Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Sarnos - A Life in Dirty Movies.



The Sarnos - A Life in Dirty Movies
Directed by: Wiktor Ericsson
Sweden, 2013
Documentary, 80 min



There are two kinds of filmmakers in this world. The kind that make films under the illusion that it will make them rich and famous, and the kind that make them for the want of telling a story and the sake of art. Fast forward a lifetime, and the filmmakers wanting to be famous will become bitter, whilst the artist, or auteur as they may be called, will be moved that we remember their work.

The Sarnos - A Life in Dirty Movies, tells the story of Joeseph and Peggy Sarno. Joe’s an old-school exploitation filmmaker with ambitions and Peggy is his dedicated wife, actress, all-round crewmember and Cicero of this warm document on their life together. That’s important, they where always together. Together through it all.
We learn their dedication to their craft, from youngsters to now, always looking for a way to make movies. Their lives spent between apartments in New York and Sweden. Part of the film is their history; part is current as Joe desperately tries to secure financing for making that “next film”. As always, Peggy’s there to support him, give him advice and help make that next film. There’s a nice moment where Peggy reads through Joe’s - kind of sordid - script, after all there’s a difference in sexploitation in the 50-60’s, and reflects over the language the characters use, and suggests that they use their cell phones to talk instead of calling from phone booths… after all that’s what these modern women would do, says Peggy, lovingly bringing contemporary times to her husbands script.
The Sarnos - A Life in Dirty Movies is a gentle and heart-warming piece of documentary cinema. Swedish-made documentaries recently, sometimes manage to get close to their subjects, but very few have any dimension. They may tell interesting, linear stories, but this one has the dimension that many others lack. I’m a total sucker for documentaries about filmmakers who never stopped chasing the dream, no matter what path it took them through - such as defying one's own morals with the trials and ordeals this brings - and this is such a film, seriously a fantastic documentary, This is about real people trying to do what they believe in and their desire to be accepted as filmmakers and the qualms along the way... all the way through their filmmaking lives. Wiktor Ericsson’s cameras have caught this perfectly. I’d be able to recite passages of this film that are really moving, but I won’t. This is simply one of those “Must See” documentaries that you Must See!

There’s something completely fascinating with many of the old sexploitation filmmakers, as so many of them have a very distinct idea of where the line between art and smut goes. Filmmakers like Jean Rollin, Jess Franco, Jose Mojica Marins etc. – all of them low budget filmmakers with some great idea’s of what cinema is, and all with their very distinct style – all of them where forced into directing pornography during their careers. Something that lay heavy shadows on their artistic intentions, and the majority of them dealt with some serious frustrations over being forced into areas of filmmaking that weren’t where they wanted to go. But they had to, all for the sake of getting a shot at making that next film.
Sarno is referred to as the Ingmar Bergman of 42nd Street and that’s wonderful words to remember him by. Because what made Joe Sarno’s films stand out amongst others in the niche depended on two facts. The way he wrote his characters, with depth and dimension, the way he always focused on female sexuality and the fact that his films often used the scenes of sex to make his audience think about difficult subject matters… guilt being one of them! Guilt for one’s own sexuality is a pretty heavy topic to drop into a sexploitation film, but that’s precisely where Sarno’s balance lied, tell a story, make them think, even if it’s under the guise of sexploitation… until hardcore cinema ruined everything for Joe and so many other grand masters of exploitation cinema.

Interview snippets with a teary eyed Joe saying things like “I thought that everyone had forgotten about me…” as we follow the couple to retrospectives of his work, together with Peggy’s telling of how their love was never really accepted by her family… and definitely not the films they where making, all add up to make a very emotional film. One can’t but sit and wonder if Sarno had left a legacy of the same importance if he had managed to break into accepted cinema? There’s a bitter sweet conflict within the reality that some directors would never have been remembered if they had broken through into mainstream, and in their alienation only really found their art. 

The main body of insight comes form interviews with Joe and his wife Peggy. Although people like John Waters, Jamie Gillis and Annie Sprinkle, do participate, the most interesting interviews are with film historians, film critics and experts who give a fair and honest picture of Sarno’s films and what they meant at the time, the imprint they will leave in cinema history. I love when experts and academics are used to reflect upon the importance of low budget and exploitation cinema filmmakers that others sneer snobbishly at. A big part of this film is all about being accepted. Accepting Joe Sarno as the filmmaker with ambitions that he really was. A topic Peggy and Joe Sarno obviously had to deal with all their lives. The closing scene is poetic justice at it’s finest. 

Yes, I know that Sarno is responsible for one of the most famous Swedish pop-cultural adult films of all time. Everyone refers to “that film” at some point or other. But that’s not what this film is about, that’s not the Joseph W. Sarno of this documentary, and I feel that bringing that into this piece would be disrespectful to the Sarnos, as this is a film about the people, not what they did.







Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Quest....

Remember this?


It's the climactic moment of Mario Bava's I tre volti della paura (Black Sabbath) from 1963. Apart from being a really cool movie and a truly disturbing climax to the "The Drop of Water" segment, it is also something of an obsession of mine. 

Sometime in the late 90's, it may even have been early 2000's, there was a TV commercial that used this same scene in their promo. The commercial went something like this; A woman, a young woman in say her twenties, with dark brown hair, sits on a tram. It may have been a buss. She's watching something on her cell phone. Yes, on the small tiny screen of her cellphone she was watching a horror flick... The movie was Mario Bava's The Drop of Water from Black Sabbath. The climactic scene as the dead woman rises from her bed is shown and the young woman screams aloud on the buss. The crowd around her look at her as she smiles and shrugs her shoulders. The punchline being that now you can watch what you want, where you want. 

I'm pretty sure that the commercial was for Nokia, I have some recollection of corresponding with a person at a Nokia marketing department and them trying to obtain a copy for me before they slipped back off the radar.

I've mentioned, questioned this TV Promo featuring Bava footage to several Bava experts, but none of them want anything to do with it. I find it to be extremely important in the pop-cultural department. A Mario Bava film in a cellphone commercial! How awesome isn't that? What's the story behind the promo? Who directed it, as they obviously must have had some horror film knowledge. Of all the films out there, why Mario Bava's Black Sabbath? There's no end to the questions.

I've mentioned this promo, and asked so many friends and peers in the genre sphere in Europe, as that's where I guess anyone may have seen it as it was a Euro promo - but nobody has any recollection of it either.

I will make it a personal quest to track down this promo and post it on this site when I finally find it. It has to be out there and I hope to find answers to some of the many questions I have concerning this commercial.

Obviously I'd love to hear from anyone landing here if they have any insight into this, have you seen the promo, do you know anything about it?

I'll keep you posted!
J:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dario Argento's Dracula



Dracula
Original title: Dracula di Dario Argento
Directed by: Dario Argento
Italy/France/Spain, 2012
Horror/EuroGoth, min

Why is it that we always want so much for Dario Argento to find his way back the grand shape that he once had? Actually that’s a rhetoric question, we want him back to the greatness that we grew up loving him for, that’s a no-brainer. But if that is the case, why do we love to hate his later movies? There’s very little love for the films he’s made in the last decade… heck some even say it started going down hill after Phenomena almost twenty years ago. So what can one expect of "Dracula 3D" a movie that we’ve heard quite a fair del of and perhaps mostly groaning about.

Story wise, there’s nothing here that really hasn’t been told before, and despite being a free adaptation of the Bram Stoker classic, this is still the tale of the Count [Thomas Kretschmann] and his minions set against Jonathan Harker [Unax Ugalde] , his fiancé Mina [Marta Gastini], her friend Lucy [Asia Argento] and Vampire slayer Van Helsing [Rutger Hauer]. It’s safe territory; almost everyone knows the story, the characters and what goes down. There’s really nothing new added at all… oh, apart from a bloody big praying mantis!



