Tuesday, March 31, 2009


UPDATED! April 4, 2009

Here's the final full-length trailer for Earth Day, ready to rid the world of progressive influences everywhere April 22! (Thanks, Bruce!)


Eugene, Oregon, a place very near and dear to my heart, is known for many things, including ducks, Ducks, rain, Nike shoes, Steve Prefontaine, National Lampoon’s Animal House, strong support for local theater and the arts, and the peaceful co-existence of a rather Green, hippie-friendly vibe within the greater population of career-minded college students and a liberal-leaning citizenry which also manages to make room for those of a conservative stripe. And now, with any luck, Eugene may be on the brink of making a name for itself as a place where locally and independently produced feature filmmaking can thrive, that is, if Mr. Ooh La La has anything to say about the matter. Self-billed as Eugene’s answer to John Waters (the Pink Flamingos director is a friend as well as a conscious inspiration), the writer-director has produced the first feature from his Faux Show Productions and is readying to spring it on a hopefully eager audience.

The picture, a horror-comedy called Earth Day, is set to premiere—take a guess—on April 22, Earth Day, but worries about this film’s potential audience being cannibalized by the likes of the upcoming Disney/Nature documentary Earth are undoubtedly misplaced. As Mr. Ooh La La would have it, Earth Day, parodies the holiday-centric emphases of ‘80s slasher pics like Halloween, April Fool’s Day and My Bloody Valentine (as well as, one assumes, Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving) in telling the absurdly-tinged story of a group of eco-crusaders who find themselves being systematically slaughtered as the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of their leader approaches. It will be very interesting to see how the eclectic Eugene sensibility, one very sympathetic to the hugging of trees, gets treated in Mr. Ooh La La’s satirically frightening scenario. (“Forget the Whales. Don’t Worry About the Trees. Save Yourself!” begs the breathless tagline.) One also hopes that the movie’s intentionally broad tone (as evidenced in the trailer) will end up being as much fun for viewers outside the Emerald City as it looks to be for those who live (or once lived) there. Mr. Ooh La La hopes the Eugene screenings will garner the kind of attention that will lead to further bookings in Northwest theaters and eventually pave the way for the festival circuit.

Pike (Christopher Anglin) informs Torrance (Bruce Lundy) about a lead as Dr. Peever (Gaylord Walker) and Priscilla (Daphne Danger) look on, in Earth Day.

But whatever the final verdict on the film, the movie’s happy, arduous and apparently hilarious journey from the mind of its director to the silver screen will end in Eugene on April 22, and if you happen to be in the area on that day you might want to consider taking in one of the three screenings (5:00, 7:00 and 9:00) at the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, 110 West Broadway, that have been scheduled. I will be hitting the road to make the scene without a doubt—my best friend, Bruce Lundy, who has seen his acting career really start to take off since his move from the San Francisco Bay Area to Eugene three years ago, is featured in Earth Day, and in a juicy role too-- as the virulently racist cop tracking the bloody footprints of the killer. I’ll be there at the 7:00 show, my most impartial film critic hat perched squarely on my round and balding crown, but also in support my best friend and his associates in what one hopes, however Earth Day itself turns out, is the beginning of a long and happy ride with the movie, and with many others to come.

(Advance tickets for the April 22 premiere of Earth Day are available by calling 541-337-8283 or by visiting Mr. Ooh La La’s MySpace page.)

Play the Earth Day teaser trailer... if you dare!!!

Friday, March 27, 2009


Every time I see My Dinner with Andre (1981), in addition to all the thoughts and ideas that it sparks, related or unrelated to the themes within the film itself, I find myself having the same experience. It starts with eager anticipation over the concept of the film, literally, a feature-length dinner conversation between a down-to-earth playwright named Wallace Shawn—played by Wallace Shawn—and a director named Andre Gregory- played by Andre Gregory—who accounts his many metaphysical and existential adventures over a desperate period in his life in which he attempts to redefine for himself the meaning of being. And within 20 minutes of Gregory’s enthusiastic hijacking of the conversation I begin to feel my mind retreating to the mental equivalent of that noncommittal frozen grin on Shawn’s face as he queries Gregory and becomes more and more resistant to the man’s rather elitist and confounding notions-- which include, but are by no means limited to, bizarre, ritualistic group theater experiences which have no structure other than the experiencing of the other people involved (and the strange things they do with, say, Teddy bears), or nebulous ideas about retreating into conceptual communes in order to fashion new languages through which to communicate honestly and directly with each other and to ultimately facilitate the salvation of humanity.

These are feats Gregory endorses with the fervor of a true seeker but which he apparently believes are impossible to achieve for a culture so deeply asleep as to be unaware how robotic and meaningless their existence has become. Upon each viewing my defenses toward Gregory (the character—I have no idea how closely this on-screen portrayal is meant to reveal the man himself) rise like a drawbridge over a moat right on schedule. And even though I know that I will eventually agree with his point of view regarding how difficult it is to actually interact with another person over an extended period of time, and how doing so means to unmoor yourself from the expected, the reliable, and to set off sailing into uncharted waters, the getting to that point is never any less frustrating and annoying for me. And that’s why it’s so satisfying when Shawn (the character—I have no idea how closely this on-screen portrayal is mean to reveal the man himself), about 80 minutes into the dinner, offers to honestly respond to the contentions Gregory has served up to this point. By the end of the film Shawn’s encounter with Andre over dinner will cause him to look inward, revisit memories and indulge in a taxi ride home during which he seems to at least be beginning to look at the familiar streets of New York, and perhaps the world, anew. (This sense of wonder manages to similarly cut through my own defenses against Gregory's point of view, which is why the movie remains a rich experience for me upon multiple viewings, despite my overall level of annoyance.) But all of Gregory’s initial, faintly condescending blather about discovering a series of connections between himself, three other men named Andre and Antoine du Saint-Exupery, the surrealist magazine Minotaure and being open to experience only by taking oneself out of one’s comfort zone and immersing oneself in a wild retreat in a Polish forest or getting buried alive on Long Island (“on Dick Avedon’s property out at Montauk”) eventually does cause Shawn to finally throw up his hands, metaphorically speaking, and the result is the movie’s most satisfying five minutes, a monologue that, despite where the movie ends up, encapsulates perfectly Shawn’s everyman reason in the face of Gregory’s privileged flights of fancy:


SHAWN: "I’m just trying to survive, you know? I'm just trying to earn a living. I’m just trying to pay my rent and my bills. I live my life. I enjoy staying home with Debby. I'm reading Charlton Heston's autobiography. And that's that. I mean, occasionally, maybe, Debby and I will step outside, we'll go to a party or something. And if I can occasionally get my little talent together and write a little play, well, then that's just that's just wonderful. And I mean, I enjoy reading about other little plays people have written and reading the reviews of those plays and what people said about them and what people said about what people said.

And I mean, I have a list of errands and responsibilities that I keep in a notebook. I enjoy going through the notebook, carrying out the responsibilities, doing the errands and crossing them off the list. And I just don't know how anybody could enjoy anything more than I enjoy reading Charlton Heston's autobiography or, you know, getting up in the morning and having the cup of cold coffee that's been waiting for me all night, still there for me to drink in the morning, and no cockroach or fly has died in it overnight. I mean, I'm just so thrilled when I get up and I see that coffee there, just the way I wanted it. I mean, I just can't imagine how anybody could enjoy something else any more than that. I mean, obviously, if there a dead cockroach in it, well, then I just have a feeling of disappointment, and I'm sad. But I mean, I just don't think I feel the need for anything more than all this.

Whereas, you know, you seem to be saying that, uh, it's inconceivable that anybody could be having a meaningful life today and, you know, everyone is totally destroyed and we all need to live in these outposts. But I mean, you know, I just can't believe-- even for you-- I mean, isn't it pleasant just to get up in the morning and there's Chiquita, there are the children, and The Times is delivered, you can read it? I mean, maybe you'll direct a play, maybe you won't direct a play. But forget about the play that you may or may not direct. Why is it necessary to-- Why not lean back and just enjoy these details? I mean, and there'd be a delicious cup of coffee and a piece of coffeecake. I mean, why is it necessary to have more than this or to even think about having more than this?

I mean, I don't really know what you're talking about. I mean, I know what you're talking about, but I don't really know what you're talking about. And I mean, you know, even if I were to totally agree with you, you know, and even if I were to accept the idea that there's just no way for anybody to have personal happiness now, well, you know, I still couldn't accept the idea that the way to make life wonderful would be to just totally, you know, reject Western civilization and fall back into some kind of belief in some kind of weird something-- I mean, I don't even know how to begin talking about this, but you know, in the Middle Ages, before the arrival of scientific thinking as we know it today, well, people could believe anything. Anything could be true-- the statue of the Virgin Mary could speak or bleed or whatever it was. But the wonderful thing that happened was that then in the development of science in the Western world certain things did come slowly to be known and understood. I mean, you know, obviously, all ideas in science are constantly being revised. I mean, that's the whole point. But we do at least know that the universe has some shape and order and that, you know, trees do not turn into people or goddesses, and there are very good reasons why they don't, and you can't just believe absolutely anything. Whereas, the things that you're talking about-- I mean, you found the handprint in the book, and there were three Andres and one Antoine de Saint-Exupery. And to me that is a coincidence. And then, you know, the people who put that book together, well, they had their own reasons for putting it together. But to you it was significant, as if that book had been written 40 years ago so that you would see it, as if it was planned for you, in a way.

I mean, all right, let's say, if I get a fortune cookie in a Chinese restaurant, of course, even I have a tendency-- Of course, I would hardly throw it out. I mean, I read it. I read it, and, uh, I just instinctively sort of-- You know, if it says something like, “A conversation with a dark-haired man will be very important for you,” well, I just instinctively think, you know, “Who do I know who has dark hair? Did we have a conversation? What did we talk about?” In other words, there's something in me that makes me read it, and I instinctively interpret it as if it were an omen of the future. But in my conscious opinion, which is so fundamental to my whole view of life-- I mean, I would just have to change totally to not have this opinion-- In my conscious opinion, this is simply something that was written in the cookie factory several years ago and in no way refers to me. I mean, you know, the fact that I got it-- I mean, the man who wrote it did not know anything about me. I mean, he could not have known anything about me. There's no way that this cookie could actually have to do with me. And the fact that I've gotten it is just basically a joke. And I mean, if I were gonna go on a trip on an airplane and I got a fortune cookie that said “Don't go,” I mean, of course, I admit I might feel a bit nervous for about one second. But in fact, I would go because, I mean, that trip is gonna be successful or unsuccessful based on the state of the airplane and the state of the pilot. And the cookie is in no position to know about that.”


(The Criterion DVD of My Dinner with Andre is scheduled for a June 23, 2009 release. The published screenplay has been available in paperback form since 1994.)


Monday, March 23, 2009


The Internet is a wonderful thing, don’t get me wrong, but there is something about me, rooted, undoubtedly, in my predilection for cave drawings, that resists the idea of going all electronic. It isn’t necessarily that electronic media are more impermanent than print—the last I checked, books and paper can burn or otherwise be destroyed with about as much effort as it takes to hit a “delete” key. Much has been made of the imminent death of print newspapers and the emergence of e-book technology like the Amazon Kindle, in which entire books can be downloaded onto a keen little device that turns the page for you and can even read the book to you, and there is an undeniable appeal to this kind of cultural mutation. I don’t think that newspapers will ever go away, but I do think that newspapers will continue to evolve (devolve?) to become more like their online incarnations. And one thing that does get deemphasized in that process, alongside the increasing shallowness of the format and the coverage, is the reader’s physical connection and interaction with the printed material. It comes in that physical engagement—the immersion into a forest of bookcases looking for a particular volume, the feel of the paper or the newsprint as it folds and turns in the hand, the idea of words as tangible creations on a tangible medium, the portability of that medium—curling up in the breakfast nook on a Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and your Kindle just doesn’t seem the same-- isn’t the same—as cracking open the Sunday paper and laying it across the table. And what Googling an author or subject offers in terms of immediate convenience and ease of facilitating research is unrelated to the satisfaction one can feel at searching through that forest of bookcases and gathering the information the way a hunter might have gathered food for his family’s dinner.

For film lovers, one of the great developments of the Internet age has undoubtedly been the emergence of the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, as a primary research tool. I began my familiarity with IMDb back around 1995, some five years or so after the site’s initial launch. I was working on creating the closed-captioning for the sprawling documentary A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese through American Movies. We were not provided any research or script materials for this project, as was typical when working on a feature film, because the film, as we who were editing the captioning would soon discover, was composed primarily of clips from seemingly hundreds of films from Hollywood’s classic era. And when we got into the meat of the movie it became clear that we would need some way to access verified, complete and correct listing for the names of characters for each movie excerpted, as each clip would be referring to names and places within the world of the movie from which it was taken. Neither I nor anyone I worked with back then was in any way Internet savvy, and in fact only one computer in the entire office had access to it. But somehow we stumbled across the IMDb, and even in its relatively infancy it proved to be a godsend for our purposes. In addition to all the other mighty uses to which it has been put (as well as some relatively trivial ones), the existence of IMDb has virtually eliminated the occurrence of that maddening syndrome in which you are watching a movie and say to yourself, “I know I’ve seen that actor somewhere before, but I can’t think of where and it’s driving me crazy.” Now, if you can’t, as I couldn’t this past weekend, think of where I’d seen child actress AnnaSophia Robb before encountering her in Race to Witch Mountain, all you have to do is click on her name on IMDb for a full list of her credits and start scouring. (The answer to my particular query? Tim Burton’s version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where Ms. Robb was a juicily effective Violet Beauregarde, the girl destined to become a blueberry.)

Film fans younger than me, some of whom even read the words Your Humble Old Fart puts together on this site, would likely be hard-pressed to imagine a world without a convenient research juggernaut like IMDb. It has become the go-to spot in the virtual world (though not always perfectly infallible) for information on just about any movie ever released, dare I say, in the history of movies. But listen, you young whippersnappers—there was a day, before IMDb debuted in 1990, when film writers, researchers and fans had to actually consult a library, either the public variety or one in their own home, to dig up the kind of information that is available instantly at the push of the correct sequence of keys on a computer nowadays. Some of my fondest memories, before all the various light-speed developments of this new information age, come from thinking about digging through library shelves and claustrophobic used bookstores looking for old, venerated or as-yet-unfamiliar texts on film criticism and history, books that would be used to add yet another brick to the construct of my sensibility as a student of the history and currency of the movies. As much as I loved searching those library shelves, the used bookstores were even more exciting, because if I found something grand or unusual or essential there, I could, if I had the cold, hard cash, take it home and make it a part of my library.

