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Master cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, was asked to comment on the way neon lights and lighting have impacted his work. As as part of the online exhibition from Mobile M+ and NEONSIGNS.HK, he revisited some of the locations in which he and Kar-wai Wong filmed some of iconic work:

The films we made at a certain period in the 80’s and 90’s wouldn’t be this way if it wasn’t for the space in which they were made…

Beauty hides in the shadows... Carina Lau Days of Being Wild Kar-wai Wong, 1990 Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

Beauty hides in the shadows…
Carina Lau
Days of Being Wild
Kar-wai Wong, 1990
Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

 

…And our space is a neon space. It’s a light space. It’s a space of energy that is electric. It’s the way people move. It’s the energy of Hong Kong. It’s the excitement of the encounters on the street. And it’s lit by neon, basically. Especially at that time.

 

Surviving in a Neon World Tony Leung Chungking Express Kar-wai Wong, 1994 Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

Surviving in a Neon World
Tony Leung
Chungking Express
Kar-wai Wong, 1994
Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

 

It’s a garish, exuberant possibly empty world if you’re not careful. I think that’s what neon is representing.” — Christopher Doyle, Filming in the Neon World.

For the full film/interview click here:

"Without any warning, she suddenly enters the store. I don't know how long she'll stay." Fallen Angels Kar-Wai Wong, 1998 Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

“Without any warning, she suddenly enters the store. I don’t know how long she’ll stay.”
Fallen Angels
Kar-Wai Wong, 1998
Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

Doyle’s work for Kar-wai Wong is some of the best cinematography one can ever expect to see. As he explains, it is exuberant — It is also erotic, unique, sensual, dangerous, disorienting and staggeringly beautiful. The shot posted above takes place in a space few of us would want to actually spend time. Much of Fallen Angels seems dirty and possibly even sinister, but eyes do not want to part with the visuals Doyle has captured. Less than a year later he would make his debut as a feature filmmaker. Away With Words featured one of Japan’s hottest  actors, Tadanobu Asano, and an impossibly cool use of music. Most importantly, it was visually amazing. The images of Away With Words imprinted on my brain. Sadly Doyle’s movie was never lucky enough to receive adequate distribution. But for those of us who did see it — the movie lives on.

The criminally neglected and forgotten... Tadanobu Asano Away With Words / San tiao ran Christopher Doyle, 1999

The criminally neglected and forgotten…
Tadanobu Asano
Away With Words / San tiao ran
Christopher Doyle, 1999

The world contained within Away With Words is magically infused with neon light. The movie actually seems to radiate much of the time. This film can still be found via DVD, though it has never received a proper transfer. It is still worth seeing. It is also almost impossible to find any screenshots that do it justice. I must disclose that Christopher Doyle is my favorite cinematographer. For me to write this is a big deal. I love cinematography and there are many artists I admire — but it is usually hard for me to pick out one artist above all others. I do not have this problem when it comes to cinematography. No one shoots a film like Mr. Doyle.

"Turns out that lonely people are all the same." Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Happy Together Kar-wai Wong, 1997 Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

“Turns out that lonely people are all the same.”
Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung
Happy Together
Kar-wai Wong, 1997
Cinematography | Christopher Doyle

The use of neon lighting for film has been going on for some time. It’s seem obvious that lighting is as key to a movie as editing, but it is far more complex than simply providing enough light to capture an image. Lighting allows the filmmaker and cinematographer to not only guide but to literally shape a film’s meaning. Cinematography incorporates all essential elements to form the essence of a movie. When one thinks of neon lighting for film, it would seem it best for creating either a sterile environment or a world of shadows with the intention of menace or horror. But the use of neon lighting is almost limitless in what it can convey. It all depends on how well the cinematographer understands lighting, is able to collaborate with lighting technicians and how creative he/she is in bringing a personal vision that highlights the essential one belonging to the film’s director.

Gallo horror has never been more beautiful or surreal. This is the perfect example of a great cinematographer. Jessica Harper suspects witchery. Suspiria Dario Argento, 1977 Cinematography | Luciano Tovoli

Gallo horror has never been more beautiful or surreal. This is the perfect example of a great cinematographer.
Jessica Harper suspects witchery.
Suspiria
Dario Argento, 1977
Cinematography | Luciano Tovoli

Argento’s Suspiria is a neon lit nightmare. Luciano Tovoli’s camera gives the gratuitous violence and paranormal horrors a sinister sort of beauty without getting in Argento’s way. The cinematographer works for the director, but he/she can bring forth magic that the director is often only able to imagine.

In a passive chronological order, take a look at the following shots that incorporate The Neon World into the frames and meanings of the respective films.

"How much?" American Gigolo Paul Schrader, 1980 Cinematography | John Bailey

“How much?”
American Gigolo
Paul Schrader, 1980
Cinematography | John Bailey

Bailey’s use of neon reds and blacks is the perfect concept for dark eroticism and ever-present danger and paranoia.

Neo-Noir / Neon-Noir meets The Beautiful / The Dangerous Rutger Hauer Blade Runner Ridley Scott, 1982 Cinematography | Jordan Cronenweth

Neo-Noir / Neon-Noir meets The Beautiful / The Dangerous
Rutger Hauer
Blade Runner
Ridley Scott, 1982
Cinematography | Jordan Cronenweth

I was too young when I first saw Blade Runner to be able to own the language of film, but when I noticed it was referred to as “Neo-Noir” I do remember thinking “Neon-Noir” seemed more sensical. A few years later I would begin to make the connection. I still like the term “Neon Noir” even if it isn’t real.

"This is not a marketplace." Thief Michael Mann, 1981 Cinematography | Donald E. Thorin

“This is not a marketplace.”
Thief
Michael Mann, 1981
Cinematography | Donald E. Thorin

Michael Mann had great luck bringing the neon world to Thief, but the same can’t be said for One From The Heart. Even still, it is a beautiful looking mess of a movie.

Suppose you had Tom Waits create an amazing score and perfected visuals to a neon-infused glow -- and nobody came to see it? Nastassja Kinski glowing... One From The Heart Francis Ford Coppola, 1982 Cinematography | Vittorio Storaro / Ronald Víctor García

Suppose you had Tom Waits create an amazing score and perfected visuals to a neon-infused glow — and nobody came to see it?
Nastassja Kinski glowing…
One From The Heart
Francis Ford Coppola, 1982
Cinematography | Vittorio Storaro /
Ronald Víctor García

Tony Scott’s The Hunger is seamlessly beautiful — the film’s opening moments/credits are unforgettable and immediately set the stage. Shadowed, cool, stylish and throbbing with electricity and hyper eroticism — this world is beguiling, but we all know that Bela Lugosi’s Dead.

"Nothing human loves forever..." Peter Murphy The Hunger Tony Scott, 1983 Cinematography | Stephen Goldblatt

“Nothing human loves forever…”
Peter Murphy
The Hunger
Tony Scott, 1983
Cinematography | Stephen Goldblatt

Ken Russell may have not had a big budget, but he understood how he exactly how he wanted to capture China Blue’s surreal world of fantasy, cheap thrills and escape.  Dick Bush was a master, but it was usually his director’s who pushed him forward. And he never failed them.

Welcome to the Neon Surrealism of Ms. China Blue... Kathleen Turner Ken Russell, 1984 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Welcome to the Neon Surrealism of Ms. China Blue…
Kathleen Turner
Ken Russell, 1984
Cinematography | Dick Bush

Wim Wender’s Paris Texas seems an odd fit for utilizing the idea of a Neon-drenched world, but Robby Muller brings the idea to glorious use more than a couple of times within Wender’s concept.

There is distinct beauty and sadness in every shot... Paris Texas Wim Wenders, 1984 Cinematography | Robby Muller

There is distinct beauty and sadness in every shot…
Paris Texas
Wim Wenders, 1984
Cinematography | Robby Muller

David Lynch’s collaborations with the great Frederick Elmes never fail to seduce, hypnotize and repulse. Blue Velvet is a classic example of Neo-Noir …and Neon-Noir Surrealism.

This is not your grandparents Film Noir... Isabella Rossellini Blue Velvet David Lynch, 1986 Cinematography | Frederick Elmes

This is not your grandparents Film Noir…
Isabella Rossellini
Blue Velvet
David Lynch, 1986
Cinematography | Frederick Elmes

Finding the image from Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct was not as easy as I had expected. Most remember this film for Sharon Stone’s brave and no-hold-barred performance (and flash!) but I always think of that amazing scene where the detective enters a raving dance club to find his Femme Fatale. This is not a good example of the way Jan de Bont was able to capture the electric energy of this nightclub, but you can get the general idea. It was too masterful to leave out.

Forgive the poor quality image, but lighting intensity adds to the protagonist's adrenaline rush as he navigates a San Francisco night club. Basic Instinct Paul Verhoeven, 1992 Cinematography | Jan de Bont

Forgive the poor quality image, but lighting intensity adds to the protagonist’s adrenaline rush as he navigates a San Francisco night club.
Basic Instinct
Paul Verhoeven, 1992
Cinematography | Jan de Bont

Michael Mann had already established a magical sort of neon energy for the protagonist of Thief, but he found new ways to utilize it for the visually dazzling, HEAT.

A familiar story is captured in brilliant moments of light, shadow, form and reflection. HEAT Michael Mann, 1995 Cinematography | Dante Spinotti

A familiar story is captured in brilliant moments of light, shadow, form and reflection.
HEAT
Michael Mann, 1995
Cinematography | Dante Spinotti

Terry Gilliam and Nicola Pecorini bring neon, chaos, paranoia and delirium to Las Vegas of the late 1960’s.

The neon glow of Vegas seeps into the hotel rooms, desert and a drug fueled mind. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Terry Gilliam, 1998 Cinematography | Nicola Pecorini

The neon glow of Vegas seeps into the hotel rooms, desert and a drug fueled mind.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam, 1998
Cinematography | Nicola Pecorini

Skipping ahead a few years and even Jason Statham gets the neon touch…

"Now I go back to the street and disappear." This spaces of this Neon World threaten with lighted colors. Jason Statham Steven Knight, 2013 Cinematography | Chris Menges

“Now I go back to the street and disappear.”
This spaces of this Neon World threaten with lighted colors.
Jason Statham
Steven Knight, 2013
Cinematography | Chris Menges

Yorick Le Saux adds a whole new context of meaning to Jim Jarmusch’s already cool vampiric world…

Love, Marriage and devotion in a world of neon light. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston  Only Lovers Left Alive Jim Jarmusch, 2013 Cinematography | Yorick Le Saux

Love, Marriage and devotion in a world of neon light.
Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston
Only Lovers Left Alive
Jim Jarmusch, 2013
Cinematography | Yorick Le Saux

Just as one should never attempt to mention neon lighting in film without a discussion of Christoper Doyle’s masterful work — it would be tragic to not highlight Benoit Debie’s cinematography. Harmony Korine has always been astute regarding his cinematic visions, but Debie brings a hue to Spring Breakers that only he could create.

Teen rebellion and rape culture are satirized in a fusion of neon and electrified dub-steps... Spring Breakers Harmony Korine, 2012 Cinematography | Benoit Debie

Teen rebellion and rape culture are satirized in a fusion of neon and electrified dub-steps…
Spring Breakers
Harmony Korine, 2012
Cinematography | Benoit Debie

The critics may have dismissed Ryan Gosling feature film directorial debut, but I still contend they were wrong. If nothing else, Benoit Debie added neon drenched meanings, mystery and surreal horrors forward in Lost River. The film is not perfect, but it arches forward in simultaneously borrowed but eccentric uniqueness. In its own way, Lost River, if almost brilliant. This is no one’s standard coming of age movie.

"Live" Adult Entertainment takes a very glowing dark turn... Eva Mendes Lost River Ryan Gosling, 2014 Cinematography | Benoit Debie

“Live” Adult Entertainment takes a very glowing dark turn…
Eva Mendes
Lost River
Ryan Gosling, 2014
Cinematography | Benoit Debie

Just as Christopher Doyle will forever be linked with Kar-wai Wong — so will Benoit Debie with Gaspar Noe. It is a supreme compliment to both directors that they have been able to collaborate so beautifully with two distinctly brilliant cinematographers. While all four are linked respectively together — Wong and Noe have never been hesitant to share the credit for the power of the fieldwork.

Strong case in point, Noe actually shares cinematography credit with Debie for Irreversible. It says a great deal that I am never sure who is behind the camera in this deeply disturbing film. Irreversible is a remarkable work of cinematic art, but it is almost as problematic. One thing is most certain, the quality of the camerawork and use of lighting can only be praised. Even if you have opted to not put yourself through the inhumane horrors of this film — I suspect you will recognize this image.

Neon lighting radiates sinister energy as Monica Bellucci leads the camera to one of the most disturbing and controversial scenes of sexual violence ever put to film... Irreversible Gaspar Noe, 2002 Cinematography | Benoit Debie

Neon lighting radiates sinister energy as Monica Bellucci leads the camera to one of the most disturbing and controversial scenes of sexual violence ever put to film…
Irreversible
Gaspar Noe, 2002
Cinematography | Benoit Debie

And when it comes to the power of neon lighting within the context of filmmaking, one would be hard pressed to think of a better example than Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. Intentionally a trip of a film experience, Benoit Debie’s mark is ever-present.

"It's fucking cold." ENTER THE VOID Gaspar Noe, 2009 Cinematography | Benoit Debie | Cinematography

“It’s fucking cold.”
ENTER THE VOID
Gaspar Noe, 2009
Cinematography | Benoit Debie | Cinematography

 

"I can't believe this is real." ENTER THE VOID Gaspar Noe, 2009 Cinematography | Benoit Debie

“I can’t believe this is real.”
ENTER THE VOID
Gaspar Noe, 2009
Cinematography | Benoit Debie

And while Love may not be much of a movie, it is often amazing to watch for visuals alone. Once again, Debie infuses neon light throughout.

The Neon replaces the passion and thrills of romance and sexual release... Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock Love Gaspar Noe, 2015 Cinematography | Benoit Debie

The Neon replaces the passion and thrills of romance and sexual release…
Karl Glusman and Aomi Muyock
Love
Gaspar Noe, 2015
Cinematography | Benoit Debie

And if there is one director who has spent a career studying and utilizing neon for filmmaking it would be Nicolas Winding Refn. Even under the constraint of a limited budget, his focus was on capturing the energy, insanity and terror of the drug underworld via lighting. The Pusher Trilogy shows what a skilled artist can do with very little.

Burning the image to neon is not new to Mr. Refn PUSHER Mads Mikkelsen Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996 Cinematography | Morten Soborg

Burning the image to neon is not new to Mr. Refn
PUSHER
Mads Mikkelsen
Nicolas Winding Refn, 1996
Cinematography | Morten Soborg

The film itself may be flawed, but Fear X is of note because it marks the first collaboration between Refn and Larry Smith. Paranoia, fear, rage, mystery and horror benefit from a very neon-ed space.

Accidental Death or murder? These spaces offer menacing paranoia. John Turturro Fear X Nicolas Winding Refn, 2003 Cinematography | Larry Smith

Accidental Death or murder? These spaces offer menacing paranoia.
John Turturro
Fear X
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2003
Cinematography | Larry Smith

2008’s Bronson is a cinematic marvel on more than a few counts — one of them is the way in which Larry Smith pushes neon to the limits to merge reality with the fantasy of Surrealism.

 

Realism, Surrealism, Desire, Isolation and fantasies bleed to form a life trapped in a neon-glow. Tom Hardy BRONSON Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008 Cinematography | Larry Smith

Realism, Surrealism, Desire, Isolation and fantasies bleed to form a life trapped in a neon-glow.
Tom Hardy
BRONSON
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2008
Cinematography | Larry Smith

Nicolas Winding Refn and Larry Smith use Drive to serve as the perfect synthesis of their shared vision. It is all about style and manipulation of light.

"Is he a bad guy?" Drive Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011 Cinematography | Newton Thomas Sigel

“Is he a bad guy?”
Drive
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011
Cinematography | Newton Thomas Sigel

The envelope got pushed off the table and then blown toward the door for their next collaborative effort, Only God Forgives. While it is not a perfect movie, it is certainly not the flop that so many critics wanted us to believe. Only God Forgives is a metaphorical nightmare that often looks more animated than real. Odd and completely unforgettable — another exorcise in style and manipulation.

"Time to meet The Devil." Bathed in Neon, Kristin Scott Thomas isn't worried. Nicolas Winding Rein, 2013 Cinematography | Larry Smith

“Time to meet The Devil.”
Bathed in Neon, Kristin Scott Thomas isn’t worried.
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013
Cinematography | Larry Smith

Sadly Larry Smith was not involved in Mr. Refn’s next experiment, but it is unlikely that Refn would have budged even the slightest. The title says it all. The Neon Demon is a cinematic error. This time Refn didn’t even bother to push the envelope. He simply refused to acknowledge that an envelope existed. Beautiful, seductive, twisted and so cool it is almost frozen  — The Neon Demon stands indignant and absolutely lost in the garishness of its own neon glow.

And, cue the tipping point... The Neon Demon Elle Fanning Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016 Cinematography | Natasha Braier

And, cue the tipping point…
The Neon Demon
Elle Fanning
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016
Cinematography | Natasha Braier

Jenna Malone is the only actor who manages to walk away unscathed. Of course this Demon is so very neon, we sometimes can hardly see her.

Neon lighting so deep we can barely see it. This might be a good thing. Jenna Malone is full of beauty... The Neon Demon Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016 Cinematography | Natasha Braier

Neon lighting so deep we can barely see it. This might be a good thing.
Jenna Malone is full of beauty…
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016
Cinematography | Natasha Braier

It may not work, but Natasha Braier is certainly up for the challenges her director presents.

The Neon Demon Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016 Cinematography | Natasha Braier

The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn, 2016
Cinematography | Natasha Braier

Matty Stanfield, 9.20.2016

 

 

 

 

2016 is now officially in the fast lane toward its end. I wanted to come up with my list of the movies that have most impressed me and discovered that very few films released this year have really impressed me. But then I realized that there were more than a few I had seen last year that were only released this year. This has helped my ability to come up with a list, but 2016 has not been a great year at the movies. Film Art created for the television is slowly taking over. Here is a list of the movies that really held my attention so far this year. Please note that I am not listing in any particular order and that these are my personal opinions. None of my opinions are connected with any distributor, film festival or artist. These are my thoughts and mine alone.

"Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?" The Witch Robert Eggers, 2015

“Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?”
The Witch
Robert Eggers, 2015

Robert Eggers’ The Witch works on both literal and metaphorical levels. It is also fairly flawless in execution, style and complete formation. Repeated viewings only further enforce its power. This is a masterful bit of Art Horror that aims far higher than being scary. Taking itself seriously, The Witch weaves a story that is as simple as it is complex.

On one level this is a straight up horror film. Jarin Blaschke’s camera work is fully intertwined with Eggers’ vision. The entire cast is exceptional. The sense of dread never lets up, but the implications of what we see come to a sharp tipping point. More than a film about evil taking over the lives of supposedly devout family of settlers, The Witch is a very dark contemplation on both the repression and oppression of women. In many ways this film points toward a parable regarding empowerment. This is an empowerment that is as grim as it is magical.

"Peek-a-boo!" The Witch Robert Eggers, 2015 Cinematography | Jarin Blaschke

“Peek-a-boo!”
The Witch
Robert Eggers, 2015
Cinematography | Jarin Blaschke

Many horror fans have expressed displeasure over this movie. For some it just isn’t scary enough, but for many of us it is chilling to the bone. Highly literate, creative and a brilliant use of a low budget — The Witch is something altogether new. A rare feat within the realm of horror filmmaking, this movie has a wider wing span.

