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Archive for March, 2012

A Corman’s Dozen

As promised, here is a dozen or so personal favourites from the extensive oeuvre of Roger Corman, I won’t be linking to any full films of his that are floating around on youtube or google video but if you are so inclined there is plenty to be found. In other news there won’t be any ‘recuperation’ post this weekend, quite frankly with one exception nothing I’ve caught merits a mention, with one exception that I’ll roll on through to next week. I have finally caught up with HBO’s Game Of Thrones though which is apt timing as the marketing ramps up for the arrival of Season 2, it was pretty good but I fail to accept these claims of it being the best TV series evar which is absolute nonsense, I think the dearth of any reasonable fantasy series on the box has resulted in something half-decent being championed as a masterpiece, which it isn’t. Anyway, enough of my irrelevant opinions, on with the show with a dozen of Corman’s colossally craziest, captivating and chilling celluloid capers;

The Beast With A Million Eyes – The Return Of The Blood of The Revenge of The Curse of The Night of The Invasion of The Day of The Monster or The Abominable of The Dead of The Son or The Sister of the Forbidden of the Galaxy of The Attack of The Amazing Spider / Zombie / Werewolf / Dracula / Teenage / Frankenstein / Cheerleader / Wolfman / Piranha / Alligator / Bikini of The Caged Beast Must Be Destroyed on Halloween / April Fools Day / Thanksgiving / Prom Night / Friday 13th / at a Slumber Party or in a Sorority House, I love these clunky movies for their lurid titles alone.

Hollywood Boulevard – Or, Tinseltown eats itself in this cannibalistic B movie referencing of B Movies, directed by Joe Dante and Allan Arkush this clip gets progressively more amusing the longer it runs. OK, I’ve never actually seen this but it looks like a lot of fun, in the same vein as Amazon Women On The Moon or Kentucky Fried Movie although it looks to have more of a linking narrative than outright sketch format – anyone know where I can hunt down a copy?

Wild Angels – The throbbing, explosive precursor to Easy Rider which it predates by three years, it also has this somewhat classic dialogue moment that is now etched in UK rock n’ roll history.

The Brain Eaters – We could do with a few of these critters running around Westminster and Whitehall after this weeks political clusterfucks where an episode of The Thick Of It seems to have come to uncanny life, truth is indeed stranger than fiction. I’m right eh? Except, these intelligence feasting hexopoloids would like, probably starve to death in the corridors of Coalition power, yeah? Oh the satire. What’s that? OK, I’ll shut up now….

Bloody Mama – Even when you dress up proceedings in a period setting this is still a middle finger notification to the ‘man’, it’s unruly, disaffected teenage audience cheering as societies norms were transgressed and violated, this was a mild smash back in 1970. Note the early sighting of a junior De Niro in its natural habitat, the crime film.

Attack Of The Crab Monsters – No, this isn’t a 1950’s sexual hygiene teenage educational shocker, this is one of the better ‘Monster Attack’ movies of the Eisenhower era. And when I say better, I mean hilariously terrible.

Battle Beyond The Stars – I assume this was some sort of cash in on some other popular space opera project, anyone got any ideas? More importantly, does your species have kissing?

Chopping Mall – OK, OK, forgive me for just linking to the death scenes like some pasty, bedraggled haired pseudo goth adolescent , but (a-hem) they are pretty funny. I think just the title alone of this film is a stroke of genius.

The Trip – A lot of these period Lysergic acid diethylamide influenced movies of the 1960’s can be real chores to wade through mmaaannnnn, the exceptions to the rule being Head and The Trip, as curious a social document of its era as it is a scintillating phantasmagoric attack on the viewers optical orbs.

Galaxy Of Terror – Or, the film which quite clearly Sir Ridley Scott has unashamedly ripped off for his big budget, bloated Prometheus, shame on you Sir Ridley, shame on you….

Death Race 2000 – A true cult classic with a deliciously cruel sense of humor, we can still see its ilk and influence in the likes of The Hunger Games. The remake is utter dreck without a single shred of humor, excitement, satire or sociological interest, what they may have purchased in stunt design, mediocre SFX and fractured, frenzied editing stylistics they have lost in y’know any sense of fucking entertainment. That’s the crux of the problem with these coldly designed and calmly redundant cycle of current ‘B’ movies for me, the movies that the likes of ‘director’ P.T. Anderson or studios such as The Asylum produce today, there is no sense of humor, no shard of wicked invention or indeed budgetary restraint that can mistakenly result in some amusing on-screens solutions, by todays standards with phenomenon such as the Tea Party and disgust with our political masters at an all time nadir, with global warming and energy fears, with reality TV and encroaching personal liberties, with medical privatisation and so-called ‘death panels’ over in the States, with helicopter parenting and pederasts lurking under every climbing frame, with all these and more a remake of Death Race 2000 practically writes itself. Now get off my lawn and take your new fangled drug music with you…

Masque of The Red Death – Finally, my favourite of the Edgar Allen Poe cycle, I’ve already covered this in a review from last year but this bears repetition for its creepy atmosphere and corporeal use of colour and texture, proof that Corman wasn’t always just a surface, schlocky hack – as Nicholson said ‘Even once in a while he accidentally made a good movie….’

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011)

The case for the most influential figure in film history is an impossible, potentially controversial yet combatively humorous notion to entertain. Does one cast their mind back to the late 19th century and elect one of the original movie seers such as the Lumières or Méliès, or perhaps Edwin S. Porter or Cecil Hepworth as the inceptional ingenues of the infant ideoplastic, or does one move ahead a decade or two to the likes of the directorial titans of D.W. Griffith, F.W. Murnau or John Ford with their establishment and refinement of basic cinematic syntax and grammar? Moving away from the artistic to the commercial arms of the business a strong case could be made for influential impresario producers and studio executives who consolidated, popularised and streamlined the artform, giving Irving Thalberg, Louis B. Mayer, the Warner Brothers or David Selznick a shot at nascent glory, and these are just a smattering of North American figures when of course similar efficacious figures were emerging in Europe and the Far East throughout the adolescence and adulthood of the 20th century. It’s a redundant yet entertaining thought exercise given the dozens and dozens of figures that could convincingly jostle for such diffused distinction, but narrowing the parameters to a single figure, a shorter time frame and geographic strata – post World War II American cinema – and only one convincing champion emerges, the original schlockmeister and so-called King of The B’s, the crucially cheap, chimeric champion Roger William Corman.  In a similar vein to recent film documentary hits Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens Unleashed the leading pacific maverick has now received similar adulation in Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, a long overdue celebration of one of the crucial figures of the past seventy years of production, distribution and exhibition, a living legend whom is still going strong at the venerable age of 85 years old.

