Thursday, September 29, 2005


The rumors that you may have heard floating around about a wide theatrical release of a restored version of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining were confirmed today by longtime Kubrick associate and the film's associate executive producer, Armen Karshargian, here in Burbank. Apparently buoyed by the box-office success of the special edition of The Exorcist back in September of 2000, studio executives, in conjunction with Karshargian and representatives of the Kubrick estate, revealed today that the film will be rushed into theaters to take advantage of the Halloween season and commemorate the film's 25th anniversary. (The release date was announced as October 24). The restored version will feature no added material, unlike the Exorcist rerelease, but some material has been recut slightly to conform to instructions found in the director's archives, reversing changes that were made in the wake of a less-than-satisfying sneak preview held in Lawrence, Kansas just two weeks before the film was originally released in May, 1980. "Fans of The Shining and Stanley's films may notice that some critical scenes play slightly differently," Karshargian said, adding that most changes could be equated to the difference between a "C" note on a musical scale and a C-sharp. "The scenes are still there and the film is recognizably what it has always been," Karshargian continued, "but the changes we initiated from Stanley's notes will hopefully have the effect he intended-- to expand the appeal of the film to a wider demographic and add a further frisson of terror to a few scenes that he always felt came off a little flatter than expected." Karshargian also noted that if the upcoming re-release of the restored version of The Shining does as well as expected, fans of the director's work can look forward to a similar revisiting of another Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon. "Stanley always imagined Lyndon's battle scenes as a bit more muscular and hallucinatory than what the studio had in mind when the film was originally released in 1975," claims the producer. If the project sees the light of day, Karshargian said, "expect a fully more visceral experience," which may utilize up to 45 more minutes of footage shot by Kubrick that he was forced to excise. Karshargian likens it to the work of another director familiar with the horrors of the battlefield: "I expect it'll end up looking a bit like an Oliver Stone film, but from footage shot 10 years before Stone ever exposed a frame of film as a director." The studio also made the trailer for the restored version of The Shining available today. You can see it here, but you'll need Quick Time.

UPDATE Oct. 1, 2:33pm: The Mysterious Adrian Betamax has directed me to a New York Times story about the creator of this recut Shining mini-phenomenon, Robert Ryang. You may have to register online to read it, however...


There’s a new Albert Brooks comedy on its way, and a major Hollywood studio—Sony Pictures-- decided to get skittish and refused to release it unless Brooks changed the title. Brooks refused, Sony passed, and Warner Independent Pictures scooped it up for release early next year. The title? Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, about a stand-up comic (Brooks, playing, as he did in Real Life, Albert Brooks) who heads to the Middle East on a quest to discover just what it is that Muslims find funny. Personally, I think anything by Albert Brooks is automatically worth a look, although I admit I still haven’t seen his indifferently reviewed 1999 release The Muse. But Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times has seen the new movie and is perplexed, as is Brooks, by Sony’s sheepishness and the inevitable perception of the movie being a 90-minute knock on an ethnic/religious culture already routinely lampooned and misrepresented in worldwide pop culture. Goldstein chronicles the filmmaker’s attempts to get his movie released and understood during this particularly churned-up moment in history in his Tuesday “Big Picture” column entitled ”Funny Choices.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Here’s a tip for any Bay Area-based SLIFR readers looking for a good live theater experience this weekend— Improper Ambitions: Two Women in the Paris Art World, a new production in the Theatre Rhinoceros at the Bella Union Theatre Company in San Francisco, has been getting some terrific reviews and will be closing its short run this weekend. The Bella Union Web site describes the play’s action thusly:

“From the doomed court of Marie-Antoinette to the radical Impressionist circle, two painters confront war, romance, and the French Academy in Paris. This exciting new play is based on the true lives of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, the queen's favorite portraitist, and Berthe Morisot, one of the original Impressionists… Written by Bella Union company member Christine U'Ren, and featuring a delightful ensemble cast, this production brings to life such luminaries as Marie-Antoinette, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt.”

I haven’t been able to make it up north to see the play myself, but having seen several productions in the Bay Area over the past ten years or so featuring the work of actor Bruce Lundy* (who plays, among others, Degas, and who will soon, it seems, be adding the credit of producer to his already impressive resume with another upcoming theatrical project), I’d be willing to recommend seeing it based on his talent alone. Lundy has become one of the East Bay’s most respected and sought-after actors since entering the Bay Area theatrical scene over a decade ago; in powerful and inventive productions such as Taking Sides, A Man of No Importance, She Stoops To Conquer and his terrific turn as the Marlowe-esque noir alter ego of a frustrated writer in City of Angels, to name but a few, he has delivered a string of magnetic and thoughtful performances. If I were a betting man (and maybe I am), I’d say the odds are exceptionally good that Lundy, and the other members of the cast of Improper Ambitions, will deliver a engaging, enjoyable evening of theater. Catch it if you can—I wish I could.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I will now not-at-all reluctantly cop to the fact that Bruce Lundy is my best friend and has been for almost 30 years, and I’m thrilled to have some kind of forum to highlight the fine work he does on the Bay Area theater scene. Maybe next time I can deliver some good words before the onset of the closing weekend performances…

(Photo courtesy of the Bella Union Theatre Company)


I got this one from Rodger over at 8763 Wonderland: "Which Fucked-Up Genius Composer Are You?"

I would have guessed Louis Prima, or maybe Mahler,

but somehow, when it all shook out, I came up thusly...

you are Shane MacGowan!
"Shane MacGowan... unconsciously brilliant. You
can intelligently debate any topic from
theology, history, literature and philosphy...
though only while you're out of your skull on

Yeah, this is just about on par with the movie that best expresses my personality turning out to be Easy Rider. I can almost hear my friend Paul Reilly laughing his newly svelte Irish ass off. And what's that? I can hear my wife laughing...

But, as it happens, you too can be a Fucked-up Genius Composer! Just click here to find your sick-soulmate-of-song. And of course, report back what you find out. As for me, I have a very strong, sudden desire to go into my bathroom and vigorously floss...


This is not, in fact, a picture of Preacher Beege-- as far as I know, she is not a pale wooden pew, and if she is, she's the most fun pale wooden pew I've ever posted a picture of. If there is a picture of herself somewhere amongst the many posts on her very personal, entertaining and occasionally moving blog, I am unaware of it. So the pew, from her blogger profile, will have to do...

I cannot remember with certainty how I stumbled across the eponymous blog Preacher Beege-- probably some random search, the blogging equivalent of channel surfing, in a moment of late night exhaustion or boredom. Beege, 30-ish, if I remember correcty, is a Lutheran minister who lived in Kansas when I started reading her blog, and who has since moved with her husband to Minnesota, where she is currently looking for a new church and at the same time enjoying not having one, all the better to dote on her no-longer newborn daughter, Linnea, fast approaching two years old.

After a short time, I began reading her often funny, and just as often cheerfully (and unexpectedly) profane, observations on life, motherhood, God and other obsessions with increasing interest-- this was the first personal diary-oriented blog I'd ever attempted to follow with regularity, and the experience was strangely like getting to know a character in a book or a sharply written screenplay. Only this character was a living, breathing human being. It was a public blog I was reading, but even so I was still peeking into someone's personal thoughts, and after a while it all started to feel, well, a little weird.

Then one day I checked in on Beege and found out she and her husband and daughter had just returned from a vacation in the Pacific Northwest. She even posted pictures from her time there, including a gorgeous shot of Cape Foulweather on the Oregon Coast, which served to make me wish intensely that I could be there and also gave me a good excuse to finally drop a comment and go from lurker to emerging cyber-friend.

