30 August, 2007

One Year of Blogging

Last month marked a full year since this blog was created in July, 2006. I also was very honored to discover, several weeks after the fact, that this blog was awarded the THINKING BLOGGER AWARD by Mike Kitchell of the ESOTIKA EROTICO PSYCHOTICA blog, which is also a recipient of this award http://esotika.blogspot.com/ . Mike's blog intriguingly and perceptively covers many directors, films and subjects which should be of great interest to readers of this blog, if you haven't bookmarked it already. Mike's blog was cited by another blogger and the idea is to pass it along from blog to blog. It is suggested that each winner bestow the award on blogs deserving of that title. I'll be back next month to pass the award along to several blogs which have consistently made me think. Engaging the mind is always a good thing when cruising the internet.

I would like to thank all the readers who have visited, replied and supported this blog. Your visits, replies and emails are highly valued and directly influence what I will continue to explore, review, illustrate and question. This blog is really about your interests, feedback and perceptions as much as mine. It could be just about Jess Franco and his films but I really enjoy introducing related, and sometimes unrelated topics. Actually, I've always believed that Cinema is an ocean where everything is somehow related at some level. And the cinema of Jess Franco certainly is oceanic in the sense that influences, images, characters, music, situations, mythologies from the silent era to the present digital video age crash into our consciousness as we watch his films. It's probably no accident that Jess Franco and my favorite contemporary American filmmaker, David Lynch, now both work in DV, flying under and over the radar of the mainstream.

I will continue to attempt to surprise, inform, make you think and hopefully delight the regulars readers and new visitors here with blogs on outre, cult, genre, art, experimental, classic and mainstream cinema/video from all over the world from the beginning of the 20th century to the present and anticipating the future. And I'll always return to Jess Franco, the calm center of the storm and the inspiration for this blog.

Remember, if you have any reviews, images or suggestions you want me to post contact me at the above email.

Thanks for your continued interest!

Robert Monell

27 August, 2007


The Spanish language opening credits sequence of EXORCISMO is included as an extra on the excellent new DVD. Thanks to Eric Cotenas for the screengrab.

EXORCISM is not first, or even second tier, Paul Naschy. Written by Naschy before but made and released in the wake of William Friedkin's megahit THE EXORCIST, Juan Bosch's film tells essentially the same story: the daughter of a well to do single mother (Maria Perschy) living in England begins to exhibit violent, antisocial behavoir after attending black masses held by a local satanic cult. Then her brother, lover and several servants are found brutally murdered. The young woman (Grace Mills) begins to speak with the voice of her dead father, a corrupt man by all accounts. As she begins to develop skin lacerations and perform supernatural acts a family friend, an Anglican priest (Naschy) is called in to perform an exorcism.

Paul Naschy is, of course, a multi talented artist, and went on to direct and star in a number of self written features on the topic of demon possession: INQUISITION, EL CAMINANTE (1979), and HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1988), all of which are better films than the one at hand. The latter two are rich, multi layered works of Spanish Fantastique and need High Definition DVD releases if Naschy's career is ever to be fully appreciated in North America. EXORCISM is one of the more interesting items in the post EXORCIST boom, I also am one of the few to have seen and appreciated John Boorman's original controversial version EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC theatrically in the few days before it was pulled and recut by the studio.

The most compelling element of EXORCISM (1974) is Naschy's character, an intellectual who studies rare and forbidden historical and occult texts. It's one of his rare appearances as a completely normal individual and he pulls it off with such panache that he alone pretty much holds this entire uncertain enterprise together. The late Maria Perschy (PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK, HOUSE OF PSYCHOTIC WOMEN) also deserves a nod for her dignified portrayal of the increasingly anxious mother. The rest of the cast performs in a rather perfunctory fashion as does director Bosch (Juan/Joan Bosch Palau/John Wood). It opens well enough with a satanic orgy unfolding on a beach, evocatively filmed through torches. And there are a few striking compositions here and there (usually involving the rites and demonic iconography) courtesy of DP Francisco Sanchez. But this film is competent, and that's about it. Eventually it becomes a rather dull series of expository scenes where characters sit around with long faces while anticipating what may happen or discussing what has already happened. I fault the script (which was altered at the request of the producer according to Naschy) less than I do the director, who takes co-screenplay credit and had the job of turning a text into something with visual integrity. And that's just the key element this film lacks. There are the requisite special effects, which cannot compete with the US template or even its many imitators. Bosch ended up making seven Spanish westerns, including the amusing and energetic LA CAZA D'ORO (1972) and a few thrillers (THE KILLER WORE GLOVES). Horror films were not his true vocation.

One element which has always impressed me here is the depiction of how the spirit affects animals, such as the family dog whom Naschy battles in the final moments. This is an original scene, one of the few in the film which aren't predicatable or give a feeling of deja vu, one wishes there were more like it. The story should have ended right there but unfortunately the version here is botched by the final image of the victim's eyes closing (is she dead?) then opening, then closing, then suddenly popping open in the final seconds. It's so ineptly handled from a technical standpoint that it's impossible to take seriously. But unintentional humor is not what Paul Naschy intended. An effective musical score somewhat mitigates the Bad Movie atmosphere, and the entire enterprise is certainly superior to the Amando de Ossorio demonic possession picture made in the same year, LA ENDEMONIADA (DEMON WITCH CHILD), which is reviewed below. EXORCISM was very successful at the box office in Spain, perhaps the most lucrative project of Naschy's career. This film is not to be confused with another 1974 film with same title by another Spanish director, Jess Franco. His EXORCISM has the personal touch lacked by Bosch's film.

BCI ECLIPSE has delivered an excellent DVD presentation. Although the film is no great shakes it looks better than it ever has or probably ever will. A sparkling fullscreen High Definition transfer from the original Spanish vault accenuates the positives. I believe this is the first Paul Naschy film I ever saw back in the days of mid 1980s Mom and Pop video stores. Much appreciated is the inclusion of the Spanish language track with very readable and well written English subtitles. The Spanish language opening and closing credits are included as are alternate scenes, the US theatrical trailer, still, poster, and admat folders from around the world and the well researched, highly informative and authoritative liner notes by The Mark of Naschy's Mirek Lipinski.

The main extra is a wide ranging interview with Paul Naschy which is alone worth the price of admission. Naschy is a passionate, yet humble man, who can discuss classic Spanish literature, his love of Universal's classic horrors, the erotic elements in his films and his work with such directors as Leon Klimovsky (who probably would have been a better choice to helm EXORCISM).

A superlative package when all is said and done. One can only hope that BCI can keep this admirable series going as long as possible. Classic Spanish horror is finally getting its day on US DVD and there are numerous title which are in dire need of this kind of careful handling.

EXORCISM is now available on a Double Feature 2 disc set with THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (see review below).

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

24 August, 2007

Naschy, The Exorcist

Here's a great screenshot of Paul Naschy as the priest performing the climactic ritual in Juan Bosch's EXORCISMO (EXORCISM), now available on a terrific new DVD presentation from BCI ECLIPSE. He really looks like he's into it. I just had to share this image with our valued blog readers. I'll be back with a complete review soon. Can anyone tell me in which film Naschy appeared as Satan?
Thanks to Eric Cotenas.

22 August, 2007

Investigating VANESSA: The Severin DVD

What were you doing in 1977? The gorgeous Olivia Pascal and director Hubert Frank had just finished making VANESSA for Lisa Film- GmbH in Hong Kong. Look at the castle in the image below. Does it look familiar? More about that later.


VANESSA features BLOODY MOON's Olivia Pascal in the title role of the sheltered young lady who inherits real estate in exotic Hong Kong on her 21st birthday. Leaving the Alpine convent where she was raised by nuns after her parent's death she has to deal with some unpleasant family secrets when she arrives. She will discover that Hong Kong is a place of danger, duplicity and sensuality and that there is a lot more than meets the eye in the real world outside of convent walls. That last line is an intended pun since Olivia Pascal would go on to the classy nunsploitation of Boro's BEHIND CONVENT WALLS (1978) and, along with director Hubert Frank, ISLAND OF 1000 DELIGHTS.

