April & May at The Movie Morlocks

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Highlights from my April & May contributions to TCM’s Movie Morlocks. You can read all the articles by following the links below:

Happy Birthday Doris!
Excerpt: “The legacy of this vivacious movie star, popular vocalist, television personality and animal rights advocate is truly unparalleled. And knowing Doris Day’s is still here with us doing good work that benefits us all is something worth celebrating!”

When Insects Attack: GENOCIDE (1968)
Excerpt: “The unexpected blend of film genres makes GENOCIDE a unique viewing experience that benefits from some impressive psychedelic inspired visuals. Director Kazui Nihonmatsu uses a number of imaginative film techniques including superimposition and slow dissolves to express the fractured state of mind of his tormented cast as well as the apocalyptic nature of their plight. And the relentless close-ups of actual insects munching on human flesh gives this low-budget production an uncomfortable documentary-like ambiance. Fans of Toho’s more atypical outings such as THE H-MAN (1958), THE HUMAN VAPOR (1960) and MATANGO (1965) will appreciate GENOCIDE and if you enjoy a good bug invasion movie as much as I do you should find this interesting little gem worthy of your time.”

Matrimony, Madness and Murder: HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970)
Excerpt: “What sets HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON apart from many other pretty-boy “psycho-thrillers” (a term I’m borrowing from film journalist Kim Newman) that were prevalent in the late sixties and early seventies is its international setting and baroque setpieces. Bava’s film was shot in France, Italy and Spain and used the elegant villa of the infamous Generalissimo Francisco Franco as one of its backdrops. The House of Harrington contains an extravagant bridal salon adorned with mannequins that model beautiful wedding gowns and resemble the lifeless corpses of dead brides. And it is in this enclosed and highly stylized setting that the killer feels most at home as does Bava’s camera which lovingly lingers over every macabre detail allowing us an intimate look into the murderer’s mind.”

Rough, Raw & Randy: UP THE JUNCTION (1968)
Excerpt: “Peter Collinson’s effective slice-of-life drama UP THE JUNCTION (1968) makes its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the U.S. this week thanks to Olive Films. Today the film is often fondly remembered by fans of sixties cinema for its South London setting, colorful mod fashions, beehive hairdos, boastful bikers and jazzy psychedelic pop score by Manfred Mann. But UP THE JUNCTION has more to offer viewers besides an abundance of great style and an unforgettable soundtrack.”

Bad Movie Mothers We Love to Hate
Excerpt: “TCM is celebrating Mother’s Day (Sunday, May 11th) with a great program of classic films showcasing notable mothers. While looking over Sunday’s line-up I was surprised to spot NOW, VOYAGER (1942), which features Gladys Cooper as the incredibly cold and domineering mother of Bette Davis. Cooper won an Oscar nomination for her memorable performance and went on to play another overbearing mother in SEPARATE TABLES (1958) who torments poor Deborah Kerr. While considering Gladys Cooper’s portrayal of two heartless mothers I started thinking about other horrible movie moms that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years.”

Spy Games: BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! (1966)
Excerpt: “BANG! BANG! YOU’RE DEAD! Is just one of hundreds (possibly thousands) of spy spoofs that were released in the sixties following the world-wide success of the early James Bond films. Its unwieldy plot and cookie-cutter characters will be familiar to many but thanks to a solid cast, the spectacular North Africa locations and some thrilling action sequences this amusing romp managed to keep me entertained throughout its 92 minute running time.”

Mystery & Melodrama: THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE (2012-2014)
Excerpt: “It’s a shame that so many women who took on incredibly difficult and challenging jobs during WW2, such as flying planes, driving tanks, nursing the wounded, spying for their governments and breaking complicated codes shared by enemy nations, have been overshadowed by their male counterparts. Rosie the Riveter has become a symbol of female ingenuity during wartime but women did much more in WW2 besides working in ammunition factories. THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE shines a welcome light on a group of heroic women that have all too often been forgotten by history and brings them to vivid life.”

“The World’s Most Beautiful Animal!” – Ava Gardner in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
Excerpt: “Ava Gardner makes one of my favorite film entrances of all time in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which airs on TCM June 1st. If you want to kick off the new month with a bang I highly recommend making time for this verbose Technicolor-noir that critiques Hollywood excess and the powerful studio system that frequently exploited its stars. Mankiewicz’s film is a heady brew of CITIZEN KANE (1941), LAURA (1944), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and the director’s own ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) shot with abundant style by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff.”

