Saturday, March 28, 2009


To start off in the latest edition of SIDE ORDERS, I have the simple but powerful video that pops up in the middle of Barry Shear's 1968 movie Wild in the Streets. An incendiary work like this couldn't be produced today; its premise: the youth have taken over America, and a pop star, Max Frost, is elected to the U.S. presidency. All people over 35 are put into concentration camps and fed LSD (the film is partially inspired by that ol' 60s bromide "Never trust anyone over 30"). Produced by Corman-competitors AIP (Arkoff International Pictures, named for Samuel Z. Arkoff) and Oscar-nominated for its editing (amazingly enough), Wild in the Streets is a sometimes campy but ultimately frightening look at the hate that lay inside even the most peace-loving sixties hippie; it's also very politically savvy. The landmark soundtrack, including the hit song "The Shape of Things to Come," was largely written by Brill Building denizens Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. Here's just four of this married songwriting team's greatest hits: "On Broadway" by The Drifters, "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by The Animals, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by The Righteous Brothers, and "Don't Know Much" by Aaron Neville and Linda Rondstadt. Though I have no idea if he actually did the vocals or not (he probably didn't do the singing), the on-screen performer here is Christopher Jones, the late 60s movie star who later memorably appeared in David Lean's Ryan's Daughter. Jones voluntarily cut short his movie career after discovering he liked painting better (he was also extremely distraught over the Manson-perpetrated murder of his friend and one-time lover Sharon Tate). He was offered the role of Zed in Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, but turned it down. Still, in both this and Ryan's Daughter, he's a resonating presence.
Lord of War, directed by Andrew Nichols (Gattaca), was an only intermitantly interesting film from 2005 with Nicholas Cage as an arms dealer selling his wares to third-world countries. My initial feelings upon hearing the movie's title are: blah. But I'm extremely enthusiastic in my support of its astounding credits sequence, which details the birth of a bullet. As they used to say with Saul Bass-designed openings, it alone is worth the price of admission.
The Knack, and How To Get It won the Palme D'or at the 1965 Cannes Film Festival and was American-born Richard Lester's first film post-Beatles (he directed the Beatles' vehicles A Hard Day's Night and Help!). The Knack is a frantic romp in which its lead (Michael Crawford, later more famous for being the original Phantom of the Opera on Broadway) is a wimpy London schoolteacher trying to learn how to pick up girls from his more romantically successful upstairs neighbor (Ray Brooks). The strangely alluring Rita Tushingham is the girl who may or may not be made just for him. Lester (pictured right) made an extremely smart and funny movie, but only IF you're paying attention (and even if you're not, there's a lot of fantastic visual humor in it). Extremely influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague, it has a playful attitude towards cinema, utilizing a myriad of camera tricks to jolt the audience into laughter. It also has a terrific trailer, backed by jazzbo John Barry's potent score. By the way, even though it's in English, the British brogues are so thick that I recommend The Knack, and How To Get It be watched with the subtitles on. As such, though, it's a perfect film for its singular time and place.
I think seeing normal people at work at what they do is one of the prime subject matters that has been left by the wayside cinematically. I always love it when I'm seeing people on-screen making a gainful living. And, as a movie lover, I'm especially interested in seeing people make movies. As far as I know, this scene from Albert Brooks' Modern Romance is the only scene in film history that follows what a film editor does. As editing is possibly the most important element of moviemaking, I find this scene to be an invaluable resource. It's also quite nostalgic, having been made before the digital editing revolution. So here, with Albert Brooks and Bruno Kirby (as his assistant), we get to see what went into editing movies when we had flat-bed editing tables and splicing tape and so many more valuably tactile elements to the art. The two guys are working with footage shot for a low-budget sci-fi movie starring George Kennedy (and directed by "David," played by Simpsons creator and Oscar-winner James L. Brooks). Though this movie is largely about Brooks' troubled relationship with his girlfriend Kathryn Harrold, I'm very thankful Brooks took the time to concoct this brilliant scene, which stands as a mini-lesson in the art of film editing (there's even a later moment where Brooks and Kirby are struggling to create sound effects for this crappy movie).
With 1980's The Long Riders, writer/director Walter Hill, for a short time, seemed like the new Sam Peckinpah. But, as we now know, NO ONE can keep that game up. Peckinpah--the director of The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Ride the High Country, and Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia--was a singular film personality. Still, this shootout scene remains the best ersatz Peckinpah available; hell, since this movie, no one has even TRIED to replicate the Peckinpah mystique. The casting of The Long Riders is perhaps its greatest wonder: James and Stacy Keach as Frank and Jesse James; David, Keith and Robert Carradine as Cole, Jim, and Bob Younger; David and Randy Quaid as Ed and Clell Miller; and Nicholas and Christopher Guest as Robert and Charlie Ford. This is a feat, to be sure; four set of acting brothers in one movie? The chances of this ever happening again in cinema history are the same as being the victim of an avalanche 30 times in a row! Witness this kinetic scene, with perfect editing and sound (no score) that has the James gang riding into Minnesota's Northfield, ready to rob the town bank, not knowing that they're being tracked by pissed-off authorities. An incredible scene, replete with Peckinpah-like slow-motion that arguably comes close to outdoing the master. Finally, for fun, an old rotoscoped video I used to see in between movies on HBO's "Video Jukebox" in the early 1980s. I don't know anything about the artist, Hilly Michaels, except that the video and the song "Calling All Girls" kicks-fucking-ass! One of the best videos ever made!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Re: the Modern Romance scenes in which they break down the decisions made in the editing room and how they play on the screen, good call. I also always liked that part of the movie.

Greg G.