Monday, May 01, 2006

PROFESSOR VAN HELSING'S FAVORITE STUDENTS


Well, I don’t know if it was my call-out to first-time and long-time lurkers or what, exactly, but I’ve never seen such a great flow of smart, sassy, intelligent and eccentric responses to one of the SLIFR quizzes. Approximately 32 separate lists so far, and we still have yet to hear from old reliables like the Mysterious Adrian Betamax, Psaga, Virgil Hilts, Peet, Nilblogette, Snake Plissken, Benaiah and other stalwarts from the early days of Mr. Hand’s first quiz last spring. And God knows there might still be a few others out there who want to check in but have not yet done so, for one reason or another. If you’re one of those on the fence, I encourage you to jump right on in—the water’s more than fine. I’m going to leave the door open on the quiz for at least another two weeks in the hopes that we can collect 8 or 10 more great lists. Then the daunting project of collating and compiling all the superb observations, most of which provoke their own responses, questions or desire to go check out the movie under discussion, and get them into some sort of digestible form. For you all, most of the fun lies in coming up with your answers and reading all the other ones. For me, it’s coming up with my answers, reading all the others, and then whipping everything together with some pithy commentary, calls for clarity, or outright challenges to inarguable matters of taste.

And there will be lots of opportunities like those coming off this batch of entries. There have been so many good comments already that I’m half tempted to start the digestion process right now. But I won’t. Just a taste instead. Some of my favorite responses so far:

I love Roscoe berating the SLIFR faithful for somehow letting him go so long without ever having seen a Robert Altman film. (Roscoe, if we only had an address, we could send DVDs, or perhaps dead fish wrapped in newspaper, for further inspiration.) And I also like his admission that the only movie he ever walked out on was The Pacifier, which begged the question, at least in my mind, what was it exactly that got him to walk in?

Some of reader John T. Chance’s best entries revolved around some classic adventure films. He loves Lee Marvin’s last line from The Professionals, after having been dubbed a bastard: “In my case, an accident of birth. You, sir, are a self-made man.” (And I do too.) J.T.C. is also glad I said “favorite John Ford movie” instead o “best,” which allowed him to admit to the enduring appeal of Donovan’s Reef to his particular sensibility. And longtime readers will know that I got plenty of vicarious pleasure out of reading about his seeing Road House in a crowded, rowdy theater in Tralee, Ireland, on a cold, rainy evening in 1989.

I think that just about every one of That Little Round-Headed Boy’s answers are time capsule material, and not just because he trumped a couple of my own answers, but that he did so, 1-25, with such wit and humor and good writing. His stuff on anger-making movies, or sidekicks, or Holden vs. Lancaster, or favorite John Ford makes me really glad he’s become a SLIFR regular. I’ll save his answers in toto for later (or if you wanna scroll down and refamiliarize yourself with them now, please do), but I gotta highlight just one: In describing a transcendent moment when he realized a film that had just seemed routine before had become something much more, he offers this: "The Cool Rider sequence in Grease 2 when I realized Michelle Pfeiffer was hot beyond belief, a major star in the making and that this movie was much better than the original. And had better songs. Oh, you think I'm joking, do you?” Now, I haven’t seen Grease 2 so I wouldn’t know. But I just like the fact that TLRHB cops to an unpopular position regarding a universally dismissed movie to serve as his example, and adds that little bit of facetious (?) testiness in there at the end for good measure.

Flickhead has such a great site of his own (as does TLRHB) that it’s a real pleasure having him here picking his cinema brain for all of us to enjoy. His favorite line is from Goldfinger: “My name is Pussy Galore.” And he leaves us all to remember for ourselves Sean Connery’s nonplussed, delighted response. And I really liked his answer to that transcendent moment question too: “Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse dancing among the stage props in Silk Stockings could probably prevent suicides.”

