Thursday, 13 May 2021

In this month's... Sight & Sound (June 2021)

The latest issue of Fangoria Sight & Sound has arrived and it's refreshing to see the magazine letting its hair down and having a bit of fun on the cover, with Butcher Billy's splendid Video Nasties themed artwork set against a background of color bands that mimic the rainbow lines motif commonly seen on slipcases that housed blank VHS tapes. Inside the magazine Mark Kermode speaks to director Prano Bailey-Bond about her 2021 film Censor set during Britain's halcyon pre-cert VHS era of the early 80's when a slew of violent and transgressive films, many of which had been refused a certificate for cinema exhibition were made available on video. In the film, a censor initially repelled by the content of the videos she examines is drawn into the world of low budget horror films to the point where she can no longer distinguish reality from make believe. On paper it sounds like a mash-up of Videodrome and Berberian Sound Studio, and it will be interesting to see if Sight & Sound's endorsement (S&S writer Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has called the film "an electrifying debut") is deserved. The film is reviewed in the July issue.

One particular ace up Censor's sleeve is the involvement of Kim Newman, serving as the film's executive producer and advisor, and for the Sight & Sound issue he contributes a fine essay on this most controversial chapter of British home video history. Newman recalls that during the debate on the subject, there was the question among film scholars as to whether the titles that were caught up in the dragnet constituted an actual genre a la film noir, or were simply a collection of disparate films that were chosen with little more than a glance at their lurid titles and VHS artwork. It's a fascinating question and worthy of discussion but as Newman reflects, the notion had real life consequences for the anxious videoshop owner who was never quite sure if having a copy of say the Vampix edition of Eaten Alive on the shelf would prompt a reprimand from disapproving police officers. Eaten Alive was typical of the Italian cannibal films that appeared on the DPP lists of contentious titles, it even boasted one of more sadistic and disturbing VHS sleeves of the pre-cert era. And yet astonishingly it never came to the attention of authorities. I tend to think of the list of 39 titles that were prosecuted as essentially random and the selection criteria used haphazard - why a film like The Werewolf and the Yeti appeared on the same list as I Spit on Your Grave makes no sense but as Newman suggests about another innocuous title I Miss You, Hugs and Kisses, perhaps it took little more than a complaint from a disgruntled renter to secure its place on the list. Looking back on the Nasties phenomena - the tabloid scaremongering, the ludicrous soapboxing by politicians and self-appointed guardians of morality, the furor seems as quaint as the demonization of EC Comics in the US in the 50's, and yet the romance of these once outlawed titles has never gone away. Nowadays, the majority of the Nasties can be seen with the censor's blessing and in expertly curated, uncut Blu-Ray editions, but still the very thought of The Devil Hunter and Forest of Fear immediately conjures up grotty VHS cases sitting in the darkest recesses of the videoshop...

Thursday, 6 May 2021

The World of David Bowie

I've just finished reading Daryl Easlea's lead feature on David Bowie's 1970's masterpiece The Man Who Sold The World in the May 2021 issue of Record Collector. The circumstances that led to the recording of the album and the inherent mythology that surrounds it - the album's proto-heavy metal licks, the arrival of Mick Ronson, the eerie sci-fi Moog textures, the dress and cowboy covers, the influence of Terry Burns, have all been documented elsewhere in forensic detail, but Easlea's article is superb nonetheless at capturing what was an incredibly exciting time in Bowie's life and music. Seemingly a world away from the songs Bowie had written for the album is the Decca compilation The World of David Bowie which is included in a sidebar of the article - the connection being that the Decca album was the only Bowie record issued in the UK in 1970 - The Man Who Sold the World was still 11 months away, finally arriving in April 1971. Interestingly, Decca's World of... series was more than a vault-emptying exercise, the label's intention was to give curious listeners an affordable introduction to an artist, and the series, if the Discogs listing can be trusted, lasted well in to the 80's. Bowie was pleased that he was joining the likes of Mantovani and Val Doonican on the World of... series, and Bowie himself selected the songs for the album - 10 tracks from his 1967 debut David Bowie plus a few essential odds and sods - The London Boys, Karma Man, Let Me Sleep Beside You and In the Heat of the Morning.
I'm pleased to be reminded of the album again, which served as my introduction to Bowie's pre-RCA years. It was soon supplanted by more comprehensive compilations such the 1972 double-album Images 1966 - 1967 and the 1981 compilation Another Face, which included two Davie Jones numbers Liza Jane and Louie, Louie Go Home but I remain very fond of the World of David Bowie nonetheless. My copy of the album is not the original 1970 edition but 1973 re-press which updated Bowie's 1969 curls to a very 1972-era Ziggy mullet for the sleeve shot, and I'm currently listening to the album, after a fashion, courtesy of the Deram Anthology 1966-1968 CD, programmed to follow The World of David Bowie track listing. Incidentally, the 1973 Dutch re-press which also features the Ziggy cover subtly replaces the fabulous When I Live My Dream with the not so fabulous Laughing Gnome !

