Thursday, August 07, 2008

Two Longed-for DVD Releases: Machine Gun McCain and Phase IV

While DVD Beaver was snoozing - because I don't recall them mentioning either of these on their usually very informative release calendar - a French company put out a copy of Machine Gun McCain, under the original Italian title of Gli Intoccabili. I ordered it as soon as I heard; the film is charmingly misanthropic, with a hard-boiled but undeniably romantic vision of the little guy versus the mob, but as much as I love it, all I have is a less-than-pristine DVD-r rip from latenite TV. Great pissed-off Cassavetes performance, Falk is terrific, and the title song, "The Ballad of Hank McCain," was, of course, given a great cover - with a Mike Patton vocal - on John Zorn's Big Gundown remaster. The soundtrack is one of the more dissonant works of Ennio Morricone. French review here, which reassures me that the original English soundtrack is presented (not just French and Italian dubbed versions - a small cause for concern) and gives promising reviews overall. The DVD is listed as being 94 minutes long; I believe there was in fact a seldom-seen, more meditative longer cut, but I'll take what I can get, at this point. Of course, you'll need a region free player and a PAL compatible TV to play this DVD, so don't rush out and buy it unless you know you've got what it takes... Unsurprising that it's the French to release this first, given their love of Cassavetes.

Also exciting, and on Region 1 release: Phase IV, an arty little ants-versus-humans SF film that I think has been long underrated (even getting a spoofing on Mystery Science Theatre, I'm told). The sole film directed by designer/graphics artist Saul Bass, who worked on Kubrick's 2001 and on many of Hitchcock's films, it's smart-as-can-be hard SF, involving a stubborn rationalist (Nigel Davenport) locking antennae with a group of super-smart ants, as his young, more adaptable assistant (Michael Murphy), dismayed by his senior's stubbornness, tries to find another way. In framing its 60's-ish fable of a paradigm shift, it pleasingly pays tribute to its sources, particularly "Leinengen Versus the Ants," a classic story of colonial endeavour and the supremacy of the whiteman over jungle, women, natives, and ants, which you can read in full here; like the film The Naked Jungle, Phase IV queries, plays with and comments on its source material, but without shortchanging us on insect photography, or bogging down too much in male-female relations, both of which the Heston version is guilty of doin'. It goes quite a bit further in tempering its Leinengen, too, which he badly needs; a love interest just isn't enough to set things right). DVD Savant reviews Phase IV here; the author finds the film's ending a bit murky, but I think it's perfect and in keeping with the times in which it was made (and tho' it's of course a shame that some of the closing sequences were cut by the distributors, I must say I've always admired how open-ended the last segment of the film is, leaving you wondering what Phase IV might actually entail). The reviewer rightly praises the design of the film and the stunning ant photography, courtesy of late documentary photographer Ken Middleham, of whom I know very little - save that he was DOP for the insect scenes in William Castle's Bug (a film I loved in my youth - pitting Bradford Dillman against killer, firestarting cockroaches!) and another favourite insect fear feature, the pseudodocumentary The Hellstrom Chronicle (still unavailable on legit DVD, but widely bootlegged). I actually didn't know until researching this that the bugs in my three favourite insect fear features were shot by the same dude; there's a two-part documentary about him on Youtube, called Filming the Invisible, part one of which is here.

Now these are some worthy midnight movies!

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