Monday, April 27, 2009

Trailer Not on the DVD: The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976, Nicolas Gessner)

One of the very best of the Canadian tax shelter films, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is, thankfully, available on a very affordable Region 1 DVD.  However, the DVD is barebones and does not even include the trailer.  The disc was released by MGM during the period in which Sony assumed stewardship of the studio's DVD division.  The trailers that had been commonplace on MGM DVDs up until then were often jettisoned.  Whether this trailer was not included because of music clearance issues or because Sony simply didn't care to include it, it did air on TCM at some point:

Nicolas, or Nicholas, Gessner helmed this small production and got terrific performances out of child actors Jodie Foster and Scott Jacoby (Bad Ronald) while developing a palpable tension and a very creepy atmosphere without resorting to a lot of blood and guts.  The great work by Foster and vets Martin Sheen and Alexis Smith, not to mention the wintry small-town Canadian locale, goes a long way towards establishing the film's unique vibe, which is disturbing and weird on a number of levels.  Extra praise must go to Sheen for taking on such a thoroughly tasteless and despicable character role. It's hard to imagine an actor of his stature playing such a part in this day and age.  His Frank Hallet is as evil as Mitchum's Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter, but with none of the inherent rascally charm that Mitchum brings to that film and just about any other he was associated with.  

As with so many hard PG films from this era, it's infinitely more adult than just about any R-rated film on today's screens, let alone PG or PG-13 ones. Gessner would go onto direct Obscure One-Sheet favorite Lisa Langlois in It Rained All Night the Day I Left (undoubtedly one of the worst film titles committed to celluloid).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Canadian Tax-Shelter Princess: Lisa Langlois

North Bay, Ontario native Lisa Langlois sure was busy in the late '70s and early '80s. Being that these were the peak years of the Canadian tax-shelter film era, a movement responsible for the majority of teen-oriented slasher fare, there were plenty of opportunities for a young beauty pageant runner-up with some acting chops and bilingual abilities.

Langlois' big break would come from Claude Chabrol who cast her in back to back films: Les Liens de Sang (Blood Relatives) and Violette Noziere. When John Huston inexplicably slummed in Canadian tax shelter land--after the acclaimed Wise Blood--he cast Langlois in Phobia. The latter Huston film is not highly regarded, but we can thank the old lion, or dirty old man, for getting his young starlet out of her clothes for her bathtub death scene.

Following her work for Huston, Langlois appeared in a couple of cult favorites, first as one of the college-aged victims in Happy Birthday to Me, and then, in my personal favorite, Class of 1984. In the latter film, she was the pink-haired, heavily made up lieutenant of psychotic punk gang leader Timothy Van Patten. If Van Patten's Stegman was the film's General Zod then Langlois' Patsy was its Ursa. My younger brother and I stayed up way past our bedtime sometime in the mid-80s watching the film on the "Late Movie," or some other such program. We were mesmerized by this Blackboard Jungle update and I was smitten by the punk girl who mocked and brutalized wimpy music student Michael J. Fox (then billed as Michael Fox) and his hopelessly idealistic teacher Perry King. Maybe it's not a coincidence that my ex-wife had the remnants of a pink dye-job when I met her.  

Langlois moved to Hollywood after that and acted in a number of mediocre to terrible films. She's adorable in Bruce Malmuth's inane The Man Who Wasn't There as state department aide Steve Guttenberg's sidekick and love interest. This one involves a top-secret serum that causes temporary invisibility. One must tolerate a litany of unfunny gags and poor photography, not to mention a frequently naked and/or scantily clad Steve Guttenberg, and the idea that Langlois would ever be interested in the infinitely douchy Guttenberg.  However, the trade off is a game performance from Langlois, which includes a couple scenes in which she must act nude opposite an "invisible" Guttenberg.

The ineptitude of Malmuth's film was doubly disappointing since it was such a step back after his work on the fine Nighthawks, and because it did not lead to better opportunities for Langlois. Somehow, Guttenberg came out smelling like a rose and went on to hit box-office jackpot in the Police Academy and Cocoon films. Langlois appeared in a couple of poor films from good directors, Martha Coolidge's Joy of Sex and Hal Ashby's The Slugger's Wife. After that, her credit list is dotted with television guest spots and roles in direct-to-video projects. Langlois took a couple years off in the early part of this decade, presumably to take an active role in her young son's life. In the last few years, however, she's been busy and has recently appeared again in a more high-profile project, The L-Word (in a recurring role), which hopefully portends more of the same.  

Oh, and she's no longer married...

I'd think she could do better than Charlie Martin Smith

...and these two clowns.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Not So Obscure New German Cinema Trailer, But MIA on Region 1 DVD: Knife in the Head/Messer Im Kopf (1978, Reinhard Hauff)

One of the best films to come out of the New German Cinema, Reinhard Hauff's Messer Im Kopf, known in the U.S. as Knife in the Head, has not achieved the same level of international recognition as those of Herzog, Wenders, Fassbinder, Schlondorff, and von Trotta. In many ways it is a gender reversal of Schlondorff's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum.  Schlondorff and Hauff share similar concerns towards political and social commentary and, accordingly, they were partners in their own film company, Bioskop.  In Knife in the Head, Bruno Ganz stars as Hoffmann a research scientist who, one evening, goes off in a huff to the headquarters of a radical group to confront his estranged wife.  When he gets to the center it is being besieged by riot police.  The agitated Hoffmann enters the fray anyway and, in a moment that we do not see, he is injured and left comatose.  

The remainder of the film finds Hoffmann awakening and learning to function and think all over again.  He has cloudy memories of the incident and finds himself at the center of a struggle between the leftist radicals and fascist-like police.  Ganz is a marvel in the role and he truly is one of the finest actors in any language. Here, he must display the full range of emotions as he goes through the process of regaining his faculties while resisting the efforts of others to make him into a pawn for their own causes.  Angela Winkler (star of Katharina Blum and The Tin Drum) provides good support as Hoffmann's wife.  The great, sinister electronic score is by Can keyboardist Irmin Schmidt.

There is a German-language DVD of Knife in the Head, but it appears to be minus English subtitles, or any subtitles of any kind.  So those who wish they could understand Deutsch, but do not, are out of luck. New Yorker Films distributed the film in the U.S. along with several other Hauff titles, but only Knife in the Head appeared on video in the U.S.

Here's a trailer for the German speakers:

One More Vanished Mini-Major

I forgot to include this one in my last post:

I believe this clip of the Avco-Embassy logo is from the beginning of Vice Squad.  The music heard underneath the logo is unique to the film.  My memories of the logo come from VHS and television viewings of Escape From New York and Paradise (1982).  The company was bought in 1982 by Norman Lear and re-christened Embassy Pictures.  The subsequent blue-backgrounded "E logo" was good, but not up to the high standard of the Avco-Embassy one.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Studio Logos MIA (for the most part) on DVD

During the recent Home Theater Forum chat with Warner Home Video one member asked WHV if they would ever consider restoring the 1970s era Warner Communications logo for DVD reissues of films from that era.  Interestingly, the representatives answered that they have already brought the request to corporate and were awaiting approval.  As much as I love most of what WHV has done with catalog releases, I have been disappointed whenever I see a modern Warner Bros. logo preceding a '70s film such as Night Moves.

In the grand scheme of things, it's small, but I would like WHV to follow the lead of studios like Sony/Columbia (who ever thought I would say that) and include age appropriate logos.  It seems like the studios tend to keep logos from the classic era, but '70s logos, such as those of United Artists, perhaps due to mergers and buyouts, have been largely replaced by newer logos on DVD.

Following are some of my favorite "vanished" logos:

This one preceded Filmways productions like Blow Out and Summer Lovers.  It was the final logo of this mini-major prior to its purchase by Orion.  The laserdisc for Blow Out retained the logo, but the DVD replaced it with an Orion logo.  When the film aired on MGMHD recently, however, the Filmways logo was back.  The 16mm print of Summer Lovers that I viewed many years ago had the Filmways logo intact, however the DVD and recent cable airings contain an Orion logo.  I can't speak for earlier video and television incarnations.

The final United Artists logo prior to its purchase by MGM, I remember it most fondly from its appearance prior to Rocky III.  The eerie theme music is by Joe Harnell (The Incredible Hulk).  David Gordon Green chose to begin his 2004 film Undertow with this version of the UA logo because he remembered liking and being scared by it as a child.

I strongly associate this logo with childhood viewings of Superman III.  On my widescreen Superman III laserdisc, the logo was replaced by a newer Warner Bros. logo, however when the image shifted to Richard Pryor in the unemployment line, the silhouette of the old Warner Communications seemed to have been burned into the image. I looked for it on the new DVD, but it's not there.

MGM/UA has sadly replaced the Transamerica-associated UA logos on just about every iteration of its UA catalog.  However, the odd cable screening will retain these '70s-era logos. Several years ago I programmed a couple freshly minted UA 35mm prints (The Revolutionary, Electra Glide in Blue).  The prints, of course, retained the original logos. But, when Electra Glide appeared on DVD, it was with a new UA logo.  Still waiting on The Revolutionary to bow on DVD.

Harry Boy Was Here

"Hey, see if they have Julie Christie and Robert Blake in there."  That was my father Harry's first question when I showed him my new copy of Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia.  The book, which has not been updated since its initial late 1995 publishing, did have entries for both actors. Dad excitedly told me about two of his favorite films when he was a young man, Tell Them Willie Boy is Here and Electra Glide in Blue both starring the diminutive Blake, who, Dad also told me, had made quite a career as a guest on Johnny's Carson's couch in the '70s.  I don't remember what he said about Christie, but her appeal, is obvious, I think.  I was intrigued, as my father and I had rarely bonded over anything other than sports, but I was 17 and didn't fully appreciate the fact that my dad was reaching out to me.  

In less than a year he became sick with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and we lost him in December of '96.  He would have been 61 this past Friday.  In my teenage years, we clashed quite a bit as I saw him as gruff and uncommunicative.  He was a home builder and I could see his working class qualities, but it wasn't until after he died that I was able to recognize the deep-seated love of film and music he had developed as a young man of the '60s and '70s.  He had been a great admirer of the European directors who came of age following the New Wave, particularly Bernardo Bertolucci. Long after he'd cut his shoulder-length hair, he took my mom to the arthouse theater, whether in Montclair or at the Paris in the city, to see each new Bertolucci film.  Stealing Beauty was the last one he saw.  He would regularly read the Arts and Leisure section on Sundays and tell me about emerging filmmakers that he'd learned about.  I remember him talking about Robert Rodriguez one time when El Mariachi was being released. Going through his extensive collection of mostly Latin and avant garde jazz LPs, I was curious about Mikis Theodorakis' soundtrack to Z and Giorgio Moroder's American Gigolo. He told me about The Conformist and The Spider's Stratagem.  Unfortunately, these moments never led to a sustained dialogue between us.

It was only after he passed away that I sought out all the films and filmmakers that I knew he liked and, later, others that I thought might be "Dad movies."  It became my way of memorializing him in a most personal way.  When I finally saw Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, I was struck by Dad's resemblance to star Robert Blake (pre-plastic surgery).  It was so uncanny that my aunt was prompted to nickname Dad "Harry Boy."  When I was in college, I envied my friends who would go home for breaks and go out to the movies with their fathers and, to this day, it remains the one thing I wish I could do with my dad again.  Electra Glide in Blue, maybe, or Petulia...

Friday, April 3, 2009

aloha, bobby and rose (1975, Floyd Mutrux)

Floyd Mutrux's second directorial effort finds the filmmaker's affinity for car culture, rock music, and radio in full bloom. Unfortunately, all of these elements are in the service of a rather conventional "doomed lovers" narrative.  Where Mutrux used the voices of night time rock d.j.s to profound, haunting effect in the docudrama Dusty and Sweets McGee, here the incorporation of radio is perfunctory and its impact is weakened by the fact that it's there simply to parrot back the cliches of the central romance.  

Paul LeMat, fresh off a successful debut in American Graffiti, stars as Bobby, a gas station mechanic with no prospects for a brighter future.  Dianne Hull is Rose, a young, single mother who falls for Bobby.  Bobby and Rose fall in love after one night together, but their happiness is ruined when they become involved in a tragic accident and take to the road to escape the authorities.  Neither character is very memorable or compelling, but LeMat and Hull do the best they can. Truth be told, Bobby and Rose are really pretty stupid, a point which Vincent Canby drove home in his review.  While Mutrux's central figures and story are lacking, the movie is of interest for its soundtrack (Elton John dominates), '70s Los Angeles locales, and supporting cast (Tim McIntire, Robert Carradine, Edward James Olmos).  Mutrux again benefits from the presence of top drawer d.p. William A. Fraker, who I can only imagine is a good friend and who shot every one of Mutrux's films.  

The movie comes alive for about twenty minutes when Tim McIntire's big, blustery Texan enters the picture.  McIntire's larger-than-life persona, which Mutrux would utilize to its fullest in his subsequent American Hot Wax, is a real breath of fresh air and just about steals the film from the leads.  McIntire plays a former football player who befriends Bobby and Rose after they flee Los Angeles.  He and his wife (Leigh French) take the young lovers south of the border to Tijuana where McIntire buys a flashy new suit, treats everyone to dinner, gets in a fight with nearly every other gringo he encounters, and pisses in the car of one such yokel, who McIntire refers to as "shit for brains."  Sadly, McIntire died way too young in 1986 of heart failure.  He was 41 and the son of actors John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan.  He left us with a superb performance as Alan Freed in American Hot Wax and fine work in films such as this one, Fast-Walking, The Gumball Rally, A Boy and his Dog, and Brubaker.

Back to Bobby and Rose, there are a few great moments within its disappointing package.  At the top of the list is an extended night car ride down Sunset Boulevard in which Bobby and Rose listen to KKDJ 102.7 radio personality Humble Harv introduce Junior Walker's "What Does It Take to Win Your Love." Mutrux and Fraker pay tribute to the many rock billboards, clubs, theaters, and music stores that dot the route.  It's really a unique way to mark the time and place.  As someone who always gets a kick out of pop culture references within films, this scene was a real treat and shows us where Mutrux's heart is. Bring on American Hot Wax...please.

“I’ve scored all my films to the car radio, because I believe rock & roll is a fervent, infinitely powerful force. It brought down the Berlin Wall." - Floyd Mutrux

Shuffle Bliss

Just finished a much-delayed workout with the iTunes on shuffle and, as I was winding down, a gorgeous track from the 2006 Giu la Testa (Duck, You Sucker/A Fistful of Dynamite) double disc reissue, "Messico e Irlanda #2," came through the speakers.  I never tire of Morricone's score and its many variations of the main themes, so I turned the shuffle feature off, hit repeat, and thought I'd comment briefly.  The extended soundtrack, with its alternate versions might be excessive to some, but it's blissful to me.  In fact, I've been taken aback in conversations with film buff friends who have openly ridiculed the film and score. Well, there's no convincing those people...

As for me, when it comes to Morricone, I will take every recording of the same cue that Cinevox or DRG throws my way. Giu la Testa's main theme with its soaring Edda Dell'Orso vocals and repeated "Sean, Sean" refrain gets me nearly choked up every time I hear it and I'm immediately brought back to the relationship of Juan Miranda and John "Sean" Mallory, what we might call a "bromance" in today's parlance.  

Come to think of it, the same thing, this "choking up," happens when I listen to Once Upon a Time in the West, Once Upon a Time in America, and just about every other non-comic Morricone score I've heard.  I had to collect myself, amongst a crowd of friends, when Morricone was honored at the Oscars in '07.  This, in spite of the Celine Dion vocals.  

I've never been very good at putting my feelings about music to paper, so take a listen, if you like:

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Nickel Ride (1974, Robert Mulligan)

A critic in Time Out New York wrote that Robert Mulligan's The Nickel Ride was deserving of a cult akin to that of the one devoted to Point Blank.  However, if there's a film that The Nickel Ride belongs in a conversation with, it's The Conversation.  Mulligan's film, from an original script by Eric Roth, follows low-level crime boss Cooper (Jason Miller) as he begins to lose his grip on his territory, a nondescript, rundown section of Los Angeles.  We find Coop, as he's affectionately called, having difficulty closing the deal on a transaction that will the net the syndicate a valuable block of abandoned warehouses.  His negotiations with the police drag on and he seems to be falling out of favor with the higher-ups in the organization, starting with his boss Carl (John Hillerman).  Carl's hotheaded henchmen (Bo Hopkins, Richard Evans), who we get the feeling Coop could have handled with ease in the past, are getting under his skin.  Even though he is adored by his young girlfriend, Sarah (Linda Haynes) and is well-liked by his constituents, including jovial bartender Paddie (Victor French),  Coop is increasingly isolated from his friends and engulfed by paranoia.  

It's not dissimilar to many much-loved paranoid thrillers of the 1970s, but The Nickel Ride has truly flown under the radar.  From what I can tell, it hasn't appeared on home video in this country although it does, I'm told, occasionally air uncut and widescreen on the Fox Movie Channel.  As a result of a resurgence in interest in recently deceased director Mulligan, The Nickel Ride received a much deserved, albeit brief, showcase at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's tribute to Mulligan.  The print that was screened was not sparkling by any means, but it still did justice to d.p. Jordan Cronenweth's (Blade Runner, Stop Making Sense, Cutter's Way) scope compositions.  Dave Grusin contributes a suitably edgy and minimalist score in the tradition of his fine work from the era, which includes Tell Them Willie Boy is Here, 3 Days of the Condor, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and The Yakuza.  

Jason Miller, who did not have many starring opportunities in film, after The Exorcist, turns in a controlled and nuanced performance.  I was struck by his resemblance to Harry Dean Stanton--someone should have cast them as brothers.  His scenes opposite blowhard cowboy Hopkins are alternately hilarious and uncomfortably ambiguous because of how good Miller is at registering Coop's unease and impatience with the "new school" brand of crime embodied by the psychopathic Hopkins and the corporate types on top of the hierarchy. Haynes, who was so memorable in Coffy and Rolling Thunder, exhibits a heartbreaking sweetness as Coop's devoted girl.  It's a shame her career abruptly ended after Brubaker (online bios say that she went onto a career as a legal secretary).  John Hillerman (Carl) and Victor French (Paddie), two talented character actors who would achieve their greatest fame on television, are both excellent in key supporting roles.  French is almost unrecognizable without the beard and mustache he sported on Highway to Heaven and one continually expects to hear Hillerman spout out his lines in an affected British accent as he did for so many years as Higgins on Magnum, P.I..  

Unfortunately, much of Mulligan's best work remains unavailable on DVD, but retrospectives like the recent one at FSLC will go a long way toward burnishing his reputation as a gifted director of intimate and emotionally complex character pieces.  The Nickel Ride is a rich and challenging picture and deserves a place alongside other films of the era that have since been lionized.