6 Shots From 6 Films: Special Roger Corman Edition


Roger Corman in The Godfather Part II

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

Today, we wish a happy 95th birthday to the legendary filmmaker, Roger Corman!  And that means that it’s time for….

6 Shots From 6 Roger Corman Films

Not of this Earth (1957, dir by Roger Corman DP: John J. Mescall)

The Fall of the House of Usher (1960, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Intruder (1962, dir by Roger Corman DP: Taylor Byars)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Nicolas Roeg)

The Wild Angels (1966, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Richard Moore)

The Trip (1967, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Arch Dalzell)

Spring Breakdown: Eureka (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


 

In this 1983 film, Gene Hackman plays Jack McCann, a prospector who is determined to either get rich or freeze to death as he wanders around Alaska in the 1920s.  When he’s not having sex and philosophical discussions with the local witch, Freida (Helena Kallianiotes), Jack desperately searches for gold.  Jack is convinced that gold is all that he needs to be happy, though Freida counsels him that it’s also important to pursue more Earthly delights.  Everywhere Jack looks, he sees people dying in the snow.  In fact, Jack nearly dies himself until he stumbles across a mountain full of gold.  As gold dust pours down on him, he celebrates while having flashbacks to Freida writhing in ecstasy.  It’s just that type of film.  When Jack tells Freida about his claim, he asks what’s going to happen next.  Freida tells him that it’s both the end and the beginning.  Once again, it’s just that type of film.

At this point, Eureka jumps ahead 20 years.  The year is 1945.  World War II is coming to an end.  Jack is no longer freezing and starving to death in Alaska.  Now, he is one of the world’s richest men.  He even owns his own island in the Caribbean.  Jack has a huge house, a beautiful view of the ocean, and all the money in the world.  One could even say that his life has become an exclusive beach vacation, an eternal Spring Break, if you will.  And yet, even with all of his money, Jack has fallen victim to ennui.  He was happier when he was poor and starving and seeking warmth from Freida.  Now, he’s got an alcoholic wife (Jane LaPotaire) and his daughter, Tracy (Theresa Russell), is in love with a dissolute aristocrat named Claude (Rutger Hauer), to whom Jack takes an instant dislike.  Claude claims that Jack has stolen his wealth from the Earth.  Claude is the type who eats gold and then promises to return it to Jack as soon as he can.  That’s something that actually happens.  It’s kind of silly but Rutger Hauer is such a charmer that he nearly pulls it off.

Claude and Tracy aren’t the only thing that Jack has to worry about.  An American gangster named Mayakofsky (Joe Pesci) wants to take over Jack’s island so that he can build a casino on it.  However, despite the best efforts of Mayakofsky’s attorney (Mickey Rourke), Jack is still not willing to sell.  When hitman Joe Spinell shows up outside the estate, are Jack’s days of ennui numbered?

Of course, they are!  That’s not really a spoiler.  Eureka is (loosely) based on the real-life murder of Sir Harry Oakes, an American-born prospector who was thought to be one of the world’s richest men when he was brutally murdered in the 40s.  Jack is, of course, a stand-in for Oakes while Mayakofsky is based on Meyer Lansky, the mobster who many people suspect ordered Oakes’s murder.  Lansky was never charged with the crime.  Instead, Oakes’s son-in-law, Count Alfred de Marigny, was arrested and charged with the crime.  After a trial that made international news and was described as being “the trial of the century,” de Marigny was acquitted and the murder of Harry Oakes remains officially unsolved.

