Wednesday, July 30, 2008
In the interest of creating a more cohesive and focused site, forthcoming posts will focus primarily on lesser known films. My starting point will be the marketing of each film--one-sheets, half-sheets, inserts, lobby cards, foreign posters--but the discussion will lean towards production history, reception, criticism, and legacy (if there is one).
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1972), The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974), A Small Town in Texas (1976)
"If they think you're crazy you can get away with anything."
Timothy Bottoms' future as a Dubya impersonator was sealed at an early age.
"All Poke wanted was to get his girl and get out. All the Sheriff wanted...was to get Poke."
We need more Bo Hopkins.
Same goes for Susan George. First Hershey and then George. Damn you, Bottoms!
Of the four acting Bottoms brothers of Santa Barbara, California, Timothy was the first to break out and the most likely to achieve stardom. Joseph came next, then Sam, and finally, Ben. It never really happened for any of them, but Timothy had quite a run following early success in Johnny Got His Gun in the title role and, most famously, The Last Picture Show as Sonny Crawford. In the wake of the success of co-stars Jeff Bridges and Cybill Shepherd it's easy to forget that Bottoms was top-billed. He went on to great success in James Bridges' Academy Award-nominated The Paper Chase and played a pivotal role alongside Warren Oates and Lou Gossett in Philip Kaufman's fascinating and unusual The White Dawn. Around this time he starred in a trio of curios that are less remembered than the aforementioned titles: Alan J. Pakula's Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing, Arthur Hiller's The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder, and Jack Starrett's A Small Town in Texas. Following these films, Bottoms migrated more to television films and theater, mixing in the occasional feature film (Rollercoaster, Hurricane, Invaders From Mars). He appeared in the long-awaited sequel to Last Picture Show, Texasville, and a long line of direct-to-video titles before gaining new fame as something of a professional George W. Bush impersonator (the resemblance is rather uncanny) in three different productions, most notably That's My Bush! for Comedy Central.
The Pakula film, a May-December romance co-starring Dame Maggie Smith and written by Alvin Sargent, was the film he made in between Klute and The Parallax View, two of his most admired films. Perhaps inspired by the success of Harold and Maude, Love and Pain was a considerable change of pace for Pakula, best known, of course, for a series of paranoid thrillers, with the occasional drama such as Sophie's Choice, from the early 1970s until his bizarre and untimely death in 1998. Because of its pedigree, Pakula, Sargent, Smith, it is surprising that the film has nearly completely fallen off the radar. In his Times review, Vincent Canby praised the humor of the film while criticizing it for overplaying the dramatic ramifications of the "taboo" (at least in Anglo-Saxon culture) age defying relationship between the two leads. While, he says, the film "eventually goes to soap suds...you can enjoy two of the most intelligently comic performances of the year so far."
The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder was a clear attempt to cash in on Bottoms' appeal to the young, hip audience. Produced by Hugh Hefner, the anti-war comedy stars Bottoms as a Vietnam vet who thinks he is smarter and saner than the doctors running the mental institution he's been placed in following his return to civilian life. Barbara Hershey, known then as Barbara Seagull, is the nurse who he falls in love with and marries. Nora Sayre, writing in the Times felt the film was too cute and that Bottoms appears to have been directed to appear perpetually "elfin." The cast includes Golden Age director George Marshall (Destry Rides Again, How the West Was Won) not long before his death, Lawrence Pressman (who also appeared in Walk Proud), Richard Dysart, future playwright-screenwriter-director Michael Cristofer (The Witches of Eastwick, Original Sin), and Albert Salmi. Hiller had already struck big with Love Story and Plaza Suite and directed cult films such as The Hospital and The Out-of-Towners. He would next work on The Man in the Glass Booth for the American Film Theatre before settling primarily into the realm of comedies and light dramas.
Probably best known for his intense portrayal of sheriff's deputy Art Galt in First Blood or as Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles, the late Jack Starrett was, in fact, a first-rate director of hard-hitting action films throughout the 1970s. A Small Town in Texas came after an impressive run that included Run, Angel, Run, Slaughter, The Gravy Train (aka The Dion Brothers), Cleopatra Jones, and Race With the Devil. He would later direct Final Chapter: Walking Tall and contribute episodes to Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard, Hill Street Blues, and Eischied, the only show to top-line one Joe Don Baker. Bottoms is Poke Jackson, recently jailed on a marijuana charge and out to reunite with the mother of his son, Mary Lee (Susan George). Bo Hopkins is Sheriff Duke, the one who wants to "get Poke." Ebert, Canby, and Variety ridicule the film's Southern stereotypes while giving praise to the stunt work and chase scenes. The latter says that "Bo Hopkins acts rings around Bottoms."
From what I can tell, the earlier films have never appeared on any home video format in the States. Julius Vrooder has played on Fox Movie Channel in the last several years. MGM, who controls A Small Town in Texas, released a VHS through Amazon a few years ago, but there has been no DVD in Region 1. There is a Spanish DVD of the film, which is playable if you have an all-region DVD player.
On the repertory circuit, Starrett's Gravy Train (never on home video) recently played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a series curated by David Gordon Green and he calls it, along with Tango and Cash, the biggest inspiration for Pineapple Express. A Small Town in Texas and Race With the Devil were screened at the George Eastman House as part of a series devoted to car chase movies.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Just found this original trailer for Baby It's You on IMDb and, if the songs present in the trailer are any indication of the songs on the original theatrical soundtrack, there's quite a bit missing on the video.
John Sayles does not detail the missing ones in Sayles on Sayles, but here is what I noted from the trailer that I don't recall on the DVD:
*"Shout" - The Isley Brothers (listed in the End Credits, but "Surfin' Bird" plays in the scene that " Shout" appears to have originally belonged to)
*another Spector-ish song sung by a female vocalist, which I couldn't name
*"Hurt So Bad" - Little Anthony and the Imperials
Of course, the songs in the trailer are not a definite indicator of the songs that appeared on the original soundtrack of the film. The only way to be sure of what has been changed would be to obtain a television/cable dub of the film (which contained the original soundtrack), catch a 35mm (or 16mm) film screening, or obtain an original press kit, which most likely lists the full credits for the film as they originally appeared.
On a final note, I initially thought that the version of "Baby It's You" that plays in the film was a cover, but on a second listen, I believe it is the original Shirelles version.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Just to keep up the Wanderers and movie clothing discussion, a German niche clothing company, Rockabilly Store, has produced a snazzy, uber-detailed approximation of the satin jackets worn by the members of The Wanderers. They are pricey, but the jackets seem to have gotten just about every detail down.
These things were just bound to be reproduced ever since the Telluride Film Festival started holding special screenings of The Wanderers many years ago. It seems that the organizers of the fest were big fans of the film and made it a regular part of the festivities, so much so that many had their own Wanderers jackets made up. I can't find the article right now, but I recall reading an interview where director Philip Kaufman recalled his shock at seeing a bunch of people walking around in Wanderers jackets at Telluride and turning out in big numbers to see the film. The irony being, of course, that the film was not a box-office success during its initial run largely due to the violence that broke out at theaters in early 1979 following screenings of The Warriors and Boulevard Nights, and the skittishness these incidents provoked in exhibitors. The film's audience grew exponentially, however, through cable screenings, home video, and the rise of novelist and screenwriter Richard Price, whose first novel formed the basis of the film.
Kaufman, perhaps around the time of the shooting of The Wanderers
On the strength of its following at Telluride, Warner Bros. was inspired to re-release the film on a test basis, in the mid-1990s, in Kaufman's adopted home base of San Francisco. As far as I can tell, the re-release did not go beyond S.F., unfortunately.
Kaufman tells a story in print, and on his audio commentary on laserdisc and DVD, about reuniting with his Wanderers--Ken Wahl, Jim Youngs, and Tony Ganios (John Friedrich was absent)--on the streets of San Francisco, following a re-release screening. Even then, over fifteen years after its initial release, the cast members were recognized by motorcycle riders who cheered the gang as they drove by. I can't find that article right now either, but here is a very interesting Times article from the same period, which details the film's continuing popularity on cable.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I always thought it was a shame that actor John Friedrich disappeared from the screen at the beginning of a very promising career. The actor, who appeared in several memorable film and television projects in the mid-1970s to early 1980s, left the industry in 1983 and was never publicly heard from again for nearly twenty-five years.
As much as I love the movie version of Richard Price's novel The Wanderers, I have to agree with Danny Peary when he writes in Cult Movies 3 that the film would have been even more interesting if it had focused on the character of Joey, played by John Friedrich, rather than gang leader Richie (the classically handsome Ken Wahl). Joey is undersized and has the requisite chip on his shoulder. He has talent as an artist, is shy around girls, and has an abusive father. Friedrich is brilliant in the role, which is no surprise if one is familiar with the rest of his oeuvre of sensitive, underdog-type characters (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Almost Summer, Thank God It's Friday). Even though he's billed just under Wahl, the film's ostensible star, Friedrich makes a very strong impression and he's afforded plenty of screen time. Based on his performance here, which followed a string of character parts on television and in film, Friedrich should have gone on to more full-bodied, leading roles.
However, following The Wanderers, whose release pattern was negatively affected by the violent incidents involving other gang pictures (The Warriors and Boulevard Nights), most of Friedrich's parts were smaller and far less pivotal in the grand scheme of things. He continued to appear in high profile television films and mini-series--Studs Lonigan and A Rumor of War--and in features. In A Small Circle of Friends, his small-town boy turned Weatherman-like radical is interesting, but he's very much in support of the film's key trio: Brad Davis, Jameson Parker, and Wanderers castmate Karen Allen. In 1982's fine and underrated Fast-Walking, Friedrich is in heavy character mode as a strung out lackey for prison bigwig Tim McIntire. He doesn't make much of an impression because his small role is easily eclipsed in importance by stars James Woods, Kay Lenz, and McIntire, not to mention cult favorites M. Emmet Walsh and Susan Tyrrell.
I'm not sure if these roles were all that Friedrich was offered or if he received questionable advice from his agent(s). One thing I can say is that many of these post-Wanderers roles are heavy on character. By this I mean they are overtly offbeat (i.e. crazy or weird with exaggerated features) and, it seems, mostly there to show that the lead characters might have problems, but they are not that far gone. These aren't the types of roles to follow a strong, potentially star-making performance as seen in The Wanderers. But, maybe that's not what Friedrich wanted, and he was barely into his twenties at this point.
He followed with a major part in a poor Sam Arkoff-produced horror film, The Final Terror, with a cast and crew that would go on to much bigger and better things--director Andrew Davis, Daryl Hannah, Rachel Ward, Joe Pantoliano. Other cast members of note included Adrian Zmed, Jim Youngs (a former Wanderer and brother of John Savage), Lewis Smith, and Mark Metcalf. If I'm not mistaken this film was actually completed a couple years earlier. His final role was that of Frank Cleary (originally intended for good friend Brad Davis) in The Thorn Birds. I have not actually ever seen this much-celebrated mini-series, but based on clips, Friedrich looks mature, confident--he was still only 25 at this point--and ready to continue a thriving acting career. Then...Friedrich would disappear from the public eye for nearly a quarter century.
On director Philip Kaufman's commentary track for The Wanderers, he basically pleaded with Friedrich to get in touch with him. Still, it was not until early 2007 that Hawaii filmmaker and professor Marc Moody got ahold of Friedrich, now living in New Mexico and working as a financial consultant, and persuaded him to come out to the University of Hawaii for an "Inside the Actor's Studio" type of event. The invitation came at a time when Friedrich said he was looking to return to "an unfinished chapter" of his life.
Not having been to the event, I'm deprived of many of the stories and insights Friedrich shared. According to this article covering the event, Friedrich moved to New Mexico after finishing The Thorn Birds mini-series where he met his wife and started a family. That narrative seems a little simplified. This is not to say that any time a successful performer leaves the business it must be due to some kind of personal crisis, but it does seem odd that Friedrich would move on at a time when his career was ostensibly on a big upswing--The Thorn Birds was the most watched television mini-series after Roots and he had a major role alongside the likes of Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward, Christopher, and Jean Simmons.
Probably because of the great sensitivity and range of emotions that Friedrich displayed in roles in The Wanderers (a difficult shoot for Friedrich) and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, the diversity of his roles, and Kaufman's plea, I figured it was not out of the question that he'd had some kind of breakdown. I would be curious to know what else he had to say about his departure from the industry. In any event, based on the quotes and the picture from the Hawaii event, Friedrich looks and sounds good, and even suggests that a return to acting is in his future. He recently appeared in an Albuquerque stage version of Ordinary People in the Donald Sutherland role.
Even if he does not appear in another film or on television again, Friedrich's brief acting career offers a handful of vital and moving performances. I can't help, but get a little choked up whenever I see him lovingly slap Ken Wahl's cheek while repeating the phrase, "Wanderers forever!" and driving off to an uncertain future.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Continuing both the clothing and Big Trouble in Little China related line of thought. Here's another favorite site of mine for BTILC goods. They even have a Dragon of the Black Pool Jacket(sure it's $225, but its very cool)! You can also get a tank top version of the Jack Burton
shirt here(as he wears in the film). They also have Pork Chop Express shirts and hats, an Egg Foo Yong Tours shirt and a few more. Great stuff! Highly recommended for the Jack Burton fan!!
More t-shirts! Rupert actually designed the above logo for the folks at Cinefile Video. The concept is to combine well-known film directors with iconic rock logos. I hear, per Rupert, that fellow Badger and Ozu scribe David Bordwell is now rocking the Ozu/Ozzie t-shirt after being tipped off by Rupert.
Rupert tipped me off to this great site. Adam at Found Item Clothing says he was inspired to create these unique "movie t-shirts" after watching Real Genius and deciding he had to have Chris Knight's "I Love Toxic Waste" t-shirt. Personally, I have my eye on the super-detailed facsimile of Jack Burton's shirt from Big Trouble in Little China. Just remember that these shirts are made on American Apparel t-shirts, which means do not put them in the dryer if you ever want to fit in them again, or order a size larger than you normally do.
"I'm a cutter!"
"We're not gonna fall for the banana in the tailpipe!"
Here's a link to the official site for Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, which I wrote about a few months back. This is widely available, but it seems the package is a limited release. Sure does look like a Criterion-style release! Here's a link to a blog entry on the album via releasing label Legacy Recordings.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
I don't know, Roger. Tell us. I apologize for bringing you one more Siskel and Ebert clip today, but this one is of interest because while both, particularly Siskel, were rather harsh towards Blade Runner upon its original release in 1982, they are decidedly more charitable in 1992 when the film is re-released for the first time as "The Director's Cut."
In the first clip, listen for how Ebert very effectively makes the word "replicant" his own. Oh, yeah, he also stresses his fondness for the "special effects." There's also a smirky review of the Phoebe Cates/Willie Aames "dog," Paradise.
That Summer! (click on the link to the see the Youtube clip) is one of those films with a soundtrack that's much easier to track down than the film itself. An uncommonly good collection of punk and New Wave tunes, the soundtrack was released by Arista, but the film, directed by Harley Cokeliss and starring a very young Ray Winstone, doesn't seem to have gotten a Stateside release. Winstone is so youthful and fresh faced in these clips that it's hard to believe that he's now playing a contemporary of 65 year-old Harrison Ford and looking far more aged than Ford (Winstone is a mere 51). 1979 was a busy year for Winstone as he appeared in the theatrical version of Scum and Quadrophenia alongside That Summer!.
The film was distributed by Columbia/EMI/Warner in the UK and has appeared on the telly there. I'm not sure if it's appeared at all in the U.S. It's a coming-of-age story involving young Winstone's summer in seaside Torquay after being released from reform school. It apparently got some flak because the soundtrack led many to believe it to be a punk narrative when, in fact, it's a more traditional picture about teens sowing their wild oats. I've seen it called the "unofficial" sequel to Scum. A stretch, I'm sure, but it only whets my appetite more.
Anyway, the soundtrack is like a Rhino primer for pub rock, first wave punk, and New Wave, from both sides of the pond, featuring Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Mink DeVille, Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, and others. It's inspired several other articles due to its mythical and influential qualities. Another chap has a site that includes the full soundtrack and assorted clips from the film.
Siskel and Ebert catfight! This one's been online for awhile, but I just stumbled on it again when looking for some other clips. I wonder if this sort of thing was par for the course for them or more of an isolated incident:
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
You can read about this very exciting announcement and other upcoming goodies, including Noir box-sets, from Sony in two recent interviews.
Sony Home Entertainment honcho Mike Schlesinger at HK & Cult Film DVD News.
Sony Senior V.P. of Asset Management, Film Restoration, and Digital Mastering Grover Crisp at David Bordwell's blog:
David Marshall Grant and Miles Chapin cruise the streets of Paris while a city bus does a little advertising for another studio's new film, Les Dents de la Mer 2nd Partie (Jaws 2)
Lucky Miles Chapin gets to dance with Valerie Quennessen in a Paris nightclub stuck somewhere between disco and New Wave
The original version of the charming 1979 film French Postcards begins with a French-language version of the popular song, "Do You Believe in Magic?" (Croyez-vous en la Magie). Of course, if you pick up the new DVD from Legend/Paramount, you will hear an anonymous muzak-sounding track in its place. Writer-director team Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz talk about this and just about everything else about French Postcards at Cinema Verdict. Willard and Gloria are both very sad about Valerie Quennessen's early passing and share some interesting stories about her.
One last bit of trivia about this film: Future director Jean-Jacques Beineix (Diva, The Moon in the Gutter, Betty Blue) served as First Assistant Director.