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October 25 2011

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Scary Monsters 2011, Round 3

Following rounds 1 and 2, this one will take us right on through the countdown to Halloween and will surely be the most actively updated of the bunch. Best to begin, then, by grounding it in a classic, so we turn to David Kalat: "Frankenstein isn't a science fiction story about an arrogant scientist who intrudes on God's domain, it's a metaphor about our relationship to God." That's his argument, and I'll let him explain, but I want to pull back to a couple of earlier sentences in his piece. Mary Shelley's novel, "and the 1910 film version, treated the 'science' of Frankenstein as just so much folderol, a MacGuffin to introduce the artificial man into the story. Whale was so good at providing a reasonably convincing visualization of reviving the dead — no, more than that, a stunningly satisfying visualization of reviving the dead — it focused popular attention on that part of the story — and sequels/remakes/followers would invoke blood transfusions, organ transplants, atomic age science, and cloning as examples of Frankensteinian overreach."

Also at Movie Morlocks: Suzi Doll on the sounds of horror.

Eric Henderson introduces Slant's annotated list, "The 25 Best Horror Films of the Aughts": "It's both too glib and too jingoistic to suggest that 9/11 perhaps ushered in what has clearly become another golden age of horror, easy though it might be when we're examining a time span during which political speechwriters used the word 'terror' with more wonton relish than William Castle, Roger Corman, and the Crypt Keeper combined. Though the instantaneously repulsive spectacle in lower Manhattan and the deadening slow-mo retaliation certainly primed the world to absorb a whole lotta hurt, the new millennial horror paid forth brutalism in a multicultural banquet of carnage, grue, and dread."

"It's become a Halloween tradition around The AV Club to ask a horror-movie aficionado to program a 24-hour horror-film marathon that readers can re-create at home," writes Keith Phipps. This year, they've turned to Edgar Wright: "Anyone who's seen Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, or 'Don't,' Wright's contribution to the trailers featured in Grindhouse, knows that he has a deep knowledge of and affection for horror, and the 15 films he selected — organized around Shakespeare's seven ages of man — did not disappoint."

Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky, introducing a week-long series, "A Few Great Pumpkins VI," considers the state of contemporary horror: "Though James Wan's Insidious appears to be the year's breakout hit of the genre, and though it is an admirable and effective scare machine, shockingly adept at creating chilling images that stick in the craw, its overall conception and design is so derivative of so many horror 'essentials' (plus, oddly, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) that one would have to use some form of analytic astral projection to justify it as original. Stake Land has its fans, but I haven't taken the plunge. So, despite one upcoming winner (which might just be a benchmark of British horror, and which I will expound upon later in the week), 2011 is a fairly bloodless state of affairs for anyone who wants to see something a little, well, different…. Thankfully, as with every Halloween, there's a seemingly endless treasure trove of horror films from prior decades, and there are even still a handful in there that can take you by surprise. Imagine my happiness upon finally deciding to watch Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death, the final film in the cycle of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by the independent impresario, and, as shot by cinematographer Nicolas Roeg, the most sumptuous." Related: Ed Champion interviews Corman (28'52"), while, at Twitch, Canfield has details on a celebration of Vincent Price's 100th year coming up on Sunday in Chicago.

Also at Reverse Shot, Damon Smith previews one of the films featured in See it Big!, series running from Friday through January 1 at the Museum of the Moving Image: "Alien is a film about space, quite literally — not only the ingenious way that Scott deploys his camera in the cramped air shafts and passageways of the doomed crew's star flyer, where something unimaginably Other has hitched a ride and lurks predatorily, but also how the double-jawed menace accosts the travelers in the grim, lonely vacuum of the cosmos, a vastness that only intensifies the inescapable feeling of claustrophobia and entombment. Seeing this uniquely frightening creature feature on the big screen, where you can fully appreciate Scott's innovative-for-their-time visual effects, deeply unsettling sound design, and eerie evocation of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as post–Star Wars nightmare death trip, transforms those late-night, pillow-clutching jitters into a widescreen sensory scarefest with few rivals. Alien hasn't faded from view in the past three decades (a director's cut was released to theaters in 2003), nor has it lost its ability to induce a sickening dread in today's see-Saw-prone audiences, because the fear it evokes is primal and profoundly disturbing."

"Eerie, gritty, unpredictable, and brilliant in flashes, The Blood on Satan's Claw is one of the best horror films of the 70s, and could have been even better," writes Roderick Heath at Ferdy on Films. "It's a work that outdid Hammer Studios at their own game, presents a bridging point between 60s Gothic horror and the inversions of The Wicker Man (1973), as well as the darker body-centric horrors of the next few decades in the genre, and also develops on elements introduced to the British horror film by Michael Reeves's Witchfinder General (1969). Director Piers Haggard belongs to a category including Robin Hardy, John Hough, Hans Geissendoerfer, Jorge Grau, John Hancock, José Larraz, Alfred Sole, and other directors to take a sojourn into the horror cinema in the late 60s and 70s and suggest great talent but achieve only a ragged and stuttering subsequent career…. The Blood on Satan's Claw is, amongst other things, a classic example of the filmmaking of its era now much fetishized by genre fans, with a lustrous yet gamy physicality in the cinematography and unvarnished production style that seems unreproducible with today's so-slick ways of shooting and editing films."

This year's edition of Toronto After Dark runs through Thursday, and Bob Turnbull reviews Scott Leberecht's vampire tale, Midnight Son: "Akin to George Romero's best film (IMO) Martin, but with superior acting and even more sympathetic characters, Midnight Son succeeds on just about every level as a storytelling vehicle: a genre exercise, a different spin on a well-worn legend, an examination of several themes (loneliness, self-realization) and a simple love story. It is easily the best told tale of the festival so far."

"This week brings film buffs and comedy devotees alike the pleasure of Marty Feldman: The Biography of a Comedy Legend, author Robert Ross's revelatory new chronicle of the turbulent life and premature death of the titular British TV and film comic Feldman," writes ST VanAirsdale. "Feldman's broad influence on British comedy of the 60s receives a close look from interview subjects including Michael Palin, Terry Jones and, from tapes recorded for his unfinished memoir, even Feldman himself. But his impact hardly ended there — as anyone who's seen Young Frankenstein knows. In Movieline's exclusive excerpt from Marty Feldman, filmmaker Mel Brooks and writer/co-star Gene Wilder recall the 'gift from God' that helped make their collaboration an instant comedy classic."

Last week saw the beginnings of a roundup on Erle C Kenton's Island of Lost Souls (1932), with mentions of Susan Arosteguy's "10 Things I Learned" and Criterion's "Three Reasons" video. This week, Dave Kehr notes in the New York Times that this adaptation of HG Wells's The Island of Dr Moreau was "so extreme in its effects that Wells himself denounced it. The film was banned in Britain until 1958, when the censors finally passed it with an X rating." Now, "just in time for Halloween here's the Criterion Blu-ray edition that fans have been praying for, and I'm happy to report that the film has lost none of its powerful whiff of perversity." More from Michael Rawls (Cinespect), Bill Ryan on the novel and Josef Braun: "The film's celebrated atmospherics are perfected by the absence of music to soften the agonized cries of those titular souls subjected to ongoing torture in the bluntly dubbed 'House of Pain.'" He then slips in another Criterion disc: Kaneto Shindo's Onibaba (1964) "scared the bejesus out of me when I saw Criterion's release of it some years back, and Kuroneko [1968] wields a similar primal power, much of it deriving from carefully crafted details: a house that seems like a theatre of mist designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; the kimono who's outer diaphanous layer resembles the wings of a fly; the peculiar use of slow-motion or the breath that hangs in the frigid air."