Using the ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it’ trick of counterposing interview footage of industry figures in their luxurious, sun dappled beachside domiciles interspersed with the lurid trailers and amusing snippets of his humongously dense curriculum vitae (a staggering 400 credits to date) Corman’s World is a considered cantor through a remarkable career, encapsulating an industry in flux and turmoil through industrial, cultural and financial factors over a sixty year period, amongst the interviewees a glittering parade of high and low-caste American film-making incorporating the recollections and reminiscences of (big breath) Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, David Carradine, Paul Bartel, Robert De Niro, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, Gale Ann Hurd, Irving Kernsher, Polly Platt, Eli Roth, John Sayles, William Shatner, and of course one of the most energetic benefactors of Corman’s inversely distinguished career, Quentin Tarantino. After being burnt as a script reader on the Gregory Peck Western The Gunfighter for 20th Century Fox back in the early 1950’s, Corman’s championing of the project and his successful notes and ideas on how to improve the movie going unrecognised and perhaps more importantly overlooked for any financial remuneration (the film was an unexpected hit) a disgruntled Corman immediately embarked on his own path, setting up his own production and distribution infrastructure in a loose partnership with the likes of AIP and other low-budget outfits of the era, setting out his ambitions with two pictures, including the proto-biker movie Highway Dragnet and the heinous Monster From The Ocean Floor, two projects which neatly foreshadow the next few hundred instances of his lurid theatrics, improvised SFX and efficacious thrills.

With one movie pre-sold to begat the next and each project shot in a maximum of 7 days Corman learned the craft on the job, both from the producers and occasionally the directors chair, his growing skill and confidence mirroring the changing times as the 1950’s sequestered into the 1960’s with the rise of the drive-in and emerging sociological phenomenon of the teenager, pandering to this cash burdened congregation with fast cars, mild violence, drooling horror and as much female flesh as the square and boorish censors would allow, all marinated in an outlaw cheering, rebel flamboyance that appealed and seduced the similarly attuned, increasingly disenfranchised adolescent audience. But there is some genuine brilliance amongst the swiftly arranged pocket-money cash grabs, for example the cycle of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations* of the early 1960’s are now considered minor classics (alas they don’t receive the attention they deserve in the piece) and Corman’s championing of his only personal project The Intruder is an intriguing footnote to his supposed fiscally obsessed career, it’s a 1962 pro-integration movie starring a pre-Kirk Bill Shatner as a hate-crime rousing preacher in a teeming, hazily tropical South which was initially refused funding by all the B movie studios despite the funds he had consistently generated for them, forcing Corman to pay for the film himself which was then beset with threats and sabotage, accusations of communist sympathies and riotous screenings, all resulting in the only incidence of his 400 productions which didn’t recoup its budget. Corman’s World also touches on the rarely exposed distribution side projects of his New World production company which he established in 1970, a trojan horse through which he quietly brought  the likes of period Bergman, Antonioni, Kurosawa and Fellini to screens throughout the succeeding decades, Corman insisting that these movies were important and deserved an American airing, the mind boggles at the prospect of a double bill of Cries & Whispers and Night Call Nurses which must be one of the most incongruous pairings possible.

There isn’t a great deal of revelatory material here for the established film fan but as an original primer on the man who alleges to have never lost money on a single picture (apart from the aforementioned Intruder) there is much here to enjoy, and the talking heads commentary dovetails nicely into the historical material and footage of vivid, attention grabbing trailers and hilarious movie footage which should have even the passing cinéaste grinning in sensational pleasure. There is no sense of where the bodies may be buried, and with a sixty year career in this most cutthroat and vernal of industries there must have been some casualties along the way, with only faint hints from the likes of Dante and Howard that they knew they were being exploited in terms of the deals they signed to produce their debuts, yet they understood that the break he gave them was a golden opportunity to establish a career in such a notoriously difficult and insular business. Highlights include Cormans instructions to a budding Scorsese that he’d bankroll his picture Mean Streets if he shifted all the characters from their Italian American roots to an African-American mileau to chime with the nascent Blaxploitation phase of the early 1970’s, and Jack Nicholson makes some insightful commentary (‘Anyone who doesn’t understand the finance doesn’t understand this business’) before disintegrating in a tearful reminiscence that should prompt a surprised ‘aaahhh’ from the unexpectedly touched viewer. Finally of course the documentary alights on the phenomenon of Jaws and Star Wars, and the subsequent shift of the majors into the realms of the exaggerated, the surface and sensational of which Corman is the maleficent maestro, whilst terrified audiences huddled in the auditorium dark, groaning at the aquatic carnage of Spielberg’s predatory manipulations Corman was horrified for an altogether different reason, realising that the big guys would now produce identical films to his but with budgets with a few more zeroes and marketing clout than his $200K, $300K outlay, and even a further thirty-five years down the line when one casts their eyes over the current schedule of mega productions and tent pole releases, pop culture adaptations and irrepressible imitations  – have you seen this – his legacy and influence are as indisputable and enthralling as ever. Corman’s World is  an entertaining, skillfully realised and illuminating documentary on an essential industry figure, certain to refresh a film-fans watch list as much as it should educate a budding movie fanatic on over six decades of cinema history and hysterics;

*I’ve never seen The Tomb Of Ligeia y’know, it was never screened as part of any British TV Poe season when all the other Corman adaptations were consecutively screened, due to the wonders of the internet that can be corrected here. I’m also inspired to put together a list post of my favourite Corman productions over the weekend, that should keep me out of trouble so watch this space…

One Last Thing…

Superb news, we have a date for PT Anderson’s new film The Master which arrives on October 12th, after the shooting delays and associated obstacles I wasn’t entirely sure we’d see this within the year. It’s also coincedental timing as I revisted Boogie Nights on Blu Ray last night, and that movie gets better and better as the years roll by;

Building such a confident overall piece with brilliantly realised individual sequences such as the drug deal above on your second picture? Talented bastard, and I wonder if the LFF will get their talons on his thinly veiled Scientology expose – here’s hoping. In other news here is an absolutely astonishing article which strikes me as a 21st century The Last Picture Show, the wonder of cinema indeed….

Alfred’s Suicide Blondes

Heh, here is one of the most arch, academic and potentially pretentious instances of film analysis I’ve read for a while, despite the latter shades of nonsense I do enjoy reading such material as buried within the archaic phraseology and dense speculation there are some deft observations to be unearthed, examined and considered. So, inspired by such subterfugue here is a random collection of Hitchcock moments, because we can;

From Marnie, the silence during this robbery was quite a departure for Al who usually threw in everything including the kitchen sink to build his tension shredding infrastructure, but when the pay-off arrives you suddenly realise why its been constructed in this manner – the cleaner is deaf which is revealed later in that extract. The semiotic use of colour for props, costume and make-up are also just as important for the film as the early edits in that clip amply illustrate.

