Oct 31, 2005

Ornette: Made in America (1985)

Tonight, we see the legendary free jazz player Ornette Coleman at Massey Hall. His warm reception was a delightful change from all those years of being a scourge to the jazz world.

In fact, this thunderous applause he was receiving for every song reminded me of the opening of Shirley Clarke's impressive documentary of the man. The film opens in the present tense with his band Prime Time (which adapted his theories to jazz fusion)- and it is ironically amusing seeing him play before a black-tie crowd in his native Texas. Yes, Coleman has come home again.... and to open arms, however this warm greeting was hard won. In Coleman's own words, the sudden appreciation of his work is this: "I guess if you live long enough, you get to be an elder statesman."

40 years on, the jury is still out on Ornette Coleman. His "harmolodic" theory was/is one of the foundations of the free jazz movement. His original quartet (with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins) was the scourge of the jazz world in the late 1950's... and even today the revolutionary sax player is still a hot topic for debate. The beauty of ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA is that it doesn't try to change one's mind about him. It is however a fascinating study of a figure who really sacrificed a lot for his unique voice.

It is enough to see Coleman practice his music in one of the most unholy places in Urbana (an abandoned building often populated by addicts and knife-wielding crazies)- fittingly working on outlaw music among other societal outcasts. However, this film pushes Ornette's legacy even further-- he often comes across as some kind of pop icon or superhero (as best exemplified by the cartoonish image of his likeness flying across a starry backdrop)- while he may be more mainstream than ever, this silly bit pushes it a little too far.

Sadly, ORNETTE MADE IN America is not widely available. My one and only screening of this in 2001 at Toronto's Cinematheque was made available by a film print which came and went under the arm of someone from New York the same day. It is a revealing, complex and somewhat moving portrait of a person who stands by his art regardless of its interpretation.

Supernatural (1933)

Here is a real treat- Carole Lombard, best known for her comedy roles like NOTHING SACRED, MY MAN GODFREY and TO BE OR NOT TO BE, has an early and unconventional role in this underrated thriller made by the brothers Halperin (Victor and Edward) after their surprise hit WHITE ZOMBIE (a great public domain favourite that still enchants us today). Thus, once they were called to the Paramount backlot, they made what is probably their most polished piece of work in a technical standpoint. Perhaps it lacks that unique mood and atmosphere of their earlier feature, but this entertaining piece of B movie chiller conventions is very well done.

Carole Lombard sees a phony spiritualist who claims that he can contact her dead brother... and even offers up the notion that the young man was murdered! Thus, complications evolve from this twist, naturally, and the result is a very entertaining 65 minutes, which has a marvelous ending. This is one of those horror movies that acts rather ambigiously about its supernatural quotient- rather, it plays like a melodrama and mystery with vaguely otherworldly elements. In this case, it works better, because we're never sure if some peculiar moments are due to outside forces or just weird coincidences. Also fun to see Randolph Scott as the love interest, when he had not yet found his cowboy image.

Oct 28, 2005

Strange Behaviour (1981)

When this came out amidst all those dead teenager movies, some may have written it off as such (especially when it was released with the alternate title of DEAD KIDS), but a cult has developed for this movie (I am among them), as it is a strange melange of horror and 50's sci-fi. Kids get money to undergo experiments at the local university, and then end up being programmed to kill. Michael Murphy is the top cop in the archetypal small town who investigates the murders and opens more than a few skeletal closets. While rooted in 50's milieu, it is still very contemporary, not least helped by a thick Tangerine Dream score. In fact, this movie would make a perfect double bill with BLUE VELVET, as both take a picture perfect piece of Rockwell and distort the hell out of it. In another age, Michael Laughlin produced films like TWO LANE BLACKTOP. This, and his sister film STRANGE INVADERS (pushing the 1950's evocation even further), show his promise as a unique director in his own right. I wish he had done more.

Oct 26, 2005

Alien Contamination (1980)

I haven't been big on Italian fantasy cinema since Mario Bava left this planet, but oh brother, this one is just hilarious trash that is perfect viewing for this time of year. In fact, throughout this week, my films du jour are highlighting some lesser known scary movie. For me, it is the second-tier films that are so fun to watch around now- there's so many of them to discover! Anyway, some egg things break open, and before long we have yet another ALIEN clone, with lots of goo and a thundering score by Goblin. I love the dubbed voices that have studio echo, yet we're supposed to be hearing their muted voices when they have space helmets on. Now you've got an idea of its goofy charm. I know its on DVD and everything, but for me, this is the perfect title to watch on the old ratty Paragon VHS transfer.

Oct 25, 2005

The Dead Don't Die (1974)

George Hamilton investigates some suspicious goings-on at a morgue, and soon finds out the title truth. I saw this on the late late late show 20 years ago, and dismissed it, but today it looks better than ever. What Curtis Harrington has done in the made-for-TV chiller is make it entirely in the look and style of a 1930's programmer, right down to the art deco credits. And if the plot is somewhat hoary for the 1970's, well it is perfect pulp for the then 40-year old world it creates. I've always felt that Harrington (an important figure in 1940's avant-garde cinema) had the career that Kenneth Anger wishes he could have had in Tinseltown. Harrington's features are often melodramas which evoke a style of of old Hollywood moviemaking. This one is a real winner.

The Fog (1980)

Forget about the remake, see this one instead. I grew up close to a lakeside port town, so perhaps that's why this movie has a special resonance for me. In any case, if you're looking for Halloween fare, you can't go wrong with this. 100 year-old ghosts come back to wreak vengeance in a small beachside town, as a weird fog drapes over the place. What makes this movie work for me is John Carpenter's mastery of atmosphere and offscreen imagery. This is movie that would have done Val Lewton proud. It is a minor classic of the genre. I can't believe that Carpenter himself produced the remake, and who is to say, perhaps it is worth it's salt, but this remake madness just has to stop somewhere. I hope he doesn't decide to remake DARK STAR into stoner big-budget space movie with Will Ferrell.

