Saturday, 27 August 2011

Recent Paperback Acquisitions # 1:
Horror & Gothics

It’s been a while since I did any book cover posts, but in the past six months or so I’ve managed to build up a formidable backlog of material without taking the time to go to any particularly Herculean book-collecting efforts. Y’know how it goes I’m sure: just the odd psychedelic sci-fi paperback picked up here and there around London, a few trips further afield, a few donations from friends, all topped off with a mammoth haul from Baggins Bookshop in Rochester last weekend, and I’ve got pulp fiction coming outta my ears.

I’ve got some of the more interesting volumes earmarked for individual posts in the future, but in the meantime there’s more than enough left over for a few genre-themed gallery posts. First up: horror and suchlike.

As you might imagine, I find it eternally disappointing that the heyday of pulp paperback art (roughly early-‘50s to early-‘70s) never really coincided with the rise of horror as a saleable genre, and, as much as blogs like Too Much Horror Fiction might offer a convincing argument to the contrary, the slick graphic design of the post-Stephen King ‘black background / shiny text’ horror boom has never really appealed to me that much. There WERE plenty of odd horror-ish pulps from before that of course – New American Library big print gothics (see here and here for some great galleries of those), hippy era witchcraft shockers and post-Rosemary’s Baby cash-ins, even completely whacked out psychedelic Lovecraft/Weird Tales stuff (everybody’s favourite). But compared to the sheer volume of crime, sci-fi and romance novels that were hitting the shelves back then, they’re still relatively scarce items – hence finding a good one is always a treat.

(The first one here is borderline genre-wise, but it’s an awesome cover and clearly aligned toward the more overtly supernatural Ace/NAL gothic series, so let’s go with it.)

God, this getting a bit nerdy, isn’t it? Anyone’d think I actually did research on this stuff or something. On with the show!

(Ace Books, 1962)

(Ace Books, 1973)

(Fawcett World Library, 1965)

(New English Library, 1980)

(Corgi, 1963)

(Corgi, 1969)

(Thanks to my friend Kate for donating ‘Death Tour’.)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Jimmy Sangster
(1927 - 2011)

Sad to hear this weekend of the passing of another Hammer big hitter, scriptwriter/sometime director Jimmy Sangster.

Although his few efforts as director aren’t exactly revered by Hammer fans – his attempts to take the gothic formula in a cheesier, more tongue in cheek direction in “Lust for a Vampire” and the near-forgotten “Horror of Frankenstein” (both 1970) being generally considered to have fallen rather flat – Sangster can still take credit for having pretty much defined that formula in the first place through his definitive scripts for “Curse of Frankenstein”, “Dracula” and “The Mummy”, as well as sharpening his preferred genre of the Les Diaboliques-inspired psychological thriller to perfection via a whole series of lesser known Hammers, including “Taste of Fear”, “The Nanny”, “Paranoiac”, and Joseph Losey’s 1955 short “A Man on the Beach”.

Also on his CV: “X – The Unknown”, “Terror of the Tongs”, “The Devil Ship Pirates” and such non-Hammer Brit-exploitation landmarks as “Jack The Ripper”(1959), “Blood of the Vampire” (1958) and “The Trollenberg Terror” (aka “The Crawling Eye”, also 1958).

Looking for some further background on Sangster’s achievements and influence, I can highly commend this excellent forum post from Dave Hartley;

“Hammer's Frankenstein combined Anthony Hinds romantic and Sangster's anti-romantic sensibilities to produce an entirely distinctive approach to the story. From Hinds suggestion that Frankenstein should be a 'shit', it was Sangster's idea to invert the structure of the story and not simply make the Baron the focal character as in the book, but a villain who becomes a monster incapable of recognising his own monstrosity. Modulated through Fisher's direction and Cushing's performance, Curse of Frankenstein emerged as something more ambiguous and complex than that, with at it's heart Frankenstein not simply a villain but an anti-hero. Sangster swiftly recognised what had been achieved and given only a fortnight to produce a first draft he produced an even better script for Revenge fully exploring the ambiguities of Frankenstein's character and actions, and giving greater expression to the ironies of 'poetic injustice' - as Ray Durgnat put it, in which no good deed goes unpunished.
Sangster made no secret of the fact that, like his close friend Michael Carreras, he was no fan of gothic horror. That distance from the material was part of his contribution - not just in his unsentimental 'straightlining' or removal of overcomplicated and unnecessary story elements and characters, and the deliberate use of touches of humour to notch things down before building them up again, but in his essentially modern approach to them as stories. These were not respectful period adaptations of acknowledged literary classics (a status the original Frankenstein and Dracula were only awarded AFTER the success of the gothic cycle Hammer kick-started). It was a lesson lost on the makers of many subsequent gothic adaptations. His scripts took a post-war, cold eyed, ironical - at times even cheeky - approach to the material. Left to himself he might have produced a more tongue-in-cheek treatment and his scripts contain lines that could have been played that way. […]Hinds and Fisher stopped anything like that. Although the lines remained they were played entirely straight to produce films that were "rich looking, slow, deliberately paced, bursting with unstated sex but with nothing overt..." (Hinds in Fangoria 11). Built on the solid exoskeleton of Sangster's scripts.”

Full obit from Hammer here.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Tout le Monde il en a Deux /
Bacchanales Sexuelles

WARNING: The following review contains nakedness!

Along with infamous work-for-hire atrocity ‘Zombie Lake’, 1974’s ‘Tout le Monde il en a Deux’, aka ‘Fly me the French Way’, aka ‘Bacchanales Sexuelles’ – never gifted with a remotely decent title or poster in any language - must be the least celebrated, most disreputable Jean Rollin production legitimately available on DVD (we have Synapse Films to thank for that pleasure).

The second ‘Michel Gentil’ sexploitation film directed by Rollin for producer Lionel Wallmann, ‘Tout le Monde..’ follows on from the strangely delightful ‘Jeunes Filles Impudiques’, and in many ways functions as a sequel to that film, with a bigger budget (relatively speaking), more characters, more locations, more zaniness, more sex, a more developed storyline (again, relatively speaking) and a far longer running time. That the results are more ‘Ghostbusters II’ than ‘Mad Max II’ is a bit of a shame, but… I’m getting ahead of myself.

Things get off to a good start, as the indefatigable Joëlle Coeur and her friend Michelle (Marie-France Morel) arrive at the groovy Paris apartment where they’re going to be spending some time house-sitting for Joëlle’s cousin, a journalist who’s off covering a big story. With framed Phillipe Druillet prints on the wall, gothic knick-knacks over the mantlepiece and shelves full of weird and rare French literature, it sure looks a lot like Jean Rollin’s apartment, but hey, who’s complaining? Certainly not the two girls, who waste no time in getting the party started.

Who could this elusive Michel Gentil possibly be..? Why, the mystery must have confounded the French film industry for years…

“Do you have anything to drink?”, asks Michelle, prompting Joëlle to head for the kitchen, returning with vodka and vermouth that they proceed to swig straight from the bottles. To complete the mood, Michelle heads to the record player and drops the needle on Art Ensemble of Chicago’s ‘Home’ LP!

My kinda Saturday night!

Those with a vague idea what kind of film they’re watching won’t exactly be surprised by the way Joëlle and Michelle’s quiet night in progresses, and here, sadly, is our first hint that a viewing of this movie isn’t going to be quite as fun-packed an experience as might be wished. Whereas the sex scenes in ‘Jeunes Filles..’ were so coy and gentle they were actually kinda charming, ‘Tout le Monde..’ seems to go for a different approach entirely, leading us straight into the darkest chambers of grotesque softcore groping.

Ever since spending a bored evening or two flicking through dire TV movie soft porn in my misspent youth, I’ve been consistently amazed at the ease with which a bad director can turn the sight of two attractive ladies pleasuring each other into a thoroughly repulsive spectacle, and whilst I don’t think Jean Rollin is a bad director, that is the impression his alter-ego M. Gentil seems determined to create here, as Coeur and Morel set to on the carpet, pretend-grinding their way through a variety of laughably unnatural positions with a distinct lack of enthusiasm.

(Sorry, I’m not giving you any screengrabs of that – gotta draw the line somewhere for chrissake.)

Anyway, things take a more curious turn after the girls finally call it a night and head to bed, as the apartment is infiltrated by two Fantomas-esque masked female cat-burglars (later revealed as none other than Catherine and Marie Castel), who wrap Michelle up in a carpet and kidnap her, all as Joëlle snoozes on oblivious! Good grief.

So begins the gradual unravelling of a convoluted yet excruciatingly simple-minded storyline concerning the villainous schemes of one Malvina (Brigitte Borghese), a decadent aristocrat who runs some sort of underground sex cult, using blackmail to coerce wouldbe libertines into becoming her unquestioning slaves. Or something.

With her theatrical manner and seemingly inexhaustable wardrobe of ludicrous outfits, Malvina - who looks a bit like a ‘60s Nico gone to seed - is clearly the most potentially interesting character in this movie. In one of the few scenes to evoke the delirious spirit of Rollin’s better work, we see her out on the front lawn, clad in some kind of bizarro black bodystocking based funeral attire, blasting away with a handgun at a collection of department store mannequins.

Eager weirdo-movie fans will doubtless be crying out for more of this sorta thing, but sadly it’s not to be. Back at the shack, Joëlle has hooked up with Michelle’s ‘friend’ Mark, a randy devil of a tousle-haired hippie whose chief interest in life seems to be forcing himself upon any woman within grabbing distance as often as is humanly possible. I’ll admit, I found it pretty hilarious in ‘Jeunes Filles..’ when the characters decide to find time for a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast before setting out to rescue their friend from the clutches of criminals hiding out in the garden shed, but here Joëlle and Mark’s complete disinterest in their kidnapped friend becomes both callous and excruciatingly boring, as we’re forced to endure them hanging around the flat fornicating every which way for what seems like hours, their simulated hetero sex so achingly drab it makes the earlier lesbian scene look like a masterpiece of eroticism by comparison.

That said, another potential highlight - for sleaze/trash fiends at least, although frankly who else would bother watching this in this day and age? – emerges after Malvina’s cult sends a counterfeit maid (sans panties) to ‘spy’ on Joëlle and Mark. Unsurprisingly, this ‘spying’ seems to consist primarily of instigating an interminable threesome, but sparks really start to fly when a genuine maid turns up. Joëlle moves to intervene in the ensuing melee, but no says Mark, looking on with a smirk - “let the best woman win”.

Fly me the French way indeed!

I realise I’m probably making this sound like a pretty fun movie thus far, but seriously, I’m all out of stuff worth talking about now. That’s yer lot. Barrel’s empty.

What is so frustrating about ‘Tout le Monde il en a Deux’ isn’t so much that Jean Rollin should make a bad movie – after all, received wisdom suggests that all of his subsequent sex films are pretty anonymous, dispiriting affairs. Rather it is the fact that ‘Tour le Monde..’ is so packed with HIS FAVOURITE STUFF, and yet the directorial engagement necessary to make something worthwhile out of it all is so shockingly absent.

Feuillade style cat burglars dancing across the roofs of Paris? Occult sex rituals, masked libertines and fighting French maids? Joëlle Coeur and the Castel twins all running around ready to bare all? A whole stately home to run riot in, and production circumstances that presumably allowed a certain degree of financial and creative freedom? By rights this movie should have been the most joyous explosion of Rollinesque pulp delirium on record… but like a grumpy kid on Christmas day crying in the corner whilst his shiny new toys lie untouched, the director’s heart clearly just wasn’t in it.

Admittedly, the film also suffers from a few additional drawbacks compared to its predecessor. Unless he was working under a pseudonym (I suspect not), Jean-Jacques Renon’s reliably lively photography is notable by its absence, and the cold, drained colour palette that takes its place seems a weird and unwise choice for a sex film.

Also lacking is a proper soundtrack, or even decent sound editing. Proceedings could have been livened up no end by letting a regular Rollin collaborator like Pierre Raph or Philippe d'Aram have a bash at the score, but instead audio accompaniment (Art Ensemble aside) is confined to a handful of horrifically insipid library cues that splutter into life seemingly at random between long, awkward silences. Total mood-killer.

That the storyline (credited to Rollin and regular collaborator Natalie Perrey) is nonsensical and the acting atrocious is practically a given for a film like this, but in this case there is little charm for the flimsy scenarios to fall back on, and the dialogue in particular is forehead-slappingly dire – so many opportunities for outrageous pronouncements or ribald witticisms missed as characters instead just blunderingly state the obvious, staring straight to camera, looking bored out of their skulls.

