MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY: Parallel universes, lurking monsters, and the void

“You see them? You see them? You see the things that float and flop about you and through you every moment of your life? You see the creatures that form what men call the pure air and the blue sky? Have I not succeeded in breaking down the barrier; have I not shewn you worlds that no other living men have seen?” – H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond

Lovecraft was certainly a complicated figure. He died at the age of 46 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he had spent most of his life aside from some years in our own Brooklyn, New York, which he hated and exacerbated his racism. His family had a history of psychosis and he, himself, was an ill child and sickly adult. It is rumored that he was gay and, despite being married, was perhaps indifferent to sex at most. He wrote prolifically and never saw success, critically or financially, during his lifetime. Knowing this about Lovecraft informs a deep understanding of the dark horror, reclusion, and fear of the other that is the heart of his work. In his book H.P. LOVECRAFT Against the World, Against Life Michel Houellebecq qualifies Lovecraft as having an “absolute hatred of the world in general, aggravated by an aversion to the modern world in particular.” His strange relationship to the world manifests itself vividly into his stories, twisting and turning into a terrifying monstrous form…and there’s nothing to do about it.

The tenor of his writing is pervasive even when it’s subversive and his influence is as far reaching as the tentacles of Cthulu or the Great “Old Ones.” In many ways, Lovecraft’s tales are more accessible than the man to whom he will always be compared, Edgar Allan Poe. Or at the very least they seem more fun to tackle for filmmakers, television writers (The Twilight Zone) and, these days, video game makers. From the classic to the camp with some expected inclusions (Buckaroo Banzai?), Miskatonic University provides a cross-section of Lovecraft’s influence and shows us how deeply entrenched this idea of other worlds is still today.

EAVESDROPPING ON WEIMAR (an excerpt)

Grand-Hotel

On June 2, Nitehawk’s books on screen series, Booze & Books, celebrates the new edition of Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, published by New York Review Books, with a 35mm screening of the film classic starring Greto Garbo, John Barrymore, and Joan Crawford (amongst many others). The new publication, which will officially be available on June 7 but we’ll have it for sale earlier at our screening, features an introduction by Noah Isenberg. Just yesterday, NYRB put an excerpt of Noah’s introduction which we’re happy to provide a little taste of here…

EAVESDROPPING ON WEIMAR
Noah Isenberg

In the preface to her posthumously published memoirs, It Was All Quite Different, written in 1960, the last year of her life, Viennese-born writer Vicki Baum begins with a reckoning of sorts:

You can live down any number of failures, but you can’t live down a great success. For thirty years I’ve been a walking example of this truism. People are apt to forgive and forget a flop because they care little about things that aren’t in the papers or on television, and a book that fails dies silently enough. But a success, moth-eaten as it may be, will pop up among old movies or as a hideous musical or in a new film version, or in a Japanese, a Hebrew, a Hindu translation—and there you are.

The success to which Baum is referring is her international best seller Grand Hotel. In the novel, Baum brought her readers into a complex, multi-perspectival world—in this case a luxurious, pulsating, yet vaguely tragic first-class hotel—in which they can eavesdrop on the conversations, and on the lives, of the finely observed people that she presents. Readers became so attached to the characters that when the novel was initially serialized in the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung, whose circulation at the time topped two million, they wrote letters of protest after a certain unnamed character (no spoilers here) gets killed off late in the story. Originally published as Menschen im Hotel in Berlin in 1929, the book was quickly adapted to the stage, co-written by Baum, where it opened in January 1930 to rave reviews and an extended run at the Theater am Nollendorfplatz under the direction of Max Reinhardt and his star pupil Gustaf Gründgens (who played the leather-clad gangster boss in Fritz Lang’s M the following year).

