Here's day one of 88Slide's week-long visit to Southern California Drive-Ins. They're going to end the week with the Mission Tiki to commemortate the 50th Anniversary Tiki Invasion, but today Rachel and company visit the Vineland in City of Industry, Los Angeles County's only remaining operational drive-in theater. Check out the program and see if you can answer Rachel's drive-in trivia question!
Monday, July 31, 2006
Here's day one of 88Slide's week-long visit to Southern California Drive-Ins. They're going to end the week with the Mission Tiki to commemortate the 50th Anniversary Tiki Invasion, but today Rachel and company visit the Vineland in City of Industry, Los Angeles County's only remaining operational drive-in theater. Check out the program and see if you can answer Rachel's drive-in trivia question!
Sunday, July 30, 2006
(Good old Blogger.com photo posting services being its cranky self, I was only able to get one photo up before the system crapped out on me-- same old story. More photos to break up the blather that follows as soon as I can get the damn things to post-- Dennis)
It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on the ongoing adventures of the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society, and one might suppose, because of the paucity of posts, that this summer has been no different than last summer, or that there’s nothing really interesting going on.
Well, I’d hate to give that impression.
The good folks of the Society (hereafter referred to as SoCalDIMS) have been busier than ever, due in no small part to the continued efforts of Juan Gonzalez, manager of the Vineland Drive-in, and Frank Huttinger, Teri Oldknow and Jeff Thurman of the De Anza Corporation, owners of the Mission Tiki, Rubidoux and Van Buren Drive-ins here in Southern California, to keep things really hopping this year. (Master projectionist Jeff Thurman has relocated to the Rubidoux Drive-in from the Mission Tiki, and although the Mission Tiki remains a spectacular venue, and getting better every time I go out there, Jeff’s presence, humor and expertise in the booth is already sorely missed. We’re coming out to the Rubidoux soon, Mr. T.! You can’t get rid of us that easily!)
My daughters and I made our first official 2006 trip to the Mission Tiki together in March, during a nice, fat thunderstorm, to see The Shaggy Dog. It was a lot of fun introducing them to the joys of inclement weather outdoor moviegoing. They looked pretty good in their footsie pajamas and hooded jackets padding across the parking to get a taste of that Mission Tiki popcorn. And for some reason, my youngest found it HILARIOUS every time I had to run the wipers—perhaps she had clear visions of Tim Allen literally being wiped off the screen, and that added to the on-screen comedy. But that trip was without Mom, and her absence was duly noted by my oldest daughter, who got a bit nervous in the great outdoors without her mom there to snuggle with.
So, when SoCalDIMS set up in the snack bar of the Vineland a few weeks later, Mom came along, this time for a double feature of Ice Age: The Meltdown and Eight Below. By this time the Vineland still had only one screen that was fully Technalight-functional, and unfortunately it wasn’t the one we were parked in front of. But just a quick glance over at Kate Beckinsale’s leather jumpsuit in Underworld: Evolution and it was clear as a bell that Technalight at the Vineland was just as magnificent as at the Tiki, the Van Buren or the Rubidoux.
In early April SoCalDIMS made our way back out to the Van Buren, where we talked to a very friendly crowd all night, sitting mere feet away from the best snack bar in all of Southern California drive-in-dom. Last summer, being in the snack bar at the Van Buren for three hours was a mixed blessing—we could smell the delicious carne asada grilling all night long, but in was 105 degrees outside, and probably a good 10 degrees hotter than that indoors. But in April, with clouds looming and rain still a possibility, the smells were all I was thinking about. Sal and I talked with an unusually high number of folks who had lots of good stories about favorite drive-ins long gone, and lots of questions about what was happening with the drive-in situation in 2006. We happily provided as much information as we could and got a lot of new sign-ups for our mailing list. (Are you on the list? If not and you want to be, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org today!)
Manned with a spectacular carne asada plate, I made my way to my car just as the second feature, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party was beginning, around 10:00 p.m. I loved the movie and was wide awake and ready to go when Spike Lee’s Inside Man started just about 12:00 midnight. Inside Man was a lot of fun, but an old man like me, well, I started getting a little sleepy when I realized Inside Man ran a none-too-lean 129 minutes. The movie finished up at around 2:20 a.m., and then I realized, hey, I'm looking at a drive back from Riverside to Glendale, about 45 minutes to an hour. But what I’d completely forgotten about was that this very evening was the same evening that we were to turn our clocks ahead at 2:00 a.m. So now I’m leaving Riverside at 3:20 a.m., and I arrived home just about an hour later. By the time I got home, cleaned up and ready for bed, it was more like 5:00 a.m. And just two hours later, two little girls came calling, ready to start the day…
Back at the Mission Tiki in mid May, SoCalDIMS officially kicked off the summer season with a fun evening spent looking over the lot before show time with Frank Huttinger, who laid out some more of the design planned for the Tiki lots to prepare for their big summer push to celebrate the drive-in’s 50th anniversary in August. As usual, the Saturday night crowd at the Mission Tiki was extremely friendly and curious about what SoCalDIMS was all about, and we were more than glad to give up the info. Afterward, I headed out to take in Mission: Impossible 3, which didn’t do a lot to keep me riveted. That night was spent looking at the stars a lot and peeking at the other screens, wondering if I should have taken a chance on Silent Hill instead. (Here’s some silent video courtesy of Sal who decided the thing to do would be to follow me and his son through the snack bar line that night—again, this is more interesting than Mission: Impossible 3…)
Just two weeks later I corralled several buddies from the office and we caravanned out to the Mission Tiki for the opening Saturday night performance of Pixar’s Cars. If there was ever any doubt as to where the perfect place to see that movie was, Jeff and the Mission Tiki put them to rest that night with a brilliant technical presentation. We all enjoyed the movie in the excellent weather, parked in camp chairs or inside nicely padded minivans with the rear hatch popped open and facing the screen. An everyone who stayed through the end credits was rewarded with one of Pixar’s funniest ending tags yet—the characters from Cars attend the town’s rejuvenated drive-in movie theater to see all the previous Pixar hits recast with automotive versions of their favorite characters (a la Monster Trucks, Inc.). It was quite a thrill to see and hear the whole lot burst into cheers, applause and the dulcet tones of 200 honking horns when this sequence finished. Speaking of which, we were surrounded by the members of two classic car clubs who were invited to attend the screening, and being around such automotive fervor really added to the fun atmosphere of the night. What’s more, on screen #1, where the remake of The Omen was showing, there was another car club in attendance—the Hearse Collectors Club. All in all, it was an incredible quality night of fun—we got there two and a half hours before show time. It was exactly the kind of exciting experience, one filled with a sense of community and enthusiasm that I always remember from my formative drive-in days as a young moviegoer. And the Mission Tiki isn’t anywhere near through offering nights like this, believe me. Sadly, this night would turn out to be the last trip to the Tiki under Jeff Thurman’s watchful showman’s eye. (Take a look at the video I shot that night—Brian De Palma needn’t be looking over his shoulder or anything, but
at least you get the idea…)
We didn’t make it out to the Tiki, or any other drive-in again, until the end of the month. But when we did we had a couple of passengers in tow that had never been to a drive-in movie before, and I’ll be damned if I thought they’d ever agree to go. But when I told them that the featured attraction was going to be Superman Returns, that was good enough to convince them. My parents-in-law (ages 82 and 78) came out over the long Fourth of July weekend, and despite some initial trepidation—they were very tense at the prospect of the girls playing with some newfound friends under the screen, apparently convinced that they would be run over—they soon settled in and had a grand time. I pulled the back seat out of the van and set it up for the two of them so they’d have a VERY familiar seat in which to relax, and they did just that (Daddy opted for the camp chair after a while). And they were amused not only by the friendliness of the kids that began playing with my kids, but also by the fact that I seemed to be running into a lot of people out on the lot that I knew. We ended up parked behind SoCalDIMS member Warren Meyers and his wife, and Warren was decked out for the occasion. (See accompanying picture! Gaze at it! This was not staged! It was a real-life sighting!) The girls and I had seen the movie the day before, indoors—my oldest found it a bit too intense, especially when Lex Luthor brutalizes Superman two-thirds through. But my youngest (she’ll be four in August) was enthralled and couldn’t wait to see it again the next night. My oldest eventually decided she needed to be separated from the action for a while, so she and Mom got out and moseyed over to the snack bar, where they ended up sitting at some picnic tables and watching Cars again from afar, while my wife monitored Superman Returns to see when they could make a safe return to the van.
Last Sunday, SoCalDIMS had a little planning dinner at a keen Mexican restaurant near the Vineland, and then we headed over to the drive-in, where we were treated to a show by the Vineland’s ever accommodating manager Juan Gonzalez. It was a fun night out, and my first opportunity to see a Technalight-sparked film at the Vineland up close. Buddies Paul, Steve and I parked our chairs under the starlight for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and although I felt the movie went on a little too long, it was certainly genial enough and proved to be an excellent showcase for the newly brilliant image on display nightly at the Vineland. Juan will be undergoing fresh paint jobs on all four screens in the next week or so, which should do everything to increase the brightness of the already 100%-improved picture at Los Angeles County’s only operating drive-in. And you know what? Paul and I discovered that the Vineland’s hamburgers are pretty damn good. Now, if you’re thinking Double Double or an A&W Papa Burger, you’ll probably be disappointed. But for a simple burger that’s there to do two jobs—taste good and fill your aching belly—this burger is definitely on par with the fine sandwiches at the Mission Tiki. They look a little odd—the patties are kidney-shaped!—but they have a very moist, juicy consistency, not grilled to within an inch (or more likely, an eighth-of-an-inch) of their lives. Paul, in pre-selling me on the experience, claimed they tasted kind of like meatloaf, and he was right. If you’re not sold on this description, perhaps it’s just one of those items you have to try for yourself. This item alone will get me back in the snack bar line the next time I’m at the Vineland.
And then there was last night. Sal and I met Teri, Frank, Dave (the guy who is designing all the superb tiki decorations that are now on display at the Mission Tiki—with still more to come!) and new MT manager Todd out at the Tiki box offices, where we were joined by none other than KCET-TV’s own Huell Howser, producer and host of the very popular California's Gold series on KCET. Huell has made a very particular and popular art out of highlighting various wonderful, unusual, unheard-of aspects of California culture on his program, and thanks to Sal’s efforts, last night he and his cameraman (Cameron, perfectly enough) were there and shot an entire episode of California's Gold centering on the rejuvenated Mission Tiki and, yes, indeed, the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society. It was great watching Huell go all guerilla-camera-tactics on unsuspecting folks who were in their cars waiting for the box office to open. In person he’s exactly the way he presents himself on camera—genuinely interested, fascinated, inquisitive and uber-friendly—and it was marvelous to watch the way he got people to open up and gab with him on camera. (At one point, he ambushed a little girl waiting with an armload of goodies as she came out of the snack bar line and demanded to know what she’d chosen from the voluminous menu—she giggled and detailed every item.) He spent a lot of time talking to folks in line, outside and inside, visiting the projection booth and telling stories of drive-ins of his youth. When it came time for his dinner, he sat down with us at the SoCalDIMS table and sampled (nay, pounded down enthusiastically) the premium chili dog with utter delight. Then it came time for Sal and I to jump in the spotlight. Just before dusk, Huell and Cameron hustled us out to the lot on screen #3 and gave us our own little moment. And again, I feel it’s a tribute to Huell’s particular way of putting his subjects at ease, but I think both Sal and I comported ourselves rather well—pretty gregarious and well-spoken for a couple of drive-in geeks—and we breezed through our little segment, which Huell punctuated with continued praise when we finished (“You guys were greaaaaaat!”—Come on, you can hear him saying it, can’t you?)
The Mission Tiki/SoCalDIMS episode of California's Gold is set to air NEXT SUNDAY (talk about quick turnarounds!), August 6, exact time to be announced. The showing of the episode, however, is going to be tied into another fundraising effort that Huell will be doing with the Mission Tiki in September. During the pledge breaks when the show is airing, Huell will be selling $100-a-carload tickets for a night at the Mission Tiki, and Teri is programming great double features of classic drive-in fare for all four screens! (More information on the exact programming and the date of the show as it becomes available.) And Huell has invited Frank, Teri, Sal and I to KCET next Sunday night to take part in the pledge drive antics! I’ll definitely be keeping you all apprised of exactly when this show will air!
And, as they say in the show business, that’s not all, folks! De Anza is completing the tiki-zation of the Mission Tiki just in time for next weekend, when the official 50th anniversary celebration will get underway. It’s called the Tiki Invasion and it’s happening this coming Saturday, August 5. The gates will open up at 2:00 p.m., the earlier the better to gawk at all the great tiki-themed renovations De Anza has put into place. And there’s gonna be all manner of bands, booths, food, hot rod displays, several car clubs on hand, plus a great drive-in triple feature—Maria Montez and Jon Hall in the Technicolor camp classic Cobra Woman, the ‘70s William Castle thriller Bug, and Hard Ticket to Hawaii directed by B-movie godhead Andy Sedaris, who, it is rumored, may even be making a special appearance. Advance tickets are available right now and they’re going fast. If the response is as good as the folks at De Anza are expecting it will be, look for lots more of this kind of action at the Mission Tiki in the months and years to come—Teri has a boundless enthusiasm for this kind of event and exactly the right sensibility to pull it off. She’s one of the best friends this rejuvenated drive-in movement in Southern California has got, and next weekend you’ll see why.
Finally, regarding SoCalDIMS anyway, Sal (I’ve taken to calling him Mr. Tireless Footwork) has hooked us up with the good folks at 88Slide, a really keen one-minute Internet trivia program, and they’re going to be featuring the Vineland, the Mission Tiki and other drive-ins all this week on their Web site. 88slide's drive-in and Mission Tiki 50th anniversary programming begins Monday July 31, 2006 and continues till Friday August 4, 2006. Check this spot for the link every day, in case I don’t succeed in making it a point to remind you every day next week!
There’s so much great stuff happening in the drive-in culture this summer, not only here in Southern California, but all over the country. Here’s a link to a story (complete with video) on the continuing good fortunes of the ‘49er Drive-In in Northwest Indiana, for example.
Jay Allen Sanford published an excellent history of the drive-in in San Diego, California in a recent issue of the San Diego Reader. Jay informs us, though, that a crucial element of the story—a timeline of the history of the drive-in—was for some reason left off of the online version of the story, so in the interest of completism, here’s that timeline as offered to paper-and-ink readers of Mr. Sanford’s story (note the comments from De Anza’s own Teri Oldknow at the very end of the piece):
1932: Richard Milton Hollingshead Jr., a chemical engineer and oil and grease salesman, conducts his first experiments in outdoor viewing by nailing a bed sheet between two trees and putting a 1928 16mm movie projector on the hood of his car. He designs a ramp system to angle parked cars upward and tests the effects of rain on the windshield by using lawn sprinklers. By August, Hollingshead is ready to patent his idea (#1,909,537).
June 6, 1933: Hollingshead's first outdoor theater opens on Crescent Boulevard in Pennsauken Township, near Riverton and Camden, New Jersey. Admission is 25 cents per car and 25 cents per person. The venue is originally just called Drive-In Theatre, although the actual name is the Automobile Movie Theatre. The opening feature is Wife Beware, a second-run from the previous season. This begins a long-running feud between “ozones” (outdoor theaters, as dubbed by Variety magazine) and indoor theaters battling for first-run features. Hollingshead pays $400 for a four-day rental of Wives Beware when indoor exhibitors can get it for $20 a week! The first drive-in closes in 1936 and is moved by its new owner to Union, New Jersey.
April 15, 1934: Shankweiler's Auto Park theater in Orefield, Pennsylvania, opens. Like all other drive-ins, it must pay Hollingshead's Park-In Theatres for the rights to run an outdoor screen: a one-time fee of $1000 and 5 percent of the gross box office receipts.
1934: The Pico Drive-In opens at the corner of Pico and Westwood in Los Angeles, California's first and America's fourth outdoor theater.
May 6, 1936: The Weymouth Drive-In opens in Weymouth, Massachusetts, though owners Thomas DiMaura and James Guarino fail to obtain a license from Park-In. On July 3, Park-In files a lawsuit charging patent infringement, obtaining a writ entitling Hollingshead to place employees at the Weymouth to collect the entire box office proceeds for July 3, 4, and 5. Subsequent money is paid, and in a few months the Weymouth's owners reach a licensing agreement with Park-In.
1938: Hollingshead sells his patent to Willis W. Smith, who franchises it and requires drive-ins to pay royalties. However, Loew's Theaters (owned by MGM Pictures) convinces a Boston circuit court that a ramp built into the ground isn't an invention, it's landscaping, and Hollingshead's patent becomes unenforceable. With drive-ins now public domain, the industry undergoes a growth spurt.
June 1938: Just over a dozen ozoners are operating nationwide.
1941: RCA develops the in-car speaker, which by the mid-to-late '40s becomes commonplace.
1942: Around 100 drive-ins operate across 27 states.
1948: Around 820 drive-ins are in the U.S. and Canada, 44 of them in
June 3, 1948: Former Navy pilot Edward Brown Jr. opens the first Fly-In Drive-In Theatre, with room for 500 cars and 25 airplanes. Located next to a New Jersey airport, the planes can taxi to the last two rows (though a jeep is needed to tow planes back to the airfield after showings).
1949: The Drive-In Movie Association lobbies against the Daylight Saving Time movement, claiming parents won't take their families out for showings starting as late as ten p.m. By 1964, DST would be in full swing across America, though West Coast ozones say they're hardest hit by the new late show times.
1950: At a time when around 3500 drive-ins operate in the U.S., in-car heaters are introduced, enabling year-round showings.
1954: Autoscope drive-ins feature a screen for each car.
1955: RCA sells a complete drive-in package (with its own financing), including a sound system, projection equipment, and lights to mark the parking-lot pathways.
1957: Concession stands generate important revenue, as do “free for children” admission policies (the latter heavily protested by the film industry, which feels this “cheapens” their prestigious product). Most drive-ins utilize fondly recalled intermission films featuring singing snacks, dancing hot dogs, and countdown clocks, popularized by filmmakers at the Filmack Company.
1958: The U.S. has approximately 4000 drive-in theaters, while Canada has around 40. Quebec has none because the province has banned them on the advice of the Catholic Church, which calls ozoners “pits of iniquity and sinful excess.”
1960: In Texas, a few drive-ins have horseback hitching-posts. The Theater Motel in Brattleboro, Vermont, rents rooms facing the screen and wired for sound.
1967: California has its all-time peak of around 223 operating drive-in theaters.
Late 60s - early 70s: Thanks to a series of lawsuits, the big film companies no longer hold a monopoly on distribution and drive-ins are able to get more first-run A-list features. Some ozoners show racier fare not suited for most suburban hardtop theaters, a few eventually going X-rated. A handful of drive-in owners take to making their own films geared specifically for outdoor screens, such as Bob Lippert Sr., who runs a chain of 23 drive-ins from Oregon to Hollywood (he once owned San Diego's Cinerama). Lippert produces nearly 200 movies for his chain, including Jungle Goddess, Treasure of Monte Cristo, Tales of Robin Hood, and Mask of the Dragon.
1973: AM radio transmission of movie sound becomes practical thanks to innovations by Cinema Radio, a company started by Fred J. Schwartz to combat poor drive-in audio. At the time, an estimated 97 percent of cars have AM radios.
1978 – 1988: Over 1000 outdoor screens close. Reasons include land value increases that make selling for redevelopment attractive financially, aging owners wishing to retire, decaying properties, the increasing popularity of malls and multiplexes, and the home-video explosion. Many drive-in lots become strip-malls containing, ironically enough, video stores.
1982: Around 2130 drive-ins still standing.
1987: Around 1000 drive-ins operating.
1990: Only about 900 drive-ins remain open.
December 1997: 815 outdoor screens remain.
1999: United Drive-In Theatre Owners association formed.
June 2005: 419 drive-ins operate nationwide.
Present: In the last 15 years, around 40 drive-in theaters have reopened and about two dozen new ones were built. At this writing, California has 21 drive-ins operating with a total of 50 screens. The owners of the South Bay Drive-In, De Anza, will have a 50th anniversary reopening ceremony August 5 for their four-screen Mission Drive-In in Pomona (now the Mission Tiki), with live bands, a hot rod show, vendor booths, and all-night cult movies. “The theater got very run-down, but I completely redesigned it and refurbished the marquee to reflect the same tiki theme as the old Del Mar Drive-In,” says Teri Oldknow. “I really loved that place. It totally inspired me to make over the one in Pomona, with the same great '50s patio-culture theme.”
And here’s a word from Mark Bialek, proprietor of The Drive-in Exchange, Ltd> regarding a fun project that is still going on:
“Just thought I'd invite everyone to take part in the Drive-In Moonlite Movies 100 Greatest Drive-In Theatre Movies poll. The American Film Institute for the past few years has been conducting such polls of favorite 100 movies, so we have decided to conduct our own poll for the 100 Greatest Drive-In Theatre Movies. You don't have to belong to the AFI or be a member of any film organization to participate. We are opening this poll to everyone who loves drive-in theatres, and we are going to see what kind of results we get.
To take part in the poll you must register through our web site or at Drive-in Exchange.com.
Complete instructions can be found at either site. Participants must submit their 10 favorite movies, and we will tally the results.”
And finally, for even more fun, I just got word of a CD that sounds like it might be right up the alley of just about any drive-in fan, but especially ones who treasure memories of rural ozoners from the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s a storytelling CD by Donald Davis entitled The Big Screen Drive-in Theater. Davis tells Keilloresque stories of three summers he spent working at a drive-in in North Carolina and details a lot of the ins-and-outs of daily drive-in operation in an allegedly very entertaining manner. I think I’m gonna put this on my birthday list!
Well, that’s all for now. I hope to see you all at the Mission Tiki next weekend for the big Tiki Invasion. In fact, consider this an invitation to all Los Angeles-area film bloggers, like Kim Morgan, Anne Thompson, Nilblogette, Alison Veneto, Tim Lucas, anyone at the IFC Blog who is in town, the cinetrix, and anyone else who I haven’t thought of or who I’m not aware is in town—- e-mail me and maybe we can get a blogging caravan out to the Mission Tiki sometime soon! I’d love to introduce you all to one of the great drive-ins, still in operation after 50 years—some of them greater than others, but none as great as the ones that are surely ahead for lovers of movies and the drive-in experience. Okay, I really mean it this time… see you in two weeks!
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 1:10 AM
Friday, July 28, 2006
Every so often I come across an article, a thought or a well-turned phrase and think to myself, in a completely non-envious manner, “I wish I’d written that.” Such a sentiment can be some of the highest praise I can imagine for a piece of writing I really like.
This week’s SLIFR Weekend Reading List is a short one—I don’t have much time to do a lot of linking, or reading for that matter. But I have time enough to post just one link. And if you have time to read only one article this week, let it be Wagstaff’s sublime, comprehensive and utterly enjoyable appreciation of Michael Ritchie’s The Bad News Bears, which was posted a week ago (sorry I’m so slow on the uptake, W) over at The House Next Door.
Forget teary-eyed sentimental claptrap like Field of Dreams and The Natural-- for my money, The Bad News Bears is the best baseball movie ever made. Wagstaff gets it, and you’ll enjoy running the bases with him and remembering just why this movie is a genuine American classic. (Check out the interesting conversation that follows in the comments column too.) Thanks, Wagstaff. Your piece on Ritchie’s movie is indeed excellent, and you know what? I really wish I’d written it.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 11:37 AM
Enough procrastinating! I've read the questions. Here are my answers.
1) Does film best tell the truth (GODARD) or lies (DE PALMA) at 24 frames per second?
If movies are more than just as a series of flashing lights and loud sounds designed to distract us in multiplexes or airplanes from the inconvenient demands of individual thought, then it seems truth has to be the correct answer. But film, even on its most purely documentary level, is subject to all kinds of manipulation and falsehoods—lies, in other words-- that can, paradoxically, come together through design or luck to form a kind of truth that reflects a perspective on the human condition. Whether the resulting film adds up to consciously crafted art, or even found art emerging from documented experience or down-and-dirty exploitation, or even merely artfully arranged entertainment, it seems to me true that Godard and De Palma, like every other director, can be said to be both truth-tellers and shameless liars. It’s up to us to decide whether their lies add up to truths worth telling that are profoundly expressed, truths meant to prop up the reputations among true believers, or just more plain old lies for general consumption.
2) Ideal pairing of actors/actresses to play on-screen siblings
I’ve always thought Sigourney Weaver could get away with playing Jane Fonda’s sister, and the recent remake of The Omen has convinced me that if I were told that actors David Warner and David Thewlis were related, perhaps as father and son, but conceivably even oldest brother/youngest brother, I could believe it with virtually no leap of imagination.
3) Favorite special effects moment(s)
Classic: The first unraveling of Claude Rains (The Invisible Man, 1933); the titular creature stomping down an abandoned Nevada highway (Tarantula, 1955); marauding skeletons rising from the ground and bearing swords (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963); a football player inflated to weather balloon-size and bouncing toward the goal line (Son of Flubber, 1963).
Contemporary: A giant arising from the sea with the boat on his head (Time Bandits, 1981); a stoner getting trisected by an airborne expanse of barbed-wire fence, his torso sliding apart and revealing an eruption of entrails and other red-colored goodies (Final Destination 2, 2003); that undulating TV set (Videodrome, 1983); and Babe looking out at the skyline of a glittering, bustling, overwhelming all-in-one metropolis (Babe: Pig in the City, 1998).
4) George Clooney or Matt Damon
This official SLIFR concession to beefcake is, as it turns out, a pretty tough call for me. I first saw Matt Damon in Walter Hill’s Geronimo, where he came off rather nondescriptly in the presence of Wes Studi, Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, and even Jason Patric. But soon I found myself looking forward to his appearances, thanks to terrific, committed work in movies like The Talented Mr. Ripley and Dogma, and he brings a surprising and welcome gravitas to the Bourne movies. But Clooney has that streak with Steven Soderbergh to brag on. He was disarmingly good in Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven and even the well-intended but underimagined Solaris. (I haven’t yet seen Syriana.) But he can also boast a hilarious cameo in Robert Rodriguez’s Spy Kids and, even better, two tours of duty with the Coen Bros. which revealed him to be a deft, energetic and resourceful comic actor. His turns in O Brother, Where Art Thou (“My hair!”) and Intolerable Cruelty reveal a character actor’s daring underneath all that not-so-useless beauty. They’re what really stake him, when combined with the suave charm of his appearances in the Soderbergh films, to the sort of legitimate movie star status that radiates from someone like Cary Grant. And he’s turning into a pretty good director too. Advantage: Clooney.
5) What is the movie you’ve encouraged more people to see than any other?Once upon a time, in the days after I graduated college in the spring of 1981, I can remember recommending Richard Rush’s The Stunt Man to an awful lot of people, many of whom I knew probably wouldn’t even like it. Recently I’ve sent several unsuspecting souls to a series of sweaty, sleepless nights by proselytizing on behalf of Takashi Miike’s Audition. And even more recently, I’ve been overheard extolling the virtues of Tex Avery’s Rock-a-Bye Bear. But over all, I’ve probably directed more people to Nashville than just about any other movie. Many of them simply indulged my enthusiasm and never bothered to watch it, and many who did follow through didn’t much care for it. But I daresay that some did and ended up liking it, and that’s good enough for me.
6) Favorite film of 1934
I’m glad Professor Kelp chose the word “favorite” for these categories. Doing so has allowed me to acknowledge It Happened One Night and It’s a Gift while admitting that my true favorite(s) from 1934 would be a tie between Edgar Ulmer’s The Black Cat and Howard Hawks’ Twentieth Century. (As a side note, a quick run through IMDb’s list of 1934 releases reveals a couple of movies with titles undoubtedly better than the movies themselves—the short The Busy Lesbians Club, the rather more suggestively titled Half-Baked Relations, and something or someone called Hanneles Himmelfahrt. Ain’t research grand?)
7) Favorite movie theater
When I first answered this question back in April 2005, I listed the Alger (Lakeview, Oregon), the Bijou (Eugene, Oregon) and the Vista (Los Angeles, California) as my favorites. But I’ve got another one for the ranks that I first visited just two months later: the Mission Tiki Drive-in in Montclair, California, where the drive-in flame has been rekindled for me and my wife, and where a whole new world was opened up for my girls when they saw their first drive-in movies-- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit-- last year. Now it’s their first choice for a place to see a movie, and I have to admit it’s usually mine too.
8) Irene Dunne or Jean Arthur
I’m not as familiar with Irene Dunne as I probably should be. In the films of hers that I have seen, The Awful Truth (which I loved) and Penny Serenade (which I did not love), she’s seemed to me a bit too mannered, lacking the freeness of spirit that characterizes my favorite screwball comedy actresses, women like Carole Lombard, and Katharine Hepburn, and Jean Arthur. Arthur is effervescent and intelligent in gems like The More The Merrier, You Can’t Take It With You and Talk of the Town, even better in Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, most especially, Only Angels Have Wings. Like most of my favorite actors, male and female variety, not only is she exciting to watch, but she seems, in every one of the movies I’ve seen her in, like someone I’d want to spend time with. Advantage: Arthur.
9) Favorite film made for children
To my mind, the best movies for children are those that take into account their emotional intelligence and their capacity for wonder, for curiosity, for fright. They also respect the possibility that the movies, by taking children out of themselves and into places that might satisfy wonder and curiosity and their capacity for being scared, might expand their expectations and their openness to all the other experiences that great movies, and even merely good ones, can hold in store. Four movies that fulfill this standard for me are: Nick Park and Steve Box’s Wallace & Gromit and the Curse of the Were-rabbit (actually, any of the Wallace & Gromit shorts too); Chris Noonan’s Babe; George Miller’s Babe: Pig in the City; and Nicolas Roeg’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
10) Favorite Martin Scorsese Movie
Though I love many of Scorsese’s films-- Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, New York, New York, The Last Waltz and Kundun-- I have to count myself among those who think of him as a great director who has yet to come up with a truly great film. (For me, Mean Streets probably comes closest.) In considering him a great director, I think he’s probably been as important as a force for the preservation of movie history, and for highlighting older films in relevant discussions through his documentaries A Personal Journey Through American Movies with Martin Scorsese and My Voyage to Italy, than as a director of original works. And though there is obviously much to admire about oft-cited movies like Raging Bull and GoodFellas, I think there’s just as much to question in them as well. But since this query asks for a “favorite,” not a “best,” my choice is a much simpler one.I love Scorsese’s documentaries, including all of the ones mentioned above, but my favorite is Italian/American, in which he interviews his parents about their family history and living in New York’s Little Italy district. Both Mama and Papa come across as complicated, entertaining raconteurs as they recount stories of their youth, and their son’s, and effortlessly weave a vibrant portrait of the Italian immigrant experience from casual conversation. Scorsese’s punctuates the stories by occasionally following his mother into the kitchen, where she is preparing spaghetti for him and his crew, and the movie’s end credits divulge her secret recipe. Before their deaths, Scorsese always found small roles for his parents in his films—Mama was particularly natural and memorable as Joe Pesci’s mom in GoodFellas-- but Italian/American is their finest hour, and it may be their son’s purest as well.
11) Favorite film about children
Yazujiro Ozu’s Good Morning (Ohayo)
12) Favorite film of 1954
More nifty titles popped out of the IMDb archive for 1954: The Gay Dog, and an industrial short by Herk Harvey (Carnival of Souls) entitled What About Drinking? Again, taking advantage of Professor Kelp’s semantic preference, I’ll admit to a serious love for Rear Window, La Strada and Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters) while also admitting that my favorite(s) of 1954 are, again, a tie between Nicholas Ray’s Johnny Guitar and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Okay, I’m spineless. I admit that too.
13) Favorite screenplay written by a writer better known for literature than screenplays
It’s hard to find fault with the adaptations James Agee turned in for Charles Laughton and John Huston-- The Night of the Hunter and The African Queen, respectively. But if I’m honest, I’m almost as tickled that Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for my favorite James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, as I am at the movie itself. As I am unfamiliar with the books, please forgive me in advance if the dialogue actually comes from Ian Fleming, but this exchange, while sounding so much like top-drawer Bondian sexual innuendo, also has about it a whiff of Dahl’s acid wit as well (thank you to IMDb for making it so I didn’t have to drive home and dig out my DVD for this morsel):
[James is in bed with a Ling, a Chinese woman]
James Bond: Why do Chinese girls taste different from all other girls?
Ling: You think we better, huh?
James Bond: No, just different. Like Peking Duck is different from Russian Caviar. But I love them both.
Ling: Darling, I give you very best duck.
