Talked with Joe about this briefly, and so I’m not crazy for thinking the story “ends” differently in the initial flash-forward. I guess we get to choose whether we want to stick with that fantasy hero ending, or embrace the New Hollywood bummer death ending. Along the way every flashback to the driver’s earlier life and racing career ends portentously in a crash. The driver’s goal is San Francisco, takes a bunch of speed and intends to break every estimate, at the expense of the condition of the car he’s supposed to drop off. We spend some time with a blind DJ, who takes up the driver’s cause before getting beat down by the anti-freedom local boys. As for the driver, immediately after jumping onto a divided highway going the wrong way then back again to shake two cop cars, he uses the turn signal to change lanes – good movie.

Fulci’s twenty-somethingth film is the second-earliest one I’ve heard of. Super stylish with a fun, twisty plot. Great black-void backgrounds and jumpcut editing in the dream sequences. Also it’s so poorly dubbed that even the inspector’s eerie whistling looks lousy – how do you fuck up dubbing whistling?

Our buttoned-up lead is Carol (Florinda Bolkan of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), obsessed with her hedonistic neighbor (Anita Strindberg of Your Vice Is a Locked Room), who soon turns up murdered. Carol’s husband Frank is having affairs (Jean Sorel, Belle de Jour‘s husband, that seems relevant) and seems suspicious, and his daughter Joan (Ely Galleani of Five Dolls for an August Moon) seems sympathetic. We’ve also got a lead inspector (Losey regular Stanley Baker), his main crony Brandon (Alberto de Mendoza of Horror Express), and Carol’s therapist (George Rigaud of All the Colors of the Dark).

Carol and Frank:

Some procedures are askew here in London, Italy. The cops allow neighbors to walk right into the murder scene, and the psychiatrist plays the cops tapes of Carol’s private sessions. Carol gets locked up in a clinic while the grown-ups try to straighten things out. The psych thinks Carol did it, has a split personality that places symbolic clues in her dreams. Carol’s dad takes photos of her husband Frank with Hotgirl Deborah (Silvia Monti of the previous year’s hippie murder film Queens of Evil), accuses Frank of the murder and having based the details on Carol’s dream journal to frame her, then finally blame falls on the dad, who kills himself.

Meanwhile some pale hippies (Penny Brown of City of Women, and a guy who looks like Irish Peter Fonda’s Ghost) are chasing people around. Little Joan fancies herself a private investigator and gets herself murdered. Of course the simplest explanation is that Carol did commit the murder, having been sleeping with the neighbor.

Joan and Hippie (who paints using throwing knives):

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

Our hero James Fox is trashing the office of a gambler who didn’t pay protection, which is a trend in movies I watched this week. The gambler then trashes Fox’s place and gets shot for it, now Fox has to lay low until his boss can get him onto a boat for New York. He stays with some druggie beatniks who grow mushrooms, led by Anita Pallenberg and including Mick Jagger. Now we’ve got two of the worst kind of people in movies: the violent gangster and the drippy hippie. The hippies’ influence is felt on the filmmaking – once we arrive at the house, the editing stops jumping into the future/past and the camera roves around more.

Hard to see Fox’s makeshift red-paint hair-dye job in this light:

Mick dances with a fluorescent light then lip-syncs a music video. Fox inevitably gets fed a crazy mushroom. When his men come to pick him up, he shoots Mick in the head and maybe becomes him. At one point I paused to look up whether Bergman’s Persona had opened in the UK early enough to have been an influence (yep, mid-1967).

Brown sugar in the foreground when Mick is introduced:

It’s all more sordid than I was expecting… gonna have to be one of those respected cinema classics that doesn’t become a personal fave. At least Peter Labuza agrees. Roeg’s first movie as (co-) director, having ended his cinematographer-for-hire career with Petulia. Writer/director Cammell later made three other features which all sound intriguing: an audiophile serial killer, Anne Heche as a call girl, and a computer impregnates Julie Christie.

“You Can Get It If You Really Want” is the movie’s theme song and motto. Seems like Jimmy Cliff gets to have it all here: a film spotlighting his music, starring himself as a songwriter turned rebel turned cop killer, his character dying gloriously in a shootout.

First thing he does when he gets to Kingston is get robbed, and the second thing is to watch Django. He hooks up with a preacher’s girl, semi-legitimately gets a bicycle, falls into the drug business, becomes a celebrity fugitive. The final stand is intercut with a movie theater audience, life and death becoming a show.

The director’s daughter for Criterion:

He was already well established as a musical artist in Jamaica. All those tracks on the album, except “The Harder They Come,” had already been recorded by Jimmy before he was cast. But the recording of that song depicted in the film was the actual recording, and he wrote it after a conversation with Perry during the filming of the movie.

A corny white insurance agent, family man, workout nut, kinda racist, happily obnoxious to women and everyone else, wakes up Black one day. He freaks out, and his wife calls him a white supremacist while he focuses the blame on his sun lamp and tries to figure out how to whiten his skin again. I watched this on MLK Day, which I suppose might make me a bad person, but it’s good – a goofy but not stupid comedy (usually you get neither or both).

Lead actor Godfrey Cambridge had an excellent year, also starring in Cotton Comes to Harlem. When he goes out in public he’s hassled by cops (“He stole something – we don’t know what it is yet”). Finally his wife and boss and neighbors reject him, but he comes to terms with himself, starting his own business and plotting to lead the next Black revolution.

Ma Yongzhen is a tough dude working shitty jobs with his useless friend Cheng Kang-Yeh. Ma is introduced beating up a landlord, so he’s got our sympathy, though he seems to beat up pretty much everyone he comes across… this is fine, since it’s established that everyone in town’s a crook. Ma has annoyingly high standards, is poor and homeless and will accept nothing from anyone – though as principled as he seems, his dream is to ride in his own carriage with a fancy cigarette holder. He wanders into a brutal gang fight and takes on 20 guys armed with knives and hatchets, which gains him the attention of the local bosses, beginning his brief, violent career in organized crime. He’s finally ambushed in a teahouse by Boss Yang (Nan Chiang) and takes a hatchet to the torso, but doesn’t go down before killing everyone in the room. Good action scenes – I could watch about 300 more of these movies, and fortunately that’s how many they made.

Ma and his idol David Chiang (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires):

Scar-faced Boss Fan (Yi Feng of Fist of Fury the same year) and his yes-man:

I skipped a couple Garrels since Le Revelateur, decided to watch some 1972 films on their 50-ish anniversaries. Garrel + Nico = an unexpected rock musical. Liturgical voice and organ songs, incredible long takes in different forbidding environments.

Nico cries in the desert with Vest Guy (Daniel Pommereulle of La Collectionneuse), both of them wearing flowy sleeves – this section features a 720-degree slow pan over a Nico song – then she follows and berates him down a white road.

Another Nico song, a good one, kid leads a horse away from a flame circle, Vest Guy gives Nico a small goat, and so on… then Pierre Clémenti arrives nude. He journeys far and long, barefoot across a volcano, to bring gifts to a baby (played by his son) on an iceberg. Nico, practically the only person who speaks (in English and German), calls the nude archer “king.” There’s some kinda final confrontation near a rocky cave involving a sword. It’s all a very different kind of mythology than The Spine of Night, but felt right to be watching these two in the same week.

Game of Death (1978, Robert Clouse)

Time for the post-Bruce-Lee movies in the Bruce Lee box set. Bruce had filmed about ten minutes of fights for this one, then he inconveniently died. The American studio knew Bruce was profitable, and that’s all they knew, so they cobbled together a new movie, blatantly using stand-ins and cutting reaction shots from other movies. Once they simply pasted a still photo of Bruce’s face over another guy. It’s full of callbacks to the previous movies (thanks to a films-with-the-film subplot), but anyone who enjoyed those is gonna be sad about this one. Even doc footage from Bruce’s actual funeral is used, when lead character “Billy Lo” is supposed to be faking his own death. And this is all in service of a third-rate crime thriller. 1 star for the music, 1 for Sammo Hung, zero for the rest.

After filming a scene, Billy is calmly threatened by a white suited gangster who wants protection money. He works for an evil bald guy who’s somehow involved in both a record pressing plant (which threatens Billy’s girlfriend’s music career) and a championship fight in Macao (their star fighter is Carl: Robert Wall from Enter the Dragon, who died last week). The gangster protection money plot had already been used in Way of the Dragon (and the Chang Cheh movie I just watched), but so what, it’s a plot, and movies need those.

Billy’s in hiding, letting the gangsters think he’s dead, which gives all the non-Bruce actors an excuse to wear heavy disguises. Carl cheats and beats Sammo Hung in the ring, but Sammo puts on a good showcase, then Billy slaughters Carl in the lockers. The girlfriend (Colleen Camp) inevitably gets kidnapped, and a stuntman wearing Bruce’s yellow tracksuit and a dark helmet fights some motorcycle dudes in a warehouse. Finally, the one true Bruce fights some dudes (including the absurdly tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and it’s glorious for a few minutes. He never even touches the old bald gangster (Dean Jagger, the sheriff of Forty Guns), who falls off a roof while running away, the credits rolling before he even hit the ground.

Movie magic via still photo:


Game of Death II (1981, Ng See-yuen)

The only sense that this is a sequel is it’s playing the stand-in game with old Bruce footage (the film stock still doesn’t match). Bruce is hilariously dubbed by some cowboy-ass American. He chills with an ass-kicking abbot then gets an incriminating film from some girl. At a friend’s funeral, he’s shot and falls to his death while chasing a helicopter that was stealing his friend’s casket(!), and now Bruce’s sad brother Bobby takes over as the lead, like Bruce took over from James Tien in The Big Boss – but not exactly like that, since Tong Lung is playing both brothers here. Now with an hour to go, the movie doesn’t have to pretend to star Bruce Lee anymore, and can cut loose. The dubbing is atrocious, but the Chinese/Koreans in charge of this movie have got more respect for Bruce’s legacy and more filmmaking and fighting talent than the doofus Americans in part one.

Lewis trying to be intense despite the cute monkey:

Bobby gets intel from a white monk that the evil Lewis and his scarfaced brother, masters of the Palace of Death, are responsible, so he heads on down. Lewis can’t be that evil – he keeps pet peacocks and monkeys. The Whatever Brothers (I didn’t catch their names) challenge Bobby, and he proves his mettle, then a sudden blonde girl gets suddenly naked, tries to kill him, then a guy in a lion suit joins in! Movie is already kinda nutty, and that’s before Bobby descends to the subterranean MST3K sci-fi lair with spacesuited harpoon-armed flunkies and electrified floors. Lewis is found dead, the scarface guy is suspected so Bobby beats his ass, but Bruce’s “dead” friend, who was stealing his own coffin to avoid discovery, is behind the whole thing. Friend/enemy Chin Ku is Jeong-lee Hwang of Drunken Master, the abbot was in Temple of Doom and Sammo’s Enter the Fat Dragon.


Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973, Shih Wu)

Polishing off the Criterion box set with a return to the shameless, shoddy quality of Game of Death 1, this time in documentary form. Opens with ten minutes of news film from Bruce’s funeral, which doesn’t sound like such a long time but really felt like it, making me realize I am not cut out to watch Loznitsa’s State Funeral. Then a chronological run through his life and career, with lots of slow zooms into photographs, and a narrator who sounds like he’s from some MST3K short, like How to Go on a Date. Why is the dialogue in the movie Bruce was in as a child covered up with horn music? Why does the English narrator sometimes talk over people speaking English, telling us the same story at a slightly different pace? When Bruce defeats Bob Baker in Fist of Fury, “Baker studied for seven years under Bruce, but he is still no match for his teacher,” the narrator confusing an actor’s skill with a scripted scenario. It closes with then-unreleased Game of Death footage – in fact, Enter The Dragon wasn’t even out yet – in Hong Kong, this quickie doc beat it into theaters by a week. Shih Wu was an assistant director on A Better Tomorrow III, which I’ll probably end up watching eventually.