Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Predictably, after much spleen-venting yesterday over the remake of The Fury, I did a search for movies released in 1978, the year of the original.

The seventies tend to be remembered as some sort of golden age of auteurism, when Scorsese and Altman and so many others reigned supreme, and all was right with the world. But looking at 1978's releases, what is most striking is the diversity of the mainstream.

The top-grossing movies of the year were Grease and Animal House, which did crazy business, over a hundred million apiece. Most movies, though, earned considerably less than that. A gross in the twenty to forty million dollar range could be considered a hit.

Admittedly, we're talking 1978 dollars here, but still, production budgets were considerably lower. The notoriously overbudget The Wiz cost a then-exorbitant 24 million, but most movies were made for much less. Even Grease, ruthlessly designed to be a blockbuster, only cost 6 million to produce. Those numbers don't count marketing expenses, but those were much less, too--a TV campaign, some print ads, that was about it. Movies didn't open at eighty bazillion theaters and live or die by their opening weekend. Again, using Grease as an example--it opened on relatively few screens in bigger markets, then slowly made its way to neighborhood theaters, small town and drive-ins. It played throughout the entire summer and into the fall, a pretty common pattern at the time.

What all these numbers mean is that the studios could afford to mix it up. With low production and marketing costs, not every movie had to be huge to earn a profit. So mainstream studio releases included everything from upscale items like Movie, Movie, F.I.S.T., The Brinks Job or Comes A Horseman to non-formulaic comedies like Heaven Can Wait or The End, from attempted smash hits like Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Swarm and The Boys From Brazil to proudly stupid epics like Up In Smoke and Every Which Way But Loose and prestige efforts like Days Of Heaven and Pretty Baby.

There were, of course, movies like we have now. Still, aside from a junky sequel (Jaws 2), the horror movies (Halloween and Dawn Of The Dead), testosterone-drenched action fare (The Driver, Straight Time) and "chick flicks" (Girlfriends, An Unmarried Woman) had more on their minds than current efforts in the same basic genres. Even a needless remake of a classic, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, was made in good faith, using the template of the Age Of Anxiety original to explore the dark belly of the Me Decade.

To list these efforts is merely to scratch the surface. I'm not saying these are all good pictures--some of them are profoundly bad--but they're all different from each other, yet clearly designed to appeal to as wide a range of people as possible. Not everything was marketed to one narrow demographic. Back then, everyone went to the movies, and there was always something to see.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


When I'm not going into too much detail about my love life or prattling on about the cats or extolling the greatness of Vincente Minnelli or posting clips of Richard Thompson and Marshall Crenshaw or making random Star Wars references or bemoaning another sorry season for the Yankees (though they've actually won two games in a row, so there's that) or reminding you that Boston sports fans are a force of evil in the world and must be stopped at all costs, I often use this space to complain about the decline of creativity in the popular arts.

And so I will again: They're planning to remake The Fury.

Largely forgotten now, 1978's would-be blockbuster The Fury existed almost entirely as a showcase for Brian DePalma's awesome directorial skills. Despite a dumb premise (Carrie-styled telepathic teens mixed up with the sort of anti-government paranoia popular in the seventies) and a mixed bag of a cast (John Cassavetes and Andrew Stevens shouldn't even share the same planet, much less the screen) DePalma's relentless look-what-I-can-do sense of style, abetted by Paul Hirsch's furious editing and a particularly lovely John Williams score, manages to make this overbaked piece of pure studio product into something hugely entertaining. I was twelve when it opened, and it blew me away; it's a textbook example of how a great filmmaker can use all the resources at his disposal to make something out of nothing.

No, I suppose, it's not a deathless work of cinema. Heck, it's not even as high in the DePalma canon as Sisters or Carrie, both of which suffered pointless do-overs. But at least those titles were well-remembered. What I don't understand is taking a movie nobody cares about, that wasn't even a hit at the time, that didn't have a particularly original premise, and remaking it.

You want to "re-imagine" Halloween, I can understand. The original was a huge hit, with a brilliantly simple premise. Everyone knows it, even if they've never seen it. I can understand thinking there's a potential audience. I even understand, in a mercenary sense, the urge to redo The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Prom Night. It has nothing to do with the movies themselves--when the titles are as familiar are those, you could show ninety minutes of unprocessed film and audiences will still show up, at least for opening weekend.

And I'm not entirely opposed to the concept of remakes. They'd filmed The Maltese Falcon twice before John Huston finally did it right. That makes sense, too--a redo of a movie that had huge potential but didn't deliver. Plenty of those out there; if somebody decided to take another pass at Logan's Run, I'd understand.

But again, The Fury isn't an iconic title, and it didn't have a great premise that went somehow unfulfilled. It was a bad movie executed with such brilliant flair it somehow transcended itself, a work of crazy genius. Made today, with some Michael Bay-wannabe directing, it would look and feel exactly like every other thriller out there, Avid-edited, CGI-enhanced, and it would just be bad.

Monday, April 28, 2008


This was--well, okay, still is--one of those "Sorry, can't think of anything to write, enjoy some stuff I found on YouTube" posts...but with a twist: The clips I'd love to show you can't be embedded.

I started out looking for some Julie London songs, and found an amazing live bit I'd never seen before...but Embedding Disabled By Request. So I did a search to see if there were any clips of London performing Cry Me A River besides the familiar excerpt from The Girl Can't Help It which I'm pretty sure I've posted before. No luck, but there was a video of Lulu performing the song, accompanied by Jeff Beck, which led to an incredibly camptastic duet between Lulu and Shirley Bassey (!) on You're The One That I Want (!!), which was so astonishingly cheesy, I just had to share it with you...but Embedding Disabled By Request.

Somehow, all this led to clips of Lena Zavaroni, which I could post for you, but won't. If you've never heard of her, trust me, I'm doing you a favor, and if you have heard of her, that painful sensation in your chest is your soul crushed by a sudden memory of Ma, He's Makin' Eyes At Me. I'm so sorry.

Well, that was a long way to go, wasn't it? Anyway, here's London's husband, the late, great Bobby Troup, performing a little classic he wrote:

This could, of course, lead me to going on and on about London and Troup on Jack Webb's beloved old Emergency! series, and how it relates to my memory of Elvis' death, which could lead to a whole other series of clips...

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Doing some research for the previous entry (since I name-checked Salome and Nebraska, I originally intended to post clips), I stumbled across this.

It might be a stretch to say Dancing In The Dark is the worst music video of all time--there's a lot of competition--but it's almost certainly the worst thing ever put together by major talent. At the time, Bruce Springsteen famously disdained promo clips, so when he deigned to film one, he didn't bother with any of the hack video directors of the day. No sir, he hired no less a director than Brian DePalma, who...really should have been able to do something better than this. In fairness to DePalma, that naggingly upbeat synth riff (surely this is the peppiest song ever to feature a line like "They'll be carving you up alright") is hardly conducive to a showcase for his signature prince-of-darkness style. Still--this?

I would imagine this clip may have been single-handedly responsible for shaking many Springsteen fanatics out of their euphoria, but if nothing else, it showcases the finest example of Bad White Guy Dancing ever seen outside of a Lutheran wedding. Hell, I can dance better than this, and I can't dance.

Incidentally, after this debacle, Springsteen's next several videos were directed by another filmmaker of imposing stature, John Sayles. They weren't actually much better, but at least they didn't showcase The Boss all decked out like Andrew McCarthy. And--Lord help us--dancing.


Music always meant a lot to me. I was certainly the only kid in my school who spent most of his time listening to film scores and classical music. Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone and Kurt Weill pretty much ruled my world. The discovery of one composer or songwriter would lead me somewhere else, new sounds always awaiting, new obsessions to nurse. My world expanded--I loved Richard Strauss' Salome and Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska with equal passion. (The ardor for both has faded to muted respect.)

Though there was always music in my life--The Beatles always played somewhere in the background--this is the first piece I remember absolutely loving. Sure, it comes from a favorite movie from my childhood, but I think I realized I loved it as music separate from its context. In a sense, it's very possible I'd never have become the person I am if Elmer Bernstein hadn't entered the picture at exactly the right moment, revealing a world of audio delight I'd never known.

Saturday, April 26, 2008


Fanboys everywhere wet their pants with the announcement that Guillermo Del Toro would direct a pair of Lord Of The Rings prequels, an adaptation of The Hobbit and an original, presumably setting up the story threads that paid off in Lord Of The Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien never felt the need to write such a book, but hey, what did he know?

I just find this news kind of depressing. Del Toro has made three of the finest fantasy films of recent years, Cronos, The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth. Sure, he's done big dumb throwaway stuff before--Blade II, Hellboy and its upcoming sequel--but though nothing special, they were at least infused with the director's sensibility.

This time, though, he's leaving his home base of Mexico and moving to New Zealand for four years (!), becoming a cog in the Peter Jackson Blockbuster Factory. Jackson, of course, was also once a director with a distinctive voice, who lost all sense of proportion (and possibly, his talent) while toiling away on his Tolkien adaptations. Jackson will executive produce and co-write Del Toro's films, and no doubt serve as unofficial co-director.

I can only think of two reasons why a filmmaker of Del Toro's stature would spend four years of his life submitting to another director's will: 1) Money, money, money! 2) He actually thinks this is a good idea.

In the first case, he's a mercenary. In the second, he's not as original a talent as I believed him to be. Either way...bummer.

Friday, April 25, 2008


Once the light is shut off, Monika appears as always, purring aggressively, tail thumping on the bed. She snuggles gently beside me. My hand strokes her back and pets her face, finally resting on her feet.

Her silver feet.

Funny what you remember, and when. Suddenly I think of Mom, who used to think her "little silver footies" were Monika's most attractive feature. And I think of laying on the couch in Mom's living room on a Friday night, a week before she died, Mom stumbling repeatedly to the bathroom, breathing heavily on her way back to her bedroom, her health failing right before my eyes.

Monika laid with me that night, too, though restlessly, as if she felt enormous changes on the way, her purring almost desperate, so loud it nearly drowned out the Seventies Music Choice channel Mom played on the TV, Summer Breeze fading into Smoke From A Distant Fire fading into Ariel.

Morning came, Mom was weak and out of it. We ordered a pizza and watched ten minutes of the awful Gil Gerard Buck Rogers movie I'd brought for us to make fun of, then she asked me to leave. I went home and pretended things were okay. I called Mom that night, and she told me she felt better, but her voice sounded tired.

Monika now slips under a chair. Thunder rumbles, lightning flashes, and she's scared of storms. All I see is her tail, twitching, twitching.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


I've been meaning to start a semi-regular series celebrating the greatest songwriters of the rock era. I figured I'd start with Steely Dan's Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who I honestly believe have crafted some of the greatest words and music ever written. I intended to say kind things about professional songwriters like Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller and Dan Penn, celebrate oddball geniuses like Ron Mael of Sparks, praise thoughtful, novelistic singer-songwriters like Warren Zevon, Richard Thompson and Randy Newman.

Honestly, it didn't occur to me at first to say anything about these guys:

After all, the absolutely pure pop bliss of John Lennon and Paul McCartney is such a given, there's not a whole lot left to say about it. Still, the more I plow through The Beatles songbook, the more I wonder about their status as songwriters.

It's pretty much understood that, once past the initial phase of Beatlemania, Lennon and McCartney seldom wrote together. Sure, John might toss out a few lyrical idea to Paul, just as Paul might provide some melodic assistance for John. But even as early as Help, they essentially wrote separately.

Yet just having the other around seemed somehow inspirational. Consider this:

This is, by all accounts, pure Paul, and one of his finest moments. I could geek out all day about what a great song this is, but what I want to note here is its lyrical tone. "Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight...The only difference is you're down there...I'm looking through you, and you're nowhere." Seems kinda bitter for The Cute One, doesn't it? Kind of acerbic, kind of...Lennon-esque.

Not that I'm saying Lennon helped out. There's no indication he had anything to do with this. But his spirit was there; McCartney likely wanted to please him.

It worked the other way, too. This is all Lennon, no doubt:

Angst-filled and sort of depressing, typical John. But that chorus ("Let me take you down") is so airy, so light, so effortlessly melodic--again, not that McCartney wrote it...but it sure sounds like he did.

Another thing about that song--it's so dependent on George Martin's production, it's become difficult to think of the song independent of its sound. Demos exist, of course, and they're gorgeous, proof that yes, this is a great song.

Elsewhere, though, the great song line blurs. This is one of my all-time favorites:

...but is it a great song? It's a great recording, for sure. But it is, fairly transparently, more a collection of snippets jammed together. Brilliant snippets, and the thing as a whole is some sort of crazy masterpiece, but that's only because Lennon, assisted again by George Martin's awesome production skills, makes it work through sheer conviction. As songwriting, it's lazy and unfinished. As record-making, it's great.

