Le Corbeau

Nothing gave me more pleasure than – while looking for appropriate pictures to accompany this post – discovering a still of The Giant Claw. Rest assured, that monumental piece of cinema couldn’t be more apart from today’s topic. Both movies are in black and white, but that’s about it. Le Corbeau, which is French for “raven”, is a 1943 film directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Yes, that means this film is 73 years old, but that does not mean you never should’ve heard of the director. Unless you’re adamant about boycotting Le Corbeauanything made prior to the 21st century (in which case you’re an idiot). Clouzot is after all the director of that essential classic Les Diaboliques, a must-see movie for anyone claiming to be a lover of cinema.

Le Corbeau is no Diaboliques, but don’t worry: watching this film is no act of masochism. On offer is a semi-classic, which was made in 1943. That was during the Second World War and it definitely adds to the movie.
An unknown person is sending messages that are smack in the middle of whistleblowing and village gossip. The messages, thrown through windows or using even less subtle methods, are always signed by… the raven. In other words, the film becomes one big question: Who is the Raven? Add to this a protagonist who may or may not have a mysterious past and you have all the elements to make an interesting movie, especially in the hands of a more than capable director. You have your typical anti-hero and the scene where he tries to discover who’s the Raven by forcing all the suspects to write lines in a classroom is one you’ll remember for months after you’ve seen this film.

To be honest, Le Corbeau was on our shelves for years before we decided to give it a go and the trailer we’re about to show may not be the most convincing of this season, but it’s as good as we could find and maybe you’ll just have to trust us on this one. If your French is decent enough, you should check this out on France 3 next Sunday (Cinéma de minuit). If not, we’re sure you can find this film elsewhere. It was even released by Criterion (sadly out of print by now) and they don’t release just any old film.

Repo Chick

Given that it’s been years since we regularly updated the Avenue, even regular visitors may have forgotten that our website (Kurtodrome) was named after a programme on BBC2. It Repo-chick-1was called Moviedrome and it showed cult movies, on summer nights (mostly Sundays), from 1988 to 1994 (hosted by Alex Cox) and revived from 1997 to 2000 by Mark Cousins. The Cousins era was widely debated and split the fans into either being glad at least there was more Moviedrome or thinking it wasn’t as good as the series with Alex Cox as host. Because after all, Cousins was no Cox. Even though, you could also argue that Cox was no Cousins. And while it’s true that in the Cousins eras there was no month of spaghetti westerns, it was Cousins who included movies like Branded to Kill. And while it’s true that in 2016 it’s been more than fifteen years since the last episode of Moviedrome, you can’t say that the sort of movie to be shown in either form of the BBC2 show is no longer aired on TV. Even though Brits may have to juggle between BBC2, BBC4, ITV4, Film4, Channel4 or even Movies4Men and these cult movies are shown throughout the year on mixed nights rather than a weekly programme… oh, and that there is nobody who introduces them. Yes, it’s 2016 and these days you watch movies on Netflix where you select a movie because of a synopsis of four lines and a still next to it. But don’t we just sometimes long for those programmes where someone warmed you into a movie, telling you bits about the director, the making or even scenes you should pay close attention to?

Alex Cox, the original host of Moviedrome, is a director in case you didn’t know. He shot to fame in 1984 with the instant cult classic Repo Man. He then directed – a.o. – that punk biopic Sid and Nancy and, just prior to hosting the first episode of Moviedrome, a movie called Walker. Made with American money in a country the USA wasn’t particularly fond of, the shooting of Walker was so controversial the movie company sent someone to make sure

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Alex Cox didn’t completely destroy the budget. According to folklore, Cox threatened to kill the man if he came too close to him on set and to this date it’s unclear whether he meant it or not. All the doors opened by his previous movies, were closed after Walker and Cox’s filmography post-Walker definitely looks different (which does not equal less interesting).

After completing Searchers 2.0 in the mid-noughties, Cox had learnt how to record a “microfeature”, i.e. a movie made for a ludicrously low budget. This came in handy for his next feature, Repo Chick. A sequel to his breakthrough movie? No, such a thing is impossible: the contract between Cox and the movie company that produced Repo Man made it clear that sequels can’t be made unless both parties agree on this. And had we already told you either party doesn’t really like the other one? Repo Man and Repo Chick are both about repo(ssessing cars), but the stories are different. And whereas both movies repochickshare a couple of actors, it’s not as if some of those actors don’t pop up in other Cox movies too. However, the production company was so pissed, it redubbed a movie starring the Avenue’s nemesis J*de L*w (perennially dubbed The Twat over here) as Repo Men in order to piss off Cox and to cash in on its cult classic after all. Cox’s raised middle finger, Repo Chick, is in this case the better of the two insults. However, as the “chick” is no “man” and because it was filmed on a micro budget, lots of people didn’t like it.

