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Siskel and Ebert give ‘Faces of Death’ two thumbs down, 1987
09:16 am


Roger Ebert
Gene Siskel
Faces of Death

The 1980s were marked by a spike in parental crusades—the widespread “satanic panic” of the day has been well-noted, and Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center seeking to censor or label music acts like Prince, AC/DC, Madonna, and Judas Priest, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving looking to raise the legal drinking age as well as other measures.

The arrival of video rental shops in many towns in America created an opening for a parental panic over “video nasties,” which is to say, exploitative and cheaply made videocassettes selling little more than death and human dismemberment under the cover of regular horror movies, of which the Faces of Death series was the best known example. Faces of Death purported to be a documentation of people in the act of experiencing death in various ways, with dubious veracity. Some were clearly quite real.

In 1987 the two best known movie critics in America tackled the issue head-on in a segment of Siskel & Ebert. In the segment they warn parents that the “video nasty” trend is infiltrating video stores, with irredeemably violent movies masquerading as more conventional horror fare. Siskel says that the genre describes movies that are “full of blood and guts—sometimes real, sometimes faked.”

As soon as I heard the term “video nasty” in connection with this show, I had the hunch that only the British would invent a term like that, and I was right. “Video nasty” was a term invented in the U.K. to refer to violent movies distributed on videocassette that came under fire for their content. A group called the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (NVLA) popularized the term in the early 1980s. Essentially, the furor over “video nasties” in the U.K. led directly to the imposition of a rating system.

The Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of movies with the goal of “prosecuting” them under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. According to Wikipedia, “39 films were successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act but some of these films have been subsequently cut and then approved for release by the BBFC [British Board of Film Classification].” The list of movies prosecuted by the DPP included Faces of Death, Gestapo’s Last Orgy, Cannibal Holocaust, Abel Ferrara’s The Driller Killer, and Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein

“The most popular nasty of them all,” says Siskel, “is a piece of trash called Faces of Death.” Obviously the Siskel and Ebert look at Faces of Death is not a regular review at all, merely an instantiation of the general thesis under discussion, that more parents need to be alarmed by “video nasties.” Still, Siskel and Ebert review movies, so they do show an obviously faked clip of a supposedly lethal bear attack, and then return to the studio to comment on how obviously fake it was.

More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert to feature in a happening that will freak you out?

The 1970 release of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls by 20th Century Fox remains something of a miracle. No movie came as close to capturing the insanity of the dark year of 1969, which included both the Manson murders and Altamont, as Russ Meyer’s brilliantly directed freakout melodrama. 

Russ Meyer has always been a cult hero of sorts, and in the last years of his life Ebert became a large-scale version of the same thing, as his refusal to let his diagnosis of papillary thyroid cancer in 2002 reduce his visibility; his occasional outspoken political pronouncements; and his newfound love of cooking (among many other endearing tendencies) won him a whole new generation of Internet fans.

The anomalous detail in Ebert’s career always was that sole screenwriting credit—that of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. (Did any screenwriter with a single credit write a better movie than that?)

How did Meyer and Ebert come into contact with each other? What sort of things did they say to each other? Questions very like these may well be answered when the movie about the making of Beyond is made! Earlier today it was reported that a script about the relationship between Meyer and Ebert written by Simpsons and SCTV veteran Christopher Cluess has been picked up for production by Sobini Films, Permut Presentations, and Chautauqua Entertainment.

It’s still a long way from being cast, shot, edited, and released, but boy, are we keeping our fingers crossed. (Actually, what movie could possibly live up to one’s wildest expectations?)

The pressing question is: Who will play Ebert? Philip Seymour Hoffman? Jonah Hill? It’s an unorthodox choice but I could see Tony Hale pulling it off…..



Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Roger Ebert on Universal Health Care and Sarah Palin’s “Death Squads”
Cher vs. Christina Aguilera in ‘Burlesque’: drag queen training film or C-cup Russ Meyer

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Who Killed Bambi?  The Roger Ebert Sex Pistols Screenplay

After the death of Malcolm McLaren, film critic (and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls scribe), Roger Ebert posted on his always-excellent journal, McLaren & Meyer & Rotten & Vicious & Me, his take on getting a Sex Pistols movie off the ground with Dolls director, Russ Meyer.

