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Black Magic Rites: Reincarnations directed by Renato Polselli (1973)
This is a a time slip move mostly set in the 1970s but every now and then (and for no apparent reason ) it takes its reincarnated characters back to the 'secret orgies of the fourteenth century" (the latter part of the US and Italian title) that they'd attended in different lives 500 years previously. Don't get too excited, the 'orgies' consist of Isabella being dragged naked from the bed she shares with Count Dracula. At least in the film's 1970s setting we get to witness an ongoing three in a bed romp between two attractive actresses and a really ugly man (who as far as I could make out was poking a virgin to save her from vampires, and nailing a nymphomaniac because she is a "slut"). So rest easy, there is plenty of T&A in this Eurosleaze mind bender. Oh, and there are also some male Satanists in red body suits tearing the hearts out of manacled virgins so that Isabella who was burnt as a witch in the fourteenth century can fully manifest herself as Laureen in the twentieth century (both parts are played by Rita Calderoni). The plot is inconsequential, the trippy visuals are what actually count, and there's some wonderful lighting, a handful of very cheap sets, and unbelievably crude editing - which works well when cut to the beat of a tasty acid folk tune, but gets annoying as the score becomes more orchestral. We fast cut back and forth between shots and some quick zooms are thrown in with it for good measure... But there is plenty of psychedelic nudity to make up for this jarring editing, and also the indifferent low comedy scenes which for some reason reminded me of "Frankenstein's Castle of Freaks". Watch this and you'll believe Lucio Fulci is Ingmar Bergman; talking of which, there is a nice sequence where a woman (or a vampire, it isn't clear which) is buried alive in a coffin, waking up as the earth is being shovelled on the lid, against which she hammers her fists as she screams - this seems to have inspired the similar sequence with Catriona MacColl in Fulci's "City of the Living Dead" from 1980, and although the re-staging is superior, Polselli still makes good use of the device. Another trick that may or may not have originated with Polselli is turning shots of beautiful women on their side and even upside down which is done very nicely as blades attached to a moving cage door menace a naked Laureen (a low budget substitute for trick photography inside an 'iron maiden'). Fernando di Leo uses similar film flipping techniques to even greater effect in those scenes from his 1970s gangster movies featuring female dancers, and it is hard to say who is taking form who here... So there is plenty to enjoy in this flick, and despite the fact it would have benefited from a bit of trimming, "Black Magic Rites" (AKA "The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula" and "The Reincarnation of Isabel") is worth watching simply because your draw will drop to the floor when you realise just how uninterested Polselli is in plot, characterisation or even decent acting (it is the look of his starlets, and the size of their knockers, that is of prime importance). By the time I finished watching this I thought I was tripping, and you'll find ti hard to believe the director wasn't on acid when he made it.... "Black Magic Rites" is classic Eurosleaze that somehow manages to make Jess Franco look like Godard...

Wild Zero directed by Tetsuro Takeuchi (2000)
Yeah this is what the world needs, a rock and roll zombie movie staring a Japanese garage band obsessed by American rock and roll. Director Takeuchi is a pop video maker and this is his first feature; in odd places he tries to show he can do something other than pop moves, which is when this film starts to slow down, and cutting this filler (amounting to about ten minutes) would have made an even better flick. That said, if you dig trash then you gotta love "Wild Zero". Aliens have come down to earth and turn a town full of people into zombies, and only Japanese garage band Guitar Wolf can save the world! There's a load of complications to do with arms dealers and Guitar Wolf's biggest fan Ace falling in love and then discovering the girl of his dreams is a transsexual. Guitar Wolf put him straight on this score: "Rock and roll has no borders, nationalities, or genders!" Touchingly true love wins thru in the end! Ah! But don't forget the important message this film is putting across, if you can't dig a chick with a dick then you're a bigot. The other important "message" is contained both in the music and the repeated screaming of the phrase "Rock and rolllllllllllllllll!!!!!!!!!!" At the start of the flick Guitar Wolf are seen in a stand off with a club manager (who is wearing an unbelievably tight pair of shorts, a tennis jumper and has a perm), holding guns to each other's heads: this works brilliantly as total post-modern overkill precisely because it's a scene influenced by Japanese director Seijun Suzuki's sixties gangster movies like "Branded To Kill" but run thru Quentin Tarantino's steals from Suzuki. As things move along and the band have to fight zombies and then aliens, the action is proceeded by Guitar Wolf (the name of the guitarist as well as the group, the other two are Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf) hitting the most important D chord in the history of rock 'n' roll, the opening to Link Wray's "Rumble". There's some good music along the way too, Guitar Wolf rockin' live and plenty of instantly recognisable American punk and post-punk on the soundtrack. We also get to meet my kind of woman, an Amazonian arms dealer with incredibly long legs who successfully sees off the zombies when they attack her in the shower.... Yeah, and it all concludes with Guitar Wolf pulling a Samurai sword out of the neck of his rock and roll "axe" and using it to destroy the UFO leading the alien attempt to conquer the world. If you don't like this, then you don't like rock and roll, and you might as well crawl off to die with your U2 CDs. Me? I think I'll sit down and re-watch "Vampire Killer Barbys"....

