The world of professional ballet is absolute murder.
Suspiria is a legendary giallo, praised by horror fans and mainstream critics alike, and slated for a splashy 2018 remake. The fact that it's being remade is understandable—from Hollywood's perspective it fits with action and horror movies such as Turistas, Hostel, A Lonely Place To Die, Land of Smiles, Taken, et al that over the last decade or so have warned Americans that horrific things will happen to them if they travel overseas. In Suspiria an American dancer gains admittance to a prestigious West German ballet academy, but arrives just in time for a nightmarish series of murders. Jessica Harper stars as the ingenue trapped in this mostly blood red dance academy, a stranger in the strangest land, beset by unexplained illnesses, hallucinatory events, and vicious nocturnal terrors.
Suspiria piles the horror stylings on—from Dario Argento and his surreal direction, to Luciano Tovoli with his baroque lighting schemes and supersaturated colors, to the maggot wrangler who produced many more maggots than could have been reasonably expected, to the scorers (Argento among them) who came up with a percussive and discordant soundtrack that could rattle a bomb disposal robot. The first murder is nothing short of operatic, complete with a shot of a knife piercing the victim's exposed heart. The only real question going forward is whether Argento can possibly keep reaching such heights. And the answer is Suspiria, its brilliance outshining its flaws, is a classic for a reason. The poster above is a classic too. It was painted by Mario de Berardinis to promote the film's premiere in Italy today in 1977.
Bankhead and Co. try to deal with an ocean of differences.
The best thing about Lifeboat is Tallulah Bankhead. Simple as that. Top billed, tasked with bringing a complex character to life, and working in a film with huge expectations because it was written by literary laureate John Steinbeck and helmed by internationally renowned director Alfred Hitchcock, she delivers the goods. If you haven't seen it, it's an adventure and character study about a group of cruise ship passengers who survive a German u-boat attack and find themselves adrift on the Atlantic Ocean. There's a tinge of war propaganda to it, a touch of we're-humans-and-the-other-side-aren't, but when you consider that Germany was a genocidal regime, and news reports had been touching on this fact for two years (though visual evidence wouldn't appear until after May 1945) Lifeboat is remarkably subtle in that regard.
Anyway, if you ever want to see a star go full nova, check this film out—Bankhead is funny, bitter, sly, ironic, desperate, and more, helped along by reliable old William Bendix, as well as Hume Cronyn, Mary Anderson, and Walter Slezak in a pivotal role. And I guess we don't have to tell you one of Hitchcock's most famous stories came from this movie, the one about his camera accidentally getting upskirt shots of a pantyless Bankhead, and the question of whether the problem was one for hair, make-up, or wardrobe.
The poster above is a really nice piece of mid-century promo art and we spent a lot of computer time trying to discover who painted it, but to no avail. That wasn't a surprise, though. It's a painted version of the photo-illustration used on the panel length promo you see below, which means it's basically a copy job that numerous artists could have executed. But it's still nice compositionally, with its beautiful blue coloration, bright yellow title, and diagonal arrangement of faces. Lifeboat premiered in the U.S. today in 1944.
Goliath Books examines a century of German erotica.
We recently showcased Berlin based art publishers Goliath's latest release Photographia Erotica Historia, a collection of erotica in a unique mini book format, and over the years we've talked about four other releases by the company. Today, in the while-we're-at-it category, we wanted to take a quick look at Goliath's 2016 compendium History of German Porn. Culled from the Gretchen Kraut Archives, the book is more than 200 black and white photos and drawings with explanatory text, and in size is like a thick paperback novel. Where Goliath's 2014 collection Private Pornography in the Third Reich dealt with German sexual culture from around 1920 until the end of World War II, this subsequent collection starts in the 1800s, squeezes Third Reich porn into a chapter, and continues until the 1960s. Along the way it looks at parlor photography, gay/lesbian erotica, ethnographic nudes, amateur erotica, naturism, and more.
It's a lot of material, much of it highly explicit, and it could serve as a launching point for any number of discussions. But for us, as an art history site, we're reminded once again that nothing is really new. Whatever the particular kink, photographic evidence proves that people the age of your grandparents have already done it, and we can safely assume all the practices go back for centuries. Every variation, every position, every combination, already done. Consider the sexual imagery on Greek urns, and in the Kama Sutra. There's nothing new. Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus observed way back in the first century that Germans were a tough and wild folk, perfectly content to roam naked through the wilderness, but not particularly lustful. The images in History of German Porn cast doubt upon Tacitus' assessment. They suggest that the German reputation for sexual coolness doesn't quite fit.
Having spent some time in Germany, we don't think it fits either. Consider the fact that freikoerperkultur, or nudism, is more embedded in German culture than that of other western nations. There are parks in Berlin where one can lounge naked. German cities have brothels the size of malls. Sexual decadence, though mostly underground, was a hallmark of the Third Reich years. Munich, Berlin, and Hamburg were notorious for their exclusive erotic stage shows. So perhaps what History of German Porn teaches us is merely that overt sexual expression in Germany is pushed more toward private realms such as naturist retreats and sex clubs. Or maybe it teaches us that sexual reputations are misleading, and all of us respond to the same stimuli. But ultimately, there's no need to probe that deeply into the implications of History of German Porn. As pure art, as photographs of nude young bodies, as tableaux merely to regard and enjoy, the images are more than worthwhile.
History of German Porn
The film stars a Barker—and that's also a good description of this dog.
