Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #25: Chang (dir by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack)

(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)


Before I talk about the 1927 oddity Chang (which also happened to be the 25th film on DVR), here’s a little Oscar history.  If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because I already talked about all this in my review of Sunrise but there’s nothing wrong with repeating a history lesson, right?

At the first Oscar ceremony, two awards were given for Best Picture of the year.  The first award — for Outstanding Production — went to Wingsa big budget action spectacular about World War I.  The other award — for Unique And Artistic Presentation — went to Sunrise.  I’ve read a lot of speculation about which film the Academy meant to name the best of the year but, to me, it’s fairly obvious that the Academy meant for Outstanding Production to honor the year’s big blockbusters while Unique and Artistic Presentation would honor the “art” films.

And, to be honest, I think that, way back in 1928, the Academy had the right idea.  Why should they only give out one award for best picture, as if all films can be judged by only one standard?  Why not give out separate awards for the best comedy or the best thriller or the best film made for a certain amount of money?  Why not bring back the Oscar for Unique and Artistic Presentation?

For whatever reason, the Academy discontinued the Unique and Artistic Presentation Award after the 1st ceremony and, in the future, only one film would be named best of the year.  Since Outstanding Production eventually become known as Best Picture, Wings has been immortalized as the first film to win best picture.

One of the films that Sunrise defeated was Chang.  If, like me, you accept the idea that the Unique and Artistic Presentation Award was meant to be a second award for best picture, then that means that Chang might possibly be the only documentary ever nominated for the top prize.  I say possibly because 1) some people would probably argue that Hollywood Revue should be considered a documentary as well and 2) it’s debatable whether or not Chang actually qualifies as a documentary.

Clocking in at only 67 minutes, Chang is a nearly plotless look at the life of a farmer in what is now Thailand and what was then called Siam.  Kru the farmer plays himself and the film follows him as he takes care of his family, builds a house, and deals with the constant threat of wild animals.  The animals are really the main stars of Chang and, all these years later, some of the footage is still impressive.  (There’s a scene in which a tiger literally bumps his nose against the camera lens, which I imagine was a huge deal for audiences in the pre-YouTube, pre-television days of 1927.)  However, despite the use of real wild animals and all the villagers playing themselves, it’s also obvious that several of the scenes have been staged.   Chang itself never claims to be a documentary and, in fact, one of the title cards even announces that Chang is “a drama of the wilderness.”

Yes, there are title cards.  Chang is a silent film and, to really appreciate it, modern viewers have to be willing to adjust.  That said, I actually enjoyed the fact that it was silent.  The title cards were all either endearingly portentous or surprisingly witty.  I especially enjoyed the “ROAR!” title card that popped up whenever a tiger appeared.

In many ways, Chang serves as a precursor for the original King Kong, which was directed by the same team behind Chang, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack.  If it can be argued that King Kong forever changed the course of American filmmaking, it can also be argued that, without the success of Chang, there would have been no King Kong.

(Another interesting bit of trivia: Chang reportedly only cost $60 to shoot.  Apparently, neither Kru nor any of the other villagers were paid for starring in a movie.)

Chang is something of an oddity but I’d still recommend seeing it.  It is a piece of history after all!

Youth Run Wild!: HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS (AIP 1958)

cracked rear viewer


One of the most popular 50’s exploitation subgenres was the “Teenage Girl Gang” movie,  with titles like THE VIOLENT YEARS (script by Ed Wood ) and Roger Corman’s TEENAGE DOLL. The plots are pretty much interchangeable: rebellious high school chick, misunderstood by her parents, falls in with the wrong crowd. Soon she’s smoking butts, drinking booze, stealing, staying out late. There’s usually a wild party where something bad happens, and our heroine is placed in peril. If you’re into exploitation flicks, you’ll immediately recognize the storyline, and it’s reused again here to good advantage in HIGH SCHOOL HELLCATS.


Our heroine here is Joyce, the new kid at High School USA. Joyce’s parents just don’t understand her: mom’s always out playing bridge, and dad is just a prick. Joyce longs to be accepted, and is invited to join the Hellcats by anti-social Connie, a rebellious vixen whose attitude seems to be fuck the adult…

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #24: Bloody Mama (dir by Roger Corman)

(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)


The 24th film on my DVR was the 1970 Roger Corman-directed gangster film, Bloody Mama.  I recorded it off of TCM on May 27th.

Bloody Mama opens with a cheerful song that goes, “Maaaaaama…Bloody maaaaama….” and it’s such an unapolegetically over the top song that it perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow.  Bloody Mama is violent, occasionally perverse, and totally unashamed.  It doesn’t pretend to be anything that it isn’t.  It’s bloody and it’s about a mother and, in the best Corman tradition, it makes no apologies!

The film tells the heavily fictionalized story of the Barkers, a group of brothers who robbed banks and killed people in the 1920s and 30s.  The majority of them were killed in a gunfight with the FBI.  Also killed in the gunfight was their mother, Kate Barker.  Always aware of the danger of bad publicity, the director of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover, announced that Ma Barker was actually the mastermind of the Barker gang and that she was even more dangerous than her sons.  Ever since, historians have debated whether Ma Barker was the criminal mastermind described by Hoover or if she was just the innocent woman described by … well, by everyone who actually knew her.

Bloody Mama, of course, leaves no doubt.  From the minute that we discover that Shelley Winters will be playing Ma Barker, we know that she’s the most dangerous woman alive.  As played by Winters, Ma Barker is a ruthless bank robber, one who has no fear of gunning down innocent bystanders and who never lets her love for her sons get in the way of ordering them to kill a witness.  As opposed to a lot of gangster films made in the late 60s and early 70s, the film never attempts to portray its title character as being a heroic or particularly sympathetic character.  Instead, what makes the character compelling is just how thoroughly Winters commits to the role.  It doesn’t matter what Ma Barker is doing or saying, Shelley Winters totally sells it.  When the gang is cornered by the police and one associate makes the mistake of yelling that he’s not a Barker, Ma reacts by gunning him down herself and you can’t help but appreciate the lengths that Ma will go to defend her family’s name.

As for her sons, they are an interesting group of perverts and drug addicts and they’re played some of the best character actors of the 1970s.

Herman Barker (Don Stroud) is a sadist but he’s also one of Ma’s favorites.  He travels with a prostitute (played by Diane Varsi), who quickly tires of the Barkers’s violent way of life.

Arthur Barker (Clint Kimbrough) is the most practical of the Barkers and therefore, he’s also the least interesting.

Fred Barker (Robert Walden) is bisexual, which is a fact that the film handles with all the sensitivity that we’ve come to expect from a film made in 1970 (which is to say, not much at all).  Fortunately, Fred’s lover is Kevin and Kevin is played by Bruce Dern and Bruce Dern is always a lot of fun to watch, especially when he’s appearing in a Corman film.

And then there’s Lloyd who sniffs glue and shoots heroin and who is played by an obscure young actor named Robert De Niro and … wait, Robert De Niro!  That’s right!  One of the pleasures of Bloody Mama is getting to see De Niro at the start of his career.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get to do much, though he does occasionally flash the same unhinged smile that would later show up in Taxi Driver.

Roger Corman has repeatedly cited Bloody Mama as being one of his favorites of the many movies that he directed over the course of his long career.  I don’t blame him.  It’s a thoroughly shameless and totally entertaining film!

Keep an eye out for Bloody Mama!

Just remember, the real-life Ma Barker was probably innocent.

Music Video of the Day: Do the Evolution by Pearl Jam (1998, dir. Kevin Altieri & Todd McFarlane)

You may or may not remember that for a while there Pearl Jam stopped making music videos. I don’t recall off the top of my head if they refused to be in them, or had a blanket ban on having them made using their music. I have to imagine that they totally stopped. I say that they probably stopped entirely because of a famous band from the 80s and several of their videos that they made, but refused to be in themselves. Luckily, Eddie Vedder came to his senses by at least 2002 and went back to appearing in music videos. I’m guessing he was as sick of all those Vedder sound-a-likes that were commonplace in the late 1990s and early 2000s as I was. Before Pearl Jam returned, we got this gloriously dark animated music video taking us through the worst of human history with some of that late-90s Internet paranoia. It was put together by famous animators Kevin Altieri and Todd McFarlane.

I’m pretty sure the video speaks for itself, except for one thing that I want to point out. The VR guy at the end sure made me think of the Internet detective from the first episode of the short-lived Ralph Bakshi show Spicy City.

Spicy City (1997)

Spicy City (1997)