26 July 2010

Blood Feast Comic Book

The title is pretty cool, but to put it directly over the crucial part of the image? What were you thinking! There's a huge ass empty white space at the bottom of the page! Furthermore, there has to be a good reason to put something off center, particularly if the element itself is symmetrical as the title is in this case. Man, talk about bad design. Is it any wonder Eternity comics went belly up? It's been a while since I saw the film, but I don't remember much sex in Blood Feast, maybe they took some liberties with the story line. Let's find out...
Read the entirety of issue 1 (minus some advertisements) HERE.

23 July 2010

A Fistful of Dollars

Italy - 1964
Director - Sergio Leone

I recently discovered that well known illustrator Bob Peak did some posters for the Sergio Leone westerns, including these two, or rather this one, re-designed for an advance (below, notice no title). If you're an illustrator, make sure your contract precisely describes how, and how many times the client is allowed to use your artwork.
Incidentally, you can also download a free version of that title font at 1001 Free Fonts, it's called "Eastwood."

20 July 2010


United States – 1989
Director – James Shyman
Rentertainment, 1990, VHS
Run Time – too long

God bless anything shot on video and I specifically mean video tape. It betrays a certain confidence in the format that is absent from later incarnations of enthusiast cinema. Back then, clever titles and box art were all a buyer had to go on, and that is exactly what brings us to Slashdance, a film so quintessentially box-art reliant that it brings to mind the “I Will Dance on Your Grave” series from Eden Entertainment. Each of which was a terrible homemade horror film packaged under lurid cover art and a series title intended to conjure Meir Zarchi’s rugged I Spit on Your Grave.* These days the internet makes it possible to instantly exchange information on the contents and quality of a film and thus avoid the crushing disappointment that typified such deceptively packaged stuff as Slashdance and I Will Dance On Your Grave: Cannibal Hookers. Now we use the web to talk about how “cool” shitty it is, and want it all the more.

Unfortunately that level of communication does not grace Slashdance itself which is barely held together by vaguely cross referencing dialogue and a cast of well built women who thrash and wobble their way around a tiny collapsing theater stage in New York. Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of talking, everyone is always talking, but they never really put a consistent narrative dialogue together, there is no “communication”.

Ironically one of the temptations of very-low budget film-making is to compensate for a lack of expansive physical atmosphere, locations or even violence and nudity, with extra dialogue. But convincing, realistic dialogue is really hard to write, and all that verbal padding inevitably ends up strained and innocuous, and often delivered in absurdly affected voices. The assumption seems to be that regular conversation is full of crude physical innuendoes rather than anything subtle or simple. In trying to make up for a lack of anything else, Slashdance has overstocked its shelves with the cheapest but hardest to produce commodity. It literally took me three sit-downs to make it all the way through this film.

It is true, I have an affection for the 1980’s which belies my otherwise bellicose attitude toward fashionable retreads. Nevertheless, my attachment to that ultimately unremarkable decade remains firm. The film that I think captures the self absorbed essence of that era is Flashdance, for it bonds painful vanity, leg warmers and faux empowerment in a single profoundly shallow package. Slashdance also seamlessly combines several distinct elements into one convenient nugget. Boring and painful however, are significantly less iconic than Irene Cara’s “What A Feeling”. When you know you have a shitty product I guess you can’t be blamed for trying to recoup your losses by loading your box art with the very things with which you have utterly failed to imbue your movie. Forgive me if it makes me sad when I think of all the lost potential of that cover art and the inspirational namesake, my optimism sometimes forces me to suffer through any debasement.

*. A.K.A. Day of the Woman, 1978, The unofficial sequel, Savage Vengeance stars the actress from the original, and ironically was one of the films in Eden's I Will Dance On Your Grave series.

This review originally appeared in Paracinema Magazine #9, April 2010.

