Stanley Kubrick: Part II

In Part I, the focus was on Lolita [M] (1962) and Stanley Kubrick’s early documentaries, but this time we jump ahead more than a decade to Barry Lyndon [M] (1975), and a teasing little Channel 4 documentary called Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes [M] (2008).

Lolita forms the beginning of Kubrick’s comfort in letting loose his satirical streak. In that film, the target was socially wrong behaviour with an emphasis on the innate clumsiness and petty jealousies of a shallow professor whose maturity is so low, he doesn’t deserve the degree that permits him to walk into any classroom. In fact, he shouldn’t be allowed to enter any classroom, even by accident.

Women in Prison, Part II: Red Heat (1985)

Just uploaded is a review of Linda Blair's second Women in Prison films, Red Heat [M], made in 1985, and often confused with the 1988 Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jim Belushi buddy cop film - a fine comic book film, but largely missing the social wrongness that permeates every frame once Blair in thrust into a dank East German jail in spite of her vocal American citizenship declaration.

Red Heat (Panik House) is silly, but there is a strong anti-East German (aka the GDR) sentiment running through the film, making it much more political that prior WIP films. There's also the valid question of what would it take for a government to distance itself from an incarcerated citizen instead of doing everything within its diplomatic reach to secure the release of someone, if not demand proof a genuine transgression had been committed.

Stanley Kubrick, Part I

Truth be told, the first time I’d seen Lolita (1962), I was bored, but that was perhaps 20 years ago, and as happens with one’s taste in music, things change, or rather one develops an appreciation for different directors and their career phases.

Uwe Boll is still a lower-tier Ed Wood, hence I’ve no desire to revisit his rabbit rubbish, but Stanley Kubrick was cut from a different cloth (duh), and perhaps the most popular adjectives applied by critics and non-fans towards this American icon is cold, dry, eccentric, weird, reclusive, and perhaps a little mad.

One quality few seem to get off the bat is how funny Kubrick was, particularly in his later work. The last line in Eyes Wide Shut (1999), his final film, makes it clear the story you just watched was a funny – not unlike the moment in David Fincher’s The Game (1997) where a certain character realizes everything that’s been driving him to the brink of madness was rooted in something… funny.

In the case of EWS, it seemed to take punchline to make it clear you just saw a darkly comedic film about obsessions, repressions, marital bickering, and weird characters that fade in and out of dark store corners.

Even Full Metal Jacket (1987) was satirical, and Warner Bros. actually sold the film based on fast clips in the trailer, and one character (dubbed “Joker” by his men) uttering the phrase ‘Sir... Does this mean that Ann-Margret's not coming?’

But one has to step back another 25 years to see where Kubrick found a project in which he could loosen up and allow his dry, satirical wit to permeate elements in each shot.

Lore has it that Kubrick rewrote much of Vladimir Nabokov’s own script, and while there are peculiar moments of slapstick in Lolita – notably Humbert Humbert trying to unfold a cot while Lolita sleeps soundly in the hotel big bed – Kubrick satirizes bad behaviour and overall wrongness by pitching the dialogue, the performances, and long takes just high enough to make the ugliness of a professor sleeping with a teenager ridiculous – an amazing accomplishment when there’s plenty of patently offensive behaviour throughout the film.

As the evil Quilty who torments Humbert from a safe distance, Peter Sellers augurs the film with his accents and impersonations, but even with another actor in place of Sellers, the film would’ve conformed to Kubrick’s sense of the absurd, because Lolita is a forerunner to the more outrageous behaviour in Dr. Strangelove (1964), which he co-authored with madman Terry Southern.

Warner Home Video recently issued Lolita and Barry Lyndon (1975) on Blu-ray – two dryly funny satires that offer unique rewards to devoted Kubrick fans, as well as sophisticates wanting literary absurdism perfectly distilled into sound + image – and I’m paring the reviews with some related materials.

In Part I, in addition to Lolita [M] (WHV), I’ve also chosen to focus on Kubrick’s earliest work: his documentary shorts. His three films ought to have been packaged in a single DVD set years ago, but that’s never happened – either because of rights issues, or Kubrick feeling his nascent filmic efforts, like his feature film debut Fear and Desire (1953), were too immature to remain in circulation.

His first two shorts (both made in 1951) were sold to RKO as newsreels, and they’ve popped up in various places on TV. Day of the Fight [M] has been broadcast on TCM, European TV (BBC, RAI) and is available via Archive.org, whereas Flying Padre [M] has received less airplay.

The Seafarers [M] (1953) did the rounds on YouTube, but its rights were recently re-acquired, and a special edition DVD emerged in 2008 with extras, including an audio commentary track with directors Keith David and Roger Avary.

Seafarers was Kubrick’s first colour film, but he didn’t return to colour until Kirk Douglas nabbed him to direct Spartacus (1960) after director Anthony Mann was dismissed. Between 1951 – 1960, Kubrick’s films were dramas, anti-war statements, noir, and documentaries, but it wasn’t until Lolita that he found his groove, and slowly developed his mid- and late-career style of satire, drama, and commentary.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was a unique exception, whereas The Shining (1980) plays with varying aspects of spousal violence and madness. I still think Stephen King, in his original assessment of the film, felt Kubrick didn’t quite understand the machinations of a horror story; perhaps the striking sequences were designed to be nightmarish extensions of seething violent tendencies, and as was Kubrick’s desire to let audiences make the final judgment, have them similarly figure out what the puzzle bits mean when examined by each subjective viewer.

In Part II, I’ll have reviews of Barry Lyndon, plus the teasing BBC documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes (2008).

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Dear Mr. Gacy

It is not nice outside in T.O. today. I managed to get some fruits & vegetables, and 20 mins. under the sun may be the maximum time limit before human DNA is reduced to its original primordial goo state, which might be neat from a biologist's stance, but I'm not an egghead, and would prefer to remain composed of mostly solid matter.

This week's been busy, so the next few days will yield a series of updates, of which the first is Dear Mr. Gacy [M] (Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada), which sounds like another exploitive direct to video serial killer shocker, but is actually a true crime drama based on Jason Moss' successful efforts to become John Wayne Gacy's pen pal
in order to gain trust and learn previously untold details of his killings for a thesis.

Moss was bold, brazen, perhaps egotistical, and Gacy undoubtedly appreciate the attention, to the point were Moss agreed to meet Gacy in jail close to the latter's execution date. I've uploaded a review of AB's Blu-ray, plus further links on this extremely weird case of over-ambitious research.

Coming next: Linda Blair in lockdown (agan?), soundtrack reviews, and a pair of themed Stanley Kubrick updates, featuring Warner Home Video's shiny happy Blu-ray transfers of Lolita (1962) and Barry Lyndon (1975) - both films proof positive that Stanley had a sense of humour. Dark as coal, but brilliant.

Stay out of the sun, but if you must enter the broiler, before leaving the house take a cold shower, line your pockets with pre-chilled ice cubes, and wear an ice bucket (preferably the one worn by Marlon Brando in Island of Dr. Moreau. Mini-Brando, face veil, fuddy-duddy British accent, and pretending to be a dolphin in the body of a mad scientist is optional).

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

The Films of Stephen Boyd, Part I

There’s a moment in the 2011 documentary Stephen Boyd: The Man Who Never Was [M], produced & broadcast by BBC Northern Ireland, where director John Turtletaub quips ‘Stephen who?’ but he’s being only half-serious, and yet most film fans – certain younger film fans - may not connect the name with the actor who co-starred in Ben-Hur (1959), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), and Fantastic Voyage (1966), because unlike co-stars Charlton Heston, Christopher Plummer and Raquel Welch, respectively, Boyd didn’t want to be a part of the star machine, and perhaps his love of golf overtook time he could and perhaps should have spent seeking out better roles, or at least returning to his stage roots to maintain a profile connected with quality.

Whether Boyd was a great actor is debatable; he was perfectly suited to play charismatic characters, but there was the odd grand physical gesture which could render a role a bit too grandiose, and yet physically and vocally he was tailor-made for the movies. Imposing with a chiseled jaw, a smile that could be warm or hideously sadistic, and a voice armed with precise tonal power, Boyd worked his way up the contract system, playing small roles and supporting parts until Woman Obsessed (1959), his first big starting role where he held his own against Susan Hayward, fresh from her Oscar win from I Want to Live! (1958).

