Dance hall days

One of our favorite TV programs here, and to be honest I can count them on one hand, is Classic Arts Showcase. This is a really varied and quality selection of music and dance programs, for the most part, in segments of maybe 3 minutes to the occasional bit of 20 minutes, well worth looking into.

Maybe because I have two left feet, I really enjoy the dance segments. Particularly the Paso Doble, Fandango, and oh yes, Flamenco. Thankfully, I also have three laser pointers.

Better yet, Tito loves chasing the red dot across the floor (hardwood floor, no less, as in a dance studio).

Butt up in the air, hunched forward, he chases the elusive dot by slapping his forelegs down on it, as fast as any dancer I’ve seen. Pour a glass of Sangria, turn the pointer on and watch the spectacle begin. He even taught Kitsy-Mazuzu how to do it, except I don’t think the pupil’s very apt: way too violent. He’s got the moves, but he doesn’t “dance” so much as try to “obliterate” the dot.

Oh but, with TWO pointers going, we have quite a performance going. With the occasional collision, naturally… Which of course is followed by Mazuzu exclaiming “HMWAH!!!” loudly. If I read Tito’s expression correctly, I believe we agree the naked brute doesn’t get the spirit of the dance.

Once again, from the top, then!


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

Midnight Movie Madness

I sell the dead!” – A Man Could Go Quite Mad (85 minutes, USA 2008)

“Never trust a corpse…”

Amongst the various genres, horror, and I suspect humor to a lesser extent, fans have quite an eclectic variety of interests, from zombie movies to vampires, slapstick to satire, but they are quite passionate about them, perhaps even… Picky.
So blending genres is always tricky, especially when dealing with a public who knows what it likes. Quite the balancing act.
The exceptions are rare enough to be noted and recommended, such as the Sam Raimi-Bruce Campbell “team”, Neil Gaiman-Dave McKean or the craftsmen behind “I sell the dead”. Larry Fessenden has been at it a long time, and knows film making in and out. He both produced and acted in “I sell the dead!”, Glenn McQuaid’s true directorial debut, even though “I sell the dead!” was developed from a previous, shorter effort, “the resurrection apprentice”.

Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) sits in a prison awaiting his execution after being convicted of grave robbing. There, he is visited by am Irish priest (Ron Perlman), who has a curious interest in criminals such as Blake and his partner Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden). In flashbacks, Blake describes his adventures from street urchin to businessman-corpse supplier in association with Grimes, against strong competition from the Murphy clan, a ghoulish collection of killers.
Along the way, increasingly horrific supernatural encounters seem to promise the rivals riches, but at a terrible price.

When dealing with a low budget genre movie made by hard working enthusiasts who know their craft and share real affection for film, as well as each other, the result is… Infectious. There usually are aspects to forgive given budget constraints, but not here: the decors, costumes, music and McQuaid’s script and direction all blend with and support the actors.

And what performers… Ron Perlman, Dom Monaghan, Fessbenden are of course excellent. But John Speredakos is devilishly creepy, as is Angus Scrimm , of course. Heather Robb and Brenda Cooney are remarkable, and James Godwin’s got to be seen to be believed.
The interplay between the two grave robbers Arthur Blake (Dominic Monaghan) and Willie Grimes (Larry Fessenden) make me wonder about Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.

There is ambition which shows through, from producers Peter Phok and Fessenden, to McQuaid and this talented crew, but there is also experience: the film is consistently good to great without anything for the audience to ‘forgive’, as I stated earlier.

Watch it after Midnight, with a bottle of Scotch or Whisky. Then the next day, when you can’t remember how it ends, shave your eyeballs and watch it again.

“I sell the dead!” receives 4 jellybeans.

4 beans


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

“welcome to the jungle”

Okay, so it can go either way with Kitsune a.k.a Mazuzu Whang: tuna will either make him sleepy, or turn him into a crack monster.
After feeding him maybe a spoonful in hopes of calming him down and going back to sleep, nature called and I had to get up again.
Outside the bathroom, something sat in a crouch, waiting for poor, unsuspecting me in the doorway: the hunched back, the basket ball sized eyes, the ears, big enough to outfit the Mayflower.
Right: Mazuzu Whang, the Benjamin Button of catdom.
The unsettling part? He was making this weird clacking sound he usually makes when staring at birds, like the Predator.

Klak-klak-klak-klak!

After maybe half a minute, he trotted away back to bed. Neither rhyme nor reason.

You gotta respect something about a tenth your size, standing in your way and looking up at you as though it could just as soon kill you. Christ, even Schwarzenegger might have to check his drawers…


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

What’s in a cat’s name? Listen to what they say…

I’ve often (and unfairly) complained about the way cats get named in shelters. Not that my method of naming them after dictators is much better, Kitsune being the exception.
Originally, Tito had been named Capri, and Soza (short for Somoza), our Burmese we lost to lymphoma, had been Kobe.
Truth is, it’d probably be best to wait until you know your cat before you settle on a name.
Going by physical characteristics can work, I guess, but then in Kitsy’s case, that might have meant calling him Sydney: as he lays down in the padded basket we have atop the computer tower, the only visible part of him are the huge flappers he has for ears:

… And from the side, they really look like the Sydney opera house. But in fact, he has come up with his own name.
See, he yammers.
He flaps his jaws.
The only time he ever shuts up is when he’s asleep, otherwise we have conversations all day, every day. He announces himself as he leaves the room, when he returns, when he goes to the litter box, sometimes as he uses it, and it’s when he trots away that he makes a modulated “HMRAOW” sound, followed by what sounds like a question.

He is therefore known as… Mazuzu Whang.

He and Tito coo at each other, but when Tito addresses us it is with a high pitched “MEE”, usually ending with a yawn. My more limited conversations with Tito usually go like this:
-“MEE! [yawn]
– I’m sorry, am I boring you?”
Maybe we should have called him Sluggo…


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

Midnight Movie Madness

“Malpertuis” – alternate title ”the legend of Doom house” green nose and blue eye shadow (director’s cut 125 minutes, France-Belgium-Germany 1971)

“And those eyes! I’ve got a whole tin of eyes, but none like yours!”

Based on a book by Jean Ray of the same title, adapted for the screen by Jean Ferry, directed by Harry Kumel. This movie is available on a two disc DVD set: disc 1 is the director’s cut with a Flemish soundtrack and English subtitle.
Disc 2, referred to as the Cannes version because it appeared at the Cannes festival, is dubbed in English.
So, if you have trouble watching a movie with subtitles, be aware… The English version has been heavily cut and is missing some significant material.
Speaking of material, there is a lot of it, and I don’t just mean in the film. Both DVDs have extras well worth watching and the book itself, written by Jean Ray in 1943, answers some questions necessarily left out by the adaptation.

Warning: there are spoilers ahead.

Sometime in the early part of last century, in the house of Malpertuis lives a strange assemblage of people, some of whom are related, on the surface constituting a dysfunctional family headed by the dying and evil Uncle Cassavius (Orson Welles). Cassavius’ young nephew Jan (German actor Matthieu Carriere) returns from years at sea, and is tricked into seeking his sister Nancy (Susan Hampshire) who has gone to live at Malpertuis after some family misfortunes.
Cassavius’ testament dictates that Malpertuis’ inhabitants will inherit his considerable fortune, on condition that they never leave the domain, until their death.
Seduced by his cousin Euryale (also played by Susan Hampshire), Jan changes his mind and decides to stay, slowly unraveling the house’s mysteries.
Most of the people living at Malpertuis are forgotten gods of ancient Greece captured long ago by Cassavius, a master of the occult.
It is somewhat difficult describing a movie which unfolds like a dream, and that’s exactly how “Malpertuis” develops. It helps knowing that the source material, Jean Ray’s book, has in tone and style been compared to H.P. Lovecraft among others. And for those who enjoy Lovecraft’s stories, “Malpertuis” can be a thrilling experience.

