Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Armies of the Night

My obsession with trailers and The Warriors started young.  This, like the earlier videos from my recently-unearthed archive, was edited in my high school television studio with now-antiquated 3/4" video decks, sourced from the original Paramount laserdisc of the film and a VHS dub of the basic cable edit (for the edited "Did we lose these fucking clowns or what?" line).  I have no excuse for the rather inadequate voice over.

RCA Selectavision CED front cover
CED back cover

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Assault - Anschlag bei Nacht

And...those Germans manage to get something right, using the most righteous Tyler Stout-drawn Assault on Precinct 13 Mondo poster artwork for their Blu-ray:


Here's a head-scratcher by way of Germany:

Aside from the dead body, which doesn't look like anything that actually appears in Mean Streets, we have the main imagery from the American one-sheet for Once Upon a Time in America essentially lifted wholesale for this German Blu-ray of Mean Streets aka Hexenkessel.  Does Mean Streets ever venture anywhere near Dumbo, or Brooklyn in general, for that matter?  Not that I recall.  The body at the bottom recalls the artwork from Goodfellas.  So, the German cover for Mean Streets evokes two other movies with De Niro, but not the one it is supposed to be representing.

US Blu-ray cover
French Blu-ray cover

"A Universe of...Heavy Metal."

Was going through my "archives" and found this old  Heavy Metal trailer that I edited in high school to celebrate the film's then-upcoming, inaugural release on home video.  This was edited the old-fashioned way with two 3/4" video decks.  The video is sourced from a cable television broadcast sometime in the '90s.  Keep in mind this is very pre-Final Cut and pre-HD so quality is far from pristine.  Music is by the great Elmer Bernstein and the narration is by voice-over artist John Leader. The audio comes from my 12" promotional copy of the 1981 Heavy Metal radio special, dubbed "The Ultimate Illustrated Radio Special."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Spanning Time"

At a screening of a rare print of Vincent Gallo's Buffalo '66 last night, I realized I was having a strange, but rather glorious first-time cinema experience.  I had the seen the film, in fact, programmed it, during its initial run in 1998, nearly 15 years ago (!).  I probably saw the film first in the NY market in the summer of '98 and then again in the Fall when we booked it in Madison.  Last night was the first time I'd seen it since those couple times I watched it projected in '98.  I don't believe I've had that happen with another film before.  I recall liking the film quite a bit back then, though I was annoyed by Gallo's off-screen antics--calling critics and claiming complete creative ownership of the film, loudly proclaiming his Republican allegiances, etc.  Seeing the film now, in my mid-30s, I appreciated and really loved it even more than I did the first time around.

I was 20 when it was released and saw just about every indie release at the time.  For a cinephile and aspiring filmmaker, this was a rather inspiring, special time.  And, Buffalo '66 was certainly one of those inspiring, exciting films.  But, I, of course, didn't truly recognize nor quite appreciate what a golden age it would prove to be.  And, as that time also encompassed my college years, as well as the death of my father, there's a certain degree of pain and sadness associated with it, not only for the loss of a loved one, but also for the subsequent waning of the idealism and hopefulness that comes with being that age.  I pushed, actively or not, films like Buffalo '66 out of my consciousness for awhile.  Revisiting this one was a revelation for me.

As co-screenwriter Alison Bagnall said in the q & a that followed last night's screening, the script is filled with moments and dialogue that are funny and sad at the same time.  I definitely laughed more watching it now than I recall doing in '98, but I also embraced and felt the melancholy underlying the entire film.  Seeing the recently deceased Ben Gazzara, still appearing fit and formidable, as Gallo's father, was quite moving.  The same goes for seeing the tragic, once-beautiful Jan-Michael Vincent in a small role as a bowling alley proprietor; Vincent had already destroyed his voice box in an auto accident and looked ravaged by years of alcohol and drug abuse, but it was nothing compared to the state he is in now.  Mickey Rourke, who I'd forgotten appeared here, looks somewhere in between his formerly beautiful self and the post-surgery / post-boxing / post-steroids human concoction that he has become.

Major props go to Gallo for doing whatever he did to get these actors, along with the amazing Rosanna Arquette and Angelica Huston (admittedly, something of a weak link here), to agree to act in this oddball, funny / sad, ugly / beautiful (like the aforementioned Coonskin) masterpiece.  This is a '90s film, that unlike so many others that try and fail to, genuinely recalls the best of '70s cinema.  In spite of (or because of?) its auteur's bedeviling mix of vanity and "fuck all" attitude, it retains a vitality and a purity of spirit, along with a refreshing lack of bullshit sentimentality, that are way too rare and precious in any age.

As with all of the films we programmed at my university, we had countless trailers, one-sheets, and stills, which we ordered from the likes of National Screen Service and Consolidated.  We, of course, taped and stapled these things all over the place to promote the screenings.  Afterwards, the posters went to us programmers.  Many adorned my walls over the years, Buffalo '66 being one of those.  When I tired of one, I'd give it to a friend.  How I wish I'd hung onto my Buffalo '66 poster...aside from the fact that it is now quite rare and pricey, it had a gorgeous black and white image of Gallo and co-star Christina Ricci printed on heavyweight paper stock.  Best of all was the treatment of the title on the poster--it was filled with actual, glued-on silver glitter.  But, similar to the baseball cards and comics of my parents' generation, albeit on a much smaller scale, I didn't really value these films or their ephemera as much as I perhaps should have.  I was, and remain, fascinated by things that came before my time, that I was not able to actually "experience" when they were new.  And, so all those great posters that we used the hell out of, have gone to who knows where.

According to my friend, filmmaker Alex Ross Perry, who "presented" the screening last night, it's "possibly the last narrative feature shot entirely on 35mm reversal stock" and, let me tell you, it looked gorgeous.  It's a bloody shame, and then some, that Lionsgate doesn't actually have any 35mm prints circulating anymore (the print, along with the film's brilliant trailer, last night came courtesy of a collector).  I won't watch it in any other format, save for a well-authored Blu-ray (if that comes along).  Alex's own Buffalo '66-inspired cinematic statement, The Color Wheel, opens soon and was the occasion for this screening. 

Something also needs to be said for the very smartly-chosen soundtrack.  I love the pitch-perfect use of Yes's "Heart of the Sunrise." At that point, in '98, I'd burned or sold all the Yes records I adored as a high school geek in favor of punk and indie, but man, did this film make this tune cool and relevant again.  Now, as is typical, I've re-bought the best of those classic Yes LPs in remastered, reissued form.  The trailer, which does not appear on the DVD, is quite piece of art on its own, separate from the film, which it promotes.  I'm guessing it's absent because the Yes song appears throughout and would probably have to be licensed for re-use separately from the film itself, which surely got some sweetheart licensing deals, as evidenced by the special thanks in the credits to Yes, Jon Anderson, King Crimson, et al.

I guess the point of all this is to say that we, or I, should make sure not to undervalue or discard things--movies, albums, books, whatever--that we are able to experience as they are first released, in favor of the things that came before.  I will continue to worship at the figurative altar of my heroes that pre-date me, but I will more actively embrace the impressive works that have come during my adulthood and which prove to stand the test of time.  I guess that means re-looking at things like Dream With the Fishes, The Hanging Garden, Dreamlife of Angels, The Daytrippers, Happiness, and many others.  I hope some of them hold up.

Before Instagram.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Il Grande Caldo

Just watched Lang's The Big Heat for the first time in years, via the gorgeous new Blu-ray from Twilight Time.  I have the DVD that came with one of the Columbia noir box sets, but my only previous viewings came via VHS, TCM, and, possibly, a 35mm screening at Film's not like me to forget if I saw something on 35mm, but I have seen a good many films of this ilk at Film Forum, or one of the other NY rep venues over the years, and they can often blur together.  Anyway...the film was better, much better, than I remembered it being and the black and white Blu-ray image is stunning.  Yes, the Twilight Time discs are pricey and slim on features, but this one is worth it.  It's a safe bet that the classic Sony titles, with restoration handled by Grover Crisp (SVP for Asset Management, Film Restoration, and Digital Mastering), are going to look spectacular.  Big Heat is no exception.

But, that's not the main reason for this post...that would be to point your attention to this rather attractive reissue Italian poster from '68 (the film was originally released in '53):

Attractive...but, inaccurate.  Aside from the fact that Lee Marvin was originally billed fifth and here he is billed just underneath star Glenn Ford, you will note Marvin sporting a full white head of hair, wearing a suit, and packing heat, as he did in the previous year's Point Blank or '64's The Killers.  Of course, at the time of filming Big Heat, Marvin was still shy of 30 and his hair hadn't yet gone to its more familiar lighter shade.  You can see evidence of that below via this Beaver capture from the new Blu-ray:

In addition, Glenn Ford is depicted in handcuffs in the Italian poster.  Never mind that Ford is a cop in Big Heat who never even pulls out a pair of cuffs in the course of the entire film.  Nope, when I see that image, I think of Ford as the slippery Ben Wade in Delmer Daves' 3:10 to Yuma from '57.  In that film, Ford is hand-cuffed for nearly the entire running time, as he's led to justice by a desperate Van Heflin.

The only image in the Italian poster that seems to be truly out of the movie being advertised is that of the burning car.  All that said, I'd still love to have this hybrid Bigheatkillerspointblank3:10toyuma locandina on my wall.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Coonskin (1975, Ralph Bakshi)

Coonskin.  What an ugly beautiful masterpiece.  Just as the later White Dog would be, it's an anti-racist film mislabeled and buried as racist.  I first saw this as a kid in '87 when it initially came out on video--as Street Fight--and had no idea what the hell I was watching.  Now, revisiting the film as an adult, via the belated DVD release from Xenon, I can see what a brilliant, ballsy film it is, not only within Bakshi's oeuvre, but within the overall 1970s canon.  Bakshi's film still stuns today because of the bluntness of its imagery, its willingness to portray ugly stereotypes in the interest of advancing its anti-racist message.  Bakshi's films are almost uniformly sloppy and unformed in parts, but here there is more focus and conviction, a more satisfyingly complete vision than in most of his other efforts.

An agitprop piece attacking the institutionalized and casual racism towards African-Americans in the South and New York City, Coonskin's story unfolds in a manner similar to Song of the South, which it critiques along with blaxploitation and crime films.  The narrative involves three Southern blacks--a rabbit, a bear, and a fox--who go to Harlem and proceed to take down the forces--sham preachers, corrupt cops, organized crime figures--who exploit the black community.  This story is shared with the audience by a convict (Scatman Crothers) who tells it to a fellow inmate (Philip Michael Thomas) as they wait to be broken out of the joint by his friends (Barry White and Charles Gordone).  Thomas, White, and Gordone are the live action counterparts to the heroes of the story, Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear, and Preacher Fox.

Of course, because it's largely animated it can show things that couldn't be done, and to an extent and level of exaggeration not possible, in live action.  In spite of its budget limitations, Coonskin's mixing of animation and live action is just as effective, if not more so, than later, higher-budgeted examples of this practice.  Bakshi's character designs, mixed with William A. Fraker's photography, capture the gritty, un-gentrified--alive--NYC of the late 1960s and '70s.  

This is another fine example of the seemingly boundary-less nature of the American cinema of the '70s and it's just unfortunate that the film was sabotaged by outside forces--particularly that opportunistic fraud Al Sharpton--who couldn't actually be bothered to watch the thing before condemning it.  Over the years, the film's reputation has been bolstered by critics and supporters such as Richard Pryor, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino, and the Wu-Tang Clan (who apparently, at some point, expressed interest in producing a sequel). 

Simultaneously, hilarious, gross, thrilling, sobering, and beautiful, Coonskin is eye-opening and provocative, but to a productive, useful end.  It's unfortunate that the new DVD, which boasts an impressive 16x9 transfer, has no extra features.  If ever a film cried out for some supplemental materials to provide some historical context, this would be one.