Friday, November 30, 2007

New Amplifier Article Posted


For my newest Amplifier article I decided to redo one I had here a while back that I thought I was a bit sloppy. So for anyone interested, my re-edited version of my look at THE SHUTTERED ROOM can be read at this link.
Comments are really appreciated over there, and I invite everyone to give it a look.

My original look at David Greene's undervalued chiller can be found here with pictures not available at the Amplifier version.

Christopher Walken: Seven Legendary Scenes


Since making his debut in the early seventies Christopher Walken has been one of the most versatile and iconic of all American actors. Adept in the heaviest of dramas, to the lightest of comedies, Walken is one of those actors that can do it all. To pay tribute to the man who has given us some of the most memorable performances of the past thirty years I have selected seven of my favorite scenes with Walken that show his extraordinary (and often undervalued) talents. There are many others, but I find these seven to be particularly memorable and great.

7. THE ADDICTION
Walken turns in one of his strangest, and most effective, performances here in Abel Ferrara's savage 1995 film THE ADDICTION. This scene, featuring Walken with Lili Taylor, is among the best of either of their careers, and it is the kind of moment that only Ferrara could have delivered.


6. ANNIE HALL
One of the funniest scenes in Woody Allen's vast filmography is this moment with Allen and Walken from 1977's ANNIE HALL. Watch Allen's terrified reaction to Walken's trademark deadpan delivery. Classic scene, and the payoff at the end is the stuff of legend.


5. TRUE ROMANCE
Walken goes head to head with fellow legend Dennis Hopper in this, one of the great moments from Tarantino's pen. The scene is also nicely directed by Tony Scott, and the two actors are clearly getting a kick sparring off each other.


4. THE DEER HUNTER
Walken would get a much deserved Academy Award for his heartbreaking performance in Michael Cimino's epic masterpiece. The Russian Roulette scene is the most talked about, but I think this scene outside of the hospital is the most crushing moment of the film.


3. PULP FICTION
I will never forget seeing this for the first time with a sold out audience back in 1994. The moment when Walken reveals where he kept that 'uncomfortable piece of metal' garnered some of the biggest laughs I have ever heard...and the scene still gives me chills because of how great Walken is in it.


2. THE DEAD ZONE
Cronenberg's masterful film gave Walken one of the finest roles of his career, and he delivered a devastating performance in it. There are many great scenes in THE DEAD ZONE, but this one is particularly haunting. Just watch the look on Walken's face as he sees Brook Adams walking towards him.


1. THE KING OF NEW YORK
The final shots of Ferrara's influential 1990 gangster epic remain some of my favorite ever filmed. Walken's performance as Frank White is electric, chilling, terrifying and finally moving. These final moments capturing White at the end are my favorite shots of Chris in any film. He is as good as in actor has ever been in these silent last shots...



There are many others, but frankly with over 100 films under his belt now it is hard to choose from all of them. Christopher Walken is one of our great actors and icons. I am looking forward to paying tribute to one of his key films later this weekend.

Soledad Miranda Sings


I just noticed that Amy, who runs the best Soledad Miranda site online, is offering a cd now of twelve of Soledad's ultra rare Spanish recordings. For those interested please visit this link to get details. I have only heard bits of these songs so I am looking forward to getting this new disc.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

There Will Be Blood Will Be Amazing


It is tricky keeping up with an eagerly awaited upcoming film in our spoiler heavy world, but so far I have managed to just gather enough information on Paul Thomas Anderson's THERE WILL BE BLOOD without having any of its secrets given away.
The film has been screened several times now and almost all of the reactions have been overwhelmingly positive.
To keep up with all the news concerning Anderson's newest film, please bookmark and visit the excellent Cigarettes And Red Vines.
THERE WILL BE BLOOD will have a limited release just before Christmas to qualify for the Oscars, and will go wide early next year. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite young American filmmaker, and I frankly can't wait to see his newest work.
For more of my looks on Anderson please visit some of my older articles.

Amityville Horrors


The original 1979 production of AMITYVILLE HORROR is an interesting film to me, in the simple fact that even though it isn't an overwhelmingly good one it is a movie that I return to often. I think there are a lot of reasons for it, with nostalgia being the main one. Certainly the Amityville case is one of those seminal moments for many children from the seventies. For me the case of the maybe haunted house in Amityville is right up there with the Patterson footage of Bigfoot and Franco Harris' immaculate reception from 72 as something that sparked my young imagination and continues to do so. There are other elements as well that keeps bringing me back such as Margot Kidder, that great James Brolin melt-down scene, and that fantastic Lalo Schifrin score. Still, every time I revisit Stuart Rosenberg's THE AMITYVILLE HORROR I come away a little disappointed. I want so badly for it to be as great as the sum of its parts, but ultimately it isn't.
Recently I revisited the 2005 remake of one of my childhood favorites and despite it being a dreaded Michael Bay production, I must admit that I am quite fond of the newer AMITYVILLE HORROR. I saw it in its theatrical showing a couple of years ago, and found myself enjoying it much more than I had expected. I think it is the fact that it is a remake of a not so perfect film that distinguishes it from many of the other horror remakes that have been plaguing theaters in droves for the past several years.
Directed with some flair by former commercial and video director Andrew Douglas, the new THE AMITYVILLE HORROR falters in its last act, but for a good hour it is a really solid and effective little thriller. Bolstered by winning performances by Ryan Reynolds, Melissa George, Rachel Nichols (so smashing in the current P2), and the always reliable Philip Baker Hall, Douglas' film is a fast paced, visually interesting work that almost achieves greatness in a handful of scenes.

Much like the original, the main thing that keeps THE AMITYVILLE HORROR above the usual modern CGI driven American nightmares are the fact that we are allowed some time with the characters before the horror starts. In what is becoming an almost novel idea, Douglas allows characterization and not effects to fuel the first part of his film. So, while it can be argued that both Reynolds and George seem to young for their roles, in just a few scenes I come to really like and believe them as a couple. Add on the excellent performances by Jesse James, Jimmy Bennett and Chloe Moretz as their children and, for a surprising first half, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR works as much as a family drama as it does a horror film.
Of course it finally has to work as a horror film and for a while it does so very well. Douglas builds a decent amount of tension in the first half with several creepy set pieces, including an eerie rooftop sequence featuring Moretz. The nice cinematography of HALLOWEEN 4 dp Peter Lyons Collister doesn't hurt either, and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR is never less than a pleasing visual experience. A major highlight, along with the rooftop sequence, is a superbly lit closet sequence featuring Nichols giving the first of what I hope is a series of truly memorable horror performances. I can't think of another young American actor right now who seems so adept to the genre than Nichols.
It's not a great film though, as it is let down by a slightly disappointing score, and an unsatisfying final act that forgoes the strong characters that have been built for the usual Bay inspired pyrotechnics that have more in common with modern action films rather than works of horror. I must say though that I find its faults more forgivable than most modern horror films. The score by Steve Jablonsky is fine really, it is just hard to think of that house without the brilliant work of Schifrin, and if the final act isn't as strong as the first parts it is at least nowhere near as bad as Bay's artistically bankrupt TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE reworking that probably helped finance this film.

THE AMITYVILLE HORROR opened up to good business and the usual critical pounding just over two years ago. Still a few critics came to its defense including The Los Angeles Times writer Kevin Thomas who wrote an excellent critique of it where he called it "Superior to the original" and that it is a film "anchored in strong characterizations, and its plot develops with chilling psychological suspense. It's such a skillfully made entertainment that its plunge into the supernatural is persuasive even for the skeptical." I agree with him, even though few of his peers did.
The DVD is a fairly good edition. It hit right before the wave of 'uncut' versions on disc so it is as it was in the theaters. The extras include a fun commentary with Reynolds and Douglas, as well as some deleted scenes and featurettes. I hope that another edition will arrive someday as I suspect the film was trimmed for an R, and there are plenty of interesting behind the scenes issues that could be discussed (including a law suit from the real life George Lutz before he passed away).
I would rank the remake of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR as one of the best of the dozens we have had this decade. It doesn't have the impact of Aja's THE HILLS HAVE EYES re imagining but it is miles above the new TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE debacle, or the bland remake of THE OMEN from last year. Like the original, it is flawed and not totally satisfactory, but its well worth a first or even second look for those interested.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Amplifier Article #4: Paul Schrader's Patty Hearst

The original version of this article can be found here. This is my slightly re-edited version for Moon In The Gutter.

Chances are if you were around in the seventies you probably have an opinion on Patricia Campbell Hearst. Her kidnapping by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), her imprisonment, and her eventually joining the terrorist group in 1974 became one of the biggest and strangest media stories of the decade, and to this day people are still divided over what actually happened to Patricia Hearst in that fateful year of 1974.
Writer and director Paul Schrader was twenty seven years old when Hearst was forcibly taken at gunpoint from her San Francisco home in that particularly cold January of 1974. He had just recently sold his first script, for THE YAZUKA, and was working on the work that would make him a legend, 1976’s TAXI DRIVER. Schrader, like most of the country, watched intently throughout the mid to late seventies as Patty Hearst went from kidnap victim to fugitive to finally convicted felon. By the time President Carter had her released from prison in 1979, most Americans, including Schrader, had all but forgotten who Patricia Hearst had been and could only see the gun toting “Tania” that the SLA had made her into.
Schrader hadn’t thought about Hearst for years until one night in the mid eighties when he ran into her at a social gathering. The two immediately hit it off and Schrader was impressed by the down to earth and fragile person he encountered. After that fateful meeting Schrader began looking closely at her case and realized that the real story of Patty Hearst wasn’t the bank robbing counterculture icon that had been ingrained in so many peoples heads, but instead the nineteen year old college student who had her life and spirit completely and suddenly stripped away from her.

Working from a script by Nicholas Kazan and adapted from Hearst’s own searing memoirs, EVERY SECRET THING, Paul Schrader began shooting his PATTY HEARST in and around San Francisco and Los Angeles in early 1988. Schrader, still reeling from the failure of his last film LIGHT OF DAY (1987), felt suddenly reinvigorated working on location, with a low budget and a relatively unknown cast. The resulting film would be a triumph for the fallen director as well for his lead actress, and a work that would restore the humanity that had been stripped away from Hearst a decade before.
The opening shot of PATTY HEARST is one of the most memorable from the eighties, and quickly identifies this as a major work by a director stylistically shooting on all cylinders. Featuring an ambitious 360 overhead crane shot that manages to finally pull into a tight close up of the film’s star, Natasha Richardson; the opening shot of PATTY HEARST is one of the more audacious moments of Schrader’s controversial career and one of his greatest. Add on that thematically it is one of the only shots in the film that doesn’t feel totally claustrophobic and you have a striking reminder of how quickly freedom can be stripped away.
The film quickly moves straight into the kidnapping in just the second sequence, and the open air spaciousness of the first scene is suddenly transformed into thirty of the most frightening and claustrophobic sequences in American film history. With Hearst’s own words providing bracing narration, Schrader’s camera first puts us inside a car trunk with her and then immediately into the closet where the SLA kept her for weeks in the first stages of her imprisonment.

These shots from the closet represent Paul Schrader at his most brilliant and most humane. There is never a moment when he lets us completely leave Patty Hearst’s viewpoint, and I have never talked to anyone who has seen these degrading and dehumanizing sequences that questions why Hearst would have done absolutely anything to get out. Schrader’s film is less about brainwashing and more about sheer survival, and everything Patty experiences helps us understand just what was finally going through her mind months later when she re-appeared as the angry and crazed “Tania”.
These early sequences also show, even more than his MISHIMA, Schrader’s dedication to Ozu and Japan’s more presentational style cinema. With his camera seemingly sitting, unmoving, on the floor next to Patty in total darkness, and the only light being provided by the light just behind the SLA member’s looking down at her from the hallway; Schrader’s PATTY HEARST is an astonishingly composed and well designed film that recalls many of the European directors he had written about so intelligently in the seventies. More so than most of his contemporaries, Schrader was actually able to take some of his Bressonian like tendencies and translate them into something very much his own, and PATTY HEARST is the greatest example of this.

