Saturday, March 24, 2007
The winner in this category, one Sam Borowski, was discovered to have few and negligible publication credits for the year in question, none of which really had anything to do with classic horror. As Rondomeister David Colton made known, the overwhelming majority of the votes received for Borowski were "singleton" ballots -- ballots that cast a vote only for Borowski (who was not nominated, Best Writer being a write-in category) and nothing else, which are evidently unique enough in the Rondo competition to appear suspicious. (The first and second runner-ups in this category received only two -- that's 2 -- singleton votes.) This information, coupled with other instances of "unRondolike behavior," was outlined in a Colton posting early yesterday, whose headline announced his decision that the 2006 Best Writer Award would be "vacated" -- in essence, revoked.
Within a few hours of its posting, Colton's lengthy account of the Borowski story was taken down and replaced much later in the day with an announcement from Sam Borowski himself, agreeing to withdraw from the winner's circle instead. In doing so, Borowski left the Best Writer Award to the person who had received the highest number of unsolicited votes (or, as he magnanimously put it in his statement, "the second place nominee")... me.
Last evening, I posted the following message at the CHFB on their Rondo Awards board, in the "Tim Lucas named Writer of the Year" folder, which offered my thoughts upon receiving this news. I include it here for the sake of this blog's personal continuity, and also for the information of my readers here, not all of whom may frequent the CHFB or be aware that any of this has transpired.
I have mixed feelings about all of this, as I think most of you will easily understand. After two weeks of confusion, any sense of winning this award, one I've hoped and worked hard to win for the past four years, is gone and cannot be retrieved.
Donna urged me not to make a rash decision by responding to David's announcement right away, so we went out, picked up some printing from Kinko's, and took advantage of being out to grab some dinner. Donna helped me to understand that my own feelings might not be the most important consideration here; that not accepting this award would be an insult to anyone who took part in this process and voted for me in good faith. I reminded myself that not every victory is won without effort or obstacle. I realized that to refuse the award would only serve to contaminate it as much as anything else that has come before; I don't want to do that.
After dinner, fortune cookies were brought to our table. We opened our respective cookies, read our fortunes... and started laughing.
Mine read "Your Luck Has Been Completely Changed Today."
Donna's read "Find release from your cares, have a good time."
So, with my deepest thanks and gratitude to David for his perseverance, to the regular visitors of this board who valiantly fought to preserve the integrity of the Rondo awards (this one in particular), and to everyone who voted for me (in some cases selflessly) -- I accept this award, which seems bound to a fortune in which I would very much like to believe.
It's Friday night. So, in the spirit of Donna's fortune, let's all of us find release from our cares and have a good time.
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Monday, March 19, 2007
I recently spent a couple of nights watching BCI Eclipse's box set THE AZTEC MUMMY COLLECTION, which contains THE AZTEC MUMMY (in Spanish only), THE VENGEANCE OF THE AZTEC MUMMY and THE ROBOT VS. THE AZTEC MUMMY (both on flipper discs containing both the Spanish and English-dubbed versions, the former with subtitles). These are Mexican pastiches of Universal's Mummy series, cleverly relocating the ancient past from Egypt to the land of the Mayans, with aspects showing an equal debt to the 1940s serials of Universal and Republic. I'm going to reserve my full-length review for VIDEO WATCHDOG, but I'll tell you this much: these films plainly modelled themselves on the Universal series' weaknesses as well as its strengths. None of the films is longer than 70 minutes, and the first consists of maybe four or five scenes stretched as far as they can go (with nearly half the length spent on prologue); the second spends its first 20 minutes recapping the first movie, while the third opens five years later, with the hero inviting guests to his home so that he can relate to them the events of the first two pictures, which occupies nearly 25 minutes of screen time. An odd thing about the Spanish versions: Whenever the Aztec Mummy appears onscreen, the picture turns dark -- you can't get a bead on the bugger! I suspect this is a form of Mexican censorship, an attempt to tone down the horror content, because the cutaways to other characters during these scenes resume their brightness. The conclusion of the first film is so dark, I couldn't quite tell what happened in it until I saw those scenes recapped in the third movie! The same scenes in the English versions are much brighter, making it all the more regrettable that the first film has no back-up version included. Despite some fun moments, I found them tedious on the whole, though I imagine they play somewhat better in the presence of good friends and good beer.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
I hope that all readers of this blog are familiar with my article "Edgar Wallace and the Paternity of KING KONG," which appeared in VIDEO WATCHDOG #126, pages 26-37. I suspect it was the most important piece of film reportage that I wrote last year, and it was the runner-up for the Rondo Award for Best Article of 2006. A film that features quite prominently in that article, Karl Anton's early krimi THE AVENGER [DER RÄCHER, 1960] -- based on an Edgar Wallace novel known here in America as THE HAIRY ARM -- has now been released as a Region 2 German language DVD by Kinowelt. While the presentation itself leaves something (indeed, some things) to be desired, it's an exciting release nevertheless, for what it reveals of the film itself. The scene pictured above is the beginning of the reason why.
