Atonement - revisited


A ratty film clip, but some nice captures of Keira Knightley's sexy appearance in Atonement




The Master and Margarita

Now here's a puzzle for you. How does one adapt a large, multi-layered, serio-comic, metaphysical novel that is held sacred by its devotees?

Here's one possible answer: do not attempt to create a normal feature-length movie. Instead, think mini-series, include all the dialogue exactly as it appears in the novel, and simply let it run as long as it runs, using as many episodes as necessary to incorporate every essential element of the original work. This can work out fairly well if the novelist is also a playwright, and if the novel is almost as heavy with dialogue as a play, thus adapting easily to a screenplay.

Just make it as long as it takes? Hey, they do things BIG in Russia!

The Master and Margarita is perhaps the most popular work ever created in Soviet Russia. It was written by Mikhail Bulgakov over a period of ten years - the thirties - and was not published until a quarter of a century after Bulgakov's death in 1940. Bulgakov was already on Stalin's bad side before this novel was written, and the driving force of this work is to ridicule the values of life in the USSR under Stalin's brand of Communism, so you can probably imagine why it remained unpublished. By Soviet standards, it is an orgy of the forbidden: the supernatural, Christianity, elitism, sex ... forbidden matters presented in forbidden ways.

The scholar Simon Franklin, a specialist in Russian studies at Cambridge University, wrote the following in his introduction to the first English translation: "The Master and Margarita is not a book of occasional risqué allusions, but a work wholly outside any habitual or orthodox Soviet definition of what writing ought to be, gloriously and integrally irreverent. Not a page was publishable."

In fact, it's amazing that it managed to get published in the mid sixties, when Bulgakov's widow finally released her late husband's manuscripts, because that was the Brezhnev era, and Big Leo didn't have any better a sense of humor than Stalin. I suppose the work was able to sneak into publication because it satirized life in the thirties, and the venom was just remote enough in the sixties to have lost its toxicity. Many of the characters, recognizable in the thirties as specific people in Moscow, seemed merely to be arch stereotypes 25 years later. I don't know what Brezhnev's regime thought of the book officially, but for the people living in the society being satirized, it was a steam valve of humor which released all their pent-up frustrations with their society, and it has continued to be one of the most popular works ever written in any language. According to one report, this mini-series attracted as many as eighty million viewers in the episode which ran during Christmas week - an astounding figure for a country with only 140 million people.

What's it about? Well, do you have a few hours for me to explain? It seems that the devil holds his annual ball in a different city every year, and this year he has chosen Moscow. During the few days when he and his entourage visit the city, Satan and his crew wreak havoc with the city's residents, causing mayhem everywhere. Bulgakov chose to save his most corrosive acid for the writer's union, a bumbling bureaucracy in which success was measured by the political correctness of ideas rather than by actual talent, but the author also pointed some cynical arrows at official state atheism, the state police, government hypocrisy, the housing shortage, and various human foibles. Like Dante's Inferno, another work featuring Satan, Bulgakov's novel chose to transmogrify his personal enemies into the most unfortunate (and thinly-disguised) servants and/or dupes of Satan.

Intertwined with the story of Moscow in the thirties is another complete story about Jerusalem in the time of Jesus, the centerpiece of which is the relationship between Pontius Pilate and Jesus himself. As this version goes, Pilate not only found Jesus to be innocent of his alleged crimes, but actually admired the man, and wanted to learn from his philosophy. Unfortunately, Pilate was too much of a pussy to stand up against the Jewish Sanhedrin, which wanted Jesus out of the way, and that weakness caused him torment for ... well, eternity ... almost.

The two storylines intersect in several ways. First, the devil holds a conversation with a hack writer and his editor in which the Dark One recounts the Pilate story in order to refute the mistaken perceptions of the state-approved atheism. Later, it turns out that the story is continued as part of a novel-within-the-novel written by a character called The Master, who seems to have had a revelation in which he saw the events precisely as the devil described them. The two stories are interwoven, but are tonally opposite. The satirical Moscow scenes tend toward farce while the scenes in Jerusalem present a serious contemplation of what the historical figures of Christ and Pilate might really have been like, stripped of the mythical aspects of the biblical story. The juxtaposition of such unlike stories may sound truly odd to you, and I assure you it will seem no less odd when you read the book or watch the DVDs, but Bulgakov was not the first Russian writer to meld the base and the sublime and to mix slapstick with metaphysics. Bulgakov's literary idol was Gogol, whose own Dead Souls took the same kind of approach. In the scope of world literature, Bulgakov fits in perfectly with other writers whose work was released in the sixties and seventies, notably Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and Gabiel Garcia Marquez, all of whom juxtaposed fantasy and comic invention with serious social criticism and high-minded spirituality. Looking back from a new millennium, the fact that Bulgakov's work was written three decades earlier than the others doesn't seem to matter, and serves to certify his elite status among the avant-garde of his century.