Brady Corbet proved his skill as an actor quite a while back. He has been working since he was a child. Over the course of the last several years his career’s focus has been a bit off the grid comparatively speaking. He has worked for some expertly talented directors over better financial and fame-oriented jobs. This year he made his directorial debut and his choices as actor make perfect sense. I suspect Corbet was learning how to make films that strive to do more than simply entertain. The Childhood of a Leader is one of the most impressive actor-to-director debuts I’ve ever seen.

"A Stunning Debut." The Childhood of a Leader Brady Corbet, 2015

“A Stunning Debut.”
The Childhood of a Leader
Brady Corbet, 2015

There is nothing “safe” about The Childhood of a Leader.  This unusual film is masterful and keenly tuned into Auteur Theoretical Filmmaking. Just as it disregards filmmaking predictability, it shuns the idea of subtly.  Audacious in what it pursues, The Childhood of a Leader is not aimed at the cineplex and is not concerned with the possible difficulties it might offer members of the audience. The goals and stakes are high from beginning to end. Corbet and co-writer, Mona Fastvold, are smart enough to keep the proceedings minimal in the visual sense. There are no signs of low budget film present. Corbet has wisely invested his budget where it will benefit the highest yield.

"He's been acting out a little bit." The Childhood of a Leader Brady Corbet, 2015 Cinematography | Lol Crawley

“He’s been acting out a little bit.”
The Childhood of a Leader
Brady Corbet, 2015
Cinematography | Lol Crawley

Scott Walker was secured as the film’s musical composer and his skills / work are utilized to maximum impact. Corbet has applied the same level of trust regarding cinematography and editing. Both of these essential elements are applied with deceptively simple approaches. Lol Crawley and David Jancso bring forward their finest work. The same can be said for every artist Corbet has secured both behind and in front of the camera. And no artist involved is required to color within the lines. If there are a few cracks from strain, these flaws are minor and easily forgiven.

Do not be fooled by the impressive scoring, cinematography, editing and various styles of acting. This film’s impact is not owed singularly to any one artistic aspects. The real power belongs to a director who is unafraid to allow his excellent players the opportunity to bring forward their best respective games. Corbet confidently conducts every aspect of this movie for his orchestrated gut punch. This is artistic collaboration at its best. The Childhood of a Leader comes close to perfection. Intense, passionate and memorable — Childhood builds scene upon scene achieving a pure cinematic crescendo. It is sublime and totally apocalyptic.

"He's just a little boy..." Tom Sweet The Childhood of a Leader Brady Corbet, 2015 Cinematography | Lol Crawley

“He’s just a little boy…”
Tom Sweet
The Childhood of a Leader
Brady Corbet, 2015
Cinematography | Lol Crawley

This study in sociopathic tendencies pushes us toward a culturally shared visceral nightmare. Corbet’s film arrives at a time that makes it all the more potent. For whatever reason, IFC did very little to promote this challenging film. This is not an easy movie. It requires attention and thought, but it never bores. There is most certainly an audience for films this amazing. If you did not have the opportunity to catch it during its brief appearance on cinema screens, seek it out now. It  is currently available via VOD. I’ve seen it twice and I can’t wait to see it again.

Unlike many of my friends / associates, I have never been all that excited about Matteo Garrone’s work. I’m embarrassed to write that I passed up the opportunity to see his latest, Tale of Tales. This was my loss. I so wish I had experienced this strange film on a big screen.

"A feast for the imagination" Tale of Tales Matteo Garrone, 2016

“The equilibrium of the world must be retained.”
Tale of Tales
Matteo Garrone, 2016

Matteo Garrone’s film is adapted from Giambattista Basile’s Pentamerone, but is unfolded in a confoundedly unique manner. I always got the sense that Garrone’s visionary sense was unique, but I had no idea he was this imaginative. Surrounded by only the finest of artists, he has concocted something unexpected and unforgettable. Fantastical, gothic, dark and often disturbing — these are not the sort of “fairy tales” one would tell a child.

The presentation is “adults only,” but the lack of “lessons” or “moral points” are completely childlike. When one thinks back to the fairy tales shared with us as children, we often only remember the scary or darker details. As a child the moral compass is only starting to form. The level of experience is too limited to fully grasp the philosophical. The same can be said of this Tale of Tales.

"It was a mistake! My Love, please! John C. Riley Tale of Tales Matteo Garrone, 2016 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

“It was a mistake! My Love, please!
John C. Riley
Tale of Tales
Matteo Garrone, 2016
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography here is more reminiscent of his earlier work under Ken Russell’s tutelage. Images of spaces, faces and reveals convey levels of absurdity, passion, curiosity and awestruck attention. Garrone’s film is as grotesque as it is beautiful. As provocative as it is innocent. These tales are largely unknown to American audiences. Garrone delivers them with a giddiness that is contagious.

IFC did not do a great job with theatrical promotion and I skipped the short opportunity to see it because it felt like it was going to be a low-rent copy of Terry Gilliam.

It wasn’t and it isn’t.

It received a very limited run, but is now available from the folks at Shout! Factory on DVD/Blu-ray. Tale of Tales should not be dismissed or ignored. See it.

"Could you just read the part where they kiss?" Salma Hayek Tale of Tales Matteo Garrone, 2016 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

“Could you just read the part where they kiss?”
Salma Hayek
Tale of Tales
Matteo Garrone, 2016
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Oscilloscope Laboratories put forward a great deal of care and time in the promotion and release of Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits. It was thanks to this that I made the effort to see the movie. I was also more than a little curious to see where ARH would take the audience. One of the most fascinating films in years, The Fits does not fit easily into a category and simply refuses all labels. The film’s promotion gave very little away regarding The Fits. It was not the movie I was anticipating. How often does that happen after we see a distribution company’s trailer?

Never flinching... The Fits Anna Rose Holmer, 2015

Never flinching…
The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer, 2015

The Fits is essentially about a young girl slipping into young adulthood, but it would be misleading to limit it to “the coming of age” troop. There is absolutely nothing expected about this movie. When I sat down to watch it for the first time it turned my expectations inside-out. Anna Rose Holmer’s film follows an eleven-year-old girl, played with disarming realism by Royalty Hightower, as attempts to shift her attention from the boys’ side of a community center to enter what she perceives as the magical other side. The girls’ side of the community center is focused on team spirit dancing.

What it feels like for a girl... Royalty Hightower The Fits Anna Rose Holmer, 2015 Cinematography | Paul Yee

What it feels like for a girl…
Royalty Hightower
The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer, 2015
Cinematography | Paul Yee

Suddenly the tomboy desires to be a member of an all female dance team. More than a little unsure of herself and the young women who she knows occupy the thoughts of the boys with whom she has always played, Toni must decide if she has what it takes to fit in with this feminine bunch. This is a visual and auditory film experience. The dialogue is limited, but when we are allowed to hear what Toni hears it is crucial information.

One more week, ladies!” a woman coach announces to the young women. Adults do not figure into Toni‘s perception of her world. They are not yet key players, but Toni hears the adults when it is required. The marker of a week becomes an important tracker within the film’s story. Toni’s decision to attempt to assimilate is crucial. ARH never demonstrates the least amount of bombast or over-statement of actions, but we understand that Toni’s every movement is a key predictor to her future.

Paul Yee’s camerawork is tight and fluid all at once. Composers, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, provide the film with a hypnotic musical score. Anna Rose Holmer, like Brady Corbet, is unafraid to share the glory. I point this out because the collaborative element of filmmaking seems to be once again slipping away from many film productions. ARH fully utilizes all artists involved to spark her film into life. The Fits does not merely spark to life, it is almost a living organism unto itself. What happens in The Fits is not a totally unique turn, but the way in which the film’s dance moves are constructed / conveyed is jaw-dropping.

It's not what you think... Royalty Hightower The Fits Anna Rose Holmer, 2015 Cinematography | Paul Yee

It’s not what you think…
Royalty Hightower
The Fits
Anna Rose Holmer, 2015
Cinematography | Paul Yee

A child’s attempts to join a dance team form into something that edges well beyond any expected boundary. Often disturbing, mysterious, strange, sensual and magical — The Fits is cinematic poetry. Many cringe at the intermingling of words like cinema and poetry. This mashup has become over-used, but never has the concept fit better than attributing it here. Anna Rose Holmer did not need a big budget to make her movie breathe, throb, squirm and float magically to life. This movie never falters in its movements toward alchemy. The Fits is not a movie that a film lover can afford to miss.

"Let's be clear. It won't end well." Green Room Jeremy Saulnier, 2015

“Let’s be clear. It won’t end well.”
Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier, 2015

Jeremy Saulnier’s film manages to establish all characters with minimal screen time or information, but this does not mean that we do not know these characters. Green Room speaks to Saulnier’s ability as an exceptional storyteller who can put forward all required quickly thanks to the way in which he writes and shoots. We know everything we need to know about the members of a desperate and rag-tag American Hardcore band within less than ten minutes.

An odd but exceptional casting choice. Patrick Stewart Green Room Jeremy Saulnier, 2015 Cinematography | Sean Porter

An odd but exceptional casting choice.
Patrick Stewart
Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier, 2015
Cinematography | Sean Porter

Green Room‘s horrors come fast and are packed with surprisingly intense cruelty. Even more surprising is the fact that this film is perversely fun but never lacking in realism. Green Room takes itself seriously. When our messy heroes decide to piss off their Fascist audience by crashing into a wicked cover of The Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off,” the comedy of the moment is stained with the menacing reality of their situation. It is difficult to articulate why this movie is so much fun, but sick fun it is. Alia Shaukat, Patrick Stewart, Imogen Poots and the late Anton Yeltsin deliver top tier work for this twisted cinematic adventure. Always pushing past the normal boundaries of the exploitation genre, Green Room is close to brilliant.

A down-and-out hardcore band's gig takes more than a couple of very bad turns... Green Room Jeremy Saulnier, 2015 Cinematography | Sean Porter

A down-and-out hardcore band’s gig takes more than a couple of very bad turns…
Green Room
Jeremy Saulnier, 2015
Cinematography | Sean Porter

Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is another movie that cleverly pushes beyond the horror exploitation genre. This is a highly effective example of not only great storytelling, but the power of tight cinematic construction. Kusama has mastered the basics of movie making to a point that she manipulate all of them to create something exceptional that in the hands of another filmmaker would play as tired or even predictable.

"There is nothing to be afraid of" The Invitation Karyn Kusama, 2015

“There is nothing to be afraid of”
The Invitation
Karyn Kusama, 2015

The Invitation never pushes itself so much that the low-budget is reflected and Kusama is not aiming to re-invent the wheel, but she adheres to smart editing, clever writing and talented actors to create an expanding element of suspense, dread and fear. As the movie leads into what appears to be The Dinner Party from Hell, we become invested and ultimately shocked. What probably should have been a mediocre film has been transformed into a highly entertaining and mesmerizing exercise in cinematic horror. I feel this is one of the best films we will see this year.

Maybe this guest is just paranoid. Logan Marshall-Green The Invitation Karyn Kusama, 2015 Cinematography | Bobby Shore

Maybe this guest is just paranoid.
Logan Marshall-Green
The Invitation
Karyn Kusama, 2015
Cinematography | Bobby Shore

Mickey Keating is all of twenty-five years of age and he has already accomplished more than most film artists can muster in an entire career. It is still unclear if he plans to move beyond the horror film genre, but it does not really matter. Having been mentored by the great Larry Fessenden, this filmmaker has already cemented a place among horror fans. Keating made two films for 2015 release. The first, POD, is an exceptional cinematic brew of paranoia and human horror. The second film did not actually secure a release date until 2016 and it is one of the most impressive films of the year.

"A lonely girl's violent descent into madness..." Darling Mickey Keating, 2015

“A lonely girl’s violent descent into madness…”
Darling
Mickey Keating, 2015

What Keating’s Darling lacks in originality is made up for by stylization and expertly modulated cinematic manipulation. Intended as much as an ode to the great psycho-dramas of the 1960’s/1970’s as full stand alone movie, Darling is so well made that it manages to morph itself into something borrowed but very new. This slow-burn psychological horror movie transcends extreme budgetary limitations and pulls the audience into a hypnotically disturbing ride into madness.

"Don't concern yourself with that room, dear." Sean Young Darling Mickey Keating, 2015 Cinematography | Mac Fisken

“Don’t concern yourself with that room, dear.”
Sean Young
Darling
Mickey Keating, 2015
Cinematography | Mac Fisken

Filmed in simplistic video black and white, Mickey Keating sets the mood immediately and is unrelenting in holding us there through to the film’s final image. Sean Young makes a brief but memorable appearance that allows Keating to establish everything in a matter of a few minutes. Clearly inspired by Roman Polanski, William Friedkin, Ingmar Bergman and more than a little Robert Altman — Keating’s cinematic exorcise demonstrates not only his knowledge but his resourceful skills. The young director is having a blast and so does his audience. Though it should be pointed out that this fun comes with more than a little white-knuckle suspense, tension and horror.

"I was waiting for you." Lauren Ashley Carter Darling Mickey Keating, 2015 Cinematography | Mac Fisken

“I was waiting for you.”
Lauren Ashley Carter
Darling
Mickey Keating, 2015
Cinematography | Mac Fisken

Mac Fisken’s cinematography is meticulous and easily recalls a sort of mashup of Gordon Willis, Gilbert Taylor and Sven Nyqvist. Yes, you read me right. Fisken manages to recreate visual suspense intermingled with beauty. Valerie Krulfeifer’s editing is a perfect match for Keating’s odd retro-horror stylings. Fiona Ostinelli’s musical score is equally effective. But the key collaborating artist is actor, Lauren Ashley Carter. In the film’s title role, this actor’s babydoll eyes and on-screen presence manage to not only win us over — she is able to spin these aspects on a dime. While we do like her — she is also able to repulse us. This actress literally haunts the screen.

" I don't think you realize what a godsend you are." Darling Mickey Keating, 2015 Cinematography | Mac Fisken

” I don’t think you realize what a godsend you are.”
Darling
Mickey Keating, 2015
Cinematography | Mac Fisken

Unconcerned with plot, Darling has only two true goals: it wants to get under the skin, but then it intends to imprint into our brains. It achieves both. Low-fi but exceptionally crafted from all perspectives — Darling signals that Mickey Keating is playing for keeps. His second film of this year is currently in cinemas. Carnage Park has a bigger budget than both POD and Darling and it is a solid horror film, but it lacks Darling‘s power punch. I walked out of Darling a fan.

There was no way Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise would match the media promotion that launched it. I knew that going in, but I was under-whelmed with this adaptation of JG Ballard. Impeccable production values, cinematography and exceptional performances — High-Rise should have worked, but it fell short. So to speak. Ballard’s High-Rise is a complex and dated novel. It might not have helped that Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley opted to keep it all grounded in the original time period. The smart use of Thatcher’s infamous speech at the close was a good one, but it came a bit late into the film’s game.

"Welcome to the high life..." High-Rise Ben Wheatley, 2015

“Welcome to the high life…”
High-Rise
Ben Wheatley, 2015

The mixing of satire with dark comedy loses focus. This could largely be related to the fact that the punch of the story has lost much meaning some 40 years later. Ballard’s ideas rooted in that decade often feel more “twee” than “provocative.” There is not enough context to understand why “we” are in the 1970’s. Without directly mooring Ballard’s ideas to the 21st Century, much of what he was thinking feels flimsy within the trappings of Wheatley’s chosen genres of satire and comedy. It is also hard to fathom the task of capturing Ballard’s novel in a 2 hour movie. The actions in High-Rise move far too quickly to really understand.

"Looks like the rot's set in." Tom Hiddleston goes for broke... High-Rise Ben Wheatley, 2015 Cinematography | Laurie Rose

“Looks like the rot’s set in.”
Tom Hiddleston goes for broke…
High-Rise
Ben Wheatley, 2015
Cinematography | Laurie Rose

It’s as if the pears sold on the shopping floor are ripe one minute and then rotting the next.  The building’s descent into madness and chaos is presented here as an extreme switch. Wheatley does not give the movie enough time to chart the plot’s key initiative. The actual connection of the doctor’s professional life to the new place he inhabits is never fully formed. I find it hard to understand why we even needed to follow the doctor’s fall into professional lethargy. I was also confused by the excessive use of Hiddleston as a sex object. I have no problem with it, but I do not understand why this was important. And worst of all, the connections between the residents is never fully fleshed-out. These people are over-sexed but it is not presented in the appropriate context. It is a hazy mess of societal revolution, sexual perversity and insanity.

A fall from the upper class... High-Rise Ben Wheatley, 2015 Cinematography | Laurie Rose

A fall from the upper class…
High-Rise
Ben Wheatley, 2015
Cinematography | Laurie Rose

High-Rise is flawed, but credit must be given to an independent film that strives to be this ambitious. High-Rise attempts to do so much. Sadly most of these attempts are simply out of reach. Or maybe I’m mistaken. It is quite possible that Ben Wheatley might be ahead of the curve. My opinion regarding High-Rise might shift as the years go by. I know my opinion has improved with only four viewings. And I’m certain I will be watching it again. When I take into account that I have seen this film five times, I feel obliged to include it in my list.

Yes, it is a very unconventional love story... The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015

Yes, it is a very unconventional love story…
The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015

No one can complain that Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster isn’t a unique. Lanthimos addresses some of humanity’s deepest concerns and challenges by use of a Surrealistic bit of Existentialism gone to Absurdist artistic gestures. The most surprising aspect of The Lobster is that is intentional not funny. It is also not limited by what might seem like a One-Joke Idea. Loneliness, isolation, desperation and the craving for meaningful connections are never treated as comical. While there are comical elements to the situations, this is a dramatic film. The situation is a result of societal judgment. A judgement that lands these lost souls to a last resort to secure a life partner or face being turned from human into an animal. For the most part, this situations are rendered relatable. Colin Farrell delivers his best on-screen performance as a recently jilted man who doesn’t seem to be able to find his footing in life. He is the sole reason this film resonates so well. He is a sort of “Every Man” who has gotten lost in the shuffle of his life.

" Back then, he didn't know how much it hurts to be alone..." Colin Farrell The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015 Cinematography | Thimios Bakatakis

” Back then, he didn’t know how much it hurts to be alone…”
Colin Farrell
The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015
Cinematography | Thimios Bakatakis

He didn’t burst into tears and he didn’t think that the first thing most people do when they realize someone doesn’t love them anymore is cry,” Rachel Weisz’s emotionlessly blunt narration tell us. It is up to Farrell to provide the emotional resonation. And he does. It will be interesting to see if the Hollywood Power Elite choose to allow him an Oscar nomination. He does deserve it.

As this story of uncomfortable misfits attempting to attract a partner, or remain human or live as hunted loners — The Lobster lulls us into thinking that things just might work out. Lanthimos’ isn’t going to let anyone off easily. Our protagonist is not exactly the kind fellow you might expect. He, too, is capable of extremes to avoid a great deal. David can be cruel and he often feels little to no pity for others. In many ways, David is the ideal protagonist for The Lobster. The film’s resolution offers a truly sharp edged view of what we are willing to do for love — perhaps even a delusion of love. The Lobster offers no comfort or easy outs.

