Friday, October 12, 2012



          And now, for the first time in three quizzes at least, I've finally made the time to submit my own responses to last week's little exercise. So without further ado, with your extreme indulgence, here are my answers to  Professor Arthur Chipping's Maddeningly Detailed, Purposefully Vague, Fitfully Out-of-Focus Back to School Movie Quiz!

 1) What is the biggest issue for you in the digital vs. film debate?

Others who have submitted their answers to this quiz have already said it, but it bears repeating: digital production and DCP is the reality of 21st-century cinema. There’s no getting around it. And frankly, I don’t have an issue with shooting films digitally—why would I when the result can be as stunning as what David Fincher did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? The real test for me is, can I, with prior knowledge that what I’m watching was captured digitally, be convinced, or rather seduced, into forgetting that bit of information, or at least allowing it to become inconsequential to the way I visually process the movie? If digital can render images that are film-like in their richness, that don’t betray the skipping and skating during camera movement and the other artifacts that tend to expose the tinny video image as rather weak tea in comparison to the richness of film, then what’s really to complain about? (I remember being completely floored when I first learned, after having seen it twice, that Robert Altman shot the visually warm and resplendent A Prairie Home Companion digitally, even though I knew he’d gone that route for his previous movie, The Company, as well.)

Even DCP presentations at the multiplex have proven to be successful— if most paying audiences don’t already out-and-out prefer digital projections over 35mm, they are certainly accepting of them (those that bother to attempt to discern the difference, that is). Truth be told, DCP does look pretty nice, although many of us miss not only the depth and warmth of a 35mm image but also the sense of it as being touched by human hands, or human-constructed contraptions like mechanical projection systems. Some of us even (slightly) fetishize the wear and tear that results from such touching, a reminder that growing up watching projected 35mm, wherever we watched it, there was rarely, if ever, such a thing as a pristine presentation, a fact which rarely, if ever, interfered with our ability to become submersed into the inviting fathoms of a wonderful movie. (Ironically, a high-profile New York Film Festival screening of Brian De Palma’s new movie Passion, shot on 35mm but sent to the festival digitally, fell victim to a nightmare scenario involving corrupted digital code in the file package containing the movie.)

Appreciating the evidence of grindhouse wear and tear isn’t antithetical to the motives of film restoration and preservation, however, and this is where digital tools are, to this point in our history, less reliable. Digital has been a real boon to the process of restoration of great and less-great works of cinema for a couple of decades now. But as a medium of preservation its sustainability is still clouded by lot of issues, some of which probably haven’t yet reared their ones and zeroes. 

The real problem, as I see it, is that by limiting, or phasing out altogether the production of 35mm prints for distribution the source for further efforts to restore and preserve film are being cut off. We can digitally restore, say, The Phenix City Story now, but if the original negative isn't cared for and new prints from that original are not struck, then any further copies of the movie that are made will be just that—photocopies from a copy, not the original source, and surely subtle image degradation, or alteration, will be the result.

But the most immediately dire implications of ceasing 35mm print production are for the small, independent theaters—theaters like the New Beverly Cinema, of course, but also for small-town institutions like my hometown theater, The Alger, and countless other theaters in the United States and around the world that cannot afford the steep cost of installing digital equipment. If the supply of 35mm prints of the sort of multiplex fare that these theaters must show in order to keep their doors open (to say nothing of the more eclectic dips into the well of cinema history that are the bread and butter of revival theaters) is no longer available, the only option left to the owners of these establishments is to close those doors forever. It’s possible that in a generation or so kids who grow up in areas like the one where I grew up won’t have any idea what a movie theater even is, unless the buildings are still standing, empty or taken over by a church or a flea market, as yet another testament to the way things used to be. And revival cinema will become a dream as well, one that we will try to restore by programming our own double features from DVDs and Blu-rays on our home theater systems, while the memory of the real thing fades like images on an unstable celluloid print, or a perfect digital file invaded by a virus.

           2)  Without more than one minute’s consideration, name three great faces from the movies

Claudia Cardinale 

Shelley Duvall

Cary Grant

3) The movie you think could be interesting if remade as a movie musical

 I don’t know how likely it would be that the end product would be any good, but I’d  kinda like to see a big, splashy musical version of Brewster McCloud with songs by Marc Shaiman, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

           4) The last movie you saw theatrically/on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming

In the theater: William Friedkin’s perverse, completely wired and amorally entertaining adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Killer Joe (2012), a bizarre tale of murder and Texas family values which gave me new and/or renewed respect for Matthew McConaughey, Thomas Haden Church, Gina Gershon, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, to say nothing of the Colonel’s original recipe. The renewed respect extends to Friedkin, in whom I’d long lost interest—Bug was good, but I mostly credited Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon for that, and having recently seen Rampage, a tone-deaf act of desperate, stylistic banality in which the director actually resorts to shooting his serial killer villain writhing and smeared with blood on the altar of a Catholic church, complete with overdubbed Mercedes McCambridge-esque growling on the soundtrack, I’d written Friedkin off as irrelevant. I couldn’t be happier to have been proved wrong.

DVD:  The same day I saw Killer Joe I also caught up with Bernie (2012), Richard Linklater’s true-crime comedy centered around Jack Black’s wonderfully shielded, empathetic performance as a mortician well loved by the small town he adopts who, despite questions of his sexuality and other ways in which he stands out from the local redneck population, retains local sympathy after he’s driven to murder a local harridan, played by Shirley Maclaine. (The movie also features McConaughey as a disbelieving and clever district attorney who prosecutes Black). These two pictures inadvertently made for an unlikely double feature which spoke to an unusually condescension-free portrait of Texas crime, punishment and societal norms— but talk about two tonally different worlds.

DVR: Breakfast for Two (1937), a delightful, lesser-known screwball comedy starring Barbara Stanwyck as an heiress who latches on to millionaire playboy Herbert Marshall and decides to win his heart by subjecting his ocean liner business to a not-so-hostile takeover. Slight and nondescript by Leonard Maltin standards (67 minutes, **½), this is a wonderful movie, filled with the pleasures of good actors enjoying the chance to speak funny lines in posh settings. Eric Blore is especially good as Marshall’s butler, who, naturally, becomes Stanwyck’s confidant.

At work: Pitch Perfect (2012).  Not a surprise in it in terms of plot, but if this hilarious, whip-sharp comedy proves anything it’s that the getting there is all the fun. Best of show: Anna Kendrick (of course), size-12 comedienne Rebel Wilson (Bridesmaids) who defuses bitchy insults by insisting her twiggy a cappella sisters refer to her as Fat Amy (and who seems blissfully unaware of the standard line on what passes for American beauty), Brittany Snow as the node-plagued Chloe, resembling Nancy Allen with red locks, John Michael Higgins and Elizabeth Banks trading wry observations as commentators on the collegiate a cappella competitions, and not one but two projectile vomiting scenes to rival The Witches of Eastwick  for grotesquery and sheer comic impudence. The nifty script, which puts Glee in its place and then some, is by Kay Cannon (30 Rock, New Girl).

        5) Favorite movie about work

It’s a pretty broad field from which to choose, and if I’m going to forego exhaustive research and rely strictly on the top of my balding head, I’ll offer a tie between Only Angels Have Wings (1939; Howard Hawks)  and The Right Stuff (Philip Kaufman; 1983). Let the rain of choices which I completely forgot about begin falling on said balding head. And in the time since I originally answered this question I managed to see Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb; 2011), which deserves to be on my short list as well.

       6) The movie you loved as a child that did not hold up when seen through adult eyes

I spent the summer of 1977 as enraptured by Star Wars as anyone else I knew, though not, as it turned out, as much as some I would come to know. But 35 years of catching up to all the movies that influenced it and refining my taste in the kind of shameless entertainments this movie exemplifies, not to mention being overexposed to the point of madness to whole Star Wars phenomenon, made me realize, when I saw it again in 1997 and every time after, just how rickety George Lucas’s vision, not to mention the movie itself, really is. It took a real director and real screenwriters to help make a blissful movie out of Lucas’s stitched-together universe (The Empire Strikes Back) and expose the creaky limitations of the "original."

But if Star Wars is either too sacred a target, or too big an elephant to pass for a fair one, then I’ll say Gordon Hessler’s Cry of the Banshee (1970), which I loved unapologetically as a kid, but which only seemed like a shoddy imitation of The Witchfinder General when I saw it a couple of years ago.

        7) Favorite “road” movie

The obvious choice is Two-Lane Blacktop, but something in me wants to say Electra Glide in Blue (1973; James William Guercio), which has some of what Hellman captured about riding on the road, but also a serious amount of what it means to sit beside it, walk on it and feel it beneath your feet, look at it closely and, of course, be installed on it as yet another flawed monument to American history. I think I would also have to make some room here for Emperor of the North Pole, if we can loosen our definition of a road ever so slightly.

       8) Does Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention change or   confirm your perspective on him as a filmmaker/movie icon? Is that appearance relevant to his legacy as a filmmaker?

Not a whit. As has already been noted here, you can argue with the politics of John Wayne or Sean Penn all day long, and the only thing that should matter regarding their screen legacy is what’s on the screen. If those politics are part of what’s on screen, and they often are, so be it. Fair game. This has certainly been the case off and on in Eastwood’s career as well. The unfortunate chair incident speaks to his ability to hold forth or articulate concepts extemporaneously, not to what his movie legacy means or to his ability to direct a movie and express either the material in the screenplay, his actors’ performances or his take on these elements. Eastwood remains a great, imperfect screen icon, just like every other great, imperfect screen icon from D.W. Griffith on up.

       9) Longest-lasting movie or movie-related obsession

I’ve had countless movie fixations over the long and winding course of growing up and turning into the stunted human being that I now am, but my most enduring, indelible one was actually born of television. I have been obsessed, since I was six years old, with Julie Newmar as Catwoman. She came to me in a dream one night in 1966, after her first appearance on the Batman  TV series, and the world changed…

1      10) Favorite artifact of movie exploitation

        Weirdest: The owner of my hometown movie theater once gave me a piece of yellow linoleum he received as a promotional item from Universal that was purportedly a piece of the Yellow Brick Road in The Wiz (1978).

        Favorite: I can’t really count my souvenir crew jacket from the Animal House shoot as an artifact of exploitation, and I’ve been curiously unsentimental in holding on to any keepsakes I might have obtained down through the years that were movie related, so I’m gonna go back to my hometown movie theater and the book that the owner gave me way back when, a copy of the Encyclopedia of Exploitation:10,001 Show-selling Ideas (1946) by Bill Hendricks and Howard Waugh. This was a volume written for exhibitors in the pre-television era which catalogued all sorts of gimmicks and promotional ideas for packaging and presenting movies to the public at the box-office level. Most of these ideas were probably on their way out by the early ‘50s, but the book remains a fascinating artifact for thumbing through.

       And I really should mention the awesome red-and-white 3D glasses Nonie and I snagged when we went to see Katy Perry: Part of Me. I think they really bring out the candy-colored pop star in me quite vividly. 

11)   Have you ever fallen asleep in a movie theater? If so, when and why?

Oh, yes. Each and every year at the TCM Classic Film Festival I’ve found myself subject to the inopportune snooze— I have sleep apnea problems, and at age 52 I also don’t have the natural stamina for sitting through six movies in one day that I used to access easily during the heyday of my college movie-going years. But I’ve only been embarrassed by conking out mid-movie once (that I can recall)—a few years ago, after a day of work and studying that started at around 4:00 a.m., I drove to a midnight screening of Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s The House That Screamed (1971), a favorite of mine growing up that I hadn't seen since I was probably 14 years old. I made it about halfway through the picture before losing consciousness, only to be awakened by someone who had to cross almost the entire (mostly empty) auditorium to nudge me and get me to shut up my god-awful snoring. He was very cool about it, I was utterly horrified, and I made sure I was the last one to leave the theater once the show was over.

12)  Favorite performance by an athlete in a movie

I recognize that I could be being influenced by his recent death, but it’s hard to think of another performance by a former athlete that I’ve enjoyed as thoroughly as Alex Karras’s big-hearted Mongo in Blazing Saddles. Runner-up would probably be Bob Uecker in Major League (“Just a bit outside!”), a performance that continues to this day every summer wherever Milwaukee Brewers baseball can be heard.

13)  Second favorite Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie

 I’m not as well-versed in Fassbinder as I am in the films of his German New Wave brethren Herzog and Wenders, so the field is fairly narrow. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul would probably take top honors, followed by the outrageous absurdist comedy Satan’s Brew (1976), anchored, such as it is, by the loose cannon fireworks of Kurt Raab as a maniacal poet who tries to raise some cash when a book deal goes south by manipulating the people around him who all seem strangely obsessed by him and his narcissistic, erratic antics.

14)  Favorite film of 1931

As deeply entrenched in my blood as James Whale’s Frankenstein and Tod Browning’s Dracula are, I don’t see how I could pick anything but Fritz Lang’s M.

15)  Second favorite Raoul Walsh movie

Top honors go to White Heat (1949), but turn back the clock 10 years and you’ll find my second-favorite (and only second by a hair), The Roaring Twenties (1939). Cagney and Walsh go real good together.

16)  Favorite film of 1951

I’ll pick Ace in the Hole, at the same time acknowledging how much more difficult the choice between Billy Wilder’s brutal social drama and John Huston’s magnificent The African Queen was than I ever imagined it would be.

