Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Eli Roth's 24 Hours Of Horror

William Friedkin isn't the only American director this week tipping his hat to the Italians. The A.V. club has a great new interview with Eli Roth here, where the HOSTEL director takes us through his ideal twenty four hour horror film marathon. I love Eli's choices, and admire how diverse they are. I was thrilled to see him select Fellini's TOBY DAMMIT as one, and loved this quote about Terence Stamp's unmatchable performance, "it's Terence Stamp in one of the single greatest performances I've ever seen. It's my favorite short film of all time, of anything I've ever seen. He's brilliant."
Click the link for Roth's full list and his thoughts on each iconic film.

Friedkin On Argento

William Friedkin has contributed a list of his favorite horror films to EW. I was pleased to see several favorites on there, including Argento's DEEP RED and SUSPIRIA.
Here are some of Friedkin's generous comments towards Argento. Visit this link if you'd like to read the rest of his comments, and see his complete list. It is great to see one of my favorite American director's speaking so highly of Argento.

"These two films are just finally tuned machines to scare the hell out of you. And they do. They are the classic blood-spattered slasher films that have been imitated, copied, and remade without credit. They're strictly in the realm of fantasy, but Argento, being the great living master of horror, is so talented that they'll scare anyone who sees them.''

Happy Halloween

Thanks to everyone who continues to read and comment here, I really appreciate the support. I hope everyone has a great and safe Halloween.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Hostel Part Two: The DVD

I will be posting another look at Eli Roth's HOSTEL 2 to go along with this one soon. I did want to say though that the few problems I had with the film on my first viewing have pretty much disappeared. The film, as it plays in its striking uncut form on disc, gets better and better with each viewing, and it has quickly become one of my favorite horror films of the decade.
The DVD contains some solid special features that are entertaining as well as informative. Italian horror fans will absolutely want to check the disc out for a brief but beguiling interview with Edwige Fenech (and some shots of an awe struck Roth directing her), as well as an interesting short talk with Ruggero Deodato.
Even better is the producer's commentary with Roth and Tarantino that plays like a love letter to the Italian horror genre in general. After watching the film again and viewing the extras, I must say that it is indeed Sergio Martino's masterful TORSO that seems to be the film that HOSTEL TWO is most indebted to. Readers here will know that Martino's underrated Giallo is among my favorite films, and frankly seeing this much love thrown at it was refreshing to say the least.

Here are two shots of Eli and Edwige from his MySpace page. Be on the lookout for a long review for this woefully underrated and unjustly maligned film here soon.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Joe Dallesandro on Film: La Marge (The Streetwalker) 1976

"Despite a generally poor reputation, even among admirers of its director Walerian Borowczyk, LA MARGE is, quite simply, a masterpiece."
Brad Stevens, Video Watchdog Issue 32.

Recently I selected thirty or so films as the most essential (or greatest) foreign films I had ever seen. To honor Polish director Walerian Borowczyk I selected his amazing 1980 feature DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WOMEN for the list. While I do think that that surreal nightmarish masterpiece is his finest film, if I had to select a favorite I would have to go with a film he shot five years earlier in 1976.
LA MARGE is one of the oddest films in the legendary Borwoczyk's filmography. The great master would typical deal in period pieces for his life action epics, but LA MARGE is very much of the time it was made in. I would say that as much as any other film from the seventies, that it belongs to the decade. Everything from the clothes to the music, to the look and attitude makes LA MARGE one of the quintessential features of the 1970's and, to my eyes, one of the best.
To me Walerian Borowczyk is in the same league with the likes of Stanley Kubrick, and his work should be being picked apart in film schools all over the world. Unfortunately film audiences and critics have too long shunned this iconic and talented director, due to his subject matter, shooting style and sheer nerve. LA MARGE might be among the easiest opening to his film world, but perhaps not the most ideal as it is so different from his other work.
Borowczyk came to prominence in the sixties with his landmark animated work that made him a critical darling and more than respected amongst his peers. He busted through the live action film world with his memorable GOTO, ISLAND OF LOVE in 1968 and for short while it seemed that his feature film career would match the success of his animated one. 1971's beautiful and haunting BLANCHE seemed to suggest an even further step into the cinematic pantheon for Borowczyk but 1974's IMMORAL TALES stunned audiences and critics with its audacious eroticism and over the top imagery.
If the masterful IMMORAL TALES sounded the call that Walerian Bororwczyk was not going to fall easily into the accepted European art mode, then his 1975 feature THE BEAST closed the door on it entirely. Frank, shocking, possibly pornographic ( I guess it depends on who you ask) and completely unforgettable, THE BEAST became one of the seventies most controversial and reviled productions. It would close off Borowczyk from the critical Establishment and the mainstream film world for the rest of his life, and I can't imagine he would have wanted it any other way.
After the flabbergasted reception of THE BEAST, Borowczyk scored a surprise almost hit with STORY OF SIN from the same year. STORY OF SIN felt different than the master's other films, emotionally it was more moving and resonate. It would be these qualities that Borowczyk would bring to the film he would begin shooting just after wrapping STORY OF SIN, namely LA MARGE.

