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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Destroyed Girl: Alain Robbe-Grillet's EDEN AND AFTER

After years of being passed thru the hands of collectors via poor quality grey-market copies, one of the seventies greatest films has finally been granted an official home video release in The United States. Alain Robbe-Grillet's fourth feature film as a director, and his first color production, "L'éden et après" (Eden and After) can now finally be enjoyed by American audiences via a striking Blu-ray from Redemption and Kino Lorber. Mastered from the original 35mm elements, Redemption's new Blu-ray is absolutely dazzling and Robbe-Grillet's astonishing and bold use of color is serviced perfectly on this important new release. Robbe-Grillet admits on the thirty minute interview that graces the disc's supplements that he didn't have a script going into production of Eden and After and, astonishingly, the brilliant lead actress Catherine Jourdan was only brought on board three days before shooting began. The late Robbe-Grillet is still clearly haunted by the memory of the mesmerizing Jourdan during the interview and credits not only the success of the film to her but also states that the final film ultimately took its shockingly symmetrical shape around her. Born in France just a couple of weeks before Halloween in 1948, Catherine Jourdan was one of the most beguiling and puzzling performers who came out of the French New Wave. The great Jean-Pierre Melville was the first filmmaker to capture her haunting and unforgettable face in his 1967 masterpiece Le Samourai but appearing in such an auspicious debut did little to forward her career. Jourdan appeared in a few features throughout the late sixties but her film career was all but stagnate by the time she received a call from Alain Robbe-Grillet (who recalled a night dancing with her at a Parisian nightclub a year or so before) to appear in the new color production he was mounting. It is impossible to discuss Eden and After without focusing on the tour de force performance by the elusive Catherine Jourdan. She controls nearly every frame of the film and Robbe-Grillet's camera is clearly in love with her. Watching her performance today it is both baffling and troubling that she didn't have greater success after its release. While she appeared in a number of productions after Eden and After before her death in 2011, Jourdan was never again granted to the kind of role Robbe-Grillet granted her.
 Eden and After is the most 'painterly' film in Robbe-Grillet's iconic body of work. He admitted as much to Anthony Fragola in The Erotic Dream Machine by stating that, "there exist many references to painting in Eden and After-in particular a live reproduction of a famous painting by Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, No 2." Duchamp, doppelgangers and an unnerving mathematical sense of structure guide Eden and After. Inspired by the twelve-tone music of Schoenberg, Robbe-Grillet used a chart her created of, "twelve recognizable themes", instead of any kind of traditional script to create Eden and After. As in all of his films Robbe-Grillet delights in destroying any sense of traditional narrative structure in Eden and After and it stands as one of the most authentically dreamy and hallucinatory films ever made...the viewer slips down the druggy rabbit hole with Jourdan and you will either want to escape or never emerge again.
 A lot of credit for Eden and After's success has to go to cinematographer Igor Luther, the great Czech artist who had previously worked with Robbe-Grillet on The Man Who Lies. Luther's use of color in Eden and After is never less than jaw dropping and the color red has never been quite as seductive and sinister as it is here. Robbe-Grillet told Fragola that he loved Red because it, "is the color of blood", and, "all my films shot in color involve it is the color red that interests me."
 Eden and After, and its companion film N Took the Dice (also included on Redemption's new disc) stand as bold reminders to cinema's great visual power. Watching the film on this new disc reminded me of just how depressingly unimaginative most modern films are. Robbe-Grillet's films are a gob in the face to anyone who questions films place as great art. Pretentious? Absolutely and in the best possible way.
Redemption's new Blu-ray is light on extras and is missing the Tim Lucas commentary track and Catherine Robbe-Grillet found on the British release but having the stunning HD print alone is well worth the price of the disc. Eden and After stands as not only one of the great modern films but perhaps the most stunning example of Robbe-Grillet's unbelievably distinctive cinematic vision. It also stands as a great tribute to a young woman who should have had a more successful career as an actress. As Robbe-Grillet stated in The Erotic Dream Machine, Eden and After is ultimately the "story" of Catherine Jourdan, and what a endearing and profound tale that turned out to be.

