Dirk Bogarde on LSD

When I think of LSD depictions in the movies, American International Pictures immediately comes to mind with actors like Peter Fonda (The Trip), Susan Strasberg (Psych-Out) and Mimsy Farmer (Riot on Sunset Strip) blowing their minds amid the counterculture of the sixties. Of course, other more unlikely actors have been dosed with the hallucinogen on screen such as Vincent Price (The Tingler), Lana Turner (The Big Cube) and Jackie Gleason (Skidoo) but probably the most unexpected one of all is Dirk Bogarde in Sebastian (1967), a fascinating curiosity released in the waning days of “Swinging London” cinema which has been unaccountably forgotten since its release.   Continue reading

Mortal Thoughts

The story goes like this. German director Werner Herzog made a bet with aspiring filmmaker Errol Morris that if the latter ever completed the film he was working on – which was inspired by a news story about the mass relocation of the graves from a California pet cemetery – he would eat his shoe. Morris did indeed complete his film, which was called Gates of Heaven (1978) and, true to his word, Herzog boiled and ate his show at the film’s premiere in Berkeley. Filmmaker Les Blank recorded the event and turned it into a documentary short entitled Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe in 1980.   Continue reading

A Time for Demonic Visitations

“According to the ancient Romans, the Hour of the Wolf means the time between night and dawn, just before the light comes, and people believed it to be the time when demons had a heightened power and vitality, the hour when most people died and most children were born, and when nightmares came to one.”

Setting the stage for what will follow with this ominous introduction, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 feature Hour of the Wolf (Swedish title: Vargtimmen) is probably the closest the director has ever come to making a horror film, one that crosses over into the realm of the supernatural. Continue reading

Paul Mazursky’s Sophomore Slump?

What do you do for an encore when your directorial film debut becomes a critical and commercial hit? That was the problem Paul Mazursky was facing in 1969 after Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice became the talk of the New York Film Festival where it was the opening night feature. His follow-up film, Alex in Wonderland (1970), expresses this dilemma but, if critics attacked the film for being an overt homage to Federico Fellini, Mazursky took the Italian maestro’s original concept and made it his own in an often absurdist portrait of Hollywood in the late sixties-early seventies and his own role in – and out – of it. Continue reading

High Rise Invaders

Long before Michael Haneke arrived on the scene with his original 1997 version of Funny Games (1997), a highly influential and deeply disturbing home invasion thriller, there were many precursors in this unsettling genre that date all the way back to 1939 with Blind Alley and its 1948 remake The Dark Past, in which a psychopathic killer and his gang crash a private gathering at the home of a psychologist. There have been varying tonal approaches to the subject over the years; some overwrought and pretentious like 1964’s Lady in a Cage, some meticulously detailed and artfully depicted as in the Oscar-nominated In Cold Blood (1967) and some purely exploitive and sadistic such as The Strangers (2008). But one of the lesser known but most intriguingly offbeat entries is The Penthouse (1967), the directorial feature debut of British director Peter Collinson.  Continue reading

Eco Warriors of the Tama Hills

The wondrous animated films of Hayao Miyazaki were unknown to most American moviegoers until the 1999 U.S. release of Princess Mononoke, which was released in Japan in 1997. Since then Miyazaki has become a household name thanks to the distribution of his Studio Ghibi films by Walt Disney in English-language versions and industry recognition from the Academy Awards which gave Miyazaki an honorary award in 2015. Miyazaki’s features Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and The Wind Rises (2014) have all received Oscar nominations for Best Animated Film with Spirited Away capturing the award in 2003. But not all Studio Ghibli films are directed by Miyazaki and one of the least known and most fascinating is Pom Poko (1994). Although Miyazaki served as executive producer on the film, it is directed by Isao Takahata and is highly recommended for those hungering for family-friendly anime that is off the beaten path.  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