Friday, February 26, 2010
We live in a scary, scary world, friends. I was over at Current TV's website, killing time while waiting out Snowpocalypse II 2010, and came across this clip. It needs no introduction other than "these are baby preachers:"
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Knock-off movies are a dime a dozen, yet because, much like Turkish Spider-Man, I am a child-minded lunatic, I have a boundless capacity for this type of cinematic fare. It takes a particularly brave knock-off film to borrow from such seemingly disparate source material as 1980's "Flash Gordon," the "Star Wars" trilogy, and the Ringo Starr vehicle "Caveman," but if "Yor, the Hunter from the Future" had balls, they would be made of a resilient metal material, because it does precisely this. Yes, it's just as glorious as you suspect it might be. And everything in that gorgeous Druillet-illo'ed poster DOES happen in the story.
"Yor" has its fur-booted feet securely planted in the rich, loamy soil of early 80s fantasy filmmaking, most of which was intended for what we might now call the "Tween" audience. While it might turn off some viewers to know that there's no nudity and very little in the way of gore in this film, those viewers are robbing themselves of a truly zany movie-watching experience. Right from the credits, you know you're in for something special when you realize that this is an Italian-French-Turkish co-production that's directed by Antonio Margheriti, a man who brought us tasty nibbles like "The Virgin of Nuremberg" and "The Long Hair of Death" (but definitely NOT "Flesh for Frankenstein"--don't even go there; you clearly have never watched a Paul Morrissey film if you're in the "Margheriti directed FfF" camp). That's a formidable trash film pedigree right thar'! And then there's the not-so-small matter of the music that plays over the illustrious credits list. Seriously, I mean, Queen's theme song to "Flash Gordon" is great and all, but they've got nothing on the Eurotrash excellence of Oliver Onions' "Yor's World" (WARNING: it will haunt your dreams):
The film follows the suspiciously fair-haired and smooth-chested Yor on his quest to learn where he has come from, since the script keeps telling us how "different" he is from the other primitive people he encounters. Filmed in a variety of rocky, beige environs, the film depicts a barren world that's actually kinda densely populated, all things considered. Yor stumbles upon cave-people Pag and Ka-Laa and promptly rescues them from a dinosaurey doom, only to have to re-rescue them from a tribe of yet-more-primitive and decidedly-less-friendly cavemen who raid their celebratory feast. During the trio's time wandering the wasteland, they come across bandage-swathed cave-people, grass-skirted cave-people, yet more unfriendly cave-people and no less than THREE awesome, giant, puppet dinosaurs.
I know what you're thinking: "Tenebrous, there's a whole lotta 'Caveman' going on and exactly zero space opera so far--what's the deal?" Patience, lieblings! Because in the third act, junk gets sci-fi so quick your head will spin, making good on that "From the Future" epithet on the title. Reb Brown's wooden performance as Yor suddenly makes sense within the context of Sam Jones' wooden performance as Flash Gordon, fighting against John Steiner's evil hooded Overlord who's a little bit Ming, a little bit Palpatine.
Did I mention that there's a rebel alliance fighting against the imperial baddy, and that they all look a lot like Tubeway Army-era Gary Numan? AND that there's a climactic green lasers versus red lasers show-down in the boiler room of an office building that rounds out the movie? YEAH, TOTALLY.
"Yor" is a movie that's either way better than it deserves to be or exactly as good as you expect it to be, depending on your point of view. The THREE giant, puppet dinosaurs look pretty rad, and there's clearly an effort that's been made to create an immersive fantasy world. Sure, every group of primitive people is themed, a little like a beige, suede reimagining of "The Warriors," but that's actually rather rad in my book. This is the kind of movie you can't watch and NOT smile--it's so damn much fun that it makes me a little mad that I didn't get an opportunity to see it when I was a kid (like Baron XIII did, that lucky bastard). I mean--come the fuck on--this is a movie where a caveman uses a furry pterodactyl as a hang-glider. What is not to love, friends?
While "Yor" doesn't offer the kind of salacious sexiness that I usually enjoy in my Eurotrash, there's quite a bit of eye candy to enjoy. Corrine Clery (some of you may recognize her from Just Jaeckin's "Story of O") looks like a slightly sweeter version of Adrienne Barbeau, and fans of cavegirl bikinis will be delighted with her outfit. Ka-Laa provides much of the tension in the story, since a LOT of screen time is devoted to Yor, wandering the wasteland, having cave-people try to foist babes on him while Ka-Laa sulks and gets jealous. A standout here is foxy, foxy Marina Rocchi, who plays grass-skirted beach primitive Tarita. It's a damn shame she only has one other screen appearance--an uncredited one at that--because she's luminously lovely. Really--look, people:
So maybe the level of joy I felt watching "Yor, the Hunter from the Future" is unique to me. The people who've rated it 3.4 stars on IMDB clearly have a different perspective on what makes a movie entertaining. But if you're reading THIS blog, you clearly have an appreciation for the weirder, more wondrous stuff in life, and will duly understand why I encourage you to seek out this movie sooner rather than later.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I'm pretty sure nobody's as surprised, flattered, and honored to find out that Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire has been nominated for Best Horror Blog in the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards as I am! Well, I mean--the latter two qualifiers are obvious, since I'm the only person who writes for this blog. That having been said--it's pretty amazing to me that, two scanty years after venturing out into the world of public blogging, I'd find myself on a list with such genre luminaries as Kim Lindbergs' Cinebeats, Pierre Fournier's Frankensteinia, and Tim Lucas' Video Watchblog. There are so many great talents among the nominees that I can't in good conscience beg anybody to vote for me--but I can and will urge folks to vote for their favorites!
While you're there, check out all the categories; including Best Movie, Best Book, and Best Magazine; and make your voice heard. The Rondos are extremely well-respected "For Fans, By Fans" awards, and those busts will be greatly appreciated by the winners in their respective categories.
Thanks for your consideration, and to celebrate, here's a photo of me standing next to a man in a gorilla suit:
Allow me a second while I'm on about personal milestones, won't you? I mentioned above that my blog turned two years old--it happened on February 15th, in fact. An entirely more important anniversary was celebrated on that very date as well! As of 12/15/10, Baron XIII has put up with my unique brand of insanity for TEN YEARS. Seriously, can you frikkin' imagine? You people only have to hear from me about three times a week. Contemplate TEN YEARS. I love ya, Baron--you're a prince among men.
Monday, February 22, 2010
We've discussed this in the past--the defining feature of micro-budget filmmaking is heart. A passion to see one's ideas realized in twenty-four-or-more glowing frames per second unites the folks who create home-financed films. I tip my hat to anyone who is willing to herd amateur actors, troubleshoot special effects using ingenuity rather than an open checkbook, and deal with the everyday setbacks and heartbreaks that come at truly independent creative types from all sides. It's a special kind of treat when one of these projects puts all the pieces together in the form of an off-beat, entertaining and refreshingly true-to-original-vision flick. Filmmaker Matthew Glasson's* "The Family Tie," a labor of love that began its life in 1997 only to be ultimately edited and completed in 2007, is just such a micro-budget treat.
*In the interests of full disclosure, I'm delighted to call Mr. Glasson a pal, but it just so happens I came to meet him during a screening where a clip from "The Family Tie" was featured and my curiosity about his work was thusly piqued.
Employing a comedic tone that's part "Kids in the Hall" deadpan, part Stephen Sayadian/Rinse Dream affected delivery, and part early Peter Jackson scatological squick, "The Family Tie" follows a young man named Dave in his quest for revenge against John, the sadistic gun-runner who destroyed his family.
What is it that separates "The Family Tie" from other micro-budget splatfests? Funny you should ask--I've given it some thought!
- Brevity! This movie is unafraid to get in, get it done, and get out. Clocking in at 36 minutes, there is no down time and no padding. Much as it might be tempting for filmmakers to go for the Full Ninety and add in scenes of characters driving in cars, or walking around stores, or sitting in bars (we've all seen flicks like this, haven't we?), Glasson doesn't fall prey to the lure of the feature-length. Instead, he makes every scene count.
- The humor in "The Family Tie" comes in many forms, from John's bizarre mannerisms to the physical comedy of Dave's training sequence to several outrageously gory money shots. If I had to pick a favorite sequence, I'd have to say that the manner in which the Dave barters for information from gangster Bernie "Brass Balls" Benigno would take the cake. Never has yogurt plopping into the transparent canister of a wet/dry shop vac looked so disgusting.
- The characters never wink at the audience--this is all deadly serious business to these folks. Theirs is an off-kilter world that's like a Dadaist reworking of a gritty 1970s crime drama.
- Music is used to great effect throughout. The clever incorporation of classical themes from Mozart, Grieg, and Wagner add a lunatic gravitas to the proceedings that enhances the comedy expertly. This is a good application of public domain music--there's no need to opt for hokey incidental orchestrations when the classics will do. See also the use of "Swan Lake" in the Browning/Lugosi "Dracula."
- Perhaps the single element that makes "The Family Tie" work is the machine-gun editing. I lost count of the number of angle changes and splices that occur during the threatening phone call from John that opens the film. The energetic--some might say downright spastic--structure of each scene keeps the pace of the story popping right along. And need I say that I totally dug the use of intertitles? Cos I totally dug the intertitles.
In most reviews of micro-budget movies, this is the part where I have to say something like "this has a limited festival release" or "I saw this because I live in the New York Metro area--bug your local indie theatre to pick this up." Well, friends, I have some great news for you, because such is not the case here! You can watch "The Family Tie" online right now, officially posted by the director! Check it out here:
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Being the daughter of a print media editor has its downsides--I've inherited a marked impatience with slow storytelling. This is particularly challenging, since I have a dear, beloved, admired and respected friend who simply cannot tell a concise story. Try as he might to get to the frikkin' point in a timely fashion, I've come to believe his humors are balanced in such a way as to make him incapable of doing this. I simply resign myself to the fact that, when this friend gets to telling a story, I'd better take a seat and let him recount the tale his way, hoping that the payoff will be worth it. This is frequently the case, and that's why we remain friends.
I'll admit that there were several moments in the initial forty minutes (or maybe even hour) of the Spanish period gothic thriller "La Residencia" during which my mind wandered and I began to think that my time might be better spent elsewhere. This is a movie that takes its sweet time getting where it needs to be, but then makes a couple of astonishing plot turns that ultimately make the slow burn build-up entirely worthwhile. In that way, "La Residencia" is a lot like my dear, beloved, admired and respected friend--it's also a lot like him in that it enjoys seeing women in fancy dress put into compromising and sexualized situations, but that's a matter for his writing and not mine, I'm sure.
"La Residencia" is a very difficult movie to discuss without spoiling the viewing experience, so I'll do my best to keep to generalities. Hell, I know a few of you were sold by my mention of "period gothic thiller," so those folks might want to just stop here and track down a copy of this film now! It's all about mood and tone here, as is the case with the most effective gothic tales, trafficking as they do in distressed damsels, shadowy corridors, unspeakable secrets and deeply suppressed desires.
The all-girl boarding school of the title is either a powder keg, pressure cooker, simmering cauldron, or ticking time bomb of unrequited sexual tensions--feel free to pick your cliched description of choice. Enter Theresa, daughter of a single mother who is unable to afford her upkeep and sends her eighteen-year-old to live at an isolated French boarding school where she will be better cared for. As audience members, we're already on to the fact that this is one strict institution when an unfortunate student is sent to THE DISCIPLINE CHAMBER after having the chutzpath (that's Yiddish for "bad judgement," right...?) to disrupt dictation class. That's right--headmistress Madame Fourneau is one harsh bird, and she's not afraid to mete out a certain amount of Tough Love in order to keep her girls in line.
At this point, I know what you're thinking. All this talk of pent-up female desire, captivity, and DISCIPLINE sounds a whole heck of a lot like a Women In Prison film. In a very tangible way, "La Residencia" can be seen a gothic women in prison tale, with all of the metaphorical implications that might lie therein. There's the criticism of a repressive society, the exploration of the rotten core of the upper- and upper middle class, and the theme of innocence endangered in a landscape of decay and evil. It'd be remiss of us to forget that this is a Spanish production, and that country had some of the most restrictive censorship laws in Europe at the time this film was made. The "feel, don't show" emphasis of the film's structure works in its favor, creating a build-up of claustrophobic atmosphere as well as allowing for the kind of heavy-handed censor's cuts that would doubtless be required for a domestic release.
The cast is thoroughly superb and features familiar genre players Maribel Martin from "A Bell From Hell" and "Blood Spattered Bride" and John Moulder-Brown from "Ludwig" as well as "Vampire Circus." I appreciate the decision to keep histrionics to a minimum here--much as I appreciate a fine fit-pitching performance, the fact that this movie traffics in facial expressions, stolen glimpses, and unseen encounters makes it all the more sinister and adds a true horror to the film's final reveal.
