Aboriginal Prophecies from Down Under

The rational versus the irrational always creates compelling conflicts in the best kind of fantasy/horror films where scientists and/or investigators are faced with trying to understand or explain supernatural events or mysteries of the occult. A denial of the paranormal fueled the chilling storyline of Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1957, released in the U.K. as Night of the Demon). A similar tone of skepticism is under attack in The Last Wave (1977), one of the rare Australian films to delve into Aboriginal mythology and superstitions but also one that addresses the environment on an apocalyptic level.

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Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Director John Cassavetes broke all the rules, inventing his own and then discarding them as he went along. He improvised and experimented with everything from the cinematography to the performances to the actual financing of the film. He even mortgaged his own home numerous times to subsidize his movies over the years and took on acting jobs purely for monetary reasons. His directorial debut Shadows (1958), with its jerky, hand-held camerawork, vivid location shooting on New York City streets and edgy subject matter involving an interracial romance, is one of the most influential films to emerge from the independent New York City cinema movement of the 1950s. Yet, it was just a warm-up for Cassavetes’s next film, Faces (1968), which was even more provocative and unconventional. 

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The Cunning Inspector Cockrill

Classic movie lovers in the U.S. probably know Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge in the perennial holiday favorite, A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version. He is also memorable for his supporting role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Stage Fright (1950) but, more importantly, British comedy fans adore Sim specifically for his eccentric comedic characters in such popular films as The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950), Laughter in Paradise (1951) and Innocents in Paris (1953). Less familiar to American audiences but guaranteed to turn you into an Alastair Sim fanatic if you’re not one already is Green for Danger, a 1946 suspense thriller starring Sim as the sly-as-a-fox Inspector Cockrill.

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Identity Disintegration

A wealthy chemist who was disfigured in an explosion undergoes plastic surgery in the 1966 Japanese film, The Face of Another.

What would happen if you lost the face you recognize as your own and had to replace it with a new one? Would you have an identity crisis or simply become a different person? Japanese director Hiroshi Teshigahara ponders this unusual dilemma in The Face of Another (1966, Japanese title: Tanin no kao). Continue reading

Othello, King of Bebop

Attempts to bring Shakespeare to the masses can be ill-advised and most film adaptations of the Bard’s work are either faithful copies of the stage plays such as Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955) that preserve the language of the original or creative interpretations that either result in a broader appeal (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, 1996) or earn the wrath of the Shakespeare purists without appealing to anyone else. All Night Long (1962), which updates Othello to London’s West End in the early sixties and transforms the Moor of Venice into a renowned jazz pianist known as Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris), falls into the latter category.      Continue reading

William Greaves: Pushing Boundaries

What the heck is Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take One? Is it a documentary or is it fiction? Maybe it’s a pretentious mess masquerading as art or possibly the most unique experimental film of the late sixties. We’re talking about William Greaves’s rarely seen 1968 work which was released on DVD in December 2006 by the Criterion Collection, thanks to the efforts of filmmakers Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi who were so impressed with this one-of-a-kind collaboration that they helped Greaves’s produce his long-in-the-works sequel to it – Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2 – in 2005 (and which is also included on the Criterion disc).   Continue reading