All-Night Horror Show

The past weekend witnessed the ninth annual ‘All-Night Horror Show’ at the New Beverly cinema. A twelve hour, six film marathon that promised to bring its audience plentiful exposure to a series of rare and little known horror films. It certainly delivered on its promise, but the unique configuration of the New Beverly is perhaps even more interesting in shaping the evening. The theater has been owned by Quentin Tarantino since 2007 and maintains an otherwise unheard of policy of only screening 35mm and 16mm film prints. This mindset is best described by a quote from Tarantino on the theater’s website stating “As long as I’m alive, and as long as I’m rich, the New Bev will be showing double features in 35MM” and it certainly does on a daily basis. In a very real way, the New Beverly is maintained as a living museum of a long gone mode of commercial film exhibition. This carries over into policies such as low ticket and concession prices as well as the constant stream of original promotional materials including posters and lobby cards displayed for nearly every film.

The event was reportedly sold out in under a minute. A survey of the audience by the night’s announcer just before the first film revealed that the vast majority had attended at least one other All-Night Horror Show and as many as a dozen have been to them all. The process of navigating one’s way through records of years’ past is an act of documenting this community. As the New Beverly does not publicize the night’s schedule before or after, it is left to blogs and social media to document. These, again, focus on the idea of community. There is also a decidedly interactive nature to the screening. Each film is an unknown until projection. But there is a kind of game where the trailers provide a clue to the feature. The most straightforward example includes the trailers for Black Sabbath (1963), Baron Blood (1972), Friday the 13th (1980) and Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981). This gives us a string of Mario Bava Euro horror films mixed with early American slashers. The result is a clue to the 1971 Bava film Bay of Blood (1971) which is generally regarded as the first modern formulaic slasher. Each series of trailers had their own inner logic relating to some theme. Intermissions also included a string of giveaways where lucky members of the audience won vintage issues of Fangoria and films on Blu-ray from prominent genre labels.

As to the film titles, they were nothing if not an eclectic bunch. It began with an absolutely beautiful print of 1975’s Race with the Devil which was provided by Fox. Its slightly absurdist quality was just right for the first film of the night. A combination road movie and secret Satanists moral panic film rolled into one, it sees two couples taking a joint cross country vacation in their new RV and stumbling into a human sacrifice. On the run, they are faced with the realization that there is a Satanist behind just about every white picket fence in the Midwest. Warren Oates and Peter Fonda play the husbands, but ironically we have Lara Parker and Loretta Swift as wives. The former was well known as TV’s second most famous witch and Satanist Angelique in the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows 1966-71. The second feature was a particular highlight. The Horror of Party Beach (1964) is a beach/musical/horror tale of a group of teenagers in their mid to late 20’s who must learn the importance of personal responsibility as they are menaced by reanimated fishermen mutated by toxic waste and forced to kill by their vampiric need for blood. The final result is a lively outing that might be one of the best paced of all 1960’s beach films. The first half of the program concluded with Rawhead Rex (1986). This tale of a maladjusted nine-foot-tall pagan god awakening from under a great stone in the Irish countryside is one of the more rarely seen efforts by Clive Barker as writer. In fact, the New Beverly presenter mentioned a common narrative when he spoke about it after the conclusion. To paraphrase, that it might not be a particularly great film, but is worthwhile based solely on its perennial rarity. So ended the first half of the night.