Oct 24, 2005

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)

Today I picked up the DVD of HOUSE OF WAX- a film I've never particularly been all enthused about. But I bought it because the bonus feature on the disc was the movie that it remade (and tried to bury)- MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM, featuring the great Lionel Atwill as the madman who runs the museum, Fay Wray who snoops around the mysterious goings-on at the attraction (namely pondering why these wax bodies are so lifelike), and Glenda Farrell as a wise-cracking reporter. I used to watch it every Halloween weekend, and now I have a darn good reason to again. Shot in two-strip Technicolor, this is a melange of horror, crime and newspaper genre pictures of the early 1930's and it is very entertaining. To me, it is still miles ahead of the Vincent Price 3D remake.

Oct 22, 2005

Nunzio (1978)

One of my favourite buried treasures of the 1970's, this wonderful film features David Proval (whom you may remember as one of the four guys in MEAN STREETS, and "The Sopranos") as a mentally-handicapped grocery delivery man who thinks he is Superman. This character-driven movie is full of lovely vignettes, like where he falls in love with a girl at the pastry shop, and those very moving scenes with his tough brother Jamesy (James Andronica, who wrote the script). It is touching and honest. I couldn't believe me eyes when I saw it in a Bravo TV listing last year, and after seeing it again after 20 years, I remembered the movie as though I saw it the week before, so much has this affected me. I'm happy to have a tape of it, but hopefully someone will wise up and put this on DVD (and while they're at, the rest of the movies made by Paul Williams... and no, I don't mean the singer).

Oct 21, 2005

Someone To Love (1987)

One of the few Henry Jaglom films I've ever sat through more than once, I've always had a soft spot for this low-key comedy-drama. The actor-director more or less plays himself, and invites his friends to an empty movie theatre so they can sit around and talk about love and loneliness. The director is more or less himself too, and delivers a fascinating and maddening montage of moments with little regard to structure or continuity. Even so, as much as his films typically infuriate me, I do admire how he makes these little movies on his own terms and they do carry some noble truths in the baggage. Andrea Marcovicci has a lovely role, and Jaglom's mentor, Orson Welles, is posthumously tacked in as a spirit or muse or something, whom Jaglom chats with periodically, often nodding at any kind of philosophy that comes from this great sage.

Oct 20, 2005

There's Always Vanilla (1972)

Yesterday was the official street date of this, but because we had other plans for Oct. 18, we're honouring today with this title-- a long-lost George Romero counterculture film which has never been legitimately released on video. This movie is the only non-horror effort of the famed zombie director, and he has always refused to talk about this film. I don't know why, because I've always liked this seriocomic study of a freewheeling man's courtship with an actress leading to unhappiness. While sometimes the structure doesn't work, Romero's direction and editing are top-notch. This is released on one side of a double sided DVD which headlines SEASON OF THE WITCH. This under-appreciated horror film has been released by Anchor Bay before, but kudos to these guys for releasing this missing link in George Romero's filmography. Considering how rare this film is, the DVD transfer is actually quite good, considering it comes from a scratchy print source.

Oct 19, 2005

Space is the Place (1974)

Tonight we saw the Sun Ra Arkestra at the Lula Lounge, now being led by Marshall Allen. Even though Sun Ra left this planet years ago, it is nice to see this band carrying on the tradition- it was a phenomenal concert. Thus, it's only fitting that tonight's feature is this whacked-out space opera featuring Sun Ra landing on Earth to free the black population. Equal parts Sun Ra autobiography, blaxploitation vehicle and civil rights anecdote, this movie obviously isn't for everyone, with its gritty footage of the Arkestra playing full blast, LSD-drenched visuals and overplaying, but it's a memorable hour to be sure.

Oct 18, 2005

Calendar (1993)

Atom Egoyan directs and even stars in this "little movie" which I think is his masterpiece. He plays a man who every month has a dinner date with a different Armenian woman that perfoms precisely the same actions. This repetition is a cathartic way for him to come to turns with the departure of his wife, who ran away with their Armenian tour guide while they were travelling on a photo assignment. Basically a three-person character study (not counting the fleeting 12 women in the calendar year), a fourth character can be considered to be the camera itself which recorded a lot of the images from the shoot that Eogyan watches obsessively. In Egoyan's world, video images are not only memories but surrogate companionship. And despite that this is a film of even smaller scale than those he was making at the time, it is still very complex, and assembled in Egoyan's typical non-linear style.

Oct 17, 2005

More American Graffiti (1979)

Nobody really wanted this sequel to the George Lucas blockbuster, but any 70's movie with Paul LeMat is worth your time, as far as I'm concerned. This followup features Paul LeMat, Candy Clark, Charlie Martin Smith, Cindy Williams and Ronny Howard each in vignettes of a New Years Eve of a different year in the 1960s. Cindy is somehow caught up in a demonstration, Candy falls in with the Haight Ashbury crowd, Charlie is in Vietnam, and Paul? Well, he wants to win a stock car race. Each story thread, while taking place years apart from each other, is told simultaneously. It doesn't disguise how rather thin each of the four stories are, but interweaving these different dramas show how in multi-faceted ways how the Vietnam war affects them. The LeMat sequence represents the age of innocence that is completely lost int he other segments.

Whatever happened to director Bill Norton (he also gave us CISCO PIKE at the beginning of the 70's- what a guy.)

Oct 16, 2005

Sunday (1997)

The best film of 1997 for me was NOT that low-budget boat movie.... what was it? Oh never mind...

SUNDAY headed my list that year. It is an outstanding story of an unemployed man who lives in a men's hostel, who one afternoon is mistaken by an over-the-hill actress for being an renowned film director... and the man goes along with the mistaken identity. Equal parts cinema verite and an Antonioni-esque web of isolation, this movie is about the lies that people create, and others who let them live those lies. This drama is intercut with footage of men first seen in the hostel, out making their daily jaunts. In this world, it seems everyone is lost and empty. Overall, this movie is a complex mood piece which gives us a haunting portrayal of urban life seldom seen in an "art movie". Miss it at your peril;

Oct 15, 2005

Life on Earth (1998)

Remember the big Y2K scare, where you stocked up on water, batteries and Playboy? Yeah me neither. Anyway a couple of years prior to the turning of the millenium, a world wide collective of filmmakers made some films in the "2000 seen by..." series, each offering a unique vision of life at the beginning of January 1, 2000. For my money, the best of these is this mesmirizing and charming film by Abdermahne Sissako.

