Meet Toby Wing, the Darling of the Photographers

tobyopenerIf I could go one day without hearing about the dreaded Kardashians, I would be thrilled. The most superficial of celebrities, they are famous for being famous, with no body of work to support their fame. How could this gaggle of girls with no discernable talents be the center of media attention? Recently, while researching a pre-Code film in newspapers of the era, I came to understand the construction of celebrity more fully. I was reminded that while gossip, rumors, and accusations pour from the Internet at an alarming rate, there have always been Kardashians eager to climb into the spotlight, and media outlets eager to keep them there.

Toby Wing was treated like the Kim Kardashian of her day. However, there are some differences: She did display a healthy degree of ambition, she parlayed her celebrity into a short-lived studio contract and a few supporting roles, and her famous family left a positive mark on history. Her life story offers insight into the Hollywood publicity machine, which has always churned out celebrities lie dolls on an assembly line.

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Ancient Evil is Now a Modern Industry: THIRST (1979)

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In Rod Hardy’s THIRST (1979) we’re introduced to Kate (Chantal Contouri), an attractive waif-like young fashion designer with a pet cat and a serious problem. Kate’s the last descendent of Countess Elizabeth Báthory, often cited as history’s first and most prolific female serial killer, and she’s been kidnapped by a group of power hungry aristocratic vampires known as ‘The Brotherhood’ who need her blood so they can fulfill their diabolical plan to turn the rest of us into human cattle. Will Kate outwit her sinister captors and survive her ordeal or succumb to her baser instincts? Thanks to a new Blu-ray package from Severin Films you can discover the answer to that question for yourself.

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On the Cheap: Hollywood Boulevard (1976)

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Roger Corman’s career would be impossible today. There is no more infrastructure for low-budget genre experimentation, as filmmakers must increasingly rely on crowd-funding to get their modest projects off the ground (even Spike Lee took that route last week), with little hope of distribution. The only outfit as prolific as Corman’s New World Pictures is The Asylum, the mock-busters behind Sharknado, except their model doesn’t encourage the young but re-animates the old for a quick buck. Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix shares Corman’s huckster spirit and eye for talent, but only has the funds to make 2-3 films a year (New World could crank out 10). And while there is plenty of creativity on display in direct-to-video action movies (like Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine), they are totally isolated from Hollywood at-large, never graduating to larger productions like Corman alumni Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante. What we are robbed of from this lack is gonzo oddities like Dante and Allan Arkush’s Hollywood Boulevard (1976), a no-budget satire of an exploitation film production. Streaming on Netflix (cropped from 1.85 to 1.33, sadly), it’s a loving take-down of Corman’s shoestring flicks “shamelessly loaded with sex and violence”, per the tagline.

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In Memoriam: Jesús “Jess” Franco (1930-2013)

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If you tuned into TCM Underground on March 15th you may have had the pleasure of seeing Jesús “Jess” Franco’s eerie and atmospheric horror film THE AWFUL DOCTOR ORLOF (1964). When the movie aired I noticed a surprising number of classic film fans discussing the movie on social media sites such as Twitter and I was thrilled that one of my favorite directors was gaining new fans thanks to TCM Underground’s eclectic programming choices. I had no idea that I’d soon be mourning the man who had given me so many moving images to contemplate and enjoy. Jess Franco passed away on April 2 following complications from a stroke. He was 82 years old and still making movies.

Instead of writing another obituary I decided to approach fellow Franco fans and many of his most stalwart supporters who have often championed his work against a tide of indifference. I asked them to simply share their favorite Franco films with Movie Morlock readers in an attempt to introduce you, as well as TCM viewers, to more of the director’s films but what I received was some of the most impassioned and insightful Franco commentaries that I’ve ever come across. I hope you’ll enjoy the results. This is more than just a simple roundtable or survey. This is a lengthy love letter to one of Spain’s most prolific directors and a celebration of everything that made his movies so special.

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

Snapshots of the Fall

The art house film calendar that I program goes to press in two days and, although I’m still waiting for some confirmations, I’m sharing the rough-draft with TCM readers, along with some brief thoughts regarding the choices made.

