25 June 2012

Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankhamen

Italy – 1969
Director – Ruggero Deodato
Wizard Home Video, 1984, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 26 minutes

It is no exaggeration to say that Wizard Video’s 1884 big-box version of Phenomenal and the Treasure of Tutankamen is the most shocking of VHS disappointment in recent memory. Wizard was Charles Band’s first distribution enterprise specializing in graphic exploitation films. Ruggero Deodato may not be one of the finest directors that Italy has offered up, but without regard to the quality of his work, he is one of the more interesting. As I slowly work my way through Wizard’s and Deodato’s respective catalogues (which only overlapped here,) I have come to expect at the very least banal entertainment.

Here we have the famous mask of Tutankhamen, stolen from a museum and replaced with a forgery the night before the opening of its Paris exhibition. The forgery is passed off as the original and then stolen, the original passed off as a forgery and one or the other put in place of the original. Several groups of shady characters vie for the treasure which never appears after the opening scene. Phenomenal is actually the name of a masked character who pops up randomly throughout the film to fight people involved with the thievery and keep the mysterious quotient unnecessarily high. Actually the dwindling plot is so bent on confusing the real identity of both Phenomenal and the authenticity of various copies of Tut’s mask and who has them that I got tired of the switches. I actually sat through it twice, but stopped giving a fuck about 30 minutes in.

I am looking for someone or something to blame for Phenomenal’s great disappointment. There are a number of factors that are important to consider here when looking for a suitable culprit, let us start with the sources. Production funding for Phenomenal was provided by star Mauro Parenti. Based on the result, most of it funded his vanity. Not to be forgotten is that Phenomenal is a knockoff of the already intellectually undemanding formulaic heist/caper movie pattern that gave us the James Bond franchise and Danger: Diabolik; the ad-nauseum repetition of predictable individualistic male-fantasy violence and sexual innuendo. It is also important to remember that Phenomenal was also Deodato’s first feature length film. He was fresh from assistant directing various exploitation movies as assistant to better known genre mentors like Antonio Margheriti.

But in my opinion the most important thing to consider is Wizard Video’s big box release which I have in my possession. Although they’re known for packaging low budget films in great box art, but it’s not looking promising here. This is the only version that I know of available in the States. It runs a generous 85 minutes, yet clearly lacks the “rampant nudity” which Fab Press's book on Deodato had promised. If you’ll forgive my shallowness in lieu of the foregoing evidence, breasts might have been a welcome relief from the tedium which I have just twice undergone for the sake of “history.”

Although theis scene was in the movie, all nudity has been cut from the Wizard cassette.
 Each of these elements is necessary for Phenomenal’s failure, but none is alone sufficient. The catastrophe that has just unfolded makes me glad for the concept of director as auteur/artist and the invention of the “Director’s Cut”. Unfortunately though, if such a version of Phenomenal were to exist it would likely still be hard to watch. That box is so big and beautiful and I wanted so badly to enjoy myself, but such a thing is not to be.

A slightly different version of this review originally appeared in Paracinema # 12. Lost Video Archive appears in each issue of Paracinema. Number 16 is coming out soon, with a new installment of LVA, we of course recommend that you pick it up ASAP

The two smaller images come courtesy of Tele Port City whom was also rather disappointed with this film..

22 June 2012

Rental Store - La Videoteca

This snazzy label is on my copy of the made for TV treasure A Gun in the House starring Sally Struthers and released on VHS by VCII. Where was La Videoteca? Did you rent there?

Rodeo Bloopers

Rodeo Bloopers
United States - 1989
MNTEX Entertainment, 1989, VHS
Run Time - 30 minutes

Like it's close natural cousin, the Monster Truck Blooper, Rodeo Bloopers is an entirely contextual joke. Without a strong background in rodeo phenomenology, I had very little understanding of what exactly made any of the myriad faceplants and near-gorings 'bloopers' per-se. While far from being an expert, my not-negligible exposure to rodeo had always led me to believe that these sort of things were pretty routine. Ride angry three-thousand pound bull, fall off, escape death, repeat. While perhaps thrilling entertainment for the participants, to an outsider it seemed rather run-of-the-mill.

Still, it would be remiss of me to suggest that the Rodeo Blooper is a altogether mythological phenomenon. The act of naming has a certain existential function in all cultures, acting as a way of understanding and relating to the greater physical world outside of the individual. So to call something a 'Blooper," while you and I may not understand, evokes a certain taxonomy of experience and observation for those of the 'in' group. It marks those who belong, and perhaps more importantly, it marks those who simply never will.

18 June 2012

Speed & Accuracy

Speed & Accuracy: Cowboy Action Style
United States - 1995
Director - Lenny Magill
Mail Order Video, VHS, 1997
Run Time - 1 hour, 20 minutes

11 June 2012

Wild Gals of the Naked West

United States - 1962
Director - Russ Meyer
RM Film International, VHS
Run Time -1 hour, 5 minutes

Perhaps I should make it perfectly clear and come clean just in case it hasn’t become obvious by now. No matter what I may say elsewhere, the fact is that I'm a heterosexual American male, so I can't help but like westerns. Most of the people that I know who are into horror and science-fiction films aren’t really big on the westerns. I’m not really sure why this is, and the reasons probably vary from person to person, but I’m guessing that it’s primarily due to the costumes. Well my friends, I have some good news to report. That problem has been solved (actually, quite some time ago.) Thanks to the unique and wonderful stylings of dedicated and intrepid writer/director/producer Russ Meyer, costumes are not a problem at all in Wild Gals of the Naked West.

Oh, I’d be lying to you if I said this was some kind of western with aliens or zombies, because it isn’t. It’s still a western, and there are still the usual boots, chaps and neckerchiefs. But you probably won’t even notice them, or at worst, you'll notice but won’t care. That’s because you’ll be taken in by the sheer volume of cutting edge filmmaking techniques displayed by this auteur director. First and foremost is the dramatic set design of Wild Gals. It's a sparse minimalistic look reminiscent of the finest groundbreaking German films of the silent era. I hesitate to say avant-garde (that’s French anyway), but it’s very different and experimental, sort of like meta-set-design if you know what I mean

Second is Wild Gals' pacing, a cacophony of repeated obnoxious Benny-Hillesque audio-blasts synched with a staccato of quick repetitive close-ups. It’s a collage effect very much ahead of its time, in fact it presages the fast-paced, short-attention-span editing style of films popular some 50 years later with today’s youth. It seems very nearly designed to induce a Pavlovian response to images rather than contributing in any way to the narrative. Don’t get me wrong, there is a story to Wild Gals, it just, how shall we say…. doesn't require much of an attention span at all.

Finally, and this is probably the most important innovation in the western genre since John Ford met John Wayne; the lack of costumes altogether. True, as I mentioned above there are still costumes, but here comes the kicker; not on everyone (or every body.) It is precisely the dearth of costumes, or more accurately their sparing use that makes Wild Gals such a watchable western. When half of the cast is barely wearing anything at all, the relative level of attention that the costumes get pretty much averages out if you ask me

All told Wild Gals of the Naked West is a deceptively simple film with an incredibly clever nucleus. Budgetarily it may not be a shining star, but what it does have it isn’t afraid to hang out in the open. Actually its willingness to bare itself in all sorts of ways is what makes this film such a special piece of cinema history. So I guess I'm not sorry that I like westerns. Ever since my first mindboggling exposure to Wild Gals so many years ago, I have held for them a very dear place in my bosoms.

07 June 2012

Cop and a Half

If you were hoping for a long diatribe on the relative merits of Cop and a Half versus, say Cops and Robbersons, I'm really sorry to disappoint you. Instead you'll have to head on over to the always whimsical and often juvenile Illogical Contraption and content yourself with my drunken rambling essay on the  the Buddy Cop genre and the revolutionary, game-changing shrinkage of Axel Foley into an 8 year old child.

Because the promotional art for the film didn't quite capture the whole mood I was going for, above you will find a picture of the cover of the novelization.
You can also follow the ever growing links 'Buddy Cops' and 'Axel Foley' if you want to read more about this wonderful subset of American popular culture.

I hesitate to say nauseous, but this picture does make me uncomfortable.

04 June 2012

Alyssa Milano's Teen Steam

Teen Steam
United States - 1988
Director - Rick Elgood, Howard Woffinden
J2 Communications, 1988, VHS
Run Time -45 minutes

About a month ago as I was crudely pounding out the Preliminary Taxonomy of Exercise VHS a creepy memory came back to me. Who's The Boss was prime-time television at about the time that my parents got rid of the TV, so my only awareness of that show and its cultural significance came in retrospect. Nor did I have much awareness of Alyssa Milano who starred primarily in relationship drama shows as an adult. Yet somehow I knew that this existed. As I was compiling a list of oddball exercise videos with some friends this thing popped into my head and it took us almost two days to remember which 80's teen star was the host, and thence track down the tape.

That's when all those creepy recollections washed over me. To tell the truth though, by the time it finally arrived I had already sit through six other exercise videos and lost a great deal of my initial enthusiasm for the whole project. In the end though Teen Steam, if not a personal favorite, definitely anchors the genre at one end. Consisting of about 30 minutes of Alyssa and a couple of other girls doing some aerobics followed by a music video, there's not much to get excited about, unless you really try. The whole thing was after all attended closely by her parents (they appear several times in the credits) and I find it somewhat difficult to believe that they would intentionally capitalize on the pedophilia market.

Fortunately, even if they had, they did a pretty bad job. Judging by the reviews over at Amazon one would expect some sleaze, but it is not so. It may be an amusing time capsule (which needs to be reburied for a good 20 years to fully ferment) Teen Steam is pretty boring fare.

02 June 2012

David Carradine's Tai Chi Workout

 David Carradine's Tai Chi Workout
United States - 1993
Director - David Nakaharaa
Goldhil Video, 1993, VHS
Run Time - 58 minutes

Not long ago a friend of mine came over with a new cache of VHS tapes he had recently acquired. Among them was something that I hadn’t seen before; David Carradine’s Tai Chi Workout. As my friend and I were watching the tape I began wondering what Carradine’s uniformly leotarded extras were thinking. They seemed unenthusiastic, distracted and uncharacteristically deadpan for an exercise video (I’ve seen more than I wish to admit.) Were they silently lamenting the hideous color scheme of their outfits, or irritated by the tinny fake “Asian” music in the background? Perhaps they were trying to keep from laughing at Carradine’s thinning bowlcut and twig-like arms. Frankly, they looked storied, unstimulated, as if they’ve seen it all before. Just like any other job, I can picture them bitching about work and talking behind the boss’s back. Were they just going through the motions to collect a check, did they exchange war stories, sabotage each-other’s work?

Read more of my analysis and breakdown of the exercise home video boom, including a handy diagramatic family tree at Paracinema.net.

01 June 2012

Week of Back Talk!

One of the disappointing things about being a small time writer (at least to me) is that one yearns for feedback and dialogue from others, yet rarely gets it. This is particularly the case online where so much content is available for free and in the meantime one is frequently too self-interested.

I myself am often guilty of merely noting, but not reading the posts of my cohorts. In an modest effort to address this situation I'm pledging to leave at least two comments a day for the next week on my various comrade's blogs. Sound easy enough, but the catch is I have to actually read the post and be insightful in my response!

Since I was duped into the Twitter-hole, I'll Tweet (@SethGoodkind) a link to the site in question each time I comment on a fellow's article or review, that way there's accountability. (you can also see my Tweets on this blog just above Linda Blair.)

What's more, I challenge readers of this blog to follow suit, it's not that hard, read someone's post and say something! You can get started by looking at my comrade's recent entries in the sidebar to the right. There's lot's of content everyday, so there is plenty to think about and respond to!

Join me, dialogue is AMAZING!

Commence Week of BACK TALK!
United States - 1952
Director - David Bradley