Tuesday, June 29, 2010


My thanks to Don, again the funk decimator, for brightening up a dull work day (and you do know what all work and no play, or writing, makes Dennis, right?) with this powerful account of the summer’s biggest breakout star, Ken. He’s not just an accessory anymore. He’s his own man, and then some. If you don’t believe me, click play and start Groovin’ with Ken.

(This week leading up to July 4 finds Your Humble Narrator happy to say he’s loaded down with work. But he’s also loaded with things to write about and damn little time to do so. So come the end of the week (and maybe even before then) I'll have some new posts including a look at the summer so far, perhaps even some answers to the last quiz—- you know, the one I posted this past spring-- to keep at least myself, and hopefully you, amused in lieu of actual good movies to go out and see. I hear Tilda Swinton in I Am Love is a should-not-miss. And when a thing is as sure as Toy Story 3, why not see it again? I can’t wait.)


Thursday, June 24, 2010


I never found the time to pay my own tribute to Dennis Hopper on the news of his death, yet I doubt there were too many people holding their breath waiting for it. I assured myself that Hopper’s importance for an entire generation of filmmakers and actors, as a symbol and survivor of the counterculture he helped shape, and for the subsequent generation for which he reinvented himself with performances in films like Hoosiers, Blue Velvet and River’s Edge, would not go unmarked, and by much better writers than me. I was right. Besides, on the occasion of Matt Zoller Seitz’s remarkable and personal video essay, which chronicled the actor’s career about a month and a half before his passing, I feel like I (through looking at Matt’s work) had already said everything I could say about the man’s impact on those like me who held his work and his presence dear.

But there’s another man whose impact was certainly as chronologically far-reaching as that of Hopper who passed recently that I don’t want to forget. The work of producer-director Ronald Neame, who passed away a week ago Wednesday, June 16, will probably never be discussed in terms of great artistic achievement, in the way that some might position a few of Hopper’s contributions to the world of film, certainly his stature as an actor-artist. But Neame lived a life that was intertwined with many of the great names of British and American cinema during his long career, and to be quite frank, several of the films Neame was involved with mean more to me today than the phenomenon of Easy Rider ever did.

Neame was the product of a colorful British show-business family—his father was a photographer, his mother an actress who starred in many films including Abel Gance’s La Roue-- who turned an early stint working as an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail (1929) into a lifelong career as a cinematic jack-of-all-trades associated with many of the greatest talents in British and eventually American cinema. Another few years toiling behind the scenes landed him his first credited job as director of photography-- 1933’s Happy-- and over the next 12 years he shot 44 other films, including Carol Reed’s Penny Paradise (1938), Anthony Kimmins’ Trouble Brewing (1939), Gabriel Pascal’s Major Barbara (1941), Powell and Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942)—for which he also won an Oscar for Visual Effects—and three films for David Lean-- In Which We Serve (1942), This Happy Breed (1944) and Blithe Spirit (1945). (Neame also served as collaborator with Lean on the screenplays of the last two films.)

The association with Lean would continue for three more films. Neame’s capacity was no longer cinematographer, however, but instead that of full-fledged producer on Brief Encounter (1945) and Great Expectations (1946), both of which bore the benefit of his talent as a writer as well. He collaborated twice more as Lean’s producer on Oliver Twist (1948) and A Woman’s Story (1949) before making his way into a career as a producer-director that would itself last 43 years.

His first movie as director was the well-regarded British noir Take My Life (1947), to which he brought all the confidence and storytelling acumen he had absorbed at the hands of his masterful mentors. Over the decade of the 1950s he developed a reputation based on that sure hand, though he never emerged from the pack of working British filmmakers, which included Lean, Powell and Pressburger, Alexander Mackendrick, John Boulting, Robert Hamer and others, as one considered much of a stylist. Of course now we look back (or at least I do) on crafty, sensitive, smart filmmakers like Neame fondly for their lack of ostentation, for their firm grasp on the tenets of classical filmmaking. No doubt folks like Lean and Powell ended up taking those tenets to some pretty glorious places, but Neame was always one that seemed to subsume himself into the story not in order to accentuate and play up his connections to it, but to bolster the way the story was told in a more anonymous fashion. It’s easier to mistake the work of a filmmaker like Neame as that of a hack, and I’ve been guilty of that presumption as well. But look back at the work of the man who was able to fashion such glorious entertainments as the gently hilarious satire of artistic compulsion The Horse’s Mouth (1958) starring Alec Guinness; the solid military drama Tunes of Glory (1960), featuring Alec Guinness squaring off against John Mills for the allegiance of a Scottish battalion; the painful family drama of The Chalk Garden (1964), uniting John Mills with daughter Hayley and Deborah Kerr; the amusement of James Garner and Melina Mercouri in A Man Could Get Killed (1965); the struggles of a Scottish schoolmarm to retain her job and her dignity in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1968), which brought star Maggie Smith an Oscar under Neame’s guidance; the director’s undervalued adaptation of Dickens starring Albert Finney as Scrooge (1970); and even the re-teaming of Glenda Jackson and Walter Matthau, fresh off House Calls, in the terrific spy comedy Hopscotch (1980). It's a career any director, journeyman, artist or hack, could be proud of.

Of course, most of the headlines that noted Neame’s passing mentioned the name of his biggest box-office hit, The Poseidon Adventure (1972), directed for producer Irwin Allen.. Many seem to have mistakenly believed that Allen directed that film, and he did wield quite the iron hand when it came to staging the film’s various action set pieces. But Poseidon also displays Neame’s unflappable sureness of approach in the development of the various characters, and the movie never seems out of balance when it comes to finding the right mix of horror and humanity, the way many movies in the subsequent disaster genre (right on up through last year’s 2012) often seemed to be. It’s undoubtedly no coincidence either that The Poseidon Adventure is the best-acted of all the 1970’s disaster epics, with turns by Gene Hackman (“You want another life? Take mine!”), Shelley Winters (“I was a champion swimmer, Reverend!”), even Ernest Borgnine (“Li-i-i-i-inda!”) that deserve to be among the most well-remembered of their illustrious careers. Ronald Neame proved that, even among the calamity of a big studio action extravaganza, his was a man whom the actor could trust.

But by far my favorite of Neame’s films, even more than The Poseidon Adventure, which seeded my ever-growing interest in the movies, or Tunes of Glory, is a less-well-remembered gem of stiff-upper-lip British wartime cinema starring Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame, Laurence Naismith, Cyril Cusack, Andre Morell and Stephen Boyd called The Man Who Never Was (1956). Webb is a British Intelligence officer during World War II charged with the assignment of trying to distract the German high command away from its focus on Italy just prior to the Allied invasion. Webb concocts a plan in which it will be made to seem that England is planning to invade Greece instead, thus pulling German forces away from the real target at precisely the right moment. A dead body, one of an “anonymous” Allied soldier, is procured and put in a plane made to look as if it has crashed off the Spanish coast, in hopes that the Spanish authorities will pass along papers found on the body mapping out the supposed Greek invasion to the Germans. The movie details the efforts of Webb and his assistant to prepare the body to seem as if it were authentically drowned and to create an identity which will pass the scrutiny of a German agent (Boyd) sent to check out his background. Neame masterfully pulls all the elements of this story together, including a strand which orchestrates the agony of an American woman (Grahame) who awaits the return of her boyfriend from battle, in harmony with the ambivalence of her roommate (Josephine Griffin), one of the British agents involved in engineering the mission who projects Grahame’s sadness onto that of the boy whose body has been appropriated. The story of The Man Who Never Was is so masterfully woven that Neame’s directorial hand seems almost imperceptible. That is, until the emotion of Grahame’s despairing monologue, in which she’s employed by her roommate to help write a believable love letter to be found on the body of the missing soldier, all the while thinking of her own perhaps lost love, sweeps you up; or until the pain of a father sending off his already dead boy to be part of a mission that no one can ever speak of overwhelms you; or until the near unbearable suspense of German agent Boyd descending on the constructed past of the soldier in a small coastal town nearly crushes your chest—Will he or won’t he discover the false identity and relay the information in time to leave the British forces open to storming onto the Italian coast to their deaths? (You can read a fascinating account of a book written about the actual WWII mission here.)

In many ways Neame’s unassuming style as employed in The Man Who Never Was is as good an example of a strong storytelling hand as there is in British cinema of the period. It is not ostentatious or bold or cinematically probing. Neame is instead there in absolute, unwavering service to his story, and even the lesser films that came as his directing career wound to a close in 1990 one could always be assured that the intelligence behind the camera was sound, even if the films themselves sometimes stumbled. Neame, seemingly well-loved by everyone who worked with him, lived for 20 years after he last took a credit on a motion picture. During that time he divorced his first wife of nearly 60 years, Beryl Heanly, with whom he had a son Christopher, and in 1992 remarried to Donna Friedberg. Neame took a fall in his family home and died after complications arose during his recovery, according to Christopher, who survives him along with wife Donna and a grandson, Gareth. They have lost Ronnie, a father, a grandfather and a husband, a man who lived a long, rich life and made contributions to film culture the likes of which many may not be fully aware. The family's sorrow is likely only tempered by the fact of that long, wonderful life. But for those who love movies, and especially the classic films of British cinema, we have lost one of the original guiding lights, Ronald Neame, who quite fittingly seems like The Man Who Always Was.


