meet me at the waterfront after the social

my sister, haylee, is celebrating her 30th birthday!

look at that badass li'l movie lover. i figure this picture is appropriate because, at her request, today's feature presentation is sleepaway camp (1983), which she was probably watching with me somewhere around the time that photo was taken. consider yourselves lucky. her first choice for me to discuss was big business (1988) but her copy of that was somehow conveniently "misplaced" so i couldn't watch it in time to post anything here.

some background - in our family there is a long and illustrious tradition of the adults showing the kids movies they shouldn't see. people still speak in hushed tones about our uncle quillie and the thanksgiving of the texas chain saw massacre (1974), truly a masterstroke. never content to rest on his laurels, not long after that he acquired the neighborhood's first satellite dish (back when they were about eight feet across) and we never looked back. the late night airwaves were our illicit oyster.

down that pipeline of forbidden fruit came sleepaway camp. looking back now, i understand what a truly subversive act it was to sneak this into the vcr. on the surface, this seems to be just another campers-as-cannon-fodder entry in the early 80's slasher sweepstakes. the story begins at the lake, where an innocent bit of horseplay results in an accident that leaves two people dead and one very traumatized child to pick up the pieces. pretty rote stuff. well, your expectations are about to be reduced to ashes when we leap forward eight years and meet aunt martha.

a vision of loveliness, no? angela, survivor of the horrible accident, has been sent to live with aunt martha and cousin ricky, who never met a hat he didn't like. we catch up with the family in this scene that alternately highlights aunt martha's excellent diction, exquisite fashion sense and enormous hands. she is sending the cousins off for a fun-filled summer at camp arawak. what could go wrong?

well, for starters, it seems that not one single adult operating the facility has any business being around children. artie, the lecherous, pedophiliac cook introduces himself with a little monologue peppered with gems like "look at all that young, fresh chicken" and "where i come from, we call 'em baldies". all of this is dismissed by his co-workers with a hearty chuckle. that artie, he's a rascal. it takes about 30 seconds for him to corner and attempt to molest someone. i think we know what's in store for artie.

artie, meet cauldron of boiling water. you won't be touching anymore thirteen year olds with those, you scamp. over the course of these 88 minutes we also see death by drowning, knife, hatchet, curling iron and bee hive. some of the kills are run of the mill slasher fare, a couple are more clever than average. that's not what sets this apart from the pack, though.

what makes this unique among its slasher brethren, and an especially revolutionary act to be sneaking in twenty minutes sections before mom and dad got home from work, was the overwhelming amount of confusing sexual politics and gender identity issues going on in this thing. it is unbelievable.

in the softball game alone, there is almost more repressed homosexuality going on than you can fit onscreen. i post this picture for a cheap laugh at the choices made by a costuming department in 1983 (and there are plenty, why use a whole shirt when you only need half?) but i don't want you to think i have confused that alone for subtext. the cumulative effect of more short shorts on the men than women, the practical jokes that end with faces shoved into bare asses and the less than subtle dialogue all make for a pretty ironclad case. when asked how his summer is going, ricky could say anything. what he says is "it would have been better if there were more guys around". at one point billy asks "who wants to go skinny dipping with fifteen guys and only five girls?" yeah, who let those five girls in here? after mozart falls for the old shaving cream in the hand business he does what any kid would do, chases ricky around the cabin with a huge knife. gene, the swarthy, half-shirted counselor breaks it up and orders "now, everybody in bed. that includes you, loverboy" and every single boy in the room, including gene, piles on paul, the only boy to this point to have much success with the ladies. did i mention angela's "my two dads in bed" flashback? all the sexual exchanges between the boys and girls are tense, awkward and downright angry in a lot of cases. if this movie was an accurate distillation of "growing up can be confusing" then adolescence would have a higher mortality rate than the black death. this thing throws an awful lot at an audience that was expecting nothing more than some good clean homicide. slashing takes a backseat, without a doubt.

and we haven't even talked about the ending yet.

oh man, the ending. i won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it. unfortunately, that also means i can't discuss how it goes a little awry in its handling some of the aforementioned issues. we can talk about it later, when you stop having dreams about angela hissing at you on the darkened lakeshore. don't worry, you'll be alright. look how haylee turned out.

happy birthday, haylee! it seems like only yesterday both mom and aunt martha were saying "i always wanted a girl".



i enjoy violence. it's not a popular sentiment, i know, but it is an honest one. i think if more people were honest with themselves and others they would say the same. i'm thinking, for instance, of fans of something like murder she wrote. that demographic would, typically, never be one to openly embrace violence but the thing they enjoy so much wouldn't exist without it. there is no program if one character has not committed the ultimate transgression against another. it's the same with any of the forensics shows that are so popular, fiction or nonfiction - the catalyst for what fans of those enjoy is mayhem, man's inhumanity to man. now, the people i am talking about may prefer their violence offscreen (or polite, if it's onscreen) but they prefer it, at least implicitly, all the same.

