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‘The Mind Benders’: The true story behind the cult classic psychological thriller

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The writer James Kennaway was working as a publisher’s agent when he first heard talk of the sensory deprivation experiments carried out at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, during the early 1950s.

Kennaway’s job entailed traveling across England seeking out academics and scientists to contribute texts for Longmans catalog of books. The stories he heard at Oxford University were just idle chat shared over cups of milky tea or warm beer in pubs. Rumors someone had heard from somebody else that students were being paid to undergo a week of sensory deprivation—so far no one had succeeded. Though still an unpublished author, Kennaway knew he had found material for a very good story.

James Kennaway was born on 5 June 1928 in Auchterarder, Scotland.  His father was a successful lawyer, his mother a graduate of medicine. The younger of two children (his sister Hazel was born in 1925), Kennaway’s early childhood was one of tradition and privilege, with the expectation that he would one day follow in his father’s footsteps.

His childhood idyll ended when Kennaway’s father died in January 1941. Though at a preparatory school in Edinburgh, the twelve-year-old felt obliged to take up the role as “male head of the household.”  He suppressed his own emotional needs and began to write letters to his mother full of the advice and emotional support he felt his father would have given.

The untimely death made James feel that he too would die young, and this early trauma, together with the pressure he felt to succeed at school led to a fissure in his personality that would widen with age. Kennaway’s biographer, Trevor Royle described this gradual change of character as:

James was the sophisticate, Jim the “nasty wee Scot”. Later, he came to characterize the split as James the domesticated man constrained by society and Jim the artist who should be allowed any amount of license.

Or, as Kennaway later described it:

James et Jim, man and artist, wild boy and introvert.

At school “James” was the likable, eager-to-please pupil; while “Jim” was beginning his first thoughts towards a career as a writer—as Kennaway explained in a letter to his mother:

...I feel I have been granted with more than one talent; in such a life my talent of sympathy would shine but my other talents would lie buried. On my part I would get lazier and fatter every day. I might however do this at the same time as I write and really go in for writing, but I must learn more about the English language before I can write any stuff worth reading.

After school, Kennaway carried out his National Service in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders before going up to Oxford to study Modern Greats (Politics, Philosophy and Economics or P.P.E.). It was here he met Susan Edmonds, whom he married in 1951.

After university, Kennaway worked for a publishing firm, and in his spare time, started work on his first novel Tunes of Glory.
 
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Published in 1956, Tunes of Glory was the story of a psychological battle between bully Major Jock Sinclair and war-wounded Lieutenant Colonel Basil Barrow for control of over a peacetime battalion stationed in a Scottish army barracks. The story had been inspired by many of the people and events Kennaway encountered during his National Service.

Max Frisch noted in his novel Montauk that a writer only ever betrays himself; this is true for Kennaway who channeled the experiences of his life through the prism of his writing.

The book’s overwhelming success brought Kennaway more work as a writer: a commission to write an original screenplay. This became Violent Playground, which was filmed in 1957 with Stanley Baker, David McCallum, Anne Heywood and Peter Cushing. Its story of a juvenile delinquent holding a classroom of children to ransom was inspired by real siege in Terrazanno, Italy, when two brothers, armed with guns and dynamite, held ninety-nine pupils and three teachers to ransom. The brothers threatened to kill their hostages unless various demands were met. The siege ended after a teacher attacked and disarmed the brothers allowing the police to rescue the children. Kennaway followed the story in the papers, keeping numerous press clippings, and using the story for a key scene in his screenplay.
 
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The following year, Kennaway was commissioned to write another film, this time he relied on the stories he had heard from academics at Oxford in the early 1950s.

The term “brainwashing” was first used by journalist (and CIA stooge) Edward Hunter in an article he wrote for the Miami News, 7th October 1950. Hunter used the term to bogusly describe why certain U.S. soldiers had allegedly co-operated with their captors during the Korean War. Simply put, Hunter was suggesting the Chinese had used various psychological techniques to create a false sense of friendship with which they could undermine, reprogram and brainwash American soldiers. This led to Western governments commencing their own brainwashing experiments.
 