"I'm going to do it with a knife." Colin Farrell The Lobster Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015 Cinematography | Thimios Bakatakis

“I’m going to do it with a knife.”
Colin Farrell
The Lobster
Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015
Cinematography | Thimios Bakatakis

The film’s first act is amazing. The second half becomes a bit sluggish. And the Michael Haneke -ish ending note is not the surprising gut-punch that Lanthimos was most likely going for, but it does make a point. It is a memorable film. My main objection to keeping this film as one of my favorites is that it ultimately disappointed me. In comparison to both Dogtooth and Alps, The Lobster seems weak. I list it here because it does stand out as one of the better films of the year. If this 2015-intended film had actually come out last year it would not have made my list. The Lobster feels like a bit of compromise. Lanthimos can do better. And he should.

This might be fantastic... Isabelle Huppert Things to Come Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016 Cinematography | Denis Lenoir

This might be fantastic…
Isabelle Huppert
Things to Come
Mia Hansen-Løve, 2016
Cinematography | Denis Lenoir

The year is not done and my list of favorites could change, but I somehow doubt it. I do have high hopes for Isabelle Huppert’s collaborations with both Paul Verhoeven (Elle) and Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come) Both have some strong buzz, but this sort of buzz has been off before.

On paper, it seems like the perfect director and lead actor for the subject matter. But I can't be the only person now suspecting that it's not going to work. ? Joseph Gordon-Levitt SNOWDEN Oliver Stone, 2016 Cinematography | Anthony Dod Mantle

On paper, it seems like the perfect director and lead actor for the subject matter. But I can’t be the only person now suspecting that it’s not going to work. ?
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
SNOWDEN
Oliver Stone, 2016
Cinematography | Anthony Dod Mantle

Time will tell. And I’ve a growing worry that Snowden is destined to fail. I hope I’m wrong. But of the films listed for release between now and year’s end, this was the one that seemed the most exciting.

We will see…

Matty Stanfield, 9.9.2016

*** ADDENDUM!!!

I’m an idiot who often attempts to do too many things at one time. In the above blog post I wrote, “But of the films listed for release between now and year’s end, this was the one that seemed the most exciting.” This is a major error on my part.

In that sentence I was referring to Oliver Stone’s Snowden. I have a roster of upcoming film releases. I track film releases with this roster. I had printed an updated roster this past Monday. As I marked the upcoming films that I am waiting to see, I marked Elle, Things to Come and Snowden. I somehow failed to mark a fourth film that I am very eager to see.

"She loved men..." The Love Witch Anna Biller, 2016

“She loved men…”
The Love Witch
Anna Biller, 2016

Anna Biller is a Film Artist I’ve been following since the late 1990’s when she made a short entitled, Fairy Ballet. Back in 2007 she made a brilliant feature film, Viva, which remains firmly imprinted in my psyche. Never one to compromise her vision or voice, I was worried that it might take a long time to have the opportunity to see her latest film, The Love Witch. The media industry of the 21st Century has never been more hostile toward original visionary work than it is right now. But there are still a few distributors who are more interested in quality than major studio concerns regarding conforming to concepts of mainstream appeal — Oscilloscope Laboratories demonstrated their savvy when they secured distribution rights for The Love Witch!

Will the use of The Craft bring her love? Samantha Robinson The Love Witch Anna Biller, 2016 Cinematography | M. David Mullen

Will the use of The Craft bring her love?
Samantha Robinson
The Love Witch
Anna Biller, 2016
Cinematography | M. David Mullen

What really puzzles me about my error in not only marking but mentioning the inevitableness that I will love Ms. Biller’s new film is that I’ve been following this film so closely over the last several months. D’oh!

But Anna Miller’s The Love Witch is a film that is destined to make my list for Favorite Films of 2016. And, no, I am not headed into the cinema with anticipations that will fail to live up to the work on the screen. Ms. Biller is one of those filmmakers who consistently manage to construct work that entices me.

Samantha Robinson The Love Witch Anna Biller, 2016 Cinematography | M. David Mullen

Coming soon… Samantha Robinson
The Love Witch
Anna Biller, 2016
Cinematography | M. David Mullen

So for the record, I’m very excited about this upcoming film. I apologize for failing to mention in my initial post.  A note of thanks to Dave for the call!

M. Stanfield, 9.10.2016

 

 

 

When 19th Century writer, Jules Michelet, wrote La Sorcière (Satanism and Witchcraft) his goal was not limited to providing a history of Medieval European Witchcraft. In truth he was seeking to do something far more interesting — his intention was to reveal that history as a cultural rebellion against the oppressions of the Roman Catholic Church and Feudalism. Michelet was sympathetic to the plight of peasant women of this era. What culture and history named as Satanic or Witchcraft, he attempted to redefine from the other side of a largely unrecognized side of this phenomenon: Paganism.

An impoverished woman doesn't quite fit into her community is to be judged as an Evil Witch. Illustration by Martin van Maele from Jules Michelet La Sorcière, 1911 Edition.

An impoverished woman doesn’t quite fit into her community is to be judged as an Evil Witch.
Illustration by Martin van Maele
from Jules Michelet La Sorcière, 1911 Edition.

The idea, as presented by Michelet, was to look underneath such dark practices as Devil Worship and discover its true origins. In fact, he viewed this with an eye to where non-prescriptive spiritual beliefs might lead to something of beauty and goodness. Was the cultural magnifying glass obstructing the goodness to propagate the fear of the people? His sympathies were given to the oppressed and victimized. Paganism was not necessarily Evil from Michelet’s viewpoint. His book would assist in laying out a model for modern Pagan Wiccan Ideologies.

Were these men afraid of Witchcraft or simply afraid of a women refusing patriarchal control? "The Witch, No. 3" Joseph E. Baker, c. 1890

Were these men afraid of Witchcraft or simply afraid of a women refusing patriarchal control?
“The Witch, No. 3”
Joseph E. Baker, c. 1890

Michelet reconstructs and reimagines a situation in which a coven of desperate women push their unique forms of social protest into darkness by the use of decadent rituals performed under the power of the moon. Black Sabbaths performed by witches. It was not the strength found in nature that was the problem. The problem was when these spiritual and empowering rituals sought to do harm. He then devotes the remainder of the book to reconstructions / imaginings taken from the horrific European witch trials. Michelet’s writings were debunked as inaccurate and problematic long ago, but he is responsible for turning a sympathetic light toward oppressed women and scorn on irrational societal fears. If nothing else, La Sorcière speaks to a very different kind of revolutionary danger that goes far beyond the simple political. If a society chooses to push large groups into oppression and misery, there is simply no telling what those groups might form to rebel.

Entering the 1970's society felt that parents had control of their children. Cue a masterful film about a pretty little girl possessed by The Devil. Linda Blair The Exorcist William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

Entering the 1970’s society felt that parents had control of their children. Cue a masterful film about a pretty little girl possessed by The Devil.
Linda Blair
The Exorcist
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

As the world crashed out of the 1960’s and slammed into the resulting gains and damages of the 1970’s, Japan’s Mushi Production was looking to take on a bigger slice of the Animated Movie Pie. They instructed their animation team to create three adult-oriented projects referred to as The Animerama Trilogy. Mushi Productions and legendary animator, Osamu Tezuka, were looking to keep up with an ever evolving and reactionary era. The Animerama Trilogy would be Anime / Manga with a difference. These three films were to be full-on erotica and they would also adhere to psychedelic animation.

"All those lonely people..." Taking animation into the psychedlic. Yellow Submarine George Dunning, 1968 Art Direction | Heinz Edelmann

“All those lonely people…” Taking animation into the psychedlic.
Yellow Submarine
George Dunning, 1968
Art Direction | Heinz Edelmann

Perhaps it was worries about trying to push ahead of the coolness / originality created within the animated Beatles movie, Yellow Submarine, combined with rumors of hardcore content about to explode within mainstream cinematic entertainment. This was the era of Last Tango in Paris, The Devils, A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist. It was at this time that two truly pornographic films enjoyed mainstream success. Deep Throat and Beyond The Green Door were not limited to creepy porn cinemas. Whatever propelled Mushi Productions to push the cinematic envelope, this was The Sexual Revolution and Liberation moving in full-tilt-boogie mode. Mushi Productions was ready to make X-Rated pornographic animated films. The sexuality was to be both erotic and graphic, but equal attention needed to be applied in the areas of plot and artistic quality.

The original movie poster Belladonna of Sadness / Tragedy of Belladonna Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973

The original movie poster
Belladonna of Sadness / Tragedy of Belladonna
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973

Belladonna of Sadness was actually the second of the trilogy. Tezuka assigned Eiichi Yamamoto to serve as Belladonna‘s director and visionary leader. He quickly convinced painter, Kuni Fukai, to helm the film’s art direction duties. Artistic freedom and quality were of upmost importance. Astro Boy was the money maker for Mushi Productions. This trilogy was to be creative. Concerns regarding commercial success were to be pushed off the table.

The oppressed victim transforms into a magically powerful Witch... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

The oppressed victim transforms into a magically powerful Witch…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Yamamoto understood the importance of story and the importance of artistic quality. Fukai was not particularly interested in Anime or Manga, but he did want the freedom to pursue his artistic vision. He was also drawn to the idea that Tezuka was not particularly interested in movement. His goal was to focus on the detail of illustration. In other words, traditional ideas of animation were out the window. Fukai found the film’s development and production to be an enjoyable artistic experience. Based upon interviews, it is clear that Fukai captured the director’s ideas onto scrolling murals. The film’s cinematographer, Shigeru Yamasaki, then set the framing as his camera moved along the murals and other illustrations. Belladonna of Sadness took two years to create using less than ten additional animators. Masahiko Satoh was hired to provide the musical score. It is a jazzed-fused mash-up of experimental synthesizers with syrupy pop ballads. The musical score works incredibly well. Like the film itself, Satoh’s score has a large number of fans as well.

Defying conventional ideas of Anime and animation... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Defying conventional ideas of Anime and animation…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

By the time Belladonna of Sadness was ready for release, Mushi Productions was about to fall into bankruptcy. Their Japanese distributor, Nippon Herald Eiga, was at a loss when it came to marketing the movie. Even though the strange film was well received at the 1973 Berlin International Film Festival, it received a limited release in Japan without any success. Having now seen this infamous movie, it seems all the more odd that it came and went with little to no interest.  It was never officially released outside of Japan. In the late 1970’s it was discovered that Belladonna had gained a minor female following.

Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

An attempt to re-cut the movie so that it might hold a more immediate appeal to female viewers only resulted in muting the film’s power. Much of the hardcore sexuality and sexual violence was trimmed away. It is easy to understand why the director decided to remove some of these elements as they have and continue to cause problematic issues, but those original choices still make sense to the overall reach of the film. However Yamamoto had the idea of incorporating a scan of Liberty Leading the People by Eugene Delacroix to serve as a potent closing image.

A poisonous flower? Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

A poisonous flower or a source of magical healing?
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

The additional mix of Delacroix’s style makes sense given that the movie pulsates via a number of various stylistic influences. But the most logical piece of this idea is that the painting better conveys the film’s closing lines. Belladonna of Sadness has always enjoyed a strong reputation among fans of the Anime / Manga genres. Various and inferior versions of the movie floated around for years. The folks at Cinelicious Pics worked hard to secure the rights to restore and distribute an uncensored version of the movie to the world. All of the eroticism, depravity and sexual brutality has been returned. But the 1979 inclusion of Delacroix’s painting remains. Belladonna of Sadness is now available in 4K remaster.

How to describe this film without giving too much away? I’m not confident I can do that so I will keep my summary simplistic and utilize shots from the film to indicate the beauty, complexity and ultra-weird world it portrays. The over-all look of the film is tied to an idea of glam beauty that you might expect to see in illustrated adverts of the early to mid-1970’s. The film’s protagonist, Jeanne, is rendered as a slender and sublimely perfect nymphette. Her appearance is the one consistent element of the movie’s imagery. Jeanne‘s beauty does not match the world in which she has been born. She is simply too elegantly beautiful to belong here.

The identity finds no solace or safety in marriage... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

The identity finds no solace or safety in marriage…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

She is a peasant girl who has just married a humble but handsome man. Only minutes into her marriage, Jeanne is raped by the land’s Feudal Lord — and his entire court including Church leadership. This might sound silly, but that animated / painted sequences of rape and sexual torture are truly horrific. Kuni Fukai and his team found ways to render this human cruelty that go well beyond the boundaries of living actors. The sequence is traumatic and may prove to be more than some are willing to watch. When the film was screened in San Francisco more than a few people opted to leave the cinema. If you thought the killing of Bambi‘s mom was harsh, that classically upsetting animated moment is rendered sweet in comparison.

Believe it or not, this film's animated depiction of rape is disorienting, visceral and horrifically disturbing. Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Believe it or not, this film’s animated depiction of rape is disorienting, visceral and horrifically disturbing.
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

The ability of this film to capture both the act of rape and the consequence of the attack is nothing short of brilliant. As horrible as these sequences are — they are essential. The rape of Jeanne is not presented as erotic, but it does force forward an uncomfortable issue. While Yamamoto is clearly not looking to excite the audience, that doesn’t mean that this depiction of rape is above reproach. An argument could be made that his film goes too far. Somewhere in the synapse of the depicted horror there registers a worrying sense of the sadistic.

Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Is the explicit manner in which these brutalities are depicted meaningful or exploitive? While I think a case could be made, ultimately I was moved by the way the film managed to present the sheer trauma and damage of rape. Even still it must be noted that these sequences are so repulsive and shocking — they push it all so far that the viewer’s mind and body are both required to react.

It is a manipulation. It is a tough watch. Maybe too tough to be considered as an “entertaining” experience — and, no matter, this movie’s intentions are to entertain.

Draw your own conclusion.

Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Belladonna of Sadness is obviously surrealistic, but it is persistently grounded in realistic logic. Jeanne‘s life and marriage are ruined. As she attempts the impossibility of healing and restoring her identity she falls into a spiraling depression. Pushed past the edge of sanity, Jeanne appears to retreat into an attempt at calming through sexual self release. Or at least this is how I interpret it. Instead of finding peace, she discovers The Devil. Playful and ever-ready to flirt, The Devil never attempts to hide his identity. He repeatedly points out that Jeanne has summoned him.

Evil has not come to Jeanne without invitation. 

Jeanne makes a pact and gives her body and soul for as she phrases it, “something bad.” The something bad is actually empowerment and full claim of her sexual liberation.

Surrendering to Satan... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Surrendering to Satan…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Our protagonist is angry when she awakens from her surrealistic fuck-fest with Satan. She has anticipated that she would wake in Hell. She thought her hair would have turned into snakes. She expected to be a scary old hag. Instead she wakes refreshed, clean, energetic, healed and surrounded by flowers that seem to radiate energy.

"You had already died, anyway." Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

“You had already died, anyway.”
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

I want people to turn away in horror when I pass by in the street. I don’t want to forget anger and hatred!” Jeanne seethes to The Devil.

You have become beautiful, Jeanne. Like a young girl in love. Radiant. You are even more beautiful than God,” The Devil replies.

The One who owns her soul explains that a woman can be angry, scary and raging with hatred and remain beautiful. Why? Because she does not fully understand the power of her own self and beauty. The Devil teaches her that she can channel her beauty, charm, intellect and intelligence to do good or utilize those same powers to cause righteous evil. Nature will bend to Jeanne‘s will. Why? Because she is woman.

Meet Jeanne, The Witch. Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Meet Jeanne, The Witch.
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Yamamoto’s vision of The Devil is a penis of various sizes and compulsions. Evil is represented by the penis. It is comical, but it is also oddly effective in depicting Jeanne’s initiation into the sensual. The vagina is used to symbolize a wide range of ideas and aspects of life, but the key to Belladonna of Sadness‘ use of yonic symbology are related to joy, pleasure and life.

"Are you The Devil?" "Yes," replies the cock along with an opportunity for empowerment... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

“Are you The Devil?”
“Yes,” replies the cock along with an opportunity for empowerment…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Welcome to Eiichi Yamamoto’s take on Feminist Theory. As Jeanne allows herself to shed inhibitions — she evolves into a powerful sexual predator. She seduces and gains strength as the men begin to lose theirs. Jeanne has long left her former life, she is now surrounded by beauty. She finds creative and magical ways to return to her fellow peasants.

Jeanne magically creates food and wine. She brings sexual education to her fellow peasants. She turns the poisonous Belladonna flower into medicine that stops pain — most importantly notes is that her magic flower  takes away the pain of childbirth for the women of her village. And she pulls the peasants back to her Sexual LSD’d-like trip’d out home for orgy sabbaths. All of which are depicted in stunning ways and in a multiple manner of styles. Some of the film’s stylings are truly beautiful, others are crude, some are silly, some profane and all are aiming to shock.

Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamasaki

Eventually Jeanne must decide how she really wants to use her new found power.

Ultimately there is a reason Yamamoto named the protagonist “Jeanne.”

Jeanne d’Arc, anyone? Did I mention the story takes place in France? 

Do ya wanna hold me? Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Do ya wanna hold me?
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Regarding the film’s X-Rated ideologies — Belladonna of Sadness aims to sexually excite. This is eroticism. To be more specific, this is experimental eroticism.

Why is it experimental? For more reasons than I care to list, but this is an animated film. Depictions of the human body morph from realistic renderings to the profanely abstract. This is even more true when applied to genitalia.

Is Belladonna of Sadness actually erotic? I guess that depends on what winds your clock. Personally, I do not find illustrations all that sexy. But that is just me.

Eroticism morphs... Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Eroticism morphs…
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

I should also point out that I’ve no interest in animated film, Anime or Manga. The fact that I wanted to write about Belladonna of Sadness indicates a great deal regarding how I feel about it. I loved the experience of this movie.

I admire the artistic audacity, experimentation and the epic go-for-broke approach. And I take great pleasure in seeing something totally new and unique. I have never seen a movie like this one. It is unique. It is also a problematic film and it doesn’t always work. But when Belladonna of Sadness does work — it compulsively pulls us into its own astounding world.

Erotica Abstracta / Fascinating to watch Belladonna of Sadness Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973 Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Erotica Abstracta / Fascinating to watch
Belladonna of Sadness
Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973
Cinematography | Shigeru Yamazaki

Belladonna of Sadness has been gyrating for over 43 years. It isn’t going anywhere. For more info: http://www.cineliciouspics.com/belladonna-of-sadness/

Matty Stanfield, 8.25.2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting as an odd Midnight Movie, David Lynch's debut feature film is now considered a work of cinematic art. Eraserhead David Lynch, 1977

Starting as an odd Midnight Movie, David Lynch’s debut feature film is now considered a work of cinematic art.
Eraserhead
David Lynch, 1977

It’s been building for almost 15 years now, but many of the cinematic treasures buried under the title of Cult Film are currently being re-examined and re-evaluated. There are still plenty of cinephiles who shudder as classics like Valley of the Dolls, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, One-Eyed Jacks and Carnival of Souls are taking their deserved seats within The Criterion Collection.

As my generation moves toward half century mark, the younger generations of movie lovers are feeling less self-conscious when it comes to fully owning their love of Cult Films that have never quite fit into the restrictively defined Cinematic Masterpiece.

I’ve never worried much about what people think of me. As a teenager I would often snare unsuspecting friends into watching a VHS copy of a movie I deemed as essential. I remember some of my pals squirming through a movie like John Waters’ Multiple Maniacs or Herk Harvey’s Carnival of Souls. I myself placed in a defensive position. I would attempt to list the cinematic virtues of a numerous cinematic oddities that had been relegated to midnight screenings and discarded as Odd, Smut and ultimately Cult Films. I began to formulate excuses for these movies I loved. These were offered up as self-defenses to shield my ego from the those harbingers of The Cinematic Elite.

