‘The New Hollywood movement was primarily a male, auteur-led phenomenon. But the contribution of performers as adventurous and vital as Karen Black should not be overlooked. Black was electrified as well as electrifying: her tornado of hair, her fearless physicality and those indelible feline eyes combined to create a woozy and unapologetic sexual energy. She looked offbeat, and she knew how to use that. “I couldn’t have been an actress in the 1930s,” she said, reflecting on her role as a movie extra in The Day of the Locust (1975). “My face moves around too much.”
‘It was in the late 1960s and 70s that she became one of the great character actors of US cinema in a series of performances in key New Hollywood works. Partly it was that she exhibited qualities outside the skill set of a conventional female lead – she could play volatile and nerve-jangled, or maligned and wounded, without ever approaching caricature, and suddenly these talents came to be much in demand from countercultural film-makers. “Could actors such as Ellen Burstyn, Karen Black, Sissy Spacek and Shelley Duvall, with their neediness, blankness, oddity, have become leading players in any other decade?” asked Adam Mars-Jones recently in the Guardian. But if her skew-whiff style and appearance were well-suited to a cinema not guilty of undervaluing the marginal, then the humanity she brought to those characters would surely have been recognised in any era or art form.
‘Her career overlapped with several key figures of New Hollywood: she made her screen debut in Francis Ford Coppola’s own first film, You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), and collaborated more than once with Jack Nicholson, who cast Black in his 1971 directorial debut, Drive, He Said, after co-starring with her in Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970). She was also a favourite of Robert Altman, who directed her in Nashville (1975), for which she and many of the cast wrote and performed their own songs, and Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982). Playing herself in Altman’s The Player (1992), she was one of many such celebrity guest stars in that overpopulated satire to be left on the cutting-room floor.)
‘These parts were strikingly different from one another, but they had in common Black’s knack for conveying her characters’ rich and troubled inner lives, their cramped or thwarted dreams. The consummate example could be found in her Oscar-nominated performance as Rayette, the Tammy Wynette-loving girlfriend to Nicholson’s discontented antihero Bobby Dupea, in Five Easy Pieces. There was a comical but achingly sad intellectual gap between the two. Bobby resented her. Crucially, the audience never did. “I dig [Rayette], she’s not dumb, she’s just not into thinking,” said Black in 1970. “I didn’t have to know anybody like her to play her. I mean, I’m like her, in ways. Rayette enjoys things as she sees them, she doesn’t have to add significances. She can just love the dog, love the cat. See? There are many things she does not know, but that’s cool; she doesn’t intrude on anybody else’s trip. And she’s going to survive.”
‘She was born Karen Blanche Ziegler in Park Ridge, Illinois, daughter of Norman and Elsie Ziegler, the latter a children’s novelist. She studied at Northwestern University in Illinois from the age of 15, then moved to New York at 17 and took odd jobs and off-Broadway roles. In 1960 she married Charles Black. She was nominated for best actress in the Drama Critics’ Circle awards for playing the lead in The Play Room (1965); Coppola, who was in the audience, cast her in You’re a Big Boy Now. From there, she met Henry Jaglom and Dennis Hopper, both of whom were, like Coppola, part of the coterie of up-and-coming film-makers and actors benefiting from the patronage of Roger Corman. Hopper cast her in Easy Rider as a prostitute who has a bad acid trip in a New Orleans cemetery; Jaglom, who was brought in to help edit the film, insisted that improvised scenes of Black which had been cut should be put back in. Jaglom would continue to help her career as late as 1983 when he gave her the lead in his underrated romantic comedy Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?
‘She attracted attention for those groundbreaking films with Hopper and Nicholson, and for numerous other fascinating oddities including Cisco Pike (1972), with Kris Kristofferson as a musician turned dealer; a 1972 adaptation of Philip Roth’s comic novel Portnoy’s Complaint; and a foolhardy film version of Ionesco’s absurdist Rhinoceros (1974), with Zero Mostel. But she was not averse to the mainstream. She played the doomed Myrtle in the Coppola-scripted adaptation of The Great Gatsby (1974); she was the flight attendant who must land a plane single-handed in the efficient but much-parodied disaster movie Airport 1975 (1974); and she played a kidnapper in Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, Family Plot (1976). She also became a darling of the horror genre after taking on three roles in the television anthology Trilogy of Terror (1975) and starring in movies such as Burnt Offerings (1976), Invaders from Mars (1986) and House of 1,000 Corpses (2003).
‘Pickings became steadily slimmer in the 1980s, though her dynamic turn as a post-operative male-to-female transsexual in Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean was singled out by Pauline Kael of the New Yorker as Black’s finest work. Kael highlighted her “spectacular tawdry world-weariness” and commended her for “keep[ing] the mawkishness from splashing all over the set. I think this isn’t just the best performance she has given on screen – it’s a different kind of acting from what she usually does. It’s subdued, controlled, quiet – but not parched.” Black worked continuously until becoming ill in 2009. She had a small role in George Sluizer’s Dark Blood, best known now as the film River Phoenix was making when he died in 1993. Illness prevented her from attending the world premiere of a salvaged cut of the film last year in the Netherlands.’ — Ryan Gilbey
Karen Black Official Website
Karen Black @ IMDb
The Real Karen Black @ Facebook
‘Mort de Karen Black, la fille d’à côté du Nouvel Hollywood’
Roger Ebert interviews Karen Black in 1975
‘Karen Black Movies List: Best to Worst’
‘Celebrating the Late Karen Black at BAM’
‘Karen Black: an appreciation’ @ The Dissolve
‘Karen Black, Strange And Lovely, And Always Game’
‘Remembering Karen Black as actress, friend, spouse’
‘Karen Black and Death in Scientology’
Karen Black @ The Criterion Collection
‘Watch Karen Black Speak of “The Unknown” in Final Interview Clip’
Video: Karen Black’s sketches on Saturday Night Live
‘Karen Black: Learnt Offerings’
‘Karen Black: Perfectly Misunderstood’
Video: ‘Karen Black and L7 Perform “Bang Bang” on Public Access Show: Decoupage! 2000’
‘Karen Black completed memoirs on eve of her death’
‘Living Doll: Karen Black and “Trilogy of Terror”‘
‘MY RECENT DINNER WITH KAREN BLACK’
Karen Black Memorial Montage
VICE Meets: Karen Black
KAREN BLACK wows SOLD OUT CASTRO THEATRE
Karen Black: On Acting
You grew up in Park Ridge, IL. What did Dad do?
Karen Black: He was in charge of sales for the Ed Filkins Company. They would build factories and figure it all out. He was also a violinist, and his father was Arthur Ziegler, who was the first violinist for the Chicago Symphony. He was a great guy: very robust, humorous, extraordinarily handsome as a young man, before I knew him. And my mom is an award-wining novelist, Elsie Reif Ziegler, although she’s not writing anymore because she’s getting elderly. She’s very brilliant, very beautiful, a redhead. I have a sister, Gail (Brown), who was on Another World for many years. She’s a blonde, but we look a lot alike, and I have an older brother, Peter, who isn’t really working anymore. He married the daughter of the governor. He’s a sweet boy.
When did you know you were an artist?
KB: I don’t think it’s something you cognate on, because it’s something you are, so you are it. Whitney Laux, who’s in the play with me, and I were talking about how we like to wear sunglasses when we go out, and just observe people. Nobody understands that, except those who write, direct, and act. It’s just about being enthralled by people: how they think, how they talk, how they gesture, the relation between them all. It has a great meaning, a great cause and a great purpose, which is there are ways of viewing things aesthetically. You don’t view them pragmatically or functionally. And after many years of being enthralled by watching people, which I loved to do, I realized I was putting them on stage. There’s that scrapping, arguing family sitting in a restaurant at the airport. And were you to put them on stage, they would be the greatest actors in the world. Were they on stage? If you’re looking at them like that, it’s incredible. How can they be so natural? How can they be so real? And that’s why we get so excited, because we’re viewing it aesthetically. So you take all that, and you put it in your movie, or put it in your script, and that’s why the people sound like they’re really talking, because you’ve heard it, and you’ve learned it.
And nobody captured what you’re talking about better than my hero, Robert Altman, who you got to work with twice.
KB: Thank you so much. Absolutely right. Yeah, we worked together three times, actually, because I was in The Player briefly. He had such confidence. When you’re creating something, I think you have a certitude about it. It’s present and it doesn’t really compromise, and it’s not self-reflective at all, in fact there’s no ego. You just see it a certain way. And that’s how he was, like all great directors. He also believed in idiosyncrasies and audacious, inadvertent events. If you made a mistake, he loved it. He embraced it. During Nashville, everyone was miked. I was miked on my inner thigh, forgot it was even there, and you never saw the cameras. It was like they were up in the rafters, or something. So you weren’t self-conscious in any way, so you just improvised. It made you feel very safe, because everything was going to work if even mistakes were wonderful. I don’t know how many lines we had going into sound, maybe 24, so we could all talk simultaneously.
It’s funny, when I interviewed him and asked about how he got all that overlapping dialogue in MASH, he said it was all due to the sound mixer, and said “If that guy didn’t win an Oscar, he sure deserved a citation from God.”
KB: Yeah, on the other hand, it’s really his concept. He was a good friend. He’d always call back, and we’d have conversations. The other thing is that he represented a way of working, he was sort of like a symbol of the values and the structure of independent filmmaking. We have so many independent filmmakers in America, and I think they all felt supported by Mr. Altman. He was very important to all of us in that sense, and in that sense, I think he’s still there.
You entered Northwestern University at 15, and studied in its renowned speech and drama department.
KB: I would say that the college training was very lousy, and I don’t think that people learn by being invalidated. I think people get some idea along the line from their analyst, who evaluates for them based on other people’s journeys that they’ve studied who have nothing to do with you, and then you have to buy that evaluation. That’s utterly appropriate. Acting teachers, not all of them but many, seem to think that beating up their students and invalidating them will make them better, which I think is completely wrong. And at that age, you don’t realize that this sick person is really projecting all their neurosis onto you, you think that you’re the one who’s damaged. So I think that Alvina Krause would not validate and would not allow. I think she had favorites, and you could never figure out why you weren’t a favorite, and it never made any sense. The thing you have to remember is that if a person is making you feel bad about yourself, that person is going to be in his or her own world. They are lost in their own universe. If they can’t grant you who you are, they’re locked in their own nutty universe, and they’ To bring this to the present, the director of this piece, Angela Garcia Combs, never evaluated and never invalidated any of us, and it’s been such a joy working with someone like that.
What was it like working on Easy Rider, arguably the film that helped launch the American independent movie?
KB: It was insane! (laughs) I have never really done drugs. I’m against them, all kinds. I think I smoked grass twice. Toni Basil, who is still my good friend, doesn’t do drugs either, so we were in another universe from these guys (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper). Time was very slow for them. (laughs) We’d get in the Winnebago, and we never found the Mardi Gras parade, and there’s not a single shot of us in it. Dennis would see some guy outside the window and say “Hey man, you see that guy outside the window? I’m gonna get him!” And he’d go running out, and lose track of time…It was NUTS! He was NUTS! (laughs) But, that said, Dennis is also a genius and Easy Rider was his masterpiece. He would’ve done anything to get it made. He had a great vision, was very driven, and made that movie with great belief in the way that certain people were living at that time, and loving it, and having a real affinity for it. It holds up very well.
Five Easy Pieces is one of the great American movies.
KB: Did you know it was shot in sequence? Not one shot was done out of sequence.
No, I didn’t know that. What was (director) Bob Rafelson like to work with?
KB: Great guy. He laughs a lot. He’d weep sometimes when we were shooting. He’s a passionate person. He believes in what he believes in. He’s maybe too passionate for Hollywood. The last time I saw him he said “I’m leaving. I’m getting out of town.”
Your portrayal of Rayette was really amazing, because she’s one of those characters that would have been easy to turn into a cartoon, but you made her very three-dimensional. What was it like being Rayette?
KB: If you look through the eyes of Rayette, it looks nice, really beautiful, light, not heavy, not serious. A very affectionate woman who would look upon things with love, and longing. She wasn’t a person who would tear things apart or recompile them, or asses or evaluate, none of those things. A completely uncritical person, and in that sense, a beautiful person. When Rafelson called me to his office to discuss the part he said “Karen, I’m worried you can’t play this role because you’re too smart.” I said ‘Bob, when you call “action,” I will stop thinking,’ because that’s how Rayette is.`
You worked with Alfred Hitchcock on his final film, Family Plot, in 1976. What was he like?
KB: Overall, very avuncular, although he did kiss me one day in a very sexual way, but the rest of the time he was very avuncular. He was funny and shrewd, and knew exactly what he wanted and knew if you were creating that. He thought I was too sympathetic (in my portrayal). So he said early on that he wanted me to be less sympathetic and to speak in a mid-Atlantic accent. But the truth is that I wanted the other part, the one that Barbara Harris played. I told him, and he said “No dear. That character is too low class.” (laughs) I thought to myself “This guy hasn’t seen Five Easy Pieces.” He was just great. We used to read each other poems and limericks and he tried to catch me on my vocabulary. He once said “You seem very perspicacious today, Miss Black.” I said, ‘Oh, you mean “keenly perceptive?’ “Yes.” (laughs) So I got him this huge, gold-embossed dictionary that said “Diction-Harry,” at the end of the shoot. And I have to say something about him that I think is remarkable and stunning and obvious, yet I’ve never heard anyone talk about it. We all know people who make storyboards, and they go shoot the movie, and their storyboard goes all to hell. But his movies were the storyboard. He storyboarded with really, really seeing the finished movie, so he didn’t make any mistakes. And nobody has done it before or since. I think he was kind of bored on the set, as they say, because everything in his mind was done.
Around the same time you played what I think was the most tragic character you’ve ever played, Faye Greener in Day of the Locust. It just breaks your heart.
If you have one, and I’m not sure that Nathaniel West (author of the book) did. That was not a fun experience, making that film. It was just horrible. I wish quite heartily I’d never made it, because I’d have had a much longer career in Hollywood. I’d have been making major movies for many years, had I not done that film.
