Sunday, May 05, 2019

Why Sadko (1952)?

It is sad to say, but Classic Soviet Films are rarely screened on the local repertory circuit, save for certain "sure fire" titles (exp "Battleship Potemkin" "Alexander Nevsky" the art-house propaganda titles in other words), this is a shame because even a colossal totalitarian system can produce genre films of rare sophistication & beauty. "Sadko" was the product of a testing time in Soviet History, Stalin had purged the arts (chiefly of any "Jewish Influence") and now set out to illustrate the intensification of class conflict by decreeing that All Soviet Films must be artistic masterpieces. So of course, film production in the USSR plunged during this period, no one dared approve a script that might result in a film that wasn't a Masterpiece. Director Alexandr Ptushko though, had two things going in his favor as he prepared to shoot "Sadko" one, Soviet Film Censors were pretty lax about approving films set in the distant past reasoning that the modern class conflict dynamic didn't exist per se in the Dark Ages, so filmmakers were absolved of the need to make The Vanguard Party of the Workers look good. Secondly, "Sadko" is a famous Russian Folk tale about a 10th Century troubadour who travels to strange magic realms in a brave search of a mythic Bird of Happiness by which to revive his beleaguered home town. This "Bylina" (a traditional slavic oral folk tale) had already been adapted by Rimsky-Korsakov into a Opera that was a mainstay of Russian Theatre throughout the Stalinist Era. So Ptushko had the right setting and the right property, he also had a profound epic visual sense and a straining desire to burst the limits of cinema in his time. And what the hell he succeeded. A Bright Colorful Poignant Fantasia that could easily be considered the USSR's Answer to "The Wizard of Oz"directed a man who could easily go toe-to-toe with Walt Disney. And in 1952, in the USSR that meant something, specifically because of the rigid application of Stalin's demand for film masterpieces, "Sadko", is one of exactly five Russian Language Movies produced under Soviet Auspices in 1952, the fact that it got made, and made so well, is nothing short of miraculous. So Hell to the Yeah, Channel Zero is screening Sadko, bold colors, state of the art special effects, folksongs and all! The Somerville Theatre (micro cinema) Friday, May 17th 8pm (sharp!) 55 Davis Square, Somerville Ma Admission: $7.50 (cash only, please note tickets are on sale thirty minutes prior to showtime in front of the micro cinema) 617-625-5700 In Russian (folksongs and all) Subtitled into English!!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

David Kleiler, RIP...

Let the record show, that Channel Zero had some three attempts to collaborate with the departed local film maven, David Kleiler (former GM of the Coolidge Corner, Curator of the Boston Underground Film Festival, Programmer of the Woods Hole Film Festival, that boy got around yo!), all of them ended in disaster. Nonetheless we had no regrets things went wrong for reasons unrelated to David or Us, and our little film franchise gained always in wisdom and experience, something Kleiler freely gave away every day of his life. He died last week after all long illness, and the local film scene is the poorer for it by far. The First time, was likely in the summer of 1996, we were negotiating with the Coolidge Corner's then Marketing Director, the incomparable Robert Deutsch for a coveted repertory film screening slot, in prime time no less! As General Manager, Kleiler had literally saved said venue from the wrecking ball and was now outreaching to us, Channel Zero with an opportunity to reach a Boston Audience. At this time, we were doing screenings on VHS for free in the now defunct Liberty Cafe in Central Square, this was a very big thing on offer indeed. Alas it was not to be, Kleiler and Deutsch were both shown the door almost as soon as we passed in our proposal (for the record it was "The Evil Dead Part II", so sue us, we wanted a pre sold audience...and we'd never worked with celluloid before!). Two years later, in the Summer of 1998, and David Kleiler was doing his own private repertory screenings at "Bill's Bar" in the Fenway, he invited Channel Zero to come in and "sublet" for a night when the Red Sox were out of season. This Time we went with one of our dependable programs "Custer Lives" a screening of the misbegotten 1967-1968 western series starring Wayne Maunder as the doomed Colonel Custer riding the prairie like Captain Kirk on Horseback. We'd done quite well in Central Square with a similar program (tarted up with a reading of bad "Custer Elegy" poetry that in turn inspired the infamous "Bad Poets Society") and dutifully began flogging the event thru our column in "Editorial Humor" and with our now ubiquitous flyers. And wouldn't you know it, one week before showtime, Kleiler and his ad-hoc repertory series gets shown the door. We were livid, he was philosophical.... And then...in 2000, when David Kleiler was ensconced at the top his own film festival, the Boston Underground Film Festival no less, he offered Channel Zero a precious screening opportunity at the Revolving Museum in South Boston. We were ecstatic, at last validation! And this time, we had the title, Peter Watkins'controversial nuclear war "documentary "The War Game"...we were just about to secure the screening rights to said film when the Harvard Film Archive swooped down and announced a retrospective of Peter Watkins' films, two weeks before our screening including of course, "The War Game". Kleiler, counseled steadfastness (we should have listened to him), but we had catastrophic visions of an empty theatre with crickets chirping on the soundtrack, we canceled "The War Game" and in sheer desperation opted for High Camp, in this case, "Hercules Unchained" (1960) starring Steve Reeves. Our reasoning was "classic psychotronic titles" hadn't made a big inroad yet on the local midnight movie circuit so we were reasonable free of the fear of pre-emption. This would prove to be a rare example of Channel Zero misjudging its audience, never ever try to sell camp escapism to a Boho Audience of rising Cineastes....they never get the joke, I guess they shouldn't have to, either. They were faking heart attacks to get out of that bunker like room in South Boston, we couldn't have chosen a worse movie for the crowd at hand, it was indeed "Our Waterloo". If you'd like you can watch the whole thing on Youtube its a long way from a 16mm rental indeed....but what the hell David gave us the agency to triumph or screw up all by ourselves. Alas we never again collaborated with David Kleiler sad to say, the man was unflappable in this movie market, you have to be, he did grace us by attending some of our more recent screenings at the Somerville Theatre, he was relaxed, wise as truly one who had seen it all, if he bought one of our tickets it a virtual endorsement that we had the most interesting screening in town. Back in 2015, when Channel Zero hit a bad patch with unique programming that inspired nothing but empty seats David Kleiler counseled patience and resilience, "not quitting was the best path to triumph" was his sage advice. I'd see him sometimes at the Harvard Film Archive, lately he was clearly sick but still cogent and wise, it was always a pleasure to talk with him, I will miss him, the local film scene will have to wait a long time before it grows another conscience and institutional memory like David Kleiler.