Young Americans (1967)

The Young Americans (1967)

From my latest piece at the Movie Morlocks

“In 1968 five documentary films were nominated for an Oscar but you’d never know that from looking at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website. The site claims to feature a complete list of all the Oscar nominees and winners, but on the official web page for the 41st Oscar ceremony there are only four nominees listed instead of the customary five. James Blue’s A FEW NOTES ON OUR FOOD PROBLEM, Harry Chapin‘s THE LEGENDARY CHAMPIONS, David H. Sawyer‘s OTHER VOICES and Bill McGaw’s JOURNEY INTO SELF all receive credit but the original Oscar winning documentary of 1968 is suspiciously absent.

Despite the website snub, the fact remains that YOUNG AMERICANS took home the award for Best Documentary that year but director Alexander Grasshoff was forced to return his Oscar a few months later due to one of the Academy’s most notorious blunders. Thankfully the documentary still exists even if it has been forgotten by the Academy and it remains a fascinating relic from a decade that I too often categorize as “swinging” and “groovy.” I must point out that there’s nothing swinging or groovy about YOUNG AMERICANS. In fact, it’s an extremely square film but it offers audiences a unique and undeniably conservative look at American culture in the sixties that is as revealing as it is deceiving.”

If you’d like to read more about the film that helped kick-start the popularity of “show choirs” in America leading to the current success of the television show GLEE, just follow the link.

Scanning Life Through the Picture Windows: Young Americans (1967) @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks blog

I’ve also posted a video featuring a performance from the Young Americans TV special that aired in 1969. Fair warning – this will hurt your ears and possibly melt your brain but it is a lot of fun to watch!

Blake Edwards and THE PARTY (1968)

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Peter Sellers and Claudine Longet in The Party (1968)

I recently wrote a piece about The Party (1968) for the newest issue of Screening the Past that you can read online. Issue #30 of Screening the Past is a tribute to the late director Blake Edwards and The Party is my favorite Edwards’ film. I really enjoyed delving into the movie again and discussing the ways in which Edwards’ film dealt with identity and the cultural climate of the the late 1960s. I admire the way that Edwards used The Party to take a swipe at old Hollywood, which is so often celebrated as “The Golden Age of Cinema” while its worst aspects like the subtle but abundant racism, sexism and religious intolerance is too often swept under the rug although not a lot has changed really. I love old movies but I have no problem discussing their faults and The Party is a great example of why I like to refer to the ’60s and the ’70s as “The Platinum Age of Cinema.” The following link will take you to my piece on The Party:
The Party @ Screening the Past

Do You Sleep In The Nude?

In the summer of 1968 film critic and renowned gossip Rex Reed published his best selling book Do You Sleep in the Nude? The title came from an unusual question that Reed had supposedly directed at actress Ava Gardner during a notorious interview he conducted for Esquire Magazine. That same year Trudy Owett of New York Magazine decided to ask six young up-and-coming actresses the same question. Jenny O’Hara, Shelley Plimpton, Gayle Hunnicutt, Ali MacGraw, Jane Merrow and Lauren Hutton offer their responses in the comic book inspired photo story (and nightwear ad) below.

Continue reading

“She is a happening all to herself.”

The October 1968 issue of ABC Film Review features a great piece by Philip Bradford about the making of Jack Cardiff’s Girl On A Motorcycle. In the article the movie’s two stars (Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon) briefly discuss what it was like to work with one another on the film. I thought it would be fun to share their quotes here along with some lovely still shots of them together on the set. I assume that most (if not all) of these photographs were taken by Jack Cardiff himself but if anyone knows otherwise, please feel free to let me know.

Alain Delon on Marianne Faithfull:

"She is a happening all to herself. She is the type of girl men fought dragons for in mythology, the type that duels have been fought over."

Marianne Faithfull on Alain Delon:
"We think alike in a lot of ways and he’s a totally dedicated actor. He helped me a lot through his ability to ignore outside things when he’s working. You have to keep cool when you’re filming. Shooting intimate love scences with swarms of technicians around you – for that you really need to learn to concentrate.  You have to shut off everyone else and make a world in which there are only two people."

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It’s also worth noting that Marianne Faithfull isn’t afraid to call Alain Delon a "cunt" when the opportunity presents itself. For her 2002 album Kissin’ Time Faithfull recorded a beautiful song written with Dave Stewart called "Song For Nico" that is a tribute to the German songstress and one time member of The Velvet Underground. In the song Faithfull takes a well-deserved jab at Delon for the neglectful way he treated Nico and the child they had together in 1962. The curious can listen to the song on Youtube if you follow this link.

Girl On a Motorcycle: The Soundtrack

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Composer Les Reed

One of the best things about Jack Cardiff’s 1968 film The Girl on a Motorcycle is the terrific score created by the award winning British composer and songwriter Les Reed. Les Reed was one of the most prolific members of the mid-60s London music scene and he’s probably familiar to most people thanks to the success of popular songs he wrote and arranged for other artists. Reed often worked with other songwriters like Geoff Stephens and Barry Mason, and these creative partnerships yielded many hit songs.

