It’s only when the moments of gorgeous, abstracted imagery shot on high contrast film stock appear that I can stop reminiscing about Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula. Cuadecuc, Vampir is an experimental documentary by Pere Portabella, but the experiment quivers between behind the scene glimpses and brilliant bursts of purely artistic imagery. Plodding ambient sounds stretch themselves across the soundtrack, adding little insight into the filmmaker’s intentions. Hopes for more pointed or ponderous consideration about the legend of Dracula and how film has helped to create this mythos never arise. During the film’s final reel a series of well crafted edits begin to comment on the difference between the film’s image and the image of those being filmmed. However, by then it is too late and I am left with a few stunning, but meaningless images and a lingering desire to revisit Franco’s Count Dracula.
A taxi driver gets cursed for hitting a sorcerer. A curse is placed on him. Bad luck comes him way. For fans of exploitation, sexploitation, and gore Zhong gui (aka Seeding of a Ghost) is nothing but good luck. The first thirty minutes are a bit slow. When the cursed driver returns to the sorcerer in the hopes of reversing his luck and getting some revenge on the guys that raped and killed his wife the gore kicks in. Low budget, but innovative, the effects teeter between gross-out crack-up.
I found the film’s flat-lighting off-putting. Lots of washed out, high-key lighting and softcore sex make this looks less like a Shaw Brothers film and more like a Cinemax of Showtime flick of the 80′s. It exposes too much, leaving little mystery or horror. However, what the film lacks in the department of terror it exceeds in twisted visuals.
A footnote, a rumor, a fact, and a miracle
Martin Scorsese saw Joe Pesci in The Death Collector and a career was born.
Director Ralph De Vito is not related to Danny. He was gunned down, making his homicide akin to the killings portrayed in his one and only film. Mob hit, bad luck or angry critic?
The Death Collector is a better than average gangster flick. Its plot operates in the lower levels of the mafia. To its credit the film does not try to be The Godfather on a dime. While it may never rise to any level of cinematic greatness, mid-way through the film, almost by accident, two immaterial scenes walk away with the picture. These character based scenes add such great depth to the characters. They contain more action than the films shoot outs and more smarts than the film’s twists. They are so wonderful that they truly deserve to be in a better film.
I imaged The Stepmother to be a by-the-numbers sexploitation flick. I presumed I could watch it out of the corner of my eye whilst doing something else, like grading papers. Ten minutes in, I was confused enough and curious enough to put down my grading. The film is full of seventies flare. Loud fashion, dramatic freeze frames, and a opening song that sounds something like “Diamonds and Guns” or that-song-in-the-Fructis_ads. That it takes the film over thirty minutes to introduce any clue as to why it is called The Stepmother should not be held against this whacked-out 70′s flick.
Violet and Daisy Hilton are in fact conjoined twins linked at the hip. In Chained for Life they play Vivian and Dorothy Hamilton, a singing and dancing duo headlining a vaudeville show. Not stretching too far from reality, the story has one of the sisters involved in a sham marriage designed to drum up ticket sales. Unlike reality, Chained for Life begins and ends with one of the sisters on trial for murder. Between these bookends flashbacks serve as evidence and testimony. By the film’s conclusion, the fictitious judge is uncertain whether or not he could throw the guilty sister in prison without also punishing the innocent sister to the same sentence. Thankfully, he breaks the forth wall and asks us what we would do. Of course, I can’t say what would be best in the name of justice. I was too busy marveling at the Hilton sisters, not because they are freaks, but because I find it wholly inconceivable that these two women are actually twins. I am uncertain if my inability to believe that the main characters of this film are conjoined twins is a credit or a condemnation of the acting. All I know is that were these Hilton sisters alive today I am certain they’d have their own reality television show.
Five Minutes to Live (aka Door-to-Door Maniac) is poverty row, crime thriller with a preposterously tidy ending. Notable only because it stars Johnny Cash, who also sings the title track. The film also features a young Ron Howard who gets used as a human shield by the unscrupulous Cash. The film’s novel robber concept film is done better a decade later in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. The idea of a kidnap plot unraveled by a lack of love or disinterest in the wellfare of the kidnapped reoccurs in The Candysnatchers. There too, it’s done better. Neither of those films have Johnny Cash. Unlike other singers trying to transition into movie stars Cash doesn’t take a glamorous role. He’s a, edgy, cold, misogynistic criminal and he revels in the nastiness of the role.
If the revolution is something that won’t be televised then I hold little hope that the constant airing of Network on America’s airwaves would get people mad enough to stand up and really do something to save their country. I would hope that here in Network America could find a distilled, somewhat enjoyable, but slightly bitter pill easily swallowed. A pill that could open their eyes, more so than anything they’ve seen in The Matrix. We presently sit in the middle of an oil crisis, a recession, corporatism, corruption, terrorism, war, in a word, madness. So it was back in 1976. The more things change the more they stay the same.
For all those who really think a film has the power to change the world I ask, “Then why didn’t Network change the world?” While Howard Beale’s angry-everyman tirades (evidence A) tap into the frustration most middle class American’s presently fell, Jensen’s Corporate Cosmology (evidence B) speech clearly explains what ails us. We think in nations and political parties, not in terms of dollars. If films really had power than why wouldn’t an Academy Award winning film like Network open America’s eyes and see that we don’t have a democratic choice in this country. We aren’t voting for right or left, red or blue, black or white. We vote for one of two evils and forget that the root of all evil is money and both of our two primary parities are deeply rooted in corporations.
5 Random Thoughts
1) Along with Americathon, Network stands as a brilliant piece of socio-economical comedy. They would make a great double feature.
2) Wardrobe maybe the first striking difference between 1976 and 2008, but listen to the audio. Typewriters, landlines, these are the sounds we no longer hear. They have a weight to them, quite different then the light plinking of laptop keys and the personalized programmed ring tones.
3) Where are all the young dudes? This is an old man’s film. You’ll find no brash young love interest drawing box office receipts. Lord only knows who they’d put in a remake.
4) Early in the film you hear mention of two attempts on President Ford’s life. I nearly had forgotten about these. At the same time, I find it wild that twice someone tried to take Ford’s life and we never hear about anyone gunning for Bush. Even Reagan got shot. Has secret security gotten better or have the nuts of this country grown complacent?
5) I don’t hear film lovers, especially younger ones, talk about Network. It won a slew of awards, but has been somewhat forgotten to time. It’s not the film’s fault. Most Hollywood cinema is perishable. I wondering if Paddy Chayefsky predicted that his film would be replaced by something new. This mindset is such a huge part of television programming. What’s hot, will be cold before too long.