Halloween Viewing.

This year, if you live in Los Angeles, the question of what to do on Halloween is non existent. The Silent Movie theatre is screening a pristine print of Phantom of the opera, with live organ accompaniment. not only that, but they are screening the awesome buster keaton short Haunted House! Go before they close down, re-open as a persian peepshow and you wonder why nothing good every happens in your town, you lazy son of a bitch!
For those of you who don't live in Los Angeles, you should rent either Basket Case or Eyes Without A Face. I have blathered on and on about eyes, but maybe a few words about Basket Case are in order.

Frank Hennenlotter's classic is the real deal. It's not really scary, but most horror movies rarely are, right? The scary movies are usually european and look like documentaries: Time of the Gypsies, Lilya 4ever, Come and See. Horror movies are about cool melting faces, screaming girls, stakes through eyeballs, and puss pretty much. What Basket Case has a lot going for it:
A truly great monster, the goofiest lead man since Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a girl with a weird wig and lots and lots of non actors hamming it up. But don't get me wrong. This is not a "bad" movie where you laugh at it. It's a genuinely good movie. In many ways I think it's what every one wants from cinema-a singular artistic vision, something honest and genuine and distinct. Hennenlotter, when making this movie worked as a designer in advertising. In an interview published at the time, he says he doesn't look at filmmaking as a career. He does it as a hobby. And you look at this and see a guy whose gone full tilt unabashedly. His love of exploitation movies AND schlock clear. He likes the seem lines in the old blaisdell monsters, and the shaky walls in the sets and goofy mad doctors. And yet it works as a cohesive piece all its own, instead of justing feeling like lame pastiche because of excellent writing and charm. And gore.

And if you've seen Basket Case already? then rent Final Destination 2, skip to the Rube Goldberg inspired freeway pile up scene, about 10 minutes in, and set it to repeat and have it loop on full blast for the night. Done.
p.s. or you could watch the noir film Nightmare Alley (1947) with Tyrone Power playing a sideshow kid with dreams of getting rich. with probably the best alchoholic drunkard performance ever by Taylor Holmes, and the great Michael Mazurki (the lunk head from Out of the Past and other places) playing sort of against type.
Or fuck it, just rent Dawn of the Dead again and get drunk.

posted by sammy at 7:43 AM


posted by TAHLI at 5:18 PM

The sad sad world of Walt & Skeezix.

In his excellent thorough introduction to this volume, volume two of the the complete Gasoline Alley, Jeet Heer continues his biography of Frank King and family. He writes about how Frank King and his wife tried to have a baby but she miscarried. A couple years later, in a pretty harrowing diary excerpt, King describes the day his wife went into a labor a second time. It was an incredibly hard labor, having to go so far as to cut the pelvic bone to get the baby out. You can see in his writing how happy he is describing the baby boy and recovering mother and chicago snow fall. you feel it, how many years later, how he must have felt. I guess there's a level of happiness had only by new parents.
Looking at photos of his wife, she looks about 20 years older than what the captions state. She smiles in a couple, though more often than not she looks hardened by life, tough. King also has the same sort of face, worn out, weathered. But he also has this softness. A glimmer of kindness. A spark of life, a curiosity. A something. Sort of like a little kid maybe.
From Heer's intro and the photos you can get some idea of the relationship. King was the "fun" one, his wife the homemaker and more sensible one. Looking at the facts, you see they sent their son, who King adored, to boarding school when he was pretty young. It seems like something his wife would have pushed for. But either way, King was the dad and agreed to this. Thereafter his relationship with the boy grew more and more distant. King probably thought he was doing right by the boy. Maybe he was. Regardless, it obviously crushed King. You finish reading that, and you get to the strips and you can barely look at them. You cant help but read them as the internal dream world of the cartoonist. It's gives even the most slight or goofy strip in the collection a certain heartfelt intensity.
When you draw comics all day, and you finally put down your pen, the whole world around you looks different. It makes you hyper sensitive to the details. People on the street look a bit different, the shape of a door knob feels a bit more real, etc etc. Everything takes on a heightened intensity. I think this is because you have just spent the whole day totally immersed in a flat, made up world of your own design. Usually a world you enjoy being in, creating. When you look up from the page, it's sort of jarring seeing the 'real' world, the one that actually exists. You look at it a bit funny. Drawing comics allows the cartoonist to close themselves to the world and make something they can control and "live" in. It's both scary and comforting, and probably accounts for the fact that most older cartoonists are pretty fucking nuts. In my more autobiographical comics I cannot only visit friends who live a million miles away, but BE them by putting them in my comics. And its not them as they are, but how I choose to remember them. In my real fiction comics, it's even creepier because I spend months with characters that I WISH existed (Kim Deitch ended his spectacular series 'Stuff of Dreams' talking about this same idea). And it seems King was doing this with Gasoline Alley. A father making comics about being a father to a son who in reality was not there. And tellingly, in the comics, there is no mother.

I can barely get through this book. But every time I read one page I am simultaneously blown away by his form, his seemingly casual storytelling/plotting, and it's sharpness at really capturing these characters and their world as they are. it feels more like a document and less a forced piece of fiction. Like Peanuts, the backgrounds are super minimal, but you 'feel' a particular place. this is probably because to King, it was totally real.
Just a quick note on Chris Ware's design work, as not mentioning it would negate talking about one of the great things about this series. Other designers could learn a thing or two from Ware's example here. You don't feel Ware's aesthetic all over the place like with other designers on other reprint series, its subtle but furthers the overall tone that King sets in the strips. Instead of it feeling like something titled CHRIS WARE PRESENTS, it feels like a Frank King book through and through. Every time I hold it I think of how happy King would be to see this collection. The stars really aligned for Drawn and Quarterly on this. In every which way it's a marvel.
And we have a big book of sundays to look forward to as well! Sick!

posted by sammy at 4:56 AM

This Sunday: Macromantics Live!

October 29th, this Sunday at 6:00, a special instore performance from the awesome Australian female rapper, Macromantics. She just signed to Kill Rockstars and has gotten nominated for some big time music awards, so come and see her before she blows up big and doesn't take our calls anymore. Beyond that, she puts on a hell of a live show.

posted by sammy at 5:58 AM

Come In, Don't mind the Pistols.

posted by sammy at 4:46 PM

The Beginning

I am not in the mood to write tonight, but felt like I should anyway. Just a bit. So David Niven wrote a great book, Bring on the Empty Horses about his life in Hollywood. The chapters are broken up by people, so there's chapters on Hepburn, Chaplin, Gable, Hearst, all the big movers and shakers. Niven is a great writer and creates a heck of world of L.A. in the 40's through the 60's. If you live here, its sorta essential reading. I should add that Charlotte Chandler's biography on Groucho-Hello, I must be going!, is also a great essential reading on L.A. and the movie scene, but of the seventies (when Chandler basically lived with Groucho till he died).
The first thing I saw Niven in was A Matter of Life and Death. It was also the first Powell/Pressburger movie I saw. And Jack Cardiff photographed. And Raymond Massey snarling. Beyond that, I have forever since used both the typeface seen in the film in all my art when needed, as well as try to capture that particular shade of blue/grey used in the movies opening. So yeah, its lead to a lot of stuff this movie.
I am constantly thinking of all the weird cool stuff they put in it. Like how, unlike every other movie featuring the afterlife, the earth bound scenes are the ones in color, not the other way around. they're right anyway-is there anything more boring than the idea of heaven? The wonderful portrayl of the angel of death as a charming gay, poetry loving, frenchman from the 18th century who likes to pout.
also: a naked boy on beach playing a flute, a soldier emerging from the beach missing a boot (I also steal this regularly), the best version of heaven's waiting room, the best opening scene of falling in love and committing suicide at the same time. The movie is also great at harshly satirizing the english and american ways of life while at the same time embracing them (you cant get more english the the trifector of niven, Roger Livesey, Robert Coote...though I guess you could have Robert Morely in there...and on the other side, you have Massey, the ultimate American actor). That's probably why I often think of Dan Clowes with this movie. He does the same thing with his characters-they are both ridiculous and full of intergity.
Anyway its great how it lives and breathes in it's ow artifice. Which you dont see much these days (though The Departed and The Aviator did in their own great ways). It's all fake, its all ridiculous, and its super charming for that reason. I think of movies like Scum and A Taste of Honey a lot, but thats because they are powerful in a completely different way. A matter of Life and Death is sorta what I want out of every movie. And sorry for the complete left turn, but thats why I love comics. It's so transperent in its fakeness and yet as a reader/viewer you dive in and work with it and embrace it.
For some reason A Matter of Life and Death is not available here on dvd. Criterion has released a bunch of Powell and Pressburger movies, so its got to have to do with rights being tied up somewhere, somhow. But you know, this maybe one of those hidden good things in life. It plays all the time in rivival house theatres and thats only way you should watch this-on a big screen, projected.
Okay go to sleep. No more posting about movies.

posted by sammy at 1:05 AM

The Customer is Always Wrong!

posted by sammy at 6:47 AM

Bahstad Bahstad!

Harmony Korine mentions Alan clarke a lot in interviews and it was this persistence that led me to renting old clam-shell VHS copies of Scum and Made in Britain from Cinefile. Scum, with its unrelenting calm eye, is superb at capturing the details of the british juvenile prison system of the late seventies. Everything is shown with a level hand, phyically and 'emotionally'. Ray Winstone gives his first performance in this, and perfects a certain poker face intensity and brooding that he nowadays brings to just about every bad guy part he plays. His character, Carlin, serves sort of as the focus of the whole, though he is not a remarkable character in the normal movie sense of being kind, or a believer of justice, etc. Him being the lead feels almost random. He, like just about everyone else in this, pounces on whatever they can claim as theirs, or rather, whoever. In fact, there isn't a character in this who serves as the filmmakers moral voice at all. its unneccassary-the world the characters are in is so vicious that you dont need to be told how abusive the the whole system was (is?). It's commitment to the characters and the created world is amazing, but what makes it truly exceptional are the moments of heartbreaking tenderness as when one prisoner, unable to read, asks one of the matrons to read a received letter for him. When she does impatiently, she assumes the mention of a death in the letter is that of a pet, when it actually the illiterate's wife. Moments like that, of the utter heartlessness of the institution hit harder than any violence or exploitive elements of the movie. It quietly builds and builds tension from scene to scene as you watch authority abusing kids, kids abusing weaker kids, weaker kids abusing themselves to the point that when actual mass violence occurs you feel like a huge weight has lifted, that nothing else could make more sense than throwing a plastic chair as hard as you can.

Made In Britain is totally amazing because it's main character is not only bad, but a total raging asshole (hence the ultimate teenager. Making this the ultimate teenager movie). You basically watch a bad kid as the state tries to contain and reform him. The great thing is, is that he not once ever wants to be reformed or sees normal life as an option. Ever. And the movie commits to that, these two opposites of the youth and the establishment never seeing eye to eye. Clarke doesn't give you anything resembling resolution. Fuck resolution. He gives you complete access into this kids world. This is Tim Roth's first movie and its his best movie and the best he's ever been. That may not sound like much, I know, but gee wiz you cant beat this for pure cinematic intensity. After watching these I got so bummed out that Alan Clarke's movies were basically unavailable in america other than on bad VHS copies in only good video stores. And then, out of nowhere, Blue Underground comes out with the Alan Clarke collection-good transfers! audio commentaries! documentaries! the whole thing! We live in horrible times! We live in great times!

posted by sammy at 11:26 PM

A Taste of Rita

We went to the Cinemateque to see A Taste of Honey. It's a great movie even though the basic plot sounds like an after school special: poor girl with floozy mother meets black sailor, falls in love gets pregnant, sailor leaves, moves out of home, meets gay kid her age, move in together, fight and hug. sort of. It actually plays out more like an Alan Clarke than anything else; Very matter of fact style, no real closure to speak of other than uncertainty. One of the great things about it is the star, Rita Tushingham. The whole time while watching it I couldn't figure out if she was a non actor or the best actor I had ever seen. She's weird looking, with this sorta protruding duck mouth, bulgy eyes, very awkward but also very compelling and beautiful. In A Taste of Honey, she's short tempered and giggly and super poutey. She's like every interesting girl you ever knew and she makes the movie. A Taste of Honey is not available on dvd/tape here in america, otherwise Family would carry it. But hopefully soon. looking at her film list, she was in a bunch of mid sixties 'teen' movies and then it slowly sputters out to barely anything.

posted by sammy at 6:09 AM


Been reading Plimpton's oral history of Edie. The oral history format is so great I dont know why I dont see it done more often. Guess I'm not looking around. The only thing similiar that comes to mind is in the long gone English magazine NEON, from the mid nineties, they would end each issue with an oral history of a particular film-I remember ones on Performance, One-Eyed Jacks and Jaws.

posted by sammy at 6:43 AM

20 Foot Tall Paper Mache Brinkman

titled Maximum Ogredrive, featured at the Wunderground show on now at the RISD museaum.
photo by Dan Nadel. whose book (sort of) on fort thunder (sort of) comes out soon. as close as well ever get to a proper art book on the collective of all collectives.
(apologies to mr. Nadel for stealing his photo)

posted by sammy at 6:36 AM


About 2 years ago, I picked up an issue that I had read and put on my shelf about 7 years before, the Dune issue, and realized with hindsight, how great this magazine once was. I was struck by how dense, how all encomapssing it's covergae was, covering so many aspects of the that movie and it's participants, from the technical to the critical. To this day, that issue remains essential for the article on the baby from Eraserhead. Probably the most indepth article into that incredible puppet/effect, an effect that is still wrapped in mystery: Lynch supposedly just showed up to work with it on the day of shooting, and wouldn't really explain how he made it or how long he worked on it. Something about a baby goat skull and fishing wire. That baby remains one of the best special effects ever.

After reading that issue, I started reading more of them and am continuely amazed by them. By most accounts, editor Fredrick S. Clarke was a tyrant to work for, rewriting peoples articles, cutting like crazy, and stuff was published without the writers even knowing about it at times. But in the end, the guy made the best film magazine around. Picking up an old issue now is always full of intriguing surprises. Three weeks ago I bought a ratty copy of vol. 8, number 1 on a lark. The cover feature is on the making of The Primevals, a stop motion movie that was never compeleted, but at the time was in preproduction as a Charles Band Production. There is something totally awesome about a nationally distributed magazine doing something like that. Only when you have one guy making all the decisions could that happen.

There is something quite sad reading an article with hindsight about a movie never completed. At one point when discussing the high quality of the animation, the primeval's director, David Allen says " if people ar talking about this film in twenty years from now, I hope it won't simply be because of the animation". Dude, no ones going to be talking about your movie PERIOD. Unless of course they are talking about this issue of Cinefantastique.
As an aside, the primevals looks like it could have been an incredible stop motion movie. Allen kept working on it, inbetween paying gigs, till he died of cancer recently. In the article Allen sounds a bit pompous and artistically frustrated (and this was when he thought his movie was going to be completed!). He was an animator who wanted to be a filmmaker. Throughout the 30+ page article, there is mention of pre-ILM giants Denis Murren and Jim Danforth working on this. They went on to have huge careers in effects, but not so for Allen. It's sad because there are probably many like Allen scrapping around North Hollywood as I type this.

