then be frustrated) I’ll conclude by mentioning that Brigitte Lahaie makes an appearance with brown rather than blonde hair.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Invisible Bullets

A short film, "heavily influenced by the spaghetti westerns, particularly For A Few Dollars More."

Further information, including press kit and stills, can be found here:

I'm sure they'd appreciate your comments

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Spanish actors with Jewish names

Specifically Emma Cohen and Victor Israel:

Why did they use these pseudonyms? Did either have a Jewish mother, such that it was a matrilineal choice of a part of their given Spanish personal - mother - father name? Or was it something else - e.g. a critical commentary on Francoist Catholic / Christian Spain, a non-Christian Spanish heritage?

Leone request

Can anyone give links on where to download or purchase the Italian versions of the Dollars films, preferably as they originally screened in Italy, with an intermission and with Fistful / Pungo credits of Leone as Roberto Roberti.

Grazie mille!

Family resemblances

"There seems to be a family resemblance" - Monco to the Colonel, For a Few Dollars More.

But has anyone ever done an over-determined Wittgenstenian reading of Leone on account of this?

Jesus Franco / Jazz

Two of Franco's jazz pseudonyms are Dave Tough and Clifford Brown.

A simple question, a complex answer

Which is your favourite Sergio Leone film?

And why?

Exposé / The House on Straw Hill / Trauma

Having secured a £500,000 advance for his best-selling debut novel, Paul Martin (Udo Kier) is feeling under severe pressure as he attempts to pen its follow-up. After a move to an isolated farmhouse fails to help Paul overcome his writer’s block, his increasingly desperate agent suggests that he might hire a live-in secretary and dictate the work to her. Linda (Linda Hayden) duly arrives, but soon proves to have ulterior motives of her own...

Known as Exposé and The House on Straw Hill in the UK and as Trauma in the US, this 1975 thriller is notable for being one of the few home-grown entries on the list of once-banned “video nasties”. Yet it’s also of a piece with the over-represented Italian and Spanish entries in being that fateful combination of independently made, low-budget exploitation film. (Looking back at the video nasties affair, one of their unanticipated consequences was facilitating the major studios in taking the same kind of control over what played on small screens as they had long enjoyed over the large one.)

As with many of the video nasties, much of the reason for Expose’s banning can be attributed to being in the wrong place at the wrong time: True, it features an awkward, ambiguously presented rape scene, that recalls one of its more obvious influences, namely Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. True, it’s got a fair bit of nudity and kinkiness, with Paul fetishistically donning rubber gloves before having sex and Linda being prone to masturbating wherever, whenever the mood takes her. True, there’s a fair bit of violence and gore.

No glove, no love

But in all this there’s nothing that could really be considered obscene nor likely to deprave and corrupt, with this fact all the more evident when you consider that the film had been in circulation since 1976 without attracting much unwanted attention. (As distinct from wanted, given the opportunistic casting of mid-1970s glamour queen Fiona Richmond as Paul’s girlfriend.)

It’s not a bad little film of its type, with writer-director James Kenelm-Clarke displaying a decent understanding of the mechanics of suspense and shock and making good use of his chosen (and necessarily limited) set of interior and exterior locations to convey his character’s isolation and claustrophobia.

The denouement may be a bit predictable for some. But rather than seeing this as a weakness, I’d be inclined to take it as something that follows logically and consistently from Kenelm-Clarke’s approach.

Basically the film’s unwritten rule seems to be that if something is mentioned or not mentioned there is a underlying reason for this that will eventually be explained. Paul’s telling one interviewer that his first novel took him three months to write and another that it took six months actually matters, as does Linda’s failure to discuss her ex-husband after intimating that she is no longer married.

It’s something that further shows Kenelm-Clarke was out to make a ‘proper’ film, rather than just relying on Richmond’s presence to bring undemanding punters in, as unfortunately would would be the case on their later collaboration, Hardcore.

It also helps here that Richmond isn’t required to carry the film, as unfortunately was also the case with Hardcore. It’s not that she lacks presence, even compared to co-stars Kier (who was dubbed, though this doesn’t detract particularly from his performance) and Hayden (who soon after disowned the film, although curiously she makes an appearance in the current remake). Rather it’s just that she has the wrong type of presence.

Classic Hayden

Classic Kier

Classic (?!) Richmond

British TV comedy and advertising regular Karl Howman appears as a local youth. His “I am a Vampyre” T-shirt references Larraz’s film Vampyres, on which the multi-talented Kenelm-Clarke had worked as composer. (Oddly Kenelm-Clarke doesn't provide the music here.)

yo soy vampyre

Giallo fans may want to compare Exposé to Sergio Amadeo’s Amuck, with which it has some distinct similarities, co-incidental or otherwise.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Giallo music mix

Here's some giallo related ear-candy

Track listing:
  1. Legowelt - Rain Season (Strange Life Records)
  2. Antoni Maiovvi - Nightmoves (Seed Records)
  3. I-F - Assault On Radical Radio (Disko B)
  4. Francesco - Clemente - Suoni Dalle Ombre Oltre (Crème Organization)
  5. Motiivi:Tuntematon - Mankind Failed (Kompakt Extra)
  6. gatekeeper - Optimus Maximus (Fright Records)
  7. The Hasbeens - Fall To Pieces (Frustrated Funk)
  8. John Carpenter - The President Is Gone (That's Entertainment Records)
  9. Tin Man - Riders (Cheap)
  10. Zerkalo - Last Meeting (Frustrated Funk)

Monday, 2 August 2010

Italian Film Review

These guys are 'friends of ours' ;-)

They've also just revamped the look of the site.


While the City Sleeps

This Fritz Lang film sees three newspaper men battle for control of the Kyne media empire, with the spoils agreed to go to whoever discovers the identity of a serial killer. It's the latter aspect that's of interest from a giallo perspective because of the killer's wearing black gloves as he strangles his victims and being a comic book reader.

Black Leather Rock

Killerman strikes!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Barbarian Brothers / The Barbarians / The Barbarians & Co.

Ruggero Deodato is above all a competent professional. He may be a metteur en scene rather than an auteur – if we want to use the French terms and subscribe to their implicit hierarchy – but he’s also someone who can be relied upon to deliver. The Barbarians is no exception, though it must be emphasised that 'the goods' are more juvenile sword and sorcery in the Conan the Barbarian mould than the 'video nasty' material Deodato is most (in)famous for.

Hints of Cannibal Holocaust? barbarian women on a raised platform

The story starts with a caravan train crossing a plain. These people, the voice-over informs us, are the Ragneks. They once traded away their gold in exchange for a magical gemstone, the belly stone (so called because it magically fits into the navel of the chosen female ruler of the tribe, a nice variant on the Excalibur theme for those wishing to check off their mono-myths) and the right to safe passage across in the known world in the practice of their trade, entertainment.

Now, however, the evil Kadar has decided to put an end to this. Though they fight bravely the Ragneks are no match for his forces. Some are slain. Others are captured, including the current ruler, Canary (?!), and the two youngsters Kutchek and Gore. A few escape.

Kutchek and Gore are separated from one another and sent to work as slaves. The years pass and they grow into formidably muscle-bound figures.

Wearing helmets that conceal their features they are then sent to fight one another to the death. Bread and circuses and all that...

Kutchek and Gore, or Gore and Kutchek

Rather than killing one another the brothers realise the truth (“Why have you got my face” “Why have you got my face!?”) and escape. They team up with another adventurer, China, find the remaining Ragnek survivors and plan their revenge.

Kutchek, China and Gore, or Gore, China and Kutchek?

Initially this entails sneaking into Kadar’s castle to rescue Canary. She however declines to be rescued and instead tells them that they must first find the now-lost belly stone, which is guarded by a dragon. So off they go...

It’s about this point you get the distinct feeling that the film was being made up as Deodato and company went along.

Still, its hard not to be entertained. What money there was is very much up on the screen, with bright and extravagant costumes, sets and design. And while the Paul brothers, the professional bodybuilders who play Kutchek and Gore (and sometimes billed themselves as The Barbarian Brothers in real life) can’t really act they don’t pretend that they can. Indeed, beyond flexing their muscles, they aren't really called upon to do so.

The presence of Michael Berryman and George Eastman is, of course, also welcome; sadly both have relatively small roles.

Berryman as 'the dirtmaster'

The sad thing about the film is the way that, in retrospect, it can be seen as one of those titles that the Italian cinema was soon thereafter to cease making. Yes, it’s cheesy but is it really any worse on this count than Conan the Destroyer? The truth is that Italian B-films weren't necessarily any worse than US B-films but that they increasingly didn’t get the chance to prove themselves with potential audiences.

