Wednesday, November 30, 2011

First-Time Viewings (November, 2011)

Due to various activities and projects, I didn't have time to catch up with as many films as usual in November. One major highlight came via PBS with the extraordinary American Masters presentation of Woody Allen: A Documentary, a work which really blew me away. In theaters I saw two of the best films of the year, the chilling Martha Marcy May Marlene and the stunning Melancholia, films that feature the two of the best performances I have seen in some time courtesy of Elizabeth Olson and Kirsten Dunst. I also saw Breaking Dawn and, while I thought it was the most problematic of the Twilight series, I quite enjoyed the film's second half.

Of the older films I watched, the best features were two Jean-Pierre Melville films I had never seen (Bob le flambeur and Le Doulos) and Steve Mcqueen's powerful Hunger. I also greatly admired the documentary on filmmaker and Warhol collaborator Danny Williams, A Walk into the Sea.

Here are the complete lists for those interested:

2011 Films:

Martha Marcy May Marlene ****1/2
Melancholia *****
Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 ***
Woody Allen A Documentary *****

Pre-2011 Films

A Walk Into the Sea *****
Anthony Zimmer ***1/2
Bob le flambeur ****1/2
Dagmar & Co. **1/2
Ghosts Italian Style **
Hunger (2008) ****1/2
I Was a Male War Bride ****1/2
La Strega in Amore ****
Le Doulos *****
Loose Change: An American Coup ***
My Soul to Take *1/2
Night of a 1000 Cats *
Philip Glass: Looking Glass ****
Sam Kinison: Why Did We Laugh ****1/2
Sassy Sue **
Sky West and Crooked ***1/2
Stones in Exile ****
The Climax (1967) ***
The Devil's Angels ***
The Possession of Virginia **1/2


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Monday, November 28, 2011

Ken Russell R.I.P.


I woke up to the very sad news this morning that the great Ken Russell has passed away at the age of 84. I first discovered Russell's films of as a teenager in the eighties when I first saw his searing and unforgettable Crimes of Passion. I soon immersed myself in as much of his work I could find at the time and everything from Women in Love to The Lair of the White Worm became favorites of mine. While he made many films that I count among the best of British Cinema, the film by Russell that has continued to haunt me in the twenty or so years since it first shook my world is The Devils, a film which I count among the great works of art I have ever seen.

I'm still trying to process the fact that Ken Russell has left us but I did want to send good wishes to his friends and family on this very sad day. For fellow fans, pull out your favorite film from the great man and rewatch it with the kind of awe and respect all of his work demands.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Directed by Jean-Luc Godard: Twenty Personal Favorites

I had a great time recently putting together my Woody Allen list so I thought this "Twenty Personal Favorites" tally might be a fun weekly thing to do here. With my month-long Francois Truffaut tribute coming up, I thought a list dedicated to an artist he was so deeply connected to would be more than fitting.



The career of Jean-Luc Godard has been as chaotic as his friendship with Truffaut was and he has never lost his ability to fascinate and repel (often at the same time). To say cinema would have been a much less interesting place without the films of Godard is a massive understatement. Perhaps a more fitting epitaph would be that the last fifty years of cinema would have been a totally different place without him. Godard didn't just change film, at times he turned it against itself and created something entirely new, totally alien and completely unique. These are my twenty personal favorites (listed mostly with their English language titles).

1. Contempt (1963)

2. Slow Motion (1979)

3. Number Two (1975)

4. Week End (1967)

5. Band of Outsiders (1964)

6. Masculin Feminine (1966)

7. First Name: Carmen (1983)

8. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1966)

9. Tout va bien (1972)

10. Pierrot le fou (1965)

11. A Woman is a Woman (1961)

12. Alphaville (1965)



13. Detective (1985)

14. How's it Going? (1976)

15. My Life to Live (1962)

16. Made in U.S.A. (1966)



17. Breathless (1959)

18. A Married Woman (1964)

19. One Plus One (1968)

20. New Wave (1990)

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Coming in December: Moon in the Gutter Celebrates its 5th Anniversary with a Special Tribute


While it is hard for me to comprehend, next month marks Moon in the Gutter's fifth anniversary. It was on December 18th, 2006 that I sat down for that inaugural post on the untimely passing of one of my favorite actresses, Claude Jade. I was 33 at the time and had recently returned to college to finish my degree. While many folks look upon online writers, and particularly bloggers, with a harsh eye I must say that Moon in the Gutter has been one of the great experiences of my life and I am quite proud of it. The nearly 2000 posts I have created here have helped get me published in print, have helped me create friendships with some of my favorite actors, artists, directors and musicians and have helped me grow as a writer and film historian.
Longtime readers have perhaps noticed a decline in quality and quantity in the past several months here at Moon in the Gutter. I am more than aware of it and can only say that I have been in a bit of rut, and that rut has given me one of the most severe cases of writer's block I have ever had to deal with. I am going to try and reverse this in December and get Moon in the Gutter back on track with a month long celebration of the filmmaker I usually refer to as my all-time favorite director, François Truffaut. So, starting Thursday December, 1st I will begin celebrating a man who pulled me out of an artistic and spiritual slump once before, many years ago, with the hope that he might do it again. I hope you will join me and to the readers who have stuck with me these past five years...thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Moseby Confidential Files: A Candice Rialson Double-Feature

