Friday, February 26, 2010

Karping over Kevin and Kops

"When the instinctive question about a person is, What is he doing? it is felt that he will be found to be, like most of us, doing nothing in particular. There is an indefinite sense that he must be invading some region of singularity, good or bad. The devout hope is that he is doing well. The secret faith is that he is making a mess of it." -- Thomas Hardy, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE

There should be a genial air of fun to accompany the opening weekend of a new comedy, especially one directed by one of the standout talents of the mid-'90's. But it seems whoever I talk to, whatever I read, both Kevin Smith and his new movie COP OUT are being greeted with as much enthusiasm as the opening of a Hustler bookstore in downtown Cincinnati.

I'm not interested in trying to recap for you all the events of the last couple weeks involving Smith; provided you have not already been inundated by internet reports and links sent by your friends at your social networking sites, you can always Google it yourself. This extended piece by Patrick Goldstein is probably the best breakdown though. I am interested in, and frankly troubled by, the nastiness being leveled at Smith by his former demographic - young, media-savvy, wiseacre males. While Smith has, I think, wisely decided to confine his ranting about his misfortune to Twitter, YouTube, and his regular SModcast, where it can easily be avoided by uninterested parties, that is not enough for these Z-Boys of the Internet Tubes; go to any gossip or snark-humor site, and there is bound to be an article on the "wealthy fatso crybaby" who needs to shut up. I don't think Smith needs me to defend him in this matter; I'll simply state that, as two-time collaborator Chris Rock would say, Kevin Smith is rich, the people who finance his movies are wealthy, and if any of these dart-throwers ever had a close friend or relative with weight problems who were arbitrarily singled out for punitive action and given contradictory doubletalk as a justification by any major corporation, they'd find the empathy they are sorely lacking right now.

Much has also been made about an ongoing series of Tweets from Smith reacting to early negative reviews of his new film. Granted, Smith has always had a sense of playful banter regarding his negative reviews: much like myself, he has been amused at the colorful (or conversely uncreative) ways people find to disparage his work. I will agree that this time out, there is a disturbing desparation in this series of responses, less joking and more defensiveness in his words. However, I feel a certain sympathy nonetheless. Despite the professed unambitiousness of the film itself, COP OUT is in a sense the most important movie that Kevin Smith has made in his career. It's not like the old days when, say, JERSEY GIRL got razzed and barely broke even, and his longtime benefactors Harvey and Bob Weinstein would just pat him on the back and say "better luck next time" as they mulled over their next project; the brothers are broke and Smith has to go to the market where lies are bought like everyone else. He is in a sense like many other breadwinners in this bad economy, looking for constant work in a near-Depression, compounded by being in an environment where, when rumors surface that Brian DePalma would direct the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequel, they are taken seriously and not automatically ridiculed. As much as his sour detractors would love for him to move back to Red Bank and become a furze-cutter, his wife and daughter have established lives and friendships in the city of Burbank. And much like Bruce Willis' protagonist in COP OUT, or more likely, Smith's beloved postal worker father now deceased, he is determined to provide his family whatever they want. So I can see how he may feel a little defensive right now - the constant Tweets are a touch reactionary, but if your job could be lost because of some guys who have no experience doing what you do firing cheap shots, you'd be a little jumpy too.

But I come to share happier thoughts. First off, I enjoyed COP OUT. It is a trifle to be sure - a tongue-in-cheek love letter to '80's buddy-cop-movie excess (right down to it's Eurotronic Harold Faltermeyer score and it's MTV hit parade song cues) with a healthy helping of FREEBIE AND THE BEAN redux, which still lacks the extra level of lunacy found in Edgar Wright's HOT FUZZ - but I had a large grin on my face the whole time. Besides the reliable wavering amusement and annoyance of Willis and the trademark derangement of Morgan, I particularly enjoyed the backup from ersatz nemesies Kevin Pollack and Adam Brody, who constantly conport themselves as if they are starring in their own buddy-cop movie, one of the flourishes in this script that both tweak and revel in the cliches inherent within the genre. From my vantage, it proves that Smith has the ability to mesh his signature goofiness with someone else's ideas and adhere to John L. Sullivan's mandate to make people laugh and forget a while.
In the closing credits to MALLRATS, Smith thanked John Landis "for giving me something to do throughout my youth on Friday nights." COP OUT is Smith's amiable repaying of the favor; Mr. Landis should be most pleased.

And today's new release gives me an excuse to repost this 2004 account of my Q&A with Smith on the 10th Anniversary of CLERKS; after the success of a 2003 mutual appearance, he graciously agreed to sit for a formal interview. Sadly, there has been no footage found yet from this session - Miramax chose to tape a different Q&A at the Arclight for the CLERKS X DVD - but there are highlights in the piece, and I think the caption on this picture is a nice compliment. I'm sorry for the dark quality of the image, and I guess you'll have to click on it to actually read the caption.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I'll Cry Tamara

Today marks the birthday of one of the best filmmakers you've never heard of. A woman whose single feature film can be considered responsible for the elevation of our current President. And, in full disclosure, a close friend, though I will swear on a stack of Roger Ebert Movie Home Companions there is no cronyism in my praise. That being said, it is still a thrill for me when I can look at someone who is enormously talented, be they a writer, musician, painter, or filmmaker, and then consider that I am someone they like to keep company with. So when I can write something that serves as both critical assessment and a Happy Birthday greeting, it's a nice convergence.

When I took part in one of those "Top 5" polls with the Living Social application on a social networking site, when it came time to picking Top 5 Favorite Directors, it was easy: Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Dario Argento, Tamara Hernandez, and Guillermo Del Toro. The only hard part was that I had to find and add a photo of Ms. Hernandez to their database. This was the only headshot I could find online.

In the fall of 1999, as I was still taking my baby steps in Hollywood, a chance encounter at a Russ Meyer restrospective at the American Cinematheque yielded me an invitation to the premiere party and screening the following week for a new film called MEN CRY BULLETS. The ad campaign on the postcard looked intriguing, but a little desperate in playing up the quirk - "In a world where men who wear diapers fear Betty Page vipers" sounded just a little too clever. But it was a premiere and I wanted to meet interesting people, so I made plans to attend.

At the pre-screening party, everyone I spoke to was pleasant, no douchebags that I can remember, and I got a little bit of face time with Ms. Hernandez. I also got a look at the trailer prepared for the film, and got a little nervous - again, it was hammering the quirk way too hard. If you've endured the attempts at "hip" cinema since the late '80's, you'll know that when filmmakers throw in weird for weird's sake, it's usually not effective; it has to come from some place of sincerity on the artist's behalf. It's funny when John Waters puts strange things on screen because he lives that life, it's funny when Russ Meyer puts large chested women spouting political diatribes on screen because that is his worldview, but it's not funny when some film school brat tries to copy those formulas because chances are they're just a tourist in Wackyland who only want the million bucks and not the last dodo. Thus I was concerned about the film I was going to see, worrying that I'd have to make one of those vague compliments afterward that one always does when a friend creates something you don't like. (Orson Welles' perfected response for such occasions: "There are no words...") But soon the witching hour came, and we all trekked to the Sunset 5 for the big midnight show debut.

My mood began to perk up when I watched the short film by Ms. Hernandez that preceded the feature, THE SLAP, a decidedly different portrayal of two '50's-era teenagers parking out on a moonlit night. It was a funny short, but there was a gravity to it all - this was not some mugfest sketch from The Groundlings, this was really looking at what it would be like if someone of another era decided to be upfront about liking things a little bit rougher. I was suitably impressed.

To my enormous pleasure, my fears about MEN CRY BULLETS were completely wrong. As the movie unfolded, I felt like I was in capable and original hands. No mistake, this was a weird movie about strange people, but it was coming from a grounded and sincere place where this sort of behavior felt real and not just a contrivance. I felt like Ms. Hernandez knew these people and cared for them. Most importantly, I saw no influences or homages - there was no wink wink nudge nudge to other movies or cultural artifacts, as opposed to too many other post-modern post-Tarantino directors of the day. I was in a wholly original and particular universe - Tamaraland - and it was a rough visit, but I was excited to have been there. I eagerly gushed to Ms. Hernandez afterward about how much I loved the movie, and the following week, when it had another midnight show, I eagerly stood outside the theatre trying to entice anyone wandering by to take a chance and buy a ticket to the film.

