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Saturday, February 28, 2009

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 29) Philippe Garrel's Les Hautes Solitudes (1974)

Three Faces:


Tina Aumont:

Jean Seberg:

Eighty minutes of Total Silence.

Director Philippe Garrel had originally intended to add sound to the film, until Jean Seberg said she thought the silence suited it...

Friday, February 27, 2009

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 27) Jonathan Demme's Last Embrace (1979)

Of the handful of Jonathan Demme films sadly not available on DVD, none are in more need of a release than his terrific 1979 thriller Last Embrace. I just recently got to see the film, and was really impressed by it and found everything from Demme’s controlled and inventive direction to Roy Scheider’s near career best performance to be just revelatory. Featuring the beautiful color photography of Tak Fujimoto and an evocative score by Miklos Rozsa, Last Embrace is yet another one of those masterful lost seventies classics that is deserving of a much wider audience than it has ever been granted.

Since I just finally got the opportunity to watch this film for the first time, I will not attempt any sort of real post. Consider these posters and lobby cards just a reminder that a Region 1 DVD is really needed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 25) Homeboy (1988)

One of the most fascinating chapters of Mickey Rourke’s career is the little seen 1988 drama Homeboy, a film directed by Michael Seresin and written by Rourke himself under the alias of Sir Eddie Cook. The film, seeming like a prelude to Rourke’s celebrated work as The Wrestler twenty years later, has always been deserving of a larger audience and a DVD is long overdue.
Centering on the struggles of an aging boxer named Johnny Walker, Homeboy is less a typical sports film and is more than anything else an intensive character study of a guy just past his prime. While the film does feature some incredible fight sequences, the heart of the work comes with Rourke’s largely silent and haunting performance, one that stands among his greatest.
Homeboy remains the only directorial credit for New Zealand born Cinematographer Seresin. Known for photographing films as diverse as Adrien Lyne’s stunning Foxes (1980) and Alfonso Cuaron’s terrific Harry Potter chapter, Seresin first met Rourke when he provided the moody cinematography to Alan Parker’s Angel Heart in 1987. While there has been some controversy concerning Seresin’s work on Homeboy, the film is in fact a very successful first feature.
Shot mostly in and around New Jersey’s Asbury Park, Homeboy is quite a fascinating little film that is most noteworthy for Rourke’s insightful script that really succeeds as an intelligent and probing character study. Rourke’s script is especially intriguing in the way that it approaches the relationship between Walker and the character of small time thief Wesley Pendergrass, played with a ferocious freshness by Christopher Walken. There are many instances where the film looks like it might steer straight into cliché but it turns the opposite corner each time, a fact that makes it one of the most refreshing ‘boxing’ films ever shot.

Becoming more and more disillusioned with Hollywood by the time he shot Homeboy, Rourke was at this point clearly trying to surround himself with people he trusted. He had been friends with Walken since their days at the Actors Studio in the seventies (plus they had both appeared in Cimino’s masterful Heaven’s Gate eight years before) and Homeboy’s romantic interest is played by none other than Rourke’s wife at the time, talented Debra Feuer who does the best screen work of her career here. There is something extremely knowing and incredibly honest about Homeboy, and I suspect that it’s failure to find an audience back in 1988 hurt Mickey Rourke as much anything else had in his career up to that point.
Featuring a lovely score courtesy of Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen (the soundtrack is a real winner) Homeboy is such a genuine film that it is easy to look past some of its faults. Overlong and not paced very well, the film could have benefited from some tightening. Despite some minor issues though, Homeboy stands as one of the best films from one of American films worst periods.
Homeboy never got a proper theatrical release. After playing in Europe for a brief period in late 1988, it was dumped unceremoniously on VHS in 1989. Barely getting any critical or popular attention at all, Mickey Rourke’s most personal project up to that point was barely seen and it's currently only avalaible in Europe, on a full frame DVD that is just barely an improvement on the original VHS.

Mickey Rourke has written two other films as Sir Eddie Cook, but neither F.T.W. (1994) nor Bullet (1996) contain the emotional impact that Homeboy does. Homeboy, despite being a great film in its own right, can now be viewed as a fascinating warm-up for The Wrestler, a film that it has a lot in common with. Perhaps a decent DVD will eventually appear, as both the film and Mickey Rourke deserve it.

***For more on Mickey and Homeboy please visit my friend LaShane's site, Mickey Rourke Walls***

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jean Rollin: The Grapes of Death Lobby Cards

A collage of lobby cards used for The Grapes of Death.

