Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Few who have attended classes here at SLIFR University over the past seven years are likely to have known about the school’s modest but relatively ambitious religious studies program— faith, ritual, evangelism and the presence (or lack thereof) of divinity and providence in modern society are subjects of endless fascination for the staff here, but not ones they are given to pontificate at length upon, at least during school hours. (SLIFR history professor Mr. Hand has been seen of late standing on a milk crate across from the campus bookstore, haranguing passersby about Planned Parenthood.) However, one eminently qualified staff member is quite passionate on the subject of God and cinema, and we’ve decided that, upon the occasion of the opening of the new SLIFR House of St. Faith Divinity Annex and Multiplex Cinema, located high in the Himalayan Mountains, it’s time to give Sister Superior Clodagh her time on the pulpit before she and the department head for the hills. Sister Clodagh expects that the move to her new, more isolated educational and spiritual facility will facilitate better focus on godly matters and push away some of the rather more worldly influences that have tugged at her attention over the past few semesters. To that end, she has fashioned a quiz organized loosely around themes of religious belief and representation in the movies, and like all of her students in habit-forming (sorry) classes like Church History and Scriptural Analysis, as well as more popular
credits like Catechism for Coffee House Hipsters, Convent Oscar-Party Etiquette, Cutting-Edge Fashions for the Cloister or Wine Tasting: How to Choose the Right Chalice for Your Heavenly Claret, she expects your undivided and immediate attention to these probing questions. And do not doubt that Sister Clodagh has her yardstick ready for knuckle-rapping, should any of you decide to loaf or read old copies of Mad magazine tucked inside your missals instead of paying attention to the questions. Beware and be reverent.

There are just a couple of bits of the usual formality business before we proceed. When you answer your questions, please be sure to copy and paste the questions into the comments column along with your answers—this is so readers will not have to continually scroll up and down referencing the questions to your answers. And speaking of the answers, Sister Clodagh does, as do all of the staffers here at SLIFR, value your honesty but equally so your loquaciousness, your willingness to participate elaborately. Answers are always much more fun to read if they go beyond the simple one or two-word response. Your logorrhea will not be punished here, only your reticence. (Your poor knuckles will come to appreciate this advice.)

So let us tarry no further. Sharpen up the number twos, adjust your collars and habits and enjoy Sister Clodagh’s Superficially Spiritual, Ambitiously Agnostic Last-Rites-of-Spring Movie Quiz. Communion has officially begun. (Extra credit for spotting the religious reference in the text below that is NOT found in any of the questions.)


1) Favorite movie featuring nuns

2) Second favorite John Frankenheimer movie

3) William Bendix or Scott Brady?

4) What movie, real or imagined, would you stand in line six hours to see? Have you ever done so in real life?

5) Favorite Mitchell Leisen movie

6) Ann Savage or Peggy Cummins?

7) First movie you remember seeing as a child

8) What moment in a movie that is not a horror movie made you want to bolt from the theater screaming?

9) Richard Widmark or Robert Mitchum?

10) Best movie Jesus

11) Silliest straight horror film that you’re still fond of

12) Emily Blunt or Sally Gray?

13) Favorite cinematic Biblical spectacular

14) Favorite cinematic moment of unintentional humor

15) Michael Fassbender or David Farrar?

16) Most effective faith-affirming movie

17) Movie that makes the best case for agnosticism

18) Favorite song and/or dance sequence from a musical

19) Third favorite Howard Hawks movie

20) Clara Bow or Jean Harlow?

21) Movie most recently seen in the theater? On DVD/Blu-ray/Streaming?

22) Most unlikely good movie about religion

23) Phil Silvers or Red Skelton?

24) “Favorite” Hollywood scandal

25) Best religious movie (non-Christian)

26) The King of Cinema: King Vidor, King Hu or Henry King? (Thanks, Peter)

27) Name something modern movies need to relearn how to do that American or foreign classics had down pat

28) Least favorite Federico Fellini movie

29) The Three Stooges (2012)—yes or no?

30) Mary Wickes or Patsy Kelly?

31) Best movie-related conspiracy theory

32) Your candidate for most misunderstood or misinterpreted movie

33) Movie that made you question your own belief system (religious or otherwise)


Saturday, April 21, 2012


The month has almost passed already, and I still haven’t gotten to posting April’s Hammer Glamour representatives, according to the lovely Hammer Glamour 2012 wall calendar I got for Christmas this past year. And since I’ve been looking forward to the month of April almost as much for this post as for the TCM Classic Film Festival and the start of the baseball season, I guess I should devote a few minutes and words to Mary and Madeleine Collinson, one-off Hammer scream queens who will need no introduction to those familiar with the studio’s vampire lineage, being as they are the titular Twins of Evil themselves.

Prior to their involvement in this relative late-period Hammer classic, which took full advantage of loosening of standards and practices in filmmaking all over the world in the early ‘70s, the Collinsons made their way to London in 1969 and apparently had little trouble attracting attention. Very shortly after arriving there they were starring in soft-core porn titles for the Super 8 market, like Harrison Marks’ Halfway Inn. (There’s surely a pun intended in there somewhere, perhaps more effectively disguised than the one I shamelessly used in the previous paragraph.) From there things moved ever more swiftly, including even more magazine appearances, and by October 1970 the Collinsons found themselves in a rather unique historical position, having been crowned the very first twin Playmates of the Month and landing their black-clad curves on the cover of the magazine. They also made a brief appearance in The Love Machine (1970), the none-too-revered film adaptation of Jacqueline Susann’s best-seller which was directed by Jack Haley Jr.

But not long after their Hefner-sponsored coronation, they would begin production on the movie that would serve as their calling card for the next 40 years, and no doubt will even beyond that. Twins of Evil was the third film in Hammer’s “Karnstein trilogy,” following The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Lust for a Vampire in a series loosely based on Sheridan le Fanu’s “Carmilla.” These pictures were produced quickly—the trilogy’s original UK release dates range only from October 1970 (The Vampire Lovers) to October 1971 (Twins of Evil)—and they were lurid even by Hammer standards, bloody and relatively steamy, with an emphasis on heaving bosoms and vampire-enhanced girl-on-girl sexuality. And with the Collinsons Hammer had not only an impressive well of erotically charged talent from which to draw, they also had an excellent marketing hook, which they delighted in exploiting. (And let’s not kid ourselves-- we in the prime Hammer demographic at the time were in turn delighted as well.)

Despite its hurried production Twins of Evil remains one of Hammer’s best signature movies, and not just because of all the flesh on display—the sets and production design seem even more lushly realized than usual, and Peter Cushing, who was still heavily mourning the loss of his wife during shooting, channels his anguish and anger into one of his most emotionally complex performances. But it forever will be for the Twins that this terrific picture will be best remembered, and that’s probably as it should be. The Collinsons (neither of whom ever made a picture, or did much else professionally, unless her twin sister was involved) dabbled in a couple more B-movies before taking their leave of the business altogether after the release of something called Passion Potion (a.k.a. She’ll Follow You Anywhere) in 1973. According to what little reportage there has been, Mary now resides in Milan, and Madeleine eventually married a British R.A.F. officer and raised three children. They eventually took up residence in Malta, where she worked with the British Council as an education information officer, and in 1998 she moved back to the U.K., where she now resides in Bournemouth. They may have retreated away from the spotlight into what one hopes have been and continue to be fulfilling lives, but for horror fans of both genders they will always be Frieda and Maria Gellhorn, twins of evil who made those of us who have thrilled to their tale for 40 years suspect that if one could keep their company, being a vampire might not be such a hellish fate after all.


Click here to read a 1998 interview with Madeleine Collinson conducted by Michael Reed.)

And much more biographical info on both twins, as well as surfeit of pulchritude, is available here at this post on the Collinsons filed at Venus Observations.)


Thursday, April 19, 2012


The third-annual TCM Classic Movie Festival is now in the afterimage stage, yet another fabulous bounty of classic (and maybe even some not-so-classic) films, a weekend-long glimpse into the rich history of filmmaking from Hollywood and around the world now itself relegated to history and the memory of those lucky enough to attend. This was my third year at the festival, and I wouldn’t have been able to be at any of them without the support and sponsorship of Keith Uhlich, editor of The House Next Door and Ed Gonzalez, managing editor of Slant magazine. They have my undying thanks for making what has become one of the genuine highlights of my year a treasured reality.

For now, just a few impressions and some photos from the 2012 edition, which I suspect may have been a transitional year for the TCM festival from movie buff niche status to genuine popular phenomenon, and all the pluses and minuses implied within. More in-depth coverage of my experience at the festival will be forthcoming at The House Next Door, a thought that will most likely bring anticipation and dread in equal measure, depending in part on how much you like to read. (Where’s that damn winky-wink emoticon when I need it?) You can look for that very soon, and in a much more timely fashion than I was able to deliver my piece on the 2011 festival. (My apologies in advance for my none-too-keen abilities as a photographer.)

A familiar sight for festival-goers-- long lines in the Chinese multiplex's newly redesigned hallway which connects the lobby with two sides of the third floor of the Hollywood and Highland complex. However handsomely decked out with framed photos of stars getting their immortal on at the Grauman's Chinese cementing ceremonies, locals and out-of-towners alike were none too pleased to stand in those queues when they stretched out of the Chinese Theater through-way on Friday and into the morning’s torrential downpour of rain. But there we were, many sans umbrellas, hoping to get into the screening of Raw Deal, which had a line of hopefuls that was probably triple the capacity of the small auditorium in which it would run. This was a rare TCM scheduling mishap—someone seriously miscalculated the appeal of film noir both for the general public and for noir-happy Los Angeles film buffs, and the movie immediately became a shoo-in for one of the Sunday afternoon TBA slots. I ended up seeing I’m No Angel (1932).

It was a genuine privilege to see Diana Serra Cary, a.k.a. Baby Peggy Montgomery, speak to Leonard Maltin after a screening of the documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room (2010). This woman is one of the last surviving participants of the silent era of Hollywood filmmaking, and her story is a fascinating one. I only wish I could have made time to see her collection of Baby Peggy shorts that screened on Sunday.

TCM 2012 saw festival staffers decked out in the best T-shirts yet. Needless to say, I coveted one, but there was nothing even remotely as keen available in the overpriced TCM Boutique over at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

Michael Schlesinger’s introductions to the comedies he has programmed for the festival (Murder, He Says, One Two Three, and this year’s Abbott and Costello/Three Stooges combo, both feature and short entitled Who Done It?) are entertaining gems that are always worthy of the terrific comedies they precede. Mike is a quick-witted, first-tier raconteur of Hollywood history, and I highly recommend seeing anything with his name attached to it at the TCM Festival.

A new friend, Natalie Zlodre of Toronto, Canada, joined me for Lonesome (1928), which would be one of the three or four best movies of the festival.

What a privilege to see The Black Cat (1931) in the presence of Sara Karloff and Bela Lugosi Jr., both of whom have turned their heritage as the daughter and son of two horror icons (who may or may not have been professional rivals as well as genuine friends) into a kind of sweet-tempered vaudeville routine. (That’s film critic Todd McCarthy in the interviewer’s chair.)

The screen at the Egyptian as seen from the balcony, where a spectacular restoration of Clara Bow’s Call Her Savage (1932) would soon unspool. This year marked the igniting of a major Clara Bow obsession on my part thanks to this movie (and last year’s screening of Hoop-la). On Monday after the festival finished I picked up her biography Clara Bow: Runnin’ Wild (written by David Stenn, who introduced the screening with MoMA restoration archivist Katie Trainor) and I only have 25 pages to go…

First in line for Rio Bravo (1959)…

My camera’s flash malfunctioned at a very inopportune time, but I have to publish this terrible photo anyway as very fuzzy proof that I was in the same room as Angie Dickinson! She introduced Rio Bravo, of course.

New festival pal, Brooklyn filmmaker Theresa Brown, who joined me for The Black Cat

And soon-to-be film archivist extraordinaire Ariel Schudson (right), joined by another new friend, the charming Orange County-based film blogger Kristen Sales, both of whom hung out with me for two hours in the afternoon heat in fevered anticipation of the adventures of John T. Chance and Co. on the big Grauman’s Chinese screen Sunday afternoon.

This is just a taste. Lots more to come, and hopefully lots more time to write it all up! Pray for me. :)


Monday, April 16, 2012


"Miss Wilcox, why won't people file their income tax returns early?" bemoans Mr. Danvers, the distraught tax preparer played by Mike Nichols in this early television P.S.A. on behalf of the National and State Organizations for Certified Public Accountants. Miss Wilcox is, of course, the incomparable Elaine May-- her empathetic outrage on behalf of her boss is sweetly, sublimely inappropriate, sells the message with the duo's typical dry crackle and makes for a hilarious spot, the likes of which I wish TV were still capable of making in this age of graphic overload and overstatement. (It all reminds me of another professional overreaction yet to come, Eric Idle's agonized restaurant manager who stabs himself over the embarrassment of a dirty fork served to a puzzled and not-at-all-furious pair of diners.)

Of course the answer to the question, at least for me, is that to forestall filing is to forestall the pain of either having a modest federal refund being subsumed by a ridiculous payment due the state, or even worse getting no refund at all. Ironically, I waited till just last Thursday to file this year, a year when I actually did get a refund, so I might have had that modest windfall at my disposal (and I do mean disposal) even earlier if I'd just followed Mr. Danver's advice. But no matter what your return, at least there is this keen 60 seconds of laughter in the face of the grim tide of tax season to remind us that there are days beyond April 15th (or 17th, as the case may be) and that smiling through adversity, though perhaps not a cure, is still a pretty good and reliable way to go.

Many thanks to O.G. pal Larry Aydlette for knowing I'd appreciate this and need this and for passing it along!


Friday, April 13, 2012


Well, the day (or the morning, I guess) has finally arrived. Fueled with a tiny breakfast of an egg and a 5-Hour Energy Drink, and operating from the meager benefits of the tiniest sliver of sleep, I’m off to the 2012 Turner Classic Movie Festival in Hollywood this morning. There’s some bitter irony to the festival being kicked off yesterday, the very same day of the publishing of the L.A. Weekly’s cover story on "The Death of Film," but there will be time to digest and dissect that later. Right now, it’s time to pack the kids lunches, take ‘em to spring break camp and head over the hill. Hopefully last night’s stress-out journey into Hollywood to pick up my press credential before the press office in the Hollywood Roosevelt closed was a mere blip in what looks to be, despite the Los Angeles weather this morning, a warm cruise on the sea of Hollywood history. (As I raced with my daughters through the lobby of the hotel my oldest became excited when she spotted and recognized Robert Osborne. Me, I almost bumped into Jeffrey Wells…)

Much more later, of course. Here’s my projected schedule for the weekend. (All links are to descriptions of the films and events that can be found at the festival’s online headquarters.)




RAW DEAL (1948)


VERTIGO (1958)


PHASE IV (1974)


WHO DONE IT? (1942)



DR. NO (1962)


SECONDS (1966)





RIO BRAVO (1959)


As I said, much, much more to come. Gotta go get in line now!


Saturday, April 07, 2012


If there is a reliable truism that can coexist alongside the American film industry’s dance of death with economically insane budgets that now routinely soar north of $200 million, it is that (most) critics and potential ticket-buyers can be counted on to review bad buzz and publicized woes of dollars and production instead of the actual movie once it finally finds its way to a screen. And it may in fact be true that the drama behind the scenes often outstrips the quality of the wide-screen finished product, though certainly this is not always the case. The reception of John Carter is but the latest example of our number-crunching obsession with pop culture minutiae and the fascination of a behemoth’s preordained fall. Most who trudged out a month or so ago for that movie’s disappointing opening weekend probably knew more about the movie’s troubled history and the swirl of negative word-of-mouth (generated before a single ticket was sold) than they did about Edgar Rice Burroughs, upon whose once-popular novels the movie was based; those rumors of discontent at Disney ended up serving as the real text to which audiences referred when they finally saw the film.

So what’s new? Stories of studio publicity departments dodging bad press and creating their own legends about the rocky road traveled to the silver screen are a movie history tradition, and the stories they peddled were more often than not vivid, unstable and as combustible as if they’d been printed on nitrate film stock. The brouhaha over Heaven’s Gate, including Steven Bach’s compulsively readable account of its out-of-control production in Final Cut: Art, Money, and Ego in the Making of Heaven's Gate, the Film That Sank United Artists pushed behind-the-scenes battles into the public arena like never before, not only helping to put a gravestone on the age of the unfettered auteur in American filmmaking, but also ushering in the current entertainment reportage obsession with catching a glimpse of Oz behind the curtain, an era in which no aspect of a movie or TV show’s creative birth goes undocumented or unexamined.

But movies whose names become synonymous with the wretched excess and folly of the movie business are fairly rare. Heaven’s Gate is one. So is my beloved 1941. John Carter may prove to be another. (Titanic was all ready to join the crowd, but it turned out Fate had something else in store for James Cameron’s potentially checkbook-boggling shipwreck.) Hudson Hawk also arrived in theaters under a ripe thundercloud of bad press, originating from its own studio as well as entertainment media watchdogs, and accumulating disdain for its popular star, Bruce Willis, whose screen persona made plenty of room for smug self-regard and who was perceived, after the success of Moonlighting, Die Hard and its first sequel, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, as somehow needing a good old-fashioned Hollywood spanking to bring him back down to earth. (Willis managed to not be held significantly responsible for appearing in another apocalypse the previous year, Brian De Palma’s ill-fated The Bonfire of the Vanities.)

The reviews for Hudson Hawk weren’t any too kind either, most echoing hyperbolic sentiments typified by Peter Travers (“A movie this unspeakably awful can make an audience a little crazy. You want to throw things, yell at the actors, beg them to stop.”) or Mick La Salle, who wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle that “There is probably not one interrupted 60-second stretch in which a line of dialogue doesn't clunk, an action doesn't ring false or an irritating plot turn doesn't present itself.” (Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Gleiberman at least sensed a pulse— “This may be the only would-be blockbuster that's a sprawling, dissociated mess on purpose. It's a perverse landmark: the first postmodern Hollywood disaster.”) It’s valuable to be reminded, however, that not all the notices at the time were scathing. In his indifferent capsule review, Jonathan Rosenbaum was quick to remind his readers of Hudson Hawk’s roots in ‘60s genre spoofs like Our Man Flint and Modesty Blaise and noted that “at least the filmmakers keep it moving with lots of screwball stunts.” And the notoriously cranky Richard Schickel was feeling downright generous, dispensing a bit of wisdom that would prove prescient regarding believing the hype: “If you can see past the thicket of dollar signs surrounding Hudson Hawk,” Schickel wrote, “you may discern quite a funny movie-- sort of an Indiana Jones send-up with a hip undertone all its own.”

I saw Hudson Hawk on its opening night, May 24, 1991, at the Pacific Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, and by the time I took my seat that two-word title had already become industry code for what producer Tri-Star chairman Mike Medavoy, in recounting the making of the movie in his memoir You’re Only As Good As Your Next One, termed “a total fucking disaster.” What I saw on screen that night didn’t rank in my eyes as a moral or aesthetic crime, but I was none too taken with it either; I remember reacting against what felt like the ultimate loud, incoherent inside joke, one which the performers obviously thought was a riot (it certainly sounded like one) but whose humor thoroughly escaped me. I also freely admit I was in the Spank Bruce Willis camp-- and the Spank Joel Silver camp too, for that matter. (Though for being the bull in the china shop that ushered the Wachowski Brothers’ vision of Speed Racer to the screen, Silver gets an eternal pass from me.) To my eye, Hudson Hawk at the time was crass and disposable, a symptom of a system of making movies that was totally, fatally out of whack, and I had little trouble spending the next 21 years in almost total disregard of this latest Hollywood flame-out.

So why was I laughing my helpless ass off at Hudson Hawk last night when it screened on a thoroughly enjoyable double feature with Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles? I’ll admit a certain attraction to the disreputable, a perverse desire to find something in a beat-up, bedraggled movie that others just don’t see. But recent re-encounters with movies as diverse as Michael Mann’s The Keep, John Frankenheimer’s 99 and 44/100% Dead, Ridley Scott's Legend, Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead and Robert Altman’s Quintet (to name but a very few) have proven that sometimes a rotten egg is just a rotten egg. It might have something to do with my own need for laughter of late too. Those who bestow awards don't give much of a crap about comedies, but so often they are the movies I'm most happy to see, the ones I feel like I need more than others, and I feel like I’m more likely to respond to the sometimes desperate impulse underlying comedy than others might, or seem willing to. (Is this why the prospect of The Farrelly Brothers’ Three Stooges movie doesn’t fill me with dread?) I am far more forgiving of the ramshackle structure of a movie if it makes me laugh.

But of course “funny ha-ha” is probably the most subjective and elusive response that a movie can go fishing for—it’s not as reliable or quantifiable as the tears or the swelling of pride or fear that movies in other genres can more easily access, which is probably why laughs, which may seem more fleeting, don’t get as much in the way of award respect. The kind of hi-jinks on display in Hudson Hawk can be infectious, or they can be, when echoing off the walls of an empty auditorium as they did when I saw the movie 21 years ago, off-putting, a sign of the movie’s insular disregard for anything beyond the pleasure of the folks who made it.

Hudson Hawk is big, cluttered, and dingy-looking, qualities that I associate, rationally or irrationally, with the type of sausage usually spit out by Tri-Star and other companies in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. The cinematography, credited to Dante Spinotti (Manhunter, Heat, The Last of the Mohicans) but also presumably including contributions by Jost Vacano (Total Recall, Starship Troopers, Das Boot), who was fired six weeks into shooting, is inconsistent, flatly lit and composed one moment, particularly in the dank-looking interiors, then incandescent and receptive to the natural beauty of the Italian locales the next. And it’s filled with actors who either travel from scene to scene unsure of what kind of movie they’re in (Exhibit A, Andie MacDowell, though she gets major points for her drug-induced dolphin impersonation) or who seize on the raucous, over-the-top sensibility rooted in Daniel Waters’ irreverent rewrite of Steven De Souza’s more straightforward caper script and turn the knob all the way up to 11 (Exhibit B, everyone else in the cast).

Willis clearly overestimated his appeal as a smirking, self-assured hipster with this role, but the performance works because it's in conflict with his status as a newly emergent action icon. The tension between the two approaches provides much of the movie’s comic juice, especially when he so willingly dives in the silly pool and bumps up against performers who are clearly from another world. The presence of James Coburn, Flint himself, is of course a major clue as to the intent of director Michael Lehmann and the other filmmakers in regard to tone and pop culture touchstones. But the very notion of casting Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant as the super-villainous Mayflowers, who force Willis’ master thief into stealing rare Da Vinci treasures that will somehow pave the way for their ascendance to World Dominator status certainly puts the movie’s cult sensibility at odds with the prospect of reaching the level of mass appeal needed to justify a multimillion-dollar budget. (These actors don’t project to the rafters, they threaten to grab them in their powerful jaws and eat them.) Bernhard, Grant, Coburn and a host of other game participants, including Frank Stallone, Lorraine Toussaint, Leonardo Cimino and a pre-CSI David Caruso, add a lot to the movie beyond an elevated level of cacophony. They underline the movie’s goggle-eyed, giddy celebration of its own incoherence.

Inconsistency, or at least the harboring of warring impulses of storytelling “rules” and anything-for-a-laugh energy within the same genre peapod, is the game Hudson Hawk is playing right up front, and it’s a game that usually doesn’t result in this many points subtracted when the context is wacky comedy. This is probably where the movie ran into trouble with viewers and reviewers back in 1991—no one (Rosenbaum and Schickel excepted, I suppose) had much of an idea what the movie had on its mind; certainly not mass audiences who were conditioned, after Die Hard, to come to a Bruce Willis picture with a set of expectations and prided themselves on being able to detect (with some culturally pervasive help) the scent of a stinker. But it seems to me even the movie’s idea of a good joke is a risky one. Waters’ notion of a couple of cat burglars (Willis and an eager Danny Aiello) so in love with the hep cat culture of The Rat Pack that they’ve memorized the length of the tunes just so they can use them to gauge the timing of their capers-- in sing-along musical sequences that really helped to alienate the cognoscenti back in 1991, no less-- will either make you giggle or gag. (I giggled last night, and then some.) And Willis caught between the push of the megalomaniacal Mayflowers and a deadly band of rogue C.I.A. assassins named after candy bars results in some patently bizarre action-comedy sequences which make the sensation of having no idea what will come down the pipe next a gleefully pleasurable one. You laughs at what you laughs at, and if the movie’s wicked, cynical, absurd vibe hits you just right—- it helps to be surrounded by an audience that is also similarly tickled— it is entirely possible to have a much better time watching Hudson Hawk than its tarnished reputation would ever suggest.

There’s little use in denying that the movie is something of a major train wreck in terms of conventional structure, logic, temperament and escalating ludicrous plot development. But what’s on screen also suggests that the creative forces behind the movie, embittered and otherwise drawn-and-quartered as they may have been, were also aware that the chaotic energy of the production could be used in the movie’s favor. It was a genuine pleasure to enjoy Hudson Hawk last night, after having spent 21 years secure in the belief that it was a piece of shit. The imminently self-deprecating Daniel Waters was also in attendance, and his comments to the near sold-out crowd suggested that although elements of the movie’s tortured history and its reception in the marketplace might still be sore spots there was also the feeling that he’s at peace with it, fully aware of the value of his contribution and understanding that a movie this crazy has no chance of pleasing everyone. As it turned out, my daughter Emma and I sat in the seats directly in front of him, and I loved her vocal enjoyment of the movie as much for her sake as for Waters’—the movie definitely appealed to her emerging sense of the absurd and her appreciation of slapstick violence. But the roaring of the New Beverly audience last night wasn’t entirely for Daniel Waters’ benefit-- they seemed to genuinely enjoy their time with Hudson Hawk, a movie that the teeming, contradictory, fractured, multitasking sensibility of American pop culture may finally have caught up with. As Waters himself characterized it, on the Island of Misfit Toys that comprises his singular sensibility as a screenwriter and director, Hudson Hawk might most aptly be seen as the cinematic equivalent of the squirt gun that shoots jelly. Of course there are those who want their squirt guns to do what squirt guns always do. But there are also folks who have a pretty soft spot reserved for a toy that does something unexpected, even if it makes a mess. For those, I would guiltlessly recommend another (perhaps a first?) viewing of Hudson Hawk.


Last night’s screening at the New Beverly Cinema was the first in a projected series of fund-raising screenings to benefit the student chapter of Association of Moving Image Archivists at UCLA. Click here for more info on the organization and upcoming screenings.


For those interested, I recommend Joe Valdez’s solid account of Hudson Hawk’s beleaguered production history that can be found on the blog This Distracted Globe. As for the movie itself, Mr. Peel does it justice and then some at Mr. Peel’s Sardine Liqueur.