Friday, April 27, 2012

The Flyover Countries

It's been an interesting 20 hours. Let me preface this by saying that when I go to a forgeign country, which I never do but when I do, I have to spend at least a few hours channel surfing. Televsion in other countries is delightful - exotic and at the same time familiar. Especially the commercials. One of the highlights of my trip to London a couple of years ago was stumbling on a low-tech quiz show called Countdown that made me love the empire all the more. It was parodied later in an episode of The IT Crowd which culminated in a deadly game of street Countdown.

So yesterday when I ran across an item in Gizmodo about a website which streams live television from sources all over the world, I was sucked in. Below, a few mini-anecdotes from my adventures. Understand that it's 8 hours later in Europe, and I started watching around 5:00pm, so it was 2:00am and beyond on the French and British stations. As I write this it's prime time in Europe and I should be watching now instead of writing this, but I'm that dedicated to blogging.

My most important discovery - Direct8 in France, on weeknights, doesn't run infomercials. Oh no. What it runs is this:

A pretty girl, stretched out on a chaise lounge, reading Baudelaire out loud. There can be no thing Frenchier than this.

Informercials were found on ITV 1-4. Basically there were two - for a miracle steam mop and a miracle folding inflatable bed. Want! Also spotted on another French network, a foundation garment, modeled by girls who had absolutely no need for foundation garments. Surprised?

Hart to Hart in French is far better than How I Met Your Mother in Russian.

Why, oh why, can't someone figure out a way to import Later with Jools Holland? It's probably the best music show ever conceived. They tried a version in the 90s with David Sanborn, but it wasn't as manic or insane and you never watched it. No one did.

A lot of channels simply wouldn't load. I was disappointed twice in my effort to watch Countdown. Also the east coast feeds of American channels though I have to admit that I wasn't trying very hard on those.

There is this Just for Men commercial (it's a hair dye product) in which a handsome older guy dyes his hair just enough to be a LITTLE grey. It turned up on one of the British channels, only the guy had a British accent; it seemed more natural. I now think that's the original version and OUR version is dubbed.

Lou Reed still rocks, but he looks like Mildred Natwick.

One of the French channels, at least overnight, simply plays the BBC2 feed in English. Must be for insomniac expats.

I wish I had taken better notes about which channel played that awful video about going to Rio, apparently all night long, over and over again. It's the music-video-about-going-to-Rio channel. Italian maybe?

Tragic Update, 4/30: "This site has been disabled due to DMCA complaints". And so, therefore, have we all.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weekend Box Office

Thanks again to for the numbers.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Weekend Box Office

All numbers, as ususal, courtesy of

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Life Among The Scream Queens

What a long strange weekend its been! I didn't have any plans of note until Tuesday, when I got a Facebook message from my friend Debra:

Hey there, Dan! I'm going to be down south this coming weekend to promote DISCIPLES!

Debra Lamb and I, today
A couple of decades ago I was in an improv troupe with Debra Lamb, but she's more known as a "scream queen", who's film credits include Beverly Hills Vamp, Stripped to Kill (1 AND 2), and an episode of Dream On. She got out of show business for a decade or two then recently was approached by a guy named Joe Hollow for Disciples, in which she will play a vampire/demon. 

The occasion for the appearance was Monsterpalooza, an expo and autograph fest in Burbank. It's the most fun I've ever had in a Marriott. Even if I hadn't known someone there, the opportunity to chat up Ann (War Of the Worlds) Robinson or Chris (Fright Night) Sarandon would have been hard to resist. In fact, all the major actors from Fright Night were there, and you could get a picture with any one of them for $25 bucks a pop. A guy I met got a group photo for $125, which seems a little excessive to me.

Linnea Quigley, Michael Berryman
What was great for me was hanging around the Disciples suite. I was sharing a space with Debra, and I'm used to that. But there was also Brinke Stevens and Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), both seasoned pros with good stories and wry senses of humor. Also, we were right next door to the Return of the Living Dead suite, which meant being around Linnea Quigley and Don Califa. 

Now the thing you have to remember is that I had huge crushes on everyone in that last paragraph except for Berryman and Califa. And I ran movie theaters where I frequently projected their images on big screens. As far as I'm concerned, they are goddesses with teeth the size of basketballs and breasts as perfect and round as twin suns. And here they are, still beautiful sexy women (I'm not being nice, they ARE) only they're shorter than me and exhausted and tired, though still gracious. It's just a little disorienting, okay?
Leanne is the least sinister one

My girlfriend Leanne, who stayed at my side the whole time in case one of the scream queens took a shine to me, bought a copy of 1313: Cougar Cult. She herself is a cougar, and now I'm the one who is worried. Soon she'll be seducing young men and devouring their flesh, and then where will I be? I never should have introduced her to these people.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Eyes Without A Face (Not the Billy Idol Song)

Got a chance to watch this, last night-- part of a slate of TCM classic films picked by, of all people, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. Apparently one of his favorite films was this one, a French horror film (Les yeux sans visage) from 1960.

Le plot: Docteur Génessier, a brilliant surgeon, has a daughter who had her face blown off in a car accident that was his fault. Not just some facial scarring: we assume she does not have any face at all because she is forced to wear a creepy-looking mask. His assistant Louise kidnaps fair, blue-eyed girls from Paris (out of gratitude: some time in the past he fixed her face), takes them to his country estate where he chloroforms them, cuts their face off (they show this happening with unsettling detail) and grafts it onto his daughter. The grafts generally don't take, requiring more trips to Paris for Louise.

This goes on until the Gendarmes realize a lot of fair, blue-eyed Parisian girls have gone missing, and they convince Paulette, a petty shoplifter they have in custody, to be kidnapping bait in lieu of jail (I assume this sort of plea-deal is legal in France).

The end comes not by the Gendarmes catching Le Docteur Fou, but as things just go awry, Coen Brothers style: The cops delay the Docteur, the chloroform wears off, Paulette escapes, Louise tries to stop her-- and the faceless daughter stabs Louise to death. She then releases a lot of dogs from cages (he had 'em for grafting practice), they get out and chew Docteur Génessier's face off (the irony buzzer goes off) and the faceless daughter, a dove on her shoulder, wanders off into the woods. Fin, over the blare of the Irony Klaxon.

All this definitely qualifies Eyes Without a Face as a horror film. It was influenced by early Hammer films, which were very popular in France in the 1950s. Les yeux sans visage was eventually released in the United States-- after being dubbed, edited and retitled The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus. It came out on a double-bill with The Manster-- Another flawed classic.

A few thoughts:

EWAF was directed by Georges Franjou, the co-founder of the Cinematheque Française, the world's first cinema archive. The influence of the films he archived--in particular German Expressionism-- is quite evident in some nice little bits of poetic film language added to the horror-film base, a cinematic roux. My favorite: Docteur Génessier is opening up a crypt in a cemetery to dispose of another dead girl's body. Louise stands guard. She hears a roaring sound. Thinking a car is coming, she looks around and sees nothing. But she looks up-- and sees a jet flying high overhead in the night sky. The shot lingers: the wingtip lights blink as it slowly crosses the frame. Then another shot of Louise-- just watching the plane. An ambiguous, introspective, beautiful moment plunked right in the heart of all the horror.

This is the best look we get of La Fille Sans Visage
in all her purposely out-of-focus glory.
The power of imagination-- or was 1960 effects makeup
technology not up to the task?
• This film could really, really stand a decent remake. it's got Remake Formula all over it: An intriguing idea, not applied fully and effectively. EWAF is the Frankenstein story, with a mad doctor using living people instead of corpses: this little change makes his violations personal (gimme your face, lady!) rather than theological (take that, God!). It has influenced quite a few other films-- Dr. Sardonicus (1962), Face/Off (1997) and countless lesser drive-in flicks. Pedro Almodóvar's The Skin I Live In (2011) is close to a logical sequel-- after you add the his trademark insane family drama to the mix. And if you take EWAF, subtract the mad doctor's personal justification and bury the needle in terms of sheer nihilism, you get The Human Centipede.

• It's another film with a soundtrack that has not aged well. It was the second score by Maurice Jarre, who would go on to win an Oscar with his score for Lawrence of Arabia two years later, pretty much the only member of the EWAF cast or crew who would make a successful migration to Hollywood. For all the orchestral sweep of his scores (Dr. Zhivago, Witness, Ghost) with EWAF his musical contribution is stubbornly Gallic. Jarre created themes to his score: when the mad doctor's assistant would go out looking for fair mademoiselles to carve up, the soundtrack would blare something that sounded like a bistro quintet with a triple-time "umm-PA-PA" meter. It's almost exactly like the theme song of "The Larry David Show." Distracting.

• Courtesy of the IMDb and Hulu, you can actually watch the entire thing free!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Weekend Box Office

As usual, thanks to for the chart.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Weekend Box Office

Chart courtesy of Check 'em out!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Trend Watch: Rough Drafts For Sale

Considering how much I write about television I certainly don't watch very much of it. It's only now and then, when I am knocked out with a head cold or some such, that I begrudgingly settle down on the couch and channel surf. Once I'm done channel surfing (I don't have cable) I turn to the Roku box and see what's in the Netflix queue, then the Hulu queue and finally whatever is on the Amazon Prime instant video queue.

Amazon Prime subscribers have access to a certain library of material that you can watch for "free", that is, without paying anything above your Prime membership. I've been dipping into this trove for a couple of months now, ever since I realized I am paying Amazon for a membership. Did you know that the original The Fly, starring Vincent Price, is right there waiting for you? It is! And others more recent.

But something I didn't realize until just this weekend is there is a thing called Amazon Studios, that exists.

Amazon has a development arm! You submit scripts and if they like them, they will take it to the next step. It could mean producing an animated storyboard, or shooting a low-res video. That property is made available to subscribers, who can watch it, and I think comment and vote and so on. Possibly somewhere down the line, Warner Brothers has a first look option. You could do worse!

It's really no more than a version of market research, a way to crowd-source your testing for free. It's pretty interesting. As usual with online contests, you're encouraged to examine the terms of submission VERY carefully, because it's probably not the best possible deal. I think maybe I'll bust out one of my long-forgotten scripts and put it up there - it's not doing me any good sitting on a virtual shelf, collecting the virtual dust. If I do, I'll report here on the progress.