The only English-language version of DER RÄCHER to surface thus far is a miserable-looking 16mm transfer from Sinister Cinema which runs 83m 15s. The Kinowelt disc runs 95m 16s in PAL, which translates to an impressive 99m 20s in NTSC. Therefore, the R2 disc yields an additional 16m 5s of footage -- including what turns out to be the most exciting scenes in the entire picture. None of it's in English, but that's where your otherwise worthless videotape continues to earn its keep.
To briefly recap, DER RÄCHER is about a series of London-based decapitation murders credited to a killer known as the Avenger. Ruth Sanders (Ina Ducha), the only living relative of the Avenger's latest victim is discovered to be working as an extra on a film set. Detective Michael Brixan (Heinz Drache) of "the foreign office" goes to interview her, only to become imbroiled in dangerous goings-on at the filming locations, involving the unwelcome attentions paid to Ms. Sanders by lascivious nobleman/adventurer Sir Gregory Penn (Benno Sterzenbach), whose majordomo Bhag (Al Hoosman) is a hairy, domesticated, ape-like subhuman creature brought back to England from Borneo. After Brixan hears a woman's screams coming from Griff Tower, the peak of the nobleman's property, the cause is discovered in the next day's rushes, when -- in a sequence from the novel that anticipates BLOWUP and a good many giallo thrillers to come -- the film's director spots footage accidentally taken of a frightened woman at the tower's window. The English version sweeps the continuation of this thread under the rug, but after Brixan is shown a frame of the woman's face on a strip of film, the German version continues... with a 13m chunk missing from the English version!
In this footage, Brixan goes to his hotel's front desk and places a call to the "foreign office." His call is accepted by his superior, Major Staines (Siegfried Schurenberg in his first krimi), who -- in a bizarre comic moment -- hangs up only to discover his secretary dozing. He wakes her with a shout and she continues taking dictation. We then cut to the grounds below Griff Tower, where Brixan unfolds a portable ladder under cover of night and ascends to the oval window in the tower where the woman's face was seen. He finds the window unlocked and climbs inside into a darkened room. His flashlight beam finds a woman's bare foot, which tracks up her bare bruised leg to reveal the tear-stained face of an unconscious woman (Litto), the Indonesian dancer seen dancing for Sir Gregory's pleasure earlier in the film. A sound of approaching rattling chains alerts Brixan that Bhag is coming, and he ducks outside the window -- standing on a slender balcony -- to observe. Bhag enters the room, bringing food to the prisoner, and glowers at her with fascinated, lovesick eyes.
Brixan peers inside the window to see what's happening, making a noise in the process. Bhag looks to the window, but sees nothing. A cutaway to the exterior reveals that Brixon has fallen over the guardrail and is hanging on, VERTIGO-style, for dear life.
Back inside, Bhag returns his attentions to his beautiful prisoner, who revives, sees him looming over her, and screams. The sound of her cry gives Brixan the strength to surmount his problem and climb back to the window. When he sees that the woman is about to be molested by the creature, he silently opens the window and tosses his smoking pipe down the flight of stairs behind Bhag, which rise into the tower. Bhag hears the sound below and rushes off in pursuit.
Brixan then re-enters the tower room and ascertains the woman's safety before leaving to alert the authorities. Once back on terra firma, Brixan is startled as Bhag emerges from the shadows -- looking twice his height -- and stalks him into an inescapable corner.
Just as it appears that Brixan's luck has run out, he is saved by the sudden arrival of an Asian swordsman, who brandishes his sword and causes Bhag to retreat.
In a later police station scene included in the English version, Brixan is reunited with the rescued dancer and the swordsman, who is revealed to be her brother. Brixan takes the opportunity to thank him for saving his life. (The same scene pokes fun at the original by having the dancer speak to Brixan in German, which Major Staines professes not to understand.)
The next morning, Brixan awakens in his bed to find Major Staines in his room. He's pleased to see the Major but, after the events of the previous night, he's pleased to see anybody. Major Staines announces more soberly that the local constabulary have received another parcel from the Avenger (called "Der Kopfsjager" or "The Headhunter" in the German dialogue).
It's the head of the screenwriter!
Now we know why the film's biggest star suddenly disappears from the picture! These three consecutive scenes aren't the only footage missing from THE AVENGER, but they are the most conspicuous omissions. Siegfried Schurenberg has more scenes in the German version, meeting and discussing the case with Heinz Drache, and a brief altercation between Drache and the gentleman revealed to be Der Kopfsjager is somewhat more violent, with an additional shot of the unconscious Drache's blood-streaked face. The two versions also open differently, the German one starting with the precredit sequence of the first head's discovery, while the English version moves this scene into the main body of the picture, following the main titles. Best of all, the character of Bhag -- described as an authentic domesticated gorilla in the novel rather than the hirsute half-human seen in the movie -- has more screen time, adding a great deal to the picture's suspense, to its value as a horror film, and to our appreciation of the late Al Hoosman and the pathos he gave to this Kong kin.
Kinowelt's presentation is windowboxed to an odd proportion of 1.54:1 and looks overly harsh and dark. Plaid sportcoats and brick walls seen from a distance shimmer with moirés. The edge of the picture closest to the top matte can often be seen jittering. There is also a slight, metallic shrillness to the voice recording, while the accompanying soundtrack -- which, as with the English version, never lets up -- is more richly recorded. Compared to the Sinister tape, the only other copy of the film available till now, the disc is no great shakes but acceptable (though an English track would have cemented the sale for a bigger audience); however, it's a different matter when one compares it to the theatrical trailer also included. The trailer (2m 44s) is presented in a doubtless intended 1.66:1 ratio and looks cleaner, brighter and infinitely more detailed -- watch the trailer after the movie and you'll feel disappointed; watch it before the movie and you'll feel worse. There are also biographies of a few cast members and a stills gallery consisting of 28 images, only 10 of which are actual stills, the others being frame grabs.
DER RÄCHER is an important film in the history of the Edgar Wallace krimis for many reasons. It was the second of the West German Wallaces and the only attempt made by a competitor of Rialto Film, as the company discouraged further such attempts. Nevertheless, it introduced three of the most beloved krimi actors -- Drache, Schurenberg, Kinski -- and Al Hoosman's Bhag proposed a blueprint of sorts for Blind Jack, the sightless ogre played by the unforgettable Ady Berber in the following year's THE DEAD EYES OF LONDON [DIE TOTEN AUGEN VON LONDON, 1961], much as his literary forebear was the predecessor of King Kong.
When I wrote about THE AVENGER for my Wallace article, I noted that it was one of the most faithful of all Edgar Wallace adaptations. Now that I've finally seen the full version, I'm pleased to discover that it's better than just faithful.
POSTSCRIPT (3-18-06). Gary Banks has written with the following important information: "I have the Sinister Cinema VHS and it indeed has all of the scenes that you mention and has a running time of close to 100 minutes. Greg Luce upgraded this title back in the mid 90's (not exactly sure of the date). The print is still rather on the poor side, but it is intact." Evidently my copy pre-dates that upgrade, so I'll leave this blog posted for those who may not be aware of the availability of these longer versions.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Larry Blamire has written to alert me that the first of the unreleased RIFLEMAN episodes, "Closer Than a Brother" (#98), will be airing tonight on Encore Westerns. The channel's RIFLEMAN hour begins at 7:00pm eastern, and "Closer Than a Brother" airs tonight at 7:30. For the next week or two, every episode being shown in this hour slot will be previously unreleased on DVD. So now's the time to print off that list of episodes and keep an eye on EW's program schedule.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Monday, March 12, 2007
Donna and I had written off any chance of VW winning the Rondo this year, so to receive the Best Magazine Award for the fifth year in a row came as an astounding surprise. We published only five issues in 2006, and the magazine business isn't as healthy as it once was, so it's heartening to know that readers still like what we're doing -- even with bigger magazines like FANGO, RUE MORGUE and the venerable FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND added to the competition this year.
The win for Best Website is especially meaningful to me, because I regard it as a writing award. I feel that VIDEO WATCHDOG's Rondos were awarded in recognition of the work of all our wonderful contributors; I treasure them, but I can't take them personally. So the Best Website Rondo feels like my first Rondo. It's the first recognition I've received for my writing in my 35 years as a writer; the only other award I've ever received for personal achievement was an Art Award that I won at my 8th grade graduation, which still commands a place of honor in my home -- which should give you some idea of how much this Rondo means to me.
I'm grateful to everyone who voted for me, and for everyone affiliated with VIDEO WATCHDOG.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Just to remind you: VIDEO WATCHDOG is nominated for six awards (Best Magazine, four Best Article nominations divided between Bill Cooke, Paul Talbot and myself, and one for Best Cover -- Charlie Largent's classic Kong) and Video WatchBlog is nominated for Best Website. There are also numerous write-in categories, and write-in votes are accepted in most categories if you don't find your own favorites on the ballot. A mere click on the link bar above this posting will take you there.
Make a difference! Participate!
I am not being facetious. It really happened that way. I have moments like this.
