Retro Review: When the Old School Met the New Wave: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT Makes a Big Splash at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema!

Posted on: Dec 9th, 2015 By:

hitchtrufmainHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT (2015); Dir. Kent Jones; Starring Alfred Hitchcock, François Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Wes Anderson and Peter Bogdanovich. Starts Friday, December 11; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets and showtimes here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues to spur discussion of great movies by presenting a great movie about a great book which discusses great movies. That’s a lot of “great,” but it’s hard not to go overboard in the superlatives when you’re talking about Kent JonesHITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.

In 1962, one of the founders of the French New Wave of cinema turned to his favorite director, one of the old guard, for a week-long series of conversations undertaken to establish the older filmmaker’s legacy as an artist. The resulting book (published in 1966) was one of the most influential documents ever published about filmmaking: HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. The book worked as intended, as François Truffaut’s examination of Alfred Hitchcock’s ouvre to that point was possibly the first attempt to present the director’s work as a cohesive body of personal expression instead of a simple series of mindless thrillers.

It’s hard to imagine a time in which Alfred Hitchcock wasn’t taken seriously as a filmmaker. But even such a celebrated figure as Hitch was hardly unassailable during his time. Contemporary critics cited unbelievable plots or seeming lapses in logic in Hitchcock’s movies as detriments. He had, during the 1950s, become something of a comic figure. His gag-filled appearances as the host of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, as well as the plethora of products (magazines, books, record albums and board games) bearing his name, led to him becoming a beloved pop culture icon, rather than known as a true artist worthy of serious examination.

François Truffaut was no stranger to the serious examination of classic movies, having been one of the leading critics at CAHIERS DU CINÉMA, the celebrated French film magazine. It was there that he coined the “auteur theory”—the idea that some directors utilize the industrial trappings of filmmaking and the collaborative nature of the process the way a writer uses a pen or a typewriter, or the way a painter uses a brush. And, like a writer or painter, that these directors used the medium to explore their own idiosyncratic visions and psyches, and that much of these filmmakers’ projects contain similar themes, images and other elements that form an interconnected body of work. These directors were the true authors (or, in French, auteurs) of their work, rather than the screenwriters or producers behind the films, overriding the raw materials given to them and transforming their movies into personal testaments. It was this theory that fueled many of the magazine’s own critics (Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Éric Rohmer among them) to film their own movies, thus launching the French New Wave.

Hitch_Truffaut_book_aWhen the book was published, Hitchcock’s reputation was in need of rehabilitation, and Truffaut was riding a wave of acclaim. Truffaut was in a perfect position to draw attention to the solid artistic merit of Hitch’s films, and thankfully had both the writing talent to describe that merit and the intelligence to ask Hitch the right questions. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT arrived at just the right time, and landed in the hands of a generation of aspiring directors who had grown up loving Hitchcock’s cinema and, like Truffaut, believed it to be worthy of serious consideration. This is where Kent Jones’ loving tribute comes in.

Jones not only offers a look inside the creation of this landmark work of film criticism, utilizing audio recordings of the interviews and never-before-seen photographs from the sessions, but also goes to the directors who have been inspired by this work. Wes Anderson probably best sums up its importance in the lives of the filmmakers involved, describing his copy as having been so frequently used that it has been reduced to a stack of loose papers held together with a rubber band. Also on hand are Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Arnaud Desplechin and many others to express just how this book inspired them to look deeper into Hitchcock’s work and his technique. In discussing VERTIGO, for example, the documentary provides a capsule description of how Truffaut’s book led to Hitchcock’s work being reassessed. At the time of the book’s release, VERTIGO was almost impossible to see, having been a critical and commercial failure. Yet the discussion of the movie between the two directors made it one of the most in-demand titles among aspiring filmmakers, who searched out for rare film prints in order to learn from it. As a result, the film’s reputation grew steadily over the years as it began to be more seriously discussed and analyzed.

Jones weaves HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT together beautifully, using clips from Hitchcock’s movies to illustrate the comments from the documentary’s participants, and winds up being as much a celebration of the director as it is of the book about him. It will make you want to read (or re-read) the book. It will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography. And then it will make you want to revisit Hitch’s filmography with a copy of the book at your side. My only argument with the film is that at 80 minutes, it’s far too short for my liking. But, then, as an avowed cinema nerd, I’d gladly spend hours upon hours listening to the world’s top directors discussing this book and the two men responsible for it. For all you normal human beings out there, it’s the perfect length to get you hungry for more. In short, HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT is a delight for anyone even remotely interested in the behind-the-scenes world of movie making.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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RETRO REVIEW: Giallo Magnifique: Dario Argento’s DEEP RED in Rare Italian Cut Screens Saturday at Buried Alive Film Festival

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2015 By:

Profondo_Rosso_posterBuried Alive Film Festival and Splatter Cinema Presents the rare Italian original cut of DEEP RED (1975); Dir. Dario Argento; Starring David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi; Saturday, November 14 @ 10:00 p.m.; Synchronicity Theater; Tickets $10 (or included with a $50 festival pass) here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Buried Alive Film Festival, Splatter Cinema will be hosting a 40th anniversary screening at Synchronicity Theater of what is, quite simply, one of the greatest thrillers ever made: Dario Argento’s groundbreaking giallo DEEP RED. To miss this in its rare Italian original cut (22 minutes longer than the US version), would be to offend the very gods of cinema, so it would be best to play it safe and plan to attend.

From the late 1920s forward in Italy, a series of cheap paperback editions of murder mysteries featuring eye-catching artwork was issued by the publishing group Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. The success of these editions led to other publshers to also release mysteries under their own banners while imitating Mondadori’s cover designs. The common design element? The color yellow used as a background. As a result, over time all murder mysteries in Italy would come to be called “yellow.” Or, in Italian, giallo.

Mario Bava set in stone the tropes and archetypes of the cinematic giallo in the early 1960s with films such as THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. The wild success of these films—and their blending of brutal violence with stylish camerawork and set design, all set to equally stylish musical scores—led to a whole host of other filmmakers jumping on the giallo bandwagon and establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the Italian film industry. Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Riccardo Freda…all dipped their toes into the waters of the giallo and built careers off their early successes. But none of them took the genre to new extremes like one particular filmmaker: Dario Argento.

schultz-figueroa-web2Beginning with his “Animal Trilogy” (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’ NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), Argento took Bava’s sense of visual style to a whole other level. Deep focus, graceful camera movements, exquisitely detailed set design and carefully crafted compositions were the hallmarks of his aesthetic. His impossibly twisty plots and outstanding soundtracks worked hand-in-hand with his visual style and led him to be regarded as the Italian Hitchcock. But his work on the Animal Trilogy was merely a prelude to his masterpiece: DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO).

Jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses a woman’s murder, and decides to investigate the case himself after realizing that a painting he saw in her apartment is now missing. Accompanied by reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), he tries to tie together the loose clues he has assembled and the one detail he cannot quite remember, while other women across the city are being murdered and he himself is targeted.

