My apologies for missing the last two exams-- I was neck deep in actual schoolwork! I got a note! But I was determined to not let four months go by this time before deciding it was too late to put myself on the SLIFR grill. For without further hesitation, I give you my answers to Dr. Smith's Lost in the Space at the End of Summer Movie Quiz. And please, if you have any inclination toward submitting your own answers and have not yet done so, please don't consider this post the closing of the classroom door on Dr. Smith's little venture. Your answers are still more than welcome!
1) Your favorite musical moment(s) in a movie
Musical sequence: The literally kaleidoscopic “Polka Dot Polka” finale from Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here (O, those floating heads!); The climactic concerto in which Laird Cregar slides forever into madness in Hangover Square; “Kyle’s Mom’s a Bitch” from South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut; “The Ballad of Rock Ridge” from Blazing Saddles; “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain; “Happy Endings” from New York, New York; and last but in no way least, “Since You’ve Gone” and “200 Years” from Nashville
Musical score: Claudia Cardinale gets off the train in the bustling town of Flagstone, her happiness slowly muting as she looks at the station clock and realizes that her husband, McBain, is not there to meet her as promised. The train now unloaded, the station silent, in a tracking shot she makes her way to the station house as Ennio Morricone’s mournful, majestic theme begins quietly (is it some form of harpsichord?) and is then joined by that lilting, haunted soprano. The tracking shot continues as we see Cardinale through the window of the station—she is speaking silently to the station keeper and is eventually guided through the front door. The camera begins to rise, the music building along with it, ascending above the roof of the station to reveal the bustling entirety of Flagstone, Cardinale and the station keeper now two of a throng walking down its main street. The beautiful, aching melody continues to soar, accompanying the scene with a caress as Cardinale begins a carriage ride through town, observing every detail of this new western world at Leone’s fingertips, and out toward the homestead where her future, very different from the one with her new husband that she has imagined, is about to unfold--one of many mysterious and unforgettable musical moments from Once Upon a Time in the West. Speaking of majesty and mystery, I love the way the two are combined in John Williams’ score for Jaws; and Williams will always be my hero for the way he orchestrates those flights of flutes accompanying each puff from the mangled cigar of Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi) when he offers to give Corporal Sitarski (Treat Williams) and Maxine (Wendie Jo Sperber) a ride in his motorcycle sidecar near the end of 1941.
Favorite use of an existing song: It is forever tied to the movie for me, the first place I ever heard it—Curtis Mayfield’s exuberant Move On Up, which is heard in its glorious eight-and-a-half-minute entirety over the opening of The Groove Tube, accompanying a hilarious 2001 parody AND my very first glimpse of full frontal male and female nudity in a movie. (Thankfully, even during the brief running time of The Groove Tube itself, it would not be the last!)
2) Ray Milland or Dana Andrews
Dana Andrews has Laura and Curse of the Demon going for him, as well as one of my earliest movie memories, Hot Rods to Hell, and as Dave S. so memorably put it “Airport 1975 couldn’t have happened without him—BAM!” But Milland has Easy Living and The Lost Weekend and The Major and the Minor, plus he’s such a key figure for me from the A.I.P. days, starting with the unforgettable X- The Man with X-Ray Eyes, Panic in the Year Zero (which he directed), and The Premature Burial, all the way through Frogs and the hilarious racial comedy of The Thing with Two Heads. Plus, Milland always looks like he’s caught whiff of something vaguely offensive, particularly in his riper years. Advantage: Milland.
3) Favorite Sidney Lumet movie
Well, it’s not The Wiz! I will put in a good word for Q&A, the kind of policier Lumet seems to have always excelled at, a better movie than Serpico, certainly. I also liked Equus a lot when it came out, though I haven’t seen it in many a moon, and The Anderson Tapes, which seemed to be on the NBC Sunday/Monday/Tuesday… Night Movie every other week. I will also say that Guilty as Sin, the trashy Disney potboiler he directed with Don Johnson and Rebecca De Mornay (from a script by Larry Cohen), is a ton of fun and way better than the run-of-the-mill early 90s sex thriller. But at the top of the heap, above Network, above The Verdict, above Prince of the City, yes, even above The Wiz, is Dog Day Afternoon, the movie where it all came together as never before for the director and everyone involved (and for some never again since).
4) Biggest surprise of the just-past summer movie season
Without a doubt, there was no bigger surprise during the summer, or the year so far, than Speed Racer. Nor could I have been more taken unaware by the laughs to be had from the smart-dumb/dumb-smart, big-hearted You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Similarly, The House Bunny didn’t even break a sweat winning my heart.
5) Gene Tierney or Rita Hayworth
First of all, I apologize to long-time quiz-takers for being so fuzzy as to repeat a actor comparison question—the EXACT same comparison—without so much as a flicker of memory that I’d posed the same query during last year’s Christmastime quiz. That said, I managed to miss turning in my own answers to the last two quizzes, so at least I’ll not be repeating the registering of my lust for lovely Rita. Gene Tierney is a vision, to be sure, and she’s probably a better actress (Laura, Heaven Can Wait, Leave Her to Heaven). But this particular comparison, like no other, is for me primarily about the magnetic allure of the movie star, and in that regard I see this picture and there is no contest. Advantage: Hayworth.
6) What’s the last movie you saw on DVD? In theaters?
IN THEATERS: I celebrated completing a Saturday of housework (and a Saturday without homework!) by taking in the honeyed sights of Spain with Woody Allen as a tour guide. Vicky Cristina Barcelona is inconsequential, but it's the first Allen movie I’ve liked since Deconstructing Harry, and the first one I’ve liked that didn’t actually star Allen himself since, well, ever-- I don’t much care for Bullets Over Broadway; I think the kitchen-sink pessimism of The Purple Rose of Cairo fatally dampens its whimsy; and Allen’s old-school spirit so imbues Radio Days that you’d swear he was in it (He does narrate that wonderful movie, however.) After VCB I treated myself to a sneak-in screening of Hamlet 2, which starts off strong—Steve Coogan has a grand old time good-naturedly harpooning the various eccentricities and egocentrism that inform the spirit of actors, particularly frustrated ones. But the movie goes limp in its second half—the staging of the eponymous high school musical is flat, and the play itself is bad, but never transcendently so.
ON DVD: The gorgeous, surprisingly emotional My Blueberry Nights from Wong Kar-wai (a good candidate for #24), followed by The Simpsons Movie. (“That crazy old man from church was right!”)
AT WORK: My Dinner with Andre (Go, Wally!)
AWAITING ON THE SHELF AT HOME FROM NETFLIX: Shotgun Stories, Bertrand Blier’s How Much Do You Love Me starring Gerard Depardieu and Monica Bellucci, Ousmane Sembene’s Moolade and a documentary on Phyllis Diller entitled Goodnight, We Love You.
7) Irwin Allen’s finest hour?
I grew up in the 1960s thinking that Irwin Allen could do no wrong, that Irwin Allen held the keys to the universe, that Irwin Allen was, in fact, The Shit. But revisiting childhood favorites like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants was not a occasion, like taking another look at the 1966 Batman TV series, to discover that the shows were as good as memory would suggest. In fact, the four Allen series are monuments to a chintzy sci-fi vision in which ambition is almost always outstripped by the limits of budget and imagination. However, the definitive Allen disaster movies of the ‘70s, The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, still pack a punch. The Towering Inferno has the scale (and the chintziness) that most epitomize Allen, but it’s a much shorter hop from the flaming excess of that burning skyscraper to the dregs of The Swarm andWhen Time Ran Out… than we might like to admit. The Poseidon Adventure, on the other hand, is now, as it was then, a completely satisfying entertainment, and there were probably no better characters in any Allen venture than the ones played by Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters in that original capsized ocean liner thriller.
8) What were the films where you would rather see the movie promised by the poster than the one that was actually made?
It’s hard to argue with the answer that has come up often here—the three Star Wars prequels. But truth be told, I never held out much hope of high expectations for those movies (I’m not, in general, a fan of Star Wars), so the disappointment was, on some level, anticipated. Instead, I was profoundly disappointed that the aforementioned A.I.P. shocker Frogs did not, in fact, feature an amphibian large enough to consume an entire human being whose desperate hand could be seen jutting out of the creature’s mouth. However, when Night of the Lepus actually did come through on the promise of showing oversized beasts terrorizing the landscape, I learned the truism of being careful about getting what you want. Lepus’s poker-faced absurdism, and those endlessly recycled slow-motion shots of horse-sized bunnies rampaging across the desert, made me appreciate the huckster spirit of the Frogs one-sheet, and the relative realism of Frogs’ eco-horror scenario, with its life-sized killer toads and snakes and crocs, for what it was.
9) Chow Yun-Fat or Tony Leung (Chui-wai is who I was referring to, by the way—sorry for being incomplete.)
This is a much harder choice for me to make than I would have guessed. Tony Leung Chui-wai grounded the heartbreak of In the Mood for Love and 2046 in a way that would seem to be beyond Chow Yun-Fat as an actor. But I appreciate the physical presence of John Woo’s alter ego far more, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience of seeing Hard-Boiled (with John Woo present) for the first time, a sensation that, I suppose, must be credited to both actors. (Slight) Advantage: Chow Yun-Fat.
10) Most pretentious movie ever
In the hopes that I never see enough movies to provide a definitive answer here, the winner must be Last Year at Marienbad, although I will say that I’ve only seen it through the eyes of a very green college freshman to whom the world of international film was only just opening up. I would be more than happy to give it a second chance. An answer based on a more recent encounter would probably be somewhere in the vicinity of Blow-Up.
11) Favorite Russ Meyer movie
The actual answer is probably Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, but I think I’m gonna tip my hat to the first Meyer extravaganza I ever saw, which was Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. And this is as good a time as any to admit publicly that I have yet to see Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, though I think its trailer is one of the best ever. Also, I hope that Fox eventually gets around to putting The Seven Minutes on DVD—I’d love to see what a movie that Russ Meyer thought was mainstream looks like.
12) Name the movie that you feel best reflects yourself, a movie you would recommend to an acquaintance that most accurately says, “This is me.”
I’m not entirely sure that such a movie exists, and in some way I think a look at the SLIFR Top 100 is as much a reflection of me through movies that all have bits and pieces of me in them, whether they reflect something that was already there or that the movie itself helped form. I tend to think the high and low brows in my personality are best reflected by the comedies I love-- Blazing Saddles, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Borat, National Lampoon’s Animal House, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, Horsefeathers. But I know there’s a lot of me in Nashville as well, however it got there. Of recent films in which I sensed a kindred spirit, the first one that comes to mind is Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy.
13) Marlene Dietrich or Greta Garbo
For Morocco and Destry Rides Again and Rancho Notorious (and Lily Von Shtupp), it’s Marlene. And it’s some kind of monument to perversity that in her final years her will was still so iron and immovable she could insist Maximilian Schell use only interview audio and refuse to ever appear on camera for his documentary Marlene-- Schell was so fascinated by her that he made the film anyway.
14) Best movie snack? Most vile movie snack?
Popcorn, no question, with real butter if possible-- I love the way real butter occasionally pools in the kernels, but I’m fairly disgusted when the same phenomenon occurs with that “butter-flavored” monkey grease most theaters peddle. A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes earlier this year has somewhat altered my snacking habits, movie-related or otherwise, but I’ve always been a big fan of Milk Duds and SweetTarts. And if only my endocrinologist would allow it, I could easily make those little salty black licorice morsels from Holland, the Dubbel Zout, a nasty new habit. Most vile? The virtually tasteless Twizzlers. (No substitute for Red Vines, those.)
15) Current movie star who would be most comfortable in the classic Hollywood studio system
In terms of talent and presence, George Clooney is as good an answer as any, though those who suspect he might bristle at the cattle-prod mentality of the studio system are probably right. I think Scott Foundas of the L.A. Weekly was also correct when, in his review of The House Bunny, he suggested that Anna Faris has it in her to be a new-era Carole Lombard and that it’s a shame there’s no Howard Hawks around to tailor projects for her. I also suspect folks like Matt Damon and Eva Mendes would have shined as studio-honed talent, as would John Goodman.
16) Fitzcarraldo—yes or no?
As a Herzog admirer, I remain unimpressed with Fitzcarraldo-- it is no Aguirre the Wrath of God. Despite the touch of divinity provided by Claudia Cardinale, the movie is tedious and self-involved, and the image of that boat sitting on top of that hill is eeriely beautiful but just not as resonant as Herzog thinks it is. (Nor is it worth the hell he put everyone through, including himself, to get it.) It’s become a cliché to say so, but no less true for that: Burden of Dreams is by far the more fascinating movie. That said, but for the suffering it took to make it, I’m not sorry it exists.
17) Your assignment is to book the ultimate triple bill to inaugurate your own revival theater. What three movies will we see on opening night?
I think I’d have to go with three widescreen films that absolutely must be seen on the big screen—not even Blu-ray on the greatest HDTV system available could possibly serve as a replacement. There may be more obvious choices even within this nebulous criterion than these, but when I think of movies I need to see on the big screen every couple of years or so (not that I actually get to), the following titles come to mind: Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), Nashville (1975), Dressed to Kill (1980).
Each of these movies uses wide-screen imagery to specific and unique effect—Leone’s deliriously lush revisionism could never be mistaken for Altman’s multilayered tapestry of stumbling, searching humanity and muted emotion, or De Palma’s masterful comedy of sexual panic and subliminal dread set within a wide-screen frame often divided and subdivided into planes of formal cinematic ecstasy. I think any real fan of the movies would find something to dig into during this triple bill, and I’d stand a decent chance of making enough money to open the doors for a second night.
18) What’s the name of your theater? (The all-time greatest answer to this question was once provided by Larry Aydlette, whose repertory cinema, the Demarest, is, I hope, still packing them in…)
In the hopes that Larry will take my plagiarism in the spirit in which it is intended, I could do no better than the Demarest West. But in case that answer is too annoying, how about the St. Claudia?
19) Favorite Leo McCarey movie
I am sorely tempted to say Ruggles of Red Gap (the beginning of my infatuation with Charles Laughton), and I think The Awful Truth is just about perfect. But, dammit, whether creative influence or mere pandemonium wrangler, his name is on Duck Soup, and Duck Soup is perfect. So there.
20) Most impressive debut performance by an actor/actress
There’s no way to be as definitive as this question seems to suggest we should be, so I’m going first instincts again and picking Linda Manz in Days of Heaven. She may not have had a great career in movies, and perhaps she didn’t want one, but she was as perfect a fit for Malick’s vision as anyone alive could have been. Marvelously natural on screen, it’s her narration that really gets under my skin… “I was hoping things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine.” And though she did, according to IMDb, have a couple of minor roles previous, Q’oriana Kilcher is equally transcendent in yet another transcendent Terence Malick movie, The New World. But if I can’t have those two performances, I’ll choose Earl Hofert in Cabin Boy-- “Don’t go for any of that flank steak bullshit. Try the London Broil!” Pure genius, and Hofert was never heard from again.
Chewbacca was pretty good back in the summer of 1977 too.
21) Biggest disappointment of the just-past summer movie season
It’s not really surprise, but I have to admit much more of a sense of exhaustion than I remember ever having before over the preponderance of superheroes, good and bad (Iron Man, The Dark Knight and even the trailer for Watchmen, which I’m told I’m supposed to be really excited about); fashionably faux-nihilistic violence served up in a vaguely futuristic setting (Doomsday, Death Race, Babylon A.D.); and, with all due respect to the late Mr. LaFontaine, the deafening trailers for the same. (And yes, I realize how curious this all seems in light of my running pick for the best movie of the year so far.) I’m trying not to let it all get me too depressed and concerned over the State of American Cinema, and it does help to think about the answers to #30 as possible correctives; let’s just say I occasionally feel overwhelmed, and not in the way that I’m necessarily supposed to.
