I highly recommend Ian Higbee’s excellent, informative, and extremely fascinating article (from Diabolique Magazine) centering on Italian director Antonio D’agostino with particular attention being paid to his 1979 feature Ceremony of the Senses. It’s a terrific, informative, and meticulously researched piece that is essential reading for all cineastes. I hope we hear much more from Higbee as this is excellent work.
Ian’s Instagram, which features his astonishing poster collection, can be found over in my links section or you can click this link directly from here.
“Not only is it arguably the finest track on Aladdin Sane,”Drive-In Saturday” is also the great forgotten Bowie single…(it is) one of Bowie’s most underrated classics.” –Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie–
“When the chorus came around there it was again, “Twig the wonder kid”, and I thought, blimey. I remember being absolutely bowled over and of course, I rushed out and bought it.” -Twiggy, Twiggy in Black and White–
David Bowie’s overwhelming run of great albums in the seventies often overshadows the fact that he was also one of the great Singles artists of the period as well. One particular 45 stands above the rest as not only the best of Bowie’s career but as one of the greatest songs in rock history.
1973’s “Drive In Saturday” was originally written for Mott The Hoople, who were coming off a sizable hit with Bowie’s “All The Young Dudes”. Thinking it was a bad idea to follow up that smash with another Bowie cover, Mott turned the track down. Bowie would later admit that he was justifiably confused by the decision and said that “I never understood that because I always thought that would have been a great single for them.” Bowie recorded the song himself, and released the single in April 1973, a week before the masterful album it graced Aladdin Sane.
Written while Bowie was touring America promoting The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, “Drive-In Saturday” is a song about a future where people have become so isolated from each other that they have to look at images from the past to remember how to make love. The track simultaneously is rooted in the rock from the fifties that Bowie had grown up with and yet still sounds slightly futuristic and totally progressive. The song features some of the most evocative and emotionally devastating lyrics that Bowie had written with its nostalgic nods to Mick Jagger, Twiggy, and an idealistic sixties very much lost.
Backed by the Spiders from Mars and featuring some of the most impressive guitar work that the incomparable Mick Ronson ever delivered, “Drive In Saturday” is one of the definitive glam rock tracks. Perhaps only Roxy Music’s “Virginia Plain” tops it as one of the most perfectly crafted songs of the early seventies, with Bowie’s altogether haunting synthesizer and saxophone playing adding to Ronson’s extraordinary arrangement. Featuring the always crisp and incredibly layered Tony Visconti production, “Drive-In Saturday” plays perfectly as a stand-alone single and an essential album track. Aladdin Sane would be unthinkable without the song and it helps give the album an emotional pull that, to my ears at least, makes it the finest Bowie album of the period and possibly the greatest Glam album ever.
Much like Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, a film Bowie starred in a year later, there is something extremely prophetic about”Drive In Saturday”. It seems to anticipate the Internet and also our increasingly closed-off and isolated world. As more and more people live their lives with their cell phones and social media as their only real sources of communication, Bowie’s futuristic cold and emotionally cut-off world might be much closer than just around the corner…in fact, it might already be here.
I first heard “Drive in Saturday” as a teenager and I must admit that it wasn’t one of my favorites at first. It wasn’t until I heard him do it live in the late nineties on his Hours tour that the song really hit me. Backed by the superbly talented Holly Palmer, a singer whose voice melded in perfectly with Bowie’s, his Hours tour versions are majestic sounding and nearly top the original single.
The b-side for “Drive-In Saturday” is an exciting cover of Chuck Berry’s “Round And Round”. Originally recorded for the Ziggy Stardust record, “Round and Round” is a gloriously sloppy Spiders From Mars run-through of a track from Bowie’s youth. While not one of Bowie’s greatest covers or B-sides, it is a fun and perfect companion for the moving and nostalgic”Drive In Saturday”.
Twig the Wonder Kid herself recalled her excitement upon hearing that she was the star of one of Bowie’s most dazzling songs, writing in her 1997 memoir Twiggy in Black and White:
“I’ll never forget the shock…I was sitting sewing in my bedroom in Twickenham, when suddenly I heard him sing “Twig the Wonder Kid. Or thought I did. But because I wasn’t really listening, I thought no I must have misheard. When the chorus came around, there it was again and I thought blimey. I remember being absolutely bowled over and of course I rushed out and bought it. I had always wanted to meet him. Like The Beatles, Bowie is an original. Several originals. It’s hard to imagine the history of rock music without all of his various incarnations…I was a huge fan and as star-struck as anyone else would be. Ziggy Stardust is one of my favorite albums. Every track is completely different and completely brilliant…He was everything I could have hoped for and more, witty and funny and incredibly bright; into films, directors, literature and art…The pop world can be very egotistical and to meet someone who didn’t just want to talk about their latest record was a breath of fresh air”.
Despite its power, “Drive-in Saturday” never achieved the critical nor popular acclaim it so richly deserved. Critical notices and sales were good, but the song remained unfairly overshadowed by many of the great singles Bowie released throughout the seventies. Writing for the Democrat and Chronicle, critic Mark Starr noted Aladdin Sane’s “overwhelming sensation is pain and suffering” mentioning “the couple in “Drive-in Saturday” can no longer make it except in a Jaggerish fantasy video world.” Los Angeles Times critic Robert Hilburn praised the album but noted that while “Drive-in Saturday” had been a hit in England, he guessed that the more muscular rocker “Panic in Detroit” was probably a “better singles candidate” for the States. The Inquirer’s Jack Lloyd was more tempered in his praise for the album but called “Drive-in Saturday” “fun” and compared it, oddly enough, to Bob Dylan.
Several acts have covered “Drive-in Saturday” with the most notable being probably Morrissey’s powerful live stabs at it. The song remains a bit hidden as one of Bowie’s great works but to me, it is the equal of anything Bowie ever recorded and one of the most emotionally devastating songs I have ever heard. Twiggy would appear on the cover of Bowie’s next album (Pin-Ups) and she still speaks of how overwhelmed she was the first time she heard “Drive-in Saturday”. While the song only made it to number three on the charts and has been forgotten by many, I suspect that for myself, Twig the wonder kid, and for more than a few others, the track will always remain an overwhelmingly important and special one.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally Published at Moon in the Gutter January 19, 2016-
Enjoy these vintage press clippings, including the full articles I quoted above.
