In was on this day in 1897 that Bram Stoker’s tale “The UnDead”, retitled “Dracula” by publishers Archibald Constable and Co, found it’s way into the hands and minds of the general public for the first time.
Those interested in the vampire king’s convoluted history should seek out a copy of David J. Skal’s “Hollywood Gothic, The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen“. Originally published in 1990 the book still offers the definitive account of Stoker and his creation, its precursors, stage presentations and film adaptations.
I nearly turned down reviewing director Tony Palmer’s Rory Gallagher documentary “Irish Tour ’74” based on previous releases of drab looking and damaged prints. Eagle Rock Entertainment/Eagle Vision changes that all with their remarkable remaster, to be released on April 12, 2011. My review of the Blu-Ray edition can be read at PiercingMetal.com.
Eagle Vision’s release of the here-to-fore missing in action Rolling Stones 1974 concert film “Ladies and Gentleman, The Rolling Stones” topped my list for most watched and listened to Blu-Ray DVD’s last year and continues to be in the “close to the Playstation 3” pile. Read why in my review at PiercingMetal.com. Also check out the archived review of the equally good “Stones In Exile” documentary here on SkeletonPete.
My current immersion in the creative recording process with Dance Half Done made the opportunity to see an advance screening of “The Harmony Game”, a new documentary on the making of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” album, an all-the-more special treat. When my wife saw that this early public peek would be at one of our favorite venues, City Winery, we jumped at the chance.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” marked the pinnacle of S & G’s recording career as well as the dissolution of their creative partnership for many years afterward. This film was created specifically to accompany the 40th Anniversary Edition of that 1970 album which is scheduled for release on March 8th, 2011. It will have a limited engagement in theaters throughout the month.
Like The Beatles, as Simon and Garfunkel’s public popularity grew in leaps and bounds, their creativity and imagination in the studio (and the record company’s willingness to indulge it) grew concurrently. The film is an enjoyable mix of anecdotes and archival footage, some culled from the contemporaneous TV special “Songs of America”, of that process. Along with new in-depth interviews with Paul and Artie , the 70 minute chronicle offers talks with co-producer/engineer Roy Halee, “wrecking crew” drummer Hal Blaine, arranger Jimmie Haskell, and others.In particular it is great to see the unsung hero of sixties pop hits, bass player Joe Osborn, finally get some face time on screen. Based on his session-ography he deserves a documentary of his own.
Halee, credited as the sonic architect of the duo’s recorded legacy, relates in some detail the process he used to get the group’s unique vocal sound, and the amount of experimentation – especially with natural ambiance – invested in the project. Blaine tells the legendary elevator story, the “instrument” playing the solo in “The Boxer” is revealed, as is who fingerpicks its beautifully fluid opening run. Unfortunately multi-instrumentalist session player Larry Knechtel passed away in 2009. It is his piano work we hear on the gospel inspired title song; a track that was the culmination of a 3 day session to work out its arpeggios, counterpoints and turnarounds to perfection. There is no mistaking that perfection was the goal, putting that many uber-talented “type A” personalities in one room made for a creative pressure cooker but their talents thankfully went beyond note perfect to soul perfection.
To some extent the film follows the now familiar “classic albums” formula, but leaves us short of what is often the most enjoyable part – a trip through the multi-tracks. As Osborn relates in one segment, a finished track was often a pastiche of the best pieces of several takes and a listen to bits that got left out, experiments that failed, etc. would have been fun. That is not to say that the soundtrack does not include bits of alternate and/or early takes.
For those of us who have already owned the album in any number of formats and remastered versions since it’s first release, it is this documentary that will make the 40th Anniversary Edition worth owning. At a street price likely to be under $15.00 for the whole package it is quite a bargain.
What a pre-All Hallow’s Eve treat. The newest issue of Little Shoppe of Horrors, Dick Klemensen’s Anglo-centric horror film fanzine, arrived in my mail box this afternoon. I’ve been waiting for this issue with some anticipation since it was first announced that its focus would be “Blood On Satan’s Claw” (1971). LSoH is noted for their in depth coverage and loving attention to detail (bordering on obsession) that often produces the definitive texts on their chosen subjects. Though their output is low (25 issues in 40 years) it is always worth the wait and the issues are packed with interviews and information found nowhere else. In preparation for settling down and reading this volume of forgotten lore, I decided to unearth my musty VHS copy of BoSC (Paragon, circa 1982) and give it a fresh look.
Of the small group of period horror genre flix that came out of England in the early 1970’s “Blood On Satan’s Claw” happens to be my favorite. The plot follows the happenstance of a young farmer who inadvertently plows up a piece of the dark lord and triggers a chain reaction as the teenagers of the village “harvest” Satan’s skin from those it begins to grow on in order to reconstitute their evil master. While not as brutally sadistic as Michael Reeve’s “Witchfinder General” (AKA “The Conqueror Worm”) 1968, the malevolent glee which the youngsters exhibit as they carry out their duty is quite unnerving. The young cast gives really effective performances, sometimes with only a knowing glint in the eye, or an evil smirk.
Whereas the similarly pastoral “The Wicker Man” (1973) portrays a cat and mouse game of Pagan naturalism vs. Christian repression the nature of BoSC’s sexuality is the perversion of teenage curiosity into heightened morbidity. Linda Hayden plays central baddie Angel Blake and pulls off the portrayal with an amazing balance of subtle guile and flame eyed hysteria. While Angel’s attempted seduction of the local minister is probably the most talked about scene in the film (at least in fanboy circles) it is the ritualized rape/murder of character Cathy Vespers (Wendy Padbury) that is most alarming. Her bewilderment that the “game” she participates in with her young friends has gone terribly wrong is palpable. In other word’s this ain’t the “Twilight Saga”. It’s more like “Spring Awakenings” – with rusty garden shears.
There are lots of wonderful character faces here, particulary Howard Goorney as the doctor, and director Piers Haggard utilizes them to great effect. They often peer down the lens at you bringing to mind Carl Theodor Dreyer’s “Passion of Joan of Arc” or “Vampyr” (1928). I love the punky teen who looks like a cross between Michael J. Pollard and Butch from “The Little Rascals”.
While some of the Hammer period films present sets that often feel too well kept (kind of like those clean Western streets of “Bonanza”), the pastoral setting and interiors of BoSC are well executed with the feel that someone took a handful of sod and tossed it at a Vermeer. The crow image underneath the main titles always reminds me of the cover of the first Black Sabbath album.
Marc Wilkinson’s score is superbly creepy and memorable (especially the opening title motif) and stands on its own as a listening experience, though some of the cues are quite short. I was thrilled to find I could stream it on MOG and have been listening as I write this piece.
Little Shoppe of Horrors #25 is available here, as are all back issues of the fanzine – some original, some reprint. If you have any interest at all in Hammer, Amicus, Tigon films they are worth your consideration. Klemensen is also taking orders for the two volume “Last Bus To Bray” a compendium of information on unrealized projects by the Hammer Films company.