And that's the biggest problem with analyzing Lennon and McCartney as songwriters. Their recordings are so well-known, so iconic, that it becomes nearly impossible to discover the craft beneath the familiar trappings, to separate the singer from the song. True, The Beatles rank among the most frequently-covered bands of all time. But most of those covers are lousy, or hew closely to the originals. Even a really great version of a Beatles tune--like Fiona Apple's lovely version of this site's theme song

--seems more like a reaction to the original recording than something wholly original. In Apple's case, she takes Lennon's vision of transcendence and transforms it into something dark and despairing. (More pools of sorrow than waves of joy, you might say.) But she doesn't--can't--truly make it her own, because we know Lennon's version, and whatever Apple does, however well she does it, she nevertheless seems like a pretender.

Which isn't fair to her, or any other artists who've done fine takes on The Beatles songbook. But it's not fair to Lennon and McCartney, either. A song's greatness may best be measured by how malleable it is, how different performers can take it as raw material and discover their own truth inside it. Lennon and McCartney created some of the greatest music ever recorded, but the genius of their own performances limited their songs to be seen forever through a glass onion, impossible to penetrate.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


You don't care and I don't care, but the wire services apparently feel it's a story worth running: NBC has revealed the cast of its upcoming Celebrity Circus show!

And what Big Names will astonish and delight us? Why, uh, the guy who played Peter Brady and, let's see, some super model or other and...This is pathetic. The only person here I'm familiar with is Wee Man from Jackass. (There's no particular pride involved in admitting a fondness for Jackass, but no shame conceded, either.)

I mean: Really? Back in the seventies, TV brought us Circus Of The Stars. Lauren Bacall! Jerry Lewis! Rock Hudson! Angela Lansbury! You know--stars. Sure, the performers might also include the likes of Gil Gerald and Jayne Kennedy, but at least they appeared regularly on TV at the time. By the loosest possible standards, they were celebrities, if not necessarily stars.

But criminy--Rachel Hunter? She's most famous, near as I can tell, for appearing on Dancing With The Stars, on which she had no business appearing, since she is not--and I can't stress this enough--a star.

If someone created a show entitled Dancing With Non-Entities, she'd fit right in, though. Peter Brady could join her, and oh, what jolly times they'd have.


To most rational people, scoring 55% of votes in a race against one other person is a marginal victory at best.

To Hillary Clinton, it's a mandate, proof that "the people" support her.

So, not unlike Celine Dion's heart, she will go on, continuing her scorched-earth attacks against Barack Obama, determined to take down the entire Democratic party if she can't have her way.

Worse, she's suddenly sounding like Cheney or Rumsfeld: "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran," she said Tuesday. Um, I'm sorry. Weren't you just railing against the war in Iraq a few weeks ago? Apparently, when she said she wanted U.S. troops out of Iraq, she didn't actually mean she wanted them to come home.

Not that Obama provides much contrast. Anyone with the money to play politics is out of touch by definition. Clinton, Obama and John McCain, jetting across the nation in transportation provided by deep-pocketed backers, have no clue what life is like for the average American. Soaring gas prices mean many people have to scale down their dreams just to be able to afford the drive to work. And they're the lucky ones, the ones who still have jobs, or houses to come home to. Decades of policies seemingly designed to hinder, not help, those less fortunate become even less adequate as more and more people bottom out.

Oh, but Hillary cares, and Barack and John. They're completely different, they claim. Just don't ask them for specifics.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


So, Katie asked as she hijacked this space again, do I ever mention her here?

Um, yes. I mean, no. Yes, but probably not often enough.

Partly, I'm afraid speaking too much of the thing will somehow destroy it. I couldn't shut up about the awesomeness of Tabbatha, and, well...heh.

Katie's afraid to commit to a full-blown relationship because she's not sure of the seriousness of my intent, which--isn't it ironic?--is the same reason I can't quite commit to same myself. Yet we see each other pretty much every day, an amazing amount of time spent together for two people who aren't, you know, seeing each other.

Maybe we've both been through the mill too many times, and it's hard to feel this is all somehow shiny and new. We're too cynical, too beaten down, too weary. Somehow, though, we continue, staggering down some path together, not sure of the destination or if we'll even arrive, but glad for each other's company.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Hello everyone. I don't know what Edward talks about but I thought I'd say hi, this is Katie. Remember me? So, does he talk about me anymore?


Back when I used to write a column for a semi-scrappy alternative weekly, my friend Howard made me promise I'd never write the obligatory "columnist is stuck for an idea, so writes about having no idea" piece.

Sadly, that day has arrived.

Ordinarily, I'd just go to YouTube and bring you a clip of Marshall Crenshaw or something, but even then, I'd try to write something around it, put it in some sort of context, make with the funny asides, whatever. And hey, trust me, I'll return to that fallback move soon enough, but I just did that sort of thing two days ago, and I feel like I should be bringing you some sort of original content...but I got nothin'.

Usually, when desperation strikes, I can count on reading something in The New York Times to sufficiently amuse me or piss me off, and spin something out of that, but this time, no. Yeah, the pope's mass in NYC nearly prompted a "At least something inspiring is finally happening in Yankee Stadium" bit, but I'm sure many people have already done similar bits, and honestly, I have no feelings about the pope one way or the other. And, if their pitching doesn't improve, I may soon have similar feelings about the Yankees.

Say, that last bit seemed odd, didn't it? Snotty, disappointed asides about the Yankees are starting to become as common around here as Star Wars references. I haven't riffed on James Bond or railed against The Decider lately, but this is something like my fourth dispirited comment on the Yankees in a week. Seriously, I'm only a casual baseball fan (though I admit I have The Times' Bats blog bookmarked, which...sad), but damn--Really guys? A tough time against the Orioles?

So I could have made this post a Yankees rant, but I just don't have the energy or ambition necessary to research such a piece. And besides, couldn't you find a million similar screeds out there on the interweb, all of them written by people more knowledgeable than me? Of course you could. And you probably don't need to read anything more about my cats, or more whining about my romantic tribulations. Besides, I don't feel like writing about these things right now.

So we have this: a blank screen, waiting to be filled, facing down a paucity of ideas. Out of such conflict, no good can come. Unless you actually enjoy rambling, pointless wordage, in which case...You're welcome!

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Paul had a ball game Saturday morning. I picked him up there, and we hung out the rest of the day and night. He'll be here today until a little after noon.

Bit of a controversy there, as Katie, who used to be cool with me hanging with Paul, now thinks I may only be doing stuff with him as part of a ridiculously convoluted scheme to get back with his mom. Not true--in fact, I spent time with Tabbatha and New Boyfriend during the game, and hey, I only winced slightly when she called him honey. Fact is, Paul and I just seem to have similar mindsets--yeah, I know, what does it mean that my mindset is similar to an eight-year-old's?--and can have a ton of fun doing a whole lot of nothing.

