Equintessential

I need a dose of beauty right now.  Badly.  No, I’m not advocating botox, or anything else injected, burned on or sucked out.  It’s been an ugly summer and autumn, and I want to see beautiful, ethereal images and/or beings in all their wonder.  I suspect that many of my readers (jeez, “my readers,” how pompous) might be feeling the same.  And with the holidays coming up faster that we’d probably like to admit, here’s a viable and genuinely soothing spiritual bandage, the new Glitterati epic coffee table book, HORSE/HUMAN, a collection of stunning pictures by noted photographer Bob Tabor.

Yes, it’s pricey ($95), but one gets their money’s worth.  And then some.  This is a giant hardcover volume (14 1/4 x 11 7/16 inches) containing 104 works by the award-winning artist.  And they’re printed on heavy glossy stock (the book weighs nearly eight lbs), so it’s not like you’re spending nearly a hundred bucks on a book of Mr. Ed wannabes (which ain’t necessarily a terrible thing), but rather purchasing a complete mini-gallery that can be cherished over and over again and ultimately be passed down to one’s children or other loved ones.  Long story short:  it’s a work of visual poetry.

The photos capture horses in various forms of motion, and Tabor, knows his subjects extremely well.  Horse lovers/owners (like myself) will appreciate and nod with glowing approval/recognition at the compositions that either in part or their entirety make up this exhibition.  Eyes, mane, arched neck, back, hooves, linear form – either standing still or in full gallop – hey, you horse folk know what I’m talking about.  Rolling, rearing, bucking, interacting either physically or telepathically (again, if you’re indeed a horse person, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about), HORSE/HUMAN (the title stemming from the capturing of these gorgeous animals by a human who “gets ’em”) takes these creatures to a level rarely filmed, and with an overabundance of (obvious) love and appreciation (evoking these spectacular animals’ majesty and playful humor), coupled with Tabor’s artistry.

Katharine Merlin, herself an accredited member of the Rhode Island horse rescue community, has written a brief but telling Foreword, and Tabor follows with an introduction, but don’t take their words for it – or even mine.  Check out the sample shots at the bottom of this piece (the book had me from the cover, handsomely protected in an acetate outer jacket); if they don’t have you champing at the bit, you might need to be checked for uveitus.

HORSE/HUMAN.  Hardcover w/acetate jacket.  14 1/4 x 11 7/16 inches.  Glitterati, Incorporated.  ISBN: 978-0-9962930-8-2.  SRP:  $95.

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Design for Skeeving

A holy crap!-jaw-dropping little noir from 1960, Leslie Stevens’ gritty PRIVATE PROPERTY takes up residence on home vid via a stunning Blu-Ray (and DVD) from the gang at Cinelicious Pics.

A visual template defining what inventive indie pictures are all about, PRIVATE PROPERTY chronicles the adventures of  Duke and Boots, the Marquis de Sade’s hip-talking version of George and Lennie (Corey Allen, Warren Oates) as they lie, cheat and steal their way across Camelot-era America.  Duke is the knowledgeable, possibly even near-genius IQ dude who seems to have a fix on everything.  Boots is his lackey, who, admittedly is still a virgin and craves sex – no matter how he (dare I say) comes about it.  Duke offers to get it for him (“How do you want her, dead or alive?”), and a suitable victim seems to appear out of nowhere.  The woman in question, Ann, a ravishing blonde (the beauteous Kate Manx) in a super car, drives by and immediately piques the two psychopaths’ attention.  Threatening a closeted racist (the great Jerome Cowan) to follow the woman/chauffeur them to her dwelling proves to be a too-good-to-be-true situation for Satan’s Hardy Boys.  She lives in an upper-middle class suburban community; Roger, her successful money-obsessed husband (Robert Ward) is rarely present, and the classy house next door is up for sale and vacant.  So Uday and Qusay “move in” on the crib – and then on the lady.  Another perk, Mrs. Moneybags is horny, neglected, preens around the pool in suggestive outfits, tries her best to seduce hubby when he’s around and is rife with enough inferiority complexes to fill the fall issue of Psychology Today.

Using (to quote Grace Kelly’s Lisa Fremont) “rear window ethics,” Duke and Boots spy on Ann with voyeuristic drool, all the while planning their “attack.”  The strategic upshot of these maneuvers comprises Duke “innocently” wandering on her property in the guise of a gardener, offering free consultation because the posies are so in need (and by posies, he ain’t referring wholly to the flora).  Allen convinces Manx, who allows him entrance (the worst thing you can do to a vampire), and voila! – the game is afoot.  While steadfastly loyal to her spouse, the lonely woman can’t deny that the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak…and pulsating.  Ann’s taboo sex fantasizing erupts in a masturbatory rite wherein the stunning woman slowly rubs a large candle up and down.  Soon Duke is diving into her pool, donned only in jeans, and Ann spends the nights in bed caressing his conveniently forgotten leather belt, which she erotically winds around her neck.  Boots, meanwhile, stuck in the deserted manse, begins to get jealous, knowing too well that his slick alpha bud has decided to keep the prize in question for himself.  Allen viciously responds to his dense pal by tossing some eyebrow-raising gay slurs at Oates that are met with teeth-gnashing anger (but not denial).  And when jealously, sexual tension, greed and adultery all bite into forbidden fruit – it’s mushroom cloud time in Levittown.  The horrific climax, with spouse Roger finally arriving ahead of the cavalry, figuratively severs the cool head of maniac Duke, who, in fit of violent rage (with Boots surprisingly rational, in a lunatic sort of way), goes all Cody Jarrett on the group while Ann and Rog vigorously defend their respective…private property (real estate-wise and human).

This movie is a pip, a 79-minute powder keg of human emotion, a true rediscovery (obviously, it got little play in 1960 America).  Stevens, of course, is best-known for being one of the creators of TV’s Outer Limits, but this former protégé of Orson Welles first gained recognition with his comedy version of PRIVATE’s basic plotline, a theatrical piece entitled The Marriage-Go-Round, which told of a similar tale with the male of the household being the reward package; it was a smash on Broadway (and a lousy movie), making a star of the predatory lead female character, Julie Newmar.  Manx, it should be noted, bears a resemblance to Newmar, but in a fragile, vulnerable way (this wasn’t merely acting; the talented thesp took her own life four years later at the age of 34; at the time of PRIVATE PROPERTY, she was Stevens’ wife).  Stevens also penned another sex-outside-marriage piece, a terrific medieval play called The Lovers, which ended up as a flawed 1965 movie, The War Lord (all the pagan rite/supernatural stuff was cut out before the release).

The sex in the suburbs plot in post-Peyton Place, USA became a kind of mini-genre.  In 1960 alone, two other movies tackled a similar, simmering premise, Richard Quine’s excellent Strangers When We Meet and the arguably sleazy, but engrossing, Mantrap, the second feature directed by Edmond O’Brien (which contained barbecue get-togethers/wife-swapping subplots – to say nothing of Stella Stevens.  And one should never say nothing of Stella Stevens!).  PRIVATE’s still photographer/visual consultant Alexander Singer himself helmed a verboten-lust epic in 1961, entitled A Cold Wind in August, starring Lola Albright as an available older woman.  And then there’s always Look in Any Window (also 1961) allowing demented teen peeping tom Paul Anka, to pant and sweat with wayyyy-too-much realism (thus adding an unnerving layer to the title My Way).

PRIVATE PROPERTY may be the masterpiece of the bunch, if not for the writing and acting then for the photography – spectacular monochrome imagery by the brilliant Ted McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Johnny Belinda, The Breaking Point); and if that wasn’t enough, the camera operator was Conrad Hall.  It don’t get much better, folks.

Indeed, Stevens’ later Outer Limits partner was no less than Joseph Stefano, scriptwriter for 1960’s most successful shocker, Psycho.  Aside from the aforementioned Rear Window nod, a wink-wink in-joke surfaces when Duke first approaches Ann (“I’m looking for the Hitchcock residence”).

But let’s talk about the acting.  We’ve already briefly discussed Manx, and she’s outstanding, but this is also Corey Allen’s finest moment in front of the camera (he later turned director, mostly in TV); Allen is instantly recognizable to cineastes as Buzz, James Dean’s doomed adversary in Nick Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause.  For Oates, it was an auspicious beginning to a magnificent early roll of roles; earlier in ’60 he excelled as Ray Danton’s kid brother in Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, then, after a slew of memorable TV appearances, it was off to Sam Peckinpah’s Ride the High Country (as one of the degenerate Hammond clan).  The rest, as they say, is history.

The Cinelicious Pics Blu-Ray of PRIVATE PROPERTY does Stevens, McCord and Hall justice; it’s amazing looking, perfect, tight widescreen compositions luxuriously displayed with crystal-clarity and immaculate detail (the movie was thought lost until a dupe negative source work was unearthed a couple of years ago by the UCLA Film and Television Archive; Cinelicious then took over and proceeded with this meticulous 4K High Definition scanning and restoration).

If you’re a noir fan, with a penchant for the edgy-bordering-on-kinky, you might want to invite these types (incompatible and impossible variations of “snakes and birds,” to quote Cowan’s smarmy character) onto your private property, safe in the guarantee that they’ll be there for less than an hour and a half.

PRIVATE PROPERTY.  Black and white.  Widescreen (1.66:1; 1080p High Definition); DTS-HD MA.  Cinelicious Pics.  CAT # Cinelicious5.  SRP:  $34.99

Two-disc set also includes High Definition DVD edition.

 

 

 

 

Battle of the Metal Bands

Recommended without reservation or hesitation is DETECTORISTS, SERIES 1 & 2, my bid for the best comedy of the decade (and then some), now on DVD from Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Channel X North/Lola Entertainment/BBC (whew, that’s a lot of entertainment!).

Originally broadcast in 2014, the initial six episodes revealed the unusual lifestyles of Andy and Lance, two Suffolk-based detectorists.  What’s a detectorist?  They are the dedicated curious of historical artifacts, diligently patrolling rural fields of suburban England in search of gold, either of the heritage kind or of the ore.  In short, metal detector detectives.

Have to admit that even I was a bit on the fence during the first episode; I mean, this might have been a bit too odd even for me.  And odd it is; in fact, DETECTORISTS could be the quirkiest TV comedy of all-time.  So if your TV yuks run along the lines of Last Man Standing or anything with Kevin James or former Friends alumnus, move on.

But back to me and DETECTORISTS.  So, the first episode ended, and I was biting my lower lip (this isn’t something I ordinarily do, btw, even under the most stressful conditions).  But I’m fairly brave when there’s no real danger at hand, so I trekked on to episode two.  I was starting to like these two strange looking Mutt and Jeff dudes, and actually chortling at their comments on life, death and everything in-between (such as television quiz shows).  And I began to like their cohorts.  By the third installment, I was eager and anxious to join them on their essentially fruitless journey for ancient Saxon treasure rumored to be buried in the meadow of an eccentric farmer (and his pet invisible dog) who is on police radar as a possible wife-murderer ([It’s] “…the Holy Grail for treasure hunters,” excitedly announces Lance, surveying his field of dreams.  “The Holy Grail is the Holy Grail for treasure hunters,” soberly replies Andy).  By parts four and five, I had become an addict; and by the series finale, I was having withdrawal pains.  I was so freaking mad about this show ending that I nearly burst into tears (and, yes, I DO take my meds).  Relief came several months later with the announcement of 2015’s SERIES 2.  And, as indicated, both are now readily available here for one’s repeated viewing pleasure

DETECTORISTS is the brainchild of costar (Andy)/writer/director Mackenzie Crook.  Crook, to us elitists, is best known for his bizarre portrayal of Gareth in the original UK production of The Office (the geeky guy with the Moe Howard do); to the masses, he is revered as Ragetti from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.  To comment on the most obvious of his “many hats” DETECTORISTS gigs (the on-camera one), Crook’s performance is perfectly off-kilter and believable; his writing and directing even more so.  As his mate, Lance, the great actor Toby Jones notches up another masterful character on his already impressive resume.

The supporting cast can’t be beat either.  As members of the Danbury Metal Detecting Club (or DMDC), in proper pecking order is Terry (Gerard Horan), former local police head, who nevertheless manages to get blown-up in a UXB mishap (however, like a Road Runner cartoon, his injuries are hopeless, but not serious), Terry’s wife, Sheila (Sophie Thompson) a ditzy aging hippie whose spiritual guide helps the gang (well, not really) along with her special lemonade brew (don’t ask).  Louise and Varde (Laura Checkley, Orion Ben), wary, wry and wacky; then there’s Hugh and Russell (Divian Ladwa, Pearce Quigley), proof that oil and water combos can mix.  And, finally, there’s sexy newbie Sophie (Aimee-Ffion Edwards), whose mysterious interest in the detectorist world comes under some scrutiny from the club who regard any DMDC enthusiast functioning in normal society with suspicion.  A rival band of detectorists, more devious and skeevy, are led by none other than Simon and Garfunkel (Simon Farnaby, Paul Casar, for reasons you’ll have to discern for yourself).  On the home front is Andy’s beautiful girlfriend, Becky (Rachael Stirling), one of the community’s leading school teachers, armed with a snarky attitude and a love for Andy because of rather than in spite of his weirdness (Andy’s lanky, Chas. Addams looks have banned him from visiting his love on school premises).  Truth be told, the DMDC comprises a commendable group of indisputably honest, extremely intelligent (they’re the local pub trivia club champs) and decent folk; win/win – they’re are among the wittiest, savvy humans anyone could ever want to be privileged enough to encounter.  That they look and act a bit left-of-center…or anywhere is by no fault of their own.  Hey, I would be honored to call any of the DMDC my friends.  And I want their official fleece club jacket!

Throughout the first six shows, we learn many secrets, such as Toby’s longing love for his dippy, ex-wife (Lucy Benjamin, a gold-digger of another sort, but still likeable in a restraining order sort of way), the fact that he’s won a massive lottery, and the truth about Sophie’s attraction to the detectorist world.  We also learn that Becky is pregnant.  All of this comes to a smashing conclusion when the Becks actually joins Andy, Toby and Sophie on their never-ending quest for Saxon loot.  Using her smarts as a history major (and the fact that she is a teacher) inspires Becky to put forth her theory about where this treasure might be buried – should it really exist.  The gang pooh-poohs her, an amateur at best, and moves on, as the camera provides one of the greatest Nelson Muntz visual moments in television history.

SERIES 2 opens with Andy and Becky welcoming little Stanley (Jacob Hill, Isabella Hill) into their lives (he actually goes detectoring with pop in a custom-made knapsack).  Becky is also feeling wanderlust, fed up with mundane local school politics, and yearning for a sojourn to Botswana to assist the underprivileged (she and Andy have often talked of such an adventure, but now that it might actually happen, the detectorist, a homebody creature of habit, is getting a bit freaked).  Other events include Varde finally talking, and a special mission for Hugh and Russell at the request of the Lord Mayor (Kenneth Collard, he lost his mayoral chain/sash whilst snogging an under-aged babe at the local forest-enshrined lover’s lane).  Lance is introduced to his twentysomething daughter (Alexa Davies), who he’s always wanted to meet.  Furthermore, there’s the arrival from Germany of Peter (Daniel Donskoy), a studious, man with a purpose (searching for a downed WWII Luftwaffe plane that carried his grandfather); Andy, in particular, is mistrustful of him, especially when the foreigner and Sophie become an item.  And, indeed, Peter may not be what he seems.  And Simon and Garfunkel return with their new detectorist group The Nighthawks, early-on pegged by the DMDC as a terrorist group.  Will the noble detectorists prevail in the face of adversity?  Can Lance win over his daughter, but overcome the legendary Curse of the Gold?  Will Andy and Becky part, due to his reluctance to relocate to Africa?  All these and more are hilariously answered into this most satisfying sequel featuring the aforementioned wonderful new cast additions (and, best of all, as the mother-in-law whose intense dislike for Andy is transcended by her cut-to-jugular advice, Stirling’s real-life mum, Diana Rigg).

Crook’s writing and direction goes further over-the-top in SERIES 2 – a good thing.  And he’s helped by the spectacular widescreen location photography by Jaime Cairney and John Sorapure, and Johnny Flynn’s and Dan Michaelson’s gorgeous music (can’t stop humming that main theme).

In case you’re still trying get a fix on DETECTORISTS, allow me to give you a sample of the pre-credit teaser from SERIES 2, episode 5:

It’s a beautiful pastoral morning.  Andy and Lance are already hard at work.  There is a loud whooshing sound.  The two men look up and, alarmingly, see a huge tumbleweed-like cylindrical object rolling toward them.  It is an adolescent’s enclosed Jungle Gym trampoline.

LANCE:  What was that, mate?

ANDY:  Trampoline.

LANCE:  Oh.

Almost immediately, a top-of-the-line land rover cruises up to the detectorists.  It stops, the window is rolled down, revealing a posh, middle-aged country squire.

SQUIRE:  Any of you chaps see a trampoline?

ANDY: (indicates direction) Went that way.

SQUIRE:  Was there a child in it?

ANDY:  Don’t think so.

SQUIRE:  Right.

LANCE:  Is that good news?

SQUIRE (pauses pensively) Potentially.

The squire drives off.

Folks, I had to reverse the action back over the credits because I was missing about two minutes due to my constant, uncontrollable laughter.

Suffice to say, Acorn has gone the distance in their presentation of DETECTORISTS.  Picture and sound (some nifty stereo-surround nature effects) are so lush, clear and vibrant that one could easily confuse this DVD for a Blu-Ray.  Supplements include the Christmas special reunion and an excellent documentary following the cast and crew on-location.

Hey, comedy fans, you don’t have to be detectorists to unearth this treasure.  So don’t let it stay buried.  Start digging!

DETECTORISTS, SERIES 1 & 2. Color. Widescreen [1.66:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; stereo-surround; Acorn Media/RJL Entertainment/Channel X North/Lola Entertainment/BBC; CAT #s AMP-2412, AMP-2470.  SRP:  $39.99@.