Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Celluloid Highway's Title Screen Database

One of the major benefits of having a blog such as The Celluloid Highway is that I can advertise on it for free. With this mind I'd like to direct my readers and friends to a new site I created this weekend. I've always been fascinated by the various fonts and graphics used in the design of film titles, and I've decided to create a database that chronicles the title screens of all the films that can be found in my personal library. I will still continue to run themed title screen posts on The Celluloid Highway because they have proved to be quite popular. It is my pleasure to invite you all to The Celluloid Highway's Title Screen Database. If you're feeling particularly generous please spread the word...thanks in advance! - Shaun

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Morgiana (1973)


If there were two defining characteristics of art cinema in the 1960’s then it was a need to challenge prevailing orthodoxies (both in terms of film form, filmic traditions, and politics) and to reconstitute the theme of national identity in the wake of tumultuous world events. It became a decade of national cinema and new waves. The most prominent occurred in France and was represented by the films of former critics such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Claude Chabrol. In Britain the ‘Angry Young Man’ impulse gave rise to the ‘kitchen sink’ realism of films such as Room at the Top (1959), A Taste of Honey (1961), and This Sporting Life (1963). While the young French filmmakers were concerned with challenging the so called ‘Tradition of Quality’ and pushing the boundaries of film form, the British filmmakers were occupied with issues of class and realism. In Japan filmmakers such as Nagisa Oshima, Seijun Suzuki, Shohei Imamura, and Susumu Hani contributed to a wave of audacious politically motivated films that interrogated questions of gender and the recent occupation. The influence of Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave had a profound effect on a generation of South American filmmakers, and tremors of seismic activity could be detected in Cuba, Argentina, and most notably Brazil’s ‘Cinema Novo’. One of the least written about areas of activity occurred in the Eastern bloc countries; Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia all enjoyed brief but brilliant moments of filmmaking sunlight, before the boot of communism ground out the creativity. Morgiana is considered one of the last flowerings of the Czech New Wave and is both a brilliant and frustrating viewing experience.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Demon Seed (1977)

Country: USA

With the success of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970), and Westworld (1973) technophobia became one of the major ‘meta-narratives’ of 1970’s American cinema. It sat comfortably alongside the ‘Revolt of Nature’ movie, the conspiracy thriller, the disaster movie, and movies set in post apocalyptic wastelands. All of these thematic strands functioned in very similar ways, and all of them sought to punish mankind for its hubris and arrogance. Other interesting examples of the ‘Revolt of Technology’ narrative include The Terminal Man (1973), Killdozer (1974), Futureworld (1976), The Car (1977), Android (1982), The Lift (1983), and Runaway (1984 - any more nominations please feel free to leave a comment!). But arguably the most absurd extension of this thematic pulse came in 1977 with Donald Cammell’s film of the Dean R. Koontz novel Demon Seed. Unlike his contemporary Stephen King, Koontz has largely been overlooked by Hollywood producers, and now churns out novels with such alarming regularity that each feels as inconsequential as the previous one. Whilst cinema screens have proved resistant to Koontz’ brand of fantasy, he has found a more receptive environment on television. A cursory glance at Koontz’ filmography however indicates that Demon Seed is easily the most prestigious and important film to be based on his work.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh (1971)

Country: ITALY

Lo strano vizio della Signora Wardh
Blade of the Ripper
The Next Victim!

Like his contemporaries Umberto Lenzi, Enzo G. Castellari, and Lucio Fulci, Sergio Martino was a director who possessed a highly developed degree of generic utility. This ensured that Martino and the others were constantly in demand in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but the price they all had to pay for this was critical marginalisation. However were it not for the commercial success of popular cycles such as the giallo, the spaghetti western, and the poliziotesschi films, the preening ‘art’ cinema of dullards such as Fellini, Antonioni, and Bertolucci, would undoubtedly have struggled to gain the domestic support they required. Sergio Martino’s renaissance has taken a little longer to come about, but like many of his ilk, the era of DVD has been critical in constructing an appreciation of a diverse and intriguing filmography. No longer do scribes have the excuse of films being unavailable. Whilst it is remiss not to place Dario Argento’s early films within the expectations of the cycle they operated within (a major weakness of Maitland McDonagh’s Broken Mirrors/Broken Mind’s was a failure to do this), it would also be equally remiss not to assess the important contribution to the cycle made by Martino and his producer brother Luciano. Although Martino was inspired by the success (and the style) of Argento’s debut picture The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), his own gialli offerings have a peculiarity and an attitude which help them to stand apart in a very overcrowded generic landscape.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Nicolas Roeg Poster Gallery

 Performance (1970) - US Poster

Performance #2 - West German Poster

Walkabout (1971) - US Poster

 Walkabout #2 - UK Quad Poster

Monday, 9 January 2012

Lobby Card Collection - For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Following quickly on the heels of the lobby cards for A Fistful of Dollars (1964) I present a selection of stills for Sergio Leone's 1965 sequel For a Few Dollars More. This is my personal favourite of Leone's westerns, and the following three sets of lobby cards were used to promote the film in British, French and West German cinemas.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

