Extreme Cinema! “Lazarus Has Risen”

Oh my goodness! What are we doing here? Fifteen episodes in, and we’re at a season finale that brings us to William Friedkin. As brilliant a filmmaker he could be, he chose to spend an enormous amount of money (for the time) with Sorceror. Ambitious, beautifully shot, and nearly unmarketable, Sorceror would’ve ruined big budget cinema had it not been for the little engine that could called Star Wars (made for half of Sorceror’s budget, and for which Friedkin would blame Sorceror’s failure). Rampage, made in 1987, suffered from the failure of Dino De Laurentiis and DEG. To Live and Die in LA, while not an enormous hit, proved inspirational and influential in the late ’80’s and early ’90s glut of crime/drama action thrillers. Jade? Well. Jade’s another story. We’ll see you in November!

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: 1:39:56

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Vintage Cable Box: “Rear Window, 1954”

“Nothing has caused the human race so much trouble as intelligence.”

Rear Window, 1954 (James Stewart), Paramount Pictures

Freshman year of high school, we had a cocky, smarmy English teacher who enjoyed watching us fumble through Shakespeare, and apparently lived to correct our pronunciations of various phrases and outdated language. In the middle of the semester, he directed our school play, It Had To Be Murder!, based on the Cornell Woolrich story, which would also be adapted as Rear Window. I read for the part of “Jeff”, but was given the part of Doyle, “Jeff”s” cop buddy, who ignores him and lectures him on the U.S. Constitution. Our teacher had an interesting take on how to tell the story. He wanted us to pretend there was an enormous window at the edge of the stage, and when the principal characters are looking at what they think is a murder, we’re actually looking out into the audience. Where “Jeff” is supposed to fall from his window into the courtyard, he simply falls off the stage. The actor playing him, ironically, shattered his coccyx, but luckily he didn’t have to do an encore.

James Stewart is our “Jeff” for this movie. He plays adventurous photographer, Lionel “Jeff” Jeffries who, when he isn’t convalescing (with a broken leg set in a heavy cast) in his tiny one-room apartment in New York’s Greenwich Village, or dodging his gorgeous girlfriend’s demands for a more serious relationship, enjoys peeping on his neighbors across the courtyard. He even has nicknames for them: Ms. “Lonely Hearts,” Ms. “Torso,” etc. Traveling salesman Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) seems doomed to care for his sick wife forever until one night, as “Jeff” drifts off into sleep, he hears (or thinks he hears) the sound of breaking glass and a woman’s scream. The next day, Mrs. Thorwald is nowhere to be seen, so he starts putting pieces together. At first, his girlfriend, Lisa (Grace Kelly) doesn’t believe him, but then she starts putting her own pieces together. His Nurse, Stella (hilarious Thelma Ritter), is all in and begins to speculate about what Lars did to conceal the body.

Lisa’s big pitch is Mrs. Thorwald’s purse. There’s no way she would leave her purse behind if she were going on a trip (this is Thorwald’s alibi to Doyle). My wife always disagrees with her line of reasoning. Maybe she just doesn’t like being pigeon-holed, but it is a woman doing the pigeon-holing, for what it’s worth. Try as he might, “Jeff” can’t convince Doyle to launch an investigation. Doyle tries to tell him about the difficulties of obtaining a search warrant, so “Jeff” puts the two women in his life in danger by sending them out to dig up the garden where they suspect Thorwald has buried his wife’s body parts. Lisa takes it one step further by breaking into Thorwald’s apartment, where she finds his wife’s wedding ring! This is very exciting and suspenseful, especially when Thorwald realizes somebody is watching him from an apartment directly opposite his across the courtyard! You’re seriously on the edge of your seat watching this as it unfolds.

There are beautiful character moments in Rear Window. Lisa (and Thelma’s) bravery in the face of “Jeff’s” obvious impotence in the situation; constricted by a wheelchair and a broken leg. The sarcasm and quick humor of everyday New Yorkers. Lisa and “Jeff’s” near-constant arguments and debates about their relationship and “rear window ethics.” “Jeff” is somewhat turned on by his girlfriend’s courage. What’s even more staggering is that all of this occurs within the confines of a tiny New York apartment. This is a fantastic movie and goes in my top five of Hitchcock movies. Speaking of five Hitchcock movies, August marks Alfred Hitchcock Month on Vintage Cable Box, wherein I will review the five movies (the “missing Hitchcocks” or the “forbidden five”) that were re-released in 1984, and then shown on cable the next year. These were the movies that introduced me to Hitchcock.

Special thanks to Bronwyn Knox for supplying the artwork.

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: Little Darlings, 1980


“Do you realize that I am almost the only virgin in camp? Every girl knows this secret life except me. Look at it this way. It’d be a learning experience.”


Little Darlings, 1980 (Kristy McNichol), Paramount Pictures

On a strange hot summer night, I pop in the old Paramount tape of Little Darlings. I remember the juxtaposition of Kristy McNichol kicking a guy right in the nuts before hopping into a convertible on her way to the summer camp bus, and Tatum O’ Neal going to the same bus in a Rolls Royce. Angel is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s a jean-jacket-wearing little hottie with a chip on her shoulder. Ferris (Ferris?) is a spoiled little rich girl predisposed to shit-eating grins and compulsive lying, but more on that later.

The two girls hate each other, so you know they’re going to wind up best friends by the end of the movie. They even fight on the bus ride. It’s unusual watching girls display this kind of behavior. They push each other, they mix it up, compare the size of their burgeoning boobies, and talk openly about sex and birth control. Both girls find themselves harrassed (for different reasons) at the camp. Ferris and Angel are very quickly revealed (in ways I can’t quite explain) to be virgins, and one particular brat offers up $100 to the first girl who can lose her virginity before camp ends.

The girls engage in the usual summer camp antics; softball, boating (with dreamy counselor/stud Armand Assante – I keep using that word a lot lately), and hiking. Tatum hits it off with Assante (who seems to be flirting with her) as they discuss France and astrological signs. It’s times like this that I wonder if I have what it takes to be a counselor at an all-girls camp. Yes! Yes, I do! The girls choose their intended targets. Tatum, of course, chooses dreamy Armand, and Kristy has her eyes on young Matt Dillon. Dillon is very much her speed and the kind of guy she would date anyway. While he seems tough with street-born good looks, he is revealed to be sensitive and vulnerable, and the way she sizes him up is fantastic.

This is an unusual film for 1980, coming out (pun!) at the peak of summer camp movies; at least comedies that didn’t involve super-human killers who wear hockey masks.  It’s an interesting reversal of gender motivations, where we have the girls acting as predators in the tribal ritual of lust, and the men are depicted as the prey; essentially clueless as to the intentions of Angel and Ferris.  The filmmakers are careful to not exploit the girls, and the clever scripting (by Kimi Peck and Dalene Young) plays to the strengths of McNichol and O’ Neal (I can understand why girls flocked to this movie when it was released), both utterly adorable in this film.  A very young Cynthia Nixon is hilarious as some kind of a crazy hippie flower girl.  McNichol, in particular, is a brilliant actress.

“Can two teenage girls go to summer camp together without driving each other crazy?”

In an interesting twist, Tatum, her face glowing, lies that she had sex with Assante (who politely brushes her off in a sweet scene), and Kristy lies that she did not have sex with Dillon.  In reality, Kristy understands all of the consequences of a sexual relationship, while Tatum romanticizes it to the point of losing all touch with her specific actuality.  I think what I learned from the movie is not that girls are objects to be lusted after (they most definitely are, in my view), but that girls are capable of the same kind of behaviors we normally attribute to the male of the species.  The men in this movie are photographed as objects of beauty and game to be conquered, and I find that to be refreshing.

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: “Silent Movie, 1976”




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.

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!

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.