Tag Archives: 60s cinema

Black Sunday

Black Sunday

Format: Blu-ray + DVD

Release date: 4 February 2013

Distributor Arrow Video

Director: Mario Bava

Writers: Ennio De Concini, Mario Serandrei, Mario Bava, Marcello Coscia

Based on the short story ‘Viy’ by: Nikolaj Gogol

Original title: La maschera del demonio

Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi

Italy 1960

87 mins

Mario Bava was not only a clever genre specialist, but one who helped kick-start nearly every commercial genre in Italy in the 50s and 60s with the exceptions of the Spaghetti Western and the sex comedy, though he eventually did those too. He photographed (and part directed) I Vampiri, the first real Italian horror film, and Caltiki the Immortal Monster, a science fiction monster movie. He also shot Hercules, the first of the mythic muscleman epics of its day. His Blood and Black Lace (aka Six Women for the Murderer) is arguably the first true giallo movie, or at least the one that crystallised the various elements of the genre into a single film. And Black Sunday, aka The Mask of Satan, began the tradition of supernatural Gothic horror than ran luridly amuck over Italian, and then international screens throughout the 60s.

Following the success of Hammer’s Dracula, Bava (working as director and cinematographer) took a less famous literary source, Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Viy’, which he and his screenwriters adapted pretty freely, slathering it in morbid and sadistic imagery. Filming in black and white, Bava pays more attention to grotty or dribbly textures than his English precursors, with bubbling fluids around a freshly branded letter S in leading lady Barbara Steele’s back, the waxy, eyeless visage of her corpse, crawling with tiny scorpions, and the pale, viscous blood/paint that slowly drops from a glinting shard of glass…

Steele is the film’s star twice over, playing the innocent heroine and her vampiric ancestor. A graduate of art college and the Rank Charm School, she spent the early 60s filming in Italy, her native land having proved incapable of recognising the potential of her porcelain features and huge heavy-lidded eyes. The most important eyes in horror cinema since Karloff’s – augmented by Bava with lighting tricks and special effects, even replaced at one point by a pair of poached eggs!

As a jobbing filmmaker, Bava could make good use of available locations, but he excelled at studio work where he could absolutely control the lighting and create wholly artificial worlds. Black Sunday’s Moldavian countryside is almost entirely artificial, alternating between spacious, ornate interiors and exteriors that sometimes barely exist apart from foreground twigs and dry ice fumes – and Bava’s atmospheric lighting.

Though not notably sophisticated as a piece of screenwriting – his films generally rely more on lighting, composition, movement, sound and design, rather than dialogue or acting – Bava’s first movie as sole director shows his wide cinematic knowledge, visually quoting everything from White Zombie to David Lean’s Oliver Twist and Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (crossed with Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man). He also layers the film with visual motifs and rhymes, deploying eyes, windows, reflections, and long, tense right-to-left pans, which sometimes come full circle to their point of origin, Bava’s crew presumably crouching on the floor to stay out of shot, or else trotting around the camera ahead of the advancing lens.

While Bava’s films don’t usually scare me much, the wandering corpse in Black Sabbath, popping up everywhere like Droopy, frightens the blue Jesus out of me, and there’s a sudden transformation from child to zombie in his last film, Shock, accomplished without any special effects, which caused me to leave fingerprints in the cat. Black Sunday strikes me as more pleasurably Halloweeny, spooky and fun and gorgeously eerie, with just enough sheer nastiness to give it a slight edge.

Arrow’s sumptuous Blu-ray comes with intros, interviews, commentary by Bava scholar Tim Lucas, and a whole movie as extra: the aforementioned I Vampiri, a testing ground for some of the tricks Bava perfected in Black Sunday. It’s quite a package.

David Cairns



Format: Cinema

Release date: 4 January 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: BFI Distribution

Director: Roman Polanski

Writers: Roman Polanski, Gerard Brach, David Stone

Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Ian Hendry, John Fraser, Yvonne Furneaux

UK 1965

105 mins

French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space was in circulation when Roman Polanski made Repulsion. Published in 1958, it appeared in English translation in 1964 just one year before the film’s release. Bachelard observes an intimate relationship between the form of a domestic dwelling and its inhabitants. Corners, garrets, drawers, chests all affect a way of being. In turn, the occupant leaves a trace on their home both physically and in the realm of memory and the imaginary. Polanski too made much of this interdependence in each of his ‘Apartment Trilogy’ films: Repulsion (1964), Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Tenant (1976). They all encapsulate the feng shui nightmare of cheapskate landlords’ conversions: thin walls, creaking floor boards, damp and drafts. Polanski’s architecture of choice is the late Victorian flat with its excesses of cornicing, cast iron radiators and sash windows, which all provide details for his lingering camera. These are pads with ‘character’, ornate abodes which have an agency that makes them unsung stars in his films. For Carol, played by Catherine Deneuve, the South Kensington flat she rents serves as an escape from the busy streets and bustling beauty salon where she works. It is a place where she can resist the advances of suitors and relax with her sister, Helen (Yvonne Furneaux). Gradually, it houses and mimics her mental collapse as she becomes locked into an alternate reality of paranoid visions and catatonia. Polanski’s scenes of ‘living walls’ are some of the most memorable in the psychological horror genre.

