From bored to enlightened

Blade Runner - Polish Style!The Regent Theatre is the only theatrical venue in Toronto to catch Ridley Scott's definitive Blade Runner restoration before the film and its prior incarnations hit retail shelves December 18th in a multi-disc set on standard and high-def DVD.

When Blade Runner was originally released in 1982, it flew over my head not because of any complex plotting, inability to grasp film noir, or Vangelis’ synthetic music, but due to it being a Restricted film which, in Canada, meant no teen had a chance of seeing solo, let alone with an adult (unless they agreed to lie for you).

I didn’t know who Ridley Scott was at the time, but I did know about his prior film, Alien, because it was the film everyone was talking about because of the chest-bursting scene; in 1980 I was still in grade school, yet the whole class knew about the gory scene by the end of craft class because I wouldn’t shut up about it, even though I hadn’t seen it beyond the gory Heavy Metal graphic novel and Richard J. Anobile’s photo-novel that showed Yaphet Kotto’s tummy being pierced by one helluva proboscis; and when it debuted on home video, big mouth me was so terrified of seeing the reality that I watched the shock scenes on my friend’s dad’s Betamax tape in the reflection of my Timex. Total infantile scaredy-cat.

When Blade Runner debuted on pay TV (two movie channels named Super Channel and First Choice slugging it out before their eventual peace deal), I knew *of* the film because it had a teaser trailer featuring a bloody cloud in the title logo set to music by Robert Randles, one of the composers Scott allegedly kept in the wings in case Vangelis’ music didn’t fit the film according to plan.

(Scott had done a lot of tinkering with Jerry Goldsmith’s music on Alien, including appropriating cues from the composer’s much older score, Freud, a 1962 John Huston film which Universal tinkered with prior to its theatrical release. I wrote a long, long essay for Music from the Movies when Alien debuted on DVD with an isolated music track featuring all of Goldsmith’s used and unused cues. That score essay, comparing the composer’s and director’s intentions, will be uploaded to KQEK.com’s archives when the new 2-CD set of Alien from Intrada arrives, to tie-in with the CD review.)

Blade Runner’s blood clouded- logo was a very cool graphic, indeed. I did ultimately catch the movie on home video – the longer and more violent version – which I ultimately found boring (Vangelis’ music excepted).

I *was* familiar with film noir by then - bought a book, watched everything from Inferno (1953) to Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948) – and argued the film’s value with several friends who either became colleagues, video gurus, or eccentrics (or all of the aforementioned). I found Blade Runner dull, the narration stunk, the pacing was slow, and Rutger Hauer’s decision to pierce his hand with a nail and taunt Harrison Ford in the finale made no sense, or seemed an excessive indulgence in onscreen violence.

I did buy the New American Orchestra LP which featured a handful of re-recorded cuts, as this was the only way to enjoy the score due to an alleged snit between director Scott and composer Vangelis, who apparently didn’t like the way his music was treated by the director in the film’s final editing and mixing.

Oh, and I could watch the head-crunching scene without a reflective device. Easy as pie.

It wasn’t until the first Director’s Cut (1992) that I developed a healthy appreciation for the film, now free of its monotone narration, and benefiting from serious visual and aural cleansing. The film looked gorgeous on the big screen, and was seen at Toronto’s once glorious Uptown Theatre at a midnight screening before the huge theatre was closed and razed in 2003 by its owners and developers wanting to plop another condo tower so more million dollar folks could live in a building – still un-built - bearing the name of a beloved edifice murdered by corporate and governmental greed and apathy. (Bitter? No…)

By 1994, Vangelis’ score had also been given a new CD release, featuring the original score recordings in its first (legal) commercial release beyond the two cues on the old Polydor Themes compilation CD; the new Blade Runner CD sounded great, and a number of fabulous cues were rescued from oblivion, but the dolt who produced the disc decided dialogue excerpts would improve upon the pure enjoyment of hearing a score unreleased for 12 years.

That of course validated the bootleggers’ efforts, who had already decided to release their own versions of the score, beginning with the infamous Off World CD (1993) – arguably prompting the aforementioned legal release from Warner Bros. - the Gongo disc (1995), and home jobs featuring every blurp and bleep necessary to relive the experience of seeing the movie without actually seeing it.

Scott’s new Director’s Cut seemed to restore all the missing bits the fans knew would made a more perfect film, and the incremental re-edits also marked a rare second time the director had tinkered with a film he’d directed.

Due to the now-standard and indulgently double-dipping trend of offering director’s cuts on DVD and releasing the same film twice or thrice outside of high-def, Ridley Scott has tweaked more than half of the films he’s directed, although of the affected batch, only Alien remains the most unnecessary, as he effectively ruined the slow pacing he and ace editor Terry Rawlings established in 1980 by integrating many scenes that were rightly deemed harmful to the film’s flow, and also quite redundant. (And Goldsmith’s Freud cues were still trapped in the finished mix.)

One aspect that really stands out in all Blade Runner editions is Scott’s pacing, which is very measured, and though kinetic during chase sequences and montages, it stays respectful of actors as they live out scenes, give natural, and believable performances in what’s effectively a futuristic film noir.

It may be that with each decade, Blade Runner will continue to ascend towards a top 10 or top 20 all-time classic status, which it rightly deserves, because the subtext, atmosphere, dialogue, visuals and music are for the performers and technicians, among the best things they ever created or achieved.

Blade Runner is less of a slow movie and more of a calculated genre hybrid, and while the whole Deckard-and-unicorn tie-in still feels like a rough concept that was never refined in the script or film to really resonate – the fact unicorn footage from Scott’s next film, Legend, pops up is still a clumsy, jarring affectation – the film just gets better with each viewing, and I’ve seen it a mere 3 or 4 times when it debuted on home video.

The new sound mix also rocks –the first skull crush as Batty kills papa Tyrell sounds like cracking boulder, but I *kept* watching – and Vangelis’ music is beautifully interwoven between source cues and an incredibly dense sound effects design; fans familiar with the underground CDs are aware of how much music was truncated for many scenes, but one can also assume Scott was trying to find the film’s pacing, and those long cues on the boutique CDs were safe insurance in case he decided to let a scene play out longer than planned.

Visually, the film looks great, and various fans and fan sites have focused on the new shots integrated into the film – namely the ‘fixed’ death of Zora. What’s more important, however, is how the scene remains a pivotal juncture where we understand why Deckard wanted to stay the hell away from retiring any more replicants: it’s a shitty job, and to the surrounding general public, he’s just an assassin spilling blood in their private places.

Zora’s death is tragic, foreshadows the end of her kin, and Vangelis scores the scene with such sadness that it becomes an elegy for a species hunted to extinction by government sanction; subjectively assessed subtext, for sure, but the scene on the big screen genuinely gets the eyes wet.

And while the sound and picture will be the main reason to see Blade Runner on the big screen, it’s the impact of such carefully constructed scenes that make the film so memorable. Scott’s use of close-ups and his eventual shift to extreme close-ups during the finale are intense portraits of agony in Panavision, with sweat, water, and grime dribbling from the actors’ faces as they battle around and atop the old Bradbury Building. So while you’ll probably pick up one of the many DVD editions – standard, ultimate, or high-def – try and catch it on the big screen. The Regent’s presentation is a digital projection, and it was very, very impressive.

And as for the upcoming 3-CD soundtrack set, well, it’s best to be cautious. The specs are detailed HERE at this exhaustive Vangelis site, and apparently Disc 1 is a reissue of the imperfect 1998 disc with dialogue cluttering up the cues. Disc 2 has unreleased music (which fans will undoubtedly compare with their Off World, Gongo, Esper, Deck Art and Deck Music boutique CDs), and Disc 3 is some oddity with the composer revisiting his themes anew, and “intriguing” verbal mutterings that will apparently include dialogue and/or words from Scott, plus filmmakers who have collaborated with Vangelis, including Oliver Stone (Alexander), and Roman Polanski (Bitter Moon).

Even from a cursory scan of track titles from Universal Music’s press release, one can see there’s no duplication of cues from CD1 on CD2, meaning any cues from the 1994 CD you hoped would be free of dialogue won’t, as CD2 clocks in at around 44 mins.

Blade Runner's original 2-week engagement at The Regent Theatre has been extended, of which more can be read HERE.


