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Great Scenes – BLACK SUNDAY

Ahh… the darkness is upon us and it’s time to revel in all things macabre. ’tis the season for Mario Bava, champion of the grand guignol, a man who invented the slasher (i.e. the cinematic giallo) and brought a theatricality to genre filmmaking that was at once both intimate and epic. Feast your eyes on this fantastic opening scene from one of his finest films – Black Sunday (1960) aka Mask of Satan. Barbara Steele was made an instant star as the evil witch in one of the true must-see-films of any self-respecting cinephile’s genre education. There’s nothing quite like this movie, with it’s bombastic narration, heavy use of ADR voiceover over non-English speakers, and spare yet effective sound design. Everything here is over the top: the dialogue: “and as your brother I repudiate you!” The glorious black and white cinematography, shadows dancing over spikes and a set-bound magical world filled with fake trees and endless mist. I especially love the shot in which the black hooded executioner carries the spiked mask directly out into the audience – implicating us in the impending violence… and I even more especially love the blood which spurts forth when the mallet goes THWACK! Deliciousness! Happy Halloween everyone!

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October 31, 2012   No Comments


Known as the Godfather of Kung-Fu thanks to genre-defining The One-Armed Swordsman (1967),  Shaolin Temple (1976) and The Five Venoms (1978), prolific writer/director (and one-time film critic) Chang Cheh‘s career spanned several decades and even more tonal shifts – from early über-macho flicks that inspired John Woo‘s “heroic bloodshed” cinema to later WTF? slapstick dementia that inspired Wong Jing – Cheh was a man of many styles and a mentor to many directors. Today’s great scene comes from his Five Element Ninja (1982) – also known as Super Ninjas – which is one of the director’s more brainless and fun movies, full of the type of inventive insanity that fans of cheesy cinema come to admire in Hong Kong films. In fact whenever the Chinese “do ninja” it’s worth a look – because they usually skip all that Japanese reverence and opt for portraying the ninja as some sort of magical boogeyman. In this movie starring Venom Lo Meng and Michael Chan Wai Man, the ninjas take on traits of the five elements – Earth, Wood [?], Fire, Water and Gold [?] (what happened to wind?). Featuring an abundance of spears to the crotch and a warrior who doesn’t seem to mind said spears as much as he should, it’s a wonderful appetizer to the full course meal ahead – full of quirk, gore and ridiculousness, and a wacko ending in which all 5 elements come together in one battle – definitely worth seeking out!

…and check out the previous Great Scene we ran from Cheh’s equally sublime Two Champions of Shaolin!

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October 23, 2012   No Comments

Director Interview – JOSH JOHNSON

Filmmaker Josh Johnson sits down with our very own video clerk and resident tapehead, Rockie Juarez, to discuss his documentary Rewind This!, an ode to the VHS age:

Hey film fan – you may have heard a rumor floating around out there saying VHS is dead. I’m here to tell you you’re listening to the wrong people. Please allow me to aim your senses in a different direction – one that acknowledges the vital role VHS plays in pop and film culture history. I’d like you to meet a true believer in the format, a freedom fighter for VHS: the humble magnificent Josh Johnson. In the mere months I’ve known him, we’ve talked, seen (Jaws in 35mm!!), and eaten movies in a way that’s changed me forever. And as soon as I learned of his project – a documentary all about the mighty VHS format called Rewind This! – I knew I had to back it one hundred percent. Preserving the rich history of cinema and all the formats that have changed the way we ingest the sweet art should be a holy task of our Public schools, but seeing as how I’m not King of the World™, I figure I should teach the children through other channels – like this one you’ve come to at Isle of Cinema. So let’s jump right in and meet Josh, and learn about this important documentary! But before we do, just take a look at his picture – how can you not fall in love?

Josh Johnson

Hey Josh, thanks for taking time out of your day to rap with us about your amazing project. How’d it all start?  I imagine taking on a documentary has got to be a daunting task. There were two core ideas that really launched the project. The first was the realization that the story of home video and its impact has never been told on film. The other was the discovery of how many people were still buying VHS tapes on a regular basis because they contained rare content that wasn’t available by any other means. It seemed that there was an opportunity to construct a narrative about the significance of video that would show how we got where we are now and explore where we might be going. I started working with two partners on developing the project and we began small – by interviewing the relevant individuals that we had immediate access to in the Austin area. This enabled us to collect a significant amount of footage before the need to travel arose. Once we reached the point where we needed to start flying around the country to conduct interviews, we were far enough along that we were able to get support through local fundraisers. So while the scope of the project is daunting, there seems to be a lot of support for what we’re doing.

I’ve been in and out of video stores as far back as I remember, and I currently work at Vulcan Video in Austin, so personally this project speaks to me. And the masses agree – I saw you guys catch fire on the Twitter: was it overwhelming, seeing all that love, and was it a validation of what you guys were doing? Both. It is validating for sure and really encouraging to see that the audience for the film might be larger than we suspected. It’s also been completely overwhelming and emotional – the three of us working on this project frequently speak to each other in complete disbelief about how enthusiastic the response has been. This subject means a lot to us and we obviously assumed it would be meaningful to a certain segment of the populace but we clearly underestimated how many people feel passionately about the importance of home video. This process has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined.

Click to check out Stephanie Vanelli’s print over at Etsy!

You mentioned your partners in crime on this project and their contributions. Yeah. Carolee Mitchell, who is acting as producer and Christopher Palmer, who is acting as co-director and both shoots and edits our footage. Since we’re a small team there are of course a variety of other roles that everyone has to step and fill on occasion as well.

Several big names were tweeting and spreading the word about it, too. Just so people have an idea, how fast did it take to hit your goal on Kickstarter? And who was your most “flattering” supporter? It took us 112 hours to reach our funding goal. We were expecting it to take the full 30 days but the response just exploded right away. The Kickstarter concluded about a week ago and we exceeded our goal by 53% which has enabled us to add two more production trips and at least 20 more interviews. I don’t know if there is anyone in particular that I would describe as the most flattering supporter but something that has been really satisfying is the broad range of people who have wanted to get involved. There is diverse spectrum of people from different continents and of different ages/backgrounds which I wouldn’t have anticipated.

I’m afraid tears of joy might soak my shirt if I perchance-d to gaze upon those numbers. As far as getting interviews, was it brutal locking down ‘celebs’ or were they on board from the get go? For the most part securing interviews has been fairly stress-free. In a lot of cases we had mutual friends who were able to put us in touch which is always helpful. We’ve also had a surprising amount of success reaching out to people through managers and agents. I think the main reason that the people we’ve contacted have been so receptive is that they are being offered a chance to preserve their own legacy. They contributed to a revolution that hasn’t received its due and our motivation is to acknowledge and celebrate their work. Something that a lot of people might not be aware of is that we haven’t paid for a single one of our interviews. Everybody who has agreed to participate has done so purely out of an interest in getting their story heard.

Hangin’ with the Troma team

So when can we see it!? I know that’s a rough question considering you’re still banging it out so I’ll rephrase that – what’s the projected release date? (Soon, I hope) Our final production trip is in May so we’ll be done filming at that point. We’re editing now so the film itself will be completed shortly thereafter. As for when people will see it that is less clear. We’re currently planning to show at film festivals with an eye towards distribution after that.

It’s going to be gangbusters at festivals. Not to jinx you, but I’d expect it to be picked up fairly quickly – valid subject with valid backers. Well Josh, I want to thank you for taking a minute to talk to me about a project so dear. How can all the interested parties out there follow your progress? In case they’d like to stalk you? Our website is www.rewindthismovie.com which should be getting revamped soon with a new look and more content. For day to day updates you can follow us on Twitter @RewindThisMovie. If you have too much time on your hands you can also follow my personal account(@VHSisthetruth) to learn more about what movies I’m watching, what desserts I’m enjoying, and what sort of awkward experiences I’m having with women.

Doin’ the VHS shuffle.


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March 5, 2012   1 Comment

Lyrical Aussie Western – THE PROPOSITION

THE PROPOSITION is a grimy look at the Outback, courtesy of Nick Cave and friends.

Just when you thought Clint Eastwood’s The Unforgiven would be the Western’s final ride into the sunset, a pair of Aussies refuse to let the genre go down quietly; director John Hillcoat and musician-turned-screenwriter Nick Cave, who’ve conspired to deliver the next great Western revival, 2005’s The Proposition. Harsh in tone yet poetically delivered, this film shows us a side of the Outback seldom seen. The yarn goes as follows: After being captured by the law, Charlie Burns, played by Guy Pearce, is asked to bring his ruthless older brother Arthur to justice. If he fails to do so within a few weeks his younger brother, also captured by the authorities, will be killed. Charlie agrees, and rides off into the wild frontier to hunt his brother down. The Outback itself is a central character in the film – it feels like a constant 100 degrees with no shade in sight, a wasteland without remorse, whose dirt, grime, and quite often insect life assaults the actors incessantly. Nobody looks happy in this movie, and all save the locals are in way out of their depths against the cruelty of the landscape. It’s no surprise that Hillcoat also directed 2009’s The Road – landscapes consumed by pain seem to be his bag. Nick Cave’s first solo attempt at a screenplay (he co-wrote 1988’s Ghosts… of the Civil Dead) proves to be an altogether worthy affair, his poetry on full display throughout. Another notable standout is veteran actor John Hurt, who plays a brilliant bounty hunter out to capture Arthur – who embodies the pain of the countryside and the way it destroys a man. Fans of the Western have cause to rejoice, and for those of you with an aversion toward Westerns, I assure you this The Proposition is one journey worth taking by all lovers of good cinema.

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July 26, 2010   2 Comments

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