  • This movie is so bad it comes around to exceptional
  • A movie we must love to hate
  • There is a certain level of artistry to create a film so entertainingly bad
  • It’s fun to watch
  • It is one of my guilty pleasures

The opinion regarding Cult Films has come a long way since I was in high school. I was the only one who had ever rented All Star Video’s VHS copy of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. In fact, I rented it a lot.

Filmed on a shoe string and with a desire to haunt vs. scare -- This strange B Movie is now a treasured member of The Criterion Collection. Carnival of Souls Herk Harvey, 1962

Filmed on a shoe string and with a desire to haunt vs. scare — This strange B Movie is now a treasured member of The Criterion Collection.
Carnival of Souls
Herk Harvey, 1962

There was a period of time when I would enter All Star and the lady behind the counter would say, “Look y’all! It’s that kid who rents Eraserhead!” Turns out they had acquired the tape by accident. Some of my friends enjoyed some of what they saw in David Lynch’s surreal movie, but more than a few were bored or disgusted. Some of my pals discovered that it was a great movie with which to get stoned. Gradually a few others began to rent All Star’s VHS copy. In less than a decade Eraserhead would finally begin to garnish the respect it deserved. It would take a whole lot longer for Carnival of Souls to gain appropriate recognition, but this year it was remastered and issued as a member of The Criterion Collection.

After I had finally begun to find a place within the ranks of a respected Film Festival my knowledge and love of French and Asian cinema would be put to some good use, but even as we entered the 21st Century there was still passive annoyance at films that dared to color outside the lines of societal ideas of Cinematic Art.

"Love really hurts... Koroshiya 1 / Ichi The Killer Takashi Miike, 2001

“Love really hurts…
Koroshiya 1 / Ichi The Killer
Takashi Miike, 2001

I first saw Takashi Miike’s Ichi The Killer at a limited screening not too long after the tragedies of 9/11. It took me several minutes to ground myself back into the real world as I stumbled out of the theatre. I found it difficult to articulate what it was that so strongly appealed regarding this sick and twisted movie. In many ways it was a cartoonish orgy of gore that never let up. The special effects were not so much realistic as they were insanely creative. The film was far more interested in following a sadistic and comically twisted thug following Ichi‘s bloody trail of violence than in Ichi himself. Each passing scene seemed to propel the audience into higher levels of audacity and shock. This was a needless exercise in the excesses of violence and aberrantly cruel behaviors. But all of it was presented in such silly and innovative ways, it was almost impossible not to watch.

Surveying the carnage Tadanobu Asano Ichi The Killer Takashi Miike, 2001 Cinematography | Hideo Yamamoto

Surveying the carnage
Tadanobu Asano
Ichi The Killer
Takashi Miike, 2001
Cinematography | Hideo Yamamoto

I was not new to the over-the-top genre of Japanese Shock Horror movies, but this was something a great deal different. I had already been caught in Miike’s web the year before. His 1999 Cult Film, Audition, was in many ways a far superior film. It had been a surrealist take on a widowed man’s sexual fears. The gore utilized in Audition was far more realistic in look and the film’s exploration into self-hate, human cruelty and misogyny was a bit more than the average viewer would ever be able to approve. It was a smart and exceptionally well crafted movie that would only ever have a limited audience. Ichi The Killer was not nearly so dire. Ichi took no prisoners, but it also allowed the audience a “pass” regarding its violent nature.

"Everything I'm about to tell you is a joke..." This young Yakuza soldier is having a strange day that quickly morphs into levels of strangeness too odd to be explained. There is genius here. Hideki Sone GOZU Takashi Miike, 2003 Cinematography | Kazunari Tanaka

“Everything I’m about to tell you is a joke…”
This young Yakuza soldier is having a strange day that quickly morphs into levels of strangeness too odd to be explained. There is genius here.
Hideki Sone
GOZU
Takashi Miike, 2003
Cinematography | Kazunari Tanaka

From my perspective, both Audition and Ichi The Killer were destined for consideration as films of note. But if I had to place my bet, I’d venture that it would be Ichi The Killer that would manage to achieve mutually agreed regard. Interestingly it would be Audition that was the first to be recognized as something more than simply Cult. But the time of Ichi The Killer will soon arrive. Let’s hope that Ichi is ready for the validation. He is kind of sensitive.

Two years after I saw Ichi The Killer in a cinema, I pitched the idea of having the film festival host a retrospective of Miike’s work. I had put out “feelers” and his camp was more than willing and the director was open to attending. He did not speak English, but he had someone who could join him as his translator. In addition, his 2003 film, GOZU had only enjoyed one US screening at this point. I had been lucky enough to receive a promotional copy of that film. GOZU is an experiment into Yakuza thriller gone the way of Lynchian fever dream. GOZU is artistic, comical, beyond strange and unforgettable. I was excited as I pitched the idea to the committee. Only one of the ten members shared in my enthusiasm. My idea was nixed. GOZU and Miike went to Chicago.

Wagner drugs and then literally saps Franz Liszt of his blood. Paul Nicholas and Roger Daltrey LISZTOMANIA Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Wagner drugs and then literally saps Franz Liszt of his blood.
Paul Nicholas and Roger Daltrey
LISZTOMANIA
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

My pleas for the committee to consider Ken Russell’s The Devils and Lisztomania fell prey to closed minds and snobbery. Appreciation for Ken Russell’s brilliant The Devils has existed since the film’s debut through to today. The problem is that many have never had the amazing opportunity to see this important film in Russell’s original cut. Warner Bros. continues to hold that film hostage thanks to the powers of The Vatican. It is the only reason that seems to explain Warner Bros. refusal to relinquish the movie. It continues to sit in exile within the confines of the Warner Bros. vault. Although not blessed with the masterful artistry of The Devils, Ken Russell’s surreal comic book take on Franz Liszt is also due for reconsideration. Rumors continue to fly about regarding the resurgence of both films. Back in my teen years I was constantly pimping Ken Russell to the unconverted. It is impossible to understand, but it has only been in the last decade that Ken Russell’s brilliance has begun to receive the recognition that so very many knew it and he was due. And the rally call for both of these films — most especially for The Devils — is growing stronger.

"Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights." Vanessa Redgrave The Devils Ken Russell, 1971 Cinematography | David Watkin Production Design | Derek Jarman

“Satan is ever ready to seduce us with sensual delights.”
Vanessa Redgrave
The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971
Cinematography | David Watkin
Production Design | Derek Jarman

A couple of years ago I got into a disagreement with someone of “standing” within the world of Film Restoration. A seminal film was at stake. Was this beloved and profoundly odd but brilliant film damned to be restored by a well-intentioned but tech limited distribution company? As it became clear that my opinion meant nothing to this individual who is actually a bigger Film Snob than me — and that is saying something — I took one more consideration regarding concerns of bombast, overly silly presentation, perverse articulation and Grindhouse residue. I ended the conversation with the following sentence:

I will watch Citizen Kane, The Bicycle Thief, The Godfather or Casablanca as often as I watch this film.

As it turned out, this almost forgotten cinematic gem was restored brilliantly by the great team at Vinegar Syndrome. One of my favorite movies, The Telephone Book, was restored and re-issued to an unsuspecting public. Sadly their efforts did not result in many sales.

Just because it is X-rated and full-on odd does not mean that it isn't a valid artistic experience. The Telephone Book Nelson Lyon, 1971

Just because it is X-rated and full-on odd does not mean that it isn’t a valid artistic experience. The Telephone Book Nelson Lyon, 1971

This type of discussion became a sort of staple of my Movie Lover’s Life. It was also a discussion I was nearly always bound to lose. But something is in the air. I’d like to think it partially thanks to my generation, but it is equally indebted to the generation that arrived just after mine. There are a number of people now in their mid-to-late 30’s who recognize the importance of many films that cause life threatening eye-rolling by most serious cinematic scholars born before 1972.

Before she became An Unmarried Woman and deservedly respected actor, Jill Clayburgh was a valuable featured player in an experimental movie mistakenly considered pornography. Jill Clayburgh The Telephone Book Nelson Lyon, 1971 Cinematography | Leon Perera

Before she became An Unmarried Woman and deservedly respected actor, Jill Clayburgh was a valuable featured player in an experimental movie mistakenly considered pornography.
Jill Clayburgh
The Telephone Book
Nelson Lyon, 1971
Cinematography | Leon Perera

Another highly valuable movie that had been thought long lost is Jean-Jacques Beineix’s The Moon in the Gutter. A neon-drenched world awaits the viewer who allows themselves to slip into this strange film. While it is most certainly flawed, it is equally most certainly fascinating. Cinema Libre Studio restored and reissued the film to DVD/Blu-Ray in 2011.

Largely panned when it debuted in cinemas,  Jean-Jacques Beineix's 1983 flop continues to be re-evaluated.  The Moon in the Gutter / La lune dans le caniveau Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1983

Largely panned when it debuted in cinemas, Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1983 flop continues to be re-evaluated.
The Moon in the Gutter / La lune dans le caniveau
Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1983

They also did the same for Jean-Jacques Beineix’s infamous Betty Blue, but opted to issue only the theatrical version of that film. Sales for Betty Blue were strong, but The Moon in the Gutter is no longer in print. Seek it out.  Meanwhile the director’s cut of Betty Blue is out there and will most likely be re-issued soon. Which paves the way for a restoration of that director’s successful but largely forgotten art film, Diva. An unforgettable hybrid film that is experimental to say the least. We are likely to see this film receive an upgrade within the next year or so.

"Her voice was his calling." Diva Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981

“Her voice was his calling.”
Diva
Jean-Jacques Beineix, 1981

It had been a fairly tight secret when The Criterion Collection decided to pursue the distribution rights for both The Valley of the Dolls and its dirty little sister, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The announcement created a bit of grumbling, but many are thrilled to finally see these two cultural relics restored.

 

"This is my happening and it freaks me out!" Long maligned but deeply loved by a whole lot more -- Russ Meyer and Roger Eberts' 1970 X-Rated film has also joined the ranks of The Criterion Collection. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Russ Meyer, 1970

“This is my happening and it freaks me out!”
Long maligned but deeply loved by a whole lot more — Russ Meyer and Roger Eberts’ 1970 X-Rated film has also joined the ranks of The Criterion Collection.
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
Russ Meyer, 1970

Kino Lober and Olive Films have also been doing a great job of rescuing lost or forgotten cult films. This month KL released Otto Preminger’s all but forgotten Cult Film, Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon Junie Moon. Olive Films has just released three other treasured Cult Films, Wild In the Streets, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? and Modesty Blaise.

"You said she was going to eat us." Strange and surprisingly effective... Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? Curtis Harrington, 1972

“You said she was going to eat us.”
Strange and surprisingly effective…
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?
Curtis Harrington , 1972

Get ready. Here are but a few other films up for reconsideration beyond the realm of The Cult Film

"Eventually stars burn out..." This 2014 was far too quickly dismissed and ignored. This is a Cult Film that is destined for later appreciation and re-evaluation. Map to the Stars David Cronenberg, 2014

“Eventually stars burn out…”
This 2014 was far too quickly dismissed and ignored. This is a Cult Film that is destined for later appreciation and re-evaluation.
Map to the Stars
David Cronenberg, 2014

 

"Why don't rapists eat at T.G.I. Friday's? Well, it's hard to rape with a stomachache." The jokes induce squirms vs. laughs as the comic's ego deconstructs. Gregg Turkington ENTERTAINMENT Rick Alverson, 2014 Cinematography | Lorenzo Hagerman

“Why don’t rapists eat at T.G.I. Friday’s? Well, it’s hard to rape with a stomachache.”
The jokes induce squirms vs. laughs as the comic’s ego deconstructs.
Gregg Turkington
ENTERTAINMENT
Rick Alverson, 2014
Cinematography | Lorenzo Hagerman

 

"Gilderoy, this is going to be a fantastic film. Brutal and honest. Nobody has seen this horror before." Berberian Sound Studio Peter Strickland, 2012 Cinematography | Nicholas D. Knowland

“Gilderoy, this is going to be a fantastic film. Brutal and honest. Nobody has seen this horror before.”
Berberian Sound Studio
Peter Strickland, 2012
Cinematography | Nicholas D. Knowland

 

" Everything is more complicated than you think..." Coming up close to a decade -- is the audience ready to revisit Charlie Kaufman's ever undulating surreal epic? Philip Seymour Hoffman Synecdoche, New York Charlie Kaufman, 2008 Cinematography | Frederick Elmes

” Everything is more complicated than you think…”
Coming up close to a decade — is the audience ready to revisit Charlie Kaufman’s ever undulating surreal epic?
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Synecdoche, New York
Charlie Kaufman, 2008
Cinematography | Frederick Elmes

The film I am most excited about is John Schlesinger’s strange and surreal forgotten bit of dark magic, The Day of the Locust. The Hollywood Dream is reduced to absolute metaphorical nightmare. It also features some of Conrad L. Hall’s best cinematography work.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen in radioland. We're speaking to you from the forecourt of Grumman's Chinese Theater here in Hollywood, California..." John Schlesinger, 1975

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen in radioland. We’re speaking to you from the forecourt of Grumman’s Chinese Theater here in Hollywood, California…”
John Schlesinger, 1975

And, of course, Takashi Miike’s odd trip into Surrealism — GOZU.

"There's no need to hide something as fine and dandy as that!" GOZU Takashi Miike, 2003 Cinematography | Kazunari Tanaka

“There’s no need to hide something as fine and dandy as that!”
GOZU
Takashi Miike, 2003
Cinematography | Kazunari Tanaka

Matty Stanfield, 8.16.2016

It was an odd question.

Let’s say you must lose all material possessions except for ten of your Criterion Collection Blu-Rays. Which ten titles do you keep?

key_art_criterion_collection

I rolled my eyes and shrugged the question away. There is no way I could ever limit myself to only ten Criterions! But the silly question inspired me to really think about the movies I have via The Criterion Collection. Which are my absolute favorites? Which titles do I watch the most? Which do I value above others? Could I narrow it down to only ten movies? Would I have to organize them in some order of preference? No. I would not be able to rate one more valued than the other.

My friend did not frame her question with the context of a desert island. If she had I would have countered back with obvious challenges of having a monitor, BluRay Player and electricity to run both. No. The question was simply which ten I would keep above all others. Ideally I would smuggle a few more titles with me. Yes. I would most definitely find a way to sneak a few more under protection under my hoodie. No one would be the wiser. Most certainly not the friend who posed the question. After much contemplation, here are my most treasured members of my Criterion Collection

 

Don't Look Now Nicolas Roeg, 1974 Cover Design: Fred Davis

Don’t Look Now
Nicolas Roeg, 1974
Cover Design: Fred Davis

I think there tends to be one common thread in the choices I have made from my Criterion Collection: Identity. It seems to me that the idea of identity is at the core of all we pursue in life. One could easily argue that food gathering, sex and conflict are the shared drivers for the beings called human, but it is within the pursuit of these needs that much of our respective identities take form. It is both amazing and a little horrifying how identity is challenged and altered by drivers, circumstances and experiences. Films that delve into the psychology of identity vary in genre and philosophy, but often provide endless interpretation.

Surreal films like Buñuel’s Belle de jour, Roeg’s Don’t Look Now, Polanski’s Repulsion, Altman’s 3 Women and Breillat’s Fat Girl find new ways of exploring the inner workings of how our identity forms, survives and sometimes crumples. Allegorical, metaphorical and symbolism reign supreme in these films. Repeated viewings offer fresh perspectives and understanding. A documentary like Grey Gardens works brilliantly in the hands of the Maysles Brothers. The use of Direct Cinema offers insights into mother / daughter dynamics as well as a humanistic study of adapted survival. Altman’s Nashville is satire, but as this experimental epic unwinds the ideas of damaged identities are pushed by societal and cultural pressures that have only become stronger in the 40+ years that he made his film. Don’t Look Now is far more than a horror film. It does haunt and stirs dread, but it also captivates in its eloquence of exploring human nature under the sway of reawakening hope.

  • Don’t Look Now
  • Nashville
  • Belle de jour
  • Repulsion
  • Grey Gardens
Antichrist Lars von Trier, 2009

Antichrist
Lars von Trier, 2009

 

"But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn't know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there's anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman..." Little Edie makes a stand. Grey Gardens Mayflies, Hovde, Meyer 1976

“But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn’t know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there’s anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman…”
Little Edie makes a stand.
Grey Gardens
Mayflies, Hovde, Meyer
1976

 

America caught in a scary moment points us to an even more horrific future... NASHVILLE Robert Altman, 1975

America caught in a scary moment points us to an even more horrific future…
NASHVILLE
Robert Altman, 1975

Two other common elements are the uncomfortable mixture of humor and horror. Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist offers up skin-crawling levels of disturbing images that are almost impossible to watch — yet the elements of dark humor and surrealism move our attentions away from the grotesque. If we look, listen and think — the strange film offers perspectives on a number of topics from cultural misogyny, the intimacy of marriage and the tragedy of grief. Nashville, 3 Women, Fat Girl and Grey Gardens allow us to chuckle as much as they make us squirm.

  • Antichrist
  • Fat Girl
  • 3 Women
"1 woman became 2/2 women became 3/3 women became 1..." 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977

“1 woman became 2/2 women became 3/3 women became 1…”
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977

 

No one's victim... Fat Girl / À ma soeur! Catherine Breillat, 2001

No one’s victim…
Fat Girl / À ma soeur!
Catherine Breillat, 2001

  • Persona
  • Black Moon

I am not assigning these titles in any particular order because I am unable to really rank one of these films over another. Each film is exceptional, but some do work better than others. Louis Malle’s experimental and surreal Black Moon is of interest despite itself. This film is very much a reflection of European tension and confusion resulting from sociopolitical revolutions, challenges and fears of its time. Much of the political has been lost over time. What remains is a tipsy and uncomfortable take on Alice in Wonderland. The film may be flawed, but it is extraordinary.

"Just a minute, please." Black Moon Louis Malle, 1975

“Just a minute, please.”
Black Moon
Louis Malle, 1975

As for the other beloved titles that I would creatively find a way to retain…

  • The Innocents
  • Videodrome

It would be challenging to think of two films that are more hinged to the times in which both were made. And yet, both of these Cult Film remain powerful and equally unsettling. Repeated viewings are never dull. Revisiting these two movies is as much fun as it is disorienting.

"What are you waiting for, Lover?" Videodrome David Cronenberg, 1983

“What are you waiting for, Lover?”
Videodrome
David Cronenberg, 1983

  • Band of Outsiders
  • In the Realm of the Senses
  • Wings of Desire

The ideas of identity are taken to whole new levels with the three films listed above. Each of these movies are totally unique. And each of these iconic films offer three very different experiences. The only one I feel the need to defend is Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses. Does he push the use of unstimulated sex and violence too far? Yes, but that is also his point. If you are over 18 years of age, this movie offers an astounding and masterful study of the horrors of sexual obsession and repression.

"Now is the time for a digression in which to describe our heroes' feelings..." Band of Outsiders Jean-Luc Godard, 1964

“Now is the time for a digression in which to describe our heroes’ feelings…”
Band of Outsiders
Jean-Luc Godard, 1964

It hurts my feelings to imagine my world without Dressed to Kill, Harold and Maude, Satyricon, 8½, Jules et Jim, Red Desert or Valerie and her Week of Wonders. But I can only get away with sneaking so much. Even if I were to slip into my Large sized hoodie — it would most likely be obvious if I had more than 5 titles hidden behind the zipper.

