I’m finally getting to this, Demy’s feature follow-up to Lola, still in his talky black-and-white period before exploding into song and color the following year. The story of an easily led young man (Claude Mann of Army of Shadows and India Song) who gets hooked on gambling by his friend (Paul Guers) then spends a week in Monaco with excitingly self-destructive career gambler Jeanne Moreau.

“If I loved money I wouldn’t squander it. What I love about gambling is this idiotic life of luxury and poverty. And also the mystery – the mystery of numbers and chance.”

Moreau is a sympathetic outcast – not just a single mom, but one who has abandoned her family for her own freedom, something unimaginable at the time. Claude isn’t so sure about the lifestyle, is inclined to hoard his winnings and wants to get back to normal life eventually, but he immediately falls for Moreau enough to forgive her recklessness and infidelity. She disappears more than once – they do end up together in the final shot, but who knows after that.

T. Rafferty:

Bay of Angels takes place, as Demy’s movies always do, in a kind of Wonderland, where the rules of ordinary life seem to have been suspended for a while. (And like Lola, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and 1967’s The Young Girls of Rochefort, the setting is near water, in port towns, where everything feels provisional, a stop on the way to somewhere else) … The gambling scenes are montages cut to a quick tempo, using mostly dissolves, and pass by in a dreamlike blur, the wheel turning, the players betting and watching, the croupiers brisk and impassive. In every other scene, the takes are long and fluid, without many cuts — they have a wandering, leisurely rhythm. The alternation of styles gives the movie a tension that has nothing to do with conventional suspense. In Bay of Angels, as in no other movie about gambling, whether the players win or lose feels fundamentally irrelevant. The experience is all that matters.

My third Poe/Corman/Price movie of the month, and not counting the ending of Pit and the Pendulum when he psychotically turns into his Inquisition-torturer father, it’s the first time Price has gotten to be truly evil. He is all kinds of evil here, a Satanist who lets almost everyone in the nearby village die of plague then has the survivors shot, who cheers when his party guests are murdered, and entertains himself by letting a girl choose whether her father or her lover will be killed.

So much death in this one that it’s hard to keep track of whether the young lovers survive – maybe they don’t? Eventually the Red Death (Price vs. himself) creeps into the castle, bathing all the revelers in blood, then joins a rainbow of other Deaths outside. Kind of a celebration of sadism (complete with another Inquisition-torturer ancestor) in widescreen with colorful costumes and sets (and a giant clock with a battle axe pendulum), stabbings and swordfights and a murderous falcon. And a dwarf setting a man in a gorilla suit on fire.

Jane Asher is appalled by Price’s murderous falcon:

Jane Asher is appalled by Satan-loving Hazel Court:

The peasant girl Price keeps by his side is Jane Asher (Deep End) – she’s our audience surrogate whose main job is to look appalled. The attention paid to Jane pisses off Price’s main girl Hazel Court (Lenore in The Raven), who tries to hold onto him through satanic ritual. The firestarting dwarf’s wife is upsettingly played by a seven-year-old dubbed by a grown woman. And Price’s horrible friend Alfredo is Patrick Magee (the victim-turned-torturer in A Clockwork Orange).

Magee, foreshadowing that he’s soon gonna be set on fire:

I was going to watch this right after Southbound then realized they were both anthology horrors, so spaced it out by a few days. My second Corman / Poe / Price movie this month after Pit and the Pendulum


Morella

“It’s Lenora, father.” Maggie Pierce (The Fastest Guitar Alive) hasn’t seen her dad Vincent Price in 26 years, and is visiting now because her marriage has failed and she has a mild cough (and therefore, since this is a movie, only a few months to live). Price still blames her for the death of his beloved wife Morella, is wasting away in his Miss Havisham house. Poor Lenora doesn’t even know how her mom died since she was an infant at the time, so Price explains that she collapsed at a party while yelling “it was the baby.” Hardly seems fair, but apparently Morella (Leona Gage of Scream of the Butterfly) still blames the baby, rises in the night to murder Lenora and burn the place to the ground.