The second half began with an Abbot and Costello short about the duo ‘shanghaiing’ sailors for a depressed sea captain who became violent with any mention of ghosts. The next feature was the aforementioned 1971 film Bay of Blood sometimes known under the title Twitch of the Death Nerve. This early slasher is a mystery tale of murderous land developers and residence of an idyllic Italian bay. Sex and violence is liberally doled out, especially in relation to a group of four young people who wonder around drinking, having sex and breaking into isolated houses until they meet their end one by one. There is a wonderful streak of black comedy that elevates the film, especially relating to the ending. With the Horror Show reaching its final hours (scheduled from 7:30PM to 7:30AM) the next two films would be playing back to back. Slaughter High (1986) is a slightly schizophrenic slasher comedy which seems never to be able to commit to either for more than a few minutes. It centers upon a group of former friends who return to their high school for a reunion only to be trapped and stalked by a masked killer. The somewhat disappointing finished product is also a near remake of rather impressive and little known 1978 proto-slasher The Redeemer. With the urge towards sleep deepening, the last film began. According to accounts, in past years the final film was usually something particularly special as a kind of gift to those who made it through. This tactic was not in evidence this year, although what was offered up certainly had a pleasant nostalgic value for many. The 1993 direct to video film Ticks centers on a group of Los Angeles youths sent to the countryside to learn about inner peace, or ecology, or something along those lines probably. An unscrupulous marijuana grower, in the form of Clint Howard, has been giving his plants a super powered herbal steroid. This obviously creates a new breed of giant, super aggressive ticks. A teenaged Seth Green provides the central protagonist and the entire film is a pleasant reminder of the heyday of direct to video productions in the VHS age. Next came a Popeye short involving ghosts followed by a rousing film clip of the national anthem as might have been seen on television in the early hours of the morning as the networks signed off, to end the night.

Going out into sunlight dawning New Beverly sunglass emblazoned with the words ‘I survived’ does lend itself to a feeling of mellow contentment. The All-Night Horror Show is done and I won’t see it’s like again. At least not until the Aero theater and their six film, twelve hour Horrorthon at months end.

AFI Fest 2017


For those of us in Los Angeles, AFI FEST remains a highlight of the year; the 2017 edition occurs in downtown Hollywood from November 9-16. Not only is it the largest local screening of world cinema (137 films from 53 countries, 40 directed by women), but for about ten years now it has been a completely free festival.

Just go to FREE TICKETS and you will see a rundown of what to do, which includes creating a simple Elevent account and selecting your tickets directly from the program guide. (Consult the FAQ on the page for details.) The festival uses a timed release method, so if some of the tickets you want aren’t available, just check again the next day. If all else fails, Rush Lines form an hour before all screenings, and early birds often have a good track record of getting in.

Most of the films are Los Angeles premieres, but many have played at Cannes or Toronto or similar festivals, and a bit of online searching can prove fruitful in determining which titles to check out.

Here are the ten films I’m most looking forward to:

  • Agnes Varda in Conversation: What can be said about 89-year-old Varda that hasn’t already been said? She is one of the last remaining cineastes of the Nouvelle Vague and an inspiration to several generations of filmmakers; her newest documentary, Faces Places, has been earning raves. If that isn’t enough, she’ll be interviewed on stage by filmmaker Serge Toubiana, a former editor of Cahiers du Cinéma.
  • Hong Sang-soo x 2: Hong is one of South Korea’s most admired auteurs, a formalist whose deceptively simple narratives are complicated by bifurcated structures and challenging themes. He’s also unusually prolific, as can be seen by the fact that he is premiering two new films at the festival, Claire’s Camera and The Day After.
  • Spoor: In 2003, I attended an L.A. screening where Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) presented Varda’s satire Le Bonheur (1965) as a film that inspired her. Holland’s latest film seems fashioned in a similar vein; she described it to The Guardian as an “anarchistic, feminist crime story with elements of black comedy” about current political divisions in Poland.
  • A Man of Integrity: Mohammad Rasoulof (Iron Island, The White Meadows) continues to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers in Iran, a country that offers him plenty of artistic competition. His Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) is one of the angriest and most devastating political dramas I’ve seen in recent years, and his latest film engages similar terrain.
  • The Other Side of Hope: For me, Aki Kaurismaki’s deadpan humor and compositional finesse reached new dramatic heights with his last film, Le Havre (2011), so I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his new tale of a Syrian refugee who stows away to Finland.
  • Loveless: I had the pleasure of seeing Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2003, when Melnitz Movies here at UCLA invited him to screen his debut feature, The Return, which had just won the Golden Lion at Venice. Stylistically indebted to Tarkovsky, Zvyagintsev’s subsequent magisterial forays into slow cinema have always registered as vital and deeply felt social critiques.
  • Red Desert: Although the festival is showing a 12-film retrospective of the work of Robert Altman, the repertory title I’m most excited to see on the big screen is this new restoration of Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 meditation on industrial and emotional voids, also his first color film.
  • Bright Sunshine In: (Known on the festival circuit as Let the Sunshine In.) Consistently one of France’s most provocative filmmakers, Claire Denis returns with this study of the inner life of a Parisian artist, played by Juliette Binoche.
  • A Season in France: I am a big admirer of Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s previous works (Dry Season, A Screaming Man), and hope his newest film continues his line of carefully observed and compelling studies of people struggling to locate themselves within changing cultures.

