Thursday, July 18, 2019

Criterion to Conjure 'Häxan' Blu-Ray This October

In 1922, Danish filmmaker Benjamin Christensen made a creepy chimera that was part documentary, part phantasmagoric horror movie, and all fabulous. Just in time for this Halloween, the Criterion Collection will be upgrading Christensen's Häxan with a 2K digital restoration for Blu-ray and DVD on October 15. 


The discs will include the following extras:


  • On the Blu-ray: New 2K digital restoration
  • On the DVD: Digital transfer
  • Music from the original Danish premiere, arranged by film-music specialist Gillian Anderson and performed by the Czech Film Orchestra in 2001, presented in 5.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio on the Blu-ray and in Dolby Digital 5.0 on the DVD
  • Audio commentary from 2001 featuring film scholar Casper Tybjerg
  • Witchcraft Through the Ages (1968), the seventy-six-minute version of Häxan, narrated by author William S. Burroughs, with a soundtrack featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty
  • Director Benjamin Christensen’s introduction to the 1941 rerelease
  • Short selection of outtakes
  • Bibliothèque Diabolique: a photographic exploration of Christensen’s historical sources
  • New English translation of intertitles
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, remarks on the score by Anderson, and (Blu-ray only) an essay by scholar Chloé Germaine Buckley

Friday, July 12, 2019

Review: 'Do the Right Thing' Blu-ray


It is absurd that as recently as the eighties there was no prominent African-American voice in Hollywood. Just months before that decade ended, Spike Lee finally snatched the megaphone with the film that made him a household name, and it did so without playing nice with the establishment. Lee presented a particularly sweltering day in Bed-Stuy where tempers rise with the mercury and ultimately boil over into murder and a racially charged clash at an Italian-owned pizzeria in a largely black community.

Lee casts himself as Mookie, an employee of Sal’s Famous Pizzeria and the film’s focal point. Lee does a good job in front of the camera, though it is the rest of the outstanding cast (Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, John Turturro, Joie Lee, Richard Edson, Bill Nunn, Frankie Faisson, Robin Harris, Danny Aiello, and the especially electrifying Giancarlo Esposito) that really zaps it to life. Do the Right Thing still belongs to Lee, who not only turns in a provocative script, but also films it with unbridled imagination and energy, his camera zooming and tilting like an untethered falcon, his subjects staring down that camera to confront the audience directly, to muse about hate and love.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Farewell, 'MAD'

When Bill Gaines made the ill-fated decision to act as the voice of the horror comics industry in a face-off against the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1954, it seemed his career in publishing might be over. Although the bad press from the hearings ultimately put a hatchet through gruesome titles such as Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear, Gaines kept EC Comics going with a humor magazine he initially had little faith or interest in. Little did he and co-founder Harvey Kurtzman know that MAD would continue thrilling readers for another 65 years. 

MAD provided many kids with their first taste of political and cultural satire and taught a lot of us that the system was a mess, adults didn't necessarily know best, a lot of the things we were being told to buy were actually a big pile of yecch, and the best way to deal with it all was with a sharp sense of humor and a heavy dollop of critical thinking. It was also really silly fun. 

Even as publishing has been doing the slow-death reel for the past ten years or so, MAD has remained relatively relevant... and has had an embarrassment of riches in the material department lately thanks to the unusual gang of idiots currently occupying the White House. MAD even made news with a poignant and powerful piece about school shootings by writer Matt Cohen and artist Marc Palm published just last fall. 

Now, after a world-changing 67-year run, MAD is folding. Its next two issues will be its last bi-monthly to feature new material (apparently, there will still be some retrospective anthologies and year-end specials that will include new material). So long, thanks, and blecchMAD

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Review: 'Jon Savage’s 1965-1968: The High Sixties on 45'


In 2016, Rolling Stone writer Jon Savage began curating double-CD compilations for Ace Records in the UK. Each set was a sort of fantasy mid-sixties pirate radio playlist. His 1965 set mainly featured A-list rock and soul artists such as The Kinks (“See My Friends”), The Who (“Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”), and The Supremes (“My World Is Empty Without You”), but there was also a sprinkling of more obscure luminaries such as Thee Midniters (“Land of 1,000 Dances Pt. 1”), The Spades (“We Sell Soul”), and Alvin Cash & the Crawlers (“Twine Time”). Each comp devoted to 1966 through 1968 followed a similar format.

