He'll learn any tune you want him to.
The above poster, with its sinister art, was made for the Japanese run of a 1970 French movie titled L'aveu, aka The Confession. It was directed by Costa-Gavras, who often delves into political themes, and here Yves Montand stars as a Czech communist party official named Anton who is one day followed, arrested without warrant, and thrown in jail without charge or access to legal counsel. He thinks it's a mistake but soon realizes party officials suspect him of treason and plan to extract a confession through whatever means are required. He's subjected to isolation, sleep deprivation, and rough treatment, all presented here unequivocally as torture. And indeed when the movie was made there was no doubt what it was. But these days, in the U.S., tens of millions of people and many government officials say it isn't torture—or worse, say it is torture and should be used more. For that reason the film, in the fullness of time, now offers a double lesson—its intended one about a Soviet empire that collapsed, and an unintended one about an American empire making the same mistakes. In L'aveu the state tries to forcibly program Anton; in the U.S. millions have been programmed to accept torture simply because the state has told them to. For us, it was all pretty hard to watch, but it's a damned good movie. It premiered in Japan today in 1971.
The fog of noir creeps into San Francisco.
Once again the Noir City Film Festival gears up in our former home turf of San Francisco, and once again the event provides a perfect excuse for us to watch a few of the films. Noir City, now in its fifteenth year, is one of the most established film noir festivals in the U.S., along with those in Los Angeles and Palm Springs. However, the San Fran version sets itself apart with great promo posters like the one you see above, and others you can see from previous fests here.
This year's slate features twenty-four noir and crime thrillers, including entries from Japan, England, France, and Italy. We'll keep our musings on these films brief as always, because yet more extravagantly written amateur movie reviews are not needed online. For those in the Bay Area, we recommend taking advantage of the opportunity to see these classic movies as they were intended to be shown—on a big screen in a packed house.
The only way to learn it is to do it.
This is a really nice poster for the Italian sex comedy La matriarca. We watched it on Daily Motion, and Catherine Spaak plays a young widow who discovers her dearly departed kept a secret apartment reserved for his serial philandering. Wondering if her lack of sexual experience contributed to her husband's wanderings, and spurred to curiosity about various carnal practices, she proceeds to seduce pretty much everyone she knows, absorbing lessons along the way. She becomes particularly fixated on the wisdom of Aristotle, which leads to her comically using men as horses (see below). We're mainly interested in the poster, though, which is unsigned, but was painted by Giuliano Nistri, a conclusion we came to because he painted the alternate Italian promo which you see below, and because it's very similar to another Nistri poster you can see here. La matriarca premiered in Italy today in 1968. If you get the urge to watch it, try this link.
To a hammerer every problem looks like a nail.
In Dorothy Salisbury Davis's A Gentle Murderer a man visits a confessional and reveals murdering someone with a hammer and flees into the night before the priest knows what to do. The dismayed padre decides to search for the mysterious man who burdened him with this terrible knowledge, thus taking on the role of detective in the story, though the police are on hand to conduct a parallel investigation. Naturally, another murder will soon occur if the killer isn't caught. The plot is similar to that of Alfred Hitchcock's 1953 film I Confess, but appeared in hardback two years earlier. However, the Hitchcock movie was actually based on Paul Anthelme Bourde's 1902 play Nos deux consciences, so perhaps Davis was inspired by either the play or Hitchcock's adaptation. Whatever the genesis, the result was a highly regarded mystery, considered by some to be among the best of the era. The cover art on this Bantam paperback edition is by Charles Binger, and dates from 1953.
Upon examination this movie is really bad.
We suspect 90% of women—if not more—would assume this poster is for an obscure Japanese horror movie. They'd be wrong, though, because it's actually for a lighthearted made-in-West Germany erotic film called Obszönitäten, aka Obscenities, aka Confessions of a Male Escort, which premiered today in 1971. The promo art, which is completely different from the European or U.S. art, is symptomatic of the Japanese penchant for violent imagery in erotica. We've talked about it before, and we're still trying to figure it out. The movie, though, isn't violent, at least not until the end, briefly. It's a slapstick comedy about a gynecologist who is rendered impotent, and offers a gigolo named Johnny the kingly sum of 100,000 DM for his penis, which the doctor has the ability to transplant to himself. 100,000 DM was about $27,000 back when this film was made. Would you take an offer like that? No, neither would we. Plus our girlfriends would kill us if we suddenly turned up with tiny, uncircumcised dicks. No offense to the uncut but the girls have made their preferences clear. Getting back to the movie, the only real obscenity is how bad it is. Please skip it.
