Kendra Steiner Editions

November 30, 2013

Hildegard Knef is CATHERINE OF RUSSIA (Italy-France-Yugoslavia, 1963), directed by Umberto Lenzi

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 6:49 pm

CATHERINE OF RUSSIA (aka Caterina di Russia), Italy-France-Yugoslavia 1963

starring HILDEGARDE KNEF/NEFF as Catherine

directed and co-written by UMBERTO LENZI

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An early entry in the filmography of the great Italian genre-film auteur UMBERTO LENZI, CATHERINE OF RUSSIA is a well-mounted and intriguing European costumed historical adventure starring the always-interesting smoky-voiced HILDEGARD KNEF (also known as Hildegarde Neff), who fortunately dubs her own voice in the English language print I watched, copied from a 1980’s Greek VHS tape with Greek subtitles. The film also slows down and speeds up at odd occasions, as if whoever transferred the videotape leaned against the fast forward button for a second or so…also, it’s a pan-and-scan edition, probably originally intended for American television broadcasts.

However, in spite of the mediocre presentation on the DVD-R copy that’s making the grey-market rounds, CATHERINE OF RUSSIA is full of court intrigue, battles, back-stabbing insiders, and impressive-looking costumes (however accurate they may or may not be–the intended audience, including yours truly, would not really know).

Peter III, as played by Raoul Grassilli, is a petty tyrant but at the same time a blustering buffoon. He reminded me of the depiction of Nero in various sword and sandal films, but without the gluttony. Imagine my surprise, after thinking him Nero-esque, when two-thirds of the way through the film HE TAKES OUT HIS VIOLIN! It’s a hokey performance, not unlike Vincent Price in his late 60s/early 70s over-the-top period, but it does work…it’s a nice touch that this man who never listens to anyone and is totally convinced of his own brilliance (his fatal flaw) begins to ask his girlfriend for advice right as things are falling apart and he’s about to be arrested.

Hildegard Knef is wonderful as Catherine. I totally disagree with the person on the IMDB (only two people have reviewed this) who finds her performance one-note and wooden. She is truly regal, her powerful presence smolders, and dubbed in English by the unique voice of Knef herself, all the emotion comes through fine. She is very sympathetic, and while I do not know (or care) how accurate this depiction is, it works dramatically.

Of course, the audience for a dubbed European costumed historical drama from the early 1960’s, presented in a pan and scan TV version, is not large (I’d say everyone reading this already knows whether he/she wants to see it), but this film is so unknown, even in collectors’ circles, that I felt obliged to call attention to it. I’ll probably never get to see a restored widescreen version of this film, but at least this format captures the way that most of us in North America would have seen the film back in the day on a local UHF station at 2 a.m.—-the only difference being we’d probably be watching it on a black and white television set.

The allure of such films is that even with their modest budgets (and this was better-budgeted than many of the lower-rung spectacles) they create a kind of pulp fantasy history, with people in garish costumes and powdered wigs and horse-driven carriages and ornate royal traditions engaging in melodramatic shenanigans with assorted battles and sword-fights and tyrants barking orders at underlings who would knife them in the back at the first opportunity. These films are also not made with any agenda—-usually there is not any revisionist history worth commenting on. It’s not like an Oliver Stone film where we are presented with a conspiracy-theory reinterpretation of past events…or Spielberg’s LINCOLN, where Lincoln is recreated in 2012 terms so the film tells us much much more about the year of its creation than the 1860’s. Whatever historical period is being presented in 50’s/60’s European historical genre-films is just a prop—we could just as easily be in outer space or the Old West. The setting is an interchangeable signifier. That’s how Hercules/Maciste can turn up in Greece, Rome, Aztec Mexico, or the Scotland of the middle ages—who really cares? It’s all played on a level that has universal primal appeal, and thus can be shown dubbed in any language and shown in any country. The folks in Singapore or Kenya or Argentina like a good story and an epic sweep (on a budget) as much as anyone else does, and like me, most of them are not historians. To this film’s credit, Hildegard Knef DOES turn Catherine into a three-dimensional character, very much unlike the way Peter is depicted….he might as well be Ming The Merciless or General Custer.

There are a number of lesser-known gems in the early 60’s career of director Umberto Lenzi. These were the films where he learned his craft, by working in the popular Italian film-formula genres of the day. They hold up well, and they deserve a better fate than being traded in pan-and-scan versions on DVD-R’s taken from cheap 80’s slow-speed VHS tapes released in Greece or Indonesia or Finland.

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November 22, 2013

Pierre Brice and Rod Cameron in “Winnetou: Thunder At The Border” (Germany-Yugoslavia 1966), directed by Alfred Vohrer

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 8:46 pm

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WINNETOU: THUNDER AT THE BORDER (aka Winnetou und Sein Freund Old Firehand)

Germany-Yugoslavia 1966, directed by Alfred Vohrer

starring Pierre Brice, Rod Cameron, Marie Versini, and Todd Armstrong

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Most North Americans do not realize the significance of the writings of Karl May in German popular culture and Germany’s views of the American West. May never visited North America, but created (among many other works set in many other places) a complete “Western” fantasy world in his novels dealing with the American Indian character WINNETOU. His popularity as an adventure writer who captured the imaginations of millions of readers, particularly during their adolescence, with vividly drawn fantasy worlds in “foreign” settings  is perhaps analogous to that of Emilio Salgari in Italy or Edgar Rice Burroughs in the USA. Even today, there are still “Winnetou” conventions in Europe, and Europeans taken with his work make pilgrimages to the American West, visiting Native American communities and perhaps blending the real West with the West of May’s works and the West of the Croatian locations where the popular Winnetou films of the 1960’s were shot. (Note: many years ago, I read May’s THE OIL PRINCE in English translation, published by the University of Nebraska Press)

In most of the 1960’s films, Winnetou, an Apache chief (sympathetically played by the charismatic Pierre Brice), was paired with his white “blood brother” Old Shatterhand, played by Lex Barker, who became a star as Tarzan and followed that up with various Westerns and detective films and then roles in European historical adventures. The athletic, handsome Barker was a good enough actor to communicate great warmth and empathy and authority, even when dubbed. The series was such a success that in addition to the Barker films, Stewart Granger was brought in as Old Surehand for three films, and Granger brought his usual elegance and wit to the role, creating a character who was a good match for Winnetou, yet distinctively different from Barker’s character.

Then came Rod Cameron—-star of serials, westerns, and US television—as OLD FIREHAND in Winnetou: Thunder At The Border, the second-to-last in the series (Barker was brought back for the final entry, IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH).

After almost 10 (depending on how you count them) entries, the producers no doubt felt that some new blood needed to be pumped into the Winnetou franchise. Rod Cameron, usually an exciting and powerful leading man, was one new element. Also, by this time, the Italian westerns had become a huge phenomenon, not just in Europe but internationally. The German westerns in the Winnetou series never looked remotely like Spaghetti westerns. The lush rich landscapes and panoramic photography of the sweeping Croatian (then part of Yugoslavia, a co-production partner) hills and plains was matched by the lush, rich, and sweeping musical soundtracks of Martin Bottcher. This was the opposite of the dry, decaying, treacherous Mexican border area where so many Italian westerns were set, with their “Spanish” themed twanging guitars and mariachi-flavored trumpets on the musical soundtrack. With WINNETOU: THUNDER AT THE BORDER, it’s as if the series incorporated elements of the Italian western, thinking it would help at the box office. In doing so, the aspects that made the Winnetou series so distinctive were cast aside, but the Italians could still make a much more convincing Italian western than the Germans (or Yugoslavs) could, so what we were left with was a curious hybrid. Neither fish nor fowl, the film is impressive-looking (every entry in the series was VERY well-made), and if you’d never seen another Winnetou film, it would pass as average Eurowestern entertainment, but I’d have to judge it a misfire on a number of levels.

First of all, Winnetou is almost a guest star in his own movie here. In the Lex Barker films, Winnetou is at least equal to, if not more important than, his Caucasian blood-brother. Why he and his sister (and a handful of others from his tribe) are down in the Mexican border area is never really explained. Also, he’s not integral to the plot. Other than setting the plot in motion in the first ten minutes, after that, he could be taken from the film, and the main conflict would not really be affected. Clearly, there was no intent to further develop the Winnetou character, but just use the Winnetou name for box office appeal. I’m sure Pierre Brice sensed this when reading the script before the film was made.

Second, the special and deep relationship between Winnetou and Shatterhand is totally missing here. You could sense the love between the two characters in the earlier films. Here, Winnetou and Old Firehand meet at the beginning of the film and agree to assist each other, and while they are polite to each other and do save each other’s skins a few times, they don’t really get to know each other at all. The earlier films were about the relationship more than anything else; that’s not important here. Brice and Cameron can’t be faulted…the script just doesn’t give them those kind of scenes together, and when they are together, nothing special happens…they just HELP each other the way any two people on the same side of a conflict in a Western help each other.

Third, the Mexican border setting (and with the military officer in the film being a MEXICAN military officer, the film is taking place on the Mexican side of the border, though this is never really made clear) totally robs the film of the unique feel of the earlier entries in the series. It does not LOOK like a Winnetou film.

And there are many other problems. For some reason, the film’s musical score was handed over to Peter Thomas. Thomas was a brilliant and inventive film composer, a true original…perfect for the early 60s German crime films and adaptations of the works of Edgar Wallace. His jazzy, ironic, quirky, trombone-heavy scores were the perfect counterpoint to the stylized B&W visuals. Here, it sounds like Peter Thomas bringing his usual shtick to the Western score and thus sounding like a novelty western score–or worse, a PARODY of a western score. That does not help the overall effect of the film. Also, the second lead Causasian character, played by Todd Armstrong (of Jason and the Argonauts fame),  is kind of a jerk, the way the character is written. Whenever he would make a move (more like sexual harassment than anything cute) toward Winnetou’s sister, played by Marie Versini, I was shouting out at the screen, “no, push him away, he’s not good enough for you.” Fortunately, the film’s plot made them getting together impossible…fortunately for Winnetou’s sister, that is. And Rod Cameron, always an actor of authority who was perhaps the ultimate square-jawed B-movie hero in serials or detective films and TV shows, as well as a successful B-western star, is not really given much to do here. The ridiculous coonskin cap (meant to establish him as a trapper) seems kind of out of place in Mexico—you’d think he’d take it off in the 100-degree heat. And Cameron isn’t given that much to do with Winnetou, nor do we ever really get a sense of development or closure with the woman he meets whom he knew back in St. Louis or wherever, who is the mother of the boy Old Firehand serves as mentor to.  Is HE the boy’s father? Does he get back together with the lady at the film’s end? That’s not clearly established. And the end seems a bit abrupt. I actually rewound the film back 10 minutes from the end to see if I’d missed something, but no, that was it. I did not get the sense that any effort was put into fashioning a satisfying or distinctive ending…or building up a well-thought-out climax. The antagonist was already mostly beaten 2/3 of the way through the film…so he gets entirely beaten at the end, yawn.

As THUNDER AT THE BORDER, this film DID get a US theatrical release (a number of the Winnetou films did), so there IS an English-dubbed version of this out there (I hope Rod Cameron, who has an impressive deep “manly” voice, dubbed the English version—the person who did the German dialogue sounds NOTHING like him), but I viewed a beautiful letter-boxed German version, subtitled in English. However, the “English” subtitles seemed to be automatically generated, a la Google translate, as they made little sense (and they were not a literal translation of the German, either) and every 8th or 10th word was Dutch-looking gobbledygook. I had to rely on the two semesters of German I had 30 years ago.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, it’s only because the earlier entries in this series were so distinctive and so good. That there is still an active Winnetou cult today, 50 years after the films were made, is due to the earlier films, NOT to this one. On the standard 4-star scale, this would be a solid 2 1/2 star film, and not an unpleasant way to kill 95 minutes. It LOOKS great, Pierre Brice is always good to see in this role (even when not given much to do), and Rod Cameron fans will enjoy seeing him in a new and different setting. But watch some of the Lex Barker or Stewart Granger WINNETOU films before you watch this one. If you are new to Rod Cameron, get the multi-disc set of his STATE TROOPER tv series instead of this. This is basically an awkward footnote to a classic film franchise…