We have long, circuitous conversations involving arcane points of Star Wars trivia. We dream up powers we'd have as superheroes. (Paul: "I'd have every power in the galaxy." Me: "I'd have the power to not creep out women.") We stage our own martial-arts battles (which usually wind up involving light sabers, which I think is in violation of centuries of Shaolin tradition). We watch Indiana Jones movies, then act them out afterwards. (Again, Indy always seems to wind up with a light saber.) We discuss what we'd do with the money we'll make once we market our great invention: chocolate dental floss. We have deadpan conversations (Me: "Can you do me a favor?" Paul: "What?" Me: "Could you wipe the crumbs off the table?" Paul: "That's not much of a favor." Me: "Oh, and I also want you to kill a guy." Paul: "Who?" Me: "You'll receive a photo in the mail." Paul: "Can I use my light saber?" Me: "Your call." Paul: "Who called?") that seemed to amuse people at neighboring tables at Old Country Buffet.

We have fun.

Right now he's watching TV, and we'll probably go outside soon. No doubt a light saber battle is at hand.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Granted, yes, I do post a lot of Richard Thompson clips around here. What can I say? Here's another one.

Thompson's most recent album, Sweet Warrior, didn't do a whole lot for me on my initial listening, and nothing on it inspired me to return immediately. Yet when I saw him in concert a month or so ago, Thompson performed this song from the album, and I realized tears blurred my vision. They might have been caused by the sheer beauty of Thompson's guitar work. More likely, the full meaning of the lyrics suddenly became clear.

Every day I'll wear your memory
Like a favorite shirt upon my back
In the hallway, there's my suitcase
By the door, I never did unpack

No sir, that doesn't hit way too close to home. (Tries to laugh, sighs instead. Slight pause, followed by uncontrolled weeping.)

Friday, April 18, 2008


Anyone who has ever had a break-up with someone else should quake in fear, at least according to a story in today's New York Times. Your ex could be spilling embarrassing details on a blog at this very minute. From the tone of this piece, you'd think every writer in Blogland (I will NOT use the term "blogosphere") spent most of their time settling old scores with former flames.

(Of course, everyone knows blogs are really showcases for spleen-venting political commentary and random Star Wars references. Also, places to cry publicly when the Yankees lose to the Red Sox again.)

Funny, but it's never occurred to me to use this space to trash my ex. For one thing, she encouraged me to start writing this thing, and is a familiar presence here through her comments. And her blog is included in my list o' links, as mine is on hers. We're still friends, in other words, but even if we weren't, it probably wouldn't occur to either of us to waste time trashing the other. We've each spent some time in our respective forums detailing some of the unwindings of the marriage, but not because we're attempting to settle scores. We were together, now we're not; this is part of our lives, the lives we chronicle in writing.

Still, because The Times suggests this is the type of thing the blog-besotted public demands--and God knows, The Times is never wrong--I'd better get to it. A scabrous detail about my ex: She actually owned a Kenny G album.

Yet knowing this, I still married her. Shocking!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


I'm writing to note the passing of the fine actress Hazel Court at the age of 82, and also to curse the Associated Press, for a sneering, dismissive story on her death.

"Like other 'scream queens of the era," claims the AP, "Court often relied on her cleavage and her ability to shriek in fear and die horrible deaths for her roles."

Uh, well--no. Okay, it's true about the cleavage. She was, after all, the female lead in Terence Fisher's The Curse Of Frankenstein, the first true Hammer horror film and thus, to some of us, a work of seismic importance. Like any actress in a Hammer production, her cleavage is the most notable aspect of her role, though she makes surprisingly little impact here. (Curse is an embryonic picture in most ways. Even Christopher Lee isn't particularly memorable in it.)

She's much better--and, yes, her bust gets more of a workout--in a later film Fisher directed for Hammer, The Man Who Could Cheat Death. But she really came into her own with her work in Roger Corman's fabled Poe adaptations of the sixties, as a willing apprentice of the dark arts in The Masque Of The Red Death, and in a wonderful comic performance as the duplicitous Lenore in The Raven. None of her roles depended on her "ability to shriek in fear," and if the roles called for her to "die horrible deaths"--which they often didn't, incidentally--well, that's what acting is about.

She was a working actress, and should be remembered as such.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I'm not sure when my brother and I started deliberately seeking out bad movies, but it's impossible to remember a time when we didn't. We liked bad TV as well--if it starred Granville Van Dusen, we'd be watching--but there's a special thrill to plopping down your money and buying tickets to Star Crash.

A few things to keep in mind as you watch this:

1) Yes, that's really Christopher Plummer. And his performance here isn't even as good as David Hasselhoff's.

2) That awful music? It's by John Barry!

3) This thing was produced by Nat Wachsberger, also responsible for Jerry Lewis' legendarily awful The Day The Clown Cried.

4) There was a time--now forgotten--when people actually hired Marjoe Gortner. As an actor, I mean.

5) What the hell kind of trailer tells us we are "about to be hurled"?

6) Remember--it's in DOLBY STEREO!

7) I've paid to see this. More than once.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


1) Just a quick note on the passing of the great animator Ollie Johnston at the age of 95. He was the last living member of Disney's "Nine Old Men," the Murderer's Row of animators who created some of the most beloved films ever made. There is much to say about Johnston, more than I ever could, and you'll find some valuable links here, but I would like to suggest everyone seek out a copy of the absolutely essential book Johnston co-wrote with fellow animator Frank Thomas, The Illusion Of Life, one of the greatest volumes ever written about any art form. Oh, and watch Bambi or Lady And The Tramp.

And cry.

2) John McCain has joined Hillary Clinton in jumping all over Barack Obama's supposedly shocking comments about blue-collar workers being "bitter." Supposedly, this is proof of how out of touch Obama is, how elitist, how non-appreciative of the average working stiff.

Uh, John, Hil? A suggestion--you might want to get out in the real world, in which jobs are lost, wages are reduced and benefits non-existent. Bitter? That doesn't even begin to describe it.

3) After two humiliating losses to the much-despised Red Sox (and I can't say this enough: Boston sports fans are a force of evil in the world, and must be opposed at every opportunity), the Yankees managed a victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.


The score was 8-7, which is...not much of a win. Crap. It's going to be a long season.

4) Because I'm contractually obligated to mention them--my cats. It seems wrong that poor Monika, sweet, loving, as beautiful as a cat can be, just doesn't get the adulation I drape all over the cranky malcontent Delmar. I mean, Monika's great, and I adore her, but she's just...not Del.