The stunning first section of the film finally gives way to the second act, where Patty is finally let out of closet to find that in place of an actual army, is just a small group of confused and angry kids who had chosen the only path they could see in front of them. It is the handling of the SLA that is among the biggest attributes to PATTY HEARST. Instead of presenting them as monsters, Schrader treats them instead as humans and the second half of the film is ultimately about their shattered lives as much as Hearst. Schrader never offer excuses for their actions but he does allow a window into their lives and it is finally this that distinguishes PATTY HEARST from being just another true crime film.
Some critics have pointed to the very last act, which includes Patty’s capture and trial, as being a let down. But to me the stylistic change in tone in this section was very necessary. Gone is the claustrophobia of the first act, the character development of the second, and all we are left with is the fragmented shattered shell of a woman and a judicial system that lets her down. Patty Hearst’s last line of the film, which I won’t give away here, is one of the most subtle and powerfully simple indictments of hypocrisy in America that I have ever heard; it is also probably the greatest moment Paul Schrader has ever shot.

Of course PATTY HEARST wouldn’t have worked without the right actress in the title role. Twenty-four year old British born Natasha Richardson might have seemed an odd choice but here the young actress delivers a seamless and terrifyingly real performance that channels the real Hearst in a very complete and profound way. Mostly known in that period as just one of Vanessa Redgrave’s daughters, Richardson is simply astonishing in the role and it is impossible to imagine anyone else in the part. Schrader was so impressed by the young actress that he would give her the lead in his next film, 1989’s THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS. Also noteworthy is a young and unknown Ving Rhames giving a haunting portrayal as the angry and damaged SLA leader Cinque. William Forsythe, Frances Fisher and Dana Delany also provide fine support in the film.
Yugoslavian cinematographer Bojan Bazelli, in one of his first major assignments, gives PATTY HEARST its memorable washed out grainy look and his work is particularly noteworthy in the, near impossible to light, first section of the film. Minimalist composer Scott Johnson delivers an outstanding score and the rather rare soundtrack album is a real aural treat.
Schrader’s film still resonates, possibly more than it did in 1988, as our current political and media crazed climate feels much more like 1974 than it did twenty years ago. One suspects that this is one reason PATTY HEARST came and went so quickly in the fall of 88. Despite mostly positive reviews and a Golden Palm nomination at the Cannes Film Festival, PATTY HEARST bombed at theaters and barely cracked a one million dollar take. It faired slightly better on Video but it has been out of print in America for well over a decade now and no DVD is currently planned. Used VHS and laserdisc copies can be found and a region two DVD is on the market, but otherwise one of the bravest and most perfectly realized films of the eighties remains missing in action.
Patricia Campbell Hearst was given a full pardon by President Clinton in 2001 and works today as an actress, mostly for director John Waters. She remains one of the most controversial figures of the seventies as some view her as more a master manipulator and less a tragic victim. Paul Schrader’s brilliant and moving film stands as a reminder though of the one fact that everyone should agree on, that on a Winter’s day in 1974 a young woman’s promising life was irreversibly altered and corrupted beyond repair.

Critical Reactions #12 (Paris, Texas)

PARIS, TEXAS was, along with TESS, the best reviewed film of Nastassja's career. Today it is, for the most part, viewed as a bona fide classic so it is a bit surprising to see that there were some negative and mixed reviews. For the most part though it was extremely well received, and Nastassja garnered some of the best notices of her career. Here are some positive, mixed and negative looks at the film ranging from when it was first released up until today.

"...a visual essay on loneliness and the yearning for love...featuring deeply felt performances...a powerfully affecting work charged with more visual and dramatic brilliance than any dozen of Hollywood's current concoctions."
-David Sterritt, Christian Science Monitor-

"mindless travesty"
-Richard Linnett, Cineaste-

"a deeply affecting film...haunting...there is no way to deny the power of Shepard's writing or the extraordinary duet between Stanton and Kinski...a Kinski we have not seen before-powerful, simple, deeply moving..."
-Shelia Benson, LA Times-

"moribund...some great performances...nothing can fully disguise the nullity at the heart of Shepard's vision...Kinski works hard at it...KInski's back is a sight to behold, better than most people's fronts..."
-Daphne Merkin, New Leader-

"Kinski has added Texan to her accents...there are powerful, humorous, loving 'moments'...
-John Coleman, New Statesman-

"Shepard and Wenders make an unfortunate team...may be hip, but it is also boring...
-David Denby, New York-

"Kinski is electrifying, with a robust assurance she's never before shown."
-David Ansen, Newsweek-

"Moments of understated truth and beauty are undercut by the contrived relationships and overall flatness."
-Michael Musto, Saturday Review-

"As powerfully schizoid as its title."
-Richard Corliss, Time-

"A long coast downhill...Kinski is so unlikely, she might be the sister from another planet..."
-J. Hoberman, Village Voice-

"Kinski's part is relatively small but she handles it sensitively enough...perhaps only a foreigner could sense the Americanness of this material and convey it so hauntingly."
-Howard Kissel, Women's Wear Daily-

"The great achievement of Paris, Texas is the way that it so thoroughly demonstrates how one can regress to a point where direct communication becomes impossible. This is a movie is filled with arresting observations about the ways that emotions contradict each other...."
-Jeremy Heilman, Movie Martyr-

"It is a story of the United States, a grim portrait of a land where people like Travis and Jane cannot put down roots, a story of a sprawling, powerful, richly endowed land where people can get desperately lost."
-Newsweek-

"A MASTERPIECE about the agony of lost love, broken families and displaced children. Its imagery evoking the alienating strangeness of the American landscape and its story probing the fantasies of a peep show world."
-Sunday Age-

"One of the great films of recent years."
-The Observer-

"...PARIS, TEXAS is refined arthouse cinema...It's indeed a beautiful film....Some images are positively breathtaking..."
-Holl, Variety-

"moments of serene, unearthly beauty."
-Sam Adams, Entertainment Weekly-

"One of Wenders's most painful and poetic films..."
-Glenn Kenny, Premiere-

"The Texas setting evokes thoughts of the Western, but this movie is not for the desert and against the city; it is about a journey which leads from one to the other and ends in a form of happiness...Then there are the miracles of the performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Nastassja Kinski and Hunter Carson (the son of Karen Black and L.M. "Kit" Carson). Stanton has long inhabited the darker corners of American noir, with his lean face and hungry eyes, and here he creates a sad poetry. Kinski, a German, perfects the flat, half-educated accent of a Texas girl who married a "raggedy" older man for reasons no doubt involving a hard childhood. Young Carson, debating relativity and the origin of the universe, then asking even harder questions such as "why did she leave us?" has that ability some child actors have, of presenting truth without decoration. We care so much for their family, framed lonely and unsure, within a great emptiness."
-Roger Ebert re-reviewing the film in 2002- Full review available here.

