Vintage Cable Box: Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980

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“This is a party, not a safari!”

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Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980 (Bill Murray), MCA/Universal

“He was … known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He remarked: ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.'”

I figured in this review of the notorious 1980 folly, the unprescribed medley of moments in the life of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam, I would adopt the persona of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. As long as the persona does not irritate, dear reader. Fishing cap? Check! Extra-long cigarette holder? Check! Hawaiian t-shirt? Check!  In a phrase, he was celebrated for being celebrated.

His memories exist as a wild anecdote, only partially rendered impotent by the gross complications of a film director who has lost his personal sense of humor, and instead relented and choked from insatiable gasps of Bill Murray’s star power. He lives in a swanky cabin in Colorado. His fax machine belches, demands tasty portions of words, with which he is not ready to part. Instead he shoots the infernal machine, and sicks his Doberman on the tasty testicles of his Nixon effigy. He looks at a picture of his beloved hippy attorney, Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle) and remembers those times, some ten years back in San Francisco. Lazlo is an idealist. He defends the weak. Helps the helpless! He’s God’s own prototype! To weird to live. To rare to die. I know. I stole those words directly from the real Thompson, but I can’t help it. The man was such a brilliant fuck-face, it’s hard to imagine anyone (even Master Johnny Depp) portraying him in any meaningful way.

Lazlo spends a lot of his time defending young idiots on marijuana possession counts.  I understand his reasoning.  These are victimless crimes, but in trendy San Francisco, end-of-the-decade, with colleagues seducing him to the dark side; rich clients and cushy digs, Lazlo doesn’t care.  In these all-important character scenes, we become convinced we’re watching the story of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer (which is probably interesting enough to work on it’s own) instead of a story about the celebrated icon.  Lazlo is demoralized watching his clients sentenced to hard time in prison for what would amount to (in my view) petty misdemeanors, but such are the breaks in the world of the old and powerful.  He flips out when a particularly young client gets five years in jail for possession of one joint.  He’s held in contempt, while Thompson sits on a deadline and makes his editor (Bruno Kirby) pray for Lazlo’s swift release (and also for all the people of the world).

We move forward a few years as Thompson is covering the Super Bowl.  I don’t think he has any interest in covering sports, but he runs up a huge expense account at the hotel where he is staying (including Crab Louie and sixteen grapefruit).  He trashes the hotel room, dresses the staff in football equipment. and causes a ton of havoc on his floor.  The next morning, Lazlo (wearing a Nixon mask) catches up with him.  He stopped being an attorney full-time, and now cavorts with the younger set.  Thomspon ditches his assignment to become Lazlo’s traveling companion.  I wonder if, in these later scenes, Lazlo isn’t simply a figment of Thompson’s potent and overactive imagination.  Lazlo tells him he’s been “reborn”, running guns for paramilitary types out of Mexico.  Whatever floats your boat, Lazlo.  He wants Thompson to write a story about the “struggle.”  The movie is a push-pull of idealism and gluttony that never kicks into gear, mostly because I think those so-called revolutionaries of the time could never get their shit together in a worthwhile way.

The movie is a mess, editorially, with no flow except for episodic moments in which Murray crosses paths with Boyle’s Lazlo.  For his part, Boyle is extraordinary, but he acts in a vacuum.  Murray’s Thompson is a baroque caricature.  While obviously devoted to playing this part (with some guidance from the real Thompson), he comes over as an inebriated middle-child with autism, hiding a feverish addiction to alcohol and other various substances.  Despite good production locales and photography, Where the Buffalo Roam does no favors for the time period, and the social and the political unrest it attempts to show us.  I often wonder if this is the beginning or the end of self-destructive behavior, as Thompson’s exploits become bigger and more dangerous with each scene change.

Later releases of the movie remove key bits of music, due to rights issues, and replace them with “sound-alike” tracks, which make the whole thing even more unbearable to watch.  In retrospect, I had the same issues watching Terry Gilliam’s similar Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, however that movie improves on subsequent viewings, but Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy has been tarnished by his God-given desire to numb himself in any way he could.  In a way, Thompson was his own prototype.  Too rare to live, but always ready to die.

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It still hasn’t gotten weird enough for me.

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

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.

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Vintage Cable Box: “The Lonely Lady, 1983”

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“I don’t suppose I’m the only one who’s had to fuck her way to the top.”

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The Lonely Lady, 1983 (Pia Zadora), Universal Pictures

Let’s get this out of the way first.  Pia Zadora is fucking hot!  She’s such a soft, sensual creature – goddess and demon.  She makes me nuts just thinking about her.  A diminutive yet voluptuous combination of nymph and vixen struggling tooth and nail against the evil masculine forces which circle her in tribal formation and threaten to destroy her delicate creative genius.  You can damn me, but I understand her frustration.  Not that I’m some babe out there with talent that’s always being ignored in favor of my gorgeous breasts and well-toned ass, but I get that when you’re out there, trying to take a swim, you’re going to run across a lot of leeches in the pool.

