Alan Abel demands that all animals be clothed for the sake of decency on The Dennis Wholey Show (1969). Photo By G. Clifford Prout
First things first: As of last night, Cinematheque Ontario still had tickets available for Sunday night's screening of Lawrence Of Arabia.
If you've never seen David Lean's masterpiece in a theatre, buy your ticket now. Like, immediately. Right this instant. Seriously, you're going to miss the opportunity to see one of my very favourite films ever? What's wrong with you?
Okay, that's your Sunday evening taken care of. If you need something to do tonight, here's another recommendation. Bundle yourself up, and wander down to Innis Town Hall for the latest in its Free Friday Film series.
U of T's resourceful Cinema Studies Student Union has secured a print of Larry Fessenden's fascinating 2006 thriller The Last Winter, which played at that year's Toronto Film Festival and promptly vanished into limbo. Alliance Films released it on DVD a few months ago - but again, this is the kind of movie that benefits considerably from being seen in a big, dark room.
A kind of eco-horror spin on The Thing, The Last Winter is centered on the isolated scientists at an Arctic research station, whose exploratory core drilling on behalf of a petro-chemical corporation is abruptly halted when one of their number ends up spectacularly dead. When other things start getting weird, the team concludes that they've either dislodged a pocket of rotten natural gas, causing intense hallucinations and hysteria ... or stirred something ancient and angry, which is now coming after them with a vengeance.
In the wrong hands - say, Roland Emmerich's - this could have quickly turned into a cheesy disaster movie, but Fessenden's not interested in that sort of thing; instead, he keeps his movie focused squarely on the human element, as Ron Perlman, James Le Gros and Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton try to grasp the extent of what's happening around them. Snow drifts have never seemed quite so claustrophobic, you know?
Tonight's screening will be introduced by my friend and colleague Adam Nayman, who's an even bigger admirer of Fessenden than I. You should really check it out.
Finally, if you can't score Lawrence tickets for Sunday - and you have an appetite for idealistic Sixties pranksters - you might be interested in the Bloor's little salute to Alan Abel, which pairs Abel's puckish 1971 comedy Is There Sex After Death? with his daughter Jennifer's 2005 documentary, Abel Raises Cain. (Check the showtimes here.)
The double-bill is playing in celebration of distributor filmswelike's release of Abel Raises Cain on DVD later in the week; I should probably state that I'm mentioning it with considerable reservations.
With its giggly titillations and its clumsy attempts at bawdy humour, Is There Sex After Death? - produced and directed by Abel and his wife Jeannie - may have been groundbreaking in its day, but probably wasn't. Now, it's a hippie curio, with Abel posing as respected sexologist "Dr. Rogers" (dig it?) and asking people embarrassing questions in preparation for the First International Sex Bowl.
And I don't really think Abel Raises Cain is all that good, either as a personal documentary or as a profile of a professional hoaxster; sure, it's funny that he got people to take his campaign to clothe "naked" animals seriously, but Jennifer Abel is entirely unwilling to examine the impact of his antics in any context beyond the flustered responses of stuffy TV interviewers.
Hoaxes don't just get people to question the media they consume; they also have a way of degrading the credibility of that media. And frankly, it's kind of difficult to suggest one's dad was a bold challenger of conventional thinking and established mores when his biggest accomplishment was telling Americans to put pants on their horses.