Sunday, May 25, 2014

Delphine Seyrig's Feminist Acting Documentary

Barbara Steele, among the interviewees in Delphine Seyrig's SOIS BELLE ET TAIS-TOI.

Finally caught up today with a film I've long wanted to see: SOIS BELLE ET TAIS-TOI ("Look Pretty and Shut Up," shot 1970-76, released 1981), a documentary directed by actress Delphine Seyrig. Shot on prehistoric videotape in grainy B&W, the film finds her interviewing a number of actresses (including Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn, Maria Schneider, Anna Wiazemsky, Candy Clark, Cindy Williams, Millie Perkins and others) about the cruel realities of their profession and how unrealistically women were depicted onscreen, at a time when many of the most popular films were about male relationships.

I can't say it's a well-made film - Seyrig doesn't use videotape too differently than audio tape, and the interviews are crudely assembled - but what it contains is of terrific interest as a time capsule of what the female artists of this period were coping with professionally. You might expect it, but there is zero discussion of sexual harrassment - the Seventies weren't that outspoken. 

Jane Fonda, speaking impeccable French in footage added to the film in 1976, talks about filming JULIA (1977) with Vanessa Redgrave and how the men who wrote, produced and directed it were paranoid about telling the story of a close friendship between two women, actually counting how many times they touched in each take, fearing that too much touching would make them appear like lesbians. Fonda is the only woman interviewed who had ever been asked to play the friend of another female character, and none of the women interviewed could recollect ever playing a scene in which they were required to show warmth toward another woman.

Also revealing is a clip of Barbara Steele (pictured), lamenting her work onscreen, which she insists is the absolute opposite of who she is. She admits to having been a cult actress in "Grand Guignol, outrageous kind of horror flicks" and that she's "done a lot of films I didn't want to do" and that she's now [1970] actually stopped working because she hated what she was being offered so. "I have bad karma also, you know," she says. "I think that you should really try and stick with what you want to do, what makes you LIKE yourself. I mean, I have this incredible shyness about it. I feel like hitting people in the head, when people come up and say 'Hey, we loved you in...' and I say 'But THAT'S not me... it's somebody else's image... screw THAT!' Don't tell me that you liked me in THAT because I wasn't even THERE! That was somebody else!"

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

First Look: VIDEO WATCHDOG 177

The next issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG - now at the printer - will be a Eurocrime special with extensive coverage of the poliziotteschi (po-leet-zio-tess-ky, or Italian cop movie) genre. I'm always a little sensitive about publishing too many photos of firearms in a given issue, but this issue has so many that the NRA should have taken out an ad. So what do the poliziotteschi films have to do with fantastic cinema? you may ask. Well, these films are over the top, for one thing; secondly, they share with Italian horror and fantasy cinema many of their most familiar directors (Sergio Martino, Fernando Di Leo, Umberto Lenzi, etc), and they also share with the best horror cinema a means of using entertainment to reflect socio-political realities that could not be addressed more directly. We have a feature article by George Pacheco offering a concise overview of the genre, and also John Charles reviewing the two Fernando Di Leo Italian Crime box sets from Raro Video as well as a preview of Mike Malloy's forthcoming DVD documentary EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE '70s.

Furthermore - and this was pure synchronicity - Larry Blamire weighs in with a Star Turn column devoted to a memorable guest star appearance on Patrick McGoohan's DANGER MAN (aka SECRET AGENT) series. No, not gonna tell you which one - it's a secret! But he's written a remarkable appreciation of a guest star and you'll want to be the first person on your block to know her identity. (Oops! gave you a little hint there - forget I said that!)

But maybe you're only in it for the horror? Well, we have a lengthy review I've written of the German BLOOD AND ROSES DVD that compares the European and English-language versions of the movie, as well as additional coverage of BYZANTIUM, THE CHILDREN, THE HAUNTING, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, HOUSE OF WAX, THE DEVIL'S BACKBONE, SECONDS, SCHLACKEN THE PAINTER (like BLOOD AND ROSES, another J. Sheridan LeFanu adaptation), TERRORVISION, THE VIDEO DEAD, THE UNSEEN, VAMPIRA AND ME... and THE DISCO EXORCIST! Furthermore, back in gun territory, we have John Charles on Grindhouse Releasing's THE BIG GUNDOWN and Kim Newman on the most recent Charlie Chan releases. It's a great, variety-packed issue, if I do say so myself.

