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Monthly Archives: December 2012

A Climax of Blue Power (1975): The Secret Life of Walter Titties

photo credit: Oregon State University

A Climax of Blue Power (Lee Frost, 1975)

[note: review originally published 18Sep2010]

 

photo credit: Amazon

There was a time when hardcore pornography had scripts, plots, real actors…

I’ll say it right up front: the biggest problem with Lee Frost’s A Climax of Blue Power, one of the story-based hardcore films of the seventies, is that it’s never entirely sure of what kind of movie it’s trying to be. Now, if you’re talking about a regular porn flick, or what we who came of age long after the golden age of hardcore had passed, tend to think of as a porn flick, then you’re probably giving me the dog-who-didn’t-understand-the-command head-cock right now. Remember that in the seventies, pornographic films were not just endless loops of extended sex scenes cut together with the loosest of frameworks; these were “adult movies” in the original sense of the term, regular movies spiced up with actual penetration of orifices. So, yes, when you’re reviewing an adult film that was made before about the age of the Dark Brothers, it does, in fact, make perfect sense to say of an adult film that it doesn’t quite know what kind of film it wants to be. I kid you not.

 

photo credit: mubi.com

“Wait, you’re going to pay me for driving around and having sex while you film it? Where do I sign?”

The story centers on Eddie (Jason Carns in his only screen role), turned down for the police force, now working as a security guard. He still wants to be a cop, though, and when he’s not on the clock, he dresses up, adds decals to his car, and goes out and “arrests” hookers, only to let them go in exchange for sexual favors and a bit of humiliation now and again. His life goes on this way until, while hanging out on the beach staring soulfully into the waves, he hears an argument at a nearby house. When he gets there, he finds a husband and wife (the wife is The Last Married Couple in America‘s Angela Carnon; the husband is uncredited) having an argument. The husband draws a gun, the wife retreats upstairs, there’s a shot… and then the husband comes rolling down the stairs. Eddie realizes he’s got himself an in to the police force; all he has to do is “solve” this murder.

The opening scene says “roughie”, though not in any outright way (the humiliation I referred to is more along the lines of “get out of the car and go play in the mud” rather than “get tied up and tortured”), but then it turns into your regular story-based porn film until it decides it wants to be a roughie again during the last 20-30 minutes. And really, that’s my only out-of-the-ordinary problem with it; everything else that’s wrong is to be expected from porn, or any other exploitation subgenre, really. The lighting is awful, the camerawork is barely competent most of the time, the acting… better nothing said about. (It’s telling that the most competent actress in the field, exploitation superstar Uschi Digard, has only a cameo in the picture.)

photo credit: Myspace

Once I had a husband.
Now I have a gun.
If not for this nosy rent-a-cop
I’d be having lots of fun!

 

As a side note for film buffs, however, it’s well worth noting that both Frost and his partner in crime Wes Bishop, who produced this movie and also appeared as a police lieutenant, were both heavily involved in the making of The Thing with Two Heads a few years before. That may well make it worth checking out for crap-cinema fans, but if you’re just looking for exploitation, I’d suggest holding off on this one until you have a better grounding in better story-based porn and better roughies before checking out this jumble. **

 

 

Opening titles (~2.5 min.)

 

Whatever Stars (1986): Everything New Is Old Again

Jocelyn Mary Sloan, Whatever Stars (Stereopticon Press, 1986)

 

photo credit: Amazon

Very little fish in very big ponds–but even the littlest fish have to fight like hell to get into these ponds.

I have pointed in a handful of recent reviews to a trend that I often halfheartedly link to the woeful state of poetry publishing in America: poets who publish in big-league magazines who turning to vanity-/self-/POD publishing for turning out their collections. It’s not a surprise that poets are doing this; there just aren’t enough dollars to go round, not enough American poetry gets published any more, no one buys poetry, you’ve heard all the arguments and yes, they’re all awful, and I truly wish I had a solution to offer. But I don’t.