"This is a defiantly individual film, about loss and loneliness and eccentricity. We haven't met the characters before in a dozen other films. To some people, that can be disconcerting; I've actually read reviews of "Paris, Texas" complaining because the man in the desert is German, and that another character is French. Is it written that the people in movies have to be Middle Americans, like refugees from a sitcom?
...a movie with the kind of passion and willingness to experiment that was more common fifteen years ago than it is now. It has more links with films like "Five Easy Pieces" and "Easy Rider" and "Midnight Cowboy," than with the slick arcade games that are the box-office winners of the 1980s. It is true, deep, and brilliant."
-Roger Ebert's original review- Full Version is available here.

"overly ambitious but at times compelling contemporary Western that debunks the John Ford "Old West" myth in The Searchers, or at least brings to it a more updated perception..."
-Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews-

"Influenced by the American western as much as anything, German filmmaker Wim Wenders sets out to remake the mythic vision of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) as a different kind of family story, reflecting the reality the director found when he set out to see what has become of the American West for himself. Harry Dean Stanton’s performance as the wandering Travis fleshes out an American archetype, and there’s a certain poetry to the way his face fills up one of these frames. Oddly, he’s cast opposite the very European Nastassja Kinski, playing Jane, the wife whose companionship he forfeited years ago."
-Bryant Frazer, Deep Focus-

"Epic but intimate, PARIS, TEXAS combines the European sensibility of director Wim Wenders with the expansive locations of the American West...Superbly scripted, the film features wonderful performances from all its major players. Equally brilliant, especially in a film that emphasizes script and character, is the cinematography by Robby Muller, perfectly capturing the notion of "America." A final factor in PARIS, TEXAS's success is the remarkably haunting score by blues musician Ry Cooder."
-TV Guide-

"Paris, Texas is a lengthy and quirky movie that is greatly enhanced by the evocative cinematography of Robby Muller and the sensitive music of Ry Cooder. Harry Dean Stanton excels in a role that finally taps into the talents of this incredibly expressive actor. The storyline, with its accent on the lost who are found and the surprise of selfless love, has a spiritual quality that seems well-suited to the desert setting of the film."
-Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice-

"It's a superbly framed film. Every shot is art in itself. Every image is one you could frame. Every scene just rolls along. You find yourself being taken on a journey that leaves you just as confused and aimless as the characters within, and when all becomes clearer it seems like the natural progression. Harry Dean Stanton never can and never will find himself in a role that fits him as well as this one did. He is the wandering man and always will be. This was also Nastassja Kinski's follow-up after playing Susie The Bear in Hotel New Hampshire, so it's anyone's guess as to how her career ended up in the toilet after those two..
Paris, Texas is a masterpiece about the inability of humans to communicate. The characters almost never have a face-to-face conversation and while this is at once frustrating, it's also intriguing. The film took out the Golden Palm at Cannes, as well as a Golden Globe and BAFTA awards - why? Because it's damn good."
-Chris Parry, efilmcritic-

"Wenders' collaboration with writer Sam Shepard is a master-stroke, wholly beneficial to both talents; if Wenders' previous film, The State of Things, was on the very limits of possibility, this one, through its final scenes, pushes the frontier three steps forward into new and sublime territory."
-C.Pea, Time Out-

"...a hard-won miracle..."
Scott Tobias, avclub-

"One of the most preeminent American films of the 1980s...ranks among Wenders's best and most affecting works. A true intersection of Shepard's story of human alienation with Wenders's almost poetic vision of American physical and cultural landscape, the film is a wonderfully bittersweet story of hope that avoids the trappings of self-indulgent quirkiness and overwrought Hollywood sentimentality. This is cinema stripped to its barest form..."
-Dvd Verdict-

"...perfectly magical cinema."
-BBC-

"...one of those rare, magical films that says so much by saying very little...a film of regret, alienation and reconciliation. It is also a distinctly American film, in spite of it being made by one of Germany’s most celebrated directors."
-Evan Pulgino, Camera Eye-

"In the years since its release, Paris, Texas has become widely and deservedly regarded as a near perfect union between cinematography, direction and music, with Cooder's soundtrack dominating discussions of the film. Yet the film is more than a triumph of cinematic technique, for this union does not come at the expense of the actors. Harry Dean Stanton gives the performance of his career as shy but determined Travis, and Natassja Kinski almost steals the show with her portrayal of the beautiful, fragile Jane."
-Andy Gibson, Kamera-

"Nastassja Kinski sets the screen alight with her brief, scintillating, subtly-crafted performance as the loner's former lover."
-Douglas McCabe, Kamera-

"The film is perfectly cast, and while Stanton dominates the film, Dean Stockwell is also effective as the brother torn between love for his brother and fear that his return will mean that he and his wife may lose a child that they have raised as their own son. Hunter Carson is that rare thing – a good eight-year-old actor, while Nastassja Kinski is so beautiful that you truly believe that Travis could have been driven nuts with jealous desire. The ending is the probably the happiest possible outcome for these characters, and yet also desperately sad – it reminded me very much of the final moments of John Ford’s The Searchers. Paris, Texas is easily Wenders' best film, and a masterpiece of loss and regret."
-Daniel Auty, Spinning Image-

"Kinski does a more than passable Texas accent, and the film is a reminder that she wasn't just another pretty French face. She can act, too, and one wishes she'd been given more opportunities to do so."
-Greencine-

