Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Wicked, Wicked World Of Jean Rollin

Many people have not heard of French film-maker Jean Rollin. I certainly don't think he's that obscure, but his name is lost on anyone who isn't a horror buff. Those who have seen his work usually have one of two reactions; they are either bored to the point of death within the first five minutes or eternally lost forever in his world of the fantastique.

I say this because if you do check him out, I don't want you coming back to me complaining. You will either love him or hate him. He's the Marmite of European horror cinema.

Or, at least, he was. Plagued with health problems, Rollin sadly died shortly after the completion of his final film, La Masque de la Meduse (2010).

But who is he? Why should you care? Well, to understand his work, you have to look at his formative years. His movies are dreamlike, unconscious distillations of various influences accumulated during his childhood. His films have a consistent iconography and mise en scene that gives the impression that his films are part of a greater, over-reaching story arc, or at least, take place in the same alternate universe where specific, pre-determined laws of nature apply. In interviews, he identifies the same key events in his life again and again as the catalysts behind his very unique work. Excluding films that he has made as a director-for-hire, the majority of his filmography cannot be mistaken as the work of anyone else.

Born in 1939, the major turning point in his life came when he was taken to the cinema by his mother. She originally intended to take him to see a Western but, by mistake, they ended up sitting down to watch the old Universal horror picture, The House of Dracula (1945). While watching the film, young Jean was both terrified and fascinated by the image of John Carradine's vampire and had nightmares about him for weeks afterwards. His fascination with pulp cinema was reinforced by the fact that a nearby train station possessed a small cinema that showed short films and episodes of Saturday morning movie serials like Flash Gordon (1936) and The Mysterious Doctor Satan (1940). In his teens, he and his family went on holiday to Dieppe and the strange coastline there reminded him of the works of Rene Magritte. The same beach would turn up again and again in almost every one of his films.

All this, combined with a life-long love of the painters like Clovis Trouille and Philippe Druillet, would form the heady ingredients in the cinematic stew of Rollin's productions.

After making a handful of short films in his twenties, Rollin's big break came when, in, 1968, he released Le Viol du Vampire (aka The Rape of the Vampire, 1968) onto an unsuspecting public.



It was originally intended as a short, commissioned by an American living in Paris, Sam Selski, who had acquired the distribution rights to a cheap, American grade-Z horror flick that proved too short for solo distribution and required a supporting featurette to go on a double bill with it. When Selski saw the very weird, very dreamlike and very violent final result, he decided to double his investment and have Rollin extend the movie to feature length. The trouble was that the entire cast had been killed in the first half-hour, so he invented The Queen of the Vampires and had her resurrect the lot of them. Things get pretty bonkers pretty quickly. Rollin freely admits that he lost his script within two days of the new shooting block beginning so ended up making the thing up as he went along. The symbolic, often violent imagery was all very clear to him at the time but in later interviews he states that even he can't remember what it all means. Naturally enough, this makes the movie fascinating - archaic pagan imagery is mixed with 60s Bohemianism; death and pain is mixed with free love and sex; the entire cast is slaughtered (twice); vampires with machine guns; a clinic for vampires; surreal dialogue that could mean everything or nothing; voodoo... it's too much for one film, which was great for Rollin because it was released during the May '68 riots and since it was the only new release in Paris during that period it became a massive hit, despite (or perhaps, because of) the fact that the movie often prompted cinema patrons to end up rioting themselves.

But it is his next film, La Vampire Nue (aka The Naked Vampire/The Nude Vampire, 1970) in which his signature style becomes fully developed.



The plot, involving a suicide cult who worship a beautiful, mute vampire girl, a corporate conspiracy to gain immortality using her blood and inter-dimensional mutants who are the next step in human evolution is straight out of the pulpy Saturday morning serials and comic books of Rollin's youth but the way the story is told, with rich colour photography and sparse dialogue, is like some fever dream. The film opens in laboratory in which strange, animal-masked figures in lab coats take blood samples from the naked vampire of the title as psychedelic chemicals mix in the background, and the weird chase that follows as black-garbed beast men creep through the night after the vampire and the spoilt rich kid who is investigating the mysterious goings-on at his billionaire father's townhouse are both played completely silently, giving us absolutely no clue as to what is going on. Plot points unfurl slowly and explanations are often given after the fact, so that Rollin always maintains a sense of mystery. By maintaining long passages of silence, the film also gives us time to take in the images. Every frame has the surreal other-worldliness of a Trouille painting and even though the entire film was shot on location, many of the interiors are lit and presented in such a way as to give the illusion of artificiality. Rollin has stated that he tries to paint with film and he succeeds.

It was also during filming that Rollin met Marie-Pierre and Cathy Castel, twin sisters who played the servants of the film's main villain. The motif of two young, often mute, girls would haunt Rollin's work ever since. Sometimes they are sisters, sometimes they are lovers but they are always there. He even tried not including them but they seemed to creep in as he was writing his screenplays anyway.

While his first two features had been independent efforts, put together with the help of friends, Le Frisson des Vampires (aka Shiver of the Vampires, 1971) was a result of a deal struck between Rollin and Films Modernes, which had recently fallen under the control of Monique Natan, widow of movie mogul Emile Natan. She had been approached by every great New Wave director in Paris but only Rollin managed to win her over. Andre Samarcq, manager of the company, had warned him that she had a veritable fetish for monochrome. He suggested bathing the locations in primary colours to had to the Gothic atmosphere and she was sold. Shooting took place at the Dungeon of Septmont, a breath-taking castle with pointed turrets and imposing battlements straight out of a fairytale. During the night scenes, bathed in pink light, it looks good enough to eat. It also has a fabulously awesome soundtrack by Acanthus...