Then I figured it out. If my cats were The Beatles--yeah, I know, but just go with it, okay?--Monika would be Paul and Delmar would be John. So smiling, upbeat, well-intentioned Monika can strut around all she wants, saying, "Hey, what about me? Respect, please? You Won't See Me, All My Loving, Rocky Racoon! Eleanor Rigby, for God's sake! I'm just as good as that cranky guy!"

And all Delmar has to do is say, "Yeah, but I'm John Lennon," and the argument is pretty much over.

5) That last bit nearly led into a bit of Beatles geekiness (basically to the effect of, if McCartney had been killed instead of Lennon, people would have cared, but they wouldn't have cared), but I'll refrain. Hey, at least it wasn't James Bond geekiness. Or Star Wars.

6) Oh, who am I kidding?

You know, it should be self-evident to any sentient being that, if you're getting into a fight with your spouse, you shouldn't toss out Yoda quotes to bolster your argument. The "That is why you fail" bit really doesn't go over too well, especially when delivered in a Yoda voice.

Just one more reason why I'm divorced.


An interesting post over at Jaime Weinman's blog with his take on the failures of Vincente Minnelli's now-on-DVD adaptation of the Broadway musical Kismet. I agree with his overall conclusion, but not his specifics.

At this point, many regular readers may be thinking, "Wait a second. A Minnelli picture on DVD and he's not going on about how great it is? Whaaa--?" Well, no, I'm not going on about it because it's not very good. Kismet is a perfect example of what happens when a director gets stuck doing something he doesn't want to do. In this case, Minnelli hated the material (and resented the assignment), so he basically threw a movie-long snit. The premise and setting could have allowed him to create a fantastic Persia-of-the-mind, similar to his exotic, heavily stylized Caribbean in The Pirate, but he just didn't want to try, and the movie just sits there.

Way back when, studios treated directors as mere employees, assigned to whatever the bosses wanted them to do. Great filmmakers used to get stuck with material inappropriate to their talent all the time--no amount of auteurist justification can ever convince me John Ford had any business directing Wee Willie Winkie, Howard Hawks himself hated A Song Is Born, and seriously, who thought Anthony Mann was the right guy for The Glenn Miller Story? These guys were pros, and did their best--they clearly didn't connect with these projects, but at least you can't visualize them off-camera holding their noses. With Minnelli and Kismet, you can.

With the collapse of the studio system of old, more independent-minded directors seldom found themselves stuck with projects they obviously hated, but it still happened. Richard Lester's disinterest in his material in Superman III is palpable, and Brian DePalma has practically made a career out of this sort of thing--when you watch Wise Guys or Mission: Impossible or (shudder) Mission To Mars, you can see contempt drip from the screen.

Sometimes these projects are fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way(I don't think Sidney Lumet hated the project when he made The Wiz, but boy, that movie is like a step-by-step example of how not to make a musical), but mostly they're just depressing. When Wes Anderson makes a Tim Allen vehicle or Paul Thomas Anderson gets a gig on the Scary Movie franchise, you'll see what I mean.

Monday, April 14, 2008


Hurrying off to work yesterday morning at 6:30 AM, dreading the day awaiting, I almost didn't notice the birds swooping and arcing and singing their morning songs.

This used to be my time of day. Weekends, especially Sundays, were days for getting up early and taking long walks, enjoying the birds and squirrels and occasional rabbits, noting the play of early morning light on the fine old Victorian houses in my neighborhood. After my walk I'd head somewhere for a leisurely breakfast, and whatever parts of the Sunday Times I didn't read over breakfast I'd finish sprawled out in bed, sections of the paper scattered on the floor without a care.

That was my weekend routine when I first moved here five years ago. Five years! My life has changed so much in that time, yet I haven't. Stuck in the same spot, even the simple, comforting routines I once devised for myself have dribbled away. In their place...what? Where is my comfort now?

Perhaps with Katie? Ah, but...relationships have a way of blowing up in my face. I thought I was ready to shed the old and find a new way of living when I met Tabbatha, but that didn't happen. Is there new hope in a new person, or old pain waiting to return?

Besides, that's not fair to Katie, or anyone I might know. It's not another person's job to make me happy, to help me feel at ease in the world. Only I can do that. Perhaps next Sunday. Perhaps another early morning walk, and permission given to myself to take the time to just relax and enjoy it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


We're nothing if not ruthlessly honest around here. If inspiration fails to strike, and I just don't feel like writing, by God, I tell you so. (Any lingering bitterness about the Yankees losing to the Red Sox? I don't wanna talk about it.)

Anyway, it's not like I have nothing to give you. Here's an early short film by David Lynch, and holy crap, is it ever creepy. Something to consider while watching: Lynch's entire filmography consisted of shorts such as this, plus Eraserhead and The Elephant Man when George Lucas asked him to direct Return Of The Jedi. If only he'd signed on--imagine what the Ewoks would have looked like in Lynch's world!

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Looking through lists of motion pictures announced for production always causes one's soul to die a little, but this strikes me as particularly stupid: They're remaking My Bloody Valentine.

In case you're one of the many with no memory of it, 1981's My Bloody Valentine was one of innumerable anonymous slasher pictures released in the wake of Friday The 13th, part of the original string of dead teenager epics. Valentine was neither the best nor worst of this sorry lot, distinguished only by its clever title.

That title, apparently, is the only thing the remake will have in common with the original, but really, who cares? Coming on the heels of this weekend's deeply unnecessary in-name-only redo of Prom Night, it would appear that studios have run out of good movies to dumb down with "reimaginings", and now are attempting to reproduce absolute crap. Sad thing is, they can't even do that very well.

The original My Bloody Valentine and Prom Night may have been awful, but they were turned out fast and cheap by people who likely thought an exploitation hit could lead to better opportunities somewhere down the line. The new versions are much more polished affairs, backed by major-studio budgets...but utterly devoid of purpose. Their very professionalism makes you wonder why the cast and crew even bothered showing up. No one could have been under the illusion they were doing anything worthwhile.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Is it just me, or does the vision of Happy HoHo emerging from the tender, yielding petal seem a bit, uh, suggestive?

We'll not say a word about the creamy filling, or the kids urging their mom to "Take a bite," or Mom's dazed, happy-for-the-moment-but-how-long-can-this ecstasy-last reaction to Happy's chocolaty goodness. After all, any subtext in this commercial was surely unintentional.

And as for this:

"Draw a banana and give it a hat"? Huh.

What's weird is, as a child of the seventies, I took all this in stride. Happy HoHo was just an ambulatory snack treat, not a walking, talking (and surprisingly diminutive) representation of African-American manhood. And Charles Nelson Reilly wasn't a squishy yellow Freudian nightmare, but just, you know, a big banana. Nothing odd, nothing troubling. Nothing to embed itself into the collective subconscious of an entire generation, who purely by coincidence came of age in the era of Prozac.

On the other hand:

A huge, property-smashing pitcher offering children the drink of choice from Jonestown? Even as a kid, I found that terrifying.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


One last thought for my mom's birthday.

If I knew how to post a clip from VHS, I'd show you a clip of my ex, Sue Ellen, singing "There Are Worse Things I Could Do" from a community theater production of Grease.

(If I did do that, she'd be mortified, so instead of that, let's include her and her blog, Musings Of A Chick as part of the six-word profile challenge mentioned in the previous entry, shall we?)

If you know Grease, you know that stops-out weeper is by far the highlight of the score, and Sue nailed it every night. Mom acquired a videotape copy, intended mostly for people involved in the production, and watched it endlessly.

And cried every damn time.

One of the odd things about Mom as she got older was her tendency to seek out things she must have known would make her sad. She'd watch tapes of The Muppet Show and skip past the funny parts just so she could hear Kermit singing some wistful ballad or other, and she'd cry. She'd listen to Janis Joplin or watch West Side Story, then call me, sobbing. It was almost as though she needed some kind of assurance that she could still feel something, and though she laughed often, she came to distrust laughter, it seemed. Tears were real.

One time Sue and I had Mom over as an overnight guest, as well as Sue's young niece Courtney. Since both of them were in awe of Sue's voice, they insisted on watching that number from Grease. Mom's tears started flowing, of course, prompting confusion from Courtney: Why was she crying?

We explained as best we could, and after that, Courtney told everyone who would listen that, "Sue's Ed's mom cries at pretty things." That pretty much sums it up.


Okay, so Blog Princess over at Food, Film, Fiction tagged me to write a six-word memoir. Hey, that part is easy:


The rules:

1. Write your own six-word memoir.

2. Post it on your blog (with or without visual representation).

3. Link to the person who tagged you in your post.

4. Tag five more blogs with links.

5. Leave a comment on the tagged blogs with an invitation to play.

Tag five more blogs? That's the hard part. Hmmm. This will require some thought...


April 10th. Mom's birthday. And I have the day off, a whole day with nothing to do but stare down my sorrow.

Except...I'm not that sad.

Somehow, I don't really miss Mom anymore. She's receded into the past, along with my Johnny West action figure and old issues of TV Guide, with all the cats I had growing up and my beloved dog Elinore, with comic books and movies I've long since forgotten, with my dad and my oldest brother, with things and people who were here, who mattered more than anything in the whole world...and then were gone.

In other words, Mom is something glimpsed occasionally, remembered fondly for a second before moving on. A comforting but non-corporeal presence, like the glowing spectral figures of Yoda, Obi-Wan and Annakin smiling to Luke at the end of Return Of The Jedi.

Yes, yes, I know I just made a geeky Star Wars reference, but it's okay, because if there's anything I learned from Mom, it's the importance of being myself, and that the things I love and care about matter, if only to me. My life, like everyone's, is a work in progress, but wherever I'm at, I know Mom first pointed the way.

I may not weep every day in her absence as I once did, she may only float into conscious thought from time to time. But when she does, I always take a moment to remember her, and in those moments, she lives.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


West Virginia Senator John D. Rockefeller IV issued a formal apology to John McCain yesterday for making the following claim: "McCain was a fighter pilot who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,ooo feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into these issues."

In his apology, Rockefeller offers up the standard bullshit about McCain's military service as proof he's a real American hero, blah blah blah, but really, what did Rockefeller say that was inaccurate?

Apparently, McCain's years as a POW absolve him from any responsibility for his actions while he was in the military. And yes, those actions did involve firebombing Vietnamese villages, killing untold numbers of civilians. We could argue all day about the morality of that, but the fact is, massive civilian casualties are the cost of modern warfare.

The terms of the debate here in America regarding the ungoing quagmire in Iraq involve bringing our men and women home, not the thousands and thousands of brown-skinned people killed by the hands of Our Noble Troops. In constructing his half-baked analogy (his point was apparently that McCain is out of touch with the concerns of common folk, or some such), Rockefeller unintentionally uttered a truth we dare not consider.

Naturally he had to apologize, so we can all pretend it never happened, and never think such troubling thoughts again.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Sorry, folks, running late, so no time to actually, you know, write. But, hey, here's a happy little Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht number to cheer everyone up, from G.W. Pabst's film of Threepenny Opera. Not quite Bobby Darin, is it?

Monday, April 07, 2008


As I got out of bed yesterday morning, the phone rang. It was Katie; she'd overslept and needed a ride to work. Give me about twenty minutes, I told her.

The problem was, as I detailed in yesterday's post, I'd just had the most extraordinary dream. I wanted to write down every detail, but by the time I turned on the computer and it booted up, it would be time for me to leave.

So I pulled out a tablet I'd fortuitously brought home from work last week, and started scribbling. Three dense, ink-smeared pages later, I felt I'd gotten down the pertinent details, and could sort out the rest when I got home. It wasn't until later I really appreciated what I'd done.

I'd scribbled something down in longhand! The way I used to write so long ago, when words flowed so much easier! Later, yes, they could be cleaned up, set in cold, unforgiving print, but there's nothing like the feel of a pen scratching on paper, nothing so free, so uninhibited, so...real. This was my M.O. when I first fell in love with writing, and it had been so long since I'd done this.

Maybe I'll start carrying a notepad around with me, jotting furiously whenever inspiration strikes. I'm into my third year--!!!--at this site, and I finally feel like I'm writing again.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Strange dream last night, beginning as dreams usually do, nowhere special. Things happened, then I found myself traveling--or maybe running?--through the night, until pink and purple streaked the sky and I realized I was on a train, heading east towards the sunrise. No one occupied the seats around me, and I sat placidly, watching the fields and dusty old roads go by.

The tracks curved and the train rose, and passed through a long, dark tunnel, a darkness that felt like the end of the world, emerging into dazzling sunlight. The tracks twisted almost vertically as the train ascended a hill, slowing at the summit, then slowing more, moving only inches at a time.

The journey seemed unlikely to continue, and I felt stranded, alone. Suddenly I heard whistling behind me--"Music, Music, Music". Turning, I saw my dad seated several rows back, dressed in his usual blue workshirt and overalls. He smiled, the train lurched and we continued, now speeding down the hill.

We approached a small town, all quaint little shops and bustling citizens, as the train slowed, then stopped. "Looks like we'll find some place to eat," Dad said.