One new reader, Goatdog, took John T. Chance’s cited transcendent moment, the last scene in About Schmidt, and listed it as the movie/moment that made him excessively angry (proof at last that, yes, we can just get along?) Goatdog, who runs a projector in a revival house hidden inside a bank building, also takes Otto Preminger down a peg , thinks he should be replaced in critical circles by Phil Karlson, and admits that although he once said he’d never walk out of a movie, he nearly broke that vow during Domino.

Peter Nellhaus, and several others too, cited as their favorite Frank Capra movie The Bitter Tea of General Yen starring Barbara Stanwyck. That clicking sound was me putting it on my Netflix queue.

As always, Blaaagh’s contributions are very special and meaningful to me, and he does not disappoint during this go-around. Of course I approve of his suggestion of knocking Quentin Tarantino off his pedestal and replacing him with David R. Ellis (even though I still like Tarantino's movies). And his desire to see an Animal House sequel with the original actors 30 years later was echoed by several other participants. (Strangely enough, such a beast does exist, sort of—it’s a mockumentary featured on the “Double Secret Probation” DVD edition of Animal House that revisits many of the actors, in character—this was actually John Vernon’s last appearance before his death late last year.) And his choice for one of his favorite lines holds particular resonance right now. It’s from Days of Heaven-- Linda Manz concludes her speech about Brooke Adams with: “I was hoping that things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine.”

A reader traveling under the moniker Stanley Kubrick admits that he once saw Top Gun on a toilet in a fancy building. I don’t know whether asking for more details would be a good idea or not, but it does seem like an ideal, practical place to see that movie in particular, doesn’t it?

Old pal Machine Gun McCain checks in with a litany of terrific observations, including this one under “Favorite Sidekick”: “Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) in John Carpenter’s Big Trouble In Little China, for he fools himself into thinking that he’s the real hero of the piece, when it’s really Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) and the rest of the characters that do all of the hard work. Russell doles out the perfect amount of braggadocio in a performance that seems to be a modeled after John Wayne at times.” MGM also trumped my answer for Favorite Political Movie, and in advancing the proposed sequel for Buckaroo Banzai as one he’d like to see, he offers up some info I’d never heard linking that would-be sequel to the aforementioned John Carpenter movie. The same terrific insights he brings to his own site, MGM also lays on us here.

Reader Paul C. would like to take Cameron Crowe down a notch, saw The Third Man in a theater in Vienna not far from the famous Ferris wheel, and describes how Seven went from good to great for him with one unexpected entrance. His answers for what scene he would like to have witnessed being filmed are choice, and I must reprint his comment regarding what film inspired him to walk out of the theater: “Cremaster 3. It's not that I didn't get it. I just didn't want it. I don't ask for movies to work overtime to engage me, but when I feel like the director wouldn't care if his work played on a screen in front of an audience of zero, well, I can't help but want to make this dream a reality.”

The Mirror Has Two Faces is the movie that pissed off Edward Copeland to an inordinate degree, and had I not so successfully flushed it from my memory it might have been my choice too.

Brian Darr, who heads up the excellent Hell On Frisco Bay site, has some of my favorite responses of the entire survey within his answers, so it’s gonna be a challenge for me not to reprint them all. Two of the best: Best Argument for Allowing Rock Stars to Particpate in the Making of Films: “George Harrison’s Handmade Films production company.” And then there’s this, in response to the most exotic or unusual place in which you ever saw a movie: “After taking an 8-hour ride on the back of a pickup truck from the Thai border to Siem Riep, Cambodia, the pack of Lonely Planeteers I'd shared the journey with was plopped down in fron of a television at the guesthouse we were to sleep at during our visit to Angkor Wat, to watch a copy of what else but Roland Joffe's The Killing Fields. I'd seen it before but, of course, it had a much greater impact on me in this context. A good reminder to tourists looking for spirituality and beauty that politics trumps all that in a broken country.” Look also for Brian’s spot-on choice for Favorite Political Film and a fascinating story about walking out on The Confederate States of America, and a whole lot more.

New reader Lucas likes the line from Crimes and Misdemeanors: “What is the guy so upset about? You’d think nobody was ever compared to Mussolini before.” And the perfection of the moment when Bill Murray meets Max’s father in Rushmore, and the hint of sympathy in the actor’s eyes.














Jen is back this go-round with more of her patented caustic and hilarious commentary. Under “Showgirls-- yes or no?” she puts forth: “No, thank you. I can intellectually understand Dennis’ and others’ defense of it, but I think it really just boils down to it being a guy thing.” And her description of The Player as her favorite Altman movie has enough entertaining asides to be its own blog post. And then after waxing convincingly about Klute as the high point of the early ‘70s, she ends with this: “I could do about five pages on this subject, but I won’t. I’ve been windbaggy enough in this survey as it is… and isn’t that really Dennis’ job?” I don’t know whether to harumph or puff out my chest with pride. Later, however, in response to Thom McGregor’s answers, she takes me and the blog to task for the lack of beefcake in the actor comparison questions, and particularly for all the “Angie Dickinson horseshit” that seemingly hijacked SLIFR for a few days. Well, Jen, all I can say is, first of all, turning the spotlight on Angie Dickinson needs no defending, so I shall not. Also, there have been several responses from females in the quiz that have suggested Holden vs. Lancaster, or even Bridges vs. Goldblum, aren’t exactly malformed hills of beans—it was you describing Burt Lancaster’s “mesmerizing torso” in The Crimson Pirate, wasn’t it? And I don’t recall anyone protesting the Clooney references in some of your answers, or Sharon’s. But I’m willing to try my hand at beefcake next time, if you trust me with the concept, that is. How about Justin Timberlake vs. Nick Lachey? Or Josh Hartnett vs. Skeet Ulrich?

Old pals Beege, Murray, and new pal Red, made me realize the ambiguity of the quiz’s first question about what film made you angry while watching it or thinking about it afterward. I had conceived the question strictly in terms of seeing a film and becoming angry because of its prejudices, misconceptions or other failings. But these guys all submitted answers that suggested there was another way of looking at the question: at becoming angry as a result of the film’s subject matter, where anger is the desired response of the writer and director. So then when Beege cites American History X, she’s angry at the world the movie depicts (whereas the film made me angry for all kinds of reasons having to do with the way the world was approached in the movie itself). Likewise, Murray sees The Passion of the Christ, and Red sees Sophie’s Choice, and both are awestruck by the depths to which humanity can drag itself. But Beege is also good for lots of irreverent responses (especially considering her status as a minister!) like this one: Favorite John Ford Movie: “Sex Hygiene (1942) would have to be pretty damned entertaining 64 years later.” And her response to the most exotic or unusual place to have ever seen a movie is typically hilarious: “I pretty much see movies in theaters or at home. It’s the missionary position of movie viewing, I suppose.” Red’s description of Sean Penn in Carlito’s Way as an example of transcendence is infectious, and her wanting to have seen the filming of Paul Henreid making the crowd sing “La Marseillaise” in Casablanca is sublime in its description. And I get a big kick out of Murray on Showgirls: “Yes! No! Yes! No! Yes! No!... maybe…”

Sharon (and Blaaagh) go off on Magnolia-- neither of them much likes those damned frogs much. And Sharon admits that she had the gall to walk out on Count Yorga, Vampire during the opening credits! (Didn’t you look at the marquee before entering the theater, Sharon? I can lend you the DVD if you’d like to correct this egregious error of judgment…) :)

Steve, of The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steven Carlson, relies on Russ Meyer (and in this case Roger Ebert) for great, pulpy movie dialogue, like this favorite line from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!” And he likes Alan Price creating the soundtrack to O Lucky Man! on screen as a good argument for allowing rock stars to participate in filmmaking now and again.

New pal Mr. Middlebrow, of A Drinking Song, takes the opportunity to talk at length about The Right Stuff and Out of Sight, as well as this regarding exotic movie-watching locales: “The best I can come up with is Platoon, dubbed in Italian, in a theatre in Vicenza, Italy, where I was stationed. That said, reruns of the original Star Trek in Italian were far more entertaining: “Spock: Interessante, Capitano. Bones: E mordo, Geem!” Mr. Middlebrow, like That Little Round-Headed Boy, turns in a list of 25 that are all so good I wanna quote them all here. Just go read ‘em again instead.

