Monday, August 18, 2008

Loving THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE

For a couple of years now, I have resisted seeing Andrzej Zulawski's THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE [L'important c'est l'aimer, 1975] a second time, because I was afraid that it wouldn't -- couldn't possibly -- live up to my recollection of it. Sometimes the oddest films can seem like masterpieces because you happen to see them under a certain phase of the moon. I can well remember seeing Alan Rudolph's TROUBLE IN MIND for the first time on cable and hugging a pillow more and more tightly to me as the story advanced... and seeing it again, some time later, and wondering what the hell had captivated me so the first time around. But yesterday, the time came to put my feelings about Zulawski's film to the test, and I'm pleased to say that it is the masterpiece my earlier viewing suggested it was. I like Zulawski's work more often than not, but this film I find the most spellbinding of them all, due in no small part to the central performance of Romy Schneider, without whose beauty and gravity at its core I suspect the entire zany, enraptured film might collapse like a house of cards.

She plays a 30-year old B-movie actress fallen on hard times, a once-promising talent whose career has nose-dived into pornography ("NYMPHACULA" is one of the fictional movies she's supposed to have done), drugs, prostitution and a marriage to a deranged admirer that seems more like captivity. A paparazzi (Fabio Testi) tries to score a photo of her, is beaten up for his troubles, but she takes amused pity on him when he persists and promises that he can sell better shots as magazine covers. Thus begins one of the most peculiar and affecting love stories I've ever seen, rooted in Testi's earnest belief that, if he intrudes into this woman's life (as he feels he must), things may end badly, but that if he doesn't, they will certainly end much worse.

The movie's effectiveness boils entirely down to the chemistry between these two. It's mysterious, captivating, utterly convincing and never quite explained. It's not a sexual relationship, though the offer is on the table and the tension is palpable between them, enough to sometimes send her pitiable husband (Jacques Dutronc) out of the room when they are brought back into each other's orbit. My theory about Testi's reticence is that he knows that what this woman needs in her disintegrating life, much more than another lover, is a friend -- and he rises above his own urges, and her own cruel and self-destructive taunting, to provide that.

The trouble with THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE is that, for all of its strange magic to kick in, in order to hear its actual heartbeat, you have to watch it in French. It's the live sound option, the one that was recorded as these performances were given (except for Testi, who is post-synched but effectively so), and this is particularly vital to appreciating Schneider's luminous yet ashen performance -- which she considered to be her own best work, and which won her the very first César Award for Best Actress in 1975. (Schneider died at age 43 in 1982, officially of a heart attack, though she was known to have been inconsolable and increasingly dependent on pills and alcohol following the accidental death of her 14 year-old son the previous year. There are currently two different films about her life in production, a feature and a TV movie, respectively starring Yvonne Catterfield and Jessica Schwarz, both remarkable look-alikes.) Unfortunately, while the French version of Zulawski's film is available on DVD, it comes with no English subtitle option. I've only seen that version shown once on the Sundance Channel, as part of a tribute to the late, great Z Channel -- and I prize my DVD-R of that broadcast. A German import from New Entertainment World also exists called NACHTBLENDE (meaning "Day for Night," oddly enough, a translation of the title of the Christopher Frank novel LA NUIT AMERICAIN on which the film is based), which contains audio options in French, German and English -- but only German subtitles are provided. The English dub is kind of heroic in many respects, but cannot help but occupy a much lower level than the exalted plane of the French version.

