| May 25, 2020
I’ve been in lockdown pretty much since March 9, when I returned from the great and glorious True/False Doc Fest. Thirty-seven days. It’s not really that much, but it feels like forever at times.
But when I am on the couch/chair/bed watching something great, time stops and the world is my oyster.
There has been a lot of expected viewing. News, news, news. Junk I like on Bravo as an alternative to electroshock therapy. Binging and waiting for weekly episodes.
My favorite part of this the freeform connection between films that has appeared so often during lockdown.
I went from Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood to Once Upon A Time in America to searching for other Tuesday Weld performances to a long-lost film that I loved as a kid in 1980 called Serial, in which Ms. Weld co-starred with the great Martin Mull and a load of familiar TV faces, because the director was an old-school TV guy named Bill Persky.
Set in late-70s Marin County, where swing was the thing, the film was based on a “novel” by Cyra McFadden that was bound like a school notebook, as I found out years later when I got a copy at a used book store. (Sigh… used book stores.)
The movie, which I paid $12.99 to own, was much as I remembered it. Beautiful people acting stupid in the way I remember friends of my parents acting in Miami Beach in that decade. Sally Kellerman swinging her breasts, Bill Macy as the put-upon middle-aged man, the woman from “Hogan’s Heroes” and another from “Dynasty” and Jerry The Dentist from “Bob Newhart” and Tom Smothers and Peter Horton and even the recently in-the-news Stacey Nelkin as the big-breasted 18-year-old sleeping with Bill Macy who doesn’t look like Woody Allen, but works as a cultural stand-in for the moment.
The film is flawed in many ways. The script and the acting are too often TV glib, even though the atmosphere is highly sexualized… including a turn by the rarely-in-a-comedy Christopher Lee, playing the leader of a biker gang, with then-unexpected tastes. But it was also smart and funny and horribly current on some level. A not very deep rewrite could easily turn this into a thoughtfully funny and raunchy Seth Rogen movie.
But one of the things I remember from the swinging 70s and some of the 80s is the comfortable use of sex in movies. It’s gone. And yes, women were certainly the object of objectification, but if Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner were being honest, they would tell you that their asses were a big part of their appeal in the 80s.
Another movie from that period that was very sexually casual and which I came back to was California Dreaming, a John D. Hancock piece of almost-arty pulp starring Dennis Christopher in the same year as Breaking Away as well as indie legend Seymour Cassel. But most importantly, and the person who guided me back to the film, Glynnis O’Connor, who became a topic of dinner discussion because of “The Boy In The Plastic Bubble.” When this movie came on HBO in 1980 (I was 15 or 16), there was that sweet teenage girl from “Bubble” as well as Ode To Billy Joe and Baby Blue Marine casually dropping her bikini top.
But the film was more than an ingenue being naked on camera. It still fits into that pervy teen movie thing that was at its start and would be resurrected by American Pie in 1999. There was the notion of there being something, uh, European about the whole thing… until Porky’s and The Last American Virgin took over. Remember, La Cage Aux Folles was an arthouse sensation in 1978 and back then, it was sexually edgy. Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre was also in arthouse theaters, showing a Dracula with a much more realistic bite, leading Hollywood’s Warren Beatty from Julie Christie to Isabelle Adjani.
Oh my GOD, I need to find Camille Claudel with Adjani, a movie that moved me to my core. But I digress… which is kinda the point…
The Hunger. Tony Scott’s first feature-length film. What fun watching that one again. Tony is dead. Bowie is dead. Those women. Power and sex. Deneuve at 40, a goddess and a bad-ass. The whole experience is like eating the richest piece of cake ever, covered with drunken whipped cream, with a popper on the side.
This one was Criterion Channel’s fault. It was siting there like your favorite piece of candy, ever, when you are trying so hard to diet. It took me a moment to realize/remember that it was the great Ann Magnuson giving her all in those first seduction and blood scenes.
(Watch Making Mr. Right, which has one of the great comedy performances — as I remember it — ever by Laurie Metcalf, a goofy, sexy turn by Glenne Headly, The Great Magnuson (a downtown legend who got a brief mainstream window), and of course, Malkovich, in one of his first truly goofy performances, as both an uptight nerd and the perfect robot man. A lot of people hated the movie back in the day. But I loved it so much more than Suddenly Seeking Susan, which was the movie that got Susan Seidelman the opportunity, before she crashed with Cookie and She-Devil. ALlthough that reminds me… the BBC version of The Lives & Loves of A She Devil is prime binge viewing with a stunning lead performance by Julie T. Wallace. I so hate the idea of anyone watching any of these things on YouTube. I may have a UK DVD of She-Devil in the garage. Making Mr. Right is an Orion title, so I don’t know when it will turn back up, aside from an overpriced DVD on Amazon.)
Getting further sidetracked before returning to The Hunger, another movie I love, Louis Malle’s 1992 Damage, with Jeremy Irons as its amazing center and Miranda Richardson giving what should have been an Oscar-winning turn as his wife… plus Juliette Binoche as the object of agonized desire and a glorious spin by the then-60-year-old Leslie Caron as her mother. I bought the film digitally on Apple or Amazon and… agony. It looked like a VHS conversion instead of even being made from a print or negative. And it was in the old TV square format. Such a beautiful, subtle piece of cinematography by Peter Biziou, who was between 9 1/2 Weeks and Mississippi Burning on one side of this film and Loncraine/McKellan’s Richard III and The Truman Show on the other. Why Criterion has not done its magic on this one, I don’t know.
The Hunger took me right back to the 8th Street Playhouse where I saw it as an NYU student, young and juiced enough that I could imagine such an adventure, but never nearly hip enough for that room. And all these years later, it is amusing as hell to notice John Pankow and Willem Dafoe as “1st and 2nd Phone Booth Youths.”
And I love watching the lines of clear progression between this film, which is so unique in so many ways amongst Scott’s sixteen feature films, and the world that was to come. Tony Scott was in his late 30s making this first feature, seven years younger than his brother Ridley and six years behind Ridley’s first feature, The Duellists (and Alien and Blade Runner). His films would define the 80s — for better or worse — while Ridley stumbled until Thelma & Louise in 1991.
I could take a bite out of The Hunger… Ten-to-fifteen minutes on a pretty regular basis. I don’t need every frame. I don’t need Cliff DeYoung, who was really kneed in the balls by the rest of that cast and young Mr. Scott. He never had a chance. And Bowie… going after Alice, played by young Beth Ehlers. Amazing.
Another note: Take time to watch Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence all the way through. I think I watched that film like five times in a couple weeks at one point. It was like meditating.
Criterion Channel — yes, I know that many cannot get it in their countries — remains a joy. I had never seriously watched The Bad & The Beautiful until a few months ago on Criterion. And then I got to watch Two Weeks In Another Town, which was a much better Vincent Minnelli behind-the-curtain movie for me. TB&TB is a classic idea of Hollywood power corrupting. The Two Weeks story feels so much more like the Hollywood I know… mental breakdowns, once-greats hanging on, dumb-asses on sets, the distractions that should be easier to see past… dirtier… messier.
I also realized that I had never closely watched Contempt, although it has been at every revival house. Did I write about By The Sea without watching the unofficial original?
Loved It! Of course I did. Loved Fritz Lang in the film and Jack Palance, who was so out of his depth and so not. I’ve never really been a Godard guy. He’s not as smart as he thinks and I’m not as dumb as he thinks. But I am happy to bunk in with most of his 1960s and 1970s films.
And now, my family has driven my train of thought into a tree. So until the next episode…
| May 25, 2020
| May 14, 2020
| May 12, 2020
Bilge Ebiri: "In the wake, are movie theaters, having long since lost their essential place in our culture, going to become relics of the past? Probably not. People are desperate to get out of the house, get their kids out of the house and get back to normal. “When this lifts, none of us are ever going to want to be anywhere close to our couch or our TV ever again,” predicts Richard Rushfield, who runs the popular film-industry newsletter The Ankler. “Our couch is going to have associations for us of this awful time.” One recent survey found that almost three out of four Americans said they missed going to movie theaters — which is significantly higher than the percentage of Americans who regularly went in the before times. New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis spoke for many of us when she wrote, “When at last we can go out again and be with one another, I hope that we flood cinemas, watching every single movie, from the most rarefied art film to the silliest Hollywood offering.”
| May 26, 2020
"In the world of performing arts, the coronavirus pandemic has already sunk summer. Now it is felling fall. Even as reopened barbershops, beaches and bookstores herald the resumption of economic life across America, concert promoters, theater presenters, orchestras and dance companies are ripping up their 2020 calendars and hoping 2021 will mark a new beginning. “I think 2020 is gone,” said Anna D. Shapiro, the artistic director of Chicago’s storied Steppenwolf Theater Company. “I’ll be stunned if we’re back in the theater.”
The Autumn That Is Not To Be: Live Producers Shut Down 2020
| May 26, 2020
"I meet Buscemi (he says it boo-sem-ee, not boo-shem-ee) for the first time at an airy Italian restaurant a short walk from his place. Neither of us knows it yet, but this cloudless March Wednesday is one of the last normal days on record, before New York City all but shuts down because of the coronavirus and we are collectively advised to confine ourselves to our apartments. As it turns out, my last sit-down restaurant meal until who knows when is this lunch, with Steve Fucking Buscemi. He has the spinach frittata."
| May 26, 2020
| December 13, 2019
| December 4, 2019
| December 4, 2019