Franco De Gemini- Once Upon A Time In The West

Written by Joe D on February 5th, 2009

Here’s an interview with Franco De Gemini, he played the harmonica on the soundtrack of Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In The West. It’s in italian but even if you don’t speak Italian you’ll get a lot out of it. What an incredible movie and what a magnificent score. I went to a screening of a restored version of this film last year, my friends at Triage Motion Picture Services did the restoration and it was beautiful. You can really see the attention to detail Leone put into making this film when you watch it on a big screen. But check out Franco and dig his playing of two notes that clash and how he bends notes and how he gave a voice to The Man With The Harmonica.

The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane

Written by Joe D on November 17th, 2008

TCM has done it again, screened a somewhat obscure film I’ve never seen. The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane is a stylish thriller (sort of), a psychological fairy tale chess game, the board pieces consisting of a precocious blonde angel, sexy, innocent brilliant, deadly, an evil Prince, sadistic, pederast, coward, bully, with pretensions of refined debauchery, a teen aged limping magician, complete with top hat and cape, accomplice, lover, confidant, defender of his lady’s virtue, a large village policeman, slow, good natured, (later to write Jacques Brel is alive and living in Paris) and a racist Queen of a landlady, driving in her Bentley like the wicked witch.
Beautifully directed and photographed TLGWLDTL feels like a EuroHorror film, not quite a giallo ( no black gloved killers) but definitely closer to the Italian style of filmmaking than the American. Complete with a glimpse of a nude 13 year old Jodie Foster ( really her older sister Connie, body doubling her) that was cut out of the American release. Martin Sheen is excellent as the pervert neighbor who covets Jodie’s nubile body, but Jodie is amazing, a captivating, mesmerizing performance that dispels the incredulity this tale could easily raise. It’s worth watching sheerly for her genius. She has a magnetic, feral/angelic quality that makes it hard to take your eyes off her. The camera loves her would be one way to express it but it seems to me that some people can project their thoughts through the Cinema Eye (the camera lens) much more powerfully than others. Is that Acting? I think it’s more a psychic phenomena than a learned craft. The director,Nicolas Gessner, a Hungarian, does an excellent job. A true Euro director. He understands Film and manipulates it beautifully. One of the things I look for in a great filmmaker is a memorable image for the last shot of a film. True Cinema creators always have this, and this movie has a beaut.
The score is interesting, Chopin concerto played as source from a record, and wah wah guitar funk, so 70’s, another aspect that draws comparison with the Italian thrillers of that era. This film also serves as an example of how to make an excellent film with basically one location and only a few actors, it’s a great lesson in restrained resource filmmaking. It was based on a novel and the author(Laird Koenig) wrote the screenplay, so there was a lot of thought put into the story before the cameras rolled, you can tell. It won a Sci Fi award but I think Jodie should have gotten an Oscar for her work.

Italia A Mano Armata, Franco Micalizzi,

Written by Joe D on December 20th, 2007

This is a killer clip of an orchestra in Italy playing the theme from Italia A Mano Armata (A Special Cop In Action, USA) an incredible piece of music by Franco Micalizzi. I have a story about this particular tune. I was working as an editor on Kill Bill. One day Quentin tells me that two great Poliziotto’s are playing at The American Cinematheque that night. So we go and see them, they were great. Italia A Mano Armata and Roma A Mano Armata. Cut to a few months ago. I’m working on Death Proof, QT cuts in a piece of music in the big car chase, it’s Italia A Mano Armata! He tells me he’s been wanting to use that music ever since we saw the films at The Cinematheque during Kill Bill! Enjoy! Have a glass of Nebbiolo!

Fetish Quartet Video, Daniele Luppi

Written by Joe D on December 19th, 2007

I just found this video on YouTube. I directed, shot, and edited it for my pal Daniele Luppi. It’s a music video set to his tune Fetish Quartet from his album An Italian Story. Daniele did the score for my film One Night With You and his album features performances by a few of the same legendary musicians he employed on the soundtrack, mainly Alessandro Alessandroni and Antonello Vannucchi. It’s a great album, check it out. By the way Daniele has been busy working with Gnarls Barkley on some amazing tracks. Keep your ears open for their next collaboration.

The Asphalt Jungle, John Huston, Jean Pierre Melville

Written by Joe D on November 18th, 2007


I watched The Asphalt Jungle again after not seeing it for a long time. It’s an influential movie. Especially to Jean Pierre Melville. It might even be his favorite film.

A Street Out Of Melville

The DVD was part of a film noir collection and include some interesting extras, first was an introduction by the man himself, John Huston. It must have been filmed right after the film was made, it’s in B+W and Huston looks like he’s in his late 40’s. He says the movie is all about the characters, summing up with something like ” you might not like them but I think you’ll find them fascinating”. Now that’s my kind of movie!

The City=Hell
And the movie really is all about the characters, the way it’s filmed, the action, the details, it all serves to illuminate these beings, their strengths and their weaknesses or “Vice”. From the opening frames, the MGM logo with the roaring lion, the music creates a sense of foreboding, dread. The score is by Miklos Rozsa, it sets the mood and then there’s almost no score until the end. But it works very well. Melville did not use much music in his crime dramas, perhaps influenced by this. The first scenes are shot early on a foggy morning in what looks like Bunker Hill. “Crook Town” according to Raymond Chandler. A patrol car prowls the streets like a rouge shark hunting for the scent of blood. A figure ducks behind a pillar, it’s Dix, the magnificent Sterling Hayden in what I believe is his greatest role.

He’s One Intimidating Fellow

He’s pulled in by the cops and put in a line up. But he intimidates the eyewitness, staring him down with murder in his eye, and the corrupt cop can’t out intimidate the guy so Dix walks. We are introduced to a group of criminals, an underworld association of safe crackers, wheelmen, hooligans, brains, bookies, and a high priced mouthpiece.

Lon The Mouthpiece and Cobby The Bookie

Also a rough police commissioner, he tears up the corrupt Lt. Ditrich’s ass in an early meeting. I can’t help compare this angry top cop to the Inspector in Melville’s Le Circle Rouge. But the Inspector is more cynical, sure everyone is corrupt while the american is still believing in some, still naive in a way that feels distinctly american. Dix to me is the hero of this piece. He is the post war, traumatized American male. He dreams of the Kentucky horse farm he grew up on. How great it was, his only goal in life is to get enough money to buy it back and to do that he must struggle in the dirty city, the asphalt jungle.

Doll loves Dix, The Only Guy Who Treated her Square

He tells Doll, his taxi dancing girlfriend, of his life back in Kentucky, of a particular Black Colt, the best horse they ever raised, and how everything went bad one year, the corn crop failed, the colt broke his leg and had to be shot, and his father died whereby they lost the farm. He is every American, naive, not understanding the horror that can overtake them at any moment. I’m referring to WWII and the devastating effect it had on our collective psyches. Dix just wants to get back home but as Doc Riedenschneider and Thomas Wolfe would tell him, you can’t go home again. Home to Dix is innocence, clean water, air, 30 acres of blue grass, heaven.

Doc, The Big Brain

Anyway this is a caper movie , a brilliant plan by the “Doc” (Sam Jaffe). Interestingly played as a German complete with accent. A mastermind, he’s figured out this heist down to the smallest detail. Unfortunately when you add violence to the mix, things can go wrong and they do. Huston keeps the action simple and real. I love his fight scenes. My favorite is the bar fight in The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, when Bogie and Tim Holt take on Barton MacLane. You feel the struggle, the brutality just like a real fight, it ain’t pretty.

Dix Slugs The Watchman, His Gun Hits The Floor and Goes Off. The Safecracker with a New Baby catches it in the Gut. Just Unlucky, I guess.

The Doc’s vice is chicks, young, beautiful babes. Huston sets this up with a revealing detail. Doc can’t help scope a girly calendar when left alone in the bookie joint.