I failed to mention that it also stars Klaus Kinski, giving one of his most tortured, incandescent and emotional performances. Reason enough to see any movie, but an "also ran" here.
This German disc is available from Xploited Cinema with a choice of three different clamshell covers, based on the German and Belgian poster art. The Belgian poster cover is priced slightly higher and represents a limited edition of only 999 copies. If interested, I would hurry because Xploited has announced their intention to retire from activity and will not be reordering any discs once their current supply expires. Furthermore, the under-construction website of a new company called Mondo-Vision has announced L'important c'est l'aimer as one of three Zulawski pictures on their roster of upcoming releases, but offers no information about its release date or language/subtitle options.
I'm inclined to promote THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE to my Top Ten; that's how strongly I feel about it. I'm going to watch the French version again before I decide. If the German disc is your only means of seeing the film, go for it. It's unlikely that any other issue is going to outperform it in terms of extras, which include PC exclusives as well as Georges Delerue's haunting soundtrack in its five-track entirety. The track called "Largo" is as close as the Maestro ever came to recapturing the tortured gravitas of his unforgettable tragic theme for Godard's CONTEMPT, which happens to be a key word in the screenplay of this film. My fuller review of THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE will appear in VIDEO WATCHDOG #144, now in production.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Top 10 Lines of Dialogue from Dallamano's VENUS IN FURS

Laura Antonelli strikes a pose for her lover's pleasure -- and agony -- in Massimo Dallamano's VENUS IN FURS (1969).

With frosted sand-colored hair and a cocoa-butter complexion, Laura Antonelli is at her most delectable in Massimo Dallamano's VENUS IN FURS, a contemporary adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's definitive S&M novel. The Velvet Underground captured the spirit of the book better; in Dallamano's hands, it's the Salem cigarette ad-looking story of Severin (Régis Vallée), a perverse would-be philosopher about sexual matters who is happy for reasons buried deep in his childhood only when he's made to feel miserable... up to a point. He meets his match in Wanda (Antonelli), a former stripper and erotic exhibitionist whom he meets at a Spanish resort. Once they discover they're... er, compatible, they marry, move into an Italian villa, enter into a cosplay game of mistress and chauffeur, hire a couple of lesbian maids, and -- this being a product of macho Spain and Italy -- Severin eventually learns the hard way that man was not meant to serve as his woman's bitch. At times it seems more like a writ of bitterness from someone who hasn't quite gotten over a bad divorce, rather than something based on the gospel of whips and leather. It's not great, but there are various delights to be found here, including Gian Franco Reverberi's infectious Eurotrash score (it sounds like the sitarist was imported from the VAMPYROS LESBOS sessions), a classic beauty in its prime, and scads of the most deliriously quotable dialogue you've ever heard. To wit:

1. "If deep pleasure is born most of all from suffering, then this is the woman of whom I've always dreamed!"

2. "It's very difficult to act like a prostitute when one is in love."

3. "You're all the same, you men! When you love a woman, you want to lock her up in the most secret cell of the Pyramid of Chaos."

4. "Women are always forbidden the most amusing things."

5. "Wanda, will you marry me?" "Yes, yes, I will marry you, because I want to betray you, bring you to desperation! I will make you unhappy, you'll see!"

6. "Such happiness as this... almost makes me unhappy."

7. "Sometimes women are whores uselessly, and the vulgar side of this is its uselessness."

8. "You're too beautiful to belong to just one man." (Did I hear an "amen" in the house?)

9. "All I can say is, after two months, you've become like any other husband!"

10. "I must resign myself to being normal."

Need I say more? VENUS IN FURS is available from Xploited Cinema in two different editions: the preferable 16:9 Shameless Screen Entertainment PAL Region 0 import for $24.95 (82m 3s -- trimmed of roughly 55s of a red-tinted scene by the BBFC), and the fullscreen IVC's Japanese NTSC Region 2 import (83m 26s, unmatted fullscreen and reportedly uncut, but if so from the wrong projection speed, with one instance of optical fogging) for $39.95. The material missing from the Shameless disc has been posted on the label's website for free viewing by those claiming to be 18 years of age or older, and involves an extension of a non-explicit rape scene in which the violation becomes pleasurable to the victim. (The tinting on the scene emphasizes that it's a fantasy of Severin's, rather than something that actually happens, making the cut seem particularly gratuitous and ill-considered.) The Shameless disc includes a widescreen trailer featuring alternative takes and shots, some including nudity, not found in the feature version itself.

