Friday, May 10, 2013

On "Meridian" (1990)

The horror film is set in Italy
So the Italian sonnet is used
Two lovely girls are raped and abused
A creature rears its head literally
From the castle Sherilynn should now flee
For her breasts and purity have been loosed
Friend Charlie also drugged, rubbed, and then goosed
Forgive the poet, rape is not funny
We have two beauties, one beast
Art restoration, a ghostly nanny
A full and busy flick to say the least
Despite boobs, the badness is uncanny
A dumb film, to the mind a junk food feast
Charles Band can blow it out his fanny

On "The Cremator" (1969)

The Nazis decided the Jews would burn
A Czech man, mad and calm, would fit the bill
Party members' respect he would now earn
When he started with familial swill

Grotesque angles and characters abound
Centered on the repulsive man named Karl
A moral man easily led around
As background townspeople bicker and snarl

Haunted by the dead whom he turned to ash
Having his blood drawn to check for disease
He's too insane to think his actions rash
He's a savior, kill with conscience ease

Caskets and ovens and those graveyard walks
Disappointed with family he thinks
Visits to prostitutes mostly to talk
He combs the corpses' hair, their cheeks are pink

"The Cremator" builds on repetition
What a sigh you hear when the film is done

On "Grand Hotel" (1932)

The Berlin Grand Hotel imitates Life
People come, people go, says Lewis Stone
Nothing ever happens (no kids, no wife)
We check into our rooms, play with the phone

We pretend to be people we are not
Putting on masks before speaking loud
Noticing others, their things sold and bought
Lemmings walking in the same plain old crowd

I couldn't be the Baron, I'm Preysing
Kringelein's pathetic, I am him, too
Anonymous bellboy, not surprising
I know someone can feel my words- it's you

"Grand Hotel" is ancient, it creaks and moans
It's one Oscar sits, and we're all alone

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

It's a White Man's New World: "Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" (1953)

This film is a very swift seventy-five minutes, but the film makers cram in enough misogyny and racism to make it feel like twice its running time.

Captain John Smith (an awkward Anthony Dexter) is recounting his adventures to the king, and the film serves as a flashback to his time in the new Virginia colony of Jamestown. The screenwriters paint Smith as a lovable rogue, a brilliant military mind who gets into all sorts of shenanigans and hijinks. He finds himself in charge of the settlement and butts heads with butthead villain Wingfield (an awkward James Seay). After slaying a bunch of Indians in a confused battle, Smith decides to go make piece with Powhatan (an awkward Douglas Dumbrille), the Chief of the local tribe. Smith happens upon Pocahontas (an awkward Jody Lawrence) when he is stumbling around the forest, and the two take a shine to each other.

Smith, Charlie (an awkward Alan Hale, Jr.), and John Rolfe (an awkward Robert Clarke) are captured and threatened with execution by ruffian Opechanco (an awkward Stuart Randall). Pocahontas throws herself on Smith, saving his life, and the settlers and Indians fall into an uneasy friendship. Pocahontas must marry Smith, and Wingfield connives for his own personal gain.

I suppose this may have started life as an action epic, but this film is a B movie to be sure. The locations, the costuming, and the special effects are all second rate. Many of the lines are unintentionally hysterical ("I a roving adventurer, she an Indian princess"), I haven't laughed this hard at a 1950's historical epic since John Wayne in "The Conqueror." I am not kidding, the words "Captain John Smith" are uttered no less than a dozen times in the opening ten minutes of the film.

While the English of 1607 had some pretty quaint ideas about the role of the female in the settlement, and back in London, these scenes pale compared to the blatant racism against Native Americans. I haven't been this stunned by how they are portrayed onscreen since "Annie Get Your Gun." White actors obviously slathered with brown makeup and black wigs, lots of tomahawks and threats to scalp, dancing around big fires and banging drums, the sheer stupidity of the "naturals" scenes is overwhelming.

Lew Landers directs on a small scale, with only one memorable shot- a fight set against some orange flames near the end of the film. The cast flounders, trying to deliver their unnatural lines naturally. The Native Americans talk like all movie Indians talked back then- unconvincing poetry, third person self-references, and even a "forked tongue" line. The real issue of the Native Americans dying from diseases brought by European settlers is lost in the ineptitude.

I am pretty sure the Disney cartoon from a few years back got more right historically than this film, and "The New World" probably serves as the definitive version of the Smith/Pocahontas story (which seems to be a combination of bravado and myth on Smith's part). "Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" is as awkward as its title, a silly effort that isn't worth your time. (*) out of five stars.