Wednesday, June 29, 2022

All the Haunts Be Ours, reviewed one film at a time: Lake of the Dead

Picked a film somewhat at random from the Severin folk horror box set - only caring that it be one of many films on the set that I haven't seen before - and began watching it this afternoon. My main impression so far is, I feel like I'm watching a ghost story scripted by Agatha Christie and directed by Ingmar Bergman. I'm not enjoying it very much; while one gathers it is a somewhat hard film to see, and that Severin have done a significant thing bringing so lovely a transfer into the world, it's really just not that entertaining to someone who has long given up any pretense of seriously studying cinema. 

Lake of the Dead is a 1958 Norwegian film in which a group of friends go to a cabin that may or may not be haunted, or cursed, or so forth. There's a backstory to the place in which a recluse and his sister? lover? both? drowned in the lake, or went missing and were presumed drowned; the brother of one of the members of the party has recently been to the cabin, as well, and is now himself missing. There are a few creepy events - and eventually some death - but mostly the film is filled with people arguing about what everything means, poring over diaries and their impressions of things, trying to understand what transpires: is something supernatural afoot? Is the best explanation psychological, criminal, supernatural, or a combination of all three? 

I still have ten minutes to go in the film, before the big reveal, if there's to be one, but whatever that may be, it's a film that feels more work to get through than play, kind of like watching one of those early Bergman's that never excited me that much, but that I forced myself to watch out of a sense of responsibility ("Summer with Monika at the haunted lake"). Perhaps if I had some deep passion for Norwegian ghost stories, or a deeper-than-average interest in the way folktales and legends inform our relationship to place, it would help get me through, but as things are, I eventually just  fell asleep and had to re-watch a chunk, which is saying something for a film with such a short runtime (just over an hour and sixteen minutes). 

The film does have things going for it - it's gorgeously photographed (in black and white); it's interesting to hear Norwegian being spoken (it sounds very much like Swedish to me, hence the Bergman comparison); and for enthusiasts of SF and horror, there's one kind of neat moment where the filmmakers needed to have an ominous one-legged crow appear at the top of a tree - the same crow that appears on the box art for the set - and rather than handicapping a real crow, they used stop motion, which was kind of a pleasant surprise. It's also kind of interesting, given that the film is shot in the land of the so-called midnight sun, that it never actually gets dark - that night and day look pretty much the same; and because the film looks to have been shot with a Norwegian audience in mind, no one bothers to even remark on this (which meant that it took a minute's thinking for me to sort out what the deal was; initially I thought I was just seeing totally incompetent day-for-night, but I don't think that's the case). 

So I wanted to like it, and did take pleasure in some of its images. But part of the problem is that there are more characters than seem  necessary for the tale being told - six, not counting ghosts, flashbacks, and incidental characters like police officers; and most of them have Norwegian names - including some relatively unfamiliar ones like Bugge, Mørk, and Bjørn (who is also sometimes called by his family name, Werner). Trying to just keep the characters and story straight ("which one is Bugge? Is he the psychiatrist or the crime writer?") is slightly draining for a non-Norwegian. And I suspect part of the reason there are so many people in the film is simple sexism; the only people with perspectives or ideas are the men, so to have a good argument, there needs to be four of them, plus wives and whatnot to make it a believable vacation. The women aren't exactly just eye-candy, but nor do they participate as equals in the conversation; they're more talked about, than they are talkers, or there for emotive effect, or to have things happen to that the men can then discuss amongst themselves. I'd say at least 40 minutes of the film consists of men arguing. In Norwegian. Can you feel your eyelids growing heavy?

So, uh, cabin in the woods or no, The Evil Dead this ain't. Still, it was a good pick, because my wife is out and she would NEVER be able to make it through a film like this. It also allows me to start off my explorations with nicely low expectations; it's a cinch that whatever film from the set I watch next, I'll enjoy more than this one. Sorry, Severin! 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Zander Schloss In-Store on Sunday! (plus Circle Jerks)

Well this is fun: Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks is going to do an acoustic in-store at Neptoon Records prior to the Circle Jerks show at the Commodore this coming Sunday. It's not a punk rock set, but acoustic folk, and considering Zander's 40+ year career in music and film, it's really pretty easy to be completely caught up on what to expect, in case you haven't been following; and you might really enjoy the experience, if you're a Circle Jerks fan, or a fan of movies like Repo Man, Straight to Hell, or even Walker (especially the soundtrack, which makes superb use of Zander's skill with Latin stringed instruments and marks the first album-length collaboration with Joe Strummer, tho' Joe did co-write "Salsa Y Ketchup" before that)... It's free, and Zander will have copies of his solo album, which isn't in any of the record stores up here yet. You can also bring your Repo Man or Straight to Hell memorabilia or, say, your copy of Joe Strummer's Earthquake Weather (or Joe Strummer 001) for Zander to sign. It's a pretty rare opportunity, really...!

...but you might want to check out some of his music, first. Zander Schloss' first solo album, Song About Songs, is out now on Blind Owl Records; it's also on bandcamp. Part one of my interview with him is here; I am holding off on part two until we have fresh photos from Vancouver. But Zander's done something very smart - not unlike what Paul Leary did for his recent solo album: he's put out some terrific rock videos to promote the album. Probably the best one to start with is "I Have Loved the Story of My Life," which is done with marionettes, representing different iterations of Zander in film and music, from Kevin the nerd in Repo Man to Karl the Wiener Boy in Straight to Hell to his tenure in the Latino Rockabilly War with Joe Strummer to  the "punk rock Zander" of the Weirdos and Circle Jerks. The song is quite moving and reflective, expressing gratitude for the experiences that have brought him where he is. 

That's a fun video - the marionette use is brilliant - but I actually kind of prefer the mini-biker movie that he's made out of "Dead Friend Letter," a toe-tapping tune that reminds me a bit of Mississippi John Hurt, whose upbeat qualities mask a darker theme: the letter is a suicide note. Zander plays the suicide, and the film seems to be a bit of a cautionary tale. It fits in nicely with a somewhat jazzier song called "My Dear Blue," in which Zander addresses depression itself. 

There's also "The Road" and "Song About Songs," which is literally a song about songs, with a melody a bit similar to the old folk song "Long Black Veil." There's another version of that song on one of Zander's albums with Sean Wheeler, but most of the vocals on those records are by Wheeler, I believe. Zander and I didn't talk about those albums much, since there seemed to be some trouble around the way that duo fell out and not much bearing on what Zander will be doing on Sunday (tho' there are some great songs, like "Good Pussy," say). 

