Jimmy Woods would not put on this helmet. He was worried he would be electrocuted. I thought he was kidding but he was serious. So that’s me in the helmet right now, those are my hands you are seeing, held up in front of the lens and it’s me in this shot because even though Carol Spier my production designer who designed the helmet put the helmet on for him, stood in a pool of water on the Videodrome set and fired up the helmet to show him he wouldn’t be electrocuted, he wouldn’t put on the helmet...David Cronenberg, Videodrome (Criterion DVD/Blu-Ray, commentary index point 52:01)
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Monday, May 20, 2013
Keith Fullerton Whitman - Greatest Hits (Soundcloud)
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Above, artist Michael Whelan's Lovecraft's Nightmare, from 1982, partly used for the cover of H.P. Lovecraft anthology The Tomb and Other Tales. The artwork is now more well known as the cover of Obituary's 1990 death metal classic Cause of Death.
Penguin's three Lovecraft books (which also include The Thing on the Doorstep and The Dreams in the Witch House) are highly recommended for Lovecraft beginners, the collections are curated by Lovecraft's finest biographer S. T. Joshi and include near-definitive texts, and excellent, insightful introductions and explanatory notes.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Monday, April 15, 2013
A Letter to Elia, Martin Scorsese and Kent Jones' 2010 documentary about Kazan, only briefly mentions the Blacklist by way of an excerpt taken from Kazan's 1988 autobiography A Life (read by Elias Koteas) but position it as a defining moment not only in Kazan's personal life but in his film making life also. It was after 1952, the year Kazan appeared before HUAC, that the director made his most important films - among them On The Waterfront, East of Eden, A Face In The Crowd, Wild River and America America. A Letter to Elia continues in the vein of previous Scorsese documentaries, A Personal Journey With Martin Scorsese Through American Movies and My Voyage to Italy; rather than a definitive career overview of Kazan, Scorsese discusses the director's films in the context of his own life - he saw in On The Waterfront the same streetwise toughs of his Little Italy neighborhood, and considered his difficult relationship with his brother in the light of East of Eden, a film Scorsese "stalked", obsessively following it around theatres in New York in the mid-50's. It's surprisingly frank stuff with Scorsese evidently reliving some awkward memories and emotions. That Scorsese was chosen to present Kazan with the Lifetime Achievement award was no coincidence, in the documentary Scorsese remembers first meeting Kazan in the 60's when he was in film school. Much later when Scorsese was a famous director he and Kazan become good friends, but Scorsese admits that he could never reveal to Kazan how he felt about his films. Instead he put it in a letter.
A Letter to Elia is a fascinating film, Scorsese's passion for Kazan's films is infectious and has awakened my own interest in Kazan. I've begun reading A Life (and I'll be first to admit that Kazan was a sonofabitch) and in the next few weeks I hope to catch screenings of A Streetcar Named Desire, East of Eden and A Face In The Crowd, and pick up the Blu-Rays of Panic In the Streets and On the Waterfront. A Letter to Elia can be currently seen by US readers on the PBS website while readers in the UK and Ireland can catch the film on Film4.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
I’m listening to a lot of jazz at the moment and I mention this because in a strange way I've always associated Franco with Jazz. One of the first things I discovered about Franco was that he was passionate about Jazz. He often signed his films with the director-pseudonym Clifford Brown, the name of an influential American trumpeter who recorded in the '50's before his untimely death at 25 in a car accident. I would even suggest that Franco's body of work perfectly embodies the spirit of Jazz. One of Cinema's most prolific auteurs, Franco's filmography is a vast ocean of shifting styles and moods, and like Jazz is complex, formidable, it resists any easy definition of what it is exactly. His films include plenty of bum notes and fluffed solos, but he also made films that were blazingly progressive, full of emotion and liberation.
|Black Angel's Death Song... Jess Franco on trombone in Venus In Furs (1969)|
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Deranged fans owe much thanks to producer/editor Michael D. Moore who was responsible for making the full uncut version of the film available. Moore, a huge fan of the film managed to track down the last surviving uncut print and after purchasing the worldwide rights to the film restored the film to its former glory. Or perhaps it should be ragged glory. The rescued footage is of very poor quality, dark and splicy but one should know that this is as good as it gets. The brain-scooping sequence itself is brief, less than a minute of screen time, but Tom Savini's effects are spectacularly visceral:
Moving on to the extras... Deranged Chronicles: The Making of Deranged is a 36min documentary directed by Michael D. Moore in 1993. The film features talking head interviews with Deranged's producer Tom Karr and co-director Jeff Gillen reminiscing about the film, how the project came together (originally called Necromaniac), their memories of the production, and Karr showcasing some of Savini's ghoulish props. The bulk of the documentary features Karr's remarkable 16mm footage filmed on set - we see Roberts Blossom quietly preparing for his scenes, the special effects team rigging gags and props, plus the cast and crew generally enjoying themselves amongst the body parts and putrefying sets. The footage itself includes a cheerful running commentary by Savini pointing out some of the faces on screen (including glimpses of Alan Ormsby) and confessing he had the hots for the actress who plays Ezra Cobb's barmaid victim. The 16mm footage itself is of variable quality, the colors have soured some what, and evidently the entire documentary has been culled from a dupey looking VHS tape. It's all very watchable, and the brain-scooping sequence actually looks a shade better than the same footage put back into the film.
Friday, March 15, 2013
Made in 1973, Salomé emerged out of Barker's fringe-theatre days when he and his friends staged a production of Oscar Wilde's Salomé, which included an eyeless Doug Bradley, and the bloody severed head of John The Baptist. For the film version Barker marshaled the minimal resources at hand - a super 8mm camera, a single light source and the cold, damp basement of a florist's shop to shoot in and fashioned an eerie, erotic, and strikingly visual adaptation of Wilde's single act play. Made entirely without dialogue the film has a narrative of sorts but a knowledge of the story might help going in: Salomé stepdaughter of King Herod is enraged by the imprisoned John the Baptist’s resistance to her charms. Later Salomé performs the dance of the seven veils for her lustful stepfather in return for the prize of John the Baptist’s severed head. Herod fulfills her request but is so disgusted by Salomé that he has his soldiers crush her with their shields…
Speaking warmly about the film in the early 90's Barker offered the early Warhol films as influence, but the film is best placed among the magickal films of Kenneth Anger and contemporary Underground films like Pink Narcissus and the Super 8 experiments of Derek Jarman. Watching the film it's quite obvious Barker was even at that young stage a precocious talent. His expressionist use of light and darkness quite ingeniously creates the illusion of space in an otherwise cramped one room set and the film is brimming over with strange visuals - in the absence of props and art direction (except for some cabalistic drawings smeared on walls), Barker focuses his camera on the interaction of his actors among the inky shadows. Faces emerge out of the gloom and appear obscured behind plumes of smoke while other cast members are heavily made up (like a sinister gypsy-like Doug Bradley appearing as Herod) or seen wearing unnerving kabuki style masks. It's a hugely impressive work and manages to pack more nightmarish atmosphere into its brief 8 minutes than most feature length Horror films can dream of.
In 1975 Clive Barker acquired a 16mm camera and began his next film project which he worked on and off for 3 years before the film was ultimately abandoned. The Forbidden is a far more esoteric work than Salomé. Barker admitted the film was loaded with codes and symbolism that had little or no meaning to anyone other than its author but described the film as a riff on the Faustian myth. The Forbidden defies interpretation but in the film a man (played by Peter Atkins) is seen indulging in various erotic and sometimes violent pleasures which are later punished by various hands who flay him alive. The skinned man then wanders through a landscape which resembles an etching from a book... It's a tenuous unreliable description at best, made even more difficult that the film was shot in negative which results in an extremely odd visual style - images appear like Rorschach tests and actors swap their humanness for something far more alien.
