The Corman Touch: Part II

"Contrary to one's immediate reaction, there are deep social mores beneath those Lycra-cradled buttocks."

When his first and only genuine effort to make social drama, a superb adaptation of Charles’ Beaumont’s novel The Intruder (1962), flopped and lost money, producer / director Roger Corman gave up on so-called message films, and stuck with bug-eyed monsters, Poe adaptation, and eventually became the premiere producer of B-movies.

Now in his eighties, Corman’s producing credits span more than 350 titles, which is frankly insane, yet he remains the same affable yet frugal producer beloved by former protégés like Joe Dante.

Whether it was the 1978 Piranha, the 1995 Piranha (aka Piranhas), or the recent Dinoshark (2009) and Sharktopus [M] (2010) productions, Corman served as mentor to the craft of ‘efficient’ filmmaking. None of the films qualify as art, yet their makers went from editors, production managers, and special effects whizzes to directors – something typical of the old studio system, but largely absent today except with producers who enjoy productive associations with major studios.

That Corman continues to make movies is a wonder simply because he’s weathered the demise of drive-in theatres, the death of major indie outfits like AIP and Avco Embassy, his own releasing firms New World and Concord, and the lack of theatrical releases.

Around the nineties, Corman settled into making exploitation fodder for cable TV, which allowed more gore and boobery, but mandated formulaic product. The disposable nature had to be offset by brand recognition, so Corman reached back into his back catalogue and remade A Bucket of Blood (1995), Piranha (1995), and The Wasp Woman (1995).

He also riffed on the 1958 Woolner production, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, making Attack of the 60 Foot Centerfolds (1995), and during the eighties he also remade Not of This Earth (1988) and Masque of the Red Death (1989).

His nineties remakes are more interesting because of the casting and virtual scene-for-scene retention of the original scripts. Piranha doesn’t need to exist, but has a minor curiosity value in seeing scenes from the ’78 Dante version replayed with slight tweaks, new faces, and the integration of effects footage from the original film.

Again, it has no reason to exist, but it made for an easy cable TV sale, filled the rental shelves, and if examined with critical eyes, shows the stylistic shifts within a 16 year period – namely faster editing, snappier dialogue, and a shorter running time for a 90 minute time slot.

Dinoshark [M], available in a swanky Blu-ray edition from Anchor Bay, is similarly brief, but unlike its unofficial sequel, Sharktopus, it takes itself too seriously and lacks the necessary fromage factor that was effectively maintained in Piranha [M] (1995). Corman’s millennium era product is sometimes amusing, but like all good B-level cheese, it requires a special blend of the right elements (Eric Roberts always helps), and luck.

I’ll have reviews of the BBC’s Human Planet (Warner Home Video) and a pair of Mimsy Farmer gialli up shortly.

This past weekend was devoted to Doors Open Toronto, and between film and soundtrack reviews I’ll interpolate a few posts and photo essays on some of Toronto’s more intriguing buildings I managed to visit, some tethered to related docs.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Ottawa, Part I: Tulips & Pretty Little Flowers

Two weeks ago I made my usual trip to Ottawa to visit family friends, eat German food, and relax for a few days before returning to the grind. There were three  places to hit while I was in the nation’s capital: the nation’s capital (duh) and its blankets of flowering tulips, and the Diefenbunker.

The Tulip Festival stems (sorry) from Holland’s annual gift to Canadians for sheltering Holland’s royal family during WWII, and for temporarily designating a small section of a hospital flooring as official Dutch territory so baby Princess Margriet could arrive as a genuine Netherlander and still qualify as a Alternate Head of State #3.

Some might find the idea of travelling to another city to see bright flowers a bit silly, but think about it: it’s one country saying Thank You with one of their greatest gifts that also perk everyone up when they stroll past blocks of multiple varieties of flowers. Yes, you can grow tulips in your backyard, but it’s also the context: swathes of flower beds literally glowing under that bright clean Ottawa sunlight.

I’ve described this scene many times to friends: when you drive to Ottawa and take the tail end of Highway 7 into the city border, you start ascending a large hill, and as it crests the Ottawa valley opens up, and there lies this city surrounded by lots of green, a massive expansive sky, and the Gatineau mountains in the background. It’s really quite striking, much in the way every city has a specific sweet spot where it looks grand.

If you’ve travelled to Centre Island and looked back at Toronto, that’s ours – one elegant cluster of tall buildings punctuated by the CN Tower and the Dome (er, the Rogerswhatevercentre). Pity the condos are taking over, but hey, that’s part of my city’s fine, far-sighted, intelligent planning plan of plans.

Ottawa’s use of space – for cars, people, cyclists and architecture – also feels rather European; big buildings aren’t placed where they don’t belong, clashing with existing architecture.  Perhaps the city has what Toronto doesn’t: enforceable laws against the destruction of heritage buildings, and a philosophy to re-use rather than save a façade as a kind of ‘There, we conserved the old building, now shut up and go away.’ (If developers in T.O. has their way, the downtown core would be a sea of banal, cheaply built condos with starter closets selling for ‘the low $200,000.’)

I’ve gathered some of the tulip pics in my Flickr gallery, which also includes a few shots from 2010 prior to Full Battery Failure, an annoying little syndrome that’s quite un-fun. Most of the 2011 pics are near the parliament buildings, and I’ve tossed in some images of the new Ottawa Convention Centre which is really quite feat of engineering & design.

In light of the curious who wander into the building for a peek, the management engaged a security man for double-duty as an informal tour guide, because levels 2 and up are reserved for already-booked events.

Every glass pane is uniquely thick and cut differently from all the others, and the overall curve in front gives a great view of the canal and government buildings. The left side also curves up in the form of a tulip, which is a nice touch. Our tour included the two main rooms on the second floor, one of which had just housed Rogers' 50th anniversary bash, and included a complete midway that had been carted up piece-by-piece. I took a few quick snapshots of the glass before we started to dash home and avoid something called ‘rush hour traffic.’ For some factoids on the new Convention Centre, feel free to browse the official website.

