Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Various
Published by FAB Press
UK publishers FAB Press have spent the last decade or so making a name for themselves and the preeminent destination for a scholarly look at all things horror and exploitation. Throughout the years they’ve published massive tomes on Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Mario Bava and more. The writing and composition of their books is second to none and they always seem to be trying out new things.
Such is the case with the Cinema Classics Collection, a series of short (less than 200 pages) and compact books written by authors who are passionate about their particular subject. In order to keep things simple I’m going to do a brief review of the first thee volumes in the Cinema Classics Collection, the only three to be released so far; Witchcraft Through the Ages, No Borders, No Limits and A Violent Professional. Each have their own very unique focus and all three are worth picking up for cinemaphiles who want to dig deeper.
Arguably the best and certainly the most focused of all three books, Stevenson’s look at the first “cursed” film, know in various circles as Haxan or The Wtich, among other titles, goes far beyond just the making of the film Indeed, Stevenson puts the film in context with the entire life and career of director Benjamin Christensen, whose work has been sorely overlooked stateside for too long.
Beginning his directing career while in his mid-30’s, Christensen had a very unique approach to all his films, be they Danish (his home country) or American. Though Haxan was only his second film, it was the one that followed him, for better or worse, throughout his entire career and remains to this day one of the most influential pieces of early cinema ever created.
Stevenson does a great job with very limited resources tracing the life and times of Christensen and paints a portrait of a limitlessly talented artist who spent most of his life trying to retain the sort of freedom, creatively and financially, that he had in his earliest days. A great read even if, like me, you’ve never seen a single one of his films.
The focus of this book is the Japanese studio Nikatsu, who between 1954 and 1971 created tons of influential films that have been inspiring Japanese and (more recently) worldwide youth for decades. It was the home of some classic Japanese action films; despite the fact that it was more or less a conveyor belt of movies at its peak.
The issues I have with this entry in CCC are two fold; first, having never seen or heard of most of the films discussed, it’s hard to find the entire tome all that fascinating, but that’s a personal gripe more than anything. Stylistically, the tale of the various directors and stars involved with Nikatsu seems a bit all over the place, especially during the narrative tracing the history of the studio.
Definitely the best bits are the interviews Schilling conducted with some of the names mentioned throughout whom he could track down. Thanks to his wide range of knowledge of Japanese cinema, Schilling is able to engage these talents in some very in-depth discussions of their works, something I’m sure many fans of the genre would love a chance to do.
But again, it felt unfocused over all, likely due in part to the fact that there’s a huge chunk of time to cover in the scant page count, so for that it can be forgiven. I’m sure if it expands to a second volume or a full-fledged FAB tome, it will be a lot easier to follow.
The strangest of the three, though not necessarily in a bad way, A Violent Professional is, with the minor exception of a brief introduction, a chronological listing of all the films in which character actor Luciano Rossi appeared during the 60’s and 70’s.
Who? Rossi was the guy who got the shit kicked out of him more than most character actors, appearing in dozens of Italian westerns and action movies, usually as one nefarious character or another.
Author Janisse has a special level of obsession for the actor, sitting though countless films in the hopes of catching a glimpse of him Rarely does he have a meatier part than a five or ten-minute role, but was apparently always memorable when he did make his presence known.
The oddest part is that Janisse rates each film she synopsizes not by their quality, but by how much time is given to Rossi on-screen (a system of stars) and how … ahem, cute he is in his role (a system hearts). Like I said, it’s a weird entry, but definitely a fun read for that reason alone, even if does end a bit too abruptly.
While all three may not be for you (though I have to encourage everyone to read Witchcraft Through the Ages), its good to see FAB expanding their horizons into even stranger and stranger territory, and finally making some of it affordable, too!
4 1/2 out of 5
No Borders, No Limits
3 out of 5
A Violent Professional
3 1/2 out of 5
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