trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for master of the flying guillotine (1975) and he's ready to blow your mind!

the flying guillotine is my favorite martial arts movie weapon of all time. yes, it is highly impractical but its badassery quotient is through the roof. and that thing is just the icing on the cake. this movie is chock full of all sorts of kung fu madness and a killer soundtrack. one of a mere handful of sequels that surpass the movie that spawned them, in my opinion master is the best thing the shaw brothers ever released.


starlite cinema series

alright, our second installment of the starlite cinema series is in the books.

we took in the unhinged sincerity of off the charts: the song-poem story (2003) and the somewhat heartbreaking, therapeutic(?) cycle that is monster road (2004).

i just wanted to say thanks again to everyone for coming out. i know a couple of documentaries from off the beaten path aren't everyone's idea of a dream saturday night. i appreciate you coming and i appreciate your trust that i am going to show you something worthwhile. a special thanks, as always, to the annie street arts collective. i could not do this without them.

starlite is taking july off to tend to a lot of band business but we will back for your entertainment and edification sometime in the latter half of august. not sure yet what the program is going to be, but i am leaning towards something with a little international flair. i will keep you posted.

those of you that know me probably aren't surprised to know that i am also already working on the lineup for a mini-festival at the end of october just in time for halloween. keep an eye out for that.

one final note - i just wanted to say thanks to everyone for the kind and encouraging comments lately. sometimes i feel like i am just rambling on and on here, entertaining only myself. it is gratifying to know that you guys are out there, paying attention and that you enjoy it. i certainly appreciate it.


c'est la guerre

i know a lot of you folks aren't from austin or don't get to come to town very often. i'm sure there are also a few of you that live here that have yet to avail yourself of what that jewel of congress avenue, the paramount theater, has to offer. so, in honor of tonight's special program, i thought i would show you the view from row q.

this is what it looks like from where i sit a good number of evenings in the summer. this is the vantage point from one of my favorite places on earth. if you are more of a balcony person this is what you have in store for you.

she was built in 1915 and, in addition to showing films, has hosted everyone from houdini to the marx brothers. you can probably see why i am so fond of her, a lovely building. it is such a shame that there are so few true movie palaces left. john eberson, the architect that built her, designed and built over 130 theaters in his time. less than twenty-five are still standing, even fewer are operational. i am grateful beyond measure to have one of the best right here as my home away from home may through september. i have had a number of great experiences here and tonight has to rank near the top, thanks to a spectacular film and some special visitors.

graham reynolds, composer and leader of the golden arm trio composed an original score for william wellman's wings (1927) and his ensemble performed it live at this evening's screening. wings won the very first academy award for best picture and is, as the program notes pointed out, the first, last and only silent film ever to take home that prize.

now, i had never seen this before and even without reynolds' excellent score this was a revelatory experience. wings was a sensation upon its initial release, playing for 63 weeks ("held over" is an understatement) before moving to second-run theaters. i can certainly see why. even by today's digitally enhanced standards, the aerial photography and dogfight sequences are thrilling. clara bow has a vivacity that bounds off the screen, enough to launch fantasies about the girl next door into the next century. beautiful enough to stand out at the folies bergere, rough and tumble enough to help you take your jalopy apart without batting an eye, there was certainly something special about her. you can still easily see it eighty-odd years later.

those things are all very obvious, though. the real pleasures to be found in this film are in the minor moments and the tiny details. even the intertitles are beautiful, and that's just the beginning.

i think i will always remember that when jack says goodbye to mary as he is leaving for ground school you can see that tears have dropped onto her dress. nothing is done to call your attention to it. in fact, in may have very easily been accidental, but it made that simple scene so much more for me. it put me in mind of the thousands of very real women that had to do that very thing, that stood in the driveway long after their husband, boyfriend, father or brother was gone, wondering if they would see that man that they loved ever again. it is a beautiful detail. another simple but effective touch was the obvious swearing our heroes did in the closeups during the dogfights. you don't have to be a master lip reader to work it out. if this film wasn't silent they might have had to institute the hays code a few years early. and it damn well ought to be that way. when you are taking machine gun fire in your tail i doubt you are going to exclaim "oh, cheese and crackers!".

but where the film really sets itself apart, especially in contrast to today's action films, is in the way it depicts our heroes' genuine affection for one another. in a manner that few contemporary hollywood films (or audiences) seem to be comfortable with, it allows you to see true fraternal love and tenderness between these men. it doesn't have to be arch, winking or ironic. it doesn't have to occur in any sort of sexual context. it is both refreshing to see and disappointing in that it reminds us that we don't see it very often. i think john cassavetes working with peter falk and ben gazarra was the last time i saw it handled this honestly (if extremely melodramatically). sadly, i can't think of many more examples. perhaps you can. if so, let me know. it was certainly a different era, to be sure. you could have a masculine hero bring a childhood toy into battle as a good luck charm and it wouldn't be sneered at. even with the spanish flu pandemic and the first world war raging all around you, you still had the luxury of naiveté. it must have been nice for things to be so uncomplicated.

