Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Not much time to cobble a post together right now, but since I’m between classes this week I’ve got a little more opportunity than usual to get some stuff up and running. As usual, there’s a plethora of great items to read concerning any and all film-related subjects, most of it rounded up on the supreme gathering site for all of us interested in film, GreenCine Daily, which is, after all, where I heard about most of the stuff I’m highlighting tonight. David Hudson, Craig Phillips and company continue to astound, day in and day out, with the wealth of links and commentary available on this magnificent site. When people talk about the ways film criticism and film writing is changing because of the Internet, I have to believe that those changes would not be so noticeable or important, or even possible, without the core of information distribution that is GreenCine Daily. I can’t remember what my cloistered was like before I got hooked on this site, and that’s a big 10-4 and an “Amen!” for lost memories.

I’m planning a big drive-in get-together this weekend in conjunction with the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society-- yes, we’re all putting a convoy together to go see Meet the Robinsons… pause… pause… No, that was last weekend. This weekend we’re headed out to the famous Mission Tiki Drive-in to open up the drive-in season with—what else?-- Grindhouse. What a great opportunity it’s going to be to see this movie, of all movies, on a drive-in screen where it belongs. And I extend an invitation to everyone reading this in the area who would like to come out and join us, say hi, and enjoy a trip down ‘70s exploitation memory lane with Tarantino and Rodriguez and the rest of this explosive romper room set. Just look for the big SoCalDIMS banner in the middle of whatever lot Grindhouse will be playing— I’m expecting at least 50 of my sex-and-violence-loving friends for a tailgate party that’ll be in full swing for about two hours before the movie starts. And then the fun will really begin when the Technalight projector fires up around 7:45 and Planet Terror gets underway. This is the movie event of the season, at least for movie-event-starved types like myself, who don’t get out to many film festivals or press screenings or the like, and I sincerely hope if you’re anywhere near Los Angeles this weekend that you’ll join us!

With Grindhouse in mind, here’s a few ways you can get yourself primed for the big show Internet style. The reviews are starting to come in from the writers who you actually care to pay attention to, and they’re pretty good and pretty thoughtful. Scott Foundas of the L.A. Weekly checks in with an early report in the Minneapolis-St. Paul City Pages:

“There exists some debate about audience familiarity with the term "grindhouse," and even a certain confusion about the origins of the word itself—whether it refers to the movies that composed a gilded age of exploitation cinema or to the all-night urban theaters in which they were regularly shown. It matters little, though, for so richly evocative is Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse of an earlier generation's guilty cinematic pleasures that you can practically feel the stick of dried soda under your sneakers and smell the faint aroma of bum emanating from the row behind you.”

Being that the City Pages rolls with the New Times syndicate, the paper has taken the opportunity to post Nathan Lee’s write-up right alongside Foundas’s:

“Tarantino is a big supporter of the neo-exploitation crowd (two of whose luminaries, Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, contribute ingenious trailers for imaginary films alongside Edgar Wright and Rodriguez), but his own sensibility is sweeter. Death Proof expends most of its energy on boozy barroom camaraderie and baroque restaurant chitchat. Even the villain is rather a dear, while Tarantino clearly relishes his rehabilitation of Russell, on whom he lavishes as much affection as his girls gone wild. And wild they go, pedal to the metal, brandishing iron poles, turning the tables on Stuntman Mike in a giddy automotive assault that climaxes with the finest syncopation since Before Sunset…From first frame to last—and by the time you exit this blockbuster-as-block party behemoth, you'll have taken in a quarter-million of them. This monumentally pointless movie is best summarized by a line from Planet Terror: "At some point in your life, you find a use for every useless talent you have." Rodriguez, Tarantino & Co. aim for nothing more noble than to freak the funk, and it's about goddamn time.”

(Lee’s review is also available in the online edition of the Village Voice.)

Glenn Kenny offers this excellent observation from Premiere Online:

"Death Proof offers 'thrills' that are deeply unpleasant and deeply unwholesome, and it's here that Grindhouse comes closest to achieving the 'climate of perdition' that another surrealist critic, Robert Benayoun termed the hallmark of 'authentic sadistic cinema.' A lot of people associate a taste for grindhouse movies with the tiresome condescension of the 'so-bad-it's-good' ethos, but Tarantino understands the aesthetics of aberrance that animated the explorations of so-called trash hounds."

Foundas also checks in among the virtual pages of the L.A. Weekly with a report on an official summit meeting of grindhouse directors. Conveyed by Tarantino himself, it's a lively round-table featuring Richard Rush (The Stunt Man, Hells Angels on Wheels), Brian Trenchard-Smith (Dead-End Drive-In, BMX Bandits), Allan Arkush (Rock and Roll High School, Get Crazy), George Armitage (Miami Blues, Private Duty Nurses), Lewis Teague (Alligator, The Lad in Red) and the late Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Porky's), who died mere days after the summit took place.

And in the spirit of the weekend, D.K. Holm offers a great piece at the increasingly indispensable Screengrab entitled ”The Music of Death Proof: A Beginner’s Guide.”

But no one, and I mean no one, is as excited to see Grindhouse on the big screen as that number-one fan of on-screen decapitation, Kim Morgan. From the pages of her MSN Movies Filter blog comes this first-rate interview with Kurt Russell, aka Snake Plissken, aka Stuntman Mike. Then there’s Kim’s smackdown with Time Out writer David Fear over the merits (or lack thereof) of Tarantino, the director. (And actually, if you access the smackdown via Kim’s Sunset Gun blog, you’ll be spared the smirking shot of Tarantino in favor of some much more photogenic shots from the movie.) Finally, Kim rallies for 10 Great Car Movies in anticipation of the reportedly spectacular stunt work in Death Proof. I loved recounting all of the terrific movies Kim mentions here, particularly her number-one pick, but in a rare moment of ‘70s heresy, I have to admit that that last time I saw Vanishing Point (about three years ago) I was considerably underwhelmed. Some of the movie's car stuff is undeniably great, but it doesn’t wear its existential malaise nearly as well as that number-one pick. (No, I’m not telling you what it is. Go find out yourself!) Anyway, I would have replaced Vanishing Point with the less-muscle-car oriented The Italian Job (the original 1969 British version) or John Frankheimer’s full-throttle Ronin. But I’m nitpicking. Go find out what Kim picked as number-one, rent it and watch it before you see Grindhouse.

Final item on the Grindhouse beat: Screengrab's weekly Top Ten list focuses this week on Girls with Guns! See Sigourney Weaver, Anne Parillaud and, let's see... at least eight more ballistic beauties strap 'em on in honor of the opening of Grindhouse. Check out Part One and Part Two of this fun list courtesy of the Screengrab gang. (Thanks for the tip, Bilge.)

Before I go, just to prove that I am thinking about other things than this upcoming B-movie delight, how about another couple of confrontational video clips, both of them as fascinating, if not as repellent, as the David O. Russell/Lily Tomlin shenanigans. Via Anne Thompson and her new digs at Thompson on Hollywood comes a provocative bit of reverse psychology courtesy of actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who turns a video camera on a couple of paparazzi for a short film he calls Pictures of Assholes.

And then there’s this priceless footage of brilliant artists/macho fatheads Norman Mailer and Rip Torn literally
ripping and tearing
at each other on the set of Mailer’s film Maidhouse, way back in 1971, the dawning of those heady days of the Golden Age of Great American Films, a banner under which Maidhouse is typically not placed.

Finally, two more places to go for good reading: In anticipation of the spectacular new Mario Bava box set, check out Sean Axmaker’s nuanced appreciation of the director at GreenCine. A sample:

“Legend has it that Italian genre veteran Riccardo Freda "pushed" his friend Bava into the director's chair by abandoning not one but two projects for his frequent cinematographer to finish (it's hard to verify the real reason that Freda left the projects, but it makes a good story to justify printing the legend)… Bava was offered a shot a directing a project of his choosing. He chose Nikolai Gogol's short story "Viy" and made his official directorial debut, at age 46, on The Mask of Satan, renamed Black Sunday for the US release.

...From the opening frames, Bava proved that he knew how grab an audience's attention. Barbara Steele, her eyes glaring hate even as her face registers terror, is bound to a stake, spitting curses with hellfire to the robed and masked judges who pronounce her death sentence. A spiked mask is slowly placed over her face and a massive wooden mallet pounds the iron mask with a startling finality as the credits explode in fire (this final shot was excised from the American release). Even as the film eases into an eerie gothic atmosphere of a ghost story, where centuries later the corpse is revived by the innocent descendant (also played by Steele) with a single drop of blood, Bava never eases up on the tension. His vivid style - gliding camerawork, dramatic lighting, striking compositions and atmospheric sets cobbled together from limited resources - set the standard for Italian gothic horror, and his magnificent photography of the weirdly beautiful Steele made her an icon of the genre. Equally good as the devilishly wicked witch, with eyes blazing and evil smile set off by feral teeth, and the haunted innocent, she plays both in this moody, macabre cult classic of cruelty.”

And speaking of Bava, congratulations to Tim Lucas on the completion of what promises to be a great resource on the films of Mario Bava, his new book entitled All the Colors of the Dark. Click on Tim’s name to get a closer look at the sweat and tears, and of course the blood, that went into the writing and finishing of the book.

Paul Clark, frequent SLIFR visitor and proprietor of his own keen blog entitled Silly Hats Only (which always has something cool going on in it), has joined the stable of paid contributors to Bilge Ebiri’s aforementioned Screengrab with a doozy of a piece on Peter Watkins’ first film, a rock and roll tale entitled Privilege, shot by British cinematographer extraordinaire Peter Suschitzky:

“The cinematic influence of Privilege can be felt in a number of subsequent films. Many of the rock movies of the next few decades owe a debt to Privilege, from the bombast of Tommy to the stylishness of Phantom of the Paradise. The rally scenes in Pink Floyd: The Wall are clearly Watkins-inspired. Watkins himself has claimed that no less a filmmaker than Stanley Kubrick cribbed a scene from Privilege for A Clockwork Orange, though it’s hard to tell which one. Likewise, some of the music from the film has been covered or appropriated by a number of artists, from Patti Smith to Big Audio Dynamite.

But even more startling than the film’s direct influences is the story’s almost prophetic nature. It’s hard not to see Steven Shorter in the reluctant, self-destructive pop stars of today, Britney Spears being the obvious example. The efforts by Shorter’s handlers to re-fashion their client’s image clearly anticipates shape-shifters like Madonna. But strangely enough, the person I thought of most while watching Privilege isn’t a musician at all, but Oprah Winfrey — another pop-culture titan whose image is used not only to sell consumer products and spirituality but a whole lifestyle. That Oprah presumably does this of her own free will, rather than being led into it as Shorter is, merely feels like the logical progression of events.”

Congratulations, Paul, on a vivid piece of writing and for your newfound association with Screengrab!

Finally, David Hudson once again points the way to what he terms a Werner Herzog dossier, hours of reading and viewing on the great German director compiled by film journalist Ray Pride. The dossier includes rather amazing footage of Herzog being interviewed in Los Angeles by British journalist Mark Kermode and being shot on camera by an unseen sniper. The bullet turns out to be from an air rifle, but the wounding is no less shocking for that, nor is Herzog’s reserve under fire any less revealing. Says Herzog (after showing Kermode the oozing extent of his wound), “Bottom line, I think the poet must not avert his eyes. You have to take a bold look at what is your environment, what is around you…” The whole dossier is loaded with fascinating links and video clips. Thanks, Ray, for compiling what, for any fan or respecter of Herzog’s work, will be a must-read/see experience.

That’s it for now. I’ll check in over the weekend with my answers to Professor Irwin Corey’s quiz, a report from the Grindhouse Drive-In party, plus more on the opening of drive-in season and anything else that comes across the radar. I hope to see you at the drive-in this weekend, or right here all week long.

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Aaron W. Graham said...
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