Jean Rollin Trailers: The Grapes of Death

Here is the German dubbed trailer for The Grapes of Death.

Jean Rollin Home Video Designs: The Grapes of Death

Here are some of the many home video designs that have been used for The Grapes of Death over the years.

Jean Rollin Posters: The Grapes of Death

Here are two very different poster designs for The Grapes of Death.

Jean Rollin Trailers: The Grapes of Death

Here is the original French trailer for The Grapes of Death (1978).

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 24) Dario Argento's Le Cinque Giornate (1973)

With the recent releases of Door Into Darkness and Four Flies on Grey Velvet, the filmography of Dario Argento is almost completely represented on Region 1 DVD. The one holdout remains Argento’s most peculiar production, 1973’ Le Cinque Giornate.
Known as The Five Days of Milan, Argento’s odd political comedy was made as a response to the failure of both Cat O Nine Tails and Four Flies on Grey Velvet to live up artistically to his stunning 1969 debut, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Argento was also fearful of being pigeonholed in the Giallo genre, and a complete change of pace seemed the best way to go for the 33 year old writer and director.
Based on a story by Argento and Luigi Cozzi, The Five Days of Milan was shot in and around Rome and Milan in the middle part of 1973. Alan Jones reports in his wonderful Profondo Argento that the film was supposed to have been shot earlier with Veruschka as the female lead, but scheduling conflicts made that impossible. It worked out in the film’s favor though as Marilu Tolo, Argento’s girlfriend at the time, turned out to be one of the film’s chief pleasures. Joining Tolo in the cast is Italian singer Adriano Celentano and Enzo Cerusico, neither whom impress much here.
The Five Days of Milan is a bit of a mess and is easily the worst production Argento mounted in the seventies, but its ambition and the fact that it represented such a major change for the director mark it as a noteworthy production. It’s a nice looking film as well thanks to the costuming of Elena Manninni and the cinematography of Luigi Kuveiller, who shot the stunning Paul Morrissey/Antonio Margheriti directed Flesh For Frankenstein the same year.
Argento himself summed up the film’s biggest problems to Jones when he said, “I wasn’t certain I was ready for an historical comedy”, and that shows as the work suffers from the most unconfident direction Argento has ever lent to a film. It never gels and it just feels slightly vacant. Argento’s memory of it as, “a strangely awkward little film” is about the most dead on critical response I can imagine.
While it fails as both a response to the Paris student riots of 1968 and as a return to the work Argento had done of Sergio Leone’s masterful Once Upon a Time in the West, The Five Days of Milan is worth at least a look for fans of Argento and Italian Cinema in general. It might very well be the most Italian specific film Argento ever shot, a fact that makes its unavailability to English language terroties perhaps a bit more understandable.
The Five Days of Milan failed to captivate either critics or audiences when it premiered in Italy just before Christmas of 1973. Argento realized he had made a mistake and perhaps The Five Days of Milan’s greatest legacy is that its failure would inspire one of Argento’s most important productions Deep Red, a flat out masterpiece.
The Five Days of Milan is clearly the, “abberation in Argento’s genre career”, that Alan Jones called it, but it’s deserving of a DVD release so English language viewers can make up their own mind about it. Currently only available in Europe, The Five Days of Milan is now the one empty space in many of our Argento collections.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Hidden Cinema of Jean Rollin: Phantasmes (1975)

Between the years 1975 and 1979, Jean Rollin shot around ten adult films for mostly financial reasons. The commercial failure of both The Iron Rose and Lips of Blood had left Rollin with little choice in the matter, and he has all but dismissed these films that were shot under the pseudonyms of Michel Gentil and Robert Xavier. However, for completeness sake I will be dedicating posts to the few that I have acquired for my collection. For these films, Rollin only signed his name to one and it remains one of the most interesting 'lost' films in his canon.

Rollin recalled to Peter Blumenstock in the pages of European Trash Cinema that he chose to sign his name to 1975's Phantasmes (The Seduction of Amy) for the simple reason that "what (he) did in the film (he) really liked." The film, while never really coming together as a successful work, is an interesting picture that is clearly the work of Jean Rollin. Everything from the abandoned castle to the lighting scheme will alert viewers that this is indeed a Rollin film, something that his other adult features for the most part cannot claim.