When Vanessa is told that her late uncle's holdings included a bordello which serves female clients, she decides to pay a visit resulting in one of the film's more amusing scenes. Then there is the distant relative who claims he really now owns the farm [plantation] since he was uncle's illegitimate son. But he has other interests, which including shooting holes in burlap rice sacks, giving his whore a slow motion shower. It's all rather like the first Emmanuelle film, as Frank points out in Uwe Huber's excellent documentary interview, and it's elegantly lensed by Franz X. Lederle (also on hand in the featurette). One of the many Jess Franco connections is that the sought-after DP was also credited on the German version of NECRONOMICON (1967), for quota purposes, according to director Franco. My favorite character is a psychic who is able to have sex with women without physical contact! This is demonstrated in another highly amusing episode. The great Anton Diffring (1918-1989) was a master character actor, and is a very welcome presence here as a sadistic cad who gets Vanessa is a very tight bind before all ends happily. Unfortunately, Diffring was post dubbed to give him a British accent, and one misses the distinctive Teutonic menace imparted by his real voice. That voice can be heard in one of Diffring's last roles, as the ruthless, sentimental Nazi surgeon, Dr. Karl-Heinz Moser, in Jess Franco's FACELESS, one of his best and most chilling performances.

I was thinking at the end of VANESSA that this is a film which is just too nice and too conservative (the heroine doesn't even lose her virginity) compared to today's sex/slob comedies. A disco-symphonic score by Gerhard Heinz (which incorporates Bach and Strauss themes) also helps temporarily lift the film a bit above the category of Euro-sleaze, or at least points to the taste of the director, who requested the composer mimic Strauss famous theme heard at the opening and closing of Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. But that's what I liked about it. Uwe Huber's interview featurette proves that Hubert Frank (b. 1925) is just as nice as the film he made. An engaging octogenarian and a gentleman in the European sense of the word, he proves to be an intelligent craftsman who took his work very seriously. He and DP Lederle go into fascinating detail on how they shot without a completed script and had to scramble to find appropriate locations in the closed city of Hong Kong. He is also candid about dealing with the inexperienced Lisa-Film employee Olivia Pascal, who remains very lovely and composed in various hot situations but shows little sense of characterization. It's also good to hear something about another Lisa Film employee, Otto W. Retzer, who appears here as the paramilitary coconut slasher and joined Franck and Pascal in ISLAND OF 1000 DELIGHTS. Retzer was also a valuable character actor-production manager on several Lisa Film-Jess Franco coproductions, usually playing thugs in such titles as BLOODY MOON, SADOMANIA, and LINDA (all 1980). Retzer still works for Lisa-Film, directing episodes of such German TV series as TRAUMHOTEL (2004-2007). Olivia Pascal also went on to a prolific career appearing on German television. And look out for Eva Garden from Franco's THE VENGEANCE OF DR MABUSE (1971).

In fact, looking closely at Jess Franco's aforementioned LINDA* one notices that the first shot of the Alpine convent where the title character (Katja Bienert) is sheltered is actually footage from VANESSA, as are all the shots of Mother Superior in the following scene where closeups of Ms. Bienert are intercut with the exact same footage. These scenes first appeared at the opening of Hubert Frank's film where Vanessa is scolded by the convent staff for reading the book EROS IN POMPEII (the book is in plain sight in Franco's film) before being informed of her inheritance. Lisa Film obviously made Frank's film available to Jess Franco and it must be stated that the story and character's in LINDA owe an awful lot to VANESSA. But that's Jess Franco. He made his own film by cannibalizing another.
VANESSA remains a class act from another era and Severin Films have done another expert job in giving it a glowing DVD debut. A high definition 1.78:1/16:9 transfer from pristine elements, the film literally shines with rich tropical hues and intimate flesh tones. The Mono English track is crisp and clear and gives Gerhard Heinz's delightfully nostalgic score its full measure. Another much appreciated supplement are several reels of Super 8mm on set footage which show intimate details on how some of the softcore situations were set up, how the sets were kept cool and the intensive activity of Hubert Frank and Franz X. Lederle. The original theatrical trailer is included in the package.