Here’s a short list of some of the songs that were composed and/or arranged by Les Reed and performed by the recording artists who made them popular (links should take you to YouTube clips for each song):

Tom Jones – “It’s Not Unusual”
Herman’s Hermits – “There’s a Kind of Hush”
Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders – “Game of Love”
The Drifters – “Hello Happiness”
The Fortunes – “Here It Comes Again”
The Dave Clark Five – “Everybody Knows”
The Applejacks – “Tell Me When”
Petula Clark – “Kiss Me Goodbye”
Lulu – “Leave A Little Love”
Elvis Presley – “Sylvia”
Engelbert Humperdinck – “The Last Waltz”
Mireille Mathieu – “Les Bicyclettes De Belsize”

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The John Barry Seven with Les Reed on the piano

Les Reed came from a musical family and trained at London’s prestigious College of Music. In 1958 he began playing piano with renowned composer John Barry and his touring band the John Barry Seven. This partnership lasted until 1962 and during that time Reed worked with John Barry on the soundtracks for Beat Girl (1959), Never Let Go (1960) and the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962). But it wasn’t until 1968 that Les Reed would get the opportunity to compose and record his first film score for Jack Cardiff’s The Girl On a Motorcycle.

Reed’s score for Girl On a Motorcycle is a powerful psychedelic mix of jazz influenced sounds that fuels the film and sticks with you long after the credits have rolled. The edgy soundtrack features lush strings, punchy brass, smooth vibes and Hammond organ grooves that perfectly compliment Jack Cardiff’s uninhibited directing style on the film. Reed’s score really injects life into Cardiff’s striking cinematography and experimental editing. Besides the avant-garde incidental music, Reed’s soundtrack also contains memorable songs sung by the French chanteuse Mireille Mathieu and the legendary British born jazz singer Cleo Laine.

This unusual combination of sounds and styles makes Les Reed’s soundtrack for Girl On a Motorcycle a great standalone recording and one of the composers most highly regarded efforts. Even critics of The Girl On a Motorcycle who don’t appreciate Jack Cardiff’s film often still find some enjoyment in Les Reed’s unforgettable score.

Girl On a Motorcycle Soundtracks
LP and CD covers for The Girl On a Motorcycle soundtrack

Late last year Britain’s RPM Records re-released Les Reed’s soundtrack for The Girl On a Motorcycle accompanied by his soundtrack for another film, Les Bicyclettes De Belsize (1968). I haven’t heard this latest release, but it doesn’t include any of the Mireille Mathieu and Cleo Laine songs for the movie so I can’t really recommend it. If you’re going to purchase The Girl On a Motorcycle soundtrack I highly recommend buying the original RPM Record release, which contains all of the music recorded for the film. The soundtrack is currently selling at Amazon for $19.98, but I thought I’d offer a sample from it here.

Listen: Les Reed – “Girl On a Motorcycle” (Theme)

To learn more about Les Reed and his generous contributions to music I recommend visiting his website: Les Reed OBE: The Official Website.

This is a continuation of my extensive look at Jack Cardiff’s 1968 film The Girl On a Motorcycle. Previous posts:
Some Thoughts On Jack Cardiff 1914-2009
The Girl On a Motorcycle: Advertising

The U.S. Premiere of Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

If you live in New York or will be visiting the area on November 25th, you won’t want to miss the U.S. Premiere of the French pop musical spectacular, Les Idoles (1968). New York’s Film Society at Lincoln Center will be showing the film November 25th and following the film you can attend a fabulous yé-yé afterparty where DJs J Tripp, Melody Nelson, and the Film Society’s own Gabriele Caroti will spin French psychedelic ’60s pop.

For more information about Les Idoles and it’s upcoming U.S. Premiere please visit the official site for the Film Society of Lincoln Center.

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles was based on a popular stage play performed by the Center for Theater & Experimentation on Actor Performance founded by Marc’O (aka Marc-Gilbert Guillaumin) who also directed the film version of Les Idoles in 1968. The film’s stars were all originally members of Marc’O’s avant-garde theater group and in many ways Les Idoles was an accumulation of the work they did together on stage. This psychedelic musical satire serves as both a critique and inadvertently a celebration of French pop music and yé-yé culture in the sixties, which seemed to fuel the revolutionary spirit in French youth while also offering up easy escapism. Les Idoles apparently received a warm reception in France when it debuted in 1968, but for one reason or another the movie was never released in the United States.