To put all of these ace CDs onto vinyl would have required about twelve vinyl discs. Instead, Savage and Ace have opted to boil 192 tracks down to a sampling of 32 for a single, double-LP set. Although some of the big, big artists remain—Donovan with “Hey Gyp”, The Association with “Along Comes Mary”, James Brown with “Tell Me That You Love Me”, Gladys Knight and the Pips with “Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me”, Buffalo Springfield with “Mr. Soul”—Jon Savage’s 1965-1968: The High Sixties on 45 mostly spotlights the artists whose sides are less easy to find on vinyl. So while tracks by The Kinks (“Wonderboy”) and Aretha Franklin (“I Say a Little Prayer”) keep listeners oriented with familiar sounds, we can mostly concentrate on making some new discoveries, such as The Anglos’ infectious soul raver “Incense”, Norma Tanega’s quirky folk popper “Walkin’ My Cat Named Dog”, Ray Sharpe and the King Curtis Orchestra’s dance hall anthem “Help Me (Get the Feeling) Pt. 1”, Freaks of Nature’s garage burner “People! Let’s Freak Out”, and Kak’s psychedelic shaker “Rain”. There are also some relatively obscure numbers by well-known artists, such as The Chiffon’s “Nobody Knows What's Going On (In My Mind but Me)”, The Everly Brothers’ “Lord of the Manor”, and Sly and the Family Stone’s (as “The French Fries”) “Danse a La Musique” (aka: “Dance to the Music” in French).

Yes, some obscurities remain in CD limbo (alas, there wasn’t room for The Birds’ “Leaving Here”, The Blue Things’ “One Hour Cleaners”, Blossom Toes’ “Look at Me I’m You”, Tintern Abbey’s “Vacuum Cleaner”, or Dave Davies’ “Lincoln County”), but if this groovy distillation sells well enough, maybe Ace will some day pull the trigger on that twelve-LP box set we’re really craving.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Review: 'What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time'


Reading Tim Riley’s Tell Me Why: The Beatles Album by Album, Song by Song, The Sixties and After at the unripe age of 15 quite literally changed my life. It didn’t just teach me that pop songs were worthy of deep analysis and the valuable lesson that even The Beatles’ mighty body of work is not critic-proof. It also set me on the path that led me to indulge in the analytical jibber-jabber I’ve been spouting here on Psychobabble for the past eleven years, as well as in my book The Who FAQ. So I was excited to see that Riley was involved in a new Beatles book.

However, I’m not really the audience for Riley and Walter Everett’s What Goes On: The Beatles, Their Music, and Their Time. In fact, Riley this book is directed at a very specific audience: college students. What Goes On is structured as a chronological Beatles primer, providing a basic look at their musical innovations and cultural influence complete with text-book style study questions (my fave: “How does Lennon’s quip at the Royal Command Performance illustrate the generation gap?” …oh, what would 23-year old Lennon have thought if he’d known his offhand wise assery would one day be studied in university classrooms?!?). More thorough analyses of select songs are very similar to the ones in Tell Me Why.

One aspect of What Goes On that could not have existed in Riley’s 1988 publication are the Internet videos referenced throughout the book that further illustrate the various subtopics, often with musical examples by a young drummer or Everett on bass or guitar (or in one screen-in-screen instance, both). Videos cover such specifically Beatle-focused topics as how Ringo’s drumming style differed from the prevailing styles that preceded him to such general musical theory concepts as an explanation of syncopation. I had a bit of trouble accessing them by typing the provided URL’s into my browser but had no trouble using the direct links provided Oxford University Press’ web site.

Now a middle-aged fart, I’m versed in music theory and Beatledom well enough to not need a book like What Goes On, but I do feel heartened by the idea of a new generation of young people discovering their music and the pleasures of delving deep into it in the kind of class that might employ this book as its main text. Happy studying, kids.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Blu-Ray Edition of 'Dead of Night' Coming Soon...

Dead of Night was the first major horror anthology film and it's still one of the best. It's wrap-around segment alone will give you nightmares for weeks, so it's a big deal that the picture is finally getting the hi-def treatment. 

On July 9, Kino Lorber will release an uncut, 4K restoration of Dead of Night with a commentary from historian Tim Lucas, and a feature length documentary called Remembering Dead of Night. Be sure to get an extra copy for your dummy.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Review: Rolling Stones-'Bridges to Bremen'




Only the most deluded fan would argue that The Rolling Stones’ were at their most vital in 1998, or that their most recent album—Bridges to Babylon—was one for the ages. Still, there’s always something to be said for catching a band of the Stone’s magnitude live, and they certainly put on a polished show. Granted, polished rock isn’t too electrifying, but the band still had their moments even at the end of the fifth leg of their Bridges to Babylon tour. Just when I was ready to nod off while watching the new Bridges to Bremen DVD, the Stones slammed into a vital version of “Paint It Black” that woke me right up.  

Nevertheless, the majority of the September 1998 concert lacks much in the way of surprise. The Stones sound tight. Their supporting vocalists, keyboardists, and horn players play their charts correctly. Mick still chews every lyric like it’s an extra-large wad of Hubba Bubba (he finally makes good on his Ed Sullivan-era insistence that he sang “Let’s spend some mmmm together”). Keith Richards still exudes a supreme intoxication with both the blues and Keith Richards. Charlie Watts is still rock solid. The new songs are still a grab bag of the good (“Thief in the Night”, “Flip the Switch”) and the bad (Saint of Me, “Anybody Seen My Baby”, which has lost none of its power to elicit cringes). 

Yet, there are times when the Stones get caught up in the music despite the absurdly huge crowd, silly stage special effects, and Mick’s rote roll call of all the countries watching the show’s original broadcast. Their version of “Memory Motel”—a song selected by fans via the then-novel Internet—is fresh and lovely, the vamping on “Miss You” actually yields some pretty hot music (as well as Mick’s wacky impulse to start quoting Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money”), and the decision to pull out the fabulous “Wanna Hold You”—my bid for the band’s best eighties track—is inspired. 

Bridges to Bremen arrives in several formats with DVD/CD and Blu-ray/CD combo sets, as well as a triple-LP edition of the audio. I watched the DVD, and it was clearly shot on video, so I’m not sure how much there is to gain from a Blu-ray edition of this show aside from possible audio improvements (though the DVD audio sounds perfectly fine). The DVD also contains a bonus quartet of songs captured in Chicago, which yields another jumble of clunkers (even a mere nine years after its original release, no one needed to hear “Rock and a Hard Place” again) and refreshing selections. The Chicago set’s lithe rendition of Under My Thumb and the Bremen version of Paint It Black build a pretty strong case that the Stones should have based their entire setlist on stuff they recorded in 1966.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Review: 'Retro Fan' Issue #5


Next month will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and this month marks the first anniversary of Retro Fan magazine. To commemorate both events, Retro Fan is devoting much of its fifth issue to all things spacey. Yes, the pop cultural legacy of the actual Apollo 11 crew gets its own two-page article, but the big draw of issue 5 is undoubtedly its cover boy. Mark Hamill sat down with Glen Greenberg for a 15-page interview—well, maybe interview is the wrong word since Greenberg rarely gets to do much more than slip in the occasional “Right, right” or “[laughs].” Mostly he just steps aside to let the always-delightful Hamill expound on his work and legacy as Luke Skywalker. Before you start drooling for big revelations about Episode IX, be aware that the interview was actually conducted back in the summer of 2017 before The Last Jedi had even been released. Though bits of it were apparently included in an article Greenberg wrote for TIME Magazine for Kids, this is the first time the unabridged interview is being published. Fortunately, it is being published in Retro Fan, which means that a slew of boffo color photos of Hamill-centric memorabilia accompany the interview.

Other spacernalia featured in issue 5 includes a feature on astronaut-toy line Major Matt Mason, an article about the alien-abetted Greatest American Hero and an interview with star William Katt (who was also a frontrunner for the role of Skywalker), and a groovy12-page history of seventies sci-fi series Jason of Star Commander that got a pretty big squeal of “Hey…I totally forgot about that... I used to love that!” from yours truly. You know an issue of Retro Fan is worth its salt when it elicits that reaction.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Review: 'Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present'


While solo artists and swinging groups ruled fifties rock radio, bands took over in the sixties. All across America and elsewhere, quartets of pimply kids gathered in basements and garages to bash out two or three chords. This new home grown-rock movement was underway well before The Beatles arrived.

Seth Bovey traces the origin of the garage band phenomenon so crucial to the development of Rock & Roll in his new book Five Years Ahead of My Time: Garage Rock from the 1950s to the Present. His approach is original, eschewing usual suspects such as Chuck Berry and Elvis to argue that the grungy guitars of Link Wray and Duanne Eddy—and factors such as the exposure TV gave such artists, a new wave of cheap guitars imported from Japan, and the general DIY spirit of mid-century America—set the stage for garage bands.

Bovey then traces the genre’s evolution starting with The Fabulous Wailers before touching on everyone from The Kingsmen to Paul Revere and the Raiders to The Sonics to Dick Dale to The Knickerbockers to The Chocolate Watchband to The 13th Floor Elevators, while also looking beyond the usual American boys to discuss all-female groups such as The Pleasure Seekers and The What Four and international combos such as Los Bravos, Q65, and The Spiders.

As his book’s subtitle indicates, Bovey also strides beyond the garage band golden era of the sixties to see how the movement subsequently remained active with the rise of garage-focused ’zines such as Who Put the Bomp, the Nuggets and Pebbles comps, punk, the much publicized garage revival of the early ’00s that gave us The White Stripes and Strokes, and most importantly, the fact that contemporary bands such as The Black Lips, Thee Oh Sees, and The Incredible Staggers are keeping the garage lights on—though with very little influence in America, where Rock & Roll is dead as Dillinger.

The only trouble with Bovey’s format is that garage rock is a cornerstone of six decades of Rock & Roll, but his book is only 170-pages long. So his storytelling is a bit too fleet footed, and the fact that he skims over several of the quintessential garage bands—particularly Question Mark and the Mysterians, The Seeds, and The Standells (who grace this book’s cover but aren’t even mentioned in its pages!) means that Five Years Ahead of My Time can’t really be called “definitive.” Yet because Bovey is more concerned with following the origins and evolution of garage rock than name-checking important bands, his book remains a satisfying pocket history of a crucial strain of Rock & Roll.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Review: Miles Davis's 'The Complete Birth of Cool' on Vinyl


Two years before releasing his debut LP, Miles Davis participated in the first of three sessions that would ultimately be compiled onto Birth of the Cool in 1957. These sessions were groundbreaking both because they featured Davis at such an early stage of his career and because of the way his nonet (which included such luminaries as Max Roach, Gil Evans, Gerry Mulligan, Lee Konitz, and John Lewis) reimagined bop with the kind of classically-tinged polyphony that would be key to Davis’s work moving forward. A big-band sensibility that would not always be evident in that extremely varied work is also apparent.

The recordings still sound like the product of a fully-realized, completely seasoned, utterly forward thinking artist. Davis’s signature, smoldering sunset sound that would beat in the heart of future projects such as Porgy and Bess and Sketches in Spain is already evident in pieces such as “Moon Dreams” and “Darn That Dream” (featuring vocalist Kenny Hagood). That Davis was just 22 when these sessions began is unimaginable.

Before the 1957 release of the eleven-track Birth of the Cool, eight numbers from the nonet’s sessions were released as 78rpm singles and then on a 10” LP called Classics in Jazz: Miles Davis in 1954. In 1998, Capitol further expanded the 1957 album with thirteen live numbers from a couple of gigs at NYC’s Royal Roost recorded for radio broadcast in September 1948 with primitive audio quality but somewhat hotter playing than the sublimely cool and controlled studio sessions. 21 years later, that double-CD set is making its double-vinyl debut via Universal Music with excellent liner notes and nice sound culled from the original session tapes.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Review: 'Blue Velvet' Blu-ray


Having begun his career as a pure avant gardist with challenging yet emotionally rich films such as The Grandmother and Eraserhead, David Lynch took an unexpected turn into the mainstream when he made the historical melodrama The Elephant Man and the space opera Dune. With his next feature, Lynch found the perfect balance between his most outré ideas and the more traditional storytelling that would make him America’s most popular surrealist. Nevertheless, Blue Velvet still split audiences, with some finding his S&M noir deeply compelling while others finding its extreme scenes of sexual sadism repelling.

As is usually the case with Lynch’s films, plot is secondary to style, world-building, and unfiltered emotion, but Blue Velvet is one of his more traditionally sensible stories despite odd elements such as the severed ear that draws clean cut college boy Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) into the seedy underworld in which repulsive thug Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) kidnaps the husband and child of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) as leverage for forcing her into humiliating and violent sex acts.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Review: 'Swamp Monsters'


Swamps are nature’s haunted houses. They are oozing, rank, shadowy spots, and who knows what lurks beneath their black, algae-shrouded waters. A cottonmouth? An alligator? Or something worse?

Because of their superficial creepiness, swamps have been among the favorite alfresco settings for horror-comics creators since the form’s inception. IDW’s latest pre-code horror comics anthology collects tales of frogmen, alligator women, and other beasts and blobs that emerge from bogs to scare and devour folks. Like all horror comics devoid of vault and crypt keepers and old witches, the tales in Swamp Monsters are pretty second rate (and it doesn’t help that I just finished rereading all my old EC comics before plunging into Steve Banes and Craig Yoe’s latest compilation), but as is always the case with these collections, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

The stories in Swamp Monsters stand out most when they differ radically from the kinds of things EC published… and that difference is not a lack of quality. Basil Wolverton’s “Swamp Monster” (Weird Mysteries #5) has the look of an Underground Comix comic published 15 years ahead of schedule. The genuinely sad “I Am a Thing” (Out of the Night #12) takes the novel tack of seeing things from the misunderstood monsters POV. EC’s tightly plotted tales sharply contrast whimsically weird and delightfully meandering stuff like “It Won’t Come Back Until Midnight” (Web of Mystery #16), “Demons of the Swamp” (Mysteries #3), “Nightmare Flight” (Baffling Mysteries #10), and “The Winged Spectres of Dismal Swamp” (The Beyond #5), which features demonically possessed people trapped inside of butterfly wings or something. At their worst, the stories in Swamp Monsters are outrageously amateurish, such as the mercifully brief “The Evil Eye” (Adventures into the Unknown #39). At their best, they are as intoxicatingly strange as a midnight trudge through the bayou.

Friday, May 31, 2019

50th Anniversary Reissue of Kinks' 'Arthur' Apparently Coming

After last year's sprawling anniversary reissues of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, rumors that a similar set devoted to Arthur, or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire might follow began spreading. A few days ago, reissue producer Andrew Sandoval announced that he has, indeed, wrapping up work on an anniversary edition of Arthur via his instagram page

What this set will entail, and whether or not it will be as extensive as last year's Village Green set, remains to be seen, but I'll provide updates here on Psychobabble as they become available.

Classic Russian Horror 'Viy' Coming to Blu-ray Soon

In 1960, Mario Bava released the celebrated Gothic horror The Mask of Satan (aka: Black Sunday) based on Nikolai Gogol's novella Viy. However, a less well-known and decidedly different adaptation of Viy materialized in Gogol's homeland seven years later. More comic and considerably more colorful than Bava''s film, Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov's Viy is an imaginative and utterly delightful picture that has the distinction of being Russia's first homegrown horror movie. 

With its psychedelic color scheme and weird special effects and make ups, Viy is a movie made for hi-def, and it is finally coming to Blu-ray via Severin films. A slip-cased limited edition is now available to pre-order from Severin's site, but the pre-order will expire on June 3 (discs will ship at the end of the month). The standard edition will be available elsewhere later this year.

Special features include:


  • Viy the Vampire: An Interview with Richard Stanley
  • Soviet CinemaJohn Leman Riley on the History of Soviet Fantasy and Sci-Fi Film
  • Trailer
  • English Track
  • Exclusive Slipcover


Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Review: 'The Man Who Laughs' and 'The Last Warning' Blu-rays


In 1927, German director and art director Paul Leni moved to Hollywood where he began making pictures for Universal starting with the comedic old dark house prototype The Cat and the Canary. With that film, Leni proved his merits many times over by taking a plot as hoary as Cane and Abel and zapping it to life with some of the most inventive and audacious film tricks ever slapped across the screen. The picture was a hit and signaled the beginning of a fruitful relationship between Universal and the German expatriate.

Sadly, Leni’s unexpected demise in 1929 meant that relationship would not be as fruitful as expected, but he did manage to make three more films for Universal before succumbing to sepsis. The first of those, a Charlie Chan picture called The Chinese Parrot, is lost, but The Man Who Laughs and The Last Warning are very available and now making their Blu-ray debuts thanks to Flicker Alley.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: 'The Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus' Limited Deluxe Edition


1968 was a transitional year in which psychedelia gave way to the British Blues Boom, pop stars metamorphosed into rock stars, the sharp style of Swinging London frumped into patchwork hippie fashions, and the vitality and optimism of the sixties began slumping toward the seventies’ rude awakening. There is no better visual document of this brief yet pungent turning point than The Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus. To celebrate the release of Beggars Banquet, which critics love to paint as a big comeback album following a “misguided” foray into psychedelia, The Rolling Stones put together a rag-tag big-top show for the small screen featuring buddies such as Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Jethro Tull, and The Who, as well as a couple of circus acts.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: 'The Women of David Lynch: A Collection of Essays'


Like almost all artists worth discussing, David Lynch is highly controversial. Some viewers praise his ability to place you in an unsettling, beautiful, transcendent, and completely realized world. Others dismiss him as a purveyor of weird for the sake of weird. He has also split viewers in terms of his treatment of women. Some feel that the way he portrays women is complex and ultimately empathetic. Many others have dismissed him as a misogynist who gets off on forcing his female characters to suffer.

This particular issue has continually resurfaced since the release of Blue Velvet 33 years ago and on through the debut of the long-awaited third season of Twin Peaks just a couple of years ago. The argument regarding Lynch’s treatment of women is so pervasive that Scott Ryan decided to devote an entire issue of his Twin Peaks ’zine The Blue Rose to the women of David Lynch. Ultimately, he has devoted an entire book to that subject. Since Ryan is a man, he is not the most qualified writer to dive into this sensitive topic, and he very wisely keeps a low profile in The Women of David Lynch. Instead he cedes control to thirteen women to explore such topics as Dorothy Valens’s role in Blue Velvet, the roles of non-white women in Twin Peaks, and the roles of all of the female characters in The Elephant Man. There are also interviews with Mädchen Amick of Twin Peaks and Charlotte Stewart of Eraserhead and Twin Peaks, which provide firsthand accounts of what it’s like to be a woman in Lynch’s world.

Most of the authors who contribute to The Women of David Lynch lean toward a more positive assessment of his treatment of women. They believe that he is generally intent on presenting a realistic idea of what it is like to be a women struggling through a patriarchal society. Understandably, the writers who tackle his treatment of non-white female characters are less forgiving, particularly Melanie McFarland, who is the only writer who is very emphatically not a fan of Lynch’s work. However, even she admits that it’s all a matter of interpretation as she cites other women writers who continue to admire Lynch’s work. Lynch is certainly an artist who demands active interpretation from those who take in his often confounding and troubling work.

As much as I love that work, I am one of those fans who is often troubled by the ideas behind his dreamy/disturbing imagery, and I found it very enlightening that many of the women of The Women of David Lynch found some of Lynch’s more controversial characters, such as Dorothy Valens and Mary X of Eraserhead, worthy of empathy and praise. I guess it does come down to interpretation, though just as a guy like Scott Ryan is not the ideal assessor of Lynch’s treatment of women, a guy like me is not the best assessor of the conclusions of the women who contribute to The Women of David Lynch. I can say that several of these writers confirmed some of my negative assessments, but some challenged them for the better, helping me to gain a more thorough appreciation for work I already loved with definite political reservations. While a couple of the more experimental essays didn’t work for me at all (one is written in the parlance of a Facebook post complete with excessive all caps and “LOLs”; another briefly reviews each of Lynch’s features from the pov of a misogynistic murderer on acid), most of these essays are accessible and enlightening, though I’m sure this particular issue will continue to be debated as long as people continue to study the work and women of David Lynch.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Review: 'Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film'


From his decision to adapt the scandalous Lolita to the world-annihilating cynicism of Dr. Strangelove to the unflinching anti-storytelling of 2001 to the horrific physical and psychological violence of A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick made a career of shocking viewers. He seemed to save up his most unrelenting succession of shocks for what turned out to be his final film. Kubrick’s decision to film a lengthy orgy extreme enough for U.S. censors to demand its actions be obscured with digital censors was shocking. The fact that the film required an excruciating 18 months to shoot was shocking. The way the long, long, long awaited film from the man many rated as cinema’s greatest living artist baffled, repelled, and bored many viewers was shocking. Kubrick’s sudden death shortly after completing the first cut of Eyes Wide Shut was the biggest shock of all.

Even if you are among those viewers who loathe Eyes Wide Shut, the shocking nature of its making may still compel you to read Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film. Robert P. Kolker and Nathan Abrams’s uncovers new shocks that enrich the story of an already labyrinthian film. Although I knew that the film gestated in Kubrick’s mind for a long time, I was surprised that it did so for as many as 40 years. Kolker and Abrams imply that Kubrick’s obsession with bringing Arthur Schnitzler’s Traumnovelle to the screen may have infused much of his earlier work, including Lolita, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining (Kubrick annotated his copy of Stephen King’s novel with ideas for scenes that seem straight out of Schnitzler’s), and unproduced projects such as Burning Secret and Laughter in the Dark. Though there is a lot of humor in the finished product (particularly in its oft-misunderstood orgy sequence), I was also surprised by the wealth of evidence that Kubrick seriously considered adapting Traumnovelle as a comedy, and that he’d considered casting Woody Allen and Steve Martin in the lead role and communicated with Terry Southern about writing it.

While I noticed at least one exaggeration (Kolker and Abrams called the Eyes Wide Shut shoot history’s longest, but the 12-year shoot of Boyhood and the 5-year shoot of Eraserhead easily beat its 18 months), the book is well researched (materials include Kubrick’s personal faxes and notes he made on scripts and in books) and doesn’t oversell its conclusions. I’m not sure if it will spur Eyes Wide Shut haters to reevaluate the film, but Eyes Wide Shut: Stanley Kubrick and the Making of His Final Film will give them some fresh insight into the seemingly impenetrable mind of Stanley Kubrick.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Farewell, Peggy Lipton

In a town of cuckoos, criminals, murderers, and demons, Norma Jennings was the token normal person in Twin Peaks. Peggy Lipton played the owner of the R.R. Diner with both a soothing sense of calm amidst the chaos and a sort of quiet toughness when confronted with bozos like lunkhead husband Hank Jennings and crass capitalist Walter Lawford. 

Of course, Lipton's career started well before the 1990 debut of Twin Peaks. Perhaps her biggest claim to fame was her role as counterculture cop Julie Barnes on Mod Squad, but she'd also appeared in a multitude of other series such as Bewitched, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and The Virginian. She had a side career as a singer, as well, releasing versions of Laura Nyro's "Stoney End" and "Lu" and Donovan's "Wear Your Love Like Heaven". 

Peggy Lipton was diagnosed with cancer in 2004, but following treatment, she resumed acting on series such as Rules of Engagement, Crash, and Psych, and even resumed the role that most endears her to Psychobabble when she returned to Twin Peaks as Norma Jennings in 2017. Sadly, Peggy Lipton died from cancer yesterday. She was 72.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Review: 'Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1947-1949'

When we last left Superman: The Golden Age Dailies a year ago, our hero had wrapped up any war-time business to contend with arch nemesis Lex Luthor and get goofy with the likes of Mr. Mxyztplk and a pair of invisible imps called the Ogies. As IDW's series continues with more golden age adventures ranging from 1947 to 1949, Supes is no longer grappling with his most famous foes, though the whimsical post-war tone basically continues. 

Aside from a reappearance of the Ogies (who materialize in corporeal form as twin pin ups), the bad guys are more mundane with a preponderance of machine-gun toting gangsters. Consequently, there's a bit more violence this time, and things get particularly grim when a plot to off Lois Lane involves electrocuting a cat. Hiss! 

However, wackiness still abounds, and Superman: The Golden Age Dailies: 1947-1949 is at its most fun when Superman is digging a bizarre underground maze to protect a youth serum or constructing a giant sea monster to foil a scheme that involves a yegg who must marry Lois Lane to save his own life. Most hilarious of all is a story in which Superman makes a series of uncharacteristically vain and idiotic decisions that end up with him agreeing to wrestle Clark Kent in order to protect his secret identity. In another bonkers tale, Superman is sent to jail and forced to perform hard labor...for the crime of speeding. Then there's the storyline titled "Superman: Male Escort". I kid you not. 

While the sexism of some of these stories has aged badly (in one infuriating strip, he spanks a woman, which of course, she thinks is charmingly masculine), the lunacy of them is just what we need in an age of overly serious superheroes and their overly serious fans.
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