I’ve also got a related gallery featuring a few snapshots of flowers grown in the garden where I stayed. Don’t ask me what they are, because I think in colours and textures. Names mean nothing to me except ‘the pretty blue one from Austria’ or that greeny thing with the stamencular eucalyptonium kronkeitis eublakis.

Coming soon: pics of the Canadian War Museum, and a photo essay on the Diefenbunker.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Soundtrack Reviews + News

It’s the day after Victoria Day, which means most Canadians spent the long weekend (or part of it) BBQ’ing things, consuming cold beer, and at some point watching firecrackers illuminate the sky.

The same set of events (goosed with plenty of flag-waving) is done Canada Day July 1st, but Victoria Day – in honour of Queen Victoria (Becky to her best friends) – really marks the beginning of the summer-ish season.

So far, the weather’s been good, making up for the week-long rainfall that’s been an annoyance to gardeners and Torontonians hungry for something called 'dry sunlight.'

On Sunday, I ate a big dinner in Thornhill with friends, after which we watched imported U.S. fireworks go boom for half an hour. Couldn’t tell if the pyrotechnics were more robust than the Canuckle variety, but things did crack, bang and boom a lot, often in multiple patterns, colours, altitudes, with screeching effects.

The show concluded with a burning firehouse set piece. Apparently the activity of burning a small cardboard school house is now illegal here; it's been rebranded as something like ‘flaming old barn’ because bureaucrats believe the activity plants the evil pyro seed in kids.

When the American school house was lit, the kids excitedly flocked to the edges to watch it go poof. I assume the generic Canadian ‘flaming old barn’ would’ve elicited more of a ‘meh’ from the kids.
* * *
Tuesday marks the beginnning of a standard work week, so I've uploaded a trio of soundtrack reviews:

The Symphonic Celtic Album [M] is a Silva Screen's deliberately calming re-recording of familiar film themes with a Celtic bent, whereas La-La Land's latest limited CD offerings feature a pair of filmic newcomers - Kristopher Carter's score for the film version of Yesterday Was a Lie [M], and Abel Korzeniowski's Copernicus' Star [M].
* * *
In the realm of film music news, a recent discussion on Film Score Monthly's message board reveals their recent Star Trek / Ron Jones project boxed set is available as downloadable separate albums, via Amazon.com, eMusic, and iTunes.

Apparently the licensing of the FSM catalogue isn't going to go broader - the label generally goes for CD-only releases, and this exception may have been due to the overwhelming global fan base of anything Star Trek. It's also a good way for the label to expose itself (so to speak) to genre and franchise fans, and give Jones' profile a nice boost.

I still like the digital + CD models being used by the major soundtrack labels, but it would be nice if those fast-selling, limited CDs are usually earmarked by producers for future digital editions. Why let all that hard work (licensing, negotiating, mastering, etc.) be exclusive to just a 1000 fans?

Speaking of new limited editions,Varese just revealed their latest limited editions for the CD Club series, and they include Charles Bernstein's My Demon Lover (1000 copies); a 2-disc set of Bernard Herrmann's previously unreleased music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Volume 1 (2000 copies); and after various promos, abbreviated editions & compilations, best-of collections and bootlegs, Marco Beltrami's moore-or-less complete Scream score finally makes it to legit CD (2000 copies).

Varese's series also includes a CD+DVD offering, the 3rd edition of Filmucite's live concert series: Jerry Goldsmith 80th Birthday Tribute Concert.

Goldsmith came late to touring concert versions of his suites and themes, and for the overwhelming majority who never attended a concert of his music (Toronto was supposed to get one, and those plans fell through), this may be the next best thing.

More good stuff to follow.

Mark Hasan, Editor

The Works of Radley Metzger: Part I

It's about subtleties, really.

The question I feel resides in the minds of friends and colleagues isn’t ‘Who is Radley Metzger?’ but ‘Why Radley Metzger?!?!?

Perhaps the first clarification is ‘Because his work isn’t porn,’ even though he did ultimately transgress into the adult world when it became clear his brand of erotica with light or medium moments weren’t going to compete in the erotic market when Deep Throat made porn mainstream in 1974.


That also requires some clarification, because porn being mainstream is in the eye of its connoisseur, too. Pornographic elements weren’t adopted by Hollywood nor spawned the kind of upscale blue movie with major stars; bits and pieces just dribbled into commercial advertising and popular entertainment.

Without getting into a mess of tangents, the simplest way to validate Metzger’s work is that for a while he managed to walk a fine line between erotica and cinema artistry, and while critics can easily ridicule him for pretentious visuals, characters speaking hot & bothered dialogue that may be just a few inches above hokey, being critical of his work and his little fetishes shouldn’t indict him as a maker of worthless smut.

Alfred Hitchcock liked ice cool blondes and symbolically raped them through murder weapons like knives & scissors. He liked to see women’s feet twirl and writhe in close-ups, and when his favourite blonde, Grace Kelly, left the movies (and him) for Prince Ranier of Monaco, Hitch spent the rest of his career trying to find another perfect blonde to cinematically die for him.

Howard Hawks tended to prefer films with macho women – usually one woman among a cast of assorted masculine or slap-happy men who talked malespeake and could swing a punch if needed. Intimate dramas of crying couples weren’t Hawks’ forte.

Dario Argento has had his one or both of his daughters killed and / or raped onscreen, and his best murder sequences involve beautiful women being sliced, torn, or hacked up.

Each of the aforementioned ‘auteurs,’ however, applied their quirks and visual eccentricities in specific genres, and created popular / commercial art. Argento, less, so, but in terms of a pivotal figure who turned a montage of murder into a kinetic music video, the Italian deserves credit for inspiring further directors to test the limits of sound, picture, and style, and turning a banal if not convoluted mystery thriller plotting into a long-form, audio-visual assault.

