Dec 31, 2008

Goodbye 2008, and not a moment too soon.

This year has flown by, and honestly, I'm not sorry to see it go. 2008 was fraught with shortcomings and disappointments, and in the recent past, I've actually been anticipating the new year in order to start fresh after having a bit of a break over the Christmas season to recharge my batteries.

In the past 365 days, it seems that I and most of my friends can be divided into two circles: those that are working all the time, and those who aren't working at all. There seems to be no happy medium. A few of my amigos had lost their jobs this year, and meanwhile I am seldom able to take a day off, let alone a proper lunch break. Since I work with video and sit in front of a monitor all day for a living, when I come home at night with burning eyes, I would just too stupid or tired to work on any of the projects that I have on the side, or just plain wouldn't feel like it-- even typing in a blog entry would feel like a chore. In the thirteen years I've been in this industry, the old saying has never been more true: it is either black or white, never gray. In this uncertain economy, I am grateful to be working, but there just never seems to be any equilibrium. As a result, it just seemed that the days and the weeks flew by, and before I knew it, I was still scrambling to get ESR-related projects completed as the deadlines came down to the wire. In terms of sales, 2008 was the worst ESR had seen in years.

But for all of that, I am glad to see '08 go, simply to usher in the new year as a symbol of a fresh start (despite the economic forecast ahead). I do not wish to leave this post on a completely negative note, because a lot of interesting things did happen. I was invited to show films at Trash Palace, did a radio interview, and I took ESR on the road to Montreal and Buffalo (I'll finally have those expository posts up soon....honest!), met some new comrades along the way, and even though I am disappointed at myself for not realizing a couple of projects that I had hoped to be completed by the fall, I am still nonetheless grateful by the words of encouragement I receive from friends and readers to in their hopes that I stay at it.

Thanks for your continued support, friends, and may we all hope to prosper in the new year.

Dec 30, 2008

2008 Film Registry List Announced....

This time of year, all film scribes become victims of "list-o-mania", either devising their own lists for the best films of the year (and criticizing those of others). But the list that is always enjoyable in this season is the new collection of titles announced by the United States Film Registry to be chosen for preservation. It is a far more delightful read then the usual claptrap put on AFI's lists, because in addition to commercial features, the National Film Registry also includes short subjects, documentaries, and (thank heavens) experimental films. Yahoo has already touted the selection for The Terminator, but there are also some marvelous and perhaps lesser known films worthy of your attention: Len Lye's animated short Free Radicals, Lionel Rogosin's documentary On the Bowery, Nick Ray's daft revisionist western Johnny Guitar (one of my genre favourites), and for me, the biggest delight was the inclusion of Pat O'Neill's beautiful hour-long experimental film, Water and Power. (You can view this film for yourself here.

Here's the complete list of films chosen in 2008--

1)  The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
2) Deliverance (1972)
3) Disneyland Dream (1956)
4) A Face in the Crowd (1957)
5) Flower Drum Song (1961)
6) Foolish Wives (1922)
7) Free Radicals (1979)
8) Hallelujah (1929)
9) In Cold Blood (1967)
10) The Invisible Man (1933)
11) Johnny Guitar (1954)
12) The Killers (1946)
13) The March (1964)
14) No Lies (1973)
15) On the Bowery (1957)
16) One Week (1920)
17) The Pawnbroker (1965)
18) The Perils of Pauline (1914)
19) Sergeant York (1941)
20) The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
21) So’s Your Old Man (1926)
22) George Stevens WW2 Footage (1943-46)
23) The Terminator (1984)
24) Water and Power (1989)
25) White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)
But in case you're wondering.... here's the list of all the titles (in alphabetical order) chosen from 1988 to 2007. In addition to Hollywood features, there are a great many early documentaries (including one of John Huston's WW2 efforts, and work by Emile De Antonio, Richard Leacock), plus independent films by Shirley Clarke, Marie Menken, Stan Brakhage, John Cassavetes, and Ernie Gehr.. to name only a few. William Beaudine's infamous exploitation film Mom and Dad is even added, as well as Blood of Jesus one of the handful of features made by Spencer Williams, one of the more important African American filmmakers of the "parallel cinema" movement of the 1930's and 40's. This is truly a film nut's paradise.

1) Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
2) Adam's Rib (1949)
3) The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938)
4) The African Queen (1951)
5) Alien (1979)
6) All About Eve (1950)
7) All My Babies (1953)
8) All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)
9) All That Heaven Allows (1955)
10) All That Jazz (1979)
11) All The King's Men (1949)
12) America, America (1963)
13) American Graffiti (1973)
14) An American In Paris (1951)
15) Annie Hall (1977)
16) Antonia: A Portrait Of The Woman (1974)
17) The Apartment (1960)
18) Apocalypse Now (1979)
19) Applause (1929)
20) Atlantic City (1980)
21) The Awful Truth (1937)
22) Baby Face (1933)
23) Back To The Future (1985)
24) The Bad And The Beautiful (1952)
25) Badlands (1973)
26) The Band Wagon (1953)
27) The Bank Dick (1940)
28) The Battle Of San Pietro (1945)
29) Beauty And The Beast (1991)
30) Ben-Hur (1926)
31) Ben-Hur (1959)
32) The Best Years Of Our Lives (1946)
33) Big Business (1929)
34) The Big Parade (1925)
35) The Big Sleep (1946)
36) The Big Trail (1930)
37) The Birth Of A Nation (1915)
38) The Black Pirate (1926)
39) The Black Stallion (1979)
40) Blacksmith Scene (1893)
41) Blade Runner (1982)
42) Blazing Saddles (1974)
43) The Blood Of Jesus (1941)
44) The Blue Bird (1918)
45) Bonnie And Clyde (1967)
46) Boyz N The Hood (1991)
47) Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)
48) The Bridge On The River Kwai (1957)
49) Bringing Up Baby (1938)
50) Broken Blossoms (1919)
51) A Bronx Morning (1931)
52) The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act Of Man (1975)
53) Bullitt (1968)
54) Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
55) Cabaret (1972)
56) The Cameraman (1928)
57) Carmen Jones (1954)
58) Casablanca (1942)
59) Theodore Case Sound Test: Gus Visser And His Singing Duck (1925)
60) Castro Street (1966)
61) Cat People (1942)
62) Chan Is Missing (1982)
63) The Cheat (1915)
64) The Chechahcos (1924)
65) Chinatown (1974)
66) Chulas Fronteras (1976)
67) Citizen Kane (1941)
68) City, The (1939)
69) City Lights (1931)
70) Civilization (1916)
71) Clash Of The Wolves (1925)
72) Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977)
73) Cologne: From The Diary Of Ray And Esther (1939)
74) Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, May 1940 (1940)
75) The Conversation (1974)
76) Cool Hand Luke (1967)
77) Cops (1922)
78) A Corner In Wheat (1909)
79) The Cool World (1963)
80) The Court Jester (1956)
81) The Crowd (1928)
82) The Curse Of Quon Gwon (1916-17)
83) Czechoslovakia 1968 (1968)
84) D.O.A. (1950)
85) Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
86) Dances With Wolves (1990)
87) Daughter Of Shanghai (1937)
88) Daughters Of The Dust (1991)
89) David Holzman's Diary (1968)
90) The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)
91) Days Of Heaven (1978)
92) Dead Birds (1964)
93) The Deer Hunter (1978)
94) Destry Rides Again (1939)
95) Detour (1946)
96) Dickson Experimental Sound Film (1894-5)
97) Do The Right Thing (1989)
98) The Docks Of New York (1928)
99) Dodsworth (1936)
100) Dog Star Man (1964)
101) Don't Look Back (1967)
102) Double Indemnity (1944)
103) Dr. Strangelove (Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb) (1964)
104) Dracula (1931)
105) Drums Of Winter (1988)
106) Duck Amuck (1953)
107) Duck And Cover (1951)
108) Duck Soup (1933)
109) E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
110) Early Abstractions #1-5,7,10 (1939-56)
111) Easy Rider (1969)
112) Eaux D'artifice (1953)
113) El Norte (1983)
114) The Emperor Jones (1933)
115) Empire (1964)
116) The Endless Summer (1966)
117) Enter The Dragon (1973)
118) Eraserhead (1978)
119) Evidence Of The Film (1913)
120) The Exploits Of Elaine (1914)
121) Fall Of The House Of Usher (1928)
122) Fantasia (1940)
123) Fargo (1996)
124) Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)
125) Fatty's Tintype Tangle (1915)
126) Film Portrait (1970)
127) Five Easy Pieces (1970)
128) Flash Gordon Serial (1936)
129) Flesh And The Devil (1927)
130) Footlight Parade (1933)
131) Force Of Evil (1948)
132) The Forgotten Frontier (1931)
133) 42nd Street (1933)
134) The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse (1921)
135) Fox Movietone News: Jenkins Orphanage Band (1928)
136) Frank Film (1973)
137) Frankenstein (1931)
138) Freaks (1932)
139) The French Connection (1971)
140) The Freshman (1925)
141) From Here To Eternity (1953)
142) From Stump To Ship (1930)
143) From The Manger To The Cross (1912)
144) Fuji (1974)
145) Fury (1936)
146) Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (1980)
147) The General (1927)
148) Gerald Mcboing Boing (1951)
149) Gertie The Dinosaur (1914)
150) Giant (1956)
151) Gigi (1958)
152) Glimpse Of The Garden (1957)
153) The Godfather (1972)
154) The Godfather, Part Ii (1974)
155) Going My Way (1944)
156) Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933)
157) The Gold Rush (1925)
158) Gone With The Wind (1939)
159) Goodfellas (1990)
160) The Graduate (1967)
161) Grand Hotel (1932)
162) The Grapes Of Wrath (1940)
163) Grass (1925)
164) The Great Dictator (1940)
165) The Great Train Robbery (1903)
166) Greed (1924)
167) Groundhog Day (1993)
168) Gun Crazy (1949)
169) Gunga Din (1939)
170) H2o (1929)
171) Halloween (1978)
172) Hands Up (1926)
173) Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976)
174) Harold And Maude (1972)
175) The Heiress (1949)
176) Hell's Hinges (1916)
177) Hindenburg Disaster Newsreel Footage (1937)
178) High School (1968)
179) High Noon (1952)
180) His Girl Friday (1940)
181) Hitch-Hiker, The (1953)
182) Hoop Dreams (1994)
183) Hoosiers (1986)
184) Hospital (1970)
185) The Hospital (1971)
186) The House I Live In (1945)
187) The House In The Middle (1954)
188) House Of Usher (1960)
189) How Green Was My Valley (1941)
190) How The West Was Won (1962)
191) The Hunters [Kalahari Desert Tribe Anthropological Film] (1957)
192) The Hustler (1961)
193) I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932)
194) Imitation Of Life (1934)
195) Immigrant, The (1917)
196) In A Lonely Place (1950)
197) In The Heat Of The Night (1967)
198) In The Land Of The Head Hunters (1914), Aka In The Land Of The War Canoes
199) In The Street (1948/52)
200) Intolerance (1916)
201) Invasion Of The Body Snatchers (1956)
202) It (1927)
203) It Happened One Night (1934)
204) It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
205) The Italian (1915)
206) Jailhouse Rock (1957)
207) Jam Session (1942)
208) Jammin' The Blues (1944)
209) Jaws (1975)
210) Jazz On A Summer's Day (1959)
211) The Jazz Singer (1927)
212) Jeffries-Johnson World's Championship Boxing Contest (1910)
213) Kannapolis, Nc (1941)
214) Killer Of Sheep (1977)
215) King: A Filmed Record...Montgomery To Memphis (1970)
216) King Kong (1933)
217) The Kiss (1896)
218) Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
219) Knute Rockne, All American(1940)
220) Koyaanisqatsi (1983)
221) The Lady Eve (1941)
222) Lady Helen's Escapade (1909)
223) Lady Windermere's Fan (1925)
224) Lambchops (1929)
225) Land Beyond The Sunset (1912)
226) Lassie Come Home (1943)
227) The Last Command (1928)
228) The Last Of The Mohicans (1920)
229) Last Picture Show, The (1972)
230) Laura (1944)
231) Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)
232) The Learning Tree (1969)
233) Let's All Go To The Lobby (1957)
234) Letter From An Unknown Woman (1948)
235) The Life And Death Of 9413--A Hollywood Extra (1927)
236) The Life And Times Of Rosie The Riveter (1980)
237) Life Of Emile Zola, The (1937)
238) Little Caesar (1930)
239) The Little Fugitive (1953)
240) Little Miss Marker (1934)
241) Living Desert, The (1953)
242) Lost World, The (1925)
243) Louisiana Story (1948)
244) Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
245) Love Me Tonight (1932)
246) M*A*S*H (1970)
247) Magical Maestro (1952)
248) The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
249) Making Of An American (1920)
250) The Maltese Falcon (1941)
251) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
252) The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
253) Manhatta (1921)
254) Manhattan (1979)
255) March Of Time: Inside Nazi Germany--1938 (1938)
256) Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert (1939)
257) Marty (1955)
258) Master Hands (1936)
259) Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
260) Mean Streets (1973)
261) Medium Cool (1969)
262) Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)
263) Melody Ranch (1940)
264) Memphis Belle (1944)
265) Meshes Of The Afternoon (1943)
266) Midnight Cowboy (1969)
267) Mighty Like A Moose (1926)
268) Mildred Pierce (1945)
269) The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek (1944)
270) Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
271) Miss Lulu Bett (1922)
272) Modern Times (1936)
273) Modesta (1956)
274) Mom And Dad (1944)
275) Morocco (1930)
276) Motion Painting No. 1 (1947)
277) A Movie (1958)
278) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939)
279) Multiple Sidosis (1970)
280) The Music Box (1932)
281) The Music Man (1962)
282) My Darling Clementine (1946)
283) My Man Godfrey (1936)
284) The Naked City (1948)
285) The Naked Spur (1953)
286) Nanook Of The North (1922)
287) Nashville (1975)
288) National Lampoon's Animal House (1978)
289) National Velvet (1944)
290) Naughty Marietta (1935)
291) Network (1976)
292) A Night At The Opera (1935)
293) The Night Of The Hunter (1955)
294) Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
295) Ninotchka (1939)
296) North By Northwest (1959)
297) Nostalgia (1971)
298) Nothing But A Man (1964)
299) Notorious (1946)
300) Now, Voyager (1942)
301) The Nutty Professor (1963)
302) Offon (1968)
303) Oklahoma! (1955)
304) On The Waterfront (1954)
305) One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
306) One Froggy Evening (1956)
307) Our Day (1938)
308) Out Of The Past (1947)
309) Ox-Bow Incident, The (1943)
310) The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
311) Pass The Gravy (1928)
312) Paths Of Glory (1957)
313) Patton (1970)
314) The Pearl (1948)
315) Peege (1972)
316) Peter Pan (1924)
317) Phantom Of The Opera (1925)
318) The Philadelphia Story (1940)
319) Pinocchio (1940)
320) A Place In The Sun (1951)
321) Planet Of The Apes (1968)
322) The Plow That Broke The Plains (1936)
323) Point Of Order (1964)
324) The Poor Little Rich Girl (1917)
325) Popeye The Sailor Meets Sindbad The Sailor (1936)
326) Porky In Wackyland (1938)
327) Power Of The Press (1928)
328) Powers Of Ten (1978)
329) President Mckinley Inauguration Footage (1901)
330) Primary (1960)
331) Princess Nicotine; Or The Smoke Fairy (1909)
332) The Prisoner Of Zenda (1937)
333) The Producers (1968)
334) Psycho (1960)
335) The Public Enemy (1931)
336) Pull My Daisy (1959)
337) Punch Drunks (1934)
338) Pups Is Pups (Our Gang) (1930)
339) Raging Bull (1980)
340) Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981)
341) Raisin In The Sun (1961)
342) Rear Window (1954)
343) Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
344) Red Dust (1932)
345) Red River (1948)
346) Regeneration (1915)
347) Reminiscences Of A Journey To Lithuania (1971-72)
348) Republic Steel Strike Riot Newsreel Footage (1937)
349) Return Of The Secaucus 7 (1980)
350) Ride The High Country (1962)
351) Rip Van Winkle (1896)
352) The River (1937)
353) Road To Morocco (1942)
354) Rocky (1976)
355) The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
356) Roman Holiday (1953)
357) Rose Hobart (1936)
358) Sabrina (1954)
359) Safety Last (1923)
360) Salesman (1969)
361) Salome (1922)
362) Salt Of The Earth (1954)
363) San Francisco Earthquake And Fire, April 18, 1906 (1906)
364) Scarface (1932)
365) Schindler's List (1993)
366) The Searchers (1956)
367) Serene Velocity (1970)
368) Seven Brides For Seven Brothers (1954)
369) Seventh Heaven (1927)
370) Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989)
371) The Sex Life Of The Polyp (1928)
372) Shadow Of A Doubt (1943)
373) Shadows (1959)
374) Shaft (1971)
375) Shane (1953)
376) She Done Him Wrong (1933)
377) Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
378) Sherman's March (1986)
379) Shock Corridor (1963)
380) The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
381) Show Boat (1936)
382) Show People (1928)
383) Siege (1940)
384) Singin' In The Rain (1952)
385) Sky High (1922)
386) Snow White (1933)
387) Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
388) Some Like It Hot (1959)
389) The Son Of The Sheik (1926)
390) The Sound Of Music (1965)
391) St. Louis Blues (1929)
392) Stagecoach (1939)
393) Star Is Born, A (1954)
394) Star Theatre (1901)
395) Star Wars (1977)
396) Steamboat Willie (1928)
397) The Sting (1973)
398) Stormy Weather (1943)
399) Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
400) A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
401) The Strong Man (1926)
402) Sullivan's Travels (1941)
403) Sunrise (1927)
404) Sunset Boulevard (1950)
405) Sweet Smell Of Success (1957)
406) Swing Time (1936)
407) Tabu (1931)
408) Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse (1940)
409) Tall T, The (1957)
410) The T.A.M.I. Show (1964)
411) Tarzan And His Mate (1934)
412) Taxi Driver (1976)
413) The Tell-Tale Heart (1953)
414) The Ten Commandments (1956)
415) Tess Of The Storm Country (1914)
416) Tevye (1939)
417) There It Is (1928)
418) The Thief Of Bagdad (1924)
419) The Thin Blue Line (1988)
420) The Thin Man (1934)
421) The Thing From Another World (1951)
422) Think Of Me First As A Person (1960-75)
423) This Is Cinerama (1952)
424) This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
425) Three Little Pigs (1933)
426) Through Navajo Eyes (Series) (1966)
427) A Time For Burning (1966)
428) A Time Out Of War (1954)
429) Tin Toy (1988)
430) To Be Or Not To Be (1942)
431) To Fly (1976)
432) To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
433) Tol'able David (1921)
434) Tom, Tom The Piper's Son (1960)
435) Tootsie (1982)
436) Top Hat (1935)
437) Topaz (1943-45) (Home Movie Footage Taken At Japanese American Internment Camp, The Topaz War Relocation Authority Center)
438) Touch Of Evil (1958)
439) Toy Story (1995)
440)Traffic In Souls (1913)
441) Trance And Dance In Bali (1936-39)
442) The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)
443) Trouble In Paradise (1932)
444) Tulips Shall Grow (1942)
445) 12 Angry Men (1957)
446) Twelve O'clock High (1949)
447) 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
448) Unforgiven (1992)
449) Verbena Tragica (1939)
450) Vertigo (1958)
451) The Wedding March (1928)
452) West Side Story (1961)
453) Westinghouse Works, 1904 (1904)
454) What's Opera, Doc? (1957)
455) Where Are My Children? (1916)
456) White Heat (1949)
457) Why Man Creates (1968)
458) Why We Fight (Series) (1943-45)
459) Wild And Wooly (1917)
460) The Wild Bunch (1969)
461) Wild River (1960)
462) Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
463) The Wind (1928)
464) Wings (1927)
465) Within Our Gates (1920)
466) The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
467) Woman Of The Year (1942)
468) A Woman Under The Influence (1974)
469) The Women (1939)
470) Woodstock (1970)
471) Wuthering Heights (1939)
472) Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
473) Young Frankenstein (1974)
474) Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
475) Zapruder Film (1963)

Dec 18, 2008

Which Belushi?