Y'all might want to check out "Straight to Hell," too - Zander's cover of the Clash song; or check out Zander with Joe Strummer, doing this superb version of the song with the Latino Rockabilly War. 

See, that's not so bad - you're all caught up! (Tho' you might also be amused to see how the Circle Jerks have edited Zander into their video for "Wild in the Streets.") Wait, there are still tickets available for the Circle Jerks? Really? (See my previous post about the Circle Jerks and openers 7 Seconds here). 

Friday, June 24, 2022

On George A. Romero's Season of the Witch and There's Always Vanilla

There seems to be interesting news happening for George A. Romero fans - none of it exactly cutting-edge reporting here, but some readers of my blog might not have noticed a few developments, and it pertains to a film I want to write about, Season of the Witch, so I might as well delve a little. 

The Amusement Park is now streaming on Shudder, which I don't get, but which one can try for seven days free... so that might be worth a look. It was filmed as an educational movie on elder abuse, starring the actor who played Tateh Cudah in Romero's vampire film, Martin. I know too little to comment, but its rediscovery awhile back was greeted with great enthusiasm, so I'm expecting it is quite good. It's the fifth film in Romero's filmography, made in 1975 between The Crazies and Martin.  

Of course, very few people have seen the alleged 3.5 hour long b&w alternate cut of Martin - a more recent discovery, which is undergoing restoration or digitization or somethin'. No sense of the timeline there or what plans there are for the film; I await further news, along with many other fans.

As for films that have been available for some time, but that I still haven't yet seen, there's always There's Always Vanilla, though I just watched the first few minutes of it on the b-side of the old Anchor Bay DVD of Season of the Witch. I wonder how many people are like me on this front? I have owned that disc for so long - maybe 20 years? - without ever flipping it over to see the bonus feature that my actually having watched a bit of it yesterday feels like news. Described, depending on which box art you trust, as "a romantic comedy" or "a bittersweet drama," which Romero made in-between Night of the Living Dead and Season of the Witch, There's Always Vanilla, too, was lost, I believe, for some time - or perhaps just "forgotten?" Romero himself wasn't a big advocate for the film, apparently saying it was a "total mess." 

Romero may be being unkind to his own work, here, but his dismissal of the film is one reason I haven't rushed to see it. The "messy" element  - bearing in mind that I've only seen the first fifteen minutes or so - may relate to a few trippy, associative edits that may eventually pay off in terms of meaning (but I dunno): there's a beginning that involves a balloon floating tied to some sort of flying device (?), images of which are intercut with that of some sort of perpetual motion machine operating on a city street. I had no clue what any of that was about, especially since the narration, describing the machine, actually begins during the images of the balloon, so you aren't even sure what is being talked about - is the machine the thing the balloon is attached to? What the hell is it? No, wait, it must be this machine on the street, but what the hell is that? Is this a metaphor for something? What about the balloon, why did... No, wait, now they've moved on. Will we come back to this? Will we ever see the balloon again or know what it means...? But the impression isn't one of incompetence, necessarily - it seems like it's deliberately jarring and slightly enigmatic filmmaking, a "one hand clapping" gesture, done for a reason as yet unclear to me. I'd need to see the whole film to know for sure. 

So "mess" I cannot speak to - but it seems ambitiously crafted, in fact, and actually looks a bit better and bigger-budgeted than Season of the Witch. One thing, though, is certain: it and Season of the Witch are the most dated of any of Romero's movies. Play a clip of of either film to someone with a sense of cinematic history and they'll place them in a window between 1969 and 1973. The dialogue, the photography, the editing and the acting all smack of the cinema of that era - which in a way is kind of interesting to see: with There's Always Vanilla, you kinda expect Elliot Gould to materialize, or for there to be a montage involving bubbles being blown in a park, perhaps as set to the music of BJ Thomas or Burt Bacharach. The words "groovy" may be used, or "far out." At one point I even thought I glimpsed Mark Frechette of Zabriskie Point. Between the "looking dated" and "looking like it might require some mental effort to process," the film actually looks less like fun and more like work... 

...except it seems like work that's maybe worth doing, at least if you're a Romero fan. For one thing, There's Always Vanilla stars several people from other Romero films, including Ray Laine, the charismatic actor who plays Greg, the swinging young associate professor who "balls" the protagonist of Season of the Witch. Only 52 at the time of his death, back in the year 2000 - which makes him an old-looking 20-something at the time of these films - Laine did not make many movies, with his last role being in the Peter Hyams' 1995 Die Hard "adaptation," Sudden Death - which I've seen a couple of times without realizing Laine was in it, as one of Powers Boothe's henchmen. Laine, like many of Romero's regulars, it seems, was also involved in local theatre in Pittsburgh, which makes sense, as he's a very compelling actor, in fact, who brings to mind Seymour Cassell in Cassavetes' Faces, a film that Season of the Witch periodically reminds me of (!). So he's a talented unknown, basically, but if you enjoy him in Season of the Witch - and I do - there's good reason to be curious about his earlier role...

Night of the Living Dead cast members also pop up in There's Always Vanilla: Judith Ridley, the young woman in Night of the Living Dead who is hiding in the basement with her boyfriend and the Coopers, is here under another name; there's also Russell Streiner who - besides being Ridley's husband - has a habit of turning in uncredited roles in Romero films, including Johnny in the original Night of the Living Dead - the "coming to get you, Barbara" guy - and the sheriff in the Savini remake (which I just re-visited and wrote about, here, without having recognized Streiner in it). He's directed a film of his own - there's a bit of a "Pittsburgh rabbithole" here - and worked with NOTLD co-author John Russo as a teacher at Russo's Movie Academy. 

One or two frequent Romero associates in the cast still may not make it a must-see, but looking through the IMDB, there are other familiar names. Bill Hinzman, the "first" zombie in the cemetery in the 1968 NOTLD is in there, too; Hinzman also directed his own films and had other involvement in the Pittsburgh scene, as well as a bit of a lasting career in low-budget horror. Similarly, There's Always Vanilla screenwriter Rudy Ricci directed a feature of his own called The Liberation of Cherry Janowski, which co-stars David Emge, the "flyboy" from the original  Dawn of the Dead (which Ricci appears in as a biker). These seem to be the names of cast members of There's Always Vanilla that have the largest roles in other Romero films, but several other names in the cast, if you click on them on IMDB, show actors who only have one or two other credits to their name, but they're all Romero films - including plenty of folks who were zombies in NOTLD.

The rabbithole effect when you start delving, here, feels a bit to a Vancouverite like looking through the filmography of people tied to Bruce Sweeney, for example, and how it branches out and overlaps with the careers of other filmmakers - like Carl Bessai - or actors who have had small roles in big productions and starring roles in local ones (Gabrielle Rose, Tom Scholte - himself also a filmmaker). Just like we have a local music scene, we have our on local cinema scene - and I'm guessing most major cities do, that there's nothing so exceptional about Vancouver (or Pittsburgh) that they support this sort of journey down the rabbithole. What's unusual with Pittsburgh is that, due to Romero's more widely-appreciated films, the rabbithole has a doorway, an easy access point for people like me who get curious. Night of the Living Dead leads to Season of the Witch leads to There's Always Vanilla, which in turn leads to The Liberation of Cherry Janowski (AKA The Booby Hatch) or The Devil and Sam Silverstein, then before you know it you're trying to see every movie Ray Laine or David Emge or Ann Muffly acted in...  which is actually kind of doable, in the sense that there are only one or two other titles in their filmographies, in some cases, but on the other hand, is also kind of impossible, because... how are you going to see those films, which probably never came out on VHS, aren't on Tubi, and probably aren't ever going to come out on DVD or blu, even if prints of them still exist somewhere...?
Maybe that's another reason I've resisted There's Always Vanilla, because I sense that if I got into it as the next logical step in my interest in Romero's  horror output, it opens the door to a bunch of other movies that are going to be hard to track down and not necessarily shed that much light on the movies I'm actually interested in (the horror films Romero made up to Monkey Shines). Except There's Always Vanilla is actually directed by Romero, and not only has familiar names in the cast and crew, it also seems to make some commentary on the media, a theme which is actually present (most visibly in Dawn of the Dead, of course) throughout Romero's films, where radio and television always play some role... 

So maybe it's time to watch that. I'd really just rather re-watch Season of the Witch, however - which you can see for free (with commercials, just like the good ole days) on Tubi... because that film is very interesting, very rich, and while it is clearly very low budget (and dated), it's quite potent from a number of different angles. Romero apparently described it as feminist horror film; I've actually called it as much myself. 

The film isn't perfect. It has some of that "dated" early 70's feel I mention above. It also looks quite low budget - because it was, which means not all of its more "daring" elements, like its somewhat surreal dream sequences, are executed as effectively as one might like, feeling at times like the elements in them have been chosen in part based on what could be conveyed cheaply ("and to show her frustrations with her marriage, we'll have her walk behind Jack on a forested path and have her getting hit by the branches that he bends back" - inventive stuff, really, and effective if you make the decision to ride with it, but its the sort of invention that is borne of humble means, and these also show through. Not everyone has an easy time with cheap-looking cinema!). 

And it's not just a question of execution. I know there are Wiccans out there who take exception to a scene where the main character of the film - a dissatisfied housewife who gets involved with a coven and finds her life changing - writes the Lord's Prayer backward as part of a conjuration; the confusion between Satanism and Wicca irks them, and stands out, since so many of the other ritual elements aren't that far off the mark. Romero gets so much right, he deserves to be faulted when he gets something quite wrong.

And while there are some truly fine performances - Ray Laine being one of them, but also Ann Muffly, pictured above in the role of Shirley - the lead actress, Jan White, is somewhat stiff throughout. It's not entirely inappropriate to her character, as a stifled housewife trying to embrace her repressed sexual side, but she still comes across as kind of pinched, squinty and mean, no matter what part of her character arc we find her on, not because of anything she does, but just from how she seems to look - some people just have cold faces! We want her character to succeed because of the nature of the journey she is on, from repression to self-expression, and recognize that her journey is meant to have analogues with our own - she is very clearly the protagonist, and we accept her as such - but it's not because we ever really like her or like to watch her. It doesn't even look like her image on the poster - I'm pretty sure that the marketers ditched their lead and used Joedda McClain, who plays White's daughter, even though she is a very minor character with an even smaller filmography than White.

White's chilliness is not improved by putting her alongside Laine and Muffly, who are very likeable, warm and watchable, even if they at times are antagonistic characters, and almost approach scenery-chewing levels of Cassavetean intensity in one key scene (the "Faces" moment, where Greg tricks an already drunk Shirley into thinking she's smoking a joint, and she lets loose). Setting White's character alongside such emotive fireworks only underscores the actress' own lack of expressiveness and risks getting us to root for the wrong people. In the end, much of White's transformation, from stifled housewife to self-confident, sexually self-possessed occultist, seems to be handled not through acting, but via costume, hairstyle, and makeup, reminding me of that scene in Point Break where Kathryn Bigelow gets a character to comment on the emotions we're meant to be seeing in Keanu Reeves' quite blank face, like the wardrobe changes were pushed further to compensate for a lack of a sense of the character herself changing. None of it is enough to ruin the film - and I'm very conscious that Jan White is still alive and might read these words - but, sorry, Season of the Witch kind of succeeds despite White's performance, not because of it. 

Doesn't matter. The remarkable things about the film are truly remarkable. That Cassavetes moment - you have to see it (and have seen Faces) to understand - taps into female anger at aging, at being "over the hill," in a way that one very seldom sees encountered in cinema (in fact, the only other analogues I can think of are Opening Night, another Cassavetes, and possibly Fassbinder's Angst vor Der Angst, though the enemy there is more domesticity and marriage than it is aging, if I recall). Maybe if I watched more female-directed dramas about middle aged women, I'd see more of it, but generally with mainstream filmmaking in America, the theme of women aging seems almost a taboo area, like there's more of an effort to DENY the effects of aging than there is to confront and foreground them (the day will come when even Scarlett Johansson has wrinkles and grey hair, but Hollywood will take pains to hide them for as long as humanly possible; now 37, she'll be playing characters in their 30's until she's well into her 50s, probably - longer if she gets work done). This willingness to speak the unspeakable and delve into emotionally uncomfortable waters, and to really push a performance in the name of so doing, seems to belong more to live theatre than cinema - especially so given that the scene in question, the "fake pot-smoking" lingers in the same set, Joan's living room, for a very long time... It would be pretty easy, in fact, to do a stage version of this film, given its economy of locations...