Doc’s Vice

James Whitmore plays Gus, the hunchback wheelman. He likes Dix, going out of his way to pay Dix’s gambling debt, to keep Dix from pulling another heist.

Gus The Hunch Loves Cats

Louis Calhern is Uncle Lon, the crooked lawyer that lives beyond his means and Marilyn Monroe is Angela, Uncle Lon’s plaything. Man is she sexy, just the way she shifts around on a divan makes your temperature rise.

Marilyn Sleeps On Uncle Lon’s Couch

The movie is shot beautifully. A lot of low angle two shots with one character in the foreground that show the ceiling of the room, creating a claustrophobic sense of everyone being trapped in little boxes, Dix’s room, the bookie joint, Gus’s luncheonette. Greg Toland and Orson Welles shocked the film world by showing ceilings in Citizen Kane. Sets were usually built without ceilings, a throwback to silent days when light came from glass roofed studios. Huston took that idea and ran with it. Maybe the ceiling represents the city, especially to Dix who grew up on a farm, outdoors with the sky for a roof. Harold Rossen did a great job, so atmospheric. It’s true Noir camerawork, with characters facing the camera as another speaks behind them. Rossen was nominated for an Oscar for Cinematography but lost out toThe Third Man! Gee, were movies better then?

Classic Noir Composition

And as the film progresses and the only characters still on the loose are Dix and Doll, Huston moves into Close Ups.

Huston moves in closer

Now that he’s got the audience invested in these people he shoves them in your face. It works like gangbusters.

And Closer

Another thing, watch the heist carefully. Where another director would focus on the drill bits and tools, Huston keeps us on the faces, the heist is portrayed purely through character.

The Heist Plays Out In Faces

There are a lot of little details about everybody that creates more 3 dimensional beings out of them. The fact that the safe cracker just had a baby, that Gus loves cats, that Lon has a sick wife. Backstory for everyone. The sets are great too, bare lightbulbs, pints of whiskey, dirty glasses. It gets under your skin. There’s a street at the begining that looks exactly like one in Melville’s Le Samourai. This nighttime world of people knocking on each other’s doors at 3AM, Melville’s milieu. Also, horses play a big part in Huston’s films. Reflections In A Golden Eye and The Misfits come to mind immediately. Towards the end of Le Doulous Belmondo stops off at a barn and checks out his horse before heading up to the main house where his killer is awaiting him. Is this an homage to Huston’s horse obsession? Quentin Tarantino has said that Melville did for the Crime Film what Leone did for the Western. I guess so, took elements from the Hollywood films they admired, stylized the heck out of them and revitalized a genre. This is one of Huston’s top two films, the other being The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. In the end Dix makes it back to his farm, he gets to lie in the green grass under the beautiful sky surrounded by the horses he loved.

He Loved Horses More Than Anything

But he had to pay a high price, the price we all have to pay to get to Heaven.


Korla Pandit, Miserlou, R.J. Smith.

Written by Joe D on November 8th, 2007


Here’s a clip of Korla Pandit playing Miserlou. This is from the 50’s way before Dick Dale and his Deltones recorded it or the Beach Boys. Dale’s version got a famous boost when it was used in Pulp Fiction. It’s an old Greek folk song that’s been around a long time. Korla Pandit is in Ed Wood, I’m not sure why, maybe he knew the real Ed Wood? But he was cool.


In R.J. Smith’s excellent book The Great Black Way,( about the Central Avenue Jazz, R&B scene) he talks about Korla, his real name was John Roland Redd and he moved to L.A. in the late 30’s. To avoid racism and be able to tour and play music without being hassled he became Korla Pandit, Mystic Man of the East. The shit a brother had to do to get by!

