Saturday, May 29, 2010


(The following essay was written for The John Williams Blog-a-thon now playing at Edward Copeland on Film. Ali Arikan is coordinating the effort which will be celebrating this most popular and influential film composer throughout the Memorial day weekend with numerous links to tributes and analysis of Williams' music. Check in with Edward Copeland On Film all through the weekend for more updates as new pieces come rolling in.)


Though it actually extended back to the mid-50s, my awareness of John Williams’ career as a composer—if not with the name, then with the style of driven, bombastic, action-oriented music scores that he came to represent—is directly traceable to his involvement with producer-director Irwin Allen. Allen made four TV series that were crucial to the feeding of my sensibility as a consumer of American pop culture, especially the genre of science fiction, during the time I was growing up in the 1960s-- Voyage of the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants. All of them spurred my imagination and the menu of my playground adventures (and looking back at the shows now, there were a lot of gaps left unfulfilled by the threadbare production of the programs which we kids could gladly fill in with our own imaginations), and all of them excepting Voyage featured music composed by John Williams. Later, Williams would continue augmenting the imaginations of TV and movie junkies who followed Allen from sci-fi TV to the disastrous worlds of The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974). Soundtrack geeks weren’t exactly legion where I grew up, but there were a couple of us, and by the time Inferno came out we already revered Williams based largely on that output alone. (Appreciation for his scores for Robert Altman-- Images in 1972 and, of course, The Long Goodbye in 1973-- would come much later.) And of course I gobbled up the soundtrack album for The Eiger Sanction with unabashed love, even if my feelings did not extend to the film itself.

For most of us the game changed, regarding Williams and, I suppose, popular movies as well, with the release of Jaws. Williams scored Steven Spielberg’s relentlessly entertaining epic with equal measures dread, gut-trembling anticipation, release and high-spirited sea-faring themes that reflected beautifully the mixture of tones—from menace to a lively insouciance regarding the subject of the expectations of men at sea—that could be mined from the film itself. With Jaws Williams proved he was capable and willing to produce more than just aural bombast to beef up all those expensive images conjured by the likes of Irwin Allen. With Spielberg he found a budding artist with whom to collaborate, which is why his work with this particular director seems to be connected not just to sensation but to the very breadth and depth of emotion possible in the cinematic form itself. I always thrilled to the first two scores Williams wrote for the Star Wars films-- Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980)—but even those scores don’t hold for me the surprise or delicate ambience or driving passion to be found in Williams’ scores for E.T.—The Extra-terrestrial (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) or Empire of the Sun (1987). (His impersonal scores for the Jurassic Park films are the closest Williams has come for Spielberg to the overly busy showmanship of his Star Wars symphonies, and The Empire Strikes Back may be his greatest achievement in intimacy through spectacle that occurs outside the Spielberg oeuvre.)

Williams has done great work for other directors, of course—his scores for Brian De Palma’s The Fury (1979), George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick, Lawrence Kasdan’s The Accidental Tourist (1988), and two of the three he did for Oliver Stone-- JFK and Nixon-- are remarkable and complex masterworks that stand among the best movie scores of their era. Since the advent of the new century, however, Williams’ only work outside the realms of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Hogwarts has been for Roland Emmerich-- The Patriot in 2000—and Rob Marshall-- Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005. But his work for Lucas and Spielberg, due to the volume of music he has created for their films as much as its influence on other composers, has become the go-to sonic imagery when the name “John Williams” is conjured in conversation or in a sudden stream of melody that bubbles up in a hum, a mental symphony centered around a theme you just can’t let go.

And as much as it is has been sport for many writers and moviegoers to attempt to blow holes in the great galumphing mastodon of Spielberg’s career—his gleefully overblown World War II comedy 1941 (1979)-- even that film’s detractors generally tend to admit that Williams’ score for that movie is among his finest. There are detractors from even this bit of generosity, of course, but no matter—on the subject of 1941 there is likely to be continued disagreement as to its quality because, beyond matters of whether or not Spielberg’s overriding excess is defensible aesthetically (and I certainly think it is), the verdict on 1941 will always depend on its success as comedy. If it makes you laugh, then all else, if there need be anything else, is forgiven. My own point of view is that there is damn little to be ashamed of here-- 1941 is a layered, scattershot, fringe satire on American jingoism and paranoia, the kind where the bits of absurd business in the corners and in the background get flattened by the “Look, ma, no brains!” antics in the foreground when usually blown up to these sorts of proportions. (Exhibit A: It’s a Mad, Mad,. Mad, Mad World.) Undoubtedly, the theatrical cut has problems of continuity and rhythm that render it even for fans a relatively choppy experience. But somehow in the more fleshed-out extended cut, which restores about 30 minutes of connective tissue, character comedy and brilliantly goofy set pieces (Slim Pickens attacked and kidnapped by Japanese soldiers dressed as Christmas trees is but one hilarious example), 1941 feels more fully formed and felt, much more of a piece, and Williams’ score doesn’t have to work as hard to cover up the holes that are apparent in the shorter theatrical version. But holes or no, both versions provide a brilliant showcase for the kind of score that has few equals in the history of Hollywood comedies.

The complaint often heard about the score-- that Williams doesn’t use the opportunity to provide a “serious” musical undercurrent to the antics of a group of Americans who, in their panic over a supposed Japanese invasion of American soil wreak more havoc than the enemy ever comes close to achieving-- seems a particularly perverse one, as if Williams was bound by some cinematic mission statement to maintain the spirit of sober observation of the moral seriousness of war when all else around him is the mode of satiric chaos. Fortunately, he accesses film history while at the same time giving us almost as many laughs in the score itself than the movie does. The portent of doom underlying the hushed, low frequencies, the whispered intimation of a march that Williams’ layers under the film’s opening crawl, which sets up the film’s basic situation in a parody of sober docudramas like The Longest Day, almost immediately gives way to a send-up of his own work (the Stravinsky-inspired chopping bass that once signaled the presence of a shark now indicates a more military undersea presence). Williams indulges in his mastery of swing-tinged symphonic themes in the introduction of several characters who will figure in the film’s just famous USO dance number. But it is with the eruption on screen of the movie’s main bulldog, Wild Bill Kelso (John Belushi), a certifiable madman in a fighter plane tracking an imaginary Japanese airplane down the California coast, that Williams brings on the movie’s signature piece, the “March from 1941,” which will inform and underlie almost everything that comes after it. The march, instantly hummable, melds the fighting spirit of everything from Kenneth Alford and Malcolm Arnold’s “Colonel Bogey March” (The Bridge on the River Kwai), to the playful exuberance and bombast of Elmer Bernstein’s The Great Escape, to the echoes of lost national spirit that tumble through Jerry Goldsmith’s rousing score for Patton. Yet Williams is never caught cribbing lines or themes—the genius of the music is that is finds its own spirit, equivalent to the cacophonous madness of the film, yet also coursing with a generous and goofy charm and sense of its own scale that makes a listener laugh even without the attendant imagery.

