Sunday, August 26, 2012

Based Upon a Novel By...

Some recent finds from my longtime favorite bookstore...

Basis for the film of the same name.  The works of William P. McGivern were often mined by Hollywood.  Films based on McGivern stories include Rogue Cop, The Big Heat, and Odds Against Tomorrow.
Basis for the film of the same name.  Evan Hunter is but one nom de plume for one Salvatore Albert Lombino also known as Ed McBain.
Basis for the film Fast-Walking (aka The Joint).

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

TV Spot Not on the DVD: Heavy Metal (1981, Gerald Potterton)

"This weekend, check newspapers for a midnight metal theater near you."  Percy Rodrigues, who voiced the evil Locnar in the film proper, also voices this rare television spot for Heavy Metal
Unfortunately, the spot is cut off at the beginning by about 5 seconds.  I sure do wish the DVD or Blu-ray of the film would have included an original theatrical trailer for the film (not the 1996 reissue trailer, which you can find on YouTube).  There are probably not too many other examples of the trailer v.o. artist also appearing in the film, also in v.o. form.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vintage Video Logo: Paramount Home Video

This logo from the early days of home video combines a droning synth piece for the soundtrack and a volcano effect from which the Paramount stars and logo "erupt" from the iconic Paramount mountain.  This was pulled from an original Breaking Glass VHS cassette.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Cruising's Original Color

Some captures from a DVD-R I made several years ago, pre-DVD release, of a cable broadcast of Cruising.  These stills more closely reflect the original theatrical look of the film before it was re-colored / re-tinted by director William Friedkin for the film's DVD release in 2007.  I earlier posted about this here.

Please forgive the sub-DVD quality of these clips--they come from a non-HD broadcast--but they are better than VHS, at least, and in the correct aspect ratio.  If you see one of the '90s-era 35mm prints struck by Warner Bros. you'll get a very good sense of how much the film was altered for its DVD release, with the color palette being the most striking difference, in addition to some new transition and slow-mo effects (I am not fond of those alterations, either); the club scenes, in particular, are stripped of much their original color in favor of a very pervasive blue hue, which covers everything.

I do hope that if Cruising is released on Blu-ray, Friedkin follows a similar course that he did with the re-released French Connection Blu-ray, wherein he and d.p. Owen Roizman restored the look of the original theatrical prints to Blu-ray.  Roizman was none too thrilled with the first French Connection Blu-ray, supervised by Friedkin, and which had a radically different color scheme.  I wonder how Cruising d.p. James A. Contner feels about the DVD of the film, which has undergone a similar transformation and which I don't think he had any part in.  The disclaimer pictured below was removed by Friedkin in the DVD version of Cruising.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Not So Obscure TV Spot, But Still MIA on DVD: King of the Mountain (1981, Noel Nosseck)

This is one of those quintessential late-night that, I mean the kind one would discover on television back in the days when the network affiliates would play movies in overnight time-slots rather than informercials and reruns of Friends, Seinfeld, or That '70s Show.  It's an odd little film that faded from public consciousness soon after its middling theatrical run, takes place mostly at night in the hills above L.A., is set in a cool milieu (illegal drag racing), and has a cast of interesting, though second-tier stars.  Since its leading man, the titular "King," Harry Hamlin found fame in the '80s on L.A. Law, even "winning" People's "Sexiest Man Alive" crown in '87, I'm sure this one found plenty of "late show" airplay in the '80s.  Later, in college, Rupe and I would watch this sort of thing via ex-rental VHS tapes, but still Noel Nosseck's King of the Mountain eluded me until now.

I caught a VHS rip of the film, which has been completely absent from DVD, possibly due to the inclusion of some popular source tracks by artists such as the Police, Styx, and Robert Palmer, and watched it late at night, thereby somewhat replicating the experience I might have had seeing it on the CBS Late Movie, ABC Late Night, WPIX 11, or WWOR 9.  In my head, I can the hear that authoritative network v.o. saying something like, "We now return to King of the Mountain starring Harry Hamlin."  Made in 1981, this is a hard PG, reminiscent of the many '70s films that packed in much rough stuff, but still maintained that kid-friendly PG rating.  There is plenty of smoking, drinking (including some slugs of Jack Daniels while behind the wheel), some sex (though no nudity), violence, and some nasty language.  In short, another film mostly made for adults, but without the requisite amount of "fucks" and nipples to earn an R.  The film was produced by mini-major Polygram and distributed by Universal; I believe Universal still retains distribution rights.  Its home video in the U.S., in the '80s, was handled by Embassy.