Ok, so let’s start this off. The camera takes us on a CGI journey down towards and through a village into a house. This is exactly what one would expect to find in an Argento movie – flamboyant camera movement, so why not, even if it is CG and looks sort of like Lego. The music – something terribly important in Argento fare - warbles like something pulled off a horror cartoon. Just five minutes in there’s a woman spontaneously getting out of her kit and right into a session of posey, pose-shagging with her boyfriend… the third, rather unusual move for an Argento film…  wait I should be starting this piece somewhere else…  We should be starting with producer Giovanni Paolucci! Giovanni Paolucci may have produced some brilliant pieces of contemporary low budget trash cinema – especially the suite of films that became Bruno Mattei’s last flicks – but when Dario Argento has to turn to Giovanni Paolucci to finance his films, it makes me wonder over the sad state of Italian cinema.

I’m only blurting out gut instict with this theory, but during this film there’s several moments that make me cringe, wonder who the hell OK’d that moment, and come to the conclusion that this time original source material or themes, or genre isn’t being exploited, but it’s actually Dario Argento being exploited by the cunning Paolucci!



So the film then… I’d have to say that a lot of the FX is pretty good, even with the use of CG, there’s still a few grand moments. One effective scene sees Kretschmann’s Dracula speeding through a room slicing off heads as fountains of blood spray all over the place… so as for the gore and effects section, that’s got an OK from me. Well apart from one really shitty wolf to man transition that my kids could have done better with crayons and a notepad, and also the very flat CG train station. Actually the second time the 2D, 3D train station was used I laughed hard a the moment when the horses head moved as I was convinced that it was a mounted prop.

At times the film manages to tap into some kind of Hammers/EuroGoth groove and even if only slightly obtains a good atmosphere. There’s a few neat details have been worked in, or perhaps only one as that’s the one I recall, such as how Lucy hides her bite-marks away from friends who suspect that she’s been seduced by the fangster up in the castle. A moment in the bathtub reveals where and how she’s been drained and put under his spell.

Trying to sum the film up, Dario Argento’s Dracula has some pretty good effects; a couple of successful CG and practical FX combos, do give a decent amount of freaky and gory set pieces (hey we really don’t need very much more do we). The story is safely within the realm of what the title declares – The Dracula story, although it is a lazy adaptation as it all stays in the same location. I’d have loved to see Argento take on the seas, the plague of rats and Whitby. The sets look much better than I feared they would. Hell, even the obvious CG sets get the job done. A fairly familiar crowd surrounds Argento as several of the cast and crew have been with him on earlier productions.


The biggest flaw is that Argento never establishes, invest or develops his characters. He simply lets them run off their own reputations and legacies. There’s no attempt what so ever at bring complexity, dimension or even a vague attempt at actually creating these characters. Nothing is done to blow life into them, give them empathizing traits, or even make us give a damn. This leads to some pretty dull and flat characters and some piss poor acting that never really manages to engage the audience. The result is devastating and the movie really suffers from it.

Also, there’s never really any real value at stake, the threat of death never really feels present. Fights are over in a jiffy, Van Helsing is too cool for school, and Mina never really shows any fear when meeting the Count, her dead friend Lucy or anything else… and spontaneous nudity has never really been a part of Dario Argento’s movies… I know whom I’ll accredit that to.
Dario Argento’s Dracula has several unmistakable Argento traits, and at times his wonderful style shines through with such a powerful ray of light that it would burn any vampire to a cinder…. But the painfully dull characters totally ruin it all. There’s an problem with the film trying a bit too hard, but not managing to reach all the way through. Sure there’s gore, splatter, female nudity, some great moments, and I’m sure that if this one had been delivered somewhere between Tenebrae and Opera it would have been considered a cult classic from the last years of Italian Genre cinema. More importantly, perhaps Dario would have invested more in directing the actors than messing about with technology and trying to do fancy stuff with his camera. Because it’s true, the deeper you get into his filmography, the more his work becomes being about great camerawork and cool shots than great characters and cool story.

Dario Argento’s Dracula, not as terrible as I through it would be, but not as good as I wanted it to be… and believe me, I’ll watch and support Dario Argento no matter what kind of movies he makes. There are great moments, some cool effects, but way shallow on content, story, pacing and passion. In all honestly I don’t think he’s made this as a horror film at all, but as a Gothic pastiche. Style, tone, sets and the little atmosphere that there is, all strafes after some kind of Hammer/EuroGoth style, but in pastiche form.

I don’t think anyone can make Dracula as a period piece horror film these days, and especially not as a Dario Argento film. I’m basing that on the fact that there’s none of the classic Dario Argento sadism in the deaths here – as mentioned, action flashes past before you know the conflict is there, there’ no complexity to the deaths. The story just chugs on, it simply rolls forth without that classic Argentoesque last moment twist or trial. Nobody really seems to give a damn about what’s happening, and Claudio Simonetti’s constant, and somewhat annoying use of Theremin through out the movie, makes it feel like a Scooby-Doo episode. I kind of get the feeling that they played it safe, took a story that everyone knows and used it to see what they could do with modern technology. But taking your genre audience for granted is a deadly mistake.
Perhaps, and I’m only guessing, but perhaps this was a lightsome way for Dario and Luciano Tovoli to mess around with 3D cameras? Perhaps, and again I’m only guessing, but perhaps this was a way for Dario Argento and Luciano Tovoli to try out new technology, find out what can be done with 3D, what can be done with CGI, what can they get away with if they push it to the limit? Perhaps there still is one last great masterpiece in there?

I hope so, because Dario can do so much better that this. I feel that each time he brings new writing partners on-board, the story goes right out the window. I’d love to see my dream team constellation of say Luigi Cozzi, Daria Nicolodi, Franco Ferrini to bring story back home, and I also hope that he reconciles his relationship with producer/brother Claudio, because one thing is sure, we don’t need more cheap Dario Argento movies that merely exploit his name and the pure fact that he still wants to make movies.



Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jess Franco Tribute...

Elena Alena's great, Rondo award nominated Podcast, HORROR RISES FROM SPAIN has just published an entertaining and heartwarming tribute to Jess Franco over at the HORROR RISES FROM SPAIN site.

I had the great privilege of being part of this tribute and have a small spot on the show a bit past the hour mark. Elena also closes the show with some of the Sleazy Succubus mixtape.

Please listen to the great show and grab some of the past ones as the show's Elena makes are really good.

Cheers
J.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

SUSPIRIA (Argento x3)


Tonight I watched Suspiria for what honestly might have been the thirtieth time. It’s still a great movie and I still enjoy the heck out of it – as you may have guessed it’s one of my favorites. But the novelty tonight was watching it with a bunch of newcomers to this magnificent movie. They screamed, squealed and squirmed their way through the film and it just goes to show that the film still has its magic touch. Directly after the “Oh my god that was sooo creepy” comments came the “It looked sooo good” remarks… There’s a reason why this film is a landmark of genre cinema and revisiting it with first time watchers really makes this fact stand out.

One of the main reasons I keep going back to Suspiria is that there’s always something new to find… such as the discoveries I made today!

We all know of the legendary mirror reflection showing Dario Argento directing Fulvio Mingozzi and Jessica Harper in the first opening minutes – and what great opening minutes they are, I’m pretty sure that I can go on record telling you that there’s more than one “accidental” Argento moment in this masterpiece of modern horror cinema.

Ok, first one, the classic… Dario Argento reflected in the backseat window of the taxi 00:03:30 Most likely an accident, but a really cool moment as it brings an extra eeriness to the scene. Annoyingly enough this moment was aired on a stupid Swedish newspapers film magazine show and referred to as “the ghost in the horror film”… Öh what? Fast research could have told them what and who this “ghost” was”. 

The second, well actually the third appearance, takes place just past the hour mark, just past the Udo Kier scene at 01:16:00 You’ve gotta love the Udo Kier scene, it means nothing but it’s still great. It’s Udo Kier, how can it not be great? Anyhow, Kier hands Suzy Bannion over to chat with Professor Milius [Rudolf Schündler] about Helena Markos, and that’s when it happens. Luciano Tovoli’s camera pushes in and goes right past them into a shot of Bannion and Milius reflected in the windows of the building they are outside of, and hey presto, Dario Argento makes a second accidental appearance, and a second reflected guest appearance in Suspiria.