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Make Room ! Make Room !

Something I was pondering earlier as I was making more room of my shelves for some Blu-Rays arriving tomorrow: in terms of packaging, if I had the chance to reconfigure all my Blu-Rays to the laserdisc format (let's pretend the laserdisc was just as accommodating as a BR disc) - would I ? I love the physical look and feel of laserdiscs, and I'm imagining what the specialist labels like Masters of Cinema, Indicator and Second Run could do with the format, in terms of artwork, gatefolds, inserts and 12" booklets. In the eternal battle for shelf space, I find the 40-odd laserdiscs I have a far more tidy option in terms of storage - I could probably fit twice as many laserdiscs on the shelf as Blu-Rays. Oddly enough, I've never felt the same way with vinyl vs CD. The reduction in artwork size is regrettable, but the compact disc has always been my preferred music format - who would want to listen to Music for Airports with the silences filled with surface noise ? The laserdisc wave passed by Ireland without so much as a ripple so perhaps that's why I find the format still strangely futuristic. - my Japanese Warner Blade Runner laserdisc has always felt like the most appropriate format for the film...





Monday, 26 April 2021

Fat City

I watched Fat City last night courtesy of my old US DVD from 2002, whose tired looking transfer seemed to add to the film's grimy ambience. I'm tempted to call John Huston's film a classic of skid row poetry; it's certainly a classic, but even Tom Waits would find it hard to mine much poetry from this one, as the fate of two boxers is played out among the broken down streets, derelict lots, one-night cheap hotels and last-chance saloons of Stockton, California. I'd wager that screenwriter Robert Siegel had the film in mind when he wrote what would become Darren Aronofsky's 2008 film The Wrestler and perhaps Steve Buscemi's took some inspiration from Huston's film for his 1996 film Trees LoungeFat City is one of two late-career John Huston masterpieces, the other being 1979's Wiseblood, and the film is good enough to cash in my barebones DVD for Indicator's 2017 Blu-Ray which comes with a bounty of fascinating supplements, including a commentary track from film historians Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, which for once I will put aside an hour and a half to listen to. All that to come, but for now, I indulged in a spot of armchair tourism earlier courtesy of Google Earth, seeking out locations seen in the film. My copy of the usually reliable The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations has no entry on the film, and perhaps that's not surprising: much of the area where Conrad Hall shot those bleached-white streets and dimly-lit bars no longer exists, having been torn down after the filming was completed to make way for a highway. Outside of the film, I hadn't any previous knowledge of Stockton, but passing thru parts of the city and neighborhoods on Google Earth, very little has been done to rid the region of the blight of urban decay, with poor housing planning, poverty, drugs, and neighborhoods lost to gang violence. It's no wonder Stockton is one of California's most undesirable places to live.

If the film gains immeasurably from the shooting locations, so too is the film well served by the terrific cast, a mix of well known actors - Stacy Keach, Jeff Bridges, Candy Clarke, and non-professionals who were not so removed from the film's milieu, and I was especially fond of Curtis Cokes, a former World Welterweight Champion and trainer who plays the soft-spoken Earl with a tremendous dignity, even when fending off his erratic alcoholic lady. There's a great turn too from Art Aragon, another former boxer who plays the assistant coach. Good as Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges are, Susan Tyrrell runs away with the film, playing Oma, an irascible, impetuous alcoholic. It's a shame she had such a patchy film career, but among the more forgettable fare she acted in, there were noteworthy pictures like Andy Warhol's Bad, Forbidden Zone, Tales of Ordinary Madness, Flesh + Blood, and Cry-Baby, plus voice work for two of Ralph Bakshi's animations Wizards and Fire & Ice, plus narration for the Dawn of the Dead documentary Document of the Dead.

