Thursday, June 30, 2011

My 10 Favourite Things About David Lynch's Dune

Okay, okay, perhaps it isn't Lynch at his directorial peak, and perhaps it isn't the most classic of the science fiction genre, and perhaps it isn't the kind of cinema you are supposed to write home about as they say, but damn if it ain't a fun little romp to sit through - especially when seeing it in all it's 2:35 ratio'd glory up on the big screen, sitting alone in the dark on a Wednesday afternoon as if you are playing hooky from real life (one of my favourite things to do as a matter of fact).

With that said and out of the way, here are my 10 favourite things about David Lynch's deliriously demented Dune - numbered but not necessarily in any particular order.  And for those who care about such things, there be plenty of spoilers ahead.  Don't say you haven't been warned.

1. Studly young star Kyle MacLachlan plays wouldbe messiah Paul Atreides with a perfect blend of stage-frightened rock star and closet-case mama's boy - his seemingly innocent to the nth degree snide grin and his devastatingly handsome features (not to mention that coiffed mane of almost too-good-to-be-true hair - what was it Warren Zevon said of his London Lycanthropes but could have been speaking of MacLachlan, "his hair was perfect.") a testament to his wholesome worthiness of messiahdom.  Incidentally, this was MacLachlan's screen debut and one would think his rather frigid acting in this film (albeit befitting the character in many ways) would have been the end of anything big, but he would go on to make his second film, Blue Velvet (imagine these as your first two films!?) and thus becoming the new prince of the undefinable wolf-in-sheep's-clothing (this boy seems straight-laced but underneath it all, in those traumatic situations, the freak will sneak out and show itself - even if it goes running back inside once the shooting has ceased).  This of course would make him the perfect person to star in Lynch's Twin Peaks eventually, but even from this somewhat auspicious start, MacLachlan would play the part with a perfect concoction of wooden demeanor and matter-of-fact consciousness and the hidden arrogance and chutzpah of one who will lead his people out of bondage (to go with the most obvious biblical reference in the story).

2. Speaking of Mr. Lynch, Dune stands as one of the auteur's most atypical films, but still one can see the strange world that beats just below the surface of the director's mad mad mad mind.  With a humming reverberance beneath the surface of the entire film (sometimes we hear it, other times we do not but can still feel it inside you) and his use of disembodied voice-over, Lynch gives this film (already drawn from a strange-in-its-own-way novel) his own brand of good old fashioned weirdness.  Oddly enough this blend of sci-fi and Lynchian cinematic tropes work surprisingly well in their own bizarre form of unison. 

3. Even Lynch's batshitcrazy manner of filmmaking cannot hide the fact there are some pretty bad special effects herein - even by the day's standards (producer Dino De Laurentiis is known for such things though)- but somehow these cheap looking effects, from the squared off body armour (the first attempt at creating an artificial man on scree I am told) to the riding of the sand worms (which will be discussed later on in more depth) make the film all the more creepy in a way and therefore help to give Lynch what one assumes he was looking for in the final product of his endeavors.  Imagine though, what would have become of the story if the original director, the even batshitcrazier Alejandro Jodorowsky would have made it.

4. I suppose the most disgusting thing about Dune is the pustule-covered mad man Baron Vladimir Harkonnen.  Fat and covered in disgusting boils, and devouring his prey (aka slave boys) by puncturing their nipple valve (yeah, you read that correctly) and sexually(?) draining them of life fluids, the Baron, as played by Kenneth McMillan, looks like some sort of hybrid of the baby from Eraserhead all grown up and some sort of creature feature out of Cronenberg - a filmmaker incidentally who has a much in common with M. Lynch.  Oh did I mention that he also flies - or more accurately, he floats.  Oh yeah, and he is pure evil - a supposed explanation for the kinda allegorical (in a way if you stretch) nasty-ass boils all over his fat face. Then again, some people (most notably gay rights activist Dennis Altman) have more than alluded that these boils/legions/whatever are a sign of AIDS and that the filmmakers are equating evil behaviour with homosexuality (since the Baron is obviously quite queer indeed).

5. And speaking of bad ass bitches - the bald witch women who seem to (at least try to) control all the universe are pretty fucking badass. "Get back, she has the weirding way!" a potential enemy exclaims as Paul's mother Lady Jessica puts a stranglehold on him.  And speaking of Paul's mother, the Lady Jessica, as played by Francesca Annis, and her weirding way - can you say MILF.  Actually MILF is probably a bad term considering the actress, at the time of Dune, is four years younger than I (though if the seventeen year old me had seen this film in its original glory...).  Seriously though, this planetary queen who will one day become the new Reverend Mother of the bald witch women (I don't feel like looking up the name of her people that I cannot remember right now) is smokin' hot - and that's a fact, Jack!

6. And then there is that supporting cast - some of whom are Lynchian regulars or semi-regulars.  You have Freddie Jones and Brad Dourif and Patrick Stewart and Max von Sydow and Jose Ferrer and Richard Jordan and Linda Hunt and Everett McGill and Sean Young and Virginia Madsen and of course the omnipresent Jack Nance, but the one that shines above them all (as he would go on to steal the scene in Blue Velvet two years later) is of course the always great Dean Stockwell.  The reason Stockwell is so great in Dune (other than that kick-ass mustache of course) is because he is not afraid to cry.  I mean really cry - like a little bitch.  Sure, he has just betrayed his king and his people and is now having regrets but c'mon, this crying jag plays out as if a parody of such an act.  Dean, kick-ass mustache or not, this does not make you the suave fucker you will thankfully become.

7. The same people that brought us the songs "Africa" and "Rosanna" did the soundtrack for Dune?  Sure, why not.  Yes, you heard that correctly true believers - the prog-rock band Toto did the soundtrack for Dune.  This does of course explain the creepy yet non-threatening music going on in the background - sort of like a demented merry-go-round with delusions of scary grandeur.  Don't get me wrong, I like Toto (yeah, I said it, what are you gonna do about it!?) and their music does strangely fit the already discomforting effect Lynch has created here, but it still seems weird that Toto does the soundtrack to Dune.  Granted, Brian Eno also contributes a piece (which in my mind seems more appropriate) but still, Toto seems like an odd, but invariably good choice.  Though I was kinda hoping for "Africa" to show up while Paul was riding those giant-ass sand worms - now there is a musical number for the proverbial ages.

8. And speaking of dem worms dem worms - ridin' dem worms.  Nasty dangerous monsters slithering their collective way just beneath the surface of the desert world of Arrakis, these great beasties are a threat to anyone and everyone who comes across their path - well except for our intrepid wouldbe messiah, the studly and perfectly coiffed Paul Atreides.  In fact Paul will tame them and ride them (in some of the worst special effects one can imagine - c'mon guys this is after Star Wars, Tron and Blade Runner - get a budget Dino!) and use them to get his victory and revenge.  Still though, I would have loved to have heard "Africa" on the soundtrack as he rides the great beasties across the desert.

9. From everything I have read or heard on the subject, Lynch wasn't really much of a happy camper from day one.  It is the only film he did not have final cut on (he didn't officially have final cut on The Elephant Man but apparently producer Mel Brooks ended up giving him final cut anyway) and he was not happy with the outcome, which was mostly panned by the critical forces of the day.  Of course that is nothing compared to the uproar that ensued when the studio decided to re-edit Lynch's film, without Lynch's say-so or even knowledge, and release an extended "Special Edition" cut of the film for television broadcast and eventual VHS release in1989.  At this point, due to this new version being somewhat incomprehensible, Lynch petitioned to have his name taken off the film.  It would be replaced with the usual Alan Smithee directorial credit.  Lynch would also, in the best move of the whole situation, change his writing credit to Judas Booth in "honour" of Iscariot and John Wilkes.  To this day Lynch will have nothing to do with the movie (in either version) and refuses any and all invitations to do commentary of such on the film.

10. And probably the best thing this film has going for it - or at least the most fun - is the addition of Gordon Sumner to the cast.  I'm talkin' Sting baby!  Seriously, what a fun character.  Granted, the only real reason he is here is to take his shirt off, grin maniacally, be looked upon leeringly by his fat boil-faced uncle and be the bad boy rock star to MacLachlan's boy next door image.  He only speaks a handful of lines but the rock star image is still intact - probably because of such.  How can a movie go wrong when it has the only rock star (that I know of) to squeeze Nabakov into a hit song?  Really, how can you?

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Troll Hunter

As is per the usual modus operandi of the modern Hollywood studio, the remake of the Norwegian monster movie Troll Hunter is already under way just as the original is hitting U.S. Theaters.  Don't that beat all?  Seriously though, Troll Hunter is a fun little romp that will more likely than not, get its fun little innards ripped right out and tossed all over the place.  Before this happens you should go out and see the original version (if you can) and before that you should probably read my (mostly) positive review which just so happens to be up and running over at The Cinematheque.

You do not want to mess with this guy, but guess what, somebody does.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Addictively Haunting Persona of Leontine Sagan's '31 Proto-Lesbian Masterpiece Maedchen in Uniform

The following is my humble contribution to Garbo Laughs' Queer Film Blogathon.  And as fair warning, there may be spoilers ahead, for those who care about such things - ye have been warned.

Sure, Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel and Morocco, both starring the ever-iconic Marlene Deitrich may have come before it, and yes, there were several other bigger-named gay and lesbian themed films out in Germany prior to this, such as Dreyer's Michael, Pabst's Pandora's Box and of course William Dieterle's Sex in Chains, but still such an all-out, no hidden meanings kind of pro-lesbian movie as Leontine Sagan's Maedchen in Uniform was not exactly what one would call the norm in the Weimer Period German Cinema.  Once Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power though, such cinema, as living in the edges as it most certainly was, would be as they say, completely verboten, as the Nazi regime banned Maedchen in Uniform (and many others) as decadent.  Luckily for film lovers the world over, even though the Nazi's had destroyed all the prints they could find, several had already been sent overseas and thus would survive to be seen again.

The film was actually a groundbreaking work of cinematic art.  Sagan's use of employing an all female cast and her sympathetic views toward lesbian pedagogical eros (the name given to erotic attraction and/or love between a teacher and a pupil by German education reformer and free thinker Gustav Wyneken) revolving around the passionate love of a fourteen year old boarding school student for her teacher (and reciprocation of such so-called unspoken love) easily explain the cult following Maedchen in Uniform received in Germany, and eventually much of the world - even after Hitler's eventual banning and attempted destruction of the film (or more likely, partly because of such).

Maedchen in Uniform (or Maidens in Uniform if you will), adapted from Christa Winsloe's play Gestern und heute, is the story of a Potsdam boarding school for the daughters of poor Prussian officers who belong nevertheless to the aristocracy.  The all-girls school is run with the proverbial iron fist by its headmistress, its newest pupil, the sensitive Manuela, unable to fit into its structure as well as the other girls becoming the film's tragic heroine.  It is in this dynamic that the film takes on its most daring denunciation.  It is in this daring denunciation that we see the criticism of authoritative bevaviour by allowing us in turn, to see how such behaviour can destroy a young girl's mind.