PARIS, TEXAS is such an obvious masterpiece to me that it is surprising to see some of the more mixed reactions to it. Despite some of the initial doubters, PARIS, TEXAS is one of the definitive films of the eighties, and it has only grown in stature in the twenty three years since it was first released. My tribute to Wender's great film will continue in the next day or so.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Adore Amy Adams


I haven't seen ENCHANTED but Out 1's recent post on it makes me want to. I can say though that I absolutely adore Amy Adams. Her performance in JUNEBUG a few years back gave me the same kind of feeling I had when I first saw Irene Jacob in THREE COLORS RED in the early nineties. It is the warmness that Adams projects in everything that she is in that separates her from pretty much any young American actress on the scene right now.
After making her debut in DROP DEAD GORGEOUS in 1999, the lovely Adams began popping up in various television series and films, and she seemed to immediately leap off the screen even when the role she was playing was clearly not as good as she was. The first time though that I knew that there was something really special about Adams was in Spielberg's CATCH ME IF YOU CAN in 2002, where she was so incredibly touching in the role of Brenda. Then it was almost like she vanished for a couple of years until the role of Ashley in JUNEBUG came along, surely one of the great parts and performances of the decade.
I've loved her in everything since, from her brief stint on the American version of THE OFFICE to Will Ferrell's love interest in TALLADEGA NIGHTS. Honestly, ENCHANTED isn't typically the type of film I would think to see, but I am so mesmerized by this young actress that I will very soon.
Adam's will next appear in the new Mike Nichols film, CHARLIE WILSON'S WAR, and has several more on the horizon. I look forward to all of them...

Paris, Texas at Nostalgia Kinky


My tribute to one of my favorite films is up and running at my Nastassja Kinski blog if anyone would like to come over and check it out. Wim Wender's PARIS, TEXAS is one of three films I typically name as my favorite when asked (Roeg's THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and Figgis' LEAVING LAS VEGAS are the other two), and it is a work that never ceases to amaze me no matter how many times I have seen it.
My tribute is already a few postings in, and over the next week or so I will be writing on many different aspects of the film, and its creators. I hope everyone will stop by over there, and give a look. Regular postings will of course continue here as usual...thanks for reading.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dust Off Those Grooves (Chapter Seventeen) Paris, Texas By Ry Cooder

Also posted at my Nastassja Kinski blog


Ry Cooder’s PARIS, TEXAS is one of the great memory albums. It is perfect for a late night of drinking while remembering someone you’ve lost. It is also equally fitting for the next foggy hung over morning when all you can think about is that you live in the past too much.
Not just one of the best soundtracks of the eighties, Cooder’s work for Wim Wender’s loneliest masterpiece is one of the essential albums of the period. Like Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis, the wounded traveler surveying the ruins of his life in Wender’s film, Cooder’s music is mysterious, haunting and crushing in just how genuine it is.
Produced and recorded by Cooder at the famed Ocean Way Recording studio in Los Angeles with the help of famed musicians Jim Dickinson and David Lindley, PARIS, TEXAS is a deceptively simple work that becomes more and more resonate and complex with each listen.

Cooder’s celebrated slide guitar work dominates the album, but it is the touches in the background that resonate long after the needle has lifted off the groove. Whispers of acoustic guitars, fiddles, voices and tinkling pianos appear throughout, all seeming to offer Cooder’s remarkably lonely sounding guitar some company. Like Travis in the film, there always seems to be something or someone just off in the distance offering help, or at the very least…some layer of solace in the solitude.
The Los Angeles born Cooder was born in the early part of 1947, and began to make a name for himself in the sixties with some guitar work for Taj Mahal. Later recordings with the legendary Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band helped push Cooder into the ranks of the most respected guitarists of the sixties. He soon found himself working with The Rolling Stones on some of their best late sixties work, and he began his influential solo career in the early part of the seventies.
Cooder has worked with everyone from Van Morrison to Van Dyke Parks, and his music has remained invigorating and necessary for over forty years now. PARIS, TEXAS is widely considered one of his great statements, and it has had several different releases worldwide since its first release in the mid eighties.
Jim Dickinson is one of rock’s most respected and influential players. He has been had his hand in everything from the Rolling Stones WILD HORSES to Big Star’s numbing THIRD/SISTER LOVERS masterpiece. Guitarist David Lindley has worked with Cooder many times, and his great fretwork can be heard on many recordings from artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Linda Ronstadt. The team of Cooder, Dickinson and Lindley on the PARIS, TEXAS sessions is an absolute dream, and all of them should be commended for their masterful playing.

The album itself is mostly made of short, but powerful instrumental pieces. There are two exceptions: one being a lovely traditional Spanish number called CANCION MIXTECA, and I KNEW THESE PEOPLE, featuring the famed Sam Shepard monologue that Stanton says to Nastassja Kinski towards the end of the film.
Cooder is credited as writer on all the tracks with the exception of the traditional number and the devastating final track, Blind Willie Johnson’s DARK WAS THE NIGHT. Cooder’s playing on this last song represents some of the finest slide guitar playing ever recorded. The sound of Cooder’s strong and bold hands working their way up and down the neck of his instrument is spine tingling stuff, and it is damn near impossible to shake.
PARIS, TEXAS is currently in print domestically and can be found fairly easily. However the most essential version is an out of print remastered version from England, which featured improved sound, photos and liner notes. It is the ideal one to find, but all versions are rewarding and essential.
Much like the performances of Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in Wender’s majestic film, the music that Ry Cooder recorded for it will live on as long as people still have the capacity to search their memories for something they have lost…and perhaps even to find it…

Soundtrack #8: Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder)


Ry Cooder’s PARIS, TEXAS is one of the great memory albums. It is perfect for a late night of drinking while remembering someone you’ve lost. It is also equally fitting for the next foggy hung over morning when all you can think about is that you live in the past too much.
Not just one of the best soundtracks of the eighties, Cooder’s work for Wim Wender’s loneliest masterpiece is one of the essential albums of the period. Like Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis, the wounded traveler surveying the ruins of his life in Wender’s film, Cooder’s music is mysterious, haunting and crushing in just how genuine it is.
Produced and recorded by Cooder at the famed Ocean Way Recording studio in Los Angeles with the help of famed musicians Jim Dickinson and David Lindley, PARIS, TEXAS is a deceptively simple work that becomes more and more resonate and complex with each listen.