The movie opens with Pia’s character, Jerilee, on her way to a big award ceremony in Hollywood. From there, we go into a flashback. In high school, she wins her first creative writing award. Later, after a party, a young Ray Liotta rapes her with a garden hose. This movie pulls no punches when it comes to naming man as woman’s ultimate aggressor. The rape is filmed in such a way that a female acquaintance is laughing at her, and taunting her while Liotta does the deed. I can’t imagine any woman ever behaving in such a way when another woman is being raped, but this story is the brain-child of Harold Robbins, famous for a particular form of exploitation disguised as the trashy “romance” novel.

After an untold period of time chronicling her recovery, Jerilee gets back on the horse and continues writing. She ultimately marries her boyfriend’s dad (against mother Bibi Besch’s wishes), because he is a successful screenwriter. They try to consummate, but the old man has a heart condition. Her marriage gets her critical meetings with the power-brokers of Hollywood, but everybody seems to be interested only in her body. Tensions between her and her husband escalate when she rewrites one his scripts. They divorce, and she proceeds to screw every actor and producer in Hollywood to get her screenplay sold. She dates a manipulative actor (Jared Martin), who knocks her up, forcing her to get an abortion because he won’t support the child.

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A sleazy introduction.

I don’t believe I understand the message of this movie, other than that men will rape you, take advantage of you, manipulate you, abuse you emotionally, or try to destroy you should you dare to live your dreams.  The meaning is lost in the details because Jerilee, while obviously telegraphed as being “talented”, is also extremely naive, and more often than not, idiotic in her ambitions.  Moreover, Zadora, in her performance, doesn’t strike me as a writer.  More like a curious observer in a world of snakes masquerading as men.  The other women in the movie aren’t much help, either.  They are either strict, judgmental authoritarians (like her mother), or slutty gold-diggers.  So, The Lonely Lady deceptively labels itself a product of feminine empowerment, but instead it skewers the fairer sex by creating a culture of victimization in it’s central character; an interesting female archetype who must be punished for being beautiful and sexually attractive.

A naive young man myself when first watching the film, I assumed this what movies for adults were; products laced with sex and nudity, violence, and profanity, but done up in a dismal melodramatic watercolor painting with unusual outbursts of primary color.  Unfortunately, the music, and the editing, and the many montages of The Lonely Lady make it seem like nothing more than a made-for-television drama with tits.  Not that I mind.  The movie is never boring.  I have to give Pia props for her bravery in being made the fool of this peculiar morality fable; she is remarkably easy on the eyes, even as her dialogue hurts our ears.

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: “Romantic Comedy, 1983”

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“A few years ago, I owned a delicate china teapot.  One day, I dropped it and it split right down the middle.  Well, I glued it together, and it looked as if it had never been broken.  And several months later, for no apparent reason, it suddenly exploded into a thousand pieces.  I suppose what I’m trying to say is that despite all appearances, it’s better to keep your teapot intact.”

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Romantic Comedy, 1983 (Dudley Moore), MGM/UA

Phoebe Craddock (Mary Steenburgen) excuses herself to use the restroom at a high-end restaurant packed with back-slappers during the premiere party of her first collaborative work with Jason Carmichael (Dudley Moore). She returns not a moment later, and the joint has cleared out – a ghost town. When she asks a waiter where everybody went, he simply answers, “the reviews came in.” This is the life of the writer; anticipation and happiness and enthusiasm all destroyed within minutes by bad reviews, dirty looks, and marginalization.

The result of a communications snafu, Steenburgen has arrived to work with stage-writing partner Dudley Moore two weeks early on his wedding day. Mistaking her for a masseuse, he strips down naked. When she comes clean, he is embarrassed, slips on a pair of shorts, and goes into a temper tantrum. What we have is a “romantic comedy”, not the title, but the concept – a Neil Simon pastiche written by Bernard Slade. Imagine Anthony Perkins and Mia Farrow in the lead roles they created in the original stage run. If you can, you’re one-up on me. It’s an interesting combination.

The story is told as a series of vignettes (or even acts). Phoebe and Jason meet-cute and begin to collaborate. Their first play is a flop. They bond. He starts a family with his beautiful, politically-ambitious but innately sweet wife (Janet Eilber). A montage showcases the duo’s resulting success with several stage plays. They bond. Phoebe starts seeing a journalist (Ron Leibman). Jason has an affair with a dizzy, ridiculous actress (Robyn Douglass). His wife divorces him. Phoebe abandons him, and marries Ron Leibman.  I think the point of the story (if there was one) is that creative partners are analogs for lovers, or that an intense inventive synthesis is the same as a romantic coupling.

Years later, Jason’s life is in ruins. Phoebe returns, after having written a semi-autobiographical book about her partnership with Jason. She wants to turn the book into a play, and she wants to collaborate with Jason. He flips out in a restaurant and suffers a heart attack. Phoebe nurse-maids him. Leibman finally leaves her when he realizes she loves Jason and working with Jason more than spending time with her own husband. I think he wants the woman who is with Jason, rather than the woman she is with him.

