Archive for Jim Danforth

Hercules Versus Everybody

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , on February 17, 2015 by dcairns

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Italian peplum specialist Vittorio Cottafavi gets a sympathetic airing in Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (which is an excellent book: pick up both volumes secondhand TODAY), considered along with Mario Bava and, as I recall, Riccardo Freda. But I’ve never managed to see anything by VC that matched up to the description of his work, all swirling mists and translucent veils. The stuff I’ve seen has been colourful but kind of flat and not very interesting. (In Luc Moullet’s LES SIEGES DE L’ALCAZAR, the film critic hero is held up to ridicule for being a Cottafavi completist.)

But LA VENDETTA DI ERCOLI (THE REVENGE OF HERCULES), a 1960 nonsense with he-man Mark Forest, is somewhat endearing, just because it’s so preposterous. It stands head and muscly shoulders above the average sword-and-sandal slugfest in stupidity, which is saying a very great deal. If you’re not interested in Cottafavi, you would be likeliest to have checked this movie out in order to appreciate the sight of Broderick Crawford in a skirt, since Larry Cohen ommitted that image from THE PRIVATE FILES OF J. EDGAR HOOVER, but I’m here to tell you, come for the skirt, stay for the animal punching.

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Hercules, a truly obnoxious character, kills everything he sees in this movie. In Scene One he stabs a dog to death. Admittedly, it’s Cerberus, the three-headed guard donkey dog of the Underworld. But it’s actually chained up, and seems incapable of movement being as he’s an unconvincing automaton. The stabbing goes on for a very long time indeed: maybe even longer than Willem Dafoe spends punching that poor crow in ANTICHRIST, and that’s a LOOONG time.

In his second scene, Hercules, who still hasn’t actually spoken, murders a… well, I’m not sure what it is. It’s a man on a wire, obviously, dressed in some kind of furry costume with bat wings. I was assuming it was one of the Wicked Witch’s flying monkeys, but when Cottafavi finally dares to grant it a post-mortem closeup, it has the face of a cat. The flying cat-monkey is my favourite character in the film, and I call him Alan.

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Later, Hercules wrestles a real elephant, and you’ll be glad to know the elephant probably quite enjoyed it and doesn’t seem to be harmed.

Then (or was it earlier?) he strangles a bear. The bear is definitely not real. He’s a man in a bear costume, and he’s so unconvincing I’m not even convinced he’s a REAL man. Not like Mark Forest, who, as Hercules the enemy of the entire animal kingdom, chokes the life out of him without hesitation.

There’s also a centaur/faun — in defiance of Greek mythological classification, the character is both goat-legged and horse-legged, depending on mood, I guess. Hercules apparently causes his death, in some mysterious magical way. I didn’t fully understand it. But if anything drops dead in this film, by this point I’m quite prepared to assume Hercules is responsible.

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“Hey, quit it!”

About the only animals not killed by our hero are the horses, and the snakes in the snake pit, though I don’t give great odds for their survival after Brod the Broad falls into the snakepit. I’m laying their deaths at Herc’s door too, unless further information comes to light.

The US release features a stop-motion dragon animated by the great Jim Danforth. I think it’s safe to assume Hercules kills it.

Oh hey, that whole version is online, in pan-and-scan, washed-out pinkoscope. Dragon at 1:07:56.

The vivid animation alternates with some goofy moronimatronic full-scale puppetry. I guess the big fellow is an advance on the dragon from Lang’s NIBELUNGEN because it doesn’t have its eyes in the front of its head like a person (fun fact: Debra Paget’s partner in the snake-dance in Lang’s much-much-later THE INDIAN TOMB *also* has stereoscopic vision, proving that these inaccurate reptiles are not a mistake but an authorial signature… Lang referred to himself as a dinosaur and had faulty vision, so we’re halfway to a theory already…) but we have to deduct points since it only exists from the neck up, like Benedict Cumberbatch. But it’s a long neck. Like Benedict Cumberbatch.

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The Sunday Intertitle: Cave Art

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2009 by dcairns

vlcsnap-127789“In order to launch a product, a good enough publicity idea.”

From QUANDO LE DONNE PERSERO LA CODA — WHEN WOMEN LOST THEIR TAILS, a sequel to the popular, dumb, wildly unfunny Italian stone-age sex comedy QUANDO LE DONNE AVEVANO LA CODA, or WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS.