"But no sooner was she back on shore, when..." Red Desert Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964

“But no sooner was she back on shore, when…”
Red Desert
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964

But who am I fooling? I would most definitely try to sneak Gates of Heaven into my ownership. Hell, I would also grab Branded to Kill and Eraserhead. I would then make a run for it. I’m sneaky like that.

"You’ve been badly trained." Branded to Kill Seijun Suzuki, 1967

“You’ve been badly trained.”
Branded to Kill
Seijun Suzuki, 1967

Matty Stanfield,  7.21.2016

One too many epiphanies had driven my resistance down. Feeling down had taken a sharp turn toward depression. I had pulled a blanket from the closet, turned out the lights, closed the blinds, took to sofa and prepared to lose myself into a movie. But had it really come to this? Yes, it had.

"I would tell you that I wrestle alone in the dark, in the deep dark, and that only I can know..." Nicole Kidman The Hours Stephen Daldry, 2002 Cinematography | Seamus McGarvey

“I would tell you that I wrestle alone in the dark, in the deep dark, and that only I can know…”
Nicole Kidman
The Hours
Stephen Daldry, 2002
Cinematography | Seamus McGarvey

It was already unfolding before my eyes. Nicole Kidman, two pockets filled with stones and a prosthetic nose were floating toward death. Ed Harris and Julianne Moore fell and swooned into their respective doom. Meryl Streep would soon be compressing into a tidy mess in her kitchen as Jeff Daniels stood by in a stupor of blonde confusion. And here I was watching the grim human sadness that is The Hours. To make it all the worse, I was suffering the added indignity of watching it all via an outmoded DVD. The 2003 DVD can’t seem to keep up with the 2015 huge flatscreen TV. Every image is a bit washed out and hazy.

"always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours..." Nicole Kidman readies to descend. The Hours Stephen Daldry, 2002 Cinematography | Seamus McGarvey

“always the years between us, always the years. Always the love. Always the hours…”
Nicole Kidman readies to descend.
The Hours
Stephen Daldry, 2002
Cinematography | Seamus McGarvey

I sat up and decided to take matters into my own hands. I held the Universal Remote with a firm and fully articulated grasp. I pressed “Eject” with a sturdy resolve. Our sad copy of the depressive Stephen Daldry was quickly returned to its cracked jewel box. I’ve never been a half-measure sort of person. I seem to either go all the way or no distance at all. But I would not define myself as “extreme.” That isn’t too say I am not capable of excess. I am. It was at this point I opted for a movie that might lead my attentions in an altogether different direction.

As I slipped our Pillow Talk blu ray into the player I suspected I might be making a mistake. No one can accuse Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s grandfather of understatement when it comes to his 1959 pop cultural cinematic landmark. On the one hand this film could be discussed as a gender identity politic comedic study — and on more than a couple of levels. With hindsight, the idea of Rock Hudson as a ruthless ladies man is beyond irony — Pillow Talk becomes more than a little meta when applied to ideas of sexuality.

"It's what goes on when the lights go off!" Pillow Talk Michael Gordon, 1959

“It’s what goes on when the lights go off!”
Pillow Talk
Michael Gordon, 1959

But on my other hand this move movie is just a silly romp that was most likely dated even when it arrived on CinemaScope Screens across the world. This box office hit scored more than a couple of Oscar nominations and a win! Yes, Pillow Talk was awarded an Academy Award for best original screenplay. It also gave Doris Day and Thelma Ritter Oscar nods for their respective performances.

It would be unfair to claim that this movie isn’t clever and equally amusing. It is. However it is not particularly witty. The plot is about as flimsy as it gets, but it is the performances, editing and sheer goofiness that makes this iconic movie so much fun. Thelma Ritter is the movie’s most valuable player. As she snarks and complains her way through the various hyper-color sets — Thelma not only advances the thin plot she continually comments on it. Her hang-over ridden character’s head is hurting not only from booze but from the woozy level of sexual repression going on all around her. Tony Randall is, well, Tony Randall. It works here.

"...this may come as a surprise to you, but there are some men who don't end every sentence with a proposition." Doris Day and Rock Hudson Pillow Talk Michael Gordon, 1959 Cinematography | Arthur E. Arling

“…this may come as a surprise to you, but there are some men who don’t end every sentence with a proposition.”
Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Pillow Talk
Michael Gordon, 1959
Cinematography | Arthur E. Arling

But the film really belongs to Doris, Rock and the creative split screen utilization. The telephone politics and party line of the late 1950’s might not be known to us, but we catch on pretty quick. Rock Hudson hams it up and seems to be poking the screen at his real life gay buddies. It is impossible not to chuckle, but it is Doris who really amps it all up. Ms. Day’s capacity for facial mugging seems to know no bounds. Her petite figure, bright blue eyes and deep red lips constrict and pulsate to unbelievable extremities. She is never wonky or goofy, but she totally camps her reactions and timing as if she were a tightly wound fashion doll ready to explode. A performance like this would be the thing of “Anti-Comedy” — but framed within the multiple frames of Pillow Talk she manages to trick out her performance that seemed to rival any other performance given in 1959.

Poor Jan is about to take facial mugging to a whole new level... Doris Day and Rock Hudson Pillow Talk Michael Gordon, 1959 Cinematography | Arthur E. Arling

Poor Jan is about to take facial mugging to a whole new level…
Doris Day and Rock Hudson
Pillow Talk
Michael Gordon, 1959
Cinematography | Arthur E. Arling

But all the double entendres, facial mugging and idiosyncratic editing began to take their toll on my troubled soul quicker than I expected. Once again I pressed the eject button. I decided to direct my mind toward  Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Diablo Cody’s acidic Young Adult. This movie almost fools me every time. How? I really should know better. I’ve seen it more than a couple of times. The thing is that it always makes me laugh. I guess I remember those comical moments over the reality that interlaces each one.

"Sometimes in order to heal a few people have to get hurt." YOUNG ADULT Jason Reitman, 2011

“Sometimes in order to heal a few people have to get hurt.”
YOUNG ADULT
Jason Reitman, 2011

I had skipped seeing this film when it was released. I was worried that it would smack of the same ick-twee that ruined both Juno and United States of Tara. Stop. Don’t complain or correct me. I know that the number of folks who love that movie and show well out number those of us who didn’t. But any sense of reality was tossed out the window to earn laughs. Young Adult is actually one of my favorite films of 2011. I was sorry I had not supported it at the cinema. As the story of Mavis‘ journey back to her hometown and that this entails began I worried that this disc might have been a poor choice for my day.

It is never clear if Charlize Theron’s Mavis suffers with Borderline Personality Disorder or if she is simply a truly cruel and self-involved functioning addict. It is to the film’s makers credit that it is never articulated. Theron’s movie role choices are often questionable from an artistic standpoint, but when she does manage to find her way into a good role, she plays it with gritty conviction. This is most definitely the case with Mavis. In more than a few ways, the actor actually goes beyond the power she conveyed in 2003’s Monster. The role of Mavis may not offer her the same obvious challenges, but it does lay out a gambit of challenges that most actors would fail. Theron is truly brilliant in this role.

Ewww. A baby. Charlize Theron YOUNG ADULT Jason Reitman, 2011 Cinematography | Eric Steelberg

Ewww. A baby.
Charlize Theron
YOUNG ADULT
Jason Reitman, 2011
Cinematography | Eric Steelberg

Mavis‘ story offers only a bit of insight into why she is so self-involved and raging. This is a woman headed toward 40 with the emotional intelligence of spoiled High School Princess. Each scenario in which we experience Mavis pushes up the level of uncomfortably so that we do laugh, but those laughs come at the expense of the characters on the screen. Cody, Reitman and Theron never back down. Just when we think there might be some hope for the protagonist the film zooms in on Mavis‘ deeply rooted delusions. This hard-edged study of human failing was not going to be as depressing as The Hours, but in some ways it was going to be equally soul-daring.

Eject.

So I pushed in Alex van Warmerdam’s Borgman. This twisted Danish film turned out to the perfect accompaniment for my blues. As strange as it is fascinating, Borgman presents the idea of home invasion as a folklore parable. van Warmerdam’s film plays out with stark efficiency. This is a tight and symmetrical example of cinematic storytelling that somehow manages to establish a constant threat of menace. The reason that this ever lurking danger is surprising because the film unfolds with a misplaced levels of orthodoxy.

"Please, come in." Borgman Alex van Warmerdam, 2013

“Please, come in.”
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam, 2013

As I recall this movie came out of nowhere for me. I literally stumbled into the screening by default. I loved it then and I still love it now. Jan Bijvoet plays the title character. We meet Borgman as he is awakened from a slumber that might be closer to hibernation than rest. Like a demon, his determined vagrant emerges from a tunnel of various underground living graves. Nonplused and regimented, Borgman quickly wakens his sleeping pals and quickly escapes from the hunters who seem to seek to slay he and his kind.

I wonder if I could have a bath here. I’m a bit dirty,” he explains to a stern housewife. His polite directness seems to contradict his wild man appearance. He has walked up to the first suburban home that meets his satisfaction. It is an upper class home and well appointed. Luckily for her, the housewife smartly slams the door in his face. Without any sign of surprise Borgman strolls along until he finds a cold but wealthy looking bit of minimalist architecture that houses the poor family that accepts him in for a bath. He does not gain entry easily. A fight between the husband / father of the house takes place, but this only seems to ignite a greater need for access to their bathtub and home.

It is almost impossible to feel any empathy or understanding of the wealthy family as Borgman and his tribe begin to do what they will... Borgman  Alex van Warmerdam, 2013 Cinematography | Tom Erisman

It is almost impossible to feel any empathy or understanding of the wealthy family as Borgman and his tribe begin to do what they will…
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam, 2013
Cinematography | Tom Erisman

Borgman appears to be in charge of four others. It doesn’t take long to realize that this morose band of home invaders are most likely not human. They seem to illicit some form of powers over others and they might even have the gift of shape shifters. The children and their nanny seem to find Borman and his friends to be enticing beyond explanation. They easily accept he and his actions and demands with not even the slightest hesitation. The children and their nanny are not fully developed characters, but each seems to feel real. As Borgman‘s crew infiltrates their shared lives, their darkest aspects begin to shine through. The father and master of the house is also easily swindled into accepting / following anything that Borgman asserts or suggests. But it is Borgman‘s connection with the wife and mother that seems to hold the strongest grip. It is through this connection that much of the film’s menace emanates.

Is he planning to seduce or simply invade her dreams as well as her home? Borgman Alex van Warmerdam, 2013 Cinematography | Tom Erisman

Is he planning to seduce or simply invade her dreams as well as her home?
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam, 2013
Cinematography | Tom Erisman

By the time things take turns toward murder, seduction, suspicious implant surgery and other surprising bits of magic — the audience is not so much shocked as worried. It is an interesting and intoxicating mix of worry and curiosity. This unforgettable and grim little movie is spellbinding. It is difficult to even fully articulate why we feel worry or dread. Only the character of the wife is developed and she is not someone we trust or like. Clearly under Borgman’s influence she does manage a few moments of lucidity. When she expresses her fear and confusion it is unclear if she really and truly cares. She seems to know what is going down long before anyone on the screen or in the audience — she seems even more complicit than her children and nanny.

Momentarily forced into the role of The Hunted, Borgman quickly gathers his wits and sets out on a hunt of his own.  Borgman Alex van Warmerdam, 2013 Cinematography | Tom Erisman

Momentarily forced into the role of The Hunted, Borgman quickly gathers his wits and sets out on a hunt of his own.
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam, 2013
Cinematography | Tom Erisman

Borgman‘s use of violence and horror is surprisingly demure. This is no typical horror film. In fact it is actually far less horror as it is a modern twist on the concept of folktales. The film smartly offers brief scenes that offer up allegory or parable but never to the point of the obvious. Although clearly a harbinger of doom, Borgman always artistically extracts his jollies with surgical precision. It is an unsettling and amusing view that provides insights with repeated viewings. This is a film that deserved far more attention than it received.

Even evil spirits need a bit of applause... Borgman Alex van Warmerdam, 2013 Cinematography | Tom Erisman

Even evil spirits need a bit of applause…
Borgman
Alex van Warmerdam, 2013
Cinematography | Tom Erisman

As the credits began to roll I realized that it taken me a while to find the correct film for my mood. Turns out that a depressing movie was a bad fit. A broad comedy even worse. A dark comedic character study certainly wasn’t the right fit. No, I found some solace from my blue day from a Danish film that pushes the boundaries of horror into something mythical, mysterious and subversive.

Matty Stanfield, 7.5.2016

When the infamous Vincent Canby reviewed Fellini’s Casanova he spent some time praising what he saw. It almost feels as though he wanted to like flawed movie, but as he reached his closing summation he issued a frustrated dismissal:

The production is gigantic, but the ideas and feelings are small. One longs to go home and listen to Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.”Vincent Canby, New York Times, 1977

"And Now...after four years of preparation and production..." Fellin's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976

“And Now…after four years of preparation and production…”
Fellin’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976

Mr. Canby was not alone. Even Woody Allen seemed to take a stab at the film. As Alvy and Annie Hall wait in a cinema ticket holders line, they are forced to listen to a pretentious fellow film-goer rant about the Federico Fellini’s latest self-Indulgence. The latest work was Fellini’s Casanova. I suppose one could argue that Mr. Allen disagreed as he magically pulls Marshall McLuhan into frame. Alvy has the enjoyment of seeing the esteemed media philosopher bring the pompous jerk down to size.  Alvy‘s contempt for this cinephile has more to do with forcing his opinions on everyone around him. No defense is made for Fellini’s Casanova. It is doubtful that the narrator and that film’s title character would find much in Fellini’s adaptation of Giacomo Casanova’s Storia della mia vita or The Story of My Life. The doomed movie simply serves as a jumping point for a great comic bit.

"What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it!" Annie Hall Woody Allen, 1977 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

“What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it!”
Annie Hall
Woody Allen, 1977
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Vincent Canby’s review of the then long delayed Italian production was a fair and astute critique. If you are familiar with Canby’s style of criticism — he gives the movie a thumbs down, but also manages to praise more than a little of what he saw unspool on the screen. This is not something he was prone to do.

I’m not an expert on Federico Fellini, but I have had reason to watch this film quite a bit in the last two years. In that time I have also researched a good deal regarding the troubled production of Le Casanova de Fellini. As the genius mind often does, the great filmmaker had become obsessed with translating Casanova’s memoirs. His obsession had nothing to do with Casanova. He was fascinated by a man whom he considered to be an evil character.

As Fellini’s film well charts, Casanova did not love. The existence of his being relied upon sexual encounters with no connection to the objects of his interests. Interests would be the best way to term it. Fellini’s Casanova does not even really lust. It was only after shooting began that Fellini began to feel a level of empathy towards his title character. It would be this change of heart regarding his Casanova that would end up framing the entire film.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

The production began with a fundamental problem. His key financier, Alberto Grimaldi, had some very strong opinions about who would play Casanova. These two iconic figures of European Cinema entered into a battle of the wills. Grimaldi insisted that Fellini cast one of several major movie stars of the era: Brando, Redford, Newman or Pacino. Eventually Grimaldi gave in a bit and suggested Michael Caine. It is interesting that the producer even attempted to reign-in the auteur.

Fellini could never be reigned in. He got his way. He cast Donald Sutherland in the role. It was a bit of an odd choice, but it makes sense. Mr. Sutherland was a solid movie star, but not at the titan level of Grimaldi’s suggestion. He knew that Sutherland was a true actor and he also knew that he would not need to wrestle with the typical American Movie Star Ego. Fellini also saw a sadness in the deeply skilled actor. Sutherland’s casual approach also seemed to offer a sort of open canvas upon which he could paint. Or to be more precise — Sutherland was a tall thin form he intended to sculpt.

Donald Sutherland Re-Imagined... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Donald Sutherland Re-Imagined…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini put his star through the paces, but Sutherland was stellar and did all and more than was needed. Fellini had hired him to play an unlikable and hopelessly alienated man. Before and when the shooting began Federico Fellini held the character in contempt. He had Sutherland’s head half shaven, applied a prosthetic nose, chin and other odd distortions served totally re-shape Sutherland. The actor looks the same from every angle. His face and being have been largely restricted. Often the only English speaker in front of the camera, he was not always able to communicate effectively. His eyes are really all he had to utilize on his own. At times it feels as if Sutherland is little more than a puppet with Fellini orchestrating his every move. Surprisingly this restrictive appearance serves Fellini’s purpose effectively, but not well enough to distinguish Sutherland as an essential player within the film.

The film was shot under extremely tight supervision and behind the closed gates of Rome’s Cinecittà Studios. Nothing about this film looks real. Quite the opposite, the entire movie feels like a gorgeous formation of a nightmare. Cold, barren and yet full of things to look at — Fellini’s Casanova is even more obscure than the far superior Fellini Satyricon. This is Surrealism to the infinite. As one expects, every actor on the screen is interesting to study. As is often the case with later Fellini, the grotesque is magnified. The movie is as much perversely disturbing as it is often stunningly beautiful. Anyone who doubts that Fellini was not calling and insisting on every single choice can be satisfied to discover that he had an articulated explanation for every aspect of the movie.

 

Only the actors are real... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Only the actors are real…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

If one wonders why the production design suddenly replaces actual water with black garbage bags, Fellini had demanded this odd choice to his esteemed Production Designer/Art Director/Costume Designer, Danilo Donati. The director chose to replace water with plastic garbage bags to serve as a metaphor for Casanova’s fraudulent identity and fruitless self-journey. Fellini knew exactly what he wanted and refused any level of compromise. As he was walking his actors through a key scene involving nuns, Fellini discovered a feeling of empathy for Casanova.

He quickly came up with two incredibly complex studio set ideas which changed the point of the film and would serve as cinematic bookends within which to hold the film. And these were not simple last minute decisions. They were complex and expensive. Donate and the artists at Cinecittà Studios had to continually succeed against tight deadlines. It speaks volumes for Federico Fellini that his cast, crew and the studio artisans did next to no complaining. The filmmaker was beloved and respected. Only the best work was put forward for their director. And it shows in the finished film.

 

Fighting the choppy sea of plastic garbage bags... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fighting the choppy sea of plastic garbage bags…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

The opening scene of Fellini’s Casanova is remarkable. An ornate and rowdy crowd assembles on the city’s banks waiting for something to emerge from the water. Impossibly complex rigs and tethers begin to pull and strain — a huge statue of Venus begins to emerge. The swelling crowed slips into jubilation as the Goddess of Love begins to peer out over the very real water. It is as if she is rising from the water as a blessing of desire, lust and love. Sadly the ropes and levers quickly buckle. The rigs and ropes snap under the strain. The giant statue promising erotic love and happiness slips forever lost to the bottom of the ocean. It is as if all hope for satisfaction and happiness has sunk. Nino Rota’s brilliant musical score adds to the potency of the visual. This is how Fellini’s Casanova begins.

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

It is far more than grim metaphor. The failed attempt to raise Venus out of the water is never corrected. The film ends with a striking return to the film’s early warning sign. As Casanova attempts to find some form of connection and solace, he will realize that he is standing alone on a vast area of frozen water. The peering eyes of Venus are looking up at both him. Venus’ cold eyes are forever frozen beneath the lonely womanizer’s feet. It all sounds amazing, but one needs to be aware that this is a two hour and thirty-five minute epic of calculated iciness.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

A pal recently suggested that Fellini’s Casanova must be a bit like Ken Russell’s Lisztomania. But this is not a good comparison. True, Ken Russell’s highly experimental and comic-book take on everything from Franz Liszt to Richard Wagner to anti-semitism to WWII may be overtly eager, but there is sense to Russell’s unhinged film. If a person knows their history, Lisztomania is filled with an intentional goofy sort of logic that ties to the truth of the people and situations it satirizes.  Ken Russell was also smart enough to keep his film under the two hour mark by twenty minutes. He keeps the pace up with the surreal actions taking place on the screen.

 

It is quite manic and strange, but there is logic to the madness... Roger Daltrey, Rick Wakeman and Paul Nicholas ponder the horror of a Master Race... Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

It is quite manic and strange, but there is logic to the madness…
Roger Daltrey, Rick Wakeman and Paul Nicholas ponder the horror of a Master Race…
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Beyond the fact that both films were greeted negatively by critics and audiences, there is really very little that actually connects the two films. Lisztomania is a Surrealist’s absurd study of music composers connected to the rise of Facism presented through a Looney Tunes like lens. This interpretation is really not that far off base.  

Fellini’s Casanova has no interest in history. This epic film is steadfast in its indifference to logic, time or space. The lover, his reality, his Italy and even the horrific Inquisition are not based in any realm of reality. When those support beams and ropes break and Venus sinks to the bottom of the water — so do the film’s strings to logic. Additionally, the movie is not particularly well paced. Fellini’s Casanova takes its time. However the sets, the costumes, the odd assortment of actors, Rotunno’s cinematography and Rota’s haunting score aid in the propelling motion of the gloomy plot.

A huge phallus carefully placed into frame... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

A huge phallus carefully placed into frame…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

As laborious as it sometimes is, Fellini’s Casanova is visually unforgettable. I cringe as I write the following words, but as Woody Allen’s pompous ticket holder annoyingly laments,  Fellini’s Casanova is painfully self-indulgent. This fact does not mean that there isn’t a great deal of value to be found in this excessive film. A couple of DVD and BluRay distributors have managed to secure limited releasing rights to this film. One even claimed to have fully restored the film to its initial flawed beauty. Those claims have yet to demonstrate any truth. However a restoration should be coming in the not too far future. When it does eventually arrive, I do think  this 40+ year old film warrants owning for home viewing.

I know I’ve just criticized it fairly harshly but… Well… Um, yeah. I really do suggest purchasing a copy when it does become available. Fellini’s Casanova is a brilliant mistake!

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

This experimental epic failed in the 1970’s and it fails now, but not without a great deal of interest. Fellini’s Casanova is a visually stunning mess. Giuseppe Rotunno’s cinematography is even better than usual. Danilo Donati and the work of Cinecitta Studios is truly other-worldly. Incidentally, Fellini’s film flopped — but Donati won an Academy Award for the innovative costume design. Nino Rota’s score is beautiful, effective and iconic. Chances are you have heard the melody even if you’ve never seen the movie. Odd, grotesque, surreal and lovely —  it is virtually impossible to look away from the screen. Even with a running time over two hours, Fellini’s Casanova is not a dull experience. It just isn’t much fun. This is a true flaw.

Fellini approaches his subject with a strong degree of hubris and judgement. Despite the perversities on display, this film is highly moralistic. The dialogue is often smartly witty, but never comical. This is another critical error. Fellini has checked his sense of humor outside the studio. There is no fun to be found within the gorgeous frames of his Casanova. As if in opposition to the dire tone is the clunky manner in which the film has been dubbed. It’s not that the voices fail to match the mouths as much as it is the intelligence runs against the film’s grain. The actors often appear to be lost within their director’s Mise-en-scène.

 

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

Donald Sutherland lumbers his way through the film. He is essentially nothing more than a sad puppet at the mercy of his filmmaker’s whim. In a strange way, Sutherland’s performance works. Though watching the film now it is hard to wonder if it wasn’t just dumb luck. Vacant, sleepy and possibly bored — his confusion plays directly into the director’s ill-advised endeavor.

It is truly vexing how Fellini has opted out of offering any rays of humor or sexiness in his translation of the infamous Seducer and supposed Lover of women. This film is not the erotic adventure you might anticipate. It is actually un-erotic. Casanova‘s libido and desire have long been lost. Fellini’s film is not just a study of an aging womanizer — it is focused on the tragic existential journey of man who has failed to connect any meaning to sexuality. In fact Fellini’s Casanova does not appear to have ever connected to anyone or anything. This is a lover who’s identity and meaning have gone limp. …both figuratively and literally.

 

Seducing a robotic woman... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Seducing a robotic woman…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Clearly Fellini is pointing a finger at the growing sexual revolution. It is a point not off-mark, but it is consistently made in a haze of staggering showmanship that is often so bad it works its way ’round to being somehow valid.

A man who never speaks ill of women does not love them. For to understand them and to love them one must suffer at their hands. Then and only then can you find happiness at the lips of your beloved.” — Fellini’s Casanova

This character does not dislike women. He is simply indifferent to them. It doesn’t take long to realize his two-way street dilemma. The women do not care about Casanova either. They are only interested in his ability to sex. And sex he can. At least this is true in his youth. But the sex is presented in a dry and often disgusting manner.

Win! He has fucked! Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Win! He has fucked!
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

I think some first time viewers make the mistake of associating this movie with the nunsploitation of the 1970’s. Do not expect that. Sure, the nuns get on the action, but Fellini has no interest in providing even a glimmer of titillation. Yes, it is visually interesting — but there is nothing remotely “naughty” here. It is intended to trouble, worry and depress. Like the bubbling sexual revolution going on just outside the film studio’s gate, Fellini’s Casanova is fucking to prove something.

Sex as sport. Sex as a game. Sex as a dare. Sex as a way to avoid. Sex as a weapon. Sex to hide the pain. Our lover fucks till he can fuck no more. The sexuality expressed in the movie feels like a harbinger of doom. With hindsight this is an interesting perspective. When Casanova finds himself in a sexual tryst with a robotic woman it is visually fascinating, but intellectually heavy-handed.

 

A gift of something to love for the title character... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

A gift of something to love for the title character…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

I find it interesting that the inclusion of this robotic doll of a woman was something Fellini dreamed up just after he began shooting. On the one hand this is a brilliant bit of story telling. Casanova is unable to connect to a living woman. Here Fellini offers him a fuck doll to end all fuck dolls, but there is a major problem. Casanova can pour his sexuality on her without any fear of rejection, failure or need to care. It is a poor choice that Fellini refuses to let up on the dreary tone. Casanova‘s tragic plight with the robotic woman could have been more clever if we were allowed to chuckle. But we are offered no relief from the gloom. Casanova‘s ice cold fuck doll feels like it might be the one thing that Casanova can love. The problem is obvious — a robotic fuck doll is unable to reciprocate love.

Doomed and slipping into the shadows... Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Doomed and slipping into the shadows…
Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

And here we see the simultaneously effective but disappointing cinematic bookend ending. Casanova is left spinning with his love object atop a frozen bay. Peering up at him is the drowned concrete Venus. She is simultaneously a representative for his empty life as well as a goddess who judges him.

It is impossible to deny the artistry. And while the film is too long, it really is not boring. Fellini supplies plenty of eye and ear candy. The movie also has more than its share of WTF Moments. These moments are as not off-putting as they are simply interesting. A film like this could never be made today.

And while I really do disagree with the comparison to Ken Russell’s Lisztomania, it is easy to make the connection. Each film allowed both master filmmakers to pursue their respective visions without interference or restraint. But it must be noted that Russell’s vision and purpose is never placed above the viewers watching out there in the dark cinema. Fellini opted to simply dive into his obsession. A more fitting comparison might be to Francis Ford Coppola’s ill-fated and self-financed indulgence into the movie musical, One From the Heart.

Another director's obsession resulting in a cinematic error. One From the Heart Francis Ford Coppola, 1981 Cinematography | Storer / Garcia

Another director’s obsession resulting in a cinematic error.
One From the Heart
Francis Ford Coppola, 1981
Cinematography | Storer / Garcia

But this is not really fair. One From the Heart is neon beautiful and features some amazing musical work from Tom Waits, but it requires true grit to sit through it. In the case of this 1981 Epic Flop, the director’s passion is dull. There is something maddeningly fascinating about Fellini’s Casanova. If you see it once, you will want to see it again. If you make it through One From the Heart you will want to demand a cookie for your effort.

It should be noted that Fellini’s infamous cinematic misstep continued to be challenged with production woes. This was in part due to Fellini’s last minute major changes of fancy but other issues came up. Much of the film was stolen and subsequently lost forever. The notorious theft was actually aimed for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom. A great deal of shot footage was forever lost. This included an entire sequence involving actress Barbara Steele. She was unable to return to Italy for reshoots. Sutherland and the other actors made themselves available. Fellini’s Casanova was delayed almost two years.

Fellini's Casanova Federico Fellini, 1976 Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

Fellini’s Casanova
Federico Fellini, 1976
Cinematography | Giuseppe Rotunno

 

When it became clear that the film was a fail Federico Fellini was crushed. It is important to note that he had considered this his finest work up to that point in his career. It is not difficult to understand how soul-draining a film’s flop can be for its maker, but there is an added measure when it happens to someone of Fellini’s abilities and stature. Fellini’s Casanova was an epic fail. But an epic fail from a cinematic master like Federico Fellini is still a masterful design. Being dull or uninteresting was simply not possible for this cinematic genius. This is a film that merits watching. And if you happen to love experimental film — you will most likely love this oddly flawed cinematic gem.

 

La Casanova de Fellini Federico Fellini, 1976

La Casanova de Fellini
Federico Fellini, 1976

Fingers crossed that we see it arrive to DVD/BluRay in a truly restored/remastered version soon!

Matty Stanfield, 6.16.2016

 

 

 

 

 

"Contains the hit single, 'Miss You!'" A magic moment when the wrapping matched the content. The Rolling Stones Some Girls, 1978

“Contains the hit single, ‘Miss You!'”
A magic moment when the wrapping matched the content.
The Rolling Stones
Some Girls, 1978

I recently found myself flipping through used vinyl at a store near the Berkeley campus. It was like slipping back into my pre-teen years when I would become enraptured by the look of an album cover. My parents owned more than a few of them. However there was a leaning toward 8-Track Tapes in my childhood. As soon as I was old enough to scrape some money together I would purchase some of these albums. Often these long playing records promised more on their covers than was delivered. But sometimes the music would not only match — it would be even better than the cover revealed.

What follows are the covers that I recall most vividly from my childhood. There is no particular order and no thought of content. This is a visual list of Art Design / Photography interlaced with promotion and art. Many are iconic — others not so much.

Sexy, funky and fierce... Betty Davis Betty Davis, 1973

Sexy, funky and fierce…
Betty Davis
Betty Davis, 1973

 

Go ahead, wander into the wonder of Village Ghetto Land... Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life, 1976

Go ahead, wander into the wonder of Village Ghetto Land…
Stevie Wonder
Songs in the Key of Life, 1976

 

The ultimate in cool... The Who Who's Next, 1971

The ultimate in cool…
The Who
Who’s Next, 1971

 

"Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest. And when Daddy comes home he never gets no rest. 'Cause she's playing all night..." The Who by numbers, 1975

“Mama’s got a squeeze box she wears on her chest. And when Daddy comes home he never gets no rest.
‘Cause she’s playing all night…”
The Who
by numbers, 1975

 

Speaking of The Who... TOMMY Original Movie Soundtrack, 1975

Speaking of The Who…
TOMMY
Original Movie Soundtrack, 1975

 

The Holy Mother of the Soundtrack Album... Saturday Night Fever 1975

The Holy Mother of the Soundtrack Album…
Saturday Night Fever
1977

 

Another soundtrack with which I was obsessed. And a really cool / iconic photography by Scavullo Streisand / Kristofferson A Star Is Born, 1976

Another soundtrack with which I was obsessed. And a really cool / iconic photography by Scavullo
Streisand / Kristofferson
A Star Is Born, 1976

 

Uh, oh! Is that Mick or Little Joe Dallesandro hiding behind the zipper? The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, 1971

Uh, oh! Is that Mick or Little Joe Dallesandro hiding behind the zipper?
The Rolling Stones
Sticky Fingers, 1971

 

"We're gonna come around at twelve with some Puerto Rican girls just dying' to meet you..." The Rolling Stones Some Girls, 1978

“We’re gonna come around at twelve
with some Puerto Rican girls just dying’ to meet you…”
The Rolling Stones
Some Girls, 1978

 

How many were inspired to learn the guitar after hearing this album? The art design is excellent. Led Zeppelin IV, 1971

How many were inspired to learn the guitar after hearing this album? The art design is excellent.
Led Zeppelin
IV, 1971

 

Amazing art direction / design and an album that continues to play throughout my life. Led Zeppelin Physical Graffiti, 1975

Amazing art direction / design and an album that continues to play throughout my life.
Led Zeppelin
Physical Graffiti, 1975

 

An artistic venture chronically five artists' messy shared life became an essential album. "Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions I keep my visions to myself, it's only me Who wants to wrap around your dreams and have you any dreams you'd like to sell?" Fleetwood Mac Rumours, 1977

An artistic venture chronically five artists’ messy shared life became an essential album.
“Now here I go again, I see the crystal visions
I keep my visions to myself, it’s only me
Who wants to wrap around your dreams and have you any dreams you’d like to sell?”
Fleetwood Mac
Rumours, 1977

 

"Don't say that you love me..." Fleetwood Mac TUSK, 1979

“Don’t say that you love me…”
Fleetwood Mac
TUSK, 1979

 

Glam! Roxy Music Roxy Music, 1972

Glam!
Roxy Music
Roxy Music, 1972

 

A bit of a kick with your glam... T. Rex T. Rex, 1972

A bit of a kick with your glam…
T. Rex
The Slider, 1972

 

The contents don't quite match up, but this is an awesome cover! Mott The Hopple The Hopple, 1974

The contents don’t quite match up, but this is an awesome cover!
Mott The Hopple
The Hopple, 1974

 

Going all ambient on our ass... Brian Eno Another Green World, 1975

Going all ambient on our ass…
Brian Eno
Another Green World, 1975

 

Leon Russell Will O' The Wisp, 1975

Leon Russell
Will O’ The Wisp, 1975

 

Play that funky music white boy... Wild Cherry Wild Cherry, 1976

Play that funky music white boy…
Wild Cherry
Wild Cherry, 1976

 

Welcome to NYC Punk... The Ramones The Ramones, 1976

Welcome to NYC Punk…
The Ramones
The Ramones, 1976

 

NYC PUNK tries some tongue in cheek disco and goes mainstream... Blondie Parallel Lines, 1978

NYC PUNK tries some tongue in cheek disco and goes mainstream…
Blondie
Parallel Lines, 1978

 

NYC PUNK goes top ten seeing no evil... Television Marquee Moon, 1977

NYC PUNK goes top ten seeing no evil…
Television
Marquee Moon, 1977

 

Mapplethorpe captures the pristine moment of NYC PUNK gone deep within artistic rebellion... Patti Smith Horses, 1975

Mapplethorpe captures the pristine moment of NYC PUNK gone deep within artistic rebellion…
Patti Smith
Horses, 1975

 

Iconic, controversial and defiantly erotic... Patti Smith Group Easter, 1978

Iconic, controversial and defiantly erotic…
Patti Smith Group
Easter, 1978

 

"She's got electric boots a mohair suit You know I read it in a magazine..." Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973

“She’s got electric boots a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine…”
Elton John
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1973

 

Does it get any cooler? David Bowie Aladdin Sane, 1973

Does it get any cooler?
David Bowie
Aladdin Sane, 1973

 

It might have only had one hit single, but who wouldn't want to take Cher home in her disco armor?!?! Cher Take Me Home, 1979

It might have only had one hit single, but who wouldn’t want to take Cher home in her disco armor?!?!
Cher
Take Me Home, 1979

 

Watch out! There's a ghost hiding inside the gate fold! Eagles Hotel California, 1976

Watch out! There’s a ghost hiding inside the gate fold!
Eagles
Hotel California, 1976

 

Make fun all you want, this is a cool album cover dedicated to the new age of 1970's Disco. Bee Gees Main Course, 1975

Make fun all you want, this is a cool album cover dedicated to the new age of 1970’s Disco.
Bee Gees
Main Course, 1975

 

So one could argue that 1970 was still the 1960's, but this album both rocked and scared me! Featuring a cover that haunts... Black Sabbath Black Sabbath, 1970

So one could argue that 1970 was still the 1960’s, but this album both rocked and scared me! Featuring a cover that haunts…
Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath, 1970

 

There might only be a couple of hits on each album, but Carly Simon gave some great record cover in the 1970's. Carly Simon Boys In The Trees, 1978

There might only be a couple of hits on each album, but Carly Simon gave some great record cover in the 1970’s.
Carly Simon
Boys In The Trees, 1978

 

Unexpected cool cover from Streisand. Great cover of Carole King's "Where You Lead" and a deeply painful cover of John Lennon's "Mother." But Ed Thrasher's photography is awesome. Barbra Streisand Barbra Joan Streisand, 1972

Unexpected cool cover from Streisand. Great cover of Carole King’s “Where You Lead” and a deeply painful cover of John Lennon’s “Mother.” But Ed Thrasher’s photography is awesome.
Barbra Streisand
Barbra Joan Streisand, 1972

 

A folk singer goes in a whole new direction... Joni Mitchell Hejira, 1976

A folk singer goes in a whole new direction…
Joni Mitchell
Hejira, 1976

 

Pop and funky fashions! ABBA Greatest Hits, 1975

Pop and funky fashions!
ABBA
Greatest Hits, 1975

 

This band hypnotized me and most of my elementary school friends. Plus a power ballad! KISS Destroyer, 1976

This band hypnotized me and most of my elementary school friends. Plus a power ballad!
KISS
Destroyer, 1976

 

I never really got into this album, but I loved the way it all looked! Alice Cooper From the Inside, 1978

I never really got into this album, but I loved the way it all looked!
Alice Cooper
From the Inside, 1978

 

One of those album covers that just sticks in your mind. ...As do many of its songs. Alice Cooper Welcome To My Nightmare, 1975

One of those album covers that just sticks in your mind. …As do many of its songs.
Alice Cooper
Welcome To My Nightmare, 1975

 

This cover is either really bad or really good. I'm not really sure, but I will never forget it. And they did rock us. Queen News of the World, 1977

This cover is either really bad or really good. I’m not really sure, but I will never forget it. And they did rock us.
Queen
News of the World, 1977

 

Awesome album cover! Lou Reed Coney Island Baby, 1976

Awesome album cover!
Lou Reed
Coney Island Baby, 1976

 

Mom and Dad, meet Joe Strummer... The Clash The Clash, 1977

Mom and Dad, meet Joe Strummer…
The Clash
The Clash, 1977

 

Yet another cool album cover from Strummer and friends... The Clash London Calling, 1979

Yet another cool album cover from Strummer and friends…
The Clash
London Calling, 1979

 

Impossibly cool album cover. The contents would later accompany on more than a few trips. ...so to speak. Michael Oldfield Tubular Bells, 1973

Impossibly cool album cover. The contents would later accompany on more than a few trips. …so to speak.
Michael Oldfield
Tubular Bells, 1973

 

A fantastic photograph to accompany her most polished effort. It arrived after she died. Iconic and essential. Janis Joplin Pearl, 1971

A fantastic photograph to accompany her most polished effort. It arrived after she died. Iconic and essential.
Janis Joplin
Pearl, 1971

 

Perfect. Pink Floyd Far Side of the Moon, 1973

Perfect.
Pink Floyd
Far Side of the Moon, 1973

 

Never has a discarded fashion shoot yielded such a classic album cover! David Bowie Pin Ups, 1973

Never has a discarded fashion shoot yielded such a classic album cover!
David Bowie
Pin Ups, 1973

 

Matty Stanfield, 6.8.16

 

Jazz has endured because it doesn’t have a beginning or an ending. It’s a moment.” — Robert Altman, 2004

"The game of life is hard to play" MASH Robert Altman, 1970 Cinematography | Harold E. Stine

“The game of life is hard to play”
MASH
Robert Altman, 1970
Cinematography | Harold E. Stine

A quote that not only offers perspective on the art of jazz, but also provides a key to why so many of Robert Altman’s films carry such power. When attempting to provide an over-all descriptor of this Cinematic Master’s work the word “satire” is the most often used. Other great words would be “psychology” and “humanity,” because I find it difficult to limit the scope of Altman’s filmography to the satirical. Even when he pulls us into soft satire there are equal measures of psychology and human nature that make a film like The Player resonate. I remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed The Player. A meta-film filled with late 1980’s Hollywood insider jokes and pokes that I had already decided that I would not get most of what Altman’s film pursued. I was wrong.

