Sunday, September 22, 2013

"...IN 70MM!"

In just a few words, my heart races, my eyes dilate, colors become more vivid and I frantically search for the nearest box of kleenex! Such is the pavlovian response of a film addict. Phrases such as: ’70mm’, ‘Cinerama’, ‘anamorphic’, ‘6-track stereo’, ‘Cinemascope’, ‘Panavision’, ‘’Super Panavision’, ‘’Todd-AO’, ‘Vstavision’, ‘Technirama’ and don't forget about ‘frame rate!!!’ and of course the much whispered about but still dubious ‘Sensurround!’ (actually, the Studios did try this sound process once to disastrous results:

The preceding film process phrases are the, ahem, erotic film equivalents to porn cinema as we know it (obviously, foreign art-house erotica, with a well written script, impeccable lighting and hopefully a soundtrack by Serge Gainsbourg.

 What? What kind of ‘film’ did you think I was referring to??!)

ANYWAY, bigger, more expansive, totally immersive is where a film addicts craving begins but, alas, it’s never enough. Is it? (usually this where the shaking and tremors start also.) Like any addiction, you want more (see: ‘Bigger, Louder- The Man Who Never Saw Enough’, Peel, 1985) and this is the part of story where disappointment, despair and despondency ensues a the thought of what once existed in our own state of Minnesota. I am referring to a theater that is no longer with us: ‘The Cooper Theater.’
The Cooper was located in St. Louis Park, MN. Here is a brief history of the theater:

Fortunately, it still existed when I lived in Minneapolis. I treated every occasion that I attended like a pilgrimage (except the occasion when my girlfriend at the time won tickets to the Midwest Premiere of ‘Dragnet’ (1987). I have never got that visual violation out of my head. Although, I still want to wake-up one day, wearing goat leggings, with no recollection of the previous evening. It will make sense if you watch 'Dragnet'….no, wait!) Even by the time I was able to enjoy the theater, it was neglected and in serious need of repair. Whatever the story in how it came to this ‘state’, I don’t know (Megaplex boxes anyone?!) Still, even in it’s last decade, it was the most impressive and what I imagined a movie ‘palace’ was and what it should be like. The design was impressive inside and out. 

It was specifically built to screen Cinerama movies (one of only 3 in the country at the time.) The decor was pure 60’s era modernism (see: swanky.) Alot of the ‘amenities’ that were originally built were either gone or no longer usable by the mid 80's. At one time it had it’s own private lounge, a mezzanine level (for the ‘beautiful people’), a bar!, a television room? and for the kids (and parents) a soundproof nursery. This was in the early 60’s and it still cost $1million dollars to build. Just for a minute think about this amazing building; the entire complex was built because of one screen…ONE screen! Incredible. A bygone era indeed….sigh. The Cooper hosted the local premiere of the movie ‘Airport’ (1970) and at the time, the property around the theater had not been filled by urban sprawl, so they actually had an area where you could fly, land and park your private small airplane next to the theater! 

The original couches, chairs still were present in the immense lobby in the 80's (where you could smoke your clove cigarettes; like a real pretentious film snob) but the refreshment bar had been winnowed down to just a fraction of what it once was (they eventually split/expanded the theater into three theaters. It was the beginning of the end.) The original, main screen was 35 feet high and 105 feet wide.  

The screen was curved to accommodate Cinerama and mainstream film presentations. Whereas IMAX is one big monstrosity ‘box’ , The Cooper in contrast, when showing the biggest’ 70mm movie presentations on it's curved screen, made you feel much more immersed in the film, as if you were an actual on set 'participant' to the action on screen. It was by a far a more satisfying film experience. Towards the end of it’s run, someone had the foresight to start running re-issued, re-mastered 70mm films. I still look back on that time and marvel at how fortunate I was to be able to see movies such as: ‘Ben Hur’ (1959), ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ (1962), ( I know opinions vary on David Lean’s film but seeing it in a venue such as this reminds you of what a ‘big’ event a film like this could be. You are really ‘drawn into’ the environment and it showcased the vision of the filmmaker. note: this was the completely frame by frame refurbished version with 'lost scenes' that at one time were presumed lost forever.) ‘Ice Station Zebra’ (1968), ‘Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World’ (1963) and one of THE best movie experiences for me up until that time, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (1968) Nothing more needs to be said about that!

Then it was gone.

That is what is so disappointing. It was as close to a perfect venue to watch a film or how a film presentation was meant to be. Sublime does not begin to describe the experience. What the Cooper represented was the focus on viewing experience, the film as a real art event instead of how much $$$ can we squeeze out of the customer nowadays. (see: ‘Wretched Masses’, Brown, 1964.)  A theater like this had the power to ‘transform’ your opinion of certain films; even films that you may have dismissed initially. 
If you still are a bit skeptical, listen to my good friend Douglas Trumball on 70mm:

Here is an excellent and simple article on the basics of 70mm:

This site was partially updated recently because of articles like this imploring people to see the recent P.T. Anderson film ‘The Master’ (2012) in the 70mm presentation:

The following video is in Dutch but it is worthwhile to watch and you will have no problem following along (I included the English translation below the video also.)

Owner of the cinema:
 Am I on now? Welcome to the cinema in Aalborg and in the moment we´re showing P. T. Anderson´s [sic] film "The Master". Not only do we show it, we also showing it in the original 70mm version. And we´re extremely proud and happy about that. We can now only hope that the audience will come and see it in the real 70mm format.

Girl with yellow shirt:
I´m going to see "The Master" because it seems like a really interesting story. I don´t know what it´s about from viewing the trailers. And also because it´ll be show in 70mm and it will only do that here and at another place in Copenhagen and the screen should be perfect, because it´s a curved screen. And the director had a vision with this format, that it had a significance, so I´m really excited to see what effect it will have on the story and the whole experience.

Woman in cinema:
It´s truly a great visual story. I´s a flat image but the image is sculptural. the opening scene itself, with the helmet. it looks like silver but it´s completely sculptural, as if you dragged into the image. I think that´s amazing. also the sand sculpture. it should be hard to see it, you know it´s a woman but even the nipples are completely in detail. I think it´s the image quality that makes it so amazing.

Man in cinema: 
It´s an amazing film, an amazing story. there is some footage of water and I´m completely certain that it´s only on 70mm you can capture the waves like that, made by the ship. then there´s some CUs of the faces and it´s really amazing. also because of the great performances. They are all great. It´s not a movie where you think "Ah, there was that actor who was embarrassing". They are all great. So, it´s all pretty perfect.

Fortunately, there are still outstanding theaters around the country where you can have the same experiences (and get rid of the ‘jonesing’!) Here is an updated listing of US States that have had or still have theaters that show 70mm presentations:

Here is another link to current 70mm films being shown around the country (this is also the best site for anything, everything 70mm you would ever need or want to know):

If you have the chance to go to one of these theaters, you will not be disappointed. I can think of alot of worse reasons to take a road trip but this is not one of them (well, a road trip for any reason is good enough) but here you have '70' reasons!

Like I mentioned before, there is something physically and emotionally ‘exciting’ when hearing the terms that are associated with the above films. If film terms can be viewed as ‘erotic’ in nature, the Cooper was the porn palace. It was that good.

~Scooter Polanski

Sunday, August 11, 2013


A friend once told me that “everyone needs at least one ‘Women in Prison’ (WIP) movie in their collection.” Did I also mention this friend is very wise?! For me the revolution (which i think starts right before the zombie apocalypze) begins when I am absolutely forced to choose ‘Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS.’

(Ok, ok, maybe it’s maybe half WIP film and half Nazisploitation genre, a niche that started with ‘Love Camp 7’

but it’s close enough and I really don’t want to spend anymore blog space on Nazis! It is a prison camp, with prisoners that conquer the warden, and they do escape, so close enough! Plus, there is plenty of blog space later for a proper 'examination' of more Women in Prison films…mmmmmm… many!)

Of course, after the ‘somber’ opening title card (it couldn’t be disingenuous? could it?!) We immediately go to a sex scene (well, this is a prisoner of war camp after all, so what were you expecting?) 
Once a prisoner has slept with me, he’ll never sleep with another woman again!” - Wow, how many times I have heard that?! Coitus leads to castration in this camp. Of course, this graphic scene leads into what this genre is all about: A sick mix of torture, soft-porn, violence and a lot of naked women. This was apparently a quite successful financial mix in the decade of the 70’s. For 1974 this was a truly sick film. Of course now, it is considered a truly sick cult film! (quite a significant distinction!) There is not much of a story except the torture (ahem, medical experiments) in various ways of the naked female prisoners. Ilsa employs devices such as a Nazi approved torture dildo, exploding diaphragms, boiling a prisoner alive (these are “important experiments for the fatherland.”), whippings (with topless guards of course!)and various surgical techniques. Of course, being on the cutting edge of medicine, Ilsa likes to use maggots to ‘cleanse the wounds.’

One of the most inspired set pieces involves a naked girl standing on a block of ice and a noose, slowly played out in the midst of a sumptuous dinner attended by the fuhrer’s finest. Of course after dinner, our visiting General has Ilsa pee on him. Reason #57 why you should see this movie. (but again, these are Nazi’s and it is a serious prisoner of war camp movie. I am sure scenes like this will guarantee that 'atrocities', as mentioned in the beginning of the movie, will never occur again!)

Another aspect that this film exploits endlessly, are the compelling colors of the Nazi regime in every scene (either with large banners or well designed uniforms!)

but also with the photos of Hitler, Himmler, etc. in the background of every scene. (or maybe they had to keep reminding us that these are Nazi’s! Really bad people! Which is a good thing because I would hate to be in a theater and halfway through, someone sitting in front of me would whisper to her friend and say: “which ones are the Nazi’s?” I really need to know who the bad guys are! ---(this actually happened during a movie to my good friend Shelley.The only message that anyone should be taking away from this film is simple: Nazi's are bad, naked women are good! Even better if they are topless wielding a cat o' nine tails!

Ilsa’s downfall begins and ends with the one prisoner she decides not to castrate. Since he is the only one that can ’satisfy’ her, she keeps him around. Bad move, as Ilsa should have kept with the castration policy. He uses this time to organize the rest of the prisoners for an uprising and escape. After an underwhelming gun battle with about 5 nazi guards, (although I do have to mention one scene: a female prisoner sneaks up on a Nazi guard and slits his throat. He falls to the ground and the camera lingers on his ‘pulsing’ jugular with a really realistic bleeding out--listening to the commentary on the Anchor Bay DVD, this effect was done by Joe Blasco who did some great make-up effect work for this movie and went on to open some very successful makeup studios around the country. He also did the make-up for ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ & ‘The Lawrence Welk show!”) The SS arrive in two vehicles (that probably blew half the production budget) and proceed to destroy and burn the camp down...yes, sadly, the EXACT set where ‘Hogan’s Heroes’ had been filmed.

Funny, I don’t remember this episode of Hogan’s Hero’s?”

In less than a decade David F. Friedman (with Herschell Gordon Lewis in the 60’s) produced ‘Blood Feast’, which by his admission was purposely camp, and the brutal ‘Ilsa’ series. Watching them back to back it’s shocking to see how the ‘tone’ of the gore presented had changed. This movie was shot in 9 days. Obviously, just like ‘Blood Feast’, this film was just made to make a quick buck. Also like that film, the question is why have they endured when so many were shocked, appalled, sickened, and after being dismissed by critics because of the content?

Notice the producer's name at the beginning of the film.  No Herman Traeger exists, or at least no Herman Traeger was connected to that Ilsa film. Herman Traeger was a nom de plume for David Friedman.  Now, did David Friedman really regret making this film? I guess its all relative because He did make money on it. In interviews He says that He was so upset with the Canadian distributors that He took his name off the credits but at the time he really wanted to distance himself from this film and the content; which if you know Mr. Friedman’s film producing history is saying something. (Times and financial situations change and apparently that’s why Mr. Friedman appears on the DVD commentary.  You don’t ’distance’ yourself too far when $$$ can be made!)

Without the presence of Dyanne Thorne, this film series never would have spanned three (two official) more films in this series. It would have been forgotten and included with all the rest of the forgettable Nazisploitation films.  The legacy of this film, for me (whether you appreciate it or loathe it) is Ms.Thorne’s powerful portrayal of Ilsa.  I can’t picture another actress that fit a role so perfectly. She influenced, I think, alot of WIP films that might have never been made without this film.  I mean, can you imagine NOT being able to see these movies?!

It really created the 'new' template of what to expect from a WIP movie: sadistic warden, cruel guards, various abuses, whippings, lots of naked women (preferably lesbian)/catfights (even better, if the catfight is in the shower)

Basically they created everything you look for and require in this sort of genre film and this is the reason they are such a guilty pleasure. Beyond that, Danning's character was the archetype of what a strong, ruthless prison warden could and should be. In fact, here Sybil Danning pulls it off perfectly!

