Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Moon in the Gutter Q&A with Author Ryan Clark

Today I am very pleased to present this new Q&A with author, film-historian and all-around great person Ryan Clark.  Ryan, the author of the terrific Thrill Me blog, is currently working on a sure to be awesome book, with the noted film scribe Lee Gambin, on the making of Brian De Palma's Carrie and I am very happy to have him drop by and give us a sneak peak. 



Hi Ryan,
Thanks so much for stopping by Moon in the Gutter to participate in my Q&A series. I am extremely excited about your upcoming book BLOOD AMONG THE STARS: THE MAKING OF CARRIE, that you are working on with Lee Gambin, and I really appreciate you doing this. To start off with, can you tell us a bit about your background?

 

Thank you for having me, Jeremy.  I'm a big fan of your site.

 

I have been a horror fan my entire life, ever since I first saw The Ghost of Frankenstein when I was five or six years old.  That's really the first horror film I remember seeing.  I've always been a writer, too – I used to sit at the table and draw and write brief picture books based on the films I had seen.  I later graduated to writing short stories, though I never got any of them published and they were actually pretty terrible, but I guess they were impressive for someone my age.  So it's only natural that I would eventually want to combine the two – horror movies and writing!  I am also passionately interested in filmmaking, and I'm working on several screenplays.

 

My co-writer, Lee Gambin, is actually much more accomplished than I am.  He writes many popular articles for Fangoria magazine, and he has a book out now called Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film, which you should all go out and buy.
 
 

 

I typically ask folks here about the films that provided the earliest influence but I also wanted to include music in the mix as I know you are equally passionate about both. Tell me some of your early film and music favorites.

 

As I said, the first horror film I ever saw was The Ghost of Frankenstein, so the Universal horror films were really my first love.  Aside from that, my mother used to record many horror films from TV in the 80s, and she had a bunch of them that I ended up watching, like Carrie, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Psycho and Psycho II, The Amityville Horror – a lot of the classics.

 

For music, I listened to a lot of the stuff my parents were into, like Madonna, Tina Turner, Blondie, and Michael Jackson.  It wasn't until I was in high school and I had regular access to the Internet that I formed my own musical taste.  I began to explore a lot of artists' discographies and fell in love with Nina Simone, Millie Jackson, Kate Bush, Dusty Springfield, Curtis Mayfield, Robyn Hitchcock, and Patti Smith.  My musical interests run the gamut.

 

So, we’ll have to do a chat sometime about how much Debbie Harry means to both of us. I am still grateful you told me about that reissue of KooKoo a year or so ago. Debbie has been one of my great influences since I was a kid and I was hoping you could chat her up a bit here before we delve into the book?

 

Debbie Harry is quite simply one of the coolest and most beautiful people in the world!  Madonna has admitted she was an influence, but no one can compete with Debbie.  When I first heard Blondie, I only knew their greatest hits, but when I began to delve into their albums, I discovered that they had explored quite a range of musical styles on their album tracks – particularly on AutoAmerican – and that intrigued me.  But, as I am wont to do, I usually end up championing the underdog albums that few people like or know about, so my favorite Blondie album is actually The Hunter, the last one they did before their reunion in the late 90s. I am also extremely fond of Debbie's solo career, in particular the Koo Koo and Rockbird albums.
 
 

 

Awesome, okay so the obvious question…why CARRIE?
 
 

 

Carrie is one of the earliest horror films I saw, and it always stayed with me, mostly because the ending terrified me, the shower scene baffled me (I was probably about five, remember), and I just really loved that 70s high school atmosphere.  But it didn't become my all-time favorite movie until I was in middle school.  I think the reason is obvious:  middle school is pretty much the worst time in the lives of most children, so I really connected with Carrie in a big way.  I've been an obsessed fan ever since, and in 2011, I decided to put my obsession to work and actually do something with all of my passion for this movie.

 

CARRIE is indeed one of the great books and films of the seventies and one of those pop-culture cornerstones that continues to resonate to this day. How did the idea for the book first come about and how did you and Lee Gambin initially hook up to write it?

