Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pod Monk No Zero

Greetings all and more again.

Just a quick one this time.

Thanks to everyone who has been messaging me regarding the Disinformation World News Podcast and The Wicked - the new CD I am in the middle of recording with Jean Paul Lilliston.

A new Podcast should be up in a few weeks so go subscribe to the 'cast at Disinfo' and you won't miss any of the weirdness. If you are interested in previewing the new CD, listen to this free download of The Ol'Double Zero. This brand new tune has been a highlight of the various festival shows I did this summer and this work-in-progress version is a fun listen to the project as it evolves. This tune is a really raggedy country-rocker.

In addition to all of this bloated self-promotion I'd like to give some props to Thelonious Monk on what would have been his 92nd birthday. Bless you Monk. Thanks for all those great tunes.

In lieu of 92 candles, enjoy this screening of the Clint-Eastwood-produced documentary Straight No Chaser. I first saw this movie in college in Michigan and this is what turned me on to jazz.

This playlist is hosted on my YouTube channel: Imagicon and is curated by your good friends in the AV department here at Insomnia, The Sleepless Film Festival.

If you need even more music, check out my latest project:


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Please consider supporting this site by making a PayPal donation and check out our friends using the links on the right.

Joe Nolan

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Sleepless Film Festival Presents - The Tears of a Clown Double Feature: Renaldo and Clara and Les Enfants du Paradis

Good morning, comrades.

Today - for your enjoyment - another chapter in our ongoing programming at The Sleepless Film Festival. Today's pick will be Bob Dylan's 1975 epic, Renaldo and Clara.

More than just a concert film, Renaldo' clocks in at nearly 4 hours and is packed with improvised scenes featuring Mr. Zimmerman as well as the revolving cast of characters that peopled the fabled Rolling Thunder Revue tour, including: Joan Baez, Scarlett Rivera, Roger McGuinn, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Allen Ginsberg, Ronnie Hawkins, Sam Shepard and others.

Shepard was brought on as a screenwriter for the film, but ended up spending most of the tour holding on for dear life, taking enough notes to pen his classic Rolling Thunder Logbook - a great companion to the film.

Dylan is ultimately credited with writing and directing the film, and the influence of Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis is evident throughout - particularly in Dylan's infamous use of whiteface, clown makeup.

As a special treat, we are also including Carne's classic for a kind of Dylanesque double feature. But first, here is the films synopsis from the good people at Film Threat:

BOOTLEG FILES 127: "Renaldo and Clara” (1977 Bob Dylan nightmare).

LAST SEEN: We cannot confirm the last public screening.




BOOTLEG OPPORTUNITIES: Scratch and it will surface.

Being a film critic, I’ve been able to see an awful lot of movies. And, also, I’ve seen a lot of awful movies. But when it comes to the movie misfires, there is always a nagging question: when do you hit the bottom of the barrel? Surely there must be one film that can stand out as being the very, very, very worst thing ever made.

Well, I found the bottom of the barrel. And it is occupied by “Renaldo and Clara,” the 1977 monstrosity that marked the film directing debut of Bob Dylan. Yes, that Bob Dylan. The one-time Robert Zimmerman put down his guitar, picked up a viewfinder, and brought forth something which could charitably be described as the single biggest waste of celluloid in the entire history of motion pictures.

Unlike classic baddies such as “Plan 9 from Outer Space” or “Manos: The Hands of Fate,” “Renaldo and Clara” does not lend itself to the so-bad-it’s-good charm. You cannot laugh along, MST3K-style, at its awfulness. Instead, you are left numb, dumb and completely baffled at the thorough incoherence and painful lethargy of this endeavor. If I could, to borrow a Cher lyric, turn back time – well, I would turn back the four hours (yes, four hours) of the “Renaldo and Clara” running time that I put myself through.