Why did that film kill your career?
KB: It was a very troubled production, and I became the scapegoat that everyone blamed. People kept getting sick, getting fired, and it was just a horror, an absolute horror. Seven months. There were all these rumors that people made up…and I wound up being the center of it. Poor (William) Atherton walked off and didn’t do the final scene, because he couldn’t take it anymore and, oh my God…awful. Gossip-mongers are often very convincing, and there were all these people making things up behind my back, and it really hurt me. It hurt me a lot.
21 of Karen Black’s 198 roles
Francis Ford Coppola You’re a Big Boy Now (1966)
‘Time has granted Mike Nichols’ The Graduate (1967) the uncontested title of representative coming-of-age film for a generation, but my favorite entry in cinema’s “pain of growing up” sweepstakes is this delightfully offbeat comedy from a young (27) Francis Ford Coppola. You’re a Big Boy Now was Coppola’s first film for a major studio as well as his master’s thesis submission to the UCLA film school, and as such, displays an engagingly youthful lack of discipline and over-fondness for camera trickery…two things that don’t exactly get in the way in films that came out of the 60s. Although You’re a Big Boy Now has not been widely seen nor is it particularly well-known, Elizabeth Hartman and Geraldine Page were both nominated for Golden Globes for their performances. Best of all, the film gave Karen Black her film debut.’ — DREAMS ARE WHAT LE CINEMA IS FOR…
Dennis Hopper Easy Rider (1969)
‘A box office smash with a $60-million intake, of which $41.7 million was domestic gross, it became the third highest grossing film of 1969. Along with Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, Easy Rider helped kick-start the New Hollywood phase during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The major studios realized that money could be made from low-budget films made by avant-garde directors. Heavily influenced by the French New Wave, the films of the so-called “post-classical Hollywood” came to represent a counterculture generation increasingly disillusioned with its government as well as the government’s effects on the world at large, the Establishment. Although Jack Nicholson appears only as a supporting actor and in the last half of the film, the standout performance signaled his arrival as a movie star, along with his subsequent film Five Easy Pieces in which he had the lead role. Vice President Spiro Agnew criticized Easy Rider, along with the band Jefferson Airplane, as examples of the permissiveness the 1960s counterculture.’ — collaged
KAREN BLACK Q&A; ABOUT EASY RIDER
Bob Rafelson Five Easy Pieces (1970)
‘The solitude. Of men, sometimes women, who refused to settle on a place, a role, a “stable” identity. They walked through my life for a few years when I was a boy—carpenters, child-care workers, counselors, psychiatric patients. Some of them were my teachers. Five Easy Pieces was and is a great film because it gives us such a clear and unobstructed view of this particular type of American existence, brought into being at a certain interval in our history when the expectations of class and family carried more weight than they do now—“Auspicious beginnings—you know what I mean?” Film production is a cumbersome and lengthy affair, and the finished product, no matter how good, almost always lags behind or stands apart from its moment. Occasionally, though, when the conditions allow, movie and moment are one. Like Warner Bros. at the dawn of sound or Preston Sturges at his blindingly brilliant peak, Five Easy Pieces speaks with eloquence and simplicity from and to the America of its time, from melancholy opening to ineffably sad closing shot. In 1970, it was a revelation. Today, it remains a shattering experience, in part because it contains an entire way of life within its ninety-eight minutes.’ — Kent Jones
Ivan Passer Born to Win (1971)
‘Ivan Passer’s Born to Win is a good-bad movie that doesn’t always work but has some really brilliant scenes. It opened last week under cover of darkness in several neighborhood theaters, and that’s probably just as well. If they’d given it the big hype at first-run prices, people might have felt uneasy at a tragicomedy about dope. But at neighborhood prices, we can relax and remember George Segal running through the middle of Manhattan in a fluffy nightgown. Passer presents the whole up-down trap of heroin addiction in one unforgettable series of scenes. Segal, having scored, feels great and is sure he can kick the habit this time. Karen Black drives him west out of the city: The whole world, drenched in sunshine, is before them, and they will always be in love. The scene is balanced with a cold and desperate one a little later. He needs a fix and they drive back to a cold, sunless Manhattan with its despair and its pushers.’ — Roger Ebert
Bill L. Norton Cisco Pike (1972)
‘Cisco Pike is a 1972 drama written and directed by Bill L. Norton. It stars Kris Kristofferson as a musician fallen on hard luck who turns to dealing marijuana as a means of income. The film also stars Karen Black, Harry Dean Stanton, Antonio Fargas, Gene Hackman, Viva, and Texas musician Doug Sahm. This film was not widely embraced by audiences on its initial release but has become a cult movie. Much of its cult status comes from fans of Kris Kristofferson and Doug Sahm, but it also carries a cult status because of its dated (and unintentionally funny) take on the subject of drugs, dealers, and the lifestyle they lead.’ — collaged
