Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Senta Berger. Vicious.

Come on out tonight for an interesting noir/giallo about a guy who has amnesia (or does he?) and is running from some crooks (or is he?) because he killed a guy (or did he?) and has some drugs stashed (or does he?). It starts at midnight (or does it?).

Weird Wednesday: PUZZLE
Midnight, Ritz, Rated R; 92min; Director:Duccio Tessari (1974)

This rough-edged yet stylish Italian giallo thriller stars Luc Merenda as an amnesiac, newly returned to Italy and his wife (the incendiary Senta Berger), trying to put the pieces back together. Wherever he goes death follows - he’s being blackmailed for reasons he doesn’t understand - and with every piece of the puzzle he finds out something new and disturbing about himself and his past. The particular appeal of the Italian giallo thriller is the counterpoint between the often strangely beautiful visuals and the dark violence and psychological tension underneath. The best giallo film-makers externalize the characters’ central conflicts in the atmospheric settings, sweeping the viewer into an often bizarre, nightmarish fantasy world that’s oddly appealing. Director Duccio Tessari balances an eye for angles and locations with a great feel for suspense timing. Written by genre Grandmaster Ernesto Gastaldi. Recommended. (Lars)

Thanks as always to I Luv Videoooooo!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How to recognize a genius

He does shit like this:

Monte Hellman says thanks to all

Warren Oates. Hey maybe there'll be another one someday.

Monte Hellman loved his time in Austin and asked me repeatedly, "where did you find that audience?" He said it was the best audience his films had ever played for and I'm inclined to think it's not flattery. You laughed at all the right parts, cheered at the right parts and asked the best questions. I don't have time to give the event the coverage it deserves but suffice to say THE SHOOTING which might seem a little turgid on the small screen was as compelling as intended on the big screen and TWO LANE BLACKTOP is a great American classic. Even SNDN 3: BETTER WATCH OUT! was better than remembered. I asked Monte what he thought of the audience reaction to his horror sequel and he smiled broadly and said "Great! Just great!"

Thanks again to Charles Lieurance and the fine folks at I Luv Video.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Monte Hellman on BETTER WATCH OUT!

Last night Monte Hellman joined us for a triple feature: THE SHOOTING, TWO LANE BLACKTOP and SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!.

It was truly a great moment in movie history. More to come. If you live in Austin come see Monte at the cocktail party being given in his honor at Spider House from 3-5. Then stop in over at I Luv Video and get your synapses shredded.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monte Hellman Tonight!

The 9:30 screening of TWO LANE BLACKTOP is pretty close to selling out tonight but there are still a couple of seats. A few more seats for THE SHOOTING at 7pm too.

Obviously, you can't miss these and unless you want to stand in line forever and not get into the Weird Wednesday screening of BETTER WATCH OUT, you should at least see TWO LANE BLACKTOP.

Monday, July 21, 2008

That's Rogueish

Rogue wave.

My friends Zack and Blake and I started a new blog called THAT'S ROGUEISH. It will examine the phenomenon of rampant rogueishness through many amusing examples. Read it, contribute, whatever.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

From the faraway planet of the Philippines

I would watch the shit out of this.

Though I've never been there, I love the Philippines. Amazingly, the kind of cheapo Cirio Santiago/Eddie Romero/Gerry DeLeon movies we all love so much are big budget compared to the films that aren't intended for export. There's a great blog called Video 48 that reproduces ad-mats and goes deeply into the indigenous film culture of the '60s, '70s and '80s with asides about comics, true crime and culture. Check it out. It's kind of the Fili Reel Distraction.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I Luv Video Pick shelf for 7/19

Brigitte Lahaie in NIGHT OF THE HUNTED

I changed out my pick shelf the other day at both I Luv Video locations. I Luv Video is the phenomenal video store chain that sponsors Weird Wednesday. Stop in and see them and tell them I sent you.