Back in the early ‘70s, when I was just a pup of 12 or 13, I stumbled upon an ad in a movie magazine (probably something like Modern Screen or Photoplay) for a book club called the Movie & Entertainment Book Club. It was set up exactly like other book clubs of the time, like the Book of the Month Club, only this one would feature a monthly selection in the field of film or TV that would be sent to you automatically if you didn’t return the club card by a certain date. Of course you had to order a set of three or four books as your initial purchase (at a reduced rate, something like “Four books for $4.00!”). This was not an offer I could possibly resist, and with some cajoling at my mother’s heel she eventually assented to my joining the ranks. The first books I got were William K. Everson’s The Bad Guys: A Pictorial History of the Movie Villain, Richard Bojarski and Kenneth Beale’s The Films of Boris Karloff, John Baxter’s Sixty Years of Hollywood and a little paperback volume entitled Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies, the very first incarnation, published in 1969, of what would eventually become one of the most popular movie guides ever published. The Maltin volume I had bought was already at the time three or four years out of date (the next edition wouldn’t be published until 1974), but I gobbled it up anyway, using it as a touchstone to become familiar with names and titles of movies that heretofore had existed for me only on the periphery—if they weren’t mentioned somehow in Famous Monsters of Filmland (and, incredibly, a lot of them were, even if they weren’t specifically horror or science fiction films), then I probably didn’t know much about them. So Leonard Maltin and his staff ended up being, along with Forrest J. Ackerman, some of my very first film teachers, a status probably held for thousands upon thousands of like-minded filmheads who grew up in the early ‘70s. These four books were the very beginning of my own library, the first four books about the movies that I ever owned.

But the Movie & Entertainment Book Club, which was instrumental in getting that library started, had an even more important ace up its sleeve in terms of the development of my cinematic interest. His name was John Willis. A naval officer in World War II who served in the South Pacific, Willis was also a veteran of the New York Public School System, where he taught English for 20 years, as well as a member of the Actors Equity Association for over 50 years. (He currently, at age 92, resides in New York City.) These were all admirable achievements, to be sure, but for me, a certifiable movie nut growing up in an isolated desert town in Southeastern Oregon, at least 100 miles away in any given direction from any relatively current movie culture, John Willis was a beacon, a compiler of evidence testifying to the vitality of the world of film that stretched far beyond the printed monthly show calendar for my local movie theater. I became aware of Mr. Willis about two or three months into my membership with the M&EBC when there came an offer for the current month’s selection, a volume entitled Screen World, subtitled “John Willis’ 1974 Film Annual,” which just happened to be the 25th anniversary edition of the book. I pored over the information on the order card, which told me just enough to get me curious—the book was a collection of information about all the movies released in the year previous to its publication date, meaning that the 1974 edition was all about the year 1973. It promised information on every domestic and domestically released film to see screen time in 1973, as well as over a thousand photographs, cast and crew lists and other statistics for each film, the year’s obituaries, Academy Award winners and other features. It all sounded far too tantalizing to resist and so, whether I intentionally opted not to return the card or it somehow got “lost” (given the size of my allowance back then, it was probably the second scenario), John Willis’ 1974 edition of Screen World was soon on its way to my mailbox.

When it finally arrived in my mailbox, Screen World did not disappoint. Beginning with a two-page pictorial dedication to Joan Crawford, the book introduced its main section on 1973 releases with another two-page photo spread, ranking the top box office stars of 1973. Not surprising, Clint Eastwood held the number-one spot, fresh off of Dirty Harry, Play Misty for Me and his 1973 release High Plains Drifter. The rest of the top 10 in descending order: Ryan O’Neal, Steve McQueen, Burt Reynolds, Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, Paul Newman, Charles Bronson, John Wayne and Marlon Brando. But the list doesn’t stop there. It goes all the way to 25, with some pretty fascinating stops along the way. The book never delineates the criterion for these box office rankings (most likely stats culled from Variety or The Hollywood Reporter), but it is amusing/amazing to think that we once lived in a world where the number 12-ranked box office movie star was Liza Minnelli. Apparently, according to this document, people also used to pay to see great character actors in lead roles (Walter Matthau, #15, George C. Scott, #16). What in all likelihood should have been a grave marker—Roger Moore ranked at #13—turned out to be a flashpoint of apparently infinite regeneration. And as if there were needed any further proof that 2009 is not 1973, when I cracked open the book again recently it was revealed that the 19th most popular movie star of the year was Dyan Cannon. The rankings go all the way to number 25 (Dustin Hoffman, who once might reasonably have expected to have been sitting a bit higher), but on the page there is room for three more photographs, so photographs of three more actors there are. These photos, however, are curiously unranked. We can only assume, then, that rather than just occupying space as filler, these actors continued the ranking down the number line. Therefore, the 28th most popular star of the year must have been Joanne Woodward, number-27 status was held by Sidney Poitier, and sitting in the number-26 spot… Eileen Heckart, Oscar winner for best supporting actress in 1972 for Butterflies are Free who, according to Screen World, did not appear in a movie in 1973. (Butterflies opened in July 1972, so it must have had incredible legs!)

The book then moves on to the meat of the matter, the list of all the domestic and foreign films to have played in the United States during the calendar year under examination. The first movie listed, Save the Tiger, gets a two-page spread, given over to many stills of Jack Lemmon in distress, a couple of Jack Gilford looking somewhat morose, and even one of Lemmon encountering Lara Parker and Janina Fischer in their provocative undies, topped off by a complete cast list, credits for the most of the top-end creative artists behind the camera, and even some technical specs (100 minutes; in Movielab color). Also listed is the month of the movie’s release (January), which establishes the chronological template for the rest of the book. (I always wished that the book would have been date specific here, but that’s a fairly minor complaint, given the bounty of information available.) Screen World did not offer opinions or any other rankings about the films themselves—that was Maltin territory. For Willis, it was a matter of compiling the evidence of the film’s existence in the marketplace and the facts regarding who made it. For me, discovering the book in 1974, it was about using that information, and those photographs, to vicariously immerse myself in the ambience of the movie when the movie itself was often not available to me, either because I was too young to see it or, more likely, because it would never make it to my hometown movie screen. Therefore, I would spend hours staring at stills, cast and technical credits for movies like Shamus, Payday, Godspell, The Long Goodbye, Slither, Book of Numbers, Scarecrow, The Mack, Super Fly T.N.T. and countless others, familiarizing myself with the names of the actors in these films, matching their names to the faces of the ones who appeared in the stills, and soaking myself in movies to which I would otherwise never come closer than the Sunday movie page in the big-city Portland Oregonian.