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Mario Bava’s return to the big screen

It is indeed a bay full of bloodThursday Nov. 15th marked what was probably the first time in maybe a decade that a 35mm print of a Mario Bava film was screened at Toronto’s Bloor Cinema as part of Rue Morgue’s monthly CineMacabre series. Not video projection, but a true film print of Bay of Blood (aka Twitch of the Death Nerve / Last House on the Left 2 / Ecologia del Delitto), splashed onto a screen in front of an appreciative Toronto audience.

This is significant because over the past few years the local rep cinemas shrunk significantly after the Festival chain of theaters dissolved, and even when they were up & running, the offering double-bills tended to focus on Hollywood and foreign classics, vintage B-movies, 3-D flicks, and some recent blockbusters that had finished their first run in pricy megaplexes.

The variety was significant – a kind-of-annual 3-D festival included House of Wax, Dial M for Murder, Jaws 3-D, It Came from Outer Space, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, The Stewardesses – but I can’t really recall regular doses of sixties and seventies exploitation films popping up as much.

The reasons may have been, at their simplest level, two-fold: print availability (if they hadn’t been ground into celluloid dust over 20 years), and cost. Compared to a double-bill of Truffaut, Hitchcock, or film noir classics, how many people would pay to see a sexploitation couplet, if not a singular offering?

My own ignorance of how many were screened over the past 10 years comes from being spoiled by cable TV and DVD, particularly the latter, since so much is available for purchase and rent throughout the city. Toronto has an awesome collection of rental and sales locales, and with independents like Bay Street Video, Queen Video, and Suspect Video going strong, not to mention many used shops carrying their own eclectic selections, a heck of a lot can be screened in your own home (or on your computer, if you live in a closet with paper walls and sensitive neighbours).

As Nov. 15th demonstrated, the experience of watching an exploitation film with an appreciative crowd – fans plus total newbies to Bava’s sick black comedy – is way different than watching it on TV.

At home, there’s the pause button for restroom runs, the shuttle button for dull spots, and cookies & milk or junk food for personalized munchies cravings; in a theatre, there’s a screen the size of a low-rise building, and audience members laughing at the intentional and unintentional nonsense that makes classics like Bay of Blood so endearing.

Bay of Blood is not quite Bava’s best; shorn of it’s bill hook-in-the-face shot, brain matter splatter, and an awesome speared-to-the-tree scene in the final reel, it’s got serious slow spots, has two wandering sets of double-crossing lovers that make things a bit of a focal jumble, and is capped by a twist ending that’s beyond ridiculous (though some fans adore its audaciousness).

But even if it wasn’t a significant stylistic shift for the director (containing the kind of bold gore that could’ve saved Five Dolls for an August Moon) and is regarded as a precursor to Friday the 13th (because at it’s core, it’s basically a violent body-count flick with a mystery killer), Bay of Blood would still please an audience wanting sex, boobery, eccentric characters, bizarre dialogue, and artfully filmed killings.

A few people ooed when the curly-haired astrologist had her skull lopped off with an exe, when two lovers were speared before their climax (or did it deliver the ultimate payoff?), and when a leggy German chick was clipped with a bill-hook before writhing to death like a dying canary on a cottage lawn. It’s a good bet the shock worked for newbies, and fans who never realized how grisly Bava’s killings looked on the big screen.

Just as grand was Stelvio Cipriani’s score piped loud through the speakers, enhancing the weird melodramatic extremes Bava placed between his killings.

The Rachmaninoff-like schmaltz preceding the film’s opening garroting sequence is painfully funny (which one has to assume was a deliberately cheeky cheat before the first killing), whereas the long percussion track of the main theme (riffing Henry Mancini, with In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida’s bass groove, and not present on the downloadable CAM album and DigitMovies CD), increases audience tension as Bava intercuts between the drunken astrologist futzing with her Tarot cards, sweeping tracking shots of the German chick hip-swinging in her uber-mini-skirt, and a killer making his way towards the house.

Collectively it's a great example of mood and montage that’s arguably been overtaken by fast editing and politically correct tease angles (although Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez did get it right in their Grindhouse opus, placing bums, boobs, and legs all over the Panavision frame).

To enhance the night's mood, Vagrancy Films provided a quartet of vintage trailers: Schizoid (the U.S. title for Lucio Fulci’s giddy Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / Una Lucertola con la pelle di donna), Fulci’s The Brute and the Beast (aka Massacre Time / Tempo di massacre), a psychotically strobing teaser for The Exorcist which got the biggest audience applause, and Dario Argento’s Phenomena (with Dutch subtitles).

Whether we’ll be treated to a 35mm print of another Bava film in the near future is up in the air, but some background on the screening, some nods to the people and companies that made it possible, and impressions of the event are collected in a short Q&A below with Rue Morgue Managing Editor Dave Alexander, who, along with Office Manager Audra Butera, made sure this rare treat came off without a hitch.

Mark R. Hasan: Producer Alfred Leone was the source of the print, and you mentioned it was created for theatre retrospectives. Just curious if Bay of Blood is a kind of test to see if there's an interest among Bava and genre fans to see the director's work on the big screen?

Dave Alexander: Unless you're into Italian genre cinema, Bava really is an undiscovered master. Now that Tim Lucas has published All the Colors of the Dark, his twelve-pound, 1000+ page tome on the director, and Anchor Bay has released its second Bava box set, "The Maestro of the Macabre" is set for a serious renaissance – it’s time he earned wider recognition because he was a very skilled filmmaker on both artistic and technical levels, and has a very distinctive style.

In terms of this being a test, we just thought it’d be cool to show Bava on film, especially since an excellent print was available. The Bava book and DVD set was a good tie-in.

Mark R. Hasan: The challenges in seeking out, negotiating, booking, and getting a film print of a rare or classic film probably isn't unique to Rue Morgue's CineMacabre, and I wonder, among the many films you were able to screen this year and past, was Bay of Blood among the toughest to make happen, and what was Anchor Bay's involvement in the process?

Dave Alexander: Anyone who programs classic films will tell you what a headache this can be between sourcing a good print, getting permission to show it, paying for right, rental and shipping. Plus, if you’re bringing it in from another country – Bay of Blood came from New York – you have to worry about the film being held up at customs. We’ve had film prints held at customs until it was too late and were forced to show projected DVDs, which is a real bummer-and-a-half.

Audra Butera: This was actually one of the easiest films to get a hold of. International Media Films is a pretty no-BS type of company. Alfredo Leone was great and got us the print - no hassles - in the matter of days. One of the first times I haven't just about had a heart failure on the day when I find out the film has been held up in customs due to anything from improper documentation to content. The cost in shipping prints back and forth, plus theatre rentals can be extremely high, so we are very thankful that AB jumped on board with their support on this one.

Dave Alexander: For Bay of Blood, we pitched the idea to Anchor Bay of showing a Bava film that was in their new box set, and they could tie-in a promotion. The only way we could afford to bring in the print was if they were willing to rent it for us and we’d pick up the other costs. It was a win-win kinda deal. And keep in mind that there are probably more cost-effective ways for a company to promote a DVD set, yet AB was behind it all the way because they agreed that, yeah, showing a friggin’ rare print of an important Bava movie is pretty cool. We’re pretty damn lucky to get that kind of support.

Mark R. Hasan: Getting 35mm prints under the dominance and ease of DVDs has to be a major hurdle, because some print owners may feel the cost of striking and maintaining a working print isn't worth the cost and effort if the film doesn't play to packed houses. Why do you think it's important to screen prints when many rare and classic films are available on home video?

Dave Alexander: Bay of Blood is the perfect example of why you want to see this stuff on film, in a theatre, with an appreciative crowd. Bava in particular works best on film, projected big, as part of his trademark style is the lush use of colour that really pops on celluloid, ambitious compositions that you don’t get as much out of on a small screen and the crazy gore gags are exactly the kind of thing that an audience can applaud or cheer for, enhancing the collective social experience one gets from watching movies with a crowd.

Plus, Vagrancy Films provided some film trailers that we showed before Bay of Blood, which added that moviehouse feel to the proceedings. Add to the mix that wonderful sound of a projector purring away, the warm glow of light on the screen and a bag of theatre popcorn and it’s an experience that you can’t replicate at home. A lot of films, including Bava’s works, were made specifically to be projected on a big screen, and it’s vital to have that theatrical experience if you really consider yourself a movie lover.

Mark R. Hasan: Lastly, do you think there might be other Bava films that might enjoy a return to the big screen in 2008?

Dave Alexander: Honestly, it's very unlikely as far as CineMacabre nights go. We didn't want to show a Bava print unless is was quality, 'cause otherwise you just aren't getting the full effect, so we went to the source - Alfredo Leone - and rented one of his Bava prints, which were struck in 2001 (according to the date stamp I saw on Bay of Blood) for a retrospective.

