Thursday, September 29, 2005

Tyrant Renewed! SpiderBaby Birth Revealed! Ulmer DVD Anthology a Pip!

The stormy weather sweeping through has been bumping the electricity on and off today, hence the late post -- still, much to talk about...

S.R. Bissette's Tyrant registered trademark has just been renewed; coincidentally, within seconds of that email arriving from the lawfirm I'm working with on such matters, a purge of old papers dating from the late 1980s (the choice bits of which are soon en route to Lea Ann Alexander at Henderson State University to join the Bissette Collection) turned up the tear sheet/doodle of the original SpiderBaby Grafix logo. Hmmm, is the universe trying to tell me something?

My first wife Marlene (then Nancy) O'Connor actually scribbled a date onto the sketch -- Saturday, December 17th, 1987, at 5 PM -- so that provides an official date for the 'birth' of SpiderBaby Grafix. The decision to form SpiderBaby Grafix as a publishing entity followed Dave Sim's ethical decision to dissolve Aardvark Vanaheim International following the Diamond Dist. debacle which targeted Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli's Puma Blues over Diamond's upset with Dave's decision to withhold the first Cerebus 500-pg. collection from distribution and sell it direct-mail only. Anyhoot, it's an unexpected pleasure to find this original sketch, which I'll be posted on the website's SpiderBaby history.

As for Tyrant, I'm preparing a couple of t-shirts with new Tyrant art for release via the website. Let's see how those do; there may be a dance in the old dino yet.

AllDay Entertainment's elusive late 1990s DVD releases of Edgar G. Ulmer's 1940s features have just popped back into print via Image in an exquisite new three-disc DVD collection Edgar G. Ulmer: Archive, which is highly recommended. You don't have to be an Ulmer buff to savor this collection, which resurrects AllDay's first 1997 Ulmer release, The Strange Woman/Moon Over Harlem (1946 and 1939, respectively) on the one disc I've screened thus far; if the rest of the set is this sharp, I'll be singing its praises for years to come.

Ulmer was a masterful filmmaker, and though he primarily labored in the backlot quickies of fringe Hollywood (for studios like PRC, which is primarily represented in this set) and graced all genres, his star forever shines high for the Univeral Karloff/Lugosi classic The Black Cat (featuring in the Universal Bela Lugosi Collection I discussed here last week) and the most gritty and unsettling of all noirs, Detour.

This set leads off with The Strange Woman, which adapts the best-seller novel by Maine author Ben Ames Williams (author of another novel that Hollywood adapted into the disturbing Technicolor borderline noir/horror gem Leave Her to Heaven, now on DVD and well worth picking up). VCI previously released Strange Woman on vhs; this new Image/AllDay edition sports the upgraded master AllDay created for the Turner Classic Movies 2004 Ulmer birthday marathon, and it's a beauty. The film is a marvelous slice of faux-New England gothic romance which still packs a kinky punch, with a scheming sadomasochistic femme fatale heroine played by Hedy Lamarr who shakes up old Bangor propriety with her acts of 'good' as often as her more overtly nasty behavior. Lamarr and Ulmer create a remarkable character here, and it invigorates the film in sometimes startling ways. The Code required the script's marginalizing the novel's core narrative, in which a young woman consciously inflames her father's lust from childhood on; this incestuous undercurrent oddly provides a thematic bond between all the films in this set. Woman was a potential breakthrough production that could have launched Ulmer back into major studio good graces since his post Black Cat 'blacklisting,' but alas, such was not the case. AllDay omnipotent grand stomper David Kalat provides an incredibly informative, insightful audio commentary, and the disc is further enhanced by interview footage with Ulmer's widow Shirley Castle Ulmer (who Kalat argues was essential to Ulmer's creative work).

The companion features in this set: Ulmer's contemporary Hamlet pastiche Strange Illusion (1945), which also sports archival Ulmer trailers, stills, and posters; the engaging and highly entertaining John Carradine vehicle Bluebeard (1944), which flies by at a mere 77 minutes and remains my personal fave of Ulmer's filmography I've been able to screen over the decades, sweetened by the unexpected color footage from the set that pops up in the mini-doc Bluebeard Revealed; the entertaining but impoverished John Agar and Gloria Talbot 1957 curio Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, which benefits from the interviews with Agar and Ulmer's daughter Arianne Ulmer Cipes; and Moon Over Harlem (1939), Ulmer's cheapjack but mesmerizing African-American feature, which was reportedly shot in about a week in an abandoned cigar factory. This covers a lot of genres in a single set, offering an amazing one-stop-shop overview of Ulmer's work; AllDay and Image also add an amusing 1940s short film, Goodbye Mr. Germ and the ultra-rare color TV pilot Swiss Family Robinson (1958), which I'm really looking forward to. That's just two splashes of color in an otherwise all-black-and-white set -- but if that's a decisive factor for you, you're clearly reading the wrong blog. I mean, whatcha going to do when the upcoming King Kong DVD set hits? Ulmer makes rich visual use of monochromatic possibilities in all five of the features herein, which is one of the unsung DVD treasures of the year.