On my 2016 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival preview post, I showcased a picture of my tentative schedule. It featured more irregular and irrational lines than the roadmap to China I drew up when I was six years old. This year I’m older. It’s my third festival and therefore I must be wiser. That’s the logic. I’m not sure logic holds with reference to these 2017 TCM Film Festival previews, however. It is, after all a four-day film festival. Movies scheduled from 9:00am until 2:00am. While scurrying between theaters and queue lines you have just enough to scavenge for sustenance. This means a Baja Fresh burrito and/or a bag of popcorn.
Pro tip: Buy a large popcorn so you can carry it around with you for days! Offer it to friends!
The uninitiated are reading this with more than a small amount of skepticism. Burritos? Popcorn? When do you sleep? Wait. Do you sleep? If you’re thinking this sounds #amazeballs and you haven’t been to the TCM Film Festival, you owe it to yourself to set aside time one of these years to make the trip happen. The only thing you might regret is catching the bug thereby requiring a trip every year. Because it’s not just the movies. It’s the people you meet. The conversations you have. These are not ordinary people. These are movie people. They are your people.
For my 2017 TCM Film Festival preview, I attacked the printout with far more reserve. Just a green highlighter, a green pen and a whole lot of indecision.
Fun fact: I took all my notes in college with green pens.
Previewing trips to the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival is the epitome of solipsism. This is what I’m doing with four days of my life and you probably can’t join me!Fun! Yet it’s an honored attendee/blogger (in this case bl-gger) tradition. What’s the reason for this phenomenon? First, it’s a fun way to share your schedule with fellow attendees. We’ll earmark screenings and plan a quick meet up beforehand — it’s also a handy way to see who might save you a seat at a buzzy event. Second, and this is probably the important part, we like to share our passion with those that won’t be in attendance. Maybe it’ll provide the necessary kick in the ass to plan for next year.
Three Quick Impressions of the 2017 Festival Schedule
The TCM Film Festival boasts the equivalent of the Sedgewick Hotel’s 12th Floor. At best it’s merely a minor disturbance. At worst it’s Thunderdome. It’s called Chinese Multiplex House 4. Traditionally, TCM has shown many pre-codes and rarities in the smallish Theater 4. The 2016 Fest will linger in memory as “the Double Harness Festival,” referencing the twice sold out screening for an average William Powell pre-code comedy.
This year, it seems that TCM has learned from their repeat mistakes. Finally recognizing that most attendees gravitate toward these harder-to-find rarities, they’ve moved many of them to the much larger Egyptian Theater. As a result I’ve only noted a few films that will lure me back to the Theater 4 Thunderdome. While I’m relieved TCM has taken steps to ameliorate the Theater 4 crush, I’m going to miss the war stories and battle scars.
Fun fact: I was one of the select few that witnessed the very first Double Harness screening at the 2016 fest. I’m in the process of stitching my own merit badge.
There isn’t one screening at the 2017 TCM Film Festival that I’ll fight you to see. 2015 had George Lazenby introducing On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. 2016 had Elliott Gould introducing The Long Goodbye and Angela Lansbury introducing Manchurian Candidate. Sure, I’m jazzed about Peter Bogdanovich (more about this in a minute) and Michael Douglas and The Jerk, but I also didn’t plan my entire day around any individual screening. This year I’m charting my course through the movies offered on film.
Despite one screening not ruling my festival, I’m faced with no fewer of those “Sophie’s Choice” scenarios where I’m staring down three, four or even five (!) movies I want to see that are all playing at the same time. Look no further than the Friday night conundrum.
Pro tip: Eliminate potential conflicts by watching widely available and tempting movies at home before the festival.
All that said…
My 2017 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival Preview
The non-stop from Pittsburgh arrives slightly later than in past years, so I won’t be able to participate in the “Remembering Robert Osborne” session at 12:30, but I’ll be there in spirit. I’ll also miss out on my 2pm power nap, which could have dire consequences. My filmgoing schedule meanwhile won’t begin until 6pm. While the big spenders dance the night away with Sidney Poitier and the 50th Anniversary of In the Heat of the Night, I’ll begin my evening at the Egyptian… with one of those movies that probably would have played at the Chinese Multiplex 4 in past years.