When Grand Hotel was published in the United Kingdom in 1930, it earned a new round of impassioned accolades from both critics (“brilliant” and “especially poignant to the present day”) and the public. After an English-language stage adaptation made a major splash on Broadway, Doubleday released the American edition in early February 1931. It spent several weeks at the top of the Publishers Weekly bestseller list and sold 95,000 copies in the first six months. Baum soon relocated to Hollywood, where she assisted in adapting her story to the screen at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; the credit sequence of the film features her prominent byline beneath the title. In 1932, she attended the glitzy premiere in Times Square, escorted by none other than Noël Coward. Directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Greta Garbo, the Barrymore brothers, and Joan Crawford, the film earned the studio the Oscar for Best Picture that year.

Read the rest of Noah Isenberg’s excerpted introduction to GRAND HOTEL here.
Buy tickets to the June 2 screening of THE GRAND HOTEL at 7pm here.

The Wicker Man: How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare

wickerman-blogHAWKS NITE OUT: The Wicker Men at Villain
Sunday, May 1; 5pm | TICKETS

5764885078_7eefde6e14_bThere is no better filmic celebration of Mayday than the Christopher Lee-starring, Robin Hardy-directed, horror classic, The Wicker Man (1973). In honor of its brilliant unusualness, cultural importance, and Lee’s amazing hair, below is a text I wrote last year called How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. The essay was written in collaboration with UK artist Darren Banks’ solo exhibition, Backwater, and compares the film to Joseph Beuys’ performance piece that gives the text its title. 

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare
Robin Hardy’s bizarre film The Wicker Man (1973) situates horror at the boundaries of sanity and puts varying degrees of morality up for grabs. Emerging at the death rattle of the utopian ideal that was widely envisioned in the 1960s, it is situated amongst American shockers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Last House on the Left (1972) which grappled with the disillusionment of societal stability in the wake of the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Junior and Robert F. Kennedy, the 1969 riots, and emerging fragile economies. The Wicker Man is a decisively British interpretation of this failure by hippie culture and reactively calls those in authority into question. At the same time, it challenges a reluctance to return to nature and the generation’s abandonment of community in favor of new individualism. It’s a unique film that both embraces and discards community, nature, sex, religion, capital, and the value of life.

THE SENTINEL: WOMEN, THE DEVIL AND NEW YORK

sentinel-blog

Nitehawk’s Senior Film Programmer Caryn Coleman writes on the devil, women, and New York in The Sentinel for Shock Til You Drop. Get Tickets to our 35mm screening of The Sentinel this weekend at midnite, part of our The Works: Jeff Goldblum

Are you one of the Legion?…

The devil certainly has a thing for New York women; at least in film. Like its striking satanic predecessor Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Michael Winner’s The Sentinel (1974) is rooted within an everyday reality. This makes it intimately relatable and, therefore, appropriately terrifying. These films exploit the familiarity of our shared experiences: who hasn’t been sad, wanted a family, or had trouble with a significant other? They place the idea horror within the context of the “home” which, as a literary Gothic staple has been going since the 1800s, but cinematically it represents that postmodern shift into the urban space where your neighbors, friends and lovers are whom you should now fear the most. This is especially true if you’re a young woman and only exacerbated if you’re a young woman living in a chaotic city like New York…READ THE REST

“SuperTrash” author Jacques Boyreau on killer Shatner midnite IMPULSE

IMPULSESLIDER

Nitehawk is teaming up with Jacques Boyreau, author of SuperTrash: Hermaphro Chic, Movie Fetish and 21st Century Anxiety to present the 1974 trash classic IMPULSE (Buy Tickets) starring William Shatner as a murderous, polyester-clad gigolo. Below, Boyreau takes us through his choice…

Asked by Nitehawk’s John Woods to describe connections between SuperTrash and Impulse, I time-travel to a cinema-spot in San Francisco called The Werepad, where for twelve years — 1994 to 2006 — we pummeled our scene and screened many a film print, not to mention threw a whole bunch of uptempo parties. The Werepad, as witness-able from these interior pics, was not your average warehouse in the Bay, it was an architectural color of hell where we incubated among other items, a persuasion that became known as SuperTrash.

supertrash_slide06

I published a book recently under that title and according to some Ph.D. reviewers, I make Antonin Artaud seem sane. Therein situates my connection to Impulse, one of the more mental movies we archived during our SF stay. I guess you could say the deluge of childlike lunacy outputted by William Shatner in Impulse — so spoiled and needy and optimistic — was a cracked pat on our backs! Truly do certain movies fight for a right to be nuts; in that regard, Impulse is altruistic on behalf of many many jagged loads.

When Roger Ebert called the movies an “empathy machine,” he didn’t admit the system prefers giving deranged advice! Alas! Amen! Yo! Gimme Some Psycho!

On Explorers: The Adventure Begins In Your Own Back Yard!  

explorers_slider-960x370Nitehawk’s projectionist Joe Muto writes about one of his favorite films, Explorers, that just so happens to be playing at brunch this weekend in 35mm. (Get Tickets)

This is the second time that I’ll have the pleasure of manually projecting an original print of a favorite childhood film of mine. A film that, 25 years ago, i never would have dreamt I’d be writing about, never mind projecting for an audience.  Fans of the genre should come out this weekend for Explorers. And if you’ve never seen it….well… just as the aliens says at the end of the film, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”

Whenever I think about my absolute favorite films of all time, I’m reminded of something crucial. If the year 1985 was taken out of the equation, I’d be left with a giant hole in my soul.  In fact, something like 80% of what I love, what I know, what I understand about myself, would be lost.  It’s inconceivable. But 1985 man!  With Back To The Future, The Goonies, The Breakfast Club, and Return To Oz, it’s remarkable how much of my childhood loves stem from this particular year in history.

Bruce LaBruce on THE DRIVER’S SEAT (1974)

unnamedArtist, filmmaker, provocateur Bruce LaBruce talks about The Driver’s Seat, a film he selected and will introduce on April 29 at Nitehawk (get your tickets here)…

In the mid-eighties, my roommate Candy and I rented a movie called The Driver’s Seat at After Dark, the local video store. It starred Elizabeth Taylor, with a cameo by Andy Warhol, so we couldn’t have been more excited. I’d always heard it was a Eurotrashy B-movie and the VHS copy quality was terrible, as if it had been ripped from a television broadcast, so somehow I didn’t get it at the time. About five years ago I re-watched a much better quality version online and it was a revelation. 

Elizabeth Taylor’s performance in an extremely challenging role struck me as one of her best. (She made the film on two conditions: that she could choose the cinematographer, and that it should be as faithful as possible to Spark’s novel.) The direction, by Italian theatre, opera, and film director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, adapting a very bizarre and audacious novel by Muriel Spark (she also wrote The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie), seemed remarkable. And it was shot by legendary cinematography Vittorio Storaro, who had already worked with Bertolluci on The Conformist and Last Tango in Paris, and would go on to shoot Apocalypse Now.

The Driver’s Seat, bathed in a magical golden light, represents one of my favourite pieces of cinematography. Beyond that, the film seems totally prescient and relevant today, with its numerous cataclysmic terrorist events, and Taylor’s complaints of violation at the airport security check. It’s also one of the most complex feminist statements of the seventies, serving as a kind of allegory for a woman in search of her ultimate orgasm. Incidentally, the film was produced by the nephew of director Roberto Rossellini, Franco, whose lover, Antonio Falsi, who also starred in Griffi’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (also shot by Storaro), plays the hot garage mechanic in The Driver’s Seat. Franco Rossellini also produced Caligula, which Falsi acted in, and both men were reputedly lost to AIDS.

See The Driver’s Seat in 35mm at Nitehawk Cinema on April 29 (purchase tickets here). And don’t miss the Bruce LaBruce film retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (April 23–May 2, 2015). 

