Category Archives: Cine Lit

Russ Meyer, Italian Fascist Cinema and Difficult TV Men


Mussolini’s Dream Factory: Film Stardom in Fascist Italy
By Stephen Gundle
Berghahn Books
320pp £62

Difficult Men

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution
Edited by Brett Martin
Faber & Faber
303pp £14.99

Faster Pussycat Kill Kill

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
By Dean J. DeFino
Wallflower Press
106pp £10.50

‘History is but the nail upon which the picture hangs,’ wrote Dumas Jr, and in an excellent exemplar of this adage, Stephen Gundle has painted a fantastically detailed picture of the intricacies and politics of Italian cinema during the Fascist era. In a bravura performance of research, fact-finding and analysis, the author presents a well laid out and reader-friendly narrative that Italian film scholar, Peter Bondanella, has called ‘an outstanding book in every respect’ in which ‘a complete revision of our thinking on Italian cinema takes place’. And so it does. From deep in the archives of several collections, Gundle unearths and interprets a mass of facts and minutiae, giving fresh insight into this relatively ignored 20-year time frame, which had its own infrastructure of stars, distribution, exhibition and, above all, production. The latter took place at Cinecitt&#224, the legendary film studio where, as the author notes, on the morning of 29 January 1936, Mussolini arrived by car to lay the foundation stone of ‘what would become the largest studio complex in Europe, eclipsing even the German UFA studios in Berlin’. The importance of this development to the regime, and the complex story of Italian cinematic history, is fascinatingly told through the meticulous investigation of national Fascist cinema, the Italian star system, gentrification, commercial culture and revealing case studies of stars (many conveniently forgotten after the war), such as Isa Miranda, Vittorio De Sica, Assia Noris, Amedeo Nazzari and Alida Valli. The facts and the scandals, the films and the performances – on and off screen – are engagingly told. The final part of the book focuses on the aftermath of Fascist cinema and its star system, with the self-evident chapters ‘Civil War, Liberation and Reconstruction’ and ‘Survival, Memory and Forgetting’. As Gundle finally concludes about the stars of the period: ‘No one blamed them for Fascism or for contributing with their glamour to the pattern of consent on which the regime rested. Rather they were seen as men and women who, through their screen personas, had shared with their fellow countrymen and women the most tragic and divisive period in twentieth-century Italian history and, in their best moments, granted some relief from the deadly beat of the Fascist war drums.’ A persuasive conclusion to what is already a key text of cultural Italian historiography.

Difficult Men by Brett Martin, on the other hand, takes a more journalistic and less scholarly – though no less informed – approach to his topic: ‘The wave of new shows on the cable channels which dramatically stretched television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition – shows such as The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men, Six Feet Under, Dexter, Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire, which tackled issues of life and death, love and sexuality, addiction, race, violence and existential boredom.’ Especially male existential boredom and post-feminist angst. Martin notes, as many have since, that this new ‘third golden age’ of television is squaring up to movies and providing nothing less than addictive 12 or 13-hour narrative extravaganzas with characters ‘whom, conventional wisdom had once insisted Americans would never allow into their living rooms: unhappy, morally compromised, complicated, deeply human’ who play a seductive game with the viewer, daring them to invest emotionally in, even root for, even love, a gamut of criminals whose offenses comprise adultery, polygamy, vampirism and serial murder. These shows feature storylines and characters who are ‘more ambiguous and complicated than anything that television, always concerned with pleasing the widest possible audience and group of advertisers, had ever seen.’ The storylines and plotting allow plenty of room for narrative ruthlessness and ‘give little quarter for what might be the audience’s favourite characters, offering little in the way of catharsis or the easy resolution in which television had traditionally traded’ and of course, which had, until then, set the movies apart from the limited narrative palettes and strictures of television. This was nothing short of a television revolution made possible in part, by new forms of media platforms and cultures of prosumers. A recommended and enjoyable read which is at turns pithy, sharp, gossipy, smart, insightful and extremely timely – though as the parade of ‘new television’ productions continues to proliferate, ‘timely’ is most assuredly a relative term.

Finally, short space is left for a short book: Dean J. DeFino’s hagiographic homage to the great Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! . By turns poetic, analytical, confessional, hyperbolic and factual, this compact compendium is a loving contribution to the growing literature on filmmaker Russ Meyer. This is a well-informed addition to the ‘Cultographies’ series that Wallflower publish, and an extremely personal take from an obviously smitten author, which is insightful and generous in observation – even as some of the rhetoric occasionally careens into ‘pseuds corner’ territory.

James B. Evans

Cine Books on Jazz Film Scores, 80s Trash-Horror and the Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine

French New Wave

French New Wave: Jazz on Film Recordings 1957-62
By Selwyn Harris
JOF Records
5 DVDs & 58pp. booklet £18 + p&p

The Film Festival Reader
Ed. by Dina Iordanova
St.Andrews Film Studies
239pp. £39.99

Bleeding Skull

Bleeding Skull: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey
By Joesph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik
223pp. £25

Xerox Ferox._

Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine
By John Szpunar
799pp. £29.99

Looking at Movies
By Richard Barsam and Dave Monahan
616pp. & DVD £34.99

As I compose this instalment of Cine Lit, I have wafting in the background the mellifluous tones of Miles Davis, from the superlative third box-set of Jazz on Film recordings, which this time covers the French New Wave from 1957 to 1962. Jazzwise writer Selwyn Harris’s continuing labour of love in bringing us these terrifically remastered gems from vinyl obscurity is to be lauded and applauded, and, like the other two sets, receives top ratings in this column. This new addition features The Modern Jazz Quartet’s scoring of No Sun in Venice, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ Les liaisons dangereuses and Des femmes disparaissent, Miles Davis with his classic soundtrack to Louis Malle’s Lift to the Scaffold, Michel Legrand’s beautifully constructed score for Eva, Martial Solal’s unforgettable Breathless compositions and Barney Wilen’s Un témoin dans la ville. Essential and unmissable, the recordings are enhanced immeasurably by Selwyn’s well-researched and stellar accompanying text.

There have been a number of recent publications for consideration, ranging from the sublime to the (near) ridiculous. In the former category is The Film Festival Reader, a collection of essays and speculations that should be considered required reading for anyone planning to dip their toes into the relatively new cinematic waters that are forming around the academic discipline of ‘festival studies’. The editor, Dina Iordanova, has been a key player in contributing to the field as a lecturer at St. Andrews University, where in-house publisher St. Andrew’s University Press have provided considerable and commendable support to FF Studies in a similar way to that of the University of Amsterdam Press, where Marijke de Valck – another key player in FF Studies – is based. Indeed, both have contributed essays to this book, which serves as a sort of ‘state of the art’ survey of work in the area. All of the essays have been previously published in various journals and are collected together here for the first time. Rigorous, informed, challenging and thought-provoking, it puts the emphasis on the historical, sociological and anecdotal, without too much excess baggage, from the usual academic suspects such as Deleuze, &#381i&#382ek, Foucault, Bourdieu et al. In short, an approachable and informative read.

Which brings me to the (near) ridiculous, and I mean this in a most approving way. Headpress – as readers of this column will be aware – are specialists in trawling (crawling!) through the transgressive and liminal spaces of cinematic geography, with a deliciously perverse approach that favours the experiential over the theoretical. Their authors are cinematic miners at the coal heap of trash, extreme and libidinous film. Two recent publications provide further evidence of this commitment, with fulsome tomes adding to this ongoing agenda of providing the reader with information about filmic texts and activities that they didn’t even know they wanted – or needed. Bleeding Skull is a geek’s bible of 1980s trash-horror films that have been recorded – very cheaply – on VHS and obsessively collected by the authors. The entries in this collection were culled from their website and these 300 reviews range from 555 to Le lac des morts vivants. The publisher has also given us the Szupnar book, Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine, which documents the diehards who introduced many of these films into the culture by way of the pre-internet, pre-blog punkish energy of the fanzine. Utilising illustrations, interviews and discussion, the book maps out the territory from Famous Monsters to Rue Morgue and to the further shores of luridness exemplified by the likes of Gore Gazette and Sleazoid Express. Shelve these books alongside your copies of Slimetime, Offbeat, X-Cert and Land of a Thousand Balconies.

Finally, a brief word about Looking at Movies. I met with some film student readers of ES who asked – given text book prices – what might be the best value book for a comprehensive overview of movie methods, analysis and history. The standards, of course, are Bordwell/Thompson or Cook or Giannetti – all excellent – but in terms of price, breadth, and with a very useful DVD explaining key ideas and filmmaking methods, the Barsam/Monahan is hard to beat and remains my choice. By the way, don’t let the student designation fool you, there is plenty within for all of us.

James B. Evans

Cine Books on the King of the B-Movie, British Horror Oddities and American Independents

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses

Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses: Roger Corman, King of the B Movie
By Chris Nashawaty
247pp. £19.99


X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film
By John Hamilton
Hemlock Books
244pp. £17.95

Directory of World Cinema American Independent 2

Directory of World Cinema: American Independent 2
By John Berra
Ed. Intellect
320pp. £16

Christmas came early for me this year. I received a copy of Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses, which is one of those fantastic coffee-table books that can only be described as ‘lush’. The book is not only beautifully and lovingly put together, but is one of the best and most pleasurable overviews of the formidable Roger Corman’s film career in print. The last few years, especially since Hollywood finally deigned to give Corman an Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, have seen his critical star rise and rise. But film fans already realised long before academics did that Roger Corman is a figure of brilliance and wonder in the firmament of American cinema. Without his initial support and chance-taking on novice directors and actors – and the skinflint budgets of Arkoff & Nicholson of American International Pictures (A.I.P) – we may never have had the future pleasure of the company of Joe Dante, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorcese, Monte Hellman, Ron Howard, James Cameron, Haskell Wexler, Jonathon Demme and dozens of other directors, writers and actors from the ‘Corman School’. There are substantial interviews and commentaries from these directors, who uniformly speak in praiseworthy, sardonic and anecdotally apt terms of their mentor. When first-timer Ron Howard complained – as many directors had before and after – about the impossible shooting schedule, the small crew and the desperate need for a bit of cash for some extras to shoot a crowd scene, Howard recounts that Corman put his hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Ron, I’m not going to get you more extras. But know this: If you do a good job for me on this picture, you’ll never have to work for me again.’

Abrams have produced a book that is a cornucopia of visuals – poster art, stills and on-set photographs – and unusual for most coffee-table books, includes many pages of informative observation. I am a bit smitten with Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses and consider it my book of the year in the category of film-publishing delectables. Stephen King has called it ‘Fantastic – a treasure trove’ and who am I to disagree? On an interesting note, it has recently been announced that ‘ex-student’ Joe Dante is to make a biopic about Roger Corman, who is now in his mid-80s, and the great man is going to take a cameo role.

In my last column I waxed lyrical about the book Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiosities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems. And now with the publication of X-Cert: The British Independent Horror Film comes a volume that can stand proudly beside it as another informed enthusiast, and inveterate viewer, of films from the ‘wrong side’ of the British cinema-tracks takes us on a journey there. This time the book concerns the other world (and other-worldly) domain of lesser known and barely remembered British horror films. And these films are not ‘independent’ in the American indie sense, but independent in terms of vision (very blurry in the case of some), finance, studio backing and producers. John Hamilton has obviously done his homework here – not in theoretical but in historic and cultural terms – with lively notes on each film’s anatomy, plot and reception. At the end of each entry is a clever segue into the next, which serves as a great aid to continuity and chronology. Not to be missed for fans of the genre or those interested in films that critics like C.A. Lejeune of The Observer and Dilys Powell of The Sunday Times denigrated and dismissed from their imagined ‘quality British cinema’ agenda. But now the cinematic undead rise from their celluloid tombs, and are being heard because John Hamilton has given them voice. Recommended.

The Intellect imprint continues to push out its titles thick and fast, with recent additions to two of its ongoing series, World Film Locations and Directory of World Cinema. The former focusses on the role of particular international cities and their place visually, culturally and sometimes psychogeographically within the cinematic forum, while the latter concentrates on national cinemas and has provided a much-needed publishing niche for overviews of both well and less well-known world cinemas. Latin America and Turkey are two such recent additions to the series, while American Independent 2 bucks the thematic trend somewhat by focussing on American indie cinema (a typology of production type) rather than following the usual strict, national cinema format.

For more information on all recent additions to Intellect’s World Film Locations and Directory of World Cinema series visit the Intellect website.

Of course, the whole issue of ‘independent’, given the continuing practice of corporate Hollywood taking control of many ‘independent’ films in terms of distribution (and finance), is a convoluted one, as editor John Berra touches upon in his introductory overview. I have come to trust Berra’s opinions and observations (he is a recurring name at Intellect as editor and contributor) and this particular title is insightful and will prove to be referentially useful for students of film. Just as Turkey and Latin America will likewise prove to be as introductory texts to various national cinemas which we often do not hear enough about. The series usually starts off with an essay on the ‘film of the year’, which seems a curious strategy, given that by the time the book is published it is already dated, because the film festival circuit has usually already presented the one of the following year. Far better, I feel, to subsume the key film within the body of the text and not chance perceived obsolescence. As for the series on film locations, I suggest that any cinephile or traveller who wants to get a handle on their chosen destination in terms of the cinematic – and hence cultural, social, historical and political – background gets hold of a copy about the place in question before leaving home. This could well change your whole itinerary.

James B. Evans

In keeping with the above theme of Roger Corman and A.I.P, this edition of Cine Lit’s object of note is the enjoyable romp that is the memoir of Samuel Arkoff, who along with lawyer James Nicholson founded A.I.P., the company that launched – well, sustained! – a thousand drive-in screens across North America. While bunking off for an afternoon from the Toronto Film Festival to haunt the second-hand bookstores, I found a hardcover copy of the memoir, Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants (Birch Lane Press, 1992), for the very reasonable price of $4.99. This tongue-in-cheek look back at Arkoff’s misadventures in the ‘picture business’ (the subtitle is The Man Who Brought You I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF & MUSCLE BEACH PARTY ) is an important historical document of the period, as well as an insightful look at ‘the business’. Arkoff was one of the last cigar-chompin’ independent showmen whose verve, swagger and chutzpah drove him to produce over 375 films, about which he writes: ‘AIP’s pictures have always just taken audiences out of their everyday world and transported them somewhere else. Today’s movies use their big budgets as selling points and they still don’t hit an audience half as hard as ours always have.’ Those who got their first chance with A.I.P collectively gave us such gems as: The Wild Angels, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini, Bloody Mama, House of Usher, The Thing With Two Heads, Blacula, Cannibal Girls, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat, The Trip and the unforgettable The Wrestling Women Vs. The Aztec Mummy. ‘Nuff said… SAVE THIS BOOK. JE

Cine Books on Forgotten Curiosities, Evocative Objects and The Three Stooges in Hollywood


Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems
Edited By Julian Upton
Headpress 439pp. £15.99


Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects
By Scott Jordan Harris
Intellect 111pp. £19.95

The Three Stooges

The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations
By Jim Pauley
Santa Monica Press 304pp. £24.99

As the long-awaited heat and sun of summer has finally reached the UK again after all these years, it is time to pack away all those scholarly and theoretical tomes on cinema and lie back and let some purely pleasurable texts flow over you. And it is in this spirit that the first recommendation for top leisurely reading is the unputdownable Julian Upton book, Offbeat. Now if – like me – you thanked the patron saint of forgotten British films for answering your prayers and delivering the BFI’s Flipside label, then you will feel doubly blessed with Offbeat: British Cinema’s Curiousities, Obscurities and Forgotten Gems. This book could well serve as the reference source for future Flipside releases, or indeed be the reference book of choice for anyone who is keen to venture beyond the 23 (so far) releases and track down some of the gems and oddities covered in Upton’s book. In the reviews of over 100 lost (to release, at least) British films, from the rise of the industry in the fifties to the backing of Hollywood in the sixties, to the laissez-faire of the seventies and finally to ‘the dying embers of popular domestic cinema in the early eighties’, a host of well-known contributors enthuse, castigate, advocate and denigrate a cornucopia of little known British cinematic trash and treasures. Expanded thematic essays are indicative of what the reader may expect, for example: ‘Swordplay: British Swashbuckler Films’, ‘Over the Cliff: British Rock and Roll Films’, ‘A Dangerous Madness: Opening the Door to Asylum Horror’, ‘Sullivan’s Travails: The Roldvale Sex Films’, ‘Seen But Not Heard Of: Children’s Film Foundation’, ‘Wings of Death: Demise of the Short as Supporting Feature’ and inevitably, ‘Baby Love: Underage Sex and Murder in British Cinema’. A total treat: who cares if the book’s graphic design and layout is distracting and looks like an over-worked web page, with those annoying spools of film pagination everywhere? This is the kind of must-have book that readers of ES will love.

