Tuesday, 18 March 2008

CALLING ALL ELVIS FANS

Just a quick note to mention a new blog from Jeremy Richey, devoted to Elvis Presley. Jeremy intends to turn his spotlight on one album and one film per week from the Presley catalogue. Head on over to http://howthewebwaswoven.blogspot.com/

Jeremy also plays host at The Moon In The Gutter, Harry Moseby Confidential and Nostalgia Kinky. You can bet his new Elvis project will be up to his very high standards, in both quality of writing and design/layout. You'll find links to all his blogs across the page, and all of them are worth checking daily.

Friday, 14 March 2008

JACK'S BACK

The name of Jess Franco does seem to evoke rather extreme emotions amongst fans and critics alike. Some view him as a genuine auteur, while others regard him as a talentless buffoon. I reside in the former category. Like Jean Rollin, he's a marginal director but an extremely valuable one in my opinion. Those who grudgingly admit he's made a few competent films often assert the law of movie averages dictates that anyone with such a vast quantity of films under the belt will, eventually, get it right. of course, this conveniently ignores the fact that Franco turned out some absolute gems early in his directorial career. Those who love Franco's work and those who are relatively new to his films are directed to Robert Monell's wonderful blog, I'M IN A JESS FRANCO STATE OF MIND. You'll find the link within my list of blogs worth checking out. My own Franco journey began with 3rd gen bootleg tapes of VENUS IN FURS, NECRONOMICON and THE WITCH KILLER OF BLACKMOOR (taped off a German satellite channel), back in the days when UK fanzine editors used to trade tapes while the 'Old Bill' and Trading Standards officers used to pass their time by raiding the homes of folks who just wanted to see a damned film! JACK THE RIPPER was one of those films I first saw on grain-riddled VCR and watching the DVD compelled me to appreciate just how far we've come.






Jess Franco's partnership with producer Erwin C. Dietrich ran for 15 films and JACK THE RIPPER was arguably their most lucrative venture. Here, Switzerland - save for a few stock shots - replaces 19th century London, with the Ripper portrayed by the late Klaus Kinski.In the fog-shrouded East End, prostitutes are killed and cut-up by a Doctor who spends his days prolonging the lives of patients and his evenings reducing the life expectancy of London's 'ladies of the night'. Many of the more recent serial killer flicks have operated in a world bereft of law and order, where police are neither seen nor heard, allowing the maniac to remain active. In JACK THE RIPPER, the killer strives to keep one step ahead of Inspector Selby (Andreas Mankopff), who must juggle domestic concerns with the pressure of ensnaring his elusive prey. As Selby struggles to come up with the answers, his girlfriend Cynthia (Josephine Chaplin) decides to lure the Ripper into the arms of the law: a dangerous game which makes for a tense final act and, it must be said, a finale that runs out of ideas. Despite this rather weak conclusion, JACK THE RIPPER is a worthwhile entry in the Franco/Dietrich filmography. Kinski in particular is excellent, switching moods to present the two faces of the Ripper, while Chaplin makes for a convincing heroine who is willing to risk life and limb in order to halt the killing spree. Mankopff is slightly less impressive as the floundering cop; indeed, his detective work is frequently overshadowed by the input of a blind witness to murder (Hans Gaugler) whose observations consistently amaze: more grist to the mill of a wholly literate script.On a visual level, JACK THE RIPPER looks ravishing, thanks to DOP Peter Baumgartner who clearly had an influence over Franco's directorial style. At various points in Franco's career, the challenge of turning Swiss streets into London walkways would have resulted in a mess but it's a fairly stable transformation, with colourful tavern interiors, and fog-infested side-streets that recall the alleyways of Mario Bava's Kill, Baby......Kill!Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD does full justice to Baungartner's expertise, with an absolutely stunning transfer (taken from the print restored by VIP). Those of us who have 'seen' this film via bootleg tapes or even Platinum's dreadful budget DVD will not believe their eyes: bold primary colours, nice inky blacks and virtually nil edge enhancement. This film could have been shot 32 days ago rather than 32 years and an excellent restoration documentary shows, for once, exactly what goes into the process of taking a battered print and turning it into a work of art. A 21 minute featurette is also included; worth a view, though a little judicious editing could have resulted in less overlap with Dietrich's other contributions - the main one being an absorbing commentary track where Erwin comes over as an astute businessman with an exceptionally retentive memory. Practically all of the major and minor cast members are mentioned here, with Kinski singled out as an unselfish artist who never caused Dietrich any problems during their 3 film association. Other topics include censorship problems (the eye in the bag caused outrage in Germany, and this, along with several other scenes were darkened to obscure some gory fx shots); cast selections - we learn Chaplin was recruited to help meet the required quota of Swiss actors - and there are warm memories and anecdotes recalling Franco's zest for filmmaking. Also listen out for a memorable quote concerning on-screen nudity (particularly relevant here): "The shame persists, the money has gone".While some of us may regret the lack of insight into any historical research that may have been undertaken (Dietrich fails to acknowledge a line of dialogue hinting at a royal connection to the killings), it's still a fine commentary which increases our appreciation of this film. Sure, the heightened clarity afforded by digital technology does show up some amateurish fx work, but this tip-of-the-hat to Franco's previous Orloff-ian adventures does contain some nerve-shredding scenes; not least when Lina Romay is taken to a secluded spot after being tracked down by her deadly 'client'. Watch out, too, for a continuity error regarding identification of the killer which takes place during the 81st minute.

JODOROWSKI'S FINEST HOUR?



EL TOPO and THE HOLY MOUNTAIN are justifiably hailed as classics by many Midnight Movie fans and are, at long last, readily available on DVD. Relative newcomers to the Alejandro Jodorowski fold now have the chance to see these films in glorious prints, but many of those same people may well miss out on another of his key films. SANTA SANGRE was released by Anchor Bay UK in a two disc special edition which is still one of the best DVDs I've encountered. Unfortunately, this most special edition is now out of print. We can only hope it is granted a reprint, and is also made available in other countries




"Forget everything you have ever seen": a tag-line that has accompanied this film since its birth. And, it's particularly apt, as SANTA SANGRE defies categorisation - love story, horror, fantasy.... Alejandro Jodorowski's cult masterpiece encompasses all of those genres, yet ultimately dances to its own unique tune.We first encounter Fenix (Axel Jodorowski) perched on top of a stunted tree in a sanitarium cell somewhere in Mexico, as staff feed him on raw fish. Flashbacks then introduce a younger Fenix (Adan Jodorowski); Orga, his brutal, womanising father (Guy Stockwell) and religious fanatic mother Contra, (Blanca


Guerra);a deaf and mute girl (Alma, played in this incarnation by Elenka Topia); her mother, The Tatooed Woman ( Thelma Tixou) and a troupe of clowns who populate the circus owned by Orga. The reasons for Fenix's mental decline soon become apparent: Orga's harsh hands-on approach to his son's upbringing, and his relationship with The Tatooed Woman – which leads to a bloody showdown with Contra - sowed the seeds for disintegration. Now, Fenix breaks free from his shackles, and is re-united with Contra and Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison) who has grown into a beautiful woman. What follows is, in part, an orgy of bloodshed, orchestrated by a deranged Contra who decrees her son will never have a lover.Before Jodorowski agreed to direct, the eventual producer – Claudio Argento – declared he wanted a film that featured a serial killer who murdered women. This theme certainly plays a part, drawing inevitable comparisons with the films of Claudio's famous brother. However, SANTA SANGRE is far more than 112 minutes of giallo-esque slayings. At times, it bears all the trappings of a most tragic opera, with sets and scenes featuring characters who turn imagined haunted arias into words and deeds which lead to death and destruction: Concha's 'Magic Hands' show (recalling the armless Saint she worships); Alama's walk through skeleton-infested streets on The Day Of The Dead; an unbelievable hypnotism scene during which Fenix is ordered to wake his helpless 'assistant'; his 'jailbreak' where mother and son disappear into an eerie mist, and the last 15 minutes of the film where the whole thing threatens to fall apart, but instead reaches almost poetic heights leading to the saddest slice of gallows humour you are ever likely to see.... the whole is a wonderful piece of filmmaking – challenging in the extreme but also the most accessible feature from this marginal director. Kudos must also go out to Guerra – an immensely strong performance – Axel and Adan Jodorowsky, and also to Sabrina Dennison in her feature debut; it's hard to accept that she would never again grace the screen.It has to be said that SANTA SANGRE is extremely unpalatable in places. While never gratuitous, the murder scenes still leave an unpleasant taste, and the sight of Downs Syndrome children actively participating in the film will inevitably provoke outrage from some viewers. The latter is defended in a responsible and articulate manner by Jodorowsky during an audio commentary track with Alan Jones, recorded for Anchor Bay's Region 2 DVD. Jones has very few peers as a critic/interviewer, and must be commended for coaxing Jodorowsky into delivering an informative commentary.Here, we learn about his hatred for actors; why he elected to shoot scenes in order; his original choice for the role of Orga (One shudders to think what would have gone down had D.H. settled for less money), and a string of anecdotes involving John Lennon, Quentin Tarantino and Guy 'Whisky' Stockwell. There's also an interesting comment on possible influences where Jodorowski states that he'd yet to see Tod Browning's THE UNKNOWN, prior to shooting this film.This has to go down as one of the best commentaries I've heard, moving from humour ("So, you cast with your balls" – a reference to Jodorowski's comments regarding Thelma Tixou's presence in the film) to great sadness when Jones brings up a tragic death which had prevented Jodorowski from re-visiting this film for a period of seven years.Anchor Bay have also included a generous range of extras on this double-disc package. There's "Echek" – a 2 min 32s short film by Adan, which is beautifully shot and clearly influenced by SANTA SANGRE, and a Jodorowsky biography penned by David Flint. A poster gallery unveils some stunning artwork from Japan, Italy, France and the UK, and nostalgia buffs will be thrilled by the inclusion of press cuttings from The Guardian, Time Out and.... the badly-missed Samhain magazine: Graham Rae, take a bow wherever you are.We get the opportunity to witness a deleted scene from Santa Sangre involving a trumpet and a hooker which extends to take in Orgo's in-house hypnotism and knife-throwing course: this scene can be viewed with an audio track where Jodorowsky discusses his reasons for leaving out the footage.Another bonus is the presence of Louis Mouchet's 86 minute documentary, "La Constellation Jodorowsky". This excellent feature covers Jodorowsky's background in theatre, puppetry and mime; how the infamous 'Panic Movement' came into being; his recollection of projects such as DUNE and THE RAINBOW THIEF, and includes footage shot at seminars, lectures and tarot readings (3 cards is all this guy needs..). With contributions from, amongst others, Marcel Marceau and Peter Gabriel, clips from EL TOPO, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and FANDO AND LIS ("a pure piece of art, without any concession"), together with additional information on the Alan Klein/John Lennon connection, "La Constellation" offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of this maverick director.There's one final extra to tell you about. An onstage interview with Jodorowski, recorded at London's ICA following a rare screening of SANTA SANGRE. The 24 minutes of excerpts reveal Jodorowski is still hungry to make films, citing a lack of finance as the main reason for long spells away from the directors chair. The likes of FUDOH and THE ISLE crop up during frequent bursts of animated humour ( a career in stand-up could well beckon), and there are some valuable anecdotes concerning Lennon, Yoko Ono and Claudio Argento.Those of you with home cinema systems will appreciate the presence of 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital, and as for image quality...Wow!! Quite simply, Santa Sangre looks absolutely ravishing. It's a riot of gorgeous, undistorted colours and a film that should always be available for those in search of new viewing challenges.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

EASTERN PROMISES LACKING



My wife rented EASTERN PROMISES on DVD yesterday, giving us our first viewing of this film since we caught the UK prem at the London Film Festival last October. I'm pleased to report we are just as enthusiastic second time around, with several performances growing in strength and stature. Although our tastes in film quite often differ, we do find common ground every now and then and as my wife also holds DEAD RINGERS in high regard, I must get round to introducing her to some more delights from Cronenberg's filmography. One thing that did disappoint me regarding the EASTERN PROMISES release is the absence of a commentary track from the great man himself. Back in the days of Laserdisc, Cronenberg delivered commentary tracks for DEAD RINGERS and CRASH, and the lion's share of his DVDs have been graced by his recorded thoughts. I'm sure I can't be the only one who is mildly annoyed by this omission, and wonder if an upgraded release may be in the pipeline for the near future? David Fincher's ZODIAC was one release I held off getting because I'd heard there would be a special edition following the initial release (full marks to Fincher for insisting this was made public at the time, thus allowing people to make an informed choice), though it will be September before it sees light of day in the UK. As much as I love EASTERN PROMISES, I believe I'll wait a while and see if DC takes the mic once more for the latest in a special series of talks.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

THE THIRD MOTHER BECKONS


After spending a 'delightful' morning listing some of my DVD and record collection on Ebay, I decided to take a gander at the forthcoming attractions in my DVD rental club. One future release hit me straight between the eyes. April 28th sees the release of Dario Argento's THE THIRD MOTHER, which has been passed uncut for home viewing by our old friends at the BBFC. With all the current furore regarding cinema and DVD by certain British MPs (nothing better to do with your time?), I'm pleased this has been passed before the shit really does literally hit the fan with regard to what we will be allowed to see in the future. I've deliberately steered clear of trailers, reviews and general chit-chat concerning this film as I prefer to view with the bare minimum of knowledge regarding its background. I'd like to think this will perhaps signal a return to form for the Italian maestro but, since THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, I've been let down so many times I hardly dare hope that we'll be transported back to his glory days. I remember seeing the UK prem of THE STENDHAL SYNDROME at a film festival in London where Argento was joined by his daughter Asia for an onstage interview. During this special event, Alan Jones asked Dario if he would ever make the final part of 'The Three Mothers' trilogy, and Argento all but ruled this out. I think, at the time, most of us hoped that he would relent but after years of disappointing releases, I for one am more than a little nervous of being in the position where I wished he'd quit while he was ahead. So, April 28th is marked deep red in my diary. I hope for a successful end to this trilogy but whatever happens, SUSPIRIA and INFERNO will still be as good as ever.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

MUSIC POLL

Thanks to those who took time to vote in the recent Manchester Music poll. Unfortunately,the response didn't do justice to an area of music that has delivered some classic tunes down the years. The final results saw a tie between Joy Division and The Fall, and the lead singer of the former is the subject of an amazing film by Anton Corbijn called CONTROL. I'm currently attempting to finish writing a feature on this legendary group which will look at the film, together with the history of JD and will also focus on TOUCHING FROM A DISTANCE; a book written by Ian's widow, Deborah. Finding time to blog has been very difficult recently, with a particularly fraught period at work rubbing shoulders with my wife securing me DVD reviewing duties for a web site. I'm sure my forthcoming weeks holiday from work will allow me to recharge my batteries and also to devote some time to writing here.