For the Love of a Man [2015)

What a film!

Sometimes I end with that sentiment, but I want to make sure that you take away that message.

This fantastic documentary takes a look at the cult of personality surrounding the biggest star of Tamil cinema:  Rajinikanth.

To paraphrase from one of my favorite films (Genghis Blues), Rajinikanth is like Michael Jordan, Elvis, and John F. Kennedy rolled into one.

If you live in the state of Tamil Nadu.

India.

Yes, we recently touched on Rajasthan, but let’s find Tamil Nadu on a map.

Very southern tip of India.

On the east side.

And here’s where we find Chennai.

[Which seems to be pronounced Chin-ay]

And, of course, Chennai used to be called Madras.

Now that we are caught up on geography, let’s get back to this amazing figure known as Rajini (short for Rajinikanth).

If we are to compare him to other international cinema stars, we might look to Jean-Paul Belmondo.

That great lip-rubbing outlaw of À bout de souffle.

Definitely a smoker.

Smoking those thick-tar Boyards cigarettes.

[Or so I imagine]

And sunglasses.

Rajini must always have his sunglasses.

Cigarettes and sunglasses.

Sounds like a ZZ Top song.

But for Rajinikanth, you need a big, thick mustache.

And you need a certain finesse with those props (the smokes and the shades).

Like Michael Jackson in the “Smooth Criminal” video.

Yeah!

This is India, man!

There’s dancing in the films!

The stars dance!!

And sing!!!

[Of course, don’t tell the generations of voiceover singers that]

But it is well-known.

Mohammed Rafi.  Lata Mangeshkar.

But did Rafi ever sing in Tamil?  Not that I know of.

And Lata?  I have no idea.  But it wasn’t her main language.

So let’s take a step back here…

Tamil.

By “native speakers” (70 million), Tamil is the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Turkish, Italian, and Thai (just to name a few).

By “total number of speakers” (74 million), Tamil is still the 20th most spoken language in the world.

That’s ahead of Korean, Turkish, and Vietnamese (to name just three).

But what about Tamil cinema?

I’m sure it goes without saying that this is my first venture into writing about this unique slice of the world pie.

Indeed, it’s my first time even really contemplating it to a serious degree.

But back to this Rajinikanth fellow…

He’s ostensibly been the biggest star in Tamil cinema…since the 1970s!

He debuted in 1975.

His first film was in Tamil.

In 1976, he was in four films (only one of which was in Tamil).

In 1977, he was in 15 (!) films (eight being in Tamil).

In 1978, he was in 21 (!!) films (16 in Tamil).

Funny enough, Rajinikanth was not born in Tamil Nadu.

No, rather, he was born in the state of Mysore.

However, this state no longer exists under that name.

And being born in the city of Bangalore (a.k.a. Bengaluru), Rajinikanth would have been born in what is now the state of Karnataka.

65% of Kannadigas (those who live in Karnataka) speak Kannada (not to be confused with Canada).

Oddly, Rajinikanth was born to a Marathi family.

As in, people who speak the Marathi language.

So how does he become the biggest star of the Tamil people?

He indeed spoke Marathi (and Kannada) as a child.

It was only when Rajinikanth came to the Madras Film Institute (well into life) that he finally learned Tamil.

He was 25 when he acted in his first film (a Tamil production).

But I must say, Rajinikanth is a very charismatic figure.

I never finished comparing him to other actors.

Part of me wants to say James Dean, but I think Bruce Lee might be even more apt.

Rajinikanth kicks butt.  But with style!

He has moxie!

And most importantly, he stands up for the little guys.

Having been a bus conductor himself, he has played roles such as that of an auto-rickshaw driver.

And by dint of his sheer magnetism (and an almost Soviet, Trotskyist atmosphere in Tamil Nadu), he has spawned a legion of fans who await his film premieres with what can only be compared to the manic thrall of Beatlemania.

His fans literally scream their lungs out on opening nights…so happy to see their hero in a new picture.

And Rajinikanth makes but one movie every three years now.

If all of this sounds remotely interesting to you, then you absolutely must see For the Love of a Man (which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.).

Director Rinku Kalsy proves herself worlds above many of her contemporaries with this penetrating documentary.

Producer Joyojeet Pal seems to have played a very “hands-on” role as well (as a researcher for this picture).

It’s not always clear where the action is occurring in our film, but it seems that some of it (at least) was filmed in Sholinghur (which is about 67 miles inland from the coastal Chennai).

Then again, we do catch one glimpse of the actual Rajinikanth in the film…and it is in front of his residence in Chennai.

Which is to say, For the Love of a Man is very much about fandom.

And it reminds me of my own devotion to my heroes:  Jean-Luc Godard, Mercury Rev, Bob Dylan…

So I very much identified with the cross-section of Tamil society surveyed in this documentary.

Their devotion to their “leader” is very touching.

Not least, Rajinikanth seems like a very spiritual and magnanimous person.

A really generous human being.

And THAT is what really cements the devotion of his fans.

Any film publication that ripped this movie (Hollywood Reporter) must not have its head on straight.

Anyone in Venice who pooh-poohed this film needs a good spanking.

For the Love of a Man is a masterpiece.

-PD

The Silence of the Lambs [1991)

Wouldn’t it be neat if the FBI actually did things?

Good things.

When’s the last time the FBI actually caught a criminal?

A real criminal.

They had a lovely chance to save America.

By investigating 9/11.

And so we have been investigating the investigators.

Special Agent.

So special…

I was wrong about Twin Peaks.

Because you have to add to the propagandistic litany The X-Files.

And finally this hulking slab of mind control.

Lies can be so beautiful.

Perhaps…once upon a time…the FBI did something.

After Hoover…and before OKC.

A small window.

But let me pause for a minute and admit.

That I love this film.

It is one of the few true masterpieces of American cinema.

It stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Rosemary’s Baby.

The only real heirs to the legacy of Hitchcock.

1991.  1991.  Nineteen-ninety-one.

Does America have any honor left?

Do American troops read books?

Do military officers ever avoid the most grave corruption?

Where is the genius to save our country?

What can we learn from serial killers?

Which animals are the most clever?

At the bottom and into the middle are good men and women.

Like Clarice Starling.

Mozart’s pet bird.

A requiem.

Apocryphal.

Lachrymal vases.

My intellect is miniscule.

Our computers would have picked it up.

Desperately random.

How far can you push an old body.

How much fear can you handle?

How much panic can be breathed!

Such genius to personify.

The pathetic fallacy.  They all fawn.

But it is rather reverse reification.

Humanizing.

It.

The way of no way.

Swing hovering to deal with ambush predators.

That’s a quote.

When life mattered.

Isolation savors detail.

Real, not fake.

Hans Selye will never know.

Everything you need to know is here.

The dossier.

Two acting masterpieces.

Jodie Foster.

And Anthony Hopkins.

Once in a lifetime.

The auteurist glue?  Jonathan Demme.

What kind of game is this?

It is the biggest test.

 

-PD

Wayne’s World [1992)

When I was a kid, film was something you put in a camera.

Movies were movies.

Cinema didn’t really exist in my vocabulary.

There were no connotations between these three words.

Film, movie, cinema.

And so this was a movie I grew up on.

On which I grew up.

It was many years before I took Churchill’s admonitions about grammar seriously.

Grammar grammar.

Not film grammar.

And so here we have a very fine, enjoyable film.

Probably not coming to the Criterion Collection (unless it’s April Fool’s).

The milieu is rock and roll.

This film taught me a lot.

[Back in the days when I thought “alot” was a word.]

“Where’s von Stroheim?”

“He’s alot.”

Alas…

I just didn’t know.

I didn’t know sparkling wine from Dom Perignon.

Didn’t know Cantonese from Mandarin.

And lots of other subtle shadings which I’ve since come to appreciate.

This was probably Penelope Spheeris’ shining moment.

Unless you’re a fan of punk rock (and I am).

She did a hell of a job directing this unlikely hit.