Scott Jordan Harris’s book, Rosebud Sleds and Horses’ Heads: 50 of Film’s Most Evocative Objects is different in kind and format from the normally recognisable Intellect publishing format, which can be explained by its having first been published in the US under the auspices of the University of Chicago Press. With stylistically linked illustrations for each object discussed, Harris focusses three or four paragraphs of succinct and observant text on various key examples of material culture, which are intrinsic to the narrative and plot of the selected film. Semiotic-lite analyses of such ‘things’ as the discarded Coke bottle in The God’s Must Be Crazy, the chess set in The Seventh Seal, the letters of transit in Casablanca, Marty McFly’s hoverboard in Back to the Future Part II, ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ in Trainspotting and Dirk Diggler’s (prosthetic) penis in Boogie Nights make for eclectic and fascinating reading about a little-explored aspect of cinematic mise-en-scene. It’s one of those books that demand initial reading at one sitting, and then further reference and reflection subsequently. Delightfully engaging, entertaining and informative – and perfect for outdoor reading.

Finally, and in brief, an excellent exemplar of the dedicated cinephile: the completist fan-geek. And I mean that not as a pejorative statement but as a wide-mouthed admirer. Jim Pauley has tracked down, explored and documented the filming locations – then and now – of the most significant Three Stooges Columbia Picture shorts made in the Los Angeles area between 1934 and 1958. A labour of true Stoogology love, which must have taken years to assemble: there are some 500 archival photographs, 12 maps, and interviews with supporting actors, directors and family and friends of the beloved Moe, Curly, Larry, Shemp, Joe and Curly Joe. The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations is enjoyable to dip into, but is probably a tome for an American audience and hard-core fans only, although it is beautifully produced and ‘showing the love’.

James B. Evans

This section of my column pays homage to out-of-print and rare film books that link to one of the themes or books reviewed above, and in this installment I recommend seeking out a copy of Last of the Moe Haircuts by Bill Flanagan, ‘self-appointed Director of the American Stooge Synposium’. It’s a clever and hilarious book that mixes scholarship and expertise of the Three Stooges with a cheeky and very witty approach to ‘proper’ analysis of the films, with evidence provided by contextualising the film’s content. One great proof offered of the Stooges prescience is in their dealing with feminist issues, with the suggestion that various Stooges films established their avant-garde thinking in this sociological matter, while another section discusses their spreading of the gospel of Freud through living example. Great fun! JE

Jazz, Jules Verne and another magnum opus by David Thomson


The Big Screen: The Story of Movies and What They Did to Us
By David Thomson
Allen Lane 595pp £25

Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool
By Selwyn Harris
Moochin’ About/Jazzwise Magazine £25

The Future Revisited: Jules Verne on screen in 1950s America
By Françoise Schlitz
Chaplin Books £14.99

In spite of rumours of the demise of printed books and related ephemera, wondrous things continue to be delivered through my letterbox and my heart stirs at the thump on the mat when a padded envelope of unknown contents materialises. This month’s Cine Lit looks at three such recent deliveries.

David Thomson is one of cinema studies’ most prolific authors. By turns enthusiastic, irascible, grumpy, opinionated, personal, fair-minded and judgemental, he is above all deeply passionate, informed and honest. His writing is a joy to read and maintains a rare balance between populism and elitism. A critic and contextualist, Thomson is one of the best cinematic authors that we have. As the author’s modest rear dust jacket description has it: ‘David Thomson has a fair claim to be the greatest living writer on film.’ Can’t imagine who the greatest dead writer is – answers on a postcard please. At any event, it is obvious that any new book from Thomson is to be reckoned with and paid attention to. His propensity for magnum opuses – as evidenced by his authoritative Biographical Dictionary of Film and The Whole Equation, his history of Hollywood – now continues with The Big Screen. His polemical, probing style with its breezy narrative structure and insightful, often provocative, observations has been fashioned over many years. Thomson has been a sharp-eyed critic and writer on film for decades, his first publication arriving in 1967. The new book takes a God’s eye view of movies; it is international in scope and all-encompassing in theme. The reader is taken on a mighty journey from the beginnings of the film industry and through the succeeding decades with stops taken along the route to look at the rise and influence of academic film studies (pro and con) , cultural and social change before, during and after the wars and how these anxieties and pleasures were reflected on the screen and embedded in the textual codes. It ends with a wonderful epilogue reflecting on projection, screen and narrative, which, like the book, is suffused with misgivings about the present and future state of movie-going as a communal cultural experience. The Big Screen is a terrific ‘can’t put it down’ account written by an author who holds back few punches – all at once loveable, charming, irritating and unpredictable. A classic.

In an earlier column I enthused over the terrific CD box set of Jazz on Film: Film Noir and its accompanying booklet. How could this gem be bettered? Well… it has. Moochin’ About has just released a gorgeous new five-CD box-set with another informative 30-page booklet, Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool. Featuring more lost or hard-to-get soundtracks remastered to a high standard, it includes such hipster efforts as The Connection, The Subterraneans (imagine A-Team’s George Peppard as Jack Kerouac! Score by Andre Previn), Shadows (a Cassavetes classic, score improvised by Charles Mingus no less), Paris Blues (score by Duke Ellington) and another wonderful four titles. Lovingly prepared and beautifully presented, this is a must-have set.

