Vintage Cable Box: “Eating Raoul, 1982”

“Personally, I draw the line at golden showers.”

Eating Raoul, 1983 (Paul Bartel), 20th Century Fox

Paul Bartel sets up his anarchic exploration of sociology, Eating Raoul, like a pseudo-documentary commenting (with his narration) on the evils of Hollywood; the debauchery, the desperation, and the unusual marriage of food and sex. Mild-mannered snob Paul Bland (Bartel) runs a cash register at a liquor store and (to his manager’s ire) advises his clientele to stay away from cheap alcohol. His wife, Mary Woronov, works as a nurse fending off the advances of her patients. They dream of opening up their own restaurant one day, but the high cost of living (and an absurd rent increase) keeps them from saving the money they need for such a venture.

An amorous swinger attacks Mary and Paul kills him with a frying pan.  They manage to cover up the crime and take the money out of his wallet.  This is what entrepreneurs call the “genius” idea.  While Mary has to deal with lecherous bank officers, Paul is stiffed by prospective buyers of his vintage wine.  Paul and Mary have a natural aversion to sex, but they contemplate making Mary into the image of a dominatrix, and then murdering her clients.  The city, being full of “rich perverts”, is a smorgasbord for Paul and Mary’s financial woes.  They interview a dominatrix, who coaches them on various techniques.

Hot-blooded locksmith and part-time hustler Raoul (Robert Beltran) gets wise to their scheme and offers to dump the bodies, and for a time, the three have an easy partnership.  The Blands, though initially amoral, find themselves trapped in an ethical dilemma as they observe Raoul’s obvious opportunism when he extorts them and sets up his own outside deals.  When a client (Ed Begley, Jr. decked out as a hippie) attempts to rape Mrs. Bland, Raoul comes to her rescue and then subsequently seduces her.  Mary, though locked in for the long haul with her sexless marriage to Paul (who she loves dearly), enjoys a sexual awakening with Raoul, who schemes to drop Paul from their partnership.

The “genius” idea.

Bartel’s direction is unsettling. The smutty nature and appeal of the story is juxtaposed (uncomfortably) with the “screwball comedy” texture of the performances. Some of Bartel’s shots recall Douglas Sirk coupled with the subversive stylings of John Waters. Strangely, the movie works as a piece of sexual exploitation even as it parodies such movies. There are some serious laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Paul discovers Raoul is scamming them, jacking the cars of their victims and selling their remains to a dog food company called “Doggie King.” Bartel would later make the companion piece, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills, which reunited him with Woronov and Beltran. Eating Raoul was adapted as a stage musical in 1992.

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.

Advertisements

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.

 

Extreme Cinema! “Don’t Use the Same Gun Twice”

Alternate Title: “McNaughton by Nature”

Here we are again, nauseating you with another episode of Extreme Cinema – Action and Exploitation movies with Andrew La Ganke and David Lawler. Tonight, my stars, but we have two movies directed by John McNaughton, Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael and How to Make an American Quilt … just joking, folks, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Borrower.

Did you know that this movie, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, still plays in theaters?  A quick check on the Googles reveals the Landmark Sunshine Cinema shows the movie; it’s essentially a midnight movie these days, but it still plays in theaters.  The only other film out there that continues to generate this much of an insane midnight movie cult following is, of course, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants – just kidding.  A few episodes of Extreme Cinema back, I mentioned how this is a movie I could never recommend to anybody for fear of getting funny looks from people for the rest of my life; it’s right up there with The Devil’s Rejects, both of these movies, for me, are insanely well-made but they’re extremely hard to get through (for different reasons).  Movies can be excellent, yet almost unwatchable.  

The Borrower is a bizarre movie. I remember first seeing it, chopped to hell and back on the Sci-Fi channel a while back. I think I even saw it before I saw Henry. My mother actually says to me, “Davey, I saw this movie, it was absolutely disgusting, but it was great! You would love it. It’s called The Borrower.” This was back when she liked horror and science fiction. Along with cable tv, and Danny Peary, and Roger Ebert, and my Aunt Marlene, she got me into movies in a big way. We did Jack Sholder last time, and you described The Hidden as being one of the better Terminator rip-offs. I suppose The Borrower fits into that sub-genre, right? The first thing we see is an alien criminal, who is told by a hilarious-looking creature with a voice modulator that he is being sent to Earth as punishment for his crimes, instead of summary execution (which we’re led to believe is somehow more merciful). We see Tom Towles again, this time as another white trash drifter. Is that a potato gun he’s holding? The alien criminal appears, punches Tom (sends him some 20 feet), and then the alien’s head explodes, which is completely normal. The headless alien removes (or “borrows”, as the case may be) Tom’s head and puts it on his shoulders.