LA MARGE, in a way, can be viewed as Borowczyk's last effort to really score a hit with an almost mainstream film. It was based on a well known novel by Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (whose work Borowczyk would film five times), it would be scored with some of the seventies biggest musical acts (including 10CC, Elton John and Pink Floyd) and it would star an actress who two years before had become the biggest box office draw in French cinema, Sylvia Kristel.

The vastly underrated Sylvia Kristel called LA MARGE her favorite role she ever did in her recent autobiography, NUE (UNDRESSING EMMANUELLE). It is a seminal role in it and she is breathtakingly good in the film. The mid seventies were a remarkable time for the Dutch born EMMANUELLE star. Within three years she would work with not only Borowczyk, but Alain-Robbe Grillet, Roger Vadim, Francis Girod, Francis Giacobetti and Claude Chabrol. Sylvia Kristel was virtually written out of French film history in the eighties and has remained a bit of a lost figure since. Her performance in LA MARGE (as well as the other work she did in this period) is an almost shocking reminder as to how good she was in these films, and how popular she was with not only the great directors of the period, but also film audiences.
Joining Kristel was another actor on a bit of a roll. American icon Joe Dallesandro had stayed on in Europe after travelling over with Paul Morrissey and crew a few years earlier for FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA and he, like Kristel, was becoming more and more in demand for some of Europe's top directors. He had just come off films with Louis Malle and Serge Gainsbourg when he stepped in front of Borowczyk's camera to deliver, what I consider, his greatest performance.
Joining Borowczyk were some familiar names to fans of his work, most notable of these were Bernard Daillencourt as cinematographer. Daillencourt had previously collaborated on both IMMORAL TALES and THE BEAST, so he was no stranger to Borowczyk's striking painterly like compositional style. His work with the Polish great would bring him to the attention of David Hamilton (who along with Borowczyk probably set the standard for seventies eroticism) and Hamilton hired him on for a handful of his films including BILITIS (1977) and LAURA (1979). Daillencourt's work on LA MARGE is a major achievement. The film has an eloquent but down to earth (even dingy) style to it that separates it from almost any other film from the period (specifically the glossiness of a film like EMMANUELLE or Hamilton's later works).

The plot of LA MARGE is simple. A businessman leaves his country home, and wife and young son for a business trip to Paris. While there he develops a sexual and spiritual bond with a call girl. When he gets word from home that his son has accidentally downed and his wife has killed herself, his world begins to completely crumble around him.
The plot is the least of LA MARGE'S many virtues. Like all of Borowczyk's works, LA MARGE reminds an audience of film's capability to give the moving image an undeniable soul. Everything from his angles, to the way he shoots Kristel and Dallesandro during their love scenes show Borowczyk as being among the great cinema stylists in history.
The love scenes in the film are particularly noteworthy. Simply put, no one shot the human form like Walerian Borowczyk, and he photographs every inch of both Kristel and Dallesandro with such devotion that it is hard to not be genuinely moved by it.
While LA MARGE is undoubtedly another chapter in Borowczyk's unmatchable image museum, the sound of the film makes it again distinct from his other works. I am not sure how involved Walerian was in choosing the songs for the picture, but it is hard to imagine them being more perfectly selected. I suspect that he was hands on in getting the group of extraordinary songs that he did (ironically I suspect that rights issues for some of these tracks might cause the film to continue to go unreleased on DVD here).
The two major musical moments of the film are absolutely Charles Dumont's lovely UNE FEMME, which plays in its entirety through the film's key love scene, and the daring use of Pink Floyd's majestic Syd Barrett tribute SHINE ON YOU CRAZY DIAMOND during the film's heartbreaking climax. Borowczyk brings both of these songs to the forefront during their scenes, but other songs like 10CC's LAZY WAYS and Elton John's SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALL RIGHT play slightly underneath as if they are being heard from another room (or perhaps more precisely in only one of the characters heads). Another key song is I'M NOT IN LOVE, also by 10CC. This gorgeous and innovative track has been damaged over the years by being overplayed so much, but join me if you will in revisiting this lovely piece of British pop as Walerian Borowczyk would have heard it back in 1975 when he was filming LA MARGE.

