Thursday, July 31, 2008

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH CONCLUDES: THE ANIMAL HOUSE EXTRAS DVD COMMENTARY



Why is the sight of this poster a source of agony for the proprietor of this blog? How did it smell in that basement during the infamous toga party? Who was the bass player for Otis Day and the Knights? Was John Vernon as cranky as his character Dean Wormer? Who was it throwing those beer bottles from behind the camera during the party scenes?

The answers to these burning questions and others that are at least of the smoldering variety are answered in an exclusive new podcast that I'm proud (and somewhat nervous, actually) to offer you as the concluding post in SLIFR's Double Secret Probation Month celebration of the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon's Animal House. The podcast consists of Your Humble Host and His Best Friend (Bruce Lundy, an actor currently residing in Eugene, Oregon, known to SLIFR readers as frequent commenter Blaaagh), whose friendship began on the set of the movie 31 years ago when they were both cast as members of the Delta Tau Chi house, reminiscing about what it was really like being an extra on a movie that would become a beloved comedy classic. It's a long file designed to be listened to in conjunction with watching the movie, and if the speakers have done their job it will be as much fun for you, the Animal House fan, to sit through as it was for us to record.

All you have to do is cue up the picture to the first few frames of that familiar Universal Pictures logo field of stars, when the first strains of Elmer Bernstein's score kick in. Either the 1998 20th anniversary edition DVD or the 1993 Double Secret Probation DVD edition should work-- and I suppose if you only have an old VHS copy that'll probably do too. The commentary is not always scene-specific, so if it gets a second or two out of sync you'll probably never even know. In addition to closing out the month-long celebration of all things Faber College round these parts, the podcast also serves as the inaugural post on my new blog site, SLIFR: The Noisy Version, a site devoted to audio treats such as these. Posts here will be muuuuuuch fewer and farther between than what has become the norm on Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, but hopefully that old quality-not-quantity bromide will hold true.

So without further delay, the podcast is ready to go and available by clicking right here. Please feel free, as you always do, to leave comments here and/or on the new site. And if you can provide some kind of proof that you sat through the whole thing, I've got one of those nasty cheeseburgers that Bluto crammed into his mouth, originally procured from the student union Fishbowl and remarkably well preserved from 31 years ago, that I would be proud to put in the U.S. Mail for you as an acknowledgment of your incredible dedication and stamina! Happy listening!

(Special thanks to Eric Gottschalk for engineering the audio on this MP3 recording and making it sound 1000% better than it did right after we first recorded it. Eric, you are the best!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH: NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE TURNS 30 YEARS OLD TODAY



Updated 7/28/08 10:43 a.m.

Thirty years ago today, just as the summer movie season of 1978 was entering its final phase, National Lampoon’s Animal House premiered for the paying public and became a hit on a scale which probably surprised most everyone involved with making it. But by the time I saw it for the first time, on August 4, 1978, at a special invitation-only premiere held for the local cast and crew in Eugene, Oregon at the old National Theater in the downtown district (long since gone), the movie was already a week old. So the Hollywood luminaries that were in attendance were giddy over the degree to which the movie’s good fortunes had already begun to roll. The only major player I remember being there was director John Landis, who addressed the audience, comprised mostly of the movie’s extras, local and university dignitaries, residents of Cottage Grove (where the parade was shot) and others involved directly or peripherally in the movie’s production, before the movie began. Landis’ typical exuberance was amplified on this night as he told the excited audience of the box-office records the movie had already smashed. My friends and I, fellow extras and some production people I had gotten to know whom I hadn’t seen since school finished up for the year that previous June, couldn’t have been more ready to absorb this movie. And then Animal House unspooled for Eugene for the very first time.

I have to say it was a disorienting experience. Having lived around two months under the umbrella of this production during my first semester of college the previous fall, I had plenty of time to think about what might or might not be in the finished film and what it might look like. Many things I imagined I would see I did not, and the things that I did see for the most part did not end up looking or sounding the way they did when I saw them being filmed. (My best friend Bruce and I made a lot of hay during the school year about what sounded like Karen Allen’s lame delivery of the line she uses to distract the police and save Boone during the parade-- “Officer! Officer! They’re looting the Food King!”-- but, miracle of miracles, it sounded just fine on the big screen.) There was a major gap between the movie that was still playing in my head and the one crafted for the world in Eugene and Hollywood, and over the next 30 years the version that everyone has gotten to know and love has crowded out much of my original notions of what Animal House might have ended up being. And that’s okay, because, frankly, even though it was at times a lot of fun (it was also, at times, scary as hell for a green freshman roaming relatively free in the big world for the first time) and the experience of being there was one I wouldn’t trade away for the upgraded report card I might have earned had I not been so distracted that first term, I didn’t hold out much hope that the end product would be very good. The comedy seemed too broad and the general atmosphere too chaotic to my eyes on the set—I couldn’t see how it could possibly all come together into a coherent package. (And I still marvel when I see footage taken on the sets of movies far more complex to engineer than Animal House, everything from Seed of Chucky to Magnolia to Hairspray, and think about the degree of difficulty involved in crafting a movie with aspirations to style and art and realizing a particular vision.) Also, there was the singularly strange feeling of seeing myself in a movie. I knew where to look, of course, and so I was able to spot myself several times with ease, and of course there were times I was expecting to see myself where I was either just out of camera range or—one big moment, especially, which I’ll relate in the next post— where I ended up, as they say, on the cutting room floor. (I would get a huge charge later that summer when Pauline Kael mentioned the movie favorably in the context of a passel of movies that came out that year and I couldn’t help but think, “She doesn’t know it, but Pauline Kael saw me!”)

But overall the whole thing just made me feel discombobulated. (It didn’t help that, as a guest of Universal, I accepted an invitation extended to everyone to stay at the National afterward and see the studio’s other big summer release, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, gratis. Talk about discombobulated.) I wouldn’t begin to get a real charge out seeing the movie in the real world until the Labor Day Weekend, when the Friday newspaper trumpeted a full-page ad which I still have in a trunk in my garage somewhere that was packed to the margins with blurbs from the rave reviews the movie was getting. And when my parents took me back to Eugene for my sophomore year in the fall they both wanted to see it. In fact, it was the first movie I am aware of that my dad sat through, screaming with laughter, twice in one night. And it wouldn’t be the last time he’d see it in a theater either, a fact I find remarkable—you would too if you knew my dad. Of course when I came back to school that fall, suddenly being able to say you were in Animal House was something that meant something to the rest of campus. Back in the fall of 1977, people just offered odd looks to the kids with the out-of-date haircuts roaming around classes. But now everybody wanted to talk about the movie, and see it multiple times too (sometimes dressed in togas even), and if you could say you were in it, well...

There are a couple of bits of celebration left to come in this Double Secret Probation Month celebration of the 30th anniversary of Animal House. I have a couple of stories left to tell, I’m still hoping for last-minute responses to interview requests which have not as yet materialized, and there is that special project I’ve occasionally hinted at which, if all goes well, should come together tonight for your enjoyment sometime Wednesday or Thursday. For now, however, I thought it might be fun to share some pictures I took in June 2006 when I was visiting Eugene. Bruce and I took friends Katie and Scott on a tour around campus—Katie and Scott are Corvallis residents who had never seen the University of Oregon, so we seized on the opportunity to show them some of the most recognizable locations that were used in the movie. Here then is the University of Oregon, well-known as the home of Steve Prefontaine and the Olympic Track and Field Trials, but also a movie star of some repute, its greatest role of course being its brilliant portrayal of Faber College in National Lampoon’s Animal House. Time to go back to school…






The Delta House, as seen in National Lampoon's Animal House, was actually a rundown halfway house that was still functioning as such at the time the movie began shooting in the fall of 1977. It was situated along East 11th Avenue just off campus, on a lot located directly in between the houses that were used as the Omega House, on its right (the name of the fraternity that actually lived there escapes me), and the Sigma Nu house on its left, which served multiple functions for the production. The Delta House itself, originally the home of pioneering Eugene citizen A.W. Patterson and at one time a fraternity house itself, was torn down in the '90s and replaced with this office building. This plaque, placed on the street at the front of the lot where the Delta House once stood, commemorates the house's history as well as the movie.


The Sigma Nu house, in addition to being the central hub for the production when filming was taking place on 13th Avenue, had two separate functions as a location. The interior of the house was used in the film as the interior of the Delta House (no actual filming took place inside the Patterson house that served as the familiar Delta House exterior). The exterior of the house served as the exterior of the sorority house of which Babs and Mandy were members-- it was through the windows of this house that John Belushi peeked while on his ladder. Bruce might have further details, but when I was last in Eugene this past February the Sigma Nu house looked as if it had been abandoned and fallen out of use.


I cannot remember the name of the fraternity that lived in the house that would eventually be known as the Omega House, but it still stands pretty much as you see it here.




The building which Dean Wormer called HQ was Johnson Hall, the actual site of the dean's office and other administrative offices on the University of Oregon campus. It was up these steps that Belushi, along with Bruce McGill and Stephen Furst, led Neidermeyer's horse to his final resting place. I tried to get Scott, Katie and Bruce to strike a Belsuhi-esque pose, but they chose this moment to access their modesty.


This campus building, Gerhlinger Hall, served as the exterior and interior location of Emily Dickenson College, where Otter put the moves on Fawn Leibowitz's roommate, Shelly Dubinski. Eeeewwww!




The Erb Memorial Union Fishbowl, a student recreation and cafeteria facility, looks, with only a little modification, pretty much as it did at the time of the movie's famous food fight scene. It was at the window table above (seen from outside) that John Belushi introduced his anthropomorphized acne bomb to the world.


The University of Oregon Library. On this quadrangle stood the statue of Emil Faber (beheaded in a lost sequence from the movie) which bore the logically indisputable legend "Knowledge is Good." In the movie this location is also seen when Katy and Boone walk with Pinto the home of Professor Dave Jennings and discuss Pinto's sex life.


This dormitory, known as Carson Hall, is where I spent my sophomore year and the first term of my junior year as well. (My room is the one furthest to the right on the fourth floor.) Carson Hall is the building (seen at night) featured under the title of the movie as it comes up during the opening credits.

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UPDATE 7/28/08 10:43 a.m.: Take this quiz written by Rachel Sauer of the Palm Beach Post, wherein resides my good friend Larry Aydlette, which will tell you which Animal House animal best suits you. Thanks, Larry!

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

DA BOMB: MAMMA MIA!, THE MOVIE



Allow me some admissions right up front: I’ve always loved ABBA’s “S.O.S.,” one of the most infectious, insidiously hummable pop hits of the ‘70s. I find “Knowing Me, Knowing You” a pleasant-enough concoction. Why, even after Muriel’s Wedding I still don’t mind hearing “Dancing Queen” when I come across it on the radio, or when one of my daughters insists on hearing it in the minivan CD player. The overdubbed vocals of that song (and most of their other hits) layered one on top of the other, sometimes in harmony, sometimes creating a synthetic chorus of two voices multiplied seemingly ad infinitum on the same line, lend themselves splendidly to warbled accompaniment in one’s shower or automobile. (The voices on the records themselves are often artless and unabashed enough to already seem like sing-alongs to songs on which the real lead vocalists have been banished, karaoke style.) And though I was never completely taken by ABBA’s brand of bombastic, phonetic-English disco machinery, I’ve never resented that they existed or that they have been such a consistent and bankable worldwide success. Until now, perhaps.

Mamma Mia, the movie version of the runaway stage cash cow in which a dozen-and-a-half or so ABBA songs are clumsily jerry-rigged and slotted into a flimsy plot revolving around a young girl who surreptitiously invites three of her mother’s former lovers, one of which may be her father, to her Greek island wedding, ought to test the resolve of anyone who ever held a tune like “Fernando” or “Honey Honey” dear. And the movie certainly ought to offend anyone who cares anything about the quality and enduring legacy of movie musicals. For it turns out that Mamma Mia is shockingly bad as both a musical and a movie. The big numbers are often girded with a near-subliminal chorus that sings along with the stars (the original ABBA recordings have been shelved) in order to beef up their tepid voices and provide sonic reassurance of the familiar ABBA-style vocals, while the cast and dancers cavort on the beaches and byways of this movie-fantasy Greek paradise guided by a cheerleading troupe’s idea of choreography. What’s worse, the songs don’t express anything about the characters or their feelings—they’re used to goose the audience, and the movie, with a specious sort of plasticized exuberance that the filmmakers (a term used very lightly here) hope will be easily mistaken for a good time. (The movie’s artifice is further blemished by memories of the other movie in 2008 to feature familiar and not-so-familiar rock and pop tunes successfully reinterpreted and given new meaning by unlikely voices, the flawed but moving documentary Young at Heart.)

Meanwhile the songs, stripped of the arid, slightly robotic production values which gave the original recordings their eerie energy, and put into the mouths of a cast of actors whose vocal talents range from thin, lovely fragility (Amanda Seyfried) to confidence (Meryl Streep, Christine Baranski) to ghastly ineptitude (Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters and just about everyone else, none of whom could find their way around a tune even with the assistance of the most advanced G.P.S. tracking system), are themselves exposed as goofy at best, but more often just gross, dumb and fatuous. And the actors fare even worse. Oliver Reed jack-hammering his way through Tommy at least had that movie’s stylish excess to help elaborate the pub-crawling creepiness of his vocal characterization. But first-time director Phyllida Lloyd, working from Catherine Johnson’s script (both are veterans of the original stage production), leaves folks like Streep and Brosnan, and Walters and Baranski and Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgaard twisting atonally in the Mediterreanean breeze. And she brings near-zero sense of filmmaking craft to bear on the tenuous connective tissue that passes for dramatic scenes in between each big musical fizzle. What are we to make of Streep’s character, the titular mamma who spends the first half hour of the movie reunited with her insufferable pals in gales of fake laughter, pouring on the forced high spirits of middle-age reclaiming lost youth? (This is the movie’s M.O. in a nutshell). The way this woman vacillates between excitement and distress and hysteria when she finds out those three men from her past have arrived for the wedding borders on split-personality psychosis. (The inconsistency is exacerbated by the performance of the chirpy title tune, which is shoehorned in between Streep’s fits of fretting and hand-wringing to produce yet another literally show-stopping sequence.) The Oscar-winner is so busy selling her character’s free spirit that she never bothers to ground her in a recognizable human scale of emotion—every note, both sung and spoken, is infused with a fine actor’s attempt to breathe some kind of life into this gossamer-thin conceit, but the end result is fussy, strained, overmodulated, and not just a little embarrassing.

The director “opens up” the stage show in every obvious, clunky way—characters spend a lot of time running along beaches and up steep pathways—but Lloyd never tailors the material for anything resembling the real world; everything is played as though the cast were projecting to a neighboring island dotted with fake trees. And the whole of the movie feels like someone’s shapeless home movies of an exotic holiday in which all sense of the location’s beauty is dumped (has the Greek coast ever before looked so nondescript and unappealing on film?) in favor of a grueling chronicle of the host’s every drunken moment of karaoke glory. (Like most booze-inspired public warbling, this movie would seem to require severe inebriation as a prerequisite for proper appreciation.)


But as lost as Lloyd is as a storyteller, she is equally clueless at staging music and dance. The big production numbers (“Dancing Queen, Does Your Mother Know?, Voulez-vous”) are bad enough—one gets the idea that the director’s input amounted to getting her cast hammered and telling them to just go out there and feel it, baby. But it’s those intimate ballads, back-loaded into the film’s second half, where Mamma Mia careens from the merely misconceived to the genuinely grotesque. The movie’s finest, most delicate, most convincing moment is the unadorned staging of “Slipping through My Fingers,” as Streep’s (Ma)Donna reluctantly helps her daughter Sophie (Seyfried) prepare in the moments before the wedding. Here Streep’s strenuous attempts at acting the song work because the effects—a plaintive glance, a bittersweet smile, a laugh-- are scaled down. They build the emotion of the moment rather than work against it. And the song, a relatively restrained, uncharacteristically delicate ballad, is a good showcase for the vocal talents of Streep and Seyfried, easily the best singers in the cast. Unfortunately, “Slipping through My Fingers” is preceded by Brosnan braying his way through “S.O.S.” (My head hung several times out of sheer embarrassment), so some of its potential power is diminished by the after-effects of the actor’s rummy, undisciplined tenor still ringing in the ears. Worse, however, is the fact that the genuine connection between Streep and Seyfried, a moment where the movie actually delivers on the examination of mother-daughter dynamics to which it has up to now only paid facile lip service, is undermined by what follows-- the absolute nadir in a musical already packed to the rafters with low blows. On the way to the picturesque hillside chapel Brosnan confronts Streep about their shared past, and Streep counters with “The Winner Takes It All,” in which she pushes her timid director aside (Lloyd seems plenty content to just flip the camera’s “on” switch and walk away) and overacts the already bombastic tune with a battery of grandstanding gestures and italicized, boldfaced sincerity that might make Ethel Merman blush. The “winner” here, as it turns out, is Brosnan, who had the good sense to keep far enough away from Streep during this number that he spends a goodly portion of it off-screen.

There’s no pleasure in denigrating an obvious disaster like Mamma Mia. But there’s even less pleasure to be had in sitting through it. I sincerely hoped this movie might be as much fun as was last summer’s Hairspray, a movie for which I had no expectations whatsoever. But where Hairspray’s every moment was suffused with the genuine giddy joy of performing, the cheerful enthusiasm on display in Mamma Mia couldn’t be more synthetic and predigested. I can absolutely believe that the stage show might feel completely different. The very fact of Mamma Mia’s existence under a proscenium automatically lends a degree of forgiving stylization to this gussied-up revue that is completely beyond Phyllida Lloyd as a film director—she displays absolutely no sense, moment to moment, of what makes a film work, what makes a film a film. My wife, in that way she has of summing up things succinctly (a quality which makes our co-existence pretty hilarious in itself), said Mamma Mia reminded her of nothing less than a wide-screen Mentos commercial run amok, and by God, that’s precisely what it feels like. As the post-wedding party winds down (don’t worry—I wouldn’t dream of revealing the movie’s shocking twist!), stunned and disillusioned by the whole experience, I welcomed the plaintive vibrato of Seyfried’s tender, unaffected voice as the ballad that began the movie seemed to now end it. Would that it were so. The end credits are underscored by Streep and gal pals doing the obligatory and frightening liquored-up-chicks-doing-“Dancing Queen”-in-gaudy-‘70s-costumes bit, followed by Brosnan and the other leathery boy toys joining them for “Waterloo,” both numbers punctuated by the most skin-crawling shattering of the fourth wall ever committed to film. If, after all this, you can still say you were entertained by Mamma Mia, then God bless and may you enjoy it countless times in the privacy of your own home on DVD. But I have to believe that any movie that invites comparison with Can’t Stop the Music, any movie that makes me wish even for a second that I was watching Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band instead, deserves my heartiest derision. Mamma Mia? Madre de dios!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

THOUGHTS INSPIRED BY BLOCKBUSTERS AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM (or are in them…)



THE CRIMES OF MSSRS. EDELSTEIN AND UHLICH

Just how big an offense is it to not love (or lurrrrrrvvvvv) The Dark Knight? Well, David Edelstein and Keith Uhlich might have some thoughts on that. I have not yet seen the film myself, and though I very much appreciated Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan’s first foray into Gotham City geography, I find it strange how predigested the anticipation has been about this blockbuster, so much so that fans who hadn’t even seen the film yet were roasting Edelstein for not rubber-stamping their excitement and the other pre-release raves. And of course those that had seen it and took exception to a dissenting view let both Edelstein and Uhlich know just how unqualified they were as reviewers because of their opinions.

What’s odd/amusing/disturbing about the (over)reaction here is that many of the folks who have condemned these writers have done so on grounds of highfalutin’ pretentiousness, usually sparked by the critics' use of big words (words that these angry mobsters probably don’t understand themselves—Edelstein dared invoke George Bernard Shaw and a vocabulary that included words like “verbiage”). The commenters are, essentially, pissed off at these guys for taking this movie seriously, something which, I suppose, would be okay if their own views on it were being validated. Personally, I understand the hype that surrounds just about any big Hollywood release as being the work of masterful publicity machinations which seep into the blood of those prepared to dig the scene—that’s business as usual. But there’s something different going on here, and fan reactions to dissenting views like Edelstein’s and Uhlich’s often seem more like Joker-esque dementia than protectiveness over a pet film. (Not all, of course—some who like/love the film and find Edelstein and Uhlich’s arguments weak have said so with relative eloquence and lack of fury, but they seem to be the exception.) Does a spectacular with a $185 million production budget, probably at least that much in an advertising budget, and a record-breaking opening weekend really need such a vehement, hypersensitive defense? I mean, my goodness, on the other end of this scale rave reviews for this film have not been exactly hard to come by, and the most enthusiastic of them are tossing around phrases like “masterpiece” and “best American film so far this year” and “best American film since The Godfather Part II.”

So why the rage when one or two critics offer a dissenting perspective? (One of my favorite comments comes from Edelstein’s blog The Projectionist, where he ends with this: “*Note to readers: You blunt the force of your attack when you write to an author to say, “No one cares what you think” — because, uh, at least one person does.”)

When I do see The Dark Knight, if I’m as enthralled by it as some seem to be I will have no qualms in saying so. But in the face of such build-up, forgive me if I allow myself not to get swept away just yet, because I will have just as few qualms about saying so if I end up not.

