Thursday, 11 June 2015

Christopher Lee is Dead

As is Ornette Coleman <Go to that link. There's a video of a beautiful performance feat. another personally treasured — James Blood Ulmer.

Ages before Fripp did Thrak, Coleman split the double quartet, left and right:

Thirteen years ago, I zigzagged through Grand Place in Brussels on my way to the Film Museum, a cinema I frequented more often as it became clear there wasn't much else I wanted to do in Brussels, after it became clear there wasn't much else I was able to do, or so I felt at the time.

The program was like that of many other art house cinemas in major cities in the world. I saw a block of Maya Deren films there for the second time, which remain some of my favorite uses of film. I saw some early Hitchcock silents, Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr., Wim Wender's Hammet with Frederick Forest, some Euro-expressionist stuff like Vampyr and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but its biggest attraction for my repeat visits was the two euro entrance price, whatever was being shown.

The occasion of this visit was a presentation at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF). This section was dubbed cult horror, and the presenter Christopher Lee.

I arrived to the hundred seat or so venue on time, and in time to get a place about fifteen rows back, close enough to really feel like I was in the same room with B Dracula.

In the same room, indeed, as I have this false memory of his delivering the opening talk to the audience over his shoulder from a seat near the aisle in the fifth row or thereabouts. Not a chance this is the case, I'm sure he stood at the front with a mic. It may be that I'm recalling his sitting there during the screenings.

Not just some Hammer Horror has-been, he'd worked steadily outside the genre over the years and by this time he had just appeared in the first Lord of the Rings, a film that pleasantly surprised T and me in Rotterdam the previous Christmas night. And in fairness regarding my 'B Dracula' comment: Isn't Dracula in fact a stock B movie character? I mean, Bela Lugosi was B Dracula.


He introduced three films that day: The Masque of the Red Death, The Wicker Man, and I cannot remember the third (probably the first shown) for the life of me.

But before his intro to the program, we, the audience, were given a purple A4 with the BIFFF Top Ten on one side and Lee's choices on the other. Going through the lists, he had the occasional remark: that he really should have thought of The Exorcist, for instance, and that the first time he had ever jumped in his cinema seat, genuinely startled, was Psycho — not at the iconic shower scene, but something subtly archetypal, when Norman Bates as his mother appears at the top of the stairs.

'Til this day I have yet to see Son of Frankenstein, the absolute best of them all, according to the actor, as he compared it favorably to James Whale's vastly more known Bride. He made as compelling a case as an actor could, it just hasn't been showing anywhere that I know of.

Blade Runner was good, he admitted, but he only allowed himself room for one film by Ridley Scott, and it had to be Alien, far and away the better of the two.

At one point he asked how many of us recalled what Rosemary's baby had looked like and received varied descriptions – from long finger nails and slimy skin to sharp teeth and red eyes – before he revealed his point: the director had left the appearance up to the audience, as no such appearance had occurred on film.

He was really high on The Devil and Daniel Webster and The Night of the Hunter. Come to think of it, I am pretty sure I saw The Devil at some point at this cinema. I suppose it might've been the third film he presented that I can't remember for sure.

When the subject of the Oscars came up, he admitted that that year's Best Picture winner, A Beautiful Mind, had an undeniable quality but insisted that it in no way achieved the level of film-making that Rings had.

"A Beautiful Mind is here," he said, indicating with his hand a level about the height of his shoulders, "And The Lord of the Rings is here," now with his hand high over his head.

Christopher Lee is dead.

Cursor over image for BIFFF list