Cult of the Arachnids

By the mid-1980s the Italian film industry was in a state of major decline. The glory years of the fifties and sixties were now fondly remembered footnotes in the history of world cinema and even the popular film genres – giallo, poliziotteschi, spaghetti western and horror – were near the end of their heyday. There were still a few determined stragglers such as Tinto Brass with his fetish based erotica (The Key, Miranda, Snack Bar Budapest) and Enzo G. Castellari, who soldiered on with formulaic hybrids like 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Tuareg: The Desert Warrior and Striker. But the horror genre, in particular, was suffering with masters of the macabre Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento trying but failing to top past high water marks like The Beyond (1981) and Suspiria (1977). It was during this downward trend that Gianfranco Giagni made his directorial debut with The Spider Labyrinth (Italian title: Il Nido del Ragno, 1988).  Continue reading

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Missing in Action: William Klein’s Quirky Portrait of Little Richard

Richard Wayne Penniman
aka Little Richard
circa 1950s

Those who follow the contemporary art scene and are well versed in art history know William Klein as one of the most influential American photographers to emerge in the fifties along with his contemporary Robert Frank. Famous for his unconventional fashion shoots for Vogue as well as his candid documentation of New York City street life, Klein went on to apply his photo-diary approach to Rome, Moscow and Tokyo in the sixties, all of which are available individually as photography collections. He is less well known for his idiosyncratic films (Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther, 1970) and shorts (Broadway By Light, 1958) but luckily some of his best work is available on DVD – his intimate 1969 portrait of Muhammad Ali, Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee (aka Muhammad Ali, the Greatest) and the Eclipse collection, The Delirious Fictions of William Klein that includes Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? (1966), Mr. Freedom (1969) and The Model Couple (1977). But I still want to see more of his cinema explorations made available and The Little Richard Story (1980), a West German production, is at the top of my list. Continue reading

Way Out West With Zoot Suit Jessy

Quick, name your favorite film by Robert Downey, Sr., director/father of two-time Oscar nominated actor Robert Downey Jr. Drawing a blank? If film buffs know him at all it is probably due to his 1969 underground cult film Putney Swope or The Eclipse Series 33 box set from The Criterion Collection, released in May 2012 as “Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.” which included the former film plus Babo 73 (1964), Chafed Elbows (1966), No More Excuses (1968) and Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight (1975). His most representative films are satiric time capsules of his era and the New York independent film scene but I think Greaser’s Palace (1972) is his funniest and most subversive film in his 41-plus years as a writer/director.    Continue reading