Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Well, here it finally is, Christmas Eve, and all through the blog, several pixels are stirring—Ah, forget it. The best thing about this day in particular, when it comes together, as it seems to have this year, is that sense of calm, of everyone and everything being slightly geared down in preparation for time spent together with family and friends. (If you’re a holiday traveler reading this, especially if you’re stuck in an airport waiting for a runway to thaw, please make any attitudinal adjustments with as much good humor as possible.) Right now the office is muted, the skies are properly overcast (this being Los Angeles, that simple fact is cause for celebration), and there’s a feeling that nothing is urgent, no deadlines are being dangled, there is nothing on anyone’s plate that can’t wait until at least Friday. It is with this in mind that I proudly present to you the latest curricular offering from SLIFR University, a brand-new quiz to be lingered over, savored, and, yes, hopefully completed while you sit by the holiday fire tippling a hot chocolate or a hot toddy, whatever your leaning may be. The rather more casual approach to this holiday quiz, suggested by the generosity of the seasonal attitude, is perhaps the best counterbalance to the personality of the professor chosen to present it. Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., known for his grueling, unforgiving classroom demeanor and harsh, taxing and brutal testing procedures, has been asked to dial down the intensity in the spirit of sensitivity and giving typical of the end of the calendar year, and we think he’s come through fairly well. The length of this new quiz lands somewhere in between the briefest and the most long-winded of those questionnaires past, although Professor Kingsfield assures the rest of the staff that the queries are no less demanding, in their own familiar way, than any you might have previously encountered. The gruff educator has asked us to remind you, however, that when you deposit your answers in the comments section below, please remember to cut and paste the questions and include them along with your answers for easier reading and referencing. Otherwise, unlike the Kingsfield Pressure-Cooker Bar Exam, or the Kingsfield Pop Quiz of Terror, there are no time constraints—complete the quiz at your leisure and return your responses for the entire class to enjoy. So then, if your pencils are sharpened and you’ve no need to get up out of your seat for a bathroom break or grab a tissue or anything else that might distract your neighbors, you may begin at any time. And please remember to have a safe and happy holiday season while you’re at it! Mr. Hart, a question already?...

1) What was the last movie you saw theatrically? On DVD or Blu-ray?

2) Holiday movies— Do you like them naughty or nice?

3) Ida Lupino or Mercedes McCambridge?

4) Favorite actor/character from Twin Peaks

5) It’s been said that, rather than remaking beloved, respected films, Hollywood should concentrate more on righting the wrongs of the past and tinker more with films that didn’t work so well the first time. Pretending for a moment that movies are made in an economic vacuum, name a good candidate for a remake based on this criterion.

6) Favorite Spike Lee joint.

7) Lawrence Tierney or Scott Brady?

8) Are most movies too long?

9) Favorite performance by an actor portraying a real-life politician.

10) Create the main event card for the ultimate giant movie monster smackdown.

11) Jean Peters or Sheree North?

12) Why would you ever want or need to see a movie more than once?

13) Favorite road movie.

14) Favorite Budd Boetticher picture.

15) Who is the one person, living or dead, famous or unknown, who most informed or encouraged your appreciation of movies?

16) Favorite opening credit sequence. (Please include YouTube link if possible.)

17) Kenneth Tobey or John Agar?

18) Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that the more popular the movie, the less likely it was that it was a good movie. Is he right or just cranky? Cite the best evidence one way or the other.

19) Favorite Jonathan Demme movie.

20) Tatum O’Neal or Linda Blair?

21) Favorite use of irony in a movie. (This could be an idea, moment, scene, or an entire film.)

22) Favorite Claude Chabrol film.

23) The best movie of the year to which very little attention seems to have been paid.

24) Dennis Christopher or Robby Benson?

25) Favorite movie about journalism.

26) What’s the DVD commentary you’d most like to hear? Who would be on the audio track?

27) Favorite movie directed by Clint Eastwood.

28) Paul Dooley or Kurtwood Smith?

29) Your clairvoyant moment: Make a prediction about the Oscar season.

30) Your hope for the movies in 2009.

31) What’s your top 10 of 2008? (If you have a blog and have your list posted, please feel free to leave a link to the post.)

BONUS QUESTION (to be answered after December 25):

32) What was your favorite movie-related Christmas gift that you received this year?

Happy holidays to all y'all, and a happy new year too!



To you and yours, happy holidays and safe, private driving, everyone!