Le Frisson des Vampires includes some of Rollin's most iconic images; a dead white dove upon a blood stained coffin; hundreds of gallons of blood flowing like a river down the castle's walls and, most famously, a female vampire, Isold (played by exotic nightclub dancer Dominque), emerging from a grandfather clock as it strikes midnight. It's also the first of his films to be overtly erotic. A newly wed couple arrive at the castle to find the occupants, cousins of the bride (Sandra Julien), dead. In mourning, she chooses to sleep alone, putting off the consummation of the marriage. At night, she is visited by the vampire Isold and seduced. Whereas most of Rollin's contemporaries like Jess Franco would linger on endless simulated sex scenes, drunkenly zooming in and out until we're dizzy and can't tell what's going on anymore, Rollin hardly moves his camera and, while showing nudity, doesn't actually show any overt sex at all. Interestingly, the films also solidifies Rollin as something of a feminist. His male leads often doggedly try to rescue the woman of their dreams from the bloodsuckers, only to find they do not want to be rescued and that the male heroes are not needed at all. Rollin's women never go with the heteronormative values of Hollywood and are never "the prize". They choose the men or women they will go off with in the end. Indeed, one female character, Isabelle (Nicole Nancel) is seen at the grave of the dead vampire hunters, mourning the loss of both of them because she was bride to both and, it seems, the three of them had been carrying on a very happy polyamorous relationship for years, thank you very much.

Next up, Rollin directed what may be, along with Andrzej Zulawski's Possession (1981), one of the inspirations for Lars Von Trier's Antichrist (2009). La Rose de Fer (The Iron Rose, 1973) tells the story of The Girl (Francoise Pascal) and The Boy (Hugues Quester) who meet at a wedding. The next day, they go for a picnic and find themselves in a massive rural cemetery in which weird, shadowy figures lurk, including glimpses of a sinister female Clown (Mireille Dargent), another reoccurring motif. The couple go down into a crypt and make love. When they emerge, they find it is night and that they cannot find any way out. It is left to the viewer as to whether the cemetery itself is somehow "alive", shifting its landscape around them, punishing them for a couple of minor acts of desecration or it is all in the character's heads. Over the course of one night, their sanity slowly degenerates and they become increasing abusive towards each other until The Girl buries The Boy alive. At dawn, she dances through the mist until she reaches the tomb and, smiling serenely to herself, joins him the grave. The last image is of a widow (Natalie Perrey) placing flowers on the sealed tomb. The film was made with Rollin's own money and had a very limited release. Fortunately, it is now available on DVD after years of obscurity. I personally have never seen any writing connecting the film with Antichrist but there are similarities in structure and style, if not themes.



Rollin followed this up with Requiem por un Vampire (aka Requiem for a Vampire/Virgins and Vampires, 1973), a very simple film that Rollin wrote over the course of one night.  The film follows the adventures of two girls in clown costumes, who, having escaped the scene of a crime, wonder about the countryside until they happen upon a castle where they are attacked by three barely human savages, themselves servants of the last vampire in existence, who plans to turn them into vampires themselves. One of the girls gives her virginity to a man she meets in a graveyard (the scene is actually quite cleverly shot, almost entirely as a close-up on  Marie-Pierre Castle's face). Despite the fact that some of the cemetery scenes directly reference the work of Trouille and some quite kinky BDSM-related imagery, it's a fairly minor work with very little story but it does occasionally throw up the odd bit of memorably imagery. Rollin himself regards it as one of his personal favourites.



In 1974, Rollin released what many regard to be his best film. Already struggling to keep himself out of the wave of sex films that were being released at the time, Rollin managed to secure financing for Lips of Blood. The story follows a young man, Frederic (Jean-Loup Philippe) and his attempts to piece together memories of his childhood. At a party launching a new perfume, he sees a poster depicting the ruins of a castle and has a sudden flashback to when, at the age of 12, he became lost one night "searching for the big black dog with the ripped ear". At the castle, he meets a mysterious girl in white named Jennifer (Annie Briand). When he tells all this to his Mother (Natalie Perrey) she warns him to be careful but denies any knowledge of the incident or the girl. She is clearly hiding something, however, because the Frederic feels no connection to the childhood she has described for him. As Frederic investigates, people around him start dying, with those trying to aid him shot by a mysterious assassin and those trying to hinder him attacked by four mysterious girls. What's more, he keeps catching glimpses of the girl from his childhood memories, exactly as she was all those years ago...

If you're new to Rollin, Lips of Blood is certainly a good place to start; it combines elements of the real and the imaginary almost perfectly. There are a few clunky moments, but given that Rollin had to work mainly with porn actors on an extremely low budget and finish the job in three weeks, it stands up very well. Due to the decline of low-budget horror films and the rise of hardcore porn in Europe during the 70s, Rollin was negotiating his deal based on his ability to make "proper" films on porno budgets. Still, there are some remarkable images and ideas such as two female vampires (the Castel twins, working together for the first time since La Vampire Nue) are impaled on the same stake, embracing each other as they die and, most famously, the ending, in which the two lovers seal themselves in a coffin and are carried away on the tied. As usual. the eroticism is languid, understated and a perfect example of less is more. Some of the locations are genuinely stunning; the beach at Dieppe is featured once again and the castle is suitably beautiful and mysterious. The dream-like atmosphere is aided by the haunting score by Didier William Lepauw. The film is probably a good yardstick; if you don't like it, then Jean Rollin ain't for you.

