Dementia 13: Coppola’s Graduation Film from “Corman College”

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Francis Ford Coppola cut his teeth in the film industry working for B-movie master Roger Corman as a script doctor, dialogue writer, sound tech, and all-around jack of all trades. As a supplement to Coppola’s education in cinema studies at UCLA, Corman’s tutelage provided a “film education” from a practical perspective. Later, Corman would enhance the educations of other writers and directors, including Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Robert Towne, Nicolas Roeg, and Jonathan Demme, by hiring them to write, direct, or shoot his B-movies. This combination of formal schooling and “Corman College” gave this group of filmmakers—the Film School Generation—a unique understanding and appreciation of cinema. I can’t help but think that this is what makes the FSG difficult to match in terms of mastery of the medium.

I recently watched Coppola’s debut directorial feature, Dementia 13, for the first time, and I could see the influences of both a formal film education and Corman College.

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Father of Fear

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This Friday, August 26, finds TCM’s Summer under the Stars getting a little chillier than usual with an all-day marathon covering the career of horror icon Boris Karloff from the dawn of cinema’s sound era in the revolutionary FRANKENSTEIN (1931) through his elder statesman phase of the horror genre in Roger Corman’s THE TERROR (1963).

However, I’m zooming in on the last film in the Karloff filmography airing that day (and repeating again on Halloween if you miss it!) — and one that’s especially close to my heart since it’s the first film I remember scaring me on TV (courtesy of a TBS airing many years ago). BLACK SABBATH (1963) is the only anthology film directed by the great Mario Bava and Karloff’s sole excursion into Italian horror. Karloff plays a key role in the longest and most elaborate of the three stories, “The Wurdulak,” and also serves as the onscreen host tying all three tales together. What’s fascinating and well covered by now is the fact that Karloff actually shot his narrator duties twice, with the Italian and American prints featuring entirely different presentations. The Italian version also adds a lighthearted coda with Karloff astride a wooden horse used for one of his earlier scenes, pulling back to show the film crew in a delightful, barrier-shattering flourish. [...MORE]

Revisiting The Terror (1963) on Blu-ray

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TCM’s spotlight on American International Pictures is over but I recently got my paws on a copy of The Film Detective’s new Blue-ray of The Terror, a film that was originally released by AIP in 1963. I was so bowled over by the quality of the disc that it made me reconsider my long held view of this low-budget Gothic horror film initiated by Roger Corman.

Like any horror film fan worth their salt and of a certain age, I’d seen badly beat-up and butchered prints of The Terror on TV and video a number of times. The film suffered the unfortunate fate of falling into public domain decades ago so it became a staple of late night television and was repeatedly released as part of cheap video and DVD compilations typically sold in bargain bins. What I hadn’t realized is how much the poor presentation of the film had colored my opinion of it.

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Sexual Revolution on Campus – Three in the Attic (1968)

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Judy Pace and Christopher Jones in Three in the Attic (1968)

“Non-swimmers should never leap bare-assed into the sea of love.”
- Dean Nazarin (Nan Martin) in Three in the Attic

TCM continues their month-long celebration of American International Pictures tonight with a series of films that showcase their efforts to capitalize on the youth zeitgeist of the 1960s. Movies scheduled to air include the original Beach Party (1963) along with more controversial fare such as the Roger Corman’s outlaw biker extravaganza The Wild Angels (1966), the experimental drug film The Trip (1967) which I wrote about a few months ago, and the political farce Wild in the Streets (1968). Tonight also marks the TCM debut of Three in the Attic (1968), a fairly bleak sex comedy that loosely dabbles in gender politics and became the studio’s highest grossing film of the decade. Despite its financial success and popularity with audiences, Three in the Attic has largely been forgotten and has yet to find its way onto DVD.

The film was the brainchild of Richard Wilson (The Big Boodle; 1957, Al Capone; 1959, Invitation to a Gunfighter; 1964, etc.), a longtime cohort of Orson Welles who had produced and acted in a number of Welles’s films including Citizen Kane (1941) The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Macbeth (1948) before he started making his own movies. Wilson’s eighth directorial effort was Three in the Attic and it came about after he spotted an article by author Stephen Yafa in a 1967 issue of Playboy where the writer discussed his recent novel titled Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course. In the article, Yafa humorously explains that he wrote the book “. . . out of venomous contempt for all the claptrap I’d ever seen which presumed to examine the sex life of young Americans and succeeded only in vilifying our lower regions.” Wilson was intrigued by Yafa’s off-color sense of humor and he convinced American International Pictures to let him produce and direct an adaptation of the book retitled Three in the Attic.

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Mistress of Menace: Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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There was a depth to her. On the surface she was a beautiful brunette woman. Beneath that–and you could almost get poetic here looking into her eyes–you could see layer, upon layer, upon layer. I could probably best, and inadequately, describe it as a kind of exotic mystery.” – Roger Corman on Barbara Steele

There are many reasons why you should turn into TCM tonight (8 PM EST/5 PM PST) to catch The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) hosted by Roger Corman. First and foremost, it was the second film in Corman’s laudable Edgar Allan ‘Poe Cycle’ and it remains one of the director’s most frightening achievements generating a palpable sense of dread within its opening minutes with help from Les Baxter’s bone-chilling score. It is also one of American International Picture’s best looking productions displaying some sumptuous 16th century inspired set design by Daniel Haller who, with a minuscule budget, transforms a Hollywood set into a medieval castle draped in blood red and cryptic black velvet accompanied by glimmers of antique gold. Richard Matheson’s script is surprisingly innovative adapting Poe’s suspenseful tale told by a single nameless protagonist into a full-blown gothic drama with multiple characters and elements of mystery, romance and supernatural horror. In addition, Vincent Price delivers one of his greatest performances here as the ill-fated Don Nicholas Medina, a deeply troubled character who alternates between profound melancholy and all-consuming madness. Last but certainly not least, it has the distinction of being the first American horror film featuring the beguiling Mistress of Menace, Barbara Steele.

