Monday, December 20, 2010
Hope you're having a good or at least a non-depressing Holiday season and keeping warm out there. If you've been wondering what I have been up to between the Mike White interview (Seriously, buy his book y'all. It is worth it.) and now, here are a few links that will fill in the gap. Enjoy and stay tuned!
In addition to my steady work with the great film review site Cultcuts, I also was interviewed for the second time around by the one and only Frank Cotolo for his internet radio show, the Cotolo Chronicles. In addition to being a radio personality extraordinaire, he's also a fab interviewer and fine writer to boot. If you're curious, you can access a link to the show here.
I've also started contributing to the relatively new but already going strong site, Cinema Head Cheese. Check out both sites for some fun and fine film writing a go-go. (Plus they are great guys too.)
The biggest news is that I have recently joined the staff at Video Watchdog. This is a huge pleasure for me, especially since VW was one of the big film magazines that helped open my eyes to the colorful world of cult and foreign films back in my early teens.
I've made my debut with issue #160, which is fresh from the printers and uber-lovely. In addition to my two BYTES of Troma's BIGFOOT and Media Blaster's LEMON GROVE KIDS MEET THE MONSTERS, there are some terrific articles about Friday the 13th, including the underrated series with Robey, an interview with June Lockheart and a ton of great reviews.
I also got to contribute to the Best DVDs of 2010 list on the Video Watchblog as well. All of the contributions are really good and a near-painful reminder that I need to find a bag of money asap!
There are other projects cooking, but more on those when the time comes. Thank you everyone for reading and keep fighting the good fight and support great, fringe culture.
Friday, October 22, 2010
To create a zine of any type takes a certain type of creative spark and energy. After all, you're doing something that is DIY, so you gotta make it count. Now to keep said zine going after its initial run takes an especially precious and resourceful blend of focus and energy. Take, for example, Mike White's great film zine, Cashiers du Cinemart, which began operation in 1994. Many a zine from this era has died with a whimper, especially once the age of the Internet and Blogging took a stranglehold in the writing community. (For better and worse.) But Mike kept his creation going, featuring many a strong writer and some wickedly diverse content. This is not your average cult film zine, a fact that shines brilliantly in the newly released tome, IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY: A CASHIERS DU CINEMART COLLECTION.
Mike: Like just about everything in my life, it was a confluence of events that finally pushed me over the edge. I’d been a big fan of Factsheet Five (http://www.factsheet5.org/) and loved reading about various film and work zines but didn’t have anything to trade for these. While working at a movie theater I got the idea to do my own zine of life at the cinema. This idea languished until I graduated from college and landed a shitty job where I worked some crazy hours, including a few overnight shifts. Add to that the strange events surrounding a documentary I made (WHO DO YOU THINK YOU’RE FOOLING) and everything resulted in the messy birth of Cashiers du Cinemart.
-Keeping in that vein, are there any particular inspirations for your writing?
Mike: Style-wise I write far too stream-of-consciousness. I used to bury a lead so deep that it took a back hoe to find the start of an article. I’ve tried to change this over the years by learning how to rewrite my own material. I took a page from Charles Willeford’s The Woman Chaser there with the idea that the biggest part of writing is rewriting. Content-wise, I think that I was influenced a lot by Colin Geddes and Rich Osmond with the joy they showed in their zines Asian Eye and Teenage Rampage.
-You've got a great assortment of writers in the Cahiers du Cinemart league. How did you round up everybody?
Mike: It was kind of like The Dirty Dozen, I found all of them in jail, waiting for death. Actually, over the years I approached and have been approached by a lot of folks. Nearly all of them have turned out to be terrific writers. When people have come to me and asked for an “assignment,” I tell them to write about what they love – preferably something I’ve never heard about. That helps capture their enthusiasm as well as expand my cinematic frontiers (and hopefully those of the reader as well).
-What was the big pull for putting this book together?
Mike-I felt like I’d come to a breathing point in terms of putting the zine in its grave and wanting to look back and update some articles while combining others. Plus, there were a few things I had left to say that never made it into Cashiers du Cinemart. Some people were of the opinion that everything should go into the book verbatim—warts and all—while I was more of the mind to rewrite everything. At the end I think that it was a mix of both.
-How was the decision making process for the chapters and individual articles?
Mike: I got together with two of my friends, Mike Thompson and Lori Hubbard-Higgins, and laid out a huge spreadsheet of everything that had ever been in the zine before. They volunteered their favorite pieces while I did the same. By the end of a long evening of coffee and weepy reminiscences (we all had coffee, only I did the weeping) we had a workable list that was pared down until we got to a place that wouldn’t make an insane amount of pages. Likewise, I picked authors with whom I knew I could get in contact. Some people have fallen off the face of the earth since they sent in their pieces and I wanted to get sign-off to reprint their stuff. I didn’t want to be chasing some author around to beg for permission.
-There's definitely a weird dynamic in the book between you and Chris Gore. He gives a nice introduction but comes across as bit of a jerk in the Tarantino subsection. How are things in that camp currently?
Mike: I gave up holding a lot of grudges. It’s just so “September Tenth,” ya know? I kind of regret that I didn’t have my take on the whole Ultimate Film Fanatic show in the book. It might have made a good comparison piece to Gore’s Introduction. Things seem to be fine between me and him. We still have yet to ever meet in person but I’m up for buying him a beer if I ever do.
-Speaking of Tarantino, what is the strangest reaction you have had from either the articles or the two short films, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING and YOU'RE STILL NOT FOOLING ANYBODY?
Mike: I still laugh about the guy who asked me how I got all those Asian dudes to be in my film. The hate mail still keeps coming in, usually via drips and drabs on YouTube. You don’t know how many times I’ve gotten people trying to quote the line about good artists creative and great artists stealing to me. Yet, they can’t even agree on who said it first.
Mike: I suppose that the people that surprised me most were the filmmakers who didn’t want me to review their films. You wouldn’t believe how many folks I talked to over the years that had I sought out to ask for copies of their movies, only to have them tell me their bizarre marketing strategies didn’t have zine or internet reviews in mind. Luckily, I ran into far more nice people than nasty. I was always surprised by how down-to-earth some of the celebs I interviewed have acted.
-The whole BLACK SHAMPOO section is really great and strangely sweet. What other creative things bent your brain in your youth, making you the great fringe culture guy that you are today?
Mike: Gosh, I wish I knew! It was probably due to being raised by the light of a Cathode Ray, hanging out in my basement with the television as my only friend. Like other kids my age I played for hours with Star Wars toys but I would mix Star Wars with disparate ideas like The A-Team, The Dukes of Hazzard, and The Blues Brothers.
-Something that I love about this book is the variety and the fact that you have figures and films that have not really been properly covered in any other film books. The Charles Willeford section is a terrific example of this. Is this a conscious decision on your part or is it the natural trajectory of the zine/book?
Mike: That’s very much a conscious decision. I love reading about authors or seeing movies that I’ve never heard of before and wanted to share that same idea with my readers. While I was doing Cashiers du Cinemart I always thought about the kid stuck in some crappy Midwestern town with no access to culture who happens to pick up a zine and read about someone or something that they never heard about that blew their mind; that’s because I was the same kid. Pieces about Harry Stephen Keeler in Murder Can Be Fun or on hopping Chinese vampires in Asian Eye opened my world up in directions I’d never thought possible.
-Seeing a filmmaker like Shuji Terayama get noted and written about made me smile. His works are ripe for proper discovery over here in the States. While I do disagree with writer Andrew Grant about FRUITS OF PASSION, I loved what he wrote about EMPEROR TOMATO KETCHUP. How do you personally feel about Terayama's works?
Mike: Here’s a filmmaker that needs to get some notice in the U.S. that just isn’t getting his due. I personally feel that his work needs to be seen and enjoyed, along with more of the Japanese New Wave. I’ve done all I could to help get these films more notice, even working with native Japanese speakers to subtitle Terayama’s movies for the gray market to get more American eyes on his movies. It’s like a treasure just waiting to be discovered.
Mike: My most favorite piece is probably the Willeford. I was deathly afraid of writing this at first as I thought I’d never be able to do him justice. I finally sat down one Saturday and just started at it, writing down everything I could before beginning an arduous editing/rewriting process. In the end, I’d like to think I did a pretty okay job.
My least favorite piece might be my interview with Alex Winter. I’d been trying to get an interview with him for years and, when I finally did, it was around the release of his film Fever. If you just asked yourself, “Fever?” you’re not alone. It was kind of a psychological thriller with Henry Thomas. Despite meeting him under the guise of covering Fever, I should have thrown caution to the wind and just talked to him about the movies of his I love like Squeal of Death and Freaked.
-For any piece that I work on, I always take little notes while watching or reading whatever I am covering. One of notes here only says three words; “Paul Fucking Williams!” That's with complete seriousness since I love Paul Williams and is one of those artists who found great commercial success but yet I feel still deserves some critical love, which is most definitely found in this book. In fact, I think Leon Chase's piece was touching and perfectly fitting.
