Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Gun Street (1961)

Saw a 1961 movie called Gun Street. Sort of a poor man's High Noon. An escaped killer is coming back to town and the sheriff is bracing himself. But, while High Noon was an allegory about McCarthyism, Gun Street had the sheriff berating the jurors for sentencing the guy to life in prison instead of executing him.

"He'll be in town pretty soon," the mayor says, "if he isn't already, and the townspeople are going to wonder what you're going to do about this."

"The townspeople?" the sheriff says. "Go find those twelve townspeople on the jury who should have taken his rotten, stinkin' life and they didn't. Go find those townspeople and ask them what they're going to do now that he's killed again!"

The escaped killer had killed a prison guard by running him over with a wagon, but I don't think he should be blamed for that. It was a horse and wagon, not a car. It can't stop on a dime. You'd have to struggle to put on the foot brake at the same time trying to control the horses. Why didn't the guard get out of the way? How fast could a horse-drawn wagon have been going?

The sheriff seemed like kind of a jerk. He allows a husband to beat his wife in order to get information out of her and he seems to be in a bad mood all the time. 

I don't know when the story was set, but the sheriff had a crank telephone in his office. It might have been more interesting if he had conducted more of his investigation by phone. And they should have given him a Luger.

It had everything I hate about westerns. Ugly people in ugly clothes living in an ugly town. The rich people had ugly furniture. It had a fight which consisted of two guys punching each other again and again. There was no shooting in it which was just as well since everyone had the same gun and it would have been boring. We find out that the sheriff's greatest ambition in life is to own a farm.

Only thing that could have saved it is if they had broadly hinted that the sheriff and the escaped killer had once been lovers, that the killer ended their relationship which is why the sheriff was so mad. Like in Ben Hur.

"Go on! Say it! He was my boyfriend!"

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Lars von Trier press conference in Cannes

It finally occured to me to look for it on You Tube---the 2011 press conference in Cannes where Lars von Trier gave a long rambling answer which resulted in his getting kicked out of Cannes.

Von Trier is asked about something he said about the "Nazi aesthetic". He answers that he thought he was Jewish and was happy being Jewish, then found out that he was a Nazi. He had grown up thinking that his Jewish stepfather was his father, but his mother, on her deathbed, sprung it on him that his biological father was actually a German.

Von Trier (obviously joking) explains that, now that he's German, he can understand Hitler. "I can see him sitting in his bunker...I think I understand the man. He's not what you'd call a good guy."

The crowd was laughing. A reporter is so untroubled that he asks a completely unrelated question about the movie.

Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg, Catherine Ringer and von Trier

By the way, here is a YouTube video of Serge Gainsbourg on a French talk show calling Catherine Ringer a "whore" for unsimulated movie sex: 

"You are a whore...You are a whore. That's all...You are a bitch and a prostitute," Gainsbourg says wittily.
Now Gainsbourg's daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, is appearing in what von Trier described as his "porn film". They've reported that the movie will have unsimulated sex, and they were reporting it would be Gainsbourg and Shia LeBeouf, but now Hollywood Reporter says:
Skarsgard, another von Trier veteran, played down the sex in the film -- which, the actors and producers pointed out, will be carried out by body doubles and visual effects.
I don't know what kind of movies Catherine Ringer did, if they were art films of some sort or simply porn.

Maybe Serge is spinning in grave. But he was such a degenerate himself.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't Dance

I had seen Tough Guys Don't Dance years ago on VHS. Directed by Norman Mailer around the same time that Charles Bukowski wrote the script to Barfly. Both movies were made by Golan-Globus and Bukowski and Mailer almost got into a fight when they attended Menahem Golan's birthday party. But Mailer's movie was----well. It ended up on the dollar rack at the video store I went to, there among the Brooke Shields movies.

Based on Mailer's novel of the same name, starring Ryan O'Neal, Isabella Rosellini, Debra Stipe, Lawrence Tierney, Wings Hauser. With Penn Jillette. Linc from The Mod Squad. Some other people.

Should perhaps be of interest to no budget film-makers----a mystery/thriller/noir. It had only one fight, no car chases and no stunts that I can remember. Had one cop in uniform and one police car. A few guns. And it did have a Rolls Royce. The performances were a little odd. There were blatantly fake southern accents. The plot was actually sort of interesting.

If you can write it, you ought to be able to do something along those lines on a tiny budget.

One thing we learn is the importance of not humiliating your actors. The movie contains what is regarded as the worst line reading ever. Ryan O'Neal reads a letter and gets some upsetting news.

"Oh, man!" he exclaims. "Oh, God! Oh, man! Oh, God! Oh, man! Oh, God! Oh, man! Oh, God! Oh, man! Oh, God!"

It sounded like Ryan O'Neal saying "Oh, man! Oh, God!" several times. You can find it on YouTube easily enough if you want to see it.

People begged Mailer to cut it out of the movie, but he liked it, and I can see why. It was memorable. But Ryan O'Neal felt his reputation as an actor had been damaged by it and was mad at Mailer with whom he had been friendly before this.

I thought the music was terrible.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I was RIGHT to worry

J Elvis Weinstein tweeted: "Out of the hospital and ready to slowly rejoin the world. Thanks for all your well wishes (sorry St. Louis and SF for missing the shows)."

Sunday, October 20, 2013


I was interested in this after I saw it listed as one of the ten worst movies of the year. They said it was a really cheap end-of-the-world movie set mainly in an apartment. Sounds fine. I got it from Netflix. Turned it on.

"Wait a minute," I thought. "What th---"

I looked it up online.

Turns out the thing cost ten to twenty million dollars.

I turned it off.

A bad science fiction movie that cost, say, half a million bucks might be interesting, but not ten to twenty million.

I should have read about it before ordering.

Friday, October 18, 2013

I'm worried about J. Elvis Weinstein

He hasn't tweeted since October 5th. Well, I'm sure he's fine. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

James Franco, charlatan

I've never been able to judge male beauty. The first time I saw a promo for Magnum P.I., I thought, well, that's an interesting concept---a show about an ugly guy who's a private detective in Hawaii. Just because someone looks terrible, it doesn't mean he can't have interesting cases.

There was Ed Marinaro on Hill Street Blues. I would look away when his picture came up on the opening credits. I always imagined his family, proud that he was on TV but heart broken at how weird-looking he was. Later found out he was featured on an episode of Donahue discussing male sex symbols.

And--one more--there was Montgomery Clift. I always had the impression that he had been a great actor whose life and career were somehow terribly tragic, and I always assumed the tragedy was that his career was hampered by his odd appearance. Later, I watched an episode of Biography about him and Peter Graves kept referring to "his beauty".

And now we have James Franco. Perhaps if I were more impressed by his looks I'd be impressed by his other crap.

I've seen him act in a couple of things, but don't remember him. Saw him hosting the Oscars and I've seen him on talk shows mostly taking about what a genius he is. It seems he's enrolled in several university graduate schools at the same time, published a book of short stories and is an "artist" and has done several gallery shows.

But, here's the thing. I've read his writing both in his blog on the Huffington Post and a short story published in Esquire that's available on-line. My writing may not be brilliant, but his is very bad in both form and content. And this is someone going for a graduate degree in creative writing at Yale.

His "art" is all conceptual and performance art. One of his "pieces" was a video of him walking around in Paris with a sex toy attached to his face, another was a video of extreme close-ups of people going to the bathroom. It's art for the artless. One of his "installations" was a show of "invisible art"---he just left the gallery empty.

Now he's come out with a novel which sounds like a bunch of crap----a plotless epistolary novel of sorts made up of disconnected chapters.

It's possible that all this stuff he does is brilliant, but it sounds intellectually lazy. He goes into an area of art that requires no special talent or skill, he writes a novel that takes the form of lists, letters and Wikipedia entries. It could be interesting, but it doesn't sound like it requires much ability. He seems to be going into areas of art and literature that are wide open to charlatanism.

He's taken college a step or two past other celebrities in higher education.

Brooke Shields went to Princeton, Jonathan Taylor Thomas went to Harvard, Jodie Foster went to Yale, Natalie Portman went to Harvard, the girl from Flashdance went to Yale. George W. Bush went to Yale. Were they all geniuses? Would any of them have gotten into these schools if they hadn't been stars? Are there any celebrity college students who haven't gone to elite schools?

In the case of Franco, there's no hint of genius. I've seen his writing and I feel I can say without fear of contradiction by any informed person that he got into the English and Creative Writing graduate programs based entirely on his celebrity. I assume the same is true of everything else he does.

Seeing a hugely successful charlatan should give you something to aspire to. It should show you that anyone can become a major figure in art, literature and academia. Franco should be inspiring young people to dream of becoming great big phonies.

If Franco had become a charlatan and parlayed that into a movie career, that would be interesting.
But Franco did it all based on being a celebrity which, in turn, was based primarily on looks. What is there for the rest of us?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Kardashians look horrible

I didn't realize it's been so long since I've watched anything Kardashian-related on TV. I had never seen them in high definition until late last night, and, my God----they look awful!

Bruce Jenner looks ghastly and has really skinny legs. I haven't really seen the son on there since he gained weight, poor wretch. His arms are completely covered with tattoos.

They need to start using a soft focus lens.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gravity, diapers

There was a scene in The Reluctant Astronaut where Don Knotts, launched into orbit, apparently asks how to use the bathroom.

We see him ask into the microphone, "How do you---" and the picture cuts away to a shot of the rocket. Then we see a guy at mission control say, "Well, you just---" and they cut away to the rocket again. Then we see Don Knotts again looking a bit horrified. "You're kidding!"

I had some friends who pretended they knew how this was done in zero gravity and discussed the degrading process Don Knotts would have to go through. But now it turns out that astronauts simply wear diapers. This came out a few years ago when a woman in the space program grabbed a couple of astronaut diapers for a non-stop drive from Houston to Florida where she attempted to kidnap a woman Air Force officer who was dating a guy she had been stalking.

I just discovered that, if you Google "astronaut murder" the suggestion "astronaut murder diaper" will come up.

This issue of space diapers has come up again with a discussion of the new movie Gravity, something about astronauts. They were complaining that it was inaccurate because Sandra Bullock wasn't wearing a diaper. Reportedly, she was wearing something called "boy shorts" under her space suit. I had never heard of them and I felt uneasy Googling "boy shorts", but all that came up were pictures of women posing in underpants that I guess were supposed to look like something a kid might wear.

What bothers me more than the astronauts is the fighter pilots. Watching war movies, I always did wonder what they would do if they had to go to the bathroom.

When racist senator John McCain was shot down in the Vietnam War, one of the people he still calls "gooks" came out of an air raid shelter and risked his life swimming out into the lake to rescue McCain who was tangled in his parachute. This heroic act by a Vietnamese civilian paid off for his people.

The Vietnamese knew who McCain was. They knew that his father was an admiral and that his grandfather had a ship named after him. So they knew just how to manipulate him. They knew he was used to getting special treatment. They sent him to a civilian hospital and had him treated by Soviet doctors. Vietnamese officers were brought in and pretended to be thrilled to get to meet John McCain. And it worked great. He started chattering away. He spilled his guts and told them everything he knew. The Vietnamese adjusted their air defenses and US bombing suddenly became far less effective.

So for years McCain has been trying to conceal his treason by falsely claiming to have been tortured. American prisoners who were present at the time have said he's lying.

Now I can't think about this without picturing the Vietnamese man pulling McCain to shore and discovering he was wearing a giant diaper which probably absorbed a lot of water while he in the lake. 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chan is Missing

I watched Chan is Missing for the first time in years. The full movie is available on YouTube. I'll have to buy the DVD now to make up for watching it there. Made for $22,000 in 1982, although I don't know if they spent twenty-two thousand actual dollars or if that included deferred payments to cast and crew.

Directed by Wayne Wang. A couple of cab drivers in San Francisco's Chinatown search for Chan who disappeared with their money after they paid him to operate their own taxi. Has he left the US? There's talk about the struggle between the pro-Taiwan and pro-Communist Chinese in the US and a murder committed by an elderly man over the conflict.

Filmed in black and white, 16mm. With a song in Chinese sung to the tune of "Rock Around the Clock" in the opening credits.

Voice-over narration held it all together. The fact that everything didn't have to be clarified through dialog gave it greater realism.

Makes me think of what Gore Vidal wrote in Myra Breckenridge:
“Without precise notation and interpretation there is only chaos. Essentially, each of us is nothing but a flux of sensations and impressions that sort themselves out as a result of the most strict analysis and precise formulation, as Robbe-Grillet has proposed but not accomplished (his efforts to revive the novel as an art form are as ineffective as his attempts to destroy the art of film are successful)."
It is perhaps fitting that I would quote an unrelated novel in a discussion of Chan is Missing. As one character, a woman studying "the legal implications of cross-cultural misunderstanding" explains, "most Chinese speakers...try to relate points or events or objects that they feel are pertinent to the situation that may not to anyone else seem directly relevant at the time."

They talk to another man who tells a story about musician who woke up with a neurological disorder that rendered him incapable of performing. He was making the point that they should look to themselves to try to locate Chan.

They had a lot of extras with scenes filmed in restaurants and a community center.

The movie was better than I remembered, a little worse in some ways. There were things I would have done differently, which means that I would have loused it up. I watched the review on YouTube that Siskel and Ebert did at the time and they liked the things that bothered me.

Wayne Wang had worked with Rick Schmidt, co-directing a feature before this, A Man, a Woman and a Killer.. Wang is mentioned several times in Schmidt's book, Feature Filmmaking at Used Car Prices.

A beautiful film. The first commercially successful extreme low budget movie I knew about, predating Stranger Than Paradise by a couple of years. Chan is Missing had a lower budget.

I don't know what the movie would have looked like if it had been made today, how much it was shaped by the fact that it was shot on film. How much would digital video have changed it?