Friday, October 31, 2008


In honor of Halloween, a trip to the past, a return to the endearingly cheesy seventies Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.

And some emotions deeper and more profound than expected. This little clip highlights the popular-at-the-time Quentin's Theme, and the thing is, Mom loved this thing. She was an avid Dark Shadows fanatic (as were all her kids), but something about this music remained with her for years--decades!--after the show went off the air. She had the soundtrack album and the single, and even the sheet music. She knew the show's appeal was as pure camp, yet something about this genuinely touched her.

And the silly, spoken narration, is so easy to mock--but inevitably, some of the lines ("In this world we know/Life is here and gone") conjure such memories that I can't help but be moved. I never would have thought Dark Shadows could make me cry, but right now, for some reason, the tears won't stop.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Sorry, folks, nothing of interest to say today. Maybe I'm burned out on election coverage or maybe I'm just really, really tired. Even the fact that they're remaking Spartacus for cable TV (again!) can't quite get me in a state of high dudgeon...or anything else. I shrug my shoulders, waiting for the sense of righteous fury that never quite arrives.

Usually, days like this I resort to a clip job, but the only YouTube videos I've been watching this morning are of racist crackers at McCain/Palin rallies, and as pathetic and chillingly uninformed as these individuals may be, the smarmy manner in which these are shot and edited, to mock these sad, desperate blue-collar people, is almost as infuriating. I don't want to show any of these because I don't want to give either side the attention. And since I've been viewing these things, I haven't had any time to go looking for music clips, or goofy old commercials, even highlights from old Lynda Carter specials.

Sad, I know. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Hey, three posts yesterday. Pretty good, eh? So I can just kick back this morning, relax and--and, um--

Sorry. Got a little distracted there. I keep seeing this headline in The New York Times, and it looks like it says something crazy, but that can't be right. Let me examine this more closely...


So. Well, there it is, then. If...I mean...that's, um, she's not, uh, going away then, is she? So we, uh...Crap.

Excuse me, I have to go sit in a corner and be depressed. Maybe Joey Heatherton can cover the sound of my tears.

Apparently not...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


What with all the brouhaha and hullabaloo about the elections and economy and whatnot, the incursion of U.S. Special Ops into Syria received relatively little attention from the American press. Too bad, since it has the feel of one final raspberry blown by The Decider's Usual Gang Of Idiots.

Like a greatest hits replay of the glory days of 2003, this story had all the familiar elements: a poorly coordinated attack within a non-aggressor nation, some cobbled-together story about an attempt to capture a supposedly big-name terrorist no one's ever heard of, and of course, civilian casualties. (Eight, according to Syrian officials, although a U.S. military spokesman claims no one died that wasn't targeted, a rather chilling explanation.)

The most immediate result of all this? Syrian officials are justifiably pissed, just as other nations in the region have cause to wonder when the Red White And Blue Bully Boys are going to invade them. Given a similar raid into Pakistan a few weeks ago, and given Our Beloved President's claim that "we have an obligation to protect our territory from being used as a sanctuary for terrorism," it's a reasonable fear. And when exactly did the United States claim the entire Middle East as "our territory"?

So just when some kind of exit from Iraq seemed possible--even John McCain started seeing the light--the Bushinistas stir the pot and guarantee the incoming president a whole new set of worries. Ain't Democracy great?


Just a clarification about the post prior to this.

Yes, the cheap gag title (even more vulgar in its original form) and line about George Lucas' inability to "keep it up" were intentional. But honestly, that "penetrate the mainstream" line happened inadvertently. Sometimes when you're cranking out the prose, you screw the pooch, inserting something where it doesn't belong.

I didn't notice it until just now, checking it over to see how it stands up. I thought about changing it, but once a piece has been posted, I like to leave it as it originally appeared. Maybe I'm anal, and there are certainly no hard and fast rules, but I like to have a certain order here, to allow each individual piece to come across as originally written.

Sure, this means some posts burst with enthusiasm while others remain flaccid, but that's how it all comes out in the end. I realize not everything I write is golden, showering the reader with insight or releasing a load of truth. Still, I prefer each piece find its own rhythm, whether supple or rough, never being jerked off course from its true path. Not that I mean to strut around like the cock of the walk, but there is a certain pleasure to be derived from knowing that each post is what it was meant to be, with no rewriting to pull out offending passages or stuff something extraneous into every crevice.

Sometimes I post without using my head, and it goes out in the world naked, still dripping wet, for every Tom, Dick and Harry to see, and sometimes the words I use aren't the words intended. That's okay; it happens to everyone now and then. I'm sure we've all pulled the occasional boner.


It would be silly to offer extravagant praise for the career of filmmaker Gerard Damiano, who died this past weekend at the age of 80. But there was a time, in the early seventies, when he briefly became one of the best-known directors in America.

That came with the release of Deep Throat, the nearly unwatchable porno movie Damiano turned out under unwholesome conditions for a consortium of mobsters. There had been other hardcore features to achieve some success in mainstream theaters, and far better ones, such as Bill Osco's Mona, The Virgin Nymph, but for some reason, it was Deep Throat that kicked off the era of porno chic.

It's hard to imagine how different society was in the late sixties and early seventies. Enormous changes happened seemingly overnight as yesterday's taboos became the new normal. The New Morality swept in and, for a second, it seemed as though anything was possible. Free love, open love, a world of sensuality unburdened by thought or emotion, pure pleasure for its own sake.

And yet, and yet, the steps were tentative. How free were we, really? What could we show? How could we show it? What was sexy, what was raunchy, and was there a difference? And what about our popular art? How far could it go?

Audiences--and, surprisingly enough, many critics--seemed to find the answer in Deep Throat: As far as they wanted. Somehow, it became the movie of the moment, the thing everybody had to see and discuss. That it was aesthetically appalling and depressing to endure seemed not to matter. It represented a new approach, a new way of doing things. If this could be shown without the republic crumbling, there were no boundaries. Truly adult films could be made, not necessarily solely focused on sexuality but free to portray it in all its complexity.

Damiano's follow-up, The Devil In Miss Jones, was unaccountably heralded in many quarters as a work of near-genius, a porno movie that tried to be about something, that dared to be anti-erotic. It was no such thing, of course: It wasn't about anything more than a lame premise, and its lack of eroticism was clearly not intentional. It is a remarkably soul-draining experience, but not in a deliberate way.

Still, give Damaino credit. Though he never climbed out of the porno ghetto, he did try to make a few of his films (particularly Memories In Miss Aggie with a score by Rupert Holmes!) about something more than the money shots, at least in the initial rush of post-Throat fame. But before long he became just another guy cranking out set-ups for Seka and Ron Jeremy to do their thing, his brief moment in the sun a distant memory.

As for porno chic, it faded pretty quickly, too. Thanks to the Interweb, hardcore material of all kinds is easier than ever to see, but the notion of an adult approach to sexuality never quite penetrated the mainstream. The New Hollywood directors of the seventies, the guys who could have seized the moment and changed the rules, seemingly had no interest. Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich--their movies seemed almost like they were made by neuters. (Ironically, the only filmmaker of that generation to even address the subject of sexuality was George Lucas with THX-1138, and as we know, Lucas ultimately couldn't keep it up.)

Once the moment passed, it was gone for good. The genie could never quite go back in the bottle, but once the Reagan era began, American society began its New Puritan phase, and despite its transparent hypocrisy, we still live under it, and our art still reflects it.

Monday, October 27, 2008


A few things I fully intend to write about at some point this week: the no longer disguised racism of the John McCain campaign, this weekend's wacky misadventures with Paul, still more thoughts on the greatness of Vincente Minnelli (prompted by a piece on Fred Astaire in last week's New York Times Book Review, just to make sure blame is properly assigned), and my disbelief that my list of favorite movies included nothing with Burt Lancaster. Seriously--The Sweet Smell Of Success, The Train, Ulzana's Raid, Atlantic City? How the hell did none of these make the cut? It's not always true (The Hallelujah Trail, for instance), but generally speaking, any movie with Lancaster is always worth seeing, and not too many stars with such lengthy careers could make that claim.

Anyway, that's the stuff I want to write about, but for right now, a clip to share. This is from Steve Martin's Best Special Ever, a 1981 reunion between Martin and many of the original players from Saturday Night Live's glory days--John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Larraine Newman. It aired live, and I haven't seen it since its original broadcast, but it seemed funny at the time. Unquestionably, though, the highlight was this, an amzing dance routine from Martin and Gregory Hines. Sure, Hines is clearly the better dancer, and he's clearly toning himself down so as to not upstage the host (kinda like when Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra would dance together), but Martin is pretty damned amazing for all that, and it's a nice reminder of what a physical performer he used to be--of course he could dance, because so much of his comedy was based on movement.

Incidentally, the movie Martin promotes here, Pennies From Heaven, also should have been on my list o' favorites, and ranked high. Maybe I should redo that list...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


The usual: slept late, have to get to work, rattled by a weird dream (in which I befriended Ed Norton--the character from The Honeymooners, not the increasingly uninteresting actor--found myself building a monster and discovered my freezer was stocked with a brand of ice cream called Mixed Feelings, advertised with the slogan, "Tastes Like Cheating On Your Spouse!"), no time to sort out thoughts and write anything coherent.

Fortunately, there's this.

Friday, October 24, 2008


It's been awhile since I've written about them, so...the cats.

Monika's new thing is insisting on snuggling under the blanket. She hops onto the head of the bed, paws gently at the covers, stares at me with big, pleading eyes and offers a sort of strangled "Mrowow?" until I lift the blankets and let her crawl underneath.

This blatant display of overwhelming cuteness may be in response to Delmar, who has stepped up his adorability game by suddenly leaping into my arms while I'm sitting at the computer typing. The abrupt, unexpected weight on my forearms forces my elbows to bend, pressing him against my chest in the most awkward, uncomfortable hug imaginable. (Of course, everything about Del is awkward!) All the while, he purrs frantically, and insists on being held for several minutes without biting or scratching at me. He's still weird, but no longer fully psychotic.

Also, the two of them have been boundin' and scamperin' and rasslin' a lot, behaving in ways that can only be described in a folksy, g-droppin' manner, acting all buddy-buddy, wholesome and cute, cute, cute. Hopefully, this is just one of those things that happens with the changing of the seasons, and things will eventually return to normal, or as normal as anything can be when cats are involved. I don't know if I can handle this much sweetness.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Ha, I say. HA! I've tried explaining the occasional posted footage from one of Lynda Carter's early eighties TV specials is part of a fascination with the awfulness of TV variety shows, not an indication of some twisted obsession with that nominally-talented large-breasted nonentity. Her massively overproduced, hilariously misguided specials simply represent all that TV once was and will never be again, and as bad as they are, at least they're not painful. Well, not that painful.

Not as painful as Cheryl Ladd covering a treacly Billy Joel ballad, is what I'm trying to say.

Yes, the sound was out of synch and it cut off rather abruptly. Aren't you glad? Oh, but take heart: this next one is in pristine condition and fully intact. A little reminder that, back in the seventies, they'd give anyone a variety special. Yes, even Telly Savalas.

The thing you have to remember is, things like this were common place back then. They were simply part of the pop culture landscape, and a bad, unmotivated musical number could erupt at any time. For instance, you might be watching an episode of The Bionic Woman--hey, give me a break, I was eleven!--and suddenly its star would bust out with a haplessly nonironic rendition of this era-defining crapsterpiece.

Or you're watching any show, anytime, and all of a sudden this commercial appears, and you have to ask your troubled pre-adolescent self why someone as solidly mediocre as Ken Berry even exists in the world, and why he's given money to do this sort of thing, and why oh why did nobody ever change the channel when The Ken Berry Wow Show would appear like an unwanted mutt on Saturday nights in that summer of '72?

Or this...There's a context for this--sort of--but perhaps its best experienced without explanation, as a sort of hallucination, a form of madness that will have you wondering, years later, "Did I really see Richard Crenna singing and dancing with Bonnie Franklin? Was Bert Convy really there? But not Jim Nabors, surely? That would just be wrong."

Oh, how I wish I could find a clip of Linda Lavin's Linda In Wonderland or The Hal Linden Special or Mitzi Gaynor's Mitzi...Zings Into Spring, which has the distinction of the worst title of anything in recorded history. (My brother and I will still reference the passing of the seasons by saying, "Like Mitzi Gaynor, I think this winter is about to zing into spring," or "Unlike Mitzi, I'm afraid we're about to zing into a particularly miserable summer.")

At this point, surely those Lynda Carter clips are looking pretty good by comparison. No? Still don't agree? Fine. You've forced my hand. Watch this.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I'd noticed last week that Lynda Carter was due to start a cabaret engagement yesterday in New York City--never mind how or why I noticed such a thing--and was consequently prepared to link to the inevitable review in The New York Times. As a joke, let me make clear. Honestly, I have no Lynda Carter obsession. I didn't even watch Wonder Woman. Much.

Anyway, no review. And honestly, as much as I had anything in mind to write about today, that was it. Yes, I'd planned to base an entire post around a hypothetical review of a second-rate cabaret act. And now...I got nothin'.

So I'll fall back on a clip--Wait! It's not Lynda Carter! You don't have to run. I've been on a major XTC kick lately (the band, not the drug, although if you could read the initial draft of this piece, you'd have cause to wonder), so here's an incredibly fuzzy video of Love On A Farmboy's Wages. I swear there used to be a live version of this floating around the Interweb awhile back, but this'll more than do.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I spent much of this past weekend with Paul, and will spend much of this coming week with him as well. But for a change, I don't want to talk about him. I'd rather talk about his mother.

If you go back in my archives to September and October of 2006, you'll find a number of posts detailing the process of falling in love with Tabbatha, and how Paul worked his way into my heart. (You'll also discover the subject matter around here used to be a lot more wide-ranging, and I used obscenities much more often.) But in all I wrote about her, about them, I never quite articulated the valuable lesson she taught me.

I never considered myself good with children. Nieces, nephews, whatever, I'd get along with them okay, but there was always a distance, a discomfort on my part. My ex-wife and I chose not to have kids, and though I had dated single moms before, I tended to view the children involved as incidental, as bridges that would have to be crossed someday if the relationships ever turned serious, which of course they never did.

When Tabbatha and I started dating, I knew of his existence, of course, but it took awhile before I met him. It was still possible in those early stages to think of her without him, a separate entity, my girlfriend first and foremost. This kid of hers existed outside of the relationship, at least in those early stages.

The first time I actually met Paul was at his birthday party, and we got along okay, considering how much activity swirled around us. The night before that, I accompanied Tabbatha on a shopping trip for all the things she wanted to have for his party, napkins and snacks and a Superman pinata. She weighed the option of whether a Justice League card would be cooler than a solo Superman card, and as she did so, it started to occur to me, this kid of hers, this kid I hadn't met but whose tastes seemed so similar to my own at that age, must be pretty awesome. And lucky, to have a mom who loved him so much, who gave such thought to what he wanted.

The next day at the party, and every time after that when the three of us would get together, I realized one of the things I loved most about Tabbatha was that she was a mother. It somehow took the woman I already had such feelings for and deepened them, revealing aspects of her personality I hadn't known and would come to love more and more each day. What a joy it was to watch her and this amazing kid constantly squabble and hug and wisecrack. She made being a mom seem like the coolest thing in the world.

If nothing else, the time I spent with Tabbatha made me more appreciative of something I really should have known all along.

Monday, October 20, 2008


You slap down your money at the ticket counter knowing full well you're going to have to sit through twenty minutes to a half hour of commercials and previews, and the movie advertised as starting at 7:15 won't actually begin unreeling until closer to 7:45. Bad enough when you're only wincing your way through overproduced Coke ads and trailers for Shia LaBeouf vehicles.

Then something like this comes on.

How to even process this? My extreme hatred for Kid Rock's crappy music and hipster cracker persona is only enhanced by the reactionary politics of this thing. ("If you ain't gonna fight/Get outta the way." As Mary Worth once said, "Sheesh!") But then--wait. What? Is he actually claiming he, Kid Rock, bazillionaire rock star, is some kind of fullblooded warrior? Because he...did a USO tour? Shouldn't any real-life members of the military, stuck on their fourth or fifth tour of duty, be allowed to kick this preening dipstick in the nads?

And,um...I'm sorry, and forgive my naivete and lack of understanding, but what the hell is the whole NASCAR angle? I mean, I can understand an overlap in the Kid Rock and NASCAR fanbases, but again, are they suggesting that Junior Earnhardt, by virtue of the fact that he gets paid big bucks for driving fast, is a hero on the level as Guard members in Iraq? That can't be the point, can it? Am I missing some complexity here?

