If I rack my brain, I can come up with an English language corollary by which to describe Fantomas. But that doesn’t change my perception that there is something irreducibly French about the character. Certainly, Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu is similar, in that he is one of those rare examples of a villain serving as the central figure and driving force behind a popular series. But, while Fu Manchu’s representation was that of a monstrous “other”, playing on the racial anxieties of the age in which he was created, Fantomas seems more like a personification of the id unleashed. As such, he engages his audience in fantasies of a life lived without borders or moral constraints, with the traditional heroes and cops-and-robbers aspects of the stories serving to house those fantasies within a socially acceptable context. It’s as if Bataille or De Sade had chosen to couch their transgressive works within the format of a dime detective novel.
One of the things I love about these Eastern Bloc science fiction films from the early 60s is the air of moment that hangs around them. Unlike American sci-fi films of the era, which were more often than not throwaway drive-in fare, these movies were a major undertaking for the countries that produced them, and were not only intended to be an expression of national pride, but also a source of it. Of course, you wouldn’t know that from the versions of them that eventually made it to theater screens here in the U.S. Radically edited to eliminate all evidence of their communist origins and frequently retaining little of their original footage beyond their special effects sequences, such films became the building blocks for cut-rate titles such as Roger Corman’s Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (both fashioned from the Russian Planeta Bur) and Crown International’s retooling of East Germany’s The Silent Star, First Spaceship on Venus.
Mission Stardust is the only film to be based on the long running and voluminous series of German pulp novels featuring the science fiction hero Perry Rhodan. It is universally hated by Perry Rhodan fans for the very good reason that it is quite terrible — that is, if you’re definition of “terrible” can be stretched to encompass a film featuring amusingly smarmy, two-fisted astronaut heroes, a truly swankadelic soundtrack, some quite good looking women, pop art set design, and a climactic sequence that finds sexy nurses with machine guns doing battle with robots who shoot lasers out of their eyes. In other words, having never read any of the Perry Rhodan books, and thus being free from having to judge Mission Stardust in terms of its faithfulness to them, I found it to be flirting with perfection.
If you’ve ever encountered someone from my generation grumbling about flying cars and nightclubs on the moon as if they were some kind of denied birthright, it’s films like Wild Wild Planet that are largely to blame. The movie was a staple of Saturday afternoon TV at a time in America when the idea that the space program would someday slow to an underfunded crawl was beyond imagining, and, along with similarly groovy sci-fi pictures like The X From Outer Space, was responsible for inspiring a generation of young boys whose visions of adulthood were inseparable from thoughts of martini-fueled day trips to Mars and compliant lady robots.
God help me, I love Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos. I love it like you love a three-legged dog. Sure, my love may be tempered by pity and mild derision, but I love it, nonetheless. And hopefully you do, too. Because, if not, we’re going to have a problem. Santo y Blue Demon contra los Monstruos marked the 23rd screen appearance by its star, a man who entered the world as one Rodolfo Guzman Huerto, but who achieved legendary status in the world of lucha libre as El Santo, the Man in the Silver Mask. Santo was in his early fifties at this point, but, despite his prime wrestling years being behind him, his iconic status in Mexican popular culture was undiminished. In fact, he was still fairly early in his screen career at this point, with another couple dozen films ahead of him.
In the course of doing my usual rigorous research in preparation for bringing you the most carefully considered review of Iron Claw the Pirate possible, I came upon some information that seemed to suggest that it was the second film in a series of Iron Claw movies. That made sense to me, because Iron Claw the Pirate is a film that seems to start in progress, without any introduction of the characters or ongoing conflicts. However, what makes sense does not always prove to be so –especially in the case of Turkish action cinema–and I later determined that I had misinterpreted that information. In fact, it was Iron Claw the Pirate that was the first film, followed immediately by its sequel, Demir Pence Casuslar Savasi. Still, the reality of the situation makes its own kind of sense, simply because that’s just the way that these movies are. Any amount of exposition or character development would most likely have been seen by the makers of Iron Claw the Pirate as a waste of valuable time that could otherwise have been devoted to fist fights, shootouts, and fleshy women doing exotic dances.
Thanks to the release over the past decade of a large portion of the Shaw Brothers catalog on DVD, it should no longer be a secret to anyone who cares that the venerable Hong Kong studio was responsible for far more than the martial arts movies that got imported to the U.S. or horror movies in which people vomit up snakes. Among the more delightful discoveries to come out of this digital mother lode is the handful of James Bond inspired pictures churned out by the studio during the late sixties. Of course, since most of these movies don’t actually feature any spies or espionage (among the exceptions being the Angel With the Iron Fists series, which features Lilly Ho as a lady super spy ranked Agent 009) that influence is expressed mainly in terms of attitude and design.
The older Pakistani films that I’ve watched have struck me as being at once both primitive and forward-looking. (And I must add that the Pakistani films I’ve watched might not be representative of the country’s cinematic output as a whole.) Though technically crude, these films use the type of stuttering editing rhythms and fragmented visuals that wouldn’t come into vogue in the West for years –- and then only to be criticized for displaying the influence of MTV. As the first volume of The Sound of Wonder demonstrates, Pakistani film music from that same period likewise had one foot in the future — often with the other foot inhabiting territory no less strange to the unaccustomed ear.
France Gall might not have had the sophisticated mystique of Francoise Hardy, the it girl “oomph” of Sylvie Vartan, or the continental sensuality of Bardot, but she was nonetheless an integral part of the Yeh Yeh Girl pantheon. It could even be said that her young age — 15 at the time of signing her first recording contract — made her the most accurate reflection of that uniquely French musical movement’s teeny bopper audience. As such, she presented a guileless naiveté that perhaps made her an ideal blank slate upon which some of France’s best professional songwriters could project their pop fantasies — the most well known of those being Gall “family friend” Serge Gainsbourg. Because, really, who better to entrust your teenage daughter’s fortunes to than Serge Gainsbourg?
Writing about Northern Soul as a genre defies some of the easy shorthand that a part time music critic and admitted hack like myself might otherwise reach for. And by that I mean that, despite its name, it is a musical movement defined not by how and where the music was created and played — as opposed to, for instance, “Philly Soul”, or “Delta Blues” — but by how and where it was consumed and curated. In my case, learning that it was, in fact, a British musical movement based around overlooked American soul records — and hence an antecedent to contemporary DJ and “crate digger” culture — was one of those “a-ha” moments that sees something perceived only dimly from the periphery of experience suddenly come sharply into focus. Aiding that focus was Charly Records’ just released double disc Up All Night!: 56 Northern Soul Classics, which not only provides an expansive musical overview of the scene, but also stands as a testament to its enduring appeal. The set combines two seminal Northern Soul compilations first released by Charly on vinyl in the early 90s and again on disc a few years later. In the reissue process, the label this time around also saw fit to include a brief but informative set of liner notes from veteran music journalist Bob Fisher and a generous helping of bonus tracks that include some of the best tunes on the comp overall.