Surprisingly Far From Greenwich

Content warning: this movie drops some rape at you from more or less out of nowhere.

Catherine Bomarzini (Sherilyn Fenn) has inherited a magnificent Italian castle with enormous statues in its gardens and interiors that seem to be constructed from second-hand sets from Labyrinth. Having lived there in early childhood before moving to America, she’s thrilled to return and catch up with Martha (Hilary Mason), the castle caretaker and her childhood nurse, as well as her old friend from art school Gina (Charlie Spalding) who moved to Italy a while back to work in painting restoration. As Gina visits, the two of them catch a travelling circus act, led by smouldering magician Lawrence (Malcolm Jamieson), and Gina is so taken with the act she gets Catherine to invite the performers over to the castle for dinner.

At this point the circus performers drug Catherine and Gina and rape them; specifically, Lawrence assaults Catherine but then switches places with his twin brother Oliver (also Malcolm Jamieson) to complete the act, and whilst Oliver is busy with Catherine, Lawrence rapes Gina for good measure. (It is also strongly implied that whilst Lawrence is busy preparing Catherine for Oliver’s attention, Gina is being gang-raped by most of the rest of the cast.)

Gina and Catherine aren’t thrilled by what happened but decide to not call the police and just deal with it themselves, and go their separate ways. However, Catherine soon finds herself adrift in waves of ghostly visions, as she tries to discern the difference between Lawrence, who looks like a gentleman but behaves like a beast, and Oliver, who behaves like a gentleman but sometimes turns into a terrifying monster. Meanwhile, when Gina gets back to work she sets to restoring an ancient painting donated to the local church that seems to depict an ancient scene that might shed some light on the tragedy of Lawrence and Oliver.

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Jim Jarmusch Via Germany, Part 3

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Having covered his often-unclassifiable early works and his middle period, we’ve now come to the point where we can address three of Jim Jarmusch’s most recent films. Each of them is a skewed take on a different classic genre; you have a romantic comedy where the romance has wilted, you have an achingly slow spy thriller, and you have a vampire story about the undead contemplating art and suicide.

Broken Flowers

This 2005 movie hails from that Lost In Translation period when Bill Murray was launching a second golden age of his career, profiting on the fact that whereas in his original prime he was great at Being Funny, as he aged he was getting better and better at Being Sad or Being Grumpy whilst still Being Funny, and that plays really well to the indie cinema crowd. Here, Murray plays Don Johnston, who through a fluke of nominative determinism has spent his adult life being a bit of a Don Juan (as other characters like to remind him). He kicks off his Being Sad early, as his current partner Sherry (Julie Delpy) is walking out on him as a result of his relationship goals being entirely too superficial.

We soon get a gear shift into Being Grumpy, interspersed with Being Sad and, as always, injected with Being Funny and also, given the character’s established interests, Being Horny. Don receives in the post a mysterious, unsigned letter, purporting to be from a partner of his from around 20 years ago. The letter claims that the author became pregnant by Don and gave birth to a son shortly after the end of their relationship, and that the lad, now just shy of 19 years old, has gone on a cross-country road trip whose purpose he’s being closed-mouthed about but could well be an attempt to track down Don.

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That’s the Hell of It…

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The mysterious Mr. Swan (Paul Williams) is a legendary record executive and producer – Mephistophelian in his bearing, Svengali-esque in his powers of persuasion, and Phil Spector-esque in pretty much every other respect. His current hit group, the Juicy Fruits, have spearheaded a nostalgia wave to the top of the charts, and his Death Records label dominates the industry. Now he wants to open the Paradise – his very own deluxe concert hall – and he wants the perfect music to open it with.

Enter humble Winslow Leach (William Finley), a skilled pianist and songwriter who’s written an epic rock opera based on Faust. Overhearing Leach performing some of his material, Swan sends his thuggish agent Philbin (George Memmoli) to acquire it – having done so, Swan and Philbin cut Leach out of the process entirely. As Leach tries harder and harder to get them to listen to him, Swan’s empire wrongs him more and more – first they throw him out, then they beat him up, then they have him arrested on trumped-up drugs charges and sent to Sing Sing, where the governor arbitrarily has his teeth removed and replaced with steel teeth. Flying into a rage when he hears a news report that Swan intends to have the Juicy Fruits perform his material, Leach escapes and goes on a rampage against Swan’s business interests, during which he incurs further horrible injuries, loses his voice entirely, and is thought to have died.

