Friday, April 07, 2006

Day The Corman Blog Ended


It's been a wonderful week here, celebrating Roger Corman's 80th birthday and seeing so many other, like-minded people attending the party and throwing parties of their own. Those who backtrack will notice that I announced the Blog-A-Thon the day after I posted a complaint about being too busy -- and yes, conceiving the Blog-A-Thon committed me to additional daily postings. But I met all my deadlines, the last of them being my SIGHT AND SOUND deadline early this morning. For my 37th "No Zone" column, I decided to stick with my current diet and review Retromedia Entertainment's THE ROGER CORMAN PUERTO RICO TRILOGY.

I won't pre-empt my column by going into a lot of detail here, but Retromedia has taken a fair amount of online heat for this release, which I found rather admirable. I know from talking to disc producer Fred Olen Ray that great pains were taken to digitally reframe LAST WOMAN ON EARTH shot-by-shot, because just slapping soft mattes over the picture (as was done theatrically in projection) tended to crop actors off at the eyes or forehead. Fred and partner Steve Latshaw also did wonderful things to digitally refresh the color and, I think, the movie (scripted by Robert Towne, who co-stars as "Edward Wain") is made stronger by all this restorative attention. LAST WOMAN is now more noticeable than ever as one of the most important works of Corman's first decade -- it can even be viewed as the second film in an apocalypse trilogy with DAY THE WORLD ENDED and GAS-S-S-S-S!.

I had never seen the Corman-produced BATTLE OF BLOOD ISLAND before, and had no idea that it was based on a novella by Philip Roth. Corman should start dropping Roth's name in his list of celebrity discoveries, as this movie was made a few years before Roth's first novel was published. It's an engrossing, compact little movie, effectively plain-spoken in its drama and direction (by Joel M. Rapp, whom the IMDb incorrectly declares dead since 1972). There's a live toucan in this film as a supporting player, and a dead toucan turns up in LAST WOMAN... I hope they weren't one and the same.

CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA looks worst of the three, but that just means it's a bit greyish with soft contrasts; I didn't find it nearly as bad as others seem to think, and it's certainly not the worst I've seen. Retromedia had to use an original element, without the added TV scenes, so their pickings must have been severely limited. (The TV clips included in the supplements look clearer, but had they used a TV print for all the footage, it might have disrupted the continuity of the music tracks.) I get a big kick out of this movie; it fails to deliver to the monster audience, and it's too beatnik-sophisticated for kids and straights, but as I say in my S&S column, it's probably the closest thing to a Thomas Pynchon novel ever committed to celluloid.

The audio commentaries (one by Joel Rapp, the other two by Betsy Jones-Moreland and Anthony Carbone) are all fun, interesting, and well-moderated by Ray and Latshaw. (I love Tony Carbone's story about how Corman made LAST WOMAN ON EARTH in color because he was offered an experimental color film stock for free!) The additional TV scenes, directed by Rapp and Monte Hellman, are presented separately and are more interesting and successful in this context. A bunch of Corman trailers are added as a bonus. None of the films are given anamorphic transfers, but they all zoom up on a widescreen fairly well. But the best thing about this set is that it gives us a new way of looking at these three extremely different films -- as a "trilogy" -- and it packages them in a manner that makes the story of how they were made as important as the features themselves.

An undeservedly controversial release. I recommend it.

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