Monday, July 16, 2018

"Why Don Quixote?"

On Friday Night at 8pm Channel Zero, is gonna try some summer counter programming with a screening of G.W. Pabst's 1933 adaptation of "Don Quixote" starring Feodor Chaliapin. Cervantes classic novel is a wonder of the renaissance and a book that reverberates down to the current era as the "Knight of the Doleful Countenance" wanders Spain with his sidekick Sancho Panza desperately seeking a life of adventure and chivalry. In his battered comical armor and stern devotion to "staying in knightly character", Don Quixote is literally classical literature's first true cosplayer! Indeed the Mad Knight has all the symptoms, his entire world view is subverted, overwhelmed and guided by, the fiction he himself has imbibed. Don Quixote is literally the first character in all of literature to have a rudimentary self awareness of his own fictional status...hell its a book that literally breaks the Fifth Wall! Its always been a sort of wonderment to me at least,that this supremely subtle comical and multilayered book has never yet generated a definitive Hollywood Adaptation, although artists as diverse as Orson Welles and Mister Magoo have all taken a stab at it down thru the years. Some great books are strangely resistant to the full Tinseltown Treatment another example of which could well be "Moby Dick"...but I digress, this is fodder for a future post indeed. Director G.W. Pabst might perhaps be a good counterintuitive choice to adapt Don Quixote, he was in his heyday the only realist working and indeed prospering in German silent cinema, and sometimes as rich as character as The Old Windmill Tilter needs a steady hand to stave off caricature. Anyhow...this is also a film unseen in Boston as an experience of cinema, for perhaps eighty five years, so tell your friends. "DON QUIXOTE" (1933) Friday, July 20th 8pm The Somerville Theatre (Micro Cinema) 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma 617-625-5700 Admission: $7.50 (cheap!, cash only) In French, Subtitled in English

Saturday, June 30, 2018

"When Harlie Was Dead..."

At age eight four, Harlan Ellison at last died in his sleep, much like William Randolph Hearst, a minor parallel that would move the late fantasist to litigation if the blood still surged in his veins. All snark aside, if you encountered Ellison's science fiction short stories at the right time in adolescence you'd be well served the rest of your life, the man was a strong even strident truth teller in his fiction, not many happy endings, much suspicions as to human motives, greed and cowardice very much on display in all those futuristic or fantastical landscapes. In a genre much given to fan service, cliches, stock characterizations and plain phoniness, he stood out with vigorous readable unflinching prose. His uncompromising advocacy on behalf of writers within and without Hollywood is a legendary thing, indeed writers are ripped off every day from Bangor to Guam, something he fought all thru his career. I agree with Ellison on one point, there has never been a Writer's Guild Strike in Hollywood that wasn't Completely Justified and Likely Overdue. As a scriptwriter he turned in superlative work tightly written and reasoned for everything from "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" to "Star Trek", by his own standards he was a success in Hollywood sans compromise, I have no doubt about the essential truth of this given the many shows and producers he feuded with down or else turned down thru the years. The man's capacity for litigation, even successful litigation was storied thing up to his death and beyond. He lost out on some good and bad things thanks to that unyielding attitude, a attempt to bring "Two-Face" to the small screen on "Batman" failed mostly due to an ongoing feud with ABC. On the other hand Ellison thankfully missed out on being one of Irwin Allen's pet scriptwriters mostly because of an alleged altercation during a story conference. Harlan refused to be rewritten or worse plagiarized, indeed he was a harsh critic of the many spurious reasons scripts were rewritten or simply stolen in Hollywood. That having been said, if an Ellison Fan avoid his "Man from UNCLE" "The Do It Yourself Dreadful Affair", you'll be amazed such a slack lugubrious effort was ever written by the one and only Harlan Ellison, moreover on a show where he supposedly got on well with the producers. In his truth telling, in his zeal, in his courage, in his caustic wit, Harlan Ellison resembles no one so much as Samuel Johnson, he looms that big in the realm of fantasy fiction. His volumes of film and television reviews are themselves virtual textbooks on "good criticism, well rendered", he pioneered television criticism at a time when the genre was little more than regurgitating press releases. Harlan Ellison was honest, but he wasn't flawless, the man was a notorious fabulist sometimes to an absurd degree, he once claimed that the intervention of then VP Spiro Agnew had held up publication a collection of his TV columns "The Other Glass Teat". His writings are littered with absurd hyperbole,some of it hilarious some of it frankly inaccurate and misleading and...well...wrong. His literary output peaked in the 1970's just as science fiction into a sudden profitable haven for millionaires, rightly so Ellison criticized this tendency, he pointed out that prior to "Star Wars" the celebrities in science fiction were all writers, now the big names were producers & directors, persons of wealth, whose money was made off of movie ticket sales. Harlan also pointed out, that this cataract of money never really reached the Fritz Liebers or the Robert Silverbergs so now those creatives could enjoy both poverty AND obscurity. This is a criticism of the post Star Wars world I've taken to heart and repeat endlessly....a very insightful observation from the Departed Harlan. So in the end, its always seemed to me, a dreadful irony that Harlan Ellison, the loud, righteous & pugnacious defender of the rights of writers,ended up keeping up to one hundred and fifty science fiction short stories off the market up to the time of his death because he couldn't finish editing the third volume of his notorious collection "The Last Dangerous Visions". Christopher Priest goes into detail about that whole sad ironic situation in his pamphlet "The Book on the Edge of Forever", I'm sure it can found on Amazon or Ebay, I shan't bore you with the details of an already cringeworthy tale. As Herodotus Notes "By Great Thing are The Mighty Undone"and truly "The Last Dangerous Visions" is Harlan Ellison's Waterloo. That having been said, I don't think we've heard the last of Harlan he has a huge bibliography of fiction just waiting to be adapted...sadly by others IF it happens. Like Phillip K. Dick his fiction may finally start seeping into the film zeitgeist bit by bit, one can but hope for honest guardians of Ellisonian truth telling. On the other hand Harlan also had an awesome collection of ex-wives, who knows they may have litigious drives all of themselves...that would be the last irony of a supremely ironic iconoclast. :) "I Have No Mouthpiece And I Must Scream"

Monday, May 21, 2018

Margot Kidder, A Brief Memorial

There are a lot of "Lois Lanes" out there, seven by my count and the numbers will likely rise going forward. But Margot Kidder was the "You've Come A Long Way Baby" Lois Lane, career-centered, liberated, a achiever on her way to achieving more until Superman alighted on her penthouse rooftop (what city beat reporter could afford a penthouse in 1978??? Kidder was the envy of every newsroom from San Diego to Bangor on those grounds alone). If you ever get a chance, check out the audition tapes on the "Superman the Movie" Deluxe DVD, Kidder never smirks or condescends to the material, she knows exactly where the line is between wit and toneless camp, she never steps over it. You can see instantly why she got the part (although clearly Stockard Channing made it a tight camel race to the end), Kidder threw down her endless aces effortlessly...aspiring actresses should watch Kidder's auditions there is plenty to be learned therein. In the end, Margot Kidder was a leather lunged scrapper, she happily entered into a tacit three way alliance with Superman Director Richard Donner and her costar Chris Reeve to prevent said movie from degenerating into a Campy Burlesque, and their efforts paid off. Would to God those three ever got a script they could all invest themselves in...that would've been a Supermanfor all times. She had her challenges, psychiatric, financial,marital...like a lot of actors that did comic book movies back in the day it was certainly not the sort of resume builder that would get her up on the "A-List", but she worked and worked, and when necessary she signed autographs for money at conventions. I once saw her from a distance at a convention a few years ago, she seemed alert, lively & interested in everything, clearly she had gotten the help she needed. If anyone deserved to die peacefully and painlessly even if all too soon, it was Margot Kidder.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Proof Positive that the Somerville Theatre is Doing the Lord's Work...

lies in the fact that they are still screening "The Death of Stalin" AND Wes Anderson's "Isle of Dogs", varied films to be sure, but two out of my top ten for 2018 to be sure. Of course, Channel Zero (that redoubtable film and video franchise, now in it's improbable twenty third year) has all sorts priors with The Soviet Union's Premiere Genocidal Uber Tyrant.... Over at the Coolidge Corner we screened the documentary "I Was Stalin's Bodyguard" to a sold out audience, and later on at the Somerville Theater we screened the CPSU's official "obituary propaganda movie" "History's Great Loss" which is literally the last gasp of "High Stalinism" over the leader's corpse. It also features selections of the politburo's eulogies which were in turn recreated in the current film. And yes Lavrenty Beria really did look like Boris Badenoff up there on Lenin's Tomb.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Channel Zero Proudly Presents: "Smile Til It Hurts; The Up With People Story" (2009)

