Thursday, August 30, 2007

RoBurt Productions


Even though they only made two films together, the names Robert Aldrich and Burt Reynolds fit very nicely together for me. Their brief, but very valuable, partnership came as Aldrich was nearing the end of his career and Burt was just taking off in his. It just took two films to establish a professional and creative relationship together that seemed to bring out the best in both of them. Since I count both of these films among my favorites of the seventies I thought I would pay a short, but no where near definitive, tribute to them. I hope to look at both of these two special films in much more detail later, just take this as my nod to a brief partnership that created two of my favorite decade's most memorable films.
The influential Aldrich had just wrapped the incredible EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) with Lee Marvin when he began shooting the dark football comedy THE LONGEST YARD in 1974. THE LONGEST YARD was a bit of a departure, and simultaneously a return to his roots, for Aldrich as his previous few films had all been very action oriented. Based on a story by producer Albert R. Ruddy with a script by Tracy Keenan Wynn, THE LONGEST YARD tells the story of a once great football player who is thrown into prison and is forced to form a prison team for an exhibition match with the guards.
In anybody else's hands besides Aldrich, THE LONGEST YARD could have turned out really unmemorable but he gives it a real lean and tough feel that is extremely hard to shake. Even in the film's funniest moments, there is still a pulverising hard edge to it that hits like a unbreakable rock.
Key to the success of THE LONGEST YARD was the casting. Loaded up with an astonishing group of supporting players including Eddie Albert, Ed Lauter, Michael Conrad and a young Bernadette Peters, the piece needed a leading man who could center the film with a funny yet emotionally satisfying performance. In Burt Reynolds, Robert Aldrich found not only the best man who could have played the once great but now disillusioned Paul Crewe, but I would argue the only one.
Burt Reynolds was already one of the biggest stars of the early seventies when he signed on for THE LONGEST YARD, but he was in need of a real critical success as he was getting more lumped in as just a regional action star. He had just had a big hit with WHITE LIGHTNING (1973) when he accepted the potentially career changing role as the defeated Crewe in Aldrich's film. The two of them working together created some real magic that no one could have predicted.
THE LONGEST YARD was, and remains, a hugely popular film and for me all of that rests on the great and exciting direction by Aldrich and the performance of Reynolds, who is just incredible in the film. Watching it today when so many star vehicles fall completely flat, Burt Reynolds in his prime is a reminder of a star who really could deliver the goods. His work is a tricky combination of cruelty and charisma, comedy and cynicism and finally respect and redemption.
The film is filled with so many great moments that it is hard to choose just a couple. Certainly the opening scene, where Crewe has a vicious knockdown fight with his girlfriend and steals her car to the sounds of SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL, is quite unlike any other big Hollywood opening ever. Then of course there is the team and seeing them train, the Warden and finally the big game. Aldrich directs every scene with such gusto that it almost seems like he knew that he was nearing the end of his own professional, and indeed personal, game. For all its great moments though, my favorite is without a doubt the final huddle when all Crewe has left to give is a defiant nod to his team and a stirring, "Let's do it". It's one of those little lines, much like the "Why not?" that concludes THE WILD BUNCH, that still sends chills down the back of neck when I hear it.
THE LONGEST YARD would prove a major smash upon its release and make Burt Reynolds the biggest star of the seventies. It was a personal triumpth for GODFATHER producer Ruddy who had been told that the film wouldn't succeed, and it would prove one of Aldrich's major works. Its fast paced editing was nominated for an Oscar but Aldrich, Reynolds and the film were criminally ignored when the nominations were announced.

Aldrich and Reynolds had an open playing film in front of them after THE LONGEST YARD but the project they chose would surprise everyone. SAVE THE TIGER novelist Steve Shagan wrote CITY OF ANGELS as very much a continuation of TIGER'S themes of loneliness and disconnection from the modern world, only this time instead of a lost garment salesman Shagan focused on a disillusioned Los Angeles cop.
HUSTLE was recently honored by the great critic Kim Newman in Sight and Sound as one of seventy five great overlooked films and I wanted to applaud when I saw that he had chosen it. Long neglected and forgotten by many, HUSTLE has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it on late night tv as a teenager.
Reynolds stars this time as Lieutenant Phil Gaines, a displaced in time and place cop who has seen just a little too much corruption and dishonesty in his life. Gaines drinks too much, he is love with a high price hooker, dreams of going to Rome and imagines a slower life scored by the sounds of Artie Shaw. He is a dreamer and he likes to go out on his call girl Nicole's balcony with a drink in his hand and Charles Aznavour's YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS YOUNG in his head.
HUSTLE is very much a modern film noir, and I think along with Arthur Penn's monumental NIGHT MOVES and Robert Altman's glorious THE LONG GOODBYE, it is the best of the color noirs of the seventies. There is a murder, a mystery, some sleaze, some sex and a lot of corruption, but at the heart of HUSTLE is this lost guy that Reynolds inhabits completely with a sad haunted performance that is just about the best work of his career.
HUSTLE feels completely different from THE LONGEST YARD and it is pretty easy to see why audiences didn't go for it. It is a really dark and cold film and, even though just two years had passed since THE LONGEST YARD, it feels like a film made by two much older men.
Aldrich and Reynolds believed in HUSTLE so much that they formed their own joint company, RoBurt,to help produce it so its failure must have been pretty stinging to both. Watching it today shows a film that clearly isn't as perfect as THE LONGEST YARD but its imperfections play into it themes of a country past its prime perfectly. It is also easier to see now that Aldrich seemed to instinctively know that all of the major players in his cast, and indeed himself, were just slipping past their peaks, and it now feels like one of the most ideally cast films of the seventies.

Robert Aldrich only completed four more films in his distinguished career and he died at the age 66 in 1983. He left behind a rich and distinguished legacy that both THE LONGEST YARD and HUSTLE fit into nicely.
I have written a long tribute to Burt Reynolds before on here so regular readers will know the high regard I hold him in. THE LONGEST YARD and HUSTLE are two of his most important and greatest films and anyone who has ever thought of Burt Reynolds as just a simple good old boy should check out these out to see how complex and diverse he can be.
Both films are thankfully available on dvd. HUSTLE features a sparkling widescreen transfer but nothing else. THE LONGEST YARD is out in a great edition with documentaries and an unforgettable and essential commentary with Reynolds and Ruddy.
I love Robert Aldrich, Burt Reynolds and these two films. I wish they had made more together but these two were enough to make them one of the great creative partnerships of the seventies.

Preparing For Exposure


Starting in the next few days I will began a long look at one of my favorite Nastassja films, James Toback's EXPOSED. The film is a bold, flawed, exciting and finally very haunting work that features one of Nastassja's greatest performances. I will be looking closely at the film, Nastassja's performance and Toback himself. I will also be posting some rare articles and scans to go along with my writings on it.
I have been greatly anticipating writing on this film and I hope everyone enjoys the upcoming posts.

Odds and Ends #9 (Spring Symphony)


Despite some acclaim, I think SPRING SYMPHONY is one of the least notable films from the golden period of Nastassja's career. At the end of the day it is a relatively small role in a minor film.
The usual amount of promotional material is available on the film although apparently not a lot. The usually reliable moviegoods.com doesn't even have a poster for it and Nastassja KInski Jp only has a screen shot from the dvd. Occasionally some items pop up on ebay but overall material from this film is hard to find.
Nastassja hasn't spoken much about the film throughout the years, and I couldn't find too many more things to say about it so I am going on as her next film as it is one of her most interesting.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Different Kind Of Role


Recently I was re-reminded of how important the DVD format is. Since its brief 1969 release the Elvis Presley film CHARRO has only been available in one of the most horrendous pan and scans jobs I have ever seen, and typically in a cut tv print. Partially because of this, the film has long been thought of as one of Presley's weakest, a final nail in the coffin of his film career if you will. The striking new Widescreen transfer that has just recently released on disc shows a film much better than anyone, even a die hard Elvis fan like me, would have ever thought.
One of the great unspoken truths about the film career of Elvis Presley is that the formula trap that he found himself in by the mid sixties had been escaped from with the 1968 film LIVE A LITTLE LOVE AT LITTLE. The relative disappointing showing of SPEEDWAY, a film which had been hoped to bring in the kind of numbers VIVA LAS VEGAS had, caused the studio and Presley's manager to finally release their tight grip a bit, and in his final few films Elvis Presley was given a small chance to shine again as an actor.


The four films in question, all released in 68 and 69, that fell very much out of the formula Presley films were the aforementioned comedy LIVE A LITTLE LOVE A LITTLE, THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS, CHANGE OF HABIT and CHARRO. There were still some songs, there were still some girls but all four of these films differed greatly from the poor quality productions Presley had been given just a couple of years earlier in films like DOUBLE TROUBLE and EASY COME EASY GO.
CHARRO isn't a great film by any means. It suffers from a lazy script by director Charles Marquis Warren, under-developed characters and a couple of notably poor supporting performances. These flaws have been apparent since it first came out but what hasn't been apparent is just how striking looking the film is, how amazing the Hugo Montenegro score sounds and just how good Elvis Presley is as the reformed outlaw Jess Wade.
Warren's film is one of many Hollywood productions in the Late sixties that was very deliberately copying the Italian Western that had become such a big industry. Elvis, who counted Clint Eastwood as one of his favorite actors, plays a 'man with no name' like character who has been falsely accused of stealing a canon by a group of outlaws he used to run with. The plot of CHARRO has been seen in hundreds of Westerns so going into detail on it is a bit useless. The things about the film that should be noted is the look, sound and Presley's surprising turn as the bearded outlaw trying to make right.
One thing I noticed upon viewing this dvd is how sharp, at times, the veteran Warren's direction is. CHARRO would be the final feature from the, at the time, near sixty year old Warren. His career wasn't overwhelming distinguished as it was mostly made up of tv work and B westerns but his underrated work on films like ARROWHEAD (1953), SEVEN ANGRY MEN (1955)and the strange BACK FROM THE DEAD (1957) are all worth a second look. Warren's direction of CHARRO is quite nice, the framing of certain shots stand out and seem well organized and carefully considered. Often having three or more characters in the frame with Presley seemingly trapped in the middle is a nice touch and he handles the film's exciting action scenes very well.


Even more striking than Warren's direction is the cinematography by Ellsworth Fredericks. The photographer of Kazan's masterful WILD RIVER (1960) really brings a lot to CHARRO and it is lit and shot very memorably with special mention going to the colorful interior work in Ina Balin's brothel. Also worth noting is the film's set decoration by Charles S. Thompson who had just finished up some really delightful work on the charming DON'T MAKE WAVES just a year before.
Composer Hugo Montenagro's western work is often thought of as basically Morricone Lite but his work on CHARRO is splendidly inventive and at times very eerie. The film's one song is also fantastic and is sung by Presley over the main credits. I would love to see a full soundtrack release for this film as it is one of the elements of the newly re-mastered dvd that really stuck with me.
The supporting cast is mostly good with a couple of exceptions. Lovely Ina Balin really stands out as Wade's former girl Tracey and Victor French is always solid. His ruthless Vince Hackett is particularly strong. The film belongs to the 33 year old Presley though and he comes through with a solid and intense performance as the damaged Jess Wade.
Presley was never more beautiful than he was in 1969. I would argue that there has never been a better looking man than Elvis in this period and he is really breathtaking to watch in CHARRO. He is at his best when the script calls for him to just be silent, Presley from some of his earliest roles like LOVE ME TENDER (1956) and KING CREOLE (1958) was always good at portraying a silent internal turmoil and he was never better at it than in CHARRO. Unfortunately the script's dialogue often lets him down and it is a shame that the studio didn't give it a thorough rewrite as this could have been something really splendid. Still, there are certain moments in this film where you can really see the actor Presley could have easily become and CHARRO (along with CHANGE OF HABIT) is a sad little postscript to one of the most 'if only' film careers in Hollywood history.