(C) Robert Monell, 2007

18 August, 2007


Check out the excellent NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS website.

2007 is shaping up to be the year of Spanish Horror for DVD collectors with several Paul Naschy titles already released in impressive DVD Special Editions (VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES; THE NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF) and more on the way from BCI ECLIPSE. Now it's the turn of Amando de Ossorio, the creator of the Blind Dead series, starting with 1972's TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, which have established him as the Spanish George Romero to collectors of vintage European horror. These are essentially zombie films featuring the murderous Knight Templars and are famous for their graphic gore and their distinctive skeleton-like title creatures. BLUE UNDERGROUND released a boxset containing the series in 2005. Now two less well known of the director's films are available on DVD.

One of the numerous mid 1970's exploitations of William Friedkin's legendary THE EXORCIST (1973), LA ENDEMONIADA (1974) was released within a week of Juan Bosch's Paul Naschy vehicle EXORCISMO, presumably flooding the Spanish market at the time with images of spinning heads, desecrated churches and a climactic exorcism ritual performed by a heroic Catholic priest, Julian Mateos in this case. Produced by Richard Films it is known as DEMON WITCH CHILD in its English language incarnation and appeared on US video in the late 1980s.

A bizarre political element was added by having the possessed girl cursed by a hideous hag (Tota Alba) after the girl's father (Angel Del Pozo), a local police commissioner with political ambitions, orders the old gypsy woman taken in for questioning after a church is found trashed. The official brags that he has cleared the town of vagrants and his next priority is getting rid of the witches. Under questioning by a tough detective (Fernando Sancho, who is better known for his many appearances as Spaghetti Western bandits during the 1960s) the witch jumps to her death. Another gypsy woman (Kali Hansa), the second in command of the witch's cult, plants a demonic icon in the victim's teddy bear after which all hell... well, you know the rest. Given the impressive special effects make-up on display in the director's Blind Dead titles the perfunctory effects here look cheap at best. The victim becomes an ugly, balding, emaciated miniature of the dead witch who spews obscenities at authorities in a hoarse voice. Levitation, head spinning, mutilation are all on display here and mainly provoke laughter due to the extremely inept execution. Absurd humor is added by the sight of hefty Fernando Sancho driving around in a shiny black Cadillac, complete with fins, as he conducts his investigation. This tasteless, depressingly tacky affair is finally put out of its misery after hitting all the expected marks established by its famous template. Jess Franco starlet Kali Hansa (THE PERVERSE COUNTESS) adds some much needed spice with her shoulder baring blouse, but that's about it in the positives department.

DEMON WITCH CHILD gets a dubious US DVD presentation as part of a 20 Feature Film Collection entitled GRINDHOUSE EXPERIENCE, from FORTUNE 5 DVD ["With selections from Quentin Tarantino Presents The Los Angeles Grindhouse Festival 2007."] The fact that Tarantino's name is misspelled on the front of the box doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the product. Taken from what looks like the old fullscreen, unstable, very worn, fuzzy looking and sounding VHS (it looks like the source tape was playing in the EP mode) it looks as bad as the rest of the films in this package, which are mostly 1970s exploitation/genre material from around the world, including Nazi sexploitation (Bruno Mattei's WOMEN'S CAMP 119); cannibal horror (RAW FORCE); Eurocrime (CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN); marital arts (KUNG FU PUNCH OF DEATH; and blaxploitation (MANDINGA, which was originally slated to be directed by Jess Franco), among others. The price is low, but you get what you pay for.

A vampire woman models a stylish leopard skin bikini in Amando de Ossorio's THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS...

