Wednesday, November 28, 2007

tvod


For some reason, and despite the fact that I spent the past four years working on a master's degree in media studies (in addition to an earlier four years, some time ago, spend on an undergraduate degree in film), it's been deeply instilled in me that there's something really shameful about watching television, and even moreso watching and enjoying it. Of course, this is total bullshit, television is so deeply ingrained in so many aspects of our culture, popular or otherwise, people who don't watch are kind of cutting themselves off from a vital lifeline to the collective cultural consciousness. That said, there is also a decent amount of decent material being broadcast on television these days, particularly as network TV responds to the more filmic shows finding popularity on cable. Which is all just a self-indulgent, self-loathing, self-important and roundabout way of saying that I watch TV and I like watching TV. I understand the problems people have with TV and certainly have many problems with TV myself, but also think it's shortsighted to discount an entire medium and cultural phenomenon because, what? The news is biased, sitcoms are stupid and ads try to sell you stuff you don't want or need? People seem to have this view that watching TV entirely diminishes the viewer's ability to think for themselves, which I think speaks more to a privileged, elitist view of the "lower classes," those presumed illiterate masses who turn off their brains as soon as the set goes on. And while I'm there are people like that who exist, I think in essence that viewpoint becomes something of a tool of class oppression, separatism, bigotry...Ok, maybe I'm taking it a bit far, but even so...well, just even so (I notice that lately I've been saying "even so" as an answer to things in and of itself)...
Blah blah blah, what I started out to say was that I was watching the TV show "Pushing Daisies" tonight and I heard the greatest line. One character says something fairly ill-advised, and the person he's talking to responds, "Well, that might make a stupid idea feel better about itself." I dunno, I just thought it was really funny, and also kind of notable in a noirish, hardboiled kind of a way, which I like. I've really been enjoying "Pushing Daisies", by the way, which is not entirely surprising since it was created by Bryan Fuller, who did two of my other favorite shows, "Dead Like Me" and "Wonderfalls," both canceled fairly early one. Hopefully this show will fare better and last longer, as its sort of pleasantly whimsical yet at the same time quite morbid and deep. Anyways, that's all, except, y'know, don't be a fucking snob, watch the Simpsons sometimes or something. It could save us from a class war some day...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

shoot the living and pray for the dead (1971)


Between the German "Last Ride to Santa Cruz" in 1964 and "Trinity is Back Again" in 1975, Klaus Kinski appeared in more than 20 European-made westerns. He was so active in the genre, his Western output nearly matches the number of horror films he was in. Of course, most of these were Italian "spaghetti westerns," and the films Kinski acted in really run the gamut. He was in some of the best that the genre has to offer- Sergio Corbucci's "The Great Silence," Damiano Damiani's "A Bullet for the General" and Sergio Leone's "For a Few Dollars More," to name but a few. But he was in his fair share of clunkers as well, and a fair amount of films that fall squarely in the middle, which is where we find our latest foray into Kinski-world, Guiseppi Vari's "Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" (aka "To Kill a Jackal") from 1971.


In a nutshell, this is the Italian knock-off of Budd Boetticher's 1957 classic "The Tall T." In that film, from a story by Elmore Leonard, Randolph Scott and Maureen O' Hara are among a group taken hostage by a gang of outlaws, including Richard Boone and Henry Silva. Here, the villains are led by Kinski, and the hero, played by Paolo Casella (billed as Paul Sullivan in the American version), is torn between the two groups, having been involved in whatever heist the Kinski gang is guarding their take of. Victoria Zinny is Eleanor, the woman between them.


"Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" is stylish, with some really excellent cinematography, but it's also kind of dull and hokey. Some of the hokiness has nothing to do with the film itself, but the poor dubbing and the fact that these fairly obviously European actors are saddled with character names like Dan Hogan (Kinski) and John Webb (Casella). Kinski is dubbed by another, inferior actor, though the physical aspects of the his performance still come through. I think had he been dubbed by his own voice or if the version I saw had been subtitled, he would have made a supremely effective villain here, aggressive yet ultimately craven.


