Patreon Preview Week : “Beatnik Buenos Aires” By Diego Arandojo And Facundo Percio

Continuing with our “preview week” of content originally posted on my Patreon, here’s a recent-ish review I wrote of Diego Arandojo and Facundo Percio’s BEATNIK BUENOS AIRES, published in English in 2021 by Fantagraphics —

There are three kinds of historical narratives — those that relate the nuts and bolts of the particular epoch they’re analyzing, those that capture and evoke the MOOD and ATMOSPHERE of the time, and those that manage to do both. 

The comics medium is uniquely suited to the second option, of course, being a visual means of communication, but that doesn’t preclude the first and third options from being on the table, as it were, as well — when you’ve only got 96 pages to work with, though, you’d better figure out precisely what it is you’re looking to do if you want to do it WELL. There’s not much room for false steps when you’re operating within the strictures of a concise page count, after all, and there’s even LESS time to recover from them.

To that end, the Argentinian creative team of writer Diego Arandojo and artist Facudo Percio get right to work on delivering the goods in BEATNIK BUENOS AIRES (originally published on their native soil in 2019 and released in an English-language edition earlier this year by Fantagraphics, with translation by Andrea Rosenberg), a sweeping overview of the dimly-lit cafes and eccentric creative personages that made up the largely-forgotten 1960s (to be specific, 1963) Bohemian scene in their country’s capitol city. To their credit, the narrative doesn’t FEEL rushed in any way — and Percio’s exquisitely moody charcoal illustrations certainly LOOK anything but — yet there’s an urgency to the pacing here that belies its breezy tone. All of which is to say, there’s a LOT going on, but we are only given crucial glimpses of a LITTLE of it.

This, however, is not a criticism — in fact, the ingenious structure herein really works, the book’s 13 short chapters, each focused on a different artist, coalescing into an eminently readable (and again, because it bears repeating, visually GORGEOUS) tapestry that avails itself of the second of three storytelling options I mentioned at the outset, with mood and atmosphere taking precedence over the grim and gritty details.

Which isn’t to say that you’re not afforded one tantalizing peek after another into the places, people, and events that made this largely sub rosa cultural renaissance so special, only that these collaborators are far more concerned with imparting the essential CHARACTER of the period than they are its minutiae. You’ll be left wanting more, absolutely, but that’s as much a testament to the POWER of the craft on display here than it is to any of its shortcomings — and there are endnotes at the back for those looking to branch off into some independent researches of their own.

Still, this scattershot approach is not without its shortcomings — without some sort of fuller meat and bones context, the actions of an art forger and a photographer who damn near kills his girlfriend come off as too matter-of-fact in their presentation/recounting for their own good, and while we get a taste of the unfortunate sexism that was rife in this counter-cultural milieu, Arandojo never takes it upon himself to take the dudes perpetrating it to task for it in any way. In fact, sometimes his overall tone can be a bit too hagiographic to be considered either honest OR effective.

These are no mere minor quibbles, I’ll grant you, but in the overall scheme of things they certainly don’t rise to the level of being “deal-breakers,” either. This is an IMPRESSIONTIC overview first and foremost, remember, and erring on the side of the overly-comprehensive would likely get in the way of the primary task at hand, that being to capture the essence of the overall local zeitgeist. With another hundred pages (at least), Arandojo and Percio would certainly have been able to pull off something more exhaustive, but then some of that urgency I spoke so highly of would necessarily have been, if not lost, at the very least hopelessly bogged down.

Whether or not you view this comic as a modest little masterwork or an intriguing but ultimately pointless exercise in self-indulgence, then, rests largely on whether or not you’re willing to meet it on its own terms — it achieves almost all of what it sets out to do, some notable exceptions aside, but if that’s ENOUGH for you or not is something only you can decide for yourself. All I know for certain is that Arandojo and Percio made me smell the cigarette smoke, hear the jazz, and feel the heat of the creative energy that were all hanging so heavily in that rarefied 1963 Buenos Aires air.

Interested in more? Then please take a look at my Patreon, the blatant promotion of which is, after all, what this week is all about. Here’s the link :

The Gatling Gun (1971, directed by Robert Gordon)

In the post-civil war west, two Calvary troopers steal a Gatling Gun, the weapon that was invented to be such a powerful instrument of death that people would stop fighting wars just to avoid finding themselves in front of its barrel.  (It didn’t work out that way, of course.)  With the help of a pacifist reverend named Harper (John Carradine), they smuggle the gun into Apache territory.  Rev. Harper thinks that the gun is going to be destroyed and, thus, another instrument death will be eliminated. from the world  Instead, the greedy troopers are planning on selling the gun to Apache Chief Two Knife (Carlos Rivas).  Two Knife has promised a fortune’s worth of gold to anyone who can deliver to him the deadliest weapon in the west.