Cooder’s celebrated slide guitar work dominates the album, but it is the touches in the background that resonate long after the needle has lifted off the groove. Whispers of acoustic guitars, fiddles, voices and tinkling pianos appear throughout, all seeming to offer Cooder’s remarkably lonely sounding guitar some company. Like Travis in the film, there always seems to be something or someone just off in the distance offering help, or at the very least…some layer of solace in the solitude.
The Los Angeles born Cooder was born in the early part of 1947, and began to make a name for himself in the sixties with some guitar work for Taj Mahal. Later recordings with the legendary Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band helped push Cooder into the ranks of the most respected guitarists of the sixties. He soon found himself working with The Rolling Stones on some of their best late sixties work, and he began his influential solo career in the early part of the seventies.
Cooder has worked with everyone from Van Morrison to Van Dyke Parks, and his music has remained invigorating and necessary for over forty years now. PARIS, TEXAS is widely considered one of his great statements, and it has had several different releases worldwide since its first release in the mid eighties.
Jim Dickinson is one of rock’s most respected and influential players. He has been had his hand in everything from the Rolling Stones WILD HORSES to Big Star’s numbing THIRD/SISTER LOVERS masterpiece. Guitarist David Lindley has worked with Cooder many times, and his great fretwork can be heard on many recordings from artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Linda Ronstadt. The team of Cooder, Dickinson and Lindley on the PARIS, TEXAS sessions is an absolute dream, and all of them should be commended for their masterful playing.

The album itself is mostly made of short, but powerful instrumental pieces. There are two exceptions: one being a lovely traditional Spanish number called CANCION MIXTECA, and I KNEW THESE PEOPLE, featuring the famed Sam Shepard monologue that Stanton says to Nastassja Kinski towards the end of the film.
Cooder is credited as writer on all the tracks with the exception of the traditional number and the devastating final track, Blind Willie Johnson’s DARK WAS THE NIGHT. Cooder’s playing on this last song represents some of the finest slide guitar playing ever recorded. The sound of Cooder’s strong and bold hands working their way up and down the neck of his instrument is spine tingling stuff, and it is damn near impossible to shake.
PARIS, TEXAS is currently in print domestically and can be found fairly easily. However the most essential version is an out of print remastered version from England, which featured improved sound, photos and liner notes. It is the ideal one to find, but all versions are rewarding and essential.
Much like the performances of Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in Wender’s majestic film, the music that Ry Cooder recorded for it will live on as long as people still have the capacity to search their memories for something they have lost…and perhaps even to find it…

Nastassja On Ebay #9 (On The Set Of Cat People)


Here is a great rare shot from the set of CAT PEOPLE that just recently popped up on Ebay. I don't think I have seen this particular one before, so it seemed well worth posting here.

"Something is About to Happen, Something Final": Jose Larraz's Symptoms

My original version of this article can be found at this link. The following is a slightly revamped version for Moon In The Gutter.

"Last night I dreamed they had returned. They were here again, just like in other dreams, but this time it was more confused. I have a feeling that something is about to happen, something final in which I will be involved."
-Jose Larraz, SYMPTOMS-

Spanish writer and director Jose Ramon Larraz is best known in the United States for his brutally erotic, audacious and influential horror film, VAMPYRES (1974), but the fascinating Larraz has always been much more than just a typical horror filmmaker.
Born in Barcelona in 1929, Larraz made his directorial debut with 1970’s WHIRLPOOL, a wild and inventive low budget film that proved a minor success. WHIRLPOOL led to the equally compelling DEVIATION (1971) and finally to his financial and artistic breakthrough, VAMPYRES.
Larraz was expected to follow up VAMPYRES with another erotic and violent horror film, but instead he delivered a psychologically devastating and genuinely frightening work that was nominated for the Cannes Golden Palm in 1974 before disappearing shortly after.
SYMPTOMS (1974) is, along with Roman Polanski’s REPULSION (1965) and Richard Loncraine’s FULL CIRCLE (1977), probably the best film ever made about a woman slowly slipping completely into madness. Shot quickly in England on a relatively low budget in early 1974 and rushed to the Cannes film festival that summer, SYMPTOMS is one of the great-lost films of the seventies and warrants major reconsideration.
The plot of SYMPTOMS, featuring a woman lost in solitude, a creepy old house, a nosy groundskeeper and other often used genre elements, isn’t that noteworthy. What is noteworthy is Larraz’s unsettling style and his camera’s unshakable obsession with his leading lady, the very haunted looking and remarkably talented Angela Pleasence.
Pleasence is probably best known to American audiences as the daughter of the very well respected late British actor, Donald Pleasence. Angela began appearing on British television in her early twenties and made her big screen debut in the delightful HERE WE GO ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH (1967). She would prove very memorable in the 1973 Amicus anthology film FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE but SYMPTOMS would give her the first lead role of her career, and one of the best parts she has ever gotten to play.