With 1941, Williams calls to mind not only those previously mentioned moments of brilliance in scoring for war films. In the USO dance sequence he gets to flex his own muscles and create an entire mini-symphony in the swing style, 15 minutes or so of sheer exuberance and good-natured ribbing of the popular music of the era that is gasp-inducing in its accuracy and reverence, yet also astonishingly alive to the moments that are unfolding on screen. I can’t think of another instance (perhaps the Anything Goes sequence that opens Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) where Williams has so willingly given in to the rush of creating a pop spectacle within another pop spectacle, but the spirit that explodes out of that USO sequence permeates the rest of the film. There are moments during this sequence, like the separating of lines between army and navy men readying to meet on the dance floor in full-on battle, or in isolated moments like when Treat Williams’ deranged Sgt. Sitarsky reacts with mock disgust when an upside-down dancer’s crotch gets shoved at him (he’s a perv, but he’s got bigger fish to fry at the moment), that Williams gets in touch with his inner Carl Stalling—familiar musical cues are embellished and twisted to provide warped communion with the blast of energy zapping from the screen. That connection never really abandons the composer for the rest of the show, and Williams’ lets it inform his own tendencies toward overembellishment in surprising, often delicate and even subtle ways. One of my favorite moments in the movie could almost go unnoticed—as Treat Williams and the busty force of nature Wendie Jo Sperber make their way out of Hollywood and toward Santa Monica, Belushi pulls up on a sidecar motorcycle he has stolen from a general’s messenger. Clearly enamored by Sperber in the midst of all the chaos of a crumbling Hollywood Boulevard, he pulls up next to the two of them and offers them a ride. Munching on a well-worn cigar, Belushi’s eyebrows vault ever higher-- hairy, bouncing parachutes Wild Bill’s ridiculous impersonation of a smooth operator (“Which way ya goin’ sister?”)—and the orchestral score settles into a impish firmament of flutes and woodwinds fluttering about the soundtrack, sonically decorating each puff of smoke in rhythmic unison as they bloom off the end of Wild Bill’s stogie. It’s a singular, some might say insignificant detail in a film packed with details and the broadest of brush strokes, yet it is completely representative of the openness and attention toward comedy wherever it may bloom that Spielberg and Williams use to such great effect in 1941. It’s a moment that reminded me of Stalling, but also of Max Steiner, in the way that Steiner so memorably times the escalation of his orchestra accompaniment to match the footfalls of the island natives as they ominously approach Robert Armstrong and company in King Kong. It’s a beautiful, funny touch if you notice it, but mysteriously right even if you don’t.

The score written by John Williams for 1941 is one that wins you over, not with a musical club, but with its own kind of grace and ebullient vigor. It is among the happiest movie music I can think of, not because the chaos of its subject matter, however comically rendered, is itself happy—you’d have to be a spectacular brand of moral idiot to believe that. No, 1941 arrives at a state of blissful happiness through the sheer command Williams displays in communicating musically with the raucous display of manic fireworks on screen. It is music that simply makes me happy whenever I hear it, in much the same way as the scores for Jaws, or Planet of the Apes, or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly do. It’s a tribute to Williams’ achievement that whenever I think of 1941 I think of the music; whenever I clamor to see the film again, it is Belushi buzzing Hollywood Boulevard to the strains of the "March from 1941" that I think of first. But the greatest tribute is that I cannot imagine this grand, grotesque, hilarious movie without it.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010


"...but you're gonna let it be the worst!"

The Reader's Digest of uplift-- 40 moments of cinematic inspiration in two minutes! Thanks, Sal!


Monday, May 24, 2010


So maybe you loved director Tom Six’s built-to-shock body horror opus The Human Centipede, or maybe you skipped it, entirely unimpressed with the idea of seeing three humans attached butt-to-face to create the title insect. Either way, now, thanks to the geniuses at I-Mockery, you can wallow in Dr. Dieter Laser’s ugly universe while pretending it’s all just a game… an ‘80s video game, that is.

Behold, Human Centipede - The Video Game, modeled after the popular arcade classic, in which the lovely day-glo bugs of old have been replaced by Tom Six's ultimate fantasy-- a human centipede made of not three, but 12 or more victims stitched together at the extremities to form one long would-be insect of unparalleled terror. Now those poor bastards from the movie have been dehumanized into pixels so you won’t have to worry about their pain and degradation, not to mention their bathroom habits. But you'll be too consumed with blasting them out of existence before they can descend on you and get their icky bodily fluids all over your mouse and keyboard to fret much about their sorry surgical predicament anyway! Plus, now that I have this keen video game, I feel even more excused from having to actually see the movie. Video game fun with a public service! That definitely goes sharpening your hand-eye coordination one better, not to mention that you don't need to waste a shitload of quarters playing it! I will try to avoid thinking about what it says about me that I’m far better at this version than I ever was with the original.

(Thanks be to Movieline for the tip!)


JOSE LIMA 1972 - 2010

This man, Jose Lima, is gone far too soon, lost at 37 after a massive heart attack. It’s a hell of a tribute to know that he managed to find love from fans just about everywhere he went, from Houston to Los Angeles and all points in between. As a Dodger fan I can only find it in myself to say “Thanks, Jose.” We will always have 2004 and that one glorious playoff game because of you. It’s a sad shame that we won’t have you around to reminisce about it.

Further links:

The Dodgers talk about Jose Lima

Jon Weisman’s beautiful remembrance

Lima Time


Saturday, May 22, 2010


Basking in the roar of a standing ovation for a screening of director Ken Russell’s film of the Who’s rock opera Tommy, documentarian Murray Lerner (Listening to You: The Who at the Isle of Wight, From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China) took the stage at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Samuel Goldywn Theater Friday, May 21 to introduce the evening’s special guest. The film had been digitally restored and was shown for the first time since its release in 1975 in the original Quintophonic sound mix. The original tag line for the film, ‘Your senses will never be the same,” came awfully close to being fulfilled by this superb restoration—at top volume in the beautiful AMPAS auditorium the movie was thrilling and overwhelming, the sound mix perfect once again, and it seemed as new as it must have on opening day back in March of 1975. Lerner’s senses surely would be altered by evening’s end too, and not just because of the film. Russell had come from London just for this event, and when Lerner brought him to the stage the documentarian was prepared, at least mentally, to talk seriously about the making of the Tommy film. (His comments before the screening regarding the history of the rock opera, which included screened interview footage of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey shot by Lerner as they talked about the music and the movie, clued the audience in as to his straightforward, dry, but informative style, which was miles apart from that of the flamboyant Russell.)

But within two minutes of commencement of the 20-minute talk Russell, who looked a frail 83 and approached the front of the room slowly, with much assistance from AMPAS staffers and a walker cane, had hijacked the interview with his patented brand of impish contempt for the process of analyzing his own films. Whatever Lerner expected from his subject, it certainly was not a insistent mock (?) dotty denial of knowledge of almost every aspect of the film’s creation, with lapses into other voices and bemused asides to the audience for good measure. It took Lerner a while to understand exactly what he’d gotten himself into, and once he did he could never bring himself to play ball on the field that Russell had set. (At one point he admitted that “I guess I’m at a loss.”) Meanwhile, Russell the droll elf was have a cackling good time.

Fortunately, for those familiar with Russell’s cultivated iconoclasm, both in his work as a director and in his public persona, the evening’s shenanigans came less as a shock than an expectedly entertaining and off-the-wall bit of hi-jinks. The director had flown all the way from Great Britain to take part in the 35th anniversary celebration of his most popular movie, so one would think that he would make no mistake in framing the evening exactly as he cared to. Given that, Russell was the furthest thing from sentimental. It was somewhat refreshing to see him take his disdain for public opinion of his work with a shrug while he simultaneously dismantled all other attempts to address it seriously himself, even within this potentially fawning context. (The anarchy of the proceedings put me in mind of a TV interview featured the Who documentary The Kids Are Alright in which, after a raucous performance on a British variety show, the host sits amongst the band, who proceed to batter him with in-jokes and bits of tomfoolery, eventually tearing his and their own clothes off on camera.) The only ones disappointed were, I would think, those who came to the screening in the hopes of learning anything about Russell’s thoughts on the film and how it was made. (Had editor Stuart Baird been present, as had been advertised, the conversation might have momentarily taken a few different turns, but Baird was a no-show.) The rest of the audience simply enjoyed being in the presence of the notoriously ridiculous director and the occasional frisson of disbelief over the weird sort of performance art piece they witnessed, in which the very process of the celebrity interview was systematically folded, spindled, mutilated and eventually reduced to ashes.

The interview in its entirety was available to listen to on SLIFR: The Noisy Version, but unfortunately a request which came to me this morning (6/3/2010) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to take the recording down has been complied with. However, I have transcribed it below. You'll miss Russell's odd timing and vocal inflections, but the gist of the interchange definitely comes through. I also thought it important to transcribe the piece for the sake of clarity— at only one point did my memory and the sound fidelity of my voice recorder betray my ability to accurately relate what was said. But I have also transcribed it for those who couldn’t quite believe what they heard, and now, as it turns out, it's a good thing that I did. So here it is, then-- Ken Russell and Murray Lerner on Tommy in general and very little in particular. Enjoy!


( Applause )

MURRAY LERNER: Well, Ken, I think we oughta talk about-- It's difficult to know where to start. Have you seen the film in this beautiful image before?

KEN RUSSELL: Uh, no, not with this soundtrack, no. It’s quite something.

ML: It is something, and it brings to mind, especially the ending—Pete felt that in his music the audience was part of the music and it was like them joining in and—It’s interesting to me that the effect over the titles, because of what happened just before the titles, was very much like an anthem, which they thought their ending music was for the—

KR: Right.

ML: Did you feel that?

KR: Yeah, yeah, yeah… (To audience) I think.


ML: And it’s very difficult to get that effect in film, to make the audience part of the film, in a way. How do you feel about the relationship between film and the audience in a thing like this?

KR: Well, I think this is very much, you know, an entity, you know. It’s the audience sort of helps make it. You know, they go along with it. And, um, so I think it’s—That’s—That’s why it works as well as it does.

ML: I thought the height of that was in the Marilyn Monroe religious scene, where the music just carried you totally along.

KR: Right.

ML: The imagery was so powerful that you couldn’t help but—We were participating.

KR: Yeah. Yeah.

ML: Did you—

KR: Yeah, I mean, um… (To audience) I think!


KR: Yes. Yes, yes.

ML: Well, how long is it since you’ve seen the film?

KR: (Pause) Last week.


ML: Well, I can’t ask you what your— What are your feelings about it now compared to—

KR: It was last week, yeah.

ML (chuckling): What are your feelings about it now compared to what they were in '76 or '75?

KR: Well, um, about the same.


KR: No, uh, the sound on this particular print was, you know, really wonderful, and it, uh—The Quintophonic sound, you know, um, and all it stands for, you know, is just an integral part of the film that, uh, carried it along.

ML: It absolutely does. And it’s interesting to me that Pete especially tried to develop quadraphonic sound, and it was a total disaster.

KR: Right.

ML: And this is much better because it’s spread out in a different way.

KR: Yes. Uh-huh.

ML: But they actually built a quadrophonic sound studio which went belly up. It didn’t work.

KR: Yeah. (Affects precious voice) Well, I think it was very good indeed.


ML Just jumping to another level of questions, who was the boy? (Barry Winch) What happened to him?

KR: The boy?

ML: The, uh—Tommy. The boy Tommy. The young Tommy.

KR: He died.

ML: Oh.

(Russell looks at audience.)

KR: I think.


KR: No, no, no, it was all a bit of good fun. But, uh—(Indistinct )

ML: (Indistinct)

KR: Who, the boy? (Pause) I don’t know. I never asked.

ML: Uh…

KR: I don’t think he did.

ML: He did some very—some very demanding scenes. Did you find it difficult to deal with him or—

KR: Um, no. I— Very easy. I… just said (shouts) “ACTION!”


KR: And “CUT!” (Normal speaking voice) That’s all you need to know.


ML: Did Pete—I read in another interview that you and he— you especially worked very hard and only had about three hours sleep a night, figuring out when to yell "Action!" and "Cut!" I suppose. Did you storyboard the film at all, or did you--

KR: What’s storyboards?

ML: Did you, uh—

KR: (Quizzically) Storyboard.

ML: In planning, I can see that—

(Lerner stops and reacts to Russell’s confused stare)

KR: (Mock distress) What’s storyboard?

(Long pause, laughter)

ML Really? All right. I admire the movie—very nicely put together. Beautifully put together. So I can see it was a lot of work. This film—

KR: It was very easy. “Action! Cut!” That’s all I had to say! What more do you need to know?

ML (now clearly perplexed): Um… uh—


ML: Um, I suppose the budget.

KR: Budget? What budget? What’s a budget?

(Woman in front row laughing hysterically)

WOMAN: Oh, God! I love you!

KR: You love me.

ML Did you have any fights with the—

KR: Shh! (To Woman) You have my heart. Do you want a heart? (To audience) Give her a heart.


KR: The “Christmas” scene was nice, wasn’t it?


KR: Yeah. That was Oliver Reed… and a bottle of beer.

ML: Did you, uh—What were your thoughts when you were first offered the film? Did you decide to make it this different a film?

KR: No. No.

ML: It’s very different. I think Peter’s right. It’s very different from the original, except for the intent, the through line. But I think it’s beautifully done and a real opera.

KR: Yes.

ML: That was—That was the—

KR: Yeah, well, that why I liked it, ‘cause it was an opera.

ML: Mmm.

KR: Always wanted to do an opera. Yeah, I did. Sort of.

ML: And how did it develop as you went along? Did you have fights with the studio about this, about—

KR: Fights with the studio?

ML: Yeah. I mean it’s very, very unusual in its imagery. I wonder about the Marilyn Monroe scene. Did you have any discussions about that, or did--

KR: No. I don’t discuss my films. I just make them.

(Laughter, applause)

KR: Yeah.

ML: Did you have any discussions or—

KR: No. No.


ML I was talking about Pete.

KR: No! I hadn’t a thought to. Nice, Peter. Pete.

(Lerner laughs)

KR: Roger was nice too.

ML: Roger’s very nice. I think he was one of the best acting jobs in the film.

KR: Who was acting?

ML: Uh, Roger, in the sensations in his, uh, face when he was deaf, dumb and blind.

KR: Roger’s dumb and blind? Who was dumb and blind?

ML: Roger, at the beginning of his appearance.

KR: Oh.

ML: I thought that was very unusual.

KR: Hmm.


ML: You’re not gonna answer any questions, are you?


KR: I didn’t know that was a question.

ML: It wasn’t a question.

KR: Because—


KR: I didn’t think it was. That’s why I didn’t answer it.

(Laughing Continues, Pause)

ML: Uh, okay.

(Pause, Laughter Continues)

KR (To audience): Get me out of here!

ML: You’ve made a lot of films about music.

KR: I have?!

ML: What is music?

KR: Music. (Begins whistling a tune.) That’s music.

(Laughter, Pause)

KR: (Humming) That’s music.

ML: All right… Do you feel that music can really be understood?

KR: Hmm. What’s understood?

ML: I don’t know what it means. That’s why I asked you the question. I don't know what it means.

KR: Yes.

ML: I’ve made a lot of documentaries in music, but I think looking at this and your work that a documentary can never be as powerful about music as a creative fictional film. I don’t think it can capture—Even though it’s not--

KR: Capture that first… free, careless rapture?

(Pause, smattering of applause, as if the audience wasn’t quite prepared of KR taking a question even slightly seriously.)

KR: No.

ML: But even seeing the Who…

KR: The Who.

ML: …perform Tommy

KR: Yeah?

ML: I’m not sure has the power of this film anymore. But I think it’s more powerful because it is a fictional opera.

KR: You mean it didn’t happen?


KR: I’ve made a terrible mistake! I thought it was all true.

ML: You probably did.

(Laughter, applause. ML scores his first point.)

KR: You mean it wasn’t true?

ML: No.

(KR turns to audience, shocked look on his face. Laughter continues.)

ML: There was no father. There was no son. There was no Tommy.

MAN IN AUDIENCE: It was all true. He’s only kidding.

KR: Oh, thank heavens for that.

ML: There was a Marilyn Monroe.

KR: There was?

ML: There was a Marilyn Monroe.

KR: What happened to her?

ML: She died.

KR: She didn’t! Did she?

ML: She was recreated in your film.

KR: Ah, yes, yes. Yes.

ML: Um—(Chuckles )

KR: Yes, she was. Yes.

ML: All right, it’s not a question because you’re not gonna answer it, but, boy, the use of Oliver Reed was really very-- I must say, even thought it was criticized quite a bit in reviews, I thought he was wonderful.


ML: And also I think he (Pete Townshend) made the right decision in murdering the father and having him carry the murder throughout the whole story. That was really brilliant. And then the father…existed who—killing him and--

KR : Kill what?

ML: He killed the father.

KR: He killed the father?

ML: Of Tommy.

KR: (Mock confused) Of Tommy. Sorry.

ML: And I thought that was a great change from the original script.

KR: Right.

ML: And did you—Was that a—a big decision, or just—

KR: No. No.

ML: You just—You saw Oliver Reed and you said "Action!”?

KR: (Mock exasperation) Yes!

ML: You didn’t say “Cut!” very much—

KR: No, you don’t to Oliver. You don’t say “Cut!” You say, “Please shall we stop filming now? Please, Oliver? Have you anything further to say, Oliver?”


KR: “Piss off, Ken! Piss off!”

(Laughter Continues)

KR: No, he doesn’t say much, Oliver. No, he doesn’t say much. I always said I had three words for Oliver: “Cut!”

WOMAN IN AUDIENCE: That’s one word.

KR: That was one word, yeah.

MAN IN AUDIENCE: Three letters.

KR: Yep.


KR: Yes, you don’t say much to Oliver. ‘Cause he’ll say, "Piss off, Ken!" Yeah, that's what he called me. "Ken."

ML: How about to Roger? Did you say anything—

KR: (mishearing): Sir Roger? Who was Sir Roger?

ML: Roger Daltrey.

KR: Oh, Roger Daltrey.

ML: Did you say much to him?

KR: No. Just action and cut.

ML: You rolled your eyes around a little bit, hmm?

KR: Yeah. I can’t roll ‘em much more.

ML: He told me that he actually—He did the hang-gliding. He learned how to—

KR: Did what?

ML: The hang-glider scene. He said that he learned how to fly a hang-glider.

KR: He did?

ML: That’s what he told me.

KR: I didn’t know that. He was pretty good, wasn’t he?

ML: He was pretty good.

KR: Yeah. (Pause) Yeah.

ML: Did you say anything to Ann-Margret?

KR: Ann-Margret?


KR: You don’t say much to Ann-Margret.


ML Okay…

KR: Now, Tina Turner—


KR: Yes. (Stares ahead blankly) You don’t say very much to her.


ML: Who did you talk to?

KR: I didn’t talk to anyone. Just said “Action!” and “Cut!” That’s all you need to know.

ML: Did you talk to the cameraman at all?

KR (sharply): No. (Pause) I didn’t talk to him. He was beneath contempt.


ML: Did you talk to Pete Townshend at all?

KR: Excuse me?

ML: Pete Townshend? Did you talk to him at all?

KR: Pete who?

ML: Townshend.

KR: Townshend. Didn’t know him.

ML: He claims he knew you.

KR (mulling name over): Pete Townshend. (Pause) No, I don’t know him.

ML Um…

KR: No, I didn’t speak to him. He wrote the music, didn’t he?

ML: He tried to, yes.

KR: He tried to, yes.

ML: But you put a stop to that.

KR: I did.

ML (laughing): You kept quashing his attempt to do it. He tried to write some lyrics also.

KR: Oh, he did?

ML: Yes.

KR: Mmm. What do you know? Strange.

ML: Um… I’m—I’m at a loss, I guess. Uh, anyway—

KR: Anyway—

ML: I did like the film, and I still—

KR: You did?

ML: Yes. I think it’s a great work of art.

KR: Yessssss…

ML: Which I didn’t think so when I first saw it.

KR (mock indignant): You didn’t?! (Muttering)

ML (suddenly holding his mic at hip level): I’m interested also in— There are people who thought it was a work of art and people who say--

(Audience shouting at ML to hold his microphone to his mouth)

ML: Um—

KR (shouting): I’m not speaking! That’s why you can’t hear me!


ML: You’ve had a lot of flattery and criticism in the reviews about this film.

KR: I have?!

ML Yes.

KR: Who from?!

ML: Oh, anonymous reviewers. They’re afraid of you.

KR: Afraid of me?

ML: Yeah.

KR (affecting mild old man’s voice): Why are they afraid of me?

ML: How do you feel about reviews—

KR: They’re afraid of me.

ML (laughing): How do you—How do you f—

KR (to ML): Are you afraid of me?

ML: I’m afraid of you.


ML: That’s why I’m sitting at this distance.

KR: Yes. You are afraid, aren’t you?

ML: You’ve got a cane. You could hit me with that cane.

KR: Yeah! (Begins to make a move toward ML brandishing cane.)


ML: That’s right.

(KR’s mic falls to the floor. Audience reacts with amusement and mounting dread at the sight of both KR and ML hunched over, attempting to grab mic off floor. A savvy AMPAS staffer comes to the rescue.)

ML: Anyway, you had very controv—

KR (Humming)

ML: You’ve had very controversial reactions to Tommy, some very, very bitter--

KR: No.

ML: No?

KR: No.

ML: Okay.

KR: Who from?

ML: Reviewers!

KR (laughs): Revie-- Reviewers?! (Affecting upper crust accent) I don’t have anything to do with reviews.

(ML laughs, smattering of applause)

(At this point, another AMPAS staffer approaches the front of the stage and squats, in clear sight of KR and ML, and begins motioning for them to wrap things up. KR stares at the staffer and mocks the twirling finger signal the man is apparently sending to the stage.)

KR: There’s a man in the front row doing some rather obscene things.


KR: I assume they are. I’m not going to repeat them.

(Laughter continues. The staffer retreats.)

KR: He’s gone away.

(Laughter continues. KR notices the woman from earlier who is still laughing hysterically.)

KR (mutters): That woman there— (Mutters) I think it’s time we went.

ML: I agree with you.

(KR and ML stand to applause. Ken Russell takes about 10 minutes to exit the stage and out of the auditorium, accepting well wishes and compliments on his films all the way. The dazed audience takes just about as long to file out.)