I was recently thumbing through this 1974 edition over lunch, allowing myself the kind of luxury that I once took for granted to pore over the minutiae of some of the first few pages of entries. The books, at least the editions from the ‘70s and ‘80s that I became most familiar with, were not particularly well put together. There were the occasional typos, and the photos themselves, laid out rather perfunctorily, were not often clearly or otherwise well-reproduced. But I didn’t care then, and I don’t care much now. It didn’t take long to become lost in that very specific kind of Screen World-inspired daze of information gathering. Not that any of this really matters, but for example, I’d forgotten that The Train Robbers was directed by Burt Kennedy, that it was the last film photographed by William Clothier, who shot Seven Men from Now, Merrill’s Marauders and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and that Ricardo Montalban had a small role in it. But there it is in the first few pages of the 1974 edition. And just look at the cast for Disney’s The World’s Greatest Athlete-- in addition to the leads John Amos, Jan-Michael Vincent and Tim Conway, look for cameos from Don Pedro Colley, Liam Dunn, Vito Scotti, Howard Cosell, Ivor Francis, Leon Askin, Frank Gifford, Jim McKay, Bud Palmer, Clarence Muse and a seeming ton of others. Turn the page and there’s a reminder that Phil Karlson directed Walking Tall. Look, there a picture of Ahna Capri sitting in car with Rip Torn in Daryl Duke’s Payday. (In 1974 I was far more fascinated by Capri than the oddly named R.T., because she was the villainess in Enter the Dragon.) Turn the page—Oh, my God, that’s Victor Garber in Godspell. And a closer examination of the stills offers a reminder that Lynne Thigpen, the radio voice (and the lips, oh, the lips) that provided A.M.-frequency guidance to the bangers in pursuit of The Warriors, was also a member of that movie’s cast. The stills made strange movies like Slither and Book of Numbers look more fascinating (and speaking of Book of Numbers, there’s a pre-Miami Vice Philip Thomas, sans the Michael, in a lead role). And sometimes those still revealed tantalizing sexual or violent elements that ever spurred on the imagination of an eager 14-year-old boy—there’s surprisingly graphic evidence of agony in one or two stills featured for Scarecrow, and pictures that highlighted the sexual elements (however meager and twisted they might have actually been) of movies as disparate as Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Electra Glide in Blue, The Mack and Heavy Traffic that made me definitely want to see more.

But for me perhaps the real glory of John Willis’ Screen World, this volume and every subsequent one I eventually added to my shelves, was the fact that the listings were not limited to the high-profile American pictures. About 100 pages in, the book would always turn to a section devoted to stills and technical/cast credits for scores of low-budget exploitation films and other under-the-radar mainstream releases. In the 1974 edition alone I learned of the existence of movies like Sugar Cookies, an X-rated effort from producer Lloyd Kaufman (the accompanying picture shows Mary Woronov hovering lecherously over a nude Audrey Hepburn look-alike); Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s The Hitchhikers starring Misty Rowe; Lolly Madonna XXX-- despite its title, a very violent (and PG-rated) story of a gory feud between moonshiners starring Rod Steiger, Season Hubley and Jeff Bridges, directed by Richard Sarafian; The Baby, a psychological freak show directed by Ted Post and starring Anjanette Comer and Ruth Roman; and literally hundreds of others. Many of these titles, helped, of course, by the lurid and somewhat arbitrary pictures Willis used to choose to include along with the titles, helped me to become obsessed with finding out more about them, tracking them down, and of course learning about the people who made movies like these, filmmakers and actors unlikely to ever get a think piece devoted to them in the Sunday papers and movie magazines I grew up reading. Similarly, the giant sections devoted to films from other countries released in the United States during the year under examination was always an exotic treat, and seeing full-page spreads devoted to movies like Playtime, Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears, Day for Night, Late Autumn, Triple Echo, Don’t Look Now, Innocent Bystanders, Twitch of the Death Nerve, Trinity is Still My Name!, Ludwig and Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me, to name only a very few, spurred me on to familiarity with many names from multiples genres of international cinema. The examination of these pages also helped to erode the defenses of a country boy who needed to know that there was more to the movies than just what Hollywood had to offer and who was scared to death of what some of those movies might hold in store.

Finally, in addition to the obligatory sections on Academy Award winners from the previous year and the “Promising Newcomers of 19—“ section (see image below), my friend Bruce and I used to particularly love the section devoted to the year’s obituaries, which featured short write-ups on the luminaries who had recently passed away, and also the “Biographical Data” section which, assuming the information supplied to Willis by the stars’ publicists was correct, provided endless fodder for a little parlor game we often played during stretches of boredom in between studying for college classes in which we would try to guess the age of random celebrities pulled out of Willis’ book. Pride of accuracy was the only prize the winner ever got, and I don’t recall if it was ever documented just who did better in these contests on a regular basis. All I know is that we were both often able to zero in on the ages of the likes of Polly Bergen, Eddie Bracken, Teri Garr and Cliff Gorman, usually within a year or so on one side or the other, but sometimes hitting the target with the kind of laser precision that I seemed never to be able to duplicate when it came to things that really mattered, like school work or social graces.

Esther Anderson starred with Sidney Poitier in the movie he directed in 1973 entitled A Warm December.

It ought to be ridiculously clear by now that I loved the John Willis Screen World series perhaps beyond reason, certainly more than any other books I had which managed not to offer any real point of view on its subject. Theirs was a true screen world in which to get lost, and I frequently did. After that initial purchase from the M&EBC, for as long as I kept my club membership I made sure to order each annual edition of the book, editions which were always less expensive than they would have been had I purchased them off the shelf (and it occurs to me that during the time I was purchasing them I never entered a bookstore in which a new copy was available for purchase on a shelf). I kept up this affair with Willis’ books for about 12 years or so. By 1986 either my interest in the book club, or the book club itself (I can’t remember which) dried up altogether, and with movies like Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment, Gandhi and Out of Africa making their cultural mark on the Oscars, and crap like Footloose, Flashdance, The Secret of My Success and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off clogging up multiplexes, the ‘80s weren’t pitching much woo my way and I began to lose interest in keep track of them in that specifically Screen World amount of detail. The last edition I bought was the 1986 edition. From then on I had enough tools of observation in my bag to navigate without the assistance of Mr. Willis, and though my Screen World volumes remained dear to me, books I would revisit frequently, I had long since learned the value of reading the actual criticism found in books by Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris and within the pages of The Village Voice and magazines like Take One, Films in Review and, of course, Film Comment. I still loved the books, but Screen World no longer seemed as urgent to me, probably because the general trend of films during this decade did not itself seem urgent. I needed a critical voice to help me develop my own arguments and steer me through the dross in search of gems that could offset the depression generated by the bulk of what was available to me at the time. Screen World’s overview had to, necessarily, yield to points of view.