But when I’m thinking disappointment, nothing registers as strongly for me as the violent reaction from a certain fan base to early criticism of a certain movie that more than a few people saw and enjoyed wildly this past summer. For some reason, anything less than total appreciation for The Dark Knight was taken, in some quarters, as an offense punishable by death, or at the very least a barrage of disparaging and hateful remarks, some of which were offered up by rabid fans in the days before the movie was released, which means that some of the nastiest words were written by people who hadn’t even seen the movie yet. Thankfully, the people I know who love this movie are generally respectful of those (like me) who don’t. But I have to admit, I felt really bad for writers like David Edelstein, Keith Uhlich and Stephanie Zacharek, all of whom were bombarded by a tidal wave of abuse for expressing their minority reaction with intelligence, reason and the very seriousness of purpose which fans of TDK, given a superhero movie which was being discussed in terms of its greatness and status as a masterpiece, ought to have applauded. Were they so threatened by a dissenting point of view? Why so serious, indeed?
22) Michelle Yeoh or Maggie Cheung
I just saw Irma Vep again, and Maggie Cheung as a version of herself floating through the misconceived shooting of a French remake of Les Vampires is the essence of sublimity. The same could be said of her work in In the Mood for Love, Hero and The Soong Sisters. And I still have yet to see Ashes of Time, Days of Being Wild, Actress and Clean. But as highly as I regard Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh can never be replaced in my heart or my head. She had me at Supercop: Police Story III. Advantage: Yeoh.
23) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Overrated
Well, The Dark Knight is the obvious answer, but perhaps a mite too obvious. For all my distaste for Christopher Nolan’s bombast, there was, in the midst of it all, Heath Ledger and that blissful ride through Gotham, head sticking out of a police cruiser and tasting freedom like a blissful junkyard dog momentarily forgetting the rabies ripping through his brain, a moment of true, twisted beauty. My candidate is the addled and unfunny (but for Bill Hader and then a bit of mid-movie leapfrog) Pineapple Express. I had as much fun watching this fuzzy-headed mess as I would have being the only straight person at a Cheech and Chong film festival. Afterward, I thought a lot about how much I liked Nice Dreams and Things are Tough All Over, and how much I suddenly just wanted Seth Rogen to go away.
24) 2008 inductee into the Academy of the Underrated
2008 has been My Contrarian Year, for sure. Many of the movies I liked (and loved) most-- Speed Racer, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, My Blueberry Nights, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan-- were roundly dissed, dismissed or outright ignored in favor of iron-poor hits like The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Pineapple Express. Why, it’s enough to make me start sympathizing with Armond White (almost). So I would faithfully submit the five movies cited above into the Academy for 2008. And I think I’d also like to mention specifically Gillian Anderson, who in a sane world would be looking at year-end awards and Oscar consideration for her likely swansong as Dana Scully; Lainie Kazan, who made me giggle a lot as the unlikely object of the Zohan’s affections; Paulie Litt, who displayed the crack comic timing of a seasoned vet as one half of the Spritle and Chim-Chim show; and Mila Kunis, who effortlessly exposed the absurdity at the heart of Forgetting Sarah Marshall-- what idiot would even remember Sarah Marshall’s name after spending an evening drinking beers with this sharp and sassy knockout?
25) Fritz the Cat—yes or no?
I’m not a Ralph Bakshi fan, and I can recognize the validity of R. Crumb’s fundamental objections to this adaptation of his underground comic. That said, the movie has a headlong vitality that was leached from Bakshi’s work movie by movie over his career. It’s hard for me to even believe the same man that made this picture, with its acid takedown of the counterculture and its boorishly funny excesses, went on to make god-awful messes like Cool World and American Pop. So my answer is a yes, if not a resounding one. And I still love that poster.
26) Trevor Howard or Richard Todd
On the strength of Dam Busters alone, which I just saw, Richard Todd gets my vote. Regardless of the context of the time in which the movie was made, any actor who plays a character who gives his black lab retriever the name this dog has in Dam Busters (it starts with “N”) and still manages to maintain our sympathies, well, I think that says something about his fundamental appeal. And Todd was in the nifty Amicus anthology horror pictue Asylum (1972). Besides, Trevor Howard was always just a bit aloof and uninteresting to me. Advantage: Todd.
27) Antonioni once said, “I began taking liberties a long time ago; now it is standard practice for most directors to ignore the rules.” What filmmaker working today most fruitfully ignores the rules? What does ignoring the rules of cinema mean in 2008?
Breaking the rules in 2008 could be just as easily construed as another way of playing by them. Formal iconoclasm and disregard for accepted ideas of filmic space and time are pretty easy to come by in the work of mainstream filmmakers like Oliver Stone, Tony Scott and other less celebrated hacks—and for every David Lynch, who really does march to his own arrhythmic drumbeat, there’s some kid with style to burn and not a clue what to do with it. So if Antonioni is (was) right that the rupture of the norm has become the norm, then the long-take classicism of directors as dissimilar as Clint Eastwood and Hou Hsiao-hsien begins to feel more like the kind of swimming against the stream that appeals to me.
28) Favorite William Castle movie
Well, it’d have to be Rosemary’s Baby, I suppose, but for real Castlemania I’d have to go for House on Haunted Hill or I Saw What you Did and I Know Who You Are! And did get to see The Tingler at the Alex Theater a few years ago, which was rigged was “Percepto” joy buzzers in some of the seats. Alas, my buttocks were not among those chosen to vibrate when the audience erupted in screams.
29) Favorite ethnographically oriented movie
Tabu. Or maybe Deliverance.
30) What’s the movie coming up in 2008 you’re most looking forward to? Why?
A cursory glance through the Los Angeles Times Fall Sneaks section this past Sunday reveals a pretty long list of titles that I’m suddenly dying to see. The first comes out this Friday, Burn After Reading, which I can only hope will be in relation to No Country for Old Men the way The Big Lebowski was to Fargo. (It’s certainly getting the kind of mixed reviews the saga of the Dude got back in 1998.) And then there’s Wong Kar-wai’s Ashes of Time Redux (A first encounter for me, but that’s nitpicking), Laurent Cantet’s The Class (hopefully a worthy movie about teaching to go alongside To Be and To Have), Larry Charles and Bill Maher’s Religulous, Ed Harris’s Appaloosa, Clark Gregg’s adaptation of Chuck Palanhiuk’s Choke, Oliver Stone’s W and Kevin Smith’s Zak and Miri Make a Porno, which, like W, features Elizabeth Banks and, if its red band trailer is any true indicator, looks like a distinct upgrade over Clerks II.
I'm also really looking forward to taking my daughters to see Joe Dante's Explorers and a Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott double bill (Decision at Sundown and Buchanan Rides Alone), all three at the New Beverly Cinema this month, and the original King Kong at the majestic Alex Theater this coming Halloween.
31) What deceased director would you want to resurrect in order that she/he might make one more film?
There’s only one answer: Robert Altman.
32) What director would you like to see, if not literally entombed, then at least go silent creatively?
Anybody can make anything they like, even Ron Howard, just as long as I have the right to think and respond to it the way I will. Why, I’m even looking forward to Frost/Nixon. That said, I don’t care if I ever see another movie directed by Ridley Scott.
33) Your first movie star crush
Movie star: Hayley Mills (The Parent Trap, The Trouble with Angels)
TV star (tie): Anne Francis (Honey West), Julie Newmar (Batman).
Hayley Mills was innocent puppy love. Anne was mysterious—that beauty mark still transfixes me. But Julie was the stuff of, um… very interesting dreams, filled with fear and many stirrings of what would later be classified as lust that were shiny and new to this six-year-old…