If looking for a good read on just how much of an entitled ass Bobby Fischer was, consider Brad Darrach’s Bobby Fischer vs. the Rest of the World. It’s not a biography and only covers the 1972 World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland; that said, Darrach had extensive access to Fischer and Boris Spassky, as well as a number of the key organizers, lawyers, politicians, grand masters, bit-players and other assorted hangers-on.
University of Toronto’s CINSSU opened its 2013 winter season with Roman Polanksi’s debut Knife in the Water. What’s striking about seeing the film today is just how confident and restrained a film it is. The plot is simple–a bourgeois couple pick up a hitch-hiker on their way to their sailing boat. Alternatively annoyed and intrigued by the hitch-hiker, the husband invites him along. For the remainder of their journey, the youthful hitch-hiker and the husband trade barbs, show off, and vie for the wife’s attention, in a battle of youth versus experience, poverty versus plenty. Limiting the film to three characters, the boat, and a single day, Polanski develops his characters organically and sustains a rigid, inescapable tension between the three.
Of the film, Peter Cowie writes:
KnifeintheWater, Polanski’s maiden feature would define his maverick status once and for all. Polanski’s personality stamps every frame. As one critic noted at the time: “The weapons are glances, words (very few and always exactly chosen). Polanski is a holy terror of intelligent restraint––detached, ironic, playful as a cat with a mouse, encompassing with ease his alternations of the deathly serious and the dead-pan comic.” One should not, however, forget the contribution of Jerzy Skolimowski, who worked on the screenplay and urged Polanski to compress the action into twenty-four hours
From the outset, Polanski creates neat visual ruses to reveal a strength or weakness: the youth’s display of agility as he shinnies unexpectedly up the mast, for example, sends an erotic message to the wife. Much has been written about the phallic symbolism of the hunting knife carried by the youth. The knife lurks not merely as a sign of virility, but also as a metaphor for psychological force in the duel between the two men for the attentions of the woman. Polanski’s rare gift for trapping emotions in imagery rather than exclusively via dialogue aligned him with a fresh, more subtle brand of cinema that swept through Europe in the early 1960s––with Michelangelo Antonioni, Claude Chabrol, Louis Malle, and with Central European directors like Miklos Jancso, Jan Nemec, and Ewald Schorm.
Cowie’s essay is worth reading in whole and can be found here on Criterion’s site.
Another great Atlantic piece (this one by Scott Meslow) on Richard Matheson (famed script-writer of numerous Twilight Zone, Night Stalker, Night Gallery, and Star Trek episodes as well as a pile of hardboiled and s/f short stories and novels, including the popular I Am Legend) and his deserved place in the history books.
“Steel” may not hold up particularly well, but Matheson’s contributions to The Twilight Zoneshouldn’t be denied: He wrote 14 scripts during the show’s original run, including all-time classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which starred William Shatner at his hammy best. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the science fiction and horror genres were still in their television infancy, Matheson’s contributions included episodes of Star Trek, Night Gallery, and the first two televised appearances ofKolchak: The Night Stalker.
Over at the Atlantic, Scott Beauchamp has an amazing post detailing changing trends in s/f book covers.
The phrase “pulp sci-fi” conjures images of rockets and men with ray guns landing on distant planets. That wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but the classic images associated with science fiction literature usually refer to the Golden Age of sci-fi: the magazine-dominated epoch lasting roughly from the 1920s until the 1950s, when graphic artists like Frank R. Paul and Hugo Gernsback set the standard for speculative fiction cover art. Fun, simple, and very literal in its connection to the story that it accompanies, that kind of art was generally intended for a younger audience. But sci-fi cover illustrations evolved after the 1950s in near parallel with the other changes that transformed America in that time.
Laura Gemser as a snake dancer and kept woman. Jack Palance as a naive businessman with a passion for snakes. Gabriele Tinti as a sleazy, sadist. All appear in Joe D’Amato’s very twisted, very dark Euro-sex-thriller Eva Nera set in Hong Kong.
The plot is straightforward enough–Palance becomes infatuated with Gemser after seeing her dance at a club and proposes that she live with him and his large collection of poisonous snakes on a no-strings-attached basis. After moving in, Gemser finds little to like about the somewhat creepy Palance and takes on a lesbian lover. Tinti reveals that when is not managing Palance’s business affairs, he prefers acting the voyeur and letting poisonous snakes loose to bite women. Tinti goes too far when his antics result in the death of Gemser’s lover. Gemser plots her revenge.
The film is unabashedly sleazy–expect lots of gratuitous nudity and violence. However, boring it is not. Palance is simply demented in this one (watch for the scene where he coos over his snakes all the while wearing a too good to be true Mr. Rogers-style sweater). Gemser’s character is surprisingly independent and strong–she’s no pushover. Tinti’s death, which I won’t spoil, is particularly inspired. If you can track it down and have a taste for over-the-top 70s Italian exploitation, check it out.