Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Heavy stuff

My cat, Bebert, the image that I have as my icon here, has died.

I woke up this morning and found him dead outside the door.

It was completely unexpected. He was about eight years old and was his usual self last night and early in the morning, even up to a couple of hours before.

This was not what I needed at this point, when the new anti-depressants I was taking and whose dose had then been increased seemed to be working; when I was back on track PhD wise, and when things (sleeping, eating, alcohol consumption, self-harming) were generally getting under control.

Hope you will understand if there are no more posts for a bit...

Monday, 7 November 2011

Contrasting posters for The Designated Victim





I think I prefer the top one, because of the bolder colours. Your opinions?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Aska susayanlar seks ve cinayet / Thirsty for Love, Sex and Murder

One of the criticisms frequently leveled against Italian genre cinema is that it is derivative or imitative. As Luigi Cozzi said, producers and backers didn't want to know what your film was about but rather what films it was like. Yet few went as far down the copyright infringing route as Patrick Lives Again, that unofficial sequel to the original Patrick. The more usual approach was that taken by the various zombie films that appeared in the wake of Dawn of the Dead: It was clear what their inspiration was, but there was enough that was different and sometimes even original.

From what I've seen, Turkish exploitation cinema is another thing entirely. Most notoriously the so-called Turkish Star Wars uses footage from George Lucas's film, intercut with new material, and large chunks of score from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And then there are the Spiderman, Superman and Batman films.

What we have here, meanwhile, is a Turkish version of Sergio Martino's 1970 giallo The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh, with both plot and scenes lifted wholesale.

Even so, the filmmakers do make some changes and additions:

The maniac in the opening scene is more clearly visible, and identified by his victim before she dies as having a scar. This makes the Mrs Wardh character, Mine, suspect that he could be her ex-lover, the Jean one, Tarik, with whom she had an intense sado-masochistic relationship.

The Mr Wardh character, Metin, is sexually incapable, thus providing a further justification/rationale for his wife's falling for the George Corro one, Yilmaz, when she's introduced to him by her friend, the Carol Brandt one, Oya, at a party.

When Mine is blackmailed over this relationship and Oya goes to meet the blackmailer she isn't killed, merely chased and forced to drop the money.

In final third, the identities of the conspirators against Mine are also different, as is the ending.

The film is also differently paced, in that it runs barely an hour rather than 90 minutes. There's less emphasis upon drama and suspense and more upon action, with the general approach being to get straight into, through and out of each scene via the fastest route possible. Hollywood-style visual grammar and decoupage are conspicious by their absence. While it's not intentionally avant-garde, the effect is often just as jarring. This is particularly evident in the approach the filmmakers take to scoring, where a few bars culled from Morricone and Nicolai crime scores or an original chord, riff or beat almost sound like experiments in sampling, looping and layering.


The killer...


attacks...


there's going to be a lot of this...



what the... oh, it's a subjective shot from the victim's POV of a plane coming in to land...


and re-uniting Mine and Metin

You can also see that the filmmakers are trying to emulate their model(s) and inject a touch of visual inspiration, with zooms; odd angles; rapid cutting; or the likes of shots partly through liquid-filled glass or the maniac's dark glasses in the foreground; taken at ground level from behind a car; or of Mine framed through the gap between the handle and body of an old-style telephone.

More importantly in terms of their target audience -- read young Turkish men wanting Meral Zeren more than Edwige Fenech or to be Kadir Inanan rather than George Hilton -- the filmmakers don't skimp on the exploitation goods. Just about every woman quickly get undressed down to her underwear, often naked -- though, it should be noted, with no full-frontal nudity -- and, undoubtedly more disconcertingly for more sensitive types, abused, threatened or slashed up.

The scene that best exemplifies this is when a woman comes home, takes off her coat, revealing that she is naked beneath it, goes into the shower and is then slaughtered. Perhaps she was one of the women at an earlier party who was wearing a paper dress that got torn off. But there was no mention of a paper bra and panties.

For today's audiences, the film also has the attraction of providing cultural and historical insights, in terms of showing modern, swinging post-1960s Turks, along with no mentions whatsoever of Islam and little sense of moral disapproval. A lot of this stuff, whether fashions, decors, hairstyles, vehicles or dialogue is also, of course, highly entertaining from a kitsch/camp/trash perspective, if you're not interested in that sort of thing: “You smell of alcohol and cigarettes.” “A man should smell of alcohol and cigarettes.”

If you've never seen any gialli - unlikely for a reader of this blog, I know - then this probably isn't the Turkish exploitation film for you, but if you have and want to start exploring then its an intriguing and entertaining introduction that may well leave you wanting more...

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Two latest posters

Both of them are actually the locandine rather than the 2/4 sheets, and have the same artwork but in a different format with the usual space above the image for the cinema to include the screening date / time information.


Torso


The Killer Must Kill Again

Trhauma

No that isn’t a typo and no this isn’t the 1993 Argento film.

Rather, Trhauma is the actual title of this 1980 giallo-slasher entry from Gianni Martucci and Alessandro (“Al”?) Capone.

The story begins with a prologue, recalling Halloween, Friday the 13th and, indeed, Nine Guests for a Crime: One boy convinces another, who seems to be be blind in one eye, to climb a tree, which he then falls out of with apparently fatal results.

Following this we cut to the present as a group of bourgeois types arrive at a holiday home in an isolated area. Soon two of them, a photographer and his model, wander off to do some shooting. After they become separated, she’s killed by one-eyed jack, now a man.


Less than ten minutes in and we have a naked woman

The others are concerned about her absence, but don’t do anything about it until it’s too late and the phone lines have been cut. As the killer closes in and the body-count rises, we learn some of their secrets, including gambling debts, lesbian affairs and blackmail.


Franco Diogene prepares to enter the pool and the water prepares to leave

Eventually a final girl/woman is identified and a tense extended stalk and chase scene ensues. The abrupt resolution and closing epigram, however, seem more giallo than slasher, bringing things back full circle.

An unpretentious and effective little film that doesn’t outstay its welcome and delivers on suspense, shocks and sleaze and sees the filmmakers make good use of their locations.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Der Henker von London / The Mad Executioners

The main weakness of this adaptation of Bryan Edgar Wallace's The White Carpet is that it's really two stories in one, both having enough in them to make a single film.

The Mad Executioners title refers to a group of hooded figures who try, judge and hang those who would otherwise have evaded justice. As the noose they use comes from the Black Museum, it is highly likely that someone within Scotland Yard is party to this conspiracy. Worse, some in the the underworld quickly see the potential for establishing their own copycat courts within their gangs.


The court


A Phantom Carriage

Meanwhile, a mad scientist carrying out experiments into trying to keep heads alive sans bodies by connecting them up to mechanical lungs and hearts. His modus operandi is to abducts young women, take what he needs and then dump the rest across London.

While the narratives do intersect somewhat on account of the sister of one of the investigators falling victim to the madman and the female heroine then going undercover in a bid to ensnare him, its notable that this latter scene does not actually provide the climax to the film as it would undoubtedly have done so had it been a single narrative.




Modern art is equated with madness, this painting being done by an artist under the influence of opium

Despite being produced by Artur Brauner's normally frugal CCC the film looks to had a decent amount of money spent on it, with some particularly impressive sets for the executioners' base and the mad scientist's home-cum-laboratory.

Edwin Zbonek's direction likewise pleases, as does Richard Angst's crisp black and white widescreen cinematography. One scene sees them present an otherwise tedious bar-room musical number in a long take that performs a 360 degree circuit of the set.

The performances are variable. Dieter Borsche is nicely sinister and driven as the mad scientist, whereas Chris Howland's investigative reporter Gabby Pennypacker is more annoying than funny in the Eddi Arent type comic relief role. Maria Perschy makes for an engaging female lead on account of being a bit more active and less of a screaming victim type than usual, with the sparring between her and Borsche as he tries to drug her drink and she tries to avoid this another delight.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Striptease Extravaganza / Mary Millington's Striptease Extravaganza

Or the uses and abuses of montage...

One of the key divisions in film theory is between proponents of the long take and proponents of montage. The use of the long take is usually associated with realism, and entails the presentation of blocks of space and time where the relationships between images emerge 'naturally'. Montage, by contrast, is associated with formalism, and entails the construction of relationships between otherwise disconnected images, perhaps in the service of another (higher) reality.

I mention this because Striptease Extravaganza / Mary Millington's Striptease Extravaganza is an exercise in the latter, albeit one which few montage theorists would likely want to take as an illustration of their idea(l)s.

First of all, there are those titles: Millington friend / exploiter / enabler John M. East introduces the film, proclaiming that Millington was a great striptease artist who made a profound impression on the form. As evidence he presents some scenes from Queen of the Blues, the last film that she made before her 1979 suicide.

But, if you don't care about Millington, or don't find dead women sexually attractive, it's then on to the main attractions of the other, sans Millington, title: Comedian Bernie Winters and 16 women supposedly competing for the stripper of the year title, £1000 and a movie contract.

Then there is the complete dissociation between what is happening on stage and the reaction shots of the audience. The latter, you see, have also been taken from Queen of the Blues, although unlike the introduction this is not stated. If you look carefully there are never any establishing shots which show the performers and the audience together, nor any pans or tracks from one to the other.

Then we have the complete dissociation between the pianist and drummer on stage and the music we hear, reinforced for those familiar with other David Sullivan product of the time by the re-use of cues from Emmanuelle in Soho. (Some of the cues do have a pleasing Nico Fidenco type vibe to them, though, and wouldn't be out of place in a Laura Gemser vehicle)

Turning to Emmanuelle in Soho, we also have its two female leads, Mandy Miller / Quick and Julie Lee, amongst the 16 strippers. The former is introduced as Vicky from Sweden, the latter as Julie from Hong Kong. Neither wins through to the semi-finals, though Winters does announce Julie as one of the semi-finalists even if she isn't actually present on stage.

Nor does either speak. In Lee's case this is presumably because her Yorkshire accent would have demolished the lie that she was from Hong Kong.

Not, however, that any of those we do hear speak make any attempt to present themselves as being from Turkey, France or wherever else 'exotic'.

A reason why they wouldn't is that not being white British often means being subjected to racist 'humour': Vicky from Turkey is a 'Chapati' while Maxine “from Botswana” can be distinguished from Cathy “from South England” by being “the darker one”.

In fairness, however, Winters also does some self-deprecating/hating Jewish jokes.

Then we have the incogruity of some of the strippers doing paired routines despite this supposedly being a competition.

Then there is the sudden injection of some cynical realism when one of them, Cathy, proclaims in a voice-off that she had better win since she had given the main judge a blow-job. This leads to further re-use of outtakes from Emmanuelle in Soho.

Cathy does, however, win the competition.

Art imitating Life?

The losers, meanwhile, must also include anyone who ever went to see the film on its original release, for entertainment...

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Black Emanuelle UK quad

Just a little something I picked up on Ebay:



Note how it does not actually mention Laura Gemser, in contrast to later films in the series she appeared in.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Caramelle da uno sconosciuto / Sweets from a Stranger

We open with the murder of a prostitute by a black gloved, razor wielding killer.

Soon after a second lady of the night is murdered, but manages to whisper a vague, fragmentary clue to a colleague before dying.

With the police both unconcerned and ineffectual, the prostitutes take it upon themselves to unmask the killer...








An evaluation of the situation that may prove to be of particular significance

Around about this point the film moves into more of a dramatic mode, to examine the womens’ lives more generally. It’s an interesting shift in focus and not intrinsically negative, but does make for a lack of stalk and slash thrills if these are what you were expecting and after, although it does return to more generic territory towards the end.

If however you want a quasi-documentary look at a collective of prostitutes, or just something different, then it might appeal.

This assumes, however, that the sleaze and exploitation won’t cut against the serious intent too much, though the film is quite light on these counts compared to Rino Di Silvestro’s Red Light Girls and Carlo Lizzani’s Teenage Prostitution Racket from the mid-1970s – or, indeed, the third part of Massimo Dallamano’s schoolgirls in peril trilogy, Rings of Fear, to which director and co-writer Franco Ferrini also contributed in the latter capacity and which ultimately proves most intertextually significant here.


A Bava-style angel and some symbolic yellow

Ferrini is best known as an Argento collaborator, of course, with that director’s long-time editor of choice, Franco Fraticelli, also handling duties here.




With a tongue of fire?

Arthouse favourite and two-time Bava favourite Laura Betti has a small role as an old-time, independent prostitute who falls victim to the killer.

002 Agenti Segretissimi

On the advice of a computer, our two heroes are secretly recruited by the Italian secret service to serve as decoys while the real agents go about their business unmolested; Franco also has a false formula implanted in a filling in his teeth. The complication is that he and Ciccio prove surprisingly elusive and effective, perhaps precisely because they don’t have a clue...




As usual Ciccio is the smarter of the two, but that isn't saying much; besides being Bondian the 002 refers to their low intelligence levels

Highlights include a visit to a health farm, with some amusing double-entendres and with a couple of gay-coded peplum type bodybuilders; a scene at a club where confusion over who is wearing the jackets with the X marked on them leads to the assassins from different enemy powers inadvertently killing one another; and the duo’s being taken as subjects for female agents to practice their seduction skills on – one getting the aged teacher rather than a beautiful young student.


I think Mary Arden from Blood and Black Lace plays the student seductress here

A visit to a Chinese restaurant, where the orders lead to plates of worms, bowls of beetles and suchlike, is perhaps a bit un-PC, but in keeping with our heroes limited view of the world – at another point, while burgling a house, they reject a Da Vinci as worthless in favour of an unknown painter with a Sicilian name.


The Italian cultural context is important in these films, which were more for domestic consumption (especially in the south) than international distribution.