CHARRO opened in the spring of 1969 to lukewarm business and weak reviews for the few critics who bothered to watch it. It made its way to television in the seventies losing some of its violence and an Ina Balin nude scene before hitting the dreaded public domain market in the eighties. The new DVD is unfortunately still trimmed of some of the violence (the film is quite brutal at times and it should be noted that Presley performed many of his own stunts) and Balin's nude shot is also still not here, but otherwise the DVD is incredible in how great it looks. Outside of some trailers and collectible cards, no extras have been given the release which is a shame.

The two songs recorded for CHARRO (one, LET'S FORGET ABOUT THE STARS was never used) are both fine, still available and recommended. The brooding and haunting title track is particularly memorable and is one of the more underrated sixties tracks from Elvis.
Apparently among the many films that Colonel Tom Parker stopped Elvis Presley from doing over the years was MIDNIGHT COWBOY in 1969. One can only imagine what the role of Joe Buck would have done for not only Elvis Presley's career but also his spirit. CHARRO, outside of two spellbinding concert films, was along with CHANGE OF HABIT the last time audience's would see ELvis Presley on the big screen. Thanks to the greed and short sightedness of a artistically challenged manager, he would never work as an actor again.
CHARRO is among the most surprising dvd releases of the year. Despite some noticeable flaws, I highly recommend it it to anyone who might have seen one of those washed out pan and scan transfers years ago, or to anyone with even a passing interest in being reminded of how good Elvis Presley the actor could have been.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter 15) Wendy James' Now Ain't The Time For Your Tears


I love Rock and Roll. I adore it and will for the rest of my life. The best Rock and Roll exhilarates me, it speaks to me, it makes me cry, it says things to me about my life that not a lot of art can. But despite all of this, I am the first person to admit that there is at times something near ridiculous about Rock that very few artists can ever truly escape from. Elvis isn't ridiculous, neither are the Beatles. Dylan, Lou Reed, Pere Ubu, The Clash...these are just a handful of artists (among several others) who have escaped it. Only The Beatles could make a song as slight as SHE LOVES YOU into something truly transcending where as anyone else doing it would just sound completely trite.
The problem with a lot of Rock and Roll is that most artist don't understand how joyously funny it can all be. Some like Frank Zappa take it too far and ultimately seem to sacrifice their initial love in favor of poking fun at a very powerful art form. Others like The Sex Pistols seem to initially understand the sheer inanity of much of it but also seem to fall quickly into a very cynical and dark trap that they can't escape. Others, whether it is Rick Wakeman performing a rock opera on ice or Tom Verlaine talking Paul Verlaine, not only don't get the joke but don't even seem to comprehend that there might be one in question...which isn't to take away from Rick Wakeman or Tom Verlaine as they are brilliant in their own ways but they could never reach the power of someone like Elvis or The Beatles who could understand that a line like, "Yea, Yea, Yea" could be funny as well as groundbreaking.
So what does all of this have to do with one Wendy James? Well for me Wendy James has always been a rare breed, someone who understands the sheer ridiculousness at the heart of even the greatest rock and roll but is also someone who has always been totally in love with it.

James appeared in the mid eighties fronting a British Band called Transvision Vamp. They were a brief sensation and scored several charting hits but their three albums were all a bit hit and miss and rarely scored points with the critics. At the heart of Transvision Vamp, and especially Wendy James, was a real love affair with Rock and Roll and a real embracing of everything inane and ridiculous about it. Coming out of the late Post Punk movement when everything suddenly felt strange and inane, Transvision Vamp gleefully stole licks from everyone from Lou Reed to Serge Gainsbourg. Wendy would casually lift famous lines, play an ultimate pin-up model on their sleeves, and sing songs like BORN TO BE SOLD and BACK ON MY KNEES again in one of the most distinctive British voices of the eighties. Their live shows were particularly chaotic, and quite brilliant at times, when they shrugged off much of their lps slick production. In their great moments such as the terrifying PAY THE GHOSTS or the epic VELVETEEN (in which Wendy successfully channels not only Hazelwood and Sinatra but also Gainsbourg and Birkin) Transvision Vamp were a fine band who deserved much higher marks than the critics gave them.
Transvision Vamp broke up in the early nineties, shortly after their middle finger waving LITTLE MAGNETS VERSUS THE BUBBLE OF BABBLE album, and they disappeared from sight. They should have waited a bit as Brit Pop, and the acceptance of bands like the brilliant Elastica and the ferociously literate Sleeper, was just a few years away. Even Kurt Cobain admired Wendy and one of his most sublime moments was proudly wearing a Transvision Vamp shirt on a live MTV program shortly before his death.
Which almost brings us to the album I am paying tribute to here. After Transvision Vamp broke up, Wendy found herself feeling a bit lost and more than a bit depressed, so she did what any down and out Rock Star with nothing to lose would do...she sat down and wrote a long personal letter to one of her idols, a Mr. Elvis Costello and asked him to write a couple of songs for her.
Costello would say of the letter and the call afterwards:
"My wife and I got a phone call and wound up writing ten songs for this girl, Wendy James of the pop-punk group Transvision Vamp. Not one -- ten. We just had a weekend to spare, so we wrote ten. I said: 'If we don't finish by Sunday, forget it. It's got to be quick, like a Tin Pan Alley job.' I always said I could write pop songs to order, and then somebody said prove it. And I did."
So in an audacious move, on not only Wendy James part but also Costello's, a full album's worth of songs was handed to James to record. It should also be added that these weren't just any songs, but these were the tracks that so many fans and critics of Costello had been pleading for him to write, as they sound like a very direct continuation to his early MY AIM IS TRUE and THIS YEAR'S MODEL records. Only someone as brave and who possesses as much genius as Costello would dare give songs this quick witted and solid away...for the record I would like to point out in my eyes that Costello has only improved with age, and that people who have refused to follow his journey have missed out on many of the most remarkable records of the last twenty years.