Taking a page from the Saturday Night Fever school of development, H.R. Christian and Leigh Chapman's script is based on a magazine article about a real emerging, local subculture.  In the case of King of the Mountain, the article was "Thunder Road" and the magazine was New West (the West Coast sister magazine to New York, where "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" was published).  The article told of the exploits of a couple of racers in the illicit car racing scene that developed along Mulholland Drive in the '60s and '70s.  Harry Hamlin's Steve seems to be an amalgamation of two young drivers profiled in the article (Chris Banning and John Hall) and is the "Tony Manero" of the film.  He's the baddest driver on the scene--"the King"--appropriately handsome and cocky, who boasts of being able to drive the 1.8 mile course "blind-folded."  Hamlin just isn't as dynamic as Travolta and his inner struggle isn't fully explored enough to make his character arc / transformation all that moving or dramatic, as I'm sure the filmmakers intended.  Dennis Hopper is the grizzled vet and former "King," who was driven mad after nearly killing himself on the course 15 years earlier.  This is Hopper several years before his career revival (Blue Velvet and Hoosiers) so the story that he took a six-pack and finished it while doing some dangerous driving for pick-up shots is not surprising.  In spite of the tolerance of the shaky Hopper's presence on the production, original lead Brad Davis was reportedly fired for his drug problem.

The filmmakers apparently felt the need to flesh out the script by adding in a secondary plot about Steve's roommates and former racing compadres (Joseph Bottoms and Richard Cox) who are now trying to break into the music scene, writing and producing songs for singer Deborah Van Valkenburgh (who sings her own songs in the film, which are produced by Jack Nitzsche!).  Seymour Cassel is a high-powered producer angling to buy Bottoms' songs and get Van Valkenburgh into his stable of talent, without the participation of Bottoms and Cox.  There is tension between the artistic and idealistic Bottoms and the more business-minded Cox (who casually tickles the ivories at one point, just as he did a year earlier in Cruising).  The music is reminiscent of a lot of the '70s California soft rock popularized by the likes of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and many others, and I like to imagine that the recording scenes (which I like) are a somewhat authentic re-creation of that milieu and its creative process.  The rock-based score is by the late Mike Melvoin a composer and studio musician with a very impressive list of credits going back to the '60s.  I don't know L.A. topography and geography enough to say for sure, but I assume the boys' pad is somewhere in Laurel Canyon, where much of the aforementioned music and artists were based.

So, the film becomes a sort of fusion of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Saturday Night Fever, Rocky, Spetters, Breaking Away, The Idolmaker, Dreamer (also directed by Nosseck), and surely others that I'm not thinking of right now.  It's not entirely successful, by any means, but it's an entertaining diversion and certainly not deserving of its current no-DVD obscurity / limbo status.  However, reading the New West article, it's clear that the film would have been much better off following its streamlined approach: that is, focusing solely on the racers and their obsessions...their cars, speed, and the road...their environment, and the cops trying to take them down.

"I'll never stop for the police in my car," Chris says. "Not if they're after me with the militia. There are people out there who work for the city who want to get me, but there's no way anybody can catch me in this car. I wouldn't stop if they set up a barricade. If they caught me, they'd impound the car and mess it up. I'd kill myself if anything happened to this car. I love it more than anything."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

TV Spot Not on the DVD: Eyewitness (1981, Peter Yates)

Peter Yates and Steve Tesich followed up their award-winning Breaking Away collaboration with this early 1981 NYC-set thriller starring William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Plummer, and James Woods.  Eyewitness (aka The Janitor) was not the critical or financial success that Breaking Away was and it's not a top-grade mystery by any means.  What it does offer, however, is an outstanding collection of leading and character players in well-written, interesting roles and, of course, some choice New York locations, circa 1980.  This is the kind of character-driven, slightly offbeat, mid-range studio picture that went out years ago.  Those looking for an edge-of-your-set, nail-biting suspense picture will be disappointed, as this moves at a leisurely pace and revels in the quirks of its characters more than the machinations of the plot.  The narrative revolves around a Vietnam-vet janitor (a largely sympathetic Hurt, playing one of his few working-class characters) who discovers the murdered body of a wealthy (and criminally-connected) Vietnamese businessman in the office building where he works.  The janitor pretends to know more than he does in order to gain favor with the television newswoman (Weaver) he loves from afar, thereby arousing the interests of the killer, the associates of the murder victim, and the police.

Christopher Plummer co-stars as Weaver's Israel-lobbying fiancé and James Woods is Hurt's unstable best pal and fellow vet.  The cast is filled out by Steven Hill and Morgan Freeman as the lead detectives on the murder case, Pamela Reed as Woods' sister and sometime lover of Hurt, Kenneth McMillan and Alice Drummond as Hurt's parents, Irene Worth and Albert Paulsen as Weaver's parents, Jimmie Ray Weeks as a tv producer, and Chao Li Chi (memorable from Big Trouble in Little China) as Mr. Wong, the murdered man at the center of the story.

The film, Hurt's second, came in the middle of a very impressive 8-month run for the actor, which included his feature film debut, Ken Russell's Altered States (released Christmas '80) as well as Lawrence Kasdan's Body Heat (released late August '81).  Meanwhile, as Eyewitness opened in theaters, he starred in the Circle Repertory's production of Childe Byron.

For those who are interested, as I am, in practical locations (i.e. real locations used for filming), as well as set design, Hurt's workspace was built at the Kaufman-Astoria Studios (formerly Paramount Studios) by production designer Philip Rosenberg.  You can see that very impressive set in the below lobby card:

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Look who's talking."

I've seen Total Recall--the original--a few times over the years, so I don't know it as well as, say, Predator or Commando.  So, it was only after very recently viewing the new "Mind-Bending Edition" Blu-ray that I noticed that Harvard-educated Dean Norris appears as mutant Tony, years before he became famous for playing Breaking Bad's "Joe Six-Pack" DEA agent Hank Schrader.

It is a pretty transformative make-up appliance as you can see above.  I haven't seen the current Recall iteration and, much as I love Bryan Cranston, casting Walter White as the new Cohaagen ain't as cool as spotting Hank stand up to Arnie in the original film (in the below trailer at the 1:28 mark).

It was fun watching a vintage 35mm trailer of the 1990 film at Film Forum, preceding a 35mm screening of The Thing, a couple weeks back.  It's too bad the actual film is being screened via "DCP restoration," albeit one approved by Paul Verhoeven.  Back in the '90s, it's a film I'd have never imagined one day getting one of Film Forum's now-standard special 1-week engagements.  Times change...the Film Forum calendar now devotes much ink-space to "New DCP Restoration!" in lieu of "New 35mm Print!" and they now play new-school fare like Total Recall alongside the umpteenth revival of The Third Man or some other Janus-licensed title in the Rialto catalog!

 "You gotta a lot of nerve showing yer face around here, Hauser."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

More Cult Films Within Films

Roy Scheider drags on a cigarette as he brings a slice of pizza to a freezing Gene Hackman in The French Connection.  The corner behind him (or is it a kiosk of sorts?) is plastered with Gimme Shelter flyers.  Interestingly, Gimme Shelter was distributed by Fox in the U.K., which also distributed French Connection.  U.K. lobby card, pictured above, has Fox copyright, if you look closely.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Yellow T-Shirt & Blazer

Bill Murray models a costume in LOST IN TRANSLATION very similar to one he fashioned 20 years earlier in TOOTSIE.  Something Murray or Sofia Coppola had in mind on the set of their film or just an imagined connection that pops into the heads of obsessives like me?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lana & Phil

After all the times I watched Fast Times at Ridgemont High growing up, the first thing I thought of when I heard that Phil Spector had shot a woman named Lana Clarkson was, "Mrs. Vargas."  Clarkson was a struggling actress and comedienne on the wrong side of 40, when she made an ill-fated late night trip to Spector's mansion.  In the '80s, however she made a string of appearances in small roles in A-pictures such as Scarface and guest spots on sitcoms while also starring in second tier genre films such as Deathstalker, Barbarian Queen, and its sequel.  Her first credited role was a small, but memorable one as the improbably gorgeous wife of science teacher Mr. Vargas (Vincent Schiavelli) in Fast Times.

I know the soundtrack of the film quite well and knew that the Spector-produced "Winter Wonderland" appeared on it, but it wasn't until a 35mm screening of Fast Times last night that it hit me that Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson appeared together in a way, just over 20 years prior to their most tragic final encounter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trailer Not on the DVD: Night Shift (1982, Ron Howard)

Just found another, high quality trailer for Night Shift!  This appears to be a teaser, with completely unique footage shot specifically for it.  I'm guessing the teaser does not appear on the DVD because of its use of "Jumpin' Jack Flash".  Stars Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton appear in the video and the v.o. artist's voice is very familiar, but I'm not certain of his identity; I'm sure a reader here will be able to fill in that blank.

"Ronnie" is interviewed in 1982, during the initial release of Night Shift, by Dallas entertainment reporter Bobbie Wygant.  She focuses quite a bit on the "nude scenes" and whether Howard had discomfort filming them.  There is some priceless raw footage of Ms. Wygant re-stating questions and practicing her laughs and reactions following Howard's exit.

Trailer Not on the DVD: Tootsie (1982, Sidney Pollack)

The 30th anniversary of Sidney Pollack's quintessential NYC-set comedy is rapidly approaching.  So, what better excuse is there to showcase this trailer (or, perhaps it's a teaser) which does not appear on the DVD.  The voice-over is performed by director (and supporting player) Pollack.

As per many Sony discs, there is no trailer for the feature presentation, but you can usually count on some "related" trailers being included; these are often not even original theatrical trailers, but rather latter-day made-for-DVD ones:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012