To wrap things up--"La Residencia" is a period chiller of a movie that rewards one's patience handsomely. Take a few calming breaths, dim the lights, and seek out this movie--it's an offering in the finest "creepy old house" tradition that will not disappoint!
Monday, February 15, 2010
"Love Me Strangely" is a film that's growing on me the more I reflect on the series of complexities and inversions that it offers. Sure, it's a tasty morsel of groovy Continental sexiness from the sweet spot of late 60s/early 70s cinema, but it's also a sinister and ultimately tragic thriller-cum-love-story whose unsettling message has more resonance than it should.
Helmut Berger plays Alain Revent, a sleekly beautiful young man whose wife perishes after a drug-induced topple from their swank apartment balcony. His neighbor Nathalie, played by Virna Lisi, witnesses the tragic event and, fascinated by Alain's brooding sensuality (who wouldn't be, even with the Errol Flynn moustache?), begins to fall in love with him. After a whirlwind courtship and marriage, Nathalie begins to suspect that there is a perverse cruelty to Alain's personality and is torn between her love for him and her sense of self-preservation.
The film's structure is an unusual one--there's very little in the way of dialogue for almost the first half of the movie, relying instead on a montage of Alain and Nathalie's courtship overlaid with a sweeping love theme. "Stay," performed by Wallace Collection and written by veteran film composer Georges Garvarentz, was apparently a radio hit in France after the release of this film. You'd better get used to this song, because you're going to hear it A LOT:
Upon first listen, "Stay" is tender pean to unending love, but it takes on a sinister cast as the movie progresses and twists into a tale of obsession. Allow me to be very direct here--I sighed a little bit when I first heard the main theme. It's soupy, it's corny, it's downright schmaltzy, but it also possesses that earworm quality shared by the most memorable pop ballads. By the film's closing image, this song is another character in the story--a violin-sweet Greek chorus of sorts.
The decision to remove most of the dialogue from the build-up of Alain and Nathalie's romance means that Berger and Lisi need to convey their tenderness and desire entirely through facial expressions and body language. Make no mistake--if you want somebody who can give a significant look over the dinner table, you simply CANNOT GO WRONG in casting Helmut Berger. In the same way that the female sex symbols of the 60s and 70s have a unique "X Factor" in addition to their beauty, Berger has a sexiness of screen presence that few male leads can offer.
This kind of sexiness is significant here, because one of the interesting things that happens in "Love Me Strangely" is that it's most assuredly NOT the Bluebeard story of a brutish, foul, yet wealthy man terrorizing a series of unfortunate wives--Alain's character fills the role generally reserved for the femme fatale. While it begins to seem that Alain is a similar scoundrel to the character of Gregory Anton in "Gaslight," mercilessly driving his wife to madness for his own financial gain, Alain's motives are not nearly so clean-cut. His mysterious history, fluid sexuality, and Byzantine mind games make him a dangerous combination of "Wuthering Heights'" Heathcliff and Glenn Close's bunny boiler Alex from "Fatal Attraction."
The sophisticated Parisian world that Alain and Nathalie inhabit is brought to life with some SERIOUSLY funky set design and costume choices. Much of the story takes place inside Alain's flat, which is a study in psychedelic excellence from the glassed-in reptile habitat that separates the living room from the rest of the apartment to the foot-pedal-operated entertainment center. There's a sequence that walks a tightrope between intimate and ridiculous in which Alain puts on a shadow-show for Nathalie, mimicking caressing her body with the shadows cast by his hands--all accomplished thanks to the swanky foot pedals that dim and raise the lights in his living room. Technology, man--is there nothing it can't do?
There are colorful characters throughout the film who come in and out of the lead couple's lives. Between Nathalie's sexually predatory friend, Alain's male lover Dino, and Charles Aznavour's turn as the concerned police inspector, there's enough additional texture to keep the plot percolating along. There's even a "blink and you'll miss him" appearance by genre vet and Jess Franco regular Howard Vernon, who appears early on in the story. He's a little like a storm crow presaging the bad junk to come...! And it would hardly be fair of me to not mention the big psychedelic shindig that Alain hosts--while it doesn't contain a person in a turban as all the BEST big psychedelic shindigs do, it still passes muster in the "zany fashion" category.
