Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Per Mario


Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Proust Questionnaire

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Those moments when I feel outside of time - when I'm engrossed in reading a book, watching a film, looking at a painting, or gazing at the ocean; when I feel lost (and found) in conversation, or kissing; when I'm caught up in the urgency of writing something beautiful and true.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Productive.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
MARIO BAVA: ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

What is your greatest fear?
Losing my wife. That, and being conscious during my cremation.

What historical figure do you most identify with?
Tim Lucas.

Which living person do you most admire?
Donna Lucas.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Writers and artists and filmmakers too numerous to mention; their fabulous muses; good mothers; people who care for animals and the aged.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Need.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Dishonesty.

What is your favorite journey?
A correspondence.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Success.

Which word or phrases do you most overuse?
Hello. What?

What is your greatest regret?
Not believing enough in myself; not speaking French.

What is your current state of mind?
Impatient.

If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
My parents... but this would also change me - and so, having already survived the hand I was dealt, maybe not.

What is your most treasured possession?
My manuscripts.    

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Unrequited love.

Where would you like to live?
A clean and spacious house, large enough to hold everything without a hint of clutter, conveniently located in a cheerful, interesting neighborhood, in a country with a good health care system.

What is your favorite occupation?
Writing.

What is the quality you most like in a man?
Reliability.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Reliability.

What are your favourite names?
Van Neste Polglase, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Paul Vaguely, Dolores Haze.

What is your motto?
Never give up.

On UNDER THE SKIN (2013)



This new science fiction film from the UK was way oversold to me. There is quality here, a very watchable, occasionally engrossing technique of style and subtraction, but the serial monotony of the story - a female of extraterrestrial origin lures a series of men into an apartment that traps and absorbs them (think the scenes in Adjani's apartment in Zulawski's POSSESSION played out on black Astaire-Rogers studio floor) - should have more substance or purpose. The old saw about the alien who finds themselves becoming more human after prolonged wearing of their human skins also gets played again, and the film is basically reducible to an abstract remake of JAWS in which the shark ultimately gets eaten. Jonathan Glazer's directorial stance withdraws from the story to a point that initially seems godly but is ultimately atheistic. I've heard this described as Kubrickian, but there is absolutely none of the poker-faced humor that is Kubrick's hallmark. If anything, there are moments reminiscent of Lynch's ERASERHEAD and these are the moments that make this movie so pleasingly environmental and demanding of larger screen immersion. I did not think Scarlett Johansson was exceptional, but I've always found her competent. Worth a look, but hardly the Second Coming.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Monday, July 07, 2014

Scorsese's NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS Documentary

New York Review of Books editor Robert B. Silvers in his office, as seen in THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT.

I got to see Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's documentary feature THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT (about THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS) last night - I had to go looking for it online, as it has so far aired only on the BBC. The film's onscreen commentators surprisingly favor the British and Irish contributors to the venerable newsprint journal, and it may well be too intellectual to qualify for broadcast on PBS here in the States - and where else would you find it? But it's a surprising, welcome and often engrossing study of the leading role played by one publication in a time when American life was more involved and stimulating, when our culture was being actively determined by books and writers, by intellectualism, literacy and worldliness - as well as revealing yet another facet of Scorsese's love for the New York of his own life and times. In the 1970s, I was a regular reader of the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS and probably a happier person for it; Scorsese and Tedeschi made me feel guilty for falling off the wagon. One speaker in particular reminded me of the importance of reading and responding to the work of one's own time, because literature is a dialogue; it is involvement and interaction that keeps literature vital and moving forward. No one should ever fear of writing the first book to be read by no one.

I found particularly engrossing a segment concerning Joan Didion's NYROB essay about four young black men arrested in connection with a series of Central Park rapes, and how they were subliminally pre-judged in the mainstream press by the introduction of the biasing term "wilding." So well did this word work on the fears of the city's influential white populace that the suspects were identified in the press with their full names - including that of one 14 year old later forensically proved innocent. Didion recalls that working with NYROB editor Robert B. Silvers increased the length of her essay by three-fold. I only vaguely recall the case, but I found this almost scary in its prescience, as our politicians now use similar tactics all the time in the press, against one another and against other countries, biasing the public with their loaded lingo. Didion is not only interviewed but shown reading from her essay.
 
When the film ends, you may feel appalled at the emptiness of our time, how our lives have become engulfed not only by ungrounded images, but images taken at face value in media that continually grows more tyrannical without context and without that grounding in an engaged and informed, conscious dialogue. Life should not be processed in clicks. 
__________

Updates:

According to VARIETY, THE 50 YEAR OLD ARGUMENT will debut on HBO on October 6. Not a likely outlet for this sort of programming, but bravo to them.

Also, reader John Seal writes:

"In light of your blogpost today, you may be interested to know the CP5 [Central Park 5] were finally (FINALLY!) exonerated... http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/20/nyregion/5-exonerated-in-central-park-jogger-case-are-to-settle-suit-for-40-million.html?_r=0

"There's a very fine documentary about the case that I highly recommend: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2380247/?ref_=nv_sr_1. "

 


 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Hell of It

In today's mail, I received a copy of Culture Factory USA's limited edition high-definition CD of Paul Williams' soundtrack for PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, which I've heard is on the verge of exhausting its 3000 print run. I'm glad I snagged it (from Amazon); the soundtrack album hits the listener differently than the music heard in context, even on the 5.1 Blu-ray discs; as I listened to this CD, I could hear the instrumentation deployed as a means of complementing the lyrics, of couching the lyrics; the placement of a Hammond organ here or an electric guitar there stands out more as an element of composition - as the official statement of this musical idea - than it does when there is a visual element also in play. For these reasons, I found "Upholstery" - in some ways the wittiest of its musical satires if one of the score's less compelling songs - is in some ways the most revelatory cue from a production angle. But listening to this collection of songs again confirmed for me all the more that this is Williams' masterpiece. The libretto cuts deep into matters of life and love and metaphysics, not in the least shying away from the film's satirical basis in FAUST, but also the forces of irony that bring us all to our knees at one time or another. In some ways, it's more than De Palma's film warranted, and the primary key to its greatness.

Here's a song that I think could stand as an epitaph for almost anyone who's been around the block, in the arts, in business, in life or love - which I think gives its vaudevillian/music hall trappings a real sting, one that says that all stories must come to an end because the show must go on.




Sunday, June 22, 2014

THE RED HOUSE (1947)

Caught Delmer Daves' THE RED HOUSE late last night on Hulu Plus, almost in the spirit of emergency after failing to find anything else acceptable to the two of us. It's a bit overlong, helpless to resist adding loving brushstrokes to secondary characters, but so much of value to savor here... It's not exactly a horror movie, but its mystery and suspense are of a high order, conveyed within an unusual but effective atmosphere that is hard to peg, somewhere between a Lewton RKO and a Disney Hardy Boys serial. (It's beautifully shot by DP Bert Glennon, who had earlier pictures like the 1933 ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Sternberg's THE SCARLET EMPRESS and John Ford's STAGECOACH under his belt.) Had this movie been presented to me without credits, I would have thought it was the work of Jacques Tourneur, if only for its deceptively mild, delicate handling of young romantic leads Lon McCallister and Allene Roberts -- whom I remembered from a couple of ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN appearances, notably the (again) similarly pitched episode "The Haunted Lighthouse." The scenes between a very young but quickly ripening Rory Calhoun and Julie London look ripped from the pages of LIL' ABNER and have the snapping, lusty vitality of early Russ Meyer -- in fact, the entire film, while superficially wholesome, contains a surprising number of fairly forthright sexual references in its dialogue; this serves to foreshadow the romantic obsession/mental ilness that's finally revealed as the prime motivator behind the mystery, which builds to a surprising, semi-giallo intensity given Edward G. Robinson's somewhat fetishized dread "The Red House."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Some VIDEO WATCHDOG (P)updates

I neglected to mention that, on June 15, VIDEO WATCHDOG marked the 24th anniversary of the printing and delivery of its very first issue. So VW is now officially in its 25th year of publication. It's hard to believe that we're not only still doing this after all these years, but still evolving it.