It’s an interesting story and it seems like one that should perfectly translate to film.  Surprisingly though, Eureka doesn’t really do it justice.  The film was directed by one of the masters of cinematic surrealism, Nicolas Roeg.  Roeg, of course, is probably best remembered for films like Performance, Don’t Look Now, Walkabout, and The Man Who Fell To Earth.  As one might expect from a Roeg film, Eureka is visually stunning but, as a director, Roeg can’t seem to decide whether he’s more interested in Jack’s ennui or in all the soapy melodrama surrounding Jack’s murder.  As such, neither element of the film gets explored with any particular depth and the resulting film, while always watchable, still feels rather shallow and disjointed.  (After taking forever to reach the end of Jack’s story, Eureka then turns into a rather conventional courtroom drama.  Theresa Russell does get to utter the immortal line, “Did you cut off my father’s head?” but otherwise, it’s kind of dry.)  The film is at its strongest when Jack is just a prospector in Alaska.  The harsh landscape and the crazed dialogue is perfect for Roeg’s dream-like style.  Once the film moves to the Caribbean, it suffers the same fate that befell Jack when he become rich.  It loses its spark.

That said, Eureka has its moments.  Any film that features Gene Hackman, Mickey Rourke, Joe Pesci, Rutger Hauer, and Joe Spinell all acting opposite of each other is going to have at least a few scenes worth watching.  I particularly liked Pesci’s surprisingly subdued performance as Mayakofsky.  With everyone else in the film chewing every piece of scenery on the island, Pesci wisely underplays and is all the more menacing for it.  While Eureka ultimately doesn’t add up too much, it’s worth watching at least once for the cast.

Finally, my personal theory is that Harry Oakes’s murder had more to do with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson) than it did with Meyer Lansky.  (The Duke was the governor of the Bahamas at the time of Oakes’s murder.)  But that’s just my opinion.

6 Shots From 6 Films: Special François Truffaut Edition


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

The great François Truffaut was born 89 years ago today, in Paris, France.  This French director would go on to prove that cinema is a universal language and it’s hard not to think about what type of films Truffaut would have gone on to make, if not for his tragically early death at the age of 52.  As far as I am concerned, today is a holiday dedicated to one of the most important cinematic voices of all time.

In honor of the life and legacy of François Truffaut, here are:

6 Shots From 6 François Truffaut Films

The 400 Blows (1959, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Henri Decae)

Shoot the Piano Player (1960, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Raoul Coutard)

Fahrenheit 451 (1966, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Nicolas Roeg)

Day For Night (1973, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Pierre-William Glenn)

The Story of Adele H. (1975, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Nestor Almendros)

The Last Metro (1980, dir by François Truffaut, DP: Nestor Alemndros)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Edgar Allan Poe Edition


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

212 years ago today, Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts.  From his humble beginnings as the son of two struggling actors, Poe would go on to become one of the first great American writers.  (It’s been said that, when Charles Dickens first traveled to the United States in 1842, he specifically wanted to meet Edgar Allan Poe.  Unfortunately, it appears that popular story my not be true but it’s still a good story.)  Poe was controversial in life and even his death generated more questions than answers but no one can deny his strength as a poet and as a prose writer.  Both the detective and the horror genres owe a huge debt to Edgar Allan Poe.

Today, in honor of Edgar Allan Poe’s legacy, TSL presents 4 shots from 4 films that were inspired by the work of Edgar Allan Poe!

4 Shots From 4 Films

House of Usher (1960, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Raven (1963, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Floyd Crosby)

The Masque of the Red Death (1964, dir by Roger Corman, DP: Nicolas Roeg)

Horror Scenes That I Love: Vincent Price’s monologue in Roger Corman’s Masque of the Red Death


This scene, from 1964’s Masque of the Red Death, was directed by Roger Corman, performed by Vincent Price, and shot by Nicolas Roeg.  It was based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe.  That’s a lot of talent on display.

Enjoy!

Film Review: Insignificance (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


The 1985 film, Insignificance, opens in New York City in the 1950s.

On the streets of New York, a crowd has gathered to watch as the Actress (Theresa Russell), a famous sex symbol, is filmed standing on a grate while wearing a white dress.  Beneath the street and the Actress, a fan has been set up and the crowd of onlookers cheers as the Actress’s skirt is blown up around her hips, again and again.  Standing in the crowd, the Actress’s husband, the Ballplayer (Gary Busey), watches and shakes his head in disgust.  After the scene has been shot, the Actress hops in a taxi while the Ballplayer chases after her.  A very famous man is in town and the Actress is on her way to pay him a visit.