 

The project started when I began chatting with Terry Bolo on Facebook.  Terry had been an extra in the movie, and she convinced me to go ahead with this book.  I now realize that I probably couldn't have finished the book if it had been up to me to locate all of the cast and crew and persuade them to do interviews, but at the time I was determined to make this work.  I started up a Facebook page to raise awareness of the book and make people excited about it, and I noticed Lee joining in on the discussion.  He sent me a private message asking if he could help out, and I was aware that he had interviewed Sissy Spacek for the then-recent issue of Fangoria.  I figured he would be a great help if I brought him on to help me write it, so I asked him if he would be interested, and he said yes.  It's really been a wonderful experience.  Lee is a great guy, and he's been invaluable to this project.  We have become really good friends even though we have never met!  It's a beautiful thing.

 

You’ve managed to interview some truly remarkable artists for this book. Tell us about some of them.

 

The first person I interviewed was Terry Bolo.  She was a background player in many well-known movies like Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Little Miss Sunshine, and she was really helpful with stories from the Carrie set.  It was a great jumping off point for me.  She put me in touch with Edie McClurg and Doug Cox.  The three of them were all original members of The Groundlings improv troupe, and they have remained friends since the 70s.  Several people from that group appear in Carrie in small roles.

 

Lee was able to get P.J. Soles involved, and she was instrumental in helping us get Nancy Allen and Piper Laurie.  Lee and I worked together to get Stephen King.  Mick Garris and Steve's lovely assistant, Marsha, had a lot to do with that.  I was able to contact Brian De Palma through a friend and spoke to him at length about the film.  That's a fantastic interview.  These are just a few of the many generous and talented people we've been in touch with.  They have all aided us in making this book the absolute best it can be.

 

Was there anyone in particular you have chatted with for the book that particularly blew your mind and is there anyone in particular you haven’t been able to interview that you had hoped to?

 

De Palma and King definitely made me sit back and go, "Whoa!"  It's really shocking to me that we have been in touch with our heroes.

 

I am not at liberty to say exactly which of the major players declined to be involved, but it's a little obvious if you look at the contributor list on our website.  We hope that these people will come around eventually, but if not, we understand.

 

After immersing yourself in CARRIE was there something surprising that came out of your research that really caught you off guard about the making of the film or the film itself?

 

Well, for one thing, I was really surprised by the number of critics and viewers who thought that Sue Snell was in on the joke.  It's pretty clear when you watch Carrie that Chris does not have Sue's allegiance anymore, yet there are people getting paid a lot of money to write about movies who are mixed up when it comes to Sue's motivations!  It's mind-boggling.

 

The other thing that surprised me most about the making of Carrie was that Brian De Palma allowed the entire cast to watch the dailies almost all the way through the shoot.  This is not at all common.  Most directors don't let the cast see the dailies, because they don't want the actors to adjust their performances.  I think De Palma sensed that allowing the cast to see the dailies every night would add to the camaraderie.  You're around the same people all the time when you're in high school, and he had to quickly bring that familiar feeling to those scenes with the students in Carrie.  Obviously, it worked!
 
 

 

I’ve never made any secret of my love for Brian De Palma. In fact if I was forced to name a favorite American director he would be my choice. What are your thoughts on his other films and what are a few favorites along with CARRIE?

 

Oh, I totally agree.  Brian De Palma is my favorite director, if only for his brilliant run of films from 1970-1984.  No one can match his stunning visual and musical sense – not even Hitchcock.  Yes, I said it.  I love Hitchcock, but I prefer De Palma's eroticism, his warmth, his humor, and his propensity for sleaze.  He's always willing to go much further than Hitchcock ever did.  Aside from Carrie, I absolutely adore Sisters, Blow Out, The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Body Double, and Phantom of the Paradise.  Of course, he has also made some great films outside of his peak period, like Casualties of War and Carlito's Way.

 

When can we expect the book and is there an official page or two fans can follow regarding its progress?

