The Precarious Attainment of Relevance

It may be the end of 2011, but I have no year-end lists or resolutions or anything of substance to say, really. Just a few goals for SBBN, a slight modification to my previously-announced plans, and a bit of randomness. One of the best and first film bloggers I have encountered in our vast blogoverse was Arbogast on Film, whose keen eye for sublime cinematic visual moments and incisive analysis made his blog a must-read for anyone.  Arbo has announced his blog is shutting down, and while I am happy to hear that he’s retiring from blogging because his real life work has picked up, I’m still ridiculously sad. I learned an immeasurable amount from his blog over the years and Arbo has earned my undying gratitude. Thank you, Arbo, for everything, and best of luck!*** My dear SBBN readers, there is no schedule for this month, but I would like to refer everyone to my BBFF Ivan’s January TCM schedule post. It is comprehensive and uncommonly good, just like those cookies made by tree-dwelling two-dimensional freaks of nature. As for the schedules posted on SBBN, if anyone really really reallyreally wants me to keep including Sundance Channel, this is your last chance to say so. Their schedule is more TV shows than movies, plus the online schedule webpage is clunky and late to update, so I’m inclined to drop Sundance altogether from my future schedule posts. Things have been a bit sparse around here lately, but at least it’s … Continue reading

Book Review: The Hammer Vault

On Tuesday, Marcus Hearn’s new Hammer compilation The Hammer Vault will be released in the U.S. I was lucky enough to snag a copy of this extensive book before the official drop date, and I’m glad I did. It’s a hefty thing, nearly 13 inches by 10 inches in size with 175 thick pages. The Hammer Vault manages to combine substantial historical information with a coffee table book aesthetic, making it appealing to Hammer Horror buffs and casual fans alike. My husband was impressed with the amount of female nudity in the publicity of later Hammer films. Amongst the dozens of promotional pictures and lobby cards are more interesting items such as scripts, internal memos, behind-the-scenes photos and promotional items, such as a set of paper fangs distributed for Dracula: Prince Of Darkness. Some unexpected celebrities that show up in the photos are Joan Crawford, Sammy Davis Jr., and Luciana Paluzzi. The most fascinating items though are the props, all quite deteriorated but still very recognizable, such as a formerly-fuzzy bat from Kiss of the Vampire and one of my personal favorites, the heart revived by Frankenstein in The Evil of Frankenstein (1963). A few of the posters shown are nearly the entire size of the 13 inch by 10 inch pages; I already liked this book, but seeing that the Quatermass and the Pit poster was one of these large reproductions made me full-on love this book. Pre-order it today or buy it Tuesday at Amazon,Barnes & Noble, or … Continue reading

Harry Morgan: 1915-2011

Character great Harry Morgan passed away today at his home. He was 96. Courtesy Bright Lights Films. It’s no exaggeration to say that I grew up with Harry Morgan. His character of Colonel Potter on “M*A*S*H” was important to me during my childhood where (for good or ill) television parental analogs were as comforting to me as the real thing, often more so. Col. Potter was a hard-edged Missouri man with a heart of gold, a description that matched my own father… or half matched, rather.  One of the few times I saw my dad laugh with more than wry sarcasm was when Col. Potter’s Jeep flipped and could not be fixed; Col. Potter, an old cavalry man, took out his pistol and shot the Jeep as if it were a mortally wounded horse. As an adult, I discovered Morgan’s career as a character actor in films. He was always an interesting actor, not content with playing a part conventionally. Morgan was talented, professional, and often very brave. His roles in Westerns may have been small in lines but never small in importance, and that was largely due to his solid acting ability. Harry never gave less than what he thought that role deserved, and if that meant crying as he watched My Darling Clementine on an episode of “M*A*S*H” then he would do it. A few years ago I wrote a post about the picture of Mrs. Potter on Col. Potter’s desk, and received some lovely emails from a … Continue reading

The Marie Prevost Project: Nana (1926)

For anyone interested in using these posts for research, please read the notes at the bottom of this post. Thank you. *** Don’t watch Jean Renoir’s Nana (1926) if you’re looking to see Marie Prevost, ’cause she ain’t in it. Marie is supposed to have played Gaga, a character who, in Emile Zola’s novel, is a worn-down middle-aged former courtesan. There is no identifiable character like that in Renoir’s film, although toward the end there is an older woman who briefly shows up as a cautionary example of what Nana (Catherine Hessling) could turn into. The older woman is not named, at least not in the subtitles, so I cannot confirm if she is supposed to be Gaga. It’s also possible the character of Gaga was left on the cutting room floor (this may explain why the Marie Prevost in the film, whoever she was, received no credit), or perhaps the character of Gaga was turned into one of the random hangers-on that surround Nana at her lush apartment or at the racetrack and did not resemble the character from the book. However, it doesn’t make sense for a 27-year-old Marie at the height of her fame in the United States to travel to France for either the role of a middle-aged Gaga or for a reworked version of Gaga that became a tiny, uncredited role. Thanks to Larry Harnisch, I had the opportunity to look through all of the Los Angeles Times articles around the time Nana was released … Continue reading

Matter of fact, it’s all dark.

