Method, Madness, and Metaphysical Mysteries

If you’re reading this you’re one of us. You see the patterns that no one else does. You find the answers to questions too bewildering for others to comprehend. But the deeper you dig, the more confusing things get. And then there are the shady characters who keep weaving through your journey. It’s a conspiracy, but you’re the only one who can see it! That path can lead only to madness. Or a movie. We all love a good conspiracy thriller, but we are mesmerized by a conspiracy plot where the answers one seeks may not exist in the material realm.

Under the Silver Lake, the latest film to explore a mystery that seems to defy the logic of science and reason, has been pushed back from its original June release date to December. Ostensibly it’s to give filmmaker David Robert Mitchell time to recut the movie. But could there be another, more sinister reason behind this delay? What exactly aren’t they telling us? Just who is really pulling the strings here?

Continue reading at Fandor

Kinostraum: The Lucid Unreason of ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘House’

Writers and critics have likened the experience of watching movies to dreaming with your eyes open for almost as long as moving images have been projected in front of audiences in dark rooms. But in reality the dreams that movies show are more like the stories we tell ourselves or the fantasies we imagine in our waking lives. When filmmakers attempt to actually recreate the nocturnal odysseys churned up from anxieties and obsessions and the residual thoughts and images scattered through our unconscious minds, they are more like expressionist theater pieces or symbol-laden action paintings. Think of Spellbound, with its Dali-designed sets and loaded Freudian symbolism representing the unprocessed issues of our troubled hero. These films satisfy our idea of “dream” or “nightmare” but don’t actually capture the experience or texture of those twilight journeys which seem to make sense in the moment as they slip from one idea to another but confound us as we try to piece them together when we awaken. If movies are dreams, they have been tamed and rewritten to fit the demands of narrative storytelling.

That’s one reason why I love David Lynch’s waking nightmare Eraserhead and Nobuhiko Ôbayashi’s haunted-house fantasia House (a.k.a. Hausu). They recreate dream logic in ways that almost no other films do. Is it coincidence that both films first saw the light of a theater screen in 1977? Creative serendipity or primeval synchronicity? Lynch might appreciate the idea of some sort of Jungian breakthrough in such different cultures. They are, after all, the feature debuts of two filmmakers who learned to express themselves cinematically in the world of experimental film. The similarities end there, however. Each of these films spins its own unique dream in its own crazily weird way.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘Eraserhead’ and ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’

“In heaven, everything is fine,” but in Eraserhead (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) nothing is fine. It’s grim, disturbed, mutated, claustrophobic, a world that appears to be unraveling—or, more accurately, decaying—before our eyes.

Jack Nance stars as the doughy, dim factory worker who is suddenly thrust into marriage and parenthood and escapes his grimy, droning life by watching the icky mutant cabaret that plays under his radiator. That’s as clear a description of the plot you’re bound to get. This is an existence where dinner squirms to get away as it’s being carved up and the newborn offspring of a dumbstruck couple is a freaky chicken baby that mewls and cries until it drives the maternal impulses right out of its horrified mother.

Lynch shot the film over the course of a year with a loyal cast and crew that, at times, lived with Lynch on the very set of the film. There was nothing like it when it emerged in 1977 and became the quintessential midnight movie experience. Seen today, it is pure, primordial Lynch: a nightmare world of industrial slums and alienated folk, set to a soundtrack of grinding noise that gets under your skin and your skull.

Always the maverick, Lynch personally supervised the remastering of his earliest films on DVD and released them on his own private label, so no surprise that he was intimately involved preparing the film for its Blu-ray debut on Criterion. Lynch supervised and signed off on the 4K digital transfer from the original negative and it looks beautiful. As does the film. Lynch creates beauty out of what others would find ugly and this master preserves the quality of film grain and sculpted light of Frederick Elmes’ cinematography. The stereo soundtrack was created by Lynch and sound editor Alan Splet in 1994 and it is as evocative as the imagery. The film is immersive and short of a theatrical screening of a new 35mm print, this is as rich a presentation as you will likely ever find.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

DVD: ‘Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction’

“Do I have any lines? I don’t want any lines. How about I do nothing? How about silence?”

Harry Dean Stanton, the veteran character actor with (by his own count) over 250 film appearances to his credit, would rather not talk about himself. Or about his family, his life, his career, or the craft of acting. Which makes him a curious subject for a documentary. Director Sophie Huber follows him around Los Angeles, films him hanging out at his favorite L.A. bar, Dan Tana’s, where he’s known the bartender for more than 40 years, and shoots him in his home singing folk songs and standards between sessions trying to get the actor to open up.

“How would you describe yourself?” asks friend and frequent director David Lynch. “There is no self,” he answers, his craggy, lined face maintaining a nearly unreadable stoniness. “How would you like to be remembered?” “Doesn’t matter.” He’s not simply an actor with nothing to prove. He’s a private man who prefers to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself and a few chosen friends. Stanton opens up a little over coffee and cigarettes with Lynch, who makes a game of lobbing questions from a card provided by Huber and then spins off in remembrances of their long history together, and he eases into reminiscing with Kris Kristofferson, who credits Stanton for his first film role in Cisco Pike and then launches into his iconic song “The Pilgrim”: “He’s a poet, he’s a picker. He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher. He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.” Stanton was one of the inspirations for those lyrics, according to Kristofferson, along with a few others, and the two start checking off all those early seventies characters who fit the bill.

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Exclusive clip: The Unseen ‘Blue Velvet’ (NSFW)

While it’s become a kind of Hollywood exercise for directors to re-edit and extend films for home video, David Lynch has never succumbed to the temptation. The film that arrives in theaters is, for better or worse, the film that will live on.

In terms of “Blue Velvet,” it is decidedly for the better. After the frustrations of “Dune,” producer Dino De Laurentiis gave Lynch a free hand and creative control over “Blue Velvet” and Lynch released the film as he intended it to be seen.

The Blu-ray debut of “Blue Velvet” (MGM) features a newly remastered edition of the film, but it also features a unique peak into the creative process of Lynch with a collection of recently rediscovered deleted scenes: 50 minutes of visions, both lovely and horrible, human and hellish.

These pieces were pared away in the editing, like a sculptor chiseling away to get to the perfect form, but they are full of visual delights and offbeat humor, narrative sidetrips and character embellishments. Some scenes simply cast a mood of unease or anxiety over the proceedings. Yet all are glimpses into the inspiration and explorations of Lynch as a filmmaker and marvelous addenda to the finished film, a look into roads not taken and details whittled away to reach the narrative focus and tonal balance of the final piece.

Continue reading at Videodrone and get an exclusive look at a never-before-seen deleted clip. Warning: for mature audiences only.

DVDs for 09/14/10 – My Son, some Pirates and the Crippled Avengers

Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time (Disney) and Letters to Juliet (Summit) are both covered by fellow MSN critics, while I review Princess Kaiulani (Lionsgate) at MSN and Starcrash, the 1978 Italian Star Wars knock-off, on my blog here. That covers the big ticket releases and the cult item of the week. As for the rest…

Sit down, my son, my son

My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done (First Look / Absurda) – “David Lynch Presents a Werner Herzog Film,” reads the credits of this weirdly deadpan drama, based on the real-life matricide perpetrated by an unstable actor who reenacts a Greek tragedy in his own life and played out as a surreal police procedural. It’s hard to tell if Herzog adopted some of Lynch’s sensibility along with some of his acting company, or if the juxtaposition merely makes their compatibility more apparent, and honestly, I’m not sure I get the film, but it burrowed into me nonetheless.

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DVD of the Week – ‘Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3’ – March 25, 2008

In the 1930s, Warner Bros. ruled the underworld genre of gangster movies, all but defining the genre with Little Caesar and The Public Enemy and making James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson the definitive gangland anti-heroes. As the Hayes Code put the kibbosh on the more extreme expressions of outlaw blasts of anti-social behavior and rat-a-tat violence, Cagney and Robinson calmed their illegal activities and even took their turns playing cops and DAs while Warners brought supporting actor Humphrey Bogart into the criminal fold. Warners is now on its third collection, and while the six-disc box set Warner Gangsters Collection Volume 3 is left with some of their lesser titles, it does feature one of the studio’s snappiest pre-code genre hybrids, Lady Killer (1933), a dynamic collision of gangster drama and show-biz comedy with James Cagney.

The film clocks in at a brisk 75 minutes and is already a third over before he even gets to Hollywood and hustles his way to success a second time, this time from movie extra to movies star. Cagney is at his insolent best as the perpetual motion wiseguy, always with a ready crack yet resilient enough to laugh at a creative insult lobbed his way. This pre-code production also features its share of saucy and salacious bits (watch Cagney drag Mae Clarke out of his bedroom by her hair) and a violent gunfight finale.

The six-disc set also features Cagney in Picture Snatcher (1933) and Mayor Of Hell (1933), Cagney co-starring with Edward G. Robinson in Smart Money (1931), Robinson in Brother Orchid (1940), and Humphrey Bogart in Black Legion (1937), which is more social drama than gangster film but can fit the bill in pinch. Each of these films are also available separately.

Read the complete review here.


From pre-code to post-code, Warners releases its definitive version of its genre-busting R-rated 1967 classic Bonnie and Clyde: 2-Disc Special Edition.

This new edition is highlighted by the new three-part, 64-minute documentary “Revolution! The Making of Bonnie and Clyde,” as definitive a portrait of the production and release of the film as you’ll find. Directed by Laurent Bouzreau, it features interviews with almost every major participant, from producer/star Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn to costume designer Theadora Van Runkle, art director Dean Tavalouris, and editor Dede Allen. Beatty is in fine, reflective form as he discusses his first film as a producer and his creative input and the portrait of the set that he and others (including co-stars Faye Dunaway, Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons) describe was not always cordial, but it bustled with creative energy.

The release also features two deleted scenes (without audio, subtitles provided), wardrobe tests with Warren Beatty, and a History Channel documentary on the real Bonnie and Clyde.

Read the complete review here.

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