Friday, May 29, 2009

The Sam Peckinpah Film Poll Results


Okay, so The Wild Bunch finishing strongly in first place might not be surprise but look at Warren Oates and the decaying head of Alfredo Garcia making a strong showing at number two. I would have put money on Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid coming in at two so its fourth place showing was the most surprising part of the poll for me. Thanks to everyone who voted and I hope the results prove interesting for those who did.

1. The Wild Bunch 72 Votes (69%)

2. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia 49 Votes (47%)

3. Straw Dogs 42 Votes (40%)

4. Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid 36 Votes (34%)

5. The Getaway 29 Votes (27%)

6. The Ballad of Cable Hogue 19 Votes (18%)

7. Junior Bonner 17 Votes (16%)

8. Ride The High Country 16 Votes (15%)

9. Cross of Iron 15 Votes (14%)

10. The Osterman Weekend 9 Votes (8%)

11. Convoy 8 Votes (7%)

12. The Killer Elite 7 Votes (6%)

13. Major Dundee 7 Votes (6%)

14. The Deadly Companions 4 Votes (3%)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sam Peckinpah's Forgotten Masterpiece: Noon Wine (1966)


An often overlooked and sometimes completely unknown chapter in Sam Peckinpah’s influential and impressive career, 1966’s Noon Wine is one of his most haunting, important and resonate productions. Virtually unseen in the forty plus years since it was broadcast on ABC TV as part of the Stage 67 series, Noon Wine is a mesmerizing and moving near fifty minute work that stands as the equal of many of Peckinpah’s more known and celebrated big screen productions, and its relatively lost in time status is extremely unfortunate.
Based on an acclaimed short story by Katherine Anne Porter, Noon Wine concerns a farming family who hire on a strange Swedish man to help out and board with them. Things go well for several years until another stranger arrives with some news about the mostly silent Swede that alters everyone’s life forever with most tragic results.
Scripted by Peckinpah himself and starring Jason Robards, Olivia de Havilland, Theodore Bikel, Per Oscarsson, and in two smaller roles Peckinpah favorites Ben Johnson and L.Q. Jones, Noon Wine is an astonishingly adult and challenging work that is as far away from the trash TV culture we find ourselves surrounded by these days. Charged with the humanity and heart that had fueled his earlier Ride the High Country and later masterpieces like The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Junior Bonner, Noon Wine stands as one of the most subtle and sincere works of Peckinpah’s career.
Shown in stark black and white and featuring a mesmerizing score from none other than Jerry Fielding, Noon Wine will come as something of a shock to film fans who only know Peckinpah through his blood drenched reputation as the director of works like The Wild Bunch and Straw Dogs. And yet, it was the success of Noon Wine that directly led to Peckinpah to be able to shoot the string of films that would make him such a legend over the few years after its television premiere.

By pretty much every account Sam Peckinpah was finished in Hollywood by 1966. The disastrous production of Major Dundee and his firing from The Cincinnati Kid had made him all but un-hirable, and it is was these factors that made Noon Wine such a redemptive prospect for the uncompromising Peckinpah. Marshall Fine writes in his excellent Bloody Sam that it was television producer Dan Melnick who extended a helping hand to the down on his luck filmmaker in 1965 by offering him a shot at Noon Wine. Peckinpah was certainly no stranger to television, as fans will know, but Melnick’s offered surprised even him considering the troubled state of his career. Fine wrote that, “when Melnick called Peckinpah, the director seemed cautious to the point of being defensive. Peckinpah said, ‘You ought to know I’ve been blacklisted. I’ve recently been fired from The Cincinnati Kid. No one’s going to want you to hire me.’” Melnick persevered and ABC gave in giving Peckinpah the shot he needed at a much-deserved comeback.
Noon Wine began shooting in the fall of 1964 from a script from Peckinpah’s own pen that none other than Katherine Anne Porter herself and given an enthusiastic recommendation to. Fine wrote that, “Peckinpah insisted on two weeks of rehearsal”, something that was a bit uncommon for these sort of short television films, and something that no doubt helped give the performances the push that made them so strong across the board. Robards would be quoted as saying in Fines book that, “we could work like it was a play.” The inspiring actor would reportedly be so proud of his performance in the film that he kept his own private copy for years after.
According to Fine, “the production was shot in color on videotape and film” and that Melnick remembered that, “Sam shot Noon Wine like a film”, and actor Theordore Bikel recalled that, “there seemed to be a great deal of stress on him” during the shoot, which no doubt gave the proceedings an air of necessity. Because of this, and due to his inability to compromise, Melnick said, “He was very tough on the crew always” but it paid off and by the time it was ready to air Noon Wine was nothing short of a masterpiece, and it would give Peckinpah the chance to make The Wild Bunch just a couple of years later.
Fine wrote that Noon Wine was, “broadcast in November of 1966” and that it “won good reviews and put a new spin on Peckinpah’s career.” Melnick would take it even further and say that, “Sam was a hero again” after Noon Wine. Sam would receive nomination from The Writers and Directors Guild but he came home empty handed both evenings. It didn’t matter though, Sam Peckinpah was back in the game and for the next nearly ten years he would produce one of the most iconic body of works in American film history..
The holy grail of lost Peckinpah works, Noon Wine has been traded from collector to collector for years, and it can currently be screened at The Library of Congress and the Museum of Broadcasting. It is far too powerful a work to not be more readily available though and it desperately needs a proper re-release. My own experience watching Noon Wine proved to be quite a devastating one. I found it to be one of the most moving television works I had ever seen, and I will not soon forget it.
Even though Sam Peckinpah is one of the most legendary American filmmakers of the past fifty years, his career has still not been put in the proper perspective. Infamous tales of cocaine and alcohol binges combined with the overwhelming violence found in some of his most famous works have pigeonholed Peckinpah into a particularly dark corner. Noon Wine shows him as less an out of control madman and more a visionary poet…he entered his house justified.

-Jeremy Richey, 2009-

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Great Video Store in the Sky: A Dario Argento Double Feature

It's late and the night has been filled with drink and disillusion. You stumble into an all night video store and make your way to the Italian horror section. You come away with two Dario Argento films that you haven't seen in awhile. The next morning your head will be stinging from the disappointment of The Cat o' Nine Tails, but your mind will still be thoroughly blown by Inferno.

CAT O`NINE TALES (AUSSIE)

inferno_2

Monday, May 25, 2009

Images From My All Time Favorite Films: George Axelrod's Lord Love A Duck (1966)

George Axelrod’s savage 1966 satire Lord Love a Duck had a profound influence on me when I first saw it about thirteen years ago in my early twenties. Disillusioned by college, work and everything I had been told I should want for my future, the film provided fuel for the angriest and most productive period of my life. Lately I have been feeling the same sort of disillusionment which is perhaps why the characters of the young Anarchist Mollymauk and the doomed Barbara Anne (both played with chaotic genius by Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld) have been on my mind so much lately. While much has been written about the film, I still think the most profound statement concerning it comes from Axelrod’s original promotional campaign where he wrote:

"This motion picture
is against
teenagers…
their parents…
beach movies...
cars…schools…
and several hundred
other things.
It’s about
a guy living
in this insane world
who suddenly
goes stark,
raving sane
and commits
a
mass murder.
It’s a comedy…
an act of pure aggression."

Honestly, I will take Lord Love a Duck over any other counter-culture revolutionary film from the sixties. I think it was so far ahead of its time that cinema still hasn’t caught up…











Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Favorite Closing Shots: Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds and Lucio Fulci's Zombie


The Cannes Winners (Congratulations Charlotte)


For those who haven't it yet, here is a listing of the major awards given out earlier today at the Cannes Film Festival:

IN COMPETTION - FEATURE FILMS

Palme d'Or
DAS WEISSE BAND (The White Ribbon) directed by Michael HANEKE

Grand Prix
UN PROPHÈTE (A Prophet) directed by Jacques AUDIARD


Lifetime achievement award for his work and his exceptional contribution to the history of cinema

Alain RESNAIS


Best Director
Brillante MENDOZA for KINATAY

Jury Prize
FISH TANK directed by Andrea ARNOLD

BAK-JWI (Thirst) directed by PARK Chan-Wook

Best Performance for an Actor
Christoph WALTZ in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS directed by Quentin TARANTINO

Best Performance by an Actress
Charlotte GAINSBOURG in ANTICHRIST directed by Lars von TRIER

Best Screenplay
MEI Feng for CHUN FENG CHEN ZUI DE YE WAN (Spring Fever) directed by LOU Ye

Prix Vulcain: Artist-Technician
Aitor BERENGUER, sound technician of the movie MAP OF THE SOUNDS OF TOKYO directed by Isabel COIXET.

IN COMPETITION - SHORT FILMS

Palme d'Or
ARENA directed by João SALAVIZA

Special Distinction

THE SIX DOLLAR FIFTY MAN directed by Mark ALBISTON, Louis SUTHERLAND


CAMERA D'OR
SAMSON AND DELILAH directed by Warwick THORNTON (presented at Un Certain Regard)

Caméra d'Or – Special Distinction
AJAMI directed by Scandar COPTI, Yaron SHANI (presented at Quinzaine des Réalisateurs)


UN CERTAIN REGARD

Prix Un Certain Regard - Fondation Gan pour le Cinéma

KYNODONTAS (Dogtooth) by Yorgos LANTHIMOS

Jury Prize

POLITIST, ADJECTIV (Police, Adjective) by Corneliu PORUMBOIU.

Special Prize Un Certain Regard 2009

KASI AZ GORBEHAYE IRANI KHABAR NADAREH (No One Knows About Persian Cats) by Bahman GHOBADI

LE PÈRE DE MES ENFANTS (Father of My Children) by Mia HANSEN-LØVE

I am absolutely thrilled to see that Moon in the Gutter favorite Charlotte Gainsbourg was honored for her work in Lars Von Trier's Antichrist, a film that I am truly aching to see. The complete list of winners can be found here.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Femme Fatale at Film for the Soul's Counting Down the Zeroes


Film for the Soul, one of the most insightful and intelligent stops on the net, is currently having an ambitious series focusing on the key works of the decade. Made up of great contributions from many of the web’s most articulate film lovers, the series is proving to be a really enlightening and fascinating venture. My tribute in stills to Brian De Palma’s ferocious and brilliant Femme Fatale is currently being featured in the series at Film for the Soul, and I am proud to be a part of it. Here is the link to the post over there, and I hope everyone will check out the other entries that have been submitted so far for this splendid project. Thanks to the always great Film for the Soul for letting my little tribute to De Palma’s work be a part of it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Joe Dallesandro on Film: Vacanze per un Massacro (Madness)





The follow up film to his notorious and rather haunting Avere vent’anni (To Be Twenty), Fernando Di Leo’s 1979 production Vacanze per un Massacro (Madness) is one of his oddest and most peculiar films. A strange mixture of Last House on the Left and The Desperate Hours, Madness is not one of Di Leo’s strongest works but, like many of his films, it has a quality about it that lingers long after the credits have rolled.


Joe Dallesandro stars as Joe Brezzi, a career criminal who escapes from a maximum-security country prison as the film opens. Brezzi makes his way to a house where he stashed some stolen funds before he was sent away only to find a vacationing family residing there. The family is terrorized and manipulated by Brezzi who enlists them to help him find the treasure that has been buried under the fireplace in the house. Brezzi doesn’t know what he is for though as the family, made up of two sisters and one man they are both involved with, has their own catastrophic drama going on.



Di Leo’s surprising directorial choices, the intense performances of lead actors Dallesandro and Lorraine De Selle, and the wild adventurous score from famed Luis Enriquez Bacalov control Madness at every turn. If the film is finally a flawed work then it is mostly due to Di Leo’s script, adapted from a story by fellow genre director Mario Gariazzo, which never fully escapes the trappings of its more than slightly ‘been there-done that’ origins.

Despite the problems with the script, Di Leo manages to make Madness a rather sharp commentary on sexual manipulation and domination through his clever use of framing and shot selection, and with these always interesting choices Madness becomes a much more attention-grabbing work than it would have been in less intelligent hands. Shot on a shoe-string budget in a house Di Leo found in the Abruzzi Mountains, Madness is never less than compulsively watchable in its slim just under ninety minute running time.

Di Leo had just come off a stunning string of Italian police thrillers and both Madness and To Be Twenty seem to be deliberate steps away from that genre, as the truly versatile Di Leo was becoming pigeonholed in it. In Madness Di Leo is less interested in the mechanisms of the crime, as he was a production like the breathtaking Milano Calibro 9 (1972), and he is more interested in the corrupted psychologies of each one of his characters, especially De Selle’s Paola, the adulterous sister who stands as one of the most fascinating creations of Di Leo’s career.


Lorraine De Selle is one of Italian cinemas most interesting, if under-discussed, figures. Working these days as a successful producer, the uncompromising De Selle proved a rather unforgettable character in many of Italy’s most intense and controversial productions of the late seventies and early eighties. Her brave and sometimes shocking work is on hand in everything from Joe D’Amato’s Emanuelle in America, to Bruno Mattei’s S.S. Extermination Love Camp, to Ruggero Deodato’s House on the Edge of the Park to perhaps most memorably in Umberto Lenzi’s grueling Cannibal Ferox. De Selle was an extremely interesting actress, and Di Leo brings out the best in her as she delivers an emotionally (and physically) stripped and complex performance that elevates Madness at every turn.


Joe Dallesandro is just as good as the sociopath Brezzi. The final film in Joe’s impressive time as a key player in Italian genre film, finds him at his seductive and snarling best. He also brings a vulnerability and confusion to the role, something that is especially played well in the film’s most misogynistic and savage moments. Joining Dallesandro and De Selle in the film’s smaller roles are Gianne Macchia as the conniving and sex starved husband Sergio and Patrizia Behn as the smarter than she seems wife Liliana. Both are good, but the film finally belongs to Dallesandro and De Selle, and it is at its most successful in their scenes together.


Considering the film is essentially a four-character piece, Di Leo does a remarkable job at keeping it from feeling at all stage like. It’s a quick moving cinematic production that Di Leo simultaneously brings a claustrophobic and wide-open feel to. This is a smart director at work in this film, and it is a shame the rather weak storyline gets in the way of the considerable film making skills on hand. Di Leo is said to have considered this a minor work in his filmography but despite some flaws, Madness is a fascinating late period work from the director, and a Region 1 DVD would be extremely welcome.



Vacanze per un Massacro was available (it is apparently out of print at this point) on Italy’s RaroVideo label in an okay print that is cobbled together from a couple of different sources. Colors are faded and it isn’t one of Raro’s better discs but it is uncut, and it isn’t a bad way to view what is an extremely rare film from one of Italy’s most missed directors.