“Elvis Presley was the person who awakened me to music and records when I was very young, and there had always been all these things I had dreamed of doing if I ever got the chance.”-
Elvis Presley was the most important and successful artist of the 20th century. He was also the most mismanaged, mis-marketed and mishandled. Perhaps nowhere is this sad fact more grossly apparent than in the immediate years following his untimely passing at 42 in 1977. As they had done throughout his career, his record company RCA didn’t know how to handle the recorded legacy of Elvis Presley in the days, months, and finally years following his death. During his life, RCA and Colonel Tom Parker failed to recognize just how truly important and valuable Presley’s musical contributions were and less than a year after his death they were putting out insulting and head-scratching releases like Elvis Sings For Kids and Grownups Too. Cheap artwork and a general lack of vision soiled even potentially valuable projects, focusing on unreleased material, like the Our Memories of Elvis collections. It’s hard to imagine any other major artist being treated quite as shabbily as Elvis Presley was in the years after his death with perhaps the worst offense being 1981’s Guitar Man, a countrified ‘remix’ album that destroyed some of his greatest American Sound Recordings of 1969. It seemed like RCA had nothing but disdain for their top-selling artist and these shoddy releases, combined with the release of Albert Goldman’s near-criminal posthumous assignation biography Elvis, unfairly damaged Elvis Presley’s reputation for years to come. Ironically, the surprise savior waiting in the wings was a man whose name was more synonymous with Costello than Presley when he arrived to change the tide in the mid-eighties.
Before he salvaged the recorded legacy of Elvis Presley with a series of expertly packaged releases timed to coincide with what would have been Elvis’ 50th birthday in 1985, Gregg Geller was probably best known as the man who had signed the astonishing other Elvis to Colombia in the late seventies. Geller had spent most of the seventies with CBS, working with several popular and influential artists for both Columbia and Epic. By the early eighties, he worked at RCA and the confusion regarding what to do with their biggest-selling catalog proved one of his biggest challenges. As he would tell an interviewer years after his time with the label:
“My job at RCA was to be the head of A&R, but after hearing me complain about the generally poor quality of the label’s Elvis releases in the years following his death, my boss, Jose Menendez, said to me, in effect: “if you’re so smart, why don’t you do something about it?” So I did.”
Geller recognized that Elvis Presley was far from just the guaranteed cash cow that most of the executives at RCA saw him as, and knew there was not only a market for unreleased archival recordings but also a need to put some of his past mishandled releases in proper perspective. Geller’s first step towards reestablishing Presley as the force of sonic nature that he had been was the 1984 six record set A Golden Celebration, a massive collection of mostly unreleased material that would set in motion the more well-known and acclaimed Ernst Jorgenson archival releases of the nineties and beyond. A Golden Celebration was a rare solid hit for a box set and it set the stage for a series of startling releases for Elvis’ 50th.
Geller’s concept of how to rescue Elvis Presley’s recorded legacy is so obvious in hindsight that it’s almost ridiculous that it took nearly ten years for RCA to capitalize on it. Geller’s plan was a deceptively simple one: Release a series of ‘concept’ albums made up of almost entirely of previously released material each designed to introduce a different side of the once and future king to a whole new generation…and to a whole new format, the Compact Disc. Starting in late 1984 and throughout 1985, Geller would present 4 sides of Elvis Presley to new and established fans: The ferocious rocker, the raw bluesman, the balladeer, and the heartbroken deep soul singer. These 4 releases would successfully begin to shift the conversation back to where it belonged, namely the music, and would help lead the way to Jorgensen releases and finally Elvis 30 #1 Hits.
The first release Rocker landed in late 1984 and focused almost entirely on tracks from 1956, with a couple from ’57 thrown in for good searing measure. Opening with “Jailhouse Rock” and closing with “Hound Dog” the compilation was a perfect introduction to the frenzied recordings that blew apart the fifties and American popular culture. The Back to Basics album, featuring an iconic photo of Presley channeling Brando in The Wild One, sold much better than RCA expected and surprisingly landed Elvis in heavy rotation on the exploding MTV via the ready to go “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care” clip from Jailhouse Rock. After nearly a decade of botched releases, Rocker was a swift kick in the face to critics and fans who had forgotten the genius of Elvis Presley and it set the stage for the next three releases Geller had in mind.
If Rocker had a fault, it was in its perhaps necessary obviousness. Geller’s follow-up collection, focusing on Elvis’ greatest love songs, A Valentine Gift For You, was the more surprising album, and it is a more rewarding listen. Expertly mixing some of the most moving performances Presley gave in the fifties and sixties, the pressed-on red vinyl A Valentine Gift For You is equal parts haunting and lovely. Filled with some of the most beloved Elvis hits, it is the lesser-known tracks like his stunning near six-minute Bob Dylan cover “Tomorrow is a Long Time” that would have the biggest impact on fans new to Elvis’ remarkably deep back catalog back in 1985.
If A Valentine Gift For You sounded surprising to many ears in the mid-eighties, then its follow-up Reconsider Baby was a downright shocking experience. One of the great Elvis Presley albums, Reconsider Baby would prove to be the weakest seller of the Geller releases but it remains the most justifiably acclaimed. Focusing mostly on recordings Elvis made in the sixties, when he was supposedly just recording poor-quality soundtrack recordings, Reconsider Baby still packs a major wallop. From the jaw-dropping opening title track to the smoldering epic unedited closer “Merry Christmas Baby”, Reconsider Baby is one of the great albums of the eighties, and its relatively obscure status today is downright tragic. Few albums in Elvis’ discography are so ideally sequenced and perfectly thought out. With its eerie cover photo and masterful Peter Guralnick liner notes, Reconsider Baby was exactly the grand slam project that RCA should have been putting out in the years leading up to its release. It’s one of the definitive Elvis Presley albums and had it been the only release Geller supervised in this period, it would have been enough.
The final 50th-anniversary release of 1985 is fittingly enough Always on My Mind, an exquisite collection focused on some of the most evocative tracks Elvis recorded in the seventies (save for “Don’t Cry Daddy” from the sixties). Pressed on purple vinyl and again expertly chosen and sequenced, the album remains one of the most devastating in Elvis’ canon and represents an ideal entryway into his most complex and controversial period of recording music. If the music Elvis recorded in the seventies was his most autobiographical, then Always on My Mind is its most important chapter. It’s a heartbreaking listen focused on isolation, depression, divorce, and rage and is as far away from the jump-suited caricature of Elvis in the seventies. It’s the sound of a great artist at his peak and on the edge.
Following the fiftieth anniversary collections, Geller continued working on Elvis’ deep musical catalog. 1986 saw the release of the captivating and surprising Return of the Rocker collection. Featuring an evocative painting of Elvis on its cover, this splendid album highlights some of Elvis’ strongest immediate post-army material, including soundtrack work from underrated films like Kid Galahad and Follow that Dream. The album also featured the A and B-side to one of the greatest singles of the rock era, with Elvis’ mind-blowing takes of “Little Sister” and “(Maria’s the Name) His Latest Flame”.
Gregg Geller remains one of the most unheralded figures in the history of Elvis Presley’s music. His work would turn things around at the most pivotal point possible and would help lead the way to the phenomenal archival work that continues to this day through the Follow That Dream label. We should all be grateful to Geller for actually giving a damn about the legacy of one of our great artists. Music lovers everywhere owe him a great debt.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally posted at Moon in the Gutter on 04/12/2017-
Here are a few additional vintage articles on this period for those interested:
More than a decade before he mesmerized audiences with masterful works like The Decalogue (1988), The Double Life of Veronique (1991), and the Three Colors Trilogy (1993-1994), Polish-born filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski had mainly worked in documentary shorts. While some of these shorts had been fictional works, it was as a documentary filmmaker that Kieslowski had initially made his name, throughout his first full decade, as a director in the seventies.
Camera Buff (also known as Amateur) was not Kieslowski’s first feature-length narrative film (he had previously shot both The Scar and The Calm in 1976) but it was his first truly accomplished fictional work. Like his later more well-known pictures, including Blue (1993) and Red (1994), Camera Buff shows Kieslowski as a supremely gifted artist and storyteller and it remains a sometimes dazzling if mostly subdued, opening chapter to one of the most important careers of the modern era.
Relatively successful middle-class factory worker Filip Mosz and his wife have recently welcomed a newborn baby into their lives. Filip buys an 8mm film camera hoping to capture his new child in the early stages of his life. What he thought would be an innocent hobby turned serious when his boss asks Filip to use the camera to film his company’s board meetings. Soon Filip has a film crew at his disposal and his once-happy life fractures as he becomes more and more obsessed with capturing what is real, even if it means putting his marriage and career in jeopardy.
Camera Buff is a significant film in not only Kieslowski’s career but also Polish film, as it is not only a truly transcendent personal work but also a pointed political one, as it carefully criticizes the cloud of censorship that had hung over Kieslowski’s generation. Kieslowski shows the process for a young filmmaker to be a difficult one, as an authoritative hand often shutters an artist’s personal vision.
Camera Buff is, at its core, an extremely serious film, but it contains the particular wit and warmth that seems specific to certain Kieslowski works, like the often-undervalued White (1993). Few directors have ever come close to matching Kieslowski’s ability to get inside the spirit of a soul in transition and Filip, like Kieslowski’s greatest characters, is very much a man in crisis but by the film’s final frames, in which he bravely turns the camera on himself, he has had a valuable and necessary spiritual breakthrough.
While it lacks the refinement of Kieslowski’s later films, Camera Buff is a beautifully composed work that shows the influential filmmaker stepping away from the grittiness of his early documentary style and into a more polished cinematic technique.
Camera Buff is ultimately about a man’s growth as a filmmaker and one can easily draw a parallel to Kieslowski’s own strides. Camera Buff might be a transitional piece in Kieslowski’s career, but it is undeniably important.
Camera Buff wouldn’t completely solidify Kieslowski as one of the great filmmakers of his generation, but it served as a fair enough warning that, even at this early stage, he had qualities that few of his peers could match. While nowhere near as perfect as his triumphant run of final films, Camera Buff is a wonderfully rendered and moving work that acts as not only a meditation on the human condition but also film itself.
-Jeremy Richey, a rejected Directory of World Cinema piece published initially in 04-23-2014 at Moon in the Gutter-
Here is a collection of clippings marking Camera Buff’s theatrical release:
“Frankie teardrop, Frankie put the gun to his head. Frankie’s dead, Frankie’s lying in hell. We’re all Frankies, We’re all lying in hell”.
-Alan Vega, Martin Rev-
One of the great films of the eighties, Buddy Giovinazzo’s ferocious and visionary Combat Shock remains one of the most visceral works of American cinema ever created. The history ofCombat Shock should be fairly well-known to most fans of American independent cinema, but a quick overview goes like this. Buddy Giovinazzo was a student filmmaker from Staten Island when he began shooting his self-funded feature film debut, under his preferred title, American Nightmares, in 1984 with family, fellow students, and friends. After some early screenings, Troma picked the film up and re-titled it the more commonly known Combat Shock. While we should applaud Troma for picking up such an uncompromising DIY feature, they cut many of Giovinazzo’s most extreme moments and added stock Vietnam footage to capitalize on the namsploitation movement of the mid-eighties. The cuts and new footage neutered the film, but Giovinazzo’s haunting story of a shell-shocked veteran collapsing under the weight of the ‘American dream’, on the streets of New York, still resonated. The most harrowing vision of the horrors of post-war trauma seen since The Deer Hunter shocked into submission audience members tricked by Troma’s poster promising a Missing In Action style exploitation flick. Met with disdain by ‘respectable’ critics, the likes of the great Stephen Bissette and other underground writers who recognized its importance championed Combat Shock. Despite Giovinazzo never being granted his proper place as one of modern cinema’s most important and visionary filmmakers, Combat Shock refused to die and by the mid-nineties, the uncut American Nightmares became one of the most essential and sought-after bootlegs on the grey market VHS circuit.
It was in this grey market area that I first encountered American Nightmares in the nineties via the mail-order company Midnight Video. Like many others, the film completely shocked and absolutely floored me in every way. While the film’s scenes of horrific violence originally stuck with me, as I have aged and matured, it is the film’s heartbreaking heart and humanity that keeps me returning to it. As played by Buddy’s brother Rick Giovinazzo (who also composed the film’s remarkable soundtrack included as a bonus CD on Severin’s set), the lead character Frankie remains one of the most moving creations in all of modern American cinema. Much like Alan Vega’s devastating title character in Suicide’s 1977 jaw-dropping track from their legendary first album, Giovinazzo’s character is a good man buried by a system designed to destroy the helpless and poor. It’s every sad headline of a man pushed to the brink of madness and murder brought to life. Sadly, American Nightmares plays better than ever now in this brutal era of Trump and modern American fascism. This film isn’t just a prophetic time capsule. It is instead a nightmarish depiction of NOW. I see Frankie every day, as the streets are crowded with homeless veterans desperately in need of help they aren’t receiving. Giovinazzo knew ignoring our veterans in need was a criminal act by the American government in 1984 and it remains one today.
Of course, American Nightmares doesn’t just survive as a political and sociological statement as it stands as a glorious reminder of the power of film in the hands of a truly visionary artist who refused to back down, no matter the financial and personal hardships. The essential book that comes along with Severin’s essential package, featuring Giovinazzo’s shooting diaries from the time, should be REQUIRED reading for all young students of cinema. It’s a triumphant portrait of an artist not enslaved by the dollar and corporate sponsorship…our tragic current sell-out culture should take note…this is how it should be fucking done.
While Combat Shock is available in several home video versions, Severin’s absolutely stunning out-of-print Blu-ray edition of Buddy Giovinazzo’s grueling 1984 masterpiece Combat Shock restores Giovinazzo’s mesmerizing vision to his original American Nightmares director’s cut in a package filled with hours of essential extras. Powered by a 4k scan of the fully uncut American Nightmares, an essential commentary by the Giovinazzo brothers (along with makeup effects artist Ed Varuolo), hours of interviews with the makers of film and the critics who championed it, short films and Troma’s original terrific extras the much sought after Blu-ray is an absolute triumph for Severin and Giovinazzo. if you can find it…get it.
-Jeremy Ross Richey, Originally written for Moon in the Gutter on 08/15/2018-
“He’s just trying to survive, well let’s hear it for Frankie, Frankie, Frankie…” -Rev, Vega-
The strange saga of filmmaker Gordon Parks Junior’s Thomasine and Bushrod (1974) came to a tragic end on an April morning in 1979 when a small plane he was traveling in crashed into a Kenya mountainside. More than a decade later Parks’ father, famed photographer, poet, and filmmaker Gordon Parks, remembered that the crash had been so bad that “only ashes” were left of his son making a proper burial impossible. The death of the younger Parks not only marked an eerie footnote to his most overlooked film but also effectively ended one of the most controversial and misunderstood movements in Hollywood history.
The so-called Blaxploitation genre is often looked upon as a genre consisting only of urban films centering on negative stereotypes of African American culture made by white filmmakers. A deeper investigation into the genre reveals a treasure trove of mostly forgotten films shot, written by, and starring African Americans, focusing on family, childhood, politics, and civil rights, with none being more startling than Thomasine and Bushrod.
African Americans had appeared in Hollywood productions since the earliest films, but the only roles offered were ignorant sidekicks, apologetic caricatures, and other harmful stereotypes. While there had been many independently produced African American films as early as the twenties, the ‘blaxploitation’ genre in the late sixties would mark the first time that major studios would give African Americans financing to make their own films. Thomasine and Bushrod is a particularly special production, as it was one of the earliest and only examples of a major Hollywood studio financing a film written, directed, and starring African Americans in the oldest of genres, the Western.
The story of Thomasine and Bushrod begins with Max Julien, a writer, and actor best known for his role as the ambitious pimp Goldie in 1973’s The Mack. Author Darius James would note that Julien’s early life was far removed from his most famous role and that he had “studied at Carnegie Hall’s Dramatic Workshop” and by his early twenties appeared in “Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival”.
Julien’s role in The Mack would make him an overnight star, but the film, like most of the ‘blaxploitation’ films of the period, would garner as much derision as praise. Author Donald Bogle would argue that despite its popularity, The Mack exemplified the problems with the movement and “was a mess without much of a script” and it was “gaudy and cheap”. Still, others found much to admire in the film and the genre, such as film historian James Robert Parish, who noted that Julien was one of the genre’s shining lights and was “talented and charismatic”. Despite its many virtues and its success with audiences, The Mack was a film made by whites about blacks, something that Julien wanted very much to rectify for his next project. A meeting between Julien with a young, up-and-coming actress shortly after The Mack’s premiere would plant the seeds for what would eventually become Thomasine and Bushrod.
Vonetta Mcgee was born in San Francisco in January 1940. After graduating from San Francisco’s Polytechnic High School in 1962, she became more and more interested in acting. After traveling to Europe, she began appearing in several Italian productions in the late sixties before getting steady work in a slew of low-budget exploitation films in the early seventies upon her return to America. Shortly after their introduction, Mcgee became involved romantically with Julien, who was working on his first screenplay. The script, centering on an African American female version of James Bond named Cleopatra Jones, quickly refashioned as a vehicle for McGee, although Tamara Dobson ended up with the role, much to Jones and Julien’s displeasure. Disappointed and angry, Julien quickly wrote another script, a western called Thomasine and Bushrod.
Max Julien’s original script for Thomasine and Bushrod is a confrontational and genre-bending work posing as a take on Arthur Penn’s influential Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Focusing on a fictional outlaw in the old west named Bushrod and his partner in crime and love, a former female bounty hunter named Thomasine, who steals from the rich in order to help various minorities, Julien’s script and the final film would delight in reversing gender roles, questioning accepted history and rethinking the western genre.
Columbia Pictures purchased the script for Thomasine and Bushrod in 1973 and made an agreement with Julien and McGee that they could both star in it as long they didn’t mind working with a relatively inexperienced director who had just scored a major success with his first film, 1972’s Super Fly.
Gordon Parks Jr. was born just a few weeks before Christmas in 1934 and life immediately proved difficult for the young man. His father would remember years later that “Gordon Jr. had developed a serious asthmatic” condition and that “doctoring didn’t seem to help”. The young Parks would spend much of his early life inside and under his father’s shadow, but the two were always close, and they collaborated on various artistic endeavors and civil rights activities in the mid-sixties.
When his father, who had turned to filmmaking in the late sixties, scored big with his second theatrical feature, 1971’s Shaft, Parks Jr. could negotiate a deal to direct his first feature, which would be Super Fly. This production marked the first time the younger Parks would really make a name for himself and his short but intriguing film career that followed is an interesting mixture of his father’s early documentary work, his passion for photography and music, and his interest in changing the way Hollywood viewed African Americans in film.
The summer of 1973 found the production of Thomasine and Bushrod gathering steam. An early June edition of The Albuquerque Times featured news of the production attempting to find shooting location in the area on their front page. Incorrectly calling Parks’ film as a “million dollar production”, the newspaper noted that filming was scheduled to begin August 2nd. The lengthy piece noted the film’s main behind-the-scenes players were on hand searching for area locations that “haven’t changed much since the 1912 area”.
The same paper also celebrated Parks arrival in their community with another front-page article titled “No Super Fly Clothing For Him”. Calling Parks “soft-spoken, almost shy” the article quoted him saying that he planned for Thomasine and Bushrod to be a “tender, humorous love story” as opposed to Superfly which functioned to “sock(ed) is to the man.” Thomasine and Bushrod continued receiving much pre-release coverage throughout the New Mexico area. The Santa Fe New Mexican even devoted this nearly full-page dedicated to its filming in the area.
Thomasine and Bushrod is a daring but flawed production, hampered by a quick shooting schedule on a low budget in a scorching New Mexico summer, yet remains downright ingenious in the way it confounds so many expectations. There are several things that separate the film from almost any other before or since, with the most obvious being that it would have African American protagonists in the old West. The most daring move the film makes though is with McGee’s character Thomasine, placed in the clearly more traditionally masculine role. Not only does her name come first in the title, but the character of Thomasine is smarter, stronger, more controlled, and more interesting than the weaker Bushrod. Julien’s script suggests strongly a rethinking of not only the Western genre in the placing of African Americans as the leads, but also in its forceful questioning of clear gender roles.
Parks understood the subtleties of Julien’s script and how subversive it was. Filming McGee often from lower angles to give her power and authority while placing Julien much lower in the frame with the camera tilted down at him, Thomasine and Bushrod shows Parks to be a sensitive and intelligent stylist. This role as a stylist also distinguishes the film in another way, which is perhaps even more subversive than the gender and race relations it delights in subverting.
Thomasine and Bushrod’s biggest attribute is one of its most surprising, that being how much Parks, Julien, and McGee highlighted it was a film made in 1973 about 1873. Not content with making a mere historically accurate piece, Parks fills nearly every frame of the film with visual references to the seventies, a move that makes it clearly more about the period they made it in than the period they set it in. The outlandish and stylish costume design by Andrea Lilly and Mcgee herself, the hairstyles, the soundtrack (which features a title track by San Francisco band Love), and even some of the dialogue are clearly products of the seventies. Many critics mis-viewed this as laziness and lack of research on the part of Parks and Julien, but today it looks to be a clear-headed and deliberate decision on their parts that goes along perfectly with the other subversive thematic elements of the film. Thomasine and Bushrod isn’t a film attempting to be historically accurate, it is instead a work that questions just what accuracy means in cinema.
Interviewed by Don Kralle in The Courier Post in April of 1974, McGee recalled Max based the script on his great uncle” and that Thomasine was like herself, “a woman’s libber”. Most perceptively, McGee told Kralle that the movie just wasn’t a “love story” but that it was actually about her and Max’s love affair. The eye-opening interview, scanned below, was far more perceptive that the majority of critical attention.
Thomasine and Bushrod is typified as the work of Gordon Parks Jr. by several visual motifs that appear throughout his short filmography. These include a bittersweet slow-motion love sequence and most notably a mid-film montage of still photographs of not only the actors but an extraordinary collection of rare shots of actual African Americans in the century’s turn old west. This section of the film is important as it shows Parks marking himself as an auteur in the making while questioning Hollywood’s continuing betraying of the historical events that critics accused Thomasine and Bushrod of ignoring.
Briefly released in the summer of 1973 with a half-hearted ad campaign by Columbia attempting to capitalize on the real-life relationship between Julien and McGee, Thomasine and Bushrod failed to attract an audience and the critical community mostly ignored the production, although Nora Sayre in The New York Times found much to admire and picked up on how “utterly contemporary” the film was and said that Parks brought “considerable freshness” but “the talents of the performers” carried the film.
Other critics slammed the film, such as Gene Siskel in The Chicago Tribune. Awarding the film, just a star and a half, Siskel stated he thought the film had one of “the worst titles on record” and “wasted” “two talented actors” and “hundreds of thousands of dollars”. Critical reception continued to be mixed at best. The only real point of recognition came in late 1973 with Julien’s script’s NAACP Award nomination.
After a handful of television airings and a brief European run, Thomasine and Bushrod was pulled from circulation by the mid-seventies and was virtually a lost film for decades. The film’s failure hurt all three of the main player’s careers. McGee has spent the rest of her career in mostly supporting roles while Julien dropped out of sight for nearly a quarter of a century. He resurfaced in the late nineties as his role in The Mack gained more and more popularity, but Thomasine and Bushrod remains his swan song as a lead actor and a screenwriter.
Gordon Parks Jr. completed just two more films, 1974’s Three The Hard Way and 1975’s Aaron Loves Angela, before losing his life in that Kenya plane crash of 1979 while scouting a new film.
His father would write that television stations all over the world were “reporting my death” instead of his sons marking the talented Gordon Parks Jr. as anonymous in death as in life. His Thomasine and Bushrod is one of the great-unnoticed chapters in not only African American film history but American film in general.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally Presented at a 2008 Research Conference at Western Kentucky University and then published in print via The Amplifier and Moon in the Gutter-
Unlike when I initially wrote this piece, Thomasine and Bushrod is now available via DVD and streaming, although an HD Blu-ray has still yet to appear. Parks’ film would make an ideal selection for The Criterion Collection. I hope they might one day consider it for their collection.
Toshio Matsumoto, one of the great cinematic rebels and non-conformists, passed away this month back in 2017 at the age of 85. Matsumoto was a fierce artist and boundary pusher who challenged his viewers as much as he enlightened and entertained them. Here is a short piece I wrote about his absolutely breathtaking 1969 work Funeral Parade Of Roses back in 2013, along with some vintage clippings. It’s a film unlike any other and Toshio Matsumoto was a filmmaker like no other.
Thinking of Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 cinematic powerhouse Funeral Parade of Roses…a brick hurled through a window of complacency…a raging kick to the face of traditional narrative cinema…a retelling of Oedipus that transforms that classic legend into something altogether new.
The questions one gets asked after typically viewing a film are mute in regards to Funeral Parade of Roses. “What’s it about?” and “Did you like it?” have no place here and are like asking someone if they had ‘fun’ at a protest against oppression.
Product of its time? YES but in the best way possible. This has passion and anger that simply no longer exists in today’s cinema. We’ve traded soul and intensity for a day at the mall, glued to small films on small screens that fit in our pockets.
The Plot of Funeral Parade of Roses doesn’t hold my attention…instead, it is the elements that it transcends in every frame that hits me (I beg for its punch time and time again). Opening shot…blinding white light. Is that a boy and a girl? Boy and a boy? Unclear, until it pulls into focus and throws us into a labyrinth of confusion that questions gender, sexuality, family, life, death, and beyond.
Relations? Warhol, Morrissey…their deconstructive techniques are apparent. Rollin’s Rape of the Vampire is its bloody sister-in-arms from a year before. Brakhage (sure), Deren (of course). How about Kubrick, who loved Funeral Parade of Roses so much that he paid tribute to it stylistically and spiritually in his A Clockwork Orange. Ultimately this is punk rock before punk rock…before punk rock was exploited and made meaningless. That brick through the window reflects the student riots happening in Paris, Japan, and all over the free-thinking world in 1969.
The art of deconstruction….destruction of our scripted roles in life, love, and death. It’s that final shot of Godard’s Weekend with the ominous “End of Cinema” flashing on the screen taken several steps further. It’s a beautiful monster that no modern special effects house could muster. It’s a party film with a wild youthful abandon breaking through every moment…Superbad for the art house as a celebration of questioning gender roles and rampant unhinged sexuality. And that ending has the visceral impact only perhaps Deodato later stumbled upon.
It pops with an eye-gouging intensity that builds and builds until a wonderful moment when an old man stumbles exhausted onto the screen and thanks everyone for attending. Thank you and you are very welcome! A little moment that could have derailed the film completely, but this bold and audacious act is like the film itself…a joyous revolution turning a mirror back to the audience.
Toshio Matsumoto defiantly channeling Lou Reed’s “My Week Beats Your Year” in the purest cinematic way imaginable.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally Published at Moon in the Gutter 04-14-17-
Most moviegoers back in the early eighties wouldn’t have blinked an eye at the casting but, for those in the know, Sharon Mitchell’s brief bit as “2nd Nurse” in William Lustig’s ferocious 1980 masterpiece Maniac was a small but significant milestone for the both of them. The New Jersey native Mitchell was just shy of a year younger than the Bronx bread Lustig when they first met during a New York casting session in early 1977. The proximity of their ages wasn’t all Mitchell and Lustig had in common during that first fateful meeting. They were both hungry (literally and figuratively) and struggling to make a name for themselves in the electric, and sometimes insane, world of film in the New York cinema in the seventies. Just past twenty in 1977, Mitchell was smart, feisty, lovely to look at, and a junkie. A former N.Y.U. film student, Lustig only had a tiny pot to piss in at the time but he had found a handful of investors in that sweltering summer of 77 to fund what would be his first feature as a director and Mitchell was his ideal, if surprising, leading lady. Inexperience and youth be damned, the two were a perfect team and the little film they made together, The Violation of Claudia, would help launch two extraordinary and wild careers that would be as unpredictable as they were influential. New York in 1977…a year of blackouts, Berkowitz and Billy ‘Fuckin’ Bagg.
Written, edited, and directed by William Lustig under the pseudonym Billy Bagg in just a few days for a measly budget even the most seasoned filmmakers could have barely cut a trailer on, The Violation of Claudia is a shockingly well-made and effective feature. An adult take on Bunuel’s 1967 stunner Belle de Jour, Lustig’s first film is a fascinating hour-long time sex film that is both erotic and witty. Label it exploitation, but it is intellectually driven exploitation crafted by a man clearly immersed in film history and captivated by all things cinema. Seemingly creatively birthed by the infamous NYC blackout of the summer of ’77 and the Son of Sam shootings, The Violation of Claudia marked the beginning of the creative cinematic bond between New York City and the gritty filmmaking style of William Lustig. It would be the first of many distinctly New York films Lustig created throughout his uncompromising career.
Dealing with sexual repression in an openly sexual arena, The Violation of Claudia would be an essential entry in William Lustig’s filmography even if it wasn’t his first feature. What could have been a by-the-numbers quickie becomes a truly rewarding and satisfying experience. You can sense Lustig’s creativity and drive in every shot of The Violation of Claudia. For a film shot so quickly by an artist so young, there is real clarity and fluidity in The Violation of Claudia‘s direction and Sharon Mitchell’s performance as the frustrated title character is really quite wonderful. Had she been around in Hollywood’s Golden Age, Mitchell could have been a real contender, a Myrna Loy with a ‘fuck me’ smile. Sharon Mitchell was more than a good actress, she was a unique one and her work in The Violation of Claudia is both endearing and touching.
Mitchell isn’t the only on-screen powerhouse appearing in The Violation of Claudia. The mighty Jamie Gillis turns in a typically strong supporting turn and the legendary Long Jeanne Silver also makes a brief, but memorable, appearance. The intense and extremely talented Gillis appeared in nearly a dozen films throughout the tumultuous year of 1977, which included not only Lustig’s debut but Radley Metzger’s Barbara Broadcast and perhaps most unforgettable, the terrifying Waterpower which saw Gillis delivering one of the great performances of the period. Silver had also appeared in Waterpower and it along with The Violation of Claudia marked two of her earliest performances on screen.
While it feels like it belongs exclusively to 1977, The Violation of Claudia would play throughout the late seventies, well into the mid-eighties, often on the bottom half of double-bills with a variety of other adult films. Besides its seemingly endless theatrical run, The Violation of Claudia also appeared on late-night cable television throughout the eighties in a heavily edited cut.
Like much of his work, Lustig watched as The Violation of Claudia created no small amount of controversy. A hysteria-driven article from a 1977 edition of Newsday used the film as an example of why ads for adult films were in their estimation a major “problem” and “blight”.
An even more hysterical uproar surrounded the film’s television cut in 1982 when an insurance sales agent named Kevin Finn went on an anti-porn crusade after he watched the film out of “curiosity” with his wife. Despite having all the hardcore sex being cut out, the neutered cut of The Violation of Claudia still left Mr. Finn “embarrassed, sickened and appalled”. Lost to time, is whether his wife felt the same way.
Distribpix’s special edition of The Violation of Claudia is another grand slam. Paired with Lustig’s second feature, Hot Honey, The Violation of Claudia has never looked or sounded better and the extras Distribpix have assembled include the original trailer, a slideshow of vintage articles, clippings and pictures, and a terrific hour-long podcast featuring Lustig talking about his background and films with Distribpix’s Steven Morowitz. The best extra is the incredibly informative and entertaining commentary track featuring Lustig and Nicolas Winding Refn, amid filming his Drive.
More information on this now out of print release can be found at Distribpix’s original listing and this article from their blog focused on the film. Used copies of the now hard to find disc can be ordered at Amazon.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally Published at Moon in the Gutter, 09/08/2014-
At the turn of the last century, the growing city of Lawrence, Kansas, was still a relatively rural area located in the very center of The United States. Lawrence was suffering a bit of an identity crisis grappling with modern technology in 1909 when a new streetcar system made life a little easier for the town’s residents. These included the staff and students of The University of Kanas, located in the heart of Lawrence. A melting pot of beliefs and ideals, Lawrence was a quintessential American city. Still, in the early Spring of 1909, the town was abuzz with news of visiting who had traveled nearly 5,000 miles from his European home to visit the town’s University.
The news that Dutch novelist Frederik van Eeden was planning on visiting Lawrence made headlines throughout the state. The Jeffersonian Gazette noted the event in their pages:
“Frederik van Eeden, a poet, dramatist, physician, sociologist, and lecturer, will be in Lawrence early in April to deliver a course of afternoon lectures at the University of Kansas. He will he here from April 1 to 7, and will speak on each school day at 4:30 0’clock in the afternoon in the college chapel, will give a chapel talk Friday morning of his visit here at 10 0’clock, and will give the Sunday afternoon vesper address at 4:30 0’clock on April 4. His subjects are such as “Treating Diseases by Mental Suggestion- “Happy Humanity,” The “Religion and Business Mission of the Poet.”
Born in The Netherlands city of Haarlem in 1860, Frederik Willem van Eeden was by 1909 known as much for his work in psychiatry as his literary strides. Van Eeden was also a political livewire as he was a founding member of the world’s first Communist political party, the Dutch Social-Democratic Party, in 1909. Van Eeden’s unique American visit occurred less than a decade after one of his great novels had been granted an English translation as The Deeps of Deliverance.
Initially rumored to be inspired by one of van Eeden’s real-life patients, the dreamy and provocative Van de koele meren des doods originally appeared in 1900 in The Netherlands. Concerning the sad tale of death-obsessed and a sexually frustrated young woman coming of age in a brutally oppressive era for women named Hedwig Marga de Fontayne, Van de koele meren des doods dramatically positioned itself as one of the most progressive 20th century female-driven novels.
