Thursday, May 04, 2017


Underground films might not be your fave rave kind of kick up your feet entertainment, but I gotta admit that I really do go bigtime for some of these avant garde-y excursions whether they be made by hard-to-decipher Europeans (anything from BLOOD OF A POET to ECSTASY) to short subjects made by guys tryin' to climb the ladder to success only by the time they climbed it all they found was a naked guy named Cess a' waiting. True a whole load of these films are flowery, poetic, flitzy and most of all appeal to heart-rendered gals who iron their hair and press leaves in books, but some of 'em do have a bit of energy and testosterone to 'em and (by golly) even look as if they were made by men who go for women, which is an anomaly given just how many of these early underground works dealt with the love that just won't shut up anymore.

Curtis Harrington's one guy who did make his way to fame and fortune as a director of everything from the mysterioso NIGHT TIDE to various Aaron Spelling tee-vee productions, but back when he was just another El Lay lost boy he was making such epics as FRAGMENT OF SEEKING and PICNIC which were getting shown at private screenings along with the films of his friend and sometimes collaborator Kenneth Anger.

This collection's the first time those early short films (as well as a few surprises) have been gathered for public consumption, and I gotta admit that I found it a kinda/sorta fun viewing experience even if the artzy meter might be tippin' way over inna red on a few occasions. But as long as I can eke out some definitely non-intellectual enjoyment like, who cares?

The early shorts do show quite a lotta that Euro expressionism/Maya Deren feeling that was big in those circles at the time...quite "surreal" in that "I've watched UN CHIEN ANDALOU a thousand times and I hope some of it rubbed off on me" sorta way yet appealing to a larger audience than just the confused gals with dyed pit hair who tend to flock to these films. You can see many similarities to other early underground works of the period from Anger's own works to those of Markopolous and Sidney Peterson, and the visions of a world long gone (yet you still could get a few glimpses of it as late as the seventies) do conjure up dream-like memories of at least my past...dunno about yours.

It's kinda funny that both FRAGMENTS OF SEEKING and PICNIC have similar themes dealing with youth looking for unobtainable love. The latter work seems quite striking in the protagonist's quest for the out-of-reach gal (funny how these films are so strikingly hetero yet Harrington always gets grouped in with "queer" cinema) and the scene where Our Hero is struggling to climb those narrow Hollywood steps (the kind you saw in Laurel and Hardy's THE MUSIC BOX) with the steps getting steeper and steeper as the heroine is dragged away really did make my leg muscles tense up quite a bit I'll tell ya!

Even more striking are the fifties-era color films especially THE WORMWOOD STAR, a documentary about  El Lay occultist and widow of rocketeer Jack Parsons Marjorie Cameron which is creepier than you'd ever imagine not to mention 2002's USHER, Harrington's final film which oddly enough was a remake of his first venture into cinema made back '42 way with the director himself reprising his earlier role and the male and female lead (OK, maybe that's what they mean by "queer"). Both are proverbial wowzers and entertaining enough that even someone not into the whys and wherefores of beret and stale doritos film as art could enjoy 'em even without a subscription to FILM COMMENT at hand.

It's even got one of Harrington's industrial films here which is entitled THE FOUR ELEMENTS that reminds me of something you woulda seen in school on some lazy afternoon, and if you too feel like taking a snooze while the lights are out just don't snore lest some teach whack you with a yardstick and send you to the principal's orifice!

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