To save money on locations, Repo Chick was shot entirely on green screens with the backdrops added on later. This rarely produces a natural setting, but that’s not something Cox was aiming for. In fact, he exaggerates this by adding even less natural additions to the backgrounds, thereby dipping his movie into a surreal and cartoonish setting. In case the main character’s name, our chick, wasn’t obvious enough, we’ll tell you that Pixxi De La 6396-2Chasse (Jaclyn Jonet) is a clear pastiche of a Paris Hilton-type socialite. At the time, this was said to be too much of a fashion fad that wouldn’t last another year, but flash forward nearly ten years and even now blogs and papers are bursting with any sort of gossip about the TOWIEs, Kardashians and/or Big Brother contestants whose skirts split live on air while twerking. Paradoxically, in this fake atmosphere with unreal backdrops and cartoonish characters, it’s Pixxi (whose car is towed away when daddy cancels her credit card and who then finds a job repossessing cars) who looks the most genuine character. Which means Cox isn’t just poking fun at the uberrich chicks who couldn’t be more estranged from reality, but also at those who think all socialite chicks are airheads. Which at the time pissed off even more viewers. Tonight BBC2 will air Repo Chick once again, the third showing already (the fourth if you count the time it was shown on BBC1) and to be honest, it’s not the sort of movie one would expect to get four showings. (We’re quickly adding we’re more than happy to be proven wrong in this case.) If you’re up late at night, have a watch. Unless you don’t like fake backgrounds. Or Pixxis and Parises. Or a movie which doesn’t poke as much fun at Pixxis as one would expect. Or movies surreal enough to feature socialites as well as terrorists and doesn’t seem to make sense when you’re telling the plot to someone (noticed we haven’t really tried?). Or movies where the director has a cameo as a deranged scientist. All of these things make Repo Chick even more different. But different doesn’t equal less interesting.

(BBC2 airs Repo Chick tonight at 12.55am local time.)

Blood Pulls a Gun

blood_pulls_a_gunHello everyone. It has been a while, but at least for this summer Avenue Kurtodrome will return with weekly updates. Weekly updates, the summer months… one might even think we’ve been inspired by the programme that gave us our name. Speaking of which, we’ll talk about an Alex Cox movie next week. But to kick us off – and to prove we’re back in style – some Eye Candy (as it’s been a while, that’s the Avenue’s code for clips or short movies).

Blood Pulls a Gun is a short movie of just over 18 minutes, released in 2014 with a world premier at SXSW. It’s the winner of the Gold ACS Award 2014 (which is short for Australian Cinematographers Society) and won Best Emerging Film Maker at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2014. That film maker is Ben Briand, a name you might have heard before from another short: 2009’s Apricot. (If not, feel free to expand your Eye Candy session for another 11 minutes by watching it here.)

In Blood Pulls a Gun we’re introduced to Alice, a teenage girl who “gets a keyhole look into a dangerous and mysterious world when a tattooed stranger checks into her roadside motel”. Alice is the daughter of the motel owner and she likes to keep momentos from guests, which she stores in a box. The short may have been recorded in Australia’s Swansea, but the feel is very much somewhere in the US’s Bible Belt. And by somewhere, we mean a non-descript place between two more important locations. Alice (played by Odessa Young) is a typical teen in a movie: trying to discover herself while growing up in the neighbourhood of an impressionable young boy and lots of men who spend one night in a motel, probably on their way to another destination. The sunglasses, the pink paper heart on her bedroom wall, the ambitious use of lipstick… all find their way into these 18 minutes. As does Blood Lieberman, whose arrival at the hotel does not go unnoticed. Like Alice, you’re wondering if Blood is his real name. You never know: if someone asks you to draw a picture of a guy called Blood, your cartoon might just look like Mr Lieberman. Alice peeks into Blood’s room and suddenly becomes a peeping tom, seeing Blood seducing a woman. She’s wearing a wig, like Alice’s voice-over narration, another stereotype subtly used by Ben Briand.

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A masterpiece might be too much credit, but Blood Pulls a Gun is definitely a masterful piece of genre cinema. The right notes are struck and over the course of 18 minutes you get enough bits of information to label characters – especially Alice but to quite some extent also Blood – round rather than flat, but also enough empty spots in the story for you to fill. Shorts, even more than feature-length films, have a tendency to overexplain characters and their actions. Add to this (voice-over) lines like “When cats have sex, it sounds as if they’re fighting. People too, especially the people that come here.” and you know you’re in for a treat.

So here is – without further ado and to mark the beginning of the Avenue’s summer – Blood Pulls a Gun. Enjoy!

BLOOD PULLS A GUN // Short Film from Ben Briand on Vimeo.

Extraterrestre

After a night out you wake up in a strange bed and have no recollection of what happened or indeed the name of the person you spent the night with. You find out her name is Julia (Michelle Jenner) and you introduce yourself as Julio (Julian Villagran). Oh, what a funny coincidence. Anyway, it’s been fun and you’re about to bid farewell when you notice there’s nobody extraterrestrein the streets. Oh, and there’s a UFO on top of a nearby apartment block. Turns out you’ve both missed the invasion of extraterrestrials.

Is the Spanish film Extraterrestre a movie about extraterrestrials? Well, yes and no. While the invasion is part of the story, the plot seems to be around Julio and more importantly Julia. It turns out Julia’s neighbour has an unhealthy obsession with her and Julia seems to have a boyfriend too. Excuses have to be made and stories have to invented to cover up their nightly affair. How that happens and the consequences of all those stories is the core of this film by Nacho Vigalondo. Don’t expect a lot of sci-fi or you’ll be bitterly disappointed. Expect a quirky comedy about people whose lives are being taken over by lies (and some flying saucers that inspire them). The fun thing is that none of the characters may be exceptionally likable, but because of the situation you sit there and wonder how their futures will develop. Because I wasn’t expecting anything, I can’t say I was disappointed and indeed, I genuinely liked Extraterrestre.

That’s also why I offer you this trailer with the biggest reservations. A lot of the developments are already hinted at or indeed shown. But if you want to see how the film is visually made, then feel free to check out the trailer or at least a couple of seconds. Hovering between 7.5 and 8 out of 10, Extreterrestre will probably find itself in my Top 10 of 2012. Of course, it’s already 2013 but because of the recent events in my personal life there’s a handful of movies I still need to review before the list can be compiled, so expect the list in approximately two weeks. Which leaves you for now with the trailer of Extraterrestre or, if you don’t like any form of spoilers, the end of this article. Happy New Year!

TRAILER EXTRATERRESTRE (English subtitles) from Arsenico / Sayaka Producciones on Vimeo.

Superhero Schlock: The Cat-Beast

Shehnaz Begum directed The Cat-Beast (Da Khwar Lasme Spogmay in its original title) and cast herself as the catlike avenger. Her feline tongue movements are unlike any other you’ve ever seen in a movie before and are so eerily mimicked even David Attenborough could be fooled into thinking we’re dealing with a genuine animal. Well, at least the sponsor of this film was subtle…

Lady on a Train

Let’s celebrate the Avenue’s return with something topical and what is more topical on Boxing Day than a movie that takes place on Christmas? Christmas Eve, to be precise, but we’ll gloss over that for now.

Lady on a Train is a movie from 1945 that combines a whodunit with comedy and musical. Sounds like more than you can handle? Well, you’re not entirely wrong: it is more than a handful of elements for one movie and the scenes don’t always fit perfectly, but none of it bothers too much to spoil your viewing. The movie is built around Deanna Durbin, the classic actress who was cast throughout the late 30s and 40s for her good looks and dito voice. Say what you want about Deanna, but she was versatile enough to appear in any sort of movie, from film noir (Christmas Holiday) to musical western (Can’t Help Singing). In almost all of her 22 movies, Durbin performed at least one song and Lady on a Train is no exception, but we’ll return to that later.

The poster on the left is not from the movie, but from the mystery book it was based on. The author is Leslie Charteris, whom you might know from his books about The Saint. This movie starts with Nicki Collins (Durbin) reading a thriller on the train, when suddenly she sees a real murder being committed. The police don’t believe because she’s still carrying around Wayne Morgan’s book The Case of the Headless Bride and suggest she’d better go and bother the author (David Bruce) with her alleged murder story… which she promptly does, much to the dismay of Morgan’s fiancee. At first, Morgan doesn’t want to believe her and Nicki starts to investigate things herself, bumping into the family of the deceased (a cast including Dan Duryea and Ralph Bellamy). The family mistake her for a nightclub singer the deceased had an affair with, which doesn’t make the plot convincing, but is a handy step-up to have Durbin sing more than one song.