For all this though, the lion’s share of the blame still has to fall on Rollin’s direction. Somewhat lugubrious at the best of times (oh, those long walks), his preferred style of filmmaking is never really one which is liable to liven up dreary, impersonal subject matter, but even so I have rarely seen a film directed with such a palpable sense of despondency as this one; there ya go, I’ve set up the camera, I’m off for a smoke… should we move it now? Oh, might as well give it another few minutes, who fucking cares anyway. Quick zoom into the bare wall before we cut, and… sorted! Next scene! That seems to be the general approach here, and it’s difficult not to picture Rollin yawning between takes, reading the paper as his ‘performers’ grudgingly go through the motions.

Occasionally things seem to grab his attention – framing and lighting in the aforementioned mannequin scene is notably more imaginative than most of the rest of the film, and there are a handful of great, weird shots in the closing ritual/orgy – but for the most part this is soft-porn filmmaking by numbers, and pretty sorry looking numbers they are too – an inexplicable failure, given the potential zaniness of many of the events actually being enacted on screen.

So that’s that really: you’ve got the mannequin shooting stuff, the Castel cat-burglers and the maid fight to tick off your list of ‘stuff I’ve seen’, and Joelle Coëur’s mischievous grin could add an erotic frisson to a documentary about alzheimers sufferers (to say nothing for the rest of her), but beyond that I’m afraid I find little here to recommend to even the hardiest Jean Rollin completist. C’est la vie.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Short Reviews # 3: Other Stuff

(Susan Seidelman, 1982)

Back when I started this blog you probably wouldn’t have put good odds on my praising a movie by one of the creators of the ‘Sex & The City’ franchise, but here we all are to witness me reporting that Susan Seidelman’s independently financed debut ‘Smithereens’ is an absolute blast.

Of the various movies that have leapfrogged their way to ‘cult favourite’ status by capturing the spirit of New York in its magical and volatile late 70s/early 80s prime, ‘Smithereens’, which was shot over a two year period in the East Village, strikes me as one of the most vivid, its low budget and vérité intent giving the film ‘time capsule appeal’ to die for, as Seidelman’s camera tears freely through the streets, apartments, junkyards and nightclubs, largely free of permits or fabrication. It would have been really funny if she’d bumped into Abel Ferrara making ‘Driller Killer’, and they’d ended up in the background of each other’s movies. I’d like to think it was a near miss.

Anyway, first-time screen actress Susan Berman is bottled dynamite here, doing very little acting one suspects as Wren, a perpetually wired proto-Ghost World girl / New Wave refugee in mini-dress and oversized shades, plastering xeroxes of her face onto every available surface as she tries to find a place for herself in the life of the city – both literally and figuratively – and desperately clinging on to any hint of cool or fame.

Richard Hell presumably didn’t need to search too far for his motivation either, portraying a fading, manipulative sleazeball rock singer in what is easily a career-best performance, and our vague love triangle is completed by Brad Rjin, blank as a slate as an itinerant kid from the Mid-West, sleeping in his VW van in a junkyard en route to wherever life happens to takes him.

If ‘Smithereens’ has one drawback, it’s the rather wishy-washy proto-indie melodrama at the heart of the storyline. Seidelman may have had ‘The 400 Blows’ or ‘Bande A Part’ in mind (fresh from film school, the movie’s style and pacing hits those nouvelle vague buttons dead on), but in truth her aimless, drifting characters and their subdued semi-relationships seem more like a blueprint for the kind of sub-Slackerish solipsism that Hollywood started injecting into it’s rom coms and youth dramas in the mid-‘90s tot try to nab a mythical Gen X audience. I dunno why, but I kept thinking ‘Reality Bites’, and then feeling a bit ill.

But that’s small fry really – the strength of the lead performances, and the more genuine desperation that overtakes Berman’s character as the film progresses, keeps us on-message, and what really matters here is that, like its ‘60s inspirations, ‘Smithereens’ is a movie practically exploding with life, every scene dragging us through strange places full of singular people, bright colours and unexpected outbursts of energy and human connection, the camera rushing to keep up with the antics of a charismatic heroine who never hits the ‘OFF’ switch.

The soundtrack is killer too, much of it provided by Glenn Mercer and Bill Million, who formed perennial indie faves The Feelies off the back of the music they initially recorded for this film, and early versions of tracks that went on to form the bulk of their debut album ‘Crazy Rhythms’ sound brilliant here, more fierce and anxious than they ever did on the LP – the perfect accompaniment for watching our frazzled heroine tearing round the chaotic New York streets. Meanwhile, whatever was left of Hell’s Voidoids by the dawn of the ‘80s provide ‘Kid With the Replaceable Head’, one of his best post-Blank Generation tunes, and there’s some great use of ESG’s timeless ‘Moody’ to enjoy too.