In a nearby bar, the Senator (Tony Curtis), drinks and talks and sweats.  Though it may not be obvious from looking at him, the Senator is a very powerful man.  He’s leading an investigations into subversives who may be trying to bring down the United States government.  He may look like a small-time mobster but the Senator can make and destroy people on a whim.  He’s come to New York on a very specific mission.  He and his goons are planning on pressuring another famous man into testifying before the Senator’s committee.

Though they don’t know it, both the Actress and the Senator are planning on dropping in on the same man.  The Professor (Michael Emil) is a world-renowned genius.  When we first see him, he is sitting alone in a hotel room and looking at a watch that has stopped at 8:15.  The public may know the Professor for his eccentricities but, in private, he is a haunted man.  The Professor’s work was instrumental in the creation of the first atomic bomb.  And now, with both the U.S. and Russia stockpiling their atomic arsenals and the world seemingly on the verge of war, the Professor fears that his work will be the end of humanity.

Though none of the characters are actually named over the course of the film, it should be obvious to anyone with even a slight knowledge of American history that the four main characters are meant to be versions of Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, and Albert Einstein.  Insignificance imagines a meeting between these four cultural icons and really, it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which they all could have met.  Joe DiMaggio actually was present during the filming of the subway grate scene from The Seven Year Itch and most accounts record his reaction as being not that different from what’s portrayed in Insignificance.  Albert Einstein was suspected of having communist sympathies and several scientific figures (including many who worked on the Manhattan Project) were investigated during the McCarthy era.  Finally, Marilyn Monroe was often frustrated by her “dumb blonde” image and said that she found Albert Einstein to be a very attractive man.  When she died, a biography of Einstein was reportedly found on her nightstand.

In the film, the Senator pressures The Professor to appear before his committee.  It’s not long after the Senator leaves that the Actress arrives.  The Actress announces that she’s fascinating by the theory of relativity and, using balloons, toys, and a flashlight, she proceeds to demonstrate the theory for the Professor.  The befuddled Professor is impressed.  The Actress informs the Professor that he’s at the top of her list.  Meanwhile, downstairs in another hotel room, the Senator is met by a prostitute who bears a resemblance to the Actress. The Ballplayer sits in the hotel bar, tearing up a picture of the Actress and wondering why their marriage is failing.

Because this film was directed by Nicolas Roeg, the film is full of seemingly random flashbacks.  We see the Senator as an altar boy, trying to impress a smiling priest.  We see the Ballplayer getting yelled at by his domineering father.  We see the Actress, growing up poor and being ogled, at first by the young boys at an orphanage and later by Hollywood execs.  Meanwhile, The Professor continually sees the destruction of Hiroshima.  His visions are apocalyptic and, towards the end of the film, he even gets a glimpse into a possible future of atomic hellfire.  It’s a film about fame and cultural transition, a film where people look to celebrities for hope while doomsday comes closer and closer.

Or something like that.  To be honest, I wanted to like Insignificance more than I actually did.  As is typical with so many of Nicolas Roeg’s films, Insignificance has an intriguing premise but the execution is a bit uneven.  There are moments of absolute brilliance.  Theresa Russell and Gary Busey both give perfect performances and the film’s final apocalyptic vision will haunt you.  And then there are moments when the film becomes a bit of a slog and the dialogue starts to get a bit too pretentious and on-the-nose.  Michael Emil has some good moments as the Professor but there are other moments when he seems to be lost.  Meanwhile, Tony Curtis gives such a terrible performance as The Senator that he throws the entire film off-balance.  Curtis bulges his eyes like a madman and delivers his lines like a comedian doing a bad 1930s gangster impersonation.