On the other hand, at least the Guard is belatedly conceding that whole "one weekend a month" thing is a vague memory. Their ads used to be along the lines of "Join the Guard and do some training exercises and maybe get called up if there's a tornado in your home state or something," now they're pretty much admitting you're going to get sent overseas and wind up in the line of fire.

And worse, you'll be forced to endure Kid Rock concerts.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Looking over my semi-official list of favorite movies, I'm surprised. Sometimes by what I included (There's no way I like A Shot In The Dark more than Annie Hall or there?), but mostly by what's missing.

I already mentioned my confusion over the inexplicable absence of The Long Goodbye and Gremlins 2, easily among my most beloved. And geez, where the heck is The Adventures Of Robin Hood, a long-time favorite around here? Or Harry And Tonto? Or Hour Of The Wolf, the Ingmar Bergman film that seems most like it could have been directed by David Lynch? For that matter, why no David Lynch?

I'm very surprised Dumbo was the only animated film on the list. Pretty much anything by Hayao Miyazaki should have been there (but in particular My Neighbor Totoro and Princess fact, just go ahead and feel free to replace any movie outside the Top Ten with Mononoke), and Brad Bird's The Incredibles (which was slotted in at one point, and I have no idea what happened). I debated whether or not to include Ralph Bakshi's Wizards, one of my favorite movies for years and years, and one for which I still have a sentimental attachment, but which doesn't quite hold up as well as I'd like. Then again, isn't a list like this all about sentimental attachment?

Wizards would have been an excellent choice for a potentially far more interesting list, of disreputable movies that may not be Great Art but which are a lot of fun, and infinitely rewatchable. I suppose The Howling might have been more correctly slotted onto such a list (I'll stand by it as Great Art, though, dammit!), but it would certainly include, say, Foxy Brown or Shock Treatment, the shockingly underappreciated follow-up to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and a movie I find myself liking more and more with each viewing.

The point, I guess, is that my list is anything but definitive. It's what I came up with as I wrote, but on any other day, any of the movies mentioned above might have been on it instead. The four at the top are pretty much firmly in place, and the following six would certainly remain near the top, but it's all fluid, really. I love all movies, even the bad ones, and can take something from everything I see.

Oh, except Xanadu, of course.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I've noticed a few alarming things since putting this list together. For instance, I'm apparently more of an American chauvinist than I realized. Where the hell are any foreign films? True, a couple British entries made the cut, but really, this is just weird. And not at all intentional--it's just that when I started thinking about what movies I really, really like, these are what I came up with.

Of non-American filmmakers, what's especially weird is, there's nothing from Federico Fellini on this list, but there is (at Number 7) a movie heavily influenced by Fellini. Do I think Fosse is better than Fellini? No...but I like this particular movie a lot. (The Fellini pictures I had assumed would be on here, incidentally, were La Strada and Juliet Of The Spirits.)

Stranger still, there are no John Cassavetes pictures here, even though I list Cassavetes as one of my heroes on my profile. (The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie and especially A Woman Under The Influence are the movies that really should have been here.)

And I swear, Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye wasn't just supposed to be here, it was originally slotted into the Top Five! So why isn't it here? Also, the whole stuffing the list with Joe Dante pictures was supposed to lead to the Top Ten appearance of Gremlins 2. Where the hell is it?

Ah, well. Enough of the chicanery and antics. Let's find out what actually is here.

7. All That Jazz.

You could whine all you want about how much Bob Fosse's musical comedy treatment of his own heart attack cribs from Fellini's 81/2, but you'd be missing the point. The Fellini-esque Life-Is-A-Circus stuff is all window dressing, anyway, and Fosse repeatedly mocks his own pretensions within the film itself.

Really, what makes All That Jazz great isn't the strictly autobiographical stuff (fascinating as that is, even to the point of Fosse's accurate prediction of his own death), but the myriad showbiz details piled up, the punishingly hard work for a moment of gratification, a depiction of artistic endeavor as just another act of labor, no different from baking donuts or building sheds. True, Fosse humbly depicts himself as a particularly brilliant donut maker, but he shrugs while doing so, as if saying, "Yeah, I'm good. So what?" And his film is the So What--endlessly rewatchable, always rewarding.

6. Once Upon A Time In The West.

The creak of a windmill. Water drip, drip, dripping on Woody Strode's head. Jack Elam and a fly. "Looks like we're shy one horse." "You brought two too many." Dusty angels of death appearing from behind desert shrubbery, killing a boy as they killed his family. Claudia Cardinale steps off a train, to be rewarded by the greatest crane shot in movie history. Henry Fonda's cold eyes. How Charles Bronson came to play that death rattle harmonica tune.

Sergio Leone's masterpiece isn't any kind of Western, or any kind of movie, really. With its outsized emotions and bigger-than-life characters all underlined with Ennio Morricone's now-lyrical, now-brittle score, it's more operatic than anything else. An opera in which nobody sings, because nobody needs to.

5. North By Northwest.

Being the depressive sort I am, you'd expect me to choose one of Alfred Hitchcock's bleakest pictures, Vertigo, most obviously, or Shadow Of A Doubt or The Birds. You wouldn't expect this, one of his purest thrillers, the work of a master entertainer not a dark artist.

And sure, I love those others, too, but dammit, North By Northwest is so much fun: Cary Grant is all unflappable coolness, Eva Marie Saint is perhaps the most alluring of Hitchcock's many ice queen blondes, James Mason is a perfectly oily but always dapper villain, Martin Landau is a superbly menacing henchman. Plus a rollicking, involving storyline, masterful staging and cutting, all set to a classic Bernard Herrmann score. Is it deep, is it profound? Nah. But it sure is fun.

4. Meet Me In St. Louis.

I haven't done this with anything else on this list, but I want to show a clip that illustrates everything I love about this movie. The compression rate on YouTube doesn't do justice to the elegant visuals, but you'll get the gist.

Papa has announced he has accepted a promotion that will require moving the entire family away from their beloved St. Louis all the way to New York. He proclaims this with pride, certain all the family will be thrilled. They're moving up in the world! Instead, all are horrified, from the oldest daughters, entering into their first serious romances, to the youngest, Tootie, saddened that she'll have to dig up all her buried dolls! Grandfather, the maid, even Mama is upset--no one wants to leave their perfect life. But they will move, Papa insists, finding all this sentiment baffling and silly. Everyone storms off, leaving Papa alone with his pride. Everyone but Mama.

What is wonderful about this scene--about the whole film--is its lack of cheap sentiment. The family reassembles, because that's what they're expected to do, but they're still not happy. They're together, but not quite.

And beyond that, the details--the song pitched in the wrong key, little Tootie trying to steal food, Mama's face as she chimes in at the end of the song, indicating that she interprets the lyrics on a deeper level than her husband realizes. And the performances by Leon Ames and Mary Astor, and Judy Garland and Margaret O'Brien. And Vincente Minnelli's elegant staging, perfectly sustained tone and masterful use of color. And...everything about it. Do you have all day? Because I could honestly spend the entire day talking about this.

3. Dumbo.

Rest your head close to my heart, never to part, Baby Of Mine.

2. Singin' In The Rain.

Sure, let's consider this the greatest musical in screen history. How can we not? Gene Kelly's title number, Kelly and Donald O'Connor ripping loose with Moses Supposes, O'Connor solo with Make 'Em Laugh, Cyd Charisse's awesome legs unfurling to The Broadway Melody. Let us especially consider You Were Meant For Me, introduced by Kelly explaining all the artifice of a Hollywood set, the cheap painted backdrop, simulated evening light and piped-in mist, only to have the camera move in as Kelly and Debbie Reynolds dance together, a neat little deconstrucionalist move miraculously reassembled before our willing eyes.

But let us also consider Singin' In The Rain as the greatest comedy film ever made. The script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is intricately plotted, infinitely quotable, well-layered and wise. The direction by Kelly and Stanley Donen hurtles the plot forward at a madcap pace, pausing when necessary to let us catch our breath. The playing is superb down to the cameos--and seriously, how did Jean Hagen fail to become a huge star off of this?--and it's all wrapped up in a Technicolor package that's absolute heaven to adore. I've seen this movie dozens of times, and it's always enthralling. But more impressively, it always makes me laugh out loud like I've never seen it before.

In fact, it's probably my favorite movie of all time. However--

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey

--is, I think, the greatest film of all time.

I was ten that first time I saw it, and it's not just that Stanley Kubrick's literally awe-inspiring widescreen miracles blew me away. It's how they lingered, and how that last, enigmatic image--and retroactively, everything leading up to it--refused to yield any secrets. Forced, helplessly, to think about it, to ponder it for days after, and weeks, and ever, it played in my mind on an endless loop, unending, always there, always with me.

And it never left. It compelled me to ponder the nature of the universe, and my place in it. More than that, it compelled me to know more about this particular film, and this Kubrick fellow, and how and why it all came together. It made me wonder why I was so taken with it, how it managed to work on me as no movie ever had before. It freed my mind as nothing ever had before, sending it off on paths I'd never dared explore, paths I never even knew existed.

The first, halting steps down those roads soon became eager journeys. I had a will to understand things I'd never cared about before, things like movies, yes, and other forms of art, because yes, this was art, something I'd never understood, never considered, never appreciated. But more, this film taught me wisdom, a way of seeing the world. I came to realize that nothing is ever quite as it seems, that the truth of anything can never be instantly revealed, that everything is ultimately unknowable.

On a Sunday afternoon in May of '75, the person I was became the person I am. Many of my sensibilities were already in place--I loved Warner Bros. cartoons and Mad magazine--but as soon as I saw 2001, everything fell into place. Nothing could ever be the same.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


The always wonderful Edie Adams passed away yesterday at the age of 81.

Despite a long and varied career--she played the ingenue in Leonard Bernstein's Wonderful Town, won a Tony for Li'l Abner and reached Stella Stevens-esque levels of hotness in several films, most notably It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World--she will always be best known to many of us as Ernie Kovacs' wife.

My mom adored Kovacs, and frequently would go on and on about his greatness, and how touching it would be to see Ernie and Edie together on TV, and how even when you sometimes sensed tension between them, you could always feel the love. I had to take her words on faith, since Kovacs died before I was born.

In the late seventies, PBS aired some kinescopes of Kovacs' work, my first chance to see his work. Mom was right.

In his many TV shows and specials, Kovacs showcased Adams in ways nobody else ever did. She could be sexy or sweet, silly or serious. Anything, really. She moved on after Kovacs' death in 1962, though he left her in debt, and married twice more. But though she found plenty of work as a singer and character actress, she never quite found the fame she deserved.

Here she is on the final episode of The Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour, with Kovacs watching her adoringly. Her looks, that voice--Ernie was a lucky guy.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Really, folks, I'm as eager as you are to wrap up this damn countdown thing and move on to something else. But my computer is incredibly slow this morning and, as today's title should indicate, Blogger is having issues of its own. Last time this happened, my entire post disappeared into infinity, so I'm not taking the time to write an entire rambling screed only to have it lost to the ages. I'd settle for a clip job, but the connection at YouTube is dragging can't even think of a joke.

Screw it. I'm goin' back to bed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The stats have dropped lower than a John McCain attack ad (rimshot, please!) since I started this little Favorite Movie Countdown Party, lower even than when I compulsively posted Lynda Carter clips every other day. But hey, I didn't stop then and I won't stop now. If the task isn't completed, the terrorists have already won. (And by terrorist, of course, I mean Barack Obama. We don't even know who he really is! Sarah Palin says so!)


14. The Thing.

John Carpenter isn't always taken seriously as a director with much on his mind, mostly because he makes horror pictures and goofy action epics. But look closer: His movies nearly always depict breakdowns of societal norms, whether familial (Halloween), spiritual (Prince Of Darkness, Vampires) or political (They Live). The prototypical Carpenter hero is a loner with no regard for the society he's charged with saving, and the outcome is almost always bleak.

Carpenter claims his filmmaking idol is Howard Hawks, and the influence is obvious. Carpenter favors unfussy setups, invisible editing and laid-back performances. Philosophically, though, he's the exact opposite; in Hawks' world, teams of professionals work as one for the common good, but for Carpenter, when a group of people come together to fight the good fight, they are defeated not by the antagonist so much as their own ennui. In this sense, The Thing is perhaps the quintessential Carpenter film, quietly stylish, totally involving, expertly made and impeccably cast...but cold, cold, cold, and not just because of its Antarctic setting.

13. Annie Hall.

Later, Woody Allen would make sunnier movies about human relationships (Hannah And Her Sisters) and relentlessly chronicle the end of so many affairs (Manhattan, Husbands And Wives), but he'd never make anything quite like Annie Hall, a romantic comedy that is uproariously funny and heartbreakingly sad, often within the same scene. And this movie is romantic; there is no doubt that Allen's Alvy and Diane Keaton's Annie love each other and belong together. But only for a limited amount of time. They find the relationship mutually rewarding--neither has ever met a person quite like the other--but gradually it becomes clear the very things they love about each other are the same things that will drive them apart, the things they will treasure in memory but would resent if they stayed together. Cinematically uneven, as Allen indulges in some self-consciously arty touches, but emotionally as true as any movie ever made.

12. The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad.

This energetic Arabian Nights caper would be a ton of fun anyway, what with its manly hero, beautiful princess, colorful locations and endless derring-do, all set to a magnificent Bernard Herrmann score. But what makes it a classic, of course, are the endless miracles conjured by stop-motion animator/effects genius/prince among men Ray Harryhausen. A horned, cloven-hooved cyclops! A cobra woman! A two-headed Roc! A fire-breathing dragon! And, best of all, a sword-wielding skeleton, whose balletic movement and grim sense of purpose caused me to watch in open-mouthed wonder when I saw this at the age of ten, and my sense of astonishment hasn't dimmed to this day.

11. A Shot In The Dark.

I'm as surprised as anyone by the prominent placement of this particular film. But when Blake Edwards was on, he was a masterful stylist who had a real talent for carefully building laughs. (When he was off, as happened more often than not, the results were too dire to consider.) Besides, despite Edwards' glossy visuals and snappy pacing, the real auteur here was Peter Sellers, making his second appearance as Inspector Clouseau. If you're a Sellers fan, this is comedy heaven, his every awkward movement, baffled reaction or nonsensical outburst a manifestation of genius, the greatest comic performer the screen has ever seen. And if you're not a Sellers fan, what's wrong with you?

10. The Outlaw Josey Wales.

All the pleasures Westerns offer--tense action, rugged landscapes, tough-but-tender characterizations--and something a little more, courtesy of director and star Clint Eastwood. There's a fascinating struggle between how Eastwood frames himself--as an icon, a movie star, backlit and imposing--and how he wants to be seen, as an actor, a character, a regular guy. So Josey Wales is an average farmer plunged into extraordinary circumstances requiring superhuman skills to survive. He journeys from Missouri to Texas, searching for freedom but also redemption, and along the way acquires a makeshift family of misfits and outcasts, drawn to him like...well, like audiences to a movie star. On purely formal terms, this is Eastwood's first great film (the one where his expert sense of composition and penchant for shooting in near darkness became apparent), but thematically, its even richer than he may have intended. I'd call it the best Western ever made, except for...

9. The Wild Bunch.

Sure, Sam Peckinpah was a nihilist. We know that from his films--Straw Dogs, Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid--but we also know it from the way he lived his life, blowing apart personal relationships, alienating collaborators, consuming whiskey and cocaine in such massive quantities it surely led to his death of heart failure at the crushingly early age of fifty-nine.

But the guy who took a film crew down to Mexico in 1968 with a bunch of the greatest actors who ever lived--William Holden, Warren Oates, Robert Ryan, Ben Johnson, Strother Martin--had every reason to live. He was about to show he was the best of the best, exploding all the traditions of Hollywood filmmaking, changing the entire landscape in his wake. His awesome visual sense and uncanny, to-the-frame editing skills are still being emulated to this day, on TV, in music videos, in every action movie churned out in Hollywood or elsewhere. Everything that tries and fails to replicate his singular gift functions as an unwilling tribute to his overwhelming genius.

As for that nihilism, yeah, it's present in The Wild Bunch, every frame marked with a seething contempt for humanity. Still, there's lyricism here, too, and great visual beauty, and fleeting moments to suggest that even Peckinpah must have felt that there were reasons, however rare, to endure the untold miseries of existence. And he was right: This movie is, for me, one of the things that makes life worth living.

8. Lolita.

I could (and probably should) rank Stanley Kubrick's oddball adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's novel even higher than this, but one of the things I like best about it is how minor it is. Even as a Kubrick partisan, I admit his films from the mid-sixties on always had an inflated sense of their own worth; he seemed determined to make a masterpiece every time out. Lolita is perhaps his most relaxed work, and he casts aside his virtuoso stylistic shenanigans to concentrate on what may be the greatest cast ever assembled as they enact a tale of total denigation.

And that cast! James Mason, Shelley Winters, Sue Lyon and especially Peter Sellers in the performance of a lifetime, as a preening satyr determined, for no apparent reason, to ruin Mason's clueless intellectual. Heartless, impossibly cruel, morally indefensible, absolutely essential.

NEXT: Will we finally conclude this thing?

Monday, October 13, 2008


I'll get back to that ongoing list soon enough, but first this little interlude.

Yes, yes, this ad is offensive on many levels. It imagines a blandly white world in which girls had no dreams or future beyond being married off to some straight-arrow frat type, and any guy who dressed (or presumably behaved) in a unique manner was deemed a dud.

Still...It's kind of sweet, isn't it? Achingly innocent, a product of a time in which it still seemed possible for a nation to will its eyes shut and pretend things were okay.

And while girls were being instructed to celebrate their limited options, what were little boys encouraged to do?

Again, a somehow chilling dichotomy: This looks like it would have been the greatest toy in the world (especially if they had sold it with the rayon shirt and skinny tie), even as the realization dawns that it was not-so-subtly beckoning kids to become Junior G-Men, to enlist in Hoover's war against commies, queers and coloreds. Morally despicable...but fun.

So much fun you wouldn't even have known you were being indoctrinated, until you found yourself in a loveless marriage enduring the lie you tried so hard to believe, or dodging the greater than expected firepower of the Vietcong, wondering why the hell you ever thought guns were cool.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


One clarification about this ongoing list: The movies on it are (for the most part) ones that I've seen multiple times, or have seen fairly recently. There are certain films I hold in very high esteem, but haven't been able to rewatch for one reason or other, and so don't appear here. I strongly suspect Francesco Rosi's Christ Stopped At Eboli belongs on this list, and am certain Stanley Donen's Movie Movie (never available on DVD!) does, but I haven't been able to view them recently enough to absolutely confirm my enthusiasm. In fact, a lineup of movies viewed once, long ago, then remembered fondly would make an excellent list in itself.

For now, though, we'll stick with the list at hand.

19. Hollywood Boulevard.

You could say I'm casting aside notions of quality with this one, and true, I'm pretty much indulging my fondness for Joe Dante here, but I still maintain that this wonderful piece of Grade Z schlock is actually one of the best American comedies of the seventies. Dante and co-director Allan Arkush made a bet with Roger Corman that they could crank out a movie in about a week and for very little money. Given the constraints they imposed on themselves, the filmmakers had no choice but to utilize their own surroundings, concocting a movie about the making of a Grade Z movie. Movie geek in-jokes run wild, but really, you don't have to be a devotee of Filipino Women-In-Prison pictures to appreciate this; it's a genuinely funny knockabout farce, with surprisingly engaging characterizations from wonderful character actors like Mary Woronov, Dick Miller and Paul Bartel. Oh, and there are a lot of gratuitous topless scenes.

18. The Tales Of Hoffmann.

Any number of films from the always awesome writing-producing-directing geniuses Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger could have appeared here, but let's go with this one. Not as well known or highly regarded as the team's The Red Shoes or Black Narcissus, this adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's opera is a crazy mess, a mix of music and dance filmed as pure cinema, maddening, beguiling, brilliant. Offenbach's opera is divided into three "tales" with a prologue and epilogue, and the second story on display here--The Tale Of Giulietta--is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen in my life.

17. The Exorcist.

I was in fifth grade when I first saw this--or more accurately, tried to see it. The Iraq-set prologue creeped me out, the introductory scenes of a mother and child under seige by forces beyond comprehension unnerved me, and by the time little Regan thrust a bloody crucifix into her vagina, I started freaking out so badly, my brother had to help me out of the theater.

But the genius of William Friedkin's film isn't so much in its gross-out qualities, but how it grounds its horror in a recognizable reality. This was the first film I remember seeing that really struck me by how real it looked--rooms looked lived in, lighting sources appeared natural, the actors looked like people, not movie stars. And when this reality is violated, it has real, terrifying impact. I'm not sure this movie holds up to deep analysis, but as a feat of pure filmmaking, it's peerless.

16. Topsy-Turvy.

A movie about Gilbert and Sullivan, directed by British social realist Mike Leigh? I couldn't work up any enthusiasm over seeing this, but my then-wife insisted, one of the few times she dragged me to a movie against my will, and...I fell in love with this literally from the first shot. Leigh didn't make a stuffy period piece or a corny biopic. He concentrated on the creation of only one G & S operetta, The Mikado, and portrayed Sullivan and especially Gilbert as passionate, driven professionals. We watch them at work, and not for a second do we feel we're watching actors on sets. We're simply there, every step of the way, and no phony dramatics interfere. For Leigh, the act of creation is as dramatic as any car chase or love scene, and he's right. I wish words could somehow convey the sheer joy of watching this movie--it's a great one.

15. The Horror Of Dracula.

This is one of those stand-ins I referred to at the beginning of this project, a movie that represents a whole group of other movies. In this case, Dracula is my pick for a representative from Hammer Films, which in the fifties, sixties and early seventies had a distinctively lush house style for their splendidly realized melodramas. Other Hammer epics may have been better--The Mummy and The Hound Of The Baskervilles, which has some imagery worthy of Michael Powell--but Dracula was the true landmark in the studio's history. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee became icons of my youth from this, as Bernard Robinson's brilliantly designed sets, James Bernard's thunderous music and especially Jack Asher's lusciously overripe Eastmancolor cinematography all came together under Terrence Fisher's direction to produce a classic Gothic chiller. A childhood favorite every bit as beloved in adulthood.

NEXT: We get slightly more mainstream...or do we?

Saturday, October 11, 2008


Back in high school, if you had asked me to name my favorite movies, Apocalypse Now would have had a guaranteed spot at or near the top of the list. Now, even naming thirty favorites, it isn't here. The movie hasn't changed, but I have.

Partly, I've come to realize it wasn't as original as I once thought. Other movies have done similar breakdown of civilization stories better. Maybe it's not as profound, as deep, as anything as I used to believe it to be. Possibly I no longer consider Francis Coppola a major filmmaker, and I don't care to endure a lecture from the guy who made Bram Stoker's Dracula and Jack.

Most likely, I just don't need it anymore. Apocalypse Now moved me profoundly when I was a teenager, and I'll always retain a great affection for it (and can pretty much quote the whole thing in its entirety, if you're interested), but I'm no longer the person I was back then. I don't even recognize that person anymore. Other movies from that era are on this list, and films that had a profound effect on me at a younger age. But those films still hold up, at least for me, and I still see in them what I saw at the time. I'll likely never again find profundity in Apocalypse Now.

On with the list:

24. Nashville.

Robert Altman's brilliant mosaic of lives intertwining in Music City USA is made up of small moments that add up to something much greater, random glimpses of joy and despair, and showcases an absolutely amazing collection of performances. My favorite story arcs involve Keenan Wynn's grieving husband and Henry Gibson's smarmy superpatriot country star, but the great thing about this movie is it changes every time you watch it, and what seems minor in one viewing will leap to greater significance the next.

23. Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia.

Sam Peckinpah's foul, misogynistic, at times incomprehensible story of greed and failed redemption plays almost as if Mickey Spillane and Malcolm Lowry attempted to rewrite The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. It's full of embarrassingly pulpy melodramatics and strained psuedoprofundities...but dammit, it's great. For better or worse, this is Peckinpah unfiltered, every good and bad idea utilized, full of digressions that go nowhere and hairpin plot and character turns. What grounds it in reality and makes it so achingly human is the lead performance from the late, great Warren Oates as a man who has lost his last trace of humanity, then regains it to lose it again.

22. The Shining.

There are some horror movie tropes in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's potboiler (rotting corpses, rivers of blood), but I prefer to think of this as the story of a marriage coming apart. Or maybe it's just about an author with a really bad case of writer's block. I don't think Kubrick was as misanthropic as his reputation would suggest, but there's no doubt he takes perverse pleasure in watching his characters squirm.

21. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

I have never understood how Joel and Ethan Coen got the reputation in some critical quarters as cold, unfeeling, condescending. Yes, their characters are usually goofy, but also endearing, and when bad things happen to them, we care. (Usually.) The Coens may have made better movies than this Depression-era journey through an imaginary South, but none more endearing. Amazing music, big laughs, inventive staging & camerawork and perfect casting--Tim Blake Nelson's sweet but dim-witted character is named Delmar, and yes, this is where my beloved psychokitty got his name.

