Library Music, Part 1

The release of the 3-disc set The Prisoner: The Complete Chappell Recorded Music Library Cues pretty much completes the grand quest fans wanting every note of music used in the original 1967 series starring Patrick McGoohan, but it’s also a rare instance where vintage, unedited material from a music library is commercially available for listening purposes.

Stock or library music is what a production buys and can used and reuse within a film or TV show. It’s pre-scored according to themes – shocking music, romantic music, lounge music, etc. – rather than actual film scenes, and some of the most successful series have made use of material that was never written for a specific series.

The Prisoner benefitted from great talent on the production line, McGoohan’s vision for his series, and excellent music editors who edited cues into scenes and made the marriage natural and dramatically functional.

I’ve uploaded a review of the new set (available only from the Unmutual website, and limited to 1000 copies), plus an interview with the set’s producer, Derek Lawton.

In May I’ll have a review of another 3-disc set produced by Britain’s Network label in 2008, which focused on all the original music composed as underscore and source music by the series’ main composers. (That set will be compared with the three volumes released by Silva Screen, which contained original and some of the Chappell library cues.)

I’m still waiting for the day someone obsessive (or crazy) will release the stock music from the animated Rocket Robin Hood and Spider-Man series, and maybe some of the music used in oddball feature films no one particularly remembers except me (like, oh, The Fat Black Pussycat, and Hideout in the Sun. The jazz music in Herschell Gordon Lewis gory Colour Me Blood Red is another, but some of the cues were tracked over the deleted scenes gallery in the Image DVD. See, I pay attention to these things. Ahem).

It has happened before, so don’t laugh.

When opportunity yields some lucky break, you get something like Monstrous Movie Music’s The Blob (and other creepy sounds). Producers David Schecter and Kathleen Mayne dug into the Valentino Production Music Library and assembled cues from The Green Slime, Terror from the Year 5000, and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

It’s taken a while to get my hands on those film (Green Slime is STILL unavailable on DVD, but luckily it appeared on TCM, albeit fill frame), so I’ll have reviews of that fine trio of cinematic schlock, plus comments by Schecter regarding the Valentino cues he secured for CD release in Part 2 of this series.

Coming next: three Hollywood-related films that played in the recent Toronto Jewish Film Festival – Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (2009), The Brothers Warner (2008), and Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust (2009).

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Four Days. Classic Films.

Sunday marked the end of TCM’s Classic Film Festival, a four-day event spread out over a handful of movie palaces in Hollywood that premiered with a digital screening of the restored Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born (1954), and closed with Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959).

Being about classic films, the festival was, in some ways, a test as to whether a brand name (TCM) could be used to not only showcase (mostly) film print screenings at premium prices in theatres, but help publicize the latest film restoration by studios prior to home video releases.

Star is a high-profile work headlined by one of cinema’s major icons (Garland), whereas Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) is an oddball work by a little-known director, originally distributed on DVD by indie label KINO.

In the past, restoration of classics such as Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927), Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), Anthony Mann’s El Cid (1961), David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi noir Blade Runner (twice), Luchino Visconti’s Il Gattopardo / The Leopard (1963) toured the world as regal, limited run engagements in major cities. And on the big screen.

Less glossy reconstructions and restorations – Erich Von Stroheim’s silent classic Greed (1924), or Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon (1937) – more or less slid straight to cable TV and video, respectively, if indeed they were given film festival or limited runs in select cities.

Flip to 2010, and as the major chains continue to devote screen time to blockbusters and 3D escapism, it seems likely that, unless there’s a local film society in your home town, you may not see the latest crop of restorations – even the high profile gems – on the big screen.

The Varsity Cinemas in Toronto did a series of ‘test’ screenings this past winter in which a handful of classics were digitally screened from reportedly Blu-ray discs, but it’s not the same as catching film prints of Jaws (1975) at the now-dead Uptown Backstage with a packed house, Alien (the original 1979 theatrical version) at the now-dead Uptown 1, Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (1971) and Black Sunday (1960), as well as The Brood (1979) and Phantom of the Paradise (1974) at the Bloor Cinema.

The Ontario Cinemathque has themed director retrospectives, but catching a bit of vintage sleaze, gore, or seventies disaster flicks seems dicey, since the product within those genres doesn’t quite measure up to a month-long tribute to Godard, Sirk, Bergman, Kurosawa, or Ozu.

What was screened at TCMCFF was decidedly mainstream and non-chi-chi, and the selection was aimed at the average classic film fan who also spends a fair time watching TCM for a daily/weekly classic film fix. That’s not a bad thing, because the program featured a balance of foreign, silent, cult, previously lost, and AFI-listed films.

Basically something for everyone, including standard classics as Casablanca (1943), Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), and North by Northwest (1959), not to mention Godard’s Breathless (1960), Preminger’s Carmen Jones (1954), Ray’s In a Lonely Place (1950), and the epic Good Earth (1937), a pseudo-Asian drama with white folks hidden under politically incorrect makeup.

Some of the screenings included guest appearances (check out the TCMCFF website for blog and show details) and some related lectures, but by early accounts, the event was a success (see Variety’s just-in report), and a validation of vintage Hollywood fare.

Here’s a question: Can something like TCM’s festival happen in Toronto, outside of the TIFF umbrella?

Are there enough fans willing to bypass a DVD rental just to catch classics on the big screen?

Is it worth a theatre’s gamble to rent a print of Joseph Mankiewicz’ Cleopatra (1963) – all four hours of it – for a one-time screening?

TCM’s festival include Cleopatra on the big screen, not to mention the 1930 widescreen Grandeur version of The Big Trail (which is simply stunning), Elia Kazan’s Wild River (a neglected drama with exceptional colour lighting), 2001: A Space Odyssey (which never came to Toronto during the film’s touted anniversary / restoration run prior to the DVD and Blu-ray launch), a cleaned up North by Northwest, a print of the 1945 blazing Technicolor noir thriller Leave Her to Heaven, the newly restored The Red Shoes (1948), and the recently restored Metropolis (1927).

