All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie.

He writes the column “Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema” for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

“Even a Man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright”.

The best thing about the 1941 film is the tone-setting poem above, which was repeated at least one too many times in the original, yet it is absent from the 2010 remake except in the title. The Wolf Man seemed ripe for a remake since, of the original “horror classics,” it really wasn’t that good to begin with (the same goes for Creature from the Black Lagoon).

The 1941 film has several strikes against it, the first and foremost of which is writer Curt Siodmak, who, frankly, was a hack. The second is director George Waggner, who wasn’t really a hack but merely a competent, unimaginative commission director with no personal vision. Finally, there is “star” Lon  Chaney, Jr. The younger Chaney gets picked on a lot these days and always has. He deserves it. He was an idiotic, drunken bully who had an obsessive hang-up about outdoing his father. Since Lon Sr. probably ranks with Chaplin in the silent acting department, Lon Jr., the pale, watered-down copy, did not have a chance. It’s amazing that Jr. even thought he would be able to compete. That said, Lon Jr. did have a few good character roles in his career. Damn few out of literally hundreds of films. He was quite good as the arthritic sheriff in Fred Zinnemann’s High Noon, as Big Sam in Stanley Kramer’s The Defiant Ones, as Spurge in Raoul Walsh’s Lion is in the Streets and Bruno in Jack Hill’s cult classic Spider Baby. Like Bela Lugosi, he was only good when he was actually being “directed.” Unlike Lugosi, however, Jr.’s signature horror role is not one of his best. That honor goes to his immortal Lenny in Lewis Milestone’s Of Mice and Men.
Still from The Wolf Man (1941)
Even considering his success with Lenny, Larry Talbot is out of Lon’s range. Never once does Talbot’s amorous nature register. Evelyn Anker’s repeated flirtations with the hulking, rubbery Chaney only evoke numbing disbelief. If Jr. the romantic lead is ludicrous (that side seen at its mustached worst in the execrable Inner Sanctum series), then seeing Lon’s Talbot crying on the bed inspires cringe-inducing embarrassment.  Chaney’s performance as Talbot was marginally Continue reading THE WOLF MAN (1941) & THE WOLFMAN (2010)

COURAGEOUS AVENGER (1935)

Time to dust off this collection of B-Westerns from Sinister Cinema’s Sinister Six-Gun Collection.  The packaging is ultra-cool, starting off with those priceless trailers:

Trailer # 1: “Ride at Full Gallop into a Thundering Texas Romance to the rescue of a girl haunted by killers!  Johnny Mack Brown as the fist-flashing GENTLEMAN FROM TEXAS” blazes across the screen as Johnny shoots and punches his way across bar tables.  Add in beer bottles over the head, a pretty dame named Claudia Drake and the TrailsMen singing “Texas Jubilee” on banjos.   It’s a “Violent Drama of Valorous Love and Texan Vengeance” from Monogram Pictures.

Trailer # 2 screams “It’s the Real McCoy” (as in Tim McCoy) “heading this way to tame the town that defied the law!”  More fisticuffs, six-guns blazing, horses, good guys in white hats, and fallen bad guys in black hats (who never bleed) are all promised.  “The Outlaw Deputy Tim McCoy made bad men check their guns while he checked up on romance!  Cow-Town became a mad-house of Thundering Action when the nerviest outlaw East of the Rockies turns OUTLAW DEPUTY!”  A Puritan Picture.

Trailer #3: ” Come Along Boys and Girls on a Thrilling Trip to MYSTERY MOUNTAIN where KEN MAYNARD the screen’s most popular Cowboy Actor and his famous horse TARZAN will ENTHRALL you!  will THRILL you!  will STARTLE you!  in their 1st SUPER SERIAL!  ACTION!  ROMANCE!  All the THRILLS of THE OLD WEST!  Don’t miss seeing Ken Maynard and his horse Tarzan in MASCOT’S MIGHTY EPIC  SERIAL MYSTERY MOUNTAIN! WATCH FOR IT!”  This one has all the elements of the previous two, but throws in locomotives and a star horse.

