Tuesday, April 29, 2008

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ: LEAVING THE HOUSE WITH ALL THE LIGHTS ON



I recall being an avid reader of Matt Zoller Seitz’s reviews in the New York Press and even the Newark Star-Ledger long before he first turned the key to open The House Next Door back in January 2006. And I remember the sense of excitement I had at the prospect of one of my favorite film critics turning his attention to blogging. Back in that first post, Matt talked about the title of his site:

“My grandfather, a self-educated German-American farmer from Olathe, Kansas, believed that no journey, however seemingly circuitous or self-destructive, was ever truly unnecessary, or even avoidable. Sometimes we just have to continue along a particular path for inexplicable, personal reasons, disregarding warnings of friends and family and perhaps our own internal voices, until we arrive at our destination, whatever it may be. This type of journey, my grandfather said, was the equivalent of ‘driving around the block backward to get to the house next door.’”

Well, it seems now that, if he hasn’t completed his journey, then he’s made it around the block. In a lengthy transcript of a podcast conversation with Keith Uhlich, Matt has revealed that he will be leaving the world of print (and Internet) film criticism, after 17 years, in order to pursue full-time his talents and inspirations as a filmmaker. (Keith will assume House-keeping duties as the overseeing editor.) Those who have seen Matt’s first feature,Home, already know that this announcement hardly heralds a shot in the dark. The movie pulsates with keen observations about human behavior and a convivial atmosphere both in subject—a house party where connections are made remade, and broken—and spirit of filmmaking. He shows a remarkable fluency and agility with narrative conventions in Home that often conjures up the benevolent spirit of Robert Altman. As David Hudson has already noted, it’s clear that Matt is not making this decision lightly and has considered the implications from A to Z. From a purely selfish perspective, I have ambivalent feelings about Matt’s announcement-- it’s going to be weird not having his writing to refer to on a regular basis, at the House and in The New York Times. On the other hand, as someone who loves the art of film, as we all do, it’s hard not to be excited at the prospect of witnessing a genuinely intelligent voice move into producing and directing movies. For all of us who complain loudly about the dumbing-down of American movies, indies as well as Hollywood blockbusters, this is definitely one for the good guys.

I share the feelings of Jim Emerson, who was the one to break the news to me today. Jim wrote of Matt’s announcement, “When I consider the exceptional, collegial atmosphere among our extended network of movie bloggers, and how much we learn and grow through exposure to one another's work, there's nobody of whom I'm prouder to consider myself a ‘colleague.’” In early 2006 I interviewed Matt at length, with the intention of posting it here on this blog. But shortly after came the devastating, sudden loss of Matt’s wife, Jennifer, and suddenly the interview didn’t seem relevant anymore. In Matt’s own words, “I’m not the same person now that I was when we talked.” So the interview was shelved, and instead we began exchanging occasional phone calls. And in January of 2007, during a trip to Los Angeles, Matt and I finally met in person. We tossed back some beers at a local Burbank watering hole and talked about Jennifer, traded stories of fatherhood, and of course yammered on about the movies. Three hours later we parted company, and though I haven’t seen him in the flesh since, I feel like, through that extended network of movie bloggers Jim refers to, Matt has, as have many others, always been as close as a quick posted comment. And his announcement today makes me more glad than ever to be able to call him my friend.

In dropping my own comment on Matt’s site today, I told him that “as this is only a good-bye to a particular form of expression, I'll try not to allow myself to sound as if it's anything more than that.” Matt will still be around, making the occasional contribution to The House Next Door, and maybe even popping up here every once in a while when the urge to not-lurk grabs him. He’s off on an adventure that I feel confident will take him places that will create for him even truer, more fulfilling avenues of expression than has his distinguished career as a film critic. He leaves us today with one more indication that we will have many gems of cinema to treasure from him in the future. Here is his tribute to his wife Jennifer Dawson, a moving journey which ought to make each one of us understand the privilege of being so deeply loved.



Thanks for all the great work you’ve done so far, Matt, and all that is surely to come. Be talking to ya soon!

UPDATE APRIL 30 12:49 a.m.: Jim has put together a brief tribute to Matt's House-pitality that is as eloquent a testament to this talented writer-- one in which Matt's words speak for themselves-- as I could imagine. Thanks, Mr. Emerson.

Friday, April 25, 2008

JOE DANTE'S NEW BEVERLY MOVIE ORGY



In the age of instant gratification, when giant chunks of a studio’s back catalog of classic and not-so-classic films are available at the click of a queue button, once-in-a-lifetime experiences are a pretty rare commodity. But those in attendance Tuesday night at the New Beverly Cinema here in Los Angeles witnessed one, the real deal, to close out Dante’s Inferno, the two-week film festival hosted by director and raconteur extraordinaire Joe Dante. Dante delighted audiences throughout the series with picks from an eclectic roster of personal favorites (some of the prints shown were his), each introduced by the director with his typical self-deprecating humor and displays of his seemingly boundless, encyclopedic knowledge of film. But on Tuesday Dante brought out a real treasure to share with the faithful— the long-whispered-about but rarely seen Movie Orgy, a four and a half-hour-long melting pot of movie and TV clips pureed and reconstructed around the narrative spines of such trash classics as Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, Beginning of the End, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and the teen rebel cheapie Speed Crazy starring Brett Halsey. (This “short” version—the original ran over seven hours—is actually billed on-screen as Son of Movie Orgy Rides Again; its origins, and much, much more, are discussed here.)

The Movie Orgy isn’t really a movie. It’s more like a hallucinatory party for the certifiably movie mad. What began in 1968 as a lark instigated by two creative movie fans (Dante and his close friend, future producer Jon Davison) soon became an event, an explosion of movie geek love that morphed into a small cult phenomenon-- the one existing print toured college campuses in the dark shadows of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War before being retired in the early ‘70s. Dante says before transferring it to DVD just before last Tuesday’s screening that he hadn’t seen it himself in nearly 30 years. And for years those who remember seeing it back in the day would recount their experiences with it to fans of Dante’s work who could only imagine the anarchic sensibility of the Orgy, the best evidence of it being the myriad ways it seemed to have informed Dante’s subsequent movies and his identity as a director.

