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Friday, August 29, 2008

Very Bad News

It looks like Diane Kruger has been given the part Nastassja was rumored for in Tarantino's upcoming Inglorious Bastards. I am really depressed to hear this as working with QT would have been a sharp reminder to how incredible an actress and screen presence Nastassja is. It could have introduced an entire new generation to her work. The report on Kruger's apparent casting can be read here and it is very disappointing (no offence meant to Kruger, who is a very effective actress and great beauty in her own right).

Roberta Collins: The Loss of a True American Original


Arbogast on Film as well as Jack Hill's MySpace site are both reporting the untimely death of Roberta Collins, one of the shining lights of 1970's American cinema. I absolutely adored Roberta's work and had held out hope that I might one day get to meet her as she was the last of a group of my favorite seventies Drive-In Queens (a special set that included Candice Rialson, Claudia Jennings and Rainbeaux Smith) still with us.
I've not seen this report anywhere else except the above two sites, and I am sure more information is to come. I will be posting a full tribute to Roberta and some of my favorite performances of hers this next week. My best to her friends and family...honestly it has been a pretty terrible couple of weeks for me and this news just caps it.

Finally...The Shuttered Room to hit DVD


I am thrilled to see that David Greene's haunting 1967 film The Shuttered Room starring Carol Lynley, Oliver Reed and Gig Young is going to be hitting DVD as a Best Buy Exclusive on October 7th. Outside of Richard Loncraine's Full Circle and Stuart Rosenberg's The April Fools, this is probably the film I have wanted most on a quality DVD and I can't wait to finally see it Widescreen.

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To celebrate its release here are some promo photos from it and, for those interested, my looks at the film can be found here and here.


My Blueberry Nights

Recently down in Memphis I stopped in at the fabulous Arcade Restaurant, an always tantalizing spot known as the oldest still operating restaurant in the city. Many films have shot scenes there, including Jim Jarmusch's stunning Mystery Train and the equally enthralling 21 Grams. The particular booth we sat at on this visit had a pic of Rachel Weisz hanging above it, and I was reminded I had yet to sit down and watch My Blueberry Nights from acclaimed director Wong Kar-Wai that had been shot partially at the Arcade.
I rectified that a couple of nights ago with a viewing of the American DVD of the much maligned film that was indeed shot in Memphis, as well as New York and out West. I mention that it was the American DVD because I am aware that the film went under some heavy cutting from the version that first premiered at Cannes. Whether the additional footage would help or hurt the film I can’t say, and the DVD unfortunately doesn’t offer any of the missing footage as a supplement.
My time with My Blueberry Nights was odd to say the least. First of all the film is really stunning looking…I would actually go so far as to say that it is among the most visually striking productions of the decade. It is also clearly a Wong Kar-Wai movie, as his shooting and editing style is so identifiable, even to someone like me who has unfortunately only seen a couple of films.
As I said my time with the film was strange though, as I can’t remember a production in recent memory that beguiled me so much while watching it but then slipped away from me so quickly. The film is very much like a particularly good piece of Blueberry Pie, but unfortunately a good piece of pie needs some sort of compliment and My Blueberry Nights finally doesn’t offer one. There is something positively vacant about this stunning looking film from one of the key auteurs in modern cinema.
Many people have pointed to star Norah Jones as the heart of the film’s problem, due to her inexperience as an actor. I actually didn’t have any problems with Jones, who I found perfectly suitable as the film’s mysterious and deliberately undefined main character. Does her inexperience come across? Absolutely, but it’s easy to see why Wai built his film around her…or more specifically her face, which is one of the most charismatic and memorable of the decade.
Nor did I have any problem with the rest of the film's impressive cast, which includes a slew of Oscar winners and nominees including Rachel Weisz and David Stathairn in the Memphis section, Natalie Portman in the Western part and a scraggly looking Jude Law in the New York scenes. I found Weisz and Stathairn particularly good in the film, and one particular moment between Rachel and Norah outside of the Arcade restaurant at night being quite devastating.
The real problem with the film lies in its script by Wai (his first English language attempt) and novelist Lawrence Block. The script never rises above feeling like a trio of short stories cobbled together in an attempt to make a whole and the film can’t really recover from it, no matter how delightful looking it is. I was actually reminded as I was watching it of any number of flawed Wim Wenders productions from the past decade in just how simultaneously rewarding and frustrating it is….and of course the fact that this is very much a Wenders type road movie.
A couple of days after seeing My Blueberry Nights I must admit that my initial feelings of grudging admiration have diminished. There is something finally just unsatisfying about it…pity as it is such a gorgeous work made my an obvious master.

