Pasolini’s Arabian Nights

Written by Joe D on October 12th, 2011

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Another rare discovery on Netflix streaming, the 1974 Grand Prize Winner of the Cannes Film Festival, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Arabian Nights or Il fiore delle mille e una notte. I saw this film on it’s initial release back in 1975 in NYC and this is the first time I’ve watched it since then, I started watching it around midnight last night and couldn’t turn it off, I was so caught up in it’s mystic spell of storytelling, just like the caliph who can’t bring himself to kill Scherezade because he wants to hear how her story turns out.

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It took a lot of courage for Pasolini to travel to these exotic locals (Yemen, Ethiopia, etc.) for one he was homosexual and in some of these places at that time that was punishable by death. He got the creme de la creme of Italian film artisans to work on the film, costumes-Danilo Donati, Set Design- Dante Ferretti, Editing- Nino Baragli, Music Ennio Morricone, Camera-Giuseppe Ruzzolini.

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Pasolini and his intrepid crew penetrated hermetic societies, filming in locations that had never been seen by Western audiences, these places are like something out of a dream, it imbues the film with a sense of poetry and magic, bringing the intertwined tales of the Arabian Nights to life in a primal, savage, beautiful way. It is interesting to compare it with Korda’s Thief Of Bagdad,they both spring from the same source and have similar scenes, the prince transformed to an animal, discovering a princess in her garden, taking on a beggar’s clothing, but Arabian Nights tells the tales in a more authentic way, truer to the original. Pasolini was fascinated with the early roots of the novel, picaresque tales of travelers, collections of anecdotes that gave rise to the novels form. The Decameron and The Canterbury Tales come to mind, storytelling at it’s most basic interpreted by a 20th Century poet. A beautiful work of Art by a great artist. Check it out.

Citizen Kane Screens For Free at LACMA

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2010

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That’s right, here’s your chance to beat the unemployed holiday blues by watching a magnificent film about a super rich guy looking for love and it’s FREE! 35mm projection no less, the Grand Daddy of all Primitive Accumulators, Charles Foster Kane! SEE Deep FOCUS cinematography as pioneered by GREGG TOLAND and his custom made F-stops, hear Bernard Herrmanns first film score. See the great actors of the Mercury Theater. Here’s a piece I wrote about KANE. Here’s the info for the screening. Tuesday Dec 21, 11am LACMA.
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XANADU!!

I Walked With A Zombie

Written by Joe D on December 8th, 2010

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I went, I watched, I walked with I Walked With A Zombie. It was incredible! Really the best way to see this film is in a big theater with 35mm projection! There is no substitute, you pick up so many more nuances, the atmosphere becomes all pervasive, your psyche is opened up to the incredible images and fantasy pours in through your eyes and ears to your very soul! This is how the makers designed the film to work, they didn’t think about TV or video. To say the least it was a moving experience and it clocked in at a rocket fast 70 minutes!

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This film is crammed with ideas, Lewton and his team did exhaustive research and it shows, the music, the dancing, the Afro Caribbean culture give Zombie a rock hard foundation on which to build a castle of fantasy and terror. But terror in a Fairy Tale like way, sort of innocent yet savage, ruthless as Nature and as pure. This film is a textbook of studio filmmaking at a peak of artistry. The B&W photography,the lighting, the production design, the process photography, amazingly executed.

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The Great RKO Artisans of Storytelling-P.S. Check out the legal disclaimer at the bottom of the frame for a joke.

We start in Canada, in a Victorian office, snow falls furiously outside the window. Our Heroine (Francis Dee) is ta nurse being offered a job in the Caribbean, one stock shot of a big sailing schooner later we’re on board (thanks to process photography) with the boss of the plantation and his men, who sing a strange island song in the background. The scene here between Francis Dee and Tom Conway is a brilliantly written piece, it expertly sets the mood for the rest of the film. “It’s so beautiful” Dee thinks to herself only to be interrupted a second later by Conway telling her “It isn’t beautiful” Dee answers “You read my mind” , Conway replies, “You see those flying fish, they’re jumping in terror to escape being eaten, that phosphorescence in the water? The putrescent bodies of dead organisms, This is a place of death.” He sets a tone of unease, he unsettles Dee by reading her mind(supernatural), he belittles her naivety, he fascinates her with his honesty. That sets up their complicated relationship for the rest of the film. All in a couple of minutes.