At the time, Ebert had no idea who the Sex Pistols were.  The Pistols, though, very much wanted to work with the creative team behind Dolls, a movie Johnny Rotten deemed as being, “true to life.”  It’s a funny, informative account that somehow, along the way, accommodates both P.J. Proby and Scientology

As to why the movie, Who Killed Bambi?, never happened, various reasons have been circulated: Maybe 20th Century Fox pulled the plug after reading the resulting screenplay, or McLaren’s shaky finances would never have covered the film’s budget.  Or perhaps, most intriguingly, (Princess) Grace Kelly, who served on the Fox board of directors, simply didn’t want the studio to back another Russ Meyer X-travaganza (likely profits be damned).

Oh well, we still have Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle and The Filth and The Fury.  But we can now add to that era another document.  Ebert just posted on his journal the complete screenplay for Who Killed Bambi?  Here’s a sample:

Just then the SEX PISTOLS appear on the screen.  They’re dressed in what could be described as Proto-Punk: The look is definitely different from that of the other people on the line, and yet isn’t as well-defined as it will be later on.

They split up to work the line: They’re of it, but not in it.  STEVE carries his guitar, vaguely suggesting they’re into music of some sort.  SID VICIOUS goes into his famous Sun-Glasses dance, his hands inverted and placed in front of his eyes to suggest either binoculars or a Batman-style headdress.  The Pistols seem amused by the notion that people would stand in line in an unemployment queue at all.

Proby watches, fascinated by their wonderfully Downtrodden look, as they approach the others.

SID VICIOUS (to the Miner)
Why stand in line, you silly twit?

It’s your money - why wait for it?

Why don’t they provide seating out here?

The crowd grows silent, uneasy, in the face of the attack.

They take it with one hand and give it back with the other.

So smash it and take it!

And while Ebert refuses to comment on his script, “I can’t discuss what I wrote, why I wrote it, or what I should or shouldn’t have written.  Frankly, I have no idea,” here he is in ‘88 with Meyer and McLaren discussing—and venting over—Who Killed Bambi?

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Siskel and Ebert play a video game
10:26 pm


Roger Ebert
Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Chris Burden: Shot With His Own Gun
04:37 pm


Roger Ebert
Chris Burden

This week, Roger Ebert revisits one of his earlier pieces on conceptual artist Chris Burden, and turns it into a lovely meditation on the role of the artist in society:

Were these people all frequent visitors to the museum, or to art exhibitions in general?  Five years after the 1960s ended, were they now drawn to a man whose work seemed to negate love and music and flowers and—anything at all?  Burden was not of the Woodstock Generation.  His art perhaps said that art was a mockery.  That it was about the artist, who when fully committed was not engaged in life at all, but was on Pause.

One of Burden’s more infamous works was his possibly Vietnam-critical piece, “Shoot” (below).  In it, Burden was shot in the arm by an assistant standing five meters away.  After the “performance” was over, Burden was taken to a psychiatrist.

34 years later, on campus at UCLA, graduate student Joseph Deutch attempted a similar stunt.  The fallout lead, one month later, to the resignation of professor Chris Burden, who likened the piece to an act of “domestic terrorism,” and urged Deutch’s expulsion.

Bonus: Chris Burden’s Big Wheel

From Roger Ebert’s Journal: The Agony Of The Body Artist

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Roger Ebert on Universal Health Care and Sarah Palin’s “Death Squads”
04:52 pm


Sarah Palin
Roger Ebert

HURRAY, BRAVO and THANK YOU, Roger Ebert for saying this so beautifully! REPUBLICANS ARE ASSHOLES!

imageThe notion of “universal health care” does not mean “socialized medicine.” It means just what it seems to mean. America is the only developed nation on earth that does not provide it. Why does it inspire such virulent opposition? Who is behind it? It is opposed mostly from the far right, whose enthusiasm seems to be encouraged by financial support from some (not all) insurance companies. Those companies have priced American insurance out of the reach of millions.

One result has been that our national life expectancy ranks 42nd among all developed nations. We spend more on medical care that any other nation, and get less than 41 of them. These figures are pretty clear.

I don’t pretend to know if this information is available to the angry people who have shouted down their representatives at town hall meetings. I think I do know where their anger is fed. The drumbeat of far-right commentators fuels it. Their agenda is not health care, but opposition to the Obama administration. It takes the form of demonizing Obama. It uses the tactic of the Big Lie to defame him him. An example of this is the fiction, “he wants to kill your grandmother.” Another is the outrageous statement that he is a racist who hates white people. A person capable of saying that is clearly unhinged and in the grip of unconditional hatred.

“Death Panels.” A most excellent term by Roger Ebert

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment