Archive for the Comics Category

Judge Not

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 27, 2016 by dcairns


Based on HANDS OVER THE CITY and CADAVERE ECCELLENTI (ILLUSTRIOUS CORPSES), Francesco Rosi might be cinema’s greatest architectural filmmaker.

The Italians have always been good at space and locations — it was they, aided by filmmaker/engineer Segundo de Chomon, who developed the first purpose-built dolly so they could explore gigantic sets in three dimensions. Rosi not only selects stunning environments and frames them elegantly, hi tracking shots make us feel we’re there, awestruck.


The film opens in a catacomb full of mummies, where we meet not-quite mummified Charles Vanel, his face a crumbling McArthur Park cakescape of time’s ravages. Moments later he’s dead, the film’s first prestigious stiff (managing an impressive fall for an 83-year-old). One is inclined to resent the film for offering us Vanel and then snatching him away, but then we get a little more of him in flashback, and stunning environment after stunning environment. Plus a dazzling fashion show of 1970s men’s spectacles. Max Von Sydow’s are particularly alluring.


Someone is killing judges! The conspiracy plot and film stock switches anticipate JFK, and a discussion about the miracle of transubstantiation made me posi-sure that Alan Moore saw this before writing V FOR VENDETTA. Rosi’s copper, just as dour as Moore’s, is played by the great Lino Ventura, who looks like he maybe bought his nose from the same smashed cartilage vendor as Vanel.

Library porn, Rosi style ~



Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , on April 15, 2016 by dcairns



I’ve become a co-programmer! Niall Greig Fulton at Edinburgh International Film Festival hatched the bright idea of putting together a retrospective look at the first real wave of live-action comic-book movie adaptations, which broadly occurred in the sixties and seventies. This will happen in June, and asides from BATMAN: THE MOVIE (pictured) we will be running such classics and oddities as BABA YAGA, BARBARELLA, DANGER: DIABOLIK, FLASH GORDON, FRIDAY FOSTER, GOLGO 13, MODESTY BLAISE, POPEYE, SWORD OF VENGEANCE and TINTIN AND THE MYSTERY OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE. The focus is international and aims to cover the field fairly thoroughly — quality control accounts for the omission of KRIMINAL, and cost accounts for the absence of KAGEMARU OF THE EGA CLAN and all the LONE WOLF AND CUB sequels (which we wouldn’t have time foe anyway, alas).

I have to put together a show with Niall tracing the evolution of the form, from TILLIE THE TOILER and SHOW GIRL through the DICK TRACY movies, BLONDIE, and all that. Should be fun, though God knows when it’s going to get prepared…

Still to be announced — a big job for Criterion, just completed, and two for Masters of Cinema, about to be begun. THE NORTHLEACH HORROR is mired in post but I see light ahead, possibly shed by some vast, ectoplasmic predator…

Freud and Fumetti

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2016 by dcairns


I like Corrado Farina’s obscure first film, THEY’VE CHANGED THEIR FACES, even more than his better-known cult second, BABA YAGA, but the latter is still an impressive oddity, attempting to combine sex, kink, fantasy and politics and succeeding as a kind of surreal snapshot of seventies youth, incorporating traces of BLOW UP, gialli, soft porn and youth protest. All this and a camera which kills, and Carroll Baker as a lesbian dominatrix. You can’t complain you’ve been shortchanged.


The source material is Guido Crepax’ perverse comic books devoted to Valentina, a lanky beauty with a bob, inspired by Louise Brooks who was apparently delighted to become a bdsm graphic novel porn star in her sixties. She had previously become a cartoon heroine in the Dixie Dugan strip of the twenties and thirties, which were maybe slightly racey but nothing like this. (In a striking bit of cross-medium pollination, Brooks became Dixie who became Alice White in two feature films inspired by the strip, the recently-rediscovered GIRL and SHOW GIRL IN HOLLYWOOD.)


Valentina later became a Berlusconi TV series, worthless like every cultural outpouring of the bunga-bunga sleazemaster, but here she’s Isabelle de Funes, niece of Louis, with bulbous manga-babe eyes and loose, fleshy lips making her something like an elongated Barbara Steele, but minus the fierceness. She’s an impossibly cute, rather sympathetic presence — a great shame this was the last feature for both her and her director.

A lesser shame is that the film can’t quite connect the political musings of the main characters with the elusive plot — a lot less elliptical and dreamlike than the freeform meanderings of the comic, but still pretty fluid and free-floating. But where the various interests of the filmmaker do converge, there are glimpses of a blend of arthouse and grindhouse which could have conceivably given rise to a whole new form of Italian cinema.


Kink-wise, the movie has a real enthusiasm for costume-box dress-up, but uses Crepax’s uniform fetish to evoke fascism and state menace, which hovers in the background throughout, connected to the main plot by obscure, irrational tendrils. It’s often hard to know how to treat perverse fantasies which seem sinister but aren’t really, as they’re only fantasies — in film, an innately fantastical medium, a bondage fantasy has as much reality as anything else, and can seem too “heavy” — I think BELLE DE JOUR gets this right, because it establishes a boundary between the real and unreal, then artfully blurs it.

BABA YAGA contains a whipping scene played like straight horror and more disturbing than erotic, for all the stylised red paint slashes. Maybe Valentina needed more of Barbarella’s “Whatever” approach to sexual situations, which the comic book character, essentially a horny sleepwalker, certainly has.



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