Good music, WWII, and cheap goodies (plug, plug, plug)

Before we run our John Frizzell interview, we've put up a candid chat at KQEK.com with Film Score Monthly's Lukas Kendall about the label's most ambitious project - Elmer Bernstein's 13-album series, the Film Music Collection.

Never heard of it?

Well, longtime platter collectors will probably have a few of the treasured albums that the late Oscar-winning composer produced from 1974-79, all out of his own pocket. Along with music from his peers & idols - namely Bernard Herrmann, Alfred Newman, Miklos Rozsa, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Franz Waxman - Bernstein also re-recorded material from his own canon, and the albums were sold by mail order until a number of factors brought the ongoing project to a close.

The deluxe boxed set hasn't streeted yet, so read our piece to get some background info, and decided whether you're willing to work every Sunday and a few graveyard shifts for the next month to buy what's more than a standard collectable. The music's good, and it marks the composer's first major effort to preserve a chunk of film music history in his own inimitably modest way.

This will be the first of a few Bernstein pieces which will appear over the next few months, as I had the good fortune to interview him in 2000 about some specific albums and projects. (His jazz music was previously profiled in a two-issue spread in FSM, which is reproduced in complete form at http://www.elmerbernstein.com/news/filmscore_jazz.html.)

In the DVD department, we've also added new reviews for Allan Dwan's nutty 1957 'scope noir, The River's Edge, which is the strangest choice for Fox to include in their Studio Classics line (no Oscars or awards of any kind), but a pleasant surprise, since most TV prints were pretty beat up, and ruined the smooth 2.35:1 ratio.

We've also got our second installment in IHF's trio of fascist propaganda epics from WWII. This time it's Joseph Goebbels' infamous exercise in folly: Kolberg. Directed by the Reich's favoured helmer, Veit Harlan, Kolberg exploits the town's known stands against Napoleonic invaders as a not-too subtle rallying cry for 1940s Germans to fight the Allied forces - except the film barely premiered in a functional theatre while bombs and troops seethed deeper into Germany in 1945. It's a fascinating document that's worth a peek.

Lastly, from Polart comes another lost gem - Border Street/Ulica Graniczna - Aleksander Ford's amazingly frank and powerful social snapshot of the curbside racism that made it a little easier for the invading Nazi army to segregate Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, and cart whole families off to the death camps.

Made in 1949 and banned by Polish Communist authorities for a while, the film uses some shocking language and images, and Ford's drama is an edifying film that's lost none of its power and importance.

In our next update we'll take a peek at IHF's The Fall of Berlin, and the usual mix of eclectic releases. We're also in the process of clearing out a lot of stuff from the personal archives, and some collectors of soundtracks and cult flicks might want to take a peek at out directory. To complete this shameful plug, look for the add banner at KQEK.com (or just go HERE), and help us buy more rare goodies so your morning coffee binge has more time to eat another frosty cruller.

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A taste of jazz, a poke of teen terror, and a spoonful of fascism

The latest DVD reviews at KQEK.com involve three films I've wanted to see for several years, and are now available in their own unique releases.

Bert Stern's name is perhaps best-known today by Marilyn Monroe fans for one of the actresses' final stills sessions, but during his lengthy career, he's been involved in some stellar commercial and publicity campaigns, like the iconic snapshots of Sue Lyon with those red heart-shaped sunglasses for Stanley Kubrick's Lolita.

Prior to that assignment, Stern had produced, directed and co-photographed the impressionistic documentary, Jazz on a Summer's Day, shot over a weekend during the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival.

New Yorker's DVD has been available for a few years now, but we've added a comparison review for the Region 0 release from Charly that offers different extras, and an expanded soundtrack album to boot.

Also falling under the domain of cult movie is Terror Train, the second teen (well, collegiate level) slasher film starring Jamie Lee Curtis that was shot in Canada, after Paul Lynch's Prom Night. Terror Train also co-stars Hart Bochner, Vanity, veteran character actor Ben Johnson in his twilight years, and magician David Copperfield in his one-time acting stint.

Released in the U.S. by Fox, TVA's Canadian disc sports English and French pseudo-stereo 2.0 tracks, and some extras: a stills gallery, and trailers. It's not the special edition fans have been hoping for, but at least the transfer flatters John Alcott's gorgeous cinematography.

It's another high-profile example that, going back to Bob Clark's Black Christmas in 1974, Canada contributed a lot of slasher flicks that (well, part of) a generation regards as their equivalent to the old Universal monster and teen drive-in schlockers many Baby Boomers cherish. (Well, a good portion, since these flicks continue to emerge on DVD from obscurity on studio, indie, and specialty labels.)

