Monday, April 30, 2007

Life Rotates In 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Elvis Presley: His Latest Flame, Little Sister)



One of the most scorching 45s of the sixties is Elvis Presley's 1961 double sided masterpiece, (MARIE'S THE NAME OF) HIS LATEST FAME backed by LITTLE SISTER. It is hard to imagine a better single release than these Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman compositions that Elvis recorded in late June of 61 at Nashville's famed Studio B.
With Steve Sholes in the producer's chair and a studio full of musicians including legendary guitar players Hank Garland, Scotty Moore and Neal Mathews, the recording of HIS LATEST FLAME was described by Elvis historian Ernst Jorgenssen as "like a party." The song through several takes started out life as an almost Bo Diddley tribute but quickly merged into something altogether more progressive and astonishingly fresh sounding. Jorgensen points out in his great book A LIFE IN MUSIC that the musician's kept switching roles searching for the songs right sound while the 26 year old Elvis nailed each vocal take like he was possessed by it. After working through the night the song was finally completed and the results were sublime. HIS LATEST FLAME is one of the most masterful recordings of Elvis Presleys' career, from his honey dripped vocals to the astonishing tempo changes featuring Floyd Cramer's brilliant brief piano bursts.
HIS LATEST FLAME would hit the number one spot in the Fall of 61 and is one of the great moments on 2002's smash ELVIS 30 #1 HITS where that album's remastering brought out some incredibly sweet previously buried subtle moments. The Smiths would cover the song in the mid 80s to great effect and it remains one of the seminal Elvis A sides in a period often ignored.
Possibly even better was the singles B side, the ferocious LITTLE SISTER with the twin guitar attack of Scotty Moore on acoustic rhythm and Hank Garland's stunning electric lead. Garland's screaming electric opening on a borrowed Fender Jazz Master signals this as one of the greatest rock songs ever recorded and a middle finger to anyone who says Elvis didn't rock after the army.
The great Doc Pomus would remember that, "Elvis cut the tempo in half and slowed it down" which brought out the inherent menace of the recording even more. Recorded in just four takes with Elvis leading off the third one with one simple word, "BURN", the track sounds several years before its time and has been re-recorded countless times through the years.

LITTLE SISTER was also a hit but didn't chart as high as HIS LATEST FLAME. It's arguable which cut is better as they both could have been A sides. Elvis certainly revisited LITTLE SISTER more and would perform all the way up to that fateful year of 1977. A highlight to his concert film THAT'S THE WAY IT IS was him rehearsing the track and combining it with The Beatles GET BACK, as song which owed much to Elvis and LITTLE SISTER. The clip I am posting from Youtube is an unreleased moment from THAT'S THE WAY IT IS featuring Elvis performing the song along with GET BACK.


With the 45 becoming more and more of a distant memory it is great to remember a record that featured not one but two of the great moments in sixties rock. These are two masterpieces from one of the most underrated periods in The King's career.

Kumel's Malpertuis Coming to American Dvd.


A very good bit of news as it looks like Detroit's Barrel Entertainment is going to be releasing Harry Kumel's striking MALPERTUIS in a 2 dvd edition on June 24th. This very haunting feature was the follow up to Kumel's incredible DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and stars Orson Welles, Susan Hampshire and Jean-Pierre Cassel among others. It looks like Barrel's disc will carry over many of the special features of the import Belgian Royale version.
This has been a film that I have been hoping for an American dvd release for awhile so this is very welcome news.
The first link below is Barrel's page about their release and the second link is 10,000 Bullets original review of the import disc.

http://barrel-entertainment.com/releases/malpertuis.htm

http://10kbullets.com/reviews/malpertuis/

Ann-Margret at Cinebeats


Kimberly at the always great Cinebeats has posted a wonderful tribute to an all time favorite, Ann-Margret. I have posted about Ann a few times here but Kimberly's post blows away anything I could come up with. The link to Cinebeats is over under the Cinema Blog links. Check it out.
Also here are a couple of great shots of Ann with another one of my favorite people, Mr.Dean Martin, behind the scenes of the Matt Helm picture they shot together.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Where's The DVD? Ken Russell's The Devils


Over the weekend legendary director Ken Russell appeared with journalist and film historian Mark Kermode at Southampton University discussing his work, specifically his 1971 masterpiece THE DEVILS, in front of a large and receptive student body. He mentioned specifically that he had indeed recorded an audio commentary for Kermode's important 2002 restoration of his most brilliant and challenging film but that Warner Brother's was still afraid to release the film on dvd in Britain, America or anywhere else. It is also rumored that Vanessa Redgrave has also recorded a commentary for the film.

THE DEVILS is among the most amazing and thought provoking cinematic works of art I have ever seen. It is inconceivable to me that it is still not out even on a bare bones dvd.