Four hours of what? Even after watching it, I have no idea what the f**k the movie is supposed to be about. Bob Dylan plays Renaldo and his then-wife Sara plays Clara. Who these people are and what they are supposed to do is never defined. Three-hundred-pound Ronnie Hawkins plays Bob Dylan and Ronee Blakely (fresh off her Oscar-nominated debut in “Nashville”) plays Sara Dylan. Joan Baez is also the Woman in White – if only because she wears white in the movie. Baez’s character and Sara are at odds over Renaldo’s love, or maybe not – this is not clear in Dylan’s mishmash of a screenplay.

Much of the footage was shot during Dylan’s now-legendary Rolling Thunder tour, although the reasons for Dylan’s eccentric on-stage appearance (wearing plastic masks or white paint on his face) is never explained or entirely clear.

In the course of the film, folk singer David Blue plays pinball alongside a swimming pool (huh?) while talking about New York’s Greenwich Village in the late 1950s and 1960s. A group of street preachers hector indifferent New Yorkers about the alleged end of the world. A belly dancer entertains the patrons of a restaurant by wiggling her solar plexus to “Hava Nagila,” and she is followed by a sleazy lounge singer performing “Wilkommen” from the musical “Cabaret,” who is then followed on stage by Allen Ginsberg. Then we cut back to David Blue at his pinball machine. Then we go to an Indian reservation. Then Ginsberg returns to read poetry.

It is not surprising that Steve Pulchalski, the editor of Shock Cinema, described the film as being “edited together with a Weed Eater.” Midway through the movie, the action switches into a concert benefit for Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the boxer who was framed for murder in a controversial and long-running criminal case. Some scenes later, Harry Dean Stanton turns up as a convict escaping from prison. Joan Baez and Sara Dylan later turn up in a bordello dressed like prostitutes. Dylan (the real one, not Ronnie Hawkins) sings part of “House of the Rising Sun.” Allen Ginsberg returns to recite his classic poem “Kaddish” while a woman in Gypsy clothing massages his head. David Blue comes back later to play more pinball (perhaps he thought he was filming “Tommy”?). Allen Ginsberg returns again to dance (to what?). The film closes with a black woman, who is never identified and who played no part in the previous four hours, singing about “castles in the shifting sands.”

Every now and then, Dylan sings something. Often the performances are magical (his cover of Hank Williams’ “Kaw-Liga” plus “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” are standouts). But more often than not, he is a sullen and shadowy presence. A variety of oddballs ranging from Sam Shepard (in his film debut) to Ramblin’ Jack Elliot to Roger McGuinn pop up here and there, with no clear purpose.

(This brief description fails to take into account the endless and pointless symbolism of such objects as flowers, horse-drawn carriages, rooms full of senior citizens and Jack Kerouac’s grave – all of which figure prominently).

Dylan’s relationship with cinema was never entirely satisfying. He loathed the documentary “Don’t Look Now” that enshrined him as a 60s icon, dismissing it as “somebody else’s movie.” His acting debut in Sam Peckinpah’s “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” was widely considered to be a disaster and an earlier attempt at directing, the 1972 documentary “Eat the Document,” was equally egregious. Deciding to take the reins and be his own director and writer may have seemed like a good idea, but in fact it was a disaster since “Renaldo and Clara” turned out to be little more than a rambling wreck of a home movie.

In an interview with Playboy timed to the film’s release, Dylan blithely declared “Renaldo and Clara” to be a “very open movie.” He also acknowledged the film (much of it financed by himself) ran far beyond its projected $600,000 budget – Dylan told the Playboy interviewer that his previous two tours existed to raise funds for this project.

“Renaldo and Clara” opened to overwhelmingly hostile and bewildered reviews, although a few critics (most notably David Sterritt of the Christian Science Monitor) were charitably in praising its uncommon approach to linear storytelling. Audiences, though, stayed away in droves. Even the thousands who packed the “Rolling Thunder” tour wouldn’t pay to see Dylan on the big screen. Word of mouth proved so fatal that Dylan withdrew the film and cut two hours from its running time. But the trimmer “Renaldo and Clara” was still a hodgepodge horror and the film was withdrawn.

To date, Dylan has refused to allow “Renaldo and Clara” to have a commercial home video release. Bootlegs of shaky quality can be found, and their origins are traced to a single telecast on the British Channel 4 some years ago.