The other Amando de Ossorio horror film which is getting its debut on R1 DVD is THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS (LA NOCHE DE LOS BRUJOS), also originally released in 1974 with some of the same cast members. This is the right way to do a DVD presentation and this BCI ECLIPSE Special Edition has mastered the film in High Definition from the original Spanish negative and garnished it with a very nice array of special features.

An outrageous precredit sequence set in 1910 depicts the torture, rape and brutal blood sacrifice of a white missionary woman by a native voodoo cult in the ficitonal African country, Bumbasa. Colonial soldiers show up and massacre the tribe but the severed head of the victim suddenly comes to life, jumps up on the altar and snarls in closeup, baring her vampire fangs.

This pretty much sets the tone for this wonderfully outre blend of jungle adventure, zombie mayhem, female vampire antics, bloody/sexy voodoo rites and generally politically incorrect entertainment. The balance of the film is set in modern day Bumbasa as an expedition led by a big game hunter (Simon Andreu) is attacked by the bloodsucking zombies who revive every night. This film is just FUN, but the writer director does have some pointed barbs to make concerning the feminist movement of that time as well as some amusing observations of his macho males, sub Hemingway types who can track the leopards but can't keep their women satisfied. The Cuban actress Kali Hansa once again makes an impression as a hot blooded Latina who is ready to snuff any woman who goes after her Man. And it's always good to see Jack Taylor, another Jess Franco veteran (FEMALE VAMPIRE), in the cast of a Spanish horror film of that era. The very odd, energetic and eclectic musical score by sometime Jess Franco collaborator Fernando Garcia Morcillo (DR. ORLOFF'S MONSTER) is one the most effective elements here and boosts the material into the realm of a live action comic book or an updated equivalent of vintage Hollywood jungle serials.

The fullframe transfer is quite luminous, with rich colors and crystal clear definition. Special features include the theatrical trailer, alternate "covered" and other footage, a still gallery, the Spanish opening and closing titles, and two audio tracks: in Castilian with very readable and literate English subtitles and the English dub track. Mirek Lipinski provides very helpful and well researched liner notes which give an overview of the career of Amando de Ossorio and detail the history of the numerous versions of this film.

Two notable concerns are the sometimes out of synch English language track (I would recommend watching it with the Spanish track) and the fact that some extreme footage, a few solarized shots and a few lines of dialogue included in other versions, are not included in the feature assembly. The sound issue and nature of this version are explained in the booklet. I had been used to seeing a certain version, slightly longer and containing a bit more violence and nudity via the Japanese video which has been long available from gray market dealers. Most of these elements are included in the alternate footage sections. I would recommend this DVD for the picture quality alone and people who have never seen the film in any version before will have no problems at all with it.

Along with THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS, BCI also will be releasing a DVD of the aforementioned Paul Naschy title EXORCISMO. They also plan a future SE of Amando de Ossorio's Wagnerian horror fantasy LA GARRAS DE LORELEI (1973).

Thanks to Eric Cotenas for the screenshot from the BCI ECLIPSE DVD of THE NIGHT OF THE SORCERERS.

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

14 August, 2007


"There’s a vast network, right? An ocean of possibilities."

The above dialogue is delivered by a favorite veteran actor, Harry Dean Stanton, in his trademark desultory fashion, in David Lynch's three hour shot-on-digital-video epic INLAND EMPIRE, which was released today on a 2-Disk Special Edition. This will be the first of several blogs I plan on this truly overwhelming presentation of Lynch's groundbreaking, award winning synthesis of experimental, musical, horror, science fiction, melodrama, crime, and just about every other known cinema genre. It's for the adventurous filmgoer only, all others need to move on. On-the-edge is way too conservative of a covering term. This is. like the old 60's TV horror sci fi anthology, WAY OUT! I'm not going to describe the plot because there is no plot. There is what the French term "complot" or multiple narratives, stories, stories within stories, false stories, murder stories, Polish gypsy stories, urban legends, and Hollywood stories. Hollywood, its images, legends and products are the essential stuff of INLAND EMPIRE. It's the logical, or illogical, extension of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, but in a wilder, darker, bloodier, more stylistically daring key. Remembering that Jess Franco, our blog topic, has opted [for economic reasons] to shift to Hi Def in the last decade, Lynch has chosen to shoot this project on commercial grade digital video with a camcorder available on his website. It's homemade cinema which redefines the form.
I'm sitting here watching LYNCH 2, post IE, and it's an absolute delight to see Lynch darting around with his third eye, setting up jaw dropping compositions in a matter of seconds, and he just goes with it. This shot on DV making-of documentary is one of the 211 minutes of supplements, including short films, 90m of outtakes, extensive interviews with Lynch and lead actress Laura Dern, trailers, still galleries and much more. And David Lynch sure knows how to smoke a cigarette, many, many cigarettes.
I wanted to see IE theatrically but I couldn't because I don't live in one of the few major US cities it played in. Lynch had to distribute it himself. It was celebrated at last year's Venice and New York Film Festivals, among others, while reviewers scratched their heads. Lynch is still a painter and this is his broadest canvas yet. Shot in Hollywood and Lodz, Poland, this is a French, Polish, US production with a huge international cast mixed in with Lynch's informal stock company. At the center of the hurricane is Laura Dern, whose courageous performance is only matched by Lynch's determination to send her on a journey to the end of the night. And it's a night you will never forget. And you might want to, for this is a forbidding, terrifying film, which makes even the most graphic horrors of the recent spate of torture-porn movies seem like child's play in comparison. Working without a complete script, only giving actors some cues right before shooting, going on dangerous locations without permits or the usual amenities, there is only David Lynch between you and the door.
IE images Hollywood as Nightmare City of well appointed orange rooms where guests await the Inferno. But in Lynch's Hell there's dancing, scantily clad hookers, widescreen TV monitors and butlers. As in his past oeuvre, the only signposts are the haunting glitter of THE WIZARD OF OZ, SINGIN IN THE RAIN, SUNSET BOULEVARD, THE BIG KNIFE and A STAR IS BORN, which are further haunted by Kubrick's THE SHINING (Lynch lauds Kubrick's use of music in his interview), which IE repeatedly brings to mind with its repeated motif of fast moving forward tracking shots down eerie hotel corridors. Unlike the Overlook, the structures in IE are real dumps in downtown LA and Lodz, Poland, the latter chosen, according to Lynch, because it had a "truckload" of ancient factories (Kubrick's THE KILLING is another film which seems to have been a strong influence with its shattered time structure and urban maliase, but IE is much, much more radically unconventional). The element of Time (cap intended) is crucial in IE. The set up, Hollywood mainstream director secretly remaking a possibly cursed Polish film, 47, only to have the murdered cast members of that doomed produced reified in 21st century Los Angeles is at first ridiculous, but eventually it becomes clear (or unclear) that something from an unknown dimension is organizing unpleasant events. There is one blogsite review which actually relates the structure to "string theory" and posits 11 dimensions which the film illustrates and juxtaposes...it's possible. The film runs three hours but seems to go by in an instant, the fastest moving 170 minutes you'll ever experience. It's like a bullet train through Hell.
And I want one of those lamps. When you see it, you'll know what I man.
Lynch relates filmmaking to white slavery and acting to prostitution, both in Lodz and LA. The director of the slick, corny melodrama is expertly played by Jeremy Irons who defines the concept of "the banality of evil." His right hand man (Stanton) wears jet black suits and a red tie, sees the ghost of the lead actress and begs for rent money from the cast. This is Hollywood. And it's on Hollywood and Vine where Laura Dern pulls off an excruciatingly protracted death scene in the midst of the living dead of Southern California. Just before that she gets gutted by a maniac with a screwdriver which drops onto the star of Dorothy Lamour! But it's all a movie, it's only a movie, as Hitchcock pointed out to another actress. But movies can be art and are a commercial artform which, in Hollywoodland, are dictated by the Rules of the Game. IE joyously breaks each and every one of those rules again and again and again and again. And it breaks them in a way which suggests Humpty Dumpty may never be put together again.
And then there are the Rabbits.... But that's another blog.
(C) Robert Monell, 2007

07 August, 2007


Harry Kumel's 1971 DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS has been one of my favorite vampire films, actually one of my all time favorite horror films, since I first saw it at the drive-in, mid summer 1972. Hearing the director state that he now "detests" the film in the fascinating documentary REFLECTIONS OF DARKNESS: DEL VALLE ON KUMEL is something of an object lesson in how a lack of appreciation for one's strengths along with a tendency to blame others for career setbacks while attacking other filmmakers (Lars Von Trier, Truffaut, Orson Welles) who are seen as threats, can isolate and cripple a talented artist. After the failure of MALPERTUIS Kumel retreated to television projects. I have to commend David Del Valle, who asks all the right questions, for his patience and steadfast belief in Kumel. It's not a pretty picture of a filmmaker I have long admired and I wouldn't want to ever spend another minute in his boorish company, but it sure reminded me about that old warning about never assuming anything about anyone. I have little patience with pompous, embittered, aging directors who are out to make one last kill-off, but damned if couldn't stop watching this. This 74 minute interview, endearingly low-tech and presided over with panache by film historian Del Valle, had me picking my jaw up off the floor and is just one of the many excellent extras on the new BARREL entertainment 2 disc SE DVD presentation of Kumel's fated follow up to DOD, the gorgeous, sinister and thoroughly compelling MALPERTUIS.

Based on a novel by the Belgian fantasy/crime writer Jean Ray/Jean Flanders (there's a charming seven minute featurette on him included on disc 2, including wonderful archival footage of the writer discussing his memories, writing habits and influences. Ray is avuncular, self effacing and wise, the exact opposite of Harry Kumel) one would think that a visually elegant Belgian Surrealist like Kumel (working from a script by Jean Ferry, who was part of the original Surrealist group in France in the early 20th century) would be the perfect man for the task. As in most Surrealist literature the "story" is a pretext for a mutating narrative which is there to illustrate the rich prose of Ray and a certain quote by the creator of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, at least in the restored 119 m 1973 "Director's Cut." Not that Harry Kumel deserves a director's cut (you can appreciate that I really like this guy) but his film certainly does. The "Cannes Version" goes down a lot smoother (I also prefer the shorter version of DOD over Kumel's dilatory cut) and has the great advantage of featuring the real voices of Orson Welles (Cassavius) and the strikingly lovely Susan Hampshire, who plays three (or is it four?) very demanding and greatly varying roles with
complexity, sensuality, and mystery.

Along with Ms. Hampshire, Orson Welles dominates the film as the gruff Uncle Cassavius, presiding over his dysfunctional family from his death-bed in the dreaded manse, Malpertuis where sailor Jan (Matthieu Carriere) will find love, sex, death, rebirth and eternal imprisonment. And much, much more.

This could have been a great film instead of a very interesting, beautifully lit (by Gerry Fisher cf his work in 1967's ACCIDENT for Joseph Losey) and very well acted cul de sac. "It's pretty...but difficult to understand" Alice notes at the opening image of the director's cut (the Cannes version plays its credits under a more appropriate Surrealist canvas) and that perfectly describes the film. The influence of such Surrealist painters as Magritte is duly noted by Kumel and Del Valle and is incorporated into the set design in a way comparable to the Bunuel 1930 Surrealist classic L'AGE D'OR (coauthored by yet another legendary Surrealist, Dali). You won't be asking yourself "Life, what is it but a dream?" but the sense of wonderment imparted by the team of Kumel, Fisher and his extraordinary cast, not to forget the transporting score of the great Georges Delerue, will have you, and me, returning to the conundrum of MALPERTUIS many times over. Overlong and indulgent, MALPERTIUS is nonetheless a legendary curiousity which is not to be missed and try watching one of the versions on a double bill with Jess Franco's A VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING dead to find some interesting comparisons whle remembering Franco's professional relationship with Orson Welles as assistant director (CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT), director (TREASURE ISLAND project) and post production supervisor 1993's disastrous DON QUIJOTE DE ORSON WELLES.

Disc one gives us the 25 documentary ORSON WELLES: UNCUT, directed by Francoise Levie, an assistant director on Malpertuis, who also directed the Jean Ray documentary and attempts to keep Kumel in check on his commentary track (the commentary further confirms Kumel's passive-aggresive tactic of admitting to some error and then immediately moving to criticize another European director). The point of all this seems to be that Welles was, in Kumel's words, a "bastard" on set and a great drinking companion during long lunches. Kumel seems to delight in stories of Welles' misbehavior: calling his own cuts, interrupting other actors during takes, demanding, and [ineptly] applying, his own old-man make up, drinking and eating to excess, wasting time. But it's also obvious that Kumel allowed Welles these luxuries, was fearful of cracking down and had some kind of envy-need pertaining to the creator of CITIZEN KANE. Comments by the Susan Hampshire, and the equally other-worldly Matthieu Carriere (who seems to me perfectly cast as the "clean slate" Jan) seem to bear this out.

The new, high definition transfer of the 119 m version is quite good, the 100 m element somewhat less good, but always colorful and clear. And Gerry Fisher's luminous colors are what this experience is really all about. Note Kumel's trademark crimsons in the Venus Bar sequences and the drowning-pool blues in the corridors of the mansion. In 1.85:1 16X9, it's an intoxicating experience no matter which version you choose, and I would suggest starting with the longer.

Orson Welles has been on my mind a lot lately, after having read Joseph McBride's essential 2006 volume, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO ORSON WELLES?, which discusses in some detail the 1993 Jess Franco version of Welles' unfinished DON QUIXOTE project, begun in the mid 1950s. I highly recommend this book, if not the Spanish DVD of this highly controversial project. Franco is still reeling from the rejection of his cut by Welles scholars from all over the world. I have a slightly differing viewpoint. If you go to Wellesnet.com you can read my recent posts on the DQ message boards.

One impressive scene not included in the Franco assembly is now available for viewing on You Tube. It shows Quixote attacking the screen in an old European movie house showing a 1950s Peplum. A great scene, perhaps the best Welles ever filmed. I'll have a lot more to say about the DQ furor in the near future.

Orson Welles / Don Quichotte http://youtube.com/watch?v+cHQEViM3QYU

(C) Robert Monell, 2007

04 August, 2007


Forget about the new James Bond or THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM. Here is the next Hollywood sensation. A new team of over-50 Secret Ops (they used to be called Agents) who are not ashamed to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day while on the trail of a Pop Art painter out to repopulate the world with psychiatrically created werewolves (Hey, isn't that the plot of Jess Franco's 1967 SADISTEROTICA?!).
The Agent in the top image will be known only as 008. Original, isn't it? He works deep cover and also acts, plays jazz and directs films on the side. Don't underestimate him. The cigarettes don't slow him down. The one on the bottom with the sunburned face is seen in a Promo shot taken yesterday at high noon in the midst of a 99 degree F/heat index 105 heatwave. He was wearing a black t-shirt, black jeans and black sneakers. I know the hat looks goofy but, hey, it's the dollar store model. He'll be code named Generic Light 100s (my favorite brand).
This team will be featured in THE ADVENTURES OF FILIPE MARLBORO, VOL. 9, obviously the sequel to 1983's .... VOL. 8, in which Jess Franco plays Sam Chesterfield, after my favorite brand during the late 1960s. These guys are going to make millions. To maximize profits it will be shot on video, edited in camcorder with the Daniel White-Jess Franco composition SALZA INFERNALE (Fast Tempo) played over and over again as the music track.
Thanks to Jess Franco for making the droll and inventive VOL. 8 and my friend Dee, never afraid to grab her digital camera, go out among the evergreens (actually 2 evergreens in the middle of a concrete picnic area in steaming downtown Syracuse NY) and argue camera angles with me on the hottest day of the year....
(C) Robert Monell, 2007