In memory of George A. Romero

romeroGeorge A. Romero is no longer with us. We read the news tonight and it felt like a punch in the gut. Romero was the director who became famous thanks to his debut Night of the Living Dead, a movie whose reputation hung over Romero’s later career – especially if you forward a couple of decades. Once his zombie trilogy was released in full, it seemed like people seemed to think Romero was no longer able to make another masterpiece. And when the zombie movies boomed again in the noughties, Romero decided that would’ve been a shame if everyone was making money with zombie movies apart from him (as there was no copyright on Night, companies didn’t have to pay him to put another edition of the film out on dvd), so he returned to the world of the undead for three more movies.

But it would be wrong to see Romero just as a director of zombie films. Especially, earlier in his career he wrote and directed several other films which are worth watching. Even though Knightriders is often forgotten in many lists, it has its fair share of fans and not knightriderswithout reason: it’s a nice movie where a group of bikers re-enact the world of medieval knights and, no matter how unlikely that sounds, it does work (and starts a.o. Ed Harris and Tom Savini). It’s not in our Top 3, but we thought we’d give it a mention, rather than spend a lot of time on that quintessential Romero movie: Night of the Living Dead. Yes, it’s in our top 3 because it’s the start of a zombie genre that leads up to now when zombies are even on TV (we’re not talking about political leaders, but about shows like The Walking Dead – and yes, the fact we said “shows”, so plural – is making our point for us. And it’s a start of a trilogy where all three movies have a message and are a sign of the times. So there, Night of the Living Dead is in our top three, but if you want to avoid zombies at any cost: feel free to pick Knightriders as an alternative.

Night would have been our number two, which is – you don’t have to tell us how charts work – higher than number three. That’s our spot for The Crazies, which – like Night – has also been remade. Romero’s original was released in 1973 and rather than reviewing it now, we’ll refer you to our previous review – which you can find here.

Number one is Martin. It’s a wonderful film about a young man who thinks he’s a vampire and the entire film Romero makes you guess whether he’s delusional or really a vampire). It’s nowhere as known as his zombie movies, which is a terrible shame you can do something about… by watching it. Apparently, it was also Romero’s most loved film, so if you like it, you’re in good company.

Martin-RomeroP.S. Because of this article, the scheduled review will now be posted on Thursday. At this point, Avenue Kurtodrome releases (at least) one entry a week, so if you check in once every seven days you should always be able to read something new.

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Curve

Opinions differ. What one person likes, another doesn’t. Some comments about the short film below are negative, going from “1/10” (not exactly a multi-layered review) to “excellent job”. One reviewer said Curve lacked a back-ground story. If you read some of our earlier reviews of short movies, you might remember we don’t agree with that. Short movies, if done well, are perfectly equipped to show you a singular moment or event. Curve shows you a young woman clinging to a smooth surface and well aware of one thing: there’s a deep dark abyss beneath her feet and falling doesn’t seem like the best option. You don’t know why she’s there or why there’s blood on her head (Did she fall? Was she pushed?) No, in the end there’s only one question here: can she cling on or not?

Curve, written and directed by Tim Egan and starring Laura Jane Turner, is an Australian movie. Not that it shows: the actress doesn’t speak and the curve itself could’ve been anywhere (or nowhere). It’s a tiny unworldly atmosphere, reduced to the yes/no question we mentioned above.

If that’s not your thing, don’t bother with Curve. But as we mentioned earlier: opinions differ. Curve is the winner of several awards as you can see in the oblong below. There’s also a play button at the bottom left. Feel free to click on it.

CURVE from Lodestone Films on Vimeo.

2016: who would’ve been n°1?

Despite our best intentions to do this annually, we have had years who had to go without a list of the best 99 musical tracks. For very personal reasons, 2016 was one of those years. You’ll remember 2016, that bundle of joy. You couldn’t even enjoy a musical programme to hide from the dreadful news because virtually every show was interrupted by an announcement of another musical legend no longer amongst the living.

One thing struck us, though: we might have had lots of discussions offline about the influence of David Bowie, but when we had a look at our online archive, it turned out we hadn’t published that much about him.
So yes, we did see Bowie as one of the biggest artists of the 20th century (for various reasons we won’t mention here, but do feel free to send us a postcard if you’d like some correspondence about this topic) and his death (in January) as well as the release of Blackstar just before he’d leave us set the tone for the musical year 2016.

“Dollar Days” isn’t just a tribute to a late artist, it also contains lyrics that may have received fewer lines written about them than “Lazarus” but are equally – if not more – poignant. Especially the “I’m dying to” which – with an extra ‘o’ in ‘to’ – haunts you until well after the final notes…

Had there been a Best of 2016, “Dollar Days” would have the number one. So here it is:

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.

This Is She

The time felt about right for another short movie. Short movies are interesting for various reasons, either because they’re made by people learning the trade or because we’re dealing with a story that works better in a shorter frame. At its worst, a short movie feels flat because it doesn’t satisfy: the story isn’t worked out correctly, resulting in movies that are too dense (trying to tell too much in a couple of minutes) or fleeting (there’s not enough to make an interesting movie out of it). At its best, shorter movies have the ability to stay with you for longer than full-feature movies do. Shorter movies either show a certain fact or 567011672_1280x720event and explore it (as with the recently shown Blood Pulls A Gun) or they take one specific event (in this case the sudden arrival of a spot on the wall) and build up the movie with the effects, action and reaction – focusing almost entirely on that. Besides that, things happen that prompt questions. We don’t get too many details of the young woman: we hear her parents on the phone, there is a back story hinted at during those calls, there’s a man who suddenly pops up, we see a glimpse of her job when she arrives home from work, … but the main focus here is the spot.

Looking for a movie to post on the Avenue, we browsed through several others, but too often we didn’t feel satisfied enough or there was too much adoration for iconic filmmakers. Channeling your heroes isn’t bad in itself, but it should never get in the way of this-is-she-stillthe short. It’s not good to watch a film and catch yourself thinking “Hmm, I wonder how many movies by Lynch and Godard they must’ve watched” rather than paying attention to the film itself. Having said that, it’s true that we started watching This Is She while thinking of Repulsion, but before too long, This is she moves into completely different territory. Or in other words, it becomes a work of its own.

The protagonist is played by Grace Rex. The Avenue computers, who like the internet, never forget told us that we’d already done a search on “Grace Rex” and, unlike a lot of the internet, our computers weren’t wrong: she gave a memorable performance during an episode of Blindspot. In the case of This is she, Grace is more than just the leading actress, she also wrote the story. The director is Tarik Karam, who has been a second unit director on Extremely Loud & Terribly Close and The Reader and so far helmed a couple of shorts and a documentary himself.

So there you go, the story of a young woman who discovers a spot on the wall. That’s all you need to know about this film. Enjoy!

THIS IS SHE from Grace Rex on Vimeo.

Telephone tracks

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Today, we don’t pay tribute to a movie or a book, but to one of the most used and least appreciated inventions of our modern age: the telephone. And we’ll do this by playing you five tracks about this humble yet torturous device. Because a telephone is more than a tool for one person to connect to another person. Today we talk about the calling, the wanting to be called, the anxiety you have while waiting and the weird calls – and some novelty songs too.

For those of you who thought we’d kick off with Blondie‘s Call me, you’re wrong.

… because that other track by Blondie is much more appropriate for this selection. Yes, you can call Blondie all day, but “Hanging” talks about that lump in your throat when you’ve mustered enough courage to grab that phone and you’re waiting for the other person to pick up. Oh pick up, please…

LIL LOUIS & THE WORLD – I called u (but you weren’t there)

But maybe (s)he isn’t there. And sometimes that’s a good thing, as proven in this track by Lil Louis, who gets a less than lovely call from his former girlfriend. Lil Louis may be only remembered for the late 80s track where he used the sound of a female orgasm (French kiss, if you’ve forgotten), a track we really hated. Whereas we did like “I called you”, but that never became as much of a hit. Shows you how much we understand about the world.

GREEN VELVET – Answering Machine
See, if every time you pick up your phone, you hear this sort of stalkerish abuse, one understands why you’d buy an answering machine. Like Green Velvet did in 1997 and he was kind enough to upload the neverending torrent of good news he could listen to. Or to summarize nearly five minutes in one sentence: “I don’t need this shit.”

ANDREAS DORAU – Das Telefon Sagt Du
Is this selection becoming too gloomy? Let’s hurry over to Germany then for Andreas Dorau‘s wonderful anthem about the telephone. If anything, it will change the way you listen to the phone’s sound forever. Isn’t the pre-dial sound much like “Du” (or the English translation “you”)? Try it, then try to forget it. Can’t do it, eh? Add to this powerful lyrics: “Everyone knows this sound / ‘BT’ sends it through your phone / this signal means ‘free’ / and that’s how it makes me feel.” Then, in full ego-boosting mode (possibly channelling Snow White), Andreas asks its phone the name of that dashing young gentleman (Du/you) and, why stop when everything’s going great, his next question is who’s the dream of every woman. And again, that lovely telephone praises Dorau’s ego.
Probably best known for the 90s tracks “Girls in love” (which isn’t as sweet as the title suggests: it’s about a 16-year-old girl who commits suicide when her boyfriend cheats on her), “Das Telefon sagt du” isn’t the first or only novelty hit by Dorau (at which point we’d like to stress we really really love this sort of novelty tracks and we don’t mean it in any condescending way). In the early 80s Dorau, together with the Marinas, celebrated the arrival of spaceman “Fred vom Jupiter” (of which we’ve picked the extended version – more Fred!).

This is not the original video of “Das Telefon” (we’re not even sure there was one), but this video by Borja Martín may be the quirkiest thing you’ll see all day.

HELENA VONDRACKOVA – Ruf mich an
And finally, Ruf mich an, a song – we must admit – we only discovered while browsing YouTube in search for a decent finale. The year is 1969 and the almighty video hadn’t been invented. Sure, you had scopitones and even in those days shows devoted to teenagers liked to insert some video footage of a band who was touring the region (sadly, never at the time of recording). So what they did was have the band over and record them playing their single in whichever setting was available, peculiar and out of the ordinary. Hence, the footage you sometimes find on YouTube of the likes of Sonny & Cher etc. in a circus tent, in a stable or – in case the producers were less creative – in a dark room. Because, apparently, nothing screamed “1960s teenager” as much as putting your favourite artists in a stable and making them perform their latest hit.
We of the Avenue Kurtodrome were already aware of this phenomenon, so we didn’t blink an eye when Helena Vondráčková started singing to us from between a flock of camels (even though Camel #1 looked as if (s)he’d preferred Black Sabbath). Helena singing “Call me, doesn’t matter how, where or when” while sitting on a horse? Sure, why not? However, 85 seconds into the video, Helena is no longer the focus of the song: suddenly – settle down, David C. – a pig is swinging itself into the screen and Helena decides nothing is more fun than swinging along. Remember all those people talking about the “swinging sixties”? We had no idea this is what they meant…

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.)