Monday, November 19, 2012

The Real Fun City - '69

My aunt and uncle recently located some old 8mm home movies and had them transferred to video.  In that cache was a reel apparently shot by my late father in John Lindsay's New York, or "Fun City," as it would come to be known thanks to a much-ridiculed Lindsay soundbite, sometime in mid to late 1969.  Dad would have been 21 then.  Theater displays for Easy Rider (released in July '69) and Popi (May '69) and a news ticker reporting on "Kennedy's auto accident" give us a pretty concrete idea of when this was photographed (likely July).  I can't tell exactly where all this was shot, but there are some distinct Harlem locations such as the Apollo (James Brown!) and a block of apartments that reminds me of similar shots in Ashby's The Landlord (a film shot primarily in Park Slope, Brooklyn).

There's a humorous streak that I can detect in this reel, which jibes with my dad's personality, as I remember him.  And, I sense an appreciation of day-to-day life and interesting faces that I think was passed down to my brother and me, manifested in our shared passion for the photographic arts and the impulse to document things through those mediums.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this film is the way the camera captures the faces of the people--many times the subjects engage with the camera, whether to smile or duck away (as in the case of a Hasidic man).  In other words, it's as if the act of filming and being filmed is a pretty big deal, even to hardened, seen-it-all New Yorkers.  It may be that people weren't so accustomed to being filmed or taped, as video cameras were years away and I'm guessing even 8mm cameras were not so commonplace.  I'm assuming the cost of shooting even on Super 8 would have been fairly costly due to the expense of blank film and then the processing and development of the film.  In any event, my dad managed to pack quite a bit into his 6+ minutes seen here.  A few seconds were lost, unfortunately, to some ugly video noise that occurred during the film-to-video transfer.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fathers and Sons

This capture, courtesy of DVDBeaver, shows Wallach and Keith, and another of my favorite tough guys, Richard Jaeckel (looking quite youthful) as the wheelman

Was just finally looking at Don Siegel's crackling The Lineup (1958) yesterday, via that Columbia Noir boxset that came out a few years back.  I was most impressed by the striking compositions of d.p. Hal Mohr, Siegel's ingenious use of practical San Francisco locations, such as the then-under construction Embarcadero Freeway, and the writing and unique interplay of the two killers played by Eli Wallach and Robert Keith.  Wallach does all the killing while the older, ostensibly more refined Keith provides hitman "coaching," and perversely asks Wallach for the victim's last words after each murder for use in an eventual book of some kind, the details of which are sketchy.

Keith takes aim at Aldo Ray

Watching these two, I was reminded of the oddball relationship of the two killers in Jacques Tourneur's Nightfall (from Volume 2) released the year prior, also by Columbia.  In that film, one of those killers--the primary adversary to hero Aldo Ray--is played by Keith's son Brian.  He is an unusually verbose, intelligent, and philosophical hitman, partnered with a much thicker, more hot-headed goon, portrayed by Rudy Bond.  Bond's Red is reminiscent, in his viciousness and stupidity, of George Kennedy's Red from the much later Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.

The tagline refers to The Lineup's origins as a television program

A contract player at Columbia at this time, Brian Keith acted in a few of the studio's notable noir efforts, in addition to Nightfall, including Phil Karlson's Tight Spot (with an equally great alternate title--Dead Pigeon) and Karlson's 5 Against the House.  He worked in character roles up until his death in '97, a favorite of mine being Papa in Sharky's Machine.  The elder Keith was quite good in a much quieter part--mute, in fact--as the catatonic "the Colonel" in Anthony Mann's superlative Korean War pic Men in War (also with Aldo Ray).

Anyway, these are both great late-era noir entries, Nightfall and The Lineup, and I like that they are connected by the under-recognized Keith pere and fils.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Follow-Up: That Summer!

It was more than a few years ago that I wrote about Harley Cokeliss' That Summer!, a Columbia UK release and an early starring vehicle for Ray Winstone.  It was a film I was familiar with only because of its great punk / New Wave soundtrack LP, which seemed to be ubiquitous in used record store bins in my college years.  The film itself was really difficult to see, as it had never been available on home video and had not, as far as I could tell, been released to theaters in the U.S.