Fans of Eurotrash potboilers will find enough in "Love Me Strangely" to occupy their attention. It's not a flashy murder mystery, nor is it the product of an obsessed auteur, but there's enough dark romance here to make it a nice change of pace from some of the more out-there offerings in that particular cinematic universe.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Here's an experience we've all shared: you watch a two minute trailer that is such a dollop of condensed gorgeousness that you hesitate to seek out the film-actual. 1978's "Massacre Mafia Style" is like that for me. I'm not an enormous fan of organized crime epics, but I'm a huge fan of movie trailers that feature death via urinal-wheelchair electrocution:
If I'd known that "Massacre Mafia Style" was the brainchild of a single man who wrote, directed, produced, scored AND starred in this film, I'd have seen it by now. I'm assigning myself the homework of learning more about the man known as DUKE MITCHELL. Watch this space for my thoughts on what I can only assume is a vanity piece of great importance.
Mainly because--brace yourselves, friends--I have just learned of the existence of a Duke Mitchell movie titled (oh my god I can barely contain my delight) "Gone With the Pope" via pals of the Tenebrous Empire over at Temple of Schlock. I'm actually a bit dizzy with amazement, and you will be too after checking out this trailer:
Now, I KNOW that someone reading this is located out in Los Angeles, and that someone HAS to be in town and free on Friday, March 12th for the world premiere of this movie, made in 1975 but shelved till now. Please--PLEASE--someone must see this and report back about its undoubted excellence. For more info, check out the post on this film over at Temple of Schlock!
Monday, February 8, 2010
When I was about fifteen years old, I dubbed "Troll 2" the worst movie I'd ever seen, due in part to the quality of the film and in part to the fact that my brother liked it. At the time, I couldn't fathom why anyone would deliberately subject him- or herself to ninety minutes of barely comprehensible junk that blends the horrors of the "Gremlins" franchise with the aesthetics of a peyote trip (read: hallucinations accompanied by profuse vomiting).
Little did I know that over a decade later, thanks to the internet and the limitless capacity for crap exhibited by a certain brand of college student, "Troll 2" would become an official contender for the title of "Worst Movie Ever."
After watching the movie last night for the first time in almost 2 decades, I fully understand why someone would deliberately subject him- or herself to this kind of movie. Because--man alive!--"Troll 2" is a glorious disaster. It displays a level of insanity approached only by such nigh-upon-Dada-ist cinematic works as "The Room;" a level of insanity that seems like it could only be deliberate in its flaunting of such traditional movie elements as "story," "acting," and "special effects." This surpasses the level of junktasticness (junktasticity?) one generally finds in Italian rip-off films by several country miles.
Oh yeah--and Laura "Black Emanuelle" Gemser is listed as the costume designer.
This is your brain on "Troll 2"
Assuming that you guys have seen "Troll 2" (and if you haven't seen it and you happen to be in the US, head over to Hulu and dial up this bad boy ASAP!) I've got a few questions:
- Who [the FUCK] was the intended audience for this movie? I always found the above-mentioned "Gremlins" films to be too squicky and too teen-ey for any human to enjoy, and yet people do in fact enjoy these movies. So what the hell do I know? But still--"Troll 2," WHO ARE YOU FOR?! Your ghoulish meditations on death, your cannibal orgies, your childlike fairy tale plot... it's too much for me to comprehend.
- Director Claudio Fragasso--girl-child body building fetishist, or garden variety creep?
- How big are the goblins-that-are-never-called-trolls? I keep hoping they're midgets, but I suspect they're actually normal-sized people.
- On what planet does green cream look appetizing?
My head is spinning over here. I'm not going to bother writing a proper review--many folks have gotten there before me. I'll give you links to other reviews instead:
Friday, February 5, 2010
Hey, can we talk about Symbolist artist Félicien Rops for a minute?
I love the images that Rops comes up with. In the mixed bag that is the Symbolist movement in visual art (a late-Nineteenth-Century art movement whose adherents are linked mainly by its not being Impressionism), Belgian painter and engraver Rops delivered some of the most lovingly rendered, overtly sexual, uncomfortably misogynist artworks. His view that women are inherently Satanic and are a force for evil in the world isn't exactly the sanest or most enlightened perspective, but it led to some pretty fascinating art that's rich in metaphor. While art history classes teach us about the move towards realism and the portrayal of real-life subjects happening at this time, I prefer the perverse inner life of the Symbolists.
