November 10, 2009


In this Cold War-influenced classic,
Logan's Run is a cautionary tale about a post-nuclear society that copes with overpopulation by killing off its citizens at age 30 (the novel and 2010 re-make set expiration around 21). Humanity has been confined for generations in a shopping mall-like dome, allowing for some very cool futuristic set design by Dale Hennesy (In Like Flint, Fantastic Voyage, Dirty Harry) and Set Decorator Robert De Vestel (Batman, Green Hornet, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea). Spy Vibers will recognize a 70s slant on a number of elements we've explored here in 1960s design, including globe lamps and monitors and Kubrick-style white, minimal rooms. With its famous electronic score by Jeremy Goldsmith, its revealing (!) unisex wear and jumpsuit uniforms by Bill Thomas (The Black Hole), the tone of the future, like THX 1138 by Lucas and Fahrenheit 451 by Truffaut, is quite lulled into submission by consumerism and pleasure (in this case- sensual pleasure). At age 30, everyone enters a Colosseum-like chamber where they float up into an electric field that vaporizes them. To desire life and to run from this ritual is deemed deviant by society and punishable by death. Logan, the main character of the film, is indeed an assassin- a member of a sanctioned death squad that hunts down 'runners' and executes them with laser blasters. Logan is sent undercover on a mission to join the runners and expose what the government fears is an underground railroad to freedom in a place whispered about in dark alleys called Sanctuary. So begins Logan's Quest that brings him, and his community, toward self-awareness and survival. The film was released in 1976, just prior to Star Wars, and remains a stylish and evocative experience. Logan's Run is out today on Blu-ray and includes commentary by director Michael Anderson, star Michael York, and costume designer Bill Thomas. Additional cast includes Jenny Agutter, Farrah Fawcett, and Peter Ustinov. Movie trailer and score/photo video on the Spy Vibe website. We'll let the lovely Agutter guide us on a tour of the sets and costumes:

November 9, 2009


CRITERION 50% SALE (ended)
News from my insider at Barnes and Noble: Starting Tuesday all Criterion Collection DVDs and Blu-ray are 50% off at Barnes and Noble shops and on-line. This offer is through the end of the year while supplies last. One of the great pleasures of my life has been working as a film programmer for schools and communities. At the center of those efforts has been the Criterion Collection. For those who don't know them, Criterion began in the days of Laser Discs as a company dedicated to searching the globe for the most pristine film sources and working with film cast and crew to package the definitive editions of important films in cinema culture. Criterion covers the great auteurs: Kurosawa, Welles, Hitchcock, Truffaut, Godard, Renoir, Fellini, Bergman, Powell, etc, and classic genre films. All of their titles exhibit an artistic flair- and flair is what Spy Vibe loves most! Criterion began releasing Blu-ray editions recently, which include The Third Man starring Orson Welles (now oop), and the wonderful NASA documentary For All Mankind. When I was a student I literally had their catalog under my pillow so I could pour over film stills and descriptions and learn about film history. Now it's all on-line. The Criterion website itself is gorgeous and fascinating, and I think Spy Vibers new to the company will discover a treasure trove there (including movie clips and direct viewing options). Because we at Spy Vibe are interested in espionage, style, fashion, architecture, design, and 1960s culture, here is just a small list of some of the films I suggest looking at during this sale:

A trio of crooks relentlessly pursue a young American (Audrey Hepburn) through Paris to recover the fortune her dead husband stole from them. The only person she can trust is a suave, mysterious stranger (Cary Grant). A deliciously dark comedic thriller, Stanley Donen’s Charade dazzles with style and macabre wit to spare. [see the Spy Vibe reflection].

The best known of Hitchcock’s British films, this civilized spy yarn follows the escapades of Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), who stumbles into a conspiracy that involves him in a hectic chase across the Scottish moors—a chase in which he is both the pursuer and the pursued. Adapted from John Buchan’s novel, this classic Hitchcock “wrong man” thriller encapsulates themes that anticipate the director’s biggest American films (especially North by Northwest- now on Blu-ray!), and is a standout among his early works. [read the review at Permission To Kill]

A cockeyed fusion of science fiction, pulp characters, and surrealist poetry, Godard’s irreverent journey to the mysterious Alphaville remains one of the least conventional films of all time. Eddie Constantine stars as intergalactic hero Lemmy Caution, on a mission to kill the inventor of fascist computer Alpha 60. [See the review on Permission to Kill].

Branded to Kill, the wildly perverse story of the yakuza’s rice-sniffing “No. 3 Killer,” is Seijun Suzuki at his delirious best. From a cookie-cutter studio script, Suzuki delivered this brutal, hilarious, and visually inspired masterpiece. Criterion presents the
DVD premiere of Branded to Kill in a pristine transfer from the original Nikkatsu-scope master.

In July 1969, the space race ended when Apollo 11 fulfilled President Kennedy’s challenge of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” No one who witnessed the lunar landing will ever forget it. Al Reinert’s documentary For All Mankind is the story of the twenty-four men who traveled to the moon, told in their words, in their voices, using the images of their experiences. Forty years after the first moon landing, it remains the most radical, visually dazzling work of cinema yet made about this earthshaking event.

A frank exploration of voyeurism and violence, Michael Powell’s extraordinary film is the story of a psychopathic cameraman—his childhood traumas, sexual crises, and murderous revenge as an adult. Reviled by critics upon its initial release for its deeply unsettling subject matter, the film has since been hailed as a masterpiece.

Now out of print- find copies locally if possible. Pulp novelist Holly Martins travels to shadowy, postwar Vienna, only to find himself investigating the mysterious death of an old friend, black-market opportunist Harry Lime—and thus begins this legendary tale of love, deception, and murder. Thanks to brilliant performances by Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, and Orson Welles; Anton Karas’s evocative zither score; Graham Greene’s razor-sharp dialogue; and Robert Krasker’s dramatic use of light and shadow, The Third Man, directed by the inimitable Carol Reed, only grows in stature as the years pass.

After making such American noir classics as The Naked City and Brute Force, blacklisted director Jules Dassin went to Paris and embarked on his masterpiece: a twisting, turning tale of four ex-cons who hatch one last glorious heist in the City of Lights. At once naturalistic and expressionistic, this melange of suspense, brutality, and dark humor was an international hit and earned Dassin the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Notorious, a brilliant allegory of love and betrayal, Hitchcock fuses two of his favorite elements: suspense and romance. A beautiful woman with a tainted past (Ingrid Bergman) is enlisted by American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) to spy on a ring of Nazis in post-war Rio. Her espionage work becomes life-threatening after she marries the most debonair of the Nazi ring, Alex (Claude Rains). Only Devlin can rescue her, but to do so he must face his role in her desperate situation and acknowledge that he’s loved her all along. Stunning performances, Ben Hecht’s excellent script, and Hitchcock’s direction at its best make Notorious a perfect film.

One of the greatest films about film ever made, Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 (Otto e mezzo) turns one man’s artistic crisis into a grand epic of the cinema. Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is a director whose film—and life—is collapsing around him. An early working title for the film was La Bella Confusione (The Beautiful Confusion), and Fellini’s masterpiece is exactly that: a shimmering dream, a circus, and a magic act. The Criterion Collection is proud to present the 1963 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign-Language Film—one of the most written about, talked about, and imitated movies of all time—in a beautifully restored new digital transfer. A Blu-ray is due in January 2010!

Secluded in the French countryside, a brilliant, obsessive doctor attempts a radical plastic surgery to restore the beauty of his daughter’s disfigured face—but at a horrifying price. At once ghastly lyrical, Eyes Without a Face is a true rarity of horror cinema and has influenced countless films. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Georges Franju’s classic in a long-awaited, fully restored
DVD edition.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg’s full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-­definition widescreen transfer.

In a career-defining performance, Alain Delon plays a contract killer with samurai instincts. A razor-sharp cocktail of 1940s American gangster cinema and 1960s French pop culture—with a liberal dose of Japanese lone-warrior mythology—maverick director Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Samouraï defines cool. Spy Vibers should look at other Melville titles.

Special-effects wunderkind and genre master Byron Haskin (The War of the Worlds, The Outer Limits) won a place in the hearts of fantasy-film lovers everywhere with this gorgeously designed journey into the unknown. When his spaceship crash-lands on the barren wastelands of Mars, U.S. astronaut Commander “Kit” Draper (Paul Mantee) must fight for survival, with a pet monkey seemingly his only companion.

John le Carré’s acclaimed best-selling novel about a cold-war spy on one final, dangerous mission is every bit as precise and ruthless on-screen in this adaptation directed by Martin Ritt. Richard Burton delivers one of his career-defining performances as Alec Leamas, whose hesitant but deeply felt relationship with a beautiful librarian (Claire Bloom) puts what he hopes will be his last assignment, in East Germany, in jeopardy. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is a hard-edged and finally tragic thriller, suffused with the political and social consciousness that defined Ritt’s career.

November 7, 2009


Our Man in Vermont Steve Bissette is winding down a multi-part exploration of the career of master illustrator Frank McCarthy. In "McCarthy Does 007 (& nobody does it better), Steve offers up a fantastic review of McCarthy's spy images from the 1960s, including promotional art for Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majsty's Secret Service, The Venetian Affair (Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and a discussion of McCarthy's collaboration with fellow artist Robert McGinnes. Head over to learn more and to check out some very cool 60s poster and album art. Steve adds praise for Peter's Illustrated 007 blog as one of the best resources of Bond art on the Internet. Spy Vibers will be familiar with Peter's complete archive of 007 artwork and will be pleased to hear that he has recently accepted an invitation to join the COBRAS. Peter, welcome to our Spy Network!

November 3, 2009


Spy Vibe fans of Alfred Hitchcock will be happy to hear that his classic North By Northwest is now available on Blu-ray. Although Hitchcock had already developed his trademark conventions (the maguffin, the wrong man, climax in an epic location), North By Northwest is remembered by many as the ultimate Hitchcock thriller. A suave, successful New York advertising executive finds himself mistaken as a spy and is embroiled in a web of intrigue, lost microfilm, seduction, and murder. Stars Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint (Grand Prix), James Mason, Martin Landau (Mission Impossible, Space 1999), Leo G. Carroll (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and Edward Platt (Get Smart).

Hitchcock set out to create a theme endearing to Spy Vibers in North By Northwest by accentuating the main character's isolation in the lap of mid-century modernist luxury. As Sandy MacLendon points out on JetSetModern, Hitchcock created a carefully crafted world of affluence that would be recognizable to a mass audience: The director himself chose Eva Marie Saint's wardrobe from Bergdorf Goodman and jewelry from Van Cleef. Chris from Clothes On Film discusses Grant's famous grey Kilgour suit, which has been recognized by GQ as an iconic look for men. Characters were put behind the wheels of the latest chic cars by Mercedes, Lincoln, and Cadillac. But where the film really shines for design fans is in its choice of locations: Plaza Hotel/New York, estate house/Long Island, UN Building/New York, Grand Central Station/New York, aboard the Twentieth Century Limited train to Chicago, and the piece de resistance- the modernist Vandamm home in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. According to MacLendon, Wright had agreed to design a previous Hollywood film- for ten percent of the project's budget! Never to be thwarted, Hitchock had his design crew set to work on a Wright-style house that audiences would recognize, using Wright's signature materials and lines, and through matt photography, placed it atop Mount Rushmore. They added support beams for dramatic effect, providing a way for Grant's character to climb into the house undetected. MacLendon points out that "The living room set was dressed in the best of 1958’s furniture and art, and it makes a very interesting point. The furniture is largely Scandinavian Modern. There is Chinese art, and a Pre-Colombian statue figures prominently in the action. Greek flokati rugs are on the floors. Vandamm’s spying is meant to set the nations of the world at war, but it seems they co-exist peacefully enough under his roof!"

The title sequence by Saul Bass is also noteworthy. Bass had begun to design for Hitchcock on his previous film, Vertigo, and Bass pushed the theme of modernity further for North By Northwest. As the Design Museum describes: "In 1958’s Vertigo, his first title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock, Bass shot an extreme close-up of a woman’s face and then her eye before spinning it into a sinister spiral as a bloody red soaks the screen. For his next Hitchcock commission, 1959’s North by Northwest, the credits swoop up and down a grid of vertical and diagonal lines like passengers stepping off elevators. It is only a few minutes after the movie has begun - with Cary Grant stepping out of an elevator - that we realise the grid is actually the façade of a skyscraper." The use of bold fonts and animation based on perspective accentuated the geometric, sleek modern tone of the film.

According to John Patterson at The Guardian, "North By Northwest has been called the first James Bond movie (screenwriter Ernest Lehman called it "the ultimate Hitchcock picture" while he was writing it, but no matter). And the similarities are evident. In 1960 Hitchcock himself briefly considered directing Thunderball. Ian Fleming originally wanted Grant (who was a good friend of Bond producer Cubby Broccoli) to play 007 in Dr No, and North By Northwest surely had a lot to do with that (Grant turned down the part). 1959 was also the year Fleming published Goldfinger, the first truly ridiculous Bond novel (delightful though it is), which, as the third Bond movie, would perfect the NXNW-style template from which the series would barely deviate until the advent of Daniel Craig." Patterson's review of Goldfinger notwithstanding, the idea of a Hitchcock-directed Bond has been a point of discussion among 007 fans.

The film has been ranked #7 in the top-ten greatest mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute.