Robert Altman and the Cult of James Dean

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

A young Robert Altman ponders a camera set-up.

While it is rarely shown in retrospectives of his work, Robert Altman’s The James Dean Story (1957) is easily one of the more offbeat and poetic examples of documentary filmmaking. Officially cited as his second feature (Altman’s first was The Delinquents, 1957), The James Dean Story was co-produced and co-directed with George W. George, a former writing partner of Altman’s, as a serious exploration of the young actor’s mystique and impact on the youth culture of the fifties.   Continue reading

The Phobophobic Housewife

Margit Carstensen tries to relax by listening to music in Fear of Fear (1975) but it doesn't stop her increasing bouts of anxiety and depression.

Margit Carstensen tries to relax by listening to music in Fear of Fear (1975) but it doesn’t stop her increasing bouts of anxiety and depression.

Films about housewives losing their identity in a marriage or slowly going bonkers from the daily rituals of domesticity are plentiful enough to form their own distinctive subgenre. Among the most intriguing of these films, all of which reflect the specific time and cultural moment in which they were made, are Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Chantal Akerman’s landmark 1975 feature, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quia du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Dusan Makavejev’s Montenegro (1981), and the curious Canadian indie Dancing in the Dark (1986), directed by Leon Marr. But the one I’d like to highlight and which I had the pleasure of revisiting recently on DVD is Fear of Fear (German title: Angst vor der Angst, 1975), directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Continue reading

The Strange Mating Rites of Venusians

A Venusian woman (Lorena Velazquez, right) contemplates the breeding potential of an alien suitor in La Nave de los Monstruos (1960)

A Venusian woman (Lorena Velazquez, right) contemplates the breeding potential of an alien suitor in La Nave de los Monstruos (1960)

Curvaceous, scantily clad female aliens from Venus. Monstrous beings from other galaxies. A robot with a soft spot for children. Singing cowboys. Norteño music. And lots of fighting. What could be better? La Nave de los Monstruos (aka The Ship of Monsters) has it all and is one of the more exotic genre hybrids that emerged from Mexico in the early sixties, mixing sci-fi, horror and Western elements into something uniquely original.    Continue reading

Dreamer Schemer

Vittorio Gassman as the overly ambitious Guido in Il Successo (1963)

Vittorio Gassman as the overly ambitious Guido in Il Successo (1963)

“The worst poverty is not wanting to be rich!”

Something is gnawing at Guido. It’s the feeling that life is passing him by and he will never be anything but average which, to him, is the same as being a nobody. We’ve all known someone like Guido whose desire to be rich, famous and envied by all becomes his all-consuming obsession. Is it because his parents were peasants? Despite that, he still went to college, has a steady, respectable job at a major real estate firm and is married to Laura, a beautiful, talented woman who is on the fast track to success at a public relations firm with high end clients. So what’s the problem?   Continue reading