LA MARGE would be the first of many times the iconic song has been used, but perhaps only Sofia Coppola made better use of it in her VIRGIN SUICIDES than Borowczyk did here...
The visually stunning and perfectly scored film surrounds its two iconic stars with a strong supporting cast that includes some of French cinema's most amazing faces from the seventies. The lovely Mireille Audibert makes a big impression as Dallesandro's wife in the film, and the early scenes of them together are among the film's most serene moments. Noted character actors Andre Falcon, Louise Chevalier and Dominique Marcas also appear as does future David Hamilton actress Camille Lariviere.
The film belongs though to 23 year old Sylvia Kristel. In his Video Watchdog review Brad Stevens notes that she is "unbelievably good" and I agree wholeheartedly. There is a undercurrent of rage, distrust and hurt in Kristel's performance, and the near final moment when she suddenly breaks out into her native Dutch is one of the most resonate scenes in all Borowczyk's canon. The part could have been one-dimensional but Kristel delivers a stirring performance that I find quite overwhelming. This actress deserves way more credit than she has ever received.
LA MARGE has many moments that are among the most definitive of Walerian Borowczyk's career. From the filming of Dallesandro's and Kristel's feet during one of their lovemaking session, to the sad elderly maid who spends her evenings staring through couple's keyholes, to the unsettling confrontations between Kristel and her abusive John. The film is filled with moments that continue to haunt me well over a decade since I saw this very special film, a work that is almost completely unknown among film fans.

LA MARGE opened to mostly poor reviews in France in the late summer of 1976. The baffled producers attempted to see the film on Kristel's reputation as Emmanuelle, and in some regions it was actually re-titled EMMANUELLE '77. The film would fail nearly everywhere, and for its brief UK and US release it was re-titled, recut and reshaped into THE STREETWALKER. I have unfortunately never seen this version but have been told it features some alternate footage, making it a valuable if flawed companion to LA MARGE. I hope to add this version to my collection one day.
The film has been released in Japan and France on DVD but otherwise it remains out of print. The use of acts like Pink Floyd and Elton John will probably make it most expensive for the Region 1 market, but one can hope that one day some enterprising small company will release it.

For more information on one of the great undervauled directors in screen history please visit the essential Mondo Erotico.

Issue "32 of Video Watchdog is unfortunately sold out at their site but check Ebay as copies might occasionally pop up.

Those interested in the career of Joe Dallesandro should check his official site and his MySpace page.

A Sylvia Kristel page can be found here.

The English translation of Sylvia's memoirs can be purchased here. I will be posting a full review of this book here at Moon In The Gutter soon.

Recently, frustrated by the lack of attention given to her, I set up the following photo tribute to the great Dutch actress here
I invite anyone interested to stop by and give some love to this undervalued cinematic icon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

PJ Harvey's White Chalk

I recently picked up the new album from PJ Harvey and it is absolutely extraordinary. The British born Harvey has been one of my favorite artists since I first heard RID OF ME just after it came out in the early nineties, and her new album WHITE CHALK is among her finest work.
Harvey's music has mostly been guitar based since her first collection DRY, but the new record is largely piano based, and it adds yet another dimension to an already audacious and important talent.
WHITE CHALK is incredibly compelling, hypnotic and very moving during its eleven song running time. Harvey's abilities are often undervalued, but her work here again proves that she is among the most striking artists of the past two decades.
The sparse album is almost a one woman show but helping out are some of Harvey's usual players, including John Parish, Eric Drew Feldman and Jim White.
One thing that I continue to love about Harvey is that she still remembers the idea of the 'ten or eleven song, forty minute running time' album. She doesn't pad her stuff out, unlike most of today's artist, and her albums always so sound so concise and necessary. WHITE CHALK is no different, and her peers should take note that it isn't necessary to cram every second possible on the disc.
WHITE CHALK is, not surprisingly, selling poorly. In a modern music world filled with some of the most atrociously boring bands and singers possible, as artist like Harvey should be celebrated. WHITE CHALK is a lovely, heartfelt album that is already sounding like a modern classic to my ears. Give it a listen.

