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NOTICE: THIS PAGE IS PARKED FOR THE DURATION

Unfortunate things do happen from time to time, and this is no doubt one of them. Due to a disagreement and fractured agreements, my association with Olanola is, at least for now, discontinued. To those bloggers who were going to sign up with me, I sincerely and heartily apologize for any inconvenience. I will make it right with you if I haven't already (you know who you are).

Those who regularly read me here: thanks in high volume! This blog will continue elsewhere--probably back on Wordpress at Schreckbabble. For those new followers the URL is: 

https://schreckbabble.wordpress.com/

I'm just renewing my RE licenses and finishing up some neccessary classes, and will have NOSFERATU up very soon! Thanks to you all and see you in the usual places.

 

Clive-Schreck


Preston Clive apr 16 15, 21:03
0 1

The Conversation (Coppola, 1974); A Nasty One From the Heart

When considering the astonishing run of acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola's work in the 1970's, most minds tune in to those films that have become touchstones of popular culture: The Godfather Parts I & II, and Apocalypse Now. Neither film requires much introduction here.

Some, but not all fans of these three legendary films and this director are aware of a quietly strange little film that Coppola made, squeezed between the first two Godfathers, made on a relative shoestring budget and presented with very little glitz or arty fanfare. Nonetheless, the film is an atomic sock in the gut for filmgoers, and this quiet little film did indeed win Coppola the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and it is not only Coppola's personal favorite in his canon but is Gene Hackman's favorite role.  .  .  beloved even over his blistering turn as Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin's preceding The French Connection.

This film had a great little ball of synchronicity and providence surrounding it, helping it along. The tale of a surveillance expert/professional wiretapper named Harry Caul, the film is based on a scenario written by Coppola in the late 1960's .  .  .   but he never had the bread to make the film until the smash hit of The Godfather made him a bankable man whose work was suddenly seen in a new light by studio heads. The film came out for general release in April of 1974 .  .  .  just a month after the Watergate Seven were formally charged in court for the break in and wiretapping of Democratic National Headquarters--coincidentally using the precise same methods of technology for the bugging / surveillance that is illustrated in Coppola's film.

The film then profited hugely at the time, then, from its lucky confluence with the entire length and breadth of the Watergate scandal and final resignation of President Richard Nixon afterwards. The myth persists in the minds of the general public to this day that the film was designed to capitalize specifically on the scandal and spin off a film from simple current events.

The Conversation is nothing of the sort; written years before, it is a stinging, quiet film about the disease of work infecting the guts of a repressed man, a man with little to no outlet to valve out the stresses of the day, the months, the years. In particular it's a story about how much louder silence can scream versus a cacophony of noise, how life often becomes more complex as you peel back its layers, rather than simpler. The quieter grows the world, the louder grows the mind. Self examination and an attempt to purge one's demons can lead only to madness, for certain doomed souls .  .  .  certain cyclic, head-trapped, over-restrained souls that are tormented.

A brief encapsulation: Gene Hackman's Harry Caul (likely his most atypical role) is assigned a task of surveilling a young couple; we begin in media res amidst the surveillance operation in San Francisco's Union Square where we slowly, bit by bit, see how Harry has effectively boxed in the couple in (unbeknownst to them) from all four sides fore and aft, left and right, and even from above via a high power unidirectional mic on a sniper's mount.

With this scene we begin hearing snippets of conversation that repeat themselves henceforth through out the film (as Harry reviews them over and over again in his lab and in his head), slowly gaining clarity as the film unfolds in the same way that we catch snippets of visuals in Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now: we, through the eyes of a protagonist, are presented with an almost impenetrable data string which repeats and repeats and repeats until at last the mystery of the senses is unraveled at the conclusion. 

Clearly the couple have traveled here to avoid detection; we hear, through the little snippets of conversation (which are rendered on the audio track with bits of noise and analog interference as though we are listening in with the surveillance agents on their highly sensitive equipment) the clear fact that the two are afraid. Afraid of someone. We sense danger, we sense paranoia, we see that the couple are constantly observing those pedestrians and park-goers that are around them, suspicious of being followed. 

Part of the film runs on the thrill of peeking into the (especially back when it was made) genuinely rarefied world of high tech wiretappers and agents. The gadgets, the operations, the techniques--most people love the romance of spying and are fascinated with authentic looks at the highly protected and carefully hidden world in which they orbit. This is a cinematic obsession with espionage which runs riot across the screens yet today--it was extremely rare to see such an authentic portrayal of this professional strata rendered on the public movie screens for all to see. It was so unique back then it felt like a true, privileged peek into that world.

Harry Caul is a guy who never gets involved with his work--he reads as a highly repressed, blankly overloaded slate, carefully watching every word, catching every revealing syllable before one accidentally stumbles irrevocably from his lips towards an errant reveal.  .  . he is a man who knows how easy it is to listen in to somebody else if you would really like to. Aware what he could be subject to at any moment from a bout of counter-surveillance, he never reveals a thing about himself to anybody at any time .  .  . and this includes his innocent would-be girlfriend (played by an incredibly young Teri Garr).

This is a stinging film that burns the eyes like noxious aerosol accidentally thrown over by an errant wind. Studded with an incredible cast--some of whom, like Robert Duvall, and the astonishing John Cazale had already appeared in the first Godfather (not to mention an almost teenaged looking but still somehow menacing Harrison Ford, pre-Apocalypse)--the film is nonetheless not as much about blazing performances as it is a well constructed, poisonous whole universe of of self-imposed, but somehow unavoidable isolation.

Unavoidable because the habits and the job are too deeply ingrained for Caul for the tendency to be reversed--especially in a world filled with cohorts who are likewise infected with constant deception. Everyone is deceiving someone else in this film: Ford's Stett is deceiving Caul, Cazale's Stanley is deceiving his boss Harry; the young couple is deceiving the Director; Caul is deceiving his young girlfriend; Elizabeth Macrae's blond fling Meredith is deceiving Caul; Stett wound up deceiving the director; Alan Garfield's Bernie Moran is deceiving Caul with his little pen gadget--everybody is filled with lies, and the truth, often times the most obvious thing in the world, is missed because warped minds are expecting to be thrown out into the distant weeds by professional liars and clever agents.

When the simple truth sits unnoticed for so long, owing to the mind having to outfox layer after layer of false realities deliberately piled one on top of the other, over and over again by opponents and by routine, the human loss becomes irrevocable in certain cases of great skill blended with stunted emotional development. This film tells that quietly blistering story in razor-sharp spades.  

Schreck/Clive

3/31/2015**


Preston Clive mar 31 15, 22:15
+1 2

The Slums of New York AKA Sin's Pay Day (1932): Somewhat "Caught."

Soul of the Slums (1931) Since no poster from Sin's Payday exists,

I'll provide one for a similar Like Production. 

Well- I didn't hit my ambitious goal of getting Nosferatu's commentary up this weekend owing to a good reason .  .  . a house I had put up for sale (I still have a hand in RE) for a good number of months finally found a buyer. It was quite a journey, as I took the property assignment way over in the west Bronx in Morris Heights (the area of my birth) because the owner of the property is a wealthy psychiatrist on Roosevelt Island with a large network of wealthy friends .  .  . so, ya gotta get your foot in the door with the rich if you want in that bizzz.

Anyhow the process was a bit depressing as offer after offer after offer (after offer, I had five total offers including this successful one) fell through as each potential buyer was unable to get a loan from the bank to mortgage their purchase of the place. A depressing scenario for sure .  .  

Anyhow, this depressing backdrop of the have-nots is a good enough place for me to begin my essay on a bitchin' little film that I watched at 5am this morning after finally crashing yesterday evening at 7:30pm: The Slums of New York, which is also known by the title Sin's Pay Day.

This is a--drumroll--Ralph Like Production, made in the Pre-Code year of 1932 in Los Angeles (despite the promising whiff of gritty location shooting on the streets of New York. No dice).

