Black Jesus (1968) Isn’t What You Think It Is

Black Jesus (1968) Directed by Valerio Zurlini Shown: Woody Strode

To view Black Jesus click here.

I’d honestly be shocked if more than a handful of people around here have heard of Black Jesus (1968) before today. Barely released in American theaters by one-shot outfit Plaza Pictures and never given a legitimate home video release (ignore the bootleg DVDs), this is a rough, tough and totally tight late 1960s political film with a title that might make you think it’s some sort of blaxploitation take on Godspell. The name seems a little gimmicky, but it isn’t too far off the original Italian title, Seduto alla sua destra, which translates to the Biblical phrase, “seated at the right hand (of the Father).”

[...MORE]

Let’s Go Slumming with Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976)

UglyDirtyandBad_1976_UDB1

To view Ugly, Dirty and Bad click here.

Of the major names in the film world who passed away in 2016, one that got overlooked a bit, at least among Americans, was Ettore Scola. A tricky guy to pin down over the course of his career, Scola was largely regarded as a comedy director but also showed a strong proficiency with everything from period dramas to surreal fantasies. FilmStruck is exposing audiences to more of his work with a collection of his key works, many of which have been hard to see in English-friendly editions for quite some time. Among these is Ugly, Dirty and Bad (1976), originally titled Brutti, sporchi e cattivi (a play of sorts on the Italian title of Sergio Leone’s The Good, the Bad and the Ugly [1966]). This earthy, hilarious and often disturbing portrait of life in the shantytowns along the outskirts of Rome is the type of stuff you never see in travelogues or glossy films about the Eternal City.

[...MORE]

Explosive Terror in The Wages Of Fear (1953)

wagesoffear1953_3

To view The Wages of Fear click here.

In The Wages of Fear (1953), based on Georges Arnaud’s novel The Salary of Fear, director Henri-George Clouzot takes an incredibly simple premise and somehow creates over two and a half hours of psychological suspense in one of the greatest thrillers ever made. The Wages of Fear was a defining moment for Clouzot’s career, earning him critical praise and great financial success, which ultimately secured future projects such as his 1955 masterpiece Diabolique starring Simone Signoret and Woman in Chains in 1968. Not only did this film bolster Clouzot’s standing in the industry, it inspired many psychological thrillers to come, including William Friedkin’s Sorcerer (1977), which was a remake of sorts for The Wages of Fear. (Although Friedkin has previously asserted that Sorcerer is merely an adaptation of Arnaud’s novel, and not a remake of Clouzot’s film.)

[...MORE]

Shoot First, Die Later (1974)

ShootFirstDieLater1974_84

To view Shoot First, Die Later click here.

Here’s how I’d pitch Fernando Di Leo’s Shoot First, Die Later (1974) to any of my friends: If you’d like to see a gritty Italian crime movie that evokes The French Connection (1971) and surely influenced Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, look no further than this grim bit of business. Heck, I’ll toss in one more movie reference for good measure. Are you familiar with the re-release poster for Le Samouraï (1967), the one where Alain Delon stares expressionlessly down the barrel of a gun? Imagine him grinning instead (if you can) and there you have Shoot First, Die Later. It’s as if the French shrug at the abyss whereas the Italians meet the same raw nihilism with a smile. [...MORE]

The Living and the Dead: L’Eclisse (1962)

LEclisse_Eclipse_1962_0

To view L’Eclisse click here.

FilmStruck is currently streaming 11 films featuring Alain Delon as part of their “Icons: Alain Delon” theme and for the next 4 weeks I’ll be spotlighting a few of my favorite titles in this collection. To learn more about the French actor please see a previous post I wrote in 2010 to celebrate Delon’s 75th birthday titled, “The Ice-Cold Angel turns 75.” You might also enjoy perusing my modest collection of Delon memorabilia on display in Alain Delon: A Personal Passion.

While recently rewatching Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Eclisse (aka The Eclipse, 1962) I received the sad news that George Romero had died. The celebrated Italian art house auteur and the American director behind the hugely popular Living Dead franchise aren’t typically associated with one another but I suspect that Antonioni’s work may have inspired Romero early in his career. In The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight of the Living Dead, author and film studies professor Tony Williams asserts that the frustrated married couple holed up in a shopping mall surrounded by hordes of zombies in Dawn of the Dead (1978) resembles the dissatisfied bourgeois couples that listlessly maneuver through Antonioni’s early films. Williams explains that these survivors of Romero’s zombie apocalypse “exist in a world of boredom as a result of their access to a world of conspicuous consumption.” It is an astute observation and one that I can appreciate. In their own unique ways, Antonioni and Romero both addressed the capital driven corrosion of modern society through alienated characters facing an existential crisis. Their means and methods may have been different but underneath Antonioni’s slick surfaces and carefully coiffed characters, there is an element of mystery along with heightened anxiety and a sense of profound dread. These are qualities found in many horror films, including the best work of George Romero, and they are at the forefront of L’Eclisse.

[...MORE]

Pasolini’s Audacious Debut

Accattone_1961_0

To view Accattone click here.

Pimps, thugs, prostitutes, thieves and other miscreants, these are the denizens of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Accattone (1961). “Accattone,” a slang term for beggars and bums, is also the nickname given to Vittorio, our antihero, as played by Franco Citti in a break-out role that would bring him fame at the age of 26. He’d later be cast as Calò in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather (1972), where he was given the famous line “In Sicily, women are more dangerous than shotguns.” As the pimp in Accattone, one that treats all the women he comes across quite badly, he is completely deaf to such advice. [...MORE]

Every Day Is Like Black Sunday (1960)

BlackSunday1960_6

Okay, it may technically be Wednesday, but there’s never a bad day of the week to pay a visit to Black Sunday (1960), the grandmother of Italian horror films. Sure, the country produced a few movies with horrifying or macabre elements, most notably Riccardo Freda’s I Vampiri (1957), but here’s where the magic really kicked into high gear and set the stage for a dazzling wave of phantasmagorical creations that would run well into the 1990s. [...MORE]

Nino Rota: The Bounce Goes On

SPIRITS OF THE DEAD

As a film score junkie, I have a soft place in my heart for that freakish period in the ‘60s and ‘70s when film composers suddenly became music superstars and had regular hits on the Billboard charts. Sure, composers were big before that with guys like Johnny Mercer and the dream team at MGM getting soundtrack releases out there to the public, but it really hit a peak when you regularly had composers like Henry Mancini, Maurice Jarre, André Previn, Elmer Bernstein and John (or Johnny, at first) Williams scoring big hits that people would walk around humming and whistling for months.

Then there’s the man who really helped bring international film scoring into the mainstream: Nino Rota, who had started off writing ballets and operas and entered the world of film music in the ‘40s. He shot to fame via his collaborations with Federico Fellini, a partnership that began with The White Sheik in 1952 but really exploded in 1960 with their worldwide sensation, La Dolce Vita (1960).

[...MORE]

Surveying the Red Desert (1964)

red0

“There’s something terrible about reality and I don’t know what it is.” – Giuliana (Monica Vitti)

Modern malaise and alienation are two themes that Michelangelo Antonioni (L’Avventura [1960], La notte [1961], L’eclisse [1962]) returned to repeatedly throughout the 1960s. In Red Desert (1964), which is currently streaming on FilmStruck and available on DVD and Blu-ray from Criterion, these ideas find expression in Italy’s postwar industrial landscape and in Monica Vitti’s large eyes. Vitti was Antonioni’s muse throughout much of the decade and Red Desert provided the Roman beauty with one of her best and most iconic roles in the form of Giuliana, a woman who is desperately and deeply alone. Giuliana is married to a wealthy and providing man; they have a lovely child, many friends and even more acquaintances. Despite this, she is unable to connect with people and her surroundings. Giuliana’s isolation has plunged her into an all-consuming depression triggering bouts of paranoia that she cannot express in words so she has retreated inward. Her eyes are her only voice and they are dark, bottomless pools of emotion pleading for warmth and sympathy in a world that is often cold and incredulous.

[...MORE]

Father of Fear

Black Sabbath

This Friday, August 26, finds TCM’s Summer under the Stars getting a little chillier than usual with an all-day marathon covering the career of horror icon Boris Karloff from the dawn of cinema’s sound era in the revolutionary FRANKENSTEIN (1931) through his elder statesman phase of the horror genre in Roger Corman’s THE TERROR (1963).

However, I’m zooming in on the last film in the Karloff filmography airing that day (and repeating again on Halloween if you miss it!) — and one that’s especially close to my heart since it’s the first film I remember scaring me on TV (courtesy of a TBS airing many years ago). BLACK SABBATH (1963) is the only anthology film directed by the great Mario Bava and Karloff’s sole excursion into Italian horror. Karloff plays a key role in the longest and most elaborate of the three stories, “The Wurdulak,” and also serves as the onscreen host tying all three tales together. What’s fascinating and well covered by now is the fact that Karloff actually shot his narrator duties twice, with the Italian and American prints featuring entirely different presentations. The Italian version also adds a lighthearted coda with Karloff astride a wooden horse used for one of his earlier scenes, pulling back to show the film crew in a delightful, barrier-shattering flourish. [...MORE]

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.