Sunday, June 21, 2020

FOR FATHER’S DAY, AN ANIMAL HOUSE STORY YOU MAY NOT YET HAVE HEARD



My dad and I didn’t go to the movies together often— he was a big fan of those four-walled nature documentaries that plagued screens in the early to mid ‘70s and I did not share that enthusiasm. But every once in a while there would come through town a picture he wanted to see which also piqued my interest and I would jump at the chance to go with him.  

Of course, those movies were usually big outdoor-oriented action movies, often westerns, and we enjoyed them together— stuff like The Green Berets, True Grit, A Man Called Horse and Man in the Wilderness. (You would think he was a big John Wayne or Richard Harris fan, but he was not— those guys were just in the right movies.) I infamously used his interest in these sorts of epics to my own purpose when Deliverance rolled through town in 1973, a deception that kinda backfired on me when Mom decided to come along and I ended up sitting between them for two of the most uncomfortable hours I ever spent in a theater in my young life. 

When I got older, we watched The Wild Bunch and Chinatown and a passel of public domain John Wayne and Hopalong Cassidy classics, all on TV, when I briefly moved back to town after college. But it was during college that I had probably my favorite moviegoing experience with my dad. (I know I’ve told this one before, and I apologize in advance if you find yourself caught in my repeat fire, but you can always stop reading, I guess!)  

It was early September 1978, just before school was to get under way, and my parents had brought me back to Eugene from Lakeview, where I’d spent the summer working in a local sawmill. Of course, Animal House had come out that past July and was still enjoying the early stages of its long theatrical run, which boasted packed houses (certainly in Eugene) till almost Christmas. That summer I had the pleasure of overhearing Dad bragging to some of his pals, after the movie had been released and word had gotten out, that I was in it, and believe me, that eavesdrop was not only satisfying but surprising, because as far as I knew he rarely boasted about my interests or achievements, such as they were. 

So, when Dad and Mom drove me back up to Eugene to get my sophomore year at the University of Oregon started, they naturally wanted to see the movie and we made plans to meet up with Bruce for the occasion. (Both of us had already seen it a few times, but this would be the first time we’d be able to see it together.) The problem was, Mom and Dad had brought along my little sister Angie, who was just seven years old at the time, and they figured— rightly, I suppose— that she was too young to see a purported raunch-fest like Animal House. So, a strategy was hatched to drop me, Bruce and Dad off at the McDonald Theater downtown, where Eugene’s favorite film was being showcased, so we could watch the 7:30 show while Mom stayed at their motel with Angie. Then she would meet us outside the box office after the show, Dad would take Angie back to the motel, and we would go back inside and watch the movie again, this time with Mom, at 10:00. Good plan. 

Dad loved the movie, and he laughed like a hyena throughout the entirety of it. I have an almost absurdly over-the-top tendency to really let loose when I find something funny— when I saw Blazing Saddles for the first time, several people came up to me in high school the next day and told me they *heard* how much I enjoyed the movie, and they meant it literally— and that’s definitely a trait I inherited from good old Pop. In particular, Dad found the character of D-Day (played by Bruce McGill, seen above) riotously funny, and I couldn’t help but notice how much the two of them sounded alike in their uncontrolled, maniacal laughter during the moment at the end of the movie when D-Day tips his head back, lets loose a high-pitched cackle and speeds off into the land of whereabouts unknown. 

The movie ended, we promised to ask for Babs, and then we headed up the aisle afterward to go outside and meet Mom. I could tell that Dad loved Animal House-- he was chattering to Bruce and I about it and all the while he was still laughing. We met Mom and Angie outside, among the throng of Friday night moviegoers lined up to buy tickets to the 10:00 show, and when Dad approached Mom, I could see he was talking to her about something. Bruce and I caught up, and we heard Dad saying something to Mom along the lines of, “Oh, it wasn’t so bad.” Hmm, we thought. Is he downplaying how much he enjoyed it for some reason?  

No, he was actually trying to talk Mom into letting Angie come in and watch the movie... so he could come back in, rather than retreat to the motel, AND WATCH IT AGAIN!!!! And so, after a minute or two of cajoling, while we disbelieving Delta Pledges looked on, Dad’s last-minute campaign to expose his youngest, quite underaged child to the raucous goings-on inside Faber College’s most infamous fraternity achieved success and we all bought tickets for the 10:00 show. We all enjoyed it together, I definitely heard/saw Mom yukking it up, and my sister eventually grew up to full adulthood, completely free of psychological or emotional scarring from the experience. 

But for me to see my dad turn around and watch a movie he’d just seen for a second time in one evening, well, that was a very big deal, and something I’d wager has not been repeated in the 42 years since that night in September 1978. I would see Animal House countless times again during those years, probably close to 50, and of course the movie means a lot to me and Bruce and everyone else who got to participate in making it during the fall of 1977. Seeing it for the first time, at the National Theater just down the block from the McDonald, when a Universal held a special screening in July 1978 just after the movie came out, was a special thrill. But for me that first exposure can’t come close to seeing it twice with my dad in one night, watching him laugh like he was gonna lose his mind, and imagining him thinking, “Hey, my son was in that!” Now, there’s a memory for Father’s Day that I am extremely grateful for. Thanks, Dad. And thanks, D-Day, wherever you are. 


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Sunday, April 19, 2020

DENNIS ANSWERS THE DEAN WORMER QUIZ



Okay, even though I've got a giant cat perched on my chest, I'm gonna give this a whack...

1) You’re on a desert island (and you sort of are)—What three discs do you select out of your own collection to keep if you had to get rid of all the rest?


Nashville, Once Upon a Time in the West  and One Two Three.

2) Giuletta Masina or Jeanne Moreau?


Giuletta sent me to the moon in Nights of Cabiria. That’s all that needs be said.

3) Second -favorite Roger Corman movie.


Of Corman-directed movies, it'd be The Premature Burial. Number one? X-The Man With X-Ray Eyes. A Ray Milland two-fer!

4) The most memorable place you ever saw a movie. This could be a film projected on a big screen or seen in some other fashion—the important thing is what makes it memorable.


I have a LOT of possible answers to this question—seeing Singin' in the Rain for the first time on a birthday date with Patty at the Hollywood Bowl in 1990; pitching a tent in my backyard for an overnight “camping trip” with Emma and watching Kiki's Delivery Service on a portable DVD player from our sleeping bags; almost getting kicked out of the theater for laughing so hard at Pee Wee's Big Adventure on opening night with my pal Dave Triebel at a crummy cracker-box cinema in Medford, Oregon; being in the star-packed audience with Francis Ford Coppola and seemingly just about everyone in Hollywood for the opening night of One from the Heart at the Plitt Century Plaza in February 1982; seeing Tales from the Crypt at the Alger Theater on Halloween Night 1973, when the crowd got so unruly the manager actually stopped the film and berated the crowd at length, and when Sir Ralph Richardson Himself threatened to drag one of the Alger’s ushers straight down to hell with him. (IM me—it’s a pretty funny story.) But I honestly cannot do better than the answer Bruce Lundy offered to this question: sitting with him poolside at the Hollywood Roosevelt during the 2014 TCM Classic Film festival, surrounded by the eccentric crowd, knocking back free gin and tonics like they were Kool-Aid, listening to Ileana Douglas interview Richard Roundtree, sometimes nonsensically, and watching a  spectacular presentation of Earthquake in Sensurround! “Goddamn it!” I never saw this movie in Sensurround when it was originally released-- it seems as though God was holding me back, waiting until the conditions were just right. And that night they definitely were. This seems to me a perfect night at the movies.

5) Marcello Mastroianni or Vittorio Gassman?


I love Mastroianni, especially in , but I will never forget listening to Gassman arguing with his brother in Italian near the end of Robert Altman’s A Wedding—I’d never heard anyone speak so fast and with such fury in a movie before. (My Italian teacher said even she couldn’t understand what he was saying!) For that, and for Il Sorpasso, Gassman gets my vote.

6) Second-favorite Kelly Reichardt movie.


Old Joy would be #2; the top slot belongs to Meek's Cutoff. But truth be told, I’ve liked everything I’ve seen so far from Recihardt— Certain Women and Wendy and Lucy are also excellent, though W&L is difficult to watch. I need to catch up with Night Moves, and I didn’t get a chance to see First Cow before the world closed.

7) In the matter of taste, is there a film or director that, if your partner in a relationship (wife/husband/lover/best friend) disagreed violently with your assessment of it, might cause a serious rift in that relationship?


No serious rifts over matters of personal taste, especially if a reasonable discussion is not out of the question. I will admit, however, to being a little nervous, in a Denny’s in Irvine on our way back from seeing Warren Zevon (it was an early date), when Patty and I got in a heated discussion over the merits of Robert Altman, and Nashville in particular. We got into a much worse argument a few years later over Jack Webb and Dragnet—I was pro, she was the dirty little hippie con.

8 ) The last movie you saw in a theater/on physical media/via streaming (list one each).


In a theater: Emma. at the Arclight in Pasadena for Emma’s birthday. Physical media: Hausu (Criterion Blu-ray). Streaming: Journey to Italy.

9) Name a movie that you just couldn’t face watching right now.


I am trying to avoid anything too grim, and I had already begun to OD on dystopian sci-fi and apocalyptic roaming-the-countryside-in-search-of-or-in-avoidance-of-zombies scenarios, especially the snarky sort, well before our current global nightmare commenced. But if I had to pick just one, it’d have to be Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, not the least reason being that it’s such an effective piece of work. No, thanks. Not right now.

10) Jane Greer or Ava Gardner?


I like Ava Gardner just fine, but Jane Greer defines the femme fatale for me in Out of the Past, and she’s ridiculously beautiful in it. But she and Mitchum also had a ton of fun being chased by William Bendix in Don Siegel’s The Big Steal, and she was ridiculously beautiful in that one too. And she graced The Outfit and even a couple episodes of the original Twin Peaks. It’s Greer all the way.

11) Edmond O’Brien or Van Heflin?


I love another quiz taker’s description of Heflin and his bulging eyes as the definition of flop sweat. He’s never been very appealing to me, except maybe in 3:10 to Yuma. Not a huge fan of Edmond O’Brien either, to be honest, but by God, EOB was in DOA, The Killers, White Heat, Pete Kelly's Blues, The Girl Can't Help It, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and... The Wild Bunch. Good enough for me!

12) Second favorite Yasujiro Ozu movie.


At 8:41 pm on 4/12/2020, I’ll say Record of a Tenement Gentleman. Number one: Tokyo Story.

13) Name a proposed American remake of an international film that would, if actually undertaken, surely court or inevitably result in disaster.


How could modern American filmmakers not end up completely botching any attempt to update Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death for the Nicholas Sparks crowd?

14) What’s a favorite film that you consider genuinely subversive, for whatever reason?


I think Zardoz is a pretty good choice here.

15) Name the movie score you couldn’t live without.


The Italians have it for me here. I feel like Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon  Time in the West,  Nino Rota’s Amarcord and Pino Donnagio’s Carrie are in my blood. I know that’s three, but Dean Wormer said there were no rules, so I’m breaking this nonexistent one.

16) Mary-louise Weller or Martha Smith?


I never met Mary-louise Weller or Martha Smith on the set of Animal House, but when the movie came out I admit I had it bad for Babs. Smith is probably the more accomplished comedienne too, but over the past 40 years I have to admit that I probably never gave Weller enough credit—Mandy is a pretty funny caricature who strikes me as more recognizably human than her counterpart. Besides, she was able to corral Bluto, for Christ’s sake, and set him on the road to a rich career in political corruption, and she snaps a rubber glove like nobody’s business. AND Mary-louise Weller, who I’ve still never met in person, is a Facebook friend and quite apparently a sweet soul in her own right. MLW FTW!

17) Peter Riegert or Bruce McGill?