Tuesday night Joe Dante’s fans began lining up at the box office at 5:30 p.m. for their own chance to see what the Orgy was all about. I was joined by my friend Aaron, who came all the way from Winnipeg for Dante’s Inferno. We were in the sixth and seventh spots in line and spent a half hour or so commiserating with actor Clu Gulager, a self-confessed film geek and a regular at the New Beverly, who was right behind us in the number-eight slot. (Also spotted in the crowd—Allan Arkush, Jon Davison, Bill Hader—one half of the police presence in Superbad-- Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino.)

When show time finally arrived, Dante seemed to relish his introduction; clearly he was curious to see what an audience 40 years removed from the one for which The Movie Orgy and its chaotic pastiche of ‘50s and ‘60s movie, TV, advertising and educational film references was intended, would make of the film. He reemphasized that it was always intended as a movie to be walked out on, and even went so far as to encourage everyone to get up and move about during the screening, take a pee, go outside, have a smoke, grab a pizza and come back at our leisure. This was a movie made for inebriation of all sorts, he suggested, before a last-minute warning about the general tastelessness and silliness we were about to witness. But this audience was already inebriated with anticipation and movie love—if Joe Dante was worried about how The Movie Orgy would play after all these years, he needn’t have been. In addition to being as spasmodically, recklessly entertaining as any four and a half-hour-long movie marathon I’ve ever seen (hmm, have I seen any others?), The Movie Orgy was remarkable as an opportunity to peek inside the brain of a brilliant movie director and see the nascent manifestation of a comic sensibility, political worldview and all-encompassing passion for low-fi moving images all rolled up and twisted together in an untamed package that can be directly correlated to the films he would spend the next 40 years bringing to life.


In The Movie Orgy, Dante and Davison boldly and proudly mash up the sophisticated and the sophomoric. Their slice-and-dice aesthetic is hardly random though; the narrative lines of those sci-fi movies that provide what there is of the Orgy's spine are routinely violated by the intercutting of TV commercials, patches of industrial and sex education films and political speeches (1968 being the point of origin here, Nixon gets kicked around plenty). Each time the movie lurches back into the “story” of whatever film is being revisited, the surrounding footage more often than not subtly, and sometimes not-so-subtly, provides deranged commentary on what preceded it. (One clip, from a children’s show hosted by Andy Devine, has the potential in sheer creeping weirdness to drop even the most jaded viewer’s jaw to the floor—it involves tying live animals, a cat and a squirrel, to tiny musical instruments and forcing them to perform while the endearingly off-kilter host giddily looks on.) What’s particularly exciting about The Movie Orgy is seeing Dante and Davison discover the comic and satiric possibilities of editing, juxtaposing found footage that draws out inferences and perspectives about the material, and about the burning world outside, that must have been heady and cathartic for the student audiences of the time who gobbled it up. Butted up against clips of Nixon, old footage exposing the casual racism of the time, and a genuinely weird Bufferin ad campaign which crops up throughout the program (in one of several varying scenarios, a caring, put-upon college dean frets about campus unrest, then pops a Bufferin to ease his pain-- “Strong medicine for sensitive people”), one starts to get a time-capsule picture of a world in chaos that might be unexpected if one was anticipating merely a hodgepodge of straight nostalgia for baby-boomers. (In his introduction, Dante pointedly drew parallels between that time and this—unpopular president, unpopular war, crumbling economy—before noting that the difference after 40 years is the absence of the draft, which added fuel to the fires of a generation’s distrust of establishment authority.)

But The Movie Orgy also finds Dante and Davison playing with the possibilities of editing in ways that presage their duties as the trailer cutting department for New World Pictures several years later. One bit finds what was originally a long take of a man trying to stuff a tennis racket into a suitcase shattered into fragments, extended and hilariously sandwiched between various clips over a half hour of running time. Each new piece builds upon the knowledge of the previous piece, the harsh cutaways adding an edge of absurdity to a bit of comedy that was droll at best in its original form. Entire episodes of TV shows like The Return of Rusty and Tales of the Texas Rangers are presented with full credits and lead-in sponsored commercials, only to have the body to the show reduced to a quick spasm of action—Rusty literally returning, a fistfight between Ranger and roughneck—before rolling straight into the end credits. And in the Orgy’s most transcendently riotous joke, whenever the Orgy returns its deficit attention to Speed Crazy, it’s to feature Halsey repeating a variation on his character’s sullen mantra, “Don’t crowd me, man,” which he apparently does at least 20 times. (The line was later directly referenced by teen rebel Paul Rudd in Dante’s terrific remake of Runaway Daughters.)

It’s worth noting again that the print we saw Tuesday night is the only print in existence of the Orgy. It traveled all around the country in various states of disrepair, patched together with glue and prayer, and was physically assembled, as it was often reassembled, by splicing tape with no visual reference point such as a Moviola screen. Just to contemplate this reality, in an age when any joe (lower-case) with a computer, or even an AVID editing system, could easily produce a similar, much slicker bombardment of images, is to understand the movie love and intelligence behind this anything-but-slick project. And this understanding adds a bittersweet edge to the experience too—every time I found myself thinking about how I couldn’t wait to see a bit, or the entirety of The Movie Orgy again, I had to remind myself that I probably never will.

The Orgy itself, building on the framework provided by Speed Crazy, Attack of the 50-Foot Woman and those other titles, accelerates to a frenzy of chases and explosions, giant monster attacks and giant monster deaths, with an all-too-appropriate multiple orgasm of “The End” cards and a trail of Academy leader signifying the satisfying close to this by now close-to-hallucinatory experience. I have never seen a packed New Beverly crowd erupt into a standing ovation before last Tuesday night. I suspect if Dante and the New Beverly put together a Dante’s Inferno II, which is reportedly more than just a rumor, that it will not be the last. (Diablo Cody is up next with a festival of her favorites in July.)

One of the most heartening things to see emerge from the shadow of owner Sherman Torgan’s death last summer, and the series of genre and director-oriented screenings and festivals that have highlighted the New Beverly Cinema’s schedule over the last year, is how much of a true film community has gathered around the theater, turning the New Beverly itself into a bit of a cult phenomenon. Since making the theater a more than semi-regular habit over the past year, I’ve started to notice and recognize many familiar faces who undoubtedly attend screenings far more regularly than I, and it was my singular pleasure Tuesday to finally meet Sherman’s son Michael, who is doing such a fine job carrying on his father’s revival theater legacy. Especially for an event like The Movie Orgy, but even during the regular calendar, there’s a true, burgeoning sense of community and even camaraderie present here, a sense of shared experience and desire to see great, unusual, rare movies, but also to see the New Beverly survive. Programs like Dante’s Inferno, and people like the enthusiastic throng that greeted The Movie Orgy Tuesday night, feed this experience and strengthen the prospects for this now-unique enterprise surviving, even as the general experience of collective movie-watching yields to the isolated consumption of movies in the home theater environment. For those who feel the love, the New Beverly Cinema is a nightly movie orgy, one for which I wish long life and continued good prints.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

CELEBRATING 75 YEARS OF DRIVE-IN MOVIES



Photo Courtesy of DeAnza and Vonderland

At the risk of this site turning into a source of constant trumpeting about the great opportunities we Southern Californians have daily to drink at the well of some pretty thirst-quenching viewing opportunities, let me point out yet another special event coming up this weekend. This April 26 The Southern California Drive-In Movie Society begins its fourth (!) summer of celebrating this not-at-all dead, but instead resurging and uniquely American institution. This year is the 75th anniversary of the drive-in movie, pioneered by Richard Hollingshead in 1933, and SoCalDIMS has plenty in store to mark the occasion, as do drive-ins all around the Los Angeles area, as well as other parts of the country. The Mission Tiki Drive-in has the Punk Rock Drive-in outdoor festival scheduled monthly through September, as well as its second all-day-and- into-the-night Tiki Invasion II, featuring 10 different bands, a burlesque revue, a hot rod car show and a geat opportunity to see genuine drive-in movie classics like Death Race 2000, Zombie and Invasion of the Bee Girls on the giant outdoor screen, just like God intended. The Mission Tiki also has what promises to be a great all-night Monsterama Halloween horror movie festival scheduled for October. (More on these last two coming soon.)

But this weekend it's all happening at the Vineland Drive-in in City of Industry, where the Southern California Drive-in Movie Society will kick off its fourth season in celebration of the 75th anniversary of drive-in history with this summer’s first Drive-in Tailgate Party. The web site has all the information you need on what t bring, when to get there, as well as a schedule for when and where the SoCalDIMS group will be landing throughout the summer. There’s also a trivia question scavenger hunt on the web site that could lead someone to a great prize. I’ll even give you the trivia question:

What 1974 comedy had its world premiere at the Pickwick Drive-in in Burbank, with everyone attending on horseback?

If you know the answer and you can go to the Vineland this weekend, head to the SoCalDIMS web site to find out all the details about where to find the answer (it’s buried somewhere on the site) and how to collect your prize in person while you’re kicked back behind your car in a patio chair, having a lovely drive-in snack and waiting for the moon to come up over a great movie. Sounds like a good time to me. See you there!

(In addition to the Vineland's program information, available on the SOCalDIMS web site, and the Mission Tiki's great page, please check out the links to some other favorite Southern California drive-in locations-- the Van Buren Drive-in (featuring, I kid you not, the world's greatest drive-in snack bar, built around a spectacular grill where fresh carne asada is prepared all night long), the smaller-scaled (and even better for it) Rubidoux Drive-in, and the wonderful South Bay Drive-in in San Diego.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

FACES I LOVE #10: THE LADIES ROOM


And now the women...


Karen Allen


Rachel McAdams


Margo Martindale


Tina Fey


Patsy Kelly


Viola Davis


Edwige Fenech (1970)


Edwige Fenech (2007)


Maggie Q


Deborah Kerr


Alexandra Maria Lara


Michelle Williams

FACES I LOVE #10: GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT


Yes, it's another installment of the wildly popular series of galleries dedicated to the faces that make me sit up and take notice, draw me in, cheer me up and keep me riveted whenever I'm lucky enough to come across them on TV or the big screen. First up, the boys.


G.D. Spradlin


Kurt Russell


Bruce McGill


Edgar Buchanan


Ciaran Hinds


James Coburn


Russell Martin


Keenan Wynn


Lee Van Cleef

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SERGIO LEONE RETURNS TO SPAIN



How are your frequent flyer miles stacking up? Because you might need them. Anne Thompson reports that Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy (A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) will be hitting the road to Southern Spain, where the movies were shot in the early ‘60s, courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow Tour. Imagine seeing The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and then hopping a bus to the graveyard where Tuco and Angel Eyes meet their respective fates. I don’t know if you could actually do this—the graveyard was most likely created by the film’s production designer—but it sure puts a smile on my face to think that you could! And the good folks at Tuco Tours make it their business to know—they give extensive tours of many of the locations seen in the Leone masterpieces!

The screenings take place June 6-8 in Almeria, Spain, so book your flight now.





Here's the trailer for A Fistful of Dollars, just because...