Director Lee Storey examines the story of the music group “Up With People”, that relentlessly Upbeat Singing Bulwark of TV Variety Shows in the 1960’s, & 70’s. Seemingly perpetually “On Tour” for Decades this Peppy Youth Choir was embraced by everyone from Billy Graham to Richard Nixon & was a Super Bowl Half-Time Mainstay! But behind the scenes, cult-like conditions are alleged!! Arranged Marriages!, Bumptious evangelical "moral rearmament", Shady Corporates Sponsors & Weird Politics! See the documentary that dares to tell the whole truth behind “Up With People”! The Somerville Theatre (Micro Cinema) Friday May 4th
 8pm (sharp!) 
55 Davis Square Somerville Ma
 617 625 5700
 Admission: $8.50 (cash only, tickets on sale thirty minutes before showtime in front of the downstairs micro-cinema) One Night Only, A Full Cinema Experience! If there was a musical vaccine for youth rebellion in the 1960's, it was "Up With People", this is a story worth seeing!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

It did my heart good to sit with a sold out audience

at the 7pm screening of "Isle of Dogs" last night @ the Somerville Theatre. I loved this movie...and I'm a tough sell on "Dog Movies", maybe its the faux stop motion animation, or the improbable all star cast, or director We Anderson's weird mixture of magic realism & Karel Zeman. Ah Karel Zeman, a filmmaker of the first rank, literally Communist Czechoslovakia's answer to Walt Disney, Dr, Suess & Ray Harryhausen all in one go! I am convinced with his emphasis on "radical unrealism" that Wes Anderson has screened such uber rare Zeman films as "The Stolen Airship" & "Off on a Comet" (both based on works by Jules Verne) wherein live action was incorporated with animation derived from the original illustrations. Someday Channel Zero will screen one of those obscure Karel Zeman science fiction titles, we won't sell many tickets, but it is a truism among us that the necessity to screen certain films is in no way conditioned by the potential audience. Wes Anderson doesn't have that problem a humorist, a stylist, an artist perfectly unafraid to make a "dog movie" and at least last night sold a shit ton of tickets as well....

Sunday, March 04, 2018

2018 Oscar Predictions (last minute and incomplete)

Best Actor: Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in "Darkest Hour". Lacking any limey disease porn from Eddie Redmayne, this immersive impersonation of Britain's Wartime PM will have to do. It'd be tantamount to treason for the Academy's Famously United British Block of Voters to go anywhere else. The only counter scenario in play is a split in that block between Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis in "Phantom Thread" but so far that "BritBlock" has never split and likely won't with A Winston Churchill In Play. Just remember, this is a great historic impersonation, but so was Woody Harrelson in "L.B.J" and Woody is likely watching the broadcast from home tonight. Best Actress: Margot Robbie, this is personal prejudice on my part, Robbie made a champion catastrophe like Tonya Harding completely sympathetic to me, that is the essence of acting IMHO. Sally Hawkins may pull off an upset, but she was working mute in the world's first Kalju-Human Interspecies Love Story...that strikes me as a reach for the Academy. Frances McDormand has an outside shot but it's more on grounds of her overall "body of work" to date than anything else. Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer in "All The Money in the World", this is "Academy Politics" at work, voting for Plummer rebukes neatly the gruesome sexual escapades allegedly perpetrated by the film's original star Kevin Spacey. Moreover, Plummer is past eighty years of age, and reshot all those scenes in under six weeks...for stamina alone he deserves the Oscar. Best Supporting Actress: Allison Janney in "I, Tonya"...As good as Robbie's Tonya Harding is, the film reaches Grand Guignol like levels of nastiness whenever Allison Janney's "Skate Mom from Hell" heaves onto the Screen....Besides when is she ever gonna be in that room again? Best Picture: This one is tough, but I am thinking "Darkest Hour", that BritBlock is pretty hardcore, they could again split their vote with "Dunkirk", but the performances in that film were more akin to neorealism, no other acting nominations were derived from it. Thus I think the race may actually be between "Darkest Hour" & "“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, the latter being more of a "message movie" suited to Academy Prejudices. "Get Out" is "The Stepford Wives" for African Americans, and as such will likely fall afoul of the Academy's default resistance of horror-sic-fi-fantasy driven material, something that will likely keep Sally Hawkins and Daniel Kaluuya off the podium entirely.