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Then theirs a scene in the town of San Sebastian, probably the RKO backlot dressed up by D’Agostino and Keller. They filmed here maybe a day or two at most, it’s used a couple of times in the film but sparingly, you really get the impression that everything was planned out and organized with maximum efficiency, the budget was $134,000! A scene in a buggy (process) as an old black islander drives Dee to the plantation is also illuminating. The driver tells her how the slaves were brought to the island in chains on a ship, the figurehead of which is now prominently displayed at the plantation. “It’s so beautiful here” “He replies “If you say so miss, if you say so” She naively ignores the whole slavery aspect, the inherent inhumanity, brutality, focusing on the lush scenery. Lewton’s comment on Western insensitivity.

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Figurehead of St. Sebastian, a representation of the slave based history of the island

The story continues and some of the high points are, the first night at the plantation, Dee is awakened by a woman crying, she goes out to investigate and enters the Tower where the wife of Ellison is kept. It’s pretty creepy, the tower set is particularly effective consisting of a stone stairway slashing across a black frame. Dee climbs the stairs and is confronted by the wraithlike zombie wife of Conway, Jessica Holland. The zombie advances upon her and I swear they applied a skull like make up to her face, it’s shot in a long shot so you can’t see her too clearly but I want to watch it again and check.

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The next great set piece and my favorite scene of the film is when Dee brings Mrs. Holland to a Voodoo ritual, she leads the entranced blonde through a swamp, all artfully created on soundstages, the native drums beat ominously, they come across several talismans , a cow skull, a hanging goat, a human skull and finally a huge zombie guard, he reminds me of Gort from Day The Earth Stood Still.

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But due to their protective amulets , pinned to them by the maid at the plantation, they pass unmolested. The ceremony is great, excellent music by real voodoo drummers and authentic dancing that must have blown peoples minds back in 1943. Here’s another aspect of this film that added to it’s tabu appeal, the underlying hint of interracial sex, the way the maid wakes Dee up by tickling her foot, the fascination of the voodoo priests for the tall beautiful white zombie. The confession by Conway’s mother that she participated in zombie rituals and was possessed by a voodoo god! This is 1943! Lewton so skillfully implies all this and gets away with it! Genius! Also he employed a lot of black actors, including Sir Lancelot, the calypso singer who Lewton also used in Curse Of The Cat People and Theresa Harris who is wonderful as the maid Alma. She is funny and sexy and appears in Out Of The Past and many other classic films.

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The beautiful Theresa Harris-she is the crying woman that awakened Francis Dee on her first night on the Island. She was crying because her sister had a baby. The Islanders cry at a birth and rejoice at a death. The only freedom from their slavery.

There’s a transitional device used in this film that’s very subtle. I first noticed this technique in Cat People which was edited by the same person, Mark Robson. It’s a sort of a wipe, but it’s as if a black shape passed in front of the lens, in Cat People it feels like a black panther crossed very close to the camera, it creates a subconscious sense of unease, you’re not really aware of what happened, it seems like a quick fade out fade in but it isn’t. Watch Cat People and Zombie carefully and try to catch it. In Zombie it occurs late in the film, a transition between Dee talking to Conway at night at the plantation and Mrs. Holland trying to leave. Somewhere around there. A very subtle masterful stroke that I’ve never heard anyone speak of. The end of the film is a brilliant study in visual poetry, economy of storytelling, and the power of an ending. The drunk half brother kills Mrs. Holland with an arrow from the figurehead in the garden, just as the voodoo priest pierces the doll of Mrs. Holland with a pin.

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The half brother(James Ellison) carries Mrs. Hollands body away pursued by the giant zombie guardian. He walks into the ocean to escape the zombie only to be swallowed up by pounding waves.
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Dissolve to native fisherman spearfishing in the shallows ( a tank on a sound stage artfully lit and decorated) as they fish and sing they discover Mrs. Holland’s body,

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Studio Artifice

dissolve to them carrying her in a funeral procession back to the plantation where Dee and Conway wait. The END! No dialog explaining what happened, no happy ending with Dee and Holland rushing off to get married, we don’t know what they’re going to do, it’s ambiguous and it’s great! As a matter of fact there is no dialog at all in the last 10 minutes of the film! Pure visual poetry accompanied by music! Try that today. All I can say is thank you LACMA for showing this film in a theater, with 35mm projection! And every film lover out there should see it this way, it’s a blessing!

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I Walked With A Zombie to screen at LACMA

Written by Joe D on December 6th, 2010

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Treat yourself to a Holiday Zombie Afternoon. Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur’s classic I Walked With A Zombie will screen Tuesday Dec.7th at 1pm, how delicious an afternoon screening! When you come back from your trip to Zombie Island it will still be light outside, be like Woody Allen, share his guilty pleasure of seeing a movie in the daytime. Plus it’s a rare opportunity to see this gem in glorious 35mm B&W! Movie theaters are turning more and more to digital projection soon you’ll only be able to see film at museums and revival houses, Bah! Humbug!
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I want to see it in 35mm!

Here’s all the info. This is a great example of how Art Directors Albert S. D’Agostino and Walter Keller were able to create a poetic mystical world on a shoe string budget, ably abetted by Cinematographer J. Roy Hunt. So check it out, see for yourself what all the hubbub about Val Lewton and his gang of tricksters is about. Too Bad the Tiki Ti is closed or we could all meet there for a post screening Zombie.

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The Night Stalker, Michel Hugo

Written by Joe D on December 2nd, 2010

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Here’s a TV movie from the 70’s that is a classic. The Night Stalker is about a vampire in 70’s Vegas, how cool is that? The score by Robert Cobert is super funky, wah wah guitars, jazzy drums, just great, one of my personal favorites. Check out the free form jazz when the cops are fighting the vampire by the swimming pool, it’s like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew! The film has some real talent attached, Darren McGavin stars as Kolchak, The lovely Carol Lynley appears as well. Not to mention Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, and the perennial favorites Ralph Meeker and Charles McGraw! And by Golly Elisha Cook, Jr. is in there too!

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The script is by the genius Richard Matheson. And the DP is a man I once took a cinematography class from , one Michel Hugo. A very nice French exile living here shooting TV movies, I looked him up and was sorry to see that he recently passed away. He had been teaching cinematography at a college in Vegas, the site of his greatest artistic triumph.

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R.I.P. Michel Hugo

Val Lewton’s Curse Of The Cat People, Mario Bava’s Operazione Paura

Written by Joe D on September 21st, 2010

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I recently re-watched Curse Of The Cat People, Val Lewton’s masterpiece. Running an extremely efficient 70 minutes, it’s incredible how much story, atmosphere, character, and artistry the filmmakers have packed into this B thriller. The brilliant script by DeWitt Bodeen picks up the characters from 1942’s Cat People 7 years or so later and now living in Tarrytown, NY, nearby to where Lewton grew up. This setting enables Lewton to inject local lore from his own childhood, notably the legend of the Headless Horseman Of Sleepy Hollow. Lewton was primarily a writer and even though he gets no screen credit as such, this script was a collaboration between Bodeen and him. Robert Wise, crack editor of such RKO gems as Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Devil And Daniel Webster was called in to replace the original director Gunther Von Fritsch, who had fallen behind schedule, Wise began his directing career with a bang. Cinematography was by the terrific Nicolas Musuraca, lensman of the incomparably shot noir Out Of The Past. Art Direction by the prodigiously talented Albert S. D’Agostino ( perhaps a distant relation of mine) and Walter Keller. Top it off with excellent performances most notably that of the wonderful child actress Ann Carter. Curse Of The Cat People is an incredibly sensitive film, dealing with the fantasies of a lonely, mis-understood child. Amy Reed creates a “friend” that cares for her and plays with her, partly because her father refuses to believe her stories. Oliver Reed (played by Kent Smith) was married to Irena (Simone Simone) in the original Cat People. He’s afraid his daughters’ flights of fancy will lead her to a similar end as Irena. His loss of the woman he loved has made him afraid for his daughter and really for himself, he does not want to go through the loss of a loved one again, as a result he clamps down on his daughter, seeking to snuff out her “dangerous” imagination. He only succeeds in driving her into the arms of her friend Irena. Amy had discovered a picture of Irena and her mother’s guilty response triggered an unconscious identification with the beautiful, mysterious figure in the photo.