Time for the feature now, a SUPREME PICTURES CORPORATION starring JOHNNY MACK BROWN in COURAGEOUS AVENGER.  After heisting a bullion shipment some despicable thugs are hiding in the desert, kidnapping local drifters for slave labor for their mine!  Soon, hero agent Johnny enters, decked in ten-gallon white, white suit, white tie, beaming an All-American Football hero smile and dimpled square jaw (naturally, a few yeas later, that square jaw was a bit hard to see under an extra chin, which was still one less than the two extra ones that fellow cow-hero and middle-aged Ken Maynard acquired).  Johnny finds himself commissioned to round up bad guys who killed their latest gold heist victim with three silver bullets.  Shucks, Johnny was just getting ready to go on vacation too.  Duty calls especially when Johnny finds the victim was his girl’s brother and “we were chums too!”  Johnny embarks on the mystery and a quest for justice, western-style.

To complicate matters, the ring of bad guys is lead by none other than his girl’s evil step-dad.  It doesn’t take long for the obligatory desert fight between Johnny and the bad guy, rollicking between the rocks in ass-hugging tight jeans.  After some ass-kicking, Johnny infiltrates the ring, frees the slaves (a dose of grand guignol in that scene) , stops the next heist,  and after a couple of thrilling stunts, rounds up the baddies and literally rides off in the sunset with girl Helen Ericson (who is mere decor).

Courageous Avenger is a 16 mm print and so is as good as it can be (especially since it was probably shot for about $50.00).  There’s no soundtrack music to liven things (fairly common for 30’s B-Westerns), the sound itself seems to come and go, nor is it any great shakes, even for a period B-Western.  But, it is a helluva lot of fun in grand Sinister Cinema packaging and you can’t really go wrong with Brown (although he looked even better with Beth Marion at his side).

The B-Westerns never received much respect in their day, and certainly don’t now, but pass the big bucket of buttered  popcorn and give me this over Avatar any day. More to come.  Dedicated to Dad.

GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

James Cameron’s Avatar is his first film since 1997’s Titanic, and Avatar looks like it’s actually going to top that monster ship as far as revenue goes.  Reportedly, with PR expenses, Avatar costs somewhere between 250 and 500 million dollars and one would think with that kind of investment, Cameron and corporation would have come up with a better script and a more substantial film.  Avatar is riddled with the same level of asinine dialogue that sunk Cameron’s cruise ship, a plot that blatantly echoes Dances with Wolves, hopelessly two-dimensional, stereotyped cardboard villains, and a mixed bag of CGI visuals which often look like Gil Kane comic characters turned into blue rubber toys amidst a computer game version of a Franz Marc rain forest.

Still from Avatar (2009)
Avatar
opens in the distant future on the planet Pandora.  A paraplegic named Jake (Sam Worthington, the latest wooden hunk) is a volunteer on Pandora’s Earthling military base.  The native Pandorans justifiably mistrust the “Sky People” who want to strip-mine their lush world to save a dying Earth.  So, the Sky People have an ingenious plot to infiltrate the Pandorans by linking human consciousness into a Pandoran avatar.  All-American swell guy Jake seems the perfect volunteer, as he is promised his lost legs back.  So, Jake gets turned into a twelve foot blue native.  The problem is that the Sky People need pesky “green” scientists to help them and, naturally those lovers of the land are going to throw a monkey wrench into Operation Pandora.

Predictably, once Jake interacts with the natives, he bonds with them and even falls in love with their princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, playing Pocahontas, in all but name.  She Continue reading GUEST REVIEW: AVATAR (2009)

GUEST REVIEW: THE SWIMMER (1968)

The Swimmer has been promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies ever made. Comments on this post have been closed. Please read the official Certified Weird entry for The Swimmer and post any future comments about the film there.

When Burt Lancaster began his career as an actor, it appeared this was going to be a career in the mold of Errol Flynn or Randolph Scott. In films like The Flame and the ArrowJim Thorpe-All American, The Crimson Pirate, Vera Cruz, Ten Tall Men, From Here to Eternity, The Kentuckian, Trapeze, Gunfight at the OK Corral, and Run Silent, Run Deep, Lancaster seemed to personify and embody the American ideal hero.