The film centers around the rise and fall of three pop stars who sing and dance their way through Les Idoles. Pierre Clémenti plays the unruly and rebellious Charly “the Knife” le Surineur who is supposedly based on the real French pop idol Johnny Hallyday and the lovely Bulle Ogier plays the kooky, sweet and naive Gigi “the Mad” la Folle who seems to be a combination of two popular yé-yé girls; Sylvie Vartan and France Gall. And finally there is Jean-Pierre Kalfon as the singer with psychic powers known as Simon “the Magician” le Magicien. Although the quality of the musical numbers in Les Idoles varies, the three leading actors give some of their most energetic and sensational performances in this uncompromising musical.

I first discovered Les Idoles during a trip to Tokyo in late 2005. The film had just been released there and many of the music shops I visited displayed large advertising posters for Les Idoles DVDs, as well as CDs, books and other yé-yé related promotional materials. The Japanese seem to love French pop music from the sixties and it heavily influenced the Shibuya-kei scene made popular by great Japanese bands like Pizzicato Five so it’s not too surprising that Les Idoles would find an enthusiastic audience in the “Land of the Rising Sun.” Thanks to the upcoming U.S. premiere of the film, American audiences will now get the opportunity to enjoy Les Idoles as well.

I’ve never had the opportunity to see Les Idoles with English subtitles myself and since I don’t speak French it’s impossible for me to really write a thorough and detailed review of this imaginative film. I can tell you that the film has a distinct visual vocabulary and a wonderful sound that appeals to my senses and reaches well beyond any language barriers. If I do get the opportunity to see a subtitled version of Les Idoles in the future there’s a high probability that it will become one of my favorite films.

Besides the creative direction from Marc’O and the talented cast of actors who perform some great songs in the movie, Les Idoles also features some truly incredible set designs and striking interiors by Laurent Gire as well as stylish period costumes created by Jean Bouquin. All of this combines to make Les Idoles easily one of the most interesting and eye-catching musicals made in France during the sixties.

I’ve previously mentioned how much I admire and adore the actor turned filmmaker Pierre Clémenti, but his show-stopping performance as Charly “the Knife” le Surineur is truly one of his greatest roles. Clémenti was always ahead of his time and he brings an edgy youthfulness and bold abandon to the character of Charly “the Knife” that’s reminiscent of great iconic music artists from the late ’60s and early ’70s such as Jim Morrison and Iggy Pop. The lean pale figure clad in black leather that prowls the sets of Les Idoles could have easily given up acting to become one of the pop idols he mimics and that’s what makes his performance so compelling and dynamic. Clémenti is the picture perfect protopunk with the soul of a decadent 19th century French poet.

If you’re interested in experimental French film or just enjoy colorful French musicals from the sixties, then Les Idoles is definitely worth a look. Hopefully the U.S. premiere of the film will lead to a subtitled DVD release in the states so those of us who can’t make it to New York on November 25th will be able to enjoy this extraordinary film in the future.

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)

Les Idoles (1968)


Watch Pierre Clémenti perform one of his signature songs from Les Idoles (1968)

If you’d like to see more images from the film you’ll find them in my Les Idoles Flickr Gallery.

Some recommended links:
REVOLT INTO STYLE: Les Idoles. Sam Di Iorio’s insightful article about Les Idoles for Film Comment.
Yé-Yé Land. A great site with lots of info about French pop music created by my pal April.
Ode to Marcel. My previous tribute to Pierre Clémenti celebrating his role in Belle de Jour.

The decadent world of the Black Lizard

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Akihiro Miwa and Yukio Mishima on stage together in the ’60s

“Ever since I first met him here, I’ve dreamt about Akechi. A vain man who acts like a critic. When his face appears in my dreams it disturbs me. I’ve never before had such an experience. He looks as if he knew and understood everything. His eyes! His lips! He obstructs my dream. He pursues its form. He’ll eventually become the dream itself.”
– Black Lizard

Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku made two of my favorite films of 1968. Blackmail is My Life (aka Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei) and Black Lizard (aka Kurotokage). My deep affection for the Black Lizard was made public when it landed in my list of 25 Favorite Foreign Language Films that I compiled last year. At that time I mentioned that I wanted to write more about Fukasaku’s film and after watching it again recently I thought It was time to finally share some of my thoughts about this fascinating and extremely entertaining movie that always manages to find its way onto any list of “Favorite Films” that I compile.

