Friday, September 12, 2008


Claudia and toad in Lech Majewski's THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS.

... in the October 2008 issue of SIGHT & SOUND, now on newsstands, and also on their website here. This is one of the most impassioned reviews I've written for my "No Zone" column in S&S, but I feel very strongly about Lech Majewski's film. I am annoyed with myself, though, for apparently referring to the film's protagonist Claudia Casson with the similar first name of the actress who played her, Claudine Spiteri. Actually, as I look around the web, I see I'm not the first source to commit this error (beginning with the IMDb and the film's own website!), but the confusion may be a tacit tribute to how completely Spiteri makes this haunting character, and this magical film, her own.


Donna and I have become engrossed in HBO's reruns of their psychiatry series IN TREATMENT, starring Gabriel Byrne (pictured) as psychologist Dr. Paul Weston, which somehow premiered under our radar last January. It's an American remake of an Israeli series (which I'd like to see with subtitles someday), with each episode presenting a real-time therapy session involving five different patients (two of them a couple, played by Josh Charles and VWSE cover girl Embeth Davidtz). Every fifth episode showing Paul himself in therapy with his doctor, Gina (Dianne Wiest).

I became captivated with the series somewhere near the middle of the 43-episode first season and watched it through to the end, intending to catch up with the first half when the shows were issued on DVD later this month by HBO Video. Unfortunately, it seems that HBO have pulled the plug on this release for reasons tied to the green-light recently given to the show's producers for a second season. We assume the first season set's release will be rescheduled to help cross-promote the show's return "sometime in 2009."

Currently, HBO's subsidiary channel HBO Signature is running the first season again but with a twist -- this time, they are showing all the individual case studies back-to-back, four episodes on Saturdays and Sundays, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm eastern. They began this past weekend, so the arc featuring Laura (Melissa George), a sexually compulsive anaesthesiologist who falls in love with Paul, concluded last night. However, for those of you who still haven't seen the program, you still have time to capture the very best of the first season this weekend (9/13-14), in the arc featuring Blair Underwood as Alex, a guilt-ridden Army bomber -- the following weekend (9/20-21) with Mia Wasikowska as Sophie, a teenager seeking escape from a broken home in athletics. Underwood and Wasikowska give the most powerful performances of the season, as does the Emmy-nominated Glynn Turman who shows up in a later episode as Underwood's father. Start watching these and I guarantee you'll search out the remaining episodes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy Birthday to Rebecca Umland!

After Donna, VIDEO WATCHDOG's most constant female presence over the years has undoubtedly been Rebecca A. Umland, who is celebrating a birthday today. (I know I've been using this blog to send out a lot of birthday greetings of late, but, if you look over your own list of friends, chances are you'll find that more of them were born in one month than any other -- and September seems to be that month for us.)

As best I can tell, Becky and her good husband Sam have been reviewing films for VW since our 45th issue, beginning with their coverage of Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN, and our affiliation -- amazingly, now in its tenth year -- has been a very happy one for us. She and Sam are both faculty members at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (where TERMS OF ENDEARMENT was filmed!) and they've written some fine books together, including the recent DONALD CAMMELL: A LIFE ON THE WILD SIDE. They have also been regular contributors to the annual Favorite DVDs of the Year posted here at Video WatchBlog. Donna and I finally got to meet the Umlands (and their son John) a couple of summers ago when they swung through town, and enjoyed a most memorable evening of conversation and laughter together -- the kind that made us wish they lived closer. You can read all about it in my WatchBlog posting of July 17, 2006.

In reply to an e-card that we sent her, Becky tells us that Sam is presently engaged in playing a major role in a local stage production of Chekhov's THREE SISTERS, which is in rehearsal later this evening, so they are planning an early dinner with cake and a nice bottle of red wine. Sounds like a plan! So here's to Becky Umland... Happy Birthday, dear, and Many Happy Returns!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Buon' compleanno, Ernesto Gastaldi!

Rare photo of Ernesto Gastaldi, taken during a 1956 trip to Spain.

For some reason, his birth date is not recorded on the IMDb, but today marks the 74th birthday of screenwriter Ernesto Gastaldi, who in the literal sense was arguably the most important auteur of the Italian popular cinema of the 1960s and '70s. He worked for all the great Italian horror directors from Freda (THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK) to Bava (THE WHIP AND THE BODY) to Polselli (THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE) to Margheriti (THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH) to Lenzi (SO SWEET... SO PERVERSE) to Martino (THE STRANGE VICE OF MRS. WARDH) -- and, in my opinion, had a knack for enticing titles second only to Ian Fleming. Unlike his more specializing colleagues, Gastaldi also left his mark on such diverse genres as Italian sci-fi (THE 10th VICTIM), sword-and-sandal adventure (THE GIANTS OF ROME), erotic drama (SECRETS OF A CALL GIRL), police thrillers (FORBIDDEN PHOTOS OF A LADY ABOVE SUSPICION), and of course the Spaghetti Western (MY NAME IS NOBODY). He also did uncredited script work on such pictures as SODOM AND GOMORRAH and ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA.

Especially in this day and age, when 50 is being called "the new 30", it's disheartening to me that this protean artist -- now "the new 54" -- hasn't written a new film since 1998, especially when he tells me that he has a number of unproduced scripts from his heyday littering his file cabinets, including one that he calls "the most perfect thriller machine I ever concocted." Quentin Tarantino (or any other filmmaker aspiring to hew some acreage of their own from the turf QT has claimed for himself) should pick up the phone, go back to the source, and call this maestro out of his premature retirement.

Ernesto Gastaldi in 2004.
I've had the good fortune to be a personal correspondent of Ernesto's for perhaps 15 years now, and I'm still wowed when I realize that the pen-pal who occasionally sends me friendly encouragement is the same fellow responsible for so much amazing cinema -- movies that, without him, would never have existed. WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY... THE MURDER CLINIC... ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK... THE CYNIC, THE RAT AND THE FIST... AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK... TORSO. He invented Sartana.
I don't know what Ernesto is doing tonight, but I hope he is surrounded by the warmth of family and friends, enjoying himself and bound for still more adventures in filmmaking.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Would You Believe... TWO New Books?

You know you've been really busy/distracted when someone has to remind you that you actually have two books coming out in a given month.

Yes, in addition to my Centipede Press book on VIDEODROME, I have another book streeting on September 16. It's not entirely mine, but I am one of the many contributors to THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR (edited by Amy Wallace, Del Howison and Scott Bradley) along with Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, VW's own Ramsey Campbell, Kim Newman and Richard Harland Smith, Johnny Ramone, Karl Edward Wagner, John Skipp, Eli Roth, Edgar Wright, Steve Niles, F.X. Feeney, James Gunn, Poppy Z. Brite, Jorg Buttgereit, Paul M. Jensen, Lisa Tuttle, Stephen Volk, Jack Ketchum, Barry Gifford, Richard Stanley, Ann Magnuson, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Thomas Ligotti and many other luminaries. There's also an Introduction by the legendary Gahan Wilson. Scott Bradley tells me that I wrote the book's single longest article, which is titled "10 Horror Films That Aren't Horror Films," and Gahan singles it out for special mention in his Intro, so I feel very pleased about being a part of this project. It's a pleasure to share a forum with so many colleagues, friends and heroes -- not least of all Ann Magnuson, who I don't know, but for whom I've harbored a secret crush for at least twenty years. I'm told that her list is called "Ann Magnuson's 22 Sexiest Movie Monsters (Human and Otherwise)" and I'm looking forward to reading this core sample of her erotic imagination. THE BOOK OF LISTS: HORROR also has a MySpace page, which you can access here, and Richard Harland Smith shares a list of his own early favorite entries from his contributor's copy here.

Speaking of the VIDEODROME book, I received a call from Centipede's Jerad Walters over the weekend and he tells me that the first printing is now in hand. I'm expecting my personal copies to arrive within the next few days. I will be signing pages for a very limited hardcover printing, coming later, but signed copies of the VIDEODROME softcover will be available through Video Watchdog. There's a full-page ad in our next issue, #144, with full details -- and we'll also be presenting that ordering info here and on the VW website once our initial order is received.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Footage Missing from Franju's JUDEX

Channing Pollack as the costumed avenger of Georges Franju's JUDEX.

VIDEO WATCHDOG contributor Brad Stevens informs me that Masters of Cinema's new Region 2 DVD release of Georges Franju's JUDEX is missing some minor footage that is present in Sinister Cinema's DVD-R/VHS release of the film's US theatrical version, as originally distributed by Continental Releasing. There are seven cuts in all:

1- 52m 58s. 33 seconds are missing; the end of the shot showing a man walking away from the camera; the whole of the following shot, showing the doctor walking behind a pair of children; the start of the next shot of the doctor.

2- 53m 11s. After the woman tells the children "This isn't a sight for you," they walk away. In the MoC edition, the shot ends here; in Sinister's tape, it continues for an additional 5 seconds with the boy turning around and shouting at the woman.

3- 53m 23s. The whole scene (46s) showing the man getting into a car and talking to the nun has been cut.

4- 54m 37s. A 35s shot has been cut; this shows two men carrying a stretcher into a room and placing a woman on it.

5- 55m 8s. Shot slightly shortened.

6- 57m 20s. A 3s shot showing a man getting out of a car is missing.

7- 58m 1s. 4s of dialogue is missing after the man says "It's quite a walk, you know."

The same cuts (amounting to roughly two minutes) are present in the earlier French release, with which the Masters of Cinema disc shares the same transfer. As both releases were licensed directly from the film's producer and struck from the original negative, it appears -- judging from the fact that all of the gaps occur within a 5m section of the picture -- that the negative suffered some damage during its decades of storage.

Mind you, the cuts are not disruptive or critical, and these Region 2 releases do offer the best quality for this important title we are likely to enjoy. That said, the completists in our audience may still wish to acquire the Sinister disc while it's still available as a reference copy of what now appears to be lost footage.

Update 9/9/08 2:13am:

Glenn Erickson of DVD Savant responds: "Your description of missing bits from the DVD of JUDEX doesn't read like the result of film damage. The choice of connecting tissue omitted indicates that someone trimmed 'unnecessary' footage to perk up the pace (the slow, 1901 pace we love). This happens more often than one would think, and to the original negative sometimes... a distributor or other nefarious party suddenly decides to 'improve' the film. First it's the 'unnecessary' beginnings and endings of scenes. Soon thereafter, they're cutting METROPOLIS in half! I remember the kid yelling... I hope the little pieces aren't gone forever."