However, behind those swell guy teeth and that brandished chest was a shrewd actor, who, as he seasoned, made increasingly interesting choices.  In the second half of his career, Lancaster often played off that earlier, heroic persona with admirable risk taking.  If  Elmer Gantry and Seven Days in May might be aptly described as loudly presenting the dirty underbelly of Americana, then The Swimmer intimately one-ups them.

In 1968 director Frank Perry with writer/wife Eleanor Perry adapted John Cheever’s acclaimed allegorical New Yorker short story, The Swimmer, and brilliantly cast the iconic Burt Lancaster as the pathetic hero.  The Perrys had previously teamed for the equally disturbing David and Lisa (1962) and made quite a splash on the art film circuit.  Surprisingly, that film even garnered a couple of Academy Award nominations, which enabled the team to make The Swimmer.

Still from The Swimmer (1968)The Swimmer begins on an absurdly bright, sunny day.  Ned (Lancaster), the epitome of a tanned, virile, soulless suburbia, decides he is going to enthusiastically embark on a strange, epic, connect-the-dot journey by “swimming” home through the neighborhood swimming pools. He takes along a nubile girl (Janet Langard), but at each pool he encounters facets of his failed life and the crack in his facade slowly begins to expand until the inevitable, tragic conclusion.  The physical reality of The Swimmer (a day in Ned’s life) is mere allegory and the allegorical symbolism of Ned’s entire life which is, in fact, the physical realm into which we are drawn.

Lancaster, the sex symbol, is perfection as he superficially pats his neighbors on the back, encounters a discarded mistress, is confronted by his numerous lies, his betrayals, his failure as a husband, father, friend and neighbor.  By the time he reaches his own home, his paradigm has altered from cartoon sunshine and forced, surface smiles to despairing rain.  When he reaches his porch, he is vulnerable to all the elements which mercilessly come down upon him in all forms, including nature itself.  Ned has ultimately realized his hollow state.

Impressively, The Swimmer has a dreamlike, short story, episodic pacing, not at all what is expected in the medium of film, and this adds to its uniqueness.  The Swimmer, fragile indeed in its quite odd structure, is a case where casting really counted.  It would not have worked without its star.  Unfortunately, The Swimmer is out of print and even when it was briefly available, Columbia disrespectfully released it an a cheapo presentation.  (NOTE 2/12/10: Astute reader MCD tipped us off to the fact that The Swimmer is available for download from Amazon for $9.99). Still, it’s a rarity in being a film that actually lives up to and surpasses its reputation.

The Perrys went onto make Last Summer and Diary of a Mad Housewife before divorcing.  Separately, the two never equaled the artistic level they achieved together.  Lancaster continued to carefully cultivate his screen persona in films like 1900, Moses the Lawgiver, Atlantic City, Local Hero, Rocket Gibraltar and Field of Dreams.

CAPSULE: AUTOMATONS (2006)

DIRECTED BY: James Felix McKenny

FEATURING: Christine Spencer, Angus Scrimm

PLOT: The lone survivor of a devastated nation lives in an underground bunker; her only companions are the voice recordings of a long-dead scientist and the robots she sends out to do battle with the enemy on the planet’s poisoned surface.

Still from Automatons (2006)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Much of the underground hype regarding this 2006 indie from James Felix McKenny and Glass Eye Pix likens Automatons to a cross between Eraserhead and Ed Wood, with Guy Maddin‘s name bandied about for good measure. There is nothing remotely arthouse or surreal about Atomatons, however, and the only identifying aesthetic McKenney might share with Maddin is an obsessive love of a genre. Maddin’s love of baroque silent film expressiveness hardly compares to McKenney’s hard-on for 1950’s sci-fi kitsch. That’s the problem with hype; it usually tends to be a disservice, and is so here.

COMMENTS: Automatons is not weird or surreal. That is not to say it does not have merit or is a film without interest. Is it a thought-provoking, intelligent film, worth comparing to some of the better, more compact Outer Limits episodes? No. The post-apocalyptic scenario of a lone survivor is a really, really old one that has been around since Robot Monster (1953) and is repeated in Omega Man, Mad Max and countless movies.

The robots themselves look like they just stepped out of an old “Superman” TV episode, but without the awkwardly quirky personality of those 50s tintypes. Angus Scrimm (Phantasm) is the professor who instructs heroine Christine Spencer through a series of pre-recorded videos. The biggest problem here lies in Spencer’s flat acting, which fails to project the necessary charisma needed in this type of project.

Where Automatons takes an admirable independent risk is in its lethargic pacing, which, despite the plot and acting, creates a hypnotic milieu. Long, static takes, along with the much repeated Scrimm transmissions, are, at first, odd, then oddly compelling. This is the one surprising, indeed endearing quality about Automatons.  It refuses to cater to commercial pacing. Some mistake that for an arthouse quality or made predictable, banal comparisons, such as that to Eraserhead. Automatons does not possess that organic, wistful Lynch quality. It is grounded in the love of its genre. The later battle scenes and the gruesome deaths have a certain grainy style derived from its 8 mm source, but this is an often utilized stylistic ploy in genre indies, and is not what gives Automatons its original flavor.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

Automatons is what happens when Eraserhead and Tetsuo the Iron Man bong themselves into oblivion and collaborate on a minimalist avant-garde sci-fi cheapie shot in a toolshed… Robot radness acheived!”–Nathan Lee, The Village Voice (contemporaneous)

POSTMODERN MINIMALIST SHAKESPEARE AT THE LOCAL INDY FRINGE

Bill Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, has always been a play about duality. Done right, it is a fun play, juxtaposing equal doses of black humor with rich, high octane melodrama.  It’s also a tough, balancing act and, perhaps for this reason, its usually not anybody’s idea of  first choice when tackling the Bard, but I suspect Indiana director and actor Tristan Ross revels in the challenge.

Tristan Ross as Richard IIIRoss has brought his post-modern, bare-boned, minimalist adaptation to the local IndyFringe Theater at 719 East St. Clair in Indianapolis, where it plays Thursday-Sunday until January 24.  This Richard III is the first of Ross’ planned series of cutting edge, contemporary Shakespeare plays with his “No Holds Bard Productions.”  If Richard goes well, Ross hopes to tackle Julius Caesar.

Ross’ adaptation is a concept-heavy Richard III, employing eight actors for fifteen roles.  Taking dualist themes to a refreshing extreme, Ross has issued his artist statement from his No Holds Bard website, “The characters all represent duality and I’ve done my best to make it as much of an ensemble piece as possible; that is, reducing Richard and strengthening the rest.  The duality is a reflection on Richard’s dual nature.  Every character is cast with a double.  For instance, one actor will play Elizabeth and Hastings.  Elizabeth is compassionate, sympathetic, and aware of Richard’s treason.  Hastings is competitive, vindictive, and believes Richard is her ally.”

Does Ross’ concept work?  For the most part, yes.  He has clearly thought the play Continue reading POSTMODERN MINIMALIST SHAKESPEARE AT THE LOCAL INDY FRINGE

DAVID LYNCH IS DEAD

This article was originally published at Raging Bull Movie Reviews.

Art College in the early 1980’s was gloriously anti-academia. It was the type of atmosphere where even a hint of succumbing to systematic, structured, aesthetic thinking could lead to excommunication. You learned what you had to learn, or rather you learned what you were exposed to, and got the hell out to face the mercenary art scene while you worked random piss jobs. This was the calling and nature of your priesthood.

Although nothing, no one, was sacred, we did have artists, those prophetic voices, we intensely identified with. David Lynch was one of the new, exciting, unrelenting voices. He was one of our two Davidic prophets, the other being David Byrne, who ignited our excitement when he appeared in oversized suit, singing to a swaying lamp in front of projected poetry in Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense.