At the Airport location:


Richard Rush (THE STUNT MAN, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, PSYCH OUT) is one of my top favorite filmmakers of all time. This was his first big studio movies after making the AIP motorcycle, race car and drug movies that honed his craft to a fine edge. It's a campus story made more or less contemporaneously with the great wave of campus unrest of the late '60s. Elliot Gould plays the hard-working dirt poor grad student trying to hustle his way through while being called a sellout by all his fellow students and a revolutionary by all his profs and administrator. In truth he's the truly sane one in the mix, even as he progressively appears to go crazier - most notably at his tour-de-force oral exam. I don't know much about academia (I could never stand classrooms) but this rings true for me. With one of the best action sequences I've ever seen in a film - the campus riot looks just like documentary footage and a raft of good performers. The only downside for me is Candice Bergen, whose supposedly a great beauty but whose acting leaves me flat (though this is the best I've ever seen her.) When Rush was here I asked him about that and while he said nothing but good things about Bergen he actually wanted a then unknown actress named Lesley Ann Warren who was incontestably beautiful and could act but he had to compromise on it. It's still a fantastic movie. Photographed by the great Laszlo Kovacs, whose amazing rack focus technique, meticulously worked out with Rush, can be seen in this clip as can Harrison Ford as a young 'un.


Speaking of compromises, this movie is nuts. Robert Altman directed this weird teen comedy about two total bastard nihilist kids who disrupt a suburban community with their vendetta against one particular family that they see as a blight on humanity, the Schwabs. This movie doesn't quite work, unfortunately, but it's fascinatingly strange. In addition to living a kind of dayglo dada provocateur lifestyle O.C. and Stiggs (the O.C. stands for "out of control") are obsessed with King Sunny Ade, who appears in the film. Those are the good parts. The bad parts are the broad mugging of people like Martin Mull and Jane Curtin. Still highly recommended.


This is one of my favorite documentaries about a filmmaker. The interviews are all from the mid to late '70s when the shit was really going down. Corman glows like a holy man as he talks about his formulas and philosophies. His collaborators and alumni like Joe Dante and Alan Arkush (shown editing trailers for New World!!!), Jonathan Demme - who runs down Corman's famous "lunch" that he has with all directors, where he has them bring a notebook and he explains everything about film directing from camera placement to foreground action to dealing with actors. I've heard about this lunch quite a lot and someone should document it with all the filmmakers who heard it while they remember it. I talked to Jim Wynorski about it and he said most of the same things Demme says. If you care about Corman's work at all you have to see this.


Jean Rollin updates his gothic surrealism to a Cronenbergian '80s. It's a sexploitation movie, so the demands of the genre occasionally derail the plot (maybe plot's not the word). The whole thing moves and flows like a nightmare - but with tits. And what tits! The beautiful porn and horror star Brigitte Lahaie has never been more striking. Her eyes are very far apart and she looks like an alien seductress. Trailer.

And over at the Guadalupe store:


I don't make any bones about it, a lot of the appeal of movies for me is the beauty of certain actresses. I think I am in the mainstream of movie-going culture at large when I say this but a lot of intellectual types act like it's not a factor. The joy of watching beautiful women on screen has led me into some great movies. I have also chased the likes of Helga Line or Rosemary Dexter or Rosalba Neri down some pretty crooked and dusty roads simply because I love watching them on screen. Occasionally I've dragged a few of you along and if you regretted taking the trip I'm sorry. TNT JACKSON isn't very good at all, but Jeanne Bell is for fucking goddamn sure a beautiful woman. And if you take this short to the Philippines you probably won't regret it. Everything she does is adorable, from trying to act tough to delivering terrible lines in a sweetly country accent that she tries to hide. See if you can spot her male stunt double! Disorienting trailer with tons of dropped frames here.


This understandably has a big picture of Raquel Welch on the cover but the real star of this Spaghetti Western in all but name is Jim Brown as an American sherriff on the hunt for a fugitive in the familiar movie Mexico of generalissimos and banditos. Director Tom Gries (Jon Gries' father) has a great feel for big, bombastic action. It's all bubblegum but it's fine on those terms. Burt Reynolds shows up as a halfbreed bandit with a me-first attitude and Raquel Welch is good as an avenging daughter, covered in dust but with perfect makeup. Watch for Soledad Miranda in the small role as the prostitute Burt slaps around. Fernando Lamas is very entertaining as the Mexican bad guy general. Trailer.

