November 29, 2015

Coffee Break

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Fatma Mohamed in The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland - 2014)

November 24, 2015

The Mask

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Julian Roffman - 1961
Kino Classics BD Region A

Not to be confused with other films with the same title, this film was also known as The Eyes of Hell. I had to opportunity to see The Mask, part of it, when it was revived in the early 1970s in an attempt to lure the youth audience of the time with the "psychedelic" visuals. The audience at the late night show at the New York City theater was having none of it, bellowing loudly enough to force the theater to discontinue The Mask in favor of a documentary on Jimi Hendrix.

Without the 3D sequences, The Mask would probably of moderate historical interest, as both the first Canadian horror movie and the first Canadian 3D movie. I was able to see Julian Roffman's previous film, The Bloody Brood, mostly notable for showcasing a then unknown Peter Falk. That earlier film, about Toronto beatniks, and The Mask similarly frame the act of murder as some kind of intellectual adventure. Of interest is that Roffman's cinematographer on The Bloody Brood was Eugen Shufftan, who had worked with Georges Franju before and after working with Roffman. Why this is worth noting is because the masked characters in the 3D sequences have some similarity to Edit Scob in Franju's Eyes without a Face, with cinematography by, yes, Eugen Shufftan. There is also the more obvious similarity to Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and the probable influence of William Castle.

For most cinephiles, the selling point of The Mask is the contribution of Slavko Vorkapich. Known for his montages, primarily during the "Golden Age" of Hollywood, Vorkaphich's contribution here is listed as writing the dream sequences. As it turned out, most of Vorkaphich's ideas were not used by Roffman due to the complexity, as well as budgetary considerations. The Blu-ray includes a montage of montages by Vorkapich, and based on the evidence, images of skulls, or in this case, the titular mask, flying towards the audience, was a favorite visual motif. While Vorkapich's participation in The Mask was a little less that has been advertised, one wonders what we might have had, had Roffman been able to use Vorkapich's ideas, or those of experimental filmmaker Len Lye, who sketched out a flying blade capable of beheading victims.

The story itself is about a scientist who stole the mask, an ancient South American artifact, from a museum, and is suffering from the nightmarish images when the mask is worn. He tries to convince a psychiatrist that the mask is the source of his troubles. Prior to committing suicide, the scientist mails the mask to the shrink, who in turn makes the mistake of wearing the mask, releasing his own murderous tendencies. For the viewer seeing The Mask theatrically, an off-screen voice would command, "Put on the mask now", which would signal the viewer to wear 3D glasses during the three special sequences.

Now about watching those 3D sequences - I don't have a 3D Blu-ray player so I can't tell you how that stands as a viewing experience. I do have a pair of the old fashioned red/green 3D glasses that were provided as part of another DVD, so I was able to see the 3D sequences pretty much the way as the original theatrical audience. However, those sequences are shown as separate supplements. The entire feature can be seen in 2D, with the dream sequences seen flat for those without glasses. The more ideal situation would have been for an option to allow The Mask to be seen in 2D with an option for those with two color glasses to see the 3D sequences as part of the feature for a truer theatrical experience.

The supplement about Julian Roffman should be of interest to cinephiles. Significantly, Roffman's earliest work of note was as a documentarian for the Film Board of Canada, with John Grierson as his mentor. There are some clips of Roffman's work from the Thirties and Forties. Additionally, the Blu-ray includes the famed experimental short Slavko Vorkapich made with Robert Florey, The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra. The commentary track by 3D specialist Jason Pichonsky discusses some of the technical aspects in making The Mask, as well as more historical information regarding the cast and crew. There is also a bonus supplement of a very entertaining 3D animation piece, One Night in Hell, that features music and the appearance of Queen's Brian May.

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November 22, 2015

Coffee Break

Maruja Grifel and Ninon Sevilla in Aventurera (Alberto Gout - 1950)

November 20, 2015

A Hard Day


Kim Seong-hoon - 2014
Kino Lorber BD Region A

There's a scene in A Hard Day where a giant, and I mean over-sized, block falls on top of a car, virtually flattening it. Any potential laugh is undercut with the knowledge that there was a police officer in said car. Yet the exaggerated size of that block and the visual impact made me think of something that Chuck Jones would have done in a Road Runner cartoon. This is the story about a bad, corrupt cop being blackmailed by an even badder, more corrupt cup. Between the punches, explosions, and seemingly indestructible nature of these two, no matter how beaten and bruised, there are times when A Hard Day would seem like the Korean thriller as imagined by Chuck Jones.

Homicide Detective Ko drives to his mother's funeral drunk, hits some guy on the road, gets in trouble with the cops at a DUI checkpoint by trying to hide his inebriation and the body in the car trunk, and then tries to hide the body in his mother's coffin. Making things worse is when Ko finds out that far from being alone on the road, someone else has observed him, and that there's also a video camera that filmed his car at the time of the accident.

The Korean title translates as "Take it to the end", which is essentially what happens when Ko encounters fellow cop Park. Ko's job is on the line for the various bribes taken, small potatoes when he finds out about Park and Park's interest in the buried man. Kim presents the various factions of cops as a kind of boys' club where throwing things at each other, slapping, and hitting each other for real or imagined infractions, small scale violence, is the order of the day. Each team thinks of itself as a brotherhood, simultaneous with a sometimes vicious sibling rivalry.