Friday, 23 April 2021

In this month's... Electronic Sound (No. 76)

Push and Mark, the editors of Electronic Sound magazine suggest reading the latest issue sitting outside with a cup of tea and that's exactly what I did earlier, with the morning sunshine bouncing off the magazine's customary expanses of white space. The lead feature in this month's issue is David Stubbs' interview with Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti as they reflect on the music they produced as Chris and Cosey. This piece works well as a sort of prequel to the Carter Tutti feature in the March 2015 issue of The Wire. It's good to be reminded of the couple's post-TG albums, 1981's Heartbeat and the follow-up Trance (1982), both retain traces of TG DNA in Chris' rhythms and Cosey's cornet playing. In some respects the music became less interesting as the 80's wore on but albums like 1985's Techno Primitiv and 1987's Exotika have their moments. Perhaps their most widely heard track, the 1983 single October (Love Song), a lovely electro-pop confection ought to have been a sure fire hit but wasn't, such are the mysterious ways songs catch fire with the record-buying public, or don't in this case, but Chris and Cosey to my mind have achieved a level of success far beyond record sales. As they explain to David Stubbs, as early as 1981, they were offered to join Grace Jones on a world tour, and there were invitations from Depeche Mode and Blancmange, all of which were turned down so they could concentrate on their music and raise their son outside the glare of the limelight. Cosey's health problems in the late 80's notwithstanding, the duo managed to weather their four decade long partnership with little turbulence - there were none of the chemical burnouts that Coil suffered or the kind of disquieting antics that supposedly went on within Psychic TV. Closing out the feature is handy little primer on Chris and Cosey's albums which are now long out of print on CD. Perhaps Mute might consider a series of re-issues at some point.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Satisfactions that are Permanent: Monte Hellman 1929-2021

Monte Hellman, the great American film-maker has passed away at the grand old age of 91. I was first introduced to Monte Hellman by Alex Cox, who often mentioned the likes of Two-Lane Blacktop and Cockfighter during his introductions for film screened as part of BBC2’s Moviedrome’s cult film season. Indeed Hellman’s signature film Two-Lane Blacktop was screened as part of Moviedrome’s 1989 season, but this was just a little before Cinema became one of my obsessions. In fact for a number of years, Hellman’s film were almost like rumors; impossible to get hold of here in Ireland, and I had to wait a few years for the arrival of DVD to secure Stateside copies of Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and Iguana (all courtesy of Anchor Bay) and The Shooting (VCI). The best of Hellman’s films are hard to pin down, and their pleasures not easily explainable. They can be mysterious and elusive, obscure and aloof, but most film scholars will agree that his best work are among the most remarkable films in post-War American Cinema. He was also the greatest director, Peckinpah included, of Warren Oates with whom he made four masterpieces with: the aforementioned The Shooting, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter and their last film together, the underrated and underseen China 9 Liberty 37. I’m looking thru filmography section in Brad Stevens' excellent 2003 biography Monte Hellman: His Life and Films and I’m reminded of the often uncredited film work he did, having a hand in The Intruder, The Terror, Dementia 13, The Wild Angels, St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, Head, Shatter, The Killer Elite, Avalanche Express, The Awakening and Robocop. Hellman was famously generous and supportive to film students, often taking them out of the classroom and into the field on his own productions and in the 90’s he became a sort of godfather to the American Independent scene when he helped secure financing for Reservoir Dogs, earning an executive producer credit.

To mark the passing of Monte Hellman, I watched Two-Lane Blacktop last night. By right I should have chosen Ride in the Whirlwind or Iguana, two Hellman films I haven’t seen enough, but the pleasures of Two-Lane Blacktop are inexhaustible, and despite numerous screenings over the years, the film retains that special mythical quality. As ever I’m fascinated by the casting of James Taylor in the film, and here he delivers a strikingly hesitant, even uncomfortable performance. I often wonder was the making of the film difficult for Taylor who famously had never seen the film until it was released by Criterion in 2007 (which Taylor put down to in part to the film being long unavailable, which is true), so it’s nice to see him in the pictures below looking relaxed and cheerful.




Watching the film again last night, it occurred to me that Taylor’s Driver is nursing a kind of death wish – not in the conventional sense, but it’s as if The Driver’s failure to make a connection with Laurie Bird’s Girl, results in his giving up the last vestiges of his humanity to meld with the Chevrolet 150. The Driver never sleeps in the film, unlike The Mechanic and G.T.O., and when The Mechanic suggests he get some sleep, The Driver replies: “I feel good. I can take it all the way”. It’s as it The Driver has become a man-machine, such is his obsession for motion. Famously in the film, the race between the Chevrolet and the Pontiac simply peters out, that the race was never about pink slips anyway, but about the rituals involved (engine maintenance, getting across states without being noticed, picking up the necessary cash at grudge matches). When G.T.O exits the film, the story finally runs out of road and the film is effectively over, and while The Driver has yet another drag race to take part in, the celluloid itself seemingly exhausted from these ever decreasing circles, combusts as if to say, “Enough, no more!

Sunday, 7 March 2021

Birth Certificate

I mentioned in yesterday's Birth of a Nation post that I first encountered the film in the pages of Empire magazine when their September 1994 issue reported that the BBFC had awarded the Connoisseur VHS edition a 15 certificate. In addition, the Board prepared an onscreen text introduction to the film alerting viewers to the film's racist content. This edition marked the first legal release of the film since the introduction of the Video Recordings Act in 1984, previously it had had a pre-cert release in 1981 courtesy of Spectrum Video. The Empire writer evidently didn't feel the BBFC introduction was warranted but nowadays I think it only proper that this important work of Cinema be openly acknowledged as a vile and deceitful film. Such things are helpful too in placating those who would consign the film to oblivion. Currently the Masters of Cinema and BFI Blu-Ray editions are no longer available to purchase on Amazon UK which is an ominous sign. Will Gone With the Wind be unavailable one day I wonder ? Thankfully Griffith's film can still be ordered direct from the labels.

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Birth Pains: Revisiting D.W. Griffith's Racist Epic

I'm currently reading Battle Cry of Freedom, James McPherson’s brilliant and comprehensively detailed book 900 page chronicle of the American Civil War, and the occasion gave me opportunity to revisit Griffith’s Birth of a Nation last night, courtesy of the Masters of Cinema Blu-Ray. I’ve seen Birth of a Nation perhaps 3 or 4 times in the 20-odd years since my first discovery of the film in 1994, when Empire magazine ran a story about the BBFC's awarding of a 15 certificate for the film's VHS release on the BFI's Connoisseur label, an unprecedented age restriction for a Silent film. I remember too catching portions of the film in the latter half of the 90's when it was routinely screened here on one of Ireland's TV channels as part of a Sunday morning Silent slot. The film finally entered the Collection in the early 2000’s with Kino’s Griffith Masterworks DVD edition, followed by the MOC BR 2013 or thereabout. Screenings of Birth of a Nation have always been something of a dry academic exercise, and yet, I’ve always appreciated Griffith’s film as a landmark moment in the evolution of narrative cinema, and admittedly, it was convenient to put the problematic question of the film’s racial politics at arm’s length. In the 10 years or so since I last saw the film much of this distasteful content had faded from memory. But with the film fresh in my mind, I must now confront how absolutely despicable the film is in its treatment - on both sides of the camera, of African Americans. 


The worst excesses of the film’s racist cant is found in the second half of the film, set during the Reconstruction era, but throughout the film, African Americans are portrayed in the most dishonest and reprehensible manner, by turns childish and subservient, drunken, wild and lascivious; with the history of the era warped to suit the themes of Griffith’s dishonest film. It says a lot about Woodrow Wilson’s own views on race, when he famously pronounced that the film was “… like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true" - an astonishing remark from a sitting American president. In the accompanying MoC booklet, Griffith is quoted quite unashamedly as saying he didn’t want to use African American actors among the principle players, and interestingly, there are plenty of African Americans among the wider cast. As per the legend, Griffith made the film without a written scenario so one wonders what exactly Griffith was barking at the African American cast members during the scenes he directed them in. Watching the film again, I had that unpleasant sensation of being complicit in the film’s vitriol and this screening may well be my very last. When Spike Lee included a scene in his 2018 film BlacKkKlansman, where some white supremacists giggle at a screening of Griffith's film, I think Lee was suggesting that Birth of a Nation as it stands today is a film best enjoyed by idiots. And he may be right.

Friday, 12 February 2021

A Dismal Orb

It's not terribly obvious from the picture below, but I was sad to discover my copy of The Orb's Live 93 CD has succumbed to disc rot. This was not entirely surprising, considering the CD matrix bears the dreaded "Made In UK BY PDO" etching. It was discovered in the mid-90's that CDs manufactured largely between 1988 and 1992 at the Philips and Dupont Optical (PDO) plant in Blackburn (“4000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire!") were beginning to exhibit discoloration on the playing side of the CD due to, and I'm quoting Wiki here, "lacquer used to coat the discs was not resistant to the sulfur content of the paper in the booklets, which led to the corrosion of the aluminum layer of the disc " I had seen the telltale signs on the Orb CD a few years ago but inspecting the CD yesterday, the rot had spread right around the edge of the disc and caused skips, splutters and drop outs on playback. No big deal, I simply bought a later repressing of the album yesterday, but I'm looking now at other discs of mine known to be affected – two Warp CDs - first pressings of Autechre's Incunabula and Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Vol 2. Happily, neither discs show any signs of deterioration, and both can be replaced easily enough. The one I'm most worried about is my copy of Coil's Unnatural History, which is not so easy to replace but luckily, the disc is so far unblemished. But considering the amount of optical discs I own, CD, DVD, BR it was a sobering moment to discover the Orb disc is no longer playable…

Monday, 8 February 2021

Fakes and Fakery

A follow-on to my previous post about the 2015 documentary Listen to Me Marlon... I was amused to see this murky, blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of Brando appearing on an issue of the long running English film magazine, Films and Filming. I've been a collector of the magazine for many years now, and I can say with absolute certainty that this particular magazine cover was mocked up for the documentary - no great crime in that but I'll take some satisfaction in calling it out. For the record, Brando made the cover of Films and Filming six times, most significantly he graced the inaugural October 1954 issue with On the Waterfront and made further appearances with the January 1956 issue (Guys and Dolls), March 1957 (The Teahouse of the August Moon), March 1958 (The Young Lions), December 1962 (Mutiny on the Bounty), and then perhaps as a sign of his decline, sat out most of the sixties until his last cover appearance on the September 1972 issue with The Godfather...

Listening to you Marlon

I watched the 2015 documentary Listen to Me Marlon at the weekend, and thought it a fascinating, absorbing piece of work, and quite a refreshing departure from the usual talking-heads biographical format. I’ve read two chunky Brando biographies over the years – Peter Manso’s 1994 book, and more recently William Mann’s 2019 biography, so there were no great revelations along the way, but I was surprised to hear Brando’s vexed comments about Francis Ford Coppola in the wake of Apocalypse Now: “Francis Coppola, he's a prick, a card-carrying prick, the cocksucker, how could he do that to me ? I saved his fucking ass, and he showed his appreciation by dumping on me". One deficiency of the documentary is the lack of onscreen dates for the snippets of audio heard in the film, and I wonder when Brando recorded those comments ? I suspect it might have been when Brando was working on his autobiography Songs My Mother Taught Me, published in 1994, some three years after the release of the 1991 documentary Hearts of Darkness which revealed the full extent of Coppola’s struggles to get Apocalypse Now made, and presented Brando as a sort of brilliant but wayward force of nature that Coppola had to valiantly wrestle with to complete the film. One could hardly blame Brando for feeling so raw about it.

Interesting too to hear Brando say he re-wrote “the entire script” which sounds on the face of it rather fanciful but according to Peter Cowie’s 2000 book on the film, Coppola was having discussions with Brando about the film as early as February 1976, just a month or so before filming began in the Philippines. Like so many great films, the precise authorship of Apocalypse Now is perhaps unknowable, but if I had to choose a side, based on everything I’ve read about the film over the years, I’d credit the bones of the film to Coppola and John Milus, with Brando’s contributions confined to shaping the Kurtz character. Still, it’s pleasing to note that Brando’s first appearance (if you could call it that) in Apocalypse Now is as a voice on a tape recorder…

Thursday, 28 January 2021

Nosfera-Vu

Herzog's Nosferatu came up in a conversation on FB last night, and the notion was put forward on how the film might have played had Tangerine Dream wrote the score. It was an intriguing idea (and one I had not previously pondered on!) and while the kind of music Tangerine Dream wrote for Sorcerer would have been ill-fitting for Nosferatu, the film might have worked very well with music from Tangerine Dreams's earlier albums on the Ohr label - namely Alpha Centauri, Zeit and Atem. But I digress.... With the film fresh in my mind, I’m sinking my teeth into Popol Vuh’s soundtrack courtesy of this 1992 CD on the Italian High Tide label, which collects all the music from the two soundtracks Popol Vuh recorded for the film, that is the Brüder Des Schattens - Söhne Des Lichts album, and On The Way To A Little Way (Soundtracks From "Nosferatu"). All needlessly confusing, but if you want all the music Florian Fricke wrote for the film, without the edits done to the 18min title track on Brüder Des Schattens - Söhne Des Lichts – the centerpiece of the film’s soundtrack, this CD is the one to seek out. To the best of my knowledge, the High Tide edition is fully authorized by Florian Fricke, but the Popol Vuh back catalogue is such a mess that one is never quite sure. Reissues on CD have been poorly served over the years by the absence of original tapes and much of the core albums are taken from needle-drops and have been subjected to noise-scrubbing mastering. So much so, anyone looking to put together a collection would be best advised to seek out the early CD releases…

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Main

I'm currently listening to Robert Hampson's post-Loop isolationist project Main, and I’m reminded that one of the tracks on the group’s 1996 collection Hz, is dedicated to sound designer extraordinaire Alan Splet. I’d actually forgotten about this until I went looking in the CD notes for something and came across the dedication. This is more than idle name-dropping, as the music that Main were making during this era was very much in the vain of Alan Splet’s work – all hissing, gaseous drones, clanking metallic reverberations and ominous rumblings – the kind of nightmarish sounds Splet created for Eraserhead, Elephant Man, Dune, Blue Velvet and Mosquito Coast among others. I’m pleased that I dug out this Main collection, a double-CD no less, because it’s an album I don’t listen to enough, requiring headphones and a quiet room to fully appreciate all those delicate, lowercase sounds. The packaging on this collection is rather lovely too, instead of the fuzzy video and computer screen textures of previous Main releases, the Hz album is adorned with striking images of rock and lichen textures, plus graphic symbols which I presume relate to the music in some way. There’s a kinship here with the design concept of Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II, and I see on the credits of the Main album, another David Lynch reference, the images credited to one Frank Booth…

Monday, 4 January 2021

The Tin Drum

I watched Volker Schlöndorff's film last night as a sort of fitness test for watching The Painted Bird, a film I made up my mind not to see when it first emerged, but in a cruel irony, a friend gifted me a copy of the Eureka Blu-Ray over Christmas, and it now stands on my shelf daring me to watch it. I think I wanted to see how I felt about things after watching The Tin Drum, and while Schlöndorff's film is not an especially disturbing film, it has its moments of cruelty and unpleasantness. But what a remarkable performance by David Bennent as Oskar, and while I knew him best from Ridley Scott's Legend, I really couldn't guess his age watching The Tin Drum, so much so that the scenes where he expresses his sexual maturity were quite uncomfortable to watch. I've since discovered Bennett was 12 or 13 during the making of the film, but these scenes in the film remain difficult to measure even as an afterthought. This reminds me that I must watch Gary Rhodes's Banned in Oklahoma documentary on the Criterion DVD before it gets retuned to the shelf.

Whatever about The Tin Drum as a sort of litmus test for watching The Painted Bird, there may be one unforeseen consequence of revisiting the film for my book reading plan for the year ahead. I recently picked up, and was looking forward to reading the critically acclaimed 2020 book The Book of Eels: Our Enduring Fascination with the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World, but after seeing that queasy scene in The Tin Drum, where a swarm of eels emerge writhing from a purified horse head, I think I’ll be putting Patrik Svensson’s book on the long finger…

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

The Stone Killer

Charles Bronson in The Stone Killer, most likely trying to figure out Gerald Wilson's deliriously convoluted screenplay...


Another film watched over Christmas, Michael Winner's 1973 film is a rollicking big-budget exploitation picture with Bronson supplying serious star wattage. His Lou Torrey is short on subtleties, but the physicality of his performance is impressive, whether he's crashing his car through market stalls in pursuit of a motorcycle, or scrambling up staircases blasting everyone in sight. Gerald Wilson's screenplay had me tied up in knots from the get-go, and for the most part the film was barely comprehensible, but Winner knows how to deliver the thrills and spills and one can at least enjoy the breakneck outrageousness of it all. In fact the film is genuinely bizarre at times, as if two or three other films were intruding upon it, and afterwards I had to wonder if I did actually see a scene where Bronson visits an Easy Rider-style hippie commune (complete with camel) and did I really spot Angelo Rossitto perched on a hotel reception counter ? It seems I did...