I can tell you that Bay of Blood is the most expensive print we've brought in, and if Anchor Bay hadn't been awesome enough to sponsor the night and pick up the tab (don't forget, Rue Morgue also has theatre rental, print shipping and promotions costs), we would've lost money on the night. We had under 150 paying customers, which isn't enough to make that bottom line without sponsorship.

The point of CineMacabre nights isn't to make money - when Rue Morgue founder and president Rodrigo Gudino started CineMacabre movie nights, they were always intended to bring horror fans together and earn the magazine a good reputation in the horror community - but we can't afford to take a big loss, either.

It’s a shame, actually. There are five million people in the GTA, Toronto is one of the biggest film cities in the world, this was an incredibly rare opportunity, The Bloor is centrally located and we promoted the heck out of it, yet we couldn’t get enough of a crowd to sustain a one-night screening (!). Maybe it’s apathy, maybe we’re overestimating the popularity of Bava – hard to say. The important thing is that the folks who did come out had a blast and really seemed to appreciate it. That makes it all worth it. Hopefully they’ll spread the word and someday we can try another Bava print.

Thanks again to Dave and Audra for their candid thoughts, and here’s hoping more genre classics are given the same chance again on the big screen. For another account of the evening by another attendee, click HERE.

New reviews uploaded at KQEK.com include Vol. 2 of Anchor Bay’s Mario Bava Collection, with reviews for Bay of Blood DVD (what’d you expect?) and Five Dolls for an August Moon / 5 bambole per la luna d'agosto (1970) with more to follow shortly.


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The many masks of the devil

Although Mario Bava’s 1960 debut as credited director, Black Sunday / La Maschera del demonio, is the best-known adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s classic folk chiller “Viy,” the story was also filmed more faithfully by Russian directors Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov in 1967, and years later, the story and elements from Bava’s own film were hybridized by son Lamberto Bava in his 1989 cinematic ode, also titled Black Sunday / La Maschera del demonio, which was also released under the misleading title Demons 5: The Devil’s Veil, having nothing to do with Lamberto Bava's first two Demons films.

To add some comparative background to Mario Bava’s classic gothic thriller, previously released by Anchor Bay / Starz Home Entertainment as part of their Mario Bava Collection Vol. 1 and now available separately, we’ve added reviews of Viy, the 1967 Russian version, and Lamberto Bava’s ode (though bear in mind the film’s been assessed from an Italian language video, as an English dubbed or subtitled version remains unavailable on DVD).

Also part of Anchor Bay’s Mario Bava wave is Erik the Conqueror, the director’s third film after Hercules in the Haunted World, starring Cameron Mitchell and blazing Technicolor.

From Facets Multimedia is The Case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft / Le cas Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1999), an episode of the French TV series Un si√®cle d'√©crivains. Directed by Patrick Mario Bernard and, Pierre Trividic, it’s an experimental bio-doc that uses stills, animated montages, stock film, music, and narration to evoke the prose of one of America’s best-known horror writers, H.P. Lovecraft, whose filmed works include "Herbert West, Re-Animator," "Dagon," "The Dunwich Horror," and "Cthulhu."

Also in the horror vein is an interview with Jaye Barnes Luckett (also known as Poperratic), writer/director Lucky McKee’s main composer and music collaborator on May, The Woods, Masters of Horror: Sick Girl, and Angela Bettis’ feature film debut, Roman. Cues from these works were recently released by La-La Land Records on Luckett’s film music CD, and a shorter version of the interview appeared in the August 2007 issue of Rue Morgue magazine. The original Q&A contains more details on Luckett’s experiences on May, and sheds light on some of the issues that arose when MGM/UA underwent a regime change, and McKee’s The Woods was shelved for several years until a 2006 release.

And for those in the Toronto area, Mario Bava fans should take note of a special screening of Bay of Blood at the Bloor Cinema, featuring a newly struck 35mm print from the producer, and present by Anchor Bay Entertainment, Rue Morgue Radio, Eye Weekly, and Suspect Video. Apparently part of a festival retrospective, this is a rare opportunity to catch ax-wielding mayhem, Bava-style, on the big screen this Thursday Nov. 15th. Click HERE for more info.


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