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Winter comes and it gives Musuraca and D’Agostino a chance to really shine. Irena gives her Xmas present to Amy, transforming the garden behind the family home to a glittering cathedral of shimmering lights, fantastic winter forms of ice, snow, the bare limbs of trees, a magical application of Movie Studio Artifice, effects done in camera with lighting changes, some of the most beautiful examples of this lost Art ever created.

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Another noteworthy sequence is when Irena appears in Amy’s bedroom, telling her little friend she must go, never to be seen again. This is accomplished with a tracking shot, Irena is there and then she is obscured by the camera tracking behind a chair,when the camera emerges Irena is gone, the open window letting some mist cascade in where she once stood, also pay careful attention to the sound track lest you miss the whispered “Goodbye” a beautifully mixed sequence. A group of carolers comes by the house and the shots of the family framed in the front door of their home listening are superb.

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Sir Lancelot appears as the faithful man-servant and he is as always great. Lewton used him several times in his films and he always played a character of great dignity, a tribute to Lewton’s egalitarianism. Lewton was hired at RKO ( my favorite studio) to run their “B” horror unit. The movies had to be short ( these were the days of the double bill), produced for under$150,000, and based on a title the studio brass came up with. Lewton disliked this title and the marketing of the film was off base suggesting a straight horror revisit to the original Cat People but I think the title is good, the curse is what happens to the traumatized survivors of the first film, mainly Oliver and Alice Reed. Cat People was a huge hit, saving RKO from the brink of ruin so the studio left Lewton alone and he was able to create some wonderful fantasies on a shoestring budget, a real tribute to the talents involved. Culminating in his masterpiece Curse Of The Cat People, a very personal film.

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Val Lewton
This brings me to Part Two of this essay, something that struck me while recently viewing this film. Does it contain the root of a character from Mario Bava’s masterpiece Operazione Paura (Kill Baby Kill) .Curse Of The Cat People was made in 1944, as soon as WWII was over the USA flooded Europe with films. They had been prevented from distributing films in Europe during the war. I’m sure Mario Bava went to see this film in Rome and it made a deep impression on him. Bava’s father was a special effects artisan, a sculptor who made creatures for films. Bava was an effects cameraman, master of the in camera effect, matte painting, trick lighting etc. He had to have seen this masterpiece of studio artistry and been deeply moved. The story goes that when he was casting Operazione Paura he searched high and low for a young girl to play the part of the ghostly killer. He couldn’t find one, finally he got a young boy to don a wig and play the part. I think he was looking for his own Ann Carter. A child that resembled her. There are some similar images in the films, for example when the girls are seen in Close Up looking through a window pane.

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Another paralell, a child’s ball provides the key to another dimension in both films, in Curse Irena is first revealed tossing Anne’s ball back to her, the little girl throws the ball offscreen to her friend and Simone enters with it and throws it back. In Paura the bouncing ball of the devil girl is often the first sign of her coming.

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Bava’s film is an illusion inside of an illusion, a puzzle at the heart of which is a subversion of innocence to evil, a baroque fantasy about the loss of childhood innocence. Perhaps not so far fetched considering the realities of a war torn country. One thing that always struck me about Curse Of The Cat People is the hominess, domestic peace of it’s setting. You want to live there in Tarrytown amongst the legends, old bridges, fireplaces, gardens. Life seems so peaceful, serene. Maybe Operation Paura is a reaction to that idyllic vision from an artist that lived through real horror. Another interesting fact, the girl who falls to her death, impaled on a wrought iron fence at the begining of Operazione Paura is named Irena.