Cat’s Paws and Chekhov’s Gun: Feline and Foot Symbolism in “The Night Of”

Deserved praise has been heaped on Steve Zaillian and Richard Price’s just-completed HBO mini-series The Night Of (based on the 2008-09 British series Criminal Justice) for its rich texture, attention to detail and social sensitivity toward New York’s Muslim community (if perhaps less so toward its black community). Two of the series’ prominent supporting players, the male calico cat (played by Bam Bam) found at the murder scene and defense attorney Jack Stone’s (John Turturro) eczema-plagued feet, also have received kudos for their fleshing out character and offering comic relief from the show’s bleak portrayal of inner-city life. Perhaps because they played no obvious role in the main murder mystery plot, however, the cat’s and feet’s contribution to the show’s layered symbolism has slipped under the radar. Continue reading “Cat’s Paws and Chekhov’s Gun: Feline and Foot Symbolism in “The Night Of”” »

Who Says You’re Only Young Once? – Comparing “20 Once Again” and “17 Again”

Both “20 Once Again” (Leste Chen, 2015, Mainland China) and “17 Again” (Burr Steers, 2009, U.S.) follow the formula of someone who was magically turned young and reliving his or her life. However, these films depict different social issues in different cultural contexts. “20 Once Again” was released in 2015 and is a remake of the Korean “Miss Granny” (Hwang Dong-hyuk, 2014).

“20 Once Again” focuses on a seventy-year old widow who magically transforms into her twenty-year-old self. Before this, she had lost her husband during the Cultural Revolution period while in her twenties, and, as a result, needed to raise her son on her own by giving up her career aspirations. When the older version of this character discovers her family’s plan to put her in a senior residence, she goes to a mysterious photo studio to take a portrait as a souvenir for her family to remember her by. After the transformation, she is finally able to pursue her lifelong dream of being a pop singer, with the help of her favorite grandchild. At the end, she transfuses her blood to her heavily injured grandchild, causing her to revert to her normal age and life. Continue reading “Who Says You’re Only Young Once? – Comparing “20 Once Again” and “17 Again”” »

Able Was I Ere I Saw “Fargo”: A Palindromic Reading of Season Two of the FX Series

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In a new-millennial era awash in boldly original TV, few shows have been as adventuresome, in style and content, as Noah Hawley’s anthology dramedy Fargo, which just concluded its second semi-autonomous season. “Semi” is key here, for although nominally a 1979-set prequel to Season One’s 2006 progenitor, with the latter’s retired sheriff still battling ultra-violent crime in the same forbidding Minne-kota terrain, Season Two plays by substantially different rules, to astonishingly inventive ends.

Upping the ante on the 1996 Coen brothers film’s “true story” conceit (Joel and Ethan executive produce the TV version), Season Two opens on a movie set of a mock Ronald Reagan cavalry-and-Indian western, with a lone brave standing amid the carnage of a recent battle. The anachronistic reference to the soon-to-be 40th President, while nodding to Ronnie’s Hollywood-to-Washington career leap, also establishes a political backdrop and generic analogue to the show’s kill or be killed, survival of the fittest scenario.

Season Two’s cat-and-mouse game with the audience is reinforced throughout. When the seemingly nondescript sedan that literally sets the story in motion has a hood in front and motor in back, it takes a web search for the non-car buff to determine its make as the once promising, now defunct Tucker. And when a bungling police detective (Keir O’Donnell) disses the good-guy sheriff (Patrick Wilson)—“You started out as Gary Cooper and now you’re Betty LaPlage”—only a web search can disclose that LaPlage was Reagan’s faux co-star in the season-opening mock western. Not even Google can divine the motivation behind Native American Hanzee’s (Zahn McClarnon) seemingly indiscriminate killing spree, which, as a one-off narrator (Martin Freeman) informs us with satirical glee, has befuddled “historians” ever since. What comes to the cinematically informed viewer’s rescue is Hanzee’s kinship with the even more maniacal Indian murderer Anton Chigurth (Javier Bardem) in the Coen brothers’ 2007 neo-western No Country for Old Men, where Chigurth’s only plausible inducement to mass murder, as Season Two’s narrator says is a possible one for Hanzee, is retribution for his people’s genocide.