This poster, which you will see when you scroll down is two sided, folded into four panels, was made for Battles of Chief Pontiac, a film starring Lex Barker in a story of war between the French and British over what is now the vicinity of Detroit, Michigan. Within this larger fight, Ottawa tribes mount a resistance against the occupying British and their German, or Hessian, mercenaries. This resistance is seriously hampered after the Ottawa are suckered into a peace parlay, then deliberately given blankets infected with smallpox. Treachery much, paleface? Why, yes, all the time.
Throughout all the battles and betrayals hero Lex Barker—the only noble white character—speaks in a neutral American accent that didn't exist 200 years ago, while the supporting white players do their best evil nazi and pompous Brit dialects. This is a nice little trick, portraying all the bad guys as essentially foreign. Never mind that the U.S. is made up of descendents of those colonists, and Barker's character is a colonist too. In cinematic terms it's a deft, almost subliminal job of blame shifting. That the film also showed overseas, where accents would have been lost on audiences, thus making it play more like a broad indictment of colonial expansionism, is an irony.
Until we shared today's poster there was never any indication anywhere online that Battles of Chief Pontiac played in Japan, but the evidence is clear in this butterscotch promo—which is far more artistic than the film. Yes, this Barker vehicle is a total dog. Avoid it, except for its comedy potential—that is, if watching pasty white guys in brown shoe polish is funny. Battles of Chief Pontiac premiered in the U.S. today in 1952, and according to the poster, hit Japan in 1956. You see the right half of the front side, and the entire rear just below.
End of the line—Brando's place.
Above, a striking West German poster for Endstation Sehnsucht, which you know better as A Streetcar Named Desire. Admit it. You've heard of it, you know who Tennessee Williams is, but you haven't seen it (or seen or read the much racier Pulitzer Prize winning play it's based on). A famous critic once explained that a good book teaches you how to read it. The same can apply to movies. You have to let yourself be immersed in A Streetcar Named Desire. The first twenty minutes you might be tempted to give up. But once the dubious southern accents and style of the production settle into your head, you'll find a movie well worth watching, with a nice performance by Marlon Brando, who was comfortable in his role of the beefcakey Stanley Kowalski after having played it on Broadway. A Streetcar Named Desire is over the top—and over the needed running time, in the opinions of many—but it's an involving experience. After its U.S. premiere in September 1951 it rolled into West Germany as Endstation Sehnsucht today the same year.
The only rehabilitation going on here is by the poster artist.
Above you see a striking color poster for the Roger Corman produced women-in-prison flick Women in Cages, one of the many sexploitation epics filmed in the Philippines during the 1970s. For an entertaining ninety minutes on that subject, by the way, you should watch the documentary Machete Maidens Unleashed. It's the final word on the chaos of Philippine movie production and covers everything from Savage! to Apocalypse Now. Women in Cages is one of the earlier Philippine women-in-prison flicks, coming after The Big Doll House.
Despite the fact that the poster is signed R. Engel and dated '72, it's actually a piece of modern pulp made within the last several years. The person behind it is German artist Rainer Engel, who put it together borrowing the DVD box cover art from Subkultur-Entertainment's 2013 re-issue of the movie, which in Germany was called Frauen hinter Zuchthausmauern. We ran across the re-styled poster on the artist's website, decided his mock-up beats the hell out of the 1971 original art, and thought it was worth sharing.
When we wrote about the film a while ago we said we thought it was a bit much. Specifically, it's relentlessly grim. Of the trilogy that includes The Big Doll House and The Big Bird Cage this middle entry is the one that forgot the first rule of the 1970s women-in-prison genre—the movie should be absurd and fun. When it isn't—i.e. when it shades into depressing realism—you come away wondering if there's something wrong with you for having watched it in the first place. You can read our post on the film here, and you can visit the artist's website here.
Hey solider—ever made it in a smoking ruin with the stench of death in your nostrils?
We don't know if there were enough prostitution-in-the-ruins novels written during the postwar period to qualify as a sub-genre, but it seems to us we've seen quite a few of them. We highlighted Scott Graham Williamson's Torment around this time last year, and now we have another—Erika, aka Fräulein, by James McGovern. The book revolves around a woman who is tricked into becoming a prostitute in divided Berlin before finally finding Mr. Right and escaping. She's named Erika Angermann, a symbolic name if ever there was one, hinting at what the men in her life put her through. Erika aka Fräulein was a hit when published in 1956, and became a 1958 movie with Dana Wynter and Mel Ferrer. The book is bit obscure today, but was well regarded in its time. We'll look into how many novels like this are out there and if there are enough maybe we'll put together a group post.
Gemser makes a movie out of spare parts.
In Porno Esotic Love Indonesian sexploitation superstar Laura Gemser finds herself in another exotic locale—this time Hong Kong—where she engages in another series of softcore romps with hirsute westerners. She made something like twenty-six movies along these lines, which is why the makers of this one couldn't resist taking shortcuts. They cobbled together a good chunk of the footage from Gemser's previous outings and shoehorned them into a new narrative about a woman seeking revenge for the heroin overdose of her sister. The cynical usage of previously shot footage makes this one of director Joe D'Amato's worst efforts, but also one of his most profitable, we suspect. We can't possibly recommend the movie, but in order to compensate for the aching sense of loss you probably feel, there's a promo shot of Gemser below kicking back on a large rock, or perhaps the world's smallest deserted island, depending on how you want to look at it. Porno Esotic Love premiered in Italy today in 1980.
Traffic mishaps reach an all-time high.
Below, assorted paperback covers pairing mortal danger and automobiles, including many examples from France, where the theme was particularly popular. Thanks to all the original uploaders on these.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
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