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Alain Resnais dead at 91: Watch his unforgettable documentary ‘Night and Fog’
05:54 am


Alain Resnais
Night and Fog

The film director Alain Resnais, whose career spanned six decades, has died at the age of 91.

Resnais was described as “a poet of the cinema,” and he was associated with the Left Bank group of film-makers and writers that included Chris Marker,  Agnès Varda,  Jean Cayrol, Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Resnais was best known for his films Hiroshima mon amor, L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel ou le Temps d’un retour, Satvisky and Providence. Last month, his final film, Aimer, boire et chanter (The LIfe of Riley) was premiered at the Berlin Film Festival.

One of his earliest films was the powerful documentary Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog) in 1955. This harrowing film looked at the Holocaust, and told the stories of the prisoners by using footage of the remnants of the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Majdanek. The critic and New Wave director François Truffaut described Night and Fog as the greatest film ever made.

Almost sixty years later, this early work by Alain Resnais has lost none of its power and is arguably one of the most important films made about the Holocaust.

R.I.P. Alain Resnais 1922-2014

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘So You’re Dead; Now What?’: RIP Harold Ramis
11:33 am


Harold Ramis

The news of the death of the legendary comedy writer, performer and film director Harold Ramis—just as credible rumors about the filming of his long-awaited Ghostbusters 3 were beginning to look more and more real—is blowing up the Internet as we speak.

We can think of no eulogy more fitting for the darkly brilliant mind behind Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day than this one, delivered by the man himself, early on in his career, in 1977 on SCTV. You will be greatly missed, sir.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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No More Mister Nice Girl: Maggie Estep, RIP
05:13 pm

Pop Culture

Maggie Estep

Sad to hear that poet-novelist-spoken word performer Maggie Estep has died at the age of 50. According to friends, Estep, an East Village fixture of the 1990s, suffered a massive heart attack on the 9th and died earlier today.

She is probably best remembered for her numerous MTV and Def Poetry Jam appearances and a music video for “Hey Baby” from her 1994 album No More Mister Nice Girl. Estep was the author of Diary of An Emotional Idiot and several “Ruby Murphy” mystery novels.

The East Village Grieve blog reports that Maggie Estep had been living in Upstate New York while working on a new book.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Italian film maestro Riz Ortolani dead at the age of 87
01:24 pm


Riz Ortolani

Italian film composer Riziero “Riz” Ortolani died in Rome today at the age of 87. Sadly, Ortolani—who worked with directors like Vittorio De Sica, Dino Risi, Damiano Damiani, Lucio Fulchi, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Pupi Avati—would have celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary of marriage to his wife Katyna in just a few days time.

Ortolani’s music first gained worldwide exposure with his score for the infamous Mondo Cane. The film’s title theme “More” won him a Grammy and an Oscar nomination. It’s been covered by Frank Sinatra and Count Basie, Judy Garland, Andy WIlliams, Herb Alpert and many others.

In a career that spanned decades, Ortolani wrote the music for around three hundred bloody giallo films, “Mondo” documentaries, zombie flicks, exploitation films and spaghetti westerns. In recent years his work has been heard in the films of Quentin Tarantino and in Drive.

The gorgeous theme music to Cannibal Holocaust:

Mondo Cane’s theme tune, “More” sung by Judy Garland in 1963:

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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It’s been ten years since Spalding Gray disappeared
05:39 pm


Spalding Gray

It’s ten years since the actor and writer Spalding Gray disappeared in New York. He is believed to have committed suicide by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry. His body was surfaced in the East River two months later.

Gray achieved international success as a story-teller, who used the events, adventures, traumas and fascinations of his life to create the acclaimed productions Swimming to Cambodia and Monster in a Box. Gray enthralled with his personal tales, told in a direct though intimate style, seated behind a desk, with a minimum of props. He drew an audience in and kept them engaged, amused and thrilled with his unique, moving and often hilarious tales of life.

It was probably a car accident in Ireland, June 2001, that started Gray’s severe depression. He suffered a broken hip, that left his leg almost immobilized, and a horrifically fractured skull that left a jagged scar across his forehead. It was said that during the operation to replace part of his shattered skull with a titanium plate, the surgeon found shards of bone embedded in Gray’s frontal cortex. Thereafter, Gray suffered from a debilitating depression.

He tried various therapies to cure his condition. This included a course of treatment with neurologist Oliver Sacks. On the first anniversary of Gray’s disappearance, Sacks suggested that suicide was perhaps a part of the writer’s “creative” end to his life:

“On several occasions he talked about what he called ‘a creative suicide.’ On one occasion, when he was being interviewed, he thought that the interview might be culminated with a ‘dramatic and creative suicide.’” Sacks added, “I was at pains to say that he would be much more creative alive than dead.”

I met and interviewed Gray some twenty-odd years ago. He was in Glasgow to perform Monster in a Box, and we met in an hotel off the city center. He was tall, friendly, polite, enthusiastic, dressed in his uniform of plaid shirt and back jeans. Though jet-lagged, he entertained with amusing answers to questions he must have been asked innumerable times before. Then for the camera, he improvised about traveling and performing and living in hotels, and how he’d asked for a quiet room, a hushed room, away from the city tumult, and instead found himself perched over a cobbled lane where the click-clack-click-clack of late night revelers and day-time shoppers kept him awake, leaving him sleepless to count down the hours between shows. 

The day he disappeared, Gray said to his wife, Kathleen Russo:

“OK, goodbye, Honey.”

“And I go, ‘You never call me Honey!’

“And he goes, ‘Well, maybe I’ll start!’

So I left for work that day being hopeful that there was a future for us, that he was really going to try to get better.”

When Gray went missing, his disappearance was featured on TV news and America’s Most Wanted. Sadly, the hope he would turn up one day and recount magical tales of his misadventures were all too quickly destroyed.

This is Splading Gray in Gray’s Anatomy, directed by Stephen Soderbergh, in which our monologist talks about his rare ocular condition, and interweaves it with his Christian Scientist upbringing, Elvis Presley, sweat lodges, and his own fears around surgery.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Something Weird Video founder dies: RIP exploitation film guru Mike Vraney
10:37 am


Something Weird Video
Mike Vraney

Mike Vraney, founder of the underground/exploitation film distro concern Something Weird Video, died yesterday after a long struggle with lung cancer. He is survived by his wife, artist Lisa Petrucci.

Something Weird (warning: boobies) was founded in Seattle in 1990, and has kept thousands of filmed oddities alive and available that almost certainly would have lost were it not for Vraney’s curatorial ministrations. From SW’s about page:

Here on your screen is a whole world of film that just a few short years ago was considered lost or worthless. The industry that produced and distributed these films had long since vanished and there was no sign of the men who actually created these bottom of the barrel celluloid wonders. That is until now.

In 1990 (roughly), we started Something Weird Video with the idea of releasing films that had never been on video. In my mind, the last great genre to be scavenged were the exploitation/sexploitation films of the 30’s through the 70’s. After looking into this further, I realized that there were nearly 2,000 movies out there yet to be discovered. So with this for inspiration, my quest began and wouldn’t you know, just out of the blue I fell into a large collection of 16mm girlie arcade loops (which became the first compilation videos we put together!) Around the same time I received an unexpected phone call that suddenly made all this real - my future and hands-down the king of sexploitation Dave Friedman was on the other end of the line - this would be the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship for both of us. Dave’s films became the building blocks for our film collection and he has taught and guided me through the wonderful world of sexploitation - introducing me to his colleagues (Dan Sonney, Harry Novak, H.G. Lewis, Bob Cresse, and all the other colorful characters who were involved during his heyday) and they’ve been eager to dive into the business again. (And initially, most are shocked that anyone is even interested in this stuff to begin with!)

Mike Vraney
Anyone—everyone—interested in strange cinema owes Mike Vraney a debt. The video shop that I mentioned in a DM post just yesterday carried so a huge a selection of his wares that they ultimately wound up simply giving him his own Something Weird wall, so much of worth did he preserve. Very little of SW’s stock is work safe—sleaze was the order of the day—but this relatively tame trailer imparts the kitschy, campy, sexy, goofy fun of the films he rescued from oblivion. We salute you and your legacy, Mr. Vraney, and we’re very sorry to lose you.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Bizarre Deaths from the Victorian era
07:01 am



In the 1800s and early 1900s, more people died at a younger age than today. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions allowed disease to spread quickly and with devastating effects. This period, which the British term the Victorian era, also saw a high incidence of bizarre deaths, a selection of which have been listed by the BBC News Magazine:

1: Killed by a mouse

In 1875, at a factory in south London, England, a mouse dashed across a work table startling the employees. One worker made to grab the fleeing rodent, but the mouse escaped his grasp, and ran up the man’s sleeve, out through the neck of his shirt, and straight into the young man’s open mouth.

The Manchester Evening News reported:

“That a mouse can exist for a considerable time without much air has long been a popular belief and was unfortunately proved to be a fact in the present instance, for the mouse began to tear and bite inside the man’s throat and chest, and the result was that the unfortunate fellow died after a little time in horrible agony.”

2: Killed by a coffin

Henry Taylor was a pall bearer at London’s Kensal Green Cemetery. One day, whilst carrying out his duties at a funeral, Taylor tripped over a headstone and fell backwards on to the ground. As he fell, his fellow pall bearers let slip the coffin they were carrying, and it dropped directly on to the prone Taylor’s head.

The Illustrated Police News reported in November 1872:

“The greatest confusion was created amongst the mourners who witnessed the accident, and the widow of the person about to be buried nearly went into hysterics.”

3: Death by eating her own hair

The woman’s death was a mystery. Doctors could not fathom why, or even how, she had died. It was only after a post mortem that the cause of death was revealed. Inside the 30-year-old’s stomach was a solid lump of human hair, curled like a bird, and weighing two pounds.

The Liverpool Daily Post reported in 1869:

“This remarkable concretion had caused great thickening and ulceration of the stomach, and was the remote cause of her death. On inquiry, a sister stated that during the last twelve years she had known the deceased to be in the habit of eating her own hair.”

4: Killed as a zombie

At a funeral in rural Russia, the mourners were horrified when the coffin lid burst open, and the deceased climbed out.

The villagers ran in terror, locking themselves in their houses. The priest hid in the church. As the villagers armed themselves, the priest realized the deceased had most likely been in a coma, and had regained consciousness. One old woman failed to lock her door, and the suspected zombie staggered into her house. The woman’s screams alerted the villagers, who, now armed, were ready to dispatch the zombie. By the time the priest arrived to explain what had happened, the “zombie” was dead.

5: The man who laughed himself to death

Farmer Wesley Parsons was sharing a joke with friends in Laurel, Indiana, in 1893, when he began a fit of uncontrollable laughter. Nothing could stop Parsons horrifying attack of the giggles, and after two hours of non-stop laughing, he died of exhaustion.

Read more truly bizarre deaths here. Below, a collection of photographs of “The Victorian Book of the Dead.”

Via the BBC News Magazine

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Freddie Mercury’s home videos
03:54 pm


Freddie Mercury
Jim Hutton

Behind-the-scenes footage of Queen filming their second last video for “I’m Going Slightly Mad.” This footage has been posted along with a mixed selection’s of Freddie Mercury’s home video footage, which includes a brief tour of Freddie’s home Garden Lodge, a group of his friends chatting in the kitchen (including his personal assistant Peter Freestone, the singer and actor Peter Straeker, and cook Joe Fanelli), some of Freddie’s cats playing, and the morning after Christmas.

However, it is the footage for “I’m Going Slightly Mad” which has more pop cultural importance as we see (after some filming with penguins) how much effort Freddie puts into shooting just one scene from the video, even though he was very ill.

As for the home video footage, well, over a decade ago, I met and interviewed Freddie’s partner Jim Hutton for a documentary I was then producing. Jim had written a personal memoir about his relationship with Freddie called Mercury and Me, and I wanted to talk to him about that and his relationship with Freddie. I traveled to Ireland, where Jim was living. His home had a few possessions from his time with Freddie at Garden Lodge: a dining table and chairs, a glass cabinet, photographs, assorted mementoes. Jim was a handsome man, with a soft Irish lilt. He was charming, unassuming, direct and genuinely kind-hearted. We spent the afternoon talking and looking through his photographic albums, which were piled in a corner, still in a remover’s box. Inside were hundreds of large glossy color photographs of Jim and Freddie in Japan, at home, at Christmas, at a garden party together. The pictures revealed glimpses of their shared private world. Jim then opened another box filled with Hi-8 video cassettes, which contained various home movies, clips of which have made their way onto YouTube since Jim’s death in 2010. The quality is not great, but for the time (late eighties-early nineties), that’s to be expected.

More of Freddie’s home videos, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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The Incredible Mister Biggs: Train Robber, Sex Pistol, Ronnie Biggs dead at 84

ronnie biggs
By the time of the U.K.‘s Great Train Robbery in 1963, train robbing had already passed more or less into quaintness. But quaintness did nothing to deter 15 men from stopping a train in Buckinghamshire and hauling in what would be equivalent to over $7 million USD today. Several of the robbers were sentenced to a rather harsh 30 years in prison, including Ronnie Biggs, who, though not the caper’s ringleader, achieved the gang’s greatest notoriety by escaping from prison less than a year and a half into his sentence, fleeing to France for appearance-altering plastic surgery, and eventually living openly as a fugitive in Brazil, who would not extradite him to the U.K.

Then, in 1978, at age 49, he became a punk singer.
biggs 7
Julien Temple’s preposterous and incoherent Sex Pistols film The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle brought that band—by then halved to just drummer Paul Cook and guitarist Steve Jones—to Rio de Janeiro, where they met up with Biggs and with him recorded “No One Is Innocent” and “Belsen Was A Gas.” A ridiculous but very, very fun scene in the film shows the band, with Biggs as their new singer, performing “Innocent” with bass player/Nazi fugitive Martin Bormann—actually an actor. One conceit of the film had it that rather than dying in 1945, Bormann escaped to Brazil. And joined The Sex Pistols. Did I mention preposterous?

Biggs was no newbie to music, though—he’d already participated in the creation of a jazz album in 1974! The collaboration with Bruce Henry was titled Mailbag Blues, and the album finally saw release in 2004. Per Bruce Henry via

Mailbag Blues was written over a couple months’ period ... with Ronnie at our side telling us his story and us breaking it down into events that we most related to musically. The songs are structured as a soundtrack, each one telling us part of a story and leading on to the next. When we went into the studio to record, we had the whole album pretty well defined, but we left a lot of room for individual improvisation, as was the style in 1974.

The recording took place in a very small room, on a four track Ampex Tape Recorder. Everybody played together, and we only used playback on one or two tracks for additional percussion. We were so young and eager back then, and we took ourselves so seriously, that we wouldn’t let Ronnie sing, which is too bad because he had a terrible voice but the Sex Pistols did all right with it didn’t they?

mailbag blues

“London ‘63” from Mailbag Blues

Later, in 1991, German pin-up punks Die Toten Hosen tapped Biggs to sing “Carnival In Rio (Punk Was),” the lone original song on their covers/tribute album Learning English - Lesson One. For the b-side of the song’s single, he reprised his turn on “No One Is Innocent” and also covered The Equals’ classic “Police On My Back.”


Die Toten Hosen with Ronnie Biggs, “Police On My Back”

After years of ill health, including multiple strokes, Biggs surrendered to British authorities in 2001. He was promptly arrested, and confined to complete his original sentence. He was released, due to further deteriorating health, in 2009, and was able to contribute to the book The Great Train Robbery 50th Anniversary:1963-2013. His years of illness finally claimed his life today.

Rest in peace, Mister Biggs. Nobody can say you didn’t live an amazingly colorful life.

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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Sylvester’s dog Princess Terry receives “celebrity pet” award, Castro Street Dog Show, 1984
10:02 am



Damn my terrible timing! Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the passing of Sylvester; queer icon, incredible vocalist and Disco Diva extraordinaire. Well, I may be 24 hours late, but I couldn’t let another day pass without posting something in tribute here on DM.

And what a doozy of a clip! Yes, it’s Sylvester at the Castro Street Dog Fair in 1984, receiving the “celebrity pet” award on behalf of his pup, Princess Terry, from former Catwoman Lee Meriwether, all under the watchful gaze of a leather-vested cowboy. Yep. It really doesn’t get any more camp than this.

R.I.P. Queen Sylvester, you will forever be missed!

Major H/T to Matthew Hill!

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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