Dylan’s failure with “Renaldo and Clara” did not end his film work. He turned up in 1987 as the star of “Hearts of Fire” and co-wrote and starred in the 2003 fiasco “Masked and Anonymous.” Incredibly, Dylan eventually won an Academy Award – for his song “Things Have Changed” in the 2000 film “Wonder Boys.” The idea that the man who made “Renaldo and Clara” could possess an Oscar is enough to bring illness to anyone who loves movies..

And now - Renaldo and Clara...

Our second feature - Marcel Carne's Les Enfants du Paradis - also deserves an introduction. This one comes from our pal at the Chicago Sun-Times, Mr. Roger Ebert:

All discussions of Marcel Carne's ''Children of Paradise'' begin with the miracle of its making. Named at Cannes as the greatest French film of all time, costing more than any French film before it, ''Les Enfants du Paradis'' was shot in Paris and Nice during the Nazi occupation and released in 1945. Its sets sometimes had to be moved between the two cities. Its designer and composer, Jews sought by the Nazis, worked from hiding. Carne was forced to hire pro-Nazi collaborators as extras; they did not suspect they were working next to resistance fighters. The Nazis banned all films over about 90 minutes in length, so Carne simply made two films, confident he could show them together after the war was over. The film opened in Paris right after the liberation, and ran for 54 weeks. It is said to play somewhere in Paris every day.

That this film, wicked, worldly, flamboyant, set in Paris in 1828, could have been imagined under those circumstances is astonishing. That the production, with all of its costumes, carriages, theaters, mansions, crowded streets and rude rooming houses, could have been mounted at that time seems logistically impossible (''It is said,'' wrote Pauline Kael, ''that the starving extras made away with some of the banquets before they could be photographed''). Carne was the leading French director of the decade 1935-1945, but to make this ambitious costume film during wartime required more than clout; it required reckless courage.

Despite the fame of ''Children of Paradise, most of the available prints are worn and dim. It used to play every New Years' Day at Chicago's beloved Clark Theater, and that's where I first saw it, in 1967, but the 1991 laserdisc was of disappointing quality, and videotapes even worse. Now the film has been released in sparkling clarity on a Criterion DVD that begins with a restored Pathe 35mm print and employs digital technology to make the blips, dirt and scratches disappear. It is likely the film has not looked better since its premiere. There are formidably informative commentary tracks by Brian Stonehill and Charles Affron.

The film's original trailer (on the disc) calls ''Children of Paradise'' the French answer to ''Gone With the Wind.'' In its scope and its heedless heroine, there is a similarity, but the movie is not a historical epic but a sophisticated, cynical portrait of actors, murderers, swindlers, pickpockets, prostitutes, impresarios and the decadent rich. Many of the characters are based on real people, as is its milieu of nightclubs, dives and dens, theaters high and low, and the hiding places of the unsavory.

Carne plunges us directly into this world with his famous opening shot on the ''Boulevard of Crime,'' which rivals the ''street of dying men'' scene in ''GWTW,'' reaching seemingly to infinity, alive with activity, jammed with countless extras. This was a set designed by the great art director Alexander Trauner, working secretly; the credits list his contribution as ''clandestine.'' To force the perspective and fool the eye, he used buildings that fell off rapidly in height, and miniature carriages driven by dwarves. The street is a riot of low-life. Mimes, jugglers, animal acts and dancers provide previews outside their theaters, to lure crowds inside. One of the first attractions we see is advertised as ''Truth.'' This is the elegant courtesan Garance, who revolves slowly in a tub of water, regarding herself naked in a mirror. The water conceals her body, so that she supplies ''truth, but only from the neck up.'' This is also what she supplies in life.