 

We aren't sure of the release date yet.  It will be out at least sometime next year, but we may have to put it out to coincide with the remake in October.  We are keeping everyone updated on our website and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

Okay, we’ve all got one…favorite CARRIE moment???

 

Do I have to pick one?  I guess if you held a gun to my head, I would pick the ending.  I have never seen a more convincing portrayal of hysteria than Amy Irving in that scene.  But I also love the famous prom sequence, as well as the volleyball scene, opening titles, and shower scene in the locker room.  Pino Donaggio's music fits so beautifully with all of these sequences.  I hope De Palma never stops working with him.

 

Thanks so much Ryan. This has been a pleasure and I really do wish you a lot of success with the book. I know it is going to be amazing and a big success!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Lost in Danielle Dax and Axel

 
Buried on a long out of print compilation entitled Comatose-Non-Reaction:  The Thwarted Pop Career of Danielle Dax lies one of the most amazing pieces of music I have ever heard.  Labeled simply as "Music from the Film Axel", this eight minute lyric-less ambient piece is quite unlike anything else the brilliant, and eternally undervalued, Danielle Dax ever recorded and it is absolutely breathtaking.  Sounding like a lost chapter to the great German electronic movement of the seventies, "Music from the Film Axel" is a reminder of the visionary power of Dax, one of the great figures of the Post-Punk movement.   


 
I have been curious to see the short film Axel that Dax supplied this remarkable piece of music to since I fell in love with it well over a decade ago so I was greatly excited to see the film recently appear as an extra on the Kino/Redemption collection Visions of Ecstasy:  The Films of Nigel Wingrove, a terrific collection built around Wingrove's once banned 1989 work that the collection takes its title from. 


 
Like Dax's extraordinary soundtrack, the dreamy Axel is a hypnotic experience that defies categorization.  Shot a year before the infamous Visions of Ecstasy, Axel is the first film in Wingrove's intriguing and peculiar career and was inspired by the final work of French Symbolist writer Auguste Villiers de l'Isle-Adam.  A much less-extreme work than his later films, the dialogue-free Axel stars Saskia Brandauer, Rubecca Mohamed and Sharon Robinson.  While gentle and restrained aren't two words typically connected to Wingrove's filmography they are two terms that can be applied to the hypnotic Axel and Dax's droning score guides the film perfectly.
 


 
Axel is an accomplished and lovely first-film and it is one of the highlights of the Visions of Ecstasy collection, a set which also includes Wingrove's Faustine, Sacred Flesh and, of course, that infamous banned 1989 feature.  Other extras include a vintage interview with Wingrove, outtakes and a featurette on Nunsploitation. 

 
It was a pleasure finally getting to see this little film that contains one of my all-time favorite soundtracks and it reminded me how much I admire and love the work of Danielle Dax.  I wish she was better-known and I wish her great back catalogue was more readily available for music-fans to discover.

 
-Jeremy Richey, 2013-
 

Friday, February 15, 2013

Watch Brandon Colvin's FRAMES at No Budge


Brandon Colvin's excellent debut feature Frames can now be viewed for free over at No Budge Films and I highly recommend it to everyone.  Some of you hopefully remember my Q&A with Brandon here awhile back and I am glad to see his film getting more attention, as it is an extremely fascinating and thought-provoking work.  So I would appreciate it if you would check out Frames, leave Brandon a tip to help out with his next film, Sabbatical, and share the link with others as well. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"Even the Devil Would be Ashamed" Victor Halperin's WHITE ZOMBIE (1932)



With its place firmly rooted in film history as one of the very first Zombie movies, 1932's White Zombie has cast a much bigger shadow than anyone would have guessed in 1932 when it failed to captivate either audiences or critics. Theatrically released by United Artists and independently financed by the director Victor Halperin's own production company, White Zombie is a flawed work marred by some poor supporting performances and, at times, a lazy script, but it survives due to its sheer audacity and verve and it remains one of the most compulsively watchable horror films of the period.