Those are the film’s I’d have caught, since some are likely once-only screenings.

Studios have a tendency to reissue classics in theatres to publicize the looming home video release, but there are looming issues: unless it’s Casablanca, widescreen and stereo sound trumps an old 1.33:1 black & white film. Why? Because grain is visible in HD, the image is square, and some Luddites do not like black & white when they’ve spent a few thousand dollars on a HD home theatre system designed to bring out the crisply rendered audio and video nuances of a movie.

As studios slowly shift their classic film catalogues away from DVDs towards their own cable channels and digital download venues, they should realize some of the films screened at TCM’s festival could and should be used to publicize film libraries currently emerging as digital broadcasts and downloads.

By making these films available – as prints, or as HD theatrical masters – it keeps the Hollywood catalogue alive, much in the way the Cinematheques around the world reprogram Godard, Sirk, Bergman, Kurosawa, or Ozu. Those films remain draws because the themed screenings keep those films within the consciousness of film fans.

If HD masters were created for broadcast, then they should also be available for rental. Blade Runner, as screened at the Mount Pleasant Theatre in November of 2007, looked and sounded grand in HD, and I can imagine how great The Big Trail, Leave Her to Heaven, Argento’s 1970 debut Bird with a Crystal Plumage (Storaro shot that one, you know), or Rollercoaster (1977) would look in that theatre.

As reported at in70mm.com, The German city of Schauburg will hold a Sensurround film festival, June 5-6, this summer. Battlestar Galactica (1978), Rollercoaster (1977), and Midway (1976) will be digital projections, whereas Earthquake (1974) will be from a 70mm print. The German audio will be accompanied by English subtitles, and the 40 Hz audio will blast from vintage Sensurround gear.

This is happening not in Hollywood, not in New York, and certainly not in Toronto. And people will trek across borders because it’s a unique event, which begs the question again: Can something like TCM’s festival – be it classic, horror, cult, widescreen, or blasted Sensurround – happen in Toronto?

Four days. Rarely screened classics. In Toronto.


Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Hidden Tales from 1936

Mention the 1936 Berlin Olympics, and the first thing that comes to mind is Jesse Owens’ Gold medal win, and then perhaps Olympia, Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 documentary of the big sports competition that Hitler used to propagandize Nazism as a great nationalist movement under the fancy banner of the Third Reich.

Mounting a global sports event within the walls of a racist state was only possible if the state pretended to be inclusive, and two cases were recently dramatized in a pair of 2009 productions.

The most widely-known – and making festival rounds in North America right now – is Berlin 36, a docu-drama of champion high jump athlete Gretel Bergmann, who was living in Britain when the German government called and asked her to represent the country at the upcoming Olympics.

Problem #1: she was Jewish.

Problem #2: the Nazis needed her to participate just long enough for the Olympic bigwigs of the IOC to grant the games a Go, after which Bergmann could be dumped, and the national team could be headlined with Aryanesque athletes.

Premiering in Canada last night as part of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, Berlin 36 was also recently released on DVD in Germany (Warner Bros.), and in addition to a film review, I’ve also included details of the Region 2 DVD’s extras.

A related film is Semyon Pinkhasov’s documentary What If? The Helen Mayer Story, which chronicles the case of fencing mistress Helen Mayer who won a Gold medal at the 1928 Olympics, and was an ideal candidate for the German team in ’36 with one issue: she was half-Jewish.

As Pinkhasov covers in his detailed film, allowances were made that eventually permitted the athlete to represent her country, but the film’s title begs a question whose answer can only be hypothetical: Had Mayer refused, would the Olympics have occurred, or would her refutation of participating for the Nazis have been a major humiliation on the international stage?

The Olympics were a grandiose opportunity for Hitler to unfurl his propaganda plans, but it was just one event within an overall scheme to reacquire /steal land and kill a few million people, and one doubts a low medal haul at the Olympics, had the event occurred in spite of Mayer’s refusal to participate, would’ve mattered in the long run.

The big goal in the coming years was World Domination, and a sports event seemed inconsequential when the Nazis would in fact invade Poland, France, and chunks of north Africa, to name a few sovereign states.

Pinkhasov’s question, however, also extends to Mayer’s motivations for agreeing to participate, to the point that, upon winning a Silver medal, she gave the Nazi salute. Was it to protect her family’s safety, or something else?

What If? is still doing the festival rounds (director Pinkhasov participated in a brief but helpful Q&A after the screening this past Wednesday), but hopefully the film will be available on home video, if not as a digital download, because it’s a story that also provokes a number of questions, and inevitably smart discussions beyond the Berlin Olympics.

That said, in addition to the above reviews, there’s also a prior review of Riefenstahl’s Olympia. The film was released in North America on DVD in a rather mediocre transfer from Pathfinder Films in 2006. The better edition from Criterion, released on laserdisc around 1996, has yet to appear on DVD, whereas the German Region 2 version is available on two dual layer DVDs, albeit with no English subtitles, and the German dub track.

Also related to the 1936 Olympics is the odd propaganda film Wunschkonzert (1940), about a couple whose meeting during the Berlin Olympics starts a friendship and romance, only to have it mucked up by WWII. The film actually includes some footage of Riefenstahl’s doc, and it’s an interesting take on a more blissful view of the Olympics, free from the cruelties of the Greta Bergmann saga, and the controversy of Helen Mayer who, unsurprisingly, had gone from celebrated national sports heroine to non-person.

I’ll have three more sets of reviews related to this year’s TJFF (which ends tonight) this week, spanning comic art, exiled German Jewish filmmakers in Hollywood, and a rarely seen documentary about the concentration camps supervised by Alfred Hitchcock.

