Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A pause for a change

4DK has been called many things -- some of them printable! -- but “meaningful contribution to society” certainly isn’t one of them. Indeed, endeavors like the meticulous cataloguing of the films of Sompote Sands might even be said to be a kind of tax on society, if not on civilization as a whole.

In any case, what I want to say is that the negative moral space that this blog inhabits should not be used to tar the brush with which other members of the community of cult film bloggers and podcasters are painted. Because some of them are doing some very meaningful stuff indeed.

Case in point, my fellow MOSS-er Brian of the Hammicus podcast, who has initiated a program called Create Reel Change. The goal of CRC is to provide therapeutic benefit to people with a range of mental health challenges (PTSD, depression, addiction, etc.) through creativity and specifically – though not exclusively – through the medium of film. I don’t want to try to describe it beyond that, because Brian does a much better job of it in this short film.

If you would like to make a much needed donation to Create Reel Change, you can find information on how to do so on their website. If you are big of heart but shallow of pocket, maybe you could contribute by sharing that link via Twitter, Facebook, or whatever mode of social media -- Snapshut? Instagrand? -- you damn kids prefer these days. It will perhaps make you feel like less of a jerk.

And now back to our regularly scheduled inanity.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

4DK invades Monster Island Resort!

Again with the space ladies.

The Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit is up to its usual skullduggery, taking god's creations and perverting them until they can no longer be seen as anything but barely recognizable mutations of their former selves. Their latest attack on the internet's fragile status quo is a swap-a-thon in which each of MOSS' member bloggers, webmasters and podcasters temporarily turns over the reigns to his or her blog, site, or podcast to one of the other bloggers, webmasters and podcasters to do with more or less as they please.

I got the esteemed Miguel Rodriguez of Monster Island Resort, who you can look forward to seeing here on 4DK in the coming weeks, holding forth about Japanese ghost movies. In return, Miguel asked that I record a podcast in which I discuss the "philosophy" behind 4DK, and in particular what unifying habit of mind draws me to the specific films that I write about. The result is a free form ramble in which I somewhat preposterously touch upon everything from Thunderbirds to the Situationist movement to prestigious, Academy Award nominated documentaries. Seriously, it's complete, raving nonsense! And, no doubt, you will want to hear every frothing word.

Listen here:

Monster Island Resort #111: MOSS SWAP! We Become Die Danger Die Die Kill! The 4DK Philosophy

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Infernal Brains Podcast, Episode 17

The femalien is a ubiquitous figure in the science fiction cinema of the 50s and 60s. She can take many forms, be it in Catwomen of the Moon, a film that gives us a good idea of what happens when a man going through a bitter divorce writes sci fi, or in a Mexican lark like La Nave de los Monstruous, which gives us a good idea of what results when the person who ate the worm out of the Mezcal bottle writes sci fi. Covering it all is a big job, too big for any mere man to handle. And that is why Tars Tarkas and myself, in preparing this latest episode of The Infernal Brains, asked for the help of The Cultural Gutter’s Carol Borden, who provides a much needed women’s perspective on the subject of marauding space ladies from throughout world cinema.

Download the episode here, or watch it below accompanied by an estrogen rich slideshow. Even though we know that what you really want is to pop over to our YouTube channel and subscribe. Call it women’s intuition.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Kulkedisi, aka Turkish Cinderella (Turkey, 1971)

In light of recent events, you'd think the last thing I'd want to do right now is write about another Turkish pop film based on Western source material. You see, just a few days ago I discovered that a British academic by the name of Lee Broughton had dedicated a large portion of his chapter in the book Impure Cinema to taking me to task for my Teleport City review of Korkusuz Kaptan Swing, a Turkish Western based on an Italian comic book, Il Comandante Mark, set during the American revolution. Nonetheless, I stand by my review’s main points: that (1) Korkusuz Kaptan Swing, with its ridiculously garbed British soldiers, plentiful anachronisms and slapstick comic relief, offers a weird, funhouse mirror vision of American history and (2) that it is awful.

Broughton, however, chose to cite my review as being representative of an America-centric attitude with a tendency to label inter-cultural products like Korkusuz Kaptan Swing as “impure” or “other”, counting me (i.e. “American film reviewer Todd Stadtman”) among, in the words of Andre Bazin, “staid critics and arbiters of taste who are governed by prejudicial value judgments”. Now, I am well aware that such attitudes exist, even within the cool headed world of internet movie criticism. I also view what Broughton and Bazin describe as the absolute opposite of what I try to accomplish with my film writing in general -- while at the same time wondering if he would hold the same opinion if he were aware of the many unorthodox foreign Westerns that I have championed. Still, it would be arrogant of me to assert that I’m immune to cultural bias, and the odds that I – as a white, middle class, middle aged, heterosexual American man – might say something culturally insensitive are overwhelming even on a good day. So I’m just going to consider this one to grow on.

Anyway, I get the feeling, going by the sheer amount of verbiage he dedicated to the task of spanking me, that Broughton kinda likes me, and that his razzing me in this manner is just his way of pulling my pigtails. And fortunately for him, I’m a huge narcissist, so I am far too tickled by the attention to register the slight on any deep level.

The extent that it did register, though, moved me to make an ill-fated yet solemn vow that, in approaching Kulkedisi, a Turkish adaptation of Cinderella, I would be open of both mind and heart, addressing it with a clean slate. These proved to be famous last words, as, at about ten minutes into the movie, when we catch our first view of the King’s throne room and the palace guards therein, Korkusuz Kaptan Swing reared its ugly head in a most unexpected way:

Those are the exact same fucking costumes that looked so risible on the “Red Coats” in Kaptan Swing!. At least now I know where they originated, because they look much more at home in Kulkedisi’s story book world (both films being made in the same year) than they do on actors portraying what are supposed to be Revolutionary War era British soldiers. Unless they originated somewhere else, that is. How many Turkish films might there be in which these oddly elfin habiliments appear? Okay, calm down, Todd… Don’t let it affect your expectations where Kulkedisi is concerned.

Open heart. Open Mind.

Part of a wave of fairy tale films that peaked in Turkey in the early 70s, Kulkedisi was shepherded to the screen by Sureyya Duru, who directed the films in Cuneyt Arkin’s long running Malkocoglu series, and was one of two films based on Cinderella released in Turkey during 1971. The other was Saraylar Melegi (Palace of Angels), directed by Aram Gulyuz. But what Kulkedisi has over that film is lead actress Zeynep Degirmendioglu, a popular former child star who started in the business at age two with the 1956 film Daisy. Her presence makes Kulkedisi something of a family affair, as the film was written by her father, Hamdi Degirmendioglu (credited simply as “Degirmendioglu”), a well-known Turkish screenwriter who penned the majority of her films. The additional presence of actor Sertan Acar in the role of the handsome prince further complicates matters for the lazy researcher, as Degirmendioglu’s husband, a famous Turkish footballer who appeared alongside her on screen on a few occasions, bore the almost identical name of Serkan Acar. He, however, does not make an appearance here.

If you are someone like me, who tends to confuse the details of Cinderella and Snow White, the good news is: Kulkedisi does too! By which I mean that, if you are someone who hears “Cinderella” and thinks “that’s the one with the dwarves, right?”, Kulkedisi has dwarves aplenty for you. The first batch is a trio of male little people who attend to the king and prince, the second a trio of female dwarves who are faithful companions to Cinderella. These two camps of wee folk finally make a love connection at the film’s conclusion, and part of the “happy ever after” is the little guys tackling the little gals and rolling around with them in the dust as the closing credits roll. Further evidence of Turkey’s propensity toward taking innocent properties and making them just a smidge dirtier is the scene in which the Prince first lays eyes on Cinderella, in which she is skinny dipping, and a set of his and hers fantasy sequences in which Cinderella imagines herself and the midriff baring prince doing a sexy gypsy dance and the Prince imagines himself a sultan, with the midriff baring Cinderella a belly dancer performing for his pleasure.

