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SCORE! The 150 greatest OST’s – pt. 15 (of 15)

Here it is! Finally, we have arrived at the top ten – and nothing will ever be the same again. Namely I will never take on a mega-post which takes months to complete. I mean, what was I thinking? 150 greatest soundtracks!? Wouldn’t 50 have been enough? Sheesh. Anyway, enjoy the creme de la creme- and drop me a line telling me what you would have changed!

10.) The Nuclear Observatory of Mr. Nanof (1985) – Piero Milesi

This rarely seen film directed by Paolo Rosa doesn’t even have an IMDB page, but the subject matter seems timely in lieu of the Oscar buzz around Bansky’s magnificent documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. Rosa’s film documents an enormous piece of graffiti outside a mental hospital, engraved by mental patient Oreste Fernando Nannetti, who refers to himself as NANOF11, an “Astronautic Mineral Engineer of the Mental System.” Piero Milesi’s music is minimalistic, with lush electronic sounds repeating themselves in an almost fugue-like manner. But rather than becoming monotonous, the end result is melodic, meditative and beautiful, with synthesized themes unfurling in sublime variations on a theme. Released on the legendary Cuneiform label in 1992, this is a highly recommended score for fans of Philip Glass and Brian Eno. Check out track 2, “Tom Thumb”:

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and track 4, “Scene of the Madmen”:

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and track 7, “Graffiti”:

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09.) The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) – David Shire

Joseph Sargent directs the original starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, not to be confused with the 2009 remake starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. The story of a hijacked subway train is a classic of gritty 70’s cinema, aided by an incredible soundtrack which fuses crazy percussion, lush bass, and a full brass orchestra complete with blaring tubas to create a suspenseful backdrop. Shire also scored The Conversation, Return to Oz, and Short Circuit. Check out the awesome main title:

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and track 4, “Blue and Green Talk”:

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and track 10, “Mini-Manhunt”:

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08.) The Assassination of Jesse James (2007) – Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Andrew Dominik directs from his own adaptation of Ron Hansen’s novel in a movie which stars Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. It’s the tale of Robert Ford, a 19 yr. old who’s idolized Jesse James since childhood, but who upon meeting him and joining his gang grows resentful of the man, ultimately betraying him for fame and fortune. Warren Ellis of the instrumental post-rock band Dirty Three and Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party had collaborated on the fine soundtrack for The Proposition in 2005 and went on to score The Road in 2009 but this moody score with its rumbling piano, chiming bells and sad violins is the best of the bunch. Check out track 1, “Rather Lovely Thing”:

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and track 2, “Moving On”:

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and track 3, “Song For Jesse”:

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07.) Kafka (1991) – Cliff Martinez

Steven Soderbergh‘s underrated quasi-biopic stars Jeremy Irons, Theresa Russell, Ian Holm, Sir Alec Guinness and Joel Grey, and borrows heavily from The Castle and The Trial to tell the story of Kafka, a lowly insurance worker who finds himself entering into an underworld of conspiracies and terrorism when a co-worker is murdered, which ultimately brings him face to face with a shadowy organization that controls society. It’s a very enjoyable film along the lines of John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, Lars Von Trier’s Zentropa and David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, but with a style and feel all it’s own, thanks in large part to Cliff Martinez’s use of the Cimbalom, a Hungarian zither-like instrument which evokes a unique, dreamlike atmosphere. Martinez has worked on several of Soderbergh’s films (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, King of the Hill, The Underneath, Traffic, Solaris), but this soundtrack is his best. Check out track 1, “Eddie’s Dead / Main Title”:

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and track 6, “Goodnight Mr. Bizzlebek”:

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and track 15, “Son Of Balloon”:

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06.) Amelie (2001) – Yann Tiersen

Jean-Pierre Jeunet‘s crowd pleasing love story for the ADD generation stars Audrey Tautou as the titular character, a wide eyed girl who lives in a fantasy world ruled by love, and La Haine director Mathieu Kassovitz as the clumsy good-natured boy she ultimately falls for – after first dedicating herself to bringing the love of others to fruition. She’s basically an elf from the Brother Grimm’s The Elves and the Cobbler, only instead of shoes she delivers fulfillment to those lucky enough to know her. It’s beautifully shot, chock-full of colorful ideas, and populated by fantastic actors with memorable faces, but it’s also overly dependent on narration, hindered by flimsy characterization, and so sweet it’s downright cloying. Whatever your take on the movie, one thing’s for sure – it’s got a magnificent soundtrack, full of swelling accordions and harpsichords and punctuated by toy pianos, all courtesy of Yann Tiersen, who also gave us the superb soundtrack to Good Bye Lenin! Here’s track 4, “Comptine Dun Autre Ete La”:

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and track 5, “La Noyee”:

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and track 16, “La Redecouverte”:

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05.) Miller’s Crossing (1990) – Carter Burwell

Joel & Ethan Coen’s masterpiece stars Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Jon Polito and John Turturro and perfectly captures the essence of pre-WWII gangster movies while building on the inherent themes of morality and loyalty and ratcheting the entire genre up a couple of notches. Byrne’s Tom Regan is the anti-hero to end all anti-heroes, who plays two rival gangs against one another and drives the twists (or dames) as crazy as he does the gangland bosses. The central question – whether or not he has a heart – is in the mind of every character he encounters, who all want something from him and will stop at nothing to get it. The characters are multidimensional, the humor jet-black, and the moments of violence are shocking, erupting out of human frailty, anger, jealousy and betrayal. It all adds up to an “intimate” epic, heightened by the soundtrack, which features a lilting, almost fragile clarinet swept along by strings like a hat carried on the wind – which is one of the central images, as memorable as any single image in any movie. Burwell also scored Fargo, The Hudsucker Proxy, Gods and Monsters, Being John Malkovich, and recently Where the Wild Things Are, A Serious Man, and the as-of-yet unreleased No Country for Old Men. Here is the opening track:

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and track 3, “A Man and His Hat”:

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and track 11, “Nightmare In The Trophy Room”:

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04.) Mental Cruelty [Seelische Grausamkeit] (1961) – George Gruntz

Hannes Schmidhauser directs this movie which I have not seen, but which I have listened to repeatedly since acquiring the CD. Led by Swiss pianist George Gruntz, it features Kenny “Clook” Clarke’s incredible drumming and Barney Wilen’s cool tenor saxophone. Sometimes pensive, sometimes light and breezy, it’s full of tangos, waltzes, and rock n’ roll, all held together by a melodic motif woven into each short track (only 4 of the 18 tracks are over 3 minutes long). It’s an amazing jazz score that ranks alongside the works of Mingus, Davis, Coltrane and Ellington- which is saying something. Amazingly, only 100 LPs were printed at the time of its initial release (which fetched upwards of $1000 on ebay), but thanks to Atavistic’s Unheard Music Series it was reissued in 2003, giving Gruntz – who also composed the unreleased soundtrack to the film Steppenwolf – some long overdue exposure. Check out the main theme:

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and track 10, “Romance II”:

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and track 13, “Latin Stroll On Theme”:

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and track 15, “Spanish Castles”:

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03.) Invitation to a Suicide (2004) – John Zorn

Written & Directed by Loren Marsh, this dark comedy tells the tale of a young man living in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint (also known as Little Poland) who gets in trouble with the mob and is given a day to raise $10,000 or have his father killed, who in a fit of ingenuity decides to sell tickets to his own suicide to save his father’s life. The incredibly talented Zorn is one of the leading figures in modern jazz, emerging out of the 1980’s downtown scene which fused punk to free-jazz, and he’s always been heavily influenced by film – just check out 1986’s The Big Gundown, which re-imagines Ennio Morricone in an aggressive, up-tempo style complete with trademark freakout alto saxophone. Since 1990 Zorn’s been releasing soundtracks composed for indie and underground movies on Tzadik, his own private label, making him one of the most prolific composers in film. This score is one of his finest, full of bass harmonicas, dueling accordions, classical guitars, cellos, vibraphones and the occasional moog. Other soundtracks of note in his Filmworks series are volume XIV: Hiding and Seeking, Filmworks XIX: The Rain Horse and Filmworks X: In the Mirror of Maya Deren. Here’s track 1, “Invitation to a Suicide”:

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and track 4, “East Greenpoint Rundown”:

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and track 16, “Final Retribution”:

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and track 17, “Aftermath”:

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02.) Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) – Bob Dylan

Sam Peckinpah directs from Rudy Wurlitzer’s script (don’t forget to read Quake!), in a film starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson that tells of the the death of the Old West and the emergence of the New West, one ruled by cattle ranchers and businessmen. It’s the story of Pat Garrett, an ex-outlaw who has become sheriff and is charged with assembling a posse to kill his old friend Billy the Kid, public enemy number one where the authorities are concerned. Firmly couched in the gray area between law and outlaw, morality and criminality, loyalty and betrayal, freedom and death, it’s a showcase for the talents of Bob Dylan (both off-screen and on). His magnificent soundtrack lends the proceedings a palpable sense of profound abandonment, as if the world were moving on and burying poor Billy in the past he helped make legendary. Full of guitar, wordless choruses that “ooh” and “aah,” and some fantastic original songs with goose-bump inducing lyrics: “There’s guns across the river ’bout to pound you / There’s a lawman on your trail like to surround you / Bounty hunters are dancing all around you / Billy they don’t like you to be so free.” That’s target=”_blank”>Pancho and Lefty quality imagery! All in all it’s a masterpiece of mood, highlighted by Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, a song which despite having been covered by everyone from Eric Clapton (decent) to Guns N’ Roses (meh) to Babyface (huh?) to Avril Lavigne (ugh) still retains it’s ability to mesmerize, and an album that proves Dylan’s storytelling genius extended far beyond pop music, and could turn a minor film in Peckinpah’s oeuvre into a must-see. Here’s track 5, “River Theme”:

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and track 7, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”:

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and track 9, “Billy 4″:

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and – drumroll please – the number one soundtrack of all time is:

01.) La Planete Sauvage [Fantastic Planet] (1973) – Alain Gorageur

René Laloux‘s animated classic won the special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and was distributed in the U.S. by legendary producer Roger Corman. It’s the tale of the Draags, giant blue aliens who view their tiny, human Oms as slave-like pets. When a domesticated Om escapes with the tools to educate the wild forest-dwelling Oms, war and revolution threaten to destroy Draag society. Populated with bizarre mating rituals, alien plant life and strange psychedelic landscapes, watching The Fantastic Planet is a consciousness-expanding experience, not unlike the one you get listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Essentially a morality tale of our Human inclination to view the “other” as inferior and threatening, it’s required viewing for people interested in out-there cinema, intelligent science fiction, or hallucinogenics in general. Composer Alain Goraguer was a jazz musician who arranged and produced for Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall before turning to film (The Dead Times, The Snails, Paris Secret), but none of his other works presage this eerie, one-of-a-kind album. With Fanstastic Planet he fuses bass-heavy blaxploitation-worthy beats with a prog-rock array of mellotrons, synthesizers, clavinets and wah-wah pedals to create something too funky to be Avant-Garde yet too complex and oftentimes cacophonous to be anything else. It’s an aural masterpiece which can still be felt in the work of bands like Portishead and Air and hip-hop visionaries J Dilla, MF Doom and Madlib. It’s hypnotic, psychedelic, electronic, angelic, and it’s number one on my list – so that’s saying something too I guess. I hope you enjoy it – here’s track 2, “Deshominisation I”:

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and track 4, “Le Bracelet”:

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and track 12, “Conseil Des Draags”:

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and track 15, “Mira Et Ten”:

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Click to see part 1 (OST’s #141-150) , part 2 (131-140),  part 3 (121-130), part 4 (111-120), part 5 (101-110), part 6 (91-100), part 7 (81-90), part 8 (71-80), part 9 (61-70), part 10 (51-60), part 11 (41-50), part 12 (31-40), part 13 (21-30), part 14 (11-20) and part 15 (1-10).

And don’t forget to comment! I want to hear about soundtracks I may have missed, and get your thoughts on the ones I got wrong! And don’t forget to tune in for the honorable mentions – scores which just barely missed the mark.

November 30, 2010   4 Comments

Director Interview – RONA MARK

RONA MARK is the director of the upcoming movie, The Crab. We first met in Austin two years ago while she was traveling the country with her first film, Strange Girls. It was at that time that she first told me about an idea for a movie about a guy with a deformed hand who’s a complete dick to everyone.  Lo and behold, 2 years later, the feature is done and she has just completed the first trailer. Here it is:

I called Rona and asked her for an interview, and she graciously agreed. We sat down at New York’s famous Hungarian Pastry Shop over Hamentashen and discussed things, a small portion of which you’ll find below:

From the trailer it seems to me to be more a character piece than a horror movie… I like to say that it’s a monster movie, but it’s not a horror movie. The kind of monster you meet at parties.

Your first film, Strange Girls, was also a character study, right? Some people think of it as a horror movie, I mean I thought I was making a horror movie, but then when I directed it I didn’t treat it that way. I treated it like I was making a coming of age film.

All this horror-by-way-of character study is pretty highbrow stuff, isn’t it? Highbrow meets lowbrow is what I’d call it. I think my storytelling is pretty traditional, actually- I’m not trying to be original or anything, I’m just saying what I gotta say. I hate to say this but for me personally, they’re [movies are] kind of therapeutic to write. I mean, I don’t want people to feel like they’re sitting on the couch with me, but I do hope they’re relateable to other people too. Like this one [The Crab] was all about the despair I felt after the last one.

Did you find inspiration for it in any particular films? The Crab’s inspirations came more from literature. Levi’s an academic, his field is American poetry, so there’s some of those references. There was a part in there which we ended up cutting where he references Mein Kampf, but I don’t know if anybody would’ve gotten it unless they read it recently.

So he’s an intellectual? A failed intellectual.

With a deformity. And very much an anti hero. Yeah, he goes around provoking people, antagonizing people, he has a girlfriend but he doesn’t like her. He has one friend left who sticks by him even though he’s a big drunk asshole all the time, but he kind of thinks he’s funny or charming. They’ve been friends since high school so he doesn’t really get rid of him, even though he should. And this friend starts seeing this girl, and he [Levi] decides that he likes her and starts to stalk her… that’s sort of the plot.

Guy Whitney as Levi in Rona Mark's The Crab

Do you meet unhappy people and say to yourself, “I’m going to make a movie about this person?” (Hesitates) Alright, so he’s a little bit of a composite character. (laughing) There’s a lot of me, obviously, in most of my leads, and him too. There’s also a little bit of this boyfriend I had for many years. The movie starts with Levi defending his thesis – he wrote this large volume about the history of American poetry but refused to put citations in it on principle, like a big “fuck you.” I had a boyfriend who did that. All he needed to get his master’s was to put citations in his thesis and he just wouldn’t do it. I mean, I’m sure his reasons were different. My guy [Levi] doesn’t want to finish it because if he finishes it and nobody likes it then he’s just a circus freak with a book. Insert movie instead of book and you have me.

Does the entire process for you begin with character? I think so. I think that’s what’s happening. I mean, I never really knew how I work, but the more I’m doing it, I’m beginning to realize that I like characters that nobody likes, and I want to try to make an audience care for them. That seems to be my goal as a filmmaker: to make people care about the people nobody likes. Murderers, assholes…

Did you do research? About people with deformities? Oh, no… When I did Strange Girls everyone asked if I did a lot of research about twins, and I mean… someone made a documentary about twins, they don’t need me… I’m about the drama, I’m not particularly interested in the science that’s not why I’m doing it. I’m not making an issue movie.

How hard was it to cast the character of Levi, going into production? I feel like 85% of my job as director is casting. And I have to cast just right. It doesn’t have to be exactly the way that I imagined the character, as long as the essentials are there. If he can get to that place, wherever it is, then if he’s tall or short or whatever, I can work with that, but he has to be able to emotionally get there. And that’s the hardest thing. He [Levi] wasn’t easy to find. We put out a couple of calls and got 1200 head-shots, ‘cos if you write “drunk, lobster claws,” every actor in the world thinks they want to do it. But then when they arrive… (laughing). I think one day we saw  30 guys for the lead and I’d say 24 of them were completely incompetent, 5 were deranged, and one was good but not right, and I didn’t think he would be, no matter what. So our casting director, she basically just called in some friends to audition, and the one guy that we went with [Guy Whitney], his first read was good – but angry – and Levi has to also be funny. But I guess she told him, and at the call back he turned it on and it was good. And he’s super dedicated, he had just quit his job and needed to get another one but decided he wasn’t going to, he was just going to live in character for the 6 weeks before we started shooting. I just hoped he didn’t get arrested. But you can feel it when someone’s committed, in their performance… you can’t deny it makes a difference.

Did you learn anything from Strange Girls, about getting the performance out of him? Well, it was different. I had more aesthetic distance with Strange Girls. My leads were twins, and they had worked together a lot, the relationship between them was already there, which made it easier. This one – you know, he did most of the work. I mean, we talked a lot about the character, for weeks, but I could count on him to do the grunt work, it became a matter of refining it, and working with him and the other actors. I learned about myself as a director, that I don’t have a lot of separation between me and my work, so it made it difficult to direct this character, because he was so troubled that I found myself feeling sorry for him all the time, found myself on-set trying to mother him, I felt bad, you know, I cried when he cried, that’s when I realized that I don’t separate at all. It was easier in Strange Girls because there were horror conventions, which is what I mean by distance – one more layer between you and the content. Just a little less real, in a way. You know what I mean?

Rona Mark directing Guy Whitney in The Crab

So you weren’t kidding when you said it is very emotional, a therapeutic journey? Put it this way. I’m not getting any money to do these. I’m only doing them because I want to, so I’m gonna put as much into it to make it worth my while as possible. As much of myself into it. I have to really care to do it because it’s so hard to do.

Do you ever find yourself doubting whether to continue making movies? No. As long as I can I want to continue making movies. But the thing is, it has to get easier at some point or I don’t know just how, physically, stamina-wise, much more I can do. If I don’t get some money injected in there at some point, I just don’t know.

Do you like the film festival circuit? Or find it frustrating? Anything that’s organized like a contest in film I find very frustrating, you know, unless I get in, and then it’s not (laughing). I mean, I think it’s bullshit, you just never know why people choose or don’t choose you. It doesn’t mean anything about your work. I mean, I guess if you get rejected with every single thing you ever apply to, maybe you should listen, but otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. They program all kinds of shit, at all the festivals. so it doesn’t mean it’s good or bad. But there definitely is this feeling, that you have to have a famous person in your film for it to be good. If I would’ve waited for that to happen I probably never would have had any film made, let alone 2 features. ‘Cos it just makes everything take forever. What am I gonna do, wait ten years to get so and so attached in order to raise the money to do it properly? I can’t do that, I gotta keep going…

Rona and Cass Bugge in a scene from The Crab

Do you feel like having one under your belt is going to help the Crab? Well it definitely helped me make it. I mean, there’s that education by fire. I was able to do this one much more efficiently, and also my priorities during production were really different. My biggest problem with Strange Girls was that I couldn’t direct everything to the fullest because I had production issues, and I was directing and producing. What I learned from that one was that I need to gel with all the people working with me. I can’t just hire them – I have to really vet them for personality, to make sure their film-making personalities mesh with mine, and that they can get with the culture of our production- especially the DP. We don’t care about getting a glint off the Fichus. That’s low priority. We shot like 8-10 pages a day on The Crab, and it was fine, it wasn’t a problem.

So it was easier to get this one made? Yeah. My producing partner [Craig Schober], we’ve known each other for a while, he wanted to shoot a feature, he owns his equipment and everything and I was like, if you want to make one, I’ve got one. Let’s go. So that’s how it came about. We didn’t have to pay for equipment, and by design it was a smaller project. We had a crew of like 8 people on this one.

Are you currently developing anything? Your next film? My producing partner’s company is called Tridango, the next project I’m doing is with him. He’s spearheading it but I’m helping him produce and write it. It’s a choose your own adventure zombie apocalypse sort of thing. It’s for the iPad or iPhone or something- he knows all that tech stuff- my only thing was there has to be a gang of vigilante children. Like a gang of tough little kids that are fighting zombies. If you have that, then I’ll work with you. The main guy has to encounter them. You decide whether to go with them, kill them, whatever. And I have other things I want to do too.

Do you have that “million dollar script” waiting for that “golden” opportunity, when The Crab takes off and becomes a hit? I have like 17 screenplays sitting in my computer (laughing). I’ve got the 2 million dollar screenplay that if I can get the money I’ll do, but I also have the one that if I don’t get any money I’m going to do next. On some level, I feel kinda like I don’t even want to write things anymore that I don’t know that I can make myself. Because, like I said, I have 17 sitting in my computer that might never get made.

When you’re not making movies, you teach, at Sarah Lawrence. Do you enjoy it? I’m liking it more and more, because I feel like I’m getting better at it… but I’d rather be making films 24/7. As far as day-jobs go, it’s pretty awesome. But there’s a problem with film education. You gotta teach them [students] something, so you find yourself teaching rules that you don’t necessarily believe. And whenever someone really gets the bug, I always feel like I’ve done them a disservice- like, “wow, I just ruined your life, ‘cos now you’re gonna suffer like I have, and feel how I feel.”

The Crab’s world premiere will be at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Be sure to look for it at other film festivals and select theaters in the near future. And check IsleofCinema for reviews of both of Rona Mark’s films, coming soon!

June 1, 2010   1 Comment

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