We've also got the first of three rare WWII propaganda epics from International Historical Films [IHF] that have been on my Want List for more than 20 years.

Scipio Africanus was Benito Mussolini's attempt in 1937 to instill pride, nationalism, and re-ignite a native film industry, but making a Fascist Heaven's Gate wasn't the best way to make the dream a reality. Chronicled at length in the Medved brothers' Hollywood Hall of Shame book from 1984, Scipio isn't what the Medveds characterized as a lumbering, extravagant epic, with visible gaffes like toga-clad citizens wearing wristwatches, and telephone poles rising behind the Roman troop ship. (Maybe if you went through the film in slo-mo those aberrations might show up.)

Read the first of our IHF wave, as we dip into vintage propaganda, and some intriguing WWII documentaries in the coming weeks.

And coming real soon: a conversational interview with John Frizzell, composer of Lucky McKee's upcoming and long-awaited thriller, The Woods. We discuss at length some of the sounds and sophisticated musical concepts used to scare audiences in the horror genre.

McKee's movie has been delayed for a few years now, and after a screening at the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival this spring, the director's preferred version will get its North American debut at Montreal's Fantasia 2006.

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Laying out the Wilkommen mat

Marksworld or Mark's World were the preferred monikers, but I've decided to opt for a blog title that's still tied to the eclectic areas in film, video, and film music that I generally write about in several venues.

In the DVD realm, I contributed a hefty wad of reviews for Told You So Productions [TYS], which maintained a strong & steady mandate to review the extras and assorted goodies on meaty DVDs, until its closure in the fall of 2005.

From TYS sprung KQEK.com, which I designed as a media site that embraces film books, films on DVD, and film music. We're still going through our own growing pains, but since May of 2006, we've started to establish a review pattern and interest for rare & unusual classics, foreign films, recent flicks, and weirdo stuff (hence the affectionate and justified use of mondo in this blog).

Part of this page's purpose is to function as the main index to all the new articles, interviews, retrospectives, and reviews in print & web venues to which I've contributed.

For KQEK.com, it'll offer a few more details on new updates and items than the more concise capsules we're sending via RSS feeds & Usenet posts - just to give you a better idea of why we think our stuff is more neat than the larger (but still invaluable) major sites.

KQEK.com's mandate is to be an information bridge, and visitors to this blog will also find links to some of the intriguing and/or oddball sites & pages we find when scouring for material for our reviews and articles. (You'll see what I mean as we move further into July.)

The same goes for related news & reviews that would have crowded an already heavily linked interview (via our interactive WKME wetboarding experience for web-watchers, which adds a cool shade of "wow" to every reading. Ahem).

Having hands in the DVD and film music camps, Mondo Mark will also announce when the latest DVD column for Music from the Movies [MFTM] is up & running. As the current intro to July states, the focus will no longer be on those mere mentions composers have pretty much had to settle for during the past 2-3 years; we're going for a more selective and broad angle, but MFTM's column will still be the key site where you'll find out what DVD releases contain material of special interest to the film music aficionado - be it a composer commentary track, meaty interview, isolated score, or bonus CD.

If you haven't checked out MFTM, please do; and I'm not saying this as a longtime contributor. Both Film Score Monthly [FSM] and Soundtrack (plus the fondly remembered CinemaScore) magazine each had their own character and scope while in their old print format, and MFTM in print & web formats hasn't received wider familiarity among readers.

The mag began as From Silents to Satellites with a unique British/European angle, and like the aforementioned pioneers, it evolved into a thick, high-gloss, international-themed periodical, with seriously detailed articles by some devoted writers, and ultra-special issues on the Matrix films, Sergio Leone, and the Lord of the Rings flix.

Most should find that FSM's transition as an online subscription magazine in January has gone very well. I still miss holding a physical magazine, but a print format is a huge undertaking, and I think the new FSM's done well by also adding more of its huge back catalogue of prior issues to subscribers.

I'm a big proponent of making archival info online, as old reviews, interviews and articles eventually become the only footnote for a release, a person, a style, or a body of work that will eventually slip away from the consciousness of older aficionados, and be less sexy to newer fans. The mags, sites, and CD labels collectively keep the work of film composers old and new alive, and the reward in digging through older articles is sometimes a wonderful informational discovery.

Anyhoo, stay tuned for the next update, and feel free to add one of our RSS feeds to your reader. Just click on the appropriate logo to subscribe to this page directly. You can also choose from our menu at feedburner.com the MFTM DVD Column, updates to KQEK.com, or for this page, which covers everything Mondo Mark (but without footage of facelifts, a hippo hunt, or ty-dyed chickens set to Riz Ortolani's "More").
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