Hustler Squad directed by Cesar Gallardo (1976)
Well here's a good way to waste an hour and a half, an exploitation film with minimal plot, minimal characterisation and minimal nudity. It even takes thirteen minutes before we get to see a (fully clothed) woman; viewers suffer a badly staged beach invasion and a load of military talking heads before that. "Hustler Squad" is supposedly set in World War II, partly in the Philippines and partly in Australia, but it is glaringly obvious that even the Oz sequences were lensed in the Philippines in the 1970s. Since this is a no budget affair, the actual 'hustler squad' of the title consists of four - yes count 'em, four - "chicks"! Anyway, the girls are recruited by Major Stony Stonewall (no I didn't make that up, this is the actual name of the character) to infiltrate a brothel and knock off a bunch of top Japanese military brass. One of the girls is a nymphomaniac convict serving a life sentence for murdering a love rival; a second is a prostitute on the run from the mob; the third is a Philippino who was gang raped by Japanese soldiers and so wants revenge; the last is a terminally ill Swedish nurse. These ladies are thrown together and trained up as soldiers to the surreal accompaniment of big band music. It takes an hour and twenty minutes to get to the brothel killings and the real climax of the film, a couple of the actresses getting their tits out. The prostitute and the murderess actually get naked (well topless anyway): the prostitute wraps her legs around her trick's head and crushes him to death; the murderess electrocutes her john while he is taking a post-coital rub-dub in the tub (after a two coughs and its over shag that leaves his killer feeling cheated). The rape victim impales her target with his Samurai sword, then goes completely nutzoid and proceeds to stab and decapitate Japanese soldiers pretty much at random until she is mown down in a hail of bullets. The Swedish nurse can't bring herself to kill, which is possibly why she is the only one of the girls still alive at the end of this piece of celluloid schlock. Fortunately the man the terminally ill nurse was supposed to off is shot dead by the leader of the Philippino resistance. The basic premise of the film is great, and the paucity of sex and nudity makes it an anti-schlock classic. Watch "Hustler Squad" and weep!

Barbarian Queen directed by Hector Olivera (1985)
This starts with a rape before the credits - which is mainly an excuse to rip off an actress's top and expose her tits. Marauding Romans proceed to ruin Barbarian Queen Anethea's wedding day by attacking her village and after a few more rapes and some murders, nearly everyone else is captured and sent off to slavery. Fortunately Anethea (Lana Clarkson) and a couple of other women escape. They decide to head on down to the nearest Roman city to exact revenge for the disruption of Anethea's nuptials and the enslavement of her husband. Along the way there are far too many lame sword fighting scenes. Director Hector Olivera was a serious Argentinean film-maker who'd been enticed into concocting schlock by the lure of producer Roger Corman's yankee dollar; and yes, this movie was 'shot in south American where life is cheap' (to use the tag line from the film "Snuff"). Lana steals the show, partly because she is far fitter than the other actresses (she is 6ft tall so she towers over them), and partly because her eighties haircut is very slightly better than the abominations sported by her co-stars. Despite "Barbarian Queen" being mercifully short at 71 minutes, my attention began to wander pretty early on because the cast can't act and the 'action' scenes are so poorly choreographed, however once Lana and her friends are captured by the Romans we are rewarded with some orgy and torture scenes (and these are the only reason for watching this flick). The highlight of "Barbarian Queen" is Lana's all too brief tenure in a Roman torture chamber, where she's stretched out on a rack so that her lithe and very tall frame is displayed to stunning effect... call me perverse but I also kinda got off on the fact that her skin looks pretty rough and you can see spots under her make-up; but then its not Lana's face that I really go for, it's that fabulous scream queen body with those impossibly long legs. Of course, the torture is unconvincing but who cares when you can look at Lana fully stretched out with her legs spread... Eventually the extremely ugly man interrogating Lana in the hope of finding out where the other rebels are hiding, decides to rape her. Sexually assaulting the Barbarian Queen is a fatal mistake on the part of this torturer, because after he penetrates Lana he discovers that her cunt muscles are so well toned she can hold his prick in an agonisingly painful grip. He begs her to let go, Lana agrees to do this if he unties her, which he does and she then shoves him into a bath of acid... rock and roll! After this there isn't really any reason to watch the rest of the film, but for those who need to know, Lana succeeds in defeating the Romans and freeing her people. Barbarian Queen is fun but is most definitely something to watch with your finger on the fast forward button, since aside from the orgies there isn't a scene without Lana which is worth watching.

The Raspberry Reich directed by Bruce La Bruce (2004)
This was marketed as a gay porn movie, and while I laughed my cock off watching it, I didn't find the censored UK version in the least bit erotic (and I kinda doubt I'd have found the uncensored hardcore version a turn-on either...). The story concerns an attempt by some immature young men to revive the Red Army Faction (aka The Baader-Meinhof Gang and RAF) in contemporary Berlin; and they are drawn into this project by a woman calling herself Gudrun Ensslin (played by professional actress Susanne Sachsse),. Gudrun Ensslin in the film isn't the original member of the RAF who went by that name, but someone co-opting her identity, a wannabe who shouts political slogans while having sex and forces her boyfriend to fuck other men. The male leads are amateurs who were chosen for their looks rather than their thespian talents, and their voices are dubbed by professional actors, which creates a fine alienation effect (especially if you happen to know - as I do - one or more of those involved in the dubbing). The would-be terror gang kidnap the son of a banker, but it turns out that the banker has disowned his son for coming out as gay, and so they are unable to secure a ransom. The Leninist cell proceeds to disintegrate amid a welter of sex and political opportunism; the kidnapped boy and his Bolshevik gang-banging lover end up killing a cop; the others are reduced to embracing a deracinated gay club culture where terrorist chic is just another commodity sold to alienated consumers, except that is for Gudrun, who at the conclusion of the film is shown pushing her small baby around in a pram and indoctrinating it with Leninist cant.

Obviously terrorism is a sure sign of desperation and often results in the revolution being derailed since such activity is necessarily vanguardist; that is to say it is based on the assumption that consciousness must be brought in from outside the class. La Bruce doesn't labour this rather obvious point and instead concentrates on educational laughs, as sex and reductionist sloganeering (often simultaneously spoken and running across the screen as text) are used to good effect. The following formulations are indicative of the rhetoric found throughout the film: "The Revolution is My Boyfriend", "Join The Homosexual Intifada", "Put Your Marxism Where Your Mouth Is", and "Heterosexuality Is The Opiate Of The Masses". The combination of this cartoon political sloganeering and what I take to be deliberately unerotic sex is both very funny (it is difficult to attain or sustain an erection when you are laughing), and simultaneously reminiscent of the fiction I was writing twenty years ago (and it is fabulous to see something so closely related my political fiction realised on screen). I suspect the UK version of "Raspberry Reich" is superior to the hardcore version available in the US, because where the British censor wanted cuts, photos of Blair and Bush have been inserted over the hardcore sex (which remains partly visible). La Bruce understands that sexual liberation is an integral part of the revolutionary process, and it is therefore a mistake to categorise "Raspberry Reich" as 'political commentary disguised as gay porn, or gay porn disguised as political commentary', and if we have to categorise it then I'd go for a trash cum art movie (and incidentally, the sets are great and bring to mind the cinematic work of both Andy Warhol and John Waters).

"Raspberry Reich" has been subject to banning orders in Europe because of its unauthorised use of Alberto Korda's iconic photographic portrait of Ché Guevara. Korda's estate won a case against the film in Paris in October 2005.. Bruce La Bruce initially responded to the case by saying in a blog on his website: "Okay, let me tell you a bit about my trip to Argentina several months back. I gave an unprepared introduction to the movie... and then watched the first half of the movie to gauge the response of the audience. It only occurred to me then how the blown up image of Ché Guevera I used in a porno context, with a guy jerking off on it, would play differently in a place like Argentina. The masturbation with the Ché backdrop might seem to be somewhat more of a desecration here, but apparently the audience got the point – that the famous image of Ché is already being jerked off on all over the world, worshipped like a golden calf, its original political significance long since depleted, squandered. The audience was behind the movie – only a few older folks, resigned to their social and sexual misery, took umbrage and turned tail. Of course with the lawsuit pending, watching the movie takes on a whole new significance for me. Aside from my usual odd detachment, it now seems as though it's been legitimized in some crazy way, that its significance has finally been grasped, if only in a negative context. It's hard to sift through the layers of irony – the fact that it takes a million dollar lawsuit for me to feel validated as an artist for making an anti-capitalist movie; the fact that the estate of Korda, the photographer of the famous Ché Guevera image, has sued me for making a work of art that critiques modern culture for violating the original spirit of the photograph; the fact that a quasi-impoverished film-maker who actually is anti-capitalist is being accused of the capitalist exploitation of an image that has already become, itself, a symbol of inappropriate capitalist excess and distortion." There are a lot of issues raised by both "Raspberry Reich" and the copyright infringement case against it. Obviously cultural workers from outside the overdeveloped world like Korda are constantly being exploited and ripped off by the super-privileged, but at the same time Bruce La Bruce is an inappropriate target both symbolically and financially for someone wanting to set about rectifying this state of affairs ....He was unfortunately an easy target for lawyers doing what lawyers do best (making money for themselves). Yeah, it ain't always easy being a radical gay film-maker and having to live out the contradictions of capitalism, but it's even harder for photographers from outside the overdeveloped world to live out the same contradictions... And BTW, I apparently have more issues with Ché Guevara's politics than Bruce La Bruce, but that's a subject I'll address some other time...

