Film Studies

The First Film You Remember Watching

30-Day Movie Challenge, Day 1: The First Film You Remember Watching

My earliest movie-related memory — hell, one of my earliest memories period — is of going with my mom and my great-grandmother to an old-fashioned, single-screen neighborhood movie house across the street from where Grandma lived to see The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams.

If that title sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the weekly television series that ran on NBC for two seasons from 1977-78. The series was spun off from the feature film of the same name, which believe it or not was one of the highest grossing films of 1974, despite being G-rated and starring a virtual unknown named Dan Haggerty, whose biggest role prior to that was a bit-part in Easy Rider. Grizzly Adams was an independent film made on a shoestring budget by a Utah-based production company, filmed on location around my home state and loosely based on a real 19th-century mountain man. I couldn’t find much information about the film online, so I can only guess its success was a quirk of its timing. Its story of a man wrongly accused of murder escaping into the wilderness and living in harmony with nature struck a chord in those days of anti-authoritarianism, back-to-the-land lifestyle experiments, and the nascent environmental movement. A film with a similar premise, Robert Redford’s Jeremiah Johnson, had come out only two years prior, and the “Crying Indian” PSA and the related Keep America Beautiful campaign two years before that.

Now, I was all of five years old when Grizzly Adams was released, so I’m sure my memories of the film itself are conflated with the TV series that followed. But I do have a vivid impression of the experience of seeing it. I recall that the movie theater — the Murray, named after the city it was located in — was just a short walk from Grandma’s tidy little house with the Chinese red kitchen. This is the only time I remember going to the movies with her, and in my mind, I sat between her and my mom, feeling warm and safe and loved as I munched my popcorn.

I also recall having a bit of an obsession with the Grizzly Adams story for a while, which seems incongruous given my lifetime affection for science fiction. (I know I was already watching Star Trek by ’74, and the following year, Space: 1999 as well.) But something about Grizzly clicked with me… possibly the fact that I recognized the landscapes where it and the spinoff series were filmed. I remember having this weird notion that Grizzly and Little House on the Prairie — which I also watched during my wholesome Utah childhood —  were both taking place right now, er, that is, then, in the 1970s, contemporaneously with the shows’ airing. I knew they were only TV shows and that actors only pretended to do the things they did, but I also believed there were real analogs of the characters living in the mountains that I could see from my living-room window. That if I were to go up there somehow, I would run into Adams and his companion Ben the bear, and the town of Walnut Grove with all its inhabitants just the way they appeared on my screen every week. It probably didn’t help my confusion when a real-life mountain man came riding up the street in front of my house one summer, bound for Idaho where he intended to live off the grid, in communion with nature and by his own terms. He was on horseback with a pack horse following behind, and he was wearing a Bowie knife as long as my young arm on one hip and an honest-to-god six-gun on the other, just like those guys on TV… but that’s a story for another time.

As far as I can determine, the Life and Times of Grizzly Adams feature film has never been released on any home video format — the TV series is available on DVD — and I haven’t seen it, probably, since that day with Mom and Grandma. I know there’s a copy of it on YouTube, but I’m half afraid to look at it. Better perhaps that it remain a sweet memory unsullied by low-budget reality.

My great-grandmother died decades ago, in the late ’80s, I think, and her little house, along with its entire neighborhood, was demolished and replaced by an apartment complex where a friend of mine lived for a time in the ’90s. Weirdly enough, the Murray Theater is still standing, although no movies have been shown there in almost as long as Grandma has been gone…

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30-Day Film Challenge

We’re 10 days into the Biden-Harris administration and, for now at least, civilization seems to be holding itself together, so I feel like it’s okay to begin doing some frivolous, nonpolitical blogging again. I don’t know about you, but I could use the break.

As I mentioned at the end of the last year’s 30-Day Song Challenge, I’ve also come across a 30-Day Movie Challenge. How can I resist doing that one, especially considering how well the Song Challenge worked at prompting me to post something on a fairly regular basis?

Now, I’ve done a lot of “list of favorites” type entries over the years, and it seems like the same films just keep coming up over and over in those. So to try and make this a bit more interesting (and a lot less repetitive), I’ve decided to impose one big restriction on myself: no films from the Star Wars franchise. And I’ll also strive to avoid using any of the movies that I blather about all the time, although that may be a bit trickier to pull off. We’ll see what I can come up with.

Here’s the list of categories:

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In Memoriam: Sean Connery

When I was 20 years old, a friend of mine told me he thought I looked like Sean Connery.

I was flattered, of course. Connery had just been named the “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine — at the age of 59, no less — and who wouldn’t want to be compared to that? Still, I didn’t really believe there was any resemblance, and I said as much. I mean… Connery was Connery, and I was just… well, me.

No, no, my friend insisted, he could definitely see it… something about my dark eyes, the arch of my brows, and the shape of my recently grown beard. Something about my attitude as well, he thought, my gruff intolerance for nonsense combined with a devil-may-care twinkle. I just chuckled at the absurdity of what he was saying. And the more talking points he came up with, the more embarrassed I felt, until I finally conceded his argument just so he would shut the hell up about it. I’ve never responded well to compliments, I’m afraid; I always have this nagging fear that the person giving them is somehow having a laugh at my gullibility.

That feeling is even more intense when the compliment is something I want to believe.

This was the spring of 1990, and Connery had recently become one of my cinematic heroes in almost perfect conjunction with him catching the second wind of his career. He’d won an Oscar three years earlier for The Untouchables, he’d been absolutely sublime as Indiana Jones’ dad the previous summer, and the day my friend made his comparison, The Hunt for Red October was playing to sell-out crowds in the biggest auditorium of the multiplex where I worked. (In fact, the Red October poster was hanging only a few feet from where my friend and I were standing that day, and I remember him nodding toward it as he made his case for the resemblance.)

The funny thing is, I wasn’t even very familiar with Connery’s work at that point. I knew who he was, of course. I’d seen a few of his films over the years besides the trio I just mentioned. But until that one-two-three punch — The Untouchables, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Red October — he hadn’t made a huge impression on me. Not even his James Bond films had struck a chord at that point in my life. I was as likely to think of him as the marshal from Peter Hyams’ High-Noon-in-space film Outland as anything. But starting in 1987, those three films caused something to click for me, and really, for everybody else who was going to movies around that time, making him one of the biggest stars of the moment. And I am not ashamed to admit I developed a bit of a crush on him. Strictly nonsexual, of course, much like George Costanza had for that rock-climber dude on Seinfeld. Like George’s rock-climber, Sean was an ideal I was fascinated by and aspired to. He was just… cool. And yes, having someone say that I reminded them of him, or vice versa, made me glow inside like a belt of  single malt.

You see, the spring of 1990 was a low point for me and my ego, something I’ve alluded to a few times recently on this blog. I wasn’t feeling especially cool or confident or sexy that day at the movie theater, or any other day of that difficult year. My friend had inadvertently told me exactly what I wanted — or perhaps needed — to hear. Which is probably why it embarrassed me so much, because I wanted to believe it was true. It wasn’t that I wanted to look like Connery so much as I wanted to be like him. To radiate masculinity and confidence as he did, to be absolutely, effortlessly comfortable in my own skin, as he always appeared to be.

That was the key of his appeal, I believe. Even now, after all these years of calling myself a fan and having seen many, many more of his movies than I had in 1990, I’m not certain if he was actually that fine of an actor, or if I just responded to… him. When you think about it, most of the great movie stars are essentially playing themselves, or at least some carefully curated version of themselves, and that was Connery’s true skill: being Sean Connery. When he turned up at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, that ripple of excitement that zinged through the theater wasn’t because he so perfectly portrayed Richard the Lionhearted in only 30 seconds and a handful of lines; it was because people were excited to see the man himself. Who cared what the role was?

Of course, Connery’s hot streak of the late ’80s and early ’90s couldn’t last. Over the next decade or so, he made (in my opinion) only one really good film (The Russia House), a handful of mediocre ones (Medicine Man, Entrapment, The Rock, Finding Forrester) and two of the absolutely worst flicks I’ve ever seen: The Avengers (no relation to the Marvel film) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The latter was such a trainwreck, both in front of and behind the camera, that it killed Connery’s career. After that, he decided he’d had quite enough of making movies and retired. I’ve long felt sorry that his filmography ends on such a smoldering turd instead of one final triumph. Even a cameo in the much-derided fourth Indiana Jones film, all other things being equal, would’ve been a better note to go out on.

It’s been nearly 20 years since League, and in that time, he’s mostly stayed out of the spotlight. There have been occasional rumors that he wasn’t well, that he was suffering from dementia, and I always cringed at the thought of a man whose entire image was built on vitality fading away like that. His reputation has diminished somewhat as well in the wake of the #metoo movement, thanks to a couple interviews he gave in his younger days that keep bobbing to the surface like rotten apples, and because of claims made by his first wife in her autobiography. I don’t have much to say on that subject; I have no idea if Connery was a raging misogynist in his private life or if his remarks were just badly phrased and taken out of context. And honestly, it doesn’t matter very much to me. Because what he represents to me was never strictly about him anyhow.

That Red October poster now hangs in my office at home, the very same poster from the lobby of the multiplex where I used to work. It’s watched over me for 30 years now, as hard as that is to believe. I look at it every morning when I walk into that room to prepare for my day. I looked at it for a long time on Halloween, just over a month ago, the day that Sean Connery died at the age of 90. And as I looked, I found myself thinking of the roles he played that have mattered to me for one reason or another. Captain Ramius, of course, and Henry Jones Sr., and Malone, the Irish cop who teaches Elliot Ness how to get Capone. Juan Sanchez Villalobos Ramirez from Highlander became hugely important to me just a couple years after 1990. There was Marshal O’Neill in Outland and Edward Pierce in The Great Train Robbery, as nifty a heist film as you’re ever going to find. Hell, I even thought of Zed, the barechested, ponytailed, red-diapered “Exterminator” in John Boorman’s insane 1974 sci-fi epic Zardoz; Connery’s costume in that is all the proof of his self-assuredness you’ll ever need. And of course, there’s Bond. The role that made him, the role he spent years trying to live down. As it happens, I’ve rewatched the entire series over the past year, including the “unofficial” Bond he made in the ’80s, Never Say Never Again, and I can say unequivocally that, in my opinion, Connery was the best of them. His individual films weren’t necessarily the best of the series, but none of the other actors who’ve played 007 ever had a moment like the scene where we first meet him in Doctor No. That will forever be James Bond to me.

Of course, the day that Connery died, I also thought about that spring day in 1990. About how I felt so wounded then, and how I preened at the words of a friend that I only half believed. I’m far more comfortable with myself now than I was then, and I still don’t see much of a resemblance between myself and Connery. But every once in a while when I look at that Red October poster, I find myself still wanting to imagine that maybe… just maybe.

Rest in peace, you Scottish peacock.

 

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Star Wars: My Worst to Best

Some years ago, my friend Doctor Robert asked me how I would rank the various Star Wars movies. At the time, I begged off with a rueful grin and another slug of scotch. It was an impossible question for me, like being asked to choose which of the children is my favorite, or perhaps more accurately — since I was at that time trying my damnedest to believe all the individual films comprised a single unified story — like trying to pick the best chapter of a favorite novel. It was also, I feared, an unintentionally loaded question that could only stir up more rancor over the still-controversial prequel trilogy, a sore spot I was dearly sick of poking.

That was then, though. Now… well, now things are different. Let’s just say that my feelings about this series have become far more clear in recent years. And so, for anyone who cares about one grumpy old man’s highly opinionated takes on some silly movies about space wizards and their lazer swords…

(Incidentally, I know I wrote in my last post that I’ve grown weary of talking about Star Wars, and I have. But now that the “mainline saga” has supposedly come to an end with the release of Episode IX, it feels like this is the time for an overview like this. Besides… it’s less stressful to think about this than current events.)

Counting backwards from my least favorite:

11. The Force Awakens

I can hear the gasps of surprise and outrage from all the way over here. Sorry. I know many people truly enjoyed this one, and I routinely see claims that it’s as good as any of the original trilogy (OT), but… no. Not for me. Besides my usual complaints about JJ Abrams’ shortcomings as a storyteller, this film struck me as incredibly cynical in the way that it played on my generation’s nostalgia for the originals while simultaneously slapping us in the face with its depiction of our OT heroes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that TFA — as well as finding myself once again the outlier against popular opinion when it came to Star Wars — contributed to me falling into a months-long depression.

10. The Rise of Skywalker

Better than TFA, and I’ll confess that I generally enjoyed it. It even had several moments that moved me to tears (mostly involving the OT heroes, no surprise). But it’s still a JJ Abrams film with all the problems that entails, and it still revolves around the idea that the OT heroes’ struggles and victories didn’t amount to a damn thing. I didn’t like it when Palpatine was resurrected in the old Dark Empire comic-book series back in the ’90s, and I like it even less in a movie trilogy of quasi-remakes built on deconstructing the original films and recasting the old heroes as broken losers.

9. The Last Jedi

While public opinion seems to have crystallized around the notion that TLJ is the worst of the sequel trilogy, I personally think writer-director Rian Johnson did an amazing job of trying to build something interesting on the very shaky foundation left to him by TFA. I like how he redeemed and elevated Luke Skywalker in the end, as well as how he tried to redemocratize the Force and get away from the “chosen one” elitism that settled into the story with the prequels (one of George Lucas’ biggest missteps, in my opinion). Even so, I can’t say that I unreservedly liked any of the films in the sequel trilogy, and I think that all goes back to the creative decisions made before a single frame of film was shot about where the OT characters ended up following the end of their trilogy. It was just plain shitty to do that to longtime fans.

8. Attack of the Clones

Next up is the shakiest entry in the much-maligned prequel trilogy. I never have been able to untangle the mystery plot of this one, and there are moments in it that make me cringe (curiously, Threepio’s head getting grafted onto a battle droid body and changing his personality — “Die, Jedi scum!” — bothers me far more than Anakin’s thoughts on sand). But there are also many elements that I love: the ground battle between the clone army and all the crazy-ass Separatist machines, Slave-1‘s “electric guitar” bombs, the launch of the Republic fleet to the sounds of the Imperial March, the image of dozens of lightsabers powering up all across the arena on Geonosis, and even the greasy-spoon diner on Coruscant. Especially that greasy-spoon… because it just plain amuses me that there is such a place there and that Obi-Wan apparently frequents it.

7. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

A nicely done war movie that I nevertheless rank fairly low because (a) it’s built around a plot point that nobody ever wondered about, (b) the tone is a little too grim-n-gritty for my tastes (i.e., everybody dies), (c) the fan service at the end is a little too blatant (heart-poundingly cool though it was), and (d) I can’t get past the deeply illogical conceit that Leia’s ship was hiding inside a big cruiser during the Battle of Scarif. (Leia was both royalty and a member of the Senate, and her ship was well-known as a diplomatic courier. In short, she and the Tantive IV were extremely valuable undercover assets — “You weren’t on any mercy mission this time…” — and I can’t believe the Alliance would risk either her life or her cover. In my opinion, the old NPR radio drama of Star Wars had a much more satisfying account of how she acquired the Death Star plans, and it bothers me that Rogue One retcons that version away.)

Also — and I admit that this is a meta issue and unfair to the movie itself — I learned about Carrie Fisher’s collapse that led to her death literally moments after seeing this movie with its weirdly plastic-looking simulacrum of her, when I checked my phone during the closing credits, and the association of those two events and the remembered emotions of that experience are… difficult. If not for that, perhaps I’d rank Rogue One more highly.

6. The Phantom Menace

Oh, hush. Just hear me out. If the meta experience of what happened around the time I saw Rogue One can lower that film’s rating, than surely the same thing can elevate this one’s, right? The excitement of the months and weeks leading up to TPM, the experience of standing in line to get in (no longer an issue with online ticket ordering), the uproar in the theater as the titles came up and various characters appeared… I cherish the memories of all that and those memories inform the film itself when I see it now. And in addition, I posit that the film honestly isn’t that bad, as unpopular — even heretical — as that position may be. It tells a straightforward story, it introduces us to wondrous new places (one thing about the recent sequel trilogy: I never once felt any sense of wonder with the worlds it visits; not once), and it contains two of the most thrilling scenes in the entire 11-movie series: the pod race and the final lightsaber fight between Darth Maul, Obi Wan, and Qui Gon Jinn. Plus, Liam Neeson is just cool. I’ve always wished we could’ve seen more of him.

5. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Easily my favorite of the Disney era so far, Solo is also the one with the least baggage hanging over it and the most purely fun entry in the series since 1983. The fate of the galaxy isn’t at stake, there’s no big metaphysical battle between good and evil, it’s just a swashbuckling heist picture with a coming-of-age tale overlaid on it. I was very disappointed that it didn’t do better, as I would’ve loved to have seen where it went next (I strongly suspect there was at least one sequel, if not a full trilogy, planned). Perhaps now that Disney+ appears to be the future for the franchise, a streaming series will pick up the dangling threads.

4. Revenge of the Sith

I always feel like I need to qualify or apologize for my reactions to the prequel trilogy, but with this one it’s really as simple as this: I spent the last 40 minutes or so of ROTS weeping. And George finally gave me the lava-pit fight I’d been imagining since I was eight years old.

3. Return of the Jedi

The weakest entry of the original trilogy is still above everything that’s not part of the original trilogy. Because… original trilogy. Plus, speeder bikes, the Millennium Falcon zigzagging through the rebel fleet, the Emperor taunting Luke, the space battle and flight through Death Star II (the very limit of what FX technology was capable of at that time), “I know,” and Leia going for the deck gun on Jabba’s barge. All things that just make me happy.

2. The Empire Strikes Back

Most people rank Empire as the best of the series, and I can’t disagree on objective, technical terms. It looks the best, it has the most mature story and best performances, and the whole universe seen on-screen just feels more… solid than it did before or since. I adore Empire. But when you get right down to it, there’s one I adore still more…

1. Star Wars

Always my number one. Always. The original 1977 Star Wars was the one that captured my imagination and dominated my childhood dreams, the one that kicked off the phenomenon and inspired all the variety-show sketches and low-budget rip-offs, the one that made the biggest dent on the collective American consciousness. People who’ve never seen a Star Wars movie likely know the names “Darth Vader” and “Death Star,” and this movie is the reason why. It is also the one film of the entire series that works best as a standalone story, in my opinion. All of the others are, to one degree or another, dependent on this one. Certainly they are all derivative of it. But if no other Star Wars film had ever been made, this one would still work on its own terms. And it is still the one I’m most likely to reach for when I’m in the mood to visit the galaxy far, far away…

And there you have it. Probably not many surprises here, at least not for people who’ve listened to me ramble about this stuff over a glass of whisky. Although I don’t foresee my own opinions changing much, it’s going to be interesting to see how the general wisdom on these films evolves in the coming years. I suspect that the prequels and George Lucas in general will be reevaluated against the sequel trilogy and their reputations redeemed somewhat; in fact, I’ve already seen signs of that happening. Along those lines, I also predict that fans will someday talk about all this much the way James Bond fans talk about that franchise; people will have their favorite eras and will debate the merits of each, i.e., it will come down to Lucas Era vs Disney Era, and preferences will likely depend in part on one’s age. Again, there’s already some of that going on, as the generation that grew up on the prequels displays a far different perspective on them than we older original-trilogy kids.

For me personally, I can no longer view the whole thing as one big happy story. I now realize after all these years of trying to embrace everything that I’m really primarily a fan of the original trilogy, and in particular of all the stuff that came out in the years between SW and TESB. Everything else — everything! — is, in my view, derivative of the OT and has to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Which means that, for me, Star Wars will mostly be an exercise in nostalgia going forward. In other words, I’ve arrived at pretty much the same place with this that I’ve been at with Star Trek for many years now. And isn’t it interesting that I reached that point with both franchises as a result of films made by JJ Abrams? He is become Death, the Destroyer of Franchises. If I hear he’s been assigned to do the long-rumored Highlander remake next, I think it’ll be time for me to go live on a mountaintop somewhere…

One final thought: I think Star Wars might be finished as a movie series. There is still talk of a new trilogy in development that’s unrelated to the Skywalker Saga, but after all the truly vicious fan response to the recent films — and even going back to the prequels — I’ll believe it when I see it. Instead, I think Disney is going to take the safer route of producing SW television shows for its streaming platform, Disney+. I think The Mouse will find it less risky, as well as easier to satisfy all the splintered segments of fandom, to produce a number of limited-run, relatively cheap TV shows than to bet everything on occasional, very expensive feature films. And you know, I think that might be better for the content, too… a wider possible range of subject matter and tone, and maybe even the possibility of more inventiveness and originality, instead of stories always constrained by the need to fit the formula of “a Star Wars movie.” We’ll see, I guess. The Mandalorian has been a success, but the next one might not be.

In the meantime, we’ll always have the original trilogy…

 

 

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Quick Takes: Cutter’s Way

One of several noir-ish thrillers Jeff Bridges made in the early ’80s, Cutter’s Way is a bit confounding in the way it keeps refusing to be quite what you expect it to be. It’s not the murder mystery it initially appears, because the protagonists reach their conclusion quickly and that conclusion is never questioned. It’s not the Hitchcockian case of mistaken identity it has the potential to become, because Bridges never gets accused of the killing that sets everything off, and the maybe-villain never denies he did it (nor does the audience ever find out for sure if he did). It’s not even a satisfying revenge flick because the vengeance, when it comes, is perfunctory and open-ended. It’s a film noir that’s not especially interested in the usual trappings of noir. What keeps the film interesting is the characters.

Jeff Bridges is Richard Bone, a feckless young man going nowhere fast, who might in fact be a gigolo based on the first scene where we encounter him. Bridges’ youthful good looks and rangy build, so different from the grizzled “Dude” persona we’re so familiar with now, were perfect for this role. He even sports a ’70s porn-stache to complete the look. But he also uses his considerable skill to create a character whose main attribute is indecision.

On the other hand, Bone’s buddy Alex Cutter is reckless and impulsive, making decisions in the blink of an eye and then refusing to back down from them. Played by John Heard, Cutter is a Vietnam vet who was badly injured in the war. Heard is simply mesmerizing, a ball of barely contained rage and self-pity that dominates the screen whenever he appears, swaggering, drunk, hateful, and yet also magnetic and in a weird sense, heroic. Heard’s performance is fearless, and all the more remarkable in that he convincingly plays a man with only one arm and an artificial leg long before CGI was available to create those illusions.

Finally, there is Mo, played by Lisa Eichhorn, Cutter’s long-suffering wife who’s been thoroughly drained by the constant stress of putting up with Alex and his tantrums.

All three of these characters are drifters of one sort or another, moving through their lives like ghosts as they nurse their various hurts. They’re the last people who should be trying to solve a mystery… but then, like I said, this movie isn’t much interested in that mystery. I kept watching to see what happened to Cutter, Bone, and Mo, and what they said along the way.

 

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Welcome to the Future

(Remember, Blade Runner takes place in the year 2019… I can’t tell you how weird it feels to be arriving in the landmark years in which the fantasies of my youth were set. The next big one that comes to mind is 2029, the “Year of Darkness,” according to the original Terminator. That sounds fun.)

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Debunking Hollywood Babylon

If you’re at all interested in Hollywood history — by which I don’t mean the nuts-and-bolts of how any given classic film was made, or the ups and downs of the business, but rather the stories of the people behind the films and the business, the ones we revere, sometimes the ones we deplore, and especially those we’ve forgotten — then you owe it yourself to check out a podcast called You Must Remember This. I’ve been following it for about a year and a half now after first learning about it from Wil Wheaton, and I find it endlessly fascinating.

The podcast’s host, film journalist Karina Longworth, does two cycles or “seasons” per year, and each season is themed around a single topic that reveals “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century,” to borrow from the show’s prologue. These histories can range from a comparison of the lives and careers of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, to the evolution of Jane Fonda from a sex kitten to a political lightning rod, to the McCarthy-era blacklist. (Personally, I started listening during a season called “Dead Blondes,” about all the blonde sex symbols who’ve met untimely and sometimes horrific endings.) The show is very well researched and documented, with source notes and photographs available for each episode on a related blog. It truly is a treasure trove for dedicated movie buffs, or even just people who enjoy a good story.

The current season is of particular interest because I have a personal connection to the topic.

Way back in my teens, I stumbled across a tattered paperback book called Hollywood Babylon in a thrift store. Its author is a guy named Kenneth Anger, which is an apt name considering the book turned out to be 200-some pages of someone grinding a very large ax. Babylon is one of those works that seeks to destroy plaster idols and press hot buttons, and it does that very effectively as it recounts some of the saddest and most sordid tales of Hollywood lore in the cruelest manner possible. It was in the pages of Hollywood Babylon that I first heard the tale of washed-up Peg Entwhistle hurling herself off the “H” of the Hollywood sign… of Lupe Valez’ ignominious suicide (according to Anger, the Latina star had wanted to die in a beautiful, carefully staged scene on her bed, but became sick to her stomach and ended up drowning in her toilet after vomiting)… of va-va-voom girl Jayne Mansfield being decapitated in a car accident and permanently traumatizing the policeman who found her head… of Errol Flynn’s trial for statutory rape and the rumors that he was a Nazi spy (Timothy Dalton’s character in The Rocketeer is based on this version of Flynn, if you didn’t know)… and most shockingly to me, at that time anyhow, of silent-era comedian Fatty Arbuckle’s trial for raping a woman with a Coke bottle, causing so much internal damage that she subsequently died. (I don’t know why the Coke bottle thing troubled me more than the gory mental images of Valez or Jayne Mansfield, but I remember that it did.)

Hollywood Babylon outraged me when I read it. Not because its stories were taboo or breaking down the glamorous facade of the movies’ golden age, but because it was just so damn mean-spirited. Something about the tone of the writing suggested that Anger was having a good laugh at the thought of all those pretty people being cut down to size, and he wanted the reader to have one too. And if you were shocked instead of amused, well… Anger struck me as the sort of smirking asshole who would just laugh harder and louder. I’ve never had much use for the provocateur types who get off on riling people up just to see if they can.

Moreover, I had a hunch that a lot of what I was reading in that book was horseshit. Even in my teen years, when I was admittedly naive about, well, everything, Babylon smelled off to me. And yet I knew that many of the stories Anger told were out there in the culture, accepted by people who either didn’t know better or wanted to believe the worst about all those immoral movie folk. And that made me angry, too.

The whole experience of reading that book was highly unpleasant, and I very quickly got rid of the damn thing, after which I took a long shower.

Now, getting back to You Must Remember This, the latest season of the podcast, titled “Fake News,” is dedicated to refuting Hollywood Babylon, or at least pointing out the places where Anger exaggerated or insinuated things that aren’t supported by facts, and I’m loving every minute of it. It’s weirdly vindicating to hear this stuff, as if some great injustice is finally being corrected, even though the urban legends promulgated by Anger have been debunked before in various places. Besides, like I said earlier, these stories, the real stories, are just plain interesting.

You can listen to You Must Remember This yourself through the official website or iTunes, or I imagine any place else you go to hear podcasts, and I highly recommend you do so. It’s a great show.

And no, Fatty Arbuckle did not rape Virginia Rappe with a Coke bottle. The autopsy showed no evidence of a sexual assault, and Arbuckle was acquitted. Not that that saved his career, sadly…

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Tarantino on Hitchcock

From a two-year-old interview with Quentin Tarantino:

“People discover North by Northwest at 22 and think it’s wonderful when actually it’s a very mediocre movie. I’ve always felt that Hitchcock’s acolytes took his cinematic and story ideas further. I love Brian De Palma’s Hitchcock movies. I love Richard Franklin’s and Curtis Hanson’s Hitchcock meditations. I prefer those to actual Hitchcock.” And Tarantino also prefers—passionately defends—Gus Van Sant’s meta art-manque shot-by-shot remake of Psycho over the original Hitchcock film.

I always knew my sensibilities were incompatible with this guy’s, even if he does know how to compose a nice shot.

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Movie Meme 2.0

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I’ve discovered that that meme I did earlier was actually truncated from a longer one, so I’m… doing it again. Because I’m like that. Oh, and I’m also changing a few of my answers. Because I’m also like that.

  • Most Hated Movie: Star Trek (2009)
  • Movie I Think Is Overrated: Interstellar
  • Movie I Think Is Underrated: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • Movie I Love: American Graffiti
  • Movie I Secretly Love: Young Guns 2
  • Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
  • Favorite Drama Movie: Casablanca
  • Favorite Western Movie: Dances with Wolves
  • Favorite Horror Movie: The Fog (1980 version)
  • Favorite Comedy Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Favorite Romance: Pretty Woman
  • Favorite Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Yes, I am fussy enough to differentiate between the LOTR films! For me, the first is the most, well, magical… )
  • Favorite Disney Movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Blade Runner
  • Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptation: The Shawshank Redemption
  • Favorite Animated Movie: The Incredibles
  • Favorite Superhero Movie: Superman: The Movie
  • Favorite War Movie: The Guns of Navarone
  • Favorite Thriller: Rear Window
  • Favorite Cop Movie: Dirty Harry
  • Favorite Musical: Rock of Ages
  • Favorite Chop-Socky: Rumble in the Bronx
  • Favorite Documentary: Man on Wire
  • Favorite Bad Movie: Flash Gordon (1980 version)
  • Childhood Favorite: Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version)
  • Favorite Franchise: Star Wars
  • Best Trilogy: Back to the Future
  • Guilty Pleasure: Bring It On
  • Favorite Director: Steven Spielberg (although he’s been pretty hit-and-miss ever since Schindler’s List)
  • Favorite Actor: Patrick Stewart
  • Favorite Actress: (tie): Scarlet Johansson / Dame Judi Dench
  • Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Logan
  • Movie I Have Recently Seen: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • What I Thought of It: Enjoyable, but it doesn’t develop Cedric Diggory enough to care when he dies.
  • Favorite Movie of All Time: Star Wars (a.k.a., “Episode IV: A New Hope,” pre-Special Edition version)

 

For the record, this is harder than you might think. I had the devil’s own time with the romance category, for instance, because it’s not a genre that usually appeals to me, and movies I find very romantic — Blaze, for example — usually don’t fit other people’s definitions of romance. And honestly, I don’t really have a favorite director, actor, or actress; the ones I listed are just the ones I thought of whose work I generally (but not always) enjoy. Truth is, there are many directors, actors, and actresses I like.

For the record.

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Movie Meme

Because I need the pointless distraction this morning:

Most Hated Movie: Star Trek (2009)
Movie I Think Is Overrated: Interstellar
Movie I Think Is Underrated: The Black Hole
Movie I Love: American Graffiti
Movie I Secretly Love: Young Guns 2
Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
Favorite Drama Movie: The Big Chill
Favorite Western Movie: Dances with Wolves
Favorite Horror Movie: The Fog (1980 version)
Favorite Comedy Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Favorite Disney Movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Blade Runner
Favorite Animated Movie: The Incredibles
Favorite Superhero Movie: Superman: The Movie
Favorite Musical: Rock of Ages
Favorite Bad Movie: Darkman
Childhood Favorite: Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version)
Favorite Franchise: Star Wars
Best Trilogy: Back to the Future
Guilty Pleasure: Bring It On
Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Logan
Movie I Have Recently Seen: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
What I Thought of It: Enjoyable, but doesn’t develop Cedric Diggory enough to care when he dies.
Favorite Movie of All Time: Star Wars (pre-Special Edition)

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