On Vampyres and Other Symptoms

I recently had the opportunity to view Celia Novis’ new documentary, ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS (2011), about the life and work of director José Ramón Larraz. Larraz is one of Spain’s most fascinating horror filmmakers but his work is hard to get a hold of and I’ve only managed to see a handful of his films myself including VAMPYRES (1975), DEVIATION (1971), THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED (1974), BLACK CANDLES (1982) and most recently SYMPTOMS (1974), which literally knocked me off my feet. SYMPTOMS was so damn good that I’ve been too intimated to try and write something about it. I also enjoyed Novis’ fascinating documentary, which is an intimate and deeply personal look at Larraz as well as a creative companion to his films. Here’s a brief excerpt from my post about ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS that you can currently find at the Movie Morlocks.

ON VAMPYRES AND OTHER SYMPTOMS takes a look back at Larraz’ early years through a series of comic book panels that Celia Novis brings to life with lighting effects and sweeping camera movements. These scenes are intermingled with footage of Larraz discussing his work while Novis shoots the aging director taking long walks through old cemeteries and twisted hotel hallways. These walks seem to trigger a flood of memories for Larraz and the ghosts of his past begin to materialize. The director quietly expresses his disappointment with the business side of filmmaking that he encountered at film festivals like Cannes where “exhibitionism and opportunism” were rampant. But most of the conversations revolve around his thoughts about aging, his appreciation of family, regret over lost loves and the lack of critical respect for his work. He also discusses his lifelong fascination with the supernatural and the desire to find a new approach to the horror genre.”

Please follow the link if you’d like to read more:
On Vampyres and Other Symptoms @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

On Location With Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

In my latest post at the Movie Morlocks I interview fellow film blogger and all-around groovy gal, Klara Tavakoli Goesche who manages Retro Active Critiques. Klara also makes videos and she recently produced her own short film highlighting some of the San Francisco locations seen in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO. I asked her if I could debut the video at the Morlocks because I thought classic film fans would appreciate seeing where Hitchcock shot his movie and thankfully Klara agreed. She also made time to answer some questions about her blog, video work and favorite Hitchcock films. We’ve been chatting online for a long time but it was  a lot of fun getting to know her better. If you’d like to see Klara’s video and read our Q&A please make your way over to the Movie Morlocks!

On Location With Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo

Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Charlotte Rampling

One of my favorite working actors is the beguiling Charlotte Rampling and I recently got the opportunity to watch Angelina Maccarone’s new film, CHARLOTTE RAMPLING: THE LOOK (2011). THE LOOK is an atypical documentary and Rampling reveals very little about her past but she does talk a lot about the fine art of acting and (indirectly) how it has informed all aspects of her life. Rampling’s a natural beauty who hasn’t had any plastic surgery and at age 66 she’s still stunning. In a business where women are often forced to retire at age 40, Rampling is somewhat of an anomaly and I can’t begin to express how refreshing it was to see an actress of her caliber talk openly about the pitfalls of cosmetic surgery, the ups and downs of aging and her craft. I reviewed the documentary for TCM’s Movie Morlocks this week and here’s a brief outtake from my post:

“The actress avoids talking directly about her personal life and focuses on her work and thought process instead, which I deeply appreciated. While some critics have complained about the film’s lack of focus and Rampling’s aloofness, I found THE LOOK to be an insightful examination of her creative abilities, which interests me much more than vague reminiscences about her love life and childhood traumas. And it’s the acting, along with the need to carefully break down and reassemble human emotions, that clearly concerns Rampling the most. She’s a consummate performer and that’s plainly apparent if you’ve seen her work but it becomes crystallized in this absorbing documentary. Rampling spends the entirety of the film discussing the importance of being present in the moment (“Withdrawing won’t protect you.”), being a good listener (“Let them feel that you want to get to know them and want to hear their story, it’s the incredible gift you give them.”) and suggesting that we can find strength in the painful experiences of the past (“The best remedy for any form of pain is to let it happen to you.”) while stressing the need for spontaneity (“You don’t prepare for life. Life happens.”) These are all critically important lessons for any actor and that’s really what THE LOOK conveys. It’s an indirect rumination on the acting process and ambiguously relays how we can all benefit from the skills that great actors have at their disposal.”

You can find my full review at the Movie Morlocks:
Charlotte Rampling: The Look @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

The King of Comedy: Jerry Lewis at 86

My latest post at TCM’s Movie Morlocks focuses on the controversial comedian Jerry Lewis who is celebrating his birthday tomorrow. From my post:

“On Friday, March 16th, Jerry Lewis will be celebrating his 86th birthday. Jerry’s been on my mind a lot lately so I didn’t want to let the occasion pass without making note of it. I love Jerry Lewis but it’s not always easy being a Jerry Lewis fan.

Jerry’s said and done plenty of things that have made my toes curl and my hair stand on end. I often think of him as that loony uncle I never had who was a lady’s man in his youth and is now feeling the pull of time so he fights off melancholia with sharp barbs and off-color jokes. You enjoy spending time with him and he always makes you laugh but he can wear out his welcome mighty fast once he’s had a few too many drinks and his ego gets out of control. But when you love somebody and think their work is brilliant it’s easy to overlook their flaws and failings. And that’s the way it is between Jerry and me. I love him. Even if I don’t always like what he says and does.”

You can read the rest of my piece by following the link:
“The King of Comedy: Jerry Lewis at 86” @ TCM’s Movie Morlocks

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!

Home Is Where the Heart Is

Photo by Julius Shulman
Photo by Julius Shulman (1960)

Being married to a graphic artist and pre-press technician has its advantages. My bookshelves are overflowing with great design books and over the years I’ve been exposed to the work of many designers and design movements that I probably would have remained unaware of if my husband hadn’t been so willing to share his knowledge and interests with me. Thanks to him I’ve developed a deep love for mid-century design so I was extremely disappointed to discover that photographer Julius Shulman had passed away last week.

Julius Shulman’s photographs celebrated California modernism. He’s often been called one of our greatest architectural photographers, but his work has only really begun to become fully appreciated by the general public in the last decade thanks to a renewed interest in mid-century design, various exhibits around the world, the publication of many well-received books and a new documentary about his life and work called Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman (Eric Bricker; 2008). The film has been getting great reviews and has won some festival awards, but will finally be getting a wide release in October.

If you’d like to know more about the photographer and the documentary Visual Acoustics: The Modernism of Julius Shulman I recommend visiting the film’s official website. At the site you can watch a trailer for the film and find information about upcoming screenings in your area. Visit: juliusshulmanfilm.com.

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Filmmaking & Politics in 1968

The following four videos make up a fascinating 40 min. film by D.A. Pennebaker called Two American Audiences: La Chinoise – A Film in the Making. It chronicles a meeting that took place in 1968 between director Jean-Luc Godard and NYU film students who discuss Godard’s film La Chinoise, filmmaking and politics.

Two American Audiences: La Chinoise – A Film in the Making Part I.

Two American Audiences: La Chinoise – A Film in the Making Part II.

Two American Audiences: La Chinoise – A Film in the Making Part III.

Two American Audiences: La Chinoise – A Film in the Making Part IV.

Godard’s La Chinoise (1967) was released by Koch Lorber on DVD earlier this year.

A Life in the Death of Joe Meek

Director Howard S. Berger contacted me with some news about his fascinating new documentary A Life in the Death of Joe Meek (2008) which focuses on the troubled life of the British music maven Joe Meek who I wrote about a few months ago in a piece titled The Mod Musicals of Lance Comfort. A Life in the Death of Joe Meek is currently scheduled to play at the upcoming Cambridge Film Festival on September 23 and at London’s Raindance Film Festival on October 4th. If you’re in the U.K. you won’t want to miss the opportunity to see this important documentary that traces the rise and fall of Joe Meek from childhood to his unfortunate and troubling death in 1967.

For more information about the film as well as news about upcoming screenings I highly recommend visiting the official Joe Meek documentary Myspace page.

Everything is politics

“The apolitical does not exist – everything is politics.”
—Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)

President John F. Kennedy with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy (1963)

The 2008 political season is in full swing and it’s been an unforgettable year so far. Watching the first African-American to accept a presidential nomination at the Democratic convention last week was staggering. It was an incredibly important historical moment that I wasn’t sure I’d ever see in my lifetime. Like many Americans I’m extremely weary of the entire political process, but watching political campaigns unfold is an opportunity to watch history in the making and I’m fascinated with American history.

My fascination with history is what recently led me to watch three interesting historical documentaries about John F. Kennedy. The films are part of the The Robert Drew Kennedy Films Collection – JFK Revealed which Docurama Films just released as a nicely packaged DVD set. The three films included in this collection are Robert Drew’s Primary (1960), Crisis (1963) and Faces of November (1963). The 2-disc set also contains some impressive extras such as lengthy audio commentaries by Robert Drew and his cinematographer Richard Leacock. And a behind-the-scenes film called The Originators that features the director and his film crew at the time which included two of the most important documentary filmmakers of the sixties, D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back (1967), Monterey Pop (1968), Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973) , etc.) and Albert Maysles (Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter (1970), Grey Gardens (1975), etc.).

President Kennedy with brother Robert Kennedy

Mourners at President Kennedy’s funeral (1963)

Watching these three films together offers interested viewers an opportunity to watch history unfold in a way that is often more thought-provoking and honest than many modern documentaries. They also reminded me of how brief President Kennedy’s time in office was and how much he managed to accomplish during those few years. There is a stark quality to all the films that makes them resemble old newsreels and that could be distracting to a few viewers but if you’re interested in American history and politics these films are definitely worth a look. Director Robert Drew is one of the leading figures of the North American Direct Cinema movement and besides their obvious historical importance, the three films featured in The Robert Drew Kennedy Films Collection showcase groundbreaking documentary techniques that have become commonplace now.

The Robert Drew Film Collection – JFK Revealed is currently selling at Amazon for $26.99 and you can also find the films available for rent at Greencine and Netflix.