The plot of Phantasmes concerns a seemingly innocent widower who it turns out is related to the Marquis De Sade (and possibly the devil himself) and is collecting young female prisoners in search of a one true eternal love. Rollin admitted in Virgins and Vampires that, "the story of a cursed Satan forced to kill the women he loves should have deserved a better fate", than Phantasmes and he's correct as the film is more frustrating than anything else. Still, there are moments in its slim running time that are really striking with a special note going to the final sequence on a sand covered hill that recalls Antonioni's masterful Zabriskie Point from just a few years earlier.

Rollin has said of Phantasmes that it was his, "first and final attempt at a serious", adult film but that viewers finally just, "walked out." Despite its limitations as a successful film, there is something quite admirable about what Rollin is trying to achieve with Phantasmes. Not content with just delivering a purely profit motivated production, Rollin creates a film that is for very brief stretches quite riveting and distinctive.

Wanting to create an adult work that didn't just, "poke fun at sex" Rollin did the best he could with Phantasmes before it was taken away from him by producers just looking to make a profit. Rollin told Blumenstock that for the most part the film was, "not really my work" and that he could only take credit for, "30 minutes or so." The scenes in the film that are clearly Rollin's are unmistakable, and a decent copy of the film would be a most welcome event for fans of the great director's iconic filmography.

The cast includes the legendary Castel Twins, with their entrance in the second half providing an instant clue that this is a Jean Rollin film. Jess Franco star Monica Swinn is also featured and Rollin himself makes a cameo at the beginning of the picture. The rest of the cast is mostly made up of actors from various French adult films of the seventies, although the film's star Mylène d'Antes (whose quite good here) can be seen in both Grapes of Death and Fascination.

The score, credited to Lips of Blood composer Didier William Lepauw is actually fairly exciting and is one of the films best attributes. Parts of the film's score were apparently later changed for the American version, which is also missing around ten minutes of footage. The film's very Rollinesque cinematography is credited to an 'Allinh', who is in reality French photographer Charlet Recors.

Phantasmes is far from being an essential Jean Rollin film, but it is far and away the most interesting 'hard' work that he had to make in this period. A good quality copy would be most welcome.

Thanks Everyone

I just wanted to take a moment and thank everyone who has sent their links these past few weeks paying tribute to their favorite missing in action films on DVD. I've been really blown away by the response, and it's been terrific seeing all the various choices. I'm going to keep on rocking the rest of the month with them, so keep sending me links if you get more posted. Also, if I have missed any links, let me know and I will get it on the list. Thanks again everyone...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

M.I.A. on Region 1 DVD Tribute Month (Film 22) Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise (1931)

The amount of Classic Hollywood films currently missing in action on DVD is absolutely appalling. The amount is so massive that an entire blog could be built around the subject, and it could be updated on a daily basis for many years. I didn't want to let the month go by without at least mentioning one vintage favorite I would like to see on DVD. Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise might seem an odd choice, and I suppose it is, but it's a personal favorite. Every film Greta Garbo ever appeared in should be readily available on DVD for generation after generation to see. Sadly, only a handful are currently on the market. Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise isn't one of her greatest films, but it is one of her most interesting and her work opposite Clark Gable is the stuff of legend.

The Cinema of Jean Rollin: Levres de Sang (Lips of Blood) 1975

Had a key financial backer not dropped out just a week before shooting commenced, Levres de Sang (Lips of Blood) might have turned out to be Jean Rollin’s greatest film. Forced to eliminate sections of the script, as well as losing an entire week of shooting time, Rollin still managed to deliver one of his most haunting works and it stands today as one of his key films.

The seeds of Lips of Blood came in 1975 when Rollin met a supportive producer named Jean-Marc Ghanassia. Cathal Tohill and Pete Tombs recalled in Immoral Tales that Ghanassia had, “seen and admired several of Rollin’s earlier films”, and that he wanted to finance the director’s next picture and give him much needed complete artistic control. It was just the kind of vote of confidence Rollin needed, and he set out to write a script that would act simultaneously as a summing up of his career so far, as well as a bold new chapter.

Rollin himself called Lips of Blood his, “best story”, in Virgins and Vampires and even in its compromised form this is still the case. Telling the tale of a man haunted by a meeting with a mysterious young woman as a youth, Lips of Blood is a remarkable work that delicately weaves memory, regret and loss in the way that only Jean Rollin in his prime could have.

The production was a troubled one from the get-go. Rollin wrote that after one of the producer’s dropped out that, “entire scenes were axed”, and that, “three scenes were replaced with a long off-screen explanation by the (character of) mother”. Hit with torrents of rain while shooting, the filming was hard on Rollin, his crew and his cast and at one point the director remembered that even his assistant admitted that the film would turn out to be, “an incoherent mess.”

Lips of Blood remarkably isn’t a mess though. It’s a flawed work that could have been much more but there is so much to admire that its mistakes are easy to forgive. Featuring one of the best casts he ever worked with (including a mixture of new and old players from Rollin’s canon) and the beautiful photography of future Cinema du Look icon, Jean-Francoise Robin, Lips of Blood is a disarming little film that captures the aura of childhood memories quite unlike any other.

Key to the casting are the solid two lead players, Jean-Loup Philippe and Annie Belle (billed here as Annie Briand) but the supporting players handle themselves nicely as well. This is especially true of frequent Rollin collaborator Nathalie Perrey, who delivers a haunting turn as the Philippe’s mother with a secret to hold onto. Rollin favorites The Castel Twins are thankfully on hand as well, and their death scene proves to be one of the most memorable moments in Rollin’s entire filmography. Lips of Blood also features several actresses who would become stars of France’s adult cinema shortly after, including Martine Grimaud, Claudine Beccarie and Sylvia Bourdon.

Despite the hardships of shooting the film (Rollin himself was nearly drowned at the beach of Dieppe but was thankfully saved by Philippe) Jean Rollin remembered that the locations were some of his favorites he had ever used. He wrote in Virgins and Vampires that the locations, “were breathtaking”, with specific favorites being, “the ruins of the Chateau Gaillard…the decimated old Belleville with its empty streets and boarded up house”, and especially, “the aquarium at the Trocadero”, a location Rollin remembered as being a, “childhood favorite.”

Featuring images that for Rollin meant his, “ideal vision of cinema”, Lips of Blood manages to recall both the vampirism that was so important to his older films as well as the eerie poetic feel of a work like The Iron Rose. In doing so, it operates as one of the ultimate Jean Rollin films and it’s hard to imagine any fans of the director’s oeuvre not being sucked completely in.

Much of Lips of Blood's power can be attributed to the young Jean-Francoise Robin whom Rollin said of in Encore’s Lips of Blood booklet was, “very efficient in crisis.” Robin’s commanding lighting and photography give the film a fittingly magical and stately look. The scenes especially of Philippe’s childhood memory between Annie Belle and himself (played by Rollin’s own son, Serge) are extremely compelling and one can see the beginnings of the look Robin would perfect less than a decade later on Jean-Jacques Beineix’s stunning Diva.

Lips of Blood does slip occasionally during its running time due mostly to the financial pressures Rollin was facing. A few scenes play out too long and the work as a whole has a slightly unbalanced feel about it. Wheras Rollin’s most masterful films are deliberately slow and hypnotic, Lips of Blood is at times slow and plodding. The score, credited to relative novice Didier William Lepauw, is also not as strong as what Rollin fans are used to, although it is serviceable.

The film was released in Paris in the early summer of 1975 and, despite getting some critical kudos, was a real commercial disaster. French film fans were turning out in droves for the soft and hard erotic films that were populating theaters, and they had little time for such a subtle and haunting work based on childhood nostalgia and memory.

A financially strapped Jean-Marc Ghanassia asked if Rollin could make any commercial concessions to help the film turn a profit and Rollin shot, “two long X scenes” in, “acknowledgement of the confidence”, the young producer had shown him. The later release of this version, known as Suck Me Vampire, was a sad end for such a daring and genuine art film. Rollin himself would call it, “the end of Rollinian vampires…”

Lips of Blood has been released several times on DVD, most recently on a very nice special edition from Redemption. Encore’s beautiful box set is the most controversial of all their releases as it is slightly overly cropped. However the extras are just splendid and they include the beautiful booklet, a partial commentary from Rollin, the short film Les Amours Jaunes, a slideshow, and best of all interviews with Philippe, Perrey, Cathy Castel, Serge and Jean Rollin. It’s a beautiful three-disc set that, minor framing issues aside, is a real winner.

Lips of Blood is one of Jean Rollin’s most beautiful works and, even though it is finally a bit compromised, it contains some of the greatest moments in his iconic canon. It would sadly mark the end of an era for Rollin though, and it would take him another three years before delivering his next proper film, the bloody and quite audacious fan favorite Grapes of Death.

Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.