Archive for the 'Film Reviews' Category

Ron Howard’s “Cotton Candy” (1978)

Ron Howard's

1970’s made-for-TV movies about high school teens embroiled in rock band drama have formed a sub-genre that holds immeasurable hypnotic powers over a lot of my generation. Worn videotapes and DVD-r copies of these types of movies are often traded amongst fans like rare gold (or drugs), usually years before they are officially re-released on DVD, or even widely known at all.

One rarely seen example in that particular library is Cotton Candy, a made-for-TV film directed by Ron Howard in 1978. The film spins the pimple-ridden rhapsody of a group of high school misfits who form a good-time bubblegum rock band, named Cotton Candy, and are thrown into direct, vicious competition with the “cool kids? crowd; their classmate’s popular hard rock act Rapid Fire. The awkward-years war reaches it’s apex during a “battle of the bands? competition, sponsored by a local mall on a Saturday afternoon, in scenes filled with screaming high school girls in designer jeans and winged-hair (perhaps the first concert film footage alternated with cutaway shots of Orange Julius and Spencer Gifts signage). Cotton Candy makes the “teen revenge enacted at the climactic talent show? formula its own by hemming it with overproduced, generic 70’s riffs and ham-fisted rock cliches (Rapid Fire’s performance actually features KISS-like explosions on the stage – right there in the a mall dude!). Ron Howard made the non-sterpiece (roughly his fifth) on his way to becoming a now respected director. The project was originally intended as a pilot for a television series, and it shows. Overcompensating for the usual weak plot mechanics and erratic editing of all boob-tube features – every line of the film is shouted, every action over-hashed, every sequence directed for maximum, squishy, melodramatic exploitation… a la Aaron Spelling. These characteristics have probably played a small hand in the fact that it has never been released on video or DVD, especially when you consider that Howard is now part of the Oscar vortex.

But that’s no problem for bedroom-dwelling connoisseurs of such stuff! Fans of Out of the Blue, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains, and Over the Edge have been trading blurry VHS copies of Cotton Candy for years. But don’t get your hopes up too much. Cotton Candy is the lo-cal version of those films, but it tastes the same. Imagine if Rock ‘n Roll High School had been rated triple-GGG. If Over the Edge is angst apocalypse… Cotton Candy is aw’shucks after school specialness. However, if you’re a fan of those 70’s gems, you’ll find Cotton Candy extremely entertaining at the very least.

The songs in the film are no surprise, delightfully so. Cotton Candy have a few numbers that wouldn’t sound out of place on a bad Carpenters LP, or a great Bugaloos episode. Rapid Fire seem to only play one song, a version of Eric Clapton’s I Shot the Sheriff that is so bizarrely inept, it sounds like it could have been crafted by The Flying Lizards.

The film features Ron’s brother Clint Howard (my other favorite film of his? Ice Cream Man of course!), as the band’s earnestly nerdy manager. Charles Martin Smith stars as the band’s scrappy, frugal lead (’…we’ll buy our drums out of the Sears & Roebucks catalogue!’) and Leslie King is of course great as the band’s female drummer. All of them look a little too old to be high school students. The lead singer of Rapid Fire is played by actor Mark Wheeler (how 70’s is that name?), but the actors who play the actual band of Rapid Fire were the members of a local Dallas band called Quad Pi, which was an early incarnation of the now fondly-remembered Dallas-area outfit Lithium Xmas.

Cotton Candy was filmed in my hometown of Dallas, Texas. The school scenes were done at Lake Highlands High School, and the mall scenes were shot inside (the now redesigned but still there) Town East Mall – one of the Dallas area’s first (of eventualy 1,000,000) malls. I have a vague memory of when the filming actually happened. I was in grade school, and one day our teacher announced that one of our classmates had something to share. She made him stand up, and he told the story of how there was a production company making a movie in Dallas, and how he had been chosen for a part of the film. As he told the sappy story about how the filming was scheduled to take place the following weekend and how excited he was to be chosen, all the other kids yawned, fidgeted and picked their noses. But not me! I listened to his every word with my eyes the size of basketballs. I was in AWE! He was going to be in a …movie? Like a for real movie, like the ones that they show in theaters and on TV, and that there are articles written on and pictures of in Dynamite and Bananas magazine and stuff? Ohmygod… can’t… breathe… I remember I started secretly stalking this kid for a few days. The Monday after the reported filming took place, I immediately gawked to see what he would look like when he walked into home room. I guess I thought he would come into school with a new face lift or something. He looked the same. I approached him and asked him to tell me everything, he seemed really cross. He said “They paid me $25 to dance around like an idiot all day and my mom’s real pissed? or something like that. Then he huffed away like he was angry and embarrassed that I even asked. Apparently they only needed him as one of the countless extras in the mall concert scene, which I guess had some little kids in the crowd. My Hollywood dreams, smashed at five years old.

So when it finally aired on TV, it was kind of a community thing. Everyone watched so they could see the inside of Town East Mall in a movie, on a TV screen, for real. My family and friends all watched, and we all gasped “Oh my God there it is!? when we first saw the mall’s trademark “futuristic? tower – a gargantuan glass and steel monolith that towered over the outside roof, spiraled into the interior, and then gracefully segued into the ground floor food court. “The guy from Happy Days walked by that!? we all shouted at the TV. Can’t… breathe…

As stated, Cotton Candy isn’t available on DVD, or even video. I caught a showing of it on late night TV a few years ago, and found it to be just as fun as I remembered, if not a little more hollow. Someone named Robert (aka: Raunch77) has some very lengthy clips from Cotton Candy over on his YouTube page. Apparently he and his band are from the Dallas area, and are big fans of the film. By all means go check it out!


Current User Comments for Andy Warhol’s “Empire” (1964)

SUBJECT: Is there any nudity in this?
– by teh_mode, (Sat Nov 4 2006 05:11:07)
Thinking about taking the kids to see it. Looks pretty good.

SUBJECT: Re: Is there any nudity in this?
– by FireMarshallStev (Tue Nov 28 2006 16:35:35)
There’s some buttsecks.

SUBJECT: Re: Is there any nudity in this?
– by dy5187 (Sat Dec 2 2006 09:36:01)
Actually, there’s a bunch of topless girls, some graphic NYC violence, drug use, incest, necrophilia, bestiality, and underage drinking.

SUBJECT: Re: Is there any nudity in this?
– by Jim_Lo (Fri Dec 29 2006 23:17:52)
Lots of gratuitous nudity plus more! Things got pretty interesting when the 500 foot-tall woman saw this phallic-shaped building and thought to herself, “Hmmmmmmm, I wonder . . . .” That’s all I’m gonna say.

SUBJECT: Re: Is there any nudity in this?/The Sequel
– by Jim_Lo (Sun Dec 31 2006 18:55:48)
There was a sequel in the works but Warhol died before he had a chance to prop up his camera in place. It was to be about how the Chrysler Building almost defeated the Empire State Building for bragging rights for being the tallest skyscraper in NYC and how Empire claimed the title in the end. Warhol was planning on calling this titillating sequel “Empire Strikes Back”.


SUBJECT: Why did the Empire State Building quit acting?
– by teh_mode (Sat Nov 4 2006 05:00:16)
It was a towering performance in Empire, so why did it quit?

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Skate Bording Girls

Perhaps the greatest film ever made.


Sharon Stone in Scissors (1991)

If having the camera make love to you is the key to becoming the next Marilyn Monroe, then someone ought to arrest the camera used in Scissors for the rape of a minor. Minor talent! As has been discussed ad nauseam, Sharon Stone does have mesmerizing screen presence. But so does a hypnotist who’s trying to help you stop wetting the bed.

Having the camera kiss and fondle and lick your butt for viewers’ eyeballs is only the half the battle – any acting legend will tell you that! Screen presence is the you’ve-got-their-attention half. You have to fill-in the other half with shrewd acting skill, it’s a precarious balancing act that few can do, but the combination is the whole pie! The really great screen actors are able to do both; quite literally have their cake and eat it too, as it were. Unfortunately in Frank De Felitta’s 1991 film Scissors, Sharon Stone gobbles in vain. For Stone, Scissors was the next to the last cinematic log jam in a long river of movie doo doo that she drifted down until she finally washed it all off by snatching the public’s attention with an inarguably dazzling performance in Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 thriller Basic Instinct.

And Scissors is a psychological thriller that would get an inarguable diagnosis from a psychoanalyst: narcolepsy! Watching the picture is like gazing into a kaleidoscope of regret. Stone explores, discovers and exploits whole new ways of “bad” acting – you might say she’s a “bad acting” entrepreneur! And you know what? YOU’RE FIRED! She slogs through this cruel cinematic diorama without the rubber boots of thespian panache that other sensible actors would wear.

Her character, the ingeniously named Angie Anderson, is a drop dead gorgeous spinster who lives in an indescript city and spends most of her time hidden in her Ikea-prison of an apartment, freaking out about neurotic things which seem triggered by mysterious events she suffered through as a child through a foggy, warbling lens filter.

What’s that Sharon? We can’t understand you’re saying in that Snuggles the Bear-voice! What are you cackling about as you’re wrapped up in a blanket in your bedroom all alone? You were raped by a bald man with a big red beard as a child? Oh wait, he didn’t rape you with the beard, he had a red beard. Got it. Oh, and now all bald men who have red beards cause you to say “Oh my GOD!” (see picture below) when you’re introduced to them at cocktail parties and run away from them all screaming nutzoid-shouty-crackers and then run down the hall into your apartment, rip off your Contempo Casuals party dress, and slam the door just to get away from them? We understand.

Now that you’re back in your apartment, what to do? What’s that? Your spare time hobby is making your own collection of baby dolls with innocent plastic faces!? While also listening to chiming music-box lullabies with reverb effects? Perfect. No hobby could be creepier! I don’t think your character could have had a more appropriately spine chilling hobby, except maybe making those little white ghosts out of twisted tissue paper bound at the neck with rubber bands and eyes drawn on with black felt marker! Oh how I hate those things! Brrrr!

Oh look – the camera is panning across your doll-making craft table… look, there’s a box of doll heads! There’s a pile of little plastic legs! And a little box filled with doll eyes! Ooh! And look, next to that – there is a pair of gleaming new scissors! Hey, why did you run out of the room screaming? Oh… right. Scissors.

After a lot of bizarre interaction with a weird guy in a wheelchair who lives next door, and his even scarier brother, Sharon stands for a really long time outside on her balcony in the moonlight, wrapped in a bedsheet while the wind blows her hair. Then she hides behind a plant. Then she talks out into the air with a doll voice. Then, in a scene that had me in tears, she has a whole conversation with a stuffed alligator toy.

With all that out of the way, the next logical step is for Stone’s character to be lured to a lavish penthouse apartment in an empty high rise building on the other side of town by a cryptic phone caller. She arrives in the loft apartment and finds that it looks like the set of an old Wham! video (but the mood is less delightful). She also finds no one there at all. She also finds that everything in the apartment is bolted to the floor (she’s the type whole likes to check these things right away), the phones all dial 976-EVIL, and she can’t seem to escape the place because the doorknobs turn into little white rubber balls that fall off and bounce across the floor when you try and touch them (it is a Wham! video)! But why? Why? We never find out.

Who’s doing all this to you Sharon? Ahhh… is it the bald, red bearded man from your past? Why it appears so! This is an analogy of revenge Sharon, and your rapist is a electrifying analogist! He’s more coldly calculating that an adding machine sitting atop the North Pole! Don’t try and figure it out Sharon because nobody can. Keep clawing the (badly marbleized) paint on the walls and making a face like you’re crying even though no tears seem to be coming out, keep bending your skinny pipe cleaner arms up to clasp your ears and scrunching your face like a prune to scream “No… no, no!” as you bounce your ample eyebrows against the glass windows mumbling “Why… why… why?” Yea… just do all that for… for like an hour, in real time.

But then, what’s that? Lights on the ceiling are moving, tables are automatically shifting, what’s that raising up out of the floor in the next room? The bald red-headed man in evil animatronic robot form with laser beam eyes? Is it the actual bald man with a red beard? No! It’s… it’s… an elaborate scale model of the whole city! Everyone’s worst nightmare – she’s been captured by the most sinister urban planner in the world! Through a recording of his voice which comes out of speakers in the ceiling, he tells Sharon to stare at his scale model of the city and listen to his recorded voice explaining everything about his ideas of how a city should work. That’s right, contemplate pedestrian flow until it drives you TOTALLY PSYCHO!

But wait, there’s another door in the back you hadn’t noticed… who’s that mysterious man in the bed in the next room with a knife in his back? A giant gold life-size Oscar statue with it’s wrists slashed? No… it’s the bald red-bearded man, impaled in the back with scissors… your scissors! Remember the scissors theme? Don’t go mad with over-exaggerated yelps again! That’s right – pass out! The portrayal of an unconscious human body is a role that even a common corpse can handle like a Shakespearian thespian! Don’t blow it! But don’t sleep too long either, because something is rolling into the apartment as you slumber, and it’s not the closing credits! When you wake up, your exagerated smile will shift into a horrific scowl like Munch’s “The Scream” painting in two seconds flat (good technique), as you realize our horrible viewing experience is not your dream after all! And what’s that rolled into the center of the room? A food tray? with a steaming pot of tea, and a silver-domed platter in the center? What’s under the silver dome cover Sharon? Answers? A putrid rat? No! It’s… BREAKFAST!

Are you feeling weary Sharon? Would you like to rest after all that slogging? Take a rest on this love seat made out of poor script writing and stuffed with bad casting – no, wait, don’t sit there! How about resting on this little window sill made of bad editing and poor dubbing – oh wait, no not there either! That’s right Sharon, there’s no rest for the wicked – you’re in movie Hell and we’re right there watching, laughing, cackling like demons in the eternal cinema inferno you’ve imprisoned us in. Perhaps we’re watching you, engulfed in flames, munching on brimstone and sulfur popcorn, and eating little pitchfork lollipops. Our soul? NO SALE!

Scissors is a highly entertaining klunker, with a hysterically berserk performance by Stone. I would recommend it to anyone (it’s available on DVD).


A Dozen Film Re-Reviews:

L’Eclisse (Italian, 1962, dir: Michelangelo Antonioni)
Do you have reoccurring dreams that you are hovering in the center of an unfurnished room in a brand new suburban home, which lays on a street in a vast, desolate, brand-new neighborhood subdivision, on a calm, overcast spring day … and you just float there, your hands and feet barely touching the pristine, white drywall and synthetic wall-to-wall carpet as your mind flatlines into a perfect state of embryonic, inner bliss? Well I do, mainly because I spent my formative years in such an environment…. and it’s manicured morass had a profound impact on my psyche. My therapy while living in a city that is the exact opposite of that whitewashed, clean-lined, narrow grid? Imagining the memory of this lost oasis when I’m denied it (perhaps in dreams) or maybe, as a second stab at mental clarity: connecting with other artworks, films, etc., that were created by artists who spied the same value in such public spaces – even if their expression of it wasn’t (on the surface) a love letter. Movies documenting the long pie-in-the-face that modern urban society has done to human emotions and communication skills are like a mental balm for me, and Antonioni’s L’ECLISSE (1962) is perhaps the most mind erasing-y-est opiate of them all. Created four years before his film BLOW UP (1966), it’s expression of the neutered, thwarted social warrior in the face of concrete is just as subtle, yet more direct. Filmed in the EUR section of Rome, it’s one of many films that use it’s still-standing, absurdly modern cluster of office buildings and apartment complexes (built under Mussolini in the late 1939, it was intended as a diorama backdrop ushering in the perfectly new, fascistic age) to express such a mood: Felinni’s LA DOLCE VITA (1960) and Dario Argento’s TENEBRE (1982) also feature the EUR section of Rome heavily, with similar goals in mind. L’ECLISSE’s two hour and ten minute story is basically about a woman ending one sour relationship and clumsily starting another, along with brief kooky appearances from her family and friends. But the setting and locales of the film (in and around the EUR, which contrast with the outskirts of old Rome) are obviously the main protagonist here… and a particularly hostile one at that (if only by default). L’ECLISSE is almost a horror film, or maybe a sinister science fiction one… a narrative negative where the very background is threatening to kill and obliterate anyone who tries to hog the spotlight from it (divas like this aren’t born, they’re made!), hence the picture’s title. L’ECLISSE is also the third in a supposed trilogy of black & white films by Antonioni that cover such ground, LA NOTTE (1961) and L’AVVENTURA (1960) being the other two. Antonioni’s film is an early, premature excavation into the postmodern age, and after seeing it I am now absolutely sure that David Lynch must have seen it in film school when he was thinking about ERASERHEAD (1979). I loved watching this picture, and I recommend doing so when you are in a kind of zen cinematic mood… if you’re looking for thrills, L’ECLISSE’s narrow, sustained bliss might alienate you (if you make it to the last eight minutes of the film, and I hope you do, be prepared for a surreally freaked-out finale). Films like L’ECLISSE are indeed fantasy romance; they trick me into an imaginary mind meld with the rest of the collective unconscious, as I breath an internal sigh of relief in imagining (realizing?) that solitude may be man’s most obvious shared state of total peace. Are architects and urban planners subconscious solider ants in the fight to keep mankind from doom, as they unwittingly weave more and more intricate cubbyholes for us to remove ourselves into? Before I make up my mind about that, I think I’ll sink into deeper denial about my cinema addiction, as I watch L’ECLISSE yet again, and feel my little town blues melt away…

Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (TV movie, 1976, dir: Sam O’Steen)
Remember the knife that Mia Farrow dropped onto the floor at the end of Roman Polanski’s ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) when she spied the face of her satanic womb crop? The one that ended up sticking straight up in the hardwood? Well Ruth Gordon must have stuck it right back where she pulled it out from, as it’s still there, jabbed perpendicularly in the floor of the empty apartment (along with the evil baby crib) that makes up the opening shot of the hysterically awful TV movie LOOK WHAT’S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY’S BABY (1976). The streets surrounding the Dakota building on Central Park West, as immortalized in Polanski’s film, a decade later look suspiciously like the Universal Studios city street set in California, but it doesn’t matter because Mia has now somehow transformed into Patty Duke (in an obvious act of satanic shape-shifting) and her baby is now a young boy who throws tantrums at the sight of Jewish synagogues. In the late 70’s, satanism was big, big, big in entertainment… and this TV-movie wanted to ching, ching, ching all the way to big ratings (obviously in the cheapest, most no-frills way possible). You know, everyone complains about the current plague of classic horror movies being re-made in the most shallow way possible for the teen market… but trust me, it’s obviously been going on since long before the 90’s. This two-parter was presumably a hopeful pilot for a weekly series that was to show the dramatic ups and downs in the life of Rosemary’s grown kid: a Camaro-driving, troubled poet …who, along with his agent Tina Louise(!), becomes a big pop star (stage name: Adrian) and unwittingly fronts an abominably metaphysical puppet regime meant to usher all of humanity into the new dark age with hard rock grooves and pyrotechnic stage shows. Ruth Gordon and Ray Milland spend the entire movie wearing black hooded robes and bickering with each other, Ropers-style (human sacrifice has a lighter side!) over who’s gonna drink her homemade prune juice and human blood cocktail from the golden chalice (must of run out of tannis root). Rosemary’s actor husband (not played by John Cassavetes – thank God, er… hail Satan) is now a Hollywood bigwig who gets interviewed by the liberal media and rings up Milland up from his poolside phone and whinily asks him to invoke the power of the Dark One because “…Paul Newman read my script and said he didn’t think it was very good!” Milland smiles all wrinkly into the phone and says “Want me to blind him? Heh… heh… heh…” It’s HELL-arious! Patty Duke is rescued halfway through the picture when an evil charter bus with black windows and no driver bafflingly picks her up in the middle of Death Valley. She then just waves at the camera from the back window as the Greyhound drives her off to …Hell? Huh? The whole second half of the picture (taking place in a gloriously tacky 70’s-style Spanish-decor casino/brothel/disco in the middle of some desert) plays like a Jack Chick comic, as Adrian perfects his evil rock act (wearing mime/clown make-up… KISS were obviously still very big… but then again, so were Shields and Yarnell) to an audience of sodomite swingers who dirty-it-up on the dance floor as Ruth, Ray and the other demon leaders wear sunglasses and watch with big smiles from the stucco-tiled balcony. This film is a total riot, and if you love truly awful (and I mean really awful) 70’s TV movies, then I promise you’ll scream “Whaaaaaaa…?” and then burst out with laughter at every other scene in this prickly, cathode ray disaster (otherwise avoid at all costs). Unreleased, available only on bootleg.

The Best Way To Walk (French, 1976, dir: Claude Miller)
Gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay, gay. Made in 1976 – this film kind of channels the energy of DEEP END (1971) or TAXI ZUM KLO (1981) or maybe even HAROLD & MAUDE (1971) or WITHNAIL & I (1987) or even WILD REEDS (1994) – but with a kind of element of danger sort of like in MARIE BAIE DES ANGES (1997). So if you’re a sucker for that kind of tear-jerky, blood-letting, unrequited love story with sharp edges, then maybe then you’ll love this film. Inexplicably set in the 1960’s, Marc and Phillipe are counselors at a boy’s camp in the French countryside. One unexpected electricity-free night, super-straight, boy’s soccer coach Marc (played with intoxicating, boner-inducing, he-man obnoxiousness by the late, great Patrick Dewaere) walks in unknowingly on the bookworm-ish, boy’s drama coach Phillipe (played appropriately with stick insect self-loathing by Patrick Bouchitey) while looking for candles. Phillipe, caught alone unawares in his room, is dressed in full “please-beat-me-up” drag. The look on Marc’s face as he gazes magnetically at the preened Phillipe, like a pre-teen boy facing his first bare boob (in one of the most excruciatingly real and dazzlingly-lit face close ups I’ve ever seen on film – photo on left) sums up the film’s entire energy for the next 90 minutes, as Marc and Phillipe poke and slap at each other’s emotions and value systems and secretly contemplate poking and slapping each other in another kind of way. Oh, quite expectedly, it’s a maddening, non-stop drama train. But of course if you’ve had a gay adolescence and romantic adult life, you’ll just hop aboard and ride the film as a passenger, gazing out the window at familiar scenario after familiar scenario. The film swishes between numb-skulled frustration and wince-inducing exploitation. In once cathartic sequence, Marc spontaneously creates yet another ritual to touch Phillipe’s body as he violently shows Phillipe how to be a man and make himself throw up by forcing his own fingers down his throat. Phillipe ejaculates, I mean… barfs – and when Marc realizes that he has used the socially acceptable guise of he-male violence against Phillipe as a disguise for she-male sodomy, his only way of dealing is to force Phillipe’s screaming face into the “mess he made” as he verbally humiliates him. Ahhhh… the art of gay courtship! Any film that features a man viciously stabbing his love object in the leg at a crowded party (as a vindictively satisfying non-verbal act of affection) has obviously done it’s homework on the gay mating ritual. The film also has lots of side parallels and sub-character situations that cleverly reflect what’s happening with the main story. Great stuff – really blunt and touching, and it has that old “foreign gay film” feel to it – and if you know what I mean, then you’ll dig it. The only thing I’m disappointed with is the ending of this film… which seemed rushed and too shallow. After exploring the two characters’ spiny relationship so deeply, it pulls a “two years later” epilogue that barely blushes the surface of where they both end up… but, whatever. The best thing about this film is Patrick Dewaere’s brutish, dreamy performance. An interesting actor, with an wild career and body of work… he mysteriously shot himself in front of his bedroom mirror in 1982. Recommended (the film).

The Raspberry Reich (2004, dir: Bruce LaBruce)
Much like the party scene in BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961) if it were held in the basement of FIGHT CLUB (1999), everything mashes together erratically but perfectly in Bruce LaBruce’s hysterically titled latest film THE RASPBERRY REICH. You probably think you need a certain je ne sais quoi to understand exactly how that could work, but it’s probably in your best interest to learn fake French (or real German) so you can. Alienating? LaBruce’s films can sometimes being at a party full of people you don’t know, who are constanly looking over their shoulder at you as they wittily engage a henpecking ceremony – littering the floor with names of people (or concepts) they know but want to make sure you know that they know that you don’t know (but secretly hope that you eventually learn). If the point is to enlighten, inspite and educate (after watching this I immediately went online and looked up info on some of the terrorist groups the characters in this filme were based on), then I’m going to stop hanging out with people like Mag Wildwood at parties. I am Jack’s seething inner need to name-drop, and it wasn’t until the morning after that I came to the sobering realization that this movie is poking fun at that need. THE RASPBERRY REICH is especially super in contrast to LaBruce’s often ingenious but occasionally frustrating body of work. I loved everything about it; the visuals, the editing, the subject, satire, comparing/contrasting of terrorist motives/sexuality, the slapstick/gonzo/amateur acting styles, the dubbing, the mood, etc. At first I didn’t know how I felt about what I was watching, but by the end I was enthralled – it works, and it’s sizzling and electric and very unique. The picture plugs into the unfussy, raw, immediate vibe of classic underground films, or old porn movies… which is an obvious goal for LaBruce. The plot is kind of razzing (or paying homage to) “terrorist chic,” and concentrates on a gang of bumbling, would-be terrorists in Berlin who model themselves after the Baader-Meinhof Gang from the 1970’s. The group’s leader, a loud-mouthed, cause-bogged, militaristic fag hag named Gudrun, has molded herself directly from the very real Gudrun Ensslin (from the Meinhof gang). Gudrun runs around in a blond wig, screaming quotes from Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse, and demanding all the male members of the gang have sex with each other so as to “break down barriers and ignite the revolution.” The gang kidnaps the son of a rich German banker in order to to demand ransom to fund their utopian plans… but it all goes wrong in the most faggy, awkward way possible – as the gang seems more interested in the pose than the plan (contrasted late in the film when two characters visit a drag bar on ‘terrorist theme’ night). The skinny actor who plays Che (Daniel Fettig) bears a striking resemblance to this guy. The film includes cameos by legendary fringe-types like Genesis P. Orridge and Sherry Vine, who are framed in the film’s crisp set design/locale choices. In many of the scenes, the characters are often bottomless (shirt but no pants – a look I’ve always found horrific… on anyone) and that is probably the best example I can give of how kookily offensive and eye-popping this picture is. Apparently LaBruce got the funding for this (as well as his previous) film from porn production companies, making porn versions of them (for rentals) as well as more plot-heavy versions intended for festivals and theater runs (the porn version of this particular one is apparently called ‘The Revolution Is My Boyfriend’) so this film contains scenes (however brief) of hardcore porn (straight and gay) that are obviously extended in the XXX versions. Even though many people in the porn and art worlds may profess to, no one is really making pictures like this. The tone of THE RASPBERRY REICH is absurd, but almost by default – in the end it’s able to skim the sublime peaks of important things, even in mockery. In one odd stylistic choice by LaBruce, famous revolutionaries’ philosophical rants are spelled-out by huge floating/flashing blocks of text across the screen, often as a character is saying them. Sound stupid? It completely works here. I love the following passage cooed by Gudrun (I assume it’s Marcuse or Reich, but I couldn’t locate the source): “The more detached one is from a role the easier it becomes to turn it against the enemy. The more effectively one avoids the weight of things, the easier it is to achieve lightness of movement. Comrades care little for forms, they argue openly, confident in the knowledge that they cannot inflict wounds on each other. Where communication is genuinely sought, misunderstandings are no crime. But if you accost me armed to the teeth, understanding agreement only in terms of victory for you, then you will get nothing out of me but an evasive pose, and a formal silence, intended to indicate that the discussion is closed.” Easily one of the most interesting new films I’ve seen in years, surprisingly so.

Gog (1954, dir: Herbert L. Strock)
A friend of mine brought my attention to this film, as something he had seen as a small child that had a certain effect on him. This same friend also believes that automat diners were the perfect symbol of mankind’s love/hate relationship with technology during their heyday, and that the (still) current wave of countless cyber coffee shops dotting the cities of the world are basically the newest form of automat diners, or at least they symbolize the exact same relationship, which has changed little. This film definitely falls into the B-movie category, as it made me literally laugh out loud about seven or eight times. Basically it’s the story of an all-American Rock Hudson-type being inexplicably thrust into a clock-is-ticking situation in some remote location, with a bunch of brainy scientists from other countries (read: suspicious), one of whom happens to be young, shapely, American with boobs. The protagonists’ job? To expose and weed out anyone with unwholesome values, get the girl, and punch, punch, punch his way to saving America… er, the whole of mankind. Similar plots can be found in films of various quality, and slight character switcheroo, from FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) to ALIENS (1986) and THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (1971- Kate Reid was the he-man in that one). GOG hasn’t aged well, or has, depending on how you look at it. The film takes place in a vast, underground base where all the characters have holed up as they try to stop a strain of man-made radio waves from satellites that have developed their own computerized will, and are threatening to destroy the human race. Got all that? The title comes from the name of one of a pair of sinister super-robots that occupy one of the levels (the robot’s partner is named, appropriately, Magog). Did I mention Gog and Magog were made by a scientist with a funny mustache and goatee who has a foreign accent, scoffs at American etiquette and …smokes a pipe? Eek! The oh-so menacing technology in GOG of course, as radio waves, has the ability to penetrate the very air around us, and reach straight into our brains as we remain helpless. There are lots of scenes of whole rooms vibrating as the human victim holds their hands to their heads screaming “Aaaauuugh!” before they collapse in a smoking heap of flesh on the floor. Hide your curling iron! Even the scenes where technology is being used for apparent good, ends up making humans look absurd. One funny scene of two characters occupying a gravity-defying whirligig, wearing absurdly dignity-defying, helmeted space suits, makes them look like a pair of spinning show poodles in costumes (the air-penetrating techno waves from the satellites penetrate the device and cause the meager humans to high-speed spin to their death anyway). GOG is just another time-capsuled morality tale about how the technological age has raped the farm, and has the potential to destroy our very way of life, and how scientists who figured out how to split the atom instead of going to church every Sunday better get ready from the nonsensical rantings of a loudmouth malcontent (read: comeuppance) from the last angry man (who’s really the greatest American hero) …but that in the end we all really appreciate what they did anyway, as long as we feel we had a say in it (by screaming and throwing a drama fit after the fact). In other words, it’s about fear, and bossy intimidation in the face of that fear. The scene of the hero trying to battle the Gog robot gone berserk with the highly inappropriate prop choice of a baseball bat (probably symbolic) is one of the funniest scenes in a film ever. The bat just keeps *pop!* *boing!* bouncing off the plastic shell of the rediculous-looking Gog as he flails all over the place while all the other characters stand back and scream in irony-less horror. This hysterical scene should be put on a loop and shown constantly on all the monitors in the new Apple store in Soho, NYC… somehow it just seems appropriate. Recommended for a really hearty laugh – great stuff. Unreleased – available on bootleg only (the DVD-r copy I rented was burned off a recent TNT broadcast).

Spasmo (1974, dir: Umberto Lenzi)
In an effort to cause panic, or perhaps drive an unstable target into madness, someone is placing mannequins in sick little mise-en-scènes at various places around a seaside resort in Italy …and it could be any one of a bazillion different glamorously suspicious low-lifes you’ll meet before the credits eventually roll in this hyper-speed, kaleidoscope-ed giallo. If you’re a fan of horror films, you’ve probably figured out long ago that any violent killer flick made before 1990 which uses mannequins as a major plot reference point, will probably end up a classic. For what seems like the entire history of film, things like mannequins, clowns and children’s songs have always been reliable in adding an uneasy aura to creep cinema, when presented in the right context. The fact that there always seems to be someone who feels like they are the first person to notice the sinister edges of such things, means that these fright fetish objects and they’re associative semiotic codes have reached far beyond the pinnacle of cliché, and are now imprisoned eternally in the never-get-rid-able realm of horror movie foreverness. But back to the film: Umberto Lenzi’s appropriately titled SPASMO might not be a film you’ve heard of, but that’s only because lesser-know Italian giallos often can’t stab their way out from beneath the radar of the eyeballs and brains of horror fans – a perceptual plateau often hogged by the other “classics” (Lenzi’s most popular film is, of course, the highly notorious CANNIBAL FEROX [1981]). Apparently by the mid-70’s, Italian audiences were growing tired of the black-gloved genre, so distribution companies urged directors to make giallos as outrageous as possible, so as to lure back in the all important consumatori. The plot line of SPASMO is at times so tangled and crammed with gonzo plot points that it resembles a Harry Stephen Keeler novel (particularly the last 20 minutes). But it’s kept tight enough here where even the loosest bits fit into the “logic.” If you know the genre rules of hardcore Italian giallos, you know what to expect: goofy over-acting, “bad” dubbing, weirdly inappropriate dialogue, rushed, convenient/coincidental story telling, the appearance that the characters in the film are perhaps the only people on earth, fantastic cinematography, really great furniture, and the overall sense that the whole movie’s reality exists in a kind of fever dream state. This film’s saving grace, besides it’s spastic pace and visual pop – is a snazz score (as usual) by Ennio Morricone. Fans of Dario Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (1969) will no doubt recognize Suzy Kendall in one of the starring roles. Made six years after BIRD, Suzy’s highlighted hair and light eyes resemble at times a MYRA BRECKINRIDGE-era Farrah Fawcett. If you rent giallos regularly… I know you’ve probably sat through some really boring ones that you wished you hadn’t wasted your time on. You won’t regret checking this one out – great stuff. Recommended. Other (enjoyable) horror classics that use mannequins liberally? Mario Bava’s HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON (1970), TOURIST TRAP (1979 – a film worthy of viewing just to see Chuck Conners stumbling around in kooky, face-obscuring, Cindy Sherman-esque drag) and the scalp-happy MANIAC (1980).

Kwaidan (Japan, 1964, dir: Masaki Kobayashi)
Fuck – it’s art! Wow! After seeing this movie, I felt like I just got back from the library or something. Did Einstein see this movie? At theaters that show movies like this do they put caviar on the popcorn instead of butter? And serve it with chopsticks? You know what I’m in the mood for after all this movie art? That’s right… Chinese food! One large eggroll please (served subtly), and hold the Hollywood cheese sauce! Does the menu have subtitles? ‘Cause I can read them and look at the pictures at the same time you know. Haw haw!! Okay… I’m just kidding (or am I?) This totally eye/ear-searing film features four ancient eastern folk tales/ghost stories. It’s a veeeery long but very rewarding visual/audial meal for fans of knock-out Japanese cinema, hyper-stylism, creepy ghost stories and super-freaky musique concrète soundtracks. Speaking of, this film does have a surprising use of pure (unexpected) sound as music accompaniment. The last ten minutes of the first story, “Black Hair,” contains one of the most unsettling music scores I have ever heard. Indeed, this film was renowned in it’s day for it’s use of a musique concrète-style music score. A great, colorful, eye-filling movie. Recommended.

Good Bye Dragon Inn (2003, dir: Tsai Ming-Liang)
This movie is kind of like a Jacques Tati film set, after all the actors have gone home and gone to bed. This story is set in a decrepit movie theater in Taipei that is about to close, and probably be torn down, on the last night of business, during the last screening of a film (playing: King Hu’s 1966 sword-fighting epic DRAGON INN). The alienation in urban environments I spoke of earlier? This superb film is like a long, slow, molasses avalanche of that. This movie has some of the l-o-o-o-n-g-e-s-t still shots (where almost nothing happens) that I have ever seen in any film, ever. Barren, echo-y, plenty of elbow room for your eyeballs to roam… this film is one vast void. Oddly, the film showing in the theater makes up 99% of the film’s dialogue – which is overheard echoing throughout the main hall and cavernous back hallways of the crumbling building. Actual lines in the film? About three… literally. The film does have characters, who crawl around at a snails pace and do various things. I found this picture to be rather remarkable, and quite surprising. One thing I didn’t expect it to be was a comedy… I found myself laughing hysterically out loud at certain scenes because they captured, uniquely and pin-point perfectly, the often absurd/sad nature of human existence in urban spaces. Weirdly, a large portion of the film centers around gay cruising in the bathrooms and surrounding mysterious passageways (although by film’s end you really wonder if that’s what was going on). Actually, by film’s end you really might be scratching your head about what most of the “characters” actually are, or if they are even real – but I don’t want to spoil anything, I have seen Ming-Liang’s THE HOLE (1998), which I totally, totally loved (although I coulda done without the musical fantasy sequences) and didn’t even realize he had also directed until I looked at the filmography on the DVD. Great, spooky, pulling heart-string-y, surprisingly hilarious stuff. Recommended (if you’re in a zen mood, or are quaalude-ed out of your mind).

A Woman Under the Influence (1974, dir: John Cassavetes)
Oddly, I have only recently discovered the films of John Cassavetes, thanks mostly to a friend who has pushed them on me relentlessly – and for good reason. Some of his films are more hardcore than others, and some of his later ones are amazing but kind of Hollywood-ified. His mid-career stuff is the real cranium-rattling work, of which A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is a prime example. There is not much I can really write about this film, other than to say that if you watch it you’ll be very impressed, mesmerized, left with perhaps a headache (but it will be worth it). The story is basically about a woman (Gena Rowlands) with edgy mental problems who drags her husband (Peter Falk), kids and entire extended family around the mental carousel – all captured with breathtaking simplicity and fascinating realism by Cassavetes film technique (which has brilliant acting at it’s base). Rowlands’ portrayal of a woman who hop-scotches all over the map of acceptable behavior due to deep-seated mental problems, and the way the others around her use her condition to control her (and she uses it to control them when situationally backed against a wall) is so real it’s at times almost like you’re witnessing the most excruciatingly fascinating documentary footage you’ve ever seen. My friend who loves this film refers to any situation in his life that is surreally awkward or uncategorically bizarre as “a spaghetti breakfast.” When you see this film you’ll understand. Rent this movie and I guarantee you’ll be blown away. If you like this one, you will probably also like Cassavetes’ MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971), THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE (1976) and MIKEY AND NICKY (1976 – Cassavetes didn’t technically direct this one, but might as well have, and also stars in it). Cassavetes’ filmography is of course far more vast, but these three films I think directly plug into the same energy as WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE. Bananas.

C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979, dir: Don Chaffey)
Even more oddly, the same friend who thankfully pushed Cassavetes’ aesthetic on me also recommended the zinger C.H.O.M.P.S. (1979). Hey, he’s a man of many dimensions! C.H.O.M.P.S. stands for Canine Home Protection System, of course, and is a bionic, multi-sound lingual robotic powerhouse family-loving kill-dog… designed by Wesely Eure. Wesely hopes to make millions with it, if he can convince his girlfriend’s (Valerie Bertinelli) rich tycoon dad (Conrad Bain) to go into production with it. The usual brightly-colored hilarity ensues. Much like the above film, I really can’t say much about this, except to say that I really enjoyed it (for obviously different reasons). This was actually a film released in theaters, but it has the look and feel of a Saturday morning cartoon showcase. The scenes where they take off CHOMPS’ head and tinker with the lights and wires inside him (where the real dog is suddenly switched to a very poorly designed fake) were oddly disturbing. This film also has a very surreal use of sound. Just recently released on DVD.

House (Japan, 1977, dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi)
Kind of like LIDSVILLE (1971) crossed with LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), or SUSPIRIA (1977) crossed with PEE WEE’S PLAYHOUSE (1986), this very puzzling Japanese kiddie/horror flick really had me scratching my head. I’ve never seen so many giggling school girls singing songs for gore in my life… talk about contradicting semiotics. One minute a pre-teen is doing a dreamy musical number about lemonade, five minutes later her bloody severed limbs are hovering around a piano playing ragtime while everybody screams for their lives. This was years before Sam Raimi or Peter Jackson. Okay, this film is hardly great… but it’s so out there, that if you’re a fan of horror and Japanese stuff, then it will definitely fondle and harass your frontal cortex. Unreleased, available only on bootleg, without subtitles. Here’s a nice link about the film.

Sex Mission
(Poland, 1984, dir: Juliusz Machulski)
Clever, forgotten, ahead-of-it’s time Polish comedy about two men who volunteer to have themselves cryogenically frozen (for three years only) in the 1980’s as part of a highly publicized experiment, only to then wake up fifty years later to find the human race driven underground after a catastrophic World War III, and also populated only by women. The two unexpected guinea pigs are prodded and studied by the futuristic female race, and told they will be allowed to live in the new world, but only if they have sex changes. Naturally, slapstick hi-jinx, and lots of breast and castration gags bloom aplenty as the two goofballs try and escape in the futuristic underworld (which looks like a discarded DR. WHO set). The female-only society the two explore has become estrogen-ized down to every detail (history has even been re-written to to make sure every key figure had a vagina), there is even a museum that supposedly holds the actual tree of knowledge from the Garden of Eden (the legacy of which has the roles of Adam and Eve essentially switched), babies are grown in test tubes from a past supply of XX chromosome sperm, public nudity is not an issue, and the entire population takes daily pills to keep their sex drive down. And like all computerized futuristic societies in film, it’s up to the protagonists to unwittingly uncover who is actually running the show. Great, high-quality film that I can’t believe I never saw or even heard about is kind of a cross between SLEEPER (1973) and THE BENNY HILL SHOW (1967). Despite it’s obvious goofiness, the film touches on some interesting sociological and philosophical plateaus – and has a great twist ending and hysterical closing shot. Great – definitely recommended.