When I moved to Los Angeles I spent a lot of time luxuriating in all the movies, both old and new, that were suddenly available to me, and a lot of time coming to understand that, unlike in Oregon, where the amount of screens that limited what I could see assured that it was possible to see just about everything that came through town, my life as a moviegoer in Los Angeles was going to be defined, to some degree, anyway, by learning to be a bit more discriminating. Suddenly it was not possible to see everything that came through town, and as I became more and more well-adjusted this idea didn’t seem to be so bedrock horrifying to me as it once was. A key factor in my journey toward that adjustment was my meeting the woman who would eventually become my wife. The meeting was arranged—I was too socially inept or otherwise frightened to have ever navigated the seas of singledom with any success. But it was done with great sensitivity to the fact that this woman and I would never see eye to eye on everything, but in the realm of artistic appreciation—music, theater, literature, film—we had a lot of common ground. The very first movie we saw together was the opening night of Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and though I liked it much more than she did there was a mutual appreciation of Gilliam’s sensibility and his effort, if not the quality of the final product, over which we could bond.

I remember some uncomfortable moments—we got into a pretty big scraper over Nashville on an early date, she being of the mind that Altman was a talented but overly manipulative presence as a director. She hated his use of the zoom to punctuate thoughts or direct attention through a crowd, and she found him often fatally condescending. That night we sat in a Denny’s on the I-5 on our way home from a Warren Zevon concert arguing over my favorite movie of all time, and I wondered if this relationship was fated to ever go anywhere. (Later, the argument continued even more vehemently when we saw Vincent and Theo together.) But more often than not we shared a sense of humor and general agreement on what film could be, and what it should be, that drew us ever closer. (Early on, my greatest miscalculations in this arena were misreading of just how far that connection would stretch. With some enthusiasm I lent her my Betamax copy of Brewster McCloud—Altman again!— to watch while I went out of town on a trip, only to learn that she watched it with a friend and mocked it until they could take it no more and finally shut it off. And then there was the time Bruce and I invited her and her best friend over for dinner and a screening of Basket Case, which we assured them was a ton of fun… The connection apparently did not extend to Times Square grindhouse fare.)

My future wife and I began spending a lot of time together around 1989, and my campaign to win her over took two more years, until one night in April 1991, on a beach near Malibu—well, it seems there is a limit even to my penchant for immodesty. Just know that we spent every weekend, and many evenings during the week, getting to know each other. Dating, in other words. And back in the late ‘80s when I was a swinging—or rather, dangling—bachelor, I had even less money than I do now, and certainly not enough to properly devote to affairs of the heart and other luxuries in the pursuit of love. Yet here I was, heading out every Saturday afternoon, whispering a silent prayer at the ATM that money would actually come out when I inserted my card and pressed the right sequence of buttons so I could cook dinner for her, or take her out for dinner and a movie, or a show, or whatever. Sometimes, when I knew damn well that the ATM wouldn’t work, it meant writing bad checks on a dwindling bank account in order to cover the grocery bill at Ralph’s for the dinner I would cook in my crumbly little one-bedroom apartment, a personal touch I hoped would somehow chip away just a little more of her resistance to my charms.

During my most desperate times I was not above selling some of my CDs and even books to local used record and bookstores in order to come up with dating cash. And one Saturday, sometime in 1990, if I’m not mistaken, engulfed by bills and not making nearly enough at my graveyard shift job to exist at a level that didn’t in one way or another embarrass me in front of friends and family, Patty and I had made plans to spend some time together. I knew that I didn’t have the means to take her out the way I knew I wanted to, and I wanted to mask from her the fact that I was as poor as house dust for as long as I could—God forbid she have all the facts and use them to decide one way or the other (probably the other) as to the wisdom of spending much more time with me. I’d already sold just about every CD, essential and nonessential, that I had, as well as every book that held any value for me or anyone else, so my meager resources were extra meager. There was, however, something on my shelf that might fetch enough pretty pennies to get us through the weekend, and I was committed enough to pursuing the relationship that, after only a minor session of hand-wringing, hemming and/or hawing, I swallowed hard and decided that, in order to get the money to take Patty out on the town that night, I would gather up my 12 years of John Willis’ Screen World volumes off the shelf and see if anyone in town was willing to pay me for them.

I found a buyer with little trouble. What trouble there was lay in the pittance he was willing to offer me in return for them. But I was desperate, and that afternoon, with our prearranged date time fast approaching, I accepted something like $5.00 a book for the entire 12-book set. Let’s see now… $5.00 times 12 books… that’s $60. And life in Los Angeles in 1990 was still cheap enough that an enterprising young man could take his date out (with, perhaps, just a little nudge from American Express) for what might pass for a nice evening out armed with $60 in cold cash. As I walked home I could hardly believe that I’d parted with those books, and for so little. But the fact that I did served to me as evidence that I really did love and care for this woman, and so I tried not to think of it again and certainly never held it against her, even on my crankiest, most self-righteously angry day. I never said a word to her about it until a couple of years after we were married in 1993. I don’t remember how the subject even came up, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in an argument (she can clarify this if necessary). I told her about the sale of the books and she was mortified. She knew, from the time she spent getting familiar with my bookshelves when we first starting going out, that the Willis books were very important to me, and as I suspected she would she immediately began a campaign of guilt directed toward herself over the fact that I’d used them to finance one of our dates. I appreciated that she took the gesture so seriously, but I honestly never intended that she find out for this very reason—I was living just fine without the books, and though I never conceptualized it as such, I felt then, as I feel now, that I came off with the better end of the trade-off.

Manager Noriyaki Nakano, left, and owner Jerome Joseph in Brand Books. (Photo by Ricardo DeAratanha)

Even so, she spent the next few years paying special attention to the film section whenever we’d go into used bookstores in the hopes of finding a few volumes of Screen World that she could put back into my library. She had little luck, until sometime in the late ‘90s when we found several volumes from the early to mid ‘70s in a nice shop called Brand Books on Brand Boulevard in Glendale. The price was steep-- $17 each—so I had to limit myself to two. It was only when I got them home that I realized the books had been severely mutilated or otherwise bowdlerized for stills. With great disappointment I took them back to the store and showed them to the owner, Jerome Joseph, who was suitably horrified. Of the volumes still on his shelf there were two—1976 and the original year my Willis obsession began, 1974—that had somehow escaped the scissors. I grabbed them as replacements, and for the last 10 or 11 years they have stood as the only representation of my once–proud collection. In the ensuing years every time I’ve toyed with the idea of adding to my collection I’ve run up against the reality that, in the age of eBay, even just “very good” quality editions of these books begin selling at around $25 each. I recently ran into a copy on the 1974 edition online that was going for $75. Without those book club member discounts afforded me by the Movie & Entertainment Book Club, the Screen World market had become officially too rich for my wallet.

Jump cut to the year 2009. The Saturday before last, just as we do a couple of Saturdays every month, the missus and I took our daughters to visit the Glendale Public Library to pay overdue fines (it happens) and check out new goodies. While she herds them up to the children’s library and gets the selection process underway, I usually take the books to be returned back to the counter and settle up whatever late fees we might have accrued. After finishing this task on this particular Saturday I decided to check out the Book Nook, the library’s own used bookstore, composed largely of donations or books the library has decided, for one reason or another, to excise from their inventory. I can usually find some dog-eared volume on Watergate, or perhaps a celebrity biography on which it might be worth taking a 50-cent chance, but usually the shelf rotation is pretty stagnant, so I don’t go in all that often. But this day I felt like poking around. Unfortunately, I was seeing many of the same books I usually see-- an awful lot of John Patterson was hogging the fiction shelves, and all the Watergate and Nixon stuff was the leavings I’d already pawed through several times already. Even the film section was fairly paltry, though it had been moved to the opposite side of the small room space the Book Nook called its own. As I rounded the corner into the third row of shelves where the film books were located I let out an audible “Oh, my God!” which was audible and emphatic enough that the volunteer the Nook’s cash box said, “Is everything all right?”