Arguably the best of Hitchcock’s 1940’s films, this erotic moment between Cary Grant and Isabella Rossellini in Notorious was quite the controversial piece of disgusting pornography of its era, now it looks rather uncomfortably quaint, but expressive of the characters inner turmoil and tangles.

Ignoring the obvious parallels with being housebound and yearning for some distractions to whittle away the infinite, uncomfortable hours, you could pick just about any portion of Rear Window and be rewarded with brilliance, but here is one of the more anxious moments of the invalid masterpiece.

An early example of Hitch exploiting the symbolic, cultural aura of famous locales for his climactic set-pieces, here is the vertigo inducing finale of the rarely transmitted Saboteur which I only caught relatively recently, leaving me with The Paradine Case as the only one of his 30 or so American sound films that I haven’t seen – more on opportunities of being a completest below.

From the second 1956 iteration of The Man Who Knew Too Much – Hitch directed his original British version of the same story in 1934 –  danger walks in broad sunlight, and watching this again has just reminded me of this.

Foreign Correspondent – bruised by allegations that his decant to Hollywood to direct Rebecca in 1939 shirked his contribution to the war effort Hitch directed this light propaganda piece, with the 1940 SFX equivalent of ‘I can’t believe what I’m seeing’ at 2.57 when the plane hits the drink….

No, neither of the obvious murders from Psycho, I simply love this sequence where the momentum is screechingly sculpted by Marion relentlessly fleeing her crime, the swirl of Herrmann’s music as her guilty conscience constructs the non-diagetic voiceover of her colleagues and peers, only for the sign for the Bates Motel to loom out of the velvet soaked darkness like a neon tombstone, surely she will be safe to rest up here just for one night then turn herself in for the theft of the money and be absolved of her sin, right? Whilst we’re on the subject I’ve been monitoring this with increasing amusement, Hopkins will probably overplay it but it’s certainly coalesced a strong cast around what would seem to be a modest little project, further evidence of cinema cannibalising itself for prestige in the wake of The Artist and Hugo? Not until we get the BAFTA sponsored, RADA supported UK remake of Cannibal Holocaust I reckon….

Well OK, if I evaded the obvious choices for Psycho then indulge me in going full cliché for The Birds, this simple collision of edits is simply too brilliant to miss and you don’t get many sequences that have such a chance to breathe these days, not to mention the lack of any bellowing sound cue when the shock is finally revealed – classic avian anxiety.

And finally one of my all time favourite combinations of score and camerawork, it’s simply perfect and there is nothing I can add to its obvious brilliance of economy and beauty, that my friends is cinema – right there. Finally here’s a nice montage with an amusing soundtrack;

The restoration of the Hitchcock Nine (to which I modestly donated as I am aces) is completed and as part of the 2012 Olympic cultural celebrations the world premieres of both The Ring and The Pleasure Garden are debuting in July, alas all the screenings are unsurprisingly sold out so I’ll catch them at a later date.

Minty’s March Convalescence – Week 1

One of the silver linings to being homeward bound for a few weeks is that I get to peruse the film schedules that would normally be denied to a working joe such as yours truly, amongst the usual dreck of daytime TV the UK terrestrial channels can broadcast the odd curio to the elderly Werthers Originals and unemployed Tennent’s Super swilling brigades, and armed with my trusty highlighter and copy of the Guardian Guide I have managed to track down a few movies that are welcome additions to the Minty viewing list, or revisits to established favourites that I have magpied from the myriad schedules. So here’s the first in a weekly series of brief thoughts on the film highlights of the season, I’ll aim for around a half-dozen items to keep things reasonably manageable. Let’s start in 18th century America;

Drums Along The Mohawk – Second tier John Ford after the likes of Stagecoach, The Searchers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, The Grapes Of Wrath, Fort Apache, or Liberty Vallance or My Darling ClementineMohawk was Ford’s first colour film after 22 years in the business (obviously the above trailer is in B&W as dual releases were the custom of the time, as was the sporting of onions from one’s belt) and astonishingly his 97th directorial credit to date. It has Ford’s trademark conservative lyricism, shot with his controlled, robust, efficacious style, and despite some faintly horrendous presentations of Native Americans (the film was made in 1939 and as such is a product of its time) it’s a spirited forest strewn Western, with Henry Fonda as the usual emblem of modest American heroism, ably supported by his urbane but hardy city wife Claudette Colbert. Scorsese weighs in here.

The Game – Finchers follow-up to Se7en usually gets overlooked but every time I look at this it gets more mysterious and intriguing, it’s always fun to pick up some of the foreshadowing flourishes set up early in the movie for the final act pay-off. It has a glossy yet dangerous texture that constantly quivers on a tightrope of lethal paranoia and bourgeois transgression, it’s no mean feat the keep the audience and your central character guessing whether the game is just that or if more nefarious, jealous drivers lie underneath the urban cavorting. What really pricked my attention was the slightly familiar face of Linda Manz in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo, she was the young girl in Days of Heaven who Fincher specifically tracked down for this appearance which I assume was mostly consigned to the cutting room floor, you can pick up some further details from the surprisingly detailed wiki article here.

Boomerang – Elia Kazan is a director whom languishes on a very low tier of my list of helmsmen to concentrate upon, I appreciate his contribution and skills with actors and everything but I tend to find his films rather arch and manufactured pieces with very little in the way of any spontaneous cinematic flair. This courtroom noir was slightly more enjoyable though, a crime procedural with Dana Andrews investigating the ostentatious street murder of a priest, ripped from the truth life headlines at the behest of legendary producer Daryl F. Zanuck. Check out that clustered, claustrophobic framing.

Mysteries of Lisbon – Reminiscent of the potentially bloated art-house costume dramas of the Sixties by Visconti and Rossellini, this four-hour epic by Chilean director Raúl Ruiz is a multi-strand, multi-level, multi-course luxurious feast. With its striking photography and period design I found it to be ideal Sunday afternoon fare, with more than a few deft observations on the manifest grind of destiny, our operatic institutions and their punishing codes of behaviour, and the inherently intertwined magnetism of societal duties, perceived honor and feminine inscrutability.

Battleground – This 1949 combat movie is reputed to be the first American War Film that actually attempted to treat the war seriously, presenting soldiers as terrified, psychological damaged serviceman who nevertheless performed heroics under intense physical and emotional pressure, rather than the propaganda sporting supermen that invaded the screen as World War II was actually raging in Europe and the Pacific theatres. It certainly has a dour, pessimistic streak and as with any movie that doesn’t have any particular name actors you ain’t sure who’s going to make it, as such it was a refreshing antidote to the Audie Murphy or John Wayne pictures of the era, a progenitor of the superb Band of Brothers HBO series.

