The Darling of Berlin

Eva Renzi makes her screen debut as an international model in Playgirl (1966), directed by Will Tremper.

A new kind of female protagonist emerged in the sixties who was free-spirited, independent, hedonistic and willing to exploit her beauty and charm for social advancement without being categorized as a typical prostitute. Audrey Hepburn certainly set the standard as the unconventional Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) but other famous examples include Julie Christie’s self-absorbed model in Darling (1965) and Genevieve Waite’s wide-eyed waif in Joanna (1968). Lesser known but a distinctly German variation on this prototype is 1966’s Playgirl (also known as That Woman in the U.S.) featuring Eva Renzi in her feature film debut.  Continue reading

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The Monkees’ Film Debut

It sounds like someone’s LSD flashback. Frank Zappa, boxer Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, female impersonator T.C. Jones, San Francisco’s legendary topless dancer Carol Doda and other cult celebrities appear in a movie co-scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (Five Easy Pieces, 1970) that showcases the TV-created pop band The Monkees in the leading roles, who in one scene play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair. Entitled Head (1968), this Cuisinart-puree of pop culture infused with anti-establishment posturing and served up in the then-current style of a trippy experimental film could only have happened in the late sixties when Hollywood studios were in a try-anything phase to capture the rapidly receding youth market.

The Monkees get to play dandruff in Victor Mature’s hair in Head (1968), directed by Bob Rafelson.

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Be Careful What You Wish For

Horror films based on Jewish folklore and Talmudic literature are not that commonplace but one of the early classics of silent cinema was based on a 16th century tale of a rabbi, Judah Low ben Bezulel, who brought a hulking clay figure to life to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic forces. German director/actor Paul Wegener was so taken with the legend that he made three films based on it, a 1915 version, which only exists in fragments, a 1917 parody entitled The Golem and the Dancing Girl (now considered a lost film) and the 1920 version, which is the most famous. There were other remakes in later years, including Julien Duvivier’s 1936 sound version, but a new variation on the menacing title creature from the Israeli filmmaking team of Doron Paz and his brother Yoav, takes a decidedly different approach to the famous legend, courtesy of Ariel Cohen’s screenplay. Continue reading

Paul Mazursky’s Sophomore Slump?

What do you do for an encore when your directorial film debut becomes a critical and commercial hit? That was the problem Paul Mazursky was facing in 1969 after Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice became the talk of the New York Film Festival where it was the opening night feature. His follow-up film, Alex in Wonderland (1970), expresses this dilemma but, if critics attacked the film for being an overt homage to Federico Fellini, Mazursky took the Italian maestro’s original concept and made it his own in an often absurdist portrait of Hollywood in the late sixties-early seventies and his own role in – and out – of it. Continue reading

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: A Lifetime Love Affair with Jazz

There have been many outstanding and critically acclaimed documentaries on the subject of jazz and jazz musicians over the years from Aram Avakian & Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) to Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost (1988) and Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem (1994). But what is surprising is the fact that until recently no filmmaker has attempted to document the importance of Blue Note Records and its importance in the advancement of this uniquely American, home grown music. Suddenly, we have two documentaries on the subject, Eric Friedler’s It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story (2018) and Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018), both of which are currently on the film festival circuit.  Continue reading

The Crime Astrologer

Every amateur detective has his own approach to crime solving but Mary Lee Ling consults the stars and birth dates to narrow down the list of suspects. When Were You Born? (1938) has a terrific premise for a detective thriller and was quite unusual in its day. Its offbeat approach to the genre is further enhanced by the casting of Anna May Wong in the central role of an astrologist whose connection to a murder victim implicates her in the police investigation.      Continue reading

Soulmates in Hell

In June 1973 the democratic government of Uruguay was overthrown by a military dictatorship that lasted until February 28,1985 and was responsible for the incarceration of more than 5000 people and the systematic torture and human rights abuse of prisoners. Among the prisoners were members of the left-wing guerrilla organization known as the Tupamaros (aka the National Liberation Movement), and included activist Jose Mujica, the poet and playwright Mauricio Rosencof and journalist Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro. A Twelve-Year Night (La Noche de 12 Anos), which premiered on Netflix in late December and is currently available on the service, depicts the plight of these three men in a powerful true-life drama directed by Alvaro Brechner. Continue reading