Kihachiro Kawamoto Films Reviewed

Here's a link to my review of stop-motion animator Kihachiro Kawamoto's feature THE BOOK OF THE DEAD and the short film collection THE EXQUISITE FILMS OF KIHACHIRO KAWAMOTO (both released by KimStim/Kino on Video), as published in the new September 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #143

It's now at the printer! That's Rodd Dana as Marcellus in CLEOPATRA on our front cover, as classically rendered by the ever-talented Charlie Largent. For more details and samples of this fabulous issue yet to come, check the "Coming Soon" page of our website.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Scenes From My Vita Nuova

First things first: VIDEO WATCHDOG #142 was shipped to subscribers and retailers at the end of last week. If you are one or the other, it should be in your hands soon -- or sometime later, if you're a bulk rate subscriber.

I'm going through a weird, distracted phase that's tied up with some important changes I've made in my life and my attempts to map out my future. I mentioned a blog or two ago that I've started swimming; I'm now doing it three times per week and have already dropped more than twelve pounds. Also, about three weeks ago, in fact to the day, I decided to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle and I'm liking that -- although the soup aisle at the grocery store (my former idea of health food), now throws up more "Forbidden" signs than are found in the archives of the Catholic Legion of Decency. I always loved the foods I am now swearing off, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not completely happy about my decision to live without them, but I am, I think, settled. Once you get into this, you realize it's more than just a dietary decision; it's also a code of morality. Until I can learn to cook for myself, which I don't foresee in the immediate future, thank God for the folks at Morningstar Farms.

I started working on a new novel this past week, made respectable progress (maybe 20 pages), hit the right tone, then realized it was not what I should be writing at this time. I hope to get on with the right project sometime this week.

In the meantime, and I recognize the danger of this, I feel myself losing a lot of old interests. I must have more than a month of ALFRED HITCHCOCK HOURs and WHAT'S MY LINE? episodes piled up on my DVR hard drive, but the prospect of dubbing them over onto my DVD recorder to get the commercials out of them is something I'm not ready to face and presently have no interest in doing. I don't understand why I ever collected anything. I have stopped watching more movies at or before the halfway-point this past week than I can count; these are movies that I've sometimes seen and know I like, but it seems a movie has to be really extraordinary to hold my attention these days. Fortunately, there was one: Lech Majewski's THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS (2004), which streets tomorrow on the Kino on Video label. I think this movie is an absolute masterpiece, and it's also the first movie I've seen since my first viewing of Sergio Leone's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST at the age of 12 that I like so much, I'm actually wary of seeing the director's other works. I feel like I want to be faithful to this one, it's so good. I was faithful to ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST for at least 10 years; then I bit the bullet and saw Leone's other films, all of which had their own qualities but none of which ever equalled or surpassed my introduction to his work. Kino sent me three other movies by this amazing director -- THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO HARRY, THE ROE'S ROOM and GLASS LIPS -- and I apologize, but they'll just have to wait till I'm over this one.

In other news: To my surprise and honor, a young punk band from the Glendale, California area has adopted the name of Throat Sprockets. Lead singer Miss Lonelyhearts tells me "I think it's the best band name since Led Zeppelin!" If you go to their MySpace page, you can hear/download their first offering, "Keep Your Distance."

And finally, Jerad Walters of Centipede Press tells me that he has received the first six advance copies of my VIDEODROME book from its Hong Kong printer. He says "They look magnificent!" Hopefully the book's Amazon page will soon be corrected to reflect its "in print" status. In the meantime, you can order the book directly from the publisher here. Copies begin shipping in three weeks. Donna and I have not made arrangements with Centipede yet, but I imagine we will also be selling the book through Video Watchdog.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

HAZEL COURT - HORROR QUEEN reviewed


HAZEL COURT - HORROR QUEEN
An Autobiography
by Hazel Court
Tomahawk Press (www.tomahawkpress.com), 152 pages, $25.00, trade softcover

British actress Hazel Court passed away earlier this year, on April 15, just a month or two before the announced publication date of her long-promised autobiography. A copy of this sadly timed Tomahawk Press release arrived here yesterday, courtesy of Amazon.com (now offering the book for the sale price of $16.50), and I read it straight through in an evening.

The book's advance word of mouth has been beating the drum about the fact that it contains a never-before-seen color image of Hazel topless, as she was filmed for a continental release of THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959). The photo is in the book, and different to the four sequential filmstrip images previously seen on the inside cover of LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS #16, but not printed large enough to permit much detail. Even so, it's neither the most beautiful or ravishing image in the book, which is loaded with lovely images of Hazel at all the different stages of her life. The two that particularly took my breath away can be found on the Acknowledgements page (which appears to be post-retirement) and page 38 (a photo from her first professional session at age 16).

As loath as I would be to say this to the dear lady's face, pretty pictures and a nice interior layout aside, I found the book a disappointment. Why? Because the opening chapters are so arresting, so complete and vivid a recreation of her early years, and so revelatory of an unexplored gift for writing, that the later chapters about her life in movies seem sketchy and shallow by comparison. There is an almost palpable feeling of difference here between chapters written by hand and others that might have been obtained otherwise, as through a transcribed tape or ghostwriter. I don't know how difficult a book it was for her to write, if other duties were in the way of her concentration, but the early chapters give us dense, delicious portraiture while the later ones give us snapshots.

The early chapters do offer the reader some insight about how this working class girl from Birmingham acquired her regal bearing onscreen and how she wore those period costumes with such ease. There is also a heartbreaking story about her first love, identified only by his initials, who went off to war and died in 1941, but not before taking the photographs (by gaslight) that led to Hazel's first screen test. Her first marriage to actor Dermot Walsh is almost elliptic in its modest coverage, and none of the reasons for their "painful" divorce are gone into, nor really is the story of how she came to fall in love with second husband, actor/director Don Taylor (obviously the great love of her life). A strange emphasis of photos showing Hazel in the company of artist Fred Yates, with whom the text mentions only one brief anecdotal meeting, begs curiosity. There are also odd instances of padding, with surprisingly detailed film synopses added in (complete with dialogue), and quotes taken from recklessly identified sources. One quote, allegedly from TV GUIDE, is far too long and critical in character to have ever appeared there, and it's an embarassment when the book reaches out to the IMDb for information anyone could find there for themselves. The text is also guilty of some inattentive editing (repeated information, etc) and proofreading (Edgar "Allen" Poe, "Heaven's" no!, etc).

Despite these unworthy birthmarks, it's still a pleasure to spend time in her thoughts and reveries, and a shade of her book's early substance eeks into its latter pages, which focus on her development as a sculptress, her widowhood, and her last years in a log cabin in the High Sierra Mountains. But my abiding feeling about the book, after closing it, is that it makes me wish that Hazel Court was still here with us, so that she might be coaxed into sharing even more details of her life and times as ably as she began to put them down here.

Also included are loving and observant Forewords by her daughter, animation art authority Sally Walsh, and Vincent Price (signed with a "V" I've never seen in his signatures before) and notes of affection and respect from Roger Corman, Ken Annakin and producer Harvey Bernhard.

PSYCHO - The Director's Cut?

In today's mailbox (8/4/08), an interesting letter from reader Simon Coombs of London, England, alerting me to the fact that a pre-US-censor cut of Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO has been shown on the German television station RTL. Simon included this link to a German video site where Universal's most recent DVD issue of PSYCHO was reviewed in tandem with a list of scenes missing from this current version, illustrated with grabs from the RTL broadcast. Hopefully the right people at Universal can be made aware of this missing footage and ensure that it is restored to their reportedly forthcoming two-disc remastered edition, which only then could be called a true "director's cut."

UPDATE: Reader Stephan Held informs me that the site Movie-Censorship.com offers an identical breakdown of the shots missing from the current PSYCHO DVD with English text. You can find it here.

Furthermore, VW contributor Brad Stevens tells me that this more complete version of PSYCHO used to be shown regularly by the BBC in the 1980s, though he does not know which version is currently being shown.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Man Who Could Cheat Mediocrity

I have a critique of Terence Fisher's THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH (1959) going into the next issue of VW -- it's available on DVD as one of those confounded "Best Buy exclusives" from Legend Films. While going through the disc in search of some screen grabs suitable to accompany my review, I was stopped in my tracks by this impressive shot of Christopher Lee, which had passed over me without particular effect as I watched the film itself. But seen here, as a composed image, I feel that cameraman Jack Asher succeeded in capturing something close to the soul of this much-too-easily-taken-for-granted actor and why I and so many of my generation love him so much.

In this film, which hasn't dated particularly well in my opinion, Lee plays the thankless "other man" role of Dr. Pierre Gérard -- just one of many laughably unimaginative French names peopling Jimmy Sangster's script. (The villain of the piece actually resides at No. 13 Rue Noire!) It's the sort of dull, stiff-upper-lip role that Lee readily accepted in his early determination not to become typecast as one of Hammer's monster men, and I used to think he was boring in it... when I was a much younger viewer not so well-versed in the ways of life and love. Seeing the movie now, I find that Lee is one of its most interesting, enduring facets: I admire his character's deeply held moral convictions, the way he values the medical experience of the elderly character played by Arnold Marlé, and especially the way he readily -- indeed, heroically -- responds in the affirmative when the film's villain, played by Anton Diffring, asks if he's in love with Janine Dubois, the heroine played by Hazel Court -- something we instinctively know he has not yet found the right moment to confide to her. It's in this single outburst of heart that he qualifies himself as the film's hero, allowing some heat to pass through his cool public image -- not that it would make any difference to Janine who, in the final reel, agrees even to damnation if it means remaining by the side of the man she loves so unwisely. The film ends with the usual incendiary mayhem and offers no real closure for Pierre Gérard, and it is only after reflecting on the film from a distance, and revisiting a shot such as this, that we realize that Janine's choice has probably damned him, too.

Few actors could have played this man with such innate nobility and melancholy, and it's high time Christopher Lee was complimented on making something so touching out of next to nothing.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fixing A Hole

In the course of recent events, various people have asked me what it feels like to have completed the project of a lifetime. The answer I've settled on, the most truthful one, is quick and to the point: "I feel bereaved."

I now have the Bava book as a tangible thing, rather than as a ghost in my head, but there remains the feeling of having lost it. The awards it has received thus far have been wonderful and gratifying, but these honors can't begin to fill the hole that was excavated by the thirty-plus questing years that preceded it. I've experienced "post partum depression" before, with other books I've finished, but this experience is something more profound. I remember reading somewhere that F. Scott Fitzgerald burst into tears when his first novel was accepted by Scribner's, and that he explained his emotional outburst by saying that he knew that nothing else in his life would ever feel so wonderful again. In my case, I'm not weeping uncontrollably or drinking to excess or auditioning bridges to leap off; I'm just very aware that as much as 50% of what used to be Tim Lucas isn't part of me anymore. I'm also aware that, whatever my next projects happen to be, it's unlikely that any of them, separately or in combination, will completely fill the void left behind by this lifetime endeavor.