Garance is played by Arletty (1898-1992), born as Leonie Bathiat, who became a star in the 1930s and was, truth to tell, a little old to play a sexual temptress who mesmerizes men. Like Marlene Dietrich, to whom she was often compared, Arletty's appeal was based not on fresh ripeness but on a tantalizing sophistication. What fascinates men is that she has seen it all, done it all, admits it, takes their measure, and yet flatters them that she adores them. Even cutthroats fall under her spell; when the criminal Lacenaire tells her ''I'd spill torrents of blood to give you rivers of diamonds'' she looks him in the eye and replies, ''I'd settle for less.''

Around Garance circle many of the movie's most important characters. The mime Baptiste (Jean-Louis Barrault) sees her from her stage, defends her in pantomime against a pickpocket charge, is rewarded by a rose, and falls for her. So does Frederick Lemaitre (Pierre Brasseur), as an actor who dreams of doing something good--perhaps Shakespeare. And Lacenaire (Marcel Herrand), who with his ruffled shirt, curly hair, villain's mustache and cold speech is the Rhett Butler of the piece. And the Count Edouard de Montray (Louis Salou), who thinks he has brought her but discovers he was only renting.

It is possible that Garance truly loves the innocent Baptiste, who triumphs in a bar brawl and brings her home to his rude rooming house, where he rents her a room of her own and retires separately for the night. But Frederick, who lives in the rooming house, has no such scruples--and, for that matter, Baptiste is no saint. He marries the theater manager's daughter, sires ''an abominable offspring,'' in the words of Pauline Kael, and cheats on his wife by still loving Garance. Lacenaire, who strides through the underworld like a king, basking in his reputation for ruthlessness, thinks he can have Garance for the asking (''you are the only woman for whom I do not have contempt''), but it is the Count whose money makes her his mistress. When Lacenaire pulls back a drapery so that the Count can see Garance in the arms of Frederick, so many men think they have the right to her that the actor observes, ''Jealousy belongs to all if a woman belongs to none.''

Most of the movie is frankly shot on sets, including exteriors. A misty dawn scene involving a duel provides a rare excursion outside Paris. He had ''an eye for the sad romance of fog-laden streets and squalid lodging houses,'' David Thomson writes. His characters live artificially in the demimonde, actors who are always on stage; if we meet a street beggar, like the blind man Fil de Soie (Gaston Modot), we are not much surprised to find he can see well enough indoors.

Carne's screenplay was by his usual collaborator Jacques Prevert; they not only set their story in a theatrical world but divert from the action to show the actors at work. Kael counts ''five kinds of theatrical performances,'' and they would include Baptiste's miming and a scene from ''Othello'' that provides oblique reflections on the plot. It is Baptiste whose art leaves the greatest impression. Jean-Louis Barrault (1910-1994), then a star at the Comedie Francais, is first seen in clown makeup, glumly surveying the Boulevard of Crime, brought to life only by his mimed defense of Garance. Later, he stages his own extended mime performance--only to see, from the stage, Garance flirting in the wings. No one's trust is repaid in this movie.

If Carne was France's leading director, Prevert was the leading screenwriter, at a time when writers were given equal billing with directors. They both continued to work for decades--Prevert into the 1960s, Carne into the 1980s--but never surpassed ''Children of Paradise.'' Indeed, it was precisely this kind of well-mounted, witty film that was attacked by the young French critics of the 1950s who later became known as the New Wave. They wanted a rougher, more direct, more improvisational feel--theater not on a stage but in your face.

If the Cannes festival were to attempt again today to choose the best French film ever made, would ''Children of Paradise'' win? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Just as American audiences prefer ''Gone With the Wind'' or ''Casablanca'' while the critics always choose ''Citizen Kane,'' at Cannes the palm might go to Godard or Truffaut, or Jean Vigo's ''L'Atalante.'' But ''Children of Paradise,'' now finally available in a high-quality print and ready to win new admirers, might have a chance. Few achievements in the world of cinema can equal it.


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Please consider supporting this site by making a PayPal donation and check out our friends using the links on the right.

Joe Nolan

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Sleepless Film Festival Presents - Grindhouse Lotus Venoms: A Shaw Brothers Double Feature

Hola bueno.



It is SPRINGTIME in The Old South. This means I am strolling through a wonderland of tulips and other flowers I don't know the names of. There are these sorta droopy ones that come in both yellow and purple. They are also pretty - however - they lack the stately architecture of the simple, sensual tulip.

Another thing that the SPRINGTIME has wrought is a delightful Westerly breeze that I engineer into an Easterly one to discourage my neighbor's cigarette smoke from creeping through my kitchen window. This yangitty-yang flow also invests my daily SUN SALUTATIONS with that extra level of CHI that my ardent, firey posturings demand.

However, I've slacked off today, as SPRINGTIME has also brought allergy season. I have terrible allergies. They are so bad that I am never sure if I have a cold or just allergies when I feel this way. My head is so crazy stuffed and dizzy it is almost making me feel rather giddy...almost. In addition, my body aches badly enough that it requires effort to turn a key in a lock. Seriously. Those of you who know me well know that I am usually the type who'd be more likely to absent-mindedly pull the knob off a door, so you see the depth of my suffering.

Yes you can send chicken soup via PayPal...

Anyway, needless to say, I am down and out and just trying to rest and stay full of liquids. I caught up on all my NetFlix today and decided to share the wealth. Regardless of whether you are sick or not, you may be in need of a Grindhouse-style Kung Fu double feature.

While I was a kid in Michigan, I would watch "Martial Arts Theatre" late at night on Saturdays. I remember flipping back and forth between MAT and SNL. The late nights and bad dubbing served me well. Years later - when Shaw Brothers/Golden Harvest titles became a badge of hip - I was thoroughly educated and well-prepared to speak in great depth about "Pei Mei's vital nerve" the "animal styles of the Five Deadly Venoms" and that "kid with the Golden Arms".

Here are two Shaw Brothers classics for you to enjoy. If you've never seen these, I am jealous of the joy you are about to experience. If you're an old veteran, enjoy this trip down memory lane.

The Fist of the White Lotus

Originally titled Clan of the White Lotus, this 1980 Shaw Brothers classic was released as Fist of the White Lotus in the West. In Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films, the character of Pei Mei appears as Kiddo's instructor. Pei Mei is played by Lo Lieh in Fist', but Lieh's Fist' co-star - Gordon Liu - reprised the role for the Tarantino revenge tale.

Five Deadly Venoms

Five Deadly Venoms is another Shaw Brothers Kung Fu Classic. Released in 1978, The' Venoms rather convoluted plot involves 5 warriors - each with a different animal-style of Kung Fu - who may or may not be attempting to steal a fortune from the former colleague of their dying teacher. The flick is referenced by the Wu-Tang Clan and World of Warcraft. Kill Bill's Deadly Viper Assassination squad is also a not-so-veiled reference.


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Joe Nolan

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Heroes in the Seaweed

Ciao lovelies,

I am drinking a bit of the blood and bleeding a bit of the luminous ink in this
here fine hour of the evening.

I am posting this as I watch the video of the Isle of Wight festival.

This 1970 fest was the biggest - and last - of its kind. Wight had all the hippy drapery of Woodstock as well as most of the bad vibes of Altamont.

Except for that whole stab-you-to-death part...

This show had a killer line-up including: Miles Davis, Joni, Jimi, The Doors and Leonard Cohen, Jethro Tull and others.

The vid is OK, but its hard to watch the hippy dream go down in flames.

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?

On another note, I have been experimenting with my cell phone camera. I got frustrated when I found it hard to take a single pic. My cam always takes two at a time. I realized I was getting some fun effects when the cam moved between shots. Then I realized that I could take these shots and arrange them into a kind of stop-action movie.

Here is a video I made for my song "Mission".

Please take the time to check out my other vids, the archives of The Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my new You Tube channel:

Joe Nolan's Imagicon

Listen to "Mission" and the rest of my new CD - Blue Turns Black!

Joe Nolan

Use this player to listen to my new CD. Consider purchasing a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Check out my profile at Reverb Nation to see my updated press and bio.

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Labels: , , , ,

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Sleepless Film Festival Presents an Academy Awards Special - A Drink with Mickey Rourke: An Evening at the Shamrock Social Club, Part II


Welcome to the Persian immersion!

