Things We Like: “El Vampiro,” “Almost Silent” and “P.O.O.P.T.”
The same year that Hammer’s “The Curse of Frankenstein” revolutionized the European horror world with its vivid colors, severed limbs and ample cleavage, another cinematic revolution was underway in Mexico. Instead of showing the blood and flesh that had previously only been hinted at, the Mexican filmmakers looked to the past and found inspiration in the vintage monster films of Universal Studios and the directorial styles of craftsmen like James Whale and Jacques Tourneur.
Vampirism, with its strong Catholic imagery and gothic overtones, seems a natural subject for Mexican filmmakers, so it is no surprise that actor Abel Salazar chose “El Vampiro” as the first of several popular horror pictures he produced. In this film he plays a friendly traveling salesman named Enrique. The movie’s heroine is Marta (Ariadna Welter) who has come to visit her family estate in a town called Sierra Negra. Soon Enrique and Marta learn that Sierra Negra has essentially become a ghost town terrorized by a Hungarian count (German Robles) who is, you guessed it, secretly a vampire. Despite his generic vampire outfit, German Robles has created a unique vampire who manages to be as menacing as Christopher Lee and as suave as Bela Lugosi, yet possesses a casually sadistic viciousness not found in either actors’ interpretation. Everyone in “El Vampiro” (with the exception of Marta) has duplicitous motivations and secrets to keep. They are all very emotional and passionate rather than the stuffy, reserved people found in most British and American vampire films.
Considering its limited budget, “El Vampiro” makes the most of its primitive technology and enthusiastically employs simple but effective optical effects, dramatic lighting, atmospheric black-and-white photography, well-designed sets, and all the requisite cobwebs, fog and rubber bats. – Spenser Hoyt
Comics being a visual medium, it makes a certain sense that the career of a comics artist will have observable parallels with that of a director of films. This is definitely the sense I get reading Jason, at least — that he runs through all of the master methods of filmic storytelling. And because a comic book is so much cheaper to make than a motion picture, he’s getting to do more than any director ever could in a lifetime. It is almost as though his graphic novellas are tracing through the whole history of film, Hitchcock right through Fellini to Romero, hitting probably plenty of other directors I’ve never heard of.
“Almost Silent” takes an important look at how he started out: mastering both the charms and limitations of silent film. He starts with shorts, which make up the first piece in this collection, “Meow, Baby”. As Jason stretches his legs he starts to see what he can get across through pantomime. It involves a lot of slapstick, which is what gets him so often compared to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. But once he moves on to the next piece, a full-length motion picture (if you will) he shows that he has just as much Fritz Lang or Georg Pabst. “Tell Me Something” is a drama told on two different time lines, a love story that is doomed from the start. It is punctuated sparingly, expertly, with lines of dialogue that appear printed in white on black panels.
The subsequent pieces that round out this collection take on the next important chapter in movie history: monster movies. There is a “Bride of Frankenstein” riff called “You Can’t Get There From Here”, which introduces the only color in this collection (though, only one color). It also contains the one instance of on-screen dialogue, which takes place between two hunchbacked assistants smoking in a diner and complaining about work. The final story, “The Living and The Dead,” is a classic zombie flick, and has one of the sweetest knife-twist endings of which Jason seems so fond. This is a perfect introduction to one of the great comic book artists. – Christopher Sabatini
I have long been inspired by the “Subway Portraits” of photographer Walker Evans. Over the course of three years in the late 1930s, Evans rode the subway with a camera camouflaged inside a box he carried on his lap, and he snapped photos of commuters in a state of complete unawareness — slack-jawed, sleepy-eyed. The results were published in a 1966 book, “Many Are Called.”
Evans could scarcely have imagined a world in which he could have shared his subway photos almost as quickly as he shot them. Nor could he have conceived of cameras finding their way into the hands of millions, or that those cameras would be small enough to escape notice. But here we are, in a world that Walker Evans never made, and the game is the same: snapping pictures of people on the subway, completely unaware. That’s all the “Passed Out On Public Transit” Tumblr blog really is: it’s a “Many Are Called” for our time. All that’s different is that the photos come from many photographers, and that the subway riders, after 70 long years, have finally acceded to sleep. – Geoff Carter