Lots better than I expected. In Cult Movies, Danny Peary nails the theme: "man must fend for himself whether the gods exist or not." Makes me laugh when he points out how Hera's vague clues totally spell out what's coming. And naturally, most of his essay is about the special effects, which I really liked because the art to them was apparent rather than totally realistic.
Danny Peary's Cult Movies left me liking the movie more than watching it did:
-freedom for supporting actresses to create really broad characters that stand out: Bunny, Janet and Myrtle were pretty great, now that I consider it. Also after reading it, I appreciate what Peary loved about Lo Bianco's performance: "a sleazy, slimy Charles Boyer" but amusing, starting with his hippy rhumba.
-how Kastle ended up as the director.
-Kastle, an opera composer, used Mahler pieces to counterpoint trivial moments.
-Interesting shots: watching Delphine's face while they plot her murder, watching Martha and Ray while Doris sings in the bath.
Reading Danny Peary's review in the 1980 book Cult Movies, and trying to tease out how much my reading of both is confounded by coming 36 years later:
-Peary finds Cliff "too sexual for most whites to feel comfortable with". Reminds me that he also hit an odd note harping on Bruce Lee as 'sexual.'
-talks about the apolitical black American audience. The movie's distribution aimed it at them, and they failed to be interested in this movie.
-subheadings about Ivan's contact with "the island's major cultural influences" - Christianity, the record business, the ganja trade, the Rastafarians, the police/government, and outlaw mythology - and gives some great contextual information.
Speaking for myself, it was a bit hard to sit through, watching late at night. Often because I couldn't make sense of a lot of Ivan's actions: wheeling around a golf course? Sometimes they seemed real enough, but really unfortunate: wheedling to get the keys to the church, where you know he'll get caught. Buying ever flashier clothes despite being skint. Shooting Jose's girl. But Peary totally nails it: he's not an easy protagonist to get on board with, and maybe that's especially true if you're white and middle class.
Danny Peary's book Cult Movies makes these points:
-kung fu pics took a position in reaction to Communist Chinese film narratives: "Chinese of same social standing - but of different martial arts schools - fighting one another; with heroes working individually to defeat a villain who does not represent an oppressive government... but is a a gangster, racketeer, and a murderer, whom the government has no love for either."
-the flaws in the film: Lee unhappily departed from his trademark (i.e.taking the side of the little guy) to be a James Bond figure; inconsistencies in the story; no time element.
-what sets Lee apart from other 'chop socky' stars: no root philosophical base, own stunts. And oh yeah, Lee is "the most charismatic sexual film personality of the period". The film objectifies his body and makes sexual metaphors about him.
What does it mean that a movie is a cult movie? Danny Peary has a book about them but besides Rocky Horror, are there actually followings, people that congregate and pay homage to these movies? I can't think of a single movie Peary discusses in terms of a phenomenon of people besides RHPS.
Anyway, Peary's interesting observations on this movie:
-director's trademark is unpretentious movies for the working class
-you're not meant to identify with the protagonist (interesting, considering the first point) but you do identify with Cathy who (he thinks) is smart, and who's had it worst of anyone in the film
-no resemblance to real mental hospitals
-stuck on the crassness: it goes too far and for no reason but to be tawdry
-filmically punishes people who couldn't handle the responsibility of being race and cold war resisters, and the protagonist who's too ambitious/greedy.