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FILM CRITIC AS PHYSICIST

Eric Riddle of NBC-TV, Seattle would like us to know something about the new family-oriented action epic Journey to the Center of the Earth (3-D) that may rattle the very foundations of those quantum physicists who couldn’t get tickets to see The Dark Knight this week and instead found themselves putting on a pair of keen polarized glasses for a Saturday matinee:


Who knew that just another Brendan Fraser CGI epic would have such serious repercussions for decades of scientific theory? But how exactly is 3-D redefined? Will I be able to actually touch the molten lava that erupts from the volcano, or feel the hot breath of the T rex as it stomps its way into my popcorn bucket? Shrek 4-D already exists, as we well know, so that’s out. Is Riddle intimating some fifth dimension waiting to explored? No, we’ve already checked that out by way of a beautiful balloon. Then what? If only Hal Fishman were alive, he’d be on this tighter than Christian Bale’s bat suit. But his bosses would still make us wait for the report until after sports and the scheduled 10:56 p.m. report on the water-skiing squirrel. Guess I’ll just have to take my girls and find out what 6-D is all about…

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MAKE UP YOUR MIND, JEAN-PAUL SARTRE!

Maybe that whole redefining 3-D thing has something to do with being two opposing things at once:


Or is this just the first existential movie blurb? Oh, well, by itself or in a group, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was truly enthralling, a spectacular fantasy epic that feels almost hand-made...

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THE SWEDE WHO WOULD BE REUBEN KINCAID

I find it interesting that, in all the discussion about the merits of Mamma Mia (or lack thereof), no one has yet mentioned the movie’s single most disturbing and inexplicable occurrence—somehow Stellan Skarsgard (far right-- click to enlarge) has become Dave Madden.


My thoughts on Mamma Mia coming soon...

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH: THE MARK METCALF INTERVIEWS



Douglas Neidermeyer may have been killed by his own troops in Vietnam, but the man who played him is doing quite nicely for himself in the year 2008, in Wisconsin, as it turns out. Mark Metcalf, who so ably embodied the psychotic heart of the Omega House as Neidermeyer in National Lampoon’s Animal House, is now, in addition to his occasional duties as an actor, a restaurateur in Mequon, Wisconsin and a raconteur-reviewer-columnist for OnMilwaukee.com. Recently, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the release of Animal House, which debuted 30 years ago this coming Monday, July 28, Metcalf reconnected with some of his old cast mates and interviewed them for his column. The result was a series of informal, unruffled and very entertaining profiles which I am glad to direct you to now as part of SLIFR’s own Double Secret Probation Month celebration.

The Mark Metcalf Interview Archive includes:


Karen Allen on being the Delta Tau Chi Voice of Reason…


Otis Day (the artist formerly known as Dewayne Jessie, who so identified with his role as the Delta’s favorite bandleader that he had his name legally changed…)


Stephen Furst remembers being tagged “worthless and weak” and demands an apology…


Peter Riegert explains it all for you, and he’s on a roll…


Martha Smith reveals exactly what is in store for those who dare to ask for Babs…

Earlier this summer I sent an e-mail with some questions of my own for Mark Metcalf, which I hoped would form the spine of a mini-interview of my own for this feature, but as of this writing I have not yet heard back from him. If perchance I do before the end of July and our little tribute, I’ll definitely share that with you. But for now, these five interviews oughta do!

Friday, July 18, 2008

THE SLIFR-ANIMAL HOUSE OPEN FORUM



Several participants in the most recent SLIFR film quiz, when asked to name what they felt was the most “important” film comedy of the last 35 years, bandied about National Lampoon’s Animal House as a contender. The film was most frequently earmarked as “important” not only because of its popularity, but because of its influence, for good, bad and worst, on the trajectory of American film comedy, introducing heretofore unheard-of levels of profanity and raunchy humor into mainstream movie theaters. (I’ll never forget my rather sheltered aunt’s reaction, after a screening in my hometown, expressing genuine shock over the contents of Otter’s black medical bag.) In honor of Double Secret Probation Month here at SLIFR, I’m throwing the question open to further discussion.

In what ways has Animal House been a good thing for film comedy?

What are some of the elements rippling through movie culture that have roots in the film’s popularity which you could have done without over the past 30 years?

What is your favorite moment in the movie? Your favorite line?

What is the best post-Animal House movie comedy that bears the obvious stamps of its influence?

And what is the worst, most crass attempt to cash in on the glory of Delta Tau Chi?

These are all questions on which I hope we shall ruminate over the weekend in the comments column as commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the movie’s release on July 28 draws nearer. Now drop and give me 20!

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH: ON THE SET OF ANIMAL HOUSE WITH JOHN BELUSHI AND JOHN LANDIS




During the filming of the parade sequence in Cottage Grove, Oregon, local Eugene television station KEZI (Channel 9) sent a film crew down to gather a load of footage to be used for various stories focusing on the shooting of National Lampoon’s Animal House. Other than on local broadcasts, I was unaware of seeing any of this footage until the release of the 20th anniversary DVD in 1998. On that DVD, as part of a fine added-value feature entitled “The Yearbook: An Animal House Reunion” (which makes another appearance on the “Double Secret Probation” edition of the Animal House DVD released in 2003), some of that footage resurfaced, and it paints a vivid picture in motion of what life was like on the set. You can even glimpse me in it a few times, shuffling around the periphery again in that goddamned ubiquitous yellow sweater-- check out the nerd on the sidewalk behind John Landis, Tim Matheson, Ivan Reitman and company around minute 24.

(Seeing that footage made me really annoyed at myself for not shooting more photos on the set. I have a couple of shots taken inside the Cottage Grove armory, which served as headquarters for the cast and crew during the filming of the parade, and one or two photos of the second unit crew setting up one of the cameras outside a pharmacy, but otherwise no other pictures from the set.)

In this clip from that footage, John Belushi, at the insistence of his director, does some impromptu mugging for the KEZI news camera and creates an indelible portrait of the actor’s easy-going manner and flexibility as a comic performer.

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH: THE POLITICS OF ANIMAL HOUSE




“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took liberties with our female guests. We did. (Otter winks at Dean Wormer, who returns a pinched look of confusion, unaware that his wife has spent the night with this slickster, but half aware of what the sharp jab in his ego from Otter’s wink means.) But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few sick, perverted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg, isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do what you want to us, but we’re not going to suit here and listen to you bad-mouth the United States of America! Gentlemen!”

-- Eric “Otter” Stratton, leading the boys on yet another stupid, futile gesture (and Tim Matheson’s finest moment) in National Lampoon’s Animal House

The members of Delta Tau Chi have been hauled up before the Pan-Hellenic Disciplinary Council, on which sits Greg Marmallard, Omega nasty, Douglas Neidermeyer, sergeant-at-arms (and chief Omega nasty) and even perpetually chipper and buoyant Babs Jansen, cheerfully taking steno notes as if her bouffant were filled with helium. Charges have been filed against the Deltas, including “two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion so profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” The Deltas know that further flaunting of procedure and rules, further defiance of the mandates coming down around their heads issued by Dean Wormer, will result their suspension and likely expulsion from school. And yet Animal House is a movie over which hangs the pall of Vietnam and the draft, so there is so real heft to the Deltas’ rejection of the values of Faber College, or rather their insistence on their own pointedly mindless indulgences.

Animal House is a movie widely recognized for its qualities as an enduring laugh machine, but its political bent has been far less recognized and explored in the 30 years since the movie’s release. Steven Hart hits on this angle in relating his own personal experience with the film in his essay ”Animal Magnetism”, and back in 2003 Fredrich on the 2 Blowhards blog approached the subject head-on in a post entitled "The Politics of Animal House". Both the post and the comments that follow open up the movie to a perspective I’d wager might have been lost on some of the generations embracing the film successive to those who were the same age as the movie’s early ‘60s college students. For Fredrich, Otter’s speech, which many take to be just another example of the character’s slippery cleverness and charm, the main reason why the Deltas look upon him as their leader, amounts to “a serious political utterance,” one which establishes the theme of the movie’s radical positioning of the notion of the American pursuit of happiness as a social statement, a working out of the ideals of drunken revelry as a position on society as viable as any of the more obvious, “fundamentally frivolous” political expressions of the mid-‘70s, as they devolved from the ideals of the ‘60s, that the writer experienced during his own college days.

What do you think? Is Fredrich on to something? Can we take its association with the more politically oriented National Lampoon of the ‘70s (when, as Hart says, “the words National and Lampoon above a title were an enticement instead of a warning”) as evidence that there is something afloat in this perspective? Or is Animal House best viewed as the greatest toga party of all time and left at that?

Monday, July 14, 2008

DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION MONTH CONTINUES: THE DAY I MET JOHN BELUSHI



Eugene, Oregon, Fall 1977. I was a first-term freshman trying to squeak out at least a 3.0 GPA my first time at bat at the University of Oregon. Movies had been up to that point such a huge part of my interest, of my existence, really—my friends and I had made a few Super-8 trifles up to this point, but we knew movies primarily as creations to be seen, delivery systems for a world far more interesting than the one we called home in the desert of Eastern Oregon. I had enrolled in the film studies department, officially proclaiming it my major, fully expecting to broaden my horizons by seeing a lot of films to which I had never had the opportunity to be exposed. But I also hoped to log some production time as well—at this point I still harbored a desire to direct movies myself someday. I had no way to anticipate that during my first semester in college I would end participating directly in the production of an honest-to-God Hollywood motion picture, one that would allow me to be introduced to a budding comic actor whose star was just beginning to rise that autumn.

I remember seeing the ad in the Oregon Daily Emerald, the University of Oregon newspaper. It said something about an open audition for a new movie produced by National Lampoon and Universal Pictures called Animal House. The auditions were to be held in the ballroom of the student union on campus, and there were specific instructions to “dress ‘60s.” I had no idea how to go about putting together a ‘60s costume, but I did know that I had some pretty nerdy pants, a plaid short-sleeved shirt and a completely out of fashion yellow button-up sweater that I could pull directly out of my closet—I knew they were in there because I’d recently done laundry, and they were among the dirty clothes I’d worn to class the previous week. I made my way into the ballroom, and after a brief orientation from the woman in charge of local extras casting (her name was Katherine, and I would get to know her well over the course of the next two months) we were instructed to fill out some general paperwork and file past the casting director, Michael Chinich, who was sitting at a long table near the front of the room. Several thousand college kids plodded through the room that day, and most of them ended up going back out the door very soon after they first arrived. But some of us stayed a little longer. When I approached Chinich, who was sitting next to a woman holding a Polaroid camera, he looked at me up and down very quickly and said to the woman, “Delta pledge. Take his picture.” I had no idea what that cryptic message actually meant, but I ended up standing there for a quick round of magically instant Polaroid photos, me in my “’60s costume,” and afterward the woman led me back to a smaller group of about 50 being corralled by Katherine in the corner. Katherine then split us up into smaller groups—there were Omegas, Omega pledges, Deltas and then my group, Delta pledges.

At this point we were informed that we were being hired by Universal Pictures to be in the movie and given mysterious pieces of paper called W-2 forms to fill out, along with vouchers to get our hair cut at the student union salon, where pages from some long-past yearbook hung in front of the cutting stations to be used as models for the stylist from which to carry out the assault on our everyday ’77 dos. That evening I got a call from Katherine with instructions to be ready to be picked up early the next morning for a photo session. When the car picked us up, we were taken to the film’s headquarters at the Rodeway Inn just off the I-5 in Springfield, where I, along with another young freshman named Greg who I dare say looked even greener than I did, was fitted with a moth-eaten jacket, shirt and tie and shuttled away with two of the movie’s main players, gentlemen by the name of Tom Hulce and Stephen Furst (neither of whom meant anything to me at the time, of course.) We headed out to a photo studio in Springfield where individual faux senior portraits of the four of us would be taken for some unknown future purpose. The ride to the studio and back was spent joking and openly speculating with the actors about the film’s director—it was on this ride that I found out Animal House was to be directed by John Landis, a name with which I was familiar from Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a King Kong parody he directed entitled Schlock, and who also had a hit movie in theaters opening in Eugene that very same Friday, a picture entitled Kentucky Fried Movie. We made our way back to the Rodeway Inn, traded in our jackets for our regular school duds and got bussed back to campus, but not before getting our final instructions to show up on the set at the Sigma Nu house on 13th Street at 7:30 Monday morning and report to Ed Milkovich, the film’s second assistant director, among whose many jobs it would be to greet the extras, give us our assignments and dismiss us at the end of the day.

I was, of course, terrified as I walked from my dorm on the eastern end of campus all the way across to the Sigma Nu house on the other end. I remember spending the entire weekend nervously anticipating what was going to happen when I got there. There were rumors that Chevy Chase was in the movie, and John Belushi and Dan Akyroyd too, all of whom where heroes of just about everyone of college age at the time from Saturday Night Live, which was just entering its third season and approaching the height of its popularity. Being on the set was indeed terrifying at first, but coming straight from the dull-drums of high school in Southern Oregon it was also like some kind of forbidden, otherworldly movie paradise. There were so many actors on the set who I would encounter who were familiar to me, and even the ones I didn’t know who I saw on the set that first morning carried an aura of excitement about them from being connected to the project. I recognized Tim Matheson right away (I had no idea that him being there meant that Chevy Chase would not be), and I eyeballed Stephen Bishop, whose inescapable tune "On and On" was a top-40 hit at the time, making his way around outside where the crew was setting up in front of the old house next door to the Sigma Nu digs. (This decrepit manor would serve as the exterior of the Delta House, whereas all interiors of the Delta house were shot inside the Sigma Nu fraternity.) After some time on the set, when I began to get a sense of everyone who was in the movie, I even discovered a strange thread that ran through the cast—Donald Sutherland (Prof. Jennings), John Vernon (Dean Wormer), Verna Bloom (Mrs. Wormer), even Tim Matheson (Otter), all had worked with Clint Eastwood. (Imagine the questions a doughy, green kid thought to ask them…)


Inside the Sigma Nu house is where all Delta House interiors were shot. The exterior of this house was used as the exterior of the sorority where Mandy Pepperidge lived. The familiar beaten-down exterior of the Delta House was represented by a rundown halfway house that was situated just next door to the Sigma Nu property. It was torn down a few years ago.

I had been milling around outside waiting for instructions for about two hours on that first day when I saw John Belushi for the first time. He was walking down 13th Street through the crowd of extras, crew members and spectators, not purposefully calling attention to himself but also unable to be conspicuous either. He made his way toward the Sigma Nu house where interiors of the Delta party that opens the film were about to commence (shooting night interiors during the day—it was movie magic!) In fact, that opening party was the first major scene in the movie that I worked, and eagle-eyed viewers can see my pudgy figure (a relatively slim one compared to the 2008 model, to be sure) darting out the front door, up the stairs and seated on the floor in the middle of the inaugural madness, all in a quick succession of continuity-busting shots. And Belushi was there, holding court and creating the spirit of the set that would hold firm for the entire shoot. Spotting Belushi on the set was as easy as turning around—he was everywhere, as yet completely unfazed by encroaching fame (or the heinous influence of cocaine) and as approachable as any wide-eyed extra. He could always been seen hanging around on the periphery of the action, yelling obscenities and trying to crack up the actors on camera, or just hanging out and making friends with all the crew and lucky Eugene residents with whom he didn’t think twice about engaging as if the whole experience was one big party occasionally interrupted by the duties of acting. I remember one afternoon, killing time between takes in the Sigma Nu recreation room, sitting on the floor with Belushi, his wife Judith and about 15 other extras, watching Taxi Driver (my first time) on a weird technological oddity called HBO.


And in my big scene in the movie, when Pinto and Flounder are rousted out of bed, smacked down onto a line of dazed Delta pledges and made to take the oath of loyalty to their new fraternity (“I pledge allegiance to the frat…”), I actually got to share screen time in the same frame with Belushi. During rehearsals for the scene I stood two rumpled kids down from Flounder awaiting bestowal of my Delta Tau Chi name. Belushi got to me and unceremoniously ad-libbed my new name, Douchebag. I burst out laughing, but I could tell from the looks on the faces of Landis, Milkovich, and mostly the deathly intimidating visage of first assistant director Cliff Coleman, who only helped stage the spectacular action in The Wild Bunch and several other Sam Peckinpah features during his career, that to crack up on film would not be a good thing. I spent lunchtime, in between rehearsal and shooting of the scene, utterly terrified that I would do just that, which is why, in the finished film, I end up looking so strangely unaffected—- I was putting every ounce of energy I had into not spewing up guffaws when Belushi finally made his way to me. Well, of course, in the finished film the action cuts away as soon as Kent Dorffman is dubbed Flounder, so I guess I needn’t have worried. And I still got to be in the same shot as Belushi—I’m pretty clearly down the line during the entire sequence, but most especially on the tighter shot of Bluto and Flounder. I even got a nice beer bath for my trouble that day to finish the scene.

But the real memorable encounter came one afternoon when I went begrudgingly to the set, after having had to practically beg for a special time to take a midterm that was in conflict with a shooting time that I couldn’t miss. My professor was kind enough to give me another opportunity to take the test, so I brought my books to the set, knowing that there would certainly be at least two or three extended periods in between takes that I could use to get away and study. Just after lunch, sure that I wouldn’t be needed for at least another hour, I informed the casting assistant that I was going to go study outside. Since filming was concentrating that day indoors, I found my way to a displaced couch which was sitting out near the front steps of the house. And no one but the occasional grip was anywhere near, a great chance for some peace and quiet. I sat down on the couch and was there for five or ten minutes, I suppose, when out of the corner of my eye I saw someone approach the couch and flop down on the other end of it. I tried to keep my eyes on my book, but eventually I gave in to the primal impulses of social behavior and looked up to acknowledge the person who was taking up some of what I considered my personal space. It was John Belushi. I immediately realized how dry my mouth was when I tried to say something, anything, and only a loud smecking sound came out. Perhaps sensing that I was a bit nervous, he began asking me about my studies, where I came from, how I was enjoying school—small talk, really, but coming from someone whom I already considered a cultural hero of sorts, it sounded plenty big to me. I even mustered up enough composure to ask him what enduring his schedule was like-- during filming, Belushi would be on the set in Eugene Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then at the end of the third day he would fly back to New York, crash-write and rehearse Saturday Night Live, perform the show that weekend, then be on a flight back to Eugene on Sunday. Naturally, he was pretty exhausted by the whole thing. (Some have suggested that his abuse of cocaine had its roots in trying to keep up with this brutal back-and-forth, but I certainly couldn’t say I saw any evidence of it.) It was clear that Belushi, like me, was looking for a place to get away from the bustle of the day’s shoot, if only for a moment, and he chose to sit next to me to spend that down time.

Before he got up to return to the (barely) controlled chaos, he even told me a dirty joke. I’ll tell it to you (and those who don’t appreciate a filthy, borderline sexist joke can probably skip this last part—it is admittedly in extremely poor taste, but indicative of the uncut Lampoon sensibility from which Belushi and the movie would spring): Guy goes to see a doctor. He says, “Doc, it’s really weird. I’m having very odd symptoms. Don’t get me wrong—I feel great, but look at me—I look awful!” The doctor sizes him up for a second, then gets up from his stool, pulls out a large leather-bound volume from his shelf and begins to page through it. He stops briefly at one entry: “No, that’s ‘feels bad, looks bad.’” He turns a few more pages, stops, considers the text, then says, “No, that’s ‘looks good, feels bad.’ Hmm.” The doctor, determined to get a handle on the patient’s problem, turns a few more pages. Again he stops, and this time his eyes light up: “’Feels good, looks bad’! That’s it!” The patient sits up and asks, “What is it, Doc? You’ve figured out what my problem is?” The doctor happily responds, “Why, yes, Mr. Johnson! According to Grey’s Anatomy, you are a vagina!”

This time it was okay for me to laugh at Belushi’s antics, and I did—they weren’t being filmed, and they were staged just for me. It wasn’t until much later that I gave much thought to how gross the joke really was, but truthfully it didn’t much matter to me at the time, and I don’t think it really does now, as I think back on it. I’ve thought a lot about National Lampoon’s Animal House in the 30 years since it was filmed—how lucky I was to be involved, how incredible it is that it turned out to be something of a comedy classic, and how watching it then and now is for me akin to viewing a college yearbook with picture and sound. It really is, for me, a unique audio-visual of my life as a college freshman captured in a very peculiar and particular amber, a constant reminder of what my own school days were like as filtered through the reminisces and the recreated world of the film’s writers, its director and cast. And on top of all of that, I had a moment to call my own with one of my generation's most revered, and most tragic comedy talents.


My chat with Belushi is nothing compared to meeting the fella who would eventually become my best friend, and who remains so to this day, on the Animal House set—it is for that fortuitous occasion that I am most glad to have been a part of making the movie. But I often think of that afternoon listening to John Belushi’s filthy jokes and marvel at what a different world I was occupying then, separated only by a couple of months from the uneventful days of my high school youth. It was a valuable window for me on the world of how films are made and how difficult it must be for actors of a certain level of profile to maintain their connection to the bedrock influences and experiences of their lives. Of course I had no idea how little time Belushi had left when we sat and chatted that day—only just over four years—but in those moments he truly did seem both larger than life and very much life-sized, confident yet unassuming and even vulnerable. Meeting John Belushi was a major highlight of the two months I spent on the set of Animal House-- he indeed displayed some of the mannerisms of a classic P-I-G pig, but also a soft-spoken lack of self-consciousness that could allow him to go from being just one of the guys to a scene-gobbling toga-clad force of nature armed only with a jar of mustard and a desire to make everyone laugh. A good combination, as the world was about to find out.

(Portions of this article have appeared previously on this blog in a different form.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

ODES TO JOY


Sometimes you realize they really don’t make ‘em like that anymore (though in Bollywood maybe they still do...)

Thanks to pal Colin Walker for the YouTube tip on Mohammed Rafi’s ultra-exuberant “Jaan Pehechaan Ho,” taken from the 1966 Bollywood picture Gumnaam-- which is not strictly a musical, believe it or not, but instead a loose adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians! If this little bit of craziness rings a bell with you, it may be because you’ve seen the movie Ghost World (2001), in which the clip was featured:



But as I listened to Mohammed Rafi, a popular artist and playback singer on a staggering 712 Bollywood productions dating from 1944, and watched the singers and dancers on film getting down with their bad selves, it reminded me of another similar scene featuring an equally exuberant and jiggly dancer paired with a similarly suave and sexy singer, and I began to wonder how many times director Raja Nawathe had seen Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley do their thing in Viva Las Vegas (1964), directed by George Sidney:



Whoever saw who first, whether it was George Sidney grokking Bollywood, or Nawathe and Rafi getting their Ann and Elvis on, I’m glad both of these cinematic moments exist, if for no other reason than to spread a smile over the appearance of apparent giddy and joyful innocence mixed with the only slightly subterranean sexuality with which these moments are infused. (Thankfully, in the case of Ms. Ann-Margret, the thin layer covering that sexuality gets thrown off pretty much right away, long before Elvis takes the stage.) Nice way to kick off a weekend, I’d say. Thanks, Colin! And a tip of the hat to Mohammed and Ann and Elvis too.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

ANSWERS TO O’BLIVION PART 3: PROPRIETARY PICTURES, DIRTY SECRETS, FILM CRITICISM, more DIFFICULT-TO-IMPOSSIBLE CHOICES and THE FILIPINO PERSPECTIVE



(This is Part Three, the final segment of a three-part digest of the best answers from Professor Brian O'Blivion's All-New Flesh for Memorial Day Movie (and TV) Quiz. Part one can be seen here. Part two can be seen here. My own answers are on the way in the next few days. Patience, Ma!)

25) Bulle Ogier or Charlotte Rampling

Ms. Rampling continues to impress and is still quite attractive for what the French describe as a "woman of a certain age" (Peter Nellhaus)

Rampling. Did Ogier ever fight a killer whale? I didn’t think so. (Dave S.)

I always thought that Charlotte looked like John Hurt with tits. I fell in love with Bulle about 32 years ago, and the flame still burns. (Flickhead)

Going back to blonde for this one, cuz she's a Rivette girl -- Bulle Ogier (Ryland Walker Knight)

I have a huge crush on Rampling. She is, perhaps, at her most beautiful in Zardoz, which is good because otherwise you might realize you’re watching Zardoz. (John P.)

Charlotte Rampling, who is in the Bone Structure Hall of Fame with Lauren Bacall, Audrey Hepburn and Catherine Deneuve. (Robert Fiore)

At work I fielded a phone call from Charlotte Rampling once, and she was every bit as snooty as her Georgy Girl character. I loved it, finding out she was exactly as I wanted her to be. Charlotte all the way. (Campaspe)

Charlotte was in Swimming Pool and Orca, she goes well with water.
(Adam Ross)

My friend was watching the Academy Awards with his then-girlfriend when she observed, "Helen Mirren is really sexy for her age." To which he corrected, "Helen Mirren is sexy, period." That's how I feel about Charlotte Rampling. (Bemis)

Ogier was a doll when she was younger, but Rampling has aged much, much better. Also, Rampling didn’t attempt to follow in Deneuve’s iconic role as Severine, so Rampling wins hands down with me. (Paul Clark)

26) In the Realm of the Senses— yes or no?

Have not seen it. But I did finally see Salo, the 120 Days of Sodom which you asked about last year. It bored me stiff. (Jonathan Lapper)

Yes, but not my favorite Oshima. That would be The Ceremony. (Peter Nellhaus)

Sure, if I ever make it through the whole damn thing. (Dave S.)

No, but only because I'm an ignorant bastard and don't know what this is. (Flower)

It's been eons since I saw it (at home on VHS, must have been early 90s) but I remember thinking it was interesting but quite anti-erotic; the guy I was dating fell asleep. As a seduction ploy I got much better results with 8 ½. So I'm going with no. (Campaspe)

Absolutely. Great film. (Weeping Sam)

27) Name a movie you think of as your own (Thanks, Jim!)


They're all big productions but due to eerie similarities in my life and relationships I have always taken Dodsworth, Brief Encounter & Manhattan very personally and I don't care to watch them with anyone else who won't understand why they get it all so exactly right and how extraordinarily dead-on they all three are. (Jonathan Lapper)

If I told you, it wouldn't be my own, you sneaky so-and-so! (Peter Nellhaus)

I’m probably starting to sound like a broken record on this one, but I’m going to go with The Life Aquatic. I really feel all alone on this one. Not only that, but when I watch it, it feels like Wes Anderson said, “Hey, you know what we should do? We should make a movie just for Bill.” And then he did. (Bill)

Years ago I would’ve said La Vallée (1972). But I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now. (Flickhead)

Casablanca. But I have to share it with my father. (Chris)

Riffing on what Emerson wrote, I would have to say the overall body of work of Vincente Minnelli. Casablanca and Rules of the Game are my favorite films, but I feel protective of Minnelli because students sometimes don't know what to do with his inimitable blend of color, lushness, melodrama, humor and passion. That doesn't mean they are 'wrong' in their responses, but that, when they laugh at the heightened emotions during the climactic fair scene in Some Came Running, I feel like Michael talking to Fredo in The Godfather, Part II: "You broke my heart...You broke my heart!!" And that's true of The Band Wagon, Meet Me In St. Louis, Father of the Bride, The Bad and the Beautiful...some of these movies get good responses, some bad, but they are immensely dear to me, and even if I hate the feeling of disappointment when folks reject their pleasures, I love the feeling when they connect with a student, and those passions get translated from screen to audience. (Brian Doan)


Although it is critically acclaimed, canonical material and I have no business making personal a film that belongs to so many, Breathless. I often hear people ask “what is the use of Breathless nowadays, when all it's techniques have become commonplace?” well I don't know what movies they are watching, but my 15 year old self was swept up in how different this was from anything I had ever seen before. I remember every shot of Belmondo killing the police officer, and think of it as the moment when my definition of movies broke, and I was forced to come up with a new way of watching film. Breathless has lost none of its impact, it redefines cinema every time it is played. And I take every insult leveled at it as a personal sting. It's mine now, and I'll never let it go. (Krauthammer)

Father Goose with Cary Grant & Leslie Caron. I feel like I stumbled upon a little known secret. (John P.)

I can't imagine showing Gus Van Sant's Last Days to anyone and expecting them to get it, except Manohla Dargis.... (W. Australopithecus)

Risky Business, (came out the summer after I graduated high school); The Right Stuff, (unseated Star Wars as my favorite movie [even though it took a few years for me to acknowledge]. A perfect synthesis of my boyhood passions—the space age and the movies. Raising Arizona, A Room with a View (apparently, any movie from the ‘80s that begins with the letter R.) (Mr. Middlebrow)

For this question we turn to our guest respondent, Beatrice Welles: "Every movie my daddy ever made! You can't see them unless you GIVE ME MONEY!" (Robert Fiore)

Letter from an Unknown Woman. I will probably never see this in a theater with an audience simply because, like Jim, I cannot bear the thought of the morons tittering over anything that doesn't seem sufficiently "realistic." (Campaspe)

Shock Treatment (1981) - it's finally gotten a little bit of love recently, but it was a hard 25 years being an unrepentant fan of this movie. (Robert H.)

I Love Trouble. Because I’m the only person I know who loves, loves, loves it! (Larry Aydlette)

The Coen Brothers’O Brother, Where Art Thou? The movie was shot entirely in my adopted state of Mississippi, and large chunks were shot in and around Jackson. On each of the three times that I saw the movie in the theater, the theater was jam-packed with people who would hoot and holler whenever they recognized an onscreen extra or a location. “Look, look, look, there’s Jethro, mama! There he is!” “Yessir, that’s him. What on Earth did he do to his hair?” I now do volunteer work for the local film society, members of which include people who worked on O Brother, so the movie feels like a family affair in some small way. Also, as must be obvious by the number of times that I saw it live, it’s my favorite Coen Brothers feature, and I can quote most of the movie, accents and all, at any point. In fact, my brother’s fiancé and I bonded, initially, by recreating stretches of the movie. (Walter Biggins)

I'm not feeling terribly proprietary these days, but I have to say that after heavily researching and writing an essay on William C. de Mille's terrific proto-feminist drama Miss Lulu Bett for the Silent Film Festival last year, I feel very connected to the film and to the personnel involved. (Brian Darr)

Galaxy Quest. No one understands our love. (Stennie)

Whenever I've shown someone Soderbergh's The Limey and tried to explain why it's so good, and the editing is brilliant, and the soundtrack so well done, and the whole thing is an exercise in postmodernism, all I've gotten are pitying stares. Fine, that just means there's more for me. (California)

#28) Winged Migration or Microcosmos


Neither. To me, they both seem like commercials for documentaries rather than actual documentaries. (Dave S.)

I didn't care for the latter, so I never saw the former. (Brian Doan)

Winged Migration is pretty enough, but Microcosmos is kinda mindblowing. (Krauthammer)

Microcosmos, for the lesson of its intense sex scene. Snails know that it's important to slow it down. (Patrick)

Impressive aerial photography in Winged Migration, but as any little boy can tell you, bugs beat birds every time. (Paul Clark)

29) Your favorite football game featured in a movie

Favorite game is probably MASH, but I love the final game in North Dallas Forty because of the uncanny way it mirrored the actual Dallas playoff game of the season before last when Romo dropped the snap at the end. (Jonathan Lapper)

I liked the uniform Christina Ricci was wearing in Black Snake Moan. (Peter Nellhaus)

Black Sunday… terrorist blimp versus stadium! Rah! (Dave S.)

Harold Lloyd in The Freshman. (John P.)

"Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle, this time I think we go up-a da middle." Horsefeathers. This is what Oliver Stone should have watched before making Any Given Sunday. Or maybe he did. (Campaspe)

Son of Flubber (Bemis)

Robert Aldrich made The Longest Yard hilarious. (Anne Thompson)

All I can think of is that football games never work as well on film as baseball games do. I wonder why that is? Is it something about the pace, about the rhythm of the games? (Lucas McNelly)

OK, not actually a football game (and arguable the worst part of the movie), but when Flash Gordon is running around Ming's throne room with a metal egg doing football maneuvers all around the Imperial Guard, that's kinda fun. (Chris Oliver)

30) Wendy Hiller or Deborah Kerr

A Powell question. Wendy Hiller some days, Deborah Kerr others. Depends on which Powell I'm watching. (Jonathan Lapper)

I disliked the film they were both in, Separate Tables. I would have to choose Kerr because of Black Narcissus, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, and Bonjour Tristesse on the top of the list. (Peter Nellhaus)

Deborah Kerr. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. That is all. (Bill)

Deborah Kerr--I absolutely love Black Narcissus and Bonjour Tristesse and The Innocents. Hiller's all right, but I found I Know Where I'm Going! really disappointing, aside from a few scenes, and she was in A Man for All Seasons, which might be the most boring movie ever (and, yes, it appears I have a double standard, since that doesn't much affect my opinion of Robert Shaw). (Schuyler Chapman)

They're both quite wonderful, but the edge goes to Kerr, great in nunneries, musicals, wheelchairs, and military uniforms. Plus, you can't beat starring in Otto Preminger's best film. (Brian Doan)

Deborah Kerr. To put Wendy Hiller ahead you have to put an awful lot of weight on I Know Where I'm Going!, because of the disparity in volume of work. Kerr even did more pictures for the Archers. (Robert Fiore)

Kerr, for having the guts to get down and dirty in The Gypsy Moths. (Aaron)

31) Dirtiest secret you have that is related to the movies


I have never seen Kazaam. Never. Don't tell anyone. As for a real dirty secret I'm not sure I have one. I love movies and watch what I can. Plenty of big ones I still haven't seen but I'm not keeping it a secret so I'm coming up empty on this one. (Jonathan Lapper)

Little Mike (Twin Peaks) Anderson bangs statuesque blonde hookers. (It’s true! It’s true!) (Flickhead)

I purposefully and excitedly watched Striking Distance when I was a teenager. (Schuyler Chapman)

I was 30 before I saw Gone with the Wind. And I didn't like it. (Chris)

According to Theyshootpictures.com, these are the top ten greatest films that I haven't seen yet: Persona, Ordet, Andrei Rublev, Panther Panchali, Au hasard Balthazar, The Mirror, Greed, The Conformist, Pickpocket, The Leopard. I also think that Mel Gibson is one of the most interesting and talented directors to appear in the last ten years. I win. (Krauthammer)

I still haven't seen Pink Flamingos. (Peter Nellhaus)

Other than having sex while watching a non-porn movie or being turned on by a flick, I guess my dirtiest secret related to the movies is the fact that I don’t get Audrey Hepburn. At all. (Dave S.)

Eek! Er, um…no, you probably don’t mean it like that. Well, not having seen Dracula yet is pretty bad, right? So is not having seen 8 ½, which I haven’t. (Bill)

I like surfing movies, and Fassbinder bores me silly. (Brian Doan)

John Ford's The Searchers puts me to sleep, but Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break is a work of insane genius (as also noted in Hot Fuzz). And I don't care if you think less of me for feeling that way! (Steven Santos)

I don't really like Citizen Kane or Casablanca or Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday or Nashville or Katherine Hepburn or John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart or... oh, just one secret? (Brian)

I love, love, love Cabin Boy. (John P.) (Try the London broil, John!—Dennis)

I have no movie secrets. If I love Yolanda and the Thief and the world does not, then the world is WRONG, wrong, wrong. (Campaspe)

I was a silent financier of Leprechaun 2. (Adam Ross)

I like to watch. (Larry Aydlette)

I love The Stupids. (Weigard)

I guess this isn’t very dirty, but here goes- in the past twenty years, the only times I’ve cried have been while watching movies. (Paul Clark)


I recently admitted it on another blog comment, so I might as well do it here too: I went with a young woman I was dating to a nearly-empty late evening screening of Chicken Little and we made out the entire movie. Yeah, 32 is a little old for that, I know. (Brian Darr)

When I saw Independence Day on opening weekend with a packed house, I enjoyed it, and even convinced myself that it was a good movie. (Chris Oliver)

I'm a film major a few weeks away from getting my Bachelor's and I haven't seen a single Bergman. (California)

32) Name a favorite film and describe how it is illuminated and enriched by another favorite film.

Contempt. I understood what Godard was doing in filming the statues when I finally saw Voyage in Italy. (Peter Nellhaus)

Groan-inducing as it may sound, I really love Showgirls for its humour and bad taste. The film that illuminates Showgirls for me is Starship Troopers, also directed by Paul Verhoeven. Because the humour in Starship Troopers was missed by so many people upon first viewing, it makes me question Verhoeven’s intent with Showgirls(Dave S.)

I wish I could be more original with this answer, but after watching There Will Be Blood again recently, I really appreciated how it builds off of both The Shining and Barry Lyndon. (Bill)

Phantom of the Paradise is the Rosetta Stone that unlocked the secret behind Brian De Palma's movies: They're all comedies. (Schuyler Chapman) (Okay, Scarface, but Casualties of War?—Dennis)

Lost Highway is one of my favorite movies of all time, I love how it was basically a remake of Detour filtered through the O.J. Simpson trial. (Erin)

Again, Casablanca. For me it's the distillation of everything I love about Bogart. And every other film I see with him serves to open up or accentuate another facet of his performance. (Chris)

Prince of the City, which is illuminated by The Last Temptation of Christ because the road to salvation is often a messy and destructive one in which you will suffer for trying to do the right thing and your own imperfections make it that much harder. (Steven Santos)

Having seen Titus and adored it, I appreciated Ran on a number of levels when I worked pretty extensively with it the following year in a course I took. It wasn't just the idea of Shakespearean adaptation, but the attention to adapting the material to such diverse media stuck with me quite a bit. (Brian)

I think the two Imitation of Life versions really form a dialogue about race, caste, class, and women's issues in the U.S. over the course of 25 years. (Campaspe)

Seeing Marion Davies films after viewing Citizen Kane and realizing that for all "Kane's" greatness, its one major flaw is that it destroyed Davies' acting reputation for several decades; even Welles admitted as such. (The bio Citizen Hearst, issued in the early sixties, also did a hatchet job on Davies' work.) (VP81955)


My appreciation of Popeye deepened when I realized it's essentially McCabe and Mrs. Miller for kids. (Bemis)

See question #27 for the favorite film. Along with being an intentional mishmash of mythologies ancient (The Odyssey) and more recent (Mississippi blues/folk culture), O Brother, Where Art Thou? is a farce that provides multiple laughs with every minute, and offers a warmhearted and complex understanding of the region that I call home. Set during the Depression, it’s also an extended riff on Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels. In that film, socially conscious filmmaker John Sullivan (think Frank Capra, but with less wit) wants to make a politically relevant movie about the working class. Never mind that he doesn’t know, or even want to know, anyone who’s actually poor. His film is entitled O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and Sturges spends the next 90 minutes poking fun at the distance between Sullivan’s film and poverty as it’s actually lived. The Coens, by consciously stealing that title and setting their film in the same era as Sturges’s classic, one-up Sullivan by creating a farce with flat characters that’s nevertheless truer to human experience than anything Sullivan could have created. In fact, in some ways, I think the Coens’s masterpiece is precisely the crackpot comedy Sullivan might have made after his comeuppance and revitalization via a Disney cartoon at the end. O Brother, Where Art Thou? has the anarchic, anything-goes spirit and aesthetic daring of a great 1940s cartoon but, unlike Sturges, the Coens are submersed in history all the same and address the ugly racial and class politics that Sturges elides and in fact lampoons in his Sullivan caricature. O Brother updates Sullivan’s Travels while also mimicking it. It’s not the first time they’ve flirted with Sturges—see the great, horribly underrated Hudsucker Proxy—but O Brother is the most potent, direct distillation of their love affair/argument with the great 1940s filmmaker. (Walter Biggins)


I think I’ve mentioned this before too, but it’s the best example I can come up with. After reading some of the things Jim Emerson had mentioned about Cutter’s Way, I watched it last fall. Great movie, but I couldn’t help feeling that I was watching the priomordial soup out of which The Big Lebowski was born. Amateur detectives, slackers perhaps, and I about lost it when one of the characters starts filling up a suitcase with underwear. (Weigard)

Autumn Sonata, Stella Dallas, The Rapture and High Tide are three mother-daughter dramas that resonate with my own mother abandonment issues. When I saw Kieslowski's The Decalogue, Thou Shalt Not Steal, I finally understood why my mother left me and my younger brother. She felt incompetent. (Anne Thompson)

All I can think of now is that scene in Band of Outsiders where Anna Karina walks into the poolroom and they’re playing the big love theme from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Knowing the Demy film, it’s clear that the song has no place in that context- the two movies could hardly be further apart and still be speaking the same language- yet there it is. In Umbrellas, the song is almost unbearably sad, certainly enough to bring tears to my eyes as it swells during the climactic scene and we reflect on what the characters have lost, and gained, during the film. But out of context, all that significance is lost and it’s just a popular song, to be listened to and tune out like any other. Movies are nothing but commodities, Godard is saying, to be taken apart and picked over willy-nilly. Yet I also can’t help but reflect on the difference between the standalone song and the way it works in Umbrellas, which in turn makes me think of the importance of all the elements of a film to its ultimate effect. In the end, a movie is much more than the sum of its component parts- take one on its own and it’s just not the same. This may not even be the idea Godard is going for here, but that’s the idea I take away, and that’s enough for me. (Paul Clark)

You know, I could ruminate on this question for several more hours, thus delaying even further my responses to this quiz, or I could simply admit that I don't have a clue what this question means and leave it at that. I choose the latter. (Stennie)

Another question that's too good to answer: this one, especially, is something I want to think about, turn over in my head, all by itself, until I have a good answer. If I don't complete wimp out, this quiz could give me half a summer's worth of blogging material... (Weeping Sam)

It took me years to get one of the best (and nastiest) jokes in Life of Brian--the Spartacus reference, which now seems so obvious that I don't know how I could have missed it. The chorus of crucifixion victims crying out "I'm Brian!" is a wicked inversion of the "I'm Spartacus" scene, in fact an answer to the latter, as if the Pythons were saying "that's a great story, but from everything we've experienced in human nature, and read about for 4,000 of human history, that's just not how it works." (Chris Oliver)

The Limey isn't the same if you haven't seen Poor Cow, Teorema, Easy Rider or Vanishing Point. (California)

Probably an obvious example, but the way Unforgiven comments on and expands upon Clint's entire screen person... it'd be an excellent story and piece of filmmaking by any standard, but familiarity with everything from Dirty Harry to Eiger Sanction really brings it home in that movie. Curiously, that shot of him in the rain like a total sap in Bridges of Madison Country is enriched in much the same way. (The Bandit)

I've always seen Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole as character and real life father to Michael Douglas' character in Wall Street (Jamie)

33) It’s a Gift or Horsefeathers


The eternal Norman Z. McLeod question. It's a Gift primarily for the scene of Mr. Muckle. (Peter Nellhaus)

Horsefeathers, because the Marx Brothers are a gift! (Dave S.)

Horsefeathers, not so much because I love the Marx Brothers (though I do), but because I sheepishly admit to not having known It’s a Gift existed. (Chris)

I have a theory that Norman Z. McLeod sucks the funny out of movies. I feel that It's a Gift is one tenth of the movie it could have been, especially when you consider other Fields films like The Bank Dick, and the two he did with the Marx Brothers, while still amazing, are my least favorite of their golden period. Horsefeathers still wins, because I'm a dedicated Marxist, but it could have been their best without McLeod. (Krauthammer)

It's a Gift. This is an interesting contrast. In the general scheme of things, the Marx Brothers rank well ahead of W.C. Fields. However, like the novels of Raymond Chandler, all of them (up to Day at the Races, anyway) are cherished but none particularly sticks out. Duck Soup sticks out a little the way Farewell My Lovely does for Chandler, but the whole gestalt is what counts, not any given movie/novel as a work of art. It's a Gift on the other hand is a movie that rises above the level of the comedian's work, and seems to portray the genuine travails of a human being. (Robert Fiore)


This is a little confusing. There are silent slapstick shorts (say that three times fast) by both of these titles, made, respectively, in 1923 and 1928. I suspect that Dennis means the 1934 version of It’s a Gift, starring W.C. Fields, and the 1932 version of Horse Feathers (note the difference in title), starring my beloved Marx Brothers. These two are both features, and the connection is that they’re both directed by Norman MacLeod, which is why I think Dennis links these two and not the two otherwise unrelated shorts. So, if we’re comparing the features, Horse Feathers wins in a walk, because the idea of Groucho Marx as president of a university is the most inspired idea for a slapstick comedy ever, and it’s one of the few Marx Brothers in which Zeppo is a) present, and b) funny. (Walter Biggins)

Horsefeathers. My father often took me and my brother to see the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields at The New Yorker. We never cared for Fields. We recognized how he felt about Baby LeRoy. (Anne Thompson)

I await the day in which I see It's a Gift with a theatre full of appreciative moviegoers. I've seen Horse Feathers that way, and it'll be hard to beat. (Brian Darr)

34) Your best story about seeing a movie at a drive-in


I was in the back seat with my girl friend of the time. For a Few Dollars More was playing on the screen. I never got to see the Leone film until a few years later. (Peter Nellhaus)

As a 9-year-old horror fan, I begged my father to take to see The Exorcist when it was released. Being sane, he refused. By the time I was 12, The Exorcist came back to our town at the drive-in on a double bill with John Wayne’s McQ. This time, my father took me. After watching the Wayne first feature, The Exorcist began. I don’t remember when it happened, though I know it built up gradually… I began to formulate the thought (though not in these words) that this was adult horror and it was about things my little brain couldn’t comprehend. In other words, it was freaking me out, and I was going to have nightmares forever if we didn’t leave NOW! My father, again being sane, dutifully prepared to leave the drive-in at my request. Though sane, my father is a little cruel, and he suggested I look at the screen as we drove away. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw Regan McNeil vomit all over Father Karras. Image. Stuck. In. My. Head. Forever. (Dave S.)


Okay, so, I’m at this drive-in, right? And there’s this sniper there, too, right, but get this, BORIS KARLOFF shows up and…wait, that wasn’t me. Never mind. I’ve never been to a drive-in. (Bill)

I could relate the old chestnut about tripping during Giant Spider Invasion plus Night of the Cobra Woman, but no need to incriminate anyone here. (Flickhead)

Seeing Jurassic Park in the summer of '93, my mom and me running from our car to the bathroom, terrified that the raptors were going to jump off the screen and eat us. Well, that's how I felt anyway. It's possible my mom was just humoring me, but it was still a blast. (Flower)

What's a drive-in? (Erin)

Drive-ins were on their way out as I was growing up, and so many of my "memories" of them come from seeing them in other films: the hilariously campy projections in The Thin Blue Line, the re-creations of 50s teen lust in Grease, the assassin's bullet cutting through the night sky in Targets. My own drive-in memory is connected to The Empire Strikes Back, and seeing it on a warm summer night's re-release, and enjoying the serendipity of night falling just as the Millenium Falcon roared into space: sky and screen blending into one glittering, star-ridden space. (Brian Doan)


No specific time, but any chance my wife and I have to visit the Parma Motor-Vu in Parma, ID. It's the oldest business in town, their 1955 popcorn popper still works great, they serve grape soda, the parking area is often flanked by corn stalks, and the old highway is right behind the screen so sometimes you can see truckers passing by.
(Adam Ross)

I saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit at a drive-in in Maine while my family was on vacation. My dad fell asleep halfway through, so my mom decided to let him sleep and find her way back to our room. We were nearly at the Canadian border before she realized she must have made a wrong turn somewhere. (Bemis)

I have fond memories of attending the 1987 premiere of Alex Cox's Straight to Hell at the Pickwick Drive-In in Burbank, sitting in my pal Sam Kitt's vintage convertible. It was quite a scene. (Anne Thompson)

Not a story per se, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world who can cop to seeing Cop and a Half five times at a drive-in (it ended up being the second feature time and time again). (Aaron)

1976 - The Bad News Bears. Whole family went, all packed into the family station wagon -- Mom, Stepdad, Grandma, and us three kids. When the movie was over, Grandma said "Little boys don't really talk like that." Three kids replied in unison: "Yes they do, Grandma." Also: in college in Bellingham, WA, I recall being buried under lots of blankets and so forth to get snuck into the Samish Twin Drive-In. For years, the first S was missing from their sign, so from the freeway you could see their sign loudly advertising: "AMISH TWIN DRIVE-IN THEATRE." Of course, meeting up with Sal and Dennis at the SoCal Drive-In Society was a fun time too, and one I hope to repeat this summer! (Stennie)


Oh, Dennis, you’re gonna love this! It’s gotta be seeing Grindhouse last year at the Mission Tiki. I know I went to the drive-in with the family when I was a kid, but I really can’t remember any of the details. So last year’s experience is all I really have to go on. What fun! Great company (the Captions, Inc. gang is the best, bar none) and interesting movie, to say the least. I really had no idea what I was in for when I decided to go. As per usual for me, I avoided any and all info about Grindhouse once I decided to go. So the gore and violence came as something of a surprise. Yes, I knew that Tarantino was involved, but I had no idea about the zombies. And how sweet were Paul and Steve – knowing that I hate that kind of stuff, I heard them checking with Dennis occasionally to make sure I was okay. Thanks, guys! (Sharon)

The first movie I ever saw was Song of the South at the drive-in, complete with one of those "Ant and Aardvark" cartoons at the beginning. I've still never had a chance to see it again. Years later, I did mushrooms in the abandoned lot of the same Drive-In, underneath the dilapidated screen. I also went to see an all-night women's prison movie marathon at the drive-in once, but it was really boring, so not a good story. (Chris Oliver)

Freebie and the Bean. God knows what it was double-billed with some four to six years after its release, but somehow one of my earliest filmgoing memories was this Rushian slice of '70s awesomeness. (The Bandit)

35) Victor Mature or Tyrone Power

Uh, Tyrone Power. Is this a trick question or something? (Jonathan Lapper)

Mature fought prehistoric creature on screen once, didn’t he? Yeah, him. (Dave S.)

Or, Cry of the City versus Nightmare Alley. Ty’s the one. Victor, on the other hand, carries the look of a man suffering unending heartburn. (Flickhead)

Tyrone Power: maturity is overrated and power is an often hilarious delusion. (Ryland Walker Knight)

How old do you have to be to take this quiz? (Brian)

Man, I really need to get my TCM back. (Mr. Middlebrow)

I think of Tyrone Power as the star of adventure movies I deem too boring to watch because Tyrone Power is in them. Victor Mature is a subject I have to look into further, based on My Darling Clementine. (Robert Fiore)

We all want Power, but being Mature does us all more good in the long run. As for the actors, I guess I’d have to research some more. (Paul Clark)

36) What does film criticism mean to you? Where do you think it’s headed?


(First Post) Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!!!!!! Nooooooo!!!!!!! No more questions about film criticism and where it's going. My god, thousands of children have perished in China, more lay dead in Burma, Iraq is in complete disrepair, people are living in their cars because they've lost their homes... Okay, sorry. But really, for the time being at least, I'm afraid I have had my fill of this question. Sorry. Hate to end my quiz on a sour note. Sorry.

(Second Post) Ah, I don't want to end my answer on a sour note. Here goes:
I think film criticism is moving in better directions despite what so many seem to think. Print critics losing their jobs is not a good thing but many immediately find a home online where they can be even more analytical and thought provoking without deadlines and an editor breathing down their neck or looking over their shoulder.

Bloggers like Girish and Jim Emerson allow film criticism to become a group discussion in which differing points of view are celebrated and help to bring the films in question to a richer understanding for all.

I think the days of deeper, richer more profound analysis of film and what film means lay ahead of us. With the freedom to exchange ideas and the access of the great films of cinema history I think film criticism is on an upward slant. It's just that the technology, the modes of its transport are changing. But the criticism itself is evolving into something that I never had growing up, reading the opinions of hallowed authors and historians who left no room for dissent. (Jonathan Lapper)

Film criticism means pointing out films that are of interest for a variety of reasons, even if the goal is to entertain. Based on current evidence, film criticism is headed to the blogosphere while a handful of print critics get syndicated. (Peter Nellhaus)

Having recently developed an obsession with Italian gialli, I can tell you that I think the way a film is perceived is very much a product of the time it is being reviewed. Today, so many films that were ignored or maligned in the 70’s are being rediscovered as classics. It’s just another way that film criticism is subjective. Unfortunately, “professional” film criticism has been heading to blurb-ville for a long time now, and it shows no sign of letting up. You know, comments like “The feel good movie of the year” splashed across a movie poster or ad…? All this seems to have more to do with the critic than it does the film. The good news is that fan-based reviews are all over the Internet in blogs and websites, and that’s where you can get the real goods about movies. (Dave S.)

Film criticism, as the phrase is generally used, doesn’t mean all that much to me, unless it’s found on a blog where the film in question can be discussed. So, I guess, “film criticism”, to me, is the “opening argument”. (Bill)

At this point, nothing, nowhere. (Flickhead)

Film criticism is my chance to read what others are thinking about the movies I'm seeing. It's an opportunity to understand how others are processing the same information. If I like a movie, I want to know why others liked it or why they didn't, and, if I disliked a movie, I want to know why others did or didn't. It helps me, I think, get a more nuanced perspective on a film I've just watched. I'm not sure where it's going. I've never been terribly good at predicting outcomes. (Schuyler Chapman)

At its best, when taken seriously, film criticism is a prime opportunity for some (to put it plainly) philosophy. However, such a posture takes a lot of time, and effort. The weekly criticism rarely achieves this in any explicit fashion, but if you pay attention you can understand what some of the great critics do as something akin to hermeneutics: a balance between interpretation and examination that reflects the critic as well as the picture in as honest and thorough a manner as possible. What I want more of is holding one's experience accountable. Why is it that Armond White cannot find fault in Spielberg? Why can't Walter Chaw see that Iron Man affords him the same reading that he gave of The Darjeeling Limited? I really dig reading those guys, even when I think they're off base, but as much as they do attempt to account for their personal taste in reviews, there's still that posture of superiority that irks me. It's what I try to cede. I try to assume most movies are smarter than me. I try to be generous. Clearly, I've failed myself as often as I think those two fine writers have failed other films but what I don't sense in their writing is a true curiosity... One of the reasons I think Matt's criticism will be missed is because he always seemed curious about the object at hand. But such curiosity takes time, and effort, and diligence, and it's rare. Hell, I'm quick to turn against movies. I didn't care for Gone Baby Gone, but a little last fall simply because I turned away from it inside five minutes; I tried again recently and found myself no less turned off; I think it apt and rote and at worst plain boring and stupid. Still, I value that Cumbow essay that got me looking again. I'm always willing to look again. The thing that won me over to Walter Chaw was his giveaway introduction to a review of Inside Man where he said he was wrong about 25th Hour. After a long uneasiness with Armond White I finally understood him a little better after my buddy Steve's interview with him and his defense of The Darjeeling Limited boiled down to the brilliant, obvious, contrarian statement that "films don't have acts." (Of course, I simply don't believe in acts as a structure; plenty of others do; that's a big argument to get into, which I plan to avoid, here.) So, I think criticism, as a practice, will always be lively, even if its financing continues to die -- or just dry up. As long as people take it seriously, as its own art, as an opportunity for all kinds of cool thought, then I think it will be fine. It's not some giant living in the hills; it's this. This is what I do and, to a certain extent, this is film criticism, too. Like Bordwell said a couple weeks ago, maybe if blogs slow down a bit they can be better, and more thoughtful, and afford more conversations instead of shouting matches. Because I think that blogs are the future of this art, this practice. I mean, here I am, commenting on a blog. A blog I read and enjoy, a blog most worthy of that list, because its owner and proprietor is so invested in the worth and continued, thoughtful practice of criticism -- and fandom, let's be honest. Cuz, why write about this -- why write this -- if you aren't a fan, if you don't enjoy it? (Ryland Walker Knight)

I hope it's headed towards the death of the blurb and star ratings, and more attention to the mutual significance of form and content. And more attention to foreign film at the cost of the summer blockbuster. (Brian)

I'm running low on time so this will be shorter then I would have liked. Film criticism, like any criticism, is vital for keeping the art alive. Without writers, lectures, or video essays on film we would not be able to better collect our thoughts on film, we would never learn how to think critically and understand film on a deep level without criticism. I think Jim Emerson says that he likes the critisism as much as the movies, I wouldn't go that far, but I do believe that film would be in a sorry state without people thinking about it. I'm optimistic about the future, I don't think that paid criticism is dead by any means (although print criticism may be soon) and these blogs can be as vital as those by paid critics sometimes, your recent essay on Speed Racer being one out of countless examples. There will always be the need for a full time critic, who can watch much more than I could, and who is not bogged down with things like “school” or “work” which can severely cut into online publications. It's definitely is going to change in the next ten years, and I hope for the better. (Krauthammer)

Right now, it doesn’t mean much. I’m pretty ambivalent about where it might be headed, though I’m thankful for the role that blogging generally, and this blog especially, has played in letting regular Joe movie lovers participate in the conversation. (Mr. Middlebrow)

It means making sure people are aware that film is more than entertainment. It's headed, on one level, down the crapper. That's the argument you hear all the time. But on another level, and this is where these blogs come in, film criticism is headed in exactly the right direction, towards a pure discussion of art. (El Gringo)<

I don't know where it's headed, but I do think the recent turbulence in the profession is the result of film criticism moving away from monologue and towards discussion. I know that my aforementioned small group of readers motivates me to examine my ideas with greater clarity and consideration than before. If anything's going to keep film criticism going, it's the need to resist experiencing art in a vacuum. Either way, I'll keep writing as long as people keep reading. (Bemis)

At its best, film criticism offers an exchange of ideas about art, and how art reflects human experience and longings, and provides an opportunity for me to crystallize thinking about both. In the past, the exchange has been mostly one-sided—the critic writes, I read and reflect, and that’s that. With the spreading influence of blogs, the back-and-forth exchange has become more immediate and conversational; fact-checking and corrections occur in real-time; writers actually see how their readers respond to their work. I’ve said before that the collective blogs like The House Next Door—where multiple writers are corralled together under the influence of an overriding editor—are where online criticism is headed, simply because it’s a model that allows room for a lot of writing styles and genres to be discussed under a single rubric. (It’s also the format closest to print journalism, which is something the Web 2.0 embracers should keep in mind in case they get too smug.) The biggest issue that’s always faced film criticism is that criticism is writing, which means that it’s at least one step removed from the medium it’s discussing. Online, however, that gap can be bridged to some degree, because an online essay can include screen grabs, sound files, and movie clips in a way that’s not available to print. Three recent articles—one on Spielberg’s editing style, one an elaborate defense of Tony Scott’s filmmaking, one on Jia Zhangke’s compositions and editing in Platform—use screen grabs not as mere eye candy but as contextual illustrations that bolster their points. I hope that, as early cinema’s works fall increasingly under public domain, we see more essays illuminated by extensive clips as well as stills. (Walter Biggins)


Film criticism is a way to educate an audience about a film and why it needs to be seen in order to better understand yourself and the world around you. With the advent of website and blog reviews, there are now more educators than ever before. Strangely, I don’t think the number of listeners has increased proportionately. I also fear that the whole milk of criticism has become two percent and is fast headed toward skim. May the cream continue to rise and be consumed. (Patrick)

I grew up reading the greats: Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, Richard Corliss, Molly Haskell, Vincent Canby, Dave Kehr, David Ansen, David Edelstein, Stanley Kaufmann, David Chute, David Denby, John Powers, Jim Hoberman, Richard Jameson, David Thomson, Michael Wilmington, Joanthan Rosenbaum, Todd McCarthy, Roger Ebert, Stephen Schiff. They helped to define what movies are, they grew up as the medium did, and wrote and set the tone for cultural debate during the 70s and 80s when the cinema was most exciting. Those days will never come again. Where do you think it’s headed? The truth is: our generation of moviegoers raised on newspapers and reading will not be replaced by more of same. We know that our children love movies and see them in theaters, on TV, on DVD, on laptops and mobile phones. They also learn about movies and discuss them in different ways, on Facebook, on Yahoo, on blogs. As the medium and the media evolve, so too film criticism, which will be more responsive and more narrow-focused to the individual. And it will be on video, too. (Anne Thompson)

The more film criticism I read, the more I value insight over opinion. It’s one thing to say why you like something, but it takes a deeper appreciation for film in general to be able to pull ideas from movies, especially ones that don’t wear those ideas on their sleeve. And this only really comes from experience and the guidance of others who’ve come before you. The more you open yourself up to ideas that may be eccentric at first glance, the more confident you can be in your own, provided you’re able to back them up. I think that the proliferation of Internet criticism can only help this, because rather than continuing the old-guard notion of criticism as a monologue, it instead promotes a great exchange of ideas. The critic no longer resides in his ivory tower, but instead uses his work to open a dialogue with his readers. Ultimately, I think this will be a good thing, especially once Web criticism can shake off the stigma of being the smelly stepcousin of the printed variety and achieve the equal status that the best online criticism (this blog included) already deserves. (Paul Clark)

What it means to me is that ability to find and avoid films based on a consensus of voices I trust, of being able to scan Metacritic and see what films are worth seeing and what are not. Also, the ability only a critic has to dig deeper into a film, into themes and motifs and all that juicy goodness. What scares me is that as more and more film criticism moves from the newspaper to the internet, it gets harder and harder to know what voices you can trust and what voices are full of shit. At the same time, there are now more voices than ever that I trust. So...I guess I'm torn. Cautiously optimistic, you might say. (Lucas McNelly)

I'm more interested in film than I am in film criticism. Whenever I see these questions about film criticism I'm reminded of Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan and its character Tom, who wasn't into fine literature but enjoyed reading literary criticism. He held his own at intellectual parties by quoting what essayists had to say about great literary works, even though he'd never read the literary works themselves. I don't find fault any with film criticism, but I'd rather watch another movie than read a review of one I've just seen. I'd also rather watch one than write about one, which is probably why my own review blog has been so meager in recent months. (Stennie)


Where it's headed? I don't know - I imagine it will continue roughly as it is. Academic critics will keep rolling along, someone somewhere will be reviewing new releases every week, giving them stars and trying to steer the public toward better films - probably all of us, though, rather than trained professionals - either way - I am going to end with thought from yesterday, that last movie I ended up seeing, in fact: The Awful Truth. Which, as it happened, was shown with an introduction from Stanley Cavell, who wrote about it in Pursuits of Happiness. Two things came to mind - first, I was thinking about why Cavell is so good (for I think his film writing is among the very best there is): it's that he shows us things that are in the films, and in the world, that we might not have thought of. That's what critics should do - make us see things we didn't see - in the film, or in the world, related to the film. And the other - a reference to his description of what marriage is, what a good marriage is, what the comedies of remarriage show: a "deepening of the conversation." That is what criticism should be - a conversation about films, and about life, through films... This might be the answer to the "important comedies" question too - because this is what the contenders do. Rushmore - Groundhog Day - O Brother Where Art Thou - Life of Brian - Fallen Angels (the Kinoshiro half anyway) - White: they tell us about life, they give us life as conversation, and a way of talking about the world, of inventing ourselves and taking responsibility for ourselves in the world... So - if we keep talking about films, criticism should make it, in the end. (Weeping Sam)

Bonus:

AND THE ENTIRETY of NOEL VERA’S QUIZ RESPONSES, all answers derived from THE CINEMA OF THE PHILIPPINES! Hands-down the most unique and informative of another cinematic culture answers ever offered on an SLIFR quiz! Thanks, Noel!