The Black Cat

Montresor Herringbone is a hopeless drunk who steals from his working wife Annabel (Joyce Jameson, who’d costar with Lorre and Price again the following year in Comedy of Terrors) to get enough wine to stop the hallucinations. He’d be a hateful fellow if he wasn’t being played by Peter Lorre in comic mode… and speaking of comic mode, Price plays Fortunato Luchresi, a foppish wine expert whom Lorre challenges to a tasting competition in order to get free wine. Surprised by Lorre’s knowledge and (lack of) technique, Price follows him home and falls for Annabel. When Lorre finds out he chains them in his cellar and walls them in – the perfect crime if not for the black cat he accidentally bricks up, whose howls alert the police.

Loved the acting, the reptile hallucinations and dreams (Fortunato and Annabel playing catch with Lorre’s severed head, the picture smeared and distorted). Each scene ends with a 400 Blows zoom. Price calls the wife “my treasure,” but isn’t that what Lorre’s name “Montresor” means?


The Case of M. Valdemar

Valdemar (Price) is dying of an incurable disease, and mesmerist Carmichael (Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes of the 1930’s and 40’s) agrees to relieve his pain for free in exchange for participation in an experiment – to mesmerise Price at the moment of death to see if they can extend it. Medical Doctor James (David Frankham, who worked with Price in Return of The Fly) is against all this, of course, but Price insists, and also wishes his devoted wife Debra Paget (the dancer in Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) to marry Dr. James when he dies. But the hypnotist has other plans, and when he successfully has the dead Price’s soul trapped in mesmeric limbo, he holds it hostage until Paget will marry him instead. Price solves this problem himself, rising from his death bed and melting all over the amoral Carmichael.

The Good Doctor and Good Wife:

P-Bog’s first (official) feature is a doozy, following two stories and expertly building tension until they collide at the end. I’d seen P-Bog’s latest movies, She’s Funny That Way and the Tom Petty doc and The Cat’s Meow, but none of his most famous work, so I checked this one out for Shocktober.

Cranking out a cheapie thriller with Boris Karloff, P-Bog himself plays film director Sam who cranks out cheapie thrillers with Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff) – although the Orlok pictures look like more generic costume/castle/monster flicks (Corman’s The Terror, specifically), while Targets is up to something else entirely. After his latest screening, Sam is plotting something new, a more self-reflexive movie which will use Orlok’s star power in a different way, but Orlok is sick of it all and decides to retire immediately (Sam: “I’m gonna go offer it to Vincent Price”). Orlok will go back and forth over the next day, finally agreeing to read the new script and un-canceling his speaking appearance at the local drive-in.

Meanwhile, Bobby (a clean-cut Matt Damon-type) has a bland life with his mom, gun-nut dad (James Brown of Objective, Burma!) and inattentive wife (he tries to tell her he “gets funny ideas”, but she fatally doesn’t listen). After calmly scouting locations, he shoots his wife and mom, leaves a note for the police then heads out on a murder rampage, first targeting highway drivers then positioning himself behind the drive-in screen. He starts shooting spectators – real violence erupting from behind/inside a horror film – until Orlok marches over and slaps him down.

Long takes, unusually naturalistic movie, complete with stumbled lines and people talking over each other. Orlok/Karloff watches himself in Howard Hawks’s The Criminal Code and Sam comments “all the good movies have been made.” Fascinating blend of P-Bog’s cinephilia and realistic violence (based on a California sniper attack a couple years prior). Uncredited script work by Sam Fuller, apparently, and shot by the great Laszlo Kovacs.

K. Uhlich:

Struck this time by how mercilessly this Corman-produced quickie portrays the banality of evil. One of the finest treatises on the subject, in addition to how viewing movies as an escape is an outright denial of their much more ambiguous function in society.

Third version of this story I’ve watched, after the Svankmajer short and the Stuart Gordon version, with which this has almost nothing in common. This was the second full-color Corman/Price Poe adaptation after House of Usher, and everyone was in top form.

In the mid-1500’s, Mr. Barnard (John Kerr of The Cobweb) shows up at reclusive Price’s spooky old castle wanting to know how his sister has died, is taking no shit from anybody. Price gets to be his haunted, tormented self for the bulk of the movie, explaining that his young wife died tragically of illness (but later changing his story), and later while bemoaning his dreadful family legacy he gets to be an evil maniac in flashback portraying his own father, an enthusiastic Inquisition torturer.

Also in the castle is Price’s sister Catherine (Luana Anders of Dementia 13 & Night Tide) and doctor Antony Carbone (art café boss in A Bucket of Blood). The place is being haunted by strange noises and Price has a phobia that his wife wasn’t dead when she was buried, so finally they dig her up and sure enough:

Of course I’d seen Barbara Steele’s name in the credits and recognized her face in paintings of the “dead” woman so was fully expecting her to show up. She’d fallen for the doctor and this is all a plot to drive Price mad so they can run off together. Unfortunately for them, Price’s madness takes the form of reverting to his family’s torture legacy, and he locks up Steele then puts poor Barnard under the razor pendulum while fighting off the others, eventually falling to his death in the pit (the only detail unchanged in the Stuart Gordon movie).

Screenplay by Richard “I Am Legend” Matheson, in lovely widescreen with some fun color-filtered anamorphic Raimi-effects and crazy oil-color swirls over the credits. I hope the other 1960’s Corman movies are this good.

Uncle Yanco (1967)

“Above all, man is nourished by what’s marvelous.”

While in California, Agnes introduces herself to a relative, who is an awesome weirdo (it must run in the family), a painter and builder living on a Sausalito houseboat inspiring all the local hippies. She shoots and edits this encounter with her usual verve, including slates and rehearsals, capturing and restaging realities.


Black Panthers (1968)

Good images of a Panther rally protesting the imprisonment of Huey Newton – mostly straightforward reportage and interviews with lively editing. It’s less vibrant as a film than her others, possibly because her tourist crew wasn’t trusted by the panther community.

David Myers shared cinematography credits on both of these films. He’d become an acclaimed rock doc photographer beginning a couple years later with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, including at least three Neil Young movies, a Grateful Dead concert film, The Last Waltz, Louie Bluie and Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara.

Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part three.

Abstronic (1952 Bute & Nemeth)

Animation based around electronic imagery from oscilloscopes, set to two catchy tunes. What the future looks like.


Bells of Atlantis (1952 Ian Hugo)

Very abstract imagery. You can often tell he’s filming real objects (woman in hammock) but it’s been blue-filtered and overlaid with patterns to appear underwater. Pulsing and whooping electronic sounds by the Barron couple, visual effects by Len Lye and narration by Anaïs Nin – it’s a pretty cool movie, not a favorite, but made by remarkable collaborators.


Eaux d’artifice (1953 Kenneth Anger)

Seen this before. The imagery is supposed to be erotic but I always end up pondering fountain design and mechanics.


Evolution (1954 Jim Davis)

Wild, almost organic light patterns
Cellophane reflections give an electric glow.
Shifting light blobs that look like colored liquid being pressed under glass.


Gyromorphosis (1954 Hy Hirsh)

Hirsh filmed segments of a sculpture with colored lights and overlaid them spiraling around and inside each other. The result is spindly bits, lines and grids and spokes, all spinning in air like the visual representation of an Autechre song (it’s actually accompanied by some light chiming jazz).


Hurry, Hurry! (1957 Marie Menken)

Wriggling sperms behind a sheet of flames, set to battlefield sound effects covered in horrific scratching. Not nearly as much fun as her similarly-titled Go! Go! Go!. The liners say Menken was “physically imposing” and her relationship with her poet husband inspired Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, which sounds just awful. Don’t I have a documentary about her somewhere?


NY, NY (1957 Francis Thompson)

Kaleidoscope-refracted fly-eyed process shots of NYC, with synched Disneyish orchestral music by Gene Forrell. An absolute stunner – maybe the best find of this collection. Film Quarterly reveals that Thompson worked on perfecting it for a decade, screening it at MOMA to “a thunderous ovation” in 1952, but still reworking it for five more years.


Castro Street (1966 Bruce Baillie)

Similar to the last film in a way: abstract-ish view of a city that ends up involving construction workers and transportation. Great sound layering on this one. I guess from watching Baillie’s Here I Am and Valentin de las Sierras I assumed he was less avant-garde and more a documentarian of the underclass.

Sitney:

Baillie occasionally uses slightly distorted images of the trains and the railroad yard with prismatic colors around the border of distinct shapes. He also uses images which were recorded by an improperly threaded camera so that they appear to jump or waver up and down on the screen.

Lucy Fischer, from an astounding 9-page analysis in Film Quarterly:

Castro Street is, above all else, a film of hyperbolic superimposition; from beginning to end it creates a uniform texture of densely enmeshed imagery … Rather than create a sense of superimposed images in dialectical conflict, Baillie works against this to create a sense of coherent union … As Baillie has phrased it in relation to Quick Billy, his matting strategy is one of overlaying imagery so that it “looks like it was all invented or occurring at the same moment.”


9 Variations on a Dance Theme (1966 Hilary Harris)

Dancer in a bare room does a short routine, then again from a different angle. When he starts with the extreme closeups, editing between angles and camera movements to match the dancer’s motions it gets really great. The liners: “informed by his notions of kinesthetics, in which images are structured around movement with the camera in constant motion.”

E. Callenbach in Film Quarterly:

The dancing is cool and straight, by a girl who wears long woolies and never bats an eye; she is not being Modern and not trying to express her soul, but doing a curious ritual action with its own internal logic and rhythm. Watching her is like watching a musician play; it has an immense technical interest as well as the delights of motion.

Another sheer delight from Etaix, who is now officially one of my favorite comedians. Pierre feels smothered by his marriage to Florence (Annie Fratellini, a former circus clown who married Etaix the year this came out), working at his in-laws’ company, living in their house, decides to have an affair with his secretary (Nicole Calfan, a sexy maid in The Three Musketeers), pushed by his pro-cheating friend Jacques. Etaix is so even-tempered that despite the movie’s flights of fancy, he seems less driven to the affair out of desperation or uncontrollably lusting after the secretary than coolly determining that this is the proper course of action and plotting how it should happen.

Fascinating that Etaix shared a co-screenwriter with Bunuel. This is his most Bunuelian movie yet – also his first film in color, shot by Jean Boffety (Thieves Like Us, Je t’aime, je t’aime).

V. Rizov:

The big dream sequence — Étaix in a bed cruising along country roads like a car, past many others, past comic vignettes of chastely-pajama’d bedroom conflicts — stops when he spies secretary Agnès (Nicole Calfan, such stunning, undeniable 20something bait in her nightgown that rare, audible jaws dropping and whistles were heard at the Film Forum). She later subjectively views him, during an awkwardly-arranged dinner, as an old man with long whiskers droning on about business, a startling POV shift all the more impactful for being a one-off. My admiration’s held back by an ending that doesn’t seem nearly despairing enough, but that may be a personal problem.

D. Ehrlich: “It’s no Yoyo, but what a tragic standard against which to hold other films.”

I follow a lotta must-see movie lists, and supposedly one of my core interests is the Criterion Collection. Movies that are generally accepted as great, released in pristine quality with valuable extras – it’s a no-brainer. At the halfway point of every month I reload their site all day until the new disc announcements appear, and I agonize over which titles I need to buy during the next half-price sale and which are okay to rent from netflix (in the increasingly rare case that they’re actually carried).

And yet it’s not unusual for a month to go by where I watch no Criterion blu-rays, and I think I’ve figured out why that is. I think in the back of my mind, when the Criterion discs come out they lose their sense of urgency. This movie is now readily available in a near-ideal form, so no need to worry about that. Perhaps the wealth of extras is actually hurting as well – I know when I watch Red I’m gonna have to watch another hour’s worth of (really great!) bonus material, which takes up extra time. I’m always threatening a Criterion Month to catch up, but somehow that never happens, while Shocktober and Cannes Month and the Shorts Project and Rock Docs and TV shows and my random decision this month to watch six adaptations of Crime & Punishment go off without a hitch.

So damn it, I’m declaring that from now until Shocktober is Criterion Month.

I watched a fair number of Polanski films in the last couple years, and am starting to make sense of his style. The Apartment Trilogy is dark and weird, but at least two of the three films have bits of heightened silliness. Carnage and Fearless Vampire Killers are ridiculous, and I thought I was supposed to take Ghost Writer seriously as a drama, but perhaps not. I wouldn’t say Cul-de-sac is one of my favorites, but I get its mood: a hostage thriller with the tension constantly undercut by comic situations and performances.

After a robbery gone wrong, gorilla thug Lionel Stander and mortally wounded Jack MacGowran (the nutty Professor in the following year’s Fearless Vampire Killers) hole up at a castle on the shore, not realizing that the tide would trap them there for the next day. The castle dwellers include insecure author Donald Pleasence, introduced being dressed as a woman by young wife Francoise Dorléac (Catherine Deneuve’s sister in life and in The Young Girls of Rochefort). Lionel alternates between seeming quite menacing and seeming like a dumb guy with nowhere else to go, after he’s disowned by his crime bosses via phone and his partner dies, lumbering into scenes of marital discord like a disfigured remake of Knife in the Water. Stressed, Pleasance alienates his wife and the friends who come to visit while Lionel is still waiting for word from the bosses (pretending to be a drunk uncle or something). Pleasance does finally transform from emasculated dress-up doll to heroic man of violence, shooting a marauding Lionel, but it doesn’t last – he’s freezing up moments later, and Francoise flees, leaving him to his freakouts.

Won the golden bear in Berlin, playing with Lord Love a Duck and Masculin Feminin. First film appearance by Jacqueline Bisset (Day For Night, Under The Volcano) as one of the visitors. Donald Pleasence is campy here, but to be fair, it seems like he’s supposed to be. I only know him as the least-convincing part of such realist films as Halloween, Phenomena, Mr. Freedom and The Pumaman. If only I knew a Pleasence expert who could explain this guy’s methods. Lionel Stander is an actor with an interesting history. He worked throughout the 1930’s and 40’s (Hangmen Also Die, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, A Star is Born). His Eugene Pallette-like voice endeared him to Preston Sturges in the late 1940’s, then he was blacklisted for many years before showing up here.

David Thompson:

What Polanski created with Cul-de-sac was a cinema of the absurd, delving into situations of humiliation, role-playing, and betrayal, and evoking an unsettling atmosphere quite unlike anything else on the big screen. This is underlined by his then favorite composer Krzysztof Komeda’s haunting music, a nagging cross-mix of cool jazz and early pop electronica that continuously twists back on itself in repetitive phrases — even to the point where, when Teresa plays a gramophone record of the main theme, the needle becomes stuck … Polanski had previously approached the august Beckett about making a cinema version of his revolutionary Waiting for Godot. But the author saw no reason for something conceived for the stage to be adapted into a film and refused the rights. Nevertheless, Beckett’s exploration of universal human experience through a pair of philosophical bums had a great influence on the young Polanski, as did the disturbing plays of his contemporary Pinter, with their theme of, yes, imposition, laced with menace and black humor. Although he would downplay it, Polanski’s eventual casting of Jack MacGowran, who had acted in Waiting for Godot and Beckett’s Endgame, and Donald Pleasence, who was in both the stage and film versions of Pinter’s The Caretaker, suggests more than pure coincidence.