Director Vari edited Fellini's Il Bidone before making numerous Sword & Sandal, giallo, Eurocrime, sci-fi and even an Emanuelle flick (Sister Emanuelle with Laura Gemser, in 1977). "Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead" is one of about a half dozen westerns he did in the 1960s and 1970s. Screenwriter Adriano Bolzoni has a number of interesting Euro-titles under his belt, including "The Battle of the Mods" (aka Crazy Baby, 1966), Sergio Martino's "Your Vice is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key," Luigi Cozzi's "The Killer Must Kill Again," and Aldo Lado's campy sci-fi flick "The Humanoid." He also directed "Night of the Assassins" with Kinski and George Sanders (who'll probably get his own month or months on Negative Pleasure sometime in the near future). Vari and Bolzoni were frequent collaborators. Paolo Casella also starred with Kinski in Bitto Albertini's western/kung-fu hybrid "Return of Shanghai Joe" (1975).


In all, there're a helluva lot worse movies out there than this one, but they're are a helluva lot of better ones, too. Exploring the filmography of Kinski can be a bit depressing at times, as it was often clear that he cared less about what he was starring in than how much they were paying him, though for the most part he gives his all to performances in bad films as well as good ones. It's kind of crazy to see an actor of his stature in a film like this and not be able to hear his actual voice. I know this was normal in European films of the time, especially Italian films, but obviously it's not the way things are done today. Even so, this isn't the worse 90 minutes you'll spend in your life, and it is readily available (as "To Kill a Jackal") on DVD in the states...

Monday, November 26, 2007

kirby at marvel- captain america

After spending the first part of the 1970s at DC (where he did some of the strongest and most original work of his career), Jack Kirby went back to Marvel for a few years around 1976. He took over Captain America, a character he'd created with Joe Simon some 35 years earlier, and also worked on Black Panther (the first Black superhero, whom Kirby had created in the late 1960s) plus Marvel's adaptation of the Kubrick film "2001," which after the adaptation was spun off into its' own series, which in turn was spun off, briefly, into the Kirby-created "Machine Man." He also did the Devil Dinosaur series, as well as original "New Gods"-like material on the Inhumans and the Eternals.

In some ways, Kirby's 70s work at Marvel represented something of a step down from his work at DC. Though it was a character he'd played a role in creating, he seemed especially ill-suited at that time to work on Captain America. For one thing, Kirby had gotten a bit too cosmic and sci-fi oriented for the more straight-up superheroics of Captain America, and I think also his work had gotten a bit too violent at that point for a relatively title like Cap was in the mid-70s. Kirby's work was much more suited to some of the wild, esoteric stuff he did at DC, and served him better working on Black Panther, which had less established mythology to tend to, and the "2001"- inspired stuff.

It's interesting, actually, that aside from Captain America and some of the other major characters at Marvel that he helped create, Kirby tended to stay away from the flagship titles at both DC and again after his return to Marvel. He never drew a Superman series (though he did do Jimmy Olsen, which Superman often appeared in) or Batman or Wonder Woman, but rather focused on his own creations and more obscure characers like the Challengers of the Unknown and Green Arrow at DC. Despite being Marvel's top artist for many years, he also never worked on Spider-Man.

Anyway, here's some of Kirby's work on Captain America from 1975-1976. Visually, Kirby was definitely in his prime here, but I still contend that his expansive imagined was too constrained by this series, and that the writers on the series who followed him, first Roy Thomas, then Steve Gerber (who, along with Kirby, created Destroyer Duck in the 1980s as a way for both of them to channel their anger towards the way they were treated at Marvel), were better-suited to the material. Even so, enjoy....










Check back in a few, or whenever I think you deserve it, for more Kirby 70's Marvel stuff and the eventual Kinski onslaught (because I have kind of alot of Kirby stuff and have been really slow with the Kinski stuff, and have kind of alot of that as well, I may extend this theme into next year, though probably I'll take a month off in January to write about something else, I'll possibly return to Kinski vs. Kirby in February)...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

kamandi- the final(ish) chapter

So, last night's show was pretty fun. Considering that our band was formed all of about three days ago, and we'd practiced twice since then, it really wasn't bad for a first time out. There were a couple of technical problems, and neither of us could really hear what we were doing (both of us were playing through the same amp), but in the end it sounded decent, and the club invited us to play again sometime, which hopefully we'll get to do when we have more than one song to play. Overall the experience was a welcome change of a pace and a bit of a shot in the arm in terms of motivation. I'll post some video from the night sometime soon.