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Both movies are spectacularly stupid, devoid of wit, and waste a vaguely promising comedy idea, done rather better by Buster Keaton in THREE AGES (which is one of his least interesting films). The fact that the films, directed by Pasquale Festa Campanile, use rock-carved intertitles, sets up a promising expectation that they might do without dialogue. Italian audiences love slapstick, and cavemen often communicate in grunts in the movies, so this seems like an interesting exercise for the filmmakers to undertake. But they don’t undertake it. All they undertake is curvaceous German import Senta Berger in a fur bikini, surrounded by a lot of hideous Italians in fright wigs, in a big ugly artificial Flintstones set, where the boulders actually cast shadows on the sky.

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CAVEMAN, which I was always perversely curious to see, is a lot more ambitious. The cavemen grunt in this one, using a primitive language created by Anthony Burgess farted out by writers Carl Gottlieb and Rudy De Luca, which should clear the way for visual gags to drive the plot. Unfortunately, there are (almost) no gags worthy of the name and (actually) no plot. Ringo Starr plays the hero, which would be funnier if he DID speak English. Ringo is only really funny when he attempts verbal acting. Future Mrs Starr and former Bond girl Barbara Bach plays the sex interest. A very cute young Shelley Long plays the love interest, Dennis Quaid is the best friend (so young!), and it’s all very wretched indeed, apart from the dinosaurs.

How wretched? A major “comedy” moment involves Ringo drugging Barbara with knock-out fruit so he can rape her in her sleep. And she’s meant to be the bad one (she gets dropped in dinosaur poo at the end). Of course, Ringo fails to get his drumstick in her, so we can all laugh, can’t we? Er, no.

(The Italian one has Senta Berger subjected to unsophisticated caveman mating techniques too, until a more sensitive, modern caveman turns up who teaches her the kama sutra, or something. Naturally, he becomes the enemy of the other troglodytes. Either way, both movies exude an authentically stone-age sensibility.)

But the dinosaurs! Jim Danforth  and Dave Allen, of EQUINOX fame, created some beautiful goofy monsters for this, which give by far the best performances and get all the laughs. And they actually manage to have charm, when surrounded by this putrid film. Actually, maybe the job of the movie is to make them look good. At the climax, Ringo rides atop a saurian, and the animated Ringo doll gives a much better perf than the real Richard Starkey. The best shots are the ones where the top half of the real Ringo has been matted onto the bottom half of the doll straddling the dino’s back. The stop-motion ass and legs are infinitely more nuanced and expressive than the live-action torso, arms and head.

EQUINOX is a movie so bad, with monster effects so good, that somebody has helpfully posted all the monstery bits on YouTube. Somebody should do the same with CAVEMAN.

The device of mixing live-action and stop-motion, with little animated people interacting with the big beasts, and match-cuts between miniature and real actors, all seems to date back to Keaton, who has brief but beautiful dino action in THREE AGES. His inspiration was Winsor McCay, who had interacted with a hand-drawn brontosaurus in GERTIE THE DINOSAUR way back in 1914. That seemed an impossibly long time ago even in 1923: Keaton’s collaborators told him he not only knew his film history, but his prehistory.

McCay, a brilliant cartoonist for the Hearst press, used to exhibit this film in the music halls, speaking to Gertie, anticipating the action in the cartoon so she would seem to obey his instructions. At the climax he would step behind the screen as Gertie lifts an animated McCay onto her back… all of which utterly trumps the seventies and eighties fantasy-farce of Campanile and Gottlieb, as far as I’m concerned.

Wait! Maybe I’m being unfair? Maybe these filmmakers, Campanile and Gottlieb both, are trying to make films the way actual neanderthals would? Such films would be concerned only with eating, fucking and shitting, and would avoid any kind of intelligence or originality in favour of wallowing in universally understood cultural effluent. Abandoning all efforts at aestheticism, they would crudely fashion their cro-magnon movies out of animal hides, bark, and bits of flint, projecting them by firelight on the cavern wall using a projector made of tusks and dung.

No, I can’t see it. Cave art is way more beautiful than these movies.

(Note: Gottlieb is co-writer of THE JERK, which is a funny film, in which he also plays the small part of Iron-Balls McGinty. De Luca worked on some lesser Mel Brooks flicks, including HIGH ANXIETY, which is a funny film. But any writing team needs to avoid self-satisfaction, with each writer spurring the other on to greater heights. My impression: that didn’t happen with  CAVEMAN.)

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