Friday, December 9, 2016

Fort Apache, The Bronx: A Brutal Cop Drama


          The inspiration for the hit TV cop drama Hill Street Blues, this film opens with a drugged out hooker shooting two policemen dead in their car and goes roaring off from there. Starring Paul Newman and Ed Asner the action takes place in the South Bronx one of the poorest areas in the city. The precinct is one of the worst and most dilapidated in the entire department, approaching demolition and staffed mostly by officers who are unwanted by and have been transferred out of other precincts. Here we are treated to drug overdoses, police committing murders, riots, police corruption, bodies unloaded into dumpsters, racism, constant poverty, and just plain old bad NYC attitudes.
          While the film is somewhat uneven, I don’t see it as much of a flaw, and Paul Newman, while unable to conquer the proper accent, does a good job a world weary hard-drinking cop who is just trying to get through the day without the world around him dragging him down. Ed Asner play an ambitious new captain, looking to “clean up the area” and get himself a promotion in the process, is filled with snarling rancor which seems to come so easily from him. Over all the acting by these veterans hold the film together.
          The division presented here is New York's 41st Precinct in the South Bronx. It gets its nickname because the precinct house is more a fort in hostile territory, a reference to the famous Fort Apache of the old West.
          Before the film came out there was controversy. Various groups protested the filming and its opening claiming that it depicted only the negative elements of the Bronx and showed all Puerto Rican and Blacks living there only as criminals. Local youths were hired by the protestors to help swell the ranks. Eventually the producers acceded to the demands, making several script changes, adding more ethnic minorities in positive roles, and placing a title card at the beginning of the film stating,  “The picture you are about to see is a portrayal of the lives of two policemen working out of a precinct in the South Bronx, New York. Because the story involves police work it does not deal with the law abiding members of the community nor does it dramatize the efforts of the individuals and groups who are struggling to turn the Bronx around".
          Ironically the South Bronx had taken a major decline since this film was made, being even more crime ridden and drug polluted than is shown here. It had become an area of derelict buildings, with almost no growth, businesses, or opportunity. The schools in the area are some of the lowest performing in city, with necessary supplies in critically short supply. “There’s no hope where there’s dope.”
                    The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Panic in the Year Zero!- A Post-Apocalyptic Film from Before it was Fashionable.


          A family of four is out enjoying a pleasant summer camping trip outside of Los Angeles when KABOOM, a nuclear device is detonated in the city. It isn’t specifically stated who dropped the bomb, but as this was a Cold War era film the natural assumption to make is that the Russians were the antagonists. Radio broadcasts suggest that this is just the beginning of a full scale thermonuclear exchange and everything the family has ever known will soon be ash and dust.
          They are stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to face several moral dilemmas. The unstated question being explored in this film is what is “right”? To what extent should a person compromise their ideas of morality and civility to survive? Are these just fantasy concepts that modern America allows us to indulge or are they necessary for a person to retain their soul and rise above the level of a beast?
          All those are explored here as the family must face scrounging for supplies, the dilemma of stealing from an old man for what the need, the standard vicious thugs who decided the end of civilization is party time, kidnapping and rape, and the exclusively of medical care. When one of them needs a blood transfusion and the nearest medical facility is 100 miles away, an incredibly long distance in the new wasteland, how does one deal with it?
          This is film was independently produced, as can be evidenced here by the low budget and lack of many characters. It varies from many of the atomic nightmare films of it era in that it doesn’t feature a giant radioactive monster of some kind and deals with the idea of survival of an urban American in a realistic way. The fear, their anxieties come from the uncertain future and lack of survival skills, not that they will eaten by a mammoth praying mantis.
          This type of film was not exactly unique. There was On the Beach in 1959, Last Woman on Earth in 1960, Five in 1951, and The World, the Flesh, and the Devil in 1959. All of these dealt with similar themes and reasonably consistent premises.  It was an easy scenario for indie filmmakers to produce and shoot. Take some equipment and head out into the desert. No need for permits or expensive scenery. It wasn’t until the 70’s with The Road Warrior that the genre began to take on more horror and action orientated themes, requiring a lot more time and effort.
          What sets Panic in the Year Zero! apart is the level of acting skill displayed in them. With most of the other films the acting is competent (the exception here being On the Beach which has amazing performances) this film stands out in the casting of Ray Miland. His starring roles had begun to thin by this time due to his premature baldness, so he took whatever lead positions he could find. His ability to emote had not dimmed however and presents the moral dilemmas in this script with style and panache.
          The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
                                                            Full Film
                                                       Movie Trailer

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Ruling Class: A Unique Film With a Brutal Message


          Based upon the play by Peter Barnes, this is a dark comedy, with jarring musical interludes, that centers around the protagonist of Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, the 14th Earl of Gurney who believes he is the God. The star, Peter O’Toole described it as a “comedy with tragic relief.” The film asks fundamental questions about privilege, humanity, and man's natural gravitation to the baser emotions. As Napoleon stated, "Men are more easily governed through their vices than their virtues."
          It is a savage look at the British class system and especially those at the top, or the “privileged assholes and crazy twats” as the leftist butler, played by Arthur Lowe, calls them. At several poignant moments throughout the film, the cast will suddenly break from straight-faced dialogue into a full-blown, song and dance numbers. In one case, a variation of `Connect 'dem Bones’ (called “Disconnect ‘dem Bones’) is ushered up to punctuate a scene with O'Toole lecturing the local gentry about the need for capital punishment.
Peter O'Toole in The Ruling Class
          After his father accidently hangs himself during a session of autoerotic asphyxiation, Jack returns from a mental institution to take up his role as the Earl and assuming his place in the House of Lords. He proclaims himself to everyone that he is the God of Love and sleeps hanging on a crucifix. His scheming family works hard to alternatively cure him and subvert him.  They hire a doctor to make him sane, but then trick him into marrying a local actress (and mistress of his Uncle) in order to produce an heir in case Jack’s condition cannot be reversed. As the child’s birth becomes imminent the doctor brings in another inmate from his asylum who also believes he is God- the AC/DC God, the Electric Christ. After a truly bizarre squaring off between the two, Jack seems to be cured, but it is revealed that his madness has simply shifted perspective and he takes his revenge on them all.
          The film was only made due to O’Toole’s obsession with it. Upon first seeing the play performed he went out and bought the film rights. According to director Peter Mendek, he had approached O’Toole several times about producing the film, without luck.  Eventually the project got started one night after he and O'Toole were returning from the theatre, which "meant stopping at every pub between Soho and Hampstead, and it didn't matter if it was after closing hour because he would knock on the door and just say 'Peter's here,' and every door opened for him”. Later on, at O'Toole's apartment, the drunk actor phoned his manager and said, "I'm with the crazy Hungarian and I know I'm drunk but I give you 24 hours to set this movie up." The next day, Medak received a call from United Artists and a deal was put together to shoot The Ruling Class. 
          This was such a passion project for O’Toole that he agreed to work for free. He was later compensated by having a large salary for appearing in the same studio’s musical Man of La Mancha, an adaptation of Don Quixote. Also Alistar Sims (famous for his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol) cast himself in the film. He rang up O’Toole out of the blue and told him, “Of course I’ll help you by taking the part”. It might seem presumptuous but Sims had the acting chops to play the part, so O’Toole agreed and cast him as the doddering old Bishop in the family,
          This is a unique film filled with great characters performed by some of the best actors in British cinema at the time, Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor by the Oscars. Viciously funny with a twisted ending, no one walks away with a neutral opinion. It is a love it or hate it production.
              The film film is presented below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.  
 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Honeymoon Killers: An Explotative Serial Killer Classic

        A classic low budget film from the 1970s that has since accrued cult status. And while the main actors are good at their roles, many of the extras were brought onboard for dubious reasons- perhaps just because they were willing to work for free- and the acting shows this. While much of the acting may be tough to get through, I am under the impression that it translates well into the romance languages, as it was much more popular outside of the United States. In fact influential director Fran├žois Truffaut called it his favorite American film.
        It was banned for seemingly trivial reasons in various countries. The Australian censorship boards banned it due to obscenity. An attempt was made again in 1972, after the introduction of Australia's R 18 rating, but it was banned for "violence and indecency". A very odd decision as there is only one real scene of violence in the entire film.