It will ship to subscribers and retailers around the second week of June.

A number of you have been asking where the new Digital Edition is. Well, it's coming. The way we are liking to do things is to publish and ship an issue, create the next one, create the previous digital edition once people have had a chance to digest the print version, and so on. Donna is preparing the Digital Edition now, as a matter of fact. We think you're going to love what Larry is doing with the digital version of his column. We're so glad we asked him aboard.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

VW 177 Nearing Completion

Donna, John and I are putting the finishing touches on VIDEO WATCHDOG 177, which is going to be a special Italian Crime issue consisting of new contributor George Pacheco's overview of the "poliziotteschi" films of the '70s and John Charles' detailed coverage of Raro Video's two Fernando Di Leo box sets, as well as his review of Mike Malloy's documentary on the subject, EUROCRIME! My own contributions to this issue include an in-depth review and comparison of the Euro and US versions of Roger Vadim's BLOOD AND ROSES and a lengthy look at Jess Franco's 1974 kinkfest THE HOT NIGHTS OF LINDA. Also SECONDS, THE BIG GUNDOWN, THE HAUNTING, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, Kim Newman on the latest Charlie Chan releases, and (I mean it) much more!

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

10 Cultish Reasons to Vacation with MR. HOBBS

Twilight Time, the extra-mile label that issues limited pressings of major studio films on Blu-ray with isolated music tracks, recently issued Henry Koster's comedy MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION (1962) in a limited edition of 3000 units. Scripted by Nunnally Johnson (who squeezes in a winking reference to Nabokov's LOLITA without mentioning the nymphet's name) from a novel by Edward Streeter, the film stars James Stewart and Maureen O'Hara as a pair of kissy grandparents (she's "36-24-36, and still operational," we're told) who, through her orchestrations, arranges for them to spend yet another vacation in the privacy-cancelling company of their entire unhappy family. As the grown kids and their respective families arrive, we  begin to understand why O'Hara is doing everything she can to avoid another vacation of erotic abandon with her martini-mixing husband.  

I recommend this film to anyone who enjoys wry, low-key situation comedy from this period. The Twilight Time disc has some sync issues that may be inherent in the film itself, but it's nevertheless a handsome presentation. Revisiting the film helped me to better appreciate what a cognizant film it was about the pop culture of its times, and how influential a work it became within certain spheres. So here are some reasons, beyond the obvious, why you might want to splurge on a copy or, if your standards aren't so high, to stream it from Amazon.

1.) When the Hobbs family - Mr. (Roger), Mrs. (Peggy), teenage daughter Katey (Lauri Peters) and TV-addict son Danny (Michael Burns, later the star of Robert Altman's breakthrough picture THAT COLD DAY IN THE PARK) - arrive at their holiday destination, they find themselves faced with a heavily weathered beachfront manse with the mange. As he's about to venture inside for the first time, Hobbs says "If it was good enough for Edgar Allan Poe, it's good enough for us!" (or words to that effect), which - because I'd recently seen and recorded a commentary for Roger Corman's PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961) - helped me to see that this was indeed another House of Usher posited on the Pacific coastline! Thus, this throwaway line is very likely the first major studio acknowledgement of the great commercial success then being enjoyed by American International Pictures.

2.) I also strongly believe that MR. HOBBS TAKES A VACATION was one of the seminal influences on AIP's then-forthcoming and highly popular BEACH PARTY series. It was made only one year before the first BEACH PARTY (1963), and according to published sources like Mark Thomas McGee's history of AIP, Lou Rusoff's original script for that film was about young people much closer to Fabian's Beatnik-bearded hot-rodder Joe than the homogenized Italian-American twenty-somethings we finally got in Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Here we also get the delicate generational conflicts between the young and the once-young, with Roger Hobbs taking an almost anthropological look askance at the problems and pastimes of his children and the families they've begun, not to mention the voluptuous blonde neighbor who flounces over to his towel to be friendly.

