Category Archives: Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema

ELVIS (1979) & THIS IS ELVIS (1981)

The life of Elvis Presley is “the” perfect American grand guignol tale that has never really been captured on film. John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979) has finally been released in its full three hour European theatrical version. Some consider it to still be the best film on the subject of Elvis.

Elvis Presley was undoubtedly a phenomenon. He was as poor white trash as poor white trash can get. He grew up in a predominantly black Pentecostal church. Many African-Americans have accused him of stealing their music. Actually, it’s all he knew, and he treated it with reverence. Accusations of racism are certainly factual, but only from an off-color perspective. Like Sammy Davis, Jr., Elvis had an intense self-loathing for his own blackness.

Elvis, the dirt poor mama’s boy, filled his flights of fancy with whipped cream dreams of being a movie star more than anything else; but it was his voice, his extrovert sexual chemistry, and being in the right place at the right time, coupled with his insatiable, singular drive, and securing shrewd management, that catapulted him into the status of an American icon.

Still from Elvis (1979)One element that is sorely missing from all of the films and documentaries on him was Elvis’ early sense of perfection in the recording studios. He often demanded up to forty takes on one song.

Elvis was one of the first and certainly the biggest artist whose career was built on eclecticism. The Elvis Presley persona was birthed from what he knew and what he wanted to be in his Walter Mitty-like romantic fantasies. Elvis was part Mahalia Jackson (his gospel recordings are second only to hers), part Dean Martin, part James Dean, part Marlon Brando, and part Rudolph Valentino. Later, both Sammy Davis and Liberace would be added to the mix.

As archaic as the myth and screen presence of silent screen Valentino seems now, its Continue reading ELVIS (1979) & THIS IS ELVIS (1981)

GODS AND MONSTERS (1998)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, but a draft copy has been discovered and recreated. We’re happy to reprint this column while Alfred Eaker continues his sabbatical (he’s been assisting on someone else’s film project, among other activities). The latest news on Alfred is that he broke his wrist in a “scaffolding accident” while working on a mural, which may delay his return to column-writing.

This articles was also posted in a slightly different from at Raging Bull Reviews

Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters is one of the most beautiful, elegiac films of the last fifteen years. It is a fictionalized, speculative film about the last days of the great golden-age Hollywood director, James Whale, who is best remembered for directing several Universal horror classics, such as The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  When Gods and Monsters was released it received very good reviews, but several critics, obviously uncomfortable with the film’s depiction of Whale’s open homosexuality, managed to slip in comments regarding the director’s “hedonism.”  One wonders  whether, if the film’s subject had been the hetero charm of a Gary Cooper or Errol Flynn, would those same critics have written a praising pat on the back for the celluloid studs?  Regardless, Gods and Monsters, while simplistic, is brave in its depiction of Whale’s sexual preference; yet the film also strangely holds back from damning Hollywood’s blatant hypocrisy regarding Whale’s fall from grace.

, Brendan Fraser, and especially Lynn Redgrave give superlative performances.  Fraser’s Clay Boone is Whale’s Frankenstein/Adonis of a gardener.  Boone is slow on the uptake when it comes to realizing that his retired celebrity employer (McKellen) is more than just an odd artist.  When Hannah, Whale’s maid (Redgrave), lets the cat out of the bag, Boone’s initial reaction is one of subdued violence.  However, Boone soon finds himself missing Whale’s anecdotes and returns to his employer’s studio, securing a promise from Whale to “go easy on the fag stuff.”

Still from Gods and Monsters (1998)Whale gives a “scout’s honor” but, of course, slips when reminiscing about a male lover in the great war.  Boone utters the lines that every gay man or woman has heard from a homophobe, “You must think the whole world is gay.  I’ve got news for you, it’s not.”  Boone is a failed Marine, and directionless in life.  Whale’s career accomplishments, along with his service as an officer in the war, attract the young man.  The Whale that Boone Continue reading GODS AND MONSTERS (1998)

WAY OUT WEST (1937)

This post was originally lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, but a draft copy has been discovered and recreated. We’re happy to reprint this column while Alfred Eaker continues his sabbatical (he’s been assisting on someone else’s film project, among other activities).

Stan Laurel and Oliver hardy were, without question, the most successful comedy team in Hollywood history. Not only were they artistically and financially successful but, unlike Abbot and Costello and Martin and Lewis, who pale in comparison, Stan and Ollie actually got along personally because they had a smart approach to their collaboration; for most of their career together they did not associate with each other off-screen.

Stan was certainly the creative end and stories abound about his dedication to his work (and neglect of his multiple wives). Stan often co-wrote the films, produced, co-directed and oversaw editing (usually uncredited). Indeed Stan and Ollie’s career together actually began with Stan directing Ollie in a number of shorts. For Stan Laurel, work was often from dusk til dawn.