Wayne’s World grossed nine-times its budget.

Those are early-Bond numbers.

The sequel (not directed by Spheeris) barely broke even.

Oops…

Kinda like when The Strokes fired Gordon Raphael.

But I guy dress…

Mike Myers was wonderful here.

29 years old.

Looking fit and really nailing his part.

There’s something very natural about the comedy of Wayne’s World.

It’s far less stilted than even the best of the Austin Powers franchise (that being the first installment…FYI).

The immensely-talented Dana Carvey is good as Wayne’s painfully-awkward sidekick Garth Algar.  The role doesn’t really make the best use of Carvey’s talents, but sometimes you gotta suck it up for a payday.

[Like the Suck-Kut, for instance.]

Wayne’s World had its own lexicon…patois…parlance.  Schwing!

It’s a little racy.

Wonder how Claudia Schiffer felt to be reified thusly?

Guess she should have thought about that when she started hawking jeans.

There’s really no escaping Lara Flynn Boyle recently (thank God!).

She has the worst role of all.

But I suppose Twin Peaks wasn’t exactly the same pay grade as Seinfeld.

She wasn’t selling out, she was buying in.

Indeed, I don’t doubt Morgan Spurlock pulled the kernel of inspiration for his The Greatest Movie Ever Sold from the sequence in which Wayne gobbles Pizza Hut, Doritos, and Pepsi while Garth is pimped out in Reebok gear.

Somebody’s interminable band name list got put to good use…

Crucial Taunt?!?

I must say, that detail escaped me as a kid.

But that was before I had a brief (burn out, not fade away) career as a rock musician.

We didn’t know Queen.  We didn’t know Kierkegaard.  We didn’t know Hendrix.

It was an exceptional experience on many levels.

As an impressionable youth.

Rob Lowe (a very strong comedic talent) has to play the yuppie prick in this vehicle.

Chris Farley has a memorable (yet all-too-brief) cameo as a security guard.

Farley and director Spheeris would reunite a few years later for Black Sheep.

Brian Doyle-Murray gets the treatment in his interview.

[“This man has no penis.”  Must-watch TV.]

Multiple endings…

Remarkable ingenuity.

Can’t say I’m familiar with such Situationist play in even the most erudite of art films.

But of course the gleeful bathos of the Scooby-Doo ending brings us back down to Earth.

Tia Carrere is really charming as the heroine.

Colleen Camp (remember her from Bruce Lee’s “almost” Game of Death?) has a crap role.

At least she helped Cassandra Wong learn English by way of the Police Academy movies.

Meat Loaf as doorman.

Ed O’Neill as murderous donut shop manager.

Donna Dixon as Garth’s dream woman (remember the babe from Spies Like Us?  Yeah, that one.).

And Alice Cooper!!!

Some history of Milwaukee and socialist mayors.

You gotta love rock and roll 🙂

 

-PD

 

 

Airplane! [1980)

My congratulations to Hulu for finally making a move in the right direction as regards comedic movies.

This is a chestnut from my youth.

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, this endless stream of one-liners hits some very special notes indeed.

[flying on instruments]

Ted Striker has a drinking problem…

His aim is off.

It dates back to when he was stationed on the island of Drambuie [sic].

He led the strike against Daiquiri.  We’ll be coming in low…beneath their radar.  Attacking from the north.

[when will you be back?  I can’t tell you that.  It’s top secret.]

Yes, his postwar record is even worse than his war record.

I know the feeling.

Leaves his cab with the meter running.

Striker is always coming in too hot.  Robert Hays.

World record for sweat.

But at least he has his Elaine for whom to hope.  Julie Hagerty.

Avoid the brown acid.  And the fish.

But if you do need a doctor, just look for someone perpetually wearing a stethoscope.

Leslie Nielsen.

Plays it straight as a javelin [donnnnnngggg!].

The cavalry trailing Kramer.

But back to Leslie…from Regina, Saskatchewan.

[Municipal bonds…AA rating…best investment in Canada]

Extremely underrated is Peter Graves as the pilot:  Clarence Oveur.