This year’s theme is “Comedy” — I hear TCM’s awarding a special prize for the attendee who’s face most resembles The Joker by the end of the festival. The 2017 TCM Film Festival preview proper begins now.
Thursday, April 6th
6:00pm – Love Crazy – Egyptian Theater
Not the best of the Powell/Loy collaborations, but Dana Delany’s been chosen for introduction duties. I don’t really need to see Some Like It Hot again. Jezebel, William Wyler’s 1938 “fearless feminine” picture, holds some sway as something I’ve never seen… but even a lesser William Powell and Myrna Loy lark is a lark worth revisiting.
Fun fact: Dana Delany in China Beach, you guys.
9:30pm – The Man Who Knew Too Much – Egyptian Theater
Here’s a tough one. I’ve seen The Man Who Knew Too Much. Quite a few times. I even just picked up the Criterion Blu-ray at the last Barnes and Noble sale. But it’s shown on Nitrate film stock — a rare treat. Meanwhile at the Chinese Multiplex, Harold and Maude, Requiem for a Heavyweight and I’m All Right Jack battle it out for supremacy. Of all of the films in this slot, I’ve only not seen Requiem for a Heavyweight. The “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller introduces, and that might be enough to cause a last-minute disruption in plans.
Friday, April 7th
The first full day begins. So do the tough decisions.
9:00am – Rafter Romance – Egyptian Theater
The Ginger Rogers 1933 romantic comedy is being presented in 35mm and introduced by Leonard Maltin, which gives it the edge over the “Beyond the Mouse” presentation. I’d still love to see the shorts from early Disney animator Ub Iwerks on the big screen, but I own most of these through the numerous Disney collections that have been released. Even though I own three different articles of clothing featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, I’ll defer to Ginger on film, which sounds a little bit like a pornography. Bonus points.
The funny thing about this festival and this time slot in particular is that The Maltese Falcon is being shown in Multiplex 1, and I didn’t even circle it as a possibility. Films achieve higher priority by excelling in the following three categories: 1. Unseen; 2. Film; 3. Special presenter/presentation. If you meet all three criteria, that’s a must see event.
The necessary exclusion that drives me crazy is It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World at the Cinerama Dome. My trip to see Holiday in Spain in Smell-o-vision at the Dome last year unexpectedly became my favorite experience at the festival. Seeing IaMMMMW in Cinerama would be something special, but it would sacrifice two time slots… and I’d really like to see…
11:15am – Beat the Devil – Chinese Multiplex 6
John Huston’s crime spoof has regretfully eluded my eyes for years. I once began watching a DVD of Beat the Devil but the print quality was so poor I couldn’t continue. Bogart and Lorre. Script by Truman Capote. I’ll gladly take this opportunity to scratch another film off my Cinema Shame list. This comes at the expense of the Lubitsch musical One Hour With You and Born Yesterday, both of which I’ve seen. Not recently and not on the big screen, of course. Temptation remains.
Fun fact: This will be the first TCMFF at which I’ve not seen a Lubitsch musical starring Maurice Chevalier.
2:00pm – Monkey Business – Egyptian Theater
Panique looks interesting over in Multiplex 6, but this is out of my hands. Dick Cavett’s introducing a Marx Brothers favorite and I’m going to be there. This renders other options null. Apologies also to Rob Reiner and The Princess Bride, which I’m sure would be a blast on the big screen, especially with this audience.
4:30pm – So This is Paris – Egyptian Theater
I’ll just go ahead and start paying rent at the Egyptian. I atone for not seeing the other Lubitsch with the silent rarity So This is Paris on 35mm. Sure, I could go see old familiars The Bridge on the River Kwai introduced by Alex Trebek (?) or Broadcast News with James L. Brooks in attendance. I could also partake of W.C. Fields in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. But I return to the three checkboxes presented above. So This is Paris checks off all requirements. Unseen. 35mm. Live piano accompaniment.