Oliver Hardy had a much different approach. For him, work was essential, but it was still a 9 to 5 job. Once the day was done, he bid Stan and crew good-bye and went home to play sports with family and friends. Ollie was perfectly content with Stan being the creative end and whenever he was asked a question regarding the film work he usually said, “Ask Stan.”

Still from Way out West (1937)It was not until the last few years of their career that Stan and Ollie got to know each other on a cruise to England. Both lamented that they had not done it earlier, but they both knew the value of their partnership. Upon Ollie’s death, Stan suffered a nervous breakdown and vowed to retire from film. Despite many offers of work, Stan kept to that promise until his death eight years later.

They both had solo careers before teaming up. Ollie’s early history was slightly more diverse Continue reading WAY OUT WEST (1937)

THE RAPTURE (1991)

As part of our continuing effort to restore all the posts lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, we’re reprinting this column from Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema, originally published on Oct. 14, 2010.

Once upon a time there was a breed known as independent filmmakers. Usually with shoestring budgets, the indies, taking no prisoners, discarded business plans, forgot to look at marketing strategies, and the image of a proposed target audience was as abstract and surreal to them as their films often were to audiences. The indies were decidedly reactionary to the Hollywood institution. Maya Deren once said “I make films for what Hollywood spends on lipstick.” It was the indies who were progressively harking back to the dawn of cinema, before the rules of filmmaking had been established and canonized.

Stanley Kubrick was the closest Hollywood would get to the indie spirit, but Kubrick, for all his aesthetic brilliance, was, essentially, an academic. Whatever Kubrick’s genre, be it sci-fi, porn, horror, war, swashbuckler, his approach stemmed from a safe classroom distance. Kubrick lacked the fevered intensity and aesthetic struggle of the indies, and subjects such as horror and sex were rendered as studies and, therefore, matters on somewhat safe critical ground for the mainstream.

Newly minted and authorized film critics, such as Roger Ebert, would lavish heaps of praise on Dr. Kubrick, but Ebert was clearly out of his ivory towered ball park when trying to grasp the likes of Larry Cohen‘s God Told Me To or Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which is unfortunate considering Ebert once scripted for Hollywood outsider Russ Meyer.

Still from The Rapture (1991)The 1990s was the last real decade of the independents. Even by then, they were becoming an extinct breed, and in their place were the new breed of timid indie-lites, who merely emulate the Hollywood recipe without having the budget for the high priced, bland ingredients.

In 1991 Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture did what an independent film is supposed to do: took critics by surprise. Some critics Continue reading THE RAPTURE (1991)

THE SHOOTING (1967): AMERICAN-STYLED DISSONANCE

As part of our continuing effort to restore all the posts lost in the Great Server Crash of 2010, we’re reprinting this column from Alfred Eaker’s Fringe Cinema, originally published on Sep. 23, 2010.

Several years ago European avant-garde composer Pierre Boulez dismissed the cranky, experimental music of American composer Charles “take your dissonance like a man” Ives as “having come from an insurance salesman.” By contrast, Boulez’ own music is tinkly Euro-avant, a musical tradition that was given freedom towards academic experimentation by old money. Not a single Boulez work can get under the skin like Ives’ “Gong on the hook and ladder” or “Symphony 4.”
American horror has long had a fitful relationship with the American avant-garde; it has also been more genuinely disturbing than anything Europe has produced. Kentucky born Tod Browning produced jagged, feverish dreams while Brit James Whale produced well-crafted, sophisticated, and witty fairy tales. There is something far more unsettling in Lon Chaney painfully looping fishing wire around his eyeballs, or Lon Jr. “accidentally” strangling an extra, than there is in Boris Karloff’s passion for cricket. An avant-garde filmmaker even approached the infamous “naive surrealistEd Wood, hoping for a collaboration, but by then Wood was too drained and too ravaged by rejection to respond.

So, it seems only apt that B-horror maestro Roger Corman financed Monte Hellman’s sojourn into a western Oz. Hellman’s The Shooting (1967) could be a disturbed and disturbing younger sibling to Maya Deren‘s At Land (1944).  Carole Eastman’s Sarte/Camus-like screenplay is wistfully organic and, simultaneously, startling in its unflinching, unromantic bleak minimalism, assisted greatly by Gregory Sandor’s desolate camera work.

