Day of the Doberman

dobermangang_1 Do you love dogs? Of course you do, and so do most moviegoers if Hollywood history is any indication. However, if you had to name the biggest decade for man’s best friend, which one would it be? The heyday of Rin-Tin-Tin in the ‘20s? The arrival of Lassie in 1943 or her TV reign in the ‘50s? Maybe, but for my money the winner hands down has to be the 1970s – and there’s one breed that personified the Me Decade more than any other. Just as the United States was plunging into the chaos of Watergate, the whole country seemed to go canine crazy in 1972 when the most famous comic strip pooch got a theatrical vehicle with Snoopy Come Home and the Newberry-winning novel Sounder became a multiple Oscar-nominated prestige release. [...MORE]

We’re Off to See the Zardoz

Zardoz 4
In the pantheon of wildly ambitious, certifiably insane major studio films released in the go-for-broke 1970s, few can hold a candle to Zardoz (1974). Director John Boorman was riding high on the success of Warner Bros.’ Deliverance two years before, so he was essentially given free rein to choose whatever story he wanted as long as the budget was right. The 20th Century-Fox production was envisioned by Boorman as his second vehicle with Burt Reynolds, but when the mustachioed superstar proved too ill to sign on, Sean Connery was brought on instead. The result is a hallucinatory and utterly unique fever dream of a film, as much fantasy as sci-fi despite its marketing (perhaps because Boorman was still frustrated at being unable to launch an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings), and once seen, it’s certainly not easy to forget. [...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]


ABBA: The Movie

Earlier this year I made a trek with three friends to Stockholm where we got to experience firsthand the Eurovision Song Contest, that annual feast of musical excess, questionable taste, vocal acrobatics, and international squabbling. This year proved to be no exception, and though it’s still a niche event in the United States, all of Europe and many other countries (particularly Israel and Australia) treat it like a major sporting event. Tradition holds that the winner’s country hosts the following year’s contest, so it was Sweden’s sixth turn to be taken over for a couple of weeks by Eurovision fans.

Not surprisingly, you couldn’t walk through a store or sit through an event without hearing the name “ABBA” at least a few times. Sweden’s greatest pop music export, the fabulous foursome famously won the contest in 1974 with “Waterloo,” energizing a career that would burn brightly until the group’s dissolution in 1982. Since 2013, Stockholm has also been home to ABBA: The Museum, an eye-popping immersion in the group’s music, impact, and blazingly colorful outfits (including the weirdly lifelike figures in the photo below). However, the group’s popularity is perhaps greater than ever around the world, and as I concluded walking through rooms flickering with concert footage and music clips, they’re also one of the most cinematic music acts of all time. [...MORE]

This week on TCM Underground: Some Call It Loving (1973) and Lolita (1962)


Neither of the features that comprise our TCM Underground lineup this weekend is new to Turner Classic Movies but the pairing of them is likely to raise eyebrows and emotions in light of certain current events — in particular, a highly-publicized court case involving a California man’s sexual assault of an unconscious woman (and his unconscionably lenient sentencing) and the ascension of the first female nominee for the office of President of the United States. Both SOME CALL IT LOVING (aka SLEEPING BEAUTY) and LOLITA are stories about the possession of women, the control of women, the having of women; both were  written by men, presumably for men. What each film says, ultimately, about the never untroubled relationship between the sexes is less important than the questions it raises about the ever-widening gap between male expectations of womanhood and what life actually has to offer.


This week on TCM Underground: The Church (1989) and The Devil’s Bride (1968)


We’re bringing back a couple of party favorites this week on TCM Underground – like Hell we are!


This week TCM Underground is on shore leave for the celebration of Memorial Day


In observance of the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, TCM Underground has a 3-day pass and will be absent — with leave — to clear the deck for a lineup of movies about men (and women) in war. As the son of military parents (my father was a sergeant, my mom a corporal), we always had time for war movies and a lot of personal favorites are in the queue for Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. In no particular order: THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE BIG PARADE (1925), MR. ROBERTS (1955), KELLY’S HEROES (1970), and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961). A lot of the actors in these movies actually served in the United States military, among them Lee Marvin (USMC), Henry Fonda (USN), Robert Ryan (USMC), Aldo Ray (USN), James Garner (Army), Charles Bronson (Army), James Coburn (Army), Don Rickles (USN), and Jack Warden (Army) — to name a few — while Sean Connery served with the British Royal Navy and David Niven left a promising Hollywood career to return to England for the duration of World War II.


Hawk or dove, conservative or liberal, you don’t have to be a warmonger (or ignore the sad plight of many or our veterans — a situation that hasn’t improved all that much between World War I and The War Against Terror) to appreciate war movies or to value the sacrifice of the men and women of our country’s armed forces. As a boy, combat films taught me about purpose, dedication, and devotion and I’ll be tuning in over the long weekend to relive some fond boyhood memories while reflecting on the contributions made by the best of us in the worst of times.

This week on TCM Underground: The Sid Saga (1985-2003) and Multiple SIDosis (1970)!


All too often we throw around the word “amateur” when we want to insult someone’s work as being slipshod or coarse, forgetting in our insistence on authenticity and professionalism that the word is derived from the Latin root “to love.” This week on TCM Underground, we focus our programming on Sid Laverents. Hobbyist. Movie maker. Amateur.

By the time he completed his four-part magnum opus, The Sid Saga(1985-2003), Sid Laverents had attained superstar status on the amateur filmmaking scene. Born Sidney Nicklas Laverents in 1908, his real estate speculator father had dragged the family back and forth across the nation in search of the next land boom, resulting in a picaresque education and an appreciably eclectic sensibility. Already a student of piano and drums, Laverents taught himself banjo, ukulele, and harmonica and supported himself during the Depression as a one-man band on the vaudeville circuit. Married for the second time and settled in San Diego before World War II, Laverents worked for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from 1941 until 1967 (apart from a stretch in the military, repairing planes in India for the United States Army). In 1956, he bought a 16mm Bolex camera to film his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary and two years later joined the San Diego Amateur Movie Makers Club. With exquisite patience, Laverents progressed from filming travelogues and garden snails to manipulating image and sound via sophisticated in-camera editing techniques. Prepared for exhibition at his film club, Laverents’ 9-minute Multiple SIDosis (1970), in which the filmmaker performs Felix Arndt’s 1916 ragtime instrumental “Nola” on uke, ocarina, Jew’s harp and other instruments, all depicted via multiple exposures (from two to ten), became a staple of film rental outfits and was included in the National Film Registry in 2000, when Laverents was 92 years old.

Multiple_Sid_002-550wThe bulk of The Sid Saga was completed in 1986, with the octogenarian adding small pieces to the autobiographical mosaic over the course of the next two decades, switching from 16mm film to video for the fourth and final component. Constructed chronologically and kicked off by a framing device in which friends of the family ask about a particularly beguiling scrapbook, Laverents guides the viewer through his early years as a busker, his vaudeville tenure, the breakup of his first marriage and union with his second wife Stella, his sidebar as a Fuller Brush salesman, his wartime service in Calcutta, the infidelity that destroyed his second marriage, his 1949 meeting of third wife Adelaide (costar of many of his 16mm short subjects), and his subsequent hobby of amateur filmmaking (illustrated with copious clips). An update in 1989 fills the viewer in on Adelaide’s death and sets up the saga’s shot-on-video coda, the whole package comprised of an invigorating combination of animation, still photography, and pre-digital photographic trickery. The film’s postscript finds a widowed Laverents assuaging his loneliness by fixing up his home, losing a hundred pounds, and submitting to a facelift in a bid to attract a life companion. The Sid Saga concludes with the filmmaker bonding with a Scandinavian woman 17 years his junior and enjoying his cinematic acclaim while expressing his wish to live to be a hundred.


In January 2004, Laverents was given a career retrospective by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, titled “The Wonderful World of Sid’s Cinema.” It should not count as a spoiler to note that Laverents achieved his life expectancy goal – and them some – lasting to the milestone age of 100 years, nine months, and a day before his death on May 6, 2009. A year earlier, he had been thrown a centenary celebration at the James Bridges Theater, on the campus of UCLA. Fearful he would not be able to attend due to poor health, Laverents prepared a shot-on-video apology but managed to make the event, to gather kudos, bask in the acclaim, and present a double feature of Multiple SIDosis and The Sid Saga. Summing up the DIY filmmaker’s importance to cinema in The New York Times, Matt Haber championed Laverents as “a distinctively American artist: a rec-room tinkerer with the can-do optimism of someone who got through the Depression and found comfort in the suburbs. Following his own whims rather than any cultural movement, he turned himself from a one-man band into a one-man independent movie studio. Mr. Laverents makes multitalented feature filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh look like slackers.”

This week on TCM Underground: Death Force (1978) and Clay Pigeon (1971)


If you’ve grown tired of all the repeats here at TCM Underground lately, oh brother have we got something very special for you this week!


This week on TCM Underground: David Lynch’s old shorts!


 I don’t mean his old underwear – how weird would that be? No, I mean the short films that David Lynch made before he went long form with ERASERHEAD (1977) and wormed his way into our collective unconscious.  [...MORE]

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