On a final note, I would like to say that I went out and bought this album in a store. I didn't download it (illegally or legally). I went out in a rather cold rain, walked in a store and bought a copy of the actual album. Driving home listening to it with the rain hitting against my window, I realized I would remember the trip and the first time I heard it. For a lot of people that might not be valuable, but the fact that I can hold a physical copy and still have it in case my computer crashes is reassuring. It feels real, and Polly Jean Harvey is among the most real artists we have. I can't imagine having her new album any other way...

POSTSCRIPT: Tim Lucas has posted a wonderful review of the album over at his Video Watchblog. I really enjoy reading Tim's music postings, and find them always evocative and enlightening. This one is no different, check it out.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Robby's Super Cool Super-8 Site

For those who haven't seen it, everyone should check out a German site called Robby's Super-8 Homepage. It's a blast, and it features hundreds of covers (and back-cover scans) to old Super 8 films from the fifties to the eighties. Much of the artwork is quite rare and very striking, and you can find everything from Disney films to works by Joe D'Amato.
Coming across this site reminded me of some of the old Super-8's we had when I was growing up and it made me quite nostalgic. If I stumble across an old view master reel site I might break down completely.
The link is above and pictured are two favorites I have found so far...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cinema's Great Faces: Joe Dallesandro

"Little" Joe Dallesandro was born nearly sixty years ago at the tail end of 1948 in Pensacola, Florida. To go along with my upcoming celebration of LA MARGE, I thought would post a little tribute to the career of one of the great faces in film history, and one of the eternally coolest guys on the planet.
Discovered by Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey at the age of eighteen, the impossibly beautiful Dallesandro made a few appearances in a handful of Warhol's underground films before exploding into the public eye with his astonishing turn in 1968's FLESH.
Paul Morrissey's FLESH tells the tale of Joe, a street hustler, through a series of striking improvisational scenes that are among the most real and alive sequences from the American cinema in the sixties. Working alongside Geraldine Smith, Patti D'Arbanville, Candy Darling and Jackie Curtis among others, Joe oozed charisma and a cool unhinged sexuality the likes of which had rarely been seen (before of since) in American film. Comparisons to a young Brando soon came pouring in and these would continue through Joe's next three films with Morrissey and Warhol, 1968's LONESOME COWBOYS, 1970's TRASH and 1972's HEAT.
TRASH is particularly brilliant, and it became a rare underground sensation that proved successful with some hip open minded mainstream audiences. Joe was everywhere in this period, from film festival appearances to modeling sessions, and he seemed to be the one Warhol star since Edie Sedgwick who had a legitimate shot at breaking into mainstream Hollywood.

Coinciding with the release of HEAT was Lou Reed's stunning WALK ON THE WILD SIDE single, which name checked Joe and made him even more of underground icon. Interviewed years later about Reed's song, a still slightly perplexed Joe said simply, "Great song".

1973 brought a sudden change for Joe as he travelled with Morrissey and crew to Italy to film two stunning back to back films that remain among the very best of his work. Working with Morrissey and important Italian director Antonio Margheriti, 1973's FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and 1974's BLOOD FOR DRACULA are among the most audacious and original films of the seventies. With striking set designs, eye popping color and a cast including Udo Keir and Dalila Di Lazzaro, the shot in 3-D FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN is still jaw dropping and Joe's lovably out of place thick American accent is one of its key charms. BLOOD FOR DRACULA was perhaps even better, but both films remain two of the most endlessly inventive of the period.
Joe would meet a stunningly beautiful young Italian actress on the set of BLOOD FOR DRACULA who would go onto play an important part of his life through the mid seventies, namely talented Stefania Casini. The two would soon become one of the most beautiful couples of the period, and BLOOD FOR DRACULA would turn out to be not the only time they would work together.

A combination of things, including the striking Casini, caused Dallesandro to stay on in Europe after the Morrissey and the BLOOD FOR DRACULA crew headed back for the states. Whatever the reason, the decision probably helped cost Joe the shining star that was waiting for him back in Hollywood, but it was for the best as the film career he paved for himself in Europe in the seventies became one of the most notable of the period.
A handful of Italian films followed in the couple of years after BLOOD FOR DRACULA (including THE CLIMBER with Casini which I posted previously on here) before Joe landed one of his greatest roles, in Louis Malle's surreal BLACK MOON (1975).
Joe's role in the hypnotic BLACK MOON was a supporting one, but working with Malle placed him in the center of the European Art film world. Soon directors ranging from Walerian Borowczyk to Jacques Rivette were expressing interest with the last of the great Warhol stars, and his career took another unexpected turn.
Joe would make a flurry of films in 1975 including the very odd but effective THE GARDNER (SEEDS OF EVIL) and the crime thriller SEASON OF ASSASSINS, but it was the following year that would prove to be his most important as an actor.
Serge Gainsbourg's JE T'AIME MOI NON PLUS (1976) is one of the key French films of the seventies and it gave Joe the role that he still counts as his favorite. Working opposite the amazing Jane Birkin and a young Gerard Depardieu, Joe turns in a very solid performance as the tough truck driving Krassky. Gainsbourg's stirring film is one that is long overdue for a quality Region 1 DVD release.
Even better, in my eyes, was Joe's next film, LA MARGE (1976). Working with famed Polish director Walerian Borowczyk and the major French star of the period, Sylvia Kristel, LA MARGE gave Joe the most emotionally demanding role of his career. As the recently widowed Sigimond who finds a strange solace in a lonely prostitute in Paris, Joe delivered excellent work for the demanding Borowczyk and it remains my favorite film of not only Joe's but also of his leading lady and director.
More European films followed in the next few years, including the crazed KILLER NUN (1978) and an early Catherine Breillat film NOCTURNAL UPROAR (1979), but it was 1980's intense Fernando Di Leo film VACANZE PER UN MASS that truly gave Joe a role he could sink his teeth into again.
After the great Di Leo film, Joe finally found his way to Jacques Rivette and, along with LAST TANGO IN PARIS star Maria Schneider, they delivered 1981's MERRY-GO-ROUND. The film unfortunately hit financial problems and was shelved for nearly two years before finally just receiving a limited French release.
The infamous and little seen QUEEN LEAR appeared in 1982 and would mark an end to Joe's time in Europe. He finally returned to the states with a part in Francis Ford Coppola's THE COTTON CLUB (1984). He took some time off after that and returned a few years later with a string of television work including memorable turns in MIAMI VICE and WISEGUY.
The past two decades have seen Joe develop into a solid character actor and he has appeared in films ranging from John Water's great CRY-BABY (1990) to Steven Soderbergh's already legendary THE LIMEY (1999). Joe's role in THE LIMEY is at this point his last notable one as he has worked only sporadically since. He is great in the film though, as a simple minded hit man, and his thoughts on one of the film's wonderful commentaries are essential for his fans (and fans of underground cinema in general).

Joe Dallesandro probably could have become a major Hollywood player in the seventies and eighties as he certainly had the looks and charisma. I am glad though that he made the descions that he did because his work for director's like Morrissey, Malle, Gainsbourg, Borowczyk and Rivette are the ones that I love him the most for. While many people just know him as the "Little Joe" from Lou Reed's TRANSFORMER centerpiece or as the face of Andy Warhol's factory, Joe Dallesandro is so much more. Hopefully one day some of his European output will become more readily available, and he will finally get some of the credit that is owed to him.

Joe has a comprehensive official site that is located here, that is well worth visiting.

For some of the best available Joe film's on DVD check Tony's fantastic Xploited cinema at this link.

My look at LA MARGE will be posted later in the week.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Vadim's Blood And Roses At Cinebeats

Kimberly at Cinebeats has written an extraordinary review of a truly great undervalued film, Roger Vadim's masterful 1960 chiller BLOOD AND ROSES.
Kimberly and I share an admiration for Vadim, and it is wonderful to read such a thoughtful and well written tribute to one of his key works.
BLOOD AND ROSES, possibly the best film of Vadim's career, is still unavailable on DVD which is really unfortunate. I highly recommend Cinebeats's fine look at this film, and hopefully one day it will find its way back onto the home video market.

Louis Malle On TCM

Turner Classic Movies is celebrating what would have been Louis Malle's 75th birthday tomorrow and Wednesday with a festival of ten films, including their premiere of BLACK MOON. Three of the films, including BLACK MOON, are not available on DVD here in the States so TCM'S showing of them is most appreciated.
The other two titles missing on DVD are Malle's 1960 comedy ZAZIE IN THE SUBWAY, and 1963's THE FIRE WITHIN. The other films showing are ELEVATOR TO THE GALLOWS (1960), MURMUR OF THE HEART (1971), GOODBYE, CHILDREN (1987), LACOMBE LUCIEN (1974) and three of his documentaries.
TCM has a nice article on Malle located here.
Outside of looking forward to the widescreen showing of BLACK MOON, I am excited about the prospect of catching up with some more of Malle's work, as he has been a director that I have seen relatively little by.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Flawed Lady Chatterley Gets Some Love

I am continually floored by some of the inventive montages people put together for YouTube. A friend recently shared this one with me, and it is one of the most effective I have seen in a while. It is a group of well chosen clips from the underrated Sylvia Kristel/Just Jaeckin collaboration LADY CHATTERLEY'S LOVER set to a lovely song called BREATHE ME by Sia.
In her autobiography, Sylvia Kristel calls this the last important film she ever made, and watching these clips is a reminder of how visually striking this flawed but well meaning film is.
Since Sylvia Kristel is going to be coming up here a lot this week, I thought this seemed like a perfect place to start.