TOUCH OF EVIL (Unrestored Version)

In '98 a lot of well-meaning folks tried to put Orson Welles' classic pulp masterpiece back together according to his presumed intentions, as inferred from his correspondence. The problem is, Welles often asked for more than he knew he could get. He'd been through the Hollywood wringer before and was a genius and knew how to play the game. Maybe he really wanted all the changes, maybe not. We'll never know. And we never will - which irks me about the restoration being considered definitive and the admittedly adulterated and modified release cut being eased into obscurity and unavailability. Neither cut is perfect but at least the release cut looks sharp and clear and not all digital and grey and soft and shit like the restoration. Hey if you guys want to fix something - fix the score of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. That shit sucks and I've got memos from Welles on how to fix it. Either way, if you haven't seen this get ready for the best the art of film can give you. Everybody's great - Marlene Dietrich in particular kicks it into the stratosphere and it's as unsavory and dirty as a border town should be. Orson Welles' reputation is forever untarnishable. Like Shakespeare his work belongs to everyone and young people will always rediscover it and claim it as their own. Trailer.


This is a different kind of touch but the touch of genius is here too, courtesy of King Hu (COME DRINK WITH ME, DRAGON GATE INN)). I was knocked completely out by this mystical swordplay epic. It looks like it must have cost $400 million dollars but I know it must have been made for much less than an American epic of the time. The plot starts fairly routinely but skillfully with a fascinating and unusual perspective character and the intrigue builds until the whole egg cracks into a vast cosmic metaphysical conflict with swords. It's totally serious, with no comic relief but you'll bust out laughing at what complete hammerhead bad-ass enforcers the Buddhist monks are. I'm talking all around this movie without really telling you much but trust me every once in awhile. See this. Here's a clip that doesn't give much away.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Heywood Gould on ROLLING THUNDER

Everybody loves beautiful gringo girls!

As promised, here is my correspondence with ROLLING THUNDER co-scripter Heywood Gould.

From me:


If my email is an intrusion please forgive me. I am a film programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse theaters in Austin TX. I will be presenting Rolling Thunder next week and I was curious about the collaboration on the script with Paul Schrader.

Specifically, who wrote the first draft, did you collaborate actively or were you brought in to rewrite an existing script. Or none of the above? Did director John Flynn write any of the script?

The reason I thought to ask you was that Quentin Tarantino mentioned a few years ago when he visited us that his favorite parts of the script were your contributions. Which really got me wondering about specific scenes in the context of your and Mr Schraders' work.

This is all old news and possibly small potatoes to you but I will write up the film and hopefully in some small way the information you provide can help film historians in the future.

Thanks for your time,

Lars Nilsen

From Heywood Gould:

Let me answer your questions and then give some background. Paul Schrader wrote the first draft and I was brought in to rewrite. I never spoke to him about it and haven't met him to this day. John Flynn didn't do any writing, but like a good director he and producer Larry Gordon shaped the script. In the great tradition (now lost) they let the writer do his job and then made adjustments.

I'll give you the whole story as I remember it. I was working as a bartender in Soho, living in a residential hotel and generally having a blast. Bill Devane had read a draft of a script I wrote called Fort Apache the Bronx, plus my novel One Dead Debutante. I don't know what was happening behind the scenes, but I know they were already in prep when they decided they needed a rewrite and he suggested me. So they flew me to LA and I met Larry Gordon, the producer and the director, John Flynn. I read the script that night and as I remember it was a relentless bloodbath, which I guessed they didn't want. At the meeting the next day I said they could keep the structure of the story, but needed more scenes to explain Raines, more emotion in his family life, more realistic bad guys, and they definitely needed a plausible, sympathetic woman (who doesn't?) I did a little writing out of sequence because they wanted scenes for the auditions. I wrote the scene in the bar where Raines meets Linda Haines first and then the scene in the garage where he relives the torture for Cliff. (The line "you learn to love the rope" became the motto for the shoot when the temperatures went over 110.) Then the homecoming scene with Raines and his wife and stuff with his son. I pretty much wrote the picture (or thought I had)in LA and then went home. The next week they called and flew me down to San Antonio to do a production rewrite based on the locations they had chosen. I stayed for about a month and ended up writing new scenes for Raines and Linda and rewriting the fight scenes and the big brothel shootout at the end. The only scene they wanted intact was the one with John's family where they talk about the Japanese cars, although I remember I wrote the last exchange between John and his dad.

