Friday, May 25, 2007

Werner Herzog film retro in NYC (with clips)

I’ve spent the last three nights at the Film Forum downtown hypnotized by the work of Werner Herzog. The FF is doing a comprehensive retro of Herzog’s documentaries, providing the East Coast U.S. premieres (I’m not certain if these films have ever played the U.S. at all, but I’m certain several of them have never played NY and the surrounding environs before). Herzog may be best known for his crazed collaborations with Klaus Kinski, but his documentaries have taken up the bulk of his filmmaking career, and have kept him perpetually busy for the last four decades.

He has perfected his own specific style of non-fiction filmmaking in the last few years, providing his own English-language narration, to the effect that all of the individuals in his films, if they do not speak English to begin with, speak Werner-speak, a richly energetic and wonderfully inflected brand of our native language (think of it as the ultimate auteur statement, the kind of thing that Welles did when he would dub the bit actors in his later films).

His best-remembered films are all concerned with a journey, and eroding sanity in one form or another. I’ve seen films that are not “Herzogian” in any blatant fashion — tonight’s Jag Mandir was a straightforward chronicle of a very large performing arts celebration in India, that carried the filmmaker’s signature only in the duration of the shots and the rather idiosyncratic framing (medium shots for images of complicated physical action that would be best viewed in a very wide longshot). These hypnotic Herzog works are absolutely sublime, but the ones that the viewer will best able to recall and gab on about at some future time are those that deal with this notion of journey/erosion of sanity.

A TV-funded portrait, Death for Five Voices, offers the perfect Herzog protagonist, long-dead Carlo Gesualdo, a Prince who moonlighted as a classical music composer and committed a wholly Shakespearean murder (offed his wife and threw her on a monk’s stairs), had a perfectly amazing obsession (a briefly mentioned bit about a prehistoric disc containing a code — still unbroken to this day — that gave --- terminal insomnia, as he spent all hours of the late night trying to break the cipher), and just enough juicy details (did he die of the infected wounds caused by the nightly beatings he demanded from his servants?) to make the film unforgettable. All this sublime debauchery Herzog depicts with utter seriousness, punctuating the proceedings with Gesualdo’s gorgeous and centuries-ahead-of-their-times compositions, performed by classical quintets.

Herzog is the very last of a dying breed of cinematic adventurer. He curiously fuses F.W. Murnau and Frank Buck, at times has displayed the pugnacious genius of Norman Mailer and at others has betrayed a tremendously fragile and wistfully nostalgic view of civilization. To pay tribute to him, I offer a few minutes from the Les Blank short “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe,” the documenting of the peculiar incident in which Herzog made good on a bet he made with Errol Morris: if Morris actually finished his first feature, Gates of Heaven, Herzog stated he would eat his shoe (Morris was known for not completing his projects to that point). The film is a record of a stunt, but a stunt that Herzog was fully in control of — he uses the situation to make some very pointed remarks about American visual culture, the “clownish” lengths to which a filmmaker must go to promote his work (citing the great Orson as an example; this would be around the time of those Dean Martin roasts….), and praising Morris’ perfectly timeless Gates as a decisive work on “late capitalism” in America (the film is indeed one of the best-ever depictions of the American Dream in practice, and in a shambles).

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Gerrit Graham: the Funhouse interview

Regular viewers of the show saw my two-part interview with veteran character (and very funny gentleman) Gerrit Graham a few weeks back on the show. Two clips from the chat, conducted at the Chiller Theatre convention back around Halloween of '06, are now up on YT. In the first he discusses his work on Brian De Palma's Greetings (1968):

Click here if the above doesn't work.

and in the second he talks about one of his fan-favorite roles, "Beef" in De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise (1974):

Click here if the above doesn't work.

East Coast/West Coast war: public access songbirds collide!

I’m going to be linking to many of the items on YouTube that I feel deserve recognition, in an effort to expand what we do on the show every week into — yes, gotta say it, gotta say it — the 21st century. In this case, these vids haven’t been exactly “viral” in the sense of the YT “celebs” saluted on talking-heads shows on VH1. But then again, this stuff, my friends, is the real meat of the matter: folks who are completely sincere about what they’re doing, and they did in a medium dear to my own heart, cable-access.

The first is a song that functions on a “Day in the Life” level: it’s a two-part song by a NYC songbird who made her only TV appearances on MNN’s beloved “Stairway to Stardom.” We salute the obsessed souls who have put the STS clips on YouTube, Mitch Friedman and Jennifer Sharpe, and there are literally dozens of memorable performance up there right now. But few can compare to the joy of Lucille Cataldo, and her original composition, “Hairdresser, Haidresser.” I am particularly taken by the way the song slides into something called “Tease Louise,” which seems to be another song entirely, but is wrapped into the hairdresser theme by Lucille. They always say “write about what you know,” and Ms. Cataldo clearly did that here (rarely has the process of being at a hairdresser been rendered in such a detailed way).

And now we come to the Left Coast’s contribution to the insanely catchy song competition, a song that is itself about insanity. I’ve been told this is a well known commodity on the ’Tube (it has already spawned several cover versions), but I just discovered it last week, and now cannot shake it out of my cranium, no matter how hard I try. It’s Penny Pearce’s penetratingly aggressive “Why Do You Think You Are Nuts?” The song is quite something — although not as complex musically as Cataldo’s two-part epic, Penny and her pals do get into an Alice Cooper groove here with some theatrics that are complemented by their wonderful, non-matching outfits. Feel free to cast a vote for your favorite demented ditty.

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Coming attraction: Interview with Hal Hartley

I spoke with the very mellow indie icon upon the opening of his new film Fay Grim. Here he offers his opinion about the posting of one of his features (in its entirety) on YouTube:

Click here if the above doesn't work.

And here he reflects on the strong (but neurotic) female characters who've appeared in his work to date:

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Coming attraction: interview with Guy Maddin

The utterly unique maker of utterly unique movies, Maddin is a delight to talk to. We caught up with him during the recent frantic week of live performances accompanying his new film Brand Upon the Brain! Here he talks about his disappointment that his films didn't show up on YouTube, plus gives some insight into his new editing style, a very radical fragmentation of action that brings to mind the great "underground" filmmakers.

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Isild Le Besco: The Funhouse interview

As those who watch the show regularly know, I am devoted Francophile, and so I was pleased to talk to the rising young French star of such films as Benoit Jacquot's incredible A Tout de Suite, Wild Camp, Girls Can't Swim, and Jacquot's Sade.. Here she talks about her move from teen roles to adult ones.

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

That's why, that's why the lady is a...

To start out the blog with a bang, I offer this item which I have uploaded to YouTube. I never grow tired of watching it, and for some reason, you never see it offered up among the many Scopitones that are present now on the Net. On the previous blog, I had noted that the song is "interpreted by jazz pianist and lounge dude extraordinaire Buddy Greco. Buddy’s version of the lyric includes throwaway references to Dorothy Kilgallen, Floyd Patterson, and Slenderella (a then-famous brand of lingerie), and has him operating in a Rat Pack, finger-snappin’ mode." It is an absolute joy.

Click here if the above doesn't work.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

What is the Funhouse?

We're a cable access show that's been on for over 13 years in Manhattan. You can see a wildly annotated list of the topics we've covered, plus read reviews of the show (from such nat'l pubs as Time and Variety) and read mine own writings, at our site.. We have some select clips there, but since YouTube is the hub of all vid-watching activity on the web these days, I will point you towards the collection of interview clips from the show and rare footage that relates to the topics we cover that has been put up on the YT site.

That can be found here. I will be putting more clips up on YouTube to illustrate the entries I'll be writing here. If anyone has any suggestions about low-priced (and I do mean low-priced!) servers to put up clips that would not meet YouTube's rigorous (but oft-times capricious) standards, please do pass them on to me through this blog or through e-mail. What else can I say but, "Enjoy!"