Monday, December 03, 2007
Pardon my paternal pride, but this has turned out to be another killer issue. Knowing that our GRINDHOUSE Round Table Discussion was going to be the core of #136, I thought it might be a good idea to complement it as well as possible by using reviews only of those movies that actually played in grindhouses, or which I could easily imagine playing in such places. There are a couple of exceptions, like Ramsey Campbell writing about KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE but, on the whole, it's very consistent -- 80 pages of fun, feverish, high-falutin' talk and thought about international trash cinema, every page dense with color images and maniacal, movie-addicted information.
And it's coming your way in January.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
For much of our correspondence, David has expressed a desire to add a book of his own to this bat-wing of world fiction, and I'm happy to announce that his first novel, FANTOMAS IN AMERICA, has just been published by Black Coat Press (imprint of Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier, authors of the indispensible McFarland reference work FRENCH SCIENCE FICTION FANTASY, HORROR AND PULP FICTION). It was added to Amazon.com today.
FANTOMAS IN AMERICA has the distinction of being the first new Fantômas novel to appear since the last of the Marcel Allain novels, FANTOMAS JOUE ET GAGNES ("Fantômas Gambles and Wins"), was serialized in French newspapers in 1938. Allain originally conceived the character with collaborator Pierre Souvestre, with whom he wrote no less than 32 lengthy adventures between February 1911 and September 1913. (And I think VW has a punishing schedule!) Souvestre was killed in the first World War, and Allain (who subsequently married Souvestre's widow) resumed the adventures of the "Genius of Crime" in 1925, writing only eight more novels between then and 1938 -- that, David tells me, lack the verve and imagination of the original classic 32.
David's novel picks up in 1917, four years after Fantômas disappeared during the fateful cruise of the mega-ship Gigantic in the last Souvestre/Allain novel, LE FIN DU FANTOMAS? ("The End of Fantômas?")... and is partly based on FANTOMAS, a now-lost Fox Corporation film serial of 20 episodes directed by Edward Sedgwick, originally released in 1921. Some sources credit Boris Karloff among the production's supporting players, but this may be a mistake based on the resemblance of lead actor Edward Rosenman (who plays Fantômas) to Karloff in the print ads. David was able to learn about the obscure American serial by winning a rare pressbook on eBay, which provided chapter synopses for only a limited number of the film's chapters; thereafter, he was free to imagine the rest, which he managed to do by introducing as characters not only Sedgwick and Rosenman, but other characters from the silent screen such as D.W. Griffith's scrappy street gang of 1912, the Musketeers of Pig Alley. There are many other secreted pop cultural references too, including some more recent ones, but I'll leave the pleasure of discovering them to you.
The book contains approximately 50 illustrations culled from the rare Fox Corp. pressbook, making FANTOMAS IN AMERICA as pertinent a non-fiction purchase for devotées of silent film fantasy as it surely is as a bold continuation of a wonderful literary tradition.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Monday, November 26, 2007
The response to the Bava book in print is just beginning to get underway. MJ Simpson wrote an excellent review and author profile for the current issue of the British magazine DEATH RAY, and I know that feature articles and reviews are forthcoming in RUE MORGUE and FANGORIA. My fingers are already crossed for some kind of Bava book mention in THE NEW YORK TIMES' Best Books of 2007 issue -- even to receive mention as one of the Honorables would be wonderful.
On his MYRANT blog, Steve Bissette has announced that he recently finished reading "the truly massive, moving" Bava book and promises to write at length about the experience soon.
Also, all seven segments of Colin Reboy's interview with Donna and me -- the complete novel for television, as they used to say -- are now posted at the Studio Kaiju site.
And what of the reclusive fellow behind this blitzkrieg of publicity? I am presently running a VW gauntlet that's likely to keep me busy up till the last pre-holiday moment, which is why Video WatchBlog activity has been so irregular of late.
We've just completed work on VW #135 (one of our best, if I do say so myself); the principal features are my "DVD Spotlight" on PAN'S LABYRINTH and Mark F. Berry's fine interview with English actress Judi Bowker (CLASH OF THE TITANS, COUNT DRACULA), but fuller contents information will be posted on our website in the coming days. We are going right into VW #136, our GRINDHOUSE issue, which is pretty much complete and ready for editing and layout; and Donna is pressing for us to jump into VW #137 as soon as we finish the previous one. Of course, the first thing she's going to ask me when that time rolls around is "Where are your reviews for this issue?" -- but I've been working on two other issues of the magazine (including writing some emergency material for them), so when have I had time to watch movies, much less review any?