The film stars Forrest Stanley, who was a relatively well-known face from back in the silent and early sound era; cineastes who take in at least the better known cream of the better known films from the silent era, especially those that carry a whiff of German Expressionism .  .  . these will recognize him as "Charles Wilder" from Paul Leni's dazzling The Cat and The Canary for Universal in the banner year of 1927. Those who've seen this film and remember at least some of it will easily remember Stanley's part, as it is he who was responsible for the going's on that scared the living crap outa Laura LaPlante's character--he was the one putting silly plastic fangs and bug eye's and humping around through cellars with hair and fake nails pasted to his hands to look like claws. Lovely little Charlie Wilder, the old protege.

In Slums of New York, Stanley plays James Markey, criminal defense attorney making beaucoup bucks in the Big Apple during the Great Depression and Prohibition. The extremely short film, which--at least as it has come down to us today--runs under one hour, opens at Markey's estate, introducing us to each character and making short work of efficently distinguishing them all from one another.

Splishing and splashing around a pool in what looks like a posh suburb of New York--could be Long Island, could be around the Jersey Hills across the bridge, could be up in Westchester a la Scarsdale or Bronxville--Markey's guests are having a blast while consciously ruminating for a brief moment that it must not be an awful lot of fun being poor. We are shortly introduced to Markey's wife, played by then very-well-known Dorothy Revier, a vamp of the silent era who reached her peak opposite Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s The Iron Mask.

We catch Markey in his office taking a massive payment from the underworld to get off known mob boss "Louis Joe" played by venerable character actor Harry Semels (the guy could play anything, from stooge to terrifying gangster). An underling of Joe hands Markey five grand, then a huge amount of money to defend the incarcerated Joe in court, as he is on trial for his life for a murder that everybody with any sense knows he obviously committed. 

In other words--in terms of criminal defense lawyers, Markey was the Barry Slotnick, the Bruce Cutler of his day. As he discusses the case and takes the payment from a stooge of Louie Joe, we catch Markey's wife listening in as she was about to fetch Markey, unaware he was occupied with business in his office, and couldn't help hearing the conversation about "If anyone can get the boss off, it's you Markey," on the approach.

A backstory is instantly revealed, that is almost a dry run for the first half of Caught by Max Ophuls. Iris Markey, a woman of conscience, doesn't mind living in surroundings of luxury, but her inner voice can't stand the idea that she is living on the money of gangsters and their incessant murders. She asks her husband not to defend Louie Joe, and to walk away from the case .  .  . start over, work clean, let's give it a new go with our consciences clean.

*           *           *

With a title like Sin's Payday, it's no mystery where the plot goes from there. Markey keeps the case, but his pretty and decent-hearted old lady walks away from him--striking out on her own to go work for a (wait for it, Caught fans) medical clinic run by a doctor doing it for the heart and soul of the job and not the money. And--minor detail--the doctor was competing with Markey for the affections of Iris before she married Markey. 

The copy of the film that I watched was from a private telecine off of a badly contrast-blown 16mm print which was discovered back when the film was apparently still considered lost. Since then Alpha has released the film in DVD, with their usual take it or leave it this is all we got ethos .  .  .  which, from three to five bucks a pop is very difficult to argue with. There's even an upload of this (obviously public domain) film now on YouTube, which has either been contrast adjusted or is a completely different print entirely.

What the film also reminds of a bit, in rendering a man who plays heavy and deep with the underworld, loses love, and hits the skids (though this is not the end of things for Markey.. no spoilers here) is the Cagney character in Raoul Walsh's sublime The Roaring Twenties. Once Markey loses his wife, Markey loses himself in alcoholism, and begins to completely disintegrate into the skids, eventually winding up a bum with no place to stay. As one would expect, since his wife is working in a clinic for the downtrodden and the hungry in Manhattan's grotty East Side, their paths are going to cross. 

What makes the film so interesting is that--although you think you have a sense where the film is going to wind up in the end--and in that sense you would only be somewhat right--it doesn't play out quite the way you think it would. What I will single out for particular note is the fact that while Markey is down at his worst state of disintegration, at his lowest point, about to faint from malnourishment and tottering as though he were drunk (he is not), who comes to his rescue but the astonishing little (VERY little) Mickey Rooney .  .  .  then still billed as Mickey McGuire from his short comedies. 

I assure you of the following: from the moment that tiny little Rooney (an eleven year old who looks like he's seven) walks on the screen with his explosively charismatic personality, all the way through to his character's absolutely unbelievable exeunt, you will be glued to the screen and completely astonished. The kid walks away with the movie as the obviously most naturally-gifted actor among the cast, his Brooklyn and vaudeville roots completely filling every set that he walks into with an air of shabby NYC yesteryear.

The film commits a cardinal sin of narrative enterprise with Rooney's character, and majorly head-trips the audience for it. Nonetheless, this device takes what might have been a predictable and formulaic ending and pumps it full of hydrochloric acid.

Like most Z budget films from the era, and especially those from Like's various production companies, certain crew and or cast repeat themselves. In this case it's the ever-reliable-in-a-pinch cameraman Jules Cronjager, a German who began working in Hollywood in the mid-Teens, and worked up to the 1930's, working constantly as an ol reliable in any genre: westerns, crime dramas, horror, mystery, the man did it all and could do it with a buck and five minutes studio time. He is also the uncle of Edward Cronjager, who also got his start during the silent era, but rose to A studio level work during the sound era and a much more "respectable" career than his older uncle Jules, who was already 60 years old at the time of Slums of New York and would die just two years later (sadly, Edward didn't even make to 62 years of age; he died in 1960, aged 56).

In addition we have George Seitz (not related to cameraman John, though they knew each other and shared projects) at the directorial helm; Seitz directed Revier in The Tigress (1927), as well as the little known supernatural thriller Thirteenth Chair (1937)... but for Ralph Like he directed my favorite of these rough and tumble little B's that Like produced, The Docks of San Francisco from the same year of this film Slums of New York (1932).

This is a worthy little time capsule of the era, and a rather entertaining way to spend a little bit less than 60 minutes. Perhaps formulaic in the big picture, the film remains unpredictable in its little twists and turns .  .  . the strange little aspects that keep these films ever-charming, ever entertaining, ever surprising, and ever differentiated from the A list fare that we are accustomed to seeking out from the long lost days of Hollywood Yesteryear. It's a great little unfiltered, edge-rough look into those long vanished days of incredible poverty and crime, of jive talk of the have-nots, of murderers, tremendous monetary depression, and Prohibition graft and gangsterism cramming any hope of good news off of the front pages of the newspapers. It's far from a masterpiece, but if it was it probably would skim off much of the slanted roughness that allows so much of the above elements in and make these films such a delicacy, all these many years later. 

Clive/Schreck

3/30/15***

 


Preston Clive mar 30 15, 23:21
0 0

Coming Soon (FOR REAL): Nosferatu, (Murnau, 1921)

When approaching any project, this whether medium you are working in is film, music, writing, painting, whatever, there is one basic thing that you begin with, and there is one essential thing that you end with.

You begin with your vision for the project--that is, what you would like the end product to look like. This is motored by the energy of inspiration, ratcheted up or down via the level of motivation the material actually injects into your artistic heart and soul.

And you end with the output product itself, what the energies and labor on yours and-- in the case of the cooperative arts-- your collaborators' parts ultimately and finally produced.

An extremely inspired artist often begins with an interior sensation, an inner disposition of emotion, of atmosphere, of statement, of excitement, something sublime .  .  .  that he dreams of getting across to his audience. A feeling that the material stimulates in his inner life, which is rarefied in the world, that he wishes to inject direct into the hearts of his audience. Depending on his sensibility, certain situations or juxtapositions excite him because of the way they make him feel. Certain combinations set off interior responses that are very precious .  .  .  the reasons that these sensations are set off, and why they are very precious are part of the essential mystery of life. Who knows why bare twisted branches against a grey sky and falling leaves on a damp foggy day in November were very precious and pleasurable to the French and Russian Impressionists of the Twenties and Thirties. 