Finally, a rather unique title from a little-known publisher. Chaplin Books has released Françoise Schlitz’s The Future Revisited, an examination of Hollywood’s film versions of Jules Verne’s novels with a focus on Around the World in 80 Days, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth – a film seen in childhood which mesmerised me. Schlitz takes a multi-disciplinary view of the films and culture in which they were produced, with an emphasis on how Verne’s original novels launched readers into travels to imaginary places and provided them with newly imagined – but somehow plausible – experiences therein. She then goes on to deliberate how these spectacles and marvels intersected with, and were translated into, works that served the concerns of modernism, capitalism, notions of progress and consumption, all in aid of American post-war hegemony. Cinematic textual challenges to gender, politics, domesticity, innovation and science itself are winkled out of the films in question and an interesting account has been articulated. If at times the book has the whiff of a re-worked Ph.D thesis, what with its initial insistence on articulating methodologies and justifying certain contextual approaches before the unfolding of the narrative proper, it is nonetheless interesting for all that and provides a welcome perspective on a rarely examined aspect of film history.

James B. Evans

You’ll pay a premium for securing a copy of this terrific title, Cocaine Fiends and Reefer Madness, Michael Stark’s illustrated history of drugs in the movies. It was a seminal study on the topic, and subsequent writers have borrowed generously from Stark’s research and thorough overview of the topic – though not always acknowledging him. The book was published by Cornwall Press in New York in 1982 and has long been out of print. It pops up on ABE and Alibris from time to time and I was lucky to pay £10 for it a few years ago on Charing Cross Road – you know the Charing Cross Road that used to have lots of used bookshops before the days of designer coffee shops and eateries. It is essential, along with Harry Shapiro’s out of print Shooting Stars: Drugs, Hollywood and the Movies (Serpent’s Tail, London) and the equally essential, though still available Addicted: the Myth and Menace of Drugs in Film by the ubiquitous Jack Stevenson. Save these books! JE

House of Psychotic Women: A confessional approach to exploitation films


House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films
By Kier-La Janisse
FAB Press 357pp £19.99

Never speak – or write – too soon. In the last Cine Lit column two new books on horror were reviewed and the speculation posited, ‘What more could possibly be said about the genre with such a tsunami of texts already out there?’ Well, I hadn’t counted on Kier-La Janisse’s House of Psychotic Women dropping through my letterbox. The subtitle alone invites one to wonder what hybrid narrative lies within and the author states very clearly – and contentiously – within what terms this cultural confessional will unfold. It is worth quoting at some length as it gives a precise indication as to the tone and uniquely subjective nature of the book:

When I first started edging into film writing in the mid-’90s, I was all about girl power; how horror films (even slasher films) were empowering to women, how most horror films were about men’s anxieties concerning the nature of femininity and female sexuality, gender relations, castration anxiety – all this great meaty stuff… For a female horror fan/exploitation fan, that’s a great place to start; certainly much more productive than denouncing the whole genre all together as some counter-revolutionary, misogynist exercise… I wanted to explore neurotic characterization as comprehensively as I could, but I didn’t want to write a dense book on horror theory… if I started leaning too much on Freud and Lacan I’d be out of my depth. I needed to focus on what I know: namely, that the films I watch align with my personal experience that every woman I have ever met in my entire life is completely crazy, in one way or another. [A good thing a man did not write this!]

She goes on:

I myself have been the subject of a film Celluloid Horror, 2003… the film delved into some uncomfortable subject matter: my adolescent propensity for physical violence, my history in group homes, foster homes and detention centres, and the years of involuntary therapy…Most painful of all, it captured the disintegration of my brief marriage. My constructive participation in genre film exhibition and promotion has curbed my (often misdirected) aggression to a great degree. As my own neurosis became more subdued I found myself unconsciously drawn to female characters who exhibited signs of behaviour I had recognized in myself: repression, delusion, paranoia, hysteria…my life is enveloped by chaos…Unresolved issues weigh heavily on me: feelings of failure, sabotaged relationships, blinding anger…

As she points out, the book ‘follows her personal trajectory’ as she examines cinematic patterns and weaves in and out of film synopses and critiques as they relate to her, and she is clear on this point: it is primarily a book about her life. Of course, the problem with such a unique autobiographical approach to film writing is whether the reader really cares about the author and his/her life and hard times, and with regard to that I remain ambivalent.

It is a problematic tightrope to walk between film analysis taken as a personal critical odyssey on the one hand, and film analysis as an excuse for self-indulgent therapy on the other. And here Janisse falters, sometimes delivering a fine balancing act, sometimes falling off the wire. For her breadth of knowledge of the genre and her erudite and insightful critiques of individual films there is much to admire in, and learn from, the book, but whether writing it from such a psycho-therapeutic point of view adds to the reader’s appreciation or knowledge of the genre is in question – as is my (male) awareness of the gender politics that bear on it. There was a curious sense of guilt, atonement and apology arising between the lines, which was distracting, and the book – absorbing and even brave as it is – comes off as an articulate and intelligent volume of confessions that frame the films, rather than the other way around. A one-of-a-kind experience to be sure.

James B. Evans

Cine Books on Iran, Conspiracy and Saucy British Cinema

Iran: Directory of World Cinema
Edited by Parviz Jahed
Intellect 293pp £15.95

Conspiracy Cinema: Propaganda, politics and paranoia
By David Ray Carter
Headpress 271pp £24.99

Keeping The British End Up: Four decades of saucy cinema
By Simon Sheridan
Titan Books 287pp £24.99

A rather eclectic group of books this instalment, which range from the serious to the paranoid to the smutty. Fabulous!

