October 20, 2004

The Devil Bat (1941, Jean Yarborough) (v) 2

Another excerpt from ďOn Strings Of Darkness: An Interview with the Worldís Phoniest BatĒ, Cinefantastique, Vol. 28 No. 7 January, 1996, pp. 56-59.

You played both bats?

Thatís right, the ďbeforeĒ and ďafterĒ bat. We shot all my skinny bat scenes first, and then I gained a bunch of weight to play Belaís killer bat. Iím small, Iím used to eating insects, so it didnít take more than a couple hamburgers. But mind you, this was years before DeNiro. Iím not going to say Iím better or anything, Iím just saying I was probably there first. But no one thought about those kinds of things then, either. You did what you had to do to get a film in the can in three weeks. I played all the bats.

You did?

If you look carefully, you can see that each time a bat flies out of the window, thereís a cut. I played a whole colonyís worth. Got paid once, though. [Laughs.]

PRC [Producers Releasing Corporation Ė ed.] offered you a three-movie contract after The Devil Bat.

That was Belaís doing. He was the total ďleave nobody behindĒ kind of guy. It didnít matter that his career was on the wane. He still wanted to make sure doors opened for those less fortunate than him. And PRC treated him like he was Gable. So when Devil Bat was a hit Ė I donít know how or why Ė Bela used his influence to help me out.

But you opted to invest in the company instead.

Well, hereís the thing. I could do three more Devil Bats, movies that a six year-old would find patronizingly stupid, movies where people donít know what a bat is, if itís a kind of bird or something, movies where news reporters do the work of police detectivesÖ Anyway, I could do that or I could put myself in a position where I could make something Iíd be proud of. Itís a horrible, awful clichť, but truth is, I wanted to do Shakespeare. Or OíNeill.

What happened?

[Long pause.] PRC didnít do too bad, and I took the money. And thatís all I want to say about that.

Did you also provide the Devil Batís scream?

Oh God, no. I forgot about that. No, that was dubbed in later. Sounds like Carol Burnett, doesnít it?

Posted by kza at 10:37 AM | Comments (1)

October 18, 2004

A Name For Evil (1973, Bernard Girard) (v) 58

The movie that forced me to boycott American Movie Classics. Not that I shouldíve been giving them my time to begin with; once the commercials came in, it was inevitable that they would start editing for content. But when they announced it in front of Prophecy (resulting in its immediate deletion from the TiVo), I figured they always said as much. But after doing some research on this obscure flick, I was surprised to discover that thereís a whole lotta nudity going on, and thanks to AMC, I was none the wiser. Sorry, AMC, but I get cable to see hippie pagan orgies, thank you very much.

So anyway, the movie: itís basically Altmanís Images, only with Susannah York replaced with Robert Culp (!). Heís an architect who leaves the big city with his wife to inhabit his grandfatherís decrepit house in the woods. Like Images, itís upfront that the protagonist sees things that are only in his head; a slight difference is that Culp seems to know the difference, at least in the beginning. However, his grandfatherís ghost may be haunting the place; or it may be Culpís imagination; or it could be the ambiguous direction and cinematography just trying to confuse us as to what the hellís going on; or itís possible that a plot point got lost cuz there was a boob in the shot. Itís difficult to say, and thus the 58 is provisional, since I donít know what to blame on Girard and what to blame on AMC.

Despite this, I liked this intriguing mess of a movie. Culp is really good; his architectís a depressed guy with an active fantasy life, and Culp, a pretty masculine guy, seems to be enjoying playing such a withdrawn and emotionally fragile character. As Kim Newman in Nightmare Movies points out, movies about insane men usually portray the insanity through violence, while movies about insane women seem to have the option of using (a usually pastoral) location to represent the decaying mind. This is the only film I know that switches the gender roles in this way.

The beginning is energetically bizarre, as well: Culp quits his firm, but the conversation between him and his boss is heard only in voice-over, over images of the skyscrapers (presumably that Culp designs) that dominate the landscape. He then leaves, and through a series of shots, we see the city and the urban lifestyle gang up on him (including a automatic pool sweeper!), culminating in him throwing his TV out his high-rise apartment window. Frankly, itís as good an indictment of the modern world as anything in Richard Lesterís Petulia.

The rest of the movie isnít up to this beginning, but it does squeeze out a few more interesting moments until Culpís final crack-up, including a hallucinatory hippie pagan romp that borders on Wicker Man creepiness. Except that its logical climax, the aforementioned orgy, is cut. Fuckiní AMC.

Posted by kza at 11:16 AM

October 13, 2004

the horror... the horror.

Wow -- what a hacky way to announce that I'm doing all horror films this month. Am I not even trying anymore, or what?

Squirm (1976, Jeff Lieberman) (v) [68]
Surprisingly effective; probably the best movie that could be made about killer albeit-otherwise-normal worms. Apparently some worms really do have fangs, as we get super close-ups of said choppers; the footage is repeated ad nauseum, but it does give the film a skin-crawling mood that otherwise might be lacking. Slow to get going, but decently-written characters (a slightly geeky city boy in the midst of small-town southerners) and a good location held my interest until things picked up. The climax is impressive, and creative: I donít think I wouldíve thought to turn the worms into a Blob-like menace, but thatís probably the only way to make it work. The jealous lunkhead who is driven insane from being half-eaten by worms is probably a bit of a cheat, but I suppose it has its roots in Caltiki, The Immortal Monster, and it leads to some nice complications, so I wonít bitch too much.

Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973, Bob Kelljan) (v) [43]
Iím a big fan of Kelljanís Count Yorga films; more than Romero or Coscarelli, heís been the architect of my nightmares ever since I first saw them, oh shit, about twenty years ago. All the usual Kelljan elements are here: the use of zombie motifs in a vampire context, the shock cuts, letting the monsters stare into the camera (so that it feels like theyíre looking right at you), and a cultured vampiric villain who can turn monstrously violent in a flash. (Unsure, but I wonder if Buffyís now-weíre-human-now-weíre-not vampires can be traced back to Kelljan; itís clear to me, though, that Tobe Hooperís 'Salemís Lot owes a lot to him.) Thereís some nice scenes, including a very tense vigil over a soon-to-be reanimated body. Yet, despite all this, the filmís a complete disappointment, even with Pam Grier. Mostly, itís the script; Yorga, unlike Blacula, was never meant to be sympathetic, and Kelljan canít accommodate that sympathy (give him pure evil any day). And although thereís a nice police vs. vampires climax inside a mansion, it doesnít have the pressure cooker quality of his previous films, and kind of drags from scene to scene. The final scene is nicely abbreviated though; guess they had to work that title in there somehowÖ

Posted by kza at 01:07 AM | Comments (4)

October 01, 2004

previously, on "he loved him some movies"...

I've been stranded on a tropical island with a polar bear.

No, wait, that isn't it...

Lemme find my notes...

Here we go:

Yellow: The big news here is that v2 was read by our super-secret Contact in the Industry, and she liked it! Hooray! She had a number of very good notes for us, and Martin and I are going to spend the next few weeks incorporating said notes and (hopefully) skinny it up a bit. If v3 passes muster, Our Contact may pass it on to other people in the Bidness to read. (Our Contact has a production company, but specializes in movies that don't involve people being crushed by art installations.) Baby steps, to be sure, but I'm incredibly excited.

The Somnambulist: A little background: Back in 2002, my friend and artist extraordinaire came back to Seattle from the U.K. to visit, and brought with her a BAFTA-winning cinematographer with her. She had the crazy idea to shoot a short film (not video, either, but film), and wanted me to write something to shoot. I came up with a modest story about a guy who keeps waking up in the trunk of his car every morning with no memory of the nights before. So money was raised and the film was shot. Unfortunately, one person in our crew was a jackass and a number of shots were unusable because of her. (The work of the BAFTA guy was impeccable, though; it looked fantastic.) It was pretty much impossible to put the film together the way it was written, and that was pretty much that. Or so I thought.

Mary is much more tenacious than me, though, and kept working on it. Because the U.K. is so much cooler when it comes to these things, she's gotten a whole lot of money to finish it in a new way: as a generative film, meaning a film that changes its narrative structure with each viewing, through some kind of random element.

So, these past few weeks, I've been working on the footage with Mary in an attempt to make it work. It's going to be silent (oh, let's not get started about what happened to the soundtrack), with intertitles written by me and a music provided by Laurence Collyer, the Diamond Family Archive. It's a bit like reconstructive surgery, and while the end result may not be conventionally pretty, it'll work, dammit.

Anyway, the point is, there's money in the budget to bring my wife and me over to England to (a) finish the work, (b) premiere the work [see below], and (c) start work on the next project, which looks to be a full-length version of The Somnambulist, in both traditional narrative and generative forms. We'll be gone for a couple weeks in November. (Cue Spinal Tap's "Stonehenge".)

The new version of The Somnambulist will premiere at the By Hand Festival in Brighton. If you're interested in submitting a film or video, check out the press release:

The BY HAND FESTIVAL is seeking submissions for its short film/video festival in Brighton, England.

We welcome submission of short films, videos, animations, experiments, thoughts or ideas on miniDV, DVD or PAL VHS. (miniDV or DVD preferred).

WE ARE MOST INTERESTED IN SHORT SILENT FILMS.
By "silent films" we simply mean films without a soundtrack. The reason being that we commission local bands and composers to create and perform a soundtrack to your silent films. Those performances are recorded (and a copy of the tape or music can be provided if your work is accepted).

There is no submission fee but, as a result, we cannot return materials submitted. So, if you would like your materials returned, you will have to send a self-adressed envelope along with £5 or $10 to cover postage from the UK.

Send all submissions to:

By-Hand Festival
PO BOX 455
Brighton BN1 3ZY
England

For more information
Email: info@byhandproductions.com

More about what we are looking for:
The byHand Festival exhibits independent and experimental short films and videos from around the world (often presented with original scores composed and performed live by local bands). We accept all genres of film and video but particularly welcome silent or un-scored short films and videos.

Our primary emphasis is our "New Talkies" initiative (where local musicians, bands and composers create and perform soundtracks for films submitted as silent works). We welcome experiments, thoughts, re-edits and even fragments for that scheme. If you are interested and have questions, email us.

Work can be produced in any year.

TiVo: I am TiVomandias; look upon my digitally-taped movies and TV shows, ye mighty, and despair!

And just like Alexander, it may send me to an early grave. Hopefully, I'll find time to say something about all the stuff I've been watching before my demise, other than (number)(number). [Go here for said (number)(number).]

Posted by kza at 11:30 AM | Comments (4)