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November 19, 2013

Ray Danton in “The Last Mercenary” (Germany-Italy-Spain 1968), directed by Mel Welles

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 8:21 pm

THE LAST MERCENARY

Germany-Italy-Spain 1968  (shot on location in Spain and Brazil, interiors done in Barcelona)

starring RAY DANTON

directed by Mel Welles (credited on some prints to Dieter Muller)

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THE LAST MERCENARY did play theatrically in the US, distributed by Excelsior Pictures (hmmm, is that any relation to the company of the same name once operated by Dwain Esper?), and the American release print is what seems to have been used for the 1980’s Dutch VHS release my dvd-r of this film comes from (it’s subtitled in Dutch).

A European co-production, THE LAST MERCENARY looks from a distance like a war film, based on the posters, but after the initial scenes of Danton fighting as a mercenary in some African conflict, the film moves to Brazil, where Danton’s character (Marco Anderson) is working as a low-level hired gun, in this case protecting a mine against crooked business interests (including a mute “Man In Black”!!!) who seek to put the mine out of business. Considering the Brazilian (or Spanish–after the scenes in Rio, who knows where it was shot) setting and Danton’s riding a horse and the vaguely Spanish-sounding music, the film seems like a Western. One could easily imagine this set in the late 1800’s with George Hilton in the role, or frankly, if Danton’s character were cleaned up a bit (and kept his hands off his boss’s wife), this plot could be used in a 40’s Tim Holt or Charles Starrett western. Machine guns and hand grenades do re-emerge in the film’s final third, however.

Ray Danton has always been one of my favorite movie tough guys of the 50s and 60s. After a strong career in the US in films such as THE LONGEST DAY, THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND, THE GEORGE RAFT STORY, THE BEAT GENERATION, and THE BIG OPERATOR, Danton began working in European genre films (jungle/spy/crime) and doing guest starring roles on a number of American TV shows, alternating the two. He moved into directing in the early 70’s with the drive-in classics THE DEATHMASTER (starring Robert Quarry) and THE PSYCHIC KILLER (starring Jim Hutton), and then branched into television directing, where he had a long and successful career until his death in 1992. While in Europe, Danton made a wide variety of films and wound up working for such legendary directors of Jesus Franco and Luigi Capuano. You can read my review of Danton’s 1967 Italian crime comedy HOW TO STEAL A BILLION…AND GET AWAY WITH IT on the IMDB (as of 11/2013, mine is the only review). Danton had superb timing and understatement as an actor, and he managed to radiate toughness, yet in the scene with the girl on the merry go round in THE LAST MERCENARY, he also shows great warmth and sensitivity. I will be sure to keep an eye out for his many TV guest starring roles.

Danton carries THE LAST MERCENARY and may well be in every scene. Interestingly, he’s also listed as Associate Producer–there must be an interesting story behind that. Danton had worked with Pascale Petit (female lead in this) earlier, in the 1965 spy film CODE NAME: JAGUAR, which I highly recommend, and he’d also worked  with director Mel Welles the year before this in an obscure project called HELLO GLEN WARD, HOUSE DICK (aka Llaman a Jamaica, Mr. Ward) about which I know nothing.

Actor/director/voice actor MEL WELLES is well-known from his acting in Little Shop of Horrors to his directing of the perennial drive-in and television favorite ISLAND OF THE DOOMED (with Cameron Mitchell) and the 70’s drive-in staple LADY FRANKENSTEIN (with Joseph Cotten). He also directed (I just learned this recently—it’s credited to a German name, evidently necessary to secure German financing) the 1965 Italian spy film OUR MAN IN JAMAICA, starring Larry Pennell (Dash Riprock on The Beverly Hillbillies), one of my favorite Eurospy films. Mel Welles has a great eye for location filming in OUR MAN, and that’s also quite evident here. Although some scenes were obviously shot in Rio, the scenes near the mine operation could well have been shot on location in Spain. Whatever, Welles creates a film that’s always interesting looking. There are also some odd flash-forwards and flashbacks in the film’s first third that only seem to make sense later, in hindsight. An American action film of the day would probably not have had such abrupt jumps in chronology.

The existential hitman/soldier of fortune/gunslinger character was a staple in 60’s and 70’s cinema, and essentially, that’s what we have here. This is an obscure film in a lesser-known period of an important American film star’s career. It’s a real tour-de-force for Ray Danton and also a feather in the cap of director Mel Welles. I’d love to see a letterboxed DVD of this appear some day, but that might be wishful thinking…

And in case you are wondering, despite this being a European film and an international co-production among three countries, Ray Danton DOES loop his own voice, and that deep rich voice of his (he would have been great in radio, like Gerald Mohr was) and those knowing eyes communicate VERY well…thank you, Ray Danton, for such an enjoyable body of work…

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November 18, 2013

Sean Flynn in “Five Ashore in Singapore” (France-Italy 1967, dir. Bernard Toublanc-Michel)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 7:42 pm

FIVE ASHORE IN SINGAPORE (France-Italy 1967)

starring SEAN FLYNN

directed by Bernard Toublanc-Michel

aka Cinq gars pour Singapour, aka Cinq marines pour Singapour

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Based on a 1959 novel by Jean Bruce (author of the many OSS 117 books–in fact, THIS was in the OSS 117 series, as you can see from the scan of the novel below), FIVE ASHORE IN SINGAPORE is the last film of actor/photojournalist SEAN FLYNN. Flynn starred in 8 European genre films between 1962-1967, most of which are quite obscure in North America although Flynn was an American. He was only 26 when he made this, his final film.

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Sean Flynn had a unique boyish charm–if you can imagine a cross between Anthony Perkins and Michael Dudikoff who looks like the captain of the Princeton tennis team (and is 6′ 3″ tall and VERY handsome)–and even though he supposedly became somewhat bored with the film industry during his brief career  (you can tell that he was TRYING in his early film STOP TRAIN 349—however, in his later films, he seems more relaxed, perhaps because he knew he was working in genre films that he could essentially walk through and isn’t worrying about his performance), his casual style in this film works well. After all, leading men in B-movies don’t want to ever OVERPLAY and often seem to be coasting on their charm–in a strange sense, this puts them above whatever menace they are encountering on-screen. I’ve always liked Flynn’s film work, and he should be better known, not just by fans of European genre films and by people who look up the references in songs by The Clash.

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The plot here is rather simple, but veers off into strange territory in the film’s final third. A number of US Marines on shore leave in Singapore have vanished while hanging out among the bars and seedy nightlife of the city. Marine intelligence officer Flynn and four others are sent to pose as wild and crazy Marines looking for a good time so they will get caught as the others seemingly were, and then they can get inside the criminal organization and see what actually happened and perhaps free their comrades.

The first 25 minutes or so, where the guys are tearing up various bars and clubs pretending to be on a drunken spree, are quite entertaining, and they are quite fascinating to look at as they are shot on the streets of 1967 Singapore, a world long gone. Director Bernard Toublanc-Michel is a new name to me (he worked after this extensively in French TV), but he’s got a good eye for location shooting, and I can see where he would have been quite adept at crime shows on television.

For the first two-thirds of the film, the plot goes where any jaded fan of action films would predict that it would, but in the final third, things go off the track and into what the IMDB calls “medical horror” territory. I was not expecting this, and I’m sure most viewers would be thrown for a loop, but it does up the ante considerably and takes the film into territory that almost resembles one of Harry Alan Towers’s Fu Manchu films. In fact, with the third-world location shooting, this reminded me of various Towers productions shot in South Africa or Lebanon or Hong Kong or wherever.

Thankfully, Sean Flynn seems to be looping his own voice, and whoever cast this managed to choose five young men who have the look of wide-eyed young American servicemen. With the location shooting (most of the film is shot on locations, not sets) and the distinctive looking sets, the film LOOKS very interesting. You also get three 60’s Asian pop songs on the soundtrack, and a good look at the street vendors and bars and clubs and markets of 1960’s Singapore…and you get the last performance from the under-rated Sean Flynn.

The copy that is circulating among collectors here in North America seems to be taken from a European cable TV broadcast and is in English, except for a handful of segments (usually about 30 seconds to 1 minute) that are in Italian with English subtitles. Usually when this happens in other films, it’s because there were certain scenes cut out of the English-language version which were never dubbed, but that’s clearly NOT the case here–a scene will suddenly switch languages in the middle and then switch back, as if someone was playing with the language button on a DVD remote. I’m not sure what the story is behind the language switch here, but part of the charm of films such as this is their disposable nature. NO ONE treats European genre films as if they are Citizen Kane, and those of us who love these films often first discovered them as late-night filler on UHF stations or on cheap slow-speed VHS tapes sold at discount stores. They are bread-and-butter product, and like a good paperback-original crime novel, their lack of pretension and their “hitting all the marks” help to make them so fascinating.  Once one provides the expected elements in genre entertainment, one can provide distinctive elements that pull in an audience and that leave an impression after the disposable entertainment finishes. I won’t soon forget this film–it’s a solid and enjoyable piece of work. 105 minutes well-spent.

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Just Google the film’s title and the star’s name and you should be able to track down a copy of this on DVD-R…if you are so inclined…

November 17, 2013

Dean Reed in “The Corsairs” (Italy/Spain 1970, dir. Ferdinando Baldi)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 2:10 pm
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THE CORSAIRS (aka Los Corsarios, aka Les Pirates d l’ile Verte—Spain/Italy 1970)

directed by Ferdinando Baldi

starring Dean Reed, with Alberto DeMendoza, Annabella Incontrera, Mary Francis (aka Paca Gabaldon)

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Director Ferdinando Baldi is probably best-known in North America for the films he made with Tony Anthony–Blindman, Comin’ At Ya, Get Mean, and Treasure of the Four Crowns–films that show a director with a good sense of humor and a skill for over-the-top visuals. Yet Baldi’s earlier work indicates that he can create understated and thoughtful films such as IN THE SHADOW OF EAGLES with Cameron Mitchell, which I happened to watch again last week, and which was a downbeat, somber meditation on the futility of war. And he’s credited with co-directing Duel of Champions with Alan Ladd (Terence Young’s is the only name on the English-language print I’ve seen of the film), one of the more thoughtful films in the peplum genre, given a lot more depth by having an actor of Alan Ladd’s caliber as star. I’ve seen 4 or 5 other of his films  beyond those listed above (Texas, Adios, for instance), but clearly, I need to investigate his work further. Surely there are some gems I have not seen.

1970’s THE CORSAIRS is a fast-moving, light-hearted swashbuckling film that exists somewhere between the Three Musketeers comedies made a few years later in the UK by Richard Lester and the lowbrow humor of a Terence Hill/Bud Spencer vehicle. It’s definitely played on a comic-book level (and the music helps to set that jokey tone) and also has the feel of the old Republic serials, with the constant set-backs and reversals and fights with a lot of broken furniture.

These kind of films need a handsome, athletic, charismatic, and self-deprecating actor to play the hero, and DEAN REED succeeds in all those areas as Alan Drake, pirate with a conscience and an eye for the ladies, a role not too different from his turn as Ballantine in ADIOS, SABATA (aka INDIO BLACK) the year before. Dean Reed fans will enjoy his performance here, as I did.

Reed also did a film two years later, “Storia di karatè, pugni e fagioli,” directed by Tonino Ricci, which I have not seen, but which seems to have a swashbuckling element to it, and which was one of Reed’s final films before his moving over to the Eastern Bloc to work.

Fans of 60s European costumed historical adventures, the kind that would have starred Guy Madison had they been made in 1962, should enjoy this film….a rather late entry in the genre…and it offers an entertaining vehicle for Dean Reed. As a fan of both that genre of film AND of Dean Reed, I was very happy with the film. It’s not without flaws (the music gets somewhat repetitive), but a film with a good sense of humor allows one to forget such flaws. A little internet surfing should turn up a copy on DVD-R…

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November 9, 2013

Jandek, “Athens Saturday” (Corwood 0812, two-cd set)

Filed under: Uncategorized — kendrasteinereditions @ 8:56 pm

JANDEK

“Athens Saturday”  (Corwood 0812, two-cd set)

$12 postpaid in US / $13 postpaid elsewhere

ordering info available at  http://www.corwoodindustries.com/

Recorded live at Orange Twin Conservation Community, Athens, Georgia    28 July 2012

Personnel:

The Representative from Corwood—-keyboards

John Fernandes (Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System) : Bass Clarinet, Violin

Eric Harris (Elf Power, Olivia Tremor Control) : Drums

Heather McIntosh (The Instruments, Gnarls Barkley) : Cello

Bradford Cox (Deerhunter, Atlas Sound) : Guitar

the piece is entitled WAITING TO DIE and is divided into two sections: Disc One 52:07 and Disc Two 50:07

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Jandek’s appearance at the Orange Twin Conservation Community in Athens, Georgia was of great interest to me,  primarily for two reasons: 1) it was the next show after the Austin, TX Jandek concert that I organized/curated in June 2012, so I was excited to see how Corwood would follow-up that stunning performance in Austin; and 2) Orange Twin seemed like a fascinating and unique venue.  Here is a brief description (not a recent one, alas) of the concept of OT, quoted from a Google Sites article:

The Athens, GA based Orange Twin is currently working on an “eco-village” on the northside of the town. The ultimate goal of the eco-village is to create a “pedestrian-based eco-village while preserving 100 acres of woodland five miles from downtown Athens.”   Orange Twin’s vision statement is to live with one another and all forms of life, flora and fauna, in a way that respects all life, is considerate, and open to growth. The village would encourage diversity of all types. They hope to be understanding and open-minded to other’s ideas, they hope to learn and grow hand-in-hand, and to offer what they learn to others. They will also support each other, to encourage creativity, and to share their discoveries. They hope to create an integrated community that supports all aspects of life in a way that will not harm, but heal the planet.

One  uncommon aspect of the show’s organization was that ticket prices were lower if you DID NOT bring a car and carpooling was actively encouraged. AND if you bicycled there, you got a voucher for free food! Also, the amphitheater was an old Girl Scout Pavilion. Thus, this was going to be a fascinating venue for the show.

Corwood has now released the recording of the concert on a two-cd set called ATHENS  SATURDAY, which has made waves in the Jandek community because for the first time, Corwood has released a show out of recording sequence. Many of us used to joke about Corwood having gotten to the end of 2006 in its schedule of Jandek live albums and how a particular show we enjoyed from 2008 or 2009 or whatever might get released by 2019 if we were lucky. Well, all that is over now…evidently, Corwood will be releasing live albums out of recording sequence…yet another wild card in the full-of-surprises Corwood/Jandek CD catalogue. After all, who was expecting a nine-cd set of solo piano earlier this year?

athens two

Of course, any performance titled WAITING TO DIE is probably going to be of a weighty and deep nature.  I have previously made analogies to the process of a method actor in my descriptions of Jandek’s lyrics being given life in performance—-an actor finding hidden aspects of his/her psyche and then exploring character within the parameters of those areas. Much like the way in which the sparse but dense and rich dramatic texts of Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett or late-period Tennessee Williams, which may seem skeletal and minimal on the page,  become fully sketched out when inhabited by an actor, it seems to me that Jandek gets into a deep “performance zone” prior to recording or live performance and brings to life, “in character,” the existential monologues and dialogues of his texts. Many early critics of Jandek’s work did not seem to get that. Shakespeare is not “mad” because he wrote King Lear;  Jim Thompson was not a murderer because he wrote “The Killer Inside Me.” Jandek explores deep places inside the psyche and explores profound existential questions—-questions about ultimate meaning and about identity and about the meaning of EVERY MOMENT of everyday life, not just the ones we designate as “important.”  For many reasons, Jandek is one of my favorite contemporary poets–he just happens to bring his works to life through live performance, as part of a unique music-and-voice collage, whether we are talking about one of his own solo albums with guitar and voice or a live performance, as we have here with an ensemble, where the Rep is one voice, one thread woven through the quilt.

The text here (just google “Jandek, Athens, lyrics” and you can find an excellent transcription of the lyrics by “Greg F” if you want to read along) is a kind of interior monologue that splits into an interior dialogue. Someone once commented that the setting of most of Edgar Allan Poe’s works is the mind, and one could make a similar observation here, although as often happens with a Jandek lyric, it’s full of poetic phenomenological particulars….the matter-of-fact pieces of experience that tend to make up our days and nights: sitting in chairs, debating whether or not to do some mundane activity, wondering about ice chests and naps and baseball games and shoes and peaches. The central section of the piece features either a bickering couple, finding themselves taking the opposite sides out of habit and out of spite, or perhaps more likely an internal dialogue, as we question every move we make and undercut ourselves. Remember the old Warner Brothers cartoons where Elmer Fudd or some similar character has a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, both whispering into his ear, both trying to influence his behavior? Just imagine both of them INSIDE the narrator’s head, aspects of his own psyche.

The moods of the narrator’s flow of ideas and images is brilliantly mirrored by the musicians–in particular, the cellist and the bass clarinet player set the beyond-time pace early on and create a languid sound-canvas that the other musicians and the Representative himself swim in, sometimes diving to the bottom, sometimes coming to the surface, sometimes treading water, sometimes in pursuit of something in the water, always moving in relation to the other swimmers in a kind of underwater dance. While the tone is in many places solemn, it varies and is in some passages witty, mirroring the nature of the lyric. Jandek himself plays keyboards, set both to “acoustic” and “electric” and moves seamlessly between them. As part of an ensemble, his playing tends to be pointillistic, and he on occasion provides pianistic shading while delivering the lyrics…and often provides a keyboard “commentary” on the text between or right after particular lines. The subtle playing of guitarist Bradford Cox and percussionist Eric Harris should also be praised—though some referred to this as an “all-star” ensemble, there were no star turns at this performance, no showing off…just organic ensemble playing (by musicians who are listeners first), strands in the weave. Overall, this is undulating yet understated music that breathes. Those who liked Jandek’s MAZE OF THE PHANTOM should like the music  here, though this lacks the exotica element of PHANTOM.

Except for getting up to change CD’s in the middle of the performance, I lost any sense of time while listening to ATHENS SATURDAY. It took me into its world, almost in a cinematic way, and in a place beyond time, a place beyond time-keeping beats and traditional theme-variation-theme development of ideas, the next thing I knew, the album was over…and I had the sense of walking back into daily reality from some kind of wooded area within the mind…richer for having taken this journey.

WAITING TO DIE? We’re all waiting to die…and those of us who realize that find an incredible freedom once we stare into that void. We also realize that time’s-a-wasting….these dialogues are, in the end, time-killing….it’s best to do, to achieve. I have the feeling that an artist who has released 70+ albums has come to that realization long ago…but we all must keep making the commitment, keep silencing the doubting questions and the dissonant dialogues…

As this piece closes, the final three lines are

TIME, THE END OF ALL HIS DAYS
WAS STARING HIM IN HIS FACE
AND HE SIMPLY COULD NOT LOOK AWAY

The performance WAITING TO DIE is no less than a musical and lyrical deep venturing into the psyche, airing some painful truths and putting the spotlight on aspects of the psyche that are not usually discussed—-not because they are evil or because they are incomprehensible , but because they are taken for granted. Jandek takes nothing for granted.

Order your copy now. $12 US and $13 overseas, postpaid.

ATHENS ONE

live photos by Paul Grant, used by permission

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ORANGE TWIN

the “ol’ swimming hole” at the Orange Twin Conservation Community

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