It's hard to say how much Beege and I would have in common as friends in the three-dimensional world, but she's a terrific blog-pal-- full of spunk, unexpected perspectives, willingness to participate in the crazy questionnaires and other flotsam and jetsam (including Professor Wagstaff's little quiz) that are so much a part of the blogging universe, and most of all the refreshing enthusiasm of a young wife and mother who can't trumpet the loves of her life loudly enough-- I really like her generally exuberant attitude, as well as her willingness to let her readers in on darker emotions that a young woman, not to mention a young minister, might often try to disguise from public view.

She and I have traded comments on each other's blogs for several months now, but recently she gave me props in a recent post and used the occasion to ruminate on her three favorite films "in the spirit of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule." Well, in my eye, she did pretty well expressing her enthusiasm for three movies that probably aren't on too many cinephiles' top 100 lists, and in the process she honored my blog site and showed that its spirit is indeed a pretty easily accessible one. She had a much easier time, I'm sure, writing in the spirit of my site than I would have writing in the spirit of hers, even though some of my entries are fairly personal in the mode most familiar to her.

Since Beege's blog is better left daily appreciated than emulated, I thought I'd return the compliment in a more routine way-- throwing the spotlight on what she does so engagingly, tipping my hat to her as a way of saying thanks for being a friendly member of the small community of readers on this blog, and swapping top three movie titles with her. It seems to me Beege's choice of titles-- Happy, Texas, Beautiful Girls and Mystery, Alaska-- reveal a tendency to gravitate toward movies featuring depictions of extreme weather and a very specific sense of community. I have seen Beautiful Girls and found it intermittently entertaining, with a terrific performance by a young Natalie Portman, but ultimately a little too tidy and a touch creepy. I have not seen the other two-- I like Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam, so Happy, Texas has a leg up, but I will say I'm fonder of Alaskan weather than the whole Northern Exposure sensibility that radiates from the trailer for Mystery, Alaska, which I have seen.

So, here's my proposal, Beege. I'll rent Happy, Texas and Mystery, Alaska and watch 'em both, if you'll do the same with any or all of the three titles which have made recent surges into my personal top 10 that you haven't already seen. Assuming that you're at least considering the swap, here are the three titles:

1) Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) Sergio Leone's gorgeous, mournful and iconic masterpiece is a thrilling summing-up of an entire genre-- the American Western. In addition to the cast-against-type (and therefore most effectively cast) Henry Fonda as the movie's blue-eyed homicidal villain, Claudia Cardinale (never more beautiful or strong, and an anomaly in Leone's filmography--a central female character) and Charles Bronson as the harmonica-playing man with a secret, the movie boasts one brilliant set piece after another and, arguably, Ennio Morricone's finest work as a film composer. What can't be argued, it seems to me, is the status of the first ten minutes of Once Upon a Time in the West, including the presentation of the main titles, as the greatest opening sequence in a movie ever. When I get around to revisiting my top films of all time list, it seems likely that this movie has a good shot at displacing Nashville, which has been my number-one for about 20 years, at the top of the heap.

2) The Lady Eve (1941) One of those truly great movies that makes you realize that not only do they not make them like this anymore, "they" couldn't make another movie like this one even "they" wanted to. Henry Fonda and Barbara Stanwyck star in Preston Sturges' virtually perfect screwball comedy-- Stanwyck's con artist sets upon bookish snake specialist Fonda as an easy mark and ends up literally falling for him, and he does a few hilarious pratfalls as well in the process of inadvertently upending her preconceptions about the boundaries of sexual attraction. Riotously funny, flawlessly scripted and executed, this is exhibit "A" in the case for Sturges as the premier writer and director of American film comedy.

3) Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) Dennis Price is Duke Louis Mazzini, denied official membership in the family D'Ascoyne when his mother dares to marry outside of their societal circles for love, not money or position. The duke retaliates by deciding to off all eight D'Ascoynes (each man, and woman, played by Sir Alec Guinness) that stand in the way of his ascension to the head of the family. So begins the pinnacle achievement of the British comedies produced by the Ealing Studios, perhaps the pitch-blackest black comedy that has yet been made. By the time you get to the conclusion of this pitilessly hilarious film, you'll have been exposed to the black heart of evil resting, perversely enough, in the chest of the film's protagonist, the character with whose moral outrage and sense of entitlement you'd be intended, in a more conventional film, to empathize, or at the very least understand. This is a movie that has the courage of its convictions as it pulls the carpet out from underneath your sympathies and never takes the easy way out, right up to its bracing, bitter and startling conclusion. And Guinness' distinctly oddball characterizations add up to much more than a casting stunt-- funny and compelling in and of themselves, they also pave the way for Peter Sellers' more celebrated multi-character work in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove...

There you have 'em. I'll go to Netflix right now and pony up for the two titles on your list, if you'll do the same with the three directly above. But movies or no, here's to you, Beege. Whatever it is you're feeding that little girl of yours, keep it up-- looks like she's turning out just fine! And good luck too on the job search, life in Minnesota, and finding out just what God has in store for you. If it's anything like the person I read regularly about on your blog, I suspect it's gonna be pretty good.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Once again it's my pleasure to refer you to Jon Weisman and Sunday's edition of Dodger Thoughts, in which he takes the opportunity to eloquently describe what he describes as "the loser's dividend," that is, the possibility of what baseball can be for a fan of a team whose sub-.500 season status is sealed, who have watched the Giants sleep for three-quarters of the schedule, only to wake up and play spoiler to the Padres' prospects for a division title and the already wounded pride of the Dodgers and their fans. It is now, until the end of the season on October 2, purely baseball for Dodger fans. Weisman describes attending two games this past week that were as enjoyable for him as watching them this past week on TV have been for me, regardless of the final result, and separate from all the worry over "will they or won't they?" This article is as close to a cherry on top of a disappointing season as there is likely to be, a season which began so strongly for the Dodgers, a season, as Vin Scully might say, in which the Dodgers rode the elevator from the penthouse to the cellar. Well, not quite the cellar, thanks to our friends in Colorado. But looking at how well the Rockies played the Dodgers this year, and how strong their largely young team looks to be in 2006, one shouldn't be taking any promises of there being that Denver cushion at the bottom of the National League West in 2006 with too much assurance. As Weisman writes in another column, Paul DePodesta's plan was never intended or expected to be a one-season cure-all, and certainly enough went wrong, with injuries, misbehavior and substandard ballplaying, to ensure that 2006 may be just as rough a ride. As the playoffs and the World Series approach, it's a good time to remember, all Fox Sports hype to the contrary, that what's at stake here is not of earth-shaking importance, and what we will be witnessing in October are not contests of gladiatorial pomp and circumstance, nor can they, with any good sense or sensitivity, be compared to war (though somebody with a considerable lack of sense will undoubtedly step up and do just that before the final out of the Series). It is simply, and with all its complexity, playoff implications or not, the wonderful game that Abner Doubleday probably did not invent, and to be able to see it in person on the major league level is a privilege in which many around the country cannot indulge. Los Angeles Dodger fans, join with fans of the Royals, the Devil Rays, the Giants (he said pointedly, even as the distance between them and first place is only three games), the Mets and every other team whose playoff hopes are now or soon will be officially dashed and just enjoy what the game has to offer. The road to 2006 begins in six days.

