Archive for Stephen Sayadian

Things I Read Off the Screen in “I, MADMAN”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2010 by dcairns

NosfeRandy!

Upon meeting Shadowplayer and now chum Randall William Cook, Fiona and I became fascinated to dig into his career and find out what he’d been up to before LORD OF THE RINGS. I’d heard of THE GATE, which had occupied the shelves of video rental places during my relatively early days of movie-hunting, but had never seen it. Nor had I seen director Tibor Takacs’ follow-up, intriguingly entitled I, MADMAN. I obtained both.

The film’s first onscreen text: The Hollywood Reporter. Headline: Box Office Tops in 1959. My thesis: films are stuffed with writing, some of it carefully placed by production designers, some of it accidental, forced into the film by the ad hoardings and signage peppering the locations. The two form a dialogue. If we could eavesdrop of this colloquy of scenario and city, we would learn… something.

THE GATE is practically an epic, even though it mostly centres around a single house and a few characters, but I intend to interrogate Mr. Cook in depth about its amazing effects. It has an unusual structure seen also in BRAIN DEAD (AKA DEAD ALIVE) and TITANIC — all build-up for the first half, all — and I mean ALL — action for the second half. Certified genius Alex Winter is currently prepping a remake…

I, MADMAN feels smaller, but packs in a lot of ideas, not quite coherently — and to our great delight, Randy plays a central role, titular madman Malcolm Brand, an author of pulp nasties who somehow has found himself living out his own depraved fictions. To my greater delight, I now realize that Randy is also in Stephen Sayadian’s surreal, dayglo, semi-porno DR CALIGARI, which I must watch again sometime.

But to return to MADMAN — it begins, extremely promisingly, with a vaguely period, Techinicolor noir sequence, exquisitely overplayed by Raf Nazario and Bob Frank (the character players are as consistently exuberant in this movie as the leads are colourless), and then a stop-motion jackal-boy jumps into view, causing Fiona to scream.

There ain’t a lot of stop motion in this movie, but what there is, is cherce.

Much of Madness, More of Sin, by Malcolm Brand.” Very nicely design pulp dustcover, the title a quote from Poe’s The Conqueror Worm, a phrase which fittingly concludes, “…and madness the soul of the plot.”

Turns out this opening is a scene from a paperback the heroine is reading, which means we’re plunged into the eighties, losing most of the flavour the forties/fifties stuff has. But Takacs does get some agreeable effects out of transitioning from one period to the other — as when Jenny Wright, our leading lady walks into the shadows in her regular duds and emerges in gown and big hairdo, all in one shot — an effect presumably inspired by Simone Simon’s transmutation in CAT PEOPLE. At first I suspected a split-screen effect, disguised by the heavy shadows, then I came to suspect that the heroine in red is a stand-in, who scuttles off-screen under cover of darkness, to be replaced by the leading lady: a low-tech approach that really appeals to me.

I also dig the fact that our lead still has on her contemporary specs, but takes them off. By the next cut, her glasses and cup of tea, vestiges of our modern world, have vanished! There should be awards for creative continuity like that.

SHOPLIFTERS WILL BE PROSECUTED

ARE YOU ON OUR MAILING LIST?

NO LOITERING

BOOK CITY

Our heroine is a drama student who also works in a second-hand bookstore and is one of the few movie characters I’ve ever seen take a bus in LA (apart from in SPEED).  Since this is a horror film, a lot of the signs in it are warnings or commands, or intrusive questions. BOOK CITY is an incredibly apt name for the bookshop, since my thesis is that cities are full of words, and the film’s thesis is that books contain populations, some of them hostile.

