The Radioactive Mud Monster

In many ways a precursor to The Blob (1958) and Caltiki, the Immortal Monster (1959), X the Unknown (1956) is a much more thought-provoking and serious attempt to demonstrate the consequences of science run amok than your standard monster-on-the-rampage chiller. The film, directed by Leslie Norman, was actually inspired by the success of The Quatermass Xperiment (1955, aka The Creeping Unknown), which was released the previous year and was a huge box office hit for Hammer Studios.    Continue reading

Disconnected and Lost in Capri

When did alienation in modern society become a favorite thematic concern in the culture and the arts, particularly in the cinema? Certainly the films of Michelangelo Antonioni addressed the inability of people to connect, feel or relate to each other in a post-industrial age world as early as 1957 in Il Grido. But by the early sixties, it seemed as if every major film director in the world was addressing the topic on some level. A general sense of malaise was in the air as if the modern world was having a counterproductive effect on humanity, creating a sense of futility, amorality or complete apathy. You could see aspects of this reflected in Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960), Ingmar Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Luis Bunuel’s The Exterminating Angel (1961) and Jean-Luc Godard’s My Life to Live (1962). All of these are considered cinematic masterworks of the 20th century but there are also many worthy and lesser-known contributions to the pantheon of alienation cinema and one of the most strikingly is Il Mare (The Sea), the 1963 directorial debut of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi.    Continue reading

Picaresque Americana

Everyone involved creatively with the making of Arthur Penn’s landmark of sixties cinema, Bonnie and Clyde (1967), benefited greatly from its astounding international success. Certainly the director and all the key cast members saw an immediate acceleration in their careers and it enabled screenwriter Robert Benton to make his directorial debut in 1972 with Bad Company, working from a script he penned with his Bonnie and Clyde writing partner, David Newman. Structured in a manner similar to the Arthur Penn film, it was a picaresque and episodic road movie, set during the Civil War, with an authentic sense of period detail and moments of biting wit and sudden, shocking violence that gave a contemporary edge to the Americana on display.   Continue reading

Battle of the Bands Throwback

Among the many titles being released through the no-frills Warner Archive Collection are a few oddball orphans and obscurities that didn’t get much love the first time around such as 1971’s Dusty and Sweets McGee, a docudrama of Los Angeles heroin addicts, Carny (1980) starring The Band’s Robbie Robertson, Jodie Foster and Gary Busey, the eccentric Italian sci-fi thriller Wild, Wild Planet (1966) and The Cats aka The Bastard (1968), a Eurocrime drama with Rita Hayworth and Klaus Kinski. These are definitely worth a look but the one that has the potential to make you pogo is Urgh! A Music War (1981), a compilation concert film featuring 33 live music acts recorded in different cities in the U.S. (Los Angeles, New York) and Europe (London; Portsmouth, England, Fréjus, France). Some of the more famous groups featured include X, Devo, The Police, The Go-Gos and The Dead Kennedys but there are also now forgotten acts like Chelsea, John Cooper Clarke and The Alley Cats. And for some reason, Splodgenessabounds, who performed “Two Little Boys,” were completely omitted from the Warner Archive DVD-R.   Continue reading

The Age of Assassins (1967)

A paranoid conspiracy thriller delivered in a droll tongue-in-cheek style with generous helpings of black comedy and anti-establishment satire doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre and Kihachi Okamoto’s The Age of Assassins (1967 aka Epoch of Murder Madness; Japanese title: Satsujin Kyojidai) was generally dismissed by critics and avoided by audiences when it was first released in the late sixties. Like many of Okamoto’s films, it didn’t receive theatrical distribution outside of its own country and that’s a shame because the film has the essential goods to become a bona fide cult classic on the order of Seijun Suzuki’s Branded to Kill (1967) or Kinji Fukasaku’s Black Lizard (1968). The Age of Assassins arrived at the tail end of the secret agent craze but it is not really a James Bond parody. Think of it instead as a crazy quilt journey through an off-kilter, pop culture universe where no one is who they appear to be.   Continue reading