Saturday, 31 August 2013

First complete showing of Hammer's Dracula in UK, at British Museum

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Last night projected at the British Museum, as part of the BFI Gothic opening weekend, the first ever showing of the complete uncensored 1959 Dracula in the UK.

For those who like the busty lusty slaughterhouse panto of Hammer, their version of Dracula is a stone cold classic

"but what if a horror film were actually scary?" says Helen Mirren as Alma Reville, Hitchcock's wife, during the prep of Psycho in this years HITCHCOCK biopic. We can only assume Alma Reville was too well spoken and middle aged to have stumbled into a heaving cinema in Croydon or Salford to see Curse of Frankenstein or Dracula in 1959 with an excited and inebriated partner.

After, austerity, rationing and 30 years of black and white universal horror pictures (the Karloff/Lugosi era) in which violence and sex was only suggested and blood is never shown on screen,seeing a Hammer film in full Eastman colour must have been like party night with Vlad The Impaler.

A warning for the curious though, in true Hammer style it is the cheapest, least epic movie Dracula you'll ever see. There are never more then five people on screen.... In comparison the last adaptation with Gary Oldman is Lawrence of Arabia with fangs....

Worth putting in a bit of British social context from the time. All Hammer films are of course drawn completely from British sexual repression, dark colonial deeds of the past and Victorian fetishism. But I feel this one particularly draws on World War II. The UK was still barely crawling from the wreckage in 1959 (rationing only ended in 1954) and the Hammers were probably very cathartic in allowing those traumatised by the experience to live it out in a controlled environment. Anyone who has ever noticed the similarity between a Dalek and Panzer knows what I'm talking about here.

(Interestingly from 1960, Micheal Powell's PEEPING TOM, now regarded as the British PSYCHO, with its German child abusing serial killer and much more contemporary setting, was banned for decades prompting the end of Micheal Powell's career)

What you have with this Dracula, with Cushing and Lee, is one of the great clashes in movie history. Lee and Cushing seem so cosmically opposed they seem destined by fate to clash. It is interesting that it is only in this Dracula series that generations of Van Helsings and regenerations of Dracula's seek each other out for revenge.

Lee and Cushing both lived through the Second World War though only Lee served (in intelligence, at one point he served in the Long Range Desert Group, one of the precursors of the SAS)

Very significantly for 1959, Lee's Dracula could almost be wearing a Nazi uniform. Cool and impossibly evil, there is no romance, arguing, diplomacy or sympathy to be had with this vampire. Where Bela Lugosi is the exotic alien devil, Frank Langella is the calculating gentleman, and  Gary Oldman is Dracul as the cursed warrior,  Lee's Dracula is Reynard Heydrich, Herman Bornman, Joseph Mengle, a hundred SS Panzer Divisions and Hitler himself, with all the horrifying hypnotic allure of that apparently supernatural swatiska.

Cushing's Van Helsing is not the Swedish academic of the book, but the cold eyed determination of everyone who stood up to the Nazis and their allies in the 1930-40s. His clipped British officer delivery could easily be laying out the plot to Where Eagles Dare, The Guns of Navarone or even Inglorious Basterds. That impossible, implacable confidence in that face of apparently limitless evil you can see in every survivor of that generation.
We know its going to be tough. But we can win. We WILL win.

They didn't finish the evil all by themselves - but they let the light in.

Given more chance to think about this Hammer's Dracula and Nazi's idea I'm reminded of how fluid the idea of nationality is in this film. Nearly all the British characters seem to be actually German or living in Germany and commuting to Transylvania (?) Obviously this is a budget issue to cut out the parts of the book involving journeys to Britian but it means this is a strangely trans-national movie at a time of real European reconciliation.

Again, probably accidental, but we actually see a border crossing in a brief comic scene, and it is a farcical joke. The film appears to teach us that national boundaries are nothing compared to the real threats to humanity.

There are no Englishmen, Germans or Transylvanians in this film though the names and places suggest their should be. There are only human beings, some sophisticated, some rural - and against them "vile cult of the vampire". Vampires mentioned more than once (throughout Hammers vampire cycle) as a cult, rather than a supernatural force, every time evoking Nazism. Within this version of Dracula Peter Cushing's Van Helsing sounds more Churchillian with every viewing and though he might be talking overtly about bloodsuckers this is tone and content that would be very familiar to the House of Commons in the 1940s.

Perhaps I've watched this movie far too much - but is also worth noting that Cushing would go onto portray a pretty convincing Nazi himself in a little movie called Star Wars.