Still from The Shooting (1967)The Shooting begins where Anthony Mann left off, and may well be the defining subversive post-Mann western.  Former bounty hunter and miner Willet Gashade () returns to camp only to find his twin brother, Coin (also Oates) missing and his partner, Leland, shot dead by an unseen sniper.  Left in the camp is the hysterical Coley (Will Hutchins) who relates to Willet that he overheard an argument between Leland and Coin.  Coin had “ridden down a Continue reading THE SHOOTING (1967): AMERICAN-STYLED DISSONANCE

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004): MEL’S LETHAL JESUS AND THE MOST REPREHENSIBLE ANTI-CHRISTIAN FILM EVER MADE

This Thanksgiving, we here at 366 Weird Movies are thankful that we were able to recover content lost in the Great Crash of 2010, even if we do have to re-enter much of it by hand. We’re also thankful to have Alfred Eaker writing for us: love him or hate him, he provokes the audience and incites debate. We’ll mix those two things we’re grateful for with today’s posting: a recovered article (originally published on October 7) from Alfred, which provoked a typical love/hate reaction from the readers.

I tend to avoid writing about films I don’t like, partially because I realize that, regardless of my objective efforts, a certain amount of subjectivity is going to seep its way in. Too, often one may not be in total sync with the filmmaker’s vision.

With that said, I am breaking my standard rule here because Mel Gibson’s 2004 “Lethal Jesus” seems an even more vivid symbol today of what exactly is wrong with the direction “spirituality in film” has taken, what is wrong with certain popular contemporary views of what Christianity means, and what is wrong in the current state of film as an art form.

Oh, and I do get this film’s vision, all too well. Hell, I saw it first in a Jack T. Chick fundamentalist comic tract from the 1970′s which depicted the Passion with a suffering Christ who looked like Hamburger Helper as hooked nosed Jews screamed for his death. The same company produced numerous blatantly antisemitic tracts, including one in which a Rabbi was fried in the fires of hell by a faceless God, sitting on a large white throne. I saw it next in a protestant passion play that I was forced to sit through in which a muscle bound Jesus got involved in a barroom type brawl (in his descent to Hell) with demons who looked suspiciously like caricatured Jews, dressed in black with false noses. Gibson’s Passion of the Christ is a 21st century promotion for the medieval lynch mob.
Scene from The Passion of the Christ (2004)
The Passion of the Christ is not only blatantly anti-Semitic, it is also the most blatantly anti-Christian film ever made. Two-dimensional thinkers will point to films like Bunuel‘s Milky Way (1969), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Rapture (1991), Dogma (1999) or Religulous (2008), as anti-Christian. Yet, all of these edify the spiritual Christian movement. Continue reading THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004): MEL’S LETHAL JESUS AND THE MOST REPREHENSIBLE ANTI-CHRISTIAN FILM EVER MADE

SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951)

I suppose I was in the vast minority in 1978 when I still preferred as Superman, and especially as Clark Kent, as opposed to Christopher Reeve.

One could argue this was, perhaps, merely nostalgia since I grew up watching repeats of the Adventures of Superman every Saturday as a young child, but it was more than that.

The Superman I recalled pre-1978 was derived from film noir, rather than science fiction, although there was always latent and simplistic sci-fi elements. The art deco Fleischer cartoons were a resplendent example of this. Superman/Kent might tackle a local mad scientist or robots run amok, but he still had to predominantly deal with diamond stealing gangsters, a feisty Lois Lane, and a cigar chomping news editor boss. In the classic Superman comics he did occasionally have a colorful villain, such as the impish prankster whose name no one can pronounce, Braniac, and Bizarro, but he was not blessed with Batman’s rogue gallery of nemeses, and usually was content battling wits with the dull Lex Luthor.

Still from Superman and the Mole Men (1951)Since the Richard Donner film, the Superman character has completely forsaken its golden age and radio origins, and Superman is a pimply faced superboy, not long past puberty.  George Reeves’ Superman was already pushing forty when he made his debut.  Reeves remained in the monkey suit (as he called it) until his death at forty five. Reeves personified the classic age Superman in that he was every adolescent boy’s idea of a super father figure.  Sure, he wore a padded suit, clearly “flew” on a glass table and ducked when bad guys threw their emptied Continue reading SUPERMAN AND THE MOLE MEN (1951)

2010 OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST: FILMS FOR THE BOURGEOISIE TO WALK OUT ON

When the mass public’s idea of “avant-garde” film is something like Rocky Horror Picture Show or Donnie Darko, or when their idea of a “cutting edge” auteur is someone like Tim Burton, then when (and if) they do get exposed to the real thing, the inevitable happens: shortly into the film, one hears grumbling, perhaps even aggressive anger, impassioned charges of pretension, and eventually, the sight of patrons heading for the nearest exit.

For those inclined, take this as a good sign to stay for the challenge.

“Elitism” in artistic taste has become a dirty word.  Frequently, one hears the excruciatingly lame defense for not being to handle it, “Well, it’s just my taste and it doesn’t really matter”.

Actually, it does.  Because your “taste” is a reflection of your willingness to confront and evolve past tradition, and that takes balls.

Even the so-called “cult crowd” has its limitations, and usually this crowd consists of mainly under thirty geeks who will inevitably become tomorrow’s conservatives.