Now try to act surprised when I tell you that late in his life, Rops was a compatriot of the ultimate Symbolist, "Fleurs de Mal" poet Charles Baudelaire..
Rops worked with a catalog of images that included seductive dark-haired women, skeletons, Biblical imagery, creepy imps, and the fashionable trappings of bourgeois life of his time. Absinthe drinkers, loose women*, prostitutes, and other dangerous types of females populate his work, appearing as simultaneously appealing and frightening.
*Seriously--can we bring the phrase "loose woman" back into vogue? It's so descriptive and provocative without being vulgar.
If you're not sold on Rops' relevance to your interests, I shall point out that the above piece is titled "Pornocrates." Yes, you are allowed to giggle--it was meant to be satirical.
Sometimes, when I'm thinking about nothing, I think about what it would be like to meet famous historical figures. The introduction to Félicien Rops would be made by a mutual friend--undoubtedly male. We'd get to talking, and Rops, in a boozed-up stupor, would suddenly raise a declaiming hand to the sky and say "SEE, I TOLD YOU SO" and stumble off into the night. Yes, Rops would talk with his caps-lock key stuck. I'd be offended and perplexed, and the mutual friend would have to explain to me Rops' views on womankind. It would be the sort of thing that would REALLY piss me off at the time but would ultimately become one of those pithy little stories I'd tell to other friends.
Interestingly, the Félicien Rops Museum in Belgium seems to distance itself from the more provocative portion of the artist's body of work, emphasizing instead his academic training and involvement in various arts societies. It's a shame to me that there's this kind of resistance to representations of fantastical, macabre and ultimately un-PC art, even when studying the works of someone who was clearly so obsessed with this kind of idea.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Confession time, friends: I was sold on the notion of watching Walerian Borowczyk’s 1980 film "Lulu" not based around what I'm going to detail below, but based entirely upon the fact that I'd heard Udo Kier appears as Jack the Ripper. Much like my review of Jess Franco's "Jack the Ripper" appeared with a warning about the lack of History Actual, this review will carry a similar warning about this being not-at-all an "Udo Kier as Jack the Ripper" vehicle. More's the pity, really.
Those of you who were looking for a film with a rich historical context, however, are in luck! Hell, I'll even toss in a Kinski tie-in for maximum circularity.
In 1979, Werner Herzog directed "Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht," a reimagining of F.W. Murnau's silent film "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens," which was in turn an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula." The former film was a clever mixture of Herzog's artistic choices (including the casting of Klaus Kinski in the title role--there's your tie-in, friends!) and familiar source material, updated for contemporary audiences. Similarly, "Lulu" is Walerian Borowczyk’s reinvention of G.W. Pabst's 1929 silent film "Pandora's Box," based on plays by German playwright Frank Wedekind (1895's "Erdgeist" and 1904's "Pandora's Box"). Bob-sporting beauty Louise Brooks became synonymous with the tragic heroine she played in "Pandora's Box," to the point where she was frequently referred to as "Lulu" by fans.
I'll give you a moment while you stuff all that in your Film & Literature Class and smoke it.
"Lulu" tracks the rise and fall of a beguiling dancer whose sexuality is tied directly to her fortunes. The titular nymph-like seductress flits from romance to romance, strategically positioning herself for social and financial gain. Each of her lovers embodies a Victorian archetype, from the old professor showing off what would now be called a "trophy wife" to the bohemian artist to the bourgeois newspaperman to the naive young man. Borowczyk's adaptation of Wedekind's melodramas emphasizes the satirical nature of the story, skewering upper middle class attitudes towards sexual relationships.
And believe you me, this is HIGH melodrama, folks! Lulu's story is sketched out in a series of five scenes, each highlighting one of her relationships. After her first husband suffers a heart attack while walking in on her lovemaking with a young artist hired to paint her portrait, Lulu inherits his fortune. She doesn't dispense with her philandering ways after marrying the artist, however, and her relentless--to say nothing of ENTIRELY SHAMELESS--affairs lead to the artist's suicide. Her performing star continues to rise, and she effectively blackmails a successful newspaper owner into marrying her, but she kills him after an emotional confrontation over the fact that she's sleeping with his son. From here, the unwitting murderess is forced to live in squalor and sell her body to support herself, leading to her death at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Yes, I know--it's pretty much four seasons of "Falcon Crest" jammed into ninety-five minutes of film. This stop-and-start structure mimics a stage production very effectively, and Borowczyk's frank camerawork evokes the experience of watching a theatrical piece, to the point where some shots are partially obscured by columns, doors, or screens. The period setting is deftly handled by the director, featuring highly detailed sets and thoroughly researched costumes. While not as bombastic as the also-Period-Piece "Dr. Jekyll and his Women," which would follow in 1981, there's an exploration of similar themes using a similar set-up of familiar literary/cinematic source material.
The decision to rely heavily on dialogue to forward the plot instead of the kind of insane visual setpieces Borowczyk employs in "Dr. Jekyll" will turn off many viewers. It will particularly alienate the kind of viewer who gets enthused about the whole "Jack the Ripper" portion of the film (read: "me")--that's a five-minute coda. Udo Kier's appearance as the sarcastic killer (dubbed in English with a sorta "Guys and Dolls" gangster voice that is... off-putting) is more cynical than sinister, and it provides an abrupt and downbeat end to the tale. The decision to underplay the violence through most of the movie is a conscious one, but I'm not convinced it's a wise one. It felt like there were unexplored moments here, and while the screen is frequently filled with nudity in the form of the comely Lulu's unclad frame, the decision to handle most of the explosive moments through characters talking to one another felt--I dunno--antiquated? Overly stagey? Kinda actually boring...? Yes, all of that. For a movie about a seductress who destroys men and is ultimately destroyed by a man, "Lulu" is pretty empty, especially when contrasted with the iconic status of "Pandora's Box" that is its inspiration.
"Lulu" wasn't a total dud for me, however, and I found enough moments of interest to sustain my interest. The five vignette scenes are linked by the portrait of Lulu painted by her artist-lover. This painting, Expressionist in appearance with a foreboding blood-red backdrop, follows Lulu through her tumultuous life a little like "The Picture of Dorian Gray." The portrait is ultimately kept safe by Baroness Geschwitz, who acts out her unrequited lesbian desire for Lulu on the painting. And because this is a Borowczyk film, I mean that entirely literally.
One of the subversive touches here is that Lulu and her newspaper owner husband are played by Anne Bennent and Heinz Bennent, a real-life father-daughter pair. The fact that their on-screen chemistry was pretty darn convincing made this after-the-fact-to-me-anyway revelation rather uncomfortable...!
The soundtrack by Giancarlo Chiaramello is composed of classical refrains, including one that sounds so similar to Camille Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre" as to make my ears perk every time it played behind a scene. Although there is an opera adaptation of "Lulu," the choice not to use that music here was a wise one, as the unusual scale and tonality used in the opera would distract from the on-screen action. Don't believe me? Check out a thirty-one part YouTube playlist of composer Alban Berg's "Lulu" here. You'll dig what I mean after Chord One.The traditional style of music employed in the film heightens the drama and might actually be my favorite non-Udo-Kier element! The opening and closing song, in German cabaret style, is composed of Borowczyk's own lyrics and is brought to life by Beatte Kopp, who also plays the Baroness Geschwitz. It's a heart-wrenching performance that bookends the story quite nicely indeed.
See? I'm putting a frame of Udo Kier at the very end, just like this film does. I kept you hanging on, didn't I?
For fans of Borowczyk's work, "Lulu" is an interesting novelty. When contrasted with movies like "Dr. Jekyll and his Women," "Behind Convent Walls," and "Immoral Tales," however, it just doesn't measure up favorably.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Let's just establish right here, right now, the fact that Jess Franco's 1976 version of "Jack the Ripper" has exactly nothing to do with historical veracity. The still-unidentified serial murderer who cut short the lives of at least five prostitutes between 1888 and 1891 in the seedy Whitechapel district of London serves as a jumping-off point for Franco to create a moody character study that imposes his own themes on a skeleton of fact. With that official Ripperologist Warning out of the way, let me just say that I'll take the substitution of "Klaus Kinski" for "Historical Crime Procedural" any frikkin' day of the week. Watching Mr. Kinski emote provides one of the great pleasures of genre cinema--the man had an overwhelming cinematic presence, and y'all know how I feel about those brooding Germans. The pairing of Kinski and Franco in a Victorian murder mystery movie promises quite a bit of joy, but does it deliver on these promises...?
"Jack the Ripper" is a revisiting of Franco's signature Dr. Orloff character, the emotionally tortured, morally kinked doctor whose obsessions lead him to murder and destruction. Usually this involves a heavy dose of "face-stealing" with a soupcon of "incest"--what this movie lacks in the former, it more than makes up for in the latter. Kinski plays Dr. Dennis Orloff, a London physician whose troubled childhood has inspired him to donate his services to the poorest of the city's denizens, but has also made him into a terrifying misogynist that stalks, rapes, murders and mutilates prostitutes. His assistant, the character who would be named Morpho in one of the other Orloff films, is a facially-scarred woman named Frieda who is utterly devoted to assisting the doctor for reasons never really explored in the movie.
Produced by the same West German company that funded Franco's notorious and gorgeous Satan-in-the-convent shocker "Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun," "Jack the Ripper" shares some of the look and feel of that film, though it's sadly less resonant than the later movie. The cinematography is sharp and the lighting skillful, but where "Love Letters" used its locations to its advantage, "Jack the Ripper" feels artificial. For those people who are still rooting for the truffle of historical authenticity, just give it up--the London of this film is totally un-London-ey, no matter how much faux fog the art director fills the set with. There's a certain creaky charm to the sets, with touches like the OLIVER TWIST pub not going unnoticed by me. The costumes (particularly the costumes used to dress the female characters) are an actually-kinda-endearing hodgepodge of community-theatre-grade "My Fair Lady" gowns and hats in an array of shiny, psychedelic fabrics. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there was a smoking ban on set to reduce the chance of Eurobabes bursting into flame because her petroleum-based gown went alight.
The supporting cast does a creditable job in the daunting task of backing up Kinski's performance. Herbert Fux* appears in a typically Fux-ian role as a greedy fisherman who is a patient of Orloff's who catches wise to the doctor's nocturnal activities. Perhaps the most often-remarked-upon appearance is that of Lina Romay in the role of the exotic cabaret performer Marika who flaunts her charms in an assless teddy**. Her doll-like mouth and wide-eyed expressiveness are used to great effect in her all-too-brief appearance in this film. The scene in which Marika is raped and murdered by Orloff is the film's most disturbing, due in no small part to the fact that Romay's murmurs evoke ecstasy as much as--if not maybe more than--the last breaths of a dying woman.
*I'm still allowed to giggle, even though I know it's pronounced "Fewks."
**If people can say "assless chaps," even though chaps are de facto assless, then *I* can say "assless teddy."
Speaking of that murder scene, there's some really squicky gore in this flick--all the more so because it feels abrupt and aggressive, and is overtly sexualized. There's a direct link between the sex act and the trauma to the female body that's underscored by Kinski's emotive performance. His face conveys a bone-deep lust and perversion, and his movements are animalistic. It's effective and wrenching enough that the scenes of Orloff's violence make one forget about the rather silly trappings of the rest of the film.
The story of Police Inspector Selby and his romance with prima ballerina Cynthia (shades of "Awful Dr. Orloff" once again!) isn't terribly engaging, and never musters up a fraction of the emotion of the Ripper portions of the movie. Some good choices are made during the "detection" sequences, though, such as the inclusion of the blind man whose keen senses lead to Orloff's eventual unmasking. This character's use of smell, hearing and almost-preternatural perception underscore the sensual elements of the film. Much to my delight, the identikit/police sketch sequence was included, resulting in a rather excellent Kinski caricature.
Alas, the promising build-up of this movie leads to a sputtering-out conclusion that tarnishes the impact of the preceding ninety minutes. It felt as if the script-writer needed to put a bow on the story and was averse to the kind of fiery conflagrations that mark the end of, say, a Corman Poe flick. We're left with a strangely unemotional sorta-ending to mark what's otherwise been a pretty darned effective, and sometimes downright alarming, character study.
Franco fans, Kinski fans, and fans of Lina Romay's ass could do a LOT worse than this movie (no, really--A LOT WORSE; take my word on this). Feel free to imagine your own coda, though, as the one provided leaves plenty to be desired.