I never got around to fully covering the coverage of all the films that screened in Venice and Toronto (perhaps some day I will? Groucho eye-roll), but having at least wrapped up Toronto's Midnight Madness, let me pull out two titles from Venice that fit neatly in this round, the first being Kotoko, named best feature by Jia Zhangke's Orizzonti Jury. "Mother love gets the Shinya Tsukamoto treatment in the Japanese auteur's latest mindfuck, a boldly abrasive, sometimes overwhelming tour of an unbalanced psyche," writes Fernando F Croce at the House Next Door. "Said psyche belongs to a young, single mother (played by J-pop star Cocco) who imagines sinister doppelgangers lurking everywhere, stabs potential suitors with forks, lacerates her skinny arms with razors ('I cut my body to confirm it,' she muses in voiceover) and, above all, turns any activity involving her toddler son into grueling bouts of hysteria." Neil Young for the Hollywood Reporter: "Whatever else one can say about Tsukamoto, he certainly brings his distinctive vision of the world to the screen with minimal compromise and interference. As well as writing, directing and appearing here, he edits the movie and collaborates on the cinematography with Satoshi Hayashi. Because while Kotoko can't be faulted for the way it takes us directly into its heroine's states of crippling neurosis — Masaya Kitada's deafening sound design makes a crucial contribution here — the hallucinations and fantasies yield increasingly diminishing returns as they pile up and up, and drag on and on." More from Kurt Halfyard (Twitch), Matthew Hardstaff (Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow, where Chris MaGee interviews Tsukamoto) and Boyd van Hoeij (Variety).

"How did Mary Harron, the skilled and reliably intelligent director of American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page, make a film as inept as The Moth Diaries?" asks Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "You can see where the attraction might be for a feminist filmmaker like Harron: Based on Rachel Klein's novel, the film is a vampire tale set in an all-girl boarding school, offering a chance to express the vampire myth in wholly feminine terms and assert a classicism absent in the Twilight movies…. The Moth Diaries deals with the intense emotions of girls in the blush of adolescence, but Harron, perhaps wary of exploitation, pours cold water over them." Similarly, Guido Bonsaver (Sight & Sound), Kevin B Lee (Fandor), Oliver Lyttelton (Playlist) and Neil Young (THR).

At Twitch, J Hurtado is glad to hear that Kino Lorber has acquired Redemption Films' library of euro-horror classics, including work by Jean Rollin. Kino will be releasing five of his films — The Nude Vampire (1970), The Shiver of the Vampires (1971), The Iron Rose (1973), Lips of Blood (1975) and Fascination (1979) — this spring on DVD and Blu-ray.

Dan North collects "100 Posters of the Living Dead," while Hollywood is Dead turns posters for more mainstream fare and zombifies 'em.

Viewing (1'11"). "Ant Timpson and Tim League's The ABCs of Death competition has received more than 170 short films vying for slot 26 in the alphabetical horror anthology," notes indieWIRE's Dana Harris. "And now they have a red-band trailer to prove it."

For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.


Diese Woche noch weniger Einträge hier im Blog. Vielleicht reicht es aber noch zu der einen oder anderen Besprechung.

Inferno (1980): or, Death is a Mutha

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 24!

Poet and antique book aficionado Rose Elliot (Irene Miracle) finds an enigmatic tome entitled The Three Mothers in her local junk shop in New York. The book is the autobiography of an alchemist-cum-architect named Varelli who claims to have built three houses for the titular creatures--malevolent, mythological beings like the Fates, who poison the air and bring destruction to everyone around them. Unfortunately for her, Rose's apartment building just happens to be the home of Madre Tenebraum, the Mother of Darkness. After exploring the building's flooded basement and discovering proof of the Madre's residence (not to mention a very clingy drowned corpse), Rose decides she needs to call in some help.

That help is thousands of miles away in Rome, in the form of her brother, musicology student Mark (Leigh McCloskey). Upon receipt of his sister's letter detailing her troubles, Mark begins to experience strange phenomena himself--a mysterious green-eyed woman (Ania Pieroni) sits in on class, causing freak windstorms while stroking her big furry Mark's friend Sara (Eleonora Giorgi) reads Rose's letter and goes to the local library to pick up a copy of The Three Mothers, only to be menaced by a bookbinder, picked up by a sports writer, and then stabbed in the spine by a scar-handed killer. Mark beats it to New York, where in the meantime his sister has been offed by another shadowy figure with the same sinister psoriasis. He befriends weirdo neighbor Elise (Daria Nicolodi) and journeys deep into the bowels of the Mother's abode, which as you might imagine stirs up all kinds of fragrant, freaky shit.

I've always been lukewarm on the work of Dario Argento--I mean, I appreciate his importance and his vision, but I've never been the raving fan of his stuff that others--notably his corpulence the Duke of DVD--are. Still, even a jaded critic like me has to admit that Inferno (1980) is absolutely stunning stuff. The director's trademark use of color, particularly his strong use of red and blue gels, consistently wows the viewer and lends the whole film a weird, dreamlike beauty. The opening scene with Rose swimming through the flooded subterranean ballroom is simply amazing. Stylistic camera placement and frame composition abound--in a favorite scene of mine, the camera seems to float on a breeze into the lecture hall where Mark is reading his sister's letter. The whole movie is just gorgeous to look at, and proves just how powerful Argento's vision can be. And the gore scenes, particularly the death of Sara's ill-fated pickup, are fantastic.

Story-wise, this is one of my favorite of Argento's films, perhaps only slightly behind the glorious MADness of Phenomena (1985). The middle of the Three Mothers trilogy, this one cements the supernatural mythology of the series and effectively conveys the vast power of these forgotten goddesses, or demons, or whatever they are. If there's any criticism to bring to bear, it's that at times the movie seems to lose its focus, jumping from Rose to Sara to Mark to Elise without ever settling fully on one protagonist. However, this could as easily be counted a strength of the film, whose real star is Argento's camera and the labyrinthine, expressionist nightmare that is Madre Tenebraum's house.

In short, wonderful stuff from an artist near the peak of his powers. 3 thumbs.

Significant Stroking

the stone killer (michael winner, usa/italien 1973)

Der für seine zweifelhaften Methoden berüchtigte New Yorker Polizist Lou Torrey (Charles Bronson) wird wegen der Erschießung eines minderjährigen Kriminellen nach L. A. versetzt. Dort geht ihm gleich ein alter Bekannter ins Netz, der mit Mafiaverbindungen ausgestattete Armitage, für den ein Haftbefehl in New York vorliegt. Doch noch während seiner Überführung wird der auf offener Straße erschossen. Kurze Zeit später gibt es in L. A. eine weitere, ganz ähnliche Hinrichtung, sodass Torrey nicht mehr an einen Zufall glauben mag. Seine Ermittlungen führen ihn in das Ausbildungscamp einer paramilitärischen Organisation, die offensichtlich von der Familie des New Yorker Mafiosi Al Vescari (Martin Balsam) bezahlt wird …

Michael Winners dritte Zusammenarbeit mit Charles Bronson (nach CHATO’S LAND und THE MECHANIC) kann man schon als eine Art Vorstudie für den im folgenden Jahr entstandenen DEATH WISH betrachten. Gleich zu Beginn muss sich Bronsons Torrey vor seinem Vorgesetzten dafür verantworten, dass er einen Teenager erschossen hat (der allerdings selbst im Begriff war, eine Waffe zu ziehen), und singt infolgedessen das bekannte Lied des zukünftigen Vigilanten über zu lasche Gesetze, zu strenge Dienstaufsicht, immer aggressiver auftretende und jünger werdende Verbrecher. Zwar beschränkt sich die geistige Verwandtschaft mit Winners  Erfolgsfilm auf solche kurzen Momente und einen mahnend apokalyptischen Epilog, führt der Film inhaltlich ziemlich weit vom in DEATH WISH verfolgten weg, doch verstärkt THE STONE KILLER den dort gewonnenen Eindruck, dass es Winner nicht um Affirmation geht, sondern darum, die Diskrepanz zwischen der Welt und seinem Protagonisten aufzuzeigen, der nicht mehr versteht, was um ihn herum passiert. Ich habe Paul Kersey in DEATH WISH immer als hilflosen Menschen empfunden, als jemanden, der von den Dingen so überrollt wird, dass nur der komplette Verstoß gegen alle zuvor noch hochgehaltenen Werte ihm noch plausibel erscheint. Bei Torrey fällt vor allem die Kluft zwischen physischer Stärke und kognitiver Mittelmäßigkeit auf: Sein Körper muss immer ausbügeln, was er während der Ermittlungsarbeit verbockt hat. Und damit ist er repräsentativ für die gesamte Exekutive.

Es ist nicht ganz klar, ob THE STONE KILLER nur unfreiwillig komisch ist oder ob sich Winner tatsächlich über sein Cops lustig macht: Dass der Film streckenweise merkwürdig off erscheint, ist mit Sicherheit auch den Winner’schen Manierismen zuzuschreiben, etwa seinem hier noch sehr ausgeprägten Hang, Charaktere aus komischen Perspektiven, durch Gegenstände hindurch etc. zu filmen. Es fällt einfach schwer, einen Mann ernst zu nehmen, der sich während eines Dialogs erst hinter einem Regal versteckt und dann immer zwischen den in diesem platzierten Gegenständen hindurchschauen muss. Andere Beispiele sprechen dafür, dass Winner das Hardlinertum seines Protagonisten bewusst ins Lächerliche ziehen will: Als Torrey eine Zeugin in einem Ashram aufsucht, in dem sich eine Klientel tummelt, die genauso aussieht, wie sich der Spießer Esoteriker und Hippies vorstellt, beginnen diese irgendwann enthemmt um ihn herumzutanzen, während er sein Gespräch führt und keine Miene verzieht. Er ist es, der in dieser Szene albern aussieht. Das klarste Indiz dafür, dass Winner sich hier nicht zum Fürsprecher der Law&Order- und Zero-Tolerance-Politik aufschhwingt, die sein Protagonist so gern umsetzen würde, ist die Zeichnung der Polizei als erbarmungswürdig unfähiger Haufen. Gleich mehrere Verdächtige können den Beamten entwischen, einfachste Verhaftungen gehen schief und meist liegt am Ende jemand tot auf dem Asphalt. Im Finale können die Verbrecher ein wahres Massaker anrichten, weil die Polizei mal wieder zu spät ist und ihr nichts besseres einfällt, als dieses Massaker durch die Erschießung der Täter noch zu vergrößern.

THE STONE KILLER – den ich vor Ewigkeiten zum letzten Mal gesehen habe, der mir aber gar nicht so fremd war, wie ich erwartet hatte – ist als ernster Polizeifilm nur mäßig erfolgreich, weil viele seiner Ideen zu weit draußen sind und Winner selbst nicht so ganz genau gewusst zu sein scheint, was er aus dem Drehbuch eigentlich machen wollte. Die beiden Stränge des Films – Torreys Ermittlungen und das Treiben der Mafiosi um Al Vescari – finden nie wirklich zusammen und alles mutet ungeschliffen und hingeworfen an. Als Reißer mag ich THE STONE KILLER aber sehr gern:  Ich liebe die Bronson-Filme aus jener Zeit, könnte dieses wettergegerbte Gesicht mit demcharakteristischen Schnurrbart stundenlang betrachten, ihm endlos dabei zuhören, wie er mit seiner gleichzeitig nasalen wie autoritären Stimme seinem kurz vor dem Umschlag in die Resignation stehenden Unmut Luft verschafft. THE STONE KILLER verströmt den würzigen Tabakduft alter B-Movies, ist ziemlich brutal und hat mit dem Deutschen Paul Koslo zudem einen Nebendarsteller in petto, den ich bislang noch in jeder Rolle geliebt habe. Der bisexuelle Posaunist, den er hier gibt, ist eine Zier für seine Filmografie und Ähnliches gilt für einen pausbäckigen John Ritter als Rookie Cop. Kein guter Film, aber trotzdem einer zum Liebhaben.



remaker 1.jpg

Kon raruek chat
Mona Nahm - 2005
Kam & Ronson All Region DVD

With some assistance from producer Oxide Pang, I had higher expectations for Remaker. Mona Nahm's short feature doesn't tread any new ground, nor does it have the visual panache or narrative twists associated with the Pang brothers, working together or separately. The film is of some interest in being one of the few Thai commercial films to be directed by a woman. For the past few years, Nahm has settled on a steady career as a production designer in Los Angeles.

Saved by drowning in a traffic accident, Tom finds himself with a psychic connection to Pim, a young woman now in a coma. Tom takes financially responsibility for Pim's hospitalization. Through telepathy, Pim explains to Tom that he has to save the lives of others to make amends for his karma. Tom eventually learns to go out of his way to do the right thing, rather than bypassing those in trouble. Philosophically, this is barely Buddhism 101. There's even an orange robed priest that seems to appear and disappear at will in a couple of scenes.

remaker 2.jpg

The film was done with an extremely low budget. Some of the computer generated special effects are too obvious, and appear done with old technology. And yet . .

Maybe it was a choice done for budgetary reasons, but actress Piyada Akaraseni plays multiple roles, as Pim, and as three women whose lives are saved by Tom. Piyada even got nominated by the Thailand National Film Association for her performance. Maybe Mona Nahm was inspired by Meg Ryan's multiple roles in Joe Versus the Volcano. Piyada has more consistently worked in Thai television. The most interesting of her performances is as Tom's awkward secretary with the very large glasses, which hints at some comic potential that isn't realized in this film. Where mystery and suspense are lacking, Mona Nahm fills the running time with close-ups of Piyada's long hair whipping in the wind. Ultimately, The Remaker is a disappointing film, not heeding the lesson of its own story, that sometimes just having good intentions is never enough.

remaker 3.jpg

Tags: DVD Review

Images de la diversité

-Cultural Diversity Awareness- Programmes de soutien français pour les films de la diversité culturelle : "Malgré les succès enregistrés, notamment au cinéma, ces dernières années, et un nombre toujours croissant de productions qui traitent de la diversité, nous devons encore convaincre de la vitalité artistique de ces projets et de la chance qu’ils représentent pour le renouvellement de la

Play it again, Joan

“The happy heart loves the cliché.”

–Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) in Sudden Fear.

Sometimes your audience gets what you’re saying faster than you do. Years ago, after I gave a lecture in a class at Columbia University, a grad student came up and said: “What you’re doing is looking for the conventional side of unconventional films and the unconventional side of conventional films.” I’d say it’s not all I try to do, but the student’s chiasmus does capture a lot of what interests me.

It’s especially on target for Hollywood cinema. I don’t understand criticisms of Hollywood for not being realistic. It’s a highly stylized, artificial cinema, only a few notches above ballet or commedia dell’arte. Some of our best critics, like Parker Tyler and Manny Farber and Geoffrey O’Brien, have understood this. All the artifice will demand plenty of conventions, yes, but there are always filmmakers ready to treat them in fresh ways. And the churn is swift. American studio cinema is constantly finding new variations on its traditional forms, formats, and formulas.


Do-overs are allowed

Sleep, My Love

Take replays. The repeated sequence has become so common in our movies that nobody much notices it any more. We’re quite used to seeing an earlier action revisited. Often the replay simply serves to remind you of what happened, as when clues to a mystery are given in fragmentary flashbacks. The replay may also aim to get you absorbed in a character’s mental life. John, the hitman in John Woo’s The Killer, is traumatized by the fact that he blinded an innocent woman during a contract hit, and the moment of her wounding haunts him.

Sometimes, however, we get multiple-draft replays, in which the second version significantly alters the first. A common gambit is to have the second version show more of what happened, as in the money drop in Jackie Brown. Other cases show contradictions, as when conflicting testimony is dramatized in flashbacks. The most recent version I’ve seen occurs in The Debt, when the central 1966 section of the film concludes by showing what really happened when Dr. Vogel slashed Rachel and fled. In such cases the replay becomes less a true repetition and more of a revision, a new version questioning or canceling what we’ve seen before.

The idea isn’t new. You can find the replay in various forms in trial films of the 1930s, as I’ve discussed here. But the replay really came into its own during the 1940s. Directors and screenwriters experimented with the device as part of a broader initiative, burrowing into new niches in the ecosystem of classical narrative.

In those films, it’s common for replayed scenes to show an incident haunting the protagonist, as when the tormented bride of The Locket is assailed by memories as she walks down the aisle. Sometimes a flashback fills in information that was cunningly omitted from the earlier version, as in Mildred Pierce. And we also have competing accounts of what happened, as variant replays furnish multiple drafts. The most famous example is probably Crossfire.

By 1950, Joseph Mankiewicz could dream up one of the most daring experiments of the period, one that anticipated the repeated scene in Persona. For All about Eve, Mankiewicz planned to present Eve’s memorable monologue about the power of theatre twice: first through the sympathetic eyes of Karen (Celeste Holm), then from the perspective of the bitter Margo Channing (Bette Davis). What would viewers and other filmmakers have made of it? But Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck ordered the replay dropped, for reasons I speculate about in this entry’s codicil.

Mankiewicz’s unseen experiment with Eve’s “Audience Aria” reminds us that replays affect the soundtrack too. The most common use of replays is probably auditory, that line of dialogue that flits through a character’s consciousness—an auditory flashback, in effect. “Who knows what you may do the next time?” asks the sinister voice of the psychiatrist as Alison (Claudette Colbert) totters up the stairs in Sleep, My Love (1949). Several snatches of dialogue can flow together to recall a host of earlier scenes. In The Hard Way (1943), on another staircase, Katie (Joan Leslie) becomes distraught as bits of dialogue spoken by several characters flash through her mind.

More unusual is the audio replay in Duvivier’s wonderfully stylized Lydia (1941). A flashback to a ball is introduced by Lydia’s voice-over, recalling the splendid ballroom with its mirrorlike floors and the “divine aggregation of musicians, hundred of them, I think.”

But then her old lover corrects her memory and we get a flashback showing a more modest ballroom with a small ensemble.

Over these later shots, however, we hear bits of Lydia’s earlier description of the big ballroom and troops of musicians, in contrast to what we see. The sound flashback functions as a wry narrational commentary on Lydia’s stubborn romanticism.

Purely auditory replays tend to be subjective, but could we have an objective one? And can it promote surprise and suspense? As we say in Wisconsin, you bet. (Not you betcha.)


The replay machine

A lighthearted instance appears in The Pajama Game (1957). Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) , the new superintendant at the Sleeptite Pajama Factory, is falling in love with Babe Williams (Doris Day), the no-nonsense head of the labor union’s Grievance Committee. He sings into his Dictaphone about her in the song, “Hey, There (You with the Stars in Your Eyes).”

At the end of the song’s first section, he plays it back and then comments sourly on the lines he’s just sung. By the end, he’s joining himself in a duet, harmonizing nicely.

This instant playback wasn’t a cinematic invention, though. The same number, including the Dictaphone gimmick, was employed in the original Broadway production.

The Dictaphone, which used both wax cylinders and plastic belts for recording, was a popular device for businesses. Erle Stanley Gardner employed it for dictating many of his novels. A competitor to the Dictaphone was the SoundScriber, a late 1940s device using vinyl phonographic discs. The SoundScriber figures in a more sustained and suspenseful replay scene a few years before The Pajama Game.

In Sudden Fear (1952), Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is a prosperous playwright who has outfitted her office with a SoundScriber. She uses it for dictating plays and correspondence. One evening before a party, euphoric after her new marriage to the handsome actor Lester Blaine, she meets with her attorney to prepare a new will. He proffers a draft that assigns a modest sum to Lester, but she considers it insulting. She switches on the SoundScriber and dictates a new will, one leaving all her estate to Lester.

But we’ve had our suspicions about Lester, since he’s played by Jack Palance, an actor with more juts to his facial planes than a Giacometti bust. Our fears are confirmed after Lester hooks up with his old girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame). When they learn that Myra is making a new will, they believe she’s going to give the bulk of her estate to a foundation.

On the evening of the party, as she starts dictating her new will, the guests arrive and she descends to meet them. Irene and Lester slip away and meet in Myra’s study. Fade out on Lester closing the door.

Next morning, Myra return to her study and discovers she left her SoundScriber on all night. She hits replay and listens to herself bequeathing all her money to Lester. This is the replay that launches the big action. As she’s about to switch off the machine, she hears the conversation starting between Lester and Irene. The microphone, left on accidentally, has picked up their plotting.

The couple is still under the false impression that the new will leaves Lester penniless. We hear him declare his contempt for Myra while caressing and embracing Irene. They start planning to kill her before she can sign the new will.

The SoundScriber scene gives us two plot developments, past and present, simultaneously. The recording fills in the gap left by the fade-out: Now we know what happened behind those closed doors. On the visual track, we can watch Myra’s developing anxiety about the couple’s murder plot but, more piercingly, we register her realization that Lester has never loved her.

Across seven minutes, Joan Crawford executes a carefully modulated solo performance, for the most part with no accompanying score. Meanwhile, Palance and Grahame get to act viva voce. And David Miller’s direction scales and times things nicely. I won’t try to analyze the very end of the scene, let alone its frenzied aftermath. I just want to trace the dynamics of the double-layered time scheme the replay machine gives us.


Joanie, more than shoulders

The recorded scene develops from the lovers’ frustration with keeping up a false front, then to their suspicion that Irene will cut Lester out of her will, then to the mistaken belief that she’s just done so, and finally to their decision to kill her. Myra’s playback scene proceeds, I think, in four stages as well. Myra starts out placid and almost giddy in her love for Lester. She’s abruptly shocked and disenchanted when she learns he doesn’t love her; her stomach churns. A third phase consists of her discovery that Lester and Irene intend to kill her, and she devolves into sheer panic. The last phase, of which I’ll show only a bit, initiates a search for a way to defend herself.

Myra comes in euphoric. As she replays her dictation of the night before, she strolls around her study, going far back to the distant refrigerator for a glass of milk and then coming forward. She seems to savor hearing again her own declaration of her devotion to Lester.

Myra’s circuit around her study isn’t just filler: it etablishes the rear area for use later. But now, as she’s about to turn off the recording, she hears Lester’s voice: “What’s up?” She backs up a little, bumping the desk as she realizes that there’s more on the disc. This recoil, as a performance decision, will get magnified in the course of the scene. Then Miller cuts to a reaction shot.

The first of several optical point-of-view shots gives us a close view of the twin SoundScriber units (good for product placement too). Myra has set the milk down on the console.

As we hear Lester venting his contempt for her, Myra’s eyes fill with tears. Worse, he adds that he’d like to tell her he never loved her for a moment. “I’d like to see her face.” He can’t, but we can; in the closest shot yet, she looks right at us. Hollywood can be brutal.

She turns away and, seen from a new angle by the desk, she advances toward us. On the track, Lester is pitching woo to Irene. Myra realizes that he lusts for this other woman. She sighs. Listen closely and you can hear her emit a soft whimper as well.

Another cut to the SoundScriber as Lester says he dreams of holding Irene: “I don’t know how I stand it, not being with you.” On these last few words, cut to Irene, turning away in shame.

She rushes back, having heard enough. A low angle shows her about to switch off the horrible recording when Irene is heard noticing the attorney’s draft of the will on the desk. “It’s the will!” Myra freezes, accentuating the line, and then starts to turn when Lester begins to read the draft.

Having hidden her face from us for a little while, Miller’s direction makes the next close view all the more powerful. (Note the eyebrow work.) Lester’s reaction to the will proves it’s been about the money all along. As he curses Myra, she doubles over grabbing her stomach. This, I take it, is the high point of the scene’s second phase–a sheerly physical reaction to Lester’s cynical betrayal of her love.

Phase three starts, I think, when Irene is heard purring, “Suppose she isn’t able to sign it on Monday.” The line is heard over a shot of the machine, and not a POV at that. The visual narration cunningly delays, by just a few seconds, Myra’s reaction to Irene’s hint. The cut shows her listening, stunned. Lester agrees with Irene. “I’d get it all! Why not?”

Myra turns, as if in disbelief, and a closer view of SoundScriber underscores Irene’s response: “Lester, I have a gun.”

This triggers the scene’s big movement: Myra’s retreat from the recording. Back to the extreme long shot, low angle, as she hurls herself toward the rear wall and sidles along toward the refrigerator, taking refuge behind the chair. The lovers discuss how to arrange an apparent accident, all the while kissing and declaring their love. Lester exclaims, “I’m crazy about you! I could break your bones!” as only Jack Palance could say it.

Again we get an optical POV shot, but now from Myra’s position across the room as Lester muses on “a nice little accident.” And in the cut back to Myra, we hear Irene say, “We’ll work something out. I know a way.” The recording needle is stuck in a groove, and we hear her say it again: “I know a way.” Music comes up for the first time, shifting the action to a new pitch.

I know a way. This mechanical glitch, I think, pushes fear into panic. The tightest close-up yet of the spinning disc is a sort of mental subjectivity: It’s not what Myra sees exactly, but an expression of her being riveted by insistent, maniacal repetition of Irene’s assurance: I know a way. Myra rushes out of the shot and hurls herself into the bathroom to vomit. All the while we hear, again and again: I know a way.

The couple’s plotting has driven Myra out of the room, as the music rises and nearly suppresses Irene’s “I know a way.” In a closer view of the bathroom, Myra staggers to the sink and splashes water on her face, while the record still spins and Irene’s voice taunts her.

But now we get the start of a new phase, with Myra trying to seize the initiative. In a burst of anger she rushes back to the machine, switches it off, and fumblingly takes out the disc. By the time she does so, we’ve heard Irene’s “I know a way” thirty-one times. Talk about hammering the audience.

Myra grips the disc, proof of the criminal conversation, and….

…But my analysis has gone on too long. It’s reasonable, although mean, to stop with the end of the replay. The rest of the sequence builds on what we’ve heard and seen, developing Myra’s efforts to defend herself.

I should note, though, that there follows a hallucinatory sequence in which we get not only perceptual subjectivity, like the POV shots, but also mental imagery and sounds as well. That sequence also includes auditory flashbacks of the usual sort, Myra’s anxious memories of things that Lester and Irene said on the SoundScriber recording. They’re replays of a replay, if you want to get fancy about it.



In a way this scene is just is a variant of a common storytelling convention: Someone accidentally overhears a key piece of information, in an adjacent room or over the phone. But the sequence shrewdly recasts this convention in ways that pay off on many dimensions. We get the suspense attached to the lovers’ mistaken belief that Myra will cut Lester out, and we get Myra’s reaction to it. That reaction is compounded of her sense of betrayal, her disillusion, and her realization that she’s in danger. Had she been eavesdropping on their conversation, she could have burst in on them and denounced their misreading of her will. As it is, she must helplessly listen to them unfold their plans.

After more than a decade of female Gothics–aka”woman in peril” movies, aka I-think-my-husband’s-trying-to-kill-me movies–from Suspicion and Gaslight to Woman in Hiding, Miller and his colleagues found a fresh way to put a lady in a cage. Schema and revision, a key process in the history of any art form, allows ingenious artists to remake what tradition hands them. Twenty years later, Francis Ford Coppola and Walter Murch would build an entire movie, The Conversation, around the audio replay and its possibilities for objectivity and subjectivity. Over and over, the unconventional burrows inside the conventional.

After this film, Joan Crawford became a spokesperson for SoundScriber. (See below.) Who would know better than she the advantages of the gadget? Perhaps Joan even had a stake in the firm. Such fruitful synergy wouldn’t be unknown in Hollywood. Jack Webb found the Teleprompter so useful in shooting Dragnet episodes that he invested in the company.

On All About Eve and Zanuck’s purging of the replay of Eve’s monologue: I suspect that it was a forced byproduct of another decision Zanuck had taken. The film consists largely of flashbacks, and Mankiewicz had intended to move through them by shifting from one character to another. At the awards dinner the flashbacks begin with Karen, and then another block of them, grounded in Margo’s memories, was to take up later episodes in Eve’s ascent to stardom.

But the film ran very long, so Zanuck cut the framing portion at the dinner that would have introduced Margo’s flashbacks. The result is that in Karen’s flashback, we occasionally hear Margo’s narration of certain episodes Karen didn’t witness. But once we’ve lost Margo’s narrating frame, then it becomes quite difficult to justify re-hearing Eve’s ruminations on theatre from anything approximating her point of view. I suspect that consistency of this sort played a role in Zanuck’s cutting Eve’s monologue. Plus it was a pretty daring move on Mankiewicz’s part. And the film is already pretty long. The fullest account of the changes, though still not as specific as I’d like, is in Sam Staggs’ All About All About Eve (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2001), 170-172. As Staggs points out, Mankiewicz did work differential-viewpoint flashbacks into The Barefoot Contessa (1954).

Sudden Fear is available on a so-so DVD transfer from Kino Lorber.

The interplay between film and fiction in the 1940s is fascinating, and we can sometimes find rough equivalents between techniques. Here is a stream of auditory flashbacks in Steve Fisher’s novel I Wake Up Screaming (1941), ending with the protagonist’s inner monologue.

