Thursday, February 12, 2015

Breaking Away (1979, Peter Yates)


Peter Yates' Breaking Away is such a longtime favorite of mine, a movie I've loved for so long and know backwards and forwards, that it's difficult to write about it with any kind of objectivity.  The story of a group of small-town pals in that awkward phase between childhood and adulthood is, on paper, unexciting, but the treatment it's given here results in a film that is universal and timeless, eminently quotable, rousing, funny, full of charm, emotionally rich, and profoundly moving.


Very much a post-Rocky film, it shares with that other classic sports film of the late '70s, a exquisitely-drawn collection of singular characters and a vitally strong sense of place, in addition to the requisite "get on your feet and cheer" sporting event finale.  They both have that slightly messy-opposite of slick-offbeat, but real quality that went out with the '70s.

Cycling and Italy-obsessed Bloomington, Indiana high school grad Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher) hangs with his good friends Mike (Dennis Quaid), Cyril (Daniel Stern), and Moocher (Jackie Earle Haley) without much thought for the future, except for which bike race he's going to sign up for next.  All of this is anathema to his blue collar, ex-stone cutter, car dealer dad (Paul Dooley) who has no idea how to connect with his boy.


Even though everything leads to an expertly mounted, supremely satisfying final race, it is the alternately hilarious and poignant interplay between Dave and the other characters, as well as the accurate portrayal of '70s middle America--specifically Bloomington--and subtle class commentary that constitute the film's lifeblood, the things that make it truly something special.


Breaking Away was a 5-time Oscar nominee and a winner for Steve Tesich's original screenplay, but by the time I discovered the movie for myself as a young teenager, it was nearly 15 years-old.  Like several movies I latched onto at that formative age, it was out of fashion (unless you were on the IU-Bloomington campus, I guess), in between its initial popularity and eventual revival as a modern classic.  In those pre-Internet days, it was not a movie that my peers were aware of and I never saw it appear on network television or cable.  Between thumbing through my Ebert, Maltin, and Peary movie guides and visits to the drama section in the video store, I stumbled upon Yates and Tesich's superior coming-of-age / sports movie hybrid and immediately fell under its spell and, as with other favorites of mine that no else seemed to care about, I did my damnedest to spread the gospel to friends and acquaintances.


Somewhat remarkably, until the late '90s, Fox never released the movie as a sell-through on VHS; it remained priced for rental in spite of its Oscar pedigree and cast of future stars.  I eventually bought the film on laserdisc (originally issued in 1981), which remains the worst quality laserdisc I ever viewed or owned.  These things, I think, contributed to the film's obscurity by the time I was 13 or 14 and first becoming aware of it.  Eventually, there was a sell-through VHS, featuring an updated transfer and, later, a DVD, which marked the film's first widescreen release on home video, but which included only the trailer and tv spots as extras.  All of this is to say that Twilight Time's new Blu-ray--with gorgeous new transfer, informative commentary track with star Dennis Christopher, and Patrick Williams' marvelous adapted and original score isolated on another track--is especially gratifying and looks particularly beautiful to my eyes after having experienced the film for so long in poor quality editions.


As for the film itself, it is one of the best of the '70s, something years of woeful home media iterations could never take away from it.  The much-improved technical presentation does accentuate and finally do justice to d.p. Matthew Leonetti's very attractive lensing and Patrizia von Brandenstein's equally impressive art direction.  Both aspects of the production are suitably unfussy, never calling undue attention to themselves while contributing to the film's carefully achieved level of visual realism. What never suffered was Tesich's delightful, autobiographical screenplay given life by a once-in-a-lifetime cast. Dooley and the Oscar-nominated Barbara Barrie as Mr. and Mrs. Stohler, the aforementioned Quaid, Stern, and Haley, Robyn Douglass as the co-ed who Dave woos. And, of course, the truly wonderful, ever-lovable Dennis Christopher as Dave.


