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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

First-Time Viewings (June and July, 2012)

First-Time Viewings (June and July 2012)


10 to Midnight **1/2
After the Ball (Short) ***
Biggie & Tupac ****
Boy Did I Get the Wrong Number ***
Camille (2008) *
Carbosse (Short) ***
Cemetery Junction ****
Copyright Criminals ****
Decision '80 (Short) ****1/2
Gunnin for the #1 Spot ****1/2
Hold My Scissors (Short) ***
It Came from Kuchar ****1/2
It's Kind of a Funny Story **
La residencia ****
Let Me Die a Woman ***
lot 63, grave c (Short) ****1/2
Made for Television (Short) ****
Phillip the Fossil
Pictures From Life's Other Side ***1/2
Punk Britannia ****1/2
Response de femmes (Short) *****
Superstar in a Housedress *****
Synth Britannia ***1/2
Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines ***1/2
The Adjustment Bureau **1/2
The Devil's Rock ***
The Extraordinary Voyage *****
The Fear (Short) ***
The Flesh & Blood Show ***1/2
The Gods of Times Square ****
The Hitch-Hiker (1953) ****
The Sun (Short) ***
The Virgin Sacrifice (Short) ****
The White Mountain Abduction (Short) ****
The Woman ****
Tiny Furniture ****1/2
Twisted Path of Love ***1/2
Valhalla Rising ***
Wheedle's Groove ****1/2
You've Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know (Short) ****

2012 Films:

After the Triumph of Your Birth ****1/2
Damsels in Distress ****1/2
Five-Year Engagement **1/2
Magic Mike ****1/2
Moonrise Kingdom *****
Prometheus ****1/2
Savages ***
Ted ****1/2
The Dark Knight Rises ****

That's My Boy 1/2*

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Another Moon in the Gutter Q+A with Writer and Director Daniel Bird

***One of the absolute highlights of Moon in the Gutter's now five year plus existence was this long interview I conducted with the great Daniel Bird, one of the most important film historians and writers on the planet. Daniel stays incredibly busy so I was thrilled when he agreed recently to do a follow-up chat to discuss some of his more recent endeavours. Daniel is a real inspiration and I really appreciate him taking some more time out of his schedule for another interview here. Enjoy and comments are always welcome.***

Hey Daniel, thanks so much for stopping by Moon in the Gutter again for a talk. You have been involved with so many great projects since our first discussion so I am thrilled to do a follow-up. Since our last talk centered so much on Andrzej Żuławski let’s start there again. How did the recent American Żuławski film retrospective go that you were involved with?

I helped out with a few things but other than that I wasn't involved in the retrospective, nor did I attend. From what I can gather from the web it was a big success. For years the major stumbling block was the lack of English subtitled 35mm prints. However, in recent years the situation has started to change. A few years ago a new print of On the Silver Globe was struck, Bleeding Light Film Group has been touring a new print of Possession, Poland's National Film Archive has made a new print of The Third Part of the Night and in France they have just struck a new print of The Most Important Thing Is To Love. Also, Mondo Vision's DVD releases have done a lot to stimulate interest in Żuławski's films. The organizers at BAM and Cinefamily, not to mention the Polish Cultural Institute, did an incredible job - this was no easy task, I can assure you. The only thing I found disappointing was how the 'whacky' aspect of Żuławski's films was played up in both the promotion and the reviews. It's too easy to get caught up characterizing the so-called 'excess'. To describe Żuławski's films as 'hysterical' is just as banal and pointless as claiming Bresson's films are 'stiff'. Yes, they are. But... Of course, Bresson's restraint is only the preamble to something else - Jansenism... spirituality... whatever. Similarly, Żuławski's 'excess' is just the tip of an iceberg. There was one tweet, I think it was a guy from Fangoria, who wrote something along the lines of 'The Devil is an intense political allegory. I don't understand 1960s Polish politics, but I will'.

Can you discuss the political context of The Devil a bit for us?

In 1956, Władysław Gomułka was elected first secretary of the Polish Communist Party. However, he did not have the approval of Nikita Khrushchev in Russia. Khrushchev flew to Warsaw, Gomułka pledged his allegiance to Russia - both didn’t want a situation like in Hungary the same year: an uprising against Soviet-imposed policies. Under Gomułka, Socialist Realism (which had been in the Soviet Union since 1934, it only existed in Poland for six years from 1949 - 55) in the arts was dispensed with. Consequently, there was a mini-Renaissance in the Polish arts - posters, the Polish School in cinema, the ‘black’ documentaries, the animations of Borowczyk and Lenica, Polański’s student films at the Łódź school, Grotowski’s theatre, not to mention polymaths like Kantor, etc. However, culturally and economically, things started to stagnate during the 1960s, now known as the ‘stabilization period’ - something that is very clear in Skolimowski’s films of the 1960s. Then in 1968, Mieczysław Moczar, then Minister of the Interior (and, therefore, head of the police) who was a partisan during the War and something of an anti-semitic Communist party hard-liner, was attempting to usurp Gomułka’s leadership, which he tried to accomplish in a very cynical fashion. While Gomułka was out of the country he, or rather, his minions, initiated a wave of student protests. The focal point of the demonstrations was a Kazimierz Dejmek’s production of the Polish national play, Dziady, by Adam Mickiewicz, at the Polish National Theatre. The play is in five parts, and there isn’t an adequate English translation of the complete text. However, the most famous part is the third, which was written after the failed November Insurrection in 1830/1, where there was a rebellion in partitioned Poland against the Russian empire. The parallels were clear, and Mickiewicz’s words had clear resonance. The Russian ambassador then asked for the production to be shut down, and this, of course, exacerbated the situation. Moczar, however, then turned on the students with brute force. Moczar blamed the demonstration on Jewish students, and his actions had profound implications for many of the Jewish members of the Polish Communist Party. As a result, the upshot of the March 68 student riots was an anti-semitic purge of the Communist Party and a mass emigration of Polish Jews. Jews in the Communist Party were not few and far between: one must remember that during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Stalin’s righthand man in Poland was a Polish Jew: Jakub Berman - the party ideologue responsible for the imposition of Socrealizm (Polish ‘socialist realism’). One must also also remember this was taking place less than a year after the Six-Day Arab-Israeli War. While Gomułka was re-elected, although he was eventually replaced by Edward Gierek in 1970. So, this is the historical background of The Devil.