Metzger’s career didn’t start with erotica. He co-directed with William Kyriakis the immigrant drama Dark Odyssey which didn’t do much for either director’s career in 1961, but he found the sexploitation genre was doing quite well for itself, and European art films with boobies were capable of getting legit screen time in U.S. art house theatres.

His company, Audubon Films, handled his imports and original works - the latter group initially consisting of hybrids featuring sleazy women touching themselves or each in other with the kind of candor found in his European pick-ups like I, A Woman (1965).

After The Dirty Girls (1965) and The Alley Cats (1966), Metzger’s growth as a filmmaker began to shift from sexploitation to erotica – and that distinction does exist.

Erotica is meant to tease and titillate, but you’re not supposed to chuckle at levels of behavioral ridiculousness.

Joe Dallesandro slurping the armpit of his costar in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (1973) was meant to be absurd and sleazy (the director says so on the DVD’s commentary track), whereas a provocative, contemporary version of the Carmen story – Carmen, Baby (1967) – is Metzger’s clear attempt to be sincere with literary material, and dramatize encounters and longing in ways people contemporaneously think instead of the antiquated falsities perpetuated by Hollywood because of the evil Production Code.

Had the Code not existed or been expunged in the fifties, Metzger could’ve started early, and American cinemagoers would’ve shared more European sensibilities, such as couples sleeping together in one bed very naked, and using words like “love life,” “sex,” “virgin,” and “pregnant.”

Whether Metzger wanted to make art films from the start isn’t known, but it was a smart move for a director wanting to cinematically indulge in frank sexual behaviour without worrying too much from the Code. For one thing, the Code was dying, and secondly, his films could be lumped together with his imported Euro art flicks. If I, A Woman could screen in cinemas, so could Carmen, Baby.

After 1967, Metzger made a series of erotic classics which weren’t fully devoted to gorgeous European stars half or wholly naked in fantasy scenarios filmed in Renaissance or modernist architecture. There was lighting, cinematography, set design, costumes, music, editing and performances which suddenly coalesced into a creative apex for the erotic genre, and until 1975 when he chose to direct hardcore porn until the pseudonym of Henry Paris, the erotic genre was being refined beyond the sexploitation and sleazy archetypes Metzger himself played with in films like The Dirty Girls.

Part of the reason actors were willing to appear in provocative films, and skilled technicians had no problem working on them went beyond being on set with live boobies. Unlike Americans (and English Canadians), the Italians and Germans were okay with nudity, and could have fun with it (and sure, make weird little hybrids).

These films – erotic dramas, erotic horror, erotic comedies, erotic bullshit documentaries – were in vogue, so the climate was right to see what worked, and how else to be creative after an original had been copied several times by lesser filmmakers – a pattern that ensured, for better or worse, the plethora of spaghetti westerns, cannibal films, giallo thrillers, and sex comedies in Italy.

Metzger’s move into the hardcore adult world also marked an end to that little period where soft elements could be combined with erotic dramas, which in the director’s canon often concerned a handful of characters in just a few sets.

Metzger was at heart a playwright, and that’s perhaps why his films have survived so well, whereas the wave of erotic dramas and thrillers from eighties auteurs such as Zalman King haven’t; Metzger didn’t have time to repeat himself, and the commercial market was still wary of frank erotica, so he didn’t have the danger of becoming derivative in the way King quickly became, merchandising and selling his brand of erotica after a handful of genuine genre classics (which I’ll analyze at a later time).

Unfortunately, by having little time and making the decision to enter porn, Metzger lost the chance to reassert himself in other genres, if not make personal films the way John Cassavetes took crap work to make personal projects. Worse, Metzger lost the production values he enjoyed making legit erotica: real actors, editors, cinematographers, fabulous locations, and composers.

Prior to settling for stock music, Metzger’s films were scored by the likes of Georges Auric (Therese and Isabelle), Piero Piccioni (Camille 2000), and Stelvio Cipriani (The Lickerish Quartet), and each respective score is among the composer’s best.

Metzger’s final films under his own name - The Cat and the Canary (1978) and The Princess and the Call Girl (1984) - are disappointing and ponderous, and lack the edge and inventiveness of his early work.

So in the first of an ongoing series, we’ll examine Metzger’s works starting with titles newly released in super-happy-magic-deluxe versions on Blu-ray and DVD.

First Run Features had the lion’s share of the Audubon catalogue, but their DVDs were sourced from old video transfers and most are out of print, including a handful of the pick-ups he distributed.

Unlike the major studios who’ve somewhat wasted the potential of Blu-ray by reissuing previously issued special editions yet again (Ahem: Fox. Ahem: Paramount) and nothing new, indie labels have realized the format finally allows collectors to own rare works in their best form in media that offers the best picture and the most storage capacity.

With regards to Metzger’s canon, Synapse is releasing The Image (1975), the director’s last ‘straight’ film June 14. The new HD transfer taken from the original 35mm camera negative is available on DVD and BR, and looks great. I’ve an early review up on the main site and the mobile [M] site.

Cult Epics has two Metzger classics on BR and DVD. I previously reviewed Score [M] (1974) last fall. Like that disc, the label’s newest title, The Lickerish Quartet [M] (1970), is also sourced from a sharp print, and comes with numerous archival extras, and the best Metzger commentary track so far. The private filmmaker, now in his eighties, is clearly warming up to discussing his work, and the BR review digs into the making of the film, its themes, marvelous editing, and the extras.

Coming soon from Cult Epics is Camille 2000 (1969), which hopefully signals an ongoing wave of both Metzger’s original work, and the pick-ups he distributed via Audubon Films, such as Nerosuboanco / aka Attraction / Artful Penetration of Barbara (1969), Tinto Brass’ hippy-trippy, bum-swinging exercise in montage and music.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Argento at the TBL and Anthony Gilbert’s “The Woman in Red”

Quick news updates before I get into a pair of reviews.