To get back on track here, after Costello handed James the songs she then went so far as to hire Attraction Pete Thomas to play on the Chris Kimsey produced album. Stepping into the studio to cut the ten jewells Costello and Cait O'Riordan had given her must have been extraordinary for James and it is such a shame in hindsight that so few were listening.
NOW AIN'T THE TIME FOR YOUR TEARS isn't perfect. It has always sounded under produced to me and I have always thought a thorough remixing and remastering would do it wonders. Coming through loud and clear though on some of Costello's simplest but most brilliant lyrics is a confident James who gives the songs something really special, sounding like what you would imagine Jean Shrimpton would sing like fronting The Clash, James is consistently brilliant throughout the recording, even when the production lets her very much down.
The recorded in France album kicks off with one of the most explosive songs Costello had written since the ARMED FORCES era, the corrosive and exciting THIS IS A TEST. James sounds near possessed with something to prove even though the sound is too small. Even better is the blazing follow up, the stunning LONDON'S BRILLIANT, which surely ranks amongst the finest Costello lyrics of the nineties. Has their ever been lines that summed up London after punk like, "Still digging up the bones of Strummer and Jones" and "With a bite and a bark, he tried to make his mark. Now he's getting fucked silly somewhere in Piccadilly." James gives a winningly exhausted sounding performance on this track and it remains one of the real highlights of her career, a sad and spirited lament to having been born just past all the greatness.
Another favorite follows with the haunting BASEMENT KISS. I have seen some criticise James' voice on this track but I guess these people have forgotten what all of their Marianne Faithfull and France Gall records from the Sixties sounded like. The track is a brilliant backwards looking ode to to London in the Sixties that sounds like the soundtrack to an imaginary Ken Loach film starring Carol White.
PUPPET GIRL is probably the most famous track on the album, as Costello himself would perform pulverising live versions of it with The Attractions on their historic BRUTAL YOUTH tour. I saw one of these shows and this song was a real highlight. It returns Wendy to her most perverse Transvision Vamp days, as it sounds very much like she is singing about what many of her underestimating critics made her out to be. Costello seems very much in on the joke and the line " We'll ruin your reputation on the day you breakaway and try to cut your string" is truly prophetic, and quite touching coming out of Wendy James mouth.
EARTHBOUND is another track let down a bit by the producer but James still gives it all she's got, although this track was capable of shaking the speakers. DO YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING joins BASEMENT KISS as the album's more striking ballad and it is followed by the brutal and fascinating WE DESPISE YOU.
WE DESPISE YOU sounds like a BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE outtake and that's a major compliment. Wendy sounds totally convincing in her rage here and it features some of Costello's most cutting lines since TOKYO STORM WARNING. The lines "When I don't fall at your feet, too old to be frightened and too scared to tell the truth. You lie in your teenage anguish but you can no longer blame it on your youth" is vintage Elvis and it very much reminds me of The Clash's final single, the chilling THIS IS ENGLAND, in which Joe Strummer laments, "I got my motorcycle jacket but I'm walking all the time."
FILL IN THE BLANKS is another exciting track marked by a great James lead vocal and a slightly disappointing backing track. It does manage to pull out the astonishing line, "Adjani, Dalle and Fanny Ardant, He says, 'All those French birds give me a hard on" so it can't truly be considered a weak moment.

THE NAMELESS ONE is the only track lyrically that sounds a bit like a throw away, but musically it turns out to be one of the better sounding tracks on the lp, which probably foreshadows much of the bad luck the album would experience upon its release.
The closer is a stunner and reminds me very much of a great dramatic Bacharach and David song from the Sixties. I WANT TO STAND FOREVER sounds lyrically a bit like something Costello would deliver a few years after for his own magnificent collaboration with Bacharach, PAINTED FROM MEMORY, and it contains one of the most memorable vocals ever delivered by Wendy James. It is a fine and fitting finale to an unjustly overlooked and often maligned album.
The album was released in 1993 to just okay sales and many negative reactions. The singles would feature a series of confessional acoustic B Sides co-written by James that were incredibly striking and unlike anything else she had ever delivered. The album would have a brief and delayed Stateside release a bit later but it fell on mostly deaf ears and quietly sank out of print.

