Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

Review: Black Christmas

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

“The Film Funding Corporation Limited in association with Vision IV” has produced a serviceable-enough Canadian low-budget shocker in Black Christmas and pitched it at the end-of-year trade. Unless I’ve missed some subtle subtext, the tie to Christmas is tenuous: an establishing shot of wassail seen through the windows of Gothic-looking Hart House, University of Toronto (decked out with Christmas lights and disguised as a sorority house in the college town of “Bedford”), and an advertising campaign built around a Christmas wreath gift-labeled “Season’s Greeting’s” and enclosing a still of a polyethylene-wrapped corpse propped in a rockingchair. One question about this campaign teases my mind more persistently than any puzzle propounded by the film itself. Did the merchandiser who dreamed it up personally place the apostrophe before that plural s in “Greetings,” as unselfconsciously as if he were scrawling the words on a wrapped Christmas gift in the sanctity of his own home; or could FCC Ltd./Vision IV in fact be trying to hip us, via their use of this endemic seasonal illiteracy (see also: Greetings from the Smith’s, The Smith’s Live Here, etc.) to their extraordinary concern in Black Christmas for the exact social detail?

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Essays

Weddings, Etc., in Blood: ‘The Ceremony’

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

Maybe, against all available evidence, there really does exist a viable culture of young film heads here in Vancouver. But I doubt it. Subtract El Topo, Siddhartha, Zachariah, the Brothers Marx—big draws like that—and what’ve you got left? An empty auditorium, that’s what. When University of British Columbia’s Cinema 16 schedules a Bogie series, it sells out, sure; what else is new? But suggest, as I did a couple of years ago to Cinema 16’s student coordinator, that future series include work by Oshima and you learn that Boy, recently screened, was not well liked, was in fact disliked: for its (sic!) “sentimentality.”

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Erotic Dreams

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

It’s one hell of a note. Here’s this interesting-looking movie playing at, of all places, the Eve, a centrally located Vancouver softcore house: Erotic Dreams—originally (reliable sources) Wet Dreams. The long, narrow ad in The Province has caught my eye: “1st Erotic International Film Directors’ Festival.” A titillating uncertainty already, you see, as to whether it’s the “international film directors” who’re erotic or the Festival itself. Well, there they are, ten of ’em, international as hell, and among their names I find “Nicholas Ray (U.S.A.) … Dusan Makavejev (Yugoslavia) … Heathcote William (Great Britain).” Is this for real? Could “Heathcote William,” for example, actually be the Heathcote Williams, a major British playwright (AC/DC, The Local Stigmatic)? Or do we have here one of these tiresome Madison Avenue dodges in which a “Richard Nixon” is quoted hailing the virtues of a new brand of biodegradable prophylactic but proves (ha ha!) to be only a humble cabdriver from the Bronx? This “Dusan Makavejev,” so-called, am I to visualize some beetle-browed Balkan guy located via the Hollywood phone directory, then, or is it possible that he is the real article? Enough of speculation. I adjust my raincoat, I pay my (!) three dollars, and I enter the steamy precincts of the Eve.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Essays

Buñuel scenes

By Carlos Fuentes, selected and translated by Ken Eisler

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

In Mexico

…Buñuel is of medium height, round-shouldered, powerful (an amateur boxer, military service in Spain; he also enjoys disguising himself as Guardia Civil, but with Garcia Lorca he used to disguise himself as a nun, both of them shaved very close, very powdered, and mount the Madrid trams at their busiest hours, jostling coquettishly with the male passengers, flirting with grimaces, winking at them, collective panic). Winking? Buñuel? No. A gaze unfathomable, fixed, infinitely remote, transformed only by the big infant’s grin and robust guffaw of a perpetually youthful man. He knows how to laugh until the tears come. An ingenuous-appearing humor, a series of practical jokes and remembered gags, put into action or previsualized. Spain, Mexico, and surrealism, a triple-whammy black humor.

I completely lack a conceptual memory. For me, only visual memory exists. For Simon of the Desert I settled myself into the National Library of Paris for several months, I read everything that had been written on the life of the medieval anchorites, including Latin folios. I looked into what the stylites ate, prayed, wore, everything. Useless. Culture contributed nothing. The movie is a series of visual and verbal gags.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Tendresse Ordinaire

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Awful long on the ordinaire, this movie of Leduc’s, and kinda short on the tendresse; still, I liked it a lot. Once the wife, Esther (Esther Auger), and her cheerful friend Bernadette (Luce Guilbeault) get their cake into the oven, that is, and we switch, finally, to husband Jocelyn (Jocelyn Berube), who’s on a train heading for a four-month job in Quebec’s deep north. The movie opens with some ten minutes (more? less? my memory isn’t reliable here, it seemed like an eternity to me) of the left-behind wife and her pal moving about a small kitchen and preparing that cake. Talk’s pretty well limited to “pass me the sugar please”; and although a few details (the women appreciatively sniffing a vial of vanilla, a closeup of sifting flour) are pleasant enough, this opening scene is really one long drag. Now it happens I like to cook myself, and I don’t necessarily demand that movie cooking be jazzed up with flashy editing and photography, nor brightened by a running commentary of gags and hijinks à la Galloping Gourmet either. But—oh, my, those of us who saw Makavejev’s Switchboard Operator, will we ever forget those eggs, that cream, those luscious, lustrous tonalities of black and white? What happened here, I suspect, is that Leduc simply told the two women to go ahead and bake a cake, and “improvise” their dialogue as they went along. The taxing real-time result yields virtually nothing in the way of character insight yet fails to hold the eye. Ten (?) full minutes of purposeful kitchen activity, and it all comes out squirmworthiest temps mort. Oh, not as mort, maybe, as those long takes of the back of bored, lonely Esther’s head at the end of the movie—not that mort—but mort enough, I think, to turn off all but the most determined viewers.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Zatoichi and the One-Armed Swordsman

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

The best fight sequences in Chang Cheng Ho’s otherwise unremarkable Five Fingers of Death (1971) pit various trim, clean-featured young Chinese boxers against the most outlandishly lethal trio of killers I’ve ever hated myself for loving to watch. Lanky, slack-limbed, sullen and arrogant-looking youths they are, with mops of very long, disheveled hair and an insouciant manner out of which flowers without warning that bafflingly beautiful series of swift karate movements for which they have been hired—out of Japan—by a deep-dyed Chinese bad guy named Meng. Invincible Boxer was the movie’s original title. But these three imported killing machines are the ones who appear invincible, not the bland Chinese hero of the title. Still, a Chinese audience knows the foreigners mustn’t really be invincible; and of course all three eventually do hit the dust and the audience goes home satisfied.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Réjeanne Padovani

[Originally published in Movietone News 40, April 1975]

Vivid reds dominate this Quebec-made study of corruption, from its cruising opening night shot of a sleek black car, taillights aglow, arriving at contractor Vincent Padovani’s chic Montreal home, to the grayish morning-after tableau, wide-angle, in which bored dignitaries wait in the rain, under black umbrellas, for their infantile mayor to cut a long red ribbon spanning the expanse of Padovani’s brand-new slate-grey superhighway. The police-sergeant/chauffeur who jumps out of the sleek black car and scurries around to open the passenger door for his boss (a minister of transportation) wears French cuffs and a hood-y maroon shirt. The minister is ushered into Padovani’s tasteful diningroom where a small, genteel dinner party is underway to celebrate the completion of the highway, with its lucrative, business-as-usual “spreading of contracts.” Outside, the red-shirted cop leans on the limo, lights a cigarette, and prepares to wait it out. After a few moments, he too is ushered into the house, by Padovani’s righthand man Dominique—but his place is belowstairs. Here he meets a couple of other garishly attired policemen, attendant on other Padovani cronies, and an impassively babyfaced gunman apparently attached to the household, and two drinks-serving young women engaged for the evening to seryice one of the upstairs party guests: the mayor. The basement quarters where these flunkies congregate and await various summonses from upstairs are irregularly lit with patches of Mean Streets neon poolhall red. This opening sequence is absorbing, and the counterpoint between below- and abovestairs generates some suspense. But subsequent spurts of away-from-the-dinner-party action—an intimidating visit to a rival gangster’s lair, a vicious attack on militant students planning a protest demonstration against the highway, the roughing-up of two inquiring reporters—somehow fail to satisfy.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Shaolin Martial Arts

[Originally published in Movietone News 41, May 1975]

Is the making of many potboilers a prime way to fashion an auteur? If so, a veritable Pantheon of those critics’ darlings must have matriculated by now at the humming factories of Run Run Shaw and Raymond Chow. Plenty of scope over there for that magical tension between a director’s “personality” and the miserable formulaic projects he keeps getting saddled with by his producers. I sample the product occasionally at Vancouver’s two chief outlets for Chinese movies, but my experience so far is that any new movie directed by, say, Lo Wei (and nine out of ten new Chinese movies do seem to have been directed by Lo Wei) resembles the last movie directed by Lo Wei only insofar as both are unimaginative and totally predictable hack jobs. English critic Tony Rayns, who has made “the labyrinth of Hong Kong cinema” his special province, performs prodigies of genre analysis, structuralism, semantic reading upon these movies; if only seeing them proved half as much fun as reading about them! Still, I’m grateful that Rayns steered me to Chu Yuan’s Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan (MTN 35), which combined genre conventions and sheer outrageousness in surprising ways. And having recently caught two-thirds of Chang Cheh’s epic martial-arts trilogy (Men from the Monastery / Heroes Two / Shao Lin Martial Arts), I can now share some of Rayns’s enthusiasm for this director.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The National Health

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

by Ken Eisler

The National Health, adapted by Peter Nichols from his own stage play, remains pure farce, but the form has undergone a marvelous cinematic sea-change. The characters, governed as before by Humours and idées fixes, enter, exit; doors slam on them—the doors, in this case, of death. The antics of these six quirky patients and their harried medical caretakers on the decaying Sir Stafford Cripps Ward, seen, let’s say, from the first balcony, must have struck audiences as grimly hilarious, though just a touch cold and detached, perhaps. But watching these hapless six on the big screen up there is another matter. You just try to distance yourself from them now.

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Posted in: by Ken Eisler, Contributors, Film Reviews

Doppler Effect at the Dunbar

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

by Ken Eisler

In the city of Vancouver, a foreign-film addict enjoys two major connections, the Pacific Cinémathèque (downtown) and the University of British Columbia’s Cinema 16 series (on campus). Both sources dry up during the summer, but fortunately in mid-July along comes Don Barnes’ annual International Film Festival to stave off withdrawal symptoms.

The festival was held this year at the Dunbar Theatre with two-a-night features ranging from amusing pap like Berri’s Le Sex Shop to “political” cinema from Italy such as Lulu the Tool and Love and Anarchy. Political themes were more heavily represented than usual this summer, in fact, with Hearts and Minds treating U.S. involvement in Vietnam and two French-Canadian features set in the troubled province of Quebec.

I didn’t see Bingo, a fiction film about a group of young terrorists, but Michel Brault’s sober, powerful Les Ordres is one of three festival films I wouldn’t mind looking at again if they return for a regular run during the year.

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