Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Late Show Continues

As wheezed previously, I've continued watching movies until far too early in the morning, then caught what little sleep I could between not-quite-sunrise and just-after-sunrise. I've also added, for no particular reason, a CD chosen with precise discriminatory faculties, or at random, to listen to before bed. The lack of sleep, the cassette retrieved from the cellar, and the musical indulgence among them comprise a complete aesthetic experience, I like to think.
The Friday A.M. movie was The Innocents, from 1960. This is quite the best ghost story ever filmed, and I am prepared to defend this view to the death, nor am I to be trifled with when it comes to threats critical or physical. The Freddie Francis photography is deliriously lovely, the George Auric score is all creeping beauty, the acting is wonderfully controlled and quite mad, the quality of the dialogue makes that of most movies seem dim-witted in comparison, and the terror shades subtly from the merely psychological into the disquietingly metaphysical. So watch out. This movie is, as we know, an adaptation of Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw," one of my favorite ghost stories. Whether the film is adequate to the swirling ambiguities of that masterpiece is finally irrelevant; it succeeds brilliantly on its own terms. But you'll have to turn to the story if you wish to become irretrievably disturbed. Also, the movie is in black and white, which is to me nearly always preferable to color. Most will disagree, and it's a free country.
The Friday A.M. CD was Gentle Giant's In A Glass House (1973.) I'd been reading somewhere some of those "best progressive rock albums of all time" (I'm a sucker for lists), many of which raised the implicit (and burning) question, "Precisely which Gentle Giant recording should be included?" There are disagreements. I sympathize with them, but I must exclude Glass House finally from my own consideration, as, to my ear, it represents a slight dip in quality between Octopus and The Power and the Glory. Still, it is very good indeed, and it has all the earmarks (as it were?) of G.G.'s early recordings: medievalisms, vocal polyphony, angular thematic transitions, strange instrumental voicings, oddball counterpoint, and even a foot-tapper here and there, provided you're not standing at the time.
StephenEsque suggested a Mario Bava/Barbara Steele movie for nocturnal viewing, but I couldn't find one, although I know I've seen one in one of those cardboard boxes downstairs, surely within up to the last few weeks, or more. But I found a creditable substitute in Bava's The Whip and the Body (1963.) The lovely Dahlia Lavi did a sometimes uncanny imitation of Steele, and, although her take on seething masochistic passion was excessive (an occupational hazard, I suppose, especially with the never-understated Bava), she did creeping madness, parlor-piano melancholy, and, especially, stark fear very well indeed. And she had quite a few blouses torn from her back, a wardrobe challenge many actresses have faced but few have surmounted. Tony Kendall appeared as Christian, "the good brother." It seems to me that Tony Kendall has been in a number of giallo movies, although he is one of those actors whom I never, ever recognize, perhaps because he is blandly competent, no more and no less. He does not disappoint here. Christopher Lee does a turn as Kurt, the wicked brother, and although he is killed off early, this does not of course prevent him from putting in numerous appearances throughout the movie. As always in such darkly threatening roles, he does a superb job. The action takes place in a bleak castle, naturally, on a stormy coast (lightning and thunder, please.) There are the customary family crypts, easily accessible to the curious, with handy exits for the unquiet dead. The castle's inhabitants spend their dreary days in melancholic contemplation, with occasional outbursts concerning murder, unholy passions, smoldering resentments, and intimations of insanity. Lush, sub-Rachmaninoff strains permeate the soundtrack, sometimes performed absent-mindedly by Lavi while she is sinking into post-febrile torpor at the piano bench, sometimes playing all by themselves. The art direction and photography are sumptuous, if in color. A reviewer (on, I think, Amazon) divided Bava fans into two groups, one of which considers him overwrought, and dislike him; and the second of which allows itself to be fully consumed by the melodrama of it all. He insists "there is no middle ground." Well, I think I occupy that middle ground. Can I enjoy Bava's grandiose gestures and feverish theatrics? Yes. Does this mean that I must take them entirely seriously? No.
Saturday morning's CD choice was disappointingly predictable: Gentle Giant's Octopus. I ought to have gone for something at the other end of the musical spectrum, if music has a spectrum, and if it has only two ends. Whatever, I ought to have chosen some early English vaudeville, or a Chausson piano quintet, or some 1940s country swing. But I didn't. I remained caught up in the question of which Gentle Giant album ought to be among the top 25 progressive rock recordings of all time ("of all time" being less grand than it sounds, encompassing as it does less than forty years, but it's still a knotty question.) And I don't think Octopus, from 1972, is it, but it is closer to being it than was In A Glass House. With that pronouncement, I think I'll take leave of the question so as not to take leave of my senses, thereby spending all bloody day compiling lists.
Sunday morning's late show consisted of The Mystery of Rampo (1994), which I thought wonderful, and noted without examining very closely its common thematic concerns with the two movies discussed above. Too many mists and castles and deranged lords lately, I think; Monday must see a change of direction. And I shook off the Gentle Giant curse by listening to some orchestral pieces by Hugo Alfven. Tonight: Who knows?
I may or may not write further about my private late shows, although to continue doing so, possibly for years, would be ideally suited to this happy trivialist. Looking through other blogs, though, I note that I have missed the three great themes, which are: Sex, Technology, and Outrage. I am not sure that I know much about any of these fashionable fields, nor am I sure that I can come up with impressive remarks if I pretend that I do. Nevertheless, as Hunter Thompson said, I think I ought to give it a shot.