Thursday, January 9, 2014

In Just Seven Frames, I Can Make You a Cineaste

(or: Fuck Film School, Let's Get Drunk And Eat Meatloaf!)

You there! With the stack of black T-shirts and the $75 Blu-Ray player you got on Black Friday! Did you go to that revival screening of a favorite '80's movie and find yourself surrounded by bitter bloggers in junket hoodies and Teva sandals mocking you because you didn't know the difference between the KICKING AND SCREAMING with Chris Eigeman and the KICKING AND SCREAMING with Will Ferrell? Did you sign up for a what you thought was a production class at your college only to spend hours having some deranged Eastern European drone about how Anton LaVey cockblocked him over Maya Deren? Do you just want a little head start in learning the lingua franca of film geeks so that you can hold your own in 2a.m. Denny's debates and not get sent over to sit in the other booth with Mohammad, Jugdish, Sydney, and Clayton and listen to them badly recite the same "BIG BANG THEORY" quotes again?

Sure, you know plenty of the names that everybody knows in the film industry, but the reason why is because we hear those names repeatedly on a regular basis, on TV, in gossip magazines, critics lists, etc. And they're mostly new movies, directors, stars, the occasional screenwriter, etc. How can you get familiar with all those really geeky names and titles that separate the players from potzers, and how do you know which ones of those are going to carry weight and which ones will just clutter your head?

Believe it or not, there's a great way to hotwire the process, and in all likelihood, it's happening at a Friday or Saturday midnight show near you, if not this weekend, then sometime this month. You won't need to open a book, just your mind...and maybe your shirt, if you're a first-timer and get collared into a Virgin Sacrifice. That's right, just going to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW on a regular basis will help you get a leg up on the pile and teach you about some behind-the-scenes technicians in modern film you should be appreciating. And all for less than the cost of one Learning Annex lecture, plus you get to hang around people that have actually had sex.

First off, when the movie starts, you're already getting a roll call of some of the most memorable movies, characters, and talent that shaped so many imaginative minds in their wake. It's a shopping list you don't need to write down because you can sing it to yourself as easily as "A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter." And granted, we're still waiting on a properly restored edition of DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS, but almost everything else Richard O'Brien sings about is easily found on DVD, usually pops up on Turner Classic Movies, and even gets screened every so often in better revival theatres. You can get extra help from watching this video, where one intrepid soul went to the trouble of recreating O'Brien's originally scripted concept of opening the film using film clips instead of red lips:

"Aha, but what about all the audience yelling? Isn't that going to impede whatever constructive information I could receive?" Well, callbacks vary from city to city, but if they're anything like what I learned to shout out when I was fully immersed in the scene, they often actually help draw attention to the guys you oughta know.


"How do you say 'shit' in Polish?"

Peter Suschitzky was the cinematographer for THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, MARS ATTACKS, and has the distinction of shooting every David Cronenberg film since DEAD RINGERS in 1988. Now that's some shit!

"The editor greamed on Clifford!"

Graeme Clifford apprenticed under the great Robert Altman, doing second-unit work on McCABE AND MRS. MILLER and editing on IMAGES. He also edited two of the most-acclaimed films of cult director Nicolas Roeg, DON'T LOOK NOW and THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. He went on to become a director himself, helping steer Jessica Lange to her first Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in FRANCES, and immortalizing Christian Slater in skater-punk glory in GLEAMING THE CUBE.

 "Smoke La Roche! Smoke La Roche!"

Pierre La Roche only has a couple cultural credits, but they're pretty big. As makeup artist for David Bowie, he came up with the iconic Ziggy Stardust third eye and lightning bolt look, which, naturally, was immortalized in D.A. Pennebaker's concert document ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS, has been copied and parodied for decades, and is probably being aped on a T-shirt at a Hot Topic franchise. As an actor, he appeared in the film referred to as Canada's version of EASY RIDER, GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD; that may not impress any of your Yank friends, but if you find yourself with a couple Canucks, just start talking to them about how you heard Toronto's got jobs, and watch 'em reply, "JOBS? WHOO-HOO!"

"Fuck the roach! Go for the Snow!"

Terry Ackland-Snow has provided art direction for some of the most indelible movie moments of your adolescence. Three Jim Henson projects (including THE DARK CRYSTAL and LABYRINTH), three D.C. superheroes (SUPERMAN II + III, SUPERGIRL, and BATMAN), and one James Bond outing (THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS). And when Dr. Scott blurts out "ALIENS!" during the boring dinner scene, well, yes, Snow worked on that James Cameron epic as well.

"Look, Ward; it's Wally and the Veevers!"
"And Colin always gives me the Chilvers!"

The late Wally Veevers has the distinction of actually working on two of the movies name-checked in "Science Fiction Double Feature": CURSE OF THE DEMON ("Dana Andrews said prunes gave him the runes...") and DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS ("I really got hot when I saw Janette Scott fight a Triffid..."). He also provided visual effects for Stanley Kubrick in DR. STRANGELOVE and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, invented some of the photographic trickery for SUPERMAN, did uncredited effects work on LAWRENCE OF ARABIA and Kenneth Anger's LUCIFER RISING, and before his death in 1983, lent his services to two of that year's best films, THE KEEP and LOCAL HERO.

Colin Chilvers, meanwhile, collaborated with Wally Veevers on four other movies, including SUPERMAN (for which he and his team won a Special Achievement Academy Award), and, on his own, was special effects director for SUPERMAN II + III and FOLLOW THAT BIRD, and special effects coordinator for BRIDE OF CHUCKY and the first X-MEN film. 
Oh, and have you ever seen that music video of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal"? He directed that. From a Sweet T to a Smooth C - that's T.C.B.!

There you go. Now, the next time some Comic-Con cornflake tries to pull rank on you, you can show him who's Boss.

"Wait, that wasn't seven frames!" you say. Okay, fine, so I lied. Guess what, Charles Atlas lied to you too: his real name was Angelo Siciliano. Go call the human race and cry about it, provided you can find a castle with a phone!

1 comment:

  1. M. LaRoche was a household name in every household that wishes it were hip. In late 1972, hooked up w⁄David Bowie (R.I.P. my friend. I hope you know how much we all loved you) to produce the "Alladin Sane" cover, as well as "Pinups." In Fall 1973 Pierre was Mick Jagger's makeup artist for The Rolling Stones UK⁄European tour. In 1975, he repeated his 'majik in a box' trick, working on Mick Jagger's face for the June⁄July⁄early August American tour. That's A LOTTA eyeliner. Mick has incredible skin, BTW.