As part of two separate film series at the TIFF Bell Lightbox [TBL], Torontonians can ring in Canada Day weekend or Pride weekend with the colour red by catching Dario Argento's Suspiria (1978), coupled with Frederico Fellini's "Toby Dammit" sequence from Spirits of the Dead (1968) in the late afternoon, and/or Opera (1987) in the late evening.

If they're uncut, this may be proof a higher power exists, since Argento fans have been waiting decades (forever?) to see Suspiria uncut on the big screen. I blathered more with screening details at my Rue Morgue blog.

Next: with Blockbuster USA dying (which has been a 15 year odyssey, right?), it was inevitable its Canuckle counterpart would finally start to die, too. Whether someone is willing to buy the chain at a fire sale is really immaterial; the video rental chain concept is dead, and as I blathered at length in a prior blog, what will remain are indie, neighbourhood and/or boutique-styled shops. The downward slide has been going for a good five years, and the rental landscape will be quite different a year from now.

Bell and Rogers are also pestering the CRTC with anti-competitive whining about Netflix hogging more bandwidth than necessary, and they want it curbed. Really? People are using the internet more for music, film, and TV because the telcos wanted it that way, as a lead in to their own proprietary services. You guys started this mess, not consumers, so shut up and upgrade your gear, because we're not responsible for the behaviour and viewing habits you fostered.

Lastly, Steve Harper signed in the second-biggest cabinet in Canadian history. So much for small government. Among old cronies still tightly inside the PMO's inner circle is John Baird, upgraded to Foreign Affairs, and sure to deal fairly and decently with any further allegations of corruption or torture in Afganistan, because he's really a swell guy who just behaves like a bulldog; and Tony Clement, now in charge of Treasury Board, where he can move the largest bureaucracies to his home riding, because they have an extra ice rink, gazebo, and toilets to spare. Bev Oda also survives, and she's been given erasable ink pens in case she finds herself scribbling "not" too arbitrarily; and Maxime Bernier is back from the doghouse, although I hear he's not allowed to touch paper anymore after leaving classified documents at his ex-girlfriend's pad in 2008.

To paraphrase Homer Simpson, our government is s-m-r-t.

* * *

This spring marked a tribute to the late Arthur Penn at the TBL, and I caught The Chase [M] (1966) on the big screen, which marked a slight misstep before Penn hit stride with Bonnie and Clyde (1967). What followed were some interesting films, but by the late eighties he'd arguably lost clout or projects worthy of his talents, although perhaps his last good theatrical film was was the Grand Guignol shocker Dead of Winter [M] (1987), an uncredited film version of Anthony Gilbert's novel "The Woman in Red."

Shot in Canada with the wonderful Jan Rubes (of Guess What? fame, of which i still have his sing-a-along record some place), it transposed the basic story of a woman who takes a job and discovers she's part of a grisly murder plot. Roddy McDowall was quite creepy, and Mary Steenburgen did a solid job playing a woman who keeps looking for little flaws to exploit, and get some help before she's cooked.

Penn's version differs significantly from Joseph Lewis' 1945 version, My Name is Julia Ross [M], and in both reviews I address each film's pros (of which there are many). Whereas the '87 film is still available from MGM, the '45 version is still unavailable, but does get airings on TCM. Catch it and tape it, because it's a gem, and proves George Mcready was indeed once a young man. Still creepy, though.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Moguls & Studios: Part I

Before I get into the meat of yet another series, quick congratulations to the Toronto Underground Cinema, which is a year old.

I interviewed co-owner Charlie Lawton prior to the cinema’s grand opening in 2010, and it bodes well that the city continues to enjoy a diverse group of indie cinemas that are giving cineastes what they want without ersatz IMAX-ish screens, re-rendered 3D engagements, and charging admissions a few hairs below $20 smackaroons.

I think the studios were salivating over the potential of prices cresting into the $20+ range this year, but that hasn’t happened… yet.

See Jack smile... until you utter the word "No."

Moving on, I’ve uploaded a review of TCM’s Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood [M] (Warner Home Video) which provides one of the best overviews of the industry town’s development, particularly for mid-level and newcomers to film history.

I still find it ironic that the total vertical integration model could never be quashed by the U.S. Government. In the forties, studios were slammed for block-booking and later told to divest themselves of their theatre chains in the forties (aka the Paramount Decree), but by 2011 the companies have evolved into the convergence models dreamed up by their founders; they don’t own talent agencies nor groom their own stable of above-the-line talent anymore, but in terms of production, from the point of pre-production seed money to the Blu-ray / DVD you’re watching right now, it’s all one fluid system.

One theme that comes up in the series’ finale, and raised again in the related panel discussion on the DVD set, is Hollywood’s predictable response to Something New – which isn’t exclusive to the mogul mentality.

Fear came from free radio shows, sound films, widescreen processes, Technicolor, free TV, pay TV, home video, DVD, and digital technologies, resulting in a knee-jerk reaction that ‘it’s all going to kill the movies as we know it.’

Series writer / producer Jon Wilkman makes a sharp little point in the DVD set’s last panel discussion: the various trends and challenges over the past decades have brought the industry full circle to a point no one quite expected.

Moguls & Movie Stars begins with stills of curious people looking at stereoscopic photos through a viewer, and maybe 100 years later that personal relationship with media is back, akin to you holding up an iPhone or any smart phone, and looking at media. It’s gone from images held in front of you to movie palaces and grand audio-visual experiences, and now people are comfy watching media whenever and however they want – and that lack of control scares the establishment.

It’s not knowing what you want, how you want to see it, and what to charge. Should it come with a digital copy, or should you be able to download the file from a studio server with an access code? What should be the final price? Will there be user fees? Expiration dates? And what will our viewing behaviour be like 2 years from now?

Behaviour and technology go hand in hand, because they feed off each other. We need something better or less annoying, and along comes a solution. The problem is sort of like the old axiom where four other screenwriters are working on the same idea you’re pounding out on the keyboard; many talented minds are trying to figure out ways to make things better and faster for themselves, and the solutions sometimes run contrary to issues of ownership when those ideas go mainstream.

Wilkman’s series is both a fun history lesson and a stealth cautionary note to the establishment to learn from the past and adapt instead of quash threats, because history has shown some of the biggest perceived challenges opened up substantive income streams; only a few practical minds recognized that selling product to TV and producing original content for multimedia platforms was a good thing.

Walt Disney didn’t have a massive studio in the fifties, but he had a back catalogue of titles and characters he could exploit in movies and TV, and moving production to the Idiot Box probably saved the company because it pushed its product into the living rooms of families, and fostered the Disney brand - from movies, music, shows and toys and a merchandising empire unequaled by anyone, including George Lucas.

(Of course, I could raise the issue of the Disney empire lobbying successfully to extend the copyright law from 50 to 70 years after a creator’s death, but that just creates an upset tummy, whichever way one leans.)

Moguls & Movie Stars marks the first of another ongoing series here about movie moguls and studios, and if you read the review, you’ll find at the end a series of titles – biographies, documentaries – also of note, some of which I’ll cover now and then with references to extant books worth snapping up.

Incidentally, the best series on the studios, incidentally, was published more than 20 years ago in a large coffee table size by Octopus Books. Each volume contains a detailed preface on a studio’s founding, and chapters that assembled films produced and also released by said studio per decade. The films are accompanied by a photo, and a concise yet compelling synopsis. Each chapter includes a decades highlights preface, and the indexes offer title and personnel searches.

Awesome series for bibliophiles which spanned Columbia, Disney, MGM, Paramount, RKO, United Artists, Universal, and Warner Bros. A rival publisher stole some thunder with their own tome on Twentieth Century-Fox, but it’s a tepid effort.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Gangsters - Part III

Look! Real vintage buildings and real sewer mist!

Sergio Leone's final film was a hugely nostalgic ode to the gangster movies from the thirties and forties, but through the director's own patented style filter, Once Upon a Time in America [M] morphed into an art film - largely because its resolution is more in line with those famously vague finales typical of Euro art films - or tricky puzle movies by contemporary directors such as Christopher Nolan (Insomnia [M], Inception [M]).

America is epic, elegant, and a modern gangster classic, but its timing in 1984 was terrible. There should be room for a unique film within a predictable film market, but as we all know, unless it has something that gels with the general public and gains momentum through posiive word of mouth, it's dead and doomed. America got it worse when Leone's cut was radically chopped down to about two and a quarter hours from almost four, and re-ordered in chronological order. The critics hated the shorter U.S. -only version, and the it took years before the longer European edit replaced the recut Leone disowned.

What's unfortunate is that length and indulgences were always a problem with the operatic director - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) were also shortened before the relatively recent restorations - but America is special because scenes don't meander, the music doesn't replay in a demonic loop, and more scenes would've placed several of the minor characters in better context.

The Euro cut almost pulls off the miracle, but there are still loose ends that have frustrated fans and theorists for years. There are plans by Leone's heirs to mount a restoration of their father's longer pre-Cannes edit for a 2012 release, but what's important to point out is that as it stands, the current version from Warner Home Video isn't a dud, an incoherent mess, nor a misfire; it's the product of an obsessive mind who tinkered with the script for more than a decade, and fiddled with the scenes to deliver a version that please him as well as the producer and executives at The Ladd Company, with sacrifices.

The finale remains controversial and frustrating, and there are some really nasty moments of violence aimed squarely at women which makes America tonally uneven, but what a sumptuous production; what a cast; what stunning recreations of grungy Prohibition-era New York City; and what a gorgeous score by longtime Leone collaborator Ennio Morircone.

Maybe the extra scenes planned to be re-inserted into the film will improve continuity issues and odd scene transitions, but WHV's Blu-ray is a worthy addition to one's Leone collection, and for some (like myself) it makes up for the later spaghetti westerns with restored running times that go on for an eternity.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Video Nasties, Part II

During the eighties, the British censor board was overly paranoid that little kiddies might have their brains horribly corrupted by violent slasher films or films containing Things Wrong - or grow up to be serial killers. Most of the millions who saw uncut versions of Evil Dead didn't become violent offenders (some are probably your bankers, dentists, and podiatrists), and hey, filmmakers like Raimi actually advanced the art of filmmaking.

Imagine that.

But in the eighties, the U.K.'s censor board would have none of it, so without specific cuts or being a work in whole of ill mental repute, a movie could remain in limbo while the board attempted to prosecute distributors for carrying Wrong Films.

Of the films in the original list, I've thus far reviewed three: Raimi's Evil Dead (released uncut in the U.K. 20 years after its original theatrical release); Abel Ferrara's bonkers Driller Killer (released uncut 23 years after its theatrical run); and Meir Zarchi's ugly I Spit on Your Grave (reased with edits 23 years after its release).

Those constitute the unofficial Part I entries in my nasty tally on home video, and now comes Part II: Jeffrey Obrow and Stephen Carpetnter's The Dorm That Dripped Blood [M], available in an uncut edition apparenty no one's seen since its' U.S. theatrical release.

Two things tied me to the film prior to learning it was a nasty: under the title Pranks, it was one of the first Christopher Young soundtrack LPs I ever bought, and I've waited about 20 years to see where the image of a boiled human head fits into the narrative.

Did the film live up to its reputation? Is Synapse's Blu-ray transfer so good you can smell fresh coed soup? Was Christopher Young a scoring genius from the get-go?

Read the review.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Images of Colonial Foolishness

The Grande Hotel, immortalized on vinyl by Os Rebeldes.

If you’ve read prior blogs here, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of urban history, particularly ruins and long-forgotten or hidden places urban explorers like to investigate and film or photograph. There’s something innately hypnotic about a place that once entertained thousands (or millions) over decades, and was shuttered, abandoned, and allowed to disintegrate.

Perhaps more intriguing than corporate apathy and neglect towards an urban venue – hotel, cinema, apartment block, giant mental health complex – are vestiges of colonialism. Basically big things built by crazy white folks because their ego demanded some element of Euro-styled civilization needed to exist in an unlikely, extreme, or downright foolish location.

I can’t recall the name or exact place, but I remember reading about an old hunting lodge in Africa, built by the British in some far off, isolatedlocale. Decades later, the stately manor lay abandoned, and hikers stopped by while en route to a higher mountain peak. Many were impressed by the mahogany trimmings and massive fireplace, even though the building was merely a pit stop – elegant, but generally just a place to relieve the bladder.

The Grande Hotel was erected by the ruling Portuguese in the beautiful city of Beira, Mozambique, and while a luxury hotel in Africa isn’t a nutty concept, building a white elephant is. 120 rooms in a sprawling complex that required heavy maintenance by a large staff. One suspects the decision to limit rooms was for the benefit of  elite white folks who could be pampered by local black folks, like some European transplantation of the American plantation system.

Much can be read in the hotel’s failure to succeed over its roughly 11 years of operation, and what’s left has been documented by Belgian filmmaker Lotte Stoops in her 2010 film Grande Hotel [M].

Her take is more sociological, and while the camera crew captured many details of the building as a functioning social environment (see trailer), fans of structural urban decay (what else can you call it?) probably want more visual images, and they're out there.

In terms of archival images, few exist, but this Portuguese language page (please note annoying pop-up) offers some vintage touristy postcard images, shots of what seem to be the hotel during its final days as a conference centre before Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975, and snapshots of the hotel’s current state.

YouTube also offers a few archival videos. One shows Beira as a striking bustling industrial city (likely filmed in the late sixties / early seventies) with a quick glimpse of the hotel; a second video focuses on the construction boom with a present day visit to a handful of areas; a third offers before / after images of key city and industrial structures (including the hotel, apparently photographed in 1967); and finally a fourth is comprised of stills edited into a lengthy montage made by a tourist who visited the hotel.

Perhaps more telling of its current social state is a British news report regarding the now 3500 squatters that inhabit the complex. Unlike Stoops’ doc, the news report contains images of what the director chose to omit from her filmic overview – rats on the ground level, filth and garbage, and less flattering images of human biology.

Flickr has become a great resource for ‘visiting’ forbidden or faraway places from home, and a great showcase for some fine photography which captures the sadness of a neglected or rotting edifice, and the beauty of the light and shadows of an abandoned, stripped bare room.

A simple keyword search offers up the following cascade of present day images, whereas another search reveals a few rare vintage colour stills of the hotel, and the striking colonial buildings that sought to inject clean modernist designs with blocky, geometric sensibilities.

George Stevens' alternate location for "Giant"

A more striking example of colonial grandeur and foolishness is the old Bokor Hill Station in Cambodia, made to serve the French colonialists wanting more moderate temperatures for their staycations.

One traveler has a series of short videos documenting the location, the palace hotel, casino, and environs.

Flickr also offers a few photo montages, such as this striking set, and this keyword search which gathers a fine array of misty images from inside and outside of the main buildings.

It is easy to ridicule the efforts of former colonial powers – there’s a sense of Fitzcarraldo (1982) in these grand endeavors – but from a present day vantage, the images conjure an interest in comparing what was, and what is; why things were seemingly allowed to decay or be returned to Nature; the effects of civil war on surviving structures; and whether the restoration or adulation for the past grandeur could be construed as a validation of a kind of virtuous colonialism.

Canada is a former colony of the British and the French, and the continuing ties to the British monarchy were long ago glossed over with the term Commonwealth rather than colony, but there is an inherent fascination among some for the exotic days of elegance in tropical, chilly, or remote locales.

It’s the idea of building big, far and wide, and where you shouldn’t. And it’s seeing these relics – structurally, at least – as enduring, deliberate statements of colonial ego: a massive man-made structure on a barren mountain that can be seen far away by average citizens.

Imagine the CN Tower as a hollow concrete shell with a barbed wire fence, protecting the derelict structure from squatters, souvenir hunters, falling glass, or metal hawkers. The history books would tell us it was built to relay TV and radio signals, but it’s a corporate statement of self-importance, legible from miles and miles away.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Hot Docs: Part I

Toronto's Hot Docs film festival is nearing its end (the last screening date is Sunday May 8), and the first trio of uploaded reviews are up, starting with Lotte Stoops' film debut, Grande Hotel [M] (2010). The director was in attendance at the seccnd screening, and I've incorporated some of her comments into the lengthy review.

Named after the once elegant Grande Hotel in Beira, Mozambique, things started to go bad for the building when it was shuttered, given limited use, and was later victmized by squatters who sold whatever they could - glass, metal, etc. - which explains its current state as a skeleton.

Stoops focus was trained on the society that thrives within the disintegrating structure, and she rightly pointed out that what most (western) audiences will see is the building rather than the people. The film actually offers a balance of both, as the two are interrelated, but urban explorers and fans of things old and crumbly will undoubtedly want more - namely images of the past glory, and the present physical horror of the streamlined Grande.

My suggestion is read the review first, and tomorror I'll have a special series of links that should satisfy a hunger for the Grande, plus similar erections of colonial folly.

Also reviewed in tandem (and in the same review body as Grande Hotel) is Robert-Jan Lacombe’s short documentary Goodbye Mandima [M] (2010), which was actually screened before Stoops' film as part of a double-bill.