It isn't whether you win the game. It's who you play.
And speaking of summer, Sharon Tate is the picture of summertime in this shot of her playing ping pong on the beach. We've seen the photo around the internet, but of course with zero information, so for the record, she's attending the 21st Cannes Film Festival, held in 1968, not in the summer, but in spring—May to be exact. But summer comes early on the Côte d'Azur. Her husband Roman Polanski was on the festival jury that year, but since that isn't actual work, he made time to be at the other end of the table here. He may have lost the game for all we know, but when Tate is your partner you've already won.
West German cinema begins looking at the world in a different way.
Confession d'une pécheresse, aka The Sinner caused a bit of a scandal in West Germany, where it premiered as Die Sünderin in 1951. The movie's depictions of pre-marital sex, prostitution, nudity, and particularly double-suicide got the Catholic church bent out of shape. Despite protests against cinemas and death threats directed toward star Hildegard Knef, the movie was a smash, seen by two million West Germans within the first two weeks of its run. So based on that preamble you know pretty much what the film is about—amid a desperate post-war backdrop a prostitute falls in love with less-than-satisfactory results. But even if the story is familiar by now thanks to the many newer films that have touched upon similar subject matter, Die Sünderin is a cinematic landmark, produced in a war shattered country that had begun to put the pieces back together in a new way, including in its film industry. The above poster, a beautiful piece by the way, was made to promote Die Sünderin's French run, which began today in 1953.
Slow down, baby. How's about I love you ’til I finish, then roll over and fall into a death-like sleep? That work for ya?
Love Me to Death was written by Alex Blake, known in real life as veteran author Charles Neutzel, who also wrote as Alec Rivere, John Davidson, Jay Davis, Stu Rivers, Howard Johnson, et al, and in 2008 published the notable sleaze industry memoir Pocketbook Writer: Confessions of a Commercial Hack. The cool art here is by Doug Weaver, who was kind enough to legibly sign it, thus saving us the usual research efforts. More of that, please. 1961 from Epic Books.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1947—Heyerdahl Embarks on Kon-Tiki
Norwegian ethnographer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and his five man crew set out from Peru on a giant balsa wood raft called the Kon-Tiki in order to prove that Peruvian natives could have settled Polynesia. After a 101 day, 4,300 mile (8,000 km) journey, Kon-Tiki smashes into the reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7, 1947, thus demonstrating that it is possible for a primitive craft to survive a Pacific crossing.
1989—Soviets Acknowledge Chernobyl Accident
After two days of rumors and denials the Soviet Union admits there was an accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine. Reactor number four had suffered a meltdown, sending a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area. Today the abandoned radioactive area surrounding Chernobyl is rife with local wildlife and has been converted into a wildlife sanctuary, one of the largest in Europe.
1945—Mussolini Is Arrested
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, his mistress Clara Petacci, and fifteen supporters are arrested by Italian partisans in Dongo, Italy while attempting to escape the region in the wake of the collapse of Mussolini's fascist government. The next day, Mussolini and his mistress are both executed, along with most of the members of their group. Their bodies are then trucked to Milan where they are hung upside down on meathooks from the roof of a gas station, then spat upon and stoned until they are unrecognizable.
1933—The Gestapo Is Formed
The Geheime Staatspolizei, aka Gestapo, the official secret police force of Nazi Germany, is established. It begins under the administration of SS leader Heinrich Himmler in his position as Chief of German Police, but by 1939 is administered by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, or Reich Main Security Office, and is a feared entity in every corner of Germany and beyond.
1937—Guernica Is Bombed
In Spain during the Spanish Civil War, the Basque town of Guernica is bombed by the German Luftwaffe, resulting in widespread destruction and casualties. The Basque government reports 1,654 people killed, while later research suggests far fewer deaths, but regardless, Guernica is viewed as an example of terror bombing and other countries learn that Nazi Germany is committed to that tactic. The bombing also becomes inspiration for Pablo Picasso, resulting in a protest painting that is not only his most famous work, but one the most important pieces of art ever produced.
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