Since that time, however, the film has appeared in several installments on YouTube, but as that is not my preferred mode of viewing, I refrained from seeing it until it appeared on Sony's new free movie streaming service Crackle.  It's a full-frame transfer, but it's a clean print that's obviously miles better than the old television dubs that have been the source of bootlegs and the Youtube uploads.  Additionally, the film, its star, and director recently appeared at the Bradford International Film Festival in Northern England for the first public viewing of the film in decades.

As for the film itself, now that I've finally seen it I can say that it's a pleasant and mildly entertaining coming-of-age film, its main attributes being some attractive cinematography of Torquay, the aforementioned soundtrack, and a strong central performance from a very young Winstone.  The plot is cardboard thin, as are the rest of the characters, unfortunately.  Fresh out of the borstal system, Winstone's Steve makes for resort town Torquay so that he can train and participate in an annual long distance ocean swimming race there.  There, he befriends a a London chap (Tony London) who has a job renting watersport equipment on the beach and pair of working-class girls (Julie Shipley and Emily Moore) working as chambermaids, and runs afoul of a trio of Scottish lads, one of whom is his chief swimming rival (Jon Morrison).  It's a nice time capsule for '70s youth culture, obviously with a British bent, and may appeal to fans of UK films of the era such as Quadrophenia, Breaking Glass, and Bill Forsyth's first two features.  [EDIT: After writing this, I see that producers Clive Parsons and Davina Belling also produced Scum, Forsyth's Gregory's Girl and Comfort and Joy, and Breaking Glass.]

This was Winstone's follow-up to Scum, and since he rather amusingly plays a fellow who's just been released from a borstal, there is something to the idea of this being an unofficial sequel to Scum, except that That Summer! is such an innocuous and tame piece that there is really nothing else that can tie it to the earlier film (aside from John Judd, who appears here as the swimming coach and was so nasty as Sands in Scum).  It must have been some kind of relief for Winstone to move on to such a relatively easygoing picture--though, to be fair, That Summer! is a sports movie and it required a lot of rigorous swimming from Winstone, who's in about the best physical condition of his career...props to Winstone for repeatedly slipping into that '70s San Diego Padre-style brown and mustard bikini and seemingly having no issues with doing so.

The songs appear mostly in the background in diegetic fashion and there is also a New Wave-style score by Ray Russell, who got his start as a teenager in the John Barry Seven.  These are somewhat odd soundtrack choices in that the narrative contains no punk or New Wave characters nor does it explore or espouse the subculture at all.

Other technical credits are also impressive, including Academy Award-winner David Watkin, a man who won an Oscar for Out of Africa and shot Ken Russell's The Devils, among many other impressive credits.  Editing is by longtime Ken Russell collaborator Michael Bradsell.  Art director Tim Hutchinson also has a lot of Russell films on his resume.

With all the Russell connections here, it's fitting that Mark Kermode moderated the Ray Winstone chat at Bradford.  It sounds like this was quite the event and would love to have been there.  According to the account told by director Harley Cokeliss--who I was most surprised to learn is an American with Chicago and San Diego origins--when Columbia closed its UK office, the film's negative was junked and only 3 prints survive (one of which belongs to the director and which has been partially color-restored).  It's said that the BFI is considering a full restorationSome more details on the Bradford screening and print condition.

Marc Edward Heuck tells me that his sources at Sony in the U.S. have a print, which they still have not actually screened Stateside.  Avid New York-area cinemagoer, Louis Letizia remembers it being at the Thalia in '79 or '80.  It's not a great film, but That Summer! is most certainly worthwhile and it's heartening to see it go from being nigh impossible to see to possibly getting a full BFI restoration.

 Novelization (or, more accurately, novelisation, in this case)

Friday, November 9, 2012


With 6 Rocky installments and 4 iterations of Rambo it's no secret that Sly Stallone will return to the same couple of wells multiple times.  For me, a Stallone fan for as long as I can remember, it's interesting to see where some of the dialogue, narrative devices, and visuals of those films creep into other, less-celebrated Stallone vehicles.  Since the star so often writes and / or directs his own projects--whether in official or unofficial capacities--it's not surprising to have some overlap in terms of dialogue and scenarios across different films. 