For Malcolm Brand’s works apparently have the power to cross over into our reality. This is never explained, and for a long time it looks as if it’s going to turn out that the leading lady is crazy and is responsible for the series of gruesome homicides she attributes to the titular maniac of Brand’s second and final novel —

Meta-fiction hits the horror movie! I was slightly reminded of Scarlett Thomas’s novel The End of Mr. Y, which I enjoyed recently. In both, the heroine unexpectedly discovers the impossible-to-find and probably cursed book she’s been yearning for (initially it seems that our leading lady here is both terrified and turned on by Brand’s books, but nothing is made of this) and plunged into another world of craziness and menace. I, MADMAN is more generic, with fewer mouse gods, but the fact that the plot never fully resolves its mysteries leaves the door open to the creeping ineffable, which helps.

SEX FOR SWINGER! Slightly improbable book title for film.

PIANOS RESTORATION AND REPAIR – VINCENT BROS

SUBMARINE (name of a storefront) LOS ANGELES (sign on a bus) — both in the same frame, a promise of biblical deluge?

PUSH – WILL RETURN – OPENING HOURS (signs on bookshop door)

In I, Madman the novel, the narrator cuts off his face because the girl he loves doesn’t care for his looks, and then creates for himself a fleshy identikit fizzog harvested from the unwilling heads of the local citizenry. This character, played by Randy Cook in the expressionist manner, emerges from the book and starts culling the supporting cast, who were only there for that purpose anyway. A more economical writing idea would have been to have him target the heroine’s cop boyfriend at the climax, since he presumably has a face she DOES like.

ALCHEMY

EX LIBRIS

ACTRESS SLAIN — POLICE BAFFLED BY MUTILATION

You could certainly read this movie, even if you couldn’t see the pictures.

Cheekily, the movie marquee screen right advertises the director’s first film, cult obscurity METAL MESSIAH, which I’d love to see.

NON FICTION

SIDNEY ZEIT PUBLISHING INC, 4389 HOLLYWOOD BLVD, HOLLYWOOD CALIFORNIA

BOOKS 25¢ MOVIES 25¢ VIDEOS, THE CAVE ADULT MOVIE THEATER, LIVE NUDE SHOW, PEEPSHOW, ADULT BOOK STORE

The first text startles the heroine when she finds it in the small print in her face-stealing pulp fiction, the second tells her where to look for answers, and the third tells us all what kind of neighbourhood the publisher operates out of.

And this is the office of Sidney “I only do smut” Zeit, publisher of I, Madman. Magnificent performance from Murray Rubin (the great actors for B movies are out there if you look!) which swings from broad grotesquerie to touching humanity as he recalls the tragic fate of his top author.

TELEPHONE – PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE CITY — both signs in one shot.

THE POPE SMOKES DOPE

ANGELS with swastika sign. These last two are graffiti at a crime scene.

Nobody notices that all the victims are connected to the heroine. Since there’s no “it was her all along” twist, it might have been nice if the cops suspected her, as they have every reason to do, rather than just thinking she’s screwy. The way society is, any crazy person connected to a murder is likely to be regarded as a suspect. And the cops could be turned into a threat rather than a potential rescue. And there’s no way they could NOT suspect her, to be fair to them — and remember Mackendrick’s wise words, “A character who is dramatically interesting thinks ahead.”

OVER 100,000 BOOKS

NEW BOOKS DISCOUNTED

SPECIALIZING IN HARD-TO-FIND TITLES

OPEN 7 DAYS A WEEK

ENTRANCE

—————->

VATTEY’S BOOK CITY

NEW – USED – RARE – ANTIQUARIAN

ROY ROY PIZZAS MEAT PIES

The above appear all in a single establishing shot! A connection is drawn between books and food.

Next, a flurry of book titles: THE POLITICS OF THE CENTURY, NATHANIEL WEST: THE ART OF HIS LIFE, ANSWERS TO EVERYDAY QUESTIONS. While, in the background, a hand-lettered sign reads SCIENCE FICTION.

The climactic struggle with Malcolm — books are falling all over the place! As he thrusts his arms through a set of shelves to paw the heroine, THE COURAGEOUS COMPANION falls through shot, and when the cop boyfriend with the designer stubble hurls him into some boxes, THE WOUNDED DON’T CRY drops into his lap: the most blatant gag title in the film, though not quite as funny as EVIL DEAD II’s use of A FAREWELL TO ARMS.

Then, the long-awaited return of jackalboy, summoned from the pages of Malcolm’s first book by the plucky heroine, who’s decided that the contents of Brand’s oeuvre tend to become real. Malcolm struggles with the half-human genetic experiment in a stop-motion battle to the death which sees Randall William Cook heroically animating a miniature version of himself. I’m not sure if that qualifies as masturbation or voodoo. Lots of motion-blur here, and the transition between human and puppet is pretty seamless, helped no doubt by the fact that Malcolm’s face is by now a mass of sutured tissue — lopsided nose, swollen lips, moulting scalp.

Randy was an actor first and an animator later, getting into the biz on the advice of no less a person than Bob Clampett, Termite Alley legend. A lot of animation has to do with acting, which isn’t generally understood… If you talk to Randy, you not only get great stories from his movie activities, you get all the voices too.

Jackalboy (who looks quite a bit like the excellent Harry Potter werewolf) is chopped down the middle by a sheet of glass, but rises again as a Johnny Eck-style man with half a body. A sign in the background reads THIS SIDE UP.

Then half-jackalboy pounces on Malcolm, they fly out the window, and all the loose pages somehow torn from, it feels like, Malcolm’s works (but there was only, like, one copy in the bookstore, so I guess it’s a lot of other books too) goes flying into the sky, and Chanson D’Amour plays us out (ra-ta-ta-ta-ta). What have we learned?

One last sign —

DELIVERIES

———————->

Sounds like a sequel to me!

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Babelsberg Psychos Go America

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by dcairns

I have no mouth and I must scream 

A Fever Dream Double Feature.

Following in the mighty footsteps of Christoph Hubert, whose Fever Dream pairings were published hereabouts recently, I present for your delectation and sweaty perusal another brain-bending duo of movies that go together all wrong. I have selected two films, and I call them Film One and Film Two.

M for Murky

(Note the flag attached to David Wayne’s lamp to keep his face in shadow.)

Film One is “M”. Not the celebrated Fritz Lang-Thea Von Harbou 1931 classic, but the generally denigrated Joseph Losey remake from twenty years later. As films maudit go, the don’t come much mauditer than this. While Losey is much admired, mainly for his British films of the ’60s (the blacklist having driven him from Hollywood), his U.S. work is a mixed bunch, much of it rarely screened. The excellent noir THE PROWLER (many noirs tackle the theme of “wrong values,” but none so starkly as this) rubs shoulders with the curio that is THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR, a jejeune anti-war parable that passes the time acceptably just by being very very odd. In this company, the M remake is just one more mis-step in Losey’s shaky Hollywood career arc, but fortunately it’s a bit closer to the intensity of PROWLER than the fey loopiness of GREEN HAIR.

M for Manky

The perennially prissy David Wayne essays the Lorre role, doing well with the hysteria but entirely missing Lorre’s uncanny, bug-eyed froth. The script pads out the predestined devil with some unconvincing dollar book Freud cod psychology.

Losey scores a little better with his cops and crooks — one detective is a virtual fascist, with less respect for the rule of law than the “punks and tinhorns” he yearns to subject to the rubber hose treatment. Luther Adler plays an alcoholic mob lawyer (called Langley in presumed homage, though old Fritz didn’t appreciate the gesture, turning up to single-handedly picket the premiere). This figure’s presence helps set up the kangaroo court more plausibly, but he’s an annoying character wrapped around an annoying performance (dialogue scribe Waldo Salt may have to shoulder some blame here. Salt, later blacklisted himself, made a glorious comeback as writer of MIDNIGHT COWBOY in the ’70s, but his work here is mostly on a Dick Tracy level, with a few corny left-wing pretensions). The rogues’ gallery gets livelier around the intense, ferret-eyed Martin Gabel (also director of one movie, the terrific THE LOST MOMENT, a labyrinth of sinuous camera moves with a centenarian Agnes Moorehead at its heart) and his henchmen: Raymond Burr, more hench than man, doing a gravelly voice like Putney Swope; Glenn Anders, not as soapy as in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (“Just doing a little taaaaarrrget practice,”) but sort of CHUNKIER; and Norman Lloyd, always always always a reliably sneaky face to fill out a frame.

M for Mob

M for Mean

But this “M” has its greatest success in the use of locations. Losey makes fine use of Bunker Hill and outstanding use of the Bradbury Building. Best known now as the site of BLADE RUNNER’s climax, this striking construction came to its architect in a dream, and Losey captures both the sharpness and the illogic of nightmare in the clamorous conflict he stages there. Each angle provides a bizarre and startling new perspective to affront the eyes and make giddy the mind.

M for Mall

M for Mannequins

And Losey’s eerie mannequin warehouse is better than Kubrick’s eerie mannequin warehouse in KILLER’S KISS. In moments like this one can feel that Lang’s cautionary horror tale has found a new home in the city of angels.

Secret Beyond the Door

Film Two is DR. CALIGARI, another U.S. remake of a German classic, this one directed by Stephen Sayadian, (A.K.A. Rinse Dream / François Délia / Sidney Falco / F.X. Pope / Ladi von Jansky) maker of the cult sci-fi porno CAFE FLESH, which I’d previously seen and failed to admire.

This struck me as much better! Sayadian, whose speciality is production design, crafts a low-budget expressionist world and stages a sort of Cartoon Network VIDEODROME ballet in it. Everything is over-stylised to the point of panic-attack claustrophobia, the movements are choreographed and the blocking avoids standard continuity and settles for a snappy succession of ruthlessly composed tableaux, shuffled like smutty playing cards in the hands of a stoned dealer. Imagery tends to the nauseating (weeping sores) and peculiar (a wall with a giant mouth) rather than the sexy, but most effective porn is totally boring as art anyway. Sayadian is probably more interested in arousing the pineal gland or something weird like that.

The Big Mouth

See this thing! It’ll make you feel weird, which you ought to enjoy if you like reading this stuff. In addition to the purely visual pleasures (and the retro fun of the ’80s synth-score), Sayadian makes the best use of porno-style acting I’ve ever seen, creating an expressionistically oneiric B-movie vibe out of his performers’ limitations, reminiscent in its delirium of Ed Wood’s avant-garde trash aesthetic.

Madeleine Reynal, with clipped Mittel-European delivery, essays the role of Caligari’s grand-daughter, following in her “grrandvasser’s vootschteps,” as the late Kenneth Mars might put it, while Laura Albert brings agreeably mannered body language, and an agreeably mannered body, to the role of science project Mrs. Van Outen. Albert slices through the film, nipples primed to at any instant pierce some unsuspecting fellow thespian and pump them full of silicone. It’s not surprising to learn that when she’s not playing characters with “names” like “Bambi” and “Strip Joint Girl” and “Whipped Cream Girl” (in the TV show Dream On — some may remember this) L.A. is a stunt artist: she has a robust physicality to her and in a way this whole performance — nay, this whole film — is a death-defying piece of stunt art.

In the Doghouse

If you see Losey’s “M”, I hope it’s the same copy I have — a glitchy AVI file of a fuzzy DVD of a chewed-up VHS of a ropey telecine of a speckly print — because you get the surreal impression that the ’50s remake is older than the ’30s original.

If you see DR. CALIGARI… say hi.

I’m quite staggeringly indebted to Shadowplayer Brandon  for providing these movies, after I mentioned having never seen the J-Lo “M”. I should mention right now that I am in no way averse to FREE STUFF. If you stay alert you may catch me dropping the occasional hint, such as “I’ve never seen this film,” which you may all take as your cue to offer me complimentary bootlegs. I promise I won’t mind.

Bathing Beauty