Please find a space on the rug and sit facing East. The wine has only just started to pour.

Cold Southern mornings are marked by a damp cataract the blurs the air and makes your bones feel wet. Then again, your bones are already pretty wet, what with all the goo.

Clearly I am going over the top in my recent fascination with Mickey Rourke, but The Wrestler was such a great movie, and he was so fantastic in it. For the most part, I don't think we see very much good acting in films nowadays. When I am watching American movies from that great age of the 1970's (Altman, Cassavetes, Hopper, Scorsese, DePalma, Coppola, Lucas, Schrader) or even Euro flicks from the 60's/70's like the movies of Roeg or Godard, the acting in these films tends to be honest and sincere action and dialog - no more, no less.

Nowadays we see to many actors ACTING! This is what makes Rourke such a wonder in this film. There is a scene where Rourke tries to re-establish his relationship with his estranged daughter. It's probably the most emotional scene in the film, and the nature of the scene is such that there is an immediate danger of the acting becoming forced, attenuated, cliche and overly-sentimental. For one moment in the scene - Rourke's biggest moment in the film - he spins perilously close to the edge, but he doesn't wobble. He glides right up against it, and then he glides away. Not only is the scene moving because of its content, but also because while we are watching Randy the Ram reclaim his dignity in his daughter's eyes, we are simultaneously watching Rourke reclaim his squandered gifts and his place as one of the best actors of his generation.

Here is a great, long interview with Rourke in the full-flush of post-Wrestler hype. This chat took place before Rourke received his Academy Award Nomination.

This is the new video for my song "The First to Know"

Joe Nolan

Use this player to listen to my new CD. Consider purchasing a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Check out my profile at Reverb Nation to see my updated press and bio.

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Labels: , , ,

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sleepless Film Festival Presents - Children of the Night: The Films of Tod Browning

Just in time for Halloween, this edition of the Sleepless Film Festival highlights two feature films by horror master Tod Browning!

Pull the shades, turn down the lights, and prepare to watch The Mark of Dracula followed by the masterpiece Freaks.

As a special bonus, we are also including a fascinating biography on Browning's greatest star: Bela Lugosi

But first, The Mark of the Vampire!

After the masterpiece that was Dracula (1931), 1935's Mark of the Vampire serves as a sequel to both the earlier bloodsucker epic, as well as Browning's silent classic London After Midnight. In the original 'Midnight, Lon Chaney played dual roles. In Mark', Bela Lugosi is cast as the infamous Count Mora, giving him a chance to spoof his classic characterization of Count Dracula. Lionel Barrymore was cast as Professor Zelen.

There is no embedding allowed with this film, but the entire feature can be viewed in one sitting right here on YouTube.

Mark of the Vampire (AKA The Vampires of Prague)

For intermission, let's learn a bit more about the man himself from this detailed biography by Jonas Brosnan. For our next feature, please note Browning's personal experiences as a carny and vaudeville performer:

Tod Browning was born on July 12, 1880. At the age of sixteen he ran away from home and joined a circus where he worked for several years as a clown, acrobat, contortionist and ringmaster. His experiences in the circus greatly influenced his later career in Hollywood and echoes of those years can be found in many of his films. After the circus Browning went into vaudeville as a comedian and toured the world with various companies.

He arrived in Hollywood in 1914 and appeared in many short films as a comedy lead. During this period he became friendly with D. W. Griffith and was one of that great director's assistants on Intolerance (1916). By this time Browning had also started to write scripts, having realized that his future lay behind the camera rather than in front of it. He learned a lot from working with Griffith and in 1917 he directed his first full-length film, Jim Bludso but it wasn't until 1920 that he established a reputation within the industry. That was when he directed, for Carl Laemmle at Universal, a melodrama set in Turkey called The Virgin of Stamboul.