I haven't seen every Stallone picture nor do I have access to all of them so this project reflects the titles I'm more familiar with and have an affinity for.  I'd certainly be interested to hear about more examples of these "Stallone-isms."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

2 From David Greene: I Start Counting and The People Next Door

British filmmaker turned prolific director of American television, David Greene is largely unknown and un-discussed in cinephile circles, unjustly so.  This is probably due to the fact that most of his key feature films remain scarce on home video and because he largely migrated to the small screen from the 1980s onward.  I just recently caught up with two very interesting pictures directed by Greene in back to back years, 1969's I Start Counting and the following year's The People Next Door.  Both films feature troubled--though in different ways--teenage girl protagonists, one English and one American.

The People Next Door is a relic, to be sure, but a fascinating one.  Suburban New York couple Eli Wallach and Julie Harris see their world turned upside down when their teenage daughter (Deborah Winters) experiments with hallucinogenic drugs and ends up institutionalized.  Having previously shunned his hippie rock musician son (a very young Stephen McHattie), Wallach is beside himself when his seemingly perfect little girl rebukes her parents and their generation, as she falls into mental illness and addiction.  Wallach turns increasingly to drink and desperate outbursts in response to the changing societal mores, and related crises within his family unit, while Harris becomes bedridden and unresponsive.  The people next door, school principal Hal Holbrook and his wife Cloris Leachman appear to be a little hipper and more "with it" than their neighbors, but all is not what it seems with them and their Ivy League-bound son (Don Scardino, also looking quite youthful).

Based on a 1968 CBS teleplay by JP Miller, which was also directed by Greene, the feature film version features an entirely new cast, save for Winters, who is a revelation in her role as Maxie.  She talks about her methods and how she convincingly performed the "bad trips" without actually having tried LSD here.

Wallach, best known for Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and other character parts over his long, distinguished career, is equally impressive as the patriarch who sees his world and that of his contemporaries crumbling around him.  The filmmakers, though, to their credit, never turn him into a cartoonish, Archie Bunker-like figure.  Wallach is pig-headed about his son's long hair and dismissive of his music, but it's still touching when his children placate him by breaking into an impromptu rendition of "I Got Rhythm" at the living room piano.  Later, McHattie (today mostly known for psychotic roles such as the killer in Death Valley) and Wallach share a lovely moment together, commiserating with a much-needed drink, as the younger man serves as the necessary bridge between his parents and their very troubled girl.

Watching Wallach struggle with his children's generation on screen, I was taken back to an amusing late '60s / early '70s anecdote my uncle Joe recently told me, wherein my grandfather (who would never be mistaken for a Joe Curran or Archie Bunker) berated my uncle for wearing "hippie" buffalo sandals on a particularly rainy day.  He proceeded to try and rip the sandals off my uncle's feet, succeeding in getting one of them.  Grandpa took the sandal to the garage where he chopped it up with an axe.  At least that's how Joe remembers it, anyway.

The parents' reaction to their daughter's breakdown and their dealings with mental health professionals is reminiscent of what would come later in The Exorcist and the film's poster art, along with its sinister-sounding title, does give the impression that People Next Door will be more of a horror film than it is actually is.  Wallach's clashes with his son and other youths has parallels to that of Joe, which was released earlier the same summer, although Greene's film remains more rooted in reality where Joe moves into more of a satiric, revenge fantasy mode, particularly in its final act.

The film's photography by the famed Gordon Willis (with "Mike" Chapman serving as camera operator) is suitably dark and naturalistic, but is obviously not helped by the very outdated VHS transfer, which remains the only home video source for this fine, undeservedly forgotten film.  The film features some really good original psych-rock songs (which McHattie's character and his band perform in the film) and a brief moment in which Winters and Scardino sing the Beatles' "She Loves You," the latter surely not helping the cause for this film coming out on DVD.

