Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Professor Dave Jennings’ Milton-Free, Universe-Expanding Holiday Midterm

If you're looking for a fun way to kill a few minutes, head on over to Dennis Cozzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog and read the various answers posters have given to his latest meme, which is titled "PROFESSOR DAVE JENNINGS' MILTON-FREE, UNIVERSE-EXPANDING HOLIDAY MIDTERM." It took me a couple of hours over two nights to "take the test," but it was a lot of fun, and I hope someone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed reading everyone else's. My answers follow below. If you're interesting in tackling Dennis' meme, feel free to post it in my Comments section. I've found an older one on Dennis' site that maybe I'll tangle with later. Thanks to Chris Stangl for pointing the meme out to me in his blog, The Exploding Kinetoscope.

1) What was the last movie you saw, either in a theater or on DVD, and why?
Boy, did you catch me at a weird time. Sunday afternoon, Chicken, Grady and Michael came over, ostensibly to watch NFL Football, but they decided they wanted to watch “crappy movies” instead. We watched two of them as the sun set on Sunday. The second one—and the most recent film I’ve seen—was THE STABILIZER, which I have viewed close to ten times and have yet to tire of it. THE STABILIZER is quite likely the strangest and the craziest film I’ve ever seen. It’s an Indonesian action movie shot in Jakarta during the early 1980’s, and stars somebody named “Peter O’Brien” as Peter Goldson, an “American cop” nicknamed “The Stabilizer.” Uh, that’s because he “stabilizes” the balance between good and evil in the world. And why did I watch it? Because that’s what they asked for, and Michael had never seen it. And now he’s glad he did.

P.S. Since answering this question, I've watched Code Red's DVD of the boring slasher movie THE FOREST, but I'm sticking with THE STABILIZER anyway.

2) Name the cinematographer whose work you most look forward to seeing, and an example of one of his/her finest achievements.
I can’t really say that I have a “favorite” cinematographer, but I usually think it’s neat when I see Dean Cundey’s name in the credits, or, in fact, anyone who managed to start out in low-budget exploitation movies and break into the big time. Cundey’s early credits include the trashy killer-‘Nam-vet obscurity THE NO MERCY MAN, the blaxploitation hairdresser sleazefest BLACK SHAMPOO and the great BARE KNUCKLES. He hooked up with John Carpenter to do fabulous work on HALLOWEEN and THE FOG, whose look lends the ghost story a spectacularly spooky vibe. A few more Carpenter pics later, Cundey joined Steven Spielberg’s repertory company of sorts, shooting Amblin’ productions like JURASSIC PARK, HOOK and the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s really not all that common for a below-the-line talent to rise from the bottom of the industry to the cream of the crop, but Cundey did.

3) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?
Whew, that’s a tough call. A couple of years ago, I would have said Joe Don, no question. But after watching more Svenson than Baker movies recently, I’ve got to make the call for Bo. He, quite frankly, can do more on-screen than can Baker. While he seamlessly stepped into Baker’s shoes for the two sequels to WALKING TALL (and the television series) as tough guy sheriff Buford Pusser, Svenson is also pretty good in the domestic drama scenes and in moments of humor. Consider, for instance, his romantic chemistry with Cybill Shepherd in the light action/comedy SPECIAL DELIVERY or his insouciant, throwaway manner (although this may have been a performance enhanced with libation) in the silly GOLD OF THE AMAZON WOMEN. It’s difficult to imagine Baker in either film, whereas I think Svenson could have acquitted himself quite well in Baker vehicles like MITCHELL or even JUNIOR BONNER.

Don’t take any of this as a rip of Joe Don Baker, who has become a welcome supporting face in major films, unlike Svenson, who has remained strictly in exploitation circles.

4) Name a moment from a movie that made you gasp (in horror, surprise, revelation…)
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I first saw WAIT UNTIL DARK during a high-school assembly (don’t ask me why…I think it may have been leading into Christmas vacation). It isn’t a horror movie—not really—but director Terence Young engineers a “bus” near the end that is as startling and suspenseful as any other I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t literally gasp, but the powerful non-sex sex scene in WITNESS, where Harrison Ford catches a topless Kelly McGillis washing herself, is remarkably erotic cinema.

5) Your favorite movie about the movies.
What else? HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, the best picture in which the lovely B-starlet Candice Rialson ever starred. It was co-directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, editors of New World trailers who convinced boss Roger Corman they could direct a feature in ten days for $50,000. It’s a very funny and fast-paced comedy that uses stock footage from Corman pictures like DEATH RACE 2000 and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE while simultaneously spoofing them. Rialson stars as Candy Hope, a beautiful wannabe actress just in from Indiana trying to make it big in Hollywood by appearing in low-budget features for Miracle Pictures ("If it's a good movie, it's a Miracle."). A psycho who's systematically killing off Miracle's stars makes her task even more difficult. The plot is less important than the agreeable performances and the anarchic style of the film. Rialson is funny, sweet and sexy, although some scenes appear to hit a little too close to home. Her best moment is probably the scene in which she attends the premiere of her first movie at a sleazy drive-in and gets drunk while bemoaning her fate to appear in such crappy pictures. No doubt Candice drew from her own personal experience for that scene. If you’ve never seen Candice Rialson perform, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD is the one movie to watch. Plus, it’s a terrific showcase for resident Corman players such as Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Tara Strohmeier and Dick Miller.

6) Your Favorite Fritz Lang movie.
There’s a lot of Lang I need to see, but I do like 1956’s WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, which stars Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Rhonda Fleming, Vincent Price and Thomas Mitchell. More melodrama than thrills in this newspaper story about a TV commentator (Andrews), a newswire editor (Sanders) and a city editor of a daily paper (Mitchell) competing against each other to discover the identity of a serial killer stalking New York City. They believe that whomever comes up with the scoop will receive a promotion from their foppish new boss (Price). Some pretty good acting by a great cast makes this drama worth seeing if you keep in mind it's not really a thriller. Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, John Drew Barrymore and James Craig are also in this RKO release.

7) Describe the first time you ever recognized yourself in a movie.
While I’m not thrilled to admit it, seeing Albert Brooks in BROADCAST NEWS was, in so many ways, like looking into the mirror. Although I never quite broke down on a radio broadcast the way Brooks does when he gets his one big chance to anchor the news, so much about his personality, his attitude, his frustrations and his relationship with the woman he secretly loves sadly felt very much like my life at that time.

On a literal level, my ass should have received separate billing in LOTTO, a short film made by my friend Chris here in Champaign about ten years ago. I have one scene, standing on the sidewalk with my rear to the camera, looking into a closed appliance store. I got to see LOTTO on a big theater screen once, and it surely was odd seeing my ass four feet high.

8) Carole Bouquet or Angela Molina?
I must admit, I don’t know who Angela Molina is, and searching IMDb, I don’t think I’ve seen any of her movies. By default, I go with Bouquet, whom I only know from FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, where she was quite beautiful if slightly blank as a vengeful young woman seeking violent retribution for the death of her parents.

9) Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.
I’m with Chris Stangl on this one. I don’t know what this means.

10) Favorite appearance by an athlete in an acting role.
I probably have to go with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, the former Kansas City Chief who became one of the most prolific black filmmakers in history. Fred pretty much always played the exact same character in every movie he was in, but always backed up his strategy by claiming “The Hammer” is who his fans pay to see. And he may be right. His best performance is quite likely that of gangster Tommy Gibbs in BLACK CAESAR, a crude but crackling action yarn written and directed by Larry Cohen. It’s one of the few films in which Williamson’s character dies…even though he somehow managed a resurrection for the sequel (also by Cohen), HELL UP IN HARLEM.

11) Favorite Hal Ashby movie.
Unlike Fritz Lang, I have seen quite a few Ashby movies. He was still an active (if slumping) director when he died of cancer in 1988, and is one of the best Hollywood directors that few people aside from rabid film fans have heard of. I’m a big fan of THE LAST DETAIL, which is a raw, rough and amazingly profane comedy with an Oscar-nominated script by Robert Towne. It’s also one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen with Jack Nicholson’s tirade about calling “the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker” an even better bit than his more famous FIVE EASY PIECES diner rant.

12) Name the first double feature you’d program for opening night of your own revival theater.
I’ve actually thought about this a billion times, and have come up with a different answer almost every time. For nostalgia’s sake, I’ll say Cannon’s ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA, because those were the titles shown at my very first Crappy Movie Night back in 2002 when only LD and Panno were present.

13) What’s the name of your revival theater?
Hmmm. Starcrash Cinema?

14) Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould?
Hey, I like Elliott Gould! And I like THE LONG GOODBYE, the Robert Altman film in which Gould played the most eccentric Philip Marlowe ever.

15) Favorite Robert Stevenson movie.
Does anybody have a favorite Robert Stevenson movie? THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR.

16) Describe your favorite moment in a movie that is memorable because of its use of sound.
If “sound” also means “music,” I’ll go with the shot near the end of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY where Sergio Leone whip-pans around that cemetery, following Eli Wallach (with one of cinema’s strangest looking runs) as Morricone’s awesome “The Ecstasy of Gold” wails on the soundtrack.

17) Pink Flamingos-- yes or no?
God, no. And I’ve seen it twice. A friend of mine refuses to admit that he’s actually seen it. If I were to call him and ask how he likes PINK FLAMINGOS, he will deny watching it. But he has. And so have I. But I’m still trying to forget.

“How much is that doggie in the window..?”

18) Your favorite movie soundtrack score.

19) Fay Wray or Naomi Watts?
One of the few things Peter Jackson did right when he remade KING KONG was to cast Watts. I don’t believe any contemporary actress would have been more right for Ann Darrow, not just because she’s one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. She’s also a terrific actress, better than Fay Wray, although KONG made her a cinematic icon who will most likely be remembered longer than Naomi Watts.

20) Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?
Not a movie, but whenever I read ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or some other mainstream publication writing anything about the talent and/or charisma of bland pretty boys like Ashton Kutcher or Ryan Reynolds, I can’t take them seriously. Fucking Kelso.

21) Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner.

Well, if I could hand out an Oscar to anyone, I’d give Roger Corman the same Honorary Award that Robert Altman received last year. And for the same reason.

22) Favorite Paul Verhoeven movie.
ROBOCOP. And I don’t understand people who claim SHOWGIRLS is actually a good movie or that it’s purposely camp. No, it isn’t. It’s terrible. And terribly entertaining.

23) What is it that you think movies do better than any other art form?
Blow up cars. Ever seen a painting of an exploding car? Kinda sucks.

24) Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney?
Ustinov, if only for TOPKAPI. Am I the only one who thinks Finney has aged to look like William Shatner?

25) Favorite movie studio logo, as it appears before a theatrical feature.
American International Pictures or New World Pictures, because I know I’m probably about to see something kickass. I think the James Bond series lost something when they no longer started with the old United Artists logo. I also love the old airplane-orbiting-Earth Universal logo, the radio-tower RKO logo and the Warner Brothers shield. I love the rainbow of Avco-Embassy as it spins around. And the cheese factor of the wah-wah American Cinema theme can’t be overrated.

26) Name the single most important book about the movies for you personally.
The easiest question of all. Michael Weldon’s THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM, which I first read when I was in high school and have devoured cover-to-cover maybe a dozen times since. I still use it as a reference at least once a week, and I’m on my second copy, because I wore the first one out years ago.

27) Name the movie that features the best twist ending. (Please note the use of any “spoilers” in your answer.)
It happens before the end, but MALICE’s twist is very cheeky. But I’ll say SLEEPAWAY CAMP, because it’s fun to watch the audience’s faces when it happens.

28) Favorite Francois Truffaut movie.

29) Olivia Hussey or Claire Danes?
Claire Danes was never in an Australian MOST DANGEROUS GAME ripoff that was so violent, it had to be cut to get an R rating in America. So Hussey (who also was the heroine in the damn spooky BLACK CHRISTMAS).

30) Your most memorable celebrity encounter.
My first lengthy celebrity interview, actor Robert Forster, who was a very nice man and answered a lot of questions he probably thought nobody would care about (“Why is this guy asking me about BANYON, fer Christ’s sake?”). It was even better for me because I had long been a fan who admired his work and his work ethic. It’s impossible to not root for Forster to succeed.

31) When did you first realize that films were directed?
Probably almost as soon as I became aware of films. Even at a very young age, I was a credit reader and remembered the names of cast and crew members that showed up in the credits. I remember once wanting to be a TV director…not a film director…but someone who made all my favorite TV shows. I guess I figured directing BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY was the coolest job anyone could have.


Anonymous said...

Select, short answers:

1) THE PUPPETOON MOVIE, a wonderful compilation celebrating the magic and artistry of George Pal.

2) Wow – Dean Cundey’s name was the first one that came to my mind as well when I read this question. Other favorite cinematographers include:

Harold Rosson - DP for The Wizard of Oz, Duel in the Sun, The Asphalt Jungle, On the Town, Singin’ in the Rain, and many others, Rosson was also married for two years to Jean Harlow and shot several of her best films.

Greg Toland - His short career – lasting just over 20 years – was marked by some of the most visually expressive films of the period, including Wuthering Heights, The Grapes of Wrath, Citizen Kane, Song of the South, and The Best Years of Our Lives.

Laszlo Kovacs - Did great work on many exploitation films early on, including The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?, Kiss Me Quick, Mantis in Lace, and Psych-Out before Hollywood discovered his talents in Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Paper Moon.

Gary Graver - Another DP who moved fluidly between mainstream and exploitation circles, and who also cultivated a career directing porn under the pseudonym David McCallum, Graver worked extensively with Al Adamson, Roger Corman, Fred Olen Ray, and Orson Welles. Additionally, I will always admire/envy him for dating Claudia Jennings!

Russ Meyer - ‘nuf said!

5) HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD is my choice as well (no wonder I love reading your blog, Marty…), though SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN comes an awfully close second.

15) Although best-known as Walt Disney’s A-list director (with MARY POPPINS, DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE, and OLD YELLER being amongst his most notable efforts), if it was too much for you to begrudge Robert Stevenson that, Marty, you might have picked his early Boris Karloff vehicle THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND or his fine version of KING SOLOMON’S MINES.

19) Using the same line of thinking you cited, Marty, I come down in favor of Fay Wray. I hope all these contemporary actresses take great comfort and joy in their acting chops and “respectability” because nobody is going to give a shit about either of those things in 50+ years. Fay Wray, on the other hand, will live on eternally (as will Raquel Welch, Tura Satana, Pam Grier, Barbara Steele, and Candice Rialson – “disreputable” icons all).

30) I’ve shared this before, but it would have to be Linnea Quigley, wandering into the video store I worked in at the time and shocked as could be that I even knew who she was. Whatta sweetie!

Robert said...

Enjoyed your answers very much, Mr McKee.

Mine in less detail:

1) THE FANTASTIC FOUR. It had to happen sooner or later.

2) There are so many I like but John Alton's work astonishes and THE BIG COMBO would be the signature credit. After that I'd name Vilmos Zsigmond, Tonino Delli Colli, Vittorio Storano, Laszlo Kovacs, and Robert Richardson. The other one.

3) Joe Don Baker. I like Bo a great deal and your argument for his persuading your choice is sound..but Baker's the man. After he did the first WALKING TALL I just couldn't see anyone topping him. Loved FRAMED, THE OUTFIT, CHARLEY VARRICK, and any number of other things - and he was great in the CAPE FEAR remake.

4) I remember gasping several times when I saw JAWS. Being eight years old at the time helped.

5) Best movie about the movies? That's tough. Maybe ED WOOD but I do love THE STUNT MAN too. NICKELODEN is an under-appreciated gem. Then there's always SUNSET BOULVEARD and THE BAD & THE BEAUTIFUL, and yeah, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD.

6) Fritz Lang made so many entertaining movies in the 1940s and 1950s but I'm still inclined to go with METROPOLIS as my favourite Lang. FURY and M are close behind.

7) Have I ever recognized myself in a movie? I'm not sure I have. I'd love to say something cool like BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ or THE BOURNE IDENTITY or some such, but that would be stretching things a wee bit. Possibly SIDEWAYS. Hmmm.

8) As both Carole and Angela were in THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE and I haven't seen it I'll have to go with Carole.

9) Huh?

10) Athlete in an acting role. I'm more a Jim Brown man that a Fred Williamson guy, as Fred always seems to be, well, Fred. Carl Weathers has done some good things. I think The Rock did a credible job in THE RUNDOWN, and Lynn Holly Johnson in ICE CASTLES....

11) Like you I'd go with THE LAST DETAIL but Ashby's THE LANDLORD is a very, very close second. More people need to see that movie, simple as that.

12) The first double feature I'd program - VANISHING POINT and DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY

13) The Stardust. It was the name of my town cinema as a kid and I always loved that.

14) I really like Gould too. I could see Bogart in things like CAPRICORN ONE and THE SILENT PARTNER, but couldn't picture him doing CALIFORNIA SPLIT or LITTLE MURDERS or M*A*S*H. Likewise, Bogart was a better tough guy than Gould. If I had to pick one it would still be Bogie.

15) Robert Stevenson...TOM BROWN'S SCHOOL DAYS.

16) There are a couple instances when I really noticed the use of sound itself in a film. APOCALYPSE NOW was the first one, and a couple years later recall being astonished by the sound in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. It's easy to watch ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and deeply appreciate how Leone uses his sound, especially in the opening sequence.

17) No to Flamingos.

18) Soundtrack score....JAWS was the first film where I was really aware of how significant the score was to the proceedings, but I'd pick STAR WARS as score perfection. The Morricone / Leone collaborations stand close.

19) Naomi Watts. Damn good actress.

20) I remember reading so many notices of the Godard film WEEKEND where critics were overflowing with praise, and when I finally saw it I figured every one of them had their heads up their collective asses.

21) New Oscar category: give the stunt men their due.

22) ROBOCOP. Would love to watch SOLDIER OF ORANGE again as I recall it being very good too.

23) What do movie do better than any other art form? Get people talking about them. Somebody in the most remote spot on Earth has likely seen something he or she could enthusastically discuss with the most ardent movie lover.

24) Ustinov or Finney? This is a Hercule Poirot comparison, and while Ustinov played the character more I'm inclined to pick Finney still. Besides, could Ustinov played the hero in LOOKER? I Don't think so.

25) The 20th Century Fox fanfare still gives me goose bumps. I'd agree with your choices for the old Universal logo as well as AIP, New World, and Avco Embassy.

26) Single most important book about the movies. I remember falling in love with the McCarthy / Flynn book "King of the B's" as a kid, and likewise pouring over Ed Naha's "Horrors From Screen to Scream".

27) Best twist ending? Should I yell spoiler alert? DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY? Actually, I thought the twist at the end of the Joe Cotten movie THE MAN WITH A CLOAK was pretty nifty. Likewise the resolution of THE HOUSE IN NIGHTMARE PARK.

28) I love THE 400 BLOWS.

29) Claire Danes is a better actress but Olivia Hussey was in SUMMERTIME KILLER and gets points for that. If it comes down to acting I'll have to go with Claire. If it comes down to cult movies and best boobs it's Olivia.

30) Lance Henriksen. You know the story.

31) Ditto on your answer.