The noted film theorist and social critic Siegfried Kracauer, in his famous (some would say infamous) book From "Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film", said of Maedchen in Uniform, "The film expresses the devastating effects of Prussianism upon a sensitive young girl." and then goes on to say that she "suffers intensely under a rule alien to her tender and imaginative nature."  It is Manuela's desire to be loved and her intense love for her teacher that is forced into suppression by this aforementioned alien rule and ends up destroying the poor, bewildered young girl.

When Manuela first arrives at the school and she hears all the girls speak of their intense love for Fraulein von Bernburg, the young girl listens with rapt attention at the possible pleasures lying ahead of her.  It is upon their first meeting and then the subsequent good night kiss the Fraulein gives to each of her girls but which becomes more intense in Manuela's case, that this innocent girl becomes rapturously consumed by the as-of-yet-unknown passion roiling up inside of her.  Yet it is not just Manuela's sudden and matter-of-fact love for her teacher (this daring love is never even questioned as odd by anyone but the aforementioned figureheads of authority) but also her teacher's just-as-sudden love for her young pupil that is at the heart of this film.

But daring storyline and social consciousness aside, it is the two lead actresses that make the film reach the intense and gothic romantic passionate ultra-realism that it most certainly does reach.  The beautiful Hertha Thiele as Manuela was described by Kracauer as a "unique compound of sweet innocence, illusory fears and confused emotions."  Her intense performance with the older but still with a twinge of lost innocence Dorothea Wieck, (her sharpened features seemingly created by God as an enticing siren song of sorts) is not only some of the bravest acting this critic has seen in film history (and yes, that is a damn bold statement!) but also some of the most tragically emotional as well.  It is this combination of bravura acting, brilliantly subtle mise-en-scene and darkly foreshadowed leitmotif that make this film one of the most memorable works of cinematic art of the early sound period.

Maedchen in Uniform is a film that was not only a sign of its times as they say, (the free-thinking Germany prior to the uprising of the Nazi Party) but also a film way ahead of said times.  To prove this timelessness in a way, the film was remade in France in 1939, in Spain in 1951, again in Germany in 1958 (probably the most well-known version) and then by the BBC in 1967 (not to mention the numerous "loosely based upon" versions throughout the years).  Beautiful and haunting, it is certainly a film this critic will never forget (subject matter or not, a stunning work of cinematic art) and a film that will always have a special place in Gay & Lesbian film history.

Friday, June 24, 2011

R.I.P. Peter Falk

What a terrible loss.  I know it is what everyone says in such a situation and therefore it has lost its punch in may ways, but I really mean it.  What a terrible loss.  Instead of the normal close-up shot that is the norm in these kind of things, I give you a long shot of the great Falk with costars Gazzara and Cassevetes in Cassevetes' film Husbands.  This is meant to symbolize the depth that Falk had as an actor, but you probably already knew that.  Anyway, since I am not very good at the whole obit thing, here is a link to a great write-up by Andrew O'Hehir at Salon.   Again, what a terrible loss.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Most Annoying Movie Characters

As you may already know, I now take up weekly residence over at the great film site Anomalous Material.  The fine folks over there have given me a regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It is a regular series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature piece (my fourth) is a look at those most annoying of film characters.  Whether on purpose or by happenstance, these are those movie characters you definitely do not want to be around for any period of time.  

Read my feature article, "10 Most Annoying Movie Characters" at Anomalous Material. 

The Leo DiCaprio character below did not make the list.  With that said just imagine how annoying those ten who did make the list are.  Mindblowing, huh?

Next week, in celebration of our nation's birthday (and my own just two days earlier) I will give you a list of the 10 best films by one of the most American filmmakers of the last forty years.  Who could it be, hmmm?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hollywood Haiku II: Foreign Edition

Here is the new edition of that ever-popular regular series Hollywood Haiku.  Okay, this is only the second edition (the first was for a contest by the fine folks over at Best For Film - a contest won by my lovely and talented better half) but there are mighty aspirations for the future so it will one day become ever-popular.  Now without further ado, let us get this show on the road.  Here is the Hollywood Haiku: Foreign Edition.

Battleship Potemkin
Soviet montage
Upon the Odessa Steps
Cinema was born

La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc
She doth bear her cross
Her eyes like forsaken loss
She would burn for God

The Red Shoes
Victoria Page
She danced as if she had to
But the red shoes won

La Regle du jeu
He showed class warfare
The ugly truth of his world
Man and beast as one

Two women are one
Cinema is aware
Reality ends

Bicycle Thieves
A man and his bike
A social commentary
The world is unfair

Belle de jour
Unable to feel
She let Man devour her
To find the answers

Tokyo Story
Past is forgotten
Of children's self-absorption
A man is alone

The Exterminating Angel
They cannot escape
Held inside their worst of fears
Trapped inside themselves

8 1/2
Guido had the world
Oh asa nisi masa
What to do with it

That is it for the inaugural Foreign Edition of Hollywood Haiku.  Next time we will be back with the third installment of this new running feature, the Tarantino Edition.  C'mon, if you knew anything about me, you knew that was coming.  Until then please remember, I love you Honey Bunny.

The Cinematheque Reviews: The Art of Getting By

With all the arguments about how art films are difficult and a chore to endure - eating your cultural vegetables is the term used recently by some internet crackpot - it is nice to see one supposed art film opting instead for the same old typically cliche-ridden formulaic moviemaking in such abundant use in the mainstream.  Needless to say, these tongue-in-cheek lines are meant as a passive-aggressive take-down of the film in question, The Art of Getting By.  I mean c'mon, really - you have the brooding rebellious protagonist reading Camus - c'mon!  Anyway, by relatively brief take on said film is up and running ov er at The Cinematheque.

Brood George, brood.  How can you tell he is brooding?  Because Leonard Cohen is on the soundtrack.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

50 Down and Another 50 To Go .......and then To Infinity & Beyond

Well hot-diggity-dog, I have breached the 50 followers threshold!!!  It only took 1 year and 9 months to do it.  Wait a minute, that's a pretty long time (especially in online time), but hey, I finally did get there, so the celebratin' time has begun.  The momentous event actually happened late last month (hey, that means it was just 1 year and 8 months!!) but in all my excitement I forgot to post this extremely self-absorbed and quite self-serving notice until just now.  Actually we fine folks here at The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World (meaning, ME) are now up to 55 followers.  Gee that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - and helps to boost an ego that probably needed no help getting boosted in the first place.

Now what does all this silly hallabaloo mean anyway?  Nothing probably, but I sure am thrilled by it.  Actually it does mean that somebody (a bunch of somebodies) is/are out there listening to the cinematic ramblings of this (let's face it) long-winded blowhard claiming to be a film historian and critic.  Perhaps this means too that my delusions of grandeur are legitimate and actual feelings of grandeur.  Have I made it as a cinephiliac man-about town?  Am I up in the big leagues now, getting my turn at bat (yes, I just sampled The Jeffersons theme song!)?  Am I ready for my close up Mr. DeMille?  Perhaps, perhaps, but let's not get ahead of ourselves quite yet.  Let's cross another obstacle first.  Let's get to (gulp) 100 followers and then celebrate our asses off.

So that's the goal true believers.  Let's reach 100 followers (just 45 to go) and let's do it by the end of the freakin' summer.  Yeah!!  100 followers by Labor Day - we can do it.  Then, hot-diggity, we are going to party like nobody's freakin' business.  Then after that - to infinity and beyond.....

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Roger Corman's Fancifully Macabre Shakespeare/Poe Amalgam Known as The Tower of London

The following is my contribution to Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear's Roger Corman Blogathon.  There may be spoilers ahead, for those who care about such things.

When one thinks Roger Corman one thinks invariably about the hundreds of cheaply-manufactured B-movies the man directed and produced.  Sure, he is responsible for much of the transformation from the old studio era Hollywood into the more director-driven Hollywood of the seventies and early eighties (before it was sadly killed off by the age of the blockbuster!) and for giving first breaks to such future directorial luminaries as Coppola, Scorsese and Bogdanovich - and should be applauded for such - but still, when the name Roger Corman comes up (for those who have even heard of the man - and sadly there are many who have not) the visions of sea monsters and deformed ghouls and insectoid women spring immediately to mind.

Is this fair?  Is it accurate?  Is it inevitable?  One can probably answer yes on all three counts, but by no means should this be looked upon as something to be ashamed of.  Even being the film snob I most likely am (at least toward some things) I have had numerous hours of fun watching some really hokey B-movies.  From those early Warners gangster movies to the tentacle-writhing works of the infamous Ed Wood to the macabre messes of Corman's oeuvre to the dark and sinister films of Bava and the Giallo movement of the seventies to the Grindhouse so loved by one of my own idols Quentin Tarantino.  Perhaps these films will never make any respectable Top 10 Lists (then again, perhaps some will) but many of them are great fun indeed.

The funny, and quite ironic thing about Corman's 1962 film Tower of London is, even though it is assuredly of B-movie stock, it is a very well made film indeed.  Being a remake of the Rowland V. Lee directed 1939 film of the same name which starred Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff (and of which Corman has usurped footage of to add to his film's final battle scenes), Corman's updated version leans, of course, more heavily on the macabre parts of the story.  The film stars the always enjoyable, and always giddily chilling Vincent Price as the evil-minded Richard, Duke of Glouchester and eventual King Richard III.  This is an inspired bit of casting due to the fact that Price had a supporting role in the original 1939 version.  It is also inspired because who other than Price could pull off such a crazed kooky role as this.

Inspired in its storyline by Shakespeare's Richard III but also inspired by the style of the Poe adaptations Vincent Price was already part of (and would do more of again), Corman's film is a giddy macabre delight.  Done on the lowest of budget's of course, Corman gives us one of his richest, most visually textured and most psychologically layered films.  Reaching above the B-label, Tower of London is a frightfully good yarn.  Perhaps stiff at times (some of the actors are downright wooden) it is Price and his unique ability to give any production a sense of creepy dread while maintaining the most steadfast of respectable acting.  Only Boris Karloff was able to do this as successfully as Price in this genre.

Fun to watch (some Corman directed movies are far from a good time had by all) Tower of London is the story of a dying king, his gallant brother who he bequeaths guardianship of his children to (including the one who would be king) and his other brother, the hump-backed bitter Richard.  In Price's Richard we are shown a man who has been tormented his whole life, made to feel inferior to his brothers and even shunned by his own mother.  It is one of Price's juicier roles and one of his better performances.  Corman uses Prices already famed sense of actorly dread to make his film all the more ghoulish.  Perhaps the scenes with the ghosts are rather cheap looking, but the black and white cinematography helps make these work.  This may not be what most call great cinema (though Corman has made a handful of films as director that could be called such) but it certainly is what most should call fun cinema.

But above all the great Vincent Price, acting as hammy as anything he has ever done (and chewing enough scenery to fill the biggest of bellies) makes it all work as well as it does - and it does work surprisingly well.  Done straight, this film may seem more tired, but done in that infamous Vincent Price manner, the film is a delightfully gleeful B-movie horror schlock thingee well worth one's most precious time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Green Lantern

Ya know, there are a lot of people out there talking about how incredibly bad Green Lantern is.  Some of them are even talking Battlefield Earth bad.  Now c'mon guys, perhaps the film is lacking in many ways - mainly in the way of spectacular visuals that should be there but just are not - but to say the film is Battlefield Earth bad!?  Okay, it is far from great, but at worst it falls into the mediocre section  (or perhaps slightly higher) of the universal ratings system.  My review of said mediocre (or perhaps slightly higher) superhero movie is up and running over at The Cinematheque.

Hal Jordan and his Green Lantern Corps compatriots in a scene that shows the visually spectacular potential that is never fully realized by the filmmakers.  Still though, the movie is better (relatively) than most have been giving it credit for being.

Anomalous Material Weekly Feature: 10 Best Movie Presidents

I have recently taken up weekly residence over at the great film site Anomalous Material.  The fine folks over there have given me a regular weekly gig as feature writer.  It will be a series of top ten lists on various cinematic subjects (and anyone who knows me can attest to how perfectly suited I am to such an endeavor - yes I am a list nerd).  This week's feature piece (my third) is a special patriotic list - you know, for Flag Day.  Anyway, it is a list of the best movie presidents - but just the fake ones.  No Lincolns, Jeffersons or Rutherford B. Hayes' here.  But you will get some ass-kicking, alien-killing presidents among the bunch.  

Josh Brolin, in his wonderful turn as George W. Bush, did not make the grade.  I suppose one must discount him as a fake president since he did technically take the oath of office - even after losing that first election.  Still though.....

I am really having fun with my new Gig at AM,  Who would have thought making weekly top ten lists would give me such great pleasure (that was sarcasm for those who cannot recognize such things).  Next week I will be back with some really annoying guests - tune in.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

David Lynch & I: Through the Years

The following is my contribution to The LAMBs In the Director's Chair #17: David Lynch.

What is that sound?  That buzzing sound?  No wait, it is more of a humming sound.  What is that?  Where is it coming from?  Is it getting louder?  Do you hear it too?  Wait, now it sounds like talking.  Is that talking?  Is that someone's voice?  What language is that?  Can you hear that?  It is almost as if a record is playing in reverse.  What is that?  What the hell is that?  Now the lights are flickering.  The humming is back.  And that backward voice.  The lights are off.  Now on again.  Those red curtains.  What is behind them?  What is that?  Do you see this?  Hear that?  What is it?  My God, what is that!?  Make it stop.  That noise.  It won't go away.  I can't make it stop.  Stop it!  Stop it!!  Please stop it!!!

The above might be what it would be like if one were to suddenly find themselves trapped inside the head of David Lynch.  To some, this could be the reaction of actually watching one of his films.  The term acquired taste may have been invented just for the man.  I personally needed no acquirement, no acclimation - I was sold hook, line and sinker as they say the moment I first saw Blue Velvet on a rented VHS tape back in the summer of 1987.  I wasn't lucky enough to see it in its initial release (not really sure why, just missed it I suppose) but even just seeing it on that small TV screen (probably 24 inches and surely not widescreen at the time) was enough to turn this still budding twenty-year-old cinephile into a stone cold David Lynch fan.  And this was just the beginning - or was it?

Actually my first taste of Lynch came about two and a half years earlier - I just didn't know it yet.  After purchasing my first VCR (who remembers those?) in the summer of 1984, with the hard-earned money this then-seventeen year old made at his job gallivanting around a now defunct home improvement store, I went on the wild movie-watching spree that would turn this youthful moviegoer into a true blue cinephile spoken of earlier.  Among the first spree of VHS tapes rented at Movie Merchants (who remembers them?) was a film called The Elephant Man.  The film was strangely in black and white when most things of the period were in colour (at least my still burgeoning cinephiliac mind thought it strange at the time).  I didn't really know who David Lynch was yet - my knowledge of arthouse cinema at the time was limited to a few films each by Kurosawa, Bergman and Fellini - and to be honest, this was a different Lynch than in Blue Velvet.  This was a more user-friendly Lynch.  Still quite good, but I still didn't know my Lynch from my Cronenberg at the time.

Having not yet seen Lynch's auspicious debut Eraserhead (that is coming later though) and never having seen his audacious mega-flop Dune (still to this date that statement holds true) Blue Velvet was really my only known knowledge of the man known as David Lynch when in the spring of 1990 I caught the first episode of a new TV show called Twin Peaks.  Lo and behold its creator and director was none other guessed it (you're so smart) David Lynch.  Well not to sound to full of hyperbolic vim and vigor, but this show changed the way I looked at cinema.  There was something deeper going on in there and Lynch helped me see it by showing secretive glimpses and seductive glances of the strange things behind the proverbial velvet curtains.  Lynch took the stirrings he had first scrambled together in Blue Velvet (that weird underground lair that is Lynchian cinema - that lair that you look away from in psychosexualized terror but you wish to delve deeper into, no matter the inherent dangers to your body and psyche) and let loose the beast.   To put it bluntly, this show was fucked up - and perhaps too was Mr. Lynch.

