Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Another Tale of Spidey and The Electric Company

Long-time Termite Art readers will remember when, tracing the roots of my lifelong love of Spider-Man, I got a copy of The Best of the Electric Company DVD and discovered an episode where Spidey helps the New York Mets win a baseball game, thereby connecting multiple obsessions to one source.

Anyway, this year at San Diego Comic-Con, I bought myself something of a lavish present: a really nice piece of original art from the Electric Company comic book, Spidey's Super Stories. Here's what the piece looked like in print (the actual artwork is out being framed):

And to make an even better display piece, I bought a copy of the issue, Spidey Super Stories #8, to mount on the wall next to it. My piece is that back cover, but if you're curious, here's the eye-catching front, which promises groovy music and a subterranean villain with bad eyesight (needless to say the comic delivers all that and more):

So out of curiosity I'm flipping through the issue. And what do I find but an adaptation of the very same TEC episode where Spidey hangs with the Metropolitans and foils the incredibly asinine machinations of The Wall, a super-villains whose power is limited to being made of bricks. How did he get this power you ask? A bunch of bricks fell on him of course! Remember that, kids, when things fall on you, you become them. Yeah this is great reading material for children.

But who cares about the incredible lameness! Because now I have a print version of this:

Amazing! Hey Spidey -- what do you say? Do you want the Mets to get A-Rod?

Er. Okay...you could go, like, fight crime or something too y'know. Dude, when did Spider-Man become such a layabout?


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Richard Kelly on Southland Tales


Monday, October 22, 2007

YouTubeArt: "The Most Beautiful Six Minutes in the History of Cinema " - Giorgio Agamben

Jonathan Rosenbaum, on the Chicago Reader blog On Film, has just posted an astonishing piece of video. It's a short, silent scene from Orson Welles' unfinished Don Quixote, one not included in Jess Franco's much derided edit of the film. In the interview which precedes the clip, Rosenbaum states that this scene was shot immediately after he was booted from the editing process on Touch of Evil in 1957. It takes place in a movie theater, and in its short running time expresses the joyful contradictions of moviegoing. Think Edison's Uncle Josh at the Moving Picture Show rendered sublime. [the clip starts at -5:00]

I won't argue with Agamben's quote [and the clip is edited, so it does run closer to 6 minutes]. Rosenbaum, via Adrian Martin, quotes the piece in full:

"Sancho Panza enters the cinema of a provincial town. He is looking for Don Quixote and finds him sitting apart, staring at the screen. The auditorium is almost full, the upper circle--a kind of gallery--is packed with screaming children. After a few futile attempts to reach Don Quixote, Sancho sits down in the stalls, next to a little girl (Dulcinea?) who offers him a lollipop. The show has begun, it is a costume movie, armed knights traverse the screen, suddenly a woman appears who is in danger. Don Quixote jumps up, draws his sword out of the scabbard, makes a spring at the screen and his blows begin to tear the fabric. The woman and the knights can still be seen, but the black rupture, made by Don Quixote's sword, is getting wider, it inexorably destroys the images. In the end there is nothing left of the screen, one can only see the wooden structure it was attached to. The audience is leaving the hall in disgust, but the children in the upper circle do not stop screaming encouragements at Don Quixote. Only the little girl in the stalls looks at him reprovingly.

What shall we do with our fantasies? Love them, believe them--to the point where we have to deface, to destroy them (that is perhaps the meaning of the films of Orson Welles). But when they prove in the end to be empty and unfulfilled, when they show the void from which they were made, then it is time to pay the price for their truth, to understand that Dulcinea--whom we saved--cannot love us." --Giorgio Agamben, Profanations

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

This Week's Beyond the Multiplex


Friday, October 12, 2007

The Return of Frank James (1940)

I was no lover of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (neither was Sweeney). But the most interesting part of Andrew Dominik's film was the portion after the titular murder, when Bob Ford became a revered celebrity, and later a hated scoundrel, for what he'd done on that April morning while Jesse was fixing a crooked picture on the wall. Fritz Lang's The Return of Frank James is like a companion piece to that part of the movie from a different perspective. In The Assassination, the part is played by Sam Shepard. In Lang's version, Frank is played by Henry Fonda.

Though I didn't realize it until after I'd watched the film, Fonda had played the role once before, in the popular 1939 film Jesse James directed by Henry King to which this film is a sequel. Obviously you can't very well make a straightforward sequel to Jesse's story, seeing as he ends up dead and all (although the return of Jesse James would make one kick ass zombie film). And so the followup focuses on Frank, and his quest for revenge on the Fords.

Revenge is the key word and a crucial idea, particularly to Lang. I'm no Lang expert — more a better-than-casual fan — but even I was struck by the similarities to a movie like his The Big Heat from 1953. Both movies are driven by men seeking vengeance for the murder of a loved one and both protagonists operate by a moral code demands justice beyond what can be meted out by the judicial system. I wonder if this idea had some special resonance with Lang, who famously fled Nazi Germany to avoid working for its propaganda bureau.

So the movie is interesting to Lang fans, but probably won't be of much use anyone else. Fonda is an iconic a presence in American Westerns as any actor, and he certainly provides onscreen spitting here to rival anyone in history. But I think his genteel demeaner works better in films like My Darling Clementine. Forced to play a far more brutal and dangerous ruffian, there's something unconvincing and incongruous about his performance (Once Upon a Time in the West is still quite a few years off at this point).

The movie feels half-baked and cobbled together in general right down to that tossed-off title; I didn't know it was a sequel when I watched The Return of Frank James but it makes perfect sense in retrospect. The picture had quite a few of the cast back from the original (including a young John Carradine as the coward Bob Ford) and so a plot was no doubt pieced together that could provide the various characters the maximum opportunity for interaction. It certainly wasn't designed for historical accuracy: Frank James gives the character a chance to avenge his brother's death in a way his real life counterpart never got — in reality, as in The Assassination of Jesse James, Ford was killed by an angry stranger not by Frank.

Still, if we think about the movie more than we're supposed to — by considering Lang's authorial imput or examining the way the movie valorizes certain outlaws while condemning others — it's easy enough to get through the running time. I'm glad I saw it, especially since the underrated Fox Movie Channel (the only network that's ever shown Murnau's Sunrise and the John Travolta vehicle Broken Arrow back to back) is also airing Lang's next picture, Western Union (1941), so I can compare the two.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Marker, Murnau...

After a fairly painless moving day last Sunday, I finally have internet today. I've seen a number of fascinating films at the New York Film Festival since, although Flight of the Red Balloon is by far the best, but there's no time to dawdle in the past - there's cinema to see right now:

Now up on the Cahiers du cinema site, a new one minute video by Chris Marker, about a mysterious little creature named Leila (via GreenCine). Film blogger Craig Keller translates the Marker essay that accompanies it. It contains both thrills and chills. Watch it!

Dave Kehr links to a thread at the Criterion Collection forums that claims that F.W. Murnau's lost film, 4 Devils (1928) has been found! In Tacoma! But let us tread carefully here. I've spoken with a lady knowledgeable on this subject (and who has spoken with Janet Bergstrom, Murnau scholar at UCLA) and they're highly skeptical. The person claiming the discovery has yet to open the canisters to look at the reels, and even if it is the film, there's a great possibility of deterioration to the nitrate stock. But if it's true.....I'll smile a manly smile.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

NYFF: Public Argument at De Palma's Redacted Press Conference

This story has gotten picked up on a bunch of blogs; director Brian De Palma is fighting with his financier and distributor, Magnolia Pictures over the images of real war dead in his new film Redacted. At the New York Film Festival press conference for this film earlier this week, both parties kind of went at it a little in public. Though obviously there's kind of an "oooooh" factory any time people actually speak their mind in a forum like this, I do think it's an interesting debate over an important issue beyond all of that.


Friday, October 05, 2007



Thursday, October 04, 2007

This Week's Beyond the Multiplex

This week, Andrew and I discuss a brilliant little term he invented: "The Untouchables."




Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Halloween (2007)

Last week, I revisited Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan's 2005 reimagination of comics' famed Caped Crusader. The movie is a success by any measure, and I was a bit surprised to find that I enjoyed it far more than I initially had on its release, when I watched it with little more than a shrug. This time around, having also rewatched both of the Burton Batmans in the interim, it's clear this is far and away the best movie Dark Knight of them all.

But today, I hate Batman Begins. I curse the day it was ever invented. I spit on its DVD case. I crinkle the pages of its oh-so-cool mini graphic novel tie-in.

Why, you ask?

Because without a movie like Batman Begins I'd never have been subjected to a movie like Rob Zombie's new version of John Carpenter's Halloween, which takes Nolan's narrative structure — retelling the origin of an iconic pop culture creation with an eye toward the character's never-before-revealed psychological underpinnings — and applies it to the guy wearing the most famous William Shatner mask of all time. Only without providing a compelling story, genuine motivations, or (most importantly) offering a single preferrable variation on the original film's formulation. There probably wasn't reason to remake Halloween — Carpenter's rendition is a masterpiece, and its power hasn't dulled a bit since 1978 — but after seeing Zombie's abysmal attempt, there's probably enough reason to remake the remake.

Zombie's personal stamp on the Halloween mythos is to show Michael as a child (played by Daeg Faerch)and attempt to explore the forces and events that would create a monster like "The Shape" (as he was named in the credits of Carpenter's films). Nearly an hour of Zombie's film presents Lil' Mikey's horrific upbringing with his stripper mother. She's played Sherri Moon Zombie, the director's wife. I guess that sort of makes Zombie himself Michael Myers' biological father, who is never seen on screen.

Reasons for various elements of the Myers' mythos are given or suggested (i.e. his obsession with masks, his nonverbal behavior). But for every tidbit that Zombie explains away, he shows something else that defies logic or reason but is given no "motivation" within the story. If Michael Myers is just some abused child who spent most of his life locked away in solitary confinement in an asylum, how'd he grow from a chubby kid who gets picked on into an enormous hulking brute? If he's just a demented little psychopath, why is he also impossibly strong? Where'd he learn how to blend in to shadows? Why don't bullets or knives hurt him? And how does he instinctually know who his sister Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) is and where she lives even though he hasn't seen her since she was an infant?

Maybe Zombie's doing all of this to make a belabored point: that is, to suggest that true, horrific evil is unexplainable, and that no matter how hard a normal, rational person may try to understand how someone like Michael Myers might come to be, they never truly can. Okay, fine, but there has to be an easier way to make that point than wasting a freakin' hour getting to it.

I don't think Zombie is a hack; I'm quite fond of his last film, The Devil's Rejects. The thing I admire about his approach to horror in all of his films is the way in which he upends the traditional slasher movie style of making the "villain" the de facto hero. There is nothing "fun" about his horror movies and often the scariest aspects of his movies aren't the violent acts themselves but Zombie's unflinching portrayals of their aftermath. I read a few reviews of Halloween that mocked his repetition of the image of Michael Myers dragging a mutilated victim off camera to deliver a killing blow. But that's sort of the point: Myers' murders aren't supposed to be fun as they are in so many slasher movies. They're heinous. They're transgressive. You don't really get that until you see his victims pleading for their lives.

Still, Zombie's missed the boat here. By focusing so much on the demented family and in turning Michael Myers into a long-haired body builder, he's kind of transformed the character into Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. He's sort of used the raw materials of Halloween to suit his own purpose and I can't entirely fault the guy for that — at least he didn't attempt a simple retread. At the same time, Halloween should be Halloween-y you know? And this movie isn't.

Also, has anyone else noticed that Zombie's Michael Myers looks a lot like the old wrestler Kane? Check it out:

And cue that Carpenter piano music.

Monday, October 01, 2007

IFC News Special: Toronto Film Festival 2007