Monthly Archives: September 2020

Hey, You’ve Got To Hide Your Hyde Away… I, MONSTER Reviewed.

BD. Indicator. Region B. 12.

Still smarting over their uncredited role in bringing Curse Of Frankenstein (1957) to the screen, always chasing market leaders Hammer, Amicus honchoes Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky released their stab at the “definitive” adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde in 1971, the same year as Hammer’s floridly revisionist Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde arrived. All the better to play up their version’s putative faithfulness to Stevenson’s text, you might have thought, but inexplicably they lost their nerve, opted for a non-Stevensonian title and rechristened Christopher Lee’s alternative identities “Charles Marlowe” (the handsome, well intentioned but fatally hubristic scientist) and “Edward Blake” (his increasingly bubo-infested, dentally challenged malevolent shadow).

There’s been much fruitless speculation (to which I won’t add) over the reasoning behind this but even after we’ve parked that one, the other chestnut that keeps coming up and crowding out any discussion of the film’s actual merits is the abandoned 3-D gimmick which utilised the Pulfrich effect, dispensing with the need for special cameras but requiring Lee to walk from side within static shots more frequently than he oscillates between Good and Evil (while folks in the background typically traverse the screen in the opposite direction!) Amicus thought better of it before releasing I, Monster but it you don a pair of those cardboard glasses (surely every well appointed household is equipped with one?) while watching, you’ll get a pretty good idea of how it might well have worked, via an impressive visual collaboration between DP Moray Grant and art director Tony Curtis (no, not that Tony Curtis!) Personally, I always get a headache watching this stuff… still recovering from that Channel 4 screening of Flesh For Frankenstein!

Visual distractions aside, Weeks keeps things rolling along in satisfyingly entertaining fashion. I won’t insult my readers by assuming that you need a run down of the plot, reasonably faithfully adapted from Stevenson’s 1886 novella by Subotsky (though he can’t resist adding an anachronistic dollop of Freud to the principals’ musings about Rousseau, the nature of Evil, et al). The film is certainly way more faithful than Terence Fisher’s Hammer effort The Two Faces Of Dr Jekyll from 11 years earlier (which neglected to mention RLS at all in its credits / titles). Nor will you need me to point out that the combination of Lee and Peter Cushing (as Marlowe’s bewildered friend Dr. Utterson) makes for “must watch” stuff. The casting of Mike Raven, however, as their colleague Enfield, only exposes the fragility of his big time Horror Icon aspirations.

A root through the lower echelons of the supporting cast, though, does throw up some interesting finds, e.g. Michael Des Barres (who, like the late Raven, has straddled the worlds of film and music) as a “Peaky Blinders” type who gets into a razor fight with Blake and the uncredited trio of Lesley (Blue Peter) Judd (as De Barres’ strumpet girlfriend), future “video nasties” stalwart Ian McCulloch as “man at bar” and – as “girl in alley” – young Chloe Franks, a perennial Subotsky favourite who qualifies as the UK’s answer to Nicoletta Elmi on account of her roles in this, Trog (1970), The House That Dripped Blood (1971), Tales From The Crypt (1972), Whoever Slew Aunti Roo? (1972) and The Uncanny (1977).

Indicator’s limited (to 5,000 units) edition, another BD World Premiere, boasts two cuts of Weeks’ film, the 75-minute theatrical cut and an 81 minute variant, each restored in 2K. The director contributes a new audio commentary in addition to an archive one on which he collaborated with film scholar Sam Umland in 2005. Stephen Laws, who offers a short introduction to the film, also pops up interviewing Weeks in footage shot at the 1998 Festival Of Fantastic Films in Manchester. Carl Davis discusses his score for the film in another new interview. Audio interview wise, a section of Phil Nutman’s epic pow wow with Subotsky is complimented by part one of the BEHP interview with editor Peter Tanner. Yes, you get trailers and image galleries and if you’ve ever wanted to view this film’s trailer with an audio commentary from Kim Newman and David Flint, here’s your chance. I haven’t seen the limited edition exclusive 36-page booklet but am reliably informed that it includes Milton Subotsky’s memoir on I, Monster, a new essay by Josephine Botting, archival interview with Stephen Weeks, overview of contemporary critical responses and full film credits.