Coming next, however, are some thoughts on TCM’s own Classic Film Festival, followed by some reviews of those rarities available in Region 2 land.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Soundtrack Release Tally

Here’s a quick tally of the latest soundtracks announced for release over the past two weeks, plus a few titles now available for pre-order from local online merchants.

Note: if you’re a soundtrack label and have information regarding an upcoming release, please use the email address (see About Me) to email press information.

Lastly, two interviews floating around web and print media: Randall Larson interviews Jessica De Rooij, the talent composer (Far Cry) behind the untalented Uwe Boll; and sliding completely under the radar, composer/jazz pianist/shrink Denny Zeitlin was interviewed in the March issue of Fangoria.

Here’s the tally:

BSX Records

John Beal’s Terror in the Aisles
Dennis McCarthy’s Letters from a Killer

DigitMovies (Italy)

Francesco De Masi’s Macist nelle miniere di re Salamone + La rivolta delle gladiatrici + Il figlio dello sceicco
Enrico Simonetti’s Kid il monello del west / Kid, Terror of the West
Bruno Nicolai’s El Cristo del oceano / Christ from the Ocean + Canossa
Nico Fidenco’s 2+5 Missione Hydra

FSM (Film Score Monthly)

Michael Small’s Marathon Man + The Parallax View
2-CD set of Leigh Harline and Bob Merrill’s The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm
Ennio Morricone’s grim White Dog
The 5-disc omnibus The Cincinnati Kid: Lalo Schifrin Scores Vol. 1 (1964-1968)

GDM (Italy)

Ennio Morricone’s Oceano / The Wind Blows Free
Angelo Francesco Lavagnino’s Sfida a Rio Bravo / Gunmen of Rio Bravo

Giovanni Fusco’s La guerre est fini / The War is Over
Ennio Morricone’s L’avventuriero / The Rover


An expanded release of Basil Poledouris’ Robocop
Jerry Fielding’s Straw Dogs
A double-bill of Dominic Frontiere’s Billie + Popi
The song/score CD of Michael Mann’s Manhunter, with one extra cue

Kritzerland Records

Fred Katz’ The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

La-La Land Records

Nelson Riddle’s Batman: The Movie (1966) (previously available as an isolated score on Fox’ Blu-ray DVD)
Christopher Drake’s music for the animated Wonder Woman film
Marc Shaiman’s Speechless

An expanded 2-disc edition of David Arnold’s Independence Day
A newly restored stereo version of John Williams’ The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

MovieScore Media (Sweden)

Fernando Velazquez’ chilling Shiver on CD and digital download
2 releases by Erwann Kermovant: IMAX score Un ticket pour l’espace / A Ticket to Space, and Big City

Conrad Pope’s In My Sleep

Perseverance Records

David Newman’s The Runestone

Quartet Records (Spain)

Maurice Jarre’s Tokyo Blackout
An expanded release of Michel Legrand’s The Happy Ending

Varese Sarabande

Michael Giacchino’s Fringe

Edward Shearmur’s Mother and Child
Marc Streitenfeld’s Robin Hood (2010)
Michael Giacchino’s Lost music for Season 5
Harry Gregson-Williams’ Shrek Forever

Mark R. Hasan, Editor



Thursday April 22 marked the midpoint between the Toronto Jewish Film Festival and the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival in Hollywood.

TCM’s festival (Thursday April 22 – Sunday April 25) marks another evolutionary stage for the specialty TV channel that boasted (and still does offer) classic movies, uncut, commercial-free, and in widescreen. From books to merchandise and tie-ins with Warner Home Video as well as the Warner Archives Collection, it seemed natural that the channel (which has domestic variants in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Spain, France, Latin America, Asia, and Germany) would take a stab at a film festival.

There remain countless neglected films, unrestored classics and rarely seen gems to discover, and certainly one advantage is to see them on the big screen in classic Hollywood movie palaces. Including film prints.

For TCM, it shows them to be a patron of the commercial arts, and that’s not a bad stance, since TCM’s offerings are essentially classic Hollywood fare, and their film festival is the perfect launching pad for recent restorations to make their international or North American premieres, which in turn help publicize the DVDs and Blu-ray releases coming soon.

TCMCFF isn’t a blatant commercial event, as it does bring attention to film preservation and the results of hard work and results from much-needed financial support. Theatrical runs also help sell physical home video product, and as digital downloads continue to erode the sale of hardcopies (and perhaps eclipse them), theatrical runs will be the deluxe presentation of a film.

Kind of like the old road show engagements of event films in theatres at premium prices, as was popular during the sixties, except with far shorter theatrical windows. Roughly $20 gets you the IMAX or 3D version, before it slides to home video.

In Toronto, there’s a problem with those deluxe theatrical venues; we don’t have enough centrally located IMAX screens (er, we have ONE), for example, and the bulk of the multi-screen houses have been relocated to the Dundas line, leaving areas like Bloor and Yonge weaker.

(That intersection, as well as a long stretch of Bloor, once housed several big screen theatres before they were razed and replaced by condos. Maybe the boost in density might prompt a rethink, but if the inhabitants are strictly property investors and seasonal inhabitants, a deluxe theatre centre ain’t gonna happen.)

In any event, in the case of TCM, they have the venues and audience base for classic films, whereas Toronto has been oddly ignored by the U.S. when it comes to premieres and touring classics. The norm of Los Angeles-New York-Toronto for premiere North American engagements is kind of gone, and the test will be whether we’ll get some of the goodies premiering at TCMCFF, or will have to wait for the home video edition instead of that one-time theatrical run.

Top-lining the first day of TCMCFF’s line-up is the restored version of A Star Is Born (1954), which was first reconstructed as close as possible to its original nearly 3-hour length in 1983, but given an overhaul using contemporary technologies. That film is joined by Monkey Business (1952), Casablanca (1948), the rarely seen Frank Capra adventure-drama Dirigible (1931), and the Janet Gaynor comedy-musical Sunnyside and Up (1929).

