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Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker

Riccardo Freda: The Life and Works of a Born Filmmaker
Roberto Curti Price: $45.00 40 photos, notes, filmography, bibliography, index
376pp. softcover (7 x 10)McFarland  2017                                                http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-1-4766-6970-0

Like many American film fans, my knowledge of director Ricardo Freda was mostly limited to his
Horror films I Vampiri /THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT (Titanus,1957),Caltiki il mostro immortale /CALTIKI,THE IMMORTAL MONSTER(Lux,1959),L’orrible segreto del Dr. Hichcock /THE HORRIBLE DOCTOR HITCHCOCK(Panda,1962) and Lo specttro /THE GHOST (Panda,1963).

• However, Freda had a career in cinema that lasted from 1937 (Lasciate ogni speranza /LEAVE ALL HOPE ,Juventus Film) until 1994 (La fille de d’Artagnan /REVENGE OF THE MUSKETEERS ,Canal+ )starting and ending his career as a writer.

• Writer Roberto Curti of Cortona Italy has done a remarkable job tracking down an amazing amount of information on Freda’s life and career.His love for the subject comes though with his very detailed synopses of these rarely seen (outside of certain countries), providing the history behind many of them, production facts, and their success or failure in various territories as well as changes made to them .

Curti uses Freda’s memoir Divoratori di celluloide (Emme Edizioni (1981),164 pages)as a starting point ,but also researching though film magazines and newspapers from several countries, as well as tracking down and watching the titles from the director’s long career. Curti points out that the director could often be petty and recall incidents that might not always match the facts.Curti’s interviews and research sometimes contradicts what Freda put into his book.

• Still ,the Egyptian born Italian director lived La Dolce Vita, being an extravagant personal spender and gambler as well as womanizer. It is ironic that he despised films like Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (Riama,1960) as well as the entire neo-realist movement of films like Ladri di biciclette/THE BICYCLE THIEF(Ente Nazionale,1948).

He was more a storyteller who felt that film should be escapist,and take us out of reality. Not only did he have those skills, he was also able to make limited budgets look richer than they were, due to his understanding of film editing and camera placement ,as well as working with innovators like the great Mario Bava. Indeed, the short tempered Freda walked off the set of a I Vampiri ,leavinng it to be  finished by Bava. We see throughout the book that Freda had a habit of walking off set, much to the detriment of his films and career.  I Vampiri has an important place in Italian horror films ,as it was the country’s first true sound horror film (the first Italian horror film may have been Il monstro di Frankenstein(1920) a now sadly lost silent picture).

Freda had prior to I Vampiri had done a lot of regional comedies ( he cared little for the comics in many of his films ,but put in many physical gags inspired by the likes of Buster Keaton ,historical dramas and swashbucklers . Indeed ,his love of classic novels and adventure tales seemed to have merged into Caccia all’umo /LES MISERABLES( Lux,1952) ,making it more of an action thriller!

His swashbucklers seemed to have broken new ground in storytelling in Italy, being more inspired by American filmmakers than the home grown artisans. His love of tracking shots to get a lot of detail within a long take was developed during this period .Having reviewed the Italian historical drama La cena delle beffe / THE JESTER’s SUPPER* (Società Italiana Cines,1942 ,not by Freda, but by a contemporary),I would love to see more these  rarely motion pictures                (see review at https://scarletthefilmmagazine.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/the-jesters-supper-dvd/ ) .

Freda also was one of the first to leap into the sword and sandal films ,even telling an earlier version of the tale of SPARTACUS(Spartaco(API,1953),released in the U.S. by RKO as SINS OF ROME ). He hopped from genre to genre with various budgets and varying success. Comedy (at which he seemed to have a lot of success),drama ,spy thrillers ,Krimi( he faced off and WON against the antagonistic Klaus Kinski) ,swashbucklers,historicals, and of course horror.

His indifference to some parts of the movies he made show with some sloppy work (in ROGER LA HONTE( Comptoir Francais du Film Production ,1966,one of his later films with a decent budget, he allows a major stunt to show clearly that a “woman” passenger is actually a stunt man since his trousers are clearly visible ),as well as his indifference to actors (he was notorious for using doubles when actors gave him any grief). Yet in staging ,he often surpassed the budget with strong imagery and tracking shots that convey a lot of information .Plus several actors who worked with him praised the director .

Curti’s book makes me want to revisit several of Freda’s films and seek out some of his rarities. Curti has done what any film researcher should do, and that is evaluate and place into historical context the work of the subject.

McFarland is to be commended once again for putting out such a detailed volume about a filmmaker not as well known as perhaps he should be. Each film has b&w illustrations of the film posters or on set photographs, The graphics are sharp and easy to see.

This is a MUST HAVE for lovers of film, especially for those who love Euro-Cinema.

Highly Recommended.

Kevin G Shinnick

 

                  "Acquista il libro o ti farò del male ..."

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DOWN FROM THE ATTIC (book review)

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Down from the Attic: Rare Thrillers of the Silent Era through the 1950s
By John T. Soister and Henry Nicolella -(McFarland; June ,2016 )248 pages $39.95

 http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9831-4

This wonderful follow up to UP FROM THE VAULT: RARE THRILLERS FROM THE 1920S AND 1930S (McFarland ,2010) has author John T Soister joined by Henry Nicolella to track down and view where possible twenty-four films that are ignored and unknown by the majority of genre fans.