Raymond Fernandez's mugshot
        The film is loosely based on the Lonely Hearts Killers case from the 1940s. A rare serial killer couple Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck killed up to 20 women between 1947 and 1949. They earned their moniker by their method of selecting victims, ie via the lonely hearts ads in big city newspapers. Fernandez, a former British intelligence agent, suffered a head wound which damaged his frontal lobe leading to his to aberrant sexual behavior. While in prison for theft, his cellmate taught him voodoo and black magic. He later claimed black magic gave him irresistible power and charm over women.
Martha Beck mugshot
         Beck was a nurse, sexually abused by her brother, with significant weight problems. She was also a hopeless romantic, devouring junk romance novels and films. She met Fernandez using the same lonely hearts ads that she lured other women in. She became absolutely devoted to Fernandez, even sending her own children away to be raised by the Salvation Army so she could further assist his criminal enterprises. She often posed as Fernandez's sister, to lend him a much needed air of respectability. Their victims, feeling more secure knowing there was another woman in the house, often agreed to stay with the pair. Beck also convinced some victims that she lived alone and that her "brother" was only a guest. Beck was violently jealous and would go to great lengths to make sure Fernandez and his victim never had sex. But when it did happen, she subjected both to her vicious temper.
          Their end came in Grand Rapids, Michigan where they met and stayed with Delphine Downing, a young widow with a two-year-old daughter. Eventually the pair ended up drugging and shooting the mother, then later drowning the child when she wouldn’t stop crying. They buried the bodies in the basement, then inexplicably stayed at the house several more days. Suspicious neighbors reported the Downings' disappearances, leading to Beck and Fernandez’s arrests.
          It was, of course, a sensationalized story. Apart from the three murders that could be positively attributed to them, the state of New York (where they were eventually extradited to) slapped another 17 murders on them, all of which the pair denied. Whether they were guilty or not, the solved crime statistics went up in New York City that year. The pair’s last words before execution were of their undying love for each other. Beck stating, “"My story is a love story. But only those tortured by love can know what I mean. I am not unfeeling, stupid or moronic. I am a woman who had a great love and always will have it. Imprisonment in the Death House has only strengthened my feeling for Raymond." And Fernandez going out with the shorter, "I wanna shout it out; I love Martha! What do the public know about love?"
          The film plays fast and loose with many of the events and characters from the real life story, despite what the opening credits claim. Some of that was for dramatic effect, others due to a lack of budget. Most notably would be beck’s contrition at the end, the historical Beck had absolutely no remorse. But a viewer can still get the general gist of the case from this sleeper.
          One additional note, apparently the initial director of the film was supposed to be Martin Scorsese, but was fired a week into shooting. This was because Scorsese was filming every scene in master shots and not shooting close-ups or other coverage, making the film impossible to edit.
          The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Early Egyptian Sexual Poetry


          These poems only survive on papyrus scraps, bits of pottery, and flakes of limestone from the later part of the New Kingdom, though they must have descended from an oral tradition. From the decorations on the tomb walls, with nearly nude girls singing and dancing, we can assume that these songs were performed with music and dance at banquets and festivals.
          They often use the term “brother” and “sister,” which in ancient Egyptian are terms of endearment, as we would call a person “baby” or “honey”. Many poems imagine situations in which the lovers might meet. The boy might wrestle a fish from the water (an erotic symbol in Egyptian times). The girl would make her dress transparent and expose her charms to entice the boy.
 
                                    Am I Not Here With You?
Am I not here with you?
              Then why have you set your heart to leave?
                         Why don’t you embrace me?
Has my deed come back upon me?
If you seek to caress my thighs.
Is it because you are thinking of food
              that you would go away?
                         Or because you are a slave to your belly?
Is it because you care about clothes?
              Well, I have a bedsheet!
Is it because you are hungry that you would leave?
              Then take my breasts
                         that their gift may flow forth to you.
Better a day in the embrace of my beloved
              than thousands on thousands anywhere else!

                                      I Wish I Were Her Nubian Maid
I wish I were her Nubian maid,
              her attendant in secret,
                         as she brings her a bowl of mandragoras.
It is in her hand,
            while she gives pleasure.
In other words:
she would grant me
              the hue of her whole body.
I wish I were the laundryman
              of my beloved’s clothes,
                         for even just a month!
I would be strengthened
               by grasping the garments
                         that touch her body.
For I would be washing out the moringa oils
              that are in her kerchief.
Then I’d rub my body
                with her castoff garments,
                         and she . . .
O how I would be in joy and delight,
              my body vigorous!
I wish I were her little signet ring,
              the keeper of her finger!
I would see her love
              each and every day,
And I would steal her heart.

                              I Passed Close By His House
I passed close by his house,
              and found his door ajar.
My beloved was standing beside his mother,
              and with him all his brothers and sisters.
Love of him captures the heart
              of all who walk along the way—
a precious youth without peer,
              a lover excellent of character!
He gazed at me when I passed by,
              but I must exult alone.
How joyfully does my heart rejoice, my beloved,
              since I first saw you!
If only mother knew my heart
              she would go inside for a while.
                         O Golden One, put that in her heart!
Then I could hurry to my beloved
              and kiss him in front of everyone,
                         and not be ashamed because of anyone.
I would be happy to have them see
              that you know me,
                         and would hold festival to my Goddess.
My heart leaps up to go forth
              that I may gaze on my beloved.
How lovely it is to pass by!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Bad Dating Films from the Swell Age


The 1940s and 1950s were an odd time in the development of education. Particularly in the development of the very affordable 9mm film projector, meaning that school across the United States could afford to own multiple units. Once this occurred the educational film industry began to boom. Much like the development of computers and most currently smartboards, the use of educational shorts was considered to be the magic wand that would transform education into something easy and affordable. The educational films were often touted at the time to be  the ultimate font of knowledge for students to suckle at.  
Which of course it turned out not to be. Eventually various companies found that they could not compete with topic covering the normal range of academic subjects: Literature, science, mathematics, etc. They decided to branch off into  social guidance areas. This essentially began with Sid Meyer's classic The Dangerous Stranger, a short about being wary of people you don't know. Students at the time took these with the required pound of salt, but administrators thought they sent an "important message" so they kept ordering them.  
Among the topics covered the ones about relationships and dating are the most hysterical. As sex was a taboo subject, the films tended to flit around the subject in a ham-fisted manner, sometimes eliminating it entirely. Often the "bad relationship" or the "wrong girl/boy" are depicted as the ones having the most fun, while the good youths are boring, drab, and ultimately lifeless.  
            Below for your amusement, we have four examples of dating social guidance films. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor. 

                                                Dating Dos and Don't (1949) 

                                              Beginning to Date (1953)

                                            The Prom: It's a Pleasure (1963)


                                           Better Use of Leisure Time (1950)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Conversation on Matters Best Left Buried

“So I’m down in New Orleans right and I rent out this prostitute…”

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Who else am I gonna talk to? So I’m down there for my friends Ian and Rachelle’s wedding. Actually I’m performing the ceremony.”

 “You’re performing the wedding?”

“Right yeah. Remember I got that mail order ordination certificate from the back of the Weekly World News, back when it put out paper issues.”

“I uh…”

“Yeah yeah. I was ordained by the World Christianship Ministries and got an honorary Doctorate in Divinity for only an extra $10.” 

“But that’s not real.”

“Yes it is!... Well the state of Louisiana recognized it at least, so I could do the service.”

“I’m sure that it was truly special for them.”

“Right! So we’re out the night before…”

“The night before?”

“Before the wedding. The hotel was right on Bourbon Street so we didn’t have to drive anywhere and could just go out and get wrecked all day.”

“You know I’m not really interested.”

“No listen listen, it’s important. So at the end of the night a whole bunch of us are staggering back and the streets are filled with nothing but reeling drunks and street hookers and they all want to go back to the hotel and go to bed, but I must’ve drank myself sober because I’m still raring to go.”

“Uh huh.”

“I mean I kinda felt tired earlier on in the night, but when I get that I just drink on through it with determination and it goes away.”

“…”

“So, they go upstairs and I’m stuck out in the street by myself. What am I gonna do?”

“…”

“You there?”

“Yes, I’m listening.”

“There’s this strip club across the street right? And I figure why not? It was called the Pussycat Club or something like that…. I don’t know. It was like that but not that.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“I didn’t think you would <Burp>.”

“Lovely”

“Anyway, I sit there and there’s only like one other guy in there but me, and there was this stripper on stage and she was nice.”

“I don’t need the details.”

“I don’t mean nice in some bullshit Hollywood idea of beauty, but like I mean a real woman. Not some blonde stick figure with a couple of beach balls stapled under her skin. She had you know… curves.”

“…”

“Real curves and she looked soft. Like it’d be real nice to lay down with her and have her flesh caress you, and not have to worry about being poked by a tibia or a rib bone. And she had a big  beautiful nose, which accented her face, and you know how much I like those right?”

“…”

“You there?”

“…”

“HELLO?”

“YES! I’m just listening to you.”

“Okay. So after her, set she comes over and sits down and starts talking to me. I can tell she’s good because she pretends like what I have to say is interesting and that I’m real funny and stuff and it’s great, it’s great. We have a couple more drinks and then it reaches that point. You know that point?”

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s that point in the conversation when you’re talking to someone of the opposite sex when you either have to take it to the next level or it will be shut down. It’s like a chemical pheromone thing that you both just sense instantly. And if you don’t seize it, it will be gone forever.”

“Huh.”

“So we get there and I say, why not? Right? Why not?”

“I DON’T KNOW! Why not? Why not do it and then go around and tell everyone?”

“That’s my point though. That’s my point. There was this room in the back and…”

“I DON’T WANT TO HEAR THIS!”

“Okay it was paid for, but that’s not even the issue. Look remember when Charlie Sheen got busted with all of that coke and hookers. His attitude was like, ‘You don’t pay for hookers to have sex with you. You pay for them to go away afterwards.’ It’s just sex. It’s like nothing to be ashamed of, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“Right, so it’s just like it’s illegal because of society’s opinions, and those can be changed. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the act itself. And it needs to be changed….”

“<Sigh>.”

“I… I think that this is something that is true and we can all do something about it. It’s like the hypocrisy of the world. We can do this, we can do this, we can change people’s perceptions, if we’re all honest.”

“…”

“Honest that’s all we need to be.”

“…”

“Okay? You understand?”

“… I understand.”

“Good. Look I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay. Bye then.”

“Love you, mom.”