Archive for Roger Corman

Van Cleef & Arkoff

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on June 6, 2014 by dcairns

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I’d always wanted to see IT CONQUERED THE WORLD, ever since seeing images of the monster, who seemed to resemble a prize marrow with a face and pincers, and ever since reading Roger Corman’s magnificent memoir How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (one of the truly wise books about cinema) which recounts how star Beverly Garland appraised her extraterrestrial co-star coolly, uttered the words “So you’ve come to conquer the world, have you?” and then felled the short-arsed visitant with a single kick to the forehead.

“Lesson one,” writes Corman, “Always make your monster bigger than your leading lady.”

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Lee Van Cleef plays a rogue scientist who befriends a Venusian who wants to invade Earth. Van Cleef thinks this is a swell idea and makes all the arrangements, communicating via a kind of ham radio, though the monster speaks only in a serious of musical parps and whines. Van Cleef understands every word, prompting Fiona to compare this with Charlie Brown’s conversations with his teacher in the animated show.

Fiona is fascinated by Van C’s tiny forehead. Kudos to Corman for avoiding typecasting the scientist role.

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The movie is centred on two couples, Van Cleef & Garland, who have a lovely dysfunctional relationship (“I’m going into town and when I come back I pray you’ll be sane,” she says) and the Peter Graveses, who keep dropping by. It’s sort of a WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? with a space alien in the role of the little bugger.

The Venusian “It,” known to fans as “Beulah,” is vaguely conical (and more than vaguely comical). “He” has floor-length skin ending in a trimming of tentacular tassels. When he is angry or aroused, space-bats come flying from under his fleshy skirts. He lives in a cave with a hot spring because it reminds him of Venus.

The title, like the title of Roger’s book, is a lie — IT doesn’t at any point conquer the Earth, but it does cut off all electricity. So IT CAUSED A POWER OUTAGE would be a more accurate title. Somehow it also stops everybody’s watch from working, which seems unlikely and has no effect on the plot. When hero Peter Graves jumps on a bicycle, I half-expected the wheels to refuse to turn. “The swine!” Graves would cry, shaking his fist. But no.

The space-bats stick implants into the back of people’s necks to control them, like in INVADERS FROM MARS. I guess Venusians have been studying the Martians’ techniques.

There’s a good bit Fiona spotted of townspeople fleeing for the hills (we never see them again): one of them is clutching a saxophone. So at least they’ll have music, wherever they go.

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Note also the woman left-of-centre smiling at the camera. She may be fleeing for her life, but she isn’t going to let a little thing like that spoil her day. Shades of REPTILICUS, whose terrified refugees had a kind of carnival atmosphere to them.

There’s more recognizably deliberate comedy from Dick Miller and Jonathan Haze as bumbling soldiers. Miller is always welcome, but Haze’s lame-brained Mexican act is appalling.

Strange dialogue, from Samuel Z. Arkoff’s brother-in-law and/or an uncredited Charles B. Griffith: “Your hands are human but your mind is enemy,” Graves tells Van Cleef. Ye-es.

 

DVD, TV & FILM

Posted in FILM, Science with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2014 by dcairns

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A suitably Cronenbergian site greeted me at Edinburgh Airport, en route to Toronto for the screening of NATAN at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival.

Actually, it was Roger Corman’s GAS-S-S-S that first put forward the idea of movies in capsule form — obviously inspired by Corman’s experience dropping acid as research for THE TRIP, in which he had a vision of a future in which movies were transmitted through the earth and you experienced them simply by making contact with the ground. (“I still think this is potentially a good idea. It would eliminate all sorts of distribution problems.”) In his 1970 film, scripted by George Armitage, a character suggests movies as pills.

“Are you saying that some drug dealers will go into filmmaking?”

“I’m saying that some of our major motion picture studios will become drug dealers!”

Public Anomie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2014 by dcairns

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“You’ve got to have a good beginning,” Roger Corman told Scorsese as he prepared to shoot BOXCAR BERTHA, “because the audience wants to know what it’s about, and you’ve got to have a good ending, because they want to know how it all turned out. Nothing in between really matters.”

Scorsese would later call this, “The best sense I ever heard in pictures,” but at that time he was only able to fulfil the latter half of the success formula. BB opens with a really pathetic biplane crash (obviously an AIP feature could afford to crash a plane for real, so Scorsese cuts to horrified onlookers – he would make up for this in THE AVIATOR), but it ends with a cattle car crucifixion and a really dynamic shotgun massacre which has clearly been storyboarded and then executed faithfully – the wildest shot is the trackback POV of a guy who’s just been blasted off his feet by the shotgun. Compared to the bloodbath that climaxes TAXI DRIVER, it’s very cartoony, but effective. (And during the shoot, Barbara Hershey gave him a copy of Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.)

Scorsese’s struggle to maintain quality in his low-budget period romp is interesting to bear in mind when watching DILLINGER, which proved to be the best John Milius film I’ve ever seen. It never feels like they didn’t have enough time or money to do what they wanted to do, there are spectacular sequences (gun battles to beat HEAT) and beautiful shots, and not a bad performance in it – a considerable feet for a movie with scores of speaking parts, an inexperienced director, and a limited budget.

The very first shot (top) made Fiona cheer, and packs in more excitement and movie-star charisma than the whole ninety hours of Michael Mann’s PUBLIC ENEMIES – and it’s all done with Warren Oates’ expressive kisser and impactful comicbook composition. The Oates countenance: a kind of tapioca mudslide, like the bags under his eyes decided to strike out and form a face of their own. Everything is yielding to gravity, as if only loosely fastened to the crumbly skull beneath, and yet there’s a contradictory sense of hardness and permanence that stops you from thinking he’s about to disintegrate and pool on the floor this instant. The impression is of a real tough guy who can kill everyone in the joint between cigar puffs, but who carries his own eventual dissolution wrapped up inside that bullish carcass.vlcsnap-2014-04-29-00h04m44s149

Milius/Oates’ Dillinger is amoral, charming and forceful, just as he should be. I did feel the lack of a real love story — what’s missing is an intro scene to the relationship with Billie Frechette (Michelle Philips — the plain one from the Mamas and the Papas — who has a great rake-thin 1930s shape and a great 1970s slouch) — Milius admitted not being too great at writing women, I believe. Here the couple just slap each other and he tears her dress off, and it’s rather hard to read this as the beginning of a great love story or anything other than plain brutality. As with most Milius films, there’s greater interest in bromance.

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The real passion is between Dillinger and Melvin Purvis (Ben Johnson), the G-man who was sworn to smoke a cigar over his bullet-ridden corpse. The balance between twin protagonists — a device Milius tried again in THE WIND AND THE LION — works well here because it helps stop the story being purely a glorification of Dillinger. Despite the horror of the shoot-outs, JM probably IS in love with his outlaw protag (going on his form elsewhere) but we get to opt out if we want. It’s necessary, I think, to like Conan, but it’s not necessary to like Dillinger — you can get away with just finding him interesting, a compelling problem for society to solve.

In one nice, mythic scene, Melvin Purvis fails to impress a small boy at a shoeshine, demonstrating that being a G-man is nowhere near as cool (or lucrative) as being an outlaw. Especially if the outlaw is called Dillinger and the G-man is called Melvin Purves. This isn’t enough to motivate the man’s later suicide, but it’s one note of unease more than Michael Mann thought to supply — in his movie, it’s a complete mystery why he chose to disclose this fact about Purves (a very minor nonentity in his film).

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Bonus Richard Dreyfuss, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis (that moustache actually normalizes his weird Hanna-Barbera head!), Cloris Leachman.

Kurosawa influence (see also CONAN) very much in view — Johnson walks into a house where a bandit is staked out, we hear screams and shots, and the bloodied perp staggers out and dies — NOT in slomo, however. Milius evidently felt there was a limit to what he could steal. That’s what makes him different from his hero, I guess.

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