Next would come something just as bizarre (though perhaps in a different manner).  Next would come Lynch's batshitcrazy homage to The Wizard of Oz - and never a more fucked-up homage was had.   It happened in the Fall of 1990, while working at the Eric Twin Movie Theater (again, who remembers them?).   I like to imagine it was an unseasonably chilly day in early September when Wild at Heart showed up at our little two-screen cinema (it probably wasn't but revisionist history is my favourite subject).  One thing is for sure though - I was blown the fuck away.  I think I may have watched the film about five times that first week we had it.  It may seem blasphemous to many but I think (at least at the time) I liked Wild at Heart even more than Blue Velvet.  So much so that I actually got into a verbal altercation with the film critic of our local paper, The Harrisburg Patriot-News.  The late great Sharon Johnson (she was actually a fine film critic and someone I had much respect for during her decade-long stint at the paper) and I had words over this latest Lynch film - and in the theater lobby at that.  Okay, perhaps I am being revisionist again, for it was but a mild debate we had - her in the anti chamber and me on the pro side.  Revisionist history or not, I would say that I won.

After this it was time to head back to that freaky little town in the wilds of the northwest and watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  Probably more fucked up than the TV show from whence it spewed and probably even more incomprehensible - especially for those unfortunate few who had never seen the show.  As for me and my not-so-humble opinion, it was yet another triumph for all things Lynch.  After this though, it would be a while until I saw another Lynch.  Lost Highway came in 1997 but I wasn't there to see it.  Let's just say I had a year or two there where my life was filled with drugs and alcohol and not much else.  It was in this rather low period of my life that Lost Highway came and went without even a notice.  Then there was Lynch's Disney-produced G-rated drama The Straight Story.  I had been clean and sober for over a year at this point (and happily married to my lovely wife) so it wasn't that that kept me away.  But still I stayed away (along with the aforementioned Dune, the only holes in my Lynchian knowledge as of this writing) and thus would not see it.

And then came a film that would outdo Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart - all put together.  Shortly after the opening of the only arthouse cinema in Harrisburg Pa (and the one very same one my lovely wife and I now run together) a little film called Mulholland Dr. opened - and it was good.   In fact it was spectacular and would eventually top my list of the best films of the decade.  I saw it twice that week and would buy it on DVD the day it was released.  Talk about a mental mindfuck.  In fact I really have no words other than awed speechlessness.  It was the film that put Lynch over the top for me.  It was the film that made me fall for Naomi Watts - her performance in this is one of the best performances ever put on film.  God I sound like a gushing school girl.  This was also the beginning of my going back and rewatching those Lynch's I had already seen and finally watching those I had not.  This is the period that I caught up with both Lost Highway and Eraserhead.  Lost Highway was on DVD and was perfectly placed into my Lynchian universe, but Eraserhead was more than that.

It was at Midtown Cinema (still a few months away from my wife and I taking over the reigns) and it was at midnight - appropriately enough.  In conjunction with the Artsfest Film Festival (stupid name I know) Midtown Cinema would hold a special midnight screening of a cult film.  This time around it was Eraserhead - on glorious 35mm.  There I sat in the second row seeing for the first time the film (at least feature-wise) that started it all - and on fucking 35mm at that!  Can I call this a transplendent moment?  I don't care if I can, I am going to.  It was a transplendent moment indeed.  And this is a scene that would be repeated in  a way the following year once my wife and I did finally take over those aforementioned reigns, but I am jumping ahead in the story.  First there are Lynch's short films and weird little video thingees that make for very interesting chatter, though none of these thingees (good word for them) can reach the heights of the man's feature work.  His animated Dumbland, his bizarre (funny word to use I suppose) Rabbits and his great comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World being foremost among these.

The time is now December 28, 2006.  The place is the IFC Center in the West Village of Manhattan.  I have actually jumped back in time to before the aforementioned Eraserhead screening, but since when does linear movement matter when talking about David Lynch.  The film in question is (as of right now) the most current Lynch feature, INLAND EMPIRE.  And yes, the ALL CAPS is necessary.  Perhaps the director's most bizarre film yet (and ain't that a bold ass statement!) it is a sister film to Mulholland Dr. in many ways - and not just the cast.  Lynch would do introductions for his film at certain venues but unfortunately mine was not one of them - at least not on the day I was there.  He refused to take any questions on what his films meant though.  If someone were to ask what did this mean or what did that symbolize, the auteur would simply start talking about cheese or coffee or anything else.   Incidentally one can buy Lynch's brand of coffee at IFC Center now.

We can now cut to the summer of 2010 and once again to the midnight screenings of the Artsfest Film Festival (yeah, still a dumb name but I suppose a sponsor is a sponsor after all).  This time around it would be Blue Velvet.  See kids, this is how things come full circle.  But now it was even a greater thrill because now I was the one that would build the 35mm print to play at midnight.  Now it would be me that would caress the shiny edges of that celluloid film.  Now it would be me that licked that very same shiny celluloid film.  Wait, did I just say that?  Oh well.  Yeah, that's right, I licked it - ya gotta problem with that!?  Okay, perhaps my cinephilia has wandered onto dangerous ground by this point but I am not ashamed.  Still, I sat there (again in the second row) and watched that glorious 35mm print go through that  nearly forty year old projector (anyone want to buy us some new ones?) and play that movie up there on the screen - everyone totally unaware that they are now watching a film that I licked.  Kinky, huh?

Well that is about it (SO FAR!!) for my life with David Lynch.  I would like to leave you with one final image of the greatness of David Lynch.  It is in the form of aYoutube video and it is the director's thoughts on streaming movies on your phone.  I am sure anyone who cares has already seen this particular video, but it is so fucking fantastic you need to see it again - so here it is.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Cinematheque Reviews: Bill Cunningham, New York

A playful documentary about a playful man by the name of Bill Cunningham, iconic fashion photographer and all-around affable human being.  I think my favourite part of this story (a part I left out of my actual review, but want to mention here) is how even though Cunningham works for the New York Times and would thus, one assumes, have total access to the photographic labs at said New York Times, still takes his film down to a little shop down the street to be processed.  The extra fact that it is still actual film is another fun tidbit.  Anyway, my review of said film is up and running over at The Cinematheque.  Check it out and check the film out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Professor Ed Avery’s Cortizone-Fueled, Bigger-Than-Life, Super Big-Gulp-Sized Summer Movie Quiz!

Film blogger Dennis Cozallio, who runs the always enjoyable cinema blog, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, has handed out another of his always enjoyable movie quizzes.  Below are the questions and my answers to said questions.

The original post from Dennis' site can be read here, and you can post your own answers there as well.

1) Depending on your mood, your favorite or least-loved movie cliché

Who doesn't love a good cliche.  They make the world go 'round.  See how I successfully evaded answering that question.

2) Regardless of whether or not you eventually caught up with it, which film classic have you lied about seeing in the past?

I have never lied about seeing or not seeing a movie.  There are some I should probably be embarrassed having not seen by the tender(ish) age of 43, but I unashamedly admit to every one of them.  I am not going to mention them here though.

3) Roland Young or Edward Everett Horton?

Sure, Roland Young is good, but dear sir he is no Edward Everett Horton.

4) Second favorite Frank Tashlin movie

I must admit to the sad fact that I have only ever seen one Frank Tashlin movie - Susan Slept Here (and that was only earlier this year) - which means by definition that must be my favourite, which also means I cannot have a second favourite.  These being the sad facts (Tashlin is one of those fringe filmmakers I still haven't made it around to, but have damn good plans to rectify that before the end of the year) I cannot rightfully answer this question.  However, Mr. Tashlin did direct a lot of animated shorts for Warner Brothers, so that being so, I name Slap Happy Daffy as my second favourite.

5) Clockwork Orange-- yes or no?

Why is this even a question?  Is it because some are put off by the violence and supposed misogynistic storytelling?  Is it because some have this self-righteous moral code that they expect everyone else to live by as well?  I happen to love this film.  Artistically it is Kubrick at top form (though he rarely was at anything but) and anyone who cannot get past the violence (and it is pretty damn blatant for a relatively mainstream film) and see how cinematically remarkable this film is, is just someone who knows nothing of cinema.  I suppose this rant means I should answer the question as thus - yes please.

6) Best/favorite use of gender dysphoria in a horror film (Ariel Schudson)

Psycho!  The first horror movie I ever saw also had the first transvestite I ever remember seeing.  Okay Norman Bates isn't actually a tranny but what the hell did I know when I was nine.  Mother isn't feeling herself today.

7) Melanie Laurent or Blake Lively?

Granted, Miss Lively was a show-stopping scene-stealer in Ben Affleck's The Town and could have the acting chops unseen earlier in her career (that stupid pants movie!?) but Melanie is Shosanna Dreyfus, and because of that will always have a high place in my affections.  So Miss Laurent it is.

9) Favorite screen performer with a noticeable facial deformity (Peg Aloi)

I suppose the obvious answer here is Joaquin Phoenix and his hairlip/cleft palate thingee, unless one wants to count Charlotte Gainsbourg's uniquely strange looking, but wholly sexy face. 

10) Lars von Trier: shithead or misunderstood comic savant? (Dean Treadway)

Why can't it be both? Seriously, he can be, and is both.  The man says some of the most ridiculous things sometimes (and I do think it is at least partly on purpose even though these purposeful jabs do tend to get out of hand due to what is an obvious lack of impulse control) and he can make a movie that pisses half the world off with its audacity, misogyny and overwhelming pretentiousness (and talking foxes!) but I sure do like those damned movies.  So I think we should go with misunderstood comic shithead savant.

11) Timothy Carey or Henry Silva?

Timothy Carey!  Timothy Carey!!  Timothy Carey!!!

12) Low-profile writer who deserves more attention from critics and /or audiences

Alan Smithee.

13) Movie most recently viewed theatrically, and on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming

Theatrically: Super 8
DVD: Fail-Safe
Blu-ray: Senso (Criterion)
Streaming: The Baxter

14) Favorite film noir villain

Does The Night of the Hunter count as noir?  Sorta right?  No, not really?  I can't say Mitchum?  Really, no?  C'mon.  Okay okay, I'll pick someone else.  How about Orson Welles as Hank Quinlan in Touch of Evil?  I know that one counts dammit!

15) Best thing about streaming movies?

Instant gratification is always a great thing!  But, if you are streaming these on your computer screen or, God forbid your phone, then you are not getting the experience you should be and in that way streaming movies is yet another killing blow to that beautiful thing we call cinema.

16) Fay Spain or France Nuyen? (Peter Nellhaus)

Just for her role (her final one I do believe) as Mrs. Roth in The Godfather: Part II I say Fay Spain.