Monday, September 26, 2005

"WOULD YOU BELIEVE…?” Don Adams 1923-2005

I was five years old when Get Smart debuted on NBC in 1965. It was the first show I can remember loving and the rest of my family having little or no tolerance for—in other words, it was the first show that made me feel like I was hip to something they didn’t get; the first show that made me feel like I was s(S)marter than some of the older people around me; the show that introduced me to the excitement of liking something no one else did (maybe I would have been dismayed to fully understand that, in reality, the show was a huge popular hit from the start and twice won Emmys for best comedy series). It was also the show that introduced me to the name Mel Brooks. And, of course, it made Don Adams, as Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, my very first favorite TV hero, one who I imagined it would be fun to emulate in real life. (Would you believe that later in life, I missed getting my International Super-spy degree from DeVry by thi-i-i-is much, getting booted for not taking things seriously enough, and an inability to effectively employ the various levels of footwear communications technology?)

Don Adams was 82 years of age when he died of a lung infection late Sunday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Adams had broken a hip a year ago and had been ill ever since, according his close friend and former agent Bruce Tufeld. Adams had a long career in TV after the end of Get Smart’s run but was never able to escape the long shadow cast by his brilliantly bumbling comic creation. He was a frequent TV talk show guest and guest star on shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and in 1980, he reunited with Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) for a Get Smart feature film, entitled The Nude Bomb, which performed up to its titular standard, both in critical circles and at the box office. Nevertheless, he headlined yet another Get Smart TV movie (Get Smart Again!) and a short-lived 1995 attempt to revive the character in another TV show called Get Smart, this time featuring Feldon as Agent 99, and Andy Dick as their equally bumbling son Zach.

Adams may have been occasionally frustrated by being linked so closely to Maxwell Smart, but it’s hard to imagine, from the staccato timing and gusto of his performances—shoe heel or not, he never phoned in an episode of Get Smart-- that he didn’t relish the knowledge that he was part of a genuine TV phenomenon, even before the days when Nick at Nite and TV Land would package nostalgia for the medium’s past and lacquer it with enough rose-colored sheen to make even the smelliest turd from the past look like a jewel. Get Smart never needed the nostalgia-fueled claims for greatness that such irony-laced treatment would eventually make for it and other shows of its time. A look back at it now makes clear that it was a fizzy, silly, witty kaleidoscope of comic insanity right from the start, and despite the pedigree of Brooks, Buck Henry and others who contributed to its success behind the scenes, it was Don Adams who made the show tick. In an age where every lousy TV show is available in boxed set after boxed set on DVD, here is a show, and a brilliantly sustained comic character, worthy of digital enshrinement. As we say good-bye to Don Adams, perhaps one day we’ll be able to say hello to a Get Smart collection that can stand as a testament to the show’s sharp writing as well the actor at its center, and the dazed and confused would-be master of espionage he created.

UPDATE 9/28 9:44 p.m.:

"I may never get to play with the Philharmonic, but on the other hand, is Leonard Bernstein licensed to kill?"
-- Maxwell Smart

In order to assure Blaaagh, and others who may have flushed it from their memories in self-defense, one quick click
will take you to TV Guide, January 7, 1995, for all you'll ever need to know about Fox's ill-fated attempt to revive Get Smart. Oh, how I wish I could have forgotten about this one myself...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Several weeks ago, long before I'd seen 2046, I became transfixed by the signature image from that film-- Ziyi Zhang posing in a beautiful black cheongsam, arching her back slightly, hand on hip, and looking down just past the camera with a mixture of sexual precociousness and disdain. It ended up as desktop wallpaper on my computer at work (where it still reigns); my wife procured a beautiful glossy still of said image for me on eBay, far more than suitable for framing; and I have posted it twice already, once in conjunction with comments about the film, and once because I just wanted to. (I will not post it again, for fear of being labeled dangerously unbalanced, but I will direct you to it here, just in case scrolling down a few articles to find it is just a little too much physical activity for you at the moment.)

Not long after I put it on my work computer, I mentioned to my wife (who sits right next to me every day, toiling away at the same trade) that I believed the image would one day be seen as a great iconic image of the cinema, right up there with Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grating, skirt making for the heavens, in The Seven Year Itch. Fast forward a few weeks to this past Wednesday, when the Village Voice published an essay by Graham Fuller, Sunday arts editor at the New York Daily News and film columnist for Interview magazine, asserting, in a lovely and perceptive appreciation, that very status for the Ziyi Zhang still (which was, as Fuller informs us, not a still frame from the film, but a photograph shot on set during the filming by Hong Kong photographer and graphic artist Wing Shya).

Fuller goes back even further than Monroe to link the power of the Zhang pose with that of the iconic image of Marlene Dietrich from Josef von Sternberg's seminal classic The Blue Angel:

"There she stands then, in a spangled black cheongsam, a noirish totem of sexual aloofness, in her room, 2046, at Hong Kong's Oriental Hotel. Her upper lip is cast in shadow as it separates provocatively from its neighbor. Her neatly coiffed head is cocked slightly to her left at an angle that would seem quizzical if it didn't seem she knows all the damn answers (in fact, she has none). She has, meanwhile, arrayed herself in insolent contrapposto: Her right hand is spread on her right hip in such a way that it crooks the arm at a 90-degree angle at the elbow; her left hand caresses her abdomen with the scarlet-tipped fingers at 10 o'clock (much too early for bed in mid-'60s Hong Kong). This accentuates not the curve of her back, as the New York Times review headline euphemistically put it, but the prominence of her bust, which must be pressing painfully against her too tight sheath—a clear mark of masochism. The pose echoes Dietrich's akimbo stances in The Blue Angel and especially Sternberg's 1932 Blonde Venus. It's an advertisement, a challenge, and a taunt."

The rest of Fuller's essay is as intriguing and perceptive as that previous paragraph is evocative and profoundly observant. The author is right in suggesting that the image of Ziyi Zhang that has become indelibly associated with 2046, its meanings, its erotic power and its foreboding emotionalism espouses "the kind of tantalizing erotic mystery that movies themselves seldom project these days." That's one reason why it is worth seeking out the few remaining theaters playing 2046 as summer officially turns to fall (it has one more day-- today, Thursday, September 22-- at the Laemmle One Colorado Cinemas in Pasadena, and starting Friday the only place you can see it on the big screen in Southern California is at Laemmle's Monica on 2nd Street in Santa Monica, at 11:00 a.m.!). After the movie disappears from cinemas, Fuller's article itself will stand as a potent, romantic and brilliant reminder of why seeing 2046 in any format-- DVD is next, obviously-- should be on everyone's to-do list in 2005.


Earlier this year I was my great pleasure to strike up a cyber-friendship with Peter Gelderblom, founder, editor of, and contributor to, the terrific Web site 24 Lies A Second. Peet (as he is known on the Web) lives and works in Holland; he originally dropped a very nice line or two in the comments column of one of my posts and invited me to rework an old article of mine for publication on the site. I took this as a very great compliment, as I had followed the site for some time previous to his contacting me, and it turned out to be a whole lot of fun to work with Peet and 24 Lies editor Jim Moran to get my big, ungainly, bloated piece of work into something close to fighting shape. Not everybody liked the piece when 24 Lies turned it loose, and I really didn't expect that everyone would-- I got criticism of it when I originally published it on this blog too-- but Jim and Peet were endlessly supportive and have always made me feel welcome to submit new ideas for further articles. In fact, I may have finally tumbled one around in my head long enough to actually start working on getting it ready for them to see.

In the meantime, Peet and I have kept in contact, peering in at each other's Web presences and dropping the occasional e-mail and/or comment on the sites. I got an e-mail from him last week, actually, alerting me to the presence of a new 24 Lies Brian De Palma poll (check this one out, Blaaagh!) and an article freshly minted from the Gelderblom pen (keyboard) called "The Shape of Substance: Brian De Palma and the Function of Form." As I want to give this one more than just the cursory bathroom once-over, I've printed it out and set aside some time this weekend to read it, as I have all of the articles from the contributing writers on 24 Lies. But I was very happy that Peet felt compelled to write to me and solicit my reaction to this one in particular, and I'm relishing the anticipation of consuming it as much as I am the inevitable actual enjoyment of engaging with his ideas in the piece.

