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.


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