For the most part, the mid-to-late-70s were not kind to Rollin. The grind house cinemas where most of his work was shown had switched from horror to porn and for a few brief years, the only way to get a low budget film made in France was to make hardcore. Rollin did this, under various pseudonyms like Michel Gentil and Robert Xaxier, but was never particularly comfortable with it. He did, however regard the time as quite liberating because it was an opportunity to film something that had never been shown before and, at the time, hardcore films were viewed very differently. Deep Throat (1973) had made them trendy. Even Stanley Kubrick considered make one. Despite that, Rollin often left the room while the sex scenes were actually being filmed. The one good thing that came of it is that Rollin met actress Brigitte Lahaie.

Lahaie became Rollin's new muse and they worked together on several films. A stunningly beautiful woman, Rollin described her as a living painting or statue. Even today, she is breath taking. When, at the end of the 70s, it became possible to go back into production on the fantastique films Rollin was known for, he cast her in Les Raisins de la Mort (Grapes of Death, 1978), an eco-zombie movie about the effects of an experimental insecticed;



Fascination (1979), another vampire tale, this time with a more realistic premise involving a group of noblewomen who drink blood in an effort to stay young, a featuring Lahaie going nuts with a scythe;



...and La Nuit des Traquees (Night of the Hunted, 1980), a Cronenbergesque thriller about the victims of a mysterious brain disease locked in a sinister scientific institute housed in a tower block.

He also made La Morte Vivante (Living Dead Girl, 1982), one of his most commercially successful films. Combining beautiful photography and poetic images with some pretty nasty gore, it also gave rise to the Rob Zombie track of the same name.



Throughout the 80s, Rollin was once again forced to take jobs directing porno, completing Jess Franco films when the Saucy Spaniard failed to turn up, script doctoring and doing uncredited directing work on films with major production problems like the disastrous Emmanuelle 6 (1986).

Thank God, this was not to last. In the 90s, he began not only started a career as a successful horror novelist but made a comeback to the world of cinema as well. Dispite the fact that Rollin had managed to make a few more personal works in the 1980s, most were very low budget independent productions such as Purdues dans New York (Lost in New York, 1989), a surreal, time-travel fantasy tale of two young girls lost in time, made (apparently) with left over film stock from a commercial Rollin had shot. It's only 52 minutes long but worth checking out, especially as the current DVD release contains some of his rare, early shorts as well. However, after making the low-budget action movie Killing Car (1993) and doing uncredited work on the Marc Dorcel porno Le Parfum de Mathilde (1994), Rollin was given a chance to turn one of his novels into a film by a producer at Cannal +. The result was Les Deux Orphelines Vampires ( Two Orphan Vampires, 1996). The result is rather tepid and feels slightly compromised in that it harks back to his 70s films but without the sex, blood and violence he was known for. It was a step forward in terms of his commercialism, however and it paved the way for him to make his most expensive film, La Fiancee de Dracula (Dracula's Fiancee, 2002).

Unlike other directors of Rollin's generation like Jess Franco or Paul Naschy, Rollin's modern films were not out-dated attempts to recapture past glories, nor do they display any evidence of an old nag on his last legs. La Fiancee de Dracula is made with all the care and skill of his early works and is filled with just as many great ideas. It's worth seeing his earlier films first because he revisits and references so many of them that it begins to feel like he is tying everything together into a over-reaching masterwork. Dracula (Thomas Desfosse) appears out grandfather clocks, there's chain smoking nuns, Clovis Trouille paintings, sitcom star Magalie Madison as a baby-eating ogress, the return of the eternally beautiful Brigitte Lahaie and another trip to his favourite beach. Other locations, such as the island from Demoniacs (1973) are also revisited. Overall, the film has the feel of a swan-song as Rollin packs in as many nods to his fans as he can. Even thematically, the film harks back to his earlier movies by having a damsel in distress who does not want to be rescued with the hero's dogged pursuit of her leading to his own downfall.

Despite the fact that, since Killing Car, Rollin had been threatening to retire due to his ill-health, he went on to complete two more features; the bloody creepy La Nuit des Horloges (Night of the Clocks, 2007)


.
..and La Masque de la Meduse (The Mask of Medusa, 2009). Both of these were screened at film festivals and they are currently only available in the form of an extremely limited run of special edition DVDs.

I'll leave you with a clip of M. Rollin himself...



I'm sure I don't need to mention it but I seriously caution you to avoid dubbed versions of his films like the plague. Although the English-language version of La Vampire Nue is almost flawless, the dialogue in his films has a weird poetic lyricism to it, that is totally lost in most English-language versions. The dubbing on Le Frission des Vampires and Fiancee de Dracula (2002) are particularly awful. Indeed, one scene in Le Frisson des Vampires is completely ruined by the fact that, for some reason, the hero's internal monologue can be heard rambling on about what the vampires are wearing, when in the original version they are allowed to explain major plot points without a disembodied voice speaking over them.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Funkiest Film And Television Soundtracks Ever Part 1

So, this week, I'm doing something a little different. This week, I'm listing the funkiest movie soundtracks I've ever come across. Now, since appreciation music is subjective, I'm doing these in no particular order, and you might agree with some more than others. Never-the-less, I suspect you'll want to check out some of these tracks before you die. Today...

1. If You've Never Heard Of Roy Budd, You've Certainly Felt His Influence.
When most people think of Roy Budd, they think of the Get Carter (1971) theme. Mike Hodges gritty gangster movie was probably one of the darkest thrillers ever made up until that point.