I’d remember Lanny Craig saying: “They crucified me . . . it was because of Vicky Lynn!” And the night Robin Ray said: “She’d laugh, see, and it was like Guy Lombardo’s band playing.” And Hurd Evans: “I only get two hundred and fifty a week.” Tick-tock, the faceless clock on Sunset. “It’s possible to build a case out of nothing,” the assistant district attorney said. Where was Harry Williams? If he’d been murdered, where was his body?

By the end of the thirties, of course, such montages were already heard in radio programs as well.

Joan Crawford was also a spokeswoman for Pepsi-Cola, having married the man who became the company’s CEO. This image comes from a nifty survey of her endorsements available here.

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Liviu Ciulei, 1923 - 2011

"Romanian film and theater director Liviu Ciulei, whose career spanned 50 years and included winning a top award at the Cannes Film Festival, has died at 88," reports the AP. "Ciulei, as an actor, director and set designer, was the most influential figure of Romanian theater and film in a generation." Actor Ion Caramitru is said to have exclaimed today, "An era has died! A genius had died!"

Ciulei's 1964 film Forest of the Hanged (Padurea Spânzuratilor, clip) won Best Director in Cannes and was slated for restoration by the World Cinema Foundation. Adapted from the novel by Liviu Rebreanu, it "tells the story of a young man, Apostol Bologa, from Transylvania, part of the Austria-Hungary Empire, during the First World War," notes CinEast, Festival du Film d'Europe Centrale. "The kingdom of Romania (Moldavia and Wallachia) was on the opposite side, so Apostol Bologa finds himself in the difficult situation of fighting other Romanians. He is torn between his duty as a soldier and that as son of a nation, he tries to desert, but he is captured and has a tragic ending."

Ciulei: "The most beautiful scene I have ever directed in my career is the last scene of Padurea Spânzuratilor. We see a young peasant woman preparing the last meal for the man she loves who is sentenced to death by hanging — a man, a woman, bread, salt and wine, love, life and death."

Don Shewey profiled Ciulei (and noted that his name is pronounced "Leave-you Chew-lay") for the New York Times in 1986: "In 1972 at the Bulandra Theater in Bucharest, he presented a production of The Inspector General, Nikolai Gogol's satire of bureaucratic government, that was taken rather too personally by Rumania's bureaucratic government. The production was closed by censors, and Ciulei left the position he'd held for nine years as the company's artistic director. When he was hired in 1980 to run the Guthrie Theater, one of the oldest and largest regional theaters in America, he inaugurated his regime with a startling production of The Tempest where Prospero's kingdom was presented as an oasis surrounded by a moat of blood, in which floated such cultural artifacts as a Venus de Milo, the Mona Lisa, and a clock without hands. Last summer, having tendered his resignation after only five years as the Guthrie's artistic director, Ciulei mounted his bitter, frightening Midsummer Night's Dream in which Bottom's ragtag troupe of players is humiliated by the indifferent response of its royal audience – a reflection, perhaps, of Ciulei's own disappointment at the lack of enthusiasm for adventurous theater in middle America. 'I think there is, in this country, a certain prudence or refusal to be troubled, much encouraged by TV,' he commented. 'Many people still want the theater to be like a cool lemonade when it's hot.'"

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Eyvind Earle Narrates His Life Story

It’s been an Eyvind Earle kind of week. A couple days ago I stumbled onto an obscure post-Sleeping Beauty Chevrolet commercial that he directed and animated. And tonight I found this half-hour documentary that was written and narrated by him shortly before he died in 2000. The film contains lots of personal history, more of his rarely seen commercial and abstract animation, and a generous serving of his personal philosophies about life. Watch the entire program in three parts:

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INDIA languages - World Cinema Stats (24)

- Cultural Diversity Awareness -  FILM DISTRIBUTION * * * FILM PRODUCTION Source : NFDC / MIB (annual report 2011) / CBFC 2010 / UNESCO  Related: Cultural Diversity Awareness (series) Regional industries in India France Market shares 2010 / South Korea market shares 2010 / UK market shares 2009   EU admissions 1995-2008 / EU-USA market shares 2009 / Foreign
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Daily Briefing. New DVDs, Essays, Posters
The Four Feathers

"Alexander Korda's production of The Four Feathers, the most popular film version of a 1902 British adventure novel set during the Sudanese Mahdist revolt in the late 19th century, retains on its surface pro-Empire bravado and a streak of colonialist supremacy," writes Bill Weber in Slant. "But as vintage 1939 English-regiment actioners go, it has the edge on Hollywood's Gunga Din in authentic, epically framed locations, a lush Technicolor palette, and a lesser racist taint." Criterion's release is a "landmark physical production is handsomely remastered and preserved, even if the bloom has gone off the rose of its imperial England." Speaking of which. As you've likely heard, perhaps on Start the Week (see Mon, Oct 11), Richard Gott's Britain's Empire: Resistance, Rebellion and Repression has kicked up a bit of dust recently. Verso has a quick primer.

Identification of a Woman is Michelangelo Antonioni's "foolishly underrated 1982 film about men and women, love and cinema," writes John Powers for Criterion. "When it first came out, the responses were furiously divergent — it won a prize at Cannes, got creamed by the New York Times — but three decades on, it's easier to assess its place in Antonioni's career. Made when he was nearing seventy, this is one of those autumnal movies — think Rio Bravo or An Autumn Afternoon — in which an aging director allows himself to be more relaxed and genial than in his most finely tuned work. Far from serving up a major statement about the human condition — something Antonioni was never shy about doing — Identification of a Woman comes tinged with modesty and irony. His first feature set in Italy since 1964's Red Desert, it finds him taking a provisional measure of how the modern world has been shifting around him."

Also out from Criterion today is Dazed and Confused. Travis Jeppesen for Artforum: "Richard Linklater's second feature is just as much about the 1990s as it is about the 70s — a fact that might have been lost on us at the time it hit theaters in 1993, but which seems oh so clear from today's retrospective vantage point. Aside from Jon Moritsugu and Jacques Boyreau's Hippy Porn (1993), it's the only viable contender for the Easy Rider (1969) of my generation."

DVD roundups. Sean Axmaker (MSN Movies), Mark Kermode (Observer) and Noel Murray (Los Angeles Times).

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are teaming up with Boardwalk Empire screenwriter Terence Winter on one of three Whitey Bulger projects in the works (Playlist).

In Part 5 of All Things Shining, a series of video essays on Terrence Malick for the Museum of the Moving Image, Matt Zoller Seitz and Serena Bramble turn to The Tree of Life.

The Los Angeles Review of Books has launched a week-long series on Joan Didion. "My favourite film," a new series at the Guardian, begins with Peter Bradshaw on Martin Scorsese's Raging Bull (1980). And yesterday saw not only a new trailer for Scorsese's Hugo but also a trio of custom-designed posters for the "Mob Trilogy" by Ibraheem Youssef.

Speaking of new posters, Hopko Designs has done some nice work for the 15th anniversary of Doug Limon's Swingers. 

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“Animatin” with Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh

We’ve come a long way since The Reluctant Dragon. Here’s how Disney’s Phineas and Ferb is made. Except for the rap music, it’s a pretty accurate account.

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Michelle Yeoh und Luc Bessons THE LADY

Eine der Grande Dames des asiatischen Kinos, Michelle TIGER &DRAGON Yeoh, die die Hauptrolle in Luc Bessons neuem Film über die burmesische Freiheitskämpferin und Friedensnobelpreisträgerin Aung San Suu Kyi spielt, wurde nun die Einreise nach Burma/Myanmar verweigert. Dies dürfte zwangsläufig mit der Fertigstellung des Filmes zu tun haben, denn Yeoh hatte Monate zuvor bereits das Land mit dem Sohn Suu Kyis bereist und sich mit seiner Mutter persönlich getroffen. Michelle Yeoh hatte sich mehrere Jahre auf die Rolle vorbereitet. Siehe BBC.
Nachdem nun erste Trailer zum Film im Netz erschienen sind, hat sich herausgestellt, dass China bereits den Film verboten und jede Ausstrahlung untersagt hat (wantchinatimes). Über chinesische Suchmaschinen ist er nicht mehr zu finden. Dazu besagte Quelle:

All trailers, promotional videos and reviews about the film, directed by Luc Besson, were pulled from the internet soon after being posted and the authorities have warned against any form of publicity for the movie.

Viennale 2011. Choreography

A report from a three film day at the Film Museum, where it seems I'll be spending much if not most of my time at Vienna.  Wonderfully programmed, the progression went: Akerman's Les années 80  [The Eighties], followed by a film in the director's carte blanche section, Jacques Demy's final all-sung musical, Une chambre en ville [A Room in Town] (both 1983), and surprisingly concluded with Akerman's last fictional feature before this year's Almayer's Folly, 2004's  Demaine on déménage (Tomorrow We Move).

I was unexpectedly lucky to see this program rather than one several weeks earlier, which paired The Eighties with its true successor, the stifling but brilliant musical Golden Eighties (1986).  The former is made in that most unique of genres: the film produced to pitch a film. Godard was doing something similar at nearly the same time (for Passion, I believe?), transforming a lack of funds into both a new work and the potential for another new work.  It's therefore a generative work of generosity: a feature length gesture towards Akerman's actors and collaborators who desire to work on a potentially unfinished project, a film of honor showing what Akerman loves in their work. What comes across overwhelmingly isn't the "sense" or "idea" of this, at the time, unproduced other feature that would become Golden Eighties, but rather the profound desire to make something expressive and heartfelt out of nothing but fragments of a screenplay told in auditions, tests, and the lone two musical numbers that were within Akerman's budget to fully pre-imagine—a crazy idea itself—to "pitch" the final film.

Earlier in the day I was in the Leopold Museum looking at Egon Schiele sketches, and later at the Kunsthistorisches Museum at studies by Rubens, and got to thinking if such things as film sketches and studies exist in such a way, cinematic creations that could be regarded more than just as the first iffy steps to later perfectly grasped execution and ideas.  I found it later that afternoon with this Akerman, a film which creates an entire other film outside itself suggested by the traces of character, story, emotion and even spatial ideas ricocheting around the collage of audition videos and songs. Yet The Eighties isn't just the phantom film conjured—not Golden Eighties but something else more oblique—it is, at the same time, whole unto itself, creating its own interior world of starts and stops, snatches and minute completeness, happinesses and sadnesses sometimes within one drama (the script) and sometimes within another (the direction of the auditions).  By the time we see a vocalist in the studio recording a test track to a song (all songs were written by Akerman), and the wildly gesticulating conductor in the studio, in her joy at the performance, turns and reveals herself to be the director, it is clear that this film is a whole living wonderful thing that needs no "completed" film.

A Room in Town

But as I said earlier, this program was surprising and not just on a film by film basis—rather, it was the movement from film to film.  To follow The Eighties not with its sequel/full version created three years later but with a contemporaneous musical by Jacques Demy led me not to follow one-to-one thoughts of sketch to completion within Akerman's filmmaking but rather diverted my thoughts to the makeup behind the scenes of such a seamlessly produced and contained film as A Room in Town.  In fact, due to a mistakenly too cursory reading of the retrospective schedule, the film I saw was on a beautiful print...with German subtitles.  So I had well and good time to spend with the filmmaking, which I found without understanding the language generally uninteresting and the music mostly banal—yet every sound and gesture, in Demy's supreme control of his mise-en-scène and his containment of this unusual mash of politics on the streets and bourgeois lovers' melodrama in densely decorated interiors, held behind it the memories of Akerman's mysterious videos of high heels clacking in a half-lit sound stage, actors directed to follow off-screen movement that doesn't exist, the re-mixing of sound so that audition audio from one sequence is played over, and re-contexualizes, the footage of another. All was funneled into Demy's film, layering planes of rehearsal, digression, and visions tested and re-configured, behind the spotless continuity of his all-singing tragedy. The haunting of The Eighties continued, but not in suggesting a phantom film but rather a phantom process, the joyful toil of searching for creation before the real cameras start rolling.

Tomorrow We Move

The evening was concluded by moving away from song and towards movement—the brilliant, falsely stagebound Tomorrow We Move.  Reminescent of the spry, unreal and lovingly actorly—not to mention certifiably insane and melancholy—late stage adaptations of Alain Resnais, Akerman's original film is a sly and impossibly cinematic re-invention of theatrical conventions, set in place, as with Resnais, only so as to tear them down. Close in spirit to the director's 1984 piece of apartment paranoia-comedy, The Man with the Suitcase, the 2004 film channels the neurosis of interior living into more manic and comedic territory, letting sadness settle only between tumbling entrances and exits (often via an opening in the floor) and then pluckily picking up again, most mysteriously by the discreet, controlled neuroticism and naive aristry of Sylvie Testud's lead heroine. How many films have taken apartment clutter, redecoration and real estate as their foundational narrative and mise-en-scène springboards? (Resnais comes to mind again.)

Always in motion, if just in jotting, jumping thoughts, Testud moves to a huge yet too cramped two-floor flat with her widowed mother and the duo take to settling in like it's a new adventure—one immediately resulting in offhand disatisfaction, sleeplessness, and the desire for a new place.  The film carries more than a little of Leo McCarey in its irrational prolongation of a consteration that seems arbitrary if existant at all, and, like McCarey, fills in the void left by the extension of dramatic time by the most replete attetion to detail—floridly bad jokes that are repeated until they are funny, side characters who hang around until you like them, odd bonds of friendship and sexuality and sadness  forming between people and just hanging there, unpursued, unfinished but sustained in the flat's false-labyrithine spaciousness/clutter.  So all becomes movement and navigation through and between Akerman's frontally presented frames, how to move, move around, get in out and around, feel free or cramped.  A dance, if you will—a dance preceeded by a musical, preceeded by a beautiful plea to make a musical.  Talk about a lovely movement.

[24. Dezember 1977]

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Dorothy TreeGeraldine Dvorak, & Cornelia Thaw as Dracula’s brides in Dracula (1931, Tod Browning) (via)

“I was not alone.

In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming, for though the moonlight was behind them, they threw no shadow on the floor.

They came close to me and looked at me for some time and then whispered together. All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips.

They whispered together, and then they all three laughed, such a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips. It was like the intolerable, tingling sweetness of waterglasses when played on by a cunning hand. The fair girl shook her head coquettishly, and the other two urged her on.

One said: “Go on! You are first, and we shall follow; yours is the right to begin.”

The other added: “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”

-Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)

October 24 2011

Sketchtravel Film by Dice Tsutsumi

Sketchtravel film

Speaking of color scripts, I have to point out an interesting and visually striking film experiment by Dice Tsutsumi, whose Toy Story 3 color scripts are featured in the new Pixar book.

Dice’s passion project for the past few years has been Sketchtravel, an idea that he hatched with illustrator Gérald Guerlais, and which features the participation of some of the world’s most well known illustrators, comic artists and animators. (We’ve written about it before on Cartoon Brew.) The project has finally come to a conclusion: an auction of the original sketchbook artwork was held last week and raised over $100,000 for charity. A printed version of the book is now available in France, too.

To support the Sketchtravel project, Dice made the following animated short using his color scripting technique:

In an email, he explained the challenge of making an animated film as someone who comes from a painting background:

“Since I’m not an animator, my focus is to carry a story through all the visual staging elements — color, lighting, and composition. I painted every single frame of the film by myself with a little help from friends and a small amount of After Effects movements. It took me six months to complete it while I was preparing for the auction event.”

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Music of the Night

This week’s 8track musical offering is titled “Music of the Night” and includes music from some of my favorite Hammer vampire films such as The Brides of Dracula (1960), Twins of Evil (1971), Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1974), The Legend Of The 7 Golden Vampires (1974) and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972). Enjoy! Track Listing: James Bernard - [...]

Jean Rollin's The Iron Rose

Perhaps no other major production in Jean Rollin's career has divided fans more than 1973's La Rose de fer. The film, known alternately as The Iron Rose and as The Crystal Rose, is seen by some as one of Rollin's greatest achievements, a haunting poetic production that shows the director at his minimal best, while others, turned off by Rollin's abandoning of his usual Vampiric elements, find the film a failure, and at best a bore. Regardless of one's opinion of the work, two things are for certain, The Iron Rose is one of Jean Rollin's most personal projects, and its failure in 1973 changed the direction of his career drastically.

Jean Rollin was looking for a change in early 1973 after a string of films cornered him into being known as just a maker of erotic vampire films. He recalled to Peter Blumenstock in the pages of Video Watchdog and Virgins and Vampires that, "it was very important for (him) to make a very serious, profound film, far away from the softcore stuff" he had become infamous for. He would go onto to recall that The Iron Rose began life as short story he published earlier in a French publication and, like Rollin's best work, the film retains that strong literary backbone throughout its extremely slim running time.

The Iron Rose, which Rollin admitted to Blumenstock was destined to be a "commercial disaster" from the outset, was financed completely by the ambitious filmmaker even though he knew he, "would never get (the money) back." The fact that Rollin was risking complete financial ruin with a project destined for critical and popular failure makes him a brave, admirable and downright inspiring figure in an industry known for its greed and all around obsession on the dollar.

Of course, Jean Rollin is a smart man and a deal he made before beginning the four week production schedule on The Iron Rose eased his financial troubles but it did cause a shift in his filmmaking career. Rollin admitted to Blumenstock that, "with a safety net in mind" he accepted a deal with Impex Films to, "direct six or seven hardcore films in the next couple of years" under the Gentil and Xavier pseudonyms. So essentially, Rollin was willing to possibly sacrifice the next few years of his artistic life for The Iron Rose, which he told Blumenstock was a project he, "loved very much" and that it was far and away his, "most personal effort."

The Iron Rose is among the most minimal modern films one could possibly imagine. Outside of an opening party sequence and a few scattered one scene appearances throughout the work, the film only features two characters. The storyline, centering on two young lovers finding themselves lost in a huge expansive old cemetery, is so spare that it is nearly non-existent. In his introduction to the film in Virgins and Vampires Rollin admitted that what interested him about the film was the notion of, "a woman's dramatic self-destruction", and that ultimately it was, "a dark and desperate film." Less a successful modern narrative film and more of a poignant tragic poetic work more akin to silent cinema, The Iron Rose is a remarkable work that grows more and more resonate with each passing year. Like Lou Reed's Berlin, that also came out in 1973, The Iron Rose is a work made by an artist not looking to satisfy the time it is in, but is instead looking to transcend it.

Shot in the near deserted city of Amiens, production on The Iron Rose was fraught with difficulties. Rollin had problems throughout the shoot with male star Hughes Quester and was never fully happy with female star Francoise Pascal, even though she finally turns in one of the greatest performances in any Jean Rollin film. The cemetery Rollin chose proved to be an inspired choice though and he recalled in Virgins and Vampires that he, "fun shooting in the cemetery. Wherever we put the camera we immediately found an angle" and that, "a sense of depth was created in the environment of tombs and old iron crosses." He also pointed out that the film proved to be perfect for regular collaborator Jean-Jacques Renon who found the work like, "an animated painting."

While the film features basically only Quester and Pascal, a few familiar Rollin actors pop up. Michele Delesalle can be briefly seen and Requiem for a Vampire co-star Mireille Dargent appears playing what very well might be the ghost of her character in Requiem. Rollin himself also pops ups in a cameo as does regular behind the scenes collaborator Nathalie Perrey, delivering a performance Rollin recalled as very 'moving'. Regarding Nathalie's tearful performance, Rollin pointed out that the tears were apparently for real as she, "had just learned of (French actor) Rene Chauffard’s death" and the film's dedication to him reflects this fact.

Rollin completed his masterful film within the four week shooting schedule and decided to present it to the public at the 2nd Annual Convention of the Fantastique in Paris in mid 1973. Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs wrote on the film's disastrous reception in their essential book Immoral Tales. The film historian's wrote, "The place was packed with French Horror fans" and that Rollin knew he was in trouble when, "The film had hardly begun before the walk-outs commenced. Pretty soon it was obvious that he had a disaster on his hands." The problems didn't end with the intital screening as the critics had their knives sharpened for Rollin and that, "Cinematographe recounted how both he and his film had been roundly booed by the audience, in a way that the writer had never seen a director booed before." Tohill and Tombs went on to write that, "Rollin was devastated" and, "for the next few years Rollin was unable to find backers for any of his personal projects."

I must admit that the more I revisit The Iron Rose, the closer it comes to becoming my favorite Jean Rollin film. It is technically the most imperfect of his early works, with several continuity problems plaguing it, but despite these relatively minor issues I find the film to be an extraordinary and powerful work fueled by Rollin's unbelievable dedication and artistic skill, Jean-Jacques Renon's bold lighting, the eerie and striking score of Pierre Raph, and the strange and quite majestic leading performance of Francoise Pascal. Rollin's film of, "a passionate love that can not be found" is one of his most daring and is admittedly not for everyone. I suspect though that the absolute heart and spirit of Jean Rollin as an artist can be found in the sequences of Francoise Pascal alone in this film, deliriously lost and entranced by something from the past...something that we perhaps cannot see, but that Jean Rollin is able to make us feel.

The Iron Rose has unfortunately not been given the special edition treatment awarded to many of Jean Rollin's other key works. It is available from Redemption in the US in a fairly solid if unspectacular print, and several European versions are out as well, although none of them to my knowledge feature any real film specific extras.

Turner Classic Movies will be premiering the new HD version of The Iron Rose on November 11th! This article originally appeared at my Rollin tribute blog, Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience.

The Iron Rose on Turner Classic Movies!!!

The new HD version of Jean Rollin's The Iron Rose will be making its premiere on Turner Classic Movies on November 11th! To say this is huge news is putting it mildly, as this will help introduce the work of Jean Rollin to a huge new audience. More information can be found here at TCM. Also, I am very pleased to present these screengrabs from the stunning new transfer! Thanks to Kino and TCM for helping to get one of Jean Rollin's greatest works to a new audience.

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