Mike: I love Leon’s piece. It’s so well-written and told me about someone I thought I knew but didn’t. Leon’s piece really made me appreciate Williams and even track down some of the movies with which he’s been associated—though I have yet to brave Ishtar.
We love you Paul!
Mike: Oh, geeze. I don’t even want to think about that. I try to think that I properly employed the “Lady’s Skirt” rule for these pieces—they’re long enough to cover the subject but short enough to keep it interesting.
If anything, I could see busting out the section on unproduced or misdirected scripts into its own book as I’ve still got a pile of a few dozen scripts that I need to read and research.
-Reading the Superman article, which was excellent by the way, you gave a great peek not only into the snake-eating-its-tail machina that can happen in the pre-production process in Hollywood, but also the scariness of fan boy culture. Namely the endorsement of the Kevin Smith script, complete with some semi-hokey dialogue. What do you think are some of the sins of fan boy community?
Mike: I think it’s the prejudice against certain films/filmmakers/actors without giving them a chance. By the time a movie comes out it’s already been scrutinized via all of its elements and not the final product. That’s a great way to condone crappy movies while condemning good ones. I mean, it took six months before anyone would even think to say that The Phantom Menace sucked. Everyone was still too busy kissing George Lucas’s ass to think differently.
-IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY contains what I think is probably the best interview I have ever read with Crispin Glover. How was the experience of putting together that interview?
Mike: I can’t tell you how many times I emailed and cajoled Glover about this. Finally, out of nowhere, he emailed me back to say that he was available for an email interview. Again, after I sent questions, it was a lot of wheedling to get the answers. I’m glad that the interview turned out as good as it did as he’s very high maintenance.
-Lastly, name a group of artists, films, books and records that will change our readers’ lives in three easy steps.
Mike: Books: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (the audio version read by Barrett Whitener is incredible), The Abortion by Richard Brautigan, and Of Tender Sin by David Goodis.
Films: The Spook who Sat by the Door (Ivan Dixon), Boxer’s Omen (Chih-Hung Kuei), and Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone).
Records: A Night at the Hip Hopera by The Kleptones, Silence! The Musical by Jon & Al Kaplan, and Metal Box by Public Image Ltd.
Many thanks to Mike for his time, great work and friendship. He's what we in the industry call a helluva guy and you can read more of his work at his main website, http://www.impossiblefunky.com/.
IMPOSSIBLY FUNKY is a great read and one of the best fringe cinema culture book to have come out in years. Support your indie writers and read some great articles while doing it!
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Anyways, consider this your coming attraction post for future pieces to be featured in this space. Including....
-Impossibly Funky: A Cult Film Writing Extravaganza (An article about writer Mike White's latest book. For more info on that, then look no further than here.)
-A Bite-Sized Tribute to the Roughies
-Devo Round-Up...and so much more!
Until then, here is some video goodness to keep you a little sated. Thank you all so much for reading my blog!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Thursday, June 3, 2010
“Live longer, Live Healthier, and let thy arse make wind! A Video Round-up and Tribute to Timothy Carey”
Monday, April 19, 2010
[spoken] Newsflash, newsflash...
“Official government reports...” (all in English)
Jeanny, come, come on
Stand up please
You're getting all wet
It's getting late, come
We must leave here
Out of the woods
Don't you understand?
Where is your shoe?
You lost it
When I had to show you the way
Which of us lost?
Or... we ourselves?
Jeanny, quit livin' on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
Such a lonely little girl in a cold, cold world
There's someone who needs you
Jeanny quit livin' on dreams
Jeanny, life is not what it seems
You're lost in the night
Don't wanna struggle and fight
There's someone who needs you
We must leave here
Your lipstick is smeared
You bought it and
And I saw it
Too much red on your lips
And you said, “Leave me alone”
But I saw right through you
Eyes say more than words
You need me, don't you, hmmmh?
Everyone knows, that we're together
Now I can hear them, they are coming!
They are coming to get you.
They won't find you.
Nobody will find you!
You're with me.
Jeanny quit livin' on dreams...
In the last months the number of missing persons has dramatically increased. The latest account from the local police reports another tragic case. It is a matter of a nineteen year old girl who was last seen two weeks ago. The police have not excluded the possiblity that a crime has been committed.
Jeanny, quit livin' on dreams...
Monday, April 12, 2010
Monday, February 1, 2010
Bela Lugosi in Tod Browning's 1931 classic, "Dracula."