Technically, shooting this turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. First of all, the cast includes Dutch, Belgian, British, German, French, Canadian and one American (Welles) actors. There were scheduling issues due to availability, scenes shot in two languages between actors who did not understand the other’s language, and then the major headaches caused by Orson Welles.
These difficulties are discussed at length in the discs’ interviews and commentaries by Kumel, director of photography Gerry Fisher and some of the actors.

It’s worth noting here, not simply because Kumel himself expounds on them at considerable length, but because in a real sense, Welles’ behavior as described, egotistical demands and tantrums, sabotaging the other actors’ performance, meddling with the shooting schedule, mirrored the way the “Malpertuis” characters interplayed.
The drunken hubris, pettiness, the wondrous but by then waning reputation of Welles, turning the performers’ awe and respect for him into resentment and into something likely close to hatred. He was their god, once.

Kumel credits his DP (director of photography) Gerry Fisher with much of the atmosphere and artistry of the film, and more. Fisher, in preparation for the shoot, visited as many museums as possible, even after shooting began, to immerse himself in paintings of the Flemish and Dutch masters.
This shows throughout, but Fisher also worked around issues presented by Orson Welles’ demands. As I remarked in a review of “Daughters of Darkness”, Kumel uses color as symbols and character/mood definitions.
Welles insisted on using his own clothes and doing his own make-up, due to his theater background.
Two issues came of this: in the scenes set in Cassavius’ bedroom, Kumel decided on three colors to dominate: black, red and white. In the commentary, he attributes to these an oppressive quality, apparent in “fascist”, specifically Nazi, flags. In contrast, Jean Ray in his book refers to red, black and white as characterizing the various types of magic. Red represented also sin and passion, blue represented virtue and white, purity. We’re made to understand Jan is a virgin, hence the blue eye shadow worn by Carriere. Well, at the beginning anyway.

Problem was, Welles arrived wearing a green house robe over his white shirt, and as was his habit, a fake nose made of green colored theater putty. Fisher devised a lighting combination which made the robe look black and gave the nose a leaden complexion, very much as described in the book. Terrific creative work, also seen in the individual lighting he gave each character, even as they appeared together or in groups, truly remarkable work, as was his mastery of shadows and their projection.
Welles was not the only obstacle Kumel had to overcome. The actor playing Abbe Doucedame disappeared for a few weeks, screwing up the schedule.

Kumel gives credit where it’s due, and not just to Gerry fisher who is owed a lot. His cast performed admirably. By today’s standards, the character of Jan may well be annoying to the point of exasperation. In the book, he is a product of the bourgeoisie, spoiled and subject to mood swings and tantrums, drawn between two strong female characters, who are goddesses after all. Strange then that screenwriter Ferry decided to make him a sailor returning after years on the oceans, essentially combining Jan’s character with that of his father.
Another issue is that of the scene in the tavern of the red district where Jan follows Bets (Sylvie Vartan). It does not work, the song supposed to be an homage to Dietrich in “Blue Angel” sounds like bad late ‘60s pop, which it is. Vartan was a popular French pop singer.

This brings me to the other jarring scene, toward the end of the movie, when Jan turns out to be a modern day computer engineer who is released from a mental hospital, after being “cured” from his hallucinations about ancient gods captive in Malpertuis.
That scene, which Kumel says critics hated but made sense to him, suddenly pinpoints the action in time to the early ‘70s, with the wide ties, bell bottoms, sideburns, cars of the era, even shots of Biafra which was much in the news at the time.
This is way too specific, too mundane after we were lured into the unspecified era of the tale. Like the helicopter appearing at the end of “Donkey skin”, it feels like a bucket of cold water.
There are many nice twists and touches throughout, visual and otherwise, which make “Malpertuis” a must see. One of my favorites has to do with the quote at the top of this review, spoken by Philarete to Jan, taken from the marionette maker of “the tales of Hoffman”.

Because of this, as well as the originality of the themes, explored later by Harlan Ellison and Neil Gaiman, about the nature of divinity and destiny, “Malpertuis” gets four jellybeans.

4 beans


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

September 11, 2001. In Memoriam.

Looking out my kitchen window on Thursday evening, I thought I should revise this post, as massive clouds of smoke drifted eastward from the fire in San Bruno.
While there was little in common with the September 11 attacks of 9 years ago, either in scope or cause, for many people 10 miles to the South, the nightmare has only begun. I remember having a similar thought as I watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center on television.

Yesterday I heard questions were raised about complacency and incompetence, after it came out that residents had some weeks ago reported smelling gas in their now destroyed San Bruno neighborhood.

Since the dawning of this new millennium, we’ve seen much more of what happens around the world, but perhaps understand less of it. Tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, man-made disasters and wars.
Everything shown, discussed and interpreted not just on TV and radio, but on the internet as well, making the 1990s feel like a century ago.

In remembrance of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks, here is an image from another crime which took place 37 years prior at the Twin Towers, referred to as “the artistic crime of the century”. In retrospect a deeply moving endeavor.

Man on wire


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

Maritime history at San Francisco’s Hyde St. pier

The Hyde street pier at Hyde street and Jefferson, like many other San Francisco treasures, reveals itself slowly as you walk it and its surroundings. On a weekday at least, parking is not all too difficult, we managed to find a spot half a block away, close to the cable car turn around at the end of the Hyde street line.

The pier was a ferry pier, and now boasts boat-building and wood shops, a National Parks’ visitor center and a maritime museum across Jefferson street. As you walk past the shops, you can take a look at old machinery like the Steam Donkey engine:

Steam Donkey Engine

DSC06007 a

And this green engine, or at least what looks like one to us, and enjoy the craftmanship:

Green engine (unknown)

DSC06004 a

To the left, the square rigger SS Balclutha is moored, permanently retired from the many booze runs it performed in the 19th century, may Neptune keep its wonderful soul, a ship after my own heart:

SS Balclutha 1886 square rigger

DSC06016 a

DSC06072 a

Over to the right is the Hercules, a 1907 tug, perhaps not as glamorous as the Balclutha but served its communities just as well:

Hercules 1907 tug

DSC06025 a

And then we come to the ferry Eureka… 1890. One hundred twenty years old. Steam powered by a single cylinder steam engine built in San Francisco by Fulton iron works producing 1500 horsepower, it could ferry 2300 passengers and 120 automobiles, and did so until 1957. It is the last walking beam-engined ship still in existence as a floating vessel in the United States.

DSC06015 a

You can purchase tickets to get on board these ships, $5 per adult, free for supervised children under 16. Well worth it, as the Eureka has vintage automobiles that appear to be from the 1920s, below the passengers deck. You can’t help but wonder what it felt like to cross the Bay on the Eureka, looking out towards San Francisco, sometime in the 1920s perhaps, before the Golden Gate and Bay bridges even existed, and the City itself looked closer to the natural landscape.


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

Major fire follows huge explosion in San Bruno

As many of you may know already, the city of San Bruno has been hit by a devastating explosion and fire. As of midnight, the news says that 53 homes were destroyed and another 120 are damaged. PG&E has stated that it was one of their 24 inch gas mains.

Two shelters have been set up at San Bruno Veterans Recreation Center 251 City Parkway, San Bruno and at Senior Center 1555 Crystal Springs Rd. Evacuation center set up at Bay Hills Shopping Center.

Anyone in need of assistance or shelter can contact the Red Cross at 1-888-443-5722 (888-4help-bay).

San Bruno Emergency Hotline 650-616-7180. Only use this number to check on missing relatives or let them know that you are ok. Please do NOT tie up the line.

For blood donations beginning tomorrow, 9/10, call 888-393-give (it is busy, but leave a message and they will call back tomorrow) or go to www.bloodcenters.org Emergency call for Type O-negative blood. If you use the website and it’s down, try www.bloodheroes.com for locations. .

Sen. Leeland Yee has announced that San Bruno has been declared a state of emergency.