The much-missed Candice Rialson would have been turning sixty years old next month so I thought another look at two of her major roles was in order. While Pets and Chatterbox are both flawed works, especially the latter, Candice is incredible in both and they still serve as a great reminder of how undeniably unique and startling her screen-presence was.


Part satire, part sexploitation film and part social commentary, Raphael Nussbaum’s 1974 feature Pets is a fairly remarkable feature on all counts. A low budget film with big ideas, Pets is mostly remembered today for giving talented 23 year old actress Candice Rialson her first starring role in a feature film. Rialson, who had previously appeared in just a handful of small feature and television roles, gives one of the most electric debut performances of the seventies under Nussbaum’s direction and Pets is worth a larger audience than it has ever had.


German born Nussbaum has had an interesting, if fairly unremarkable, career as a writer, producer and director and Pets stands as his most important and fully realized work. After making some early features in Germany in the early sixties (including one with Daliah Lavi), Nussbaum relocated to America in the late part of the decade with his first American credit being a co-writing detail on the 1969 Al Adamson film, The Female Bunch.

Pets started out life as a 1969 series of one act plays by Richard Reich starring notable future film actress Marlene Clark. Reich’s play received mostly scathing reviews during its Off-Broadway run by critics not able to see that its scenes of sado-masochism and male dominance were attempting to make a sharp statement on the changing role of women in society due to the blossoming feminist movement. Reich’s play and Nussbaum’s film makes the point that it wasn’t just the misogynistic male world that feminists had to overcome but also years of personal imprisonment. Regardless of Pets notorious ad campaign, and the fact that it has to play into some of the trappings of a strictly exploitation vehicle, there is a lot more going on here than the misogynistic work it is often being accused of being.

The three one-act plays came into the hand of Nussbaum and exploitation producer Mardi Rustam in the 1973 and they quickly worked it into a film script and began casting soon after. Several familiar faces were soon signed on including Ed Bishop and two-time Elvis Presley co-star Joan Blackman. The key role of Bonnie though would go to the near completely unknown Candice Rialson, billed here as Candy Rialson, and it would turn out to be the film’s masterstroke as Rialson controls the film with a ferociously intelligent and electric performance that still resonates over thirty years later.

Pets is about overcoming submission…submission not only to others but more importantly an imprisonment of a personal kind to society’s expectations. Pets is a political film posing as a sexy drive-in feature…the fact that it works as both quite well marks it as one of the most impressive low budget features of the seventies.

***Spoilers Follow***
After an eerie and striking opening sequence showing a series of animals and finally Rialson (Bonnie) chained in a group of cages, Pets begins (as it ends) in a car. We are introduced to Bonnie who is being driven around town late at night by her controlling and abusive brother. After being pushed one step too far, Bonnie escapes from her brother and makes her way into the lonely city night. The next morning Bonnie meets Pat (Teri Guzman) a tough talking thief who connives her into kidnapping a middle aged man fresh from the beach, tying him up, and robbing his house. Bonnie is a good person, but she clearly enjoys being the one in control and foolishly follows through with Pat's plan. After the robbery she is not surprisingly abandoned by the double crossing Pat. Bonnie then runs away again only to meet another person looking to control her, a lesbian painter named Geraldine (Blackman).



Bonnie enters into a relationship with Geraldine but is soon yearning to escape as the same feelings of entrapment and personal disillusionment creep on. After Geraldine murders a burglar Bonnie has a one night stand with, Bonnie escapes once again this time to a perverted art collector named Victor...a man who collects not only paintings but also exotic animals and women (both of which he keeps imprisoned in his basement). After submitting Bonnie to torture and humiliation she finally pretends to submit to his every whim and ends up chained in a cage in his basement. When Victor lures Geraldine to his house, Bonnie captures them both and abandons the house and her ways as a prisoner. As the film ends it is now Bonnie driving the car...independent and in control and free of the chains that have been around her all of her life.