Who knows why some people endlessly gravitate towards trouble in their lives and grow very uncomfortable when life is on a regular, positive keel? Who knows why certain depressive people gravitate to a certain type of sadness, and crash and burn and drink and grow erratically aggrieved during moments that typically trigger supreme happiness in most others? Who knows what emotions are in the first place, the function that they serve, and why they modulate so profoundly from person to person? All in the end are chemical reactions in the brain, set off to certain combinations of stimuli; why one person should experience one chemical reaction to a certain stimuli while another experiences secretions of an entirely opposite nature--this is the essential mystery of life. It's the kind of thing that challenges the marketing departments of large corporations around the world, and will continue to do so for time immemorial .  .  .  and large scale purveyors of product for sale would like the responses to stimuli and thus the buying habits of the general public to be simple, neat and predictable. Politicians wouldn't mind that sort of streamlining either. . it would make elections a hell of a lot more simple.

I single out the depth and the strength of the impressions of a person's inner life because the difference between the intentions for the inner life of an artwork, versus the end result, can be extraordinary. One can enter into a project with great excitement for the idea of injecting this or that Stuff of Life into the minds of the viewer, and complete the project completely crushed for the difficulty of transmitting this essential substance of the life process. Some things get across easier than others--often times a narrative element that once was easy here, is almost impossible there.

*           *           *

One of the most difficult things to transmit from the inner gates of the human soul over the life of a complete artwork are those things we find "chilling." Not "BOO!" scary, not gory, not shocking .  .  . but eerie .  .  .  creepy .  .  .  frightening down at the true level of the ancient and the human and the supernatural as pertains to the mass of human substance throughout time. One might set down into a work of art, souped up with ambition and energy, feeling--because the creative individual is so familiar with those flashes of ancient shadows that flicker in and out of the soul down through the ages, has sifted between his mental fingers that decayed remnant of human civilization that sits off to its side and haunts it through every age--that he can master these elements on the medium of his art. .  .  seeking to render the feeling behind flashes of the Long Dead sensed on dirt roads of an old town at night, of not being alone on deserted staircases, in forests, in abandoned amusement parks in dark winter night.

Most horror films are fun. They're fun in the same way that the Fun House and Coney Island or Rye Playland are fun. Most people enjoy being scared--scared in a way that reminds of the innocence of childhood, irrational fear of those things we don't understand--then we grow up and no longer feel those fears of Under The Bed, or Down In The Dark Cellar. Fun in the way that a rollercoaster is fun for an adult: your body tells you you're going to die during the loop, but your mind overrides the sensation and knows all will be well, and the excitement translates as rarified exhilaration.

*           *           *

On the other hand, there is a fear that is eternal in that it stretches through the sum of an individual's life: there are some fears that remain in the hypothalamus no matter how rational or old one becomes. They're also eternal in that they remain frightening to humans in 2015 just as they were in 15 BC. No amount of sophistication and advancement in human learning can completely erase these things--the human soul is apparently neverendingly capable of being chilled when confronted with certain combinations of stimuli that evoke a sense of the shadows of the supernatural and the ancient, when a sense of the past seems to push unnaturally into the present, and this past image is warped with something subtly unnatural, subtly warped or deformed or decayed .  .  .  something unseen but strongly sensed. The hairs on the back of the neck go right up.

This is the stuff that--because so much of it must be felt rather than directly seen--is enormously difficult to translate into an artwork.

F. W. Murnau had been working in the medium of the cinema for little more than two years when he shot and assembled Nosferatu; he had virtually no precedent for this kind of genuinely supernatural material shot in a largely naturalistic style, shunning the manipulation of exaggerated sets and choosing to shoot outdoors in nature. Yet somehow this eternal freight of the unseen supernatural soaks through the frames of this film.

The conception and the execution--clearly Murnau, Galeen, and Grau (and Fritz Wagner, the highly skilled cameraman) came to this material all on the same page .  .  .  and we miraculously (I say this confidently owing to the vast acclaim for this film) get out of this film to this day what the makers in large part likely intended to put into it. There is virtually no disconnect between intention and output--no diminution from concept to execution.

That, my dears, is a rare miracle, to this day. 

Clive/Schreck

3/27/2015***

 

 

 

 


Preston Clive mar 27 15, 22:06
+1 1

The Shabby, Greasy Joys of the Ralph M. Like Production

The Gorilla Is Just A Gorilla Here . . . (Astor Pictures/Like, 1932)

Few things are finer to me than the grimy joys of a super-impoverished production from some lost era of filmmaking. If that Z budget film was shot in some stinky variety of urban jungle--streets covered with cobblestones with horeshit forced down into the crosshatching between the stones--prior to the 1950's, well .  .  .  orgasm approacheth. Mop on standby.

I love cheap films, exploitation films (and those fans of the more modern exploitation fare/grindhouse of the 1970's will be pleased by the next addition to the Olanola series of blogs, migrating to this platform while maintaining its current URL .  .  .  TBA soon). I love the disorientingly odd mise en scene, I love the ratty acting of bottom feeder actors one step away from the street and visibly addled with all kinda awful human problems and vices that likely constitute--in part at least--the very reason why they are in such sandbagged productions in the first place. 

..suddenly we have Kong on deck...this was 1932 after all. (Astor Pictures/Ralph Like)

Cheap-o-matic films from the Long Ago and the Far Away require a completely different sensibility and approach from the viewer who at the same time treasures arthouse/quality cinema of the Criterion/MoC stripe. I see it not only as a benefit, but a duty--a gawd-damned obligation--to bend my arthouse-o-fied senses back to the open minded disposition of my youth .  .  . whereby to this day I not only crave watching an old episode of Planet of the Apes, the TV Series, Welcome Back Kotter or The Love Boat just as much as I do Andrey Rublyov by Tarkovsky, but that I place films like The Monster Walks or Chinatown After Dark in the same category of human enjoyment as something by Preminger or Murnau or Renoir or Kurosawa. They all give me a freight car's load of enjoyment--the only variable is the differentiation in style and manner of construction and intention of the input to my brain. All qualitative assessments rendered on planet earth are never representative of more than the sole individual who wrote or spoke them, and thus carry little to no weight in the overall, when you come right down to it. .  .   and this of course includes me. The only factual statements in a film essay are 1) the film was made by the people who made it on the dates it was made and released, 2) that the film affects that specific viewer in the manner described. No manner how the reviewer may try to speak for the masses, he speaks for none other than himself.

Aside from the nostalgic TV series of my youth, I have loved exploitation films and low budget films from the shadows of the disintegrated, collapsed past for one specific reason: these films allow a huge glob of then-current day life of the ordinary and the low in to their cinematic proceedings. They bring a certain smell alive to the viewer. The vanished vernacular, the look of the streets, the glossless reality of the cheap tenements and low dives in the the worst part of town, the cheap clothes worn by the commoner, the dances the working man did on the weekend, the sort of illicit behavior and entertainment that the underclass sought during after hours for escape from the backbreaking doldrums. The species of crime committed by immigrants oblivious to the English language and seeking alternatives to humiliating testes-crushing hard labor for virtually no pay. "Better carefully organized crime and graft for a dignified economic family life than humiliating poverty under back breaking labor," is a maxim that insured that cities in America were spangled from street to street with all manner of hustle, con, gangster, storefronts running numbers in back rooms, paid off cops, dancehalls, low dives, whorehouses, wisecracking asphalt talk, characters spangled with snide nicknames, corrupt politicans, and on and on. An entire ethos and human substrata that has vanished from the diorama of the 21st Century American City Street.

Super low budget films never had the high pretensions of multimillion dollar studios of today and yesterday; they are not fantasy worlds where escapist dreams are manufactured daily. The glossy, artifice saturated product of Hollywood is the highly controlled result of the studio universe, which does its best to erase the rough edges of the world outside.

Low budget films, on the other hand, by their very nature, cannot affect that level of filtration versus the world beyond their doors. Take a midcentury film from Hollwood like Double Indemnity: this is a film which scared its actors and stunned the industry by the grim portrayal of a couple of ordinary Americans as "fast buck motherfuckers," paraphrasing a writer on the Universal disc's documentary.

And yet--Double Indemnity, even in it's tiny milieu of backstabbing, murdering "fast buck motherfuckers" bears no resemblance to reality. The world outside of the doors of Paramount may have contained fast buck pieces of trash like the MacMurray-Stanwyk team in the film .  .  .  but they certainly looked nothing like that duo. . . the world of inequality, unfairness, of wrenching poverty, the tough world of survival, street corner hustles, legitimate cons and bunk--none of this is available to the viewer in the Paramount crime drama.

A so-called bad script is often a script that--by the professional Hollywood yardstick-- bears no resemblance to the demands of studio artifice at its best (and let's keep our eye on the ball here and remember that studio artifice is often glorious, enthralling, exhilarating, heartbreaking, wonderful... we are just celebrating something rarely appreciated and entirely different and giving it a moment in the bright sunlight--okay..cloudy skies-- of this blog).

But in the measure of the overall and the ever-after, a script like, say, Narcotic by Hildegard Stadie Esper is certainly running completely contra to everything that a Hollywood script requires .  .  .  as is the construction and execution in all departments of the film itself .  .  .  but this does not mean that the film is a) bad, or b) without value. This is an assessment or byproduct contingent upon each individual viewer on a case by case basis. Good for one, bad for another--a film is never anything but the prints, negatives and memories of those who made it once production has wrapped forever. All else--including this article--is mere keyboard thwacks, and disappating air from the lungs of unimportant civilians like me.

*           *           *

Ralph Like Productions operated at 1425/8 Fleming Street, Los Angeles, California, operating in a studio facility on that location that originally housed silent era production house Charles Ray Productions. Ralph Like, former soundman in the business, purchased the lot from Charles Ray productions when that house (that had produced some huge budget silents, one of which included a scale reproduction of the ship The Mayflower) folded.

There's naturally not an encyclopedic wealth of knowledge available out there about the studio, but from the remaining titles that exist we can get the sense of the product that the studio produced: quickly made, extremely low budget films; tales of low criminals; of streetwise undecorated cops; old dark house horror titles that were exceedingly common for the age .  .  . westerns, action and adventure titles. Like, before returning to his old craft of Sound Man, cranked out these genre pieces under the banners of Ralph M. Like Productions, Action Pictures, Mayfair Pictures and Progressive Pictures.

Chinatown After Dark, Docks of San Francisco, Dragnet Patrol, The Monster Walks, Tangled Destinies .  .  .  these are the precious treasure of remnant titles that have survived the dust and creeping must of the ages. To a title, each one of these films is acted in an often stilted manner, strangely tempoed, concerned with low sleazy characters, are shot either on oft-used locations or on studios that are redressed and used over and over again (Chinatown After Dark is a giant offender in this department).

And yet each of these films deliver to me an essential extract of the age that most glossy studio product from the early sound era deliver very rarely--a feel for the common, non-epic spirit of the times. The way the room of the common lower middle class person looked, a sense of the patter and vernacular, since the scripts were never highly labored over and the actors were typically not rehearsed into falseness. To tweeze out the feeling of authenticity that I mean, which is somewhat resident on the subliminal level of viewing, each of the films must be viewed more than once--these KIND of films must be viewed more than once to at last develop the craving. Then the key is given up to the viewer and he (or she) can start looking around within the proceedings and picking up items for closer examination: this line, that prop, this street, that action. Once no longer distracted or annoyed by the typical viewer's original untrained sensibility which informs the mind "This is a bad film," the aficionado has expanded their senses, formally and officially become widened in the amount of material they can step into and regularly participate with, forever-after.

Sublime grit and violence . . . and Mary Nolan. (Ralph M. Like, 1932)

The atmosphere of these films and others like them from the early sound era deliver a flavor of delicious, exotic strangeness; the bizarre Mischa Auer in Monster Walks; the bizarre line readings of Carmel Meyers' sinister Chinese female mastermind Madame Ying Su, as well as the eerie ethnic Chinese haunting the background, spying on Rex Lease and Frank Mayo through rainy windows in Chinatown After Dark; the weary eyed, gorgeous, junk-addicted, exhausted-in-real-life tragic figure of Mary Nolan in the fabulously tough and seedy Chinatown After Dark; the malevolent priest in Tangled Destinies in an unexpected plot twist and more.

These impressions are very personal and will vary from person to person depending on the elements they crave for transmission in their direction. The distant shadows in a crumbling plaster wall on a vacant leaning musty staircase from a vanished ancient NYC tenement past .  .  . it's an accidental visual poetry and their receipt triggers an enzyme release that is rather pleasant. The damp autumn leaves of Kirsanoff and Epstein.

This author's disposition is perfectly suited to the rank, weird and slimy residue that these early 30's films leave on the dashboard of his mind's eye. I don't kid myself that the masses love these films, and seek them out in their low budget packages (three bucks a pop, quite often) whenever and wherever they're found like I do; but there are many I know who do indeed exist in the same sphere of preoccupation as I, and thus know full well what this love-letter to a pre Cheepnis cheapness is all about.

Schreck / Clive

3/25/2015*** 


Preston Clive mar 26 15, 19:28
0 1

T-Men & Raw Deal (Mann/Alton, 1947): A Cry Into The Void

Let's pretend for a minute that the dazzling duo of Eagle Lion titles Raw Deal and T-Men was considered lost, and only now had been rediscovered over the past say eighteen months. Let's also pretend that the reputations of Mann and Alton, based on the strength of the canon of both men independent of one another and in tandem, sat at the lofty heights that they always have been. Painting With Light by Alton, The Black Book, He Walked By Night, plus all of the raves about T-Men and Raw Deal from the past before the films were lost let's say in a nitrate fire in some small Los Angeles or midwest vault. Not to mention Mann's El Cid and Fall of the Roman Empire and all the rest.

Now let's say the films were only now just rediscovered by the current hodepodge of  filmfan generations--cineastes young and old. Imagine the dumbfounded reactions; imagine the stunned audiences as the newly recovered films went on tour through the arthouse circuit. The reviews by a bowled over Kehr, Hoberman, Silver, Ursini, Muller. 

Do you have any doubt that the blogosphere would be alight with reviews by dazzled eyeballs, that hi-caliber film reviewers in the NYTimes, the Village Voice, the Chicago Sun-Times, the LA Times, all the film journals in France and the rest of Europe as the film went overseas (where cinephiles have an insatiable hunger for authentic American noir from the late 1940's). .  . that all of these would create overlapping buzzes about the film that ultimately would join and exponentially expand the sense of impact, turning these two titles and their rediscovery by the modern generation into a cinematic global event of the first order?

Do you think there would be any question that the films would be scanned carefully in 2-4K and encoded for BD release? That there would be a drumbeat of anticipation at very least along the lines of the itchy palms aching to put their hands on the recent Caligari, Variete or any number of titles recently restored and eagerly awaited on BD?

Do you think that there would be something of a scramble for rights acquisition on these little Edward Small productions for home video release? Wouldn't the scramble be something of a rush to be the one to excitedly secure the rights to reproduce for home video consumption these phantasmagorical masterpieces of film noir, and to be the one to facilitate recovered history put straight into the hands of the public for posterity?

 

Maybe the reaction would not be precisely as above, but it sure would be a "thing" in the world of cinephilia. These two films take the foundational elements of early Wilder, Lang, Ulmer and a few others in the early Forties, they take the highly stylized exaggerated snappy patter of--for example--Raymond Chandler in his novels and in his script for Double Indemnity .  .  .   and create a visual equivalent. There's no question that the discovery of these two low budget miracles of careful and highly controlled filmmaking would constitute an event of significant import; the foundational story of Noir would have to be modified, if not quite rewritten. 

*           *           *

Is the significance of this film any less simply because the films have been (thankfully) available to us for continuous viewing since they were made? Should we be any less dazzled, should we allow ourselves to go dull over two examples of low budget B filmmaking that are as lofty as is humanly possible?

Who extracted more from a small cast of second string actors, a few thousand bucks, a camera, high contrast film stock and a few lights to pick out key elements here and there in the darkness? How many other filmmaker-cinematographer combos could so profoundly dwarf with a few stretched dollars the efforts of top tier A list studio filmmakers working with the privilege of lavish crews, sets, top casts and multimillion dollar budgets?