I would be remiss not to mention one of the actors in this film, George 'Buck' Flowers. He has shown up in a lot of my favorites over the years: most John Carpenter films, a lot of Something Weird Movies- just a very likable character actor that (as always) never gets enough credit for the 'texture' that they bring to a production.

Once you have seen this character actor you will probably be able to recall him being in some movie you have seen.  Also, keep your eyes open for a brief appearance by Ushi Digart!

When you have recovered from the onslaught of the Uber-Frau-Aufseher aus der Hölle, be sure to check out the Ilsa movies that followed:

'Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks'-all you need to know about this film is that includes more castrations, exploding penis-machines and lesbian wrestling!

The third (but unofficial Ilsa) movie is 'Ilsa, the Wicked Warden.' This is not an 'Ilsa' movie. Directed by Jess Franco, it was one of four WIP movies he made, and it was only given an Ilsa title because of the the popularity of the Ilsa series. It was also called 'Greta the Mad Butcher' or 'Ilsa, Absolute Power'. Regardless, it does feature Dyanne Thorne plus everything you come to expect: nudity, violence, lesbians, acid injections, and snuff movies. Curiously this movie was released and packaged together by Anchor Bay with the first two including commentary and similar artwork.

The final Ilsa chapter is 'Ilsa, Tigress of Siberia'. AKA 'The Tigress' This time she is in charge of a Siberian Gulag but flees to Montreal to run a brothel. Unfortunately there is not an official US release of this film. You can find a VHS copy every now and then but this is usually the 'cut' version which does not include the awesome arm wrestling/chainsaw scene…. wait….

There actually was advertised in 'Variety' another Ilsa movie in pre-production 'Ilsa meets Bruce Lee in the Bermuda Triangle'---oh man, what could have been!

This is a good time to answer the above question of why films like this have endured. I don't know but I am glad that I saw it when I did and that I had friends that were looking for the same strange, weird movies as I was. I don't think anyone sets out to make a 'cult' movie.  For whatever reason, be it timing, circumstance, serendipity, whatever, a movie like this stands above the dreck that preceded  and followed it because it captures something that repels yet attracts and speaks to 'something' that is 'different'. Just slightly askew enough that it falls into a 'weirdness aka cool zone'. In other words, just what I have been looking for! It would definitely be on a list of 'name dropping films'. The simple answer? Awesome!

If you are a fan of exploitation and grindhouse type films. This movie cannot be more highly recommended.

~Scooter Polanksi


Ages ago I wrote a long blog post about the legendary unreleased film The Day The Clown Cried.

Jerry Lewis starred and directed in this film, which will never see the light of day for many reasons.  One, they just ran out of money, and two, it's stunningly WRONG.  The Day The Clown Cried is about a clown that entertains jewish children as they are led to the trains heading to Auschwitz.


Only a handful of people have ever seen the existing film, one of whom was Harry Shearer.  Shearer basically confirmed every film geek's wildest dreams when he said: 

"With most of these kinds of things, you find that the anticipation, or the concept, is better than the thing itself. But seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presence of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. 'Oh My God!' – that's all you can say."

Lewis owns all the right to the movie, and he will never release it.  For years he would get enraged if people would even bring it up, refusing to discuss the topic.  Recently, however, he was asked about it at a press conference, and he actually commented.  "No one will ever see it because I'm embarassed by the poor work.  It was bad." was his reply.

So here we sit, 40 odd years later, still having never seen the film.  Today on Aint It Cool News, however, they have posted a youtube clip that has honest to god actual footage from the film, including behind the scenes clips (and as a bonus, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin visiting the set).  This may be as close as we ever get to the film, so take it all in, kids.  Maybe some day we'll get to revel in the wrongness that is The Day The Clown Cried.


Sunday, June 23, 2013


Shockingly, there once existed a world where the ability to see any movie at any time was not at the touch of your finger. Yes, even before the VHS vs. Betamax intergalactic war. You may ask: "How did you even survive?”, “Did you just stare into nothingness?” and “Was there a good pants salesman nearby?” Well, for those times when we weren’t able to watch a movie on one of the three available channels and we didn’t have money for a matinee movie, we read books (no, not books on the history of slacks) but books on movies. Each successive trip to the Blue Earth County Library, I would always check to see if some new book on movies, Hollywood or one of my favorite actors would be available, and if not, I would just check-out (for the nth time) one of the huge coffee table books on, for example the history of United Artists or MGM. At the time, I was just fascinated with motion pictures and never really gave thought about ‘who, why or what’ were specifically and creatively behind the making or storytelling of these movies.

Within the last 30-40 years there has been an amazing output of books specifically focusing on a certain genre, film, director, writer or a particular behind the scene artist that were involved with film(s). For a film geek it’s wonderful to be able to delve into the back story, creative impulse or philosophies that went into making one of your favorite films, even if its a personal critical essay. It’s the ‘devil (god) in the details’ that is so delicious about these thorough works.

One of my favorite ongoing series of books is the ‘BFI Classic Film’ collection:

They describe there series as thus:

BFI Film Classics is a series of finely written, illustrated books that introduce, interpret and celebrate landmark films of world cinema. Each volume offers an argument for the film’s ‘classic’ status, together with a discussion of its production and reception history, its place within a genre or national cinema, an account of it’s technical and aesthetic importance, and in many cases, the author’s personal response to the film. The BFI Film Classics series now includes titles previously published separately in the BFI Film Classics and the BFI Modern Classics Series.

This series - which has two categories: ‘Classic’ and ‘Modern’ - appeals to me not only for the vastly different perspectives and wildly varied interpretations that the authors have, but mostly for the hardcore and thorough attention to detail. It is similar to the work that Criterion does with their films, only in book form. They are fun to collect and savor for their unabashed geekiness to the format. Coincidentally, some of the same people that have worked on the Criterion editions of DVD’s have worked on some of the BFI books, including: Geoff Andrew for Three Colors, Gary Indiana for Salò, Anton Kaes for M, Simon Callow for Night of the Hunter, James Naremore for Sweet Smell of Success and Michael Wood for Belle de Jour.

While some film studies books can be dry in their analysis of the subject, the BFI series is wildly diverse in presentation, ranging from the shot by shot analysis in Vampyr, which is helpful in understanding how Dreyer's complex image technique works, to Jaws with its stream of consciousness scene by scene examination.
As an example, there is this passage from Jaws:  The scene in the schoolroom where the citizens trying to decide how to handle the shark problem, and we cut to the back of the room showing a school chalk board and Quint (Robert Shaw) sitting in front of it.

Here is how BFI author Antonia Quirke in one paragraph describes the scene:

At the back of the schoolroom sits a man with a mouth full of biscuit. ‘You all know me, how I make a living’ he says. They do. Although they look at him as though he were a thing of legend. A creature of tar. Shaw elides his words with the occasional chew and makes the islanders an offer. He knows the skin and fat of this town, a place on which nature has always played a spendthrift game. Watch how Shaw sits and addresses his audience, his legs crossed, his hands very relaxed upon the absolute geography of his body..... Watch how he leaves the room with a stare that steals the glitter from the light through the window, and a smile so remote, so courteous. He’s a worker in a schoolroom by a blackboard on which he has drawn a shark with its jaws around a stick man. He is the reality instructor.”

Beside the joy of reading another ‘perspective’ on a movie, I really dig the creative attention to the front covers of these books. Some examples that are noteworthy:

I found this excellent BFI Book Collector blog that covers each release for both the ‘classic’ and ‘modern’ releases:  

It’s a great, up to date info site on upcoming releases, out of print releases and where to find individual books to complete your collection plus variant cover comparisons of 1st, 2nd and each succeeding edition.  The initial editions primarily used familiar ‘screenshots’ for the covers. In the last few years, they have been updating versions with more art inspired covers as seen here with the 1st and 2nd edition of ‘Vertigo’, ‘Wizard of OZ’ and ‘Vampyr’:

 I would show you the three different ‘Exorcist’ covers but I am just too scared! You will have to search them out yourself.

Here is the latest downloadable BFI catalog.  Check out that sweet cover!

Here is the ‘complete list of titles’ (periodically updated), including upcoming releases:

Bottom line:  These books are just cool.

Personally, I enjoy reading the specific BFI book right after watching its companion movie. I have read that others like to consult the book while they are watching the movie. Obviously there are numerous ways to enhance and enrich the viewing experience of movies we all love.  The best part is to be able to better share (geek out!) with our friends about them. BFI books are a great start.

~Scooter Polanski