Simply put, INLAND EMPIRE is the story of a “woman in trouble.” Obviously with the world of David Lynch it is far deeper, darker and more complex than that. Laura Dern plays an actress named “Nikki Grace” who is in a career rut. She is up for a role in a new film called ON HIGH IN BLUE TOMORROW. She lives in a mansion that is oddly gothic, Victorian and European to be set in Los Angeles. One day a woman shows up at her doorstep claiming to be her new neighbor. The woman is small and elderly with bulging eyeballs and a Eastern Eurpean accent. She indulges in some gossip and then tells Nikki two short parables. This opens the floodgates for the strangeness that follows. Nikki then finds herself on the set of her new film. At this point, fantasy and reality blur as the film becomes a film within a film that fell down a dozen rabbit holes. Lynch plays with space, time, fantasy, reality, horror, beauty and hallucination in a way that leaves you wondering if you accidentally ate some wild mushrooms before seeing the film. It is a trippy nightmare and a fever dream extended to a full 3 hours of intensity. The film is populated by Rabbits who appear in a creepy sitcom, Polish hookers singing “Locomotion” and strung out denizens of Hollywood Blvd.
This film is a great companion piece to MULLHOLLAND DRIVE and gives actress Laura Dern yet another fantastic role. She is always outstanding and this film really gives her an incredible workout. It was all shot on low end digital video and at first it is horrible to look at until you get used to it. When blown up on a huge screen, it really looks scattered and surreal and diffused…which serves the style of this film perfectly.
What I enjoyed about this film was how natural it all felt. I felt like I was a fly on the wall and this was a documentary of someone’s life. The film had such an intimacy to it. The performances and dialogue was so natural that it never for a moment felt forced or contrived. The film reminded me of the films of John Cassavetes. The director of the film Jeff Lipsky was on hand to introduce the film and to answer questions afterward. He said the entire film was shot in 30 days at a cost of $470,000 and on actual FILM! This film is all the more impressive knowing how much was accomplished with so little. What I also admire about this film is how rich and complicated the characters are. I also like how the film balances them out in terms of their relationship. There is not a “bad guy” per say in the story. Both the man and the woman make mistakes and contribute to the relationship’s demise. They are both at fault in equal measure and you find yourself really caring about them and wanting them to make it. The film charted many sad truths about relationships and life in general. It is all painful and complicated yet beautiful at the same time. Watch the trailer and find out more at the Official Website.
This year’s theme involved Stooge shorts where they were in some way, shape of form embroiled in the military. Here is what the program line up consisted of:
Uncivil Warriors (1935)
In this short, the Stooges were Union soldiers who are assigned to spy on and infiltrate the Confederate headquarters. Seeing the Stooges sip mint juleps and attempt Southern accents was hilarious to say the least. Of course there were plenty of laughs when Curly tried to dress as a woman and imitate a Southern belle. My favorite moment was when he ran out screening wearing only pantaloons and a curly haired wig.
After the end of the show, I determined that this one was my favorite.
Boobs in Arms (1940)
In this one the Stooges start out as “regular Joes” selling greeting cards door to door but inadvertently wind up in the military. Hilarity ensues when they are unable to conform to military life and are sent to the front line.
I’ll Never Heil Again (1941)
The program notes mentioned that this film was a follow up to You Nazty Spy and was the most political film they made. Moe pulls off a funny but frightening Hitler impersonation while Curly played Field Marshall Herring and Larry played the Minister of Propaganda. The funniest scene is when Moe takes the globe and declares that he has the whole world in his hand…and then Curly proceeds to break it over his head. Watching comedies like this one is always a double edged sword. Sure it is funny, but given the horrifying true life events that inspired it, there is always a sense of tragedy under the humor…to me at least.
Fuelin’ Around (1949)
This film had more of a Cold War backdrop. In this one, the Stooges are working as carpet layers when Larry is mistaken for a Rocket Scientist. The Stooges are kidnapped and taken to a secret compound where they are commanded to re-create a special rocket fuel. Not wanting the REAL Rocket Scientist to be kidnapped, they try their best to improvise. Eventually they create a solution that will dissolve the floor and help them to rescue the scientist and to defeat the enemy.
Three Little Sew and Sews (1939)
This film features the Stooges working as tailors in the Navy. When Curly finds a party invitation in the Admiral’s coat, he decides to wear the coat and attend the party in his place. This leads Larry and Moe to do the same. Misunderstandings ensue and the Stooges wind up capturing enemy spies. This short featured submarine, bomb, planes and chase scenes. It was by far one of their most elaborate productions.
One thing that I always enjoy about these Stooge Fests is how excited and enthusiastic the audiences are. People were clapping along with the theme song and cheering and clapping at the end of every film. Many people brought children to the event. I envied these kids getting to see the Stooges on a big screen in a historic movie palace! I used to wake up at 6:00am and watch them on Channel 11 when I was a kid growing up. That was the only way I could see them! This event was great and all of the prints looked terrific. If you happen to be in town next year over Thanksgiving weekend, I strongly endorse going to this festival.
I went to this event back in 2003 at the Egyptian and I am delighted that they brought it back! The problem for me was narrowing down a list of the films I wanted to see. Due to time and money, I was unable to get to everything. I tried to see things that I missed in 2003 instead of repeating films I had already seen. Here is the rundown on what I saw:
September 9th at 3:30pm
MAD MAGICIAN (1954) Vincent Price stars as “Gallico”, a mild mannered magician who is driven to murder by his boss and a rival magician. The plot of this film is very similiar to HOUSE OF WAX, but then again I’ve noticed that most Vincent Price movies tend to have the same plot. You can almost chart the plot points: 1) His characters are usually mild mannered and gentle souls (usually artists) 2) They are mistreated, harmed or brutalized in some way 3) A transformation from gentle soul to extreme anger and rage-o-holic occurs 4) Murder and mayhem ensue 5) Murder is killed (usually in some very creative way)
Regardless of how predictible these films are, they are still fun in any case! This film was set in Victorian England so it was fun to watch him function in that particular setting. A very young Eva Gabor also co-stars in the film. The print looked beautiful and it was a fun film to watch.
PARDON MY BACKFIRE (1953) Believe it or not, I am a female AND a major 3 Stooges fan! I was very excited to see this knowing it would be a 3D extravaganza! The Stooges didn’t disappoint. Obviously their antics and brand of comedy gets the most mileage possible out of the 3D medium. The set up of the story is that the Stooges are running an auto repair shop. They are trying to make enough money to get married. Chaos ensues when 3 crooks and their mole hide from the law in their auto shop.
Eventually the Stooges capture the crooks and give them to the police. In the process they throw things at the camera and seeing Moe poke Larry in the eyes in 3D was great! The Stooges and 3D is a match made in heaven!!
September 12th at 9:45 PM
HOUSE OF WAX (1953) Believe it or not, I had NEVER seen this film before! It was such a joy to see it with a packed audience on the big screen in 3D of course! Actor Paul Picerni who co-starred in the film was on hand to share his recollections. He was very entertaining and had several great stories to tell about Vincent Price and director Andr? De Toth. I had no idea that Paul Picerni had so many credits! My gosh, this man has done a ton of stuff! Check out his imdb credits! His family was there and the more people clapped and asked him questions, the more animated he became. It was obvious he was really having fun. I think I enjoyed HOUSE OF WAX more than MAD MAGICIAN. There is just something inherently very creepy to me about wax musuems. Vincent Price was magnificent (of course) as was the rest of the cast.
BOO MOON (1953) Poor Casper the friendly ghost still has trouble making friends here on earth. In this short, he goes to the moon where he is also feared until he saves the planet from the evil tree-men. The 3d program said this is “The very best example of stereoscopic animation from the 1950’s.” I agree! This film looked so beautiful and so colorful! It was perfect!
September 15th at 7:30pm
KISS ME KATE (1953) Again, another film that suprisingly I had not seen! Jeff Joseph (the brilliant mastermind behind the festival) said that we were about to watch the only surviving dye-transfer (“3-strip”) Technicolor print in the world! Apparently this was the first time it was presented in WIDE SCREEN with discrete STEREO since 1953! We are SO fortunate to have things like this at our finger tips here in Los Angeles! This was an MGM musical directed by George Sidney and featured the talents of the great Bob Fosse. The 3D was beautiful and the performances were divine! It was so enjoyable and colorful and fun! I never wanted it to end. They also had some extras before the film. I love it when a festival has extras! To me, that always adds so much to the program and the fun atmosphere of a festival. They showed some rare footage of Ann Miller rehearsing and even much later in life she could still tap dance like nobody’s business! They also screened footage of an interview with Bella Spewack, one of the writers of the Broadway play.
THE FRENCH LINE (1953) This was another film I had missed last time. This was well worth the wait because Jane Russell appeared in person! I loved her in THE OUTLAW and so many of the fun RKO films she made with Robert Mitchum. The audience was very excited about her arrival. There was a whole row of guys behind me in the theatre who were about to have an anxiety attack, they were so wound up. She entered the Egyptian and received a long standing ovation. She talked about working with Mitchum, Howard Hughes, Marilyn Monroe (who she apparently hated) and Gilbert Roland. This film was produced by Howard Hughes and he was well known for being tasteless in his exploitation for Jane Russell and her figure. The advertising at the time said, ““J.R. in 3-D! It’ll Knock BOTH your eyes out!” While this film seems tame by 2006 standards, it was actually racy for the time. A number called “Lookin’ For Trouble” was cut by censors, but we got to see it back in the film! She does wear a VERY revealing costume in the film, so I can see why people in 1953 would have been a bit shocked. The film itself was not great, but Jane Russell and Gilbert Roland gamely do what they can to bring up the level of the material. The plot involves a wealthy Texas oil heiress who takes a cruise to France to find a man who will love her for who she is…and not for her vast fortune. Misunderstandings, fighting and complications ensue, but it all leads up to a happy ending where the Texas lady finds love with her French man.
Jane Russell stayed for the film and really seemed to be having a great time. There are so many movie stars from the golden age of Hollywood who never lived long enough to enjoy a second act or a re-discovery/revival of their work. I’m glad that Jane Russell is still alive and able to see how many people there are who still love her.
September 17th at 1pm
As the name implies, everything they showed was extremely rare! This was the highlight of the festival for me in 2003 and it was in 2006 as well. Jeff Joseph and his team are so passionate and so dedicated in their pursuit of lost 3D material. I salute their efforts and stand in awe of their findings!
I’m soooooooooooo sorry that I’ve been out of the blogging loop for so long. I promise before a judge and jury that I will be much better about this going forward. Not only that, but I’m going to try to do some catch up work and fill you in on all of the movies I’ve been seeing lately.
Speaking of seeing movies…..as you may have heard, today I appeared as a guest on “Attack of the Show.” The show aired on G4/Tech TV today, September 13th at 4pm West Coast Time and 7pm East Coast Time. It will also re-run at 6am tomorrow morning and possibly at other times as well. You can check your local listings to confirm.
I was in a segment called “The Loop” which is like CNN Crossfire. I went head to head with Chris Gore from FilmThreat.com and Brad Miska from Bloody Disgusting.com. We will discussed the death of the movie theatre. While the segment wasn’t very long, I’d like to elaborate more on my thoughts…..
First off, there is something very special about going to the movies. I have always felt that way. Nothing beats sitting in a crowded theatre and sharing a common experience. That is just something you can’t get at home regardless of how fancy your home entertainment system is. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand what Chris Gore was saying about rude cell phone users, expensive ticket prices, pre-film commericals…BUT I’m convinced that there are ways around this.
Here are my suggestions to better your movie-going experience:
-Carefully choose your theatre. The Arclight has a great over 21 screening series available and certain theatres tend to have more civilized patrons than others. Personally I gravitate toward seeing films in historic theatres any chance I can get. I love the Vista in Silverlake, the Westwood Crest in Westwood, the Chinese in Hollywood, etc. Finding a theatre that you like and enjoy visually can always make for a better movie going experience.
-See movies at “off” times. Now this one can’t always be helped BUT as a rule, I try not to see things opening night. It has been my experience that audiences can be very rowdy and behave badly the night a film opens. I have no idea why this is. Granted I have never had this problem at the Laemmle and Landmark theatres, but it is pretty common in other places. Last year a friend and I decided to see all of the Best Picture nominees together on the big screen. In order to concentrate on these films without the unruly crowds, we decided that seeing a 9:30pm show on a Monday night was ideal. There were no crying children. There were no teenagers on their cell phones. There were no hooligans out to disrupt our experience. I saw SYRIANA at the Grove on a Monday night and the theatre was packed, but it was an incredibly well behaved audience of adults.
-People also complain that parking and ticket prices are too high. I’ll be the first to admit this is true. I combat the parking issue anyway by carpooling with friends. That way we can split the parking and that at least cuts back on that expense.
-There is also the problem of theatres running commericals before the films. Believe me, I HATE this practice. When APOCALYPSE NOW: REDUX opened here in Los Angeles a few years ago, they showed a Sprite commerical before the film started. The audience boooo’d and one person even threw a cup at the screen….NO it wasn’t me but I can’t say I blame the person who did it. That having been said, I understand that theatre owners have to put food on the table like we all do and if showing commericals before the film helps them accomplish this, then while I don’t like it, I understand the reasons why. What I’ve done to avoid this is to not attend theatres that show commericals OR I will call ahead and ask if they show commercials. If they do, then I try to find out the time the trailers start and show up accordingly.
I seriously think that theatre owners need to do their part to give the patrons a QUALITY film going experience. They need to make it clear that cell phones are to be turned off and the same goes for Blackberry and Sidekicks too. I have seen so many people recently sending text messages during films. This is just as offensive. First off, the devices cast a green light that is distracting and secondly—-if you are too damned busy texting people to sit through a 2 hour movie, then you don’t need to be there in the first place. The theatre owners need to police this behavior and to keep the movie going experience free of these rude distractions.
Personally I LOVE seeing movies at the Academy in Beverly Hills. First off parking is free and the movies are only $5. They also have a ton of ushers there to make sure that everyone stays in line. Last month a lady started using her Blackberry during the film and one of the ushers was there immediately and told her to shut it off or leave. They also strictly enfore the whole “no talking” rule during films there as well. The Academy seems to take great pride in keeping the movie going experience as pure and undiluted as possible. I love that.
Right now I’m in the midst of attending the 3-D festival at the Egyptian. People have been flying in from all over the place to attend. There is an excitement and passion in the air at the festival. People are just SO excited about these movies. To me, that communal experience…that reaction….that setting….those feelings….to me is what movie going is all about.
On Saturday I saw the Los Angeles premiere of WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? at the LA Film Festival. The film chronicles the history of the electric car, and examines how the movement to popularize these alternative vehicles was systematically destroyed by the U.S. Government, the state of California, automobile companies, and gas and oil interests. If this sounds like a boring time at the movies THINK AGAIN. This film is smart, sharp and entertaining. It is incredibly well made by director Chris Paine, himself an electric car owner.
The film presents the issue not only from a political standpoint, but a human one. That is what makes it so compelling. The people involved in this saga are not mere bystanders. You get to know them personally and relate to the emotions they are experiencing. Even the electric cars in the film almost seem to have their own personalities. As we see the car owners agonizing over and mourning the eventual destruction of their vehicles, we not only sympathize with their loss, we feel as if we have lost something ourselves. When the filmmaker shows footage from a ?funeral? at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery staged by the owners one such vehicle, the moment is profoundly moving rather than ironic and humorous.
Fortunately the film also offers optimism and hope. It is a call to action for anyone who cares about the environment and the future of our planet to DO SOMETHING about it. I loved this film. At the screening I attended, it received a standing ovation, and I was standing and clapping along with the rest of the audience. This is an excellent and important film that must be seen!
WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR? opens on June 28th. Please don?t let this film slip through the cracks. It deserves to find an audience and a film like this has incredible power to affect change and to make a difference. The official website is also an excellent resource to find information and details about how you can take action.
Appropriately, as I was driving home from the screening, I saw a bumper sticker that read, ?If you?re not outraged, then you?re NOT paying attention.? I couldn?t agree more.
The Illusionist is a hypnotic story of magic, murder and palace intrigue set in turn-of-the-century Vienna. Edward Norton plays “Eisenheim the Illusionist” whose stage shows cast a spell amongst the locals and raise the ire of the Crown Price (Rufus Sewell). As a child, Eisenheim had fallen in love with “Sophie” (Jessica Biel) who was from a wealthy royal family. When they tried to run away together, they were caught and she was taken away from him. Fifteen years later, as Eisenheim is doing an illusion on stage, he calls for a volunteer from the audience. He is astonished to realize that the woman who volunteers is the girl he had fallen in love with years ago. They arrange to meet in private where they quickly rekindle their feelings. Unfortunately their class distinctions still threaten drive a wedge between them. Due to political reasons, she is expected to marry the evil and corrupt Crown Prince. Eisenheim must avoid the vengeance of the Crown Prince and find a way for he and Sophie to be together.
This film is a very classy period piece with top notch acting. Edward Norton is excellent as the calm, calculating and brilliant Illusionist who never doubts for a moment in his power. Paul Giamatti plays the chief inspector and it is a very different role for him that anything else he has ever been in. As always, he rises to the challenge and delivers. Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell also lend great support.
The Illusionist has a dreamy, hynotic quality thanks to the beautiful cinematography by Dick Pope and a score by Philip Glass. This is film entertaining in an old fashioned Hollywood sense of the word. To me, that’s a big compliment.
Tonight Turner Classic Movies unspools the world premiere of their new documentary STARDUST: THE BETTE DAVIS STORY and will launch a month long salute to the woman who was arguably one of the greatest actresses to emerge from Hollywood’s Golden Age. I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen the documentary in advance and I can tell you that it is one of the best of its kind. I’ve seen so many documentaries about Hollywood stars that either paint them as perfect in every way or as terrible, miserable human beings. This documentary is more intelligent than most as it strikes a balance. It paints Bette Davis as both a brilliant actress and as a flawed, damaged and self destructive person. It examines her life both on screen and off with a candor that few documentaries have ever seen before.
The documentary also doesn’t make the mistake of believing the star herself and taking her word for gospel. It debunks many myths that Davis helped to perpetuate. The film shoots down the Davis claim that she first named the Academy Award an “Oscar” after her husband’s rear end. It also rebukes her claim that she threw away her chance to play Scarlett O’Hara due to a fight with Jack Warner. The film also contradicts Davis on numerous personal matters as well and brings to light the shocking charge that Davis caused the untimely death of her second husband. There are also positive facts that have seldom been brought to light. Davis ran the “Hollywood Canteen” for soliders to be entertained by Hollywood stars during WWII. She caused a huge stir when she refused to segregate the canteen. This was considered pretty progressive and radical by early 1940s standards.
STARDUST also offers candid interviews with women such as Jane Fonda, Ellen Burstyn and Gena Rowlands who worked with Davis and/or knew her personally. They all give great insight into Davis and what made her tick. Another interesting layer of the film is the paradox it presents between Davis’s strong willed feminist personality, combined with her need for a husband to lean on for support. In one contradictory portion of the film it goes into what a great pioneer Davis was for women’s independence and then it shows a clip of Davis telling a TV interviewer that the woman must always surrender her needs to those of the man in order for a marriage to work. The film illustrates the conflict between the private longings vs. the professional image which Davis never able to reconcile successfully.
I’ve read 3 different biographies about Bette Davis and this film even showed photos and revealed tidbits of information that I’d never known before. Most profound and tragic of all the revelations seems to be the fact that in spite of Bette’s protestations to the contrary, her stern and cold father actually DID love her and WAS proud of her. He sent her telegrams of congratulations and attended her early theatrical triumphs. It is apparent that her broken relationship with her father and her inability to reconcile with him changed and course of her life and emotional stability forever.
STARDUST is a lovely, moving, illuminating and satisfying tribute to a woman who was far more complicated that any character she ever portrayed on screen. Don’t miss this documentary and the Bette Davis movies that will be airing all month long on Turner Classic Movies.
I’ve long bemoaned the lack of sophistication and wit in modern day movies. They just seem so dumbed down and targeted to the lowest common denominator. Seeing THANK YOU FOR SMOKING felt like a huge breath of fresh air….so to speak. Based on the Christopher Buckley novel of the same, the film is adapted and directed by Jason Reitman (son of director Ivan Reitman.)
The film follows the exploits of Nick Naylor (played by Aaron Eckhart) who works as a lobbyist for the Tobacco industry. He is a slick smooth operator who can talk better than anyone in the room. He lunches daily with his only friends Polly Bailey (Maria Bello), an alcohol lobbyist, and Bobby Jay Bliss (David Koechner), a gun lobbyist. They refer to themselves as the M.O.D. Squad (“Merchants of Death”.) As part of his mission to display cigarettes in a positive light, Nick Naylor flies to Los Angeles on business, taking his young son with him. While in town, he meets with a CAA-esque Hollywood agent (Rob Lowe) to discuss how they can work together to make cigarettes sexy and cool in an upcoming sci-fi film. He also stops at the home of cowboy Lorne Lutch (Sam Elliott), the “Tumbleweed Man” (read: Marlboro Man), who was a long running symbol of tobacco before his battle with lung cancer turned him against it. Nick Naylor comes to his house to offer him hush money to silence him from speaking out about the evils of cigarettes.
Meanwhile, back in Washington Nick must battle his rival Sen. Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy). Things get even more complex with Nick is seduced by ruthless journalist Heather Holloway (Katie Holmes) who writes a scathing expose about him in the press. All the while, Nick’s young son is studying his every move and is clearly set to follow in his footsteps.
What anchors this film and makes it work so well is Aaron Eckhart’s performance. He has been great in other films such as Erin Brockovich and In The Company of Men, but this is the first role he’s had that really utilizes him to his full potential. Nick Naylor is sleazy, ruthless, slick and shallow….but you can’t help but like him. You secretly want him to win. He is fast, funny and perfect in the role. The supporting actors are also excellent.
The dialogue is smart and well paced. Good satire is a difficult thing to tackle and Reitman has done a fantastic job. I look forward to his future work and hope that he continues to make films that are on this same level of quality. Finally….WIT and INTELLIGENCE has returned to movie screens. It’s about time.
To wet my appetite for the upcoming Noir Festival, I went to the Aero Theatre to see the Noir Double Feature. Both films were directed by Richard Fleischer, who was an outstanding craftsmen. First off was NARROW MARGIN (1952) starring Marie Windsor and Charles McGraw. This was a delightfully nasty noir with great characters and dialogue. Marie Windsor plays a gangster’s wife who is forced on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles to testify in a racket busting trial. Charles McGraw plays the police officer who is assigned to protect her and to make sure she arrives safely. Their characters despise each other and their constant verbal sparring is wickedly enjoyable. There are many twists and turns in the script that constantly keep you guessing. I won’t give away the ending because this film IS on DVD, but sufficed to say if you want to see a fantastic and tightly wound noir, this is it!
The next film was VIOLENT SATURDAY (1955) starring Victor Mature, Sylvia Sidney and Lee Marvin. I was very excited to see this since it is not available on video. Shot in lush color and CinemaScope, this film was a perfect big screen experience. Based on the caper novel by W.B. Heath, VIOLENT SATURDAY weaves together the stories of several people in a small town whose lives converge during a violent bank heist. What I loved about this film was how rich it was in character development. The first 3/4 of the film was ALL back story on the lives of each character, going into their problems, conflicts and histories. Some of the scenes and characters seemed to be taken right out of a Douglas Sirk melodrama, but the tone and manner in which it was all presented felt very right within the context of the film. What made the film so powerful in my mind was that by the time the bank heist happens, I felt as though I had an emotional investment in each character. As an audience member, I had spent time with them and gotten to know them so their violent fates seemed so much more tragic to me. I guess my big complaint about most films (particularly modern ones) is that you NEVER get to have characters this rich or fleshed out. If this film were made today, it would have started with the bank heist and never would have taken such a generous amount of time setting it up. It is almost as if today people (generally speaking) don’t have the attention span to sit through things that aren’t edited in MTV fashion. The problem with so many movies is that since you never get that character development, you don’t CARE about what happens to the characters. I could rattle off so many expamples of movies that don’t work for that very reason. VIOLENT SATURDAY was so beautifully written that it should be shown in every screenwriting class. I can’t praise this film enough. I’m only sorry it is so hard to find.
Perhaps I will adpot this film as one of my “pet projects.” Allow me to explain….There are so many incredible old movies that aren’t on DVD. I’ve taken a handful of my favorites and have taken it upon myself to gently lobby the appropriate studio to release them. I’ve written to the Fox Home Video department (and the in house restoration expert) many times about NIGHTMARE ALLEY and BLOOD AND SAND both starring Tyrone Power. Fortunately NIGHTMARE ALLEY is now on DVD! I don’t take credit for that personally BUT I figure that my gentle prodding via e-mail is at least another brick in the wall and another reminder that there are still people out there who care about these films.
THE SHOW is filled with signature Browning material including jealousy, revenge, murder and an array of bizarre and macabre imagery. The problem with the film is not these elements, but rather how they all tie together. The plot goes off the tracks and into cliched melodramatic territory and sentiment that really don’t mix well. For example, when Cock Robin is on the run from the police, Salome takes him to her family home. Once there, he learns that Salome’s brother is scheduled to be executed by hanging (the platform for the hanging and the prison are conveniently within view of the living room). In order to spare Salome’s blind and dying father the heartache of knowing the truth, Cock Robin passes himself off as his long lost son. The old man embraces him and concludes that he can die in peace having reconciled with him. Meanwhile Salome keeps urging Cock Robin to turn himself into the police for having stolen money from a sheep hearder’s daughter. There is one particularly bizarre scene in the film where “The Greek” tries to behead Cock Robin, who then shortly thereafter tries to behead Salome. If that weren’t enough, the finale of the film includes “The Greek” trying to kill Cock Robin with a giant poisionous lizard. Just the image of John Gilbert running from a big lizard was cringe worthy to put it mildly. Finally the lizard bites “The Greek” who then shoots the lizard before dying.
My conclusion was that EVERYONE involved deserved much better material. In spite of this, it was still interesting to see this rarely screened film and if you are ever restless at 4am and it happens to air on Turner Classic Movies…and you happen to be coming down from a very bad trip or sobering up…then you might want to check it out.
I’d seen FREAKS 4 or 5 times, but the opportunity to see this twisted little gem on the big screen was irresistible to me! I LOVE this film! It is not cinematic brilliance or anything, but regardless it tends to occupy a very special place in my heart. I tend to deeply relate to the misfits, outcasts, misunderstood and eccentric people of the world…..maybe because I am that way myself. I have the biography of Tod Browning entitled “DARK CARNIVAL” by David J. Skal. It is a fascinating look into Tod Browning’s life and influences. I had David sign my book and in the front he inscribed, “To Karie, “One of us! One of us!” To me, Tod Browning was a unique and gifted director who made a tremendous imprint on the genre of horror that is still felt today. He was there at the beginning making audiences shocked, afraid, disgusted and captivated all at the same time. Not to many people have ever been able to pull that off since.
In addition to my appreciation of Grinhouse, I had more personal reasons for wanting to see SAVAGE SEVEN. The film’s star Adam Roarke was my first film teacher. He ran a school called The Film Actor’s Lab in Dallas, Texas where I grew up. I’ve been madly in love with movies ever since I could remember and when I was 15, I begged my parents to let me attend Adam’s film classes. When I first met him, he looked at me with my big bangs and penny loafers and said, “We don’t take children at this school. There is another place across town, why don’t you go there?” I looked him right in the eyes and said, “I want to be here with the adults and with you…..I want to learn about film.” I was so serious and emphatic and he could sense that right away. He looked at me and said, “All right, you can stay.” Adam taught film acting and other classes that involved breaking down and analyzing film scenes. Adam always treated me with kindness and never looked down on my because of my young age. He was such a vibrant and fascinating person. He had TONS of amazing stories about Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. He knew so much about film-past and present. To me, he always seemed so much larger than life. Adam was the first person I can remember besides my parents who really believed in me. He was so happy for me when I got accepted into film school. I had directed my first student film and was dying to show it to him. I called him and he said, “Great! Bring it with you and we can watch it next week when you’re in town.” He died of a massive heart attack in his sleep only a few days later.
What breaks my heart is that I never really got the chance to tell him how much he meant to me and how important he was in my life. I also lament that I never got the chance to see his films while he was alive and discuss them with him. Most of his films are not available on video and they certainly weren’t being shown in the late 80s and 90s when I knew him. Only since moving to Los Angeles in 2000, has the opportunity finally presented itself for me to see his work. I’ve now see SAVAGE SEVEN, THE STUNT MAN and PLAY IT AS IT LAYS all on the big screen. The first time I saw one of his films, the minute I heard his voice and saw his face, it was like he was alive again. It felt like I was getting to spend time with him again. He looked and sounded so much like the Adam I remember. It was surreal and comforting at the same time.
After the Q&A, I chatted with Richard Rush and told him about my time with Adam. Then he invited me to see more of his films at the Egyptian and said we would speak again soon. Mr. Rush was so nice and spoke so highly of Adam. I turned around and started to cry. My friend Lucas went with me and we decided to go out for dinner. We sat in a cafe and ate frito pie, which we concluded was perfect meal to accompany a grindhouse night.
I would high encourage anyone to catch more Grindhouse movies AND also to catch the “New Hollywood” films of the 60s and 70s that will soon be playing at the Egyptian. They will be showing PLAY IT AS IT LAYS again and some more Richard Rush films as well. Check out the Filmradar calendar for times and details.
They are well worth taking a look at.