That said, Insignificance is still an interesting film.  It’s uneven but intriguing.  Though the film may take place in the 50s and may deal with a quartet of historical figures, it’s themes are still relevant in 2020.  People still tend to idealize celebrities.  Politicians still hold onto power by exploiting fear.  The possibility that everything could just end one day is still a very real one.  Insignificance is a film worth watching, even if it doesn’t completely work.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Donald Cammell!


4 Shots From 4 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!

86 years ago, Donald Cammell was born in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The son of a friend and biographer of the infamous Aleister Crowley, Cammell grew up surrounded by bohemians, artists, and magicians.  After getting his start as a painter and establishing himself as a mainstay of “swinging London,” Cammell pursued a career as a screenwriter and director.

Cammell only completed a total of four films, all of which walked the very thin line between brilliance and pretension.  All four of them have since developed strong cult following but were considered to be financial and critical disappointments when first released.  As a result, Cammell had a difficult time getting anyone to back the majority of his projects.  Cammell also had the misfortune to get involved with Marlon Brando during the latter’s mercurial period.  Brando commissioned Cammell to write and direct at least two films for him before losing interest just before shooting was set to begin.  Frustrated with both his life and his career, Cammell shot himself in 1996.  He reportedly survived for 45-minutes after shooting himself and he spent that time recording his thoughts on life and dying.  Though Cammell died in relative obscurity, his films have since been rediscovered and reevaluated.  His legacy lives on.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Performance (1970, directed by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg)

Demon Seed (1977, directed by Donald Cammell)

White of the Eye (1987, directed by Donald Cammell)

Wild Side (1995, directed by Donald Cammell)

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Rest In Peace, Nicolas Roeg


One of the greatest filmmakers of our age has died.  Rest in peace, Nicolas Roeg.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Walkabout (1971, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

The Man Who Fell To Earth (1976, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Bad Timing (1980, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Insignificance (1985, directed by Nicolas Roeg)

Horror Film Review: Don’t Look Now (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now (1973)

I have to admit that I’m actually a bit embarrassed to say that Venice is my favorite city in Italy.

I mean, it’s such a cliché, isn’t it?  Tourists always fall in love with Venice, even though the majority of us really don’t know much about the city beyond the canals and the gondolas.  I spent a summer in Italy and Venice was definitely the city that had the most American visitors.  Sadly, the majority of them didn’t do a very good job representing the U.S. in Europe.  I’ll never forget the drunk frat boys who approached me one night, all wearing University of Texas t-shirts.  One of them asked, “Are you from Texas?”

“No,” I lied.

“You sound like you’re from Texas!” his friend said.

“No, ah’m not from Texas,” I said, “Sorry, y’all.”

I mean, that’s not something that would have happened in Florence or even Naples!  In Rome, handsome men on motor scooters gave me flowers.  In Venice, on the other hand, I had to deal with the same assholes that I dealt with back home!

That said, I still fell in love with Venice.  And yes, it did happen while riding in a gondola.  At that moment, I felt like I was living in a work of art.  I can still remember looking over the side of the gondola and watching as a small crab ran across someone’s front porch.  That’s when I realize that, by its very existence, Venice proved that anything was possible.

I’ve often heard that Venice is slowly sinking.  That Venice has a reputation as being a dying city would probably have come to a surprise to the drunk Americans who were just looking for a girl from Texas that summer.  And yet, Venice has always been associated with death.  Just consider Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the subsequent film adaptation from Luchino Visconti.  Consider the controversial Giallo in Venice.  And, of course, you can’t forget about the 1973 film, Don’t Look Now.

Oh my God, Don’t Look Now is a creepy movie.  It’s probably best known for two things: the lengthy sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (which was apparently quite controversial back in 1973 but which seems rather tame when viewed today) and the film’s shock ending.  It’s one of the best and most disturbing endings in the history of horror and I’m not going to spoil it in this review.  The first time I saw the movie, the ending caught me totally off guard and gave me nightmares.  Admittedly, it’s not hard to give me nightmares but what’s remarkable is that, upon subsequent viewings, the ending is still just as frightening and disturbing.  In fact, knowing what’s going to happen makes the film even more chilling.