"So, what's the story? The Player Robert Altman, 1992 Cinematography | Jean Lépine

“So, what’s the story?
The Player
Robert Altman, 1992
Cinematography | Jean Lépine

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate many of the jokes/pokes, but Altman managed to pull me into his protagonist’s shoes. Tim Robbins’ Griffin is not an easy character to like. He is most certainly not the sort of character that you expect to root for, but I did. When this iconic movie is over the viewer is fully satisfied, but this was a movie that did not actually end. As I left the cinema that evening my mind drifted back to Griffin‘s situation. Just how far would he go in the next movie deal? The Player never really stops playing.

This sort of “ending” is the type Altman most often relied upon. In this case that ending was open-ended and threatened a whole new twist to a complex situation. Other times Altman simply cut the movie off or have his story forever floating off the screen as the credits began to roll. This often resulted in a sort of gut-punch or lingering melancholy. His first major critical and box office hit, MASH, was satirical as much as was potently human. By the time we come to that moment when the silly antics, raunchy pranks and comedy will conclude — it suddenly occurs to the audience that all of it has been a ruse. These characters have yucked it up not because it sums up who each of them are, but because they are all trying to delude themselves away from the realities of war. It is both innovative and startling to realize that Radar’s voice which has been booming out announcement over the military encampment is actually reading off the movie’s cast credits. Altman’s way of ending MASH is cleaver and hints that we are leaving the movie while the tragedies continue.

MASH Robert Altman, 1970

MASH
Robert Altman, 1970

Robert Altman had been working in the film industry for over sixteen years when he was finally able to make his narrative fiction feature film. He was 43 years old when he arrived in Canada to shoot That Cold Day in the Park. He was no neophyte. A viewer need not know that fact because this seemingly forgotten cinematic gem is handled with a confident elegance. Having managed to secure Academy Award winning actress, Sandy Dennis, to star was a crucial part of his plan. In any other filmmaker’s hands this profoundly odd character study would have been turned into a morbid horror film. Nothing about the way Altman handles Cold Day indicates the creepy place the film is headed.

Sandy Dennis plays her character like only Sandy Dennis can. She is a wealthy but lonely young woman. She lives a mundane, lonely life surrounded by wealthy extravagances limited by a social life structured around older people. It almost feels as if she has being forced into the role of an aging spinster when in reality she is far too young. It is never clearly articulated, but thanks both to Altman and Dennis’ performance we receive several clues that something is very wrong with “Miss. Frances Austen.” When she breaks convention and offers help to a homeless mute “boy” who is actually closer to her own age than others we meet in her life. We hope this is a sign of healthy rebellion and quest for human connection.

But how often does human motivation follow our better hopes? 

"I have to tell you something." Sandy Dennis That Cold Day in the Park Robert Altman, 1969 Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

“I have to tell you something.”
Sandy Dennis
That Cold Day in the Park
Robert Altman, 1969
Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

With Laszlo Kovacs’ brilliant cinematography bringing additional emotional levels, one could call this movie a psycho-sexual thriller. The challenge in limiting this surprisingly effective film to that genre is non-sensical. The film is far more concerned with human psychology to allow itself to fall into line with a cinematic trope. That Cold Day is far more focused on human loneliness, lack of connection and the tyranny of societally imposed isolation and alienation. The film is all of these things but Altman’s main pursuit is to slip into a woman’s damaged psyche.

The film is short and fast-paced. Filled with uncomfortable and realistic scenes between Miss. Frances Austen and The Boy, we see the woman open-up to the mute boy who she manages to keep mostly nude most of the time. Altman’s protagonist is dealing with a whole lot more than sexual repression and alienation. The movie’s “twist” arrives shortly after the one we expect. It is the way in which Altman brings about That Cold Day‘s non-ending that sparks this low-budget magic. The deliverance of the story’s true twist shifts the audience chuckle into an unexpected disturbance. What seems comical gradually takes on the perspectives of the sinister and disturbing. This little movie will never leave your mind. Film critics at the time failed to grasp the power and audiences failed to see it. Robert Altman’s true cinematic debut continues to be studied and re-evaluated.

"I want you to make love to me. Please." That Cold Day in the Park Robert Altman, 1969

“I want you to make love to me. Please.”
That Cold Day in the Park
Robert Altman, 1969

Another forgotten Robert Altman gem arrived to cinemas in 1978. A Wedding is structured and filmed in typical 1970’s casual Altman style. It is satire that manages to be both sharp and silly. A Wedding is also surprisingly sad. Filled with rambling sub-plots as two families come together for a lavish post-wedding reception, it is intentionally rambling but stumbles into deep-cutting cultural commentary. A Wedding is concerned with societal ideas around marriage, family, class and loneliness. A Wedding would later inspire a modern opera.

Carol Burnett A Wedding Robert Altman, 1978 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Carol Burnett
A Wedding
Robert Altman, 1978
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

As the wealthy and the middle class mingle and attempt to form a vague idea of familial bonds we see almost every sort of tragedy and mishap imaginable. Altman seems to constantly being throwing the audience off-guard. He seems determined to refuse any specific genre. Intellectual, slapstick, raunchy and introspective, A Wedding stretches use of familial dysfunction to its limits. The end credits arrive with an unforgettable mixture of crudeness and solemn regret. It is a very strange and often dark “comedy” of epic proportion. It failed to connect with mainstream audiences despite an amazing cast list. Part of the reason remains active today. A Wedding is framed and seems to have been set-up as a forgotten chapter of American Cultural Satire documented so brilliantly with Altman’s 1975 cinematic masterpiece, Nashville. A Wedding was never intended as such. It stands alone and has a very different sort of aim.

"You know weddings are the happiest events I could possibly dream of and yet some how when they're over it's always so sad." A Wedding Robert Altman, 1978

“You know weddings are the happiest events I could possibly dream of and yet some how when they’re over it’s always so sad.”
A Wedding
Robert Altman, 1978

The ill-fated ad campaign for A Wedding boasted that the movie contained a great many secrets, but there were no secrets about his earlier movie. Altman took a head-first plunge into the murky waters of dream logic with 1977’s 3 Women. Altman was specifically clear that this entire film was born of a personal nightmare. He was also very gracious in sharing a good deal of the credit with one of the film’s primary stars. 3 Woman is an incredible examination of identity and surrealism was largely formed by the participation of all three actors in the title roles. This is most particularly true of Shelley Duvall.

" I had the most wonderful dream..." Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

” I had the most wonderful dream…”
Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

This wildly experimental dark comedy morphs into one of the more disturbing films you are likely to see. It is full of female energy, but it never feels as if it is trying to make a statement about anything other than these three very specific female characters. Shelley Duvall’s Millie gleefully informs Sissy Spacek’s Pinky, “This is my parking space. It’s the best one!” Later Millie explains, “That’s Dirty Girtie! Pull her bow and she’ll say hello!”  Her delivery of those improvised lines creates an odd and varied response for viewers. Some giggle, some laugh, and many are not sure how to react. There is one reaction that is usually shared: Millie and this dream-inspired film is uncomfortable and induces squirms.

"My leg! My leg! My leg hurts..." 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“My leg! My leg! My leg hurts…”
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

When 3 Women debuted nearly all major critics swooned. In what has inspired a number of debates, Pauline Kael truly disliked the movie. Her negative viewpoint of this film is of particular interest because up until this movie, Kael had been a consistently staunch Altman ally. Her odd dismissal of 3 Women seemed to curse this extraordinary surrealistic movie. When 20th Century Fox released it into cinemas, audiences were either entranced, confused or indifferent. The film flopped and was pulled out of cinemas just a couple of days beyond a week. Over the following two decades 3 Women has not only become a “Cult Classic” — it is now considered one of the most important American films of the 1970’s. Robert Altman’s surreal study of female identity, isolation, loneliness and sexuality is a cinematic masterpiece.

"The Home of Country Music..." NASHVILLE Robert Altman, 1975

“The Home of Country Music…”
NASHVILLE
Robert Altman, 1975

As The United States headed into its Bicentennial and a game-changing election year, Robert Altman’s Nashville provided a satirical assault. This movie is quite often called the quintessential Robert Altman film. I agree with this viewpoint. Everything we know to anticipate from the great filmmaker is present. Overlapping dialogue, lots of characters, rambling plot points, improvisational in feel but clearly mapped-out toward one clear moving image of mid-1970’s US. Country music was shifting into a more mainstream accessed pop sensibility. Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt were both about to take a place on the pop charts. Country Music stardom was no longer limited to The Grand Ole Opry. And as the country headed into a cultural values torn battle — celebrity and celebrities were as important as anything else. Music Row was selling out. Altman and his screenwriter, Joan Tewkesbury, focused on Nashville as the stage to provide a scathing satire of American culture.

Perhaps the most lost is the most knowledgeable.  Lily Tomlin  NASHVILLE Robert Altman, 1975 Cinematography | Paul Lohmann

Perhaps the most lost is the most knowledgeable.
Lily Tomlin
NASHVILLE
Robert Altman, 1975
Cinematography | Paul Lohmann

So much has been written about this exceptional film it seems silly to attempt to add anything worthy of it, but this epic film remains as powerful as it must have been in 1975. It is satire, but it is also realistically grounded within the limitations of its very human characters. It has continued to cause incorrect criticism for depicting the horrors of celebrity stalking. This film is not an inducement, it is a mirror reflection. Looking carefully in the mirror is never easy. An epic film.

In 1971 Altman set out to explore the concept of The American Western. Many have referred to McCabe & Mrs. Miller as a satire of The American Western. I do not agree with that assessment. This artfully shot and realistically acted film feels like it is attempting to more accurately be an American Western. It succeeds.

"...Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long. Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control..." McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971

“…Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.
Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control…”
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971

The timing of the story is a key element for McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The film takes place just as the 19th Century is about to progress into the 20th Century. The setting of the film is that place we know as The Old West. Filmed utilizing natural light as if he were painting on a canvas, Vilmos Zsigmond’s work is breath-stealing. I would doubt that Altman had ever worked so closely with his cinematographer to capture the exacting viewpoints so precisely with the film’s. It also had to be a major coup to manage to cast both Warren Beatty and Julie Christie (infamous lovers at that time) on one screen. He makes the most of both movie stars.

Warren Beatty’s sly ‘aw, chucks attitude is transformed into the one of the movie’s two main characters. McCabe may be tough and ambitious, but he is not very smart. I think it is safe to describe Beatty’s McCabe as a seemingly lucky idiot. Julie Christie’s luminously erotic beauty and intelligence bring Mrs. Miller to life. There is a surprisingly realistic love story here: A stunningly beautiful and intelligent woman begins to fall in love with the handsome man who appears to have all the power. The film’s straining question is how far can love grow when two people are so very different. McCabe‘s brainpower and opinions are so dull that it seems to degree a sad fate.

 

"...When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned..." No. It's not Jesus.  Warren Beatty McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971 Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

“…When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned…”
No. It’s not Jesus.
Warren Beatty
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971
Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a beautiful looking and sounding film. Leonard Cohen’s songs fill in as much of the movie’s soundtrack. This actually lends a very late 20th Century take on the film’s story. Cohen’s music also adds to the melancholy that pours out from Zsigmond’s photography. This masterful film is not satire. It is reality. Understated and even quiet, this film is truly brilliant. At long last the film has been newly restored and will be issued to DVD/Blu-Ray thanks to the folks at The Criterion Collection.

Going against the beginning of my post, McCabe & Mrs. Miller does offer a true end to the story. And this is a story that continues to speak in a meaningful way.

Julie Christie McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971 Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

Julie Christie
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971
Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

Happy endings are absolutely ludicrous, they’re not true at all. We see the guy carry the girl across the threshold and everybody lives happily ever after — that’s bullshit. Three weeks later he’s beating her up and she’s suing for divorce and he’s got cancer.” — Robert Altman

I’ve been moving from coast to coast since I graduated university. No matter how many times I’ve moved over the course of my adult life, my journals have followed. Last time I moved they accounted for 4 boxes. Now I suspect it would take up to 8. After some soul searching, I rid myself of all those hand written documents. But I did take a last look at my 25 years of existential scrawling. Over the course of 6 months I reviewed all of my self-reflections. I came to the conclusion that my life took a positive but harrowing turn when I was 8 years old. This turn took place in 1975. My 8 year old self took a determined stand against my father and everything changed. I find it interesting that such a powerful moment in my assertion of self is so eclipsed by art and one profound realization about the world.

"Love will keep us together..." Captain & Tennille, 1975

“Love will keep us together…”
Captain & Tennille, 1975

I guess I should have known better.  I was eight years old, but I was still somehow too innocent. I can remember waiting with anticipation for the arrival of  The Sea-Monkey Aquarium package. I know I was eight because I had been working out my plan to get myself into the cinema to see Tommy which was due to open in our town before summer had even begun. It was 1975.  Jaws was playing at the movies and Captain & Tennilles’ Love Will Keep Us Together was always on the radio. My Grandmother had helped me place my Sea Monkeys order shortly after Christmas.

"Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia" But no one pointed out the fine print to me!

“Caricatures shown not intended to depict Artemia”
But no one pointed out the fine print to me! By the way, this image is dated 1978, but I got mine in 1975.

I had carefully cleaned a pickle jar, filled it with water and emptied the contents of my Sea Monkey “seeds” expecting to watch whole families of Amazing Life swimming about. They would me my pets! Not like my father’s mean little poodle that had once upon a time been intended for me. These Sea Monkeys would be my friends and my amazing pets!

Oh, for the promise of Sea Monkeys...

Oh, for the promise of Sea Monkeys…

I did eventually notice little specs moving about the jar. My Grandmother’s magnifying glass revealed surprisingly little of these highly uninteresting floating things. There was nothing amazing to be seen.

I think these are brine shrimp.

I was far too embarrassed to admit that I had expected to see multiple happy families just like the advert promised.

You didn’t think they were going to look like the cartoon, did you?

I wanted to say, “Yes, I did.” Instead I said something to the effect that I thought that Sea Monkeys would at least be fun to watch. These lifeless brine shrimp seemed to just float on the top of the water.

Artemia captured in motion for YouTube. The image seems magnified to what I saw in my pickle jar.

Artemia captured in motion for YouTube. The image seems magnified to what I saw in my pickle jar.

I had followed the directions very carefully, but it seemed like the very un-Amazing and practically microscopic brine shrimp were far from being Sea Monkeys.  I was also fairly certain they were already dead. A knotted feeling gripped my stomach as I poured the contents of my pickle jar into the toilet and flushed. Sea Monkeys had only yielded disappointment. Yet there were far darker realizations that took place in my 8th year of life. However the true realizations were  obscured by memories of movies and music.

My father was crazy. I am sure some who read this will think I’m exaggerating but the dude was nuts.

The man who put me through hell was buried six feet under a long while ago. I always thought his absence would bring me peace, but the truth is there are only more things I wish I could say to him. Only more questions I would like to ask. I doubt I would, but it would be nice to have the opportunity.

I do miss him. It would be a massive understatement to write that he had a twisted sense of humor. He was a complete character and a mound of eccentricities balanced on cowboy boots. While almost everything he left me has caused pain, he did gift me with the love of movies. It was a gift delivered in a sadistic manner, but I credit him all the same.

"Take a trip into terror!" One of many amazing films I saw on the adult side of our town's Drive-In. I saw this there in 1975. SISTERS Brian De Palma, 1973

“Take a trip into terror!”
One of many amazing films I saw on the adult side of our town’s Drive-In. I saw this there in 1975.
SISTERS
Brian De Palma, 1973

 

My father had no true sense of the appropriate. Not too long after I drew my line in the sand, he began to take me with him to the movies. He either had no sense or did not care about the content of a movie being inappropriate for a child and movie rating restrictions were always ignored. My mother did not like going to movies much and he did not like going alone. I think I became his movie pal. I sometimes wonder if this all wasn’t possibly an intentional toe over my blood marked line.

It was made clear that I was never to discuss the movies we saw with my mother or Grandmother. Most of these screenings were framed within the context of a shared secret. I did not mind. In fact, I loved going to the movies. Like any kid, I especially loved being able to see the movies that were forbidden to my school friends. My mother would have never allowed me to see most of these movies. However by the time I was 10 years old, she wasn’t too restrictive with me regarding movies. Her concern regarding the warning of the movie rating system seemed to only flare when a film contained a lot of sex. However if I articulated the desire to see a movie I could usually secure her buy in.

"Take her to the prom. I dare you!" Released in 1976, but I saw it in 1977. CARRIE Brian De Palma, 1976

“Take her to the prom. I dare you!”
Released in 1976, but I saw it in 1977.
CARRIE
Brian De Palma, 1976

By 1977 my mother’s own situation had become quite complex. I suspect it was a bit of a relief to drop me off to see Saturday Night Fever or The Rose.  I would usually end up alone at the two screened cinema and would end up sneaking in to see the move playing in the other cinema. This was how I saw Carrie in addition to Network. I know that my mother would have been very concerned had she been aware. Most especially when I was 8 or 9. Actually she would have been very concerned when I was 10. I just don’t think she had the time or the emotional ability to be to actually question or be aware. However, that is another topic. The only self-aware problem I encountered with our Father/Son movie outings was that I quite often did not understand much of what we saw. And he was never interested in explaining anything.

Back in the 1970’s movies never really seemed to have gone out of distribution. It is my impression that distributors just kept a lot of them in circulation to not only Grindhouse cinemas and Drive-In’s, but in pretty much all movie houses outside of major cities across the Americas. I remember thinking that the poster for the other two movies on the first screen looked more interesting, but we were not seeing those. My father considered the two that interested me to be dull. I usually fell asleep by the time the second feature began anyway. I remember Sisters fairly well. The whole movie confused me from beginning to end. It would be years later before I finally saw it as a young teen on VHS.

Like many of the movies we saw, they drifted through my head in confusing ways. Did that really happen in the movie? Why was she taking her clothes off in front of a guy? Was she blind? Were there two of her? Why did the other lady seem to be one of them? It would be well into the 80’s before these questions were answered.

I'm certain I was not the only child to be taken to see this. Swimming at the beach or even in pools would never be the same. JAWS Steven Spielberg, 1975

I’m certain I was not the only child to be taken to see this. Swimming at the beach or even in pools would never be the same.
JAWS
Steven Spielberg, 1975

 

We saw Jaws as a family unit. I saw the giant shark movie with my parents in our town’s nicer cinema. It was a shared terrifying experience. Unlike many of the movies I saw, most of my friends saw Jaws as well. It wasn’t just because I was a kid that this movie altered my perception of Fun-In-The-Sun. I think this film impacted culture ’round the world. Going for a swim would never be the same. The only fears that seemed to be unique to me was that I was convinced that my father had rigged our toilet and bathtub to drop me into The Gulf where sharks waited to kill me in the most painful ways possible.

Like a lot of kids, I was obsessed with Jaws and I taught myself to draw the iconic poster image. I don’t think I’m dreaming — we had a single of this movie’s theme song and I played that 45 rpm a lot! Unlike most of the kids I knew, my obsession came to end when I learned of another movie that was promoted as Coming Soon.

It was a movie that somehow captured my entire being.

 

"Your senses will never be the same..." TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975

“Your senses will never be the same…”
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975

 

I am fairly certain I become aware of Ken Russell’s Tommy because of preview I saw at the Drive-In and some odd photographs I noticed in my Grandmother’s copy of People Magazine. I remember knowing that it was Ann-Margret was on the cover. I am so certain of this that I would swear in a court of law. I recall a mention of it regarding Elton John on one of my Grandmother’s favorite talk shows. Did I see that on Dinah! or The Michael Douglas Show? Of this I am unsure, but one thing is solidly real: I had never seen or heard anything quite Tommy the movie. It just looked so incredibly cool and strange to me. And I knew the lyrics to Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard within hours of having heard it on the radio.

"But I ain't seen nothing like him in any amusement hall. That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!" Note: I have never seen this particular single. I found it on The Internet! Elton John Pinball Wizard Limited Edition 7" single, 1975

“But I ain’t seen nothing like him in any amusement hall. That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!”
Note: I have never seen this particular single. I found it on The Internet!
Elton John
Pinball Wizard Limited Edition 7″ single, 1975

 

I immediately received push-back from all three of the adults in my life. Not even my father was willing to take me to see Tommy. And even though my mother had a couple of Elton John 8-Track Tapes and a Who LP, she was not interested and didn’t felt it unsuitable for a child to see. Initially she could not understand why I would even want to see it.

I just don’t understand why you like that Streisand lady, this weird movie or that ugly Patti Smith band!

My father dismissed my request because it looked like “hippie shit.” I attempted to lie and claimed that Ann-Margret was probably “totally naked!” in it. This did not change his opinion. What is interesting is that my longest pitch to my father was delivered as he parked his mammoth car in the field of the Drive-In to see one of the most notoriously shocking movies of the day.

We saw The Exorcist and a second “weird” movie called Beyond The Door. The lady inside the ticket booth saw me at me seated in the car. She asked my father if he knew that these were R-rated movies and not intended for children. He told her to calm down sell him the ticket. I was curious why we were seeing The Exorcist as I knew that he and Mom had seen it before. It had really bothered my mother and he hadn’t seemed all that impressed. The only answer I got was that he liked the movie. I remember being excited to see something I had heard so many people discuss. I had also been fascinated by the cover of my parents’ copy of the novel.

 

"Mother! Make it stop!" THE EXORCIST William Friedkin, 1973 Cinematography | Owen Roizman

“Mother! Make it stop!”
THE EXORCIST
William Friedkin, 1973
Cinematography | Owen Roizman

I am not trying to defend my father’s taking me to see these two movies, but neither of these movie bothered or scared me as a childMy understanding of religion was somewhat limited. I had seen a crucifix, but at that time in my life I really did not fully understand what it was. My mother had given me a tiny bible when I was about 5 years old, but Jesus looked like a number of cool rock stars. I had been taught to say a prayer before I went to sleep, but this was a perfunctory requirement. I knew the story of Easter and Christmas, but neither meant anything to me. I just liked the candy and wished for certain gifts. Anyway, the only scene in The Exorcist that freaked me out was when Linda Blair began to spout profanity and repeatedly “stabbed” herself with a crucifix. I wasn’t sure what to call the cross with Jesus on it. I do not think I really understood what it was. While I  did have an understanding of human genitalia, I obviously did not fully grasp it.

What is she doing?

Why isn’t she dead?

“Is that the same kid?”

What is that she is stabbing herself with?

“How can she spin her head all the way around?” 

“Is it making the furniture move?”

I do not remember my father answering any of my questions. I do know that he was very quiet for the entirety of movie. As per usual he left the car a couple of times. Was he going to use a bathroom? He seemed like a zombie throughout both screenings.

"The most terrifying event in the history of mankind is about to occur!" Beyond The Door 1974

“The most terrifying event in the history of mankind is about to occur!”
Beyond The Door
1974

I remember thinking he was asleep during Beyond The Door. But he wasn’t snoring and when I poked him he turned to me and said I needed to shut up and leave him alone. The only thing I recall about Beyond The Door is the poster. I did think it looked promising. It still amuses me as an adult. The poster that is. I think the scariest aspect these two movies at that time was the music used in both and the way my father was acting throughout each of them. From an adult perspective the latter was easily the more worrying concern. And I do recall that it was a creepy drive home. It must have been because I still remember it so well.

My world began to open around this time. I had long been attempting to assert my own tastes, but it was 1975  I began to embrace mainstream culture as my own. When my older cousin introduced me to Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac and Grand Funk — I loved what I heard. It was at this time that the idea of a band being called Grand Funk seemed so grown-up and cool. I know it wasn’t a new song at the time, but I took great pride when I selected this single as my father purchased a Willie Nelson album. Upon reflection his purchase was wiser, but I still enjoy the groove of Grand Funk’s take on The Loco-Motion.

"Everybody's doing a brand-new dance, now..." My first cool 45 rpm single! The Loco Motion Grand Funk, 1974

“Everybody’s doing a brand-new dance, now…”
My first 45 rpm single!
The Loco Motion
Grand Funk, 1974

My mother liked popular music and she was already leaning into what seems like disco. I liked that stuff as well. I don’t know if it was actually called disco, but ABBA and The O’Jays seemed cool to me. Though, when I compared LP or 8-Track Tape covers, ABBA, The O’Jays and The Captain & Tennille did not look or sound nearly as cool as Grand Funk, Led Zeppelin or The Who.

Our neighbor had a daughter who was 4 years my senior. I thought her the ultimate in cool for a long time. I drove her crazy, but I suspect I also made her feel important. She would “borrow” record albums from her older siblings. One afternoon I was boasting of owning the Grand Funk single when she told me to wait a few minutes. She left me leaning on a tree, but she returned with an album that totally zapped me into a whole new universe.

"It's only teenage wasteland." The Who Who's Next? 1971

“It’s only teenage wasteland.”
The Who
Who’s Next? 1971

 

Who’s Next sounded completely alien to anything I had ever heard at that point. The music felt like hard rock but it had a booming sort of wired sound. The lead singer sang as if every lyric meant everything to him. And the cover seemed so “dirty” that I agreed with my neighbor.

The Who were far cooler than Grand Funk. In fact they were even cooler than Queen who I had only just discovered. It would be a while before I actually owned the Who’s Next album.

 

"Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters..." Queen Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975

“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters…”
Queen
Bohemian Rhapsody, 1975

It was also my cool neighbor who saw Tommy on its opening night. She explained the movie to me scene by scene. I was mesmerized by the idea of Elton John in giant shoes, a TV that spewed Pork & Beans and Tina Turner injecting Tommy with new blood.

(this was how she explained it)

I put my campaign to see Tommy into full running force. It was literally all I talked about when I was around my family unit. My father ignored me. My mother begged me to stop. My Grandmother said that she would take me if only my mother would allow her. (Um, my Grandmother’s comment was not true. She just liked to blame all bad things on my poor, confused and often unplugged mother)

The following weekend after my 12 year old neighbor had laid out the entire plot of Tommy I found myself alone in the car at the Drive-In.

When my father returned to the car he handed me a soda. I had been plugging away with my “I must see Tommy!” assault. I started into it again as the previews began.

That is not the kind of movie that a son of mine should see!

A different kind of X... Iisa: She Wolf of the SS 1975

A different kind of X…
Iisa: She Wolf of the SS
1975

 

 

Cue the first reel of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS. I was not frightened by what I saw but I was most certainly shocked. I am not positive that this was an X-rated movie, but it should have been. I had seen violent films, but this one took things to a whole new level. I knew more about Nazis than a crucifix. Nazis were more than just bad, they were evil. And Ilsa was really bad!

I should point out that I have never been able to look away from anything on a screen once a scene starts. I am compelled to watch.

I would not have known the words “fetish” or “grindhouse” but this was most certainly Nazi Torture Porn playing to the lowest human denominator. I don’t know, maybe it would seem camp to me now, but back then I was shocked. I’ve avoided ever seeing this movie again.

My father’s eyes never left the screen except for when he would leave the car. It is probably better that I never figured out what he was doing when he left our car. But he was once again like a zombie. I remember thinking that I should point out that I didn’t think Tommy was as dirty as Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS but my gut warned me not to speak as we drove home.

 

You know, I'd swear her copy was on an orange tape... "Well you came and you gave without taking." Barry Manilow II

You know, I’d swear her copy was on an orange tape…
“Well you came and you gave without taking.”
Barry Manilow II

 

By this time Tommy had been playing for close to 3 weeks. It was a hit. Back then movies seldom played in my town for more than two weeks. It had been held over for 4 weeks!  My mother was wearing down. She agreed to buy me the soundtrack album – a 2 LP set with a gate fold cover!!!

We drove to a record store. I roamed all over looking for my 2 LP set. I was having no luck. Mom approached carrying her planned purchase: an 8 Track Tape of a Barry Manilow album that contained a song she liked. She consulted with the guy at the counter: they only had the Tommy soundtrack on 8 Track Tape. That was not going to work. I had to have the album in LP format with the gate fold art!

 

Inside the gate fold... TOMMY: The Movie Soundtrack, 1975

Inside the gate fold…
TOMMY: The Movie Soundtrack, 1975

 

Exasperated she called me a spoiled brat, bought her tape and didn’t speak to me until Barry had finished crooning “Mandy” which amazingly was not broken apart by one of the 4 channels of the tape. (8-Track-Tapes were really strange!)

We were already almost home when she told me that we would go to the mall the next day if I would stop talking about the movie.

Maybe I was a spoiled brat. I told her that she had to take me to get the record and that I couldn’t stop talking about the movie unless she took me to see it.  She gave in and turned the car around bound for K-Mart. They had the album. At least the first part of the battle was won!

"Well, I'd certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste." Don Johnson and his talking dog A Boy and His Dog L.Q. Jones, 1975 Cinematography | John Arthur Morrill

“Well, I’d certainly say she had marvelous judgment, Albert, if not particularly good taste.”
Don Johnson and his talking dog
A Boy and His Dog
L.Q. Jones, 1975
Cinematography | John Arthur Morrill

 

I was not taken to see Benji like my other friends. For that matter I didn’t get to see The Apple Dumpling Gang. However I was always the coolest kid at school because I got to see the movies that the other kids could only think about! The downside was that some of these movies were simply unknown to the other kids and I couldn’t even articulate what I had seen. I did get to see a movie that featured a cute dog, but  A Man and His Dog was one of those movies that made no sense to my child brain. I had a hard time following this film. My father did point something out to me what I didn’t catch on my own: the boy and his dog ate the girl.

The second feature on this double bill was the only movie that actually upset me:  The Last House on the Left.

I should have been too young to understand much of what was going down on the screen, but this time I did understand. As per usual, my father was dazed out — but this time I was terrified.

I do not remember the ride home. It would take me a couple of decades to revisit Wes Craven’s notorious film.

 

"I thought you were supposed to be the love generation." The Last House on the Left Wes Craven, 1972 Cinematography | Victor Hurwitz

“I thought you were supposed to be the love generation.”
The Last House on the Left
Wes Craven, 1972
Cinematography | Victor Hurwitz

It would be a long time before I made any connection to why Tommy and the respective soundtrack album resonated so deeply for me. It was all I listened to at this time in my life. I loved side 2 on record 1 the most. By this time we were headed to summer. It was getting really hot. My father took me to a twin cinema instead of the Drive-In. We saw Hal Ashby’s Shampoo.

Yet another film I failed to understand. It is funny thinking back to this as Shampoo a movie with which I’ve had to spend a good deal of time. I love it now, but at 8 years old I just wanted to be sure I understood what a “cock” was and why did the pretty lady want to suck one. My question caused a spasm of laughter throughout the cinema. It also led to a well-intentioned woman attempting to lecture my father for having taken a “little boy” to “such a movie.”

What is that and why does she want to suck it? Julie Christie and Warren Beatty Shampoo Hal Ashby, 1975 Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

What is that and why does she want to suck it?
Julie Christie and Warren Beatty
Shampoo
Hal Ashby, 1975
Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

He had to stop and let her correct him. He was a polite, “Well Lady, you are here seeing it so I guess it can’t be that bad?

As for me I had moved to the other side of the cinema’s lobby. I was studying the poster for movie that was playing in Cinema One. The strange doubled image of Roger Daltrey wearing the Blind Deaf & Dumb contraption was like a beacon to me. I could hear Jack Nicholson attempting to sing as I looked. Before we had even reached the car I was advised I would not be seeing “that fucking movie!

Just two days before it closed I did get to see Tommy.

"Gather your wits and hold on fast, Your mind must learn to roam." Tina Turner is The Acid Queen TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“Gather your wits and hold on fast,
Your mind must learn to roam.”
Tina Turner is The Acid Queen
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

Drugs as a way to escape the pain. "I'll tear your soul apart..." Roger Daltrey TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Drugs as a way to escape the pain.
“I’ll tear your soul apart…”
Roger Daltrey
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

The coolest platform shoes on record... Elton John is The Pinball Wizard TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

The coolest platform shoes on record…
Elton John is The Pinball Wizard
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

Tommy studies his splintered selves as his mother worries and his step father calculates things to his advantage. Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey and Oliver Reed TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Tommy studies his splintered selves as his mother worries and his step father calculates things to his advantage.
Ann-Margret, Roger Daltrey and Oliver Reed
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

I finally got to see the movie thanks to my mother. I didn’t really understand all that I saw.

Why was his mother working with all those women? What is a “Holiday Camp?” Is that like a Marilyn Monroe church? Why is Tina Turner taking out blood and shooting more in? What is a “Pinball Wizard” anyway? Why do all those people want to be “Blind, Deaf and Dumb?”

I did understand a couple of things. I understood that Tommy was trapped. I understood that he was trying to escape pain. I understood what Uncle Ernie was doing — and I was relieved it was treated comically. Interestingly, I did not  connect the film to myself. That understanding would dawn much later.  But the great music, camera work and consistently strange set designs took hold of me from first image and sound until the end credit cards hit the screen.

Tommy was completely unique to anything I had ever seen. The same was true for the rest of the audience.

Even in a small Texas town, the kids were totally into what Ken Russell was showing. My neighbor pointed out that her boyfriend had gotten stoned and watched it four times. I wasn’t sure I understood what she was talking about, but there was a strange aroma coming from a few odd cigarettes being shared in the audience.

But all of this aside, it is interesting how strongly this move held me in its grip. This was my Star Wars. This film was speaking to me.

"It out-Tommy's TOMMY!" Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975

“It out-Tommy’s TOMMY!”
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975

 

Not too long after I finally saw Tommy, my father took me to another movie. There was a big movie theatre in our town to which we seldom went. It was not in the best part of our town though it was fairly close to the college. It tended to get older movies that were probably too sophisticated for my father’s taste. He would end up taking me to see three movies there. The first movie we saw there was in 1975. The other two we would see there would be during the period my parents were divorced. Those two movies were also wildly inappropriate for a child to see: Dressed To Kill and Cruising.

But in 1975 my father was swayed to another rock musical staring The Who’s Roger Daltrey: Lisztomania.

 

Franz Liszt becomes "inspired." Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Franz Liszt becomes “inspired.”
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

 

The reason he was swayed? A Playboy Magazine pictorial promoting the movie as an erotic filled fantasy. Of course this would propel my father to take his 8 year old child to see it. I was thrilled and excited to see Lisztomania. I was already becoming a bit of cinephile. I recognized Ken Russell’s name. I saw that the movie poster referenced Tommy. And I also recognized Ringo Starr and Rick Wakemans’ names.

 

Ringo Starr is The Pope Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

Ringo Starr is The Pope
Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Peter Suschitzky

 

I doubt I would have even known about this movie if my father had not taken me to see it. I had seen the soundtrack LP, but had not been able to get near enough to understand what it was. I had recognized Roger Daltrey on its cover, but I don’t think I was aware that it was a movie soundtrack.

"The Soundtrack Album of the Ken Russell Film" Lisztomania 1975

“The Soundtrack Album of the Ken Russell Film”
Lisztomania
1975

I used to study the movie section of the city newspaper. I remember that Lisztomania closed after 3 days. I didn’t understand it was based on historical facts. I had not heard of Franz Liszt. I knew of the Pope, but I didn’t really understand what he did. I was fascinated by the film’s visuals and the strange mix of music. I knew who Hitler was, but I didn’t understand why he showed up. The whole movie was like a dirty cartoon. I loved it. And I wanted Roger Daltrey’s boots.

As we left the theater my father was not zombie like at all. He was annoyed. I tried to ask him some questions, but all he wanted to do was complain about “hippie bullshit” and that there “was no sexy stuff” in it. As he drove onto the highway I did ask him something that was bothering me:

Why was it OK for me to see that but not OK for me to see Tommy?

To my surprise he actually answered me.

I didn’t want to see Tommy.

"That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball." Elton John TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

“That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball.”
Elton John
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

 

I owe my knowledge and love of cinema to my father, but it was at this moment that I realized it was never about me. These were not movies we were seeing together — these were movies he wanted to see and I was being taken along for the ride. Ten years later he asked me to go to Houston with him to see a movie. I agreed. Turned out it was a foreign film I had wanted to see. He slept through the entire film. I found it somehow touching that he was attempting to somehow connect with me by taking me to see a movie I wanted to see. As we left the cinema I was about to thank him when it turned out we were actually in Houston so he could meet up with a seller regarding some guns he wanted to buy. I was needed to load the car and figured a movie was a good way to kill time and avoid rush hour traffic.

Glad you wanted to see it, though. I didn’t much care for it.

Perhaps I owe more credit to my love of film and my endless pursuit to understand the whole “picture” to Ken Russell. It was Lisztomania that propelled me to look into classical music and history. Tommy had also led me to find more of his films once the age of VHS began. I read interviews with Mr. Russell that pointed me toward other filmmakers like John Ford, Nicolas Roeg and others. But I would have never been connected to the world of movies had it not been for my insane father.

Do you think it's alright? Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret search for saving grace... TOMMY Ken Russell, 1975 Cinematography | Dick Bush

Do you think it’s alright?
Roger Daltrey and Ann-Margret search for saving grace…
TOMMY
Ken Russell, 1975
Cinematography | Dick Bush

I destroyed the last of my journals yesterday. As I watched them denigrate I was brought back to the moment I flushed the disappointment of Sea Monkeys away. After the water had pushed the brine shrimp from my life, I took the empty pickle jar for a walk past our back yard. I raced down and up the other side of the ditch to the railroad tracks. I sat the pickle jar on a track. I ran down and back up to return to our side of the ditch. I crouched down and waited for the train. When is sped by the pickle jar was smashed into thousands of glass pieces.

A dream was crushed that would require me to wear my flip-flops instead of going barefoot for a long while.  The promise of Sea Monkeys was hollow, but the idea of them was still pretty fucking cool.

Matty Stanfield, 5.21.2016