Please donate to the Red Cross, if you can. They are asking for money rather than items. The phone number is 1-888-443-5722

Our hearts go out to all the victims of this disaster, human and critter.

Share

Midnight Movie Madness

“The Haunting” – (112 minutes UK-USA 1963)

“It ought to be burned down… And the ground sowed with salt.”

Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), an anthropologist interested in paranormal phenomena, puts together a diverse group to study Hill House: Theadora (Claire Bloom), a clairvoyant, befriends Eleanor (Julie Harris) who was the subject of unexplained poltergeist activities as a child. Theadora may be attracted to Eleanor, but Eleanor develops a crush on Markway. Russ Tamblyn is the youngest of the owners, trying to figure out what kind of business to make of the old mansion. Together the group explores Hill House and face their own insecurities.

“The Haunting” is the quintessential Midnight Movie, a true masterpiece which almost never happened were it not for Robert Wise’s vision, although I’m not certain he truly knew what acquiring the rights to Shirley Jackson’s book would lead to. Wise ended up setting up production in the UK, since he could secure better financing there. This movie’s influence is felt even today, not as easily defined as a shot or a few bars of music, rather like a suggestion, transcending and advancing several genres.
Is it the story of Eleanor’s (Julie Harris) mental breakdown, or of the house and its haunting?
By the end, you sense that the house is a gestalt, blending suffering souls ended in our dominion, to form a different natural order. Jean Cocteau might have smiled upon this house, though perhaps reservedly.

This is visual poetry, with elements of horror, thriller, and psychological study. No wonder, perhaps, since this movie was based on a book by Shirley Jackson.

Two other recommendations for the subgenre:
“Stir of echoes” (1999) starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe and Illeana Douglas;
“The changeling” (1980) starring George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere and Melvyn Douglas.

“The Haunting” gets 5 JellyBeans…

5 beans


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share

Sued for sexual harrassment, Dracula gets charge reduced to tailgating!

Might as well start with a joke… I was going to do a review of “Nosferatu” for Wednesday’s Midnight Movie Madness, but then realized I’d not only done a write up on “Daughters of Darkness” last week, but we also brought in Dan Simmons’ “carrion comfort” from the library. Enough suckers for a week…
That being said, in his introduction of the 20th anniversary of his book, Simmons has interesting things to say about what he calls the mind-vampire.

In real life, this mind-vampire appears to be abusive, immature, governed by compulsion and survival needs, with a keen understanding of others but unable to care about them. He is perhaps cunning rather than intelligent and skilled in the uses of suggestion. In short, a manipulative bully, a hybrid of vampire and serial killer.

What makes the serial killer perhaps scarier is that he’s not bound by rules. No garlic, running water, sunlight or crucifix, no requirement to even be invited in! This frankly makes the vampire seem, well, civilized by comparison, as though the vampire represented waning aristocracy. And in Murnau’s “Nosferatu”, the count is pretty mangy indeed, filthy even, with his rodent features and traveling as he does with coffins filled with dirt and plague-carrying rats.

“This vampire killed many rats… In the litter box, mostly…”

Dracula Tito in red

Today’s vampires are merely grungy, probably listening to Pearl Jam and Nirvana, driving their black Euro SUVs at night.
Back in real life, the old saying of treating others the way you’d like to be treated has another side: don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. The thing is that much of human interaction boils down to rape, the imposition of one upon another, and hard times show that most people are unfortunately not bound by any moral or ethical restraint. The mind-vampire could most likely be a boss, such as the infamous Richard C. Woollam (formerly of BP) but perhaps a spouse, a relative, anyone really, who can detect vulnerabilities and inflict damaging words or words conveying some threat.

No man or woman is an island as they say, and so if you can’t be bullied or cajoled into acting against your own interest, the mind-vampire will influence others and turn them against you.
Human nature being what it is, manipulation readily crosses into coercion or worse. I think that’s been shown in part by Stanley Milgram’s (Yale, 1961) and Philip Zimbardo’s experiments (Stanford, 1971).
Well then, how’s about a good ole ghost story…?


Increase your website traffic with Attracta.com

Share