A Shot In the Dark (1964)
Director: Blake Edwards
Cinema 4 Rating: 8
The Pink Panther Strikes Again may have been my first theatrical Peter Sellers film, but I was already well-versed in Inspector Clouseau's unique style of detection from watching, in the limited means I had in those days, not just the Inspector cartoons on Saturday morning TV (which is, really, a totally different guy), but the first two films in the series, The Pink Panther and this film, which is the first true pure Clouseau showcase. (The original film focuses as much, if not more, on David Niven's thieving character.) This film sets up Herbert Lom's blustery Inspector Dreyfus and also introduces the precious Burt Kwouk as Clouseau's karate-attacking equally bumbling houseboy Kato. That it works is astounding, since the film was a Sellers project that he wanted out of until Edwards was brought in. The applause needs to go primarily to Edwards and budding screenwriter (and eventual Exorcist creator) William Peter Blatty, who reworked the detective play adaptation that it was originally to turn it into an umpromptu Clouseau vehicle. Sellers revels in the opportunity to expand his silly creation to even greater extremes, though it remains my second favorite film of the series. I just can't seem to get past that disintegration ray in Strikes Again.

Dracula (1931)
Director: Tod Browning
Cinema 4 Rating: 8
So, maybe Lugosi wasn't an actor with tremendous range, and his career got mired in the sub-B movie realm; he is still terrifically effective as the famous Count, and despite a thousand imitators thus far and still to come, he is the definitive movie vampire. (I personally prefer Max Schreck, but that's me.) Yeah, visually the movie sputters out after the first quarter-hour, and the screenplay is so stage-bound you can hear the boards squeak, but Lugosi believes so much that he possesses the superhuman qualities of the Count that he seems to actually be able to hypnotize the viewer into an almost dream-like trance. We are carried into the fantasy of the story by Lugosi's powerful but human will, as filtered through that of a imaginary monster, and if that is not great acting, even though hammy, I don't know what is. You can get this on the Van Helsing tie-in Legacy Collection, but I had the original DVD release already, and it struck me while preparing this post that you can tell that I have been grabbing DVD's since their beginning simply from the fact that many of the discs in my collection have been supplanted by new sometimes-phonily "special" editions. I'll say this at greater length in the future, but its the movie, not the extras, that you should concern yourself with when purchasing a disc. It's amazing how little I actually utilize the "special features" on any disc that I own, except for that cursory glance when I first acquire a new DVD. Commentaries are nice, but even as a film student, I would rather just watch the movie than listen to a listless director, screenwriter, or worse, producer, prattle on about minutiae for two hours. This disc has the swell writer David Skal on comments, and an extra score for the film by Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet. The Legacy Collection has these, too, but you have to do it while basically visiting a video-billboard for the execrable though mostly unintentionally amusing Van Helsing, so be warned. I'll take this one for the cover alone.

The Tingler (1959)
Director: William Castle
Cinema 4 Rating: 6
Boy, I'd love to see this film in a theatre setting with the seats rigged to shock the urine out of the patrons at the appropriate moment. There's nothing worse to me than reading about past film experiences in some movie history volume and not getting the chance to have that same experience myself. For my part, I didn't see this Vincent Price mad scientist thriller until I was around 20, and my pals and I went to an all-night Halloween movie marathon in the Pub at the University of Alaska Anchorage. There, on a regular pull-up classroom-style movie screen, we watched The Tingler and another William Castle schlockfest, the original 13 Ghosts, along with a host of other fine films, while camped out on the Pub floor in sleeping bags and blankets, munching on whatever junk food we could manage to scrape together. All in all, it was a fine time, but watching the film and knowing that there was a missing part of the experience kind of brought it down for me personally. It didn't stop me from getting the 40th Anniversary DVD when it came out a few years ago, though, and Price is always a hammy delight.

Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) (2002)
Director: AJ Schnack
Cinema 4 Rating: 7
That I have only given this film a rating of 7 will come as a shock to those who know that not only am I a They Might Be Giants fan of long and outspoken standing, but that I still possess my old LP's and EP's from back in the day, that I have kept every magazine article and newspaper clipping regarding the Johns into which I have stumbled, and that even when I have replaced duplicate cassette versions with new CD copies, I find it impossible to part with the crappy, murky-sounding cassettes. I wouldn't say that TMBG is my favorite band; they probably are, and I have even suggested to some people that they are, but it goes past just simply being into a band. I have never seen them in concert (they never traveled to Alaska, and since I have moved to Anaheim, they have yet to appear here, either), so its not like I am going to weird sicko-groupie-stalk them or anything. Love of the Giants for me is a simple acknowledgement that these seemingly normal Johns are living my secret dream life: that of being simple working musicians who have a unique musical vision (though many try over-earnestly to copy it) and have plowed through two decades doing what they love. I am not a musician, but if I were, it seems that I would opt to veer more in the path of the Giants than in the self-destructive and cliched path that is almost synonymous with rock 'n roll. My brother is a musician (and though he doesn't make his living at it, I suspect he would like to), and every time that I visit his home in Santa Rosa, and his friends come over to hold jam sessions, I get a taste of what real musical bliss is like. It's not the money or groupies or fame (though those are just fine if you can get them); it's the emotional lift from fine music being played by people who care about what they are doing. Some people find the Giants a little archly intellectual and too clever for their own Giant smarty-pants; so, sue them for being brainy. Director AJ Schnack captures all of this feeling in his fine documentary, but I think some loose editing choices mar the final product just a tad. However, when I bought it (still living in Alaska), it was the closest I had come to seeing the real Giants in concert. Hopefully, that will change in the near future.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Director: David Lynch
Cinema 4 Rating: 9
It's been twenty years since I first saw this movie about a half-dozen times in the Polar Theatre in Anchorage. Twenty years since I watched an angry father of three kids drag his weeping brood out of the theatre shortly after the severed ear is discovered in the open field by a then wide-eyed and innocent Jeffrey Beaumont. The father yelled at the screen, saying "This shit is sick!", and I yelled, over my shoulder, "Please, not in front of the kids!" (What I wanted to yell was "What letter in the "R" rating don't you understand, you dumb fuck?") Most of my friends don't like or even appreciate Lynch, and that is fine. I tried, but perhaps foisting Eraserhead on them first back in 1985 wasn't the way to go. Don't even get me started on Mulholland Drive, which I did not even see with this particular group of people when they saw it 16 years later, nor did I tell them to attend it, but they still gave me crap about it as if I were the one who dragged them to it. People, if you don't like a painting, don't go to any later exhibitions of the same artist. If you hate, for instance, Piss-Christ, then you are probably not going to appreciate any of Andres Serrano's other photographs. Sure, he might throw a cute picture of a puppy in there to throw you off and get you all comfortable, but then you'll happen upon the next shot of a picture full of that puppy's wizz with the Virgin Mary floating about in it playing "Marco Polo". If you don't like or have never liked Lynch, don't go to his next film. (Though, seriously, Wayne, you'd love The Straight Story. No, seriously... Richard Farnsworth, all the way...) As for Velvet... still absolutely brilliant and shocking, and this is written a day after I just went to see The Proposition, an Australian western written by Nick Cave and starring Guy Pearce. The film, like Velvet, has some not-very-nice things to say about humanity, and I warn all of my friends back home to not even get on the same street on which the theatre that will play it exists. I'm not taking the hit on this one...


Bubba said…
In my final year of grad school I wrote an 18 page paper on this wonderfull littl flick which has my fave line of all times about my fave beer of all times
Rik Tod said…
My dearest soon-to-be-wed Bubba,

Bubba said…
why yes it would

You fools commin to the weddin??

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