In comparison with Salomé which merely hinted at the dark eroticism of Wilde’s play, The Forbidden is a far more transgressive work with moments of unsettling violence and sadism. A man is violently strangled and the long flaying sequence is surprisingly visceral (how this effect was achieved is best left unrevealed). Perhaps the most provocative aspect of the film is its sexual content. There’s some heterosexual lovemaking as well as a homo-erotic sequence where a naked man dances in a frenzy brandishing an fully erect cock (apparently Clive Barker himself). More fascinating still is how the film precedes Barker’s later work especially The Hellbound Heart novella and Hellraiser. The frustrated protagonist of the film feels like an embryonic form of the Frank Cotton character from The Hellbound Heart, while the unseen surgeons who perform the flaying are like place-holders for the Cenobites. Throughout the film there are images and ideas that are strangely familiar – the visual motif of light reflecting of upright nails, the protagonist occupied with a jigsaw puzzle, a living skinless man, and animated shots of black birds flapping, an image that reappears in The Hellbound Heart. Barker also reused the title of The Forbidden for a Books of Blood short story, later filmed as Candyman.
In 1994 the existing footage of The Forbidden was assembled and edited into a 36 minute film and along with Salomé was given its first public screening as part of a wide retrospective of Clive Barker’s work. The following year both films were released on VHS by Redemption as part of a program entitled Clive Barker’s Salomé & The Forbidden which featured interviews with Clive Barker, Doug Bradley and Peter Atkins. In addition both films were given excellent avant-garde electronic scores by soundtrack composer Adrian Carson. Redemption’s tape was later upgraded to DVD, as a stand-alone US release, and in the UK as the bonus disc of Anchor Bay’s 2004 Hellraiser box set. I suspect these films will leave the average Pinhead disciple bemused but fans of Clive Barker's work should seek these films out.
Friday, March 8, 2013
He had worked ceaselessly in the preceding week to prepare the room for them. The bare boards had been meticulously scrubbed and strewn with petals. Upon the west wall he had set up a kind of altar to them, decorated with the kind of placatory offerings Kircher had assured him would nurture their good offices: bones, bonbons, needles. A jug of his urine-the product of seven days' collection-stood on the left of the altar, should they require some spontaneous gesture of self-defilement. On the right, a plate of doves' heads, which Kircher had also advised him to have on hand. He had left no part of the invocation ritual unobserved. No cardinal, eager for the fisherman's shoes, could have been more diligentThe Cenobites are more mysterious, less stylized, perhaps less ridiculous than their filmic counterparts (although the idea for Pinhead was more or less formed even at this early stage - "Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone"). In the second appearance by the Cenobites in the novella and film, Kirsty strikes up a bargain to lead them to Frank, ("Oh yes. We know Frank") but the film unwisely diverges from the original story by adding a scene where Kirsty slips into another dimension and is pursued by a grotesque wall-hugging creature. It’s a moment that does much damage to the serious adult tone of the film, due in some part to some unconvincing animatronic effects. The climax of the film suffers a similar fate when the character of the sinister derelict (a character created for the film) reveals his true self as a winged monster – another ludicrous moment undone by some mediocre effects work. The novella’s climax by comparison is far more restrained and interestingly, the idea for the derelict can be traced back to a very peripheral character in the novella, the enigmatically titled Engineer. In the final scene of the novella the puzzle box is placed back in Kirsty’s hands:
As she turned away somebody collided with her. She yelped with surprise, but the huddled pedestrian was already hurrying away into the anxious murk that preceded morning. As the figure hovered on the outskirts of solidity, it glanced back, and its head flared in the gloom, a cone of white fire. It was the Engineer… Only then did she realize the purpose of the collision. Lemarchand's box had been passed back to her, and sat in her hand.The Hellbound Heart is a grey area in the Clive Barker cannon. It's an important piece of writing - one of the author's purest works of Horror fiction, but still the novella remains one of Barker's most obscure books (it's currently out of print in the UK), paradoxically so considering the novella was the starting point for Hellraiser, Barker's signature work and a film that spawned no less than 8 sequels, inspired numerous comics, graphic novels and toy spin-offs, and introduced the world to an iconic movie monster. Whether you care or not for Hellraiser, The Hellbound Heart is highly recommended for all you seekers, sensualists and explorers in the further regions of experience.