Despite my misgivings about the film, I don’t think it’s the disaster so many critics made it out to be. It has moments of undeniable power and I will revisit it again in the future. There is one sequence in particular involving Law and a surprisingly solid and sublime Chan Marshall (from Cat Power) that almost made me forgive the film all of its failings. It’s a raw moment that exposes the hurt of failed relationships and lost dreams in a truly powerful way. I wish the rest of the film could have possessed the kind of emotion Wai found with with Law and Marshall in this moment…as it is though My Blueberry Nights is just a bit too slight. For another recent look at the film, check out J.D.'s fair and well written look at Radiator Heaven, where he has some different problems than with the film than I did, but he felt the strong Wenders vibe as well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fascination: The Jean Rollin Experience Launches

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I'm very pleased to announce that my Jean Rollin project, Fascination, has begun. I have just posted my look at his first short, 1958's Les Amours Jaunes and invite everyone interested over to check it out. I appreciate all the emails I have gotten over the past few weeks in regards to the blog and I hope it proves an enjoyable one.

Also, I am looking to build a link list of friends and fans at Fascination, so if you have a site that you would like linked there just drop me an email or leave your address in the comments section.

I have just started a second undergraduate degree program (History) so posting might be a little slow going but I promise to get through Rollin's entire career. Thanks again to everyone for the support over there and of course here at Moon in the Gutter.

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Les Amours Jaunes (1958)

Viewed fifty years after it was shot, the most remarkable thing about Jean Rollin’s first venture into filmmaking is just how much it feels like a Jean Rollin film. Entitled Les Amours Jaunes (The Yellow Lovers) shot in black and white with a voice over made up of bits of poetry and running just around ten minutes, Rollin’s first short film is an interesting little time capsule that sees him beginning to explore some of his major thematic obsessions a full decade before he will begin shooting his first feature.

Rollin recalled to interviewer Peter Blumenstock in Virgins and Vampires (a version of the same interview first appeared in Video Watchdog 31) that the film was shot near the sandy shores of Dieppe and it is indeed the many shots of the beach that will instantly signal fans that this is very much a Rollin production. Inspired by a Tristan Corbiere poem, Les Amours Jaunes is on overtly romantic and lyrical piece that is obviously the work of a first time filmmaker, but one who is already showing remarkable promise.

Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs ventured a guess in their essential Immoral Tales that Rollin might have been attracted to Corbiere’s work because of his “peculiar reputation” and “his troubled relationship with his father.” Rollin himself would recall in Virgins and Vampires that he was “very fond of him” and considered him “sort of an outsider”. The fact that Rollin would choose to align himself with someone clearly on the outside at the earliest stage of his career is of massive importance, marking Les Amours Jaunes in many ways an ideal first film for the iconic director.

Recalling how Les Amous Jaunes came to be, Tohill and Tombs note that “Rollin ‘borrowed’ an ancient 35mm camera from the newsreel company he was working for” and that he shot the film on weekends with friends. They would also note that the camera was a “Maurigraphe” and that it was “incredibly heavy, noisy and complicated”, a fact that makes the relative professionalism of Les Amours Jaunes all the more noteworthy.

Watching the film today one can detect Rollin's many influences, tracing all the way back to the work that he told Blumenstock was the first film he ever saw as a young child, "Abel Gance's Capitaine Fracasse (1942). Rollin recalled that he "remembered the storm sequence" and that it "changed (his) life forever." Later in the interview he would mention his love for serials and adventure films, citing such works as The Shadow (1940) and the Johnny Weismuller production Jungle Jim (1948)as favorites. He noted that one of his major cinematic obsessions, the beach, came directly from the love he had for these serials as a child growing up.

Set to a series of seemingly random, but striking, black and white images as well as a surprising break for the drawings of Rollin’s friend, actor Fabien Loris, Les Amours Jaunes has more in common with the short work that Polish animator Walerian Borowczyk was doing in the late fifties, rather than the French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard that one might have expected Rollin to attempt to align himself with. This was, after all, shot at the same time the New Wave was beginning to explode, but already you can feel that Rollin is distancing his art from it all in an attempt to position himself in the way that he recalled Corbiere did, as “someone between two worlds.”

According to IMDB, the small cast Rollin assembled for the film, including Dominique Vidal, Guy Huiban and Jean Denisse never appeared in front of a camera again. They were friends looking to help the budding young filmmaker out and considering that much of Les Amours Jaunes is shot in long shots it is hard for them to make much of an impact. It is indeed the beach that is the real star of Rollin’s first production, and the idea that a major talent had been announced even though it would take many years for him to get a major production off the ground.

Les Amous Jaunes can currently be seen on Disc Three of Encore's import box-set of Lips Of Blood as well as Redemption's The Nude Vampire disc. Both include a series of stills from the film as well.
Rollin would continue shooting short films throughout the early sixties, although unfortunately they are either lost or currently unavailable. Thankfully his 1965 short, Les Pays Loins (The Far Country) is in circulation and I will be posting a look at that work very soon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Mod Squad Episode #11 (“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet”)

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Scripted with a real zing by first time Mod Squad writer Jerome Ross and shot with finesse by “When Smitty Comes Marching Home” director George McCowan, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” is a splendid addition to Season One of 1968’s most progressive series.

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Centering on a serial killer targeting young and blond actresses in Hollywood, Episode 11 of The Mod Squad premiered just a week before Christmas in 68 and it stands as one of the best episodes of the year for the young show. Co-starring future Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark, Richard Evans and character actor William Smithers, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” is an inventive ride that stands as probably one of the first hour long dramas focusing on a clear ritualistic serial killer in television history, a fact that alone makes it one of the most important hours in The Mod Squad’s history.

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Watching “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” today makes one wish that McCowan would have helmed even more episodes of the series, as his direction has a very cinematic quality about it and is more than a step above the average work other television directors were doing at the time. With a terrific sense of pacing and a real flair for intense action sequences, McCowan would continue to prove a real force throughout the seventies on such iconic shows as Starsky and Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. His best television work remains arguably on The Mod Squad though and his power behind the camera is well on display in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet”.

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One of the most refreshing things about the episode is its willingness to poke fun at actors, the movie and the television business in general. From a sleazy talk show host to pretentious actors in class, Ross’ script has a real knowing and sharp satirical quality about it. Far from being just an hour about a crazed murderer on the loose, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” focuses on both the ridiculous and sublime forces that go into making a television program in 1968 and its still as refreshing as ever.

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Van Ark is fine as the young protégé with the delightful name April Showers (a tag that I’m surprised some enterprising adult star hasn’t snagged) as is the always-reliable Smithers. Keep an eye out for prolific veteran actress Virgina Gregg as well as a few other familiar faces along the way.

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The hour belongs though to Peggy Lipton, who she really shines in the episode and gives one of her best performances of Season One. Projecting a simultaneous toughness with a sharp and rather heartbreaking vulnerable streak, Lipton is simply superb in the episode and it is surprising it took the Emmys until Season Two to grant her fine work as Julie a nomination.

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“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Starlet” almost has a Giallo quality about it with the fetishistic type murders, groovy fashions and red herrings. It’s a tight, nicely played out mystery that’s a real treat for fans of The Mod Squad as well as fans of sixties television in general.

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More info, as well as some audio clips from the particularly groovy score, can be found here.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Images From My All Time Favorite Films: Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979)

Recently I was honored to be named as one of the influences on a new series at Ed Howard's fantastic Only The Cinema blog. Introducing the series, Ed pointed out that he doesn't spend a lot of time necessarily writing about his favorite films, and I was reminded me that I often overlook many of my personal top picks here as well.
The reason for these exclusions is simple for me, as I would much rather write about a more obscure work that hasn't been written on endlessly rather than something like The Godfather that has already been covered in every possible way. I've battled a bit with myself here before on this because this does cause me to leave out many of my favorite filmmakers and films simply because I don't feel like I have a lot to bring to the table in regards to them.
To rectify this a bit I thought of this new series that will operate like my Images from the Greatest Films of the Decade where each week or so I will pick a classic work that happens to be among my favorite films and present ten screenshots from it. I'm actually pretty excited about it because it will give me the opportunity to salute classic, and usually much discussed, films without rehashing thoughts that have been said a million times over by much better writers than myself.
This of course doesn't mean that my selections don't deserve more writing on them...not at just means that I don't feel I am the person to do it. For whatever reason, I only feel like my writing is at all successful when I am able to write on something a little left of center which is of course a failing on my part, but one that I can admit.
I hope the series proves enjoyable and that some of Moon in the Gutter's readers might share some of my favorites as well. These won't be in any kind of order, and they will just reflect my moods each week. Here's my first pick from someone who will always be one of my favorite filmmakers:

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Manhattan 2

Manhattan 4

Manhattan 5

Manhattan 6

Manhattan 7

Manhattan 8

Manhattan 9

Manhattan 10

Manhattan 11