The Moose Just Wants a Head – Bring Me the Head(s) of the Machine Gun Woman (2012), …of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and …of Charlie Brown (1986)

So somehow yesterday (I forget exactly what who it was that turned me on to this, so apologies where they are due), I ran across this trailer for an independent film called Bring Me The Head of the Machine Gun Woman. This film comes to us from Ronnoc Entertainment, which seems to have been founded specifically to produce this type of Latinsploitation films. Here, go ahead and take a look at the trailer:

Now, of course that just looks like some down and dirty quick direct-to-DVD exploitation fun. Largely ignorable, and probably pretty bad. But… there’s that title, which makes me curious, because it’s so obviously a throwback to Sam Peckinpah‘s 1974 Warren Oates starring Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. Now, of course, there’s no way that Machine Gun Woman is going to live up to the completely nihilistic greatness that is Peckinpah’s film, so I can’t help but wonder why Ronnoc would even bother. It’s not like they’re trying to pull an Asylum-type move and capitalize on something that’s currently in theaters. As a matter of fact, I doubt most of the audience for this film would even get the reference. Of course, whatever their reasoning, I’m glad they did it, because it does give me a chance to recommend what I consider to be one of the greatest of the 70s road movies. Here, just take a look at the trailer:

And trust me, that trailer doesn’t even begin to touch the sheer lunacy contained in the film itself.

But then, if it’s lunacy your looking for, maybe you’d like it in a smaller dose. You see, while I was trying to find out more about Machine Gun Woman, I also ran across another Bring Me the Head of… movie. (Hmm… I’m beginning to wonder if I don’t need to keep digging – maybe there’s an entire “Head of” genre out there just waiting to be explored.) This one may be the most surprising of the bunch. Created by Jim Reardon, who would go on to become a director and storyboard artist for “The Simpsons”, Bring me the Head of Charlie Brown is a short animated film which was made in 1986 while Reardon was still a student at CalArts. Interestingly, despite its title and opening sequence, the climax of the short actually more resembles another Peckinpah movie, The Wild Bunch. Either way, though, it’s still just a lot of fun, and I’m somewhat surprised it hasn’t gotten more notoriety than it has. Have a look for yourself and see what you think:

Ok, maybe it’s no Bambi Meets Godzilla, but then, what is?

Watch Some Great Classic Movies for Free – Criterion Announces 101 Days of Summer On Hulu

criterionlogoI’m a little late with this, but, as the saying goes… Plus, since it’s going to be an ongoing thing trough Labor Day, it’s definitely still relevant.

First, just a wee bit of background for those unaware: For quite a while now, the good folk over at the Criterion Collection have had a very interesting partnership with the movie streaming site Hulu. Alongside allowing Hulu Plus subscribers to choose from hundreds of their movies to stream, each week they have also presented “mini-film festivals” on the free side of the site. The idea has been that each week they would choose a theme and then release six or so films to the free side. One of the most interesting aspects of these mini-fests has been that often they will include films that Criterion has access to, but that have not yet released on DVD or Blu-Ray.

This summer, however, the Criterion crew has decided to shake things up a bit. Instead of weekly mini-festivals, they are presenting what they are calling “101 Days of Summer”. Beginning this past weekend,, and lasting through Labor Day, each day they will release a new film to the free side of the site which will be available for forty-eight hours and then will rotate off, making room for a new addition. They also posted an additional six titles at the beginning just to start things off with a bang.

One caveat, however: the movies on the free side are commercial-studded, but considering the quality of the movies being shown, and the quality of the releases from Criterion in general, that seems a small price to pay to be able to watch some of these cinema treasures. To check out the current offerings, just click here.

Building a Better War Through Propaganda – The Fighting Lady (1944)

***SPECIAL “GUEST BLOGGER” NOTE*** I suppose you could consider this a late Memorial Day Post. I had not really planned to do anything special for the day, but when I was looking at a couple of other things, I was reminded of this post that I did a while back. However, due to an extended work schedule and other things going on yesterday, I didn’t get a chance to get this up. Still, it seemed worth a revisit, so here it is. First, however, let’s get the usual “guest blogger” boilerplate out of the way for new visitors:

A couple of years ago, under the guise of “Professor Michael Damian”, I was writing and running a blog called “Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest” in which I attempted to highlight movies that were available for free legal download, streaming, remix, what-have-you, thanks to the Public Domain. The site hasn’t been updated for awhile now, but if you like what you’ve read here so far, or if you enjoy this post, or have an interest in the public domain or even just want to check out some really good (and, admittedly, some not-so-good) free movies, I encourage you to go check it out.

Anyway, from time to time, when it’s relevant or when I’m under a kind of time crunch, or maybe just when the fancy strikes, I’ll be re-presenting some posts that originally appeared there. The post below first ran there a couple of years ago, on June 17, 2010. At first I considered rewriting or editing this some for its presentation here, but ultimately decided, for better or worse, to just let it stand on its own, as is, though I have changed/updated some of the links so they will work properly. I hope you enjoy this little blast from the past. ***END NOTE***

Today we shift focus to a different, though no less fascinating, type of feature: the propaganda film. Governments, and especially the military have used various forms of propaganda probably ever since Kulano of the Shell Tribe called the inland tribe they were fighting “squirrelly little tree climbers who are afraid of the water” and said therefore that they would be easy to defeat.

So what exactly is “propaganda”? Well, in his book Film Propaganda and American Politics, author James Combs describes propaganda as material produced by governments or political groups designed to “sway relevant groups of people in order to accommodate their [the government’s] agendas”. In other words, propaganda, and specifically for our discussion propaganda films, are movies, either documentary or fictional, which are designed not only to present a particular point of view, but to persuade the viewer of the rightness of tht point of view or outlook. For a current example, one could point, say, to the films of Michael Moore or Morgan Spurlock or Al Gore as propaganda. No, they are not produced by the government, but they definitely have a particular point of view, and though the use of select footage and interviews, are designed to persuade the viewer that that point of view is the only “correct” or “intelligent” one.

nips1A couple of weeks ago, in an article I wrote for, I discussed the use of characters from popular fiction to promote the war effort during World War II. Characters as diverse as Bugs Bunny, Tarzan, Superman, and even Sherlock Holmes were all used to promote different aspects of the war against the Axis powers, whether it was conservation/recycling, the need for vigilance on the homefront, the superiority and fighting capability of the Allied forces, or even the dehumanization of the enemy. (The last being an especially popular tactic in cartoons of the day as animation made it easy to over-exaggerate certain physical or stereotypical qualities of the enemy, thereby making them seem less like “us” and even more alien and therefore easier to kill in battle. For an actually fairly restrained example, see the picture at the left.)

Famous characters were not the only ones called upon to contribute their talents to the government’s propaganda efforts during the great war. On both sides of the conflict, all-star directors were also expected to bring their expertise to bear in the creation of films designed either to convince viewers of the rightness of the cause and the superior military might of their respective countries. In Germany, Leni Riefenstahl was busy creating Triumph of the Will, long considered one of the greatest propaganda films of all time, while in America Frank Capra (with the aid of the Disney studios) was making his seven-part propagandistic blockbuster Why We Fight which was first commissioned to show to U.S. soldiers to explain the necessity of going to war against the axis, but was later also used to convince the American people not only of the rightness and validity of the U.S. joining the fray but early intervention was the only way to keep the war from coming to America’s shores. As a matter of fact, the last film in the series is titled “War Comes to America”, and spells out in dire terms the consequences to America of an Axis victory:

German conquest of Europe and Africa would bring all their raw materials, plus their entire industrial development, under one control. Of the 2 billion people in the world, the Nazis would rule roughly one quarter, the 500 million people of Europe and Africa, forced into slavery to labor for Germany. German conquest of Russia would add the vast raw materials and the production facilities of another of the world’s industrial areas, and of the world’s people, another 200 million would be added to the Nazi labor pile.

whywefight1Japanese conquest of the Orient would pour into their factory the almost unlimited resources of that area, and of the peoples of the earth, a thousand million would come under their rule, slaves for their industrial machine.

We in North and South America would be left with the raw materials of three-tenths of the earth’s surface, against the Axis with the resources of seven-tenths. We would have one industrial region against their three industrial regions. We would have one-eighth of the world’s population against their seven-eighths. If we together, along with the other nations of North and South America, could mobilize 30 million fully equipped men, the Axis could mobilize 200 million.

Thus, an Axis victory in Europe and Asia would leave us alone and virtually surrounded facing enemies ten times stronger than ourselves.

The film then ends with images of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, showing that even as the U.S was honorably negotiating with them, the “treacherous Japs” were plotting to attack us on our own soil. Of course, this idea is the same that fueled the propaganda of a more recent administration who more simply put it “We’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” Let’s face it, kiddies, good propaganda never dies.

Capra was not the only filmmaker called into the service of his country at the time, of course. Other notable directors who lent their talents were John Ford, John Houston, William Wyler, and the director of today’s feature, noted photographer and Director of the Naval Aviation Photographic Unit Edward Steichen who spent months aboard the USS Yorktown documenting the lives and heroic deeds of the brave men who manned this great ship.(The ship, and most of her crewmen, are never actually identified by name, due to wartime security restrictions, thus, she is simply called The Fighting Lady. It was only after the end of the war that the ship in question was officially identified as the Yorktown.)

fightinglady3The film opens slowly, exploring the lives of these men as they go about their day-to-day duties as the ship sails through the Panama Canal and on into the Pacific Ocean. The emphasis here is on the mundanity of the shipboard life, and quite often we are reminded (in a voice-over by narrator Robert Taylor) of the saying that 99% of war is waiting. The waiting does not last forever, however, and it is not long before we get to see the ship and her crew in action at Marcus Island. This, and the subsequent battle scenes (especially those filmed at what was to become known as the “Marianas turkey shoot”) is where the film truly begins to take off, as the Technicolor photography brings the dogfights and ship-to-air fighting a spectacular brilliance. It’s easy to see why the government wanted the most skilled directors and photographers (many of them enlisted men who went uncredited for their part in the filming for years afterward) involved in a project like this. The battle raging all around them, these men, just like their comrades manning the guns or working the take-offs and landings of the airplanes, stood their ground and provided a document of the war like few others, including some truly spectacular footage taken by cameras actually mounted on the cockpits of fighter planes in the air. There is even footage of some spectacular crashes as the planes try to return to the ship once the fighting has ended.

Nor does the film forget to remind the viewer of the cost of war even as it celebrates the victory at the Turkey shoot” and shows the sailors and airmen painting battle flags and war markings on the ship and planes, counting the number of enemies downed, it also shows us the flag-draped bodies of those lost by our side, letting the viewer know the fates of some of the ones met earlier, and even giving us a glimpse of a twenty-one gun salute and burial at sea.

Here’s a section from the middle of the film showing some of the fighting and its aftermath:

And the skinny:
Title: The Fighting Lady
Release Date: 1944
Running Time: 61min

The Fighting Lady and many other World War II propaganda films including Capra’s Why We Fight are available to watch or download for free here.
It’s also available for purchase on DVD from Amazon: The Fighting Lady Deluxe Edition Featuring USS Yorktown.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Don’t Bother Going Into Room 237 – Here’s a Real Documentary On The Shining

Jack Nicholson in the famous “Here’s Johnny” scene
Jack Nicholson in the famous “Here’s Johnny” scene (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll admit upfront that I haven’t bothered to watch Room 237 yet, because from all reports, while the premise – gather a group of obsessive nutcases with various theories about the “real” meaning of Stanley Kubrock’s The Shining and let them put forward their conspiratorial theories – sounds intriguing, the actual execution and filming of the documentary is extremely flawed. In light of that admission, perhaps I shouldn’t be bagging on it in the headline. Actually, if nothing else, one thing the release of the documentary has apparently accomplished is to renew interest in Mr. Kubrick’s masterpiece, with it being re-released to theaters allowing a new generation of young viewers to experience it on the big screen which is where it really should be seen.

Anyway, for those who have found themselves wanting to know more about the movie, or those who have an interest in the behind-the-scenes process of Mr. Kubrick’s work in particular or film making in general, the documentary presented below, the extended version of Staircases to Nowhere is the one you really want to watch. Produced by The Elstree Project, this documentary is meant to be “The full oral history story of the making of Stanley Kubrick‘s horror masterpiece ‘The Shining’.”

According to Howard Berry, who posted this video,

In October we made a 17-minute oral history using our content from The Elstree Project, an oral history project designed to record, preserve and share the memories of people who have worked at the studios of Elstree and Borehamwood. Since then it has received over 100,000 hits and has been shared on numerous blogs and websites.

Now we present the full story, at 55-minutes in length, and with contributions from nine crew members who worked on the film and Stanley Kubrick’s widow, Christiane. We believe this is the most in-depth exploration into the making of “The Shining” on film, from the perspective of those who actually worked on the production. Additional content includes memories of the fire at Elstree, a more in-depth look at the Stages at Elstree and the Steadicam, the work of the Second Unit on the film and what it was like to work with Kubrick.

Interviewed are:
Brian Cook – 1st AD
Jan Harlan – Producer
Christiane Kubrick – Wife of Stanley Kubrick
Mick Mason – Camera Technician
Ray Merrin – Post-Production Sound
Doug Milsome – 1st AC and Second Unit Camera
Kelvin Pike – Camera Operator
Ron Punter – Scenic Artist
June Randall – Continuity
Julian Senior – Warner Bros. Publicity

The interviews in this film were recorded over a period of three years, and with eight students getting the chance to gain live work experience as part of their undergraduate degree course in Film and Television in the School of Creative Arts at the University of Hertfordshire. The film has been made as part of The Elstree Project which is a partnership between Howard Berry of the University and Bob Redman and Paul Welsh MBE who run the volunteer group Elstree Screen Heritage

In other words, this is the story of the making of the movie from the people who were actually there making the movie, and I highly recommend it.

Saturday Double Feature: The Hangover 3 (2013) and…

Hey, it’s Saturday again, which means it’s time for another Saturday Double Feature, right? Remember, the basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before.. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Yeah, this shouldn’t take long. For some indiscernible reason (except that the first two made money, so why not?), The Hangover 3 hits theaters this weekend. Here, go ahead and have a look:

Okay, that was actually a pretty easy one to pair up. Simply go with the concept of “what has overindulgence led me to?”, take it seriously, add in a stellar cast featuring Ray Milland, and get the great Billy Wilder to direct it, and suddenly, you have a classic: 1945’s The Lost Weekend:

Let me know what you think about this pairing or other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

Kung Fu Krazy Fest – The Street Fighter (1974)

***SPECIAL “GUEST BLOGGER” NOTE*** I haven’t done this for awhile, but today seemed like a good day for it. What follows is actually a reprint, of sorts. A couple of years ago, under the guise of “Professor Michael Damian”, I was writing and running a blog called “Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest” in which I attempted to highlight movies that were available for free legal download, streaming, remix, what-have-you, thanks to the Public Domain. The site hasn’t been updated for awhile now, but if you like what you’ve read here so far, or if you enjoy this post, or have an interest in the public domain or even just want to check out some really good (and, admittedly, some not-so-good) free movies, I encourage you to go check it out.

Anyway, from time to time, when it’s relevant or when I’m under a kind of time crunch, or maybe just when the fancy strikes, I’ll be re-presenting some posts that originally appeared there. The post below first ran there a couple of years ago, on August 31. 2011. At first I considered rewriting or editing this some for its presentation here, but ultimately decided, for better or worse, to just let it stand on its own, as is, though I have changed/updated some of the links so they will work properly. I hope you enjoy this little blast from the past. ***END NOTE***

Streetfighter1It’s really part of the nature of this blog that most of the time I’m writing about “classic” films – older, black and white, even silent-era movies that have moved into the public domain because of the time that they were created. And since, due to the changes made in copyright law over the years (especially since the late 70’s) no new movies (or books or music or anything else for that matter) will enter the public domain until at least 2019, it’s likely to be that way for awhile. Still, there are some more recent films that over the years have in various ways “slipped through the cracks” and made their way into the public domain, and some of those movies could even be considered modern-day classics. Such is certainly the case with today’s entry, the rousing Sonny Chiba martial-arts flick The Street Fighter.

Actually, The Street Fighter is notable for a number of different reasons. Though it was not Chiba’s first movie, (he had been making science fiction and crime films and appearing on television in his native Japan for at least a decade before) it wasn’t until this film that he became an internationally known superstar. The film also gained notoriety because it was the first movie to garner an X-rating from the MPAA solely because of its violence. It is also noteworthy because of the number of spinoffs and sequels that it spawned.

1974 was, of course, just the right time for Chiba to make his mark in the US. Bruce Lee had just made a huge splash in the American market with Enter the Dragon, and American cinemas (and moviegoers) were eager for more. This was also a time when the so-called “exploitation” and “grindhouse” films were at their peak, so the atmosphere was ripe for Chiba’s brand of two-fisted (and two-footed) action.

Chiba was not however, merely a Lee clone looking to cash in on the times. No, there was something that definitely set him apart from many of the other martial arts stars of the time. Whereas Lee brought a certain tightly contained elegance to his on-screen fighting style, and fellow fan-favorite Jackie Chan brought a definite sense of comic playfulness to his film persona, Chiba’s style showed much more of a barely restrained fury. There is something in his performance as Terry Tsurugi that suggests whenever he cuts loose in the film not only are his enemies in danger, but everyone around him might be as well. As a matter of fact at one point in the film, one of the other characters calls him “an animal”, and Chiba, at that moment all snarls and growls does absolutely nothing to contradict her assessment.

streetfighter2It is also this animalistic fury that gained the film it’s second bit of noteriety. Containing scenes such as one in which Chiba castrates a rapist with his bare hands and another which shows Chiba striking a blow to an opponent’s head and then quickly cuts to an x-ray like shot of the opponent’s skull being completely shattered before showing the audience the devastating effect of the blow with the man on the floor with blood gushing from his mouth (actually quite an interesting stylistic decision by the filmmakers), the film was, as noted, given an X-rating on its first review by the MPAA. Subsequently, a full 16 minutes were cut from the film in order to finally garner it an R. Fortunately, those scenes have been restored to the film, and it is now available in an uncut “unrated” version, but those scenes are somewhat noticeable in this version as they were dubbed into English at a different time using different actors. Still, that’s a small price to pay to see Chiba’s full fury unleashed.

Of course, fans of the genre can (and do, I’m sure) argue over whether the inclusion of those scenes upon its initial release would have made the movie more or less popular with American moviegoers, but one thing that definitely cannot be denied is that the film was a definitive success. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that it not only spawned two direct sequels, Return of the Street Fighter and The Street Fighter’s Last Revenge, but a four film mostly in-name-only spin-off Sister Street Fighter series.

So, let’s quit talking about all the action in the film and take a look at some of it, shall we?

And here’s the skinny:
Titile: The Street Fighter
Release Date: 1974
Running Time: 91 minutes
Starring: Sonny Chiba
Directed by: Shigehiro Ozawa
Distributed by: Toei Company (Japan), New Line Cinema (US)

The Japanese version of The Street Fighter (with English subtitles) is available to watch or download for free here. There is also a dubbed version here. (Fair warning: the dubbed version is not downloadable.) It is also available on DVD from Amazon.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

Celebrating Richard Wagner’s 200th Birthday With Silence – The Life and Works of Richard Wagner (1913 Silent)

Richard Wagner
Richard Wagner (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest composers of all time than with a silent film? Released in 1913 in order to coincide with his 100th birthday, this film, directed by Carl Frohlich, is considered one of the, if not the first ever bio-pics. Originally released with the simple title Richard Wagner, it runs roughly an hour and twenty minutes which was, perhaps appropriately considering the epic length of some of his compositions, an astounding run time for that period.

I’ve posted the entire film below. This version has English title cards and intertitles, and no soundtrack at all. Interestingly, when the movie was first released, it did have a score which was not made up of Wagner’s own music, which would have been too expensive to use at the time, but instead was composed by Guiseppe Becce, who also plays Wagner in the movie.

Say what you will about the man himself, this is certainly an incredible look not only at his life, but into the history of film, too.

Latest Man of Steel (2013) Trailer Hijacks the Internet

I’ll admit, I’m just having a hard time getting a feel for Warner’s upcoming Man of Steel. The first images and footage released looked way too Christopher Nolan for what I want to see in a Superman movie. Then along came more trailers, and the mood seemed to brighten a bit and I became more hopeful that we were going to get a Superman that was actually super. Now we have this latest trailer which is the most action packed yet, and… well, look for yourself and see what you think:

Of course, the truth is, we’re not really going to know what we’re going to get from this film until it opens next month, and even then it’s not really going to matter. People are going to swarm to see it on opening weekend (which is really all the studio cares about), and some are going to declare it “the best superhero movie ever!”, some are going to absolutely hate it, and most people are going to fall somewhere in between and start looking toward whatever the next shiny golden Hollywood bauble is.

Me? I’m just glad I made it through this post without either some kind of “Kneel” or “Zodliness” pun…

Speaking Volumes Through Silence – The International Youth Silent Film Festival

ysffThe International Youth Silent Film Festival is one of those events that I love finding out about, and only wish I had known about sooner, because the Midwest Regional (which includes Tennessee) took place back in February, and I know some local aspiring film makers who could/should have participated. Still, the Pacific Northwest Regional is taking place this week in Portland, Oregon and I encourage anyone in the area to check it out.

The basic idea of the Festival is that young people (participants must be twenty years old or under) choose a musical soundtrack from six options based on the genre of film they want to make. They then construct their film to fit the soundtrack. In this way, the festival gives them a good starting point while allowing a lot of leeway for creativity, and also ensures there is some equal ground among the participants. The films cannot have any sound effects or spoken dialogue, and must contain at least three title cards (one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end).

This seems like a great opportunity for young film makers not only to challenge themselves in a way they may not have considered before, but also to get what every aspiring artist needs: a chance to exhibit their work to a real audience. Plus, it gives the rest of us a chance to see and appreciate the creativity and hard work of these young people. And who knows what some of these creative kids may go on to do? They really are the future of film making.

Plus, it just looks to be pretty darned entertaining.

More information can be found at the festival website linked to above, and you can also view past winners there.

Here’s a promotional video for the festival:

And just to give you a taste of what you can expect to see, here is the winner of the Audience Award from last year: