Danny Says (2015)

Danny Says (2015) movie poster

director Brendan Toller
viewed: 06/25/2017

Of the many music documentaries of late, I enjoyed Danny Says the most. Production-wise, it’s not dissimilar to Gimme Danger (2016), using interviews, old photos, old video, and even animation, but something about it, and maybe it’s Danny Fields himself (who does appear in the Stooges documentary, as Iggy Pop appears here).  The stories are almost entirely Danny’s, coming from his own recollections, of one of the most incredible life/career in late 20th century music.

To tell his story would sound like braggadocio if it weren’t all true. Starting out by publishing the interview that started the end for the Beatles to signing the Doors, the Stooges, the MC5, and the Ramones, and so so so so SO much more.

The rebellious nature of gay culture absolutely gave a place for punk to arise and thrive. It can’t be better stated than by John Cameron Mitchell, who says that Danny Fields was “Handmaiden to the gods, midwife to some of the most important people in music.” Fields’s taste in music wound up redefining music, without playing a note himself.

Port of Shadows (1938)

Port of Shadows (1938) movie poster

director Marcel Carné
viewed: 06/24/2017

Port of Shadows may be the Frenchest French film ever made. Though I suppose that depends on your perception of France and the French. Luc Sante wrote that it “possesses nearly all the qualities that were once synonymous with the idea of French cinema,” and that it is an exemplar of “poetic realism“.

Jean Gabin stumbles into La Havre, which is drenched in fog, from one near fist fight to another, smoking and brooding about life. And then Michèle Morgan, just a kid really at 17, and yet more a woman than many twice her age. Morgan, like Gabin, like most any frame of Port of Shadows is a luminous cinematic image, eternal.

This also falls into the “proto-noir” categorization, noir before noir.

Like a transmission in a dream.

Pitfall (1962)

Pitfall (1962) movie poster

director Hiroshi Teshigahara
viewed: 06/23/2017

Wow. And I mean, wow.

Pitfall is indeed an amazing film, a complex interweaving of realism, social criticism, fantasy, and the surreal. Profound and weird, and deeply unsettling, stark and vivid and so, so much.

Pitfall was the first cinematic collaboration between director Hiroshi Teshigahara, writer Kōbō Abe, and composer Toru Takemitsu. But it’s the third of Techigahara’s films that I watched after The Face of Another (1966) and Woman of the Dunes (1964), and of the three, the most immediately striking, already having me recontemplating the others in retrospect.

The film starts out semi-mysteriously, with two men and a young boy, stealing away from a town, sneaking to someplace, hiding from something. And it only get more and more strange and mysterious. While we come to know these men are hiding from some authority, while trying to earn a living as miners. As the story comes into clarity, it shifts into the otherworldly, with the dead observing the living, an abandoned mining camp, littered with ghosts.

There is some significant grotesqueries from the rape of a woman to the skinning of a live frog, harsh imagery, loaded and haunting.

There are films that sit with me long after viewing. This film, for me, is just beginning.

The Devil (1981)

The Devil (1980) VHS box cover

director Jen-Chieh Chang
viewed: 06/08/2017

As obscure as The Devil is, the internet has more than beat me at summing up with 1980’s HK/Taiwanese horror picture: “A hideously ugly witch casts spells on her victims which turns their insides into snakes and worms.” – IMDb.com

This was the B-side to The Rapist (1994) on a cheap dvd from Videoasia. A weird pairing other than from obscurity.

Not without its charms, The Devil has some gruesomeness and worms and snakes and effluvia. And a kid named Ding Dong who wears some strange outfits and would make this movie quite the fish in the barrel for MST3K or whomever.

The Rapist (1994)

The Rapist (1994) DVD cover

director Chuen-Yee Cha
viewed: 06/08/2017

The Rapist is a sleazy little category 3 Hong Kong policier about a serial rapist on the loose and the police team trying to catch him.

At its sleazier moments, it’s kind of creepy and weird and dark. But more of the film is focused on the police procedural (such as it is), the many man hours and hackneyed schemes of catching a rapist who is getting more violent and graduating to murder.

The lead cop has an obsessional quality that almost links him to the rapist, able to envision the crimes, think like the killer. Is it because he was raped himself as he jokes? Or that his younger sister was raped and traumatized? The psychological angles are not all that sharp and some of the joking (i.e., that the rapes wouldn’t happen if there were more prostitutes out there) certainly off-key.

Interesting, but only so much so.

Shock Treatment (1981)

Shock Treatment (1981) movie poster

director  Jim Sharman
viewed: 06/07/2017

Movies are hard to make. It takes a lot of talents: writing, acting, cinematography, editing, directing, music. There is also the notion that comedy is hard, and by comparison death is easy. Add into that musical numbers, songs that have to take the front stage center of a film. I would suggest that musicals would be the most difficult genre to succeed in.

Add onto all of this, making a follow up to a cult hit, the midnight movie to rule over all midnight movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien took on was massively unlikely to be a success. And surprise. It wasn’t.

But the annals of cult film are wide and broad, deep and tall, and even a failed cult film can become a cult film success in a minor way too.

Bringing back a lot of elements of Rocky Horror (though leaving out the most popular stars and some of its key elements regarding sexuality), Shock Treatment is a strange comic musical with a lot of similar-sounding rock-n-roll pop tunes and characters named Brad and Janet.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s really half-bad. It does get a bit tedious but it’s also quite fun. Watching Rocky Horror outside of a midnight movie house loses a lot of its charms as well.

Actually, it’s cool to see Jessica Harper again. She made quite a few appearances in cult musicals in her day.

Flesh (1968)

Flesh (1968) movie poster

director Paul Morrissey
viewed: 06/05/2017

I don’t know why I’d never managed to see Paul Morrissey’s Andy Warhol-produced movies. I have the vaguest recollection of seeing Trash back in the 1980’s and maybe another one. But I’ve no real recollection of them.

Flesh is all Joe Dallesandro, and ALL Joe Dallesandro, who spends most of the movie unclad and lounging in his gloriousness. Warhol would quip “In my movies, everyone’s in love with Joe Dallesandro.” and that is very much true here in Flesh. He’s a natural thing of beauty, shot in normal settings and natural light, not prettied up by the camera. He just is.

As a counterpoint to Midnight Cowboy, it’s an interesting, low-fi take on sexuality in New York in the late 1960’s, very non-judgmental, open, and yet still monetized and in a sense exploited, in a sense, not.

There is also the sense of the utterly banal about it all. Though Joe is very likable and generally kind, the most of the world he inhabits is kind of dull and tedious. Maybe it’s part of the anti-glamour aesthetic.

It was interesting to finally see the film from which the image on the Smiths’ self-titled album came from.

Requiem for a Vampire (1971)

Requiem for a Vampire (1971) movie poster

director Jean Rollin
viewed: 06/04/2017

Jean Rollin was nothing if not a cinematic poet. Since he worked on the cheap and in the horror and porn/sexploitation genres, who knows how close he ever came to fully realizing his visions. But visions they are, even the worst of his films oozes dreamy fantasy over any storyline or plotting.

I’ve now watched enough of his filmic corpus to say that I am indeed a fan. That said, I’m still contemplating his work and have yet to fully develop any well-constructed conclusions.

Requiem for a Vampire follows many of his themes and ideas: vampires, young runaways, lesbian lovers, strange cults, all set against the French countryside, venerable houses or ruins. Requiem begins oddly with a car chase, in media res, with two clown-painted girls and a getaway driver pursued by gunmen. They do indeed get away, but the driver is killed, so the girls torch the car and then wander through a cemetery to ruins haunted by a vampire cult.

Most interestingly, Rollin runs much of Requiem’s opening with the barest amount of dialog. Though this might have been a functional thing (non-sync sound), it also turns the film into a more purely visual one, telling the story through action and imagery and not propelled by dialogue.

In the end, the girls are challenge to become vampires or remain virgins and while this again speaks to Rollin’s themes of women positioned in opposition to patriarchal demands, fleeing a society for which they have no place, the film also features some more brute rape as well.

I don’t know where it falls in my Rollin spectrum, but it’s certainly an undeniable Rollin picture.

The Dark Backward (1991)

The Dark Backward (1991) movie poster

director Adam Rifkin
viewed: 06/03/2017

From the shadowy depths of the psyche of the early Nineties comes The Dark Backward. It’s a garbage world dystopia of filthy streets and filthy homes and even filthy, sweaty protagonists. Judd Nelson plays against type as Marty Malt, a nebbish dweeb with a dream of stand-up comedic genius (perhaps one of the most Nineties aspect of the film).

Sadly, Marty is only funny is a deadpan not funny, semi-surreal sort of way, which no one but his wingman, Gus (Bill Paxton RIP) ever laughs at (and even then, only when he’s really concentrating.) When Marty begins to grow an arm out of the middle of his back, his freakshow appearance scores him opportunities even though his general appeal seems to remain in the gutter.

The Dark Backward is a pre-fab cult film, one whose cult following has had years to grow. On initial release, its oddities seemed strained. Embodied perhaps in Paxton’s volume 11 performance of wackiness, pushing so hard to be funny and weird.

Wayne Newton is spot-on as the sleazy agent, Jackie Chrome, while Lara Flynn Boyle seems kind of wasted in her bit.

While it definitely has its charms, it’s more of a semi-classic than a full classic.

Into the Night (1985)

Into the Night (1985) movie poster

director John Landis
viewed: 05/31/2017

Into the Night is a mid-Eighties comedy about an average American man (Jeff Goldblum) suffering from insomnia, who discovers his wife is cheating on him and finds himself adrift “into the night” and all over LA. Circumstances being what they are, he meets up with a beautiful woman on the run (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is being hunted by some Persians from whom she stole some smuggled jewels.

I’d remembered it being one of those kind of cool comedy thrillers of the era, but it’s not really so sharp or funny. Director John Landis, though, seemed to have a great time playing a voiceless killer in the pack of Persian thugs.

Landis also seems to have had a great time packing cameos into the film by some great and though probably-not-recognizable-to-the-average-filmgoer movie notables. Really, when you get right down to it, it’s the cameos and surprising faces that make the film a little more fun than it really is.

The other points of interest are perhaps the streets of LA and Hollywood and the locations caught in their mid-Eighties states.