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Rancid Popcorn » 2009 » March

Mere Television #4

Flight Of The Conchords

A Kiss Is Not A Contract:

And Ballad of Melody Nelson, the Serge Gainsbourg video that “inspired” the Conchords’ art direction. I couldn’t find an embeddable clip, so here’s a direct link to it.

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Just Five Shots #1

City Girl (Murnau, 1930)

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Rage Against The Machine

An Inspector Calls (Guy Hamilton, 1954)

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To read or watch the news these days, you would conclude that there is a lot of populist rage out there. Rage at the greed and larceny of the wealthy, resentment of the abuse of position and the network of secret handshakes that let the rich get richer. Anger at the casual absence of ethics, and the slowly dawning suspicion that recent “boom” times were primarily booming for one class at the expense of a few others.

If this describes you, you may well be looking for ways to feed that anger, to splash around in it for awhile, to play an angry game of Marco Polo with like-minded folk in a bright red Anger Pool at the Raging Rapids Mad Water Park. Might I suggest a viewing of An Inspector Calls to help you get your Kill The Rich freak on?

Priestley’s play, which this film is an adaptation of, is a fairly famous and frequently performed one. Alec Guinness was in its first London cast. Despite this, I was lucky enough to come to it pretty cold, and I think that helped my appreciation. With that in mind I’m not going to be too spoilerrific with this one – maybe some other time.

The story is of a wealthy family, the Birlings. Big house, servants, and we dress for dinner. Joined by Gerald Croft, a fellow who if anything is a little richer still, and who is engaged to their daughter Sheila. The year is 1912. Mother, father, sister, brother, future husband. These five are interrupted, caught in the act of being stinking rich and privileged, by Alastair Sim.

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He is Inspector Poole, and he announces that a girl has died under mysterious circumstances, and he has some questions he must ask.

You can never, never go wrong having Alastair Sim in your movie. Here he is quiet, slow, as he methodically moves from person to person, slipping past their harrumphings, their general umbrage that someone would dare to question them, and occaisional declarations of “Impertinence!” on the part of Poole. His arrival casts pall enough, with his ghostly, sunken eyes; it reminds me of Death when he arrives at the dinner party in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, as he informs the dinner party that they are all dead.

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The actor on the right is Brian Worth, who looks and rather acts like the poor man’s George Sanders. That’s all right by me – even diluted Sanders goes down well. He acted with Sim just a couple years earlier, playing nephew Fred in A Christmas Carol:
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Calm and quiet Inspector Poole may be, but it is a full-throated excoriation of this wealthy family, stand-ins for the upper classes everywhere. They are depicted as selfish and careless, using and tossing aside working class folk without a second thought, regardless of the persons talents or virtue. If they can make a useful differentiation between a poorish person and a roast beef sandwich, there’s no sign of it. When confronted with their moral bankruptcy it begins to sink in what their privelege has done to them, but as soon as the threat of consequence dissipates, so do their crocodile tears. Some of them instantly, gleefully revert to form, others seem like they will try to learn. Even the best intentioned of them cannot help but do harm – it is the condition of being rich that is taken to task at least as much as the individuals.

In short, I came out of this wanting to punch the first millionaire I saw.

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I have a tendency, wherever possible, to see films as monster movies. It is a side effect of my fondness for classic horror. There’s no way for me not see this as yet another vampire film. Here the vampires live in that Mansion On The Hill, a Dracula’s Castle of virtual moats and ramparts where the poor are not welcome but to serve, and the townsfolk wait in the slums below, sometimes decades, to be systematically and anonymously sucked dry.

In this story, Van Helsing doesn’t come to drive stakes and chop off heads – no, instead he peacefully shows the vampires pictures of their victims and makes them understand who they are, for they don’t seem to have noticed their own fangs.

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So, if you…

1)Need to get a few machetes sharpened before going out to hunt down millionaires…

2)Are holding a pizza feed/torch preparation party with a few dozen friends before taking to the streets in search of investment bankers and mortgage brokers…

3)Have a Wall Street executive or Congressmen tied up in your basement and are hanging around waiting for their ether gag to wear off…

…you could do a good deal worse than pass the time taking in An Inspector Calls to get your moral outrage frothed up.

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Posters We Don’t Own #10

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Shampoo (Hal Ashby, 1975)

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Black Shampoo (Greydon Clark, 1976)

Everyday Bava #5

Planet Of The Vampires (Mario Bava, 1965)

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Mr. Puzzle #1

Records We Don’t Own #2

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Edit: I’m taking off the audio clip that was here because keeping it from auto-launching doesn’t seem to be an option. It’s a lovely tune, but I’d like a break since I’m on this page several times a day. I’ll restore it in a week or so when this post drops off the front page.

