Friday, March 27, 2009

Gotta Love the LIFE Photo Archive

A little while back, I posted an old ad for an autograph signing session with Fast Times at Ridgemont High stars Phoebe Cates and Brian Backer.  Here are some of the great snapshots of that event, courtesy of Life:

Director Amy Heckerling and a guy who looks like co-star Scott Thomson ("I hope you had a helluva piss, Arnold!") can be seen mingling in the background of this photo and several others in the set.

A very youthful looking Backer backstage at the Tony Awards in 1981 with his award for The Floating Lightbulb:

I had the pleasure of meeting Backer years ago at Film Forum in New York and he was a very pleasant fellow.  He certainly had the talent to sustain a more prolonged film and stage career. I'm still waiting for my moment with Ms. Cates...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Warner Archive

By now the news is all over the place.  For those who haven't heard, in an unprecedented move, Warner Home Video, have launched a new DVD line called Warner Archive.  Sold exclusively through the WHV website, the series will make available thousands of titles (eventually) that have otherwise not appeared on DVD and, in some cases, even home video.  Amazing!  The downside is that the discs will be burned as DVD-Rs rather than pressed as commercial DVDs normally are.  This has many consumers concerned about the overall quality and longevity of the discs.  WHV head honcho George Feltenstein assures the fanbase that these discs will be up to the standard we have come to expect from Warner--the process being used will yield better results than one could get making home DVD recordings off of TCM.  Feltenstein and WHV's reputation being what it is, I, for one, believe him.  Additionally, the films will be presented in their original aspect ratios, but extra features are slim to none and the artwork leaves something to be desired.  However, all films will come with full packaging.  Still, the $20 price tag seems high.  Check out tonight's WHV/Home Theater Forum chat transcript. The Warner folks always have their eyes on the goings on at HTF so I have to believe they've read my pleas for Dusty and Sweets McGee there!

The archive site is being regularly updated, with more titles added, it seems, by the hour.  They are up to 155 at latest count.  The goal, WHV says, is to eventually make the entire Warner catalog available. The company will not abandon its regular releases, thankfully, and some Archives titles may eventually be upgraded to standard release status (you've been warned!).  

There are so many titles I would like to pick up, but with the prices being what they are, and the overall quality still unknown, I'm proceeding cautiously.  Still, it's hard not to get a bit giddy.  I never thought I'd see Dusty and Sweets McGee released!

Monday, March 16, 2009

American Auteurs: Robert Mulligan

Despite the continuing layoffs and resignations at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Program Director Richard Pena and his team continue to churn out solid programs.  Off the heels of the annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series, the Film Society will unveil a career-spanning focus on the late Robert Mulligan, a director who has rarely, if ever, been the subject of such a retrospective. Bravo!  I, for one, can't wait to view Mulligan's gritty crime story The Nickel Ride starring Jason Miller (post-Exorcist), written by Eric Roth (pre-Forrest Gump), and co-starring John Hillerman, Linda Haynes (Rolling Thunder), and Bo Hopkins.  I do not believe it has appeared on home video in this country.  Mulligan's fine adaptation of Richard Price's Bloodbrothers (not on DVD) will also be featured alongside the director's better-known works such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Summer of '42, and Baby the Rain Must Fall.  Two of his other films, Inside Daisy Clover (recently released on DVD) and Love with the Proper Stranger (not on DVD), will be included in an upcoming Natalie Wood tribute.  Read more here.  There are supposed to me three more of these "American Auteurs" installments this year at the Walter Reade and I hope they continue in the vein of overlooked figures like Mulligan.

The intriguing Nickel Ride key art (seen in the above insert), which first made me think sci-fi or horror, reminded me of some imagery I'd seen in an old issue of Heavy Metal.  Upon looking at the cover gallery, the artwork I found there was not nearly as similar as I'd thought it was. 

Thursday, March 12, 2009

2 from '68: Skidoo (Otto Preminger) & The Legend of Lylah Clare (Robert Aldrich)

The 1968 40th anniversary celebrations--or condemnations--have already passed, but I thought I would commemorate two '68 films that seem close to the spirit of the New Hollywood even though they were made by two old Hollywood stalwarts, Robert Aldrich and Otto Preminger. These "offbeat" films made by older filmmakers were the sort ignored by Peter Biskind in his "history" of the times, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls.

Although Skidoo's key art depicts a woman's naked lower torso and unbuttoned jeans with the film's title dipping into her nether regions, it's the Lylah Clare artwork that is more shocking to my eyes.  A topless Kim Novak, in bed with another man, with a thumb placed provocatively in her mouth seems daring to me in 1968 or 2009.

You can't get either Skidoo or The Legend of Lylah Clare on any home video format, but you can find the trailers online and the films have aired on TCM in recent months:

"Who Is That Guy!?": Will Walker

As Fingers in The Driver

How can you not give love to a guy who played a character nicknamed "Jism Jim"?! Seriously. This skinny, blonde, pasty-looking dude showed up in several fairly high-profile late '70s productions, but since 1979's Hardcore in which he essayed the aforementioned role, Walker's film career has been silent.  Did Walker follow the path of his Hardcore character into the world of hardcore pornography?  Who knows?  

In Hardcore, he is one of two actors to have their way with the underage daughter of strict Calvinist Jake Van Dorn (George C. Scott) in a porno short. When Van Dorn sees a reel of the offending film, he has a memorable tirade in which he moans, nearly foams at the mouth, and yells at private eye-cum-projectionist Peter Boyle, "Turn it OFF, turn it OFF!!!!"  Surely writer-director Paul Schrader did not intend this bit to be funny, but despite the seriousness of the onscreen action, some snickers are inevitable.  From this point on, Van Dorn is intent on revenge and he finally gets Walker's "Jism Jim" when he masquerades as a porn producer casting for a new film and Jim comes to audition (there's also an audition with a large black man with the ridiculous moniker, "Big Dick Blaque"). Needless to say old Jake still has some fighting moves and Jim is no match...

In addition to getting his ass kicked by a disguised George C. in Hardcore, Walker was one of a gang of hapless crooks in Walter Hill's The Driver, appeared in Deathsport and The White Buffalo, and episodes of Baretta, Starsky and Hutch, Emergency!. Anyone know what Walker is up to today? 

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Frankenheimer Tribute

Larry over at Welcome to L.A. has just moved from Blogger to Wordpress in the midst of a multi-part tribute to John Frankenheimer.  I'm looking forward to what, if anything, is posted about Frankenheimer's vastly underrated The Challenge (1982). Update your links and take a look...

John Garfield: Belated Birthday Wishes

He would have been 96 on March 4.  

Here's the promo TCM put together for its month-long tribute in February 2003:

Not So Obscure Trailer, but still MIA on DVD: 92 in the Shade (1975, Thomas McGuane)

"As the temperature rises, the tension mounts and someone just might get killed."

If you haven't already read The Onion interview with Margot Kidder, it's a dandy.  This one's right up there with the one they did last year with Teri Garr.  Margot pulls no punches when it comes to her time in Tinseltown and no one, including Christopher Reeve, Peter Fonda, ex-hubbies Tom McGuane and John Heard, Dick Lester, Olivia Hussey, and Burt Lancaster, is spared.

As for ex-husband McGuane's lone directorial effort, 92 in the Shade, Margot is pretty rough. This was the film on which she fell in love with McGuane and had their child so her vision was clouded and she "didn't notice that it was being incompetently directed and didn't make a lot of sense."  The film is based on McGuane's own National Book Award-nominated novel, Ninety-two in the Shade.

I have to confess that I still have not seen the film, and the early '90s Vintage paperback edition has sat unread on my shelf since the time of its publication.  Still, since I will drop everything for most anything involving Warren Oates and/or Harry Dean Stanton, I would really like to see 92 in the Shade hit DVD.  Add Peter Fonda, Burgess Meredith, Elizabeth Ashley, Sylvia Miles, Kidder, Joe Spinell, William Hickey, and Louise Latham to the mix and you have the makings of another lost '70s classic.  This one is about charter fishing guides in Key West and the dangerous competition that develops between Fonda's rich kid Tom Skelton and hardened veteran angler Nichol Dance (Oates).  

McGuane, Tennessee Williams, and Chorus Line playwright James Kirkwood at the wrap party for 92 in the Shade

I'm not sure how novelist McGuane was able to get the directing gig here, but I guess he'd developed enough cache from the success of his books (The Sporting Club, The Bushwhacked Piano, and Ninety-two in the Shade) and screenplays (Rancho Deluxe and The Missouri Breaks) to broker the deal.  

Things changed for "Captain Berserko" (as he was known at the time) after he divorced his first wife (who would marry Fonda), had an affair with Elizabeth Ashley (who appeared in both 92 in the Shade and the McGuane-scripted Rancho Deluxe), married and divorced Kidder, and crashed his Porsche on a Texas highway.  He never matched the critical acclaim of his early works ("a talent of Faulknerian potential"), but he did settle down long term with the sister of Jimmy Buffett (this seems very fitting) and settled and invested in Montana's Paradise Valley long before it became a haven for Hollywood royalty.

Originally distributed by United Artists, there was a VHS tape put out by Key Video (CBS/Fox subsidiary).  The below trailer is actually a video trailer for the Key Video release. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trailer Not on the DVD: Cruising

Here's a couple of nifty trailers that have not been included on the DVD of Cruising.  The first appears to be a teaser from 1980, or perhaps late '79:

The second one touts the upcoming DVD and does a damn fine job selling the film to today's audience:

Forever Fiddling Friedkin

With all the flack that "Hurricane Billy" Friedkin is picking up for his new Blu-ray transfer of French Connection, from no less an authority than his own DP, Owen Roizman, it's worth taking another look at the Cruising DVD from 2007. The DVD transfer has a very strong blue hue throughout, while the original theatrical and VHS transfers had a much more neutral color palette.  In addition, Friedkin added a title card (scrolling across the screen as in a Rocky movie), subtracted the 1980 disclaimer meant to placate the mainstream gay community, and added several needless optical effects during scene transitions.

At the time of the Cruising re-release there was some discussion that the across-the-board color tampering may have been done to compensate for a badly faded negative.  In an Onion interview, Friedkin acknowledged that the Cruising negative had sustained damage, probably due to the fact that the film was produced by defunct mini-major Lorimar and its distribution rights had bounced around from UA to Warner over the years.  In any event, based on Friedkin's history of making changes to "his babies" for home video, going back to the Sorcerer laserdisc, it's safe to say that the new Cruising color scheme has as much to do with a damaged negative as it does with Friedkin's revisionist tendencies (see the aforementioned optical effects).  

I took out my Cruising dvd for the previous post and compared the film transfer to that of the included theatrical trailer.  The difference is astounding.  Aside from the trailer not being widescreen, I strongly prefer its look to that the of DVD:

I made a DVD recording from a 2006 IFC broadcast of Cruising in its original cut, complete with letterbox transfer and warmer color scheme, and, needless to say, I'll be hanging onto it.  I will probably eventually pick up the French Connection Blu-ray, but you can bet I won't be putting my original 2001 DVD set on eBay.  Here's a link to some attractive screen shots that Jeremy made over at Moon in the Gutter from the French Connection DVD. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Who Is That Guy!?": Anthony James

Named for the jaw-dropping scene in Cruising in which sad-sack murder suspect Skip Lee (Jay Acovone) is brutalized by a mysterious large black man (the uncredited Henry Judd Baker) during a police interrogation that is anything but "by the books," this section will focus on those distinctive character actors that leave large impressions, but who are perpetually known as "that guy."

"Who is that guy!?"

First up: Anthony James. With such a nondescript name, it's no wonder this guy got lost in the shuffle. However, I've been made uneasy by this actor ever since I saw him in Blue Thunder where he played syndicate hitman Grundeltus (I don't think we ever hear him addressed by this rather unwieldy name in the film). I was five years-old and my dad and I snuck into a screening of Blue Thunder after watching Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone.

James' pockmarked face, greasy hair, and dead eyes were seared into my young consciousness and I think that's why this seemingly innocuous popcorn movie has always left me a little unsettled. Without compunction, James mows down shackled rookie cop Lymangood (the lovable Daniel Stern) and masterminds the assault and murder of an innocent woman in her driveway. James is most effective in scenes where he appears in the background unnoticed by the other actors (as in the scene in which Blue Thunder's capabilities are demonstrated for a crowd). It's a testament to his abilities as an actor and striking features, that the most chilling moments in the film belong to him and not to chief villain Malcolm McDowell, a man who is not exactly revered for his "nice guy" qualities.

James' few lines reveal a suitably cold and disaffected voice, as when he and his boss (Paul Lambert) discuss what to do about an incriminating recording made by Blue Thunder that's proven hard to dispose of--"We don't have the code number." To which his boss replies, "Then, erase them all." In this case, he refers to a videocassette, but he as may well be talking about any human obstacle that might get in the way of the organization's criminal operations.

By this time, James had cornered the market on unrepentant creeps, essaying these types of roles in such high-profile films as In the Heat of the Night and Vanishing Point and over hours of episodic television (Hawaii Five-O, The Streets of San Francisco, Bonanza, Charlie's Angels). Younger audiences probably remember him best from a memorably goofy fight scene with Leslie Nielsen in The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. In a way, James went out on top. He quit the Hollywood game in 1992 after playing saloon owner Skinny Dubois in Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, finishing his career with a role in a film that would go onto win Best Picture, along with three other Academy Awards.

His IMDb bio claims that James left acting behind to pursue a career as an artist, but from what I can tell it is a far different Anthony James whose work is being exhibited in galleries all over the world.

Being that Anthony James, the actor, was never very well known, at least by name, it's appropriate that his identity is now being confused with a British artist some thirty years his junior. Ah, the always reliable IMDb...