La casa de las muertas vivientes / An Open Coffin ... an Empty Tomb

Oliver Bromfield arrives at his ancestral home with his new wife Ruth (Daniela Giordano); as we soon learn his previous wife Helen died in somewhat mysterious circumstances a year before.

Perhaps for this reason, or perhaps because of the alcoholism he suffered from at that time but now claims to be over, Oliver seems reluctant to reveal Ruth's status.

The truth is quickly apparent to his sister and step-mother, such that there is no point in maintaining any pretence anyway

Amidst a backdrop of voyeurism and perversity Ruth comes to believe that someone in the house is out to kill her, be it one or more of the aforementioned, the gardener or the maid.

Accordingly she hires a private investigator, who soon meets a sticky end at the hands of a black gloved, knife-wielding killer...

As the synopsis suggests, this Spanish-Italian co-production is one of those borderline giallo entries that bears a heavy debt to the Gothic in general and Du Maurier / Hitchcock’s Rebecca more specifically.

While intermittently strong on atmosphere and benefiting from good production values, it’s all a bit too by-the-numbers and obvious, with the killer’s identity and motive pretty obvious.

Despite its origins the film, written and directed by Alfonso Balcazar, eschews Latin locations and characters in favour of that typical not quite realised England.

A slumming Pierro Piccioni provides the soundtrack.

Delitto Carnale / Killing of the Flesh

After the death of their wealthy patriarch, the assorted members of a family assemble at an isolated hotel to wait for the funeral, the reading of the will, and the division of the estate.

With nothing to do but wait, those assembled seek to distract themselves as they know how: Having sex, arguing, fighting, playing practical jokes, or just drinking (J&B, naturally).

An emblematic image: tired, weary, bored

There is also the first indication that this is indeed a giallo, when one of the few servants in the hotel is seen on the phone, announcing that she knows the patriarch did not die in a road accident but was murdered, and that she also knows the identity of the killer.

What we don’t get, however, is a murder scene – or at least not for a while. Instead we get lesbians in the bath and heterosexual no-becomes-yes rape-becomes-consensual sex scenes.

Finally, after one particularly heavy night of debauchery – we are now more than half way through the 80-odd minutes running time – one of the family is found dead, clearly murdered.

The police are called. While they take the dead woman’s body away they do not begin an investigation, instead leaving those present to sort things out for themselves. A couple more murders result and the guilty party is outed. The end.

Delitto Carnale / Killing of the Flesh marks the end in more ways than one, being the last film from writer-director Cesare Canevari and the last film to star Marc Porel, who died the same year as it was released, 1983.

Canevari has an interesting filmography which includes the spaghetti western on acid Matalo!, the first Italian Emmanuelle film, Io Emmanuelle, and the self-explanatory Last Orgy of the Third Reich.

In fact, however, that should be seemingly self-explanatory. Last Orgy of the Third Reich has certain serious and artistic pretensions in the Night Porter, Salon Kitty or Salo mould. There’s the hint its not just being unpleasant for the sake of it, in that ‘how much of this can you take?’ way, but also asking about why you are ‘taking this’ in the first place.

In its own way Delitto Carnale is similar: How much ennui and boredom can you put up with and why? Do these composition and camera movements – and there are some pleasing and effective ones, including the discovery of the body and sequences in cobweb-filled storerooms and the patriarch’s modernist apartment – constitute sufficient reason for watching? Is it ‘for real’ or a parody in which everything is ironicised, distanced, estranged, ‘in quotes’? Just how critical is its vision of sex and dying in high society?

There’s no definitive answer, of course. And, as always, this is its source of strength, weakness, frustration and interest as a piece of Euro-trash. In this regard, it’s perhaps telling that the film was released in various different cuts, some inserting hardcore material for the raincoater crowd: If all else fails, you can always try to sneak something subversive in via the lowest-common-denominator sex film.

Recommended to those who have seen and can appreciate (read: see something in) the likes of Play Motel, The Curse of Ursula (for a Porel / Magniolfi giallo trash double bill) and Giallo a Venezia; it’s also recommended that you take a shower afterwards...

Thanks to the good people at Cinemageddon for making the film available and fan-subbing it.