 -Jeremy Richey, 2014-

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dog Will Hunt: Tobe Hooper's THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2

There is something downright heroic about Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Almost three decades after its initial release, Hooper’s daring follow-up to one of the most iconic American Independent films ever made can now be viewed as one of the bravest, most unconventional and most confrontational works of the eighties. A wildly subversive blood-soaked black comedy that lays to waste the conservative landscape of the Reagan fueled era, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a fully loaded work fueled by the visions of a combative and iconoclastic filmmaker, with something to prove, and an undervalued writer looking to chop away at what had become of the American dream. Tobe Hooper should have been riding high by the mid-eighties. After all he had just achieved the biggest commercial and critical success of his career just a few years earlier with 1982’s Poltergeist but that success had been undercut by widespread rumors that it was more producer Steven Spielberg’s work than Hoopers. Struggling to regain his footing Hooper delivered two high-profile failures, that have since become fan favorites, Lifeforce (1985) and Invaders from Mars (1986) before he finally decided it was time to revisit the legendary film that had put him on the map in the first place. The key to understanding The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 in relation to its more acclaimed predecessor is to look at the very different times in which they were made. Even though just over a decade separated Hooper’s films the cinematic and social landscape had changed dramatically between 1974 and 1986. The audiences that had flocked to the first Chainsaw were still reeling from Watergate, Vietnam and the crushing realization that the sixties were indeed over. In contrast by the mid-eighties it was commerce and consumption that was on most Americans minds and film audiences were no longer interested in supporting the paranoid fueled individualistic works of the seventies. For a nonconformist like Tobe Hooper, this must have been a most bitter pill to swallow. The man who had received worldwide acclaim just a couple of years before the premiere of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, for his award winning screenplay for Wim Wenders’ mesmerizing art-house classic Paris, Texas (1984) might have seemed an odd-choice for Hooper’s misunderstood sequel, but renegade L.M. Kit Carson was the absolute perfect pick. Like Hooper, Carson hailed from Texas and, like Hooper, he had come of age in the liberal freewheeling era of the seventies. The two were actually a match made in heaven (or hell, depending on your point of view). Art-house meets the Grindhouse…and, as driven by Carson’s words and Hooper’s direction, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 would indeed turn out to the kind of oddball avant-garde exploitation film that few creative minds could even hope to concoct. Of course they had to go through hell to get their peculiar vision on the screen; battling every step of the way with a company who pulled the financial rug out from their feet before the cameras had even rolled. The entire behind the scenes struggles and turmoil are documented on Arrow’s astonishing new limited edition box-set dedicated to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Like many of cinema’s great films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a compromised work but Hooper and his tireless crew worked through the compromises and delivered just the kind of searing and unhinged picture they promised.
The majority of sequels we see today crowding our local corporate owned megaplexes are essentially just remakes or retreads of the films that they are following. It has kind of become the norm to accept this and it is that attitude that still makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 feel so downright revolutionary. Audiences expecting the chilling coldness of the first film will be shocked by the anarchic humor on display in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It is an extremely funny film, thanks mostly to Jones multi-layered script and the demonic performances of both Dennis Hopper and especially Bill Moseley. Far from being just a ferociously funny and gory freak show though, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 also works as a frenetic fright film, even though it wisely never attempts to reach the terrifying highs of its predecessor. If there is a clear thematic connection between the first Chainsaw and the second it can be found in Hooper’s decision to once again find a strong leading lady to guide the final act. Just as Marilyn Burns’ petrifying turn in the original helped give that extraordinary film the heart and soul it has the vastly underrated Caroline Williams, as the feisty D.J. Stretch, does the same for Hooper’s unexpected sequel. Williams is terrific in the film and gives a visceral, and at times oddly moving, performance that is the equal of Burns more well-known work.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was slapped with an X rating when it his theaters in 1986 due to its violent content and generally chaotic nature. Cannon films had no idea what to do with it and both critical and fan reaction was wildly mixed. The film would quickly become a fan favorite once it hit video and by the time MGM released their own special edition DVD a decade or so ago it had become a bona-fide cult classic to many, although it has never garnered the same amount of acclaim and attention that the first film has. Arrow’s new collection is tremendous and it ports over all of the excellent material from MGM’s disc. There is new content as well including an excellent retrospective documentary featuring “Still Feelin’ the Buzz” and, best of all, a bonus disc entitled The Early Films of Tobe Hooper, which features 2 incredibly rare late sixties works from the man (The Heisters and Eggshells) with an additional commentary and a fascinating interview. It is a truly terrific collection dedicated to a very valuable film and filmmaker. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 will never be granted the classic status of its more famous parent and, perhaps, that is fitting since the film was a bit like the unruly child few wanted. Hooper’s ferocious follow-up film had the misfortune (or perhaps fortune) to land in the cinematic dustbin that was American film in 1986 and many just won’t be able to separate it from a period when most of the renegade filmmakers of the seventies had either called it quits or sold out completely. Tobe Hooper would never again attempt to make something as wildly ambitious or challenging as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 but, ultimately, he didn’t have to because he had already given American cinema not one but two of its most defining films. Jeremy Richey, 2014

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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.