And in case you can’t make the transcontinental hop, here’s good news for Los Angeles viewers: among the Nuart’s wonderful summer schedule of revival films (check out the keen new format for their calendar), which includes Cabaret, Rear Window, Jaws, the re-release of Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt and a brand-new 35mm print of Planet of the Apes, the theater is staging a festival to commemorate the 90th anniversary of United Artists coming May 2-8. Here’s the schedule:


Friday, May 2: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Saturday, May 3: The Great Escape
Sunday, May 4: West Side Story
Monday, May 5: Double Feature! The Apartment and Annie Hall
Tuesday, May 6: Double Feature! Dr. No and The Thomas Crown Affair
Wednesday, May 7: Double Feature! Midnight Cowboy and Women in Love
Thursday, May 8: Double Feature! Some Like It Hot and The Pink Panther

(Check the calendar for specific show times.)

Whew. Gotta go get a cold towel. Thanks, Anne, for the Leone tip!

Monday, April 14, 2008

JOE DANTE, YOUR MOVIE ORGY M.C.


MORE UPDATES! THURSDAY APRIL 17!


Last Friday, April 4, before I was briefly sidelined, I had the privilege of visiting Joe Dante in his office on the Warner Hollywood lot to talk about the movies he’s programmed as the curator of the Dante’s Inferno film festival at the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles. The festival is now nearing its midpoint, with lots of great stuff still waiting in the wings (or hanging from the rafters), and it was great fun sitting down to talk with one of my filmmaking favorites, someone who represents to me a perfect encapsulation and expression of the kind of movie fan, like myself, who grew up believing he was the only one who felt so strongly about the movies. In Dante’s case, he grew up to make terrific entertainments and the occasional masterpiece based on a pop culture-fed sensibility that has never been satisfied to regurgitate familiar bits and pieces, as well as maddeningly precise arcana, for its nostalgic appeal. Dante fuses pop, politics, satire and a bracing yet benign cynicism and enriches movies that in other hands might be rote projects-for-hire with a distinct point of view on the world. It is a mistake to think of The ‘burbs, for example, as simply a Tom Hanks comedy—that movie has barely hidden under its zany fa├žade a cackling, dark streak worthy of Brian De Palma, and a surgically precise critique of its own audience laying in wait for anyone casual enough to think the movie won’t bite. And in simply magnificent movies like Explorers and Gremlins 2: The New Batch Dante redefines the boundaries of the genre film, exploding the old wineskin (in the case of G2) or turning it inside out, as in Explorers, which refashions the conventions of his mentor Steven Spielberg into something uniquely magical, uniquely expectation-busting, uniquely Dante. Dante’s movies are infectiously entertaining, and so is the director in person; he’s a virtual oracle of cinematic knowledge, as well as a genuinely friendly, generous and affable person. And just try to keep up with the references he accesses like breaths of air-- to do so is to indulge in a futile, but heady pursuit. There just aren’t many who can keep up with Joe Dante. Best not to try. Better to just let him roll and convince you of the unexpected joys of some of the most unlikely movies you probably never heard of. Trust me; you’ll have a great time. We begin by talking about his legendary project The Movie Orgy, which screens as the festival’s closing-night feature.

***********************************************************************

DC: Let’s talk about The Movie Orgy. I recalled hearing something about it several years ago, but when it was announced on the New Beverly schedule, to be honest I wasn’t even sure what it was.

JD: I’m not sure what it is either! (Laughs)

DC: Is it something that is constantly evolving?

JD: It was constantly evolving from 1968 to about 1977, and it’s hard to explain exactly what it is. It started out as Camp Movie Night at the Philadelphia College of Art. The Batman serial had just been released, the 1943 serial, which really astonished a lot of people because they’d never seen anything that racist before. It was all run in one sitting, so it was, like, five hours. People camped out, had a party, got pizza—it was a lot of fun. So serials had come back-- the whole idea of watching serials had come back. And I had all this extra footage—I was collecting films, all these pieces and bits, and I decided to run this Bela Lugosi serial, The Phantom Creeps, interspersed with other footage. Sometimes we would cut stuff directly into the serial. Anyway, it was pretty popular, and it eventually evolved into a somewhat more complex version that ran at NYU in 1968. It was a tremendous success—people were hanging off the rafters—and there had been an admission charge, so there was quite a bit of money. And while we were running it at Columbia University, somebody from Schlitz Beer came and said, “We would like to take this around on a tour of college campuses. We’ll give you $100 a night, you run the film and we sell beer.” So we said, “Okay!” And by now the thing was seven hours long, and at that point we couldn’t afford—What we would do is, we would legitimately rent three features. So we had one projector that ran the feature, and when it came to a dull part we would go to another projector, which had all kinds of odds and ends on it, and we’d run that we’d spun down into the next part of the feature that was interesting. But that got to be very time-consuming and very complicated, so we ended up just buying features and cutting them up. Ultimately, we had this seven-hour movie orgy that ran from coast to coast. And it was a product of its time—it was 1968, it was very political, very anti-military, very antiestablishment, it was in terrible taste (Laughs). But it also appealed to the nostalgic in baby boomers, because a lot of the TV shows we used were things they hadn’t seen since they were kids—this stuff wasn’t as readily available as it is now. They’d see this stuff, and they were in seventh heaven. They would react to things like a clip from an old TV show—everybody would “ooh!” and “ahh!” When Peter Graves says in Beginning of the End, “You can’t drop an atom bomb on Chicago!” it brought down the house, because the Chicago riots had just happened. So it was very much something of its time. The problem was that, as the Schlitz people told us, “Sometimes the kids don’t get some of the older stuff. Can’t you put some newer stuff in there?” So we would change it up and put in new things occasionally. But there was an interesting development. The newer shows, like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Flintstones, were self-aware, and they weren’t as funny as the movies of the past that were sincerely trying to say something and not doing it well. As soon as they got self-aware, the material wasn’t as funny. So eventually it got to the point where we just started filling it up with stuff that I didn’t think was funny and eventually abandoned it. In the meantime, we had one print and flew it to college campuses all over the country—we actually hired somebody to do it for us because Jon Davison and I were now working for Roger Corman and we didn’t have time to go off and follow it around. I would say it must have played every university in the country over a ten-year period.

DC: The way you put it together—

JD: It was put together with spit and glue. We only had one print and one splicer! There was no mixing, there was no color correction—whatever condition the film was in was what we had to work with We had to constantly refocus because it was all on different film stocks. And any kind of funny juxtaposition that we could make had to be done with the existing soundtrack, which meant sometimes we’d have to cut things so that the overlap from the previous shot was the joke when it overlapped the next shot.

DC: The whole project speaks to a very specific kind of film love. Today, with an AVID you could do something similar, but without the sweat and the inspiration.

JD: No, this is completely different. This is made with human hands. We called it A 2001 Splice Odyssey. But I don’t know what people will make of it today. I really don’t. I do remember at the time that some people said it was the greatest movie they’d ever seen, but that may have been because they were ingesting controlled substances (Laughs).

DC: Did you try to be really pointed in the way you juxtaposed images and sounds, or was it a more random kind of jumble to see what would shake out? Because, having not yet seen it myself, it almost sounds like a primitive form of film as film criticism.

JD: Sometimes there were definite political points or jokes. And it does have a certain sort of meta-critic element. But I haven’t seen it with an audience in 30 years. So it’ll be very interesting to see what their reaction is.

DC Especially the reaction of an audience who, over 30 years, has been exposed to a lot of random image juxtaposition that has seeped into the ways movies are now made and seen.

JD: Although I will say I think there’s things in The Movie Orgy that they’ve never seen. And it’s free, so they’d better get there early.

DC: You used to write for Famous Monsters of Filmland.

JD: Well, I wrote a letter to Famous Monsters which they printed as an article. But I used to write for Castle of Frankenstein. That was the competition.

DC: Did you just inundate them with material until they sat up and noticed?

JD: Well, everybody wrote to Famous Monsters. I wrote tons of letters trying to get my name in print. That was the whole deal. The coolest thing in the world was to get your name in Famous Monsters. I wrote all sorts of laundry lists—the best movies I ever saw, etc., etc. The worst movies I ever saw, that’s the one they printed—the 50 worst movies of all time, some of which I hadn’t seen. (I was 13.) So that was my first published stuff, although I think Forry (Famous Monsters founder Forrest J. Ackerman) put my name in earlier—I would send him tidbits. But it wasn’t until I was writing for Cal Beck at Castle of Frankenstein that I was really writing.

DC: It was at least consistent work?

JD: Well, they didn’t pay you anything. I handed in reviews and stuff like that. Eventually I criticized an article they had done about movies on TV and they said, “Why don’t you do a real survey of all the horror movies on TV? Start with A, B, C--” So they turned it into an ongoing thing that was in every other issue. I think I got up to “R” and the magazine went out of business.

DC: Some play fantasy baseball. Some play fantasy football. Were you one of these kids, like I was, who would sit at home and program their fantasy drive-in calendars or weekend Creature Feature double bills?

JD: Oh, sure! I collected movie ads. I would cut them out of the paper and make up different double bills. I did all that stuff.

DC: I know when I was growing up I assumed I was the only one.

JD: That was the great thing about Famous Monsters. The appearance of that magazine made a lot of kids realize they weren’t alone. There was a network of people who were interested in all the things they were interested in that no one else around them was. You can look back on it and say, well, it wasn’t much of a magazine, which it really wasn’t. But the transformative effect, the unifying effect that it had on an entire generation was amazing.

DC: It seems you can’t find anyone who’s of a certain age in this business, whether it’s writing, effects, directing, who didn’t read that magazine at some point.

JD: Remember, when that magazine came out, there were no magazines like it. In 1958 alone there were five or six different competitors that put out similar magazines, and from 1958-60 there were tons-- World Famous Creatures, Monster Parade and all these imitations. Then there was Horror Monsters and Mad Monsters, which was really cheap, printed on really crappy paper, and they lasted quite a while.

DC: Where did you go to school? Where did the Movie Orgy get its start?

JD: I was in Livingston, New Jersey, for quite a while, and then we moved to Parsippany in 1957, which was not nearly as good a place to live because it wasn’t centrally located, it didn’t have a neighborhood theater so you had to go far away to see movies. And the kids there were not my kind of kids, so I probably became even more insular there. That’s when I started making home movies. Then I went to the Philadelphia College of Art.

DC: Is that where you hooked up with Jon Davison?

JD: Yes. He was actually still in high school then. We met at a science fiction society that met in Philadelphia. Isaac Asimov used to show up there all the time. We would go to that together sometimes, but mostly we just went to the movies.

DC: Was it you and he that developed The Movie Orgy?

JD: Yeah. He was sort of the entrepreneur. He got it out to the public. He’s the one who came out to Los Angeles first, in 1973, to work for Roger Corman, on the recommendation of Martin Scorsese, who was one of his teachers at NYU. It was another friend of ours, Jonathan Kaplan, that actually came out here first. Roger would go to Marty and say, “Who’s coming up that I can use?” So Jon eventually asked me to come out here and work on trailers, and Allan Arkush and I became the New World Pictures trailer department. Instead of them hiring piecemeal editors and having to tell them what to do, we could tell them our style and then we’d just do it. For a number of years we did that, and then we finally asked Roger to let us make a movie. He said, “You have to keep making trailers! Make the movie like you make the trailers—cheap and short.” So we made Hollywood Boulevard, sort of a New World home movie.

DC: Hollywood Boulevard is one of those movies—

JD: That not many people saw! (Laughs)

DC: I always dreamed of seeing it in a drive-in.

JD: It didn’t play very many places.

DC: But it’s such a great time capsule of that sensibility and that period of ‘70s B-movie exploitation.

JD: Well, it’s really a home movie for us. All our friends are in it. It’s like a documentary. (Laughs)

DC: Is there anyone else besides Roger Corman who you met here who you’d say really influenced your sensibility, your point of view, or the direction your career ended up taking?

JD: Well, Spielberg, of course, but that was later. I sort of had a career by that time. But when I met Roger, like everybody who went to work for him, I had no credentials. I hadn’t even worked in 35 millimeter before, ever. I was locked in a room with a 35mm Moviola—that’s how we learned to do trailers. That’s how it worked. And if you can, you go on. If you can’t, you go into some other line of work.

DC: Was there a certain amount of fear in getting started this way?

JD: No, I don’t think so. I was too young and dumb to be afraid. I think, honestly, I said to myself, if I can’t do this, I’ll become a film critic or a cartoonist or something. When I took on my first directing job, it was really to see if I could do it. Because editing is a very solitary job; you do it almost in a vacuum. Movie directing, on the other hand, is a very social job, and if you’re not comfortable around people, as a lot of editors and writers aren’t, it becomes very wearing to have to deal with all these people. But I found that I enjoyed it.

DC: I often find myself thinking about what it was like to watch movies in a time before we knew everything about them, before they were so readily available, and almost every time I see a movie that I really love on a big screen, I started realizing there’s a lot to be said for delayed gratification.

JD: (Laughs)

DC: “Oh, my God, I waited three months to see this thing, and here it is.” The experience is so much different now when everything is just a download away.


JD: It’s a different world. People who didn’t grow up in the era we did can’t understand how long we would usually have to wait to see films. If something appeared in theaters in 1960, it wasn’t going to be on TV for at least five years. And if it was, it’d be sold to the networks and run once, cut, panned-and-scanned, all that. You couldn’t see ‘Scope movies for years. They were lost for decades until, partly through the efforts of the DGA, people started realizing that there’s more to the picture. People would complain about seeing Manhattan on TV and say, “Well, when I saw it in the theater everybody had legs!” There was an attempt to get people to understand that they were seeing more in theaters. Now it’s pretty hard to find a picture that's been released panned-and-scanned and not have a ‘Scope version, although Universal managed to do it with Colossus the Forbin Project. They actually put out a pan-and-scan DVD with no wide-screen version and never revisited it. Columbia tried it with Castle Keep, and Martin Scorsese and others made a big stink about it and they had to put out a wide-screen version. We take it for granted now, but in the old days if you missed them in a theater, chances are they’d turn up on some UHF channel at midnight, you’d check in TV Guide, and there were no VCRS, so you had to stay up. But there was a satisfaction to being a movie hound and finding these things.

DC: You had to work for it a little bit.

JD: The only problem was when you’d stay up really late, start to watch it, and then fall asleep. (Laughs)

DC: This makes me think of the first time I ever ran into you. You were doing a lecture at the Academy on horror films.

JD: I remember. That’s the night I dropped all my notes.

DC: (Laughs) Well, you didn’t present yourself incoherently. My best friend and I were there, and at some point in the lecture you dropped format altogether and said, “You know what? I’ve got this clip from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

JD: (Laughing)

DC: …and it would be horrible if I didn’t take advantage of this big screen, so sit back and relax.” And we end up watching the graveyard scene from the end of the movie with Tuco running the perimeter. And I remember thinking, “If this guy never makes another good movie, he’s still top-notch in my book for doing this!” It’s one of those things—20 years down the line, when The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is available everywhere you turn, such a moment might not have quite the zing, but—

JD: But it’s still the big screen.

DC: Exactly. And I’m sure I hadn’t at that point, ever seen it on the big screen before, so seeing even just that little morsel was really exciting. And speaking of excitement, we’re about midway through the Dante’s Inferno film festival at the New Beverly. All reports have been that it’s been a great success. What’s left on the schedule?


JD: The Sadist runs through Tuesday. That’s an early film of Vilmos Zsigmond’s, and he will be there on the last night (Tuesday). Larry Cohen will be there all three nights for The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover. The first time I heard Larry talk about that movie was at Filmex in 1977, when this thing came out. I had never seen a man wearing more jewelry.

(Both Laughing)

DC I caught the last half hour of The Sadist on TCM some months back, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away.

JD: It’s one of those movies that comes from a bucket of slime—these people make all these awful movies, and all of the sudden it just coalesces and they make their Casablanca. Everything in the picture works. It’s a brilliant little movie, and almost nobody has seen it. I saw it when it was new on a double bill with The Devil’s Messenger. I had to go to one of the most dangerous theaters in North Philadelphia to see it— it was an all-black theater in a time of great tension—and I got so swept up in the movie I forgot where I was.

DC: The Secret Invasion and Tomb of Ligeia.

JD: Well, I couldn’t do a series without having Roger in there. He’s gonna come down to the New Beverly on the second day (April 17). I haven’t seen Secret Invasion since it came out, and I remember it being awfully good. There is a print… hopefully! (Laughs). And I know the Ligeia print is good because I had it printed in 1980-something and it’s only played festivals, so it should be in pretty good shape.

DC: As I understand it, there’s some question as to whether the New Beverly is going to be able to secure a print of Wrong is Right.

JD: Well, I don’t think they’re going to be able to, and I may have to run it off of DVD. But I do want to run it because I think it’s a totally neglected movie. My jaw dropped when I watched it and I went, “Where is this movie going?!” When I saw it in 1982 I said, “I don’t get it. It’s just a bunch of… stuff. But now all that stuff has coalesced into our dangerous present. There’s so many elements of this picture that ring true today that I really think it’s worth rediscovering.

DC: It puts me in mind of the way Network seemed so prescient. And it makes me think of your movie The Second Civil War too. It’s a great, nasty, tough movie, and truthfully, I’ll jump at anything that has Elizabeth Pena in it.

JD: Oh, she’s great. The Second Civil War was the best cast I ever had.

(The New Beverly has still not announced what the second feature to play with Wrong Is Right will be—they’re billing it as a “mystery movie”—but I have a feeling that Joe, unlike Monty Hall, would never put a goat behind Door No. 2. – Dennis)

DC: I saw Blood on Satan’s Claw at the Cinematheque last summer, and that’s a real stunner on the big screen.

JD: It’s probably the same print we’ll be running. It’s really a beautifully photographed movie—such an atmosphere to it.


DC: And at the risk of my horror fan credentials, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Horror Express.

JD: Oh, well, Horror Express is a must-see. You cannot miss it. It’s one of the best Peter Cushing-Christopher Lee movies of all time.

DC: Which really is saying something.

JD: They are both great in it. It’s got a sense of humor, it’s got a really neat story, which borrows a bit from various other stories you might have heard before. It’s a spirited picture, a hell of a lot of fun.

DC: Who directed it?

JD: A guy named Eugenio Martin. He’s a Spanish director. This was part of a series made by a company named Scotia International—they made a lot of westerns, like Bad Man’s River, and Psychomania, the one with George Sanders. I think Horror Express is a wonderful picture. It’s so entertaining.

And then The Movie Orgy, which is going to be interesting. It may just sit there like a lox. Maybe people won’t relate to it.

DC: It’ll just be interesting to see how a modern audience used to Internet mash-ups and lots and lots of imagistic input will react to it. Will it test the boundaries of, for lack of a better crass generalization, the ADD generation?

JD: Well, this is the original attention-deficit movie because it was designed to be walked out on. The idea was you could go out, get a smoke, get a pizza, come back and you haven’t missed anything ‘cause it’s just a bunch of stuff. And if you missed something, you won’t know it.

DC: I’ll be interested to see if audiences relate to its uniqueness as much today as they did in the past.

JD: I don’t think there’s a lot of material in it that’s been used by other people. There’s a lot of old TV shows that will be completely foreign to a lot of people, like Andy’s Gang. This is a show that is so bizarre. The concept that this is really happening in reality is almost impossible to believe. It’s the strangest thing ever. And there’s Tales of the Texas Rangers and all these other shows that I saw when I was a kid—my generation, when I was in college, these were their memories. This generation doesn’t know any of this stuff. So you either strike them as absurd and amusing or simply as incredibly stupid.

DC: You risk turning into Stuntman Mike trying to impress the girls at the end of the bar.

JD: Yeah, exactly! But there’s some cool stuff in there. The fun used to be, when it was seven hours—now it’s four and something—it had rotating movies. We had I Was a Teenage Werewolf in for a while. We had College Confidential with Steve Allen, which is hilarious. We had Little Shop of Horrors for a while, and The Raven and a whole bunch of different things, and they would end up getting swapped out for other pictures later. Now, of the stories that concurrently run through the entire thing, there’s really only four or five movies, but there used to be seven or eight different stories going on simultaneously, sometimes with the same actors, dressed the same. Morris Ankrum, when he plays a general, always dresses the same way. So you can cut him in and it looks like he’s fighting six different monsters!

**********************************************************************

The once-in-a-lifetime experience that is The Movie Orgy is the closing night selection of Dante’s Inferno at the New Beverly Cinema, April 22. Joe and everyone at the theater advises that if you want to get in, arriving early is a must. And remember, it’s free! My thanks to Joe Dante for taking the time to sit down with me and flesh out some of the great experiences waiting to be had as the second week of Dante’s Inferno gets under way. I’m sorry I had to miss the first week, but I’m all better now, so I’ll see you there!

For now, some thoughtful person shot some video of Edgar Wright and Joe on the opening night of the festival. Edgar introduces Joe, Joe talks up Mondo Cane and Zulu, and the whole thing makes me glad for YouTube but also pains me that I couldn’t be there. If you missed last week, enjoy these videos and get ready for another terrific week of Dante-picked treasures.



Edgar Wright introduces Joe Dante on the first night of the Dante’s Inferno festival at the New Beverly



Joe waxes rhapsodic over Mondo Cane



Joe gets the New Beverly crowd ready for the wide-screen spectacle of Zulu

UPDATE! April 15, 6:10 p.m. For those who couldn't be there, here are more great clips from YouTube straight from the New Beverly. To my great dismay, my personal situation has prevented me from attending any of the screenings so far, so I am particularly grateful to the person shooting this video and posting it for our enjoyment. I sincerely intend to be there this weekend for Wrong is Right, and I hope that the wild horses of the past week will not be strong enough to drag me away from The Movie Orgy Tuesday night! I'm keeping my fingers crossed. For now, enjoy this great clips!



Joe introduces Hollywood Boulevard



The Hollywood Boulevard Q&A (pt. 1)



The Hollywood Boulevard Q&A (pt. 2)



Joe and Jonathan Kaplan introduce Truck Turner

UPDATE Wednesday 4/16/08: Final results of the Joe Dante’s Best Movie poll reveal that 51% (68 votes) of those who chimed in think, not surprisingly, I suppose, that Gremlins deserves the title. Coming in second with a robust 39% (53 votes) was The Howling, followed by Gremlins 2: The New Batch at 33% (44 votes). The rather robust showing for Matinee (31%, 42 votes) shows that a whole lot more folks than just me would love to see a new DVD of this one, with the requisite extras and Dante commentary, of course, sooner than later. Innerspace and The ‘burbs both chalked up 19% (26 votes), while Explorers racked up 15% (21 votes). Piranha managed 16 votes, for 12%, and my beloved Hollywood Boulevard even got 15 votes, for 11%. All the other candidates, and worthy ones they all are (I highly recommend Runaway Daughters if you haven’t seen it yet), gathered little but a sliver of the vote.

UPDATE: Thursday 4/17/08: More video clips from the Dante's Inferno festival! I'll be there to see them with my own eyes Friday, but if there are more clips by then, you'll see 'em here! Let's see... What have we got today?...




Joe introduces The Sadist



Joe and Vilmos Zsigmond after the screening of The Sadist



Larry Cohen introduces The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover

Friday, April 11, 2008

A FUND-RAISER FOR D.K. HOLM


It does seem as though there’s always something waiting in the wings to keep things in perspective for us all. At a time when every week seems to bring stories of film writers losing their jobs, film critic D.K. Holm finds himself facing an entirely different reality, one that some of us could just as easily be staring down. Word comes from the The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy that Holm is suffering from a very treatable form of esophageal cancer. “Very treatable” is a good thing. But the fact that, like many Americans, he is uninsured, and as such finds himself facing potentially huge hospital and treatment bills in order to fight the disease, is an overwhelming concern. (Holm characterizes his dilemma as “the American nightmare.”)

Holm is a colleague of mine and an e-mail acquaintance; we have corresponded several times since the initiation of this blog, yet despite his Oregon orientation we have never met. His writing is energetic, exasperating and vital, often bearing the marks of a true film curmudgeon (Levy’s word), and his voice is one with which I enjoy agreeing and arguing. You may also be familiar with his work, especially if you pay attention to GreenCine Daily or Kevin Smith’s Quick Stop Entertainment. But even if you’re not, there’s a fund-raiser happening in Portland which you can attend (if you're in the Pacific Northwest), or to which you can make a contribution that will directly alleviate some of the struggles Holm will likely be dealing with in the very near future. It’s called ”Help D.K. Holm”, it’s happening at Portland’s Cinema 21, and it gets under way on Sunday, April 27, at 7:00 p.m. This site will tell you all the details, including an address where you can donate to a fund which will help level the financial mountain Holm will have to climb as he makes his recovery.

I hope if you are so moved to send a little something along to help D.K. (a.k.a. Doug) in his time of need that you will do so.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

DANTE'S INFERNO OPENS TONIGHT!


Happy Dante’s Inferno day! I just wanted to take a moment or two to remind anyone and everyone in the Los Angeles area that tonight is the official opening night of Joe Dante’s Dante’s Inferno film festival at the beloved New Beverly Cinema. Joe will be there tonight, introduced by none other than Edgar “The Wright Stuff” Wright, and the gentlemen will kick off a hair-raising double bill of Mondo Cane, the original provocative reality documentary, and Cy Endfield’s Zulu, a spectacular adventure starring Michael Caine and Stanley Baker that does not get as much exposure, big screen or not, as it deserves. So to see it unspool in wide screen, in the presence Mssrs. Dante and Wright this evening, should be a singular treat.

For those waiting patiently (and some not so patiently) for my interview with Joe Dante, I had planned to have it up and running today—it’s sitting there in my digital recorder ready and waiting to be transcribed and edited. However, life has intervened in an annoying and unexpected way, causing the post to be postponed by a couple of days. First of all, a new round of classes has started this week and I have to make sure I keep up on my reading, which bites a big chunk out of time I have set aside to work on the interview. But more pressing even than that, I ended up spending the day on a bed in the E.R. yesterday after it was determined that my blood sugar levels were on their way to Saturn. Further monitoring is on the way, to be sure, but the problem is extremely treatable. In other words, time I could have spent earning a living or studying or editing the interview was instead whiled away watching a Dodger game from a hospital gurney with an I.V. jammed into my hand. (And you know what? Considering the way the Dodgers have been playing this series with Arizona, being close to immediate medical attention is probably not a bad idea.)

So stick with me, make sure to check the New Beverly Cinema schedule for updates on the film festival, and keep watching—the Joe Dante interview is coming in the next day or so, I promise!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

2, 4, 6, 8, WHO DO WE MOST APPRECIATE? BEARS! BEARS! BEARS!



Play ball! Well, so far the Dodgers look like the Dodgers, even under the tutelage of Joe Torre, who must, with hitting coach Don Mattingly, find a way to wake up the sleepy bats. Otherwise, the story of the first week of baseball is, when will the highly touted Detroit Tigers win their first game? And Baltimore (5-1) and Kansas City (4-2) need to take a picture of those standings, because they may not remain that way for long.

Baseball still plays well at SLIFR, if last week’s poll counts for anything (and it doesn’t). Of the seven films specifically listed, two emerged neck-and-neck victors, with The Bad News Bears inching out 22 votes (25%) over Ron Shelton’s Bull Durham (20 for 23%). The only other movie to make a real wave was the tepid (sorry!) fantasy of Field of Dreams, which garnered 17 votes for 19%. Eight Men Out managed only 8 votes (9%), and The Natural, which I find tends to appeal to the same baseball/movie fan that likes Field of Dreams, took only 7 votes (8%). Cobb, not a movie anyone is likely to take to his or her ashen, bitter heart (though I have), grabbed a paltry 3 votes (3%). But that’s better than did The Pride of the Yankees. Has this movie fallen out of favor while I wasn’t looking? No luck, and not a single vote, for Gary Cooper and Babe Ruth in Sam Wood’s sentimental classic.

P.S. It’s busy in the real world today, but those looking for the Joe Dante interview will be satisfied soon. I’m projecting to have it edited and posted sometime tonight, in anticipation of the official start of the Dante’s Inferno film festival tomorrow night at the New Beverly Cinema. I think I’m looking forward to reading it as much as some of you!

P.P.S. Got my grades yesterday. Pass, pass, pass! Whew!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

CHARLTON HESTON FLEES THE MADHOUSE 1924-2008



Charlton Heston wore his Republican tails proudly in a largely liberal Hollywood, but he always meant more to me than his politics might have suggested. How could he not be for a generation who grew up watching him save our souls in The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, and then our very lives in thrillers and disaster movies like Soylent Green, Skyjacked, The Omega Man, Earthquake! and of course, Airport '75 ("Climb, baby, climb!")? I will remember him most fondly from Touch of Evil and what he did to help Orson Welles get that directing job; as the arrogant, ambitious, misguided Major Dundee; watching Woodstock and mouthing the dialogue in The Omega Man; and of course, his most memorable role in arguably his best movie, as Taylor in Planet of the Apes. And I say without reservation, NRA president and the face of right-wing Republican Hollywood or not, he did not deserve the treatment he got in Bowling for Columbine.

R.I.P., Charlton Heston.