Saturday, March 17, 2012

1971 - The Devils

Ken Russell's The Devils (1971)

On a hot August day in 1634, Father Urbain Grandier, the priest of the church of Saint Croix in the French city of Loudun was burned alive at the stake for the crimes of sorcery and spell casting as well as his responsibility in the possession and corruption of the enclosed Ursuline nuns of the city during what has been come to be known as the Loudun Possessions.

Urbain Grandier

Good looking, polished, popular, with no hesitation in disobeying his vow of abstinence, Grandier had made friends with many of the women in his parish, while becoming intractable enemies with their politically and religiously well connected husbands and fathers. Most dangerously of all, Father Grandier had also made an enemy of the defacto leader of France, Armand Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu, so that when the head of the local Ursuline convent, Sister Jeanne des Agnes and most of her fellow sisters showed signs of demonic possession, writhing in ecstasy, making obscene offers to the priest all the while claiming that the person inflicting them with Devils, was none other than Urbain Grandier, the once well connected priest found himself friendless and alone on the path toward the fire.

Olive Reed as Urbain Grandier, The Devils (1971)

Stripped, shaved, both of his legs broken through torture, Grandier was forced to crawl to the metal chair affixed to a large wooden stake surrounded by a huge pile of wood, soaked in holy water to make him burn longer, a loose garrote tied around his neck, and then the fire was lit. Priest stood by and waved the smoke away from Grandier so that he would not choke on the smoke before the fire reached him. They kept the fire low so that Grandier’s suffering would last as long as possible, though they would call to him again and again giving the priest the chance to confess to his crimes.

The trial commences, The Devils (1971)

But he never did.

As the fire took its toll and Grandier’s spirit was finally allowed to leave this earth, he cursed his torturers to early deaths, and indeed his chief persecutor died exactly a year later to the day. But by then it was far too late for Grandier to take any pleasure in this small revenge as by then he was long since ash and dust.

One of Grandier's Persecutors, The Devils (1971)

The story of Grandier’s sins and the sins committed against him are covered in great detail in AldousHuxley’s brilliant 1952 novel, The Devils of Loudun. A combination historical paper, psychological treatise and comic horror story, Huxley’s novel details with a mirthful tone, the way that one man, through his “sin”, can turn the whole world against him. Huxley turns a cruel eye toward Grandier, his foes, his torturers and most importantly the vain and spiteful Jeanne Agnes, whose utter boredom at convent life, her lust for Grandier a man she has never even met, her wish to be the center of something important and her disgust for the twisted hump on top of her back, combine to destroy a man in the most horrible way possible.

The "Question" is put to Grandier, The Devils (1971)

 All of which brings us to Ken Russell’s 1971 adaptation of Huxley’s novel, The Devils.

The Devils is at times not so much a film as a hallucinatory trip through hell, a hell of repressed desires and hidden lusts, where Grandier, the only person honest in his sins, must be destroyed because of them.

Vanessa Redgrave and the possessed nuns of The Devils (1971)

Starring as Grandier, Oliver Reed carries himself with a detached cynicism, recognizing that he is just one sinner surrounded by a world of people as equally ugly inside, and yet who can at the same time defend his town against armed intruders with nothing but bravery and a few dozen crossbows.

Grandier on the stake, The Devils (1971)

Russell has often used very disturbing imagery of sexual and religious iconography combined with stunning violence and it is easy to understand why the Devils was long kept out of distribution. 

Sister Jeanne in ecstasy. The Devils (1971) 

It is a deeply offensive movie on many levels, filled with images that are guaranteed to enrage and insult most true believers. And yet inside of all the ugliness a deeply moving story emerges of a man who has come to terms with his own sins, and who must pay because of it. 

Grandier and the flames, The Devils (1971)

As Grandier moves closer to his final fate Reed brings to the character a dignity and sense of knowing that as he continually suffers more physical abuse brings an almost Christ like calm to the character.

And all the world is against him, The Devils (1971)

As Sister Jeanne, Vanessa Redgrave gives one of the bravest and most disturbing performances in cinematic history, playing a woman who allows the most hideous abuses to be heaped on her just to bring about the destruction of a man who she sees has having rejected her. Jeanne is beyond salvation, happy in her depravity, sealing her damnation in the end with one final obscene desecration. Redgrave is positively Shakespearean in the depth of her evil.

What follows is unspeakable, The Devils (1971)

While it is true that The Devils suffers from many of the worst excesses of early 70’s film-making with its stilted imagery, overtly simple symbolism, excessive nudity just for the hell of it and in many cases caricature in place of character, it more than makes up for it with what is a compelling story about a flawed but heroic man facing a horrible fate and the Devils that brought him there.

The Devils (1971) Film Trailer

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Future is Now - The Golden Age of Popular Mechanics

The Original Air Pirates - Popular Mechanics, January 1936

The wife and I were at one of the local antique stores today and along with the normal pile of old clothes, toys, records etc, I came across a small pile of Popular Mechanics dating from the 1920's through the late 50's, all for only a couple of bucks each, so of course I dived on them.

Portable Air Force Base - Popular Mechanics, July 1925

The books are in decent condition and have some great articles and ads inside that I'll get around to sharing at some point, but right now I just wanted to share these amazing covers with all of you.

The Theory of RADAR - Popular Mechanics, December 1930

I really got a kick out of the above article on the development of a device that can track aircraft in flight using sound. Actual RADAR was still almost a decade away and this early article on the subject was surprisingly accurate in describing just how RADAR would actually work.

The 300 Miler Per Hour Motorcycle - Popular Mechanics, June 1935

The thing that I liked the best about the idea of the 300 mile per hour motorbike was that the driver has this tiny leather helmet on. Frankly cool picture and all, but this idea just was not likely to end well.

Warship of the Future - Popular Mechanics, September 1940

A little more then a year before America entered WWII, and Popular Mechanics was one of the leaders in the call for rearmament, as both the drawing and the article by Eddie Rickenbacker can demonstrate.

Ejector Seats - Popular Mechanics, June 1957

While the inside of these magazines were mostly made up of cheap newsprint, the covers on these classics are just remarkable, not just for the quality of the art itself, but also because of the image of the future that never was, that they project for us.

Simply put, these were a hell of a nice find.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Firesign Theatre

The Firesign Theatre - Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers (1970)

The Firesign Theatre was never really like the other comedy teams out there, in that they never really seemed too worried about telling actual jokes. and instead were more than happy to let the absurdest situations and incredibly complicated dialog of their materials draw the laughs out of you, both by playing with expectations and then making not so much a complete left turn with them as a full fledged dive into a Rubik's cube of confused metaphors and an oddly intellectual stream of consciousness absurdism. You had to pay attention to the comedy of the Firesign Theatre, because when they said, that "Everything You Know is Wrong", they probably were right.

The Firesign Theatre - Phil Austin, Peter Bergman, Phil Proctor & Dave Ossman

Starting out as on public radio in 1967, the Firesign Theatre, made up of David Ossman, Phil Austin, Phil Proctor and the late Peter Bergman worked to give their highly scripted, heavily referenced performances an improvisational feel, that bellied their highly structured nature, and because of this many people have tended to ignore the Firesign Theatre as a counter-culture "hippie" group.

And sure, they definitely were part of that era, but there is something more to it than simple "Head" humor coming from these guys.

With albums like Waiting for The Electrician, or Someone Like Him, Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers and I Think We're All Bozo's On This Bus the Firesign's played with literlism in a fast moving, pun filled frollic where you never quite knew what was going to happen next.

Probably the best known of the various characters created by Firesign Theatre, Nick Danger, Third Eye, has long mixed the detective genre with a twist of Borges by way of one too many acid trips. In the clip below quips fly in this truly funny piece.

 When I heard this morning that Peter Bergman had passed away, I thought that it was a good time to bring the team up and try to pass them on to a new generation. The Firsign Theatre was one of the best of the thinking man comedy groups, wacky, confusing and totally insane.

This final clip is after the brief commericia for Battleship and features the team starring in a actual, real life commericial for a used car lot circa 1971, that truly captures just how out of the ordinary and just plain bizzare these guys could be.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review - The Great American Cereal Book

The Great American Cereal Book: How Breakfast Got Its Crunch

I don't really do many book reviews here at Studd, but as anyone who has ever posted out here can tell you, I'm a sucker for the odds and ends of late 20th century American life, and there really isn't much more All-American Odds and Ends, then the surgery goodness of breakfast cereal. And with that in mind I want to recommend just a fantastic little hard back by Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis.

 The Great American Cereal Book, is a combination history and encyclopedia of American breakfast cereal, from it's earliest start in Battle Creek Michigan until the present day, filled with tons of information and trivia and loaded with beautifully shot photos of hundreds of classic cereal boxes.

It's just a good looking hardback, squat and thick, looking like a small box of the product it's talking about, and like I said above filled with beautifully laid out pages of photographs of cereal boxes, toy give aways, character sketches and more.

Gitlin & Ellis obviously love their subject and it shows on every page, and I highly recommend this book to any fan of commercial art, or even just looking for some great memories of youth.  The Great American Cereal Book, was just too fun not to share.

Just some of the cereals covered in this lovely volume

So go ahead, click the link, you'll be glad you did.

 The Great American Cereal Book

Thursday, March 8, 2012

1960's - The Smoking Lamp is Lit

Barney Rubble for Winstons

I will turn 50 years old this year which means that I was 8 years old when cigarettes were banned from advertising on television in 1970. The thing is that more than 40 years later, and I can still remember the various jingles and "stars" of different brands to this day.

That they used to sell smokes on the air probably doesn't surprise most people, but the younger folks out there might be surprised to see just how many television shows of the 1960's mixed their cigarette ads into the shows themselves.

The Flintstones for Winston

Having made the internet rounds for years, I'm pretty sure that lots of people have seen the above video of the Flintstones selling Winstons, but Fred and Barney weren't the only ones hawking smokes to the masses back in the good old days.

Here's none other than Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez making their push for Phillip Morris

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez for Philip Morris

In fact Lucy and Desi did dozens of ads for Philip Morris over the years, which might tell you something about the fact that both of them died of smoking related illnesses.

It's easy for us to look at these commercials now and think that they are just a little bit insane, but you've got to remember that cigarette ads have been a part of filmed advertisements right from the start, as the below short for Admiral Cigarettes shot by Thomas Edison in 1897 will show you.

Edison was a man who liked to make a buck

Anyway back to television.

Here's several commercials for Kent cigarettes featuring the cast of, The Dick Van Dyke Show....

Dick Van Dyke and Rose Marie for Kent

Dick Van Dyke, Morey Amsterdam & Richard Deacon for Kent

Rose Marie, Dick Van Dyke & Mary Tyler Moore for Kent

However for just plain bizarre, it's really hard not to look at these ads from the Beverly Hillbillies for Winston Cigarettes and feel like you took a left turn into the Twilight Zone.

Nancy  Kulp, Buddy Epson and Max Baer jr for Winstons

Irene Ryan and Bea Benaderat for Winston

Buddy Ebson and Raymond Bailey for Winstons

Scary stuff in it's own way and really a good example of how smoking was presented to kids as a fun thing to do. 

Like I say it was a different world then.