Jacques Demy came to L.A. in 1968 and made a film, Model Shop. I knew nothing about this film when I watched it and I suggest you watch it in the same state of innocence, you will be rewarded with a delicious surprise. Like other European directors who came to Hollywood to make a film, Demy finds the extraordinary in our ordinary, beauty in plain sight, yet invisible to most Americans who take it for granted or in the case of L.A. (where Model Shop is filmed) downright hate it. The comparison that comes to mind is Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, a much maligned film that I like. Both of these films were flops at the Box Office but so what, they capture a Los Angeles at a point in time like a fly trapped in amber.
With the sucess of Easy Rider and other counter culture films, producers were desperate to cash in on the youth craze and gave young directors like Demy a shot. Anouk Aimee is wonderful, so beautiful, so feminine, so mysterious.
Do yourself a favor , do not watch the trailer or read anything about Model Shop, just watch it. It’s photographed by an ex-pat Frenchman who moved to Hollywood, Michel Hugo and he does a wonderful job, the Technicolor portrait of L.A. is stunning, and the locations are great. It looks like they filmed in the real places in the story. I met Michel many years ago when he was teaching a cinematography class. He also shot the 1st Kolcack, The Night Stalker, one of the best TV movies of all time. Gary Lockwood is good, enigmatic, handsome. All American. He was fresh off his big role in Kubrick’s 2001,
Demy wanted an unknown actor he found, Harrison Ford but the studio said no, here is some footage from a screen test Ford did for Demy.
I guess Anouk was reprising her character from Demy’s first film Lola, but I haven’t seen it yet so I’ll report back after checking it out. Anyway take a trip down Memory Lane, the 60’s , psychedelia, Vietnam, the music of Spirit and check out Model Shop.
In these paranoid times of U.S./Soviet conflict take a monment to reflect on this remnant of Cold War fantasy. See what can be done with manipulated stock footage and way out storytelling. I remember a friend of mine telling me he saw this on late nite TV many years ago. I was flabbergasted I had never heard of this insane film and I prided myself on being up on the weirdest, outcasts of Cinema. Well now thatnks to the marvels of YouTube and some intrepid film poster you can see the rare, much sought after INVASION U.S.A.
The Mann Himself directs Mia Farrow
UCLA is screening a retrospective of the films of Anthony Mann. Mann, a broadway actor turned film director was highly regarded by European filmmakers like Godard and Wim Wenders. His films are visually stunning and well paced, being an actor he got some great performances from his casts. He started making noirs at Republic ,PRC, Eagle -Lion and RKO, doing a lot with a small budget. His noirs are noteworthy for his collaboration with the great cinematographer John Alton. Then he graduated to Westerns, teaming with Jimmy Stewart for several stand out films, like Winchester ‘73 and The Naked Spur. Here is a link to the films and showtimes, see you there!
Here is a fascinating segment showing the great Tomas Milian dubbing a film for his frequent collaborator maestro . I love that Corbucci and the engineer are laughing at Tomas’ funny performance and that Corbucci is wearing shades in the recording studio. Also check out the Italian foley artists at the end, so cool. I think that films where the entire soundtrack is created in post have a fascinating atmosphere, especially the Italian ones from the 60’s but also films like the dubbed Mexican Horror films, the Braniac, Curse Of the Crying Woman, The Witches Mirror, and parts of Plan Nine From Outer Space. The film they are working on here is Sonny and Jed.Thanks to my friend Eric Zalvidar for turning me on to this clip.
Here’s a trailer for the film they’re working om.
Here for your viewing pleasure is a delicious documentary about the great Luis Bunuel. I really like how it’s made, very funny edits, a question is asked or a statement is made and the next shot refutes it or answers it, very creative. You can listen to one of the Giants of Cinema discuss his Art, there is a wonderful discourse on Nazarin, a beautiful film, that is worth the price of admission all by itself. This film was part of a French Television series called A Filmmaker of Our Time. Who would they profile today?
I just got the Criterion Blu Ray release of La Notte, it is fantastic. If you are at all interested in this film, get it you won’t be disappointed. Such a visually stunning film, set in Milan in 1961, the center of the Italian Economic Boom, it contrasts the old and the new city in brilliant ways. In a way this is what the film is about, the characters in this changing landscape, this changing, evolving world, and what it does to them. An investigation into the function of human emotions in this rapidly changing theater, do they still make sense? Do they have to evolve as well? These characters, figures in a landscape, that are so cut off from everything. Three of the greatest Cinema actors of all time grace this production, Marcello Mastroianni, Jean Moreau, and the sublime Monica Vitti, Antonioni’s Muse.
Marcello and Moreau were unhappy with this film, probably because Marcello has never seemed so weak, so dissatisfied, so nothing. Moreau on the other hand is much more alive, curious, searching. Her intelligence and sensitivity are revealled in snatches of conversation, a monolouge, glances, gestures.
Antonioni celebrates the power and intelligence of women better than anyone else, especially considering the time and place this film was made, Italy,1961, a male dominated culture. His women are so much more interesting than his men, he saw the gifts and insights women have to offer and illuminated them so clearly. A sign of his maturity as an artist and human being. All this and more is expressed by the incredible camerawork of Gianni Di Venanzo. This guy has become my favorite cameraman of all time, such a genius,his framing is so unorthodox and powerful, his use of Black, amazing, people are always turning off lights and becoming inky silhouettes, or moving through darkness and light. Plus this film has many wonderful mysterious reflecting surfaces, sometimes you can’t tell what’s real, people become ghosts floating through Architecture. Bravo Gianni! A Poet of the Eye, the camera.
There is a little booklet that comes with the Criterion release, in it Antonioni speaks about the gestation of the film. He had the idea before L’Aventura and had begun working on it. He thought a less attractive woman would be good for the lead, so he went to see Giulietta Massina, wife of Federico Fellini and talk to her about the film. Fellini loved the idea and said it would make a fantastic film. But Antonioni didn’t make it at that time and changed his mind about the lead, using the compelling Jean Moreau.
Fellini went on to make La Dolce Vita with Marcello Mastroianni, a film that shares many elements with La Notte. The male leads are both writers, alienated, losing their creative spark. Both films have important characters that are encouraging to the artistic sides of the writers, friends that wind up dead. Steiner in La Dolce Vita, Garani in La Notte.
There are scenes in nightclubs featuring exotic dancers in both, fetishistic, sexualized performances by people of a different race. Monica Vitti is the bored beautiful daughter of a super rich businessman that firts with Marcello, Anouk Aimee plays that part in La Dolce Vita. Vitti has a reel to reel tape recorder she plays with, recording her spoken thoughts that she erases, Steiner has a reel to reel also that almost reveals his innermost thoughts. A working woman at a snack bar on the edge of town, in kind ofa run down area tells Moreau of a nearby hotel she can use for an assignation, Anouk takes Marcello to the run down apartment of a prostitute to have sex with him. They both have climactic scenes at a huge party on a big estate that wind up with decadent games. Both end at dawn after the party, even the cmaera movement through the trees in the final scenes is similar.
Ennio Flaiano was a screenwriter on both. La Dolce Vita was a huge hit, probably because of the controversy surrounding it, the Church banned it, people were forbidden to see it, a sure way to increase ticket sales. I don’t know how La Notte did at the box office, it is an uncommercial film but it is interesting to compare them, these two artists obviously inspired one another, I wonder what their relationship was like? In any case see La Notte. A vision of the future of Makind from 1961.
I’ve always loved this movie ever since I saw it on ABC’s afternoon movie or whatever that show was called. I watched it again recently and I still dig it. First off the music of Fred Katz, kooky, idiosyncratic Jazz brilliantly arranged and a lot of fun. And unique I can’t think of any other music that sounds like it. The credits are sort of animated to the music with theses appearing, disappearing dots and then this pan of a gigantic drawing of skid row in a kind of Gottlieb style, super cool.
Chuck Griffith about to be eaten, he also supplied the voice of the monster plant
The writing of Chuck Griffith is at it’s off beat comic peak, so many bizarre character names, so much wordplay, really inspiring and funny. It’s kind of a re-tread of Bucket Of Blood, a nebbish becomes a famous Artist but has to kill people to create his Art, that character Walter Paisley is portrayed by Corman stalwart Dick Miller, who appears in LSOH as a flower eating buddinski Burson Fouch. There is some great wriying in BOB as well especially the Beatnik poetry that opens the film. Another thing about LSOH, the wonderful Bunker Hill locations featured in the scenes outside Mushnick’s Flower Shop.
“Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town.” Raymond Chandler.
Chuck’s real life Grandmother,Myrtle Vail, played Seymour’s mother
Seymour Krelboyn’s rooming house is right out of Kiss Me Deadly, the scene where Seymour meets Leonora Clyde, the hooker, looks like it was shot at the top of Angel’s Flight.
If you look closely you can see Seymour getting off an Angel’s Flight car.
“My name is Leonora Clyde”. Mel Welles (Gravis Mushnick’s) real life wife, Meri Welles.
Then Seymour runs by a bar on a corner at the top of a steep hill, the bar has glass brick windows and I’m sure it’s in either Act Of Violence or Cry Danger, I’ll check and see.
It’s funny when I was a kid I loved certain movies and always tried to catch them on TV, LSOH, Kiss Me Deadly, The Indestructible Man, all shot on Bunker Hill! The neighborhood that got erased. Anyway give yourself a Halloween Treat and watch Little Shop of Horrors, check out Jack Nicholson’s appearence as the maschostic mortician. Crazy Man.
Added Halloween Bonus - Color Still from Griffith and Corman’s Attack Of The Crab Monsters
A crazy film, maybe Melville’s transitional film between films of conscience ( usually coming from his time in the French Resitance) and his Crime/ Noir / Detective Period. A Classic detective film format, guys searching for someone, going from one colorful location to another on a search for clues. In this case the mythic playground of Manhattan at Night. Beautifully photographed like a memory of a dream, a dream with deep, rich blacks. First stop to interview an actress at the Mercurey Theater, a nod to Orson Welles company of the same name. Melville was a Welles fanatic, often quoting The Magnificent Ambersons as a big influence. Like the title says there are 2 men in manhattan, 2 characters on a quest, usually in the detective film there is only 1, Is Melville makiing a point? Both men are French ex-pats living in NYC, one is an alcoholic photographer willing to do anything to get the valuable picture, move a dead body and pose it for a more salacious effect, abuse an attempted suicide patient at a hospital to get some intel, sell out a hero of the French Resistance.
The other guy is played by Melville himself, cool, dapper, digging the night life of Manhattan in all it’s shades and stratas of culture, legitimate theater to Brooklyn strip club and after hours jazz joint.
But he draws the line at ruining the reputation of a French National Hero, even if the guy was stepping out on his wife, so what, 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong. In other words they all do it, it’s not a big deal. Still why are there 2 guys? Is it to show the different mind set of a Frenchman (melville) and an Americanized Frenchman? The differnt values systems? What happens to immigrants to a new country, how they take on the ethics of the new place? Could be. The film takes place in the course of one night, it ends on the streets in the early morning as the photagrapher wanders home, it really reminds me of a movie I saw once, the way it’s framed the location, even the way the character walks off, maybe it’s Robert Wise’s film Somebody Up There Likes Me? I’ll have to check. If you love Melville’s films, love the Romantic notion of Manhattan Past, love B&W cinematography then see the film, a lesser work from a Maestro of Cinema but intriguing and visually stunning.
Finally Jean Pierre Melville’s 1958 film Two Men In Manhattan is coming to the USA. It was never released here, I’ve never seen it and I think I’ve seen all of his other films, except an early short 24 Hours in The Life Of A Clown, so I’m looking forward to this one. Melville stars in this film, the only time he put himself in a leading role, another reason to check this out.
He acted in a few other films , most notably he played the novelist interviewed by Jean Seberg at the airport, a great character. I recently watched La Silence de la mer, an interesting early film that I enjoyed, a story of German occupation of a French village. The fatherand daughter refuse to speak to the German officer bivouacked with them even though he is obviously a refined, sensitive person. Not a compelling story for the screen you might say? Maybe in today’s marketplace but it is a very engaging film. All of Melville’s work has a lot of deep thought behind it, nothing is as simple as it may seem on the surface, the interior lives of his characters comes bursting through their polished exteriors at unexpected times. For example when the police marksman in Le Circle Rouge (Yves Montand) suddenly takes his rifle off the tripod and shoots the target freehand or when he insults his former colleague as he lays dying, or when Gian Maria Volonte shoots the two thugs that have the drop on Alain Delon. Melville’s Cinema is dark and deep and worthy of a major retrospective and exhaustive study. Like an abandoned mine, still full of treasures for the curious explorer.
P.S. I just ordered the Blu Ray so I’ll review it soon.
Damn! I really wanted to write a fan letter to Fred Katz! What a genius! He just died at 94 years of age, he really crammed a lot into his stay here on planet Earth, Classical musician, Jazz musician, Composer, Ethnologist, child prodigy on two instruments, maybe the first guy to play Jazz Cello! I grew up digging his score to Corman/Griffith movies like Little Shop Of Horrors, a great score, quirky, idiosyncratic, unique just like the movie. There is really no other score like it that I can think of. Plus he played with the great Chico Hamilton, he even appeared with Chico’s band in the sublime Sweet Smell Of Success ( a reference to the marijuana that features so prominently in the plot) .
Then he switched gears and became a professor of Shamanism, Mysticism, Magick! I wish I had taken one of his courses, I wish I had met him and told him how great he was. Too lAte! But maybe up in Film Music Heaven Fred can hear my compliments, I hope so. Dear Fred You were a giant talent and enriched my existence through your music, Fare Thee Well.