I first became aware of Komeda about ten years ago (gad... has it really been that long?), when I was chasing down groups whose sound was compared to Stereolab, with whom I was newly enamored at the time, and who weren't releasing nearly enough new music to sate me. When I saw the name Komeda, I knew these characters had to be up to something good. They're a Swedish pop or retropop group who took their name from Krzysztof Komeda, the remarkable Polish jazz musician-composer who wrote the music for Roman Polanski's films through ROSEMARY'S BABY, until his early death in 1969. ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY described their sound as "ABBA meets Nico and goes to a new wave film festival," which isn't a bad description. I think they sound like 21st century AM radio might sound if it had followed a natural evolutionary course from the heyday of the 1960s and hadn't devolved into ever-descending circles of Hell involving talk radio and jailbait dancers who get songs in the Top 10 by flaunting their bellybuttons on MTV. Komeda have released four albums so far; I have two of them which I like very much, and apparently I need two. You can read more about them and their albums here.
For reasons I can't explain, a curiosity struck me tonight about Komeda -- very belatedly, it would seem -- that made me wonder what kind of videos they might make. Here's where things get weird: When I looked them up on YouTube, I discovered that their record label MintyFresh Records had posted a few of Komeda's videos only yesterday. Talk about serendipity! So I thought I would share some links with you.
This video, for "Blossom," is one of the most impressively stylized and executed music videos I've ever seen: think Karel Zeman and YELLOW SUBMARINE crossed with Steve Gerber and an irresistible beat.
Also impressive is this colorful video for the tuneful "Cul De Sac" (another Polanski reference).
If you have time to only check out one Komeda video today, go directly to this mind-meltingly wonderful illustration of their breakthrough song, "It's Allright, Baby." I don't know if this piece is authorized or not (it's not a Minty Fresh posting), but it's a brilliant and inspired prank, if it isn't. Particularly recommended to the Eurohorror cultists among you.
Once you've enjoyed that, you can chase it with what is more surely an authorized video for the same song, in that it actually features the band. Like their videos, it's enticing, unusual, bracing, and above all intelligent. Brain food from Komeda's Swedish soul kitchen.
I don't know much about Komeda really, and I fear I'm a bit behind the times with them and need to catch up. But after viewing these videos, I have a sense of distant friends, a feeling that the members of this terrific band and I are connected, under the skin, by the things we both love, a shared aesthetic. This message was smuggled into my knowing from the get-go by their chosen name, and their videos, now that I've seen them, reinforce that impression. They haven't issued an album since 2003; their website hasn't been updated since August of last year -- which makes the weirdness of this serendipity and the cutting edge I feel from these years-old videos all the more mystifying. I hope Komeda are still making music because they seem to me a viable cure for much of the blandness and tacky excess assailing what we laughingly call our culture today. Nothing's wrong with our culture that can't be cured by inspiring more people to step up to a higher standard of taste and common sense. You can find it in Komeda.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
A tip of the hat to Jeremy Richey's always interesting Moon in the Gutter blog for bringing this news to our attention.
1973, Optimum Releasing, DD-2.0/MA/LB/16:9/+,105m 25s, £17.99, DVD-2 PAL
This extraordinary, influential Nicolas Roeg film was based on a novella by Daphne Du Maurier, originally included in her 1971 collection NOT BEFORE MIDNIGHT and republished in 2006 as DON'T LOOK NOW AND OTHER STORIES -- a reappearance testifying to the movie's status as a modern classic. Not only is it one of the most tantalizing films ever to explore the subject of the paranormal, it is also one of the most complete, balanced and satisfying films about normal waking life.
The story profiles a married couple healing in the wake oftheir daughter's accidental death by drowning, the wife Laura (Julie Christie) finding peace through two psychic sisters (Hilary Mason and Clelia Matania), while her scoffing architect husband John (Donald Sutherland) restores a derelict church in the waterbound city of Venice.
In telling this story, "DON'T LOOK NOW" (the quotation marks appear onscreen) seems to touch on more facets of human experience than so-called mainstream films tend to do: working, making love, eating, vomiting, defecating, arguing, sleeping, worshipping, doubting, mourning, fearing, laughing, surviving brushes with death, and -- above all -- the fleeting and curiously meaningful déja vu moments that accumulate within and without us throughout our lifetime. Edited by Graham Clifford (with whom Roeg had been working since 1968's PETULIA), the film shuffles past, present and future tenses of visual information as radically as any of Roeg's other works (PERFORMANCE, THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, EUREKA and BAD TIMING to name the most conspicuous), yet it remains the most approachable of them all, its fractured visual continuity striking a near-miraculous balance of emotional and cerebral sense, the technique almost organically attuned to the story being told -- namely, John's rejection of his own psychic intuitions.
Now more than thirty years old, "DON'T LOOK NOW" still looks fairly contemporary and has lost very little of its initial power, though it's most vital in its first few viewings, when one is most enthusiastically engaged in the initial decoding of its various color keys and resonating images. Once one has begun to exhaust this engaging process, the film can begin to look overly deliberate, but chances are that you'll still be sussing out new layers to appreciate well into your tenth viewing and beyond. (I've seen it about ten times myself and found myself noticing repeat appearances by the daughter's ball this time around.)
This "Special Edition" import disc makes use of a new Studio Canal anamorphic master that looks quite crisp, immaculate, and colorful. An exciting incentive to this purchase is the addition of a feature-length audio commentary by director Roeg, moderated byAdam Smith. Roeg tends to ramble obliquely and elliptically in a muttering voice, frequently failing to finish sentences and trains of thought, but the track is nevertheless a worthwhile reference for tenacious listeners. Among its interesting revelations: John and Laura's daughter Christine, a role credited to Sharon Williams, was ultimately played by three different young actresses, due to Williams' unexpectedly extreme reaction to filming her drowning scene. The filming of the picture's celebratedly authentic lovemaking scene is also covered in fair detail; incredibly, it was the very first scene to be shot -- in an actual hotel room, with just Sutherland, Christie, Roeg and cameraman Anthony Richmond present, as well as a bottle or two of courage. Roeg's memory fails him on occasion, as when he mistakenly recalls the film being released in America with an X rating; it was actually trimmed (losing a shot or two from the love-making scene, and some of the final murder victim's twitching) to qualify for an R rating.
Still more interesting are two Blue Underground-produced featurettes, "'DON'T LOOK NOW' Looking Back" (19m 31s, interviewing Roeg, Richmond and editor Graham Clifford) and "Death in Venice" (17m 36s, interviewing composer Pino Donaggio), both directed by David Gregory. The former is very good and properly illuminating, with a wicked backdrop for its more coherent Roeg talk, but the Donaggio profile stands out as one of the most pleasingly detailed film music featurettes I've seen on DVD. The composer, visited at his home facing the Venetian Grand Canal, has perfect recall of the circumstances behind this, his first film score, and he speaks unaffectedly about his earlier career as a singer, how he was approached and hired without prior scoring experience, how he developed specific themes and motifs, and how his score for this picture led to his discovery by Brian DePalma for CARRIE and a new and still-thriving career abroad.
Also included are an onscreen Introduction by ROUGH GUIDE TO HORROR MOVIES author Alan Jones, the film's original UK trailer (2m 14s), and a 16-page booklet with numerous rare photos and a sensitive, well-written appreciation by Ryan Gilbey. Available domestically from Xploited Cinema.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Back in the Eighties, The Fall covered the Kinks' classic "Victoria" and brought a valuable truth into focus: as a lyricist and frontman, Mark E. Smith is the post-modern Ray Davies; no one else of his generation has come so close to embodying the eternal voice of working class England. There's not often the elegance, or poetry, or poignancy of Davies in Smith's work, much less his voice, or in The Fall's endlessly repetitive, droning music, but its sheer volume and pertinence captures the drama -- alternately exciting and depressing -- of intelligence treading water in a tumult of information devolving to infotainment in its deluge.
The Fall are perhaps the ultimate cult band in that they demand nothing less than total immersion from the listener. Glenn Kenney once borrowed my quote "You can't see one Jess Franco film until you've seen them all" to apply it to them, and it's just as true of their obsessive backlog. In The Fall's nearly thirty year recording career, they've released something very close to 50 albums, not counting countless compilations and repackagings, representing something very close to 30 different lineups. Such overproductivity, as with Franco, encompasses some sloppiness but also glorious epiphanies, epiphanies that might come from an unexpectedly tight band performance, or one of Smith's tossed-off phrasings, or a deadening groove that unexpectedly opens a subterranean door of emotion.
The music is always dense, sometimes surprising the listener by aping another band's sound; for example, the seasoned Fall listener immediately cranks up their attention to the lyric of "Fall Sound" (on the new album REFORMATION! POST TLC) to suss out why the so-called "Fall Sound" has a New Order sound. "Scenario" bends lyrics from Captain Beefheart's "Veteran's Day Poppy" into a somewhat darker balloon sculpture that numbly reiterates the human cost of war. The album's opener, "Over! Over!", turns out to be a rewrite of the kaleidoscopic "Coming Down" by the incomparable (and incomparably short-lived) Sixties group, The United States of America. "I think it's over now/I think it's endingUH," sings Smith, with his trademark curling of his final consonants. "I think it's over now/I think it's beginningUHHHH...!" Smith sings these words with the inflection of Samuel Beckett writing "I can't go on, I will go on" -- sounding bored to brain death one moment and inspired the next -- and he's earned the right. He's still riding the wave.
The lyrics of any Fall song tend to be more inscrutable than not, reading more like Beat graffiti than Beat poetry, but that's the genius of Mark E. Smith: he's more reporter than composer. He writes to reflect the passing moment, not the eternity called into doubt by our ever blackening newspaper headlines. If you want eternity, his fecundity implies, there's always the wait for the next album. There are days when the coming of the next Fall album seems more likely than the coming of another tomorrow. And for that reason, above all, I salute Mark E. Smith. He's there for us, and his contribution, for all its rascally contrarianism, gives one hope.
And because this is a video blog, here's a link to The Fall on DVD.
Here's to you, Otto:
Journey to the seventh planet
Come to me
Let your dreams become reality
I wait for you.
Somewhere on the seventh planet
Out in space,
You and I will find a magic place
Like lovers do.
And while we're up above,
We'll touch the stars
That we have wished upon.
There our love will take wings
And go on and on!
Journey to the seventh planet
In your eye
Let a spark of love begin to spy
For us to share
If you learn to care
Our love will be beyond
Sunday, March 04, 2007
If you care about fantastic cinema, its research and its celebration, do your part in preserving the Rondo's standards of quality by bringing your knowledge and taste to bear on the final tally. If you don't see your choices on the ballot, write them in -- at the very least, it will help to make more people aware of those works that slipped through the cracks.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
2006, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
I was eager to see this sci-fi comedy from Mike Judge (KING OF THE HILL, OFFICE SPACE) because I imagined myself in complete sympathy with its premise, so close to the bone that Fox withdrew it from theatrical release almost immediately. It depicts a dystopian future where everyone has become so stupid that the hottest movie around is called "ASS," a feature-length close-up of a bare and occasionally farting behind, which swept the Oscars, including the one for Best Screenplay. (This gag is symptomatic of what's right and wrong with the picture: one's reflex reaction is "Hey, don't give Eddie Murphy any ideas!"; on the other hand, ASS is not unlike some actual important films by Andy Warhol, so the humor doesn't linger or stand up to scrutiny if you're bright enough to know Warhol's work.) While IDIOCRACY pokes fun at symptoms already frightening apparent in our world today, it's not sharp or sharp-toothed enough to make for stinging satire, and its premise -- that intelligent people stopped reproducing while stupid "trailer trash" not only continued to reproduce but engage in unprotected sex willy-nilly with every hillbilly neighbor in sight -- makes stupidity seem a hereditary inevitability rather than an end result of today's willful dumbing-down of our culture.
Luke Wilson is likeable as the hero, an average G.I. Joe whose name actually is Joe, who is recruited along with an equally average prostitute (Maya Rudolph) to spend a year asleep in a Rip Van Winkle experiment, only to awaken through some ill-explained mishap in the year 2505. (I don't get the joke of why the only average woman the Army could find is a prostitute, unless she's intended as an illustration of the "stupid" impulse to fornicate with everyone in sight, balanced with the "smarts" to at least want to turn a profit on it.) In 2505, everyone's a blathering headbanging moron, entranced by explosions and slapstick comedy (the #1 TV show is called OW! MY BALLS!, which is pretty self-explanatory), named after the products bombarding them in advertising from every direction -- so, naturally, it takes Joe awhile to figure out that he's no longer in his own time. The premise is all the movie has going for it, and everything that happens after Joe wises up to his predicament stacks a lot of deadweight onto the trembling framework, failing to sustain interest despite running less than 80 minutes, minus the end credits. All in all, a failed opportunity to tell some bitter truths hilariously. Bring on the remake!
Toby Jones (as Truman Capote) and Sigourney Weaver (as Babe Paley) in INFAMOUS.
2006, Warner Home Video
Before seeing this Truman Capote biopic, based on a book by George Plimpton, I was under the mistaken impression that it covered the period in Capote's life after the publication of IN COLD BLOOD. Such an approach would likely have resulted in a better movie, at least a more useful one, than this ambivalent mess, which covers the same events as CAPOTE -- his research of the 1959 Clutter family slayings in Holcomb, Kansas -- but from a more pixieish angle. Written and directed by Douglas McGrath, the first act can't decide whether it wants to be a swishy fishy-out-of-water comedy or a solemn drama; likewise, the rest of the movie feels uncertain in its depiction of Capote himself, who is rendered as a shallow, yet deeply troubled and self-delusional caricature of a tortured artist, surrounded by wealthy shallow friends, incapable of keeping secrets or telling the truth, who may or may not fall in love with a murderer on Death Row -- we can never tell.
Future Bond Daniel Craig has some convincing, intense moments as Clutter killer Perry Smith, especially as he's being led to the gallows, and it's a pleasure to see Sandra Bullock portraying a real character (Nelle Harper Lee) for a change, rather than some heroine of a vehicle. I can't tell whether her portrayal is more authentic than Catherine Keener's but I liked Bullock better -- she seems more at home onscreen as a supporting actress, and she's the only other character in sight who's not at least half cartoon. Rather like the two-dimensional richfolk played by Peter Bogdanovich (a poor Bennett Cerf), Sigourney Weaver and Isabella Rossellini, Toby Jones is a slippery facsimile of Truman Capote. He gets the character, but never quite succeeds in fully becoming the person, as Philip Seymour Hoffman did in CAPOTE, but one doesn't know whether to fualt the opportunities offered, the performance, or the direction. Worst of all, while the two Capote films agree on the topic of his essential insincerity, they are frequently at odds factually, leaving the viewer at loose ends about which version to believe. Of the two films, both of which pinge dramatically on Capote's homosexuality, this one feels the more authentically gay to me, yet -- offensively -- it also seems the more shallow and untrustworthy.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Let me explain once again, for those in doubt, what should be obvious. I write for a living. I take the work I publish online as seriously as anything I write for publication. It's my property and clearly labelled as such. What I give to you -- as my audience -- is my time, not my property. These are the terms according to which I give this blog my time. Surely this is fair enough.
If you should read some information here that inspires you to spread the word, links to this page or links to individual postings are gratefully encouraged. You also have the right to paraphrase me: "Tim Lucas said such-and-such on his blog today..." But anyone who chooses instead to cut-and-paste my work should be aware that, in doing so, they are effectively stealing from me, stealing from this blog, and stealing from everyone who enjoys Video WatchBlog, because such unhappy discoveries compel me to reconsider its value to me as a pastime.
If you happen to frequent a discussion board where one or more of my past blogs has been substantially reproduced (say, more than the opening paragraph), you can be sure that my work is "on tour" without my knowledge or approval. Please do me the favor of reporting such Terms of Service abuse to the board's moderator and suggest that my stolen property be removed from their showroom windows; it doesn't reflect well on them. Feel free to link to this entry or my contact address, should they require any input from me prior to taking action. Anyone who protects and defends this blog to this extent will be helping to remind me that the great majority of my readers are actually responsible, fair-minded folk who value what I bring to this blog and want to see it continue.
Tim / VWb
Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Starting late last night, I've been the recipient of several e-mails asking me this question. Here's a representative letter that arrived in my e-box late last night:
I was wondering if you knew anything about a change in status for the release of the Dark Sky DVD of 'Kill Baby Kill'? The preorder listing for it has been removed from Amazon. DVDPlanet's page now lists it as "no longer available" with a release date of 12/31/2009. Also, it is not appearing under "future releases" on the Dark Sky Films website. Has this release been cancelled?
Eric's letter offers several compelling reasons for how the rumor got started. I wrote back to him, explaining that I hadn't heard anything about a cancellation, but this didn't necessarily mean anything to the contrary; given the evidence he presented, I could well understand his suspicion and felt some concern myself. My involvement with the release is over and I wouldn't necessarily be informed by Dark Sky Films (at least earlier than anyone else) if something happened to bar the disc's release to the marketplace. And if something should prevent its release, I would consider that grievous news, not only for the sake of my audio commentary, but for the sake of David Gregory's return-to-Karmingen featurette with Lamberto Bava, which is so wonderful.
I wrote to Dark Sky Films in search of an answer and they responded with a brief explanation of events this morning. I've been asked not to repeat what I was told, so that's as much as I can share with you now... not much, I'm afraid. However, as of this moment in time, I have heard nothing about a cancellation.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
I am neither offended or surprised that Mr. Carter didn't include VIDEO WATCHDOG among his selections for the "Best" magazines (explained in a subtitle as analogous to "Smartest, Prettiest, Coolest, Funniest, Most Influential, Most Necessary, Most Important, Most Essential, etc"). In fact, I take pride in sharing his neglect with a large number of infinitely smarter, cooler, and more influential magazines -- including the very ones that inspired me to produce a magazine in the first place.
Not a single film-related magazine made the GOOD list: no FILM COMMENT, no SIGHT AND SOUND, no CAHIERS DU CINEMA or POSITIF, and certainly no CINEFANTASTIQUE, MIDI MINUIT FANTASTIQUE, CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN or FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. Evidently these have not influenced lives or our world to the extent of VANITY FAIR (which Mr. Carter edits), HIGHLIGHTS, PEOPLE, or WET.
There is no mention of THE STRAND MAGAZINE (which gave us Sherlock Holmes), ST. NICHOLAS or THE HORN BOOK. Speaking of "cool," there is no CRAWDADDY (which introduced serious rock journalism), no CREEM, no HEAVY METAL (which changed the look of science fiction cinema), nor Michael Moorcock's NEW WORLDS, the zero-ground for new wave science fiction in the 1960s. There's no reference to any of the great pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s. THE EVERGREEN REVIEW is outshone on the list by THE PARIS REVIEW, while MOJO and MUSICIAN are eclipsed by ROLLING STONE and THE FACE. This, despite the fact that Mr. Clark freely allows that neither of his choices for top music magazine has been relevant since before the introduction of the CD. Somehow I suspect that Mr. Clark's interest in music hasn't been exactly vital since the demise of vinyl.
I am tempted to describe this list as an overview of the 51 Best Known Magazines ever, peppered with just enough alternative chic items to look halfway real, and just enough dentist-office-waiting-room titles to appeal to people who don't have the time to haunt newsstands. 21 of these "best" magazines are footnoted to explain that their ranking only applies to specific short-lived periods associated with certain publishers, editors or figureheads; in other words, nearly half the list consists of what the author himself essentially classifies as failed, or at least paled, publications. Durability and continued relevance are evidently no yardstick of quality. (Curiously, while he allows that MAD and INTERVIEW haven't been the same since the demises of William Gaines and Andy Warhol, there is no such footnote for PLAYBOY, which clearly hasn't been the same since Hugh Hefner stepped down as Editor.) The irony is that Mr. Clark's preamble assures us that "magazines -- at least certain magazines -- aren't going away any time soon."
Actually, this is true enough because, if this article tells us anything, it's that -- regardless of waning quality or pertinence -- if your magazine was hot for a little while back in the 1970s, it should last on newsstands at least last as long as the generation that got its cultural bearings from it in their 20s. Especially if it's bought out, or simply sells out. And, if your magazine appeals to a well-monied generation, its chances for a long and profitable if irrelevant life are even better.
A pull-quote in this article offers what I consider an outstanding insight: "Newspapers tell you about the world; magazines tell you about their world." Alas, too many of Mr. Clark's choices read like newspapers, and some have decidedly yellowed. There's a vast difference between magazines marked by a specific personality or viewpoint, which one can visit periodically like an erudite or worldly or sarcastic friend, and magazines that truly map the worlds within our world, affecting our perceptions of the world, life, and art.
You know where I stand.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Seeing Scorsese finally win the Oscar -- and to have it presented to him by Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, a veritable three-headed lion of contemporary American cinema -- was one of many moments of requital that made last night's Academy Awards broadcast perhaps the most personally meaningful I'd seen. He didn't direct it, but Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker were largely responsible for the quality of WOODSTOCK, which remains one of the finest documentaries ever and a turning point in cinema history. When I saw MEAN STREETS for the first time, at the Skywalk Cinemas in Cincinnati in 1973, I had the feeling that I was hearing my own generation speak to me through a motion picture narrative for the first time. TAXI DRIVER, of course, is a masterpiece of apocalyptic power. RAGING BULL and GOODFELLAS -- inarguably, two of the greatest American films of their century. I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said many times before, nor am I even scratching the surface of all he's given us, but these are the principal reasons why it was so invigorating to see his greatness properly recognized -- these, plus the fact that his moment was reserved for a time when he clearly wasn't being awarded simply for being himself, when the award was attached to a work that is in no way a minor addition to his filmography.
And then there was this moment. If any living artist was conceivably more deserving of such recognition, it is Ennio Morricone -- not only the greatest living film composer, but arguably the outstanding classical composer of the past century. The Maestro's emotional acceptance of the Oscar, and his dedication of the honor to his wife Maria, were moving to witness, all the moreso after hearing reprised snippets from his scores for THE MISSION (a landmark), BUGSY and THE UNTOUCHABLES, but it was indicative of the Academy's blindness to such matters that only Morricone's Oscar-nominated scores were prominently represented, and that the brief scroll of titles from his filmography offered absolutely no mention of his magnum opus, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I can't help but reflect in this instance on what I wrote earlier about THE DEPARTED: if it takes the inept, uninformed gesture of people who really have no love of movies to get this award into Morricone's hand, so be it. This doesn't cheapen the artist or his recognition, and we who know better can savor the moment for what it truly signifies. When Morricone spoke of accepting the award in the spirit of the countless other craftsmen who toil throughout their lives, giving generously of themselves to cinema without ever being given similar acknowledgement, I felt that he was referring to the likes of Francesco de Masi, Carlo Rustichelli, Bruno Nicolai, and many others among his gifted colleagues who have begun to leave us.
I was just as happy to see Helen Mirren's magnificent work recognized, but I was also delighted by the approach taken by the show's producers this year, honoring not only the winners but all the nominees. While the trophy itself is obviously something to envy, it's one's fellow nominees who provide the true measure of one's accomplishment in these categories, and I would imagine that the real honor -- to any artist -- would be to be considered, for example, part of the Academy Awards' "Class of 2007" in whatever category.
My only disappointments this year were related to PAN'S LABYRINTH: why no Best Achievement in Visual Effects nomination? I haven't seen THE LIVES OF OTHERS, so I can't say that Guillermo del Toro was robbed in the Best Foreign Film category, particularly as he was the first audience member to hug the victor, but I do feel that his film wasn't quite paid the full measure of respect it was due... undoubtedly because the Academy has an allergy to fantastic cinema.
Despite this, I found the 79th annual Academy Awards to be something it rarely is: heartening. This year, it was actually about movies that I care about.