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Mario Bava

Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451

Written by Joe D on January 24th, 2010

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A film of overwhelming moods, everything in this film seems filtered through a veil of sadness. Visually stunning, the art direction and cinematography are wonderfully rich. The colors jump off the screen in beautiful compositions. Director of Photography Nic Roeg really outdoes himself here. And Bernard Hermann’s music sinks you deeper and deeper into a state of lugubrious drugged oblivion, like a person slipping deeper and deeper into a bottomless vat of viscous oil. The powerful rhythms and images of dream logic make this film even more effective. For example the woman who burns herself with her books and Montag’s nightmare.

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Also I love films made in the 60’s yet set in the future for their take on design, it’s the 60’s taken to a super cool extreme, like they had reached the apogee of design and then found a way to show that somehow in the future it would be improved upon in interesting ways.

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The firetruck, the monorail, the doors that slide open on their own. Big flat panel TV’s hanging on your living room wall.Truffaut didn’t like this film that much although Ray Bradbury did. I think Truffaut is not always a fair judge of his own films since he didn’t like The Bride Wore Black either and to me that’s one of his best films. A fascinating depressing work of Art, check it out on a rainy Saturday afternoon. The opening credits are spoken over images of TV antennas, no writing allowed in the future! Montag forces a group of his wives friends to listen as he reads from a book by Charles Dickens, an emotional passage about the death of the writer’s wife. One woman breaks down in tears, the rest say he’s disgusting, “people aren’t supposed to upset other people, that’s why they did away with books in the first place!” This sounds to me like our politically correct society of today where you can’t say anything slightly off center without being pilloried. Also everyone takes massive amounts of prescription drugs, the whole population is medicated! The mindless totalitarian society hypnotized by Television and since there is no writing allowed, there can be no scripts for the actors on TV, sounds to me a lot like Reality Shows. Now The that the Supreme Court has allowed Corporations to spend as much as they want on political campaigns Fahrenheit 451 doesn’t seem so far away. I just heard that it will be re-made with Tom Hanks as Montag, Ray Bradbury is in frail shape this could finish him off. So check it out and see what you think, it is a very unique, disturbing film.

Max Reinhardt

Written by Joe D on November 3rd, 2009

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Max Reinhardt, king of German theater had to flee Nazi oppression at the height of his creative success. He came to America, staged A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Hollywood Bowl and was signed to a contract by Warner Bros. to direct a film version. I guess it didn’t make money because Reinhardt didn’t get to make any other films. But the film he did make with William Dieterle co-directing is incredibly beautiful. Fantastic images in luminous Black and White, they must have upped the silver content in that batch of nitrate film because the images positively glow!

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A number of Reinhardt’s collaborators from Germany re-located to Hollywood and created some of the most creative films ever made there. Dieterle made the incredible Portrait Of Jennie, a magical film beloved by none other than the great Surrealist Luis Bunuel.

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Although Dieterle was driven to drink and a nervous breakdown by the incessant barrage of telegrams from amphetamine fueled producer David O. Selznick. The cameraman Joseph August of that film died soon after of a heart attack, Selznick strikes again? John Brahm, director of The Lodger, The Locket, and Hangover Square was a Reinhardt alumnus.

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John Brahm

So was Otto Preminger, not a filmmaker of Fantasy, but definetly a ground-breaker when it came to sex, race, drugs, Black-Listing. Plus he directed the archtypal Laura.

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Mr. Freeze says “Where’s Dorothy Dandridge?”

And Edgar G. Ulmer labored in the Art Department for Reinhardt. He directed the Bauhaus influenced Horror fim The Black Cat. A curious coincidence, Reinhardt opened an Acting School in Hollywood to pay his bills, Anne Savage attended and hit it off with Max, she later starred in Ulmer’s Detour.

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Edgar G. Ulmer, a Black Cat crossed his path at Universal

Here’s a promotional film about the making of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The Locket

Written by Joe D on August 26th, 2009

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The Locket is a wonderful psychological noir featuring Robert Mitchum playing a Greenwich Village artist. It’s directed by John Brahm, a German ex-pat who learned his stuff at UFA then came over here to avoid the Nazis and made some great films. I got turned onto him through the 20th Century Fox Horror Classics dvd collection, featuring three films directed by Brahm- The Undying Monster, The Lodger, and Hangover Square. These are all great and definitely worth watching.