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard opens with a detective named Akechi Kogoro (Isao Kimura) following his friend into a private night club hidden in a maze of Tokyo alleyways. As the two men silently descend into its depths the camera scans the club walls and occasionally focuses on large reproductions of Aubrey Beardsley’s art for Oscar Wilde’s Salome, which are lit by colorful florescent lights that seem to flicker and bounce across the screen. When the men finally reach the main entrance of the club, the doors burst wide open and they’re greeted by nude girls covered in body paint who dance wildly to the sound of psychedelic rock and carefree laughter. Numerous couples can also be seen throughout the club engaging in erotic play while consuming vast quantities of booze. Detective Akechi makes his way to the bar to order a drink and while it’s being poured he wonders aloud why he has followed his friend into this strange place. As he contemplates the evening and makes mental notes of future events that will soon consume him, the club suddenly goes dark and silent. Out of the shadows steps a beautiful woman (Akihiro Maruyama aka Akihiro Miwa) cradling a long cigarette holder in one hand while she surveys the room with her hungry eyes. When she finally slinks up to bar and strikes up a conversation with the befuddled detective it’s clear that she is no ordinary woman and this is no ordinary nightclub. Detective Akechi has entered the decadent world of the Black Lizard where nothing is true and everything is permitted.

Kinji Fukasaku’s film follows the exploits of a criminal mastermind known as Mrs. Midorikaw aka “The Black Lizard” and her gang of outcasts that include a hunchbacked confidant, a dwarf and a murderous snake-eyed woman. The Black Lizard likes to collect beautiful jewels as well as beautiful people who she kills and then displays like dolls in her hidden island lair. The Black Lizard is obsessed with a priceless diamond known as the Star of Egypt and plans to steal it from a world-class jeweler as well as kidnap the jeweler’s beautiful young daughter so the girl can be turned into a lifeless “doll” for her trophy collection. Unfortunately a wrench is thrown into the Black Lizard’s plans when Detective Akechi arrives on the scene. Over the course of the film the beautiful criminal and brilliant detective play an erotically charged cat-and-mouse game that will leave one of them dead and the other heartbroken.

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard is based on a stage play written by the acclaimed and controversial Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Mishima adapted his play from an original story by the renowned mystery and horror author Edgowa Rampo that was first published in 1934. Many of Rampo’s original story elements and basic plot points can be found in the script for Black Lizard, but Mishima injected his adaptation with a romantic decadence and homoeroticism that was clearly his own creation. Yukio Mishima often found inspiration in the writing of British authors such as Oscar Wilde who was part of Britain’s Aesthetic Movement and many of the themes found in Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray reoccur in Mishima’s own work again and again. Mishima’s script for Black Lizard is really an extravagant showcase for many of his favorite themes including sadism, martyrdom, unrequited love and an obsession with beauty and death, which are also popular motifs found in the art and literature of the Aesthetic Movement.

During his lifetime Yukio Mishima wrote many highly acclaimed Kabuki plays and modern versions of classic Noh dramas. The structure, style, depth and melodramatic tone of traditional Japanese theater is also echoed in his script for Black Lizard. Characters often speak their dialogue with a poetic rhythm while using dramatic gestures to signify what they’re feeling. And the elaborate sets used in the film are staged and lit in a way that resembles modern theater with a distinctive pop art sensibility. It’s also important to note that Japanese Noh drama is performed entirely by men who wear masks to portray female characters and in Kubuki plays the female roles are frequently performed by male actors. Although Yukio Mishima’s stage adaptation of Black Lizard often starred female actresses, Mishima thought that the cross-dressing male actor Akihiro Miwa was the only performer who was able to fully inhabit the role of Mrs. Midorikaw / the Black Lizard.

Mishima’s play was undoubtedly also influenced by classic literature and poetry that emerged from the Shudō (homosexual) tradition among samurai warriors in medieval Japan who Mishima greatly admired. These tragic and melodramatic tales often focus on unrequited love, erotic obsessions and the romantic lives of the warrior class. Naturally these stories occasionally ended with the death of a samurai who takes his own life during a ritual suicide, which is referred to as “seppuku” within the bushido code.

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Akihiro Miwa

Akihiro Miwa and Yukio Mishima first met in 1952 when Miwa was a young hostess working at a coffee bar in Tokyo where gay intellectuals and artists would often gather. The two became very close and while Mishima was gaining attention and recognition in Japan as one of the country’s greatest writers, Akihiro Miwa was making a name for himself as a popular cabaret singer and stage actor. Over the years Akihiro Miwa has made different claims about the seriousness and nature of his relationship with Yukio Mishima, which were probably influenced by his respect for Mishima’s family. The author’s family attempted to deny Yukio Mishima’s homosexuality after his death, but it now seems to be common knowledge that Akihiro Miwa and the legendary author were long-time lovers.

Film director Kinji Fukusuka was a fan of Yukio Mishima’s work and after seeing the play performed by Akihiro Miwa he asked Mishima and Miwa if they would be interested in collaborating on a film version of the play with him. Thankfully they agreed and the two apparently worked rather closely together with Kinji Fukasaku on the 1968 film adaptation of Black Lizard. Although background information about the film’s production is rather scarce, I suspect that Mishima must have had some influence over the film’s look and impressive set design. I also believe that Akihiro Miwa worked closely with the costume designer and celebrated manga artist Masako Watanabe to create his wardrobe for the film.

