Thursday, October 27, 2011

Just in time for

Halloween ...

... my updated essay on classic horror films entitled “Fear of Fright Night.” Wrote the original in 2001 for an AOL site called Entertainment Asylum. Find the page here. I wrote numerous pieces for Entertainment Asylum in my tenure as an AOL correspondent/content editor, but only this one was saved for posterity.

Flashforward to 2010, and I can now put up this considered reprise, recollected in tranquility entitled ...


Halloween Goes to the Movies

Watching Scary Movies in the relative safety of a theater with hundreds of other people around us will not turn us into raving, bloodthirsty lunatics. On the contrary, it's a cheap alternative to seeing a shrink.

By Noë Gold

We are now in the midst of another cycle of shock films, loosely categorized by film historians as the horror genre but I'll just call 'em Scary Movies, since these film historians tend to quarrel and quibble about what exactly is a horror film. I say "cycle" because these films come in bunches, about every twenty years or so, and are extremely popular. The films in the late-'90s crop (typified by "Scream," "Scream 2," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Disturbing Behavior", the latter-day "Halloween: H2O" and the equally sequel-tastic "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer") have one thing in common: they're not "monster movies" like "Frankenstein" or "The Fly" or any of the creepy horror films that were popular in the fifties.

1530 North Orange Grove Ave. across the street stood in for the Doyle residence, where Laurie was baby-sitting Tommy in "Halloween." Looking the same as when the movie was filmed there 30 years ago, except the brick pillars in the front are filled in with hedges. The panicked children ran from the house between the pillars and onto the street. Photo by Noë Gold

The Scary Movie of the nineties relies more on psychological terror than the obvious makeup-enhanced movies of that more innocent era. It deals with ordinary people in ordinary situations who come across a deviant like "Halloween's" Mike Myers. The suspense in H20 is more on account of the audience's expectations and the throbbing, spooky music than from any obvious monster. Mike Myers comes with a lot of baggage, and it's all hidden beneath that very ordinary white Halloween mask. The effect is much more chilling than Godzilla or Keith Richards could ever hope to be.

Why is this Scary cycle surfacing again now? On the surface, things are fairly stable in modern-day society. Crime statistics are down, the economy is whistling along and Charles Manson is tucked away neatly in prison with no hope of escape. So why do we flock to movies that scare the gizzards out of us? Because it gives us pleasure. When there are no real things to be scared of, we go to the movies to shake things up. In a weird way, it's therapeutic.

To illustrate this point, I call forth a reference in a seminal book by an author I used to know who taught me a lot about the genre, Carlos Clarens. On the frontispiece of his Illustrated History of the Horror Films, Carlos quotes sociologist Roland Penrose from his work, Violence in Contemporary Art: "The bogey of violence is particularly horrifying and intolerable to us when we meet it in cold blood. The arts, however, avoid its brutal impact by their appeal to the emotions, they warm us to its presence, turning terror into enjoyment and cruelty into compassion. We participate in the act of violence without suffering its evil consequences. Art, in fact, allows us, as in certain rituals, to satisfy our Olympian yearning to stimulate the forces of nature. Its nonviolent power has a therapeutic and catalytic influence."

So, watching Scary Movies in the relative safety of a theater with hundreds of other people around us will not turn us into raving, bloodthirsty lunatics. On the contrary, it's a cheap alternative to seeing a shrink. For the same reason we pay money and wait in long lines to ride the shriekiest roller coaster, we go to the movies to get our hair lifted. Steve Miner, who directed H20, says it this way: "My favorite scary film of all time was Psycho, which I could not sit through. I never saw the whole movie until I was an adult. Halloween I found reminiscent in spirit of that kind of movie: unrelentingly scary and suspenseful and atmospheric. I think people like to be scared because they can go to the edge without really being there."

Kevin Williamson, the Dawson's Creek director who wrote the screenplay of H20 as well as that of Scream, credits Halloween for what he is today. "Halloween is and always has been my favorite film of all time," he says. "It wasn't just a movie, it was an experience. ... The audience participation factor was one of the most incredible parts of the movie. The way the audience jumped and screamed at the characters on screen got my blood pumping. It was this effect in Halloween that made me realize that I wanted to be a filmmaker.

Okay, what about that "every twenty years" theory? It's no coincidence that the current Halloween is subtitled H20, since the original Halloween was released in 1978. That one put its director, John Carpenter, on the map and kicked off the career of Jamie Lee Curtis as well (it was her first feature film). H20 has among its co-stars Jamie Lee's mom, Janet Leigh, who was the star victim of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, released 18 years before Halloween in 1960 (and later to be redone in a faithful translation by Gus Van Sant). Carpenter's stated purpose in conceiving Halloween was that he wanted to create a picture that would play like a full-length version of the shower scene in Psycho.

Go back roughly twenty years from Psycho and you have the beginning of another Scary cycle in the early forties. A series of films produced by Val Lewton has a lot in common with what the Scary cycle of the nineties is going for - psychological horror with no monsters or creatures in sight. The great director Jacques Tourneur did more with camera angles, lighting and sound to chill the audience's bones with his masterpieces the original Cat People and his follow-up I Walked With a Zombie. I command you to go out and rent these right now so you can see what I mean.

The first of these twenty-year cycles, just to round out my argument, goes back to Germany in the twenties. You won't be able to rent Paul Weggener's Student of Prague or his series of films about the Golem, a vengeful Jewish monster who haunted Czechoslovakia. But there is also The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, the original vampire story (with Max Schreck as the Vampire). And rounding out the cycle is The Hands of Orlac, with Caligari's Conrad Veidt, about a concert pianist who has the hands of a murderer grafted on after he loses his in an accident. The fright genre moved (along with a number of German filmmakers escaping the Nazis) to America for its next cycle, and it is also no great coincidence that another one of these German exports, Peter Lorre, made his American film debut in 1935 in a remake of Orlac called Mad Love, another one that you must rent or seek out on cable TV.

Which is all to say that what comes around goes around in the world of roller coasters and Scary Movies. Now that I have given you a quick sense of its history, it's a good time to grab a ride.

PS, there’s also a neato keeno compendium of creature features here on the same site:

.... and in this photo gallery from The Hollywood Reporter:

also ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bryan Ferry Lets It Rock ... again

Brian Ferry_LetItRock_cov by Doctor Noe
Bryan Ferry_LetItRock_cov, a photo by Doctor Noe on Flickr.

Bryan Ferry "Cherry-Poppin'' Stories

I'll go first:

I anticipate Bryan's show at the Greek Theater Oct. 15.

My favorite Roxy show of many was in a little town in Lorraine (Salzbourg, actually), France, circa 1974. The band played in a high school gym, which they transported to the sophisticated realms of Radio City once the music started. I think I wrote about it in my piece on the trip for Crawdaddy, but being now a denizen of the"aging crowd," I can't find this piece of writing anywhere except in the smoke dreams of my mind.

This just in!

I did go to the concert and grabbed this little snippet of Chris Spedding on vid.

... to which Bruce Malamut adds the following comment:

"I remember you also liked Spedding's first three solo albums Songs Without Words, Backwoods Progression (recorded in-between Nilsson Schmilsson sessions) and The Only Lick I Know. Spedding is copious!"

Like Ferry, I like to think I have aged like a fine wine.

But the ultimate erudite benediction comes from the great Bruce Malamut, of the Kings Crown Radio (WKCR) mavens and the Crawdaddy Magazine punters – what are you, some kinda rock crit or sump'n?:

"Style + Substance, well hell yeah – the thrill of it all! I saw Roxy play The 100 Club London, June, '71 and was floored by the hooks, the asymmetries, the film noir refs, the pounding pose of ennui and anti-romanticism, electronic sheen and wailing sax ... oboe, even – these guys screamed avant-garde, loud, hard rock, but I just fully dug the hooks!

"Then the first album was released in '72 and it became clear to all – some of the best players in UK in one band tossing off hooks and choruses effortlessly – sweet! I give it an A- for Side One, which was Ferry's full-tilt rock, and A+ for Side Two, which debuted Eno's virtual keyboard world. There seemed a palpable tension between these two guys live – each a forceful leader in his own right – and it was clear on their first album as well. One of them might need to leave this band, I'd thought, and chart his own path. To me, Roxy the band is far from Brian the singer.

"Roxy the band is the drug for me – look no further than Mackay's wailing sax, the Great Paul Thompson's brutal beats (similar, yet just a few yards to the left of John Bonham's) but mostly the uncredited compositions and bold guitar work of Phil Manzanera. I think people sell Phil's "real time" composing short – true, Bryan would write a new lyric so it's "his song" and bring it to the band – but what the band, invariably lead by Phil, did with a new Ferry song was to de- and re- construct it into a wholly different beast than Bryan had first proposed. This process changed Ferry's songs musically, thus thematically too, marking them as 100% Pure Uncut Roxy Music.

"Their first U.S. tour, they naturally came up to WKCR-FM (how could they not??) for a delightful evening including a white-copy spin of For Your Pleasure. Members present were Ferry, Manzanera, Eno, Mackay (The Great), Thompson.

"In a six-hour interview, one gets a fair impression of one's guests. Everyone endorsed the theory of how Phil is Bryan's equal in the band's composition process, but that's as much as they'd give at least on this First U.S. tour. A fun time was had. Phil and I discovered that we were raised a stone's throw from each other– most unexpected news!


OK, so now flashforward to 2011. I come across this great photo by Lorenzo Lessi, taken on July 28, 2011.

Bryan Ferry Live at Bolgheri Melody

Copyright © Lorenzo Lessi 2011

I am lovin' this one. Bryan is playing blues harp through a hand-held mike.

My cousin Larry, who is five years my junior, had this response:

"You know. Sorry I missed it.. I knew he was coming , Shyster.

"He is great. … I just read yesterday's article in the Financial Times. He is a wine schmecker

"Anyway, Noë, what I do remember, is that a long time ago, I was at your house on 95th street when I first saw that album. You might have even opened it in front me, with the hot girls [Country Life].

"I was really young. That's where I got my first exposure to Roxy Music.

"It is still fresh in my mind."

Erika Anderson, from the road, on tour, has this to say:

"I would love to go to that show. ... He keeps playing the same theaters we are but we're always about a week off!"