SPOILER ALERT!!!

No one had pulled off a Diabolus Ex Machina so effectively before. Even today, the sudden demise of Michael Caine (shot by an assassin, who had been in plain view the whole time without us even realising it) five seconds before the end is so shocking, it leaves the view pretty stunned for days after seeing it.

END OF SPOILER ALERT!!!

Anyway, more than anything, the movie is known for it's Jazzy-yet-bleak main theme, one that you'll have stuck in your head for weeks. It goes something like this...



No surprises there, then. I don't even know why I bothered with the spoiler alert. You've all seen the film. Some of you probably own a copy of the soundtrack. But believe me, it's not the funkiest thing he wrote.

You ever see Who Dares Wins (1982)? OK, I see about half of you with your hands up. For those of you who don't know, it's basically an action movie starring Lewis Collins as an SAS operative infiltrating a group of EVIL! uh... anti-nuclear protesters. Yeah. I never said the film wasn't appallingly right-wing and politically naive. But the final 10 minutes, in which the EVIL! Ban-the-bomb group take over the American embassy in London, prompting the SAS to come flying in, abseil out of helicopters and blow everyone away in an incredibly violent and superbly staged running gunfight is, I'm afraid to say, pretty awesome. Plus, we get to see lots of Lewis-Collins-running-down-corridors-with-a-machine-gun shots, which are always welcome. Besides, everybody knows that if you object to the presence of nuclear weapons of British soil, you must be a dirty communist liable to commit acts of terrorism and if you get a full clip of machine gun fire in the chest, you had it coming, right? Well, this was the 80s.

But never mind all that. We're hear to talk about the fucking awesome soundtrack. And rather fucking awesome it is, too. Here's the Main Theme...



So yeah. Funky. If you were in the SAS, you'd probably walk around with this track in your head all the time.

Now, at the begining of this post, I said that even if you haven't heard of Roy Budd, you'd have heard his influence. Well, by influence, I mean *ahem* "influence". You will no doubt recall that in the late 90s and early Naughties, you couldn't go anywhere without hearing "Clubbed to Death" by Rob Dougan. It was in The Matrix (1998), it was in TV commercials. It's probably been featured in every episode of Top Gear ever made. You still can't escape the bloody thing. It's not even the best track on the album. In fact, I suspect it might have been meant as an album-filler. Why? Because of this...



It's "Jazz it Up" from The Marseille Contract (aka The Destructors, 1974). I will leave you to draw your own conclusions...

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Manchester's Answer To Chuck Norris - Ladies And Gentlemen, I Give You Mr. Cliff Twemlow!

What's that? You've never heard of him? Well, There's no reason why you should have. Unfortunately, most of his films are lost and copies are incredibly hard to find. I know for sure that the original master tape (most of his movies were shot on video) of his most famous production, GBH, has been destroyed (unless someone has another dupe, somewhere). I did, however, come into possession of the U-Matic master of a promo for a possibly never completed film called Mason's War. Indeed, most of what is left of his legacy are promo reels for never realised projects or, if you are really, really, lucky, surviving VHS copies of some of his completed movies. Currently, only one of his films is available on DVD, a science fiction epic called Firestar: First Contact (1992). Want to know an interesting bit of trivia? Well, aside from the fact that after a career as a nightclub bouncer, he was an actor, novelist, screenplay writer, producer and composer. "So What?" I hear you cry. Well, he wrote this;



That's right. His music is on the fucking Dawn of the Dead soundtrack! That's the classic 1978 version as well. Not the it-starts-off-well-then-goes-downhill remake. His work has been used on numerous TV shows as well.
 
The quality of his films are not so much in the so-bad-it's-good-territory as so much in the Naff-in-the-most-awesome-way-possible genre. Imagine Garth Merenghi's Darkplace meets Coronation Street (in which Mr. Twemlow had his first role, as an extra). He was a sort of Northern James Bond combined with Chuck Norris. In his first film, Tuxedo Warrior (1981) he played a heavy. The film was named after his autobiography of the same name but only used a few character names and had a different actor playing the character based on him. Weirdly, instead of being set in the Manchester club land, the movie was a spy thriller set in Africa.
 
GBH (1982) was his first staring role. He also wrote the screenplay. The film was his first collaboration with director David Kent-Watson, who went on to helm most of Twemlow's movies. Twemlow played a nightclub enforcer named Donovan. And for those of you who always skip the clips... yes, you... I know who you are... I'd watch this, because it contains possible one of the greatest lines in movie history;
 


By the way, this was one of the first British films shot on video tape expressly for the DTV market. Here's the theme tune he composed for the film. It's like a Shaft-On Her Majesty's Secret Service mash-up (Fuck yeah!). Be warned, there are wha-wha guitars and insane saxophones involved.
 


Next up, was another Bond rip-o... homage. I mean homage. Target Eve Island was made probably in 1983 though sources differ upon its release date or whether it was finished at all (it appears it was and there is a trailer for it here);
 


And if you didn't watch that it serves you right because there's a lovely bottom shot in it, an amazing collection of 80s hairdos and a villain named Harry Filipino. Did you also notice that every single punch and gunshot sounds like a dubbed in video game sound effect? The same gunshot and the same punch every single time. Genius. Twemlow played a character named Chaser who was the right hand man to the Bond substitute hero William Grant (regular Twemlow collaborator Brett Sinclair, aka Brett Paul). Indeed, a lot of the same faces crop up in these films, mainly because they were Twemlow's friends, rather than actors. Now all this may seem rather cheesy, but it should be noted that he never took himself too seriously, and he always played up the "I'm to old for this shit" trope.
 