Lastly, there's Stefan Kolbe and Chris Wright's doc Das Block / The Block [M] (2007), a very flawed work where style and a rather opressive film technique create muddle of a potentially intriguing concept.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Soundtrack Reviews

This one’s a quickie, because I’ve got a pair of Hot Docs reviews coming next.

Just uploaded are five soundtrack reviews that all feature musicians better known for their pioneering work with electronic instruments.

Mark Isham, who made a chilling impression with his all-electronic score for the cult film The Hitcher recently formed his own label (MIM Records), and released two versions of The Mechanic [M] score. I’ve reviewed the 2-disc special edition that gathers both discs, and cite their differences. The music rocks, by the way.

La-La Land has been writing wrongs committed during the foolish days when studio labels were releasing music-from-and-inspired-by nonsense, with one score cut or a tight suite of music in place of a proper score release, of which the worst affected were Hans Zimmer and his protégés.

Zimmer’s Broken Arrow [M] (1996) fared okay, since the composer at that time had sufficient commercial clout to produce 40+ minute CDs, but there were still those offending Rain Man and True Romance CDs with 1 or two score cuts.

Broken Arrow is reflective of Zimmer’s writing style at its zenith: it’s big, loud, and as bombastic as Dimitri Tiomkin writing his emotional reaction after sitting on an inch-long, razor sharp tack, and with a 2-CD edition, it sounds even bigger.

Protégé Mark Mancina got gipped several times, and the original Money Train [M] (1995) CD featured a hasty suite in place of score. Now, I know, it’s Money Train – a big, loud, stupid movie with a brainless script and an early appearance by Jello, but who knew that after hearing La-La Land’s full score CD, the vote is in Mancina’s favour: it’s a damn fun score, and one of his nineties best.

Zimmer’s latest protégé who’s graduated to several solo efforts is Atli Orvarsson, and The Eagle [M] (via Silva Screen) is outstanding. Neither bombastic nor riddled with soundalike themes, it’s a fine work that bridges evocations of Roman occupied ancient Britain with modern scoring conventions. Silva’s CD is also beautifully engineered, and sounds so lovely when piped through a tube amp. All warm and fuzzy.

Vangelis has tackled period films with largely all synth or synth-dominant scores. Chariots of Fire is a landmark (albeit clichéd due to overplay, imitation, and heavy usage in slo-mo parodies), whereas 1492: Conquest of Paradise still holds up well with all those edgy rhythms and that superb title track. Nothing like wailing Spaniards, acoustic guitar, and booming percussion. Alexander is his lone dud because it’s a score as lifeless as Oliver Stone’s film – regardless if it’s the theatrical, the non-gay, or the director’s cut edit.

The Bounty [M] (BSX Records) fares better in spite of being a vintage 1984 score with synths applied to an 18th century ship rebellion against pouty-lipped Captain Bligh (“Mis-tah Chris-tee-ahn!!!).

Read the reviews, as there’ll be another group this weekend.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

How are we feeling today?

John doesn't like your tie. TAKE IT THE F$#K OFF!

I'll have several soundtrack reviews up shortly, as I was glued to the TV and internet, watching Monday night's election results glide in, and see the Toronto-hating power-monger (Steve) win a majority government that makes it impossible for all of the opposition parties to collectively thwart Steve & Co.

Party bulldog John Baird is probably sipping a glass of chilled acid in celebration, and Tony Clement can build another outhouse in Huntville with taxpayer funds for the next G8.

It's more than a day and a half after the federal election, and some bloggers have voiced disappointment in their country for electing a PM and a party who've managed to glide through ethics scandals, avoid facing claims of detainee torture in Afganistan, and unfulfilling Toronto shop owners of the monies owed for the G20 violence that destroyed property and goods.

"I think we need an Olympic-sized badminton court. Any dissenters?"

The Liberals were knocked down to 3rd party status because they refused to accept the fact their choices of leaders of late favoured professorial figures than political street fighters capable of a defensive return of character-attacking advertising (otherwise known as negative ads, or what I'd prefer to brand as fecal advertising). The Conservatives' main bullseye, Michael Ignatieff, refused to step down into the gutter with them, but did virtually nothing in the public's view to challenge or refute the claims in those tacky ads that ran for 2 years outside of an election climate.

It's the equivalent of running an ad in the city paper (print or web) against your neighbour or your boss, with the words Selfish Shit, Compulsive Fibber, or Slave Wage Exploiter without any provocation.

It's pretty loeathesome for a seated government to run 'He sucks' TV ads against any opposition leader, and ideally people ought to have recognized the tactic as base and a potential waste of taxpayer monies.

"I just bought new red running shoes. Doesn't that prove my sincerity?"

Instead, it worked, in terms of reinforcing or instilling the attitude that Ignatieff came from the U.S. and pompously presumed he could take the top job after living outside of Canada for a long while.

I don't doubt Iggy himself believed it was a national calling and a remarkable opportunity for a theorist to get into the machinations of a working government, but Ignatieff was victimized by his own vanity, fed by the Liberal party who undoubtedly parroted their supposed confidence that he was the right man for the job, while party veterans probably wanted to stab him in the back for coming out of nowhere and usurping the top party spot without any deferrance to seniority - the thing that makes it fair for workers to earn pay based on longer terms of servitude, and for eating years of B.S. with a smile.

An articulate intellectual, Iggy may have been humbled over the past year, but he deserves credit for running a campaign  where reporters weren't restricted to shouting 4 questions per day from  behind a riot fence; Iggy accepted a diversity of questions in live town hall meetings, but he was still wrong for the country's job, the party, and politics. As a party consultant on legal ethics, he's fine, but not as a leader.

"I will never let my son operate the video camera again. Not good."

Stéphane Dion should've been proof positive eggheads can't fight dirty to win, but the party just repeated their mistake with Iggy and deserved to lose substantially.

What boggles the mind is why central neighbourhoods in Toronto went Conservative blue. The G20 riots should've proved to the citizens how little the party and the PM care about T.O., and as as dumb as the city can be, neither the riots nor the police brutality would've happened had helmet head Harper not blockaded the city to house a useless international gathering that's solved no international quandary in the past 12 months at a  cost of almost a billion dollars.

City inhabitants who pay federal taxes should ask exactly what did the G20 accomplish, how did it make the world a better place, and what positive programs were put into use, because I can't think of any goodness that stemmed from that waste of time.

My vantage isn't left, right or centrist: it's was all a waste of money, and brought out the worst behaviour in extreme rebels and rogue law enforcement members. The rest of the country can laugh at the city for getting some just desserts, but imagine if Huntsville had been beset by riots, had stores smashed up, and endured kettling of local citizens. Laughter would've been replaced with disgust, and Tony Clement would've had to explain to his constituency why he felt his riding needed such a high profile mess.

The likely answer: no one liked Ignatieff. He was a cuckoo that had been dropped into the party nest and a Toronto riding, and the pretender was doomed to fail in an electrion after showing no spine to the Conservatives, and heading a party with no vision and no platform that not only failed distinguished themselves from the competition, but from past Liberal agglomerations. The party has become irrelevant, and needs to rethink what it is if it wants to avoid losing further seats, and reaching the ignominious non-party status.

Meet Captain Jack Multifaith.

Jack Layton proved himself to be a slow and steady racer in the campaign and made huge gains in Quebec, quashing the power of the Bloc Quebecois because they too had become as overconfident and banal as the Liberal party. Moreover, Layton showed his smarts at being a veteran politician, a savvy fighter unwilling to take the bait but defend himself by providing simple contrasts to Harper's own simple contrasting arguments for voting Conservative.

At the start of the campaign, Layton was the lefty getting over cancer and hip surgery whom people feared lacked the stamina to survive a campaign, but the C-word disappeared from media reports once the CBC's Peter Mansbridge followed Layton during a daily campaign grind in the east coast: Jack was back, and as fiscally irresponsible as his billion dollar plans for social programs seemed, he won the second top spot as opposition leader.

Layton's victory was partly a protest vote from Liberals angry at a party that had become arrogant and complacent, deifying themselves as the country's 'natural governing paty'. That, and an attempted flipped bird to Harper & Co.

Steve's weave is hand-sewn from 10,000 teflon strands, and is resistant to rust, falling objects, and ethics.

Because the opposition parties collectively lack enough seats to keep the Conservatives in check, Steve has a free reign, and 2011-2015 will yield at least a few scandals and abuses of power.

These things happen with every administration under any party colour, but the ideological Conservatives will further tweak and trim funding and arms-length government watchdogs, and they'll pee on Toronto again.

Or not.

With the Toronto victories and support from Mayor Rob Ford, it's possible the Feds will cosy up to T.O. and actually fund public transporation plans as a bribe for more votes in 2015.

They might invest in developing the waterfront, or perhaps token arts & culture projects.

There's also the provincial election this October where the Liberals could get knocked down to a minority government or perhaps lose power to the Conservatives, led by Tom Hudak, who always tends to come off as a paper-thin peoples' man.

Yeah. Speechless, aren't ya?

We have a buffoon for a mayor, an ideologue for a Prime Minister, and in Ontario we may have a poser replacing a lackluster Liberal for the Premiereship this fall.

At least the dollar still rocks at $1.05 U.S.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Eros III - 'Somewhere There's a Heart...' + VOTE TODAY

May 2nd means it's spring, alhough this past Sunday you'd think we sold our typically nice weather to England (or maybe someone took it with them on a recent flight to Europe), but no matter.

The big news today is Osama Bin Laden is now fish food, and in Canada it's the Federal Election. You know, the thing you've been avoiding because it's a choice between three lesser idiots.

I hate politics, yet watch news thrice daily, and no political party nor leader reflects my interests wholeheartedly, but there is a lesser idiot for everyone, and I picked mine at the advance poll to get it out of the way, and leave room for catching films at Hot Docs (because human suffering on a global scale, captured on film by the hundreds, seems more weighty than seeing another minority parliament peppered with more bickering until the next election next year, which we figure could happen yet again).


One's a powermonger, one's a professor way out of his league, and the other's promising benefits to be paid for using non-existant 'revenue tools', but a change in power concentrations might work for the better, or maybe nothing will change, but your vote counts. We could be ruled by a despot whose managed to enforce a 30 year 'emergency measures' doctrine destined to be upheld by one of several stupid sons when said despot dies, but instead we have a democracy to retain, reduce the power of, or send a fuck-you protest vote to a helmet head who likes to murder Beatles songs on piano, so make the effort to make a difference, or keep the status quo if that's your inkling.

Just do it.

Just uploaded are reviews for a pair of erotische filmski courtesy of Impulse Pictures / Synapse Films. Aphrodisiac! The Sexual Secret of Marijuana [M] (1971) is a fake documentary concocted by clever smut peddlers who use of their friends in the adult industry, and it's a surprisingly entertaining piece of nonsense.

Schoolgirl Report #7: “What the Heart Must Thereby…” / Schulmädchen-Report 7: Doch das Herz muß dabei sein [M] (1974) is the seventh of thirteen (THIRTEEN?) entries in Germany's naughty girl films that purport to argue moral arguments using dramatized events, but it's all bullocks. It was an excuse for the filmmakers to find comedy in moraily vignettes starring blatant actors and actresses rather than so-called 'real students and their parents.' My halb-Deutsch comprehension paid off by finding more bon mots / maudits in the original German dub track than the English subtitles, and this politically wrong franchise contiues to sell wel internationally. Must be the uniquely Germanic grasp of absurdity and fun with"bunsten."

Heading out the door for the first Hot Docs flick, Grande Hotel, for which I'll have a review up within the next 24 hours, with some interesting graphic links.

Now go vote for the idiot of your choice.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
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