Pets benefits greatly from the editing of actress and producer Roberta Reeves. I suspect that Reeves understood the films underlying themes and her cutting style slyly gives the upper hand to Rialson all the way through. We are not only sympathetic to Rialson but can also feel her blossoming empowerment...when she finally escapes from the house and her role as society's second class citizen, Reeves cleverly cuts between Bonnie triumphantly leaving the house with the sight of the animals escaping as well. Draped in a fur coat and smiling, the ending of Pets is exhilarating stuff and the clever question mark after the "The End" notice doesn't mark the hint of the sequel, but instead the beginning of a new generation of women refusing to buckle under the weight of the chains much of society stills tries to put them under.





Rialson is nothing short of spectacular in the role of Bonnie. Breathtakingly beautiful and seemingly totally aware that her role is representative of much more than just a single woman in peril, Rialson injects Bonnie with a strength and intelligence rare for any film of this kind in the seventies or since. Pets should have been the beginning of a long and prolific career for the charismatic and talented Rialson and it is tragic that only a handful of roles followed for her.




The rest of the cast is okay if not overly noteworthy. Bishop plays the sickening Victor with the right amount of sleaze and charm but Blackman is rather bland in what should be one of the film's most dynamic characters. Guzman is quite good in her part, as is television actor Brett Parker in his small but memorable role as the kidnap victim.



Technically, Art director Mike McCloskey does a solid job with Victor's foreboding house by filling it with antiquities and reminders of his role as a villainous collector. Nussbaum's direction is also fairly thoughtful throughout, although Pets does suffer from its low budget trappings. The film also feels more than a little episodic, no doubt due to its origins as three separate one-act plays. Still, for the most part, Pets is a remarkable achievement and its relative obscurity is unfortunate.



Pets came out in the early part of 1974 with one of the most notorious and misleading ad campaigns of its day. If the film manages to transcend its sexploitation stature then the seedy promotional art embraces it. The film, originally released under the title Submission, was for the most part ignored by the critics, never caught on with the public and was just finally given a limited DVD release within the past couple of years via Code Red.






Three years after Pets, Rialson made perhaps the most infamous film of her tragically short career. I’ve always suspected Chatterbox would have made a good short film in something like Woody Allen’s Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Unfortunately, the film that stalled what should have been the thriving career of talented Candice Rialson is feature length and it wasn't written by someone of Allen’s creativity and intelligence.




1977’s Chatterbox, inspired by the successful French film Le Sexe Qui Parle from a few years earlier features the last starring role of the late Candice Rialson, who would appear in just a few more productions in just smaller supporting and bit roles. How much the failure of Chatterbox hurt Candice’s career is perhaps up for question, but it needs to be noted that that failure is in no way due to her performance as it is the only real bright spot the doomed production has.




Director Tom DeSimone had mostly worked in the adult industry in the years leading up to Chatterbox under the name of Lancer Brooks. He would go onto to direct features such as Hell Night (1981) with Linda Blair and Reform School Girls (1984) with Sybil Danning. His direction of Chatterbox, while flat at times, is spirited with special note going to a couple of the film’s montages and one particular musical number towards the end inspired by the MGM musicals of Hollywood’s first Golden Age.




The problem with Chatterbox doesn’t lie with Rialson or DeSimone, but instead rests on the lap of novice screenwriter Mark Rosin. The Great Texas Dynamite Chase (a much better film than Chatterbox) writer’s work is really flat here. Chatterbox wants more than anything else to be funny and it simply isn’t. The majorities of the films jokes are the kind that could have been found on any number of second rate sitcoms from the period and they really bury the film, which is a real pity as in the right hands Chatterbox could have been something of a camp classic or even a probing satirical work on female sexuality…it’s neither. It’s like a gaudy knock-knock joke with a cheap punch line and Candice Rialson deserved much better.




The film, brief at under 75 minutes, is absolutely worth a look though to see Rialson at possibly her most radiant. She’s charming even when the film isn’t and manages to give the role respectability when any other actress would have struggled to even achieve trashiness (this is after all a film about a woman with a talking and singing vagina). Without a decent script and having to recite some of the worst dialogue of her career, Rialson’s charisma, poise and intelligence still shines through…a remarkable achievement is a sadly vacant film.



Lots of familiar faces pop up from Rip Taylor to Sandra Gould to Larry Gelman but none of them can elevate the material much. The film is at least an attractive one, thanks to the cinematography by future legend Tak Fujimoto. The score by Neil Sedaka is also fairly pleasing although it none of it compares to the best of the singer-songwriter’s work.




Chatterbox is also a surprisingly conservative picture, with only a glimpse of full frontal nudity on display. It’s not a relatively titillating production and those hoping to uncover one of the seventies more explicit exploitation films will no likely be disappointed.




The film does come to life during the audacious and successful final musical number but it only serves as a note to what kind of film it could have been. Rialson is positively radiant in this scene and it serves as another reminder to the scope of this woman’s talent.