With the exception of the last two, everything else is available on DVD, in case you want to program your own selective TCMCFF. (Casablanca is also available on Blu-ray from Warner Home Video, who will release A Star Is Born on DVD and BR June 22nd.)

Also worth hunting down is Ronald Haver’s 2002 book, A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration for a detailed background of what was, at the time, one of the biggest archival hunts in film history – the missing footage of this once-maligned classic.

Over the weekend, I’ll have reviews of some of the titles still unavailable in North America, but released on DVD in Europe. For details of the goodies being offered, check out TCMCFF’s website.

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The TJFF began last Saturday April 17, but the big event was the Canadian premiere of Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, a 1948 documentary of the postwar trials that was designed as a de-Nazification tool for the allies. There exists Russian and German versions, but the English version was never completed, as it was thought the contents – which includes some concentration camp footage – was unsuitable for schools, and an American populace the government felt was better served focusing on rebuilding the economy than dour WWII horrors.

Reconstructed in 2009 from various sources with a new narration track, Nuremberg premiered to a sold out house, but the TJFF have slated a second screening this Sunday (the festival’s last day) at the Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Cinemas at Yonge & Sheppard. (Check TJFF’s website for further details.)

No word on whether the guest roster from the premiere - restoration project director Sandra Schulberg, restoration picture/sound editor Josh Waletzky, and CBC Journalist Evan Solomon - will be present, but those unable to get tickets the first time around will be able to catch the film on the big screen, and absorb its intensity before it inevitably makes its way to DVD. (More info on the film can also be found at the film's official website.)

This year’s offerings are quite diverse, and perhaps the two main strands that dominate the content are the consequences of the Third Reich’s anti-Semitic doctrines, and Jewish artistry and culture in comic books and humour.

Some of the films have repeat screenings, and the venues include the Al Green Theatre, the Bloor Cinema, Cineplex Odeon Sheppard Centre Cinemas, and the SilverCity Richmond Hill Cinemas.

I’m thematically grouping some of the reviews of films I’ve seen at the festival, and will have the first set up Saturday: The Brothers Warner (recently released on DVD by WHV), Cinema’s Exiles: From Hitler to Hollywood (recently aired on PBS), and Not Idly By: Peter Bergson, America and the Holocaust, a Canadian premiere.

Lastly, I’ll also have a round-up of this week’s recent soundtrack releases, followed by several CD reviews.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Flickers Around the World

A Kimchi researcher is not a laughing matter.‘Flickers’ is actually an old term for the movies, and it’s somewhat apropos to the four film exhibitors in Uli Gaulke’s 2006 documentary, Comrades in Dreams (Pathfinder Pictures), whose sense of showmanship and entrepreneurial spirit harken back to the Golden and Silver Age of movie distribution.

A production of Germany’s ZDF, Comrades has intertwined snippets of the personal lives and professional struggles of three friends getting their open air cinema off the ground in Africa; a young entrepreneur’s travelling tent cinema in India; a single screen cinema in America’s Midwest; and a movie house in North Korea.

Each segment has its own merits, but it’s undoubtedly the last one that’s the most fascinating because so little of North Korea is known beyond the sometimes monthly saber-rattling that has newscasts reporting of nuclear threats from the country’s totalitarian regime.

In each case, Gaulke just follows her subjects and captures their reactions with colleagues, family, and film patrons, and there’s never a moment where one sees a hand or hears an off-screen voice of the filmmakers prodding their subjects for details.

That’s particularly important with the North Korean segments, because regardless of the genuinely warm personalities, the country’s politics do materialize, and one gets a sense of how politics and the cult of the two Kims – the country’s elder founder, and the goofy son that’s now in charge – have affected ordinary lives.

Some may wish Gaulke had concentrated solely on her North Korean subjects, but there were probably two reasons that location was chosen: it offered a glimpse into a little-seen society, and the political extremes fitted well with the other subjects – exhibitors trying to entertain people in dry regions, hot climates, and similarly tight-knitted communities.

Unlike the fantasy world of Cinema Paradiso (1988) and the slapstick hijinks of The Smallest Show on Earth (1957), Comrades in Dreams is a realist drama – actually four dramas – and Gaulke’s little gem shouldn’t be overlooked.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Tools of the Trade

Internships and apprenticeships in the film industry are no different than accounting, welding, or social work – the goal is to learn a craft, make contacts, and eventually ‘follow your bliss,’ as an acquaintance nick-named Bobo often said.

That’s pretty much what Amin Matalqa did when he studied at the AFI and returned to his native Jordan to make his feature film debut in 2007, Captain Abu Raed, which is currently enjoying a theatrical release before it inevitably journeys over to DVD, much like any other film.

Raed will probably divide audiences, but not because of politics. It’s the melodrama, the conventions, and the claim one can make of Maralqa making Oscar bait – an inspirational tale of a widower whose life perks up when a group of kids in his poor home turf think he’s a pilot.

Nicknamed ‘Captain,’ Raed spins elaborate tales of worldly travels until a jealous youth breaks his spell over the kids by proving Raed is no pilot, but a lowly janitor at the airport.

That unmasking starts an awkward association between Raed and the boy, and the film swerves towards the darker subject of child abuse, and that’s where Matalqa ably manipulates his dramatic chess pieces until the finale, where things get clunky, clumsy, and either feel like a cheat, or cap a small-town humanistic drama.

It’s a film worth catching on the big screen, though, at least for the sumptuous Jordanian locations. The amber colours are hypnotic, and the HD cinematography is saturated with soothing colours; even the child-beater’s home is a kind of vintage fifties turquoise blue.

Austin Wintory’s score is also memorable for not treading into the kind of treacly manipulative style often grafted onto humanist stories. Wintory’s a very skilled composer whose lush orchestral music for Raed is the polar opposite of Grace (2009), a superb horror score (also available via BSX Records) that isn’t easy exactly listening, but it is rewarding for those wanting a blend of diverse sounds forming a portrait of an intense psychological breakdown.

The reason I focused on Captain Abu Raed here is because it’s the product of a Middle Eastern filmmaker who, while now based in the U.S., learned filmmaking tools to tell a story with a personal cultural angle. The structure and resolution may gel into something familiar (and conventional), but it’s still a personal film.

Matalqa isn’t unique by forging such a career path for himself, but perhaps an early predecessor is the late Moustapha Akkad, the Syrian-born filmmaker who learned the filmmaking ropes in the U.S. before taking a crack at directing with two major efforts: Mohammad, Messenger of God / The Message (1977), and Lion of the Desert (1980), after which he stuck to producing pretty much nothing except the Halloween sequels after the first film made him quite solvent.

I’ll have reviews of both epic films – one about religious faith, the other about a persecuted rebel – next week, since Tadlow just released a 2-disc set of Maurice Jarre’s two scores, which also happen to be among the composer’s best.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Werner Herzog in 3D

Probably the next best thing to attending a lecture headed by Werner Herzog (or his Rogue Film School) is seeing a documentary of the eccentric filmmaker in 3D, where you can reach out and pat his crazy little head with affection for making a movie every three months (or thereabouts) on all kinds of unusual subjects.

The latest 3D news isn’t that Martin Scorsese will make Hugo Cabret in 3D (he will, this fall, and further details are at hitflix.com), but that Herzog will shoot a documentary on cave paintings in the format (as reported at Movieline.com).

What’s not amusing (and rather straightforward) is his decision to capture ancient paintings in a 3D process because light and exhalations from visitors over time will destroy the art that’s been tucked away in hidden caves for eons. If the Discovery Channel can shoot sharks in 3D, and Jimmy Cameron can film his beloved Titanic wreck in 3D, then there’s nothing outrageous about inaccessible cave paintings in the third dimension.

It’s Herzog, however, which means the results will be intriguing, his voice in the narration soothing, and the behind-the-scenes footage will capture the crazy man as he and two other production technicians wiggle their way into tiny caves. David Attenborough may be the King Host of nature documentaries, but Herzog is the König of everything odd and unusual.

Speaking of 3D, with Clash of the Titans now out for a few weeks, a few articles have appeared with unsubtle warnings about the ill-affects of hasty conversion processes (see Gizmodo.com + Slate.com for separate articles). The collective fear is that poor conversions and weak films will kill the format as happened in the 80s, but in fairness, few of the 3D films of that era were any good.

Most were gimmicky horror, animated or sci-fi films, done cheaply, and with little purpose beyond shoving something in your face. The 50s had greater variety, from westerns to musicals, thrillers like the much vaunted (and deservedly so) House of Wax to alien attacks, but the format’s mothballing probably stemmed from the imperfect anaglyph process (goofy glasses, headaches for some), insufficiently widespread implementation and distribution of 3D films throughout the market. (The push was fast, but perfectly fine films like Kiss Me Kate were mostly shown flat as the format’s success waned).

Moreover, if given a choice in 1953, people seemed to prefer super wide films in Cinerama and CinemaScope than 1.33:1 films where you had to wear itchy cardboard glasses. So Herzog and Scorsese jumping into 3D is a good thing, because it means they’ll add more dramatic variety to 3D processes that may well have longevity, since digital systems are in play, and the first generation of 3D TV sets are supposed to handle Blu-ray and cable TV 3D offerings – a big difference from the fifties where TVs at best offered colour; and the eighties, where anaglyph 3D fodder was peddled out via the odd 3D TV broadcast (Hondo, Gorilla at Large, The Mad Magician), VHS tapes (The Mask), and VHD, the obsolete Japanese videodisc format that offered backwards compatible 3D films, using LCD shutter glasses for films like Jaws 3D, Amityville 3-D, and Dial M for Murder.

Hopefully 20 years from now someone isn’t citing in his/her blog the antique gear used in the format’s third wave (which now extends to, uh, 3D laptops?) as a fourth in underway. Maybe in 2030 we’ll actually be living Hitchcock’s 3D dreamland, sitting in a chair that’s in the room, tucked in the corner of a cave, or the back seat of a car being projected in a home-styled 3D room where satellite video and audio signals immerse the viewer in actual scenes.

And maybe, just maybe, the gear will have Herzog seated a few feet from you, schlucking a marillen schnapps as he recalls that 'insignificant' moment when he thought about killing Kinski.

Best use of 3D I can think of.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Intangible, and just plain odd

Imagine this scenario.

The film you greenlit and is currently in production is coming together. Rough edits of scenes look great. The cast and crew and happy. The film’s moving along without a snag. Principal photography in beautiful rural Iowa wraps.

Post-production begins, and the first-time feature film director soon delivers his first cut of scenes in assembly mode.

Things are looking a little odd, but you can’t judge a film until all scenes have been fine-tuned and the pacing is tightened up. There’s no music score, but rudimentary sound effects impart the overall mood the director and his co-writer described to you during the original pitch meeting, or that pivotal moment where you decided to buy the script and make the film.

But your instincts are telling you something is off, and it’s an unsettling feeling, because even though you know the film’s story – Psycho, without the gore – backwards and forwards, it’s only now that you realize, having seen all the shot footage and every conceivable edit and re-edit, that the film is an intangible.

It’s a thing that will be a marketing nightmare because it’s neither straight horror, hard drama, darkly comedic, or a mystery film.

It’s called Peacock, and as good as the cast may be – Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Susan Sarandon - it has no hope in hell of ever getting a theatrical release. There’s no way to sell the film without appearing deceitful, or off by a mile. Conventional ad campaigns wouldn’t capture its essence, because you don’t know what it is beyond ‘odd.’