20. West Side Story.

Granted, this adaptation of Jerome Robbins' stage musical about singin', dancin' juvenile delinquents only intermittently works as a movie. Though Robbins is credited as co-director, he was fired during production (his vibrant staging of several sequences stands out clearly from the rest of the film), and remaining director Robert Wise acted mostly as an efficient but unimaginative traffic cop, making sure the story goes from Point A to Point B at necessary intervals. Lead Richard Beymer is an amazingly bland presence, and Natalie Wood a patently unconvincing Puerto Rican.

But you know what? I don't care, because this movie, with its hyper-dramatic storyline, killer Leonard Bernstein score and awe-inspiring choreography, pinned me to the wall on my first viewing (I was twelve), and I fall for it every time I see it, and believe me, I've seen it plenty. Flaws may be noted, but they don't matter because I absolutely love this movie. And as we all know, when love comes this strong, there is no right or wrong...

TOMORROW: More ridiculously idiosyncratic choices!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Okay, after all that build-up and hoo-ha yesterday, you didn't think I'd just present a straightforward list of favorite movies and let it pass without comment, did you? Ha! Of course not. I mean, it's me. I'm going to spend at least a little bit of time writing about each and every one of these babies, so this could take a few days. But look at the bright side: A few days during which I'll be too distracted to whine about Sarah Palin or post clips from bad seventies variety shows.

Anyway, the number comes to thirty, and we're counting backwards:

30. The Purple Rose Of Cairo.

I swear I'm going to get around to spending more time writing about Woody Allen, but until I do, let me just say that while this isn't his most ambitious effort, or most personal, it may be the best, formally speaking. What could have been merely a clever conceit--a character walks off a movie screen and into a woman's life--becomes much more: an admirably constructed farce, a thoughtful meditation of the power of film, a heartbreaking romance. You want perfection? This movie is it.

29. The Howling.

One of the things that's becoming obvious as I construct this list is that I'm going to have to include a lot of stand-in pictures, one John Huston film or Warren Oates picture to represent an entire body of work. That said, I'm going to stuff as many Joe Dante pictures in here as possible, because I just love them so much.

So The Howling. What is it? Is it grubby fodder for grindhouses and drive-ins? Is it a spoof? Is it a clever satire of the New Age movement, a surprisingly affecting character study, a fountain of in-jokes, a full-bodied horror epic? Is it the best damned werewolf movie ever made? Hey, it's a Joe Dante picture; it can be all of those things and more!

28. The World Of Henry Orient.

Nobody puts George Roy Hill on that list of filmmakers who redefined cinema in the sixties and seventies. If he's mentioned at all, it's usually for his huge commercial successes Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid or The Sting, as if he was never anything more than a proficient hack.

Oh, but there's his fine adaptation of Slaughterhouse Five and his sharp, hilarious Slap Shot. Above all, there is The World Of Henry Orient, a funny and troubling portrait of two girls on the cusp of adolesence, when all their childish games will take a dark turn. Tippy Walker and Merrie Spaeth disappeared into obscurity after their terrific performances in this film, which also features career-best work from Angela Lansbury and Tom Bosley, and a hilarious turn from Peter Sellers (we'll be seeing much more of him on this list!) in the title role.

27. Ghost World.

Take the central characters from Henry Orient, age them by about four of five years and plop them down into a contemporary urban landscape and you'll get a little of the feel of Terry Zwigoff's adaptation of Daniel Clowes' graphic novel. Zwigoff's eye is amazing, his editing rhythms are sure, the characterizations are memorable down to the bit parts. But let's be honest: This movie belongs to Thora Birch. Whether dyeing her hair green or wearing a bondage mask, she's all uncorked id and confused sexual urges, pure impulse and zero reason, a danger to herself and others. Which kinda describes my dating history, but that's another story...

26. The Pirate.

I've written so much about this movie (I'd link to my two previous posts, but I'm too lazy) that there's not a whole lot I can say about this I haven't said before. Airtight plotting, wonderfully over-the-top performances (Is it possible Gene Kelly is right behind Peter Sellers on my list of all-time favorite actors? Quite possible, indeed.), lushly stylized settings and atmosphere courtesy of ace stylist Vincente Minnelli. I should point out that many people actively dislike this movie, but those who love it do so to an almost irrational degree. Which camp do you think I'm in?

25. Blazing Saddles.

Say what you will about Mel Brooks' ham-fisted abilities as a director, this Borscht Belt Western made me laugh harder than anything I'd ever seen back when I first saw it at the age of ten, and there is literally not a day goes by that I don't quote at least one line from it. I could defend it as a surprisingly tough-minded satire on racism, but what would be the point? The main point is funny, and this movie has it up the wazoo.

COMING UP: More of the same--but completely different!

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Since I'd mentioned a few days ago an attempt to compile an honest-to-God list of Favorite Movies, I thought I should get down to it. Some problems keep cropping up, however.

For instance, what kind of list is this? Is it a Best list or a Favorite list? There's a difference. I mean, by any rational standard, Citizen Kane is one of the greatest films ever made, a continuing source of awe, revealing new aspects with each fresh viewing. And it's certainly one of my favorites, but not one of my top-tier favorites, in the sense that it has a great deal of personal meaning for me. I watch it periodically, but I respect it more than adore it, if that makes sense.

On the other hand, there are a lot of movies I love and will watch over and over again, but I can't make any claims for their quality. I mean, do you know how many times I've seen The Poseidon Adventure? Okay, it's mostly because of the numerous glimpses of Stella Stevens' panties (and the memory of what that sight did to my eight-year-old self), but still. Honestly, it's a somewhat better movie than its reputation, but it's not really something you want to put on a list, to claim as your own. On the other hand, if this list contains seminal film-going experiences, this certainly qualifies. It was the first movie that caused me to find an isolated spot in the theater so I could appreciate in splendid isolation the unexpected warm fuzzy feeling in my pants every time Stella's panties were flashed. And yeah, I realize that's way more than you need to know about me, but the point is, I learned something from watching that movie, no matter how routine the surrounding material.

Clearly, rules had to be set. It had to be a list of movies that mean a lot to me that I also happen to think are great movies in and of themselves. Though my definition of great may be highly idiosyncratic, there's nothing I can't justify.

Also, everything listed needed to be a theatrically released feature. Though the temptation to include anything preserved and shown on film certainly reared its head, I knew I couldn't do that, or the list would become unmanageable. Unfortunately, this means there are gaping holes. My all-time favorite filmmaker is Chuck Jones, but his greatest work is made up entirely of seven minute cartoons. Their absence is nearly unforgiveable, but man, they would have skewed the curve. (If I had included them, Feed The Kitty would be in the number one spot, followed almost immediately by Rabbit Of Seville and The Hypochondri-Cat and A Bear For Punishment, which, come to think of it, really is the purest comedy bliss ever put on film, an exercise in sheer perfection.)

And what about TV? Steven Spielberg's Duel is as fine as any film he's ever made, but if I included it, would I be opening up another door best nailed shut? Couldn't the case be made that The Sopranos, for instance, is one long, long (and quite extraordinary) film? But if it's included, should episodes of other episodic TV shows? (Consider the final episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show , or the episode in which Lou Grant's wife leaves him. Lou's quiet, desperate, "I love ya, Edie," as she walks out the door is as emotionally shattering, as perfectly written, directed and acted as anything I've ever seen anywhere.) Again, no. This list is already stretched to the snapping point as it is. But by leaving off American TV shows, I thought it was only fair to leave off anything originally made for TV, which made me feel better about the fact that Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from A Marriage isn't on this list.

Okay...then what? That still leaves a lot of movies. Trying to pare the list down to twenty or thirty essentials (ten isn't even a reasonable number), I'm stunned by what doesn't make the cut. As I said the other day, no Star Wars(!), but also no Godfather or A Hard Day's Night, no Kurosawa (not even Seven Samurai, which...Really? How could I leave that out?) or Anthony Mann or P.T. Anderson (unless Boogie Nights sneaks back in, which is possible) or Bertolucci (not even The Conformist, which seriously begs the question of what the hell is wrong with me?).

On the other hand, William Friedkin will be there, and Blake Edwards. (At least I think they will. This list still isn't finalized. Yes, I'm taking this way too seriously.) I know these guys aren't on the level of Kurosawa, but they're certainly solid craftsmen, and when the elements came together, they created works that just connect with me. What can I say? I like what I like.

Anyway, the point is, I hope this will be an illuminating and entertaing list. For me, mostly, because by seeing what resonates the most with me, what is most aesthetically pleasing and morally challenging, or even what plain old makes me happy--all this, hopefully, will give me some better sense of who I am. Isn't that, finally, why we love movies?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Yes, I suppose I'll vote for Barack Obama, despite the fact that he voted in favor of The Decider's warrantless spying program, despite his support of continued indiscriminate military action in Afghanistan (where--whoops!--civilian casualties have been much higher than initially reported), despite his curious silence on the fate of detainees in Gitmo (where seventeen prisoners--the worst of the worst, according to the Bushinistas--have been ordered free by a federal judge), despite the fact that there's no reason to suspect he'd be anything other than a business as usual president.

That's what we need now. We need someone extraordinary, but we all know there is no way that could happen. But the last eight years have been so terrible, and the prospect of a Sarah Palin presidency so much worse, that finally, it seems, there is nothing to do but support Obama.

And after last night's debate, I feel at least a bit better about doing so. Obama looked, well, presidential. Smart--"elitist" in Republican-speak--but full of empathy for the slobs out there in the real world. Calm, his words carefully measured, but letting righteous anger occasionally boil just beneath the surface. And honestly, if he had walked over and decked McCain for calling him "that one", I suspect the entire nation would have applauded.

(A word about that. Part of the reason why it's becoming so much easier to get behind Obama is the barely-disguised racism of McCain's campaign. Palin seems to be openly courting the Klan vote, and and in that context, McCain's undisguised contempt for Obama when the two of them are onstage can easily be read, fairly or not, as racially tinged. These are not people we want making policy.)

Oh, but what with my blood pressure and all, I'm not supposed to be writing about this sort of thing. So hey, here's a Burger King commercial from the tail end of the disco era. Not only does The King lay it down Denny Terrio-style, you also get appearances from Sir Shakes-A-Lot and The Duke Of Doubt. And you know, just typing the words "Sir Shakes-A-Lot" makes me feel hollow inside.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


He awakens, his arms still wrapped tentatively around his wife. He pulls loose without waking her and sits up, then stumbles through the half-light to the living room window.

The blinds are open, affording him enough light to see. Not that there's much here worth seeing. This place looks exactly like it did last night, the night before, last week. Boxes piled in a corner, still unpacked after all these months. Dishes abandoned on tables, cups beside chairs. CDs scattered on the floor. The furniture arranged in no particular pattern, the only difference is, tonight the furniture is bare.

This night they slept on the floor, on cushions pulled from the couch and easy chair. It's a sometime ritual, a comfort thing, in memory of their first night together. She had invited him into her apartment, apologizing for the mess, particularly for the piles of unsorted laundry on the bed. She'd been sleeping on the floor the last few nights, she said, to the familiar drone of the TV, and arranged the cushions on the floor to demonstrate. She laid on them, and so then did he, the two of them together, the only light seeping in from the window, snow falling softly, glimmering in the streetlight's glow.

That was then. No snow falling now. Hell, no snow all winter. Is this the way the weather is in Maryland? A few flurries, a smattering of ice, that's it? This is nothing like Iowa. No, this is nothing like Iowa.

In Iowa, they were in love. Weren't they? Problems, yes, blowups and fights and all matter of things. But love, above all. And some kind of future.

The future. This was supposed to be part of it. A new life, a new state, a break from the past, both of their pasts, away from everyone and everything they'd ever known. A beginning. Not an ending.

He looks at her body, tangled in a sheet, her red hair rendered black by the greenish-yellow light coming from the parking lot, her shoulders trembling upwards with each soft breath. The marriage is ending. They both know it, they just haven't admitted it yet. Something is different. It's not that the love is gone, at least not his love for her. But it's been joined by something else, ambiguity or ennui or...something.

The cat emerges from the shadows. She joins him at the window, as she often does on his usual nocturnal rounds. He can't sleep any more than an hour or two at a time, and can't concentrate enough to read, and has no interest in TV. So he paces, or sits, or stands motionlessly as he does now, and the cat always joins him, the good companion his wife somehow ceased to be. She rubs against him until she receives the attention she desires, then scampers back into the darkness.

He stares after her, watching her tail flicker, then looks out the window. 2 AM. No cars on the street, no movement in the parking lot. The suburbs really are as dull as people claim. It's Friday night. Where are the people, where is the fun, where is the life?


Oh, there are things to say, but right now I don't feel like saying them. I'm too angry and frankly depressed to go into the details, but let me just say that my insurance company apparently doesn't give a rat's ass whether I live or die.

So whatever I wanted to write about today has been hijacked by a mood, in this case an almost overwhelming sense of despair. What can a person do at a time like this, a time when things seem bleak and hopeless?

Well, of course! Go to YouTube and look for...Oh my God! It's Connie Stevens!

There. See? This thing made me laugh uncontrollably. As long as I can remember that there was once a time when sub-swing choir level performances by talent-free blondes could find a non-ironic home on network TV, my mood can life from unspeakable depression to...well, vague bemusement. Hey, it's a start.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Two possible subjects for a post today, but both proved a bit daunting. One was a piece on John McCain--thing is, that could take awhile, and would force me at some point to spend more time contemplating the terrifying reality of Sarah Palin, and, well, I'm on meds for my blood pressure and really, this is the sort of thing my doctor warned me to avoid, so...No.

The other subject is something I'm actually working on, it just hasn't quite come together yet. Inspired by yesterday's ramblings about Westerns and musicals possibly dominating any list of my favorite movies, I'm trying to put together just such a list. I don't think there's any way I can narrow it down to an arbitrary number like ten, but I'm trying to examine a lifetime of movie viewing and figure out what truly means the most to me. Here's the most shocking thing: Star Wars isn't likely to show up on this list. Probably no James Bond, either. (Well, maybe On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Or not. We'll see.)

A few days ago I mentioned how I could spend all my time here celebrating the music of Bernard Herrmann. Well, today's as good a day as any to start. Here's the opening of the 1951 science fiction classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. With his title music, Herrmann essentially invented a cliche fifties sci fi sound, all theremins and clashing brass, and its piercing sound has been proven to frighten cats. (Well, one cat, anyway.) More interesting is underscore of the opening sequence. Sounds a lot like Phillip Glass, doesn't it? Should Herrmann get credit as one of the fathers of minimalism? I say yes.

If you can get through Tom Hanks' smarmy introduction, here's some more classic Herrmann, performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen. First up is an excerpt from his score for Hitchcock's matchless Vertigo (which should show up on my Favorite Movie list...but might not). Like all of Herrmann's work in a Romantic mode, it manages to be at once swoony and somehow desiccated, as if the very notion of human desire is somehow hollow. His score for the more conventionally romantic The Ghost And Mrs. Muir has a similar quality, giving that film a sense of fatalism it would otherwise lack.) This is followed immediately by an excerpt from Nick Ray's On Dangerous Ground (a much better movie than Hanks' intro indicates), a fury of brass and percussion.

There'll probably more Herrmann-related posts in the future, whether anyone wants them or not. He was the first composer whose work I truly fell in love with, and his music meant so much to me at an important part of my life that it's part of me, embedded in my DNA, who I am and what I am. It wasn't until much later that I fully realized how dark much of Herrmann's music is, how he was drawn repeatedly to stories of brooding loners and doomed romance(Not just in his film scores. He wrote on opera based on Wuthering Heights and his take on it wasn't exactly genteel.), subjects I know all too well myself.

Looked at that way, there is less and less guilt whenever I resort to a clip job around here, because it's becoming clear that whatever I choose to share is as personal as anything I might write. Yes, even including the Lynda Carter stuff, and no, I don't want to examine too closely what that means.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


1) Spent a big chunk of the weekend with Paul. We didn't really do anything but hang out, but that always seems to be enough. We have our regular rituals--dinner at Old Country Buffet, and if he stays the night, breakfast at Krispy Kreme--but when he's here, he seems happy to let me decide what we're going to do. Usually, I let him decide what movies we're going to watch, but we're slowly working our way up to Where Eagles Dare. Clint Eastwood! Nazis! Machine guns! If he doesn't like it, I'll be crushed.

When we're out together, I have no idea what people think our relationship is. More than likely, they assume he's my kid, although if they make a comment indicating that, Paul will explain in excrutiating detail that I'm just his mom's ex-boyfriend, and usually point out that he thinks I'm still in love with her. Me, I always feel like we're some comedy team. When we're not tossing off one-liners and non-sequiturs, we're doing goofy physical bits. A string of exes have been annoyed by my "walking into a street sign" bit, but the kid has adapted if for his own purposes--he'll walk into, or off of, pretty much anything. With us, it's less Martin & Lewis than Lewis & Lewis. Scary.

Every time he stays the night, I let Paul have the bed. I don't even have a couch, so I just throw down a few blankets and sleep on the floor. He never puts up much of a fuss when I tell him it's bedtime, and after I shut off the light, we usually talk for awhile. Friday night he asked, "Do you think there'll be a time when we stop being friends?" I said no, I didn't think so. "Good," he answered. "That's what I hoped you'd say."

2) Once I dropped Paul back off with Tabbatha--who has been volunteering for Barack Obama's campaign, and whose enthusiasm for the cause is so infectious I wish I could fully share it--I headed off to see a movie.

Alone, that is. Recently, I've renewed contact with an off-and-on friend with benefits, though in her case, it's more about the benfits than the friendship. That sounds terrible, but it's true--anytime we get together, it's basically to have sex. We catch up on whatever we've been doing and blah blah blah, but we know we're just fulfilling some sort of biological urge. Maybe I'm just getting older, but the idea of seeing a movie seemed more appealing than getting laid. Besides, I really wanted to see this movie.

3) The movie in question was Appaloosa, the new Western with Ed Harris, Viggo Mortensen and Renee Zellweger. I hadn't even heard of this thing until I stumbled across the trailer online, and it did something previews almost never do these days: it made me want to see the movie. Of course, Harris and Mortensen are worth seeing in anything, but mostly, I was intrigued because, hey, it's a Western. And more: a Western starring people who actually belong in one. No Christian Bale or Brad Pitt in this one, thank you very much.

And it's a terrific piece of work, very well directed by Harris (in a workmanlike style pleasantly reminiscent of Henry Hathaway), solidly written, impeccably acted, a great time at the movies. I'd almost forgotten what that could be like.

4) Which reminds me--I don't often go on about it here, but man, I love Westerns. If I compiled a list of my ten favorite movies (which would be pointless, because that list would keep changing), there would be guaranteed spots for Once Upon A Time In The West, The Wild Bunch and The Outlaw Josey Wales. That's practically a third of the list right there, and the extra spaces could as easily be filled with Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (or any Sam Peckinpah Western) or The Good The Bad And The Ugly (or any Sergio Leone) or Unforgiven (or, yeah, any Clint Eastwood), to say nothing of The Man From Laramie and The Naked Spur and, okay, pretty much any Anthony Mann Western (not Cimarron, though--I jump off the auteurist bandwagon with that one) or The Long Riders or Ulzana's Raid or...this could be a really long list.

The odd thing about any prospective Ten Favorite Movie list I would compile would be that most of the non-Westerns would be musicals. Singin' In The Rain and Meet Me In St. Louis are locks for that list, as well as Dumbo, which does have a lot of songs. Plus The Pirate might make that list, and The Band Wagon and It's Always Fair Weather and Cabaret, naturally, and All That Jazz if you consider it a musical, and of course West Side Story, even though I recognize how terribly uneven it is, I still love every second of it and hell, I've probably watched it more than any other movie I can think of, so...yeah.

Westerns and musicals are the most stylized (one could perhaps more accurately say ritualized or formulized) of film genres. The trappings of the Western are so familiar that it's hard to make a bad one. Musicals are much more difficult to realize on film, but what both forms have in common is that they're unusually dependant on a strong director. Failed examples of both genres can be fascinating to watch--Young Guns or Xanadu--to see what happens when many of the proper elements are in place, but there's nothing to make them work. Sure, a Brat Pack Western or a musical showcase for the non-existent charisma of Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck seemed like bad ideas in the first place, but everyone from Robert Wagner to Anthony Perkins made good Westerns, just as Bobby Van and Debbie Reynolds made credible romantic leads in a musical. When a filmmaker gets the details right, when they have an overarching vision, we can believe anything.

5) What could make this weekend conclude on a perfect note? Well, marriage to Lauren Graham, but in the event that doesn't happen, lunch at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, followed by chocolate chip cookies and a nap. Yeah, that sounds kind of pathetic, but this weekend is all about small, comforting things, and I'm good with that.

Friday, October 03, 2008


First, go read this piece by David Brooks, one of many conservative gasbags given space by The New York Times.

No, I know it hurts, but try to read the whole thing.

Done? Okay. Now we can talk.

WHAT THE HELL IS THE DEAL WITH DAVID BROOKS? The title alone--The Palin Rebound--seems a bit off. After all, the debate just happened. There's no way of knowing whether there's a rebound on the way. Wishing doesn't make it so, Dave.

The I-know-better-than-you tone of Brooks' writing meshes perfectly with his world view. Of course he thinks Palin's tiresome litany of hockey moms, Joe Sixpacks and Main Streets speaks to her strengths, because Brooks is ever ready to deploy the exact same lineup of cliches. "To many ears," Brooks writes, "her accent, her colloquialisms and her constant invocations of the accoutrements of everyday life will seem cloying. But in the casual parts of the country, I suspect, it went down fine."

Wow. Could Brooks possibly be more patronizing? We're not "casual" here in the hinterlands, jackhole, we're just trying to hang on to whatever lousy jobs we might have, stranded as we are by the Bush economy, the economy Brooks never saw a problem with until very, very recently. And yes, even to us blue-collar know-nothings, Palin seems very, very cloying. Sure, she has admirers among the working class crowd, but many more detractors, who view her as pathetically unqualified for the job she seeks.

Despite his gushing about Palin's stance--"the fearless neighbor for the heartland bemused by the idiocies of Washington"--Brooks can't seriously believe this intellectual flyweight is competent to be leader of the free world, especially at this point in history. The Decider-In-Chief (who, I can't stress this enough, continued to earn endless hosannas from Brooks until very, very recently) pretty much drove the nation into the ground, and it needs someone, anyone, with a shred of competency to even attempt righting it again.

Surely, in his heart of hearts, Brooks knows Palin isn't that person. But that won't stop him from saying he believes it. Whores do what they're paid to do.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


It's one of the hoariest of all cinematic cliches: No one in the movies ever just wakes up from a bad dream, they jerk awake, sitting bolt upright, eyes wide, covered in sweat, frequently screaming. (This reaction is almost always proceeded by either a rapid-fire montage of woe or a dream sequence full of ominous portents, distorted sets and self-consciously weird camera set-ups.)

Really, how often does this happen in the real world? Don't most people, even when having a bad dream, just wake up? Trembling, maybe, but that's about it. How often is somebody rocketed from a dream world into an upright position in bed?

Well, it just happened. I woke up, violently, sitting up, heart pounding, hearing myself say, "AHH..." No sweating, but otherwise, a complete recreation of the cliche.

The thing is...I have no idea what provoked this reaction. No trace of what dragged me violently from another dimension into a waking state, what set my pulse racing, what caused me to scream. A fear that can't be identified or named, a memory of a memory I can't recall--will this unknown become a regular nightly companion, pulling me out of sleep only to vanish from my conscious mind, forever unidentified, vaguely ominous?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Lately it seems every clip posted around here is fraught with irony or ladled with some imagined significance, there's been no room for a good old fashioned collection of songs I like. No cheesy seventies variety show clips, nothing explicitly tied to my childhood, just a few great tunes.

Let's start with the Beatle least often celebrated around here, George Harrison. Most of his solo stuff frankly never did much for me, but I always loved this single from '79. Yeah, the old school video is kind of silly, but at almost a minute in, you do get to see The Quiet One bust some awesome swing choir moves.

Didn't know this clip existed, and I'm thrilled to see it. From a concert in 1978, Arlo Guthrie performs Steve Goodman's American classic.

From back in the days when I used to crank out fiction by the truckload, nothing let the imagination flow like a six pack of Heineken and Ill Communication cranked full blast. Here's Root Down from my favorite Beastie Boys album.

Finally, Bernard Herrmann's magnificent overture to one of the most entertaining movies ever made. It's a crazy, mock-serious fandango that perfectly captures the spirit of the film, but is also a wonderful piece of bluster in itself. Honestly, I could fill this space daily with nothing but rants about my admiration for Herrmann, and never run out of things to say.