Russians have generally found the mini-series to be a faithful adaptation of the work, if only for the fact that it usually presents a verbatim transcription of the dialogue. Except for the deletion of some minor scenes, there is really only one modification to the novel: an additional character. The film script added a character not in the book, a cold-blooded high-level figure at the NKVD ("the secret police," as we know them), who delivered his lines with a Georgian accent and a rhythm all too familiar to some older Russians. If you know your Russian history, you know that this unnamed character is meant to represent Stalin's most vicious crony, Beria, who was a Georgian (as was Stalin) and was the head of NKVD. Since the same actor played this role and the role of the scheming Caiaphas in Jerusalem, the new character served to link the story's two worlds, and to show the pervasiveness of this type of authority figure throughout mankind's history.

I have mixed feelings about the addition. Part of me says that one should not tinker with sacred texts. How would you feel about some new characters and dialogue in MacBeth or Don Quijote or the Book of Exodus? But another part of me thinks that Bulgakov would have approved of this embellishment. Your own reaction to the new character will probably depend on your expectations. While many Russians wanted the story told just as they remembered it, and thus objected to the new character, I tend to think it was a good addition. Of course, I'm not Russian and I have only read the book in English, and then only in the first expurgated version that came out in 1967, so for me it is not a sacrosanct cultural touchstone that demands a worshipful literal interpretation.

I'm less enthusiastic about the visual realization of the story. I do admire the work that went into it, and the comprehensiveness of the treatment, and I am impressed by all the scenes that could be presented without special effects or with minimal effects. The director found some locations which look like they did in the thirties, created others to match, and even found some old newsreel footage which he was able to work in quite seamlessly.

But I find the fantasy sequences to be weak, sometimes even comically inept.

(1) One of Satan's minions is a giant cat. The character is played by a dwarf in a cheesy cat suit which seems to be left over from a 1950s Ed Wood movie.

(2) The CGI in general is ... well ... without consulting my thesaurus, the word "primitive" is the first that comes to mind. This is a major liability in a work which features witches on broomsticks, surreal landscapes, ancient Jerusalem, and a parade from hell, just to name a few of the supernatural elements. The director could have used some help from Peter Jackson or the Harry Potter people.

One other thing bothered me. Censorship. Much of Margarita's nudity is obscured by digital blurring, and the parade of naked woman from hell are all clad in bottoms, in the manner of Vegas showgirls. These faults are particularly egregious in that (a) the whole point of the novel is to think and imagine freely, without the constraints of small-minded authority; and (2) it's simply inappropriate that Satan would bother with modesty, particularly in hell itself. To the show's credit, there is some complete (albeit dark) nudity in the bacchanalia dancing scenes, and beautiful breasts are on screen just about non-stop throughout the middle of the film.

Ignore those quibbles. All right, the show isn't perfect, but my general take on the series is quite positive. I invested eight and a half hours of my time watching a work in a language I don't understand, and I rarely lost interest. I watched every episode straight through, and sometimes I was curious enough to watch several in a row. I think it was time well spent.

Overall, a hearty "bravo" to those who created the show and a special nod to those who invested in creating a Region 1 version of this three disk set. (With wildly inconsistent English subtitles: often extremely good, but sometimes utter gibberish. But at least I always knew what was going on.)

If you're interested, it is available through Amazon Marketplace from Marina's Books. It is also available from another seller at double the price, but Marina is your girl. In addition to her low prices, her customer service is so good it is almost annoying. I ordered it online and she sent me an e-mail almost immediately, not to tell me that she had received the order, but to tell me it was already shipped! I thought it must be  bullshit, but it arrived post haste, in mint condition, and she has continued to follow up to make sure I was satisfied. I was surprised to see that her satisfaction rate was only 99% at Amazon. I wonder what that other guy wanted!!

There is so much nudity in the 8 1/2 hours that Tuna probably could have done a thousand collages from this film, but I decided to make it a manageable project for my own time constraints, and concentrated on the prettiest shots of the gorgeous Anna Kovalchuk (Margarita).




And a brief sample of the bacchanalia scene




* Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

* White asterisk: expanded format.

* Blue asterisk: not mine.

No asterisk: it probably sucks.


Catch the deluxe version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles, here.










Vanessa is a West German erotic adventure set in Hong Kong. Comparisons to Emmanuelle were inevitable since it features a young woman living in a tropical location, having sexual adventures, and even using bamboo chairs. To be sure, this is the same genre as Emmanuelle, albeit with better production values, but the similarity ends there.

Vanessa (Olivia Pascal in her first screen role) has been living in a European convent since the death of her parents, but is notified that her last remaining relative, an uncle, has died and left her a fortune to manage. Imagine the surprise for this sweet, shy innocent when she discovers that she now owns dozens of brothels in Hong Kong. She owns a plantation as well, that is managed by the illegitimate son of her uncle, who is contesting the will. She is staying with a family that includes the hedonist Eva Garden and her precocious daughter Uschi Zech, who becomes fast friends with Vanessa. The dramatic conflicts involve the fate of her inheritance and her maidenhead.

It was originally to be shot in Thailand, and had no script -- merely a cast, crew and a treatment. Director Hubert Frank was hired for his rumored ability to improvise, and that skill was put to the test here. They arrived in Thailand, only to be told by the producer that he had just had some difficulties filming there, and they were headed for Hong Kong. Once in Hong Kong, they were told it would be impossible to find filming locations there, but by then everyone was sick of travel, so Hong Kong it was.

The result? Well, I defy you to find a 5 minute segment without full frontal female nudity. In addition to a great deal of nudity and simulated sex, the film includes some torture, bondage, and black magic, and is also a decent travelogue of Hong Kong.

It is due for release at the end of this month from Severin, which again has done a top notch job locating a complete version of a lost classic, restoring it to a condition probably better than it looked in the theaters, and filming an interview with the director and cinematographer for this release. 

This is a C+.

It will be available from You know the drill. Click on the pic.

Sexual Exploration

IMDb readers say 4.8 with only 44 votes.

Eva Garden, Uschi Zech, Olivia Pascal, and several unknowns show everything.




Eva Garden


Uschi Zech


Olivia Pascal









Devil's Prey

Today we take in another horror movie as we look at "Devil's Prey." This one has lots of "Babes in Bondage," but sadly not much skin.


Ashley Jones is all tied up.

Jennifer Lyons looking sexy at a rave, then knocked out and all tied up.

An unknown actress saves the day as far as the nudity goes, as she is bound and gagged while topless and a little bloody in the end.


Wash it all down with some topless painted Go-Go dancers back at the rave.






Notes and collages

Goodbye, Columbus - Part 1 of 2

Great film if you can appreciate the morality and humor of the late sixties (which I do though at the time I needed a stool to see my face in the bathroom mirror so I saw such films later in life.)

Ali McGraw








The Still Life

Julian (Jason Barry, who looks like Hugh Jackman's long lost brother) is an artist whose life is all messed up. With luck he finds himself in the middle of a new art movement called Destructionism and suddenly becomes famous, but this doesn't help him much, only brings him more problems.

Years ago I saw the sequel to Wishmaster, a series that I love, just don't ask me why. A girl I haven't seen before was playing the lead,  Holly Fields, and there where some scenes where she could have shown some skin, but didn't. I followed her career. Sadly she got married and didn't make many movies and those she did make had nudity, but not from her. So I heard she was in this movie and got it and before it arrived I found out she was finally naked! I hope Holly keeps making movies now and showing skin, she is a hottie. Not only that, Angel Boris, another favorite, is naked too, so double the pleasure.

The itself movie is not that bad, although they didn't have a lot of money to do it, and it shows, especially in the art gallery, which is pathetic.



Angel Boris


Holly Fields


Boris and Fields


Kyrie Maezumi












Ines Sastre







A film clip of Parker Posey in Broken English. (Sample right.)






The Comedy Wire

Comments in yellow...

Saturday, nearly 600 volunteers stripped off for a Greenpeace-sponsored photo shoot in the Swiss Alps by Spencer Turnick, who's famous for his photos of crowds of naked people in public places.  They posed facing away from the camera, next to a glacier that's been shrinking.  The photo will be used on posters and calendars to draw attention to global warming.  As for what it's like standing around naked on a glacier, a Greenpeace spokesman said, "It's relatively chilly. but that doesn't seem to be disturbing them."

*  If the men wanted to dramatize the shrinkage problem, they should've faced toward the camera.

India's Tata Motors announced plans to buy the world's cheapest new car to help solve the nation's chronic transportation shortage.  The vehicle will sell for 100,000 rupees, or about $2400 US.  It will be a four-door sedan about the size of a VW Rabbit, but to cut costs, the engine will be 30 horsepower (a Rabbit's engine is 150 hp), and will be made largely of plastic.

*  As are so many Tatas these days.