Monday, February 18, 2019

We got good Ink!!! WE GOT GOOD INK!!!

From Betsy Sherman in the Arts Fuse!! Oh and Lauren King, That Empress of Insight, came thru as well!! (sorry folks dis ain't da golden age, yer gonna have to pay someone to read that Boston Globe article) I mean lemme tell yuh, its hard to get decent arts press attention in this town, always has been and I've been at this twenty four years!!!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Why Screen..."Million Dollar Legs" (1932) ?

Because it is "pre-code"comedy and as such is pitched at a slightly more adult audience, and mostly because its literally the only film in W.C. Fields'surviving catalogue wherein The Great Man plays a person of influence, the President of the Balkan Duchy of Klopstokia. Of course in the whole of Western Civilization no Chief Executive, President Prime Minster or Duce, has ever had to hold on to power by prevailing in the Summer Olympics weightlifting competition! That may frenz is the very spirit of Dada come to roost in the Hollywood Hills. It is also a prime illustration of Moe Howard's dictum that the very sole of comedy emerges in a Hegelian sense from the Annihilation of Dignity. Director Eddie Cline was a frequent collaborator with Fields, he would subsequently direct two of The Great Man's Best Films, "The Bank Dick" & "Never Give a Sucker an Even Break". The rest of the cast includes beefy Jack Oakie (in a rare purely romantic Lead) and veritable cavalry charge of slapstick comedians, Cross Eyed Ben Turpin, spindly Andy Clyde and the ever excitable Hugh Herbert among others. It is the sort of film they don't make anymore, a slapstick farce with a strong overlay of pure satire, hell they weren't making many of these back in the day, so this is a rare opportunity to reacquaint oneself with the Incomparable Comedy of W.C. Fields, don't miss it!! The Somerville Theatre (micro-cinema) Friday, February 22nd 8pm (sharp!) 55 Davis Square Somerville Ma. Admission $7.50 (Cheap! Cash Only) 617) 625-5700 Note Tickets go on sale thirty minutes or so before showtime outside the Micro Cinema downstairs at the Somerville Theatre

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

This is as close as I got to...