Parviz Jahed is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable authorial voice on Iranian cinematic matters to be added to a list which includes, among others, Ali Issari, Hamid Dabashi and Hamid Sadr. Jahed has been close to the Iranian film scene for many years and displays a deep historical knowledge from his unique vantage point as an Iranian and as a transplanted European. He has also been involved with filmmaking as his excellent documentary, Bonjour Mr Ghaffari, demonstrates. All these factors make his account of the historical and critical development of Iranian film, Iran: Directory of World Cinema, as authoritative as could be expected in this concise a book. As is the format for this series of Intellect Books (which seem to pop up like mushrooms on a very regular basis), the book consists of focused thematic essays followed by critical appraisals of key films. There can be a certain unevenness in the editorial quality, consistency and scholarly rigour of some of the titles in the series, but Jahed’s book exemplifies the best of them. He has taken on much of the essay writing himself and has turned a critical eye on many of the films – in many ways this could have been a single author work although there are some fine contributions from others, notably Saeed Aghighi’s essay, ‘The New Wave Movement 1969-1979’. Many claims have been made for New Wave and contemporary Iranian cinema as any recent university syllabus will illustrate, but what is most interesting in Jahed’s book is his overview of the lesser-known territory of early Iranian cinema through the fascinating account of Film Farsi (and the Jaheli cycles) and on to an overdue salute to the forerunners of the New Wave such as Farrokh Ghaffari and Ebrahim Golestan. All in all a fresh and intelligently pithy story of Iranian cinema.

Rimbaud called for a systematic derangement of the senses in order to capture poetic essence and authenticity – to open oneself up to a different world view. And it is a systematic derangement of all historical sense, as the Preface for Conspiracy Cinema points out, as well as logic and sometimes sanity that is called for in reading David Ray Carter’s utterly fascinating book. Little, if any, writing has been focused solely on this topic and Carter has opened up and shed light into this very dark basement of cinematic endeavour. The sheer range of these theories is breath-taking, and encountering them is to bathe in the unprovable, the illogical and the downright paranoid. All the usual conspiratorial topics are present and accounted for: the two Kennedy assassinations, the Martin Luther King assassination, Diana, the ‘extermination’ of Koresh and his followers at Waco, Elvis, 9-11, to name a few of the more familiar subjects. But these barely reach the wilder shores of HIV/AIDS conspiracy theories (Department of Defence experiments run wild, UN’s World Health Organisation administering the virus via smallpox injections in order to depopulate Africa, Soviet plots) or secret ionospheric auditory transmissions sent out by the government to alter planetary weather and chemtrails emitted by all passenger jets doctored with aluminium to reduce skin cancers in the service of insurance companies to cut down on skin cancer payouts – and these just suggest the rich but bizarre pickings to be found in Carter’s book. Having viewed hundreds of independently produced films on these and other topics, Carter organises his findings into eight themes and introduces each with a short synopsis of the facts, the official version and the conspiracy theories around them before he reviews the many films addressing each particular theme. Enough said: this book is a terrific, mesmerising and bizarre piece of weird scholarship. Un-put-down-able! Like Wilde said, ‘Beware the half-truth, you may have got hold of the wrong half’.

Finally, there is only space to sing the praises of another breath-taking piece of wonderfully weird cinematic scholarship of sorts, Simon Sheridan’s fascinating antidote to academic texts, Keeping the British End Up, in a new, revised edition. Scrupulously researched and generously illustrated within the covers of a quality Titan publication, the book recounts – in suitably cheeky prose – the, er, rise and fall of… well, you know what! Anyone with an interest in the ‘other’ British cinema, which takes us on a journey from Nudist Paradise through the Confessions series via chapters entitled ‘Comings’, ‘Doings’, ‘…Goings’ and ends with a who’s who of actors and actresses in ‘Knobs and Knockers’, will be unable to resist this book. “The ‘Wisden’ of British smut’ as Matthew Sweet accurately called it.

James B. Evans

In reviewing Simon Sheridan’s book, Keeping the British End Up, in this month’s Cine Lit column it is only fitting to pay homage to an earlier account of the ruder end (oooh missus!!) of sexy and soft core British cinema once – and still? – reviled and ignored by the critical establishment, the 1992 book, Doing Rude Things: The History of the British Sex Film, 1957 -1981 by David McGillivray. Published by the little-known sun tavern fields press, this was one of the first accounts to historically describe and archive this irresistible stream of sexploitation and low-budget films, which would be screened in only the seediest of Soho’s Macintosh brigade cinemas and no, that ain’t computers we’re referring to! McGillivray lovingly recounts those halcyon and opportunistic days (many a well-known ‘proper’ thespian appeared) and introduces many primary sources in the form of interviews and quotations from those involved. Pamela Green remembers how her nudie films caused such offence to some Women’s Hour listeners that she was invited on the programme to debate them – another time indeed. McGillivray is an informed and hospitable critic when reviewing the period and the films. Illustrations are copious – and copulatory. Copies of DRT are very difficult to find and sell for exorbitant amounts online. Save this book! JBE

Cine Books on Spaghetti Westerns

Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns
By Kevin Grant
FAB Press 480pp £24.99

Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema
By Austin Fisher
I.B. Tauris 304pp £59.50

Cinema Italiano
By Howard Hughes
I.B. Tauris £14.99

Film Noir: Jazz on Film
By Selwyn Harris
Jazzwise Magazine/Moochin’ About £25.95

As readers will already know, there can be no such thing as too much Django, Ringo, Sartana, Sabata, Trinity et al, so the release of not one but two excellent tomes on the Spaghetti Western can be considered a bounty. In no preferential order then, Kevin Grant’s terrific Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns, published by the ever reliable FAB Press, gives us an insightful eight-chapter socio-historical overview of the cycle and includes two comprehensive appendices: a 47-page survey of ‘Who’s Who in Euro-Westerns’ and an essential 35-page chronological survey, ‘The Euro-Western Westerns’, which begins the voyage with Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent’s 1955 film El Coyote and ends with Lucky Luke (James Huth, 2009). As if this were not enough, I.B. Tauris has also come up trumps with the publication of the more scholarly tome Radical Frontiers in the Spaghetti Western: Politics, Violence and Popular Italian Cinema by Austin Fisher. It necessarily covers much of the same historical ground, but does so in a much deeper critical and analytical way that is not, however, excessively theory-heavy. Academically assured and with a firm grasp on the socio-politico culture of the period, it makes for an engrossing contextual read.

I.B. Tauris is always a reliable and authoritative publisher of film books and has released many other worthy titles in the last months, among which the fecund author Howard Hughes figures prominently. His latest book, Cinema Italiano, is a rip-roaring roller-coaster ride through the history of Italian cinema from the 1950s to the 1970s when it rivalled Hollywood itself as the foremost cinematic production machine in the world. Charting the storming of the box office by Hercules (Pietro Francisi, 1958) and the sword-and-sandal epics that followed in its wake, and then travelling through film space past all the successful genres that the Italians – often with international monies – colonised, such as costume dramas, Gothic delights, sci-fi, Spaghetti Westerns, Euro crime and Euro spy cycles, gialli thrillers, comedies, zombie flicks and soft-core screwballs, allows Hughes to introduce some 400 examples into his text. Though not the ‘Complete Guide from Classics to Cult’ that the cover suggests – a near impossible task as hundreds of films were cranked out in the period – Hughes’s book is comprehensive, with informed commentaries that make the reader want to put down the book and view or re-view many of the movies mentioned, which seems, in this reviewer’s eyes, to be the most important goal of any book about films. Cinema Italiano is great fun and full of fascinating facts that evidence the author’s love and passion for the topic. A thumbs-up for the cover design too, which is a nice pastiche of period graphics.

Finally, Film Noir: Jazz on Film by Selwyn Harris merits a mention for being a classy and sassy little book that is unique in its discussion of five noir soundtracks – Private Hell 36, The Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, Odds against Tomorrow, Touch of Evil, Sweet Smell of Success and A Streetcar Named Desire. However, the book is only available as part of a fantastic box-set of these re-released (once difficult to get hold of) soundtracks on CD. While it may be argued that not all the films are strictly in the noir canon, these gems of scoring by the likes of Ellington, Mancini and Bernstein are just the jazzy tonic to listen to while reading your Cine Lit choices. A very welcome – and delicious – release.

James B. Evans

Alongside the warning that the contents include ‘Adult Material’, the back cover of Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema around the World includes this teaser:
Have you seen:
-the Indian song and dance version of Dracula?
-the Mexican masked wrestling films of El Santo?
-the Turkish version of Star Trek?
-the kung fu fighting gorilla films of South East Asia?
-the gore films of Indonesia?
Author Pete Tombs angles – alongside the like-minded Messrs Stevenson and Sargeant – in the muddy backwaters of film culture in search of strange species. Published by Titan in 1997, this superb collection of mind-bendingly bizarre films takes the reader on a well-researched and knowledgeable insider tour of the transgressive – and downright surreal – cinemas of Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Turkey, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and three chapters’ worth of Japan. Though 15 years old now, the book is still relevant and necessary due both to the quality of the narrative and the still unavailable nature of many of the films discussed. Save this book!

Auteur Books on 60s British Cinema

Witchfinder General
By Ian Cooper
Auteur 105pp £9.99

Let the Right One In
By Anne Billson
Auteur 112pp £9.99

Studying British Cinema: The 1960s
By Danny Powell
Auteur 254pp £18.99

Auteur Books produce informed and approachable texts aimed at undergraduate students – but of interest to the general film enthusiast. They have recently published several books in two of their specialist lines that are worthy of attention. In the Devil’s Advocate series they have two new offerings, Witchfinder General and Let the Right One In. In their already established and well-received Studying British Cinema series, Danny Powell’s Studying the 60s offers a solid and informed overview of this boom and bust period of British cinema history. After an introduction that maps out his approach to the period along with a useful contextualisation of the truths (and myths) about the 60s, he proceeds to look at the decade through key films from each year. From Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960) up to the ‘self-parodying… anachronism’ The Italian Job (Peter Collinson, 1969), Powell takes the reader on an often fascinating journey through that much maligned (and over-praised) decade.

Some observations though: more might have been made of the gender issues implied by the fact that Anne Jellicoe wrote The Knack, and although the book does not intend to be comprehensive, the lack of even cursory mention of important players like Alan Bates, Oliver Reed, Tony Tenser, Michael Reeves and Ken Russell, and production companies like Tigon and Amicus, is to be lamented. And what of quintessential period films such as Smashing Time, Morgan, Isadora, Charlie Bubbles, Up the Junction or Poor Cow? These omissions are all the more striking as valuable space is given over twice to Clive Donner’s Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

In contrast, Ian Cooper’s Witchfinder General covers much of the same period but is paradoxically able to consider a wider cultural field by virtue of honing in on one particular movie. There are inevitable differences in interpretation in both works and this is sometimes a result of the research: Cooper cites Julian Petley’s key text, ‘The Lost Continent’ while Powell does not make any reference to it. In his 1986 article, Petley argued for a consideration of aspects of British cinema that fell outside the then predominant critical view that only films of social realist tendency and toned down emotional excess or spectacle were of import. Reflection on Petley’s thesis might perhaps have allowed Powell’s cinematic net to be cast over a slightly larger area.

Nonetheless, both books are informative and assured and as neither is intended to be definitive or comprehensive both succeed in their brevity. The same can be said of Anne Billison’s succinct account of the Swedish milestone Let the Right One In and her contextualisation of vampirism in respect to this post-modern cinematic contribution to the genre. We can look forward to more sparkling titles in these worthy series.