There's also a very striking masturbation scene. It's not subtle - very little in Romero is subtle, ever - but it sure is memorable: White's character, said housewife - returns home unexpectedly, having told her daughter and Greg (Laine) that she's taking Shirley (Muffly) home and will probably stay over. Nikki, her daughter (played, as I say, by the very able Joedda McClain, who is good enough in the role that it's surprising to realize it's the only thing she ever did, filmwise), told she and her boyfriend have got the house to herself, does what any 20-something year old woman would do, and takes Greg to bed. When Joan (White's character) returns home, she hears them fucking, but having nowhere else to go - she and Shirley have had a fight - goes quietly upstairs to her bedroom. It's bad enough that she lies there in silence listening to her daughter's moans, but Romero - in one of his most potent bits of filmmaking - pushes the scene further, and cuts between Joan lying on the bed, beginning to explore her body, to images of an almost demonic-seeming bull statue overlooking the bed (the film makes excellent use of knickknacks, also including a mischievous figure on a lamp who "watches" during Joan's first attempt at ritual, which I put a screen cap of at the top of this post). Of course there's also a storm blowing outside, billowing curtains, dramatic thunderclaps, etc (like I say, not subtle stuff). The scene builds to a dramatic, uh, climax, whereupon the daughter bursts in the room and angrily demands of her mother, "How long have you been here?"

Just on the strength of that one scene, you can see why there was an attempt to distribute the film as softcore porn. Hungry Wives is an awful title, unfair to the richness of the film and much less clever than Jack's Wife, the other alternate title - but it's not actually entirely unwarranted by the plot of the film. Joan IS a hungry wife, and the plot of the film does revolve around an older, frustrated housewife seducing a younger man - so, well, you can see what the sleaze-merchants were thinking. I don't know if extra material was added to the Hungry Wives cut - there's very little nudity in the film, and it's quite hard to imagine anyone masturbating to it, unless the idea of being watched by a demonic bull figurine turns you on...

And in fact, aside from (obviously) The Graduate, which Romero deliberately riffs on a couple of times, about the only other film that I can readily recall where I've seen a film where a mother and daughter compete for the affections of the same man is, in fact, a porno called If My Mother Only Knew - one of the more character-driven porn films out there, wherein Honey Wilder - having spied on her daugher (Amber Lynn) having sex with her boyfriend (Tom Byron), ends up seducing him, whereupon, in true hardcore fashion, Amber "pays her back" by fucking her stepdad (John Leslie). Probably there are other pornos - I haven't seen the Taboo series - that have a similar plot; I'm personally kind of disturbed by the sheer volume of incest-themed or step-parent themed porn out there, so forgive my lack of expertise in these matters. All I can say is, while - in Season of the Witch - there is nothing remotely arousing about watching Joan bring herself to orgasm while listening to her daughter and the man that Joan will herself later have an affair with, it's still one fucked-up, memorable, transgressive scene, maybe the greatest-ever female masturbation scene in a horror film (why is there no Academy Award for that?). From the moment Joan enters the front door, you watch the film in building suspense: Oh, God, she can hear them... oh God, she's going up the stairs... oh, God, she's lying on the bed... oh, God, she's not going to... Oh, God, yes she is! Erika, watching the film with me, was very unsettled by it, too. It does make one wonder what it might have been like if the film had been made by someone who actually WAS interested in transgressive pornography - Zebedy Colt, say, one of the few genuinely interesting porn filmmakers I've encountered. (I am happy to see that my article on Zebedy Colt from a few years ago has had over 1000 views. Happy to be of service, folks). 

I'm going to leave the rest of the film mostly unremarked upon, in the interest of being spoiler-free. I won't write at length about parallels with films like Dancing in the Dark (no, not the von Trier film, but a moving Canadian film about a stifled housewife) or The Soft Skin (mostly about a businessman having an affair, but his wife gets to, um, assert her point of view at the end), though they do have a bearing (Truffaut fans have now been spoilered, I guess, but don't read further if you didn't get the reference). And to some extent, I *can't* really sum up what the film all means, anyhow, because though on the level of story everything resolves quite dramatically, on the level of theme, I'm left with more questions than answers (not in such a way as to be unsatisfying, but enough that I'd be risking being corrected if I chose too narrow an interpretation; Romero may not be subtle, but he doesn't mind a bit ambiguity). Is Romero on the side of Greg after their final romp, complicit in ridiculing Joan for making a big mumbo-jumbo mystery out of something that Greg himself tells her is "just balling, lady"...? He certainly could be - he allows viewers to take that position, to be sure - but it need not be the only position audiences are invited to inhabit. Is Romero quietly mocking Joan at the end of the film, hinting (okay, maybe a bit subtly) that she's traded enslavement to her husband in for a sort of figurative enslavement to the coven - or is he on her side, happy that she's found a healthier, more fulfilling (if somewhat weirder) way of relating to the world? (Are we supposed to read her as empowered, or lost? She does seem quite a bit happier in the film's final moments than she is at the outset). Her social status and self-comfidence definitely improve as a result of her interest in occultism, too, but is there a bit of skepticism on Romero's part about the uses of witchiness among bored housewives to elevate ones social status and/or sense of self-worth? Is he hinting that she's more interested in jockeying for position amongst her peers than she is genuinely interested in magic? And do Joan's nightmares of a demonic intruder continue after the film's startlng (but in hindsight inevitable) climax, or are they ultimately resolved by it...?
I suspect different people will have different takeaways, depending on what they make of the topic of witchcraft, but they're all provocative questions. I admire that Romero is careful enough in how he frames them to not tip the scales too far when it comes to privileging any one reading of the movie; even if he isn't letting the coven or Joan off scot-free, even if he does have at least some skepticism about Joan's journey,  I do think Season of the Witch is easily properly described as a feminist film, just in terms of the issues it brings to the screen. Sometimes the value in a work of art is not in what it says, but the conversations it inspires afterwards. And it is easily as interesting and rewarding as either The Crazies or Martin. It might even be my favourite of the three.   

But a final scene needs remarking on. I utterly love that the use of Donovan's song "Season of the Witch" is reserved for only one scene in the film, where Joan goes shopping. Having acquired the rights to the song presumably means that Romero could have used it elsewhere - but mostly he settles for bloopy, bleepy avant-garde electronica for his score, safeguarding the impact of the moment when the song kicks in. And seriously, how many horror movies make a noteworthy set-piece out of a woman going shopping? Shopping is another one of those aspects of daily life that is hugely significant to self-expression, to self-realization, even to education (I've learned easily as much about culture from clerks at video, book, and record stores as I have from formal study). We're all lost in the supermarket, these days. But as important as shopping is, though, it somehow is very seldom represented in realistic terms in genre film. I actually kind of feel excitement during the shopping scene, which the music intensifies; watching Joan select potions and tools for ritual feels a bit like I might, browsing the stock at Videomatica or Red Cat...

Season of the Witch does have its issues.The Arrow blu seems to be a significant improvement, if the stills at DVDBeaver are any indication; certainly they put Jan White right where she belongs on the box art, and amplify her scary aspects a bit. But it doesn't seem quite so big an improvement for me to want to invest $45 or so on the upgrade. Anyone looking for a Christmas gift idea for me should note that I also don't have the blu-ray of the original Romero version of The Crazies, either - I'm generally slow to upgrade when it comes to movies that just never looked all that good to begin with, where your final comment will be, at best, "it still looks pretty bad, but it's an improvement over the previous version." But if you don't own any version of the film - well, there's always Tubi, but I highly recommend checking it out by SOME means... because whatever its issues, ultimately, it's just great. 

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Of the Circle Jerks, Zander Schloss, Repo Man, and 7 Seconds, with photos (and a story) from Bev Davies

The Circle Jerks on April 11, 1981 at 10th Street Hall, San Francisco, photo by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

DOA on April 11, 1981 at 10th Street Hall, San Francisco, photo by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

If you've seen the documentary American Hardcore, you'll know that early in the birth of hardcore, there were some very aggressive moshers coming out of the upper-middle-class community of Huntington Beach, Los Angeles. In the film, Henry Rollins characterizes the typical HB mosher as "the high school jock who found punk rock," but as he tells the story of seeing the Circle Jerks in San Francisco, opening for the Dead Kennedys at the Mabuhay Gardens, you can tell the aggression that the band's fans brought with them made an impression on him: "It sounds like someone's exaggerating when you tell them the story; it sounds like, 'Oh yeah, you're just making it up.'  No. I've never seen anything like it... the Circle Jerks started playing and all you saw was fists and San Francisco locals hitting the floor." 

That was probably the same 1980 gig that Ian MacKaye, in town with the Teen Idles, talks about here (Rollins mentions in the doc that MacKaye was present, though the Teen Idles ended up dropped from that particular bill). In the same film, Circle Jerks/ Bad Religion guitarist Greg Hetson remembers the gig well. It "was one of the very first times we went out of town at all," and they'd brought "20 or 30 kids from the scene from LA," Hetson explains. "They were still pogoing back then in San Francisco, so we came in with our people and we just fucked up the whole thing. The promoter was freaking out: 'What's this, you bring these crazy kids and they're destroying shit and they're fighting!' 'We're not fighting! It's the way we do it in LA!'"

Greg Hetson in American Hardcore

That promoter, we assume, was Mabuhay Gardens MC Dirk Dirksen. Vancouver photographer and cultural treasure Bev Davies, who was in San Francisco shooting DOA, recalls that the Circle Jerks were added to the bill of a DOA show on April 11th at 10th Street Hall, "because the Huntington Beach crowd were too much for Dirk and he had announced that the Circle Jerks will 'never play this town again.' So DOA added them to their 10th Street Hall gig April 11, 1981." ("That sounds about right," Joe Keithley confirms). 

Online evidence suggests that the Circle Jerks would again play the Mabuhay Gardens, even headlining gigs later that very year. But it's thanks to Dirk's momentary freakout (and those aggro HB-scene moshers) that we have Bev's pictures of the band in 1981 (that's a 20 year old Greg Hetson on the left, below).  

The Circle Jerks on April 11, 1981 at 10th Street Hall, San Francisco, photo by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Current Circle Jerks bassist Zander Schloss - whom I've extensively interviewed, though only part one is presently online - was not in the band at that time. He would join the Circle Jerks in 1984, first appearing on record with them on their fourth album, Wonderful

Before that time, Schloss - who was already playing guitar when he moved from Missouri to Los Angeles as a young teenager - had been playing in a funk band called Juicy Bananas, of whom little evidence remains. though they would end up providing the music for the "Bad Man" track on the Repo Man soundtrack (voiced by "Lite" actor Sy Richardson). Schloss's involvement with the film, which was where he also first met the Circle Jerks, began with his getting work as a production assistant. 

Schloss' own telling of the story of how he landed the role of Kevin - ultimately beating out a young Chris Penn, who briefly actually had the part - will have to wait until Part Two of the Stereo Embers piece gets published (which I think will be after the Vancouver gig), but in (Repo Man director) Alex Cox's very entertaining memoir, X Films: True Confessions of a Radical Filmmaker,  Cox offers that he had told Schloss he could have the role, "but the producers were less keen: Zander had never acted before. How could I give away a good part to our cigarette-butt-picker-upper when real actors were circling the picture?" 

Bowing to pressure, Cox told Schloss that he had changed his mind, setting Schloss - now an "aggrieved cigarette-butt-picker-upper," as Cox describes him - to complaining around the set. Then Penn had disagreements with the wardrobe department about a "silly hat" he wanted to wear, apropos of the film, which revealed, it turned out, a deeper misunderstanding of the role. "He'd been hired to act in what was supposed to be a teenage comedy," Cox explains. "So, to get into his 'comic' character, he had brought along this 'comic' hat. This was an immediate problem, because we weren't playing the film like a comedy. Our strategy was to make Repo Man as downbeat, dingy, and 'normal-looking' as possible, so if you saw a still from it, you'd think it was a contemporary thriller, not a comedy. Harry Dean had wanted to wear a fedora, and I'd had to dissuade him. The other actors understood this strategy." 

But Chris Penn, Cox writes, "had come late to the production, ready to do American comedy the way it was usually played: try to be funny, mug a bit, pause-for-the-laugh, Saturday Night Live style." 

These miscues worked in Schloss' favour - and watching dailies with Penn in the role of Kevin, Cox and producer Michael Nesmith came to the agreement that in fact, Schloss was the better man for the job, which enabled Cox to go with his first instinct and set in motion a long and storied career for Schloss. 

Zander Schloss with the Circle Jerks, courtesy of Zander Schloss

Besides acting in other films - most delightfully in Cox's later film Straight to Hell, which I spoke with the director about here -  Schloss ended up touring and recording with Joe Strummer, collaborating with him on the Walker, Permanent Record, and Straight to Hell soundtracks, and serving as musical director and guitarist on Strummer's first post-Clash solo record Earthquake Weather. He's also played with Thelonious Monster, the Weirdos, Die Hunns, Stan Ridgway, and Pray for Rain - among others. And Zander has a new, acoustic solo album, Song About Songs, which he's made several delightful videos to support, including "I Have Loved the Story of My Life" (with marionettes representing various phases of his career), "Dead Friend Letter," in which he plays a suicidal biker, and the title track. We talked about the album in terms of "musical comfort food," with Schloss explaining that his intention

was to write things that have an influence that goes beyond a short period of time... I generally gravitate – as far as, like, trying to write a song – to songs that would potentially have a place in the American songbook. You know what I mean? I’m literally thinking of songs like, “Oh, My Darling Clementine” and “Camptown Races” – stuff like that where it’s just like, unmistakably a melody that belongs in the American songbook. And the influences that I was using... were, I guess, gospel and Appalachian in origin. If you go beyond that, those sort of influences are coming from English and Scottish and Irish folk music. Archetypes exist in melody, in musical styles as well. So I want to give people something that’s familiar, to sit them down at the table and make them feel welcome to sort of participate and listen to the song and digest it, basically like sitting them down and serving some turkey and some gravy and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes. You don’t send out the exotic dishes first, that are too spicy to eat and unfamiliar to them.

There's more to come from Schloss when part two of that Stereo Embers piece hits; I'm probably going to hold off on it until after the Circle Jerks' Vancouver gig, so we can run fresh photos (Bev will be there, too - I love the idea of having pictures of a band 40 years apart, taken by the same photographer). We're also in the process of setting up an in-store performance/ signing for  Schloss at Neptoon Records, when he's in town for the July 3rd Circle Jerks gig at the Commodore. [It is now confirmed for 4:30 PM Sunday, at Neptoon, totally free! Bring your Repo Man stuff, your Walker soundtrack,your Straight to Hell poster - whatever you want him to scribble on!]. Zander will have copies of the album - not currently being stocked in any Vancouver record stores that I've noticed - with him. Highly recommend checking it out. 

Meantime, for people excited about the Circle Jerks' upcoming Vancouver show, note that - while there is no word yet as to the local opener will be, the out-of-town support has been confirmed: American hardcore legends 7 Seconds will be on the bill. {I believe that Adolescents had been scheduled to support them originally for one of the dates that got postponed due to COVID, but they will not be playing). If, like me, 7 Seconds are not a band you've seen before, you might do well to check out The Crew or some of their classics, like "We're Gonna Fight" and "Young Til I Die" (recent setlists do not suggest they will actually be playing my favourite song of theirs, "Fuck Your Amerika," which I'm kinda sad about, but it does seem like we might hear their cover of "99 Red Balloons," so I will take consolation there).

Calling Bev about her Circle Jerks photos, it occurred to me to ask her if she'd ever shot 7 Seconds. In honesty, I expected she might come up with a black and white photo from the 1980s, which is usually what happens when requests like that turn fruitful. Instead, it turns out that 7 Seconds were in Vancouver, playing the Fortune Sound Club back in 2015. Not only wasn't I present for that, I have utterly no recollection of having heard about it... 

7 Seconds at Fortune Sound Club, June 15, 2015, by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

One last photo: while Bev was at Fortune Sound Club, a notable local punk approached her and asked her to come to the back room with him for a photograph with 7 Seconds lead singer Kevin Seconds. Here's Mr. Chi Pig of SNFU with Kevin. (Circle Jerks fans might note that SNFU covered "Operation" as the final bonus cut of their album In the Meantime and In-Between Time, starting at 42:29 here.) It's not quite as fun as those photos that got taken of Tesco Vee, Dave Gregg, Willy Jak, and Chi at the Meatmen show at the same location - which I've yet to see anyone post, weirdly - but it's still pretty fuckin' special.  

RIP Chi; I'll miss not seeing you in the audience at the Commodore on the 3rd. 

                           Mr. Chi Pig and Kevin Seconds by bev davies, June 15, 2015, not to be reused without permission

Tickets are still available to see Circle Jerks with 7 Seconds (and yet-to-be-revealed local support; I can't begin to speculate as to who) at the Commodore here. See other tour dates here. Thanks to bev davies, Ben Frith, Zander Schloss and undisclosed Deep Throat sources involved in the putting on of this show. I always wanted my very own Deep Throat... 

Monday, June 20, 2022

Sheer Heresy: On watching the colourized version of Night of the Living Dead (or "colorized," for the Americans out there)

My wife, Erika, has problems with black and white movies (henceforth, B&W, which suddenly looks like it is the middle term between A&W and C&W... but nevermind...). 

I love B&W, myself - especially on a well-restored print of a beautifully shot film. But I acknowledge there are challenges for viewers unaccustomed to the form. As many of the B&W movies I want to show her - most vintage films noir, for instance - also are shot, edited, acted and written very differently from contemporary films, the absence of colour is not often the only thing one must get "used to," but even on its own, it requires a little more mental effort, maybe, to read a B&W film than a colour film (I'm really, really going to try to write this without seeming like a snob). You have to be willing/ able to extend yourself out to it, adopt a slightly different attitude as a viewer, accept a higher level of artifice, and look for pleasure in slightly different places (composition, not colour, for instance); this requires a slightly more critical relationship to the film or to cinema in general, maybe; I don't think people are born naturally with an appreciation of B&W film, these days, but rather have to work a bit to develop a taste for it. And if what you're coming for is emotional engagement in a story, that extra work can seem a needless barrier. Maybe it can be likened to trying to read a play or novel that's written in archaic or slightly foreign English; whether it's Shakespeare or Irvine Welsh, unless you can make that slight foreignness part of the pleasure, unless you can take that step back, take an interest in the difference, and find pleasure in the form itself, rather than the story being told, it's probably not going to be your cuppa. And even if you do access the somewhat more challenging pleasures of such writing, you're probably not going to stay awake late into the night so you can read one more chapter, as you might with a contemporary bestseller that has grabbed you.... I mean, I've enjoyed Shakespeare and Welsh, both, but not so as to have kept me up past my bedtime...

...And if you're only watching a film in the first place because your cinephile spouse is insisting ("It's an absolute classic, you'll love it, I promise!"), there might be good reasons to not want to make that extra effort (Erika knows that the more she indulges me on this front, the more I'll play her classic cinema, which doesn't really lead her anywhere she wants to go). Even when Erika does indulge me, no matter how gamely I can see her trying, if it's B&W, she almost always falls asleep during the film - especially if it's a classic. The few B&W films she's made it through without snoozing are almost always contemporary films, like Dead Man, that have been made in B&W for artistic purposes. Even films as powerful as Nick Ray's In a Lonely Place have left her non-plussed, unable to engage (she came out of a screening of that having cared about nothing more than how weird Gloria Grahame's lips looked. The actress had had, it seems, a lifelong problem with her own lips, wanting them to look fuller, and tried various methods to produce this effect, eventually resorting to plastic surgeries that left her upper lip almost immobile. I give Erika full credit for noticing this detail - one I had no awareness of, that she recognized even though - unlike me - she'd never seen a Grahame movie before. But it is still a kind of testament to just how little the film had moved her, that that's the main thing she came away with).

This has posed a problem, in particular, when it comes to the original George A. Romero Night of the Living Dead [henceforth NOTLD]. Y'see, Erika has become (somewhat unexpectedly) quite a fan of zombie cinema. In particular, she's even more enthusiastic for The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead than I am; I probably would have bailed on both series by now, but she rather loves them, and we're presently on hiatus mid-way through our second run through The Walking Dead, taking a bit of a break before we have to watch Glen get killed again (I mean, that's really an upsetting moment). Obviously at some point, she needed to see the Romero original, the film that started the whole contemporary zombie phenomenon. But I've been stalling in showing it to her, because...

...well, it's always been a film I've struggled with myself, to be honest. I've seen it at least five times, but:

a) I've only ever seen kinda-crap looking public domain DVDs of it. One of those was projected by Jonny Bones at a Horrorshow in Maple Ridge, but seeing it on the big screen only underscored the flaws of whatever crap-looking DVD Jonny was using at that time, My own copies - I've had several, since it pops up on tons of public domain anthologies - were no better. At some point I figured out with the help of friends that the Elite Entertainment "Millenium Edition" of the film looks pretty good, which is what has been filling the space on my shelf for a few years now, but in fact, I haven't watched that version of it since I got it, since the five crap-looking versions of it that I'd seen kind of still lingered in memory, tainting the experience.  

b) ...and when I think of the pleasures of B&W, I don't think of NOTLD. Unlike my favourite films noir, it does not have that element of carefully-crafted compositions and gorgeous, expressionistic  cityscapes, for example. Rather - kinda like Cassavetes' Faces, which came out in the same year - it looks rough, savage, raw, driven beyond "craft" into something else, which surely made it somewhat hard-to-watch for viewers at the time, given what most moviegoers were used to in 1968. Now, that's not a problem for me, since "carefully-crafted compositions" were NOT the point of either the Cassavetes or the Romero. The energy and the overall punch-in-the-gut are the point - and you'll see plenty of filmmakers adopting some of these films' roughness in subsequent decades - but the B&W photography certainly isn't a "draw" in and of itself for either film (I revere Faces, but not because of the photography). If I want to see a B&W movie - if that's specifically the sort of pleasure that I'm seeking - I might go to Night and the City, for example, or Fritz Lang or Billy Wilder or such - or Bela Tarr, for that matter. If I want B&W horror, Bride of Frankenstein or The Creature from the Black Lagoon. George Romero, not so much. The film is just not the sort of film where B&W itself is an attraction.

c) ...And in terms of the history of cinema, NOTLD really kind of BELONGS to the era of colour. The film has next to nothing in common with the classics of B&W horror filmmaking, the Universal monster movies and so forth, whereas all its sequels are in colour, as are most of its peers and less official progeny. Plus it's shot and edited like a contemporary film, too, making the B&W seem a bit odd given that none of the rest of the film feels like it belongs to an earlier time. Has there even been a major horror film made from 1968 onward that is in black and white? Does Eraserhead count? Tetsuo The Iron Man? Perusing the Wikipedia list of B&W films since 1970, I do see a couple of horror movies, like Singapore Sling, Anchoress, and a few homages to Caligari, Frankenstein, even the zombie subgenre... but most of these are rather obscure and unseen-by-me. I might be missing something, but the only inarguably major B&W horror films I've seen that were made since NOTLD are, I think, Abel Ferrara's The Addiction; the director's cut of Darabont's The Mist - which is not how the film was released theatrically, so I'm not even sure it counts; and The Call of Cthulhu (which is a short, so perhaps shouldn't be included, either). This all makes the absence of colour actually feel somewhat incongruous for NOTLD. 

d) And who wants to see human flesh being eaten in black-and-fucking-white, anyhow? There's actually some really striking gore in the original NOTLD - more than in the Tom Savini remake, oddly, since Savini is known as a gore-effects guy, primarily - but it just isn't the sort of subject matter that screams "this would look better in black and white." Some images and subject matter just inherently lend themselves to B&W, but others don't. Like, compare items on this list:

i) a cityscape at night

ii) a horse being led up a hill in a storm

iii) a field of flowers blowing in the wind

iv) a giant banquet of food

v) a volcano erupting

vi) a woman sitting alone on a bench, eating an apple 

vii) a ballet dancer 

...maybe there's a subjective element to this, but if you're at all like me, you'll agree that i), ii), vi) and vii) are subjects that lend themselves to B&W, that could look really lovely filmed thus. But who wants to see flowers, a banquet, or a volcanic eruption in B&W??? Colour is an integral part of the visual pleasure of looking at such things, and while it may seem a bit odd to talk about intestines being eaten as source of visual pleasure, it's all just more impactful to see organs that are the colour of organs, blood that is the colour of blood. For all we know, in the original NOTLD, the black splash on the wall when the reanimated little dead girl is plunging the garden trowel into her parents could be ink being thrown; in fact, in B&W, who knows what colour the fluid used actually was? (I could rush to check a commentary, to see if someone says, "we tried blood, but it didn't show up as well, so we settled for ink" - but I think the point should be clear regardless of  a supporting quote). 

e) Finally, there is a certain baggage that comes along with watching a revered classic that you've managed to miss (which was true of me, at one point; I'd seen Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead more than once, before I ever happened upon Night of the Living Dead). If you haven't seen Rashomon or Ikiru or The Seventh Seal or Citizen Kane or Touch of Evil, or - there's a long list of revered B&W movies I could rattle out - but have been reading about them for years, seeing them proclaimed as the greatest films ever made, there's a certain pressure that comes with the viewing. Deprived of the freedom to feel how you will, knowing the conclusion you must arrive at, is a fairly un-fun, even stifling experience. You're supposed to love the film; it's a revered classic. You're not supposed to find it clunky or awkward or overly long or, God forbid, boring. I actually have had little problem with the other films I mention above, here - though Touch of Evil has never been my favourite Welles, regardless of which cut I watch;  it's always seemed a bit too long, a bit too obvious, a bit too self-indulgent, a bit too broad. But if you start to voice those sorts of reservations about a revered classic, you only make yourself look like a vulgarian, a heretic. Which judgment cinephiles around you will have no problem reinforcing.

The stakes are even higher when the film is actually the first film of a filmmaker you truly do admire. Sometimes first films - Scorsese's Who's That Knocking at My Door? is my favourite example - are the best places to catch an aspiring cinema prodigy at work, to see their energy, their potency, to glimpse the themes that cut deepest, to see their most powerful, unfiltered filmmaking, the film they made before they sold out, bought into their own press, were sucked into making superhero movies, developed a massive ego or cocaine problem, or so forth (Scorsese has continued to make interesting films throughout his career, mind you - I'm not saying that HE has done all of these things - but his first feature remains my personal favourite of his movies). I can recognize things in NOTLD that become more pronounced in Romero's later films, but while I am aware of their importance - both in terms of horror cinema of the time, and in terms of what was yet to come - that's quite a different thing from being able to see and enjoy the film on its own terms. Sometimes you just can't drop the baggage that a film comes to you with - especially when all that baggage is telling you that you should be LOVING it, and you realize, with the wrong sort of horror rising in you, that you are NOT. 

It would all have been very different if I had seen the film in 1968, of course. But I was busy being born that year, so...

The Savini remake, of course - made in vivid colour, around 1989 or 1990, depending where you look - is a wonderfully well-made film. Romero tweaks the screenplay in interesting ways; Savini has a very sure eye (and operates with a really kind of admirable restraint when it comes to gore, which, as I say, is not what you'd necessarily expect). And the cast is a joy to watch: I only know Patricia Tallman from Knightriders, haven't seen her Babylon 5 or Star Trek work, and didn't realize until last night that she served as stuntwoman for Laura Dern in Jurassic Park (!), but I love what she does to transform the mousy, panicky, over-emotional Barbara (who is really quite annoying in the 1968 film, and begins this one in much the same vein) into a heroic lead (best female "transformation" via zombie apocalypse, at least prior to the work of Melissa McBride; and surely Carol's creators were aware of Tallman's Barbara). She's fun in Knightriders, too, but her character there is a ditzy, somewhat minor figure, where here she's the lead, and does some amazing work - for example, the scenes where she's crying in despair, disgust, and sorrow while still killing zombies take us to places you seldom get to in any kind of cinema, combining both sensitivity and toughness; usually the two are seen as antithetical. You don't see Ripley sobbing as she slaughters aliens. The pathos of these scenes is nearly the equal of poor Bub realizing that Logan is dead in Day of the Dead. One does not generally come to zombie cinema hoping for great acting or moving performances, but Tallman delivers, regardless. I won't even get into the scene where she trades out her skirt for pants. Poor ole Barbara DESERVES to be the main character, the hero, of NOTLD, after the taunting she gets in the film's opening; and Tallman makes that possible and believable in ways that the original Barbara, Judith O'Dea, never had a chance to.

And Tony Todd, Tom Towles, and Bill Moseley (whose name gets misspelled in the credits) are great, too, and benefit from their association with other well-regarded horror films (Candyman, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and - well, pick a Moseley; I'll go with Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II, but there are certainly other choices). The sunny daylight compositions are delightful in their incongruity and lend the film a freshness (unless you are watching the Twilight Time version, which fucks with the colour; an unfucked-with version has since come out on blu, note). I love the 1990 film, have done so since I saw it theatrically first-run, but the whole point was playing Erika the film that got the whole thing rolling, and that is NOT the remake. Plus she'd be much better off appreciating the things that are great about the remake by having seen the original first: Ben's death in the first one would be far less shocking after seeing Ben die in the remake, especially given that the remake teases us with the possibility he might make it...

So I've hemmed and hawed and not played Erika the film that started the whole zombie phenom- a film that is not made less significant for me given that it came out the year that I was born! It's been on the list of movies to play her for a few years now, but my reservations got in the way. Finally, while poking through movies at a Surrey Gamer's Choice on Saturday, I stumbled across the solution to my problem: a version of Night of the Living Dead that had been colourized, back in 2004. 

Remember the colourization of feature films? I presume the practice has been abandoned and forgotten, as it should be, but it was a hot issue at one point, when the technology was new, back in the 1980's. Like any young movie lover would, I objected in principle. A film shot in B&W, designed by its authors to be viewed in B&W, should be seen in B&W, just like an album that was made to be listened to in mono should be heard in mono, rather than as re-configured after the fact by some disinterested studio technician ("electronically re-channeled for stereo!"). Because of my objections, I actually don't think I've ever sat through an entire colourized film before - nor would I have been inclined to try it this way if it hadn't been for wanting to show the film to a wife who was AWAKE, rather than a wife who was asleep. 

And indeed, it worked: Erika got into it in a way that would not have happened had I tried the original version of the film. Not only did she stay awake, but she was emotionally engaged, commenting on what a prick Mr. Cooper was, predicting obvious plot points ("does the daughter kill her parents?") and shocked by the shooting of Ben. I know too well the experience of waking her up to explain that she'd missed a key scene like that. It irritates her and feels like failure for me. It wasn't a problem at all yesterday. And dammit, colourized or not, it still counts - she might not have seen the original B&W version of Night of the Living Dead, but she's seen the film. My mission has been accomplished.

The weird thing is, I loved it too. None of my previous viewings of the film could compete: the colour really helped me engage with the story emotionally... Even though the colourization didn't look especially good, it not only kept Erika awake, but (somewhat to my surprise) helped me get more out of the film than I have ever gotten before. Scenes that I'd looked at as moments in a historically important artifact, but felt little else for, suddenly became gripping elements in a story. I was a little embarrassed at how well it worked, considering my objections to the process.  

And having finished it yesterday afternoon, for our evening film, I sprung the Savini remake on Erika, and she really enjoyed that, too. Two films scratched of the list! 

Anyhow, I guess I am now some sort of heretic, here. My most baggage-free, emotionally-involving flat-out enjoyable screening of the original Night of the Living Dead ever, and it was COLOURIZED. Not even very well-colourized, though there is one moment that is quite brilliant, probably my favourite in the whole (colourized) film. I do not know if the people who colourized the film were aware that Romero had said that he chose B&W because "the news was in black and white" (I am pretty sure that I am quoting exactly, from that terrific IFC documentary The American Nightmare, which came out a few years previous to the colourized DVD). I don't fully understand what Romero means by that (surely the news was only in B&W if you  had a B&W television?) - but it's still enough for me to love it, when the characters in the film find the TV and set it up, the colourizers opted, no doubt simply to save themselves work, to leave the TV broadcast as they found it. Something about watching black and white TV in a colourized movie really appeals to me. 

That's it, all I've got, but do not worry, I am not going to go seeking out other colourized films, and I have ordered the Criterion (black and white!) Night of the Living Dead blu as penance for my heresies.

Post-script: apparently multiple colourized versions of NOTLD exist - of COURSE they do! - so I should point out that the one we watched, the one from which the screengrabs above were taken (Pat Tallman excepted, of course) was the Legend DVD