Friday, November 2, 2012
I've taken a few pics to give a flavour of what the book contains. I hasten to add that the pictures are only an approximation of the book's ultra-high quality. The pages are so glossy I had to dumb down the light to avoid glare.
The book can be ordered direct from Creepy Images HQ or FAB Press.
Tuesday, October 30, 2012
And so the legend goes...
Carving Pumpkins dates back to the eighteenth century and to an Irish blacksmith named Jack who colluded with the Devil and was denied entry to Heaven. He was condemned to wander the earth but asked the Devil for some light. He was given a burning coal ember which he placed inside a turnip that he had gouged out. Thus, the tradition of Jack O'Lanterns was born - the bearer being the wandering blacksmith - a damned soul. When the Irish emigrated in their millions to America there was not a great supply of turnips so pumpkins were used instead...
Sunday, October 28, 2012
Also, please pay a visit to the Overlook Moviestore where you can browse a fantastic selection of Blu-Rays, DVD, VHS, CDs, magazine and games. Looking for the ultra-rare pre-cert VHS edition of Frank Zappa's 200 Motels ? Step this way.
Saturday, October 20, 2012
The Yakuza is the first screen credit for brothers Paul and Leonard Schrader. In 1972 Leonard Schrader was sitting out the draft in Kyoto, where he developed an interest in the Yakuza, soaking up Japanese gangster films and befriending some Yakuza soldiers. Leonard brought the story to his younger brother Paul and by the new year a screenplay had been completed. The story concerns Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum), a retired detective sent to Tokyo to retrieve the daughter of an American businessman, kidnapped by a yakuza gang in lieu of a shipment of lost guns. Kilmer a former MP who was stationed in Japan during the American occupation enlists the help of an estranged friend, Ken Tanaka (Ken Takakura) to infiltrate the gangs but a straight-forward rescue mission inadvertently upsets the delicate balance of power within the Tokyo underworld...
Excited by the potential of an East meets West thriller, Warners picked up the Scraders' screenplay for $325,000, a staggering sum for the day, and immediately offered the film to Lee Marvin with Robert Aldrich in mind for directing duties. Marvin passed on the screenplay, and was next offered to Robert Mitchum who had Aldrich replaced by Sydney Pollack, a film maker with no apparent affinity for violent gangster films. With Pollack on board the Schraders' screenplay was revised and streamlined by Robert Towne (who shares a screenplay credit with Paul Schrader on the finished film). Hardly a promising turn of events for the film but The Yakuza confounds expectations. A full-blooded, two-fisted violent thriller, The Yakuza expertly steers a course between American and Japanese film traditions - the first half of the film is leisurely paced, Schrader's screenplay is dense, wordy and demands attention with its complex exposition, double-crossings and arcane Japanese rituals, but gradually the film uncoils itself as all the elements of the plot line up into place for the rousing final act of the film. Pollack handles the film's bursts of action with surprising skill and displays a keen eye for cultural detail - samurai swords, Yakuza tattoos and the ritual of Yubitsume - the cutting off of the tip of the left hand little finger as an apology.
Robert Mitchum sat out much of the 60's hidden away in a string of forgettable pictures but the 70's saw the actor on much better form with the likes of Ryan's Daughter, The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Farewell My Lovely. He's particularly fine in The Yakuza, Mitchum's subtlety as an actor perfectly in tune with the sad-eyed, introspective Harry Kilmer. Holding his own against Mitchum is Bullet Train's Ken Takakura (later seen in Ridley Scott's comparable East/West thriller Black Rain) commanding the screen with his rigid and emotionless Ken Tanaka (at one point his character is called "the man who never smiles"), and there's excellent support from Keiko Kishi (who played the Snow Maiden in Kwaidan) and James Shigeta (best known as the ill-fated Nakatomi boss Joseph Takagi in Die Hard). Richard Jorden's character Dusty, Kilmer's young sidekick has been criticised for being superfluous to the film but his character, a stranger to Japan translates for the audience much of peculiarities and contractions of the Japanese and helps the film remain coherent.
