Francis Ford Coppola’s 1966 Valentine to New York City

A scene from You're a Big Boy Now (1966), filmed on location in New York City

A scene from You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), filmed on location in New York City

Before he broke through as one of the most dynamic and successful directors of his generation in 1972 with The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola had been working his way up from the lower rungs of the film industry since the early sixties in various capacities for producer/director Roger Corman (dialogue director on Tower of London [1962], second unit director on Premature Burial [1962] and others). Although his first full-fledged directorial effort was the sexploitation comedy Tonight for Sure (1962), which was barely distributed even on the grindhouse circuit, Dementia 13 [1963], was really the first indication that Coppola had promise as a filmmaker. Made on a miniscule budget, this gothic murder mystery shot on location in Ireland was a surprisingly stylish and atmospheric genre film that was released on a double feature with Corman’s The Terror [1963]. Yet, it was Coppola’s next feature, You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), that proved to the movie industry and film critics alike that this twenty-seven year old director was already a prodigious talent.     Continue reading

Spider Women vs. Holy Men in a Once-Lost Chinese Film

They look like women but don't be fooled (a scene from The Cave of the Spider Women, 1927)

They look like women but don’t be fooled (a scene from The Cave of the Spider Women, 1927)

Surviving films from the silent era in China are rare. Destruction from wars, government censorship, neglect, and deterioration have taken a sizable toll, so the recent discovery of The Cave of the Spider Women (Pan si dong) from 1927 is a cause for celebration. Even missing its opening scene and a sequence in the middle, the film remains frenetic, pulpy entertainment that was a major commercial success and a career milestone for painter-turned-filmmaker Dan Duyu. Its appeal also stems from glamorous lead actress Yin Mingzhu, one of China’s first major stars. The film’s potent blend of costume drama, fantasy adventure, and choreographed action, as well as slapstick and irreverent sight gags have proved durable conventions in modern-day Chinese cinema.  (This article first appeared in the 2015 program for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival). Continue reading

Adrift in a L.A. Haze

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy's Model Shop (1969)

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969)

Los Angeles has served as the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies but in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969), the French director’s first and only American film (if you don’t count the 1984 made-for-TV movie Louisiana), the city becomes the real protagonist. With its sprawling urban landscape, oil derricks, desolate beaches and constant traffic, it  provides a vivid canvas for a contemporary love story about romantic longing, missed connections and unrealized dreams. Film writer Clare Stewart referred to the film in the film journal Senses of Cinema as “a road movie that doesn’t go anywhere” but that’s not a putdown. It’s an apt description of what Demy was trying to create here – a drifting, dreamy mood piece.   Continue reading

Ilya Muromets vs. the Dragon

The Sword and the DragonThere is no doubt that my love of all things bizarre, unusual, and other-worldly was influenced to some degree by viewing at an early age Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, The Wolf Man, I Married a Witch, The Wizard of Oz and Walt Disney animated films such as Pinocchio and Fantasia. But Hollywood films weren’t the only ones to fire my imagination and, thanks to some adventurous distributors in the fifties and sixties, I was exposed to a number of offbeat international features that were circulated in English-dubbed versions for kiddie matinees. Some were completely re-edited for American audiences but still cast a strange spell, regardless of their quality.    Continue reading

Christopher Plummer: The Von Trapp Who Didn’t Want to Sing

Christopher Plummer, out of his element and comfort zone in The Sound of Music (1965)

Christopher Plummer, out of his element and comfort zone in The Sound of Music (1965)

In interviews over the years Christopher Plummer would often jokingly refer to The Sound of Music as “The Sound of Mucus” or “S&M” but one can easily understand why he’d rather talk about almost any other film or theater production in his career because that 1965 blockbuster film was really a showcase for Julia Andrews. Plummer’s role as Captain Von Trapp was, in his own words, “very much a cardboard figure, humourless and one-dimensional.” Even though screenwriter Ernest Lehman collaborated with Plummer on improving the part, Captain Von Trapp was not destined to be one of the actor’s favorite roles. And having to sing was another drawback for him. As he confessed in his memoirs, he was “untrained as a singer. To stay on a long-sustained note was, for me, akin to a drunk trying to walk the straight white line…”    Continue reading

The Games People Play According to Eloy de la Iglesia

Juego de amor prohibido posterTwo college students, Miguel (John Moulder-Brown) and Julia (Inma de Santis), take advantage of a school holiday to run off together for parts unknown. Their plan is to shack up somewhere where their parents can’t find them but their impromptu road trip takes an unexpected detour. The young lovers soon find themselves prisoners at a sequestered mansion and estate under the control of Don Luis (Javier Escrivá), an aristocrat with a passionate love of fine arts and the music of Richard Wagner. He also happens to be one of their professors at college and the one who picked up the hitchhikers while he was blasting “Ride of the Valkyries” from his car stereo. This is the set-up for Eloy de la Iglesia’s Forbidden Love Game (Spanish title: Juego de amor prohibido, 1975) but if you think you know what’s coming, you’re probably mistaken.   Continue reading

The Bollywood Elvis in Junglee (1961)

Shammi Kapoor rips it up in  Junglee (1961)

Shammi Kapoor lets it rip in Junglee (1961)

The impact of rock ‘n roll music and the emerging youth culture of the late fifties on Indian cinema didn’t happen overnight but Junglee (1961) – one of the biggest Bollywood hits of its era – was largely responsible for ushering in the swinging sixties while smashing the formulaic conventions of the traditional romantic drama, a staple of the Bombay film industry. Not only was it filmed in dazzling color, a process usually reserved for costume epics only, but it starred the screen phenomenon known as Shammi Kapoor – India’s answer to Elvis Presley. His wild rendition of “Aai Aai Ya Suku Suku” became the rallying cry for his generation and introduced a new word into the Hindi language (Yahoo!), one that expressed an uninhibited lust for life.    Continue reading