(My thanks to Bob Westal, who deserves an editor's stipend, for pointing out a couple of factual scrambles that I apologize for and that have now been fixed!)


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Remember when the National Lampoon was funny, when it was a reliable brand-name signifying a generation’s iconoclastic, revolutionary impulses channeled through the art of making people (and not just like-minded people) laugh? Well, the Cinefamily does, and as part of their 2nd Annual Comedy festival Hadrian Belove and the folks at the Cinefamily are marshaling together a 40th Anniversary tribute to the cultural legacy of the Lampoon, from whence an entire generation of writers, actors and directors (The Not- Ready for Prime Time Players, Harold Ramis, Doug Kinney, John Hughes, et al.) sprung and refashioned the world of movie and TV comedy in their own rambunctious images. The tribute gets under way here in Los Angeles on Friday night, June 27, beginning with some rare archival material from the National Lampoon vault. The goodies include Lemmings, a document of the Woodstock parody that featured Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Christopher Guest, among many others, sticking it to the baby boomer mythology as only baby boomers like these could; Disco Beaver from Outer Space, originally produced and aired on a then-nascent HBO and very much a partner-in-crime with Saturday Night Live in its prime as a chronicle and a dissection of Carter-era indulgences, controversies and Formica-covered malaise; and Class of ‘86, in which the Yuppies are led to the slaughter, again by a staff of comedy talent that found itself taking its swings from deep within the target zone, within a comedy paradigm that had not lost its irreverence but could now accommodate attitudes and points of view with which even a college-age George W. Bush could have found favor.

The evening climaxes with a 35mm screening of the unexpected comedy classic National Lampoon’s Animal House, which remains the nuclear core of an entire movement of “Us vs. Them” comedy that has never been approached, let alone surpassed, for sheer hilarity. The Cinefamily promises an appearance by original National Lampoon editor Matty Simmons, who commissioned the production of Animal House under his magazine’s banner, plus plenty of other surprise (and not-yet-confirmed) Lampoon-era guests.

The party, co-sponsored by the L.A. Weekly, gets fired up this coming Friday, June 25, at 8:00 p.m.

And to get you in the mood, here’s a gallery of Lampoon-related treats.

Remember Anita Bryant? Despite your efforts to forget, remember you will after this brief clip from the Disco Beaver special entitled “Homo No Mo.”

And here’s John Belushi and the beginning of Lemmings: Dead In Concert (1973).

Speaking of Woodstock gods, here's the Lampoon's dead-on Neil Young parody "Southern California Brings Me Down" (Thanks, Patrick!)

A gallery of favorite National Lampoon covers, 1970-1977.

And finally, some links to a month-long series of articles I posted two summers ago on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the release of National Lampoon’s Animal House:

A feature-length commentary recorded by myself and my best friend, Bruce Lundy. We met on the set of Animal House in 1977 and here spend two hours recalling the making of the movie from our own unique third-ant-from-the-left perspective.

A post in honor of the day of the movie’s 30th birthday.

A series of interviews conducted by cast member Mark Metcalf (Doug Neidermeyer to you).

Some remembrances and video footage of life on the set during the filming of the movie’s parade sequence.

A brief consideration of the politics of Animal House.

The initial post announcing the month of articles devoted to Animal House features some good pictures of an earlier Animal House reunion.

And finally, my own remembrance of The Day I Met John Belushi.



Fatman in a Suit from Peet Gelderblom on Vimeo.

My friend Peet Gelderblom is some kind of talented fella. Here's a short piece he wrote and directed satirizing the public image of well-known Dutch actor Beau van Erven Dorens, whose buttons popped so memorably in Peet's recent short film, Out of Sync. Who knew this suave European star and I had so much (literally) in common?

And speaking of Out of Sync, congratulations to my friend again-- the film has been accepted into the competition at Rutger Hauer's I've Seen Films festival September 30 through October 9 in Milan, Italy! The jury consists of Hauer, Miranda Richardson, filmmaker Anton Corbijn and a host of others. Best of luck, Peet! And be sure to pick a nice tux! You may need it for the Oscars!


Monday, June 21, 2010



The word from Sergio at Shadow and Act is that, despite the fact that it is only available on a DVD of unconfirmed quality and not at all available on any kind of official DVD release from Warner Bros. Home Video, the 108-minute version of Ken Russell’s The Devils (1971) is now available in 2.35:1 for download from, of all places, iTunes. There is some tech spec going on here as to the viability of burning that download onto a DVD—obviously seeing Russell’s wide-screen imagery and Derek Jarman’s masterful set design on a 3.5-inch iPod screen isn’t the best way to see the movie (I’ll blow it up to 17 inches or so on my laptop), but in a time when corporate feet are colder than ever in regards to whether or not the climate around Warner Bros. can withstand the predicted shit-storm over the release of the film through conventional home video channels, I guess this relatively under-the-radar release will have to do. I have not yet given up hope for that official DVD release with the infamous ”Rape of Christ” sequence intact, but for now this masterpiece, reduced to a mere pixel’s shadow of its glorious big-screen self, should be grabbed at a $9.99 bargain while the grabbing is good.

(Thanks to Brian Saur for the tip!)


UPDATED 6/22/10 Not so fast! Be sure to follow the thread in the comments column for all the latest on this very tantalizing, frustrating non-development in the ongoing history of Russell's film and the forces that would keep a well-designed, official DVD out of the American home video market.


Sunday, June 20, 2010


It was only coincidence (certainly not by design) that I finally caught up with John Hillcoat’s film version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road during the week directly preceding Father’s Day. The book was one that I read with a combination of eagerness and dread, its language sparse and terse yet flowing with pain from which the source is never quite exposed, its subject the emotional connections that must fight their way through an insurmountable tide of nihilism and despair at the end of the world. Ironically, those spare words of McCarthy's often poetically overreached in a backward sort of way, taking aim at eloquent imagery and the dressing up of bleak ideas when a more straightforward style, one which the book embraces at a glance in its own pared down template, might have served better. The movie cannot find its way into the interior landscape of the characters of the Man (and to a lesser degree the Boy) the way McCarthy’s words did, words which had the luxury of spinning and tumbling and fashioning the apocalyptic thunderclouds of McCarthy’s vision at the mind’s pace, a reader’s prerogative, making connections and associations that do not require the verisimilitude of narrative integrity and believability.

Instead, the movie pares the book’s language down to its visual elements, reducing the poetry of language to a few voiceovers, and puts more faith in the poetry that can be felt from the sight of a man and a boy walking down ash-covered streets, amidst burnt-out buildings with the occasional hopeful (and deceptive) glow of firelight, or the figure of that same man standing quiet on an elevated freeway overpass, a truck shattered mere feet away, the location adorned by not a sound other than the choked winds blowing for no one’s relief, as he rids himself of a wedding ring and the last vestiges of a connection to a past which can only now weigh him down. Hillcoat’s movie is quietly astonishing, as was the book, as it succeeds largely by not being able to recreate the extremely personal interpretation of the reader. That experience, Hillcoat understands, is one that cannot be duplicated. His movie works in an existential template pared down from the garish CGI visions of destruction manned by Roland Emmerich and cut with the same despairing vision of an anthropological future that lay subterranean in James Dickey’s Deliverance (and John Boorman’s film of the same). Here several unknown actors roam the landscape in search of food (other humans), and one in particular, Garrett Dillahunt, makes as brilliantly indelible an impression as a roadside predator as Bill McKinley or Herbert “Cowboy” Coward did holding Ned Beatty and Jon Voight captive on the banks of the Cahulawassee.

But it is the piercing blue eyes of Viggo Mortensen, and the way they scan the face of his haunted, confused son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), that convey the real subject of Hillcoat’s movie—the desperation of a father to love, honor, protect and deliver his son, his only real legacy in a world stripped of its own history, by any means necessary. It is perhaps too rigid a distilling of McCarthy’s themes for some, and it may be inarguable that the book is a richer experience. But the movie, being subject to the vivid conflation of sound, editing, acting and evocative cinematography, is every bit the book’s equal in terms of its capacity to overwhelm the audience, even in its mustier moments-- the literal flashbacks to the Man’s life before his wife (Charlize Theron) allowed herself to be swallowed up by the harsh indifference of their new world were better rendered by the oblique remembrances of the book, yet they still work despite their relative lumpiness amidst the bigger picture. And the movie has a kind of boldness that is epitomized by Mortensen’s conviction too—what we’re seeing here is an awful primal drama of two players (and a society) teetering on the brink of extinction, and yet Hillcoat's movie works in its own way, as McCarthy's novel did, without the bombast of the collectively damned. Hillcoat effectively reduces the future of the world down to the gazes between this father and son, the way they huddle together, speak their few words of carrying the fire within, even the way they rehearse their own suicides. The Road is many things, among them a clear-eyed vision of the commitment of a parent to guide a child through a world grown even harsher than he could have ever prepared for, and also an elegy for fathers denied the chance to see their sons cast their gaze on any world other than the grim, troubled, hopeless one they have inherited.