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


UPDATED 5/20/10 6:21 p.m.

Once again it’s my pleasure to introduce a little more hump day fun into your office experience, thus making your day even less productive, but perhaps more enjoyable, than it would have been otherwise. By way of David Hudson and the newly renamed Daily MUBI comes a link to Dennis Cooper’s blog DC’s and his “Foreign” Film Pop Quiz-- the quotes in the title give a clue as to the deliberate misnomer in operation here. Dennis provides a look at 27 posters created in countries, one presumes, other than the country of the film’s origin. What to do with them? Here’s Dennis:

“Each poster advertises a known -- and in many cases very well known -- American or European film. Some films are recent, some are older. Your task is to guess the names of as many of the movies as you can. You can incorporate the guesses of earlier commenters into your guesses if you like… The person who guesses the most film titles correctly by the time I post tomorrow will win a prize. The prize is that I will make a blog day about anyone or anything the winner chooses.”

The image seen above is one of those posters, and one of the easier titles to coax from the imagery, much of which is stunning and elliptical and, in some cases, outright bizarre. It won’t be easy, but it’ll be fun. Let me know how it goes! I’ll post answers to the ones I can get (not close to all 27, a cursory glance assures me) later in the day. (Come on, psaga, you know you wanna give this one a shot...)


UPDATE 5/20/10 6:21 p.m.
I've taken a stab at the posters and left my answers in the comments thread below. I promise I did not peek at any of the answers that may have been deposited at Dennis Cooper's blog-- if I had, my try would have been much more complete than it ended up being. SO take a look at what I've got and see if you can help me fill in some of the blanks!


THE CONUNDRUM OF WATCHING CLASSIC FILMS, plus the Universal-International Cowboys and a Few Kind Words In Favor of Nostalgia

In the light of the recent TCM Classic Film Festival there has been some debate about the function of a festival devoted to film history, particularly Hollywood history, and as to whether the people who prefer classic films and programmers of the breed that Turner Classic Movies traffics in are in it for the aesthetics, as a key to unlock the more esoteric mysteries of modern cinema or otherwise understand the films that have come later, or whether they’re just nostalgia hounds content to lock themselves in the corral of the glorious past without a shred of interest in anything that isn’t a product of the old studio system. In his piece “Repertory Cinema’s Self-Perpetuating Cycle,”, Vadim Rizov had very kind words to say about my own account of the TCM Classic Film Festival while perpetuating some strange presumptions of his own, including a very sweeping proclamation about the type of viewer who might revel in such a festival:

“It's pretty certain that if you're an aficionado of the most demanding contemporary formalist filmmakers out there -- the ones that attract rabid fans, festival attention and typically little financial reward -- you are almost certain to be very serious about film history as well. However, the converse isn't true: there's definitely a certain kind of rep viewer that's unapologetically nostalgic in outlook and has no interest in the present day. In fact, one of the reasons rep cinema isn't more pervasive could have to do with the musty aura and self-perpetuating air that can surround the more esoteric rep screenings, where there's always more discoveries and obscurities to sort through.”

Forget for a moment that the reason Rizov cites to explain repertory cinema’s lack of pervasiveness—“the musty aura and self-perpetuating air that can surround the more esoteric rep screenings”—is a criticism of the rep houses geared toward the esoterica Rizov seems to prefer rather than the leanings of the supposedly hermetically sealed world of the MGM worshipper. The really indefensible assertion here is that aficionados of “demanding contemporary formalist filmmakers” are “almost certain” to be serious about film history, while the converse flatly isn’t true. “There's definitely a certain kind of rep viewer that's unapologetically nostalgic in outlook and has no interest in the present day,” Rizov states with absolute assurance, and as far as it goes he’s absolutely right.

Two things seem wrong, however. First, it has been my experience with some (some) of the people most interested in those difficult modern filmmakers that they have gaps the width and depth of a small canyon when it comes to knowledge of film history. You can be serious about film history, it seems, while also paying a load of lip service as to the pursuit of it. It is still surprising to me how many film buffs and self-professed cinephiles there are out there who have no real knowledge of or much interest in movies that came before 1962, unless those movies are among the 20 or so titles that routinely show up in the usual critics polls. The second thing that bothers me about the premise flouted in this piece is the idea that those interested in film classics are necessarily uninterested in modern film. Rizov doesn’t allow for the possibility that there might be viewers for whom The Magnificent Ambersons or Sweet Smell of Success serve as proper study along the timeline of film history, and that a grounding in film history provides the necessary context and foundation for appreciating those films that make up the past 40 years or so of international cinema. To my mind, deciding all those who would flock to something like the TCM Festival are simply nostalgia hounds with their blinders on is a bit of perversity akin to saying one eats eggs as an adult not for their nutritional value or because one likes the taste, but simply because they were what one what regularly ate and enjoyed as a child. Mightn't the aesthetics of classic film, the way restrictions on the material, from within and without Hollywood, caused directors and craftsmen to learn to express themselves in more stylistically creative ways, be reason enough on which to base a love for classic movies? Or the way the cinematography shimmers in Technicolor or in bleak shades of gray in film noir? (The question then goes begging, what of those classic film fans who are clearly too young to wax nostalgic about the good old days of Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland? On what are they basing their refusal to look forward to the treasures of the future?)

Most confusing to me is Rizov’s final assertion. He seems perturbed, annoyed that “young kids are, in fact, showing up to rep cinema as long as it's attractively packaged as an ‘event,’ something to build your weekend around.” Of course it’s a good idea to “package” repertory cinema around the chance to screen the films in the presence of actors, writers, directors who were actually involved in making the films, and when these events happen the theaters are usually full. But aside from the opportunity for education, what about this strategy is surprising? The rep houses do it for the chance to let the creative artist speak about their work, of course, but they are also businesses that must think creatively in order to get the butts in seats for whatever kind of repertory cinema audiences will respond to. And it is incorrect to presume that such “events” are the only such programming to attract the young flies to revival cinema. The New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles routinely plays double features that have nothing to do with nostalgia and everything to do with throwing light on the darker corners of film history—even corners not necessarily favored by those fans of modern aesthetics who have bought into the notion that somehow, for example, Bergman is passé. And the auditoriums for these programs are, if not always packed, then at least far from empty.

For Rizov, programs like the TCM Festival suggest “a potentially closed loop of cinephilia where compulsive sifting for new discoveries in back catalogs results in an ignorance towards what's going on in the here and now.” What evidence there is to suggest the truth of this notion is not made evident, and I think it can be pretty reasonably dismissed as a kind of straw man argument that may have been cast for the simple adventure of stirring the waters, for keeping both the Abbas Kiarostami and the Andre de Toth camps on their toes. At any rate, I think there’s plenty to be gained from paying attention to both the old and the new. But frankly, right now I have to say I’m pitched a little more in my interest toward what I can discover about what Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole or Elia Kazan’s Wild River have to say, in textual and aesthetic terms, and how they connect to the eyes and interests of modern filmmakers, than in trying to keep up with the latest blockbuster releases. Who wouldn’t want to retreat into the past when faced with a summer movie slate as dreary as the one we’re looking at for 2010? (Recent Cannes favorites like Mike Leigh’ Another Year or Kiarostami’s Certified Copy won’t be available for most of us to see for several months, and three months is a long way to try and spread the joys of the few summer movies, like Toy Story 3 and Splice, that do promise to add up to something.) All that said, I thank Vadim Rizov for the kind words he had for my piece as well as for the pot-stirring showcase he gave it on

And now, with a wink and a nod to Vadim (whom I admire a great deal, by the way), and just to be perverse, a few words in favor of nostalgia and cinematic comfort food. Some days the world just seems like it’s pressing in a little too tight. Those days used to come around a lot when I was growing up, for reasons that don’t seem so pressing or important anymore. (It’s called gaining perspective, or in some circles growing up.) And when it seemed there wasn’t much in the way of room to move, when things just seemed to get too constricted or conflicts between brothers and sisters or buddies and buddies got too inflamed, someone whose job it was to cook—my mom, my Italian grandma, my Italian great-grandma—was always at the ready with something to eat to make me feel better, at ease, less battered by the world. A big pot of spaghetti and meatballs was never far away in my grandma’s kitchen if it was needed. My mom knew that the ticket to soothe my soul was a bubbling batch of chicken and dumplings. And to this day, even just to think of pan-fried venison with a heap of mashed potatoes and steamed asparagus on the side is to keep the savage beasts at bay, the culinary equivalent of a hundred-dollar therapy session. We all have our own comfort foods, and all considerations of caloric content aside, thank God for it, because sometimes there are those days when the only thing that’ll do is to wrap up in a blanket, open up the curtains on a damp or otherwise weather-beaten day, and settle in with a bowl or a plate of [ fill in the blank ] to make the idea of keeping the flame burning just a little more bearable.

Movies can certainly function this way for us, and that comfort might very likely derived from nostalgia—for the kinds of movies we watched as kids on Sunday afternoon TV, or at Saturday afternoon matinees, or for movies that take place in environments that are explicitly or implicitly evocative of the kinds of environments we occupied as children. I used to think that the movies themselves—all movies—functioned, or could function, as comfort food for me. But as I creep closer—just three months now—to my 50th birthday, I realize that there is a certain genre, and a certain kind of movie within that genre, that most thoroughly functions this way for me. The genre is the western, and I doubt that’ll surprise too many who read this blog with any regularity. I’m probably the ideal subscriber for the Encore Westerns Channel, with its voluminous and indiscriminate slate of horse opera pulled from all the nooks and crannies of studio B and C-lists and running with abandon 24 hours a day like a runaway stagecoach. Fortunately, for the sanity of my wife and the preservation of the productivity of whatever free time I have left when all the daily duties are done, Encore Westerns is a premium channel on my satellite system, one which is inconvenient for me to try to pay for—meaning, I couldn’t afford it even if it were available as anything but part of a bundle surrounded by a bunch of channels for which I have no interest whatsoever.

But if I could watch Encore Westerns, by God I would, and I’d love it. Because it’s loaded with exactly the sort of low-budget western programmers that were cranked out like cheap pasta by the studios in the 1940s and through the 1950s, when they finally had to compete with the kinds of westerns that were keeping ‘em home on TV. These are my movie comfort food, the unpretentious oaters starring such luminaries as Jock Mahoney, Randolph Scott, Audie Murphy, Rex Allen, Rod Cameron, Chill Wills, Andy Devine, Glenn Ford, Kirby Grant, Lash Larue, Tim Holt, Joel McCrea, Ken Maynard, Tex Ritter, Dale Robertson, Bob Steele, Peggy Stewart, and, of course John Wayne, to name just a few. These movies were often low on style, especially the ones from the ‘50s, which were aesthetically separate from their small-screen cousins usually only by size and perhaps by the use of Technicolor. But that’s what made seeing them then, and especially what makes seeing them now, such a direct and vivid experience. There’s literally nothing standing in between the viewer (me) and my memories of life in the deserts of Southwestern Oregon, a landscape so keenly approximated by the Southern California locations on which most of these movies were shot, and the feeling evoked by the perfect cast of sunset or the dry, warm breeze as it wafts across the plain surveyed by the hero, who rides in upon his horse over the opening credits toward a situation that may end up (but most likely won’t) his undoing.

My thirst for these movies can almost exclusively be measured by how efficiently they can patch into the rather less discriminating, but not completely indiscriminate, tastes I had as a boy, and my ability to be caught up in the simplest of storylines by effects and techniques as simple as the sound quality of a cowboy whose prairie whistling is quite obviously overdubbed; or looking to see how well the sets that make up the small town are integrated into the surrounding landscape; or evaluating the saloon in movie “A” and how it measures up, in terms of verisimilitude, to the saloon in movie “B;” or noticing the multitude of bit players who were either familiar from other westerns or who would eventually become stars in their own right (Claude Akins and Lee Van Cleef are ones I’ve been running into lot lately.) I’m not sure I could make a case for the lasting value of any of these films as art, and if it meant that I would have to come up with some other more lofty rationale for enjoying them in order to do so, I’d probably be even less interested in doing so than I already am. But just because a western doesn’t aspire to the heights of expression evident in a movie like The Searchers or Once Upon a Time in the West doesn’t mean that it has no value, or that what value it has should be somehow downgraded or tempered. These movies are nothing if not for pure enjoyment, for reveling in not the flexibility of the western as a vehicle for social or aesthetic commentary, but for celebration of the very conservative nature of the genre itself, even as we may still examine what it is about our national character that spawned the genre and its specific elements in the first place.

Right now I’m obsessed with the movies that came out in the mid to late ‘50s under the banner of Universal-International. Most of them, regardless of the relative quality of their screenplays, were done up in spiffy Technicolor, in order, perhaps, to make them look a little less generic than they actually were. But the ones I’ve seen and enjoyed lately have all featured excellent casts giving their all to scenarios that may have seemed unsophisticated even when they were made. Yet there’s nary a drop of condescension, or winking to the audience, or a sense of movie-star slumming to be found in them—they are delightful, tough, and funny, every one, and a couple are considerably more than that.

A frothy concoction like The Gal Who Took the West (1949) doesn’t have a lot of offer in the way of storytelling innovation. Like many of these pictures, it really is the familiarity of the whole enterprise that is the movie’s strong suit. But within that familiarity here, you’ve got Yvonne De Carlo (never more luscious or amusing, and self-amused) as a barroom singer who snookers land baron Charles Coburn into bringing her out West by billing herself as an opera star. She immediately causes a ruckus when Coburn’s feuding nephews (Scott Brady and the balsa-like John Russell) both fall for her. The movie toys with some pre-Rashomon noodling as to the true nature of De Carlo’s character—delicate flower, drunk or greedy floozy, depending on which grizzled drunk is telling the story at the time—but it’s really all about how De Carlo must negotiate her own marital status between Brady and Russell before fussin’ and fightin’ of a lead-based nature starts to bustin’ out. The picture, directed by Frederick De Cordova (the same gentleman who eventually gained fame as Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show producer), is tame and doesn’t have much of a grip on what kind of tone it’s after from scene to scene, but De Carlo clearly relishes her role in the spotlight, and her dry, arched-eyebrow line deliveries and sly double takes will satisfy anyone looking for an easy, good time. A western in only the loosest terms—it takes place in the late 1880s, people wear Stetsons and ride horses-- The Gal Who Took the West is agreeable eye candy with the chewy nougat called Yvonne De Carlo at its center.

Jock Mahoney was a well-known stuntman in Hollywood during the ‘40s and starred in several of the here Stooges shorts for Columbia Pictures. Under the guidance of Gene Autry Mahoney became a TV star in the western series The Range Rider (1951-52) and again in 1958 on the popular show Yancy Derringer. From 1950-1957 Mahoney also starred in a slew of B- westerns and action pictures, and maybe the best of them (at least the best of the ones I’ve seen) is Joe Dakota (1957; Richard Bartlett). In it Mahoney is exemplifies exactly the kind of soft-spoken, slow to violent action, morally unimpeachable hero that would seem to be the cowboy ideal, as least as far as Hollywood was concerned. Mahoney, nameless until a crucial point about 2/3 of the way through, rides under the credits whistling the movie’s ubiquitous tune (which will turn up on the lips of other characters as well as woven into the film’s soundtrack score) and insinuates himself into the company of a small town whose residents have been taken in by a oil wildcatter who has laid claim, in the name of the town, to a farm on which resides a rich oil reserve just waiting to be tapped. Mahoney sets himself in stoic, polite resistance to the increasing hostility of the citizenry (Lee van Cleef and Claude Akins among them) who begin to suspect he may know more than he’s letting on about the fate of an old Indian who allegedly sold the property to the wildcatter but is nowhere to be found. Joe Dakota is a movie that is pleasurable almost entirely from a landscape point of view. It is well-photographed in Technicolor, though not ostentatiously so, and director Bartlett is enough of a journeyman to know when to stay out of the way of both his players, who are uniformly well-cast—Luana Patten, Anthony Caruso, George Dunn and Charles McGraw (as the bad influence) all make a vivid impression, and Van Cleef and Akins have a great showcase for their rawhide toughness during a barroom test to see who can better take a punch—and the lovely, desolate countryside on which they play out their drama. Bartlett’s long takes give us plenty of time to drink up the atmosphere, which is rich enough to float the movie’s main mystery—none too difficult to correctly imagine—and keep the movie’s central relationship, between Mahoney’s quiet, just-this-side-of-stiff mystery cowpoke and Patten’s sullen sexpot, compelling and emotionally believable. Joe Dakota has conviction beneath its rather square approach, one which is reflected in its hero/star Mahoney, and the joy is in discovering just how entertaining good posture, self-deprecating humor, unfailing prairie politesse and a stiff upper lip can be.

But perhaps my favorites of late have been unassuming cowboy tales starring Audie Murphy, one of which highlights the dark underbelly of the myth of the returning veteran that he so ably rode to movie stardom, and the other in which is he is cast against type as a mysterious avenging killer. That luxurious breed of Universal Technicolor is put to good use in both Nathan Juran’s Tumbleweed (1953) and the spectacular wide-screen vistas of Jack Arnold’s No Name on the Bullet (1959), movies which single-handedly justify the unlikely ascension of Audie Murphy from real-life war hero to number-one box office draw. In Tumbleweed, Murphy, as Jim Harvey, is first seen, as were so many western heroes of the time, riding alone toward the camera straight out of a mysterious past as the movie begins. Harvey is attacked by a rogue Indian, the son of a murderous chief, and ends up wounding the man. But rather than finishing him off, Harvey nurses him back to health, an act of kindness that will come back to haunt him in unexpected ways. Harvey is eventually hired to guard a small wagon train as it makes its way west. When the train is attacked by Indians Harvey hopes to persuade the chief to call off the attack—it was the chief’s son Harvey saved and he hopes this fact will carry some weight with the warrior leader-- and leaves the train to negotiate. But rather than talk, Harvey is captured and the rest of the train is wiped out except for two sisters. When he returns to the town, it is to a populace that assumes he betrayed the wagon train to their deaths, and he has to avoid the hangman’s noose long enough to prove his innocence. That he will do so is rarely in doubt, though the movie does take a turn or two darker than expected, especially in the first half. It’s through the prism of history that Tumbleweed gains in stature and makes for an interesting occasion to reflect on Murphy’s real-life hero’s welcome back from World War II in contrast to the suspicion laid on him by the townspeople in Tumbleweed (the title refers to Murphy’s trusty horse) and, of course, what we know of how veterans would be treated just 15 years after this movie’s release when they returned from Vietnam. It’s still just a really good western yarn and claims for it being much more than that would be, I think, made with 20/20 hindsight, but Tumbleweed is a good example of how pliable the western form can be even when the storyteller isn’t interested in exploding or even rigorously twisting that form.

Much better, more riveting and compelling, is Jack Arnold’s No Name on the Bullet (1959), in which the physically unintimidating Murphy dresses dark and commands the awe and terror of all around him, for reason that will eventually become clear but are left, in a genuinely satisfying fashion, to tantalize us for much of the movie’s short 77-minute running time. Everyone seems to know that John Gant (Murphy) is a killer. They see him ride into town and almost everyone starts getting antsy, as if the skeletons in the closet were rattling so loud so as no longer to be ignored. Everyone has their enemies, and no one knows for sure who Gant’s target is, or when he might strike. It’s interesting to see Murphy, the genial, surface-shiny good guy sidle up to such a tight-lipped baddie’s arsenal— done up in garb of a more villainous hue, he may seem like the appetizer before the onslaught of the real villainy, but by the time No Name for a Bullet has played its clever hand, Murphy seems a natural for the part (even if one could still imagine others doing it just as well, or better). The fact is, this movie, far and above the usual Universal-International western fare of the time, delivers its punches with exceptional craft and admirable delayed gratification. Arnold is an underrated craftsman, to be sure, and this may be one of his best pictures, one in which the shroud of guilt is shown to be as deadly and suffocating a weapon as any six-shooter from a dark-clad specter’s holster. No Name on the Bullet gives the B-movie western a good name beyond its simple pleasures. It’s a movie that quickly jumps the fences of nostalgia’s corral and heads out to take its place with the genuinely wild broncos of the genre’s best.

The trailer for No Name on the Bullet (1959)


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


In the dwindling shadow of last week’s little discussion of David Lynch’s Dune comes this link via the all-seeing, all-powerful, all-wonderful David Hudson to a site called io9 where four Japanese television commercials, directed by David Lynch in 1993 and featuring several Twin Peaks cast members in character, can be found and discussed.

According to Lynchnet:

“These commercials were done for the Japanese canned coffee, Georgia. The series was set in Twin Peaks and featured many of the cast from the series. In the ads, a Japanese man searches for his missing wife. Each commercial added more clues to the mystery, until the final one where Cooper rescues her from the Black Lodge. Originally a second series of four were planned, but the coffee company, unhappy with the first series, canceled them.”

In the interest of minimizing the risk of click-induced index finger-related carpal tunnel syndrome, I have embedded the ads for you here. So without further ado, return with us now to the peculiar dreamscape of Twin Peaks, Washington, where something special is happening in a can (that’s Georgia Coffee!) and something strange is happening (where else?) in the Black Lodge…





Many thanks to David Hudson and of course to the good folks at io9 for passing these along. Anyone for cherry pie?



I haven’t watched Saturday Night Live regularly since the Phil Hartman days of the early ‘90s, and not even my borderline unhealthy obsession with Tina Fey could change that. (It was an obsession born from 30 Rock, not SNL, though I did Google some of her Sarah Palin bits just because.) But nevertheless I marvel at this program's longevity. Admit it—none of you who watched SNL in its fifth year, as the last pieces of the Not Ready for Prime Time Players were crumbling and the show was about to make its first (disastrous) cast change, ever would have thought it would last this long. Despite its insistence on never going away (SNL has become, for some of us, the network television version of the character John Belushi immortalized during his tenure, The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave), it seems to have been in a constant state of vacillation between watchable and culturally irrelevant ever since the passing of its first five seasons.

But apparently even this venerable 35-year-old institution is still capable of pulling a rabbit out of its tattered top hat, and this past weekend it did so with the help of a spirited actress who has been around about 50 years longer than the program itself. On Saturday, May 8, octogenarian Betty White hosted the program, boosted by a campaign originating on Facebook to land her on the program. The campaign worked—over 515,000 people signed the petition site, compelling NBC and Lorne Michaels to take the bait, and White apparently spurred the SNL stable of writers and actors to come up with some of their best material in years, much of it built around her natural exuberance and the old-school tension between her twinkly demeanor and her tendency toward, shall we say, inappropriate language and unexpected behavior. Of course, this is a card she’s played brilliantly ever since the halcyon days of Sue Ann Nivens, right on up through The Golden Girls and recent supporting roles in movies like The Proposal. This year she even made a splash with football fans (albeit in a mud puddle) in a hilarious Snickers ad which saw her and Abe Vigoda both take some vicious hits (with the help of CGI, one certainly hopes) during a pickup scrimmage. (Those of us who remember her appearances on Password already knew she was a firecracker.)

Despite all the love she has received throughout her career, it’s nice to see White not only get her due from the current generation of comedians while she’s still active and funny, but also to get a showcase like SNL on which to strut her stuff. I wish I could have seen it myself, but in the age of Hulu and TiVo and YouTube and all the other sites that have turned summer reruns into the stuff of cathode ray legend something like the Betty White Phenomenon is never too far away. And so, assuming that like me you may have missed the big water cooler event of the weekend, here’s one or two moments from Betty White’s triumphant turn on Saturday Night Live (without having to sit through all those annoying commercials or Jay-Z!). Wouldn’t it be lovely if all this attention could get this fine and funny actress, at 85 years old, a real movie or two where she wouldn’t have to play Sandra Bullock’s feisty grandmother-in-law? (No Stop, Or My Mom Will Shoot Too! jokes, please.) Betty White, the self-effacing, spirited, impishly self-aware comedienne who has mastered the tension between the housewife’s twinkle and the impudent hussy’s suggestion like few others, is the real deal. Enjoy!

Betty White and Kristen Wiig promote White's upcoming Saturday Night Live appearance

The Betty White SNL Monologue

Betty makes an NPR radio appearance with cooking show hosts Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer—double entendre alert!

Tina Fey’s census worker meets her match when Betty answers the door.


Monday, May 10, 2010


God bless her. Lena Horne has passed away. The Siren has some wonderful quotes, comments and links to other tributes.

"I don't have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I'd become. I'm me, and I'm like nobody else." - Lena Horne


Also, word this afternoon that famed painter and illustrator Frank Frazetta has died of a stroke at age 82.

"What I do is create images, period." - Frank Frazetta


Sunday, May 09, 2010


UPDATED 5/11/2010 11:48 a.m.

UPDATED YET AGAIN 5/11/2010 5:19 p.m.

UPDATED YET AGAIN 5/12/2010 4:33 p.m.

The entries here at SLIFR have been a little skimpier than usual since April 22, the principal reason being that I obtained press credentials to cover the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, which took over Hollywood for four days from April 22 to April 25, and have spent most of my free time since the festival closed writing furiously, happily about it. Just not for SLIFR. I only managed to make it into the media corps through the good graces of Keith Uhlich, editor of The House Next Door, who responded with a resounding yes when I asked if he'd be interested in me writing something about the festival for the widely read blog; and Ed Gonzalez, editor at Slant magazine where THND shines as the magazine's official blog, who was kind enough to write a letter of assignment for me to send to the folks handling publicity for the festival. The only instruction I received from Keith was that he didn't want it to be a dry account of the movies I saw-- Keith wanted my perspective not only on the movies but also, since it was the first real film festival I'd ever attended, on the experience of being there. We communicated occasionally during the festival-- my text messages to Keith could usually be boiled down to some variation of "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!"-- and when the process of writing about it all finally got under way he never once suggested I was going too long. He kept saying that he wanted an in-depth, thorough account, and by all measures-- his and mine-- that's what I finally delivered to him late this past week. The writing was very pleasurable, though it seemed to take an ungodly amount of time, time which had to be sandwiched in between longer-than-usual work hours and lots of family time. I had lots of notes, and there was no danger of the details fading too quickly, but still I wanted to get something together as fast as I could. Even so, it still took a week and a half after the festival, usually working between 10:00 pm and 6:00 a.m. whenever I could (including work nights), but I got it done, and again, Keith never balked at the length when he had it in hand.

And now it's ready for you to read. Click right on over to The House Next Door and get a taste of what being part of this Hollywood community of classic film lovers was really like. The comments column will be open at the House, of course, but I'd love it if you checked in here and let me and the SLIFR readership know your thoughts as well.

When Robert Osborne revealed, just before the screening of the newly restored Metropolis (which opens this week in New York and Los Angeles in the version we saw, with those recently discovered 25 minutes added) that there would indeed be a 2011 TCM Classic Film Festival, the crowd roared its approval and I began thinking of ways to talk Keith into turning me loose again next year. For certainly I would not have had this extraordinary experience without his support and encouragement. But for now, feel free to dive back in with me (I'm excited to read it again myself after Keith's editing) and follow the trail of crumbs I left through some of the big-ticket shows as well as some of the less high-profile screenings, which were, as I'm sure is often the case, where the most unexpected of jewels got their chance to shine. To have my first film festival be one that was entirely not about grabbing swag, being seen, scoping out the hottest tickets to the hottest new titles, or trying to second-guess the market life of said hot titles when they finally get purchased and distribution is secured, was a real treat. Everyone at the TCM Classic Film Festival seemed to be there not for reasons of status or attitude or scrambling for position in the business, but for a simple love of the movies, and of classic movies in particular. It was an event infused with excitement that certainly had a veneer of nostalgia but was also profoundly about what seeing the classics in their proper environs is like, and what those classics can teach us about how to see and appreciate films from all countries and periods of history. It was an event that had a once-in-a-lifetime frisson, and I'm so glad its success has insured that once-in-a-lifetime will come around at least one more time, not to mention the possibility of this weekend in April becoming the cornerstone of a grand new film festival tradition all about the fabled and fantastic history of Hollywood itself.


UPDATE: Some interesting reaction to the piece from Vadim Rizov at An interesting discussion is developing in the comments thread as well.


UPDATE: Old pal Michael Guillen, yet another associate from the early days of my blogging adventure here at SLIFR, has posted a series of commentary and transcripts of on-stage interviews that took place during the TCM Classic Film Festivals on his excellent blog The Evening Class. Click on the links for accounts of conversations between Robert Osborne and Ileana Douglas and Casey LaLonde which immediately preceded the screening of A Woman's Face (1941); Anjelica and Danny Huston which introduced the screening of their father John's masterpiece The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); and finally Eli Wallach, who so wonderfully prefaced the screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966).

I'm so glad Michael was there to record these conversations and make them available to us all, particularly the Eli Wallach interview, the only one of these three I was able to attend myself. It's great to have all the commentary this fine actor offered transcribed in such detail. It just pains me to know that Michael was not only at the TCM Film Festival, but in the very same auditorium at the same time I was, and yet we were each unaware of the presence of the other. Michael, I have already begun preparing for (that is, eagerly anticipating) next year's festival, and we will definitely meet then if not before! Thanks so much for these great posts!


UPDATE: More from Mr. Guillen-- Luise Rainer and Douglas Trumbull. If we're lucky, more to come!