Warner's 2007 DVD of The Yakuza is one of the label's harder to find titles these days, but luckily the film was bundled in with the 6-disc Robert Mitchum: The Signature Collection collection, which is still in print. The 2.35 transfer is generally excellent, with vibrant colors and only minimal wear on the print. The audio is fine too and dialogue is intelligible, vital for this particular film. Sydney Pollack is on hand for a director's commentary, and the disc is rounded off with one of Warner's vintage on-set promotional films. For readers in the UK and Ireland, the film is regularly screened (in 2.35 no less) on TCM. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The BBC website currently hosts over 1500 downloadable mp3 episodes of Desert Island Discs, featuring castaways from the world of politics (former British PMs Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher), music (Brain Eno, John Cale, Michael Nyman, Morrissey), writing (Stephen King, JG Ballard, James Ellroy), and of course film making - Ken Russell, Otto Preminger, Elia Kazan, Ken Loach, John Schlesinger, Fred Zinnemann, Terry Gilliam, John Boorman, Kenneth Williams, Martin Sheen, Dirk Bogarde, Tim Robbins, Lewis Gilbert, Michael Caine, Michael Deeley, Terence Stamp, Jeremy Irons, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Frears, Christopher Frayling, George Clooney, Simon Callow are just a few....
The Desert Island Disc Archive, categorized by occupation, can be found here
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
The Japan Journals is not one of Richie's film books per se but there are enough luminaries of post-war Japanese Cinema scattered among the pages to make it required reading for film fans. Kurosawa figures prominently throughout as does Oshima, and there are enjoyable cameo appearances by the likes of Toshiro Mifune, Shintaro Katsu (of Zatoichi fame), Koji Wakamatsu (director of Violated Angels) and Takeski Kitano, plus visting American film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, later joined by Paul Schrader, both of whom were seeking Richie's help putting together Schrader's 1985 film Mishima. The book contains a wealth of wonderful anecdotes, which are best left for the reader to discover himself but among my favourites is a journal entry from 1981 with Richie attending a special screening of Fellini's City of Women arranged for Kurosawa. The film was shown without Japanese subtitles and afterwards Richie asked Kurosawa why he wanted to see the film. Kurosawa replied "I'm going to Sorrento to pick up the Donatello prize and Fellini is supposed to give it to me. Then we have to talk about something. I though I should see his new picture".Donald Richie (left) on set with Akira Kurosawa
The Japan Journals is available through Amazon US/UK on paperback and kindle.
Monday, July 30, 2012
Jerry Garcia was a life long cinephile. From an early age Garcia loved Horror movies and later became a devotee of European Art Cinema. Garcia had strong aspirations to become a film maker but his life was entirely devoted to his music. Garcia recruited documentarian Leon Gast to direct the film, then provisionally titled There is Nothing Like a Grateful Dead Concert, and what began as a straightforward visual record of the Dead's performance soon evolved into a documentary encompassing the entire Grateful Dead experience - the music, the band, the fans, the stage set-up, the road crew, and the drugs. Gast placed seven camerman (among them Albert Maysles) around the stage to fully capture every nuance of the Dead's performance across the 5-nights, with additional footage shot within the audience and in and around Winterland. Immediately after the Winterland shows Gast flew to Zaire to film the three-day music festival which preceded the Ali/Foreman fight (the footage which later became the Soul Power documentary), and Garcia took over as "editorial director" charged with the unenviable task of sculpting 125 hours of performance footage into a coherent, commercial film.
The Grateful Dead Movie, Garcia's labour of love (or Jerry's Jerk-off as Phil Lesh once described it), didn't see the light of a projector bulb for almost three years. As well as sifting through the footage in search of the best performances and the best coverage, Garcia and soundman Dan Healy pioneered a new innovative type of mixing which resulted in a perfect symbiosis of image and sound. The film's post production had put the Dead's finances in another precarious situation - when the project was first mooted in 1974, the budget was set at a modest $15,000 but by the time the film had its premiere in New York in June 1977, the film swallowed up a staggering $600,000. The film took a heavy toll on Garcia as well - "Every time I thought about something, my mind would come back to the film and I'd get depressed", and towards the completion of the film a stressed out Garcia sought refuge in heroin. Rather than distribute the film along conventional lines, the movie was booked to play special Roadshow style exhibitions in major cities, with each theatre screening the film specially fitted with an expensive sound system which could do justice to Garcia's state of the art mix. It was a grand idea but the band would never see a return on their investment in the film.
Whatever the turbulence of post production, filming of The Grateful Dead Movie saw the band on tremendous form. Perhaps the impending retirement had energized the performances and over the course of two hours, the Dead radiate a brilliance the studio albums could never quite capture. The film opens with an 8min amphetamine-fuelled animated sequence in which a skeletal Uncle Sam goes through various mind-bending adventures before the film begins proper with the band on stage performing an exuberant US Blues. The film's transitions from performance to documentary are expertly done, the band's long improvisations jams give the film the space to feature the other players in the Dead's psychedelic wonderland - the road crew are seen assembling the monstrous Wall of Sound, and there's some amusing stuff with Bill Graham. Most of the non-musical footage is reserved for the Deadheads, the band's unfailingly devotional community of fans - although the Dead don't get it all their own way, as one irate fan vents his anger at the band over the filming of the Winterland shows. Garcia of course loved this bit of impetuous whining and left him in the film - much to the fan's eternal mortification no doubt.
The Grateful Dead may well be the most documented rock band on compact disc, but precious little film footage exists of the halcyon days of the band. The Dead can be seen in a short performance bit in Richard Lester's 1968 film Petulia, and two years before the Winterland film, the band were filmed playing a show in Oregon for the feature length but unreleased Sunshine Daydream. The Dead also appear in the 2003 documentary Festival Express, which chronicles a 1970 train tour across Canada which included Jonis Joplin and The Band among others. The Grateful Dead Movie remains the definitive visual document of the band. Bathed in queasy purples and rosy pinks, the Dead have never looked better, the onstage telepathy between the band members is mesmerizing as they travel the space ways of long extended jams led by Garcia's fluid guitar lines. 1973 is seen as a crossroads in the band's long career, when the Dead left Warner Bros. to launch their own short-lived label. In retrospect the film is a farewell of sorts to classic-era Dead, the band emerged into the second half of the 70's making patchy studio albums and ditching ballrooms for stadiums. Acoustic sets figured more prominently at live shows, perhaps foreshadowed by the end credits of The Grateful Dead Movie which features a time-lapse photography sequence of the crew dismantling the Wall of Sound for the final time. It lasted just 37 shows.
In 2004 US label Monterey Video released The Grateful Dead Movie in a fantastic 2-disc special edition. Disc 1 featured the Movie, while among the extras on disc 2 were 90min of music from the Winterland shows that didn't make the final cut. Monterey's DVD went out of print in 2010 but Shout Factory re-released the same edition on Blu-Ray no less in 2011. In terms of optics, the (A-locked) Blu-Ray is not a major leap forward from the DVD - this is not a criticism of Shout Factory's transfer, The Grateful Dead Movie has always looked a little soft due to the lighting conditions of the original film. Also the 16mm blow-up to 35 gave the image a grainy look. All these imperfections are present on the Blu but if you keep your expectations in check, the 1.85 transfer is quite decent. Audio is where the Shout Factory edition really shines, the Blu features a truly stunning sound mix and far exceeds the Monterey DVD (a more detailed account of the audio options can be read here)
Disc 2 of the Shout Factory Blu-Ray edition comes as a standard def DVD. The biggest extra on the second disc are the 90mins of music that slipped the final cut, including extended jams of Uncle John's Band, The Other One, Weather Report Suite and a particularly fine version of Dark Star. Next up is over an hour's worth of documentary features - A Look Back (28min) features archive and contemporary interview footage of the band (including Bill Graham), while Making of the DVD (14min) focuses on the job of preparing the sound mix. Gary Gutierrez's memorable contribution to the film is showcased in Making of the Animation (16min). The other significant extra on the set is the very interesting, anecdote filled commentary by editors Susan Crutcher and John Nutt. The Grateful Dead Movie is also available as 2-disc DVD edition, or can bought as part of Shout Factory's mammoth 14-DVD Dead boxset All The Years Combine. A UK DVD of The Grateful Dead Movie is out now and a Blu-Ray is promised for September.
Thursday, July 19, 2012
On paper Blue Sunshine sounds like a conventional enough story, playing like a 70's paranoid thriller in the vein of The Parallax View, spliced with the Hitchcockian device of the wrong man forced to clear his name. Thankfully, Blue Sunshine is something far more special, a spiky, fast-paced, loud and determinedly eccentric film, full of off-kilter touches, something akin to one of Cronenberg's early films (especially Rabid) fused with the offbeat rhythm of a Larry Cohen film. Lieberman might have swapped the sinister swamplands of Squirm for the big city sprawl of Blue Sunshine, but the landscape here is no less menacing. Lieberman has a talent for creating images that get under the skin of the audience - in Squirm, a plate of spaghetti was fraught with danger while in Blue Sunshine, the sight of bald heads (foreshadowed by repeated shots of a foreboding full moon in the credit sequence) is, on some subconscious level, deeply unsettling. Perfectly in sync with Lieberman's visuals is Charles Gross' idiosyncratic score using instruments like gongs and bells to add another layer of weirdness to the film.
As with Lieberman's debut, the film inspires any number of readings - on one hand it's a riff on 60's drug paranoia films like Hallucination Generation, (1966) but on a deeper level the film takes a swipe at the betrayed idealism of the children of Aquarius. Unlike Hunter Thompson's drug casualties of the 60's, the permanent cripples and failed seekers, Blue Sunshine's victims have become the kind of well-adjusted people in positions of responsibility their younger selves might have rebelled against, and in a cruel twist of fate the hedonism of youth have caused their well cultivated lives to spectacularly unravel. Interestingly in 1990 Jacob's Ladder trod similar territory with Vietnam vets experiencing disturbing delayed reactions from doses of hallucinogens administered during the war.
Much has been made of Blue Sunshine's leading man, future soft-core erotica director Zalman King (Wild Orchid, Red Shoe Diaries) and his ability or lack of, to carry the film. King is certainly no David Hess, but his performance, uptight, intense and erratic perfectly suits the mood of the film, and whether intentional or not, one is never quite sure if King's Jerry Zipkin is on the level. Worth mentioning that Zalman King displayed a similiar kind of intensity when he appeared as Jesus no less in the very interesting (but hard to see) Passover Plot made just prior to Blue Sunshine in 1976. Also notable among the cast is Robert Walden (the rat-fucker from All the President's Men), and in a nice bit of casting, Mark Goddard, most famous for his role of marooned space cadet Don West on the TV show Lost In Space, plays the politician who a decade earlier was dealing Blue Sunshine to the students at Stanford.
Despite the original negative being destroyed at the lab where it was being stored, Synapse's 2003 DVD of Blue Sunshine was a valiant attempt at restoring the film to what it looked like in theatres in the 70's. And for the most part, the restoration team, working from a 35mm print found in the UK have done a commendable job. The 1.85 anamorphic image looks relatively sharp and has strong colors but the film does look a little worn and grainy. Still, there are worse looking discs in your collection and Synapse have tweaked the image about as far as possible. The audio is much better and makes for an immersive experience. If the image quality was less than perfect, Synapse makes amends with an impressive array of extras - Lieberman is on hand for a director's commentary and returns for the 30min interview Lieberman on Lieberman. Also included is Lieberman's rare 20min short film from 1972, entitled The Ringer (which includes optional commentary), plus there's a short restoration piece, the theatrical trailer and a stills gallery. Synapse also issued a second edition of the DVD accompanied by the soundtrack CD. Despite it being a limited edition (a generous 50,000 units!) this 2-disc version has been available for years but copies of this edition are beginning to dry up so if the film has been on your wish list now is the time to grab it. Another DVD edition of Blue Sunshine was issued in 2011 by New Video DVD but the Synapse is the one to pick up.