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In June 1951, a secret meeting at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montreal saw the launch of a CIA-funded, joint American-British-Canadian venture to fund studies “into the psychological factors causing the human mind to accept certain political beliefs aimed at determining means for combating communism and democracy” and “research into the means whereby an individual may be brought temporarily or perhaps permanently under the control of another.”

Dr. Donald Hebb of McGill University received a grant of $10,000 to examine the effects of sensory deprivation. Volunteers were paid to lie on a bed, cradled in a foam pillow (to block out external sounds), their arms wrapped in cardboard tubes (to limit movement and sensation), whilst wearing white opaque goggles. Without any external stimuli and only short breaks for testing, feeding and use of the toilet, the volunteers quickly began to hallucinate—seeing dots, colored lights, and faces. The experiments had disturbing affects on the volunteers with only a few managing to continue beyond two or three days—no one lasted the week.

The experiments progressed with the use of flotation tanks that became central to Kennaway’s screenplay.
 
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In an article “The Pathology of Boredom” published in Scientific American, one of Hebb’s associates wrote:

Most of the subjects had planned to think about their work: some intended to review their studies, some to plan term papers, and one thought he would organize a lecture he had to deliver. Nearly all of them reported that the most striking thing about the experience was that they were unable to think clearly about anything for any length of time and that their thought processes seemed to be affected in other ways.

It was also noted during these experiments that the volunteers were overly susceptible to external sensory stimulation—making them open to ideas or beliefs they may have once opposed. In A Question of Torture, professor Alfred McCoy of Madison University, noted that during Hebb’s experiments “the subject’s very identity had begun to disintegrate.”
 
More on James Kennaway’s ‘The Mind Benders’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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United States of Jedi: Liam Lynch vs. ‘Star Wars’
07.30.2014
07:24 am

Topics:
Amusing
Movies
Music

Tags:
Star Wars
Liam Lynch

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It’s possibly the anticipation of the next Star Wars movie that’s brought this mash-up from circa 2007 back into the ether. Whatever…is generally how I feel about the series of Star Wars movies, which is maybe why I quite like this mash-up of Liam Lynch’s “United States of Whatever” with sample dialog from Star Wars.

Some of you will remember a similar mash-up between Lynch and Darth Vader’s “Noooooooooooo!” back in 2011, but this one has the edge.

It comes via Bootie Dragon, who has a variety of similar mash-ups over on Sound Cloud, along with a rather tasty mix tape that includes samples of Kraftwerk, William Burroughs, Doctor Who and The Beastie Boys all dovetailed together.
 

 

 
H/T Nerdcore
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘The 10th Victim’: Violent, campy 1965 battle of the sexes satirizes reality TV decades in advance


 
For reasons I cannot fully articulate, even to myself, one of my favorite things ever in life is the (relatively) little-known 1965 French-Italian film, The 10th Victim (La decima vittima) starring Ursula Andress and Marcello Mastroianni and directed by Elio Petri. I have movie posters, lobby cards and various pulp paperback books with different great covers (Part of my fascination with the film, obviously, has to do with Ursula Andress—at the absolute height of her considerable beauty here—that much I do know…)
 

 
The plot (clearly the “inspiration” for The Running Man) revolves around the reality show assassins of “The Big Hunt,” a wildly popular futuristic TV spectacle sponsored by the Ming Tea Company of Japan. For five hunts you are the killer, for five hunts the victim.
 

 
To win the tournament, the assassins must complete ten kills, but they never know if they are the hunter or the victim. The Andress character’s kills are elaborate—one of them was even ripped-off for an Austin Powers movie—and she becomes the most popular of the contestants. Her kills are used as TV advertisements for the Ming Tea Company and she wants her tenth killer to be a spectacular one.
 

 
Next up is Mastroianni’s character, Polletti… or is he? You can’t kill the wrong victim, you see, or else you lose.
 

 
You can’t kill the wrong killer in preemptive self-defense, either, or else you lose. What if she is to be his victim? Neither of them know for sure, so of course they have an affair!
 