However, it seems that this is not necessarily a recent trend. If you’re looking for a writer who was publishing with the big boys, you’d have to look pretty hard to find someone who was publishing higher than Jocelyn Mary Sloan. Among the publications listed in the credits to be found here: Lyric, Fiddlehead, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Shenendoah, Yankee, The New York Herald Tribune, and even the mighty Poetry. This is a woman who was published by the brightest, most popular, most competitive (in terms of number of submissions received per number of poems published) magazines of her era; many of those names would still rank very highly (and the others are gone or have stopped publishing poetry). And yet this book was published by one Stereopticon Press. For all the research I have done over the two months I have browsed through this book, I can find only four titles published by this imprint. All are poetry editions by women with some tie to New York state, and all three authors (they published Etta Ruth Weigl’s only two books, according to her listing in the P&W Directory of Writers) fit this description. It’s all circumstantial evidence, but I’m going to say it was a collaborative vanity effort by the three ladies. (The third of whom, by the way, is also by far the most famous: the late Eleanor McQuilkin.)

This is not to say the work involved ever appeared in any best-of editions of the magazines, at least not in Sloan’s case, and this, too, is something I have noticed about books in this trend. Which is not at all to say the work is not worth reading, and some of America’s very best editors over the past century have thought so, but here, for example, is a snippet of the piece she had published in Poetry:

“…Yet the lady saw
this place still polished, pruned,
in the fragment of a time
now unreal as a fairy tale.

While they drank from porcelain cups
filled at a sulphur spring,
its basin cracked, she spoke
as though she and the spa were young;
till the marveling child sensed ghosts
of all who had moved here once.”
(–”In at the Death”)

A quick gander over at Poetry‘s website reveals that this piece appeared in the January 1962 issue, and according to the editors, held its own enough to be presented with a feature poem-group by W. S. Merwin, Kay Boyle, William Meredith, and James Dickey (a selection that included his immortal “The Hospital Window”). It doesn’t strike me as work of that nature; I figured that when I looked it up I’d find it had been printed in the twenties or thirties, when some of Sloan’s more interesting (I don’t like the term “archaic”; it has a negative connotation I want strongly to not imply here) spelling and diction choices would have fit better, and the subject matter of the piece is, well, a little banal. (Compare to the breathtaking immediacy of the Dickey poem.) But it’s readable, and once again, we’ve come round to another trait that seems to cross generational boundaries when it comes to poets nibbling on the fringes of big-magazine success self-publishing their work. I’m sure it is very tough to find now, Pick it up if you do, but don’t necessarily go out of their way. ** ½

 

Another setback

This time of the mechanical variety…just as i was  almost getting caught up, i got transferred to a long-term care facility, and they have banned my laptop(!) until someone from their mechanical dept. can vet it. Which means hopefully i should continue with my frantic catching up soon! apologies again about the absence.

Racetrack (1985): There’s Always the Next Race

Racetrack (Frederick Wiseman, 1985)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]

 

photo credit: avaxhome.ws

Finding a poster for one of Fred Wiseman’s documentaries is almost as much trouble as getting to see one in the first place.

Wiseman’s documentaries are unmistakable; there is nothing but footage, footage, footage, all of it seemingly taken long after the subjects of the documentary have forgotten the cameras are even there. In this case, the subjects are the denizens of Elmont, NY track Belmont Park, America’s largest track in more ways than one; not only is it a mile and a half in diameter, but it’s one of the tracks writers have always gravitated toward when looking for racetrack color.

photo credit: Jigsaw Lounge

Everyone’s got an opinion, and everyone’s willing to put two bucks on it.

You don’t have to look too far for good stories at Belmont. Wiseman discovers a wealth of them, and interweaves them to give a picture of life at the track. (It’s not always, shall we say, a family-friendly picture; one review I’ve read called one of the scenes in this film “one of the most evocative sex scenes ever filmed”, and I’m not going to say the writer is wrong.) Ever the egalitarian, Wiseman turns his camera on everyone from the touts and bums non-track-aficionados expect to the wealthy socialites in the exclusive box seats (there’s a long, highly amusing 85th birthday scene that will just make your jaw drop at the incredible waste; in some circles, racing is truly, still, the sport of kings).

photo credit: berkeley.edu

“Aww, but ma, I don’t WANNA take a bath!”

 

When a filmmaker imparts a sense of his own style to any film, especially a documentary, he runs the risk of gaming the system, as it were; the film could well become more “a [director] film” than “a film about [subject] that happens to be directed by [director]”. (For a good example, look at David Fincher’s first few films, which are both brilliant and unmistakably David Fincher’s work, and then look at Panic Room, which is a David Fincher film with nothing to recommend it but Fincher’s style; see what I mean?) There are few documentarists who can actually pull it off, I’ve found. Frederick Wiseman, by having his style be the complete absence of style, has managed to pull it off in such a way that that complete absence of style, which one would think would make the film anonymous, defines Wiseman’s work so well that once you’ve seen one of his flicks, the rest are unmistakable after only a few seconds of footage. He takes the quotidian and makes it gripping. If you’re unfamiliar with Wiseman (and given how little distribution his movies get, that’s probably most of you), do whatever you must to get familiar with him ASAP. The more of us there are clamoring for a box set, the likelier it is we’ll actually get one, no? ****

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (2007): I’d Throw My Body Down on the River and I’d Know No More Sorrow

The Poughkeepsie Tapes (John Erick Dowdle, 2007)

[note: review originally published 1Dec2008]

 

photo credit: Netflix

The hardest part was finding a working video player to view them.

Dowdle, who became much better-known in 2008 for directing Quarantine, is here represented with the film he directed before it, The Poughkeepsie Tapes. This is a mockumentary (though that word implies comedy) that begins with the discovery of hundreds of homemade snuff tapes in a small, unassuming house in Poughkeepsie. We watch state and federal detectives sifting through the footage trying to get some clues as to who the killer was (and, of course, see some footage in the process), but the longer the cops go without getting anywhere, the more they find that watching hours and hours of this footage, sometimes over and over again, is having effects on them.

 

photo credit: Rotten Tomatoes

fans of Elias Merhige’s work will probably complain this movie came out looking too clear.

The horror mockumentary has experienced quite a surge in popularity since the twin explosions that were The Last Broadcast and The Blair Witch Project a decade ago. None of them, unfortunately, have been as inventive as the former or as visceral as the latter, and The Poughkeepsie Tapes is included in that count. While there are glimmers of the directorial style that made Quarantine one of the better recent horror remakes (one has to remember that he was, essentially, piggybacking on Jaume Balaguero’s original style, given the faithfulness Dowdle brought to the project), there’s nothing here that makes this different from most of the other horror mockumentaries that have cropped up recently. It is interesting to note that the handicam-style camerawork we’ve gotten so used to seeing (and that some directors have recently made into an art in movies like Cloverfield and, yes, [REC], the film upon which Quarantine was based) is represented here in the killer’s tapes; shades of Dowdle’s more recent work? Still, it’s not a bad example of the genre if you’ve got an hour and a half to kill. There are certainly worse examples out there. ***

 

My Friend Bernard (2012): Now with Extra Benshi!

My Friend Bernard (Aaron Lim, 2012)

 

photo credit: 7onashoestring.com

I admit, that may be the best tagline in history.

Here’s my hypothesis about what should have been a pretty darned good kidflick: the Korean animated movie My Friend Bernard was originally conceived as a silent, or close to silent, movie. But then, some genius at the studio watched the rough cut and said, “this movie won’t make sense to its target demographic. It needs narration.”

 

photo credit: h33t.com

Okay, I admit it–in Bernard’s world, Santa’s damn SCARY.

And so My Friend Bernard has narration. It reminds me of a passage from Carrie Cuinn’s foreword to her anthology Cthulhurotica, when she’s talking about some of the submissions: “I got stories that introduced a lovely setting, but spent the next two thousand words having sex all over it.” That’s exactly what happened here, and the longer the movie went on, the more I resented the narration, which is an insult to the intelligence of the average six-year-old, much less the average adult. (I am obviously not the only one who feels that way; the movie’s rating on IMDB as I write this is 4.2.)