The film’s story is actually a rather simple one.  After their daughter, Christine, accidentally drowns, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) take a trip to Venice.  Though they’re in Venice so that John can restore an ancient church, both John and Laura are mostly trying to escape their grief.  Laura meets a blind woman, Heather (Hilary Mason), who claims to not only be a psychic but who also says that she can see Christine in the afterlife.  Laura believes Heather and is concerned when Heather says that Christine wants them to leave Venice.  John, on the other hand, believes that Heather is a fake.

When the Baxters get a phone call informing them that their son has taken ill, Laura flies back to the UK.  Or does she?  One day, John spots his wife riding on a boat with Heather and her sister.  Has Heather abducted or brainwashed his wife?  When John goes to the police, they are as skeptical of him as he was of Heather.  In fact, they start to suspect that John may have something to do with a recent rash of murders.

Confused, John searches Venice for his wife but, instead of finding her, he spots a figure in the distance.  It appears to be a young child, one who is wearing the same red coat that Christine was wearing when she drowned….

It’s a simple story but it’s told in a very complex fashion.  Director Nicolas Roeg is best known for his fragmented narrative style.  Roeg often mashes together scenes from the past, present, and future and leaves it up to the viewer to put it all together.  (For instance, in Don’t Look Now, scenes of John and Laura making love are intercut with scenes of them getting dressed afterward.)  Roeg’s style that can often come across as being pretentious but, in Don’t Look Now, it works perfectly.  The audience is kept off-balance and is always aware that that’s more than one possible interpretation for everything that is seen.  Is Laura in the UK or is she on a boat in Venice?  Is Heather seeing Christine or is she just trying to con a grieving mother?  Is John chasing the figure in the red coat or is she actually the one pursuing him?  Is John chasing the figure because he believes that she’s his daughter or because he wants to prove, once and for all, that Christine is gone and never coming back?  Roeg keeps you guessing.

Death seems to permeate every frame of Don’t Look Now, whether it’s Heather’s cheery descriptions of the afterlife or the sight of a bloated corpse being pulled out of the canal.  Even when John is working in the church, he still nearly slips off a scaffolding.  While John restores ancient buildings to the vibrant glories of the past, the present seems to grow more and more ominous and menacing.  John and Laura may have traveled to Venice to escape their grief but their grief follows them.  How they deal with that grief — both as a couple and as individuals — is what determines their fate.  For a film that is full of mysteries, none is as enigmatic as Julie Christie’s smile when she’s on the boat.

I’m probably making Don’t Look Now sound like an incredibly grim film and, to a certain extent, it is.  After all, early 70s cinema is not known for its happy endings.  And yet, as dark and disturbing as this film may be, it’s impossible to look away from.  Roeg does a fantastic job capturing both the beauty and the decay of Venice while Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are so sympathetic as John and Laura that you find yourself rewatching and hoping that somehow, they don’t end up making the same mistakes that they made the last time that you watched.

Don’t Look Now is an essential horror film and one that’s as timeless as the sight of a crab running across someone’s front porch.

Music Video Of the Day: Memo From Turner (1970, dir by Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg)


In the 1970 film Performance, a sadistic gangster named Chas (James Fox) goes on the run and ends up hiding out in a mansion that’s currently occupied by a burned-out rock star named Turner (Mick Jagger).  Turner, we’re told, used to be great but then he “lost his demon.”  Could Chas be his new demon?

Well, before the answer to that question can be revealed, Chas ends up under the influence of hallucinogenic mushrooms and that’s when he sees Turner transformed into a London mob boss and performing Memo From Turner, a song about his exploits.

Though this is a scene from a movie, it’s still most definitely a music video.  In fact, it’s frequently cited as the first “true” music video.  (I imagine that John’s Children, Procol Harum, and Nancy Sinatra would disagree.)  Still, even if it’s not the first, it’s influence on subsequent videos is undeniable.

Enjoy!