Aug 31, 2005

Human Highway (1982)

Am I the only one who likes this bloody thing? Neil Young directs under the pseudonym of Bernard Shakey and hires a lot of his counterculture pals (Dean Stockwell, Dennis Hopper) in this near-plotless account of life at a roadside diner set near a radiation dump, with a phony 50's setting and an early 80's no-nuke sentiment. The look of this film is possibly what gives most of its appeal to me- David Myers' candy-coloured cinematography and the intentionally stagy feel forces the artificial 1950's feel, showing that our then-current concerns about radiation are akin to those shared by our ancestors, and that even though we colloquially think of the 1950's as white picket-fence wholesomeness, Mr. Shakey reminds us of the dark cloud that hovered above the Cleaver mindset. Young gives himself a weird role, and a fantasy sequence where he can get away with playing music, to boot. Hey, even Devo is in it. How cool is that?

Aug 30, 2005

Number Seventeen (1932)


Since most of Hitchcock's British films are public domain, they are almost always available on some inexpensive video label. To be sure, Sir Alfred hit his stride with a string of films like REAR WINDOW and VERTIGO which display his knack for comic suspense among high society hi-ballers. However, more often than not, when I need a Hitchcock fix, I will most likely grab one of his British films, simply because they feature a more gritty milieu, and there are some undeniable diamonds in the rough. Case in point, this underrated thriller is a real treat. From a superb opening sequence set in an abandoned house to an exciting finale on a train (never mind the shots of miniatures), Alfred Hitchcock once again allows us to throw our brains at the curb and thrill to our protagonists' getting in and out of trouble.

Aug 27, 2005

08/27/05 NO FILM TODAY

The electric drive-in is closed. It's our anniversary.

Return Engagement (1983)

Alan Rudolph's career is full of oddball delights, and here is one: a fascinating documentary about the debate tour featuring G. Gordon Liddy and Timothy Leary. The ghosts of the 1960's still creep up on these people in a supposedly more enlightened era. Equal parts funny and sad- it's a good piece of brain food. DVD, please.

Aug 25, 2005

Dark Eyes (1987)

In this superb film which blends several stories of Anton Chekov, namely "Lady with a Dog", in which Marcello Mastroianni relates his seriocomic woes of wooing the opposite sex. While a superb piece of storytelling in its own right, it is also a great showcase for Marcello, as he uses his aging gigolo's charm as a way to squeeze out of every mess his libido gets him in. If you don't like foreign films, it's because you haven't seen the right ones.

Aug 24, 2005

Claudine (1974)


Made during the time when most cinema featuring African Americans had to star in "blaxploitation" vehicles to make a living, this lovely and charming film concerns a single mother (Diahann Carroll) who finds romance with a garbageman (James Earl Jones). Some people dislike the upbeat ending (set to the tingling strains of Gladys Knight's "Make Yours a Happy Home"- we can do it, we can do it now baby), but it is a welcome relief from the hardship that always seems to greet this group. I've never forgotten the seen where Carroll's older son (played by Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, AKA Washington from "Welcome Back Kotter") gets a vasectomy because he doesn't want to bring kids into this world.

God's Angry Man (1980)


I've seen this film a few times this year, and I still can't get it out of my mind. Werner Herzog's hour-long marvel is a hilarious and moving documentary of the fiery televangelist Gene Scott (who died earlier this year). No matter what you think of the man, you can't deny his passion. I love the scene where he freaks out on people for donating to the church, yet only when he asks them to. Above and beyond his fire and brimstone telecasts, featuring a lot of great gospel music too, we get to see beyond the man on the screen and see how he has been robbed of his own identity for the sake of his image- having no financial assets of his own (everything clinically his is owned by the church), forsaking property and even the maxim of going forth and multiplying, we can understand why he berates people who give anything less than 100% to the good word.

Aug 22, 2005

Paperback Hero (1973)


Another Sunday in the parking lot of our good friend Dion Conflict. This piece of Cancon is about a womanizing cowboy played by Keir Dullea (who once again proves he can't act) set in the proverbial small prairie town. Everything akin to 1970's Canadian tax shelter cinema is in abundance here-- hockey, beer, wood panelling. Our nation's own hottie Dayle Haddon plays the love interest. Although well-regarded in its day, today this thing is a disappointment, especially since Dullea's character has all the charm of a narc. Visually interesting for its second unit work, a well-shot shootout at the end, and for an extended nude scene with Ms. Haddon.

Raining Stones (1993)


In Ken Loach's masterpiece, among my Top 10 Best Films of the 1990's, a working-class man takes on a variety of odd jobs in order to buy a dress for his daughter's first communion. This is classic Loach- it dares to make us laugh at the foibles in this situation that is really no laughing matter, yet it is still responsible and dramatic when it needs to be. As always, Loach peoples his cast with unknown actors to lend a bit of authenticity to his gritty tale, with thick English accents that your ear eventually accustoms itself to. Plus, there is a sequence with the town loan shark that is absolutely terrifying. For my money, this is the finest achievement by a man who has had more than his share of superb films.

Aug 20, 2005

The Reflecting Pool (1977)


First we see an image of a man about to jump into a pool. The image freezes, make the man suspended in mid-air. Meanwhile, we see reflections in the pool of other people, who are not presently seen around the swimming pool. One of the best video experimental films I've seen, Bill Viola's piece is a mesmerizing piece, where time and space fold into themselves.

Lifeguard (1976)


Well, since this week's events have forced me to consider my own destiny, and to ponder what it is I really want, I can only find it appropriate to give a "film of the day" award to this 1976 cult drive-in film featuring the marvelous Sam Elliott as a lifeguard who is being prodded by his friends to go into another line of work, but he's very happy being a lifeguard, thank you very much. While obviously to cater to the drive-in crowd on a rowdy Friday night, there's the usual assortment of juvenile humour, but even so, there is a placid beauty that permeates the movie. LIFEGUARD is much more effective in its quiet moments. It is an overall moving piece about a man who is content with his station in life, while everyone around him is more concerned with status.

Aug 19, 2005

Thunder County (1974)

Well, this summer, thanks to the godawful heat in my apartment, I've been spending a lot of nights on the deck, watching something on my portable DVD player, and then falling asleep outside until it was somewhat cool enough to come back into the house. Anyway, the deck of my place became christened "the drive-in", as per my lovely wife and myself constantly visiting Toronto's only sit-down drive-in on the third floor. One of the baubles of this summer experience would have to be this gutter trash from Joseph Brenner, which headlines Mickey Rooney in the credits, although the actor has a glorified cameo instead, as the boat owner the group of escapees from a women's prison work over and rip off on their way to freedom. In the Everglades, they run across some crooks, and it becomes a heavy-breathing melodrama in the swamp. With vague lesbian undertones and Ted "Lurch" Cassidy as the leader of the crooks wearing the loudest suit jacket in recent memory, THUNDER COUNTY is to me an undiscovered drive-in masterpiece awaiting your discovery. Find it, and it make it part of your own drive-in today!

Aug 17, 2005

The Day The Music Died (1977)

This is a completely screwed-up movie about the Randall Island 1970 rock festival, which was a huge financial disaster due to the large volume of protesting over how all the money made at these festivals should be going back into the pockets of the counterculture that made such a venue possible in the first place. The documentary and performance footage (featuring Van Morrison, Mountain, to name a few) are intercut with weird wobbly fictitious moments shot years later, featuring DJ Murray the K, giving a play by play account of what is going down that minute at Randall Island; also an actor plays JJ Jackson, the Randall Island promoter who has a sit-down with the conglomerate of protesting hippies. In its own way, this movie becomes perhaps the best indictment I've seen about the love generation, and why their plans to change the world flopped- primarily because these kids couldn't even agree amongst themselves.

Viva Las Vegas (1964)


On the 28th anniversary of The King's passing, here is one of his greatest hits, with Elvis bopping along with the fetching Ann-Margret in such great numbers as the title track and a socko remake of Ray Charles' "What I Say". Although I famously detest video projection, I do have to give Harbourfront credit where it is due. We saw this movie last summer at one of its free outdoor after-dark screenings, and the projection system was absolutely brilliant. Forty years on, this movie still got the audience going. Usually Elvis' movies in the 60's have a plot that's about on a par with an average episode of "Desparate Housewives", albeit more entertaining. This is no exception, but it's great fun.

"I wish there was more than 24 hours in day".

Indeed.

Aug 16, 2005

The Overnight Man


This Tom Weinberg-produced short is a great half-hour documentary about newsman Joe Cummings, and his usual "beat" on the graveyard shift, collecting stories from the firemen and the police blotter, and occasionally stopping off to get his beloved chewing gum. We also get a lovely portrait of the man off-hours, with his (very camera shy) wife in a restaurant, and a candid look of Cummings at his AA meetings. This was made on the then-radical videotape technology of half-inch video, better known to you and I as VHS! As such, the washed out quality of the picture seems to add to its feel, and the shots of the desolate, snow-swept streets of Chicago are quite haunting. It's a keeper.

Aug 15, 2005

Promises! Promises! (1963)


Dion Conflict, an old friend to ESR, began showing some outdoor movies as of last Sunday, in his parking lot. Last week he showed APPOINTMENT IN HONDURAS, as a "test screening" (a last-minute kind of thing to try it out and see if such a venue would work)... and then continued with tonight's film PROMISES PROMISES, the notorious Jayne Mansfield sex comedy which featured the fading starlet in the buff. So desperate is this movie that it has to show this fleeting footage again and again.. and again. But it almost works as a Dada-ist nightmare, as the movie almost acts as some kind of dream logic, with these incongruous cut-ins, and weirdo dream sequences. In its day, the plot for this film was quite vulgar- two couples on a ship play around with each other, and then a pregnancy makes them wonder who the father is. Jayne's husband Mickey Hargitay, former Mr. Universe, is one of the hubbies in this confusion of sexual mores, and then good old Tommy Noonan, the gimpy lead who starred with both Marilyn Monroe and Mamie Van Doren, adds Jayne Mansfield to his troika of starlet vehicles in which he is unlikely paired off to a bombshell.

Aug 14, 2005

TRANSFORMATIONS

Well today I spent most of the day writing for the show, and then ended the day rather abruptly, with the show hanging in the balance for an uncertain future. One phone call, one misunderstanding was all it took to shed the light on a truth I've ignored for several months... that due to my crazy schedule and just my psychic lack of being able to complete any task in the past few months, that it is going to be increasingly harder for me to keep myself focused on this show, particularly when we get nearer to actually shooting the pilot, and we're still going in circles. So finally, I got the courage to take a great big step back from the project, not only to reassess what I'm doing, and to reassess this project (which has had some unknown things that have been bugging me), but perhaps even more, it has forced me to reassess what exactly I want.

I didn't arrive with any immediate answers, but if anything, I confronted a lot of things going on in my life at present that I do not want. A former colleague of mine once quipped that being in the film industry is an easy way to lose one's love of film. This is so true- I'm in the commercial industry, yet the sentiment is the same. I don't want to be turned into Mr. Videographer with these little gigs we're doing, and in general, I never wanted to be in the commercial industry- period. I only took the job because I needed the money... an oxymoron in itself.

This year, it seems that I have just been miserable in most everything. I have suspected that I may be going through some depression, or perhaps that my general passivity towards a lot of factors that have had a negative affect on me has now caught up to me. Whatever the case, in the event of this show, stepping back from it was probably the smartest and most courageous thing I could do. The project is not dead, but dormant. I've got a lot of money sunk into it, so far it be from me to kill the thing outright. But I simply cannot and will not work on this thing again until I am of the proper heart and mind.

Thus, over the next few weeks, or months, however long it takes, I want to unclutter my life of the things that have gotten me down. It's unfortunate that it took something like this, but afterwards, out on the deck, I felt liberated for the first time in ages. For once it felt like a path had been cleared, and even though the road ahead is uncertain, it feels good to know that the path is there at all.

The Ballad of Andy Crocker (1969)


This low-key, character driven TV-movie features Lee Majors as a Vietnam vet returning to his hometown in Texas to find that everything has changed. While this plot line may not sound original by any means (as it has been re-used for two decades since), who is to say that this film didn't invent it? Joey Heatherton plays his ex-girlfriend, and there's even a supporting role for Marvin Gaye as Lee's war buddy! Less concerned with Vietnam politics, this movie is also a precursor to a lot of theatrical films of the 1970's with a similar feel of wandering and "What now?"

Aug 12, 2005

WJR: One of a Kind (1966)


This delightful short, which you can find on the Internet Archives, is a 15-minute documentary about what makes Detroit's AM radio station, WJR, so unusual. While perhaps in this day and age, one may be hard-pressed to see what is so unusual, but it is an entertaining piece nonetheless- perfect viewing for audiophiles and radio nerds. My favourite is the guy who teaches musical theory on the air, and then plays out the chords on the piano right in the soundbooth. You also see J.P. McCarthy, long-standing WJR personality, right up until his death in 1995. And they get the atmosphere of the station right down to the money-- the control booth is littered with ashtrays, crumpled paper and styrofoam coffee cups. This movie also features hilariously stilted shots of people doing everyday activities, like shaving and housecleaning, while listening to the radio, plus some cool images of mid-1960s suburbia. Lots of fun.

Aug 11, 2005

Panic in the Streets (1950)

In remembrance of Barbara Bel Geddes, who just passed away, today's movie is Elia Kazan's amazing noir thriller PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950). Although TV Nuts from the last 30 years will best remember her as JR's mom in "Dallas", classic movie fans possibly best recall her as the woman who stood by Jimmy Stewart while he messed around with Kim Novak in VERTIGO (1958). Prior to that, however, this stage actress did a string of classic films noir in the late 1940s- Max Ophuls' CAUGHT and Anatole Litvak's THE LONG NIGHT (1947). Ms. Geddes' roles on film seemed to typefy the all-American woman that men would eventually come home to after venturing in the dark side.

Richard Widmark is a doctor racing against time to find a murderer who is also the carrier of a plague! Film also features some great work by Jack Palance and Zero Mostel as the heavies, plus superb use of sweaty seedy New Orleans locations to add to the authenticity. Also a plus is the expert use of long single takes. Despite a lot of the success accorded his later years (STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, EAST OF EDEN), Kazan nonetheless remained a controversial figure because he named names at the McCarthy hearings to save his own hide. Therefore, it is ironic in the way that Widmark makes a speech in front of some dock workers for someone to come forth and name someone they are looking for as they are a danger to society! For all that, though, when his day's work is done, Dr. Widmark comes home to his wife (Ms. Geddes) in nice boring 1950's suburbia. Not only that, but Tommy Rettig (from TV's "Lassie") plays their son! How's that for 1950's wholesomeness?

Aug 10, 2005

Rip-Off (1971)

Out of respect to the passing of Richard Leiterman (see below), I decided that today's movie would be his and Don Shebib's followup to GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD.... the wonderful hippie road movie RIP-OFF (1971). This was also released on VHS way back in the early days of video rentals with the title VIRGIN TERRITORY, which makes it seem like a PORKY'S ripoff, which it certainly is not.

Don Scardino (today a TV director) stars as a hippie high school student who goes on an odyssey to check out this commune property that he has appropriated out in the sticks, chiefly just so he can get into bed with a classmate (played by the angel-eyed Susan Petrie). Don't let this synopsis fool you- this is a very funny, wise, and even rather touching movie. Yes, adolescent growing pains have been an oft-filmed subject for eons, but when the result is as engaging as this, why carp?

Not only are the small group of young men on the verge of being adults, they are also being seduced by the archetypal image of the hippie, so that they can forsake their prep school ties and jackets. You get to see some great footage of a rock concert in Nathan Phillips Square, a poster in a school hallway advertising a Friday night dance with music by Sonny Greenwich (!!!), as well as people with a lot of bushy sideburns. Scardino had just been in HOMER, a Canadian-lensed counterculture movie where he again plays a restless hippie youth, and he was an enjoyable presence in 1970's movies. After making a handful of pictures in the 1970's (including Cronenberg's SHIVERS, and one of my favourites, LIONS FOR BREAKFAST), the charming and talent Susan Petrie just seemed to disappear. Ah, Ms. Petrie, where are you now?

Richard Leiterman 1935-2005

I just learned the night before that Richard Leiterman passed away last month. Mr. Leiterman is an institution in Canadian cinema. This very busy cinematographer is perhaps best known for his work on the classic GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD. However, he had done several films for its director Don Shebib and also several features for Allan King. among others.

An important early credit in his career was as DOP for Frederick Wiseman's cinema verite masterpiece HIGH SCHOOL (1968). Wiseman was/is one of the Godfathers of the Direct Cinema movement, which brought a fresh new approach to documentary filmmaking (filming on the moment, no voiceover narration) that still stands miles above the diluted version of the format seen in all of that horrible Reality TV. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Leiterman was hired by Allan King for his Direct Cinema classic, A MARRIED COUPLE (1969), a searing documentary in which an all-too-candid camera shows us the crumbling marriage of Billy and Antoinette Edwards. When King went on to fictional narrative films, he often employed Leiterman as well (specifically, WHO HAS SEEN THE WIND and SILENCE OF THE NORTH).

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