‘Twenty eleven’, or ‘Two thousand and eleven’? We don’t say that World War II ended in ‘One thousand, nine hundred and forty five’, or the Battle of Hastings took place in ‘One thousand and sixty-six’, so the consensus seems to be that ‘Twenty eleven’ is the correct terminology. Film title-wise, that means Bernardo Bertolucci once made a film called Nineteen zero zero and that Stanley Kubrick directed a science fiction ‘Space Odyssey’ called Twenty-Zero-One, or even simply Twenty-One.
As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent quite a large part of 2011 researching and writing about science fiction movies for Outer Limits: The Filmgoers’ Guide to the Great Science Fiction Films. In addition to watching the classics which are freely available on DVD (or failing that videotape), I’ve been looking at some of the interesting US Region boxed sets, each containing 50 movies. Though the picture quality is usually of the ‘worse than faded VHS’ variety, these sets are filled with oddball and unusual delights of sci-fi cult cinema and are great value.
Sci-Fi Classics has the great Japanese giant turtle Gamera on the cover and includes such anti-classics as Cosmos: War of the Planets, Killers from Space, Mesa of Lost Women, First Spaceship on Venus, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Teenagers from Outer Space, Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women and the immortal Eegah, about a giant caveman (played by a pre-James Bond ‘Jaws’ Richard Kiel) wandering around the Californian desert.
The Nightmare Worlds 50-movie set includes the Italian Alien rip-off Alien Contamination, The Day the Sky Exploded, The Manster, Radio Ranch, Star Odyssey, This is Not a Test, The Disappearance of Flight 412 and three of the imaginative Japanese ‘Starman’ series, Atomic Rulers of the World, Attack from Space and Evil Brain from Outer Space.
The latest of these releases, the Sci-Fi Invasion 50-movie set, includes such hearty fare as Battle Beyond the Sun, Hundra, Mission Stardust, Night of the Blood Beast, R.O.T.O.R., Raiders of Atlantis (aka Atlantis Interceptors), War of the Robots, Top Line (with Franco Nero), Star Knight (with Harvey Keitel and Klaus Kinski), Horst Frank in the German horror The Head, Jack Palance in Welcome to Blood City and the killer carpet movie, The Creeping Terror. It also features an Italian Close Encounters rip-off called Eyes Behind the Stars, an Italian Terminator rip-off, Hands of Steel (filmed in Arizona), and the unforgettable Spanish E.T. knock-off Extraterrestrial Visitors, with an alien that resembles someone wearing a baby elephant costume.
Don’t expect too much in terms of picture quality – nor indeed, in some cases, of filmmaking quality – but these entertaining movies are still better than anything you’ll find on our dire TV channels these days.
My favourite film book published this year was Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies, a great read which I discussed in an earlier post.
Also look out for a new guide to Italian fumetti comic book superheroes on film in Matt Blake’s Fantastikal Diabolikal Supermen.
For me the DVD release of 2011 was the BFI’s excellent presentation of Bernardo Bertolucci’s little-seen Before the Revolution (1964), an unheralded classic of Italian cinema which can be seen as a precursor to The Conformist (1970).
The best film at cinemas was the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit, which really captured the flavour of Charles Portis’ book and pithily authentic frontier language.
April 2011 saw the publication of my book on the golden era of Italian Cinema, Cinema Italiano: The Complete Guide from Classics to Cult, which I’m pleased to say has received some very good reviews:
I was also proud to hear from my friend Tom Betts that at the First Los Angeles Spaghetti Western Festival in March, I was mentioned – alongside other writers and film historians including Bill Connolly of Spaghetti Cinema, Sebastian Hasselback of the Spaghetti Western Web Board, Sir Christopher Frayling, Ulrich Bruckner, John Nudge and authors Tony Williams and Laurence Staig – ‘For keeping the spaghetti western heritage alive’. This festival featured film screenings and guest appearances by spaghetti western stars Mark Damon, Hunt Powers, Richard Harrison, Robert Woods, Brett Halsey, Michael Forest, Dan van Husen and Edd Byrnes.
Other DVDs I’ve enjoyed this year include the 4-film Sophia Loren Collection (Region 1) which includes Attila (1954, co-starring Anthony Quinn) and the superb shot-in-Spain Napoleonic War comedy Madame Sans-Gêne (1962). The set also includes De Sica’s Sunflower (1970, co-starring Marcello Mastroianni) and the beautifully photographed musical, Neapolitan Carousel (1954).
I also contributed the collector’s booklet this year for Face to Face (1967), the spaghetti western DVD release by Eureka! in April. Another DVD set worth looking out for is The Best of Spaghetti Westerns 20-film Region Free set, which includes great prints of No Room to Die, A Coffin for the Sheriff, Cemetery Without Crosses, In a Colt’s Shadow, Shoot, Gringo…Shoot!, A Pistol for Ringo, The Return of Ringo, One Silver Dollar, Forgotten Pistolero, and many others, though the sound occasionally goes out of synch on some of them, these are still a bargain.
This year I’ve also seen one of the best Italian pepla, Ursus in the Land of Fire, in a widescreen English language version prepared by a film collector that is simply tremendous – it’s a shame more films of this type, from this era, aren’t available in such great presentations. One that has been released on DVD in widescreen and English is Mark Forest’s The Magnificent Gladiator.
Not necessarily new DVD releases, but I’ve also enjoyed Goke Bodysnatcher from Hell (excellent Japanese sci-fi/horror), Visconti’s Rocco and his Brothers, Night of the Comet (cult 1980s sci-fi), Raiders of Old California (an early Lee Van Cleef western), the eerie-yet-inept The Legend of Boggy Creek, Tonino Valerii’s giallo My Dear Killer, the classic Universal creature feature Creature from the Black Lagoon and the BFI’s swinging 60s release The Pleasure Girls (starring Francesca Annis, Ian McShane and Klaus Kinski).
I’m continuing to contribute regularly to film magazine Cinema Retro and their new season begins with a great issue largely devoted to the big screen film format Cinerama. I attended the Widescreen Weekend in Bradford in April and saw How the West Was Won on the Pictureville’s curved screen in this format and would highly recommend anyone to attend the screening in 2012. The new issue of Retro has features on Krakatoa, East of Java and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, and Sir Christopher Frayling has written an excellent in-depth article on the making of How the West Was Won. My contribution is a 10-page article on the Congo-set mercenary adventure Dark of the Sun (1968 – aka The Mercenaries) starring Rod Taylor and Jim Brown, which features many full-colour posters and behind the scenes info and stills.
Looking forward to 2012, my new book When Eagles Dared: The Filmgoers’ History of World War II is available to pre-order now and will be published in the UK in January. It looks at the history of the war, chronologically, through the films that have depicted the historical events, from Dunkirk and Battle of Britain, to The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, Saving Private Ryan and Downfall. Here’s a preview of the excellent jacket design for it, by Chris Bromley.