The majority of Costello's original demos have popped up on various b-sides and bonus discs and they are all remarkable sounding. After the relative failure of the album to attract the public or critical ear, Wendy James quietly dropped out of sight. She would record another album later in the nineties but it remains unreleased. A few years ago she surprisingly re-appeared with a new band, the rough and exciting Racine and her new material shows a woman very much matured, but still in love with much of the racket of, not only hers, but all of our youths.
NOW AIN'T THE TIME FOR YOUR TEARS is a remarkable album that has unfortunately slipped under the radar for the most part. It is an essential listen for fans of Elvis Costello, Wendy James and British rock in general. Minor production quibbles aside, this album is a triumphant punk record steeped in the Sixties...and like the greatest rock and roll it is even a bit ridiculous...but sublimely so.

Critical Reactions #7 (Spring Symphony)

Here are a few vintage reactions to what I think is one of Nastassja's lesser films.

"What makes SPRING SYMPHONY a special experience is the gusto that director Peter Schamoni brings to the tale. The performances, camera work, and music score positively bubble with the heady German romanticism that Schumann and his epoch were steeped in...Kinski combines strength and sweetness, giving both qualities a touch of iron."
-David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor-

"The film impresses you musically and dramatically but it's done with a nervous, skittering rapidity...Kinski may be a matter of taste, this reviewer has a schoolboy crush on the gorgeous actress and is grateful for any chance to watch her."
-Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times-

"A promising opening...gives way to a mishmash of short scenes in which neither Schumann's creative genius nor his relationship with Clara is much illuminated."
-Nick Roddick, Monthly Film Bulletin-

"enjoyable...careful, fragmented, convincing...Kinski is too old to play the teenage Clara with such doe-eyed innocence."
-Rex Reed, New York Post-

"Kinski continues to mature as an actress, and as she matures, she dazzles. She seems to be a person of many depths and currents, and all of these come to bear on the role of the young woman who must choose between father and lover. It's a brilliant performance."
-Mike McGrady, Newsday-

"as education, it's awe inspiring...Kinski does some impressive hand synching on the keys, but is so curiously subdued when she's supposed to be petulant that we long for some of the annoying mannerisms she had before she added the 'J' to her name...trifling, irritating, boring."
-Michael Musto, Village Voice-

"a remarkable attempt...Kinski is astonishingly convincing and moving...her best work since TESS."
-Howard Kissell, Women's Wear Daily-

"Schamoni's film is impeccably cast, with Hoppe as Wieck, his damp eyes suggesting incest here as chillingly as they did evil in his portrayal of Goering in Mephisto; Grünemeyer pale and intense as the boy-genius; and Kinski irritatingly placid as Clara. And the director captures perfectly the spirit of a Germany founded equally upon the tenets of stuffy burghers and high-minded student drinking associations, while cinematically echoing the Romantic style of Schumann's music."
Time Out Film Guide-

"It's a German film, and the Germans also have a word for it--kitsch. Frisky Nastassja Kinski is the pianist Clara Wieck; glum Herbert Gronemeyer (of Das Boot) is the composer Robert Schumann. They stare deeply into each other's eyes, bounce through flowery landscapes, and urge each other on to ever greater heights of artistic achievement. If only they'd urged writer-director Peter Schamoni to greater heights."
-Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader-

I was surprised to see some of the more positive reactions this film garnered but I am always happy to see Nastassja's work being acclaimed. SPRING SYMPHONY will always be a lesser Kinski film in my eyes but as you can see from above, the work did manage to captivate several critics upon release.

Quick Thoughts On The Upcoming Halloween Remake


John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is one of my all time favorite films and it is one of the key films of my youth. I first saw it in my early teens on VHS and I must have watched it, and its first sequel, over twenty times as a teenager. I also read all of the novelizations and devoured article after article about it in back issues of magazines like Fangoria. I still revisit the film every Halloween and I never grow tired of it, it is a true American classic and one of the major films that marked Horror as my favorite genre.
I have very mixed feelings on the upcoming re-thinking of HALLOWEEN by Rob Zombie. I think it is a mistake and whatever merits it might have, there is no way it will come close to equalling the original. That said, I must admit that I like Zombie very much and I will be seeing the film opening weekend and I hope it plays better than anyone might expect.
I was never a fan of his music and his first film, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES (2003), left me cold but I greatly admired his THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2005). To me it is one of the few modern exploitation films that comes close to feeling authentic. It is a controversial work that divides horror fans but I honestly believe that THE DEVIL'S REJECTS will someday be regarded as one of the key genre works of this decade.

I also really like Zombie's wife, Sheri Moon and think that she is an incredibly charismatic and talented actress. The main thing I like about both of them is that they seem to really love the genre. I don't feel any winking, pandering or apologizing, just an overwhelming affection for the same horror movies that I loved and admired growing up.
Zombie has stated repeatedly that the original HALLOWEEN had a major impact on him growing up and I believe that his new version is meant as a tribute. When I saw John Carpenter speak several months ago, he spoke highly of Zombie as a person and filmmaker (and very highly of the check he received for the new film).
So, I will be seeing the new HALLOWEEN but I have to admit that I wish it had been directed by a total hack and I could just ignore it. Apparently the studio has already been tampering with Zombie's final cut and I am honestly not expecting a lot. I hope that Zombie follows it up with an original work and doesn't get trapped in a remake mode, as we are overrun with them right now.
HALLOWEEN is one film that I did not want to see get remade. It is one of the most perfect American films of the seventies and I can only hope that Zombie's version isn't an embarrassment. Hopefully it will turn out like Aja's searing HILLS HAVE EYES remake and have something valuable to add rather than being something truly horrendously bad like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE re-working. Either way, I will be there opening weekend and success or failure, I will still admire Rob and Sheri Moon and hope that they will one day deliver another film as good as THE DEVIL'S REJECTS.
I must say that even if I do end up liking the new HALLOWEEN, nothing and I mean nothing will ever replace these three for me.

