Gabriel Axel’s The Red Mantle

The name Gabriel Axel might not be familiar to most American moviegoers but many are familiar with his 1987 film Babette’s Feast which became a surprise art house hit and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, beating out Louis Malle’s Au Renoir les Enfants. Ironically, Axel was almost 70 and at the end of his filmmaking career when he experienced a career resurgence. But the film that is considered his first international art house breakthrough is Den Rode Kappe (1967), which was released in Europe as Hagbard and Signe and is best known under the title The Red Mantle in the U.S. The poster above with the awkwardly edited quote – and movie spoiler – from Time magazine also includes the reference “From the producers of Dear John” which means nothing to anyone today but that film was a slightly risque art film in its day (due to the nudity) and a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film of 1965 (It lost to Elmar Klosand and Jan Kadar’s The Shop on Main Street). Continue reading

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The Forgotten Rock Opera

Now here is a curiosity that I plucked from a pile of discarded DVDs at a television station. I knew absolutely nothing about The Butterfly Ball (1977) except for the fact that I had seen it listed as a credit in Vincent Price’s filmography. So I popped it into the DVD player and immediately had a psychedelic flashback to the early seventies. The Butterfly Ball is, on the surface, a filmed rock opera that was staged at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1975 and featured an all-star cast of British musicians, a few celebrities (supermodel Twiggy and Vincent Price) and some local talent (The Trinity School of Croyden Boys Choir), performing songs and verse from a score composed by Roger Glover, best known as the bassist and songwriter/composer of Deep Purple.    Continue reading

A Tale from the Slums of Rome

In its own way, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1961 directorial debut Accattone could be seen as the last gasp of the Italian neo-realism movement. It is also a remarkably self-assured first film that blends the lyrical with the sordid in its depiction of life on the outskirts of Rome where pimps, thieves and petty criminals scrounge for a living with little hope of ever escaping their dead-end existence. Based on Pasolini’s second novel, Una Vita Violenta, Accatone successfully launched Pasolini as a film director but also marked the beginning of an acting career for Franco Citti in the title role. What is most interesting is that Una Vita Violenta was again adapted for the screen under that title the following year but it is hardly ever mentioned or revived. Pasolini had no involvement with the production but it did star Franco Citti in the central role of Tommaso, a character similar to Accattone, and the two films would make a fascinating double feature in terms of their contrasting tones and directorial style.  Continue reading

In Conversation with Peter Bogdanovich

Writer/Director/Producer Peter Bogdanovich

The following conversation with Peter Bogdanovich was conducted in April 2010 just prior to the first official TCM Classic Film Festival in which the director co-hosted a screening with Vanity Fair writer David Kamp of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons. Bogdanovich, of course, was a close friend of Welles’ and is the creator of that indispensible interview collection, This is Orson Welles. Among other topics discussed are such films as Targets, What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, Saint Jack, unproduced Welles’ projects like Heart of Darkness and Welles’s obsession with fake noses. This is a revised version of the original interview that first appeared on Movie Morlocks, TCM’s official blog.   Continue reading

Preston Sturges’ Off-Season Yuletide Homage

For many people the Christmas holidays wouldn’t be complete without a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street or some version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol whether it features Reginald Owen, Alastair Sims, Mr. Magoo or Bill Murray. But there’s no reason why Preston Sturges’ Christmas in July (1940) shouldn’t become an annual seasonal favorite as well. Granted, it doesn’t take place in December, contains no wintry, snow-covered landscapes or appearances by Santa Claus but like the Frank Capra and Charles Dickens favorites it conveys the spirit of Christmas, one of selfless giving and generosity to those less fortunate than you. It also reaffirms the importance of family and friends over the materialistic traps of the world but accomplishes it with wit and high style in a breathlessly paced sixty-seven minute rollercoaster ride.  Continue reading

A Paranormal Puberty

Yasmine Dahm plays Sophie, a young girl who sets off a chain of poltergeist activity in Au Rendez-Vous de la Mort Joyeuse (1973, aka Expulsion of the Devil).

Although Luis Bunuel never made a straight up horror film in the traditional sense, many of his movies contained elements of the horrific and the fantastical such as the “mother meat” nightmare sequence in Los Olvidados (1950), the severed, crawling hand in The Exterminating Angel (1962) or the Devil in his many disguises in the 45 minute allegory, Simon of the Desert (1965). However, Juan Luis Bunuel, the director’s son, launched his feature film career with an audacious and unsettling journey into the paranormal – Au Rendez-Vous de la Mort Joyeuse (1973, aka Expulsion of the Devil) which must have made his father proud as it was brimming with the sort of anarchic disregard for the conventional and corruption of the innocent that distinguishes the master’s best films. It’s also creepy as hell.      Continue reading

Russian Road Rage and Car Catastrophes

What is your worst car wreck nightmare? Is it a drunk or out-of-control driver who is speeding and suddenly swerves into your lane for a head-on collision? Or maybe it’s rounding a curve in the road too fast and breaking through the guard rail to land in the river below. Perhaps it is the unpredictability of an icy road where a speeding truck has jack-knifed and is now sliding sideways at 70mph toward your car. All of these and more are just a few of the accidents and mayhem on display in The Road Movie (2016), Dmitrii Kalashnikov’s compilation of car-cam footage from Russian drivers, which I saw at the November 2017 Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville. Continue reading