Above, a lizard man model from The Primevals.
Also in the issue is probably the most insightful article on George Romero's Martin I have ever seen. An incredible piece of genre criticism by David Batholomew. Connected to that, there's also very interesting on-set reports on Dawn Of The Dead, Piranha, and Alien (which incorrectly reports Veronica Cartwright in the role of Ripley. If only!).
Besides the Martin review, there are bunch of write ups on films that eventually became pretty classic to different audiences: Tobe Hooper's Eaten Alive, Battlestar Galactica, Halloween, The Wiz, Watership Down are all covered and most are fairly dismissed and deemed forgettable.
An interview with hot new writer Stephen King, talking about his new book The Stand. With a short sidebar article on Kubrick's making of The Shining, wherein King talks about multiple ideas kubrick has for the ending of the film, all different than the one he eventually shot. King, of course, publicly dissed kubricks adaption when it came out, calling it soulless. At the time though, he sure had high hopes.
Articles on upcoming movies: Time After Time, Bakshi's Lord Of The Rings, The Black Cauldron, The Shout, Kaufman's Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake, War Lord of Terra (was this ever completed?), and a bunch of other things. After reading the issue I had a rent list of 30 movies all made in 1979. I mean seriously, I have not seen The Cat From Outer Space, but you can bet I am going to now!
Not bad for an off handed purchase, huh? And this is one of the lesser issues.
In the last year I have read incredible indepth interviews and articles on Terence Fisher, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saul Bass's oft disputed claim to have directed the shower sequence from Pyscho, David Cronenberg, Conan, Videodrome, Blade Runner Dario Argento, Rob Bottin's work on The Thing, The Dead Zone, Last Starfighter, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante, and and on and on and on and on. It's pretty endless.
It seems that nowadays with dvd special features and commentaries, a magazine like this is not really needed. But that's nuts. A well written, well designed magazine is going to trump a studio packaged and approved video press release 9 out of 10 times. If not for Tim Lucas' Video Watchdog, there wouldn't be one good serious genre film magazine left.
Also I should mention that the funniest thing about reading old issues of Cinefantastique is the general hatred of Star Wars by the editor and filmmakers interviewed. In the last three back issues I've read, john Carpenter, Rober Wise, David Allen, and the dude who made Krull all diss it. Take that, trendy, insipid flash in the pan!
Of course, after Clarke died, his family sold the magazine to some young upstarts who completely and thouroughly destroyed years of good will with it's readers, making it barely above an issue of T.V. Guide edited by Maxim. I hope that once this current incarnation fails, it burns in hell.

posted by sammy at 10:47 PM

Into The Darkness, With The Dogs and Doves.

Part 2 in our good horror film round up: Les Yeux sans visage, aka Eyes Without A face. Made in 1960 by George Franju, a dude who hadn't made much before and neither after. I watched this near the end of my obsession with horror movies made between 1956-73. The joy was going. Appreciating some lame AIP drive-in ballyhoo for its bluntness or naive charm morphed into just plain boredome mixed with occasional frustration. I actually felt like I was getting dumber the more I watched night after night. You forget what goodd art is. I swear this is true. I felt the same way after only reading sci-fi for about a year because I felt like sci-fi MUST be a great genre full of time travel, post apocalypse, aliens, and cloned chicks. I obviously was missing out. I dug in searching...and kept searching....and kept searching.... Then I read Madame bovary, and was like: OH YEAH. DUH.

So anyway, I pick up Eyes Without A Face and figure it will probably have something arty-bad thing going for it if Criterion is releasing it (they're pretty conservative with their horror choices) and it will probably be dumb in a lot of parts, but hey, a disfigured chick must show up somewhere so it cant be that bad.....
Instead I am shocked to discover it's actually perfect from start to finish. Nothing like this exists anywhere. No one-dimensional villians or schmucky yacht club, varsity team boyfriend out to make things right, or clever military gay-lick; this thingis the real deal.
A doctor accidentally destroys the face of his daughter while driving drunk. Ridden by guilt and a belief he can "fix" her, he finds girls of similiar features and transplants their flesh onto his daughter. And it never works. In the meantime, the daughter, now wearing a mask, is holed up in her room, alone, wanting, above all else, to speak with her boyfriend who thinks she's dead (the creepiest and most heartfelt moment in the film is when she cant help herself and calls him, whispering his name like a ghost you want to be haunted by but are scared of anyway).

She is just like any teenage girl-pouty, indignant, self absorbed and charming. But her fathers actions inherently implicate her in these abductions/murders. The father, though totally nuts, clearly loves his daughter and tries to turn the more logical and professional eye toward the abducted girls. This is a sad movie, both because of the poor victims, young sprightly girls, but because of the father's refusal to see his daughter as anything more than an extension of his past mistakes. And the scary part, the the thing that makes it a Horror Movie is that the actions and motivations of the characters feel like the genuine movements of those stuck in grief, incapable of anything but to go deeper and deeper into darkness.

posted by sammy at 7:34 AM