On my way to get some Thai food for lunch on Queen St., some drunk chick came up to me, waving a cigarette in front of my face said, "You look like Belushi.... around the mouth." I said, "Okay thanks", and kept on walking, not thinking to ask if she meant John or Jim.

Dec 11, 2008

Airborne Eddy made my day....

I was having another crummy day at work. I get a notification in my "inbox" stating that "Airborne Eddy" Dobosiewicz (AKA Maxwell Truth on Off Beat Cinema) added me as a friend on Facebook. That just made my day.

Nov 8, 2008

The Swimmer (1968)


This screening at Trash Palace was a special event, not just because it was personally delivered (in the nick of time) from Montreal, but it's also the favourite movie of TP's snack bar attendant, Dan The Mouth. (As such, you would often hear lines being uttered before they hit the screen.) The Swimmer is a feature-length expansion of a short story by John Cheever, scripted by Eleanor Perry, who had written a lot of films for her husband, director Frank Perry, and is surely another unusual film in his canon (Last Summer, Doc, to name a few).

In this tale, set in Cheever's familiar New England suburbia, Burt Lancaster decides to journey home by taking a swim in everyone's pools on the way. As the odyssey progresses, things get darker, and Lancaster is forced to confront ugly truths about himself, right up to its bizarre ending. It's been years since I've read the short story, but I admire how the Perry's have fleshed this out to a full-length film, where we take the time to learn about the unhappy suburbanites along the way. The dialogue is full of ruse, bitterness and sexual longing. And the allegorical nature of the piece is enhanced by Frank Perry's psychedelic touches that give the movie a dream-like effect.

It's hard to imagine a film like this getting out the gate today without worrying the bankers who run Hollywood (especially the scene with the teenage girl). One assumes that back in its day, the casting of Burt Lancaster helped to get this picture made. One is reminded of how often the actor would take risks on screen with unusual roles or scripts customarily given a Hollywood star (Executive Action, anyone?) After the screen fades, and the viewer is left to sort out the ending, to paraphrase the promotional ad, when they talk about The Swimmer, they talk about themselves.

Nov 7, 2008

El Super (1979)


In this very good comedy-drama, the spirit of Cuba lives on while in the dead of winter in New York City. This tale by Manuel Arce and Leon Ichaso (who also co-directed with Orlando Jiminez Leal) is largely set in the basement apartment of a building superintendent whose family and circle of friends are exiles from Cuba. The homeland lives on through their talks of politics and religion, and Cuban machismo is evident even in the smallish superintendent.

El Super is often very funny (as in the scene with the building inspector who pays a visit) and sometimes sad (Elizabeth Pena, in her first role, plays their rebellious daughter who becomes pregnant), but always thought-provoking. It is a film full of dreamers yearning for a better place outside these four walls.

Nov 6, 2008

Magnum Force (1973)


Since I saw Hal Holbrook the day before in All the President's Men, I decided to give another look to Magnum Force, perhaps the most low-key and surely the most character-driven of all films of the "Dirty Harry" franchise. (All of the subsequent films after this second installment largely became live-action cartoons.) In this film, the tough cop Dirty Harry meets his match when a bunch of motorcycle cops act as a vigilante force (among them, David Soul!) who are assassinating big-time crooks who manage to escape justice.

The pace is slow, and the mood is mannered to say the least, but it is interesting to see this automaton superhero as a human being for a change, as we see his humble lifestyle after hours, and Harry even has a love interest! (How's this for a writing team- John Milius and Michael Cimino!) Director Ted Post was a TV veteran, whose sporadic theatrical films showed those origins with economic storytelling and rather flat mise en scene. And despite the generous display of sex and violence, all of the frissons here seem on the level of an episode of "Baretta". Still, I put this flick on every ten years or so, because it has an interesting feel, and this would be one of the few times until the 1990's that Clint Eastwood wouldn't play someone so larger than life. Hal Holbrook, who plays the over-zealous police lieutenant, said in an interview that he gladly accepted this role, because after doing films like The Group and The People Next Door, he would finally appear in a movie that people would actually see! And to be sure, four decades later, people will still line up to see anything with Clint Eastwood. God help me, I just know I'll line up to see Gran Torino.

Nov 5, 2008

All The President's Men (1976)

Every time this is on television, I put it on "just for a minute", and end up watching the whole thing. All the President's Men is perhaps the most exciting movie ever made with people on the phone for most of its running time. Director Alan J. Pakula is a master of low-key thrillers, sustaining a mood just with having people talk. But since this movie is about Watergate, and how Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story, one is reminded how true life can have the most fantastic stories of all. What holds me captive every time I watch it, is its remarkably complex story, as subplots burst out of every scene that the men dig deeper into the Watergate robbery, which would eventually lead to Nixon's resignation.

I thought it would be a darkly amusing film to watch on Election Day, considering that the crimes Tricky Dicky committed in his reign seem like chump change compared to the antics of the current administration that is mercifully leaving soon. Despite that the story becomes more serpentine as it goes along, the film seems deceptively simple, as many scenes play out in simple takes, music is seldom used to sustain suspense, and cinematographer Gordon Willis' signature underexposed look gives the everyday a feel of mystery. This is a textbook on how to make a terrific thriller without bombastic music, rapid editing for the attention-deficient, or pyrotechnics for the brain-free. Instead, here is a suspense film that refreshingly knows the story is the thing, and the subtle approach to the technical aspect creates the maximum effect.

Still, William Goldman's screenplay lends to a great character-driven film. Not only do Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman make indelible impressions as underdog reporters who futz their way to a Pulitzer, but the film is full of great character players who do so much with so little screen time: Ned Beatty, Lindsay Crouse, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, Jason Robards (in his Oscar-winning role as the Post editor Ben Bradlee), and of course, Hal Holbrook in his fleeting appearances as Deep Throat. "Follow the money!"

They sure don't make them like this anymore.

Nov 4, 2008

The Mechanic (1972)


Once Upon a Time in the West IS the greatest film ever made, for those who aren't already aware of this fact. And as such, this should qualify as my favourite Charles Bronson movie. But my favourite "Bronson vehicle", that is all of the action films in the 70s and 80s that were specifically made for his persona (rather than the film above being simply a larger canvas that Charlie immersed in), would be The Mechanic. Therefore, on the date of his birthday (egad- he would be 86 today), I felt it fitting to have another, long-lost look at this crackerjack action film.

This is a marvelous example of Bronson's appeal, and a reminder of the diverse roles he was still playing before doing one routine Cannon film after another, still gunning down bad guys in his 70's. (In current cinema, if the trailer for Gran Torino is to be believed, it appears that Clint Eastwood is now suffering from Charles Bronson Disease.) In The Mechanic, Bronson plays the hitman Arthur Bishop, who recruits a young protege (Jan-Michael Vincent) to help out once he realizes the stress of the job is becoming too much. The organization, however, is displeased with this arrangement. Lewis John Carlino's script digs deeper than simply providing a cat-and-mouse action thriller (despite that there is plenty of action and thrills), and provides a three-dimensional portrait of Bishop's life. Between assignments, we see Bishop in his comfortable abode, in robes, smoking a pipe, listening to classical music, and admiring fine art. Yet he is still emotionally hollow. Perhaps the most telling scene is a brief interlude with a prostitute (played by Mrs. Bronson, Jill Ireland), who has to write for him some memories to have!

Michael Winner (who made many Bronson films) keeps the film going at an exciting pace, and also has a great eye for detail (love that opening where we see how intricately Bishop plots someone's death). Jerry Fielding's jazz score is also great, definitely giving this picture a vintage 70's feel. This is much more engaging than many of the Bronson pictures that were to come, is a reminder of the time when its star was still getting unique roles.

Nov 3, 2008

Red (1970)

In the summer, I underwent my annual employment of digitizing the latest edition of Hunkajunk for Dion Conflict, and was especially entranced by a trailer for a Canadian film named Red. Ironically, only a few weeks earlier I had picked up a VHS of said film in a bin for two bucks. Upon seeing it was an early Gilles Carle film, and having had Canadian cinema back on the brain thanks to the efforts of one Jonathan Culp, I took it to the cashier without hesitation. Watching the trailer made me want to see it even more. We often question the truth in advertising, and in the case of this mouthwatering trailer (which is black and white, even though the film it promotes is in colour), the advertising is a half-truth. The ad we saw promotes this movie as a revenge melodrama piece of exploitation, but that is really only part of this fascinating film.

