Apr 24, 2012

DVD Releases We Dig This Week (04.24.12)

Boy oh boy, are there ever a bunch of great releases this week. We'll start with the one that we've been excited about all year since the news hit our desk.  

Criterion is releasing A Hollis Frampton Odyssey, a set devoted to the works of the late, great avant-garde filmmaker Hollis Frampton. It is rare that experimental films get released at all on DVD, even more so when a company like Criterion is behind the action. If their handling of the two Stan Brakhage sets is any indication, then this one should be amazing. 24 films in all are featured: including his feature Zorns Lemma, and such medium-length classics as (nostalgia) and Critical Mass






This same week Criterion is also releasing Mario Monicelli's classic The Organizer, featuring Marcello Mastroianni.


Olive Films continues its streak of resurrecting some fine gems from Paramount's vaults. Not least of their considerable string of releases this week is the 3-DVD set of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900. (I'm assuming this is the full five-hour version.)



And for those in the audience who (like myself) can't get enough of 1970s crime flicks, this week sees the debut of Badge 373 (featuring Robert Duvall as a no-nonsense cop), and the terrific caper Hit! with Billy Dee Williams, Richard Pryor and (one of my faves) Gwen Welles in a plot to nab a drug kingpin.



Want more? Okay. Olive is also putting out The Jayhawkers, a western with Jeff Chandler and Fess Parker. I saw this one on the late late show years ago and am looking forward to a fresh viewing.


And there's still more. Kino (via Redemption) is releasing the cult classic Girl on a Motorcycle with Marianne Faithful and Alain Delon. 


Whew! See you next week.

Apr 23, 2012

This Week's Hard-To-Find Film: NO PLACE TO HIDE (1973)


You're probably saying right now, "Wait a sec- that Sylvester Stallone flick? That's out on video- this isn't hard to find. Has The G-Man finally flipped his lid?" Well, truthfully, I flipped my lid years ago...  but in direct relation to our post, the answer is: "No! I'm talking about the original!"

In the years before Rocky (heck, even before The Lords of Flatbush), when Sylvester Stallone was still trying to pay the bills as an actor, he usually received small roles or walk-ons (like his funny appearance as a subway hood in Woody Allen's Bananas). However, he had second billing (as Sylvester E. Stallone) in an obscure, low-budget counterculture film called No Place To Hide, directed in New York state by Robert Allen Schnitzler. The first billing actually goes to the lantern-jawed Antony Page, who leads a group of radicals into bombing a Manhattan building. However, the movie focuses more on Stallone's character Jerry, and his conflict in choosing between a life in radical politics or settling down at a farmhouse with his hippie girlfriend Laurie. This film no doubt quickly fell off the radar, and if weren't for the presence of the future star, the movie likely would've been forgotten altogether.

However, when Sly Stallone reached superstardom in the 1980s, a couple of projects from his salad days were re-issued to capitalize on his fame. The most notorious of these was 1970's softcore film, The Party at Kitty and Stud's, re-issued as The Italian Stallion.  However, the most curious resurrection of these pictures was No Place To Hide, not least in the ways in which it kept on being re-marketed. In 1981, it was re-issued with the title Rebel, with a different soundtrack (featuring familiar oldies by Country Joe McDonald and Tommy James), and with additional footage. Stock shots of Robert Kennedy, Bob Dylan and other historical footage of the 1960s were liberally added, as was newly shot footage (in Florida and Los Angeles!) of FBI agents closing in on the radical group. This is the version that is obtainable on video: it was released on VHS by Paragon, and later on DVD by several budget labels.

But still, our pop culture hadn't heard the last of No Place To Hide. In 1990, it was re-issued once again with the title A Man Called... Rainbo (get it?), where the soundtrack was re-dubbed with funny dialogue a la What's Up Tiger Lily?- ironically, it is this version that likely got the most acclaim.



But still, where is the original?

The IMDB states that the movie made its television premiere on CBS in 1988- but that was the Rebel version, according to the episode guide of the CBS Late Movie. However, the original film had already played at least twice on television- I saw it.

Circa 1986-7, whenever the fabled Late Great Movies on City TV had an obscure film from the 1970s among its schedule of all-night movies, yours truly would set out to watch it, especially if it was not listed in Leonard Maltin's annual video guide (No Place To Hide has since been added). Until I saw it, I had no idea that this film was really the Rebel video which I saw on a shelf in one of the rental shops downtown, but didn't know until years later, that it was a re-cut.

Also from the IMDB:
The same film under the title "Rebel" is an entirely different version of the film. Director Schnitzler re-edited the film after it was not successful with the die-hard flower-power crowd. The "Rebel" version was prepared in the early 1980's and is the only version currently known to exist.

Since the original movie was still in circulation after the Rebel edit, I doubt that this above statement is true. At the very least, it hasn't completely vanished, because I still have the last twenty minutes of it on the end of a video tape, recorded back in 1987.  Because I haven't seen the original version in over 25 years, it is a pointless exercise to compare it to Rebel, however at least I can discuss the differences in the finale, where the payoff lays.

Rebel runs 80 minutes, but I seem to recall No Place To Hide running about 90 (yes, I kept track of such geeky things in those days). Although some old footage was cut to make Stallone look like the star, with the addition of the "new" shots, perhaps half an hour of the original movie is lost in the re-cut.



A common debate in these "hard-to-find film" posts, is over whether or not these movies are actually worth resurrecting. Once any of these elusive titles are found, they can never live up to the anticipation that has been brewing within the viewer over the years. I'll be honest- No Place to Hide is not a lost classic; in fact, it is a very tedious affair. The plodding narrative is somewhat helped in the re-cut version, but I think the Rebel version has removed the one virtue the original had. Whatever the failings of the 1973 movie, it however had a mood.

The dreary pacing somehow compliments the overall feeling of restlessness felt among the radicals in their sordid environments. Once the bombing plot is acted upon, and it is revealed that there is an informant in the group, the oblique framing and slow-motion blurs actually add to the paranoia. Even though the original movie is stifling with its clumsy and patchy editing, its low-key approach however leaves a impression. This mood is erased in the Rebel cut, where the soundtrack during the bombing sequence is replaced by some stupid, generic "wacka-chaka" 70s cop show funk (which I would normally love, but not here). Further, the conclusion with the haunting images of hippies at the commune standing over a pillar of smoke rising from a dead body were made even more chilling with the reverberations of the song "Thief in the Night", by Mike Corbett and Jay Hirsh. This, plus the opening song, "I'll Find My Way", by the New York-based folk ensemble Trilogy, were replaced by more generic sounds.




Admittedly the Rebel version is better visually, with its cleaned-up picture and restored colour - however, sometimes, restoration isn't necessarily a good thing. The No Place To Hide print that I viewed is all reds and ugly blues, but somehow that adds to the sordid atmosphere. (At the very least, the movie offers an interesting look at the New York underground- the claustrophobic apartments, cafes and studios are a universe apart from the silver skyscrapers out of reach in the backgrounds.) Finding the original No Place To Hide is surely not like resurrecting a Van Gogh, but at least one will recover a distinct feel, plus a crucial setting of time and place, that has been forgotten, as its canvas has been repainted over time.

Apr 21, 2012

Levon Helm (1940 - 2012)


Levon Helm, singer and drummer of the 60s group, The Band, has passed away. After backing up rocker Ronnie Hawkins (as the Hawks), and then Bob Dylan during his electric period, The Band became one of the most important groups of the 1960s and 1970s. Their music was a catalogue of Americana: folk, blues, Cajun, ragtime, country and rockabilly would be reverently paid homage in their sounds. The Band was an incredibly versatile group which featured three men trading lead vocals: Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel (all of whom have now passed). In Thanksgiving of 1976, the Band gave their final concert, and featured many musical guests. The subsequent film The Last Waltz (1978) and the album was a cross-section of American music, paying homage to the forms that inspired these five musicians. With such luminaries as Muddy Waters, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and their former bosses Hawkins and Dylan, joining them onstage, The Last Waltz is second only to Woodstock in terms of capturing a monumental musical event on film. What sets these films apart from many concert documentaries is that they are also snapshots of the cultures that either inspired the musicians, or likewise studies of a culture that their sounds became an anthem to.

Apr 19, 2012

Dick Clark (1929 - 2012)


What can we say? Dick Clark was a cultural icon; an institution. Coined "the world's oldest teenager", he will always be remembered as the host of TV's American Bandstand: from 1956 to 1989, he presented the latest Top 40 acts lip-syncing their hits in studio, while teenagers danced on stage. He was also the host and producer of Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve, in which he presented the latest and greatest musical acts every December 31, while the television audience counted down the minutes to the new year. In the 1970s, he also hosted the popular TV game show, The $10,000 Pyramid. In the 1980s and Ed McMahon co-hosted TV's Practical Jokes and Bloopers. And these are just some of the highlights of a six-decade-long career of television entertainment he would host and-or produce. With his clean-cut good looks, his smiling faces was a natural emcee for the camera- the epitome of the good, clean entertainment he was presenting. Simply put, the man was a giant in our pop culture. But in case you need more proof, here's another anecdote. Allegedly, he was the one who introduced Ed McMahon to his future Tonight Show boss Johnny Carson back in the 1950's. There. But since this is a film blog, after all, we are here to celebrate those pieces of time when Dick Clark was a movie actor and producer.


Jonathan Frid (1924 - 2012)



It is ironic that weeks before Tim Burton's feature Dark Shadows is to open, actor Jonathan Frid passes away. In the classic 1960's TV series, Dark Shadows, he portrayed the vampire Barnabas Collins, a relative who moves in with the Collins clan's house atop Widows' Hill. The supernatural themes were certainly unusual for a daily soap opera format. Created by the legendary Dan Curtis (a familiar name among TV-horror buffs of the 1960s and 1970s), this show spanned 1225 episodes from 1966 to 1971, one of the largest numbers for any fantasy-themed television show.


Paul Bogart (1919 - 2012)

Emmy Award-winning producer and director Paul Bogart has passed away at the age of 92. He was a prolific director of episodic television and MOWs: All In the Family, The Golden Girls, CBS Playhouse, Get Smart, The Defenders, and many others, in a career that spanned five decades.


William Finley (1942 - 2012)

ABOVE: William Finley in Sisters (1973)

Actor William Finley passed away in Manhattan last weekend at the age of 69. This offbeat-looking character actor, with prematurely thinning hair, bug eyes and long face, was a regular in many early works of director Brian De Palma, and whose unusual screen presence added to the strangeness of those films. The two had become friends while students at Columbia University, and worked together on De Palma's early underground works, Murder a La Mod (1968), The Wedding Party (1969) Dinonysus 69 (1969).  Finley also figured more prominently in Sisters (1973), and especially in the title role of Phantom of the Paradise (1974), films made during De Palma's crossover to mainstream success. Within his scant filmography, the actor appeared in works by Tobe Hooper (Eaten Alive; The Funhouse), Marshall Brickman's sci-fi farce Simon (1980), and in Chuck Norris' thriller Silent Rage (1982). He teamed up once again with Brian De Palma for a brief role in The Black Dahlia (2006).

(review for Sisters coming soon...)

Raise The Titanic (1980)


Director: Jerry Jameson
Writers: Adam Kennedy, Eric Hughes; based upon the novel by Clive Cussler
Producer: William Frye
Music: John Barry
Cinematographer: Matthew F. Leonetti
ITC; 114 min; color

Cast: 
Jason Robards (Admiral James Sandecker), Richard Jordan (Dirk Pitt), David Selby (Dr. Gene Seagram), Anne Archer (Dana Archibald), Alec Guinness (John Bigalow), Bo Brundin (Captain Prevlov), M. Emmet Walsh (Master Chief Vinnie Walker), J.D. Cannon (Captain Joe Burke)

"It would've been cheaper to lower the Atlantic." - Lord Lew Grade.



Over the weekend, the centenary of the Titanic disaster was being honoured at the movies, where one could see James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster re-released with 3D, and on the boob tube, where Titanic-themed films and documentaries filled the time slots. (The History Channel even ran a piece about the making of the 1943 epic financed by Nazi Germany!) No-one, however, had the gumption to air the infamous box-office flop, Raise the Titanic (at least not within our broadcast band), so I felt the necessity to take matters into my own hands and give it another look for the first time in over thirty years.



Yes, I was one of the few who saw this movie in its original release: it was on a Saturday night in December 1980 in my hometown, where it shared a double bill with Charles Bronson's Borderline (co-incidentally, both were released by ITC Films). [Note: if a small-town theater shows two movies for the price of one, you know at least one of them is a stinker.] This epic cost a whopping forty million dollars to produce, and only made back seven million in rentals. Although its lost revenue didn't equal the same year's Heaven's Gate, Raise The Titanic however joined the dubious group of movies at the time (including Inchon and Honky Tonk Freeway) which lost a fortune at the box office. 



The famous quote above by Lord Grade, the head of ITC Films, summarizes this picture's economic folly. One example of how money was frittered away is chronicled in Harry and Michael Medved's 1984 book, The Hollywood Hall of Shame: once it was discovered that the $500,000 miniature scale model of the Titanic was the wrong size for the tank it was to float in, rather than spend an equal amount of money adapting the model, the filmmakers instead blew six million bucks to change the tank! Ultimately, the financial disaster of this movie was a major factor in Lew Grade’s withdrawal from cinema.


In more than one way, Raise The Titanic was a victim of bad timing. It was released when disaster movies, or big-budget spectacles were falling out of favour at the box office. This old-fashioned adventure would also be rendered obsolete in a few years, once the wreck of the Titanic had finally been found on the ocean floor.... and to be cracked in two. Because the hull was not intact, the entire modus operandi of this project would be made improbable. Still, because filming commenced in 1978, and that it was based upon a Clive Cussler novel published in 1976, one could hardly chide the creatives for that any more than Fritz Lang's Woman On The Moon (1929) for depicting Earth's lunar satellite with a breathable atmosphere. 

Regardless, Cussler was so incensed with the film adaptation that he forbade any further transformations of his work to the screen (the author would later sue the filmmakers of Sahara). I’ve never read the novel, so I can only base this review on what appears in the movie.  The relationships between the central characters are superficial at best: there’s a flirtation of a love triangle between nosy reporter Dana, her current beau, geeky scientist Dr. Seagram and her old flame, hunky hero Dirk Pitt (a character in many Cussler novels). The two men are already locking horns over the best way for the US government to raise the ill-fated Titanic from the ocean floor, to retrieve a rare ore required for a nuclear defense system against the Russians. (Oh yes, another example of bad timing...) 

Among the few theatrical features by Jerry Jameson (a prolific director of episodic television and MOW’s) was the disaster epic Airport 77 (which also featured the great M. Emmet Walsh in a bit). Neither of these films allow for the people to be eclipsed by the special effects- however,  for this movie, whatever complexities originally existed with the characters in the novel don’t survive the translation. The lovely Anne Archer could’ve been written out of the film with little difficulty, ditto first-billed Jason Robards. Although it’s always great to see the salty character actor, he, like the rest of the cast, have little to do but watch gauges and look out porthole windows. The acting honours go to Sir Alec Guinness, who only has two scenes, as a Titanic survivor who reveals to Pitt where the precious cargo can be found. The viewer vicariously experiences his trauma of that fateful night- his eyes say it all!

Still, criticizing this movie for its weak character development is like buying Playboy for the crossword puzzle: people are paying to see something else entirely. Despite that the characters are skin deep, and that there are still some gaffes like the absence of corpses in the Titanic, the movie is never dull. The 1912 disaster, now as then, holds such an enticing mystique with the audience, that this premise remains captivating, although it could have used some more action- especially in the expected conflict with the Russians, once the Soviet government gets wise to their scheme. Indeed, you get what you pay for: the climactic sequence (in slow motion, with multiple angles) where the ship finally rises from its watery grave is tremendous cinema (and tremendously moving, augmented by one of John Barry’s best, most haunting film scores). 

Although the movie ends with a diminuendo of a rushed conclusion, Raise The Titanic is still nonetheless an interesting view- I was still haunted for days afterwards. Ironically, seeing the ship rise forces the viewer to ponder the human tragedy of when it sank. One retains a visceral experience of cold and foreboding as our heroes journey to an aquatic neverland - the most godforsaken place on earth, beyond the point of a safe return.

It is ironic that today, where it is fashionable to bash James Cameron’s elephantine 1997 depiction of the Titanic disaster, which became one of the biggest box-office attractions in history, people have come out of the woodwork, saying that they have a soft spot for Lew Grade’s ill-fated production. You know, I see it- and perhaps I’m just getting soft: after all, I managed to find virtue in other disaster-themed duds of its day (like Meteor and When Time Ran Out). Even though the characterizations are as thin as Cameron’s film, old-fashioned miniatures beat out cartoonish CGI any day of the week. In the current age, where big-budget escapist fare has the clinical, generic feel of being made by robots, it is refreshing to view even flawed spectacles like these that however feel more honest and less manipulative. Time, as they say, is the true evaluator of quality.

Apr 17, 2012

DVD Releases That We Dig This Week (04.17.12)

This week's DVD releases have a good number of unsung gems and curios for those looking for something beyond the current fare. If you've already seen Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Steve McQueen's Shame (which arrive on DVD today too), then here are some interesting choices from the vaults that are worthy of your attention.


Once again Shout! Factory has struck gold mining Roger Corman's New World vaults, with The Nurses Collection, featuring four of the five popular "Nurse" series of films from the early 1970's. These films generally featured a trio of nurses with various shenanigans involving action, comedy, sex and even some social commentary tucked in there somewhere! Curiously, the first instalment, The Student Nurses, is the missing title here, but no matter, this is a must-have, regardless. This set will certainly be a welcome respite from the very poor release of these and the "Student Teacher" cycle of films from Infinity Entertainment a couple of years ago.


And speaking of upgrades, The Rank Collection, released through VCI Entertainment, features another double-bill of the popular "Carry-On" series of films: Carry on Doctor and Carry on up the Khyber. Fans who were dissatisfied with the Wham! USA disks will no doubt want these!



For the horror fan, here are a couple of unsung gems this week. From Redemption Films, the terrific chiller The Asphyx (1973), which I first saw way back on Elvira's old "Movie Macabre" TV show. Time to upgrade from the Interglobal VHS!



Scorpion Releasing adds another to its series of "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" disks, which specialize in obscure chillers (usually from the 1970s and 80s).  This week, it's the 1981 Australian supernatural thriller The Survivor, about a lone survivor from a plane crash. 


Many people know that Tom Selleck was originally considered for the Indiana Jones role in Raiders of the Lost Ark (which eventually went to Harrison Ford). Ironically, Selleck appeared in one of the many pulpy adventure films in the early 1980s that were produced in the wake of Raider's success. I've never seen High Road To China, but remember that it played a LOT on Pay TV back in the day.  Henstooth Video is behind its release.


Also, Criterion continues its recent trend of unearthing many under-appreciated goodies. This week, Robert M. Young's acclaimed independent 1977 feature Alambrista!, about a migrant worker, makes its debut. Young's films seldom received the exposure they deserved, so this release is very exciting to see.


Happy viewing!

Apr 16, 2012

Slipstream (1973)


Director: David Acomba
Writer: Willam Fruet
Producer: James Margellos
Cinematography: Marc Champion
Music: Brian Ahern
Cinepix; 93 min; color


Cast:
Luke Askew (Mike Mallard), Patti Oatman (Kathy), Eli Rill (Alec Braverman), Scott Hylands (Terry)

"The prairie knows nothing but the wind; it's raptured by its breeze and ridden by its storm"


Reclusive DJ Mike Mallard hosts a radio show whose on-air soundscapes of unusual music, sprinkled with poetic narration, has developed a mystique among his listeners, a young counterculture audience that is entranced enough by this mystery to seek him out in person.  The enigmatic aura is furthered with Mallard's broadcast emanating from a secluded farmhouse. This successful gimmick was dreamed up by his producer Alec Braverman to develop a following of listeners, yet the brooding disc jockey has tired of the gimmicks and continues to explore artistic purity on the airwaves, while receiving pressure from his boss to play more conventional, commercial music.

After penning the script for the Canadian classic, Goin' Down the Road, William Fruet wrote for three more pictures in the early 1970s, including Wedding in White (1972), which was his directorial debut. Of these, the least-seen, and for that matter, the least acclaimed, is Slipstream. Despite its fortune to have won Canadian Film Awards for Best Film, Best Direction and Best Sound (as mightily touted in the poster above), few kind words have been lent to this project. Robert Fulford, under his Marshall Delaney alias, cited its pretentiousness and heavy-handedness as targets for his negative review in Saturday Night magazine. Granted, Slipstream is full of that, but it is far from worthless.

Admittedly, my perspective of the film is a bit biased, as I regress towards my days of being on college radio. Few movies have been made about radio personalities- fewer still understand the erotic allure of being on-air, having one's voice literally and figuratively immersed into untold numbers of strangers' lives in the darkness. Slipstream nails that feeling, in its too-few scenes where Mallard is on the air. Amidst the buzzing of the tubes and electronic music, he surrenders his aura to the airwaves- his body and arms at once acting as conductor and willing prisoner of the sounds.




One can surmise from the synopsis that Slipstream is a classic struggle between artistic integrity (Mike Mallard- the good) and commercial interests (Alec Braverman- the bad), yet perhaps intentionally, Fruet's script skews this message. In truth, Braverman emerges as the more sensible human being, as his requests really aren't unreasonable. (When will artists learn that any creative pursuit still needs a business model?) Mallard by turn is a selfish lout who combats with everyone in his world- even his new girlfriend Kathy, one of the many interested souls who find their way to Mallard's door. Mallard in a sense has become a prisoner of his own image. Although he deplores the manufactured image of a recluse, he has however built psychological walls around himself.



On the surface, this may be about one man's search for artistic integrity while forsaking everything else in the process; yet perhaps the central theme is Mallard's rugged individualism: yearning for a frontier-age freedom in the modern age. This notion is transmitted most tellingly in the bizarre opening with Mike on horseback trying to lasso a plane! This scene recalls the classic case of a heavily symbolic script, whose literal metaphors may read well, but would look foolish in a visual medium. There is a difficult line that one straddles to present a realistic environment on film with characters that however act more figuratively than normal human behaviour dictates; few movies succeed in this balancing act. Simply, director David Acomba lacks the visual sense to make these moments any more than the thudding pretentious symbols that they appear.

This "rugged individualism" and the heavy-handed presentation thereof, culminate in the film's centrepiece, when Mallard extends his studio microphones outside to include the sounds of the prevailing prairie thunderstorm into the radio broadcast of "Layla", by Derek and the Dominoes, which is played in its entirety (I'd the use the whole song too, if I had to pay rights for it). His previous on-air poetic asides to prairie winds between songs have become literal- as if to say that the juggernaut of commercialism will never win over the forces of nature, land and freedom... the pre-destined order of the universe.



Throughout this narrative, a young journalist attempts to contact Mallard for an interview, resulting in a rather shaggy-dog climax in which he meets the legendary disk jockey at a crucial turning point in his life. It is reminiscent of another Canadian project, the rock-and-roll road movie Candy Mountain, in which a man's long-desired meeting with a legendary musician becomes anti-climactic. Slipstream also brings to mind Pump Up The Volume (directed by a Canadian, coincidentally enough), about a pirate DJ who develops a cult following within his small broadcast bandwidth, yet his appeal is for reasons different for his being.


Slipstream predates the Canadian Tax Shelter movement by a couple of years, although it shares the trend of casting a familiar face (although not a high-priced star) of American cinema for the starring role. Luke Askew is well cast in a rare lead- his imposing frame and flat face (which served him in playing villainous supporting roles) suits the bullish Mallard. (Plus, can a movie get any more Canadian in that a story about a deejay is set in the prairies?) Mike Mallard is a traditional anti-hero, who is not entirely charismatic nor sympathetic, but can still elicit empathy from the viewer who shares his beliefs. Kathy represents the only light to his dark world.  Although she is one of many wayward souls who traced his transmissions to the farm, she one of the few who manages to see the beauty beneath his rough exterior, and become a constant figure in his life. Their relationship is rocky to say the least, yet, like the other supporting characters, even she has a level of tolerance.



The film is bookended with the title track of Van Morrison's album Astral Weeks, whose lyrics "If I ventured in the slipstream / Between the viaducts of your dreams" may have inspired the movie's title. Were this film made after 1978, perhaps it would have been more appropriate to use the title track of Van the Man's album Wavelength, which was a valentine to radio, complete with concrete poetry bits of static. However, Slipstream is less about a voice on the radio, and more about one man's hard-won attempts to preserve his independence. The strings and searching vocals of "Astral Weeks" are full of isolation and unrequited desire, thus complimenting Mallard's physical and psychological isolation.


Like many Canadian films, Slipstream had a short second life on VHS, and would be sporadically shown at either 2 PM or 2 AM on television stations that dutifully honoured the Canadian Content law. It has never been issued on DVD, and since most stations today would rather air reruns of "Cash Cab" than a movie to fill the CanCon requirement, it has largely been out of the public eye for a few years. Slipstream has developed an enticingly mysterious aura, at least for an audience of one (yours truly) to seek out, just like the travellers who track down this film's mysterious protagonist. However, upon finally seeing the movie thanks to a copy from a dear friend, one's quest summarily ends in disappointment, much like that of the characters who seek out Mike Mallard. Despite its lofty symbolic leanings, this film does has a way of staying with you, long after the difficult viewing experience. The rewards from sitting through this movie are hard-won, much like the obstacles the onscreen cast must endure with Mike Mallard. Who said that unique art was easy?

Apr 14, 2012

The Late Night Files #1: Cult of UHF

In 2008, when I was preparing the "Tribute to Late Night Television" issue for ESR, I had intended to include a midsection devoted to people past and present, who would introduce movies on the late late show. At the eleventh hour of preparing for the issue, I scrapped the idea for complex reasons.  While this midsection could hardly be comprehensive, it however would give a sampling of various personalities who kept the spirit of the late night movie alive throughout the decades. Even then, I felt that this sampling became quite monotonous. Although there were other factors involved in losing the section, this action proved to be a good thing, as it resulted in an issue that was more lean and less repetitious.

It makes more sense to have these pieces serialized on our blog, especially since as time continues, more information becomes available on additional celebrities worthy of note, one is not inhibited by the permanence of print to do a more thorough job.

(By the way, if you don't have the "Late night TV" issue, we still have them for sale on our website.)

Colloquially, we refer to these personalities as horror movie hosts, as they dress up in vampire or werewolf costumes to present the midnight movies. However, not everyone put on a Dracula cape. In our premier column on late-night hosts, we proudly present the right honourable Reverend Chumley, host of Cult of UHF, who kept the spirit of the late-night movie alive on a completely different medium... the iPod! Broadcasting from the Holy Static "somewhere in deep space" Rev. Chumley, in his bishops' regalia, would have his viewers testify over many public domain staples in the horror and science-fiction genres, resulting in several dozen infectious podcasts.  Additionally, there was a sister podcast, Cult of Kung Fu, in which some PD martial arts films were introduced by Chumley's cousin, in a white Fu Manchu mustache!

This interview was conducted via e-mail in the summer of 2008 with the intention of being published in that issue, but only now sees the public eye. Enjoy!

---



What was your inspiration to start doing the Cult of UHF show? What made you decide to start introducing these flicks and broadcasting them online?

I started the Cult back in Nov. of 05 after I purchased the (then) brand new 5th generation iPod with video! I thought it was the coolest thing since ammonia compression heat removal theory, but there was a problem, there was almost no content video wise in the podcasting world.  There were a few tech shows and some great short form comedy such as TikiBarTV and Rocketboom, but as far as movies and any long form content to take up time standing in lines and lunch time there wasn't much around among many other reasons, so I decided to make my own show to fill the void.  Using public domain movies and shooting short wrap segments a la the old 70s and 80s hosted late night horror/scifi shows I could make a lot of content with little to no cost.  

Most people who host sci-fi / horror movies usually dress up as Count Dracula-- what was the inspiration for Rev. Chumley?  

I originally was going to go with a mad scientist theme, but honestly I had the bishop outfit already so came up with a crazy cult leader theme to go with it as I'm also ordained in both the Church of the Sub-Genius and the Universal Life Church, again the moral of todays story, kids, is cheap.  

Are you doing the shooting at school, via green screen in the studio?

The first 2 episodes were filmed at a local college where I work using a projector screen with a green slide projected onto it, but it was clear that something more convenient was needed so I built a green screen studio in my bedroom using flourescent green poster board and have used that to this day.

If we watch the podcasts chronologically, as I did, it's also kind of a journey through your life as well, with some apologia here and there for not appearing live because you're too busy with exams and so on...   But originally were you intending to try to be podcasting on a regular basis, get into a regular "broadcasting schedule"?

When I started The Cult I wasn't in school and set the schedule for releasing twice a month and kept up with it for quite a while, then I returned to school for my Masters in early 06 and a bit after that I started releasing once a month and my intro skits started to become more erratic unfortunately, but when your doing your podcast as a hobby and aren't getting a dime for it, school and job wins out.  

And now with the addition of Cult of Kung Fu, is it your intention to move more into that show, and less with Cult of UHF?

I introduced Cult of Kung Fu on a whim one day when I was bored as I had recieved a few emails saying that they didn't think Kung Fu should be in the show, I still don't know what I'm going to do with it. Currently it is in limbo, but if it continues I'll make it a no edit type of show, where I merely put up a new movie twice a month with no intro or anything.  

Were there any kind of late night shows in your broadcasting area that influenced what you do?  Is there now currently anything like it on the air where you live?  

I grew up watching a locally owned station called WEMT which later became a FOX affiliate and then an offical FOX station unfortunately, but back in the day they had all manner of independent programing and the late late show on Sat night was Dungeon Doug and Mohamarr Cadaver. It was a hilarious local host who dressed as a ratty prisoner in a makeshift dungeon and his talking sidekick Mohamarr Cadaver who was a skeleton chained to the wall next to Doug and his large bail of hay he sat on while introducing some seriously bad movies. I loved it. On Sunday afternoon we had Kung Fu Theater to enjoy. Years after this show disappeared we got treated to a show out of New Orleans called Dr. Morgus the Magnificent, in which the mad scientist and his trusty companion/creation Chopsley introduced movies and did great experiments.  Unfortunately nothing like that exists anymore around my area and all the local stations are gone. This was one of the many reasons I started up the Cult. I missed them.

...and finally, how far do you plan to take Cult of UHF-Kung Fu? Have you thought of doing it on television, such as public access or anything?  

Well I've been doing the Cult for going on 3 years now. I'm at a crossroads now, I love the Cult but I really feel I should move on and produce a new show with what little free time I have. The Cult may end all together or live on unhosted and deliver movies straight from the Holy Static to your appropriate player without the need for the Rev, I haven't made up my mind yet.


Addendum:

Sadly, Rev. Chumley retired the Holy Static in December of 2010. Since this interview, many of his shows premiered infrequently, and often without a host (no doubt a result of an increasingly busy schedule)- his final transmission was with a short animated video eulogizing the late actor Leslie Nielsen, who had then just passed. We would like to thank Reverend Chumley for his time and generosity, not just for a short interview, but especially for his efforts in keeping the time-honoured tradition of the late night movie alive, and especially for a brand new generation in a contemporary medium.

All 66 episodes of Cult of UHF are still available for streaming or download at his website. Enjoy!







Apr 8, 2012

Bogdanovich on Cinema

Last week, director Peter Bogdanovich was in town to introduce his 1971 masterpiece The Last Picture Show. On Good Friday, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star published an interview with the famed filmmaker-critic-author-historian. In addition to discussing his own work, Bogdanovich comments on the current state of cinema. Unsurprisingly, the 72 year-old director finds it in sorry shape.


“I just think films have become so decadent. Fast, fancy cutting just for the sake of cutting. Just because it’s something to do, like eye candy or whatever. These stupid movies, these ‘tentpole movies,’ which is a term I hate, are just inane. I have no interest in them.” Particularly intriguing is his quip about today's film criticism. (“There used to be more interesting film critics than there are now. I don’t read many.")

Despite however much he may correct, these bite-sized quips barely scratch the surface. The so-called decadence of current cinema needs a book or a chapter all its own to properly chronicle the reasons for its decline. (Ironically, within the article, Bogdanovich hints that he and his fellow upstarts of the New Hollywood in the 1970s, indirectly started the decline upon dismantling the studio system, as he now says that at least that system worked.)  And as for his statement on criticism, it is true that the days of "cinephilia", as communicated in print with the panache of such luminaries as Pauline Kael or Andrew Sarris, are long gone. Still, their existence depended on the fact that movies of the 1960s and 70s were more stimulating and challenging, thereby bringing out the best writing in all of them. If the current crop of cinema is poor and does not engage anyone, then it fails to bring out good film writing.

You can read the entire article here.

Apr 7, 2012

Luke Askew (1932 - 2012)


If you watched enough 1970s westerns, chances are you would see Luke Askew lurking amidst the dust. And if you did, you knew that there was going to be trouble. This excellent character was a natural for villains, with his flat face and long hair, but still, whenever he gave that wide smile, he could ingest some charisma into his characters, even when they were the most loathsome varmints this side of Tuscon.


Apr 5, 2012

Curse of the Fly (1965)



Director: Don Sharp
Producers: Robert L. Lippert, Jack Parsons
Writer: Harry Spalding
Cinematography: Basil Emmott
Music: Bert Shefter
86 min; 20th Century Fox; B&W

Cast:
Brian Donlevy (Henri Delambre), George Baker (Martin Delambre), Carole Gray (Patricia Stanley), Yvette Rees (Wan), Burt Kwouk (Tai), Michael Graham (Albert Delambre), Jeremy Wilkins (Inspector Ronet), Charles Carson (Inspector Charas)

Shards of glass explode from a broken window and fly in slow motion towards the camera. A woman wearing nothing but a bra and panties escapes through the window and runs away into the dead of night. She is picked up on the side of the road by young scientist Martin Delambre- the two begin a mutually-agreed-upon “no questions asked” relationship, and are soon married. The viewer knows from the start that the girl, Patricia, has escaped from a sanitarium and is conditioned to be concerned for Martin’s safety since she is mentally unstable. However, upon meeting the rest of the Delambre clan, we realize that she is less dysfunctional than they are, and instead fear for her own safety. This seemingly unlikely premise begins to make more sense as Curse of the Fly unveils.

In this third instalment of the “Fly” franchise, Brian Donlevy plays the son of David Hedison’s ill-fated character in the 1958 horror classic, The Fly, who trades body parts with a house fly. (The son was played by Brett Halsey in the 1959 sequel, Return of the Fly- however for the 1965 movie, the character’s name is changed from Philippe to Henri). Although the three films were released within seven years, a longer space of time seems to exist between each instalment.  The 1959 movie takes place fifteen years after the first, and an unknown (but presumably longer) gap of time occurs before the 1965 film, as Henri now has two grown sons, who begrudgingly assist their father in his experiments.

Henri and Martin Delambre
Albert Delambre

Henri Delambre continues his father’s research in perfecting a teleportation device, and beams himself frequently from Montreal (where he lives with Martin) to his other son Albert’s lab in London. Albert, the most rebellious of the siblings, yearns to have a normal life with his new girlfriend and to quit working for his father. Martin, too, is equally eager to have a normal life, but still attempts to juggle domesticity with research. So desperate is he for a relationship, that marrying a strange scantily-clad woman on the side of the road seems like a reasonable action. (Of course, considering that the girl is played by Carole Gray, whose cheekbones, thick eyebrows and bountiful lips contribute to her unusual, otherworldly beauty, one can scarcely blame him.)

Martin, Patricia, Henri and Wan

At its heart, Curse of the Fly is a Gothic melodrama, which updates the familiar plot of a newlywed bride moving into a creepy castle and uncovering a family secret. However, in post-modern fashion, the creepy castle is a country estate with barns, lattice, and a lab. The skeleton in the family’s closet is the result of Henri’s previously failed attempts in perfecting his teleportation device: misshapen mutants are behind locked doors, and fed by the morally ambiguous maid, Wan (who looks like she dropped in from Franju’s Les Yeux Sans Visage).

This busy plot is missing just one thing... a fly!

The closest we come to seeing an insect is in a glossy photograph from the previous film, held by the nosy inspectors, who have long held the Delambre clan under suspicion. (Charles Carson reprises the Charas role, played by Herbert Marshall in the 1958 film.) In this movie, however, the real monster is human. Like all scientists in science fiction-horror pictures, Henri has honourable intentions of bettering mankind with his technical advancements, however he benignly endangers human life to achieve these goals. In Harry Spalding’s screenplay, the central characters are neither truly evil, nor truly good- even the most seemingly reprehensible people have a moral code (however skewed), that their actions are ultimately for virtuous means.

The central theme of this film is entrapment- perhaps no more literal than with the mutants kept behind locked doors. Patricia escapes one institution, and unwittingly becomes (through wedlock) trapped in another. Henri’s sons, too, are psychological prisoners: their attempts at having romantic relationships are frowned upon by their father, who prefers to have them emotionally shackled to his laboratories. Curse of the Fly surprisingly becomes an engrossing watch because of these undercurrents and bizarre relationships- however, the film’s greatest flaw is in the presentation of its theme.

Patricia in danger
Don Sharp and his cameraman have properly created a moody, Gothic atmosphere with chiaroscuro lighting and shadows- in this case, there is little difference between Patricia venturing through this estate and Barbara Steele roaming around an old Italian castle, each experiencing strange phenomena. However, too often, scenes play out in long shots, to take advantage of the widescreen presentation, which does a disservice to the material. Instead, this scenario should have been filmed in a tight 4x3 ratio (or at least with more closeups) to emphasize the feeling of claustrophobia and enclosure.

The beady-eyed, thin-mustached character actor Brian Donlevy had spent nearly four decades playing cads who exploit their power, and this role is a further example. His career is synonymous with many stars of Hollywood’s Golden era, who would end up paying the bills in later years by appearing in exploitation films during the 1960s. The film scholars who decry this practice often conveniently fail to mention that these former matinee idols still approached their work with professionalism, despite how “beneath them” it appeared. Indeed, in one of the most notorious of the actor’s exploitation film roles, his work here is surprisingly complex.

No, Brian Donlevy does not "phone it in"

Still, it is Carole Gray who steals the film. This South African born actress had appeared in several European genre films throughout the 1960s, before retiring from the cinema at a still young age- it would have been interesting to see her career develop. Her unusual screen presence is perfect for a role about a decent person with huge problems of her own, and for a movie where all of the characters are slightly odd somehow. Her unconventional allure explains Martin’s attraction to a girl met under strange circumstances.

Curse of the Fly has had an unfairly bad reputation over the years: in part, no doubt, because it has been hard to see (and thus be re-evaluated) until finally coming out on DVD in 2007 (and even then, while only being packaged with the other Fly films), and likely some fans expressed disappointment because there is no “fly”. (Well, that’s the exploitation business for you- where some fun can be had while being had.) Still, fret not- if you want to see a monster movie, you’ll get what you pay for- the monster however appears in a more human form, which is perhaps even more creepy. That somehow seems fitting for a movie where nothing is as it originally appears.

Apr 3, 2012

The Future of ESR

Yesterday, I had posted a short piece on ESR's Facebook page, defending the viability of keeping it in print, when publications bigger and better than mine have succumbed to the all mighty Interweb. (Once again, I'll acknowledge the irony of defending print in an online post.) At the same time I had also acknowledged that over the past four years, we have published far less frequently. Admittedly, one new issue is bigger in size than the little digest-sized books I used to put out -gasp- four times a year, but even a few years ago, there existed far more venues year-round to get this magazine seen than now. As a result, it only makes sense to prepare an annual ESR issue, customarily debut it at Word on the Street, and then tour it at the events that still largely exist in the fall season.

After writing that bit, however, I began to ponder future plans for all things ESR. Way back during Expozine in 2009, our friend Eric Bourgignon had interviewed me for his podcast series "Vlog de Rien". One of his questions was where I saw this publication going- then as now, I believed that it would eventually give itself over to a longer format. Because of the irregularity of its publication, it no longer really needs to exist as a periodical, per se. As a result, we don't do columns on the latest DVD or book reviews as there already exists print and electronic entities that would cover similar material in greater regularity. Therefore, I'm wondering if our logical future exists in during longer pieces on works that still to this day are missing proper coverage in print.

Every year I ask myself if I'm running out of things to discuss that haven't been analyzed incessantly elsewhere, and am always surprised to discover new terrain, even in this age where online forums and blogs run the gamut of cinema big and small.  As a result, it may make more sense for the web component of ESR to review new books or DVDs (since this format is obviously more immediate and contemporary), and the print side would concentrate on longer, more thorough analyses that would seem inappropriate to the web.

Also, I've been looking at the viability of print-on-demand, which would allow us to release new works in a more professional and durable format than before, and perhaps, would finally open some doors to get these pages seen in other markets.

These are all things we're pondering right now as we prepare for another fall season. In recent years, I've wondered if ESR has run its course. Now, I'm wondering if, truly, we've just begun.

Apr 2, 2012

This Week's "Hard To Find" Film: Dreams of Glass (1970)



Although today director Robert Clouse is remembered for his action films, especially his martial arts-themed movies like the classic Enter The Dragon, his first feature (after making a couple of shorts) was the delicate drama Dreams of Glass, about an interracial romance between a young man (John Denos) and an Asian girl (Caroline Barrett).

Synopsis from TCM's database:

Tom, an unpredictable 18-year-old high school drop-out, is in love with Ann, a 16-year-old Japanese-American girl; but Ann's conservative parents and Tom's father, a middle-aged San Pedro fisherman, both object to the relationship. Despite these objections, the couple are happy together. While walking in the local park, playing hide-and-seek and taking photographs of each other, the two are spotted by Ann's mother, who chastises Ann when she returns home. The following afternoon, Tom takes Ann to a deserted warehouse that belongs to his father, and they decide to make it their home.

---

I had actually seen this film on City TV late in 1986, which had aired during the wee hours in the final slot of their all mighty, all night, Late Great Movies. Circa 1986 to 1987, whenever City showed a feature film (especially from the 1970s) that was not listed in Leonard Maltin's video reference guide, its obscurity would therefore entice your humble daredevil reviewer to tune in. As a result, over those years I had seen Invasion From Inner Earth, The Lucifer Complex, Joey and Redhawk, Game For Vultures, Child's Play (the Lumet film, not the killer doll), Fyre, and several others. Some of these titles have since been listed in Maltin's book, but not all! 

25 years on, all I remember about the movie was how the tasteful love scene featured a visual touch like being lensed through the threads of an afghan blanket; someone's TV set falling from one of the boats moored in the marina; and my surprise in seeing Danny DeVito in the final credits. I also remember that the film wasn't great; not terrible, just rather slight. Still, in those days, it was easy to dismiss a film like this because one could see so many more similar works that either depicted youth or a star-crossed romance. However, I've always been curious to see if time has been kinder to this movie. Dreams of Glass has never been available on VHS or DVD; it seems its fate was consigned to a sporadic showing on the late, late show. Alas, over the years, City merged with CTV, and Late Great Movies was a distant memory. Now instead of seeing elusive works of cinema, people get to watch "Bachelorette" reruns at 4:30 AM. 

Upon seeing a lot of these films simply because they were not listed in Maltin's book, one would ponder if any or all of these are justifiably obscure. Well, I've always been a believer that time proves the worth of everything; also, it's the Henri Langlois in me that says all cinema should be available for all who wants it, now and for the future. It would be interesting to revisit an honest little picture like this once again. Seen today, it would likely be a refreshing counterpoint to the reality TV and "CSI" reruns that now take over the programming twenty-four seven.



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