All of the elements are in play here. The black-gloved killer. The half-remembered detail. The outsider protagonist dismissed by the police as a troublemaker. The meddling reporter. The brutal violence. But Argento assembles these key tropes into something wholly new and original. Visually, Argento uses art in general, and painting in particular, as a recurring thematic element. Beyond a painting holding a key detail that is needed to solve the mystery, key plot points are revealed via artwork. Argento even gives us a life-size, live-action depiction of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks early on to establish the importance of the visual arts and their accompanying artifice in the film’s world. In a word, the visual style is audacious.

But not as audacious, perhaps, as the film’s musical score. After having worked with the celebrated Italian film composer Ennio Morricone on the Animal Trilogy, Argento wanted something contemporary. He initially turned to jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini for the film’s music, but was unhappy with the results. Instead, he decided to go in a progressive rock direction and eventually found kindred spirits in local band Goblin. Their remarkable score winds up being incredibly catchy, complex, sinister, subtle and bombastic—somehow all at the same time. Their music ended up being the perfect complement to Argento’s visuals, managing to capture the essence of one medium in another. The reception to their breakthrough work was so intense, and the pairing of group and filmmaker so perfect, that Goblin (or the band’s leader, Claudio Simonetti) would continue to work on-and-off with Argento through the decades up to his latest film, DRACULA 3D.

Argento would return to the giallo again several times over the course of his career, most notably in films like TENEBRE and OPERA, but none of his work within the genre comes close to this masterpiece. It’s nearly flawless. The only complaint that I have with it is that the humorous and romantic scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi tend to dissipate the building tension felt throughout the film. But that is such a slight complaint in comparison to the riches on offer in this brutal but beautiful movie. To see it at all is a rare treat. To see it in its original Italian cut on the big screen is a thing that should not be missed by anyone interested in seeing a director firing on all cylinders, at the top of his game, regardless of genre.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Splatter Cinema Brings Italian Cannibal Mania in the Amazonian Jungle to the Cinevision Screening Room With CANNIBAL FEROX!

Posted on: Jul 17th, 2015 By:

canferoxSplatter Cinema presents CANNIBAL FEROX (1981); Dir. Umberto Lenzi; Starring John Morghen (Giovanni Lombardo Radice), Lorraine De Selle and Robert Kerman; Cinevision Screening Room; Saturday, August 15 @ 8:30 p.m.; IndieGoGo campaign w/ advance ticket sales end July 24; Admission at door is cash only; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema wants to bring you a rare chance to see Umberto Lenzi’s notorious CANNIBAL FEROX, aka MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY on the big screen at Cinevision in all its 35mm glory. Incredibly they’ve scored a fully restored print from Grindhouse Releasing! But the catch is the rental and shipping is expensive, so they are dependent on an INDIEGOGO campaign with advance ticketing. If it doesn’t make its goal, this screening won’t happen. That would be a real shame because Splatter Cinema has really delved into the fetid jungle of grindhouse treasures to unearth this putrescent piece of gut-munching gore. 

As I’ve mentioned here before, the horror genre is, in the eyes of many, disreputable. It’s not hard to see why—its primary purpose is to elicit something negative: fear. Comedy doesn’t get that reaction, because who doesn’t like to laugh? Action films promise thrills and excitement, which generally equals fun. Drama deals with serious topics and explores a wide range of emotion. But horror films conjure up some of our darkest emotions, and thus fall victim to the stigma of being “bad for you.” And some of horror’s subgenres get criticized more harshly than others. The slasher film, for instance, constantly comes under fire for celebrating slaughter. But no subgenre inspires the kind of wholesale, visceral revulsion than does the Italian cannibal film.

600full-cannibal-ferox-posterThe whole craze started in 1972, when Umberto Lenzi helmed THE MAN FROM DEEP RIVER. Almost a beat-for-beat remake of 1970’s A MAN CALLED HORSE, Lenzi shifted that movie’s setting from the old west to the Thai rainforest and added a fascination with ritualistic acts, cannibalism, violence and animal cruelty (largely inspired by the worldwide success of exploitative pseudo-documentary Mondo movies such as MONDO CANE and AFRICA ADDIO). Its huge success in Italy and on the US grindhouse circuit led to the subgenre remaining successful for nearly two decades.

Generally speaking, the Italian cannibal film follows a particular pattern: it opens in the “civilized” world—typically New York, though this isn’t written in stone—and some incident occurs that pulls our protagonists into the (again, typically) Asian or South American jungle. There, they encounter some previously unknown, long-lost or much feared native tribe; witness or experience graphic violence, torture and/or rape; and then a bunch of people get eaten and the lone survivors return, battered but wiser. This plot plays out in Lenzi’s CANNIBAL FEROX, which ups the ante on all its predecessors by claiming to be the “most violent movie ever made.” It goes to such extremes that Italian exploitation stalwart John Morghen (aka Giovanni Lombardo Radice) expresses regret that he agreed to act in the movie to this day.

CanFer-07Now, there are a wide variety of reasons why CANNIBAL FEROX and its kin are viewed so negatively. To start off with, there’s the insinuation that entering into some foreign jungle will pretty much guarantee that you’ll become the next meal of some “savage tribe.” It might stop short of actual racism (and my use of “might” is mighty shaky), but short isn’t where most people would prefer to stop. Then there’s the issue of sexual violence and rape. Sexual violence in these movies is almost always a threat, whether it’s perpetuated against indigenous women by the outsiders or against female outsiders entering hostile territory. Sympathetic critics have defended both elements on the grounds that many of the Italian cannibal films are explicitly anti-colonialist in tone and critical of Western capitalism. The conquering white heroes invade a remote locale, rape its women and kill its men, and are dealt retribution in kind. It’s not particularly subtle, but then, neither are these films when it comes to anything else. They’re blunt instruments, the argument goes, meant to shock a complacent audience into examining itself and the violence inherent in the system.

And then there’s the actual animal cruelty depicted in these movies. For some reason, this is a longstanding element of the subgenre, and is the main focus of most people’s revulsion. Defenders of the cannibal genre argue that the presence of actual animal cruelty works as a technique because it causes you to question the reality of what you’re witnessing—if that is real, what else is? Others argue that some of the depictions reflect actual practices of the people populating the film, so it’s an introduction of documentary realism into a fictional framework. Still others argue that these elements are present in any number of critically celebrated films—from Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Cimino’s HEAVEN’S GATE to Tarkovsky’s ANDREI RUBLEV and Godard’s WEEK-END—and that singling out these films amounts to bigotry against the horror genre (“sure, I’ll let Coppola show a water buffalo being slaughtered because that’s art, but all horror is pretty much crap, so this cannibal movie is fair game”). All of which are salient points, to which I’ll add that the raison d’être of horror films—to evoke fear and revulsion—draws more attention to these acts than in other, more mainstream films. There’s no shift in tone to relieve the audience. Not that it makes the viewing any easier.