I am including a couple of links. One details Russell's recent Southampton talk and another is to sign a petition to get this important film re-released on dvd in a deluxe edition with the commentaries and its 'Rape Of Christ" sequence intact.

Southampton Link: http://observer.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,2067753,00.html

Petition Link: http://www.petitiononline.com/Grandier/

Also deserving a spot on THE DEVILS dvd is Mark Kermode's astonishing documentary HELL ON EARTH, which is one of the most important documentaries on a film ever made.

If you haven't seen THE DEVILS, search down any available copy you can find. It remains one of the most spiritually and historically significant films in cinema history and it deserves to be seen.

DVD Talk's Review Of Ozzie and Harriet


THE ESPIONAGE FILMOGRAPHY author Paul Mavis has contributed a lengthy and insightful review to Shout Factory's THE BEST OF THE ADVENTURES OF OZZIE AND HARRIET. It looks like there is some bad news with the set as apparently some of the episodes are the edited syndicated versions. The extras sound fantastic, specifically the four commentaries with David and Rick's youngest son Sam, but I must say I am very disappointed to hear about the edited episodes.
I am still excited to buy this even if it isn't perhaps the grand slam it should have been.
Here is the link to Mavis' interesting review for those interested.

http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=27788

CLARIFYING POSTSCRIPT: Just a quick note to anyone reading that I am not at all suggesting to hold back from buying this set. The DVDtalk review mentions just renting it and I do not agree with that at all. The fact that a handful of episodes are syndicated shouldn't hold anyone back from buying this 4 disc set, which can be purchased for 20-25 dollars through some online vendors. I just wanted to clarify that I wasn't trying to express any doubts in mentioning the slight problem, I was just stating it because it is apparently there.
This is one of the most important releases of the year and if it's not bought then Shout Factory won't be able to give us any more.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Overlooked Classics: The Little Girl Who Lived Down The Lane


One of the creepiest and most compelling thrillers of the 1970's is THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE from 1976. Directed by Nicolas Gessner and staring 14 year old Jodie Foster in one of her greatest performances, this unique little film started out life as a 1974 novel by the screenwriter Laird Koenig.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE is one of those films from my childhood that had a huge impact on me. I first saw it on television when I was probably nine or ten and I still remember how significantly creeped out I was by it. I was also oddly drawn to it and I think a lot of that is due to Jodie Foster. Jodie might be about ten years my senior but I feel like I grew up with her so I have always felt a slightly special connection when watching her performances. As a classic only child I remember specifically seeing her in FREAKY FRIDAY and thinking it might not be a bad thing to have a sister around and Jodie Foster seemed like a pretty good choice.
One thing that makes THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE so unique is that this 14 year old girl totally controls the film. Children in adult themed films are typically there only as characters to play off the leading adult actors. Gessner's film not only centers completely on the young Foster but also puts her in virtually every shot. When other characters are introduced we never leave Foster's point of view. The film would have been a disaster had the wrong actress been chosen. Foster is really astounding in this role, as good as her Oscar nominated performance in TAXI DRIVER the same year. In both films she is asked as a child to place herself in very adult and serious situations, but still at the same time play her age. Foster, even at this young age, was already able to radiate the intelligence and strength she has become so known for. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE'S Rynn is one of her most overlooked, precise and captivating performances.
Gessner does a very nice job in this film of creating a cloudy atmospheric tension without resorting to shock tactics. He had previously directed the charming and mostly unseen Sharon Tate film 13 CHAIRS in the late sixties and it is a shame that he didn't have more success in his directorial career. THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE remains his signature production.
Koenig has written a dozen or so films but most are pretty unremarkable, with THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE definitely being his smartest and most assured script.

Filmed in Canada, but set in New England, THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE tells the story of a mysterious young girl and her father who have recently moved into a small and judgemental town. Rynn has a secret and she might be alone in the house but is clearly hiding something from the frequent guests, including a creepy pedophile played superbly by Martin Sheen. That is just the main set up, as I don't want to give the story away for people who might not have seen this film. The plot twists aren't too surprising or hard to figure out but the way the film plays out is, with the final shot being a particularly haunting moment.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE joins the rank of great Seventies PG horror films and thrillers. It is hard to imagine a time when a film so well made and with such adult themes could manage to get a PG rating, especially these days when the rating feels so compromised and pandering. Slight edits were made to the original American theatrical release including the cutting of some nudity (Jodie Foster's older sister performed as her body double) and a disturbing moment involving a hamster. Thankfully the current MGM dvd that is available is the uncut version.
Christian Gaubert delivered a fine score of the film that was released as a soundtrack but it is very hard to track down and I don't believe it has been released on cd. Chopin's Piano Concerto #1 is also featured in the film but did not appear on the soundtrack. Jodie Foster was especially popular in Japan in the seventies so a track from the soundtrack was released as a 45 and was a minor Japanese hit.

