In honor of Halloween here’s a post about an Art/Horror Omnibus film, Spirits Of The Dead(Histoires extraordinaires). I first heard about this film in an interview with Federico Fellini. Fellini complained that when he signed his contract, the producers told him the other two directors would be Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman and when he found out that it was going to be Roger Vadim and Louis Malle he was depressed. He wished he hadn’t signed the contract. After reading this I became prejudiced against the film, I watched Toby Dammit, Fellini’s chapter but I never saw the other two, until last night. They ran it on TCM. I was impressed the Malle episode Metzengerstein was excellent, Jane and Peter Fonda playing feuding cousins in Medieval times, that fall in love with dire consequences. If you liked Malle’s surreal Black Moon you’ll dig this one. And Vadim’s William Wilson starring Alain Delon was powerful as well. mainly due to Delon’s magnetic presence, although Bridgett Bardot added a wonderful sexiness. These 2 episodes were period pieces. Malle’s was shot at old ruined castles in the countryside and Jane Fonda’s costumes are incredible. She also is an amazing equestrian, a pleasure to watch on horseback. Toby Dammit is a surreal masterpiece, full of artifice, like the cockpit of the plane sequence and the traffic jam created in a studio reminiscent of the opening of 8 & 1/2.
Also the image of the devil as a little girl with a ball, borrowed from Bava’s Operazione paura (Kill Baby Kill) and borrowed again by later filmmakers, is great. My main criticism is Terrence Stamp sticks his tongue out too often. I’m glad I finally saw the other chapters, I was blinded by my respect for Fellini but the Halloween Spirits Of The Dead opened my eyes.
Although there are probably millions of words being written about Paul Newman this very second due to his recent passing I felt inspired by seeing his 1968 directorial debut last night on TCM, Rachel, Rachel. Starring his wife Joanne Woodward and a lot of other great actors, most noticeably Estelle Parsons and Frank Corsaro, I mention Corsaro not only because of his fine acting but also because this is his only film role! He achieved fame as a stage director and as head of The Actor’s Studio, a legendary character.
Newman and Estelle Parsons on the Set
The story goes that Newman and Woodward shopped around for a director and didn’t get any takers. Newman had studied directing at Yale and decided to go for it. He created a rare and wonderful film, the sum effect being so much greater than all it’s parts. By this I mean that as I watched the film, there were parts that I thought great, parts I thought OK, maybe the direction seemed a little naive but at the end I was overwhelmed with the sensation of having just watched a great film. Due in a large part to the performance of Joanne Woodward, It is literally unlike any other film acting I have seen. She is such a unique talent, so unaffected, so true, it’s hard to put into words the way she works in this film. Once again at the end of the film I was overcome at how great she was in it. Not any one scene but the whole cumulative effect of the film, it’s magical. This is the kind of film that I wish would get made here in America more often, real people, real parts, no explosions or car chases. Just great characters struggling with their existence here on planet Earth at a particular time in a particular place. The stuff Life is made of, in this case in Connecticut in 1968. And it’s not just acting that makes this film great, there are some wonderful images as well, a date at his family’s dairy farm that James Olson takes Joanne woodward on, he makes her drive the tractor, she forks some hay on him from the hayloft. Things youngsters would do and here she is a middle-aged woman on her first date. Also the end sequence of Joanne and a baby at the beach , so beautiful, so moving. And a flashback scene of Woodward as a young girl sneaking into the basement where her father worked as a mortician. Seeing her father prepare a young boy’s body for burial. The way he tends to the dead boy, incredible. Paul was ably abetted by the great editor Dede Allen, here at the peak of her creative powers and it shows. Joanne Woodward was angry that Paul did not get nominated for an Academy Award for this film, she threatened to boycott the ceremony (She was nominated) but Paul talked her into it. Let’s all praise Paul Newman, he could have just acted in films and raced cars and enjoyed his life but he was an Artist, he had to struggle and make films and I salute him for that.
p.s. Here’s an article about the shooting of Rachel, Rachel, reminisces by the towns people that were there. It sounds like they had a great time. Article
The Film Fund headed by Martin Scorscese recently funded the restoration of some Underground classics made by the maverick director Bob Downey, a prince. I’m fortunate to say Bob is an old friend and that we worked together on several features and a couple of short films. He’s a great guy, an original who loves film and has made some of the coolest hit films of the Swinging 60’s. He’s getting his due with the restoration and re-release of some wild titles, Chafed Elbows, No More Excuses, and the excellent political satire Babo ‘73.
Talk about making something out of nothing, Bob went on a tour of the White House with his actor (Taylor Mead playing the Pres of the USA) and after the tour group left the Oval Office, he stayed behind and filmed Mead at the desk. For No More Excuses Bob dressed as a Confederate soldier, then ran onto the field at Yankee Stadium with a musket during a game. He had cameramen stashed around the stands filming. He told me they were going to take him to Bellvue but finally a cameraman showed up to back up Bob’s story, he first had to take the film to the lab so it wouldn’t get seized. Hey film programmers out there, get in touch with Andrew Lambert at Anthology Film Archives and get a restored print of one of these classics to screen at your Cinema! Here’s a link to an NPR broadcast interview with Bob about his films:Interview