CLUE: Whodunnit? Who Cares?

clue-1985On a stormy evening in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era, six strangers meet at the kind of baroque mansion that only exists in movies. Greeting them at the door is Wadsworth (Tim Curry), a stiff English butler who reveals that they are all victims of a blackmail scheme masterminded by the mysterious Mr. Boddy (played by FEAR singer and sometimes actor Lee Ving). Before long, Mr. Boddy expires under mysterious circumstances and as the bodies start piling up the multi-colored cast of characters start scrambling around trying to figure out who did in who with what and where.

When Paramount released Clue in 1985, it was the first board game to motion picture adaptation ever made, and had the added novelty of featuring three different endings that changed depending on what theatre you attended. For some, it was Miss Scarlet with the rope in the billiard room, for others Mrs. Peacock with the candlestick in the hall, and then there’s the final ending of everyone with everything in every room.

The odd thing about Clue is how inessential the plot is to the rest of the movie. Most murder mysteries build a twisting narrative to drop clues, flesh out the cast and to lead characters and viewers astray, and while Clue’s narrative is as convoluted as any dime store detective novel, with its sudden power outages and mysterious phone calls from J. Edgar Hoover, the story comes out feeling thin and inconsequential. Worse yet, unlike the Agatha Christie drawing room mysteries it mimics, there’s no way of guessing the identity of the killer before the big reveal(s). The film is also filled with chunky bits dialogue like: “This all has nothing to do with my disappearing nuclear physicist husband or Colonel Mustard’s work with the new top-secret fusion bomb,” a line that both Madeline Kahn and Christopher Lloyd barely manage to spit out. It does, however, set up one of the most often quoted lines in the movie: “Communism was just a red herring.”

Of course, Clue’s many faults didn’t go over very well with the critics of the day. Roger Ebert dismissed it as being generally unfunny, while New York Times critic Janet Maslin mostly just balked at the film being rated PG and containing so many jokes involving dog poop or the maid’s breasts (portrayed in the film by the breasts of Colleen Camp).

A Nite to Dismember, Part 2: Dracula – Prince of Darkness (1966)

A Nite to Dismember is Nitehawk’s annual Halloween movie marathon, five back to back horror films played until the crack of dawn. For its second year, N2D features five of the best horror sequels ever made: Evil Dead II, Bride of Frankenstein, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Return of the Living Dead.

Below, Hatched editor Kris King (@KrisKingTornado) discusses the night’s fourth film, Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Hammer’s second Dracula film featuring Christopher Lee in the count’s cloak.

dracula-prince-of-darkness_top10films

Every time I watch one of Hammer’s Dracula films I’m surprised at how much they remind me of the Friday the 13th series. Each film introduces a new batch of yahoos wandering about where they shoudn’t, they wake up Dracula, Dracula does his thing, and then he dies. Like Jason, killing Dracula is only a temporary solution. No matter what you do – set him on fire, drive a stake through his heart, douse him in holy water – the big man will inevitably finds his way back.

A Nite to Dismember, Part 2: ‘Friday the 13th Part 2’ (1982)

A Nite to Dismember is Nitehawk’s annual Halloween movie marathon, five back to back horror films played until the crack of dawn. For its second year, N2D features five of the best horror sequels ever made: Evil Dead II, The Bride of Frankenstein, Friday the 13th Part 2, and Return of the Living Dead.

Below, Fangoria editor Sam Zimmerman (@samdzimmerman) discusses the night’s third film, Friday the 13th Part 2.

friday-the-13th-part-2-5118457e160f3

“Did you know a young boy drowned…?” asks Pamela Voorhees in Sean Cunningham’s Friday the 13th. This is a decent deal of time before the fright of our lives, before said young boy defies what we know to be the natural order of things and emerges ferociously—his sad deformity crafting a sort of sea monster—from Crystal Lake. But this brilliant nightmare, a terrifying epilogue by which to end one of the most iconic slashers of all time is ultimately a dreamy jolt. It’s Alice’s fractured mind, following a night of murder and campfire tales, at work. Surely, Jason couldn’t truly return.