Overall, Durbin’s character is quite a sassy young lady. The poor man her father hired to look after her (played by Edward Everett Horton, a comedy legend from the 30s) definitely has his hands full and certainly can’t seem to go home unscathed after a hard day’s work. All in all, the character of Nicki Collins looks like a barely legal version of Nancy Drew. By then, Durbin had become such a darling of the silver screen that the seductive scenes in the nightclub songs might not appear too risqué, but I don’t think a genuine nightclub artist would’ve gotten away with sitting on someone’s lap and stroking his head in such a way the man’s girlfriend leaves the place with slamming doors.

Something contemporary this 1945 movie seems to be a distinct relative of is the series Castle: not only is there lots more “will they won’t they” atmosphere around than what’s actually being shown, it’s also one of the few shows that managed to find itself a niche where it doesn’t really matter if the story is believable or not. The twists and quirkiness suffice you keep you hanging until the end. And if that’s not enough, there’s a scene where Deanna Durbin is on the phone to her father (while she’s unaware there’s someone in the house who’s trying to get some evidence back). It’s a scene that is completely different from the rest of the film, but it’s Deanna Durbin and you’ll forgive her anything. Especially on Christmas Eve.

R.I.P. Kôji Wakamatsu

Once again, there’s no room for the planned and/or promised updates, as it’s time to pay tribute to a recently and suddenly deceased director. This time that’s even to be read literally, because Japanese cult director Kôji Wakamatsuwas run over by a taxi. Some

Violence without a cause
Violence without a cause

sources claim it was no accident as Wakamatsu had claimed he wanted to make a critical movie about the nuclear company Tepco. Of course, that’s only speculation at best, but how fitting an ordered execution would be for such a director.

When these pages belonged to a cult review site, DV, Wakamatsu’s filmography was mentioned and discussed. One of the most overused expression was fitting for him: you either hated or loved him. Smutty pornographer to some, bleak observer to others, his movies didn’t leave most members unmoved. And whereas it’s true that some of his work was little more than pornographic (especially in the 1980s), the same could be said for Jean Rollin or Jess Franco, directors who did get to keep their medals of cult directors.
Make no mistake, The embryo hunts in secret (1966) is extreme cinema. Basically, it’s like watching a woman who’s constantly tortured by a man. Like Fifty Shades then, but bleaker, less eroticising and more stylistic. Well, a lot more stylistic.

Kôji Wakamatsu directed so many movies – his IMDb profile, which may not even be complete (but it’s hard sifting through the movies with countless titles) – clocked off at 105 titles. That’s more than a hundred titles for a director who didn’t do anything between 1997 and 2003, or indeed skipped a couple of other years too. By contrast, he managed to complete ten titles in 1964. (He debuted in 1963, at the age of 27.)

Go go, second time virgin
Go go, second time virgin

No wonder then that it’s sometimes hard to distinguish which movie you’re watching. There are so many and most carry his cinematographic style. When asked why his body of

work was often repetitive, the director answered: Because the basic theme is the same, because all my films deal with the same primal element – the fight against authoritarianism, the individual hate and revenge against authority and repression. That hate and revenge explode in lust and violence. Is this bad?”

Wakamatsu was also a producer and even made some of his fame there, being the executive producer of In the realm of the senses, Oshima‘s erotic classic. Oshima is a lot more known and a little less extreme than Wakamatsu, but if you like Oshima’s work, there’s a chance you’ll like Wakamatsu as well. (I had to think of Oshima’s Naked Youth a.k.a. Cruel story of youth the first time I watched a Wakamatsu movie.)

For a lot of Wakamatsu’s work you’ll have to rely on the internet as most of his movies aren’t out on DVD anywhere else than Japan. A couple of movies were released in the US,

Shinjuku mad
Shinjuku mad

such as the excellent Go, go, second time virgin or Ecstasy of the Angels (both Image) or The notorious concubines (SWV). If you manage to catch Italian channel RaiTre, the often excellent Fuori Orario is currently showing a weekend long of movies as a tribute to the late director. On the internet, MUBI has a page on him with more than 20 films which he either directed or produced.

To me, Wakamatsu’s work are more political than erotic, no matter how much sex there is in some of his exploitation movies. (Then again, I’ve only seen ten of his films, that’s less than 10% after all.) The low budget he often had forced him to limit locations, but it helped to make his films claustrophobic. His style allowed you to understand his movies even if you can’t speak a word of Japanese (check). One of his films is called Violence without a cause, which neatly sums up Wakamatsu’s body of work. You can find a lot of clips from his movies on YouTube, but I’ll leave you with the opening scene of Ecstasy of Angels, which shows Wakamatsu didn’t need sex or violence to know where to point his camera to.

“I don’t think much of critics, so naturally they don’t think much of me either.” (Kôji Wakamatsu, 1936-2012)