Six Damn Fine Degrees #114: Vertigo Restored (my first DVD)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Do you still remember the first DVD you ever purchased? I will certainly never forget mine: the restored version of Alfred Hitchcock’s ultimate classic, Vertigo. Not because of the 70+ Swiss francs I paid for it – a fortune for a 17-year old back then and yet a pittance for the movie-hungry teenager that I was – but how it increased my love affair with Hitchcock and this particular movie. And how it left me in awe at the restoration process that brought this masterpiece back to life on the then-state-of-the-art DVD format – a process that back then topped everything that had gone into salvaging film stock before (thanks to Julie’s post from last week for reminding me of it).

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #110: A Heavy Metal Christmas with Christopher Lee

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

I’m sure we all have it: That odd Christmas album we unearth whenever the Holiday Season comes along, even though we know it’s atrociously kitschy and truly awful by any musical standards. For our family, Roger Whittaker single-handedly put us in a terribly festive mood with his German (!) carols. These days – besides certified classics by Leontyne Price, Joan Baez and Mahalia Jackson – I sneak in the occasional Julio Iglesias or Ivan Rebroff schmaltz onto my turntable.

My Christmas music collection, however, is bound to become a little bigger in the wake of a completely new discovery by one of the actors lending his voice to the Neverwhere audiobook (mentioned in last week’s post by Julie): Sir Christopher Lee’s three incredible Heavy Metal Christmas albums released between 2012 and 2014!

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #106: The doubtless pleasure of Donald Pleasance

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

It’s amazing that it took us one hundred and five installments to finally connect to Donald Pleasance (whom Matt mentioned in last week’s post)! After all, Pleasance (according to IMDb’s statistics) is the actor with the second-most closeness centrality in movie history, connecting most directly to almost everyone in the acting business (second only to Christopher Lee)! And isn’t that what our Six Damn Fine Degrees are all about: connecting our movie interests in seemingly random ways, creating a massive network of connections?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #102: The Carpenters in Nixon’s White House (and other sweet and horrible stories)

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

US presidents have had an often particular relationship to music, some more political than others. When Mege touched upon Dave Grohl’s performance at the Obama White House in last week’s post, I immediately thought of the 44th President’s curated playlists and the many high-profile artists (indeed from Aretha Franklin to Beyoncé) who were happy to grace what still is by far the most musical and literary modern presidency. Contrast this with the difficulties Obama’s successor had in finding A-list musicians to perform at his functions, let alone use their music at his rallies: anyone from Bon Jovi, Neil Young, Brian May, The Rolling Stones, R.E.M. and Adele flat out declined being politicised by Trump. The former president himself apparently considers Peggy Lee’s disillusioned “Is That All There Is” his favourite song. Go figure!

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #95: The Awesome Wells of Portugal and Spain

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Piece of evidence #1: Orson Welles as a deceptive conjurer in the awful comedy version of Casino Royale (1967) – or just deceptively conjured up himself?

The train has left the station. The literal one, no metaphors, no fakes: The blissful travels of my current teacher timeout have brought me across Spain all the way to Portugal within the past ten days. As I’m leaving Porto Campaña station en route to Lisbon, I marvel at Matt’s shocking revelation from last week about the impossibility of Orson Welles‘ existence. Could it really be true that one of the most famous directors was just a figment of our imagination, an image of one towering director to deceive us all?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #91: The Hitchcock That Wasn’t There

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

The sausage that was too much: Just like this moment from Torn Curtain (1966), many fascinating Hitchcock ideas, scenes and projects were cut.

I must admit I have not (yet) become as much of a connoisseur of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre as Matt has revealed himself to be in last week’s insightful post on a number of standout scenes from their lesser-liked films. However, I immediately thought of directors I know somewhat better, particularly how Hitchcock’s over fifty feature films would lend themselves to a ranking of standout scenes of even his less-appreciated films. Beyond obvious scenes in showers, on top of towers and gazing out rear windows, one could probably run a blog or a series of podcasts just on the one standout scene from every one of his movies. After all, Hitchcock was particularly masterful at making scenes, even single objects stand out and in creating masterful compositions, but also making them so memorable as unique scenes that work outside of the film itself.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #84: Why Indy 3 single-handedly ended my gaming career

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Matt’s confession in last week’s post about the scores of digital characters killed in his gaming career so far made me wonder about why I had never become a gamer myself. It wasn’t that video and computer games weren’t available in the late ’80s and ’90s (friends of our family were GameBoy addicts, for example) or that our family were somehow technological hermits (my grandfather had introduced us to his AMIGA Commodore by 1987 – game discs included). I also got off to a good start when our parents bought us a brand new computer for Christmas in 1994 and I was able to get my hands on fresh gaming content.

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #79: Mountain movies that peak my interest

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

There is apparently no shortage of movies set on or around mountains, mountain climbers and peak-seeking adventures in recent years according to my initial IMDb search. Yet when Julie asked me to follow up on her lovely piece surrounding Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air from last week, I felt hard-pressed to find such movies that I had truly enjoyed (or let alone had seen). Wouldn’t the glorious scenery of mountain peaks, the thrill of the climb, the horror of the fall and the brave men and women surviving all of that lend themselves ideally to dozens of great screenplays?

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Six Damn Fine Degrees #74: San Francesco was a hippie!

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

The spiritual motorcycle journey to San Francisco described in last week‘s post reminded me of another spiritual journey by the man who had lent his name to the City by the Bay: Saint Francis of Assisi. And I was especially struck again by the one film that made an indelible connection between the medieval saint‘s life and the hippie lifestyle that originated in San Francisco: Brother Sun and Sister Moon (1972).

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, who had not made a film by this point since his stunning success of the gorgeous Romeo and Juliet in 1968, the film stars Graham Faulkner as Francesco. Traumatised by war, he first spends days suffering nightmares in his native Assisi. After several inspirations of faith and nature, Francesco famously gives all possessions including his name to his rich parents and walks away from Assisi naked to find his spiritual destiny, rebuilding a church, founding a community of believers and being received and surprisingly honoured by Pope Innocent III (Alec Guinness’ early practice for the Obi Wan Kenobi role a few years later).

Photographed in Zeffirelli’s signature style (Director of Photography Ennio Guarnieri also lensed several Fellini movies), every image looks taken out of a glossy magazine, with an array of memorable faces in combination with Umbria’s natural beauty. Beside Faulkner and Guinness, the film stars Judi Bowker (Clash of the Titans), Leigh Lawson (Tess), Valentina Cortese (Day for Night) and Kenneth Cranham (Layer Cake).

Despite its medieval background, this makes it look much less like a faithful biopic or historical drama than a thinly veiled allegory on the supposed first hippie. Refusing worldly possessions, peacefully demonstrating against the authorities, starting a new life in a countryside commune and building a new spiritual basis had more than a handful of echos within the world the film was produced and released. In Zeffirelli’s view, Saint Francis was shown as the spiritual father of the flower power movement, so to speak, with hippie singer/songwriter Donovan providing the tunes underneath the magical transformation.

Reviews were not particularly kind at the time of the film’s release (Roger Ebert called it “an excess of sweetness and light”), but as often happens, the film has garnered appreciation and a cult status over the years, and many see it as a perfect companion piece to Romeo and Juliet (possibly even a trilogy with Taming of the Shrew) before the director’s journeys into more historical fiction (TV’s Jesus of Nazareth, Tea with Mussolini), Shakespeare (Hamlet starring Mel Gibson, Otello at the opera) and odd ventures into Hollywood mediocrity (The Champ, Endless Love). Later in his life, Zeffirelli became famous for his countless opera productions before infamously ending his illustrious career for a senate seat in Berlusconi’s right-wing populist party and never publicly coming to terms with his homosexuality.

Long gone by then were the pure if at times simplistic convictions he portrayed about San Francesco’s early modern hippie life that makes the innocent beauty of Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna.

* On a strange side note, the highly popular Donovan songs were never released at the time and the Italian soundtrack album only featured composer Riz Ortolani’s instrumental score and the Italian title song. It was in 2004, finally, that Donovan re-recorded all his original songs for an iTunes release, much to the delight of the film’s fan following.

Six Damn Fine Degrees #69: You’re not on Tatooine anymore!

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

Coffeebreak for Ben Kenobi and Luke Skywalker in the Tunisian desert? They are certainly not on Tatooine anymore!

I must admit I get the trouble with sci-fi Mege so pointedly discussed in last week’s post: I was also never quite an ardent fan of the genre as such, finding some of the choices made for supposedly far away worlds oddly quaint and cheap and some of the rubbery prosthetic creatures designed so unbelievably comical that I was not at all convinced any future or outer world would ever look like that. Of course there were great exceptions along the way: the creatures in Alien are suitably scary and beautiful and its realist spaceship and crew utterly believable, Star Wars is identifiably a fairy tale in space rather than science-fiction, and Star Trek’s universally humanist message sugarcoated all the tech talk I didn’t quite understand.

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