 
The SpyVibe blog calls The 10th Victim a “cocktail of groovy music, op art, pop art, space-age fashion, and modern design.” It’s not even that The 10th Victim is all that good of a film (say, a “six” out of a possible “ten”) but man does it LOOK GREAT. If you’re into things like Danger Diabolik, Fathom, Modesty Blaise or the “Matt Helm” or “Flint” movies, this might be for you. Although not an over the top “funny ha ha” kind of comedy, The 10th Victim is a fun, campy feast for the eyes that was a decades-before-its-time satire of reality TV and our violence-obsessed mass media.

You could also see it was an elaborate metaphor for male-female relationships and the battle of the sexes. I’m pretty sure that part was intentional, especially when Marcello’s mistress helps Ursula’s character—who is fucking him—to stalk her philandering lover. How dare he three-time her!
 

 
The soundtrack to The 10th Victim was one of my “Holy Grail” records for many years before I was generously gifted with a copy by Pizzicato 5‘s Yasuharu Konishi when I was visiting Tokyo back in 1994. The score by Piero Piccioni is one of my favorite film scores of all time, consisting as it does of an incessantly repeated loopy organ motif and “la la la la” scat singing by the great Italian singer Mina. Piccioni thought this would sound like jazz in the future. I think the maestro was right:
 

 

 
Below, the original trailer for The 10th Victim.
 

 
The entire film is online at Daily Motion. Blue Underground have released The 10th Victim on Blu-ray which is the way you really want to want this puppy…
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 Moon landing?

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So, did Stanley Kubrick fake the Moon landing?

Well, that’s the proposition of William Kare’s documentary (mockumentary?) Dark Side of the Moon, which originally aired on French TV channel Arte in 2002 as Opération Lune.

According to Karel’s (fictional?) film, Kubrick was hired to fake the Apollo 11 mission by the U.S. government. The evidence? Well, secret documents alluding to Kubrick’s involvement in the “fraud” were discovered among the director’s papers after his death in March 1999.

Moreover, Kubrick apparently left clues to his involvement into the scam: firstly, his being loaned lenses by NASA to recreate the candle-lit scenes in his film Barry Lyndon—how else could have got hold of these unless NASA owed him a BIG favor?; secondly, Kubrick allegedly made a confession of his involvement in the conspiracy that is contained in his film version of Stephen King’s The Shining.

Adding substance to these alleged facts, Karel wheels out a highly convincing array of contributors: Henry Kissinger, Buzz Aldrin, Jan Harlan, Richard Helms, Vernon Walters (who is claimed to have mysteriously died after filming) and Christiane Kubrick.

It’s a great romp, and for those who are tempted to believe, watch the bloopers reel at the end.
 

 
Via Open Culture

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Awesome Alfred Hitchcock action figure unveiled at Comic-Con
07.24.2014
12:30 pm

Topics:
Movies
Pop Culture

Tags:
Alfred Hitchcock


Photo via Ain’t It Cool
 
I was a little apprehensive when I heard there was going to be an Alfred Hitchcock action figure. Would Austin’s Mondo—known for their gorgeous posters—be able to do the great director justice in three dimensions? Well, I think they certainly have if this photo of the toy figure that’s starting to make the rounds on the Internet is anything to go by. Mondo did an excellent job with “The Master of Suspense,” IMO.

Sporting a fine-tailored suit, this replica of the legendary horror director comes with his directors chair, clapboard, cigars, and props from his most famous films—including a butcher knife, a raven and a seagull. The figure also comes with interchangeable hands and a stand.

I wish there were better images, but these will have to do for now. More to follow.


 
Via Superpunch

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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The first film footage of Palestine circa 1896
07.23.2014
07:53 am

Topics:
History
Movies

Tags:
Palestine
Lumière Brothers

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Like an early Google Street View, the French movie pioneers brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière sent cameramen over to Palestine in 1896 to shoot the first moving images of life in the region. 

At this time, Palestine was a remnant of the Ottoman Empire with around 500,000 inhabitants—30,000 of whom lived in Jerusalem. 85% of the population were Muslim, 10% Christian and 5% were Jewish. All were subjects of the Sultan of Constantinople.

This incredible footage comes from the 93 reels recovered by Lobster Films, a film preservation company based in Paris, in 2007. Serge Bromberg, the company’s co-founder said:

…this year, we have something very special to show. In an antique shop, we have discovered 93 wonderful little camera negatives from c. 1897, all shot in the Middle East (Jerusalem, Palestine, Egypt.[...] etc), that would form an ideal 80 [minute] program of what could be among the earliest films shot in the region still in existence. … They are in wonderful condition … Not a scratch, no decomposition, and those little sprocket holes typical of the films of that year.

The clip of the Lumière’s footage shown below comes from the documentary Palestine: histoire d’une terre 1880-1950.
 

 
H/T Sabotage Times

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Privilege’: Peter Watkins powerful antidote to 1960s pop hysteria
07.22.2014
12:34 pm

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Movies
Music

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Peter Watkins
Jean Shrimpton
Paul Jones

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Set sometime in a none too distant future, Peter Watkins’ debut feature Privilege from 1967 told the story of god-like pop superstar Steven Shorter, who is worshiped by millions and manipulated by a coalition government to keep the youth “off the streets and out of politics.”

Inspired by a story from sitcom writer Johnny Speight (creator of Till Death Us Do Part which was remade in America as All in the Family), Privilege was an antidote to Swinging Sixties’ pop naivety. While Speight may have had a more biting satirical tale in mind, screenwriter Norman Bogner together with director Watkins made the film a mix of “mockumentary” and political fable, which was a difficult balance to maintain over a full ninety minutes without falling into parody.
 
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Though it has its faults, Watkins succeeded overall, and presented the viewer with a selection of set pieces that later influenced scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, Lindsay Anderson’s O, Lucky Man! and Ken Russell’s Tommy.

Watkins also later noted how his film:

....was prescient of the way that Popular Culture and the media in the US commercialized the anti-war and counter-culture movement in that country as well. Privilege also ominously predicted what was to happen in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980s - especially during the period of the Falkland Islands War.

 
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Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton have a “private” moment.
 
On its release, most of the press hated it as Privilege didn’t fit with their naive optimism that pop music would somehow free the workers from their chains and bring peace and love and drugs and fairies at the bottom of the garden, la-de-da-de-dah, no doubt.

In fact Privilege was at the vanguard of a series of similarly styled films (see above) that would come to define the best of British seventies cinema. The movie would also have its fair share of (unacknowledged) influence on pop artists like David Bowie and Pink Floyd, while Patti Smith covered the film’s opening song “Set Me Free.”
 
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What’s also surprising is how the film’s lead, Paul Jones (then better known as lead singer of Manfred Mann) never became a star. As can be seen from his performance here as Steven Shorter, Jones could have made a good Mick Travis in If…, or Alex in A Clockwork Orange.

Jones went onto make the equally good The Committee but (shamefully) little work came thereafter apart from reading stories on children’s TV.

Ah, the fickle nature of fame, but perhaps he should have known that from playing Steven Shorter.
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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Peter Sellers is sinister and pathetic in the divisive 1970 obscurity, ‘Hoffman’
07.22.2014
11:41 am

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Movies

Tags:
Peter Sellers
cult movies
Sinéad Cusack


 
Hoffman is one of the most obscure films in the career of Peter Sellers, who hated the 1970 comedy-drama so much that he asked to buy up all of the prints and start over again from scratch. He needn’t have bothered, as the strange little movie was barely released in UK theatres at all and had its debut American screening in 1982 after he was already dead. I caught it on a low rent UHF channel that ran old B&W TV shows, wrestling, Tom Baker-era Doctor Who, Marx Brothers and WC Fields movies, Australian women in prison soap operas, and flop films like this one in the late 70s or I probably would never have heard of it myself. Hoffman is a cult film with a very small cult.

Some people say it’s Sellers’ “best” performance” but I think that’s a contrarian film snob taking it way too far. Having said that, it is, for sure, one of his most interesting roles and a fascinating film that is basically just two very, very fine actors at work. Most of the film takes place in the same rooms. (The somewhat play-like material had been done before on television by director Alvin Rakoff with Donald Pleasance.)
 

