Friday, October 27, 2006

Yours Truly On the Air

I mentioned last week that I had been interviewed for a special Halloween radiocast that was forthcoming on Cincinnati radio station WVXU-FM and promised to share details when I found out about them. I learned today that my interview will be included as part of AROUND CINCINNATI's Sunday broadcast, which can be heard live at WVXU's website (you'll have to register, I'm told) or listened to later as an archived program. My interview originally ran about 15 minutes, but it might be abbreviated for airtime. I'm not the only person being interviewed on the program; among the other guests is my friend and fellow Rondo Award-winner Joe Busam, Rondo's Monster Kid of the Year and producer of the MONSTER KID HOME MOVIES DVD. You can read all about the program here.

My interviewer on this program was Frank Johnson, a local broadcaster whom I've known since we were both teenagers. In fact, Frank was an associate in my first publishing venture as he and I and a third partner, Brad Balfour, collectively chipped in to buy a used mimeograph machine in the early 1970s. We called the machine the Vergen Press for reasons that shall not be elaborated upon, and that imprint was shared by the respective fanzines we produced. Brad's was CONGLOMERATION, mine were THE HYDRAULIC PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH #1 and APPLES WOOFER #2 (even then I was weird, changing the titles from issue to issue, but keeping the numbering consecutive), and Frank's was SCHAMOOB, which he had already been publishing for awhile. My two were crap (apart from an article in #2 by Andrew J. Offutt about the contemporary horror movie scene), but I have especially fond memories of Frank's fanzine because he was the most innovative publisher among us; he experimented with offset covers, colored inks, photo transfers, even half-pages. This was thirty-some years ago, so I don't remember much about the content, but the ambitious presentation of SCHAMOOB has always stuck in my mind as inspirational. As far as my own work was concerned, I thought at the time it was ambitious enough just to attempt something -- anything! The best thing I did in those days were some cartoons and spot graphics I did for SCHAMOOB, which I remember primariy because they won praise from the late Bea Mahaffey, OTHER WORLDS editor and the belle of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group in those days.

Frank and I saw the original FRIDAY THE 13TH together at a preview screening back in 1980 and laughed all the way through it. As we were getting reacquainted by phone prior to our interview, he mentioned reading the review I subsequently wrote for CFQ and thinking that about half the quips I made at the movie's expense were his, which I suppose is quite possible. When the subject of F13 came up during our interview, Frank -- ever the professional -- didn't tip his hand and made no reference to this past shared history. It was good to see him again, and I expect the program will be good radio.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

ZAZIE and the Sixties: What Did Que Know?

Back in the early 1980s, I went through a phase of reading a lot of Raymond Queneau, the French surrealist-absurdist écrivain (pictured at left). In addition to reading his convulsively funny EXERCISES IN STYLE (the same literary situation rewritten a hundred different ways, from Hemingway plain to tendrilously Proustian and beyond), I remember wolfing down WE ALWAYS TREAT WOMEN TOO WELL (an Irish heist novel with ridiculously overstated, overdescribed violence – an uproarious “gore” novel, if you will) and, of course, his wonderful ZAZIE – a highly literary, comic wordplay novel about a 12 year old girl’s desire to ride the Métro on her first visit to Paris, which is thwarted by a rail strike and leads to mass chaos. At the time of reading ZAZIE, I was vaguely aware that Louis Malle had somehow made this seemingly unfilmable novel into a film that was seemingly impossible to see.

I was thwarted in my wish to see Malle’s ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO until a few nights ago, when my wish was finally fulfilled by one of the discs in a new R2 import set, LOUIS MALLE COLLECTION VOLUME 1, released by the French label Optimum Entertainment. This initial set (a second is now also available, including the wonderfully weird dream movie BLACK MOON) consists of the films known in America as ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS, THE FIRE WITHIN, THE LOVERS, and ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO (yes, that’s the English title!) and all have English subtitle options. All four films are in their intended screen ratios, anamorphic when necessary, but ZAZIE is in standard 1.33:1 dimensions.

Perhaps because of its placement in the set as Disc 4, I watched ZAZIE assuming that it was made circa 1965 or ’66, after the others in the set – which meant that I watched it under the misapprehension that Malle produced it under the influence of Richard Lester. While putting the disc away – very tickled and pleased with what I’d seen, regardless – the packaging informed me that it was actually made in 1960, and later examination of the disc (and watching a supplementary interview with Malle’s brother Vincent) confirmed that Malle’s acutely attentive, damn-it-all-let’s-go-for-it adaptation of Queneau had actually beaten Lester to the punch, at least in terms of what was possible in a feature-length film. Lester’s seminal comic short THE RUNNING JUMPING & STANDING STILL FILM was first shown in 1959, proving that the germ of this kind of manic, vignettish filmmaking was already alive in him, but even so, I think there’s no question that ZAZIE was a huge influence on Lester’s work, especially HELP! (1965). And now that I have seen it for myself, I believe Lester admitted as much himself when he put Leo McKern in a polar bear suit.

ZAZIE too runs, jumps, and stands still. It also accelerates, grinds down to floaty slow-motion during chases through the rues and rooftops of Paris, has people jumping safely to the ground from upstairs windows, hanging off the Eiffel Tower, declaring their love to strangers, throwing bombs, and plump star Philippe Noiret gets to repel the romantic attentions of a bevy of sexy German tourists called the Five Gretchens. The giddy eye at the center of this far giddier hurricane is the foul-mouthed gamine Zazie, played by Catherine Demongeot in the first of only a few film roles. She’s wonderful, a kind of female counterpart to THE 400 BLOWS’ Antoine Doinel (indeed the film could have been called THE 400 BLOWS OUT YOUR ARSE and fit perfectly into Zazie’s sassy vocabulary), and Demongeot reprised her already iconic role a year later in Godard’s UNE FEMME EST UNE FEMME (1961). I’m told that ZAZIE played in French theaters without interruption for something like two years. But the novel was a best-seller there too, which is hard to imagine in this country, where our most revered authors are Jackie Collins, Dr. Phil, and Rachael Ray.

Philippe Noiret shows la petite Catherine Demongeot around Paris in ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO.

From what I can remember of Queneau’s novel, I must say that Malle did a fantastic, imaginative job of adapting the unadaptable. It ranks, although in stark contrast, with LACOMBE LUCIEN as perhaps his finest work. His methods of adaptation are worth examining. For example, in the novel, the character of Zazie’s aunt is named Marceline (for some reason, she’s Albertine in the movie and played by former model Carla Marlier) and all that we’re told about this wraith-like female is that she’s delicate. “Marceline cleaned the table delicately”, “Marceline took her seat delicately”, “asked Marceline delicately” and so forth. In Queneau’s inspired hands, this simple device piles up deliriously till the Coca-Cola you’re drinking rushes out your nose. But such a literary device was unavailable to Malle per se, so instead he had Marlier play Albertine as a kind of living mannequin, a notion that reaches its peak as she climbs onto a motorcycle and whirrs around at a ridiculous speed through the streets of Paris on a rescue mission, her wide eyes expression unchanging and unblinking as she careens through the metropolis, taking the full brunt of the coming wind. Marlier is ideally cast here, in her first film role, and the VW crowd will be interested to learn that she also later appeared in SPIRITS OF THE DEAD [HISTOIRES EXTRAORDINAIRES, 1968], though in Roger Vadim’s “Metzengerstein” rather than Malle’s “William Wilson” episode.

Before seeing ZAZIE, I was under the mistaken impression that the Beatles films had truly launched the spirit of the Sixties in filmmaking, as most people are. But now I have no doubt that ZAZIE was closer to, and may have been, the actual point of ignition. (A good argument, say I, for remaking it – instead of something like DAY OF THE DEAD.) To think that the real instigator behind all the Beatle and Monkee romps, the anarchic glee, the nose-thumbing between the generations, the sheer dizzying no-holds-barred possibilities of Sixties cinema was a bookish Frenchman born in 1903! Incroyable! Suffice to say that the brilliant ZAZIE DANS LE MÉTRO should be regarded as an essential chapter in anyone’s moviegoing education, especially if they are interested in the story of how the cinema got from, oh, CARNIVAL ROCK to HEAD.

For all my fellow centenary fans: Today would have been the 100th birthday of 1933’s world heavyweight boxing champion Primo Carnera, whose films include the Mussolini-era fantasy classic THE IRON CROWN [LA CORONA DI FERRO, 1941], MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949, in which he’s one of the strongmen pitting his muscle against that of the title character in a nightclub act), and HERCULES UNCHAINED [ERCOLE E LA REGINA DI LIDIA, 1958], in which he played the lusty earth god Antaeus and challenged Steve Reeves in a memorable scene.

On a closing note, I’m happy to report that VW’s own Richard Harland Smith has joined the blogging crew over at the Turner Classic Movies subsidiary page In his short time there, he’s already knocked out some knock-out postings – one about the relationship between the heroines of PSYCHO and CARNIVAL OF SOULS, and another about his own relationship with an older sister who helped encourage his lifelong love of movies. Once you read these, I’m sure you’ll add to your list of blog favorites.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


The big news of today is that our current issue, VIDEO WATCHDOG #127, is now officially SOLD OUT. We have no more copies on hand to sell, nor will we have any returns to stock our back issue inventory in the future. Anyone not a subscriber who is interested in picking up this instant Collector's Item is advised to haunt their local Barnes & Noble or Borders Books & Music outlets until they find it, as this will likely be your last chance. (Check our website's "Current Issue" page for a partial listing of stores where VW is stocked.) The reason for this brisk sell-out is that our printer ended up delivering fewer copies of this issue than we ordered. Without going into a lot of needless explanation, there's an acceptable percentage of possible overruns and underruns in our printer's contract, which usually errs on the side of overruns. Sadly, not this time -- when our 80 colorful pages are wrapped in what one enthusiastic reader called our "Best. Cover. Ever."

We've been inundated with calls this past week from subscribers who read on this blog last week that our new issue was sent out on October 10th and are worried that they still haven't received theirs. Rest easy, folks: I was mistaken about the date of our big mailing. The only copies mailed out on the 10th went to our contributors; the subscriber and distributor orders didn't go out until October 12. Suffice to say, the issue left our hands about two weeks later in the month than it usually does. We've heard from some First Class subscribers who have received it, but that doesn't mean all First Class subscribers should have it in hand right now. And Bulk Mail subscriptions take even longer to receive, naturally. So I apologize for the misinformation. Please be patient, and please do us the favor of spreading the word if you know other subscribers who don't have access to this blog/announcement.

On a related note about VW 127, I received a very nice call today from Del Tenney, thanking me for my article "Del Tenney - Auteur of Party Beach" in the new issue. A gracious man, he told me that he agreed with everything I wrote and promised to send me, as a gift, copies of CLEAN AND NARROW (1999) and DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET? (2001), the two films he executive produced which (because he didn't direct them) weren't covered in the scope of my article. I get the feeling that Del's taken a rough ride over the years, because he interrupted my reprised compliments on his work to apologize for how low budget it was... but one of the points raised by my article was that the quality of his work seemed to falter when he had to work with a larger, union crew on the movie that became I EAT YOUR SKIN. Tenney's work came alive on a low budget, and he should be prouder of what he accomplished. Anyway, all the more reason for me to have written this article, and I hope he takes heart from it. He told me that he has a new "J-Horror-type" film called POD now in pre-production, as well as a book written with his partner Kermit Christman, so the world has not heard the last of Del Tenney.

In another WatchBlog news, VW's own Douglas E. Winter is among the interviewees on tonight's History Channel special THE FEAR FILE: ZOMBIES, which airs tonight at 8:00 pm eastern. Doug tells us that he was interviewed in a graveyard on a 100+ degree day and has no idea how the end product turned out, or how well he'll be represented, because there were many other interviewees, but we're tuning in for sure. If you can't watch or TiVo the broadcast this evening, the show will be repeated on Wednesday, October 25 at 12:00 AM - Sunday, October 29 at 11:00 PM -- and on Monday, October 30 at 3:00 AM.

And finally, pursuant to last week's "The House is the Monster" posting, David Del Valle has sent us a link to the Drkrm. Gallery's "Nevermore" webpage, where you'll find a link to photos taken at Saturday night's opening festivities. Barbara Steele, Curtis Harrington, VW's Sam Umland and Richard Harland Smith, and Roger Corman himself were in attendance. Maybe you were there too? Also check out the link to some "Nevermore" memorabilia from the better slopes of the vineyard, including a coffee cup from which Richard Harland Smith himself has been quaffing his morning java of late.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wild Wild Monday

If my blogging has become a bit lackadaisical over the past week or so, it's because things have been kicking into high gear here. I've been playing it close to the vest, but it's been an amazing couple of weeks. I can't give you the full details about most of this yet but...

I've agreed to sign a contract for a film book that will be published next Fall and launch a whole new series of books... I've done an audio commentary for a DVD coming out next March, and I have an offer in front of me right now to record another three commentaries in December or January... I've started working on a new film book project for which a surprising number of pages were already written, and made exciting progress last week (though I know I'll have to set this project aside once I sign the aforementioned book contract, at which time I'll have to get the other film book into deliverable shape)... I'm 80-some pages into proofreading my novel-in-progress and making more changes to the manuscript than I expected (funny how things read so differently on paper!)... I'm collaborating with a friend on a radical rewrite of an unproduced horror screenplay I wrote many years ago... last Friday, I was interviewed by local radio station WVXU-FM for their upcoming Halloween show (I'll bring you more details when I have them; I believe the show will be archived online)... and, over the weekend, Donna and I -- presently in a holding pattern with the Bava book as we await the return of some color test proofs from our HK printer -- decided to go ahead and use this waiting period to quickly produce another issue of VW for December!

So, all the other projects I've mentioned have been temporarily set aside, while I'm in strict VW editorial mode.

I had no particular vision of this next issue when we started, but the available pieces miraculously locked in place as if the vision had been there all along in the assigning. The features in VIDEO WATCHDOG 128 will be David J. Schow's article on the first season of THE WILD WILD WEST and new VW contributor Michael Barnum's interview with actor and dubbing director Tony Russel, the star of such Italian films as THE SPARTAN GLADIATOR, THE INVINCIBLE 7, THE WAR OF THE PLANETS, and... THE WILD WILD PLANET!

You got it: VW 128 will be our "Wild Wild" Issue!

Tony talks about his Italian movie days, his early bit parts in America (in Elvis Presley's KING CREOLE, for example), his role as the founder and president of ELDA (the English Language Dubbers Association), and he also shares some revealing anecdotes about glamorous co-stars like Helga Liné, Erika Blanc, Lisa Gastoni, and Maria Perschy. It's a fun, informative read and we look forward to bringing it to you.

All of this "real world" activity is bound to cramp my blogging style this week, but stay tuned -- I may surprise both of us.