For Father's Day, Matt Zoller Seitz, an exceptional dad in his own right, has a marvelous and moving slide show on Salon entitled "Great Dads in Pop Culture Not Named Atticus Finch"" which you are well-advised to click to and enjoy immediately as part of this day of honoring and remembering yours, mine and ours. Thanks for the heads-up, Matt, and a blissful Father's Day to you, full of all the love you can take from those two wonders you're lucky enough to call your kids.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010


(The following is my submission to The White Elephant Blog-a-Thon now playing at Silly Hats Only. Please check with Paul Clark throughout the day for a complete list of links to essays and an explanation of the guidelines as well.)


Some insomniacs rely on over-the-counter concoctions like Sominex to help them get a good night’s sleep when that goal, the reward for every man or woman after a long, hard day, remains elusive. Others rely on more potent, prescription-only chemical compounds to get the rest they need. But I’ve discovered a completely drug-free way to induce a state of blissful unconsciousness. One need only do as I have done six or seven times now, in as convincing a test sample situation as I would ever demand in order to invite and embrace a rapid descent into deep slumber. Over the past two weeks I have attempted, on seven different occasions, to watch Stewart Raffill’s Mannequin 2: On the Move (1991), the sequel the public apparentlydemanded to Michael Gottlieb’s seminal 1987 classic Mannequin, the story of a boy wearing a thin tie who insists on falling in love with a department-store dressmaker’s dummy which occasionally turns into Kim Cattrall. But my attempts were consistently thwarted, each one begun with the sincere hopes of hearty laughs and heartwarming romance, only to be sidetracked by the somnolent dustings of the Sandman within mere minutes of the conclusion of the movie’s opening credits.

Actually, the sensation was more like being jumped by a trio of Teutonic muscle-bound goons and thrown into a burlap sack laced with the gnarliest of gnarly sleep agents. But really, how the rest-deprived get to that state of rest and regenerative relaxation is beside the point, is it not? On each of those seven occasions I failed to make it beyond the introduction of Meshach Taylor, the only cast member to return from the first film to the follow-up, reprising his triumphant performance in the role of in-house African-American department store designer Hollywood Montrose, baby, the kind of out-ra-a-a-a-a-ageous (!) mincing stereotype that presumably had someone rolling in the aisles back in those fuzzily focused, VHS-dependent days when moviegoers were still as afraid of gays as they used to be (and kinda still were) of blacks. But on each of those nights following the first when I resumed the movie, I refused to start where I dropped off, largely because I couldn’t remember at exactly what point I had lost consciousness, but also because I refused to bring anything less than a cinephile’s integrity to my encounter with this holdover (last gasp) of ‘80s cotton-candy cinema. I absolutely would not accept not seeing Mannequin 2: On the Move with fresh eyes, from the very beginning to the very end, and if I fell asleep it meant starting all over again, from the opening scene.

The movie begins with a prologue-- “Once Upon a Time in the Kingdom of Hauptmann-Koenig,” a kind of jokey-sounding non-joke that perfectly sets the table for all the delights to come. The realm of Hauptmann-Koenig, which looks ever so much like the front nine at a posh golf course somewhere in the Midwest, is overseen by a mean old Queen (the royal sort, as interpreted by Cynthia Harris) who doesn’t want her handsome Prince William (Fright Night’s William Ragsdale) running off with his true love, a feisty young princess-type tart from another fiefdom (or commonwealth, or parish, or county, or whatever, man) named Jessie (Deadly Friend’s Kristy Swanson). After some derring-do involving William and a bunch of buff Bally’s refugees dressed as Vikings who apparently work for the state, the mean old Queen, in league with an evil sorcerer (Weekend at Bernie’s’s Terry Kiser), puts a curse on the princess. The evil sorcerer, who has designs on the princess himself, turns her— much to the horror of William and the puzzling indifference of a fiefdom (or, well, you know) full of citizens who are about 900 years removed from the development of plastics-- into a life-sized Barbie-doll-looking inanimate, the mannequin of the title, you see. It is the confusing curse of the sorcerer who, since he lusts after the princess himself, might reasonably have been expected to separate the young lovers in such a way that could hasten his own usurping of her toothy charms, that the princess shall be so altered for a thousand years or until such time as she is the recipient of true love’s kiss, or some equally generic balderdash. Plot specifics were already becoming fuzzy, even after seven exposures, and the credits hadn’t even begun to roll yet, yet the movie pulls a rabbit out of its hat here in that during this prologue it manages to effortlessly evoke the comic mastery and rugged period verisimilitude of Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

Cut to a thousand years later, in Philadelphia, Pennyslvania, where an exhibit of treasures from the long-ago-forgotten kingdom (or fiefdom-- whatever!) of Hauptmann-Koenig is about to go on display at a big department store where a young ringer for Prince William named Jason Williamson (I‘m sure he’s played by William Ragsdale too, but in my increasing grogginess I couldn’t be sure if it was Ragsdale, or perhaps Jonathan Silverman—or I guess it could have been Jon Cryer—Matthew Broderick and Michael J. Fox were, I think already too expensive by the time this movie was made, so I doubt it was them) is off to his first day on the job at said department store as assistant to the obnoxious store bigwig (Stuart Pankin, quietly underplaying as always). Ragsdale (or whoever) hopes to start on the bottom rung of the ladder and work his way up to some position of importance. He hits the road to work in his working-class but still kinda cool convertible Jeep, knocking back a donut with a Diet Pepsi chaser for breakfast, and if you haven’t already been hit with that warm feeling of familiarity spreading through your chest and breadbasket (not unlike the path of the insinuating toxin after a particularly serious spider bite), by the time the TV-style credits come zooming out at you (Oh, why couldn’t these have been in 3D?) and the Kenny Loggins-cum-Starship synth pop anthem kicks in (“I’ve got something to make, you see/And that somethin’ is me/ You’d better wake up!/ ‘Cause my time is comin’/ And I’m runnin’ all the way/ Wake up!/My engine’s hummin’/Burnin’ down that road to paradise/Wake up!”) you will be. You'll also know with death-like certainty that you’re deep inside an ‘80s romantic comedy leftover, a cultural culmination of tropes and styles and remnants of better movies so generic and artificial that it almost achieves its own kind of cultural significance, a signpost for the demise and plasticity of a pop culture decade ready to give itself over to oversized stocking caps and muttering, navel-gazing rockers from Seattle.

Bear with me at this point, because this is where I start to really get hazy, which is, I think, okay, because clearly the screenwriters (including original Mannequin scribe Edward Rugoff and, surprisingly, Cheers/Frasier alums Ken Levine and David Isaacs) aren’t concerned with logic or believability—this is a fizzy romantic confection; we barely care, and the kids sure aren’t gonna! The mannequin-ized princess ends up as part of the Hauptmann-Koenig display, apparently having been passed down as a royal heirloom, hard evidence of a history of suppression that could hardly speak well of the royal temper. It is at this point that we are introduced to Jason’s soon-to-be BFF, Hollywood Montrose, he of the designer dashiki, eyeglasses shaped like hairdressers’ scissors and a battery of saucy jokes meant to assure Middle America that homos are harmless but funny. (Going into a soldier crawl to escape a tight situation with Jason, Hollywood japes, “I learned this move from the Marines. They were looking for a few good men, and so was I!”) Terry Kiser, every bit Meshach Taylor’s equal in his ability to fill out a comic characterization in bold, gasp-inducing strokes, reappears as the evil Count Spretzle, the apparent reincarnation of the evil sorcerer, who follows the Hauptmann-Koenig collection to Philadelphia, his three Teutonic muscle-bound goons in tow. (So I didn’t hallucinate them!) Spretzle is determined, you see, to abscond with the princess mannequin, remove the necklace which contains the power of the curse from around her lovely neck, and have her as his own! (Sinister laughter is now reverberating, reverberating in my head! Make it stop!)

But it’s at this point that all seven times I’ve made a sincere effort to watch Mannequin 2: On the Move that I inevitably black out, cast from the artificial light of director’s Raffill’s penetrating vision of male-female relationships into the all-enveloping dreamscape of the unconscious. Its probably useful to remember that Raffill is the man who made such an indelible mark on cinema with his E.T. homage Mac and Me (1988), Tammy and the T-Rex (1994) starring Denise Richards and a pre-Fast and Furious Paul Walker (who would have made a fine Prince William), The Philadelphia Experiment (1984) and 1975’s four-wall family classic The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, where I first encountered the director’s singular talent. Therein may lie a clue as to the strange nocturnal visions I had every night after falling asleep to the synth waves of David McHugh’s unforgettable pop-tinged score (think Huey Lewis, only less gritty)—each and every night I dreamed that I stayed awake and finished the movie, and eerily enough each night the dream, with a few minor details here and there excepted, seemed very much the same all seven times. Jason is dumb enough to think a mannequin falling out of a truck into a river resembles a human being closely enough that he thinks nothing of diving in to save it/her, thus setting up a Splash-esque underwater encounter in which the mannequin— despite still wearing the cursed necklace—momentarily comes to life and winks at our hero. (This plot development is one of many that are so silly as to be only possible as the stuff of dreams, or nightmares.) By the time the mannequin is whisked away to the department store, at this point under the watchful eye of Jason and Hollywood, Jason is so enamored of the lifeless piece of plastic that he actually starts to make out with it. In my dream he pulls up short and, thank God, questions his own sanity for doing such a thing. (If this actually happened in the movie, it would have to be the screenwriters’ sanity that would be suspect.)

Then I remember the dream segueing into a hilarious parody of those ‘80s fish-out-of-water comedy romances (like Splash or even Pretty Woman) where the guy takes the girl around town in his ride so she can see all the sights and do all the things she’s never done. Why, in my dream this thousand-year-old princess gets to ride down the street in Jason’s convertible Jeep and stand up so she can go “Whoo!” to all the disbelieving passersby. Then they stop for a Philly cheese steak, because she’s never had food like this before—she’s so unfamiliar with the very act of eating that in my dream I actually have her accidentally eating part of the wrap the cheese steak is wrapped in! But then there’s the scene where they go out to a club where some more faux Huey Lewis is pumpin’, and after she teaches him how to dance to classical music, then they slow-dance to yet another ballad untouched by human hands, and it is at this point they fall in love, knowing nothing of chlamydia (or the "A" word) or of any Pennsylvania statutes barring the interspecies comingling of man and papier-mâché princess.

Fortunately, to keep the dream entertaining, and to make sure I know what I’m dreaming is a parody of the kind of bad ‘80s comedy I avoided like ptomaine back in the day, Count Spretzle, sporting a long hair dangling from a facial mole, and his trio of steroid-enhanced henchmen continue stumbling around the city in pursuit of the princess, whose mannequin-like shell was at one time stuffed with jewels that the evil count also hopes to recover along with the princess’s eternal servility. I remember half sitting up one night (I think I was sitting up) and thinking to myself, if the jewels were hidden inside her mannequin body, where do they go when she is constituted as a humanoid? Wouldn’t they most likely be lodged somewhere, say, in her lower intestine or some other inconvenient body cavity? (This would go a long way toward explaining the grimace Kristy Swanson passes off as an insipid grin.) I remember every night also dreaming of yet another wacky montage, this time intercutting the princess’s first encounter with a hot water bubble bath and Jason’s inept attempt to make breakfast—girls love their Calgon, and boys are idiots in the kitchen, as we all know. As she’s getting herself ready, she accidentally puts the necklace back on, returning her to a state of mannequin-osity, and even though Jason was the one who originally took the necklace off and facilitated her appearance as a frothy starlet, he’s not smart enough to repeat the process, so instead he frets and carries her about town during his workday, which makes for lots of funny comedy when he takes her to the coffee shop, etc., etc. (See, no actual movie would be this brain-dead, right? Thank God it was all just a dream.) This is followed by all manner of flailing about the city as Jason and the Princess fall into one tight spot after another—at one point they are rescued by Hollywood, who infiltrates the place where they are being held captive by Count Spretzle by dressing as—get this—Lou Gossett Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman! Soon the dream movie comes to a thrilling climax, as it did every night of seven that I had the dream, with a wild encounter in which Count Spretzle interrupts the department store fashion show and fights Jason to the death for the love of the princess. Guess which one of them gets turned into a mannequin himself before falling off the stage and shattering into a million pieces! Well, I’ll tell you, dreams are just like real Hollywood in some ways, and there’s just no way I’m going to allow the star of my dream, Michael J. F— I mean, William Ragsdale come to such an awful end!

So I’ve had these dreams for seven nights, and now here it was, the night before I was supposed to write a piece on Mannequin 2: On the Move for The White Elephant Blog-a-Thon, in which the participants submit the name of a movie they’d like to see someone else review, in exchange for being assigned one to review themselves. I can’t remember which movie I requested to be reviewed, largely because the shock of being assigned Mannequin 2: On the Move so misaligned my system that for a couple of weeks I kept returning to the e-mail to make sure I got the assignment right. Yep, I did. I got it right. The only thing was, I had less than 24 hours before the review was supposed to go to post, and I had only seen the first 15 minutes of the actual movie, plus whatever nightmares I had had of what the movie might actually be like, to go on—I hadn’t yet seen the actual film.

So I sat down last night and fired up the DVD, this time determined not to fall asleep. I refused any comfy chair or plush couch on which to sit and watch. I wanted to be as uncomfortable as possible, so I stuck the DVD in my laptop and held the computer while standing in my living room as the first oh-so-familiar 15 minutes played themselves out yet again. By the time Meshach Taylor makes his first appearance I was tired, but I was not yawning. I was going to do it this time! Tonight was my night to finally see Mannequin 2: On the Move in its entirety, without commercial interruption or that of the Sandman either.

Then a very special kind of horror began to dawn on me. There was the scene in which Jason jumps in the river to save the mannequin princess. Jesus! Just like my dream… And there that weird make-out scene where Jason tongues the lifeless doll and questions his sanity! The scenes, with the jeep, the cheese steak, the Huey Lewis club, the bathtub/breakfast montage, Meshach Taylor dressed as a mincing Sgt. Emil Foley, those goddamn Austrian Schwarzenegger wannabes, and Count Spretzle, complete with that disgusting hair—they were all in the movie, just as I’d dreamt them! Oh, no, I couldn’t be… No benevolent God in his kingdom would ever allow such an awful thing to transpire…

And yet it did. I realized that on the seven separate occasions I tried and (apparently) failed to sit through Mannequin 2: On the Move, the movie, rather than taking me into a true state of unconscious sleep, set me instead into a kind of waking torpor, a paralysis of nerves and brain activity not unlike the sensation of being exposed to neurological blocking agents that can in some instances simulate death. Being exposed to Mannequin 2: On the Move, in high-definition no less, was apparently more than my fragile system could handle, and the movie sent me into a simulation of total sensory failure. Unable to move or otherwise wrest myself from the movie’s icy grip, even though I thought I was unconscious and dreaming, I was actually watching the movie, helplessly, with no escape until the final credits. This must, I think, qualify as devotion to a blog-a-thon above and beyond the call of duty and I will be inquiring as to whether or not there might be some way for me to be officially recognized for my tribulations-- a medal, perhaps. I saw Mannequin 2: On the Move eight times in a span of two weeks and have so far lived to tell the tale. May this serve as a cautionary tale for those who might otherwise blithely dismiss this ‘80s style romantic confection as just another movie. No, it has powers; I think it might even have sentient intelligence, or perhaps body-altering capabilities. There’s something else going on here, and I’m completely afraid that I might soon find out what.


(The Mannequin 2: On the Move trailer even conveniently includes a few strains of Starship’s number-one hit “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” from the first movie, you know, just to get you in the mood. Pure evil.)


Wednesday, June 09, 2010


(Click to enlarge. The credits are worth reading!)

My great vagabond friend Larry Aydlette has a new home under a familiar moniker-- Welcome to L.A.. Larry has been busy assembling some fabulous Polaroids in an ongoing gallery, many of them noir-centered , some of them meant to remind you that in this movie she seemed to be the most beautiful woman alive, and some meant to put a big ol' smile on my face.

Larry has taken a familiar image drawn by my daughter (I think she was only six at the time?) and played around with it in some very creative and amusing ways. The picture above is but only one sample. Check 'em all out at Welcome to L.A. and stay for all the multimedia delights Larry has in store for you at his new digs. (I really enjoyed the John Singer Sargent slide show!)

Thanks, Larry, for the crazy tribute! You made my family laugh like little donkeys this evening! But now Emma wants royalties. Kids these days.