Joining Pleasence were a small group of notable British actors including Michael Brady, Lorna Heilbron, Peter Vaughan and Marie-Paule Mailleux, but it is Pleasence’s film all the way though. Much like Polanski and Loncraine used their leading actresses, respectively Catherine Deneuve and Mia Farrow, in nearly every scene of their great essays on madness, Angela Pleasence dominates almost every frame of Larraz’s film with an eerie near silent work that is among the best genre performances of the seventies.
Much of the credit for SYMPTOMS hypnotic power should go to Editor Brian Smedley-Aston who manages to match the obsessive and lingering directorial style of Larraz with a sharp and consistently inventive cutting technique. Aston had handled the legendary PERFORMANCE for Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg in 1970 and was a perfect choice for SYMPTOMS. Larraz’s film could have been overwhelming cold and near impossible to watch, but Aston manages to cut the scenes in a way that allows them to retain their voyeuristic nature but never allows them to outstay their welcome.
A relative novice, Trevor Warren, is credited with the film’s striking cinematography, but I suspect that Larraz was the one really responsible for the films unforgettable photography. The look of the film balances perfectly the languid and lovely British countryside shots with the terrifyingly dark and oppressive interior work. Where as REPULSION used black and white photography and shadows to highlight Deneuve’s increasingly paranoid state, Larraz lets the lovely color outdoor photography of the film become an impenetrable foil for Pleasence’s iced over interior landscape.
The prolific jazz oriented composer John Scott provides the near silent film with a lovely soundscape punctuated by a series of sharp and memorable musical cues. Also worth noting is that Larraz wisely hunted down STRAW DOGS art director Ken Bridgeman to design the lovely, but prison like, interiors of Pleasence’s house and the film does indeed resemble that Peckinpah masterpiece on several occasions.
When the film premiered at the Cannes film festival in 1973 it got some major word of mouth going, and Larraz was nominated for the Golden Palm but he failed to secure a substantial distribution deal. One especially outspoken admirer of it was Jack Nicholson who proclaimed it a masterpiece but even his strong vote of endorsement didn’t help. SYMPTOMS would encounter distribution problems immediately and wouldn’t get an American release until over two years later when it was retitled THE BLOOD VIRGIN, and put on the second half of a handful of drive in bills. It would seemingly disappear completely afterwards and has since only been seen in poor quality grey market prints.

Artistically the failure of SYMPTOMS affected Larraz in a great way, and it would take him over five years to make another film worthy of his best work, the surreal and bitter THE COMING OF SIN (1978). His filmography since has been filled with a series of interesting if under developed films. Despite being undeniably talented and innovative, Larraz has never again made a film as masterful as SYMPTOMS.
The time is right for SYMPTOMS to be rediscovered. Several of Larraz’s works have been made available on DVD in the past few years and a release of SYMPTOMS would serve as a sharp reminder of one of Spain’s great talents and individuals. The depth and subtlety present in SYMPTOMS might surprise film fans that have always thought of Larraz as just a filmmaker of brutality and extremes. SYMPTOMS is a truly inspired and fine piece of filmmaking that deserves the opportunity to be seen by more film lovers.


For more on Larraz and SYMPTOMS please seek out the amazing IMMORAL TALES by Cahal Tohill and Pete Tombs. It is one of the most indispensable film books in my collection, and their writing on Larraz and SYMPTOMS is extraordinary.

Also Horror Express has a look at the film here, and some of the above stills are taken from that piece.

Robby Muller: Shooting Kinski Again


PARIS, TEXAS marked the second time that Nastassja was photographed by the legendary Robby Muller. My original article on Muller can be found here at this link, for those interested. PARIS, TEXAS marks a career high point for pretty much everyone working on it, and that is certainly true of Muller. His work on this film is extraordinary, and his films for Wenders remains some of the most iconic in the history of cinema.

More information on Muller can be found at the following links:
For basic information on his phenomenal career, please look at his IMDB listing.
Movie Express has a great 1993 interview with Muller where he speaks on PARIS, TEXAS as well as many of his other works.
Click here for information about a recent award Robby received from the Netherlands Film Festival.
Finally, BFI has another extraordinary interview with Muller that is a must read as well.

Paris, Texas On YouTube

There are several clips related to PARIS, TEXAS on YouTube. Here are two of the most interesting.
This first one is the original Japanese trailer, which is notable as it begins with footage of the film winning at the Cannes Film Festival.


The second is a fan made clip, with sections of the film set to Coldplay's EVERYTHING'S NOT LOST. It's very nicely done.


My posts on the film will begin shortly.

Eli Roth's Thanksgiving: A New Holiday Classic


Eli Roth's THANKSGIVING trailer from GRINDHOUSE won my latest poll on great Thanksgiving films fairly easily. I haven't posted much on it here, but I loved GRINDHOUSE and I thought Roth's trailer might have been the best thing in it.
Shot in Prague while he was filming HOSTEL PART 2, the THANKSGIVING trailer is simultaneously funny, horrifying and brilliant. It also looks authentic, which is a credit to Roth and his crew as it isn't easy to really make a film look like something out of the late seventies/early eighties period.
For a great look at the making of this fantastic little film, I highly recommend
GRINDHOUSE: THE SLEAZE FILLED SAGA OF AN EXPLOITATION DOUBLE FEATURE, a book almost as eye popping and fun as the films that inspired it.
For more information and photos from THANKSGIVING, check out Eli's always fun and informative MySpace profile, and if you would like a T-Shirt celebrating the film check here.
I wish he would make a feature out of it....for those who haven't seen it, here it is. Be warned it does contain graphic violence, nudity and strong sexual content. So, if you don't like that kind of stuff, don't watch it.


Here are the final results from the poll:

1. THANKSGIVING: 17 Votes
2. THE ICE STORM: 15 Votes
3. HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS: 13 Votes
4. HANNAH AND HER SISTERS: 12 Votes
5. PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: 12 Votes
6. CHARLIE BROWN THANKSGIVING: 11 Votes
7. PIECES OF APRIL: 10 Votes
8. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET: 9 Votes
9. THE DAYTRIPPERS: 9 Votes
10. THE MYTH OF THE FINGERPRINTS: 7 Votes

Thanks to everyone who voted. My new poll for the week will be on Stephen King film adaptations, and I hope everyone will participate in that as well...