Cannibal-Ferox_bannerThe genre reached what many consider its apex in 1980-81. Ruggero Deodato’s landmark 1980 film CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST touched on all of these elements and not only set aim at the horrors of colonialism, but turned its sights on the fact that an audience even existed to relish in the horrors he was putting on screen. As with Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES, the viewer is made implicit in the crimes depicted as he or she watches. In making HOLOCAUST, Deodato seemed to be saying, “look upon the disgusting nature of this genre’s demands and know that they exist because you fools pay money to see them!”

Then came 1981’s CANNIBAL FEROX, released in the States as MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY. So uncompromising that its marketing brags about having been banned in 31 countries, the movie sees Lenzi largely eschewing the postmodern moralizing of Deodato (while still picking up on the evils of colonialism and Western capitalism) and going straight for the jugular. It’s brutal, it’s ugly, and it represents one of the twin peaks of Italian cannibal cinema. Lenzi is an accomplished filmmaker and knows precisely how to push buttons and fills his movie with energy to spare. That it’s as well-made as it is only makes the bludgeoning savagery of the film that much more affecting. If it were truly a bad movie, then no amount of outrage would sustain the attention paid to the film over the years. I mean, nobody’s talking about Bruno Mattei’s MONDO CANNIBALE, which sports many of the same superficial elements (heck, it’s basically a remake of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) and it’s only 12 years old. No, CANNIBAL FEROX is a quantifiably good movie—well-paced, intelligently structured, and uniformly follows through on its line of reasoning to an inevitably downbeat conclusion (it’s always hard to judge the acting, because most Italian films were shot without sound and dubbed after the fact even in their home countries, but what is here is perfectly acceptable). It just may be completely reprehensible, depending on your point of view. To paraphrase Walter Sobchak in THE BIG LEBOWSKI, say what you want about the merits of CANNIBAL FEROX, Dude, but at least it’s got an ethos.

But at any rate, it’s a film that demands to be seen, experienced and then talked about. See it with your friends and debate the various controversial aspects of the movie afterward. No matter where you stand on the appropriate nature of the vile events that are depicted in the movie and the philosophical reasoning behind how they’re depicted…well…

It’s definitely something to chew on.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Retro Review: In ERASERHEAD, Everything Is Fine: A Lynch Classic Lurks into Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 26th, 2015 By:

MPW-30819ERASERHEAD (1977); Dir. David Lynch; Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts and Laurel Near; Tuesday, March 3 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with ERASERHEAD, the debut feature from one of this country’s most iconoclastic and distinctive filmmakers, David Lynch. Though made with an almost non-existent budget and shot over the course of five years, it quickly became one of the defining films of the “Midnight Movie” circuit and established Lynch as a singular artist with a visual strength and innovative storytelling style that must be reckoned with.

First, a summary: The Man in the Planet pushes a lever and things go into motion. Grey, desolate cityscapes. Harsh concrète pulses of industrial noise interspersed with the jaunty organ music of Fats Waller. Flickering lights in the hallway. Henry Spencer, a man with a questionable hairstyle. A family dinner with a bleeding, miniature roast chicken. “They’re new!” A revelation. “They’re still not sure it is a baby!” Something that looks like a goat fetus swaddled in bandages. The Lady in the Radiator. “In Heaven, everything is fine.” Crying. Oh, the crying. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. Visions. We have a title. Scissors. Confrontation. Explosions. An embrace. And despite the Man in the Planet’s attempts, those levers will not go back. No way to slow down.

There is no effective way to critically assess a movie like ERASERHEAD. It just exists, monolithic. Even discussing the making of the movie is a faulty way to approach the film. It’s too mundane. Too workaday. Is it interesting that Lynch filmed it while on an AFI scholarship and used their campus as filming locations? That it took over five years to complete and that he shot it around his schedule as a newspaper delivery boy? That star Jack Nance’s then-wife, assistant director Catherine “The Log Lady” Coulson helped fund it by donating her entire salary as a waitress? That nobody will speak of the nature or construction of the baby prop? Perhaps. But none of that is nearly as interesting as the movie itself.

eraserhead2You can try to analyze it and its symbols, but as David Lynch has always been such a closed book when it comes to discussing his own work, that approach depends entirely on what you bring to the table. Is it a horror movie about the terror a parent faces when an unwanted child is brought into the world? Sure! Why not? It’s an easy read of the text. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d say if you were to attempt to summarize the plot in a linear fashion. But try to tie that to a theory that this reflected Lynch’s mindset at the time, and that’s all on you. Lynch isn’t talking, and he’s never going to tell you that you’re right. For all you know, he thought the movie was high comedy. From on-set reports, that’s precisely what he thought about the Dennis Hopper/Isabella Rossellini scenes in BLUE VELVET, and those are freaking harrowing. No, the only way to approach the film on any interpretive level is to take the postmodern stance that the “meaning” of any work of art is dependent entirely on the viewer. And for what it’s worth, Lynch is completely on board with that. You come to it with the baggage you bring, and you walk away from it eyeing your baggage suspiciously.

Universally speaking, and without getting into personal interpretation, the only thing I can do is insist that you undertake this experience without hesitation, and try to relate to you the film’s ugly beauty. The production design is incredible, and Lynch establishes early on that he is expert at bringing on board cinematographers who can translate his inner visions to celluloid. ERASERHEAD is photographed beautifully. What it captures is often bleak, horrifying and miserable, but depicted with incredible detail and economy. Though the film presents incredibly unpleasant themes and sets its sights on incredibly unpleasant visuals, it does so with such a striking aesthetic impact that you cannot help but appreciate the care, passion and technical precision and accomplishment behind every frame. Lynch, trained as a painter, knows how to work effectively within a frame and does so with a remarkable style and uniform visual sense.

eraserhead-645-75What’s more striking, though, is how this single work has come to define David Lynch as a filmmaker. Even more than his many early short films, this is the lynchpin (and may the Man in the Planet strike me dead for making that pun) for all of his subsequent works. The unnerving sense of “is this supposed to be funny?” bubbling up from the depths of the darkest sequences. Trademark visual motifs (figures emerging from shadows, the unreliability of electric light sources), storytelling elements (the blurring of dream and reality, odd chanteuses appearing at crucial moments to perform for us), visual composition (alternating black-and-white set design, long establishing shots, seemingly random inserts) and sound design (ever-present ambient noise, strangely anachronistic musical score) all find their wellspring here. Even in casting, Lynch’s oeuvre is tied together by this film, in which he first cast his most frequently-used actor, the late Jack Nance as Henry Spencer. Nance’s distinctive presence and oddball style made him a perfect choice for many subsequent cult films, and Lynch continued to use him in nearly all of his subsequent features (save for THE ELEPHANT MAN) until Jack Nance’s death in 1996.

