Something hidden -- go and find it;
Go and look beyond the Ranges
Something lost behind the ranges:
Lost and waiting for you. Go!

-- from Guy Maddin's CAREFUL

Being a periodic meditation on some of the more obscure outlying regions of cinema;
regarding movies that are inadequately publicized and hence, easily overlooked --
and by cinema, it is meant in the larger sense of films/tv/DVD/internet --
that might be worthy of your interest, but perhaps has escaped your notice.


Friday, July 27, 2007


       You might think it a bit of a stretch, to be talking about the release of some Popeye cartoons on a blog supposedly devoted to obscure -- even hidden -- cinema. But here’s the thing: while every tyke over the age of two can sing the Popeye-the-Sailor-Man theme, and we all know that spinach gives ya’ “musk-kles”, nonetheless most of us are acquainted with the one-eyed seaman from his later animated cartoons -- the reasonably well-crafted ones produced by A.A.P. and Paramount in the 40’s and 50’s, and the positively God-awful, made-for-TV shorts produced by King Features in the early 60’s (these frequently featured a character named the Sea-Hag -- they’re terrible -- please to avoid). But Popeye made his rep -- on the big screen at least -- through an early series of cartoons produced by the Fleischer Bros., Max & Dave; and only now, some 75 years after their creation, are they getting their due on home video.

       Popeye first came to light as a character in the newspaper strip, Thimble Theater, created by E.C. Segar, one of the greats of comix art; and one of the great strips as well -- right up there with George Herriman’s Krazy Kat -- but that’s a subject for a whole ‘nother blog. In 1932, the immense popularity of Segar’s character attracted the attention of a successful producer of animated shorts: Max Fleischer. He already had a stable of popular characters: Betty Boop, KoKo the Clown, to name just two -- but was looking for a new cartoon “star” -- and the baleful, but well-meaning sailor seemed to fit the bill. And he did -- becoming, in his heyday, as popular as Mickey Mouse. The Fleischer Bros. produced about a hundred Popeye cartoons between 1933 and 1942; but then some bad business practices -- and the ruthless ones of competitor, Walt Disney -- caused the Fleischer Bros. to abandon their namesake company and go their separate ways. Dave to Columbia’s Screen Gems animation studio, and Max to a maker of commercial and educational shorts called Jam Handy. Neither produced anything thereafter that matched in appeal, popularity, -- and just plain sense of fun -- those hundred or so Popeye cartoons.

       While Segar’s newspaper strip had a satirical edge to it that was, in part, responsible for its’ success, the appeal of the Fleischer shorts was much more basic. First off, the Fleischer animation style -- a rubbery, almost vibratory sense of motion was invested into every character -- into almost every object in the frame, actually. it’s quite unlike anything done by Disney or Warner Bros; or anybody else, for that matter. Secondly, the savvy integration of popular musical styles of the day -- a whole Betty Boop short was built around Cab Calloway’s hit tune Minnie The Moocher, for example. And finally, the character of Popeye himself -- he’s rough, he’s tough, he’s a little bit gruff... and more than a little bit awkward (just look at those forearms!); but he means well, so ya’ gotta’ love him. The same basic plot -- Popeye likes Olive/Olive fancies Bluto/Bluto behaves beastly/Popeye gives him his comeuppance (with the aid of some spinach!) -- propelled the narratives of nearly all the shorts in the series; but the panache and craftsmanship of the Fleischer Studios made almost all of them a pleasure to watch.

       The Fleischer Bros. were every bit the innovators that Walt Disney was -- it was Max & Dave who produced the first sync-sound cartoons, not Disney as is sometimes erroneously attributed. And for these very same early sound shorts, they developed the “Bouncing Ball” method for following along with on-screen lyrics: a cinematic trope still popular...        if only in Karaoke bars. The Fleischers also developed the process of rotoscoping, a technique still used by animators today -- albeit with a little computer-aided assistance -- in movies like Waking Life, and many others. And just so I don’t get accused of being a Disney-Basher (quite a popular sport out here in L.A., truth be told), I should mention that while as a businessman W.D. was quite ruthless, he was not vindictive; he later gave the job of directing Disney studios first -- and IMHO, best -- live action feature, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Max’s son, Richard Fleischer.

       The 4-DVD set of Popeye the Sailor: Vol. One, 1933 - 1938 comes out -- gobblin’ spinach and swingin’ its fisks' -- this Tuesday, July 31st. You can rent him here or buy him there; just don’t make fun of the poor fella’ -- after all, he is...        what he is.

Some links:

The Fleischer Popeye Tribute Page.

The Internet Archive’s webpage where you can download literally dozens of Flesicher shorts -- for free!.

Some info. regarding the movie, Forbidden Zone -- a film very much inspired by the Fleischer Studio style.

Next post -- 08/03/07

Friday, July 20, 2007


       Fantasy film, as a genre, seems to suffer from a case of arrested development; fans of the form tend to gravitate towards either epic tales of derring-do (like Star Wars and L.o.T.R. -- although I like both of those...) or adolescent coming-of-age stories (such as Spirited Away or even The Iron Giant -- both of which are just great!); and other such tales of childhood wish fulfillment. Only rarely are filmed fantasies used as a medium to explore darker, more adult themes -- albeit with broader strokes than a more straightforward drama would. But what fantasy lacks in subtlety, it sometimes gains in raw imaginative impulse and creative efficacy -- such, I would suggest, is the case with Harry Kümel’s surreal Gothic melodrama, Malpertuis.

       The story, set in the late Nineteenth century, begins with the return of a young sailer, Jan, to his ancestral home in the Netherlands. There he intends to visit his friends, his relatives, and most importantly, his aged and soon-to-expire Uncle, Cassavius (played -- entirely from a sick-bed -- by Orson Welles). Once there, Jan is confronted by the secretive, even enigmatic members of the Malpertuis household; his sister Nancy, his Aunt Alice, and the seductive but taciturn Euryale (all played by actress Susan Hampshire) -- and many others -- certainly not the least of which being Cassavius himself, who spends his final days busily composing his will, and who yet holds the key to the many, many mysteries of the family estate...        -- and that’s all you’ll get out of me; because any more would be telling...

       Based upon the 1943 novel by prolific writer of weird and fantastic fiction, Jean Ray; a kind of Belgian H.P. Lovecraft, I gather -- and that’s all I can do, as the book is O.O.P. here in the U.S. -- Malpertuis sometimes verges on transforming into some more familiar genre, like Horror, or even Gothic Romance; but never quite makes the leap. It remains, more or less from beginning to end, a surreal cinematic exercise, played out against the background of the seemingly endless corridors and crumbling arches of Malpertuis Mansion itself. The film premiered at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival to no little scorn from the critics, who, truth be told, had undoubtedly confronted even more bizarrely oneiric films in their day -- Last Year at Marienbad would definitely qualify on that front, for sure -- but few films, I imagine, that strove to confound them with such, uhh...        Baroque Grotesqueness, let’s say.
       The movie Malpertuis most closely reminds me of is Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which was based upon a novel by Arthur Schnitzler entitled Traumnovelle -- translation: Dream Story -- and Malpertuis does indeed seem very much like a filmed dream. Kümel is not the craftsman that Kubrick was, but somehow Malpertuis makes the stronger impression (upon me, at least). The film's unusual sensibility lead it to have some success as a cult movie in Europe, especially Germany; a country which seems to like its' fantasies dark and foreboding -- or so history would suggest. I should mention, if you’re looking for a fright-fest, Malpertuis will fail to satisfy. There are no startled cats leaping out of cupboards, no masked killers stalking ingenues here -- Only one seemingly logical scene following another, all somehow adding up to something quite irrational, even baffling. That, if anything, Malpertuis provides: plenty of creepy, unsettling atmosphere, -- but few "scares".

       Malpertuis finally swings open its doors here in the States this Tuesday, July 24th, when it becomes available on DVD. You can rent or buy it from the usual sources, but I’m not sure, once having seen it, you ever get to leave it entirely behind.

Some links:

Harry Kümel on the IMDb.

Barrel Entertainment’s (the U.S. distributer of the DVD) webpage regarding the release.

Next post -- 07/27/07

Friday, July 13, 2007


       I’m only five posts into this thing, and I can already guess what regular readers of this blog must be thinking: Grigorss is into some prett-y head-y stuff these days...
       -- what with the Guy Maddin...
       -- and the La Jetée...
       -- and the little independent films from out of nowhere...
What happened to the Grigorss of old, who watched films just because they had Giant Robots or psychotic, bisexual Go-Go girls in ‘em -- or even sex-obsessed Mad Scientists, for that matter? -- who watched movies just because they were fun, dammit!?! Well, let me tell you, folks -- I'm back! And ready to lay a rolling double-knee drop kick on ya’ -- from above! -- or rather, the Dynamite Warrior is!

       The film opens with Jone Bang Fai -- our titular, explosively-enabled, bamboo-rocket riding hero -- handily dispatching a band of Buffalo rustlers, only to find himself squaring off against Lord Waeng -- instantly recognizable as the bad guy of the film because he has a hare-lip, pointy shoes and a combination top-knot/pompadour (only a true villain could sport a hairstyle so... evil) and this happens because...        because...
       -- well, it has something to do with Tractor imports, an acromegalic cannibal, two henchmen possessed by dog and cat spirits (respectively), an Evil Wizard who can only be dispatched by a virgin’s menstrual blood, some magic amulets, a fake daughter -- oh! and somebody murdered Bang Fai’s parents, to boot, -- but that goes without saying in these types of films. There's a dozen or so additional story elements that I’ve forgotten, because my brain can only juggle a maximum of fifty plot-points and/or knee-jabs in any given two minute period -- and this film consistently exceeded that limit from the git-go.

       Produced by the same production company that brought us Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong -- the latter cinematic masterpiece being notable as the first film to feature a human being drop-kicking an elephant through a high-rise window -- Dynamite Warrior is essentially a homage to the old-style Hong Kong chop-socky movie; not the elaborately staged period melodramas of the Wuxia genre (that inspired later films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers), but those badly dubbed flicks that would air at 4:30 in the ay-em on UHF channel 84. Usually they featured a guy in a long white beard, excessive drinking on the part of the protagonists, and martial arts that seemed as much inspired by the Three Stooges as by the graceful movements of a crane. Since this is a Thai film, most of the action seems to be of the Muay boxing variety -- a fighting style that really looks like it does as much damage to the person delivering the blow as to the recipient; but mind you, it gets the job done, all the same! Dynamite Warrior shares the goofy humor of those early Kung Fu films, but is more zipp-ily edited and has a visual style that seems very much inspired by the westerns of Sergio Leone. It’s an enjoyable time at the movies and well worth seeing -- assuming you like this kind of thing at all. I don’t know what else to say in the films' defense...

... ahh, yes -- life’s simple pleasures...

       Dynamite Warrior is already open in theaters here in L.A. and NYC; it starts kicking ass and taking names in limited theatrical release across the rest of the nation this weekend, and becomes available on DVD this Tuesday. Watch out for it (I mean it! Those bamboo rockets will poke your eye out!)!

Some links:

Dynamite Warrior - wiki.

Magnolia Pictures (the U.S. distributer of the film) website.

Next post -- 07/20/07

Friday, July 6, 2007


       Arin Crumley and Susan Buice really want you to see their self-distributed, shot-on-DV movie, Four Eyed Monsters. So much so, that they’ve decided to post it, in its 71 minute entirety, on Youtube, now through Aug. 15th. I’ve embedded just the trailer above, as I find it kind of annoying to watch something feature-length on a screen smaller than a post card -- you might feel differently, though. Apparently this is the first feature film to be presented as such on Youtube --       ... well, legally, at least.

       The title refers not to some fanciful beasts, but to the aspect of two people in love -- two mouths, four eyes, eight limbs, etc.. The film’s basically a post-modern romance -- fairly autobiographical, by all accounts -- between the leads who made it: Arin and Susan; and about how the hip-geoisie in NYC fall in love nowadays. At that level, it’s a fairly conventional, if updated take on Boy-meets-Girl. So what’s the modern spin on this all too familiar subject matter? Such contemporary elements as Boy-stalks-Girl, Boy-contracts-STD and Girl-does-Pole dance. We follow Arin and Susan through the ups and downs of their burgeoning romance, up to the point, elliptically enough, when the two decide to make a movie together about their relationship.

       While Four Eyed Monsters is by no means perfect -- the plot is meandering, the acting is sub-par (in their defense, only when the leads try to act) and the whole thing seems to veer dangerously close to Art Therapy more than once -- there’s still enough good (a really funny mock-commercial for an “artist’s retreat”, an excellent soundtrack that works well with the NYC montages and an engaging visual style throughout) to make it worth viewing at least once. Despite the fact that the couple’s conflicts seem to be as much the result of them being 22 years old as anything else, the film has a good sense of humor about itself -- they may take themselves pretty seriously, but at least they had the clarity of vision not to have the movie itself take them too seriously. Flaws aside, Four Eyed Monsters has the appeal of any good romance -- you get to watch two people fall in love; this time, apparently, for real...

       Other than viewing it on Youtube, there’s a variety of options for seeing the film (ranging in price from $3.00 to $15.00): a small download suitable for viewing on a video iPod, a larger, DVD-quality download for your computer, and a DVD proper, for the old-fashioned amongst us; all available through the film’s online store. Four Eyed Monsters is also screening at theaters around the country, more or less randomly -- check the website for details.

Some links:

Four Eyed Monsters official website.

Arin & Susan’s MySpace page.

Request a screening of Four Eyed Monsters at a theater near you.

Join for free and help Arin and Susan pay off the immense amount of credit card debt they racked up making their film.

Next post -- 07/13/07