Monday, March 30, 2009

Images From My All Time Favorite Films: Bo Arne Vibenius' Thriller: A Cruel Picture (They Call Her One Eye) 1974

Depressed and disappointed are the two words that describe my spirits right now. One of the main things causing these two feelings is the fact that I am going to have to miss Christina Lindberg's appearance at the Cinema Wasteland Convention this weekend. Last year when it was announced I promised myself I wouldn't miss it, but luck just hasn't been with me as of late and circumstances have made it an impossibility. Anyone who might be going who would want to become one of my instant best friends for life can hook me up with an autographed photo (by the way I am not joking, please spot a brother a picture) if they have it in their hearts.
To celebrate a historic appearance I must miss here is a tribute to Christina's most legendary film. Ingmar Bergman's one time assistant director Bo Arne Vibenius' Thriller - en grym film is still quite unlike any film ever made. Part hard exploitation film, part art-film and all around unique, Vibenius' film is one strange and disturbing experience. It's also totally unforgettable and much of this is due to Christina Lindberg's mesmerizing turn as One-Eye, surely one of the most iconic performances in all of modern cinema. Enjoy the stills and, once again, brighten a blogger's day next week with an inscribed photo from the unmatchable Lindberg.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Melody Nelson Finally Lands in the States

Just a quick note to let everyone know that Serge Gainsbourg's 1971 masterpiece Histoire De Melody Nelson has finally been granted a United States release courtesy of Light in the Attic Records. This mesmerizing collaboration with arranger Jean-Claude Vannier and muse Jane Birkin is one of my top ten albums of all time and all the superlatives that have been thrown at it (monumental, mind-blowing etc) don't even come close to doing it justice. It's jaw-dropping and I am thrilled it is finally getting a proper release in the states. Click here for information on this important reissue.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Somewhere in the man, there is still a key unturned."

***Due to recent physical problems I am still unable to write for the time being. It seemed a good time to post a couple of things that I wrote for some other sites that hadn't appeared here yet. This piece originally appeared at The Amplifier last year.***

Sometime during the recording of the legendary Smile album, Beach Boy Brian Wilson took a break from the studio and stepped out to see an afternoon movie at a local Los Angeles theater. It was just around Halloween of 1966, and the fractured Wilson was entering into one of the most confused and traumatizing periods of his life, when he sat down to catch what he hoped would be a film to take his mind off the pressures that were pulverizing him emotionally on a daily basis.

The film Brian Wilson saw that day in a relatively empty theater was a critically and commercially unsuccessful work starring Rock Hudson and directed by John Frankenheimer called Seconds. Rather than providing Wilson with the escapism he craved, Frankenheimer’s film disturbed him greatly and within weeks the Smile sessions were cancelled and Wilson slipped deep into a state of schizophrenia and harrowing paranoia. He reportedly wouldn’t be able to go see another movie for another fifteen years.

While it has undergone a critical reevaluation in the past decade or so, John Frankenheimer’s Seconds has still never gotten the amount of acclaim it deserves. Shot just a few years after his legendary The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Seconds is one of the key works of the sixties... a harrowing and poignant look at a man offered a second chance only to find out that he ultimately doesn't want it.

Adapted from a novel by David Ely and financed by Paramount Pictures, Frankenheimer’s Seconds is one of the most resonate and expressionistic works of his career. Shot with some of the most oppressive Black and White photography imaginable (by influential cinematographer James Wong Howe), Seconds is an unnerving American Art Film that has much more in common with many of the demanding European productions that were coming out of the mid sixties rather than much of the traditional major studio rubbish it was forced to play against.

The storyline for Seconds sounds like a routine Science Fiction thriller. An aging and unhappy businessman named Arthur Hamilton (played by the extraordinary character actor John Randolph) is approached one day by a man who claims to be a friend of friend who died a year or so before. The mysterious man puts Hamilton in contact with a rather sinister operation that promises him a whole new life if he agrees to let go of his old one... a new young body, a new face, a new name, a new career, a new beginning. Hamilton agrees and he is reconstructed into young up and coming painter Tony Wilson. Hamilton soon finds out though that there are serious consequences in what he has agreed to, and his fresh new life starts to slide into a harrowing slipstream of isolation, paranoia and sadness.

Watching the very experimental and overwhelmingly dark Seconds today, one has to be surprised that it was indeed funded by a major studio. Paramount had agreed to the production on one condition, namely that Frankenheimer allow mega-star Rock Hudson to play the key role of the tormented Tony Wilson. Frankenheimer initially balked but soon discovered Hudson to the ideal choice, as it became apparent that the actor was in the midst of his most extraordinary performance... a weary and tragic turn that feels more and more brilliant and masterful with every passing year.

The eternally undervalued Rock Hudson was still considered one of the biggest box office stars in the world in 1966. While his career had slipped slightly in the mid sixties, Seconds was still an incredibly brave, and some considered baffling, role for the one time matinee idol to take. Gone was the confidence and sexual swagger that had occupied many of his earlier romantic performances, and in its place was a damaged man... a man given a total second chance, but one who can’t for the life of him figure out what to do with it.

Working from a script by future Oscar nominee Lewis John Carlino, Frankenheimer and crew shot the film with very little interference from Paramount in the early part of 1966 in various New York and California locations. Joining Frankenheimer behind the camera were many of his regular collaborators including editor Ferris Webster, co-producer Edward Lewis and award winning composer Jerry Goldsmith (who contributes one of his simultaneously lovely and most menacing scores). Hudson would be joined on-screen by a cast made up of several notable character actors as well as Salome Jens as his tragic love interest.

Frankenheimer delivered Seconds to Paramount in mid 66 rightly confident that he made something spectacularly different and downright masterful. The heads of Paramount were horrified though by the paranoid thriller with its ominous score, unrecognizable leading man, tilted angles, distorted shots, and considered shelving it. Realizing that wasn’t an option after the money they had invested, they oversaw the cutting of over seven minutes out of the film (including what would have been some trailblazing nude scenes) and released it in October of 66 with as little promotion as possible.

The film was slammed by the critics who bothered reviewing it that Halloween season and few filmgoers turned out for it. Ironically the best performance of his life would become his biggest bomb and Rock Hudson’s career tragically never recovered. Watching Seconds today, it is clear that Rock Hudson was never given his due as an actor as he shows a shockingly wide range in his portrayal of the lost Tony Wilson. It remains one of the key performances in an often overlooked and fascinating career.

Frankenheimer was already totally invested in his next production, Grand Prix (1966), when Seconds came and vanished so quickly that fall. It would creep its way around Europe in 1967 and that’s where the rumblings began that there was something indeed very special about this strange and haunting film from one of America’s key post-war filmmakers.

Out of circulation for years, by the early nineties more and more people began to talk and wonder about the seemingly lost Seconds. Finally Paramount answered many prayers in the mid nineties and re-released the film to handful of theaters before it finally landed on home video shortly after. Quickly becoming a critical darling and a genuine cult film, Seconds became a hit of sorts nearly thirty years after its failed initial release.
Today the film, which can be found uncut on a special edition DVD with a terrific commentary from the late and much missed Frankenheimer, still has its fair share of critics but for the most part it has finally began to attain the classic status it deserved all those many years ago.

Seconds remains one of the most powerful, paranoid and downbeat American Science Fiction films in history, as well as one of the key works from one of our most important filmmakers. Its unsettling portrayal of a man very much lost in a life that he thought he wanted feels today less like a product of its time, and more like an eerie premonition of things to come.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Note From an Ailing Blogger

Greetings all. I know some of you have noticed that I haven't been doing a lot of actual writing as of late. I wanted to let everyone know that I am not suffering from any sort of blogging burn-out, and that I will be rocking again soon. Last year, I had a pretty bad fall and the physical repercussions of it have just recently started to really appear. I have been experiencing some annoying pain in my leg since the fall but in the last couple of months it has become constant and unbearable. It's at it worst when I am sitting, so hence less writing. I am on the road to recovery though and I am looking forward to really writing again in the next few weeks or so. Until then, posts will probably continue to be of a more visual nature (those are fun, quick and hopefully still interesting). Please forgive me if I am more lax than usual in replying to comments and emails. I will do the best I can do, just bear with me. Thanks everyone for the continuing always means a lot.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Warner Archive

A kind reader has notified that Warner Brothers has an online site where they are selling many exclusive to the shop DVD titles. There are many hard to find jewels here including many vintage classics (Garbo!) as well as some I have written on here before including Paul Simon's wonderful One Trick Pony, and the Amy Irving film Voices. There are a 148 titles in all right now and they go for 19.99 apiece. Frustratingly the site doesn't offer too many specifics about the discs (although there is an option where a clip can be viewed to judge the quality) but many of the titles are really essential under the radar films. If anyone has ordered any of these, comments on the quality and so forth would be appreciated.

The site is very exciting and I wish more companies would open up their catalogues like this.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Great Performances: Natasha Richardson in Patty Hearst

I must admit that I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach yesterday after work when I heard how serious Natasha Richardson's condition had become. Last night I watched and read in horror as the reports came in concerning her, and I felt such a deep sadness for her and her family. I've not seen all of Richardson's work, but I always had a great respect and admiration for her. She, nor her sister, never had it is easy career wise as the daughter's of one of cinema's great actors but both managed to rise above the impossible with always intriguing and commanding work.
For my own little tribute to Natasha I wanted to offer up ten stills of her in Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst in place of my usual weekly series focusing on the decade's greatest films. I have written on Schrader's film here before so I won't say much more except to mention that Natasha's work in it had a profound effect on me as a teenager and it continues to resonate. Her work in the film is riveting, terrifying, touching and most of all very's one of the performances in cinema that I admire the most.
I am very saddened by the tragic death of this young and gifted actress, and I really grieve for her and her family today. These stills from Patty Hearst are taken from the original VHS copy that I purchased soon after the film hit home video almost twenty years ago. It was one of those rare life altering performances for me...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Two I'm Looking Forward To

With everyone abuzz about long awaited upcoming archival releases from the likes of Resnais, Godard, Bergman, Antonioni and so on I thought I would offer up a couple of other discs coming this year that I am excited about.
First up we have Hugh Hudson's Revolution, his disastrous 1985 bomb which did no favors for its stars Al Pacino, Nastassja Kinski and Donald Sutherland. I've been reading about Pacino and Hudson's desire to revisit the film for years, so I am very intrigued by late May's release of Revolution: Revisited. Outside of being a new cut of the much maligned film, the disc also includes a conversation with Pacino and Hudson.
If the original theatrical version of Revolution deserved all the heat it took, then it can be said that John Boorman's beautiful Beyond Rangoon (1995) didn't deserve to be as ignored as much as it was. Boorman's terrific and moving film starring the always fascinating Patricia Arquette (an actress I should celebrate more here) has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it in its brief theatrical run nearly fifteen years ago. I'm glad that I will finally be able to pitch my old laserdisc dub of the film, and I am greatly anticipating this disc, which sadly only features a featurette as an extra.