In past writings, I had often likened Canadian cinema (circa 1968-73) to the French New Wave, British "Kitchen Sink films", or even American independent works of the 1960's (specifically Shadows). Our films of this period share much with those influential movements, such as experimentation of film form, "on-the-street" docudrama approach, yet all done with a proper dose of playfulness. And each of these movements had a cultural icon which defined them: the French had Belmondo in Breathless, the British had John Osborne, and America had Ben Carruthers. If we were to think of our own cultural icon from this period, the common (yet not incorrect) answer would be Joey and Pete from Goin' Down the Road. However, now, I'm not so sure. Perhaps our true answer to this equation would be Daniel Pilon's titular character in Red.

And further, Red is perhaps the ancestor of both things that Canadian cinema would become: self-conscious art-film and Canuxploitation. It is torn between two disciplines much like the central character. Red is a hustler who ekes out a living in urban life in Quebec, but still revisits his native heritage. When his sister is killed, and he is blamed for the murder, he spends time in the wilderness with his people while he bides time to decide his fate. Whether driving in his fast car through the skeletal freeway system or placidly boating through a lake, Red is equally at home, yet both of these worlds collide.

The first hour of this film is dizzying, as there are more story threads than in most commercial movies. We see Red blurring between scenes with his mother, his siblings who work at a construction site, and various chippies along the way, until the movie converges to a singular plot line about his escape from authority and ultimate revenge. But Red continues to surprise us. It subtly lets the viewer study and understand his complex relationships without having to over-explain them. Plus, the movie's consistent shifts in tone, and some geniunely bizarre moments (like a bachelor party that initially resembles a wake), always veer this revenge melodrama from its conventional path.

Red is a marvel of Canadian cinema that assuredly will reward with multiple viewings. It is a movie so complex and unconventional for the art house crowd, but still has lots of sex and violence for the drive-in. Like its central character, it has the best of both worlds.

Nov 2, 2008

Plague (1978)


When Trash Palace showed Plague (1978) in January, I sadly couldn't attend the screening because I had the plague, and was too sick to leave the house. This thirtieth anniversary screening also featured an appearance by Barry Pearson, who co-authored the screenplay for this thriller with the director, Ed Hunt. Since it was still the thirtieth year of Plague, the folks at TP decided to do an encore performance on the Saturday evening of their Halloween weekend extravaganza. Sadly, Mr. Pearson wasn't in attendance this time, for if he was, I would've bombarded him with questions about Ed Hunt.

To some of us regular Trash Palace denizens (as well as some others in my social circle who are interested in Canuxploitation), the mention of Ed Hunt's name brings forth quirky enthusiasm. For my money, the man's name will live on for being the brainchild behind Canada's only science fiction masterpiece, Starship Invasions (1977). Perhaps he is better known for his daft films from the 80's (Bloody Birthday, Alien Warrior, The Brain) before disappearing from the director's chair. Twenty years on, his small oeuvre of strange films deserves rediscovery. (In his early career, he helmed a couple of naughty movies, as well as two paranormal docs-- the creepy UFOs Are Real, and the elusive Point of No Return, which is high on our list of lost films to search and rescue.)

Plague is another interesting Ed Hunt movie which has fallen off the radar. Like many of the director's films, it was only briefly on video, and has never appeared on DVD. My sole encounter with it was an airing on Global television one evening in 1987, and while I didn't think much of it at the time, a certain mystique had formed with the movie, especially since I became more familiar with its creator.

In this tale, a plague is spreading through Toronto because of a leak from a laboratory. While people are dying all over the city, the scientists at the lab (namely Daniel Pilon and Kate Reid) are put under quarantine, and work around the clock for an antidote. Meanwhile, Celine Lomez (who is HOT HOT HOT) escapes a quarantined hospital, and unknowingly causes more deaths from the plague she carries, yet she is immune (a device that is never explained).

Despite the endless padding of far too many extreme closeups of organisms squiggling on a microscope slide, and some admittedly shoddy production values, this amiable piece of schlock is nonetheless fast-moving and enjoyable, especially when witnessed in a screening room of hecklers who now view the film with post-modern irony.

But despite how we think of the cinema of Ed Hunt (a friend of mine once referred to him as Canada's own Ed Wood), this guy however "had something". I admire his panache (or some might say, "overkill") in creating a sense of paranoia with oblique camera angles, anamorphic lenses and jagged editing. Actually, my favourite moments in the film are those of urban warfare: when two guys attempt to break out of the lab and shoot it out with the cops, and when a bunch of hosers (from Mississauga?) open fire on the army officers that barricade an escape route. (This film couldn't have been made 20 years later-- the army would've been shoveling snow for mayor Mel.)

Sep 30, 2008

What Was The Word?


At the time it was hard for me to believe that a year had elapsed since I was at Queens Park during Word on the Street. It felt like I was just here, peddling the "VHS RIP" issue. After an extra long winter and a too-short summer, the fall roared into action, and as usual I was barely prepared to launch the new issue, despite the fact that all summer I was moving at a fine clip gathering research for ESR's latest incarnation, the tribute to late-night television, and before I knew it, what with a huge work schedule and feeling of lethargy after hours, I had once again broken a promise to myself not to indulge in this "night before" crunch that always happens.

Saturday afternoon, it was bloody obvious that the new issue wasn't going to exist for the next day, which would be ESR's fifth appearance at Word on the Street. After an anxiety attack (no doubt brought on by overtired-ness), I had succumbed to the realization that I wasn't going to get the new issue done in time, and also pondered not even going to the fair at all. Seriously. With all the stress and frustration in my life, I was not only getting worked up about doing this magazine, but also felt embarrassed about being so. Susan then came up with the brilliant suggestion to cut the issue down. I was still struggling over the content for the midsection, and deep down I knew my heart just wasn't into the content of this section. Since all of the more "personal" stuff (which bookended it) had been completed, I published the issue without its middle, and the result was seamless. (Ultimately, the research I had accumulated for this midsection had been for naught, but I do intend to use it still in a future issue.) And as usual, the new issue debuted under the wire.

Despite my negative feelings the day before, 2008's Word on the Street proved to be a rewarding experience, if in spirit, and not necessarily in coins. (Financially speaking, this was my second-worst year at the show.) Serendipitously, having a smaller (and therefore cheaper) issue helped to move more copies. This industry has become more nickel-and-dime than ever, so it would seem that that for future issues (not including special one-shots like the Corman scrapbook), perhaps smaller would be better. It was encouraging getting notions to "keep it up" from some of the regular readers (one easily forgets why we do what we do), and I am also grateful for the volunteers who really showed up this year, thus making the day move fast, with some fun along the way. So, ladies and gentlemen, for your pleasure, here is the new ESR.. "A Tribute to Late Night Television". It would be remiss without thanking Mike and Anj for helping out on the day, Simon and David for contributing to the new issue, and of course, my deepest thanks go to Susan for her spiritual advisement. Enjoy.

Sep 27, 2008

ESR presented... Dogpound Shuffle


Way back in the eighties, I encountered a film title called Dogpound Shuffle while browsing through the TV Guide at 2 AM, was intrigued by its quirky synopsis, and switched over to Channel 11. And I was hooked. 20 years later, I had found a used VHS copy of the film (which had fleetingly been released by Key Video) and was delighted to see that it still worked its charms. (I had mentioned this re-discovery in one of my first ever blog postings.) Last year, I had the good fortune of finding a 16mm print, and had waited for a good opportunity to show it.

As of this writing, Dogpound Shuffle would be the fourth film I had shown at Trash Palace (with the exception of contributing to the educational film festival in the summer), and this was the film I was most looking forward to show. It didn't matter to me if only two people showed up-- to me, this film is an object of beauty, and I just wanted it to be seen. This screening was truly done out of love-- any prospect of making money was secondary to me.

This little fable, shot in Vancouver in the mid-1970's, features Ron Moody (from Oliver!) as a hobo (and former tap dancer) whose beloved dog Spot is captured by the dog catcher. Along comes David Soul (pre-"Starsky and Hutch") as a tramp who can play a mean tune on the harmonica (that is, when he doesn't have something to eat in his hand), and so the two former a music-and-dance act to raise the thirty bucks to get the dog out of the pound!

To my delight, this was one of the most satisfying screenings I've done anywhere. The audience ate the film up-- they laughed at all the right places, and were also moved at all the proper spots. And you just had to be there, to witness a bunch of forty-year-old tattooed males go "Awwww" when Spot does his little dance. What a night-- at the end, I was refreshed as though I drank from the holy mountain. I know my deepest thanks to Stacey and Dan, not just for inviting me into the Trash Palace family, but for allowing me to take a chance and show a film like this.

Sep 13, 2008

Massacre At Central High (1976)


Last night, Trash Palace showed the 1976 cult film, Massacre At Central High, featuring Derrell Maury as the new kid in school seeks revenge on the mean "in crowd" preppies who maimed him. But there's a lot more going on with this flick than a traditional revenge melodrama.

Instead, writer-director Renee Daalder's alleogory is rather political, where all of the different cliques in school symbolize different "special interest groups" or social hierarchies. And ultimately, the moral is, all parties become corrupt with the seductive image of power. What makes this film even more surreal is the glaringly obvious absence of adults (parents or teachers)-- thus, one could call this Lord of the Flies Goes to High School. (Curiously, elderly people appear at the bizarre climax at a school dance.)

I had first caught this flick on video in 1990, yet this screening made me appreciate the film all the more-- perhaps because one can read more into it at an advanced age. And maybe at the time, all I wanted was some good old drive-in exploitation. This curio also features early roles for Andrew Stevens (as the nice preppie) and Robert Carradine (as the stoned-out guru). And look who's playing in Carradine's love den: drive-in starlet Rainbeaux Smith, and Lani O'Grady from "Eight is Enough!" And for the "Whatever Happened to..." quotient, there's the talented beauty Kimberly Beck as the nice preppie's girlfriend. (Her beach scene--- wow!)