I Start Counting is a perfect example of why I love Netflix Instant and why so many others (read: non-cinephiles) say there's never anything on Netflix Instant that they want to watch.  If you're looking for a specific title, chances are you won't find it there, but if you go with an open mind towards simply finding something "good" to watch, then the service is a veritable smorgasbord of cinema and television viewing options, of both new release and deep catalog varieties.  Most exciting for lovers of oddball cinema--such as myself and many of the readers here--are how many movies Netflix offers, that were previously never or hardly available for home viewing.  I can't tell if I Start Counting was ever commercially released on a home video format.  The version that plays on Netflix has a late '80s or early '90s-era UA logo and is probably sourced from a transfer done for cable broadcast at that time, so it's not reference quality by any means, but surely better than the bootleg versions that are floating around.

Based on a book by Audrey Erskine Lindop, I Start Counting, at least in its movie incarnation, is part coming-of-age, part murder thriller, and part kitchen sink realism.  14 year-old Wynne (Jenny Agutter, two years before Walkabout) is a Catholic schoolgirl in Berkshire County, England who lives with a working-class foster family and is inseparable from her boy-crazy pal Corinne (Clare Sutcliffe).  Wynne has an unnatural attachment to the soon-to-be-razed, uninhabited home that she and her foster family previously lived in.  And, she harbors an intense crush on her much older foster brother George (an excellent Bryan Marshall).  George may be the man stalking and killing local young girls and several years before, it is hinted, he may have killed his fiancee, whose death was partially witnessed by Wynne.  The girl suspects her brother, but this is complicated by her strong feelings of love and loyalty towards him and the fact that she is in the midst of the psychological and physical changes and confusion associated with adolescence.

Greene's film combines twee late '60s pop music with scenes of the young teen girl protagonists knowingly and unknowingly teasing boys (both young and older) around town.  This is juxtaposed with scenes of urban "development"--of old, no longer useful people and their old homes being forced out to make room for new high rises and shopping complexes. [A few years later, Larry Yust would craft an entire feature around this sad phenomenon, the equally scarce Homebodies.]  At the start of the film, we see a hopelessly out of touch priest addressing an assembly of teen girls, unable to answer their queries about incest and birth control.  Throughout, a disturbed man is sexually assaulting and killing young girls.  Watching this, I was reminded of a Hammer film I recently saw, Never Take Sweets From a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy From a Stranger), an early '60s thriller that bravely and honestly confronts the issue of pedophilia in a small Canadian village, as well as Sidney Lumet's The Offence, from 1972, starring Sean Connery, which I admiringly wrote of here.

Agutter is superb as Wynne, appropriately poised and intelligent at times and woefully ill-equipped at others.  Marshall, who is probably most known for his work in The Long Good Friday and The Spy Who Loved Me is also in top form, a man handsome, tough, and protective enough to justify Wynne's crush on him, but who also has a meanness about him and a secretive side...qualities that make for a normally complex individual...or a serial killer.

This would be ideal fare for BFI Flipside to tackle for Blu-ray and DVD, but rights issues have kept them from securing it for release, unfortunately.  They did, however, host a screening of the film in 2011 with Agutter on hand to discuss the film and its place in her career.

In addition to Greene, other notable technical credits include the late d.p. Alex Thomson, this coming near the beginning of a career that would encompass many interesting projects, notable for their striking imagery, including The Keep, Excalibur (Oscar-nominated), Legend, Hamlet (1996), The Krays, Raw Meat, The Night Digger, Cliffhanger, Eureka, Year of the Dragon, and Alien 3.  While the Netflix print is watchable, a widescreen Blu-ray and DVD would benefit the film and the work of Thomson and production designer Brian Eatwell (if..., White Dog, The Man Who Fell to Earth, Lester's Musketeers films, and Walkabout).

It's oddly appropriate that two films as disparate seeming as I Start Counting and Mosquito Squadron were released in tandem by UA, if only because directors Greene and Boris Sagal (who would also shift from the big to the small screen in the '70s, and tragically be killed in an on-set accident) shared directing duties on the landmark '70s miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man.

Next on the docket of Greene films I need to see: