Sunday, November 23, 2008


This month, SIDE ORDERS begins with a vintage 1980 TBS late movie opening which stars my favorite theater in the United States, Atlanta's Plaza Theater (open since 1939 and still going strong). This is pure nostalgia for me, and a suitable sort of policy trailer / theater intro for the superlative movie scenes you're about to see!

While working at the Plaza, I met Patrick Flynn. An accomplished moviemaker (his color and then B&W super films are superb) and photographer (you can see some his stuff on West End ATL's Blue Tower Gallery site), Patrick worked at the Plaza for a record-breaking 15 years, also while toiling away as a bartender and waiter at other Atlanta establishments. Along with all the other idiosyncratic Plaza employees and satellites of the 1990s, Patrick and I would have incisive, insightful conversations about a whole host of bizarre, quite taboo subject matters--usually of a darker bent--while we waited for the next movies to be let in. All of us had a wonderful time working at that theater. I don't see its truly one-of-a-kind quality being repeated in our lives, but at least we were lucky to once have treasured the Plaza as our homebase. Anyway, over the years there, I found that Patrick and I shared the same passion for a key movie blockbuster from our childhoods: Ronald Neame's 1972 epic The Poseidon Adventure. I've discovered, through the years, that The Poseidon Adventure has a very rich cult following that can quote the film by heart. This doesn't surprise me a bit. If you were a kid in the early 1970s, The Poseidon Adventure was the shit! It's got a terrific cast--Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowell, Arthur O' Connnell, Leslie Nielsen (whose scenes are now pure folly after his precise self-spoofery in Airplane and Police Squad!/The Naked Gun). It's got Red Buttons protecting cute Carol Lynley, and bratty kid Eric Shea running around with his little chickie sister Pamela Sue Martin. Producer Irwin Allen's runaway moneymaker was nominated for Oscars for its well-crafted photography, sound, costumes, art direction, score (by John Williams), and for Shelley Winters' iconic supporting performance as the movie's lovable, heroic fat lady. And it won two awards: one for its song ("The Morning After," which my elementary school class sang on stage as part of our graduation ceremony) and for its beautiful special effects. Lemme tell ya, the movie was a bonafide phenom.

If you're a lover of The Poseidon Adventure, you naturally count the capsizing of the huge boat as one of your favorite movie moments. In his excellent DVD commentary on the movie--the only one I've heard in which a director admits his mistakes as well as his successes--Ronald Neame (at one time a close collaborator with fellow Brit David Lean) details the tremendous amount of work that went into making this sequence operate as well as it does. Neame and his editors took detailed care in making sure, camera-wise, the sequence makes sense. If you notice, the angle of the camera is always kept fully in synch with the supposed position of the boat. This make this sequence take hold of us, along with the performances of the stars as well as the brave extras (including the guy who falls at the end, which was done on the first take). Wolfgang Petersen, director of the stinky 2006 remake Poseidon failed to heed Neame's example in his doofus multi-million dollar recreation of this scene; Petersen did a supremely messy job convincing the viewer of the disaster's reality, while Neame--at a fraction of the cost--achieves brilliance. I can't count how many times Patrick Flynn and I have marveled at this scene--seriously, it must be in the 50-time range. And, still, we're positive this is one of the most exciting and significant moments in movie history.

For the tuneful portion of SIDE ORDERS, I include this scene from Herbert Ross's neglected 1981 musical Pennies From Heaven. The best scene in screenwriter Dennis Potter's incredibly downbeat Great Depression fable has Christopher Walken playing a barroom pimp who approaches the shy Bernadette Peters after she's been jilted by failing sheet-music salesman Steve Martin. Walken is slimily attempting to recruit her as a prostitute, and as a result, she joins the fantasy-obsessed Steve Martin in imagining her enemies as a singing, dancing player in a 1930s musical. This scene is sheer magnificence, with Walken delivering one of the most notable one-scene performances ever. He's an accomplished dancer, with training from the vaudeville greats; if you didn't know that by now, what with his appearance in that Fatboy Slim video, then his scene in Pennies From Heaven will clue you in. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole movie: it's filled with marvels like this.

This gear-jamming car chase from Peter Yates's 1968 film Bullitt helped the movie win Oscars for its sound and editing. Even then, moviegoers had never seen anything like it; seen now, it's still a model of the artform. Just watch the rhythm of the cuts and listen to the battling car engines and you'll realize it's immeasurably influential. It's been long noted that more hubcaps are lost in this scene than there are available on the cars in action. See if you can count 'em!

In Alan J. Pakula's The Parallax View, Warren Beatty plays a small-time journalist investigating a possibly CIA-run program designed to train assassins to kill prominent political figures. Beatty sets himself up as an entrant into this program, and he's invited to the Parallax Corporation's headquarters to test for the program. He sits down, hands in the proper place, and they show him this movie, all the while recording his internal responses. The movie that they project--that we see--is unlike anything ever witnessed in mainstream cinema. It is disturbing to the nth degree. Composed of famous photographs from movies, journalism, advertising, and pop culture, and coupled with dissonant music from David Shire, this spoiler-free montage from The Parallax View will instantly make you want to see the whole movie.

Finally, a trailer from one of my favorite movies. This time: Woody Allen's first foray into dramatic filmmaking, 1978's Interiors (with a couple of scenes that weren't in the final film).


MovieMan0283 said...

I discovered that scene from Parallax in an unusual way. I was flipping through the channels one night - probably about 15 or 16 - and I came across the beginning of a weird montage. It was on AMC - and this was before AMC became the joke that it is today; it was still the 90s version of TCM. But this was unlike anything I'd ever seen on AMC, it was so avant-garde and transgressive, and I was glued to the screen. As the movie continued from that astonishing point, I had no idea what was going on, how Beatty's character had gotten where he was or where he was going. Actually, I think I liked it more that way than when I eventually saw the whole thing (it's a little more uneven than I expected). But still an amazing movie, and one I hope to review soon on my blog.

I come to say many movies already having some idea (however vague) of what to expect, but this was one of my great discoveries, something I stumbled upon without any preparation (I'd never heard of the film and almost wondered if I'd imagined this experience!) and was blown away by.

MovieMan0283 said...

Should read, "I come to SEE many movies..."