16 July 2010

Sony Betamax SL-5800

Found this in a magazine from December 1980, it's literally dripping with symbolism.
I find it amusing that the guy is in what appears to be a study, suggesting that he possesses both  intelligence and culture. His throne and scepter pose is very fascist/monarchical, and we look slightly up at him, silhouetted and semi anonymous in front of a blazing light as if simultaneously deity and monolith. He is the epitome of unassailable power, reinforced by the lead copy; "Experience the freedom of total control." This dude answers to no one, in fact according to the headers for each segment of the body copy he is the "master" of numerous things that might as well have nothing to do with a video program. Clearly this advert is appealing to a power hungry masculinist psychology well beyond the innocent videophile.
Heavy man, heavy.

12 July 2010

Cellblock Sisters

United States – 1995
Director – Henri Charr
PM Entertainment Group, 1995, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 35 minutes

Instead of simply placing an innocent girl in corrupting circumstances to see what happens, Cellblock Sisters takes two effectively identical girls, and proposes an answer to the age old question of nature vs. nurture. By taking two sisters separated by a year or so in age, and subjecting them to different upbringings this mocie asserts that it is strictly environ mental factors that turn a woman into a beast. In posing this question however, there is an unspoken assumption of what a woman should be.

While still infants, sisters April and May are sold off by their mother’s drunken biker boyfriend Sam. Their mother, a hillbilly junkie with a terrible fake southern accent agrees at first, thinking the girls are only going to a home until she can clean herself up. Well after the girls are gone, she realizes what has happened and attacks Sam who “accidentally” kills her. Over the next sixteen years, each girl is raised in a completely different environment by their foster parents. May has been living in England, a place normatively associated with propriety and a particularly ordered domesticity. As such, she is quickly identified as the protagonist because she has idealized feminine qualities: the innocence, virginity and most importantly the potential. She is as yet unspoiled and thus her future unwritten.

Her sister April on the other hand has spent the intervening years in Los Angeles, the iconic lawless border town in the tradition of the U.S. western. It is the quintessential metropolitan metaphor for vice and corruption. During her upbringing it is insinuated that her foster father sexually abused her. Eventually, years later after killing him, she continued a life of violent crime and now pushing a whopping 18 or19 years old, is the leader of a gang of cheap biker thugs. Because she was irredeemably “tainted” as a child, we know that she can have no future to speak of. We rejoin the sisters just as May, wearing a white skirt and jacket, arrives in Los Angeles to see her long lost sister for the first time.

It is here that May finds herself spiraling into corruption almost as soon as she meets her sister. One of their fist moments together is at the gang’s party shack where April presents May with a black leather jacket, “my leather jacket, now it’s yours.” Thus May’s innocence is symbolically tarnished by association with her sister’s tough and dark character. The corruption continues when April takes May to murder Sam, the father who sold them in the film’s opening minutes. April flees the scene of the crime, but May, tormented by the need to know where Sam buried their mother, stays behind with him as he dies and is subsequently sent to prison for his murder.

09 July 2010

Guyana Tragedy

United States - 1980
Director - William A. Graham
VCII Incorporated, 1983, VHS
Run Time - 3 hours, 12 minutes

I picked up this awesome  double tape set a few months ago when I was all excited about VCII. I haven't watched it yet, but it has an "all-star" cast including Powers Boothe as Jim Jones!

On Dangerous Ground

United States - 1952
Director - Nicholas Ray
Starring Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan

06 July 2010

Lunchmeat Magazine

Many years ago I was into print publishing. In fact, that’s sortof how I got into writing about movies, by publishing a little punk zine in my backwater hometown. While I am reluctant to call blogs the zines of the 00’s because they frequently require so much less effort than their predecessors, the comparison nevertheless seems mildly apt. In the case of blogs, one just has to filter through a lot more shitty ones before you get to the good stuff. Because they had to be physically constructed, zines required much more commitment and consistency than a blog which (like this one) is also frequently constrained by sctructural limitations imposed by the service provider. While there are many blogs that I think do a remarkable job, I still think that zines, with all their flaws were a much more appealing and fulfilling format.

Now zines are largely dead, and magazines, even well known titles, are struggling to stay in print. Hence it takes even more cojones than ever to try and put out something in print these days. When Josh got in touch with me a month or so ago I couldn’t believe that he was actually putting out a print magazine, much less one devoted to VHS tapes. Lunchmeat Magazine is just that however. It is the magazine I’d like to think I would put out if I had the cojones to tackle such a labor intensive project. I like to think of it as a retro-reunion of sorts, putting print media and video cassettes in the same place seems to me so, well, fitting really. Lunchmeat does it well, with numerous reviews of forgotten video-only flicks from the VHS era and interviews with low budget indie filmmakers printed on quality paper and sandwiched between glossy full-color covers. I hope they'll forgive me for pointing out a flaw or two so that I don't sound entirely sycophantic. Some of the images were so pixelated they made me cringe, and I noticed a few grammatical errors and other minor foibles. Nevertheless, I understand the limitations of indie niche-media and will no doubt do the same myself in the future (maybe in this article). Actually, they're a reminder that real people are actually making the thing.

The point is that Lunchmeat is doing something few people are willing to do anymore, and doing it well. In the first issue Josh sent me (above) I found movies I'd never even heard of, and subsequently tracked down my own copies to watch. I'm hopeful that some time in the near future, Lunchmeat and LVA will collaborate on a project. Consider the bad magazines filtered out. I suggest you track down your own copy of Lunchmeat.


05 July 2010

From Betamax to Blockbuster

Until about six months ago when I was writing a research paper on VHS and home video, I hadn’t considered including book reviews on Lost Video Archive, but several of the resources I used seemed particularly well suited to inclusion here. I believe that films are historical mirrors of their contexts, and as such, understanding how film changes, even technologically, builds a more holistic understanding of those contexts. The development of home video as a viable commercial enterprise was much more complicated than just putting it on shelves for people to buy. It required a fundamental restructuring of the way studios marketed their product, and how the public viewed movies as a cultural artifact. The creation of home video basically rearranged the entire cultural construction of what movies were. Instead of experiences, they became objects, instead of memories and stories they became possessions. It is a history that can be told from any number of subjective points of view, but Joshua Greenberg focuses on one forgotten aspect. Because all of us as consumers are familiar with the retail rental store, that aspect has received lots of attention. Greenberg’s book From Betamax to Blockbuster bridges an important gap between studio and rental outlet/consumer.

His subheading may be “Video Stores and the Invention of Movies on Video”, but his narrative is primarily concerned with the juncture between studio film makers and the public. Making a successful business out of home video required the creation of a whole new marketing and sale structure, e.g. middlemen. As Greenberg sees it, distributors were instrumental in communicating the public desire for content back to a reluctant film industry. Studios were reluctant to let go of the pay-per-view royalties that were associated with theater and television screenings and set up all kinds of schemes to try and prevent permanent sales of their product on video.

By the end of From Betamax to Blockbuster, (and as this blog attests) the studios got on board with the idea of “home video,” and the product took off. While I would have enjoyed a more in depth discussion of the studio perspective, and it would have made the book better, I understand that Greenberg was intentionally restricting his narrative. Even with its limited scope the book covers a great deal of history that I had never considered, and as such it was a great read and a must have for any serious videophile or movie historian.

02 July 2010

Capricorn One

United States - 1977
Director - Peter Hyams
Avid Home Entertainment, 1993, VHS
Run Time - 2 hours, 3 minutes
I'll admit that the idea of landing people on the Moon during the height of the Vietnam War is a bit of a paradox if you think about it. It's quite possible that that is one of the reasons conspiracy theorists came up with the whole faked Moon landing story. Here, in a roundabout way, an all star cast takes a whack at Moon landing conspiracies and general distrust of the government by faking a landing on Mars and taking on a federal coverup.