The brevity of So This is Paris will allow me plenty of time to head out into the evening air and return immediately to the Egyptian for…
Pro tip: There’s a very nice breakfast place on the street perpendicular to the Egyptian. Decent coffee. Egg sandwiches to go.
7:00pm – Red-Headed Woman – Egyptian Theater
This isn’t my favorite Harlowe, but it’s a 35mm presentation. I could be persuaded to venture back to the Multiplex for a change of scenery and “The Great Nickelodeon Show” which will recreate the Nickelodeon experience of early 20th century. The Vitaphone and hand-cranked silent presentations of past years rekindled that juicy film school nostalgia.
9:15pm – High Anxiety – TCL Chinese Theater
So. This slot takes no prisoners. I would love to be five places at once. Over at the Egyptian, viewers will be treated to Laura on Nitrate film stock. Howard Hawks’ first sound comedy, Twentieth Century at Multiplex 1. Cat People in 35mm at Multiplex 4. And then there’s Those Redheads from Seattle in 3D at Multiplex 6.
It’s. Not. Fair. But it’s the best kind of not fair.
Fun fact: Festival attendees love to complain about their conflicts, but goddammit they thrive on these decisions.
How much do I love thee, Mel Brooks? A lot. Mel Brooks introduces his Hitchcock spoof and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
12:00am – Zardoz – Chinese Multiplex 1
Sean Connery. In a red banana hammock. At midnight. Be there.
You’d rather be hungover than get up at 7:45am to get in line for your first movie of the morning, but it only gets worse on Sunday morning so suck it up, shower off the Zardoz and get back in the game.
9:00am – The China Syndrome – Chinese Multiplex 1
I’ll go for Michael Douglas who’ll be there in person. But I’ll have a They Live-style fisticuffs with myself over not seeing Arsenic and Old Lace in 35mm next door at the Multiplex 4. Meanwhile Alex Trebek is over introducing Stalag 17 for some reason. This festival is full of surprises.
12:00pm – David and Lisa – Chinese Multiplex 4
My first trip to the Thunderdome takes place on Day 3. I won’t even need to put up a fight. Lame. This is another brutal time slot, however. The Awful Truth, Rear Window, The Great Dictator and The Last Picture Show with Peter Bogdanovich in attendance all happen concurrently. That’s four amazing films… and then the one I’m seeing. David and Lisa is in fact the only one I haven’t seen. It’s on 35mm with star Keir Dullea in the house. I might shift gears and see Peter Bogdanovich because I’ll miss out on his chat before What’s Up Doc? on Sunday. The problem with The Last Picture Show is timing. David and Lisa gets out much earlier, which allows me to head over to the TCL Chinese Theater to get a good seat for…
2:45pm – The Jerk – TCL Chinese Theater
So I’ve seen The Jerk a few times. Seeing The Jerk on the big screen prefaced with a Carl Reiner chat might by my special purpose of the festival. I saw Reiner and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid last year, but Carl Reiner chats are the best kind of chats, full of wisdom, humor and optimism. I’ll gladly double dip.
6:30pm – Theodora Goes Wild or King of Hearts – Egyptian / Multiplex 6
Toss up. An unseen Irene Dunn screwball in 35mm or Genevieve Bujold in an unseen anti-war comedy. I’ll do some research on home video availability and watch one of these (if possible) before the festival to alleviate any lingering doubts about my choice here. Stay tuned for updates.
Fun fact: I know you will.
9:30pm – Black Narcissus – Egyptian Theater
Scratch another Shame off the list. I’ve long meant to watch Black Narcissus. On Nitrate stock in the grand Egyptian? Doesn’t get much better for a first time viewing. This comes at the expense of personal favorite Top Secret! introduced by the Zucker brothers and the unseen The Incident introduced by Martin Sheen. Also worth noting here is that I didn’t even consider The Graduate or Unfaithfully Yours. I’ll resort to the “I have those on Criterion DVD” defense.
12:00am – The Kentucky Fried Movie – Chinese Multiplex 1
And here’s the reason I’m okay with missing Top Secret! Not only do I get the Zuckers and Jim Abrahams, but also John Landis chatting before a screening of the legendary Kentucky Fried Movie. The crowd will be locked and loaded for this one. John Landis!!
Fun fact: I love John Landis.
Sunday, April 9th
If getting up on Saturday morning is a hangover, getting up on Sunday morning is the equivalent of jumping in front of a moving truck on Hollywood Boulevard. Daylight is your punishment. Mind over sleep deprivation.
Pro tip: Hydrate whenever possible. It’s too easy to forget. Especially when you’re loading up on salty food throughout the day. Upon arriving, pick up a few big bottles of water. Keep them with you.
My abbreviated final day. I must depart the festival a touch early to return home, to return to daily life and function as a real, live human on Monday morning. The only way to do that is a mid-afternoon non-stop. The past two years I’ve taken the midnight red-eye. A regular red-eye is brutal. A sleep-deprived red-eye is banned by the Geneva Convention.
9:00am – Cock of the Air – Chinese Multiplex 6
If there’s a Double Harness of the 2017 TCMFF it’s this little pre-code Howard Hughes ditty. Originally censored by the Hayes Office, the original cut of the print was thought lost. Until 2007 — when it was found, except without the soundtrack. The original cut has been restored using voice actors and new sound effects and music. I’ll be in line early to make sure I get prime real estate.
Pro tip: You know the old saying… the early bird gets to see Cock of the Air.
11:15am – Lured – Chinese Multiplex 6
My final screening of the festival before departure. Also not a comedy. Film noir-esque drama directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Lucille Ball, George Sanders and Boris Karloff (?!?). I know nothing about this movie, but the creative minds involved requires a viewing. I have no problem sacrificing The Front Page for this one because, say it with me, “Criterion DVD.” Technically, it’s just a bonus on the recently-released His Girl Friday Blu-ray.
I’m not especially happy about missing Peter Bogdanovich and What’s Up Doc? Sunday afternoon, but thems the breaks. The reward for leaving mid-afternoon is a non-stop flight and my own bed instead of a 90-minute layover in San Francisco followed still by the upright seat of a cramped airliner for 5+ hours. This will also result in a far happier wife who gets to return to her regularly scheduled Monday activities rather than worrying herself with my ability to function in the real world. She takes days off work to permit me this brief dalliance.
I look forward to seeing the old familiar TCM Festival faces and sharing all that movie talk and queue standing. I’m still lobbying for built in cocktail hours and a full bar in the Multiplex.
A sample of my own Kino Lorber Studio Classics collection.
Another Argument for Physical Media
Every so often I highlight a DVD/Blu-ray distributor because they’re putting in overtime to preserve movies on physical media. You’ll be happy to know that time has come again. Kino Lorber has been churning out films under their Studio Classics label for a few years now. These are films that the major studios have pushed aside, shoved into the spidery corners of their warehouses, deemed unworthy. Oftentimes I get the impression that some of these studios *cough* *cough* Paramount *cough* *cough* would rather burn their catalog titles to roast marshmallows than release them to the loyal film fans devoutly pursuing and purchasing physical media.
Whenever I highlight one of these distributors I must also weigh in on the value of physical media and the supposed omnipresent availability of films via streaming services. The “everything available all the time” myth touted by those forward-thinking pioneers of digital streaming is a farce. Movies dip and dive and disappear faster than you can say “queue it up,” so let’s look at some recent developments.
Amazon has apparently decided to step into the void of Blockbuster, which famously refused to stock any unrated or NC-17 film because they were a “family friendly” establishment. Pure drivel. By this arbitrary benchmark they’d be perfectly pleased with stocking Snuff 102 (2008) but Ang Lee’s beautiful Lust, Caution (2007)bears the shame of demon-food disgrace. But I digress. I can’t get all hot and bothered (again) about the hypocrisy of the MPAA and NC-17 rating, especially as it pertains to its views on violence versus sexuality.
Ang Lee’s moving Lust, Caution (2007) still doesn’t have a Region A Blu-ray release. You’ll have to import this one.
The Netflix Smokescreen
Netflix Streaming (as of today, March 7th, 2017) only featured 117 films released before 1980 (stats culled from instantwatcher.com). I chose 1980 as an arbitrary cut-off date for “classic” film. This 117 number includes individual TV episodes such as the Dick Van Dyke Show and Star Trek the Animated Series. Removing TV episodes knocks that number down dramatically to 91. Yet the Netflix is the most common service cited in the movies available anytime, anywhere claim.
Word of mouth among classic film fans also suggests that Amazon has been pulling free streaming titles based on current events. Say a movie star or director dies — their films seem to disappear from Amazon Prime immediately after their death when demand would be highest. Sure, you can pay to watch these films, but that’s certainly not the same as omnipresent availability. Yes, it’s a business. Amazon has a right to charge what they want for their services — just as long as people remain mostly satisfied with the overall product. And the sad fact is that most people just don’t care or don’t hold these streaming services to any sort of standards regarding classic film.
The Great FilmStruck Hope
TCM and Criterion’s joint effort called FilmStruck has been a godsend, but it’s still not available across all streaming devices and platforms. Roku owners like myself stew idly and wait for that vague “Spring 2017” compatibility window.
Maybe you can predict where I’m going with this. The only service that isn’t subject to the whims of the marketplace is your own personal media library. Streaming has proven to be an essential supplement, but we’re no closer to an individual service or services providing acceptable sustenance for the classic film fan than we were five years ago. Of all the online venues for viewing rare and classic films, YouTube has proven to be the most useful. I’m not going to tout the quality of the viewing experience. That these films are available at all is our primary concern. The fact remains that many older films have no hope of a proper release on physical media or streaming.
But let’s rewind and get back to Kino Lorber.
Kino Lorber Studio Classics Sale @ Amazon
The Kino Lorber Studio Classics line rescues forgotten films from obscurity or the major studio vault. As movie bloggers, part of our job is making sure that worthy titles find their audience so that that audience can then purchase and support the releases from Kino, Twilight Time, Olive Films, Flicker Alley, Warner Archive and more niche genre distributors like Code Red and Mondo Macabro. These purchases fuel future releases. Without our support, physical media ceases to be. We’ll all be rerouted to streaming services that probably don’t feature the movie we want in the first place.
Purchasing films via online services such as Amazon, Vudu and iTunes is of course an option, however, these services generally provide a more modern selection of films. If you dive into their classic-era catalog, you’ll never know what you’ll find, but you’ll also never know what kind of state the film is in. These services have no skin in the game. They won’t take a damaged print, restore it using best available sources, provide color correction, etc.
Even physical media distributors remain subject to the quality of the print sourced by the owning studio and the cost of revitalization. But without Kino, Flicker Alley, Twilight Time, Olive, etc., I doubt restoration ever takes place. This might be the most vital component to this chain of film sales and consumption.
Kino and Amazon have again partnered to bring you heavily discounted titles from the Kino Lorber Studio Classics library. Many of these titles are as cheap as they’ve ever been. I’ll suggest a few of my favorites from the sale and leave you to explore the rest of the catalog. (This link to the KL Studio Classics page on Blu-ray.com details every single release.) I’ll paste a complete list of discounted titles below.
I’m not suggesting you need to go out and pickup the entire catalog from every niche distributor. Realistically, that’s not within any of our means. Pick up a favorite title or two. Risk a blind-buy on something recommended here or on my favorite go-to website for sleeper picks, Brian Saur’s Rupert Pupkin Speaks. If we, as film fans, all do a little to support these distributors that act speaks volumes about the continued importance of physical media.
My Kino Lorber Sale Suggestions:
The complete list of titles on sale:
23 Paces to Baker Street – $15.99
52 Pickup – $12.49
99 River Street – $11.41
American Dreamer – $12.64
Astro Zombies – $12.80
Back Roads – $14.99
Biggles: Adventures in Time – $11.41
Big House U.S.A. – $14.65
Black Sabbath (AIP cut) – $11.18
Blown Away – $12.49
Burnt Offerings – $11.08
Canadian Pacific – $13.05
Cariboo Trail, The – $11.41
Chandu The Magician – $13.48
Compulsion – $14.99
Cop – $11.41
Cops and Robbers – $12.92
Crimson Cult, The – $12.26
Daddy Long Legs – $12.94
David and Bathsheba – $14.99
Deranged – $12.25
Finders Keepers – $14.33
F.I.S.T. – $12.92
Framed – $15.99
FX2 – $14.99
Galliant Hours, The – $11.41
Gator – $12.49
Grandview U.S.A. – $12.79
Haunted Honeymoon – $13.34
He Ran All The Way – $14.75
Hidden Fear – $11.41
Highway to Hell – $12.65
Hornet’s Nest – $14.13
Hurricane, The – $14.67
Invitation to a Gunfighter – $12.80
I, The Jury – $12.06
I Wake Up Screaming – $12.97
Internecine Project, The – $11.41
Journey to the Seventh Planet – $11.41
Juggernaut – $12.16
Long Goodbye, The – $12.49
Madhouse – $15.99
Malice – $15.99
Man on Fire – $12.51
Man with the Gun – $14.14
My Bodyguard – $12.86
Modesty Blaise – $13.63
Neptune Factor, The – $13.08
No Retreat, No Surrender – $15.99
On the Beach – $14.99
Oblong Box, The – $11.80
Panic in the Year Zero – $11.41
Porky’s II / Porky’s Revenge – $14.59
Prime Cut – $15.99
Quatermass Xperiment, The – $12.88
Reivers, The – $14.70
Shield for Murder – $11.41
Siege of Firebase Gloria, The – $11.99
Stryker – $11.41
The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming – $14.99
Trouble Man – $12.99
Ulee’s Gold – $11.41
Unholy Four, The – $14.15
Welcome to L.A.- $11.41
White Lightning – $13.78
Who? – $11.41
Wonderful Country, The – $14.80
Woke up today. To everything gray. And all that I saw just kept going on and on.
What a weird day. Thwarted attempt to be productive followed by another thwarted attempt. Had a tremendous banter going with the guy at Goodwill that almost fell over when I handed him my old boat anchor receiver. Road closed. Road closed. Errands finally done, I journeyed to the coffee shop and in order to embrace the chaos I ordered a latte. The barista wanted to check my temperature. In all the years I’ve known this guy I’ve never ordered a drink with milk other than a cortado.
30Hz New Music Radar: Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten
A thing I regret from 2016: not fully embracing Methyl Ethel.
This dream-pop substrate filters all manner of music through the smooth as a river pebbles delivery. A glimpse of grunge here. A trickle of shoegaze there. Psych-rock hidden behind salmon. What’s with the river analogy anyway?
At times reminiscent of the MGMT transition record that should have happened between Oracular Spectacular and Congratulations. Sneaky Tame Impala. Less trippy than Floyd. And especially Laser Floyd, which by the way should be viewed sober and maybe not at all. Just a public service announcement.
Dream-pop is not a dirty word. Great dream-pop transcends. It elevates and upflits, shepherds us through the days that we can’t go straight to 2:00am with whiskey and Tom Waits. Methyl Ethel has released two damn fine albums in two years, and it’s time to jump on the bandwagon before your Grouplove-liking work acquaintance starts asking if you’ve heard “Ethel Methyl” cuz they’re “pretty solid.”
Sample tracks: Ubu, Femme Maison/One Man House, Weeds Through the Rind
Welcome to February 24th. It’s 76 degrees here in Pittsburgh. Everyone thinks its spring and that just means that when it snows again — and it will snow again — they’ll all be in super duper bad moods. I prefer not to get too high or too low about this weather stuff. Either way I’ll still drink my iced americano because I refuse to let the bastards get me down.
I’ve been waiting for that first top-notch rap or hip-hop album of 2017. Celebrate good times; that record has arrived… in what has turned into a surprising week for new music.
30Hz New Music Radar: Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer
Straight out of the UK grime circuit dominated of late by Skepta, Stormzy first made a name for himself with his “Wicked Skengman” series of freestyle tapes in 2014. Gang Signs & Prayer represents Stormzy’s first full-length LP.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in UK rap/hip-hop. Beyond my appreciation for Skepta and the occasional track from Dizzee Rascal, my grime experience allows me license (licence?) to identify grime (I know grime when I hear it!) but not dissect the genre specifics with any confidence. So let’s all learn something together.
Grime originated in London during the early 2000’s — a combination of UK electronic music and hip-hop. The sub-genre also borrows liberally from dancehall and reggae. The most identifiable characteristic of grime is hyperactive, syncopated breakbeats, generally 130-140 bpm. Lyrics depict gritty inner-city life. The casual listener will note a rather standard emcee cadence and those aforementioned roots in UK electronic music, specifically breakbeat, drum & bass, and jungle. #TheMoreYouKnow
I normally stumble on modern rap/hip-hop artists when they go slow jam. Stormzy manages to hold my attention even when the bpm’s drop. “Cigarettes & Cush,” as one example of a slow-burner that still hits. Gang Signs & Prayer lacks not for thumpers. A Junkaroo parade strolls through the studio during “Cold,” and “Big For Your Boots” will challenge your speakers with some low-end Gregorian chants laced behind Stormzy’s rapidfire lyricism.
Sample tracks: Big For Your Boots, Mr. Skeng, 100 Bags
I’d intended to start this series from the beginning of the year. I wanted to highlight the films that ranked #1 at the Box Office in 1987 and then a lesser seen movie that maybe you’d missed. But here we are. It’s almost March and I’m staring at my first blinking cursor. 1987 was a hugely formative year for me. I turned 9 in 1987 and I don’t know if you remember what it’s like to be 9… or maybe your experience differed wildly from mine… but in 1987 I completed my transformation into a cinema sponge.
My early love of film had just kicked in. I began spending substantial amounts of time browsing the racks at my local video store in Marcellus, MI while my grandmother or my mom idled patiently in the new release section. I had few limitations about what I could or could not watch. The only deterrent to watching an R-rated film was the conversation my mom would inevitable have with me about how we “don’t use those kinds of words,” despite the fact that my dad used those specific and colorful words quite frequently. (To be fair, she put an asterisk on those asides as well.)
As you may have noticed, the 1980’s are pure nostalgia for me. I’ve been neglecting that nostalgia lately, distracted by this, that and the other. A couple of weeks ago, I began plotting a personal retrospective of films from 1987 for their 30th anniversary. I have “Underrated” obligations for rupertpupkinspeaks.com and goddammit I just love the wise and wonderful cinema of the 80’s. I don’t necessarily need an excuse to watch 80’s movies, but I’ll gladly take it when the opportunity arises.
Enough about that. Let’s hop in the wayback machine. Set your dial to the week of February 23rd, 1987, when the #1 movie at the box office was…
Platoon (1986, dir. Oliver Stone)
Since we’re joining 1987 in medias res, let’s recap. Platoon marks only the third #1 film of the year, following hot on the tails of the oft forgotten Richard Pryor dramedy Critical Condition and Eddie Murphy’s The Golden Child. Now, you may have already interjected: “But but but Platoon was released in 1986!” And you’d be right. Oliver Stone dispatched Platoonseven weeks earlier on a limited release to qualify for Oscar season. Once the film went wide on February 1st, it remained there until March 1st. This week represents its final week in the top slot.
Weekend results February 20 – February 22:
Over the Top
Roger Ebert’s opened his 4-star review of Platoon with the following statement:
It was Francois Truffaut who said that it’s not possible to make an anti-war movie, because all war movies, with their energy and sense of adventure, end up making combat look like fun. If Truffaut had lived to see Platoon the best film of 1986, he might have wanted to modify his opinion.
Platoon would, as we likely remember, go on to win the Academy Awards for best picture and best director. AFI placed the film at #83 and #86 on its two 100 Years… 100 Films lists. I remember watching Platoon for the first time later that year, and I can’t recall if it was my first experience with a film about Vietnam. It was certainly the first that logged any lasting memory. I wouldn’t watch Apocalypse Now until I was well into my teens. The spectacle and brutality stayed with me. I didn’t revisit Platoon until my college film course on the politics of Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg — and even then is was a course requirement. I didn’t choose to watch Platoon again.