Edit 2: Back up!

Mock With Me #2

Diamond Head (Green, 1963)

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Diamond Head is a wrong wrong wrong wrong piece of cinema. It’s sort of on the early end of the trashy “big, sprawling” melodramas of the mixing of the rich and the poor, the kind of thing that found it’s final, emphatic statement on television. Dallas and Dynasty is where this sort of thinking leads. Some progress was perhaps made in the intervening 15 years – in Diamond Head the concern is first and foremost miscegenation – brown-skinned natives canoodling with the rich white plantation owners, while in Dallas/Dynasty the scandalous beddings were all just between rich and poor, race be damned. At least priorities were reordered.

Representing the rich and white, we have Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux as King (King!) and Sloane Howland. They are brother and sister, not husband and wife, although that point needs constant reminding: they can’t keep their hands off each other. Eeewww! Their family has been the rich white noise on the islands for generations, and they’ve kept their blood pure. They’ve got their own private little island and plenty of locals to staff the house and harvest their cane (and if you’ve ever had your cane harvested, you know how painful that can be).

The (relatively) poor and brown are represented by George Chakiris and James Darren as the Kahanna brothers. George is the smart doctor, James the dumb college football player.

Maybe it’s the times we live in, but the racial stuff is preposterously overplayed. No, I take that back – this just had to always be preposterously overplayed. See, the natives derisively refer to the white residents as Howlies. And Heston’s family, why their name is Howland. Get it? They sound alike, and, you see, that’s significant because, well…yeah.

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Johnny Williams! That hep-sounding dude is, yes, the John Williams below – the Star Wars, Boston Pops, joined-at-the-Spielberg-hip John Williams. This moniker was the middle period of a musical metamorphosis – in the fifties, he went by Little Johnny Love Williams. Don’t look at me like that, ask him yourself.
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There’s King, riding crop in hand, drinking whatever the local equivalent of a mint julep is. The suits have come by to ask if King will be their guy to run for the first Senate seat from the brand new state of Hawaii. Sure, he’s got no political experience – no particular experience at all aside from his daily manful ride past his fieldhands – but he is rich and an egomaniac racist, so he was naturally first in their rolodex.
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Aagh! Trouble! Yvette and James have been away to college and are coming back together on a slow boat across the pacific. They grew up more or less together without incident, but in college, canoodling has broken out. When they get back, they’re going to tell Chuck Heston all about it.

Sticky wicket number one: James Darren is of course not Hawaiian. He’s from an Italian background. He’s wearing dark makeup. File that.

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Sticky wicket number two: in the middle, helping meet the kids on their arrival is James’ mother Kappa Lani, played by Aline MacMahon. I don’t know what Aline’s racial background is exactly, but it ain’t Hawaiian. She’s wearing dark makeup. Don’t believe me? Check out her picture below, from Gold Diggers Of 1933:
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So, file that too.
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I dig this shot just for the WTF-ness of Chuck suddenly making like Frank Sinatra doing an album cover shoot.
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Back home, and brother and sister can’t keep their hands off each other. Just to make it extra icky, he’s like 20 years older than her.
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Chuck meets with James’ brother, played by George Chakiris, to discuss this disturbing interracial relationship that’s been exposed, and how they can stamp it out. George isn’t too happy about it either, mostly because he thinks his brother is too good for these uppity white folk.

Sticky wicket number three: George Chakiris isn’t Hawaiian either, he’s Greek. At least he isn’t wearing fake brownface.

Look, I don’t want to get all politically correct here because that’s not really my style, but this movie could not possibly be more bent out of shape about matters of race and the shame of it all. So you’re just begging me to call you hypocrites for casting Euro-descended folk in the lead “native” parts, and having half of them doing an Al Jolson-style facial cork-up at that. Why, were you afraid parts of the country couldn’t take seeing Yvette Mimieux in the arms of someone who actually was a minority? If you think that, why on earth are you making this specific movie in the first place? Feh.

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Director Guy Green accidentally stumbles into an almost-interesting camera setup.

Of course, to make us really seethe with the injustice of it all, we see that King happily carries on with his girlfriend, played by France Nuyen, even while wringing his hands nonstop about his sister. This is another clue that maybe the fact that James Darren’s character is Hawaiian isn’t King’s biggest concern – his biggest concern may be that James isn’t King, and only King is good enough for his…sister. Eeeww some more!

Meanwhile, he’s dating France, except their dates take place entirely in her house and no one can know he’s seeing her. Nice.

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Yvette/Sloane, starting to let her single most prevalent characteristic out of the bag – she’s a floozy.
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“Hey Bro! How’s it going? Say, were you just muckling onto my fiancee?’

“Sure was”

“Swell! Everyone does!”

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Jimmy D, busting out the Solid Gold moves at his engagement party.
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Torsos dangerously near! In public!
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King drinks this in.
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There’s a little dustup in the crowd and the next thing you know James Darren is dead on the grass.
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King: I was totally just minding my own business, cleaning my knife when dude just backed right onto it. Sorry to poop the party.

Okay Yvette – your beloved fiancee has just been knifed to death at your own engagement party. Your love is dead, your future dashed in a moment! And the killer is…your unnaturally obsessive brother, your only family in the world! Ready? And…action!:

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No…
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Luckily, that’s just the beginning of a flurry of act-o-rama dramatic explosions from La Yvette. She gets tipsy and weeps hysterically!
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Gets roaring, fall down, Foster Brooks-level drunk in bars!
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She gets to slur cocktail-laced epithets at the TV as King withdraws from the Senate race – being rich and all he got the death ruled accidental, but that rabble the public doesn’t really buy it.
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The old passed-out-drunk-wakes-up to people kneeling over her routine.
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George takes her back to his family’s place and puts her up in her dead fiancees’ bed, tucks her in nicely, and then we get the dream sequence that justifies the whole film:
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Horses! In case you’re male and didn’t know, all women’s dreams start with them riding a white horse, stroking it’s long neck blissfully. Not that this should be taken to signify anything. At all.
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She drifts in the calm waters beneath a waterfall. Again, just so we’re clear, waterfalls, rushing water sounds – these are symbolic of nothing.
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She beckons to someone. Thankfully, director Guy Green has chosen to show most of this sequence superimposed over Yvette’s sleeping face. This way we cannot be confused into thinking this is actually happening. It’s a dream, you stupid people!
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Why it’s George! Come to me, George!
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No really, come to me.
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What? Why now it’s the late James Darren! Is he really her true love?
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He wades out to her, getting his Aloha shirt all wet.
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As they break their embrace, he turns into…
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EEEEWWWW!!!
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Acting!

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She wakes up screaming and horrified, or at least as close a facsimile as Yvette can manage. George rushes in to tell her it was just a dream.
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But apparently her kind of dream. He cracks and lets her have her way.
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Like Scarlett O’Hara, the morning after getting ahold of Rhett Butler.
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Predictably and in the interests of melodrama, France has become pregnant with King’s child. Even more predictably, he wants nothing to do with, tries to get her to have it aborted. This is her carrying it to term and having the onset of labor pains. I suspect the pain might be from the child apparently retracting completely up into her abdominal cavity so that she looks completely not-pregnant. My evidence is that in the shot before she had a decent-sized baby bump. Here – not so much.
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Double-predictably with a cherry on top, she dies in childbirth. Yvette decides she will raise the child and King can just lump it. He softens only slightly, still denying the child.
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To really stick it to him, George and Yvette declare their love. Seeing her with another (brown) man, King goes berserk again, takes a whack at George, then goes off on some crazy-ass horse ride across the island, kicking up mud all over and generally behaving like a four year old.
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He has what I suppose we are meant to think is some sort of come to Jesus moment where he realizes he’s an ass and repents of his racist ways. We can only guess because he doesn’t say anything about that, just that he’s going to get his son back. Pity the child – I hope Yvette and George have bolted the country and changed their names because what a sucky dad King would make.

If this is paradise, you can keep it.

 

The Many Moods Of John C. Reilly #4

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Way High.

Friday Poster Freakout!

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The Ghost Breakers (Marshall, 1940)

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Dentist In The Chair (Chaffey, 1960)

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Old Shatterhand (Fregonese, 1964)

Does anyone know if there’s a name for these German westerns? What is it instead of Spaghetti Western? Schnitzel Western?

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Night Runner (Biberman, 1957)

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Lancelot Du Lac (Bresson, 1974)

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This Is My Alaska (???, 1969)

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Gandhi (Attenborough, 1982)

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Supernatural (Halperin, 1933)

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The Long Wait (Saville, 1954)

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Bolero (Ruggles, 1934)

LouiseBrooks theme byThemocracy