We're working on VIDEO WATCHDOG #143 at present, so it's not the right time to start writing the next novel or screenplay, but I should start taking notes toward both projects more fastidiously. In the meantime, both Donna and I are focusing on effecting positive changes in our lifestyle. Last Sunday, I went swimming for the first time since 1989 at a local health facility. I've always loved the water; I've always been the sort of swimmer who never wants to come out once he gets in, but I had been depriving myself of this pleasure with mental preccupations and sheer physical indolence for close to twenty years. I stayed in the water for about 30-35 minutes and, I have to say, it was largely a struggle. But this morning -- before breakfast, before coffee, before e-mail (!!!) -- we went back and I swam for the better part of an hour: doing laps, treading water, floating on my back and watching the white ceiling piping and blue-and-white pennants drifty by above me, then I soothed my tensed muscles for 10 minutes or so in the whirlpool. Even while getting dressed afterwards, I took notice of the simple pleasure I was taking on putting my socks and shoes back on after a swim. Then, while sitting in a chair in the lobby, drinking an electrolyte beverage while waiting for Donna to join me after her own health regime, I realized that I felt wonderful -- "attuned" might be the more precise word. And, best of all, that for the entire time I had been in the water, I hadn't taken any notice of the names, titles, dates and other preoccupations that command my attention when I'm at home, sitting in front of this infernal machine.

Funnily enough, the writing I most enjoy doing at the moment is limericks. It's a form that forces the poet to work and finish quickly. What? Someone requested a Jess Franco limerick? Sure, here goes:

There once was a filmmaker, Jesus,
Whose flicks weren't financed by Cresus
A hotel and zoom lens
Were his means to an end
And the labia majora his thesis.

There. Believe it or not, I wrote that in just slightly more time than it took you to read it. Yes, my limerick muscle is firm and readily flexed -- but I know it's not going to make me rich. This stripe of poetry pays only in author's satisfaction, much like epic poetry today. But at least that satisfaction comes quickly, on the fifth line, like euphoria from a morphine drip.

Additionally, I seem to be going through a phase, probably brought on my the highs of my recent trips to Los Angeles and Louisville: I'm not very interested in watching movies at the moment, especially horror movies. I'm strugging against the morbid streak that has been my beat for so long; as one confidant expressed it, I've tasted a bit of life and a broader circle of companionship and liked it. Other people seem to juggle work and real life -- why shouldn't I try my hand at that for awhile? It's likely to mean less blogging, but for those times when the mood or the need strikes, I'll be leaving the door here open a crack and the lights on.

Tomorrow would have been Mario Bava's 94th birthday. I send my love to his flown spirit, wherever it may be, and thank him from the bottom of my heart for having been such an inexhaustibly interesting companion for so many years, all those years when I felt he was mine alone. I either know or have met quite a few people in fandom who are engaged in various book projects, some of them in developing manuscript, some without a single word yet written, and some have dragged on almost as long as mine. I hope the example of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK has given these writers and would-be writers more reason to finish. The longer we toil at such projects, wrestling them toward our idea of perfection, the more painful it is to separate ourselves from them, in ways so profound they're hard to imagine even if I described them to you. Empty as I feel, I have no doubt that the most important thing was to finish and move on toward the next big question mark. Isn't it best to be judged for what we do rather than for what we intend?

Friday, July 25, 2008

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG #142

Our next issue is now at the printer and it's, of all things, a Tim Lucas triple-header. I wrote the feature article on the classic cult television series THE PRISONER (in which I propose a new viewing sequence of the 17 episodes); the text for a co-feature photo gallery of mostly never-before-seen color images of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Peter Lorre from the classic ROUTE 66 episode "Lizard's Leg and Owlet's Wing" (courtesy of the Bob Burns Collection); and also the "DVD Spotlight" review of the Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee classic THE SKULL.

There's also a wealth of material in the issue I didn't write, and I invite you to savor your anticipation by reading all about it (and sampling a few pages) here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Double Life of Two Sisters

Irène Jacob in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE -- nice double bill material for people unafraid to swim in the deep end.

The editors of SIGHT & SOUND have very generously chosen to offer this month's cover story -- in which 52 different critics suggest "double bill" ideas, based either in reality or fantasy -- free online as a downloadable pdf file. It's a very interesting piece and I was among the critics asked to participate; I chose to write about the genuine 1962 double bill of Georges Franju's THE HORROR CHAMBER OF DR. FAUSTUS (English-dubbed version of EYES WITHOUT A FACE) and George Breakston & Kenneth Crane's THE MANSTER, which I discuss as a kind of ground zero in terms of the fusion of art and sleaze.

However, while checking Jeremy Richey's Moon in the Gutter blog last week, I found that he had posted a series of "Images From the Greatest Films of the Decade" from Kim Ji-woon's Korean horror film A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (a fitting selection, I think) -- and it gave me an unbidden notion of what a terrific double bill it would make with Krzysztof Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VÉRONIQUE. I immediately regretted my reality-rooted choice and wished that I had proposed this more creative pairing.

I wish I could go into more detail here, but time won't allow it. We start a new issue next week and I'm behind schedule, reviewing one or two movies a day and reviewing them in the time I have left.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wonderfest Photos by Joe Busam

My friend Joe Busam had a birthday yesterday and, princely fellow that he is, he gave me a present: a disc of the photos he took at this past weekend's Wonderfest, and his permission to use them here.

First series of photos: Let's call this THE FALL AND RISE OF THE RO-MAN EMPIRE.

This year's "Doctor Gangrene" show at Wonderfest was devoted to the campy ape-in-a-diver's-helmet opus ROBOT MONSTER. Bob Burns brought the actual helmet used in the 1953 space oddity and agreed to don it in a new portrayal of the legendary space invader, Ro-Man. Uh-oh, the helmet's antennae needs repair and the show is tonight! Nashville-based artist Ethan Black was summoned to Gary Prange's Old Dark Club House to put things right!

Success! Ethan celebrates a victorious reattachment by trying the legendary movie prop on for size!

Then everybody in the room got into the act, starting with Joe Busam...

... and then Monster Kid of the Year, Michael Schlesinger...

... and, of course, the host with the most, Gary Prange...

... and finally, Larry Thomas, who gave a real Ro-Man Holiday performance!

Bob Burns had to come down to the Old Dark Club House and knock some heads together, but he finally got Ro-Man's helmet back in time for the evening performance. He later told me that he couldn't see or hear a thing when he was wearing the helmet, but the audience went ape anyway.

Here's a shot that Joe took of this year's assembled Rondo Award winners. That's Rondo founder David Colton at the lectern on the right, and next to him, going right to left, are Frank Dietz (Best Artist); Michael Schlesinger (Monster Kid of the Year); the legendary Bernie Wrightson (Monster Kid Hall of Fame); Tim Lucas (Best Book and Best Writer... they said); Professor Emcee Square (Mark Menold), who accepted the Best Fan Event award for the Monroeville Mall Zombie Walk, which he organized; the lovely Penny Dreadful and her loopy sidekick Garou (Best Horror Hosts); Son of Ghoul; the Frankenstein monster (Tim Herron); and the original Jason from FRIDAY THE 13th, Ari Lehman (accepting for this year's Best Magazine choice, RUE MORGUE). Hall of Fame inductees Cortlandt Hull and Dennis Vincent of the Witch's Dungeon were also present but couldn't attend due to food poisoning! They were honored the following night at the Cook-out on Clavius banquet.

It's an Old Dark Club House tradition to get the elite few admitted into this dark domain in front of a camera for a group photo. I must admit I didn't get everyone's name, but going more or less left to right, I can identify: Larry Thomas, Chris Herzog, Harry Hatter, Lisa Herzog, Tim & Donna Lucas, Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, Mike Schlesinger, Gary Prange, ? in suit and tie, Carrie Galloway, Donnie Waddell, Mike Parks, Danya Linehan, ? in front holding the decanter and signed ashtray, ? sitting next to Joe Busam, Joe Busam, Ethan Black and Dave Conover. This picture was taken by Frank Dietz, who's missing from the picture.

It is also an Old Dark Club House tradition to have everyone make a scary face for the camera. Frank Dietz -- now a movie star, incidentally -- can be found in the position previously occupied by Joe. I love the way Mike and Danya, standing on the right way in the back, look literally fused at the neck into a single two-headed being.
And finally, in the you-hadda-be-there department, here's a priceless still from one of Donnie Waddell's funniest performances:

Hello?
Hello?
Is somebody there?
Why do you keep ringing my phone? Don't you know it's after eleven?
Hello?
Hello?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wonderfest! Sushi! And the Moon!

Just back from an appropriately wonderful weekend at Wonderfest in Louisville, Kentucky, where Donna and I got to spend time talking, laughing, drinking and eating with our extended family of friends. Pictures may follow, once I see what they look like.

On Friday night, our annual SushiFest in Bardstown confirmed once again that Sapporo serves the best sushi anywhere in our ever-expanding range of experience. SushiFest has grown from six to eight to sixteen participants in its three-night history. Along for the experience this year, along with founding member Linda "Nurse Moan-eek" Wylie, were Bob and Kathy Burns and also Frank Dietz, who said that he eats sushi regularly in Los Angeles and couldn't believe that he had to come to Louisville to find the best. (We especially recommend the VIP, No Name, Volcano and Godzilla rolls. They even serve a White Castle roll, but it should not be confused with the celebrated little square hamburger.)

The 2007 Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards ceremony took place on Saturday night, co-hosted by founder David Colton and Nurse Moan-eek, and I picked up the Best Book and Best Writer awards, this time improvising my acceptance speeches; my Best Book speech was inadequate but passable, and I think I stumbled through the Best Writer speech miserably, feeling a little embarrassed by its seeming redundancy in light of the Best Book award, but some were complimentary. Anyway, the moment is over and it's best not to dwell on such things. The highlight of the presentation was without a doubt Michael Schlesinger's induction as Monster Kid of the Year, introduced by Raymond Castile as Coffin Joe, Jr. -- his maniacal Portuguese incantations and hilarious mangling of "Mee-kay-eeel Skla-essh-ink-kair"'s name softly translated by a docile cloaked idolator. As Monster Kid Mike said later, "I was supposed to follow THAT?" But he managed to, and it was cool to see my old friend's efforts recognized and applauded.

Dr. Gangrene's post-Rondos show on Saturday night was a blast, built around a screening of ROBOT MONSTER and featuring Bob Burns in a live, run-amuck-through-the-audience appearance as Ro-Man (wearing in the original helmet). The Exotic Ones rocked the house with before and after the show performances of such hits as "It's the Mummy," "The Green Slime" and (dedicated to Monkees fan Donna Lucas) "Circle Sky." I had a great time getting to know some of the band members better this year.

The guests of honor at the show were Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood, the stars of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (which I include on my list of 10 favorite films), and I surprised myself by not approaching them all weekend. They seemed like very friendly and approachable gentlemen, but aside from a reciprocated nod from across a crowded dealer's room... no. While checking out, I had one last chance with Mr. Dullea and again let the opportunity pass, prompting me to look inside for the reason why. That's when I realized I was subconsciously protecting my sense of the film itself. I've listened to their audio commentary about the film and know that both men are splendid vocal representatives of the picture and its legacy, but I didn't want my future viewings of a film I consider a profound work of art to be complicated by meeting and becoming familiar with the real people behind the roles they were playing.

Banquet night at Wonderfest has become an almost comically accursed cock-up. They tried to straighten things out this year by hosting a simpler sort of buffet -- a "Cook-out on Clavius" with burgers and dogs, but the buffet turned out to be almost anti-gravitationally arrayed: plates were stacked at the wrong end of the queue, so everyone had to start loading up their plates with dessert, then the potato salad and baked beans, then burgers and brats, and finally the buns. It made for a lot of mess and plate juggling. If Wonderfest was hosting the Miss Nude Universe Pageant at one of their banquets, they'd find a way to cover up the contestants. So, come next banquet night, I'm stealing my friends away to discover some of the other culinary haunts Bardstown has to offer.

Finally, for those who come here expecting some kind of commentary on video, here's a link to my review of Kino's HOUDINI - THE MOVIE STAR, published also in this month's issue of SIGHT & SOUND.