Under the circumstances, there’s only one thing to reasonably do: sneak into the Paradise, cobble together a spooky costume from the props cupboard, and do the whole Phantom of the Opera thing to terrorise Swan. Trouble is, Swan is difficult to scare – and very persuasive. On encountering the transformed Leach he offers to put on Faust the way Leach wants it, once Leach has rewritten it to suit a new vocalist. Having fallen in love with showbiz hopeful Phoenix (Jessica Harper in her first movie appearance), Leach agrees and signs a contract – in blood, naturally – on the condition that Phoenix be the lead singer.

Swan, naturally, reneges on the deal – leading to an escalation of the conflict between them that reveals supernatural twists to Swan’s history and culminating in a chaotic final sequence which is a triumph of carefully choreographed chaos. Characters die and hearts are broken – but the party’s so good and the music’s so hot that barely anyone notices. All this is naturally set to a great soundtrack – penned by Paul Williams himself – concluding with perhaps the best song of the lot over the credits, a catchy Elton John-esque number about how the fallen characters’ lives were totally meaningless and they’re better off dead.

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The Regal Chambers

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Rarely has a writer written so much and had so little of their work celebrated as Robert W. Chambers. Despite churning out a rather mighty bibliography, to my knowledge there isn’t any serious discussion of more than a fraction of his material, and that discussion is almost all focused on a single book.

But to be fair, it’s a hell of a book. The King In Yellow was a collection of short stories, issued towards the very start of Chambers’ career. It had been preceded by In the Quarter, a novel about life among struggling artists in Paris which ended up marred by a detour into antisemitism. The King In Yellow mingled stories about American art students in Paris – presumably drawing on Chambers’ own experiences, and including cameos from characters from In the Quarter – with a much stranger set of stories, representing some of the finest supernatural horror to come out of the late 19th Century.

These stories seem to be thematically linked by a shared mythology, of the sort which H.P. Lovecraft would also utilise in his own work, built up more through allusion than through direct exposition. At the centre of this is a suppressed play, The King In Yellow, which alludes to such places, people and concepts as Hastur, Carcosa, the Hyades, Aldebaran, Cassilda, Camilla and the Lake of Hali. (Some of these names are borrowed from Ambrose Bierce). The exact relevance to all of this to the action is often obscure, but seems indicative of a supernatural, and possibly even alien or cosmic force at work behind the scenes – a technique repeated to an extent in True Detective’s use of these concepts.

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Gee, Emily, You Sure Do Write Purty

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Having enjoyed great success with the Black Library, their subsidiary for printing tie-in fiction for their games, Games Workshop recently decided to go even further with Solaris, the Black Library’s shiny new imprint devoted to publishing original (as in not based on a gaming or other franchise) fiction. I’ve been interested to see what sort of material they’ve been putting out, which is how I came to pick up Emily Gee’s The Laurentine Spy without giving it enough scrutiny to realise it was a fantasy romance novel.

Not that examining the back cover blurb would have really helped me in this respect; for a romantic fantasy or a fantasy romance The Laurentine Spy is awfully coy about being romance-adjacent at all. In contrast to, say, Erastes’ Transgressions, it goes in disguise, infiltrating the fantasy shelves disguised as generic fantasy. Perhaps Solaris find it easier to classify their books as SF/fantasy, rather than try to break onto the romance shelves, or maybe some enterprising editor is trying to slip in a broader range of titles but doesn’t want Games Workshop to realise they are publishing Girl Books. Whatever the case, The Laurentine Spy pulled a fast one one me, but I honestly don’t mind: as well as having a strong and reasonably satisfying romance plotline (caution: I have never previously read a romance novel, so I might be completely wrong on that) it’s also a gripping pseudo-Renaissance-Regencyish espionage adventure with low-key but interesting magic and enough violence to satisfy my Khorne-inspired thirst for blood.

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