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

Nissan Truck Lust: Hands on a Hard Body

Hands on a Hard Body DVD“It’s a human drama thing.” That’s how Benny Perkins, one of the contestants in the “Hands on a Hard Body” contest, describes this unusual endurance contest in Longview, Texas which was once an annual event that officially began in 1992. I first became aware of S.R. Bindler’s enthralling, hilarious and often moving 1997 documentary of the event during a visit to New York City in 1998. Scanning the film section of The Village Voice for showings of movies unlikely to come to Atlanta, the title Hands on a Hard Body caught my eye and sounded like a softcore exploitation film, possibly set during Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale.    Continue reading

Marriage as Tragicomedy

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Often overlooked among the films George Cukor directed in the fifties, The Marrying Kind (1952) starring Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray might have suffered from the fact that it was not a pure comedy like Pat and Mike (1952) and It Should Happen to You (1954). It is quite unique from anything else that Cukor attempted and it deserves more than the no-frills DVD release that was issued from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment back in 2003. This is one that cries out for a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray upgrade with all of the extra features that celebrate the featured film in context to its time, place and creation. The Marrying Kind is also an intriguing reminder of the career Aldo Ray might have had if other directors had not cast the actor in roles that accented his imposing physical presence over his acting ability.    Continue reading