Saturday, September 13, 2008


Fall Issue of ACIDEMIC, Journal of Film & Media. Special SPOTLIGHT ON THE SPOTLESS MIND issue now online!

This is a very special edition of Acidemic, as we focus on the themes and implications of Michel Gondry's endlessly fascinating cinema masterpiece, ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND: time travel, love, memory, color, desire, adaptation, amnesia, and the blurry twilit crossroads between fiction, belief, and reality. Our French correspondent, Severine Benzimra catches us up on the state of Gallic cinema (which she notes is "not just Gondry"); emerging writer Jonathan Doughty kicks things off with a look at Winslet's changing hair color; abstract artist Audra Graziano contributes the SUNSHINE-inspired piece, "Forget." Noted film historian David Del Valle brings an in-depth look at Carpenter's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS via the lens of Lovecraft adaptations through the ages.

From me you get an in-depth look at the time travel/amnesiac aspect of Jess Franco's 1967 trash-art classic, SUCCUBUS, and a comparison of SUNSHINE with reincarnation stories from the 1930s, like THE MUMMY, LOST HORIZON and SHE. Also a deep look at the Lacanian implications of the "did she or didn't she" aspects of Elia Kazan's BABY DOLL.

Last but not least I added the full collection of five short "promo" films made for the Josh Furst book, SABOTAGE CAFE, starring Mandy Richichi. A chronicle of a runaway teenage girl, the five films show what appears at first to be a rapid descent into hell but may in fact be something else entirely. Can our perceptions as spectator of an event change it from bad to good for those involved? Who knows? The Shadow knows... and maybe Gondry.
-Erich Kuersten

One Man Dracula

By popular demand: Erich Kuersten in "Ten Minute Dracula" recorded live on an East Village rooftop in fall of 1999 before a drunken audience.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Art of the Snivel

The powers that be have been unusually miserly with their classic film DVD releases in the last five or so months, but this week we at least get some really good, weird film noirs, MOONTIDE and the incomparable ROAD HOUSE. A fine showcase for Ida Lupino (she gets to croak out a bunch of numbers in her frail, smoke ravaged voice, and you understand why she packs the house and everyone stays quiet, almost nervous lest they break the spell of her world-weary reverie), ROAD HOUSE is slam bang quality "rustic noir" - the hybrid of guns and fatalistic romance with the big outdoorsy cabins and lakes that American audiences seemed obsessed with in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The big show stopping performance here isn't from Lupino, though, it's Widmark--who slowly burns his way from lovable swine to full-on homicidal lunatic, sneering and cackling like his KISS OF DEATH killer cranked to 11. Never before has craven sniveling been made so damned sexy.

I'd never seen ROAD HOUSE--not even the Patrick Swayze remake--until last night and I'm fairly blown away. It's rich in atmospheric detail, with the titular house--a bowling alley/tavern deep in the Northern moose country along the Canadian border--brought to detailed, thriving life. Twenty minutes into the film and we feel like we've been working there; we know the playboy boss, Jefty (Richard Widmark), his Rock Hudson-ish fall guy (Cornell Wilde), the bartender, the waitress (Celeste Holm), the newly arrived torch singer (Ida Lupino), their good and bad sides, the way you can only know someone by working with them. The road house itself feels lived in, cozy. The plot runs along the same lines as Douglas Sirk's WRITTEN ON THE WIND, with Wilde's poor but virile right hand man (a very good bowler) falling in love with the torch singer, whom Widmark has imported for himself. Widmark doesn't take well to the news, and begins a rapid descent into giggling homicidal rage, in the Widmark tradition! 

Adding DVD lustre is a great commentary track from noir czar Eddie Mueller and my favorite, Kim Morgan. Morgan sounds great, keeping the energy raised with her patented quick talking brilliance. More than once I was stunned by her ability to convey elaborate, detailed insights concisely and eloquently--such as the myriad meanings of Widmark's crooked smile--at the speed of normal urban conversation. Mueller is also good; slower to get his points across, as befits, perhaps, his czar status, but a veritable fountain of pertinent information. Together they're an ideal commentary team and one hopes to hear them share more tracks such as this.

The picture quality throughout is very good, though a disclaimer at the beginning assures us humbly it was made "with the best materials available." I didn't notice any flaws, but then again I was too riveted by the intensity of Widmark's performance as Jefty. As I lay in bed trying to sleep I was overcome by Jeftiness, his slimy relish for the hatred he's generating. Widmark here gives us the same lived-in sense of egotistic entitlement and sociopath wit that we find in the best of our complex movie bad men - Brando's Stanley Kowalski for example. He wears the evil of Jefty like a lived-in favorite set of pajamas. Waving a gun around in a drunken display of marksmanship, he's magnetic and believable - you know you should think of an excuse to get away from him before you get hurt, but you just can't; you risk your life just to watch what he does next.

By comparison, we might look at Robert Stack in WRITTEN ON THE WIND. Stack's genius as the rich kid there was in showing us the squirming worm of infant neediness underneath the rock of male bravado; you pitied him but still wanted to step on him, squish him back down to your Freudian root cellar. Widmark's Jefty on the other hand, keeps the bravado rock unlifted. He's a hunter, a dead shot even when dead drunk, and he laughs uproariously at his own absurdity; when he tries to show a needy side it's too foreign, too out of character, even to himself, and he quickly covers it back up. But that's part of why we like him. Instead of showing us the void of his naked soul, he shows us the way out of our own, he makes sadistic glee contagious; we come away not just glad the lovers are united and the sun is coming up, but still infected by Widmark's charismatic violence. He gets under our skin and when the movie's over he's still there, driving the Widmark hook deeper and deeper into our voyeur muscle.

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