17)   Second favorite Wong Kar-wai movie

Top cheongsam in this category goes to In the Mood for Love. But as much as I swoon over 2046 there’s something about the raw emotional turbulence of My Blueberry Nights (2007) and Norah Jones’s piercing, unaffected presence, along with the movie’s seductive visuals and fearless leaps of flushed, often ill-advised romanticism that other filmmakers might have deemed too foolish to consider, that really sends me.
18)  Favorite film of 1971

 At this moment in time (ask me again 36 seconds from now), it’s a dead heat between two movies that couldn’t be more different: Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry and Elaine May’s A New Leaf.
19)  Second favorite Henri-Georges Clouzot movie

There’s no excuse for it, but I’ve only ever seen a crappy VHS (public domain?) of The Wages of Fear, so honestly I don’t feel like I’ve ever really seen it (and I missed a recent opportunity to see the reportedly beautiful restoration courtesy of Rialto and the New Beverly Cinema). The New Beverly also provided the best chance I’ve ever had to see Diabolique (1955), which has to count as my second favorite. First place: Le Corbeau (1943).
20) Favorite film of 1991


I’m allowing the semantics of “favorite” versus “best” to slimly justify my waffling. Therefore I submit an ever-rotating roster of three titles that will forever jostle for pole position in my 1991 lineup (in alphabetical order): Naked Lunch (David Cronenberg), Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow) and The Rapture (Michael Tolkin). So sue me.

21)  Second favorite John Sturges movie

It’s The Magnificent Seven (1960) without question, although I have a much softer spot than is probably warranted for Joe Kidd, Ice Station Zebra and McQ. I’m also dying to finally catch up with Sturges’ 1953 noir Jeopardy starring Barbara Stanwyck, who I’ve come to realize over the past seven or eight years can do absolutely no wrong.

22) Favorite celebrity biopic

So many of these movies follow, predictably, inevitably, the same sort of rags-to-riches-to-humbled twilight of life/career arc that after a while I begin to think that when it comes to true-life drama there really are only about one or two stories when it comes to dramatizing the life of an actual person. Of course there are also exceptions, usually surrounding exceptional lives—My Left Foot comes to mind. But there’s only one biopic I can think whose own brilliant light is fueled by its subject’s enduring mediocrity, a movie which shirks the familiar triumph and tragedy template in favor of delightful side roads into personal obsession (including the odd fetish), creative inspiration and ingenuity hindered but never undone by an absence of discernible talent, and the most unlikely creative partnership and friendship at its true heart. It’s Ed Wood (1994), of course, directed with his own brand of personal obsession by Tim Burton from an unusually perceptive and razor-sharp screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski.

23) Name a good script idea which was let down either by the director or circumstances of production

This is a tough one, largely because it’s often very difficult for those of us with only what we see on the screen, often with no access to the original script from which to judge the decisions of the director or evaluate the circumstances under which the movie came to finally be, to discern where a movie may have gone wrong. But taking my best guess, a recent encounter with the notorious, much maligned Problem Child (1990) revealed that, despite the hand-wringing over its irresponsible, allegedly offensive comic attitude toward Kids Behaving Badly that swirled around the movie when it was released, the movie has at its core a potent, potentially hilarious idea: it’s a sort of cross between The Omen and Badlands in which Damien proves too much of a malignant jokester for even the serial killer to whom he attaches himself through a creepy pen-pal relationship. Of course it would take a director with a flair for black comedy and satire to happily accentuate the charred heart of the nasty, take-no-prisoners screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. (There are those names again!) Unfortunately, despite game work by John Ritter as the put-upon adopted father of the titular pain in the ass and Michael Richards as the perverted Bow Tie Killer, and even the weirdly creepy turn by the Problem Child himself, Michael Oliver (whose apparently dubbed performance just adds to the inadvertent chills), the movie was guided from the director’s chair by Dennis Dugan, who brings to the project the same sort of tone-deaf, generic approach that has marked the majority of his contributions of cinema as Adam Sandler’s go-to auteur. The idea behind Problem Child is a perfectly nifty one that could have yielded lots of creepy laughs, but you never get the sense that Dugan has the faintest idea how to bring out the genuine perversity of the concept—he tries to make a marginally rude, feel-good comedy out of what is at heart a truly transgressive notion that flies in the face of just about every audience-friendly idea of family values. The result is a weak blend of slapstick and sentiment that has no real venom, nor even a bite sharp enough to pierce the skin. Something tells me that the Noel Black who made Pretty Poison in 1968 might have had a grand old time with Alexander and Karaszewski’s script.

2     24)  Heaven’s Gate-- yes or no?

A couple of months ago, when it was announced that Criterion would be issuing a splashy two-disc Blu-ray highlighting Michael Cimino’s cut of Heaven’s Gate (but not, significantly, including the documentary that was made from Steven Bach’s Final Cut about the beleaguered production of the film, which highlights Cimino’s particular brand of directorial megalomania and would provide valuable perspective on the context in which the film was made and released), it became clear that for many it was time to start the ball rolling on the re-evaluation of this infamous epic. Did it really warrant its bad reputation, or was it a masterpiece that had been misconstrued and misunderstood by all but a few discerning critics and audience members? The reaction I could follow, mainly on Facebook, but also in the press, was split pretty evenly between those who supported the initial negative reaction and those who were clamoring to have the movie’s greatness finally recognized. The conversations typically got heated, and they will again when the movie is finally released by Criterion next month. The thread with which I got (briefly) involved was no different. One particularly vociferous Heaven’s Gate supporter, in a thread that I read but did not immediately contribute to, wondered why there was an audience for a similar big-scale epic, Dances with Wolves, but little or no popular regard for what was obviously Cimino’s far greater, more heartfelt achievement:

“I honestly don't see why it should have been obvious that Heaven’s Gate’s story wouldn't have the same appeal to audiences as that of Dances with Wolves. Costner's film asks its audience to mourn the loss of a Native-American community wiped out by the forces of imperialism, while Cimino's asks its audience to mourn the loss of an immigrant community wiped out by the forces of corporate capitalism. Why should it have been so obvious that the former story would appeal to audiences whereas the latter would not?”

It was at this point that I stopped lurking and started writing. The gist of  my point was that the difference, as far as I could see it, between that of Costner's approach (and his supposed clairvoyance vis-à-vis his audience) and Cimino's is that Costner, for whatever misgivings I have about his movie-- and they number almost as many as the ones I have about Cimino's-- was at least attempting to tell a story rather than just inflate a fairly blunt, obvious statement about genocide into a work of absurd gigantism that is, from long scene to long scene, dramatically inert. At the very least, this is not a charge that can be leveled against Dances with Wolves, or Star Trek: The Motion Picture, or Annie, or  The Adventures of Pluto Nash (all examples that had been brought up earlier as examples of bloated, out-of-control American moviemaking), regardless of their relative level of success, or lack thereof. As much as it may seem to be squarely in the corner of the people, the great unwashed, multilingual masses, Heaven’s Gate plays like a movie that tries to make art out of the act of turning its back on its audience, as if attempting to meet the challenge of responding to Cimino’s great artistic reaching would naturally be reward enough. I've just seen the long director’s cut that will be available on the Criterion disc fresh, and again, after three opportunities over the years to re-evaluate it apart from the attendant controversy and perhaps see more of what its defenders see in it, my own feeling remains that Heaven’s Gate might be one of the most indifferently rendered works about mass slaughter ever made. If Cimino was gazing into his navel to this degree while making this movie and seeing a potential audience staring back at him, he was probably even more delusional than can be imagined.

So, in a word, no— Heaven’s Gate remains to these eyes a flaccid work of self-aggrandizement on the part of its director in which the attempt at period verisimilitude drowns out every instinct for storytelling Cimino might have once had. It’s a grave marker not only for United Artists but the death rattle for a great period of indulgent, studio-financed personal filmmaking, weary and dead behind the eyes (like Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken), self-important instead of sublime, cacophonous, dusty and ultimately empty.

25) Favorite pairing of movie sex symbols

I’m going to cheat ever so slightly and divide this into two categories: the “modern” era and the “classic” era. Again, no exhaustive research done here, just seat-of-the-pants type stuff, and my butt seat tells me that the modern column would have to be headed up by a pair already mentioned by several participants, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight (1999), who conquer old-school movie star chemistry in a way that I really don’t think could have been reasonably anticipated. Clooney has more or less ruled the roost as an American movie star sex symbol ever since this movie came out with his undeniable good looks and consistent willingness to color outside the lines of his charmed persona by taking on unusual project after unusual project. But Lopez, who showed so much promise here and who owned the screen right alongside Clooney, made ever more uninteresting choices in subsequent screen appearances until she seemed to lose interest in acting altogether in favor of her growing status as an auto-tuned pop music diva. Too bad—she was even sexy in Gigli. 

As for the classic division, while there are plenty of pairings to choose from, one in particular really defined for me the possibilities of romantic eroticism within the old Hollywood system, creating heat that is still undeniable nearly 70 years later. The push and pull between the anger, attraction, disgust, confusion and lust that powers the charge between T.R. Devlin, government agent, and Alicia Huberman, daughter of an infamous Nazi sympathizer, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946) has, to my mind, never been matched for sheer head-spinning intensity. The two, better known as Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman, defined the ambiguous relationship between manipulator and romantic pawn as one of the most perversely pleasurable in the history of movies, the tension between them as palpable as the breath the two of them seem so short of when they finally let down their guard. This providential coupling is the one that made me wake up to the reality, at just the right age even, that there was a lot more going on in some great old American movies that I had ever suspected or allowed myself to believe. Thanks to Grant and Bergman, Notorious fulfills the delightful, sinister ambiguity of its title, and then some.
26) One word that you could say which would instantly evoke images and memories of your favorite movie. (Naming the movie is optional—might be more fun to see if we can guess what it is from the word itself)


27) Name one moment which to you demarcates a significant change, for better or worse, on the landscape of the movies over the last 20 years.

For better and worse, the emergence of Quentin Tarantino, both as a pop innovator and masterfully impudent storyteller (better) and a Pied Piper (worse) to countless filmmakers in his wake who have rushed to hurl themselves off every creative cliff in sight in a desperate attempt to emulate the superficial elements of the director’s style. That magpie devotion, strangely, never seems to result in a duplication of the crazy richness that has been, as of October 2012 anyway and despite his myriad influences, a hallmark of Tarantino’s derivative yet defiantly original work.

       28) Favorite Pre-Code talkie

Without hesitation, Ernest Lubitsch’s Trouble In Paradise (1932), with Roy Del Ruth’s Taxi (1932) and Alfred E. Green’s Baby Face (1933) in a dead heat for second place.

        29)  Oldest film in your personal collection (Thanks, Peter Nellhaus)

        Probably Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), though the Kino DVD that I own also includes The Play House (1921) and Cops (1922), so I suppose those might technically be the oldest.
       30)   Longest film in your personal collection. (Thanks, Brian Darr)

       Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976; 245 minutes). But if we’re counting movies originally made for (Italian) television that did get a theatrical release, then I’d have to say Marco Tuillo Giordana’s The Best of Youth (2003; 366 minutes)

        31)   Have your movie collection habits changed in the past 10 years? If so, how?

        I do a lot more browsing than buying now, and when I do buy I tend to stay away from new releases—though I do have my sights set on Dark Shadows (2012), in case anyone is taking notes on Christmas gift ideas. I simply don’t feel the compulsion to pick up every movie that piques my interest—and this new asceticism fits well with the vast, cavernous emptiness of my wallet.  Streaming plays into this browsing habit quite nicely too—I can kill the equivalent of a movie’s running time just paging through Vudu or Netflix trying to decide on something to watch and, as Bluto once so wisely opined, it don’t cost nothin’.  Depending on the movie I pick, browsing can be a far more rewarding experience too. And despite the random nature of what appears and disappears from Netflix Streaming availability, I also like the fact that I have this vast library—much of which is admittedly junk I’d never consider watching—at a remote’s distance without the clutter of all those damn disc boxes. All that said, when the movie is right—Johnny Guitar, A New Leaf, Ed Wood and the pick of the litter from the Olive, Criterion and Warner Archives libraries-- pride of ownership can be a powerful thing, and that’s probably a desire that will never fully go away.

       32)   Wackiest, most unlikely “directed by” credit you can name

       The credit that inspired this question just has to be the all-time wackiest, and although it’s already been mentioned here by one discerning cineaste it remains the only answer I could possibly offer: Can’t Stop the Music (1980) directed by Nancy Walker.

        33)   Best documentary you’ve seen in 2012 (made in 2012 or any other year)

