Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Two of my favorite artists of any era were born this month. Both left us too soon:

John Garfield would have been 97 on March 4. He died at 39 in 1952. Uber-fan Kim Morgan wrote one of her semi-regular paeans to Garfield here. Like Ms. Morgan, Garfield is consistently among my top 2 or 3 favorite actors.

Arthur Lee, leader of the great psych rock band Love, would have been 65 on March 7. He died at 61 in 2006. I was lucky enough to see Arthur perform Forever Changes in 2002 before he became ill with the leukemia that would take his life. In what has to be one of the coolest motions ever passed by a governing body anywhere, members of Parliament deemed Forever Changes "the greatest album of all time" in 2002. Of course, in its home country, Forever Changes is barely known amongst the general public, much to the chagrin of rock snobs like myself.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"A shadow shall fall over the universe and evil will grow in its path..."

As I continue to give my new printer / scanner / copier a workout, I bring you the front and back covers of Carl Macek's The Art of Heavy Metal. I searched high and low for this book for nearly five years in my quest to collect as much as I could from Heavy Metal: The Movie. I finally located a good condition soft cover edition of the 1981 book at a Chiller Theatre convention where I spent several minutes chatting with Heavy Metal publisher and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle co-creator Kevin Eastman about the magazine and the film and what he was doing to get it re-released in theaters and on legitimate home video. Our scintillating conversation was broken up by his wife, the truly statuesque and buxom pin-up model and actress Julie Strain, who insisted to Kevin that it was time to hit the road. Julie would later star in the Eastman-produced Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.2, which I still have not seen, before divorcing Eastman several years later--a sad day for comic geeks everywhere.

The film was finally released to VHS and laserdisc in 1996, at which point most of the mystique around the film dissipated. A one-sheet from the '96 re-release makes an appearance in John C. Reilly's bedroom (or was it Will Ferrell's?) in Stepbrothers.

My love for this film has waned over the years as I've gotten older and more discerning, but it had a certain appeal for a teenaged cult movie enthusiast beyond the abundance of bare breasts and over-the-top early '80s hard rock (often of the "so bad it's good" quality). For me, one of the biggest draws was that it was unavailable on home video for so long. Macek's exhaustive book offered hundreds of high quality film stills and sketches allowing one to really appreciate the great artwork contained in the film, which was badly degraded on the second and third generation bootlegs tapes (from premium cable airings) sold at comic and sci-fi conventions around the country.

The Art of Heavy Metal was reprinted and expanded in 1996 by Kitchen Sink Press, but the quality of the images was much lower than in the original printing so if you must have one, eschew the extra chapter on the cult appeal of Heavy Metal and buy the 1981 version, which can be found easily and cheaply on ABE Books.

Beyond the striking original artwork, design, and stories by the likes of Richard Corben, Juan Gimenez, Bernie Wrightson, Jimmy Murakami, Chris Achilleos (whose artwork adorns the book cover and most other Heavy Metal paraphernilia), Dan O'Bannon, Angus McKie, Mike Ploog, Howard Chaykin, and Alex Tavoularis, perhaps the film's best virtue is the phenomenal score by maestro Elmer Bernstein...a monumental void was filled when Film Score Monthly released the complete score on CD in 2008:

Some of the best praise I've ever seen heaped on a film, credited on the back of the laserdisc to the Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas?). For some strange reason this quote wasn't reused for the DVD or VHS:

Gabba Gabba Hey!

From the time when I was a young lad who would still collect autographs at conventions like the Chiller Theatre and Fangoria Weekend of Horrors. Ms. Soles was very friendly from what I recall, this is going back 15 + years ago, and she added the great inscription without my prompting:

The pic comes from Danny Peary's Cult Movies. Autograph was obtained at the Chiller Theatre Expo in beautiful Secaucus, NJ.

I never was a big fan of the film Rock n' Roll High School even though I love the Ramones and P.J. Soles, particularly as Riff Randell.

Does anyone else immediately think of the Ramones when they hear the name of that Nickelodeon show Yo Gabba Gabba! ?

Friday, March 12, 2010

"That's our train. We gotta make it!"

One of the first things I recall about Pauline Kael's rave review of The Warriors, which may have been the first Kael piece I ever read, was her allusion to the then-recent Saturday Night Fever at the start of the article. I don't have a copy and it's not available online so far as I can tell, but the gist of Kael's review was that the working class young protagonists of Saturday Night Fever seemed quite rough-edged and downtrodden at the time of its release in 1977, but that The Warriors was eye-opening because its characters were even lower on the socioeconomic scale.

Watching Saturday Night Fever again for the first time in several years, I most enjoyed the invaluable mid-'70s Brooklyn footage contained throughout the film. Here's a New York movie that mostly stays out of Manhattan, although it does have several iconic shots of the lower Manhattan skyline, and shows audiences a part of the city rarely depicted on film. This focus on the outer boroughs is one of the things I also love about The Warriors, which confuses things somewhat by substituting Brooklyn and Manhattan locations in some scenes that are supposed to take place in the Bronx.

Two of my favorite moments from Saturday Night Fever and The Warriors are the long subway journeys that come near the end of each film. In each film, the subway serves as a venue for the characters to rest after a long, arduous evening and also reflect upon what came before.

I'm sure it was coincidental, but I was struck by the visual similarities between John Travolta's Tony and the surviving Warriors on the graffiti-filled subway, from their weary expressions to the eye bruises that Travolta and Michael Beck's Swan share.

Check out Jeremy's tribute to the opening credits of Saturday Night Fever at Moon in the Gutter, which inspired me to pull out my DVD.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

"Nosferatu. Vampire! First I will save your soul, then I will destroy you."

What's most impressive about this "little" film in the Romero canon is the attention and care that the director gives to the blue collar milieu of the film. Braddock, PA, the main location of the film, is the most vital member of the cast, next to John Amplas' Martin. More than the horror aspects of this film, I am struck by the sensitivity with which Romero depicts the mundane, unrewarding lives of the working class supporting players, particularly the lonely wife who Martin briefly finds solace with. Romero's "living dead" films get most of the ink and I love a couple of them dearly, but Martin is probably his most mature and affecting film.

Braddock is the subject of several documentaries by frequent Romero collaborator and native son Tony Buba.

Pictured on the back: John Amplas, as Martin, gives one of the best lead performances in any Romero movie and Lincoln Maazel, father of noted conductor Lorin, is pitch perfect as Tata Cuda in his one and only film appearance.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

...Only the Rules Get Busted!

Why, oh why, isn't this back in print yet?

One of my greatest used bookstore finds ever was picking up the copy of Fast Times at Ridgemont High: A True Story that you see right here:

It was the very early '90s and I was a Fast Times-obsessed geek of 12 or 13 who had it made my mission to find the book upon which the movie was based. I went into many of the same used bookstores over and over again, as well as the local Waldenbooks and B. Dalton stores at the mall, in a vain search. So, I couldn't believe it when, for the umpteenth time, I went into my favorite bookstore then and now, Montclair Book Center, asked if they had Fast Times, and was told, "Why, yes, we just happened to get a copy in and it's up front." Nowadays, I could just go online, visit eBay or ABE Book Search and plunk down $50+ for a copy without ever leaving my apartment. Back then, it cost me $8 plus tax. On top of that, I still have the priceless experience of going into a shop and finding something I'd spent a long time looking for. It's one of those "holy grail" experiences that, as a collector, whether it be of books, records, or movies, you lose when shopping over the internet.

My copy's in a little rougher shape than when I first bought it because a year or so after I got it, a girl I had something of a crush on, sweet talked me into letting her borrow it. She took my speech about its rarity only half seriously and the book came with the corners more bent than they were before and one section of the cover separated from the spine. Did I mention I was a little OCD about this stuff?

Years later, I found a tattered copy of the book in a used bookstore at the airport in Milwaukee of all places. It was faded and the spine was broken, but because of how hard it is to come by a copy, any copy, of Fast Times, I grabbed it. The book was in such poor shape that the clerk just gave it to me. I put it away and forgot about for years until my buddy Rupert told me how much he'd always wanted to read the book. "Well," I said, "if you don't mind a having a copy that's beat to hell, this one's yours." It arrived at Rupe's last night and, if I know him, he'll have his nosed buried in it once his baby daughter's put to sleep. Enjoy it, pal!

"One of the few books I have been able to read in recent years." - W. S. Burroughs

Too bad "motorcycle boy" didn't appear in the film:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Son of De Niro

"Son of De Niro." Early in his career, a magazine laid that weight on Sean Penn. It was a moniker I'm sure he loathed, as much as he did admire Robert De Niro.

Penn backstage during the 1983 Broadway run of Slab Boys, which co-starred Kevin Bacon, Val Kilmer, and Jackie Earle Haley.

It was Penn who suggested to director Steven Zaillian that he look up his old Slab Boys co-star Jackie Earle Haley when the All the King's Men director was having trouble casting the role of Sugar Boy. Even though Haley hadn't acted in years and was completely off the Hollywood map, Penn recalled the actor's talents and had a hunch he still had what they were looking for. The rest is history, as they say, as Haley nailed the Sugar Boy part, picked up an Academy Award nomination for his heartbreaking work in Little Children, and is now, for better or for worse, Freddy Krueger.

Penn as Rupert Pupkin...I mean, Daulton Lee.

The real Andrew Daulton Lee who was paroled in 1998 and who was later employed as a personal assistant to Penn. Say what you will about Penn, but don't call him disloyal.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Making love to you is like riding a horse."

My most guilty pleasure, certainly of the '80s thanks, in part, to lines of dialogue like the one I quoted for the title of this post. This "novelisation" was published in Australia by Horwitz Grahame Books and "adapted from the movie" by Carl Ruhen. Like a lot of movie tie-ins, this one differs in interesting ways from the film, most notably with regards to the conclusion, which is melancholy and introspective in contrast to the joyously upbeat ending of the film. I wonder if it came from an earlier version of Randal Kleiser's script or if Mr. Ruhen took some poetic license.

Sadly, flood damaged:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Rupert, Marty, Al & Liza

De Niro still hadn't given up the Rupert Pupkin look at this point. The August 1981 date of these photos would be about the time that The King of Comedy was in production. It would take almost 15 years for De Niro and Pacino to appear on screen together in 1995's Heat.

De Palma Premieres

Body Double, October 1984:

Scarface, December 1983:

Blow Out, July 1981:

Popeye and Clubber

Wow. Just, wow. I'm sensing a missed opportunity for a superhero team. How did T get into those pants?! Makes one consider those Mr. T routines that Eddie Murphy used to do in a whole new light.

Diane Lane: December 1982

Diane Lane shows love for her as yet unreleased Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains in December of 1982. If it hasn't already been firmly established that Josh Brolin is one of the luckiest men alive today, let these photos stand as the final evidence:

Why does the photographer, I can only assume it's the same one, have both Diane and Jennifer pose with a lottery ticket?

"We heard you were horny."

What a thrill it was to see Jonathan Kaplan's Over the Edge in a theater packed with enthusiastic fans and a number of key cast and crew members. By my recollection, Matt Dillon's classic retort to Harry Northup's Sgt. Doberman, quoted in this post's title, got the biggest laugh from the audience. Shown as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's "Film Comment Selects" series, the screening was co-presented by Vice Magazine, prompted by this great retrospective article last year and featured a nice-looking 35mm print, an after-party with a dj who spun period-appropriate tunes (think lots of prime Cheap Trick), and, most importantly, a lengthy q & a with stars Michael Kramer, Pamela Ludwig, Tom Fergus, Julia Pomeroy, and Harry Northup, producer George Litto, writers Tim Hunter and Charlie Haas, and talent scout Jane Bernstein (she discovered Matt Dillon skipping class at his Westchester, NY middle school). To think I almost missed this screening...working with Vice on another project, I stumbled across the event listing on their website and quickly learned that it was sold out. I immediately called in favors with my contacts at FSLC and Vice, and the latter came through with a complimentary ticket. Phew!

Most refreshingly, the audience was primarily made up of passionate fans in their 30s who had discovered the film in the 1980s when it was part of HBO's regular rotation. I thought I might be the only person with the sublime Warner Bros. Records soundtrack LP and the super-rare novelization written by Haas and Hunter and published by Grove Press, but after the screening I saw both items being thrust in the faces of cast and filmmakers to be signed. I screened a 16mm print for an appreciative audience in college, but it was so long ago that I'd forgotten the finer details of the audience's response. So, it was great chuckling at parts of this film that I've seen countless times before, but precious few within the company of a large audience of fellow fans.

Anyway, I recall seeing parts of it on HBO back in the '80s, but it was a few years later that I truly became a member of the Over the Edge cult, after reading Danny Peary's entry in Cult Movies 3. Oddly, none of my local video stores carried the film, but it was readily available from Warner Home Video as a sell-through VHS. So I excitedly bought a copy at the local Suncoast and proceeded to indoctrinate my brother and just about all my friends into said cult. I was, and remain, struck by how natural all the kids seemed and the filmmaker's documentary-like approach to the film's design, locations, and photography. Even though my adolescence was occurring under much more mundane circumstances than those of the film, and about 10 years later, I felt a strong connection to the plight of the kids of New Granada and was desperate to learn more about what became of the young cast--only a couple, Matt Dillon and Vincent Spano, went on to prolonged careers in the industry. In this pre-Internet age, it was next to impossible to connect with fellow fans and share information. Needless to say, this screening, happening nearly 20 years after my love affair with the film began, was something of a holy grail moment for me.

Vice had someone recording the event, but I haven't seen it show up on their website yet, so I figured I'd share some of the highlights of the post-film conversation before the details become fuzzy...

* Producer George Litto was like a proud grandfather as he beamed and regaled the crowd with stories about how he financed the film and later fought with studio executives about its marketing and (lack of) distribution. He couldn't seem to figure out how to use the microphone, repeatedly waving it in his hand, far away from his mouth. At one point a younger woman, his daughter I assume, jumped on stage and held the microphone for him, saying, "I love you, but you don't know how to hold a microphone!" Litto rejected the notion that Rebel Without a Cause played a strong role in the conception of Over the Edge, an assertion that surprised me and that contradicts the story, relayed by Peary, about how Kaplan pitched the film to Orion as Rebel Without a Cause 1978. The best nugget from Litto was a story about the French distributor who told Litto he wanted to re-release the film in France, where it had previously failed commercially, under a new title that he was sure would mean good business. The new title was Hooligans and Litto laughed as he recounted how the film once again failed to turn a profit even with the can't-miss title. Litto and his entourage exited the event as I was. As I held the door for the producer, I resisted the temptation to blubber something about he was responsible for not 1, but 2 of my favorite films, Over the Edge and Blow Out.

* Michael Kramer, now a psychiatrist, came across as a genuinely down-to-earth, gracious fellow. I was very happy to hear him praise composer Sol Kaplan (father of director Jonathan) and his extremely moving, mournful original score. Kramer talked about how horrifying it was to see his awkward teenage self projected on a huge screen with a packed audience. I'm not an actor, but I could empathize with his discomfort. That said, Kramer relayed that it was extremely moving for him because upon seeing his 15 year-old self on-screen for the first time in years, he could now see the resemblance between his younger self and his own son.

* Pamela Ludwig, now known by her married name Dreyfuss, brought along her young son and her daughter and read an e-mail message of appreciation from director Kaplan, who could not attend the screening. She began by singling out Kramer's performance for praise, which I thought was especially classy.

* Harry Northup, as renowned for his poetry as for his performances in films by Kaplan, Martin Scorsese, and Jonathan Demme, was deeply moved by the show of affection for Over the Edge and his wonderful work in it. He shared a great story about riding on a bus with cast and crew to location one day. Pamela Ludwig, about 20 years his junior, took off her headphones and put them on Northup so he could hear the great new song she was listening to, Cheap Trick's "Surrender." Northup proceeded to sing the now-familiar chorus of the song, so effectively used in the film. Apparently, it was Ludwig who brought a lot of the soundtrack music to the attention of the filmmakers (Years later, in much the same way, Molly Ringwald would introduce her director John Hughes to the New Wave and synthpop music she was listening to). Northup also mentioned how powerful he thought the ending of the film was, with its use of "Ooh Child" as the Rec Center explodes and the camera closes in on Carl's (Kramer) tormented face.

* Tom Fergus, who's performance as the stoner Claude impresses me more and more, is now an attorney in New York. He explained that he was at a complete loss as to how to explain his role to his 6 and half year-old daughter. This drew a lot of laughter and he then shared that he had just had another child only a couple weeks before.

* Co-writer Charlie Haas debunked the oft-repeated account that he had written the newspaper story "Mousepacks," which detailed the true case in Foster City, California that inspired the film. He read the article and shared it with Tim Hunter, but he did not, in fact, write it.

* Hunter and Litto continued the debate that also cropped up on the DVD commentary about "Ooh Child" versus The Who's "Baba O'Riley" over the end credits. Apparently, director Kaplan and the writers really wanted the Who tune to play over the end credits, but Litto prevailed over them to use "Ooh Child" for cost reasons and because the tone of the song was less incendiary than "Baba O'Riley" with its "teenage wasteland" refrain.

* Matt Dillon could not attend because he was in London, but Litto read an e-mail that the actor had sent to be read in his absence, wherein he expressed his great appreciation for the opportunity to act in Over the Edge. Vincent Spano was not in attendance, either, and there was no explanation given for his absence.

Matt hanging with Jonathan Kaplan and co-star Tom Fergus at the December 1981 screening of Over the Edge at Joe Papp's Public Theater. Photos come from the Life Archives:

After the screening I visited Bruce Hershenson's great eMoviePoster.com site and found a gorgeous German Over the Edge poster, which I bid on and, I'm happy to say, I won:

Over a decade or so, I built up a decent sized collection of movie tie-in novels, which were unfortunately heavily damaged in a flood in my apartment several years ago. Over the Edge was one of the very few books I salvaged, but as you can see from the scans, it sadly did not completely escape damage: