“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:
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-
What in the hell was Monique van de Ven doing in Starsky and Hutch? After all, it had only been a few years since van de Ven’s Oscar-worthy work in Paul Verhoeven’s Turks Fruit (1973) and Keetje Tippel, so seeing her play opposite Antonio Fargas’ Huggy Bear in “A Body Worth Guarding.” was one of the oddest sights of the late seventies.
Van de Ven had been on a television set before, but the Dutch miniseries Sil de strandjutter (1976) was a much more serious affair than an American cop show. “A Body Worth Guarding” had not gone unnoticed back in van de Ven’s home country. In a July 1978 edition, De Telegraph noted that the episode was a waste of time for a highly talented actress and “worthless” in general. Starsky and Hutch would prove to be a most inauspicious American debut for Van de Ven, but a much more significant role awaited her back in The Netherlands as the seventies drew to a close.
Starsky and Hutch had indeed been a ‘worthless’ step in van de Ven’s noteworthy career and would prove a tragic foreshadowing of later attempts to breakthrough in the American market. Van de Ven had no way of predicting the future in 1978, but she knew scripts like “A Body Worth Guarding.” were a waste of her considerable talents. Van de Ven’s other roles in 1978 were thankfully much more exciting and included Brian Trenchard-Smith’s Australian cult oddity Stunt Rock and Ate de Jong’s Inheritance. They were fine films, but Van de Ven’s passion project was a script she had on Starsky and Hutch’s set. She would tell Algemeen Dagblad in July of 1978 that the script’s title character had already wholly taken her over and cameras hadn’t even begun rolling yet.
Van de Ven was reportedly so excited about the new project that she had turned down a major Hollywood film to make it. This would prove nearly disastrous when van de Ven discovered the film’s writer and director had second thoughts about her casting as she was concerned the 26-year-old actress was too young for the role. A panicked van de Ven refused to be denied the part and persevered, even going so far as threatening legal action, as the film’s producer had promised her the role.
The plum role Monique van de Van refused to let slip away was as Eve in Een vrouw als Eva, the groundbreaking work from the pen of the film’s director, Nouchka van Brakel. Telling the story of a lonely wife of an uncaring husband who falls in love with another woman, Een vrouw als Eva was poised to be one of the great films of the period, and van de Ven knew it.
Born in the spring of 1940 in Amsterdam, Nouchka van Brakel had been a part of the exploding new Dutch film wave that had begun to take shape throughout the sixties. A fading photograph in a September 1963 issue of Het Parool, marking Cinestud – Amsterdam International Student Film Festival, showed a young Van Brakel pictured with a number of her peers who would help revolutionize Dutch cinema, including Pim de la Para and Wim Verstappen.
Van Brakel had been around artists all of her life. Her parents were musicians who were as passionate about left-wing politics as art, and both would surround the young Van Brakel, although film and theater would spark her passion, not music. Inspired by her mother’s feminist ideals, Van Brakel became the first-ever woman accepted to Nederlandse Filmacademie, the prestigious Netherlands Film Academy. Just as crucial to her blossoming career was the group she would host at her house, the influential Dutch Feminist organization, Dolle Mina.
Formally established in 1969, Dolle Mina’s origins went back to pioneering Dutch Feminist Wilhelmina Drucker, who argued for women’s equal rights throughout the late 19th and early 20th century. A key group of Feminism’s second wave, Dolle Mina, was dedicated to equal pay, rights, and protections for women. The group’s, at times, absurdist political acts and demonstrations not surprisingly attracted much press attention as the seventies dawned.
De Volkskrant covered one of Dolle Mina’s first significant demonstrations in January of 1970 at the men’s only Nijenrode Castle. The paper noted the calamitous protest was a campaign “for equal rights for women.” Trouw would feature the event in a relatively long piece that featured quotes by Dolle Mina’s representation:
“The man is still in charge. Only on election day are a husband and wife equal. A real emancipated woman is not the rule but an exception. This ruling is for the account of the action group ‘De Dolle Mina,’ which met yesterday afternoon in the Atheneum News Centre to inform the ‘outside world’ of the motives that led to its creation a month ago and its future activities. The organization, born out of a group of ‘troubled girls,’ currently has more than 40 members and believes that women in this society are continuing for the lesser part of the man, that she is not completely, evenly matched. ‘Most girls have a worse education than the boys. After school, they become typists or waitresses or go into a store. They wait for a man to pick them out, and then they get married. And that’s where she’s waiting, the rut, which deprives her of any opportunity to develop her talents: “And when she goes to work, she pays more tax than he does. She earns less for the same job. The group advocates a change of mindset for both men and women so that ‘they become aware that women have as many and equal rights as the man.’ There will be a tough action, including “a call for a general cooking strike against oppression by men,” an action for free nurseries, and an action for public toilets for women.”
More demonstrations followed and more press coverage. Het Parool summed up the group in the headline, “Doll Mina to Fight Against A Man’s World.” The article summed up the group’s adventurous protest stylings:
“The emancipation of women will be dealt with considerably this year.Dolle Mina has had enough of petitions and pamphlets. Mad Mina’s going out on the street to demand public urination right also for women. Dutch housewives are advised to hold a cooking strike tonight. Dutchmen should now feel that the female is against oppression. She no longer wants to play the slave that’s ready for sir, who cooks for sir, who irons, sews, dishes for sir. Dolle Mina wants equality in 1970. The action group consisting of thirty housewives, young mothers, and students, assisted by ten men who share these ideas, took action yesterday. The Nijenrode training institute, which is only accessible to men, was stormed by Dolle Mina. It came to a slight collision, but eventually, a conversation was reached. Dolle then entered Mina Amsterdam to burn a corset at the statue of her patron Wilhelmina Drucker. This symbolized the elimination of oppression of women.”
As the seventies began, Van Brakel became known for her Dolle Mina role. Het vrĳe volk featured her in a piece on the Feminist group just a few days after 1970 had begun. Van Brakel had been active in the Dutch film world throughout the sixties in various capacities, and her activities with the group would inform her film work. Her directorial career began with several short narrative and documentary films. Van Brakel’s intelligence, love for cinema, and fiery left-wing politics made her one of the most fully-loaded filmmakers of the seventies. This would become especially apparent with the early seventies documentary she directed, Ouder Worden. De tĳd noted the film concerned “the division of roles imposed on boys and girls in primary school.” It was a startling documentary, and Van Brakel talked about it to the Dutch paper:
“Women are victims of a complicated indoctrination process. Whether you are born as a boy or as a girl depends on chance. But the girls have to play their role as human beings differently from the boys. The simple fact that you have become a boy or a girl immediately robs you of a piece of freedom.”
Ouder Worden garnered much attention for a short documentary and would help Van Brakel finance her first narrative feature. Finally, after more than fifteen years working in the Dutch film world, Van Brakel’s first feature, Het debuut, appeared in 1977 to great acclaim and controversy. The film would introduce audiences to one of the most exciting young actresses of the period, Marina de Graaf, and solidified Van Brakel as one of the premier filmmakers in The Netherlands.
Het Debuut became one of the most discussed Dutch films of the seventies, and it made a star out of de Graaf. The film’s success paved the way for Van Brakel’s equally ambitious follow-up, which she began scripting with the Dutch poet and fellow Dolle Mina’s figure, Judith Hertzberg. The two defiant feminists would take a concept (inspired by a real-life court case) by fellow Dutch screenwriter Carol Donck and transform it into Een vrouw als Eva (A Woman Like Eve).
While van de Ven was struggling to retain her lead role in A Woman Like Eve, Van Brakel began assembling what would turn into a most extraordinary cast. The choices included Peter Fabar as Eva’s selfish husband, Ad, and the extraordinary Renée Soutendijk in a critical supporting role. Along with the title character, Eve’s lover Liliane would be the most challenging part to cast, and the perfect actress turned out to be French, not Dutch.