Peter Riegert scores major points on my book for floating so eloquently through Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero, one of my favorite movies, and for Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter too. But damned if I don’t perk up whenever I run unto Bruce McGill in just about anything, big role or small. He’s aged into status as a genuinely terrific character actor. I also have fond memories of sitting next to him on a bus as the cast and crew preparing to depart Cottage Grove on a rainy day to head back to Eugene after shooting  a day’s worth of parade action for Animal House. He was very excited because a movie he was in was opening in Eugene that weekend, and he implored me to go see it. It was Jonathan Demme’s Citizen's Band, and I probably would have anyway, but I made sure to go see it because McGill was in it, my first exposure to him in a non-D-Day incarnation, and it was the beginning of a fine time following his appearances in  movies like My Cousin Vinny, Runaway Jury, The Insider (he ‘s brilliant in it) and countless others. Also, he can thump out “The William Tell Overture” on his throat.

18) Last Tango in Paris—yes or no?


Recent revelations aside, I still think it’s an undeniably powerful movie, though I haven’t seen it in quite a while. It gets a tentative “yes” from me.

19) Second-favorite Akira Kurosawa movie.


Yikes. Who wrote these damn questions? All right, I’ll say Ikiru, so close to the #1 choice, Seven Samurai, as to be its skin.

20) Who would host the imaginary DVD commentary you would most want to hear right now, and what would the movie be?


I posed this question 15 or so years ago, and the answer I came up with—Jesus Christ sitting down behind the mic to give us the real scoop on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ— remains the one I’d most like to hear. But I’d also sit still for Pauline Kael talking over a screening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou or Weekend.

21) Favorite movie snack.


 22) Second-favorite PLANET OF THE APES film (from the original cycle).


I notice several people are citing Conquest of the Planet of the Apes here, but that one never worked very well for me. My second-favorite is the second picture, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, though a recent viewing reminded me just how much of a heavy-duty bummer it is, man..

23) Least-favorite Martin Scorsese movie.


Finally, a question that’s gonna get me in trouble with somebody, no matter WHAT my answer is. My answer: Cape Fear, anchored by Robert De Niro’s worst performance, with The Departed nipping at its heels.

24) Name a movie you feel doesn’t deserve its current reputation, for better or worse.


I went for over 40 years never having seen Zardoz all the way through, so imagine my surprise when I saw it for the first time on the big screen a few years ago and found it to be an admirably uncompromising and serious work. John Boorman isn’t just screwing around so you can get high and giggle, hipsters! I also think that Mandingo is a hell of a lot better than most people seem to think it is.

25) Best movie of 1970. (Fifty years ago!)


The Landlord (Hal Ashby)

26) Name a movie you think is practically begging for a Broadway adaptation (I used this question in the last quiz, but I’m repeating it because I never answered the quiz myself and I think I have a pretty good answer).


Rocketman practically already IS a Broadway musical, especially when you see some of the extended musical numbers. And it feels like one too.

27) Louise Brooks or Clara Bow?


Clara Bow without a moment’s hesitation. I’d love to have taken her out for a drink.

28) Second-favorite Pier Paolo Pasolini movie.


Teorema. “Favorite” is an odd word here, because the only one I own, though I’ve never watched the disc, is Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom, just about the last word on the destruction and decadence of fascism and one of the most devastating experiences I’ve ever had watching a movie.

29) Name three movies you loved in your early years that you feel most influenced your adult cinematic tastes.


Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969; Terence Fisher)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966; Sergio Leone)
Tommy (1975; Ken Russell)

30) Name a movie you love that you think few others do.


Buddy Buddy (1981; Billy Wilder)

31) Name a movie you despise that you think most others love. 


The Princess Bride (1987; Rob Reiner)


32) The Human Centipede—yes or no?

As a film experience, most definitely not. If any movie deserved to be called a piece of shit, it’s this one. And how about that DVD commentary by writer-director Tom Six? A classic in its own right.

33) Anya Taylor-Joy or Olivia Cooke?


Anya Taylor-Joy, without a doubt. Emma. and The Witch and Thoroughbreds make her talent clear. And those eyes!

34) Johnny Flynn or Timothée Chalamet?