From left, Rasmus (the disillusioned dinosaur fan), Luka (my future son-in-law?), and blogpal Peter (Peet) Gelderblom

Attached to his e-mail was a very amusing anecdote than I wanted to pass along, and now that I have secured his permission I shall do so. (This originally appeared as a post on the 24 Lies reader forum, but Peet passed it along to me for reasons that will become obvious):

"A while ago, I also posted a funny story on the forum about my oldest son and me, considering the REAL horrors of Jurassic Park. I guess it's the sort of thing only daddies like you can truly understand...

My son Rasmus has been a dinosaur fan for as long as he can remember, and there's no other movie he yearned to see more desperately than Spielberg's modern classic Jurassic Park. Again and again, Rasmus begged me throughout the years if he would be allowed to see it. Finally, by the time he reached the age of seven I deemed him old enough.

As we sat down before the television together, I wondered what would gruel Rasmus the most: the T-rex scene or the velociraptor chase? Little did I know that it turned out to be something else completely.

You remember the cartoon, about one-third into the movie, that explains how the dinosaurs were recreated from fossil DNA? Since Rasmus doesn't understand English, I was directly translating everything that little string of cartoon DNA said into Dutch, until the bomb dropped and out of my mouth came something along the lines of: 'That's why every dinosaur in Jurassic Park is female.'

Now, for those of you less familiar with the mindset of the average seven-year-old boy, let me assure you there is nothing - I repeat: nothing - more appalling to them than girls...

Rasmus turned to me in utter shock and said, 'What?!? Are all the dinos GIRLS?' Instead of being smart enough to deny it, I confirmed him of his deepest terror. Try to put yourself in his shoes: what he considered to be the coolest creatures on the planet turned out to be what he detested most of all. In a few seconds time, Spielberg had crushed the love of his life and I was partly responsible. It seriously pissed Rasmus off. 'What a stupid movie is this,' he said. 'I will never find it exciting now!'

Luckily, the T-rex scene was able to change his mind. Nevertheless, he may never fully recover from that initial shock. Neither may I."

Thanks, Peet, for the terrific story, and for the fine work you do at 24 Lies A Second. I thoroughly recommend anyone interested in serious, accessible discussion of film to stop by this site right away and make it a regular destination. And the forum topics are always interesting too. I haven't been as active in there as I should have been over the past summer, but some of the topics under discussion now have convinced me to modify my behavior right away. As for that De Palma poll, Blow Out is the current leader (and my choice), with precisely twice the support of the nearest contender, Body Double. Who will cast the first vote for Carrie? Come on, people! And surely Sisters is worthy of a first-place vote from someone. You can even cast a vote for The Bonfire of the Vanities if you want to (I'm talking to you, Mysterious Adrian Betamax), but just follow it up with a good reason or two in the comments section. (Oh, and yes, Peet, we will have to talk about Body Double, which I haven't seen, by the way, in at least 10 years-- it's one of the few De Palma films I have little use for, and I'm very interested in hearing out an opposite point of view, especially yours.)

As Bugs Bunny might have said, ain't the blogosphere grand?

Monday, September 19, 2005


If you were a movie-mad kid in the '60s and '70s like I was, ads like these will look very familiar and may send you off into uncontrollable daydreams of leafing through the paper and trying to take in all that there was to see. And if you were a movie-mad kid in the '60s and '70s who, like me, had to get your movie fix largely from imagining the thrills to be had from triple features like Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Blood Demon and Battle Beneath the Earth because you
A typical drive-in movie ad from
the Drive-In Gallery

lived in an isolated town and the paper you looked into every day was from a city 400 miles away (Portland, Oregon), then you'll know that staring at these ads could often, and often had to be, as good as seeing the movies themselves. (In fact, in the case of some of these pictures, your imagination probably far outstripped the actual movie.)

I would see an ad for a drive-in showing something like a triple feature of The Green Slime, Night of the Living Dead and She and know there were better, grander places beyond my hometown just waiting for me to get there, drive up to the boxoffice, lay my money down and settle in for a world of ridiculous and awesome wonders. And what's amazing is, some of these places were showing triple features made up of the likes of The Wild Bunch, The Green Berets and Cool Hand Luke. That's not cut-rate fare-- well, The Green Berets isn't a very good movie, but it was certainly positioned as one by Warner Brothers at the time. It was an epic, an event, not a B-movie horror flick or biker adventure (my own hometown drive-in, in a rare display of enthusiasm and showmanship, trumpeted it on the marquee thusly: "The Big One Is Here!") And if that triple feature in particular was running during the mid-summer months, the show wouldn't start until about 9:00 (if your projectionist was conscientious and didn't fire up the carbon arcs until dark had arrived completely). These three movies together, not factoring in intermission times, clock in at just over seven and a half hours, which means that if you wanted the biggest bang for your buck, you'd be blearily hitting the exits at around 4:00 a.m. And these triple features of Hollywood fare and cheap horror weren't one-off dusk-till-dawn novelty shows booked to stir up attention or give local car clubs a place to rev their engines all night long, as they would be today-- this was standard operating procedure for a lot of these places. How absolutely wonderful and amazing is that, in an age when exploitation pictures are the meat and potatoes of big budget Hollywood and no longer the sole province of renegades like American International Pictures, when most drive-ins can only afford bare-bones presentations of mainstream Hollywood fare if they expect to survive?

Take a gander at some more great ads at Drive-In, and other wonderful newspaper clippings of the era, walk-in and drive-in, courtesy of, and be amazed.

(If anyone knows any other places to which I can provide links that feature ads such as these, I'd really be grateful if you'd let me know.)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

2046 plus ALMOST 2046 MOVIES COMING SOON and other thoughts for the weekend

2046I’m not sure I understand those writers who have suggested that experience with In the Mood for Love isn’t absolutely necessary to follow or enjoy Wong Kar-wai’s follow-up film, 2046, which shares a main character with Love and references, explicitly and obliquely, events and near-events that were the meat of the previous film. My feeling is that what’s being suggested is, seeing 2046 as merely a kaleidoscope of beautiful imagery or a cinematic parade of stunning women is good enough, because otherwise concentrating on the movie’s “plot” would be too headache-inducing. And my guess is, it’s the writers who feel this way who missed In the Mood for Love, and advocating 2046 as merely a gorgeous visual bliss-out, deemphasizing its content, is their way of saying they didn’t “get” the new film without actually saying as much. It all sounds curiously like the cynical marketing of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a head trip to a potential audience whose brainpans were already too befuddled to engage Kubrick’s film on its own terms-- it was made acceptable to account for it simply as a series of pretty pictures, and MGM cleaned up when it re-released the film.