i suppose i should qualify my enjoyment a little more, for clarity's sake. i enjoy depictions of violence in art, to a large degree, the same way i enjoy depictions of things like sex, eating, moments of tedium, sleep and driving. they are necessary. they are what we do. to attempt to create a body of work that depicts and reflects the human condition that ignores these things is, at best, incomplete and, at worst, fraudulent. they can be realistic, they can be hyper-stylized, but they must be. that being said, i certainly do not deny the shiver of satisfaction my reptilian brain sends out upon seeing something receive a good and thorough smashing. wading in to scratch both of those particular itches comes nicolas winding refn's bronson (2009).

bronson is the twisted tale of michael peterson, britain's most violent and expensive criminal. initially sent up on a seven year bid for a botched post office robbery that netted a grand total of £26, his inability to keep his head down and do his time has resulted (so far) in 34 years of incarceration, 30 of those in solitary confinement. prison, it seems, is his calling. it is the one place where he could, as he puts it, sharpen his tools.

a lot of comparisons have been made between this film and stanley kubrick's a clockwork orange (1971) but i think those similarities are strictly superficial. there is a bit of a shared aesthetic and the music cues will take you there on occasion but i think that's where it ends. clockwork asked some difficult questions about the punitive elements of rehabilitation and the insidious nature of social determinism. bronson asks no such questions. it asks very few questions at all, in fact. it touches briefly on the lure of celebrity and the failures of the penal system in general but, for the most part, it is strictly a stylish and savage character study. and this character is something else.

peterson, who later took the name of the actor charles bronson as his nom de guerre, narrates his story from within a theater of the mind construct, complete with captive audience. he acts as our guide from one vignette to another, outlining stints as a student, failed thief, mental patient, bareknuckle fighter and budding artist, always interrupted by a riot, hostage taking and/or the inevitable greased, naked melee with prison guards. everything is prelude to confrontation. it's as if after you strip away everything the man is not all you are left with is fists.

and it's not much more complicated than that. no blame is cast here. it's not mum and dad's fault. it's not society's fault. he seems to simply be hardwired for havoc. he also seems to adhere to a peculiar code all his own. it's not an admirable code, necessarily, but a code all the same. the film itself doesn't particularly seek to either condemn or glorify the man, but any political intentions of the film, what little there are, are completely overtaken by its central performance.

there aren't enough superlatives for what tom hardy does in this film. you are unable to take your eyes off of him. he is volatile, terrifying and hypnotic. he completely commands the screen. it veers into caricature at times, and i suspect hardy imbues this bronson with seductive qualities the real-life version does not possess, but goddamn, it is impressive. by all rights, this kid should be a superstar. the film is good - solid, well-crafted, if a little noncommittal - but this performance is great, electric. even if everything else about it was meritless (which is hardly the case), i could recommend the movie on the strength of what he does alone. hardy is reason enough to see it. he is ferocious, sometimes more animal than man.

so see bronson. revel in it, even, maybe just a little. maybe, as the film implies, he was a true artist and violence was simply his chosen medium. maybe he was just a lunatic who didn't have the good sense to save himself a lifetime in the penitentiary. maybe a little vicarious exploration is good for all of us. just remember, we don't have to learn everything by doing.


the gruesome twosome

may 27th is officially the most fright-filled day on the calendar. can you imagine being at this birthday party?

that's right. vincent price and christopher lee, born on the same day. unfortunately, vincent has shuffled off this mortal coil but sir christopher is still out there, in the dark, waiting to get you. happy birthday, dracula. pour one out for vincent today.


come on up to the hausu

dear lord, i don't even know where to start with this thing.

janus films is currently touring a print of nobuhiko obayashi's hausu (1977) to select theaters around the country in advance of a rumoured dvd release on criterion in early september. we are lucky enough to have it this week in austin at the alamo drafthouse. there's really nothing i can say to accurately describe this film to you. just forget everything you know about how a movie should be made and give in to the mad logic that exists nowhere else except the 88 minutes captured within.

it starts off simply enough. a group of schoolgirls, after a disappointing change in plans, decide to go to one of the girls' aunt's house for summer vacation to have an idyllic getaway in the countryside. now, when i say simply enough, you have to understand that by this point i have already accepted the conditions obayashi has laid out for us. for, in this seemingly simple introduction, he has already thrown every visual trick in the cinematic book at us - stop motion, all manner of dissolves, fades and wipes, inexplicable slow motion, iris in/out - not to mention aborted musical numbers and a stepmother who apparently takes a wind machine everywhere she goes. take all that and cram it into an early 80's sitcom, a la the facts of life and you're beginning to get a general idea.

then it gets weird.

unfortunately, this bunch's mrs g. isn't nearly as nice. turns out the girl's aunt is the ghost of cannibal witch. yeah, i said it. as soon as the girls arrive it doesn't take long for the fat one to disappear. but don't worry. she shows up again.

and, wouldn't you know it, she's still hungry.

the girls each begin to suffer increasingly bizarre fates at the hands of this demonic house, all seemingly instigated by blanche, the aunt's supernaturally gifted cat - possessions, made into clocks, eaten by lamps. poor melody suffers the most ironic punishment, though. the piano decides to make a snack of her as she plays the lilting theme music of the film.

apparently, having a murderous steinway chomp off most of your fingers is only mildly interesting. at worst, it is just confusing. you don't really worry about it until it takes one off at the wrist.

goodbye, carnegie hall! toss in a tidal wave of cat's blood and a scene with their would-be rescuer, mr. togo, that is simply bananas and you're in the home stretch. a little denouement with stepmom and her wind machine and all is in its proper place.

in a nutshell, you simply have to see it to believe it. you'll certainly never see anything else like it, i am certain of that. it is a genre of one. most folks will have to wait until the dvd release in september, but if you are lucky enough to live in one of the cities where it will be playing over the next couple of months, i recommend you catch it in the theater. this much lunacy is a bargain at any price, much less the cost of one movie ticket. it will be an experience unlike any other you've had. take a friend!

tonight a dj saved my film

i wrote a few posts back about chantal akerman's hotel monterey (1972) and briefly noted that the music included in the clip i posted isn't actually in the film itself. today, i wanted to expand a little on just how much emotional heft music has when it interacts with film, successfully or otherwise. to demonstrate just what i mean i am suggesting a little exercise.

here is a small section of fantastic planet (1973), rené laloux's animated, surrealist, science fiction wonder.

of the thousands of films i have seen, no other even comes close in terms of how much the musical accompaniment changes what you see onscreen. also, no other film i have ever seen is as wide open in what soundtrack/score you can successfully apply to it. it is the most malleable and durable piece of film i can think of for this example. if you have others you can recommend, i would love to see them.

the instructions for today's exercise:

one - play the clip i have provided with the volume muted.

two - provide your own soundtrack/score. i have tried everything from kay starr to erik satie to cannibal corpse, all of them equally effective. each spin of the wheel will make for an entirely new viewing experience.

three - let me know what you tried and how it worked. are they songs that have a particular emotional attachment for you? how much does what you have emotionally invested in a particular piece of music dictate how you view the clip? was there music that just didn't work at all? anything you'd like to tell us about your experiment would be great.

p.s. i am well aware, by the way, of the dark side of the moon/wizard of oz vibe of this whole thing but we're pushing past that. what i want to think about today is how much we depend on art, consciously or subconsciously, and how much the arts depend on, and contextualize, each other. looking forward to hearing about what you find!


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for the thin man goes home (1945). in just a few short hours i shall be in my accustomed seat in row q of the lovely paramount theater taking in a double feature of this and another thin man (1941). these are the fifth and third entries in the thin man series of films, respectively. while the series began with an adaptation of the dashiell hammett novel of the same name, by the time we get to this fifth installment we have strayed pretty far from the source material. the setting is considerably less urban than where we start from. fortunately, nick and nora are no less urbane. austin friends, i am headed down there at about 6 p.m. (in time to catch the pre-screening performance by radio park at 6:30) if you would like to join me.


vitagraph, american: auxiliary division

a facebook can be pretty handy.

as a result, i have started up a page for the blog over there. this is going to serve a few purposes.

one - it will make vitagraph a more social, interactive experience for everybody. make a new friend! make a new enemy! fall in love! argue about george lucas' plaid shirts!

two - that will be the home for little cinema-related tidbits that i wouldn't normally include here - news stories, informal polls, et cetera.

three - as that's where everyone is spending most of their virtual time it will make invitations to starlite cinema series screenings easier for vitagraph to distribute and anytime i am planning a paramount/alamo drafthouse run it will be much easier/faster for interested parties to participate there than here.

four - it will make it more available to people who don't know me personally and/or don't connect me with the blog. as it is now, you'll only get those updates if you are my friend or are friends with someone who occasionally shares my entries. with any luck, a more public option will equate to more participants.

five - perhaps most importantly, it will keep the frequent updates out of my personal newsfeed and only put them in front of people who have expressed an interest in taking part. don't want to bombard folks with material they couldn't care less about.

so, if you have a moment, go here, check it out and click that "like" button. and please feel free to pass the word along to folks that you think might be interested. thanks.


starlite cinema series

well, that was pretty fun. we just had our inaugural installment of the starlite cinema series with the help of our fine friends at the annie street arts collective.

we talked a little film noir, watched a couple of short subjects from the crime does not pay series, circa 1941 followed by edgar g. ulmer's detour (1945) out under the stars on what turned out to be a pretty fine central texas evening.

the world of film noir, especially detour, is kind of a bleak way to kick off a series but it seemed to go over very well. i think i was the only person in attendance who had seen it before so i am grateful to everyone who came for having faith in the notion that i would show them something worth their time. my friend mary's response was the best kind of compliment i could receive - a sincere thanks followed by "i probably would never have seen that if you hadn't shown it to us". that means an awful lot to me. a heartfelt thank you to everyone who came out.

our next installment - starlite cinema series: outside in - is slated for saturday, 6.26.10 at 9 p.m. i will be screening a pair of documentaries that focus on art taking place decidedly outside of the mainstream.

first up is off the charts: the song-poem story (2003). i am sure at one time or another you have all seen ads similar to these in the back of tabloids, comic books, et cetera. these are the pop music equivalent of who's who among american high school students. i cannot do justice to the artists whose submissions include now legendary titles like "do you know the difference between big wood and brush?" and "human breakdown of absurdity". instead, let me introduce you to caglar juan singletary.

i will be following that with monster road (2004), brett ingram's fascinating portrait of legendary underground animator bruce bickford. once a collaborator of frank zappa's, he has continually been laboring away for the last several decades building and rebuilding little universes in a sort of self-imposed commercial exile. here's a trailer so you can get an idea of what he does:

it's going to be a fine evening. come spend it with us if you get the chance.


the TAMI show

nope, not that one.

i am here today to sing the praises of the texas archive of the moving image because what they do is pretty wonderful. the organization was founded in 2002 and these fine folks are devoted to collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting texan, and texas-centric, moving images. their library is extensive and contains just about every type of output you can imagine - home movies, regional indie films, instructional videos, industrial films, television broadcasts and major studio films, including some international projects - all somehow related to the heritage of the texas motion picture.

the history of the motion picture in texas is full of notable documents - established classics like hud (1963) and the last picture show (1971), more idiosyncratic efforts like the whole shootin' match (1978) and slacker (1991), the footage of the apollo missions originating from NASA in houston which turns up in the documentary for all mankind (1989), among other places, and the world's most famous home movie, the 486 frames of 8mm film that abraham zapruder shot in dallas on 11.22.63. these, and countless other examples like them, add up to a pretty rich and significant film history.

thanks to the TAMI all of us can take part in building that history. this is the best thing about them, in my opinion. do you have home movies that are of great sentimental value to you or your family that you would like preserved? great! they offer a digitization service. they will clean up (as best they can) your original elements and make you a digital copy of anything you'd like to bring them. if the condition of your items has degraded to the point that it would be dangerous to try to copy them they can refer you to folks who specialize in restoration. 16mm, 8mm, super 8, vhs, beta - they can transfer just about anything. this service is completely free of charge as long as your material is texas-related - shot in texas, by texans or about texas - and you agree to let them post a copy in their online library. you retain the copyright to any and all material and they will even teach you how to better store and care for the original elements. win-win.

their library is a treasure trove of little epiphanies. you can take a glimpse into people's daily lives, catch news bulletins you might have missed fifty years ago and see history as it was being written.

here are a few favorites:

and on and on. i could spend hours digging around in these archives. i hope you have fun with it. i hope you find something that makes it worth your while. if you're not from texas, i'd be interested in hearing if there are similar programs wherever you hail from. texans, i heartily recommend that you avail yourself of their services if you have anything you want to preserve and see saved for posterity. make some history.


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 - "i know. it's crazy, but what can you do?"

holy cats! can you even begin to imagine all the wacky situations these characters find themselves in? hijinks galore!

check out chris rock and how subtle he is. he doesn't even have to use his hands. deal with that, travolta, wilson and ruffalo, you clowns! (sorry, i owed chris rock one for this.)

this is just a tiny sampling, by the way. i've seen dozens and i suspect there are hundreds of variations on this tired theme. the bad news - someone out there thinks this is funny. the worse news - someone out there thinks that you think this is funny. in my opinion, someone needs to receive a strongly worded letter. if that doesn't work maybe we can enlist john travolta and a gorilla to kidnap the marketing department whiz kids that come up with these. i know. it's crazy, but what can you do? (cue sad trombone).


something old, something new

from out of left field comes the best title sequence i have seen in ages. david bullock's work on justice league: the new frontier (2008) is just lights out. those of you that know darwyn cooke's graphic novel will see just how adroitly bullock fits a lot of story and background into two minutes. for the unititiated, you can just marvel (DC, actually) at how amazing this looks. it is perfectly evocative of the atomic age, with its saul bass-inspired, chunky artwork and retro palette.

these still frames give you some idea but you really should see it in motion. check it out. in fact, spend some time at that site if you can. the fine folks at the art of the title sequence have assembled all sorts of li'l gems for your viewing pleasure.

and if you want to dig into the unparalleled work of the master of this style, you can visit a fantastic saul bass archive here. his iconic work is inextricably linked with otto preminger and alfred hitchcock. you may not know the name but i'll bet you've seen the art. top notch!

trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for operation mad ball (1957). the film itself is a serviceable enough service comedy, a better than average g.i. romp. i give you this trailer, however, to encourage you to watch more ernie kovacs. this only gives you a tiny glimpse of the man's sense of humor but, trust me, the cat was way ahead of his time. without him there is no laugh-in, no monty python's flying circus, no saturday night live. to this day, he is still one of the wittiest, most visually inventive and revolutionary comics i have ever seen. his demeanor, delivery and sense of the absurd were without peer in the fledgling field of television. he was truly one of a kind.


please put me back in the water

there are some days when the state of the art simply does not satisfy. instead, it leaves me cold. on days like those i am profoundly grateful for things like paddle to the sea (1966).

this tiny jewel is bill mason's adaptation of holling c. holling's children's book from 1941 and is full of the kind of simpler pleasures they simply do not put into movies for children anymore. it follows the story of a canoe and rider, lovingly carved by hand, from the spring thaw in western ontario to its eventual arrival in the atlantic ocean. paddle to the sea's journey is fraught with peril, both natural and man-made, but he perseveres, and along the way we are treated to some beautiful nature cinematography and a valuable lesson or two.

i can't say enough about how much i love this movie but here are at least a few reasons why:

it's great for kids and kids need this movie now more than ever. as of this writing, when you enter "kids schedule maker" in a google search you get 232,000 hits, the very first one being specifically for preschool children. you people are insane. this film is a perfect antidote to just that very mindset. it begins with kyle, a young boy in the nipigon country of canada, patiently carving and decorating the canoe and accompanying figure. taken with the idea of adventure beyond the bounds of the world he knew, he aimed for something magnificent and was diligent and devoted to that dream. now, when i was just a li'l shaver my head was full of these kinds of ideas. i tied notes to balloons, put messages in bottles, turned my hardy boys books into safes for all my "valuables" and imagined buried treasure everywhere. when i was a kid, you could wholly invest yourself in a crazy idea like "i'm going to carve a canoe and it's going to sail from here to the ocean". i was fortunate, i suppose. my parents worked hard to encourage and foster my imagination and my generation was, quite possibly, one of the last that was truly allowed to be kids. we played outside until the streetlights came on, got dirty, got hurt sometimes, had pocketknives, jumped our bicycles off of things, caught spiders and snakes and none of it required a daily planner. it is simply tragic that so much of the spontaneity and exploration and room for that kind of magic has been administrated out of kids' lives today.

there's a great deal in the film for adults, as well. it is an elegant metaphor for the journey we are all on together. there is a certain amount of nostalgia to it, yes - the narration, style and tone are certainly of a very specific time - but the implicit emphasis on the value of serenity in the midst of trial and turmoil is something we can all stand to be reminded of anytime. our little wooden hero placidly sails on, smiling no matter what comes his way. sometimes he needs a little help from his friends, sometimes he does just fine even though he has no paddle or arms free to paddle with. sometimes he is right in the thick of the action, sometimes he drifts by in the margin, silently observing. undaunted, he reaches the sea.

it really is a beautiful meditation. take the time to see it if you can and revisit, if only briefly, that part of your life when your happiness was looked after so you had time for flights of fancy. and if you have kids please show it to them. watch it together. let them know the world out there is exciting and vast and there is still plenty of room for wonder in our lives if we just take the time to look for it.

you can get an excellent print of the movie here. if you're not inclined to buy it, you can see it on youtube in three sections starting here. and if you ever find me struggling or gone astray please follow these simple instructions...


don't go changing

the person that decided dorothy malone should be a blonde for the entire latter part of her career is an idiot.


crazy heart attack

ok, jeff bridges was great as the lovable town drunk, otis, in crazy heart (2009) but his was a fine performance in an otherwise fair film. personally, i think his oscar was more of the we owe you one/martin scorsese/lifetime achievement award type. but let's take him out of the equation and look at what's left.

colin farrell? stick that pretty boy in any true texas honkytonk and you'll find him sitting in the parking lot picking gravel out of his skin by the end of the evening. outlaw country had to be born to kill countrypolitan in the late sixties. i say it's high time to get waylon jennings out of his cryo chamber and sic him on this new strain of "musicians" that farrell's character represents who rely on their stylists more than any perceived talent they have.

maggie gyllenhaal? a very good actress who has done exceptional work in the past. unfortunately, she isn't given much to do here. the stock character she is saddled with doesn't have much to yield.

redemption? this is what everyone wants to see, right? the standard melodramatic arc of screw up and make it right. well, to hell with all that. why don't you just tie maggie gyllenhaal to the train tracks and twist your mustache while you're at it? remove all these things from this safe, sanitized fairy tale and what you are left with is what i really came here to talk about today - daryl duke's payday (1973).

payday is the story of second-tier country singer maury dann, a monster made of raging id and benzedrine. in the thirty-six hours of his life that we are privy to, he destroys or consumes every single person and thing in his path. the vacant alabama landscapes that pass by his cadillac windows are no match for the burnt out void where any semblance of a conscience might have lived in this man. by the end of the opening scene, he has seduced/coerced someone else's girlfriend into having sex in the parking lot. over the course of the next 103 minutes we will see him visit his infirmed mother who, as it turns out, is just waiting for him to show up and dole out a literal fistful of pills from his guitar case, fire his guitar player after a fistfight and steal his girl, scream down the highway at 95 miles per hour firing his pistol at his band's vehicle, wreak serious havoc with the groupie hierarchy by having sex with one in the back of the car while the other is (mostly) asleep next to them, leave the groupie who has outlived her usefulness to fend for herself by the side of the road, show up unannounced for his kid's birthday (he's not sure which kid, he has his dates wrong by anywhere from four months to four years) and, finally, leave his driver to take the fall for a murder that he committed. in short, he is an unmitigated, unrepentant, complete son of a bitch. you hear that, maury? you are a total bastard.

yeah, that's what i thought.

there are two things i find utterly remarkable about this film.

one - this is no mere artifact. although it was made in 1973, before the mainstream really embraced willie and waylon and the boys, in the thirty-seven years hence no one has made any more accurate a document of the life of the itinerant, shitheel musician. thirty-six hours spent with maury dann feels like a lifetime of dingy motel rooms. you can smell the stale smoke, whiskey and sweat. it's like your movie screen actually has pores. i think it speaks volumes about the film's unflinching approach to the general unsavoriness of the lifestyle that even now, when standards about what you can show onscreen are so much more relaxed, that no one has done it better. you have to remember, at the time, the general public's exposure to country music performers was essentially limited to what you could see on the somewhat sachharine hee haw and the grand ole opry and the opry wasn't nationally broadcast for a television audience on a regular basis until 1978. this movie must have felt like a punch in the gut to the average country music fan who wandered into this thing when it was first released. the fact that some of your heroes are subsisting almost solely on a diet of drugs, liquor and sex - all of it cheap - could not have been easy news for middle america to take. that being said, none of this plays like tabloid material. it is not sensationalized. it is played completely straight. it just happens to be incredibly ugly.

two - my favorite breaker and enterer, rip torn.

this is, hands down, rip torn's finest moment onscreen. he is relentless. no one gets off the hook here, least of all him. he's going to drive this character into the ground come hell or high water. the barely controlled violence within the man eats away at all it touches. destruction is inevitable and it shows up in even the most minor, fleeting moments. he breaks the windows of his own home. he breaks pieces off of the lampshade during conversation. he breaks men and women just as indiscriminately. and when things get to the point that there is nothing and no one left to use up, what does he do? he pushes himself up against that grinding wheel. when the ramifications of the murder he committed can no longer be avoided he simply puts the hammer down and runs until his heart explodes.

you can pick up a copy of this movie here for a song. for better double feature material than crazy heart, i recommend tender mercies (1983) instead. either way, watch payday. look how happy it would make ol' maury dann.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is a special little slice of madness - sonny boy (1989). yes, that is david carradine.


my second favorite mom

edwina mcdunnough from raising arizona (1987) is the greatest mom in all of cinema, barrenness notwithstanding. she's a whiz behind the wheel, she knows "down in the willow garden" and she'll make sure you get your dip/tet. most importantly, she loves nathan jr. so much. she walks straight into the teeth of certain doom without flinching to save that baby. she's almost as badass as my mom.


musical heroes

i wish i could play the piano like chico marx.

this clip from animal crackers (1930) is great for all kinds of reasons - the anarchic silliness, harpo plays a little piano as well, groucho provides running commentary. my favorite thing about it, though, occurs at 2:56 when chico really starts to play. the look on his face says it all.


trailer tuesday

this week's entry is for my second favorite robert altman film, the long goodbye (1973). elliott gould plays chandler's knight-errant as if he just awoke from a thirty year nap and found himself in the loony bin that was southern california in the seventies. altman's camera never stops moving but you would never notice it. and the theme music turns up everywhere - on the radio, as muzak, even as a mariachi tune. my favorite version of it, though, is the one they use in the trailer. jack sheldon does vocals on this one. most of my generation will recognize him from conjunction junction. if you've somehow missed this one you really should see it.


we always have a synthetic on board

the final day of texas frightmare weekend was a pretty low-key affair with one significant highlight.

albert pyun, director of the sword and the sorcerer (1982), among other things, was scheduled to lead a discussion in the afternoon but had to bow out due to illness. his absence opened up a spot in the schedule that had festival organizers scrambling to find someone to step in. who could they get on such short notice?

the mighty lance henriksen, that's who.

when i attended texas frightmare three years ago the greatest surprise was the panel they called "inside the B-actors studio". the guest for that event was clint howard and that hour flew by like it was ten minutes. he was self-effacing, down to earth, smart and funny. it was a joy to listen to him talk about his experiences. in an industry where the maxim "don't confuse the art with the artist" was never more true it's always refreshing to come across the ones who seem to be doing it the right way. after yesterday, those guys are two for two.

lance henriksen spoke for an hour or so and was forthright, affable and entertaining. i would like to think these (primarily) genre guys are like that. they know the work they are doing isn't always going to be taken so seriously so they maintain a decent sense of themselves. when it comes down to brass tacks, though, i know that's not going to be true for a lot of them. they are actors, after all. henriksen, though, seems to have found a healthy balance between making low budget films without doing any low budget acting and having fun in the process. all he says he needs are conspirators. if he can achieve an understanding with the people he is working with and they are all striving together then he can find value in any job. he told a handful of great anecdotes about everything from james cameron to steven seagal (apparently insane) to his relationship with his daughter to his need for labor resulting in his pottery hobby. he was particularly enthusiastic about interacting with the fans and hijacked the panel from the moderator and gave it to the audience instead. my favorite thing about it, though, was how simply honest the guy was. it seemed like he held nothing in reserve and answered every question as thoroughly as he could. at one point, he told the assembled, which included a number of (sort of) filmmakers, "i love everything about movies that you guys do but just because you've seen a lot of movies doesn't mean you can make them. it's a craft". i hope some of them took that to heart. after some of the things we had been through in the past couple of days it was all sara could do to not give him a one-person standing ovation right then and there. someone needed to say it and i am glad they heard it straight from bishop's mouth.

all in all, it was a good weekend. good, not great. loyd cryer and his staff are doing a good job with an event that may be growing a little faster than they can keep up with. in their favor, the guests they book are top notch and have only gotten better every year. that's their sunday punch. everything else is lagging slightly behind. once some of the technical and logistic aspects are fine tuned and the quality of the panels, workshops and screenings is brought up to match the quality of their guest bookings then they're really going to have something. i do think it is heading that way. at five years old, it is still a young event and they are making consistent progress. i would imagine by year ten it will be a proper monster. maybe then we can all have zombie lunchables and dick miller will meet tom atkins in the thunderdome. see you there.


scarecrows don't vote on custom car shows

because they have no brains.

when, upon our arrival, i saw a zombie enjoying a lunchable i knew that day two of texas frightmare weekend would be a significant improvement over day one.

it had its share of pleasant surprises, the most notable of which was the panel discussion of the new remake of i spit on your grave (2009). after the first night of barely literate "filmmakers" having their way with us, imagine my shock at finding the cast and director of this remake (which i am still skeptical of, don't misunderstand me) to be intelligent, thoughtful and articulate about the work they had done on this project. it must have been a daunting task to take on this much-maligned source material. people have been talking about it for thirty-two years now and it is no less controversial today than when it first screened. if you haven't seen the original, i recommend it but be warned, it is a grueling experience. they showed two clips from the new version and, while it is impossible to tell much from a total of about seven minutes of footage, the tension they created was palpable. sarah butler, who is cast as jennifer in this version, seems like a worthy heir to camille keaton and spoke at length about the dichotomy of just how difficult it was to go to such dark places as an actor and the elation that follows from so thoroughly and freely exploring those parts of yourself. in the end, it may not be worth a damn but, at the very least, it was nice to see that the principals were operating with the intent of honoring the original, put a lot of thought and all of their energy into the work, are obviously knowledgeable about the horror genre (and film in general) and appreciate the fans.

the john carpenter panel was marred by audio problems, at least from where we were sitting. that time would have probably been better spent at the movie prop auction taking place just outside. zelda rubinstein's necklace from the poltergeist series of films sold for $1150. chris rock's suit from death at a funeral (2010) sold for $75.

owned, chris rock! from beyond the grave! this auction is clean.

the films were a mixed bag. first up there was an anthology of three short films called curious stories, crooked symbols (2009) made by rodrigo gudino, the brains(!) behind rue morgue magazine (which all horror fans should read. it is head and shoulders above its contemporaries). these shorts were a good deal better than anything we saw yesterday but they were still amateur productions. in their favor, at least their antecedents were hitchcock, cronenberg and lynch. after the first night of slasher/torture retreads with zero personality these were like a palette cleanser. each film was unique, psychological rather than gore-oriented and succeeded on at least some minor level. in a nutshell, i can see what he's going for and eventually he will get there. currently, he is working on a feature length remake of cut throats nine/condenados a vivir (1972) with harvey keitel. i will adopt a wait and see position on that one. sidenote, the table that rue morgue magazine set up had a number of illustrations by "ghoulish" gary pullin that were pretty good and sort of an update of the basil gogos tradition. this was my favorite:

spirit camp (2009) was next. "friday the 13th meets bring it on". how could this go wrong? well, to start with you mixed friday the 13th with bring it on. this was another local entry made with the help of some of the same pool of "talent" largely responsible for everything we saw on the debacle that was night one. it was marginally better than those but still nothing you would rate as more than just fair. there were two different ten minute stretches where they sort of hit a stride and i wasn't hating myself for being there. that feeling quickly faded when the lights came up and i was subjected to director kerry beyer's frosted tips during the q & a. i don't have anything good to say about that.

the highlight of the evening was, without a doubt, the screening of the restored, remastered dark night of the scarecrow (1981). i hadn't seen this since its original cbs airdate and i was not certain how it was going to hold up but, in general, it did not disappoint. even without the obvious commercial breaks it certainly plays like a made-for-tv movie. the shorthand they use and the speed at which they (sometimes ham-handedly) establish their premise are distracting but the scene where they execute bubba (a riff on the angry villagers/misunderstood monster trope) is still shocking. in 1981 on cbs on saturday prime time you simply didn't see a bunch of ignorant rabble unloading shotguns into a sweetly retarded manchild. in 2010 it is still sad to see his terror in the face of their hatred. charles durning is the real star of this show and he digs into his first leading role after a life of character work with relish. he is sweaty, frantic, hateful, ugly and desperate. and boy does he get his. the dvd release is slated for 9.28.10 and you can pre-order now. it's like a li'l gift to ten year old me.

day three is going to be all panels, it would appear. albert pyun is going to be here and i would imagine he has some interesting stories to tell. we shall see. wrap-up will be posted tomorrow. see you then.


simply horrible

opening night at texas frightmare weekend was a bust on the film front, and that's being diplomatic.

we saw three, (well, two and a quarter) of the worst movies i have ever laid eyes on. first on the docket is blood night (2009). stale and completely incoherent, this is the filmmaking equivalent of the doctor's little rubber hammer on your knee - not even a genre exercise, more like a genre reflex action. there is no sense to it, it just happens. the addition of horror veterans bill moseley and danielle harris to this, director frank sabatella's first feature (the hell you say), does little to nothing to prop this thing up. one surprising effect with a bucket, maybe several buckets, of blood being thrown from offscreen functions as both the most shocking moment and (unintentional?) comic relief, otherwise this is a waste of time. the misogyny on display certainly gets your attention, though, as within the first few minutes we are treated to the rape of a mental patient and an episode where said mental patient is strafed with bullets by police officers, holding her ground until the climactic head shot. did i mention that she, coincidentally, was completely naked for this?

the next movie, stacy davidson's sweatshop (2009), was somehow even worse. it opens with a police officer strafing an inexplicably naked woman with gunfire until the climactic head shot. what? hold on. yes, it must have been some sort of prerequisite for inclusion in the festival. the rest of the film (which this gratuitous opening scene has nothing to do with) is essentially an extravagant game of whack-a-mole with a bunch of ravers that even my grandmother would refer to as complete douchebags. on the plus side, the special effects were remarkable on what had to be a shoestring budget and i did want every single character to die in the worst way imaginable. every other single thing about this experience was grating. if this is the state of modern horror filmmaking i simply want no part of it. it seems as if every participant has one cynical eye turned toward being the next "franchise" and creating the next iconic character, in this case "the beast".

they seem to forget there needs to be a point to the horror, even if the point is the existential puzzle of the pointlessness of it all. the torture genre just seems useless to me, in general. they kept referring to these things last night as throwbacks or homages to those stalwarts from the eighties but i simply can't believe we saw the same movies. sweatshop, we learned from the illuminating q & a that followed, was originally a porn script in development for hustler in which they simply replaced the sex scenes with kills. that sweatshop would have been better.

hell, watching two hours of this sweatshop would have been better.

the last movie of the evening, texas frightmare massacre (2009), did not begin with a naked woman dying in a hail of bullets so we walked out. actually, it was getting late and, as kristin succinctly put it, "i am not in film school anymore. i don't have to watch this kind of shit". it's kind of a shame it occupied the last slot of the evening, really, because this was the only thing all night that was even slightly clever and had a sense of humor about itself. it was shot onsite at last year's convention and it's pretty much what you would expect from fan fiction shot by horror geeks. in this case, to their credit, the geeks had a couple of good gags and their tongues were planted firmly in cheek. at least for the first fifteen minutes they did. i can't speak to the rest of it.

it wasn't all bad, however, as i did pick up this little gem:

wolfman bobblehead!

we are about to begin day two which promises to be a good deal more entertaining and edifying. i'll let you know how it all works out.