Overlooked Classics: Dick (1999)

It's funny which films end up becoming personal favorites. When I first saw Andrew Fleming's fourth film DICK back in the summer of 99 I certainly wouldn't have thought it would be come one of my favorite comedies of all time, but here I am less than a decade later and I have no problem making that statement.
I have written very little on comedies here at Moon In The Gutter. I can't really specify why, as many of my favorites from BRINGING UP BABY to THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY certainly warrant posts. For some reason though I find comedies difficult to write about but I couldn't resist paying tribute to DICK, a film that I think is one of the most overlooked from the past decade.
Andrew Fleming was thirty-four when he co-wrote and directed DICK, his incredibly funny and charming spook of the Watergate scandal. He had made his debut ten years earier with the Jennifer Rubin horror film, BAD DREAMS and had gained some popularity with his teenage witch tale, THE CRAFT (1996). Neither of those films, nor his work since, measure up to the intelligence and warmth of DICK though.
DICK tells the tale of two seemingly clueless and innocent high school girls in 1973 named Betsy Jobs and Arlene Lorenezo. As the film begins we find that they live in Washington, right across from the Watergate Hotel, and while trying to mail a love letter to Bobby Sherman one night they stumble across one of the most infamous crimes in United States history. Through a series of funny accidents they end up official Dog Walkers and finally secret Youth Advisers for President Nixon. After finding out that Tricky Dick isn't the trustworthy soul they thought, they decide to help two bumbling Washington Post reporters bring him down, and they use the code name of a film their brother got in trouble for seeing as their alias...namely Deep Throat.

There is so much I love about Fleming's film that it is hard to know where to begin. The script, written with Sheryl Longin, is a thing of beauty. Anyone in love with the seventies or familiar with the Watergate scandal will delight in the film's many references. The script is also perfectly realized and it is quite amazing how Fleming and Longin manage to tie everything together so well. I actually think the film could be used as a primer for young people attempting to learn about Watergate, and perhaps the change that it brought to this country when it happened.
The set and costume design of the film is absolutely delightful, and never misses a step. Fleming's film is a real treasure chest for people who grew up in this period, or who just adore the clothes and look of it. The soundtrack is equally strong and features a compelling and sneaky score from John Debney. Of course as this is a film about the seventies, his score is inter-cut with some perfectly chosen songs of the period, from the audacious ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN title sequence set to the Jackson Five to the final moving moments of the impeachment set perfectly to Carly Simon's YOU'RE SO VAIN. Anyone seeing this sequence will believe that it was Richard Nixon and not Mick Jagger that Carly wrote this song for.

Fleming's direction is stylish, assured and he gives the film a perfect light touch. I have been amazed that he hasn't gone on to great things in modern film. His work here is really smart and he shows himself as someone who obviously grew up loving films like ALL THE PRESIDENTS MEN and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, as his film pays as much tribute to them as it does the period in general.

Of course the film wouldn't work if the cast hadn't been up to the challenge but everyone in it absolutely excels. As our two protagonists, young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams are brilliant in the film. Both had been child actors and they really come into their own here. Williams, who would later receive a much deserved Oscar nomination for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, is really charming as Arlene and her her character's arc is particularly well done. Dunst was on a roll in 1999, THE VIRGIN SUICIDES would be released just after DICK, and she is just as good as Betsy. She oozes charisma and plays the part of the slightly dimmer one with great intelligence. DICK falls in easily with the best work either of these two fine and charismatic actresses have ever done.
The supporting cast is equally strong with special note going to Will Ferrell and Bruce McCulloch's hilarious turns as Woodward and Bernstein. Dave Foley and Teri Garr also provide great comic performances in a film filled with them.
The star of the show though is Dan Hedaya, who turns in a pitch perfect and rather moving performance as Richard Millhouse Nixon. Hedaya is astonishing as the fallen president and he gives a real humanity to Nixon. He is so good in the part, that by the time the credits roll you feel as bad for him as the country he helped rip apart.
Which brings us to the true greatness of DICK. At the heart of this film, past all the silliness and humor, is a lament for a time when we weren't all so overwhelmingly jaded and untrustworthy. It's a sweet farewell to a pre-betrayed America. I find a moment towards the end when, as they are watching a tv broadcast of Nixon resigning, Betsy confidently says, "They'll never lie to us again" to be among the great moments in nineties cinema, as of course Fleming and his audience know the sad truth that the still idealistic Betsy doesn't.

Fleming's film got lost back in 1999, despite some really solid reviews. It didn't appeal to teenage fans of Dunst and Williams, as they had little knowledge or interest in Watergate, and older audiences didn't bother as they thought it was just another silly comedy. It played for less than a month and barely broke the six million mark, over half off its estimated budget making it a bit of a bomb.
DVD has helped a bit I suspect. The film was just re-released this past summer with the same great extras that accompanied the original release. These include an entertaining commentary, a short featurette, some incredibly funny bloopers and one jewel of a deleted scene. One hopes the film gets another re-release in the future with more extras but for now the current disc is fine.
Andrew Fleming's DICK is one of my favorite films of the nineties and truth be told one of my favorite comedies ever. It is a real hidden gem of a film that pays a bittersweet tribute to my favorite decade and some of my favorite films. Funny, fresh, bold and surprisingly moving, DICK is a striking film that deserves a much bigger audience than it has ever found. I hope it finds it one day...

For an interesting look at Debny's unreleased score, check here.

The official soundtrack can be found here.

The Suicide Girls have an interesting interview with Fleming here.

The almost all positive reviews the film received can be read here.

Finally, Roger Ebert's near four star look at the film can be located here.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Bava Box Set Streets Tuesday

Just a reminder that Stanley Kubrick isn't the only important director being honored with a new box set October 23rd. Anchor Bay's massive eight disc second volume of their Mario Bava set streets as well. This collection is already shipping from some online vendors like Deep Discount, and it is still available at some insanely cheap pre-order prices. The box, with new transfers of some of Bava's greatest works and some new Tim Lucas commentaries is definitely one of the most important releases of the year.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Best American Film Of The Year

Although there are many more hopefully great films coming out this year, I feel confident enough to say that I won't admire any one more than Tony Gilroy's MICHAEL CLAYTON. I am frankly too blown away by the film, and George Clooney's magnificent performance, to write about it not now, but I urge everyone to see it in a theater. To apply an overused cliche that actually applies here, they don't make them like this anymore.
I will post a long write up on it in the future, for now check out this excellent look at it from the great Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur. Also check out the phenomenal reviews it is getting from critics all over the country here at Metacritic.

Hammer's Scream Of Fear On TCM Today

Hammer Horror's splendid 1961 thriller SCREAM OF FEAR is airing on Turner Classic Movies this afternoon. This fine little chiller features a great starring turn by the much missed Susan Strasberg, as well as good supporting work by Christopher Lee. It has been years since I have seen this Seth Holt/Jimmy Sangster collaboration and TCM's letterbox transfer should be a good one. Hopefully it bodes well for a DVD release of this under seen gem as well.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Entering Their House Justified

Despite the fact that Louisville's Freedom Hall is not a good place to see a concert, last nights show with Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan was for the most part pretty spectacular.
The arena, with its uncomfortable makeshift chairs facing away from the stage, never got above half full last night even though the building was housing a show with two of the most legendary and important figures in popular music. The show began promptly at seven o'clock with Amos Lee performing a spirited opening half hour set. Lee, and his solid band, tried out a couple of new songs among some older ones and the audience that was there gave him a decent welcoming.
The night really began though when the lights dimmed and a defiant looking Elvis Costello walked out on stage and burst into a roaring THE ANGELS WANNA WEAR MY RED SHOES. The early part of Costello's set was marred by people taking their seats late, a problem I have noticed becoming more and more apparent with each show I attend. It just seemed to fuel Costello's fire as the great man put on a spitting, angry and politically charged set which also included a couple of new songs.

Highlights of Costello's solo set included a stunning rendition of BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE'S searing UNCOMPLICATED and a surprising performance of GET HAPPY'S NEW AMSTERDAM (with a little of The Beatles YOU'VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY thrown in for good measure). Costello chatter in between songs shows a man clearly infused with lot of rage at the war in Iraq and the country's political situation in general. He mentioned his renewed political passion had come with the arrival of his new children, who were backstage with wife Diana Krall, and bragged that as they were American born they could one day become President and Vice President.
Costello is frankly astonishing live and his vocal power and sharp guitar work clearly floored many in the audience. Probably the night's most moving moment came on the more recent EITHER SIDE OF THE SAME TOWN, which seemed to send a trickle of chills throughout the entire room. Costello ended his stand with his COLD MOUNTAIN contribution SCARLET TIDE, and the song's clear anti-war message rang through with Elvis' impassioned performance. A well deserved standing ovation was given as the great man stomped off the stage.
Not many people could follow someone like Elvis Costello, but Bob Dylan is certainly one of them. Taking the stage just past eight thirty, Dylan (dressed in black and frankly looking more bad ass than he has in years) came on stage with his band and without a word of introduction sprang into a sloppy and rollicking LEOPARD-SKIN PILL-BOX HAT. The, maybe about Edie Sedgwick, song from BLONDE ON BLONDE was the perfect opening for the gloriously fiery set Dylan was about to deliver and it merged perfectly into a spirited DON'T THINK TWICE IT'S ALL RIGHT. Dylan, swinging an electric ax, sounded vocally rougher than usual at first but he improved as the impassioned performance went on.
After WATCHING THE RIVER FLOW, Dylan left stage front and moved back to his keyboards and delivered one of the highlights of the evening, a menacing and slightly extended LOVE SICK. His band was really smoking on this track and throughout the night they were really extraordinary, with special note going to the fret work of Denny Freeman and the stomping percussive stylings of George Recile. LOVE SICK gave way to a fun rendition of ROLLING AND TUMBLIN', a song that the band clearly love playing. A double shot of SPIRIT ON THE WATER and HIGH WATER followed before one of the evening's major highlights, a moving take of MODERN TIMES'S WORKINGMAN'S BLUES #2.
Dylan's heartfelt performance of WORKINGMAN'S BLUES was chilling and put tears in my eyes, with the final lines "Some people never worked a day in their life,
Don't know what work even means" hitting like an little emotional bulldozer to the already captivated audience. Even better was the follow up, a brutal and long version of THINGS HAVE CHANGED. Recile's drumming was particularly effective on this song and the band just smoked on Dylan's terrifying lament (and tribute) on not caring anymore. The evening's most pulverising moment came after with a gut wrenching reading of THE LONESOME DEATH OF HATTIE CARROLL. It's hard to imagine anyone injecting more feeling into a song than Dylan did last night when he seemed to put it all on the line with:
"Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle."
The effect was pulverising and its a moment I'll not soon forget...

Something special had to follow up HATTIE CARROLL and Dylan didn't disappoint as the opening chords of HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED started rippling through the room. Dylan's frantic take was astounding, and he still manages to make the song sound as fresh and invigorating as the original. The eerie AIN'T TALKIN' followed which quickly gave way to the awesome SUMMER DAYS, which again showed the band as a totally together unit. The set ended with a strangely mumbled but incredibly effective version of the searing MASTER'S OF WAR. This performance, added on with Costello's opening, made this one of the most overtly angry and political shows I have seen in a long time.
As MASTER'S OF WAR came to a close, Dylan and his band silently left the stage to another full standing ovation. After a few minutes the band returned for a short but powerful encore of THUNDER ON THE MOUNTAIN and a slowed down, slightly menacing take of LIKE A ROLLING STONE. The band and Dylan then grouped together at the front of the stage and after a few waves exited and never re-appeared.
This was my third Dylan show and it was one of the best. He looked fantastic and seemed like he was in good physical shape. Whether it was Costello opening that fired him up so much, or something else, I don't know, but Bob Dylan seemed about half his age last night and could have blown almost anyone off the stage. His band was great and, despite a small crowd and bad venue, this was one of the best shows I have seen in a while. I would have loved to have seen Dylan and Costello play together but since I didn't expect it, I wasn't disappointed. Frankly just having the two of them in the same building was enough to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Throughout last night's show, many thoughts of Dylan's career ran through my head. One that I kept returning to was his character Alias in Peckinpah's PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID. Why that mysterious character kept popping into my head last night I don't know, but as the small and slightly hunched over man walked off the stage I thought of a moment in Peckinpah's masterful film. That moment when James Coburn's Garrett sadly tells Kris Kristoferson's Billy, "It feels like times have changed." to which Billy responds with a pointed and defiant, "Times maybe...but not me."