I saw 2046 last night with a friend who had not seen In the Mood for Love, and he admitted quite a bit of difficulty being able to follow the film on its emotional level— he couldn’t figure out, for example, why Chow (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) was so indifferent to Bai Ling (Ziyi Zhang) until the film’s conclusion, at which point the movie’s chance of coalescing for him as a narrative was fairly well muted. (The underlying subtext of his response was, of course, why would anyone dump Ziyi Zhang? What, is this Chow fella crazy or something?) But if you’re able to reference the film’s many allusions to Love and plug them into what Wong has constructed here—a fictional, futuristic world inside the mind of a writer, living in “the present” (sometime after the 1968 conclusion of Love but before the year 2046) who is also constantly projecting backward to his great lost love, the non-affair affair with Su Li Zhen (Maggie Chung Man Yuk) in the previous film, who shows up here in three separate incarnations (played by two different female icons of Chinese cinema)—you’ll have plenty of grist for the intellectual mill to go along with the ravishment of your senses. That past sentence alone hopefully suggests the folding in on themselves that makes 2046 and In the Mood for Love seem like one film instead of two, and certainly far more than empty exercises in set design, mind-boggling cinematography, or obsessive cataloguing of great beauties in a seemingly never-ending series of gorgeous, form-fitting dresses* and retro-hip bouffant hairdos. Wong is after how the mind wrestles with romantic obsession, how the workings and responsibilities and realities of love contrast with simple romantic attachment, and where (2046—a room, a state of mind, a place far in the future from which no one, naturally, has ever returned?) that obsession might lead. The director’s elliptical poetry and teasingly erotic visual grammar get us there in 2046, a movie which seemed, to this eye, to have almost no narrative peaks while I was watching it. I found Wong and cinematographer Christopher Doyle’s imagery so fundamentally transfixing that I was satisfied with the movie’s lulling rhythms, and the intertwining connections and dangling questions my mind was so involved in decoding. Yet upon reflection (and revisiting the trailer this afternoon), the movie has only gained in vitality, and its visual world-- not nearly so urban city futuristic as it is a somewhat claustrophobic interior landscape glowing with desire and regret-- seems so irresistibly seductive and exciting that I can’t wait to immerse myself in it again.

* UPDATE 9/18/05 11:54 pm: They're called cheongsams. Aren't they lovely?


I don’t know whether I just haven’t been paying as close attention as I should, but it seems like there’s an awful lot of worthwhile DVDs coming our way in the next month or so that would make either great additions to a collector’s library or to one’s Netflix queue. My thanks to Jim Knipfel of the New York Press and the good folks at Film Comment-- the “Home Movies” section, which tantalizingly concludes each issue of the magazine—they were the sources of information on the titles you’ll see listed below. All of these films are interesting and, it seems to me, worth pursuing—some I have seen and loved, some I have seen and not loved, some I have not seen and hope to encounter very soon. Some are already available for you to see, but most are Coming Soon To A Home Theater Near You. I hope you find something on this list worth checking out too. If not, well, there’s always the New Releases shelf at your local Franchise-O-Rama video store…

An Angel at My Table Jane Campion, Criterion (9/20) *
Anna Christie Clarence Brown, Warner (available now) **
Anna Karenina Clarence Brown, Warner (available now) **
Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession Nicolas Roeg, Criterion (9/27) *
Billion Dollar Brain Ken Russell, Columbia/TriStar (10/4)
Blood for Dracula (aka Andy Warhol’s Dracula) Paul Morrissey, Image (9/20)
Boudu Saved From Drowning Jean Renoir, Criterion (available now)
Camille George Cukor, Warner (available now) **
Cat People/Curse of the Cat People (Double Feature) Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise/Gunther von Fritsch, Warner (10/6) ***
The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach Jean-Marie Straub, Daniele Huillet, New Yorker (10/4)
Cop James B. Harris, MGM/UA (10/4)
Demon Seed Donald Cammell, Warner (10/4)
Die, Monster, Die!/The Dunwich Horror (Double Feature) Daniel Haller, MGM Midnite Movies (9/20)
Flesh and the Devil Clarence Brown, Warner (available now) **
Flesh for Frankenstein (aka Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) Paul Morrissey, Image (9/20)
The Flowers of St. Francis Roberto Rossellini, Criterion (available now)
The Ghost Ship Mark Robson, Warner (10/6) ****
Grand Hotel Edmund Goulding, Warner (available now) **
Hammer Horror Series (Two-Disc Set) includes Brides of Dracula, Curse of the Werewolf, The Phantom of the Opera (Terence Fisher), Night Creatures aka Captain Clegg (Peter Graham Scott), Kiss of the Vampire (Don Sharp), Paranoiac, Nightmare aka Here’s the Knife, Dear—Now Use It, The Evil of Frankenstein (Freddie Francis) Universal (available now)
The Innocents Jack Clayton, Fox (available now) *
In the Year Of the Pig Emile de Antonio, Home Vision (9/20) *
Isle of the Dead/Bedlam (Double Feature) Mark Robson, Warner (10/6) ***
I Walked With a Zombie/The Body Snatcher (Double Feature) Jacques Tourneur, Robert Wise, Warner (10/6) ***
The Leopard Man Jacques Tourneur, Warner (10/6) ****
Major Dundee (Extended Version) Sam Peckinpah, Sony (9/20)
The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek Preston Sturges, Paramount (now available)
The Man Who Fell to Earth Nicolas Roeg, Criterion (9/27)
Masculin Feminin Jean-Luc Godard, Criterion (9/20)
Mata Hari George Fitzmaurice, Warner (available now) **
The Mysterious Lady Fred Niblo, Warner (available now) **
Naked Mike Leigh, Criterion (9/20) *
Ninotchka Ernst Lubitsch, Warner (available now) **
Oldboy Chan-wook Park, TLA (available now)
Point of Order Emile de Antonio (release date TBA)
Queen Christina Rouben Mamoulian, Warner (available now) **
Le Samourai Jean-Pierre Melville, Criterion (10/18)
Save the Green Planet! Jun-hwan Jeong, Koch (available now)
The Seventh Victim Mark Robson, Warner (10/6) ****
The Stationmaster’s Wife Rainer Werner Fassbinder (release date TBA)
The Temptress Fred Niblo, Mauritz Stiller, Warner (available now) **

* When you rent this one, please feel free to check out the excellent closed-captioning and/or SDH subtitles, courtesy of Thom MacGregor and/or myself

** Available separately or together in the Warner Garbo: Signature Collection box—check CostCo for a potentially great deal on this if you’re buying; I picked the Warner Film Noir and Gangsters box sets there for about $20-30 cheaper than the list price of each

*** Available separately or together in the Warner Val Lewton Horror Collection box—see above for CostCo buying advice

**** Available only as part of the Warner Val Lewton Horror Collection box


I’m leading a caravan of friends and coworkers to the Mission Tiki tonight, just part of the grand plan to get the word out about this great drive-in and others in the area that are still going strong. We’re bringing our folding chairs and settling in early (manager Jeff Thurman is kindly letting us in before the box office officially opens so we can get a good spot) for a double feature of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Skeleton Key. If all goes well, this might become a regular get-together for the folks at my office—we’ve already tentatively planned another outing in October so that those who weren’t able to do this one can get in on the fun.

The Southern California Drive-In Movie Society is going great guns too. We’re scheduled to meet next Saturday, September 24, at the Vineland Drive-In in City of Industry. If you’d like to stop by and chat or fill out a registration form to join the club on your way through the snack bar, we’ll be set up in the snack bar through the first feature. On October 29 the club will be back at the Mission Tiki, and rumor has it there might even be a little TV coverage to welcome us and help get the word spread even further. More on that as Halloween weekend gets closer.

Bob Golding, owner of the Marysville Drive-In in Marysville, Central California, passed away unexpectedly this past Tuesday, September 13. A report in the Marysville-Yuba City Appeal-Democrat said that Golding’s death was ruled accidental and that his family will be attempting to carry on with the theater, despite numerous reports over the summer that the drive-in was facing imminent closure. We members of the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society extend our condolences and best wishes to the Golding family as they endeavor to hold Bob’s spirit close to their own and keep the gates of the Marysville Drive-In open, just as he was dedicated to doing up to the day he died.


