Thursday, 30 April 2009

Cameras roll on our new movie Down Terrace

Its dark, its bleak and its very very funny - the New Wave of Kitchen Sink starts here.... Cameras have started to roll on our new movie Down Terrace - the debut feature from director Ben Wheatley, the black comedy king behind BBC3's The Wrong Door and interweb crumbling site MrandMrsWheatley. Here's some pics.....more soon...gotta get back to it!

Director Ben Wheatley and DP Laurie Rose on set

Party time with actors Rob Hill (co-writer), Julia Deakin (Sean of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), Tony Way (Extras, Blunder, Titty Bang Bang) & Bob Hill.

Mr Wheatley finds the cast. Rob Hill, Dave Schaal (The Office, Inbetweeners) and Michael Smiley (Outpost, Wrong Door)

Bad day at the office for Rob Hill

The all-seeing-eye of the RED camera

Thursday, 23 April 2009

At last - Robbe Grillet on Mondo Macabro

Over the next couple of months we'll be announcing DVD releases from two masters of EuroCult - that are maybe so far apart that they meet in the middle... First up we're extremely proud to present......

Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of France’s most celebrated cultural figures, died in February, 2008. So what? you might ask. Why should I care? Well, one reason is that we are releasing his final film – Gradiva - on DVD in August.

The second reason is that once you break through the barrier of intellectual bullshit that surrounds the man and his work, you’ll find his books and certainly his films have many things in them to enjoy for the adventurous fan of “Eurocult” films or pulp literature and erotica. While I would have been (probably rightly) castigated for saying so at the Academie Francaise, a film like Michel Lemoine’s Seven Women for Satan has more than a few things in common with some of Robbe-Grillet’s 1960’s and 70’s movies. Interestingly, if you examine the credits, you’ll see that both films share the same editor – the maverick Bob Wade. In fact, Wade worked on all of Robbe-Grillet’s films AND all of Lemoine’s… Hmmm. I leave it to braver souls than me to pursue that connection. But let’s not deny that there is one.

As most people know, Robbe-Grillet began his career as a writer. In fact, he says: " I have had three careers. When I was twenty I was an agricultural engineer, when I was thirty I was a writer and then at forty I became a filmmaker." His first contact with the cinema was through working with Alain Resnais on the film Last Year at Marienbad, a quintessential European art movie, as watchable and enigmatic now as when it was first released in 1961. The film's success gave Robbe-Grillet the green light for his first solo project, 1963's The Immortal One. Like Marienbad, this is a complex story of shifting identities, of games with time and narrative. The story, set in Istanbul, tells of a man's search for an elusive woman he has fallen in love with who suddenly seems not to have existed. While the plot has a lot to do with moody film noirs from the 1940s, such as The Phantom Lady, the tone is resolutely 1960s. The closest influence would probably be Robbe-Grillet's much admired mentor Antonioni.

Robbe-Grillet didn't enjoy working on The Immortal One. He tried to plan everything beforehand and worked from a very detailed script that the director of photography, Maurice Barry, disparagingly called "hieroglyphics". For his next film, Robbe-Grillet decided to adopt a much more freewheeling and flexible approach. The result, Trans-Europ-Express (1967), gave him his first taste of notoriety. One of the least remarked features of both Marienbad and The Immortal One was their sexual undercurrents. In Marienbad this was toned down by Resnais, but with The Immortal One Robbe-Grillet had more freedom to explore the territory. The film's star, the gorgeous Francoise Brion, performs a couple of steamy belly dancing sequences and later there's a suggestion of kinky goings on involving chains and bondage, even a hint of murder and necrophilia. In Trans-Europ-Express all of this suggestion is brought centre stage.

The protagonist of the story, Elias, is a drug smuggler who likes to engage in games of sexual violence, persuading his girlfriend to play a whore whom he then ties up and pretends to rape. This sequence caused an outcry when the film was released and led to its being banned in the UK for twenty years. Robbe-Grillet was amazed by the fuss. As far as he was concerned the whole sequence had been an exercise in irony, playing with the forms and subject matter of pulp novels and B thrillers. Perhaps to avoid the trap of too much notoriety, Robbe-Grillet toned down the sex in his next film, The Man Who Lies (1968).

Robbe-Grillet's 1960s films were black and white, playful and toyed with the audience's expectations. The films he made in the 1970s became much more explicit in their use of sexual imagery which led, for a few years, to the perception of Robbe-Grillet as a maker of sex movies. Although this amused him he insists that it's not based on fact. "I am not a maker of erotic films," he stresses. "Sex film makers are too concerned with realism, which doesn't interest me at all." Be that as it may, 1971's Eden and After, Robbe-Grillet's first colour film, is a riot of skin and softcore exposure. Much of it features the delectable Catherine Jourdan. In knee length leather boots and a mini shift that barely covers her assets, she flits through the scenery like every middle-aged man's perfect fantasy of a liberated young swinger.

Eden and After gave a boost to Robbe-Grillet's reputation as an auteur who made tastefully kinky movies for the intellectual set. Soon he was approached by the Boublil Brothers, who ran a successful chain of Paris sex cinemas. They agreed to finance his next film, Slow Slidings of Pleasure. Robbe-Grillet explains that the title comes from the formal pleasures obtained by watching the different realities of the film as they rub up against each other. Maybe. But the title is also an obvious sexual come on and the film is as remarkable for its many scenes of oddball kinkiness as for its intellectual conceits. Much of the running time consists of the kind of glossy erotic imagery for which Robbe-Grillet had become notorious. Eggs are broken over naked bodies, women are chained and strapped to wheels. In a lengthy homage to Yves Klein, the film's star, Anicee Alvina, covers her body in red paint and imprints herself against the white walls and floor of her cell. In the film's most shocking scene, Alvina and her girlfriend torture and dismember a very human looking mannequin, complete with pubic hair.
Glissements was released in 1974, right in the middle of a box office boom for French erotic cinema. The film's success meant that Robbe-Grillet was on a roll, able to go straight into production on his next film, Playing with Fire. In widescreen, glossy colour and with a cast of big names, including internationally known sex star Sylvia Kristel, it looked like his most mainstream project. It had lots of nudity, a dose of humour, plenty of kinky sex, a car chase and even a smoochy theme song (Chico Buarque's Caroline) sung to a lilting samba beat.

Playing with Fire marked the end of a phase in Robbe-Grillet's film making career. It was nine years before he would make another movie. In his previous films he had often toyed with the imagery of the fantastique film. In both Glissements and Eden and After reference is made to vampirism, through images of women with trickles of blood dripping from their lips. In La belle captive (The Beautiful Prisoner), released in 1983, he came as close as he ever did to making a straight horror film. The source material was Goethe's ballad The Bride of Corinth, itself based on one of the oldest horror stories in the world, that of a man who falls in love with a woman who turns out to be dead.

The film makes brilliant use of the raw material of the fantastique film, pulp mystery stories and erotic 1960s comics. Walter's boss, the beautiful Sara Zeitgeist, rides to her meetings dressed in black leather astride a huge motorbike. There is a sinister policeman (played by the unique Daniel Emilfork) and many strange fantasy sequences where Marie Ange dances on the beach framed by a pair of red velvet curtains. The curtains, the beach and even the title of the film are all references the paintings of Magritte, making explicit Robbe-Grillet's debt to the surrealist tradition. Representing the other side of the argument is a painting by arch realist Edouard Manet, showing a firing squad executing a blindfolded man. The film ends with a recreation of the Manet painting, with Walter as the blindfolded victim. The execution is being carried out under the orders of the angel of death - who turns out to be his boss, Sara Zeitgeist.

La Belle Captive has a definite valedictory quality to it, with its themes of death and sacrifice. However, in 1994 Robbe-Grillet returned to the fray with his biggest ever budget. The Blue Villa (Un bruit qui rend fou), was co-directed with first time film maker Dimitri de Clerq and unfortunately is something of a disappointment. The success of movies like Eden and After and Glissements lay largely in the fascination of their central female characters, incarnated by actresses who were able to hold an audience's attention and perhaps prevent Robbe-Grillet from straying too far into his beloved ironic playfulness. The Blue Villa has no such central performance. On the other hand, the complex nature of all Robbe-Grillet's films means that the real value of them only becomes apparent after several viewings. The Blue Villa is certainly worth more than a second look.

Robbe-Grillet was 73 when The Blue Villa was released and it looked likely that it would be his last film. He suffered a heart attack some years later, making a return to the rigours of film production seem even less of an option. Imagine then our surprise at Sitges a couple of years ago to see that a new film by Alain Robbe-Grillet was being screened. More surprise – and much delight – came with discovering that it was a superb return to form. Set in the exotic medina in Marrakech, peopled with the enigmatic but seductive women who figure in so much of his best work and with a great sense of humour, even at the expense of its own pretensions, this is Robbe-Grillet at the top of his game.

In many ways the film prefigures his own passing, a subject which must have been occupying much of his thought at the time. The fact that, in the shadow of death, he managed to turn out a work that deals so profoundly with death itself, and with the hellish lure of immortality, is just another testament to his rigorous artistry.

Robbe-Grillet's films are thought of as difficult and abstract because they don't deal with 'relationships', in the sense of people sitting round and talking about their problems. In fact, they deal with the more essential relationship between our 'selves' and 'reality'. To many people, Robbe-Grillet's films seem like a joke. If so, it's a joke like the one in Clovis Trouille's painting, showing a naked Jesus roaring with laughter inside the grand gothic cathedral of Amiens. In his films Robbe-Grillet is laughing at the attempts we make to construct some smooth, manageable version of reality, while ignoring all the dangerous corners that intrude.

When the films work, as does Gradiva and many sequences from his other movies, they are both an intellectual and an emotional experience.

