Thursday, January 05, 2006

COFFEE, TEA, OR HUBRIS WITH A BLUSH? Dennis Answers Prof. Brainerd's Christmas Vacation Quiz

(NOTE: I really wanted to finish this list of answers and post it on the comments page of "Professor Brainerd's Christmas Vacation Quiz" tonight. But as my list stretched out onto the 10th page, I realized a couple of things: first, I can really run off at the mouth (or keyboard, as it were), and second, in an act of embarrassing hubris, due to the length of my answers, I figured it'd be better to post them as a separate article. I resisted the second decision for some time, until my wife looked at my copy and said, "Of course it should be it's own article, dummy. You'll burst the comments column with all those words. Besides, it's your blog, and you can do what you want to with it." Well, that was reason and validation that I certainly couldn't resist, so, hubris and all, my answers are available below. You'll notice that, as of early Thursday morning, there are none of the links and pictures that would normally accompany a typical SLIFR article, especially one of this size. The reason: As I type this, the clock is striking 1:00 a.m., and to take the time necessary to insert all the links I want to insert here, plus find and size and paste all the pictures I want to use here, would, in all seriousness, have me up until 5:00 a.m. or later, and, frankly, I'm just a little too tired to do that tonight. So please look at this column, as it initially published, as a work in progress. The text is, hopefully, readable, as readable as it ever will be (barring some further typo-scrubbing to come later as well), and in good-enough shape to see the cathode ray light of day. The links and pics I will add later, hopefully in the next 24 hours, before I lose all will to do it (it will be a massive undertaking, similar to, but not nearly as much fun as, the compilation of the answers). For now, enjoy, if you have such a predisposition, my answers to Professor Brainerd's Christmas Vacation quiz-- the piece itself will get spiffier and more user-friendly real soon. And if you're on the fence and wanting to submit your own answers but still haven't yet, don't view this post as the door closing on further submissions-- far from it. I encourage lurkers and familiar friends alike to keep on dropping those lists in the comments column-- I'm probably looking at another two or three weeks before I start the compilation process for the entire group of submissions. And some great submissions there have been so far. I started out thinking that maybe this list of questions wasn't as provocative as quizzes past, but that was before your comments started coming in. The quality of the intelligence and humor of the observations and connections to forgotten material I've seen so far has been exhilarating. To those of you who've checked in, thank you very much-- you keep this whole enterprise vital and exciting for me and for everyone who reads Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule. If you haven't yet done so, I hope you'll start thinking about your answers. -- Dennis)

UPDATE 1/8/2006 10:59pm: You may have noticed that I finally got around to posting the pictures! Enjoy!

Describe the moment when you knew you loved the movies

Two separate instances, both coming when I was approximately seven or eight years old, serve to mark the moment for me, and, interestingly, they’re both intertwined with the sensation of fear.

Sometime in October of 1967, when my family lived in Citrus Heights, California, a sleepy bedroom suburb of Sacramento, my mother treated my friends, my sister and I to an afternoon screening of The Jungle Book at the majestic Tower Theater in nearby Roseville. Before the movie began I had to go to the bathroom and somehow I talked my mom into letting me go by myself. I assured her I knew where the restroom was at and would be perfectly fine getting there and back on my own (I was seven years old at the time, and plenty independent.) I remember being mesmerized by the tall staircases that went up either side, and up the middle, of the Tower’s massive auditorium, and it was that fixation that must have provided the distraction. I climbed the stairs all the way to the top, daydreaming that I was on my way to the toilet, when in fact where I ended up was at the door of the projection booth. I opened the door, expecting to see urinals and stalls and sinks and towel racks, and instead I got a glimpse of the giant gray behemoths that would unspool the film I was about to see and splash it onto the Tower’s big screen. The projectionist kindly redirected me down the steep staircase, telling me to turn left when the stairs hit the ramp that bisected the front part of the huge room from the rear balcony section, and there, near the entrance to the snack bar, is where I would find the potty. I followed his directions and made my way safely to where I could make my number one, and then headed back to where my mom, sister and friends were seated.

But as I re-entered the auditorium my heart began to pound as I realized the movie was underway, and that I would have to find my way back to my seat in relative darkness, my path illuminated only by the random, intermittent light thrown onto the floor by the preview which was now unfolding before a throng of excited children, eager to see the newest Disney feature. Unfortunately, for them and for me, that preview turned out to be one for Wait Until Dark, which began, appropriately enough, in total darkness, with the basso profundo announcer intoning something along the lines that for the next 60 seconds you will experience terror like you have never seen before, interspersed with sounds of Audrey Hepburn panting in terror and struggling against some unseen foe. I didn’t have to know the details of the movie to have been scared shitless at that moment—it was that enveloping blackness, and that announcer insisting that my blood would be chilled—he was right—that was freezing me in my tracks. I stood motionless, hoping the attacker that was relishing the terrorizing of the heroine of the movie wouldn’t suddenly appear behind me and start ripping me limb from limb, praying that the preview would end and that I could once again see my way back to my mom. Eventually the preview did end and the familiar Buena Vista Distribution Company logo, which was the standard opening logo for Disney pictures of the period, shone like a beacon of friendliness and reassurance, making it relatively easy to grope my way to my seat, where I settled in next to Mom and took deep, measured breaths all through the opening credits of The Jungle Book. I had never been happier to feel so safe, yet I felt strangely exhilarated too, as if I’d survived some test and discovered an element of the movies that was way beyond the safety that Disney movies were so good at providing.

The Alger Theater as it looks today (photo courtesy of Ranae Hopper, 2005)

The second, came just moments before the lights went down at the Alger Theater one evening around 1968 when my mom and dad took my sister and I to an evening showing of Blackbeard’s Ghost. I remember looking back toward the projection booth, which was at the top of the balcony, and tracing the line where the wall met the ceiling, following the subtle lighting that tracked along the line, barely missing the more ornate lighting fixtures on those walls, from the back of the auditorium all the way to the point where the ceiling was furthest from the ground, right in front of the screen. I imagined dangling from that point, falling, being engulfed by what seemed the huge chasm comprising the center of the auditorium, and then looking up, from a perspective very close to the seat in which I was sitting, as the muted, multicolored lights in their fixtures along the wall began to dim, signifying that the beginning of the movie was at hand.

The auditorium was almost completely dark—the only strong light coming from the circular clock, lit by lavender neon encased in black plastic which gave the translucent advertisement for Lincecum Painting a ghostly glow, hovering over the exit door to the left of the screen. Suddenly, the blue velvet curtains were no longer dark. Instead, that Buena Vista Distribution Company logo shone forth from its wavy, slowly rippling surface—the image was being projected onto it, and the curtains would open at a very deliberate pace, revealing the screen, and the full brightness of the image, beneath their cover. But in my mind, even though I knew where the projected light was coming from, the image was originating from behind the curtains, as if it was struggling, with pomp and fanfare, to let itself out, to unleash itself on the unsuspecting audience. It didn’t matter that I knew the movie we were there to see was an innocuous bit of fluff such as Blackbeard’s Ghost-- the sensation was all about the Power of the Movies, what they promised, what they sometimes delivered, their majesty, their scope, their ability to transport, and their ability to disorient and cause irrational fear and terror in one of the size I was in 1968.

For about a year or so around this period, this ritual of observance and abject cowering, hands covering my eyes, as the curtains erupted in light and then revealed the shimmering silver of the screen, was how I greeted every movie I saw, and on those rare occasions when I see a film projected in a theater with actual curtains in the present day, I secretly hope that the projectionist will have a bit of that curious habit of image first, curtains second, only so I might possibly remember some of the visceral thrill just being in a theater gave me when I was eight years old. The movie theaters of my childhood—big art deco palaces like the Alger, the Tower and the Roseville in Roseville, California, and the Tower and the Esquire in Klamath Falls, Oregon—were genuine cathedrals of mystery to me. They weren’t like any other places on earth, and in my mind the images that played on their screens haunted the empty auditoriums when the lights went up and the crowds dissipated. On those rare occasions when I got to visit the inside of the Alger, for instance, during daytime hours or other times when a movie was not being shown, I still felt overwhelmed just by being in the auditorium, surrounded by all those ghosts of films past, and all the d├ęcor and design and the (fairly modest) architecture that still made it seem like the most magical, ethereal place I’d ever been. And one of the most frightening, during those times when I allowed my eyes to wander from the back of the auditorium to the front, experiencing the vicarious agoraphobia that came from imagining myself dangling from the highest point in the theater, and falling… I knew that the movies themselves were what supplied the mystery which emanated and vibrated through the air and the very construct of these old theaters. I knew that if even just being near the places where these wonderful things were being shown could be so transporting to me (on family road trips to unfamiliar parts of the country, my heart would leap at the sight of an theater marquee), and if the moments before a showing could be shot through with such exquisite dread and emotion just from observing the way the building looked and seemed to behave in the moments before the lights went down, then the Movies, no matter what actually showed on that screen, must have at their core something inexpressibly meaningful for me, something that allowed them to cut through the flesh and bone and get right to what it was that made me up as a human being, and perhaps even shape me as a human being as well.

What prop or costume from a film do you most covet?

I think I’d like to cruise through my midlife crisis in one of the Mini Coopers used in the original The Italian Job (1969). Or maybe the miniature Santa Monica pier set, complete with Ferris wheel, from 1941 (1979).

Take a famous role and recast it (for example, Audrey Hepburn instead of Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral)

Virgil and Brian both latched onto the not-so-hidden subtext of my including this question, but if we’re gonna play this game, then I think Sal has the right idea (and Jen too)—recasting roles with long-dead performers, or performers unlikely to ever be cast in an actual remake, so as to better detach oneself to an important degree from this all-consuming trend of remaking absolutely everything. Just to test the limits of an audience’s empathy, how about a Dr. Strangelove-era Sterling Hayden in the Bill Murray role, and Shelley Duvall, straight out of Brewster McCloud, as Scarlet Johannsen in a remake of Lost in Translation? If nothing else, Duvall could convince you of the woman’s desperation and boredom (and she’d certainly cast that movie’s opening credits in a decidedly different light), and Hayden could sell the hell out of that Suntory whiskey while making the protagonist’s attitude toward his Japanese hosts a hell of a lot more difficult to deal with or rationalize. And while we’re at it, why not go all Tora! Tora! Tora! on this remake and have two versions, one told from the disaffected American point of view—let’s hand the directorial reins over to, say, Daniel Petrie—and for the Japanese version, how about Seijin Suzuki to cast the properly weird, candy-colored light on all those if not exactly Ugly, then certainly at least less conventionally attractive, Americanisms?

Charlton Heston or George Kennedy?

Heston is clearly the better actor, if occasionally given over to gnawing on the hambone (“It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!”), and I’d have to give it to him based on his appearances in Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man and Touch of Evil. But there is something to be said for Kennedy as the cigar-chomping, eternally frustrated, land-bound airport administrator Joe Patroni in all four of the Airport movies. Poor fella always wanted to get in on the action, but was always relegated to the sidelines—until, of course, Airport ’79—The Concorde, when he got to pilot the titular doomed aircraft and bed Bibi Andersson by the glow of a hotel fireplace. Talk about a character arc!

Best performance in an otherwise terrible movie

God knows why these two popped into my head, but how about Rodney Dangerfield in Natural Born Killers, or Marcia Gay Harden in either PS or Welcome to Mooseport?

Worst performance in a famously revered or otherwise great movie

I’ll say Talia Shire in The Godfather (1972), who was all too callow and shrill as the spoiled and abused Connie Corleone. However, she did wonders in a small portion of The Godfather Part II (1974) and would have been a textbook case for redemption, could her dragon lady performance as Connie in The Godfather Part III (1990) or, for that matter, the rest of her career have been artfully avoided.

Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing?

Beege cracked me up by reducing this comparison to Count Dooku vs. the Grand Moff Tarkin. Believe me, I hadn’t even thought of that. I love Lee for his grandiosity in character, and sometimes even for his pomposity out of character. But Cushing gets my vote, for his nuanced Hammer career both as Professor Van Helsing and Dr. Victor Frankenstein, but also his utterly moving performance as the fatally wronged Arthur Grimsdyke, who returns to mete out some “Poetic Justice” in the 1972 horror anthology Tales from the Crypt.

Favorite Walter Hill movie

It’s a razor-thin margin that separates The Long Riders (1980) and Southern Comfort (1981) for me at the top of Hill’s filmography. But I’ll give some props to the early ‘90s one-two-three of Trespass (1992), Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and Wild Bill (1995), two terrific westerns and one that, despite its modern, inner-city setting, was a western to its core.

Favorite musical score from a movie

This is one of those questions that, for me, can’t be approached in any way absolutely, but instead must be based entirely on the moment. My moment right now makes me seem more enthusiastic for the work of John Williams’ than I really am as whole—highlights for me are his work on Jaws, Nixon and The Long Goodbye. But at the top of the heap right now is his brilliantly bombastic and hilarious near-film length score for 1941. (Its equally catchy counterpart would be the wonderful Jerry Goldsmith-Patton parody Elmer Bernstein wrote for Stripes.) That said, hardly a day goes by that a theme or two from Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon a Time in the West doesn’t rack up in my mental jukebox. As for great ones to which I’ve only recently been exposed, I stayed through the end credits just to hear the last note of Williams’ powerful score for Spielberg’s Munich.

Describe the most scared you’ve ever been in a theater, or the scariest moment you recall seeing in a movie

Seeing that Wait Until Dark trailer as a seven-year-old would certainly rank. But that was the fear of childhood inexperience taking hold and molding the moment. A better example is one of a much older kid (I hesitate to say adult, given I was only about 18) and his irrational fear getting the unqualified best of him, despite everything he knows (or thinks he knows) about the real world. Blaaagh and I were (I believe) college sophomores—the year, 1978—and we decided to head out to a midnight movie of Night of the Living Dead. If I’m not mistaken, Blaaagh had seen it at least once in the theater before, but I had only seen it (probably cut) in the 2:00 a.m. Saturday night/Sunday morning slot of Sinister Cinema on KATU-TV out of Portland. The movie’s ghastly, inexorable spell settled upon us right on schedule, and it was only about 30 minutes in that there came a banging on the exit door just off the right side of the cracker-box cinema screen. Whatever it was on the other side, hit the door again, and again, relentlessly rattling the handle for a good five minutes. Undoubtedly it was a wino, or perhaps even more likely some smart-ass who knew what was playing on the other side of that outdoor exit door and who decided to make Romero’s landmark, plenty-scary-enough zombie thriller just a little more interactively terrifying. And it worked. I can’t speak for Blaaagh, but I know that a high percentage of me wanted to shit myself in fear during that moment, and for the rest of that screening, over the course of which, thanks largely to the free sound effects provided by our unknown friend, I would come to believe that what was happening on screen just might be—no, it was happening outside the doors of the theater we were in, and that after the credits rolled we would all file out into the lobby, which had probably already fallen to the living dead, only to serve ourselves up as the late-night snack. Holy shit! Who’s that coming through the door at the back of the—Oh. Just another scared kid like me finding his way back to his seat. Okay, so that means the zombies haven’t stormed the snack bar yet. But they might at any minute. Crap, now I have to watch the front and the back of the theater?

Ingrid Pitt or Barbara Steele?

Barbara Steele, post-iron maiden, from Black Sunday (1960) is about as iconic, and strangely erotic, an image as Famous Monsters of Filmland ever repeatedly printed. But I never saw the movie until quite recently. Ingrid Pitt, however, was the stuff of prepubescent inspiration in such terrifically lurid and bosomy Hammer horror fare as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Countess Dracula (1972), both of which hold up quite well as eros and as fright cinema some 35 years later. (Pitt was completely nude and quite visible in Countess Dracula too, emerging from a fountain filled with life-restoring virgin blood, and that movie was rated GP!)

Favorite Holiday Movie (doesn’t have to be Christmas oriented)

Well, it’s gotta be either It’s a Wonderful Life or Groundhog Day, although Harold Ramis, who directed Groundhog Day, may have just crafted himself another perennial favorite—the besotted and doom-laden Christmas noir The Ice Harvest. And I really do think of Chris Elliot’s Cabin Boy as a holiday movie, as I usually watch it whilst wrapping Christmas presents. Oh, Sally, you just couldn’t be cuter! And do yourself a favor—skip that flank steak bullshit. Try the London broil!

Worst Holiday movie (doesn’t have to be Christmas oriented)

(Sung to the tune of “London Bridge”) "Happy, happy Halloween/Halloween, Halloween/Happy, happy Halloween/Silver Shamrock"... Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Your all-time favorite hammy actor

Rod Steiger. Some years ago a friend of mine and I put together a patchily-edited (on a VCR) montage of some of Steiger’s wildest moments from movies as diverse as Oklahoma!, In the Heat of the Night, The Loved One, No Way to Treat a Lady and many others (including a scene with Kevin Kline from The January Man where the actor goes so far over the top that it seems the only way out is a full-on aneurysm), and it was an absolute delight to see all that bizarre energy pop off like honey-cured firecrackers, one straight after the other. The cherry on top: I was at a screening of The Passion of Joan of Arc at the John Anson Ford Theater here in Los Angeles several years ago, waiting in line to use the men’s room. A guy emerged from the facility and walked passed me, and the guy waiting behind me made a comment to me along the lines of, “Did you see the look on that guy’s face when he came out? I wonder what the hell went on in there?” I chuckled and turned around to acknowledge the stranger’s vaguely scatological good humor. It was Rod Steiger.