Starring the incomparable Bela Lugosi as well fascinating Madge Bellamy, White Zombie is a work steeped in strangeness and the behind the scenes stories of lost and found prints, censored versions and its inability to just fade away only adds to its allure. Creepy, atmospheric, and strangely erotic White Zombie is, despite its faults, a rather perfect opening film in what has become one of the most popular and longest running sub-genres in all of cinema.



I first saw White Zombie in my early twenties after a buddy at a record store I haunted talked my ear off about the strange power it had over him. Borrowing his copy to watch for the first time, I must admit that I had trouble seeing much beside its flaws during that first viewing. Halperin's spooky production seemed quite a weak counterpart to the Universal horror films I had seen from the period but, like my friend had warned, certain moments and images from the film kept nagging at me...images that caused me to revisit it again and again while my appreciation for Halperin's accomplishment grew more and more.



Despite its faults and missteps, White Zombie has become over the years one of my favorite films from the early thirties and I get a real kick out of seeing traces of it in the works of everyone from Lucio Fulci to Rob Zombie, who helped bring the film back to the public eye when he named his immensely popular Metal band after it.



Long a public domain staple, White Zombie has recently been reissued as a Kino Lorber Blu-ray that offers up a controversial restored print of the film and some splendid extras.  To many eyes this new restoration has simply been over digitized and just doesn't look like a 1932 film anymore while others have applauded the new clarity the film contains.  While I can see both arguments, my memories of having to sit through one horrid public domain print after another of this important film caused me to pleased, and even blown away at times, buy this new version.  The argument ultimately becomes a bit pointless when one notices that Kino have added a fine 'untouched' print as an extra which should appease the purists who object to the new restoration.  The disc also includes a commentary by Film Historian Frank Thompson, some trailers and a terrific 1932 'interview' with Lugosi.  It's a fine disc and represents the best presentation yet of this haunting and unique classic. 
                                                                    -Jeremy Richey-



Friday, February 8, 2013

Arrow Video's Radley Metzger Special Editions

 
Here are the absolutely gorgeous covers to Arrow Video's upcoming Radley Metzger Blu-ray/DVD combo Special editions.  These three releases mark the first time these Metzger masterworks have been released in the UK and they street this Monday February the 11th with these newly restored editions.  Here are the specs for each release and keep an eye out for full reviews of these discs here at Moon in the Gutter in the upcoming weeks. 
 
Camille 2000:
 
- High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD Presentation of the extended cut – available for the first time in the UK!
- Brand new high definition restoration supervised by director Radley Metzger.
- Optional English SDH subtitles.
- Audio commentary with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen.
- On the set of Camille 2000 – featuring stars Daniele Gaubert, Nino Castelnuovo and Radley Metzger.
- Sylviane’s Bare Striptease – previously cut scene from the feature.
- Cube Love Scene – A newly discovered alternate take.
- Restoration Comparison.
- Original trailers.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly illustrated artwork by The Red Dress.
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Robin Bougie.


 
The Lickerish Quartet:
- High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD Presentation
- Brand new high definition restoration supervised by director Radley Metzger – uncut and available for the first time in the UK!
- Optional English SDH subtitles.
- Audio commentary with Metzger and film historian Michael Bowen.
- The Making of The Lickerish Quartet – A behind-the-scenes look featuring rare footage of Silvana Venturelli, Paolo Turco and Radley Metzger.
- Cool Version Love Scenes – originally produced scenes where the original version too hot!
- Giving Voice to the Quartet – a look at the different audio tracks between the original location and dubbed soundtracks.
- Original trailers.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly illustrated artwork by The Red Dress.
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Robin Bougie.
 
 
Score:
 
- High Definition Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD Presentation
- Brand new high definition restoration supervised by director Radley Metzger – uncut and available for the first time in the UK!
- Optional English SDH subtitles.
- On the set of Score – a behind the scenes look at the making of Score containing rare footage of Claire Wilber, Lynn Lowry, Cal Culver, Gerald Grant and Radley Metzger.
- Keeping Score with Lynn Rowley (The Crazies, Shivers) – an interview with Score’s star.
- Original trailers.
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly illustrated artwork by The Red Dress.
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Robin Bougie.
 