This sort of frenzied pace may suit Roger Corman, but it doesn't suit me. We've been doing this for seventeen years now; for once, I would like to take a more leisurely and receptive approach to the Christmas season. I want to send cards, telephone neglected friends, do some actual in-store shopping, and so forth -- but it doesn't seem too likely. It's just as well I find myself on a Ramones binge these days; I need the energy.
Today -- at my suggestion, actually (although this isn't going to sound like me) -- Donna and I decided to forego our usual Christmas gifts for one another and direct our holiday budget toward some needed home repairs and improvements. I guess that means we've finally grown up. We spent part of this evening in the home improvements department of a nearby Lowe's store, ogling things like storm doors, windows and floor lamps. You know, it's amazing what you can buy to dress up your home for the same amount of money I typically spend on Euro posters I look at once and file away...
Friday, November 23, 2007
He followed in the footsteps of Steve Reeves (the first man ever to hold all three major titles of accomplishment in bodybuilding: Mr. America, Mr. World and Mr. Universe), who made the role world-famous in the enormously successful HERCULES (1957) and HERCULES UNCHAINED (1958). When Galatea producer Lionello Santi sold the franchise to producer Achille Piazzi, Reeves -- out of loyalty to director Pietro Francisci, who had cast him -- abandoned the role, which was briefly taken up by Mark Forest (the screen name of Lou Degni). When Forest was lured away to take over the role of Maciste in a multi-picture deal, Piazzi offered Hercules to Reg Park. A former Mr. Britain and two-time winner of the Mr. Universe title, Park was British-born but based in South Africa, where he ran a successful health club.
Once Park was convinced that Piazzi's offer was sincere, he flew to Rome -- without any prior acting experience -- to star in HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS (aka HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, 1961), directed by Vittorio Cottafavi. Assisting Cottafavi on that picture was an uncredited Mario Bava, who devised some special effects sequences and contributed some second unit photography. Park had a great time being the center of attention and was well-liked by the crew -- not something that could always be said of Reeves -- and he was convinced to stick around and make a second picture that Mario Bava and some screenwriter friends had cooked up in the meantime. That project became HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD (aka HERCULES IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, 1962).
Steve Reeves was the most convincingly godly of all the actors who took on the role of Hercules and, in a sense, he was an impossible act to follow, though his acting was often wooden. Reeves' experience was in posing; he looked great onscreen, knew how to stand so that the light caught his oiled physique in ways that would flatter him, but he was not an effective speaker. Reg Park, on the other hand, was more than a bodybuilder; he was also an entrepreneur, and his past experience in self-promotion and salesmanship brought to his acting jobs a sense of relaxed, good-humored ease that made him the most fully dimensional of all the actors ever to play the part.
Park also had the good fortune to work with Cottafavi and Bava, whose directorial abilities went well beyond the fanciful costumed fun that was Francisci's stock in trade. Cottafavi's Hercules, in particular -- lazy, self-absorbed, fun-loving, self-mocking, all too human until various challenges provoke him to rise to the occasion -- is the closest of all movie Hercules to the one that originated in the pages of Greek and Roman mythology. Bava, who preferred female leads, explored the character's vulnerability in his film, as he ventures into the depths of Hades in an effort to save a few loved ones who, by way of black magic, have either turned against him or oblivious to him. HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD is a masterful fusion of the epic and horror genres, just as Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES is an ideal fusion of horror and science fiction; it is also the most purely cinematic example of the sword-and-sandal genre, and the greatest showcase Bava ever found for his unique ability to conjure fabulous imaginary worlds with next to no means. HERCULES CONQUERS ATLANTIS, on the other hand, is held by many devotées to be the absolute finest of all the Italian sword-and-sandal films. These are also the films that Arnold Schwarzenegger credits with inspiring his own desire to pursue a career in bodybuilding. Reg Park was his hero.
Park made only three other, lesser films before returning to the business he had founded in Sandton, South Africa. One, and one of them (HERCULES THE AVENGER aka SFIDA DEI GIGANTI (1965) was cobbled together in large part from footage recycled from the films he had made with Bava and Cottafavi.