Fascinating. How about the more dreamlike aspects of the film?

I suspect the basic dramatic device that inspired Żuławski was Witold Gombrowicz’s play, The Marriage. Gombrowicz wrote the play in exile, in Argentina, and it was published by Kultura, the Polish émigré publishing house in Paris. In writing the play Gombrowicz later wrote about how he set about deliberately writing a masterpiece, and he used Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a model - Hamlet, of course, appears in The Devil as a play within a film. The Marriage is about a soldier who comes home to find his home turned into a pub, his father the landlord and his fiancee is a barmaid. It has a deliberately dreamlike atmosphere, and is generally regarded as an example of ‘the theatre of the absurd’ - Buñuel would have made a great film out of it - and I honestly think that all of the perversity found in Polański’s films is rooted in Gombrowicz, particularly something like Cul-de-Sac. In The Devil, which is set in Poland after the second partition in 1793, Jakub, the ‘hero’, is released from prison by a mysterious officer who takes him home to show Jakub how his father sleeping with his sister, his mother working as a brothel madame and his fiancee pregnant with another man’s child. Needless to say, Jakub is furious, and at each instant the officer gives him a straight razor to deal with it. Therefore, despite the period garb, there is a clear parallel with the role of Moczar’s lackeys in the student riots of March 1968. This was why The Devil was banned, however the official reason was that the film was blasphemous and offended Catholics - which is ironic as Catholics and Communists shouldn't mix...

Would you characterize The Devil as a ‘Horror’ film?

I think it is important to remember that the film went into production on the grounds that it was a gothic horror film. Żuławski himself argued at the time that it was a poetic horror film in the vein of Polański’s Repulsion, and a parallel could also be drawn with Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels - which was originally Polański’s model when he set about making Repulsion. So The Devil is really the strange offspring of a political event and the Gothic tradition - maybe not Hammer Horror, but certainly Gothic literature, like Matthew Lewis’ The Monk. Żuławski once told me that he was once approached by a French producer to adapt Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer. But, above all else, I’d say it’s a key work of Polish Romantic cinema. Recently, some young Polish critics have suggested that The Devil constitutes an attack on Polish Romanticism - I guess this idea stems from the scene when Jakub slashes the throat of a white horse. However, I don’t read it that way. I’d say The Devil is one of the high points of Polish Romantic cinema. It’s also, I have to say, very funny too. However, it's as political as, say, Wajda's Man of Iron. It's a much better film than Man of Iron. Man of Iron is primarily of historical importance. As a piece of cinema it is, let’s be honest, not much... The Devil, on the other hand, is a great piece of cinema.

It’s an amazing time to be Żuławski enthusiast as there are so many incredible releases coming out. Tell us about the 3 upcoming Mondo Vision titles we can look forward to.

I really don't know what I can say about these titles. All I can say is that Mondo Vision have been battling for years, literally, to get a High Definition transfer of Possession, and that David Mackenzie has really pulled out all the stops on this one when it comes to colour grading and clean up. Needless to say, Żuławski has been involved throughout the whole process. Regarding what else will be on the disc and in the booklet, I am sure Mondo Vision will put out a press release in the near future. The same goes for both The Blue Note and On the Silver Globe.

-Isabelle Adjani on the set of Possession with Zulawski-

Speaking of Possession. I am sure you are aware that Turner Classic Movies recently ran Żuławski’s film uncut on their station. Are you surprised by all of the more mainstream attention Żuławski is finally getting among English language audiences? After all, it was all but impossible to see most of his films here in the states before this past decade.

Films are like wine. Some get better and better - before turning to vinegar. The strange thing is that I cannot express just how badly Possession was received in the UK when it was first released - just look at the original Time Out review online. I remember reading a book on fantastic cinema which discussed Possession under the heading 'the film that nobody likes'. The writer then went onto say that it was too arty for the grind house audience and too vulgar for the art house crowd. However, Stephen Thrower, the editor of Eyeball magazine, was one of the few defenders of the film. Stephen and I had very different takes on the film, but what we both agreed on was that our inability to get a handle on it was a good thing.

The film is indeed quite an enigma and everyone seems to have a different take on what it actually means and what it is really about.

To be honest, I still don't know what it is about. I guess the moment I do the film will lose its appeal. The same goes for a film like Daisies. Also, remember that the US reviews were even worse because the American release of Possession was mangled beyond belief. There is an irony here - Regan got in on a tirade against the monstrosities of the Soviet system - and yet of all Żuławski's films, Possession is the one that has suffered the most - not at the hands of the Communists, but in the 'free' market. When I first watched Possession it seemed very fresh. It still does. It always elicits a response - good or bad. It's a pity programmers and critics cannot get over the horror thing. But that's their problem.

It’s not just the new DVDs we have to look forward to as the great British company Finders Keepers Records are getting ready to put out 2 never before released Żuławski soundtracks (<em>The Third Part of the Night and Possession). Do you have any information on those and what are your thoughts on Andrzej Korzyński’s scores for Żuławski?

Żuławski's working relationship with Andrzej Korzyński is on par with, say, Leone and Morricone, Fellini and Rota, Argento and Goblin etc. When I first came to Poland during the mid-nineties I was staying with people to do with music - distributors, writers, etc. I was really into both the Polish electro-acoustic music that featured on Borowczyk and Lenica's early films - stuff by Andrzej Markowski and Wlodzmierz Kotoński - these guys connected with the experimental studio set up by Polish radio in the late fifties - commissioned, ironically, by Włodzimierz Sokorski - the Minister of Culture responsible for Socrealizm - which just goes to show how these things work. I also asked about Korzyński. To be honest, I usually got a grimace - as if I had suddenly embarrassed myself with a startling display of bad taste. However, I really love Korzyński's soundtracks - my favourite is probably the score he did for The Devil. Korzyński was the brainchild behind Poland's first electronic music group, Arp Life. For me, he's a master chameleon - he's very good at mimicking and pastiching styles in a very eclectic and fun way. One moment he's riffing Szymanowski on the soundtrack of Wajda's Birchwood and the next he's doing krautrock for Żuławski's The Devil. As a soundtrack composer, I think Korzyński understands that what you give to a film has to be somewhat incomplete - there's one element missing - which somehow keys into the film image. Without that absence, scores often drown the images - I think this happens a lot in Hollywood movies. The Finders Keepers release came about very much by chance. Andy Votel had come to visit - I was interviewing him for the Daisies documentary. I started playing him bits of films - and put on The Devil. Andy was blown away and then suddenly made the connection between Korzyński and Arp Life - which he was planning to put out on Finders Keepers anyway. So everything fell into place. I think during the next year or so Korzyński will be getting his due.

I have to take a moment and tell you what an honor it was to have some notes appear alongside yours in Finders Keepers B-Music Jean Rollin release. Rollin, like Żuławski, has been getting an incredible amount of attention lately due to great releases like the Finders Keepers soundtracks and the Kino/Redemption Blu-rays. Is there any other particular filmmaker you have perhaps championed that you would like to see more of the same kind of attention given to?

There are so many. After finishing the documentary I made on Paradjanov's The Colour of Pomegranates, I wrote an outline for a kind of follow up on the so-called 'archaic' school of filmmakers - Ukraine's Yuri Ilyenko, Kyrgyzstan's Bolotbek Shamshiev, Uzbekistan's Ali Khamraev, Georgia's Tengiz Abuladzie, etc. Some of these filmmakers are better known than others. Some also alternated between making 'poetic' films and 'Easterns'. I adore both Khamraev's The Bodyguard and Shamshiev's The Red Poppies of Issyk-Kul. Then there are the films by Klimov and Shepitko. Of course, both are known in the West, but their early films are not so well known. I would love to make a documentary about Shepitko. Aleksei German is my favourite living Russian filmmaker - I was very glad to see The Lincoln Centre mounting a retrospective of his films early this year. I cannot wait to see The History of the Arkanar Massacre.

I would love to see more quality releases celebrating the films and career of Walerian Borowczyk. I know you did some work on a German release of Immoral Tales. What did that entail?

The story of how Immoral Tales developed in quite complicated. Originally the Polish-French producer, Anatole Dauman (who ran Argos Films, who had produced Borowczyk's first French film, Astronauts, in 1959) was working on a film by the French photographer Alain Fleischer starring Catherine Jourdan, the very beautiful blonde in Robbe-Grillet's Eden and After. Dauman was unhappy with the film, and suggested that Borowczyk film a new ending. Borowczyk constructed the 'beast' costume (I made a little film about the beast costume, which I shot on a phone - it’s featured on the German and Scandinavian DVDs of The Beast). Last year I found a letter from Borowczyk to Dauman describing the beast costume, along with some sketches. Fleischer, however, went to court to prevent his film from being interfered with. Dauman never released the film, and I have yet to meet anyone who has seen it. Fleischer, by the way, has never answered my correspondence. Borowczyk, however, then shot the beast short using the costume. It was photographed by Marcel Grignon, who was the cinematographer on Fleischer's film. I guess Dauman was trying to salvage something out of the mess. Borowczyk had originally proposed that Florence Bellamy, the girl who plays Lucrezia in the Borgia episode of Immoral Tales, be the girl in the beast episode. She turned him down and Sirpa Lane was cast in the role. Around the same time, in 1972, Borowczyk made a short film about antique erotica with the French surrealist writer André Pieyre de Mandiargues, A Private Collection. Borowczyk and Dauman hit upon the idea of a portmanteau film, and the beast episode, A Private Collection and The Tide (Borowczyk, incidentally, wanted to cast Isabelle Adjani in the Lise Danvers role) was presented as a 'work in progress' at the London Film Festival. This caused a scandal, and pretty much put paid to Borowczyk's reputation as a serious filmmaker, at least in the UK. It is important to remember that Borowczyk was then considered one of the finest, if not the finest filmmaker to have emerged from behind the Iron Curtain - just look at David Thomson's entry on Borowczyk in his Biographical Dictionary of the Cinema. The finished film was then screened at the London Film Festival the following year. Ken Wlaschin, the director of the festival at the time, was a big supporter of Borowczyk. Borowczyk also had fans within the BFI, most notably Philip Strick who was involved in BFI distribution. The finished Immoral Tales was, however, missing both the beast episode and A Private Collection.

I remember seeing a version of Immoral Tales with A Private Collection as an extra of sorts. What’s the story behind this?