graham reynolds' wonderful score was built primarily around a number of permutations of a lovely, arpeggiated motif. i thought it was most effective when it was either simply piano/strings or the full ensemble ratcheting up the bombast during the aerial battle sequences. it reminded me a little, at times, of rachel's, if that means anything to you. it made the drama more dramatic, the romance more romantic, the revelry more revelrous. it was just a great experience. you simply can't beat live music in the theater with a film like this, especially with such talented, accomplished musicians performing music that serves the images so well. after last year's buster keaton/guy forsyth extravaganza i was sold. i'm doubly sold now. thanks, paramount. let's do it again soon.


trailer tuesday

when it comes to international cinema, things are frequently cyclical. one country will move to the fore then be overtaken as someone else, somewhere else strikes out in exciting new directions. for the past couple of years the australians have been just killing it. in this case, killing it and eating it. this week's entry is for van diemen's land (2009).

jonathan auf der heide's debut feature was one of the best things i saw last year. it recounts the true story of a group of convicts who escape from a penal colony into the wilds of tasmania in 1822. it has some things in common with werner herzog's early work in south america, dealing primarily with man reverting to his most base state when faced with unforgiving, overwhelming nature. beautifully photographed and well acted, it is a grim survival document. right now, it is only available as an import and not in a u.s.-friendly format. with any luck, that will change soon. those of you with all-region players would do well to track it down. but wait to eat until after.


the days are just packed

as it turns out, this week may very well be the non-festival cinema high point of my year. if nothing else, i have quantity, but i am feeling pretty good about the quality as well. here's the rundown.

sunday, 6.20.10: sara and i went to see banksy's exit through the gift shop (2010).

it plays like a junior varsity, street art version of f for fake (1975). i hope in my heart that it's an even more elaborate con than i imagine, and i imagine a lot. it follows the story of thierry guetta, whose habit of obsessively turning a video camera upon anything that moves eventually gains him access to the world of street artists like space invader and shepard fairey. he later parlays this into an audience with banksy who quickly brings him into the fold as a documentarian/accomplice. as it turns out, he is not much of a filmmaker so banksy dispatches him with the instruction to make some art of his own. this final act surrounding guetta, his art show and ballooning ego are where the hoax becomes disappointingly transparent. if i had been in los angeles at the time to see the reaction of everyone around it in real time it might have been a different story but watching it unfold onscreen it rings a little hollow. the joke starts to play so thin it threatens to derail the film, which is a shame because the first half is great, if only to see this handful of guerilla artists do their thing in their natural habitat. i believe the payoff is engineered to take place offscreen, though. that's where the true genius of this film potentially lies. i hope banksy has conned everyone, myself included. i hope he has duped the art world, his compatriots, the moviegoing public, everyone. and i hope it takes years for us to find out.

monday, 6.21.10: i begin a weeklong invasion of the paramount theater for the summer classics series. tonight's program - peter bogdanovich's the last picture show (1971).

if you graduate from high school in texas instead of a diploma they should give you a copy of this movie. a lot of breakout performances here including cybill shepherd's debut but the one that is the most pitch perfect, the one that always breaks my heart is cloris leachman. she has never been better.

tuesday, 6.22.10: texas goes from small and bittersweet to sweeping and epic with giant (1956).

can't wait to see this on the big screen. doesn't seem like any other kind of screen could hold it.

wednesday, 6.23.10: what could be the highlight of my summer. the paramount is screening wings (1927) with an original score from graham reynolds of the golden arm trio (among other things) to be performed live in the theater.

this was the first film ever to win best picture, a true milestone film. i've never seen this before and i cannot think of a better way to experience it for this first time. that clara bow is a pip!

thursday, 6.24.10: a night off. maybe.

friday, 6.25.10: back downtown for baby the rain must fall (1965).

never seen this one before either. mixed reviews abound. crossing my fingers that the presence of steve mcqueen and lee remick will raise it above average.

saturday, 6.26.10: the saturday matinee to end all saturday matinees - the adventures of robin hood (1938)!

those of you that are familiar with vitagraph know of my abiding affection for this one. a great film. saturday afternoon, technicolor splendor, swashbuckling adventure - how do you make that better? by having indoor archery contests prior to the screening, that's how! this is going to be a blast. austin folks, you should really come with me for this one.

and, as if that's not enough, i am hosting the second entry in our starlite cinema series at 9 p.m. that evening.

i will be showing a documentary double feature of off the charts: the song-poem story (2003) and monster road (2004). here are the details. please join us if you can.

all in all, a damn fine week, i think. see you in row q or at annie street.


all that dark and all that cold

i have had this conversation with some of you, about how much this makes me think of my old man.

my dad doesn't say a lot that doesn't need to be said. i consider this one of his greatest attributes and one of the most valuable things he ever taught me. you learn a lot more, about both how and how not to be, when you just listen and observe. don't misunderstand, he's not a cold or distant person. he's smart, funny, sincere and generous. i will never be left wondering what he thought of me if i am ever, unfortunately, without him. he loves me, made a lot of sacrifices for me and gave me parts of himself that he gave to no one else. he did his level best, every single day. what more can you ask of someone? i would not change a single thing about how my parents raised me, a pretty rare sentiment. i do not take that for granted.

i think a lot of things that are innate in him are innate in me as well. i think neither one of us ever really felt like we belong in the time/place that we've happened to live, though we've made the best of it. i think there's a frontier that we couldn't find. i think we'll both keep looking, keep working on it, because he is steadfast and taught me to be as well. he taught me about the joy in the details of things, the fun of exploration, the satisfaction in a job well done. he showed me that when something is solid, you count on it and you don't have to talk about it all day long. he would go out into that cold and that dark and make that fire. he would wait for me and he would would be glad when/if i made it safely, no song and dance necessary.

i feel lucky to know the guy. i feel even luckier that he's my dad. he's an extraordinary person. thanks, dad, for going on ahead and looking out for me all this time. i know you always will.


ok, so phil menzies is daft

sorry, gang. the world cup is keeping me from getting much writing done here. on the plus side, as i was thinking about soccer related movies it knocked loose a real gem from the dear, dim past.

back in junior high, i used to go to my grandmother's house after school and wait there for my folks to come pick me up when they got off work. the afternoon ritual consisted of a walk to head's grocery on main street for a dr. pepper and some hot tamales and then a healthy dose of battle of the planets and chicago cubs baseball courtesy of WGN. one fateful afternoon, a rainout sent me in search of alternatives and i stumbled across a film that remains a favorite to this day - bill forsyth's gregory's girl (1981).

oh, dorothy. that hair. those shorts. that accent. i was in love. i'd never met a girl from cumbernauld before, so exotic.

i was so taken with this movie. it was carefully observed, awkward, understated and real. john hughes' run of teen-oriented films that came just a few years later just did not resonate with me at all. they felt like they were trying to sell me something. gregory's girl felt like it was trying to tell me something, something important in that way that things are important only when you are a teenager. it was clumsy sometimes, urgent at others, but always smart, sweet and funny.

and on top of everything else, it was also the first time a friend and i bonded over a film that we discovered of our own accord. now, my parents showed me films all the time. my mom loves the andy hardy series, seen 'em all. i remember watching the creature from the black lagoon (1954) for the first time on television on a saturday afternoon with my dad. my grandma took me to the theater constantly when i was little. i remember pete's dragon (1977) being the first time i ever saw a line all the way through the theater parking lot. i remember the little league team all going to see the empire strikes back (1980) together. i remember a lot of formative film experiences but never before had i made the discovery first. until this point, things had always been shown to me. this was different, this was mine. so, i went to school the next day and at recess i was trying to describe it to everyone. i wasn't expecting much of a response. it was a well established fact that i liked the "weird" things. to my surprise, not only had gordon stumbled across it as well but he had really liked it. i would have always thought it was just not his cup of tea. there were hidden depths there that i had never suspected before. to this day, i am glad i mentioned it that day on the playground. thanks, bill forsyth, for teaching me to not underestimate my friends. and also for teaching me that sometimes a susan is even better than a dorothy. check it out, if you find time between matches this month. there are valuable lessons in it for all of us.

now then - slovenia!!


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for zaat (1975). to call this a B movie would be diplomatic, to say the least. to call it a Z would be the easy joke. let's say more like a W. it actually contains the line "they think i'm insane! they're the ones who are insane!", no joke. that takes nerve.



my friend b makes some of the loveliest short films i have ever seen. and i would say that even if i didn't know what a great person she is.

she manages to collect the things we discard as useless, things we take for granted, things we never even knew were there and make art out of them. obsolete maps, buttons, bits of string, pictures of your mother, clothes that are only good for rags anymore, frost on the window. she takes these things and delicately stitches them together with steam and birdsong and spider webs. things that were once loved that had long gone missing are given a chance to be loved again.

this is one of my favorites, my lot (2009):

i'm also pretty fond of this one, cycles (2007):

and here's a new piece, the well (2010):

if you'd like to keep up with her, i highly recommend following her blog, operation bumblebee. you'll find some lovely photography there as well.

i can think of no better endorsement than to tell you that what she does makes me feel peaceful, if only for one to six minutes at a time. if you know me, you know that's rich and rare.


trailer tuesday

in honor of the arrival of june in texas, this week's entry is for martin ritt's the long, hot summer (1958). an amalgamation of a handful of william faulkner tales, this sweltering, swaggering piece of work marks the first teaming of paul newman and joanne woodward. they married shortly after completion of the film and remained so for the next fifty years until newman's death in 2008.

as triple digit temperatures approach, i will consider it no less than abject failure if my summer is not this completely lurid, a real barn-burner.


blue language, adult positions, mature delicacies

we'll just get this out of the way up front - this man is (was) the devil. there is no love lost between us.

for the unititated, that's jack valenti. he was the head of the MPAA for almost forty years and the movie rating system that is currently in place was his brainchild. he was an advocate of the major studios. he was a politician in the most base sense of the word. valenti, his creation and its administration go under the microscope in kirby dick's this film is not yet rated (2006).

i think this film's greatest merit is simply as the initiator of an important conversation. while it is provocative and makes a number of valid points, i think it ultimately falls short of its intended mark. the broader cultural questions addressed in the film are part of a much larger and infinite struggle - our perceptions of man versus woman, hetero- versus homo-, sex versus violence. when the film limits itself to demonstrating exactly how hypocritical the MPAA is in dealing with these issues is when it shines. through a number of side by side examples, it doesn't take long to establish a pattern. for the MPAA, female pleasure is obviously much more disquieting than male pleasure and certain heterosexual activity is acceptable but homosexual activity of the same (or shorter) duration and explicitness is definitely not. these concrete examples combined with interview footage of valenti constantly being contradicted by himself and those in his organization are a fairly damning document of what is considered business as usual at the MPAA offices. the conclusion i draw is that now, much like in 1968 when the current system replaced what remained of the antiquated hays code, it is time for something new. this, or at the very least, the method with which it is applied, just isn't making it anymore.

a large part of where the film falters is with the cloak and dagger unmasking of the MPAA ratings board members. dick hires a private investigator to find out the particulars of the participants in this process and, while the information they dig up is important - several members don't fit within the guidelines established by the organization, senior raters meet with studio personnel - the way they present it puts me off. where serious investigative journalism would do wonders, we are treated to what amounts to amateur and juvenile pranks. these segments are about as hard hitting as "do you have prince albert in a can?". it is simply unfortunate, the subject at hand deserves better. armond white, who i am no fan of either, makes a number of interesting points in his review regarding both the recklessness of the investigation and the myth of "indie fearlessness". i never thought i would ever say this, but i think armond white is correct (to some degree). this was bungled.

all that being said, this film is not yet rated needs to be out there, it needs to be seen. it does, however clumsily, shine a much needed light on a flawed, corrupt system. i think far too few people, even people involved in film, are aware of the shadowy and unfair practices of the ratings board. if you are interested in all aspects of how movies are made it would be in your best interest to check it out. then you, like a grown adult, can decide what to take from it. what a wacky idea.


cover me

during the course of an average workday i see a lot of dvd cover art. when you see that many, patterns begin to emerge, threads start to develop. i am continually puzzled by one thing in particular - how can so much marketing budget be spent on such shoddy, lazy work? you know they have invested a great deal of time and money in figuring out just exactly what images are going to move the most units. by extension, these must be the images people truly respond to. in this recurring feature we're going to take a gander at just what it is the dvd buying public find most compelling.

today's installment - "who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? the shadow nose."

look at how duplicitous! who can you possibly trust?! it seems affleck, jackson and freeman have an iron grip on the silhouetted netherworld of the thrilling thriller. is there no one who can help us? is there no one that can throw off their shadowy yoke?

step aside, knaves, and let the queen assume her rightful place. ladies and gentlemen, ashley judd.

there are a lot of things you'll need to help you safely navigate situations fraught with peril and intrigue. it takes razor sharp wits, finely honed instincts and a little luck probably couldn't hurt. first and foremost, though, whatever you do, make sure they get your good side.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for one of the absolute essentials of world cinema - jean cocteau's la belle et la bête (1946).

surrealist poet paul éluard said to truly understand cocteau's rendition of beauty and the beast you must love your dog more than your car. i think he was 100 percent right. it is pure movie magic in the truest sense of the phrase. very few films transport me, but this one has never lost its power to do so. i hope it never does. i think it is a wonder.

you can read a little more about it and order a copy here. there are two options, in fact. if you don't care to have the commentary tracks and bonus features, criterion offers a stripped down version from its essential art house line that's half the price. this is one of a handful of must-own films, in my estimation. it has rewarded me over and over again. i hope it will do the same for you.