Many writers have tried to decipher Carol’s mental state. Is she depressed? Schizophrenic? Is she ‘sex repressed’, or possessed by ‘demons’ of the unconscious mind as Bosley Crowther reviewing for The New York Times would have it in 1965? Or, more delicately, was she abused as a child? The cryptic family portrait we see in her lounge might suggest this. The film shrugs off definite answers, but what is clear is that Carol is terrified of being ‘broken into’. Her comfortable routine is shattered by her sister’s oafish boyfriend and his clumsy stuffing of his toothbrush and razor into her water glass. Sexual imagery here speaks for itself. It is often mentioned in write-ups of the film how openly Polanski exposes the intricacies of Carol’s demise. But just what does this involve? My interpretation is that Polanski creates a psychological space with his sophisticated use of the mechanics of cinema – a space where a woman is terrified of intruders – and then he invites us in. We are with Carol every step of the way, perceiving the world as it is to her: when she is alone in the house, when she is visited in the night by the imagined rapist grabbing and pushing in close. We are given the spare key and taken up a kind of multiple occupancy of Carol’s mind. Polanski makes us psyche-cine intruders, able to come and go as we please. It is this that makes the film so unsettling and perversely enigmatic.

So what of this filmic architecture – how does Polanski build this cine interior? To me his methods are Lovecraftian. By fragmenting and dislocating sound and image Polanski creates monstrous and unearthly reconfigurings of the banal. One observation I made in seeing the film again was the fracturing of one of the early moments where Carol is walking outside and passes by a roadworks site. Piles of rubble suggest disintegration and recall the cracks in the pavement and wall that fascinate Carol. One of the workers, sweating and wearing a soiled vest, leers at her and suggests ‘a bit of the other’. This one scene then splits into tiny shards that resurface during the remainder of the film. A similar vest keeps reappearing in the flat, as if it moved of its own accord. It is a sign of Carol’s curious disgust of male sexuality – one she finally absorbs into her own horrific version of domesticity. Later and quite separately from the initial workmen scene, Carol appears even more disturbed on her walk home. Here, within the drums and percussion of Chico Hamilton’s jazz score it is possible to hallucinate the sounds of car horns and drilling. The film is shaped by these explosions and dream logic arrangements. Cinematography (Gilbert Taylor) sound editing and mixing (Tom Priestley and Leslie Hammond), editing (Alastaire McIntyre) and art direction (Séamus Flannery) are the building materials of this psychic folly for Polanski.

In Poems to My Other Self(1927) Albert-Birot pre-empts Polanki’s concerns in Repulsion, and indeed his words suggest one of Polanski’s interior tracking shots. Bachelard selects this quotation in Poetics:

…Je suis tout droit les moulures
qui suivent tout droit le plafond

‘I follow the line of the moldings
which follow that of the ceiling’

Mais il y a des angles d’où l’on ne peut plus sortir.

‘But there are angles from which one cannot escape.’

Nicola Woodham

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

Double Exposure (1969)

Format: DVD

Release date: 26 March 2012

Distributor: BFI

Director: Peter de Rome

USA 1969-72

90 mins

‘Hi, I’m Peter de Rome, and I spent the last 50 years making gay porn movies.’

With The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, the BFI continues its thankless task of rewriting the universe of alternative British filmmakers, otherwise lost, forgotten, or never discovered in the first place. De Rome, now almost 90, was born in 1924 in Juan-les-Pins, and spent his formative years in a Lancashire mill, followed by a stint in Birmingham Rep, though in the documentary that accompanies the DVD extras he more fondly recalls his times living in a beach hut in Ramsgate, jerking off to matinee idol pin-ups.

A veteran of D-Day, De Rome had been a publicist for Rank, Korda and David O. Selznick, who took him to Hollywood with the promise of work on an adaptation of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, though De Rome soon quit the movie business mainstream in favour of a sales job at Tiffany’s (he reminisces about encounters in the basement store room). A cinephile in the 60s, with an admiration for Antonioni and Bertolucci, he took to porn very gradually. To get around the processing restrictions, he would begin each roll with an innocuous piece, duping the labs at Kodak into thinking this was a generic home movie. Made just for fun, as a way of picking up boys, his films act as Proustian visual diaries of ex-lovers and one-night stands, his long zoom lens stalking its prey, mirroring his own scopophilic desires.