Yukio Mishima’s script for Black Lizard was first filmed as a musical in 1962 by director Umetsugu Inoue who’s probably most well-known for the colorful musicals he made with the Shaw Brothers (Hong Kong Nocturne, Hong Kong Rhapsody, etc.). I haven’t had the opportunity to see Umetsugu Inoue’s version of Black Lizard but I have seen clips and still shots from the production and by all indications, it looks like it’s an amazing movie. Information about Umetsugu Inoue’s film adaptation of Black Lizard is almost nonexistent but I suspect that Mishima generally preferred Kinji Fukasaku’s adaptation of the film since the writer was much more confident about his creative ideas and world view in 1968. Naturally that confidence transfers into his film collaboration with Fukasaku. This is reinforced by Mishima’s brief role in the 1968 film playing a violent man that the Black Lizard kills and turns into one of his favorite “dolls.” Yukio Mishima did not appear in the 1962 film version of Black Lizard and he seemed to distance himself from Umetsugu Inoue’s film adaptation of his play over time.

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

These days Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard is often referred to as a “camp classic” by critics who don’t seem to fully grasp or appreciate Yukio Mishima’s creative aesthetic and intellectual influences, which are clearly evident in Fukasaku’s film. Black Lizard does contain occasional moments of black humor but there really isn’t anything overtly funny about the film and the humor comes from how individual viewers interpret it. The humorous aspects of Black Lizard are obviously exaggerated by modern audience’s propensity towards irony and by critics who find it impossible to take a male actor playing a female role seriously, even when that actor is someone as beautiful and talented as Akihiro Miwa. But the Black Lizard is actually played completely straightforward for dramatic effect. Besides the over-the-top action and suspense, the real focus of this entertaining film is the romantic tension between Detective Akechi and the Black Lizard, which is celebrated by Mishima’s flowery prose. No effort is made by the actors to acknowledge that Akihiro Miwa is male but there is a wonderful scene where the character changes into a man’s suit to escape detection. While Miwa is admiring his appearance in a mirror he smiles at himself and proclaims that he has “no true identity.” In turn the audience is forced to come to their own conclusions about the Black Lizard’s sexual identity, which remains fluid throughout the film.

The Black Lizard contains a lot of wonderful moments that are well worth highlighting. After the impressive club scene that opens the movie, Detective Akechi finds himself in a “medical college dissecting room” investigating the suicide of a troubled musician whose body as been stolen. The detective discovers a dead “black lizard” (the criminal’s calling card) next to a large tub filled with corpses that bob in and out of the dark water. The moment is both shocking and visually striking. In some ways it also foreshadows what the future holds for the detective as well as the Black Lizard. Another one of my favorite scenes involves a lengthy card game played between the Black Lizard and Detective Akechi. Director Kinji Fukasaku shot the scene from an upward angle through a glass table and the effect is impressive. The scene between the two actors is similar to a moment in Norman Jewison’s film The Thomas Crown Affair when Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway engage in a game of chess that is filled with sexual tension. Black Lizard also features some great action sequences including a memorable car chase that is interrupted by a motorcycle gang who shoot colorful smoke from the back of their bikes to obstruct the view of the police behind them. Like many of the scenes in this captivating film, it has a surreal quality and seems as if it’s taken straight out of a Tokusatsu production or manga story.

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

Black Lizard (1968)

Kinji Fukasaku’s film was a minor hit with Japanese audiences and critics when it debuted in 1968, but the movie didn’t find an international audience until its revival at Chicago’s Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival in 1985. The film began to gain a small but devoted cult following when it was released on video by Cinevista Inc. in 1992 and subsequently the film has been shown at various other venues across the country. Unfortunately Black Lizard has never been released on DVD and it is possible that Yukio Mishima’s family is partially responsible for the film’s limited distribution. I wrote a letter to Criterion about five years ago asking them if they would consider releasing the film on DVD but I never got a reply. With their recent DVD releases of Yukio Mishima’s Patriotism (1966) and Paul Scharder’s biographical film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985), I can only hope that Criterion will consider releasing Black Lizard in the near future and give this important and entertaining film the special attention it rightfully deserves.

A year after the release of Black Lizard Kinji Fukasaku followed up its success with an imaginative sequel called Black Rose Mansion (aka Kuro bara no yakata), which also featured a script by Yukio Mishima. Akihiro Miwa once again has the starring role in this production as a tragic figure named Ryuko. Many of the themes found in Black Lizard are carried over into the sequel, but Black Rose Mansion is a much more melancholy film with gothic overtones and very little action. It some ways it seems to reflect the sullen mood of Yukio Mishima at the time. Black Rose Mansion was the last film adaptation of Mishima’s work before his death. The following year the author would commit seppuku in a very public ritual suicide leaving his lover Akihiro Miwa to mourn his death alone.

If you’d like to see more images from the Black Lizard you can find them in my Black Lizard Flickr Gallery.

My Top 20 Favorite Films of 1968

At the Britannica blog Raymond Benson has finished listing off his Top 10 Favorite Films of 1968 so if you’re interested in the final results stop by and give them a look. I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions how much I dislike making lists of favorite films myself since they’re limited by what I’ve seen and are subject to change at anytime. Roger Ebert recently asked his blog readers to “. . . agree that all lists of movies are nonsense.” I agreed with him wholeheartedly at the time, but in the process of watching Raymond Benson share his list favorite films from 1968 I naturally began thinking of my own favorite films released the same year.

Compiling a list of favorite films restricted by their release date without implying that they’re “the best” (whatever that means) started to seem like a fun exercise. And while reading the complaints and reservations about Raymond Benson’s own selections I even suggested that it would be interesting if all the participants of the Britannica blog “round-table” supplied their own list of Top 10 Favorite Films for 1968 so we could compare them. I figured that if we were going to scrutinize Raymond Benson’s selections we might as well scrutinize each other. I also thought that it would probably enrich the discussion. No one else seemed willing or able to share a list of there own picks, but for the past two weeks I’ve been quietly compiling a list of my own favorite films from 1968.

I wasn’t planing on sharing my own list with anyone, but over the weekend I listened to an interesting discussion between Greencine’s David Hudson, Film Comment‘s Gavin Smith and film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum about the current state of film criticism that got me contemplating my list again. During the discussion Jonathan Rosenbaum smartly pointed out that, “People love lists now because they need to. There’s too much to navigate through.” In my own experience I’ve found this to be very true. Since I started blogging my “Favorite DVDs of the year” lists for 2006 and 2007 have become some of my most popular posts and they’ve generated some lively discussions and lots of email. I think other people appreciate them because they offer a brief look at some films I’ve enjoyed and recommend. And in the words of Jonathan Rosenbaum, the lists are easy to navigate through.

So without further explanation, here’s a list of some of my own favorite films from 1968. I couldn’t manage to narrow all my choices down to a mere Top 10 so I just decided to share my Top 20 list instead. I purposefully left off documentaries so you won’t find any listed and four of the films on my list were also on Raymond Benson’s list. The numerical order doesn’t mean much and naturally my list is subject to change at anytime since I’m continually being exposed to new movies. It also should be noted that after looking at various print and online sources I’ve come across different release dates for some films. As far as I know, the following 20 films were originally released in 1968.

My TOP 20 FAVORITE FILMS OF 1968

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1. If…. (Lindsay Anderson; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about If…. can be found HERE and HERE.

Black Lizard (1968)
2. Black Lizard aka Kurotokage (Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Black Lizard can be found HERE.
I’m currently working on a much longer article about the film and its star that I hope to share here soon.

Spirits of the Dead (1968)
3. Spirits of the Dead aka Histoires Extraordinaires
(Federico Fellini, Louis Malle & Roger Vadim; 1968)

Some of my thought about Spirits of the Dead can be found HERE.

Teorema (1968)
4. Teorema (Pier Paolo Pasolini; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Teorema can be found HERE.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick; 1968)

Diabolik (1968)
6. Diabolik aka Danger: Diabolik! (Mario Bava; 1968)
Some of my brief thoughts about Diabolik can be found HERE.

Succubus (1968)
7. Succubus aka Necronomicon – Geträumte Sünden (Jesus Franco; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Succubus can be found HERE.

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8. The Great Silence aka Il Grande silenzio (Sergio Corbucci; 1968)
Some of my thought about The Great Silence can be found HERE and HERE.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)
9. Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski; 1968)

Petulia (1968)
10. Petulia (Richard Lester; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Petulia can be found HERE.

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11. Blackmail Is My Life aka Kyokatsu koso Waga Jinsei ( Kinji Fukasaku; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Blackmail Is My Life can be found HERE

Boom (1968)
12. Boom! (Joesph Losey; 1968)
My lengthy look at Boom! can be found HERE.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
13. Night of the Living Dead (George Romero; 1968)

The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
14. The Thomas Crown Affair (Norman Jewison; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about The Thomas Crown Affair can be found HERE.

Girl on a Motorcycle (1968)
15. Girl on a Motorcycle aka Naked Under Leather (Jack Cardiff; 1968)
Some of my thoughts about Alain Delon and Girl on a Motorcycle can be found HERE.