The film was honored with three Saturn award nominations (actor, actress and picture) with Foster and Sheen winning their respective nods.
The film has had an interesting history. Initially only a minor box-office success, it became a cult favorite on video and tv in the eighties but slipped out of print for most of the 90s before MGM re-released it on dvd a year or so ago. Koenig adopted his book later as a play and a gloating Jodie Foster fanzine waxed poetic on every conceivable aspect of the film a few years back.
For kids in the seventies who either saw this at a theater or grew up with it on video THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE remains a special film. Along with HALLOWEEN it was one of the films responsible for getting me obsessed with genre films at a very young age. It is also one of those little jewels from the seventies like LET'S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH and THE HAUNTING OF JULIA that begs to be seen by more people. MGM's dvd can be found usually for between five and ten dollars and features a nice uncut widescreen transfer (sadly no special features) and is, like the film, highly recommended.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Where's The DVD? Antonioni's Zabriskie Point





Frustrating, flawed, haunting and completely mind blowing. Antonioni's ZABRISKIE POINT is in bad need of a quality dvd release. Out of print for years in America this unforgettable film occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies and is available as a poor full screen Russian import but is becoming harder and harder to find.

With the recent long awaited releases of PERFORMANCE and EL TOPO in hand, this other important piece of seventies counterculture needs revisiting.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hal Hartley's Fay Grim Trailer

Here is the trailer for Hal Hartley's follow up to HENRY FOOL. I wrote my reservations on this sequel a while back but this trailer suggests that this might be one of Hartley's freshest films in a long time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Rick Nelson: Rocks Past and Future Prince

Despite selling millions of albums and being well known all over the world, I don't think music lovers in general realize just how good and important the late Eric Hilliard Nelson was.
Many thoughts go through my head when I think of Ricky Nelson these days. I often remember hearing his music for the first time when I was in growing up courtesy of my father's record collection. I had never before, or since, heard a rock voice so brilliantly subtle and relaxed. I remember staring at the covers of those albums at this impossibly beautiful young man, and feeling like I was looking at someone very real. The honesty reflected in the eyes on any photograph of Rick is inherent in his music. As much as his unaffected vocals or scorching James Burton guitar licks, the records of Ricky Nelson are all the products of a very sincere and very serious dreamer.
Ricky was of course known to millions of people before he could have even fully grasped what fame was. First on the legendary OZZIE AND HARRIET radio show as the scene stealing precocious 'Little Ricky' and then later on the even more famous and influential television show. America grew to know and love Ricky Nelson perhaps before he even had a chance to really know who Ricky Nelson was.
The story of how he got into music is often repeated. Like every other teenager in 1956 Ricky was entranced by Elvis Presley and the freedom his records offered. Always the consummate searcher Ricky discovered Elvis' legendary Sun sides, which in turn led him to the searing rockabilly of Carl Perkins. In Elvis and Perkins he found a sanctuary from the fame and the 'Little Ricky' that everyone in the country thought they knew.
I think about the 16 year old Ricky sitting in his bedroom, like a million other teenagers, listening to those astonishing Sun and early RCA sides over and over again. Only Ricky already had the fame that most teenagers dreamed of, for Ricky the thing he must have wanted was the authenticity of those recordings.
So the story goes that Ricky was rejected by a girl who was obsessed by Elvis, and in a moment of rare bravado he said he was going to cut a record. A quick little thought out ploy to get a girl would soon turn into one of the most important careers in rock history.

The moment that Ricky Nelson comes on the screen at the end of the OZZIE AND HARRIET episode RICKY THE DRUMMER and sings Fats Dominoes I'M WALKIN is one of the great and seminal moments in rock history. Ricky looks nervous and self conscious but there is already something in his eye and voice, that authenticity that he so longed for seemed somehow inherent in him. Ricky Nelson singing I'M WALKIN that fateful evening brought rock and roll into a uncountable number of households that would have never let it in otherwise.
The key to Ricky's entire career is rebellion. Long mistaken for being a safe performer, we can see now that Nelson almost immediately went against Ozzie's musical tastes to form his own very distinct sound. Key to this was the band that he put together shortly after the I'M WALKING single. Headed by a teenage guitar player named James Burton, Ricky and his band cut a prolific and astonishingly great number of singles and albums in the next few years that would, for a period, outsell even Elvis.
With tracks like POOR LITTLE FOOL, STOOD UP and especially BELIEVE WHAT YOU SAY the team of Ricky Nelson and James Burton was an unstoppable force. Burton's shimmering and always inventive guitar work matched with Ricky's unmatchable laid back vocal style will still send chills up even the most jaded music fans necks. The albums during this period are also incredible in that even the lesser more dated tracks still stand out due to this pair's inventive and exhaustive work. Add on the uncredited Jordanaires and you have some of the greatest records of the rock era.
BELIEVE WHAT YOU SAY especially sounds like a revolution all on its own, with Burton's amazing solo laying a virtual blueprint for thousands of players to follow.
Ricky Nelson always seems to be a man haunted by some inner fear that he wasn't as authentic as he wanted to be. He wasn't black, he wasn't poor, he wasn't from the South. All of these things seemingly against him only added to a hard work ethic that would run through him till the day he died.
One story that I love, and that I think says a lot about Rick was the first time he met Elvis. He had been invited to a party Elvis was at and spent most of the night alone in a corner, terrified of meeting his idol. When Elvis found out that Rick was at the party he searched him down and immediately started quoting OZZIE AND HARRIET lines to show that he never missed an episode. Rick was said to be almost moved to tears, and he quickly became close to Elvis and the two would play football together throughout the sixties while Elvis was in Hollywood.
After cutting the incredibly moving TRAVELLIN MAN and playing opposite Dean Martin in RIO BRAVO Rick's career hit a down point. With the arrival of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and the rest of the British Invasion, Rick's records suddenly began to sound a little too safe and quaint. Ironically, and probably unknown to Rick, he had been one of McCartney and Lennon's biggest influences. McCartney still rhapsodizes about him when the occasion arrives and often covers his haunting LONESOME TOWN.
Throughout the mid sixties Rick tried a lot of things, all with mixed results. A failed film with his wife called LOVE AND KISSES, a tv musical with Burt Bacharach and a somewhat psychedelic album called PERSPECTIVE. Everything seemed to fall slightly short, and then even the long running OZZIE AND HARRIET ran out of steam and was cancelled. The world was changing and it seemed like 'Little Ricky' would fade quietly from view.
The origins of the genre known as country rock have always been a bit confused. Many people seem to put ground zero at The Byrd's incredible SWEETHEARTS OF THE RODEO, but often overlooked is a little selling album from 1966 by Ricky entitled BRIGHT LIGHTS COUNTRY MUSIC.
Ricky Nelson's sudden jump into country music surprised the few people who noticed but it shouldn't have. He was that same teenage boy who had always dreamed of that Southern authenticity he had heard in those Sun sides.


In 1968 Ricky would do a total makeover, no longer called Ricky the new Rick would re-surface with long hair and the the incredible LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR album, and a powerful single of Bob Dylan's SHE BELONGS TO ME.
The period of 68-73 is my favorite in Rick's career. Along with The Stone Canyon Band he would cut a series of incredible folk-rock albums mixing his own compositions with his current favorites (by the likes of Dylan, Tim Hardin, The Stones and more). The albums RICK SINGS NELSON, RUDY THE FIFTH, GARDEN PARTY and WINDFALL are among the finest in the country rock genre and would influence everyone from Linda Ronstadt to The Eagles. Rick's work in this period stands along with Graham Parson's as one of the purest ever meetings between rock and country.
RUDY THE FIFTH in particular is probably, along with the TROUBADOUR album, the greatest unknown record in Rick's canon. With strong songwriting, including a chillingly prophetic GYPSY PILOT that ends the album with the sound of a plane crash, to some of the best Bob Dylan covers ever, RUDY THE FIFTH is a bold work by Rick at his most confident.

After the famed GARDEN PARTY, perhaps Rick's finest and most well known triumpth, personal and career worries began to take hold. Rick toured constantly for the next few years trying to push his incredible new music onto audiences that were often puzzingly unreceptive.
The death of Elvis Presley in August of 77 shook Rick and reminded him of the music of his youth. After the disappointing failure of the overly slick INTAKES album, as well as the unreleased BACK IN VIENNA unreleased LP, Rick would spend much of 78 devising a record that would combine the early James Burton fueled rockabilly sides of his youth with his more grown up flavored folk rock.
ROCKABILLY RENAISSANCE is one of the great unreleased records in rock history, Rick's winter of 78 masterpiece would foreshadow the emergence of an entirely new genre called cow-punk. You can hear the birth of bands like X, Lone Justice and The Stray Cats in these remarkable sides from that incredibly bitter winter after Elvis had died. Appearing on Saturday Night Live to promote the upcoming album, Rick delivered a haunting DREAM LOVER that should have become a huge hit. What happens next has still never been fully explained.
His record company made the odd decision to hold back the release of DREAM LOVER by several weeks killing the strong SNL word of mouth. Even more damaging then was the news that the company was going to shelve ROCKABILLY RENAISSANCE after Rick refused to make it more commercial. Released in its place was a four track ep that only scratched at the surface of its greatness. The album was finally released in a glossy over produced version entitled THE MEMPHIS SESSIONS after Rick died. It remains the biggest missed opportunity in Rick Nelson's career.

More and more exhausting touring followed, and the beginnings of a messy divorce, until the release of the underrated PLAYING TO WIN album in 1981. This album would show Rick still at the top of his songwriting and performing game but no one seemed to notice.
The final few years of Rick's life have him touring at an impossible rate in order to pay off his mounting legal bills and take care of his sons. Disheartening and re-assuring was having an album back in the charts by 84 ALL MY BEST, which featured re-recordings of some of his biggest hits.
The final days of Rick Nelson are often looked upon as tragic, with him touring in one of those sad oldies package shows. But he still delivered performances every night that were worthy of his fine legacy.
Shortly before his death Rick participated in the MEMPHIS CLASS OF 55 record which reunited Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins back at Sun studios. At one point Carl Perkins came up to Rick and wrapped his arm around him and told him that they were two of the last 'originals' left. Rick would often recount this story to his sons, and it can be looked upon as the moment where "little Ricky" finally realized that he had possessed that authenticity, that he had so yearned for, all along.
Rick Nelson was killed on December 31st, 1985 in a plane crash along with the members of his band and some friends. The media quickly reported that it was drug related, although this was later proven unfounded and a complete falsehood.
Rick's music and life continues to captivate people all over the world, and a recent best of collection surprised everyone by jumping into the top forty in it's first week of sales. I still remember holding my father's albums and hearing Rick's amazing voice for the first time, and each time I play his music that same sincerity still shines through.
Bob Dylan would began to perform LONESOME TOWN in concert after Rick died. He would also write of how much he loved Rick's voice in his CHRONICLES book. Typically he would introduce LONESOME TOWN by saying that Rick had covered many of his songs so he wanted to pay him back and then add, "I had a lot of respect for that guy". It is a respect that I believe will continue to grow as Rick's music becomes more and more available again.

Essential to newcomers is the four cd box set LEGACY that covers Rick's entire career. All of his early albums with James Burton are essential for any serious rock fan and LIVE AT THE TROUBADOUR and RUDY THE FIFTH are still astonishing, although much harder to find.
To go along with the respect that Dylan mentioned, I would just like to add...that I really admire and love this guy. Seek out some of his music if you don't have any in your collection, you might be surprised by how great and transcendent it is.

Cinema's Great Faces: Claudine Auger



Parisian born Claudine Auger was still a teenager when she won the title of Miss France and was a a runner up for Miss World in 1958. After a few years of modeling, some minor French film roles and training at the Paris Drama Conservatory she landed the plum role of Domino in the forth James Bond adventure, THUNDERBALL.

Auger's Domino is one of the great Bond girls and her work opposite Sean Connery provides some of the most memorable chemistry of the series. THUNDERBALL made her an overnight celebrity but she mostly stayed away from Hollywood and concentrated on European films. Some of her best work in the few years following THUNDERBALL were roles in Ettore Scola's THE DEVIL IN LOVE, Terence Young's TRIPLE CROSS and Alain Jessua's THE KILLING GAME opposite Jean-Pierre Cassell.
After the cult favorites ANYONE CAN PLAY and ESCALATION, Claudine appeared in the great giallo BLACK BELLY OF A TARANTULA. Shortly after this intense performance she filmed possibly her greatest role in Mario Bava's fantastic TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE. As the conniving Renata, Auger gives a great performance in one of Bava's most influential films.
She would continue her prolific work in Europe throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties including the great FLIC STORY opposite Alain Delon, and the disaster film THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE.
While Her role as Domino cemented Auger's place in film history she has had a remarkably varied and prolific career in front of the camera. She remains one of cinema's great and most unique beauties.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Overlooked Classics: The Hospital



Paddy Chayefsky could have re-written the Bible and he would still be primarily known for his incredibly prophetic and biting screenplay for 1976's NETWORK. All of the wonderful work the talented Chayefsky did before and after NETWORK has essentially become a footnote.
Chayefsky's ferociously funny screenplay for 1971's THE HOSPITAL is one of the great, under the radar, films of the seventies. Acidic, honest, touching and always extremely funny, Arthur Hiller's film of one of Chayefsky's best scripts is rarely mentioned among the best films of the seventies, but it remains a topical and brutal look at health care and just what it means to be a doctor.
George C. Scott gives one of his great performances as, the just over the edge and suicidal, Dr. Bock. Along with HARDCORE, I think this is the most underrated of Scott's distinguished career. He garnered one of the film's two Oscar nominations (Chayefsky's script got the other) as best actor but lost to Gene Hackman's astonishing performance as Popeye Doyle in Friedkin's THE FRENCH CONNECTION.
Scott is joined by an incredibly eclectic group of actors including Diana Rigg, Barnard Hughes, Richard Dysart and Nancy Marchand. Stockard Channing appears in a brief unbilled role as does Christopher Guest.
The film with its wild plot of serial killers, deadly wrong diagnoses and hard hitting political questions is handled expertly by, the sometimes pedestrian filmmaker, Hiller. Coming shortly after his smash LOVE STORY and right before the disastrous MAN OF LA MANCHA , Hiller is intelligent enough to bring a very un-showy touch to the already electric script. Chayefsky's writing is incredibly intelligent and did I mention funny? Along with THE HEARTBREAK KID and MASH, Hiller's film remains one of the funniest of the early 70s. The fact that it is also a very serious social critique is equally important, like the all out attack on the problems with the media in NETWORK, THE HOSPITAL successfully brings up some serious issues, regarding health care in this country, that continues to plague us to this day.
Scott's incredible performance controls the film but the rest of the cast is also notably good. Rigg's hippie daughter of a dying patient is especially good. Nearly unrecognizable from Emma Peel we find Rigg giving one of her most complex and engaging performances.
THE HOSPITAL is a film almost entirely built on situations and dialogue. From the iconic opening Chayefsky narration (which seems like a dry run for not only NETWORK but Paul Thomas Anderson's MAGNOLIA) to any number of extraordinary monologues by Scott, THE HOSPITAL is a film constructed on some of the sharpest dialogue ever written for a film. The dialogue and ideas of the film are indeed so complex and well organized that even after viewing it half a dozen times or so I still find myself surprised at the film's numerous plot twists.
THE HOSPITAL quietly influenced a couple of generations of medical comedies and dramas, ranging from YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE to E.R.. It is available on Dvd from MGM in a bare bones Widescreen presentation. I am happy the film is out but a special edition, to go along with the incredible double disc collection of NETWORK, would be most welcome.
For lovers of American cinema in the seventies or just cinema in general, I highly recommend this often overlooked gem of a film. It'll make you laugh, think and perhaps most importantly...it might make you question things you never would have thought to.

2007 Continues To Surprise: Vacancy


Late last year I was asked by an online journal to submit my ten favorite films of 2006. It was only after sitting down to do it that I realized that I couldn't come up with even five films that I would deem good enough to put on such a list. 2006 was one of the worst years in America cinema history, in my eyes, with only a handful of films (THE DEPARTED and CASINO ROYALE being among them) achieving great or near great status. I thought it was certainly the worst year for American cinema since the lowest point in the mid eighties.
It has been a great surprise to see the first four months of 2007 already shredding the memory of last year to pieces. In what is usual the worst time of year for film we have had in theaters a variety of quality and interesting films. ZODIAC, BLACK SNAKE MOAN, SMOKIN ACES, GRINDHOUSE and a handful of others have taken more risks and been more satisfying than all but a few of last years films. Add the just opened VACANCY to that list.
Directed by Nimrod Antal from a script by Mark L. Smith, VACANCY is an intense little mixture of PSYCHO, STRAW DOGS and DON'T LOOK NOW. While this film doesn't achieve the greatness of any of those it does play incredibly well, especially in its very intense first hour.
Starring the always great Luke Wilson and great, when she has a good role, Kate Beckinsale, VACANCY achieves a really good claustrophobic feel in its impressive use of sound and tension.
This relatively low budget film centers on a couple who have recently lost their son and are near divorce. After their car breaks down they are forced to stay in a back roads motel with a creepy proprietor. Sounds familiar of course but VACANCY really accomplishes some very confining and creepy moments and made me feel a lot more than most recent thrillers have even come close to.
As they are in nearly every shot of the film, Wilson and Beckinsale have to deliver the goods and they do so very well. Wilson, looking exhausted, is excellent but Beckinsale really shines in this film. A godd actress who has had the misfortune to be cast in some truly terrible films (the UNDERWORLD movies, VAN HELSING) here she does her best work since her underrated work in LAUREL CANYON.
The music is a bit overbearing at times and a much more minimal score would have given the film even more of a jolt. Along with Beckinsale the film's main selling point is the Bill W. Benton sound design. I had forgotten just how creepy a loud knocking at a door could sound but VACANCY uses that simple little technique to great effect continually throughout it's brisk 85 minute running time.
VACANCY does suffer in its last thirty minutes. Some major lapses in logic and a relatively week ending hamper it about but I still enjoyed the first hour enough to recommend this fine little thriller to anyone interested. I am curious if Antal had any studio interference with the ending and will look forward to any supplemental material on its dvd release.

Advertisements As Art: Brian De Palma's Femme Fatale (French Trailer)

Film trailers are rarely raised to an art form anymore, which is a shame as they used to be much more than just a predictable series of shots edited to some trendy temp music. Occasionally a great one sneaks through and that is certainly the case with this French trailer for Brian De Palma’s astonishing 2002 thriller FEMME FATALE. While the American and British trailers were typically predictable, this French version was a welcome piece of subversively clever advertising that seemingly gives the viewer everything of the film and nothing at all. I have often wondered how much De Palma might have personally been involved with this fairly remarkable trailer. Whoever put it together I tip my hat to them, as it is a really thematically clever way to advertise this greatest and trickiest of all modern noirs.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

So Long Premiere


Premiere has never been one of my favorite magazines, it has never held the almost mystical power of a Video Watchdog or a 1960's Playboy, but it has been a magazine I have consistently read over the past 18 years. Calling it one of the better current mainstream American film magazines is perhaps an understatement as any trip to a local bookstore will tell you, it was one of the only remaining mainstream American film magazines.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of film magazines around but the best ones are, more and more, genre specif publications. Premiere was a cheap monthly place a film lover could go and get info on mainstream films without the gossip and tabloid mentality that has taken over much of our printed world in the past fifteen or so years.
I recently found out that the April '07 issue of Premiere was their swan song as a printed publication. They will remain an online entity but ultimately who really cares? Premiere was one of the last places I went to for general film information that was offline. It is more than a little disheartening to go to the bookstore and see the magazine section in general growing but the film section quickly shrinking.
I'm nearly blinded every time I browse through the racks now by glossy tabloids posing as magazines and political rhetoric designed to upset people. The demise of Premiere seems to be another depressing reminder that the film and publication worlds are rapidly changing.
I guess I am more depressed by these changes happening so quickly around me than the collapse of a magazine that was never one of my favorites. Still I do remember first discovering Premiere through a defiant 1988 interview and cover story on Sean Young and the fact that they always a tried to sneak in a few surprises every issue.
I must admit I will miss it, not like the original Rolling Stone or Playboy but as simply something I could hold. Something that I could pick up when I wanted, wherever I wanted without staring at a flat screen and hearing a mechanical hum.

So in preparation for saying goodbye to a lot of things I have taken for granted, I have to say...so long Premiere

Jean-Pierre Cassel (1932-2007)


The incredible French actor Jean-Pierre Cassel died on Thursday at the age of 75. Rumor has it that he was first discovered by none other than Gene Kelly in 1953 while tap dancing on a Paris street. His long and impressive career included working with directors ranging from Jean-Pierre Melville to Harry Kumel to Luis Bunuel. He worked throughout his career with many of the great actors in French cinema as well as some of its most beautiful leading ladies including Brigitte Bardot, Claude Jade, Delphine Seyrig, Sandrine Bonnaire and Emmanuelle Beart.
Always special were his collaborations with the great Claude Chabrol. They worked together in several films including Chabrol's brilliant LA RUPTURE (70), the strange TWIST (76), and two of Chabrol's most recent masterpieces, L'ENFER (94) and LA CEREMONIE (95).
A personal favorite was Michel Deville's silly but charming 1969 vehicle for Brigitte Bardot THE BEAR AND THE DOLL. Appearing with Bardot in one of her final films the two are clearly having fun and share a great on screen chemistry. Director Deville would say that Cassel brought "truthfulness and artistic skill" to his film. I think these two words are a fine summation to his entire career in almost 200 films.
Cassel was a Cesar nominee, a wonderful actor, a musician and father to one of French cinema's great modern lights, the intense and talented Vincent Cassel. He will be much missed by film goers all over the world. All the best to his family and friends.

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky Early Review Link


Ian Jane has written a lengthy and well thought out review on the upcoming Alejandro Jodorowsky box set over at DVDtalk. This six disc Anchor Bay box set streets May 1st and it sounds like a near knock out. Coming on the heels of their important Mario Bava box set it looks like Anchor Bay are well on their way to becoming the dvd company of the year.
Head over to the link below to read a review of this long anticipated set and keep in mind that it can be pre-ordered for as low as thirty dollars at DeepDiscount.com;
Or spend just a few dollars extra to support Tony at his great Exploited Cinema which has a link in my links section.

http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/read.php?ID=27676

Friday, April 20, 2007

Overlooked Classics: On Here Majesty's Secret Service



If cornered into choosing my 'desert island' James Bond flick I would have to go with one of the first four Connery films. There is something so charismatic and unique about Sean Connery as James Bond that it is hard, at least for me, to ever completely accept anyone else in the role. That isn't to swipe anyone else who has ever played him but Connery will always be unmatchable in my eyes.
However, that said, if I was also cornered into naming what I thought was perhaps the greatest James Bond film and perhaps even my personal favorite. I would name 1969's magnificent ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE starring George Lazenby as 007.
I re-watched MAJESTY last night and was struck by just how near perfect it feels. Outside of maybe trimming a few minutes off of it's mammoth 146 minute running time I can't think of anything they could have done to improve it. A thought that kept occurring to me, even in the film's most extreme action sequences, was that MAJESTY feels more like a strange art film than a typical James Bond movie. From the surreal opening moments where Bond rescues Diana Rigg's Tracy from drowning herself to the films final tragic moments director Peter Hunt and crew weave an extremely hypnotic spell.
After Sean Connery resigned from the franchise before shooting the disappointing YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE Bond producers began the hunt of finding a new 007. This has all been well documented before and the exhaustive supplement material on disc two of MAJESTY'S dvd is absolutely essential viewing for fans of the series. Australian George Lazenby, a model and commercial actor, was finally chosen for the iconic role. Lazenby's work as Bond is unique, it doesn't really feel like Connery or any of the others since. He has a very commanding and, at times, almost imposing presence. His relative failure to become a major star shouldn't take away from the fact that he is actually a really good James Bond. Considering he had very little acting experience, he brings a great deal of emotional depth in some of MAJESTY'S more demanding scenes as well as a great physical presence to the action sequences. Lazenby was a bit screwed from the beginning, no one could have followed Connery in the Sixties, but watch him in this films final moments to see just how good this guy actually was. One wonders what would have happened had Lazenby went on to star in the follow up DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER instead of the returning Connery. Lazenby would do some notable work after, including the very effective WHO SAW HER DIE, but ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE remains his one truly inspired moment.
Director Peter Hunt made his impressive directorial debut with MAJESTY and unfortunately never directed another Bond film again. More well known as an editor, Hunt would go on to direct a dozen or so features including a couple with Charles Bronson. He brings a confident sure handed touch to the Bond series with Michael Reed providing the film's striking look. Watch some of the night scenes in Blofeld's spa and look at the remarkable lighting and art direction, this is among the most beautiful Bond films ever made. At one point in these scenes an incredible splash of red fills a hallway and I felt like I was watching a Mario Bava film.
Everyone from the great Desmond Llewelyn (although the gadgets are mostly left out in this one) to Bernard Lee are here. Lois Maxwell has one of her best and most substantial Miss Moneypenny performances and brings a real charm to the role. One scene is particularly effective with her involving Bond resigning for service.
Telly Savalas is incredible as Blofeld. Savalas had the unique capability of being absolutely sinister and overwhelmingly charming at the same time. His performance here is one of the best Bond villain roles ever.
John Barry delivers what might be his finest overall score to a Bond film. His lush, exciting and at times heartbreaking score is complimented by the amazing Louis Armstrong sung theme, WE HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD. Recently covered effectively by Iggy Pop for the underrated THE JACKET, this beautiful track is one of the great 007 theme songs. Armstrong's weary performance of its Hal David lyric is simply unforgettable and Barry wisely uses the tune throughout ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE to great effect.
Of course it wouldn't be a James Bond film without beautiful women and they are not in short supply here. Blofeld's spa is filled with some of the loveliest actresses from the sixties including future Hammer starlets Julie Ege, Anouska Hempel and Joanna Lumley. ON HER MAJESTY'S greatest weapon though is the entrancing Diana Rigg. Joining the ranks of the great Bond girls, including Ursula Andress, Claudine Auger and the recent Eva Green, Diana Rigg brings a rare emotional force to the Bond series with her performance as the depressed and lonely Tracy.
Riggs was just a year past her iconic AVENGERS character Emma Peel and she is really at her peak here in MAJESTY. All of her scenes are noteworthy and I must admit that her final moment in MAJESTY is the only scene in the Bond series that makes me cry.
A final note concerning ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE are the remarkable action sequences. In this era of increasingly cold and artificial CGI the effects in MAJESTY are absolutely spellbinding. The ski chase sequences, car chases and snow avalanche are still some of the best action sequences I have ever seen. Disc two of the set chronicles the making of these and they are incredible to watch and almost 40 years later these scenes remain simply jaw dropping.

ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE remains one of the lowest grossing of all the Bond films. Audiences just weren't ready to let go of Sean Connery. He would return, of course, in the great DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER before Roger Moore settled in for a nice decade plus run. ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE remains for me one the definitive films of the 1960s. A thrilling and very moving chapter in the most famous cinematic saga in film history.