All The Best To Owen Wilson

Readers here will hopefully know that I try to stay away from delving too much into people's personal lives unless it is directly related to their work, but I did want to wish all the best to talented Owen Wilson this morning as he is apparently going through a pretty rough time.
Wilson is a gifted, charming and very funny actor and I really have enjoyed his comedic roles in the past decade. The main thing that has endured me to him though is that he was partially responsible for two of my favorite films from the past fifteen years or so, Wes Anderson's RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS. Wilson is credited as co-screenwriter on both and they are two of the most literate and moving scripts in modern American cinema. THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS especially moved me in ways that few modern American films even come close to.
So a good wish to Owen Wilson and I hope that everything works out for the best and that he has his family and friends with him for support. He's a writer and actor I very much admire and I am really sorry to hear about the problems he is experiencing. All the best to him.

Rare Scans #11 (The Time Cover Story


Here is the cover of Time magazine that Nastassja appeared on in 1983 as SPRING SYMPHONY was opening in Europe. Richard Corliss wrote the article and it contains a pretty in depth interview with Nastassja. As usual I apologize for the poor quality of the text as it is a copy of a copy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

9. Spring Symphony (1983)


SPRING SYMPHONY (1983) is a real odd film in the early career of Nastassja Kinski. It differs from nearly all of the other films she made at the time in that that it isn't controversial, nor unfortunately is it very interesting.
The film very much does seem to be a personal project for Nastassja as she had some involvement in getting it produced but it suffers at nearly every turn with flat direction, a dull supporting cast and poor pacing. SPRING SYMPHONY's biggest flaw though is just how much it under uses Nastassja, who is essentially featured in just a supporting role and the work goes for long, dreadfully dull, stretches without her appearing.
SPRING SYMPHONY was advertised as a look between Robert Schumann and his mistress Clara but the reality is that the film mostly centers on Schumann alone, who is portrayed a dull lifeless bore by German actor and rock musician Herbert Gronemeyer. Gronemeyer's filmography is very small and he is probably best known cinematically for his work on DAS BOOT (1981). The relatively inexperienced actor (who is also credited with the film's score) is asked to carry this film and he simply doesn't have the charisma or acting chops to do it.
Director Peter Schamoni worked consistently throughout his career on a number of documentaries and shorts to some acclaim, but his work here is as lifeless as his leading man. The film suffers majorly from his extremely erratic pacing and his poor script that often just relys on musical performances to pad out its running time.
Cinematographer Gerard Vandenberg had worked mostly in television and it shows here as the film's look is rather flat but thankfully the production design by Alfred Hirschmeier is well done as is some of the costume work.
Nastassja, who barely appears in the first half hour, is okay in her small role. As the part is woefully underwritten there was no chance of it being one of her more accomplished performances. Her piano recital scenes are strong though and it is obvious that she put a lot of work into making the playing look as authentic as possible. She looks lovely at the very least and her very presence gives the film more kick than it has any right to.
It is easy to see what would have attracted Nastassja to the film, as she is a huge music fan and it is a fascinating story. Unfortunately the screenplay by Schamoni feels like a group of disconnected scenes thrown together without much thought and it is regrettable as this film really could have been something special.
SPRING SYMPHONY remarkably one two awards when it was released including one for Nastassja at the German Film Awards and incredibly one for Schamoni at the Bavarian film awards.
This West German production played for a brief time in Europe in 1983 but wouldn't get a Stateside release until 1986. It remains one of the lesser films of the first half of Nastassja's career and is recommended only for hardcore fans. It is available in a bare bones dvd release, which at the very least offers the superior German track as an alternative to the old VHS's English dub.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Odds and Ends #8 (Cat People)


I feel like I have presented a pretty exhaustive look at CAT PEOPLE here in the last couple of weeks. I apologize for the sporadic nature of some of the posts as my vacation interrupted things a bit.
Fans are advised to check out the 1982 cover stories on CAT PEOPLE from Film Comment and American Film for more information on the film. Also an article in American Cinematographer is fairly exhaustive and essential.
CAT PEOPLE remains probably Nastassja's most famous film. It is hard to believe it didn't do well upon initial release as it has been a film that has never gone away. Despite some minor flaws, it is a film I love very much. I hope those reading have enjoyed my tribute to it.
I will begin my look at Nastassja's next film, SPRING SYMPHONY later this weekend.

Nastassja On Cat People


Nastassja's bad experiences on the set of CAT PEOPLE have left her a little cold on the film throughout the years. At times she seems to admire it, while other times the experience behind the scenes clearly spoiled the film for her. Here are a few random quotes by her on the work.

"It was very strange I should come to make this film. As a little girl we always had cats and I was fascinated by their grace, their mystery. I liked that about the film. I also liked the whole aspect of sensuality and aggression. Then, too, I love horror stories-so it was all those aspects that intrigued me...Irena is a character who fights for and with her destiny."

"What it really is about is love, the impossibility of love...that's what is interesting and special about it."

"CAT PEOPLE had some perfect moments...I have to be free. Like cats, you know, they're very independent. They cuddle when they want to."

"Schrader is very shy. He's cautious with people and doesn't open up to say very much. But what he does say is very precise. With Schrader, it's wonderful because you inspire each other. It's like a ladder. You and he hold each other's ladder. That lets the other climb higher and higher. That's what trust does. You can take those risks."

"If I were an animal, I'd be a fish or a bird."

"I didn't agree with the way the film was done. Overall I didn't like my performance in CAT PEOPLE at all. I wanted to do the movie in a much rougher way, getting more into the souls and passions of these people. Who cares about blood and flesh smeared all over the place? I blame myself because I listened to the director. I should have rebelled. I followed his path. I sort of melted into what Schrader thought was right. I used to think you had to do what the director tells you to do, but you can't. You have to put your own individuality into it, your own thoughts. I didn't. I let myself be trapped. I don't regret it, except that we didn't go where we had to go...Schrader should have taken all that other shit out that wasn't necessary and gone more deeply into the souls of the characters...he lied to me after all we'd been through. He knew exactly what he was doing."

"This movie was a big disillusionment to me. I'm not just a piece of meat they can use."

and finally this little bit from an Interview with her friend, Jodie Foster.

Jodie Foster: "What disappointed you about CAT PEOPLE? I love that film.

Nastassja: "You're kidding. My mother thought I showed too much nudity in CAT PEOPLE. You can still hint about the sexuality without seeing anything. It destroys the fantasy element of the film."

Rare Scans #10

I might be mistaken but I don't believe these striking early eighties shots of Nastassja are available at the Kinski JP gallery or any other site. Like I said I could be mistaken but in case I am right, here they are.

My Look At Henry Jaglom's 'A Safe Place" At Amplifier


My second article from my new online column at Amplifier has just been posted if anyone would like to come by and give it a read. It's a bit longer and more of a personal selection than my first. I have been meaning to post more on the career of Tuesday Weld here but this new column seemed to be a perfect time to take a look at one of her more elusive films, Henry Jaglom's debut work, A SAFE PACE from 1971. Comments are appreciated over there by me, as well as my editor so I invite anyone curious to take a look and leave a note.
Here is the link:

http://www.bgdailynews.com/articles/2007/08/24/the_amplifier/stage_and_screen/9977undervalued-a_safe_place.txt

The Return Of "On The Corner"


One of the most intriguing upcoming releases of the year is a massive six cd box set documenting the most controversial album the late Miles Davis ever recorded. Streeting in September, the new six cd box will be entitled simply the THE COMPLETE ON THE CORNER SESSIONS and it promises to be a hair raising listen.
ON THE CORNER is one of the most searing and intense albums ever recorded and it still divides even the most devoted of Miles Davis and Jazz fans. Recorded just a couple of years after the masterful BITCHES BREW, ON THE CORNER with it's muddy and intensely buried grooves shocked the music world when it first hit the streets in 1972. It has popped up on many worst and best albums list and is one of the few albums that can truly claim to sound like nothing else on the planet.
I have always thought of ON THE CORNER as being a bit like Lou Reed's equally controversial METAL MACHINE MUSIC. It is a bitch to listen to but you will be all the better for getting through it and having it in your collection. I am really intrigued to hear the five discs of outtakes, although I suspect that much like Sly and The Family Stone's THERE'S A RIOT GOIN ON and Dylan's JOHN WESLEY HARDING, ON THE CORNER will never lose the mystery deeply embedded in it.

Terence Stamp As John Soames


A good friend recently hooked me up with a film that I have been wanting to see for a very long time and I thought I would throw out my initial reactions to it here.
Very few film fans would question that Terence Stamp is one of the finest actors of his generation, which makes the unavailability of some of his key films all the more perplexing. The 1970 Amicus production THE MIND OF MR.SOAMES has proven itself one of the most elusive.
SOAMES is an odd film that ranges from being extremely effective to oddly flat. Terence Stamp plays John Soames, a man who was born into a coma and has been asleep for his whole life. In his early thirties a scientist figures out a way to revive him and the film follows Soames 'rebirth' as it is.
The biggest problem with SOAMES is how lopsided it feels with an extended opening that is way too long and the clipped off ending that feels more confused than ambiguous. That said, there is much too admire in the film and much of it centers on the incredible performance by Stamp in the title role.
THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES is the end of Terence's first run as one of the most beautiful and intelligent actors of our time. A very personal and spiritual journey would follow SOAMES for Stamp and he wouldn't reappear until the mid seventies. Stamp had just shot the equally elusive UNA SATGIONE ALL'INFERNO before making SOAMES and he was two years past his most famous work from the Sixties. There is a real haunted quality about Stamp's work as John Soames that I don't think any other actor could have brought to the table. Sure, he should be commended for playing a grown man who is basically a newborn but Stamp does much more with this role than one might think.
Nobody has ever played boredom and weariness as well as Terence Stamp and in some of the most successful moments of SOAMES, Stamp is able to play out these emotions better than any other performance I can think of. While the film reminded me of many others, namely with its themes of an all seeing media, the one other work that I thought of most was Nicolas Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1975). Specifically the interrogation and home imprisonments scenes of the last half of the film. Bowie has said on numerous occasions that he was very inspired by Terence Stamp and I wonder if he saw THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES when it played in London in 1970.
THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES started out life as a novel by Charles Eric Maine and I would be most curious now to read the book, as I am sure that it takes the time to really handle the themes the film is only able to slightly address. A glance at director Alan Cooke's filmography shows most of his work to be in television so it is surprising perhaps that the film doesn't center more on the early idea of 'reality' based programming. Outside of camera crews constantly around filming and some small moments with some of the reporters, the film doesn't look too closely at this and leaves it essentially in the background. It does give a more oppressive weight to what Soames is going through but I was left wanting more of it.
I did admire greatly the score by Michael Dress, who had just scored one of my all time favorite films, the moving Gene Wilder-Margot Kidder movie QUACKSER FORTUNE HAS A COUSIN IN THE BRONX (1970). His score here is very inventive, suitably creepy and works very well.
Oscar winning Billy Williams provides the film's cinematography and it is an exceptional looking film even though the full screen version I watched had a tv quality about it (I blame this more on Cook rather than Williams though).
The cast for the most part is very solid and gives Stamp good supporting performances. These include both Robert Vaughn and Nigel Davenport. Plus very pretty, but underused, Vickery Turner who reminded me very much of a young Melanie Griffith with red hair.
THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES isn't a great film and it isn't up to par with the best Amicus productions, but it is well worth seeking out if just for the astonishing performance by Terence Stamp. This is the last role we have from him where he still seems remarkably young. When he returned to the screen in the mid to late seventies, he was still brilliant and beautiful but he seemed changed and much of the youthful energy he brought to his roles in the Sixties had vanished.
THE MIND OF MR. SOAMES is prime for a dvd release, let's hope the time for this flawed but interesting little film will soon come.

For A More Detailed and Thought Out Review, Please Visit Cinebeats Recent Look At It. The Link Is To The Right.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Who's Got The Action?


Somewhere right now, someone is discovering the magic of Dean Martin. Since I am a purist a heart, that is thought that I keep telling myself while playing the new Dean Martin FOREVER COOL duets album. However, unlike an embarrassing new Miles Davis remix cd, this re-thinking of some of the most iconic music around is thankfully a very classy and sincere affair.
One thing that separates the new Dean Martin cd from a typical major label cash in is that this album is obviously coming from a place of love and respect. Recorded live in Capital's famous Studio A with the singers adding their vocals to Deans with a live orchestra backing them. FOREVER COOL has a refreshingly organic sound about it. The producers, including Phil Ramone, have done a remarkable job in making this album sound simultaneously vintage and fresh.
Another intelligent thing that this album delivers on is never taking the spotlight away from Dean. He is always the center of attention and none of the new singers attempt to steal the spotlight or out sing Dean. Compare this album to the Miles Davis project, where Davis' pioneering music is buried under bland and boring hip hop beats, and it sounds truly remarkable.
So of the new duet partners, who comes out the best? Well, the album kick starts with a smoking WHO'S GOT THE ACTION featuring modern Swing act Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and it is a tremendous track with with Voodoo Daddy sounding like they were made for Dean's slow burning cool spirit. It is one of the definite highlights to the album and an ideal opening cut.
Kevin Spacey is featured on two tracks and they are okay. Spacey has a lot of Broadway background and that comes through here with his slightly stagy vocals. He obviously loves Dean though and both AIN'T THAT A KICK IN THE HEAD and KING OF THE ROAD are still perfectly respectable even with Spacey's vocals.
The producer's were also smart enough to not just have vocal duets with Dean but also some new instrumental partners. Chris Botti adds a sublime trumpet solo to the lovely I'VE GROWN ACCUSTOMED TO HER FACE which sounds completely natural and adds a newer layer of depth to the track. The infectiously sly WHO WAS THAT LADY features The Capital Studio Orchestra and again the producers manage to keep the newly recorded background and Dean's vocals in perfect step. Unfortunately Dave Koz's sax solo on JUST IN TIME is a bit distracting and takes away from Dean's wonderful vocal track.
BABY O is still a seductive cool treat and Paris Bennett brings a nice touch to the song. Massive fan Robbie Williams addition to PLEASE DON'T TALK ABOUT ME WHEN I'M GONE is also very successful, even if it is a case of someone trying to sound cool singing with someone who just naturally is. Still, I like Williams and he does a fine job with the difficult song.
Probably the album's most disappointing moment is I CAN'T BELIEVE THAT YOU'RE IN LOVE WITH ME, matching up Dean with young British soul sensation Joss Stone. I really admire Stone and was looking forward to this track but it is finally just a case of their two voices not matching well together. Stone's buesy full throttle vocal style suits someone like Tom Jones perfectly but hers and Dean's laid back in style simply don't fit, at least on this track anyway.
Country singer Martina McBride's BABY, IT'S COLD OUTSIDE is a little more successful but it is one of the less natural sounding tracks on the album as the producer's chose to have the two trading lines with each other which at times doesn't work.
Thankfully bad ass super talent Shelby Lynne saves the day with her magnificent take on YOU'RE NOBODY TILL SOMEBODY LOVES YOU. One of the few modern singers who possesses a real natural cool about her, Shelby and Dean sound perfect together, and the track is so real sounding that you can almost imagine the two of them kicked back in the studio afterwards talking about Elvis and their favorite old time country classics. Splendid stuff.
Italian singer Tiziano Ferro adds his part to the ARRIVEDERCI ROMA and it is pretty awesome. Dean's Italian themed songs have long been underrated and this track has a real lazy, hot baked feel about it and Ferro does a great job on it.
The duets close with the 'French Sinatra' Charles Aznavour joining Dean on the legendary EVERYBODY LOVES SOMEBODY. The aging but still classy Aznavour brings a real melancholy to the track and the newly recorded laid back orchestration and guitar work is really lovely.
The album closes with a newly discovered A Capella take of Dean's BRAHAM'S LULLABY and it is a chilling, emotional listen. I can't imagine someone hearing this short two minute track and not falling in love with Dean's voice. You can really hear the brilliance of the man Elvis called his favorite singer in these short moments. It is a fine closing to a mostly solid and respectful project.
The special edition of the album comes with 22 minute DVD featuring some joyous home movies of Dean and his family that teared me up a bit and interviews with some of the collaborators. My favorite clip on the dvd, outside of the home movies of course, is a nervous Shelby Lynne live in the studio laying her fine vocal down and clearly enjoying the hell out of it.
FOREVER COOL has just landed in the top forty and it is a splendid companion to some of Martin's best Capital work. While not taking the place of the originals, the producers, Dean's children and the international group of collaborators should be congratulated for making such a thoughtful and joyous tribute to a guy who really deserves all the respect he is finally getting.