You're surely wondering what has happened to the Digital Edition of VW 176, especially since 177 is already in the hands of our first-class subscribers. It is coming, but Donna has been very tied up with other duties - sending out the new issue, prepping the next one (which I'm programming and editing now) and also working with associates to get our back issue inventory digitized and digitally restored so that we can keep our Indiegogo promise to deliver that Digital Archive before the end of the year. But all the digital bells and whistles are in place for 176 - she just has to find the time to drop everything into its proper place and upload it.

For those of you who keep track of my audio commentaries, we're now in the midst of a virtual epidemic of them. Since last fall, I've recorded an even dozen commentaries for various companies, most of them in the UK. My most recent ones for Kino Lorber/Redemption have been out for awhile now, the three Jess Franco titles (A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD, NIGHTMARES COME AT NIGHT and THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF) and Bava's 5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON. Available now, or in the immediate future, are two from Arrow Films: Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM (also available as a steelbook) and Robert Fuest's DR PHIBES RISES AGAIN in their box set THE COMPLETE DR PHIBES. The cherry on top of the cake (or is it the cake on top of the cherry) will be the release of the BFI's ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET 1963-1974 box set which includes a new commentary from me on each of the five main features; as audio commentaries go, I have to say this is my proudest accomplishment. I've also delivered a commentary for one of my favorite movies, Georges Franju's EYES WITHOUT A FACE, for the BFI's upcoming release of that title. I've agreed to do another commentary for an upcoming US release which hasn't yet been announced, and still another is being discussed.

Donna and I also intend to be adding some material to our digital edition of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK in acknowledgement of Mario's centenary on July 30 of this year. If you've already bought and downloaded the book's digital edition, your copy will be automatically updated. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

Donna tells me that we are now officially down to our last 100 copies of MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK. The book will never again be published in this same deluxe, unexpurgated format and there are no plans for us to reprint it in any form at present. Remember, this is not just a critical biography of Mario Bava; it also tells the entire story of Italian cult cinema from its silent origins till its climactic crisis in the 1980s. It also encompasses the careers of many other important players in Bava's filmography, notably those of Aldo Fabrizi, Gina Lollobrigida and Steve Reeves. If you want to own a copy, I'll tell you, in all seriousness, that this would be the time to start seriously pooling your resources to do so. We're not going to do a countdown or anything; we'll  just be suddenly announcing one day that it's no longer available from us. And then -- as you and I will both sadly see -- the going price will shoot up even higher as it falls under the control of secondary sellers. But the digital edition will remain available - with all the advantages of the tangible edition (save tangibility!) and none of the disadvantages. It's even easy to read in bed!

I've got some other projects in progress as well. I've been editing and revising an unpublished novel of mine, THE ONLY CRIMINAL, which I've mentioned here before, in the hope that it might soon see the light of day. My BOOK OF RENFIELD appeared some ten years after THROAT SPROCKETS, and it's now going on ten years since BOOK OF RENFIELD appeared, so I'm due to return as a novelist. I also completed a novelette last year that we expected to bring out this year, but which got pushed aside by the imperatives of the Digital Edition project... I got some fabulous advance blurbs on it and am looking forward to its release sometime next year as well.

What else? Oh yes, don't forget that I'm writing a column for GOREZONE called "Tales From the Attic." In their next issue, I offer my own personal list of the Ten Best horror cinema-related books I've read, along with another ten back-up recommendations. Till now, GOREZONE has been available by subscription only, but I understand this is now changing and the next issue will receive some limited newsstand circulation. Check it out!