“One of these days I’m going to write a song that makes someone want to cry.” – Neil Diamond, Teen Screen Magazine, March 1967   When The Neil Diamond Collection arrived in the mail last month, I had forgotten I ever ordered it. For most of my 39-ish years, Neil Diamond was simply never on my radar except as a familiar cultural presence, some dude I heard twice a year on the radio but knew nothing about.  Yet something lead me to order that Neil Diamond CD. Curiosity, maybe, or an accident of random firing neurons. Perhaps it was the booze. Oh, did I mention I had consumed half a bottle of Machete before ordering The Neil Diamond Collection? Because I had consumed half a bottle of Machete before ordering The Neil Diamond Collection. My only memory of this is peering at the Amazon screen through eyes gummed up from drink and 12-hour-old mascara. It was a proud moment. Roughly one week later, sober and trusting that every package delivered to the house contained either happiness or fun or, on really good days, both, I opened the box to find Neil Diamond staring at me. That photo bothered me, induced an unidentifiable, inexplicable, but very real disturbance. A few days later my husband, who knew I was in the throes of some weird ennui-induced thing improbably triggered by a greatest hits album, kindly turned the album cover around. Now it was a slightly older photo from Diamond’s Greek Theater engagement … Continue reading

The Italian Horror Blogathon: Dario Argento’s Jenifer and Pelts

Italian director Dario Argento is known for his giallo films featuring excessive style, bloodshed and sex. His surrealist and controversial horror thrillers of the 1970s are often cited as some of the most influential films by modern horror filmmakers. In the mid-2000s, Argento directed two episodes of the Showtime “Masters of Horror” series. While not strictly Italian horror, the influence and signature style of Argento is unmistakeable. Argento’s first short film for “Masters of Horror” was Jenifer based on the graphic novel by Bernie Wrightson and Bruce Jones. Police Detective Frank Spivey and his partner are on a boring stakeout. When Spivey accidentally stumbles across a man taking a cleaver to a woman he has dragged under a bridge, Spivey shoots the disheveled man and kills him. At first thought beautiful, when the woman’s blonde curls pull away from her face as Frank rescues her, he sees that she is quite disfigured. Spivey is immediately obsessed, unable to forget the woman he has just saved. Spivey is put on administrative leave pending psychological counseling after killing the suspect. He returns home to a distant wife, irritating teenaged step son, and even a hostile cat who hisses at him every time he approaches. The next day he follows up on the girl. Her name is Jenifer, he is told, and she has no family, no information is in the system for her, and she is unable to speak. They assume she is mentally challenged and place her in a poorly-run state … Continue reading

The Torture in Store: Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986)

Gothic is a wild mix of the beautiful and the grotesque, intriguing philosophical questions and empty MTV-era visuals, cloaked in an impossible melange of cobwebs and goats and sex and leeches. The film borrows thematic styles at whim, everything from David Lynch to Fellini’s exquisitely debauched Casanova (1976) to Hammer studios’ signature colorful lighting palette. The film opens with giggly residents on the non-Byron side of Lake Geneva, peeping at the poet’s home through a spyglass and gossiping about his sexual exploits and resultant exile. As they watch, visitors to Byron arrive by water and, immediately upon disembarking, poet Percy Shelley is beset upon by shrieking fangirls. Shelley, Mary Godwin and her half-sister Claire Clairmont did indeed visit Lord Byron in the real 1816 just as they do in the cinematic 1816, staying with him and living near him at the lake for months; the film shows them there for only a single weekend. During their real life stay, Vampyre and Frankenstein were born after nights of ghost stories and playfully competitive challenges. The summer of 1816 was known as “The Year Without Summer” due to the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the year prior. The cold, rainy summer kept them indoors much of the time. In Gothic, this climatic claustrophobia is only barely hinted at, as the night and their inner passions are to blame for the resultant boredom and inevitable amusing seance. The seance, at first a lark, ultimately launches a night-long debacle where individual fears join … Continue reading

Carole Lombard

Five hours late and short on promised content, I offer some lovely Carole Lombard photos in humble apology for flaking out on the Caroletennial (+3) held at Carole & Co. To explain why my offering is so late would take away from the blogathon, so look for a post later this week on that. Meanwhile, please check out the Caroletennial (+3) as there have been some truly amazing posts in the blogathon, all of them very much recommended. Lombard really was beautiful and compelling, wasn’t she?

Berserk (1967)

In 1962, the cult mainstay Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? launched a genre of campy horror films starring actresses known for their classic films two, three, even four decades earlier. Joan Crawford was one of the queens of that genre, starring in several B-grade horror flicks. Berserk (1967) was her fourth — fifth if you count Della — and one of her most glamorous. Joan is Monica Rivers, owner and ringmaster of a financially struggling circus. During a matinee high wire act, a cable snaps and the tightrope walker falls, only to be caught by the snapping cord… unfortunately, it catches him around his neck. The movie shows this with tasteful subtlety, using the hanging dead man as a wipe-transition across the screen while revealing the wacky, colorful title: Thus begins a spate of alternately boring and campy scenes depicting a series of gruesome murders at Monica’s circus, murders that just happen to be drawing more attendees and more money to her business — precisely as she predicted. Soon after the tightrope walker dies, Frank (Ty Hardin) just happens to arrive, just happens to be a tightrope walker himself, and just happens to want to work for Monica. He also just happens to wind up in her bed, upsetting her lover Alberto (Michael Gough). Alberto is not the only one upset, as evil-sexy magician’s assistant Matilda (Diana Dors) has disliked Monica for years and is now jealous of her newly-acquired side of beef. When Alberto and others conveniently turn up … Continue reading