There’s so much great incidental stuff in this movie that lives on in the mind after viewing: Rjin sharing a sandwich with a hooker on a cold night, and her king-of-the-junkyard pimp popping up at regular intervals, making increasingly menacing offers to buy his van. Berman desperately trying to muscle into her weak-willed friend’s already woefully over-crowded shared apartment. Hell’s sleazoid punk flatmate trying to put the moves on said weak-willed friend. Just nice little scenes, y’know? Slice of life stuff, but from a way of life that seems strange and special to us now.

Despite its sometimes hokey relationship dramas, there is a raw spirit to ‘Smithreens’ that easily puts it in the top tier of independent American filmmaking from this era. I don’t usually go much on film festival accolades, but it’s no accident that every release of this movie can proudly claim it as “the first American independent film to be selected for Cannes”, and it’s easy to see why Seidelman was on board soon afterwards for Madonna’s ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’, in many ways a bigger budget reiteration of the style and themes of this film.

The Jokers
(Michael Winner, 1967)

I don’t know if anyone can help me out here, but: what IS the deal with Michael Winner? I mean, just the way he managed to crank out dozens of films through the ‘60s and ‘70s, working with some of the era’s most renowned actors on expensive studio films that explored a range of potentially interesting subject matter, and yet… they’re pretty much all crap. And I mean, prior to ‘Deathwish’, he never even had a commercial hit, insofar as I can tell. How did he keep on getting the budgets? Why did people want to work with him? Who knows.

I don’t say this because I hold some personal grudge against the man – after all, some of the greatest directors in history were similarly insufferable blowhards - but simply because I’ve yet to see a film by him that hasn’t been a cack-handed disappointment of one kind or another. Case in point: ‘The Jokers’, in which Oliver Reed and Michael Crawford play a pair of indolent aristocratic brothers who devise a fool-proof plan to steal the Crown Jewels and subsequently return them, thus making a mockery of the English establishment and cementing themselves as heroes of the counter-culture and popular press. Zany hi-jinks and tense, Italian Job-style heist capers ensure, set against a backdrop of authentic Swinging London decadence, with screenplay assistance from future sit-com savants Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais.

What could possibly go wrong? I mean from a start like that my dog could probably make a good movie, and I don’t even have a dog. And yet, Winner somehow manages to turn in a picture that is singularly unlovable. It’s not *awful* as such – Reed and Crawford are reliably brilliant, as are many of the familiar faces in the supporting cast, and there’s enough going on to make for pleasantly diverting viewing if you happened to catch it on TV on a rainy afternoon, but each opportunity to turn the film into the madcap pop art masterpiece it truly should be is shamefully bungled.

Winner’s directorial style here is ugly and rather lumpen, favouring awkwardly framed close-ups and jerky jump cuts over wider, more visually inviting compositions, whilst the kind of local colour and random magnificence that usually livens up even second rate films shot in ‘60s London is singularly lacking amid a succession of drab interiors and party scenes that look like suburban wedding receptions. The city location shooting is pretty good, with chaotic crowd scenes are quite convincingly orchestrated, but even here… London just looks like London, y’know?

Simple though the film’s story is, the plot ends up tripping over itself, slowing down the final act as characters rehash the same details and arguments again and again to no very satisfactory conclusion. There are a few good lines and capers reminiscent of Clement & La Frenais’ better TV work, but if the best thing you can say about a feature film is that bits of it might pass muster in an episode of ‘The Likely Lads’, well… I’ve leave you to finish that sentence.

Worst of all though is that rather than offering any critique of his privileged, self-satisfied and generally dislikeable protagonists, Winner seems to invite us to identify with them as loveable rogues – a disjuncture that can’t help but invite comparison to the director’s own boorish public persona. In fact, the whole film seems to have a particularly nasty strain of low key misogyny running through it, as most obviously expressed in the character of Reed’s Swedish girlfriend, whose lack of English vocabulary is seen to render her a childish simpleton, as the brothers forcibly exclude her from their conversations whilst we in the audience are invited to roll our eyes at her ‘idiotic’ pronouncements. Englishmen in ‘60s movies – and in ‘60s real life I daresay - could get away with a lot of bad behaviour if they had a bit of charm and charisma, but Winner and co seem to have forgotten that latter half of the equation here, giving us a pair of heroes who just seem like conceited oafs waiting for a fall that never comes.

