Archive | July, 2012

American Stars in Japanese Movies: MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978)

27 Jul

MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978) was designed as Japan’s answer to STAR WARS. It was directed by Kinji Fukasaku, who’d directed THE GREEN SLIME nine years earlier (see my entry of April 22, 2012). I remember seeing it in a neighborhood theater (the Loew’s Paradise) in late 1978 and enjoying it a great deal. On a technical level it may not be as good as STAR WARS, but it certainly pleased me a lot more. I was taken with the baroque imagery created by its mix of historical styles in the design of its spacecraft, costumes, sets and spacescapes. That space-traveling sailing ship was the clincher.

I was also moved by Vic Morrow’s performance as Garuda, a world-weary ex-General who’d resigned from the Earth Federation’s military after losing his R2D2-like robot sidekick, Beba I, and getting reprimanded for making unauthorized use of a spaceship to send the deceased robot into orbit. ( It’s never clear how the first robot “died” or why he simply couldn’t be repaired. Besides, Garuda’s got another one, Beba II, all lined up to take his place.) Morrow invests his character, a disillusioned old warrior, with a level of emotional layering that we don’t often find in American characters created for Japanese films.

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Yoko Tani: From Samson to Venus

22 Jul

Yoko Tani (1928-1999) was a Japanese actress/dancer who was born in France but raised in Japan and got her start in movies after she returned to France in the 1950s. I first became aware of her as a child when I saw her in SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD (which played the Bronx in 1963), an Italian muscleman film starring Gordon Scott as Samson (Maciste in the Italian original). Around the same time, FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, another film Ms. Tani starred in, also showed up in neighborhood theaters and I remember noting Tani’s name in the ads. I didn’t get to see FIRST SPACESHIP at the time and would have to wait some 20-odd years before seeing it on TV.

Yoko Tani arriving at the London premiere of THE WIND CANNOT READ, 1958

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Universal Pictures: 100 years of movies, 20 years of genre classics

14 Jul

Film Forum in Manhattan started a series yesterday (Friday, July 13) celebrating 100 years of Universal Pictures, beginning with a double bill of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, both 1931. They’re running 72 films, 60 of which I’ve seen already, and the schedule includes many, if not most of the best films the studio is famous for. To a younger generation of budding movie buffs in the New York area, this will be a rare opportunity to see many genuine classics on the big screen. (It’s also a rare opportunity to see them at all, outside of Turner Classic Movies and the ones that are available on DVD.)

35 years ago, I had a similar opportunity. In 1977, the Museum of Modern Art ran a 65th anniversary retrospective of Universal Pictures, which offered a much more comprehensive program consisting of 325 films, extending from 1912 to a “to be announced” showing of a 1978 release. In looking over the MOMA program, I count 162 films that I’ve seen among its offerings, most in the 35 years since. The MOMA series, curated by Adrienne Mancia and Larry Kardish, was designed to showcase a wide representative sampling of the studio output and not just the “agreed-upon” classics. 53 films in the Film Forum program also ran at MOMA.

 

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Ernest Borgnine–As you’ve never seen him!

9 Jul

I’ve got something you won’t see in any other tribute to the great character actor who died yesterday at the age of 95. But I’ll save that till the end and start with a more conventional remembrance.

I became aware of Borgnine first on the old sitcom, “McHale’s Navy” (1962-66), which drew on Borgnine’s navy experience, including a stint during World War II. But I’d first seen him on the big screen in DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS (1954) when it played on a reissue double bill with THE ROBE when I was five. At that age, the only actor in either film I knew was Victor Mature.

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