Thursday, December 03, 2009

The East is Red Soundtrack, Jane Austen and Other Mundane Ramblings

It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit today in New York City. Two days ago I booked a ticket to the Caribbean beginning later this month. It better be freezing-ass cold by then. 10 days of reading by a pool sounds sooooooo good right now. Tomorrow the Film Forum here in NYC begins a retro on James Whale with all of his classics in tow – Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House – but also have a number of his much less well-known films. Double features! You can’t beat that when you are not working so I hope to get to a bunch of them.

Over on the A Pessimist is Never Disappointed Blog, Glenn makes mention of the old Biograph Film Theater in Washington DC that used to have double features of old American and foreign films. It is no longer with us, but when I was in my 20’s I used to frequent it from time to time and thinking some more about it last night it dawned on me that the Biograph was to a large degree the jump start to my fascination with film. Up till then I was your standard once a month blockbuster filmgoer and in fact had not even seen a lot of films. There is a good reason for that – I was deprived as a child! I was brought up in places like Calcutta, Karachi, Ankara and Kabul in the days when American films being shown were a rarity. Ankara had a theater run by the US military but it was way across town and my parents would not let me go at night on my own. In Kabul forget about it – they tried bringing in a film once every week or two and it was already a few years old. And television? Ha, fat chance. So I had no film base really until I began visiting the Biograph and seeing old Hollywood classics, French, Japanese and Italian films. I recall thinking that Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties was the most amazing film I had ever seen.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and co-incidentally begun to realize that there are some Jane Austen obsessed people out there. I don't think they are dangerous but you never know. Now I guess I would put me down as a Jane Austen fan of sorts though in truth more in the film/TV versions than her actual books. The books are so dense with detail and dialogue that I find myself having to put it down after 10 pages or so and rest. I always wonder if her class of society really spoke so formally and often so wittily back then. What happened to the art of conversation if so? Austen’s life in some ways resembled one of her novels except without the happy ending. She grew up in a very close family with a number of siblings (her brothers being quite successful in business and the navy), her father was a minister in a small parish, she never married as neither did her very close sister, she accepted one proposal of marriage but soon changed her mind realizing she was only doing it for security, she lived in middle class respectability with her financial floor always on the verge of collapsing, she never gained much fame in her lifetime for her books and she died at the age of 41 in 1817. It wasn’t until decades after her death that her books began to gain the status they hold today. Now if you have already read all of her books and seen all the film versions, you may find these Austen related books rather enjoyable, I know I did.

A series of Jane Austen mysteries from Stephanie Barron, in which our heroine Jane, writing in first person, becomes involved in murder and mayhem. Barron sets Jane very skillfully into her milieu and her timeline and does her best to imitate Austen’s writing style. The first in the series is called Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrove Manor and she has to save her friend from going to the gallows.

If you ever wondered what happened to Eliza and Darcy after their marriage in Pride and Prejudice, you may be surprised to know that they too become amateur detectives of a sort. Author Carrie Bebris has concocted a bit of a conceit though a fun one in which Eliza and her beloved Darcy become entwined in mysterious deadly happenings that have to be sorted out. In the second in the series, Suspense and Sensibility, she takes this concept even further by bringing in the characters from Sense and Sensibility and mixing them with those of P&P. The writing is fluid and easy but she needs to develop better mysteries as she depends rather fancifully on the supernatural which just feels a bit out of place to me.

And just last night I embarked on a book I came across in the Brooklyn Library and it pricked my curiosity – titled Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. In it a contemporary woman from California suddenly wakes up to find herself in another person from Austen’s time named Jane Mansfield. It is an odd idea but could make for fun. All these I notice are written by women.

I always enjoy coming across scenes of Hong Kong depicted in old American TV shows. A number of episodes from the I Spy TV series took place in Hong Kong (and Tokyo) and clearly some of the outdoor scenes were shot in those locations. The other night I was watching an old black and white TV series called Checkmate and came across a 1961 episode called Terror from the East. The series starred the portly bearded Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French to many out there), Doug McClure and Anthony George who have formed a detective agency. I can’t say it’s really all that good but they get some famous film stars to appear on the show as guests. This one has Charles Laughton playing a missionary from China who is going to San Francisco to warn a Chinese anti-communist that he has been targeted to be assassinated. It begins in Hong Kong harbor on a sampan but quickly moves to San Francisco where Laughton visits a Chinese Opera and the show actually films a lot of it and Laughton and Cabot get into a lengthy discussion on it. But the real reason I bring this up is that the actress singing in the show and later on with a speaking part looked very familiar and though it took me a while I finally put my finger on who she was – Lisa Lu. Now I know her from some work in Hong Kong – in particular the classic 1969 film The Arch which is considered an influential precursor to Hong Kong’s New Wave film movement. As far as I know it still hasn’t made it on to DVD but I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen (with YTSL if memory serves). Some of her other Hong Kong films are 14 Amazons, Temptation of a Monk, Postmodern Life of My Aunt (from Ann Hui), Invisible Target (still have yet to watch) and a bit part in Lust, Caution. But her main career has been in the West. Born in Beijing in 1927, she studied Opera (so maybe that really is her singing in the TV episode) and then her family immigrated to America. She got into acting and appeared in loads of TV episodes – most I assume of a stereotypical nature – her name in four episodes of Yancy Derringer is Miss Mandarin! If you look her up on IMDB you will see all her credits. I see I have a copy of the Shaw Brothers film Dowager Empress so I will give that a ride this week.

I was going to ramble a bit about Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but I will save that for another day. All I will say is that as much as I hate being there and as much as I look forward to the day (not too far away I pray) when we don’t have one single soldier in the Middle East, he is caught in a horrible box with no good options. Stay at the same troop levels and nothing will get better, pulling out quickly is just plain irresponsible for many geopolitical reasons but most important me it will leave thousands of Afghans who trusted us at the mercy of the revengeful Taliban. As much a Leftie as I am, I get so pissed at their kneejerk reaction to war and peace. So my guess is that this is basically a stopgap decision – go in strong and give the Afghan government and people time to either get their act together (which I highly doubt) or probably start making individual plans to get the hell out by 2011. What a sad tragic mess for a country that I still have very fond feelings for.

Here are some selections from the soundtrack of The East is Red. The film is considered the weak sister of the Swordsman Trilogy by many, but I really love it for its flair, its rash of colors and of course for Brigitte Lin and let us not forget Joey Wong.



Kingwho said...

Brian, thank you for posting a few songs from some HK movie soundtracks. I really enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

The Arch is actually available on DVD from filmmaker Les Blank, who edited the film. You can order it directky from his website.

Brian said...

Thanks Kingwho, I enjoy putting them up for others to listen to.

DD - wow - how do you know all this stuff! I will definitely order it. I wonder how Les Blank got involved with that film and how (if he did) get the rights to sell this film?

Michael Wells said...

Jesus in a breadbasket. Duriandave, you're my hero. I've been wanting to see THE ARCH ever since reading about it in David Bordwell's HK cinema book back in 2000. Thought I might never get the chance.

And "Hell, yes" to THE EAST IS RED. One of my favorite HK fantasies - it's even more like some freaky, druggy dream than the others.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Thanks for the link.

The other thing I remember from that era -- giving away a topic for a future blog post of mine, LOL -- is that my biological father would take me to public libraries around here to see 16 mm prints of horror films -- that's where I first saw Frankenstein (1931) with the drowning scene and the introduction. Sometimes the prints were in tatters but it added something to the experience to see those titles in a dark, cramped public library basement screening room.

As it is now, I feel like I'm the polar opposite of YTSL as I usually prefer to watch a crisp DVD on my 47 inch screen rather than go out in public with the masses and be distracted by their cell phones, chatter, and general nonsense.

Brian said...

MW - who are you kidding, you know you will just wait for me to buy it and then borrow it! Its weird but I never get email notification that you have commented on this blog - its almost like you are just using your giant brain to implant them on this blog.

Glenn - ya - I find it harder and harder to force myself to go out to see films in a theater - partly because I am just getting older and creakier - second it kills me to pay $12 here in NYC - third I rarely see anything reviewed that feels like a must see - an astonishing amount of tired crap - and its hard to justify spending any money when I have so many unwrapped dvds in my apartment. But saying that I am up and plan to go to the Film Forum today to see Frankenstein and the Invisible Man. But then the FF has great brownies and the audience there actually seem to realize they are in a theater and not in their living room - and they respect film.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Yes, we did watch THE ARCH together -- at the same Columbia University venue (and film conference thingy?) as RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN, in fact. :)

And re Lisa Lu: can I draw your attention (again) to my article re this amazing actress who still is going strong (and whose most recent film appearance that I saw -- yes, on a big screen -- is... "2012"!)?

Brian said...

That is a great article, I don't recall you pointing it out to me before. It makes me wish you wrote more about film on your blog!

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Glad you like the article. Hmmm... maybe you should search the internet for some more of my film-related published pieces?

And you are so hard to please: I remember a time when you complained that I only fixated on film and wished I wrote about more than that!!! ;D

Michael Wells said...

"Its weird but I never get email notification that you have commented on this blog"

Is that maybe because I don't have an associated website link in my name? That's the only difference I can see between myself and the other commenters.

"we did watch THE ARCH together -- at the same Columbia University venue (and film conference thingy?) as RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN, in fact."

Grrrr... I remember that conference. Still bitter. Couldn't make either of those screenings because of some stupid previous commitment I couldn't get out of. Still haven't seen RAINING IN THE MOUNTAIN, and I even missed the window of opportunity for the reportedly excellent French DVD, now out of print.

In other news, my verification word below is "trogre," which I'm totally stealing for a fantasy story or something like that someday.

Anonymous said...

Guys, be forewarned that the DVD is a bare-bones affair. It comes in a plain plastic jewel case, and the digital transfer has not been cleaned up in any way. And the source print is far from pristine. Still, if you are dying to see the film, it's probably worth getting.

Michael, you might want to lower your expectations a notch or so for this holy grail film. I liked it, but don't really consider it a masterpiece. There are some 60s-art-film elements that haven't aged very well, in my opinion. But the direction and performances superb.

Brian, I don't know if I'm making this up, but I seem to recall that director Tang Shu Shuen studied filmmaking at UCLA. That could have been where she met Les Blank.

YTSL, I can't believe that Lisa is in 2012! I still don't think I'll see the film though. And thanks for the link. I'm gearing up to write a post about Lisa on my blog and wanted to refer readers to your article.

Seductivpancakes said...

Thanks for posting the soundtrack to "the east is red".

I went out to Chinatown after work today and picked up the movie and immediately searched the internet for that song when I was finished with the movie.

Kudos. :D

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