I’m probably exaggerating the negative aspects of the film somewhat – it’s honestly not that bad – it has some good set-piece scenes and is passably entertaining on a basic lizard-brain level. If it’s ever on TV during that aforementioned rainy afternoon it’s probably worth a shot, but like most of Winner’s films, it could have been so much more.

The Hired Hand
(Peter Fonda, 1971)

It’s been over six months since I saw this Peter Fonda directed western at a BFI Flipside screening, and whilst it’s not exactly a ‘drop everything’ life-changer, I still regularly find myself reflecting on how much I liked it.

Beginning as an archetypal ‘hippie western’, it doesn’t take much effort to project a post-Easy Rider resonance onto the tale of Fonda, his best buddy Warren Oates, and a more impetuous younger companion slowly cruising around the American wilderness, idly dreaming of one day making it to California. From the outset, Fonda proves a far more accomplished director than anyone might have expected, exhibiting an almost Terrence Malick-like sense of scope and meditative detail, greatly aided by Vilmos Zsigmond.’s photography, which is so beautiful here it almost brings tears to the eyes, particularly in a stunning psychedelic sequence of swirling, superimposed, sun-drenched landscape shots. Pretty far-out, but striking and unexpected enough to avoid seeming like a goofy period cliché, whilst Bruce Langhorne’s extraordinary soundtrack of droning, Sandy Bull-esque guitar provides a perfect an accompaniment to the visuals, prefiguring both Neil Young’s ‘Dead Man’ score and the expansive rural minimalism of the late Jack Rose’s playing in his group Pelt. Too much, man!

Things take a rather different turn though after Fonda and Oates’ young friend is murdered during a bad night in an unfriendly frontier outpost, prompting Fonda to decide he should face up to his responsibilities and return to the homestead he abandoned seven years ago to go a-wonderin’. The look of anger and resignation in the eyes of his wife (Verna Bloom), contrasted with sight of free-spirited Oates saddling up his horse to head off into the sunset, tells us everything we need to know about the bind this swiftly aging young man finds himself in.

Given that Fonda made this film at the same time that he and his New Hollywood contemporaries were living lives of unparalleled freedom and alpha-male excess, stroking their egos with monstrous works of creative craziness, I was surprised and rather impressed by ‘The Hired Hand’s formal restraint and concentration on simple human drama, and even more so by the way that it sees Fonda offering a persuasive critique of his lifestyle as a Hollywood-hippie playboy, consciously exploring the issues of personal responsibility often faced by men of his age and, generally, coming up with the right answers.

One of the things that is most remarkable about ‘The Hired Hand’ is its frankness in addressing the relationship between Fonda and Oates. Considering that Bloom is the female lead in what is still ostensibly a Hollywood film, her character is portrayed as a surprisingly unattractive figure, whilst the camera’s ‘gaze’ lingers a lot more persuasively on the male leads. As Fonda and Oates swagger around in their fashionably threadbare jeans n’ spurs looking like they’re out for a night picking up chicks at the Whisky-a-Go-Go, Bloom wears the drab, shapeless garments of a genuine agricultural homesteader, her face drawn and prematurely aged, looking like she actually has spent seven years performing back-breaking labours as a single parent in the unforgiving Texas sun. Far from a caricature of a needy/victimised wife though, her character is gifted with a sharp emotional intelligence, and wastes no time in clocking the relationship between the two men, asking her ‘husband’ (if indeed he is able to regain that title after so long in the wilderness) in no uncertain terms whether he wouldn’t be happier sharing a sleeping bag with Warren under the stars than spending the night in her bed.

With the elephant in the room thus revealed, a violent revenge plot emerges from outside to force a conclusion to the three characters’ emotional stand-off, and the film essentially becomes a platonic love story between the two men, with Bloom playing Jules to Oates’ Jim, so to speak. In fact, the shadow of Truffaut’s masterpiece hangs heavy over ‘The Hired Hand’, sharing its deeply rooted humanism and unconventionally honest approach to human relationships, as well as its slow-building sense of tragedy.

Oh, and there’s also some cool stuff with people getting shot and guys riding horses and such, in case you were wondering.

A very good film indeed in my estimation, I think wider recognition and a new audience for ‘The Hired Hand’ would be richly deserved. (Tartan did a big 2-disc DVD release a few years back that you can now get dirt cheap, incidentally.) I certainly won’t be thinking of Peter Fonda as just a pretty face from now on, that’s for sure.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Scala Forever Season.

I don’t know whether I have many (any?) London-based readers, but regardless, thought I’d drop in another quick note before I get back to proper posting later this month, relating to the forthcoming Scala Forever season, which is taking place across numerous venues in the capital through August and September.

Before it was transformed into an extortionately priced and perplexingly cramped mid-level music venue catering to people who REALLY LIKE the sound of the kick drum, the Scala in Kings Cross existed for many years as London’s best-known repertory cinema, famed for its decrepit atmosphere, all night screenings and schizophrenic mixture of arthouse, exploitation and classic Hollywood fare. In a particularly heroic touch, the cinema was apparently forced into bankruptcy in 1993 as a result of a court case brought against it by Stanley Kubrick following an ‘illegal’ screening of ‘A Clockwork Orange’ in defiance of the director’s self-imposed ban.

Although I’m too young to have experienced it firsthand, I’ve heard the Scala hymned far and wide, not least by the unrepentant cinephiles in one of my favourite groups Comet Gain, whose rallying cry of “three Polanskis tonight / you bring the speed and I’ll bring the popcorn” in their song ‘Movies’ would seem to encapsulate the particular charm of this much missed venue.

Perhaps reacting to the current stagnant state of movie-going in the capital, in which the remaining independent cinemas either have to stack up kiddie blockbusters to stay in business or rely on pulling in the ‘80s babies with predictable ‘quote along’ showings of movies every fucker’s seen twenty times already, the great and the good of the city’s film clubs and DVD labels (including BFI Flipside, Cigarette Burns, Arrow/Shameless video, Filmbar ’70 and many more) have put together a sprawling season of one off screenings to keep the Scala name alive.

As you will immediately note when you hit the link in the first paragraph above, the result is a veritable cornucopia of awesome shit, ticking pretty much every box a ‘cult film fan’ (for want of a better term) could wish for. From the chance to watch ‘Phantasm’ or the second ‘..Blind Dead’ movie in a public space at 3am through to a ‘Female Prisoner: Scorpion’ triple bill, rare public exposure for Corbucci’s ‘Il Grande Silenzio’ and Fulci’s ‘Don’t Torture a Duckling’, an inexplicable double bill of ‘Theatre of Blood’ and Bunuel’s ‘Viridiana’, welcome outings for bloodcurdling perennials like ‘Black Sunday’, ‘Santa Sangre’, ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’, ‘Liquid Sky’, ‘Aguirre’ and ‘Valerie..’, a flawed weirdo sci-fi double-bill of ‘The Final Programme’ and ‘Zardoz’, and, well.. I could go on. They’re even showing bloody ‘Thundercrack’ for christ’s sake (good luck with that one).

Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked to see all this going on, and to realise that there are still enough people who share my cinematic proclivities in this town to get an event like this off the ground, and I’ll try to make it to as many of these as my diary will allow. I’ll definitely be stepping out for some of the stuff I’ve never seen before, and will do my best to drag friends along to some of the obvious classics, perchance to enjoy some beers and synapse-damaging good times.

A bit of a pointless post for the vast majority of you who live elsewhere in the world I guess, but just thought I’d flag it up in order to raise awareness, register my enthusiasm and invite anyone else who’s going along to drop me a line if they’re feeling sociable.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Quick Question.

Well you can hopefully see the poll question I've posted above. I picked up a few tickets today for films that are showing as part of London Frightfest over the August bank holiday weekend, and found myself poised over the button that would allow me to drop eleven clams on a chance to see 'The Wicker Tree'.

I've managed to miss all the pre-release publicity, and didn't realise it had even been filmed yet to be honest, so what's the word knowledgeable readers? Forty years later, same director at least? Could it possibly work?

I'll keep the poll open for a few days for a laugh, but I'll probably have to make my decision fairly pronto if I want to get a seat (assuming it's not long sold out already).

The trailer streaming off the website looks nuts, but whether that's good-nuts or bad-nuts remains to be seen.

Sorry for recent lack of updates by the way. Blame summer, in short.