Thanks to Ali Press for the pics

Friday, 30 August 2013

Restored Night of The Demon shown in forecourt of British Museum in London

British Film Institute MONSTER WEEKEND

British Film Institute shows three restored classic movies in the forecourt of the British Museum, opening its BFI Gothic festival

Opening night : restored version of Jacques Tourneur's Night of The Demon to be followed by newly restored versions of
Dracula 1957
Hammer's The Mummy
(tickets still available I think)

Amazing setting though we are very lucky with the weather. Chilled out music helps create an early atmosphere - Siouxsie and Banshee's Cities in Dust could have been written to be played against the immense columns in the British Museum forecourt before a restored horror movie.

Quickly it becomes apparent why these restored old British movies are being shown here.
  • Night of the Demon has a long crucial scene set in the British Museum (cue woops from audience as we zoom through the forecourt in 1957)
  • Bram Stoker researched Dracula in the British Museum reading room
  • The British Museum is of course full of dusty old Egyptian horrors.
Female lead (pic) Peggy Cummins is introduced before Night of The Demon and almost too emotional to speak initially, then they had to practically drag her off stage :-)

Her glowing BFI introduction was not hype, she is the secret star of the movie: fiesty smart and managing to make that young Thatcher appearance and attitude seem very engaging and cute (in 1957).

Interesting that she fends off the male lead throughout, and like recent Pacific Rim, this does not end with a kiss. A scientist as rational as Dana Andrews she is also rational enough to realise that whatever is going on
supernatural or otherwise, is a real threat and needs to be taken seriously. A role model for female characters in the 1950s, it's easy to see why this film has so many female fans.

Night of The Demon (Curse of the Demon in the US) remains a very smart movie for the most part showing what it takes for a scientist to accept the supernatural.

I obviously need to watch Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell again, virtually a remake. Is the nasty female lead played by Alison Lohman in DMTH an evil version of Peggy Cummins? Similarly it ends at a railway and  in Demon there is lots of effective use of woods and trees at night - all very Raimi.

A wag might say

More updates on tonight (DRACULA 1959) and tomorrow (Hammer's THE MUMMY) will follow
on my blog

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Get The Music Right First.. Bernard Herrman, Jerry Goldsmith, Hans Zimmer and more PACIFIC RIM

It came as absolutely no surprise to find that the guitar parts on the stirring Pacific Rim soundtrack by
Ramin Djawadi are the work of Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello

Always amazed how people underestimate the importance of the soundtrack. The first thing people remember from Hitchcock is the music from Psycho - yet in both recent biopics of Hitchcock his celebrated music collaborator Bernard Herrman is barely mentioned.

I'm a huge Bernard Herrman fan and his contribution to music in general is hugely underestimated in my opinion.

Brilliant film soundtracks are not some lost art however. Hans Zimmer's music to Inception is a recent but no less but brilliant example.

You will have noticed that the Edith Piaf song Je Ne Regrette Rien is used by the team over headphones as the signal to wake up. Perhaps also you noticed the evil 'Mal' memory is played by Marion Cotillard, who played Edith Paif in the movie of her life.

how about this shows Hans Zimmer's magnificent main theme of Inception is the opening chords to Je Ne Regrette Rien . but slowed down as if heard as if heard several levels down...

That is soundtrack work that makes the spine tingle.

My favourite long time film composer is probably Jerry Goldsmith, who has done so much great work that even today I stumble across old movies with great themes that I didn't know here his. Just n the last two weeks, Logan's Run and The Blue Max. Wow - the Blue Max. Can't think of another movie so let down by it's central star, George Peppard, truly a Viking longship of acting. If Clint Eastwood had been cast in that role the movie would be a classic.

I digress again. Anything with Jerry Goldsmith's name on it under music is worth watching. (I have already mentioned his abandoned Judge Dredd soundtrack in my cathartic explosion on that movie last year)

Dragging this down to a much lower level friends are amazed how I get so into writing, driving etc. It may be because I do go to some effort to create playlists and soundtracks for this purpose. Every serious piece of writing, every serious activity, has had its own playlist and I'm very rarely wrong with it.

I've just started playing Eve Online (I'm keeping a diary, could go up here maybe) and though the soundtrack is suitably atmospheric for a game which is infamously an "interactive screensaver" I would would probably have lost interest after a few hours if not for the playlist I've created to play to it. Eve's music is good but if you are playing it hardcore you need something to keep interested.