Johnny Flynn. In Emma. he often reminded me of Oliver Reed.


35) Second-favorite Dorothy Arzner movie.


Craig's Wife. The #1 by a country mile: Merrily, We Go to Hell.  

36) Name a movie you haven’t seen in over 20 years that you would drop everything to watch right now.


The Devils (1971; Ken Russell)

37) Name your favorite stylistic filmmaking cliché, and one you wouldn’t mind seeing disappear forever.



My favorite: not a dolly in, but a slow zoom, especially the way Robert Altman employed them.

My least favorite: the sudden digitally speeded-up of action used at random in an establishing shot. Somebody sure thinks that this overused convention is real neat, but to me it might as well be the director screaming “Wake up, dummy!” in your ear.

38) Your favorite appearance by a real-life politician in a feature film, either fictional or a fictionalized account of a real event.




Fred Dalton Thompson as Fred Dalton Thompson in Marie: A True Story (1985; Roger Donaldson)

39) Is film criticism dead?

No, but you have to look a lot harder to find the good stuff these days, and it sure doesn’t have the attention of the average filmgoer the way it used to.

40) Elizabeth Patterson or Marjorie Main?


As much as I love Ma Kettle, Elizabeth Patterson can be sublime, something you could neve say of Main even at her best. Her performances in Remember the Night and Intruder in the Dust are for the ages.

41) Arch Hall Jr. or Timothy Carey?



Arch Hall Jr. is The Sadist. But Timothy Carey is The World's Greatest Sinner. And nothing beats that movie for psyche-searing weirdness.

42) Name the film you think best fulfills the label “road movie.”


The one that jumps out at me right at this moment is Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World (1990)—the five-hour cut, of course.

43) Horror film that, for whatever reason, made you feel most uncomfortable?


Audition (Takashi Miike; 1999)

44) Least-favorite (directed by) Clint Eastwood movie.



The Eiger Sanction has gotta be at the bottom of the barrel, but American Sniper and  Sudden Impact are squirming around down there right next to it.


45) Second-favorite James Bond villain.


Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen, Goldeneye).

46) Best adaptation of a novel or other form that had been thought to be unfilmable.



I can’t think of a more unlikely success on this plane than David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Naked Lunch (1991).

47) Michelle Dockery or Merritt Wever?


The Godless queens battle for ultimate supremacy. But Mary Agnes reign over Alice Fletcher. As much as I love Dockery—her brief turn in The Gentlemen is about the only good reason to see that movie-- Merrit Wever is really someone I look forward to following where she goes over the next decade or so.

48) Jason Bateman or Ewan McGregor?



Bateman, for Bad Words, The Gift, Game Night, and most recently for The Outsider.

49) Second-favorite Roman Polanski movie.



#2 would be his adaptation of Macbeth. #1? Rosemary's Baby.

50) What’s the movie you wish you could watch with a grandparent right now? And, of course, why?


I’d love to sit down with my Grandma Rina and watch Shadow of a Doubt. I don’t know if she ever saw it, but something tells me we’d have a grand ol’ time talking about it afterward.

51) Oliver Stone two-fer: Natural Born Killers and/or JFK—yes or no?


I have no use for Natural Born Killers anymore, but I remain fascinated by JFK, as filmmaking and as storytelling, even if it does (and I’m still  not entirely sure) prove to be full of shit.

52) Name the actor whose likeness you would proudly wear as a rubber latex Halloween mask.



Tor Johnson. I have many times, and I hope to again someday.

53) Your favorite cinematographer, and her/his greatest achievement.


I don’t know if they are absolute favorites, but it’s hard to discount the impact Gordon Willis and the first two Godfather movies had on me in purely visual terms. But I have a very soft spot in my heart and my eye for the work Peter Suschitsky did on such dissimilar movies as Lisztomania, Dead Ringers, Mars Attacks! and The Empire Strikes Back.
54) Best book about the nitty-gritty making of a movie.



55) If you needed to laugh right now, what would be your go-to movie comedy?


It has to be Blazing Saddles. Mongo! Santamaria!!

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