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Some are at present lost (i.e. deteriorated nitrate negatives and thus no longer in existence) and others available in truncated forms. Yet that we have still so many of these films for viewing is in itself miraculous, as according to Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation claims that “half of all American films made before 1950 and over 90% of films made before 1929 are lost forever.”

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Beginning with the silent era and going up to 1951, the pair of author sleuths tracked down films and prints from around the world, viewing whatever prints are still extant, and delving deeply into research about productions and reviews buried long ago in musty volumes and microfilm. Their summaries and plot synopses of the films covered makes one seek to look for many of these films, and some make you wonder why a few of them are not better known. Hopefully, their research may bring a few of these films to being found and perhaps preserved.6676769_1

What also makes this book invaluable is their willingness to seek out films that were made outside of the United States. Movies from The U.K. Germany, the Czech Republic, and South America are also explored, many perhaps for the first time in such detail outside of their borders.

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Plus, they cover the odd career of filmmaker Bud Pollard, responsible for the elusive and obscure THE HORROR (Bud Pollard Productions ,1932) as well as the first sound version of ALICE IN WONDERLAND https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6O8kbTi4WNo .

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Soister and Nicolella have done a wonderful job of finding these films and bringing them to the attention of genre fans. As they point out, not all of the films can be considered classics, but their importance cannot be denied.

UNA LUZ EN LA VENTANAa-15-00

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

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-Kevin G Shinnick

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HORROR FILMS BY SUBGENRE

HORROR FILMS BY SUBGENRE by Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay (McFarland, January 2016) softcover 252pages. $35.00

http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9837-6

 

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When I first received this book, I was a bit unsure that I’d have any interest in it. The idea of breaking the genre down into sub categories seemed to me a bit anal to say the least. Plus, glancing through it, I was huffy, saying that the authors were missing a lot of old films when referencing suggestions for films that best illustrated the subcategory.

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Then I began to read further and I realized that the authors had a great understanding of horror on screen, and that the choices the made were wonderful ways of introducing fans and the curious to recent films that many of us may have missed.

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I began making a list of titles that they suggested, and I found that if the films were not classics, they were definitely entertaining and I am very glad that they brought movies to my attention.

 

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Yes, as I read further there WERE some of the usual suspects like CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Decla-Bioscop AG ,1920) for example, but I had missed ASYLUM BLACKOUT (Artemis Productions,2011), which is sort of a house of crazies variation on ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13(Turtle Releasing ,1976). Plus, there were relatively new categories (single person horror) that had some movies which, while I have not caught them yet, the descriptions convinced me they go into my must see list (THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH (Rue Morgue Cinema ,2012) by Rue Morgue founder Rodrigo Gudino, which I had heard about, but this book reminded me I had shamelessly missed viewing.

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Several other tasty morsels were promoted that I wish to view such as Nazi horror in THE DEVIL’S ROCK (Entertainment One ,2011), found footage horror of A NECESSARY DEATH (Brickwall ,2008), and buried alive horror in OPEN GRAVE (Tribeca Films ,2013). The authors champion filmmakers that I have enjoyed in the past such as the works of Larry Fessenden (THE LAST WINTER, Glass Eye Pix, 2006 among many) and so I do understand what they are doing with this reference tome.

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You might question why certain titles were chosen while others were overlooked. I feel that the two writers wanted to stimulate debate and discussion, as well as have you seek out little gems that might have slipped through the cracks. Isn’t that what a good film book should do?

Recommended.
Kevin G Shinnick

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Encyclopedia Of Weird Westerns -a SCARLET book review

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ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WEIRD WESTERNS by Paul Green (McFarland, publication February 2016) 320 pages-softcover $39.95 www.mcfarlandpub.com .

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Ever since seeing PHANTOM EMPIRE (1935, Mascot) on television, I have enjoyed westerns that not your typical gunslinger tale. It seems that I am not alone in my enjoyment of these genre mash ups, as author /comic artist Paul Green has tracked down horror, fantasy, sci fi tales of the Old West (or western tinged tales).

Green casts a wide lasso to hog tie in film, stories, games, and comic books that touch on these hybrid tales.

Some of the titles may raise a few eyebrows for their inclusion (STAR WARS, Fox 1977) as Space Westerns, and a few for their omission (THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN, Principal 1938) though the author clarifies why he feels certain titles don’t fall under the definition “Weird Western”. However, where is GHOST TOWN (Empire,1988)? He lists several other Charles Band produced films so I am surprised he missed this one.

 

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(GHOST TOWN disappeared from the book )

Most fascinating was how far back in literature these oddball oaters went. In 1868, “The Huge Hunter or The Steam Man of the Prairies “by Edward Sylvester Ellis was published, featuring a steam powered robot (true STEAM punk!) . Dime novels, pulps, and magazine serials all spun out tales of when the uncanny went West.

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I do recall in the 1960s a lot of comic books have science fantasy and outright horror stories mixed in with the six gun slinging chronicles. Many of these inspired big (and not so big) budget films and tv series such as COWBOYS & ALIENS (Universal ,2011).

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There are even several role playing games for those so inclined ,such as DEADLANDS (Pinnacle Entertainment Group,1996 )and it’s follow ups.

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Author Green choses some pretty choice illustrations for the comic art, giving small bios on artists like John Severin who did a lot of work in the craft. Likewise, he provides some rare lobby cards and photos from the cinematic world.

All and all, a pretty good research book on this subgenre of sage brush strangeness.

Kevin G Shinnick

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