The full press-release for these landmark releases can be read here
 
 

Monday, February 4, 2013

From the Journal of Hyman Mandel: Radley Metzger's THE OPENING OF MISTY BEETHOVEN (1976)


What a magnificent run it had been.  Between 1966 and 1976, New York born filmmaker Radley Metzger had delivered a series of stunning films that showed him as one of the bravest, most innovative and most vital directors on the planet.  Whether his camera was capturing the streets of New York or a European countryside, Radley Metzger proved himself as one of American Cinema’s true greats, even though his deserved place in the Golden cinematic canon has still not been granted by many film historians who have continued to either ignore his landmark work or degrade it.  



While an argument can be made as to whether The Opening of Misty Beethoven is Radley Metzger’s greatest film, it is hard to deny that this 1976 masterpiece isn't his most representative.  With The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Metzger managed to capture and combine the sensual decadence of his European lensed work of the late sixties with the witty hard eroticism of his New York based pictures of the seventies.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is the ultimate Radley Metzger film and one of the most important, and finest, English-language films of the seventies.  





While The Opening of Misty Beethoven is rightly often granted the title of the greatest adult film ever made it is also one of the warmest and wittiest.  Metzger’s modern update of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion has the exhilarating flair of a classic Lubitsch film and the cinematic bravado of a vintage Hawks.  Metzger’s razor-sharp script is packed with the kind of memorable dialogue that would have made any of the great classic American screenwriters he so admires blush with envy.  The globe-trotting The Opening of Misty Beethoven (Metzger took the production to Paris, Rome and New York) is also stylistically one of the most thrilling films of the period and Metzger’s compositional strengths teamed with Oscar winner Paul Glickman’s photography will be eye opening to even the most jaded film buff. 





The Opening of Misty Beethoven was recently unleashed on a new DVD and Blu-Ray collection by Distribpix that rivals anything Criterion has ever mounted.  Treating the film as the great work of art, and bold cinematic achievement, that it is the folks at Distribpix (led by the great Steven Morowitz) have released the best archival disc of the decade and the most important, as no other film offers up the much needed rewrite of accepted film history like The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  Distribpix’s collection offers up a sparkling and lovingly restored new remaster of Metzger’s uncut opus with hours upon hours of supplemental features including documentaries, interviews, vintage materials, outtakes, deleted scenes, audio-commentaries and, best of all, the long-rumored ‘alternate’ cut of Misty.  Lawrence Cohen writes in his beautiful liner notes, in the massive fifty-plus page book that accompanies the DVD, that watching The Opening of Misty Beethoven will make film lovers rub, “ones eyes in disbelief that a such a creation actually exists” and that pretty much sums up the feeling I get when I hold the package Distribpix has produced for us. 




Metzger admits in the enlightening audio-commentary that accompanies The Opening of Misty Beethoven that after the success of his first two “Henry Paris” productions The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann and Naked Came the Stranger that he felt like he could do anything he wanted with his newest venture and that confidence is on display throughout the film.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is the work of a master with the knowledge that he was at his peak of his powers as an artist and a filmmaker.  Film historian Benson Hurst writes in Distribpix’s booklet that The Opening of Misty Beethoven, “premiered in 1976 boasting a script, cinematography, music and acting of a caliber never seen before or since in the (adult) industry”.  This was Radley Metzger’s Magnum-Opus and I think, perhaps, the great director realized that very fact when he was making the film in the mid-seventies.  






While all of Metzger’s films are wonderful examples of true ‘director-driven’ works they all benefit greatly from Radley’s uncanny eye for casting.  The Opening of Misty Beethoven is populated by perhaps the greatest cast he ever assembled from the star making supporting turns of Gloria Leonard to Jacqueline Beudant to Ras Kean to Mary Stewart to Jenny Baxter to Terri Hall (seriously swoon) to the jaw dropping legendary lead performances by Jamie Gillis and Constance Money…every scene is just filled with some of the most beautiful, charismatic and talented performers of the period and to say they all serve the intelligence, and timing, of Metzger’s script incredibly well would be a gross understatement.  










The spirit of the late Jamie Gillis haunts every frame of The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  His award-winning turn as Dr. Seymore Love is one of the great, great creations of the seventies and stands with any ‘mainstream’ performance from 1976 you care to mention.  Gillis’ delightful work in the film is given a further heart wrenching dimension after one reads Hurst’s lovely notes about how much the film meant to the great man, which is summed up so wonderfully succiently with, “Happy times.  Happy Place.”  Hurst’s later recollection of helping put touch Jamie in touch again with his greatest leading lady Constance Money shortly before his death due to cancer in 2010 is unbelievably moving and I doubt any lover of the film, and this period, will get through this story without shedding at least a few tears.  








And what of the elusive and mysterious Susan Jensen a.k.a. Constance Money, the alluring and intoxicating disappearing-act who brought Misty Beethoven to glorious life more than thirty-five years ago?  While Distribix couldn't convince her to appear in the supplements that are on their Misty Beethoven collection, they did track her down and the documentary (and notes) on her are eye opening (I especially love when Metzger helps warmly set the record straight about her in the commentary) and the fact that she is penning a memoir is amazing news.  While she appeared in a few films after The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Money remains frozen in time due to her iconic work as Metzger’s most memorable heroine.  There is no need to say the film wouldn't have worked without Constance Money…she‘s like a collective cinematic dream as Misty Beethoven and every moment she had in front of Metzger’s camera is, for the lack of a better word, magical.





Fuelled by a tremendous ad-campaign, a grand-opening night and an audacious soundtrack (compiled by the great music director George Craig), The Opening of Misty Beethoven opened in 1976 and damn near became the crossover smash Metzger had hoped for and deserved but, at the end of the day, America (and mainstream cinema) was (and is) just too uptight to truly accept the film and it remains one of the great ‘hidden’ movies in film history, although Distribpix’s jaw-dropping collection has already started opening some eyes and changing some minds.  Time rewards great works and the time for The Opening of Misty Beethoven is NOW and Radley Metzger’s acceptance into the established cinematic canon is long OVERDUE.  




Benson Hurst writes that The Opening of Misty Beethoven left Radley Metzger absolutely exhausted and that, “the grueling months in the editing room (really) took their toll".  While he managed to direct a few more films, including the terrific final two Henry Paris films Barbara Broadcast and Maraschino Cherry, Metzger would never again be able to make a film quite as powerful and visionary as The Opening of Misty Beethoven.  With the film, he had reached the top of the mountain, took a moment to survey his great creation and then took the inevitable journey back down.  




Distribpix went to heroic lengths in restoring The Opening of Misty Beethoven and getting it, not only on a DVD set, but also Blu-ray.  While all of the extras they assembled are indeed godsends finally getting to see the alternate cut of the film (which includes a number of takes and even scenes not in the original) is particularly breathtaking.  The collection is exhaustive, lovingly assembled and it makes previous releases of the film seem absolutely quaint (although the VCA disc is worth holding onto for a commentary track with Gloria Leonard and Jamie Gillis that isn't included on the Distribpix release).  The DVD and Blu-ray set isn't the only prize available for fans of the the film as there is finally now a soundtrack (which features an astounding forty page booklet detailing Ian Culmell’s astonishing archival dedication and digging), t-shirts, posters and more.  The lucky patrons who were able to give larger amounts to the ambitious drive to get the film on Blu-Ray were even treated to additional discs of outtakes (which I oh so hope to get to see someday).  The whole package (and the passion that went into making it) is quite awe-inspiring.  



Recently Sight and Sound conducted their once every decade poll regarding the Greatest Films ever made and the results were as dull and stagnate as ever. The history of film is being turned into a tenured aging professor, at another gala honoring his past works, ignoring the students who carried on his great ideas long after he has stopped caring.  Ignore the canon, seek out the cinematic fringe dwellers and create your own greatest films list...in the words of the great Hyman Mandel, "never let the fact that they are doing it wrong stop you from doing it right."


-Jeremy Richey, 2013-