Eyeball and the Lure of the Theater

Written by Joe D on November 7th, 2007


Last year I was lucky enough to make it to a whole bunch of the GRINDHOUSE screenings at the New Beverly Theater on Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino had programmed a months worth of films from his personal collection, mainly 70’s Gridhouse fare and they were great! Such a treat to see cool films on 35mm in a theater with like minded film lovers! One of the films I saw was Umberto Lenzi’s Eyeball or Gatti rossi in un labirinto di vetro, it’s not a great film, but to see it with an audience! What a treat, they loved it! It’s full of shocks, and gags and eyeball gouging goop! It played so well in a theater surrounded by people that screamed, laughed, jumped and were grossed out, I loved it! Movies are meant to be experienced in a communal setting, the electric thrills running through the audience are a big part of the experience. This movie really illustrated that fact to me because as I said it’s not that great, if I had watched it on a DVD by myself I might have thought it crap! But with an audience a whole different enchilada! So I hope you can get the opportunity to see it the way it was meant to be seen. on a big screen surrounded by shrieking moviegoers. Also it has a great score by the genius Bruno Nicolai!
p.s. the trailer is NSFW, some nudity(boobs) and gore.

Alessandro Alessandroni, Super Genius

Written by Joe D on November 4th, 2007



Here’s a clip of Alessandro Alessandroni performing in Italy. Once you hear the music you’ll know who he is. One of the Unsung Heroes Of Italian Soundtracks. He plays that great gigantic Electric guitar on the Leone/Morricone Westerns. He also whistles, plays ocarina, sitar, mandolin, etc. etc. He had a vocal group called I Cantori Moderni and they did all the chorus singing on these soundtracks as well. Thanks to Daniele Luppi I was fortunate enough to meet this great man, so humble and unassuming, and get him to perform on the soundtrack of my film One Night With You. I can never thank him enough.

And here’s the opening credits to Sette uomini d’oro(Seven Golden Men), check out I Cantori Moderni’s super jazzy singing!

Bob Dylan, Murray Lerner, The Other Side Of The Mirror

Written by Joe D on November 2nd, 2007


I went to the American Cinematheque to see Murray Lerner’s filmThe Other Side Of The Mirror. It’s a film about Bob Dylan. It was shot at The Newport Folk Festival in 1963, 1964,& 1965 and it shows how Dylan changed over that time period.

He starts off as a young folksinger. Singing songs about oppression , social iniquity, racism and other divisive techniques used by politicians. Anti-War songs, beautiful stuff. He does one of my favorite early Dylan songs, The Chimes Of Freedom Flashing.

If you’re a Dylan fan I recommend this film. But gradually Bob changes, he becomes more of a Media figure, more of an icon. His music becomes more abstract, more personal, more about himself in a way and less about oppressed people.

Finally in 1965 he performs with an electric band, Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Al Kooper on Organ, Sam Lay on Drums. The crowd boos him!

They were upset that he was playing amplified music, they wanted Mr. Tambourine Man. But I have to say watching the film this time, I agreed with them! Seeing that young Bob Dylan, so pure, so talented, just him, his guitar, his voice, his lyrics, entertaining thousands of people, singing about inequality, about people being the pawns of government, about life in a mining town, was so moving and inspiring. Especially today when such voices are not allowed to be heard.

Then seeing him with his rock band, Bleah! Commercialism, Sell Out! It just wasn’t as good! In 1963 he looked like an androgynous Pixie. his hair piled on top of his head, his skinny face, he was like Snap, Crackle, & Pop, a magical figure, not of this earth. Then suddenly he’s Lou Reed’s cousin, playing with junkie geniuses, down in the mud of existence. No wonder they booed. Lerner interviews some very young fans and they said ” Who needs Dylan anymore. He’s here, part of the establishment” He rode the folk scene until he was big enough to become an icon, a God not a human. He went to the other side of the mirror.

Joan Baez sings with you know who

A very young Johnny Cash appears in this film and comments on what a great songwriter Dylan is, and performs a song. Very Cool!

Murray Lerner makes a profound statement about the nature of fame, Art, Perception, and human frailty.

And he makes it in a deceptively simple way. That’s what makes it so powerful. It took Murray 44 years to get this film released. Bravo for not giving up.


Keith Robinson & Murray Lerner, two veterans of 630 9th Avenue, The Film Center Building

Like I said if you’re a Dylan fan, check it out. If you don’t know anything about Dylan it’s still worth seeing, you may learn something about the culture of those days and about the incredible music Mr. Dylan was making then.

Professor Longhair, Zulu King Of New Orleans

Written by Joe D on October 29th, 2007

Here’s something in honor of our recent trip to New Orleans. Professor Longhair laying down one of his seminal hits, Tipitina.

Kill, Baby… Kill!

Written by Joe D on September 3rd, 2007


I bought a few videos at Jerry’s since he’s closing up shop. One of them was Mario Bava’s Operazione Paura (USA Title: Kill, Baby… Kill!). What an amazingly cool movie. This is the first time I’ve seen it and it ranks up there with Black Sunday.

Excellent Locations

Bava was a supreme visual artist as the screenshots will attest. He studied to be a fine artist but followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Cinema Artist instead. His father Eugenio was a sculptor and the father of Italian Cinematographic Special Effects, in fact according to the excellent commentary by Bava expert Tim Lucas, Eugenio invented the so-called Schufftan Process on Cabiria years before Schufftan used it on Metropolis!

Bava’s father gave him the ripple glass used in this shot

The apple didn’t fall far from the tree as Mario uses many incredible in camera effects in his films. Effects that he designed and executed himself! The only person around today that does this kind of thing is Michel Gondry. But back to our movie. There are so many painterly compositions in this film. I’ve selected a few paintings I was reminded of.
Mario studied Art History and he grew up in Roma, surrounded by great art and it’s evident here. Some of the artists brought to mind by Kill, Baby… Kill are Peter Breughel the elder, Piranesi, di Cherico, and Salvador Dali.

An etching by Piranesi


A CinePainting By Bava

Existential town squares, surreal crumbling landscapes, strange scenes of medieval village life are all brought to mind.

Here’s one in the Studio

This film was made for next to nothing but looks so incredible, Bava was a true “painter with light” as a cameraman and director.

All The Colors Of The Dark

His use of colored gels in composing a scene is unequaled, as well as his beautiful camera moves, always in the service of telling the story, never drawing attention to themselves. He would use ripple glass in front of the camera, or a distorting mirror, or shoot through a painting on glass, or as I mentioned earlier use colored lights to create an effect. All done In camera! Nowadays it’s all put together on a computer after the shoot is over and at much greater expense.

Child’s Play

The music is by Carlo Rustichelli, an old school Italian composer, he scored many peplums (Muscle man films, Machiste, Hercules, Samson). But according to Lucas he only wrote one piece expressly for this film. A beautiful piece that works perfectly. The instruments are Celeste, Vibraphone, Harp, and Fender Bass, and usually there’s a child’s laughter playing over it. Great! There is also some pipe organ pedal music used. My friend Danieli Luppi ( a great Italian composer) told me that many of these film scores were done at a studio in Rome called Forum. It’s in the basement of a church and when the church was empty they would use it’s pipe organ! It gives an even more chilling aspect to horror movie music to know it was recorded in an old church. The rest of the score is cobbled together from other Bava films and other uncredited composers. Tim Lucas says the producers ran out of money halfway through the shoot. People had to work for free and Bava was never paid! So when it came time to score the movie there was no dough! Bava had to call in some favors and get whatever music his friends could give him. I’d like to talk about the Italian method of film scoring vs. the american way. The Italian composer would read the script and write themes, sometimes he’d record the music before the film was shot! The american on the other hand has a stopwatch and some idiot director yelling at him” OK on this frame I want a sting! When her eyes move I want a change in the music!” It’s so micro managed you lose the musical flow! When you edit a movie you are creating a visual music out of the shots, there’s a rhythm, a pace, a heartbeat, it’s musical. So when you put a piece of music against a scene magic happens, things coincide, sync up, play as one. I personally like the Italian way better.