Chatterbox was released by AIP in February of 1977 to pretty much universal disdain. It was released on VHS in the mid eighties by Vestron but quickly sank out of print and legitimate copies are fairly hard to come by. To my knowledge it has never had an official DVD release, although grey market copies are fairly easy to track down for those interested.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Directed by Woody Allen: Twenty Personal Favorites



I hope everyone is watching the excellent American Masters two-part episode dedicated to Woody Allen that is concluding tonight on PBS. While watching this wonderful documentary I thought I would attempt to post the kind of favorites list I haven't done in awhile.
I decided to narrow this list to just twenty-films, mostly so I could torture myself for leaving out so many I love. This list would have been slightly different yesterday, and will probably change tomorrow, but I think all twenty of these films are brilliant works by one of our great artists so I am happy to present it. If you missed the American Masters special, do yourself a favor and track it down as it is extraordinary, as is the artist it is dedicated to.





***A behind the scenes shot from Annie Hall (1977).


1. Hannah and her Sisters (1986)

"I wandered for a long time on the upper west side, it must have been hours. My feet hurt, my head was pounding, and I had to sit down I went into a movie house. I didn't know what was playing or anything I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts and be logical and put the world back into rational perspective. And I went upstairs to the balcony, and I sat down, and the movie was a film that I'd seen many times in my life since I was a kid, and I always loved it. I'm watching these people up on the screen and I started getting hooked on the film. I started to feel, how can you even think of killing yourself, I mean isn't it so stupid. Look at all the people up there on the screen, they're real funny, and what if the worst is true. What if there is no God and you only go around once and that's it. Well, ya know, don't you wanna be part of the experience?"


2. Manhattan (1979)

"Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people."


3. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

"Cristina, on the other hand, expected something very different out of love. She had reluctantly accepted suffering as an inevitable component of deep passion, and was resigned to putting her feelings at risk. If you asked her what it was she was gambling her emotions on to win, she would not have been able to say. She knew what she didn't want, however, and that was exactly what Vicky valued above all else."


4. Stardust Memories (1980)

"Just a little while back, just before I died in fact. I was on the operating table and I was searching to try to find something to hang onto, you know, cause when you're dying your life really does become very authentic and I was reaching for something to give my life meaning and a memory flashed through my mind: It was one of those great spring days, it was Sunday, and you knew summer would be coming soon. And I remember that morning Dorrie and I had gone for a walk in the park and come back to the apartment. We were just sort of sitting around and I put on a record of Louie Armstrong which was music I grew up with and it was very, very pretty, and I happened to glance over and I saw Dorrie sitting there. And I remember thinking to myself how terrific she was and how much I loved her. And I don't know, I guess it was a combination of everything, the sound of the music, and the breeze, and how beautiful Dorrie looked to me and for one brief moment everything just seemed to come together perfectly and I felt happy, almost indestructible in a way. It's funny, that simple little moment of contact moved me in a very, very profound way."


5. Annie Hall (1977)

"After that it got pretty late, and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again. I... I realized what a terrific person she was, and... and how much fun it was just knowing her; and I... I, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs."


6. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

"If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie."


7. The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

"And I was thinking about life in general. The origin of everything we see about us. The finality of death; how almost magical it seems in the real world, as opposed to the world of celluloid and flickering shadows."


8. Deconstructing Harry (1997)

"All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it."


9. Husbands and Wives (1992)

"See, I will always have this penchant for what I call kamikaze women. I call them kamikazes because they, you know they crash their plane, they're self-destructive. But they crash into you, and you die along with them."


10. Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

"You know what my philosophy of life is? That it's important to have some laughs, but you gotta suffer a little too, because otherwise you miss the whole point to life."


11. Anything Else (2003)

"Since the beginning of time people have been, you know, frightened and, and unhappy, and they're scared of death, and they're scared of getting old, and there's always been priests around, and shamans, and now shrinks, to tell 'em, 'Look, I know you're frightened, but I can help you. Of course, it is going to cost you a few bucks...' But they can't help you, Falk, because life is what it is."


12. A Midsummer’s Night Sex Comedy (1982)

"It's nothing serious - just an arrow in his heart."


13. Sleeper (1973)

"I'm always joking, you should know that about me; it's a defense mechanism."


14. Love and Death (1975)

"And so I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Actually, make that 'I run through the valley of the shadow of death' - in order to get OUT of the valley of the shadow of death more quickly, you see."


15. Scoop (2006)

"I'm a would-be investigative reporter who has fallen in love with the object of her investigation."


16. Another Woman (1988)

"I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you've lost."


17. Every Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex (1972)

"Before you know it, the Renaissance will be here and we'll all be painting."


18. Whatever Works (2009)

That's why I can't say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works.


19. Bananas (1971)

"We fell in love. I fell in love - she just stood there."


20. Midnight in Paris (2011)

"Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."

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My Favorite Closing Shots: This Property is Condemned (1966)