Jul 12, 2007

The Third Floor Drive-In, Book One

For the past few weeks, whenever I've stayed awake long enough, I would revive the two-year old trend of The Third Floor Drive-In. Who says you need a car to go to the drive-in? Instead, whenever my energy and the weather allows, at usually 10 or 11 PM, our deck gets christened into a drive-in, thanks to a few chairs, maybe a couple of blankets, and a portable DVD player. It's a very Zen-like experience, being outside watching a film while seeing over the neighbourhood raccoons, birds and (unfortunately) mosquitoes (which is why I stock up on Vitamin B).

This trend was first borne out of necessity in the summer of 2005, when I wanted to escape the heat of the apartment, I would go outside to watch films (at first to research films for upcoming articles), and would often fall asleep outside, and come back in the house at 2 or 3 in the AM when the heat subsided. And now in 2007, the fun continues, yet with more of a bent towards vintage drive-in swill of yesteryear. While not confining ourselves to show films exclusively from its heyday (circa mid-50s to late 1970s), anything else we screen will at least attain that spirit.

I made a one-shot attempt at The Third Floor Drive-In in late April, with Night Train to Hollywood, but it just got too cold too fast. So, this year's programme began just after the Queen Victoria weekend. Here's what we've screened so far, and more to come I'm sure.

May 21: KUNG FU (1971)
This is the pilot for the TV series with David Carradine. Some of you youngsters may not know this, but in the 1970's, many TV series first began as a TV-movie pilot, which usually ran about 70-plus minutes for a 90-minute timeslot, and often set the foundation for the subsequent hour-long show. This one features Carradine as Cain, who works for some corrupt (aren't they all?) railroad baron. Clever cross-cutting of the film's present with scenes of Cain's training in the monk, a device also used in the series.

May 22: BLOW OUT (1981)
A film I hadn't seen in many moons, for a long while this is one of Brian DePalma's masterpieces, until it becomes a derivative slasher flick. But there's still much to enjoy as sound recordist John Travolta tapes a car crash and soon discovers it was no accident. A clever suspense movie made before "political conspiracy" entered our general lexicon. Nancy Allen (then DePalma's girlfriend) is cute as the party girl rescued from the sinking car, but isn't much of an actress. As always, DePalma is more interested in technique, and those sequences are obviously the most thrilling. Great use of splitscreen, and the scene where Travolta marries his audio recording to stills cut from a magazine is quite thrilling. Great night cinematography by Vilmos Szigmond.

May 23: SAMSON IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1963)
One of the many adventures featuring the masked Mexican wrestler Santo (however dubbed here as Samson) who saves the world from a mad doctor kidnapping people to turn into waxed monsters who carry out his bidding. This slight but amusing tale is padded out with lots of wrestling sequences for the fans. Still, as with many of the K. Gordon Murray imports from Mexico, even this picture is beautifully atmospheric.

May 24: TOO SOON TO LOVE (1960)
The first feature from Richard Rush (later of such classics as Psych-Out, Freebie and the Bean, The Stunt Man) is a moderately interesting of a young couple that faces hard choices when the girl gets pregnant. Despite the subject matter, this film is even more tame than other "troubled teen" epics of its day, but it's engaging enough, more because Rush gets you to feel the desparation of their situation, less for the bland leads.

May 28: PAYDAY (1973)
This unsung classic features Rip Torn in a muscular performance as a womanizing, pleasure-seeking country and western singer. Fascinating from start to finish, this character-driven narrative is always surprising, as it blurs from one cheap hotel to another.

May 29: RIDE IN A PINK CAR (1974)
In this southern-fried trash, Glenn Corbett returns from the war, accidentally shoots some redneck in a scuffle, and then is pursued by a vigilante mob led by the kid's father (Morgan Woodward) who has the law wrapped around his finger. While a pretty silly chase flick, it's enjoyable to watch all the same.

June 11: PULP (1972)
Very enjoyable film noir spoof (in a decade that had many of them) directed with zest by Mike Hodges (who also gave us such crime pictures as Get Carter), where hack mystery writer Michael Caine (with longish hair and a white Tom Wolfe suit) gets embroiled in a mystery of his own when hired to write the biography of washed-up movie star Mickey Rooney (make of that sentence what you will). Beautifully done- a nice surprise.



Stay tuned, gang.... the memoirs continue in Book Two.

1 comment:

BARRY SMIGHT said...

Good stuff. Mr. Woods, you remind me that even though I have seen a lot of films, there are many more to discover. Can I call you "Elwy-2"?

I rented the "Kung Fu" tv series show a couple of years ago -- watched the pilot and a couple of episodes. Very well done and with a touch of 'cinema'. This begs the question: How come those old tv shows seem to be so better than the 'polished' crap made today? You know ones I'm talking about -- where it looks as though someone forgot to mount the camera on a tripod.

Keep it up!