Last but not least, I finally got going on the answers round-up post for Professor Wagstaff’s Summer of 42 (Questions, That Is) Wednesday night. Unfortunately, it took me three hours just to compile the notes! By the time I finished doing that I was delirious. But everything is gathered together, and if it hadn’t been for Wong Kar-wai I probably would have gotten at least a start on the big Wagstaff follow-up. But you got this instead. (Do you feel lucky… punk?) The good news is, in going over these answers again, I was really happy to be reminded just how hilarious some of them were, and how very entertaining and fascinating almost all of them were. We got some new blood involved in the contest this time around, which is always nice, but the veterans came through as well. And just a heads-up, students—the faculty is gathering up steam for a Christmas holiday season quiz to keep you occupied whilst you sit beneath the tree and gather dry pine needles upon your scalp, so be prepared. Golly, what balls! Terrifying the natives with the specter of a new quiz when the good professor hasn’t even returned the term papers on this one yet! But don’t worry—I’m pretty sure I’ll fry for it someday. Until then, time for some sleep. Must be awake and lucid at the drive-in, you know.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

ROBERT WISE 1914-2005

According to the Associated Press, Oscar-winning producer and director Robert Wise, who turned 91 on September 10, died Wednesday of heart failure.

I grew up and learned to love movies in the '60s and '70s, and as such I came to associate the name Robert Wise with big budgets, big casts and a big scaled, impersonal style. As a kid, when I thought of Robert Wise, I thought of The Sound of Music and West Side Story, big, galumphing, Academy Award-winning musicals that held little interest for me as a budding cinephile. I also thought of "important" pictures like The Sand Pebbles and studio-crippling debacles like Star!, neither of which I have seen to this day-- I just remember seeing the giant ads in the Portland Oregonian (which, in the case of Star! anyway, disappeared rather quickly) and reading about them many years later in film magazines where they were held up as examples of uninspired storytelling or out-and-out misguided spectacle. And the Robert Wise films I did see as a paying moviegoer in the '70s weren't particularly exciting either. The Andromeda Strain is a serious and well-intended adaptation of Michael Chricton's science fiction thriller, though I find it a bit too earnest and dull; The Hindenburg, with its curious mix of Universal stock disaster formula and footage of the actual disaster, plus George C. Scott's anti-Nazi German officer as the film's most empathetic character, ensures its status as about as strange and flat a disaster movie as the genre ever produced; and taken alongside the ill-advisedly poker-faced and drawn-out Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Wise's '70s output linked his name in my mind (I assumed forever) with cinematic bloat. The less said about his last feature, Rooftops, the better-- in it, Wise attempted to revisit West Side Story territory with a lame teen-oriented romance built around a faux warrior dance called "combat," in which dancers try to push each other out of the designated dance ring without actually touching.

Fortunately, when I grew up, I discovered that Robert Wise had a career before West Side Story. He worked his way into RKO Studios in the early '30s and by the end of the decade was one of the studio's most well regarded film editors. His first credit as an editor came on Garson Kanin's delightful and underappreciated screwball comedy Bachelor Mother, starring Ginger Rogers and David Niven-- not exactly an inauspicious start. That same year he edited Gregory La Cava's 5th Ave. Girl, also starring Ginger Rogers, and, perhaps most impressively, William Dieterle's impassioned and heartbreaking version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which features Charles Laughton's memorable turn as Quasimodo and the lovely Maureen O'Hara as Esmeralda. He returned to work for Garson Kanin a year later, cutting Cary Grant and Irene Dunne for the director's My Favorite Wife, as well as a fascinating, nearly forgotten gem for director Dorothy Arzner entitled Dance, Girl, Dance.

He would ensure his place in film history with his next assignment, however. According to Pauline Kael, in her controversial essay "Raising Kane," his bosses at RKO gave him the task of working with upstart director Orson Welles because the two men were the same age, a factor that was presumably likely to make them temperamentally compatible. Robert Wise helped guide Welles through the process of appeasing RKO and the threats (presumed and authentic) of William Randolph Hearst, and ended up helping to create what has been arguably (oh, the arguments) regarded for nearly 50 years of cinema history as perhaps the best movie ever made, Citizen Kane. Welles garnered most of the praise, as well as the catastrophic career fallout, in the wake of Kane. Gregg Toland has been revered for decades for his vivid, pioneering cinematography on the film. But anyone who has seen a movie made in the years between 1942 and the present has felt the influence of Wise's editorial talents as well, as they emanate from his crisp, elegant, graphically potent montage in Kane all the way up through films as diverse as All the King's Men, The Searchers, High and Low, Lawrence of Arabia, A Shot in the Dark and The Godfather, to recent releases such as Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby and even Wes Craven's Red Eye.

Wise would edit six more films, including Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster, Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, Richard Wallace's Bombardier and Wallace's overlooked gem The Fallen Sparrow, starring John Garfield, Walter Slezak and Maureen O'Hara, before he would finally take the directorial reins himself in 1944.

His first feature, undertaken for producer Val Lewton, and co-directed with the otherwise undistinguished Gunther von Fritsch, was the ostensible sequel to Lewton's Cat People, entitled Curse of the Cat People. Curse, despite being written by DeWitt Bodeen, who wrote the creepy original directed by Jacques Tourneur, is actually neither a true sequel (original catwoman Simone Simon appears only in ghostly dream sequences) nor a horror film. Instead, it's a potent psychological fantasy, veering at times very close to fairy tale territory, in which a young girl is visited by visions of her father's dead wife (Simon). Brooding, atmospheric and subtly chilling, this movie was both a harbinger of some of the great work Wise would do as a director and the antithesis, in scale and attitude, of most of his later films, and I think it's flat-out brilliant.

Wise's directorial credits in the 40s and 50s held delights and treasures which I would only gradually, over the past 15 years, discover, but what delights they held-- the ghastly tug of war at the center of his adaptation (for Lewton) of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher; the murderous Lawrence Tierney haunting Claire Trevor in Born to Kill; the sultry combination of Robert Mitchum and Barbara Bel Geddes in the noir western Blood on the Moon; the almost unbearable tension of The Set-up, told in real time, as on-the-skids boxer Robert Ryan must decide whether to defy a local gangster and not throw a fight; Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde flying Two Flags West in a sturdy cavalry adventure; James Cagney as a two-fisted horse rancher in Tribute to a Bad Man; and the precursor to Crimson Tide, Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable locking horns in the terrific submarine thriller Run Silent, Run Deep.

Of course, Wise as a director could be as hit-or-miss as his choice of material was varied. Somebody Up There Likes Me has always struck me as a little too earnest and pedestrian to have a subject like Rocky Graziano at its center; Susan Hayward's Oscar-winning turn as a death-row citizen in I Want to Live! is a bit too melodramatic and look-at-me, though Wise's direction does not lack for conviction; and the high gloss trash of Executive Suite seems useful only as far as it provided the template for future TV dramas like Dynasty, Dallas and Falcon Crest. In fact, it actually inspired its own short-lived TV series (1976-77) which, to no one's surprise, is not exactly a heavy presence in the TV Land nostalgia rotation.

But Wise's two best films are be two genre exercises that critics of the day were probably never predisposed to take nearly as seriously as some of his more clearly Oscar-baiting fare. Whisper "Klaatu barada mikto" in a crowded room and see how many people don't immediately recognize you as seriously disturbed. That'll be because they'll know you're speaking the language of The Day The Earth Stood Still which, even before Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers, served as a model of politically aware, socially relevant science fiction. The movie was rediscovered in the '80s by a generation of filmgoers who felt the specter of nuclear war bearing down on them in a very real way that the film was able to articulate and engage, and it remains one of Wise's most elegant, visually fluid and potently economical films.

And for my money, Wise's best film, and easily one of the scariest movies ever made, surely has to be his insinuatingly frightening 1963 classic, the film version of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting, perhaps the only one of his many fine films that I would consider a masterpiece. This is the very essence of how to get completely under an audience's skin-- Wise employs lessons learned at the feet of Val Lewton to spectacular effect here. I've always found it interesting that one of the horror genre's greatest movies would be directed by a man who, with a couple of nods its direction as the exception, never showed much interest in scaring audiences. Yet he does so here masterfully. It's deeply ironic that someone as revered as Steven Spielberg, along with once-promising tyrant Jan de Bont in the director's chair, would produce a remake of this film and stumble into every obvious mistake that Wise so artfully sidesteps in his original. But if you have four hours or so to spare sometime, compare the 1963 version with the 1997 disaster for a quick and eloquent lesson in the value of holding one's cards close to the vest. You'll also see a vivid demonstration of the dire consequences of attempting to illustrate, through CGI means, the worst imaginations of the mind. Wise proves that the dread conjured by the twisted, percolating fears inside a viewer's head far outstrips the power of the ones and zeroes employed to throw it all up there for you on the screen so you don't have to bother getting really involved in the process of a truly good scare. This is the movie where he really proved his mettle as a conjurer of mood, atmosphere and character, and reaffirmed his deft ability with actors-- Julie Harris was probably never better in a film, and Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn and Richard Johnson are, in their own ways equally effective. I've witnessed it with my own eyes-- The Haunting is capable of scaring the knickers off of even the most jaded viewer; if he'd never done anything else, I'd always be grateful to Wise for unleashing this one, right after West Side Story and the innocuous Two for the Seesaw, on a unsuspecting public.

Wise was active in the film community up until his death, working for film preservation and restoration causes and providing up-to-date DVD commentary on many of his most respected works (his presence on the DVD of The Set-up is invaluable and very informative). Even if you have troubles with much of his output, particularly late in his career, it seems necessary and respectful to acknowledge the very good work that he has contributed to the history of cinema. He was not a great stylist, but he was, as an editor, innovative and brilliant, and a solid craftsman as a director, one who made many wonderful films which serve, for viewers like myself anyway, to offset the effects and experience of some of his later, more popular, Oscar-winning work. He will be missed, but, fortunately for us, those films will not.

Friday, September 09, 2005

A SOUND OF THUDDING: Grand Movies, Gross Sequels

The official release, after much delay, of director Peter Hyams' adaptation of the Ray Bradbury short story A Sound of Thunder has not exactly set the September box office on fire, nor has it garnered much in the way of glowing reviews, from professional critics or paying customers. My favorite comment, posted recently on the Internet Movie Database, said simply, "Wow, I can't believe I wasted 2 free movie tickets on this one..."

It did, however, get SLIFR regular reader Virgil Hilts wondering about something. Hyams has had a very long career directing mostly undistinguished action thrillers-- his best films are, arguably, the paranoid conspiracy thriller Capricorn One and the spirited, unashamedly cornball monster-in-a-museum programmer The Relic. He has also exposed a lot of film trying to convince us of the heroic attributes of Jean Claude Van Damme (Timecop, Sudden Death), the late-career relevancy of Arnold Schwarzenegger (End of Days) and the need for Hong Kong-style martial arts choreography to make the tales of Alexander Dumas exciting enough for modern audiences (The Musketeer). Despite other enthusiastic efforts, however, he was not able to convince anyone that Sean Connery (Outland, The Presidio) was a bad actor.

But for Virgil, and for many, I'd bet, Hyams' greatest claim to infamy may be his doomed sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Based on Arthur C. Clarke's own unnecessary novel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact attempted to answer the questions inspired by Kubrick's elliptical 1968 classic-- not a great idea in itself-- but also ended up showcasing Hyams' own simple competence in the shadow of Kubrick's imposing artistic shadow and coming off, naturally, somewhat less than impressively.

Virgil sent me an e-mail last night in which he wondered if this was the most egregiously misguided instance of a hack director following up a critically acclaimed or hugely popular film with a tepid, banal or outright awful sequel, and he threw down the gauntlet for me to come up with other similar offenses. I thought of a few pretty good ones, and so did my wife. Then I thought that this might be a fun challenge to lay before the readers of SLIFR--

In the mold of Hyams treading like a towheaded stepchild in the footsteps of Kubrick, what other critically acclaimed and/or popular hits have been followed up by clearly inferior works helmed by clearly inferior directors? Is there another instance of sequelis foolhardiosis to match 2010?

I will refrain from publishing the ones I thought of until after we've amassed a few in the comments column, if you guys haven't come up with them already. But Virgil came up with another example that we'll use as a template:

Steven Spielberg's Jaws begat Jeannot Szwarc's Jaws 2.

According to this formula, a great director doing disservice to his own legacy is not quite what we're looking for (Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Part III, Peter Bogdanovich's Texasville).

No, we're looking here for instances of directorial folly from filmmakers who can usually barely be shaken from their natural inclination toward mediocrity, let alone imagine attempting to add to the legacy of an established classic. We're looking for works from filmmakers who had to have known full well the odds were stacked high and imposing against them from the outset, like those looming and mysterious monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey which, if you saw Hyams' 2010, turned out, rather anticlimactically, to be ham radio transmitters connected to really well-meaning space aliens.

So, what great, or merely popular, movies can you think of that were followed up by stinkers directed by filmmakers of less-than-stellar artistic acumen?

(Thanks for the great idea, Virgil!)

UPDATE Sept. 10, 8:01 a.m.-- On the brighter side, the flip side to this little proposition, and perhaps the more difficult task:

What sequel to a critically acclaimed or well-loved film, directed by a mediocre and/or no-name director, either surpassed the original achievement or at least can be said to be a good film in its own right?

Again, Coppola's The Godfather Part II isn't exactly what we're looking for here, nor is James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which may or may not be better than the original The Terminator but would be disqualified because it has the same director as the first film. (However, if someone wanted to post an argument suggesting that James Cameron's Piranha II: The Spawning is somehow better than Joe Dante's Piranha, I might be skeptical, but I would listen!) Also, since we're talking about James Cameron and sequels (yet another question: has any major director ever made more of them than this guy?), I would suggest that Aliens is not exactly what we're after here either, and then step aside and let the debate about who's a better (or worse) director-- Cameron or Ridley Scott-- begin.

I will instead offer my suggestion for this category to get the ball rolling, and it is Return to Oz, the critically lambasted, largely ignored, some might even say heretical follow-up (after nearly 50 years) to the beloved MGM classic The Wizard of Oz. The movie was helmed by first-time director Walter Murch who, thanks to his own trepdiation over directing and the disdainful reaction to his movie in the press, would never direct again. (He has, however, won Oscars as a sound designer and film editor for Apocalypse Now and The English Patient.) For my money, though "Over the Rainbow" is undeniably, heart-stoppingly plaintive and wonderful, Murch's movie, sans the songs that make up for a lot of the vaudevillian pitch of the 1939 movie, hews far closer, with great effect, to L. Frank Baum's template and is filled with terrors and wonders that were beyond the intentions of Victor Fleming and Judy Garland. It has long been available only on a terrible VHS transfer, and the DVD, though markedly better, still does little justice to the dazzling and dark cinematography I remember from being one of the few to see it in its original theatrtical release. But until something better comes along, it'll have to do.

I have another title on my mind that fits into this category too, one I just reencountered after having not seen it for about 12 or 13 years, but I think that one's going to get its very own post. Look for that coming soon. (Yeah, you've heard that one before, haven't you?)

Okay, time for your suggestions. Are there any other sequels, directed by unestablished or unexceptional directors, that outshine or can at least co-exist with their inspirations in terms of quality?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


For absolutely no reason other than that I love what she does, I thought it was time to post a picture of the other woman mentioned in the header of this blog. In fact, all of the others mentioned have had their faces pasted onto these pages, some more than others. It's not so easy, however, to find a picture of Dodger Stadium organist extraordinaire Nancy Bea Hefley, so when I finally did I felt like the time was definitely right.

The sweet sounds emanating from Nancy's keyboard have been the one consistent pleasure from a 2005 team that has been a model of inconsistency, injury and frazzled interpersonal dynamics. But even that pleasure is under attack by the trend in Major League Baseball away from the kind of aural world woven by organists like Nancy Bea (no disrespect intended, but I just can't bring myself to refer to her as "Hefley"), whose boundaries are drawn at the stadium gates, but who fills in the space from the press box to the pavilion seats with musical magic that paints a vivid picture unique to the sport of baseball. Her like is being slowly replaced by demographically oriented rock, hip-hop and/or Latin selections pumped at top volume from the stadium loudspeakers during every break, effectively dissolving the borders that separate the world of the stadium from the world of the parking lot, where jaunty organ versions of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" are even less likely to be heard pumping from car stereos at top volume (unless, of course, you have Nancy Bea's compact disc).

These days, Nancy Bea gets a few minutes before each game, the National Anthem, the seventh-inning stretch, and a few minutes after each game in which to shine. It's a whole lot less of her than I'd like to hear, but even so she is the one Dodger who is guaranteed to make me smile, regardless of the outcome of the game. And as this lost season comes to a close, that's good enough to get me out to Chavez Ravine at least a couple more times, where I can sit on the third-base line, look out at the perfectly maintained field, recognize how much the place positively affects me, and let the dancing notes sent out into the summer air by the incomparable Nancy Bea Hefley caress my eardrums and my soul and make me feel like there really will be a next year, and that even this year wouldn't be so bad, if I could just hear her play "Pennies from Heaven" one more time.

Sunday, September 04, 2005


One of Jeff Thurman's Technalight marvels projects its magic Saturday night at the Mission Tiki in Montclair, California

The girls and I were lucky enough to spend a wonderful evening together Saturday night piled in the back of our van at the Mission Tiki Drive-In for a double feature of Sky High and, gulp, Herbie: Fully Loaded (this was my THIRD time seeing this visionary masterwork in a theater since its June release), and we couldn’t possibly have had more fun. The little ones spent the last half of last week quizzing me at the start of each day: “Are we going to the drive-in movie today?” So when Saturday finally came and we piled in the car around 6:00pm for the drive to Montclair, they began a stream of excited chattering that didn’t really seem to stop until they fell asleep in the car during the midnight drive home. Even my wife had more fun than she thought she would, in a chair outside the van laughing at Sky High, which far exceeded either of our expectations, or inside during the second feature, laying back on pillows and blankets and serving as a trampoline for our crazy, happy kids. It was their second visit to the Mission Tiki this summer, and my third, and it really seems like my hope of connecting with my daughters over movies and creating good memories for them of time spent with Mom and Dad at a drive-in theater might just be coming true. One thing’s for sure: the Mission Tiki has fast become one of my favorite spots since stumbling upon it with my nephew Evan earlier this year. Forget Kevin Costner's corn patch: this four-screen lot is the real field of dreams.

It’s also become the de facto flagship theater for the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society, which is experiencing a little excitement of its own as the summer season begins winding to a close. Saturday, August 27, found us gathering at the Van Buren Cinema 3 Drive In in Riverside, which is a bit further of a skip (at least for this Glendale resident) than is the Mission Tiki. It was great to see Chris Utley, Kathy Byers and Lanna Pian again after our first meeting, and to meet Kyle Muldrow (unfortunately, another key member, Sal Gomez, was unable to attend). All of us were very enthusiastic about spending some time with the regular customers at the Van Buren, getting the word out about our efforts, as well as getting to talk with Frank Huttinger, film buyer for DeAnza Land and Leisure Corporation, owners of the Van Buren, the Mission Tiki, the Rubidoux and many others.
From left, Kyle, Kathy, Lanna and Chris (Sal couldn't make it that night), plus me behind the camera, proud members of the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society

Frank had plenty of stories and lots of exciting information about renovation plans in store for the Mission Tiki this coming fall and winter, and was fairly encouraging about the prospects for a few more seasons at the Van Buren, despite the encroaching condo developments looming directly across the street. We also got to meet a drive-in enthusiast nonpareil from my part of the country—Steve Swanson, a filmmaker and employee at the 99W Drive-In in Newberg, Oregon for the past three years, was on a vacation drive-in tour and made the Van Buren part of his plans simply because he found out we were all going to be there. Steve brought films and other goodies from the 99W, as well as a vast knowledge of drive-ins all around the country which he shared with all of us. You know you're in good company when you don't mind sitting in a steamy snack bar for three hours at the end of a 105-degree day, shooting the breeze with fellow enthusiasts, talking with paying customers, and getting hungrier by the minute smelling the freshly grilled carne asada which is the cornerstone of the Van Buren's excellent snack bar menu, by far the most delicious and far-ranging of all the drive-ins we've seen so far this summer-- in fact, it may be the best drive-in snack bar I've ever seen or tasted. It's no exaggeration to say that after the Saturday night meeting we were all buzzing with possibilities for the future, for the club and, more importantly, for the drive-in movie experience in Southern California.

By sheer coincidence, the very next morning the Los Angeles Times printed a very interesting article about a small drive-in revival in Texas, word of which had spread amongst us on the Yahoo! drive-in movie discussion group. It was a very good article, but I wondered why the Times hadn’t used the opportunity to investigate and promote the mini-renaissance of drive-ins that has been going on right under their noses. The answer, I concluded, must be that they didn’t cover them because they didn’t know about them. Well, this was a job for the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society! Before evening’s end I had written a letter to the Times, and today it was actually printed in the paper’s Sunday Calendar “Letters” section (if you don’t have a copy to refer back to, you can read it by clicking here). Lanna and I have brainstormed a few other avenues for coverage which seem to be panning out (more on those as they come to fruition), and it looks like there’s going to be some TV news coverage waiting for us when the Society convenes at the Mission Tiki again in October. And Sal has come up with the best idea of all, one I won’t jinx by mentioning too early—- suffice it to say that we’ve got a really good core group of people here with organizational, filmmaking, writing, and art design skills, as well as several good contacts (who have contacts, who have contacts), that could really, if all continues to go well, result in some high-profile exposure for our beloved drive-ins in the year to come. Comments like this one, from Mission Tiki manager Jeff Thurman (posted on the Yahoo! discussion group today), really make it seem like we’re on the right track:

“Just wanted to let you all know how much all (the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society’s) efforts on behalf of the Mission Tiki are appreciated. Every night we are getting more and more new customers, and it's due to your efforts… It's publicity like this that will keep the drive-in experience alive and well.”

Thanks, Jeff. And thanks, too, for the terrific job you continue to do every night at the Mission Tiki.

If you want to get involved with SoCal DIMS, or get on the mailing list to keep up-to-date on upcoming events, you can contact founder Chris Utley at The next meeting is scheduled for Saturday, September 24, at the Vineland Drive-in in City of Industry. We hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 01, 2005


To bide your time until I gather up the answers to Professor Wagstaff’s Summer of 42 (Questions, That Is) Movie Quiz, you can take this special quiz to determine your ultimate movie, the movie that defines your personality. (When you've got your movie, please feel free to check in and tell us what it is, and whether you agree.)

And if you’d rather just skip the quiz and wait for Professor Wagstaff’s answers, then consider whiling away a few moments appreciating this very special Claudia Cardinale gallery gathered together for anyone who appreciates timeless Italian beauty…

All one needs is eyes to see...