Jack Nance as EraserheadWhen we saw Eraserhead (1977), we had braced ourselves beforehand. Of course, we had heard the rumors even before someone obtained a print for screening at The John Herron School of Art. Naturally, some of the VC (visual communications) students showed up, long enough to tear themselves away from their whipped cream dreams of illustrating X-Men comic books and listening to Duran Duran, to launch their all too predictable assaults. It would have been disappointing if they hadn’t. It only took a few moments for those monotonous, robotic voices belonging to the religious cult of linear thinking to spew their dull bitching. As always, they did it obnoxiously loud when their fragile, conformability zone had been threatened. It was slightly disappointing that there were no punches thrown, but it Continue reading DAVID LYNCH IS DEAD

DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)

Every time a prestigious film institute puts together an official, stamped with authority list of “The Greatest Films of All Time” their number one pick is going to be Citizen Kane. No surprises there. Such lists might as well be packaged and sold as a 1.2.3 paint-by-numbers set. Ironically, it was the granddaddy of all film institutes that treated Kane’s creator as a heretic, refused to give him due recognition, banished him to Europe and excommunicated him for life.

Taking absolutely nothing from that film, nor Orson Welles, Citizen Kane is not the greatest film ever made.  That honor probably goes to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 Passion of Joan of Arc.

Rarely do classic films live up to the hype. Throughout the 1970s numerous books whispered about this lost film. It was very common to read its being compared to a fugue. Several veteran critics lamented its loss, something akin to losing a sacred relic. Only the loss of Von Stroheim’s uncut Greed inspired as much passion.

Then, in the early 1980’s a near mint condition print was found in the closet of an Italian mental institute.  When it was finally made available, many, myself included, bristled with excitement, wondering if this film was everything it was said to be.

Regardless of how much you’ve read about The Passion of Joan of Arc, nothing prepares you for it.  By the time the credits roll, the viewer feels emptied, literally drained. It is that devastating, as an emotional, spiritual, ecstatic, and aesthetic experience.

Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc is an essential, time-defying, inimitable cinematic experience of (German) Expressionism and (French) avant-garde.  The producers had wanted something else altogether, but Dreyer’s film was taken directly from Joan’s trial transcripts.  This is not Joan the warrior, but a young, frightened uneducated girl, absorbed in an ecstatic religious experience and a terrifying, inevitable martyrdom.

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)The performance of this Joan of Arc, as portrayed by Maria Falconetti, is the single greatest acting that has ever been imprinted, seared, burned, into celluloid.  But, this could hardly be called acting in any traditional sense.  Rumor has it that, in certain scenes, Dreyer made Falconetti kneel on hot coals to obtain the right expression of suffering, and Falconetti certainly was in abject misery for the hair cutting sequence (Dreyer’s reputation as a tyrannical dictator, ironically a bit like Joan’s judges, was well earned, but he made the Continue reading DREYER’S CINEMATIC PASSION (OF JOAN OF ARC)

VIDEO POETRY BY JOHN M BENNETT

John M Bennett’s musical, aquatic, high octane avant poetry is not for the faint of heart, disciples of the orthodox religion called “linear thinking”, or for the post-Matrix, attention span challenged audience. But, Bennett and his work have a passionately loyal following which influences a small, tight group.

Bennett’s humor comes from the slimy trail of a nobly defiant mindset.  I recall an email I got from Bennett a few years ago, informing me that beatnik surrealist poet Philip Lamantia had died.  When I inquired the nature of that great poet’s death, Bennett confessed he didn’t know, but added, “I hope it was a suicide. That’s the only way a surrealist should die.”

Some of Bennett’s video poetry can be found on his site, by clicking on the link below.

http://www.johnmbennett.net/Video_Poetry_JMBennett.html

Bennett’s LUNA BISONTE PRODS has released a collection on DVD called Ahhh Dog which contains Fifteen Short Pieces, Studio 1-9, Be Blankand John M Bennett in Paris. It can be ordered for $30 US postpaid directly from Bennett himself at:

John M. Bennett
137 Leland Ave.
Columbus, OH 43214 USA

Checks made out to Bennett (or cash).

A gem of a book comes with the dvd, photography by C. Mehrl Bennett.

Fifteen Short Pieces is a WIS project collaboration. Poetry and performance by Bennett. Video: Nicholas Carras.

The first short piece is Door Chain. The video depicts a crow eating, juxtaposed to Bennett’s voice, reading ” double greasy your please hump staining pork ice whistle foaming in your pants name the crack bob…”

Cheek Wreck and Learned Duck are delightfully mischievous. Cheek Wreck depicts a row of plastic water bottles with bright red caps as Bennett growls,”cheek the sawdust from yr tumba falling down the steps leak the slaw…”

A man in a white shirt walks around in a circular motion, grainy from above, “duck and hover plot to ashen us a natter fucked and muttered not a hash spattered on the wall neck…”

Studio 1-9 and Be Blank bring in a third collaborator in Allen Revich who adds voice, flute, harmonica and shuffling.

Revich plays flute in Studio 9 and has a priceless, befuddled look on his face as Bennett reads. In Studio 8, Revich reads while Bennett looks bored, yawns, and falls asleep.

Be Blank is archetypal Bennett at his hammiest. Bennett grunts and spews Be Blank, Be Blank, Be Blank, be blank , BE blanK, Beeeee Blaaaaaaaank, twisting his mouth, googly eyed, postulating, melodramatic, as Revich stoically looks down and shuffles in place. If you can get through Be Blank without a cigarette, you are stronger than I am.

Be Blank and Studio 1 – 9 on Bennett’s website. Not on the DVD, but also on the  website, are four bizarre (even by Bennett standards) short videos; The Blur, Transmission, the Refusal , and The Intrusion, along with Bennett’s visual poetry, text poetry, and sound poetry.

Take your Bennett dissonance like an adult, and stock up on the smokes.

CUBAN STORY (1959) AND CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959)

In the late 1950s movie star Errol Flynn owned a movie theater in Havana. Not the beautifully chiseled Flynn from The Adventures of Robin Hood, but a fat 50 year old has-been, yellowed with cirrhosis, eaten up with syphilis and dodging numerous creditors, including the IRS, with his latest teen age girlfriend: fourteen year old Beverly Aadland. Flynn, probably feeling his self-fulfilled hour (which predictably came shortly after) wanted to sow his macho oats one last time in the thick of the Cuban revolution (clearly, he wasn’t up to it).

Flynn, with Producer Victor Pahlen, made this pseudo-documentary about Flynn’s meeting Castro, although this meeting is only seen in photographs.

The film proclaims Flynn a sympathizer with Castro’s Batista Regime (paradoxically, he was also posthumously charged with being a fascist sympathizer during WWII). Most likely, this was a feeble effort, on the part of Pahlen and Flynn, to cash in on being in the right place at the right time.

Cuban Story [AKA The Truth About Fidel Castro Revolution] was only screened once, in Moscow, and disappeared until Pahlen’s daughter released it the early 2000s. This utterly bizarre film begins with Flynn drunkenly narrating (more like a strained slur), from a cheap office, something about “freedom fighters.” Flynn, with long cigarette hanging from his mouth, picks up a globe to show viewers “‘where Cuba is” and then throws the globe off camera. It can be heard bouncing off the wall. The remaining film narration (credited to Flynn, although it clearly is not) is frequently incoherent, pro-Castro, and pro-terrorist.

According to Pahlen’s film, Flynn made his way through the heart of the revolution to meet Castro, but the only footage of the extremely soused, dissipated Flynn is of his escorting women into one of George Raft’s casinos, to gamble with them and Beverly. The rest of the film is a collage of seemingly unrelated, and often shocking, but historically valuable footage. Silent images of slain “comrades” and the savage killing of young men in the streets as Batista police casually observe are unsettling.

Cuban Story is redeeming in its historical value and its unintentional strangeness, both in Continue reading CUBAN STORY (1959) AND CUBAN REBEL GIRLS (1959)