James B. Evans

To kick off this new and regular bonus addition to Cine Lit – in which the column’s intrepid editor pays homage to wonderful film books that are out of print or just plain ‘missing in action’ – it seems only right to highlight one of the most sought after, and as a consequence one of the more valuable, tomes to appear (occasionally) on second-hand websites, Mark Thomas McGee’s Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures. McGee offers what must be the authoritative history of the drive-in circuits’ favourite provider of thrills, spills and chills. Exchanging hands at prices of up to £200, the 1996 edition of his book is a scholarly but non-academic account of the rise and fall of that legendary production/exhibition/distribution hothouse of low-budget ‘youth’ films within whose ranks Roger Corman and his ‘school’ of first-time directors passed: Martin Scorcese, Francis Coppola, Monte Hellman, Robert Towne, Jonathan Demme, Peter Bogdanovich – to name but a few. This warts-and-all tale of the fabulations and near-cons of owners Samuel Arkoff and James Nicholson is a terrific read and a valuable addition to American cinematic history. Save this book! JE

Bloody-Minded Auteurs from the Arthouse to the Grindhouse

Andrei Tarkovsky
By Sean Martin
kamera Books 224pp £16.99

Dark Stars Rising
By Shade Rupe
Headpress 559pp. £15.99

Flesh and Blood Volume 2
Edited by Harvey Fenton
FAB Press 95pp £14.99

Many writers will tell you that writing ‘short’ is often a much tougher discipline than writing ‘long’ – a short story can be more demanding than a novel. In the case of writing about a life’s oeuvre, as Sean Martin has attempted with his recent book, Andrei Tarkovsky, the task is daunting indeed, for the Russian director is an idiosyncratic and demanding auteur. Kamera books has a strong track record in publishing short, pithy overviews of directors, genres and national cinemas. The series is largely successful in providing credible and accessible introductory volumes for the interested and curious cinema-goer and fledgling film students. Both groups are well served by Martin’s book, which does justice – in a brief 196 pages of text proper – to the complex, semi-autobiographical visual poetry that constitutes Tarkovsky‘s cinema. In chapters that cover his seven major films, Martin writes with a fine turn of phrase that reveals a firm critical understanding and sensitivity to the filmmaker, to wit: ‘Poetry, for Tarkovsky, is the form of linguistic expression that is as close as we can get to life itself; it is a manifestation of truths beyond language.’ Of Nostalgia he writes: ‘It is as if Tarkovsky is heeding the advice of Robert Bresson in the film – more so than in any of his previous work – “Be sure of having used to the full all that is communicated by immobility and silence.” If Stalker is one of the great films of silence, then Nostalgia is one of the great films of immobility…’ The author’s stated intent for this volume is ‘to serve as a short overview of Tarkovsky’s work for those unfamiliar with it, or as a stimulus to go back and re-watch the films for those already acquainted with them’. It succeeds on both counts.

The appropriately named publishers FAB and Headpress both immerse themselves in the muddy waters of transgressive cinema and liminal spaces and places. What links FAB Press’s Flesh and Blood Volume 2 and Headpress’s Dark Stars Rising is their mutual celebration of authors – cinematic and otherwise – whose integrity of vision or simple bloody-mindedness (literally and figuratively) is enmeshed in their work and often indistinguishable from their lives. Hence, in Dark Stars Rising, Shade Rupe presents a vast collection of interviews undertaken over the years with many artists who may fairly be put into the camp of extremist cinema. In a set of 27 interviews – more conversations really, as the author notes – some fascinating words are spoken by the likes of Gaspar Noé, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Udo Kier and Hermann Nitsch, each of whom takes the reader on a journey – often circuitous – into his mind and work. Rupe is a game interviewer but too often takes a chummy, near-schmoozy approach to his subjects; he occasionally gets lost in his own vast references and misses chances to probe more deeply into his subject’s opinions, observations or downright misguided ideas. A trifle too hagiographic in his approach then – but forget about my niggling: this collection provides an insider’s guide to the fringes of culture and takes us joyfully into the liminal hinterlands of cinema and art.

Not dissimilar in its cultural territory but significantly different in approach and subject matter, Harvey Fenton’s new book is a miscellany of interviews and historical/cultural essays about various fringe or geek (in the best sense of the word) cinematic tastes. It is a delicious potpourri about good old exploitation and ‘cult’ cinema. Indeed, there is a piece by Robert G. Weiner on that hoary old carny barker of a film producer, the legendary Dwain Esper, who, along with those other film biz rascals, Kroger Babb, David Friedman and Willis Kent, made going to the ‘sin pit’ such a satisfactory guilty pleasure. Carl T. Ford contributes a worthy piece on Du&#353an Makavejev and Sweet Movie, while Kier-La Janisse’s piece, ‘Boccaccio’s Bastards: the Decameron from Pop to Porn’, makes a unique cine-historiographical job of tracing the bawdy Italian’s major work as it has evolved in various cinematic interpretations – rarely culminating in a masterpiece to match the source material. Topics range from body horror to Roger Vadim’s Blood and Roses – linked nicely in this collection through its connection to the various incarnations of Le Fanu’s vampire novella, Carmilla, which is the focus of Jonathon Scott’s engaging chapter, ‘The Female of the Species: Fantale’s Karnstein Trilogy’. There follow interviews with John Landis (which is not as probing as might have been hoped), Alan Birkinshaw, Geoffrey Wright and Paul Verhoeven discussing ‘the politics of pulp’. Flesh and Blood Volume 2 has been long anticipated and is a worthy successor to the original collection. It is certainly a must-have addition if you enjoyed (and coveted) the first volume. Both Headpress and FAB deserve praise for the kind of tangential cinematic materials with which they so joyfully engage.

James B. Evans