“Oh, yes,” I think I said—I don’t actually remember if I replied. I was too busy staring at the cart at the end of the row, parked up against the window and thrown into dim silhouette against the sun streaming in from outside. On the bottom rack of the cart was an entire set of Encyclopedia Brittannica, quite the treasure indeed. But this was not what had inspired my bark of joy. On the top shelf of the cart, stretching from end to end, was a row of at least 25, maybe 30 volumes of John Willis’ Screen World. There were a couple of copies from random years in the ‘50s, one or two from the ‘60s, and starting from 1970 the entire run of Screen World up through 2003 was sitting right in front of me. My defenses spoke first—“Christ, they probably want $10 apiece for these things,” I thought to myself, not remembering that I was in a room where the highest price for an item was usually around a buck and a half. Then I noticed the little yellow bookmark sticking out of the top of each and every book which said, “For sale $3.00 each.” My heart began to race. The shoe is going to drop here at some point. What was it going to be? These volumes, each one, were library copies, so they sported conspicuous Dewey decimal system markings on the spine. But who cared? They also each had nice transparent dust jackets, standard operating equipment for most libraries, and they looked to be in at least “very good” condition.

But no sooner than my heart had set a nice racing acceleration speed, it had to quickly gear down somewhat. I opened one of the early volumes—1953, I believe—and I was horrified to discover that, like the volumes I encountered at that Glendale used bookstore a decade earlier, this book had been butchered, ransacked for stills, and left for dead. There was copious accounting on the inside cover, in the handwriting of some studious, hard-working librarian, as to the exact pages that were either missing or mangled, as well as a note to someone with instructions on backtracking the identity of the last person who checked the book out, presumably now the possessor of a whole bunch of neat black-and-white stills unceremoniously hacked out of the book and, what—Scotch-taped to his or her refrigerator? Shit. Here we go again. I put down 1953 and picked up 1967-- the same dirty deal. No, no, no, no. 1971—destroyed. 1972—mutilated. Then suddenly, with expectations thoroughly trampled, here was 1974, the year of my originating obsession, in my hands again, and this volume was in perfect condition. I began slowly opening and examining each of the remaining volumes, and each one—1969, 1970, and everything from 1973 to 2003—in perfect f-ing condition. I actually had to take a breath to keep from bursting into tears right there in front of the library volunteer, who was still concerned that something might be wrong. She renewed her fear when, after about 15 more minutes of examination and weighing which books I would most want to walk out of there with, I rounded the corner to her desk with nine books stacked in my arms. I figured that my wife wouldn’t mind if, out of those 30 or so books sitting on that cart, I judiciously chose nine of them to take home without first running it past her. (I wear the pants, she keeps the books, you see…) So I laid down my $27 in exact change (which the library volunteer greatly appreciated) and headed upstairs with my bounty. I couldn’t wait to show off my discovery to my wife, in the hopes that in seeing the books after all this time she might feel a degree or two less bad about the decision I had made so many years ago.

If anything, the grin on her face was bigger than mine when I revealed my treasure. I told her that I’d forced myself to choose, that I could have spent another 60 bucks or so to pick up the entire rack, but even at that ridiculously low price $100, for a family budget like ours, adds up to a pretty big notch in the bark. And of course, she didn’t yell at me for spending the $27. Instead, she insisted that we go back downstairs and buy the remaining volumes! Seems the mantle of guilt she’d assumed over my selling the books was still weighing pretty strongly with her, and this chance to drive a stake through its heart was more than she thought either one of us should resist. So we gathered up our daughters' book picks and when story time was finished we headed back down to the first floor to relieve the Book Nook of the rest of the bounty that seemed to be of so little value, suddenly, to anyone but me and my wife.

Well, I’ll be damned if, in the ensuing 20 minutes between when I left and when I came back, that library volunteer hadn’t shut the Book Nook’s doors for the day, leaving a little sign in the window bearing the promise of return “sometime tomorrow.” I wasn’t worried about it—I was still glowing over the initial find—but my wife was knotted up about this near miss and insisted that we come back the next day and clean out the remaining Willises before someone else who shared the same cultural mutation as I came in a snapped them up in a frenzy. The library opened the next day at 12:00 noon, and I’m sure it was probably around 12:04 that she and I burst back into the Book Nook and headed straight for that portable rack at the far end of the third row of bookshelves. The books that I had yesterday left for someone else were still there. I showed my wife the notes on the various mutilations in the unfortunate books, and we pored over each remaining volume, assuring ourselves that each one was complete and truncated not by so much as a page. And after we were satisfied, I gathered 24 more volumes of Screen World in my arms and the two of us walked out of the library triumphant. How wonderful to be reunited with these books, which are, in the age of IMDb, largely superfluous and cumbersome and clunky and relatively incomplete. And how wonderful that my wife, who had taken so personally my decision to use my original collection to fund one night in a series of wonderful nights that we used to get to know each other and to eventually fall in love, could be part of that reunion. My original collection of John Willis’ Screen World dated from the 1974 volume up through the 1986 edition. I now have two copies of the 1974 and 1976 editions, and the years covered go from 1969 and 1970 (missing 1971 and 1972) to 1974, up through 1978 (missing 1979), and then from 1980 all the way to 2003, now easily twice and closer to three times what it was at its most complete. I will keep my eye out for those missing editions, but to my mind I need worry or obsess no further—this is the collection I will have to pass on to my daughters when the day comes, surely then only as quaint and near-useless antiquities, tokens of a time when books were the primary sources transmitters of knowledge and minutiae and ineffable wonder. But maybe I’ll get lucky and they’ll see them also as a connection to the movies that made me fall deeply in love with the movies, and maybe they’ll have some real connection of their own to those movies, or the movies in general, that will render the books as special and meaningful to them. If nothing else, they will know the story of my history with them, and the small part the books played in bringing their mother and I together. Perhaps my daughters will treasure them for no other reason than that, and that will be good enough.

Sting certainly got a lot of mileage out of the idea, and made enough money off of it, but I think it was one of the happening young nuns (think Helen Reddy in Airport 1975) in my catechism classes back in the ‘70s who originated the notion (at least to me) that if you love somebody you must let them go their own way, and if the love be true then you would one day again be united. Well, I know of a lot of young ladies in my past that I let go (my editor insists that I be truthful and admit that I was always the one being “let go”), and I guess it wasn’t really love because I’ve seen hide nor hair of any of them since. But how nice to think that some wrinkle in that tidy little Catholic bromide seems to have worked itself out in my real world, after 20 years no less. I loved those books, but I loved a woman more and was able to grin and bear it long enough to take those books and trade them for the hope of a future with her. Fifteen years of marriage, a tragic loss (and the ensuing haunted life), and then two lovely young testaments to our love later, and my wife is there with me to help restock my book shelves. She took a gander through one of the volumes last week and had to admit that she didn’t quite get the fuss over what was inside them, and that’s okay. This may very well be a case of “you just had to be there” watching for the specific way that the books shaped my feelings and hunger for the movies to have any real understanding of why I was so excited when I entered that library bookstore a couple of weeks ago. But she does understand that they hold a lot of meaning for me, and for us, and I think it was that, rather than guilt, which drove her to insist on returning to grab the entire set. For this understanding I will always love her far more than I have ever or will ever love John Willis’ Screen World, and now the first thing I will think of when I see one of the books on my bookshelf, rather than who directed The Train Robbers or the true age of Polly Bergen, is how much she loves me, and how much I love her.


Sunday, March 22, 2009


It may just be me, but I really feel like a good laugh is the only welcome thing right now. If you do too, then somewhere below there ought to be at least a hearty chuckle laying in wait. This collection just seemed better, more appropriate than writing. Whatever your sadness might be (and we've all got 'em), let's cheer up, if only for a few minutes, eh?

It's time to dust off the old Gahan Wilson volumes again.

Yeah, I liked the funny ones a lot better too.

Hello, Mommy. Hello, dummy...

Recognize the last bit?

The last stand of Bill Hicks.

How likely is it that Obama memorized this skit years ago?

Oh, Lilly, Lilly, Lilly-- Legs--

See? I feel much better now!


Wednesday, March 18, 2009


This is overwhelmingly sad news.

"This memory brightens o'er the past; as when the sun, concealed; behind some cloud that near us hangs; shines on a distant field."
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Sunday, March 15, 2009


The surprise I alluded to at the end of the previous post has been revealed. Nick Dawson, editor at the Films in Focus website, recently invited me to answer a few questions for the site’s recurring ”Behind the Blogs” series. Considering the company I’d be keeping—the series has previously cast a light on some of my favorite people in the blogosphere, including Campaspe, Michael Guillen, Tom Sutpen, Kimberly Lindbergs, Matt Zoller Seitz, Andrew Grant, David Hudson and Karina Longworth-- and the fact that I have long enjoyed the series myself, it was quite an honor to be asked, one which I immediately accepted. And now the results are up and running and available for bathroom reading or, if you have a printer, birdcage lining and/or laser-quality fish wrap. In the interview I reveal the story of this blog’s origin, some of my favorite posts, some thoughts about where blogging stands on the spectrum of serious journalism, and even whose blogs I can’t get through a day without at least peeking at (where a peek usually results in two or three hours of time spent reading and clicking with happy abandon). Check out Yours Truly, humble interview subject in the latest edition of Films in Focus’s ”Behind the Blogs.”


If you’re a regular at the New Beverly Cinema or just an occasional visitor, you’ve no doubt had your ticket taken, your popcorn popped or your mood brightened by the lovely and talented Julia Marchese. Julia is a writer and blogger for Chud.com as well as the New Beverly’s special events coordinator and an aspiring actress—one of her dreams is to become a bona fide screen scream queen. This week—March 18, to be specific—Julia turns 30 and the New Beverly Cinema is celebrating by screening two of Julia’s favorites, The In Crowd (1988) and The Blob (1988), both featuring Donovan Leitch, who will be at the New Beverly on March 18 to help Julia blow out her birthday candles in person. Along with Michael Torgan, Phil Blankenship, Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin, Julia is a New Beverly regular whose charming, welcoming presence makes the theater a unique and vital center of the Los Angeles revival cinema scene. I hope I can stop by and wish her happy birthday in person this week, maybe even on March 18, and I hope you can too. But if I can’t, may you have the bestest of birthdays, Julia, and a long and rewarding acting career, all the while always somehow managing to find the time to hit the stage and introduce the movies and filmmakers at the New Beverly. Cheers!

Friday, March 13, 2009


Perhaps it’s the two recent visits I’ve taken to the Los Angeles Zoo as a chaperon for my daughters’ first and third-grade classes, and the relative lack of man-eating carnage therein, but when I got an e-mail from Peet Gelderblom a couple of days ago recommending a little-known (at least to me) thriller called Rogue, I damned well sat up and listened. First of all, I like a good rampaging beast movie—of the post-Jaws variety I still hold Lewis Teague’s Alligator, from a script by John Sayles, as the crème de la reptile. Teague’s movie not only works as a crafty parody of the Spielberg classic, with Henry Silva standing in hilariously for Robert Shaw’s Quint, and a dandy riff on the worst-case-scenario urban legend of what happens when you flush a baby gator down the loo, but also as a clever metaphorical parody of raging subconscious. For policeman Robert Forster, and for us, the audience, the gator being pursued is nothing less than his own inner monster ripping loose and using the city sewer as its own personal underground subway system. (Some clever casting in the cameos department, like Sidney Lassick from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, reinforces this gator madness reading.) Rogue sounds closer to something like Russell Mulcahy’s Razorback (1984), which I found diverting but disappointing, but to hear Pete tell it it’s an efficient, funny thriller that more than gets the job done. A wildlife cruise through the Australian outback, headed by a cynical American (Michael Vartan) and a local boat captain (Radha Mitchell), goes horribly awry when a massive man-eating crocodile sets its sights (and its jaws) upon this unlucky band of tourists. Something like this can be just the ticket for a fun weekend watch, especially with it being Friday the 13th (again) and all. And frankly, staying out of the way of this slimy monster sounds a hell of a lot more fun than enduring the remake of the Wes Craven “classic” Last House on the Left, which opens today. Thanks to Peet, I do believe my weekend jolt quotient might be filled quite nicely by this very promising under-the-radar yarn. I’ll let you now how it goes.

Speaking of weekend options, there’s a couple of things going on here in Los Angeles, one of which can at least be tracked by your own home theater system, if you live somewhere other than Southern California. This weekend the Los Angeles County Museum of Art gets its retrospective of the late-period films of Howard Hawks under way tonight. My wife and daughters are taking advantage of the opportunity to see Rio Bravo (1959) on the Bing Theater big screen at 7:30 p.m. tonight. (You can see the trailer by clicking on Angie Dickinson over on the sidebar.) Tomorrow night you can indulge in a double feature of the lighter side of this famously masculine director with Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in the delightful Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), co-billed with Rock Hudson and Paula Prentiss in Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964). The rest of the retrospective is juicy too, and quite complete, with rare big-screen shots at El Dorado (1967), Land of the Pharoahs (1955), Hatari! (1962), Rio Lobo (1970) and even Red Line 7000 (1965). (For the entire Hawks schedule and more from LACMA in March, click here.) The nice thing is, if just reading about this retrospective gets you in the mood for the films and you can’t be here, most of them are available on DVD, so you can stage your own festival and be there in spirit. It’s no replacement for seeing them on the Bing big screen, but as anyone who has ever lived outside of a major urban center and had to hear about festivals like these second-hand can tell you, it’s better than nothing. And in whatever format, the movies are still great.

Our old friend The Mysterious Adrian Betamax passes along info on another rare screening this Saturday night, if Marilyn and Rock aren’t your cup of sexual innuendo. As part of the 14th Annual UCLA Festival of Preservation, Josef von Sternberg’s The Salvation Hunters (1925), a preservation undertaken by the Stanford Theater Foundation, can be seen March 14 at 7:30 p.m. According to the press notes, “Von Sternberg's first film--shot for less than $4,800 on location in San Pedro, Chinatown and the San Fernando Valley--was possibly Hollywood's first "independent" production. The gritty realism of its locations, the lack of artifice in its story and the lower depths of its characters shocked audiences and the industry alike. The film remains thoroughly modern. Sternberg's images thrive on composition and stasis. His ending resolves nothing and yet everything is different. The Salvation Hunters made a star not only of Sternberg, but also of Georgia Hale, who would play opposite Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925).” The M.A.B. has more here.

More fun stirring over at Cahiers2Cinema that could entail some intriguing weekend watching: The M.A.B. informs us of the availability (until April 1, 2009, that is) of Phil Karlson’s A Time for Killing on Netflix’s Instant Play service. The movie, never available on DVD, is, like the Hawks fest, a late-period selection from a hard-boiled, unflinching noir-hued director whose best earlier movies, like The Phenix City Story (1955) and Kansas City Confidential (1952), are exemplary specimens of a specifically American nuts-and-bolts cinematic storytelling inflected with bitter passion and empathy for the faces hanging out in the margins of society. Get caught up Karlson via the M.A.B. and consider seeing A Time for Killing while you have the chance, and maybe even contributing to the M.A.B.’s impromptu, open-ended, blog-a-thon-style Phil Karlson-Time for Killing appreciation. (Only don’t call it a blog-a-thon—that phrase makes the M.A.B. simply furious!)

Finally, take some time this weekend to update your blogrolls and bookmarks and make note of Larry Aydlette’s new address. He’s still operating under the Welcome to L.A. shingle (easily the best and most succinctly perfect of all the titles under which his blog has been incarnated), but Larry’s a follower of WordPress now, and he swears by it (more often, even, than he swears at Blogger.com!) Currently Larry is running an excellent series on director John Frankeneheimer that really should not be missed. His piece on The Extraordinary Seaman (1969), long considered one of the director’s biggest follies, is a real delight. Larry’s got Frankenheimer interviews and RFK presidential campaign commercials as well, and I breathlessly await word on my favorite Frankenheimer titles, The Train (1964), Ronin (1998) and, for sheer stupid fun, the director’s misguided environmental beast-on-the-loose epic Prophecy (1979).

Which gets us back to the top of this post in a rather neat way, don’t it? Whatever you’re up to this weekend, have a wonderful couple of days off. I’ll return next week with some catch-up considerations of Watchmen, Synecdoche, New York, Convoy, Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience and God knows what else, plus a special surprise (as much for me, believe me, as for anyone else). Stay tuned!


Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Wham! Pow! Sock! Bam! The most satisfying eight minutes on the Internet right now. Jim Cramer has, according to a piece in today's Los Angeles Times, agreed to appear on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart tomorrow (Thursday). Sound like Must See TV to you?



I have never been one to routinely find myself riding the crest of breaking news, and this little morsel, via Lindsay Vivian, is about a week and a half old, a generation by TMZ standards. (Thanks, LV!) But though it be withered and dusty, I couldn’t help passing it along in the hopes that some of you are as behind on the major pop culture headlines as apparently am I, and in similarly dire need of catching up.
In the grand tradition of Sunset Boulevard, Hairspray, The Producers, 8½, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Shrek, Billy Elliot, Grey Gardens and even, for those of us with extra-long memories, Carrie, there is stirring news out of London re the latest unlikely movie-to-stage adaptation, and this one might just rival the Brian DePalma/Stephen King-based musical for sheer audacity/lunacy (take your pick). Robyn Hitchcock, British pop star, leader of the Soft Boys and the Egyptians, subject of a Jonathan Demme music documentary (Storefront Hitchcock) and occasionally presence in Demme narrative films (The Manchurian Candidate, Rachel Getting Married), apparently has a soft spot for Inspector Harry Callahan. In addition to featuring a song anchored in the fictional police detective’s second film on his latest album, Ole! Tarantula-- entitled “(A Man’s Gotta Know His Limitations) Briggs”-- now Hitchcock, the Magnum Force inspiration for that song apparently not having been entirely quenched, is said to be setting plans in motion for a full-length stage musical based on the 1973 Clint Eastwood sequel, in collaboration with MTV executive Bill Flanagan, which will set the movie’s violent vigilante action to more Hitchcock-penned tunes and (one would presume) lots of big singing-dancing-gun-slinging production numbers.

In a piece reported by Paul MacInnes in the Guardian last week, Hitchcock explained that his relationship with the movie, in which the Dirty Harry template of a rogue cop tracking a killer outside the lines of police procedure is flipped to set Callahan against a cadre of motorcycle cops who take his own methods of justice to perverse extremes, has a strange hold on the singer-songwriter. “It… seemed to be on all the time when I was on tour,” Hitchcock says. “By the fifth time (I saw it), I became addicted to it.” Surely Hitchcock is aware of the apparent oddity of trying to mount such a project, but that oddity, plus the absolute possibility of folly and artistic disaster (or, perhaps worse, mediocrity and indifference), count no doubt as further inspiration for an artist whose career has long thrived at the intersection of surrealist imagery, hooky melodies and challenging, often deliberately obscure subject matter.

Personally, since hearing about this project I have had fewer qualms about whether it’s a good idea or not than I have had fun thinking about the possibilities. I’m imagining a full-on song-and-dance spectacular to introduce the motorcycle cops, hopefully done up with choreography and costuming that amplifies their vaguely fascistic leather-pants-and-boot-straps authority. (No doubt the film’s homoerotic subtext will step right up to full-on text status as well.) Will we get a number in which Harry and his new partner Early Smith (Felton Perry in the film) express their mutual respect for each other, just before Smith gets an early retirement courtesy of a mailbox bomb? And whoever plays the corrupt Nazi-leaning Lieutenant Briggs (remember the brutal gleam in Hal Holbrook’s eyes as he leaned over the wheel of that Ford sedan and revealed the full monty of his nasty plans to Harry?) will undoubtedly be rewarded with a big moment in which to spew bombastic, melody-laden invective against not only Harry but also the drug dealers and pimps and gangster scum whose civil rights the once-reasonable detective suddenly finds it necessary to protect. (I could, however, do without a splashy production number in which a beleaguered hooker gets a can of Drano poured down her throat.)

Let’s just say that I await with great interest any further news of this project’s development. I sincerely hope that I don’t read in the next month or so that it all has been put down to a bad batch of jalapenos on Hitchcock’s tour bus and that the songwriter has abandoned Magnum Force: The Musical as just another bizarre idea that got leaked to the press, one taken out of context as something more than just another spitball that never should have stuck to the wall in the first place. I would see this over the Broadway adaptation of Dirty Dancing, or a Mamma Mia-style revue built around the hits of England Dan and John Ford Coley, any day. If it’s true that a man has got to know his limitations, then I hope Hitchcock either does or remains blissfully unaware, at least for as long as it takes to bring this crazy baby to life.


And yes, news of Magnum Force: The Musical does beg the question: Can it get any weirder than this? What is the movie-to-stage adaptation you’d most like to see?