Parisian Maria Schneider had just turned twenty-five when the script for A Woman Like Eve was sent to her. The embattled Schneider was having a very rough time personally and professionally by 1978. The worldwide fame attached to her landmark role in Last Tango in Paris (1973) proved too much for the young woman, and she had increasingly turned to drugs and alcohol for relief. After working with Antonioni on his masterpiece The Passenger (1975), Schneider’s choices became more militantly feminist and less commercial. Tinto Brass had just fired her from Caligula (1979) for refusing to appear nude in the film when A Woman Like Eve came her way. The role of Liliane would turn out to be amongst the finest of Maria Schneider’s career, but her emotional problems were apparent on the set and onscreen. Fresh from rehab, a briefly sober Schneider was an exposed nerve on the set of A Woman Like Eve, but her performance ultimately made her casting worthwhile.
Van Brakel recalled in 2020 that she and van de Ven had been friends, and she greatly admired the young actress. Her hesitancy in casting her only had to do with her age. She recalled arriving home from a scouting trip in Paris to find stacks and stacks of letters from fans pleading that she cast van de Ven in the role. Thankfully the two finally realized they could make it work, and Monique van de Ven’s place as the title role in A Woman Like Eve was finally situated shortly before the film went into production. While the film’s cast was the focus of much press attention, the near-all female crew was just as fascinating. For the film’s cinematography, Van Brakel and producer Matthijs van Heijningen turned to another strong female, Palestinian-born Nurith Aviv. A future filmmaker in her own right, Aviv would be just one of several strong women working on A Woman Like Eve, including another future director working as the film’s editor, Ine Schenkkan.
One of the critical names working behind A Woman Like Eve’s scenes was composer Laurens van Rooyen, who supplies the film with its remarkable soundtrack. It was one of two masterful scores van Rooyen would deliver in 1978, as his Mysteries appeared shortly after A Woman Like Eve. Van Rooyen’s gorgeous score guides the film’s emotional impact but is never intrusive or overwhelming.
A Woman Like Eve’s shooting was fraught with difficulty. Schneider was brilliant but challenging and a mess on the set. Van Brakel noted in 2020 that being “complicated and difficult” could be a positive and that it can make “someone special and exceptional.” Van Brakel found Schneider a bit impenetrable and struggled with what she saw as compromised love scenes due to the actress, noting that the scenes in Blue Is The Warmest Color were more what she had in mind.
Schneider’s problems were minute compared to the day a radical lesbian group threatened the cast and crew during filming at an outdoor festival. Angry that van de Ven was cast because she wasn’t a real-life lesbian, the group threatened Monica with violence and attempted to destroy the crew’s camera. Van Brakel and Aviv were particularly hurt and shocked by the misguided protest. Van Brakel remembered in 2020 the sight of a raging Aviv screaming at the protesters that they were making the film about and for them.
The rest of the shoot was thankfully calmer, and the film got tons of press attention, primarily thanks to the cast. Het Parool featured a full-page profile of Schneider discussing her drug abuse, emotional issues, and her recent rehab stint:
“Maria Schneider, born 26 years ago in Paris, her father is still a valued stage actor there, talks with little emotion about a period in her life that must have been very profound. In Italian boulevard magazines at that time, 1974, articles appeared that Maria had voluntarily been locked up in a psychiatric hospital with her friend. At the beginning of this year, persistent rumors that Maria had been hospitalized for narcotics in a clinic in Sweden to rest so that she could work with a complete commitment on the film A Woman like Eva, for which she has been in the Netherlands for several weeks now. The film will be made in Haarlem and the South of France. Maria stays in a large Amsterdam hotel until the beginning of September.
Now, after seven years, Maria Schneider says of the Last Tango period, ‘It was hell. I was just 19 when Bertolucci picked me out of many girls for the role. I was a model and had played some minor roles in meaningless movies. I was incredibly naïve, without any experience. Exactly what Last Tango in Paris was about only dawned on me much later. Working with Marlon Brando was great, a fine man, never difficult. In fact, for me, the big blow came after the shoot, when the film was released. The reactions were really horrendous. I was called a whore, Marlon, a child molester. Whereas the movie wasn’t about that at all. It was just a relationship between two people, like the one that flourishes almost daily in the world. I really freaked out about all those people who had an opinion of me. I just couldn’t go out on the street without being harassed.
Yesterday, director Nouchka van Brakel characterized the content of A Woman like Eva. Nouchka denied it will be a feminist film. ‘I don’t like stamps like that. It’s just a movie made by women. The only important man is Eva’s husband (Peter Faber). I even chose a woman for camera work (Nurith Ariv) because she has the same way of looking at things. Women usually look at certain situations less aggressively. Men jump on everything much more quickly. I know I’m generalizing now, and I’m not a man-hater. I’m not saying I’m sending a message with this movie; people have to see for themselves what they want to do with it.” Monique van der Ven, who takes on the role of the approximately 35-year-old mother, was quite angry during the Amsterdam Central Station meeting about the stories about the argument she would have had with Nouchka van Brakel. ‘We discussed the problems of that role very quietly. There was no argument. I feel very suitable for motherhood. It’s very good with that role.’
‘How do you know about the clinics,’ Maria asks in a soft voice when I ask about the background of all the stories published about her. ‘I hardly ever give interviews; everything in the Italian magazines about me is a lie. In Sweden I stayed with a very good friend who has a farm. It’s none of your business whether or not I’ve been in institutions, those are private matters, and I don’t talk about that. It’s just none of your business, and that’s it. I’m not going to give you an explanation of what I’m doing. The only thing I got from Last Tango in Paris is that I was offered prominent roles and could make much money. From my role in Last Tango in Paris, I have earned almost nothing. Marlon Brando. got $20,000, and I got $2,000, while I had to work harder because I was more in the movie. I never took a role for the pennies. It’s was to work with Michelangelo Antonioni. Together with him, I will make an extraordinary film in the future that I can’t tell you about yet – because nothing is fixed yet. Oh, yes, why I’m in A Woman like Eva, that was the question. A few months ago, I worked on a movie where only women participated, apart from some unimportant male technicians. The woman who did the camera work also works for Nouchka van Brakel. That’s how I got in touch with her. I’m not an outspoken feminist, but I enjoy working with women. I believe that women do many things, for example, making a movie. I liked the script Nouschka made me read. A 35-year-old woman who livesin a commune in France and begins an affair with a young girl. The story ends well. The two women decide to stay together and separate the oldest woman from her husband. Kind of a love story.
This is the 20th movie I’m doing. I started at 16, so that would be two movies a year. But sometimes I don’t work for a while. I lived in America for three years: I didn’t do anything. I could afford it. I either work hard, or I rested. That’s my way of life. I don’t have my own house or anything. I’ve lived in hotels for ten years. Well, no, that’s not boring. The advantage is that in the big hotels all rooms around the world are the same, so you don’t notice where you are at some point. If the recordings last longer than a month, I usually rent an apartment or a house near the set. Gradually I start to feel the need for a place for myself. I’ve been planning to buy a home in the countryside in central France for a while. Sometimes a person has to come to his senses. Filming is a tough job where people are not taken into account. Some people have to fight for years to get recognition, and some are just thrown out. Take Marlon Brando; that man has been successful since he was 20. What’s he got to lose? He’s only acting for 101. With Jack Nicholson, it’s very different. That’s a complicated man. He often thinks he’s not taken seriously, that they don’t appreciate him as an actor. That’s because he had to fight for recognition for twenty-five years.
In A Woman like Eva, I’m going to sing for the first time. That way you always learn something. I don’t have any movie plans after A Woman like Eva. First, I go to Japan to record an advertising video about engines, and then I plan to take a course for sound engineer. I’m intrigued by the technical side of filming. In my spare time, I still photograph sometimes. So far, I’ve always played an independent young woman’s role: A little confused sometimes. That’s another aftermath of Last Tango in Paris. I want to get rid of that, but how, that’s another question. With this role, I realize that I only build on that image.”
Press coverage continued as the film’s production wrapped. Most of the attention remained on Van Brakel and her two lead actresses, but actress/singer Marijke Merekens was also profiled in the pages of Het Parool, where she discussed the filming:
“It was a bit uncomfortable for me with the movie A Woman like Eva, which was not rehearsed. I also didn’t get the script until three days before the recordings started. Nouchka van Brakel left us every freedom to do whatever we wanted. We weren’t bound by the text either. I thoughtthat was quite a dare; I missed something because I was used to a tight director’s hand. But when I saw the movie, the result wasn’t bad for me. You can’t imagine how panicked I was when I went to watch. I didn’t feel like I was working for a moment during the filming. It was like I was a little out of it. After all, we also had a serving task: we were there for Monique van de Ven, who is strongly central to the film. I don’t mean that meanly. It’s just like that. After all, the only interesting scene in my role, a scene with Peter Faber, wasn’t shot. There is now no indication in the film of a growing contact between Peter and me. I’m sorry about that. Everything is about Eva. Nouchka van Brakel did not intend to make a lesbian or other typical “women’s film.” She is concerned with Eva’s emancipation, about the woman who separates herself from her routine existence, thereby causing herself many difficulties, but persevering, finding herself, and finally becoming free. There’s much love in A Woman like Eva. Nouchka does not do so for commercial reasons. She has great integrity. During the recordings, I constantly had a great admiration for the professionalism of Monique, Maria, and Peter.”
After well over a year of rumors and speculation, A Woman Like Eve was finally released in January 1979 to tempered acclaim. Leeuwarder courant called it an “excellently filmed story” and especially praised van de Ven’s performance. NRC Handelsblad had problems with the film, and especially Schneider, but praised van de Ven and Renée Soutendijk. Algemeen Dagblad commended the cast and called it a decidedly “unadulterated Dutch film.”
Van Brakel continued to defend and promote the film throughout 1979. Interviewed by De Volkskrant, she discussed the film and the difficulty of filming sex scenes:
“That’s why I thought about Monique for a long time before I could decide: ok, we’ll do it, the story is solid, and we need to be able to work it out together. And I have to say; I don’t regret it. I think Monique did a great job.
I see making love much more as something tender, something erotic and not so: boom, clothes off and making love • and that’s it. I had only worked with children myself at the time, so I didn’t have those problems there. For this film and The Debut, I had to do love scenes, and I have to say that I find it very difficult. I know what I don’t want, but I find it very difficult to explain – especially with a whole crew of people around it.
I expected a little more support from Maria in this film, because she knows the situation of making love to women. But yes, it turned out that the ladies both had as much trouble with it as I did. So it’s a pretty tricky situation. I tried not to do it in too much detail, but mainly to let the warmth between two women come across. Show that it is not scary, but very sweet, very warm, very tender, very close to each other. And I like that first love scene, the very first time Monique overcomes her embarrassment. I think that’s very nicely filmed, too. I find the scene on the stairs, when they first hug each other, much more poignant, also much more erotic.”
Viewed more than four decades after its release, A Woman Like Eve stands as one of the seventies’ most groundbreaking and influential films. A trailblazing and tender work, A Woman Like Eve, has much in common with another of 1979’s best, Robert Benton’s Kramer Vs. Kramer (1979). Van Brakel’s dramatic piece is one of the most critical chapters in the history of LGBTQ filmmaking. A beautifully realized, performed, directed, and written work, A Woman Like Eve is an important film. Its relatively unassuming and subdued quality makes it a truly transformative experience rare in the world of modern cinema. Van Brakel’s film is a genuine masterpiece, on par with the great films centered on family and fractured relationships. Submitted but ultimately rejected for that year’s best foreign film at The Academy Awards, A Woman Like Eve has gone unseen for years, making this new release from Cult Epics so genuinely noteworthy.
Cult Epics’ new special edition of A Woman Like Eve features the following specs:
New HD Transfer & Restoration (from original 35mm print)
Original LPCM 2.0 Mono track
New DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono track
Interview with Nouchka van Brakel by journalist Floortje Smit at Eye Filmmuseum HD 2020 (40 Mins)
Some minor print damage doesn’t distract from a terrific-looking and sounding presentation. The forty-minute chat with Van Brakel is terrifically informing, and the photo gallery is surprisingly moving. A Woman Like Eve is the first of three Van Brakel titles coming from Cult Epics, as The Debut and The Cool Lakes of Death will be released soon. More information on all three discs can be read here.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally published 04/11/2021 at Moon in the Gutter-
Interviewed by George Hickenlooper for his acclaimed Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Francis Ford Coppola still had the exhausted look of someone who never wholly recovered from shell-shock. It had been more than a decade since Apocalypse Now, but Coppola had still not been able to fully emerged fully intact from the wreckage.
“Saigon, shit. I’m still only in Saigon.”
Recalling the chaotic creation of his masterful film and, perhaps more importantly, the corrosive impact of the American studio system, Coppola shared his hope for the future of cinema:
“To me, the great hope is that now these little 8mm video recorders and stuff have come out, and some… just people who normally wouldn’t make movies are going to be making them. And you know, suddenly, one day some little fat girl in Ohio is going to be the new Mozart, you know, and make a beautiful film with her little father’s camera recorder. And for once, the so-called professionalism about movies will be destroyed, forever. And it will really become an art form.”
Cinema has always been a contradictory art form in how relatively cheap it is to consume but how traditionally cost-prohibitive it is to create. Anyone could pick up a paintbrush or put pen to paper, but moviemaking required cash and often lots of it. The expense remained a significant barrier until the mid-fifties, when technological advances made the idea of filmmaking a much more democratic one. The decades that followed brought one change after another, all of which made it easier and more affordable for aspiring directors.
By the time Apocalypse Now finally premiered in the late seventies, Coppola was one of several filmmakers excited about the possibilities that the new home video formats, such as Beta and VHS, would eventually bring. A Corman veteran, Coppola knew that a revolution was afoot, and he began to embrace the new technology while making his extremely ambitious follow-up to Apocalypse Now, One from the Heart (1981).
So what in the hell does all of this have to do with a company that put out titles like Sleepover Massacre and Hayride Slaughter? Well, nothing and everything. Unlike Coppola, most established filmmakers refused to embrace the VHS revolution of the eighties, leaving a vast creative hole that many young aspiring artists leaped into without question. One of these blossoming figures was a math teacher named Gary Whitson, a New Jersey filmmaker who took advantage of VHS’s new freedom by starting his film and mail-order company in 1987. He called it W.A.V.E. Productions.
Starting with Sisters (1988), W.A.V.E. Productions has released more than 400 titles, many of them custom-created for fans. Some of their most famous titles would sneak onto the shelves of mom and pop video shops throughout the eighties and early nineties, introducing an entire generation to the joys of no-budget shot on video entertainment. W.A.V.E. was a product of capitalism, but their films were anti-commerce in every way. Embracing the limitations of VHS, W.A.V.E.’s film’s dedication to amateurism remained a trademark of all of their productions. Whitson welcomed everything that a ‘good’ filmmaker rejects. This defiant attitude gave W.A.V.E. a positively revolutionary feel that was even more punkish than any of the other VHS-based companies of the era.
W.A.V.E.’s delightful rejection of all the ridiculous rules placed on filmmaking became their calling card. Just as important was the on-screen talent that became a staple of the companies releases. It was the era of the ‘Scream Queen,’ and actresses like Tina Krause, Pamela Sutch, Debbie D, Laura Giglio, Deanna Demko, and Clancy McCauley became underground sensations via their wild work with W.A.V.E.
Ross Snyder and William Hellfire’s fantastic new documentary Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions tells the unforgettable story of a significant underground American company. Extremely entertaining and informing, Mail Order Murder is one of the most enduring and entertaining documentaries in recent memory. Featuring new and insightful interviews with dozens of W.A.V.E.’s most essential players, Mail Order Murder is a fine film that never outstays its welcome during its 97 minutes running time. Even those with no interest, or knowledge, of W.A.V.E., will find much to love here as Mail Order Murder is more than just a documentary on a low-budget film company. It is a valentine to an all but lost period in our culture and a much more honest account of the wild west of the late eighties home video market than any of the other many VHS-obsessed films in memory.