Before the gun can be exchanged, the reverend, his daughter, and the two deserters are intercepted by a group of Calvary troops led by Lt. Wayne Malcolm (Guy Stockwell).  One of the deserters is killed while the other, Pvt. Sneed (Robert Fuller) is captured.

However, Chief Two Knife still wants what he calls “the king gun.”  Malcolm and his troops find themselves pinned down by the Apaches.  Can Malcolm, with the help of a rancher (Phil Harris), a scout (Woody Strode), and a cook (Pat Buttram), keep both the gun and the all important firing pin from falling into the hands of Two Knife?

The Gatling Gun is a low-budget western that would probably be today forgotten except that it has fallen into the public domain and has been included in several DVD box sets.  It has the flat, generic look of a Western television show and Guy Stockwell’s stiff performance may be believable for a 19th century Calvary captain but it’s still doesn’t exactly make for compelling viewing.  The main problem is that the most exciting and interesting part of the story, the two deserters stealing the gun and tricking the Reverend into helping them, occurs off-screen and the movie instead begins with Malcolm capturing Sneed.

Western fans will mostly want to watch this one to see John Carradine and Woody Strode, two very different actors who were both favorites of John Ford’s and who appeared in several other, better westerns.  (Strode and Carradine had both previously appeared in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, to name just one example.)  Carradine is typically theatrical, delivering his lines like the old Shakespearean that he was.  Strode, as usual, is stoic but his imposing screen presence makes him the most memorable of the film’s heroes.  Also keep an eye out for Patrick “son of John” Wayne, playing the rancher’s son.

Though The Gatling Gun has the look of a film that was shot on a studio backlot in Hollywood, it was actually filmed, on location, in New Mexico.  The state’s then-governor, David Cargo, has a small role as Corporal Benton and is listed in the credits as “Honorable Governor David Cargo.”  A look at his imdb page reveals that David Cargo appeared in four films while he was governor.  All of them were filmed in New Mexico so I guess casting the governor was a requirement for filming in that state.  When Cargo left office in 1971, his movie career ended.

Novel Review: The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage

If I may be allowed to open with a cliché: “You’ve seen the movie, now read the book!”

I ordered a copy of and read Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, The Power of the Dog, before the release of Jane Campion’s film adaptation.  Hence, when I watched Campion’s film, I already knew about the Burbank Brothers, Bronco Henry, Rose, and Peter Gordon.  Neither the film’s big twist nor the diabolically clever ending were quite as much of a shock to me as they apparently were for others, though both were still undeniably effective in both the book and the movie.  Campion’s film sticks close to the plot of the book and visually, it captures Thomas Savage’s simple but effective prose.

In case you’ve yet to see the film or read the book, The Power of the Dog takes place in Montana in the 1920s.  Phil and George Burbank are brothers.  Ever since their parents retired, Phil and George have owned and managed the family ranch.  The gentle and kind-natured George has spent almost his entire life allowing himself to be led around by Phil.  Phil, meanwhile, has fully embraced the identity of being a tough cowboy and all of the myths that go along with it.  He rarely bathes.  He makes it a point to castrate all of the cattle personally.  He seldom wears gloves, believing the all work should be done bare-handed.  He’s dismissive of anyone who he believes has shown any sign of weakness.  He’s a bully and a sadist but he’s also an Ivy League graduate who takes pride in his ability to quote Ovid in the original Latin.  Phil is brutally dismissive of almost everyone.  He only seems to truly care about his brother and the memory of his mentor, the mysterious Bronco Henry.  When George meets and marries a widow named Rose, Phil can’t handle it.  George is breaking free of Phil’s influence and Phil seeks revenge against Rose, psychologically tormenting her and driving her to drink.  When Rose’s son, Peter, arrives at the ranch, Phil initially dismisses Peter as being weak.  But, to Rose’s horror, Phil soon starts to take an interest in Peter….

Author Thomas Savage was born in Montana and grew up on his stepfather’s ranch.  Savage later said that, much like Peter, he always felt like a misfit on the ranch.  His stepfather was a man who was much like Phil Burbank while Savage felt a lot like Peter Gordon.  Despite never feeling like he belonged, Savage was still able to use his early experiences as a ranch hand as the inspiration for his first published short stories.  Savage went on to write several western novels, many of which dealt with dysfunctional ranch families.  Though well-reviewed, The Power of the Dog was not a best seller when it was originally published and even the positive reviews often seemed to wilfully miss the subtext behind Phil’s homophobia and his devotion to the memory of Bronco Henry.  In 1967, The Power of the Dog was ahead of its time.

Hopefully, with the release of Campion’s adaptation, the original novel will be read by an entirely new audience.  As I mentioned earlier, Campion remains faithful to the book’s plot but there are a few elements in the original novel that will add to one’s understanding of the film.  For instance, the book goes into more detail about the history and the culture of the town and it also goes into more details about  the ranch’s dealings with the local Native tribes.  Whereas both the film and the book present Phil as being a wilfully malicious agent of chaos, the book makes clear that Phil is also a creation of the culture in which he was raised.  The book makes clear that, for all of his overt macho energy, Phil still feels like an outsider among even the ranch hands who worship him and that adds an element to his relationship with Peter that is only suggested at in the film.

Perhaps most importantly, the book devotes a chapter to the life of Rose’s first husband and the circumstances that led to his suicide.  Rose’s first husband is a doctor who comes to Montana to try to help people but who is slowly destroyed by the town’s apathy.  We learn of the argument that led to his suicide and, again, it adds an entirely new element to Phil and Peter’s relationship.

So, if you’ve seen the movie, read the book.  Or read the book and then see the movie.  They’re both excellent deconstructions of the mythology of the American west.

Scenes That I Love: The Robot Montage from George P. Cosmatos’s Cobra

On this date, in 1941, future director George Pan Cosmatos was born in Italy.  Cosmatos would go on to direct some of the most financially successfully (if critically lambasted) films of the 80s.  He’s also credited as being the director on Tombstone, though it’s generally agreed that Cosmatos largely deferred to Kurt Russell on that film.  (Cosmatos was a last minute replacement for the film’s original director.)

Other than Tombstone, Cosmatos is best-known for the films that he did with Sylvester Stallone.  And today’s scene that I love comes from the 1986 film, CobraCobra stars Stallone as a motorcycle-riding cop who never asks question when he can just shoot a big gun instead.  Stallone’s show-no-mercy attitude may upset his superiors but it turns out to be just what’s needed to take care of a murderous cult.  Now, Cobra may be a fairly dumb film but it does have one sequence that pretty much epitomizes an era.  If nothing else, George Pan Cosmatos deserves to be remembered for Cobra’s famous robot montage.  While Sylvester Stallone searches for the murders who are decimating his city, model Brigitte Nielsen poses with a bunch of life-size robots.

One reason why this sequence works is because it really does seem to come out of nowhere.  The film goes from Stallone promising to wipe out the bad guys to a bunch of adorable robots.  It’s all very 80s.  And we have George Pan Cosmatos to thank for it.

Here’s a scene that I love:

Film Review: East of the Mountains (dir by SJ Chiro)

Sometimes, a good film just sneaks up on you.

That was certainly the case with me and East of the Mountains, an independent film which came out last September.   I have to admit that the film completely slipped past me when it was initially released.  In fact, I didn’t even know that the film existed until it was nominated for Best Motion Picture Drama by the Satellite Awards in December.  I wasn’t alone in that.  I remember when the Satellite nominations were announced, there were a lot of people who looked at the list of nominees and, upon seeing an unfamiliar title mixed in with West Side Story, The Power of the Dog, and Don’t Look Up, said, “East of what?”

Because I’m always on the lookout for an overlooked gem, I rented East of the Mountains on Prime. I watched it yesterday.  My initial reaction was that it was a well-made film, featuring both pretty scenery and an excellent lead performance from veteran actor Tom Skerritt.  (Skerritt is also credited as being an executive producer on the film.)  I appreciated that, in a time when so many film feels as if they’re at least ten minutes too long, East of the Mountains was a remarkably short film.  It only needed 79 minutes to tell its simple but effective story and it didn’t waste a single one of them.  At the time, I also thought that the film’s direction was perhaps a bit too low-key for the film to really work.  I thought it was a good film but I also thought it was one that I would probably forget about in a day or two.

Instead, the opposite has happened.  East of the Mountains has stuck with me.  Even as I sit here typing, I can still picture the film’s final few scenes in my head.  That’s the type of film that East of the Mountains is.  It’s a film that sneaks up on its audience, capturing their attention so subtly that it’s not until several hours later that they realize that they’re still thinking about the film.

Based on a novel by David Guterson, East of the Mountains is a character study.  Tom Skerritt plays Ben Givens.  Ben is a retired doctor and a veteran of the Korean War.  He lives in Seattle.  His wife has passed away.  He’s estranged from his brother.  His daughter is busy with a family of her own.  Ben’s only companion is his dog, Rex.  When he tells his daughter (played by Mira Sorvino) that he’s planning on going bird hunting for the weekend, she’s concerned.  She knows that her father has been depressed.  She also knows that Ben has recently been diagnosed with cancer.  Ben assures her that he just wants to see his “old stomping grounds” one last time but his daughter worries that Ben may be planning on never coming back.

She’s not wrong.  Since we’ve already seen Ben pressing the barrel of a rifle against his forehead, we know that she has every reason to be concerned about his plans.  Ben is considering ending it all, east of the mountains where he grew up, fell in love, and experienced his happiest moment.  However, from the minute that Ben sets off on what he plans to be his final hunting trip, fate seems to be determined to keep him alive.  After his SUV breaks down, he’s given a ride by a mountain climbing couple and their love reminds Ben of when he first met the woman who he would eventually marry.  After a run-in with a half-crazed mountain man, Ben loses his prized rifle, the one that was given to him by his father and which Ben planned to use to end his own life.  After an unexpected dog fights leads to Ben taking Rex to the local animal hospital, he meets a young veterinarian who can tell that Ben needs someone to talk to.

The plot is rather simple but Tom Skerritt’s performance brings the story a certain depth that it might not otherwise possess.  It would be easy to sentimentalize a character like Ben or to portray him as being flawless.  Instead, Skerritt plays Ben as someone who is genuinely well-meaning and naturally kid but who also can occasionally be a bit self-absorbed.  Watching Ben, one can understand why his brother is estranged from him, which makes their eventual, if rather prickly reunion all the more poignant.  (Ben’s brother is well-played by an actor named Wally Dalton.  He and Skerritt play off of each other with such skill that it’s hard to believe that they actually aren’t brothers.)  The viewer hopes that Ben will find what he needs to find in order to achieve some sort of peace for himself, even if Ben himself doesn’t always seem to be quite sure what that possibly mythical thing would be.

Skerritt’s performance here is comparable to Robert Redford’s turn in All Is Lost, with the main difference being that Ben is far more lost than even Reford’s unnamed sailor.  However, much like the sailor in All is Lost, it’s impossible to look away from Ben’s journey.  It’s also tempting to compare Skerritt’s performance to Rchard Farnsworth’s Oscar-nominated turn in David Lynch’s The Straight Story.  (Indeed, the scene between Skerritt and Dalton is comparable to the final scene between Farnsworth and Harry Dean Stanton.)  Much like Farnsworth in Lynch’s film, Tom Skerritt may move slowly but the viewer is always aware of his mind working.

East of the Mountains may sound like a depressing or heavy-handed film but actually it’s not.  If anything, it’s life-affirming.  The audience is right alongside Ben, learning with him that the world is not as terrible a place as he had convinced himself it was.  In the end, the viewer cares about Ben and worries about what his ultimate fate will be.  The film’s ending sneaks up on you and it stays with you afterwards.

There is one scene involving a dog fight that is difficult to watch but otherwise, East of the Mountains is a simple but poignant film that deserves more attention than it’s received.

4 Shots From 4 Carlos Saura Films: Los Golfos, Carmen, Taxi, Tango

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, we celebrate the 90th birthday of Spanish director Carlos Saura.  Born in Huesca, Spain in 1932, Saura began his career directing documentaries in the 50s and has been directing feature films since the early 60s.  Saura was originally known as a neorealist, which was not necessarily the safest thing to be when you were a filmmaker in Francisco Franco’s Spain.  His later films have relied more on symbolism and surreal imagery to comment on both Spanish history and culture.  He’s also acclaimed for his dance films.  12 of Saura’s films have competed at Cannes and three of his films were nominated for the Oscar for Best International Film.

In honor of Carlos Saura’s career and vision, it’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Carlos Saura Films

Los Golfos (1962, dir by Carlos Saura, DP: Juan Julio Baena)

Carmen (1983, dir by Carlos Saura, DP: Teo Escamilla)

Taxi (1996, dir by Carlos Saura, DP: Vittorio Storaro)

Tango (1998, dir by Carlos Saura, DP: Vittorio Storaro)

Music Video of the Day: You Sexy Thing by Hot Chocolate (1975, dir by ????)

Hey, remember this song from the soundtrack of every single film that’s ever been made about the 70s?

You Sexy Thing is one of those songs that pretty much just epitomizes an era.  I’ve heard it used in so many films that I like that I can’t help but smile whenever I hear the song, even though I find real-life catcallers to be totally creepy.  Of course, the song itself is not actually about catcalling, no matter how much one might be tempted to go with that interpretation.  Instead, singer Errol Brown wrote the song about his wife and how she made him feel.  Supposedly, this was the first “happy” song that he ever wrote.

As I mentioned earlier, You Sexy Thing has become a soundtrack mainstay.   During The Dundees episode of The Office, Michael played “You Sexy Thing” after announcing that Ryan the Temp had won “Hottest in the Office.”  (I agree, by the way.  BJ Novak’s adorable.  Timothy Olyphant is adorable as well but there’s still no way Danny Cordray should have taken hottest in the office away from Ryan Howard.)  It’s also appeared in films like Boogie Nights, Reservoir Dogs, Legally Blonde, Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, and Duke Marvin’s All 70s Dance Party.  Admittedly, the Duke Marvin film was never actually released but it’s still a classic to those of us who have seen it.

This video was shot for the UK’s Top of the Pops.

Enjoy and believe in miracles!