Esoteric allusions are far from the series’ only allure. Grounded in a late-70s “malaise” that eerily forebodes post-9/11 High Anxiety, Season Two uncannily captures an America coming apart at the seams thematically, and supports the societal implosion stylistically via a wildly innovative split-screen technique and radically eclectic music track that would make la nouvelle vague proud. The splintered aesthetic matches the fractured narrative, which gyrates among a football roster of main characters and a plethora of plot-lines, all emanating from a hit-and-run accident and cross-regional mob warfare and culminating in killing fields redolent of those left behind in Southeast Asia and staged for the Reagan western.

The series ends, as did Season One, on a superficially soft note, with the good sheriff and his family safe and sound (as we knew at least he and his daughter would have to be, per their Season One reincarnation). If the devastation they barely survived weren’t damper enough, however, the sheriff’s wife’s (Cristin Miloti) terminal cancer and one of the warring mobs remaining intact leaves a gaping hole in the happy ending. As does the finale’s title: “Palindrome.”

Referring to words or phrases spelled the same forward and backward, palindromic lore has its own canon, with perhaps the most revered example being: “Able was I ere I saw Elba.” Beyond alluding to Emperor Bonaparte’s island exile, from which he escaped only to be conclusively defeated at Waterloo and terminally exiled at the island of Saint Helena, the Napoleonic palindrome clearly has metaphorical applications, including to a pair of prominent characters in Season Two of Fargo. Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), who has relished his role in the field as chief enforcer for the Kansas City mob and lived to tell the tale, is “rewarded” for his exploits with an accountant’s job at the gang’s KC headquarters. Although organized crime’s paradigm shift from body counts to numbers-crunching also deliciously doubles as a paean to Reagan era neo-liberalism, for the flamboyant, free-wheeling Milligan, who in a previous scene had deemed himself “King” before offing his latest victim, being stuck behind a desk in a high-rise cubby-hole is indeed tantamount to an emperor’s exile.

Small-time beautician Peggy Blumquist (Kirsten Dunst), who bumbled her way into the mob wars literally by accident (it was her Tucker that abetted the hit-and-run), faces actual court-ordered exile for her crimes at series end. But the kicker is the ditzy wish she blurts on her way into custody: to be sent to Alcatraz Island in her dreamland California, “Where I can look out onto the ocean and maybe see a pelican.”

Whether either Milligan or Blumquist escapes to see the light of day, a la their palindromic ancestor, must await what Fargo fans hope will be several more morbidly beautiful seasons to come.*

* “It’s morbid but beautiful” is a throwaway line in a Season Two episode

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Vincent Brook teaches at UCLA, Cal-State LA, and Loyola Marymount. His latest book is Silver Lake Chronicles: Exploring an Urban Oasis in Los Angeles, with a second Silver Lake book and an anthology on Jews and Hollywood forthcoming.

 

Review: Victoria‘s Long Take (and Title) Triumphs on Multiple Levels

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Garnering the most attention and accolades for this extraordinary German film (including the 2015 Deutscher Filmpreis for Best Feature Film) has been the technical and artistic feat of pulling off a compelling, multi-character/location narrative in a single, 138-minute-long  sequence shot, in which the shot’s real-equals-reel-time aspect is more than the stylistic tour de force Alfred Hitchcock (limited by ten-minute film reels) came close to achieving in 1947’s Rope and Alexander Sokulov (thanks to a digital camera) finally accomplished in 2002’s Russian Ark, but adds immeasurably to the film’s cumulative emotional impact, enabling the attentive viewer, prodded by the steadicam’s nonstop stalking of the titular heroine, to experience, far more intensely than in the standard 1000-2000-cut film, the young Spanish immigrant’s late-night Mephisto Waltz (strains of which she herself plays in the film*) through deserted Berlin streets Continue reading “Review: Victoria‘s Long Take (and Title) Triumphs on Multiple Levels” »