As I stated at that moment in time, on intarweb podcasts, and probably to my dying day, when I saw MEN CRY BULLETS, I felt I was looking at one of the best new directors in town, and had the same excitement that occurred when Ebert saw Scorsese's first film. Appropriately, Roger Ebert was one of the most important critics to give MEN CRY BULLETS a rave; though he never wrote a printed review of it for the Sun-Times, on a post-Siskel episode of his TV show devoted to fringe cinema with guest critic Harry Knowles, he stated that it deserved to be a cult film of the future. Unfortunately for Ms. Hernandez, that was one of the few positive reviews the movie got. To this day, it carries a Metacritic score of 32 with 10 critics surveyed, and a Tomatometer score of 44% with 9 critics surveyed. Two people I asked to review the movie as a favor wound up disliking it, albeit in a respectful manner. I don't want to glorify some of the peculiarly nasty remarks made about the movie and about her, suffice to say I smelled the same kind of casual misogyny that has been leveled at Sofia Coppola, Diablo Cody, and other female hyphenates in the last decade. The film was not a success - after a few scattered playdates in the major markets, it vanished and has had little to no revival since in any media.

What was a success, on a personal level, was my friendship with Tamara. About a couple months after the closing of her film, we impulsively went to an opening night screening of the patently ridiculous sci-fi blunder SUPERNOVA with James Spader, and it was one of the funniest evenings of my life; as we traded barbs about the movie, and I provided all the insider baseball details of the rotating directors and the cost overruns, she muttered, "Do you know how many movies I could have made with that budget?" She willingly decided to give me my first big break as a film historian by allowing me to moderate her commentary track for the MEN CRY BULLETS DVD, which is now extremely out of print and fetching three times its original SRP in some collector circles. I have been privileged to be witness and confidante to many important parts of her life, from the struggle to launch another project, to the joy of her marriage with writer/director Tom Stern and the birth of their children. We've never had to lie or sugarcoat to each other - she's taken my film scripts to task and I've put in my two cents on her ideas. You don't have to like someone's art to be their friend - it just happens to be a happy accident that in this case, I do.

Oh, and about that tease up front about how MEN CRY BULLETS changed history? At the time of filming, co-star and partial producer Jeri Ryan's then-husband Jack was an investment banker who privately threw in some money to keep the financially strapped project afloat. According to producer Harry Ralston, while their politics clashed, they had gotten along well. In 2004, five years divorced from Jeri, Jack Ryan was the Republican front-runner for an open seat in the U.S. Congress, and both press organizations and some of his opponents in both the Republican and Democratic camps were asking to have their sealed divorce records made public. Despite the protestations of Jack, Jeri, and even his Democratic challenger Barack Obama, a judge unsealed the records, and it was revealed that besides his indirect involvement in what was described by the Daily Herald as "a movie featuring rape, nudity, implied three-way sex and a woman killing a pet pig with an ax," Jeri had cited Jack's interest in non-vanilla sexual behavior as grounds for their split. The bad publicity and pressure from the GOP was too much, and Ryan withdrew from the race, replaced by last-minute residential transplant Alan Keyes. Obama trounced Keyes 70% to 27%. And the rest is on the History Channel after the WWII docco.
So okay, maybe it was more Jack Ryan's carelessness than Tamara's vision that changed the political landscape. I'm not the first person to print the legend.

A long time ago, I once got an email from Tamara informing me that she was moving from her longtime apartment. By one of those strange internet vagaries, the email was dated 8/19/2040. So it has always stood at the top of my inbox for years since. Which I consider a handy reminder that I should never stay out of contact with her too long. If we both actually make it to 2040, we'll both be in our 70's.

Here's to growing old with you, Tamara!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For the Love of Film...For a Rocker

I am happily adding my voice to the noble blogathon begun by Farran Nehmes (The Self-Styled Siren) and Marilyn Ferdinand (Ferdy on Films) as a spotlight and fundraiser for the National Film Preservation Foundation. A non-profit organization created by the U.S. Congress, the NFPF raises money, awards grants, and organizes cooperative projects that enable archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and universities to work together to save American films. The types of motion pictures most at-risk are documentaries, silent-era films, avant-garde works, ethnic films, newsreels, home movies, and independent works. These are not Hollywood sound features belonging to the film studios, but 'orphans' that fall outside the scope of commercial preservation programs and exist as one-of-a-kind copies in archives, libraries, museums, and historical societies.
I feel a keen kinship with this operation, as much of my free time and behind-the-scenes work is devoted to the search and rescue of films that don't have the protection of a big Hollywood studio. Not quite the "orphans" the NFPF champions...more kind of like the "unloved children" of neglectful parents. For over half a decade, I have freelanced for multiple independent DVD labels in the preparation of dozens of exploitation and genre films for the home video market. From courting copyright holders, locating source prints, coaxing reluctant filmmakers and talent to speak on the record, getting word-of-mouth around on the release, and finally, trying to get the damned things seen by an unfamiliar public, I've done all of these tasks and more. Moreover, I've done this for little-to-no pay, great private expense, and amazingly enough, enormous abuse from the people who purport to be the fans of these films.
But that rant will be for another day. This will be about one instance where all the migraines were worth it.

In 2004, I was lucky enough to be entrusted to work on special features for the infamous 1973 kidnap thriller THE CANDY SNATCHERS, a film that until then had all but vanished into a fog of complicated rights and silent participants. It was so obscure even exploitation completist Mr. Tarantino admitted to me he had not seen the film until after the DVD came out! Through heartfelt appeals and some prayers, I had coaxed actresses Tiffany Bolling and Susan Sennett to participate and tell their stories of the production for posterity. The DVD received great reviews and I'm still proud of my role in making it happen. Especially because of what happened long after the attention subsided.

One person I would sadly be unable to speak to was co-star Phyllis Major, who had died only a couple years after THE CANDY SNATCHERS was released.

Major was somewhat known as a model, but better remembered as the beloved girlfriend and wife of singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, who wrote both lightheartedly about their courtship and heartbreakingly about her untimely death. While Major is not given much to do in this film besides be pretty and fashionably dressed and listen to the grand plans of her boss, she's a radiant presence and unforgettable, and one could have easily seen her having a respectable career in movies if she so chose. A unique bit of irony is that Susan Sennett is the longtime wife of Graham Nash, and at the time of filming Tiffany Bolling had been involved with Stephen Stills, so here is a movie that has cast the girlfriends of three seminal "California sound" artists who were frequent collaborators. However, the women were not aware of that status during filming - Major's scenes were shot separately from Bolling and Sennett, the latter two women did not know each other socially despite having boyfriends in the same band, and due to the antagonistic nature of their characters, were not inclined to hang out between takes.

Two years after the release of the DVD, I was working an event tied in to Henriette Mantel and Steve Skrovan's film documentary on Ralph Nader, AN UNREASONABLE MAN, and there were a fair number of luminaries in attendance. And a friend tipped me off that one of the famous names who was there was Jackson Browne. And after a moment of processing that, something kicked in. Between the film's obscurity through the decades, the small profile of the company, and other factors, I was pretty sure Browne did not own a copy of it. With no guarantee that I would intercept and/or get to talk to the man, I bought one from a nearby DVD vendor, and waited.

Browne stepped out 3/4 through the movie to take a phone call, and during that time Nader showed up to prepare for his Q&A alongside the filmmakers, so after the call finished they greeted each other and chatted a long time. And other banal instances called me away from the floor, threatening my chances. But finally, I had an opportunity to speak to Browne, and as briefly as I could, explained my circumstance and gave him the DVD. He was intrigued, he didn't even know the movie existed. Telling him a little more, including how Tiffany was seeing Stills during the making and that Nash's wife Susan played the kidnap victim, he seemed to recall that Susan had once mentioned being in a movie with Phyllis, but no specific detail; I in turn theorized that Susan likely didn't say much else about the film because of the ordeal she suffered during the production, and because Phyllis did not share any scenes with her or with Tiffany. Clearly for Browne, this was the equivalent of finding a shoebox full of pictures previously not known to exist. I got the impression he was thankful to receive the DVD.

About another year or so later, while puttering around MySpace (and by the way, you can still find me there), I happened to find Phyllis and Jackson's son Ethan. After a little Q & A to determine if we were both for real, he was quite excited to learn about the film's availability. It was an even bigger discovery for him, because having lost his mother when he was only two, he had only photographs to know her with, and never seen any footage of her or heard her voice. He has gone on to purchase multiple copies of the DVD, and we have stayed in sporadic contact ever since.