Sam J. "Flash Gordon" Jones at the Somerville Theatre last Friday Night, let the record show that is a small bag of popcorn in his hand, please indulge no rumors. Amazingly Jones is the subject of a fairly comprehensive film documentary detailing his ubiquitous career after the 1980 Flash Gordon adaptation. The man is nothing if not indomitable, working as bodyguard when he isn't on the convention circuit or collaborating with Seth McFarlane. Ubiquity like that, DESERVES a documentary!! Lt@: Garen Daly (CapoRegime, Boston Sci Fi Film Festival), Lisa Downes (Director of "After Flash")and Sam J.Jones.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

My Top Ten Movies for 2018

Sadly due to ongoing career and family crises, I just barely got to ten movies this year...but I got there all the same. Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, great documentary about the world's only pinup beauty who held a legit patent on a electronic invention whose principle is still very much in use today. The Death of Stalin, Its an odd thing but the 20th Century's A-List "Tyrannical Trio" (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin), lavish film depictions of the death of the two fascists are a common thing, but Stalin, who had the bad form to die in bad has gone a-begging until now. Besides any film willing to cast Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev and Michael Palin as Molotov, deserves an Academy Award for sheer chutzpah. Isle of Dogs, I love Wes Anderson, he was clearly drawing on the legacy of Czech filmmaker Karel Zemen for this stop motion puppet feature...the man can do no wrong in my books. Eighth Grade, Bo Turnham has a future he knows how to extract evocative realistic performances from youth players...its a useful talent. Given her strong performance, I'm not sure where Elsie Fisher goes after this, but then I once said that about Chloe Grace-Moritz. "Sorry to Bother You", Every year, America needs a good parable on racial politics and the intricacies of sheer identity, and we'll need it annually until we finally all get past some stuff. "The Miseducation of Cameron Post" Remember what I said about Chloe Grace Moritz earlier? Here is a good sign she can perpetuate a career in Hollywood, of the odious process of "praying away the gay" I will pass over in silence. The BlacKkKlansman This might be, Spike Lee's First (and likely last) film with a happy ending. The enormity of the deed was such, that he had to tack on a depressing contemporary epilogue to hold onto his prophecy props. "Operation Finale"..."Eichmann had it coming, he made enemies!" "Bathtubs over Broadway" a long overdue documentary about the lost genre of "Industrial Musicals", Letterman show alum Steve Young scours the world for the composers, scores and recordings that make up these elaborate trade show extravaganzas. But its the human dimension here that enchants, Young makes friends, revives long lost music, becomes a genre activist...the guy is so "Channel Zero" it hurts. "The Favourite" Who knew that Emma Stone's breakthrough movie would be as an ambitious lady in waiting to the sexually ambiguous Queen Anne of England? Seriously who knew???

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Stan Lee: In Memoriam...

Every Entertainment Industry, Gets the Brand Ambassador it Deserves. And so it was, that Stan Lee aka Stanley Lieber, former Editor Publisher of Marvel Comics, finally died last month at the age of ninety four. I will give him credit, he took a fourth rate outfit from impotence to market dominance, and it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy the entire time. As a writer, he wrote the worst women in comics, craven passive unheroic creatures, worth remembering that Marvel didn't have a single super hero comic that centered on a female character up and running until the 1970's. In the 1960's Marvel was a chest burs tingly patriotic publisher in the vein of Mickey Spillane until Stan discovered his comics had some cachet on College Campuses and then overnight it enabled so called youth culture to a hilarious degree. He did train a generation of writers and creative, all of them to write just like him. The man had two great talents, he could write (bombastic pseudo mythic dialogue admittedly, but with a heart certainly) and he could hype, lord how he could hype. Hype so strong he himself began to believe it by the nineteen seventies, proclaiming himself soul creator of a good dozen of Marvel's bestselling superhero books, he called Marvel's audience "true believers" but clearly he true believer in his own almighty myth. The man spent most of the nineteen eighties walking back boasts he'd made in the public prints in the nineteen seventies...only Donald Trump can beat a record like that. After Chris Reeve's "proof of concept" with "Superman the Movie" in 1978, Lee managed to convince Marvel Comics to release him from his publishing duties and allow him to take up residence as the company's multimedia ambassador to Hollywood. Thereafter he signed bad development deal after bad development deal, A cheap "Fantastic Four" Movie that has become the exclusive property of video bootleggers a "Captain America" movie wherein the patriotic ubermensch fights...Mussolini (my legally blind ninety five year old mother could take down Il Duce who are we kidding...) and a handful of TV pilots best forgotten. The man had a genius talent for a bad deal, in fact Marvel's cinematic revolution was likely delayed a good decade because key characters like The Hulk, The Fantastic Four or the X-Men were scattered around tinseltown optioned out to different rival studios...somehow that universe has prevailed at the box office despite Stan Lee's legendary business ineptitude. Someday someone is gonna write a great history of this period in Stan Lee's life, from a "what-not-to-do" perspective...it'll be instructive. He Hyped, and he Believed, that is Stan Lee's legacy. If I criticize and list his faults its more or less in the shadow of that legacy, a fantasy empire in Hollywood with global reach, one that will likely soon rival Walt Disney's planetary predominance. When you've conjured at that level, you can afford a little candor..."Excelsior Stan, Excelsior"