Cannibal Hookers directed by Donald Farmer (1987)
Now here's a scummy little movie shot on video and to which a term like 'no budget' just doesn't do justice. Indeed, this makes Fred Olsen Ray's "Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers" look like "Citizen Kane" in comparison. Still you've got to admire Farmer and his crew for carrying on despite the appalling picture quality; I watched this on a DVD and it looked like one of those dodgy over played rental videos from way back when. The thrill of splattering innumerable semi-naked amateur actresses with fake blood and having them throw butcher's offal around no doubt kept Farmer at it. The girls who range from fresh faced to extremely rough looking, use every possible opportunity to parade around in what twenty years ago might have been passed off as sexy underwear. There is plenty of T&A but no genitals, so the guys often make love (and are then tortured to death) with their trousers on. "Cannibal Hookers" is so sleazy it is kinda fun, and I especially liked the completely nonsensical time lapses and plot repetitions, with material out of sequence and also needlessly repeated (presumably to bump up the running time to 67 minutes - and incidentally the titles are also dragged out needlessly to assist on this front). Personally I could have done without the subplots concerning a sonority house initiation (but at least this involved the pledges dressing up "like" whores and turning tricks) and the police investigation into the murders; although even the latter provides an opportunity for a sick donut joke. Obviously most viewers are gonna watch this to see the cannibal hookers torturing their male victims to death and then eating their guts. I can't think of anything else that leaves Sunset Strip and various other parts of LA looking so down at heel, which is something else in the film's favour. Leaving Damon Packard aside, this is probably as good as truly 'independent' (in other words strictly amateur) horror movies get, and the eighties sleazebag appeal of "Cannibal Hookers" gives it the edge over more recent and possibly better received horror fan offerings like Robin Garrels and Eric Stanze's "China White Serpentine" - where self-consciously non-linear plotting proves less surreal than the apparently purely random assemblage of Farmer's movie. This isn't exactly essential viewing but it is certainly more worthy of your attention than the glut of "amateur" porn currently on the market... Watching this even made me feel grubby, and that is high praise indeed!

Burn! directed by Gillo Pontecorvo (1969)
This was Pontecorvo's follow-up feature to "The Battle for Algiers", with Marlon Brandon playing a fey but Machiavellian upper class Englishman with aplomb. Sent by the British government as an agent provocateur to Queimada, a sugar cane producing Caribbean island, Brando as Sir William Walker stirs up a slave revolt, manipulates the local bourgeoisie, and installs a puppet government after the Portuguese governor is shot. Using seduction far more than force, Walker employs whatever argument is necessary to persuade his varied listeners of his point of view. So, for example, we hear the following lines as he convinces the local plantation owners that slavery should be abolished: "Gentlemen, let me ask you a question. Now, my metaphor may seem a trifle impertinent, but I think it's very much to the point. Which do you prefer, or should I say which do you find more convenient, a wife, or one of these mulatto girls? No, no, please don't misunderstand: I am talking strictly in terms of economics. What is the cost of the product? What is the product yield? The product, in this case, being love purely physical love, since sentiments obviously play no part in economics. Now, a wife must be provided with a home, with food, with dresses, with medical attention. You're obliged to keep her a whole life-time even when she's grown old and perhaps a trifle unproductive. And then, of course, if you have the bad luck to survive her, you have to pay for the funeral! It's true, isn't it? Gentlemen, I know it's amusing, but those are the facts, aren't they? Now with a prostitute, on the other hand, it's quite a different matter, isn't it? You see, there's no need to lodge her or feed her, certainly no need to dress her or to bury her, thank God. She's yours only when you need her, you pay her only for that service, and you pay her by the hour! Which, gentlemen, is more important, and more convenient: a slave or a paid worker?" These lines, of course, take up the use by Marx and Engels of prostitution as a metaphor for all capitalist exploitation. So we get an analysis of capitalism, colonialism and racism from the mouths of both the oppressor as incarnated in Brando's character, and the oppressed represented by non-professional actor Evaristo Márquez who plays Jose Dolores, the leader of the slave revolt. Having chased the Portuguese from Queimada and secured the British interest there, Walker leaves, only to return ten years later to brutally suppress a second revolt led by Jose Dolores, which this time threatens rather than dove-tails with British commercial interests. Although Walker succeeds in his mission, Pontecorvo leaves the viewer in no doubt that anti-colonial struggle will one day succeed, and it's great seeing the victorious Walker stabbed to death right at the end of the movie, as he prepares to leave the island after what is only a pyrrhic victory.... I liked this better than either "Last Tango in Paris" or "The Battle for Algiers", and the way it cut between Brando and the veritie style of the scenes of rebellion gives it a memorable chopping rhythm. If you haven't seen this movie check it out, it's a real corker....

The Cremator directed by Jurai Herz (1968)
If you like David Lynch or Don Coscarelli's "Phantasm" series, you're gonna love this. Double exposures, chiaroscuro lighting and enigmatic figures in wide-angle shots are slammed against unlikely close-ups, leaving this movie looking like the montage marriage of resurrected Russian avant-garde film and German Expressionism as conducted by horror producer Val Lewton working alongside the classier elements of the French new wave; think Resnais and Marker rather than Godard and Truffaut. If you're convinced Jaromil Jires' "Valerie and her week of Wonders" is as weird as the Czech new wave got, then think again; although Herz is actually a Slovakian director. Peter Lorre look-a-like Rudolf Hrusinsky takes the lead role of "The Cremator" Karl Kopfrking, whose petit-bourgeois resentment is at first hidden by a thin veneer of Czech culture. The film begins in 1938 and as German expansion starts effecting those in Prague, Kopfrking rediscovers his Teutonic "blood" and joins the Nazi party, descending into a madness where he views killing his partly Jewish wife and children as a form of "liberation" for them (as well as him). The surreal camerawork and editing of this film have been covered more than adequately elsewhere, but in English at least placing "The Cremator" in a comprehensible political context clearly requires more work. The film was begun during the Prague Spring and completed after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. The Nazi party is pretty much abbreviated throughout to The Party, and can be understood to represent Bolshevism as well as fascism, but the film should also be viewed as critical of both free market and command economies; in other words as an attack on the inhumanity of capitalism in all its guises.

The title character Kopfrking is shown to be obsessed by Tibetan Buddhism prior to his immersion in anti-Semitic activism, and as believing that his job is "liberating" souls from their bodies; thus his eventual delusion of himself as the new Dali Lama fits perfectly with his ever growing acceptance of Nazi ideology. The Nazi racial theories developed by Alfred Rosenberg and others were baroque and illogical, and led to the belief that high caste Hindus were in fact pure "Aryans". Likewise, Buddhism with its "four noble truths" (and it has been argued that "noble" can be more accurately translated as "Aryan" since Buddhism reflects the racial biases of the language it was conceived in) had a strong appeal to those anti-Semites whose ideological rejection of Christianity was based on what they viewed as its Jewish content. Tibetan Buddhism is particularly appealing to ideologues of this type both because of its reconfiguration in various occult currents that influenced Nazi ideology and due to its extremely hierarchical nature (and the inhuman attitudes that accompany this, a form of barbarism which is also readily evident in Sri Lankan Buddhism, where it is used to justify ongoing butchery of the Tamils). Kopfrking fantasising himself as the Dali Lama is therefore his way of placing himself above Hitler in a manner analogous to Nazi "philosopher" Martin Heidegger, who in projecting himself as the spiritual Fuehrer imagined himself as occupying a higher position than "the little corporal". Making the political dimension of this film even more complex is the long history of anti-Semitism under the Tsar and the vicious resurgence of this racism under Stalinism both in Russia and its satellite states. A further factor to be considered is ongoing Czech and Slovak conflict, Bolshevism's forced temporary resolution of these antagonisms (alongside a reconfiguration of this by the 1968 crushing of "The Prague Spring"), and how Herz related to these matters being both Slovak and Jewish. Thus the recent availability of "The Cremator" on a Second Run DVD with English subtitles massively complicates English language discussion of 1968 on film, which had already become more interesting with recent attempts to draw the Zanzibar film collective financed by Sylvina Boissonna into debates previously dominated by consideration of the work of Godard and Debord. "The Cremator" is also a fabulous move, beautifully shot and edited with Herz's background as a puppeteer still very much evident in this largely live action work (there is also a great waxwork dummy sequence). Check it out, "The Cremator" rocks!

David Holzman's Diary directed by Jim McBride (1968)
"David Holzman's Diary" is an underground movie by director Jim McBride who went on to a minor mainstream Hollywood career (the re-make of Godard's "Breathless", "Great Balls Of Fire", "The Big Easy"). The fictional title character Holzman decides to film his own life and so this movie becomes a spoof of cinema verite. New York street scenes are cut against Holzman moping about his rooms (actually Lorenzo Mans' apartment) as he records his monologues to camera. Aside from multiple photographs of Holzman's fictional model girlfriend Penny Wohl (played by Eileen Dietz, the actress who was later Linda Blair's body double in "The Exorcist"), the apartment also contains items such as a Wallace Berman collage, which is the kind of detail I love. If you want to get the flavour of Holman's monologues (improvised by actor L.M. Kit Carson), this is an early sample: "Objects. People. Events. They seem to… speak to me. They seem to carry some meaning that I can't quite get. My life, though ordinary enough, seems to haunt me in uncommon ways. It seems to come to me from someone else, and I've been trying to understand it but it seems that I can't get it. The noted French wit Jean-Luc Godard said, 'What is film? Film is truth 24 times a second.' So I thought that if I put it put it all down on film and run it back and forth and put my thumb on it and stop it when I want to then I got everything, I got it all. I should get it all. I should understand it all." Holzman proceeds to alienate his girlfriend Penny by filming her when she doesn't want to be filmed; shooting her nude when she's sleeping is what finally brings their troubled relationship to an end. There are a lot of great New York street scenes which are straight documentary, and a fantastic (and allegedly 'real') encounter with a transsexual, which is when this movie gets closest to the Warhol films with which it has so much in common. However, older influences well up too, the Berman print invokes the beats and beat cinema, while the periods of black screen and silence take us back to the Lettriste cinema of the early fifties (even if these influences have been absorbed through their commercialisation by the French new wave). Regardless, this screwball comedy is a total groove, and it is now widely available for the first time ever thanks to its release on DVD by the Second Run label. You gotta see it... you can place this with pride alongside early Brian de Palmer flicks like "Hi Mom".

Daughters Of Darkness directed by Harry Kumel (1971)
Considered by some film freaks to be the greatest lesbian vampire movie of all time, this is Eurosleaze at its least sleazy. Essentially the plot revolves around Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Deelphine Seyrig) and her lesbian vampire companion Ilona (Andrea Rau) seducing newly wed Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) and turning this "Swiss beauty" (actually a Canadian soft porn "actress") against her husband Stefan (John Karlen). There are a lot of moody interior shots of an out of season hotel and equally intense outdoor scenes of winter in Belgium. Seyrig is brilliantly languid, and all the more threatening for her world weary sense of control. Rau and Karlen are good, but unfortunately Ouimet appears out of her depth and at times her performance is grating. Likewise the empty hotel interiors and the shared star in the form of Seyrig inevitably bring to mind "Last Year At Marienbad" (absolutely one of my favourite movies of all time), and as a consequence the perfectly acceptable direction and cinematography pall in comparison....Given Ouimet's irritating performance, either a trashier approach or a different actress was required to put this up there with the very best lesbian vampire flicks of yesteryear such as Franco's "Female Vampire" and Rollin's "Lips Of Blood". Imagine this with Seyrig's performance but as Jess Franco could have lensed it! The scene in which Stefan and the Countess tell Valerie about the torture and murder of hundreds of virgins is already close to some of this Spanish auteur's style. If some shakey camerawork and more nudity had been thrown in, this really could have been the greatest lesbian vampire movie ever; especially if Ouimet had been replaced by Soledad Miranda or even Lina Romay, and Karlen with Franco favourite Klaus Kinski. But as it stands, this is still well worth watching for Seyrig's performance....

Sleaze cinema 1 (earlier reviews)

Sleaze cinema 2 (earlier reviews)

Sleaze cinema 4 (later reviews)

The films of Manchester exploitation legend Cliff Twemlow

The Films of Alejandro Jodorowsky



Julia Callan-Thompson London 1966, photo by Carla Hopkins
Stewart Home's mother Julia Callan-Thompson, London 1966.


Stewart Home portrait 2004Stewart Home portrait 2004Stewart Home portrait 2004

Stewart Home with his Barbie dolls
Comedy After Postmodernism: rereading comedy from Edward Lear to Charles Willeford by Kirby Olson (Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock 2001).

Walter Benjamin: overpowering conformism by Esther Leslie (Pluto Press,
London 2000).

Due to the differing views of their authors, Leslie’s book on Benjamin which is written from an explicitly Marxist perspective, can be read very productively alongside and against Olson’s avowedly anti-Marxist text on comedy. Both writers combine political and aesthetic positions that would be viewed by many as incompatible. Olson is in many way an old-fashioned liberal with vague anarchist leanings who is attempting to retrench the ways in which the humanities have traditionally been taught by adapting the theories of the post-68 French left figures Deleuze and Lyotard to somewhat unlikely ends. Leslie is an activist in the British Socialist Workers Party who hopes to reclaim Benjamin not just for Marxism, but quite explicitly for Trotskyism too. While Leslie correctly identifies certain similarities between Benjamin’s and Trotsky’s aesthetic positions - a state of affairs that is not entirely surprising to anyone familiar with Trotsky’s writings on art and literature - she certainly faces an uphill struggle if she hopes to make Benjamin a respected figure among the SWP rank-and-file.