I wanted to show some unspoken love and communication between the two men because I objected to what I considered to be the original's heavyhanded snobbery about working people. A picture changes a lot when the reality of cast, location and schedule sinks in. John wanted scenes punched up and new scenes written. I wrote the target practice scene between Raines and Linda after he looked at dailies and decided the relationship was playing well and he wanted more.

That's the best way to make a picture, keeping it alive and open to the very end.
I keep saying I remember because I was drinking mescal and eating cabrito every night and there's a lot I don't remember.

This was the first feature I ever worked on and it was a great experience.
The crew was old Hollywood. I remember the First AD, Pepe, had been Henry Hathaway's first and was smoothly, amiably efficient. He brought his little dog on the set and it never barked during takes.

John was completely prepared. He had an encyclopedia of shots in his head.
"This is a Kurosowa 150..." Or "A Huston low angle..." He may be one of the most underrated directors ever and you should definitely give him a retrospective. At least show "The Outfit," which is a terrific picture.

We became close friends and I was shaken by his sudden death.There was a fight in the bar of the Holiday Inn one night because one of the local stunt men said he had been Roy Rogers riding double and the Hollywood stunt guys took this as unpardonable blasphemy and demanded a retraction. Before I knew it I was in the middle of a brawl. The next day the stunt guys came over to me and said: "hey, you New York writers can really handle yourselves." To this day that's the best compliment I've ever gotten in this business.

I could go on and on.

Hope I answered your question.



Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Over at Reel Distraction, Micah publishes tons of vintage newspaper scans as well as some pretty helpful movie journals. I read it every day. You should too. And of course you should join us for ROLLING THUNDER tonight. I anticipate a huge crowd so get there early.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What should you do today? I'll tell you.

You should buy tickets for the huge MONTE HELLMAN Triple Feature at the Ritz next Wednesday.

For those of you in the readership who are planning on attending any or all of the three Monte Hellman films next week (with Monte Hellman in attendance!) please don't delay in buying your tickets. If we can get the ticket pre-sold total over 85 we can schedule it in the large theater, instead of worrying about theater placement on the day of the show and potentially leaving a lot of people out in the cold.

Normally it wouldn't be a concern but DARK KNIGHT is both a) very long and b) very popular so we have to determine which theater it will go in and stay there all day, which we decide by pre-sales.

So, pre-buy those tickets now. The individual screenings of THE SHOOTING and TWO LANE BLACKTOP are $10 seperately or you can buy an omnibus ticket for both films for $16 (buy that ticket on the bottom of the SHOOTING page) - which also allows you to keep your seat for the Weird Wednesday presentation of Monte's BETTER WATCH OUT.

If Altman or Peckinpah were alive and showing a triple feature would you go? That's the kind of company you're riding with when you're riding with Monte. Buy those tix today.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Speaking of Vietnam

I've been reading Michael Herr's great work of pseudo-journalism "Dispatches" about Vietnam and was researching some background on the war when I ran across this collection of Army newsreels from An Khe. The documentation of the Bob Hope show (with Carroll Baker and Joey Heatherton in the middle of the jungle!) is pretty fascinating. It starts here at about 4'20''. Enjoy:

Click to view Video

ROLLING THUNDER - at last, this Wednesday!

One macho motherfucker.

OK, so for anyone who didn't get the news of the switch in time and showed up to see ROLLING THUNDER only to be confronted by Al Adamson's FEMALE BUNCH last week: I am sorry. It was an unavoidable circumstance. I hope you at least enjoyed the movie. It's not in the same league as ROLLING THUNDER but it has its pleasures.

But ROLLING THUNDER is pretty close to a true, indisputable classic. It starts with powerful subject matter and fills it in with so much human impact that by the end of the film you're exhilarated and exhausted at the same time.

The screenplay, from Paul Schrader and, especially Heywood Gould, is almost one of the greatest ever and John Flynn (THE OUTFIT) should have become one of the heavy-hitting macho director guys in the vein of Ford, Huston and Peckinpah, but he happened to hit the boards when the concept of macho was hitting the skids, leaving Mad Sam as the last true chronicler of American machismo (and its total impracticality).

The acting is rough and tough. William Devane, who stayed busy on TV and impressed in smaller roles, is a raw nerve, seemingly imperturbable behind his aviator shades but inside desperately burning all his life energy to simply function after returning from 7 years in a North Vietnamese POW camp. He's tougher than he has any right or need to be.

