Monthly Archives: April 2013

Whizzin’ with Roger

Image

I actually cried when I learned Roger Ebert had died. Part of those tears were relief that his struggle was over but most were sadness knowing that the “voice” would now fall silent not just to the ears- as had been the case for the past six or so years- but on the page as well.

For those who followed him via social media, Ebert was truly a wonder to behold. Years of typing as a journalist enabled him to thrive online where he now had an unfair advantage over all of us two-fingered typists. Robbed of his vocal chords, he took to texting, tweeting and blogging like a fish to water and redefined film criticism as an ongoing dialogue. In the Global Village, Ebert was a superhero.

As he polished his writing for the day, he often held an impromptu late-night guessing game on Facebook.  He would post a picture  and challenge us to identify it. It was obvious Ebert delighted in the immediate feedback he got from his readers online, something which had been lacking in previous media.

Ebert understood media better than most, which was key to the success of his review programs. I first tuned in to Sneak Previews on PBS to watch his special episode on Cult Movies an was genuinely impressed by the fact Ebert and his partner Gene Siskel really knew their shit”. I stayed on to catch the “Dog of the Week” and was in seventh heaven when they would devote a half hour to “Guilty Pleasures”.

Image

My favorite Ebert books have to be his “Your Movies Sucks” anthologies, where his most vitriolic prose is dished out. You can always tell how passionate a man is by how mean he gets when disappointed. Clearly his approach had an effect on yours truly.

Over the years, I had many encounters with Ebert as I worked in various capacities. By far, my favorite moment came when, as a budding film critic, I attended a conference on criticism and worked up the courage to go talk to him, this time as a colleague.

I was surprised to see him acknowledge me. I’m sure he couldn’t place exactly where he knew me from but it was clear Ebert was one “never to forget a face”.

“This is not our first meeting but I wanted to talk with you about something that I never had a chance to address before: It seems you have written one of my “Guilty pleasures”.”

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?” he guessed.

“Oh, I love that film but I meant Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.

“Oh!” he chuckled “That’s a VERY guilty pleasure indeed! I’m more than happy to talk about Russ but I’ve been sitting up on that stage for the past couple of hours and need to make this screening. But if you’re willing to walk and talk…I just need to go to the bathroom.”

“No prob. I need to head there as well.”

So the next thing I know, I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Ebert staring blankly at a tiled wall and chatting about what makes Russ Meyer a “subversive feminist”. Needless to say that pee break was more informative than any semiology lecture I ever attended.

It is a moment I will cherish forever.

Image

Advertisements

Mario. How could you?

Image

Some mistakes in life, you just have to experience for yourself.

Who hasn’t had an instance where everyone warned you in advance- either to save you time, aggravation or even injury- and yet you climbed every hurdle only to experience the disappointment for yourself or realize the warnings were, in fact, quite mild?

To me, such an experience has been my quest to see Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs.

I won’t HarryKnowles™ you with the details but, over the years, the mere fact this film always managed to elude me made it a bit of a Holy Grail.

Image

But every time I read about Girl Bombs, writers were either dismissing the film or doing their best to discourage the reader from seeing it. It was often singled out as one of Vincent Price’s most disappointing efforts and definitely pegged as the stain on director Mario Bava’s carreer (despite the film being his biggest box-office success).

At the dawn of the new Millennium, the first film starring Vincent Price as the builder of bodacious babe bots, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine made its debut on DVD via MGM’s “Midnight Movies” label. When that label began adopting the “Double Feature” format, we all assumed a Doctor Goldfoot double-bill was just down the pipes. Alas, the label folded.

But last year, the long-expected double-feature did make an inauspicious debut on DVD via the new landlords of MGM library, Fox.  It showed up in bargain bins for $5. So, after decades, my OCD-tinged quest to be a Goldfoot completist came at an end.

The movie begins with a rather maingy-looking recap of the first film. Not only is the stock footage grainy, faded and red but it also appears not to have been spliced into the film but projected and re-photographed off a really dirty screen. It’s is, in fact, the same filthy screen which will be used for rear projections shots later in the film. You can recognize the stains.

As daunting as the rear projections are, they are a notch more convincing than most of the sets for this film.  The set representing an Arctic military base is so minimalist, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari looks like it’s the work of William Cameron Menzies by comparison.

Doctor Goldfoot is up to his old World domination shenanigans again. This time ‘round, he’s built an arsenal of sexy exploding fembots he uses to eliminate high ranking generals in hopes to infiltrate a something or other that I’ll just get a headache explaining.

Stepping into Frankie Avalon’s shoes is Fabian, who- let’s face it- is no Frankie Avalon, especially in the comedic acting department. But fear not, comedy mavens, as the producers have prepared for every contingency by hiring not one but two comedy reliefs to provide plenty of yucks: Franco and Ciccio.

And that is where the film goes from being a cringing disappointment to the rip-your-eyeballs-out-of-your-socket descent into hell Girl Bombs becomes.

If you were to watch the film in its (longer) Italian version, you’d find out these two intestinal-worm grade comedians are actually the stars. The first Goldfoot film was only a modest success in America but became a blockbuster  in Italy so this film was conceived as vehicle for these two Mussolinis of mirth.

Image

Vincent Price is no stranger to mugging but in this film, he strains to keep up. Franco’s mugging is particularily over the top and one has fight an instinct to grab him by the throat and slap him repeatedly.

The (mostly improvised) chase sequence through the amusement park is most likely the stupidest waste of silver nitrate on record.  While shooting outside does provide relief from the film’s clautrophobic sets (where even open skies can make you feel boxed in), they’re just undercranking Price and his minions as they moronically board rides (that go in circles) to elude Fabian’s party who also board another car on the same ride (as if it could in any way catch up).  Crowds of onlookers assemble and it takes a couple of shots before someone realizes they shouldn’t be in the shot.

Image

Next sequence, they seem to be gone, however, you can see them all pressed against the windows of the cafeteria where they have been herded; gawking at the insanely well crafted “comedy”.

Image

But, alas, this bit of fresh air is short lived as the pursuit takes to the heavens in a hot air balloon. This airborne chase  makes the rest of the film look totally feasable as the director has seemingly given up trying. The interior of the airplane they board (by simply guiding the nacelle to the door of the apparently stationary plane and knocking) is even cheaper and more minimalist (the be polite) than the cockpit in Ed Wood’s Plan 9  from Outer Space.

I keep repeating the safe word, “Diabolik”, but it’s no use, the film continues to hurt me. And it’s from one of my favorite Italian directors to boot-  One I’m sure to mention when I’m discussing with poseurs throwing in the name Fellini to pretend they know what they’re going on about.

There is one visually impressive moment when Bava does pulls out his patented in-camera tricks to multiply the number of bathing beauties while they are collectively shaking their booties over at Goldfoot’s secret hideout. There is a multiply exposed establishing shot edited with shots using mirrors which make you feel up to your ears in golden clad fembots. But that moment is short lived and, frankly, the girls in this film have nothing on the ones in the first film- which is hard to believe given this film was shot in Italy.

Image

It is often said that a bad sequel can devalue a franchise. In the case of Doctor Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs, that notion can be empirically verified. If you look it up on Amazon, you will find that the original edition of the Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine is selling for $45.  The double feature disc that includes Bombs, however sells for under $10.

PAIN LEVEL: 10/10

QUALITY OF PAIN: Slow building but eventually intolerable

PAINJOYMENT™ INDEX: KA-BOOM!


R.I.P. Jess Franco

Dracula,_Prisoner_of_Frankenstein