In France Immoral Tales was exhibited with Une collection particuliere as an accompanying short film. But the version screened to the jury of the Prix L'Age d'Or, which included Max Ernst that year, featured the beast episode. So I always wondered how that version might have played. I had enquired about the whereabouts of the original beast short, but it soon became apparent that Borowczyk had cut the negative into the feature length version of The Beast, and I presumed it had been lost. Then, late in 2010, some prints of the beast short turned up at a French cinematheque. Around the same time, I found a plan in Borowczyk's archive stipulating that the beast episode should go between the Thérèse Philosophe episode and the Báthory episode. So when Bildstoerung produced the Immoral Tales DVD and Blu Ray we set about reconstructing the original version of Immoral Tales to be included as an extra. What is more, there was also a 'hardcore' version of the A Private Collection short, featuring no commentary but the pornographic photographs unobscured by de Mandiargues’ finger and an antique ‘stag reel’ featuring a woman getting it on with a dog. Borowczyk had got into trouble with this version of a film when he was sitting on the jury of the Oberhausen Film Festival back in the early seventies. Obviously, this sequence had to be pixilated to comply with German law. In fact, Bildstoerung did an incredible job getting Immoral Tales off the German censorship index and fighting for the beast episode to be included as an extra along with the pixilated 'hard' version of A Private Collection.

Wow, it sounds like a lot of incredibly hard work went into this release. Are there any other additional extras on it?

Also included on this edition were interviews I shot with Borowczyk's assistant, Dominique Duvergé-Segretin, and his cameraman, Noël Véry, who demonstrated the workings of the camera rig he used to film much of Immoral Tales. I also got chance to record a commentary track with David Flint, and the chapter on Immoral Tales from my Borowczyk book was translated into German and printed as a separate booklet along with the documents I used to reconstruct the 'long' version of Immoral Tales. The new HD transfer looks stunning, and, on the whole, I think we were all quite satisfied with this release.

Last year you were also involved with works like The Color of Pomegranates and The Cremator. Can you tell us a bit about those films and the work you did?

I first travelled to Armenia in 2004. I was researching a monograph on The Colour of Pomegranates. It was for a series of books on significant Soviet films. The series, however, was cancelled. Nevertheless, the manuscript served as the basis for the documentary. I wanted to write the book in collaboration with someone. I always felt very much on the outside looking in. I met the Armenian filmmaker Don Askarian at a film festival in Slovakia. He was preparing a film based on Paradjanov's 'Confession' literary script. He had also made a documentary on Paradjanov and distributed the Armenian version of The Colour of Pomegranates on Arte. At that time I was teaching English as a foreign language in Warsaw. I travelled to Yerevan during the summer. Don introduced me to his partner, Nune Hovhannisyan, whose father, Bagrat, was the literary editor on The Colour of Pomegranates. Bagrat was a major Armenian director in his own right, and was, like Paradjanov, a friend of Tarkovsky. In fact, he has two small acting roles in both Andrei Rublev and Solaris. Nune introduced me to Zaven Sargsyan, the director of the Paradjanov museum, who was, I have to say, extremely cooperative. I also met a cultural anthropologist at the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Levon Abrahamyan, who, really helped me to get a handle on the cultural specific aspects of the film. Levon, incidentally, has a small role in The Colour of Pomegranates.  I got to meet various people who worked on the film, most notably the sound designer Yuri Sayadyan. I got to see photographs of locations from when they were location scouting. I was also shown around the costume store, where the wardrobe mistress dug out the costumes from Paradjanov's last unfinished film, The Confession. I then spent a few days visiting the locations where Paradjanov had shot the film, like the Sanahin monestary and Haghpat. Then a few years passed and I got invited to a theatre festival to present something I had done in Poland. When I was there I got chance to met Albert Yavoryan, Paradjanov's cinematographer on Ashik Kerib, and that kind of reignited my interest in Paradjanov. A few years after that I compiled a report for the BFI about the rights and materials of Paradjanov's films, and helped Layla Alexander, who was Tarkovsky's translator on The Sacrifice, with a Paradjanov festival in London. Shortly after that I was approached by Second Sight Films to do a supplementary feature for The Colour of Pomegranates DVD. Practically all the budget went on plane tickets and visas. I returned to Yerevan, where I shot interviews with Zaven, the production designer Stepan Andranikyan, Levon, with whom I also recorded a commentary track. Then I went to Tbilisi, where I spoke to the photographer Yuri Mechitov, before flying to Moscow, where I filmed Paradjanov's assistant, Levon Grigorian and the film historian Naum Kleiman. I was able to get two interviews from James Steffen, the Paradjanov authority, certainly in the Anglophone world, and Karla Oeler, who has written some very interesting things about poetic cinema. Vigen Galstyan, helped me to set up an interview with the composer Tigran Mansuryan. What I wanted to do with this film is present a kind of case history of film production in the Soviet Union. I wanted to get away from this overly romanticized picture of Paradjanov. It wasn't a simple story of Paradjanov being banned and imprisoned because he deviated from Socialist Realism. The truth, as usual, is a little bit more complicated. For me, one of the most disturbing things about the Soviet system was that a lot of the shootings and imprisonments were arbitrary and banal. Paradjanov was persecuted because he became the unwitting figurehead of what was the burgeoning Ukrainian Nationalist movement during the late 1960s. Of course, this is absurd - he was an Armenian born in Tbilisi. As a filmmaker he developed under Khrushchev's thaw, and then stalled when those freedoms revoked by Khrushchev's successors.

A few years ago I interviewed Juraj Herz about Morgiana for the Second Run DVD. He told me about a screening of The Cremator at the crematorium where the film was shot in Pardubice. So when Bildstoerung told me that they were going to release The Cremator on German DVD I proposed that we film Herz giving a tour of the crematorium in Pardubice. They jumped at the idea and I suggested the idea to Herz, who fortunately agreed. The Cremator was shot in three locations - the crematorium in Prague, Pardubice and another one in Plzen. Herz has made a few films in Germany and speaks fluent German, so that was chosen as the language of the documentary. I filmed the documentary handheld, with Herz speaking to camera. It was great fun. We went to a restaurant in Pardubice, and nearly missed the cremator. In fact, we caught him on camera as he was getting on his bike to leave. The bit with Herz going around the crematorium knocking on doors and getting no reply is the best part of the film. 'It's a weekday! They should be burning bodies!' Fortunately, the cremator did let us inside. He proposed to Herz on camera that he should have written in his will that his body is to be cremated at Pardubice. Herz agreed. We were given a tour of the crematorium, shown the locations of the film and told all about the technical advances in incineration techniques. The whole experience was very bizarre. Fortunately, we got it all on camera. We recently prepared a version with English subtitles for a screening in London.

What an experience! I’m glad to hear about that English subtitled version as well. Now, you’ve also been working with Les Enfants du Paradis haven’t you?

One of the most interesting people I met while researching Borowczyk was André Heinrich. Heinrich was Borowczyk's assistant on Blanche, La Marge and Les héroïnes du mal. He was also an assistant to Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. Together with Jacques Forgeot, he founded Les Cinéastes Associés - Borowczyk's main employer in France during the sixties. Through animation, Heinrich had encountered Jacques Prévert. Over the years, Heinrich has become something on an expert on Prévert. In France he has edited a collection of Prévert's writings on theatre, in particular the Groupe Octobre which he co-founded during the 1920s. Les Enfants du Paradis has always been one of my favourite films, and I was interested in how much it was influenced not just by Prévert's own experience in theatre, but theatre in general. After all, it featured one of the greatest mimes ever, Jean-Louis Barrault, playing one of the greatest mimes ever. It also featured one of France's best actors, Pierre Brasseur, playing one of France's best actors, Frédérick Lemaître. So when Second Sight gave me the opportunity to make a film about Les Enfants du Paradis I jumped at the opportunity. For me, the most interesting aspect of the film was the collaboration between the director, Marcel Carné, Prévert the writer and the production designer, Alexandre Trauner. The film became as much about where these three people had come from and how they worked together on a series of truly great films, of which Les Enfants du Paradis is the most famous.

What are some of the aspects of Les Enfants du Paradis that make it so special to you?

One of things I noticed was that because the dialogue is just so simple, musical and, well, brilliant, that there was a lot of praise for Prévert at the expense of Carné. So I wanted to try to present a more balanced picture. The cinema of Carné and Prévert, or at least what it represented, was the target of the wrath of the likes of Truffaut when he began his career as a writer at Cahiers du Cinéma. Ironically, Carné too began his career as a critic, before working as an assistant and finally a director in his own right. Carné came from a very working class background, and he was also homosexual in a less liberal time. These factors, I think, gave his films something of an edge. Prévert, on the other hand, was coming from this background in political agitprop theatre, not to mention surrealism. So when these two got together they started making something very special indeed. Then Prévert brought Trauner into the mix. I knew of Trauner principally as Welles' favoured production designer - The Merchant of Venice, Chimes at Midnight etc. Trauner was a Hungarian Jewish painter who left Budapest for Paris and started working as a production designer in the movies. In fact, movies was something these guys did for money. Prévert was a poet who made ends meet by writing or adapting screenplays, Trauner was a painter who put bread on the table designing movies. Again, I think these 'non-film' backgrounds and/or interests give their work an edge. Even Mayo, who designed the costumes, was first and foremost a painter. Of course, the real problems started when they went into production during the Second World War. Being a Jew, Trauner, was not allowed on set and had to work in clandestine. Then Arletty, the star, was in a relationship with a German officer. After the War she was accused of collaborating and famously defended herself by saying 'my heart belongs to France but my ass is international'. She became involved in that mad bunch who had, on the one hand, one foot in the proletariat and the other in fascism - the actor Robert Le Vigan and, most infamously, the writer Céline. The whole story is fascinating. It's a cliché, but the story about the making of Les Enfants du Paradis is a story in its own right. So I was lucky enough to speak to Jean-Pierre Berthomé about Trauner, Trauner's nephew Didier Naert, the son of the designer Leon Barsacq who collaborated with Trauner on the sets, Philippe Morisson and N.T. Binh, who have both just written a book about Carné, Prévert and Trauner with the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Marianne de Fleury, who is currently curating an exhibition devoted to Les Enfants du Paradis at the Cinémathèque Française, the actress Tania Lesaffre who worked with Carné on his last few films, Michel Souvais, who was Arletty's secretary, Jean-Gilles Malliarakis, Mayo's son, Geneviève Selliers, who wrote a monograph about Les Enfants du Paradis, the political commentator and film critic Agnès Poirier, the musician and film writer Michel Chion, who has written about Arletty's voice in French cinema, the mime Claire Heggen who talked about Jean-Louis Barrault as well as her mentor, Étienne Decroux, who also appears in the film, as well as Żuławski, who has referred to Les Enfants du Paradis on several occasions as his favourite French film. I also got chance to visit Eclair studios just outside of Paris to film a little documentary about the restoration of the film. I got to speak to the team who restored the image and sound, who were even so kind as to demonstrate the actual restoration process itself.

What was it like working on Ben Wheatley’s Kill List?

I met Ben about three years ago in Cannes. I was trying to get a project going with Pete Tombs. Pete and his Mondo Macabro partner, Andy Starke, had just produced Down Terrance. Andy had a few scenes on his laptop. About a year later Andy asked if I’d help out on Kill List. I was driver / runner / EPK guy. It was a brisk shoot, just three weeks. Despite the grim subject matter, it was fun film to make. I had worked on a few films before, but never as a driver or a runner. I shot the EPK on a battered little Canon camcorder. Because the cast and crew was so small I got to know them quite quickly - it makes a difference when you’re filming them day and night. I shot quite a lot of footage, something like twenty four hours, which I then edited down to about an hour - basically a succession of long takes. Then someone edited it down to about seven minutes for the DVD. I like Kill List, but Down Terrace made the bigger impression on me. Not because of the film itself, but because it was proof that if you want to make a film then there is no excuse not to.

Finally, I would love for you to talk a bit about Daisies. I just discovered this wonderful film a couple of years back and had the great pleasure of writing a piece on it in a book you also appeared in The World Cinema Directory’s Eastern European Edition. The film was recently released here by Criterion’s Eclipse branch but I know you have been working on a film about it for I believe an overseas release. Talk a bit about this incredible work and tell us about your film.

I organized a retrospective of Chytilová's films at the National Media Museum in Bradford back in 1999. A few years later, in 2001, I programmed a season of films around Chytilová's collaborator, the costume designer, art director and writer Ester Krumbachová. I had met Jan Němec the previous year. He had just recovered from a heart operation and was excitedly telling me about the possibilities of making films using DV. Němec was, for a period, married to Krumbachová and he came across to London to talk about both his professional and personal relationship with Krumbachová. Part of the DV film he was working on at the time, Late Night Talks With Mother, is about Krumbachová. I finally got to meet Chytilová about a year later, and she too was working on a film about Krumbachová. It was very interesting living and working in Prague on Jakubisko's Bathory, which was a very big film, to see Němec making what I think is one of the very best Czech films of the last ten years, his very bizarre and personal film about the Czech surrealist, Toyen. One evening I left the production office to see Chytilová introduce a film at the Světozor cinema - a film she made while Forman was producing Ragtime - by this time she was well into her seventies, but to be honest she was more interesting than most Czech filmmakers in their twenties and thirties. I have a lot of Czech friends who, well, have 'suffered' under her as students at FAMU, but still, my feeling is that even when Chytilová is bad, she is extremely interesting - something which can't be said about a lot of filmmakers. When Bildstoerung said they were going to do Daisies I decided to focus on the collaboration between Chytilová, her cinematographer husband, Jaroslav Kučera and Krumbachová. Unfortunately both Kučera and Krumbachová are dead, but I was able to speak to the cinematographer Jaromír Šofr about both Kučera and Chytilová, and Šárka Hejnová, who is kind of like Krumbachová's protege - she worked with Kučera and Krumbachová on The Little Mermaid and Chytilová on her Sci-Fi film, Wolf's Hole. I also interviewed the composer Jan Klusák, who did the music for some of Chytilová's early films and who has a small cameo in Daisies. Andy Votel, who released the soundtrack of Daisies on Finders Keepers, talked about the impact the film had on him - Andy's enthusiasm is infectious - and when I was editing it with David Mackenzie he acted as a kind of anchor, pulling all of these anecdotes by the likes of Chytilová, Šofr, Klusák and Hejnová together. As with Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, I recorded a commentary track with Peter Hames, who, for me, wrote the book that was really my bible when it came to Czech cinema as a teenager - The Czechoslovak New Wave. On top of that, Bildstoerung's release marks Daisies premiere on Blu Ray. We had access to a new high definition transfer, but it was not colour graded - which, as you can imagine, is something of an issue when it comes to a film like Daisies. Luckily, the cinematographer Stepan Kučera, who is Chytilová's son with Jaroslav Kučera, was able to help us grade the film to Chytilová's approval. The colour grading and clean up was done by David Mackenzie - it was quite a task but Daisies has never looked so good - I sound like a salesman saying that but it really does look amazing. I don't have a Blu Ray player but I might actually get one just to play this release.

Any other upcoming projects you might want to share with us today and can we still look forward to your Borowczyk book down the road?

To be honest, as I get older I am getting more and more superstitious. But I am really looking forward to getting the Borowczyk book out.

Thanks again Daniel! We really appreciate you stopping by again and wish you all the best of luck with your future projects!


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter Three) Johnny Thunders' So Alone

Johnny Thunders would have turned sixty years old today. In tribute to one of my major musical heroes, I am re-posting this look at his greatest album that I wrote in the early days of Moon in the Gutter.

Memory is a strange thing, specifically what we remember. I have over 3,000 records and cds. I've been collecting, passionately, since I was in my early teens. I have had girlfriends that I can't even remotely remember anything about but I can pretty much pull any of my records, or discs out, and recall not only where where I got them but what was going on in my life at the time. I couldn't tell you what I was doing last week but I could tell you my first 45 was Blondie's "The Tide Is High" and that my first lp was Elvis Gold Records Vol. 5. I mention this because, even though I remember these things clearly, certain albums seem to be almost part of my DNA...while I remember the first time with them, I can't imagine ever really being without them.
I found Johnny Thunders then out of print solo debut, SO ALONE, on vinyl in a tiny Manhattan record store in 1992. I had discovered JT at the perfect age of 16 when I bought the first New York Dolls record and even though his guitar playing had been copied a million times over at that point there was still a freshness and raw energy that made it totally unique and unbelievably compelling to me.
Southern Indiana in the late 80s early 90s was not the most ideal spot for finding Johnny Thunders solo records; so for several years it was just those Doll sides, some scattered live recordings and articles that I found in old music magazines.
I'll never forget getting the news that JT had died my senior year of high school. My friend Ryan coming into the cafeteria and simply saying, 'Johnny died'.
A year or so later my father took me up to Queens to see Johnny's grave, by that point Jerry Nolan was gone also and the groundskeeper was very helpful in helping us locating both markers. Johnny's grave was covered with stuff fans had brought...I added a pack of Lucky Strikes..
It was on that same visit that I found SO ALONE, a near mint original British pressing with the insert sleeve. The original Rolling Stone review was entitled 'The Promise Of Rock and Roll' and all these years later that still seems fitting. It's not only one of the great rock albums but it's an album that's in love with the idea of rock itself. It's because of this record that when I think of Johnny I don't think of drugs, his early death or any of that shit, I just think of the passion and humanity that he injects on SO ALONE'S 10 tracks. Humanity might seem an odd word to use in describing Johnny but like the line goes in "Great Big Kiss", "Bad but not evil". Hell, even the notorious Sex Pistols put down "London Boys" has a certain honor to a kid talking trash on the playground because he's been insulted in front of his friends.
The album open with what sounds like a call to arms with Thunders storming version of the classic instrumental "Pipeline". What other 'punk' album would have worn it's heart on its sleeve so much? Johnny on this album right up to his final work COPYCATS would always, at heart, be that kid who grew up listening to rock in the 50s and 60s. One of the main things that always separated the New York punk scene from the British one was New York's willingness to tip their hat to what had inspired them. A lot of the British bands from the time seemed to take this holier than thou attitude that they were doing something new, when of course they had all been influenced by the same stuff the NY scene had. While Joe Strummer was singing 'No Elvis, Beatles or The Rolling Stones' Patti Smith was covering "Jailhouse Rock" and Richard Hell was doing "Ventilator Blues". It all works out though, and the influences that punk carried are more and more known. I think it might even get to the point where I can say no one was more punk than Elvis in '55 or The Who in '66 and not be looked at like I was crazy.
SO ALONE includes a mixture of covers, originals and a few older redone Dolls tracks and yet it feels completely cohesive. "You Can't Put Your Arm Around A Memory" is the most famous and probably rightly so, but listen to the way he sings David Johansen's incredible lyrics to "Subway Train" or that cover of the Otis Blackwell penned "Daddy Rolling Stone". It sounds like a greatest hits album to me and if the closing late period Dolls track "Downtown" doesn't make you miss what used to be New York City, nothing will.
A lot has been written about Johnny Thunders, highly recommended is Nina Antonia's bio 'In Cold Blood' (plus her work on The Dolls) and books like 'From The Velvets to The Voidoids' and 'Please Kill Me' are essential. For newcomers, I would recommend three things over any of those: The first Dolls album, SO ALONE and an essay Richard Hell wrote after Johnny died called 'Johnny Thunders and The Endless Party'. It's available in Hell's must have 'Hot and Cold' book. There isn't a finer piece of writing on a rocker that's ever been written. The most famous quote comes when Hell describes him as the 'the rock and roll Dean Martin of Heroin' which is of course dead on but it's his description of Thunders as a guy who wanted to be 'as good as Frank Sinatra and Elvis' that really gets me. After reading that I saw that guy staring at me from that isolated corner on the cover of SO ALONE differently. He was no longer that doomed rock and roll loser that everyone is so quick to cast him off as. He was just a kid who grew up wishing he could wear a great suit, play music that he loved so much and be as good as good ever got. Through the ten tracks on SO ALONE Johnny Thunders got his wish.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Move, Roku and Fandor

My wife and I recently packed up all of our stuff, and our pets, and moved again. We had originally planned on moving out of Kentucky to Wisconsin but had to postpone that, and we just relocated down the road to a larger place. The move was particularly stressful and hard (a heat index of 115 only added to the misery) but we got it done and, as we get the new place together, things are starting to get back to normal.
Shortly before our move a dear friend of mine gave us an Amazon gift card as a surprise present and we decided, as a new housewarming gift to ourselves, to get a Roku. Our package arrived the day we got all of our remaining stuff in and this strange little tiny black box immediately became our new best friend. It's an awesome little unit and it blows the Wii we used to stream a few things on out of the park.
Of the services we are now able to get through the Roku my favorite is Fandor, an absolutely marvelous site that has enough treasures to keep us entertained for years. For those who aren't familiar with Fandor, it is a bit like Netflix except for film connoisseurs who might be more interested in say a classic silent short, a new foreign film or some ultra-strange surreal oddity rather than a CGI driven summer blockbuster. Which isn't to bad mouth Netflix, which I still love, but in the short time we have been using Fandor I have been absolutely blown away by their selection and I highly recommend it to any readers here who might not have yet discovered it.
Outside of posting a plug for both Roku and Fandor I felt like I needed to provide a little explanation as to why I haven't posted much lately. The stress and planning of the move kind of sapped most of my creative energy away this past month but Moon in the Gutter should be back up to full-force again quite soon. Thanks so much to the folks that have continued to visit even though things have been mostly quiet around here. I really appreciate it...


Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Vernon Sewell Double-Feature: The Blood Beast Terror and Burke & Hare

Among the most notable releases this month are two films making their Blu-ray debut from the late British cult filmmaker Vernon Sewell, courtesy of Kino Lorber’s Redemption label. These two films, The Blood Beast Terror and Burke & Hare, are given great upgrades on these new discs and they are an ideal introduction to Sewell’s most unique style.
The often-maligned Vernon Sewell was born in London on the fourth of July in 1903. Before passing away in Africa just before his 98th birthday in South Africa, Sewell directed nearly forty feature films as well as numerous British television series. Beginning with Morgenrot (a film which Sewell co-directed with Gustav Ucicky that was the first screened under Nazi-ruled Germany) in 1933 and ending with Burke & Hare in 1971, Sewell’s career was a varied one that saw him working in a large number of genres and with a great number of Britain’s most famous players.
While his early films often found him working mostly in dramas his 1947 comedic-chiller The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (a film whose tone predates the lewd Burke & Hare by more than two decades) saw a shift to more genre-oriented pictures. Sewell especially became aligned with action-packed thrillers throughout the fifties and early sixties, so he was a fairly natural choice to become one of Tigon British Film Productions go-to directors in the mid-sixties.
Tigon was founded by producer Tony Tenser in 1966, shortly after he had produced two of Roman Polanski’s great masterpieces (Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac). Looking to capitalize on the Hammer and Amicus empires, Tigon had just released two films (including Michael Reeves’ The Sorcerers) before signing up Sewell to direct two pictures in 1968, the uber-strange Curse of the Crimson Altar (a cult favorite starring Barbara Steele and Christopher Lee) and The Blood Beast Terror (a film its star Peter Cushing would call the worst he ever made).
The Blood Beast Terror came to life via the pen of Peter Bryan, a less than prolific screenwriter who managed to deliver three of Hammer’s most distinctive features (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Brides of Dracula and The Plague of the Zombies). The Blood Beast Terror was the last completed screenplay Bryan would come up with (his final two credits, Trog and Seven Deaths in Cat’s Eye, saw his source material being adapted) and while it doesn’t stand up to his great Hammer trio it’s an entertaining script and offers up a fairly fresh take on the classic monster film.
Cushing stars as Inspector Quennell, a detective working on a case involving a number of mutilated bodies that have turned up in a once peaceful British country-town. Quennell’s murder case takes an extremely odd turn when he meets up with a local entomologist named Mallinger (played nicely by Robert Flemyng), a man whose cracked experiments lie at the heart of the local bloody mystery.
The Blood Beast Terror has never been a particularly revered film, mostly due to how much Cushing publicly despised it, but it’s a better work than most have ever given it credit for. While it is undeniably silly, and it never fully comes together as a cohesive work of horror, The Blood Beast Terror benefits greatly from Sewell’s sometimes stylish (occasionally workmanlike) direction and a really great cast, which sees Cushing and Flemyng joined by Wanda Ventham, Glynn Edwards, Vanessa Howard and Roy Hudd.

Redemption’s new Blu-ray (and DVD) of The Blood Beast Terror looks really splendid and it is a major upgrade compared to their older release (put out as part of their Euroshock collection). Mastered from the original 35mm negative, this new release of The Blood Beast Terror really shows off cinematographer Stanley A. Long’s photography quite well and the new print allows us to at least enjoy the film as a visual treat during the sections where Bryan’s script drags. Long, a filmmaker in his own right, had also photographed Reeves’ The Sorcerers for Tigon and his work on The Blood Beast Terror is the most notable aspect of the film along with the performance of Peter Cushing, an artist who could be sublime even when working with material he hated.
Neither The Blood Beast Terror (released in The United States as The Vampire-Beast Craves Blood) nor The Curse of the Crimson Altar proved the hits Tigon so desperately needed in 1968 (the company would fold by the mid-seventies with Reeves' Witchfinder General, Jean Rollin’s The Nude Vampire and Piers Haggard’s The Blood on Satan’s Claw being their greatest releases) and Sewell wouldn’t work with the company again. Sewell’s career was coming to a close as the sixties came to an end and it seemed like some work on the legendary British series The Avengers would mark his final chapter but then came the surprising Burke & Hare, easily one the best films Sewell ever signed his name to.

The West Port Murders occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1827 and 1828. The serial killings were attributed to a couple of Irish immigrants named William Burke and William Hare, who sold the bodies of well over a dozen of their victims to local doctors for dissection and experimentation. While the real life case is among the most grizzly on film, Sewell’s film based on the two killers has much more in common with the bawdy British sex-comedies of the seventies rather than a typical serial-killer film. Burke & Hare is an incredibly strange work filled with as many exposed breasts and cheap-laughs as blood and dead-bodies. A tasteless but incredibly entertaining film, Burke & Hare finds the aging Sewell at his most confident and creative behind the camera and suggests that the best period of his career might have been ahead of him had he persevered.
Like The Blood Beast Terror, Burke & Hare benefits greatly from a talented cast and crew. Prolific cinematographer Desmond Dickinson really comes through for Sewell here giving the film’s more violent moments a dingy quality while the sexy boudoir sequences are positively opulent. Special mention must also go to the film’s title-track (from writer Norman Newell) that plays throughout the film. Sung by The Scaffold, this barroom blitz ditty takes the already strange Burke & Hare into the realm of the surreal and lends the film an extremely distinct flavor.
While the cast is filled with noteable British character actors (including Derren Nesbitt and Glynn Edwards), the films real stars are Francoise Pascal (looking absolutely stunning) and Yutte Stensgaard (seen here just after she made her unforgettable appearance in Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire). Burke & Hare really lights up when both Pascal and Stensgaard are on the screen, with a particularly crazy bedroom sequence providing the film perhaps its most memorable moment.
The bewitching Pascal, who would turn in one of the most moving performances of the seventies in Jean Rollin’s The Iron Rose about a year after Burke & Hare, is given an ‘introducing’ credit at the beginning of the film even though she had already appeared in almost half a dozen features by the 1971. Pascal is charming, funny and energetic and is the best thing about the film. The great lady is also featured on the disc’s supplementary material via a brief interview where she recalls working on the film and her fondness for Stensgaard, who would all but disappear from the screen after her appearance in Burke & Hare.

Some print damage is on hand throughout Redemption’s new Blu-ray for Burke & Hare but the film has never looked or sounded better and the Pascal interview (as well the featurette with Dr. Patricia MacCormack) make it among the most desirable releases of the year. More information on both Burke & Hare as well as The Blood Beast Terror can be found at Kino’s site and copies can be pre-ordered here at Amazon.

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.