"It's the altitude," Mom said, because suddenly she was there, too. "Food just tastes better."

The three of us climbed down the stairs and followed the crowd, Dad stopping in front of a flyer posted for a series of MGM musicals being shown at the local library. "Looks like we missed it," he said. "Good. Your mom would make us sit through it like she did with me once."

Mom smiled. "I think you enjoyed it."

Dad shrugged.

"Tell him about--" Mom began, then stopped.

I turned and saw Dad's face as he looked at her, an intensity in his eyes I'd never seen, not in him, not in anyone. He half spoke, half sang:

"The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore

The smile you are smiling you were smiling then

But I can't remember where or when..."

Abruptly, the dream ended, and I woke up.

It was just a dream, after all. No way anything like that could ever have happened in the real world. No way Dad would ever let his emotions be known. Hell, no way he'd even know a Rodgers and Hart song. Roger Miller, maybe...

Yet something almost as unbelievable awaited me as I began to stir from my dream. Delmar--Delmar!--snuggled under the covers with me, burrowed under my torso, his head curled down and his front paws crossed in front of his face.

Delmar, my little psychokitty, doesn't do things like this. He's always slightly detached, always somehow unknowable. Yet his love for me is never in doubt, and his rare displays of affection are somehow overwhelming.

I stirred, and Delmar trembled, then stretched, stood up and prepared to leave. I picked him up and sat him on my chest and he stood, purring, and as I stroked his back, I thought about how much I missed Dad.

Then Del, tired of attention, snapped at my fingers and hopped down, and I got out of bed and started my day.


Charlton Heston is dead at the age of 84. Where to begin?

You could fill volumes writing on Heston, focusing solely on single aspects of his career: His turn from liberalism to rabid right-wing nuttiness, his iconic roles in stolid fifties epics like The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, his later decline into camp with cheesetastic seventies fare like The Omega Man, Earthquake and Airport 75.

He could be a superb, surprisingly nuanced character actor, as in his film debut, William Dieterle's underrated Dark City, or William Wyler's The Big Country, or especially Sam Peckinpah's almost-great Major Dundee. He was a fine comic performer, too, a talent best utilized by Richard Lester in his sublime The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers.

He was exactly the outsized presence needed for terrific movies like The Naked Jungle and El Cid, and if he's the weakest link in Orson Welles' Touch Of Evil, he still gets a pass, since he had a hand in getting Welles the job. And don't even get me started on Planet Of The Apes, or we'll be here all day.

The point is, whatever the vehicle, when the man was on screen, you couldn't help but watch him. He was one of the last by-God Movie Stars still working into the twenty-first century, and he'll be dearly missed.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


I took Paul to baseball practice last night, he crashed here for the night, and he's got a game today. As soon as he's finished with this particular episode of Spongebob, it'll be off to Donutland, our traditional breakfast spot whenever he stays over.

Sometimes it's difficult for people to understand why Paul and I still hang out together. "But he's not your kid," they'll say, "and you and his mom aren't dating anymore."

True, I say, Tabbatha and I broke up. But Paul and I didn't.

After all, Tabbatha and I were serious enough in our relationship to go apartment hunting together. We'd even mentioned marriage. And Paul was very much a part of those plans. He'd taken to calling me dad, and I liked the sound of that.

Even as my relationship with his mom wound down, Paul and I spent more time together, as her new work hours left her unable to pick him up from school or daycare. I'd pick him up, fix him supper, take him to movies, ball games, or just hang out. We had a blast.

Neither one of us wanted to stop. So we didn't.

Last night, since his practice ran late, we didn't have time for the movie marathon we had planned. We watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3, but he informed me next time he was over we'd finally get around to Temple Of Doom.

(Probably a good choice, by the way. Yeah, I realize Temple Of Doom was largely responsible for the creation of the PG-13 rating, but it strikes me as the most kid-friendly of all the Indiana Jones movies. It starts off with a bang, has a really scary villain and a wisecracking young sidekick, features tons of bugs, monkey brains and a still-beating heart torn from a body. What eight-year-old wouldn't love it?)

Of course, I'm not sure when we'll get around to it. Between practice and games, baseball will be eating up a lot of Paul's time for the next two months. But we'll find time, darn it. Nothing can stop us from being there for opening night of Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull. We're practically waiting in line already.

Friday, April 04, 2008


So much time has been spent around here hating Hillary Clinton, it's easy to forget how much seething contempt I have for John McCain.

In an act of mind-boggling cynicism, McCain plans to speechify today in Memphis, in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. That would be the same Martin Luther King whose legacy the United States clebrates in a national holiday every year. A national holiday McCain initially opposed.

He changed his mind later, of course, but for all appearances, only because of a public outcry. His initial opposition speaks volumes about the man's character. But what lame, cobbled-together explanation does he now offer for changing his mind?

"Well, I learned that this individual was a transcendent figure in American history, that he deserved to be honored, and I thought it was appropriate to do so," he told The New York Times.

Really, Johnny? Sometime in the eighties, you had someone explain to you how important "this individual" was? Were you so isolated in your Naval Academy days you had no knowledge of the momentous events taking place in the outside world? Were you so busy dropping bombs on Southeast Asians you couldn't take a moment to reflect on the truly brave acts of a real American hero? Or could it be that you come from a family of old-fashioned racists, and were inculcated in their ways more deeply than you realized? Have your views really changed, or are you just better at playing the game?

Oh, and I should mention Hillary Clinton will also be in Memphis today, pretending like McCain to give a rat's ass about black Americans. Barack Obama, presumably, doesn't need to pretend.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


You know what? Suck it, YouTube. "Performing site maintenance"? How can you do this to me? Dammit, I want to embed something now. My readers haven't been forced to sit through enough Richard Thompson performance clips!

Actually, I intended to post some clips from the works of the great animation director Ralph Bakshi, in honor of Unfiltered, a new book on his career. There will be much more to say about Bakshi's work and its importance in my life later, when I've examined the book and, more importantly, when YouTube is back at 100%.

For now, let me point out that my copy of Unfiltered is on the way, the first thing I've ever ordered from I've been extremely reluctant to order anything online, for fear that once I've opened the floodgates, the damage can't be undone.

When I ordered Unfiltered at the prepublication price, Amazon very helpfully let me know I could bundle my order with a new book on animation designer Maurice Noble and receive both books for less than either would cost after publication. Also, if I enjoyed these items, I'd surely like a newly-compiled collection of Chuck Jones artwork, and hey, why not pre-order Some Came Running while you're at it? Wait...I've never ordered from Amazon before. Why are they recommending Vincente Minnelli movies to me? How do they know me so well?

I'm weak, and I was tempted, and yes, I'll probably get around to pre-ordering Some Came Running. But not just yet. For now, I'm still able to resist the siren call of Amazon, though I hear its sweet, faint tone even now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Here, in no real order, are some of the many affectionate nicknames I call my beloved Delmar:

The Del-Meister
Delly Del Del (Incidentally, when you're using cutesy monikers like this for a cat, you're about two steps away from spending the rest of your life watching Murder, She Wrote reruns.)
Delmar Von Dellington III
The Li'l Feller
Li'l Spleeny
My Special Little Guy
Monster From The Id
Jack's Raging Bile Duct
Mr. Pink
Mr. Bad Example
Excitable Boy
George Peatty
Herr Drosselmeier (Really doesn't fit his personality, and I have no idea how this started...)
El Marko
Hey You
Cat Of Destiny
Fur Miser
Senor Stubby
Wheezy Joe
Tuna Whore

All well and good, but here are the affectionate names I have for Monika:


I mean, is that fair? Okay, when she was a kitten, I used to call her Kiddo, and sometimes still do, albeit in a creepy Udo Kier voice that seems more unsettling than endearing.

The point is, Monika is a wonderful cat in every way, shape and form. She leaps on the bed and cuddles with me every night, burrowing under the covers and smooshing her head under my arms, her intense purring sending literal good vibrations through my entire body.

So surely she deserves some sort of adorable nickname. Doesn't she? Maybe not. Any further term of endearment would be redundant; she's just Monika, and perfect the way she is.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008


Some recent rows on the interweb, what with the imminent release of new entries in the Indiana Jones and Star Wars franchises, rehash the same old myth about how Spielberg and Lucas brought about the Death Of Serious Cinema.

You know the drill, right? The massive successes of Jaws and Star Wars somehow brought about the end of the seventies Hollywood Renaissance, the director-driven era in which the likes of Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Paul Mazursky, Brian DePalma and so many more were allowed to commit their sacred visions to celluloid.

Yeah, there were a lot of great movies made in that era, but the myth of Spielberg/Lucas is simply untrue. To illustrate why, let's imagine an alternate filmic universe.

Let's say George Lucas--who, it's easy to forget, was once rightly considered the most talented member of the film school generation--followed up his debut, THX-1138, with the project he'd spent some time developing: Apocalypse Now.

Hard to imagine what Lucas would have done with it. (Or maybe it's not: Even in Coppola's hands, Kurtz is still presented as a noble warrior who somehow turned to "the dark side"--Hmm...) He reportedly wanted to shoot it hand-held, documentary style, with a cast of unknowns. Though still influenced by Joseph Conrad, Lucas apparently thought of the project as something of a black comedy, and expressed admiration for the Vietcong.

Lucas worked on Apocalypse Now both before and after the massive success of American Graffiti, and his inability to find funding led him to develop a little science fiction movie you may have heard about. But what if he'd made it? It may have been great, it may have been terrible, but it's unlikely it would have been a commercial hit. Even if it had proven hugely influential--and Lucas' bold plans suggest it would have impressed his fellow filmmakers, if not general audiences--and he had ascended to his rightful place in the auteurist pantheon, he would have remained just another hungry filmmaker.

He would, in other words, have been a lot like Steven Spielberg. His first theatrical film, The Sugarland Express, was absolutely astounding. But boy was it bleak, and audiences stayed away in droves. Like his fellow movie brats Scorsese and DePalma, he needed a hit if he wanted to keep working.

Scorsese's grab for success was a blatantly commercial "woman's picture" Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, so mainstream it could be adapted into a sitcom, and DePalma made Carrie, a teen-targeted horror movie based on a popular novel. Both great movies, but neither one particularly personal.

Spielberg, of course, also made a horror movie based on a popular book: Jaws. But it's not like he set out to make the biggest blockbuster of all time. Universal, which owned the rights to Jaws, originally visualized it as something closer to the disaster movies so popular in the seventies, and courted Charlton Heston for the lead. Spielberg certainly wasn't the first choice to direct; in fact, he really only took the gig because he needed work.

What if he hadn't taken that particular job? He'd spent a lot of time hanging with his New Hollywood contemporaries, including producers Michael and Julia Phillips, who later produced Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and writer Paul Schrader, later hired to write the initial script of that same film. At around the same time Spielberg mulled the offer for Jaws, Michael Phillips sought a director for a script of Schrader's: Taxi Driver.

True, there's no evidence anyone offered Spielberg the chance to direct it. But it was offered to other directors before Scorsese got ahold of it (apparently Robert Mulligan was set to make it with Jeff Bridges in the lead!), so it's possible. It could have happened.

And it might have been great--people tend to forget how brilliantly Spielberg assembled his early films. (No, 1941 isn't all that funny, but it's clearly the work of a born visual stylist.) And coming on the heels of The Sugarland Express, it would have marked the director as a Serious Artist. Again: So what?

But Spielberg didn't direct Taxi Driver, of course; Scorsese did. It was more a success d'esteem than a commercial blockbuster, but it got Scorsese a huge budget to make whatever the hell he wanted: A depressing anti-musical starring the box-office dream team of Liza Minnelli and Robert DeNiro. I'm one of the few people who believes New York, New York to be a masterpiece, but undeniably it was a misbegotten project in commercial terms, and Scorsese turned the filming into a coke-fueled nightmare.

It flopped, of course, as did Peter Bogdanovich's At Long Last Love and Nickelodeon, and these failures, along with the long delays and whispers of disaster coming from the set of Apocalypse Now--which Coppola, of course, hijacked from Lucas--really brought about the end of the Hollywood Renaissance. It wasn't the success of Jaws and Star Wars--which caught their own creators by surprise-- so much as the arrogance of the artists, blowing millions of other people's dollars on coke, whores and movies nobody wanted to see.

The director-as-superstar era ended as a result of hubris--Heaven's Gate, anybody?--but the rise of the blockbuster era was bound to happen, with or without the help of Spielberg and Lucas. Studios which once functioned more or less autonomously were swallowed by huge corporations, which were in term swallowed by larger entities still. Risk would be minimized, safe bets would be the rule. Production budgets would be measured against projected profits. Studios would be charged to follow the money, which would mean cranking out time-killers for teenaged boys.

Spielberg and Lucas didn't bring about the Death Of Serious Cinema--Paul Thomas Anderson is working, right?--and they didn't create the blockbuster era, either. So stop blaming them. For that, at least. On the other hand, if you want to blame Spielberg for Hook or Lucas for that whole Greedo-shoots-first thing, be my guest.