Leslie has to defend Benjamin on a number of fronts, both from those who would rewrite him into philosophy, postmodernism and/or cultural studies, and others who claim there are similarities between his thought and that of German revolutionary conservatives (i.e. the strand of German fascism that disdained the Nazi Party as being too plebeian for its aristocratic tastes). Likewise, Leslie sharply criticises the cult that has grown up around Benjamin including the inappropriate use of his image on book jackets. Ironically, the cover of Leslie’s text is a paradigmatic example of what she is attacking. I suspect that Leslie used her inside knowledge of the almost total separation between the editing and packaging of books to slip into the text a critique of how she suspected her tome would be marketed, an extremely practical example of how the contradictions of capitalism can be exploited by a wily activist.

Leslie readily admits that there are similarities between Benjamin’s thought and that of revolutionary conservatives, but argues: “Fascists do not historicize destructivity. No intellectual critic is in a position to realise the essence of technology, but, in Benjamin's view, critics critical of the status quo must recognize and assert technology’s latent essence, its possibilities” (page 37). Prior to this, and specifically with regard to Benjamin and Jünger, Leslie states: “their dissimilarities became increasingly apparent in the subsequent political paths of the two writers” (page 27). While Benjamin patently was not a fascist, for him a materialist treatment of a writer must deal with that writer’s influence and not their biography. Parts of Leslie’s defence might be criticised on these grounds. Likewise, Benjamin’s influence belongs to a history that includes fascism and modernism, and this history is not simply Benjamin’s - but ours too. Obviously, to claim that Benjamin's writing is unproblematically fascist is obnoxious and stupid, but that does not preclude taking a longer and harder look at those elements in Benjamin’s thinking that bear at least superficial similarities to elements of fascist ideology.

Leslie’s arguments about Benjamin’s views on technology and how these are distinct from the positions of revolutionary conservatives are persuasive, at least on an initial reading. The discussion of the difference between image and metaphor which precedes them is more problematic: “Metaphor is a technique attuned to the moral and spiritual realm, and in some sense, part of the world of the stand in, the 'as if" realm. Marxist materialism and correct conduct with images both propagate, instead, a doctrine in which ‘an action puts forth its own image and exists, absorbing and consuming it’. ...Image.... has something tangible, graspable. It is a material force. Image, Benjamin notes, is a ‘world of many-sided and integral actuality’, and resides at the heart of political action...” (page 24-25). Leslie mentions on three fleeting occasions Benjamin’s interest in Georges Sorel’s conception of the image. Admittedly, Sorel has at times been interpreted as an almost orthodox Marxist (a position that I do not find entirely convincing), but he was also a key theorist for fascism and fascist conceptions of the image. Likewise he had a major influence on futurism, and the relationship between that movement’s aesthetics and its fascist politics remains a matter of ongoing debate. What I’m talking about here isn’t simply some “other” modernism, it is modernism - or at least a part of modernism - and despite the anti-modernist rhetoric adopted by some fascist demagogues, fascism itself was a modernist movement too. I am not saying that modernism taken en-bloc is unproblematically fascist, but rather that it cannot be separated from fascism (or, indeed, the black Atlantic culture Paul Gilroy depicts in his books on modernity). An examination of the relationship between Benjamin’s positions on image and those of, say, the imagist poet and fascist activist Ezra Pound, might have provided Leslie with a more challenging approach to defending Benjamin.

Olson’s book is considerably more diffuse than Leslie’s and this is not simply because he is dealing with six writers rather than just one; it is also a matter of his attraction to what he describes as oddness. However, it is not simply that eccentricity enchants Olson, he has some very peculiar views of his own, and the framing device he erects around his enthusiasms is somewhat dubious. Olson claims he is interested in writers who are uncanonical and resist solemnity, and he defines this group as comic. That said, to conjure up his “anti-canon”, Olson delineates a shift from a classical liberal canon based on “greatness” to a “neoMarxist” canon based on “justice”. By page 2 of his book Olson is opining: “Writers who have suffered triple discrimination, such as Zora Neale Hurston - female, African American and poor - have benefited the most from this new notion of criteria. Many others, such as Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston, would no doubt have been overlooked, or not even published, if their work had been considered solely on the basis of complexity and coherence, or ‘greatness’.”

Here, Olson singularly fails to take on board the matter of institutional racism and the fact that WASP academics almost invariably find the white subjects conjured up by so called “great” literature more complex and coherent than the subjectivities of non-WASP characters and authors. Likewise, Olson’s suggestion that Morrison and Kingston might not have been published if their books had been considered on the basis of “greatness” is not only gratuitously dismissive but patently ridiculous. Most, if not all, books are published because those running the capitalist firms that place them on the market believe doing so will generate a profit. Potential sales rather than “greatness” is the criterion on which editorial decisions are generally made. Olson’s grasp of Marx is no better than his understanding of the publishing industry. For example, he claims, “Marx... tended to turn people into things” (page 103), when Marx’s unflagging opposition to capitalism was actively grounded in a critique of the way commodity production turns people into things. To ascribe to Marx something he spent his entire life combating, is - to say the least - disingenuous. Likewise, Olson baldly asserts: “Marx... sees essentially two classes in society... one good and one bad” (page 106). This comment completely misses the historical dimension in Marx’s thought. Although Marx fulminated against the bourgeoisie, he simultaneously recognised that they were once a revolutionary class. In accomplishing its historic mission of overthrowing feudalism, the bourgeoisie brought into being its own gravedigger - the proletariat, the class that will abolish all classes (including itself). Because Olson omits this crucial historical dimension, he deforms rather than summarises Marx.

Given Olson’s taste for oddness and the singular, he might have done better to prise Marx away from Marxism and enlist both the man and his carbuncles as paradigmatic examples of postmodern comedy. This could have been accomplished by explaining that: a) many of the texts ascribed to Marx, with the Communist Manifesto simply being the most notable among them, are actually compendiums of slogans lifted from earlier revolutionary writers - a method that is in complete accord with both communist theory and pomo notions of appropriation; and b) Marx is side-splittingly funny. This latter claim might be substantiated by any number of citations from Marx’s oeuvre, I will restrict myself to one personal favourite, the first four of the five sentences that make up the forward to The Poverty Of Philosophy: “M. Proudhon has the misfortune of being peculiarly misunderstood in Europe. In France, he has the right to be a bad economist, because he is reputed to be a good German philosopher. In Germany he has the right to be a bad philosopher because he is reputed to be one of the ablest of French economists. Being both a German and an economist at the same time, I desire to protest against this double error.” Proudhon was, of course, the racist dimwit who founded modern anarchism.

For all his failings (and it would be tiresome to exhaustively list them), there are passages of smart commentary in Olson. Edward Lear is effectively used to illustrate differences between the sublime, the beautiful, the picturesque and the comic picturesque. While I don’t share Olson’s taste for Gregory Corso, both Philippe Soupault and Charles Willeford make interesting subjects for his criticism.(1) Likewise, Olson’s attacks on the tragic sublime for being grounded in an aesthetic of sacrifice might be used to counterbalance the messianic and apocalyptic tendencies in Benjamin. While Olson’s book lacks the rigor of Leslie’s, read side by side they have peculiar corrective effects on each other. Judged on its own terms, as part of a series introducing “Modern European Thinkers”, Leslie’s book cannot be faulted - better than this, Leslie is able to sneakily subvert the form she was commissioned to replicate (and against all the odds, she may yet get the SWP to stop standing on its head and make this zombie lurch leftwards on its feet). Olson illustrates the limitations of
liberalism, and the disastrous consequences of privileging feeling over reason - rather than seeking an equitable balance of these qualities. If Olson learnt to appreciate Marx and Benjamin as “oddballs” (and reading Leslie’s book might help him do just that), he may yet begin to think dialectically and historically - instead of creating a bad infinity by obnoxiously universalising the perspectives of centred white male subjects.

1. There is also a chapter about my fiction in which I am praised perhaps a little too highly given the differences of perspective between “author” and “critic”, so I have a personal interest to declare here. This section of Olson’s book has been revised since it was first published in Performing Gender & Comedy edited by Shannon Hengen. I informed Olson of my objections to this earlier version of his work about me, and to a degree he has listened to and engaged with what I said. Unfortunately, it proved considerably easier to convince him that I am not an anarchist than to get him to confront some of his more entrenched blind spots (and these latter matters are of considerably more consequence than the former). To clarify my own position, I am totally opposed to tendency literature and believe that within “fiction” a certain amount of irresponsibility is desirable. Through the use of humour and other rhetorical techniques I aim at a dialectical overflowing in my “novels” - or what I, only half-jokingly, call proletarian postmodernism. While the material I work up is consciously shaped, I do not seek to completely master or control its meaning. That said, I also feel it is desirable to place limits on one's own irresponsibility, and when what I've been doing has been badly misunderstood (by, for example, being written about as “anarchist” when I believe not only that "anarchism is stupid", but also that it is a form of white identity politics), then I feel it is incumbent upon me to fall back into critique and explain my views (views, which it must be said, have been at least partially developed through “fictional” irresponsibility) somewhat more pedantically than I might otherwise chose. “I” might thus be seen as being blessed with double-consciousness - and while “I” reject “whiteness”, this is not because “I” am incapable of constituting myself as a centred subject.