        There are so many I’ve missed this year so far that I desperately want to see, including The Imposter and Hellbound, and Eugene Jarecki’s The House I Live In just opened today, which I hope I don’t let slip by. Documentaries are among my favorite kinds of movies, actually, but this year I really haven’t seen that many. Among the best I have seen in 2012 are On the Bowery (1957), Final Cut: The Making and Unmaking of Heaven’s Gate (2004), Searching for Sugar Man (2012) and Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011), with Machete Maidens Unleashed (2011) and Katy Perry: Part of Me (2012) up there for sheer fun. But easily the best documentary I’ve seen all year is How to Die In Oregon (2011). Peter Richardson's film is devastating in the most productive of ways. It does not enrage in the way of a great muckraking documentary in the Alex Gibney vein, but instead emerges as an artful and supremely even-tempered act of empathy in telling the story of several people who have decided to act on Oregon's Death with Dignity law, and one woman, prompted by her husband's awful collapse from brain cancer, who tries to get the law on the 2008 ballot in Washington State. One of the many remarkable things about Richardson's approach is how it avoids the very intrusiveness and air of exploitation it seems to openly flirt with at the beginning (we see a man ingesting the Seconal-based concoction that will put him out of his misery and into a terminal coma). The movie's concern is with how individuals come to define dignity in the face of inevitable suffering and death; it settles on the story of Cody Curtis, a Portland woman diagnosed with liver cancer, whose portrait here is itself sensitive and dignified, without sacrificing gravity, understanding or even humor. There are tears of sorrow and rage to be shed while watching How to Die In Oregon, but the most important and overriding sense the movie leaves you with is a strange sort of exhilarated awe in contemplation of the respect for the sort of individual choice afforded these people that is documented here. That respect extends to and is demonstrated by the filmmaker, who leaves breathing room for dissent from his obvious position but also for the complexity of the ramifications of such profound decisions in the final months, weeks, days, hours and seconds of a disintegrating life, leading up to the moment when one is legally allowed to take action in order to drift away from unbearable suffering that will only get worse.

       34)   What’s your favorite “(this star) was almost cast in (this movie)” anecdote?

        According to the Web site, Gus Van Sant—the one who directed Finding Forrester, not the one who directed Gerry and Paranoid Park-- was being seriously considered to direct Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part1. I still doubt I would have been much interested in seeing the movie, but I might have at least thought twice about it. That’s a good rumor. But my favorites are the ones surrounding the what-might-have-been casting of National Lampoon’s Animal House. Of course everyone knows that Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd were all considered for roles in the film (as Otter, Boon and D-Day, respectively) before cooler heads prevailed in an attempt to prevent Animal House as being perceived as “the Saturday Night Live movie.” The Web site also reports one bit of potential casting that I’ve never heard before—that if plans to land John Belushi as Bluto fell through, the role would have gone to Meat Loaf. (Imagine the universe we’d all be living in now if that had come to pass.) But it is fun to consider perhaps the most well-known bit of what-if casting from the Faber College campus—Jack Webb and Kim Novak as Dean and Mrs. Vernon Wormer. And I hear tell that before Mary Louise Weller took the part, Nancy Allen was this close to essaying the role of Mandy Pepperidge, which would have driven this 17-year-old extra to untold levels of distraction on the set. A Bizarro-world Animal House is a hoot to contemplate, but I’m more than happy with Belushi, John Vernon and Verna Bloom. Carrie-era Nancy Allen as Gregg Marmalard’s reticent, rubber-gloved log flogger, though—that’s an alternative upgrade I wish I did have to live with.

         35)   Program three nights of double bills at a revival theater that might best illuminate your love of the movies
        This is one of those dream assignments that sounds like so much fun, but when it comes down to actually picking the titles it’s a hell of a lot more of a challenge that it seems, not only in putting together good movies that complement each other thematically and as an experience (easier said than done, which is just one reason why Michael Torgan should be considered a local treasure), but also just deciding on what to toss out once you’ve come up with 30 or 40 good ideas. I actually got to do this once— two summers ago, for my 50th birthday, Michael asked me to come up with a double feature that the New Beverly Cinema would show on my birthday. It was the most perfect blend of torture and bliss trying to come up with the right combination, and after a couple of weeks of deliberation I decided on pairing up You Only Live Twice (1967), my favorite Bond film by far, and one I’d never seen on the big screen, with Ken Russell’s marvelous Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the third entry in the Harry Palmer series starring Michael Caine. It was such a thrill to get to choose the movies in the first place that actually seeing them really did feel almost too good to be true. But it took forever to whittle the choice down to one double bill.

So now I have to submit three, and I already feel like two weeks has gone by since I started writing this answer. But I’ll be quick about it, I promise. Here we go. How about:

         Night #1: Hatari! (1962; Howard Hawks) and Only Angels Have Wings (1939; Howard Hawks)

        Night #2: Murder, He Says (1945; George Marshall) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974; Tobe Hooper)

         Night #3: Speed Racer (2008; Lana and Andy Wachowski) and Vanishing Point (1971; Richard T. Sarafian)

        Damn, is my film festival over already? Here’s eight other double features I’d love to sit through if given a chance.

36)   You have been granted permission to invite any three people, alive or dead, to your house to watch the Oscars. Who are they?

        For reasons that are hopefully obvious, I’d invite Pauline Kael, Robert Altman and Barbra Stanwyck. The perspectives and wit of all three would make for a memorable party, and if the show got too dull (and what are the odds of that?) I can easily imagine passing an evening listening to the stories they’d be able to tell, about the Oscars, for a few minutes perhaps, but preferably anything and everything else.       

        37) Favorite Mr. Chips. (Careful...)

       At the risk of alienating a faculty member, I have to admit that I’ve seen neither the 1939 Sam Wood version nor the 1969 Herbert Ross version, so I am reduced to taking the coward’s way out. My answer: Fritos. Ahoy!

What's the most profound moment you have had in a movie theatre? (Thanks to Matthew David Wilder)

        Oddly, I’m having some difficulty locating a single moment that was “the most profound” moment I’ve had in a movie theater, and it’s only partially because I suspect I’m a pretty superficial person in a lot of ways. But in mulling this question over I keep coming back to one incident, so whether it fits the criteria or not I’m going with it. It came during a typically odd double feature at the local movie theater when I was probably about nine years old. Hewing closely to the philosophy expounded in the Encyclopedia of Exploitation (see question #10), my local movie impresario routinely put together double features that were the antithesis of the sort of thoughtful couplings we’ve been exploring in  question #35. In fact, the idea was quite the opposite: program two dissimilar features—the more dissimilar the better— a tactic which would ostensibly appeal to a cross section of men and women, adults and kids. If you can’t get one group with the first movie, they might bite on the second one.

        Naturally, this resulted in a lot of completely schizo nights at the movies, and the one I went to when I was nine years old was a prime example: McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force (1965; Edward Montagne) and Mayerling (1968;Terence Young). My buddies and I had to sit through both movies because my mom didn’t want to come pick us all up until the show was completely over, (This despite the fact that Mayerling had been slapped with the mysterious new “M” rating.) We laffed through McHale’s Navy, of course, but as it began to unfurl Mayerling seemed like perhaps the most boring movie ever made. Until one scene, that is. I remember next to nothing about the plot, or the real events that inspired it. All I knew then, and all I remember now, is a scene in which Catherine Deneuve takes her clothes off, stands at attention and, with hands cupped around the front part of her ample breasts, leaving plenty still visible , and matter-of-factly purrs at Omar Sharif. (I think it was Omar Sharif anyway—who the hell cares, really?) The sight of Deneuve naked on the big screen was just about more erotic input than my buddies and I could bear, and I have to say our blue jeans seemed just a little bit too tight for a good 15 minutes after the actress toweled off and put her dress back on. We were stunned, and it was all we could talk about well into the school week, this unexpected dive into pre-pubescent ecstasy.

I still have no idea whether Mayerling is any good, and I’ve always resisted the idea of revisiting it because I have no stake in the movie other than the way it—the way she-- made me feel that Saturday night in my hometown movie palace. In fact, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the scene turned out to be nothing special at all. But I can’t possibly forget the power of seeing Deneuve unwrapping herself in wide-screen splendor, to the uncontrolled, uncontrollable delight of a  bunch of little boys, our boners standing so tall at attention I was sure we’d be found out by the usher and booted for lewd conduct. It was like the fulfillment of those strange, sweet nothings Julie Newmar whispered in my ear that eerily wonderful night a few years before. The movies weren’t just a haven for graveyard monsters, childish fantasies and inexplicable, stilted history anymore. There was now much more to explore.



Katherine Wilson said...

Dennis, this is the greatest film blog I have ever read. I mean it!

Ivan said...

Thanks for all your hard work--follow the URL to my answers, please--now I can get around to reading everyone else's answers; at quick glance I see that some of our answers overlap. I better start reading!


Dennis Cozzalio said...

Hoo-doggy, ladies and germs, click on Ivan's link! It's a head-spinner! Thanks for taking up the challenge and jumping head first into the deep end, Ivan! That was a lot of fun!

Ivan said...

Aw, shucks, thanks! You're making me blush!

Brian Doan said...

Hi Dennis! So late with this (deadlines!) but here's my belated submission:

Reading through your wonderful answers, I think I may have misinterpreted a question or two (and completely not seen the extra credit! Damn! (:), but I am heartened by the love of Barbara Stanwyck that we share. And I'll be there for your SPEED RACER/VANISHING POINT double bill, so I can finally catch up with both!

Ivan said...

Dennis, you've inspired me to create my own quiz--and all are invited!--
I hope you don't mind me adding my URL below; it's a "Favorite That's Not" Quiz, "Your favorite film that is not ____."
Love to hear your opinions (and I hope I didn't inadvertently swipe a question from one of your past quizzes),