Some years ago, I exchanged a couple of e-mails with Reg Park. I had tracked down the website for his business and e-mailed him there, asking him to be interviewed for MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. He responded kindly and warmly, but begged off, explaining that his work on those pictures was done so long ago, a lifetime ago, and he could no longer trust the validity of his own recollections, vague as they were. If he couldn't be certain of their veracity, he preferred not to entrust them to posterity -- but he wished me the very best of luck with my project. I admired the integrity of that response much as I had always admired the integrity of character so evident in his screen portrayals. If only all actors with hazy memories would admit to it, and not misinform history with their self-serving "entertainments" and "legends"! Fortunately, I found some quotes from earlier published interviews, so I was able to represent his view of things in the book somewhat, and I'm very glad about that. Especially now.
To see the supreme likes of Reg Park and Gordon Scott vanish from the earth in the space of a year makes me feel a sense of loss that goes beyond the personal; one feels that a certain kind of man, an irreplaceable kind, is disappearing from our midst. We used to call them heroes. Today we need heroes more than ever, but all that the movies give us anymore are actors who play heroes, usually of the conflicted or traumatized kind; they play them in costumes that lend their bodies phony musculature, they perform their heroic acts with the assistance of CGI, and they explore their "dark sides." Anyone can play Batman or Spider-man, but a role like Hercules cannot merely be played; it must first be earned -- by dedicating years of one's life to the attainment of a superior level of physical perfection and physical strength.
If someone like Reg Park climbed a colossal tree, or traversed a length of rope suspended over a lava pit in a matinee movie, it didn't matter that the scenes and deeds were staged because he, himself, was real. Put the real Reg Park in those same situations and he would have stood a better chance than most of pulling it off. His Hercules walked among us, not above us. You had to admire him... but he also made you like him.
I may have discovered the key to his likability one night while watching parts of HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD with the sound turned off. (This is something I occasionally do to gauge how much is being brought to a piece of filmmaking by its soundtrack.) Having grown somewhat adept at lip-reading, I noticed that, in all of the scenes where Hercules raised his massive arms to the sky and addressed his father Zeus, Reg Park -- on the set -- had addressed his lines to his own Heavenly Father: Jesus. Needless to say, the literary Hercules predated Christ by centuries so the chronology of Park's spoken words is laughable, but surely he knew that his dialogue was going to be looped by someone else later, and the line would be fixed. What mattered to him in that moment, it seems to me, was to make the moment believable and not dishonor the part. I wish I could have asked Reg Park about this, but I suppose the work stands as its own best explanation. When you look at these scenes, you believe them in a way that wholly transcends the way Steve Reeves used to bark "By the Gods!" at the arc lights off-camera.
A moment of silence, then, for the gentleman who brought Olympus down to earth.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Donna and I spent a terrific weekend with beloved and kindred spirits in Louisville, Kentucky, where we participated in the first-ever, under-the-radar WonderFest Reunion. Last May, it was expressed by several of us that it was going to be a long wait till we all saw one another at the next Wonderfest in July 2008, so Gary Prange and Donnie Waddell arranged for a sooner get-together to happen. No exhibits, no banquets, no guest stars, no Rondo Award ceremonies, and no karaoke... but the same hotel and, thanks to the management of the Executive West Hotel, Gary and Donnie were able to play host to us all in the very same suite where the Old Dark Clubhouse was held at the previous Wonderfest in late May. Lots of great up-till-the-wee-hours conversation, interesting screenings from both DVD-R and 16mm, a side trip to an antique toy mall, a trivia contest, etc.
Six of us broke away from the carnivorous majority on Saturday night to have what turned out to be the greatest sushi experience of our lives. I've eaten sushi in Cincinnati, Newport, Toronto, Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the very best I've ever had, bar none, was at Sapporo Japanese Grill and Sushi on Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky. (I particularly recommend the VIP and Godzilla rolls.) I am now nursing a serious fantasy about moving to the Bardstown Road area now -- and not just for the sushi; it seemed like a great, vibrant, little community with lots of interesting shops, restaurants, and people.
My "No Zone" column review of Criterion's BREATHLESS [A bout de souffle, 1959] is now available for reading here at the SIGHT & SOUND website. It's also featured in the current issue.
There are now four more additions to the Studio Kaiju webcam interview with Donna and me, which can be found with the earlier two here. The Reboy family are now titling the segments so that interested viewers can preview the topics of discussion.
Friday, November 16, 2007
We successfully recorded the event by training our camcorder on a second computer screen -- the widescreen picture is strangely cropped at times, but it's all there. Once the footage is edited, probably sometime next week, we'll find a way of making it available to you online.
In the meantime, Part 2 of Colin Reboy's Studio Kaiju webcam interview with us (our first!) is now available for viewing on their "Ink" page. Follow the link to "Ink" by clicking here.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Our interview, which ran for about half an hour, is being used to inaugurate this new department. The Reboys plan to publish the interview in three or four 8-10-minute segments, the first of which is now available for viewing here. We talk about all kinds of things, mostly about VIDEO WATCHDOG and its editorial interests and policies, in passing about the Bava book, and also about movies in general and my viewing habits. I got a real kick out of watching this first segment; it looks like Colin is communicating with a couple of characters out of Pupi Avati's ZEDER.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
It's a busy time with not much time available for blogging. The promotional demands attending the release of the Bava book continue, and now we're busily preparing two issues of VW back-to-back, with another looming just after Thanksgiving.
Last Sunday, Donna and I attended the Ohioana reception at the downtown Cincinnati Public Library, where a few dozen local writers with books out this year (including me) were fêted in a slide show presentation, summoned before the audience, and presented with certificates of achievement. I was a bit nervous until the program was well underway because I assumed that we writers would be called upon to speak (as we were when I attended one of these after the publication of THROAT SPROCKETS back in 1994); I hadn't had time to prepare any notes, but fortunately no public speaking was required. Lilias Folan, the pioneering yoga broadcaster, was there looking my age (she was a grown-up on television when I was still a tyke), but I missed my chance to meet her. The great pleasure of the morning was meeting fellow writer Scott "Belmo" Belmer, who's based in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. Belmo and his wife Terri were there in recognition of books he had published this year about, respectively, Buddhist monks in exile and Beatles tribute/parody albums. We traded contact information and seemed to have things in common. After Ohioana, we came back home to do our first webcam interview, about which I'll say more once it's available for viewing online.
This coming Friday morning, we'll be doing our second webcam interview, which is tremendously exciting. For this one, Donna and I will be interviewed about the Bava book on a large projection screen in an auditorium at the Trieste Science Fiction Film Festival, and I understand that Lamberto Bava, critics Lorenzo Codelli and Alan Jones, and possibly Joe Dante will be present to speak to us and add to the discussion. I've known Lamberto and Lorenzo for more than 30 years, entirely by correspondence and telephone -- we've never met -- and it makes me tremble a bit to knowing that I'll soon be speaking to them face-to-face. Fortunately I know Joe and Alan pretty well, so having them there should help to keep me emotionally anchored for the hour.
I just finished writing my "Barks" editorial for VW 135, so -- except for my final read-through -- my work on it is done. Then it's on to 136, which I'm hopeful of at least editing by Friday. Thursday, actually. Is it possible? We'll see.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
As Bobby wrote and Ricky sang, "Bow down to her on Sunday, salute her when her birthday comes..."
And that seems just about the right thing to do.
Monday, November 05, 2007
At the risk of making you think this is TCM Week here at Video WatchBlog, I feel it's my responsibility to report that Turner Classic Movies is devoting tomorrow morning and afternoon to a complete retrospective of MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. movies. Yes, it's true that the entire series is coming out later this month on DVD, but there are reasons why you should watch/record at least some of these, because the "whole enchilada" box set isn't quite as whole as you might think.
Here's a breakdown of the features TCM is showing, complete with eastern time zone showtimes, with some helpful annotations. I've asterisked (*) the ones of particular import.
* 6:00 TO TRAP A SPY - This is a color feature-length expansion of the series' first episode, "The Vulcan Affair," which was telecast in black-and-white. And the episode included in the series box set will likewise be cut down from this longer version and in black-and-white. Featuring William Marshall, Pat Crowley, and Fritz Weaver. Directed by Don Medford, who helmed "The Judgment," the history-making final two-parter of THE FUGITIVE.
7:45 ONE OF OUR SPIES IS MISSING - Adapted from the Season Two two-parter, "The Bridge of Lions Affair," guest-starring Vera Miles and Maurice Evans. Directed by E. Darrell Hallenbeck, a veteran of TV's THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
* 9:30 ONE SPY TOO MANY - Don't miss this feature-length edit of Season Two's two-part opener "The Alexander the Great Affair," featuring Rip Torn. Many fans regard this "affair" as the series' highpoint; it's certainly one of them, and Gerald Fried's score is the most infectiously rocking the program ever had. Directed by Joseph (COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT) Sargent.
* 11:15 THE SPY WITH MY FACE - Color expansion of Season 1, Episode 8: "The Double Affair," featuring Senta Berger, another episode telecast only in black-and-white. Directed by John (ONE STEP BEYOND) Newland.
12:45 THE KARATE KILLERS - Composite of the Season Three two-parter "The Five Daughters Affair," which sports one of the finest casts the show ever assembled: Joan Crawford, Telly Salavas, Herbert Lom, Curd Jurgens, Terry-Thomas, Kim Darby and Diane McBain. Directed by Barry (WILD IN THE STREETS) Shear.
2:30 THE SPY IN THE GREEN HAT - Feature-length composite of the Season Three two-parter "The Concrete Overcoat Affair," starring Janet Leigh and THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH star Leticia Roman. Also directed by Joseph Sargent.
4:15 The HELICOPTER SPIES - Consolidation of Season Four's "The Prince of Darkness Affair" two-parter, featuring Carol Lynley, Bradford Dillmann, and Lola Albright. Directed by Boris (THE OMEGA MAN) Sagal.
6:00 HOW TO STEAL THE WORLD - Feature version of the two-parter that closed the series, "The Seven Wonders of the World Affair," guest-starring Barry Sullivan, Leslie Nielsen, and Eleanor Parker. Directed by Sutton (CHOSEN SURVIVORS) Roley.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
The films in question are THE WHISTLER (1944, directed by William Castle) at 6:00am; THE POWER OF THE WHISTLER (1945, directed by Lew Landers and based on Cornell Woolrich's novel THE BLACK CURTAIN) at 7:15am; THE VOICE OF THE WHISTLER (1945, directed by Castle) at 8:30am; THE MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER (1946, also directed by Castle) at 9:45am; THE SECRET OF THE WHISTLER (1946, directed by George THE RETURN OF DR. X Sherman) at 11:00am; and THE RETURN OF THE WHISTLER (1948, directed by Ross Lederman) at 12:15. All but the final title star Richard Dix, who plays a different role in each, sometimes delivering work on par with his excellent portrayal of Captain Will Stone in Val Lewton's THE GHOST SHIP (1943).
Missing from the lineup are one of the series' highlights, THE MARK OF THE WHISTLER (1944, directed by Castle and based on Woolrich's story "Dormant Account"), and THE THIRTEENTH HOUR (1947, directed by William Clemens), Dix's final appearance in the franchise. A victim of serial heart ailments, he died in 1949 at the age of 56.
Some of us have been looking forward to this day since TCM started running pictures from their newly acquired Columbia film package back in January. For newcomers to the subject, there's a nice Wikipedia entry on "The Whistler" that you can read here. I also once posted some notes on the series here at Video WatchBlog.
I followed the link to look over the nominees and categories and couldn't believe what I found. This award, which aspires at least by name to represent weblogs as a whole, has no Film category. Their Video category pertains only to blogs that show videos. They do offer a Culture category, under which I found only two film-related nominees: Kyle Smith Online (blog of the film critic for THE NEW YORK POST -- which, as often as not, exists to link to his reviews on the NYP site) and Self-Styled Siren (10 posts since August 20, one of them entitled "The Siren is a Finalist for the 2007 Weblog Awards").
There are also ten sub-categories nominating the "Best of the Rest" culling additional nominees from the "Top 8,751+ blogs." Video WatchBlog is not among them, and I honestly don't know which implication is more sobering: that Video WatchBlog literally isn't in the "Top 8,751+" blogs or that it's not generally considered among the best of those Top 8,751 plus.
Sour grapes? I'll admit to one or two, because I take my work on this blog as seriously as I take any work that I do, but what I'm mostly feeling is bemused... by this award's concept of excellence. I speak not only on behalf of Video WatchBlog; not one of the several blogs that constitute my own daily bread, not one of the three upon which I bestowed the Thoughtful Blogger Award, are represented on these polls either.
It's kind of like the Grammys, all over again.
"To God, there is no zero. I still exist." -- Scott Carey