Precipageddon is upon us!

The Rains of Ranchipur

It’s raining in Los Angeles and we’re afraid. Rain does that to us, occurring as it does here so infrequently. Our terra firma is too sun-baked to properly absorb precipitation and there is too much concrete; our storm drains are clogged with leaves and fast food detritus and the rain water pools when it comes down, forming lakes at every intersection and making sluiceways (yes, sluiceways) of the gutters. The natural response of Angelenos to rain is to drive very, very fast, cutting yellow lights in the red and not using turn signals. We can only hope this helps. I am high and dry at the moment and thinking of some of my favorite rain scenes in movies because, as film lovers do, when real life intrudes I go to the movies…  [...MORE]

December 14, 2013
David Kalat
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A girl and a gun

For the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at the career of Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker who took pride in repeatedly remaking the same basic film endlessly.  We’re finally done with Chabrol—which means it’s time to skip back in time to one of Chabrol’s idols, Fritz Lang.

If you want to play along at home, TCM will be screening The Big Heat on Friday December 20th.  It’s as hard-hitting and bold as any American film noir—which is appropriate, for a film that found Lang updating his Dr. Mabuse franchise for American audiences.


KEYWORDS: Fritz Lang, Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, The Big Heat (1953)


Salvador Dali’s surrealist career was bookended by his experiences in the movies.

I have to couch that statement with the limiter “surrealist career” because Dali was a prolific and prodigious talent whose larger artistic career in toto is almost incomprehensibly vast—he was painting like a pro when he was a small child, and kept at it until 1989.  That’s right, Dali was around to witness the first Internet virus.  Just wrap your head around that.

But… he is known and celebrated primarily as a surrealist, and it is that phase of his career which intersects the world of movies.  And therein lies our tale.



Hate Binges: The Big Heat and The Lawless

The post-WWII economic expansion exploded in 1950, as the GI Bill’s low mortgage rates stoked a housing boom and pent-up consumer demand propped up retail. Success was there for the taking, but not for all. Two early 50s films that are hitting home video in impressive transfers,  Joseph Losey’s The Lawless (1950, on DVD 5/29 from Olive Films) and Fritz Lang’s The Big Heat (1953, now out on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time), documented some of the anxieties caused by this enormous upheaval in American life, what would be the start of the greatest stretch of economic growth in U.S. history. More money meant more crime, and The Big Heat is a nightmare rendering of the American Dream, as good cop  Glenn Ford loses his nuclear family and just goes nuclear. The Lawless is an earnest morality play about the plight of migrant fruit pickers in Southern California, doing the work Americans left for office gigs (by 1956 a majority of U.S. workers held white rather than blue collar jobs).


Remaking Metropolis

Complete but not definitive

Last year I had the privilege of participating in the Blu-Ray restoration of the restored version of Metropolis (the UK Blu-Ray edition at least, from Masters of Cinema), recording an audio commentary alongside Jonathan Rosenbaum.  It was a tremendous thrill to see this once-lost footage brought back into circulation—it makes you think that maybe anything is possible.  But for all that was positive about the experience, there was one point of frustration, centered on how the restored edition was marketed.  And to explain my contrarian position, we need to back up over eight decades and tell the convoluted story of multiple Metropoli.


Re: Creeps

These are challenging times for the horror movie fan. The dominance of digital technology has larded the genre with tons o’titles no one in their right mind could ever get around to seeing; meanwhile, plenty of big studio and mid-sized horror continues to gush through the locks… and I find myself propelled ever more backwards, backwards, backwards. I’ve developed a fetish for early sound and silent horror… the primitive, the chalky, the chiaroscuro, the unforgettable. Awaiting delivery of Jonathan Rigby’s Studies in Terror: Landmarks in Horror Cinema  (Signum Books, 2012), I reread his earlier American Gothic: Sixty Years of Horror Cinema (Reynolds & Hearn, Ltd., 2007), which details the employment of grotesque, arabesque and evermore curioso themes in American films from the first nickelodeon flickerings through to the horror-science fiction hybrids that were all the rage before the United Kingdom’s Hammer Studios rebooted Gothic shocks with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957). If ever a print book demanded hyperlinks, it would be American Gothic, particularly for its early chapters on silent horrors. While I read the book cover-to-cover the first time, this time I paused to research interesting titles on the Internet to see if any might be viewable in any form. Most weren’t but some were and it was very gratifying to augment my reading with parallel studies of my own. In so doing, I began to think about the use of creeps in old horror movies… shadow figures who haunt the periphery, either to frighten or kill off the normals or to be used for some occult purpose. Think The Bat in THE BAT (1926) or The Cat in THE CAT AND THE CANARY (1927) or even Cesare the Somnombulist in THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1919)… you know, skulking characters of questionable motive and infernal design. Those guys.  [...MORE]

Reinventing Lolita in MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (1973)


One of the most iconic images to emerge from the cinema in the 1960s is young Sue Lyon peering over her sunglasses in Stanley Kubrick’s LOLITA (1961) and I’m not alone in my view. The Spanish genre director Eloy de la Iglesia must have agreed with me when he decided to cast Sue Lyon in his intriguing futuristic thriller, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD (aka CLOCKWORK TERROR; 1973). Eloy de la Iglesia’s film has often been labeled a low-budget and poorly constructed Spanish knock-off of Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971) and it’s easy to understand why. But its meta-referencing goes way beyond Kubrick’s adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel and tips its hat in equal measure to Kubrick’s LOLITA. In fact, MURDER IN A BLUE WORLD is really an homage to Kubrick himself and arguably one of the most interesting films released in Spain during the early ‘70s.


A Twist of Claude Chabrol

I am a Claude Chabrol fan. What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that when I heard that Twist had come out on DVD, I immediately rushed to the Internet to buy a copy, and the instant it arrived, I watched it. This, for a film that even Chabrol himself admitted (correctly) was his worst ever creation. So, this week, a tribute to M. Chabrol, by way of his worst film, in all it’s stinky, putrid glory.

DVD box cover [...MORE]

DVD Tuesday: Late Lang

In a bit of home video serendipity, the films Fritz Lang made in Hollywood and Germany from 1956 – 1959 were all recently released on DVD. The Warner Archive put out re-mastered versions of his last two Hollywood films While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), while the UK Masters of Cinema label produced a luminous edition of his two-part Indian epic, The Tiger of Eschnapur (1959) and The Indian Tomb (1959). All four films snare their main characters in webs of malevolent fate. The first two pin their characters inside geometrically arranged compositions, granted the illusion of motion in a world constantly boxing them in. This is garishly illustrated in the Indian Epic, as seen above, with elaborate imagery of imprisonment emerging from the set design. They use strikingly different methods to pursue similar ideas of fate and desire, from threadbare pulp to embroidered imperialist myth.


The Things That Came and Went

“It was the silliest of movies.”

That was how H.G. Wells described Fritz Lang’s METROPOLIS.  Wells went on to detail, with the maddening precision and relentless nit-pickery of the true geek, everything wrong with METROPOLIS.  If he’d been writing today instead of 1927, Wells would have been at home fanning an online flame war.

Then, about ten years later, Wells had the chance to put his money where his mouth was—or, rather, put Alexander Korda’s money where Wells’ mouth was.  It was directed by William Cameron Menzies, and is an eye-popping a piece of SF spectacle as you could ask for, but on the posters and the title sequence, it was Wells’ name above all others, above Menzies, above Korda.  This was Wells’ movie—and so it’s fair to see it, in part, as a direct answer to METROPOLIS.  And for all the nice things about THINGS TO COME, it does have some rough edges and awkward bits that reveal what happens when you put a disproportionate value on the predictive aspects of your speculative fiction.

Title card


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