This quiet meditation of life in an African village is a celebration of simplicity, clashing with the crazy modern world we see in the film's opening. This is a place where one stands in line to use "the phone", and where the day's activity is moving one's chair as the shade recedes. I do not want to give the impression that the film itself is in any way simplistic. It actually has a very dense narrative structure, as people talk to the camera as though they are the words written on a letter.

LIFE ON EARTH is also a pleasant reminder of how in the last millenium one still had a chance to see a movie like this in a theatre. It is one of the true treasures of the international cinema of the 1990's.

Oct 14, 2005

92 in the Shade (1975)

Warren Oates and Peter Fonda are two rival tour boat guides in some godforsaken frog puddle in Florida, in this hilarious farce directed by Tom McGuane, who wrote the original novel. And the result is as eccentric as anything else from McGuane's pen that's ended up on the screen. Elizabeth Ashley steals the movie as the housewife who always wants to wear a majorette uniform. How's this for a 70's cast: Harry Dean Stanton (in one of his best roles), Margot Kidder, and Joe Spinell (who, of all things, shows he can play comedy!)

Oct 13, 2005

Low Budget (2005)

My friend Tim Norton and I went to see the premiere of this movie at the Bloor Cinema. He actually had a part in the movie that was not used in the final cut. His scene was dropped once they decided they wanted to go a particular way with one of the characters. This shot-on-video, often improvised comedy feature is about a couple of dorks in LA who get a gig doing a Canadian travel show, and decide to spend that money on doing a pet science fiction project instead. Before long, the whole enterprise turns into a fiasco, and the film is an amusing, if not gut-busting affair.

After this showing, the filmmakers are planning to shop this thing south of the border for distribution. Still, part of me wondered if tonight's audience was going to be its biggest draw.

Oct 12, 2005

Creature From The Haunted Sea (1961)

Since this is Thanksgiving in Canada, there should be some turkey in order, right? Well here at the screening room, I'm offering up this abomination from Roger Corman. And by the way, I use that term "abomination" with the utmost of respect.

If you know about the Corman filming process, they would first come up with the title, then the poster, then the movie. I'd like to know where along the line they decided that the monster in this movie was going to be some ridiculous potato sack thing with golf ball eyes. Good thing this film is intended to be a spoof. As such, for a grimy 500 dollar back alley movie, it's actually a lot of fun, with its hip narration, and plot of some gangsters looking for treasure in a lake where this high school pageant monster abides. You could call it a lighter cousin to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and as such, it's not at bad a way to kill an hour or so while waiting for the stuffing to get done in the oven.

Oct 11, 2005

Summer (1986)

I've only seen a handful of Eric Rohmer films, most of which I've liked. This fable concerns a rather miserable young woman who leaves Paris in the hope of finding some happiness on a seaside getaway. The film is less about her finding someone who can love her, than about her allowing herself to be loved. To be certain, the central character is rather abrasive, sometimes too much so, that one may not care whether she finds love or not. As always, Rohmer's film is a complex study of relationship, full of the attraction-repulsion towards people that harkens back to LA COLLECTIONEUSE (1967). I also love the diary structure to this movie. One to remember. The actual title for this film is LE RAYON VERT, or The Green Ray, as there is a pivotal scene where characters talk about the elusive green ray of sunlight seen at dusk.

Oct 10, 2005

Hell on Wheels (1967)

No film with Marty Robbins and John Ashley as brothers can be ALL bad, right? Gosh, no. This Cain and Abel update to the race track and the moonshine racket features the rival siblings as they clash over their hot rod cars, and then righteous Robbins wants to set Ashley straight over his dalliance with the old fire water. Hey, Marty even gets to sing! This old-fashioned fun played at my third-floor deck drive-in during the summer. Man, I almost wish the heat was back so I could go back and re-open the drive-in with my patronage of two! Anyway, HELL ON WHEELS is brought to us by the great Will Zens, who did a fare share of Southern regional drive-in fare for nearly three decades (CAPTURE THAT CAPSULE, TRUCKERS WOMAN), and of the ones I've seen, this seems his most competent and straight-ahead.

Oct 9, 2005

Something Weird (1968)

I might watch an HG Lewis film a year- tops. But if any more of them are as fun as this one, I might watch them more often.

This hilarious gutter trash features a psychic whose disfigured face can be healed by a witch, who at first emerges as a drop-dead gorgeous blonde, but then reveals herself as the old hag she really is (actually a man in a wig), and the poor guy must be her lover to retain his good looks! Then this crazy duo are enlisted to help solve a murder....

Filmed for about 100 bucks, but still looking pretty good for what it is, this is a real treat for Halloween, and miles above the other miserable movies I've seen from its director.

Oct 8, 2005

So Wrong They're Right (1995)

Oh man, this is a movie made for me. Russ Forster, the man behind the fanzine, "8 track mind" made a cross-country tour to interview a whole lot of enthusiasts who in this day and age still collect 8 track tapes! This film is a scream- I love those musicians that have a huge pile of roughly 30,000 of the bloody things, and they're like kids in a candy store when the camera is on. Every single person we meet is completely unique, and Forster never turns these ladies and gentlemen into goofs (unlike Alan Zweig's movie VINYL, about anti-social record collectors)- they are funny, personable, exciting. I'd have dinner with any one of them to discuss things like "Having Fun With Elvis On Stage." It is also a revealing look at a discarded piece of pop culture that we still have an affection for, and in fact in this age of information, many of these folks consider the act of snapping up these archaic things as an act of rebellion. Rock on!

Oct 7, 2005

Short Cuts (1993)

This is one of my favourite films of the 1990's. I never did plunk down the 50-some-odd dollars for the Criterion disc last year, but I'm happy with the 15 dollar one that Alliance put out. Then as now, this is a smorgasbord of a movie, following 22 characters, whose little dramas interweave in Los Angeles. At 68, Robert Altman is at the peak of his powers, showing an energy, experimentation and scope that some directors half his age can only dream about. It helps too that most of the performances are absolutely superb, and justly so, since most of the characters are so pathetic, helpless or just plain ugly... we are glued to the screen follwing their Chinese puzzle lives in this three-hour epic. Now the DVD is part of my SHORT CUTS collection, right next to the published screenplay, the soundtrack album and the collection of stories originally penned by Raymond Carver. It is funny, horrifying, and heartbreaking all at once... well, much like life.

Oct 6, 2005

Black Orpheus (1959)

The myth of Orpheus is transposed to South America in this beautiful, carnivalesque treat... absolutely breathtaking in colour. I took my wife to see this at a free screening years ago, and was embarrassed because the print they showed was so faded that it was almost black and white! But it's on Criterion now, so rejoice! This movie single-handedly launched the bossa nova craze in North America, and the music is full of the exotica that one can find in this picture... the natural world and the fantastic blend seamlessly in this pageant of a movie. Buy it today!

Oct 5, 2005

The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)

Lee Van Cleef is the man, so this film has been seen on my TV set about 2 dozen times... no jive. He fits comfortably in this fourth go-round for the seven as they prortect a town full of widowed women from Mexican bandidos. It is refreshing to see a Van Cleef vehicle in the 1970's that isn't embarassing to watch (the direction is competent, but light years from the hacks that employed him around the same time), and his tough anti-hero is a joy to watch. The movie has the feel of a TV movie (because George McCowan has directed many), but that is part of its warmth. It was never on video, so I was thrilled to see it on DVD last summer. The disc comes with a superb trailer, too. This used to play on TV so often when I was a teenager, that I could quote most of it. I still can... my poor wife.

Oct 4, 2005

Guantanmera (1995)

After the surprise success of STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE, the legendary Cuban director Tomas Guitierez Alea (with his co-director Juan Carlos Tabio) managed to do one last film before he passed away, and it is a beauty. This woefully underappreciated delight is a road movie of Cuba, as a woman tags along with her ineffectual husband who follows the Cuban bureaucratic rules (or lack thereof) to the letter, as they transport a deceased relative across the country. Along the way she constantly runs into a trucker, one of her former pupils. This road trip presents a world that is largely unseen to Americans thanks to the embargo: along the Cuban highways, there are always shortages, but a surplus of robust people- it is a bittersweet paradox. The film aloso has a stunning scene set in a rainstorm. For me, it was one of the surprises of the 1990's, and it still holds up beautifully after repeat viewings.

Oct 3, 2005

Ariel (1989)

Continuing much in the same vein of his previous "loser" film SHADOWS IN PARADISE, Aki Kaurismaki gives is another down and out fable featuring a coal worker who is suddenly out of a job, and his legacy thereafter on the road, and in a relationship with a single mother is an odyssey of one misfortune after another. The Finnish director still pulls the rug from us by tacking on a wild ending that contradicts everything we've seen. This is great deadpan fun, beautifully made. One of his better achievements.

Oct 1, 2005

Men (1985)

In Dorris Dorrie's hysterical comedy, a man discovers that his wife is cheating on him. Not only does he find out who her lover is, he even becomes his new roommate under a pseudonym, so he can try to figure out what she likes about him and basically what went wrong with their marriage. The fun really takes off when his wife comes to visit her boyfriend, and the husband wears a rubber gorilla mask to disguise himself. That's but one of maby delightful moments in this wise movie. See it before someone remakes it with someone like Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan.

Vinyl (2000)

In Alan Zweig's moving and hilarious documentary, he interviews tones of social outcasts who hoard records to the point that you can't see anything else in their apartments. This movie is full of "where did you find this guy" kind of people that you may not want to invite home for dinner, but you are glad to have met them regardless. It is a thoughtful inquiry into why people obsessively collect things, as well as a portrait of self-pity, as Zweig turns the camera on himself (literally) to examine his own empty life that his record collect has vainly tried to fill. Yes, honey, I'm working on the back room.

Sep 30, 2005

White Comanche (1967)

In this choppy spaghetti western, we have the dubious pleasure of seeing Bill Shatner playing two roles, of twin brothers who are at each other's throats in the old west. Someone must have seen one of the Star Trek episodes of the two Kirks, and decided to make a movie with that principle. Joseph Cotten also stars, looking completely bewildered. Fans of "The Shat" must seek this picture out, however, to see two overacting performances for the price of one. How can you go wrong with that?

Sep 29, 2005

Red Morning (1935)

Another CBC Saturday morning discovery (see yesterday's comment). Steffi Duna, a B-unit Claudette Colbert, and a definite candidate for the "Whatever Happened To...?" sweepstakes, is shipwrecked on an uncharted island, and before long, is seen wearing a sarong, hanging around with the natives. Thank you RKO! Charles Middleton co-stars in this entertaining bit of time-filler. As with yesterday's YELLOW DUST, I'd love to see it again after all these years.

Couldn't find any stills of RED MORNING, but here's to you, Steffi Duna.

Sep 28, 2005

Yellow Dust (1936)

When I was in my early teens, I used to watch CBC's Saturday morning programming, in which they often strung together a couple of long-forgotten second features from the Saturday matinee days. One of my most joyous discoveries was this wonderful B western starring Richard Dix as a white-hatted cowboy who gets implicated in a stagecoach robbery. While a crisp, well-made little movie (with a neat climax in a dust storm), it is also played for a couple of laughs, as the real bandits simultaneously spit beer out of their mouths when someone mentions the stage being robbed. Sadly, I haven't seen this movie since, but I hope someone finds a print of this someday.

Sep 27, 2005

Submarine Alert (1938)

In this irresistible second feature, a man gets a job in a radio factory and discovers that this place is being used by German spies to transmit radio signals to a Japanese sub! This hour-long romp is great fun, with a gallery of B-movie faces: RIchard Arlen, Marc Lawrence, Wendy Barrie and Dwight Frye! I found this for cheap on the Alpha Video label. I love this company for what it does (namely resurrecting a lot of old Saturday matinee titles or even later drive-in films), but often I've been disappointed in the quality. For instance, my Rhino VHS of THE SADIST is better than their DVD. However I'm happy to report that this is a rather nice transfer, it not perfect.

Sep 25, 2005

09/25/05 No film today- we're at Word on the Street

The night before, just around supper time, I threw up my arms in resignation that I wasn't going to get the rock and roll issue done for Word on the Street, and that turned out to be a small miracle. It's one thing to do a project with the knowledge that you will be the one who will most appreciate it, and so, given the shallow financial prospects of small press, it isn't worth killing yourself over either. That, plus the forecast for rain had me preparing for a dismal turnout anyway. To be certain, it rained all night and into the morning, and finally around lunchtime the sun came out, and people decided to come to Word on the Street after all. Even so, I was so grateful for not giving myself a coronary trying to get ESR #17 ready for the show, because sales for print were dreadful. On the other hand, I sold a whole lot of my 3 DVD titles, and thereby saved my butt that day. It is however a sad indication that people are perhaps become less interested in print and will try on anything digital. More than once, I have thought of taking ESR online, which is a lot cheaper and less agony than doing a print companion, but to read a magazine, you don't need a high-speed connection, RAM and all those other things. Are we THAT enslaved to technology? (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony of that comment being posted on a website) And to be sure, I would most miss that across the table interaction with people who share the admiration for the things I do- that's what I most care about at these things.

And to be certain, I met a bunch of new people, and perhaps began planting some seeds for future prospects for making the whole ESR enterprise (with screenings et al) a bit bigger and better in the future. Time will tell. To me, a good show is not just some sales, but also finishing the day with a head full of promise and ideas in expanding ESR. I did.

Renaldo and Clara (1978)

This bloated home movie directed by Bob Dylan runs for 4 hours, but you know what? I never got tired of it, simply because you're always curious where this thing is going to go (or not). Dylan concert footage is mixed with interviews of musicians discussing their lives and influences, and wobbly fictional, yet pseudo-real scenes of guys like Ronnie Hawkins warning their women about life on the road, peppered with numerous shots of Joan Baez fawning over Mr. Zimmermann at every conceivable opportunity. THis is a vanity project to be sure, but I was hooked. Leonard Maltin gave it a BOMB rating in his firewood -I mean, movie review book- so you know it has to be good, right? Roger.

Sep 24, 2005

Coffee House Rendezvous (1968)

My friends are probably sick of me nattering on about this educational short, yet everyone I've shown this flick to has been converted. Perhaps you, dear reader, need to be next. In order to get young people from standing around on a street corner, a lot of people with horned-rimmed glasses start having impromptu coffee houses in garages and church basements so the kids can come in and stay out of trouble. Largely, they get to hear really bad covers of Joan Baez and Rolling Stones songs, and some cheesy poetry. Sign me up! The hook for this irresistibly wrong but noble look at youth rehabilitation is a superb title song that I guarantee you will sing for days. If you have a 45 RPM of it, we can be friends real fast.

Sep 23, 2005

Underground (1976)

Five members of the Weather Underground, while wanted by the FBI, agree to sit in front of the camera by Haskell Wexler, Mary Lampson and Emile deAntonio to discuss their cause. Because they were fugitives, the UWO members' faces are never seen on screen, and Wexler's camera must find creative ways of shooting around them, with mirror reflections and such. This legendary documentary is not a tiresome minimalist exercise, as it also relies on archival footage of social unrest which individually inspired members of this quintet to be radicals. These people are also shown to be microcosms of the "great struggle" for justice in an oppressive society. Fascinating, sad and haunting.

Sep 21, 2005

Sins of the Fleshapoids (1964)

What I did on my spring vacation... Jasper, Alberta on a Saturday morning, with the majestic mountains in view out the hotel window, yet I stayed inside to watch this underground movie by Mike Kuchar on my portable DVD player. Now is that dedication or what? This whacked-out home movie features a bunch of people who look like they just got kicked off Jack Smith's rooftop in a supposedly futuristic society, where the slaves revolt against the Orwellian rulers. I say supposedly futuristic, because the whole thing looks like it was shot in a basement. There's even comic strip balloons scratched on the film emulsion. A minor work of demented genius.

Sep 19, 2005

Can't Stop the Music (1980)

This infamous musical nauseates many because the Village People are featured in it. Uh-uh-- seeing Steve Guttenberg roller skating in the opening credits sequence is one of the masochistic highlights of this painful exercise in late 70s excess. While a notorious flop in its day, naturally now it has been re-appraised as a cult classic. Time, I guess, proves above all that anything that at least doesn't commit the sin of mediocrity will be discovered as a work of genius someday. (And speaking of which, while I haven't yet seen SGT. PEPPER with the Bee Gees, or the Olivia Newton John classic XANADU- can re-evaluations of these be far behind?) Valerie Perrine says an amazingly prophetic line: "The 80's are going to be so different", anticipating far more than anyone knew. This movie (however PG-rated) is the last word on late 70's excess. If disco is the soundtrack to the Dionysian pursuits of people in the latter half of that decade, then I guess the Village People is its Gabriel. It has been said that this group was responsible for driving disco to the ground, and that may be true, as they made the music even more plastic than before, but in my estimation, disco would have self-destructed sooner or later, right around when Club 54 did. Time also proves something else too- that even hulking accidents like this are topical.

Seaside Swingers (1965)

In this engaging bit of tomfoolery, a bunch of starstruck individuals get jobs at a seaside resort for the summer, with the intent of being "discovered" in the big talent contest. Man, the talent contest must be the most tired device of all of these rock and roll musicals of the past 50 years-- it sure provides a handy excuse for showing a lot of musical acts. Anyway, this ensemble piece is a lot of fun- think of it as an Altman-esque romp back in the swinging 60's. I picked this one up while gathering titles for the rock and roll issue of ESR, because Freddie and the Dreamers are prominently billed, however they're not really integral to the story.

Sep 18, 2005

Having a Wild Weekend (1965)

The Dave Clark Five do their own rip-off of HARD DAY'S NIGHT with this fascinating allegory as Dave and his mates do a stint on a commercial shoot, and make off with the bored young model, looking for utopia, and eventually wind up in a remote location with some caricature beatnik types while the establishment is in hot pursuit. It is perhaps the least musical of all of the British Invasion spin-off movies, but it is one of the best. With its look at swinging modern London, and also as a stirring portrait of a dispassionate society, this would actually make a great double bill with BLOW UP.

Sep 17, 2005

Ferry Cross The Mersey (1965)

In one of the earliest and best HARD DAY'S NIGHT rip-offs, Gerry and the Pacemakers play a slew of tunes at every convenience that the slim storyline provides. Gerry Marsden is full of cheeky charm as the bandleader who tries to break free of stuffy old England custom and hit it big with his mates. In addition to the title tune one also hears "It's Gonna Be All Right", "Why Oh Way" and a fistful of others. Trading on the blueprint that the Richard Lester film provided, there are some zany surreal gags interspersed with an almost documentary approach to the performances. It is a real treat, and a lot of fun.

Sep 16, 2005

Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser (1989)

In the 1960's, Christian Blackwood shot all of this priceless candid footage of jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. Two decades later, Charlotte Zwernin (of GIMME SHELTER fame) assembled his footage with contemporary interviews to provide an entertaining and full-blooded look at this eccentric genius. It is one of the greatest films ever made about jazz. God bless executive producer Clint Eastwood for hopping on board to get this made. In my opinion, it's even better than his own BIRD.

Sep 14, 2005

The Secret Cinema (1966)

This short is the first work of oddball filmmaker Paul Bartel (EATING RAOUL, et al). Decades before ED TV, or THE TRUMAN SHOW, a woman's everyday life is secretly being filmed and screened in a theatre. Then she happens to walk into a cinema one night and... While it is no masterpiece, THE SECRET CINEMA is an underground gem, with quite a few intriguing ideas, and a surprising (however proper) amount of cruelty. In today's reality TV world, where marauding video cameras invade everyone's privacy, this little lark seems even more relevant.

Sep 13, 2005

Sherlock Jr. (1924)

One of my personal faves, Buster Keaton is a hapless projectionist who dreams he becomes part of the movie that is showing onscreen. While speaking volumes of how movies redeem our lives, it is also fascinating seeing reality and imagination blur. Many consider THE GENERAL to be Keaton's finest achievement (yet, I do agree it is his ultimate statement of his favourite theme of man vs. machine). Truthfully, I think this 45-minute wonder is his masterpiece. It is a dazzling delight. Chaplin may have been the populist comedian of the silent era, but Keaton was far, far more adventurous.

Sep 12, 2005

The Time Machine (1978)

...and out of respect to "Priscilla Barnes Day", I decided to go with this made-for-TV movie adaptation of the H.G. Wells story as the movie of the day. I saw it when it first aired, liked it, and saw it again years later, after I knew who Priscilla Barnes was. She has the role that Yvette Mimieux played in the 1960 big screen adaptation. I've since seen that version, and believe it or not, I prefer this smaller scale made for TV version, because I felt the George Pal 1960 movie was rather stuffy. Not only that, but can you blame the guy for staying in the future, fighting the big bad Morlocks and all, just to hunker down with Priscilla Barnes? Hell, no.

News From Home (1976)

In Chantal Akerman's diary film, she fills a feature-length movie of images of the most loneliest places one could ever find in New York City, while on the soundtrack she reads letters received from her native Belgium. This essay on detachment is another affecting piece of isolation by a filmmaker whose works are often shrugged off as being "cold". I don't agree at all- I find her films tremendously moving, and this remains (for me) her finest work (admittedly, I still haven't seen JEANNE DIELMAN). I saw this movie just days before 9/11. And when we saw the images on the TV of the towers falling, I thought back to the long single take that completes this film. We see the New York skyline from the viewpoint of a boat that leaves the concrete jungle- that landscape has abruptly changed.


Today, Hollywood Canteen (the movie collectibles, books and video shop here in Toronto) ran their Show of Shows at a hotel downtown. I had been curious about attending this venue as a vendor ever since I began this publication, and this year I finally remembered to sign up early enough to do just that. Well, ten minutes in there, I realized I was in bigtrouble. All the other booths were selling lobby cards, posters, magazines, etc. so ESR was a unique thing to have at this fair... and not in a good way. The clientele here didn't come to read, but collect. I'm disappointed, but not bitter about the experience- these are the gambles we take when we try to take our work anywhere. I did manage to sell a few of the noir issues, though, so the day wasn't a total loss. With enough pocket change, I browsed through the one dollar lobby card bin and found some stuff for some obscure 70s flicks, which is of course my bread and butter.

Every year, Hollywood Canteen revolves the fair around a celebrity appearance as a draw, so people can collect autographs and memorabilia in addition to the fair getting a shot of star power. This year, our guest was Priscilla Barnes, known for her roles in "Three's Company", MALLRATS, and (for me) THE CROSSING GUARD. My booth was next to hers, and she is a completely charming lady- as exciting and funny in person as she is onscreen. In fact, I've confirmed my suspicion that there is a lot of untapped talent that supersede her usual requirements in her slate of B-movies.

After the show, I had coffee with John Reed, the director of FUDDLEBE- one of the films I showed in February. This was one of the little morsels of the day that remind me to hang in there, and keep on doing what I'm doing, even in an umbrella of disappointment.

Sep 10, 2005

FTA (1972)

Made just around the time of the infamous "Hanoi Jane" incident, this fascinating documentary features Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland amongst a troupe of a travelling revue called FTA, which can be translated as either "Free the Army", or "F*** the Army", which visited US army camps during the Vietnam to do musical and comedy routines with anti-War sentiments. Seeing this today, one wonders how in hell they managed to talk their way into pulling these acts off right in front of the military, much less film it?