Monday, 13 April 2009


MM's Pete Tombs headed to L'Etrange festival in France last week to present a bunch of Mondo movies - when we learnt that the guest of honour was none other than legendary film maker Jean-Louis van Belle - well..... read on!

Now in its third year, the Etrange Festival Lyon is one of the most fun events around for fans of really “out there” cinema. Run by the young and highly motivated enthusiasts from the Zone Bis team, its aims are to entertain and enlighten. Films new and old, famous and obscure are all screened there over the course of the week long festival with specially invited guests to introduce many of them. Lyon was home to the Lumiere Brothers and hence has good claim to being the birth place of cinema. It’s a friendly and picturesque city on the banks of the mighty Rhone and one of the centres of French gastronomy. Good food, good company, good films – what more could you ask for? Merci à toute l'équipe Zone Bis for making our short stay such a fun and eventful one.

The Director with the Red Teeth!

Meeting for the first time someone whose films you’ve admired is always a nerve wracking experience. What if they turn out to be a complete dick, or if they hate you? Or, worse, what if the films you loved so much are, in their eyes, mere pieces of pap churned out to earn a quick buck and their REAL masterpiece is some turgid, third rate melodrama with all the appeal of a glass of cold sick. Well, all have happened in the past. So it was with some trepidation that I travelled to Etrange Festival in the southern city of Lyon last Friday (April 3rd). They were having a Mondo Macabro Evening of two films and a documentary and I was invited to present and answer questions. Pretty good in itself, but the real excitement for me was that the guest of honor was none other than the mysterious and elusive Mr Jean-Louis van Belle, creator of the legendary 1971 film Le Sadique aux Dents Rouges (The Sadist with Red Teeth). Perhaps, if our schedules allowed, I might actually get to meet him.

I first came across the film in the pages of Barrie Patterson’s groundbreaking book The Seal of Dracula. There the film is praised for its “comic paper invention” and is flagged up as one of the few films to be influenced by Jean Rollin’s work. Naturally, with that pedigree, it was something to look out for. However, while all sorts of cinematic obscurities were unearthed during the heyday of video, Le Sadique resolutely resisted rediscovery. And naturally, that made it only more desirable. Then, one day some years back, a small package thudded through the letter box. Its contents, a humble VHS cassette (remember those?) containing the elusive Sadique.

I was almost scared to put it into the machine. Could any film live up to the expectations that this one had aroused? Fortunately, it did. In fact it exceeded them. Le Sadique turned out to be a veritable gem of European genre cinema. Packed with strange and surreal images and run through with a verve and joi de vivre that made it irresistible.

After that first film, the floodgates seemed to open and over the next few months I got to see another four works from the van Belle cannon. With each viewing my interest in him and his films increased. I began serious attempts to track him down. Many and varied were the stories that came back: he was dead; he was insane and incarcerated in a madhouse; he had never existed and his name was a pseudonym for a rich society boy who had crawled back under the cloak of respectability; perhaps worst of all, he was some sort of ageing saddo who hated and rejected these works of juvenilia and was doing his very best to destroy them forever.

So, as I stood outside the Comoedia theatre in the Saturday morning Lyonnais sunshine, I was more than a little nervous. I had no reason to be. The doors opened and out burst the human tornado that is Mr Jean-Louis van Belle. Then ensued a fun packed and lively three hour lunch where our small but eager gang received a master class in how to play an audience and grow a legend.

We were taken on an anecdote packed journey through 1960’s and 70’s European cinema. We heard about his early short films, his brief career as an actor and his work as assistant and second unit director on such films as Paris Secret and Golden Claws of the Cat Girl. These led to his directorial debut with the film Paris Interdit (Forbidden Paris) and then the series of films with the Belgian company Cinevision that included Le Sadique aux Dents Rouges, Pervertissima, and Bastos ou ma Soeur Prefer le Colt 45 (My Sister Prefers a Colt 45). He then moved on to starrier casts and bigger budgets with dramas such as À l'ombre d'un été (In the Shadow of one Summer), which featured Maurice Ronet, Josephine Chaplin and Charles Vanel. In the 80’s, as cinemas audiences declined and TV took over, Mr van Belle developed a highly successful career making promotional and industrial films for some of the nation’s top firms, travelling all around Europe in the process and making a heap of dough.

His early films, he says, were made with his “family” of collaborators in the spirit of adventure, like a gang of kids going out on a quest to have fun and discover what the world had to offer. They were part of a learning process. Now he’s back, with an exciting project utilising the very latest in 3D technology. To hear him explain this film-to-be in his inimitable, highly visual style, was to see a real story teller in action. And it made me realise that if cinema had not existed, guys like Jean Louis van Belle would have had to invent it, just to find an outlet for their crazed creativity.

Welcome back, JLVB!

Monday, 6 April 2009

The Sound of Wonder!

Just wanted to direct you to the great new compilation of Pakistani Pop that's recently been released by the UK's Finders Keepers record label - well worth picking up and featuring music along the lines of that in our movie Zibahkhana.

Here's the cover:

and click here for more info and to buy it.