Meanwhile, here's the last of Jack Kirby's Kamandi that I have to post for now, issues 28 and 32. Several issues after 32, around '75-'76, Kirby left DC to return to Marvel for a few years. Unlike most of the other Kirby-created series (Demon, Sandman, OMAC and the New Gods titles), DC chose to continue Kamandi. It ran for about two more years, through issue 59. Apparently at least two more issues were written and drawn but never printed, probably due to the "DC Implosion" of the late 1970s. Kirby returned to DC is the 1980s, where he did the Hunger Dogs graphic novel, and the Super Powers series, based on the cartoon and toy line which he did some design work for (and which yielded action figures of several Kirby created characters, mainly from the New Gods).






Kamandi 32 is one of very cool "Giant" issues put out by DC around 1975. For several months, most of DC's regular series increased in page length. Some carried longer stories, some featured addition new material with different characters (such as the incredible Manhunter series by Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson that appeared in Detective Comics), some featured reprints of older (usually Golden Age) material. This was an offshoot of DC's "80-Page Giant" series, which ran from 1964 through 1971.

Kamandi 32 also features a brief biographical section on Kirby, which is below. Sorry for the so-so quality of the scans, it was hard to get a good image of the whole page without wrecking the spine of the comic, which I didn't feel like doing. Some of the edges are cut off, but in full size it's still mostly readable...








Check back in a few for some of Kirby's 1970s Marvel stuff, and some more Kinski (I'm just about recovered from the trauma of "Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud")...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

more kamandi & more

Happy Thanksgiving! If anyone reading this is going to be around NYC this weekend, I'm going to be playing a short set with my "band" D&D Music Factory (it's just me and Justin Silverman, the sometimes co-host of my radio show, Modern Products) at the Cake Shop this Saturday night. There are going to be a bunch of bands playing 10 minute sets to the visuals of the Keanu Reeves-Sandra Bullock sci-fi/romance flick "The Lake House." Fun, right? The show goes from 10pm until around 12:30 or 1am, the Cake Shop is on Ludlow between Rivington and Stanton. See you there?
Meanwhile, here is some more of Kamandi by Jack Kirby. Issue 26 features not one but two fabulous splash pages (each split here into two separate images, as usual), and I totally dig the bulldog soldiers from #27. In Kirby's post-apocalyptic world, sometimes the animal-people correspond thematically to their location, so the British are bulldogs, Russia is bears etc. Some of the animal classifications make less sense, but are still pretty cool. The US is divided among Lions, Tigers and Gorillas (as well as some robot gangsters), with parts of the Southwest and Central America sanctioned as "Wild Human Preserves." Hawaii is the Orangutan Surfing Civilization. Australia is the King Rat Murder Society. Germany is ruled by Gorillas, Italy by Wolves, China by the Mao-Tse Tigers!
Click the images for full sized pictures...











Until next time, enjoy the pumpkin pie...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

kinski vs freud (kinski wins)


It's actually really difficult to make a truly bad movie. For a movie to be truly, genuinely bad, it has to be lacking even the most basic of value, be that entertainment, intellectual or whatever. It's more or less a cliche today, but I think it was in 1977 that the right-wing asshole Medved brothers declared Ed Wood Jr. the "worst filmmaker of all time," but in truth, when you think about it, Ed Wood's movies, as inept as some of the aspects of his filmmaking are, are genuinely pretty enjoyable to watch. Most "worst of" lists of films tend to have a certain aspect of affection to them, which is to say that while we may view some films as "bad" based on the standard criteria of what is generally considered "good" filmmaking, quite often these supposedly bad films can entertain or enlighten on any other number of levels.

Which is all sort of a roundabout way of saying that the idea of good and bad film can be somewhat relative, and because of this a truly bad movie is really somewhat rare. Which, in turn, is just a longwinded, stupid and roundabout way of saying that "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" (1984) is maybe the worst movie I've ever seen. Even worse, Danford B. Greene's directorial debut is ostensibly a comedy, yet is so painfully unfunny in such a leaden, joyless way, that, well..ugh. A good movie can be transcendental, a bad movie can be sublime, but such a genuinely mediocre film is just depressing.

What's worse is that this film has a lot of potential. Director Greene had previously served as editor to both Robert Altman (on That Cold Day in the Park and MASH) and Mel Brooks (on Blazing Saddles), so it would seem that he should have had at least some sense of comedic timing. The cast, plucked presumably from the best of both Brooks and Altman, includes Bud Cort (as Freud), Carol Kane and Dick Shawn, along with Ferdy Mayne (The Fearless Vampire Killers), Carroll Baker (Andy Warhol's Bad) and Marisa Berenson (Barry Lyndon), along with Kinski, of course. For the most part, these otherwise able performers desperately struggle with such horrible material. Bud Cort could breathe life into something even as genuinely so-so as "Bates Motel," but here, with nothing even remotely clever to work with, he's totally lost. Kane is usually irresistable, here she's cute but, again, without funny material to work with, she's basically just kind of adequate. Shawn, meanwhile, is insufferable, as a patient of Freud's who believes he is various historical and mythical characters including Napoleon, Beethoven and Santa Claus. Baker is actually pretty good as Freud's overbearing (well, duh) mother, but, again, without the material to work with, it's a pretty thankless role.

So, yeah, the film purports to chart Freud's history from childhood to his discovery of psychoanalysis, with the idea being that all of his major developments in psychology are stumbled onto by accident, primarily as a result of his failing to become a physician due to a pathological fear of blood (stemming from a childhood accident involving a bucket of red paint). Along the way, he romances Kane, discovers cocaine (in a subplot that lasts all of about five minutes and never is developed- for a minute I thought this was going to be another entry in the short-lived, misguided 1980s subgenre of cocaine comedy, like the inexplicable- but actually kind of funny- "Jekyll & Hyde, Together Again") and cures Berenson of her frigidity. I think in some way this was intended to be sort of a bawdy sex comedy (ala Blazing Saddles), but it's as sexless as it is jokeless. And if that weren't bad enough, about 3/4 of the way through, it becomes a musical, with songs as badly written as the rest of the script (thankfully, remarkably, the final painful musical number between Cort and Kane on the taped-off-TV version I watched was interrupted by an Emergency Broadcast System test, which was a welcomed intervention). Although there's really nothing of value to be found in this film, I can't help but feel the need to recommended it to people of an example of a movie where just absolutely nothing works. I mean, it's not like there are a bunch of jokes that fail, there just aren't any jokes, or rather the jokes are so bad they're only barely recognizable as jokes. You don't even hate the movie, you just feel sorry for it. It plods along with so much effort, you can almost see the film itself sweating in desperation.

The one bright spot here is Kinski, playing somewhat against type as Freud's jovial "Uncle Max" (actually Freud's mother's lover). As bad as the rest of the movie is, as much as the rest of the performers struggle with such shitty material, Kinski truly shines in his few scenes, beaming with a bright, kindly smile. For an actor so often cast as villains, killers and madmen, he's remarkably adept at playing a nice, likable guy, who seems so genuinely concerned for Freud's well-being even as he romances his mom and even attempts to seduce Kane in one scene (after which, instead of making this some kind of subplot or plot point, he more or less just disappears from the film). It's the one bright spot in an otherwise utterly dismal production. Even so, "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" just plain sucks. Never before have I seen so many talented people assembled in something so utterly without merit. Oh, and for what it's worth, this was a US-Yugoslavian co-production (Serbian actor Nikola Simic plays Freud's pops).

I don't even know if "The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud" even qualifies as Negative Pleasure, since aside from Kinski's performance, there's no pleasure to be found here at all. Admittedly, I did sort of enjoy how much I disliked this movie, but not because of anything in the movie, just because it was sort of a new sensation to watch a movie that failed as miserably in so many respects as this one did. In some ways, it's kind of admirable, this being a film that denies the viewer any form of satisfaction whatsoever, from jokeless comedy to nondeveloped plotlines, it simply refuses to provide anything of value to anyone at any time that Kisnki isn't on the screen. And there aren't a lot of films you can say that about. In fact, if anyone knows of any, please let me know, this could be a whole new thing for me...

Check back eventually for more Kinski & Kirby. Happy Thanksgiving...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

kirby's kamandi '74-'75

Here's "Kamandi," one of several characters and concepts that Kirby created for DC in the early 1970s. Along with the New Gods, Omac and the Demon, Kamandi represents Kirby at the prime is his creativity. There is a certain sense of abandon around these 70s creations, as Kirby wasn't just interested in creating good characters, he was interested in creating new worlds and ideas in his comics. Kamandi is the "Last Boy on Earth," the lone human survivor (at first anyway, you'll see other humans in the pages below) of an apocalypse known as "The Great Disaster," after which the world is now rules by intelligent animals. The specifics of "The Great Disaster" were never fully explained. It was revealed that Kamandi's world was a potential future for the regular DC Universe in issue 29, where Kamandi finds Superman's costume, though this presumably was more-or-less erased in the 80s after DC's "Crisis on Infinite Earths" revamp. Prior to this, continuity was also established between Kamandi and Omac, as well as DC's earlier post-apocalyptic series, the Atomic Knights. The current DC series "Countdown" has been revealed to be leading up to a new "Great Disaster," maybe, presumably related to their other recent Kirby offshoot, "Death of the New Gods." Anyway, enjoy these images from issues 24 (1974) and 25 (1975)...









Check back in a few days for more Kamandi, Kirby and Kisnki...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

kinski- lifespan (1974)


Our third Kinski film is another odd one, and another one in which the Olivier of Germany's primary purpose is to lurk about at the edges of the action, glaring sinisterly at the main characters. Unlike to total non-sequiter of "Le Orme," Sandy Whitelaw's "Lifespan" (1974) gives Kinski's character more of a purpose, and the film in general sort of winds up making sense, but it's still mainly very pretty, ponderous Eurotrash, this time with a bit of kink thrown in for good measure. Unfortunately, it's neither as pretty nor as ponderous as "Le Orme," but it still makes for a pretty fun ride through the mountains of madness as it follows the mind-bending adventures of a young scientist (Hiram Keller) and his search for a deceased mentor's immortality formula. Kinski plays Ulrich, who is also on the trail of the formula, and Tina Aumont is is Anna, the kinky lover they both share.


This is a distinctly, oddly international production, by an American filmmaker, made with English, American and Dutch money, and shot in Amsterdam. It was Sandy Whitelaw's debut feature as filmmaker, and though he's had a long career as a subtitler, he's only directed one other movie (1997's "Vicious Circles," with Ben Gazarra). Whitelaw co-wrote the screenplay with Judith Rascoe (who wrote the film adaptation of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," as well as "Who'll Stop the Rain" and "Endless Love") and Alva Ruben (who has no other credits according to imdb). Star Hiram Keller had a fairly brief but interesting career, making his debut in "Fellini Satyricon" in 1969 and in 1973 appearing in Antonio Margheriti's "Seven Deaths in the Cat's Eye" with Jane Birkin. Female lead Tina Aumont also appeared in a Fellini film ("Cassanova" in 1976- interestingly enough, she was also in an adaptation of "Satyricon," also Italian, from 1968, directed by Gian Luigi Polidoro) and was in Joseph Losey's mod-tacular "Modesty Blaise" (1966) with Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp, as well as some pretty impressive Eurosleaze numbers, including Sergio Martino's excellent "Torso" (1973), with Suzy Kendall, "The Divine Nymph" (1975), also with Terence Stamp, Tinto Brass' nazploitation epic "Salon Kitty" (1976), with Helmut Berger and one of my favorite character actors, John Ireland, the unfortunately titled "Holocaust 2" (1980) (itself something of a lower-rent knock off of "Salon Kitty") and Jean Rollin's "Two Orphan Vampires" (1997), with Brigitte Lahaie. She also appeared in "Man, His Pride & Vengeance," by "Le Orme" filmmaker Luigi Bazzoni, also with Kinski.

The musical score, interestingly enough, is one of very few composed by minimalist and electronic pioneer Terry Riley.


In the end, "Lifespan" is a modest cinematic challenge, and only a nominally rewarding one, yet it is quite intelligent and at times the visuals are fairly striking. The characterization is a bit problematic, and as the lead, Keller isn't especially compelling or all that likable. Still, "Lifespan" has some charm and the ideas it presents about immortality and the quest for immortality are interesting and still prescient today. Kinski, as usual, has very little to do, though he's more integral to the plot here than he was in "Le Orme" or "Circus of Fear," and he has one funny sex scene, performed in a mask from a Nazi production of "Faust." After being interrupted by a phone call, Kinski exasperatedly exclaims to Aumont, "Now I've lost my concentration!" It's genuinely kind of goofy and funny, which is welcomed because the rest of the film is a bit dry and self-serious (and if you like voice over narration, man, you're in for a treat with this one). In all, I can think of worse ways of spending just under 90 minutes than watching "Lifespan," but given that the world is such a horrible place full of violence and despair, that's not really saying much. But watch it anyway, or don't.


Up next, Kirby's "Kamandi" and, most likely, more perplexing, decadent European Kinski films from the 1970s...