Eve Online playlist for August 2013 (see associated post)

  • The Mars Volta (all of it)
  • At The Drive In
  • Bosnian Rainbows (side project)
  • Pond
  • Muse (all of it)
  • Boards of Canada
  • Chemical Borthers (Hanna s/t)
  • Underworld (Sunshine s/t)
  • 2001 soundtrack
  • La Roux
  • The Associates
  • Skrillex
  • Justice
  • Lacuna Coil

The last two were bunged in as I've not heard them enough. Soulwax and Philip Glass are on standby.

  • *Lana Del Rey
  • *Ennio Morricone s/ts (Super Gold Edition)
  • *Atreyu - Congregation of the Damned
  • *Die Antowoord $0$
  • *Nick Cave - Lyre of Orpheus
  • *Duran Duran - Rio
  •  *Vangelis 1492 Conquest of Paradise s/t 

*These last few are "synchronistic choices" - suggested by songs appearing on my Ipod on shuffle as a walk to work across London from Cally Road to Piccadilly. These syncronistic random suggestions from 160G worth of music prompted some of the other choices, for example Duran Duran New Religion (first song after started playing Eve) suggested The Associates and La Roux.

Using my Ipod shuffle as a synchronistic divination tool is something I should probably blog about separately. All you need to know now is that It requires less patience than Tarot cards and you can take it even less seriously.

Monday, 19 August 2013

PACIFIC RIM rolling mental health watch

For a while I thought the effect Pacific Rim had on me was the onset of serious mental illness. I reserve the right to add to this post as I discover some of the mad notes I've made on the subject over the last few weeks.. so I was hugely relieved to find it seems to have had a similar effect on an ongoing favourite of this blog, William Gibson!

He wrote, while tweeting about it all day after seeing it..

A ravishing display of intelligent, often wonderfully witty visual design, every frame alive with coherent language, in the service of what is at heart a children's story. A children's story for a very dark time, our own, about a very dark time as children understand such things: monsters, from beneath the bed — our own or the ocean's! It restores heroism to the realm of the humanistic, an extraordinary accomplishment given so much of the film culture of our day. The protagonists know, and demonstrate that they know, that it isn't about them. A sweetly simple fable, for all the titanic grandeur of its cosplay (which I took to be the message of the slowly pumping wooden bellows in the kaiju-drifting machine, which became for me the sly sweet heart of it all). A demonstration of the degree of heart *and* physicality that even very big-ticket FX can convey when there's an honest will to avoid the opposite; mega-scale FX that don't drain either away. A baroque that doesn't curdle, that never fetishizes itself.

What is it about this kids film? It really isn't THAT good..

I think it is

 dense believable world + total lack of cynicism

that is doing it for us. Pacific Rim's great big creative balls are right out there for all to see. Like Star Wars in 1977, you get the feeling that at no point did anyone during production say "hang on this is all very cool - but what will the normal people think?"

Looking back Pacific Rim is probably best seen stone cold sober on a gigantic screen on a Saturday morning with a million kids who are not bothered that is not a sequel or adaptation of anything. It is so fresh, like a box of strawberries delivered at dawn straight from the field, you feel the years drop off you while it's on.

I've not been in a cinema with kids so into a movie in decades.. cheering...wooping the lot Its not as good as Star Wars but feels a lot like watching Star Wars for the first time

Enjoy the underground geekiness on fan created online Jeager cons while you can PR the wake of it's apparent failure at the US box office Pacific Rim is for the moment 'cult' and 'alternative.
Enjoy it because this movie is just too good for this status to last long. .When Pacific Rim becomes incredibly trendy in time for the sequel..

and I'm predicting a curve similar to Iron Man (for those who have chosen to forget the initial reaction to Iron Man was generally "superheroes??" and "Robert Downey ..WHO?" in the summer of 2008)

...Pacific Rim will be another grim example of how the alternative is absorbed by the mainstream. Which will at least make Guillermo and co happy.

Up North Trip Full of Laughing Gravy

One time I do the trip up North I should take pics of Jodrell Bank, or Alderly Edge or maybe even Stockport Viaduct, one of the largest brick structures in Europe, which loomed over my childhood and early teens

but I never feel like playing tourist when I'm up there, it's just the crazy details of North West's surreal low simmering hysteria that I notice


with a spotless room full of Laurel and Hardy memorbalia, some of it impressive, some of it scary, promoting a live BeeGees tribute act in the same venue later that evening.

(BeeGee's home town of course was Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. Stan Laurel was from Ulverston, further up the road.)