It is at this point that I would normally offer the caveat that I watched Kulkedisi, a Turkish language film, without the benefit of English subtitles. The fact is, however, that, aside from those detours described above, the film stays pretty close to the original story’s script. Thus few challenges to comprehension are presented to those of us familiar with it -- even those of us who are waiting for the dwarves to show up. We see the pitiful young Cinderella reduced to a state of slavery by her wicked stepmother (Hikmet Gul) and nattering, vacuous step sisters. There is the witch, who, interestingly, appears to be played by the same actress, Suna Selen, who plays Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother, and may in fact be the same character (hey, I’m not saying that subtitles wouldn’t have helped). And then of course there is the royal ball, the pumpkin coach, the slipper, and at last, justice for Cindy.

In terms of production values, Kulkedisi is pretty much par for the course for a Turkish pop film of its era. However, that “school play” feeling created by the sets, which at times appear to consist of little more than brightly colored paper, for once lends the production a sort of charm, rather than just making it look silly (see Korkusuz Kaptan Swing). Director Duru and screenwriter Degirmendioglu also make some nice choices, especially in how they build up to the big reveal of Cinderella in all her dazzling, ball-going finery. If you reverse engineer it back through all the narratives that have since been called “Cinderella stories”, Cinderella is the ultimate revenge tale, the payback for every bullied child who’s ever thought to themselves, “just you wait and see”, and, hence, the impetus for 99% of reality television. Of course, no one understands revenge better than the Turks, and so the makers of Kulkedisi craftily delay Cinderella’s big moment for maximum impact.

Having not seen one of these Turkish fairy tale movies before, I really didn’t know what to expect from Kulkedisi. But what I really didn’t expect was for it to be as marked by tenderness and sincerity as it proved to be. I think a lot of this rests on Zeynep Degirmendioglu, who is an open and appealing presence. It also stems from the film’s attempts to be as much of a musical as possible, despite -- or, perhaps, because of -- the fact that, whenever one of its spirited/shambolic dance sequences features more than two people, they all look like they are perilously close to trampling one another. But the point is: they are trying. Turkish pop cinema, after all, is all about entertainment, and it is by those standards that I think it should be judged. Unlike Korkusuz Kaptan Swing -- a film that is not just awful, but awful by the standards of any culture, planet, or dimension -- Kulkedisi charmed and entertained me. Thus, this American film reviewer -- under no duress from the damning eyes of the intelligentsia -- is given no choice but to give it a big, Yankee style thumbs up.

So put that in your pipe and smoke it, Poindexter.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Starting in March: The 4DK Monthly Movie Shout Down!

Starting in March, we’ll be doing something a little different here at 4DK: 4DK’S MONTHLY MOVIE SHOUT DOWN, a series of movie tweet-alongs that will occur on the second Tuesday of every month.

If you’re reading this, then you are invited to join in. All you need to participate is a Twitter account and access to YouTube (and occasionally DailyMotion.com or archive.org). Here’s how it’s gonna go down: 
- On the evening of the Tweet-a-thon, YOU will log into Twitter and then, at 6pm PST sharp, start the video of the movie using the link provided on 4DK. 
 - Then, using the hashtag #4DKMSD, you can join in the conversation, tweeting your thoughts, feelings, jibes, lamentations and objections in real time via Twitter with a host of other wits, wags and scoundrels. If the recent MOSS and Drive-in Mob tweet-alongs are any indication, that conversation can run anywhere from learned commentary to snark -- though it’s really mostly snark. 

The first Shout-Down will occur on Tuesday, March 11 at 6pm PST. And to start things off in fine 4DK form, we’ll be tweeting along to 1978’s FURY OF THE SILVER FOX, a blast of low budget fantasy kung fu surrealism from the great Pearl Chang Ling. Behold!

Join me, Pearl and a host of other chatty internet weirdos on Twitter at 6pm PST, using hashtag #4DKMSD, and succumb to the madness!

I’ve created a Shout Down site where you can see a schedule of the other films we’ll be tweeting to over the course of the year. As you’ll see, all of them bear that inimitable 4DK flavor (and, in some cases, smell, to be quite honest).

Hopefully you’re as excited about this as I am, because I’m really looking forward to sharing the experience with as many of you as possible.


Monday, February 3, 2014

El Vampiro Negro (Argentina, 1953)

“Tonight you are the luckiest audience in the world,” enthused Film Noir Foundation president Eddie Muller. “Because you get to see this film.” The film, 1953’s El Vampiro Negro, is an Argentinian remake of Fritz Lang’s M. And after that screening, a featured presentation in San Francisco’s venerable Noir City festival, I have to say that Muller was right. I feel very lucky indeed.

However, having seen El Vampiro Negro, it strikes me that simply calling it “a remake of Fritz Lang’s M” is a tad reductive. The premise of both films is the same: a city -- Berlin in the case of M, Buenos Aires in the case of El Vampiro Negro -- is held in a grip of terror by a serial child murderer who is elusive to the point of virtual invisibility, with tensions rising among the denizens of the city’s increasingly squeezed demimonde as a result. Yet Vampiro, directed by Roman Viñoly Barreto, shifts the perspective on this tale to the point that it could be considered a companion to the original as much as an update of it.

Where Lang’s film takes a panoptic view of the Berlin underworld as a body politic, its members teeming together to expel a monster from within their midst like so many scruffy antibodies, El Vampiro Negro takes a far more intimate and character driven approach. This approach provides us with a much more rounded view of the child murderer, who, thanks to the nuanced work of actor Nathán Pinsón and a screenplay that provides us with a little more context for his actions, ends up being portrayed with startling compassion, especially given that nothing is done to underplay the horror of his crimes. Granted, Pinsón takes his cues from the note of pathos struck by Peter Lorre in the original film’s climactic monologue, but the extent to which he expands upon that can’t be written off to pure emulation.

Barreto also diverges from Lang in providing his film with a lead female character, and a substantial one at that, contrasting sharply with the male dominated world of M, where the primary females are the Greek chorus of hookers and floozies who provide color along the edges. That character is Amalia, a down on her luck cabaret singer and single mother who turns out to be the only person to have caught a glimpse of the killer. Amalia is played by Olga Zubarry, a major star of Argentinian cinema whom Muller referred to as “Argentina’s Marilyn Monroe”; though to me she seemed like more of a ringer for Lana Turner. In any case, as a struggling parent shamed by her reduced standing -- and whose fragile state is exacerbated by the unwanted attentions of the authorities -- she circumvents her undeniable glamor to give a strong, heart rending performance that made me want to seek out more of her films at the soonest opportunity.

Its emphasis on drama and characterization makes El Vampiro Negro a much more conventional genre film than M. But as a genre film, it is not only outstanding, but also a thrilling exemplar of the noir style at its most expertly distilled. Cinematographer Anibal Gonzalez Paz gives the film’s nocturnal urban landscape a foreboding allure, the lonely streets bathed in heavy shadows against which the slashings of police searchlights stand out all the more startlingly. The faces of bit and featured players alike are captured in tense, claustrophobic close-ups, making palpable the sense of dread and pent up anxiety that the unseen killer’s mounting atrocities have inspired. Finally, when Zubbary’s Amaya confronts the killer, a lone spotlight suspends her face in the darkness with an almost unbearable intensity, as if she is an aggrieved angel emerging forcefully from the bleak night. It’s enough that, even without the fine performances of Pinsón and Zubbary, El Vampiro Negro could get by on mood alone.

Of course, as I sat there in the Castro Theater, I was excited, not only to be seeing El Vampiro Negro, but also to finally be seeing a product of Argentinian commercial cinema’s golden age, about which I had heard yet whose products I had yet to track down. That there are always “new” sources of exciting international pop cinema to be found, even at this late point in my career as a film obsessive, is a source of joy and amazement -- even if the passionate interest of a few cinephiles isn’t enough to open the floodgates. El Vampiro Negro is as technically accomplished as anything produced by Hollywood in it time, and, within its genre, boasts a rare artistry. If released on these shores, I’ve no doubt it could have found an audience. Yet it remains the product of a thriving industry that few outside its country’s borders knew existed. Except for us lucky few.