Thinking about these moments and how they've unfolded fascinates me, especially in the context of supernatural ideas. It is staggering to even fathom that little me, who grew up in suburban Cincinnati and had "Running On Empty" as his favorite song for a couple weeks in the summer of '78, could years later be the person who puts unseen footage of that artist's muse into his hands. Is God that much of a labyrinthine chessmaster? Or is it not planned that far in advance, maybe that other Rube Goldbergian events must take place to determine that the time and messenger is correct? Or for the non-cosmic, just plain dumb luck? In any case, I honestly do think this was more than just giving a trinket to somebody famous. Ethan Browne has expressed his thanks to me for being such a tireless supporter of the movie. I still don't know if Jackson Browne has watched the movie, or if he ever will. But I bet he likes having that option now.

This is a big part of what motivates me about film preservation. It's not just about keeping a movie available to people to buy, or to make it look as good today as it did when it opened, or to generate new income for the folks who gambled on making it years ago. There's an old George Carlin joke: "Do you ever look at the crowds in old movies and wonder if they're dead yet?" Statistics say that many of them probably are. But their relatives are grateful to have that instant of their lives available to look at again over future generations. Films are not created in a vacuum, and even with CGI characters, somebody still has to model for the motion capture. There are hundreds of lives and stories tied into even the schlockiest of works, and to preserve the movie is to preserve the people.

Every film can capture something in its frames and make it valuable and worth saving, even if it's just the gaze of a pretty girl. And in this specific instance, I helped give that back to the people who needed it most.

The National Film Preservation Foundation is the independent, nonprofit organization created by the U.S. Congress to help save America’s film heritage. They work directly with archives to rescue endangered films that will not survive without public support.

The NFPF will give away 4 DVD sets as thank-you gifts to blogathon donors chosen in a random drawing: Treasures III: Social Issues in American Film, 1900-1934 and Treasures IV: American Avant Garde Film, 1947-1986.


And please visit Farran and Marilyn's blogs to read more great bloggers' thoughts on this week's topic!

"I gotta knock on each and every door"

A month ago, when I wrote my post about finding your first favorite song, I touched upon one of the biggest risks of musical discovery: the fear of losing that beautiful thing. While I used what I thought was a fine example, I was sitting on a personal experience that would have served much better.

Over 15 years ago, when I was living in Columbus, I was in traffic, flipping around the radio stations in my usual state of musical ADHD, when I switched over to the R&B station, which was in the middle of airing a syndicated "dusties" program. (I suppose "oldies" connotates sanitized '50's whiteness) They played a song that shook me and had me in tears. Unfortunately for me, they also didn't back announce it. So I had no idea how to find it to hear it again.
I tried hard. I started tuning in to that show again and again, but they never replayed it. I would have tried calling the program and asking about it, but I was never near a phone when the show was on. Heck, I even ran into one of the local DJ's of that station, and clumsily quoted what few words from the song I could remember, and he had no idea what it was. Eventually, the urgency wore off. Every now and again, I would remember that there was this great song that I was trying to track down, but I had so little and so vague a clue to offer people that it never paid off.

I had always been somewhat afraid to listen to a lot of innovative music programs on the radio, because I was deathly afraid of hearing a great song and having no way to find it again. In high school a college radio station had played This Mortal Coil's cover of Chris Bell's "You and Your Sister" before I had ever heard of Big Star or 4AD Records, and they never backannounced that one either. And like the above, I had little with which to trace the song. It would be a decade later that, by chance, I was in a video store where they played Bell's original and I was able to put a name and artist to the song itself; it still took another couple years to hear that cover version again.

As such, I've now become so paranoid about losing memories of good unfamiliar music that, paradoxically, I don't listen to radio shows where I could easily hear it. Most of my radio listening is when I drive, and it's not practical or safe to try writing down artists and titles for new songs. It's also rather annoying to wait for the bumbling college D.J. to go through their unbroken 20 minute set, then try to keep track and associate which song was the good one and which were the lousy ones as they recite that laundry list. Hell, I probably cheated myself out of the last good radio station in L.A. and all manner of great songs therein because they did not backannounce. They offered a service where you could go online and find a playlist of the day, but again, who comes home at 2 am after a long drive home from work and goes straight to the computer knowing the exact time they heard that mystery track? I like the thrill of the hunt as much as the next crate digger, but I got limits.

Going back to the opening: we have a happy ending. After a decade and a half of wandering in the desert of my mind, and futile lyric searches and consultations with friends specializing in Northern Soul, I tried one last time putting a few key words in quotation marks in Google. And after a few permutations of phrase...I FINALLY FOUND IT!!!

This is one of the most stirring, inspirational pieces of music I've ever been exposed to, and after listening, I think you will partially agree. And the timing is very appropriate, because I've been in the midst of personal drama the last few days, muttering about wanting one thing to go right for me.

This is what I needed to remind me that I got a long way to go to earn that, because in the world right now, I'm damned lucky to have the things that indeed are going right that I don't appreciate. I got a small but potent answered prayer today.

And I have a new old favorite song back.

I'm gonna open up my heart
To the world this morning
See if I can help a friend

I'm gonna pull back the shades
Of my fear this morning
And let the light of
The world come in

Ever how much I'm down
I'm gonna go
I'm gonna go another round
Try to bring somebody happiness

As I look about me, I can see
All the blessings given to me

A baby boy
A woman who loves me
Oh, yeah

I'm gonna open up
Open up my heart this morning
And see if I can help a friend

I'm gonna give all my heart
Make a new start
In the world this morning
See if I can help a friend

If they scorn me today
Turn me away
No matter what they say
I'm gonna be just a friend

I'm gonna try it once more
Knock on every door
Of the world this morning
See if I can be a friend

Right on, brother, right on

I'm gonna give, give up my heart
I gotta make, I gotta make a
New start in the world this morning

If they scorn me today
Turn me away
No matter what they say
I'm gonna be a friend

Oh, I'm gonna try it
Try it once more
I gotta knock on
Each and every door
I gotta see if, I gotta
See if I can be a friend

I gotta say it one more time
I'm gonna give it all my heart
I gotta make me a new start
In the world this morning
I gotta see, can I help a friend

If they scorn me, scorn me today
Don't you dare turn me away
I'm gonna be just a friend

Oh, I'm gonna try it
Try it once more
I gotta knock on
Each and every door
Of the world this morning
I gotta see, I gotta
See if I can be a friend

Everybody, sing with me
I'm gotta give it all my heart
You know we gotta make a new start
In the world this morning
I'm gonna find me
I'm gonna find me a friend, oh

Scorn, scorn me today
They cannot
They can't turn me away
I'm gonna be just a friend
I wanna be a friend
I wanna be a friend

I gotta try just one more
You know I gotta knock on
Each and every door
I wanna see if I can be your friend
I wanna help somebody
I wanna help everybody

I gotta give up my heart
I wanna make
I wanna make a new start
In this world this morning

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


In the MAD magazine parody of NETWORK, there is a brilliant exchange that takes place in a panel satirizing Faye Dunaway's character and her bold programming directive:

"We have to make the public angry!"

"We could always bring back 'THE CAPTAIN & TENNILLE.'"

"We don't want to make them that angry!"

Well, my hatchet piece on THE ROOM reached that kind of critical mass.

About a week and a half ago, on a social networking site, I get a friend request from a fellow named Emery Emery, whom I have never met, but I notice that we have some friends in common. I hem and haw for a few days, because I really like to keep my friendlists small and restricted to people that I know well, but I see that he's friends with J. Keith and Blaine from the TV show, he knows Grae and Gariana from Popcorn Mafia...he must be an okay sort of guy, so I accept his friend request. turns out that he was in my auditorium during that fateful midnight show, and after reading what I wrote about it say that he took exception to my observation of the experience is a bit like saying that Christian Bale took exception to Shane Hurlbut's observation of the lights. And he wanted to make his point to me abundantly clear. But for some reason, he was unable to post a reply here at this blog to the original entry.
So...the man tracks me down on said networking site and sends me a friend request...without the politesse of, say, adding an honest message like, "Hey, I got a bone to pick with you over that THE ROOM review, and if you're any kind of real man you'll listen to what I have to say." Again, just thinking it's a guy like any other guy, I give him access to my account. And then, he writes this as his first piece of correspondence with me:

"I saw you standing in line, angry and stoic. I saw you sitting in theatre 5 looking down your nose at all the silliness. I saw you trying to look above it all while casting that pompous air you desperately exude.