His next film for Laemmle, Outside the Law (1921), starred Lon Chaney but Browning then left Universal for two years. During that period he worked only sporadically, spending most of his time trying to cope with a drinking problem. But in 1925, at the age of forty-five, he made a fresh start and had soon re-established himself as a major director. With the assistance of Laemmle's legendary young protoge, Irving Thalberg, he convinced Universal to film The Unholy Three, a story that contained many ingredients close to his heart, concerning, as it did, the activities of three ex-circus performers who, in varied disguises, run a pet store as a front for their criminal activities. It was a big success for Universal and Laemmle decided that the teaming of Browning with Chaney was a guaranteed formula for making money.

During the remaining five years of Chaney's life they made several more films together, including The Road to Mandalay (1926), The Unknown (1927) and London After Midnight (1927). Browning used, with a certain amount of pride, London After Midnight as an example of how to get audiences to accept supernatural events. "The audience was not asked to believe the horrible impossible, only the horrible possible. The plausibility increased rather than lessened the chills and thrills." Yet within two years of that interview he directed Dracula (1931), and a more implausible story it would be hard to find. It demonstrates the speed with which American audiences adjusted themselves to the "horrible impossible."

Dracula Browning was not really a horror director in the traditional sense and his version of Dracula is evidence of that. He had no real feel for the supernatural or the creation of a Gothic atmosphere, neither was he a very visual director (it's a film legend that Dracula was one of his pet projects, but there is no evidence to support that--he became involved in the picture at a late stage of its development). Whatever visual style Dracula possesses is due to cinematographer Karl Freund's influence; His main attribute as a director was his effective handling of actors. Bela Lugosi, during the making of Dracula, found Browning to be extremely helpful.

Despite the success of Dracula, and the boost it gave his career, Browning's chief interest continued to lie not in films dealing with the supernatural but in films that dealt with the naturally grotesque and bizarre. So, after Dracula, he returned to his beloved circus setting with a rather controversial idea--a film about a group of circus freaks, using real freaks--and it was this that proved the cause of his professional undoing. Not surprisingly, the executives at Universal were not very enthusiastic about the project, but once again Thalberg, then at MGM, came to Browning's assistance and persuaded a doubtful Louis B. Mayer to accept the idea.

Freaks (1932) was about a beautiful but evil trapeze artist called Cleopatra (played by the Russian-born Olga Baclanova) who marries one of the circus midgets when she discovers that he will inherit a large amount of money. (The midget, called Hans, was played by an old friend of Browning's, Harry Earles, who had also appeared in both versions of The Unholy Three.) After they marry she plots with the circus strongman, her lover, to poison Hans slowly. The midget is part of the circus freak show and when the others learn of the plot they take drastic action, turning the once beautiful Cleopatra into a horribly disfigured part of the freak show.

Freaks Critical reception to Freaks was mixed but not entirely adverse. The real damage to the film was done both by the cinema managers and by cinema audiences themselves. Their horrified reaction ensured that the film was a financial flop (it had a good run in a couple of American cities but not enough to make any difference--and in Britain it was banned for over thirty years). People were willing to take the make-believe horror of Boris Karloff lurching around as an animated corpse but they weren't willing to endure a close-up view of some of reality's more unpleasant aspects, especially in 1932 when they considered that their own lives were grim enough. The film has never been widely shown and the reaction from audiences even today would still probably be a mixed one.

Freaks became one of MGM's worst failures and a saddened, and surprised, Browning realized he had made a serious error of judgment. His next film for MGM (he was under contract to them) made the following year was about a very different subject--riveters working on skyscrapers--and was called Fast Workers. Surprisingly enough, MGM did give him further horror assignments (probably on the insistence of Thalberg). In 1935 it was The Mark of the Vampire, a rather flaccid remake of London After Midnight with Lugosi in the Chaney role.

More interesting was The Devil Doll in 1936 which had Lionel Barrymore as a man wrongly convicted of a crime. He escapes from prison and encounters an old scientist who has invented a process by which he can shrink animals and people so that, while inanimate, they resemble dolls. When brought to life the tiny people have no will of their own and will follow any command. Barrymore steals several of the "dolls" and returns to New York where he opens a doll's shop, then proceeds to send his tiny creatures on missions to kill the men who framed him. To avoid detection he dresses up as an old woman--a favorite Browning device--and much of the film's enjoyment comes from watching Barrymore's amusing portrayal of this unlikely character.

Browning's last film for MGM was in 1939, a light-hearted mystery about stage magicians called Miracles for Sale. He retired from the industry then and spent the remainder of his life living on his ample savings and, according to Carlos Clarens in his book Horror Movies, "gently deprecating the films that had made him rich and celebrated." He died on October 6, 1962, while recovering from a cancer operation.

The Horror People.

And now, one of the greatest horror movies of all time: Freaks

Now, as promised, check out this great documentary on Bela Lugosi.

This documentary is packed with info including Legosi's support of the Communist Party, his reputation as a lady's man, as well as his classic rivalry with Boris Karloff.

Bela was very successful as a young actor in his native Hungary before he came to New York by way of New Orleans. Eventually, he would forever define the role of Dracula before becoming a drug addict, and dying almost forgotten in a Hollywood he had helped to create.

If you are interested in new music, please check out my new CD using the player on the right. If you'd like to purchase my new CD, please pick it up at your favorite online outlet:

Joe Nolan - Blue Turns Black


Be gentle in your sleepy hands on this world.
Be a killer in Heaven.

Joe Nolan

Check out my profile at Reverb Nation to see my updated press and bio.

Listen to Joe's earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Support this site! Buy Joe's Music! ...


Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Sleepless Film Festival Presents - Tea and Oranges: Leonard Cohen on Film

To most readers of this blog, Leonard Cohen is no exotic commodity. An award-winning poet, recognized as a national hero in his native Canada, Cohen was a young man with the world on a string when he decided to return to his original love and try his hand at music. On his way to Nashville, TN, Cohen got waylaid by New York City, the 1960's, the Chelsea Hotel, and Columbia Records.

Cohen is now recognized as one of the most important singer/songwriters of his generation. He has an unparalleled knack for combining the profound and the profane, and - while Dylan may have brought poetry to music - no one has brought music to poetry as effectively - or as movingly - as Mr. Cohen.

A few years ago, the awkward documentary I'm Your Man failed to give us enough of the man himself, and instead featured other artists performing in lieu of the Canadian Cantor. Luckily, there are two earlier documentaries that shed much light on the dark heart of Cohen's music.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Leonard Cohen catches up with a young Cohen on poetry tour/holiday vacation in a snowy Montreal. This is at a time when Cohen is already recognized as a young genius, an enfant terrible, and a brooding romantic with a mischievous sense of humor. Indeed, it is Cohen's wit that steals the show in this illuminating film.

(Cohen's ruminations on "refusing to sleep" as a revolutionary act, are particularly satisfying to the small, pink-eyed elves who are responsible for this humble luminoscript (text of light) ...)

Leonard Cohen - Songs from a Life

The next program in our double-feature is a BBC Omnibus documentary, originally produced in 1988. This great follow up to Ladies and Gentlemen' tracks down Leonard in the full-flush of the relative success that came his way with the release of I'm Your Man.

This same period would find Cohen honored by a top-selling album of his songs recorded by his back-up singer Jennifer Warnes. Famous Blue Raincoat was a unique recasting of Leonard's music by an amazing vocalist. I'm Your Man also found Cohen himself transforming from a reedy singer in an organic/acoustic setting, to a groaning prophet, descending from the sky on a column of electronic fire. This new album defined the style of music Cohen has continued to make, and it also marks the beginning of an important new stage in his commercial career.

If you are inclined toward a liking of song/poems and music/words, please take the time to check out the following links to preview my new CD Blue Turns Black, enjoy free downloads from my previous releases, and explore this site.

Be gentle in your sleepy hands on this world.
Be a killer in Heaven.

Joe Nolan

Open this browser-based player and preview Joe's entire new CD "Blue Turns Black"

Listen to Joe's earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Support this site! Buy Joe's Music! ...


Labels: , , ,