Monday, June 07, 2010


You ever get the feeling after seeing a movie that an actor is just destined to get recognized for being really good at what they do? I get that feeling about Julia Marchese, actress, Queen of the New Beverly and all-around charmer who possesses the kind of beauty that is unclassifiable and a prodigious talent to match. She currently stars in writer-director Marion Kerr’s potent psychological thriller Golden Earrings, which had its premiere last year and recently racked up some prestigious honors at the Independent Spirit Festival in Denver, Colorado. Up next is a screening tomorrow as part of the Dances with Films Festival in West Hollywood at the Laemmle Sunset Five. The movie screens at 2:45 p.m., so take that businessman’s lunch you’ve been putting off and get down there. I get the sense that from here on out the sky’s the limit, for both Julia and the movie. Golden Earrings deserves wider distribution certainly, because Kerr is so at ease as a director (it’s her first film, but feels like her 15th—she’s a natural) and it’s a really effective piece of work. But it wouldn’t work much at all without Julia’s presence—she grounds the movie with her bottomless pool of talent (the entryway to which being those eyes), and she sends it off on flights of fearful fantasy and devastating emotional terror as well. It’s a towering performance, and unexpected only in that we’ve come to expect and herald a whole lot less in our indie films these days, in whatever genre they might be moored. But Julia sets a gold standard for inwardly directed, tour-de-force acting on a modest scale in Golden Earrings, and if you don’t think she’s someone to watch after seeing this film, then I suggest you’re not paying very close attention. Julia joined me for breakfast in Hollywood this past weekend to discuss her role, the movie, the recognition it has received, and even the fulfilling of one of her fantasies in an early film role, which might not be what you’d expect it to be. But then very little about Julia is what you’d expect, which is why she’s a talent to watch, you see. Let’s eat!


DC: At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to act?

JM: There was a time when I was about four or five. My parents ran the theater for the community college and they were doing a production of Amadeus. They had me bring a big bouquet of flowers to the actors onstage during the curtain call. I looked at this huge audience applauding, and I think that was when I thought, “Oh, this is really nice! I think I’d like to do this!” Eventually I became a member of a children’s theater company by the time I was eight till I was 18, in Las Vegas, called the Rainbow Company. Everyone is in the ensemble and you take classes every week. They do four or five productions throughout the year. Everyone auditions for every production, and if you don’t get in the production you do the backstage work—lighting, sound, costumes. So you end up learning how to do all areas of theater. They’re very professional. They don’t treat you like you’re a kid; they treat you like an adult. So you have to show up on time, you have to know your lines. It’s very professional and, honestly, that kind of spoiled me, because I came out here and I was expecting everyone to have that kind of training, and they don’t, and that was really surprising. You’re doing an actual production in Los Angeles with people who don’t know their lines and don’t show up on time. I’ve worked this way since I was eight. How is it possible that everyone doesn’t know this is the way it’s supposed to be? I also went to a performing arts high school in Las Vegas and studied drama there. Then I went to UC Irvine and studied drama and film, and I spent my junior year in England studying drama.

DC: Can the craft itself be satisfying without the widespread recognition?

JM: It’s frustrating. I try not to let it get me down, but you do think I’ve worked all these years, and with any other profession you would have a payoff, and with acting you won’t necessarily have one.

DC: What film work have you done up to this point?

JM: I’ve done a lot of independent films and student films. Marion (Golden Earrings director-writer Marion Kerr) and I had done several short films together before, but Golden Earrings was her first feature. I did two Full Moon movies, one called Cryptz, with a “Z,” cause it was an “urban” horror movie. In that one I was completely cut out. It was a makeup-heavy role—two hours in the makeup chair turning into this monster, but they ended up not liking the makeup, so they cut me out. The second one was Delta Delta Die! which starred Julie Strain and Brinke Stevens. I was the young Brinke Stevens in flashbacks, and I got to be covered in a bucket of blood, which was a lifelong fantasy.

DC: Are you a fan of the horror genre?

JM: Yeah, I’m a gigantic horror fan. There was a video store near our place called Goldstar Video, and our senior year of college Marion and I decided we were gonna watch every horror movie in the horror movie section. They had 217 movies and we got through 175. A Nightmare on Elm Street is my favorite. It’s the best one there is. It’s so scary and inventive and the effects still look great. Doing horror movies is one of my dreams. I’d love to be a Scream Queen. Having an article devoted to me in Fangoria magazine would be mind-blowing to me.

DC How did Golden Earrings come about?

JM: Marion had been toying with the idea of writing a feature for a while and she wrote it with my group of friends, who are all actors, in mind. She wrote the part of Ronnie specifically for me, the part of Sara for herself. One day she just decided she really wanted to do it, so she hired a producer, a DP—she went 100% professional with it. We had ADR, we had color correction, we had digital effects, all this stuff. She’s so talented. I mean, I’ve been in movies made by friends before where it’s just fun and you’re goofing around. But this wasn’t goofing around. This was hard-core—“We’re going to do this and it’s gonna be great.” And it turned out fantastic.

DC: With friends there’s a natural ease in working with each other, so I would think you’d almost expect a kind of jokey, nonchalant attitude on the set, but the movie itself displays a kind of discipline that must have originated partially from the way you all worked together. But also one of the things that struck me was the confidence Marion has as a director, not only just in working with the actors, but how to move the camera, where the camera needs to be to draw out the most effective emotion from the scene.

JM: Definitely. And it was actually harder to work in front of my friends. I thought, “Wow, if my friends think I’m bad, it’s not only embarrassing, but who’s going to want to work me if even my friends don’t think I’m any good?” You’re trying to step it up because you don’t want to be the weak link. Everyone’s trying to be supportive and rise to the standard that Marion has set. And I’m lucky because Marion knows me so well that she can push me as an actress—“No, you can go farther.” Which made for, I think, a pretty great performance, and I completely give credit to her for that. She really, really nurtured the character in me.

DC: Yours is such an interior kind of performance to a great degree. You don’t show off in the movie at all, and yet as an actor I would think the instinct would be to bring more out, to emphasize what you’re doing in case the audience or maybe even your fellow actors aren’t noticing.

JM: Marion was very good about talking with me about what was coming up, what we were going to be doing. She really took the time to work with me enough to get the reaction she wanted but also to put me where she wanted so I didn’t have to overdo it. All my friends were so supportive. We totally trusted each other, all of us.

DC: You said Marion wrote Ronnie for you. When you were on the set, did you two talk about the relationship between Ronnie and Sara in terms of sexualizing it? That’s where I expected the relationship to go, and there was a hint in that direction but it didn’t end up there for me.

JM: That aspect of it is open-ended, which is cool because it leaves it up to you, the viewer. It could go either way. You could think Ronnie has a crush on Sara that’s more than a friendship, or not. One movie that influenced the tone and approach of Golden Earrings was Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures, where these girls have this unnatural obsession with each other. Which is pretty common with girls, just not to that degree. It’s not a romantic thing, but you want to see them all the time—they’re your life, and when someone upsets that balance, it’s a traumatizing thing. We never really intended it to have a romantic dimension, but we’re asked about it on panels and in Q&As all the time and you could certainly look at it that way—there are elements that are there.

DC: You guys had a good experience at the Independent Spirit Festival, I understand.

JM: Yeah! It was really disorienting for me. I had just flown in from London—I was stuck there for a week under the ash cloud. I arrived to a horrible snowstorm in Denver. Getting there was horrible, but we got there and everything was fine. The people at the festival were so sweet to us and really took care of us—they even created a Golden Earrings martini especially for the occasion. The screening was nearly full, it was received well- everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing and gasping in all the right places—and we did a great Q&A afterward. Then when we were driving home we got a call from our producer, who had stayed for the award ceremony, and told us we had won Best Horror Feature, which was great because all the other horror features that were playing there were like torture porn-type stuff. So I guess for us to be so far at the other end of the spectrum in terms of how our movie plays really must have worked in our favor. And it’s funny, because we had never really considered Golden Earrings to be a horror film—it’s more a psychological thriller. The movie we’re most akin to, which none of us had actually seen before doing the movie, was Repulsion, which is a certain kind of horror film, I guess. But just because we didn’t see ourselves as a straight horror film didn’t mean we were going to turn down the honor. If that’s what you want to give us, we’ll certainly take it! And because of that award a lot of horror festivals have asked us to submit, so hopefully we’ll get another festival out of all this.

DC: That kind of validation is great too. I mean, it was great fun to see Golden Earrings at the New Beverly with all your friends there, but I’d guess you could easily walk away from something like that thinking, “Oh, they just like it because they have to!”

JM: Yes, absolutely. On the other hand, the New Beverly caters exclusively to film lovers, people who really do know what they’re talking about, so when they say they love it, it has credibility. I mean, Rian Johnson and Joe Dante aren’t going to lie about it just to be nice to me or Marion—what they say about it is gonna be out there, and if they’re recommending a bad movie it’s going to reflect on them. A lot of people came up to me and Marion and everyone after the New Beverly screenings and seemed relieved that they didn’t have to lie and say how much they liked it when they really didn’t! But at the festival, even before it screened, volunteers and other people found out we were involved and they’d say, “Oh, you were in Golden Earrings-- I wanna see that.” We’ve submitted it to the Sacramento Film Festival, Big Bear, ShriekFest, and we’re just waiting to hear back from them. And up next, of course, is another hometown screening at the Dances with Films Festival this coming Tuesday.