This is as close to unlikable as you’re likely to get from Dudley Moore. He’s crass, vulnerable, sarcastic, moody, and patronizing, but he is Dudley Moore. Again, he manages to make an impossible character work, because we, as viewers, still sympathize with him. Maybe it has something to do with his height. He’s not a powerful man. Perhaps strong in his wit, his manner, his intellect, but a flailing man-child in aesthetics. We believe Dudley Moore; whether he’s a songwriter, a drunk playboy, a writer, a psychiatrist, or a symphony conductor, we believe him. As an actor and entertainer, his decisions were brave and ultimately successful. In the final analysis, his performance is the only thing I enjoy in Romantic Comedy. He would go from the daffy Arthur to the gut-punch of Six Weeks within the space of a year. No other actor would dare to bank on his image as a dramatic actor.

Romantic Comedy is typical eighties cheese, and the Marvin Hamlisch music doesn’t do the narrative any favors. It seemed the formula, or the structure of movies made this way depended on montage to break up acts. We have a set-piece scene, a montage, another scene, another montage, and it goes on like this until toward the end after the climax and before the end credits. Other films from this time period do a better job of linking the elements, but Romantic Comedy is a bit clunky because, being based on a stage play, you have static blocking and heavy dialogue on a big set. Director Arthur Hiller (Author! Author!) tries to shake it up, sometimes putting the actors in nice New York locales, but the stage play narrative feels like a prison from which these very talented actors cannot escape.

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.

 

“And Babies Make Three…”

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As of this writing, Masha has given birth to her twins, and by all indications, she is positively glowing, extremely happy, and creatively empowered. I wish her all the best in life, and I was very happy with how this interview turned out. It’s unusual for me, after a discussion with Neena last week, I thought of all the talented people I’ve been blessed to work with over the years and all the wonderful things they’ve gotten up to in the intervening years, and I feel proud to have known each and every one of them!

Tonight I talk with actress, bon vivant, the lovely lady, the sexy Russian, Masha Sapron. She was in my movie, “Ligeia” (on DVD and hopefully out there in torrent form). She appears on the cover of the
DVD in the famous cat-suit. I remember I wanted her to wear a cat-suit in the movie in her weird “cos-play” scenes with the character played by Martin Davis, and they both wear, they also wear masks
and I forget if the masks were part of the costume, or if we bought them separately.

So, Masha did research for the movie, and some of it wound up in the film [Ligeia]. There is a dinner scene, probably the easiest scene I shot because everybody was sitting down. We wired everybody with microphones, and we got a hundred set-ups in like two hours, because we had two cameras. Masha tells this insane story about a club she went to, I guess it was a sex club, I’m not even sure. There was a lot of improvisation, people bouncing off one another, which I love. That’s my favorite kind of thing to do.

The Official “MYLF” site

She Knows – Masha Sapron page

“MYLF” Facebook page

NEW PODCAST: “On The Odd With Alex Saltz!”

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This is my interview with Alex Saltz, actor and mastering engineer, and one of the stars of my movie, “Total Male Fantasy No. 10”. This is probably the first time we’re talking about the movie at least publicly, but we should start with a little background. I met Alex through a mutual friend, Mark Jeacoma, who has been on my show – twice, we talked about found footage, and we talked about Star Wars. We recorded a couple of shows, one was the famous (or infamous) Scientology podcast for “On The Odd” where we had everybody: Mark, Alex, Chris Hasler, Sarah, and me – that was a fun experience, just getting all those heads together and it turned out great.

Official APS Mastering Site
On (The ODD]
Fistful Of Cables

“And Babies Make Three…”

And-Babies-Make-Three

Tonight I talk with actress, bon vivant, the lovely lady, the sexy Russian, Masha Sapron. She was in my movie, “Ligeia” (on DVD and hopefully out there in torrent form). She appears on the cover of the
DVD in the famous cat-suit. I remember I wanted her to wear a cat-suit in the movie in her weird “cos-play” scenes with the character played by Martin Davis, and they both wear, they also wear masks
and I forget if the masks were part of the costume, or if we bought them separately.

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Masha in my movie, “Ligeia”.

So, Masha did research for the movie, and some of it wound up in the film [Ligeia]. There is a dinner scene, probably the easiest scene I shot because everybody was sitting down. We wired everybody with microphones, and we got a hundred set-ups in like two hours, because we had two cameras. Masha tells this insane story about a club she went to, I guess it was a sex club, I’m not even sure. There was a lot of improvisation, people bouncing off one another, which I love. That’s my favorite kind of thing to do.

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The Film Threat DVD release.

The Official “MYLF” site

She Knows – Masha Sapron page

“MYLF” Facebook page

NEW PODCAST: “Stop Stealing My Sunshine And Make Your Own!”

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We went off-script for this episode of BlissVille Fridays with Andrew La Ganke. I had started writing a script for the first time in a long time and I was excited about it. From, I want to say, 2005-2010, I was writing and I had some lofty ideas, but it came down to the choice either making another movie, or moving my family out of a crumbling Astoria apartment. I chose the latter and instead focused on writing and publishing stories and long-form novels. We trade stories about writing screenplays, participating in workshops, and dealing with other writers.