Cutting a trailer might spoil the plot points, but then the film takes a few right turns anyways, so does it matter? Is it even worth making a trailer for a film you can’t sell?

It is a good film, but you’ve no idea what it is, so what happens next?

Smartly, the film’s eventual release on DVD (Maple in Canada, Lionsgate in the U.S.) comes with a few extras that aren’t pretentious, and although there’s no commentary track, there is a making-of featurette where enough people express why they chose the film, and describe the tangible elements that drew them to the project.

Most orphaned films are mediocre or banal, but Peacock kind of reminds of the odd little films that would sometimes make their way to Pay TV stations, VHS or laserdisc, and get discovered by accident, or were rented simply based on the cast, and a curiosity as to what the hell they were doing in what looked like a strange mess.

Probably my favourite examples of intangible films are those produced by New World Pictures during the 80s and 90s. Roger Corman’s old company was essentially giving new filmmakers the chance to make their odd little film, and in retrospect, most would never have gotten a theatrical release, or perhaps even been greenlit for production today. The best two that come to mind are Bill Condon’s Sister Sister (which did get a theatrical release, even in Canada, back in 1987), and Apprentice to Murder (1988).

Never heard of them? The former did enjoy a DVD release, while the latter is currently lost in oblivion (unless I just happened to trigger a memory cell at someone who owns the New World catalogue).

Most product sent straight to video today follows the usual genre patterns, and the box art further denigrates the film into something familiar. The makers of Peacock may have aspired for a theatrical release, but it had no hope because screen time isn’t allowed for intangibles. Sleeper hits and critical favourites, maybe, but not a thing that can only be described as odd.

It also comes to DVD as a mystery, unaided by any production controversy or reputation as being gory, sick, erotic or weird; it’s none of them, but it does feature an excellent performance by Cillian Murphy, and it’s kind of fascinating to watch the film struggle for an identity when only the filmmakers know where the hell it’s going.

Neither disaster, dud, or weak, it’s its own thing, which makes it a bit of a dare for those wanting to be surprised, or at least willing to subjectively proscribe some firm identity to this very odd little movie.

Check out the review, and maybe the film…

Mark R. Hasan, Editor



And the 2010 Genie Award Winners are…

Last night the Genie Awards (Genie = Canadian FILM, not music, not TV) were handed out, with Polytechnique earning Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Art Direction, Best Screenplay, Best Editing, and Achievement in Overall Sound.

One Week nabbed the Best Actor, and Love & Savagery earned a Best Supporting Actress, while Best Adapted Screenplay went to Fifty Dead Men Walking, and Best Score was awarded to The Master Key.

I’ve pasted the complete list at the end (available as a PDF doc at the Genie’s website), but here’s one query that popped into my head when the CBC announced the Best Picture and Actor winners in last night’s news show The National: Was the show ever publicized by the CBC?

The CBC carried the show live via webcast - cable channel IFC was the actual TV host - but the CBC, having more media outlets than the cable station, barely mentioned the imminent awards show during ad breaks this past week.

The Genies has been a quandary for any network for a good twenty decades: How do you get people interested in films few have seen theatrically? How do you get them excited about an awards show that must fight against public apathy for Cancon, as well as fatigue from the monster that was The Oscars not long ago?

With many of the films widely available on DVD, the first question is moot; the movies are out there to buy online and in shops, as well as rent.

It’s the apathy that’s always been a problem.

I distinctly recall one of the Genie’s last live appearances on the CBC. Not sure of the exact year, but the thinking at the time was to spice things up, go against the traditional awards show format, and cram everyone into a large soundstage setup to resemble a nightclub.

A bar was to one side, the nominees were packed onto tightly arranged deck chairs, and the stage was made of buffed abstract metal.

Someone – the host - would wander back and forth from the bar to the nominees, blabbing factoids or terribly written jokes before the next award was handed out, and (I think) because the show was packed into an hour time slot, the whole thing was rushed, worsened by ad breaks. At the end, the host sung an improve piece (David Cronenberg was mentioned, since he was nearby on a deck chair) and the credits rolled fast so the evening news could begin.

My details might be a bit fuzzy, but I do remember a sense of genuine discomfort among the nominees, with cameras trained on them as they were supposed to laugh at bad jokes and perk up when the show returned from a clump of ads.

That airing was a disaster, and ranks as one of the most ill-conceived awards shows I’ve ever seen. I’d argue that it was the nadir, because the telecast must have prompted the Genies organization to slowly rethink how it should present itself in order to get audiences as well as networks to care.

I lost interest in later shows, and I think other networks tried to make a go of the Genies in later years, with an edited version aired after the fact one year. The 2010 awards are slated for rebroadcast on May 9th, and anyone can access clips of the winners online, all of which is good, but I can’t help asking: Did the CBC do enough?

Even if one presumes the awards were mentioned at regular intervals, there’s the issue of the winners being reduced last night to a mere mention of Polytechnique and One Week. Two names sync’d to film clips, and it was over.

Frankly, that’s not good enough, and while you could blame the CBC’s revamped news format – more ad breaks than ever before – for affecting the length of each news segment, you have to wonder: Was it really so impossible to squeeze in additional details about the winners?

The only other explanation is perhaps IFC had exclusive TV rights, prohibiting the CBC from showing any clips outside of the web realm. In any event, while many of the films are now available on DVD (see hyperlinked titles), it’s unsettling that the winners, if not the awards show, have been pushed to the fringes yet again, albeit with an active online presence.

The 30th Annual Genie Award winners are:

POLYTECHNIQUE - Maxime Rémillard, Don Carmody



MAXIM GAUDETTE – Polytechnique

KARINE VANASSE - Polytechnique

MARTHA BURNS - Love & Savagery


DENIS VILLENEUVE – Polytechnique


JACQUES DAVIDTS – Polytechnique

KARI SKOGLAND - Fifty Dead Men Walking


PIERRE GILL – Polytechnique

RICHARD COMEAU – Polytechnique


NORMAND CORBEIL - Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key





EVE STEWART - Fifty Dead Men Walking

ATUAT AKITTIRQ - Before Tomorrow

DJINA CARON, ANDRÉ DUVAL - Grande ourse: La clé des possibles / The Master Key


A HARD NAME - Alan Zweig, Kristina McLaughlin, Michael McMahon

THE DELIAN MODE - Kara Blake, Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre

DANSE MACABRE - Pedro Pires, Catherine Chagnon

RUNAWAY / TRAIN EN FOLIE - Cordell Barker, Derek Mazur, Michael Scott



Mel Hoppenheim

XAVIER DOLAN – J’ai tué ma mère / I Killed My Mother

De père en flic / Father and Guns – Denise Robert, Daniel Louis, (Distributor: Alliance Vivafilm)

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Infidelity Across Oceans

The release of Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (2009) has spawned an interest in Anne Fontaine’s original 2003 drama, Nathalie, which starred Fanny Ardant as the wife who hires a hooker (Emmanuelle Beart) to entice husband Bernard (Gerard Depardieu), so as to ostensibly trap the serial bed-hopper after a recent humiliation.

Whereas Egoyan’s film has been recombined into a mystery-erotic-drama set in Toronto, Nathalie was anchored in Paris. One can see why Egoyan was attracted to the original film: emotionally muted characters, erotic imagery set against staid, sometimes elegantly banal locations, and a simple plot of revenge that creates a number of moral dilemmas for the characters.

Nathalie featured a soft little score by Michael Nyman, with a piano providing a touch of class, eroticism, and tragedy, whereas Mychael Danna’s Chloe music was overtly based around a singular theme that progresses towards fairly dark terrain.

The scores are certainly indicative of each director’s handling of improper behaviour, so I’ve uploaded a review of Danna’s score (released by Silva Screen), and a review of Fontaine’s 2003 film (Koch Lorber / E1), which is really worth hunting down just to watch how much understated, secretive behaviour is allowed to bubble to the surface, and how little graphic sexuality is depicted onscreen.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor


Nuances within the Cold War Genre

And so goes another Easter weekend, with Toronto getting some absolutely stunning and abby-normal weather. Spring was notable this year for a snow-free March (an all-time record), and I can’t say I miss the evil white stuff, since the birds are back, squirrels are doing rude things to each other in the trees, and the first wild flowers are starting to emerge in neighboring front yards.

I just hope everyone remembers to TRIM BACK! the vegetation so half of the sidewalks aren’t stolen from pedestrians; in the ‘burbs, this is a non-issue, but in downtown T.O., every inch of sidewalk is important.

In any event, the first set of films reviews are up, and the theme today is the Cold War film, which isn’t really a full-fledged genre because it’s comprised of several strands. You’ve probably heard of a few: the Red Menace film. The Cold War drama. The Cold War thriller. The Propaganda film.

It’s easy to apply genre nomenclature with ease, but one has to think about a film’s tone and whatever subtext is at work before slapping it as anti-Commie, Cold War propaganda (or one of each).

Not long ago I reviewed Berlin Express (1946), which loosely dealt with western suspicions of Soviet reserve and chilly demeanor under the guise of an anti-Nazi thriller set in postwar Berlin. The film was more pro-Soviet bridge-building propaganda than Cold War thriller, if not a message picture telling everyone to swallow political differences and work towards rebuilding a Germany that can symbolize a restored functional democracy for future conflicts.

My Son John (1952), Leo McCarey’s drama about a mother who suspects her son is a Commie spy is part of the Red Menace genre that was overtly anti-Soviet. In a Red Menace film, Communism is a disease that infected war-ravaged nations from the democratic west, and now its spies are infiltrating upper-tier levels of western governments. It’s no wonder that the fear of conquest and loss of humanism and free thinking were absorbed into the sci-fi genre, and Commie agents were reconfigured as bug-eyed alien monsters out to smite the human race (represented by America, Britain, and colonial/Commonwealth peoples.

(Funnily, Canada never really figured in any of these dramas except for one film, Fox’ 1948 production of The Iron Curtain, based on the Igor Gouzenko case where a Soviet file clerk uncovered espionage plans against the west. If the 1948 Gouzenko Affair was pivotal to igniting a broad fear of Soviet spying, then 1948 can also been seen as a watershed when Hollywood started to exploit distrust, loathing, and vilification of anything Soviet during the late forties thru the early sixties.)

So what exactly are the nuances that differentiate the sub-genres from each other? And why are these differences important?

The examples I’m picking are two films that had a young Janet Leigh, and illustrate the tonal shift between the lets-work-together message of Berlin Express, and the vilification of Communism in My Son John.

Red Danube (1949) marks the stage where American filmmakers started to reconfigure Soviets as villains, but only after evidence made its way to the United Nations via persecuted German-Russians being sent back from Vienna to the USSR for repatriation, and life in a gulag.

At the center of this social and humanitarian dilemma is a dancer named Olga (Leigh), whop falls in love with a British officer. The Soviets are no longer comprised of a few staunch soldiers with the potential for humanism, as dramatized in the finale of Berlin Express. In 1949, Soviets were a cold, scheming mass exploiting the fair play rules of Allied power-sharing agreements, packing refugees into cramped cattle trains that, in the film, evoke the Nazis’ deportation of Jews to the death camps – unsubtle visuals director George Sidney played out with stark photography.

In Red Danube, Leigh was a starlet, and as the film review details, she wasn’t exactly the best choice, and Sidney (and MGM) seemed to recognize her weaknesses called for some careful film editing and direction.

A year later, Leigh landed the role of another Olga in Jet Pilot (1950/1957), Howard Hughes’ weird kludge of air force actioner, romance, and comedy with a comic book anti-Commie tone. Those familiar with Hughes’ tenure at studio RKO know Jet Pilot was a problem-plagued production that took several years to complete, and wasn’t released until 1957 when RKO was dead.

John Wayne is assigned to learn Olga’s flying tricks and verify if her desire to defect is earnest, but love and some duplicitous behaviour has the couple making a run for Soviet Russia in the film’s final third. If one ignores the odd comedic moments, the bizarre romance-by-jet plane, and director Joseph von Sternberg’s gorgeous Technicolor compositions, Jet Pilot’s message is like a ‘last call’ for latent/secret capitalist Russians to join the free world before the Cold War settles in.

Olga, She-Wolf of the USSR

The spying elements are feeble, and Olga is never in any real position to endanger the U.S. Air Force because Wayne’s superiors have kept her carefully monitored, with Wayne always close by. There’s no upset of the general social order because she’s not allowed to mingle (and actually doesn’t care to mingle) with average Americans in Palm Springs. Arabian jammies excepted (see picture above), Olga just wants to pick Wayne’s brain for military secrets, and head back home. Moreover, everyone knows she’s a Communist, so there’s no secrecy besides whether she really loves Wayne for real.

Heads vs. Pontoons

Both films were prestige production to the extent of being major studio releases headed by major stars. MGM undoubtedly treated Red Danube like a high, hot-button drama, whereas Hughes sold Jet Pilot as a high-octane tale of two flyers finding love in the air; the key art for Danube showcased conflicted heads surrounding a potential hussy (Leigh), whereas the recurring motif of the Pilot campaign art has Olga inches away from removing her T-shirt, and presenting a WTF-visaged Wayne her pointy, militaristic pontoons.

At best, Jet Pilot is a Cold War romance-actioner, but the only drama probably lay off-screen, in von Sternberg’s effort to deliver a tonally balanced fine cut to RKO before Hughes ordered reshoots spanning two years.

The irony is that whereas the earnest message of Danube should’ve given it some longevity as a classic, it’s just a clunky dated melodrama torpedoed by some heavy-handed elements, and a terrible central performance. Pilot became a cult film because it was released years after principal photography, and when it emerged in theatres, the actors looked way younger. Then the film disappeared, and became a kitsch favourite during the eighties.

Part of the fun in examining these films is seeing what works, where the filmmaker stumbles, and in the case of Pilot, is the film the godawful disaster that cheeky pundits claimed it to be.

The Red Danube recently aired on TCM, and it’s doubtful it’ll make its way to DVD, except perhaps as a Warner Archive title (which means U.S. only). Jet Pilot has appeared on DVD via Goodtimes Home Video and MCA’s John Wayne: An American Icon Collection set, but only KOCH Germany took the bull by the horns and released the film on DVD in a new 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer. Do check out the reviews for more details.



Shirley Walker's Flashes of Brilliance

Just uploaded is a review of The Flash, La-La land’s latest limited edition release (3000 copies) that gathers over 2.5 hours of music from the 1990-1991 TV series onto 2 CDs.

The theme was written by Danny Elfman during his ‘comic book’ period, when studios courted the hot composer to score their own latest comic book films or TV series after the massive success of Batman in 1989.

What’s amusing is that prior to that meteoric career success, Elfman was initially kept in the background during the publicity campaign. Prince’s songs and the song LP were released prior to the original score LP so that Prince was regarded as the musical auteur of the film. Several interminable months later, a score platter emerged on record shelves, and later CD, which featured more music than the vinyl edition (something that was common during the early years of the CD, and affected other early releases such as The Fly, Pirates, and The Big Blue).

Two important things happened because of Elfman’s career boost: he had less and less time to write grand orchestral scores within a short time-frame, and by writing just the theme and delegating scoring chores to one of his orchestrators, Shirley Walker finally emerged into the limelight she deserved.

Walker was one of the best action writers around, and The Flash – still an early solo work for the composer of the Batman animated series and the Final Destination franchise – undoubtedly served as a primo professional calling card.

The music budget for The Flash was big enough that it allowed for a sizeable orchestra, and Walker mined every instrument to create an expansive sound palette for a show that lasted a year before being axed by CBS.

My memories were of a rather juvenile series, but then I could never get into the drama because of persistent news alerts that interrupted, pre-empted, or kicked episodes off the air. One reviewer stated the bugger was the Gulf War coverage, but I have no memory of what news was mucking up the show. I just recall being increasingly fed up with a big square that appeared in the lower corner, where news footage feed distracted from the show’s drama.

(The early nineties were filled with nascent technological abuses: networks had text scrawls at the picture’s bottom, or they superimposed ‘coming next’ text during the last 10 minutes of a show. The logo watermark was also born around then, so a lot of the distracting crap we see now – as well as cutting mid-scene for an ad break and splicing a show’s last 2 minutes with the abbreviated End Credits - stemmed from that decade.)

The Flash died of network neglect, but many fans remember the beauty of the music, so it’s a thrill to not only rediscover a rich sound from nearly 20 years ago, but realize Walker’s brilliance, and what was lost when she died in 2006.

For a review of La-La Land’s CD set, click HERE, and afterwards I’d suggest heading over to the French site UnderScores, where the label’s co-founder, Michael V. Gerhard, is interviewed (in English) about how the company has evolved into a major player in the soundtrack market, releasing material from the Paramount vaults, and whether the life of physical media may be dependent on collectors nostalgic for a disc, a booklet, and a shelf to house their library. (I’m actually good with analogue and digital media, but further blather regarding my tastes and habits will be reserved for a later blog.)

If I can wish for the work of one Paramount-heavy composer to make its way to CD, it’s Leith Stevens, particularly his classic Paramount sci-fi films War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide. The masters exist, the scores are brilliant, and be they in mono or stereo, it would certainly allow me to scratch a Holy Grail or two from my own wish list (that incidentally, and if anyone cares, is topped by Carmen Dragon’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers).


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