A contract actor with Fox, Boyd also appeared in The Best of Everything and the brooding western The Bravados (1958), but it was MGM’s international blockbuster Ben-Hur that made him a star… and yet within 10 years the roles weren’t so good, and Hollywood was struggling to figure out what audiences wanted, sometimes succeeding with trippy epics by independent-minded directors such as Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey), or making giant duds like Dr. Doolittle (1967), Finian’s Rainbow (1968), and Star! (1968).

He was well-cast in The Oscar (1966), but one wonders if he realized his energetic, hypnotizing performance was part of the fromage that made the film one of the best worst films ever made, and a sublime guilty pleasure of perfectly realized awfulness.

Like many former contract actors and stars, Boyd appeared in international productions, TV, and Italian genre efforts during his final years, but it’s his death at a young age which makes his career so tragic. Among his 61 credits in film and TV (1954-1978), there are genuine nuggets of gold, but it’s like his acting colleague from Ireland says at the end of the BBC doc, ‘If he’d been alive today he’d be my age,’ and he should’ve had a few more good performances preserved on film.

While the BBC doc is currently unavailable on DVD, it probably does the rounds on U.K. TV stations, and is worth catching, if not making its way to home video as a worthy bonus to accompany one of his films.

Ben-Hur, in turn, is slated for a massive Blu-ray release this fall via Warner Home Video, but I get a feeling the attention among any new extras will go towards Heston, director Wyler, composer Miklos Rozsa, and the chariot race sequence, which is all justified, but it means fans wanting some background on Boyd’s career will have to track down the BBC doc, and scour merchants (or TCM) for the actor’s other work.

Actually she won the Oscar LAST YEAR, snapphead.

Luckily his best films remain in circulation, but we’ll begin this peek at his celluloid C.V. via Woman Obsessed [M], newly (and exclusively) released by Twilight Time on DVD in a swanky anamorphic transfer with Hugo Friedhofer’s excellent score isolated in bouncy-bouncy stereo. (Stereo is bouncy, whereas mono is simply not.)

One thing I should point out for film fans curious about why they can’t find TT’s products on Amazon or in stores: they’re available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment. I’ve seen many posts where people say films such as The Egyptian ‘are coming’ or ‘will be out ‘or are available’ but few follow up and are aware (or bother to mention) the titles are exclusive to SAE’s online website.

Yes, they ship internationally, and yes, they ship to Canada. I’ve been using them for their other business streams – mail order soundtracks – since the company began operations with a pair of Albert Glasser LPs in 1986, and they have excellent customer service. This isn’t advertorial. Just a confirmation of where you can get the TT DVDs and their new line of BRs, and confirmation the company is legit. People get funny ideas when message boards are filled with vague comments and assumptions, so call this a point or two for clarification.

That is all.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Women in Prison, Part I: Chained Heat (1983)

Tuesday marks the street release of Chained Heat (1983), the Women in Prison [WIP] film produced by Billy Fine with content so wrong it’s not only right, but just fine for this idiot genre that blossomed during the seventies.

Whether she’s innocent or guilty, it don’t matter. She done wrong, she’s going into the big house, where inside her birdcage she must defend herself against overcooked screws wanting forcibly confined and aggressively administered nookie-nookie. Blacks and whites tussle, nuzzle, and cuddle, while an evil sadistic warden make sure his / her concrete jungle doesn’t explode into a powder keg of heated hotness, and disrupts the flow of drugs and prostitution from which said warden earns some ‘discretionary income.’

Fine didn’t create the genre; he just ran with it, starting with The Concrete Jungle (1982), following by Caged Heat [M] (1983), and inspiring a whole group of hacks to think they too could cash-in on scenes of nudity and improper use of power over big-bosomed butches and princesses.

See, Fine and director / co-writer Paul Nicholas had no choice to indulge in their own tastes and go extreme because WIP films had not only gone mainstream at the drive-in, but on the idiot box – the proof being TV’s Charlie’s Angels.

In “Angels in Chains” (broadcast in 1976), Sabrina, Jill and Kelly went to the big house, and eventually ‘busted out,’ still manacled in a threesome from which they could not easily escape. Much personality clashing ensued, and driving a motor vehicle proved quite challenging with six hands, and one unresponsive clutch.

If series producer Aaron Spelling managed to distill the essence of WIP films to PG-rated audiences in middle America, the makers of Chained Heat [CH] had to dream big.

Incredibly, every rendering in Linda's illustrated menagerie actually happens on film.

Branded by some as ‘the Citizen Kane’ of WIP films, CH has it all, and still offends 28 years after its release. Why did Linda Blair, the Oscar-nominated imp from The Exorcist [M] (1974) agree to show her ta-tas, and let Sybil Danning lather them with affection?

Why the hell is stentorian master thespian John Vernon licking nipples in a hot tub? Why is Stella Stevens dressed like a man, and greets her favourite inmates with the term ‘pig shit”? And what is making actor Henry Silva grin so delightfully in every scene that he owns?

Sadly, only some of those questions were answered in the first North American DVD release of CH via VSC’s Canadian 2-disc set, which featured CH, plus two othe WIP classiques, Blair’s Red Heat (1985), and Danning’s Jungle Warriors (1984).

Now Mr. Skin and Panik House’s 2011 edition of the said threesome whips up answers in their bosomy 2-disc 'set,' featuring the first release of CH in its original uncut form with restored Wrongness.

In the first part of this morally rich series, I compare the two releases and their respective special features, because I know you want to know the Whys, the Whatnots, and the WhatTheHells.

That is all.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Dog Tales III: Lassie's Last Legs at MGM (1948 - 1951)

Ah, the end of the line for Lassie- er, "Shep."

Most franchise characters live within a customized world that suits their needs, tests their limits, and usually brings them full circle to their comfort zone, perhaps a little wiser after each adventure.

With James Bond, for example, the franchise screenwriters went from adapting whole novels to using just the novel titles and a hint of whatever script idea lay within, and when the literary sources ran out, they crafted new ones, often as greatest hits for fans.

For the character of Die Hard’s John McClane, the screenwriters went further. An original script was hastily written for the second movie; an unrelated script was reworked into a third Die Hard installment; and an original was written for the fourth and final (so far) film, riffing off the main character’s age, experience, and steeped cynicism.

The circumstances that enabled Lassie to survive through films and a TV series are really unique because it seemed MGM was aware, perhaps based on prior pooch characters such as Rin Tin Tin, that there can only be so many variations on Lost Dog Coming Home adventures before things become stale, and audiences move on to the next cute animal.

Whereas the first movie, Lassie Come Home [M] (1943), was based on Eric Knight’s book, the next two films – Son of Lassie [M] (1942) and Courage of Lassie [M] (1946) – not only put the character in a contemporary setting (getting affected by the events of WWII), but added a son (Laddie) in the former, and a Lassie-like character named Bill (and Duke by soldiers) in the latter.

As long as it looked and sounded and behaved like the same noble collie, all was good. But MGM and producer Robert Sisk must have realized they needed a shelf of story options, so their literary department retained short stories and novels wherein a dog either existed, or could be woven into tales of a decent character beating the odds.

In Hills of Home [M] (1948), for example, Ian Maclaren’s short story of a village doctor in turn of the century Scotland is goosed with Lassie helping the humanitarian save lives. In the Sun Comes Up [M] (1949), MGM had Yearling novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings write an original story of an opera singer who overcomes tragedy with the support of her dog – but it also marks the first time Lassie wasn’t directly relevant in every major scene.

For Challenge to Lassie [M] (1949), Eleanor Atkinson’s 1912 novel Greyfriars Bobby was upgraded, replacing her titular character’s breed of a Skye Terrier to a devoted collie, and with The Painted Hills [M] (1951), MGM repurposed Alexander Hull’s novel Shep of The Painted Hills, keeping the breed, but changing the dog’s name.

There were probably many dog tales in print during the forties and fifties, but it is remarkable how Lassie wasn’t just a star, but a brand name, capable of sustaining itself in stories set in different time periods, countries, global crises, and local tales of woe. The anchor point was Lassie, as played by Pal, a brilliantly trained dog with emotive eyes and sensitive gestures that guaranteed audience sympathy, whether Lassie was trying to cross rapids, avoid destruction by court order, or was used by evil Nazis to identify her master in Norway.

As a character, Lassie traveled far and wide before settling into a radio show (1947-1950) and popular TV series (1954-1973), and it’s during her tenure on the idiot box that Lassie’s writers could relax, and flitter between reusable story templates – a tactic that served other animal series well, particularly The Littlest Hobo (1963-1965, and 1979-1985), adapted from a 1958 film.

Lassie did move back to the theatrical realm in 1994 and 2005, but MGM’s films are fascinating artifacts of a studio keeping a franchise going during WWII, and the postwar era, exploiting their property in what were then the three most impressionable media streams: film, radio, and television, with spin-off tales in literary and graphic form.

Warner Home Video released the first 4 films in a 2-disc set under the TCM banner, and while all of the MGM films have appeared on VHS, the remaining 4 titles aren’t available on DVD, except for the odd public domain disc. (The final film in the series is also available at archive.org.)

I’ve said before that the lot ought to be remastered in HD from the best surviving elements because as Technicolor productions, they’re exemplary for the use of indoor and outdoor cinematography. Mountains served as major locations in the first four films, and even the more studio-bound period installments featured the same blazing use of Technicolor film stock.

There are enough global fans out there to warrant a restoration, and once the films have been transferred to HD, it’s done; the franchise can enjoy new life in theatrical reissues for family matinees, and is ready for HD broadcasts – all of it sustaining the character in the consumer’s consciousness as The Number One Canine, and ensuring future efforts to restart the franchise are absorbed by new and old fans alike. Besides, 2013 will mark the 70th anniversary of Lassie's big screen debut, so let's get the ball rolling.

Film Score Monthly recently issued a boxed set of scores from the MGM series, and having gone through the movies, it’s easy to understand why getting the music out there was such a labour of love for the set's producers. Sure, they love the central character, but certainly in the 6th and 7th films, the music by a young Andre Previn is superb. Composed when he was around 18, it’s easy to see why Previn shot up fast as one of the studio’s top composers, handling prestige pictures for a good 10 years.

The rest of the scores were written by a mix of newcomers and veterans, and the reliance on montages gave them long sequences to develop themes and rich, dramatic variations. Pity few of the original score recordings survive as music-only elements, but the studio put a long of care into the franchise during its 8-year run.

For prior blogs in the Dog Tales series, read Part I and Part II.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

Soundtrack Reviews

Just uploaded is a pair of soundtrack reviews:

- John Morris' Clue [M] (La-La Land), not as giddy as Haunted Honeymoon [M], but still amusing.

- Jerry Goldsmith's First Knight [M], an above-average, big scale orchestral score that happily bears no resemblance to that other big screen score also composed in 1995, Congo.

That is all.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor

The Greek Experience, Dario Argento alerts, and Mondomark & KQEK.com join Twitter

Before I get to the latest reviews - Elia Kazan's America America (Warner Home Video), and William Kyriakis + Radley Metzger's Dark Odyssey (First Run Features / Image), here are a few quick news items:

1) Your mail will not arrive in a timely fashion in spite of what the government and Canada Post [CP] have said on camera, and in print. A co-worker asked our local letter carrier why we haven’t received a big bundle of mail, now that the strike is over.

Off the record, he said, the government has placed priority on ordinary mail, and has told  CP to put everything else on hold, particularly any priority mail. To clear the backlog would require overtime, but since the gov’t doesn’t want to appear to be giving any extra money to workers just off strike duty, any express or priority mail – essentially shipping with a premium price – has no priority. Ergo, if you’ve been waiting for an express post package from anywhere, you’re not got to get it any faster than the Hydro bill, or junk mail from Fred’s Flatulence Clinic.

Somewhere in Mississauga, Ontario, lies a room resembling the end shot of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and buried in there are my review copies. As one nice lady said, expressing a modicum of discontent, "Barnacles!"  At least the queen bees reported stranded in a postal warehouse were saved last month from mortal danger. Apparently CP will ship bees, whereas couriers will not. Who knew you could mail bugs?

2) Torontoist reported yesterday the Bloor Cinema isn't in fact doomed for some permanent closure or some condo for Stage One of The Bloor West Gentrification Project. Instead, Hot Docs and Blue Ice Film have acquired the building from the brothers Bordonaro, and when it reopens for mostly docs / still cult shows like the Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), it'll have undergone some major renovations.

Mostly likely office, wiring, seating, sound, and use of space will be improved, but until it reopens (the article infers a possible fall date), it seems Rue Morgue has moved their monthly CineMacabre screenings to the Toronto Underground Cinema [TUC], which is great for its operators, because the cinema - which has the second largest seating capacity in the city - is buried away from the street under a condo, and deserves more exposure. In an ideal world, T.O. can sustain an eclectic set of indie, non-profit and corporate cinemas that cater to a number of audiences and types of entertainment.

Rue Morgue's next CineMacabre event is Tom Holland's Fright Night (1985), and to make the debut of the magazine & cinema's first collaboration, the 35mm print screening Thurs. July 21st at 9:30pm is FREE.

TUC also Tweeted on Aug. 25th CineMacabre will not only present a 35mm print of Near Dark (1987), but feature a Q&A with Lance Henricksen and Richard Crouse. Great movie, great Tangerine Dream score, great eyeball smooshing. More details are at RM, and note the very cool poster, which is a great tribute to the film's tone, and Henricksen's brilliantly bad attitude in the film.

3) And related to things Rue Morgue and Tweeting, I just uploaded the second RM blog concerning this past Saturday July 2nd  screening of Fellini's "Toby Dammit" segment from Spirits of the Dead (1968) and Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

In Part 1, I blather about the screened prints, and why the Weinsteins are dreadful hoarders; and in Part 2, I blather about Argento's Opera (1987), which screened the same day. There's also links in Part 2 regarding audio excerpts from the Intro and post-Fellini / Argento screening discussion by Guillermo del Toro, who's in town for the next 1.5 years shooting Pacific Rim.

He likes our city, and had fun talking for what amounted to SIXTY MINUTES of incisive, amusing, and ribald matters concerning the giallo genre, and will probably return to the TBL for future themed screenings. If it includes more Argento prints on the big screen, all the better. Those who weren't aware of the screenings or weren't able to make it ought to mark off Sat. July 23rd, because TUC is screening Deep Red at 7:30pm, and the Argento-produced Demons at 9:30pm.

Lastly, just a short mention that I've set up a Twitter account, under the moniker of mondomark_kqek, which will contain more timely alerts, because as I've discovered, writing long blogs like this and proofing them for sthpellingk mithtakes takes a while, whereas typing "Reviews of America America & William Kyriakis + Radley Metzger's Dark Odyssey now online" takes like, what, a minute?

These bloated blogs will continue, though, as the Tweets are pre-blog alerts of newly uploaded reviews and editorial blather. Coming soon will be a Facebook account for KQEK.com, because I wish to expand my empire into your PC, your Mac, your mobile, and your bathroom.

Now then, let's get to the latest pair of uploaded reviews.

What an absolutely ugly publicity campaign.

Elia Kazan's Wild River (1960) screened this past Sunday and last night TIFF Bell Lightbox (this is why there's a lag in reviews & interviews - Toronto has too much to offer cineastes), and it's the 3rd film in its Montgomery Clift-Hollywood Classics series that spans June-August.

I reviewed Wild River not long ago via a Spanish DVD (note: it's also out in Fox's Elia Kazan box), and the second time around confirms it's one of my favourite films. I love the way its social commentary and historical facts support a slow-burning drama about lovers from two unlikely backgrounds who need each other to escape the doldrums of their respective lives.

Clift plays a Tennessee Valley Authority manager, and Lee Remick plays a window unable to leave her grandmother's island that's doomed to be flooded once the TVA's new dam project locks up.

I'm catching a number of Clift films in August, but it was nice to see the film on the big screen, where Ellsworth Fredericks' stunning cinematography revealed a forgotten artisan. There are shots in the film with truly remarkable lighting and deep focus detail. The best example is a simple conversation between Clift and Lee Remick in the doorway of a small house during a rainstorm. It's magic hour, and the lighting is graduated to show various amber hues inside the house, including a moving pattern of rain water cascading down an unseen window. One shot, multiple colours and textures, and ravishing in CinemaScope.

The 35mm print was grainy (like the U.S. release version of Visconti's The Leopard (1963), Fox used cheaper film stock, which boosted grain severely), but the print was in good condition, and there were details not quite evident in the DVD transfer, such as the straight-razor nicks on Albert Salmi's cheeks from a hasty shave prior to filming, and flies buzzing now and then into shots.

The sound mix was mono, but Kenyon Hopkins' light blues score fit the film and its characters to a T, and it's probably one his loveliest scores, screaming for a commercial release or an isolated score track. (Ahem: Twlight Time perhaps?)

The theatre was about 1/3 full, and most of the people wandered in 10 minutes prior to the film start, and they seemed to be pleasantly surprised by the superb script, its wit, and Kazan's careful direction that yielded string performances from major and minor actors (including baby-faced Bruce Dern).

This of course brings me to America America [M] (1963), Kazan's follow-up film which Warner Home Video released on DVD for the first time. Based in part on his Greek uncle's struggle to escape the poverty in Anatolian Turkey, it's one of the richest, most unpretentious chronicles of the immigrant experience on film, and is arguably Kazan's best film. Unlike most immigrant tales of poor folks reaching America and enduring brutal hardships to set roots, Kazan's drama focuses on the backstory - the reasons for flight, the unpredictable events prior to escape, and the years it takes to earn enough money to book a one-way ticket to a land and culture you know nothing about.

In a media-savvy global community, we can learn quite a bit about a future homeland, but imagine simply deciding, based on anecdotes and images in magazines, that you want to leave home and reach the shores of a new country where you don't speak the language, the food is strange, the culture is new, and there are plenty of people willing to exploit your weaknesses because your English vocabulary will take a while to mature.  Kazan's tale deals with the opportunities and choices his lead character - essentially a teen - must make before a burning desire to extricate himself from a life he simply can't stomach mandates buying that one ticket.

It's also a rare chronicle of the Greek experience at a time when Greece and Turkey were  generally portrayed by Hollywood as an exotic ancient place. Greece was the mystical tourist destination with treasure (Boy on a Dolphin [M]), and Turkey provided colour and thrills in caper films (Topkapi) and espionage (From Russia with Love) during the Cold War. Neither film told us anything about the cultures, and the few Greek-centric films focused on historical figures within the war or Biblical epic genres. Even the best-known Greek film at the time - Never on Sunday (1930) - was a fanciful comedy directed by American Jules Dassin.

Manos Hadjidakis' film score for Dassin's film was designed to be light and fluffy, whereas his sparse music for Kazan's drama is much richer in themes and atmosphere, and provided a better sampling of his composing skills. He knew when to drift in and out of scenes quickly, which is unusual for a nearly 3-hour film.

America America is also one of the best-edited film and feels exceptionally contemporary; Dede Allen managed to edit 3 hours into 2 without physically compacting the film itself. It just moves, and as I blather in the review, Kazan's film is a textbook example on how to cut an epic intelligently without sacrificing character, plot, dialgue, atmosphere, and visual beauty. It's an art that's lost today because the assumption is shots shouldn't last longer than a few seconds, and that's pure bullshit.

In 1958, indie New York City filmmakers Radley Metzger (The Lickerish Quartet [M]) and William Kyriaksi co-directed and co-wrote Dark Odyssey [M] (First Run Features / Image), a revenge film that has a Greek seaman hunt down the man responsible for his sister's suicide back in Greece. The real drama within the film is how a traditional villager reacts to first generation Greeks that emigrated from the homeland and assimilated into NYC's melting pot. There's a surprising among of cultural colour in the film, and it's a pity the movie didn't go anywhere when it was broadly released in 1961.

Where Kazan's film covers the backstory, Metzger and Kyriakis dealt with the present, as ordinary people deal with culture clashes Hollywood either didn't bother with at the time, or transformed into formulaic melodrama. There's more Greek culture in either film that Boy on a Dolphin or Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), because the music and the dancing are subjugated in both films to background texture.

There. I proved the link between Metzger and Kazan.

Your'e very welcome.

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
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