Kim mixes things up visually, with a car chase shot low from the front of a car, virtually hurling the viewer into the action, tilted shots during the fights, and at one point filming Ko chasing a small-time hood with the camera high overhead with the two avoiding the rush of car traffic. As Park, Cho Jin-woong has been nominated, and in several events, won for Best Supporting Actor. Physically bigger than anyone else in the film, Cho plays Park as the overly friendly and helpful pal who let's you know in no uncertain terms when you are on his bad side.

The blu-ray come with interviews with Kim, Cho and star Lee Sun-kyun, as well as deleted scenes which primarily add a little more to the characterization of Detective Ko.


November 18, 2015

The Voyeur

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L'uomo che guarda
Tinto Brass - 1994
Cult Epics BD

Two of my favorite films are The Conformist and Contempt. Both are generally considered to be the best films by their respective directors, Bernardo Bertolucci and Jean-Luc Godard. Both films also are adapted from novels by Alberto Moravia. Now it is possible that something got lost translating Moravia from Italian to English, but Bertolucci and Godard improved upon the source novels. With that in mind, I'm pretty sure that the film Tinto Brass made is probably better than Moravia's novel, or at least livelier.

While not officially credited, Brass pointedly has one of his female characters reading the original novel, L'uomo che guarda in bed. In the supplementary interview, Brass stated that Moravia encouraged him to not worry about fidelity to the novel. The basic set-up is there, a youngish professor of French literature, nicknamed Dodo, is trying to reunite with his wife. There is the unproven suspicion that she is having an affair. Dodo is not the most faithful of husbands. There is also the uneasy relationship with his bed-ridden father, marked by sexual competition. From what I have read about the novel, Brass has tossed aside the political segments.

There is briefly, a lecture given by Dodo discussing the concept of voyeurism, with mentions of Herodotus, Andre Gide and Stephane Mallarme. Dodo discusses a Mallarme poem in, um, greater depth, with a young African student, at least until the housemate, a female photographer, walks in. Some might accuse Tinto Brass of the same accusation aimed at Moravia, of providing a bit of intellectual veneer to justify an interest in eroticism.

And let's face it, the point of seeing a Tinto Brass movie is to see attractive women in various states of undress. As Sylvia, Dodo's wife, Polish actress Katarina Vasilissa is one of Brass's most photogenic stars. The camera lovingly, some might say too lovingly, explores all the peaks and valleys of Vasilissa's body. That she is often filmed wearing diaphanous lingerie and clothes that barely conceal, adds to the visual pleasure. The film opens with Dodo fantasizing about Sylvia, with one of the sexiest scenes of a woman getting dressed. There's also some male nudity on display here, the enjoyment of which I will leave to the individual viewer.

This is Brass's film as originally intended, at 104 minutes, significantly longer than the running time listed in IMDb. Aside from the thematic continuity of stories populated by voyeurs and exhibitionists, Brass makes use of several shots using mirrors and in one scene uses a refracted lens, adding to the unreal quality of Dodo's voyeurism. There's a nice sax-driven score by Riz Ortalani, an aural sweetener to the highly polished visuals.


November 16, 2015



Andre De Toth - 1948
KL Studio Classics BD Region A

Supporting players in the late Forties, not yet the iconic television stars of Fifties, the two most interesting performers in Pitfall are Jane Wyatt and Raymond Burr. Wyatt's role as wife and mother is something of a warm-up as matriarch of the Anderson family, warm, wise and witty. What Wyatt shows in Pitfall as all of those aspects, plus a spine of steel when she discovers that husband Dick Powell is, to put it bluntly, a dick, seeing Lizabeth Scott on those late nights supposedly at work. Wyatt's clipped cadences are especially effective here in letting Powell, and the audience, know that she's nobody's fool.

Raymond Burr is seen wearing a black suit that emphasizes his bulk. With his marcelled hair and longish sideburns, Burr comes across as a self-styled Romeo, intimidating when he thinks he is being charming. De Toth films private eye Burr as a graceless elephant who barges into Powell's office or Lizabeth Scott's apartment.

Powell plays in insurance agent recovering items bought for Lizabeth Scott with embezzled money. Powell tries to keep things as business only. Scott might be famous for her low pitched voice, almost a whisper at times, but De Toth lets the audience know that Scott has a nice pair of gams as she enters wearing some stylish shorts. A ride in an old motor boat, and a couple of daytime drinks, and it's not much later when Burr, doing his own private investigation, spies Powell leaving Scott's apartment well after sunset.

The influence of Italian neorealism is felt here, with a significant portion of scenes shot in and around Los Angeles. We see the outside of the Macy's where Scott works as a model, as well as several scenes with Powell in the downtown area. There is also a nice series of tracking shots of Powell walking through downtown L.A. at night, with the reflection of the Brown Derby restaurant scene against a window.

Eddie Muller's commentary covers how the story changed from novel to film. Much of Muller's discussion is centered on the screenplay being the work of uncredited William Bowers and De Toth, rather than the screenwriter of record, Karl Kamb. Muller quotes from an interview with De Toth on the making of Pitfall, providing evidence that this was a personal project for the director. Pitfall was an independent production, as that term was understood in the Forties. One moment of cultural specificity that may raise eyebrows is when Powell and Wyatt's young son has a nightmare, blamed on the mayhem of comic books. If comic books are bad, movies are good. To shield the boy from anticipate violence, Powell announces an impromptu trip late night trip to "the movies". Wyatt talks Powell out of that plan, though the son brightly informs Dad that he's game for going to the movies anytime.


November 15, 2015

Coffee Break

Debbie Reynolds in Tammy and the Bachelor (Joseph Pevney - 1957)