 
Sellers’ intense dislike of Hoffman apparently stemmed from what he regarded as this being the closest he got to his revealing his true self onscreen. When not hiding behind an accent or make-up, the actor often claimed that he had no identity whatsoever outside the roles that he played. If, in fact, the odd, manipulative, somewhat psycho aging businessman Sellers played in Hoffman is close to how he saw himself, well, that’s… well… it’s very interesting.
 

 
Dull, creepy—even sinister-seeming—Benjamin Hoffman has an unrequited crush on his pretty secretary, Miss Smith, played by a young Sinéad Cusack at the very beginning of her career. When he discovers that her fiance is involved in a criminal activity, he blackmails her into spending a week with him, with just three weeks to go before their wedding when he will lose her forever. She reluctantly agrees and Hoffman behaves cruelly, playing mindgames with her until revealing himself to be a very lonely and pathetic soul. If Sellers saw a too-close for comfort version of himself onscreen in Hoffman, it would speak volumes about his legendary pathologies! What must the man have been like in private if THIS performance disturbed him so much? Yikes! (It’s worth noting that Sellers’ former writing and performing partner Spike Milligan sent Britt Ekland a congratulatory telegram when her divorce from Sellers became final in 1968!)

I’ve read Hoffman described as an “offbeat” love story, but I don’t know how many would agree with that, especially women.

Hoffman‘s moody music was composed by Ron Grainer, he of the Doctor Who theme fame.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Chuck Berry and Little Richard headline the London Rock & Roll Show 1972

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The London Rock and Roll Show was the first major pop concert to be held at Wembley Stadium, the sports arena later famed for LiveAid and the Freddie Mercury tribute concert.

Headlining the show that day on August 5, 1972 were the undisputed Kings of Rock ‘n’ Roll Chuck Berry and Little Richard. These gods were ably supported by Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screaming Lord Sutch and Billy Fury. Some of the booked acts couldn’t make the concert due to visa issues, but those who did turn up delivered a blistering set of rock ‘n’ roll classics. The whole event was filmed by Peter Clifton, who later directed Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, and given a brief cinema release. The performances are interspersed by an interview with Mick Jagger who gives his thoughts about the show—something he claims could never have happened a decade before—and watch out for a young Malcolm McLaren selling T-shirts at his Let It Rock stall.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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‘Sugar Cookies’: The Discreet Charm of the Swinging, Decadent Bourgeoisie
07.21.2014
07:15 am

Topics:
Movies

Tags:
Mary Woronov
Lynn Lowry
Troma
Ondine

Vintage Poster for Sugar Cookies
 
There are few things more dangerous than someone who is rich, gorgeous and bored. New kicks get harder and harder to find, especially when you are someone like art/sex film director Max Pavell (George Shannon) in Theodore Gershuny’s underground-meets-overground psychosexual drama, 1973’s Sugar Cookies.

Opening with Max talking to an unseen reporter about the tragic demise of his superstar actress, Alta (Lynn Lowry), the film switches to a flashback revealing some of the truth behind the young (and damaged) beauty’s death. Waking her out of a more than likely drug induced nap, he starts to seduce her, which quickly turns into a head trip involving a loaded revolver, strange perfume and the handsome but soul-eroded Max pulling the trigger in such a way to make it look like a suicide. The film cuts back to Max talking on the news, his handsome and reptilian image now on multiple screens.
 
Max Pavell on the TV News
 
After the TV sleaze interlude, the film cuts to Camilla (Mary Woronov), bathing in one of the best fedoras ever. She saunters into Max’s living room and starts doing some topless stretching and leg exercises. He walks in and the best part is the near-bored look on her face. She knows she’s majestic and is the true alpha in the room. They do end up having sex, all set to the very sensual audio and inter-cut scenes of Alta’s autopsy report. Are we having fun yet?

There’s a weird subplot involving Max’s estranged wife, the fabulous Teutonic bitch-goddess Helene (Monique van Vooren) and her chubby, supremely awkward negligee enthusiast brother Gus (Daniel Sador). The way she hisses such bon mots like, “I will slit your throat!” at Max is heart-warming.
 
Julie is groomed by Camille
 
Meanwhile, Camille confers with her charismatically acerbic friend Roderick (the inimitable Ondine) about conducting auditions to find Max’s next big actress. (Something Roderick refers to as a “cunt hunt.” Did I mention he was acerbic?) After a genuinely funny audition montage, the last girl walks in. Julie (also Lynn Lowry) is an elfin looking beauty whose eagerness for an acting role is matched only by her lack of experience. Which is summed up with her sole credit of playing Anya in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, which Julie honestly describes her work in as perfectly terrible. Camille takes a liking to Julie and begins to groom her. The two women bond, first over seemingly benign activities, like shopping, tennis and swimming. But things soon grow more and more co-dependent, with Julie becoming increasingly more submissive to the innately domineering Camille. Is the moody Amazonian grooming Julie to be the next Alta or to be Alta, complete with the tragic ending?
 
Things get weird in Sugar Cookies
 
Sugar Cookies is from a very rarefied period of time where the underground and overground were cross-pollinating. With Warhol Factory stars like Woronov and Ondine, not to mention future Flesh for Frankenstein co-star Monique van Vooren, it has instant art cred. But that said, this is really more than just a cult film curio. Underneath its polished, arty veneer are some mighty strong cynical threads about not just the bourgeoisie but also the dangers of making stars of out of people who are damaged goods right from the starting gate.

Cast-wise, Woronov and Lynn Lowry, two wholly unique and wonderful actresses who would go on to be deigned cult film queens, truly run the show. Woronov is all slinky, sinister grace as Camille, making an interesting mix with the ethereal and fragile Alta/Julie. It’s a bit mind-blowing to realize that Sugar Cookies was Lowry’s first major role. (She had previously appeared as a mute cult member in the incredible horror film, I Drink Your Blood in 1971.) She manages to pull off the two similar but different personalities of her dual roles with conviction, leaving you truly worried for poor, possibly ill-fated Julie.
 
Camille in Max's Pad
 
The rest of the cast, especially Shannon, Vooren and Ondine, are wonderful but are not given enough to do. Shannon, who would go on to shine in Fernando Arrabal’s heart-building and heart-breaking I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse later that year, is good as the handsome but morally sooted director. Monique von Vooren, who was also a cabaret singer that could boast of having a pre-fame Christopher Walken as one of her backup dancers, is all icy hot anger and blonde glamor as Helene. Her fabulous bitchiness is only matched by the brilliant Ondine, one of my personal favorites from the Factory years. These three are all charismatics and while the film is really terrific, it would have been sweet to have more of them within it. On top of that, you also get to see early sexploitation and adult film legend Jennifer Welles as Max’s aggressive, honey-haired secretary. 

The casting credits are not the only weirdly impressive ones for the film. In addition to a young Oliver Stone (!) as the associate producer, there’s also Mr. Troma Films himself, Lloyd Kaufman sharing both writing credits with director Gershuny, as well as an executive producer credit. Before Vinegar Syndrome spiffed this film up with a lovely Blu-Ray release, Troma had actually released it years before. Other than the fact that there is nudity and Lloyd Kaufman attached to it, Sugar Cookies does not play out at all like a Troma film. If anything, it’s right next to films like Rufus Butler Seder’s criminally underrated Screamplay (which co-starred underground film titan George Kuchar) and Dario Argento’s last truly great film, The Stendhal Syndrome, which are both brilliant and are about as Troma-like as Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

One of the coolest coups that Gershuny and Kaufman pulled was landing electronic music great Gershon Kingsley for the appropriately trippy soundtrack. Kingsley, best known for the composition “Popcorn,” was a Moog pioneer and one of those composers, like fellow genius-peers Mort Garson, Wendy Carlos and his musical partner, Jean-Jacques Perrey, whose body of work is just begging for more examination.

Sugar Cookies is a dark, strange gem that is as compelling as its mighty cast. If you love any and/or all of the main actresses and actors or just want to see something different from a point in time where the cinematic lines were thinner and ultimately, more interesting, definitely give this one a go.
 

Posted by Heather Drain | Discussion
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