Extreme Cinema! “Is It Safe?”

Would ya do me a kindness? Don’t slam the fuckin’ door!

So, we usually talk about movie directors on the fringe with their respective peers. The first episode we recorded was about the deceased David A. Prior, low-to-no budget filmmaker, Deadly Prey and The Deadliest Prey. Fred Olen Ray, Mark Goldblatt, Rowdy Herrington. Tonight, we’re talking about an Academy-fuck-Award winner, John Schlesinger. Midnight Cowboy. Billy Liar. Far from the Madding Crowd. Sunday Bloody Sunday, and the four movies we’ll talk about tonight. I think we both agreed on Schlesinger because you put forth Eye for an Eye as a prime example of exploitation film-making. Upon further analysis, we saw a very eclectic, unusual, iconoclastic film-making career. Mr. Schlesinger passed away July, 2003, but his work remains for us to dissect. He truly was a maverick film director, along the lines of a Sam Peckinpah or a Bernard Rose.

We were messaging the other day and you wrote something interesting: “Schlesinger reminds me of another director we’ve always kind of made fun of…a guy with very few (if any) common threads among a varied body of work, with some ‘classics’ under his belt and a bunch of mediocre warmed over, but technically competent other stuff.

Let’s get to know the man, and we’ll start with Marathon Man from 1976.

“Why don’t you just try acting?”

Marathon Man is famous in acting circles for an often quoted and misquoted exchange between Hoffman and Olivier concerning a perceived difference in their approaches to acting. Hoffman later set the record straight in a retrospective interview, explaining:

“When we got back to Los Angeles [Olivier] said, ‘How did your week go, dear boy?’ And I told him we did this scene where the character I was playing was supposed to be up for three days. He says, ‘So what did you do?’ I say, ‘Well I stayed up for three days and three nights.’ And [Olivier’s] famous line was, ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … It became kind of legend. It’s been quoted so many times, at least in the acting circles. And the truth is I was the first one to quote that line … They leave out the reality and just put in what feels more provocative or a better story. And what accompanied him saying ‘Why don’t you just try acting?’ … He laughed, because he said, you know, “I’m one to talk.” And then he was actually the first one that told me about risking his life every night jumping whatever it was twenty feet in the last act of Hamlet. And the truth of it is I didn’t just stay up three days and three nights for the scene; it was a good excuse, because these were the days of wine and roses in Studio 54″.
— Hoffman, Dustin (Actor). Marathon Man (DVD).

Moving on to 1996’s Eye for an Eye starring Sally Field, Ed Harris, and Kiefer Sutherland.  Ed Harris and Sally Field were both in Places in the Heart. Nice to see Beverly D’Angelo, who was also in Pacific Heights, directed by Schlesinger. So far, scenes of a bucolic life with twinkly music. I get the feeling this is going to be bad.  This is a bit much. Sally’s daughter is being attacked while on the phone with her mother. We can’t get a good look at the attacker. We have a big panic situation, much like Marathon Man. This is effective but weird. Here we have an ice sculpture killing a woman instead of a coffee machine. They should really outlaw these things!

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:36:46

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

 

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Vintage Cable Box: “Silent Movie, 1976”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Non!”

silent-movie

Silent Movie, 1976 (Mel Brooks), 20th Century Fox

In 1976, Mel Brooks was the King of Comedy.  A year-and-a-half previous, he had directed two of the greatest movies (let alone comedies) ever made in Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.  The creative world was his.  He could’ve followed up those two incredible gems with any project that piqued his interest, and he instead chose to take a giant step backward in the evolution of film with a silent movie (appropriately titled Silent Movie).  I always wondered if executives at Fox were worried about this peculiar choice.  If the lack of dialogue wasn’t enough to worry the studio, the subject matter (that of lambasting the studio process and the run of billion-dollar conglomerates insinuating themselves into the creative visual arts) would be sure to give them pause.  Brooks’ power was such that he could do whatever he wanted at the time.

Brooks (in his first starring role) plays washed-up director Mel  Funn, who (along with his buddies Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise), convinces Big Pictures studio chief Sid Caesar to finance his latest work: a silent movie.  Caesar, weary from threats the studio will be taken over by evil corporation, Engulf and Devour (obviously a play on Gulf & Western and their acquisition of Paramount in 1966) agrees on the proviso Funn can sign big Hollywood names to the production.  Funn, Eggs, and Bell immediately set out finding stars for their movie.  The three attack Burt Reynolds in his shower.  They have lunch with James Caan in his wobbly trailer.  They dress in suits of armor to woo Liza Minneli.  They race in electric wheelchairs with Paul Newman.  They dance with and court Anne Bancroft.  Somewhat miraculously, these actors agree to star in Funn’s silent movie, all except for Marcel Marceau, who famously delivers the only line of audible dialogue (see above quote).

Enter Engulf and Devour.  They have an evil plan.  Knowing Funn’s past, they engage sexy vixen Vilma Kaplan (the very hot Bernadette Peters, with her explosive pelvic thrust) to seduce Funn, and then discard him so he’ll take up drinking again.  Eggs and Bell catch on to the scheme and warn Funn, who is so disillusioned and distraught (believe me, I can relate), he crawls into an enormous bottle and is declared “king of the winos”.  Unbeknownst to him (and Engulf and Devour), Vilma has fallen head-over-heels for our pal Mel.  Lucky bastard!  Vilma, Eggs, and Bell pour a hundred cups of coffee into him, sober him up, and start making the movie.  Engulf and Devour executives steal the print of the finished movie before it’s official premiere, so it’s up to the gang to get the movie back, screen it, and save Big Pictures Studios before the conglomerate can complete their take-over.

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Hi Burt!

This is such a damned fun (and funny movie), it’s unusual to watch without narrative-building dialogue quite honestly getting in the way of the sheer physical humor that propels what we see on the screen.  This is a story that doesn’t scream out for dialogue; doesn’t require dialogue.  The three leads (Feldman, in particular, channeling Harpo Marx) are perfectly suited to the exaggerated mannerisms and pantomime necessary to the humor.  Silent Movie is a delicious experiment that would not be repeated in quite this way ever again.  Recently, in viewing and commenting on 2013’s Deadly Prey sequel, The Deadliest Prey (directed by David A. Prior), I bemoaned the terrible dialogue that kills the movie for me, mainly because, in my view, if you don’t have decent actors, it’s going to make the production even worse.  When you remove dialogue, you remove a potential flaw, and if you can’t write good dialogue, don’t bother trying.

I had meant to write this review for quite some time, but I found myself almost consistently distracted by the beauty and talent of Bernadette Peters.  She is seriously sexy in this movie (and in most everything she does).  To my wife’s ire, I required a drool bucket when we sat down to watch the movie.  She also had to pick my jaw up off the floor after watching Vilma’s interpretation of Lecouna’s “Babalu”.  Men!  Anyway, this is the last installment of my tribute to Mel Brooks, who turned 90 yesterday.  God bless him.  In my life as a writer (and sometime filmmaker), I always go back to Mel; a testament to the timelessness of his material.  My wife and I often quote his gags, one-for-one.  Most recently, I rewrote a scene in my own movie, Total Male Fantasy No. 10, in which I instructed my lead to replicate a particular bit from one of Mel’s movies.  It’s odd.  You would think I revere a Welles, or a Kubrick, or a Hitchcock, but no – it always comes back to Mel Brooks.  Please make another film, Mel!

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A picture of Bernadette because … damn!

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

“The Creature That Touches Heaven”

Touches-Heaven

There were three “King Kong ” movies made, original “King Kong” movies, same plot device, few useful derivations, but basically getting on the boat, taking the boat to Skull Island, having a hot blonde lady for company, running afoul of natives, abduction and big apes, or chimps, or monkeys, I can’t tell which, I have to ask Bronwyn again because I always mix those bastards up! Bronwyn knows everything I don’t know, so she knows everything! Bronwyn knows everything! If anybody has a question, I’ll give out her private email address, and put in the subject line: “I want answers” in all-caps.

I am so looking forward to this. I wanted to do more fun stuff on BlissVille for a long time and now here we are!

NEW PODCAST: “The Creature That Touches Heaven”

Touches-Heaven

There were three “King Kong ” movies made, original “King Kong” movies, same plot device, few useful derivations, but basically getting on the boat, taking the boat to Skull Island, having a hot blonde lady for company, running afoul of natives, abduction and big apes, or chimps, or monkeys, I can’t tell which, I have to ask Bronwyn again because I always mix those bastards up! Bronwyn knows everything I don’t know, so she knows everything! Bronwyn knows everything! If anybody has a question, I’ll give out her private email address, and put in the subject line: “I want answers” in all-caps.

I am so looking forward to this. I wanted to do more fun stuff on BlissVille for a long time and now here we are!