DC: It’s a terrific movie, and you were genuinely terrific in it. Thanks for coming to breakfast with me!

JM: Thank you! And thanks for asking me!

(If you’re in Los Angeles and still need further convincing, read my review of Golden Earrings and then try to make it down to the Sunset 5 for tomorrow’s screening. Or you can catch up on all the latest on the movie at the Golden Earrings Facebook page.)


Friday, June 04, 2010


One of the questions in the latest SLIFR professorial quiz has to do with the quiz-taker’s memories of the oddest double bill either listed or actually seen in a theater, and it seems my childhood memories the local show house in Lakeview, Oregon were chockful of oddities. (One that stands out, for some reason, is the Bob Hope/Phyllis Diller comedy Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number! paired with the vicious World War II murder mystery Night of the Generals.) Admittedly, there were some answers to this question that were a whole lot more odd even than this example-- 1984 and The Slugger’s Wife certainly qualifies. Odd here is defined as two movies slammed together regardless of the compatibility of their subject matter or tone, and given this disregard for movies as anything but product to be slapped onto a projector in order to draw customers to the concession stand, the oddities almost always won out over good sense, at least at my hometown theater. The manager there operated under the guiding philosophy of a very popular book one could find on a lot of exhibitors’ shelves back in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s called The Encyclopedia of Exploitation.

The E of E was a volume intended to guide the small theater owner toward ways he might better attract audiences to whatever movie happened to be playing—lots of ideas for displays, contests and other promotional schemes were explained. The theater owner in Lakeview actually gave me his copy of the book when he was cleaning house one day—he was never big on showmanship and consequently probably never had much use for it. However, I eagerly thumbed through it for curiosity’s sake and quickly gleaned one of the book’s operating principles regarding double features. According to the author, the wise theater manager must always book two movies that were as diametrically opposed as possible while still being compatible enough to attract a wide audience. In other words, “Mom” might like the Bob Hope/Phyllis Diller picture, being the flighty, silly female, while “Dad,” if he can endure the first feature, will eagerly tear into the meat and gristle of Night of the Generals. That way everybody’s satisfied, see? And with the exception of those double bills that were released as a package by studios big and small, I suspect this is how many a small-to-medium market movie theater (and who knows, maybe some of the bigger towns too) approached the art of the double bill, that is, as no art at all.

But good repertory programming, as it came to be defined in the ‘60s and ‘70s and into the ‘80s, before the home video revolution momentarily fooled most everyone into thinking seeing movies on TV was somehow better because of its convenient novelty, always looked at the double feature differently. A good rep house was, with any luck, headed by a programmer who knew his film history and leavened the scholastic imperative with a liberal dose of movie love, using out connections based on theme, director, historical context or even the occasional weird juxtaposition that might somehow encourage reflection on the social climate of a given time or even that of the film industry itself. I remember reading of a rep series programmed back east in the mid ‘80s that examined the “X” rating as defined by the MPAA in the years 1968-1971, before the rating had been become associated with pornography—double bills of the likes of Myra Breckenridge and The Best House in London might not illuminate the individual films thematically, but it might have had a lot to say about the tenor of the times in the United States as to what constituted an “X” rating in the first place, as well as a reminder that the “X” rating was, if not ever prolifically applied, then at least there was a time when the rating was not the mark of socially unacceptable goods that it eventually became. (Kubrick, Pasolini, Bertolucci, Visconti, Schlesinger and Ferreri were all directors who released X-rated films between the years 1969 and 1973).

Organizations like the Film Forum in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and even to some extent a group like the Cinefamily, are certainly conversant in the double feature—creative cinematic couplings are the main attraction for most, if not all of these revival and international specialty exhibitors. A look at any of their calendars for a given month reveals serious film intelligence at work on the part of their programming staff. But these places are generally oriented toward one performance at a specific day and time in a model much more consistent with museum programming and exhibition than with what we more readily associate with a more commercial-style theatrical exhibition. The Cinefamily in particular, programmed primarily by Hadrian Belove, is oriented around a theme-- This month features “The 2nd Annual Cinefamily Comedy Festival"-- in which a variety of shorts, cartoons programs, rare screenings, live appearances and tributes make for a much more varied, eclectic “happening”-oriented trajectory than the usual double feature fare. At Cinefamily, this month and as usual, the programming is king, but the sense of community and the sensibility of a party, a get-together, are just as important.

On the other hand, the kind of calendar-based revival cinema which came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s, based entirely on a menu of double features that might change daily but could run as many as three days to a week before a change-out, has practically ceased to exist anywhere except major metropolitan areas. I haven’t any figures to cite, but I’m guessing that if the Los Angeles market can be seen as a generous sampling of how revival cinema is faring across the country, then my guess is that, outside of organizations like those cited above in various cities, there probably aren’t many “real” revival theaters left. In Los Angeles alone filmgoers with memories long enough can mourn the passing of the Fox Venice, the Loyola Movie Palace, the Sherman, the New Beverly Cinema and, of course, the Nuart as venues which were all operational during the same window of history as working models of the revival cinema boom. All are gone except the Nuart and the New Beverly, but the Nuart remains in business today as the flagship art and specialty theater in the Landmark Cinemas chain. The American Cinematheque remains the only Los Angeles organization (consisting of two venues the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood and the Aero Theater in Santa Monica) devoted to new programming each day, whether it is double-feature oriented or not. Grant Moninger and Gwen Deglise, co-head programmers at the American Cinematheque do a marvelous job of combining the star or theme-related approach to programming double bills with high-profile event programming—the AC uses its own high profile to bring out some of the best in appearances by filmmakers and actors involved in the productions and introduce the films or participate in discussions afterward. And David Moninger excels each month in his “Criminally Unknown” series, which highlights specific movies and directors which David unerringly pinpoints as suffering from that titular status. Only the New Beverly Cinema remains, as it has been since 1978, true to the model of collegiate-style revival cinema in a stand-alone theater devoted exclusively to two and three-day runs of contemporary and classic cinema from around the world in a double feature format.

And as such, Michael Torgan, Phil Blankenship, Brian Quinn and the others who regularly contribute to the programming of the New Beverly have become masterful in what I’ve come to think of as the lost art of the double bill. Between them they display a range of expertise comprising the history of cinema, and as importantly the history of revival cinema—that’s Michael—the favorite and not-so-favorite horror nuggets and niche cult bon-bons to be found lurking in the darkest corners of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s—that’s Phil—and the deep, deep cuts of 42nd Street-style grindhouse scholarship that make up the bi-monthly sojourns of the Grindhouse Film Festival—that’s Brian. Combined with the wisdom of the rest of the staff and, yes, even sometimes the participation of the New Beverly’s beneficent landlord—that Tarantino fella—the New Beverly’s way with a double feature is just about the best that any independently owned and operated movie theater in the country has to offer. I recently realized I hadn’t done an overview of programming in a while—my attempt to keep up a weekly SLIFR Revival Pick of the Week was more than my schedule could bear—but I wanted to make some mention of the super double feature I was going to indulge in there this very weekend. But when I took a gander at the double features coming up over the next month, I realized that it was time to once again blow the horn for our two major Los Angeles treasures, the New Beverly and the American Cinematheque, and their facility and imagination within the creative possibilities of the double feature was just one of many good reasons why it was a good time to do so.


The (almost) lost art of the double bill consists mainly of two primary categories, the Star System and the Theme Connection. The appearance of either of these two ensures that the double feature was put together with some consideration for how the movies will relate to each other, bounce off each other, and play emotionally in such close proximity. There’s little need to worry if the comedy stylings of Phyllis Diller are going to mix well with the suspense tactics of a lurid WWII thriller. But just how much thought has to go into throwing two movies together to make an artful double bill? Try it sometime. It’s harder than you might think. As one of the programmers mentioned above told me recently, “It’s easy to put two films together on a program, but it’s a lot harder to do it right.” And this month there are plenty of examples of how the double bill can be done right.

The American Cinematheque's double bills for June are almost exclusively built around the Star System, but the definition of a star is extended from the actor whose face is splashed across the giant screen to the maybe-not-so-well-known director, to the even less heralded film editor and production designer. When the double bill goes away from linking the stars you can sometimes get into the area of irreconcilable clashing of tones, and in one instance the AC has put together a double bill that no one would have thought of were it not for the connection of the personnel involved. But it’s still a connection, and that connection provides meat to chew on and an opportunity for the audience to focus on a particular aspect of the film’s production while the movie still works its typical magic.

And the stars are definitely coming out to the American Cinematheque this month. Tonight at the Aero you can meet and listen to Peter Weller discuss a double feature of David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991) and Michael Tolkin’s The New Age (1994). On the same screen two nights later (June 6) underrated, underappreciated genre director Lewis Teague will be at the Aero in person to screen and discuss two of his best shockers, Alligator (1980, from a script by John Sayles, celebrating its 30th anniversary) and Cujo (1983, from a book by Stephen King). On Thursday, June 10, the star might seem to be director Arthur Penn, and he’s one of the through lines of a double featuring Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Alice’s Restaurant (1969), to be sure. But the evening’s focus will be on the film editor of those two late-‘60s classics, the late Dede Allen, who passed away recently. The very next night celebrate the career of that ‘70s everyman Richard Benjamin with two of his most memorable big-screen appearances—Michael Crichton’s Westworld (1974) and Frank Perry’s Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970). Benjamin will be there at the Aero, and if you’re lucky maybe you’ll get to meet his delightful wife, Paula Prentiss, as well.

David Moninger’s “Criminally Unknown” double bill for the month focuses on the work of director Larry Fessenden, whose moody, emotionally askew ruminations in the horror genre have never quite found the audience that they deserve. Fessenden, who has had a hand in producing and bringing to the screen several films made by others as well as his own, will be on hand at the Aero to discuss two of his most powerful movies, the vampire addiction tale Habit (1996) and the moody, terrifying Wendigo (2001). Father’s Day at the Aero, Sunday, June 20, brings a James Bond double bill back to the big screen, two of 007’s most popular missions-- Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965). The Aero rounds out June with a long series of shorts and features devoted to the on and off-screen work of Charlie Chaplin running from June 17 through June 27. There will be plenty of great programming for the whole family here—Chaplin is a wonderful way to introduce young people to the joys of silent movies. I’m hoping my own daughters and I can make it to see City Lights (1931) with A Woman of Paris (1923) on June 18th, but new 35mm prints of The Idle Class (1921), Sunnyside (1919) and The Circus (1928) on June 17th make for a mighty tempting program too. (See all that the Aero and the American Cinematheque have to offer in June, Chaplin-wise and otherwise, by clicking here.)

The Egyptian features fewer double bills in June, but what they have is about as good as it gets. June 27 brings the strangest coupling of the month on any calendar, a screening of the BFI and the Academy Film Archive’s restored print of Jean Renoir’s masterful The River (1951) alongside director Andrew Marton’s rarely-screened sci-fi classic Crack in the World (1965). Before your imagination goes too wild trying to suss out the thematic connection between these two films (um, well, a river divides two pieces of land much like, um, a crack in the world would, um, divide the world?), remember, we’re still in the Star System section, and the star uniting these two seemingly disparate visions of humanity is production designer Eugene Lourie, whose grand and wonderful work is amply on display in both films. In addition to seeing the films, the Egyptian has a clip reel and a PowerPoint presentation devoted to Lourie’s contribution to film history will be shown, and a panel discussion moderated by production designer John Muto will take place as well.

If you missed Sam Peckinpah’s Junior Bonner at the New Beverly last month (and those of us who did and then read Mr. Peel’s moving assessment really regretted it), the American Cinematheque is giving you a second chance, and if you can possibly see it you should. It just so happens that the Egyptian is showcasing Steve McQueen over four separate nights this month, and this is the only one that will have a double feature program. (The others are close to or over three hours-- Papillon, The Sand Pebbles and The Great Escape-- and make for a mighty satisfying night out all on their own.) Junior Bonner is joined by John Sturges’ The Magnificent Seven (1960, celebrating its 50th anniversary) for a McQueen double bill that is truly representative of the star’s quiet command of the screen in both grand entertainments and more introspective character studies. Mark June 17 on your calendar and don’t miss this one.

But the big one is this coming Saturday night, the fulfillment of a dream of many teen-aged boys who grew up in the ‘70s, not the least of which Yours Truly, who spent their youth imagining someday meeting the woman at the center of the movies which most appealed to their wildest fantasies of a beautiful star who could dish it out to the bad guys (and show it off to the bad guys and the good guys) like no other star ever had before. It didn’t matter that her movies were mostly low-budget contraptions of varying quality-- Pam Grier brought the fantasy of female empowerment, a hot chick who could break your jaw or make your night, home in a visceral and exciting way that made me look at movies with a different perspective, in terms of both racial and sexual politics, but also in terms of giving credit to the potential power and vitality of the low-budget exploitation movie. And on Saturday night, June 5, Pam Grier will be in the house at the Egyptian, hosting a dream double feature of Foxy Brown (1974) and Jackie Brown (1997), but that’s not all. Grier will introduce the program after a book-signing in the Egyptian lobby to promote her new biography, Foxy: My Life in Three Acts, which the iconic actress will be autographing for her biggest fans. And yes, I do include myself in that number. In a year already packed full of highlights (my daughter’s New Beverly Cinema birthday party, the TCM Classic Film Festival), this could stand right up there with the most thrilling of them. (You can see what else is going on at the Egyptian in June by clicking here.)

But make no mistake— the stars aren’t just lined up at the American Cinematheque. The New Beverly Cinema’s June calendar is loaded with Star System double features that run from the gutter to the penthouse. Phil Blankenship kicks off his “Phil’s Film Explosion Part 2” tonight, a mixture of star and theme double bills for fans of ‘80s-vintage comedy, horror and action-- this is going to be an explosion that will leave a slimy day-glo residue you might not even want to clean up for a while. Phil will commandeer the New Beverly screen starting tonight through next Thursday, a new program of ‘80s outrages and excitement every night, and he promises lots of special guests and good times. Given the way he’s starting off his mini-festival, it’s hard to imagine the crowd not having a good time. Sylvester Stallone, whose big action comeback The Expendables looks to be a late-summer hoot, is the star being celebrated tonight. One admission gets you three films in the pumped-up action hero’s overstimulated oeuvre-- Cobra (1986), the movie he made between the grotesque Rocky IV and the not-sure-what-it-is Over the Top (directed by Rambo: First Blood Part II auteur George Pan Cosmatos); the even-sillier but much better Tango and Cash (1989), directed by Andrey Konchalovsky; and finally, one of Stallone’s best pure action pictures, the vertiginous, Die Hard-inspired Cliffhanger (1993), directed by Renny Harlin, whose last great moment in Phil’s Film Explosion Part 2 this is assuredly not.

Roger Corman alumnus Jim Wynorski, now a low-budget shock/schlockmeister in his own right, takes the stage Saturday night for a triple scoop of his directorial treats—the seminal ‘80s kill movie Chopping Mall (1986) shares the screen with The Lost Empire (1985) and the theatrical premiere of Wynorski’s straight-to-video freak-out Demolition High (1996). Wynorski is likely to bring along several co-perpetrators along with to the New Beverly, so Saturday night’s program could be quite l’affaire trash.

Maybe not as literally trashy as what Phil has in store for the faithful on Sunday night-- The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987), a movie I thought surely would never see the light of a projector lamp ever again, and Ghoulies II (1988). The thematic connection here, I’m guessing, is that the Garbage Pail Kids pop out of trash cans, while the Ghoulies continue their proclivity for emerging out of toilets at just the wrong moment.

An interesting pair of under-the-radar kill movies Phil has cooked up for Monday, June 7, is linked thematically in a couple of ways. First, they both feature anonymous casts of mostly female victims getting offed in lurid, splashy (usually literally) ways. But the most fascinating connection is that they were both directed and written by women near the end of the original slasher movie cycle. Sorority House Massacre (1986) was scripted and directed by one Carol Frank (whose sole directorial and writing credit this is), and the co-feature, Slumber Party Massacre (1982) was written by gay feminist scribe Rita Mae Brown and directed by former editor Amy Holden Jones, whose most recent directing credit was the Halle Barry vehicle The Rich Man’s Wife (1996). Going in, the game some might want to play is detecting the feminist spin that one might expect such collaborators (Frank was an assistant director on SPM) might put on time-worn material like the slasher formula—I played it myself when I saw Jones and Brown’s movie on its original 1982 release. Unfortunately, it’s a fruitless search. The movie ardently resists attempts to see it as anything other than a particularly nondescript example of the genre, good for a few kills and some deadpan comedy (a girl eating a slice off the chest of a dead pizza delivery boy). If there is a feminist subtext in Slumber Party Massacre, it is buried so far beneath the gory business as usual that it remains the only corpse left out of sight at the movie’s end.

But Phil’s genius in programming the Massacre double bill takes on extra dimension if you follow up that screening with the one waiting the next night. A rare opportunity to see Brian De Palma’s wide-screen masterpiece Blow Out (1981), paired with his late-period masterpiece Femme Fatale (2002), on the big screen yields a fascinating return in light of the previous night’s fare. Blow Out begins with a perfectly executed parody of exactly the kind of generic slasher epic embodied by the Massacre films, and the whole milieu of seedy ‘80s exploitation films is the foundation and context in which De Palma anchors his brilliant meditation on media, paranoia and the futility of the best intentions. Seeing Blow Out immediately after Slumber Party Massacre will tell you all you need to know about the world in which Jack Terry (John Travolta) toils. One night of screenings feeds into another in a superb cross-over that itself segues into the gorgeous refractions of Femme Fatale’s games of identity and perception. If you can swing both nights, De Palma expands the world of the Massacre movies in ways that make them worth seeing. But if you can only do one, choose De Palma. And as a special added attraction, Phil will be talking with editor Paul Hirsch, who cut Blow Out and many other brilliantly assembled films, about working to realize De Palma's vision on the editing table.