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Welcome To The Pleasure Dome… Pasuale Festa Campanile’s LA MATRIARCA aka THE LIBERTINE On Nucleus BD.

BD. Nucleus Films. Region B. 18.

Chi-chi young widow Mimi (Catherine Spaak) doesn’t seem too devastated at the funeral of her husband Franco, in fact she seems to regard the whole thing as analogous to kicking off an uncomfortable pair of shoes. While going through Franco’s estate with his attorney Sandro (Gigi Proietti), she discovers the deeds and keys to Franco’s secret man pad and on visiting, discovers that its modish fittings include (along with the mandatory J&B bottle bank) over head mirrors, sex toys and a state of the art (in 1968) home cinema set up for screening porno flicks. Although suspiciously professional looking, these turn out to be home movies featuring Franco indulging his hitherto unguessed at penchant for S/M, in the company of various willing strumpets including Mimi’s best friend Claudia (Fabienne Dalì). His secret journal meticulously records marks for aptitude, enthusiasm and imagination against each of his conquests. Turns out Mimi didn’t know Franco very well at all… then again, how well does she know herself?

Affronted as much by Franco’s relegation of her to boring respectability as by his infidelity, Mimi embarks on her own odyssey of erotic discovery by bedding Sandro in her late husband’s garçonniere and demanding his critical feedback. With a second hand copy of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis as her guide, Mimi continues the obsessive exploration of her own emerging sensuality, fantasising freely and soliloquising salaciously as she relentlessly puts a succession of Eurocult’s finest manflesh to the carnal test… dentist Frank Wolff has no problems filling her cavities, though tennis coach Philippe Leroy fails to smash it during a post match session in the shower. Rough sex with sinister swinger Luigi Pistilli doesn’t really float Mimi’s boat, nor does the elaborate role playing favoured by Claudia’s husband Fabrizio (Renzo Montagnani… “oy oy oy oy oy!”) gel with her own private proclivities. Mistaking her for a working girl, Gabriele Tinti bungs Mimi a fistful of Lire after a spot of “wham bam, thank you ma’am” in his car (“The first money I ever earned in my life” muses the pampered widow). There’s also an unseen tryst with Venantino Venantini, playing the plumber fiancé of Mimi’s long suffering maid Maria (Edda Ferronao).

Through trial and error, Mimi identifies her own (very tame) kink (you might just possibly be able to work out her idea of horseplay from some of the illustrations here) and on finally giving in to her mother’s nagging to get a health check-up, she begins to suspect she might also have found somebody with whom to complete her equestrian quest, in the shape of handsome but vague radiologist Carlo De Marchi (Jean-Louis Trintignant)… but is Dr De Marchi The One? Love says “Ciao”, to quote Armando Trovajoli’s Bacharachesque theme song, belted out lustily (and more than a little Dusty-ly) by Andee Silver, but don’t forget that “Ciao” can as easily mean “see you later” as “Hiya”. Sandro’s still pressing his suit too, but by breaking the mirrors of Franco’s playroom (and administering a quick spanking), Dr D shatters Mimi’s narcissism and proceeding as mutually respectful equals, they discover that love and marriage really do go together like… well, like a horse and carriage.

Bunuel gave us the classic cinematic study of female sado-masochism in Belle De Jour (1967) and who more appropriate to mount a Belle ringer, the following year, than Pasquale Festa Campanile? Seriously though folks, Campanile (best known in English-speaking fan circles for a somewhat rougher take on sexual politics, 1977’s Hitch-Hike) is an infinitely more gifted grafter in the Eurotica mills than Franco, Rollin and the assorted usual suspects, a fact which would doubtless be recognised if only his films were better distributed. Similarly, the divine Spaak, currently best remembered as ice maiden Anna Terzi in Argento’s Cat’O Nine Tails (1971) is every bit as physically beautiful (a beauty which Campanile doesn’t hesitate to lay before the dreaded “male gaze” in this putative feminist tract) as, for instance Edwige Fenech or Barbara Bouchet and is probably (let it be whispered) a significantly better actress than either of those. Further releases featuring these two (together or singly) would be very welcome indeed… how about it, Nucleus?

Messrs Morris and West don’t release films particularly prolifically but when they do, they go that extra mile and then some. Extras here include The Libertine, the US theatrical version released by Radley Metzger’s Audubon distribution outfit, marginally saucier and redubbed to suit American ears. Lovely Jon celebrates Armando Trovajoli as “the voice of Rome” and Kat Ellinger strikes yet again with a characteristically erudite audio commentary on the main feature… let’s also raise a shiny Jimmy Choo, brimming with Bollinger, to Rachael Nisbet for a visual essay that cleverly correlates Mimi’s interior and exterior spaces. Trailers, image galleries, out takes and alternative scenes are present and correct, alongside a Fotoromanzo adaptation, Japanese release promo, gallery of poster for Audubon releases and reversible sleeve options. Giddy up and grab your copy now!

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Two Moreaus Never Know… EVE and MADEMOISELLE Reviewed.

EVE. BD. Indicator. Region B. 15. Released 28/09/20.
MADEMOISELLE. BD / DVD. BFI. Region B. 15. Released 21/09/20.

“The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer: What do women want?” Sigmund Freud.

More pertinently for our present purpose, what did Jeanne Moreau want? The Queen of 1960s European Arthouse Cinema drew a flotilla of moths to her flame… Tony Richardson left his wife (a certain Vanessa Redgrave) for Moreau (whom he directed in Mademoiselle, 1966) and Joseph Losey might or might not have consummated his crush on her (his son Gavrik is undecided) though he got his wings badly singed during the postproduction of Eve (1962). What, exactly, did he expect, tackling the story of Man’s fall from grace at the hands of Woman?

In Losey’s film Tyvian Jones (Stanley Baker) is your basic angry young boyo, a hard living Dylan Thomas type who’s graduated from the Pits of his homeland to La Dolce Vita in Italy, where his novel Stranger In Hell has been adapted into a film that’s taking the Venice Film Festival by storm. Tyvian and the film’s director Sergio Branco (Giorgio Albertazzi) pound the publicity treadmill together, barely concealing their loathing for each other. Branco’s in love with his personal assistant Francesca (Virna Lisi), but she’s besotted with Tyvian, who strings her along while pursuing his own fascination with the manipulative playgirl Eve Olivier (Moreau), a conniving fortune chaser who spends the rare moments she’s not gold digging listening to Billie Holiday and reading her autobiography Lady Sings The Blues (a consummate Artist, Holliday presents, perhaps, not the greatest role model in life… ask Amy Winehouse). “Do you know how much this weekend will cost me?” Tyvian asks Eve one point. “Do you know how much it will cost you?” comes the pointed response.

As well as believing the author to be a cad, Branco has his suspicions about Tyvian’s back story. Indeed, the latter confesses to Moreau that he’s not actually an ex miner, also that, for A Dylan Thomas wannabe, he doesn’t drink very much. It is, however, during a particularly epic session of soaking it up that he makes his really big confession to her: the reason he’s finding it difficult to come up with the follow up script Branco’s bugging him for is that he’s not actually much of a writer, either, having copped the manuscript of Stranger In Hell from his dead brother! Shades of Udo Kier’s character in James Kenelm Clarke’s Exposé (1976). The resolution here is nothing like as lurid as that to Clarke’s “video nasty” but certainly makes for high octane dramatic stuff.

Losey, who was never shy about ‘fessing up to his misfires, believed his original 155 minute cut of Eve (which producers Robert and Raymond Hakim pulled, ironically enough, from the Venice Film Festival and which is now irretrievably lost) to be not just his best film, but one the greatest films ever made. We’ll never know, the longest of the four (!) versions curated here clocking in a good half an hour shorter than the director’s preferred cut. We can thrill to the committed performances of the principals, admire the beautiful black and white photography of Gianni Di Venanzo and (the uncredited) Henri Decaë, ditto Michel Legrand’s cool jazzy score (Losey had wanted Miles Davis) but Eve, as originally envisaged by its director, remains as tantalisingly elusive as Moreau’s character herself, to paraphrase the great Hoagy Carmichael: “the stardust of yesterday / the celluloid of years gone by”.