Monday, December 22, 2008


When my mind wanders to the actresses I most love watching on screen, I’m usually not thinking about women I would necessarily classify as the finest actresses, or even always my favorite actresses, though the area of those two circles would indeed largely intersect in a Venn diagram of splendid sublimity. And certainly physical beauty, though sometimes an integral, undeniable part of the quality that helped find a place for some of the actresses on this list, is not a crucial element either (though I would suggest that physical distinctiveness is). No, the only criterion that runs straight through each choice is far simpler and at the same time far more elusive and intangible than that, one that perhaps accounts for the tendency on the list toward older actresses from a bygone age, actresses whose experience and capacity for life inform their screen personas even after their own lights have dimmed. Those women shown here who are still with us project much of the same quality of restless spirit, wisdom, intelligence and wit found in their wondrous predecessors, a connection to movie history forged by their own unique ability to stand on their own and at the same time honor the tradition of the fascinating character actresses of the past. This is, at the bottom line, a list composed entirely of women whose mere presence in a movie, no matter how large or small the role, stops me in my tracks, commands my attention, fills me with pure delight, in some cases even makes me glad to be alive. Putting these names together made me realize that though there are many actresses whom I enjoy and look forward to seeing, there are not really that many whom I love without reservation. These are the women, far more than the ones most frequently held up as shining examples of the acting craft, that capture the essence of what drifts to mind when I dream of the movies. Here, then, in a very belated response to blog pal Bill’s tag, are 25 women whose presence at the movies I would prefer never to do without, 25 screen goddesses that make the cinema a wonderful place for me.

“Her turned-down mouth has an odd attractiveness, and her Elizabeth is smart and resilient, with a streak of loony humor. (She spins her eyeballs, like the great Harry Ritz.)” – Pauline Kael on Brooke Adams in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

"My very 'naturalness' was my undoing. I had to learn that to appear natural on the screen requires a vast amount of training, that is the test of an actors art. It would be more spectacular if I could say that out of the hurt and humiliation of that failure was born a determination to success, to prove I had the makings of an actress. But it wouldn't be true. That urge came later." - Jean Arthur

"I am quite surprised, that with all my work, and some of it is very, very good, that nobody talks about The Miracle Worker. We're talking about Mrs. Robinson. I understand the world... I'm just a little dismayed that people aren't beyond it yet." - Anne Bancroft

“My first crush was Spock. I thought it didn't get any better than Spock.” - Selma Blair

“I never felt scandal and confession were necessary to be an actress. I've never revealed my self or even my body in films. Mystery is very important.” - Claudia Cardinale

“My mother was against me being an actress - until I introduced her to Frank Sinatra.” - Angie Dickinson

"I don't know if I was a desirable person, not just physically but emotionally and mentally and intellectually. I still have a long way go and a lot to learn, but I'm on my way, I don't think I'm terribly attractive, but I'm comfortable with my looks." - Shelley Duvall

“I was a mostly happy child, though I had a pretty rough puberty. Growing up as a girl is always traumatizing, especially when you have the deadly combination of greasy skin and getting your boobs at ten. But I think it's good to grow up that way. It builds character.” - Tina Fey

“I remember everything, even the dates. But I don't want others to remember the details, just the image.” - Gloria Grahame

"Temperament is temper that is too old to spark." - Charlotte Greenwood

Jane Greer

"Me, sexy? I'm just plain ol' beans and rice. " - Pam Grier

"I always feel like I want to do my career my own way. I never follow anybody's path, what they've done." - Famke Janssen

“I'll be a flop in movies. Besides, I don't like 'em, and I never did believe there was a place called Hollywood. Somebody made it up!” - Patsy Kelly

"People keep pushing me to be the center of attention... I would prefer to be on the sidelines, because that's where you see more." - Gong Li

"I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick." - Carole Lombard

"Everything you see I owe to spaghetti." - Sophia Loren

"My agent had told me that he was going to make me the Janet Gaynor of England - I was going to play all the sweet roles. Whereupon, at the tender age of thirteen, I set upon the path of playing nothing but hookers." - Ida Lupino

Elizabeth Parker: "You know, Ma, I bet you once had an hourglass figure."
Ma Kettle: "Yeah, but the sand sure shifted." -Marjorie Main as Ma Kettle in Ma and Pa Kettle Back on the Farm (1951)

"There's still the same reaction when producers hear my name. They remember me as the blond who was to have taken over from Marilyn Monroe." - Sheree North in a 1983 interview

"Night time is really the best time to work. All the ideas are there to be yours because everyone else is asleep." - Catherine O'Hara

"I love acting. When I'm acting I feel like I'm on vacation. I'm just having a wonderful time. The nightmare is just getting the work to happen." - Elizabeth Pena

"Career is too pompous a word. It was a job, and I have always felt privileged to be paid for what I love doing." - Barbara Stanwyck

"Everyone said that if you want to be a real actor, go to New York. If you want to sell out, go to LA. And I thought - I want to sell out!" - Jennifer Tilly

"I prefer to be kicked four or five times well, you know, hard, than twenty or twenty five times not so good." - Michelle Yeoh


Memo to Los Angeles residents: As we endure this perfectly seasonal cold snap and you’re thinking to yourself, “It’s just too cold to go out to a drive-in movie,” just be glad you don’t live with a drive-in jones in one of the areas of this country where the seasonal weather actually changes for a significant amount of time. Here’s a picture shot this past week by Jack Ondracek, owner of the Rodeo Drive-in in Bremerton, Washington, which indicates the lengths to which some drive-in fans will go to catch a sparkling new Hollywood double feature under cover of stars (or snow clouds) in the great outdoors. Here two die-hard patrons get the best spots on the lot for The Day the Earth Stood Still and Twilight.


Mr. Ondracek is obviously shut down for the season and using his time during the massive snowstorms that have socked in the Pacific Northwest to make some repairs to his establishment. His projected reopen date (an optimistic one, perhaps, by the looks of that picture, anyway): March 2009. Good luck, Mr. Ondracek, and happy projections for the coming year! The picture reminds me of the time my best friend Bruce and I sat through a Dirty Harry triple feature in a February snowstorm in Eugene back in the late ‘70s. I don’t recall there being many more cars on the lot than what you see in the picture above, but I do remember getting dagger eyes from the snack bar staff which suggested that, if not for the two goofballs in the Volkswagen Beetle, they could be home under a heavy wool blanket instead of serving ice-cold popcorn and icier Cokes.

Finally, my apologies regarding the radio silence here at SLIFR over the past week. The last week of school before winter break, combined with terrible service from AT&T affecting my Internet connection, made it impossible to be much of a presence here at my home away from home. But Christmas week holds many treats, including a new holiday quiz, so I hope you’ll stay tuned!

(Photo by Jack Ondracek, courtesy of Steve Swanson)

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The major news services and film journals have yet to pick up on news that was released (or leaked, or perhaps even dribbled) from the publicity division of Paramount Home Video this weekend, but it is, I think, worth passing along, even if it ultimately proves to be little more than a novelty footnote in the logbooks of film history. Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 hit film that ignited the disco phenomenon, is now 31 years old and according to Ehren Faltermeier, vice president of the studio’s restoration and archiving division, footage thought to have been consigned to the editing room trash bin when director John Badham pieced together the original version for a studio test screening on November 22, 1977, less than a month before the movie premiered to American screens on December 16 of that year, has been found. Faltermeier revealed that the footage, part of a Christmas-themed dance sequence featuring stars John Travolta and Karen Lynn Gorney which was originally intended to capitalize on the movie’s prestigious holiday release schedule, was scrapped largely because of the involvement of an unidentified contract player also featured in the sequence whose performance, according to notes written by Badham found in the storage can along with the footage, was “sub-par and rather desperate.”

Despite the brevity of the sequence and the presence of the insufficiently talented supporting dancer, Faltermeier expressed disappointment that the footage wasn’t found in time for the studio’s home video department to adequately capitalize on it this year. “I would have loved to have been able to bang out a new Christmas-oriented DVD or Blu-ray box orbiting around this dance,” Faltermeier admitted. “It’s kinda cheesy, and I definitely understand why Mr. Badham decided it wasn’t right for the finished movie, but it’s exactly the kind of value-added item that fans of the movie would have gobbled up. I’m not completely dismissing the idea for Christmas 2009, however, or maybe even earlier than that. This crazy bit is, like it or not, a real find.”

Fortunately, for those fans who have never really quenched their thirst for the silken moves of Tony Manero, Faltermeier, in a press release dated this morning, made the sequence available on YouTube in the hopes of generating increased fan interest which would then encourage Paramount to hasten the release of the footage in a digitally christened format. Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule is proud to be among the first of any media outlet, big or small, to make this newfound footage available for your viewing pleasure.

Merry Christmas, then, from Travolta, Gorney, John Badham, Ehren Faltermeier and the night shift dubbing crew at Paramount Home Video and, of course, the mysterious character player who missed his place in movie history thanks to a judicious (or perhaps too hasty?) editing choice back in November 1977. Feel free to light the disco inferno on this yuletide log and burn, baby, burn!

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

(Thanks, Larry... I think.)