Van Eeden’s startling novel was hailed by both the literary community as well as the psychological one. The blossoming women’s movement embraced and hailed the novel as a significant work, and it remains one of the great Feminist literary works written by a man. The New York Tribune summed up the book’s importance upon its American 1903 release:
“Here is another volume dealing with the eternal feminine, the minutest portrayal of a woman’s inner consciousness, a dissecting knife laying bare a conflict between body and soul; a condition fostered by environment and augmented by a union contrary to natural law. The character of Hedwig de Fontayne, as shown by Van Eeden, is complex from its inception.
‘The history of a woman’s life,’ writes Van Eeden of his book. ‘ ‘how she sought the cool deeps wherein is deliverance, and how deliverance came to her.’ But to what depths did she sink before bodily release brought her spiritual relief? Abased, exhausted, wrecked, there is that still left in her that craved salvation, emancipation from a weakness that held her in a thrall seemingly impossible to overthrow.”
Van Eeden’s novel was greeted with similarly heady reviews everywhere it appeared. The Baltimore Sun called it one of the most “noteworthy” works of the period, while The New York Times praised van Eeden’s ability to thrive in whatever field he chooses to write about. With his unforgettable character Hedwig, van Eeden managed to capture the often dark frustrations and the stark reality of being a woman at the turn of the 20th century. It was a remarkable work of literature steeped in realism that flirted with naturalistic elements.
Van Eeden passed away in 1932. Van de koele meren des doods continued to reappear in various translations in the decade after his death. Such an important work might have seemed an ideal vehicle for a filmed adaptation, but several barriers made it an exceedingly tricky prospect. The novel’s decidedly adult themes ranging from sexual desire, repression, addiction, religious hypocrisy, and madness made any early film adaptation all but impossible. The novel’s nocturnal digressions and how it dealt with time-related to a character’s memories were incredibly cinematic. Still, it would take the perfect filmmaker to bring them to fruition. Perhaps the biggest obstacle for a possible filmed version of van Eeden’s book was how relatable its themes of desire and repression would be. Van Eeden had written a period piece, but the beating Feminist heart at the center of Van de Koele Meren des Doods made it a dangerously timeless work that a male-dominated film industry had no interest in touching.
It would take Van de Koele Meren des Doods (or The Cool Lakes Of Death as it is now most commonly known) more than eight decades before it finally became a film. With so many international translations, an adaptation could have appeared anywhere, so it was particularly pleasing to see a Dutch company finally option the property. The man who ultimately determined it was time to bring an ‘unfilmable’ novel to the big screen was famed Dutch producer Matthijs van Heijningen.
By the end of the seventies, van Heijningen had become known for his big-screen adaptations of popular novels. It was a successful pattern that had begun near the beginning of van Heijningen’s career with his successful Tim Krabbe adaptation of Flanagan (1975). Three films, in particular, would be essential to The Cool Lakes of Death’s ultimate release. The remarkable 1978 Knut Hamsun adaptation he had produced for director Paul de Lussanet, Mysteries, had failed to light up the Dutch box office. Still, it had shown that van Heijningen could successfully bring an ‘unfilmable novel’ to the theaters. Even more important were the two masterful films (The Debut and A Woman Like Eve) he had produced for the remarkable Feminist filmmaker Nouchka van Brakel.
It is impossible to imagine a more perfect director for The Cool Lakes of Death than Nouchka van Brakel, but she was hesitant about how cumbersome the book would be to film. She finally agreed and drafted a breathtakingly great screenplay with Ton Vorstenbosch that managed to distill the novel’s many themes down perfectly. Along with the adaptation itself, the trickiest part of bringing The Cool Lakes of Death to the big screen was finding the ideal actress to play the doomed Hedwig.
The Dutch press was ablaze with the news of a big-screen adaptation of The Cool Lakes Of Death throughout 1981. Rumors swirled as to just who would end playing the plum role of Hedwig. Het Parool noted at the very end of 1981 that a certain Dutch actress was in the possible running for the part:
“Sylvia Kristel has expressed her willingness to play the lead film in the film adaptation of “Van De Koele Meren Des Doods” by Frederik van Eeden, directed by Nouchka of Brakel The financing of this film is 40 percent by The First National Film Participation Company and there is money from the Netherlands Production Fund. Sylvia has proposed to participate financially in the project as well.”
The Het Parool notice about Sylvia’s possible involvement in the film was a solitary one. It was just one of many promising roles that didn’t come to fruition in this period. The Cool Lakes of Death appeared a year after Sylvia’s final quality film of her most significant period, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the wake of The Cool Lakes of Death’s release, Sylvia was stuck in the English language film market, making the worst films of her career. Sylvia’s struggles at the time mirrored Hedwig’s in specific ways, so it is easy to see what attracted her to the role, but whether she could have pulled it off in her own increasingly fractured state remains a question lost to time. Sylvia and van Brakel had been friends since the dawn of her film career, and they would finally properly work together on van Brakel’s De vriendschap (2001). The time wasn’t right in 1982, and another actress emerged as the only real option for Hedwig.
Renette Pauline Soutendijk had yet to turn twenty-five when she secured the role of Hedwig in The Cool Lakes of Death. A former gymnast and, unlike Sylvia, a professionally trained actress, Soutendijk had only been making films for a few years, but she had already clearly established herself as The Netherlands greatest young actress of the period. Wim Verstappen had ‘discovered’ her a few years previously for his masterpiece Pastorale 1943 (which featured Sylvia as well in one of her most significant roles). Soutendijk was crazy talented, and her rise was justifiably fast. After appearing in a small role in van Brakel’s A Woman Like Eve, Soutendijk’s career exploded with the double shot of Paul Verhoeven’s Spetters (1980) and Ben Verbong’s The Girl With The Red Hair (1981).
Soutendijk is amongst the great screen actors and is a phenomenally gifted chameleon with a startling and even unnerving ability to disappear into whatever role she is playing. Like Sylvia, Soutendijk was later grossly misused in some English language productions. Still, her career in The Netherlands has been astonishing, and she earned a much deserved lifetime achievement Golden Calf in 2011, while just in her early fifties. Her Oscar-worthy performance as Hedwig remains perhaps the most remarkable performance of her career.
The Cool Lakes of Death’s expansive cast included popular actors Derek de Lint and Peter Faber, but the film belongs to Soutendijk, who dominates every frame. Behind the scenes, van Brakel assembled another reliable crew that included her partner Theo van de Sande working on the film’s gorgeous cinematography. Mysteries Production Designer Benedict Schillemans and multiple Golden Calf nominee Set Designer Harry Ammerlaan ensured the film’s period setting was rendered perfectly.
Considering the material’s dreamlike nature and epic scale, van Brakel’s choice of an editor was vital. Edgar Burcksen would eventually find much success in American film and television, but his early editorial work in The Netherlands is superb, especially on The Cool Lakes Of Death. His cutting, along with van Brakel’s wonderfully fluid directorial style, perfectly compliments The Cool Lakes of Death at every turn. It is a genuinely marvelous cinematic achievement.
The making of The Cool Lakes Of Death was covered extensively in the Dutch press. One of the longest articles appeared in a mid-February 1982 edition of Het vrĳe volk. The article called van Brakel the “most successful film director in the Netherlands” and guessed correctly that the film would indeed be a “masterpiece.” The paper marveled at how Soutendijk managed to “effortless” nail every scene perfectly no matter how many times it was filmed. Van Brakel praised her remarkable young star in the article:
“The dialogue comes directly from Van Eeden’s book. At first, I doubted whether it was possible to use that old Dutch. But Renée pronounces those sentences like she’s never spoken any other language. It’s beautiful.”
Van Brakel noted that Hedwig was punished by her surroundings, and sadly, not much had changed for women by the early eighties. Stating that she was “primarily interested in the psychology of women,” van Brakel was the absolute ideal artist to bring The Cool Lakes of Death to the big screen. The wait had been worth it.
Van Brakel wanted her filmed adaptation of The Cool Lakes of Death to follow its source material as closely as possible. She admitted in the Het vrĳe volk that ideally, a ‘mini-series would probably be the best way to adapt the epic book fully. The Cool Lakes of Death needed to be seen on the big screen though, and van Brakel’s screenplay was a masterpiece in its own right. Ultimately she admitted that “I make films about women, and I help women who want to do the same.”
The Cool Lakes of Death was a massive undertaking. Het vrĳe volk detailed just how complex the project was:
“The recordings take an unprecedented amount of time by Dutch standards, eight weeks. The number of locations used in this is enormous. Filming is also taking place in England, Belgium and France.”
Van Brakel was up for the challenge. She told that Algemeen Dagblad, “This film is the most laborious I have made, but it gives you enormous satisfaction, especially because of the theme of the film. In addition, it is a great luxury that you can work with so many good actors and actresses.” She noted to the paper just how topical the story still was, “there are still many women who are subject to demands that they feel they cannot meet.” Interviewed for the same article, Soutendijk mentioned, “It’s a very emotional role. I always work strongly on intuition, but with this woman, it is often very complicated. Psychotic behavior, childbirth, morphine addiction, you can’t get those things out of your own experience.”
Interviewed about Soutendijk’s remarkable abilities as an actress in De Telegraph, Paul Verhoeven noted how amazing it was that she shot his legendary The 4th Man (1983) just three weeks after wrapping The Cool Lakes of Death:
“The audience will be baffled by Renee Soutendijk, who has not yet been seen in such a creation and who will now come across as a completely different woman. She has every opportunity to make a great foreign career. And the way she’s doing this role right now, and you look at those eyelids from underneath, she looks like Marine Dietrich.”
Another lengthy piece appeared in NRC Handelsblad. Van Brakel noted:
“I see a victim of the circumstances in Hedwig. At the end of her life, she finds a way to shape her existence a little and not go into complete destruction. After a film about a young woman choosing a man who is a lot older (The Debut) and one about a woman who chooses lesbian love, I wanted to make a film about a woman who, and that is also taboo, is deeply concerned with death.”
Soutendijk discussed the role and her career further with Algemeen Dagblad:
“There are a few people in America who are very enthusiastic about me. Although, enthusiasm is still weakly expressed. I’ve had 40 meetings and spoken to about 70 people. A strange country, by the way, that America. They are very cordial and common, and at the same time, you feel that they are only interested in you when you can possibly raise money. In the Netherlands, being commercial is a very dirty swear word. For me, Van de koele meren de dood has been a project with a lot of risks because of all the unknown things. I think some things worked out very well, some things didn’t, but then I’ll be the only one who feels that way. In short, I jumped all the way in, I always do, and at least I tried to do my job as well as I could. It’s been hard, but I have loved being a part of it, and I don’t regret anything.”
A Woman Like Eve and The Debut had been out of the gate masterpieces from van Brakel, but The Cool Lakes of Death is on another level altogether. It is an elegant, refined, and beautifully realized motion picture on par with the great films of the post-war era. Watching The Cool Lakes of Death, now restored nearly forty years after its release, the film towers above almost any other period film from the period. Compare it to say the Merchant-Ivory productions of the period to see just how deeply daring, distinctive and intelligent The Cool Lakes of Death is.
With The Cool Lakes Of Death, van Brakel and her talented cast and crew managed to make a unique work in the realm of modern cinema, a rarer and rare occurrence with each passing year. There are certain connections. Van Brakel’s film at times recalls Truffaut’s astonishing The Story of Adele H. (1975), another film centering on cruelty and madness that Sylvia Kristel was coincidentally also in consideration for. Then, of course, Polanski’s remarkable adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Tess (1979) also shares several stylistic and thematic themes with van Brakel’s film. Commonalities aside, The Cool Lakes of Death stands as one of the most idiosyncratic films of the eighties and one of the final great European art films of cinema’s last golden age.
The Cool Lakes of Death received much acclaim upon its release and was submitted for Best Foreign Film at The Oscars, but it did not get the worldwide release it deserved. The film would have been an ideal candidate for The Criterion Collection, which has routinely ignored Dutch cinema in a profoundly disturbing way since its inception in the late eighties. Instead, it has gone nearly wholly unseen outside of The Netherlands for decades. After all, Criterion has had Wes Anderson and Michael Bay films to add to their collection.
The Cool Lakes of Death was a challenging shoot. Budgetary problems between van Brakel and van Heijningen caused issues, and the lengthy filming schedule was unbelievably stressful. The hard work was more than worth it in the end. Algemeen Dagblad summed up the film calling it a ‘Beautiful triumph” while De Volkskrant hailed the acting and again noted how jaw-droppingly lovely the movie was. Limburgsch dagblad hailed Soutendijk’s performance and again praised the film’s remarkable visual appeal.
Cult Epics’ new Blu-ray and DVD release of The Cool Lakes of Death indeed serves that great visual appeal exceedingly well. The new 4K transfer is marvelous, and the film is presented completely uncut and restored. Extras include a vintage Polygood newsreel featuring the film’s reception at The Netherlands Film Festival. A terrific photo gallery is also included, and the trailer. A bit of Erik Van Der Wurff’s haunting score can be heard as well. The entire soundtrack from The Netherlands Harlekijn label badly deserves a re-release.
Van Brakel would reunite with both Soutendijk and her Woman Like Eve star Monique van de Ven on her next feature-length film, Een maand later (1987), and she remains amongst the most incredible living filmmakers on the planet. These new Cult Epics discs, along with the upcoming Van Brakel box-set, are landmark home video releases restoring the great works from one of cinema’s most distinctive voices. I cannot recommend them higher.
Jeremy Richey, Originally Posted -4/02/2021 at Moon in the Gutter-