By one account the Hakims had been hoping for some kind of two-fisted Noir effort (Eve is an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel, after all) and their attempts to salvage something remotely approximating such a thing led to the film’s death by a thousand cuts. Alternatively, we hear that they were going for Arthouse from the get go and originally lined up Jean Luc Godard to direct Richard Burton in the Jones role, settling for Baker when that fell through and accepting the actor’s recommendation of his peripatetic mate Losey to direct. You pays your money and you takes your choice…

Liar, thief, braggart, big head, waster of life and love, Jonesy probably had it coming but what did the population of a small French village ever do to deserve the full force malignity of Moreau’s crackers character in Richardson’s film? It was adapted from a story by Jean Genet, so there’s a clue…

Mademoiselle (brilliantly shot, again in black and white, by the great David Watkin) opens with a Catholic rite which is at root no more than an attempt to propitiate the random violence of nature. Meanwhile the local schoolteacher / town secretary (Moreau) is opening the sluice gates that will flood the local farms. She’s already perpetrated several arson attacks and will continue to do so. She also does her best to stoke the fires of suspicion, already smouldering away, against itinerant Italian logger Manou (Ettore Manni) who doesn’t exactly do himself any PR favours by bedding most of the villager’s wives. Mademoiselle makes a point of singling out Manou’s son Bruno (Keith Skinner) for punishment and ridicule in the classroom, when she can bring herself to take time out from teaching the kids about Gilles de Rais. In her spare time she visits petty cruelty upon animals.

So what’s her problem? Flashbacks reveal that the frustrated spinster set her first haystack alight when stalking Manou. He looked so hunky helping to put the fire out that she’s had to restage the experience. Meanwhile her bitterness festers as she watches him bonking his way through half the female population. She ultimately enjoys her own (protracted) session in the fields with him, encouraging the viewer to believe that she might be capable of some kind of redemption… but nah, this is Genet, remember and the proceedings climax and close on a note of unalloyed nihilism, with chumps barely evolved from chimps revering their palpably evil “social superiors” and scapegoating “outsiders”. The comment on Vichy France is clear enough but it’s an observation that still rings depressingly true, as a cursory glance at todays News headlines will readily confirm.

Neither of these films is likely to increase your optimism about the prospects for the human race, in the unlikely event that you still entertained any after the events of the last few years.

Eve bonus features. Aside from the four (count ’em) cuts of the film on Indicator’s limited edition BD world premiere (including a new 2K scan of EYE Filmmuseum’s photochemical restoration of the longest variant), you also get archival interviews with Losey and Moreau and a new one in which Gavrick Losey speculates about his fathers’ mental orientation while making the picture. Neil Sinyard (rapidly emerging as a supplementaries superstar) details Eve’s troubled (nay, tormented) post production and attempts manfully to fill in some of the gaps. In a BEHP audio interview, Reginald Beck talks of the films he edited for Losey. The expected trailers and image galleries are present and correct and if you buy one of the first 3,000 units you’ll enjoy a 36-page collectors’ booklet including Losey on Eve, new essays, an assessment of James Hadley Chase’s source novel, full film credits and contemporary critical responses, plus an account of the EYE Filmmuseum restoration.

The BFI’s beautiful HD presentation of Mademoiselle is complimented by an optional commentary track from Adrian Martin… in a recent interview (so very recent that he refers to “the late Alan Parker”) former child actor Keith Skinner (he was also in Zeffirelli’s Romeo And Juliet, two years after Mademoiselle) recalls his experiences on the shoot and relates how he reinvented himself as a respected Ripperologist… among the bonus materials on this release we also find Jan Worth’s ultra-rare 1982 feature Doll’s Eye (1982), a film commissioned by the BFI but never released, which focusses on three different women trying to make their way in a world dominated by male attitudes. Two of the three are played by Bernice Stegers (from Xtro and Lamberto Bava’s masterly Macabro) and the late Sandy Ratcliff (from Eastenders). There’s the expected trailer and image gallery, while the first pressing will also include an illustrated collectors’ booklet with Jon Dear’s take on Mademoiselle, Neil Young on Richardson’s production company Woodfall, Jan Worth’s remembrance of Doll’s Eye, full credits for both that and the main feature, plus Scala legend Jane Giles on cinematic adaptations of Genet.

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Boy Meets Girl In The Dreamtime… Nic Roeg’s WALKABOUT Reviewed

BD. Second Sight. Region B. 12.

A disturbed businessman (John Meillon) drives his schoolgirl daughter (Jenny Agutter) and her kid brother (Luc Roeg) deep into the Australian outback and attempts to shoot them before torching their car and blowing his brains out. The children set off on a desperate trek across the pitiless landscape in search of a way home. Just when it seems that they’ll be consumed by the environment, they encounter an Aboriginal youth (David Gulpilil) undergoing the walkabout rite of passage to manhood. Despite the initial communication problems, he shows them how to scrape a living from the land and an affectionate bond develops between the three of them but this short lived idyll takes a darker turn when the youth attempts to incorporate romantic courtship into his walkabout bucket list…

Frank Zappa notoriously likened “writing about music” to “dancing about architecture”. If that’s a valid comparison (and personally I regard it as the opening of a discussion rather than the definitive last word FZ probably intended it to be) then no doubt “film” could comfortably be slotted into his equation in place of “music”. It’s difficult to see how a hack scribbler such as myself could put food on the table (short of chasing kangeroos around with a boomerang) if I conceded the essential pointlessness of writing about films. Equally difficult, however, for words to do justice to the beauty, mystery and profundity that pulsates in every frame of Nic Roeg’s breathtaking Walkabout (1971). A sentence would be too much, a multi volume tome not nearly enough…

Luckily Nic Roeg never needed many words to make monumental statements, as evidenced by his DP credits, for Corman, Truffaut… even an enjoyably lightweight bit of froth like Dick Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (1966) looks… well, quite extraordinary as lensed by him. And then there was Performance, which he co-directed (with Donald Cammell) and shot in 1970 while still trying to get Walkabout off the ground.

The surprisingly good performances Roeg gets from 2/3 of his pricipal players here (a fine performance from Jenny Agutter should come as no surprise to anyone… with the sole exception of Danny Boyle, interviewed on this disc) casts doubt on any conjecture that he stuck to the visuals on Performance while leaving Cammell to handle the cast. Agutter (in her bonus interview) is keen to emphasise the lengths to which the director went to make her feel comfortable, though it remains interesting to speculate on what Roeg took from Cammell and vice versa (the paucity and compromised nature of the latter’s subsequent output certainly doesn’t help)… even on the extent to which Roeg’s elliptical edits evolved from Warner’s insistence that Mick Jagger be moved forward in the running time of Performance.

Topping off John Barry’s sumptuous score, the sound design of Walkabout is (like that of Performance and the later entries in Roeg’s golden period) just revelatory and the interpolations of material as diverse as e.g. Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley and A. E. Houseman’s Blue Remembered Hills are nothing short of inspired.

It’s the visuals, though, as evidenced all too well in this beautiful new 4K restoration, that constitute Walkabout’s trump card. In his introduction to the film, Roeg enthuses about the spareness of Edward Bond’s script (adapted from the novel by “James Vance Marshall” = Donald Payne) and clearly he’s more concerned with the epic canvas of the outback (Roeg was still serving as his own DP, Mario Bava like, on Walkabout) and Aboriginal perceptions of time, all the better to convey the theme that recurs again and again throughout his oeuvre – the pitiless magnificence of Nature and its sublime indifference regarding the continuation of our psychic identity / physical integrity.

A film as wonderful as this demands some pretty heroic extras and predictably, those Severin boys rise to the occasion, supplying absorbing interviews with producer Si Litvinoff, Agutter and Roeg Jr. The co-stars are reunited with the director at a Q&A from the BFI in 2011. Luc and David Thompson provide the optional commentary track and there’s also a Severin interview with Danny Boyle, the one in which he expresses his puzzling reservations about Agutter’s performance but also ventures the opinion that short of Powell and Pressburger, there is no British filmmaker of comparable stature to Nic Roeg. Well, Hitchcock springs readily to mind (or as readily as such a portly gentleman could spring anywhere) but apart from that notable omission, Boyle might well have a point.

If you get your skates on and buy one of the first 3,000 copies, you’ll also get three books: Payne’s source novel, a facsimile copy of the original 65 page First Draft Script (with preface by Daniel Bird) and a third featuring new essays by Bird, Sophie Monks Kaufman and Simon Abrams… none of them big Frank Zappa fans, I imagine.

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