On the ovarian trolley.

[Have you ever seen a grown man naked?]

and

[Do you like gladiator films?]

or

[Have you ever been in a Turkish prison?]

And of course, the man himself:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

{on this night when my Spurs fell a point shy to the Thunder}

The NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387) is Roger Murdoch.

I previously wrote about Kareem’s turn in the Bruce Lee “almost” Game of Death.

Airplane!, then, was his second appearance on the big screen (and first since his kung fu debut in 1972).

Lloyd Bridges picked the wrong week for everything.

All the vices.

From a fag to a swig to bennies to some genuinely Ramones shit.

{now I’m gonna have nightmares about Westbrook}

[How ’bout some coffee?]

[…never has a second cup of coffee at home.  …never vomits at home.]

Robert Stack checks in like Gregg Popovich after a meal at Taco Bell.

[That may have been the lousiest landing in the history of this airport…]

But the absolute secret weapon is the flamingly-gay Stephen Stucker as Johnny Henshaw-Jacobs.

[it looks like a big Tylenol]

[a hat, a brooch, a pterodactyl]

Stucker’s contribution is still alive (though he sadly passed away in 1986 at the age of 38).

And so the queen act was no act.

AIDS.

Shit…

[golly]

June Cleaver speaks jive.

Joey Hammen (Ross Harris) went on to have a very interesting music career which saw his path intersect with Beck, Stereolab, and The Dust Brothers.

[Odelay!]

David Leisure and Kawhi Leonard both went to San Diego State University.

That should definitely help us in Game 3.

But we’re going to need a lot more defense from Ethel Merman.

Really, the Spurs need to revisit this excellent tome by Joel Cohen:

dynomite

No library focusing on military strategy is complete without it.

From Jomini to Clausewitz to Winshield Wiper Man:

if he can just manage to get the hood back down on the Boeing 707 after checking the dipstick.

No need to commit hara-kiri, James Hong.  Just filed under “seppuku”.

It’s 1-1.  Go Spurs Go!

 

-PD

Game of Death II [1981)

And now we ostensibly enter the schlock of true B-movie Brucespoitation.  Eight years after his death, producer Raymond Chow and distributor Golden Harvest were still trying to milk money from the cutting-floor scraps of their cash cow.  But someone kept things fairly interesting:  director See-Yuen Ng.

Though there is little to no continuity between Game of Death and Game of Death II, both films share a watchable quality which teeters on the edge of this viewer’s incredulous ennui.  Put simply, this film is better than it has any right to be.  Which is not to say this is a great (or even good) film.

The most hilarious midnight movie aspects are the contrasts between film fidelity and definition circa 1973 (the actual footage of Lee) and 1981 (the footage of everyone else).  I almost feel sorry for director Ng for the sleight-of-hand editing and shooting necessary to even attempt this picture.  Back to the film stocks not matching…much of that is also evident in the lack of deft color correction.  Occasionally a background matches and we must hand it to the technicians who found just the right shade of puke green to provide a shred of matching in the shot-reverse-shots.

Fortunately for all involved, Lee’s character meets his demise about halfway through the film.  It’s smooth sailing from there regarding the different eras of film stock.

This film is not without messages.  Some, apparently, have not been interpreted the same by all viewers.  Whereas I distinctly heard the Ginza district of Tokyo mentioned as Lee’s (and his on-screen brother’s) destination, English Wikipedia tells us that the action moves to Korea.  Of course, the astute spectator who added this bit of plot synopsis to the aforementioned site seems to have been oblivious that another contributor has Lee active before the end of the paragraph (the initial contributor giving away Lee’s character’s death along with the Korea location).  So to clarify, Lee does not resurrect during the course of the film.

Roy Horan plays a significant role as a raw-venison-eating, deer’s-blood-drinking, bearded kung fu nut.  As the name implies, Horan’s character is of white European lineage (not Chinese).  There is a subtle undercurrent which implies that Lee’s friend (and consequently his own character as well) died for teaching kung fu to non-Chinese.  This, of course, has some parallels in Lee’s actual life story.

For all of the professional attributes in this film, the “lion” attack (obviously a human in a lion costume) does not pass muster.  It is, again, the stuff of midnight movies.  Perhaps they were over budget by that point…

Tong Lung is actually pretty darn good as Lee’s brother (the hero of the film) Bobby Lo.

I won’t give away the ending, but suffice it to say that a multinational organization turns out to be the ultimate culprit of the two film murders in question.  There are all sorts of strange strings waiting to be pulled here…fake deaths, the aforementioned cartel (this particular multinational is illegal in nature), etc.

The most interesting takeaway (take out?) was the revelation (somehow…perhaps due to the less than enthralling screen drama) that one political entity would have stood to gain from the actual Lee’s real life death.  That entity would be China.  Made before Hong Kong rejoined the PRC, Bruce Lee’s films and fame might have posed a significant threat to China in that (had he lived) he might well have been a unifying figure which could have fired the flames of revolution for those residents of HK not particularly excited about joining a country with such a totalitarian approach to dissent.  But then again, any country which blocks the Internet (not counting Hong Kong and Macau) has far less to worry about.  No information dissemination, no 21st-century speed of dissent.  And it would just happen that today was July 4th…

-PD

Numero deux [1975)

Back.  Return return.  Long absence.

Unrestful battle to the death with corporate finance.

And Jeannot mentions Georges.  Beauregard?

Yes, almost certainly.

And so politics becomes sex.  But sex remains politics.  The two phenomena simultaneously.

Like dependent events and statistical fluctuations.

Ah, statistics…

Not the fun stuff of batting averages.  No, we mean correlations and covariance and stultifying minutiae.

And that’s where the money comes from.

Godard after 45 years had finally finished with Paris.  Done.  Fin.

Il y a equals = Grenoble?

A new era with Anne-Marie Miéville.  Sonimage.  Mon ton son image son.

Wordplay cures illnesses.

The glissando of sliding meaning.

Slippage.

I want to write film criticism as if I am writing a viola sonata.  Everything is possible.

Amazingly…amazingly…Wikipedia gives a synopsis.

Thank you kind soul…kind, fastidious soul.

Is it the same in France?  Numero deux est la merde?

Yes, Godard finds a way to shock…again.  Like Salò, but in a mundane grocery store of quotidian pain.

Wordplay and illnesses.

Is it Sandrine Battistella?

Is it Pierre Oudrey?

Are the child actors the best players in this film (in the tradition of Bresson)?

And Alexandre Rignault.  The old man?  I am too lazy.  It is already a service.  Mon beau souci.

The anarchy of breasts.

Both enjoy in different ways.

Pain is not simple.

It was this point at which Godard became a true revolutionary.  With his army surplus jacket.  Inconsequential.

Having survived the revolution.  The upheaval.  To live on into the era of Bruce Lee kicking Chuck Norris’ ass.

We see briefly.

But mainly we see fatigue.  The fatigue of Beethoven.  Facile technician.  Adjusting color timing instinctively.  Habit.

Sometime you must take a break from James Bond to question the fundamental things.

White people problems, they say.

No, I see the same in true cultures…in China…in Africa.

Unique modes of expression.  Unlearning.

The greatest service is to convey the feelings of the film.  If these feelings harmonize with the dissonance of your pathetique lives, then you are like me.  Searching for small miracles.

Actors cannot touch non-actors.  Praise be to actors who appear to have no technique–who appear to be non-actors.

Either way.  Doesn’t matter.  Matters.

-PD

Game of Death [1978)

Panopticon.

Self-censorship.

Can’t leave well-enough alone.

Yes.  In America we have our heroes of the Revolution.  George Washington.  Paul Revere.

But here…we have a sad goodbye to a great hero for Hong Kong.

Thus begins the Bruce Lee apochrypha.

It starts very bad.  Some of the editing seems straight out of the Tim and Eric Awesome Show.

But it gets better.  Way better!  No, this is not a great film.  It’s not even really a good film.  But for fans of Bruce Lee it is worth watching for several reasons.

I must admit:  Bruce Lee brought about a change in my innermost being.  I know that sounds naïve.  I owe some credit to Shaquille O’Neal.  I just happened to catch an interview between Shaq and Yao Ming in which O’Neal admitted that his passion for basketball stemmed from being inspired by Bruce Lee.

Having recently seen Lee’s canonic oeuvre when I came across this interview, it made total sense to me what Shaq was saying.

And that brings us to one of the highlights of Game of Death:  Bruce Lee vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Yes, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer indeed plays a fairly significant role in this film.  What is more, this gives me the opportunity to reach out and wish Kareem a speedy recovery as he has just recently undergone coronary bypass surgery.

It actually is amazing that director Robert Clouse put together a semi-watchable film from what little he had to go on.

Hugh O’Brian is pretty good in this.  It’s just a shame that his acting talents go to waste in dialogues with body doubles.

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, let me clarify:  Bruce Lee was no longer alive when this film was being put together.  Though Lee filmed portions of it, his absence presented a particularly insurmountable problem.

It pains me to say this, but it really is the ensemble cast which keeps this film afloat when it should lag and sag from Lee’s missing contribution.  Dean Jagger is a disgusting psychopath who reminds me of what I imagine Donald Rumsfeld to be like behind closed doors.

The biggest saving grace is Colleen Camp.  She looks so beautiful in this film!

As for there being a conspiracy involved in the demise of Bruce Lee, I don’t doubt that for a second.  Unfortunately, it is not a subject on which I have any pertinent knowledge.

We fans can continue to gain inspiration from the anti-fascist characters Lee embodied.  His short life brought such joy and exhilaration into the world.

-PD

殺人拳2 [1974)

[RETURN OF THE STREET FIGHTER (1974)]

There is no plot.  Given.  No love.

A darkened corner of cinema.

Haiku in reverse.  Inversion of the form.

So we shall start in a roundabout way.  Roundhouse.  Pink Floyd.  Hair.  We owe Julian Cope immensely.  Japrock.  Like Krautrock.

It was a night when I wandered into a makeshift venue in Austin.  I had hoped to see one of my favorite bands of all time (The Homosexuals), but was denied entry.  Dejected, I drifted southwest.  Perhaps it was destiny.  Flower Travellin’ Band.  What a show they put on!  Really a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

I had read Cope’s book.  Made quite an impression on me.  Tracked down many gems:  Speed, Glue & Shinki.  No commas in tags.  Les Rallizes Denudes.  Feedback mayhem!  Far East Family Band, J.A. Caesar, Masahiko Sato (Satoh), Far Out, Takehisa Kosugi, People, Blues Creation, Karuna Khyal, Kuni Kawachi, Brast Burn, Stomu Yamashta, Taj Mahal Travellers, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Kawabata Makoto, Yonin Bayashi…

I’m sure I left quite a few out.  Lots of travelling…flower, Taj Mahal…

Why do I mention all of these Japanese hippie bands?  Well, first of all they made great music!  But it is pertinent because we get visual clues in this film which pull our minds to this little known Japanese subculture of the 1970s.

I am no expert on “Japrock”…  I will leave that to Sir Cope.  But I know to pay attention when a teardrop explodes.

When we first see Don Costello (Claude Gagnon), we are made to believe he is a mute hippie beggar…beaded and fringed (and most importantly, bearded like a Tenderloin tramp).  If you want to see a short English-language Wikipedia entry, check out Monsieur Gagnon’s.  It is so pithy that it begs for elaboration on this mysterious figure.

When I first saw Gagnon in this film, I immediately thought of that great Flower Travellin’ Band album cover for Anywhere (their debut album from 1970):  a bunch of naked Japanese guys on motorcycles.  What freedom that picture conveys!  Who doesn’t want to have a group of wild friends with whom to take to the highway?  Fuck everything!  We’re free, goddamnit!!!

I was very fortunate to see FTB before their singer Joe Yamanaka died in 2011.

Return of the Street Fighter has some of that revolutionary spirit in it…even beyond Gagnon’s beard.  Take for instance Yōko Ichiji.  Her big Laurel Canyon sunglasses and bizarre schoolgirl hair never take her far from an 8-track player.

In fact, so much of Shigehiro Ozawa’s direction here has a psychedelic tilt to it such that one really sees martial arts in a whole new way.  Ozawa’s Wikipedia entry in English is two sentences long.

So let’s talk about what we can:  Sonny Chiba.  To my eyes, he had improved his acting and fighting prowess considerably by 1974 (and he was already a bad-ass to start with).  Chiba again portrays a character which might be best considered as the reverse of the Bruce Lee coin.  Lee’s obverse presence is one of mischievous valor, while Chiba is just downright mean.  But Sonny has a heroic side in these films.  That’s the point.  He’s a bad motherfucker, but you definitely want him on your side.  You don’t want to have to face off against this guy!

In many ways, Ozawa makes this a more compelling film than the original installment.  Two particularly artful and effective segments are the battle near the ski-lift and the detailing of weapons in the school (nunchaku, Okinawan sai, etc.).

In all this excitement I failed to mention Magical Power Mako (perhaps my favorite).

Now I am empty-handed and ready for karate.

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD

Enter the Dragon [1973)

Hollywood fail.  Yes.  Bruce Lee’s first three films are each better than this hunk of bejeweled shit.  Most notably, it shows how talented Lee was as a director (Way of the Dragon) compared to Robert Clouse.  But then we get the message that Lee was an “uncredited” director on this film.  Is it a reference to the fight scenes and their staging?  It seems, rather, that Lee merely directed the opening sequence of the film under consideration.

Back to Clouse then.  Perhaps his other films were better, but this one really misses the mark.  All of the special details which made The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, and Way of the Dragon such wonderful films are generally missing here.

Don’t get me wrong:  there are great moments within.  When dealing with a talent like Lee, there is always something salvageable.  Yet still, it is mind-boggling to me that the addition of major studio backing (Warner Bros.) only served to dilute the power of what Lee had been steadily building through his filmography.

But of course that would all end on July 20, 1973 when Lee died (just six days before Enter the Dragon premiered in Hong Kong).  Lee was in Hong Kong to dine with Lazenby.  George Lazenby.  The two intended to work together.  Lee met Raymond Chow at 2 p.m. to discuss his next film Game of Death.

Cerebral edema, they say.  Had occurred as recently as two months prior.  Seizures and headaches.  Mannitol.

A headache on the day of his death led to Equagesic (aspirin and meprobamate).  Analgesic/tranquilizer.

Swelling of the brain…  Was his death really an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer component of Equagesic?

A sad day.  Eleven days later his pallbearers included Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Chuck Norris, and George Lazenby.

Yes, there seems to be some dispute between the doctor in charge of autopsy (Donald Teare) and Lee’s doctor in Hong Kong.  It doesn’t really add confidence to the conclusion of the former to note that he (Teare) was recommended by Scotland Yard.  This was, of course, during the 156 years which Britain ruled Hong Kong as a colony (ending in 1997).

Had Lee eaten cannabis or hashish?  Was this the true cause of his death?  Some have claimed that Lee did this regularly to relieve the stress of fame.

Dr. Peter Wu, who had treated Lee two months prior to his death, called Dr. Teare “an expert on cannabis.”  Hmmm…

Teare’s conclusion was that the Equagesic had killed Lee.

I do find it suspicious that Lee died just six days prior to the Hong Kong release of this film.  The $850,000 film would go on to rake in $200 million by 1992.  Less than three weeks after his funeral in Seattle, the film premiered in the U.S.

Clouse would go on to cobble together footage of Lee and a couple of stand-ins for the 1978 release Game of Death.  It is interesting to note that the plot of Game of Death involves an international martial arts film star struggling against a racketeering syndicate.  What is more, this particular plot element seems to have not existed when shooting was done prior to Lee’s demise.  Perhaps Clouse redeemed himself in code???

-PD