Friday, July 20, 2012

"Ya no good!"

Sage Moonblood Stallone was born in May 1976, six months before his father, a struggling actor named Sylvester Stallone, became a worldwide sensation with the release of ROCKY (1976), an underdog drama he wrote and campaigned fiercely to star in, and which went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Before his first birthday, young Sage had become Hollywood royalty.Spending much of his childhood on the sets of his father's films, Sage developed a great respect for the often unheralded supporting actors who provided memorable performances in often thankless parts. He also became fond of low-budget films, especially those originating from his family's native Italy, that often equalled or exceeded the entertainment value of the big ticket films to which he was normally exposed.Reaching adulthood, Sage decided to put his love of overlooked films into practical action. With partner Bob Murawski, Sage founded Grindhouse Releasing, a company devoted to the preservation of exploitation films. With a determination that has rivaled most studios, he has restored and saved dozens of titles from oblivion. Backed by Quentin Tarantino, Grindhouse successfully reissued Lucio Fulci's thriller THE BEYOND to theatres in 1998.Now, Sage has focused his energy on drawing attention to the people he has so long admired. His directorial debut, VIC, dramatizes the cause and the pride of so many actors of the past, with the talent to give one more great performance and the aching hunger for the opportunity to deliver that performance, in an industry that seems to have no time for them.VIC assembles a virtual dream cast of familiar faces at the peak of their ability, all under the wise and loving eye of a director who has not forgotten their greatness, and is eager to bring out their best again. With this film, Sage Stallone emerges as a skilled and promising artist who, similar to his father's triumph of 30 years ago, has found a new way to champion the otherwise unsung hero.

That was a biography I wrote in 2006 for a private DVD pressing of Sage Stallone's half-hour dramatic film, VIC. And if you can somehow manage to tune out all the tabloid noise and garbage-picking that is passing for reportage on his death, that is how I am hoping you will remember him.

szulkin hit me with your e mail tonight and mentioned a show.
what is this show? tell me more right away.
also, we got a whole shipment of let's start screening!!!!

I always felt very lucky and privileged to have Sage's friendship, and I talked about it proudly when it was appropriate, not because I was bragging over some tangential connection to somebody famous, but because he was doing the kinds of things that I wanted to do in this business. There are a lot of people at the bottom of the entertainment industry who talk about the way things ought to be but can do nothing to make them happen, and there are a lot of people at the top who pretty much do nothing because they don't have to make anything happen. Sage was neither of those people. He was well aware of his position of privilege, and he used it to do what I couldn't: save and release movies, put people to work, change the game. And when I was on a long long phone call that would go until sunrise, and he'd be talking on a tangent so much that I could put down the receiver, make a sandwich, come back, and he'd STILL not finished his point, I chalked it up to that he just had more passion than me...and that was a good thing.

Sage is being lain to rest tomorrow. We hadn't spoken for a couple years and nobody else in his family knew me, so I wasn't invited to his funeral, but I don't mind. I have the sad suspicion that with the circumstance of his passing, and all the outside elements that have attached themselves to this tragic period, it's going to be a very stressful event anyhow, and I don't want that kind of association with his memory. My kind of eulogy would perhaps not be appropriate for a church service as well; Sage was a mischievious sort, and that's how I would have to pay tribute to him. So, I'll do so here.

First off, if there's a theme that comes to mind when I think of Sage, it's that he loved playing the heel. His first acting work was "betraying" his grandmother Jackie when she was starring on the infamous "GORGEOUS LADIES OF WRESTLING" TV series in the '80's, aligning himself with the Bad Girl contingent. When he became grossly dissatisfied with the end result of a LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT ripoff film called CHAOS which he had acted in, he fulfilled his contractual obligations to appear at screenings, but openly castigated the film and its director at those shows; audiences, for the most part, agreed with him. While sorting through some odd reels and trailers over a long night, he insisted on screening something for me without telling me what I would see, and all I have to say about that footage is what Carla Gugino screamed in SIN CITY: HE MADE ME WAAAAAAAATCHHHH! He was the kind of guy who would bust your balls, to say outlandish things, not because he wanted to start trouble, but because he felt like what he was saying was so ridiculous that of course it couldn't be true so everyone would get that it was a joke. It stands to reason that he grew up hearing all manner of ridiculous putdowns about himself and his family from people who knew little to nothing of his life, and by recognizing the patent implausibility of those rumors, or playing to those stereotypes by mock-acting as the bad guy, maybe it kept the hurt at bay. But it was always an act. Once the dozen-playing was out of the way, he was a polite, loyal, and loquacious man, and if he found out you were a mutual fan of something, you could end up conversing with him for hours.

What's going on man? Sorry i haven't called lately, i've been busy with the completion of my own film and doing publicity for the most "no good" film i have ever appeared in titled "Chaos"...Lame, Lame, L-A-M-E!!!  Anyways, hope things are going alright for you, and that nobody's screwin' you over, because most people are "no good!"...and you know it!  