Sunday, December 07, 2008


Forrest J. Ackerman didn’t start my love of monsters and horror and sci-fi films—that probably had something more to do with Dark Shadows and a chance Saturday afternoon TV encounter with Godzilla, King of the Monsters, both when I was around six years old—but he surely did enrich it. I literally cannot imagine my budding life as a film geek without the awareness and influence of this genial punster with the boundless enthusiasm and the encyclopedic knowledge of all things related to the worlds of fantasy and horror. For every impulse toward monster love that I knew would get me branded a nerd or get my ass kicked in the tiny cow town where I grew up, it was a real comfort knowing that somewhere there were not only other kids like me, who congregated under the iconographic banner of Famous Monsters of Filmland, but that there was an adult who knew and loved even more deeply than I did; who understood where I was coming from; who validated the interest and passion that so defined my worldview; who stoked the fires of that passion and introduced me on a monthly basis to ever more wondrous and fascinating levels of horror’s glorious past.

Forry, as he was known by those of us who never knew him (but felt like we did), lived on this earth for 92 years, and when he passed away this past week it was not unexpected news. Indeed, word of his failing health had been circulating for some time. And though during his final years he saw slip through his fingers the beloved collection that filled to bursting the halls of the Ackermansion (located in Horrorwood, Karloffornia), he lived a grand and full life. He must have gone to his final sleep well assured of his place in the hearts of everyone for whom horror and sci-fi films meant so much—because his own stewardship of those films and that of an entire generation of fans who grew up to be writers and filmmakers, as well as the appreciation of writers like myself who had to make do not with a career in film but simply with feeling his influence in almost everything I’ve ever written or thought about the genre.

As I write these words of remembrance I’m imagining Forry right now reunited with his beloved wife Wendayne, holding court at a grand table around which sit the likes of Lon Chaney (Sr. and Jr.), Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Peter Lorre, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone, Colin Clive, J. Carroll Naish, George Zucco, John Carradine, Glenn Strange, Jack Pierce and every other major figure of the horror and science fiction realm who passed before him. For Forry’s sake I want it to be better than the biggest Universal Studios greatest hits monster movie of all time, every creature gathered together at last for one last free-for-all at the hillside digs of Dr. Victor Frankenstein before the dam breaks and washes away the castle. Maybe even Abbott and Costello are waiting the table and serving drinks—the afterlife as directed by Roy William Neill or Erle C. Kenton, and Forrest J. Ackerman is the biggest star, the fan with the top-most billing.

In 1998 my wife and I made a pilgrimage to the Ackermansion and, some 20 or so years after my obsession with Famous Monsters had been tabled, I finally got to meet the man who had meant so much to me in the formative years of my film education. I brought along a video camera and taped the entire affair, a glimpse inside the halls of the most famous movie mansion of them all. Another great appreciator of the work and influence of Forrest J. Ackerman, Ray Young a.k.a. Flickhead, mounted a wonderful 90th-birthday blog-a-thon in Forry’s honor two years ago, and these videos were part of my contribution to that celebration. In addition to encouraging you to revisit Flickhead’s tribute, I have reposted them here so that you can, if you never got a chance to take the trip yourself, spend some time with the Ackermonster and enjoy him doing what he enjoyed most—interacting with fans and reliving a life well spent chronicling his beloved history of horror.

My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 1)

My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 2)

My Visit to the Ackermansion (Part 3)

As for the many other tributes coming across the wires this weekend, Jonathan Lapper boils the Forry influence down nicely, Tim Lucas and Bob Westal provide a personal connection, and Glenn Kenny’s appreciation is one of the most heartfelt, especially the comments that ensue, which will lead you to still more links celebrating the life of this influential and genuinely kind man. Of course if you have any thoughts or personal experiences to relate about Forrest J. Ackerman, I hope you will feel free to do so here.


Good news from the Netherlands. Peet Gelderblom, creator of Directorama and a fine television director in his own right, has this past week been nominated for a Dutch television prize recognizing excellence in the medium. Peet has been nominated under the “Amusement” category, and he provides this English translation of the most important information to be found on the Dutch web site:

"This Wednesday the nominations were announced for the Image and Sound Awards 2008. Over the past months, a jury of TV professionals led by Peter Römer judged 288 Dutch broadcasts for a total of 11 prizes. The Image and Sound Awards are the business prizes for the highest valued Dutch TV-programs, multimedia concepts, best actor and actress, and for the TV Personality of the Year."

Peet will hopefully keep us up to date and let us know when we can raise our glasses in his honor after he wins. Until then, take a look at some clips from a program Peet shot in Uganda and Kenya earlier this year and get a feel for why he’s up for such a well-deserved honor.

Dick Maas, eat your heart out. Paul Verhoe-who?

Saturday, December 06, 2008


In the November 25 issue of the L.A. Weekly, film critic and author David Ehrenstein interviews director Gus Van Sant about all things Milk, including Sean Penn, gay cinema, Oliver Stone, politics and the history of The Mayor of Castro Street and the long road to bringing the story of Harvey Milk into docudrama form. It’s a very illuminating conversation, and my favorite moment—in this interview, and perhaps of any interview I’ve read this year—comes near the close, when Ehrenstein comments upon the appearance of the relatively straightforwardly stylized Milk after a much more esoteric period in the director’s recent work (Psycho, Gerry, Elephant, Last Days, Paranoid Park) and for a brief moment Van Sant glories in Milk not just as a portrait of a gay icon or as a docudrama or a possible Oscar contender, but as something even more pure:

Ehrenstein: It’s a very interesting project coming off your whole “film as objet d’art” period, culminating in Paranoid Park. To me, the film of yours Milk most resembles is Mala Noche.

Van Sant: Really?

Ehrenstein: Because you’re playing around with different kinds of film stocks, focal lengths.

Van Sant: Oh, yes. The cinema!

Monday, December 01, 2008


Good morning/afternoon, and welcome, as Elvis Costello once memorably put it, to the working week. If you’re like me you’re back at the office or otherwise into the daily bread-winning routine and beginning the time-thickening process of counting down the days until the big Christmas holiday break (14 business days, plus free shipping and handling). When I came today and started dusting off my keyboard (I haven’t been in the office for a Monday morning since September) I came across three items that brightened my day immeasurably and put me in the proper frame of mind for unparalleled productivity. Well, maybe that’s not exactly true, but they sure put a smile on my face and gave my brain a nice rubdown, and I share them with you now in the hopes that they’ll do the same for you.


Bill R., proprietor of The Kind of Face You Hate, found a DVD copy of The Sadist in a bargain bin a couple of weeks ago, and this morning offers his well-considered thoughts on this minor masterpiece. What Bill does especially well, I think, is note how different the movie feels from some of the more celebrated trash classics that were James Landis’ film’s contemporaries (like the Herschell Gordon Lewis movies, for example), and placing The Sadist within a social context that highlights what makes it a cut about the average exploitation picture:

“My concern that The Sadist might follow the example of Blood Feast in terms of both gore levels and general quality were completely unfounded, and because The Sadist is less enamored of its own violence than H. G. Lewis is of the viscera in Blood Feast, while at the same time being far more blunt on the topic, Landis is able to construct moments that function like a kick to the gut. There is little to no actual blood in The Sadist, but I sometimes wondered if there wasn't more… I don't really know anything about the cult of fans that has grown around this film, but I have to assume that the scene most often commented upon as news of The Sadist was passed on by word-of-mouth over the years is the film's first killing, an act of violence the camera doesn't flinch from, even though I don't think we quite see what we think we do. But even if we just focus on what we do see, this film is from 1963, and it's presenting the audience with shocking violence that they would have a really hard time laughing about afterwards, like they could with Blood Feast.”

Click on the link to Read Bill’s entire piece, entitled “To Inflict Moral Insanity upon the Innocent”. (And stay tuned to the comments section for a discussion of the performance of the movie’s Charlie Starkweather stand-in, infamous B-movie icon Arch Hall, Jr.)


Andy McSmith, in the London-based newspaper The Independent, passes along word that will be catnip to fans of a certain British crime classic:

“‘Hang on a minute, lads. I've got a great idea,’ is still one of the greatest pay-off lines in British cinema. It was uttered by Michael Caine, playing the London villain Charlie Croker, immediately before the credits rolled on the 1969 heist classic, The Italian Job. But for 40 years, no one has known what that "great idea" could possibly be, until yesterday, when Sir Michael revealed there was another ending.”

Read all about it here. (Thanks to David Hudson and Green Cine Daily for the tip.)


Green Cine Daily is also beginning to gather up initial reactions to upcoming films like Frost/Nixon and The Reader. Among the more interesting are takes from Nick Schager and David Edelstein, both of which make me think it’s time to dust off the old David Frye albums. But reaching way back to last week’s column from Edelstein you’ll find, in addition to a review that makes an interesting link between Milk and Twilight, a brief summation of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (how did the director resist tacking on an emphatic ! after that title?) in which the writer makes yet another unexpected, and hilarious, connection, this one between Luhrmann’s Oz and the Emerald City variety. Thanks, Mr. Edelstein, for helping to get my dutiful day started with a belly laugh.