Frank Zappa coined the notions of “conceptual continuity” and the “Project/Object,” in which he posited that all of his work—every album, song, interview, etc.—was all part of the same Big Work of Art that he was eternally designing as he went along. In a way, this is true of Lynch’s work as well. You could spend days going back and forth about the concepts of identity in his films and how MULHOLLAND DR. is the feminine flip side to the male-dominated diabolism of LOST HIGHWAY, and how all of that relates to the shifting and blurring definition of “self” in INLAND EMPIRE. You could follow the threads of adultery and its repercussions that pop up with regularity throughout his work. You could focus on the almost religious reverence he consistently devotes to the physically aberrant. And you could easily use any of those examinations to tie all of his work together as one big Project/Object. But you’d be hard pressed to do so without coming to the conclusion that it all comes together perfectly in one spot and flows out from that source: ERASERHEAD.

Or maybe not. It’s kinda up to you.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: A Meanness in This World: Traveling Through Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 20th, 2015 By:

badlandsBADLANDS (1973); Dir. Terrence Malick; Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and Warren Oates; Tuesday, Feb. 24 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

If you’re looking for a reason—any reason—to go see a movie, look no further. The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema kicks off its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with one of the greatest modern American films, Terrence Malick’s debut feature BADLANDS.

Some filmmakers take decades to find their voice. Yet there are others who seem to arrive on this earth fully formed. Orson Welles stormed out of the gate in 1941 having assembled his influences into an entirely identifiable personal style with CITIZEN KANE. David Lynch emerged from the shadows in 1977 with the most David Lynch-iest film ever made, ERASERHEAD. Martin Scorsese captured everyone’s attention with the first example of what can only be called a Martin Scorsese Movie with 1973’s MEAN STREETS (while not his debut, his two previous features were the atypical BOXCAR BERTHA, a project-for-hire under the auspices of Roger Corman, and WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?, a short film he expanded over the course of several years into a very different feature). And that same year, Terrence Malick debuted his own idiosyncratic means of storytelling with the brooding, brilliant BADLANDS.

Told from the viewpoint of Holly (Sissy Spacek), a 15-year-old girl growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, BADLANDS examines Holly’s infatuation with 25-year-old greaser Kit (Martin Sheen) as they slowly fall in love. While she obsesses over him romantically as they explore each other’s philosophies on life, his own psychotic and amoral side reveals itself and together they violently remove any obstacle that threatens to stand between them and the life with each other they desire. Based loosely on the real-life murderous exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, BADLANDS also stands as a poetic examination of life, love and death set against the dusty, sun-baked plains of the Midwest.

Contemplative in tone and deliberate in pace, BADLANDS set the tone for Malick’s further career as he examined such subjects as war (THE THIN RED LINE), the founding of Jamestown (THE NEW WORLD) and the meaning of life itself (THE TREE OF LIFE). Even at this early stage of his career, though, he proves himself a master of imagery and composition and creates an experience that is pure cinema. Painterly tableaux fill the screen and slowly reveal their emotional heart as Spacek’s narration combines with the haunting strains of experimental classical composers such as Erik Satie or Carl Orff. Moments of incredible beauty are carved out of nothing but light, color and shadow. Divorced from attempts to emulate the rhythms and cadences of literature or stagework, Malick’s world can only exist in those rays of light captured by a camera, painstakingly edited into a cohesive statement and then projected onto a screen.

Badlands-104But lest this sound like a movie full of art-film clichés that holds you at arm’s length with its own sense of pretentious self-importance, BADLANDS is instead Malick’s most accessible film and a perfect entry point for those unfamiliar or intimidated by the visionary director’s work. It may perhaps be his masterpiece (with DAYS OF HEAVEN running close behind). Malick’s singular approach is wed to an incredibly compelling story, so that the dynamic of the narrative propels the audience through even the film’s most low-key moments. When you combine this with the career-making performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, you have a film that it is nearly impossible to look away from.

Presented as part of Landmark Midtown Art Cinema’s “Midtown Cinema Classics” series, you have the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the modern classics of American cinema in its natural habitat—on a theater screen. Please do not let this pass you by.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Retro Review: Splatter Cinema and the Cinevision Screening Room Shine a 35mm Light on Hannibal Lecter with THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS!

Posted on: Feb 18th, 2015 By:

silence-of-the-lamb-posterSplatter Cinema and Enjoy the Film present THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991); Dir. Jonathan Demme; Starring Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine; Saturday, Feb. 21 @ 8:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema returns to the Cinevision Screening Room with the help of Enjoy the Film! This time, they’re delivering a 35mm archival print of what is probably the most celebrated mainstream horror film of the 1990s: Jonatham Demme’s staggering THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But don’t be fooled by its widespread appeal. Demme serves up a disturbing dinner of pure horror. With some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Trivia time: how many horror films have won Academy Awards? Precisely one—Jonathan Demme’s THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. Sure, you could make an argument that it’s not really a horror film, but a police procedural or crime thriller. However, if the horror film has taught us anything, it’s that some of its best examples transcend the artificial divisions of genre and the common tropes to be found therein. Michael Reeves’ 1968 masterpiece WITCHFINDER GENERAL, for instance, could be accurately described as simply a period drama depicting the all-too-human hypocrisy and fear-mongering of a 17th century opportunist who falsely labels his victims “witches” to further his power-grabbing. But that doesn’t dilute the weighty sense of pure horror that pervades and permeates the entire film. Likewise, LAMBS cannot be excised from the horror genre by a reductive view of its mechanics. Its function is to frighten, to shock. To horrify. And Demme knows how to twist nerves alongside conventions.

The plot is something that could have come out of any television franchise (and has been copied by many on multiple occasions): a serial killer is on the loose, and the only way to capture him is by turning to an imprisoned serial killer for assistance. Simple enough. But it’s in the details and execution that the film’s true horror is summoned.

The imprisoned serial killer is the infamous cannibal psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), whose game plan for liberation involves offering up information in exchange for weaseling into the mind of the investigating FBI officer, Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). Starling is seeking out murderer Jame Gumb (Ted Levine), nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” in honor of his penchant for skinning his female victims’ corpses. The film does not shy away from Gumb’s deeply disturbing actions, which are based on the gruesome case histories of Ted Bundy and Ed Gein (Gein having been the inspiration for horror films such as DERANGED, PSYCHO and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE), among other real-life serial killers.silencehannibal

But while the portions of the film devoted to Gumb are the source of incredible dread, it’s the shadow of Lecter that extends over the entire film that provides so much of its horrors. From his gothic-influenced asylum cell, Lecter’s influence over the movie’s proceedings colors every frame. Whether it’s how he directs Starling’s perception of every event that takes place or how the audience constantly questions in what manner he will use those events to his advantage later on, his presence is felt throughout. And from what we know of him, this presence can be nothing but malevolent. When the film culminates in pulse-pounding setpieces of tension and repulsion, we do not walk out of the film having been thrilled. We walk out having been put through the ringer and looking over our shoulders.

Though the performances of Hopkins, Foster and Levine are all vitally important to the film’s success, as is the screenplay by Ted Tally and the source novel by Thomas Harris, SILENCE is largely Demme’s show. In the hands of a director with less genre experience, the almost surreal sense of the gothic in Lecter’s scenes and the seedy feel of Gumb’s house of horrors might have been toned down. The temptation would be to make Lecter’s environs clinical and sterile (as his Atlanta-based cell in the High Museum is depicted in Michael Mann’s MANHUNTER, based on Thomas Harris’ earlier novel RED DRAGON), and Gumb’s small-town home more under-the-radar normal. But Demme—then an arthouse fave for MELVIN AND HOWARD, SOMETHING WILD, STOP MAKING SENSE, MARRIED TO THE MOB and SWIMMING TO CAMBODIA—came from the world of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures. There he labored on exploitation movies like ANGELS HARD AS THEY COME and THE HOT BOX before directing such twisted takes on 1970s genre fare as CAGED HEAT and CRAZY MAMA. Under Corman’s tutelage, he learned his way around the worlds of exploitation and horror filmmaking, and applied those lessons well to this big-budget studio project. (Corman himself gets a cameo appearance as a Congressman.)

clariceIt’s a masterful evocation of influences from horror and exploitation’s past, and Demme conjures these elements in a subtle way, melding them with a more “mainstream” Hollywood approach that manages both to satisfy genre aficionados and invite in a more general public. It’s an approach that has been mirrored by the contemporary TV series HANNIBAL in its own telling of the mad doctor’s exploits. Meanwhile, Demme also manages to echo his earlier work for Corman by playing around with expected gender politics and slyly undercutting authority figures without alienating his audience. Demme is sure-footed every inch of the way, and while many of his films are as good, I’d be hard-pressed to say that any of them surpass this achievement. And for once, I agree wholeheartedly with the Academy voters who awarded this film Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay—only one of three films in history to sweep all five top awards.

As 35mm presentations are becoming rarer and rarer, it becomes exponentially more important to catch landmark films such as this—well-projected in their intended format—when the chance arises. That’s why I’m thrilled that Splatter Cinema is bringing this to Cinevision Screening Room in partnership with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film. Ben has long been committed to expert 35mm projection, and his presentation of this archival print should be a beautiful experience. Add in the fun that Splatter brings to every screening they host, and you’ve got an event that cannot be missed.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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RETRO REVIEW: Don’t Get Them Jolly! GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH Brings Hell-iday Cheer to Splatter Cinema at Its New Location Cinevision!

Posted on: Dec 7th, 2014 By:

splattergremSplatter Cinema presents GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH (1990); Dir. Joe Dante; Starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Christopher Lee; Tuesday, Dec. 9 @ 8:00 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room; Tickets $10 (cash only); Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Splatter Cinema is back! After a brief spell hosting films at the Chambers of Horror Halloween haunt, Splatter has teamed up with ATLRetro Kool Kat Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film and the Cinevision Screening Room to bring us the brilliantly bloody and the sublimely sickening. And while this month’s feature probably isn’t the first flick to spring to mind when you think “splatter,” its wildly imaginative and horrific effects work, combined with its completely uninhibited attitude, all add up to a perfect way to kick off a new era of Splatterdom this holiday season. Because after a seven-year search for a 35mm print, they have returned to bring you…GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH.

There are people who sincerely believe that a sequel is automatically inferior to its predecessor. They’ll tell you, for instance, that STAR WARS is a de facto better movie than THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK because it laid the necessary groundwork for the latter film’s existence. These people are what I like to call “wrong.”

Case in point: GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH. Now, don’t misjudge my feelings: I unabashedly love the original GREMLINS. It’s one of my favorite Christmas movies and I’ve gone on about it at length here before. But I have a special place in my heart for its sequel. And that place is front row center. While GREMLINS paints a raucous picture of monster-fueled anarchy breaking out in idyllic Small Town, USA, GREMLINS 2 is pure madness in the Big Apple from start to finish.

As opposed to the more direct plotting of the first film, the storyline in GREMLINS 2 is more a series of hooks from which director Joe Dante can hang gags; and as such, it’s pretty all over the place. After the death of Gizmo’s owner Mr. Wing, the mogwai falls into the hands of the science division of Clamp Enterprises (headed by the always-welcome Christopher Lee). He is rescued by old friends and coincidental Clamp employees Billy Peltzer and his fiancée Kate Beringer (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates, reprising their roles from the first film). However, a series of accidents cause more mogwai to be created, and havoc erupts in the locked-down Clamp Center as the gremlins plan to escape into New York City. There are constant sub-plots about disgruntled cable-show hosts, Billy’s job prospects and his flirtatious boss, out-of-town visitors, etc. But as I said, they’re mainly there to provide launching pads for parodies and jokes.

gremlins-al lewisWhile the first movie evoked the feeling of Chuck Jones Looney Tunes shorts with its self-referential send-ups of Spielbergian cinematic suburbia, it still played within the confines of a Spielberg movie or a late-period Jones cartoon. It was dark and violent, but still warm in the way that producer Steven Spielberg’s family films and so many of Chuck Jones’ later cartoons frequently are. Jones’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS, for instance, lets us relish the Grinch’s delicious villainy by softening the blow with redemption and acceptance. Lessons are learned, people get better, and he—he himself, the Grinch—carved the roast beast.

GREMLINS 2, on the other hand, channels pure bizarro Jones. I’m talking DUCK AMUCK. THE DOVER BOYS AT PIMENTO UNIVERSITY. DUCK DODGERS IN THE 24 ½TH CENTURY. It’s almost nothing but wall-to-wall psychosis and fourth-wall breaking. It knowingly and overtly parodies GREMLINS. (At one point Leonard Maltin shows up to pan the first film, and is attacked and devoured by mogwai.) It features Christopher Lee as…well, Christopher Lee playing a villain. Sure, the character is nominally Dr. Catheter, but the point of his presence is for Christopher Lee to be identifiably playing Christopher Lee playing a villain—much like how he shows up in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN to play Christopher Lee playing Dracula. There are countless in-jokes hidden away in background details, like some Will Elder story in a 1950s issue of MAD. There are parodies of other films, like RAMBO, THE WIZARD OF OZ, KING KONG, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and many more. Daniel Clamp, the head of Clamp Enterprises with a burgeoning cable television empire, is a parody of both Donald Trump and Ted Turner. Even Al Lewis’ late-1980s stint for Turner as “Grandpa” hosting horror flicks on TBSSUPER SCARY SATURDAY is parodied. Hulk Hogan shows up for no good reason whatsoever. A plot turn that sees the mogwai become genetically mutated not only allows a Wile E. Coyote-esque “super genius” gremlin to exist, but also creates a hotsy-totsy female mogwai in order to bring us some “Bugs Bunny in drag” sequences. And to drive the point home completely, Bugs and Daffy Duck bookend the movie. If the first movie let the insanity of a Warner Brothers cartoon invade our mundane reality, this movie rejects your reality and substitutes its own.

All this to say that there is nothing in this movie I do not love wholeheartedly. Far from being sleek and streamlined, this movie is maximalism in action: gag piled on top of gag, with everyone involved in the movie completely game. Joe Dante is at his peak here, with impeccable timing and incredibly nuanced detail all in the service of pure wackiness. Christopher Lee gets to show off his rarely utilized comic chops. Tony RandallTony Randall, people!—is absolutely perfect as the super-intelligent Brain Gremlin. Dick Miller has a sizeable role, and that’s practically reason enough to see it right there. The screenplay by Charlie Haas (OVER THE EDGE, MATINEE) captures just the right balance of meta-humor and cleverly constructed plot dynamics so that we are never just bogged down in jokes; there’s a solid through-line that propels us along. Throw in the typically top-notch (and at times both monstrous and disgusting) effects work of Rick Baker and his crew, along with the gift of a bigger budget, and you’ve got a sequel that is every bit the equal of its predecessor, if not surpassing it.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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Fear Potion #9: Buried Alive Film Festival UnEarth’s World’s Best Horror to Atlanta

Posted on: Nov 19th, 2014 By:

2014BAFFPOSTERThe Ninth Annual Buried Alive Film Festival; Saturday, Nov. 22, 3:00 p.m. – 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, Nov. 23, 1:00 p.m. – 10:30 p.m.; Fabrefaction Theatre; Tickets $50 (all access, both days), $10 per programming block, available here. Opening night party Friday, Nov. 21, 8:00 p.m. – 11:59 p.m. @ Joystick Game Bar.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Need a reason to be bloody thankful this month? Well, here’s something to make your twisted Thanksgiving complete: the notorious Buried Alive Film Festival (BAFF) is back for its ninth reincarnation! Atlanta’s favorite, longest-running horror film festival will be at Fabrefaction Theatre on November 22 and 23. This year, Festival Director (and ATLRetro Kool Kat of the Week) Blake Myers and the Buried Alive team have exhumed three features and 50 short films—almost 20 hours of programming including nine American premieres and three world premieres! With a host of filmmakers in attendance, this year promises to be a glorious celebration of horror, further sealing Atlanta’s place as the horror capitol of the nation!

baskin 1The weekend kicks off in style with an opening night party at Joystick Game Bar on Friday, Nov. 21, from 8 p.m. to midnight. Come on out and meet the filmmakers behind this year’s fearsome feast of fright! But pace yourself, because Saturday’s programming starts off at 3 p.m. with Shorts Program 1: Tentacles, Kidney Stones and Cannibalism. This exploration of the darkly comic and disturbingly surreal spans the globe, from here to Turkey and back again. Highlights include the post-apocalyptic doom of THE LAST HALLOWEEN, a disorienting trip with four Turkish policemen into the gaping maw of Hell in the highly acclaimed (by no less than Eli Roth and Richard Stanley) BASKIN, the hilariously gory DEAD ALIVE-meets-“Love Potion Number 9” French splatstick of SPEED FUCKING and the world premiere of local director Jay Halloway’s subterranean terror UNDERLOCK.

Extreme_PinocchioBAFF reconvenes at 5 p.m. for Shorts Program 2: Some Real, Some Fake, All Fucked Up. Taking a more realistic turn than the previous program, these shorts focus on the horrors of the here-and-now, ranging from the twisted psychosis of EXTREME PINOCCHIO, also French, to the provocative documentary GLASS EYES OF LOCUST BAYOU. The standouts in this category—along with those previously mentioned—include the American premieres of the funerary revenge short PARA NOCHES DE INSOMNIO and the expertly executed murder of RELLIK.

After a short break, we’re back at 7 p.m. to ponder love, desire and the meaning of “togetherness” in Shorts Program 3: Healthy Relationships. Whether living or dead, functional or dysfunctional, human or inhuman, all of the permutations of companionship are on display in this variety of shorts. Two noteworthy local entries make debuts during this program—Brandon Delaney’s first-person dialogue MY BOYFRIEND’S BAG in its world premiere, and local filmmaker James Sizemore’s Satanic opus GOAT WITCH which hits Georgia screens for the first time. Also getting American premieres are two UK shorts: SKIN, which turns the hostage/captor relationship on its head, and the unsettling physical manifestation of a deteriorating relationship of SPLIT. Add in the Norwegian sadistic ANGST, PISS AND SHIT and the fetish-laden morgue visit of I AM MONSTER, and you’ve got an evening full of romance. Well, in a manner of speaking anyway.

satpanicNight falls with the festival’s first feature program at 9 p.m. This kicks off with two shorts: the tortured texts of M IS FOR MOBILE and the Georgia premiere of Patrick Longstreth’s Tybee Island-lensed giant monster rampage HELLYFISH. That’s followed by the world premiere of ATLRetro Kool Kat Eddie Ray’s long-awaited second entry in his epically comic tale of devil worship, rock ‘n’ roll warfare and government conspiracies, SATANIC PANIC 2: BATTLE OF THE BANDS!

As the festival heads into the wee hours at 11 p.m., the second feature program of the night is Andres Torres’ horrifying journey through the seedy underbelly of the New York art world and into the twisted mind of a lonely hot dog vendor, BAG BOY LOVER BOY. Driven by killer performances and an escalating sense of discomfort, this film—which meets us at the cross-section of William Lustig’s MANIAC and Roger Corman’s A BUCKET OF BLOOD—is well worth staying up for. The evening closes with a French short film that explores the unease lurking under the comforts of HOME.

988Feeling rested? Slept well after the horrors of the night before? Already got your brunch on and ready to go? Good! Because Buried Alive rises again Sunday at 1 p.m. with Shorts Program 4: Scary Animal Monsters from Outer Space at Your Service. As the program’s title suggests, the selection here is widely varied. The subjects range from the whimsical DEAD HEARTS to the vengeful water spirits of SHUI GUI, from a killer’s paranoia in SEMBLANCE to the wild Australian pathogenic zombie-kangaroo horror of WATERBORNE. Receiving its American premiere is the hilarious BUDGET CUTS, an instructional short on how to maintain your serial killer lifestyle when time and money are tight. Also making its American debut is THE BEAR FAMILY SECRET, a stark and powerful tale of homebound human horror set during the Brazilian dictatorship of 1970. And on the local front, Dayna Noffke unveils her latest work, RECOMPENSE, in its world premiere! It’s a twisty little gem in the EC Comics tradition, in which a prisoner finds out just how much his freedom will cost.

Hana-Dama-p1The first feature program of the day follows at 3 p.m. The supporting short, DONE IN, follows a man’s reminiscences as he pens his farewell to this world. In the featured slot is the American premiere of veteran Japanese director Hisayasu Satô’s HANA-DAMA: THE ORIGINS. A visually explosive exploration of the torment a young girl faces at school and at home, the film takes a novel path in its tale of revenge: a bullied student becomes possessed by a flower, the Hana-Dama, which makes manifest the secret desires of all those who have caused her pain.

At 5 p.m., we leave the realm of the photorealistic behind and enter Drawn and Quartered: The Animation Program. This series of shorts is bookended by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, in adaptations from Moonbot Studios: visually stunning old-school animation adaptations of THE RAVEN and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO. In between, the festival is serving up two tales of teddy bear terror in MEAN TEDDIES and UNICORN BLOOD, the final evolution of life rising from a wasteland in Germany’s OMEGA, a wacky SHINING-inspired tale of wacky sibling rivalry and murder in the witty THE LAST RESORT and a knowing tale about the importance of choosing the right doctor in EYE IN TUNA CARE. On the local front, Amanda Smith fistoffirepresents a disturbing stop-motion account of a romantic dinner gone horribly awry in TRUE LOVE, and Wally Chung presents a cautionary warning about conformity and discrimination in TALL EVIL. One entry that stands out, however, is Finnish director Tomi Malkki’s FIST OF FIRE (aka TULIKOURA), the surprisingly touching story of a dying death metal drummer, his faithful dog and his post-mortem journey. Maybe my love of Finnish metal is showing through, but the short is moving and ghoulishly funny in addition to being totally and brutally metal. Malkki also will be in attendance, all the way from Finland, to talk about his film.

The second feature program of the day starts at 7 p.m. with another local offering: the Georgia premiere of Robert Bryce Milburn’s AMERICAN HELL, a short glimpse of the nightmare of isolation a family confronts when they are subject to a home invasion. That provides a perfect lead-in to the feature attraction, Adam Petke and sunderSean Blau’s THE SUNDERLAND EXPERIMENT, quite simply one of the most gob-smackingly original films this festival has to offer. This quietly building piece of cosmic horror is set in the isolated, fenced-off desert town of Sunderland. Something identifying itself as an “angel” has converted the town into a strange simulacrum of everyday society, and the adults into its surrogates. The children can either accept the angel’s “blessing” and become like their parents, or become the “fallen” and are left to fend for themselves in the wasteland surrounding the town’s border. One of the young men, David, is destined to learn the truth about his family, the town, and the true nature of the angel that controls their lives. It’s a stunning piece of work.

The festival closes on a holly jolly note at 9 p.m. with Shorts Program 5: A Very Special Zombie Christmas. MR. DENTONN opens the proceedings with the fairy tale-esque story of a sinister visitor that enters homes through mirrors and steals children’s souls. Afterward, we take a peek into the Troma-esque comedy of CHRISTMAS EVE PET MASSACRE, where the world’s worst family finds that their pets are more than glad to bite the hands that feed them. Then it’s off to Latin America for ZUGAR ZOMBIE—a potent cocktail of political corruption, the undead and grand irony. Finally, we wrap things up at the festival imagesmuch like we started: with a delicious look at Halloween. This time, it’s Jonathan Rej and Shane Morton’s ATLANTA ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. A group of rowdy youths (the best kind) find themselves trapped in a cheesy haunted house when the zombie uprising breaks out. Is it all part of Professor Morté’s spook show? Or is it all too real? A labor of love from pretty much everyone involved with the dearly-departed Halloween haunt of the same name and the Atlanta horror film scene, it’s a gut-busting and gut-munching RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD-styled throwback to the heyday of ‘80s zombie horror. Stick around afterwards to find out the Festival winners (Disclosure: ATLRetro Publisher/Editor Anya Martin is a judge). It’s also the perfect way to close yet another fantastic run of the Buried Alive Film Festival.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

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Retro Review: Stop the World, I Want To See THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL Presented by Enjoy the Film and Cinevision!

Posted on: Oct 19th, 2014 By:

Ultimatum_a_la_Tierra_-__-_The_Day_the_Earth_Stood_Still_-_tt0043456_-_1951__-_FrTHE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951); Dir. Robert Wise; Starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal and Hugh Marlowe; Thursday, Oct 23 @ 7:30 p.m.; Cinevision Screening Room (visit the event page for address and directions); All tickets $10 (Atlanta Film Festival members save 20%); Tickets here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Let’s kick off the Halloween season in retro style, and take a trip to 1951 and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Ben Ruder’s Enjoy the Film has partnered with the Cinevision Screening Room for a series titled Monsters in Black and White, delivering three classic features screened in optimal presentations. Special guests introduce each picture, and the series promises to give an intimate “film club” type experience that is sure to make viewers wish that every film they see could be shown with as much care.

In the years immediately following the media coverage of 1947’s mysterious crash in Roswell, New Mexico, the “flying saucer” became a symbol of mankind’s fears and hopes for the future. After seeing both the possibilities and dangers of science entering the atomic age at the close of World War II, and with nations looking toward the skies as they ushered in a new era in rocket technology, we gazed into the unknowable distances of space and wondered what an advanced technology might usher onto our tiny planet. Sure, there had long been stories of alien visitors landing on our world, ranging from H.G. WellsTHE WAR OF THE WORLDS to Siegel and Shuster’s SUPERMAN comics. But the speculation around the events in Roswell brought the topic of extraterrestrial invaders directly into pop culture’s field of vision. And while so many of these tales dealt with hostile attacks from Little Green Men, one stands out as a plea for peace from the heavens: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.

gal-bot-gort-jpgThe film sees alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) and his robot sentry Gort arrive on Earth to warn us against using our growing technological capabilities as a vehicle for greater violence, yet in a familiar turn, the benevolent visitor faces nothing but violence, resistance and persecution from the time of his arrival. The Klaatu-as-Christ metaphor (Klaatu—who also dies, is resurrected, and then ascends into heaven—even takes on the pseudonym of “Major Carpenter”) somehow escaped director Robert Wise’s view, but screenwriter Edmund North was clever enough to make the metaphor merely an emphasis of the movie’s universal themes. After all, the worries expressed in the movie knew no religious boundaries. We had just put the horrors of World War II to bed when the Cold War began, with tensions escalating between East and West. America had involved itself in the Korean War. Meanwhile, the US and USSR had started working seriously on competing space programs, and both sides had concerns that these programs would be of primary use as respective platforms of attack. All of these elements came together and formed the subtext of this film. And while the roots of the film’s themes are set deeply in the 1950s, the larger message of the movie—a call for understanding and cooperation between competing nations and ideologies—is something that never loses its poignancy.

…All of which makes the film seem far preachier than it actually is, when you get down to it. The movie itself is more than simply its message; it is also a compelling drama with nuanced performances from Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. It is also thrilling, quickly paced, gorgeously photographed and full of groundbreaking special effects (few “flying saucers” of the era look as impressive as Klaatu’s, and Gort’s streamlined design is timeless in its elegance). Not to be overlooked is Bernard Herrmann’s classic score: a masterpiece of eclectic orchestration utilizing two theremins and a variety of electric instruments. It, along with the scores to 1950’s ROCKETSHIP X-M and ‘51’s THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, would forever link the theremin with the eerie sounds of science fiction.

A movie this impressive should be seen in the best conditions. And a well-preserved 35mm print with stunning sound, viewed with an eager audience, is the best way to experience THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Lucky for you, then, that Ben Ruder, Enjoy the Film and Cinevision are giving you the chance to see it under precisely those conditions. Don’t miss out on catching this, one of the most impressive of all the classic 1950s sci-fi yarns in its natural habitat.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back onto the Pavement! The World Famous Drive-Invasion Hits Turner Field!

Posted on: Sep 4th, 2014 By:

driveinvasion2014The World Famous Drive-Invasion 2014; Turner Field Green Lot (521 Capitol Avenue, Atlanta, GA 30312); Saturday, September 6; Gates open @ 10 a.m.; Admission $25 per person with car or $12.50 walk-up/no car ($26 through Ticketmaster).

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

You can’t keep some things down. When it turned out that the conversion to studio-controlled digital projectors made it impossible for the Starlight Drive-In to continue hosting the annual Drive-Invasion, things looked bleak for a while. But thanks to the tireless efforts of some of Atlanta’s finest, Drive-Invasion has found a new home: Turner Field. They’ll be setting up in Turner Field’s Green Lot and among the attractions you will find a 1000-foot grilling area, Jim Stacy’s Food Truck Midway (serving up a wide array of local culinary delights curated by Pallookaville’s own Mr. Stacy), the Silverscreen Gasoline Car Show (featuring the Discovery Channel CAFÉ RACER host and custom car celebrity, Atlanta’s own Bryan Fuller), an artists’ market, a kids’ play zone and two music stages.

Music-wise, you can expect an ear-filling variety of bands designed for maximum enjoyment before the sun goes down. You want some retro surf-rock action? Step right up and enjoy the sounds of Mystery Men?, Andrew & the Disapyramids (featuring ATLRetro Kool Kat Joshua Longino), and a tribute to the legendary Penetrators. You need some country-fried tastiness? Move it on over to the honky-tonkin’ tunes of Ghost Riders Car Club (featuring Kool Kat Spike Fullerton) and Cletis & His City Cousins (featuring Kool Kat Cletis Reid) . In the mood for some frenzied beat action? Get in the garage with The Brimstones, Rocket 350 and Jimmy & the Teasers. And for straight-up adrenaline-pumping rock and roll, blast off to Bigfoot (featuring Kool Kat Jett Bryant), Dusty Booze & the Baby Haters, Gargantua and The Biters.

But all that is prelude. They call this Drive-Invasion for a reason: drive-in movies. And they’re celebrating the end of the summer with a trio of beach party horror flicks that will keep the mood rocking until the last frame unspools across the screen: THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, JAWS and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND.

hpb001THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH (1964); Dir. Del Tenney; Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon and Allan Laurel; Trailer here.

THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH answers the question “why only have one Creature from the Black Lagoon, when you can have a whole gang of them?” It tells a story old as time: when radioactive waste is dumped into the ocean, it creates a whole mess of monsters who then rise from the depths to kill innocent teens. It’s then up to young Hank and concerned father Dr. Gavin to find a way to stop the rampaging amphibious creatures. Imagine if HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1996) came out in 1964, and replace the gore and nudity with dancing and stomping beach music (provided by the Del-Aires, with half of their songs and all of the film’s score written by future porn legend Zebedy Colt!). HORROR zips along breezily thanks to director Del Tenney’s sure hand, and thanks to him keeping his tongue firmly planted in cheek. It’s not quite a send-up, but more a lighthearted take on teen horror and beach party flicks, much like INVASION OF THE SAUCER MEN (1957).

jaws-posterJAWS (1975); Dir. Steven Spielberg; Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw; based on a novel by Peter Benchley; john oath Trailer here.

Then there’s JAWS. What can one say about this movie? When I was a tyke, it was so effective that even this unabashed horror movie fanatic—as committed then as I am today—believed that there were sharks hiding under my bed. (And yes, I fully grasped the logical problem in that scenario.) JAWS established Steven Spielberg as a Big-Time Director after years of working in TV and smaller-budgeted films like THE SUGARLAND EXPRESS (1974). It also singlehandedly created the modern summer “blockbuster” phenomenon (and simultaneously marked the end of the “New Hollywood” period of the late 1960s and early ‘70s), and its style and craftsmanship has exerted a lasting influence far beyond its immediate impact. It is, in many ways, a nearly perfect movie. Pitch-perfect performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are wed to dialogue so fresh that it’s still being quoted, imitated and parodied nearly 40 years after the film’s release. Add to that Spielberg’s precise direction, one of John Williams’ best scores and Verna Field’s expert editing, which work together to create an escalating tension that reaches peaks high enough to make you completely ignore the badly malfunctioning mechanical shark.

mad_doctor_of_blood_island_poster_01MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968); Dir. Eddie Romero and Gerardo de Leon; Starring John Ashley, Angelique Pettyjohn and Ronald Remy; Trailer (featuring narration from the legendary Brother Theodore) here.

Rounding out the program is MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, probably the pinnacle of writer/producer/director Eddie Romero’s Philippine-lensed series of “Blood Island” movies. And while that may sound like a pretty small category for a film to qualify as “the best,” keep in mind that there are something like 10 of them (six in the series, and four tangentially related). In this entry, John Ashley—the co-star of multiple AIP “Beach Party” flicks—stars as a pathologist who turns up at Blood Island to study the health of the natives, only to find mysterious deaths linked to the appearance of what appears to be green blood. Throw in Angelique Pettyjohn, heaps of nudity and gore, some of the most ludicrous pseudo-science ever spouted in a movie script and a rampaging monster that must be seen to be believed, and you have what amounts to one of the most definitive drive-in movies ever created. While it may never be regarded as a cinematic classic, it is an experience that I wholeheartedly suggest you undertake. It’s not for nothing that Eddie Romero was named the National Artist of the Philippines in 2003.

And let me take this time to warn you: to survive your exposure to the energies of MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and to ward off contagion in the days after Drive-Invasion, you must prepare yourself by taking the Oath of the Green Blood, which will ensure that you will never become a green-blooded monster. Vials of Doctor Lorca’s Green Blood Potion will be available to the first 1000 visitors who stop by the Drive-Invasion booth or Professor Morté’s Silver Scream Spookshow booth. Remember: stay safe. Protection is prevention.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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