14) Walter Matthau or Jack Lemmon
I always loved Jack Lemmon when I was a kid. But by the time he started appearing in gaseous junk like Tribute (1980), That’s Life! (1986) and Dad (1989), the actor I once loved in Billy Wilder films and in Mister Roberts disappeared and reconstituted himself as a promoter of relentless, tic-ridden, sodden and in-your-face sentimentality. The last straw for me was his misdirected appearance in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, where the actor, adrift on a sea of mawkish theatricality, underlined every effect in his big showcase speech with enough sledgehammer emphasis to blow away the back row of the theater, all the while Altman’s camera kept creeping closer, as if to interpret the great chunks of baloney Lemmon kept telegraphing to the audience as found nuggets of subtly transmitted truth. Walter Matthau, on the other hand, was a brilliant comic actor (The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple, A Guide for the Married Man, A New Leaf) who made the transition to dramatic fare in the early ‘70s with barely a misstep. And where Lemmon would wring his everyman status for as much pathos (Save the Tiger) and back-off-man-you’re-too-close-to-the-camera intensity (The China Syndrome) as any audience could possibly bear, Matthau comported himself through films like Kotch, Pete and Tillie, Casey’s Shadow, Hopscotch and a memorable cameo in JFK with utter confidence in his own weary, sometimes vinegary personality, and he never once begged to be liked or understood or sympathized with. And at the same time he was still turning in sharp comic performances in movies like The Sunshine Boys, The Front Page, House Calls, The Survivors, Grumpy Old Men, Dennis the Menace, Out to Sea and even Billy Wilder’s last movie, Buddy Buddy, which is better and funnier than its reputation would lead anyone to believe, due in no small part to Matthau’s caustic, grotesquely, hilariously overscaled work as a hit man trying, with no luck, to off a suicidal Lemmon. It’s Matthau in a walk for all these reasons. But even if all those reasons were erased, I’d still pick him on the strength of three movies: Charley Varrick, The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three and The Bad News Bears, a early-to-mid ‘70s trifecta of excellence that cements him not only as the choice over Lemmon, but into my pantheon of all-time favorite actors as well. Advantage: Matthau.
15) Favorite character name
Oh, how disappointed I was when Puggy D stole my thunder and mentioned Trudy Kockenlocker (Betty Hutton) from Preston Sturges’ great comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek! That name is still my favorite, but since I didn’t get to it first I feel this irrational need to come up with another name. (Somebody also invoked the name of the father of Trudy’s expected, Ignatz Ratskiwatski-- sp?). I like the hardened, homicidal undertones of the name Virgil Starkwell contrasted with the familiar persona of Woody Allen in Take the Money and Run. I like Groucho’s J. Cheever Loophole from At the Circus, but probably because it reminds me of Graham Chapman’s even funnier Raymond Luxury-Yacht (mispronounced “Yatch-t” by Michael Palin, Chapman haughtily corrects him: “It’s spelled Raymond Luxury-Yacht, but it’s pronounced ‘Throatwobbler Mangrove!’”) All of these make me giggle like a schoolgirl, but the one that makes me giggle and gasp just a little comes from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, in which Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer mix up their portrayal of a healthy, “normal” sexual relationship between two African-American characters (rather unusual for 1970) with a little jolt of politically incorrect humor. Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) has taken up a romance with hard-working ambitious law student Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page). But she betrays him by dallying briefly with a studly prizefighter (James Inglehart, in a pretty funny Muhammad Ali takeoff) who turns out not only to be a stallion in the bedroom but also a bit unstable, and maybe even homicidal, as well. His moniker: Randy Black.
16) Favorite screenplay adapted from a work of great literature, either by the author or by someone else
Putting the word “great” in there really does make it difficult just to toss off an answer to this question, doesn’t it? I can think of a lot of terrific films adapted from great works of literature, but an alarming number of them were made from books I haven’t read (I can only bring myself to give one example here, lest I come across as a complete illiterate-- Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day). Also, the screenplay credited to Leigh Brackett for Robert Altman’s reimagining of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye seems too much subjected to the director’s usual improvisation to be considered on its own (although there is a case to be made for Joan Tewkesbury’s adaptation of Edward Anderson’s novel Thieves Like Us.) For me, the question can be best answered, on its own terms, by remembering the wonderful screenplay crafted by John Steinbeck and Mexican actor-director Emilio Fernandez in adapting Steinbeck’s devastating novella of poverty and family tragedy, The Pearl (La Perla) (1947). Honorable mention: David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch.
17) Favorite film of 1974
The year 1974 was a much better one than I remembered. Either that, or it just seems loaded with movies that I loved when I was 14 or have come to love dearly in the time since they were released that year—movies like Big Bad Mama, Chinatown, The Conversation, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, The Groove Tube, Hearts and Minds, Herbie Rides Again, General Idi Amin Dada, The Island at the Top of the World, The Longest Yard, Mahler, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Parallax View, Thieves Like Us and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. But even after a list like that one, there are still five movies that came out that year that I have decided to rank in ascending order, just because I wanted to point out a plethora of true favorites while acknowledging that, for me, there can only be one real choice for 1974. Coming in at number 5): Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three; 4) Martin Scorsese’s Italian/American; 3) Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; 2) Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles; and number one, of course, with several bullets, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II.
18) Joan Severance or Shannon Tweed
Though I’m incapable to thinking of one Shannon Tweed film off the top of my head other than Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death, it’s her curvaceous, much warmer presence in a walk over Severance’s brittle countenance. Tweed is carrying herself into her 50s (!) in such a way as might garner the Angie Dickinson Seal of Approval—if only Tweed could find her Brian de Palma. But was I the only one who didn’t know that she’s been bearing Gene Simmons’ children for 15 years or so? Advantage: Tweed.
19) jackass: the movie-- yes or no?
Absolutely. My sister-in-law once expressed curiosity about it, and after a few minutes taken to make her decision, she decided to see for herself. I’ll always respect her for her pluck in that situation, even though she could only endure it for about 25 minutes. And my favorite comment re jackass: the movie, if I might cannibalize the comments column already, comes from Chris Oliver, who added as an afterthought to his list of responses, that the movie would play exceptionally well as a double feature with Y Tu Mama Tambien: “Viewed together, these two films provide a fantastic amount of insight into the homoerotic nature of male bonding.” All that, plus roller-skating in panda costumes through the streets of Tokyo!
20) Favorite John Cassavetes film
Here (and coming after an endorsement of jackass: the movie, I’m sure this’ll be a real credibility-builder) I have to confess a lot of impatience and/or intolerance with the “methodology” of Cassavetes who, as a director, seems cripplingly overindulgent of his actors and far too reliant on his confidence that truth will somehow emerge from the confluence of the rambling improvisational style he presides over on the set and the Moviola he operates in the editing room. Don’t get me wrong—Cassavetes on his worst day (Husbands) is no Henry Jaglom. I like a lot of Shadows and parts of A Woman Under the Influence just fine. But every time I see a Cassavetes movie I come away convinced that there’s not nearly as much going on there as he, his cast, and his admirers seem to think there is. Still, I have to pick a favorite, so I’ll pick the muted, ramshackle existential nightmare on display in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, or perhaps the poisoned, heartbreaking emotions at the heat of Love Streams. Ultimately, though, I like Cassavetes better as an actor, in those projects, like The Dirty Dozen, Rosemary’s Baby and The Fury, when he was busy “whoring himself” to make money so he could pour himself into a shapeless mess like Opening Night.
21) First R-rated film you ever saw
When I was 12 years old, I talked my mom into taking me and a buddy to the Circle JM Drive-in to see Dirty Harry. I remember, while she was trying to decide whether to take me or not, listening to her stammer and halt in describing how she had trouble with R-rated movies because of the way they typically went about “perverting sex.” I also remember thinking it odd that she’d be more concerned with perverse sex in Dirty Harry than the extreme violence that the film was obviously built around. She finally acquiesced. Unfortunately, she also decided to bring along my 11-year-old sister, who insisted on objecting loudly every time there was a naked breast seen on screen, an extremely uncool move that I thought sure would lead to Mom insisting on an early exit. We made it all the way through, though, and I did survive. Would I take my 12-year-old to see Dirty Harry? Probably not. But I’m glad my mom did. It’s one of those great, very early moments I think back on in my still ongoing development as a discerning fan of cinema (and of extreme violence, too, of course!), and I appreciate to this day her parental indiscretion.
22) Favorite X-rated film (remember that, while your answer may well be a famous or not-so-famous hard-core film, the "X" rating was once also a legitimate rating that did not necessarily connote pornography)
Sorry I can’t force myself to be a little more disciplined on this one, but it seems that if I have an answer to this question, it’s a two, perhaps three-pronged answer. Prong number one: Ken Russell’s The Devils. Prong number two: Russ Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. And if there is a third prong (that’d make it the devil’s trident, wouldn’t it?), it’d be Ralph Bakshi’s adaptation of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat (a movie Crumb hated).
23) Favorite film of 1994
There’s Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, Spike Lee’s Crooklyn and even Adam Resnick’s (and Chris Elliot’s) Cabin Boy, an annual favorite that I throw on when I’m wrapping Christmas gifts. But my favorite(s)—there’s that bracketed “s” again—are at least thematically related this time. Easily the movies
I hold in highest regard from 1994 are Ron Shelton’s brutal, funny and uncomfortably clear-eyed biography of the great baseball player (and ugly human being) Ty Cobb, and Ken Burns’ monumental, exhaustive, imperfect and hugely entertaining historical documentary Baseball. These two movies did more to spark my love of the game than just about anything else, especially during the grim years at Dodger Stadium that were presided over by the baseball geniuses at Fox. (Things are getting grim enough again around Chavez Ravine this season that I’m beginning to wish Burns would do an update, or that Shelton would do a bio of Ted Williams.)
24) Describe a moment in a film that made you weep
I wept through the entirety of Babe and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and most of Million Dollar Baby, so I’ll set them aside for now—I’ve wasted enough Kleenex on them. For a specific moment, though, I’ll pick the conclusion of Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria, when Cabiria, seemingly at her lowest point, gathers herself up and begins walking down a road, apparently destroyed, toward God knows what. But as she continues she accelerates her pace slightly, and after a few minutes she’s got a smile on her face, overjoyed that she’s come out the other end of this experience and is still alive and capable of feeling the world around her. My wife and I saw the luminous Rialto Pictures theatrical re-release in the summer of 1998, not quite a year after suffering a devastating personal tragedy of our own. As we walked out of the theater, my own happiness about the picture swelled into a profound wave of emotion brought on by the afterglow of Cabiria’s resolve. All I remember is walking down the sidewalk and trying to formulate words to express my appreciation of the film to my wife, and suddenly dissolving into tears.
25) Ewan McGregor or Ewen Bremner
Bremner’s logorrheic ranting in Naked, and his diarrheic hi-jinks in Trainspotting would seem to be enough to warrant a recommendation here. But I don’t know if my wife would ever forgive me if I didn’t pick Ewan McGregor. Besides, I really did like him in Shallow Grave, Trainspotting, Brassed Off, Moulin Rouge, Down with Love and Big Fish, and that whole motorcycling across Europe and America thing with Charlie Boorman was pretty cool too, so there can really be only one choice for me. Advantage: McGregor.
26) One of your favorite line readings (not necessarily one of your favorite lines) from this or any year
My God, there must be a million of ‘em floating around in the space between my ears, and as I tried to grasp for one or two of those ethereal straws, my mind kept landing back on one name: Slim Pickens. Surely the way Pickens wraps himself around confounded exclamations like “Holy Mother o’ Pearl!” or “What in the wide, wide world o’ sports is a-goin’ on here?!” (Blazing Saddles) would be great enough to qualify. But those are great readings coupled with lines that are pretty hilarious themselves. Instead, I followed Pickens off the shores of Santa Monica in 1941, where he is being held captive by a crew of nonplussed Japanese sailors in a fog-cloaked submarine. They want to know the location of Hollywood so they can do a torpedo job on this Great American City. Among the personal items found upon Pickens’ character (whose name, Hollis “Holly” Wood, is what gets him roped and tied by his Nipponese captors in the first place) is a box of “dee-licious, noo-tritious Popper Jacks” which just happens to have a toy compass as a prize inside. When it finally dawns on Pickens just what these boys, and their sinister German confederate (Christopher Lee), are really up to, he grabs the compass and swallows it, which leads to him ingesting, under duress, a whole lot of castor oil. The film cuts away from Pickens’ nasty situation for a few minutes, and then goes back to the submarine, where the camera dollies in on a doorway, which opens to reveal Pickens on the toilet, where he snarls, as only Pickens could, “You boys ain’t gettin’ shit outta me!” The line, not as good as “Holy Mother o’ Pearl!” and just a shade obvious, is rendered perfectly hilarious by Pickens’ defiance and deadpan lack of awareness that he’s even addressed the reality of his circumstances. And it is even more perfectly topped later when Pickens fakes some extremely exaggerated grunting so that his captors will think he’s had the Mother (o’ Pearl) of All Bowel Movements and rush into the W.C., where he will ambush them and attempt to escape. There is a beautiful slow dolly in on the face of the Japanese submarine captain (Toshiro Mifune) as the grunting escalates into near hysteria. He grumbles in Japanese (with very helpful English subtitles) while draped with faint dejection over the ship’s periscope, “This has not been honorable.” Another great line reading.
27) What, if any, element in a film would, upon your hearing about it beforehand, would prejudice you against seeing that film or keeping an open mind about it?
I refuse to see Irreversible, and director Gaspar Noe would probably think I was some kind of pussy for that refusal, because the depiction of rape on screen physically repulses me and fills me with a helpless sense of sorrow and empathy with the victim. Even if it is artistically justifiable (the horrifically sudden stairwell assault on Dr. Jennifer Malfi in The Sopranos), I still don’t want to see it. But if it’s going to be sprung on me unexpectedly, as it was when an unhinged Tim Roth brutalized Jessica Lange in Michael Caton-Jones’ marvelous Rob Roy, let there at least be a moment like the one afforded Lange in the aftermath. Roth leaves her crumpled on the floor, she gathers herself with as much dignity as she can muster, and carries herself silently out the front door and across the rocky beach in front of her house, finally coming to rest as she squats in the water and cleans herself, tears silently rolling down her cheeks.
28) Favorite Terry Gilliam film
I recently saw Brazil again after 15 or so years and had to re-evaluate my once-soaring opinion of it—in 2006 it seems kind of small and overly pleased with itself to me. I prefer the rogue tiger Gilliam lets loose, in himself, his actors, his mise-en-scene, in his brilliant high-wire adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The relatively quiet moment when Gilliam stages Thompson staring out his hotel room window and summing up in narration the dashed hopes of a generation (“With the right kind of eyes, you can almost see where the wave crested and broke”) is one of the movies’ best aesthetic justifications of the more-often exhausted concept of a montage built around existing newsreel footage. And I’ll always be grateful that Gilliam’s visualization of the book’s hilarious Circus Circus episode was even better than the one that’s always played out in my mind.
29) Jean Smart or Annie Potts
Jean Smart undeniably has far more range as an actress, and one of the minor pleasures of watching movies (and TV) in the ‘90s and the ‘00s has been seeing just how good she gets as she gets older. But Annie Potts stole my heart in Corvette Summer, and despite the occasional attempt to convince me to leave her by the side of the road (King of the Gypsies) I remain true to this day. And it’s already been said here, probably more times than I’m even aware, but I’ll say it again: “Ghostbusters! Whaddayawant?” Advantage: Potts.
30) Is it possible to know with any certainty whether or not you could love someone based partially on their taste in movies? If yes, is there any one film that might be a deal-breaker, or a dealmaker?
When we were dating, my wife often expressed impatience and outright contempt for what she termed the manipulative tendencies of Robert Altman, and she repeatedly said that she didn’t know what the big deal was about Nashville. And I have never been coy about my distaste for two of her favorites, West Side Story and The Princess Bride. But truth be told, there’s a lot more to speak of that we have in common, cinematic sensibility-wise and in terms of specific titles too, so I feel like just about any disagreements about specific films can be overcome or offset by the discovery of other titles where togetherness can be fostered and celebrated. (Despite her enjoyment of Mission: Impossible, she still hasn’t given De Palma much quarter, however; the old misogyny argument rages on.) I don’t think there’s any particular film that I can think of that would be a deal-breaker. The closest thing I can imagine in that arena would be an open disdain for the movies as a whole, or as an art form. I can’t imagine coexisting with anyone who couldn’t find at least one moment in the movies to which there was no other option than total surrender.
This will probably be my last post for a couple of weeks, barring the occasional quick notice here and there. Life outside the blogosphere has ratcheted up a notch as we move toward the beginning of August—there’s a major housecleaning project on my horizon, and it’s all tied in with visiting relatives who arrive this weekend; a potentially lengthy and detailed interview project is begging to be finished; tomorrow (Friday) night the Southern California Drive-In Movie Society will be shooting an episode of Huell Howser’s California Gold to air on PBS the following weekend; the Mission Tiki’s 50th anniversary party—the Tiki Invasion—gets underway next Saturday, August 5 (and I probably will break my own imposed silence to write about that next week); work at the office is getting busier; and on top of all that, I’m trying to study for my CBEST exam, scheduled for August 12, after which (when I pass with flying colors!) I will begin substitute teaching, the first step on a long road toward getting my teaching certificate (and eventually my Masters) and becoming what I’ve toyed with becoming for several years now-- a schoolteacher. That’s a lot to pack into the next two weeks, so if something’s gotta give, I think it’s gotta be Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, at least until after August 12.
Speaking of that pesky title, thank you to everyone who took the time to offer their thoughts regarding my recent episode during which I considered changing the title of the blog. There was plenty of impassioned commentary in favor of leaving it just as it is, as well as some very funny, tongue-in-cheek suggestions for replacements. But reader Herecreepwretch brought it all into focus, for me and several others, with his very convincing words and evocation of American poet laureate Donald Hall. (That Criterion DVD that I offered up as a prize to whoever came up with the name change that I eventually picked? It's yours, Herecreepwretch. Thanks! Just e-mail me so you can tell me what you want and I'll know here to send it.)
If you haven’t you offered up your responses to Professor Kelp's Chemistry Test and would still like to, please don’t think that the party’s over. Again, I’m going to try to come up with a round-up of sorts compiling the best, funniest, most illuminating answers into one all-purpose easy-to-read post, and that’s probably not gonna happen for another month or so. So if you have answers, let’s hear ‘em— I know several have yet to chime in, and we’ll definitely wait for you, because you always make it worth the wait.
But for now, consider this a sort of leave of absence, a recharging of batteries, and an opportunity to tend to the less glamorous, though no less important aspects of life that can often get away from us (me) while we’re (I’m) focusing on all the fun, creative, expressive stuff. And then there’s that test. Wish me luck! I’m nervous, of course, but confident that it’ll all turn out well, that finally I’m on the course I should have been on 10 years ago. I’m still not too old to become a teacher, but I’m also extremely glad that I’ve finally gotten off my ass about the whole idea and am doing something constructive about it. And no matter what I may say about being too old or tired, I’ll, of course, keep you posted.
See you in a couple of weeks!
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 1:01 AM
Monday, July 24, 2006
Peet started it, That Little Round-Headed Boy ran with it, and now it’s my turn. Thanks to the good folks at You Tube.com, we’ve got a little round of “What’s Your Favorite Tex Avery Cartoon?” developing here, and I’m proud to offer up the next salvo. Here’s my nominee for Favorite Cartoon Ever, a 7:14 blast of cranky fury and comically suppressed pain entitled Rock-a-Bye Bear. In the face of this bear, all teeth and hot breath and jumping-up-and-down anger over a prolonged barrage of hibernatus interruptus, keep your eye on the dropped jowls and detached stare (it’s all about self-preservation) of our put-upon bulldog. This is what it is to have the abyss reflected on one’s face and stare back at it, aghast. I can’t watch this cartoon without convulsing with laughter. I’m at the office now, so I really can’t watch this cartoon. I can’t. Oh, maybe just one time…
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 4:10 PM
By the time I first saw Mako on the big screen, in the 1974 Walt Disney production Island at the Top of the World, I’d probably already seen him 30 or 40 times in one of the various guest-starring roles he had in some of my favorite television shows, such as The Green Hornet, 77 Sunset Strip, McHale’s Navy, Gidget, F Troop, The Time Tunnel, The Streets of San Francisco, Mannix and, of course, Kung Fu. I had not seen The Sand Pebbles, for which Mako received an Oscar nomination, by this time. So his role in Island as the Eskimo guide Oomiak, who helps sincere American David Hartman, snooty Brit Donald Sinden and French comic relief Jacques Marin pilot their dirigible through various troubles in search of a Shangri-la-esque society of Vikings nestled, well, at the top of the world, was my first real impression of the actor. Even though the role was a pretty standard variation on the ethnic sidekick seen in many movies before and since, Mako’s distinct dignity and resistance to the temptation to overact the part branded his visage and his sensibility into my memory. I took notice of him each and every time after that, in films and in television. His was a presence that I always found welcoming, due mostly to his tendency to be cast as wise characters of a certain even temperament in films like Conan the Barbarian, The Bushido Blade, Conan the Destroyer, and Tucker: The Man and his Dreams. But this welcoming presence carried over even to his villainous appearances in films that were controversial within the Asian-American community for their depiction of the dark side of the Asian, and particularly Japanese, character, in films like Philip Kaufman’s adaptation of Michael Chricton’s Rising Sun and Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor, where he depicted no less than Admiral Yamamoto.
Saturday night I received an e-mail from a friend who passed along another friend’s thoughts about Mako, who lost a long battle with esophageal cancer this past week. He reminded us that Mako, who was known professionally only by the one name, used his mother’s surname, Iwamatsu, with those who knew him personally. Mako was the son of activist anti-militarist painters Taro Yashima and Mitsu Iwamatsu, who fled Japan before World War II. Mako was a sickly child and left with his grandparents in Japan. The story of Taro reuniting with Mako after the war is told in Taro's book Horizon is Calling. The e-mail then continues on in an even more personal nature. I don’t know if the author of the e-mail was personally acquainted with Mako, but the tone of the message certainly suggests he was. And if he wasn’t, that may be an even more profound tribute to the actor’s influence and standing within the acting community as a whole, but also within the Asian-American community of performers. He seemed like someone we all knew, and someone whose absence we will all certainly feel. Like my friend’s friend, you may even want to raise a glass in tribute to this fine actor. If you do, let me join you in spirit.
Here’s to you, Mako-chan.
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 3:36 PM
Saturday, July 22, 2006
I walked into the office tonight around 9:00 p.m., thinking I'd relax, do a little work, do a little writing, then go home. But as soon as I began to climb the stairs toward the second floor it felt like someone had left the oven on. The thermostat read 91 degrees and was not responding to any attempt to lower the temperature and get some refrigeration going in here. So here I sit, puddles a-formin', all thoughts of office work having long since flown away on undulated waves of heat, resolved to at least get a reading list posted before I drop another six pounds and go into dehydration shock. Just another damnably hot day (and night, it seems) in Los Angeles. Find a swamp cooler, a fan or, preferably, a nice, air-conditioned room, and click on the following for some fun reading to help the hell-like conditions pass with a minimum of misery.
I'll start off by telling you about a trifecta of new blogs that have taken up residence on my sidebar in the last couple of weeks. My short review of Cars generated a response from one Daniel Thomas MacInnes, who had a very interesting take on the movie, one that I don't remember reading from anyone else who has written about it since its release. Here's Daniel:
"I have mixed feelings about Cars. I've found that a certain charm still lingers days after, and goodness knows everything looks terrific. On the other hand, the script is weak, very cliched and formulaic. I wasn't as enamored with Finding Nemo as many other people are (I made the mistake of watching Studio Ghibli's Whisper of the Heart on the same day I watched Nemo), but I don't remember that movie relying so heavily on sitcom routines and '80s movies like Doc Hollywood.
On a deeper level, Cars serves as a metaphor for the Pixar studio. The film was made while the studio was ending their contract with Disney, and wondering what direction they should take. Could they break away, plow their own independent path, and cut a distribution deal with one of the other major studios? Or should they stay with Disney, embrace the corporate behemoth with all its status and money and opportunity.
So we can forgive Cars for offering an ending that's a bit of a copout. It wants to thread the needle, to have it both ways. I don't know if that's possible, and I'm unsure just how much freedom Pixar had in choosing to walk down the aisle with Disney (the other studios balked at a deal). But Lasseter and his crew have their optimistic hopes, and they've made their choice.
To his own credit, Lasseter received the thumbs-up from Miyazaki. Is there any other person, aside from family, whose opinion matters more to him? Likely not."
Turns out Daniel is a bit of an animation aficionado, with a serious obsession for the output of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and he heads up a blog and a Webzine that are both chockful of fascinating items and reviews of just about any title one can think of. The blog is called Conversations On Ghibli and it is exactly as advertised-- loaded with enticing observations and lots of good writing about one studio that deserves to have lots more written about it, and lots more read about it, especially here in America. And the Webzine, a little more generally positioned, is DanielThomas.Org.
Over on the sidebar of Conversations are exceptionally well written articles and reviews of most of the major Ghibli titles that have seen theatrical and DVD releases here, including three that are on my daughter's heavy rotation list these days-- Pom Poko, a surreal look at urban development and ecological concerns through the prism of Japanese culture and through the eyes of a bunch of shape-shfting raccoons-- and My Neighbors The Yamadas, the story of a typical Japanese family. Both are directed by the great Isao Takahata. Hee's Daniel on The Yamadas:
"A mastery of Japanese zen animation: visually sweeping and grand while being nothing at all. This is among the most daring of all animated movies. Also, it happens to be screamingly funny. Yamadas is an adaptation of a popular newspaper gag strip in Japan, one of those crudely-drawn comics that everyone swears they could do in their sleep if they really, really wanted to. This may seem lke an unusual subject for the naturalist master who gave us Grave of the Fireflies and Omohide Poro Poro, but often, in the midst of all the sheer emotional beauty of his movies, his keen sense of humor can be overlooked. But make no mistake, Takahata can make you laugh as easily as he can make you cry; after this movie, you'll believe he could completely master any genre at will."
Whispers of the Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, is the third Japanese animated film currently occupying my daughter's viewing habits. Daniel describes it as "the best coming-of-age story ever made, full of vigor and wonder, full of the spark of youth."
I'll be catching up on all of Daniel's reviews, I think, because my daughter has become fascinated with the Ghibli oeuvre, and I'm very interested to read fully his review on Pom Poko in particular, which looks to my eye to be the most intriguing and patently odd entry from the studio that I've come across in a while. You may not be as fully immersed in the Studio Ghibli as Daniel is, but you'll still find his writing fascinating, inclusive and free of the esoteric minutiae that tends to bog down similar fully dedicated sites.
A couple of days ago my wife sent me what she termed "a fun movie article," and when I clicked on the link and began to read it I realize how right she was. The article, entitled "Let's Do The Twist: Our Favorite Films the Pull the Old Switcheroo", written by Kim Morgan, who currently writes for the L.A. Weekly, Fandango and Reel.com, and who was once film critic for the Willamette Week and The Oregonian (NORTHWEST ALERT!). The article is far more smartly written than the usual stufff of this sort, and you can tell Morgan is the real deal because the article, the premise of which sideswipes the new M. Night Shamlayan movie Lady in the Water by talking about that particular Shamlayanian albatross, the twist ending, doesn't go for all the obvious mentions. Morgan includes Charade, The Others, Oldboy and Les Diaboliques in her top-ten roundup, and her observations are sharp, to the point and consistently, addictively entertaining.
So imagine my happy surprise when, at the bottom of the article, there was this note: "She also writes for her blog, Sunset Gun." Intriguing title, and Morgan delivers. Sunset Gun is a treasure trove of Morgan's delightful, propulsive and brash film criticism, with lots and lots of links to previously published articles and reviews, as well as detailed examinations of stars like Frances Farmer, movies like Nicholas Ray's In A Lonely Place, Hedy Lamarr's steamy Ecstasy,
Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly (Morgan's entry in Jim Emerson's Opening Shots project) and turbo-charged posts like "Car Power--Greatest Car Movies". Check out what Kim Morgan has to offer at Sunset Gun, one of my favorite new blogs, and see if you don't get lost in the linkage catching up with all the excellent writing and surprising points of view she has at the ready. And she was an Oregonian, at least for a while! What's not to like?
And finally, another word about Peet Gelderblom's blog Lost In Negative Space, which Peet might describe, in a lighthearted way, as the dark underbelly of his Web site for serious film writing and discussion 24 Lies A Second. Which is not to say that Negative Space ain't serious-- his excellent posts on UPA Animation and Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War ought to be evidence enough of a mind at work that takles movies seriously. But then there's also stuff like Peet's series on Embarrassing Movie Posters to keep us laughing, cringing and gawking in amazement. Do pay him a visit, won't you? He hails from Amsterdam, as does the blog, but you can read Peet and drop a comment for a WHOLE lot less than the cost of a plane ticket to Holland.
There's an excellent troika of writing on music that caught my eye this week too that is well worth passing along. First, That Little Round-Headed Boy is asking all of us who gleefully spun Peter Frampton's landmark live album Frampton Comes Alive back when we were in high school or junior high to take a moment and pay our repsects as the album celebrates it's 30th anniversary this week. TLRHB expressed surprise when I admitted to being one who couldn't get enough of the album-- particularly side four's unbeatable one-two punch of "Lines on My Face" (approximately 7:45) and "Do You Feel Like I Do" (approximately 14:30). But I was, and I still dip into it on occasion, this week, thanks to TLRHB's keen remembrance, being one of those occasions.
Jim Emerson has a bit of extra-readable reportage on Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's accusation that the premise of the none-too-well-received Owen Wilson vehicle You, Me and Dupree was cribbed from their Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature, and in particular the song "Cousin Dupree." But Jim takes the item and runs with it, suggesting that the title track from the Dan's 1980 masterwork Gaucho is perhaps even more intimately and intricating related to Wilson and company's allegedly plagiarized concept. No static at all? Perhaps a little this time.
And finally, writer Hua Hsu dives into the undulating, turbulent pool that is Thom Yorke's psyche, as self-plumbed on his first solo album sans the participation of Radiohead. The album is called The Eraser, and it's a very good one. Hsu honors it with one of the best-written, most honestly observed pieces of rock criticism I've read in a while. Well, in truth, I stopped reading most rock criticism because it usually isn't this good. But I might gleefully start back on my habit if Hua Hsu keeps working the trade.
Dave Kehr is getting back to the much-appreciated business of writing lots of good, short, potent reviews and posting them on his blog. Some of the stuff that has popped up there lately are terrific bits on the long-out-of-circulation Bob Hope-Katharine Hepburn vehicle The Iron Petticoat, Robert Aldrich's The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (second unit directed by Sergio leone), James Cagney in Gordon Douglas's Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, and Bela Lugosi in Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire, as well as a couple of titles fresh out of the developing bath-- Lady in the Water and the exceptionally scary-funny Monster House.
If you picked up the entertainment section of any newspaper this week, you';re probably aware of the arrival of Kevin Smith's Clerks 2, the 12-years-later follow-up to his 1994 independent film sensation. Jim Emerson checked in with an opinionated take on Smith's perfectly timed run-in with "film critic" Joel Siegel, and Ray Pride at Movie City News has a follow-up and interview with the increasingly thin-skinned director. The blog at IFC TV checks in on the subject with a little something called "The Art of Storming Out." And Sean Burns has fun hanging out with Smith and then dares to be honest and give Clerks 2 a mostly negative review. That's sure to be a topic of conversation the next time Burns requests an interview or a screening of the next Kevin Smith movie. I've usually liked Smith's movies (Clerks, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and even the maligned Jersey Girl) and have occasionally loved them (Chasing Amy, Dogma), but this recent exposure of his obsession with those who criticize his work, and the lashing out that comes out of his apparently far-reaching insecurity has definitely cast him and his work in a different light for me. I'm still looking forward to Clerks 2, but after reading this week's Kevin news I'm filled with a trifle more trepidation that I've ever had going into A Kevin Smith Film before.
Brian Darr, master chronicler of the San Francisco festival and revival scene on the truly awe-inspiring blog Hell On Frisco Bay is in Seventh Heaven writing about "A Silent Film Weekend." Dig, if you will, the flickering pictures from part one and then part two of Brian's exhaustive, envy-making post.
You'll need a couple of hours if you head over and catch up with Tom Sutpen and If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There'd Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats. Tom's addictive site is like a photo tabloid for smart people and, like those damned potato chips, you can't click on just one...
Girish complements the Scanners Opening Shots project with his own unique and trenchant observations on a very much related subject, the long take, and in particular some of those who practice it particularly well, like Hou Hsiao-hsien.
Michael Guillen devotes a couple of sessions of The Evening Class to piqueing my interest in a couple of horror films, one new, one old. First, a grotesque tale of cannibalism called Feed, the other a lesser-known title from the oeuvre of giallo master Dario Argento: Four Flies on Grey Velvet.
The Self-Styled Siren has posted a fascinating survey devoted to the Great Voices of the Screen. To her excellent list, which includes Sydney Greenstreet, Claude Rains, William Powell, Jean Arthur and many others, I would respectfully add the great, gravelly-voiced character actor Eugene Palette. Add your favorite in her comments column! And there's a wealth of excellent writing under the Siren's umbrella, so don't just stop at this post. Click, click, click, and find a little corner of film blogging bliss.
And finally, Eric over at the deliriously titled When Canses Were Classeled (there's a story behind it, and if you ask Eric might just tell it), has the equally delirious and hilarious opening credits from Brewster McCloud all You-Tubed and ready to go. You have not lived until you've heard Margaret Hamilton try to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," and then jump down the throats of her marching band accompaniment when things don't go as planned. You must see it! And while you're there, visit Eric's fabulous series of Brian De Palma screen grabs, including shots and analysis from Blow Out, The Fury, Body Double and Raising Cain. Absolutely great stuff.
That's it. Three hours later, and it's dropped to a positively brisk 89 degrees in here. I'm thinking of offering myself up with a four cheese-and-pepperoni topping if I don't get out of here soon. Belated wishes for an excellent (and somewhat frigid) weekend for you all. Thanks to everyone whose links you see above for keeping the blogosphere such an entertaining, elightening and edifying place to hang out. Ciao!
Posted by Dennis Cozzalio at 11:53 PM