Tommy Lee Jones, as one of Devane's squad has an even harder time adjusting than Devane (who advises him to "put your sunglasses on"). It's an equally complex role and Jones the actor would embark on a 30 year plus journey of being mostly great but mostly underappreciated.

Linda Haynes is the biggest surprise of all as the 29 year old party girl who carried a torch for Devane throughout his captivity, she describes herself as a "groupie" which of course is a word that's "after (Davane's) time." Even though she's been passing the years in the states, she's as dead inside as Devane, and the two recognize each other as kindred spirits. She and Devane have a phenomenal scene together taking target practice by a gully that you will always remember. Like most of the best scenes in the movie, it was written by Heywood Gould but I'll address that, and reproduce my correspondence with Gould, in my post screening writeup.

By the way, William Devane is very enjoyable in Hitchcock's last film FAMILY PLOT, which most everyone hates but I like a lot. He also played Austin legend John Henry Faulk in a TV movie version of Faulk's great FEAR ON TRIAL, which I'd really like to see.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


We have a plane. Do you have a plane?

As I mentioned at the show I love the dusty, greasy grime of Al Adamson's movies. They're grimy in many ways, not only visually but spiritually, but then aren't we all? Who among us is so clean that he can cast the first bar of soap at THE FEMALE BUNCH?

It's the kind of movie I never want to get away from at Weird Wednesday. I think you can learn so much more about the era from watching THE FEMALE BUNCH than from reading a dozen textbooks. It's endlessly fascinating to me, though I realize some people may have felt bored at times from the sheer slackness and repetitiveness of the narrative.

I don't know what's wrong with me but I could watch those shaky zooms, the caked on makeup, the makeshift locations, the mismatched reaction shots, the gags that fall flat - over and over again for hours. If this was sixteen hours long I would watch the whole thing - like BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ. In fact, I just felt a little shudder go up my spine at the imaginary possibility of a 16 hour cut of THE FEMALE BUNCH. I want to live in that world for a little while - even though I'll probably end up with a cross branded into my forehead. Worth it.

My favorite part is Lon Chaney Jr. playing an actual role at this very late stage in his life and career. The very fact that in 2008 an audience of 200 people mostly in their '20s, most with no conception of who Lon Chaney Jr. or Sr. was, lustily applauded him makes me very proud of this film series.

My buddy Gary Kent mentioned recently in an email that Al's usual producer Sam Sherman and Daniel Roebuck are working on an Al Adamson biopic. Say what? That's crazy. The story of Al's death is pretty interesting, though I'm a little tired of recounting it. Read it here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Breaking News: THE FEMALE BUNCH and ROLLING THUNDER to change places

Due to a circumstance beyond our control, we will have to invert the two showings of THE FEMALE BUNCH and ROLLING THUNDER. Back in the old days this shit happened all the time but we've been pretty tight since 2004 or so, so think of this as an old-school Weird Wednesday inconvenience.

So this week we bring you:

Rated R; 84min; Director:Al Adamson (1969)

The late, lamented Al Adamson has provided some of the all-time greatest Weird Wednesday moments. CARNIVAL MAGIC, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, FREEZE BOMB - all were directed by the enigmatic Adamson. This is one of his girl-power westerns. Here, a team of beautiful women hide out in Death Valley, smuggle drugs and take their revenge on the male gender. This kind of stuff probably happens all the time, at least that’s what I’d like to believe. Like all of Adamson’s films, it has a pervasive grime that seems to coat the lens, the sets, the performers and even the story itself. Viewers are advised not to expect plausibility in any form. Just lean back and enjoy the kind of pleasant dream logic shared by the best exploitation films. It’s not meant to be evaluated and measured by the waking mind - it’s beyond that. Filmed on the Spahn Ranch at the same time the Manson Family was running wild. Features Lon Chaney Jr, Russ Tamblyn and Jennifer Bishop. (Lars)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Friday, July 4, 2008

I Luv Video Pick Shelf for 7/4 + some good news

Fernando Di Leo and Company welcome you

Not only does I Luv Video's site not suck anymore, under the guidance of Charles Lieurance it should become a pretty important resource, with new content cycling through regularly, and hopefully an RSS feed soon so you can subscribe to it.

So good news.

Here are my weekly I Luv Video pick shelf titles.


Is this the best double DVD ever? The two best LSD themed films on one disc. Richard Rush's PSYCH OUT (unfortunately truncated by a few minutes on the disc) starts with a drug-scare exploitation script along the lines of RIOT ON SUNSET STRIP and builds some credible characters into it with the help of actors like Jack Nicholson, Susan Strasberg, Dean Stockwell, Adam Roarke and Max Julien. It's not a realistic film but its brand of Hollywood candy is superior. Alamo pal Gary Kent plays Thug #1 and rigged all the magnificent fire effects in the climactic trip sequence. You want to see some scary-ass fire? Check it! Roger Corman's THE TRIP could never have been made by people who hadn't taken acid. It makes a huge difference. You can read about LSD all day, but you can never translate the experience to film without actually taking it. Corman, screenwriter Nicholson and presumably the stars Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper etc. had all ridden that merry-go-round. The film really is an acid trip from beginning to end. Of course it's cheap and silly at times but it blows away any other LSD movie. PSYCH OUT trailer here.

This is a movie that deserves to be a far bigger cult item than it is. Kind of a buddy movie, kind of a heist film, kind of a gender parable, kind of an autopsy of the American dream. It is all over the place but it never feels like a mess. Writer-director Michael Cimino knows what he's doing, even though we're never sure. If you like movies like THE LONG GOODBYE and FREEBIE AND THE BEAN you'll love this. A snapshot from the film: Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, on the run from George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis, catch a ride from Deliverance ass-raper Bill McKinney, who pushes his muscle car full of caged raccoons to the limit in a harrowing sequence, gets out, opens the trunk (which is full to the top with adorable white bunnies for some unexplained reason) and begins firing wildly at the rabbits with a giant pistol. Also with Gary Busey, Catherine Bach, Vic Tayback (in one scene) and the great Dub Taylor. Check the trailer.

Like Max Pecas' earlier I AM A NYMPHOMANIAC (available at the Airport I Luv Video), this film puts gorgeous sex starlet Sandra Julien through the Juliette/Justine paces. As with most French sex films the experience is primarily an ambient one. Plots are matters of convenience, and largely alike - though this film has a politically incorrect howler of a plot contrivance that's memorable. Mostly you'll remember the space-age interiors, the surreal set pieces, the sex appeal of the actresses and the Euro-funk basslines. Clip.

Cheap, cheap trash that is half sci-fi paperback, half dream. The first 40 min. or so is a pretty typical atomic age scenario but once Peter Graves ends up in the aliens' hideout (the extremely familiar Bronson Canyon cave interiors) things get weird and awesome. The scenes with the aliens and their (illusory?) monsters perfectly embody the kind of late night, chiller theater TV watching experience that I was lucky enough to have as a kid (hopefully you too), where you struggle to stay awake and finally when it ends and you fall asleep on the couch, you're not sure if you really saw what you think you saw or only dreamed it.

And at Airport:

Another French sex movie. I actually showed this one as a Weird Wednesday a while back. If anyone other than me likes it, they've been very discreet about it. If you need a compelling, original plot to stay interested, you'll be bored. You might be bored anyway, but that's the breaks. The Feuillade/Fantomas pulp antecedents of this are right at home in the tacky, shaky black and white photography, filmed in gorgeous squalor with shadows wildly climbing the walls and go-for-broke pictorial compositions. While the film admittedly breaks down into atoms by the end, it starts exceedingly well, with creepy eye-patch wearing Willy Braque and his gorgeous moll fucking people up.

With the possible exception of LEGEND OF THE WOLF WOMAN, this is the screamingest movie ever. It's also master Mario Bava's final theatrical feature. It's a late work, and should be judged along those lines. The late works of a master can be summations of a life, cases made to the academy, extended middle fingers directed at detractors, leaping off points into immortality - at any rate they cannot be judged in the same way as the work of an artist in his prime. But let me pull back the throttle a little here - it's not Beethoven's late quartets - but it does contain some of the better examples of Bava's bag of tricks, and that's something. The film's centerpiece is Daria Nicolodi's fevered nightmare/hallucinations as she is seemingly haunted by the ghost of her dead husband. I could watch Daria Nicolodi watch TV for an hour and a half and be totally entertained so the spectacle of her in a diaphanous gown floating around her mansion in a state of perpetual fear, or twisting above the camera in a wild Bava setpiece is pretty fantastic. And within these confines - a single performer, a well-used premise - Bava goes off. Italian trailer.

Fernando Di Leo's black mob comedies are among the shining high points of seventies genre cinema. This is his best. Gaston Moschin, who looks like a cross between Bruce Willis and Mr. Potato Head, plays an ex-con who enters the free world again after several years only to continually dogged by mobsters who think he has hidden a giant stash of money. Despite his protests, Mario Adorf and company beat the shit out of him, tear up his apartment and make his life miserable. Midway through there's a genius plot twist that turns the whole story on its head and the payoff is PERFECT. With Barbara Bouchet, who looks better than ever, Phillip Leroy as a king free-agent badass, gruff-voiced Lionel Stander as Mr. Big and a brilliant prog rock soundtrack by Luis Enrique Bacalov and Osanna. Raro video trailer here.

Many of you saw Jamaa Fanaka's PENITENTIARY III, and probably wondered about the previous two films. The first one is surprisingly naturalistic, with a big Hollywood conceit lodged in the middle. The language, characterization and tone are all on point. If you can resist quoting this film fifty times a day after you see it then mister you're a better man than I. Long trailer here.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Jamaa Fanaka Wrapup

It was fantastic to see Jamaa Fanaka again. Last time we showed WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES and PENITENTIARY. This time it was PENITENTIARY III and EMMA MAE. Next time I hope it will be PENITENTIARY IV, though I wonder where it goes from here, Too Sweet is in his fifties - he gets framed again - the ghosts of Seldom Seen and The Midnight Thud appear to him in a dream... I guess we'll find out.

PEN III is ruff, tuff, out of control and so loaded with rogueish good times it makes CRACK HOUSE look like THAT DARN CAT. It's hard to believe the same guy who made EMMA MAE, which is so subtle and sensitive, could make a movie that's soooo completely neon and over the top. Unlike EMMA MAE, PEN III is probably not due for a critical reassessment, but it is truly a midnight movie classic with a really sly sense of humor that deserves to be seen much more often. Warner Brothers owns the DVD rights to this, which is bad news because they don't seem to be in a hurry to release much outside of their hallowed classics. It would be nice if a new licensee could pick these up and make a package of all three PENITENTIARY films with commentary by Fanaka and Leon Isaac Kennedy. I know enough of the backstory to be intrigued but I'd like to hear so much more.

EMMA MAE should also have a better DVD release, no offense to Leigh and company at Xenon, who do a great job, but the film should be marketed with its original title and in packaging that more accurately reflects the tone of the film. I'm sure the post-JACKIE BROWN media hype that blaxploitation received colored the decision to package these films in Dolemite-style art but EMMA MAE and PENITENTIARY are good enough to sit next to other classics of American genre film in respectful packaging.

Anyhow, EMMA MAE really is an American classic and as conscious, critically-minded filmgoers it's time to claim it as such. If EMMA MAE had landed in America as a film from the third world with subtitles it would have been hailed by mainstream critics. Instead, few outside of the inner city saw it at all. It's a film from within the black community that expresses thoughts and feelings that could never make it to the screen by the usual route - tiny subtleties that would be vulnerable not only to cultural prejudices but also to the kind of ham handed approach that Hollywood hacks take. Fanaka's perceptions and talents are too delicate for the Hollywood approach - the average producer would never perceive the gradations of character, meaning and social/class commentary in EMMA MAE at all, let alone recognize them as valuable. But we can and it's our job to.

So everybody - from here on out - EMMA MAE is a classic. Got it?

Thanks to everyone who came out, helped Jamaa by buying DVDs and merch. Thanks to Troy Nalls for bringing Jamaa to Austin and of course thanks to my friend for life Jamaa Fanaka.

And thanks to Kordelski for the photo!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Brand New Jamaa Fanaka Interview here.

Jamaa Fanaka, Unstoppable.

You've heard me mention Jamaa Fanaka's filmmaking workshop more than once. You can find out more and sign up here.

Troy Nalls sent me this great video of Jamaa talking about life in the trenches as a "gorilla" filmmaker here. If you want to know how to hustle and scrape and get your vision to the screen, this is the man who knows.