How many other tiny teams of impoverished B film artists could earn so much stunned, almost embarrassed awe from those colleagues way up above of them on the studio ladder of prestige?

Mann and Alton during the brief interludes of their collaboration were a rare--very rare--combo indeed .  .  .  so good they could almost be seen as low budget outsiders who were unquestionably superior to their colleagues in the tippity top of the studio crop: an awe and respect that was profound indeed.  

Yes: situations like these were very rare indeed. The are plenty of filmmaker/director-camerman combos who work within the constraints of the B budget that earn the respect of their colleagues in A level Hollywood .  .  .  but this is an affection filled, slightly condescending regard for rough-edged low budget genre work that rises above the rest of the mass of B drek yet almost never raises an authentic aesthetic challenge to the skills of top tier studio filmmakers and crew-craftsmen .  .  .  at least not during the Golden Age of the studio years ending with the 1970's. The films of Edgar Ulmer or Morris Engel are examples.

T-Men and Raw Deal probably need no heavy introduction to the kind of readership that floats through this blog. There are a good number of you, and I know where most of you come from--the vast majority of you know the kind of super-rare filmmaking resident in these two gems. Filled with authenticity of their age from location shooting in seedy urban spots amplified by John Alton's high contrast, fine art camerawork, spilling with tough guy masculinity on both the good and bad guy sides (and T-Men is a famous blurring of the line between good and bad guy, cop and villain, as two undercover Treasury Agents--the T-Men of the title--pose as low level gangsters to penetrate the underworld .  .  .  and perhaps get into their roles a little bit too deeply, getting a sympathetic character killed via their needless machinations on the side) these films represent the very top level of accomplishment in the Noir/crime drama medium, as well as a clear apotheosis of mid-century B&W cinematography--probably cinematography period, in any age.

These films ratchet up the process of psychological mise en scene to the level of high Dutch chiaroscuro blended with Gothic art, a rare cinematic delicacy available nowhere else beyond the bounds of TMen, Raw Deal, The Black Book, and He Walked By Night (on which Mann was an uncredited cleaner-upper for Werker). Nowhere else will you find this level of exaggerated, hyperreality distilled to such crystaline excellence. 

These films have been screaming out for proper treatment on home video for well over ten years. Even the VCI two disc set for T-Men and Raw Deal only just met the bare minimum requirements in terms of image presentation. These two films are cornerstone entries in mid century American filmmaking .  .  .  on any level. The fact that they sit ignored by the Blu Ray age is a crime, a sin, of the highest magnitude. They deserve fresh transfer in 4K resolution from the finest fine grains (or, heaven forfend, a camera neg) sitting out there, with uncompressed mono soundtrack. They deserve, at last, contextual extras, documentaries bringing these two men to life again, filling in the blanks and the background of the making and distribution of these two films.

Anthony Mann received his middling due in the Criterion Collection with The Furies with Walter Huston and Barbara Stanwyk presented kinda ho hum. Eh, meh. Most tuned-in cineastes regard this film as a second string player to the great work Mann did with Alton .  .  . and these two films are without doubt the tip of the towering pinnacle.

Since we've all had the opportunity to bathe in the lush, pitch black paranoia of The Black Book via the Sony On Demand DVD encoded off of telecine from a fabulous print, as well as the Werker on a nice MGM DVD, it's at last time that somebody, somewhere, somehow rescue these two incredibly important works of the cinematic art and place them into the high historical context and state of presentation that is long over due------------P L E A S E! 

I groan into the heavens.

Clive/Schreck

3/24/2015*** 

(All images Eagle Lion Films 1947-1948) 

 


Preston Clive mar 24 15, 23:23
+1 1

Atentát (1965) Vs. Hangmen (1943) Vs. Operation Daybreak (1975)--The Mirror of Murder Has Three Faces

On the advice of my dear friend and cinematic colleague Serdar202, I've taken in the--now-- third film that I've seen dealing with the subject of Reinhard Heydrich, Obergruppenfuhrer SS/SD and Reichsprotektor of Bohemia/Moravia (Czechoslovakia) .  .  .  the film called Atentat (1965) was made by a Czech named Jiri Sequens. This, combined with of course the Lang film and also the very well made and reasonably faithful Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert (1975) make three.

I must say that in terms of telling the tale of the historical event of the assassination and its aftermath in simple human terms of death, fear, porting into the viewer the dark and dismal days of World War Two yesteryear, Operation Daybreak with its simple, straightforward assembly of character with very light and subtle aesthetic cinematographic touches affects me the most profoundly of the three.

Unfortunately, Hangmen Also Die is nothing but pure speculation and thus fiction, despite its constituting my favorite American Lang--this admiration rests on the fabulously paranoid assembly of the cramped and claustrophobic world of blackhearted underground agents and police cracking wise with one another. Hangmen runs on the bleak fuel of the end-of-the-world humor and camaraderie that props up men existing in a world where nothing is out of bounds, nothing is sacred, and anything, no matter how abysmally wrong, is permitted .  .  .  a world shrugging at common murder tossed off like gum spit from a kids mouth. "Your mother's life is over George I'm sorry--what's next on the agenda for today?"

The film is thick with double cross colliding with false realities laying one on top of the other like toppings on a sub sandwich, punctuated with strangely surreal shadows slanting in from unexpected corners--the chiaroscuro of a nation afflicted with incipient political dementia.

Atentat by Sequens is another film altogether, benefiting from what Fritz Lang never had--hindsight knowledge of the true event. By this time the war was over--it was made twenty years after the fall of Nazi Germany and the occupation of his country--and the filmmakers knew relatively fully what happened .  .  .  who carried out the assassination, where the assassins came from, who trained them, and who preceded and followed them.

As has already been mentioned in an earlier blog entry on the Lang film, Operation Anthropoid was carried out by the Free Czech forces living in England with Benes in exile--trained in the UK with English special forces elements, Anthropoid was a paratroop insertion of assassins flown in by English planes, whose ultimate goal was the liquidation of Heydrich. The tale is incredibly nerve wracking as one has the historical vantage point of placing one's self speculatively in the paratroop agents' shoes .  .  .  flying in with such a fatal assignment, passing over the deadly anti-aircraft barriers in the air over Germany, and ultimately parachuting with a limited number of supplies to land with false papers and pure wits--hoping to successfully contact the Czech Resistance, assimilate into the population, slither into Prague, observe Heydrich, and successfully carry out the assassination in a city locked down by the German Sicherheitsdienst / Gestapo.

Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš were the two officers that made up the Anthropoid team. They were flown in in December of 1941 with another set of soldiers inserted into Czech territory under the codes Silver A and Silver B (the Silver operations were not charged with carrying out the assassination). The initial plan was for the two boys to be dropped into Pilsen where friendly elements were waiting for them to make contact--the RAF pilots however missed their waypoints and the two agents wound up dropped to the east and into the zone of Nehvizdy. Eventually both men finally slithered into Pilsen to make contact with their hosts, and then forward on to Prague. 

Atentát by Jiri Sequens is an ambitious, often powerful film that however allows its ambition to run away with itself--and thus its ultimate mission. Its tones are suitably grey and cloudy--it seems as if Sequens never shot on a day when the sun was out; it's a tone which suits the bleak events of the film.

A temporary aside which I'll shortly explain:

I'll never forget a book of poetry I read by a police officer in NYC called Catching Bodies by Philip Mahony--I remember in a little bookstore on Mercer Street in the early Nineties the little paperback had a photo of little kids from a Bronx ghetto standing on a chessboard in a vacant lot, and I opened it--then bought the book after scanning a few lines. In it there is a poem entitled "Complaint #13485, 77 Pct., 10/23/81" where he recounts a murder of an old man walking home in Brooklyn in the late night hours, shot at close range with the killer going through his pockets and running. BOOM, "Whah??" and you fall, you lay there dying and gasping, with some creep going through your pockets for a couple of bucks.

The officer recounts his coming to the scene and reliving this horrible scene leading up to his arrival, and writes something along the lines of (paraphrasing, the book is buried in my apt and I haven't looked at it for years) "Imagine! You are walking home one night; from your miserable job; suddenly; someone walks behind you; shoots you; Brooklyn late at night; as you lay there dying, coughing on your own blood; somebody goes through your pockets; taking your small amount of cash? THE WHOLE WORLD SHOULD SCREAM ABOUT THIS! People should throw up their windows and bang pots and pans because of this!" And goes on to underline the ordinary world and the silence.

This is the way I feel about Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, men who at their age should have been raising their children, dancing, working hard, fucking, kissing, loving their wives, and dreaming of their future with an extended family. Instead they are forced by the horror of the age into a nervewracking camaraderie with death, violent premature death, perhaps by torture, death who sleeps with them in their beds and whispering into their dreams, walks with them down every street, whispers into their ear from the moment of their assignment to the moment of their being sold out and their death by suicide and gunfire in the end. 

Atentat suffers a bit from its ambition, attempting to render the horror and claustrophobia of being boxed in by stress and death, trying to build character, render a sense of anticipation and manly adventure .  .  . while at the same time hyperextending its cast of characters and rendering a hypothetical thesis of critical suggestion: the film opens with the operational and competitive tensions between Reinhard Heydrich who created and headed the SD/RSHA and Admiral Wilhelm Canaris who headed the Abwehr. The difference between these two spy organizations is technical, but philosophically broad: Heydrich's SD was the intelligence gathering arm of the SS/internal police, which spread its hooks across the continent and out into the rest of the world as the war demanded. The Abwehr was the military's classical intelligence organization, initially having a gigantic head start on the far newer SD and thus with agents planted across the globe at least wherever a German embassy or diplomatic office existed, and almost certainly beyond.

However, the differences were far more severe: the SD was headed by the maniacally ambitious Heydrich, who spied obsessively on the Abwehr. It's methods were cunning and often, as resolution approached, often brutal. The Abwehr was more of a gentlemanly, military minded group, with the officer's code underwriting much of the operation's ethics. It was somewhat the equivalent of our DIA combined with a bit of the CIA. But Admiral Canaris was ultimately a decent man of the old school, with none of the ambitious, wretched and cunning bile of Heydrich--or Hitler .  .  .  who he ultimately turned on in the end, when it was revealed that he was party to and underwrote the assassination attempt on Hitler's life.

Sequens' film posits a theory that Canaris underwrote the assassination of Heydrich, which is a very long shot indeed. Heydrich and Canaris had a long history together in the Navy, and their families were intertwined through music and military service, and there is not a shred of evidence to back up the thesis that Canaris provided any support or looked the other way--stepping back and allowing the plot to happen. The film suggests this by the inclusion of the power play between the two, beginning the narrative with Heydrich arresting an Abwehr agent of Canaris', and with our beholding of unspecified machinations on Canaris' part, filled with schadenfreude and withering sarcasm when Heydrich is at last assassinated.

By wheedling down these needless roads the film misses out on the tighter human drama of the simple tale of Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš. We never get to know the two men--we never learn anything about them as individuals .  .  .  they're rendered as simple, steely-eyed masculine ciphers of Czech determination which completely misses the point of Czech heroism. Bravery is nonexistent if fear is not resident.

Although Atentat is a well made film with a certain authenticity to it--with lovely examples of here graceful and there manic camera movement, action set pieces, widescreen framing, dark and grey atmosphere, and with one of the best casting decisions I've ever seen to render the person of Heydrich--I nonetheless felt that the larger tale of two human beings with nervous systems forced into a grisly waltz with the phantom of death by the misery of the age .  .  .  this was missed.

Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert, on the other hand, benefits from the hindsight of the errors of both films. Like Atentat, Daybreak was shot almost entirely on location in Prague. Unlike the Sequens film however, Daybreak tells the simple story of two simple men forced into extraordinary circumstance. There is no question that these two films were shot on many of the same locations/recreations rendered with precise exactitude; events play out with the only possible functional shooting angles in certain locations/studio recreations; the cramped environs simply allowed no other choice. Some scenes are almost point to point exact.

Starring Timothy Bottoms (who would shoot Apocalypse Now with Coppola almost simultaneously, playing Lance the surfer) and Martin Shaw (a well known English actor currently famous for playing Inspector George Gently), this film scrapes away all extraneous material and distills the events down with little--though there are moments of occasional divergence from actual history--distraction. There is no larger political frame story or hypothesizing; for this the film benefits enormously. The film rides high the restrained style of color film-making prevalent in the 1970's: careful yet easy, brilliantly acted yet completely unobtrusive and absolutely lifelike, utterly unpretentious of style yet rampantly affecting.

Lewis Gilbert, whose biggest claim to fame among the general public was the direction of a few James Bond films which were so popular running up to that point, handles the material (along with legendary European cinematographer Henri Dacae) with a sensitivity and an intuition that never loses sight of the driving goal of the material .  .   . he steps back and simply allows the circumstances of plot and performance--and nonfictional backdrop--to work its magic.

Of the three films, in terms of the bar of history, Operation Daybreak by Lewis Gilbert must rise highest here. However, that's merely my opinion--and these are three fabulous films that all deserve to be seen.

Clive/Schreck

3/23/2015*** 


Preston Clive mar 23 15, 23:12
0 3

Nosferatu &. Destiny/Der Mude Tod (Murnau/Lang, 1921): Lest We Forget . . . .

The whole idea of a Silent Film Smackdown or kickboxing match to pronounce a "winner" in the end is an act bordering on a level of absurdity so profound its virtually without equal.

At the same time the idea of bunching these two supernatural films together just set upon me five minutes ago (approximately 12:45pm EST in NYC, 3/30/2015... we still have a little bit of time left before the planet blows up in a great fiery orgy of apocalypse because when a supermoon gets funky with a solar eclipse on the vernal equinox and god knows what-all else, being toasted down to a shivering microscopic cinder is the only possible outcome .  .  .  if you don't believe me then listen to Mystic Momma: she knows everything). I found the idea of a comparative appreciation unbearably alluring so I'm diving in without prep to close out this second calendar week of my resurrected blog.

Two foundational films from two foundational directors in Germany: Nosferatu by Murnau, and Der Mude Tod (aka Destiny) by Lang. Both made in 1921. Both the first undisputed masterpieces by either director. Both gloomy and dreary and filled with the inky charcoal of chiaroscuro. Both soaked with a cold damp wind of grey death. Both tone-setters for the way that Weimar Cinema would be perceived up to this very day. 

Both films are underpinned by awesome performances by singularly grim looking male actors portraying incarnations of death personified in worn, almost shabby costumes that have a perfectly weathered appearance, matching their heavily weathered faces.

Both films imbue the viewer with a hope that--as the narratives wend their ponderously gloomy way toward resolution--the forces of darkness can be defeated with a cipher of human innocence and genuine selflessness. And both crush that hope in conclusion with a rare power of precious, dismal poetry.

Both films harness the power of shadow in one of the earliest examples of sets bathed in shadow, soaked in broad swathes of inky darkness--aside from Evgeni Bauer, these are some of the first films to concretize the yet unspoken maxim of the great cameraman John Alton: it's not what you light, it's what you don't light.

Both films obsess over the rarest esoterica of the supernatural, a subject that was extremely rare in the cinema and would remain so for at least another ten years until the advent of the sound era in Universal Studios and the youthful risk-taking of Carl Laemmle Jr. From the birth of the full length five reeler in the teens and forward, most tales of the supernatural turned out to have rational explanations in the end: scheming relatives trying to scare an inheritor away from a fortune, a cop dressing up as a supernatural creature to scare the competition away, and on and on.

*           *           *

Not only did the two of these films concern themselves with the supernatural, they obsessed for obscurest esoterica of the supernatural. .  .  secret ciphers and glyphs of forgotten hidden societies, mysterious roots and bulbs that were believed to give off healing powers under the glow of a seasonal moon. .  .   the whirling of Muslim dervishes to celebrate the Sufist concept of God (in the much larger Earth of the early 20th Century, how many Europeans knew much about Islam beyond the Arabian Nights?), Paracelsian esoterica, the vampiric myths of eastern Europe and the legends about the foggy, hard-to-reach crumbling castles high on little-traveled passes .  .  .  ideas that in their actual form are as obscure today as they were back then almost a hundred years ago.

Through books like The Demoniac/Haunted Screen by Lotte Eisner, or From Caligari To Hitler by Siggy Kracauer, it's easy to fall into the ridiculous trap of thinking that the German screen of post-war Weimer was filled with little else but doom, gloom, death and the supernatural--but it's not true.

Like the films of Douglas Fairbanks or Llloyd or Chaplin here in the USA from the same period, these are simply the films that, because of their budget, skilled craftsmen, unusual quality and thus broad exhibition, gained great popularity with the public and thus were 1) duped and exhibited voluminously whereby 2) copies wound up surviving here and there and thus made it to the modern era in a far greater percentile versus the ordinary Westerns, adventure films, romances, serials, comedies by transitory flavor-of-the-moment actors and actresses, and newsreels that came out with far far far greater frequency. Eighty percent of the films from the silent era at very least have been lost. The number is probably greater.

Even the studio planet of UFA, known for its Pommerian universe of artifice and grand scale, was a factory grinding out typical studio fare. UFA was no more the studio of super-expensive giant sized productions any more than Universal in the 1920's was a studio that put out nothing but Stroheim and Lon Chaney million dollar super jewels. Universal Hollywood in those days was essentially a B studio--cranking out low budget westerns, serials, comedies, romances, and all the other drek that comes in between. They put out a super jewel feature complete with glossy printed magazine size programs, sheet music sold to the public, etc once a year. Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback, The Man Who Laughs, the Stroeheims, you'll notice that you will almost never find a year where a Universal film with towering, mindbendingly expensive sets is released alongside another of equal budget but of completely different pedigree and subject and art direction. The studio finances just couldn't handle it.

As far as UFA was concerned, it was the stretch from 24-27 where they attempted to ratchet up the studio superproductions to simultaneity (Faust/Nibelungen/Metropolis) that saw the studio stumble right into financial trouble and right into Alfred Hugenberg's mitts.

The point is this: even in the hallowed halls of the old UFA in the first half of the twenties, just pre and post acquisition of Decla Bioskop, the vast majority of cinematic fare in Germany was the same boring fluff made for as little as possible that plagues any era of film. At least when it comes to the connoisseur, with a taste for something different and somewhat more substantial.

How miraculous are both of these films--how so are both of these men. What different temperaments, yet how similar are both of these breakthroughs for both of them. Nosferatu's influence over the years has been endless, although upon its initial release its success was staggered by the Stoker family suit. Der Mude Tod--we know it floored Luis Bunuel; we know it bowled Hitchcock over and remained his favorite film. We know--speaking of the American swashbuckler-- Douglas Fairbanks freaked for the Lang film and bought its rights so he could cruelly shove it in a closet and first copy, then release a flying carpet sequence lifted straight out of the Oriental sequence first, before the appearance of Der Mude Tod in the states. Uncool.

It's very easy in this age of all manner of films everywhere, our senses dulled by porn and CGI and terrorism and apps and all manner of strange information available at the click of a mouse, to miss the impact of Nosferatu and Der Mude Tod

In a field of endless homogeneity and unspectacular, average, mindless prattle as far as the eyes can see--an occasional decent mind here and there, okay, it's true--suddenly two men walk in out of nowhere with completely overwhelming talent and brains, and demonstrate at the same time the strangest taste and aesthetic inclinations. People stop, stunned, staring at the screen, jaws agape. 

How is it that this happens? Just a few times every century? Men arrive almost as if they landed from Saturn, with minds concerned with subject matter that baffle ordinary folks .  .  .  strange men who scare people .  .  .and nonetheless awe the chilled common man to the marrow with the hitherto unseen level of talent that hurls all that originality flowing naturally through their veins direct into the beholding viewer as if by injection?

Almost above all other films from the era--there are others of course--savor these films. Never allow yourself to become numb to their meaning and what they say about the young, barely experienced men who made them and dazzled the planet .  .  .  still to this day. Generation after generation.

Schreck/Clive

3/20/2015***

    

 

 


Preston Clive mar 20 15, 23:09
+1 1

Nosferatu; General Blogging Update 3/19/2015

I've made a general decision to migrate the sum total of all my blogging, audio commentary included, over to this Olanola platform for the time being--it's essentially the same blogging framework as Wordpress, and as I have access to marketing and promotion tools here via the management and inner connections to our network of sites, there's no reason not to simplify and streamline.

As one of my favorite commentators David Kalat released a commentary on Nosferatu just as I was in preparation of my own back in 2013, I simply backed off and allowed his to shine; I don't want to be compared to David ;@}

Now that a year plus has gone by since the release of the German BD (and the Kino disc; I've acquired the MoC) and I've refired the ol' synapses, I'm going to resurrect the audio commentary component of my blog, but at a slower pace than I did previously .  .  .  they are a lot of work. I write them, time them, record and engineer them, compress them to mp3, get them hosted with a share link, and create a blog post to link them. It's a lot of work that makes my long blog entries of the current day look like a Sunday nap in late May.

I love doing them, and nothing would be more retarded than complaining about something I took upon myself--but if there's anything that makes me cringe, it's announcing something as forthcoming, and then not following through.

But since I've already begun the planning stage of organization and note taking, I should have the Nosferatu commentary up within the next (approximately) ten to fourteen days. I'll attach the commentary audio mp3 link right here to the announce when ready.

I'm actually flirting with a massive undertaking, doing a full commentary for Die Nibelungen; if I relent I'll likely do Destiny/Der Mude Tod instead.

*           *           *

In our expansion of the blogging platform, I'm getting them to dump some irrelevant content and bring in some new stuff including some flagship bloggers with an existing audience.

This aside, we're looking to open the rolls to two or three new voices--new bloggers that we'll actively promote. It can be on cinema of any stripe, it could be on engineering, it could be on anything--as long as you have a quality about you. If you've flirted with launching something, and you think you can carry it at least weekly and hold an audience, hit me up anywhere you'd like.

I'm working directly with a web magnate estimated by Fortune to have $650 mil, and we'll promote those couple of voices that rise to the challenge to grow a following for them.

As for the traffic from you guys it's been beyond expectations, so thank you all--especially since I had disappeared for so long, nearly two years. I'm such a retard at times it amazes me an audience sticks with me. Thanks all.

Preston Clive AKA HerrSchreck

3/19/2015***

 


Preston Clive mar 19 15, 22:19
+1 1

Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)

(Compton Films, 1965)

It's not every day that a film that has been sitting so obviously in my mind's eye for procurement, screaming out for viewing for so long, turns out to be this good after finally relenting, nor is it every day that a film tricks me as completely as Repulsion by Roman Polanski.

On my watch list for a good number of years, there were good reasons for my wanting to see Repulsion: there was something consistent about the reviews from forums and reviews--posts from people I pay attention to and from those I do not really listen much to--that told me, "This film is an excursion into that bizarro nameless territory that you love so much dude... it's probably the real thing. Watch it. You hear me? Watch it."

Even the venerable Criterion Collection's releasing the film on DVD and BluRay didn't spur me into action until finally, some undefinable interior clock went off and it turned out to be my time to grab the film for myself. Even after doing so, it sat for a week or two before I threw it on.

Incredibly, for that week or two I probably watched Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man, with Bela Lugosi doing his atrocious humping turn as the Embarrassing Monster, for the seven thousandth time. But still, a confirmed masterpiece sat, unsent-for, waiting for the alarm to go off in my head.

Well finally, this past weekend, the alarm bells battered and banged and the time was nigh to see what all the oozing and cooing was about. Turned out the answer was "An awful goddam lot."

*          *          *

I'm not the most giant-sized Polanski expert. I like Chinatown quite a bit--I love the deadpan way it delivers its insanely wacko universe of complicated simplicity with easy bleak style. Like it a lot, but the film has planted no giant sized magnet in me whereby I make an annual pilgrimage to the film and make sure I keep it fresh in my head. It's been at least ten years since I've seen the thing... probably have seen it three or four times all together.

Rosemary's Baby is on the other hand another box of graham crackers altogether. Adore the film. Love it. Need it in the brain llike the body requires vitamins and minerals; love it as a story to get lost in, to put on and fall asleep to in the dark so it mucks up my dreams with a yellow green aura of horror tinkering with my waking sanity; admire it as a specimen of cinema .  .  .  nod of the head with this camera placement, smile of admiration with this edit, that script line, and on and on.

Created by Polanski in 1965 after the success of Knife In The Water, Repulsion was the result of a Polanski script developed with co-writers, based on his personal experience of meeting a beautiful woman, stunningly attractive .  .  .  yet at the same time agonizingly shy. So shy as to be hobbled, addled with neuroses, perhaps psychotic. To the degree that there was a tangible sense of danger lurking beneath the surface of such physical beauty waiting to be uncovered.

This is a re-imagining of the tale of Beauty & The Beast .  .  .  except in this case both are wrapped up in the trunk of a single human organism: one physically beautiful woman psychologically damaged beyond repair by a damaged beast haunting the reverbing halls of her head.

I am now announcing: there will be spoilers below this line. Eat these words with your eyes only at your own peril, if you have not yet watched this film.

 

Repulsion is, in terms of dialog and physical action, in terms of movement, in terms of suspense, a very quiet film. Shot in stark black and white--gorgeous inky blacks, luminous whites and lovely silver tonalities in between (this would have been a wonderful film to watch, were it still in use at the time, on a first generation nitrate, but who wants to sit in the same room as a projector fire? Me! this is all silliness as nitrate was no longer used at its making in 65)--Repulsion runs on the sensibilities that spin off of the aesthetics of the silent era. 

This is a film that talks to that side of the brain that tosses words into the rubbish heap; it speaks directly to a part of your brain that is soundlessly cultivating a file of impressions on the persona of Catherine Deveuve's lead character Carol, cumulatively watching unusual, soundless behaviors pile up as she writhes quietly through the film. We are never told what is "wrong" with Carol; we are never informed what "happened" to Carol, if anything indeed "happened" to her at all to make her the way she is. We understand and make judgments without words, without labels as we connect her with similar strange souls we've all encountered in our lives. This is the wordless intuition of human existence, which needs no audio track, no title cards, no mickey-mousing score for emphasis. The mind sees, and it understands.

A light sketch in of plot: we open the film with Carol, a manicurist in London attending to a client in a beauty spa/clinique treatment room. Sketching his mise en scene through quiet portaiture and editing rhythms to establish an impressionist sensibility, allowing the aura of character to set the tempo, we are plunked down into the strange intimacy of aging wealthy biddies, chasing after the fleeing angel of youthful beauty. Carol's charge rustles ever so slightly on her padded spa table, the first sign of movement:

"Have you fallen asleep," she asks annoyed, as Carol has stopped servicing her client's fingernails for too long a stretch and gone into a haze.

Carol's interaction with her interlocutors in the film is basically a series of episodes wherein she gives off some specimen of oddball, quiet, "off" behavior wherein they inevitably have to ask--"Are you okay?" The only souls who don't seem to pay much attention to the introverted oddity of Carol is the happyhumping couple of Carol's sister Helen and her lover Michael--played by the super effective duo of Yvonne Furneaux and Ian Hendry.

Carol lives her life in paranoid pantomime, moving soundlessly like a skittish ghost through her workaday business until the departure of her sister and her married boyfriend go to Italy on holiday, leaving Carol alone in her shabby old mansion flat.

This is where the film begins in earnest and is without question where Polanski pulls of his miraculous tour de force of utterly bizarre filmmaking, an art of a stripe that is completely beyond classification: it is not arthouse, it is not horror, it is not suspense, it is not a silent film, but it is hardly a sound film.

It's rather simply Repulsion-- I can't think of anything else to say. With her sister gone--her one toehold, her tiny anchor into the world of responsibility, of paying attention to time and its passage, of routines fulfilled, laws respected, of the world of paranoid fantasy inadvertantly dissolved by the strong sisterly example and presence of Helen--Carole flumps sideways into the jaws of her own mind and the worst that it has to offer itself.

One of the main drivers of Carol's disintegration is her rampant alienation from/hatred of men. Carole is like a foot stamping pubescent girl who rejects out of hand anything that she doesn't understand and which disrupts her comfort zone: thus sexual arousal is a cause for extreme confusion and disturbance, and results in a rage that is focused with laser accuracy on the male that caused it. If a bug bites you, squash the bug. Kill it, stomp it, twist and grind your heel in it until it is neutralized, liquefied goo, never to threaten again.

There is a telling moment in the bathroom of her flat where Carol picks up Michael's dirty bathroom linen.  .  .  her hormonal curiosity overwhelms her and she smashes the sweaty, pheromone-drenched fabric to her face to breathe in the male essence completely, unable to help herself. The sexual self momentarily bursting up through the burbling cauldron of anxiety to have a briefest flash in the world.

As her skittish identity snaps back into the equation and the instinct that triggered the act withers away, Carol is all conscious mind again and erupts in nausea, flinging the offending article away and vomiting in a wastebasket.

This movie kept me unsure until the very end--as Carol endures a complete breakdown, losing her fragile grasp on sanity more and more with each moment that goes by, she begins to hallucinate: cracks erupt in the walls of her flat as her brain starts throwing sparks and sputtering in the direction of complete disintegration. The apartment walls, the rooms, these stretch and grow impossibly. Space and time stretch like silly putty. Rapists appear behind her in the mirror, snap on like flicked lamps behind her on the bed to hump her from behind; multiple pairs of hands reach impossibly out from within the hallway walls to grope and fondle Carol with unbridled masculine lust as she makes her way through the house. Men appear at the door for a visit--already driven to madness by the phantasms materializing in and out of her eyesight, Carol knows she must neutralize these new threats at the first opportunity or more rape, more abuse, more hideous unwelcome maleness shoved into her mind and her body will be the result.

*           *           *

The problem with all of this is that we have been so strictly been following Carol around like faithful dogs in the narrative, warming to nobody else but her, that we have essentially been seeing the world through her eyes. We know beyond doubt that many of the male phantoms that come to haunt her in her flat are not real. As the house is still standing at the close of the film, we're feeling pretty certain that the cracks and the collapses we've been seeing erupt through her warped eyeballs were not real: certainly the hands gumbubbling out through the walls to grope her were not real.  .  . without question the impossible stretching of her living room was not either.

So was the violence that took place within the apartment real too? Were these hallucinations as well?

The answer surprised me--this is a movie neither conventional or predictable.

An extremely unique specimen, Repulsion is a perfect example of the that kind of cinema produced by important filmmakers in all the fire and defiant creative energy of their youth. Anxious to express the newness of their vision and make it more interesting still, they take a large number of chances in an attempt to break through this or that barrier of audience, artistic recognition, or production/studio prestige. The result is pure originality with a pleasing hint of rough edges out on the circumference. I could fill pages with examples of this kind of film throughout history and across the globe--easily, because these are some of my favorites of all time. . . over the hump of learning the ropes, but not a wealthy man living the life of an icon yet. Ambitious, inventive, rare of talent.

Polanski was in a veritable fever of inspiration at this period of his career, a fever than would wane bit by bit, but slowly enough that he would remain a rather vital and inspiring filmmaker for a good number of years to come. He talks about wanting to break through, about wanting to make an impression, to make that break into the English speaking audience, and make it to the big time terrain of his aspirations and live out his destiny.

Via this extremely inspiring example, working with a low budget, seedy, soft core porn production company and distributor, he positively did just that. If you've not seen the film, run don't walk to grab the CC DVD or BD. Sublime stuff.

P. Clive/HSchreck

3/18/2015*** 

 

     

 


Preston Clive mar 18 15, 22:00
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Preston Clive
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