The Last of The Mohicans – One of the more underrated of Michael Mann’s films which tends to get overshadowed by the likes of Heat, Manhunter or The Insider, this pulsing action romance has a servile attention to historical detail, some fantastic compositions which I assume were lifted from the work of Thomas Cole and George Bingham, and Mann’s trademark approach to screen kinetics and professional alacrity, all metronomed to a throughly stirring soundtrack. I just love that almost dialogue free final combat ballet presented in a ravishing 1080P above, the quiet sacrifice, the whittle of any extraneous detail other than the physical and environmental, and yes the violent catharsis which brings us full circle back to North America in the 18th century – how’s that for symmetry eh? Film-making has certainly changed in that fifty year period, sometimes it’s fascinating to pull a little unintentional compare and contrast exercise…

So what have I been missing at the big screen? Generally speaking as a genre movie blogger I was planning to go and see John Carter despite its terrible looking trailers as any $350 million SF project should get be given a chance, if only as with my Transformers 3 visit to at least keep up to date with what the SFX boffins are producing on the so-called state-of-the-art edge of the business. Well, of course my injury has prevented such a visit and judging by the reviews I have dodged a martian arrow, it seems that Andrew Stanton’s transition to live action shooting wasn’t as successful as Brad Bird’s transfer with Mission Impossible 4. Similarly from the genre front I would go and see the extraordinarily popular The Hunger Games which has garnered some interesting commentary about violence and teenagers n’ stuff, although the reports of chattering teenagers yelling and manipulating their communication devices throughout screenings may have prompted a juvenile cull of my own – I’ll catch up with it on Blu Ray in the summer. Whatever happened to that long gestating remake of The Running Man anyway? Cast aside any memories of the schlocky Ahnoldt 80’s translation, the original Bachman novella was actually a great genre chase thriller which ended with the runner crashing a plane into a skyscraper as he screamingly held his disemboweled guts together, now that’s how you end a movie. And, just to be painfully obvious, I’m contractually obliged to point out that as with many things the Japanese were eight (novel), twelve (movie) years ahead of us on the whole film’s teenage murdering game show premise.

Cosmopolis (2012) Teaser Trailer

Curious, I don’t think a mere twenty seconds of barely comprehensible footage has raised such interest in me since….well at least since the original Prometheus teaser;

Am I the only one who was getting a bit of a Enter The Void design vibe from those titles? A new Cronenberg is always something to treasure of course, I’m also something of a fan of Don DeLillo although I haven’t read this novel, any professional take on the current status and finance wars that are building in the West could be very rewarding. If they can pull in and pervert the minds of the Twilight crowd with Pattinson (who has allegedly replaced Colin Farrell) in the central role then good luck to ’em I say…

Dark Shadows (2012) Trailer

Yes, I know this trailer has been out for a while now but like a wobbly tooth it continues to irritate me, and I need to get something off my chest;

I think this trailer pretty much encapsulates Tim Burton’s disappointing career to date. For the first half it’s a visually seductive, arresting vision that appeals to the genre connoisseur, a nefarious melange of mystery and gloomy gothic idiosyncracies, infused with a genuine affection with the outsider, the outcast and the worlds they occupy. Then the alleged quirky humor kicks in – we can roughly parse this to 2001 in his career – and it all goes to pieces with groan inducing mugging from his usual repertoire of A-List ‘freaks’, soaked in the utility of unearned camera flourishes and a prancing Danny Elfman soundtrack which is indistinguishable from the last choir led aural assault, all centred on a corporate mandated version of ‘dark’ and ‘quirky’ which is about as interesting or edgy as a Disneyland park ride based on the Manson slayings. I’m reminded of the observation that Depp and Burton really need to be split up like unruly, disruptive school children and sent to different ends of the classroom and forced to engage with other kids until they can learn to behave properly. Quite how an immensely talented director can go from producing absolute gems such as Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood to remake after retrofit after re-imagining is a cautionary tale for the business, although I guess the enormous box office receipts he has generated over the past decade puts me on the wrong side of history…

Casablanca (1942)

Some years ago when I sat down to write my Citizen Kane review I distinctly remember gazing at a sarcastically winking cursor at the top of an empty screen, almost challenging my hubristic notion that I could possibly add to the debate of one of the most analysed, autopsied and discussed films in cinema history. The same inclination stirs when it comes to Casablanca, one of the most enduring and culturally potent movies of Golden Age Hollywood, a picture whose dialogue affectations, brooding romance and epochal soundtrack have embedded themselves into the popular lexicon, one of the all time American classics that alongside the likes of The Wizard of Oz, Gone With The Wind or Singing In The Rain occupy an exalted plateau of unimpeachable quality and audience affection, even as they don’t necessarily contribute a great deal to the art form in terms of technical breakthroughs or aesthetic leaps of imagination, their cache cemented more through annual airings every Christmas and frequent references and homages in other media. But as with my Kane review I am reminded of some depressing anecdotes that litter film discussions on the web, of lecturers showing photos of the likes of Clark Gable or Bogart, of Carole Lombard or Bette Davis to puzzled teenagers whose cinema history seems to expire around the time of The Godfather, of aficionados attempting to persuade their friends and family to check out an older picture from days gone by, with the predictable complaints and rejection of anything being Black & White or shot before the Vietnam War equalling ancient and boring. So while I shoulder the burden of expectations I can relax in the knowledge that I don’t necessarily need to bring anything explosively original to the table, the aim of this blog (if it has one beyond nurturing my sanity) is to perhaps inspire one person to check out a movie that they otherwise might overlook, to bring to an audience’s attention a picture that was not on their radar, and sometimes even the bona-fide classics need some help in that respect as airings on the big screen can still be seldom propositions. So in the midst of February’s David Lynch season I leapt at the chance to revisit those humidity perspiring exotic streets of war-torn Africa, a regenerative break from those psychological horrors and surrealist stratagems which had been overwhelming my celluloid diet, with a glossy new digital print sanctioned by the BFI of the Warner Brothers classic which is now touring sites around the UK – it’s a wonderful big screen experience which simply shouldn’t be missed.

Northern Africa, 1941, and in Vichy occupied Morocco everyone gravitates to Rick’s joint as the final staging post of the long journey from Nazi Europe to Allied freedom, should they be able to afford the forged and therefore exorbitantly expensive papers. A smouldering, cynical US expatriate Rick (Bogart, as iconic as his Sam Spade appearances) keeps his motives and machinations close to his chest, playing the French authorities off against their Gestapo overseers with his deft expertise of the black market and urban theatre, his simultaneous ally and occasional opponent Captain Renault (a sparkling Claude Rains), a cheerfully corrupt bureaucrat who is happy to produce documents for star-crossed lovers as he is for political undesirables, as long as the price is right and his own neck remains unthreatened. During an irriguous afternoon some classy dame glides into Rick’s joint, it’s the porcelain Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and the dormant flames of a feisty affair are rekindled, through an alcohol fuelled, maudlin flashback we spy upon Ilsa and Rick’s passionate gallic clinch which was guillotined when she mysteriously failed to turn up to a prepared rendezvous to flee Paris as Hitler’s Wehrmacht arrogantly began to strut down the Champs-Élysées. Ilsa is now bound by marriage to the famous resistance leader Victor Lazlo (a rather staid and uncharismatic Paul Henried) and like much of the flotsam and jetsam that wash up to Rick’s bar they seek the precious papers to enable them to flee to the security of the West, but will Rick’s poisoned emotions interfere with their clandestine struggles? Will the Nazi thugs, led by Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt who sneers beautifully) martyr Lazlos beacon of resistance? Will Rick’s world-weary cynicism thaw into moral action, into doing the right thing in the midst of such jack-booted oppression , in a manner not dissimilar to America’s hesitant engagement with the War which was finally oxidized with the sneaky surprise attack on Pearl Harbour? In any case you must remember this reunion?

If you scrub away the cultural cache that the film has magnetised over the past sixty years and look at the movie objectively as a ‘movie’ then Casablanca passes the taste test – it works beautifully as a superbly written, professionally constructed, densely charismatic romantic caper with an unearthly turn by Bergman who is almost supernaturally beautiful through those gauzily filtered, classically lit (see here) close-ups, and Bogart was never better as the cynically fatigued, seemingly ancient soul with a heart of quiet valor thundering beneath that gruff exterior. The new BFI incarnation of the classic is a velvety, silky digital print which interjects a smoky ambience to Rick’s bar and the perspiring catacombs of the Moroccan metropolis, all of which were produced and shot on Hollywood sound stages over seventy years ago. Originally based on an unproduced play Casablanca’s real charm is forged by accident and coincidence, it is perhaps the ultimate example of the strengths of the Hollywood production proficiency of the golden era,  although it was a prestige project, a major release by todays standards with its $1 million budget it stood shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of identical movies of the same year churned out by the four major (Warner Brothers, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Paramount) and three minor production (RKO, United Artists, Universal) houses of American cinemas first century, an unanticipated collision of casting fidelity and technical brilliance, historical resonance and eternal humanism, a glorious mistake where all the core production filaments – the actors and supporting players, direction, production design, score and script, they all convened the highest standard of ingredients.

For a film made as America was ramping up to the war effort the propaganda isn’t too overwhelming, it is certainly a hymn to intervention and it has a moral core in fighting oppression even when those forces don’t necessarily threaten you or your interests, even the celebrated national anthem scene isn’t that clunky by todays standards and comes off as actually quite stirring. Dialogue readings now considered as part of the Hollywood lexicon, the classic lines such as ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship…’ were inserted after shooting almost as afterthoughts, many of them scripted last-minute on set, and as usual the film itself started shooting before the script was even completed such was the industrial, Henry Fordesque production methodology of the era. Stars were contracted to studios with a regular weekly wage, treated as objects or property they would be assigned to films as executives saw fit (despite their frequent protestations) and loaned out between studios on a project by project basis, for example Bergman was contracted to Hal Wallis to shoot Casablanca as a favour from legendary producer David O. Selznick, a deal that netted him Olivia de Havilland in return for an appearance in an upcoming project of his, as Hitchcock famously said ‘all actors are cattle’ although he was referring to their manipulation and movements within his coolly constructed, nervous narratives and visual compositions, the studio producers took such claims as an almost literal truth as they shifted ‘talent’ from studio to genre at their whim, until the likes of Bette Davis and James Stewart challenged these gilded contracts as the system begin to disintegrate in the early 1950’s.

But like a grizzled prospector anxiously drilling for black gold in the San Fernando hills it is from these production techniques that producers could strike gold and genuine screen magic could spurt forth, as a pool of core writers, musicians, marketers and advertisers, cameramen and make up artists, gaffers and grips, boom operators and foley artists worked 365 days a year on movie after movie, contracted to a specific studio not freelancing from project to project as is the norm today, thus they arguably obtained deeper and denser levels of experience and skill, moving from Musicals to Melodramas, from Westerns to Weepies on a Sisyphean basis, honing their skills, sharpening their techniques and propagating the American mise-en-scene model of cinema around the world.  The act of story telling was similarly commodified with what is now known as Hollywood continuity emerging as the eras aesthetic du jour, a visual and narrative syntax that begins in media res, already a part way through the story with flashbacks and dialogue exchanges filling in back story and character beats at crucial dramatic moments, with a central protagonist or hero aligned in conflict against outside, oppressive forces usually personified in a single or group of diametrically opposed antagonists, moving organically through three acts or modes as the obstacles to success are established, re-enforced and overcome to a satisfying, cathartic emotional resolution. It’s a mode of film narrative that has dominated the worlds approach to the art form for the past hundred or so years, the Hollywood continuity format is still the dominant mode of storytelling in the 21st century although tectonic shifts in the wider political and cultural world can parturate aesthetic alternatives as you can see in the best film related article that The Guardian has produced this year that was in turn influenced by this terrific piece by the New Yorker’s David Denby – there are always alternatives to the tired, dominant and complacent median as in any great form of art. But I’ve become distracted and am probably getting too academicaly dull (for a change eh?), just watch scenes such as this and tell me you aren’t seduced by the simple drama of two lovelorn spirits, thwarted in their quest for happiness by higher ideals of sacrifice, devotion and duty, as the world crumbles and threatens to slide into a Third Reich barbarism;

Two discrete dolly shots and some classical close-ups aligned with champagne dialogue – sometimes that’s all it takes for legendary status. I’ve banged on about the auteur theory ad nauseam here on the Menagerie but have rarely mentioned its ancillary phrase, the Metteur en scène, the safe pair of hands journeyman director who pulls in efficient, effective and fiscally responsible films, although they may offer similar visual styles and a consistent ‘look’ to their movies they  avoid the potential encumbrance of personal obsessions or themes dominating their work, old school directors such as Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Victor Fleming or Frank Borzage treating the art form as less art than commercial enterprise designed to entertain and enthrall to the sound of ringing box-office receipts. Casablanca’s director Michael Curtiz was also one of the old guard, riding crop wielding, monocle squinting clichés of tyrant filmmakers, barking orders, firing extras and ruling his set with an iron fist, bringing in his pictures close to budget and marshalling the requisite skills of his artisan subordinates and generals to  craft superior product, he was also the man behind the likes of Robin Hood, The Sea Wolf and my personal favourite Angels With Dirty Faces – just check out his list of credits. The modern-day equivalents would be the likes of a Ron Howard or John McTiernan, Richard Donner or John Frankenhiemer, skilled moviemakers whom can instinctively tell a story, industry figures whom the studios are prepared to trust a $150, $200 million budget as they know no arty nonsense should dilute its commercial prospects, as although some personal affectations can slip under the radar these fascinations don’t trump the perceived contract to entertain and enchant the audience, to secure the highest return on investment, and to appeal the widest demographic audience as possible. Casablanca is eminently worthy of its legendary status, a perfect gem of a film that perfectly encapsulates its production environment and contextual antiquity, a classical film text with a pulsating emotional core, eternally charming, unabashedly chivalrous, essential viewing for any film fan of any age;

BFI David Lynch Season – Coda

Like a receding dream disintegrating in the rays of a warm sunrise it all seems so long ago that I embarked on my most exhaustive and ambitious strand of film coverage that I’ve congregated in almost six years of blogging, to merge with the month-long BFI retrospective of David Lynch’s four decade career with a mirror season here at the Menagerie. Unfortunately my unanticipated injury has somewhat disrupted the momentum I had built toward the last film INLAND EMPIRE  which I didn’t manage to see again at the cinema, so this final post should draw a veil over this detailed and lengthy enterprise with a collection of thoughts on his last movie and a few other snippets I have collected over the past couple of months, it’s helped me sail through 50,000 hits to this site and I’ve been rewarded with a handful of new subscribers, if you find footage like this as mesmerizingly amusing as I do then you’re in the right place;

Just to briefly alight on Lynch’s final movie from 2006 INLAND EMPIRE is very much a companion piece to Mulholland Drive given its fractious approach to characterization, with its squirming around the Hollywood dream factory and a playful tampering with elusive and slippery psychological conceits, like the stuttering, erratic needle grinding across that onyx vinyl it is a seductive, circular whirlpool of a film that once more drags us down the rabbit hole;

As I said in my original review it remains a staggering film, both with its extended 3 hours plus run-time, its unnerving visual, aural and textural alignments, its surface impenetrability affording repeat viewings and amorphous interpretations, the experimental formula potentially signalling a remake or re-imagining of its Siamese sister film which is as much about cinema and how stories are constructed, about how tales are told through the Tinseltown paradigm as it is the story of one (?) woman’s descent and fall. That said I am sympathetic to the opinion (see here) that the fluidity and freedom that digital shooting afforded Lynch has resulted in a unfocused, deleterious mess that doesn’t match the nightmare precision of Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet, frankly it is a little self-indulgent (you could snip out 30 minutes and not lose much in the way of narrative complexity or overall effect) but like the best of Lynch’s most earnest dream films it will continue to warp and mature with time, like all the richest artefacts. Lynch was particularly aggravated that Laura Dern didn’t get an Academy nomination for her complex performance and took to the streets in an unusual bovine themed protest – some amusing footage here  – and despite his embrace of new technologies there are some shifts in the cultural contract that he is famously less enamoured with – well said sir, well said.

In terms of other material here is the other core short movie The Cowboy & The Frenchmen which is loved amongst some aficionados, here is a lengthy and text heavy treatise on The Straight Story which is nevertheless worth a read, in terms of comprehensive coverage here is a link to the loathed On The Air  (it is awful and is for masochistic completists’ only, although it does gel with Mulholland by having two starry-eyed actresses named Betty and Rita looking to make it big in the business of show) and below is a video introduction to perhaps his most detailed endeavour since 2006, the Interview Project which you can consider here and here;

I’ve enormously enjoyed putting these reviews together and hunting down the associated mellifluous material, working through a favourite directors career sequentially is quite an illuminating process which harvests new appreciations and dimensions to a filmmaker whom I quite arrogantly thought there was little more for me to learn about. Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet I think are his unvarnished masterpieces although every single film of his career is worthy of deep analysis and semi-frequent revisits, my appreciation of Fire Walk With Me has certainly expanded and that’s probably the best film post I’ve mustered so far this year. So let’s close this mammoth menagerie mission with a damn fine tribute to the mysterious and maleficently magnificent movies of one of the greatest film directors of the past forty years, and let’s pray that he finally gets the funds together to birth just one more smoke drenched, blazing phantasm to crown his disorienting career;

Prometheus (2012) Full Trailer

Couldn’t sleep. Was tossing and turning, cursing my exhausted body but active mind. Dragged myself to the computer to kill some time before sunrise, and I found this;

How am I supposed to sleep now? Well, this looks more and more interesting, it’s been curious to see just how much Scott has been distancing this movie from the Alien franchise over recent weeks as I think he and Fox may have overdone the viral marketing and could face a fanboy backlash, but then again maybe there are connective membranes beyond the Jockey and horseshoe craft – 1:37 above certainly raised my eyebrows – that won’t be seen until June. In any case I’m just excited for some amazing looking, hopefully smart big budget SF with plenty to chew on, here is the second teaser which has also just been released, it has some alternative footage;

I think I’m going to have to watch this again….and again…..and again….

I Was Cured All Right….

No, you’re not hallucinating gentle reader – I am finally back from an unanticipated sojourn to the medical wilderness of East London and it’s been quite an unexpectedly brutal experience. As you may have gathered from the digital tumbleweeds blowing through this quiet corner of the internet my ankle injury was a little more serious than anticipated, I’ve been treated at the NHS’s pleasure for the past fortnight having fractured my left ankle in a trio of excruciating tears through an act of sensational clumsiness that would have had Chaplin squealing with delight. I won’t bore you with the Kafkaesque medical nightmare I have endured over the past couple of weeks, a painful combination of  sterile sorcery including the likes of ketamine, needles, laughing gas and morphine to keep me on my toes (or not as the case may be), suffice to say when the fracture unit of a major capital city – and let’s be clear that these are medical professionals whose job it is to treat injuries of this nature each and every day of their lengthy careers – when they gazed upon my wounds and immediately paled, began to silently weep, casting their eyes heavenward, clasping their hands together in silent prayer and meekly muttered ‘there is no god’ then I think it’s fair to say I managed to injure myself quite spectacularly. Never do things by half, that’s my motto….

No, I didn’t wake up to some post holocaust dystopian future, isn’t that the point of getting sectioned in a central London hospital these days? Stupid reality. In any case I’m back amongst the land of the living, convalescing at my parents with strict instructions of house rest for the next six weeks which gives me plenty of time to think things over. It’s funny how your life can irrevocably change overnight isn’t it? One second I’m worrying about a report I need to write for Tuesday and that panel I need to chair on Wednesday, then the next thing you know just going to take a piss has become an individual militaristic operation of asset deployment, stamina, balance and patience, it certainly puts things into perspective. Alas this means no cinema visits until May at the earliest, this quite distressingly clashes with my Sundance UK plans at the end of April but we’ll see how the regeneration progresses, if push comes to shove I might just aim for some screeners to at least produce some thin veneer of coverage. In hospital I have been considering what I could do to fill the time in lieu of any new releases, firstly I need to draw a final veil over the David Lynch season, I have my Casablanca review to construct, I need to make a start on my $ trilogy project and maybe, just maybe a certain neglected promise needs to be resurrected, with a detailed review of the second film in a series which sees its final installment arising in July. In the interim I’ve also collected the half-dozen or so new Blu-Rays I ordered before my incapacitating pratfall, it’s a great clutch of movies from the past twenty or so years so I may just delve into some of those to keep my intellectual motors running, but let’s get things rolling with a light, predictably obvious list post – most memorable hospital scenes –  a flippant pageant which I consider limbering up to more detailed pursuits as I’m still on the pain relief and thinking too hard make Minty’s head hurt real bad;

Dead Ringers – Where else to begin than with the elite physician of surgical terror, Mr. Cronenberg was the first director who leapt to mind when it came to the hospital for obvious reasons. This is a film that actively makes me glad that I’m not a woman, just like À l’intérieur or Steel Magnolias….

Coma – With their impersonal prodding and aristocratic attitude some surgeons can seem aloof to us mere mortal weaklings, alas I was subjected to one such incident over the past few days when a cluster of inquisitive physicians came to inspect my wounds and barely acknowledged my presence, roughly scything through my cast to ponder my extremities, all the while ignoring my tremulous queries and questions. Still, they did completely patch me up in one mammoth surgical session, at one point I was looked at a full month of in-patient operations so I can’t complain too much…

Patrick – Ever since the wonderful Not Quite Hollywood emerged from down under a treasure trove of antipodean exploitation has been infecting my DVD rental lists, Patrick has more than a little of The Medusa Touch to it given the duplicate use of catatonic, homicidal psychics, when you’re lying awake at 4.00am suffering the sneering growls of your snoring ward mates the thought of some telekinetic carnage is quite appealing – if only my brain could just move that pillow over his face and apply some pressure……

Martyrs – Major spoilers beware for the end of the movie – you have been warned but hey this has been out since 2008 so make a fucking effort OK?  This was one of the aforementioned Blu-Rays I recently acquired but I’m not going to produce another review, I think I said everything I wanted back during my original stab at this horrendously cruel . The ending is one of the most controlled and thought-provoking sutures of 21st century horror cinema, I’m looking forward to getting into the disk extras to see what further diagnosis will emerge…

The Dark Knight – Perhaps the most memorable hospice set scene of recent years, with the vogue for populating multiple villans in superhero movies I reckon this is the only example where such designs actually paid off in terms of the story and narrative, rather than clumsily pitting our hero against two or even three adversaries to clock up the set piece ratio the villains in The Dark Knight serve as foils to each others ambitions, arcs and drives, and they are both superbly played by Ledger and Eckhart. I still can’t believe they let him blow up a hospital in a major Hollywood production, I’m telling you them Nolan boys are fucking sick in the head…

The Ambulance – Nice bit of surfing there from Mr. Roberts, it’s funny to see the evil Gotham crime lord Maroni in a slightly more restricted, smaller budget project from the indefatigable Larry Cohen. So it looks like Nolan has enlisted Matthew Modine as his pet casting ‘Eighties actor I liked back in the day now in my A list project’ for Rises, just like he got Rutger back for Batman Begins, Berenger for Inception, and either Roberts of Anthony Michael Hall for The Dark Knight. I wonder if Ally Sheedy and Judd Nelson are yelling at their agents as we speak…

An American Werewolf In London – The first hospital scene that sprang to mind, and probably the best when it comes to humourous horror. ‘Have you ever talked to a corpse Jack? It’s boring’  – Sounds like hospital to me, whiling away the sixteen, eighteen hour days in-between sleeps with any distraction to maintain your sanity…

The Exorcist III – I’ll never forget going to see this for the second time with friends back in 1990, amusingly awaiting the popcorn to start flying during this garishly constructed cardiac inducing set-piece, it’s not exactly a Hitchcockian display of temperance and sleight of hand is it? Still, I’ll never forget the yells and screams that this sequence provoked, it still warms the desiccated husk I call a heart.   

Planet Terror – A textbook Saturday night in Whitechapel’s hospital A&E ward by the looks of things, I did ask for my own M8100 recoilless appendage instead of this stupid fleshy growth at the end of my knee and this clumsy, uncamouflaged cast, apparently medical science hasn’t progressed enough to fuse heavy battle theatre support ordinance to severed limbs. Stupid science, why must you constantly thwart me so?

Blade – I did want to finish on this of course but they are all restricted links, so we’ll close with a slightly more flippant nightclub scene which I remember being quite eye-catching back in 1998. Well, the club’s called ‘The Hospital’ isn’t it? That’s my excuse anway, I think I need a lie down. All this burrowing around has reminded me to check this out which I never caught back in the day, was it any good? Should I also take a look at the American version of the same? Nurse, can I get that bed bath now??……………….

Hobblin’ Man

Life eh? It’s a funny old beast. After a long weekend in Madrid, tripping the light fantastic, drinking to the small hours of the morning and enduring a slightly scary turbulance afflicted flight home I got back in one piece on Sunday evening, only to promptly slip over in my lino kitchen and seriously fuck my left foot up – no jokes please. It basically feels as if something like this has been inflicted upon my fragile frame;

Therefore there will be very little activity on here for the next week as just lurching over to my PC to post this was effort enough, that last Lynch review will just have to wait. Stay stafe people….

BFI David Lynch Season – Mulholland Drive (2001)

Silencio……The key to surpassing the first of the many interlocking mystifying mysteries of Mulholland Drive begins with Jennifer Syme, an actress whose ‘in memoriam’ dedication during the closing credits provides the central buttress to this elegiac dream story, conjured in an endless labyrinthine cavern of counterfeits and counterfeints, as this Hollywood augry inextricably melds with a subconscious speculation on love and loss in the city of dreams. As a bit-part player in Lost Highway and one time partner of Keanu Reeves her sad life, cut short at the age of 28 is ostentatiously the driving emotional force that inspired David Lynch to craft what Cahier Du Cinema elected as the finest film of the decade in 2010, a troubled life gnawed by aspiration and tragedy, a conundrum now concealed in a looming obscurity. The second key is the genesis of the film as a  TV pilot which was subsequently rejected by the abominable executives, one of many real world echoes that the  fictional designs repeatedly oozes, the film arising like an atramentous phoenix from that wreckage when Studio Canal stepped in with funding to amalgamate the apparently unconnected episodes (roughly two-thirds of which ended up in the final movie) into a satisfying and coherent whole.  Seemingly incongruous scenes such as the botched and amusing hitman sequence, or the terrifying diner consecution were subsumed into a larger tragedy that Lynch plays as the final abstracted thoughts of a soul in distressed descent, in the first film masterpiece of the century and to my mind the second piece of perfection of Lynch’s career alongside Blue Velvet.  

Appropriately enough the film begins in gloom and luxury, as an obsidian limonene prowls the Olympus hills of Hollywood, it’s single voyager yet another Lynchian sultry brunette, the mysterious Rita (Laura Harring, her career  now almost MIA ten years later) who utters the first, crucial line reading –  ‘What are you doing? We don’t stop here?’ – an ominous inauguration that is repeated by her doppelgänger. An accident occurs and Rita wanders dazed and confused from the scene of the crime, finding shelter in an apparently vacant domicile deep in the Tinseltown suburbs. Cue ‘Betty’, an ambitious, starstruck young actress who arrives at her Aunt’s apartment while she is away on a foreign shoot, desperate to begin her career in the movies. Inquisitive and eager Betty strikes up a friendship with the amnesic Rita to discover who she is, why she’s carrying so much money and what exactly will unlock the blue box? Meanwhile quizzical film director Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) is having some troubles of his own with his 1950’s set musical project, what with a  cadre of eerie, stoic executives instructing him in no uncertain terms whom his next leading girl is going to be, not to mention the discovery of his trophy wife’s infidelities with none other than Billy Ray Cyrus, a terrifying prospect indeed. Soon the narrative strands begin to intersect and both Betty and Rita’s fate seems linked to the film, as Rita is hunted by shadowy figures and Betty wins her first part after a staggering audition;

Viewing this in the midst of Oscar season was uncanny timing given one strand of its festering, multi-dimensional themes and ambitions, if in Lost Highway Lynch took his first hesitant first steps to muster character malleability within a dream film context  he mastered this technique in Mulholland Drive, with different players presumably haunting the avatar of the same character, with half imagined and barely glimpsed symbols and icons littering the mise-en-scene and soundscapes, all enigmas and illusions, phantoms and spectres compounded by (in some instances) Lynch’s literal deployment of smoke and mirrors. Characters drift off to sleep or fall unconscious throughout the film and a dreamy, sundered consistency is provoked by a drifting, malingering hand-held cinematography at key intersection points, when the divergent narratives are contaminated and polluted with a dyadic absorption. Just as the audition scene above is a glimpse of a scene within a scene, a Russian doll concealment of a movie within a film the narrative warps and wanes, and Mulholland Drive’s imperceptible mysteries have also bleed through to (dare I say it) the real world….

This was Naomi Watts first starring role, like the naive Betty she had recently arrived in Tinseltown from Australia and seen her initial optimism crushed by repeated auditions and promised call-backs, before finally securing this career making role that was a stepping stone to A list stardom. Similarly the exposure of Laura Haring as the evocative Rita potentially heralded a major career but she has faded into semi-obscurity, only noted now for subsequent B-Movies, direct to DVD fare and TV work, two real world trajectories that emulates their fictional counterparts dual (yet inverted, another mirror?) professional fates. Mulholland Drive also populates its supporting players with half remembered faces from the history of Hollywood, it was the last film of Ann Miller, a quiet bit part player whose long career stretched from the 1930’s to the 1950’s and Chad Everett is the leather skinned, lecherous co-star seen above, a journeyman for hire whose range of roles covers the spectrum of Astronauts to Zoologists. To continue the themes of sex that this retrospective has unearthed I have to say that the notorious  lesbian love scene is incredible – hear me out – and not for the reasons you filthy swine are thinking. There is a genuine eroticism between Rita and Betty in this tryst (SFW) which organically leads into the psychic fugue of the Silencio sequence, it has a real sense of tenderness and passion without emitting any sense of exploitation or leering physicality, it’s a genuinely moving and  alluring scene that seems quite remote from American cinemas usual bombastic approach to sexuality and intimacy.

Having not seen the film in a good six or seven years I was surprised at just how straightforward it was for such an allegedly confusing movie. It’s fuzzy around some of the particulars to be sure, and many twists and turns of the narrative are open to numerous interpretations – one of the central, puissant joys of the film that keep sit in the critical pantheon – but it’s reasonably clear how much of the film is a dream, of where the real and imagined bisect, coupled with individual moments that are indolently strong even as they seem to have been crafted from and for a different picture altogether. I think what is unimpeachable is that Diane (Watts) arrives in Hollywood, gets hired for a major project and becomes involved with her director, but quite how much of Rita is her lover, an invading romantic interloper or even a symbolic teleportation of the director rests in the eye of the beholder. Disgruntled, dismissed and rejected she hires a hoodlum to avenge her bitterness, and wretched with guilt she takes her own life (are those gibbering pensioners the parents of her victim?) thus the majority of the film is widely considered as occurring within the fevered imagination of Diane, addled with depression, as her spirit ebbs and slips away. Crazier readings and notions abound, one of the classics I’ve unearthed revolve around  that hitman sequence as an unconscious signifier,  a symbolic representation of Diane’s back story abortion complete with female egg, male sperm, the vacuum mode of abortion and the ending of a life – as they say your mileage may vary but lines such as ‘I just came from Deep River, Ontario, and now I’m in this… dream place’ are pretty concise. Whatever your views Mulholland Drive is a remarkable work that alters perceptibly on every viewing, with Lynch’s usual motifs of the stage, of the facade of performance, the unreality and conscious singularity of dreams, the masks that we sport both professionally and personally, all draped in a tesselated crust of noirish murder and suspense that infects the best of his work. Here’s the conclusion of the film – erm spoilers – charting poor Diane’s final descent; 

Given its mysterious nature and open-ended structure there is more than enough web material to devour if you are so inclined, here are the ten clues that Lynch proffered to confused fans, here is the Guardian liveblog screening with David Thompson from a few years back, (I’ve not read it yet as again I didn’t want to prejudice my thoughts) and here are some location details should plan to retrace Betty’s / Diane’s / Rita’s tragic trail. In terms of trivia did you know that the Cowboy was the co-director of The Loveless, Kathryn Bigelow’s first film? I discovered that utterly pointless gem of knowledge a couple of years ago and now I can rest easy, having shared it with the world. Here is probably the best documentary on the film, taken from the 2005 special edition and here is an interview with Lynch which inevitably doesn’t answer anything, but he’s always a good sport and may provoke some insights into our trance addled encephalons. Along with Sunset Boulevard – another street name of dusky Hollywood of course – and in my opinion The Bad & The Beautiful  it is the greatest film about film, the most ravishing assault on the dream factory and its dark infrastructure, other critics have noted references to Rivette’s Celine et Julie Vont en Bateau with the ‘dual’ female protagonists and deployment of alternate levels of performance and intertextuality, you can also view Altman’s Three Women and both Fellini’s  as influences, whilst Bergman’s Persona also resonates from a psychological and atmospheric level, particularly with the visual compositions which you can see in the nightclub sequence’s opening pan below. So where better to conclude this review than to return to the beginning with a whispered lament – Silencio…..