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VHS Memories: Discovering Anime in the Early ’90s

16 Jul

I had been following Japanese animation off and on from 1964, when I first saw “Astro Boy” and “Gigantor” on TV as a child, to the early 1980s when I saw the anime features PHOENIX 2772 and GALAXY EXPRESS 999 on the big screen, but it didn’t really take a permanent hold on my consciousness until the release of AKIRA in theaters in the U.S. in 1990 led to a trickle of Japanese animated features being shown at film festivals and repertory theaters.

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Kung Fu on 42nd Street

28 Sep

I recently came across files of ads for kung fu movies that played New York theaters back in the 1970s, material I’d accumulated while researching a proposed book in the early 2000s on Manhattan’s 42nd Street and its movie culture. I had planned to include a chapter on kung fu movies and even questioned several friends who’d regularly attended these movies on 42nd street. Add these files to a couple of original newspaper ads I’d saved myself from 1973 and I see that 42nd Street theaters are listed in 95% of them. In fact, all eleven theaters on both sides of the legendary Deuce (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues) are represented in the ads. What struck me as I researched the titles listed was how many I was unfamiliar with. No matter how much I think I know about kung fu movies of the 1970s and ’80s, there are always more to discover. And I never fail to be impressed by the sheer number of these movies that played in Deuce theaters in those years.

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VHS Discoveries: Classic Kung Fu

4 Jun

 

Back in 1998 to 2003, my revived interest in “Old School” kung fu films from Hong Kong and Taiwan happened to coincide with a phenomenal outpouring of these films in low-cost VHS editions, usually bootleg or “gray market,” with many available in mainstream video stores (e.g. Suncoast, Virgin, Tower and FYE), but more often found at discount dealers like Record Explosion and Entertainment Outlet. A company called Xenon (with various subsidiaries) released quite a number of these films as part of the “Wu Tang Collection,” often given new titles designed to appeal to hiphop fans and fans of the rap group, the Wu-Tang Clan, which took its name and a significant amount of its content from kung fu films its members had seen on 42nd Street back in the day. One of its members, Ghostface Killah, even took his name from the villain of a 42nd Street hit called THE MYSTERY OF CHESS BOXING (aka NINJA CHECKMATE). Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the name applied to another member of the Clan.

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VHS Discoveries: Ultraman Heaven

15 Dec

I have a stack of VHS tapes that I picked up at Japanese video stores over the years containing episodes from Japan’s long-running “Ultraman” franchise. They’re all in Japanese without subtitles and some of them have been made moot by my purchase of DVD box sets, all with English subs., of the entire runs of “Ultra Q” (1965), “Ultraman” (1966), and “Ultra Seven” (1967). But there’s a lot of material on those VHS tapes that isn’t duplicated anywhere else on an available source. Four of them are compilation tapes featuring clips of monster battles from the franchise over the years.

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Old Cartoons: Adventures in Surrealism

31 Aug

I was in Barnes & Noble last Monday checking out the cheap DVD section and found something called “200 Classic Cartoons” for $4.99 with 4 discs worth of old cartoons. (The distributor is Mill Creek.) There were enough titles on it that I didn’t have that I either wanted to own or was curious enough about to make it worth $4.99 despite what would surely be a preponderance of poor quality prints and transfers.

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1

14 Jul

I spent a week in Paris, July 1-7, and even though I wasn’t there to see movies, I did photograph a number of theaters and movie posters and various locations attesting to the city’s ongoing cinephilia, including a visit to a treat-filled video store up the block from my hotel. And I did get to see one movie while I was there.

Me and Bette on a Paris street

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PAINTED FACES (1988) – The early days of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung

30 Jun

I bought PAINTED FACES (1988) on VHS at a Chinatown video store in 1999 and only just got to see it a week ago. It’s a drama about a Peking Opera troupe in Hong Kong in the 1960s and the efforts of its stern instructor, Master Yu, to train a group of boys, all sent there by their hard-pressed parents, in the dying arts of Peking Opera performance. Three of the boys just happen to be Jackie Chan (called “Big Nose” by the other characters), Sammo Hung (called “Sammo” by the others although he didn’t get that name in real life until he was an adult), and Yuen Biao, three performers who would revolutionize Hong Kong cinema in the 1970s and ’80s with their stunt-filled action and martial arts comedies. The three starred together in a number of 1980s films themselves, including PROJECT A, PROJECT A II, DRAGONS FOREVER, WINNERS AND SINNERS and WHEELS ON MEALS. Chan and Hung became important directors of their films as well.

L-R: Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao in PROJECT A (1983)

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