17) Favorite Kirk Douglas movie that isn’t called Spartacus (Peter Nellhaus)

Actually my favourite Kirk Douglas isn't Spartacus anyway - so take that!  Therefore my choice is Paths of Glory, just edging out The Bad and the Beautiful.  For incidental reference, Spartacus comes in at sixth place overall, just after Ace in the HoleDetective Story and Two Weeks in Another Town.

18) Favorite movie about cars

I would have to call a tie in this situation.  Yeah, I am declaring a tie, deal with it.  I just cannot decide between Vanishing Point and Two-Lane Blacktop.  Both spectacular, both subversive, both obsession-driven, both are my answer.

19) Audrey Totter or Marie Windsor?

I can't think of a film by either one of these actresses that I have seen.  If there is one, it wasn't that memorable - or at least the actress's performance was not memorable.  Pass.

20) Existing Stephen King movie adaptation that could use an remake/reboot/overhaul

Could we get Tarantino remaking Carrie? 

21) Low-profile director who deserves more attention from critics and/or audiences

One of the most daring directors working today is Kelly Reichardt.  Her Meek's Cutoff is out now and is one of the best films of 2011 so far.  Her Wendy and Lucy from 2008 is as close to a masterpiece as one can get.  Granted, she does get the critical love she deserves but audiences have yet to be convinced. 

22) What actor that you previously enjoyed has become distracting or a self-parody? (Adam Ross)

Robert De Niro can be looked upon as laughable shadow of his former self.  One of the most daring actors of the 1970's and 1980's who has now succumbed to things like those Ben Stiller so-called comedy things.  Then again, with little performances in Machete and a rather strong if not a bit cliche'd performance in the little seen Stone as well as talks of a reunion with Scorsese, perhaps the old boy is on the proverbial upswing again.  Just stop doing those focking movies with Ben Stiller dammit!

23) Best place in the world to see a movie

A great place to see films is Film Forum in NYC.  The seats may not be the comfiest but their retrospectives are to die for.  Another good place is MOMA (also in NYC) which plays many many many great classic works (and their seats are comfy too).  I have also gotten to see films (thanx to my press credentials) at places like the Sony Screening Room and the HBO Screening Room - damn those places have some comfy-ass seats.  But the best place to watch movies is at Harrisburg Pa's Midtown Cinema - plug plug plug away.

24) Charles McGraw or Sterling Hayden?

C'mon, really!?  Sterling Hayden all the way.  After all, he is the protector of our precious bodily fluids.

25) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu film

I suppose we are to assume that Tokyo Story is the token favourite and move on from there, right?  Yeah, I suppose that is a safe assumption.  Making a call for my second favourite though is a tougher call.  I believe if a gun were put to my cat's head and I was forced to pick one, I would say An Autumn Afternoon.

26) Most memorable horror movie father figure

Heeeeeeeere's Johnny!  Or in other words, here's Jack in The Shining.

27) Name a non-action-oriented movie that would be fun to see in Sensurround

Tarkovsky's Stalker.  You could actually feel the cold dripping dread of the movie.  Fantastic.

28) Chris Evans or Ryan Reynolds?

Wait, aren't these the same person?  I have occasionally enjoyed Reynolds in things though, off hand I cannot think of anything I have enjoyed Chris Evans in (Captain America as of now still sight unseen).  So to make it official, my final answer is (out of sheer default) Ryan Reynolds.

29) Favorite relatively unknown supporting player, from either or both the classic and the modern era

Guy Kibbee!  Perhaps not a great actor, but I always am happy when I see his name in the opening credits of all those 1930's era Warner Brothers films.  As for the modern era, I will go with Michael Parks whose work with Tarantino alone is worthy of this honour.

30) Real-life movie location you most recently visited or saw

Every time I walk down the streets of New York I see hundreds.

31) Second favorite Budd Boetticher movie

Since I have a tie for my favourite - Seven Men From Now and The Tall T, I will name Comanche Station as my third favourite.

32) Mara Corday or Julie Adams?

In that white bathing suit in The Creature From the Black Lagoon?  It's gotta be Julie Adams.

33) Favorite Universal-International western

Winchester '73.  'nuff said

34) What's the biggest "gimmick" that's drawn you out to see a movie? (Sal Gomez)

Guy Maddin's Brand Upon the Brain!.  When it was first released it came with a live orchestra, singer and complete foley team doing all the sound effects for all the audience to see and hear.  And on top of that, we got a roving array of celebrity narrators.  When I saw it at the CC Village East Cinemas, I was lucky enough to have Isabella Rossellini as narrator.

35) Favorite actress of the silent era

So many to choose from.  Theda Bara, Janet Gaynor, Clara Bow, Mary Pickford,  Marion Davies, Mae Murray, Billie Burke, Zasu Pitts, Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, Norma Talmadge, Mae Marsh, Lillian & Dorothy Gish all spring to mind immediately.  But above them all is the great Louise Brooks.

36) Best Eugene Pallette performance (Larry Aydlette)

I loved the big man in My Man Godfrey but Friar Tuck wins out.

37) Best/worst remake of the 21st century so far? (Dan Aloi)

I think the list of worst is waaaay too long to delve into here so I will stick with just the best.  Um......

38) What could multiplex owners do right now to improve the theatrical viewing experience for moviegoers? What could moviegoers do?

Multiplexes could slash their prices (obvious answer) but we know that ain't gonna happen.  As for the moviegoers - get off your fucking phones, stop texting, stop talking and watch the fucking movie you (and the rest of us in the theater) just paid to fucking see!! Jesus Christ!!