After a dismal first half of the year, I was hoping I wouldn't have to write a third part to my "...Scene is Going to Ratshit" series, but here it is. Much my delight, and I'm sure to that of others in the independent scene, there was an announcement made for a weekend-long engagement at the CNE. Under one roof, people could see and hear works by visual artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. If this didn't spell community for independent artists of any persuasion being able to come together, well, nothing would. And sadly, nothing did. This week all of the vendors got the e-mail that Ear to the Ground had been cancelled due to lack of funding. The venue that sounded too good to be true... was. I am uncertain if it was an issue of expanding far too quickly for a first-time attempt at a venue or what, but alas, the very thing that could give the independent community its sorely needed shot in the arm is another of too many casualties with big ideas and small prospects. Am I disappointed? Certainly. But I do hope they learned from this, and continue to get on the saddle and try again. It is worth doing.

Sep 9, 2005

Jandek on Corwood (2003)

Perhaps like you, I had never heard of Jandek prior to hearing of this film. For three decades, he has produced roughly three-dozen albums, featuring a wispy voice often simply accompanied with guitar sounds that are more exclamation points than chords. Up to the release of this film, he has never played publicly, has granted only one (telephone) interview, and operates out of a Texas PO box with the strange title Corwood Industries. This has created a lot of mystique about the man, but as we see interviews with record collectors and rock writers who have bought this mystique, I couldn't help but ask exactly who is creating this mystique? The publicists, or Jandek himself? Perhaps for Jandek it is enough to just record and release the album, regardless of how dismally it sells. Perhaps in this age of over-satured information, it became necessary to create a myth around someone like Jandek, to remind us that there is still something new to discover. In any event, I am happy that this film was made, because I too am intrigued enough to seek out his work.

Sep 8, 2005

Mistaken Memories of Medieval Manhattan (1981)

While researching for ESR's rock and roll issue, I couldn't believe my dumb luck when I found a used VHS copy of Brian Eno's "other" video experiment (other than THURSDAY AFTERNOON, which I saw years ago). As far as I knew, this picture was only available in Europe or Japan, so it was one of those weird and wonderful twists of fate that life has a tendency of surprising us with. So to whoever up there likes me, thank you. This hour-long video features a few music pieces accompanying a series of unbroken shots of Manhattan. Chiefly, the skyline of Manhattan is seen on its side, not across (the video box jokes that to see this movie properly, one has to turn their TV set on its side). Sometimes the great urban metropolis is barely seen as a sliver on the side of the screen as the majestic cloudy skies dominate the frame. This oblique frame calls attention to how the natural world really dwarfs our puerile achievements. Also the single take structure is indicative of Eno's ambient music- it operates within its own time and space. Cinematically, it also recalls Warhol, in that the image just takes on a life of its own, uncaring if the viewer is engaged or not. But you either love Eno's ambient philosophy or you don't-- I do, and this movie is for me a meditative, relaxing treat.

Sep 7, 2005

Between The Lines (1977)

One of my favourite "sleeper" films- before anyone knew who Jeff Goldblum, John Heard, Jill Eikenberry, Marilu Henner, Stephen Collins, Lindsay Crouse, Bruno Kirby and Joe Morton were, they all starred in this episodic comedy-drama about the final days of a radical newspaper about to be bought out by a more commercial publishing chain. And it also features Gwen Welles, one of my favourite actresses of the 1970's (CALIFORNIA SPLIT, NASHVILLE), and perennial weirdo Michael J. Pollard as the guy who helps sell their paper out on the street. This is an ensemble movie in the truest, finest sense of the word-- everyone gets a chance to shine, no-one steals the movie from someone else (even if Goldblum does have the showier role of the mile-a-minute rock critic), and we see their characters in all their highs and lows. One prime example of what made 1970's movies so good- character-driven, surprising, thoughtful, adventurous... so much of what today's Hollywood drivel isn't. Also there is a superb song score by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes- the best bar band in the world. SJ and the boys appear in one lengthy nightclub sequence in which all of the characters turn. Also love the impromptu jam session that Goldblum, Morton and Collins have while the roadies are taking the equipment off the stage-- it's indicative of the loose "let's try it" attitude that made movies of the time so delightful to see then and now. And there are many, many more inspired moments like these. DVD, please.

Sep 6, 2005

Born to Boogie (1973)

While reviewing titles for the upcoming rock and roll issue of ESR, I happened across this hour-long curiosity directed by Ringo Starr! It is essentially a concert documentary of Marc Bolan and T. Rex, and for all that it is of historical value. At the same time, it is also a product, and thereby a commentary of the excesses of the days of glam rock. In other words, the music apparently isn't enough- someone felt it was necessary to include such Dionsyian moments of people pigging out at a picnic, getting dressed up as dinosaurs or something, and even scenes of Marc and Ringo talking gibberish. Whatever. In any case, if you have an interest in T. Rex, as do I, it's worth checking out. The concert footage isn't that imaginative (it's one of those films where the direction is to nail down the camera and don't move it no matter what), but hey it features the late great Marc Bolan going through his repetoire, and that alone makes it more essential than anything on MuchMusic.

Sep 5, 2005

Van Nuys Blvd. (1979)

The last weekend of the summer is also not the same without screening this drive-in movie about the rowdy goings-on of the dragstrip in Van Nuys California. This impressionistic narrative follows a group of young people's misadventures, and along the way they learn to grow up. Sure it has a lot of infantile gross humour to please its demographic, but this too has a surprisingly adept sense of characterization, as we begin to like even the most irresponsible of these people, as they learn how hurtful their behaviour is. I prefer this one just a smidget over POM POM GIRLS because it has a more ambitious narrative, and quite simply, it moves me. It has the funny-real-sad feel one gets while looking through an old school yearbook- where you want to roll your eyes in embarrassment over some old photos but become affected by your strong bonds of friendship over those rocky years.

Sep 4, 2005

The Pom Pom Girls (1976)

SInce this is Labour Day weekend, we wind down the summer with this innocuous teen exploitation comedy in which Robert Carradine and his pals raise hell and try to woo the opposite sex at the beginning of the school year. Although its obviously catering to the lowest common denominator of drive-in patrons, with its T&A (which isn't much) and infantile comedy, what surprises is the unusual depth given its characters. While even though this movie takes place during the school year, it has an autumnal "summer's end" feel to it, as though their youth is quickly giving way to maturity.

Sep 3, 2005

The Ringer (1972)

..and while we have Jeff Lieberman on the brain, today's nod goes to his first film, the short THE RINGER, which is featured as an extra on the BLUE SUNSHINE DVD. This short movie is notable for its layered plot and a sly drug addiction theme, about the craze surrounding these nose rings. You can see the seeds of the writer-director's masterpiece BLUE SUNSHINE at work here- its incredibly ambitious narrative that belies its low-budget, and Lieberman's typically sly sense of humour. Lots of fun.

Sep 2, 2005

Just Before Dawn (1980)

It's about time. Media Blasters released Jeff Lieberman's cult slasher epic on DVD, and the transfer is light years ahead of those awful muddy VHS copies that have circulated for years. While there's little novelty in the plot (young people killed off in the forest by murderous mutants), this is heads and tails above all the dead teenager movies of its day with absorbing performances, especially by Deborah Benson (one of my favourite actresses of the period who never made it), a strong command of atmosphere, and a superb music score by Brad Fiedel. The DVD also comes with a second disk, with lots of interviews. As both of my ESR readers know, Jeff Lieberman is one of my unsung heroes, so now that this film has been properly released, an article is forthcoming.

Aug 31, 2005

Human Highway (1982)

Am I the only one who likes this bloody thing? Neil Young directs under the pseudonym of Bernard Shakey and hires a lot of his counterculture pals (Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper) in this near-plotless account of life at a roadside diner set near a radiation dump, with a phony 50's setting and an early 80's no-nuke sentiment. The look of this film is possibly what gives most of its appeal to me- David Myers' candy-coloured cinematography and the intentionally stagy feel forces the artificial 1950's feel, showing that our then-current concerns about radiation are akin to those shared by our ancestors, and that even though we colloquially think of the 1950's as white picket-fence wholesomeness, Mr. Shakey reminds us of the dark cloud that hovered above the Cleaver mindset. Young gives himself a weird role, and a fantasy sequence where he can get away with playing music, to boot. Hey, even Devo is in it. How cool is that?

Aug 30, 2005

Number Seventeen (1932)

Since most of Hitchcock's British films are public domain, they are almost always available on some inexpensive video label. To be sure, Sir Alfred hit his stride with a string of films like REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO which display his knack for comic suspense among high society hi-ballers. However, more often than not, when I need a Hitchcock fix, I will most likely grab one of his British films, simply because they feature a more gritty milieu, and there are some undeniable diamonds in the rough. Case in point, this underrated thriller is a real treat. From a superb opening sequence set in an abandoned house to an exciting finale on a train (never mind the shots of miniatures), Alfred Hitchcock once again allows us to throw our brains at the curb and thrill to our protagonists' getting in and out of trouble.

Aug 27, 2005

08/27/05 NO FILM TODAY

The electric drive-in is closed. It's our anniversary.

Return Engagement (1983)

Alan Rudolph's career is full of oddball delights, and here is one: a fascinating documentary about the debate tour featuring G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary. The ghosts of the 1960's still creep up on these people in a supposedly more enlightened era. Equal parts funny and sad- it's a good piece of brain food. DVD, please.

Aug 25, 2005

Dark Eyes (1987)

In this superb film which blends several stories of Anton Chekov, namely "Lady with a Dog", in which Marcello Mastroianni relates his seriocomic woes of wooing the opposite sex. While a superb piece of storytelling in its own right, it is also a great showcase for Marcello, as he uses his aging gigolo's charm as a way to squeeze out of every mess his libido gets him in. If you don't like foreign films, it's because you haven't seen the right ones.

Aug 24, 2005

Claudine (1974)

Made during the time when most cinema featuring African Americans had to star in "blaxploitation" vehicles to make a living, this lovely and charming film concerns a single mother (Diahann Carroll) who finds romance with a garbageman (James Earl Jones). Some people dislike the upbeat ending (set to the tingling strains of Gladys Knight's "Make Yours a Happy Home"- we can do it, we can do it now baby), but it is a welcome relief from the hardship that always seems to greet this group. I've never forgotten the seen where Carroll's older son (played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, AKA Washington from "Welcome Back Kotter") gets a vasectomy because he doesn't want to bring kids into this world.

God's Angry Man (1980)

I've seen this film a few times this year, and I still can't get it out of my mind. Werner Herzog's hour-long marvel is a hilarious and moving documentary of the fiery televangelist Gene Scott (who died earlier this year). No matter what you think of the man, you can't deny his passion. I love the scene where he freaks out on people for donating to the church, yet only when he asks them to. Above and beyond his fire and brimstone telecasts, featuring a lot of great gospel music too, we get to see beyond the man on the screen and see how he has been robbed of his own identity for the sake of his image- having no financial assets of his own (everything clinically his is owned by the church), forsaking property and even the maxim of going forth and multiplying, we can understand why he berates people who give anything less than 100% to the good word.

Aug 22, 2005

Paperback Hero (1973)

Another Sunday in the parking lot of our good friend Dion Conflict. This piece of Cancon is about a womanizing cowboy played by Keir Dullea (who once again proves he can't act) set in the proverbial small prairie town. Everything akin to 1970's Canadian tax shelter cinema is in abundance here-- hockey, beer, wood panelling. Our nation's own hottie Dayle Haddon plays the love interest. Although well-regarded in its day, today this thing is a disappointment, especially since Dullea's character has all the charm of a narc. Visually interesting for its second unit work, a well-shot shootout at the end, and for an extended nude scene with Ms. Haddon.

Raining Stones (1993)

In Ken Loach's masterpiece, among my Top 10 Best Films of the 1990's, a working-class man takes on a variety of odd jobs in order to buy a dress for his daughter's first communion. This is classic Loach- it dares to make us laugh at the foibles in this situation that is really no laughing matter, yet it is still responsible and dramatic when it needs to be. As always, Loach peoples his cast with unknown actors to lend a bit of authenticity to his gritty tale, with thick English accents that your ear eventually accustoms itself to. Plus, there is a sequence with the town loan shark that is absolutely terrifying. For my money, this is the finest achievement by a man who has had more than his share of superb films.


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