Despite a few violent scenes, Massacre At Central High is more than drive-in trash- however there are enough thrills and interesting ideas to please fans of both high and low culture. Kudos again to Trash Palace for showing another essential piece of yesteryear still not on DVD, yet on a screen where it belongs.

Sep 7, 2008

Sudden Fury


This Friday's screening at Trash Palace featured the 1975 Canadian film, Sudden Fury, with its writer-director Brian Damude in attendance for a fun Q&A session after the movie.

This thriller is a nifty cat-and-mouse game about a loser who lets his estranged wife die from her injuries in a car accident so he can get the insurance money to invest in another of his get-rich-quick schemes. A good Samaritan witnesses the crash, and then the killer ingeniously devises a way to implicate him with the crime. The cast of unknowns (save for rising star Hollis McLaren as the farmer's wife) is uniformly excellent, and the movie is beautifully shot and edited. Proof positive you can make a crackerjack movie with so little means.

While this suspense film was well regarded in its day (and Damude, who shot the film during his continued tenure at Ryerson, lived comfortably off of the movie's receipts for a few years), it has been forgotten by most, and therefore this revival was quite a treat. This is why we need to support TP-- not just to see films you wouldn't find anywhere else, but to see them in their proper milieu- projected onto a screen, shared with other enthusiasts.

Sep 2, 2008

Fun With Dick and Kate

This weekend, TCM had a 24-hour marathon of Katharine Hepburn movies. One of the surprises in the schedule was an episode of Dick Cavett's show, where the host finally managed to coerce the movie star to do an interview on that hideous thing called television. She came in for what was supposed to be a dry run, cameras ran without her knowledge, and we get this.

Here is the prelude to this show, where Kate bitches about the furniture and the rugs. Feisty till the end-- it's hilarious. Enjoy.

When You're Hot You're Hot: RIP Jerry Reed


As much as I enjoy country music, I admit to being far from a connoisseur of it, and where Jerry Reed is concerned, I of course remember him most from the movies. Reed, who died today of emphysema at the age of 71, admit that his acting was questionable, citing his onscreen motivation as "money", had a string of hits in the 1970's that crossed over from the country charts into pop culture, including "When You're Hot You're Hot" (which was the main theme of WSEE-TV 35 in Erie when I was a kid), and was quite a popular figure on the big and small screen during the "good ole boy" craze of the 1970's.

Just this summer, I had been writing about The Concrete Cowboys -a 1979 TV-movie which spawned a short-lived series of the same name- for inclusion in an upcoming ESR vidcast, and was pleasantly reminded of how much of an engaging performer he was on screen- doubly so when Jonathan programmed High Ballin' this summer. Reed was perhaps a bit too self-deprecating of his worth, because as an actor he had a unique charisma and vitality. Of course he is best known for the Smokey and the Bandit pictures, and before the "good ole boy" genre finally wheezed its last breath in the 1980's, he directed himself in What Comes Around, another film we'll be talking about at a future date. Later in life he appeared in Bat 21, and the Adam Sandler vehicle The Waterboy. On screen or stage, he was a truly engaging performer, and he will be missed.

Aug 31, 2008

My Winnipeg


During the Sunday afternoon matinee, while watching My Winnipeg, I reminded myself of just how little of Guy Maddin's recent work I've seen. Other than his note-perfect short Heart of the World, I would -gasp- have to go back to Careful in 1992! Oh my. Granted, there is only so much time on one's hands, and certain circumstances or particular moods govern what we see at any moment, but I sheepishly confess I will have to get caught up on Maddin's most recent work this fall.

And based on his most recent film, My Winnipeg, Maddin just might be the modern saviour of cinema, although I'm sure this humble man wouldn't be comfortable with such a superlative title. And here in self-conscious Canada, we certainly do need a cinematic voice again. For my tastes, the once-distinctive styles of Cronenberg and Egoyan have both become bland. But 20 years after his first feature, Tales from Gimli Hospital, Guy Maddin's singular style has not only remained a joy to behold, but he continues to make arresting and challenging pictures like this.

This seriocomic, quasi-autobiographical part love-letter / poison pen about his native Winnipeg weaves truth and fiction, and conveys a dream-like state much like the ominprescent sleeping travellers that permeate the movie (and apparently, Winnipeg too). The present folds in with the past as Maddin laments over the destruction of great institutions in The Peg, and even attempts to come to terms with old familial scars by hiring actors to play his family circa 1963. Reality blends with the woozy atmosphere as some local celebrities pay themselves, adding to the feel as the film walks that thin line between conscious and subconscious thought much like the nodding train riders.

Shot in crisp black and white (what beautiful snow!), Maddin's style is of course evocative of silent films -especially German expressionism- and uses old cinematic devices like the rear-screen projection unit to convey a perfect dream-world. And in further reverence to the creaky old movies that Guy Maddin loves, Ann Savage (yes, that Ann Savage from the B-noir classic Detour) plays his domineering mother, playing the film's Oedipal card to the hilt.

Alternately hilarious and hypnotic, this is a real tour-de-force-- a note-perfect marriage of form and content. My Winnipeg is wildly experimental with its layered images, frenetic editing, and use of title cards to add another level of narrative. However one needn't be schooled in 100 years of alternate film history to appreciate it. The film is universal and playful enough that any open-minded audience can enjoy it.

My Winnipeg works on so many levels that a mere blog rave cannot do it justice, yet it is a film I would gleefully visit several times. Maybe this will be on DVD before Christmas. It would be a perfect thing to watch in our homes while sheltered from the cold, as the endless winter surrounds the sleepwalking characters on screen.

God bless Guy Maddin-- it's been a long time since my faith has been restored in new cinema.

Aug 25, 2008

Spaghetti Western Double Bill!




Friday August 29, 9:30 PM, ESR teams up with Trash Palace to co-present a Spaghetti Western Double Bill!

That's right gang, it's two Italian western classics for the price of one, with The Hellbenders, a lesser-known but terrific western from the mighty Sergio Corbucci (of Django fame), and then Yul Brynner stars in Adios Sabata. These flicks have all the fancy gunplay and cool soundtrack music you could want.

Tickets are five bucks each, on sale at:
Tequila Bookworm
512 Queen St. W.
Toronto

The location for Trash Palace is on the ticket. Hope to see you there!

The G-Man Says... Action


Well now that Word on the Street is approaching, I suppose I can slowly begin revealing details to both of my readers: the fall issue of ESR is devoting itself entirely to the spirit of late night television, and this launch will also coincide with the debut of ESR online, where yours truly recaptures the essence of what it used to mean to stay up late and watch a movie, by introducing a movie and making the experience seem vintage. Over the next few months, ESR TV will be releasing new vidcasts of "ESR Late Nite".

Saturday August 23 was spent at our old haunt Center for the Arts shooting inserts for the show: some straight-up to camera, some with wacky vignettes-- all different approaches to capture that late-night feel I choose to preserve. This was the first time in three years I had shot anything of my own, and to say I was rusty (although most of my day was before the camera) was an understatement. Suffice to say, I didn't get as much done as I had hoped, and plan to shoot some more soon. As we get closer to the official launch date, I can reveal some more details then. But for now, I would be remiss if I failed to give my thanks to Susan, David and especially Simon and Jeff (you two guys are natural hams).

Aug 18, 2008

RIP Isaac Hayes

Grilled Cheese Sandwich


Thursday August 14, we were treated to a screening of Jonathan Culp's narrative feature Grilled Cheese Sandwich. Having seen much of his earlier collage filmmaking (including the masterful It Can Happen Here, which I still owe some proper space to analyze), I was delighted to find that this narrative film is of a complexity that structurally resembles his earlier work, and also explores the socio-political concerns that has similarly interested him.

While this shot-on-video feature, set in "Grimsville", is about some social misfits in school that start a "grilled cheese sandwich" club, ultimately this too is a collage-- a mosaic featuring a much larger cast of characters than you would normally find in a project of this nature. And the more I watched, the more I was hooked by these eccentric people whose lives weave into that of the central character, a punkette who drifts from one dead-end "customer service" job to another, all engaging in their pop-cultural-political dialogues. In addition to writing, directing, photographing and editing, Jonathan also wrote some of the songs, including the immortal "Grimsville Sucks!" (MP3, please?)

But despite the interesting undercurrents, the characters in Grilled Cheese Sandwich are easily identifiable to any social misfit who awkwardly grew up in a small town, pining for some mysterious place called "Toronto". But you needn't take my word for it. Visit Jonathan's website here and order yourself a copy.

Aug 16, 2008

Great Canadian Comic Books and Exploitation


This week at Trash Palace, fellow programmer Jonathan Culp presented another film in his ongoing exploration of Canadian tax shelter movies, in which Canucks had made indigenous commercially viable product with second-tier American stars, truly attempting a Hollywood north. Tonight's picture was the trucker epic, High Ballin', with Jerry Reed and Peter Fonda as truckers who go against some crooks who are ambushing drivers. From the look of the poster above, and even while watching the film at first, one feels this is going to be an enjoyable "good ole boy" romp (even though you can guess who the bad guy is fairly quickly). But this movie gets real mean, and turns into a dark, bleak revenge melodrama, aided I think in no small measure by the Canadian winters which substitute the sun-drenched southern highways that usually populate these films. Also on hand is Canadian actress Helen Shaver, who is really cute as a spunky, tomboyish pistol-packing truck-driving mama. (Try to imagine who would have played her role if this was made in the US: Bernadette Peters? Annie Potts?)

Jonathan prefaced the feature with the engaging short The Great Canadian Comic Books, a documentary about Canada's comic book industry during the second world war, filling the need for reading material when their American counterparts weren't being distributed north of the border during wartime, where heroes like Johnny Canuck and Nelvana of the Northern Lights combated evil forces. And once American superheroes re-appeared on Canadian shelves, unsurprisingly the Canadian publishers closed up shop. This film was made around the time that a book of the same name was published- one I remember from my comic-book-obsessed childhood, as I had withdrawn it from the public school library innumerable times. The movie is a fun nostalgia trip, and decidedly Canadian in approach-- humble, unassuming. (Martin Lavut, the director of Remembering Arthur, is one of the voices in the film.)

This was a perfect pairing of films-- the short was about a Canadian industry that was influenced by American product, yet was distinctly Canadian in identity. High Ballin' is a film similarly influenced by American cinema, and tries to be American in approach, but our Canadian identity still pokes through. Both are interesting pieces of our cultural identity-- part of our secret history shown in this secret cinema.

Aug 10, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the CGI Monster


Is my Medicare paid up?


Oh sure, I rhapsodize about B-movies and underground cinema, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a summer blockbuster once in a while. And in truth, I was really looking forward to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, heralding the return of Indiana Jones to the screen in almost 20 years. (1989's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is in my opinion the best of the series, not just for its non-stop adventure, but for the wisdom to subtly laugh at itself.) Let's face it, Harrison Ford is no spring chicken, but at first this movie wisely lets Jones act his own age, setting the film in the Cold War, so that the hero is indeed 20 years older, just like the actor who plays him. And it's great fun seeing him performing all this derring-do in an older man's body, as he properly miscalcuates a few moves and moans about his aches and pains. And since this is set in the 1950's during the Cold War, this time Indy is combating the Russians instead of the Nazis, there's no short supply of cartoonish over-the-top maniacal villains to outwit. Just when I thought Cate Blanchett was going to play Katharine Hepburn for the rest of her life, here she is in a Louise Brooks haircut as the cold villain. (It's not a stretch to imagine a dominatrix outfit underneath the gray uniform.)

And for the first half hour-- I was absolutely hooked. From the big fight in the warehouse and the atomic blast right up to the chase imploding the school library, I totally bought this popcorn entertainment. Like its predecessor in general, during this time, the movie is not only thrilling, but it pokes fun at itself. And it even appears this will continue to be a fun ride, once the plot kicks in, gamely attempting a revisionist history combining the Mayans with Roswell! But after that point it strictly becomes by-the-numbers, as the heroes become as rubbery as all the CGI effects thrown their way. Suddenly these people stop being human, and thereby the suspense goes out the window, and just becomes one setpiece after another, strung together to please those with attention deficiency disorder. It is great seeing Indy with a younger sidekick (Shia LaBoeuf), and Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood (perhaps the only heroine to hold her own with Indy), but all that fanfare is for naught, as her screen time is given a big "So what?". Still the main culprit is the screenplay, which can't do a thing with such promising material and gives these characters little to do except grow rubber limbs and strangely remain impervious to every pitfall that comes along. Too bad.

It may sound ridiculous critiquing a summer blockbuster movie as it's made with a certain agenda, but this starts by promising something more than just by-the-numbers popcorn. For all the money they spent on this, they couldn't find a proper scenario to string it all together with. Ultimately Spielberg falls prey to the summer blockbuster formula that his string of films helped create, yet his films stood apart from their progeny because they didn't forsake good characterizations and storytelling. That's why this ultimately ends up as an amiable disappointment. Call this Indiana Jones in Search of a Script.

Aug 5, 2008

FLAMING CREATURES OVER RICHMOND... OR, I Survived a Jack Smith Festival.... Film at 11


Last weekend I attended a retrospective of Jack Smith films at Pleasuredome. This collective has been screening independent-experimental works for almost two decades now, and sadly this is a venue I don't attend enough. (They usually screen Saturday nights when it is the least easy for me to get out.) It was P-Dome who in the 1990's held the Toronto premiere of Jack Smith's infamous 1963 Flaming Creatures, which had long been suppressed by censors. (To my knowledge, a ban imposed upon the film in the state of Massachusetts during the 1960's has never been lifted.)

Shot on a rooftop in one afternoon, Smith's 43-minute opus is basically the exclamation point of most of his cinema, as a Bowery-level valentine to Maria Montez and her exotic pictures for Universal in the 1940's. Jack Smith's films largely attempt to evoke a dime-store-level exotica with underground superstars in thrift-store costumes striking histrionic poses while the soundtrack is typically filled with tinny scratchy 78 rpms, further lending itself to the antiquity and otherworldliness. Flaming Creatures however was a taboo film in its day for its onscreen genitalia (male and female), and while today it is hard to get offended over seeing flaccid penises and sagging breasts, certainly this movie won him some notoriety, and arguably, remains his last work in any form of completion. His subsequent works, including the magnum opus Normal Love, remained in tatters, largely because he would continue to chop up his films into segments for live performances where he would score the movies on the spot with the crates of records he would cart along.

After he died in 1989, his works remained in such tatters, and his archivist Jerry Tartaglia would carefully reconstruct them to Smith's initial intent. To be sure, Jack Smith was one of the most colourful and unique figures in all of cinema, but I confess to getting bored really fast by his films, which are frustrating to sit through, and even more once considers that Smith intended to irritate us. However, since getting the chance to see any work of Jack Smith, let alone on a big screen, is about as rare as seeing a decent performance by Julia Roberts, and because I am always willing to be proven otherwise, I raced down to see the collection of pictures that were presented by Tartaglia.

It was surely a novel setting- where Smith's tinny exotica unspooled in the courtyard of 401 Richmond while the stars shone above (and mosquitoes attacked full force). Seeing the dull gaze of the movie screen reflect upon the winding staircase also evokes an otherworldly feeling, befitting that of what is on screen. And despite that Smith succeeds in creating a unique atmosphere on film, even more impressive in that he does it with scraps, this screening still didn't change my mind about Jack Smith. I find his work not so much dull as infuriatingly uneven- and even more that these films were indirectly designed that way.

And it isn't really that you watch Smith for any kind of storytelling, but there is seldom any structure, and truthfully little of interest happens on screen as watching a bunch of people lying around in sarongs gets tiresome really fast. The collection Jack Smith Super8 Films, made circa 1975-1985 at first has some pretense of narrative despite that what we're seeing is edited-in-camera reels, with some pretty good lobster monster, and then the movie shifts to endless shots of litter. Sinbad of Baghdad, shot on Super8 in 1978, is impressive for its exotic look, where Smith makes a costume epic on the beach of Coney Island, but is formless. I Was a Male Yvonne DeCarlo, completed in 1970, features Smith himself, as does Song for Rent (1968-9), with Smith playing his alter ego Rose Courtyard, while Kate Smith's "God Bless America" is on the soundtrack. At least DeCarlo has some attempt at structure as it is bookended by shots of a wrecking ball demolishing an old theater. In this regard, the film is a testament about the end of the kind of cinema that Jack Smith holds dear. In fact, this and Sinbad are interesting for the way in which his manufactured worlds are in conflict with the real world. The wrecking ball invades the fragile landscape Smith likes to preserve, and alternately, the actors of Sinbad run through the crowds of Coney Island while in their movie garb, as bemused spectators look on.

When Smith died in 1989, (I am paraphrasing from Tartaglia in the Q&A), not only was his estate a mess, but so was his body of work (and all the more saddening is that he made it so for people to sort out). Kudos to Tartaglia for carefully restoring and re-assembling his work as best as he could to their original glory. But the more work I see of Smith's, the more I realize that his interesting, colourful personality supercedes his work. He sure knows how to set an atmosphere, but ultimately, of the seven or eight films I've seen to date, I have yet to see a Jack Smith film that is consistently interesting. If we were to compare his work even with those of his contemporaries in the so-called Baudelarian cinema of the early 1960's, that made heartfelt valentines to trash, it is neither as clever or fun as the Kuchar brothers' and not as challenging or weirdly beautiful as that of Ron Rice. But for all that, because Smith's personality is surely one of the most unique and interesting in all of cinema, if someone dug out a print of No President or Wino for a screening tomorrow, I would nonetheless run down to see it. And even if I once again walked away disappointed, well in some way Jack Smith has succeeded. He has created an aura about himself that will continue to draw people in, still attempting to figure him out.


Postscript:

The evening ended with a long Q&A session, with much of it devoted to Tartaglia's first-hand account of the troubles with Mary Jordan and her documentary on Smith. When someone asked him about it, he replied "Well it doesn't take long for people to get to the bad stuff, doesn't it?". But he was practically inviting the audience to ask him about it, as he carefully hinted at such things in his introduction. Suffice to say, there were legal problems resulting with not only Smith's estranged sister (who initially wanted his stuff destroyed after his death, only then to sue for royalties when she realized it had some artistic worth), but with Mary Jordan, who was suing Tartaglia and others who knew Jack Smith, from withholding materials which were essential for her to complete her documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis.

All of these legal issues have been resolved, but understandably the bitterness remains, as Tartaglia peppered his monologues about Mary Jordan, largely painting her as a giddy outsider who knew nothing about Jack, and after all her invading old ghosts, his testament was that she still ended up with a skin-deep documentary that still doesn't scratch the surface of his work. And twice did he make allusions to the fact that she used a clip from one of tonight's films, but criticized her for not using the music that accompanied it. Well, I can't remember this scene in Jordan's documentary (which by the way I liked very much), let alone in what context she used it. Ultimately, it is obviously Tartaglia who received the short end of the stick in these matters, as his years spent preserving Smith's work, didn't necessarily line his pockets with silver, and so I can understand his frustration, but I sense another argument underneath all this.

When I saw Jordan's documentary in Toronto last year, the place was packed with many more spectators than those who saw Jack Smith here in person in 1984, and, let's face it, more than who came out to see tonight's films. If anything, I detect a lot of resentment from Smith's inner circle that this outsider has made a commercially digestible documentary, which ironically made a pop portrait of an artist who resisted commerce, and certainly whose work was not digestible for the mainstream. But in truth, I don't think she changed anyone's mind about Smith, but perhaps introduced his work to many more people that otherwise wouldn't have experienced it if they weren't among the few who had seen it in small group venues such as this. What's wrong with that? I don't think it's sacrilegious to make a large populace aware of one's work. Commerce will not taint Jack Smith-- no one is going to be running around in a "Flaming Creatures" T-shirt (as cool as that might be), and Smith's films will still be relegated to the exaltations of the privileged few in small cine-clubs. If anything, she positively nailed the dichotomy of Smith's personality and work-- and ultimately the controversy surrounding her film made the movie another example of the difficult issues surrounding Smith's work. Somewhere in neverneverland, Jack Smith is rejoicing at yet another mess.

Aug 2, 2008

Education is Bliss


On Wednesday night, my fellow Trash Palace programmer Jonathan Culp had written me for contributions to that Friday night's Educational Film Night at the theatre. I had already planned on showing up and throwing in a couple of films for good will, but I was delightfully surprised to be more involved in a greater capacity. Since Stacey was out of town this night, Jonathan and I co-hosted, and he projected (tried though I did, I still haven't mastered the quirks of the mighty TP projector). The show comprised of collections from the vaults of Jonathan, my own, and those of Rob Cruickshank (who periodically brought ephemeral shorts to precede TP features, and had left some for us to screen in absentia), divided into three segments, giving people a couple of intermissions to eat, drink and be merry.

Some of Rob's safety shorts were priceless, as was Jonathan's amazing Linda's Film On Menstruation (which pretty much tells it all). Yet the highlight was the second section of the show, or "the celebrity hour". Jonathan offered up Meadowlark Lemon Presents The World and a completely dumbfounding cartoon cautioning kids from molesters, featuring Fat Albert and the gang! My contribution was the hilarious Billion Dollar Ripoff (seen above) with Casey Kasem wearing one godawful 70's suit after another, telling us all about employee theft.

Tonight I had planned on showing some of the films I bought from Skot Deeming three years ago, including At Your Fingertips: Boxes, which we couldn't thread, so instead I put on Mexican Village Life and finally managed to fulfill my ambition in unleashing Duke Thomas: Mailman to the world. While my film prints of educational shorts leave something to be desired, especially in view of what Jonathan and Rob had at their disposal, I was happy and honoured to be invited to take part in this event.

It was a gentle reminder of when ESR ran its own Educational Film night (albeit on video) two years ago-- there's a built-in audience of eccentrics who appear out of the darkness specifically for these films, and tonight was no exception. Minus the exploits of one loud patron (whose beer I had mop up at the end of the night), the 60 or so customers were well-behaved and enjoyed themselves. I love too how one guy came up and started reviewing Duke Thomas: "Why was this made?" Why, indeed! Most of tonight's films were perhaps misguided in their scare tactics to educate impressionable young minds, and that's why we love this ephemera so.

Jul 24, 2008

Dion Does Greta


Last week, I went to see Dion Conflict's addition to the 3D Fest at the Fox Cinema. Along the way, I laughed to myself that the only screenings I've been at for six weeks were either at Trash Palace or The Fox! And ironically, the three times I've been to the Fox in the past six years were for Dion screenings-- the first was The Stewardesses in 2002. (On a trademark Greg Woods sidenote, I should also mention that I have yet to go to a screening this year, where I haven't run into someone I'm not on a first-name basis with. I love the little surrogate family that grows in these supporters of such independent events.)

My prejudicial assumption of having to travel out to hell's half acre to see something at the Fox is fast eroding, as for this west-end boy the trek to and from the Beaches seems less the big expedition it seemed to be to my shorter legs ten years ago. And if the Fox continues to carry the torch of showing more hip stuff that used to be shown by other cinemas previously in the defunct Festival chain, yet closer to the downtown core, I'll happily take the trip out here more often.

Of all the 3D films offered up this time, Dion's offering, The Three Dimensions of Greta, a 1972 swinging London softcore epic by Peter Walker (best known for his horror films of the period) was likely the most..... -um- two dimensional. The only 3D parts in this flimsy spectacle (in which some bloke with a terrible German accent ventures to London to look for the statuesque Greta) occur in the four flashback sequences (hence, why this film is originally titled The Four Dimensions of...), identifiable by beginning with the swirling dissolve used in the old "Batman" TV series (minus the bat insignia of course), so the viewers can don their red and blue glasses, and in honesty, only occasionally do these sequences work.

But still, this mild romp, which follows Greta down the road to threesomes, strip joints and gangsters, is enjoyable for its self-referential humour, where one of the characters make a joke about "like being in a British sex film", and as such, it is rather clinical in its depiction of debauchery and depravity. My favourite scene aptly captures the distaff approach to the narrative. Outside a strip joint, a middle-aged barker accounces repetitively "Completely naked, and they move on stage."

Well, thank God for that.

Oh yes, I happened to win one of Dion's prizes-- a CD label maker. But it's Windows based, and I can't use it. Interested parties, drop me line.

Jul 20, 2008

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season Four, Episode 5


The May 13 episode of The Third Floor Drive-In was the science fiction-horror film Monster on the Campus (1958). While Jack Arnold had made many films under contract for Universal, this economical director is best known for his string of science fiction movies made in the 1950's. Today, such films as It Came from Outer Space, Tarantula,and The Incredible Shrinking Man still hold up very well for their no-nonsense, matter-of-fact delivery, and thoughtful writing. Tonight's film is one of the last and lesser-known of his fantasy pictures, while not on the same caliber as the others, it's not as muddled as The Space Children either (admittedly, I've wanted to give that one another look).

University professor Donald Blake (Arthur Franz) receives a coelacanth (that's a prehistoric lungfish) embedded in ice, and accidentally cuts his hand on one of the fins, and as a result, at times turns into a hairy monster that starts a lot of bodies to pile up on campus. Of course, things were already getting fishy (no pun intended) as they disposed of a giant dragonfly who grew to such proportions after landing on the coelacanth, and even their nice doggie grew big fangs and attacked people after having lapped up some of the melted ice that encased the fish! Since it's the 1950's, of course the fish was exposed to radiation. Of all of the atomic-themed fantasy films Arnold made, this is surely the silliest and least mature, but at 77 minutes it's a fun little film. Despite that Arnold himself didn't care for this movie, it's still rather briskly made, despite the less-than-special effects, and is often cleverly shot. And oh yes, teenage heartthrob Troy Donahue makes an early appearance as one of the college kids. What the hell, it's the drive-in, and pretty much anything is acceptable when you're in a blanket under the stars.

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season Four Episode Four

Hey, we're getting caught up with all of our "third floor drive-in" posts that had remained in "draft" mode for some time.

The April 24 episode of the Third Floor Drive-In was the Sunn Classics 1981 epic, Earthbound, preceded by the trailer for the 1968 masterpiece, Mission Mars.


Conceivably having run out of paranormal subjects to make cheap documentaries about, Sunn Classics extrapolated on their other winning formula, the family movie. Earthbound was a feature made as a pilot for a proposed TV series, but when that fell through, the film crept out to theaters instead.

This inoffensive fare features a nice nuclear family of human-looking extra-terrestrials whose spaceship crashes in the woods. They are befriended by nice old Burl Ives and his grandson who take them on a cross-country trek to a university to get what they need from a science lab to repair their vehicle, so they can leave. Along the way of course they are being pursued by government agents led by Joseph Campanella, who you know is the bad guy because he's always in a fedora and sunglasses (regardless of time of day). Christopher Connelly (as the patriarchal alien) spent the rest of his career making a lot of Eurojunk before his death in 1988. (I'm not sure, but I wonder if his gravelly voice here is symptomatic of the cancer that would take his life.)

The film, from director James L. Conway (Sunn Classics journeyman who gave us In Search of Noah's Ark, Hangar 18, among others), has an unfairly bad reputation-- it's cute, harmless and mildly engaging, even if for the most part it is episodic, and some of the writing is sitcom level (no surprise given that it was intended for television), appealing to the younger audiences with the alien daughter joining some high school girls to ogle at boys, and the extra-terrestrial boy helps his human friend win a basketball game (with some really crummy special effects), and how can we forget, the aliens' pet-- a blue monkey! However, admittedly it falls apart in the last third with some sudden plot turns left to expand upon in the alleged series.

You could do far worse with films made after the Star Wars craze. Still, this is one of those films where redneck folks suddenly start grabbing their rifles looking for Martians as soon as they see a light in the sky, and where the aliens have the technology to fly across the universe, yet cannot afford any better wardrobe than silver suits that came from "The Lost Saucer". But this silly family fare is somewhat refreshing-- full of an innocence that we seldom see in movies anymore.

Jul 17, 2008

CHEK 6 TV sign off

Here is just a gosh-darned beautiful TV sign-off from CHEK 6 in British Columbia, circa 1988. After the announcer backsells the late late movie, and tells insomniacs what flick they're showing tomorrow night, they segue to this three-minute-long passage comprised of taxi cabs, neon, city reflections lapping in the river, lights imprinting streaks across the images as only old-school video can, serenaded with a smooth jazz track that could be Earl Klugh on guitar and Grover Washington on sax, but who knows?

Enjoy.

Jul 14, 2008

It Came From Baltimore


Last week, in preparation for an article I'm writing for "Micro Film" magazine, based out of Illinois, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. John Paul Kinhart, for his wonderful, recently released documentary Blood Boobs and Beast, which chronicles the life and work of Baltimore filmmaker Don Dohler. Before his first film, the micro-budget cult classic, The Alien Factor (1978), Mr. Dohler had already established himself as a "do-it-yourself" inspiration, with his self-published underground comics in the 1960's, and his well-remembered "Cinemagic" magazine in the 1970's, whose coverage on how to do special effects was an influence on contemporary Hollywood players.

I have long been a fan of Don Dohler's work as a director, as his precocious no-budget wonders are infectious in their adulation of the "oh golly gee" mindset of 50's sci-fi and horror flicks, while adding modern staples of gore and flesh. Many of his early works belie their costs with the inclusion of some geniunely nifty special effects. Admittedly, I have only seen Dohler's first four films, before his hiatus until he appeared back in the 1990's direct-to-video horror market in partnership with Joe Ripple. Yet his early work (The Alien Factor, the brilliant suburban black comedy Fiend, the gonzo effects-laden Nightbeast, and the hilarious rednecks-in-peril spoof Galaxy Invader) demonstrate that, despite the obvious liabilties of working with limited actors and resources, this guy clearly "had something", and won high marks alone for being a low-budget regional filmmaker whose heart is in the right place.

In late 2006, I had made a new year's resolution to try and track down Mr. Dohler for an interview in 2007, however I had no idea at the time that he was sick, and was therefore shocked to learn that he passed away from cancer in December of that year. Dohler's work strikes me with the same giddy enthusiasm that befits many of the 50's sci-fi films that influenced him, but also, with all of his independent pursuits (in not just filmmaking, but also in publishing) he continued to be a positive role model for movers and shakers like myself who continue to toil in the trenches. When Don Dohler made the unprecedented feat of selling his $3000 wonder The Alien Factor for broadcast in cable television packages, I was among the many in the 1980's who caught it during its constant runs on the late late show, usually at 4 AM, and was ingratiated that such a film could be seen by many: "Hey, I can do this too!"

Thank God for Mr. Kinhart's documentary, which had been shot for over two years, and wrapped just before Mr. Dohler's passing. While Don Dohler is surely not a household name, I was delighted to hear that a documentary was being made to honour his work. As such, I would have been content just to see a work with the typical framework where Dohler talks about his films, intercut with bountious clips from his little wonders. But much to my delight and surprise, Blood Boobs and Beast (whose title refers to the three requisites to sell a direct-to-video horror flick), goes much further than that. Within a few minutes of this layered documentary, I was hooked. Its 75 minutes is a compulsively fascinating look at Dohler's work (generously featuring his publishing in tandem with his filmmaking), and is surprisingly candid in his personal life off-camera. It is fitting that you come away knowing even more of Don Dohler as a person. The films are secondary, much as they were in Dohler's own life. There is also a darkly amusing meta-narrative, with behind-the-scenes footage from (what would be his final work) Dead Hunt that, intentionally or not, shows us that even doing a little movie like this is also beset with problems. As such, I did something in one week I seldom do with a movie: I watched it twice. After the initial viewing of garnering my notes, I just had to see it again to visit Dohler's world some more, and was equally rewarded.

In an age where there are so many "behind the scenes" documentaries made about filmmakers (often for DVD extras), it is gratifying to find one so thorough, aptly portraying a deeply complex man. Blood Boobs and Beast is still being screened sporadically, and will hopefully be released on DVD for all to see. To learn more about this film, and other works by John Paul Kinhart, please visit the filmmaker's website here.

Jul 13, 2008

New Screening! ESR co-presents a Charles Bronson double bill!


This Friday JULY 18, 2008 at 9:30 PM, The Eclectic Screening Room is teaming up once again with Trash Palace-- this time to co-present a double bill of rare Charles Bronson films from the early 1970s.

Before the great action star became a leading man in America , he had already made a string of films in Europe, perhaps the most varied period of his career. Both of the night's movies come from that period, where we see Bronson in unusual roles.

ESR is showing its rare 16mm print of the moody French thriller RIDER IN THE RAIN (1970), co-starring Marlene Jobert, who kills the man who attacks her in her home, and disposes of the body. Then along comes Bronson as a stranger who seems to know an awful lot about the incident. Is he out for blackmail? Revenge? The plot keeps twisting in this Hitchcockian film from Rene Clement, who brought us FORBIDDEN GAMES and PURPLE NOON.

Also, Trash Palace fills the double bill with a 16mm print of SOMEONE BEHIND THE DOOR-- a 1971 psychological thriller in which Charles plays an amnesiac who is brainwashed by Anthony Perkins into killing his cheating wife (played by Jill Ireland). This is an unconventional suspense film from Nicholas Gessner, who brought us the classic THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE.

This double-bill is a great opportunity to see Charles Bronson in some rare films, and you'd be hard pressed to find them on video, so come on out and see these movies the way they should be seen: in a theatre, and shared with an audience. And when you get two films for the price of one, how can you miss?

Admission is five dollars. Doors open at 8:30 PM

Advance Tickets can be purchased at:
Tequila Bookworm
512 Queen St. W.
Address for screening is printed on the ticket.
No walk-ins.

I'll also be bringing some ESR swag for those who want to check out some of our print issues.

Jul 10, 2008

The Cold War Collages of Bruce Conner (1933 - 2008)


Few avant-garde filmmakers had a healthy relationship with mainstream pop culture. The popularity of underground cinema peaked in the mid-1960's, as people like Andy Warhol and Kenneth Anger became stars, and such films were enjoying long theatrical runs in venues other than museums or obscure cine-clubs. Yes, Warhol was a darling of the media, but in those rare instances when his films are shown, people's curiosities are satisfied mighty quickly. And Kenneth Anger was always enamoured with pop culture- his love-hate relationship with Hollywood burgeoning since children, and in the volatile 60s, his films Scorpio Rising and Invocation of My Demon Brother, were apocalyptic views of modern society. You could still enjoy Anger's films alone for their editing and unique style, yet could likely miss all the arcane subtext. But I would argue that the collage films of Bruce Conner, who died Monday after years of ill health, remain the most accessible of that movement. Although Arthur Lipsett's collage works were popular, and equally commented on those troubled times, his films are perhaps too dense. Conner's on the other hand need no work on part of the viewer to appreciate. His playful, yet troubling work is easily absorbed, delivering simple but cleverly executed subtext that remains intact upon multiple viewings.

Bruce Conner was a multi-disciplinary artist -with painting, sculpture and photography among his practices- and one of the last surviving names of the Beat era Bay area group of artists. Yet, since this a film blog, we are of course celebrating his incredible cinema: decoupages assembled from found footage both inspired by and becoming products of the times in which they were made. From the Beat Generation to Flower Power, Conner's work depicted the anxiety of the era, in which counterculture tried to forge a demi-paradise all while trembling that armageddon was around the corner.

A Movie (1958) was intended as part of an art installation, to be played continuously, so that there is no sense of the film having a beginning or end (the title cards "Bruce Conner" and "A Movie" are spliced in throughout the movie to further give this illusion). However, there is a progression, as images of combat and destruction predominate, and the film escalates to a concerto depicting a world out of control, culminating in a classic Conner image: a mushroom cloud. Cosmic Ray (1961) is edited to the pulse of Ray Charles' "What I Say" on the soundtrack, and within four minutes emerges as a celebration of the taboos of white picket fence America, namely sex. The bump-and-grind of rhythm-and-blues (or its cousin, rock and roll) is married to sexual imagery onscreen, yet with additional images of animals and war, this film is more of a catalogue of man's animal instincts-- namely sex and death... yet images of the latter are considered the less obscene in our hypocritical culture.

Crossroads (1976) is perhaps the last word on the atomic age. This 33-minute film is comprised entirely of footage from the 1946 Bikini Atoll, in which the experimental Operation Crossroads (more appropriately titled than they knew) detonated an atom bomb. This footage, aided with a hypnotic score by Terry Riley and Patrick Gleeson, is a moribund love poem where we witness the terrible beauty of destruction.

But of all the Conner films I've been fortunate to see, Report (1967) is my favourite. This film on the JFK assassination had been denied permission to use a lot of presidential footage, so instead, as we hear radio reports of the president's shooting and of his previous arrival in Dallas, the fall of the post-war white picket fence Camelot is depicted with TV commercials, post-war consumerism, casual violence of bullfights and horror movies, and even blank leader to suggest that the unthinkable has happened in the land of the free. Had he been able to use his intended footage, I am uncertain if the result would have been as powerful as this, as Report serendipitously is a scathing portrait of Americana.

Bruce Conner's legend is intact just with these four films out of the 20 he had made. And although he had sporadically made movies in the 90's, the last I recall hearing about him was that a few years back, he had withdrawn his films from renowned independent film distributor Canyon Cinema out of protest against the new management policy. This is yet another sorry case of an independent artist's work becoming inaccessible to people who would enjoy them. Conner's work is too good, to say nothing of important, to just be seen by those fortunate few who live in a city that supports such screenings. Unlike his contemporaries Warhol, Anger and Brakhage, Bruce Conner's work has not made the transition to DVD. (Although back in the day, there were two short volumes collected on VHS, at insane prices.)

I would have liked to postscript this post, dear reader, with some links to view his work via Youtube or Google Video, as even bootlegged Conner is better than none, but any search results had been removed. What a sorry way to honour a legend.

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