When I was younger, it always made me sad that Christopher, who performed so beautifully and memorably here, never had another film role of this caliber; one of the chief pleasures of the Twilight Time Blu-ray is getting to hear Christopher share his memories of making the film and his gratitude to it for what it provided him. Ironically, Christopher would appear a couple years later in Chariots of Fire, alongside the late Brad Davis, who delivered his own knockout, star-making performance in 1978's Midnight Express (alongside elder Quaid brother Randy); similarly to Christopher and equally saddening to me, none of Davis' subsequent parts matched the stature and impact of his breakout role.


As a teenager and young twenty-something, it was the kids and their camaraderie that I was drawn to, that I wished I'd had when I was in high school, but when I watch it as an adult, with the experience of the premature loss of my father in mind, it is the film's portrayal of parent-child relationships, or lack thereof, as well as its deft portrayal of class differences that are most striking to me.  The push-pull dynamic between Dave and his father; the quiet, but steady love of the ever-wise Mrs. Stohler; the continual absence of parental figures for the other boys, particularly Cyril; the insecurity that leads Dave to pretend he's Italian in order to impress a college girl.


Twilight Time's disc is a beauty, a long time coming, and one that I will treasure for the long haul.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lolly-Madonna XXX (1972, Richard C. Sarafian)


Until the Warner Archive released Richard C. Sarafian's Lolly-Madonna XXX in late 2014, the film was m.i.a. on home video for over 40 years.  It's this sort of cinematic "rescue" that lovers of obscure films like this one cherish the Warner Archive for.  We're still waiting for the likes of Last Summer and China 9, Liberty 37, but every WA announcement seems to yield another buried treasure from the combined libraries of WB, MGM, RKO, Lorimar, Allied Artists, Monogram, and others.


I'm not sure what kept Lolly-Madonna XXX--aka The Lolly-Madonna War aka Fire in the Meadow (the title that the trailer on this DVD bears)--off home video for so long, but it's a pleasure to finally have this slice of prime hixploitation, with its stacked cast, in its proper scope aspect ratio on DVD.


The film like so many from the era, Westerns in particular, is a Vietnam allegory; it has its roots in an early Sue Grafton novel.  The Gutshalls and Feathers, two backwoods Tennessee clans are in a continual land dispute, which becomes increasingly violent and tragic as the film progresses.  Rod Steiger is the Feather patriarch and Robert Ryan his counterpart.  Lolly-Madonna is a fabrication of Ludie Gutshall (the underrated Kiel Martin, who died too young) meant to drive the Feather boys (Jeff Bridges, Scott Wilson, Ed Lauter, Timothy Scott, and Randy Quaid) away from their illegal still long enough for Ludie and his brothers (Paul Koslo and Gary Busey) to burn it down.  Through a case of bad timing, innocent Roonie Gill (Season Hubley) is mistaken by the Feathers for the fictitious Lolly-Madonna and it's she, caught in the middle, who narrates the sordid tale.  


The story is rather simple and often unpleasant, as it heads inexorably, with little suspense or surprise, to tragedy, but it's of interest because of its long-standing scarcity, grade-A cast, and trashy, country milieu.  Lovers of weirdo '70s cinema and that decade's fascination with rural characters and culture, as I clearly am, will find much to enjoy here.  


Unsurprisingly, in the loaded cast, it's the young, pre-stardom Bridges who has the film's best moments, particularly those opposite the incredibly young-looking Hubley (a million years from her jaded turns in cult favorites Hardcore and Vice Squad).  In the quiet before the final storm, Bridges and Hubley are quite moving together, united by the hardship and tragedy each has endured prior to their meeting.  


Before his untimely death due to cancer, Ryan, star of so many fine Westerns and noirs, seemed to load up on appearances in the bizarre, off-kilter, anti-establishment pictures that were de rigueur in the early '70s: Lolly-Madonna, The Outfit, And Hope to Die, Executive Action.  Unlike many of his contemporaries, who dropped out at this time from the industry, often out of a profound distaste for the new, much more explicit Hollywood cinema, Ryan clearly had no problem rubbing shoulders with the young up and comers behind and in front of the camera and appearing in stories containing "filth" that wouldn't have been permitted on the screen a few years earlier.  This is one of the aspects that makes this era such a treat for students of classic Hollywood; it was a time when boomer stars were emerging and the previous generation was still young enough to keep up with them and pass the proverbial torch, as Ryan and Steiger do here.  Unlike Steiger, who became known for his onscreen histrionics--on full display here--Ryan counters with a welcome gravitas and stillness that helps the movie achieve whatever dramatic power and sense of loss that it does.


Sarafian, coming off of the post-Woodstock, post-Easy Rider road movie sensation Vanishing Point, would have had more clout in his career at this point than at any other time, and he chose to helm the radically different Lolly-Madonna.  Where Vanishing Point is one long-distance car chase that keeps moving from one locale to another, Lolly-Madonna remains tied to the contested land of the Gutshalls and Feathers.  In addition to his cast (put together by casting legend Lynn Stalmaster), Sarafian is aided by Philip Lathrop as d.p., the haunting theme music by Fred Myrow (Phantasm), and editor Tom Rolf, whose impressive and lengthy resume includes Taxi Driver, Heat, The Right Stuff, and numerous additional good to great films.  

Sarafian on set with Steiger.

When I finally saw this movie a couple years ago via a faded, but serviceable 35mm print, I joked that the cast had just about every young actor in early '70s Hollywood, short of Jan-Michael Vincent, capable of playing rural characters and leads.  In truth, many members of the cast, vacillated between "hixploitation" (or, "hicksploitation") and urban action films at this time.  Aside from Bridges, Busey, and Quaid, though, most of them did not graduate to prominence or enjoy as much longevity in major films. Busey and the late Lauter would appear in several other Bridges pictures before their careers blossomed and went off in their own directions.  

Joan Goodfellow and onscreen lover Jan-Michael Vincent in Buster and Billie, which some exhibitor must have paired with Lolly-Madonna at some point in the early '70s.

Joan Goodfellow (Sister E. Gutshall) would soon star opposite Vincent in Buster and Billie, another '70s rural tragedy and cult item that has become difficult to see over the years; her career, unfortunately, soon fizzled out.  

Steiger and Busey, off-camera during filming.

Koslo was a '70s mainstay who seemed to make a career out of getting his head busted in entertaining ways by older stars such as Charles Bronson.  Koslo and Timothy Scott earlier appeared together in another, even rarer post-Vietnam downer, Welcome Home, Soldier Boys; Scott was also in Vanishing Point, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and The Party, and he remained active, often in "rural" parts, until his early death in 1995. 

Timothy Scott as Skylar Feather.

Scott Wilson is entertained as brother Ed Lauter engages in some healthy sexual role-playing.

Scott Wilson, co-star of In Cold Blood, remains one of the best, most underrated character actors to emerge in the '60s and '70s.  

The Gutshall men (from left): Ryan, Koslo, and Martin.

The handsome, charismatic Martin co-starred in the cult blaxploitation Iceberg Slim adaptation Trick Baby, gained some fame in the '80s on Hill Street Blues, and died of lung cancer at only 46.  

Hubley, so affectively fresh-faced and innocent here, and though quite talented, had few starring opportunities in film, save for the aforementioned Hardcore and Vice Squad, her career momentum apparently stopped in the early '80s following a difficult divorce and child custody battle with Kurt Russell.

An Australian ad, I believe.

The Warner Archive DVD features the film in its o.a.r., as we've come to expect, anamorphically enhanced, and derived from an unexceptional source.  Happily, we also get a theatrical trailer, which, interestingly, plays under the evocative title Fire in the Meadow, a title completely different from the usual Lolly-Madonna XXX and The Lolly-Madonna War.  Order it here.

Films like this one, even if they are ultimately significantly flawed, are my most favorite type to come out of the Warner Archive because they truly embody the term "from the vault."  We can only hope that the other studios develop and / or speed up the releases in their own MOD initiatives so that even more of these rarities can emerge from cold storage.

"Lolly-Madonna," in a moment of rare, short-lived quietude.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Under Fire (1983, Roger Spottiswoode)


If that old canard about the Hollywood "liberal bias" were true, I think films like Roger Spottiswoode's Under Fire would be a lot more common than they are.  It just so happens that Twilight Time has, of late, seemingly cornered the market on these few '70s and '80s Hollywood-produced dramas set in war-torn countries in which the U.S. government had a dubious, at best, presence.  


Under Fire depicts journalists Nick Nolte, Gene Hackman, and Joanna Cassidy in a Somoza-led Nicaragua on the brink of collapse. Oliver Stone's more pointed Salvador has photojournalist James Woods in an El Salvador torn apart by civil war.  Richard Fleischer's Che is a Che Guevara biopic. And, John Irvin's The Dogs of War examines a soldier-for-hire (Christopher Walken) and his team of mercenaries sent into a fictional African country to overthrow a dictator.  Somewhat amazingly all of these titles have been issued by Twilight Time in quick succession.


Under Fire is an impressively mounted production, with a very fine trio of lead performances--the aforementioned Nolte, Hackman, and Cassidy--supported by a very strong Ed Harris, who is particularly chilling, the great Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Richard Masur.  Jerry Goldsmith contributes one of his most gorgeous and memorable scores, with key support from famed jazz guitarist Pat Matheny. Lastly, but no less important a credit is that of d.p. John Alcott, most renowned for his work as cinematographer for Kubrick on A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining.

Hackman and Cassidy would reunite several years later in Andrew Davis' The Package, also from Orion and also newly released on Blu-ray.

In its set-up and through its second act, I found Under Fire riveting; where it lost impact for me, in contrast to Stone's Salvador and Costa-Gavras' Missing, is when its focus shifts from the political to the personal, from the reality-based situation on the ground in Nicaragua to the fictional love triangle between Nolte, Hackman, and Cassidy. The filmmakers ease up on their criticism of the U.S. government for its support of dictator Somoza and his efforts to put down the leftist Sandinista revolutionary movement in favor of the aforementioned love story and an implausible, cliche-ridden action thriller climax. To be fair, the latter is inspired by the real-life murder of ABC news reporter Bill Stewart.  


The film is at its best and most blood-boiling whenever the shameless, cruel soldier of fortune Harris is onscreen.  He pops up at various times throughout the story, whether in Africa or Central America, and he, along with Trintignant's wealthy French spy / informer, is the stand-in for capitalist greed and indifference, but the film would have been stronger if it were more direct in its critique of the U.S. government and U.S. corporations for their complicity in and profiteering from the crimes of Somoza and his ilk throughout Central and South America.  The great Harris performance is akin to Mickey Rourke a few years earlier in Body Heat, briefly stealing the film out from under its lead actors whenever he's onscreen.

The rabid baseball fan in me loved the film's reference to Nicaraguan native and one-time Major League Baseball star--and Baltimore Oriole, as you can see--Dennis Martinez

Twilight Time's Blu-ray features a handsome, film-like transfer, which does not appear to have unwelcome digital tampering, and contains the requisite isolated score (I listened to my LP of the soundtrack while writing this), as well as Julie Kirgo's informative printed notes, an interview with female lead Joanna Cassidy, an original trailer, a photo gallery, and two audio commentaries with director Spottiswoode, TT's Nick Redman and Kirgo, and other crew members.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell)


Aside from Kevin Dillon's godawful mullet, I really can't say too many bad things about Chuck Russell's 1988 Blob remake.  Twenty-six years on, it remains a supremely enjoyable, well-crafted monster movie romp.  Now, via Twilight Time's new limited edition Blu-ray (already sold out), we can enjoy the film in HD, along with some new extras including an audio commentary track with director and co-writer Russell and an isolated score track, featuring the music of German electronic composer Michael Hoenig.

This Blob holds a special place in my heart, as it is one of several mid to late '80s horror films that my late grandfather took me to see when I was a horror-crazed young boy.  I had probably seen the film again within the last twenty-odd years or so via cable, but as I revisited the film this time, I found myself treasuring those memories of seeing the film for the first time with grandfather, known as Pop-Pop to my brother and me.  Pop-Pop was the first adult to recognize my deep-seated love of movies and when I turned to horror around the age of eight or nine, he allowed me to indulge my newfound fascination and curiosity with those films, as well as comics.  I never cease to chuckle when I recall the time he took my brother and me to see David Cronenberg's The Fly (shot by Blob d.p. Mark Irwin).  Pop-Pop was not very fond of that film's gore, which increased exponentially as Jeff Goldblum's human features deteriorated and his transformation into the fly accelerated.  At a certain point, around when Goldblum loses an ear in the bathroom, Pop-Pop got up in a huff, with my brother (then 5) in tow, and said to me: "You can stay here if you want.  Your brother and I will out front."  Needless to say...I stayed.


It was while watching the interview (at the Cinefamily) with Chuck Russell, on the TT disc, that I was reminded that Russell directed not only The Blob, but also the much-beloved Elm Street sequel, Dream Warriors, yet another '80s horror classic that Pop-Pop took me to.

Anyway...back to The Blob.  Russell and co-writer Frank Darabont have slyly updated the '50s Cold War, Steve McQueen-starring chestnut to the '80s, while retaining the feel of any number of golden era B-movies--be they horror, sci-fi, or juvenile delinquency drama--firmly implanted in small town Americana.  I love the use of that town here--Abbeville, Louisiana of all places.  Though with its snowy forests and mountainous terrain, I thought for sure this was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.  That location, along with Dillon's badly-coiffed, motorcycle-riding, sheriff-hassled delinquent, actually had me thinking of First Blood of all movies and, as the movie went on, I noted a number of possibly intentional references to some other then-recent films.  Whether intentional or not, this viewing of The Blob made me thing at various times of the aforementioned First Blood, as well as E.T., The Thing (82), Reckless (84), Gremlins, Back to the Future, All the Right Moves, and Creepshow.


This Blob centers on Kevin Dillon's Brian Flagg a "bad kid" who's really not so bad, of course, and cheerleader Meg Penny (Shawnee Smith), who turns out to be much tougher than initially meets the eye, as they combat the fast-growing, fast-moving Blob, whose appetite for Abbeville's human population is insatiable.  Other than the aforementioned stars, the other stars of the movie are the film's impressive and messy gore f/x (which I remember oohing and aahing over in the pages of Fangoria and Gorezone) and Russell and Darabont's frequently funny and surprising script.  All of the f/x, as Russell reminds us in his interview, are of the gloriously non-CG variety.  There are a few outdated-looking optical effects, but overall the look of The Blob still impresses.

The cinematographer was Mark Irwin, who at this point was mostly known as David Cronenberg's usual d.p., but following his work here, he began what might be called a d.p. for hire stretch, which continues to this day.  Included in that run is Scream, a teen horror comedy phenomenon that never really worked for me, but which bears some similarities to The Blob, something that I imagine did not escape the makers of the latter film when they brought on Irwin.


Given his pedigree as an important figure in krautrock and the Berlin School, Hoenig's score is disappointing, as more often than not it is little more than musical wallpaper, sounding like so many run of the mill late '80s electronic scores.  This may just come down to the composer serving the needs of the production, as directed by the filmmakers, but it's a letdown considering Hoenig's classic '78 solo debut, Departure from the Northern Wasteland and prior participation in bands such as Tangerine Dream and Agitation Free.


As for that script, the thing that stood out to me with this viewing is how the writers quickly established characters that were both distinctive and likeable--which helped make some of the early death scenes all the more surprising in terms of who was killed off.  For the character actor obsessives like me, this cast has no shortage of all-stars, as well as would-be teen stars who didn't quite make that leap following The Blob.  Youngsters Donovan Leitch, Ricky Paull Goldin, Lost Boy Jamison Newlander, and Erika Eleniak mix with such veteran players as Candy Clark, Jeffrey DeMunn, Del Close (regarded as one of the godfathers of improv and a legendary figure in comedy and Second City circles, if not film), Art LaFleurPaul McCrane, Joe Seneca, Bill Moseley, and ole Eraserhead himself, Jack Nance.  One of the great pleasures of this film is seeing how many of these fine performers will survive past the final frame, who will be knocked off long before...and how.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Killer Elite (1975, Sam Peckinpah)


Like Clint Eastwood's The Eiger Sanction, Sam Peckinpah's The Killer Elite is considered a minor work of a legendary director.  Both were released in 1975 to little acclaim and remain buried near the bottom of each filmmaker's oeuvre.  That said, I recently watched the Peckinpah film for the first time via Twilight Time's new Blu-ray and found myself enjoying it for the same reasons I so enjoyed The Eiger Sanction when I watched it for the first time a few years back.  Both are espionage thrillers whose pleasures have little to do with the intricacies of their main plots and everything to do with their defiantly politically incorrect attitudes, offbeat characters, said characters' interpersonal relationships, and the subsidiary story lines contained within their lengthy running times.

Given the complicated package that was Peckinpah's personal and political beliefs, it comes as little surprise that within the first ten minutes, The Killer Elite offers examples of his much-discussed skepticism of the government and his troubled and troubling relationship with women.  Onscreen text introduces us to COMTEG, the shadowy organization that agents Mike Locken (James Caan) and George Hansen (Robert Duvall) work for. COMTEG may or may not be based on reality, counts the C.I.A. as a client, and deals in the protection and / or elimination of individuals who are of special interest to foreign governments as well as our own. Locken and Hansen are partners in work and have a very close relationship outside of it, marked by both hetero competitiveness and homoerotic tension.  This is very effectively encapsulated at the start: after a successful job, Locken and Hansen enjoy a small party in their bachelor pad, which includes casually topless women, Caan impressing one of the women with his push-up prowess, and, of course, Caan bedding down said woman.


In the morning, on their way to the next part of their work assignment, Duvall taunts Caan about finding a gynecologist's note in the "chick's" pocketbook, indicating a "vaginal infection."  By way of Duvall's cackling--which turns out to be more mean-spirited than first indicated--Peckinpah appears to be poking fun at Caan's well-known reputation as an overly confident swinging dick with permanent residence at the Playboy Mansion.  After a rather surprising twist, Caan becomes a crippled dick: at close range gunshots turn his left leg into a "wet noodle" and his left arm only slightly less gimpy. It's here, in the film's best section,  that Caan loses his standing as "numero uno" in the organization, becomes the property of his nurse (Van Heflin's daughter Kate), and, in documentary-like fashion, is shown rehabbing his way back to top dog status.  Whether intentional or not, it is this digression into the seemingly quotidian, mostly removed from the film's requisite C.I.A. mumbo jumbo, where the film is at its most satisfying.  It's much the same way that Eastwood's Eiger Sanction is at its best when Clint is learning how to scale mountains with George Kennedy rather than engaging with C.I.A. spooks in the interest of spy thriller conventions.


Once this happens, the film goes into men-on-a-mission mode and becomes less interesting, despite the considerably enjoyable dual presence of Bo Hopkins as Locken's permanently Vietnam War-damaged gunman and Burt Young as his surprisingly philosophical and soft-spoken wheelman.  It is interesting that at this point in the film, as Caan gets his mojo back and loses his vulnerability, he becomes more of an asshole, type-A guy again.  Of course, because he's Caan and this is the persona that made him a star, I like him anyway. You'd be hard-pressed to find a Caan equivalent in today's Hollywood, certainly no one as hirsute and probably no one willing to be as willfully unlikable and non-cerebral--i.e. an unrepentant meathead--as Caan, as when he cooly tells dissident Mako's twenty-ish daughter (Master Gini Lau) that he "really doesn't give a shit" after she admits to being a virgin in a failed attempt at intimacy.

Caan enjoying the sun on what I believe are the grounds of the Playboy Mansion.

Given less inspired roles as the COMTEG bosses are Arthur Hill, who was previously seen to great effect in another San Francisco film of the era, Petulia, and Gig Young, rightfully seeming disinterested and, more sadly, quite visibly and audibly slowed by his debilitating alcoholism.  In addition to the aforementioned appearance of Van Heflin's daughter in one of the key female roles, Sondra Blake, ex-wife of Robert, appears as Young's disturbingly shell-shocked girlfriend--shell-shocked by what or whom, exactly, I want to know.

Peckinpah and d.p. Philip Lathrop offer numerous scenic looks at '70s San Francisco and like '70s New York films, The Killer Elite gives viewers a valuable look at an American metropolis in a now-yearned for pre-gentrified, pre-chain store form.  Perhaps my favorite sequence in the the film has Caan participating in an outdoor martial arts class in Chinatown overseen by an elderly instructor and including men and women of various ages, colors, and body types. It's one of those casually egalitarian and unpretentious scenes that appears seemingly un-staged and which belongs firmly to that moment in time.


In keeping with that '70s thing, that I never tire of talking about, this is another of those archetypal '70s PG films, so it contains: a little casual nudity (just because), some off-the-cuff drug references, an attempt at some serious political commentary, and some docu-real violence and blood (if you don't cringe a little during the ER scene at the beginning of the film, you've got ice water in your veins). And, since it was the '70s, it was violence, not the nudity, that had to be cut in order to achieve a PG rating.

A piece on The Killer Elite cannot pass without a mention of the fact that it was the last collaboration between Peckinpah and Jerry Fielding (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs) who died way too young at 57 and who remains unheralded outside of film score aficionado circles. Happily, since this is a Twilight Time release, his varied score, which is at different times muscular, soaring, haunting, and dissonant, appears in isolated form on one of the audio tracks.  Also, equally noteworthy is the fact that the great Monte Hellman, in between directing gigs, edited The Killer Elite, in what was, I'm pretty sure, his only collaboration with Peckinpah.  The disc contains a transfer that looks to be pretty recent and that has not, thankfully, been digitally scrubbed, as well as a number of lovingly-curated bonus features, most notable of which is Peckinpah's rarely seen 1966 telefilm Noon Wine (which I've not had a chance to view yet).

The Killer Elite contains one of the more unorthodox director title cards that I've ever seen.  The "Directed by" text appears over some blown-up-from-16mm nature footage of a bird feeding its young--a reference to the "Peck" in the director's name?  This is followed by several more shots of the main characters carrying out their mission and then a return to the unrelated bird footage, this time with the "Sam Peckinpah" title card.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Troika: The Towers, The Forty-Deuce, & KONG


This is a pre-show reel I put together for my friends who curate the monthly "DEUCE Film Series" at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn.  As they were showing a rare 35mm print of John Guillermin's King Kong (1976) on 9/11, they asked for a reel that paid tribute to the Twin Towers.  Since the series is devoted to the vibrant street and movie culture of 42nd Street, particularly in its '70s - '80s heyday, I felt compelled to include some Deuce moments, alongside the Towers. As you will see the intent was not to be comprehensive in terms of Towers footage.  The emphasis is on the '70s and '80s and genre films so as to connect back to the "DEUCE Film Series" and its primary focus. Throughout the video, pay close attention to the movies listed on the marquees.

Windows (1980), directed by the late, great Gordon Willis, who served as his own d.p. here.