I like Achillea’s quoted line from The Princess Bride (“You keep using that word (Inconceivable). I do not think it means what you think it means.”). And I absolutely love the response to Favorite Ken Russell Movie: “I almost said Escape from New York. Who’s Ken Russell?”

As always, Thom McGregor’s answers are far funnier, more thoughtful and intelligent than she seems to think they are. She lets Brian De Palma have it right off the bat: “I believe I’ve never felt angrier than at the moment I watched a drill chew its way through a woman’s body on down through the floor (or ceiling), dripping blood into the first floor room in De Palma’s Body Double. The details, the sounds, the glee with which this scene was filmed made me hate De Palma to this day. I wanted to blow chunks... at him!” I like her “Tilly because she’s silly” in choosing Jennifer over Gina, though it was this that got me in trouble with Jen: “I demand more beefcake in these comparison questions. Lots of cheesecake, but there are some women out here, you know, Dennis!” Go read my response to Jen, my dear. Beefcake is where you find it! But Thom’s response to the question about the highlight of the early ‘70s may be my favorite of hers: “The embrace of the antihero as central character. Also endings open to interpretation or just plain sad or puzzling. I want that back.” Thom, don’t ever stop making your thoughts known on SLIFR. We’re all richer for them.

Newcomer Dan Aloi is infuriated by the movie version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and isn’t afraid to expound upon why. Just reading his account made me angry! And he has a very good choice for perfect moment: Lady and the Tramp and their bella notte spaghetti dinner. And it sounds like Dan has some friends who are hooked up with a good video projector. Some of his best exotic movie-watching locations include: “Wayne Wang & Paul Auster’s Smoke video-projected in a small-town bar, which the owner let us use on his one night off just for our little film society of friends. Kill Bill 2 on my friend’s raillingless second-story outdoor deck, also video-projected. And The Thing (1951) while snowed-in after a blizzard.” (That one sounds like a dream come true!) And I really like Dan’s irreverent, but I’m assuming somewhat sincere choice, for an early-70s highlight: The Longest Yard. (I have another Aldrich film from that period that I’m planning on trotting out.)

New blogger, and SLIFR newcomer K. Lindbergs, likes Tom Waits as the Best Argument for Allowing Rock Stars to Participate in Filmmaking. K, did you see him in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula? I know this is blasphemy on several levels (I’m awaiting the brickbats and buckets of slop arriving from Psaga and Thom McG), but I’d trade Rain Dogs or Swordfishtrombone for that performance any day. (I’m gonna go hide now…)

And will it surprise anyone that reader akstanwyck would choose Barbara over Ida? “Stanwyck was the real deal. Sexy, earthy, witty, funny, gorgeous—and real. She worked her way up to stardom and was a good old girl until the end. She was adored by crews as well as moviegoers. Ball of Fire. The Lady Eve. Double Indemnity. Lupino gets points for High Sierra and directing. But it’s Stanwyck all the way." Or that The Bitter Tea of General Yen is her favorite Frank Capra movie? But akstanwyck is no one-trick pony. There are some other terrific responses that make me really hope her visit to SLIFR and the whole quiz phenomenon is not a onetime occurrence. On Richard Widmark: “No matter how dark he could be, he was also a sexily dangerous leading man.” Or Jennifer Tilly: “Even in the oh-so-delicious Bound, while both women are sexy, Tilly is the deeper and more interesting actress, and continues to be. She has legs.” And I love this reason for picking Gosford Park as her favorite Altman film: “The masterful cutting between the upstairs people in the well-lit parlor listening to Jeremy Northam singing at the piano, the downstairs folks watching from the hallways in the dark, and the murder happening behind the scenes.” Welcome, akstanwyck!

Finally, LG leaves these juicy comments, among 23 other great ones. On his favorite John Ford film: “My Darling Clementine. The biopic, the genre western, the historical reconstruction, all functions are fused flawlessly, and basically every shot is about as economical, expressive, and startlingly beautiful. It's very rare to encounter perfection at this level of depth both in conception and execution.” And on Showgirls: “Simulating dehumanization however willfuly is not the same as artfully commenting on it. Just because it's intentional doesn't make it good.” Sounds like the seeds of another good discussion, and there’s plenty more of them in LG’s many thoughtful responses.

Well, here I’ve gone and done exactly what I said I wouldn’t do—succumb to the impulse to go on and on about all the great stuff you all have offered up for Professor Van Helsing’s delectation this time around. Three hours after having set down to start composing my own answers to his quiz, in the ever-deepening shadow of all these great answers, and I still haven’t gotten to question number one yet. I have my basic responses set out. It’s just the elaborating on them that is going to be time-consuming (though I don’t think I’ll be going off the way I did in the last quiz—something to do with dehydration and depleted mental capacity). I think I will set the keyboard aside for right now, however, and let these highlights steep for a day or two, while I muster the strength and nerve to answer the questions myself. I do thank everyone for your participation. It is appreciated far more than you’ll probably ever know, and I’m very excited that there have been so many submissions, and that they have been truly quality submissions too-- thoughtful and funny and well-written. Keep those answers coming in— we’ll see just how many more we can fit in before I finally do have to start digesting all this for more convenient consumption (and with pictures!). Please don’t consider this the end of the line. I think these questions will yield a lot more good stuff, so I’m gonna leave the barn door open for a while longer and see who wanders in. Some I’m expecting, and I’m hoping a whole lot of others will walk in unannounced and make the day of everyone who enjoys reading these answers as much as I do. Thanks again, everybody!

12 comments:

Thom McGregor said...

Your blog is a cozy yet intellectually stimulating place, especially during quiz time. I am still very intimidated by most of the other regulars. I can't resist the quizzes though. And your ideas for beefcake matchups, even as jokes, prove you don't know your men and maybe you should leave it up to me and Jen to come up with one each next go-around.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Well, Ms. McG, my suggestions were offered up in jest-- Josh Hartnett vs. Skeet Ulrich? Is there even any testosterone involved there? But I'm definitely willing to accept sugestions from you, Jen, or any of the other women who are participating, for an appropriately beefy showdown to be included in the summer quiz.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

Dennis, that's a heck of a "pre-compilation." And props to you for a little O BROTHER reference in the intro! Always welcome.

By the way, when's the Infield Fly Rule part of the site take effect? i expected some long piece on the Dodgers by now. Not that I care about baseball. You'll hate this: I live in the cradle of spring training and have been to one game in 20 years. Good grief!

CINEBEATS said...

I'm afraid that I'm not very fond of Coppola's Dracula, but the best thing about the movie was probably Tom Wait's great take on Renfield.

p.s. As a female of the species I think William Holden is totally beefcake material and I wish I could have joined in the Angie Dickinson love fest. I love Angie!

Thom McGregor said...

I agree Tom Waits is a definite plus in the rock star-turned-actor department, mostly for his Jim Jarmusch movies. But, Dennis, calling up the duo-masterpieces of eccentric rock "Swordfishtrombone" and "Rain Dogs" as some kind of poor comparison to Waits's Renfield just hurts my heart, my sense of good music and my iPod.
William Holden is beefcake (to me) only if said beef is jerky. Sorry.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Ack! The hour is late, and I was going to respond in detail to your question, TLRHB, because it gets at something that's been on my mind a lot lately. But I'm going to have to defer until I'm a whole lot less sleepy-- probably tomorrow night. And, O Brother, anytime! Wait till you see a couple of my answers to Van Helsing's quiz!

K. Lindbergs: You got my back on the beefcake! Thanks! Your presence in the Angie-a-Thon would have been most welcome indeed. Keep your eyes open, because Blog-a-Thon ideas have been coming realtively fast and furious, and you may just find one coming around the bend that suits you!
I know I'm in the minority on Coppola's Dracula, but you're right, Waits is terrific in that part.

And by the way, Thom, I said "I’d trade Rain Dogs or Swordfishtrombone for that performance any day." I never said Waits' Renfield was better than either of those albums, just that, given a choice, I'd rather see it than listen to either of them. I may well be a musical ignoramus based on that proclamation (more would agree than wouldn't, I'd wager), but there's just no accounting for taste, is there? I understand Tom Waits' appeal as a songwriter and musician on an intellectual level, and also as some sort of icon of hipster cool, but his music more often seems affected and self-conscious than it seems moving or interesting to me. I enjoyed seeing Waits live, but for me he's more fun as a concept than as someone to sit down and listen to. Surely there's a major artist that I revere (maybe his initials are FZ) that you feel similarly about? The question is, would you trade his appearance in Head for You Are What You Is or Apostrophe? :)

blaaagh said...

H'mmmm...for once I seem to have some opinions on the people you're talking about here. I dunno beefcake, but I've seen a photo of Holden from GOLDEN BOY and he looks like a dreamboat; then there's BORN YESTERDAY, when he was what I consider a very handsome guy. OK, now I'm making myself uncomfortable...

As for Tom Waits, his Renfield is probably the thing I like least about BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA, closely followed by Winona Ryder's bad accent (British pronunciation of "clerk" might veer toward "clark," but the way she says it is just silly)--but I have come to appreciate some of Waits's music. There's a song that was used in the production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM I did recently, something about "You're Innocent While You Dream," which I love; often it runs through my head.

That Little Round-Headed Boy said...

I'm with Dennis on Waits. In many ways, Tom Waits is a more enjoyable raconteur than singer-songwriter. I'd take his off-the-wall comments over his songs anyday. My two favorites: "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy." That's pretty well known. But I love his description of CSN: "Crosby Steals the Cash." I do have a fondness for a handful of his songs (STEP RIGHT UP, I NEVER TALK TO STRANGERS, some others) and his ONE FROM THE HEART soundtrack with Crystal Gayle, mainly because he toned down all his pretentious mannerisms and let the songs shine. His songs are good, the overwrought presentation sinks them. When it comes to croaky voices, he's no Dylan.

blaaagh said...

Oh, I forgot to say that aside from some crappy aspects, I love BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA. I especially like Sadie Frost as Lucy--wow--but in general I think the movie is brilliant. Even though Waits's performance doesn't ring my bell, I do think it fits the feverish, crazy tone of the movie.

Thom McGregor said...

I just have to say to you all-- you don't know Waits! His hipster status may have had some meaning back in the '80s, but certainly not now. What's genius about him are his songs, his lyrics, the way he experiments musically, and, yes, the emotion in his songs. His acting and public persona have always been fun and probably meant more to his hipster image than his music ever did. Listen to anything on "Rain Dogs" or "Heart of Saturday Night" and many other albums or "Jersey Girl," songs from "Swordfishtrombone" or "Blue Valentine," and there's heart, there's a writer/poet's talent at description and there's true musical genius. "Coppola's Dracula" schmakula! You finally pushed me over the edge, Dennis. I am now the Mysterious Thom McGregor!

Dan Aloi said...

The pleasure was all mine, Dennis; thanks for the props. Found you via movie (and history, acting, Irish culture, etc. etc.) fanatic Sheila O'Malley http://www.sheilaomalley.com. Yours is one of the best-written film blogs I've found. In gratitude, here's an updated link to the
Dan Clowes interview...

http://www.sfbg.com/entry.php?entry_id=474

Dennis Cozzalio said...

I appreciate it, Dan. Although I have yet to see Art School Confidential, I'm a big fan of Crumb, Ghost World and, to a lesser degree, Bad Santa, so I'm curious as to what Zwigoff and Clowes will come up with next, eithger individually or as a team.

Stick around, because I've got another quiz completed and in the chute- it just wouldn't be right, though, to unveil it before officially putting Professor Van Helsing to bed.