Lucio Fulci directed, in that anonymous, professional, efficient way that tended to be the case for anyone working with the two comedians. An issue here, much as with the Bond films it spoofs in fact, is that the franchise was more important than the filmmaker. (This is why Tarantino, despite his avowed desire to do a Bond film, will probably never get the chance.) Basically it was don’t get in the stars’ way and let them do their thing.

Neither the best or the worst of its type, it moves along at a decent pace and is good natured enough, with Piero Umiliani’s breezy soundtrack a further plus.

Special thanks to Merlin for the custom subs.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Brillantina Rock / Disco Crazy

This Italian musical looks to have had an eye to establishing Monty Ray Garrison as the filone cinema's answer to John Travolta, at the time riding high on the success of Saturday Night Fever and Grease; note here how the Italian title references rock and a hair styling product, the English one disco.

Monty Ray plays Roberto, or as he prefers to be called Robbie, a young dancing enthusiast.

He and Rick, a member of a rival gang -- Robbie's wear colourful outfits, Rick's dress all in black -- become rivals for the affections of Cindy, a visiting American girl from a rich family and a talented dancer to boot.


Cindy


Cindy and Rick

With Monty Ray never appearing in any other films, the main cult interest lies elsewhere.

Among the cast, Cindy is played by Auretta Giannone, better known as Auretta Gay and who appeared under that name as the ill-fated tourist Susan in Zombie. Fiamma Maglione, who appeared in Cannibal Ferox and a few others as Meg Fleming and composed as Budy Maglione, has a small part as Robbie's pregnant sister. She does not contribute to the score here, however, which is instead credited to Gianfranco Reverberi. Jimmy Il Fenomeno makes a cameo appearance as a gas station attendant.


Top Jimmy

Comedy specialist Michele Massimo Tarantini co-wrote and directs. He handles things competently but unexceptionally, with the inclusion of motorbike race and a car chase scenes alongside the dance numbers highlighting the film's crowd-pleasing approach of something for everyone -- comedy, romance, musical numbers, and even a bit of social commentary in the contrast between the privileged Cindy and Robbie's old friend Sandra, like him from a less advantaged background.

A similar opportunistic eclecticism is apparent in Reverneri's musical numbers, which include a phonetic English disco version of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, some rock numbers, and a weird disco-country and western combination. All very cheesy, but infectious -- in fact, a good summation of the film overall.

Invasion

An alien spaceship lands in rural England. One of the inhabitants wanders off and in front of a car. Taking his ''funny clothes'' to be fancy dress, the driver (now minus his mistress, one of those nice little touches that grounds the story) take him to the local hospital for treatment.

The staff, led by Dr Mike Vernon (the ever-dependable Edward Judd), soon realise that their patient is not of this earth, beginning with a blood sample that does not look normal and followed by the discovery of a metal disc in the man's head. Meanwhile, two other (female) aliens search for their missing compatriot and soon track him down to the hospital, which is then discovered to be sealed off from the rest of the world by an invisible barrier...

The aliens, later designating themselves as Lystrians, all look Oriental, though any racist subtext to this is rendered less likely by the casting of Tsai Chin as one of the hospital nurses and, as such, a fully integrated member of the local and by extension national communities. Moreover, before the alien's true otherness is revealed, her character is also asked if the alien man is Chinese or Japanese, but she does not think he is -- there is something not quite right and she's never seen clothes like his before; all very much contra the racist cliche “They [we] don't all like alike”


Edward Judd, Tsai Chin and the alien

More importantly, the Invasion title itself is actually somewhat misleading, insofar as the aliens are more concerned with their own matters than earthly ones, namely the recapture of an escaped prisoner (or two).

The film's writer, Robert Holmes, had earlier worked on Dr Finlay's casebook and would later become a prominent contributor to Dr Who. It is easy to see Invasion as a combination of the two. The hospital setting equates to the Earth-centred 'base under siege' scenario that were becoming especially common during Patrick Troughton's tenure as the Time Lord. More directly, other aspects of the story prefigure the introduction of Jon Pertwee in the Holmes-scripted Spearhead from Space, as the newly regenerated Doctor is taken to hospital and it gradually becomes apparent that he is not human, although the other aliens there are more predictably malign and actually intent on invasion. Beyond this, there are also UNIT-like military men, an unsympathetic, narrow-minded man from the government, and a competent pre-Liz Shaw female scientist. (The film as a whole has an unusual, if sometimes more obviously pre-feminist, take on gender issues.)

Fans of the Quatermass (E)xperiments or Terence Fisher's Planet triumvirate, especially the slightly later Night of the Big Heat (Island of Terror also starred Judd), will also find much that is comfortably familiar and oh-so-very particularly British. In other words, while the special effects aren't up to much this is somewhat beside the point: Rather, it's about the ideas, the performances, and the generation of an atmosphere of unease.

They don't make them like this anymore, more's the pity...

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Emmanuelle in Soho

Young couple Paul and Kate (Julie Lee) and their bisexual flatmate Emanuelle (Angie Quick, billed as Mandy Miller) are short of money. Paul and Emmanuelle try their hand at glamour photography, while Kate gets a job as a stripper at a nude review, Hang About Sebastian. Paul takes his photos to Bill (John M. East), who tells Paul that they are not really what the punters are after and kindly offers to take them off his hands for £50, then sells them for several times this. After Bill has worked this scam several times, Paul realises he is being conned and schemes his revenge. He invites Bill and his secretary cum mistress Sheila to a party, also attended by the cast and artistic crew of Hang About Sebastian. Inevitably, several of the guests pair off, including Bill. Paul secretly films Bill, then blackmails him...

Released to cinemas thirty years ago this month, Emmanuelle in Soho pretty much marked the death of the British sex film as a theatrical form.


The once proud Tigon tiger-lion...




British Cinema: From Blow-Up to this in the span of 15 or so years...


Blackstone and Hooper should be familiar names to students of the genre, with the latter also having some surprise Italian connections...

The film was bankrolled by porn baron David Sullivan as a vehicle for Julie Lee. She was a half-Chinese model who was being groomed as the successor to Mary Millington, who had committed suicide two years earlier and whose legacy it was becoming harder for Sullivan to exploit.


Keep it on!

Lee was originally cast as the Emmanuelle character. This could have suggested more of a connection, however tenuous, to the unofficial Emanuelle cycle from Italy insofar as these had similarly stressed the exotic appeal of 'Black' Emanuelle and 'Yellow' Emanuelle. Any sense of Oriental(ist) fantasy is however immediately dispelled when Lee opens her mouth and reveals her broad Yorkshire accent; had it been an Italian film, shot silent and post-synchronised, this could of course have been avoided.


East and some publicity for other Sullivan product


Lee and Miller swapped roles when it became apparent that she really could not act. Think about that: One model in a sex film being replaced by another because the quality of her performance was not up to scratch!

It is not, however, that the rest of the cast are much better. The actor playing Paul -- I use the term loosely -- performs primarily through raising his eyebrows, while producer and co-writer East reprises his Max Miller comedy routine from the Millington cash-in Queen of the Blues, firing off gag after gag, mostly unfunny.

The direction from first and only timer David Hughes is perfunctory. There is however the odd moment, such as the rack focus from Paul and Emmanuelle in a potentially compromising situation to Kate as she enters the room positioned in the back of the frame, in between them, which suggests someone making an effort.

The version under review ran barely an hour, with much of the running time padded out by the various performance and softcore numbers -- or, depending on your point of view, there is not enough of these and too much of plot stuff.


Signs of the times

Internationally it was also released with a documentary type introduction to Soho and with hardcore inserts. For the present day viewer, meanwhile, its interest is more as a classic piece of trash and for the incidental historical, social and cultural details, ranging from dialogue indicating a pre-AIDS fashionability of bisexuality (though other lines predictably suggest this was exclusively for women); to the giant top-loading VHS machine that was killing off this kind of cinema; to the size of flat the three supposedly impoverished friends have; to Paul's massive bouffant cum mullet.

Lee tragically died less than two years later after crashing her car and suffering massive burns. She was on her way home from a beauty contest in which, as the Monopoly card has it, she won second place...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Rabies

First things first: The English title for this Israeli horror film has absolutely nothing to do with its content. There are no rabid dogs or people on display, at least in the literal sense. What we get instead is a dark comedy/gross out/horror hybrid with a decidedly nightmarish (lack of) logic to it. This gives the film an edge, in that we never know quite what to expect, but also makes it more difficult to identify with or care about any of the characters and what happens to them.

The story begins in a more generic fashion, as a brother and sister encounter a maniac stalker type in the woods. The sister is captured, while the brother escapes and seeks help. He encounters a group of four tennis players – well, they accidentally run him over – who have become lost. Recovering, brother persuades the two guys to go help him find his sister, while the two girls stay with their vehicle and call the cops.

Around about this point, the curveballs really start flying. The cops arrive, the older one being preoccupied by his own relationship issues and younger proving a creep who enjoys the opportunity to grope the girls on the basis of searching them...

At times it seems the bright, overly lit land land is itself inimical to the characters, that anyone who enters the area loses their grip on reality or encounters their own particular reality, a bit like the Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker.

Maybe there is also an Israel-specific subtext to this – in most countries national parks you probably aren’t going to inadvertently wander into an old minefield, as happens here – but if so it is one that is likely to be lost on international audiences.

Still, at least the filmmakers have tried to do something different...

Ghosted

To be “ghosted” is to be secretly transferred from one prison to another. Is a move which incurs suspicion as to why the transfer occurred – was it for the prisoner’s safety, indicating vulnerability, or because they were an informer?

The term is also one of the few new things perhaps learnt from this British prison drama from cinematographer turned director Craig Vivieros, whose script relies heavily upon such well-worn prison film clichés as the vulnerable young inmate; the not-really homosexual wing boss; and the weights room work out, shower room male rape and courtyard blade shanking scenes.

Paul (Martin Compston, Sweet Sixteen) has just been transferred from a Young Offenders institute having become too old to stay there. Career-criminal and manipulative wing boss Clay (Craig Parkinson) takes a dubious interest in him. Older prisoner Jack (John Lynch), who is nearing the end of his sentence is persuaded by his own mentor Ahmed (Art Malik, who also served as executive producer) to take Paul under his wing. This obviously threatens Clay’s and puts them on collision course. Clay’s problem is that Jack is not afraid of him, while Jack's is that he's afraid of what he knows he could do to Clay if he ever lost it.

Jack explains that there are three rules to prison life. First, never ask or take anything from anybody – a prohibition Paul has already been forced to violate by Clay. Second, never lie, since you will always be found out. Third, never ask someone what they are in for.

As Jack and Paul's surrogate father/son relationship develops – Paul never knew his father, while Jack’s son died in a tragic accident during his time inside – they breach the second and third commandments, leading to a powerful denouement.

Again, however, while the actor’s performances and Vivieros’s visual sense are hard to fault in these scenes, the writing is decidedly less successful. While Ahmed muses on whether Jack and Paul have been brought together by coincidence or fate, the viewer may very well feel their real connection is contrived, improbable. There's nothing wrong with this as such, just that it does not easily fit with the kind of gritty, realistic approach Vivieros otherwise goes for.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bleak Night

The Korean title for Bleak Night translates more literally as Lookout. It’s a word which works better than the English title, insofar as it both connotes a major theme within the narrative, in terms of the attempts by some of the characters to look out for the others, and the need for the viewer to pay attention.

The biggest complication in this regard is the film’s complex narrative structure, one which recalls other contemporary Korean classics such as Peppermint Candy and Poetry – the latter another film which suggests a Korean high school to be one of the most dangerous places on earth.

We begins in the middle of things with a fight between some schoolboys at a railway line. Who is fighting? Why? With what consequences?

The image is deliberately unclear, unstable. The physical location, however, is one that will be returned to time and again, as the narrative thereafter begins to jump both back and forwards in time and things gradually become clearer.

The key proves to be a photograph of three friends, namely Ki-tae, Dong-Yoo and ‘Becky’ .

One of the three is now dead. His hitherto distant father (mother is dead, likewise reduced to a photographic memory) wants simply to know why. The others, one of whom transferred to another school shortly before and the other who failed to attend the funeral and has since attempted to avoid contact, know.

To say much more about what is revealed, other than that things are not always as might be expected, would probably spoil things.

The direction is especially impressive, particularly when you consider that this is a first feature by a 29-year-old and started off as a film school graduation project. Almost every shot conveys something above and beyond what is contained in the dialogue and the performances, whether through the decision to use handheld camera; the use of a two-shot or shot-reverse-shot; or the careful deployment of mirrors, such that it will reward repeat viewings by revealing new subtleties.

Recommended, as long as you are up for the challenge.

Weekender

At last year’s EIFF there was a film called SoulBoy, a coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of the Northern Soul scene of the early 1970s. It was an utterly predictable and formulaic piece of work which benefited from the infectious nature of the music itself and the energy conveyed in its dance scenes.

This year’s EIFF has Weekender, which takes much the same story – including cartoon-like bad guy and romantic will they / won’t they subplot – and sets it against the backdrop of the rave scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It suffers by comparison for the fact that the music and dancing aren’t that interesting unless you’re in the same state as the participants, namely tripping out on MDMA.

Worse, even when taken on its own terms, it never really manages to articulate its own would-be distinctions – MDMA and cannabis good, cocaine bad; acid house good, hardcore house bad; illegal raves for fun and profit good, illegal raves for profit bad – nor to generate much sympathy for its naïve bordering on terminally stupid protagonists.

It also feels like there’s one reel missing from the narrative because Europe-spanning scenes would have been too expensive to film, while there’s a glaring plot hole where you wonder why the sort-of good guy secondary character didn’t just kill the bad guy early on and save everyone a lot of bother; presumably that summer of love vibe affected his business sense.

The shame is that there’s the potential for a good film in here, one which avoided sentimentality and showy displays of vacant technique and that didn't pull its punches as much.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Meet Monica Velour

Tobe is a 17-year-old self-identified dork, with a fascination for the cultural detritus of past decades and an especial interest in late 1970s-early 1980s porn star Monica Velour (Kim Catrall), the star of such titles as Saturday Night Beaver (the title of a real-world porn film), New Wave Nookie and Pork and Mindy (both made up, though the former parodies another real-world porno rather than a mainstream production).

Though Tobe is a dork, even he considers his female counterpart Amanda as being too dorky – until, that is, he notices the Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and Switchblade Sisters posters on her walls.

However, by this time, they’ve graduated and Tobe has been given a somewhat unwelcome gift by by grandfather Pops Pops (Brian Dennehy), namely the family weenie van.

Not wanting it, Tobe puts it up for sale. Almost immediately he has a buyer, in the form of kitsch collector Claude (Keith David). There’s one snag, however: Claude lives in Indiana and would need Tobe to drive the van to him from his Oregon home.

At first Tobe declines, but then discovers via a Monica Velour fan site that she’s due to be performing in a nearby Indiana strip club.

Checking the map, Tobe he discovers that Claude’s and the strip club are not far apart and thus decides to go sell the van and meet the woman of his dreams.

Predictably things don’t go smoothly, before turning out all right in the end. The good guys are rewarded and the bad guys punished – the usual stuff.

Part road-movie, part coming-of-age story, part drama, part comedy this might well be summed up as one part Napoleon Dynamite, one part Ghost World and one part the Boogie Nights subplots dealing with Amber Waves’s custody battles with her husband and the characters’ struggles to live down the stigma of their porn pasts. (Those wanting a more obscure reference point may also wish to refer to the 2002 documentary Desperately Seeking Seka, in which Swedish filmmaker Christian Hallmann set out to track down his adolescent lust object, 15 or so years after her retirement)

The problem is that in terms of writing and direction it thus fails to do anything that hasn’t been done before or better.

The exceptions are the chance to see a distinctly de-glamourised Kim Catrall demonstrate her acting abilities as Velour and the sight of Brian Dennehy’s naked arse – the kind of once seen never to be unseen image that shouldn’t have been included, not out of any sense of propriety or gross-out value, but because with it he completely upstages the nominal star.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Almanya - Willkommen in Deutschland

Six-year-old Cenk has a problem, precipitated by a teacher’s unthinking questioning of where he really comes from: Is he German, Turkish, Turkish-German, German-Turkish or what?

Though more secure in her identity, Cenk’s cousin Canan also has a problem: She’s just discovered she’s pregnant by her British boyfriend. Her mother is not likely to approve

And now their entire family has a problem, as patriarch Huseyin unexpectedly announces that he has bought a house in Turkey and wishes to take all of them to visit and work on it...

Thus the set-up for this this comedy about ethnic (mis)understandings from sisters Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli is established.

Thereafter, the filmmakers confidently interweave two parallel narratives, one taking place in the present as the family sets off on their journey to their old homeland, the other in a part-imagined past as Canan retells Cenk the story of how their grandparents and parents came to West Germany in the 1960s and encountered such strangeness as giant rats being taken for walks on bits of rope; that man on the cross whom the Christians eat every Sunday, and flush toilets.

Through these and other gags German and Turkish cultural stereotypes are paraded and gently mocked, although more substantive issues of the type addressed in Against the Wall are largely evaded or left implicit.

Nevertheless, it is undeniably well put together at all levels, particularly for a first feature from someone with a television background. The performances are credible, the child actors not too annoying, and a mixture of German, Turkish and made-up nonsense language cleverly used to telling effect to indicate the different levels of cultural assimilation and separation.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Troll Hunter

Seeking a subject for a project, three film students -- presenter Thomas, cameraman Kalle and sound recorder Johanna -- decide to investigate apparent incidents of bear poaching. To their surprise, the man they choose to follow turns out to be a member of a top-secret troll hunting team.

Comparing Troll Hunter to the likes of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead is inevitable given that the filmmakers present it mockumentary style as having been constructed from found footage shot by their diegetic counterparts.

The conceit is believable, with the single hand-held camera based aesthetic working well barring a few moments where the cameraman’s point-of-view seems more about getting that shot than staying alive. The CGI trolls are seamlessly integrated, the human performers believable, and the illusion strengthened by the filmmakers avoidance of non-diegetic music.

While they don’t shy away from showing the monsters, much of the running time is spent searching for and learning about the trolls, with their ecology and the reasons no-one believes they exist surprisingly plausible.

This said, the film has certain essential problems: It isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been seen or done before, beyond the use of Norwegian locales and myths. This in turn may limit its acceptance by the sort of mainstream cinemagoers who might otherwise appreciate it, especially as it isn’t particularly scary or gory for a horror film. The chances for a Hollywood remake are likewise less likely because it is so culturally specific.

The Man in the White Suit

Whether any connection with the Festival's Martin Bell event was intended, this fashion-themed screening at Inspace was very welcome.

Alec Guiness is the title character, a chemist by the name of Sidney Stratton whose experiments with long chain polymers result in the development of a fabric which is incredibly strong – notably the pattern for his suit has to be cut with a oxy-acetylene torch – and repels dirt and stains.

Naively Streeter expects to be lauded as a genius and his fabric to sweep the world. He fails to reckon, of course, with the fact that once you have one or two such suits you will never actually need any more. Accordingly both the mill owners and their workers seek to suppress Streeter’s discovery before it becomes public and threatens their way of life.

Crucially director Alexander Mackendrick avoids taking sides and instead takes pot-shots at capital, labour and the ideal of the detached, disinsterested scientist alike.

It’s the last aspect that also makes the film rather unconventional in its avoidance of heroism and romance. While there is the woman who is interested in Stratton he never returns her interest, nor sees her as a viable substitute to his scientific goals.

Mackendrick takes a no-nonsense approach to his direction, leaving it the writing, Guinness and a brilliant supporting cast including the likes of Joan Greenwood – the two having also made a memorable double-act in that other Ealing classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets – Ernest Thesigner and Michael Gough scope to carry the film.

The director does however make the sound an unusually important part of the production through the amusingly musical nature of Guinness’s experimental apparatus.

If The Man in the White Suit has a flaw when viewed retrospectively it is that its too much the product of the post-war austerity period to foresee the possibility of a consumerist future in which advertising could encourage a desire for ever more everlasting suits, whether we needed them or not.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

According to her self-penned IMDB profile The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye writer-director-editor Marie Losier makes unconventional films about unconventional artists and views the subject of this film, Genesis P-Orridge, as a “musical genius”.

If you agree with and Losier, then you will probably enjoy this documentary, although it may not tell you much you do not already know about the artist born Neil Andrew Megson, better known for his work with Throbbing Gristle in the 1970s and Psychic TV in the 1980s under his new legal name.

If you don’t then you are unlikely to have your opinions altered and will probably find the film somewhat tedious and self-indulgent, characterised by often-predictable experimental tropes and images.

Personally I’m somewhat in the middle: Some of P-Orridge’s work is certainly interesting, but like many transgressive artists there’s a tendency for shock for its own sake to override other concerns. The danger of exhibiting a used tampon as part of an ICA exhibition is of being forever labelled as that tampon artist and of having to constantly live up to your reputation c(o)um past.

Correspondingly the “pandrogyny” project, by which Genesis and his wife Lady Jaye had plastic surgery that made them look like one another, could be considered as creating a body (of) work somewhat derivative of if still recognisably distinct from that of the French performance artist Orlan.

Likewise, we might wonder about the limits Genesis and Jaye set for themselves, in that this pandrogyny seems more about secondary than primary sex characteristics.

Unfortunately P-Orridge doesn’t really raise these questions here, nor Losier ask them.

Part of the issue, one suspects, may have been that the film appears to have had a long and somewhat troubled genesis of its own, maybe beginning as a film about pandrogyny but then becoming more about Genesis and his/her relationship with Jaye after her 2007 death.

Best enjoyed while “drinking German wine”

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Project Nim

The title of this documentary from Man on Wire and Winconsin Death Trip director James Marsh refers to a five-year project into whether a chimpanzee could be taught to use sign language to communicate with humans.

Nim Chimpsky – the name is a pun on Noam Chomsky, whose ideas on language acquisition underlay the project, which began in 1973 – was the chimp, taken away from his mother at age two weeks and raised by a succession of human parents.

The director of the project was a Columbia University psychology professor, Herb Terrace. He however took a largely hands off approach, leaving the day to day work of rearing and educating Nim to a succession of research assistants, predominantly attractive young women, many of whom he had relationships with.

The first of Nim's parents was Stephanie LaFarge, a wealthy hippie type with a large family of her own. Lafarge treated Nim much like her human children, with considerable indulgence and little discipline, including letting him smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. Terrace soon decided that a more rigorous, disciplined and scientific approach was needed and transferred Nim over to the first of a number of students.

After five years the results were inconclusive. Terrace believed that all Nim was doing when he used sign language to say something like “give Nim banana” was effectively begging, whereas some of Nim's more hands-on teachers appear to believe that there was more to it than this.

Marsh uses a mixture of rich archive material, dramatic reconstructions and interviews with those involved in the project and with Nim. He tells his story in strictly chronological order, going from Nim's birth to his death in 2000. As such, a fair bit of the running time is actually devoted to Nim's post-project life, the research having had to end by the point he was fully grown and it became too dangerous to continue working; we're told that an adult male chimpanzee weighing 150 pounds is as strong as five or six men, while a number of the researchers bear scars from where Nim bit them.

By turns funny, sad, disturbing and thought-provoking, Project Nim's only weak point is a sometimes overly intrusive and insistent musical accompaniment.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World

The trajectory of Bobby Fischer’s life is a difficult to put an upbeat fimic spin upon. In 1972, aged just 30, he was a national hero for defeating the incumbent Soviet chess champion Boris Spassky in their World Championship Match. But by the time of his death in 2008 his anti-US, anti-Semitic and other remarks had led to his being a zero living in exile.

That Fischer was able to find a home in Iceland in the 1990s, after an extradition warrant for his arrest was issued by the US government for his breaching sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing there during it civil wars nevertheless raises questions as to the objectivity of the film’s title: Was it really Bobby Fischer against the entire world, or was it ‘merely’ Bobby Fischer against the US government and – admittedly far, far more problematically – the international Jewish conspiracy that he perceived?

The filmmakers never really get to grips with this side of Fischer. Maybe they could not, but the formal approach they have chosen, that comfortable and familiar mix of talking head interviews and archival footage, frequently overlaid with period-setting music, does not help. Fischer’s grandmaster contemporaries like Larry Evans and Anthony Saidy are better at explaining his chess than their own responses to his eccentricities even in the 1960s, where there (and others’) pop psychologising is frequently in evidence. The musical choices also seem arbitrary – What does Gary Glitter have in common with Fischer, other than also becoming a pariah figure? Did Fischer listen to glam rock or to Booker T. and the MG’s or Isaac Hayes?

A contrast with another film about a troubled genius who retired at the height of his powers, namely 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould is instructive here: Its filmmakers seem to have had the sense that they could not explain everything about the enigmatic Canadian pianist, and so chose a more consciously fragmentary approach to convey an appropriate sense of otherness or even otherworldliness.

Here, by contrast, we belatedly learn of Fischer’s involvement with an Evangelical Christian group only at the point he decided to leave them in the mid-1970s, but not at the point when he first joined them over a decade earlier. It’s fragmentary, yes, but not in a clearly worked through, properly articulated way. Perhaps it could be a reflection of Fischer’s increasingly paranoid dislocation, but if so we again come back to the fact that the filmmakers make no attempt to explore how the ideas he came to hold made sense to him.

Two moments stand out here. The first is a talking head piece from Henry Kissinger. Undoubtedly his presence was a coup for the filmmakers and he was obviously a major player in the geopolitical chess games of the Cold War that form the backdrop to the Fischer’s story. But Kissinger’s presence also inadvertently makes it clear that Fischer’s anti-Americanism was never going to be seriously engaged with and also offers anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists proof of what they are looking for in that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” manner. The second, is a fragment from a US television news programme at the time of the Fischer-Spassky match. It is the first item on the agenda. Watergate is relegated to second.

Fisher may have been the greatest chess player ever and the man most important for raising its profile, particularly in the west, but ultimately I was left wondering how important chess itself is in the grand scheme of things and whether the tragedy presented might be attributed to too little rather than too much chess. Had Fischer literally lived solely for chess and shown absolutely no interest in anything else, most notably politics, would he have been okay? Obviously it would be wrong to expect the filmmakers to answer this question in a serious way, but taken on its own terms Bobby Fischer Against the World raises too many questions and offers too few answers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fase 7 / Phase 7

In a 1959 Cahiers du cinema essay entitled Little Subjects, critic and new wave filmmaker Claude Chabrol contrasted two imaginary films, on ‘The Apocalypse of Our Time’ and ‘The Quarrel Between Our Neighbours’, or on big and the small subject. Chabrol suggested that the two paradigms were structurally more similar than might first be apparent and that, contrary to appearances, the small subject was actually the richer, in that it allowed the filmmaker scope to explore form and content alike.

I mention this because Fase 7 could be taken as a test case for Chabrol's thesis some half a century on. For while being about a big subject, namely a mysterious plague sweeping the globe and bringing about the end of the world as we know it, it takes a small subject approach by focusing upon a young couple expecting their first child and four or five other families living in their Buenos Aires apartment block.

In terms of content, it thus has obvious affinities with the likes of [Rec] and Shivers, but downplays the horror angle and plays up the human drama. It is also somewhat more plausible in terms of the details of the plague itself: Those who contract it seem to sicken and die, but don't turn into homicidal maniac zombie-types in a matter of minutes.

This also contributes to the deliberate weakening of the horror film's traditional us/them human/monster division. These are all just more or less ordinary people trapped in an extraordinary situation, understandably suspicious of one another's equally understandable motives. Everyone has their reasons, as Renoir’s The Rules of the Game famously puts it.

The most interesting characters amongst the small ensemble are father-to-be Coco and the enigmatic Horacio. Depending on perspective, Horacio is either a conspiracy-theory advancing survivalist paranoiac or the one who best understands the situation and how to deal with it.Coco, meanwhile, displays an understandable scepticism at his neighbour’s seemingly far-fetched theories and is, particularly by generic standards, unusually reluctant to become a gun-toting survivalist type.

The relationship between Coco and his wife Pipi is less developed over the course of the narrative, however. Being heavily pregnant, she remains in the family’s apartment for most of the duration, deliberately kept apart from what is going on elsewhere in the block; here, however, it should be noted that no-one really knows what is going on in the wider world as communication quickly break down.

This is mirrored formally by the transformation of the interior spaces as they become increasingly dark and threatening, occasionally lit only with eerily glowing blue-purple ultraviolet and green glow-stick lights. While the film is not devoid of gore, the latter also allows for a nicely parodic action scene as characters blaze away at one another apparently ineffectually – or at least ineffectually by conventional film standards, if not those pertaining within the film’s particular world.

There are a few flaws. The opening scene of the couple’s quiet supermarket trip suddenly being replaced with panic-buying mobs seems a bit sudden, for instance, as does a jump of a number of days signalled by Coco's suddenly acquiring a beard. But thanks to the general levels of intelligence evident behind and in front of the camera, it works far more often than not.

The comfortable-enough middle class world presented helps internationalise the production, beyond its global pandemic narrative, while the presence of Guillermo Del Toro favourite Federico Luppi and a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack are further plusses.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Weird cover versions #190

The Ukelele Orchestra does the theme to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLgJ7pk0X

Some spaghetti western badasses

1. Angel Eyes Sentenza -- Lee Van Cleef -- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

"That your family? Nice Family" [Sneers]

2. Frank -- Henry Fonda -- Once Upon a Time in the West

"What are we going to do with this one, Frank?"
"Now that you've called me by name?" [Kills child]

3. El Loco -- Klaus Kinski -- The Great Silence

"Now say good-bye to your husband. Always respect the dead. Now pack your husband in the snow. That'll keep him fresh till I collect his bounty. So don't you bury him, you hear? What times we live in. Blacks worth as much as a white man."

Yours?

Movie Matters Giallo Podcast

Movie Matters 'Giallo Special' podcast:

On iTunes: http://tiny.cc/b84kn
Or their blog: http://tiny.cc/com9r

Enjoy!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Japanese posters for Italian cannibal films


Cannibal Holocaust


Cannibal Apocalypse


Cannibal Ferox

The Cannibal Apocalpyse image, of Morghen's chest with a hole blown in it showing Saxon's character behind him, would make a cool T-shirt design.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Coming soon from FAB Press


THE EURO-WESTERN BEYOND LEONE

The success of Sergio Leone's 'Dollars' trilogy in the '60s sparked a gold rush, as a legion of European film-makers - many of them sharing the get-rich-quick mentality of Leone's mercenary anti-heroes - followed the master's lead to create some of the wildest Westerns ever made.

Cynical and stylish, bloody and baroque, Euro-westerns replaced straight-shooting sheriffs and courageous cowboys with amoral adventurers, whose murderous methods would shock the heroes of Hollywood Westerns. These films became box-office sensations around the world, and their influence can still be felt today.

Any Gun Can Play puts the phenomenon into perspective, exploring the films' wider reaches, their recurrent themes, characters, quirks and motifs. It examines Euro-westerns in relation to their American ancestors and the mechanics of the Italian popular film industry, and spotlights the unsung actors, directors and other artists who subverted the 'code' of the Western and dragged it into the modern age.

Based on years of research backed up by interviews with many of the genre's leading lights, including actors Franco Nero, Giuliano Gemma and Gianni Garko, writer Sergio Donati, and directors Sergio Sollima and Giuliano Carnimeo, Any Gun Can Play will satisfy both connoisseurs and the curious.

Complete with a foreword by Euro-Western legend Franco Nero, this stunningly illustrated reference guide takes aim at the lingering notion that the genre has little to offer beyond the 'Dollars' films and a fistful of others, exposing the full, vibrant history of the Euro-western.

CONTENTS:

FOREWORD
By Euro-western legend Franco Nero, star of Django, A Professional Gun and Keoma, among others.

INTRODUCTION
An overview of Euro-westerns, their origins and characteristics, plus the major professionals whose careers they launched, prolonged or transformed.

TARGET PRACTICE
Early Euro-westerns were hit-and-miss affairs, but A Fistful of Dollars is not the only film from the genre's formative period worthy of recognition.

A BULLET SPENT, A DOLLAR EARNED
In the wake of For a Few Dollars More, the genre matured and broadened its horizons, presenting a misanthropic world-view, leavened with irony, that perfectly matched the tenor of the times.

RELATIVES AND RELIGION
Many Italian Westerns skewed their stories towards the home market, serving up stereotypical stories of troublesome females, feuding families and a satirical or critical treatment of religion.

'GOD FORGIVES... I DON'T!'
Euro-westerns posit a world where betrayal is rife and violence ever-present, taking the theme of revenge to extraordinary extremes.

'DON'T BUY BREAD, BUY DYNAMITE'
Euro-westerns were unashamedly populist, and many of them adopted a left-wing stance in the late Sixties, reflecting the influence of radical film-makers and the political atmosphere of the times.

BEWARE OF FAKE GUNS
While American Westerns had Jesse James, Wyatt Earp and Billy the Kid, European film-makers invented a pantheon of their own, populated by the likes of Django, Ringo, Sabata, Sartana and Trinity.

COWBOYS, COMEDIANS AND KUNG FU STARS
Many Euro-westerns were hybrids not just of cultural traditions and film-making styles, but also tones, subjects and settings, with elements such as mystery, comedy, horror and martial arts not uncommon.

DESOLATION AND DECONSTRUCTION
The genre burned brightly but briefly, and by the early Seventies it was in decline. This chapter examines what these latecomers have to offer, and whether they have been dismissed too lightly.

WHO'S WHO IN EURO-WESTERNS
A biographical A-Z of the most important and prolific actors, directors, composers, etc.

EURO-WESTERN FILMOGRAPHY
A chronological listing of European Westerns.


[Sounds like a good, comprehensive guide for the most part IMO]

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A one-off

Well, one of two: an original prop from Fulci's City of the Living Dead, currently on Ebay.



Something for the Fulci fan who has everything?!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The Best of Spaghetti Westerns



This ten disc set features 20 films, two to a disc:

No Room to Die
Lone and Angry Man

Rope and the Colt
In the Colt's Shadow

Shanghai Joe
The Return of Shanghai Joe

Charge! Dirty Dogs
Shoot Gringo Shoot!

A Bullet for a Stranger
10,000 Dollars for a Massacre

A Pistol for Ringo
The Return of Ringo

Ringo: Face of Vengeance
Blood for a Silver Dollar

Deep West
Seven Dollars on the Red

Bandidos
Forgotten Pistolero

A Noose is Waiting for You Trinity
A Sky Full of Stars

Not bad for £15 or so from Amazon marketplace.

I've got Seven Dollars on the Red on at the moment and it looks damn good, in the proper aspect ratio, with vibrant colours, a pretty immaculate print and with no artefacting or pixelation thus far. Hope the other films are equally impressive...

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Some new posters

US one-sheet for Lizard in a Woman's Skin, as Schizoid



US one-sheet for Psychomania, as The Death Wheelers


US one-sheet for Death Line, as Raw Meat


Not the best pictures, I know.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Swedish Sensationsfilms

Although author Daniel Ekeroth gives no precise definition, sensationsfilm can broadly be understood as Swedish vernacular or exploitation cinema for the most part. It was a type of cinema that lasted around 40 years, from the early 1950s to 1990s, when industrial and other changes rendered it redundant.

A complication is that at times the sensationsfilm and the art film are difficult to distinguish, particularly in the period before the hardcore porn boom of the 1970s.



Bergman’s Summer with Monika was, after all, distributed in a shortened, dubbed, rescored version in the US as Monika: The Story of a Bad Girl while the same director’s rape-revenge horror The Virgin Spring not only famously inspired Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left but has also been identified by John Waters as the first film to feature scenes of vomiting.

Nevertheless, it is also clear that the sensationsfilm took the particular form it did due to particularities of Swedish culture and censorship. For instance, whereas male nudity in particular is a rarity in US exploitation films, it emerges as a commonplace in the sensationsfilm.

Contrariwise the Swedish censors tended to take a harder line as far as violence was concerned, with mitigating circumstances and exceptions for social engineering purposes.

Here, Ekeroth discusses the film which inaugurated the “kicker” cycle of the 1980s. This youth group got their name from their liking for kicking things, including phone booths. An official film with the intention of discouraging such activity had, perhaps predictably, the opposite effect.

An aspect of certain sensationsfilms which may be more problematic today in some territories are sexualised images of adolescents in some titles; as Ekeroth notes the child pornography laws introduced in the late 1960s were comparatively lax.

Following a useful introductory overview, Christina Lindberg (the most recognisable name, face and body associated with the genre) provides her memories of the genre. This is followed by a longer alphabetical reviews section. Each film gets a page to itself, punctuated by individual pages of black and white poster, lobby card, video box and still reproductions and colour sections. The reviews generally have the format of a synopsis followed by a commentary and points of interest, along with a typically dismissive contemporary review from a respectable critic. Ekeroth is unsurprisingly more positive, but is thankfully not blind to the considerable variations in the films’ levels of ambition and accomplishment.

The alphabetical approach has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand it makes it easier to find a particular title should it crop up somewhere. On the other hand it makes it more difficult to chart the development of particular filmmakers and performers careers, such as they were.

On balance, however, it works, thanks to a generous degree of cross-referencing and shorter sections after the reviews giving profiles and filmographies for some of the most important names (besides the aforementioned Lindberg these include US-expat Joe Sarno, whose shift from the softcore productions of the late 1960 to harder fare ten years later is characteristic, and Bo Vibenius, whose little seen Breaking Point sounds like an outré must see comparable with the likes of Alberto Cavallone) along with a listing of the top 20 sensationsfilms (also often the ones which are easiest to access internationally, including Vibenius’s Thriller: A Cruel Film, starring Lindberg)

A valuable guide to one of the hitherto uncharted areas of world exploitation that comes highly recommended. Where else would you learn about the 'Lingonberry' western or a series of five colour-referencing detective films including the pre-Bava and apparently Blood and Black Lace like Mannequin in Red?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

The Shrieking Sixties: British Horror Films 1960-1969

Edited by Darrell Buxton of Pass the Marmalade, this new volume from Midnight Marquee is a comprehensive guide to British horror films of the 1960s.

The bulk of the 220-page book is comprised of year by year listings of titles, each of which gets one or two detailed reviews.



Horror is defined in broad terms, such that some science-fiction and fantasy films like Dr Who and the Daleks and Jason and the Argonauts are included, along with certain sui generis entries including Girly and The War Game.

British horror is defined in terms of being a UK production with the consequence that the likes of Jess Franco’s films for Harry Alan Towers are included whereas Michael Reeves debut The She Beast is not.

An appendix lists numerous problematic or borderline titles.

Although the usual suspects from Hammer, Amicus and Tigon are well represented, the real strength of the book lies in bringing less well-known films and filmmakers to light.

Some names and titles that are prominent in this regard are Vernon Sewell, with House of Mystery, The Man in the Back Seat and Strongroom; Robert Hartford-Davis, with The Black Torment, Corruption and Incense for the Damned and an abortive Titus Andronicus; the self-explanatory pre-Reptile The Snake Woman; the British Sign Language film The Return of Dracula, and the apparently woeful The Vulture.

This aspect is also to the fore in the appendix of short films, which includes early entries from the likes of Michael Armstrong, the odd Harrison Marks skin-flick and some even more obscure sex films.

The reviews are informative and manage to raise some interesting points without getting bogged down in over-analysis. So, for example, a queer subtext to Gorgo is brought out, without ignoring the fact that it is first and foremost a monster movie.

In his introduction, Buxton identifies a number of inspirations and models – Fragments of Fear, English Gothic, Ten Years of Terror and A Heritage of Horror. His book can stand tall in this company and is a must read for fans of British horror cinema.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Cannibal Holocaust almost uncut

Interesting things are afoot at the BBFC it would seem.

Ruggero Deodato is currently working on a director's cut of Cannibal Holocaust that will feature less animal cruelty. It seems a copy of the film was submitted to the BBFC and the only one of animal cruelty scenes that was going to require cuts was the killing of the small rodent type animal. A reason this was unacceptable was that whereas the other animals killed on camera were consumed for food, this was not.

There's something of an irony here in that within the diegesis of the film this animal is one which is eaten (the guide who kills it actually remarks 'tonight we eat meat' or something like that) whereas a pig that gets shot later is presented as not being eaten ("that pig would have been food for those people').

Context based guidelines just get harder to understand the longer you think about them contextually...

[There's loads more on the topic at the Cult Labs forums]

Monday, 28 March 2011

Stephen Thrower's blog

The title makes sense, to those who know...

http://7doorshotel.blogspot.com/

Red Circle

The British comic Hotspur featured a story 'Red Circle School'.

There is an Edgar Wallace krimi Der Rote Kries - i.e. The Red Circle

Then there is the Bava / Margheriti film Nude... si muore, set in a girls' school.

It all ties together, somehow...

A decidedly Ugly poster

New Zealand playbill for Once Upon a Time in the West, which looks like it was sketched from the US poster, by a non-artist...