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German Genius- John Brahm

A little research led me to The Locket, an RKO gem lensed by one of my favorite cameramen, Nicholas Musuraca (the original Prince Of Darkness). Brahm also directed a Raymond Chandler based film, The Brasher Doubloon, aka The High Window, a Vincent Price vehicle The Mad Magician, and the super groovy Hot Rods To Hell! He then directed a lot of cool TV, Outer Limits, Man from U.N.C.L.E. etc. An interesting note, Brahm directed some episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, he directed a version of The Lodger years after Hitchcock did and Hitchcock’s Marnie is very similar to The Locket, but in my opinion inferior to the earlier B&W noir. The Locket is not on dvd but you can watch it as I did on YouTube.

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Grazie Zia

Written by Joe D on September 16th, 2008

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A great but flawed film, the likes of which we may never see again. Grazie Zia ( Thank You Auntie, USA) has many incredible elements, the acting, especially by the leads- Lou Castel as Alvise
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Lou Castel as Alvise gets a check-up

and Lisa Gastoni as Aunt Lea.
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Beautiful Lisa Gastoni, Fantasy Aunt!

The incredible music by maestros Ennio Morricone and Bruno Nicolai.
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The Vietnam War as viewed by an Italian proto-adolescent. Beautiful B&W cinematography by Aldo Scavarda and excellent direction by Salvatore Samperi. The story centers on Alvise, a young man with a mysterious medical condition that’s paralyzed his legs, forcing him to ride around in a motorized wheelchair. Alvise travels to his Aunt Lea’s country villa for a rest. He reads comic books obsessively especially Diabolik.
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He is also obsessed with the Vietnam War, going on at the time this film was made. Alvise’s Aunt Lea obviously cares a great deal for her nephew even though her millionaire husband dislikes him quite a bit and with good reason, Alvise is just shy of being a sociopath. First we learn that he can walk. His mysterious paralyses is fake.
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Treating his Legs with Magnetic Mud!

He then takes out a rifle with telescopic sight and aims at his Aunt and her husband.
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Later during a small party a sexy young blond flirts with Alvise, singing to him, dancing up to him, embracing him. He responds by biting her like a mad dog!
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Party Italian Style!

But for me the most amazing scene is where Alvise plays his war games. A radio report drones on reciting casualty figures in the Vietnam conflict. Alvise dutifully records these updates on a bulletin board that lists living and dead Viet Cong, Americans, lost arms, legs etc.
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He has created a tabletop reproduction of a battle field, complete with American army base and vietnamese village.
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He starts the conflagration, burning the village in a napalm storm.
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He salutes a fallen American toy soldier, yelling at a Viet Cong that ” He’ll never drink Coca-Cola again!” This strange tableaux, accompanied by an anti-war Italian pop song is very moving.
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Most of the Americans sent to Vietnam were barely out of their teens. They should have been reading comic books and chasing chicks rather than spraying napalm and Agent Orange, having their legs blown off and suffering acute psychological damage. The guy that re-stuccoed part of my house told me his story. He shipped over to Nam just out of high school. He thought it would be fun, adventure. As his plane was coming in for a landing at the American base he saw puffs of smoke down by the runway. The Viet Cong were mortaring the base. He thought ” Wait a minute, this doesn’t look good!” It went downhill from there, one trauma after another.
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Another guy I knew back east had been captured. He spent 3 years in a wooden cage displayed as a weak American. When he got back he could barely speak to anyone. It took about 2 months before he said hello to me. My Laotian friend told me that he was shocked to see the Americans were sending “kids” over to fight trained soldiers. He couldn’t figure it out. This movie makes this point in a powerful way.
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The story evolves and Alvise seduces his Aunt. Now this part of the film I didn’t enjoy as much. Simply because Alvise is such a jerk and his Aunt is a beautiful mature sexy woman. Charming, classy, first rate. I found it hard to believe that she would fall for this guy. But maybe she did out of love for him, not passion but the desire to let Alvise realize his fantasy with her. The film is in Italian with no subtitles so I may have missed some nuances.
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It’s still great and worth watching. As I said at the begining of this piece, we may never see films like this made again. Why? It’s a very personal film, dealing with anti-war sentiments, incest, a charming/repellant hero, not a marketable crowd pleaser and Thank the Gods Of Film for it’s existence! We need more filmmakers willing to take a chance, try something out of the ordinary, break free of the stupid conventions of storyteilng where everyone knows whats going to happen next.
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Take Me To A Screenwriting Class!

Stop going to these idiotic screenwriting seminars to learn cookie cutter film structure! Take a chance and make a bold visionary film or better still support these films by renting, buying, going to see them! The world needs artists more than ever to present other views than the media crap force fed to everyone. Get out there and make it happen!
p.s. the score for this film is pure genius. Morricone and his ex-partner Bruno Nicolai created a unique sound for this film. Those guys created so many different sonic palates, it’s incredible. Compare this score to Citta Violenta or Il Mercenario, they’re all very different. p.p.s I checked out Lou Castel on IMDB. This guy has had an incredible career! He’s in some of the greatest films of all time. Including some Fassbinder, Viscounti, Wenders,the excellent Irma Vep, etc. etc. and he’s still acting! Also Lisa Gastoni has had an illustrious career. She appeared in a film by the sublime Fernando Di Leo-(La Seduzione) and interestingly enough she appeared in a film called Amore amaro ( Bitter Love) with my pal Leonard Mann. When I interviewed Leonard he spoke fondly of this film but admitted he had never seen it! I found a copy on ebay and turned him on to it. He bought it( it was expensive) and now I need to borrow it so I can write about it. In Closing. Bravo! to Salvatore Samperi, Bravo Lou Castel! Brava Lisa Gastoni! Bravo Morricone, Niccolai! Bravo to all involved in making this film.
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Here’s the party scene via YouTube:

And here’s the title sequence so you can hear some of the score.

Sweet Smell Of Success & The Lost New York

Written by Joe D on September 1st, 2008

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SSOS just showed on TCM as part of a Tony Curtis retrospective.
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Sidney Falco on the threshold of Success, the entrance to “21”

This time it really brought back memories of Lost New York. Some of the spots are still there but they’re not the same. First off, this is an incredible movie. Great classic performances out of Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. Great dialog, “Match me Sidney.” ” I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re a cookie full of arsenic.”
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One of Burt’s Greatest Roles
There’s more quipping in this movie than any other that I can think of. ” Here’s your head, what’s your hurry.” It does not stop. James Wong Howe’s cinematography is amazing, they went for a reverse, long lenses to shoot long shots, exteriors of NYC stacked up in a telephoto lens, wide angle lenses for close ups, distorting, paranoid, powerful images of the characters and this technique works incredibly well. The characters jump off the screen at you with all the dynamism of a Steve Ditko comic.
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Pure Genius!
The environs of New York never looked better. Great locations! Shots of a bygone NYC. There’s a scene at A Times Square hot dog stand, you can picture Jack Kerouac walking in. It reminds me of Papaya King, a stand I used to frequent. Two dogs and a papaya drink for $1.50! That was a deal!
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Time Travel via HotDog Stand!
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Hey Kerouac! Pass The Mustard!
All that stuff in midtown, the 40’s and 50’s , the “21” club, the Ed Sullivan Theater, the crummy offices, the streets, J.J.(Burt Lancaster) lives in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway. I used to work there, there were a lot of editing rooms in that building. Saturday Night Live had offices there, I once had a run in with a belligerent John Belushi on the service elevator.
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Sidney in the lobby of The Brill Building, 1600 Bway was right across the street
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Reverse on the Brill lobby. This was it, Tin Pan Alley!

Across the street was 1600 Broadway, the National Screen Services Building. They had a ton of cutting rooms in there as well and it was one of the last buildings in the city to have elevator operators! Next door was the Rincon Argentina, a great restaurant, full of editors at lunch time, half a chicken, french fries, salad for $3.59, plus a demi boutee of house red for a buck! Those were the days. So to see J.J. and Sidney cruising my old neighborhoods blew me away. I worked up the street at my friend’s company “CineHaven”, 254 W.54th street. Rumor had it that Marlon Brando and Wally Cox were roommates there in the 50’s.
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I used to work (and crash) right up the street!

Just up the street from Studio 54 and Trans Audio , a mixing studio with a lot of cutting rooms. But back to SSOS, the bar that Martin Milner plays at when Sidney sets him up, I think it’s by the old West Side Highway, the location is so cool, Sidney up on the overpass signaling Kello the bad cop to get Martin. Incredible!
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West Side Highway Location?
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Evil Cop Harry Kello beats up Jazz Guitarist Martin Milner
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Life imitates Art, Miles Davis was beaten up by a cop on 52nd Street while standing outside a gig

The great Chico Hamilton Quintet appears in the film and they are excellent. Great score by Elmer Bernstein, great screenplay by Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets, great direction by Alexander Mackendrick.
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Chico Hamilton on drums, the guy on cello is Fred Katz, he wrote the super cool score for Roger Corman’s Little Shop Of Horrors!

Great characters, supposedly J.J. was based on Walter Winchell, the influential columnist. It’s an interesting character, he wraps himself up in the flag spouting a lot of rhetoric about patriotism, all the while spewing vitriol on everyone he doesn’t like, and if anyone complains, they’re un-American! A petty tyrant whose motivations are his personal vendettas and small minded attacks pretending that he’s doing it for the good of his “60 million readers”. I think this is a very timely character, as relevant now as back then, even more so. We’ve got a J.J. Hunsecker in the White House, only without the witty quips. The movie introduces the wonderful Susan Harrison, what happened to her?
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If you want to get a feel for that old lost New York check out this guy, Jean Shepherd. He had a late nite radio show broadcast from NYC, I’d listen to him when I was a kid. Sometimes he talks about NYC and it doesn’t get any better than this. He also wrote the Christmas Story film. Here’s a link to some of his shows. Here it is : Jean Shepherd Shows
flatiron.jpgI used to live around the corner from the Flatiron Building, an early structural steel building in NYC courtesy of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham

Once Upon A Time In The West Screens at The Academy

Written by Joe D on June 21st, 2008

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They screened the recently restored print of Sergio Leone’s epic masterpiece at The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences last night. All I can say is “It was magnificent!” The crew at Triage Motion Picture Services went all out. Paul Rutan flew to Rome and got a 2 perf Techniscope Interpositive made from the original camera negative. Then they borrowed Martin Scorsece’s IB technicolor print from the original theatrical release and timed to that. I must say it looked like Technicolor! They got great saturation that comes close to IB Technicolor. It was amazing.
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The sound was restored as well and the mono mix sounded great. Did you ever notice in this film, whenever somebody is shot and killed a horse whinnys immediately afterwards and really loudly. Check it out. Also this is the epic Leone Western that features a powerful female character. Claudia Cardinale is as big a character as Bronson, Robards, and Fonda.
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It’s in…
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The Eyes, Chico…
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They Never…
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Lie!
These beautiful giant faces filled the enormous screen at the Academy in Incredible Leone Close Ups and the magnificent vistas of Monument Valley never looked so good as photographed by Tonino Delli Colli on 2-perf! You can really see the attention to detail Leone and his crew put into the sets and costumes by watching this film on a big screen. The pace may be slow compared to films made today but it gives you time to look around the frame and see all the beautiful objects, textures, lighting. Leone did scrupulous research on Western costumes and props and it comes through.
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One Of The Greatest Flashbacks In All Of Cinema

When you top it all off with the music of Ennio Morricone it’s an unbeatable combination. The movie is really incredible images accompanied by soaring emotional score, wonderfully arranged and performed by great musicians, interspersed with great dialogue, not many words but all carefully chosen, it was a revelation to hear how many laughs the dialogue got. The audience was right there with the film for the entire time. Thanks also in part to the masterful editing of the great Nino Baragli. If you get a chance to see the restored version of this film in a good theater, I urge you to go and see it. It will be a revelation.

Once Upon A Time In The West Trailer