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The Top Twelve Genre Films of 2011

 

As the carcasses of prestige pics get picked over by awards committees and prognosticators, I like to distract myself from this pointless posturing by watching movies featuring actual corpses. After last year’s rundown of genre flicks received a good response, I return to the bloody well again, this time with twelve of my favorite action/horror/exploitation items released in the past year. Sure to be ignored by your local film critics circle, they are works of grim resourcefulness and ingenuity, deserving of more attention. I look forward to your criticisms, insults and recommendations in the comments. My picks are presented in alphabetical order, and if you’re interested in my overall top ten list, it’s posted here.

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Reading Into Robert Cornthwaite

My favorite mad scientist may just be Dr. Arthur Carrington, the hopelessly naive (but very dressy) ascot-, turtleneck-, and blazer-wearing trailblazer in The Thing From Another World (1951). Every time I see this movie set in a military and scientific observation station in the frozen North, I always wonder where this man’s parka could be.  Did he forget to pack it in a moment of absent-mindedness while in the lower 48?  As played by character actor Robert Cornthwaite (seen above, with his head in a script),  he is the embodiment of polished intellectual curiosity without a shred of common sense.

As far as I’m concerned, you can keep the other actors in this movie, (even George Fenneman, shortly before he became Groucho Marx’s game show flunky and that big galoot lumbering around in disguise long before Gunsmoke premiered on television)–the star of this film is the rather epicene Doc Carrington, played to a fare-thee-well by the unsung Cornthwaite, a small man with a receding hairline, a sneaky wit, and a cold mien that suits this part perfectly. The authoritative actor, seething with a bookish hauteur, appears to have created a colorful backstory for his character–He is the erudite man of science, disheartened (and maybe bored out of his skull), who is becoming increasingly unable to cope with the psychological demands of his daily grind after months penned up inside the bleak, fetid atmosphere of  this frostbitten outpost where he languishes in the company of a passel of Air Force yahoos, a few doddering biologists, and some malleable underlings. The bottled-up, almost terminally frustrated Carrington appears to be a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as eventually becomes clear throughout the nimbly staged 87 minute movie. He’s also quite a hoot.

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A New Film Roster

Today marks the last day of my Fall calendar film program. Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get working on the next one. My goal is to find 50 titles that provide repertory programming, community and academic outreach, festival favorites, cult oddities, challenging cinema, quality docs, along with enough arthouse money-makers and crowd-pleasers to keep the whole damn thing alive. The ideal mix honors the past, is grounded in the present, and has an eye for the future. Like a good friend, it needs to have the temerity to confront you with uncomfortable truths, take you to new places, introduce you to new talents, provide a window to other cultures, feed the mind, feed the soul, provide catharsis, tears, laughter, and a wide variety of surprises.  A few directors come to mind who try to do all those things in one film, but this at risk of making you nauseous. (I’m looking at you Takashi Miike!) What follows are some of my top-picks (so far) as I consider titles to include in my Spring calendar. [...MORE]

To Save and Project: The Movie Orgy (1968) and Afraid to Talk (1932)

For nine years running, MoMA’s To Save and Project international festival of film preservation has showcased the latest celluloid surgery jobs by archives the world over. It’s the one place where film stock is still a fetish, each new print ogled with the entitled leer of a sozzled Miss Universe judge. So I was sent to my oft-used fainting couch when it was announced that a digital restoration would open this year’s fest (which runs through Nov. 25th).   This prestigious pole-position was granted to Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy (1968), a delirious mash-up of pop culture detritus, from psychotic b-movies to baffling Bufferin commercials.

Dante and Jon Davison edited the entire feature by hand, splicing in new scenes when intriguing material passed their way. Eventually the project ballooned to 7 hours, but with its broad humor, broads, and critique of the military-industrial complex, it toured college campuses under a Schlitz beer sponsorship. By the end of its run the print had more stitches than Frankenstein’s monster, without the salve of Karloff’s soulful stare. It would be unlikely to survive another trip through a projector. So Dante shoved the benighted thing through a film-to-tape transfer, and after some screenings on the West coast has finally brought his beast to the East. Now at a svelte 4 1/2 hours, it’s a marvel of gonzo editing. It contains an actual narrative, collapsing the apocalypses  of a bunch of sci-fi/teen rebel/horror cheapies into one mega-Armageddon, while finding time for mini-comedies and grace(less)-notes in between.

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