Yeah I know. Mr. Shoop posted his summer quiz back in, well, summer, and here I am, as tardy as Jeff Spicoli on a good day, submitting my answers long after the quiz thread has dried up. No, I know you don’t accept extra credit, teacher, and I understand if you dock points for extreme lateness. But at least take a look at my paper so I don’t feel like it was all done in vain!
1) Favorite quote from a filmmaker
Well, Bunuel has definitely been on the brain lately, as you might have been able to tell by the link to Flickhead’s Bunuel Blog-a-Thon, or by the extensive quote from Bunuel’s autobiography My Last Sigh on my sidebar, or my picking Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie as numbers 7 and 8, respectively, on my Non-English Language Movies ballot. And he’s a very quote-friendly director, a cynical bon vivant raconteur poet, so when you come across one interesting quote from this fella, it’s likely attached to nine or 10 others. But the one I chose had a lot to do with the prevailing spirit, if you will, of Extermnating Angel-- it’s Bunuel exclaiming, in what context I’m not entirely sure, ”Thank God I’m an atheist!” If you find that quote even remotely funny, you should get yourself to Exterminating Angel right away.
But, naturally, a couple of others were floating around the hemisphere of my brain as well. For sheer P.T. Barnumesque braggadoccio, it’s hard to beat legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis touting, during the production of his multimillion-dollar remake of King Kong (best read in your silliest Italian accent): “Nobody cry when-a Jaws die. People gonna cry when my Konk die.”
And there was one I remember from an interview Walter Hill did in Film Comment around the time of The Long Riders. I’ve looked for the interview and come up empty, so I’ll have to paraphrase, but Hill’s line was in response, I believe, to a question regarding how he perceives character in his movies. His answer was something like, “Character, in my pictures, can be measured by how times a guy blinks with a gun stuck in his face.”
2) A good movie from a bad director
Well, as far as I can tell, by his choice of material (The Wedding Planner, Bringing Down the House, The Pacifier and Cheaper by the Dozen 2) and the hamfisted, graceless handling of said material, I would have to qualify Adam Shankman as, if not a bad director, then at least one who has never displayed much of a hint that he was in any way a good one. But his deft, sincere, energetic and keenly observed film of the Broadway adaptation of John Waters’ Hairpsray suggests that, while he may not now, nor may he ever be, the second coming of Preston Sturges, if he takes on more projects in which he seems to have some emotional investment and steers clear of the plasticine Touchstone family fare that has until now defined his directing career, he might just have other good movies inside him waiting to get out.
3) Favorite Laurence Olivier performance
I have fond memories of Larry in That Hamilton Woman, where the theatricality that always seemed a little too BIG for the movies was reined in ever so slightly (or was it just that the grand scale soap operatics of the romantic plot just seemed to fit him better?) But if I’m honest, he was just never my cup of tea as a film actor—his outra-a-a-a-ageous Frawnch aggzent as the doomed French-Canadian trapper in Powell and Pressburger’s otherwise marvelous 49th Parallel is surely what inspired John Cleese to start berating those silly knnnn-iggits, threatening to making castanets out of their testicles already. I liked Larry better when he got older and started taking the paychecks. Though I never have seen his waxworks Douglas MacArthur in the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Inchon, I am fond of his impish (sincere) and impish (perverse) turns in A Little Romance and The Betsy. But no other Laurence Olivier performance holds a place in my heart like his Oscar-nominated turn as Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman in the gloriously tasteless adaptation of Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil. As I wrote a few years ago upon considering this Sir Lew Grade classic of international intrigue and all-star casting (Gregory Peck! James Mason! Lilli Palmer! Bruno Ganz! Uta Hagen! Rosemary Harris! John Dehner! Denholm Elliot! Anne Meara… Uh, John Rubenstein… errr, Steve Guttenberg…), Olivier’s wild eyes and slightly sibilant Austrian accent “will live in glorious testimony to a great actor’s desire to push the inherent silliness of his calling right up to the edge of the abyss, and then blow raspberries to those already plummeting into the void.” Plus, there’s the absolutely astounding moment during his bloody fight scene with Peck at the end of the picture when Olivier tumbles over backward, cane over keister, and makes a guttural groan that sounds just like Chewbacca. You must see Laurence Olivier in The Boys from Brazil.