Favorite Federico Fellini movie

Right now, Nights of Cabiria, with Amarcord, the usual front-runner, nipping at its heels. Props to PSaga for mentioning another favorite, Roma-- I too love it for exactly the reasons she already stated. I confess not much admiration for , however, even though it does feature Claudia Cardinale, but since I recently came into possession of the Criterion DVD it seems another screening of it is inevitable (and, I hope, revelatory).

Your favorite film critic

Of those currently writing, I most enjoy David Edelstein and Stephanie Zacharek. But there can be no other absolute answer for me than Pauline Kael, who changed my way of looking at movies when I first cracked the spine of Reeling at the Koobdooga Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon when I was 17 years old.

Jason Lee or Jason Mewes?

Jason Lee has had many fine moments courtesy of Kevin Smith, and he was, after all, the voice of Syndrome in The Incredibles. But it’s Mewes’ characterization of Silent Bob as “Tons of Fun” that puts him over the top for me.

Best use of a natural location setting in a movieI’m obviously not thinking on a very Lean-esque scale here, but I think it’s pretty wonderful what the filmmakers responsible for National Lampoon’s Animal House were able to do to make the campus of the University of Oregon pass for a splendidly atmospheric Eastern college, without changing much at all of the actual functioning campus to their ends, and at the same time capturing the splendor of the school grounds in a kind of moving yearbook. The location adds a priceless richness and authenticity to the movie, just another element that makes Animal House stand apart from its endless imitators.

Worst squandering of a natural location setting in a movie

Conversely, the screenwriter and/or director of The Ring 2 decided to set the movie in one of the most picturesque and haunting locales in the Northwest-- Astoria, Oregon, already very effectively used in movies like The Goonies and even Kindergarten Cop-- and then pissed away any and all opportunity to put that natural beauty to any narrative use to conjure dread or even a strong sense of local geography. The location is relegated to a series of picture postcard establishing shots, each one making obvious the inarguable grandeur and natural beauty of the area. And then whenever anyone in the movie talks about living in the small town, it’s in a derogatory way, implying that it’s some kind of run-of-the-mill boring-ass burg to either be escaped from or imprisoned in. The most frightening thing about The Ring 2 is the film’s blindness to its own setting. For all the good use Astoria is put to in this movie, it could have been shot on green screen and the anywhere-is-bad-enough location could have been added in digitally in postproduction. The best thing about The Ring 2: those establishing shots.

Favorite song from a movie

Original: "Until the End of the World," written Bono and the Edge, from Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World (1991)

Runner-up (Original): "Baby, It's Cold Outside," written by Frank Loesser, from Edward Buzzell's Neptune's Daughter (1949), performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban

Non-original to film: "Move On Up," written by Curtis Mayfield, as heard in Ken Shapiro's The Groove Tube (1973).

Runner-up (Non-original): "Bim Bam Boom," written by Nino Morales, as seen and heard in Richard Elfman's Forbidden Zone (1980)

Madeline Kahn or Teri Garr?

I’ve always had a bit of a crush on Teri Garr based on her flirtatious appearances on the Letterman show, and her sexy turns in Young Frankenstein and Tootsie. She’s always seemed to me the embodiment of Betty Cooper, sometime also-ran, sometime victor in the eternal yin-yang battle with Veronica Lodge for the affections of one Archie Andrews, and it occurs to me now she really reminds me of an older girl—a cheerleader-- I had a big, unrequited crush on in high school. After not seeing her for so long, Garr’s recent appearance on Letterman after a long absence (and a battle with multiple sclerosis) has reignited my affection for her. That said, Madeline Kahn is and always will be Lily Von Shtupp, and that tips the scales for me (“I’m tired/Tired of playing the game/Ain’t it a fwiggin’ shame…”)

Favorite Roger Corman Movie

Three way tie: The Premature Burial (1962; director), The Masque of the Red Death (1964; director), and Hollywood Boulevard (1976; producer; Joe Dante, Allan Arkush, directors)

Your biggest movie-star crush

As susceptible as I have been throughout my movie-going life to the ethereal charms of female movie stars, there have been many leading ladies and supporting players who have caught my eye and left a hook or two in my heart. But two names float to the top largely on their mysterious ability to remain fascinating for me despite the continual discouragement of adulthood regarding such fascinations. They are, and perhaps always will be, Claudia Cardinale and Michelle Yeoh.

Director you’ve always felt deserved more attention than he/she ever got or has gotten up to this point, and a highlight for you from his/her career

I like the M.A.B.'s reasoning, and even his choices (though I remain completely unfamiliar with the work of Theo Angelopolous), but I'm gonna have to gravitate toward the mainstream for my pick. When I look at the list of films directed by Joe Dante, I see a career filled with exceptional work, some of a spectacularly subversive nature, and, to a film, filled with vivid imagination, flexibility, intelligence, raw energy and an assured, open approach to craft that is populated with pop culture references while never seeming enslaved to them or cut off from "the real world." And it's a pretty typical indicator that in a career marked by, at best, mid-level box-office success, his most popular film, Gremlins, created under the aegis of Steven Spielberg, would also be, arguably, his least successful from an artistic standpoint (his sequel, Gremlins 2:The New Batch, was a triumph and, of course, a box-office flop). Run his name up the IMDb flagpole, take a look, then rent Gremlins 2, or other "bombs" like Looney Tunes: Back in Action, Explorers, The 'burbs, The Second Civil War, Small Soldiers, Innerspace, the third episode of the ill-fated Twilight Zone movie, Matinee, or earlier Corman-influenced pictures like Hollywood Boulevard, The Howling and Piranha, and see if you don't see a sliver of what I see: a renegade intelligence running wild and loose under the radar across the landscape of American pop culture, leaving a trail of singed ground, felled trees and exploded cultural assumptions behind.

Michelle Yeoh or Ziyi Zhang?

Ziyi Zhang is undeniably, achingly beautiful, and she'll survive the relative debacle of Memoirs of a Geisha-- Seijin Suzuki's Princess Raccoon (Operetta tanuki goten) is still in the wings for distribution in the U.S., after all. What director won't be clamoring to employ her as her star continues to rise? But there was never a real decision to be made here: from the first time I saw Michelle Yeoh, 15 years ago in Police Story III: Supercop at the Kuo Hwa Theater in San Gabriel, I was transfixed. She had me at that mid-air split-kick, taking out two opponents at once, and continued to enthrall me throughout the entire film. And in 1997 I even got to speak to her, when she appeared at the Los Angeles Comic Book Convention to promote her appearance in Tomorrow Never Dies. For that day, I was a typical fanboy in love, and she was magical. I posed a question to her during the Q&A, and then she signed a photo for me and we exchanged brief words, something along the lines of, "Thanks for coming out and enduring all this," to which she smiled and replied, "Yeah, it's crazy, all right! Thanks, Dennis." Swoon... That autographed picture is still hanging in my youngest daughter's bedroom (it used to be my office). Michelle Yeoh, still beautiful in her 40s and gaining, as great beauties of cinema do, physical character through the inevitability of aging, will survive Geisha too, and she'll always be kicking ass in my memory, and on my DVD player, and looking better than any other movie star while she's doing it too.

If the movies’ were to give you a Christmas gift, or a gift for 2006, what would it be? (I mean “the movies” in the most general sense—the film industry, the actors, a director making a certain film, whatever)

As I look over all the other responses to this question, there's so much to second-- the Mysterious Adrian Betamax wants viewers to, in some way (any way), be able to discover new and exciting directors; Murray hopes for the increased presence of DVD subtitling and closed-captioning and even theatrical captioning decodable through, perhaps, light eyewear; Machine Gun McCain wants to see a new Monte Hellman movie; Nilblogette wishes for lower ticket prices, lower budgets, fewer remakes and less CGI; Beege would like better movies and a free babysitter so she could go see more of them; for Blaaagh, a dream come true would be Peter Jackson's The Hobbit; Brian would love 2006 to bring a traveling retrospective of the work of cartoon director Friz Freleng to commemorate the 100th year since his birth; Sal wants to see the construction of the next great studio lot, modeled on the lost glories of Twentieth Century Fox; Peet would appreciate it if someone could figure out how to resurrect Stanley Kubrick; Robert hopes for a region 1 disc of Pretty Poison and a fully loaded special edition of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (I don't know how fully loaded it'll be, Robert, but I do know BVD will soon be on DVD-- I worked on the subtitles); Thom McGregor would like to see a halt called to overly expository trailers and reporting on box office numbers; and Virgil Hilts would be satisfied if Hollywood could come up with a single original idea in 2006.

Personally, I would love to see directors and editors rein in the incredible versatility and endless shuffling possibilities that editing digitally affords them. Back in the days of the Moviola, when editors actually had to touch film, to physically splice sequences together and make cuts with actual blades, assembling and disassembling a sequence was not only cost-prohibitive, it was time-prohibitive, and it was physically degenerative to the film stock on which the editor was working. This, I think, caused directors and editors to be judicious before the fact and actually plan how best to tell their story, through storyboarding or other means of preparation, rather than just leaving it all up to excessive digital improvisation and using 200 cuts when 20 will do, just because the Avid allows them to do so. My wish for 2006 is that The Movies would somehow rediscover the glories of longer takes, of the use of the camera to do something other than whipsaw back and forth and up and down while genuflecting at the altar of simulated documentary verisimilitude, and for modern film editors to go back and take a look at the work of Robert Wise, Albert Akst, Adrienne Fazan, Agnes Guillemot, Dede Allen, Verna Fields, Anne V. Coates, George Tomasini and so many others from the classical period of American and European cinema (many of whom, as you may have noticed from the above, utterly random list, were women). There's a better way to tell a story, one that doesn't shatter a viewer's perceptions into a thousand incoherent shards with every passing minute, and my hope is that more people who work as film editors in modern cinema, and those who aspire to do so, will look to these masters for inspiration and education in the coming year.


Anonymous said...

I forgot about Rod Steiger. I want to change my answer to that ham actor question.

And that's a great Steiger anecdote, too, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, yeah mee too see. I wanna change my answer too see. Yeah!

Anonymous said...

Sal, dude, what's wrong with you? Anyway, mee too! Mee like Rod Steiger answer too! Anyway, I'm just frustrated that I haven't even had time to read this massive essay yet, but have just teased myself by skimming it. Sigh...this weekend, I guess.

Aaron W. Graham said...

There's no better answer than Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" for your non-song category, and I very nearly howled with laughter just thinking of the way it's used in THE GROOVE TUBE.

As for my answer for the coming year, I've found out some more info regarding Hellman's new project: it's part of an anthology, it tells a fictional story in the life of Stanley Kubrick in the late 1950s, and the two other episodes are to be helmed by Ken Russell and Tobe Hooper. No other than Joe Dante will be filming the wraparounds, which star John Saxon.

Anonymous said...

I warned you I might regret my choice tomorrow, and since you posted that picture of Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang suddenly seems a tad less interesting to me. But that's just today...

Anonymous said...

Wow, Dennis, I can't remember ever having heard that tale of your glimpsing the projectors in the Tower Theater on your "Jungle Book" bathroom journey…cool story. Great evocation of the Alger Theater, too, and of how it felt to be in one of those magic places as a kid--just as I remember it, only I couldn't have written it so well. And a special treat to see the new photos of the Alger--lookin' pretty damned good! (Rachel McAdams and "Red Eye" help).
Love your reimagining of "Lost in Translation," too: the one thing that bugs me a little about that movie is how easily it plays stereotypes for laughs…and how did you come up with that cast???? Great stuff.
I have to throw in here--after reading your musical score choices--that I realize I might've chosen Danny Elfman's great score to "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" instead--but it's too late now.
I had forgotten about the zombie banging on the door at the screening of "Night of the Living Dead"!!--but yes, I was scared virtually shitless, as you were. I had indeed seen it before--once on late-night TV in Eugene while visiting my older brother at college (and though I was scared to death, I constantly searched the TV listings in vain for another chance to be petrified), and again as a second feature up in Portland. And I already expected to see zombies lurching in black and white up any dark road on any night. (I also was similarly haunted by "Wait Until Dark"'s terrifying moment when Arkin leapt out with the knife).
As for the Pitt/Steele debate, I still haven't gotten over my jealousy of you that you got to see all those Hammer horror films as a kid--the same ones I only read about in Famous Monsters--and I lived in the city!
Haha--great choice of Rod Steiger as Best Hammy Actor--and what a choice Steiger story (why don't I remember all these?! Must be encroaching senility).
I, too, gotta give "8 ½" another shot, but the Fellini film I really didn't dig was "Juliet of the Spirits." Maybe another viewing is due, given that my tastes have slightly changed since 1978.
Are we the only two who chose Jason Mewes??
Excellent Christmas wishes--bravo, especially about the editors!

Whew…what a fun read, now that I finally got to it!

Thom McGregor said...

Great list. Makes me almost want to start going to the movies again. I'll get there. Don't worry. But wonderful post, perfectly written, and I never felt like it was too long. Yeah, that's right, M.A.B.! No wonder they gave you a blog, D.!

Dave Robidenza said...

Dennis, have you been eavesdropping on my rants about what I've taken to calling "Avid disease"? The modern tools of filmmaking may have made certain things easier and cheaper and saved some of the drudgery of stuff like splicing edits, but they've also led to directors and editors who are far too excited about the idea that they can create a hundred cuts in the space of three seconds without considering whether they should and what it really adds to their picture.

Some of the "making of" documentaries I've seen recently make the same point, directly or indirectly. Peter Weir, discussing Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, scoffed at directors who use several cameras to capture action shots and then later pick and choose from the footage instead of actually planning out the shots ahead of time. Contrast that with King George Luca$$, who has apparently decided that his vast digital empire means he can keep tweaking shots and reshooting far into the editing process, based on nothing more than his whim that day.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

Only one quibble with an otherwise virtuoso post: you'd rather have one of the Minis from The Italian Job over the Lamborghini freaking Miura from the opening sequence?! C'mon, man...Minis are great for lots of things; a mid-life crisis ain't one of 'em.

Seriously, thanks again for the quiz. What I like about it--and your blog in general--is the introduction to the less obvious but no less rich cinematic pleasures I've overlooked all these years. I'm especially looking forward to checking out the Hammer films and "discovering" Ingrid Pitt and Barbara Steele.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Mr. M: Yeah, there's just something about those Minis, man. I've never been much into the sports car, Italian, German or otherwise. But there's just something about the Mini that really appeals to my mad bumper car sensibility, I guess! Besides, if Minis were good enough for Remy Julienne, well...

I'm really glad you're enjoying what's going on here so much. And it's always good to hear from an Oregonian, ex or otherwise. My mom's family has a bunch of folks still in the Oregon City area, and also in Mollala and Sweet Home. And I remember seeing the (very tiny) ads for the State when I used to obsessively pore over The Oregonian's movie pages as a kid. You were probably running the show about that time!

And I'm glad you liked the quiz too. Another staff professor, whose identity cannot be revealed at this time, is on deck with a spring quiz that is three-quarters composed already. But I have to get through the Christmas Quiz question round-up first, which is always lots of fun. After all this more serious writing I've been up to over the last couple of weeks I'm ready to cut loose a bit, I think.

Oh, and who's your baseball team, by the way?

Mr. Middlebrow said...

When I was a kid, it was definitely Cincinnati--the Big Red Machine. Then I kind of fell away from the faith for a while. When I lived in Seattle (mid '90s) I was a major M's fan.

Since I've been in the South, though, the game has become a kind of nostalgic abstraction. That said, serendipidy has recently dropped me into what might well be Nirvana for a basball- and movie-lover: Durham, NC.

So that's the long-winded answer: The Durham Bulls.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Wow. A storied minor-league team, and the focus of a classic baseball movie. Can't get much better than that.

I love minor league baseball, though I haven't been able to see as much of it as I'd like to. I saw some games up in Portland a couple summers ago (the Beavers are the Padres AAA team) and there's just nothing like it. They happened to be playing the Dodgers triple-A club, the Las Vegas 51s, that night and were putting the spank to 'em pretty badly. I was wearing my Dodgers jersey, and late in the game when the 51s scored a run (a rare phenomenon in what ended up a 14-2 trouncing), I raced over to the only other Dodger jersey I could find-- some older fella with his extended family in tow-- and high-fived him. He laughed, we cried, and all was well with the world. Just something more intimate about the setting made me feel that was the right thing, the fun thing, to do. All that, plus greased pig races and high-pressure T-shirt launching in between innings and barbecue smokers in the parking lot-- what's not to like?

I continue to hope my Dodgers will rise from the ashes of 2005 this year (at least to their knees). I'm unsure how much I'll be writing about them this year-- last year was a trial in many ways, not the least of which was finding out just how intelligently and well I could write about the subject. The jury, in my mind, is still out on that, and I've got some friends and acquaintances who could shame me right out of the baseball side of things if they wanted to. We shall see.

Mr. Middlebrow said...

You know what's funny? I actually had Crash Davis' Shelby Mustang as the answer to question two.

Yeah, minor-league ball is definitely where it's at. The first few years we lived in Asheville (prior to the coming of the man-cub), we spent many a summer night at McCormick Field (which you'll recall had a breif but important cameo at toward the end of Bull Durham).

I've been to big-league games in Seattle, LA, Kansas City, Boston, Cincinati, and Atlanta. The ballparks are like cathedrals, complete with a palpable sense of grandeur and spectacle; still, I prefer the intimacy and accessibility--not to mention the kitschy, Rockwellian Americana--of minor-league games.

Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to opening day. And to seeing what you have to say about the game.