Out of all of Stone’s films in my opinion, two stand head and shoulders above the rest. Salvador and Platoon. I never felt a kinship with Platoon — it was too brutal, too amorphous. The film’s branching, episodic construct conveyed the uncertain experience of Vietnam. Many books written by soldiers in the war share a similar fractured construct. My recommendation: read Dispatches by Michael Herr and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Both of these informed and expanded my understanding of the Vietnam War and helped me come to terms with the world presented by Oliver Stone.
It’s natural to place Platoon up next to Born on the Fourth of July as Stone’s companion pieces on the Vietnam experience — (plus with Heaven & Earth, the three form a trilogy, but I don’t have memory enough to provide a relevant discussion of the latter). There’s a natural give and take between the two films, but I find that Fourth of July loses impact due to melodramatic artifice. John Williams’ score hammers home quiet moments with so much pomp and bluster that it’s hard to get too close to Tom Cruise’s Ron Kovic. Platoon, however, uses the tools of cinema to bring us further into the troubled minds and souls of the unfortunate humans forced to serve a politicians war for uncertain gain.
Willem’ Dafoe’s famous image — kneeling, arms thrust to the heavens — feels innately cinematic. The posture feels as old as cinema itself. Consider the parodies and instant recognition — a crane shot looking down over a man in the rain, soaked to the bone, his arms raised. Cinematic shorthand for agony… or perhaps renewed spirit. The spectrum between The Shawshank Redemption and Platoon. Stone took this image directly from a famous photograph of soldiers in Vietnam.
1968 Associated Press photo from Vietnam by Art Greenspon
Stone wanted to translate these images to screen. To convey the real life horror and the ways, in fact, these soldiers could not cope. These are not great men, and Platoon depicts an entire convoy of supremely damaged humans. Villains in just about any other traditional narrative. Charlie Sheen plays our protagonist, but even that in name only. He’s a solider, not unlike the rest. He merely acts before he loses his humanity.
Platoon remains essential, arguably the most essential and timeless film Stone has made. The Sheen DNA notwitshanding, the film also owes a great debt to Apocalypse Now. The way the two use classical music to transcend the individual, fleeting moment to moment gruntwork and jungle humping. Drug-fueled imagery. The specter of mental illness that haunts these characters.
If Apocalypse Now is the most perfect, stylized version of Vietnam put on film, Platoon is the more grounded, more dire sibling, missing many of the moments of poignant, comic relief that Coppola sprinkles through his masterpiece.
B-Side Recommendation for this week in 1987:
Black Widow (dir. Bob Rafelson)
Here’s my reprieve from the rigors of male on male violence. Placing fifth at the box office this week in 1987 — Black Widow, starring Debra Winger and Theresa Russell, featured a 120-minute cat-and-mouse thriller between a female cop and a female killer. Rather a rarity in 1987… or really any year. Though the film features a few notable male co-stars in minor supporting roles such as Dennis Hopper and Nicol Williamson, Black Widow focuses entirely on a detective’s (Winger) hunt for a killer (Russell) who marries her victims, takes their money and manages a clean getaway.
The script by Ronald Bass rather deftly re-orients a traditional heterosexual thriller narrative. Cop hunts killer. Cop gets too close, falls for killer. Black Widow becomes more interesting merely because of the cop gender swap. Our “plain Jane” detective must enter the killer’s world in order to find proof of her guilt. She must shed her dowdy street clothes to become part of the rich and lovely and fabulous. As she inserts herself into the Black Widow’s world, she begins to enjoy her false identity. She also finds herself infatuated with Theresa Russell’s killer. There’s a clear, unspoken sexual attraction, highlighted in a scuba diving class in which the two practice mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
That said, this could have even better with a different director, perhaps. One suited to bringing forth the subtleties in a story about two mirror-image women. Rafelson’s a capable helmer, but in terms of conveying the female perspective Man Trouble and The Postman Always Rings Twice stand as his most relevant filmographic entries. Still, the Winger/Russell tete-a-tete makes this essential 80’s viewing… two excellent actresses at the height of their powers owning a film that’s now largely forgotten. And if that’s not your cup of tea, you can always revisit Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin.
And as I’ll do with every one of these time capsule posts, I’ll leave you with the #1 song on the charts for this week in 1987.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.