Phil rounds out the week on Wednesday with a link-up of ‘80s comedy (Revenge of the Nerds, with Robert Carradine there to laugh that laugh in person) and post-Flashdance gyrations (Heavenly Bodies) that will have you fumbling for your leg warmers. And Thursday brings Renny Harlin back with his underrated thriller Prison (1988) and a Lance Henriksen artifact called The Horror Show (1989). Neither of these (nor Heavenly Bodies, for that matter) are available on DVD, so if you’re a fan or if you’ve never seen them, period, this is your chance.

The Star System gets its final workout at the New Beverly via two directorial pairings, or “Two By”s as they were affectionately known in the days of Michael’s dad Sherman. The first comes at ya on June 16 and 17 with two by Chan-wook Park—his notorious and rather brilliant Oldboy (2003) and his previous, less successful, but still potent and extremely involving Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002). The other “Two by” is from a director who, against all likelihood, may be experiencing a bit of a posthumous career reappraisal, and wouldn’t that be nice. Richard Fleischer was the epitome of the solid Hollywood journeyman/craftsman (some would say hack, but I wouldn’t) who toiled in the last days of the studio system and made movies for 46 years before his death in 2006. Some were very good (Mr. Majestyk, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Conan the Destroyer), some were very bad (Fantastic Voyage, Doctor Dolittle, Che!) and a few were great (10 Rillington Place, The Narrow Margin, Mandingo), and now, as just another reminder of how wide-ranging his career was, Michael brings out a double feature of two rock-solid thrillers with which he kicked off the ‘70s while all the kudos were going other places. The first is the superb chiller See No Evil (1971), a whip-smart take on Wait Until Dark in which a blind girl (Mia Farrow) returns to her country home where she doesn’t realize that all the occupants have been murdered. One by one she discovers the corpses, just as the killer returns to finish the job. The second feature finds Fleischer making his contribution to Hollywood’s post-Godfather Mafia obsession with The Don is Dead (1973), a bloody gang-war tale starring Anthony Quinn and Robert Forster grittily adapted from Marvin Albert’s best-selling pulp paperback. This is a good opportunity to see Fleischer’s unassuming style at work on some very good genre material.


The Star System gives the New Beverly its own opportunity to shine, no doubt, but the Theme Connection double bill is where Michael Torgan, with Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin at the ready with their grimy grindhouse contributions, really rise to the top.

Michael shifts gears out of Phil’s ‘80s festival in about as opposite a direction as one could possibly head. Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1973), the director’s heralded and emotionally brutal film starring Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin, is paired with what a cynic (like me) might describe as The Creature from the Bleak Lagoon, otherwise known as Woody Allen’s hermetically sealed Bergman homage Interiors (1978). For those looking to decipher whether the great Swedish master illuminated Allen’s work or brought out the worst in him, this double feature would be an excellent place to begin such a study. This brooding double bill plays June 11 and 12.

On June 13 and 14 Michael links the fate of lone gunfighter Shane (1953, directed by George Stevens), who wants to settle into a quiet life but that finds circumstances refuse to allow it, to that of Burt Lancaster’s directorial debut The Kentuckian (1955), in which a Kentucky widower makes for the west in the 1820s, only to find himself sidetracked when he gets involved with corrupt local government and a longstanding family feud. The mythology of American self-definition gets a workout in his double bill, which is satisfying on many different levels, the most important of which is that both are first and foremost terrific entertainments. (Expect a gorgeous wide-screen print of The Kentuckian.)

The coming of age tale is one well and often told by the movies, in the classic era and of late. Two recent examples are highlighted at the New Beverly on June 18 & 19. Lone Scherfig’s Academy-award nominated An Education (2009) was a film I didn’t much like, but it has a performance by Carey Mulligan at its center that is interesting and compelling. Unfortunately, Mulligan cannot defeat the movie’s creepy acceptance and perpetration of its characters’ most vile anti-Semitism. Another British coming of age drama, this one set in an economically depressed modern Britain, looks more promising. Fish Tank (2009) tells the story of a 15-year-old girl who becomes attracted to her mother’s handsome boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). This is a movie that is an unknown quantity to me, but it comes highly recommended, and truly anything with Michael Fassbender in it should be worth a look.

The guns are blazing on June 20 & 21 as Lee Marvin hits the trail for revenge and the return of a small sum of money in John Boorman’s influential existential crime drama Point Blank (1967), a movie that in all circumstances should be seen on the big screen. Angie Dickinson and Carroll O’Connor lend memorable support to this cool but blistering picture. And it is paired up with another crime saga that, while cruder than Boorman’s approach, should be better remembered than it is-- the late director John Flynn’s brutal and terrific The Outfit (1973), in which Robert Duvall, fresh out of the pokey, goes hunting for the men who killed his brother. Vicious and tough, The Outfit is, like Charley Varrick and The Getaway, part of an essential core of amoral gangster pictures of the early ‘70s, but unlike those it is not available on DVD. Both pictures also happen to be adaptations of punchy thrillers written by Donald Westlake, not a bad starting point if crafting a gut-grabbing crime thriller is your goal. This double feature is a really good example of Michael Torgan’s acumen in putting complimentary pictures together which speak to each other on different levels, and when a double bill this rich pops up, you’d better hope nothing comes in between you and the box-office door.

Finally, Michael puts together two terrific, female-driven dramas which play out among the sun-bleached landscape of the Mojave Desert. CCH Pounder burst into American moviegoers’ consciousness in Percy Adlon’s bittersweet comedy Bagdad Café (1987), in which she oversees the titular eating establishment whilst a dust storm of oddball characters (including love interest Jack Palance and German actress Marianne Sagebrecht as the visitor whose arrival at the café changes Pounder’s life) swirls all around her. Paired with Bagdad Café is Allison Anders’ wistful, painful and funny Gas Food Lodging, a piercing look at the trials of a family of females, headed by Brooke Adams and including daughters Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk, as they navigate romance and disappointment in a small desert town. Catch this double feature on June 22 & 23.

And last but in no way least, Brian Quinn and Eric Caidin pull a pair from the Star System and a pair from the Theme Connection to make for a particularly juicy June at the Grindhouse Film festival. On June 15 the theme is thumbing your way cross-country, but only as Brian and Eric can orchestrate it. They’ve unearthed an incredible curiosity entitled An American Hippie in Israel (1972), presumably the Yiddish answer to Easy Rider and joined it up with one from the vaults of some of my favorite rural drive-in exploitation filmmaking teams, Ferd and Beverly Sebastian. The Sebastians were guilty of perpetrating the surprise drive-in hit Gator Bait (1974) starring the late Claudia Jennings, as well as its considerably more in-bred sequel Gator Bait 2: Cajun Justice (1988), so their take on the Kerouac experience ought to be worth a raised eyebrow or two. It’s called The Hitchhikers (1972), and in classic drive-in tradition these hitchhikers are a nasty lot, exposing quite a bit more than Claudette Colbert ever did in order to get innocent drivers to stop so they can rob and terrorize them. With a tag line like “Underage Runaway -The Kid Who Put the "Gyp" in Gypsy!” would you expect anything less? (Or more?)

Then the Star System hits the Grindhouse Film Festival on June 29 with a tribute to director Arthur Marks, whose movies are not unknown to the bi-monthly Tuesday night crowd at the New Beverly. Marks’ blaxploitation entry Detroit 9000, which made quite a splash a couple of years ago, gets another run, alongside another Marks drive-in masterwork, Bonnie’s Kids (1973), a lip-smacking girls and guns epic with Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson providing much of the pulchritude while Scott Brady and Alex Rocco and Max Showalter balance the scales in the grizzled old bastards department. These two double features are excellent snapshots of the vitality of the 42nd Street/backwoods drive-in scene in the mid ‘70s, and connoisseurs of top-grade sleaze really shouldn’t miss them.


Once again, many thanks should go to Michael, Phil, Brian, Eric, David, Grant, Gwen and Hadrian, along with all the programmers who keep revival programming alive and well in Los Angeles, for providing so much well-constructed evidence that creating a good double bill involves so much more than just slapping two titles on a marquee and opening the box office. But those of us in Los Angeles should be equally grateful that these fine folks are giving us a multitude of reasons, month in and month out, for avoiding the general roster of mediocrities churned out during this especially lackluster summer season at the movies. If you think June looks good for the not quite lost art of the double bill, just wait until July.