3.) This is Valerie Varda as Marika Carter, a heavily-accented buxom beauty who in essence lays the groundwork for Eva Six and particularly Bobbi Shaw in the BEACH PARTY series. 

4.) MR. HOBBS also clearly influenced certain William Castle films yet to come (notably THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, 1965), especially in the way Henry Mancini's wholesomely lazy score (isolated for heightened enjoyment on Twilight Time's Blu-ray) lends ironic gracious-living shadings to the baroque eccentricities of the beach house. This facet also points the way to TV's THE ADDAMS FAMILY which, like THE SPIRIT IS WILLING, was scored by the great Vic Mizzy in a manner that was, I believe, influenced by what Mancini did here but took his principles in an altogether more instrumentally byzantine direction.

5.) It's got Minerva Urecal playing a Swedish maid. Minerva (who must have been out-prettied at auditions by Marjorie Main for years) had been haunting B-movies since the 1930s. She was Bela Lugosi's housekeeper in THE APE MAN (1940), among other things, so this was a step up - and she used her leverage from this film to land a key role in George Pal's THE 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964).

6.) If you watch this film without knowing anything about it, you are guaranteed to be startled when the name JOHN SAXON dances out onscreen in multicolored lettering during the animated main titles. It's just not a name that lends itself to multicolored dancing letters, but there he is - playing Stewart and O'Hara's academic son-in-law - a guy so far-fetchedly intellectual, he has actually read WAR AND PEACE, and MOBY DICK to boot.

7.) Fabian, whose character inexplicably begins to sprout a beatnik bead part-way through the movie, has a preposterous pop song number ("Cream Puff," co-authored by Mancini and Johnny Mercer - the men who wrote "Moon River," for crying out loud) with co-star Lauri Peters. The playback is riotously out-of-sync with their lip movements, which raises the question of how much better than the live take could the dubbed track possibly be? The song requires Peters to caress Fabian with the term of endearment "Jelly Roll."

8.) I defy anyone to watch Stewart's "beguiling" (NEW YORK TIMES) performance in this film without frequently flashing back to the work he'd done for Alfred Hitchcock, particularly VERTIGO. The dichotomy thus proposed is an object lesson in an actor intent on demonstrating his range and his willingness to please audiences. His performance here is not exactly subversive, but there is something subversive-lite about the film as a whole - the way it gives family life "a gentle poke in the ribs" (VARIETY) - that would not work so well without Stewart (of whom we began to see a much darker side in the post-war work that began with Anthony Mann's WINCHESTER 73) in the driver's seat.

9.) One of the Hobbs daughters is played by Natalie Trundy. PLANET OF THE APES series regular, 'nuff said.

10.) Yes, that's Beaver's grade school principal Doris Packer serving as the dance hostess, and your eyes do not deceive you: the band's trumpet player is none other than Herb Alpert.


Monday, May 05, 2014

He Introduced Spider-Man to the World

RIP Dick Ayers, the great Silver Age pencil and ink man who contributed most importantly to the Marvel Age of Comics, who has passed away at the age of 90. Ayers did his own work for titles as illustrious as TALES TO ASTONISH, STRANGE TALES, GHOST RIDER and an impressive 10-year run on SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, but he may be best remembered as one of Jack Kirby's most beloved inkers in a fruitful run of monster, western and superhero comics including STRANGE TALES' unforgettable "Fin Fang Foom!" and some of the earliest issues of THE AVENGERS and THE FANTASTIC FOUR. Though the interior art was turned over to one of Marvel's most distinctive artists, Steve Ditko, Ayers inked Kirby's art on the issue of the magazine that introduced the Amazing Spider-Man to the world - his single-most iconic assignment in a career spanning 70 years.