The mythology and belief in the vampire, in all of its assorted forms, is ancient. In fact, the Greeks believed that having red hair was a symptom of vampirism. (Yes, we ginges have been discriminated against for a longass time.) The Lamia were believed to be women who wore snake skin and were used as a threat by parents to keep their kids in check. The lamia are even connected to Lilith, who was believed to be the biblical Adam’s first wife who was run off because of her unwillingness to submit to him. The Ewe people in West Africa believed that vampires could take the form of fireflies and specifically prey on their young. Now, is anyone going to use some glittery, metrosexual dandy to scare their hell spawn into cleaning their room? Hell no!
How did these creatures of the night go from being baby eating, blood slurping, vein eating, fanged, hideous monsters to Teen Beat fodder? While Twilight (2008) might seem like the obvious example, the direct root lies more with Anne Rice’s group of beautiful and tragic creatures. But at least Rice’s vampires had literal fangs and were halfway complex creatures capable of real villainy. (Except for Louis, who was a bonafide pussy that should have jumped into the sun before the second book was even published.) The vampire with human type fragility has popped up in great movies (Herzog’s 1978 remake of Murnau’s classic Nosferatu), underrated TV series (Forever Knight) and entertaining, though highly flawed films (Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)
The main cast of the vastly underrated "Forever Knight."
Truth be told, any Twilight hater out there could also probably blame Joss Whedon and the success of his shows, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel. Of course, this can get a bit like the bible. Todd Browning’s Dracula (1931) begat Terrence Fisher’s The Horror of Dracula (1958) which begat Dan Curtis’s Dark Shadows (1966) which begat Forever Knight (1989) which ultimately begat Angel (1999), who was begat by Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997). Yes, it can all make one’s head explode into a sanguine froth, but the creative arts in general are like this.
But you know who truly is to blame? It’s not Rice or Whedon, especially since both have done some good work and are capable of talent. It’s not even Stephenie Meyer, the creator of the Twilight books. Heck, seeing people, certainly kids, getting excited about reading is reassuring and gives writers like myself some hope. No, it’s the one-two punch of public demand and the major studios. The public needs to demand vampires with fangs and balls. If you want great cinema in general, then demand it because money talks. And for my money, one of the best vampire films in the past 20 years was the underrated Subspecies (1991).
Radu was charismatic and ghoulish. He had a heart but he also delighted in such wonderful activities as staking his own brother and then drinking his blood as it spurted out of his quickly decaying chest. Now that is a proper vampiric protaganist! Not to mention his striking physical appearance, with the long, spindly claw-like fingers of Nosferatu and the skin color and lanky hair of someone who has been in an eternal stasis of rot. It’s been noted that the hair and nails continue to grow post mortem, which is the visual effect you get with Radu. Having a highly talented Dutch actor in the form of Anders Hove doesn’t hurt any and he is able to give the monster a human side without sacrificing any of his nightmarish qualities, which is exactly how it should be.
Of course in this era of severe media retardation, ghouls don’t really sell that well to the libidos of adolescent girls or middle-aged women. Radu didn’t have six-pack abs nor was he some kind of sad panda-faced dandy. You can couple that with the character being in a low budget, independent film and it’s no surprise that people do not mention the name Radu next to wimps like Louis or any of the Twilight twinks. All that said, the Subspecies series does not get enough love. The first three films are highly recommended and really managed to blend the gothic imagery of the classics of vampire cinema with an old European world approach to the undead.
Which brings me to the aforementioned Bram Stoker’s Dracula. On one hand, it is visually lavish with one of the best cinematic scores courtesy of Polish composer Wojciech Kilar. Half of the cast are terrific, especially Tom Waits as the best Renfield this side of Dwight Frye and Klaus Kinski, the always dependable Richard E. Grant as Dr. Seward and Gary Oldman as the titular character. Despite the mention of Stoker in the title, this version is about as far removed from the classic piece of literature as the 1931 Lugosi film. Stoker was totally a creature of his environment and being a Victorian gentleman, the film’s romanticism and positive eroticism of the monster that is Dracula would have more than likely repelled him.
There is an underlying sensuality to the novel’s vampires, but it is a polluted one. Sexuality back then was something that was viewed as poisonous that if unbridled in any way could lead to disease and downfall. Some have theorized that the vampire is a metaphor for venereal disease and it is not a far out theory when dealing with this classic Victorian novel. Mina Harker is the prototype of the ideal Victorian woman, which makes Dracula attacking her all the more horrific, even if it is inadvertently dirty and sexual.
Coppola’s Mina is a winsome tart that is played horribly by Winona Ryder. She is to Mina what Kevin Costner was to Robin Hood. She looks lovely but was very ill suited acting ability wise for this character. This is especially obvious next to Sophie Ward’s Lucy, who is not only authentically British but actually has a natural warmth on screen. There’s nothing wrong with Mina having a sensuality to her but the problem is that Ryder is inherently an un-sexual performer. Peta Wilson had way more heat as a half-breed vampire version of Mina in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003) and was more compelling to boot. Ryder is just too bland and underdeveloped. Why would a guy like Dracula be excited by her? Jonathon Harker maybe, especially when he is played by the equally thespian challenged Keanu Reeves, but not some powerful, supernatural creature like Dracula.
Speaking of Reeves, the whole scene with him and the three oversexed vampire brides has moments of unintentional hilariousness, especially when he starts screaming. It’s eerily similar to one’s half-baked roommate finding out that their dog ate the rest of their stash.
One of the most annoying things about Coppola’s retelling, though, is the whole “love never dies” ploy. Granted the romanticism has garnered it a lot of fans and with better writing and a better lead actress, it could have really worked. Oldman is fantastic as this haunted creature that is still at heart a lonely man. In fact, while there are things I absolutely love about this movie, it is often frustrating because of the promise it holds and yet doesn’t automatically deliver. Plus Stoker’s name never should have been added to the title. Seeing a bad actor get his nipple licked was probably never on Stoker’s agenda for his masterwork.
One 90’s era vampire film that did deliver all the goods in spades was Jake West’s Razorblade Smile. It’s a helluva lot of fun and manages to balance the gothic trappings of the myth while incorporating bits of wit and Hollywood action film style violence. Eileen Daly stars as Lilith Silver, a raven-haired beauty who is a sexy assassin with a brain who is constantly trying to stave off boredom, whether it is having bloody lesbian sex or bumping off members of the Illuminati.
To properly cover all the great, flawed and horrible vampire films out there, one would and many have, written books about it. The undead in cinema has made circular progressions; going from monster to sexy monster to sexy romantic monster and back to monster all over again. Whether it is the bloodthirsty and captivating creatures from True Blood to the boy band twinkleness of the Twilight films, it will be interesting to see what the cinematic landscape holds for one of the oldest mythological creatures.
Bonus! My Personal Top 10 Favorite Vampires Films*
- Subspecies 1, 2, and 3 (tie)
- Nosferatu (Murnau original)/Nosferatu (Herzog Remake) (tie)
- Near Dark
- Dracula (1931)
- Blood for Dracula
- Razorblade Smile
- Blood and Donuts
- Lips of Blood
- Fright Night
The amazing John Amplas in one of the best films to have come out in the past 50 years, George Romero's Martin.
*My opinion is known to change according to mood, the position of the moon and how much my memory is willing to behave. Some honorary mentions should go to Taste of Blood, anything Franco has done, House of Dark Shadows, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dance of the Damned, Love at First Bite (I actually had a crush on Arte Johnson as a kid because of this movie), Sundown: the Vampire in Retreat, The Return of the Vampire, Rockabilly Vampire among many others.
The infamous Project:Vampire. The cover would be cool if this was really bad early 90's porn, which is an insult to really bad early 90's porn. Ugh.
My Personal Top 7 Worst Vampires Films Ever or How I Stopped Worrying and tried to be more discriminating.
- Project: Vampire
- Dracula 2000 (Good basic story idea horribly raped and mutilated by lazy filmmaking. Plus why does Dracula like Monster Magnet? Wouldn’t he be more into something genuinely good and dark, like Christian Death or Bauhaus? Kiss my ass! TM Whitney Houston)
- Witchcraft 7: Judgment Hour (Yes this is a vampire film and yes it is god-awful. It will make you hunger for the mise en scene of Night Eyes 2.
- Queen of the Damned (Despite my snarking on dandies, I did enjoy “Interview with the Vampire” but this piece of simpy crap was terrible. Jonathon Davis??? Really??? Why did the production people hate Lestat that much?)
- It’s a Troma film that I dare not type its name because just doing so could possibly send me into that spicy mix of anger and narcolepsy. Have you ever tried flipping off the TV while sinking into uncontrollable slumber? I don’t recommend it and I refuse to give them any publicity.
- Subspecies 4 (While the first three are exceptional films, the fourth one is severely lacking with them neutering Radu and Ash, the Jonathon Morris character from Full Moon’s Vampire Journals (1997), being equally diminished. The crossover potential of characters was great but ended up being a huge let down.)