Mail Order Murder: The Story of W.A.V.E. Productions is the first release from Saturn’s Core Audio & Video through Vinegar Syndrome, and it is a grand slam. The documentary alone warrants the highest recommendation, but this new Blu-ray also includes many vital extra features. The extras include a terrific commentary track by Hellfire and Snyder, extended interviews, a fun Debbie D. music video (this damn song will be in your head for days), and a fascinating public access appearance. Best of all the extras is an entire bonus movie, W.A.V.E.’s wonderfully entertaining and goofy Wave of Terror (1988).
Born in the Spanish capital region of Palma in the spring of 1953, Agustí Villaronga came from a family of artists who encouraged the young man to follow suit, with his father being primarily instrumental in getting Villaronga interested in film. While all aspects of the craft would fascinate Villaronga, dreams of directing powered his teenage dreams that led to a life in cinema.
Villaronga’s decades-long career in film started in the mid-seventies when he began working in various capacities across the Spanish film industry. His first short film as a director, Anta mujer (1976), showed his interest in the supernatural from the outset of his career. He would complete several more shorts before his dazzling feature-length debut, In a Glass Cage (1986) that established him as one of the most interesting Spanish directors of his generation.
The powerful Moon Child (1989) followed up In a Glass Cage, proving just as spellbinding. Both In A Glass Cage and Moon Child were unforgettably distinctive and striking works wholly removed from other similar-minded films from the period. Sadly, the years following Moon Child would prove frustrating for Villaronga, who struggled to release a follow-up. This would finally change in the mid-nineties with a startling supernatural mystery entitled 99.9 (1997).
Centering on a radio talk-show host attempting to discover what was behind the mysterious death of her lover, 99.9 stands as one of Villaronga’s most compelling works and one of the best supernatural thrillers of the nineties. Starring the brilliant Goya-winning actress María Barranco, 99.9 is a highly engrossing experience powered by great performances across the board and Villaronga’s intelligent directorial skills.
99.9 is a methodical work that bravely takes its time in a cinematic era where that was going against the grain. Wonderfully slowly paced, the film builds and builds in intensity throughout its 105 minute running time, all the way guided by Barranco’s powerful performance.
By the mid-nineties, horror films were becoming more and more quickly paced and less intelligent in equal parts, making 99.9 stand out. Much of this is due to the film’s skillful editing, realized by multiple Goya winning Pablo Blanco, who had just finished his extraordinary work on Álex de la Iglesia’s Acción mutante (1993).
The look of 99.9 is particularly vital to its success as well. Perhaps the biggest strength of the film is the photography by the legendary cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. Spanish born just after World War 2, Aguirresarobe has recently found great success with major Hollywood blockbusters like the Twilight saga and some Marvel films. Capable of highly varied work (such as Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine), Aguirresarobe lends a unique visual touch to every film he has photographed, and 99.9 is no exception. Within just a few years of 99.9’s release, Aguirresarobe would land Alejandro Amenábar’s mesmerizing ghost story, The Others (2001), which set in motion his incredible career in Hollywood these past couple of decades. It is his Spanish work on films like 99.9 that remains the purest example of his excellent skills.
Out of print for years, 99.9 has recently been re-released by Cult Epics via a terrific new 2K scan direct from the original 35mm negative, and the results are stunning. The Blu-ray/DVD combo also contains some eye-opening extras, including a vintage making-of documentary subtitled in English for the first time. Also included is a new interview with Villaronga, the isolated unreleased score from Javier Navarrete, and a trailer gallery. Cult Epics had previously released a special edition of Moon Child, making this new version of 99.9 a most welcome one indeed.
-Jeremy Richey, Originally Posted at MOON IN THE GUTTER, 10/20/21 10:47 AM-