I also think of Sage's tireless archival instincts. When he was working on a project for his Grindhouse Releasing label, he did not settle for "good enough." Heck, even when he used the classic "Astro Dater" motif as the logo for Grindhouse, he researched the records of National Screen Service to find the kind of ground glass and gels used to make those swirly images to recreate them properly. And when he bought a movie and prepared it for DVD, it may have taken so long as to frustrate eager fans of the film, but he made sure every attempt to cover any interesting aspect of that movie was done, so that what emerged would be the most comprehensive release of that movie ever, that there would never have to be another one done. While you may blanch at the subject matter, his 2-disc release of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is one of the greatest DVDs made - special features covering the filmmaker, the checkered history, the hunt for cast members willing to talk, the art, the script - you could skip watching the movie and still get your money's worth from it just from devouring the extras. He was still sitting on many long-promised titles like Umberto Lenzi's ROME ARMED TO THE TEETH, Peter Traynor's DEATH GAME, and the Duke Mitchell films MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE and GONE WITH THE POPE when he passed, albeit having already prepared many materials for whenever he felt the time was right to put them out to home video buyers; we're left to wonder if they will ever come out now.

Sir....A tightly rolled piece of plastic stating (Please return to  M.E. Heuck) has been found. I trust you're a wonderful pervert like  myself, so i've painfully decided to return it...a gift for you, from a schmuck they call "Mr. Price".

There was a running gag that I first witnessed during a long strange phone call Sage conducted with Vincent Gallo at my workplace: every few minutes during their conversation, he felt the need to find some way to say to him, "YA NO GOOD!" This eventually became a running gag between ourselves as well: for years after that, this was our mutual catchphrase. Emails would arrive, under a colorful array of aliases, or phone messages would be left for me, all of them proclaiming the same thing: "YA NO GOOD!"  It was never more wonderful to hear that phrase than from him.  When I had chance to meet Gallo at the L.A. opening of THE BROWN BUNNY, I told him that someone had called the location earlier leaving a message for him, saying he was no good; Gallo's face lit up like a kid at Christmas, excited at the prospect that he was coming, though he ultimately did not appear at the function. I ultimately learned of the origin later on.  For some reason, Sage was particularly fond of the climax of an episode of "KOJAK," where his father appeared as a rogue police officer, and the line was the punchy button to the big reveal (at 3:51):

Once, during the heyday of MySpace, and the waning days of my dubious celebrity, a spelling-challenged male fan sent me the equivalent of a drunken pickup line, typing, "OMG U R SO HOTTT, U LOOK LIKE SLY STALLONE!!" Naturally, since every straight man in a comedy sketch should get one laugh over the wise guy, I forwarded him the message. His reply: "NO! TELL HIM IT'S A WIG! TELL HIM YOU'RE BALD, BALD, LIKE YUL BRYNNER IN THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR! YEAH, WHATEVER...TALK TO YOU LATER, DAD!"

Speaking of his father, we didn't really speak about him. Sage was the guy doing stuff that interested me, not him, so that's what we discussed.  And all tabloid coverage of his life aside, being a child of a messy divorce myself, I understood that it was likely a topic best left for him to bring up if he was in the mood. And when he did choose to talk about it, Sage always spoke of his father with a mix of annoyance and pride. He admitted their relationship wasn't great, that they didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things, and in keeping with his impish nature, he liked to needle him: he told of how he'd given him a DVD of underground director Damon Packard's infamous nightmare film REFLECTIONS OF EVIL, and that each time he'd visit their house, he'd find where he'd buried the DVD, and move it to a more prominent position on his viewing stack. He played me tracks from his dad's abandoned record album, offering his commentary on the folly of the project. And when ROCKY BALBOA mined a lot of the same "one last shot" drama that had been present in his own film VIC, right down to using the same UMBERTO D.-style device of a beloved dog, he didn't quite agree when I said it was homage. Yet for all the heckling, he also lauded his father's work, the early personal films he made before he became pigeonholed in cartoonish blockbusters, and railed against modern producers whom he felt took advantage of him and devalued his stardom. Overall, I got the impression he was like any other guy with a successful father who wanted to get out from under and make his own name, feeling both agressive and protective toward that legacy.

Don't be upset at me Marc, let's be in contact. You've done good by  me and payback is needed.
I'm gonna start haunting you. Last week I hibernated because of my painful root canals.
Let me know your schedule.  

Regrettably, for the last couple years, we communicated entirely by rumor. All I would ever hear from him would be second hand from mutual friends, and knowing his propensity for tall tales, I could never be sure whether what I was hearing was true or just more extravagant bullshit. I'm always the type to worry that I've done something that will permanently alienate people, so I would constantly wonder if maybe this time he was legitimately angry or tired of me. But then I would remember all the times when, after long stretches of nothing, he came through when I needed him most, and ultimately determined that, well, I would hear from him when I heard from him.

But I'm never going to hear from him again.

And that's no good.

You've always been most honest, helpful, and trustworthy of my few it was the least I could do.

All the best -S  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Importance of Being Ernest

"Sooner or later, there comes a point in a man's life when he's gotta face some facts...And one fact I gotta face is that, whatever it is that women like, I ain't got it. I chased after enough girls in my life. I-I went to enough dances. I got hurt enough. I don't wanna get hurt no more." - 1955

"I masturbate a lot." - 2008

Patton Oswalt once posited that if you reached 100 years old, you should be allowed to commit murder with your bare hands as reward for the milestone.

Ernest Borgnine, had he made it another 5 years, would have been capable of actually doing that. Of course, he was such an affable man that he never would do so, but you would know it was possible all the same. Kind of like when the US and Russia had the SALT talks and understood the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction.

He was the everyman that could embody our loneliness, our laughter, our rage, our strength.

He had some screw-ups in public, then he straightened out his act.

He won an award for playing a lump. A lump that got molded into something beautiful.

Putting on a smile and working hard each day, waiting to see if tomorrow would be a little bit better.

Not always special, but special because he understood it wouldn't always be special.

Borgnine was our lives.