After one of his films, Hot Pants, won the top award at Amsterdam’s Wet Dream Film Festival in 1971, attracting a review in the Financial Times and a letter of endorsement from William Burroughs, he was approached by producer Jack Deveau, who blew up a selection of his shorts from standard 8 to 16mm for wider distribution. The six-minute film shows a young black crotch in tight jeans and string vest dancing to James Brown, the pants mysteriously falling down, revealing full frontal and bare ass, as the cock gyrates up and down, twirling around, getting harder, then spurting.

Despite the obvious limitations of the boy-fucks-boy genre, De Rome shows endless possibilities in the variation of these simple narratives. In Second Coming, a group of cruisers from London and Paris make a pilgrimage to the white village of Casares in Malaga, where they witness a crucified Adonis, twitching his member to attention, and coming all over himself in his moment before death. In Green Thoughts, a man wanders through a park land, with various stems of trees and plants offering phallic prompts as we cut to him in bed fondling the budge in his Y-fronts. John Gielgud was a fan - while doing Pinter on Broadway, De Rome took him to the Anvil club and Gielgud suggested a plotline for another film idea, though it never materialised.

Though certainly not camera-shy of full-on oral and anal, explicit 69-ing and montage of golden showers, De Rome was clearly interested more in titillation and the aesthetics of arousal, in filmic terms more exciting than the money shot of the act itself. Intentionally or otherwise, the vibrant cine colours, vérité compositions and lack of dialogue lend his work an artistry perhaps not evident in the execution. The ambient muzak scores preserve each scenario as some sort of forbidden Pathé newsreel that we were never meant to see, and the collection now serves as a wistful, nostalgic and almost innocent travelogue of gay life in the 60s and 70s.

The quintessential Englishman in New York, though with a strong resemblance to Edgar Allan Poe, this grandfather of gay porn quit filmmaking in the 80s, after the clean-up of adult theatres and the onslaught of AIDS. Never before commercially available in the UK, his work suggests a parallel reality to the sophomore Sapphics of Hammer or the castrated innuendo of the Carry On films. One waits in eager anticipation for the Blu-ray restorations of the works of George Harrison Marks, John Lindsay and Ben Dover.

Robert Chilcott

Punishment Park

Punishment Park

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 23 January 2011

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Peter Watkins

Writer: Peter Watkins

Cast: Patrick Boland, Kent Foreman, Carmen Argenziano

USA 1971

88 mins

All you non-conformists, step this way.

The Vietnam War is intensifying. Nixon is ordering bombing missions on the Laos-Cambodian border and civic unrest is reaching new heights with violent demonstrations in the inner cities and on the university campuses. A pair of documentary crews, one from West Germany and one from Great Britain, follow two groups of detainees. One (group 637) is being processed through a tribunal, while the other, having already chosen the option of Punishment Park over significantly long prison sentences, is finding out just exactly what Punishment Park is.

Peter Watkins had already made his reputation as a provocateur with his Wednesday Play The War Game in 1965, which was banned by the BBC for 20 years. Punishment Park, released in 1971, is in many ways just as incendiary. The pseudo-documentary style is complemented by the improvisational techniques that Watkins employed. It allows Watkins to portray a topical moment of confrontation (Kent State Massacre was in 1970 and the Chicago 7 trial began in 1968), but it also seems part of the point that America is dangerously improvising with its own polity and identity. Throughout the film there is a radical sense of people making stuff up as they go along. This goes for the activists, who are a melange of counter-culture figures, from an obvious Bobby Seale stand-in, to a poet who looks like Allen Ginsberg and a Joan Baez-style protest singer. But it is also true for the kangaroo court that tries them and the police and National Guard, who are never quite sure of what their role is supposed to be. The media are also included in this free-for-all. The documentary filmmakers are complicit in giving the legal procedure legitimacy as well as producing a striking warning not to fuck with the government. Their protests are feeble — ‘you bloody bastards’ — and largely ignored by the trigger-happy police who, anticipating criticism of Watkins’s own origins, point out their outsider status: ‘why don’t you go back to Europe?’

Tension mounts in the film as it becomes increasingly clear that the Punishment Park experience is not about education or rehabilitation but is a cynical sadistic game, similar to something out of Pasolini’s Salí², or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), an experience the prisoners have little hope of surviving. To add to the tension, the soundtrack is dominated by the incessant sounds of gunfire and passing fighter jets in the background. This is America: constant bitter and angry argument with a clear and present threat of heavyweight and disproportionate military violence.

It would be a stretch to say that Watkins is in any way even-handed - his is a bitter and a furious film of denunciation. The court is composed of recognisable faces from the news, sociologists, a housewives-of-America spokeswoman for the Silent Majority, a big union man and politicians. They are easily hissable straw men and their depiction is the weakest element in the film. And yet the film does allow for some ambiguity. It is the prisoners who draw first blood, when some of them decide that they won’t follow the rules of their own punishment and ambush and kill a policeman. What we end up watching then is perhaps the tragedy of 60s radicalism, which saw street fighting pitching middle-class radicals against often working-class police and soldiers, to the great relief of the ruling class.

Listen to the Electric Sheep I’m Ready For My Close-Up programme on Peter Watkins with BFI archive curator William Fowler on Friday 20 January, 5-5:30pm, Resonance 104.4FM.

John Bleasdale

Funeral Parade of Roses

Funeral Parade of Roses

Format: Cinema

Screening dates: 14 + 18 August 2011

Venue: BFI Southbank

Director: Toshio Matsumoto

Writer: Toshio Matsumoto

Original title: Bara no sôretsu

Cast: Pîtâ, Osamu Ogasawara, Toyosaburo Uchiyama

Japan 1969

107 mins

High-concept is an Orwellian phrase when it comes to cinema, usually meaning one concept, as in one idea, which can be pitched, tag-lined and sold. And most high-concept films have a job getting that one idea off the ground. So we should celebrate this month’s screening of Funeral Parade of Roses, a film crammed with ideas, from soup to nuts. Released in 1969 and shot in black and white, the film has the temperament and daring of an underground art film, but without any of the drawbacks. The acting is uniformly excellent, from the young transsexual Eddie, played in his debut role by Pîtâ, with more than a passing resemblance to Edie Sedgwick, to a series of well-established Japanese stars (one of the samurai from The Seven Samurai no less) and TV personalities, who both play roles and appear in the film as themselves.

The story takes on the arc of an Oedipal tragedy, which sees the young Eddie quietly but tenaciously rising through the gay scene to become a madam of his own gay bar, only to subsequently suffer a horrifying downfall. There are flashbacks of a childhood trauma, but also a film within a film as a documentary is being made about the gay scene, with lots of interviews about what it means to be a queen. The tone shifts radically from breathless gay erotica to Chaplinesque knockabout comedy, Godardian reflexivity to Hitchcockian suspense. Marnie (1964) seems to have been particularly in mind, but also Psycho (1960). The speeded-up sections and the use of flash imagery and ironic music are testament to the film’s impact on Kubrick, who cited it as a direct influence on A Clockwork Orange (1971). The rush of the film makes it slippery and difficult to pin down. The attitude to homosexuality is likewise playful and evasive. On one hand, it offers a sympathetic platform for the film’s interviewees and an affectionate, if not glamorous, portrait of a scene, while on the other, it follows a tragic trajectory that sees homosexuality born of violence and trauma - the ‘death to the vagina’ murder of the mother is particularly disturbing - and heads towards an inevitably tragic dénouement. But even this cannot be safely summed up. After a particularly gruesome murder, there is a frame-breaking interview with the actor, who says he likes being in the film as ‘Gay life is portrayed beautifully’. Defying expectations at every turn, Matsumoto constantly wrong-foots his audience, starting with the opening sex scene, shot beautifully in a gleaming white image. Melodrama is undercut with irony, the detachment of the documentarian is relieved by the madcap ‘happenings’, with the camera crew apparently flinging themselves into the action with abandon. Even the tragic conclusion is not immune. Ultimately, this is a film to watch and watch again. Genuinely high-concept.

Funeral Parade of Roses is available on DVD from Eureka Entertainment.

John Bleasdale



Format: Cinema

Screening date: 26 July 2011

Venue: Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London

Director: Masao Adachi

Writer: Masao Adachi

Original title: Gingakei

Japan 1967

75 mins

Part of Theatre Scorpio: Japanese Independent and Experimental Cinema of the 1960s

12-31 July 2011

Close-Up Film Club

Close-Up website

The recent international reappraisal of pink cinema, in many ways due to curators Roland Domenig and Go Hirasawa’s programming initiatives and Jasper Sharp’s publication Behind the Pink Curtain, has resuscitated many important filmmakers in danger of being buried under the carpet of Japanese film history. With its emphasis on carnal lust and the darkest libidinal desires, pink cinema is not exactly what Japan would want to offer as an official image of the nation, and yet, as Sharp argues in his book, its presence is undeniable and it is no longer possible to neglect its significance. Masao Adachi is just one of the names cast under this limelight in recent years and, now with retrospectives at the Cinémathèque franí§aise and Shibuya Vuera under his belt, he has secured his place as a key figure of his generation. As a director of unique pink films under the auspices of Wakamatsu Productions and the scriptwriter for many of the best titles directed by Kôji Wakamatsu, Adachi’s contribution to the evolution of pink cinema into more than just sex films cannot be ignored.

Although his name is shaded in pink, more colours are needed to paint Adachi’s portrait. At university, he was closely involved in the making of Bowl (Wan, 1961) and Closed Vagina (Sain, 1963) as a member of the legendary Nihon University Film Studies Club, which produced many pioneering experimental films in the late 50s and early 60s. Together with Motoharu Jônouchi, he was an instrumental figure within the VAN Film Research Centre, a filmmakers’ lab and artists’ commune where films like Document 6.15 (1961) were produced as a continuation of the protest movements that defined the decade. Adachi also worked closely with the leader of the Japanese New Wave, Nagisa Ôshima, as a scriptwriter for Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (1969) and actor for his seminal Death by Hanging (1968), even directing a lengthy trailer for the film, which became a trademark for titles produced by ATG. His film A.K.A Serial Killer (1969), made in collaboration with Ôshima’s scriptwriter Mamoru Sasaki and film critic Masao Matsuda, developed a theory of landscape (fûkeiron) in its portrait of a teenage murderer through shots of landscapes he may have seen during his upbringing and subsequent rampage. Adachi was invited with Wakamatsu and Ôshima to the Cannes Film Festival in 1971 and, with Wakamatsu, he visited Palestine on the way back to shoot PFLP: Declaration of World War (1971), a newsreel film produced by the Japanese Red Army. In 1974, Adachi abandoned filmmaking to join the Palestinian struggle and disappeared until, over 20 years later, he was arrested in Lebanon in 1997 and extradited to Japan in 2002.

Galaxy (Gingakei), in many ways, embodies a transitional point in Adachi’s direction as a filmmaker. Many of his fellow society members offered production support, and in a sense the film could be construed as a continuation of the activities of the Nihon University Film Studies Club. Although at this point Adachi was already involved with Wakamatsu, the film was produced as the inaugural title for the Theatre Scorpio, where people began to take pink cinema seriously. Yet, Galaxy is quite unlike anything else Adachi has been involved in before or since, a substantial piece of art cinema that reveals the singularity of the filmmaker’s vision.

The narrative is nearly impenetrable; the meshed storyline is entirely subsumed in the nameless protagonist’s subconscious as he attempts to navigate his inner psyche, which has become a mercurial realm where space and time constantly redefine themselves. In his perplexed state, he encounters a doppelgänger, his father dressed in Buddhist attire and his girlfriend, whose size varies from normal to monstrous, and they all have a go at explaining where and what he is, only to cast darker shadows of mystery on the enigma. Deeply influenced by surrealism, each of the film’s gestures pulls us further into a dreamscape where reality and imagination are inseparable and logics of continuity, sense and oscillation in emotion are constantly refracted in different directions. The cyclical structure of the film gives an illusion of coherence yet, within the sphere, clarity spirals out of control while somehow managing to sustain its own dream logic. However, it is clear from our protagonist’s reference to an unspoken event of ’20 years ago’ that he is confronting what he has become in the post-war years.

What is most remarkable about Galaxy is its continuous ability to discover a film language of its own and its command of the abstract universe it has envisioned. Visual tricks unremittingly throw the main character in and out of spaces, always using captivating stylistic methods delivered with playful confidence. Characters emerge out of splatters of paint or from beneath a river, only to altogether disappear, and figures are frozen in position while their surroundings abruptly transform. A sequence on an enormous set of stairs plunges the protagonist into a real sense of bewilderment and conveys a depleted sense of self due to the mischievous tricks the monk, allegedly his father, plays on him. The soundscape, orchestrated by Yasunao Tone, who performed for Japan’s first improvised music collective, Group Ongaku, and who later joined Fluxus, interweaves different aural flickers to further layer the muddled haze. The dialogue, its content unfathomably cryptic, is often delivered in whispers, overlapped with other voices and distorted to accompany the racket of sound arrangements. Yet, amid this cacophony of noise and images, there is a certain clarity and a defiant urge for innovation that sustains the film and makes Galaxy a standout title in the overcrowded line-up of dreamscapes in the history of cinema.

Julian Ross