Moon In The Gutter Gets Another Very Nice Shout Out


Pete Emslie at the always great Cartoon Cave has written some very nice words concerning Moon In The Gutter that I wanted to thank him for. He has also posted a lovely caricature of Kim Novak in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE partially inspired by my posts on the film. Here is the link to his great rendition of Kim that everyone should stop by and see.
I greatly admire people with artistic talent, as I can barely draw a stick figure, so Pete's works and words are most appreciated.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Overlooked Classics: Bell Book And Candle (1958)


The names Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, and the year 1958, will always go together due to Alfred Hitchcock's legendary VERTIGO. VERTIGO has indeed cast such an imposing shadow, that it is often forgotten that it wasn't the only film the iconic pair made together that year. While not the cinematic milestone that VERTIGO is, Richard Quine's delightful BELL BOOK AND CANDLE has for too long been unrecognized as one of the fifties most essential, and enduring, films.
BELL BOOK AND CANDLE started out life as a stage play by John Van Druten. Written in the early part of the fifties, and probably inspired a bit by the Veronica Lake film I MARRIED A WITCH, Drutten's play ran for over a year on Broadway with Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer as its leads.
Optioned by Columbia in the mid fifties, Drutten's play was transformed into a gem of a screenplay by Daniel Taradash, who was on a bit of a roll with both FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953) and PICNIC (1955) recently under his belt. Columbia, excited about Taradash's script, gave the project to a prolific, if still young, director and the wheels began turning on the film in the mid part of 1957.
27 year old director Richard Quine had been making films since the late part of the forties, but he had yet to make a big name for himself in the industry by 1957. A one time child actor, the talented Quine was probably best known at this point for the noir PUSHOVER (1954) and the Judy Holliday vehicle THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC (1956). Quine was the perfect choice for BELL BOOK AND CANDLE though as he was incredible skilled in comedy, romance and mystery, so Drutten's genre-bending play was tailor made for him to bring to the screen.
Casting began shortly after Quine was brought on, and the film was granted a relatively generous budget as Columbia felt they might have a hit. Rex Harrison was either unavailable, or not considered, and the great Jimmy Stewart was brought in to replace him as the literally beguiled male lead, Shep Henderson. With the much loved Stewart secured, the rest of the cast began falling into place with some of the best players of the day. Comedic hurricanes Ernie Kovacs and Hermione Gingold were hired, as was the always reliable Elsa Lanchester. A young television actress named Janice Rule was secured as Stewart's hapless fiancee Merle, and the soon to be legendary Jack Lemmon was brought in for one of the strangest roles of his career. All that was left for the studio and Quine was to find someone to play the lonely and trouble witch Gillian Holroyd, and the production could begin.

Viewed today, it is impossible to think of anyone other than Kim Novak as Gillian in BELL BOOK AND CANDLE. She fits the part so perfectly that it is hard to believe there was ever any question about the casting. Still, some other actresses were considered for the plum part but at Quine and Stewart's urging, Columbia finally gave the part to the then 24 year old studio player who had made such a big splash in the Taradash scripted PICNIC just two years earlier.
Cast in place, the cameras began rolling on location in New York City in February of 1958. Shot in some of the most beautiful color ever seen on the big screen through to April, by legendary James Wong Howe, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE is one of the great New York films of the fifties (and possibly ever) and one of the most distinctive looking films ever made.
Howe was already in his mid fifties when he shot Quine's great romance, but his work on BELL BOOK AND CANDLE is that of an excited and experimental young man firing on all creative cylinders. The film is a wonder to look at, with its brilliant bold brushstrokes of blue, lavender, purple and red, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE makes one yearn for the days of technicolor. I am actually disappointed every Christmas when the world doesn't turn out looking this way. Howe's photography is masterful throughout, whether it is in Gillian's Manhattan apartment (featuring inventive set design by Louis Diage) or in the film's snow covered outdoor shooting. One shot in particular of a hat falling off the Flat Iron Building on a freezing and quite early Manhattan morning is one of the most beautiful shots of New York City ever committed to celluloid. Perhaps the world never really looked like this, but it should have.

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE works so wonderfully well as a lot of things. It is a romance but, with its many spells and incantations, it is also more than a bit spooky. It's also very funny, and one of the great undervalued Christmas movies ever. I can't imagine a December without it. It's also a wonderful snapshot of the beatnik period as Hollywood saw it, with the film's beautifully designed Zodiac Club filling in for every existential romantic fantasy one might have of the period nicely.
The cast all appear, with one exception, to be having the time of their lives. Novak and Stewart got on nicely during both this shoot and their time with Hitchcock, and they both deliver warm and touching performances. Quine and Novak were falling in love during this period, and that no doubt helped him shoot her in many of the film's longing and bewitching close ups of her face and eyes. Kovacs, Gingold and

Lanchester are all used to their maximum effect here as well, with special mention going to Kovacs very funny portrayal of a burned out writer who thinks he has the inside track to Manhattan's witch population. The great Lemmon, probably my all time favorite actor, is the one who doesn't seem totally engaged. It isn't surprising as later he would call his role as Gillian's brother one of the most disappointing of his career. He isn't bad here, but he just seems distant. His performance is the one dull spot on an otherwise remarkably shiny and near perfect work.

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE would open on Christmas day in 1958 to healthy business and fairly solid reviews. It would receive two Academy Award nominations for its set direction, and the wonderful Jean Louis outfits that Novak wore so well. Howe was somehow ignored for his brilliant work, as were the never nominated Quine and Novak. The film would also receive a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture but it failed to take home any awards.
Seven years after its release, a television series called BEWITCHED started and became an immediate sensation. Its tale of a lovely blond witch named Samantha, who marries a mortal, was clearly inspired by BELL BOOK AND CANDLE, and it gives the film an interesting cultural counterpoint that still resonates to this day.

BELL BOOK AND CANDLE has never really gone away, but it often seems to sit just under the radar of many film fans. Much has been read into the subtext of the film, but I prefer to view it with the same eyes I had when I first discovered it on early morning television back when I was in the earliest parts of my teens.
Available on VHS since the earliest days of the format, BELL BOOK AND CANDLE is currently available on an OK DVD that features a decent widescreen transfer but no extras. A truly restored print showing Howe's invigorating color photography would be quite mind blowing, and any extras afforded to the film would be most appreciated.
Richard Quine would take his life in 1989 and, like I have written here before, I don't think he has ever gotten his due. Innovative with talent to burn, Quine's best films show him as one of the the best directors that came out of Hollywood's most underrated period. BELL BOOK AND CANDLE is his best film, a cool Christmas Valentine that has never been matched for style, grace, and heart.

Information on the DVD of BELL BOOK AND CANDLE can be found here.

The film's extraordinary soundtrack by George Duning can occasionally be ordered from Dusty Groove and it is essential.

The original play is out of print, but used copies are available here.