Country: UK

Although To the Devil - A Daughter (1976) officially marked the end of Hammer’s first cycle of horror film production, it is Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, made two years before, that has the more genuine feel of a concluding statement. It was the final example of Hammer’s archetypal brand of gothic Victoriana (though Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires [1974] would transplant these trappings to an East Asian milieu later the same year), it was also the final film directed by the legendary Terence Fisher, who was one of the key architects of Hammer’s distinctive visual style, and it features the final adventure of one of the companies most enduring characters; Baron Frankenstein. But the film also has an ambience and an attitude of finality. It possesses a pitch black streak of cynicism, and indeed an equally bleak sense of humour. Frankenstein might conclude the film making positive pronouncements about embarking on his next experiment, but this is unable to disguise the ultimate pointlessness of the Baron’s endeavours. In each of the Baron’s previous adventures he found himself increasingly marginalised - by society, politics, and the scientific community. It seems somewhat fitting then at the end that we find him operating out of an insane asylum. His previous status as inmate is soon forgotten, and with the asylum director firmly blackmailed into submission, the Baron is able to continue his experiments using the incarcerated human fodder at his disposal.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)


Il gatto a nove code

History hasn’t been kind to Dario Argento’s second feature film The Cat O’ Nine Tails. It hasn’t helped that Argento himself has been quick to dismiss the film as his least favourite, though Argento has also gone on record saying his favourite film is the 1985 debacle Phenomena. It’s abundantly clear from this that Argento isn’t the best judge of his own work. The real problem for The Cat O’ Nine Tails is that it has never been able to fully emerge from the looming shadow of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970), Argento’s debut feature. The third film in the so called ‘Animal Trilogy’ Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) has succeeded in standing on its own feet largely because of its utterly bizarre distribution history, and its standing as something of a ‘lost’ cult classic. But The Cat O’ Nine Tails has always been a very visible Argento title, one that has been easy too acquire, and one that was very successful during its release in 1971. There is no doubt that it is a pale shadow of the startlingly fresh and vital The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, a film which was both a document of Argento’s personal obsessions and a brilliant exercise in suspense driven plot mechanics. But the perceived Americanisation of The Cat O’ Nine Tails (Argento’s most common grumble is both the films American sensibility and its lack of a personal identity) is actually what makes it stand out in Argento’s filmography. It has a feel and style unlike any of his pictures, and instead of dismissing the film for this, perhaps we should celebrate it.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Death Laid an Egg (1968)


La morte ha fatto L'uovo

Italian writer/director Giulio Questi deserves a more prominent position in the history of popular Italian cinema. One of the most challenging things for a filmmaker working within the restricted conventions of fashionable cycles or genres is to make the familiar seem unfamiliar. His films achieve this through an experimental attitude to form, an attitude that sometimes borders on the avant-garde, and a political perspective that is unashamedly leftist. Questi’s work has the sensibility of 1960’s Italian art cinema, but possess a presentation that took advantage of the prevailing popular trends of the day. It means of course that audiences are caught completely unaware, as will anybody will who approaches Django Kill, If You Live…Shoot! (1967) expecting a regular spaghetti western. The debate within Questi’s cinema however lies with trying to judge the extent of Franco Arcali’s contribution. Arcali was both writer and editor on a number of Questi’s films, and it is in the editing strategy that the films show their most experimental side. Furthermore there is much evidence in his filmography to suggest his political sympathies were also strongly leftist. Either way the two men clearly complimented one another on Django Kill, and they took this collaboration on to the peculiar and surreal giallo Death Laid an Egg.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Ten Essential Blu-Ray's of 2011

Throughout 2010 I had resisted the urge to dip my toe into the waters of High Definition film presentation. But in January 2011 I finally took the plunge and immersed myself in the world of the blu-ray. My main motivation for doing so was that the discs had become more affordable, and a far greater selection of older and interesting titles were seeing the light of day courtesy of niche distributors such as Arrow Video and Eureka . The first blu-ray I purchased also happened to be the same title that marked my first DVD purchase; John Carpenter’s wonderful 1982 remake of The Thing. Oddly my awakening to blu-ray has also gone hand in hand with a need to seek out and view rare films in which print condition was a secondary condition. 2011 has been both a year of pristine visual beauty, and murky monstrosities. I rarely do list based articles on The Celluloid Highway, mostly because I find it terribly unimaginative and pointless, and frankly who cares (other than me) what my ten favourite westerns or horror films are? However this particular list will hopefully be slightly more useful than other redundant ego-trip lists you might see elsewhere. Naturally due to the archive nature of The Celluloid Highway, the ten blu-rays under discussion here are older titles. A quick note to my American readership - the discs listed here are all UK releases, however I would welcome with open arms anyone from the States who would like to share their own Top 10 US released blu-rays…please feel free to leave a comment. For that matter I invite anyone from anywhere to do the same. Without further ado I present The Celluloid Highway’s ten essential blu-ray’s of 2011.

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