Possibly his biggest disappointment was the fact that he never managed to get his big-budget giant fish movie The Pike of the runway. It was to star Joan Collins. I actually came into possession of the original screenplay, quite by chance. This short documentary features not only the titular animatronic beastie, developed by a ROV manufacturer but also Ms. Collins herself;
 


I would love to have seen it.
 
Cliff Twemlow spent the rest of his life writing and starring in yet more movies based on his novels such as the Death Wish style Blind Side of God (1987)...
 


Or the Predator/Werewolf mash-up Moonstalker (1988), which was shot in a boyscout camp;
 


The Hammer Horror-style Eye of Satan (either 1988, 1987 or 1991, sources vary);



And the seemingly never completed Tokyo Sunrise for which a promo reel was shot in 1988;



He went on to make a sequel to GBH called Lethal Impact in 1991. Sadly, Firestar: First Contact, shot in and around Jodrell Bank and a Laser Quest (apparently) was his last completed film (the IMDB release dates don't seem to tally up with the dates of production). Cliff Twemlow died of a heart attack in 1993. He was just 55. Fortunately, a book detailing his legend is available called "The Lost World of Cliff Twemlow: The King of Manchester Exploitation Movies" by C.P. Lee and Andy Willis is available, and copies of his novels such as "The Pike" occasionally surface on Amazon from time-to-time. If you want a copy of Firestar: First Contact (which co-stars Oliver Tobias and Charles Grey, no less) you may need to import it from Germany.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

5 Most Ludicrous Movie Performance Of All Time - THE FINAL CHAPTER

For the Grand Finale, let me introduce you to someone so awesome, so mind-bogglingly bonkers, he should win an award for just existing. Producer, writer, director, actor, man of mystery, Korean leather jacket importer and all-round font of amazement, this guy is so over-the-top unusual, you want to shake his hand and say "Thank you, Tommy! THANK YOU!".  Sometimes, someone tries so hard that not only do they fail on an epic scale, but it is so, so epic, it reverses the laws of reality and becomes one of the greatest achievements in the history of mankind. You may not even have heard of this man but there can be no one else in the final spot of this list because, my friends, I have saved the best for last. If you have not encountered him already, may I introduce...

Tommy Wiseau - The Room
If you haven't heard of or seen The Room, shame on you. You must seek it out at all costs. Nothing quite prepares you for utter brilliance of it; it's been called "the Citizen Kane of bad movies", an honour previously bestowed upon Plan 9 From Outer Space. It has become a major cult hit, with its Director/Writer/Producer/Executive Producer/Star Tommy Wiseau turning up at screenings to give Q+A sessions at midnight screenings, it has played once a month in one prestigious New York venue for nearly 5 straight years, it has replaced The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the audience participation stakes. Its fans form lines around the block to see endless shots of Tommy's ass during sex scenes with an uncomfortable-looking young actress way out of his league and his remarkably schizophrenic performance. He makes Christopher Fuckin' Walken look like Clive Owen. People shout his lines back at him whenever he's on the screen and even through plastic forks because, for some reason, the apartment in which the film takes place is decorated with pictures of cutlery. Weirder still, if you go to a screening, you'll need a football (of the American sort - a rugby ball to the rest of us). Why? Because for no apparent reason, the male characters like to dress in tuxedos and toss the pigskin in alleyways for absolutely no frickin' reason! But the movie's crowning glory is Wiseau, a man who prefers to be called American but who possesses a mysterious Trans-European accent. People have speculated that he's taking the piss, got something wrong with him, is insane, from another planet or possibly a Vampire (and indeed, he's playing one in his next movie). Whatever. To me, he'll always be a genius, albeit an accidental one (and they're usually the best kind). Now genius is a pretty strong word so let me justify my assertion by inviting you to watch what happens when the love of his life turns out to be a manipulative sociopath who spreads a false rumor that he hit her. Just watch this, watch the guy's reaction;



Yeah. And did you catch his reaction to Mark's story about that girl who wound up in hospital? "Ha, ha, ha. What a story, Mark!". And what about Mark's misogynistic ramble about whether women are too smart, stupid or evil? What is this? Antichrist II? Well, it seems to Tommy, playing Johnny, that Mark's an expert. I mean, what the fuck? WHAT THE FUCK? And why is the roof shot on Greenscreen? Don't they have roofs in The States? Please American friends, explain this to me. Does Hollywood have to fake rooftop scenes due to legal restrictions since 9/11? If so, they do it a hell of a lot more convincingly than is presented in The Room.

Anyway, Wiseau's performance is pure gold... But for all the wrong reasons. Just look at what happens when he goes to buy some flowers;



Notice the "Hi Doggy"? Every single scene includes the line "Oh hi, Mark" or "Oh hi, Doggy", "Oh hi, Lisa", Oh hi, Johnny", "Oh hi insert name here". I'm sorry but if you have seen or even heard of the film, you probably know all this already.

Since it's release, Wiseau has gone on record saying that it was all deliberate. Some of the cast members have countered by claiming that he meant it to be a serious drama. Uh... lets not get into that, we're here to discuss his performance. So why is it the most ludicrous movie performance of all time? Because its like his character has no awareness of the fictional world around him; one minute he's protesting Lisa's accusations "I did not hit huuurrrr! I did naaaarrrrt", the next, he's singing he praises. The thing is, he actually wrote and directed this thing so there should be some kind of consistency there, it's not like he was reading from a script someone else wrote. In some ways, he's a marvelously eccentric performer and I'm actually really looking forward to his vampire movie and he's a great sport at those screenings (marred slightly by his claims it was a all on purpose, though that would explain a lot). Wiseau's even spoofed his own image on comedy shows and very funny little short called The House that Dripped Blood on Alex and he's so downright alien I wish someone would cast him as a Doctor Who villain. He's like Christopher Walken and Klaus Kinski somehow had an illegitimate lovechild. I will leave you with a clip from the most famous scene from the movie. I suggest you see it AT ALL COSTS.

5 Most Ludicrous Movie Performances Of All Time Part 4

Sometimes an artist must struggle for years to get their vision up there on the silver screen, whether they be a director, actor, screenwriter or producer (sometimes all of these), he or she must toil on lesser projects for most of their career until finally, one day, they have the commercial clout and box office success that allows them to initiate their dream project. Often, they may find themselves biting off more than they can chew but their love and downright faith in the artistic integrity and box office potential of the most treasured and personal work of their life allows them to overcome overwhelming odds and bring in something to be admired and reverred for generations.

Other times, things don't quite work out as planned...

2. John Travolta - Battlefield Earth
Considering that John Travolta struggled for years to bring a movie version of his favourite novel to the screen, it's nothing short of amazing he let it get so bad. It was his pet project, his dream and only made possible when producer Elie Samaha picked it up. Samaha specialised in making movies that stars wanted to make; movies that had trouble finding funding despite the fact that a major name was not only already attached but was the person motivating its production in the first place. Most studios considered the project risky, mainly because it would require expensive special effects, the book's narrative was stuck in the 1950s and some were concerned that, as it was penned by L. Ron Hubbard, its (indirect) connections to Scientology would prove controversial and they were right because, despite the Church of Scientology pointing out that the story had nothing to do with Scientology (and, as far as I can tell, it doesn't), the press jumped on the idea anyway. Many big-name directors (including Quentin Tarantino) turned it down and the job went to Roger Christian who had been an assistant to George Lucas and who, for some reason, shot the entire film using Dutch Tilts so that not a single shot is framed horizontally. Not only does the camerawork give you a headache but the plot makes no sense. None whatsoever. However, as this is a list regarding performers and not the productions they appear in, let's take a moment to study Oscar nominated Travolta's subtle and dignified performance;



OK John. So you spend 15 years trying to get your dream project off the ground and, after pulling off Pulp Fiction you do this? What were you thinking? He's so, so, so bad, you spend ever minute of the film he's not on the screen waiting for him to make another appearance. You just can't believe how hammy he is. Why is he annunciating ev-ery sin-gle syll-a-ble? And what's with his hand? He does that camp hand gesture throughout the whole goddamn movie! What does he think this is? Bad Victorian melodrama? It's like he had some perverse impulse to destroy the very project that was dear to him. You know when a star has a very public nervous breakdown? Its like that; horrible to watch but, like a car crash, something within you forces you to keep your eyes firmly glued to the screen. In his defence, though... nah, I got nothing. Travolta was so involved in the production that he's no one to blame but himself.

This isn't just camp, this isn't just Hammy with a capital "H", this is beyond the pale. In fact, it's soooo beyond the pale it was never in the pale in the first place. Take a look at this, where he not only goes over-the-top, he actually adds the letter "H" to words the letter "H" has no business to be;




"Hattention! Theeesse eeeez TERL!!! Yhour Ch-heif of se-cur-herrre!-teee! Hexteriminate hall mhan-hanimals hat w-hil! Hand happy hunting!"
 
Being able to speak like that is an accomplishment in itself. I know of only one other man who has acheived it and that's Cartmen from South Park. Now, I'll be going into the production of Battlefield Earth in more depth at a later date so we won't dwell too much on what's wrong with it (it'd be quicker to go into what's right with it). but suffice it to say that no one involved in the film really had the power to say to Travolta, "tone it down a bit, mate". Maybe they were worried they'd have their on-set catering rights revoked because presumably, Travolta would respond like this;
 

Friday, 18 March 2011

5 Most Ludicrous Movie Performances Of All Time Part 3

I was trying desperately to keep today's entry of this week's list. I've been wracking my brains for someone to replace him with, mainly because all the other entries don't seem to be aware that their performances have entered the realms ludicrousness and ludicroustitude but also, because today's subject is, in some ways, beyond criticism. The problem is, he's partly doing everything he does in this movie for attention, partly to get people to laugh and by that I mean that he doesn't seem to care whether people are laughing with him or at him. Also, he knows that almost every single aspect of his performance is totally beyond the pale of what is acceptable within the realms of sanity. Never the less, I've finally decided to include him because what his efforts finally boil down to is an almost deliberate attempt to destroy his own career. Brace yourself, because this one isn't pretty. It's...

Tom Green - Freddy Got Fingered
Here's a film that leaves half of its viewers in a state of anger and the other half sitting in a state of catatonic shock. And its all down to one man. Tom Green, who wrote and starred in this cinematic train wreck, though it can also be described as the ramblings of a mental patient. He shows so little restraint and so little regard for what is and isn't funny that he comes across as someone so seriously disturbed, its a wonder the studio executives didn't just call for the men in white coats upon seeing the first set of dailies. You spend the entire movie repeating "Why? Why? WHY?". Really, you do. Like, what's he doing here?



Is that supposed to be funny? It's just random. Now bare in mind, this whole thing is of Green's own making. There's a scene in the movie where he actually wanks off a horse. But there's no need to show that.


Oh shit! Horsecock! My eyes! My eyes!

Later, this happens.



See, the thing is, despite the fact that Freddy Got Fingered is about as good taste as Serbian Film, Green's performance is so ridiculous, you do find it funny. Just not in the way he thinks it is. He's like that kid at school who is determined to get attention at all costs, regardless of whether it makes people like him or beat him up. I just doesn't seem to realise that this isn't humour, its a nervous breakdown. But the movie completely Jumps The Shark when Green finds himself in a maternity ward and, witnessing a woman going into labour, ignores he pleas for a doctor and decides to deliver the baby himself. This results in probably one of the most disturbing scenes of child abuse I have ever had the displeasure to witness Green not only bites through the umbilical cord but then proceeds to swing the newborn around his head by it. Why? I don't know. The baby isn't actually breathing at this point and this does seem to save the child's life but all the audience sees is a helpless, screaming mother witness a lunatic use her 30-second-old child as a lasso. In fact, actually, Serbian Film seems less fucking disturbing in comparison because Green is inviting us to laugh at his antics. After witnessing this, the fact that Green gets the baby breathing and reunites him with his mother, seemingly unharmed and alive, no longer makes up for what he just did.

The problem is,  I can see Green reading any form of criticism of the movie and just snickering with smugness. He knows none of this is acceptable as comedy and that it isn't funny in the conventional sense. He seems to think of himself more of a surrealist than a comedian. The problem lies with the fact that the audience don't see it that way. People watch this film more out of awe than to be entertained. While he had once shown his cancerous, amputated bollock-in-a-jar on national television and announced "check your balls" in both an attempt to be shockingly funny and to raise awareness of testicular cancer, Freddy Got Fingered just seems to be a list of atrocities for no reason or purpose other than to show how low Hollywood has sunk where we are invited to laugh at beastialty, child abuse, mental illness, accidental death, still born babies and compound fractures. Worse still, it says something about how low we ourselves have sunk because, for all of this, you do actually catch yourself laughing really, really hard at times.

And you will, at some point in your life after
watching this movie, find yourself putting your
suit on the wrong way round and singing,
"I'm the backwards man,
I'm the backwards man..."

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

5 Most Ludicrous Movie Performances Of All Time Part 2

Whereas last time we had the displeasure of experiencing the screaming yelps of bizarre man-poodle Chris Tucker, today, in Part 2, we bare witness to a man who's performance is almost the exact opposite. In fareness to him, it was a difficult decision to pick him out from the rest of the cast of the particular movie we're examining here, since his fellow cast members all seem to be desperately trying to out-ludicrous each other. However, they seem to be doing it deliberately. This movie is full of ham; what else would you expect from a movie that features Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Richard E. Grant and Cary WE'RE MEN! WE'RE MEN IN TI- IGHTS Elwes? But wheras these veterans seem to fully realise that they're in what is little more than a pantomime, our boy here may actually be taking things a little too... shall we say, intensely? He is, of course...

Keanu Reeves - Bram Stoker's Dracula
Jonathan Harker has always been a tricky character since he's basically the boring romantic lead who has little to do after the best part of the book (and most movie versions) is over. Once the action moves from Transylvania to England, he pretty much moves into the background. Film makers have approached the problem in various ways over the years; Werner Herzog, in his 1979 revisionist remake of Nosferatu cast Bruno Ganz in the role and turned the first few chapters of the novel into the entire first half of the film, allowing Ganz to deliver a sensitive and complex reading of the role. In most of the second half, he sits in a chair suffering from what appears to be post traumatic shock but what turns out to be something far, far worse. He's probably the best Jonathan Harker there has been. In the 1958 Hammer version, they actually go so far as to kill off the character (played this time by John Van Eyssen) as soon as Dracula vacates his home. In dramatic terms, the Jonathan Harker of the novel is bland, bland, bland. It's no wonder, then, that in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels (forget the film, it didn't happen, you never saw it, just pretend it doesn't exist) Mina is divorced.

When Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola tried, in 1992 to give us a faithful rendition of the tale (allegedly), he decided to be true to the novel's roots and cast a cardboard cutout Keanu Reeves in the role and got him to do one the most amazing English accents ever attempted on film and by amazing, I don't mean good. Who can forget his delivery of such classic lines as "Wot in feect harpooned to Meestar Renfield in Trarnsylveinieea?" or...




Is it me, or does he look like he really needs the toilet in that scene but, being a dashing Victorian gent and that, he does not what to shock his delicate Victorian damsel Winona Rider with suggestions of his water closet related arrangements? And what is with her in this scene? Look at the way she's trying to make herself look small, as if she really doesn't want to be seen with this fake British guy who puts talc in his hair.
 
Of course, nothing beats this scene, in which he delivers what is probably the most famous line in the movie;
 



"Ea've scene meny strainje things alroddy, Count! Blooody wooolves cheeseing me throo a bloo infurnoo!". No wonder Gary Oldman looks like he's about to laugh his ass off in every scene they share together. Sure, I know Oldman looks like someone's granny who just mugged Jigsaw from the Saw movies before getting herself a nice perm, but at least he's wearing that shit with (Gay) pride. 
 
Now, most of us have seen Bram Stoker's Dracula and I have questions; I don't know if it's just me, but does his accent get worse as the film goes on? How is that even possible, since none of these scenes would have been shot in order? Maybe its just because he approaches sounding tolerable in his introductory voice-overs, which would have been recorded in post-production, meaning that he only got nearly passable by the time filming was actually over. And while in that pub scene, while he was jiggering all over the place like crack addict after too much coffee had irritated his bladder infection, he's stiff as a board in other scenes. He's like a plank with a bad haircut. Did anyone notice his eyes in that shaving scene? He didn't know where to look. At one point, he actually looks at the camera. Go back and play it again. He looks at the fucking camera! Or maybe, totally bamboozled by Oldman's clearly deliberate over-the-top pantomime damery, he was just glancing at Coppola for help.
 
Now, I am in know way saying that Reeves is a bad actor. No, come on, I know people make fun of him but think back to My Own Private Idaho or the Bill and Ted movies or even The Matrix (the first one, once it actually gets going, the others were crap.). BUT he all too often phone's in a performance. In a movie where everyone is giving it WAY too much, he's not giving enough. But in real terms the fault lies with Coppola. Despite the fact that he's made two decent Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now, he's the guy who also gave us Jack and One From The Heart. He's wildly inconsistent and what he was thinking casting Ted Logan as a English estate agent?
 

Sunday, 13 March 2011

5 Most Ludicrous Movie Performances of All Time Part 1

Having not blogged for over a year, I've decided that I should probably be giving this thing more attention than I have been, especially since I keep coming up with ideas for new entries at least twice a day. So my apologies to you (especially my readers in Japan, since they're my only readers, for some reason) and if any of you do want to read my blogs from last year (only one of which is any good, this one, in fact; http://jonathan-sisson.blogspot.com/2010/01/10-weirdest-movies-of-all-time.html) check out my 2010 archives. So anyway, we'll kick off my return to the Internet with this, a 5 part series examining the Most Ludicrous Movie Performances of All Time.

The actors making the list have all delivered a performance of a very special calibre. While many of the films in which their characters appear vary greatly in quality form the just plane bad to middle-of-the-road exercises in mediocrity all the way up to what some might consider classic, the thespians involved are in a league of their own, all of them turning in performances so utterly over-the-top, so unconvincing and so without restraint that its a wonder the producers didn't ask for their money back and the acting school that these guys attended didn't rip up their diplomas. So lets take a deep breath, swallow some pain killers and break out the ear plugs for...

Chris Tucker - The Fifth Element
Man, I really, really hate this movie. I mean, yes, I know everyone else regards it as a  Euro-SciFi classic but come on, you only love it because you know you should hate it; it's like the Jean Paul Gaultier of movies; it looks ridiculous, has no idea what it's doing, wears a kilt to get in touch with its feminine side even though a kilt is a battle dress, has ridiculous bleach-blond hair, talks more like a character from 'Allo 'Allo than a real French person and possesses a sexuality so ambiguous even metrosexuals find it confusing. I'm still talking about the film, by the way, not Gaultier (who designed the costumes, unfortunately). For some reason, everyone loves this movie. I seem to be the only person on the planet that wants to scream "GET A FUCKING GRIP! A KILT'S A BATTLE DRESS!" in its face and then kick it in the nut-sack. Still talking about the movie, folks. Still talking about the movie. I mean, the plot's incredibly cliched, its horrible to look at, its filled with flying cars (because its the future), everything is fucking yellow, the villain's a clown without any menace whatsoever (he chokes on an olive for Christ's sake) and its directed by the Luc style-over-substance Besson.

But there is one thing that elevates this film from bad-movie-so-goofy-everyone-loves-like-a-child-who's-a-bit-"special" to crime against humanity. You know what I'm talking about. No matter how much of an apologist you are for this movie, you cannot excuse Chris Tucker as Ruby Rhod.




You know that scene in War of the Worlds where Tom Cruise gets so sick of Tim Robbins that he batters him to death with a spade? Well, Bruce Willis is obviously either made of stronger stuff or deaf. If he's not deaf and all those explosions didn't wipe out his hearing, then Chris Please Die Now Tucker's screaming probably did. How else can you explain the fact that he actually went to the trouble of saving his life? What's going on here? Is Bruce Willis supposed to be playing some kind of saint?
 



What did you just say? Did anyone actually catch any of that? What purpose does this idiot serve to the plot? Come to think of it, what purpose does any Chris Tucker character serve? Think of how much more awesome the Rush Hour movies would have been if they had just featured Jackie Chan kicking the shit out of people.

And if Besson had to have Ruby Rhod in this film, why did they have to have someone who talks to the air hostesses like a transvestite rapist? Why didn't they just ask Prince? It's obviously supposed to be him anyway! He may be nuts but at least he has a sort of flamboyant charm. I should know, my friend Nish-Cuppa-Tea (don't worry about her name; long story) made me sit through all of his movies, even the ones that were hardly released and impossible to get hold of, and I had to admit, there's something vaguely likable about him, or at least, there is when compared to this... this... this bastard. At least Prince can look his leading lady in the eye and hold a conversation with her. Seriously, ladies, what would you do if a guy in a frock who wouldn't shut the fuck up came up to you in a nightclub and started whispering obscenities in your ear? Tucker actually comes across as creepy. He might as well be wearing a sign saying "I'm Going to Shag You To Massage My Own Ego". Ruby Rhod is clearly the type of guy who gets laid by hitting on 13-year-old groupies. Besides, are we seriously meant to believe that this guy will be a major star 200 years from now and not an X Factor reject who will never be seen again? There's nothing likable about him.

Come to think of it, there's nothing likable about Chris Tucker either. Why does this guy still make movies? Wait, what's that? He hasn't graced the silver screen since 2006's Rush Hour 3? OK. Let's try to keep it that way.