Dispensing first of preconceived notions of “what film is” and “what film isn’t” and mantling an attitude of being “boundlessly expansive” undoubtedly helps in shedding the possibilities of conservative infections.  In the true spirit of October 31st, this list celebrates a provocative nature in the medium of film.

1. E. Elias Merhige‘s Begotten (1990) has a texture of intensity unlike any other film. The fact that this silent, punk retelling of creation, passion, and apocalypse even made it’s way into the so-called art house circuit and festival scene amounted to a minor miracle. At nearly an hour and a half, this film admirably refuses to follow the arc of narrative ground rules and, therefore, will tax the post-Matrix crowd. A few amateurs feebly attempted to compare it to Eraserhead.  Unfortunately, Merhige’s follow ups have been noble failures.

Still from A.I.2. A.I. (Steven Spielberg/Stanley Kubrick) (2001) was already an extinct dinosaur when it was released, being, quite possibly, the last of the epic art films.  It is a film that will not pay phony homage to its viewers, nor satisfy cursory cravings.  Spielberg fans expressed disappointment and even outrage, which is understandable since their god, along with George Lucas, considerably helped reduce the art of film to happy meal-styled movie making.  A.I. disturbed many viewers and, although it is Continue reading 2010 OCTOBER 31ST FRINGE VIEWING LIST: FILMS FOR THE BOURGEOISIE TO WALK OUT ON

SPACE IS THE PLACE (1974)

“Everything needs an opposite. We have a White House, so now we need a Black House.”

“The problem with Harlem is too much sex, drugs and violence. If we took all the children of Harlem and made them memorize the names of the 99 Pharaohs then there wouldn’t be sex, drugs and violence in Harlem anymore.”

“The Saturnians told me to play the music of the black prophet, Duke Ellington, but the black man paid no attention so now I am playing the music of the white prophet, Walt Disney, and spreading the shield of his beauty over the face of the Earth so the Saturnians will not destroy us” (followed by a half hour jam of ‘Pink Elephants on parade’ which occasionally sounds like its source material).

Such is the wisdom and personality of the late free jazz artist Sun Ra (paraphrased quotes there, pulled from memory) who apparently (and delightfully) really believed in his own voluptuous excess and gibberish (enough to establish a Space Age monastic communal order among his followers; the Intergalactic Arkestra, and, posthumously, a church named after him). Claiming to be a Saturnian, Sun Ra would appear on stage, dressed in goodwill Pharaoh garb, with the planets of the solar system revolving around his head.

Still from Space Is the Place (1974)In 1974 Sun Ra made his only film, Space is the Place, directed by John Coney, who also never made another movie. It is an odd artifact, a hybrid of science fiction, blaxploitation and (too little) avant-garde jazz.

In the film, as in life, Sun Ra is the quintessential outsider and space is a metaphorical Eden for this much put upon black man. The plot is threadbare, involving villainous pimps and dealers, Black Panther avenger protagonists, local nightclubs, pool halls, cat houses, and, of course, an Outer Space Continue reading SPACE IS THE PLACE (1974)

KEN RUSSELL’S MAHLER (1974)

This is Ken Russell‘s most personal film and he admirably does Gustav Mahler proud by refusing to treat the composer with phony reverence. Mahler is no plaster saint here. Instead, he is a neurotic, obsessive Jewish composer, a hen-pecked husband and an artist whose drive stems from the flesh.

Unknown to him at the time, actor Robert Powell’s role as the composer was his audition to play one Jesus of Nazareth for Franco Zeffirelli three years later. Powell’s Mahler is not the Mahler of a Mahler cult. Mahler’s writing is clearly an immense struggle, as is his relationship with his wife, family, colleagues and admirers.

Russell pays Mahler homage in not succumbing to the type of pedestrian biopic cultists tend to favor. That type of bio treatment can be seen in Richard Attenborough’s Chaplin (1992), the kind of well-intentioned but hopelessly unimaginative film one expects from a “fan.” Julie Taymor‘s Across the Universe (2007) takes the opposite approach in her stubborn insistence that the Beatles are not sacred and, thus, aptly produced a film as experimental as were the Beatles themselves (she did Stravinsky and Shakespeare the same honors with Oedipus Rex in 1993 and Titus in 1999).
Still from Mahler (1974)
Ever the renegade spirit, Russell, like Taymor, digs into his highly personal interpretation of the artist’s core. Mahler (1974) opens to the first movement of the existential Third Symphony (conducted by Bernard Haitink) juxtaposed against the composer’s hut on a lake bursting into Promethean flames. Mahler’s mummified wife, Alma (the resplendent Georgina Hale) emerges from a cocoon on the beach and crawls on jagged rocks, struggling to free herself of her bindings. Atop a rock is a bust of her husband, which Continue reading KEN RUSSELL’S MAHLER (1974)