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Spotlight on AIP with Roger Corman

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Roger Corman is coming to TCM!

Every Thursday night throughout the month of May TCM will be spotlighting American International Pictures (AIP) with a block of films hosted by director and producer Roger Corman. Corman learned his trade while working with AIP, which was established in 1954 by Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson. The Los Angeles based company was committed to making low-budget, independently produced B-movies aimed at the burgeoning youth market that were typically released as double features and shown at drive-ins.

During its heyday, AIP became a training ground for many future filmmakers and actors including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Nicholas Roeg, James Cameron, Peter Bogdanovich, Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Joe Dante, Jack Hill, Paul Bartel, Stephanie Rothman, Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hooper, Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Peter Fonda and Robert De Niro. The company was responsible for reviving the careers of older horror stars neglected by Hollywood such as Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre securing them a new generation of fans. AIP also established working relationships with international film distributors introducing American audiences to foreign films by Federico Fellini, Mario Bava and Ishirō Honda. And they played an important role in creating popular genres such as Blaxploitation, Biker movies and the Beach Party movies that helped make Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon household names.

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April 30, 2016
David Kalat
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The Artist Formerly Known as Walter Paisley

As regular readers here know, I’ve got a thing for documentaries that ruminate on the meaning of “art” and dig into the gray areas of artistic expression.  Well, I also like fictional satires on the art world, too—and one of the cleverest, Roger Corman’s gloriously bonkers A Bucket of Blood (1959) is on TCM on Thursday the 5th (set your DVRs).

A Bucket of Blood stars Dick Miller as “Walter Paisley,” lowly busboy in a coffee bar/art gallery. The poor guy is a little slow, and as impressionable as a child. Too bad his biggest influences are self-absorbed young adults preening with affectation: they wear bathrobes and creative facial hair, blather on about organic farming and obscure foodstuffs, constantly projecting an air of bored indifference. They rally around a beatnik poet whose manifesto declares that Art is more important than anything, even the lives of other human beings. And Walter wants nothing more than to be one of them.

The joke is that he wins their accolades and respect only by taking that callous screed literally – he kills people and turns their corpses into Art. That part is familiar – on loan from House of Wax (1953), the film that made Vincent Price a household name just a few years earlier. A Bucket of Blood distinguishes itself not by plot points but by context – let Vincent Price mummify his victims with nary a tongue in cheek, but Dick Miller’s body of work is gloriously absurd.

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KEYWORDS: A Bucket of Blood, Dick Miller, Roger Corman
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New on Blu-ray: Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967)

trip1 In 1966, Roger Corman was enjoying the surprising success of The Wild Angels (1966), a trailblazing biker film that he directed and produced for American International Pictures. The studio had made the film for a mere $360,000 and it netted more than $10 million at the box office thanks to a burgeoning counterculture eager to see the world they knew depicted on screen.

The Wild Angels starred Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, children of Hollywood’s old guard, along with a cast that included genuine Hell’s Angels. The plot is based on actual stories the rowdy bikers relayed to Corman on set and the nihilistic nature of the film, as well as the extreme violence and sexual deviance depicted on screen, sparked global outrage among American diplomats as well as sanctimonious film critics.

Naturally, American International Pictures wanted to further their headline grabbing success and asked Corman to helm a second biker movie but the independent minded director had other ideas. His follow-up film was The Trip (1967), another groundbreaking depiction of bohemian youth culture but this time he explored the effects of experimenting with hallucinogenic drugs. Like The Wild Angeles, The Trip caused a minor uproar when it was released. Executives at American International Pictures were so concerned that the film might encourage LSD use that they decided to make some edits, including the addition of a message in the opening minutes that warned of the potential dangers of taking drugs. Nearly 50-years later the movie was finally restored and thanks to Olive Films, Roger Corman’s original psychedelic vision is now available on Blu-ray.
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This week on TCM Underground: The Born Losers (1967) and The Glory Stompers (1967)

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Turner Classic Movies comes roaring back into town this weekend after an absence of 400 weeks (well, feels like) with a rip-snortin’ double feature of 60s biker films that will make you want to hit the open road or hit somebody in the face while wearing dirty jeans and a Devil-may-care grin. [...MORE]

Oliver Reed at 77: A Conversation

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Tune into TCM on Febuary 20th to catch Oliver Reed in OLIVER! directed by his uncle, Carol Reed.

Feb. 13th marks what would have been Oliver Reed’s 77th birthday if he was still with us. Reed died in 1999 but he has long been one of my favorite actors so to honor his memory I decided to contact filmmaker Kent Adamson who worked with Oliver Reed in the 1980s and is friendly with the actor’s son (Mark). What follows is a lengthy Q&A where Kent generously shares his own recollections and thoughts about the actor’s life and career. I hope you’ll enjoy reading our exchange as much as I enjoyed taking part in it.

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