The Haunted Villa

The Inn

Visions Of Hell

The locations chosen for this film are so great, they convey the atmosphere perfectly, also this is a period piece set in 1907, today that means $100 million dollars! The budget for this film was about $50,000! Fog machines and fake cobwebs add a lot of creepiness, but they have to be lit right or else they look bad.

The Kill Baby at the Window


A Daliesque composition

There is an amazing sequence in the film where the hero Dr. Eswai is confronted by the ghost of a little girl in her mother’s haunted villa. The female lead Monica Schuftan disappears, he hears her cry from another room and rushes to save her, he enters a Moebius strip of time and space rushing from room to room, trying to reach Monica but always entering the room he just left. He sees someone exiting just as he enters, he runs faster finally catching up to the fleeing phantom, he grabs the guys shoulder and turns him around only to discover, himself! Super Cool!

Moebius Chase Scene

Also a dream sequence made of distorted shots that works really well.

In Dreams

After this Bava was picked by Dino DeLaurentis to direct Diabolik. Dino wanted to give him a large budget but Bava refused. He knew if he accepted a lot of money he’d have to accept the control that went with it and that was not for him. He enjoyed making films his way, he evolved a technique of special effects so he could create anything his imagination came up with and for very little money. Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son said all the Italian intellectuals and big time filmmakers would go to see Bava’s films. Luchino Viscounti gave Operatzione Paura a standing ovation when he saw it.

Have a Ball, Baby

And Federico Fellini lifted the figure of the little girl and her ball symbolizing evil and dropped it into his film Toby Dammit a year later. Bava a super talented creator worked in genres looked down upon by the critics of his day, he worked with miniscule budgets and a lot of unknown actors, that’s why he was able to accomplish so much. Like another of my favorite artists, Chester Himes, who wrote genre detective stories brought out in cheap paperback editions but enabling him to give free reign to his creative spirit. If you like horror, if you’re interested in seeing pure creativity splashed across the silver screen, if you love film, see Kill, Baby… Kill!

Forbidden Games

Written by Joe D on August 27th, 2007


Bridget Fossey

Once in a great while a film comes along that rocks you to your very roots. Forbidden Games is such a film. It is by the great Rene Clement. He created several master works like, Purple Noon (The original Talented Mr. Ripley), and Rider On The Rain with Charles Bronson but this one is my favorite . I first saw this film when I was a young lad, it played on The Million Dollar Movie back in New York on WOR Channel 9. I must offer thanks to the unknown programmer of that show. I saw Peter Brooks Lord Of The Flies, Bergman’s Virgin Spring, De Sica’s Two Women, Bunuel’s Robinson Crusoe, Losey’s Boy with The Green Hair, and Fellini’s La Dolce Vita all on The Million Dollar Movie and it made me a cinephile for life.

The Peasant and The Princess

Forbidden Games starts with a long line of people on a country road, they’re fleeing Paris as the Nazi’s approach. We meet a young couple with a beautiful daughter, the little girl has a puppy she cherishes. Suddenly a sound from the sky, a German Messerschmidt fighter plane, it strafes the refugees, killing the girls parents and the puppy. The girl wanders away in shock carrying the tiny dog. She’s found by a farm family and brought into the farm house. These rough hewn folk marvel at her finery and her beauty. The young son of the farmers immediately falls in love with this rare jewel that’s appeared like a vision in their midst. The little girl tries to cope with her parents demise in a strange way.She and the boy create a fantasy cemetery burying the puppy and any other deceased creatures they come across. The imagery is powerful, romantic, emotionally intoxicating. It’s like a fairy tale come to life.


A Fairy Tale Come To Life

Clement understands that by using children as protagonists, we (the audience) experience the film as children. We re-experiance the time of our innocence and our most vivid impressions of life. The music is by the wonderful guitarist Narcisco Yepes. I had the good fortune to see him play at Alice Tully Hall in New York and he was incredible. He played a 10 string classical guitar of his own design.

Check out his music, it’s great and check out this film it’s tragic beauty will touch your soul. Below is a clip from the film, sorry about the lack of subtitles.