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16. Once Upon a Time in the West aka C’era una volta il West
(Sergio Leone; 1968)

Some of my thoughts about Once Upon a Time in the West can be found HERE.


17. Death Laid an Egg aka La Morte ha fatto l’uovo (Giulio Questi; 1968)
I briefly mentioned my fondness for Death Laid an Egg HERE.

The Devil Rides Out (1968)
18. The Devil Rides Out aka The Devil’s Bride (Terence Fisher; 1968)

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19. The Party (Blake Edwards; 1968)

Barbarella (1968)
20. Barbarella (Roger Vadim; 1968)

Honorable mention goes to the wonderful Yokai Monster films that I wrote about a few weeks ago.

Fashion & Passion in The Thomas Crown Affair

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Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

A lot has been written about Norman Jewison’s 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair. If the reviews available at IMDb.com are any indication critics and audiences are split over it. I love this stylish ’60s crime film. It’s one of my favorite movies from 1968 and one of the best things about it is Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen’s incredible wardrobes.

The basic plot of the film is rather simple. Steve McQueen plays Thomas Crown, a wealthy conman who masterminds a complicated bank heist. Hot on his trail is an ambitious insurance agent named Vicki Anderson (Fay Dunaway) and when the two meet sparks begin to fly. Will the lovely and flirtatious Vicki Anderson bring the world-weary Thomas Crown to his knees? Or will their steamy affair lead Vicki into lawlessness?

The Thomas Crown Affair is a film full of sensual pleasures. The actual bank heist that takes place makes for some thrilling entertainment but the romantic affair that blossoms between Vicki Anderson and Thomas Crown is really the heart and soul of the movie. The film simply drips sex and decadence. Morals be damned! Neither Vicki or Thomas is particularly likable, but watching these two self-serving individuals succumb to their passions and exploit one another’s desires is what makes The Thomas Crown Affair so damn compelling. It’s also a great looking movie with a terrific score by composer Michel Legrand. Dunaway and McQueen have rarely looked as beautiful and desirable as they do in this film. That’s partially due to Haskell Wexler’s stellar cinematography as well as costume designer Theadora Van Runkle.

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Fay Dunaway & Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Trend-setting fashionista Theadora Van Runkle created many of the awe-inspiring fashions seen in The Thomas Crown Affair. Van Runkle first began working in Hollywood as a sketch artist for renowned costume designer Dorothy Jeakins. She got her big break in 1967 after Dorothy Jeakins was forced to turn down an opportunity to work on Bonnie and Clyde. Jeakins suggested the 38-year-old Theadora Van Runkle as a replacement and history was made. Bonnie and Clyde was a huge success and garnered Van Runkle an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. Young people around the world began dressing like Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Hemlines dropped and women started sporting berets, while men began wearing double-breasted suits with wide lapels. Theadora Van Runkle’s impact might be hard to measure now, but the costume designer can be credited for bringing a vintage ’30s era look to modern fashion in the late sixties. Suddenly everything old was new again.

Theadora Van Runkle and Fay Dunaway developed a great working relationship on the set of Bonnie and Clyde. After filming ended Dunaway asked Theadora Van Runkle to design a personal wardrobe for her that included the Oscar gown that Dunaway wore in 1968 when she was nominated for her role as Bonnie Parker. When it came time for the actress to star in The Thomas Crown Affair alongside Steve McQueen, Dunaway suggested that Van Runkle should be hired to work on the film.

Theadora Van Runkle ended up creating all of Dunaway’s fabulous fashions for The Thomas Crown Affair and she also worked alongside Ron Postal and Alan Levine to help design Steve McQueen’s wardrobe for the film as well. Although The Thomas Crown Affair didn’t exactly have the same impact on the fashion world that Bonnie and Clyde did, it was a popular hit in 1968 and audiences were mesmerized with the film’s dazzling look.

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Fay Dunaway modeling some of Theadora Van Runkle’s costume designs
for The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Like Dunaway before him, Steve McQueen was also extremely impressed with Theadora Van Runkle and decided he wanted to work with her more after completion of The Thomas Crown Affair. Van Runkle would continue working as a costume designer for both actors for the rest of the decade. Her impressive fashion designs can also be seen on Dunaway in Amanti (1968) and The Arrangement (1969) and on Steve McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and The Reivers (1969).

Even though The Thomas Crown Affair didn’t win Theadora Van Runkle any awards, the movie’s impact on the world of fashion is undeniable. Van Runkle can be credited for giving the film’s two stars a distinct look that would help make both of them Hollywood style icons in the sixties. Many women wanted to look like Fay Dunaway and many men wanted to be Steve McQueen, but everyone wanted to be dressed by Theadora Van Runkle.