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. W do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Vintage Cable Box: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, 1984

cable-box-001-2696

“Listen to me John. How many other white apes have you seen? You’re like me, not them. You have another family, far away, one you have never seen.”

greystoke_xlg

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, 1984 (Christopher Lambert), Warner Bros.

To those who cry over the perceived superiority of the White Male Colonialism as personified in Kipling, perhaps the easy mixture of pulp and science fiction and authors as diverse as Leigh Brackett and Mickey Spillane, I would argue the truest manifestation of that mentality is found in the pages of Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of the Tarzan franchise. These stories tell of a “jungle man”; raised from childhood by apes to become their “Lord”, if there could be such a thing. The franchise began in 1912 with Tarzan of the Apes and continued successfully until 1947 with Tarzan and the Foreign Legion. The stories were adapted into several lucrative movie series starring Johnny Wiessmeller, Buster Crabbe, and Herman Brix. The franchise enjoyed success in different formats including radio, television, and a couple of stage performances.

In 1981, Miles O’Keeffe portrayed the bare-chested “white ape” in John and Bo Derek’s Tarzan, the Ape Man, which seemed nothing more than a convenient excuse to have Bo wander about a jungle expanse either draped in wet shirts or topless.  The poster for the movie is an illustration of a half-naked Bo swinging on a vine.  Tarzan, the Ape Man was designed to be a fun, exploitation movie, but it was savaged by critics at the time for taking Burroughs’ exploitative source materal and making an exploitation movie with it.  How dare they?  A year later, work would begin on what the film’s producers would foolishly term, “the definitive adaptation” of Burroughs’ character.  Enter Robert Towne, who had been commissioned to write and direct the film.  Towne claimed he was fired from directing because of the financial failure of his interesting Personal Best, but I find his protestation dubious given his impetuous and destructive nature at the time.

Director Hugh Hudson was old-hat at English parlor drama; fresh from collecting Academy Awards for Chariots of Fire, Hudson would later direct the dreadful Revolution with Al Pacino. As a director, he has an unerring capacity for taking exciting, action-oriented source material and just completely draining the life out of it. He’s no slouch here. We have the orphaned child of privileged whites adopted by apes, elevated to god-hood, it seems because of his ability to walk upright and not drown when thrown into water. The child is a gifted mimic, learns their language and mannerisms, and provides food and protection. When a massacre leaves Belgian explorer Phillippe d’Arnot (an excellent Ian Holm) the lone survivor, he is rescued by John, the lonely Jungle Man (quasi-simian, soon-to-be immortal Christopher Lambert) and nursed back to health as d’Arnot puts the pieces together and tries to educate John on his privileged background. As such, in later scenes, d’Arnot is the only man John truly trusts and regards as family.

Phillippe d’Arnot brings John back to civilization, where he is tutored, dressed, fed, and fussed-over by the stuffy upper-class twits of his royal family.  He is thrown into the middle of ridiculous squabbles over descendancy and tutilege while romancing stuck-up hottie Jane (Andie MacDowell with Glenn Close’s affected vocals subbing for her obvious American Bad-Assery).  A later scene has John visiting a museum where he is horrified to see the treatment of his friend-animals, which, in my mind, recalls a similar scene in the Planet of the Apes television series, where ape leader Urko spots an ancient poster in a caved-in subway station depicting apes imprisoned in zoos. He really starts flinging it when his adopted ape father and family is captured and put on exhibition.  He frees his ape brethren and his “father” is gunned down after he sets up housekeeping in a tree with John.  Finally getting it through their heads that this particular white man is a fish out of water when he’s not picking nits off of other creatures, Phillippe and Jane decide to take him home where he doesn’t have to wear pants.

greystoke_the_legend_of_tarzan_lord_of_the_apes_36405_medium

It sounds silly on paper, but despite the obvious artifice, Greystoke is great fun in between leaner moments of British neuroses and inbred stuttering.  Lambert is effective when he does not speak.  His low forehead and static gaze at the prospect of “civilization” reinforces the idea that his apes are all that resemble true nobility and that the white man is the real savage, yet it avoids the preachy qualities filmmakers embrace making movies today.  Towne, suffering the sting of his dismissal from the project, credited the script to his dog, pretentiously named P.H. Vazak.  His dog received an Academy Award nomination (to my knowledge, the only time) for best adapted screenplay, along with Sir Ralph Richardson, who died shortly after filming was completed.  Rick Baker’s ape makeup is truly stunning.

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.

VINTAGE CABLE BOX: “Assault on Precinct 13, 1976”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Anybody got a smoke?”

ASSAULT-ON-PRECINCT-13-1976-poster

Assault on Precinct 13, 1976 (Austin Stoker), Turtle Releasing

Violent crime and gang activity exploded in the turbulent 1960s. South Central Los Angeles was a veritable hodge-podge of gangs, the children of the poor bathed in the anarchy and the blood of their ancestors. They came to America and were shunted away to live in decrepit conditions. The vast migration of whites had started a decade earlier and bedroom communities were established to keep the middle class safe from the poor ethnic variations.

Assault on Precinct 13 comes along at the right time; an exploitation movie in a largely untested genre (the “gang” movie) with a familiar narrative – in this case, a circle-the-wagons scenario. Lt. Ethan Bishop (Austin Stoker) is assigned to babysit a defunct precinct building in dangerous Anderson, Los Angeles. Idealistic and determined, he remembers his childhood home four blocks away, and how he walked out of Anderson when he was old enough.

A prisoner transfer bus stops at the precinct to care for a sick inmate. On the bus are Wells (Tony Burton) and Napoleon Wilson (bad-ass Darwin Joston), who is moving to death row. Meanwhile, a young girl (Kim Richards) is murdered by the leader of the Street Thunder gang. The girl’s father kills the leader, and runs to the precinct building for protection. Combine these three elements and we have an amazing saga. Hordes of gang members descend on the precinct building, cutting the power, and cops join forces with criminals to defend precinct 9, division 13. They use silencers on their guns and remove bodies so no one will know what is happening.

Carpenter merges elements of two disparate genres: the western, and the horror movie. Carpenter’s synthesized score of stings and minor keys play like a rough draft for his famous Halloween score, accompanied by the clean, grain-less night photography and use of shadow, Assault on Precinct 13 plays like a horror movie, but owes more to Rio Bravo, a favorite film of Carpenter’s. The members of the gangs are like faceless entities; robots trained to kill, or the living dead single-minded in their lust for revenge. They are unafraid, and that’s what makes them and this movie completely terrifying. This is a real-world situation. This is something that could happen anywhere at any time.

assault-on-precinct-13-1976-06

What’s innovative about Assault on Precinct 13 is the timelessness of the look. The movie could play today (it was poorly remade in 2005). The lighting design and the cinematography would become a staple of later Carpenter movies like Halloween, The Thing, and Prince of Darkness. Some of my favorite bits occur toward the end of the film. After Bishop shoots a gas tank, burning the remainder of the gang members to death, cops finally take control of the building. After the smoke clears, all the backup cops see is a pile of bodies and three brave souls, a cop, a criminal, and a secretary, and their shell-shocked charge, the girl’s father. When the cops try to take Napoleon away, Bishop rebukes them and says simply to Wilson, “It would be a privilege if you’d walk outside with me.”

There’s so much to pick at with this movie. The characters speak volumes without uttering a single word. The dialogue is kept to a minimum; the proverbial picture being worth a thousand words. Communication is imparted through eye contact and mannerisms. Each of the main characters exist as archetypes: the authority figure, the criminal, the wise-ass, the coward, the brute. It probably wasn’t meant to be picked apart or studied, or analyzed. According to Carpenter, the distributors just wanted a simple $100,000 exploitation movie, but they got so much more.

Assault on Precinct 13 aired on The Movie Channel as part of a retrospective of John Carpenter movies. Among them, Halloween, Dark Star, Escape From New York, and The Thing. Carpenter would go on to direct Stephen King’s Christine, Starman, Big Trouble In Little China and many other fine examples of genre film-making.

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.