4) Describe a famous location from a movie that you have visited (Bodega Bay, California, where the action in The Birds took place, for example). Was it anything like the way it was in the film? Why or why not?
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, when I still dreamed that owning my own house in Southern California was a practical possibility, my wife and I were looking around neighborhoods nearby where friends of ours lived, and one friend suggested we look for available places in the Seven Hills area of Tujunga, nestled in the foothills of the mountains above the town. We came up over the crest of a hill, the highest point in this fairly recently developed suburban neighborhood, and I decided to turn around to get a look at the view of the city. When I did, by purest accident I duplicated the view from the hills as seen in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. I recognized it immediately, and later that afternoon my friend confirmed that yes, Spielberg shot his film there when that development was first being constructed. And yes, it felt exactly as it did in the film.
5) Carlo Ponti or Dino De Laurentiis (Producer)?
Carlo Ponti married actress Sophia Loren. Carlo Ponti produced La Strada, Le Doulos, Cleo from 5 to 7, Marriage Italian Style, Doctor Zhivago, Blow-Up, Roman Polanski’s What?, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein and, of course, The Cassandra Crossing. De Laurentiis produced La Strada (with Ponti), and also Nights of Cabiria, Goliath and the Vampires, John Huston’s The Bible… In the Beginning, Danger:Diabolik, Barbarella, Mandingo, Drum, Serpico, The Serpent’s Egg, Flash Gordon, The Dead Zone, Manhunter, Blue Velvet, Dune and, of course, Body of Evidence. De Laurentiis was married to actress Silvana Mangano. Advantage: Ponti.
6) Best movie about baseball
Ken Burns’ Baseball is a monumental achievement, a life-changing one for me. And Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham is wonderful, if slightly overwritten— the director’s Cobb, starring Tommy Lee Jones as the titular Georgia peach, is far better, a masterpiece, I think--it's as scabrous and brutal as its main character. But Cobb is less about baseball than about the nature of heroism. So, for sheer insight into the nature of American competition, the dynamics of team play, the fissures and cracks in the sport’s support system, and a sharp-eyed look into the subtleties of the game itself, plus just about everything else there is to speak of about children and adults and American life, there is no greater achievement about the sport of baseball than Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears. And by the way, all the talk about how great Field of Dreams and The Natural are tells you just one thing—hard-nosed sports writers and stalwart American male types are just as susceptible to starry-eyed Hollywood bullshit as anyone else, and those two movies are grade-A corn-fed manure if it’s ever been mass-produced.
7) Favorite Barbara Stanwyck performance
My favorite Stanwyck performance is always the one I’ve seen most recently, and that would have to be her startlingly feral, empathetic work in the wild and untamed Baby Face. But I fall hopelessly in love with her everytime I see Ball of Fire.
8) Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Dazed and Confused?
Well, I’ve had lots of discussions about these two movies this summer, in the wake of this quiz, and in the wake of the release of Superbad, a movie I think deserves discussion right alongside these two, and American Graffiti, as portraits of youthful exuberance and restless anxiety. But for me, Linklater’s Dazed and Confused hits all the right notes as a perfect portrait of aimless youth taking joy in aimlessness, of a certain wheel-spinning small-town sensibility circa 1976. I don’t get the accusations tossed this movie’s way that it’s merely a compendium of fuck-you attitudes and you-had-to-be-there pop culture references. It seems obvious there’s a whole lot more going on in this movie, which is not to say that it’s not fueled at least in part by those attitudes and references; it is. That’s just not all that the movie is. And even with the last-minute substitution of Sweet Emotion for the Led Zeppelin track that gave the movie its name, and even though we’re way past the point of saturation vis-à-vis the classic rock radio format and all its permutations, the soundtrack remains definitive.
9) What was the last movie you saw, and why? (We’ve used this one before, but your answer is presumably always going to be different, so…)
In a theater: 3:10 to Yuma.
At work: John Ford’s sublime, Murnau-influenced early talkie Pilgrimage (1933), featuring a wondrous performance by stage actress Henrietta Crosman. For contrast, right now I’m knee-deep in Bronson’s swansong, Death Wish V: The Face of Death.
On DVD: the unrated, extended Death Proof (sans Grindhouse double feature format). Rob Humanick has an excellent piece on this longer version of the film at The Projection Booth, along with some very thought-provoking comments. I’m not ready to toss out the theatrical version (I’m still convinced the Weinsteins have that 5-disc Grindhouse theatrical version plus the longer cuts of Death Proof and Planet Terror just waiting in the wings), but I was surprised how well this extended version played for me. It’s not going to work for those who thought the 90-minute theatrical version was already too drawn-out in its introductions of the characters. But if you get on Tarantino’s wavelength and start digging just the spending time with these annoying, sexy, motormouthed, foulmouthed characters (and what does Tarantino does as a director while you’re spinning your wheels with them—it gets pretty Godardian in there, dude), the unexpurgated Death Proof has plenty to offer, and to me it (mostly) didn’t play like filler, but instead like, well, an extended riff and expansion of visual themes. Rob’s discussion of it has better details, and maybe I’ll write something on it soon. For now, Death Proof is a good rental, and a better buy, to go alongside that Grindhouse package I just know is coming soon.
10) Whether or not you have actually procreated or not, is there a movie you can think of that seriously affected the way you think about having kids of your own?
Ron Howard’s Parenthood-- hey, there’s another good movie by a generally bad director—played a direct role in helping my wife and I along in our decision to start a family. I haven’t seen it since those heady days about 11 years ago, and that has more to do with a sadness that surrounds it that has nothing to do with the movie itself, and also with the fact that, after a long weekend of playing with and corraling and hauling around my own two daughters, I’m in the mood for a movie that has just about anything in it besides more of the same!
11) Favorite Katharine Hepburn performance
I’m less enamored of Hepburn than of just about any of the other great actresses of the screwball comedy era—I’d rather see Carole Lombard or Jean Arthur or, of course, Barbara Stanwyck. That said, there’s just about no better time to be had than watching Hepburn drive Cary Grant “all gay!” in Bringing Up Baby.
12) A bad movie from a good director
Well, I’m going to resist the temptation to shovel more dirt on Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia. Instead, I’ll go to the director De Palma is most often accused of defiling. Alfred Hitchcock made many, many great movies, as you are undoubtedly aware. But one of them was definitely not good. I’ve yet to read a credible defense of Topaz. Hitchcock is so disengaged from this musty espionage claptrap, it’s as if he called in the shots by phone from St. Tropez.
13) Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom-- yes or no?
Maybe the most grueling two hours I’ve ever spent in a theater (again, my sincere thank you, Sherman Torgan). I would be very careful to whom I recommended this genuinely horrifying, political work of art. But at the same time, as a frank illustration of the extremes of fascist brutality, I have a feeling it would speak to willing viewers 32 years past its original release, if it were only more available. And that lack of availability may speak volumes about this current political climate as well.
14) Ben Hecht or Billy Wilder (Screenwriter)?
I love Billy Wilder. Sunset Boulevard, Ace in the Hole, One Two Three, Ninotchka, Midnight-- what churl would ever complain? But Ben Hecht wrote Underworld, Scarface, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, Topaze, Twentieth Century, Nothing Sacred, Gunga Din, His Girl Friday, Notorious, Spellbound, Kiss of Death and Howard Hawks’ Monkey Business. So what, you say? Now go back and check out the credits where his name is listed as simply ”uncredited.” On the strength of those “undredited” contributions alone, advantage: Hecht.
15) Name the film festival you’d most want to attend, or your favorite festival that you actually have attended
I been to London (one screening). I been to Lone Pine. But what I really want is to go to Toronto.
16) Head or 200 Motels?
Frank Zappa is one of my musical idols. The Monkees are not, exactly, but they meant a lot to me when I was a goofy seven year old singing “I-I-I-I-I’m not your steppin’ stone” incessantly. Yet Zappa’s movies have always been dicey prospects for me. Head, on the other hand, is a singular beast, a trippy collage response to A Hard Day’s Night that is about as surreal and perverse a movie as was ever released by a major studio in the 1960s. Advantage: Mickey, Davy, Mike and Peter (and Bob and Jack… and that Zappa cameo too!)
17) Favorite cameo appearance
I’ve always been partial to Julie Christie’s nonplussed appearance in Nashville, especially as introduced by the unctuous, name-dropping Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson (“I was talkin’ about the Christy Minstrels just this mornin’, and now we have Miss Julie Christie here!”), sized-up and dressed-down by the catty Connie White (“She can’t even comb her hair!”), and debated on the edges of the frame by Del Reese (Ned Beatty) and John Triplette (Michael Murphy) (“Doctor Zhivago—she was the one that got off the train!”). Then, Haven Hamilton, ever the Nashville goodwill ambassador sends her off with this one: “I hope you’ll remember what film facilities we have here in Nashville!” See frizzy-haired star beat a quick retreat back to her hotel, and safety.
18) Favorite Rosalind Russell performance
Now, I like The Trouble with Angels as much as the next guy, but for me there is no other answer than RR’s Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday.
19) What movie, either currently available on DVD or not, has never received the splashy collector’s edition treatment you think it deserves? What would such an edition include?
I don’t think there’s ever been a decent edition of The Brood on home video. Even the version currently available on MGM DVD barely looks better than the murky VHS and laserdisc versions (the source material may not be in great shape), and it's bare-bones too. What a terrific DVD could be assembled for this movie with a Cronenberg commentary, alongside Art Hindle, Samantha Eggar and, say, Robert Silverman, bundled with some making-of stuff, and perhaps an essay from Robin Wood.
20) Name a performance that everyone needs to be reminded of, for whatever reason
Robert Ryan in Andre de Toth’s Day of the Outlaw. It’s important to be reminded just how good this guy was, every time out.
21) Louis B. Mayer or Harry Cohn (Studio Head)?
In the old days of the studio system, what Columbia Pictures released depended on Harry Cohn's determination of what Columbia Pictures should release. Said Cohn, "When I'm alone in a projection room, I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it's bad. If my fanny doesn't squirm, it's good. It's as simple as that." To which Herman Mankiewicz famously retorted, "Imagine, the whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass!" For this line alone, and because I recently got to walk the walls of the old Columbia Pictures building on the Sony lot where Cohn actually wiggled that ass, advantage: Cohn.
22) Favorite John Wayne performance
John T. Chance, Rio Bravo.
23) Naked Lunch or Barton Fink?
I’ve always been of a mind that Barton Fink only half worked— sometimes it seems like a theme in search of a movie. But those performances—particularly Turturro, Judy Davis, John Mahoney, Michael lerner and Tony Shaloub—are riveting. However, when talking about movies about writer’s block, and the act of writing itself, none has exernalized its processes with such a fascinating, fractured access to its hallucinatory, solipsistic fantasies as has Cronenberg’s movie of Burrough’s unfilmable book. The book remains unfilmed, but what Cronenberg extracted from it is, incredibly, true to Burroughs and his own thematic trajectory as a director.
24) Your Ray Harryhausen movie of choice
No question: It Came from Beneath the Sea. And, of course, Jason and the Argonauts. And here’s a picture of me and Ray Harryhausen!
25) Is there a movie you can think of that you feel like the world would be better off without, one that should have never been made?
Well, as I rule I don’t like the idea of rubbing out someone’s creation just because I think the world would be better off not having seen it. But then I ssee something like Date Movie or Epic Movie and my highfalutin liberal standards go right out the window. Burn every print!
26) Favorite Dub Taylor performance
A few days ago I might have said Bonnie and Clyde or The Wild Bunch. But I just saw the great film noir Crime Wave, directed by Andre de Toth, which begins with Taylor as a slightly fey gas station attendant mooning over Doris Day on the radio just before he gets shot by robbers (including Charles Buchinski, nee Bronson). Rent it and see what I mean.
27) If you had the choice of seeing three final movies, to go with your three last meals, before shuffling off this mortal coil, what would they be?
Breakfast: It’s my last day, so I’ll order an extravagant Japanese breakfast from A Thousand Cranes restaurant in Little Tokyo to dawdle over while I watch one I’ve never seen-- Sansho Dayu (Sansho the Bailiff).
Lunch: A Colossal Double Cheeseburger and Walla Walla sweet onion rings from Burgerville USA and some Cave Creek chili beers while watching The Godfather (Parts I & II).
Dinner: Filet Mignon and giant tiger prawns from El Agave in San Diego, accompanied by lots and lots of 1921 Reserve Especial tequila, while soaking up Nashville for the last time.
28) And what movie theater would you choose to see them in?
I think I’d pick the Vista in East Hollywood.
My pick for Jim Emerson’s Atheist Film Festival: I’m not sure it exactly fits Jim’s criteria, but it seems to me Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel would be a juicy choice.
What advice on day-to-day living have you learned from the movies? Here’s the answer to this question I left on Scanners:
“As far as the ones I can think of off the top of my head, I… thought of the actor William Bogert playing Matthew Broderick's dad in WarGames and the way he buttered his corn with a piece of already-slathered bread. (I think Pauline Kael even referred to the moment in her review.)
Richard Castellano as Clemenza is the natural go-to man for spaghetti sauce, but when I tried it I honestly didn't like it much-- it wasn't nearly so distinct as the scene itself. So I was thrilled to discover the moments in Martin Scorsese's ItalianAmerican when his mother not only shows us how she makes spaghetti sauce, but when the recipe itself shows up in the end credits. (It can also be found here.) It's way better than Clemenza's, and though it can be augmented with various ingredients, such messing around is not necessary to reach the particularly Italian kind of saucy nirvana this recipe promises. I dare say it's even better than the sauces my Italian grandmas used to make-- they routinely used (shudder) canned mushrooms.
But truthfully... for me there really has never been a moment that has edged its way into my everyday life the way Johnny Caspar's shaving tip has.
“Every single time I shave I think of Johnny Caspar. I can't help it. And it's not just because I love the obnoxious little character. And the actor who plays him, Jon Polito. Or that I think Miller's Crossing may be the greatest motion picture of the last 20 years. It's because this one thing Johnny Caspar says near the end of the picture makes sense. I've tried it, and I don't notice any difference, but it seems like it oughta work. It's also the last thing -- a relatively trivial piece of practical advice -- that he utters in the movie, making his exit rather poignant, even for such a repulsive character.
Here's the way Joel and Ethan Coen describe it in their script (though it's not exactly this way in the movie):
... the car pulls into frame to stop at the curb [in front of the Barton Arms apartments] with the camera framed on the driver's window. The driver has a small bandage on his left cheek. We hear Caspar's voice as we hear him getting out the back:
Ya put the razor in cold water, not hot--'cause
metal does what in cold?
I dunno, Johnny.
We hear the back door slam and Caspar appears in the front passenger window.
. . . 'Ats what I'm tellin' ya. It contracts.
'At way you get a first class shave.
As Caspar walks off, the driver slouches back, pulls his fedora over his eyes and folds his arms across his chest."
How nice to be able to reminded of a movie I love during such a routine chore, and it happens every time I reach for my can of Edge gel. However, thank God I didn't take Johnny's parenting advice to heart!