Your insidious accusations of how the money was raised to make this epic failure are paranoid and laughable. Your interpretation of the audience is wildly inaccurate and your verbose diatribes are as much a train wreck as Wiseau's film making.

Perhaps your washed out career has you angry at the world and causes you to wander into other people's fun with a desire to shit in their mouths. Or is it that your failures and personal misery are waylaid when you demonize anyone who is not as lonely and pathetic as yourself?

I know your thesaurus must be gargantuan. huge, enormous, vast, giant, massive, colossal, mammoth, immense, mighty, monumental, mountainous, titanic, towering, tremendous, elephantine, king-size and/or immense.

I don't really need to go to my little hand held thesaurus to make my point. I can sum this up with the simplest of words, Mr. Heuck.

Don't worry about it."

one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four one-thousand, five


Apparently, none other than the editor of THE ARISTOCRATS, one of my favorite movies of the decade, regards me as a pompous, desperate, washed-up, lonely, pathetic failure. That hurt. As my comedy mentor Rod Paulette used to say, "Am I bleeding? I think I've been tagged." And frankly, I am left dumbfounded because I reiterate, I thought this man was just another friend-of-friends who wanted to know me better. So on the one hand, I'm pissed off at this blindside attack and this befriending under false pretenses, because it's the cyberspace equivalent of fucking a person in the ass and not even having the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. On the other hand, I'm amused that he's gone to such great and determined lengths to make the attack: Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged would be most pleased.

So, I decide to reply directly to him in a dignfied manner. After all, I am a cool, cool, considerate man. Thankfully, we did not degenerate into a flame war, and our hash was thus settled calmly and peacefully. I can't hold a grudge against someone over one stupid movie, especially when they are partly responsible for making a very good one. So I insist that you do not give this man any grief for any reason. He that strikes Cain shall himself be struck: Vengeance Is Mine.

And speaking of vengeance, you didn't honestly think I would just post a malediction like that without getting in my last licks, did you? I am the author, I outrank you!:

Now then, sending a friend request solely for the purpose of slagging me, especially without the benefit of advance warning, is dirty pool. But I can play dirtier. I will not give you the satisfaction of living up to your uninformed opinions of me, or of being able to tell people that I can't deal with harsh criticism. I am most definitely NOT de-friending you; you're stuck with me now.
But to offer my response to your train wreck of an opinion to my train wreck of an essay of Mr. Wiseau's train wreck of a movie, I don't need a thesaurus either: I don't give a fuck.

In conclusion, Mr. Emery gets his rebuttal, I get a few cheap laughs, all is swell. Now let's stop talking about this damned movie, and discuss a much better entertainment. It seems there's this family act...

Friday, February 5, 2010

He'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain FOR YOUR LIFE!!!

One of the most crippling, secret shames that I carried through my childhood was that I was irrationally afraid of many logos at the end of TV programs.

Little known fact for you youngsters who are used to quick flash credits on your favorite programs, but in the late '60's all the way to the mid-'80's, it seemed that almost every major movie studio that was making TV shows decided to end them with logos which, when seen by young children, would scare the frosting off their flakes. I'm not just talking about something obvious, like a roaring MGM lion. We're talking malevolent rectangles and flying trapezoids and greasy hands with hammers, featuring themes which were often loud, bombastic, lots of tinny brass and percussion, or disturbingly discordant, as if John Cage and Arnold Schoenberg were having a slap fight. So during prime time with the parents, depending on the production company behind the show, when the episode was over and the credits were running, I would have to switch over to a "safer" program, or pray for commercials on another channel, or just flat out leave the room and listen to the jingles, which was often just as bad because my mind could run wild from those sounds. Over time I made myself sit through and be stoic though these images and now they can't hurt me anymore, but I always felt stupid over being phobic about something so irrational.

However, one of the most wonderful things about the internet is that weird aspects of your person, which you thought you were the only one in the world that carried them, turn out to have been shared by thousands, and that there is a community devoted to them. And possibly the most liberating discovery I made through the internet is that I was not the only one who wanted to flee in footy pajamas from the TV at the end of a show. Heck, they even have their own Wiki, as well as blogs, Twitter feeds, etc. They faithfully comb through old videos, Tivo cable broadcasts, scour used VHS bins, searching for all manifestations and variations of their favorite closing logos, scary and benign.

And thanks to Dennis Cozzalio at Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, some canny filmmaker (with a little help from my friends Blaine Capatch and Josh Fadem) has made a tongue-in-cheek dramatization of the intangible fear that closing logos could inspire in children like me years ago:

Ironically, the "S from Hell" never particularly scared me; their earlier "Dancing Sticks" logo was the one that would pop up in nightmares. But even that was nothing compared to my longtime personal TV boogeyman, the Paramount "Closet Killer." Paramount's TV logos in general took me a long time to acclimate to, a process helped by the less threatening style they adopted in 1986 and beyond. And aside from the general weirdness of my phobia, this was a particular source of embarrassment because in all other aspects, Paramount was my favorite studio - they were making the cool TV shows like "HAPPY DAYS" and "STAR TREK" and "MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE," and the Diller/Eisner/Katzenberg team were cranking out awesome movies like SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER and MEATBALLS and AIRPLANE. Now, I was never afraid to watch a Paramount logo on a movie, because it was slow and silent and not jarring in the least. But I spent years never knowing who those guest stars were on "THE BRADY BUNCH" because I knew if I stayed to watch the credits just a little too long, I was going to face THE CLOSET KILLER!

In brief - the logo consisted of a wide shot of a rectangular box with "Paramount Television" in block letters inside, with the mountain logo on the right, that both panned and zoomed onto the mountain so that it filled the TV screen. That all takes place in four seconds, a lot of movement for a child's brain to process. It's comparable to when a dog owner makes their pet smell their mess close-up by rubbing their nose in it - Paramount was literally shoving the logo in our face, as if yelling "LOOK AT THE MOUNTAIN! LOOK AT IT!" And that rude shove was accompanied by an 8-note jingle by Dominic Frontiere that sounded less like logo music, and more like the kind of sting you would hear in a '40's murder mystery when drunken floozie #2 made the mistake of opening her bedroom closet:

Oh sure, you laugh. But just look at some of these comments from the actual YouTube page this comes from:

I still tremble in fear hearing it!
*sitting on ground, knees in chest rocking back & forth*

congratulations now i can't sleep tonight. or my German shepherd :O

Dammit, I crapped my pants.

AHHHH please don't hurt me, large creepy mountain!

The fact that they zoom in on the Paramount mountain on the last four notes doesn't help either,like "We're Paramount... SEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" all up in your face like it's about to come out of the TV into your lap!

...Is it possible for a logo to teabag someone?

I have to believe that somebody at the studio got half a hint because a couple years later, they replaced the music. Unfortunately, not only were they still pushing the mountain at you warp speed, they added a Lalo Schifrin/Robert Drasnin composition that sounded like a couple boulders broke loose from the peak and were going to roll down the mountain and crash through your set!

Okay, so we grow older, this ridiculousness gets resolved. Now it's no longer scary, but it's still a time capsule of that era and of our life in that time, and it's interesting to revisit. So, a while back, I rent the first season set of "LOVE AMERICAN STYLE" on DVD - another Paramount show that I couldn't study the credits for back in the day. And after the first episode ends, I am not greeted by either the Closet Killer or the Avalanche - I see this:

You see, because of the various buys and splits that Sumner Redstone has done with his media empire, Paramount no longer owns any of their TV shows - they are all under the umbrella of CBS. So even though that DVD box has both a Paramount and a CBS logo on it, they're divorced parties - just ask the accountants. So CBS is systematically removing the old Paramount trademarks from those programs with no regard to posterity, to assert their ownership. And aside from the fact that, well, their new logo sucks, it's tantamount to the behavior of people who try to reject the existence of certain historical facts. "Who, us? No, we never created any corporate i.d.'s that traumatized a generation of children! We most certainly did not!" It's the TV equivalent of holocaust denial, I'm tellin' ya!

So praise the Lord Lew Grade that we have such things as YouTube and support groups and photographic memories, so that we can warn the children of the future about how we grew up in dread of stylized S's and closet killers, and that without eternal TV vigilance, they could one day return...

Zees has not been a Filmways presentation, dahling.