So assuming you can get past the awful narration, My Friend Bernard is the story of a boy named Sam, who’s scared of pretty much everything. After a local yappy mutt absconds with Nano, Sam’s toy bear who goes with him everywhere, Sam discovers a magical necklace that whisks him off on a journey to learn to be brave. First, he heads to the antarctic, where he makes the acquaintances of Lloyd and Eva, a pair of penguins, and Bernard, a flatulent polar bear. (Bernard is originally an antagonist, which makes the title of the film a bit confusing for a while there.) Then the four of them are whisked away to the desert, where they encounter an opportunistic gecko and a sea monster who, like both Lloyd and Bernard, falls head over heels for Eva. Cue hilarity.

photo credit: abc.net.au

Yes, I would allow my kid to hang around with this ragtag band of animals.

 

It’s not that My Friend Bernard would be an animated classic even without the narration; the structure is far too episodic for its own good, no one (except Sam) really seems to have compelling motivations for anything they do (why does Bernard suddenly become an ally, aside from “the enemy of my enemy”, which doesn’t lead to the final sequences in any way?), and we get no sense of Sam really developing friendships with anyone, even Lloyd, who’s obviously supposed to be Sam’s spirit animal. But it’s a cute film, and it’s effective enough to tug at the heartstrings (even if the final showdown between Sam and the aforementioned dog is just too dumb for words, not to mention manipulative in the extreme), and had the studio left well enough alone and allowed this movie to be released without a narrator having sex all over it, it would have at least been an amusing diversion. As it stands, though, you can safely ignore it. *

And a trailer.

Arang (2006): The Salt Pit

Arang (Sang-hoon Ahn, 2006)

 

photo credit: popmatters.com

The cover promises Yet Another Southeast Asian Horror Film… and the disc delivers.

The downside of Arang, the first feature-length offering from Blind director Sang-hoon Ahn, is that it treads no new ground at all; it takes a common Korean mythological figure (if you google Arang, you’ll come up with many versions of the story; even Wikipedia has an entry on the Arang story), weds it with a detective story, and comes up with, well, every Asian supernatural mystery that’s been made since the mid-nineties. The upside of Arang is that it separates itself from the pack with some of the finest cinematography you’ll see outside a Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, and even were the film not all that hot (and it is a well-made enough film even without the incredible photography) it would be worth seeing for that reason alone.

photo credit: asianreporter.com

It’s shot composition like this that truly sets this movie apart from the pack.

Plot: So-young (Secret‘s Yun-ah Song) and her brand-new partner Hyun-ki (The Recipe‘s Dong-wook Lee) are assigned to the case of a murdered schoolgirl in a backwater coastal village; it doesn’t take them long to discover that this case is related to a murder a decade earlier—that of Hyun-ki’s first girlfriend, Min-jeung (Thirst‘s Ok-bin Kim). Needless to say, Hyun-ki grows obsessed with the case quickly—but it’s So-young who begins to have visions of the murdered girl…

Cinematographer Kwang-suk Chung has no other credits listed at IMDB. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything where foreign crew members are concerned; IMDB is notoriously incomplete when it comes to work outside Hollywood/Bollywood. But if it is the case, it’s a crime against humanity that must be rectified as soon as possible; what Chung did with cameras in the filming of this movie is something special indeed. The salt house which sits at the center of the action [it’s the focus of the bottom graphic I ran here] is so lovingly rendered that it becomes a character in the story; the only building I can think of done as well in a recent film is the abandoned house in Leonardo DiCaprio’s extended dream sequence towards the end of Inception, but there is an order of magnitude more substance here. This is cinematography as a living, breathing thing, and work like this is not seen nearly often enough.

Which is not to overstate (though I guess I already have) the movie as a whole; it is still somewhat derivative, if very competently done and well-acted. Even if you think you’ve had your fill of supernatural Asian mysteries and long-haired ghosts, give this one a look; if nothing else, you will find it very beautiful. *** ½

photo credit: beyondhollywood.com

I’m so up on these shot compositions I didn’t even thumbnail this one, just ran it as the closing graphic. You could put a framed print of that on your wall and it would not be out of place ferfooxache.