Luke Moberly Little Laura And Big John (1973)
‘Fifth-rate 1920s crime spree with Fabian Forte cast as real-life Prohibition-era crook John Ashley who, along with his girlfriend Laura and assorted pals, preceded even Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker in the bank robbing field. It is inconceivable that rising star Karen Black, having already earned attention for her performances in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces (for which she was Oscar-nominated), should appear in such a low-rent production. Black and Forte are really the only cast members with legitimate acting experience (Forte had recently portrayed ‘Pretty Boy’ Floyd in 1970), yet their performances are just as lousy as everyone else’s (like the script, perhaps they were simply confused as to how to proceed). The early scenes give hint that maybe Moberly was onto something with his approach, but he loses his footing quickly–and the movie doesn’t so much crash and burn as it does disintegrate on impact.’ — moonspinner, IMDb
Tom O’Horgan Rhinoceros (1974)
‘The short lived American Film Theater in its few years of existence produced and preserved so many good theatrical works that might never have gotten filmed they deserve the gratitude of all who appreciate the best in plays. One of the best and most interesting preserved work is French playwright Eugene Ionesco’s absurdest work, Rhinoceros. It’s a very funny work with a strong moral message about individualism. Rhinoceros ran for 240 performances on Broadway in 1961 and starred Zero Mostel and Eli Wallach in the part that Gene Wilder plays in the film. The casting of Wilder was obviously done to exploit the chemistry Mostel and he demonstrated in Mel Brooks’s The Producers. Mostel like in The Producers by dint of his stronger personality tries to get Gene Wilder to change his ways. Wilder is a mousy little man who has a dead end job in a newspaper, can’t get to first base with the object of his affection, Karen Black, and likes to drink a little too much more than is good for him.’ — bkoganbing, IMDb
Jack Clayton The Great Gatsby (1974)
‘This version of The Great Gatsby makes the 1949 version and the 1926 version before it (as far as I can remember it) look like twin pinnacles of art. Every single aspect of the new film is bad. Even Robert Redford, fine actor and attractive man, presents a Gatsby who is a dopey mooner instead of a subtle, large exponent of an American tragedy—a man for whom the romances of Money and Romance are inseparable, a compulsive feeder on illusions insisting that they must be true because the facts of his worldly accomplishments are true, and, saddest of all, a believer in “the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.” If Redford fails, then failure is too kind a term for Mia Farrow as Daisy, a skeleton in amour; or Bruce Dem as Tom, supposedly a well-bred gentleman who despises his parvenu neighbor but who looks and sounds like a nervous shoe clerk; or Lois Chiles as Jordan, another cover-girl trying to be an actress; or Karen Black as Myrtle, a writhing gargoyle; or Sam Waterston who looks right enough as Nick but whose voice is stultifyingly boring.’ — New Republic
Jack Smight Airport 1975 (1975)
‘Airport 1975 is very interesting to watch. Unlike Airport, the action happens much faster, and at last, a real plane is used for the air-to-air scenes. The mid-air collision is very surprising. It is supposed to be a dramatic movie, but I’ll admit that the second time I watched it, I was amused by some reactions of the passengers, particularly that lady behind Sid Caesar that stands up and yells like a maniac. I was also amused by Erik Estrada, trying to seduce the flight attendants, and Karen Black panicking on the radio. The rest of the dramatic scenes really get you stuck to your seat. I give Airport 1975 a good grade: 8 out of 10. At first I thought it was better than Airport. It sure has a lot more action. But on second thought, nothing beats the “classic”.’ — Air Odyssey
John Schlesinger The Day of the Locust (1975)
‘Behold one of Hollywood’s greatest and most forgotten films, John Schlesinger’s 1975 Day of the Locust, a cynical and panoramic view of depression-era Hollywood and the “locusts” who populated that sun-scorched landscape. Schlesinger, who gave us Midnight Cowboy and Marathon Man, both starring Dustin Hoffman, didn’t fare well by the critics and Day only won two Oscars, one for Burgess Meredith for supporting actor and one for Ann Roth for her costumes. Karen Black won a Golden Globe for her work. But in the years since, Day of the Locust has found a permanent perch on the dais of great American films, and has become a cult film with cinema fans, one that features a stunning performance by Karen Black who plays the wannabe “greatest movie star in the world,” Faye Greener.’ It ranks among the greatest of Hollywood epics, featuring the filming of a frightening and brilliant collapse of a major studio set, and the unforgettable breathtaking final scenes that revolve around the cataclysmic riot at the movie’s premiere, where the locusts, enraged by the vicious murder of a child, turn the streets of Hollywood into a flaming war scene. With palm trees aflame, people being trampled, Schlesinger gives us an apocalypse, with a symbolic crucifixion of one of the main characters.’ — Central Maine
Robert Altman Nashville (1975)
‘Robert Altman’s Nashville, which was the best American movie since Bonnie and Clyde, creates in the relationships of nearly two dozen characters a microcosm of who we were and what we were up to in the 1970s. It’s a film about the losers and the winners, the drifters and the stars in Nashville, and the most complete expression yet of not only the genius but also the humanity of Altman, who sees people with his camera in such a way as to enlarge our own experience. Sure, it’s only a movie. But after I saw it I felt more alive, I felt I understood more about people, I felt somehow wiser. It’s that good a movie. The movie doesn’t have a star. It does not, indeed, even have a lead role. Instead, Altman creates a world, a community in which some people know each other and others don’t, in which people are likely to meet before they understand the ways in which their lives are related. And he does it all so easily, or seems to, that watching Nashville is as easy as breathing and as hard to stop. Altman is the best natural filmmaker since Fellini.’ — collaged
Karen Black sings “Rolling Stone” from the film “Nashville”
Dan Curtis Burnt Offerings (1976)
‘Dan Curtis, director of TV’s Dark Shadows series, directed this eerie haunted-house thriller about a house which draws energy from its inhabitants and selects its own “keeper” from the family of Ben and Marian Rolf (Oliver Reed & Karen Black), who rent the strangely-affordable house one fateful summer then find themselves slowly succumbing to its creepy powers. The photography is suitably moody, and many of the standard haunted-house cliches are used to decent effect — particularly a violent scene in which the surrounding woods form a barrier to prevent the family station wagon from escaping the area — but the pace is too leisurely overall, climaxing with the type of grim ending employed by nearly every mainstream horror film in the late 70’s. Black’s spooky looks are used to maximum effect, but are never quite as chilling as the final shot of Curtis’s TV movie Trilogy of Terror from the previous year.’ — collaged
the entire film
Alfred Hitchcock Family Plot (1976)
‘And so we come to Family Plot. Released in 1976, 51 years after Alfred Hitchcock directed his first feature length motion picture, The Pleasure Garden, this final film was Hitch’s Opus number 53. Hitchcock did not know it would be his last picture, and it is a slightly odd note to finish on, as it is, in a way, a dark romantic comedy about two criminal couples: One, essentially bumbling con artists, the other, ruthless kidnappers. It features Hitchcock’s usual sharp script, several interesting set pieces, and very appealing performances by some young talent. Like Frenzy, this was the new Hitchcock: Its script was fully of salty language, and its characters were adult in every sense of the word. In the era of the MPAA ratings system, sex had finally and unabashedly entered Hitchcock’s work. Where the sex in Frenzy had been violent, here, in Family Plot, it was more benign, as two unmarried couples carry out their criminal activities while continually crossing paths as though they were in a farce. The two couples are Madame Blanche, a low-rent psychic played by Barbara Harris; her boyfriend, George, an actor and cab driver, played by Bruce Dern; Arthur Adamson, a sociopathic criminal played by William Devane; and Fran, Adamson’s accomplice in kidnapping, played by Karen Black.’ — The Hitchcock Report
Robert Altman Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982)
‘After directing a celebrated New York stage production of Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, legendary filmmaker Robert Altman (Nashville, 3 Women) gave the play the full cinematic treatment. Actresses Sandy Dennis, Golden Globe-nominee Cher, Karen Black, and Kathy Bates all reprised their stage roles, and the results are a magical convergence of theatre and film. A group of James Dean devotees reconvene at their teenage hangout, a rural Texas drugstore, twenty years after the death of their beloved idol. But much has changed in the intervening years, and the reunion provides them one final opportunity to expose the secrets and heal the emotional wounds that have lingered among them for two decades.’ — Olive Films
Tobe Hooper Invaders from Mars (1986)
‘Tobe Hooper’s Invaders from Mars is one of those films that must’ve traumatized a good percentage of the kids who watched it upon release. Even before it hit video, I remember kids a few classes ahead of me talking about how scary it was. Catching it a year later on VHS, I recall sharing that sentiment. This was a notoriously troubled production for Tobe Hooper. The middle film in his “Cannon Trilogy” (bookended by Lifeforce and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Invaders from Mars saw its budget slashed in the wake of Lifeforce’s financial failure. Producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus reportedly micromanaged Hooper every step of the way, perhaps explaining why this one never manages to find the right tone. It attempts to capture the spirit of its predecessor (and follows the narrative closely) while delivering a modern-day Hollywood spectacle. Instead it gets lost somewhere in the middle, failing to deliver on either front. The usually reliable Karen Black turns in one of her worst performances here, punctuating most of her dialogue with a thud.’ — Dread Central
George Hickenlooper Dogtown (1997)
‘George Hickenlooper once made a fine documentary about Peter Bogdanovich, and Dogtown, with its collection of small-town losers, lost dreams and even a crumbling old theater marquee, clearly aims to be his Last Picture Show. The tribute pales by comparison to its model, and while a largely excellent cast keeps viewer interest from flagging, this occasionally amusing low-key melodrama has too soft a center to suggest much of a theatrical future. Pic does mark a step up for Hickenlooper from his previous feature, The Low Life, although his fictional work thus far remains far short of his accomplishments in docus, which also include Hearts of Darkness, the documentary he co-directed about the making of Apocalypse Now.’ — collaged
the entire film
Lynn Hershman Leeson Teknolust (2002)
‘Academy-Award winner Tilda Swinton plays four roles in this award-winning Sci-Fi about Rosetta Stone and her three Self-Replicating Automatons, (S.R.A.’s) which she cloned from her own DNA. Though they look human, the S.R.A. cyborgs were bred as intelligent machines and are immortal. In order to survive, they need sustenance of male Y chromosome, found only in sperm. Their task is to harvest sperm in the old fashioned way, which leads to a quest for love. This film won the Alfred P. Sloan award for writing and directing and features Karen Black, Thomas Jay Ryan and Jeremy Davies. It also is the first feature film shot on 24p Hi-Def with HD graphic conversion.’ — collaged
Rob Zombie House of 1000 Corpses (2003)
‘House of 1000 Corpses is a 2000 (released 2003) American exploitation horror film written, co-scored and directed by Rob Zombie, and starring Chris Hardwick, Rainn Wilson, Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie and Karen Black. Zombie produced a sequel in 2005, The Devil’s Rejects. The plot focuses on two couples who are held hostage by a sadistic backwoods family on Halloween. Zombie’s directorial debut, the film drew from a multitude of influences, particularly American horror films of the 1970s, including The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Filmed in 2000, the film was originally purchased by Universal Pictures, and a large portion of it was filmed on the Universal Studios backlots, but it was ultimately shelved by the company in fear that it would receive an NC-17 rating. The rights to the film were eventually re-purchased by Zombie, who then sold the film to Lions Gate Entertainment. It was released theatrically on April 11, 2003.’ — horrorpedia.com
Francesco Vezzoli Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula (2005)
‘For Trailer for the Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, Vezzoli created a star-studded trailer for an imaginary big-budget remake of the controversial 1979 cult classic Caligula. Featuring Helen Mirren and Adriana Asti from the original cast as well as young stars such as Milla Jovovich and Courtney Love, the spoof trailer is a high-camp parody of the superficiality and vacuousness of Hollywood. It is also an attempt to return ownership of Caligula to its original screenplay writer, Gore Vidal, who distanced himself from the project after major disagreements with producer Bob Guccione and others. Not only is Vidal’s name restored to the title, but he also introduces the trailer, explaining his original vision for the film as an allegory of the universal tendency for unbridled power to lead to madness and violence.’ — collaged
the entire film
Alex Cox Repo Chick (2009)
‘A “non sequel” to Alex Cox’s 1984 classic “Repo Man,” the crazily plotted and deliberately garish “Repo Chick” only serves to provide further evidence of the cult director’s diminishing talents. The slapstick verbal and visual gags come fast and furious, but lack the desired satirical wit. The filmmaker attempts to defy the constraints of the obviously low-budget by positioning the actors in front of green screens at every opportunity, giving the proceedings the feel of a visually overstuffed comic book. Cox fans will nonetheless relish the over-the-top performances by such familiar repertory players as Sandoval, Del Zamora and Xander Berkeley, as well as Chloe Webb, who starred in his Sid & Nancy, and Rosanna Arquette and Karen Black.’ — Variety
George Sluizer Dark Blood (2012)
‘Dark Blood exhumes a peculiar Western, set on irradiated Indian land, shelved before its release after the death of River Phoenix in 1993. The resurrected drama works best as a time capsule in tribute to the martyred youth. Dark Blood is a politically correct melodrama, and it’s missing some key scenes shot by director George Sluizer with cinematographer Edward Lachman – in its bitterness toward thefts of Indian lands and the contamination of a vast region by atomic tests, it evokes passionate causes of the early 1990’s, with a beatific lead whose short career aroused plenty of passion.’ — Screen Daily
Karen Black interviewed about Dark Blood
p.s. Hey. I’m really happy to finally be able to say publicly that Zac’s and my film ‘Permanent Green Light’ is going to have its World Premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival (IFFR) late this month. I don’t know the exact date(s) and etc. yet. It’s a really great festival and a perfect fit for our film, so I’m totally thrilled. ** H, Hi. Thank you very much. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Oh, wow, his Bowles adapt would have really been something. I agree that’s a really great story. Yeah, I would swoon to have a coffee with either one of them. Mark is an FB friend. Maybe I’ll send him a query and see if he’s game to meet. ** James Nulick, Hi, James. Not really re: Barney Rosset. Paul’s primary concentration was on finding and publishing daring, homegrown French literature by young and older writers whereas Rosset, while he did publish some great American writers, mostly focused on publishing avant-garde European lit in the US. Hugs about your mom. I’ve been through that too, as you know. A guest-post, wonderful, thank you so much! I’ll be excited and grateful for it! That’s cool you bought something from Lucy. Sweet. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Thanks, I’m glad you found things you like. Yes, ha ha, we should see movies together and then, through that combination and blabbing about them afterwards, we would both have a thorough experience of them. You’re finally going to get to visit your brother! Great! If you can swing through Paris on the way or the way back, that would be awesome, although I know Amsterdam and Paris are not exactly next door neighbours. Yesterday wasn’t so exciting. There are a bunch of things that are needed to be done for our film at the Rotterdam festival (poster, trailer, other stuff), so I was conferring with Zac about what to do. I decided that today I need to force myself out of my sad and stunned state and get back to work, on the assigned writing project most especially, so that’s the plan. How was your day? Are you pretty much packed and ready to scoot? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. Thanks for your through attention to the gig. Massicot, yes, good analysis. I heard/saw the Justin Timberlake song/video yesterday. Yeah, the song seems like it has something sharp or savvy inside it. I read the most vicious review of it this morning, I think on EW, that seemed really off the mark. Usually throwing critics off the mark is a good sign. Yeah, Danger Incorporated … The producer of this big project I’m working on that I can’t discuss yet is constantly using the term ‘mainstream edge’ to describe what she thinks the project needs to be, and DI kind of fit that tag, I think. I’ll check out the Matthew Herbert score, thanks. Yes, yes, really great for us about Rotterdam, and hopefully it will be the beginning of a very good life for our film. We’ll see. But it’s an excellent start. Three projected recent Bennings! Wow, envy. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. Cool, glad you dug that track. They’re nice. Your dad and you have almost the same shoes. Coincidence? ** Jamie, Hey Jamie! I’m so happy that you and health are reuniting. Jesus, man, what a trek you’ve had to take to get here. Good that you’ve isolated your edible and/or drinkable enemies. I’m okay. I’m still kind of, I don’t know, bewildered about my friend/publisher’s death, but I think that’ll be the case for a while, and I’m starting to get back to work on stuff. Projects are good. All I want to do is work on the script for Zac’s and my new film, and I am, but I have to sideline it by force and do the assigned work for the big project that I hopefully can finally name soon. Yeah, super happy about Rotterdam. A big relief too because, since our producer has been insisting that we premiere the film at a big festival, if Rotterdam hadn’t said yes, the next big enough festivals aren’t late spring, so … whew. What is the award you’re applying for? Did you easily find the right 1000 words? Did you have to revise it at all to get it to stand alone? So lovely to be talking with you again, man! All the very best, and love supreme, me. ** Brendan, Thanks, buddy, I guess I am feeling better. You know, death is so incredibly confusing. No way around that. Ah, yeah, I hear you about the rut problem. I think maybe one of the reasons I don’t to get into creative ruts is because I’m always throwing whatever talent I have all over the place. I always try to have bunch of different kinds of projects going on so I can move my creativity around. Like right now I have a new film script, a new Gisele theater collaboration, the blog, and my gif fiction all available and waiting for me, and I always seem to find a way to work with interest on one of them. I feel like that keeps me limber or something? Yes, maybe I can see what you’re working in person in April even. I’m always excited to see what you’re working on. Thanks about PGL/festival. Yeah, it’s cool. Have a splendid weekend. ** Misanthrope, Hi. I need to stop feeling romantic about the winter-related hell you East Coasters are dealing with and enjoy the blah, usual chilliness we’re beset with over here, and I promise I will find a way to do that. You’re doing the ultrasound this morning? Man, I hope that goes well and that they find the easiest solution possible. Let me know how it went, okay? ** Bill, Hi, B. Thanks, man. I really, really want too see ‘Green Fog’, obviously, no matter what. I haven’t heard URUK. I’ll get it. Thighpaulsandra is working on a new album with/for Daniel O’Sullivan, and I’m excited about that. Bon weekend! ** Okay. Those of you with long term memories will recall that I did a Karen Black Day on my old murdered blog. Unfortunately, as has been the case with some murdered posts, the transfer of data from evil Google to me ended up damaging that post beyond repair. So I had to make a totally new Karen Black Day. And there it is. Have fine weekends, and I’ll see you on Monday.