The second appearance, the real deliberate one… Ok, If we count the hand cameo when he offs Eva Axén in the start of the film, this is the second deliberate appearance. I’m not sure that Dario actually did have a hand cameo in Suspiria, but I have no doubt in mind that this appearance is his “killer” cameo. 01:04:06 just as the stalking and barbed wire pit, razorblade across the throats death of Sara takes place there’s a shot of a caped figure walking down the hallway. For a brief, tiny, tiny moment you can see that it’s Dario as he turns his head towards the camera. But be quick, as Franco Fraticelli cuts away from it and the profile is only visible for two, three frames…The screen shot is blurry, but check it on your DVD or even better on High Def, to see that it's really Dario Argento.

I'm pretty satisfied with todays visual discoveries within Suspiria - click the images for lar. I also noted that the soundtrack fades away to silence each time a victim is about to be murdered... Strange way to use that fabulous soundtrack, but hey, as said, there's always something new to discover in Suspiria and I'm eagerly looking forward to what it will surprise me with next time...

Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Confessions of a Francophile


Jesús Franco Manera is dead. Born May 12th 1930, Died April 2nd 2013.



Despite it being a very sad day, I chose to focus my attention to the many magnificent pieces of exploitation cinema he left us with. My name is Jason and I’m a Francophile.

There’s not really much I can write, more than that I loved the films of Jess Franco, and through that love also loved Soledad Miranda, Lina Romay, Howard Vernon and Jess Franco as a true artist.

Personally I feel an intimate bond with his works. Either you like his work, or you don’t. But when you do, you really do. I always have, and always will. From early VHS bootlegs to HD Bluray, My name is Jason and I’m a Francophile.

I can recall calling a friend drunk out of my mind in the nineties and ranting, no actually shouting, down the fixed line about how appalling Lina’s antagonist was treating her in some film I’ was watching. I have a fixed memory of one film where the majority was shot on the cheap, not to flash and of the lower standard… but then out of nowhere the camera circled the boat that Lina Romay (and others’ who I’m not sure who they where) going round, round, round in a movie that I still today can’t say how he pulled it off! I go into each Franco film filed with enthusiasm that it may be that film with that shot… or for what surprise of fantastic cinema he'll spring upon me. That’s precisely how engaging Franco’s films are, where. No are. Will always be.

Very a few filmmakers held the same magic grip over my cinematic interest as Jess Franco has, or had. A legacy of filmmaking is over, and sadly with each passing of the old guard (as in Fulci, Rollin, Ossorio etc) a little piece of cinematic history dies forever.  I do not think that we in our lifetime will see filmmakers of their dedication rise from the depths and create the cinematic inheritance that they left behind. There’s a passion, dedication and frustration within these films that are completely lacking from film these days. And funky soundtracks, cool as fuck way before they where retro chick.

I’ve always had a strong intimate bond with the films of Jess Franco from young thrill seeking teenager in the eighties out for smut disguised as arty exploitation, to adult family father of now out for arty exploitation disguised as smut. His films still move me, entertain me, thrill me, and engage me. From the grand masterpieces, to the really cheap ones, they all have that one moment of brilliance. That unique fragment of Franco magic, that makes it all worthwhile. The films of Jess Franco have always been there, and they always will be. This is the only Jesus I will ever believe in. The visionary, the artist, the auteur, the jazz musician, the prankster, the lover, the victim, the storyteller, the jester, the writer, the director, the editor, the filmmaker, the master.

Uncle Jess may have left us, but the legacy lives on. My name is Jason and I’m a Francophile, and tonight I shed a silent tear for the loss of an wild and crazy master of cinema unlike any other that has lived.


Here is the link to my Jess Franco Soundtrack MixTape SLEAZY SUCCUBUS.

Reviews: