Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Author: jdp (Page 19 of 57)

31 Days of Horror: Vampyros Lesbos

vampyros lesbos

Nature of Shame:
Blind-bought Blu-ray upon release in 2013. It remained unwatched.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade – 1970’s
Country of Origin – Germany


The Advance Word: Jess Franco does Euro-Sleaze Bram Stoker’s Dracula with lesbians, eye-popping color and a sunbleached modern estate. The score is legendary, though I’ve never heard it. Soledad Miranda.

Soledad Miranda makes a gorgeous Ersatz Dracula in Jess Franco's Vampyros Lesbos (1971)

Soledad Miranda makes for a different kind of Dracula in Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos (1971).

A black background. Two women, barely clothed, embrace. Soledad Miranda as Countess Nadine, circles and manipulates the other as a silent crowd watches, enraptured. The nature of the theatrics is unknown. But we, the viewer, are inserted into the same seats as the gathered masses. The women perform for us, embracing each other and our gaze, but they do not return it. Nadine is outside this moment, she is above it. The women have bared their bodies and by doing so are in complete control of us. We like the audience will bend to the Countess’ will.

So begins Jess Franco’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Linda, a patron of this performance, becomes enraptured with Nadine, pursues her. Nadine entertains her advances. The Countess in this scenario is, of course, Dracula. Linda, our Jonathan Harker. Linda visits Nadine’s beachfront estate, a home draped in bold colors — yellows, reds. The two sunbathe nude. Franco’s twisted the Dracula myth — not only do his vampires enjoy the sun and the water, they embrace it. Linda is to become the next servant to Nadine’s power.

The gender reversal of Bram Stoker’s tale offers a significant twist on the genre. Honestly that would have been enough to hold my interest. Vampyros Lesbos offers much more than just a revisionist Dracula. Yes, even more than the inherent value of lesbian vampirism.

Technical Notes:

The much lauded score does not disappoint. It is disarming. Bright jazzy notes and intermittent discord. Funky until it deconstructs in order punctuate or often contrast the action on screen. Jess Franco composed the film with careful attention to color and striking contrast. Red on white. Red on black. It doesn’t hurt that the camera loves Soldedad Miranda. And Franco allows his camera to linger, allowing us uninterrupted voyeurism. Severin Films’ Blu-ray looks great, though it sometimes seems like elements have come from a lesser source. A solid lossless audio track foregrounds the psychedelic score. Some minor hiss remains, but it’s never distracting.

soledad miranda vampyros lesbos

Final Thoughts:

Certain expectations come with a title like Vampyros Lesbos. The name Jess (or Jesús) Franco likewise comes with some baggage. Franco treats sex and lust like another color on a already vibrant canvas. Vampyros Lesbos grows meditative when Linda and Nadine explore their carnal instincts. As the opening theatrical scene repeats later in the film, overlong, still abstract, the movements incite a kind of trance state. We begin to pick out the smaller details about the nature of want and desire. How sex shifts the power structure between couples, and between a vampire and its prey.

On the other hand maybe it is just one big excuse to have naked women bite each other… and what’s so wrong with that?

30Hz Rating: Bloody Good

30hzrating4

Blu-ray Verdict: Easy call here. This stylish vampire tale has earned it’s place on the shelf. I still have to watch the “Bootleg” Spanish version, which comes on a 2nd DVD.

Availability: The Blu-ray from Severin Films is available at Amazon.

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31 Days of Horror: 2016 Shame-a-thon

For the past few years, I’ve gathered the fearless masses during these pre-Halloween weeks, encouraging them to indulge in a horror movie shame-a-thon, sponsored by Cinema Shame. The notion was simple. List 31 unseen horror movies you feel obligated to watch and tackle as many as you can during the month of October.

It may seem impossible, but October’s creeping up on us all yet again. I know this, you see, because it’s my birthday tomorrow and my birthday is a harsh reminder. The whole end of summer, end of one more year of existence combo-malaise. Pumpkin picking, hay rides, apple cider, arguing about costumes with small people… and then Halloween.

This year, I’m again following my Cinema Shame method, but adding a new twist. Fellow Pittsburgher @ElCinemonster has been organizing his Hoop-Tober Challenge on Letterboxd.com for three years now. Each year he lays down some challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. Anyway, that’s been a smashing success, and I’ve enjoyed watching the event from afar. This year I’ve decided to combine my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober Challenge to create the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the 2016 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile 31 Days of Horror Shame-a-thon

31 days of horror 2016

So let’s lay down the laws, shall we?

Pick 31 never-before-seen (or forgotten) horror movies — “horror” is broadly defined as anything containing elements of the horror genre. So, for example, I’ve count the Abbott & Costello monster films in the past because of the classic movie monsters. Watch as many as you can stomach during your “month” of October.

I’m air-quoting “month” because I’m borrowing @ElCinemonster’s notion that we’re busy goddamn people and 31 days is just not a reasonable duration for busy goddamn people to watch 31 horror movies. He’s beginning his “month” on September 16th. I plan to do the same. I hit 31 last year, but I added about four days at the end of October to achieve said moral victory. An extra wrinkle this year is that I’m going to pluck as many movies as possible from my Watch Pile (any film I already own that hasn’t been watched). I’ve been making a more concerted effort to watch more movies than I buy. The worthy remain. The ones I don’t see myself watching again hit Half.com or eBay. I’ll note the outcome of each disc in my blurb.

And speaking of blurbs… after each movie, I’ll toss up a mini-review and a 30Hz rating that will correspond to my review on Letterboxd.com. The review may or may not contain any actual insight. Don’t get greedy. And now for the more specific Hoop-Tober demonic hurdles, courtesy of @ElCinemonster. I’ve adjusted a couple to fit my agenda. I plan to watch at least one movie from every decade from the 1920’s – 2010’s.

7 films from franchises (mix-and-match, or the same)
6 different countries
5 different decades
5 films from before 1970
5 films from the following: Bava, Argento, Lenzi, Fulci, Henenlotter, Romero, Stuart Gordon (mix-and-match, or all one)
3 crazy animal movies
1 silent
1 original film and its remake (Evil Dead, Frankenstein, Halloween, etc…)
1 Classic Universal horror
1 Stephen King adaptation (in tribute to Stranger Things)
1 Film with a witch/witchcraft (in tribute to The Witch. Can’t be The Witch)
Aaaaaaaaaaand 1 Tobe Hooper Film (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)

***FOR THOSE THAT LIKE TO DO EXTRA WORK: WATCH DEAD & BURIED and THE OLD DARK HOUSE. YOU WILL RECEIVE A SHOUT OUT IN NEXT YEARS HOOP-TOBER. JUST LET ME KNOW WHEN YOUVE FINISHED ALL 33***


 

I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 2016  31 Days Of Horror CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 2

horrorshortbanner

*Hoop-Tober bonus points
**Rewatch of a forgotten favorite

  1. Bay of Blood (1971)
  2. A Chinese Ghost Story II (1990)
  3. A Nightmare on Elm Street II (1985)
  4. Bride of Re-Animator (1989)
  5. Christine (1983)
  6. Day of the Animals (1977)
  7. Dead and Buried* (1981)
  8. Deep Red** (1975)
  9. Delirium (1987)
  10. Delirium (1972)
  11. Dracula’s Daughter (1936)
  12. The Editor (2015)
  13. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)**
  14. The Fly** (1958)
  15. The Fly (1986)
  16. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man** (1943)
  17. The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)
  18. The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001)
  19. Inferno** (1980)
  20. Killerfish (1979)
  21. Komodo (1999)
  22. Medousa (1998)
  23. Messiah of Evil (1974)
  24. Nightbreed (1990)
  25. The Old Dark House* (1932)
  26. Onibaba (1964)
  27. Petey Wheatstraw (1977)
  28. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
  29. Spasmo (1974)
  30. Tenebrae** (1982)
  31. Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (1986)
  32. Vampyros Lesbos (1970)
  33. Veerana (1988)

 

What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hoop-Tober challenge, I’ll link you in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in the comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the loser pumped off in the first act to establish indomitable menace.

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Lord Love a Roddy McDowall

In my life of film appreciation from video-store loiterer to undergraduate film student to interminable self-study post-graduate, no actor has had a more curious journey to becoming one of my favorite personalities than Roddy McDowall. (Thanks for @Journeys_Film for organization this great blogging event! Connect to all of the Summer Under the Stars entries through her website portal here.)

roddy mcdowall summer under the stars

2016 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon:

Lord Love a Roddy McDowall

 

Before he was a recognizable face, Roddy McDowall was a familiar voice. At least in my frame of reference. He gave life to V.I.N.CENT. in The Black Hole, Snowball on Pinky and the Brain, the Breadmaster on The Tick, The Mad Hatter on Batman: The Animated Series. It wasn’t until I first watched The Planet of the Apes (probably when I was about 16 or so) that I finally had a name and a face to go along with his stilted British timbre. One caveat. You likely well know, however, that it wasn’t even Roddy’s face. I just knew Roddy McDowall was the name of some guy in a monkey suit and a latex mask.

Roddy McDowall Planet of the Apes

I pieced McDowell’s image together from cartoon superhero villains, apes and a toadstool like robot. He was more Dalí abstract than human. Sure, I’d seen Roddy McDowall in other movies, usually smaller roles, and one-off TV spots during the 1980’s and 90’s on shows like Matlock and Quantum Leap, but he was nothing more than a kind of omnipresent familiar. I’d watched Bednobs and Broomsticks at least a dozen times as a kid, but never, not once did I match Mr. Jelk with Cornelius (or even Caesar) with all of the voices or the guest spots. It wasn’t until I first saw Fright Night last year for the first time that I finally found myself making offhand filmographic (…and no, that’s not a word, but I like it anyway…) connections.

Roddy McDowall Fright Night

Shame On Me

What can I say? The pieces had fallen into place at an alarmingly slow rate. No matter how much we watch and absorb, some actors and certain movies just fall through the cracks… which was precisely the impetus for my Cinema Shame endeavor. I’d grown up with Roddy McDowell all around me. I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to put all the pieces together. The child actor in the 1930’s and 40’s. (He was the kid in How Green Was My Valley!? Lassie Come Home!?) A regular B-movie player for Monogram Pictures. The occasional, offbeat leading man in the 1960’s. Accomplished photographer. The regular on Hollywood Squares. The outspoken proponent of film restoration and preservation. Roddy McDowell left us in 1998 at the age of 70 with a filmography six decades long.

Armed with my recent survey of McDowall’s oeuvre in the wake of my Fright Night “discovery,” it was Lord Love a Duck that finally solidified Roddy McDowell as a favorite Hollywood personality. Lord Love a Duck‘s Alan Musgrave (a kind of teen dream Mephistopheles) represents the most distilled version of Roddy McDowall’s most realized on-screen persona. Snarky. Self-aware. Smarter than you. As these characteristics ebbed and flowed, there was always an undercurrent of pathos laced throughout his best performances, perhaps most vividly expressed while shrouded in oppressive ape fur and latex. He played every genre, but I would not suggest McDowall was chameleonic. His persona had limitations — but when wielded properly, McDowall could command an audience.

lord love a duck 1966

Like a Feathered Fowl Upside the Head

That Lord Love a Duck left me a little awestruck shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to those that have seen it. It’s a brash and ballsy slapstick criticism of the sex- and commercial-crazed 1960’s. Breaking taboo left and right and in between, Lord Love a Duck could be seen as the dark counterpoint to the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies (which were, admittedly an easy target, and already parodying themselves by the time Lord Love a Duck was released in 1966). I’m not even sure how anyone approved such a bizarre and baffling movie for release… but I do thank them for it. It’s almost as if the studio heads didn’t understand the duplicity of the script and just gave the film the go ahead based on prolonged scenes of jiggling, bikini-clad bottoms.

lord love a duck 1966

Tuesday Weld plays Barbara Ann, a high school girl of limitless ambition. Alan Mollymauk Musgrave (McDowall) aims to make all of it happen. They sign a devil’s pact in wet cement, and Alan facilitates Barbara Ann’s ascent to becoming a bikini-clad cinema idol. Is Alan a deranged, delusional high school student with an unhealthy obsession with Barbara Ann? Or is he something much more subversive… nefarious even? The methods Alan uses to promote Barbara Ann through the ranks include but are not limited to sexual manipulation, premeditated murder, and hypnotism… all set to a bouncy, flouncy pop tune that could have appeared as an interlude in any of the Beach Party films. If it all weren’t so much goddamn fun, you might notice how untoward Lord Love a Duck really is.

 

Ogling, But With a Purpose

Director George Axelrod was best known for the notches on his screenwriting belt, having provided the blueprints for classic films such as The Manchurian Candidate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and The Seven-Year Itch. Lord Love a Duck, his directorial debut, and one of only two films Axelrod would direct, feels like the product of a disillusioned Hollywood insider set to undermine the institution. For much of the film Axelrod deftly straddles the line between obscenity and innocence. Many contemporary critics considered him an old Hollywood creep merely ogling teenage girls. Clearly, they just didn’t get the joke. He runs roughshod over popular culture, his targets plentiful and his attacks often unfocused. As a result, Duck‘s construction begins to feel slapdash (hamfisted?) during the second half of the film, overburdened by the volume of Axelrod’s satirical efforts.

This amateurish construction embellishes the chaos unfolding on screen. It’s clearly the film’s satirical successes and narrative miscues that have endeared it to cult movie fans for decades. Lord Love a Duck becomes far more interesting as a result of its faults. Much of the credit must go to the impressive cast — Tuesday Weld and Roddy McDowall, of course, but also Ruth Gordon, Harvey Korman and the deft Lola Albright who plays Barbara’s mother, a perpetually drunk, cat-tailed cocktail waitress. The actors commit to Axelrod’s script even as it pulls apart at the seams.

Roddy McDowall Lord Love a Duck

Roddy McDowall and Tuesday Weld in Lord Love a Duck.

 

Then Lord Love a Duck Breaks You

In many ways, Lord Love a Duck defies description. The phrase is battered about endlessly, but it is truly one of those films that must be seen to be believed. If I were to highlight a specific scene, it would be the “sweater scene,” one of the most disturbing, bizarre, and hypersexualized scenes of the entire 1960’s. And if you’re a fan of 60’s cinema, you recognize the inherent boldness of that statement. One of Barbara Ann’s first realized desires is to join the Cashmere Sweater Club at school. To justify induction, she must first own 12 legitimate cashmere sweaters. She only has one Japanese imitation cashmere sweater. McDowall’s Alan Mollymauk convinces Barbara Ann to lay down some guilt on her largely absentee father (Max Showalter) in order to open his coffers to purchase the requisite number of sweaters.

The scene begins with Barbara and her father gleefully devouring hot dogs in his car. With every bite the pair grows closer to orgasmic ecstasy. Paging Dr. Freud. But wait! There’s more! A quick cut places them in the clothing store where Barbara Ann models a series of form-fitting cashmere sweaters. Weld preens and models like a sex kitten. With each new sweater she calls out the color (“Grape Yum Yum!”) amid orgasmic exclamations of “Yes! Yes! Oh god! Yes!” Her father reacts with wide eyes and turgid anticipation that segues into grunts and moans. The camera cuts quickly between sharp-angle close ups of their facial contortions until both collapse, exhausted, covered by a pile of cashmere.  It’s even more uncomfortable than you can imagine.

In case you don’t quite believe me, here’s “The Sweater Scene” in it’s entirety:

 

About Non-Sequitorial Ducks and Roddy McDowall

Axelrod’s nonsense title of Lord Love a Duck suggests he anticipated a certain brand of audience response. A little bit of research finds that the term is a rather polite 19th-century British exclamation of surprise. Examples of the phrase’s usage appears in James Joyce’s Ulysses and pops up frequently in P.G. Wodehouse.

‘Well, Lord love a duck!’ replied the butler, who in his moments of relaxation was addicted to homely expletives of the lower London type.

 

-P.G. Wodehouse, The Coming of Bill

The more I thought about how this title reflects audience response to Lord Love a Duck, the more I began to equate the polite, antiquated exclamation with Roddy McDowall himself. In Duck, McDowall is both innocent and devil. He drives a slick T-Bird and derives his name “Mollymauk” from a genus of elegant Albatrosses. He is at once a relic — a 36 year old actor playing a high school teenager — but also representation of hip 1960’s modernity. The child actor who bowed out of the spotlight during his awkward teenage years in order to reinvent himself as a leading man. McDowall’s line delivery in many of his films drips of subtext. His haughty English accent undermined by the understanding that this acting gig is nothing but a frivolous lark anyway. Proper, but always a little bit naughty, a little bit rebellious.

lord-love-a-duck-ruth-gordon-roddy-mcdowall-1966

Roddy McDowall and Ruth Gordon in Lord Love a Duck

At an early point in the film, McDowall’s character Alan is being given an Rorschach test by a psychologist. He keeps describing the inkblots with the most tedious, placid analogies. The psychologist drops the cards, seething with frustration and says, “Alan, don’t you realize that these things are supposed to be dirty?” Clearly, Alan does recognize the point of the cards and their suggestive nature, but he’s dancing around the obvious to have a bit of fun. That’s how I view much of Roddy McDowall’s acting career, dancing around the expected, the normal, in order to enjoy the moment. It wasn’t what he was saying that was most telling, but rather the deviancy he resisted.

I may have been late to the Roddy McDowall appreciation party, but I’m rapidly atoning for my Cinema Sins and revisiting old favorites to enjoy McDowall all over again for the first time.

Lord Love a Duck airs Monday @ 6:00pm ET on TCM. Here’s the full schedule for Roddy’s big day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars.

Roddy McDowall Planet of the Apes

Don’t Tread on Ghostbusters (1984)

The summer takes its toll on my sanity. Time, though more abundant, disappears in a blink. The kids are always there. Staring. Demanding food and entertainment. But as much as I’d like to blame the children for all that ails me, including this cough I just can’t shake… there’s something else that’s been bothering me, like a t-shirt with a scratchy tag.

It’s about Ghostbusters. 

Yes, again, goddammit. I’m stuck in a recursive loop.

IT Crowd - off and then on again

 

 

For my next trick I’ll write about Ghostbusters.

I’ve written about Ghostbusters (1984) a few times. (Here as a part of mental therapy and here as a thinkpiece about time passage and perception.) I’ve even written about the trailer and misplaced Internet rage for Ghostbusters (2016). I spend a lot of time thinking about Ghostbusters. Next I’ll discuss how amazing it is that Kate McKinnon’s hair in Ghostbusters (2016) is an homage to Egon’s hair in The Real Ghostbusters. 3000 words, minimum. It’s come to my attention that the four times I saw Ghostbusters in the theater in 1984 may have played too formative a role in my childhood development.

Just one more reason to love Holtzman.

Just one more reason to love Holtzmann.

But today, I’m going to pen a bl-g post that shouldn’t need to be written. Even now it feels like wasted breath… or more accurately wasted key strokes, but the latter sounds far less dramatic. Like writing about how the sky is f’ing blue.

I’m writing this to remind you that Ghostbusters (1984) is actually that good.

(From now on I will liberally substitute “1984” for Ghostbusters (1984) and “2016” for Ghostbusters (2016) to save on those wasted key strokes.)

I’m looking at you, asshole on Letterboxd who watched Ghostbusters (1984) for the first time and said “If this was your childhood, there wasn’t anything to ruin anyway.” That guy wasn’t alone; he was just the biggest asshole. Just scan the latest first-time watches of 1984 on Letterboxd and you’ll find a glut of viewers using similarly incendiary language. I’ve kept a sideways eye on these ongoing first-watch developments (which, I’ll admit is masochism on par with reading the comments on Huffington Post) when I should have run screaming from this activity like Ray Stantz from the New York Public Library.

library ghost ghostbusters

Get her, Ray.

These comments exist as a hyperbolic reaction to the “you’re ruining my childhood” idiots. (Disclaimer: I do not condone the “ruining my childhood” behavior either.) But what gives you the right to fire back at me, the innocent bystander championing both 1984 and 2016, to claim my childhood experience was the rippled Charmin to your mindless Internet dump. Don’t unleash your cynical me-first derision unless you have something constructive to say — the one little caveat here is that your cynical me-first derision, by nature, offers nothing constructive whatsoever and is really just a plea for attention.

 

The Internet Troll Quarantine

I compartmentalized these comments in my “Internet Troll Quarantine,” which is like sending the lepers to Crete, except in my head and less sunny. I could manage the troll queue, but then I read the following comment in the New York Times, courtesy of one of my favorite film critics, A.O. Scott:

I have to say it makes me very happy when big commercial movies provoke serious political arguments, but before we dive into that particular fray I want to make a few statements I trust will not be terribly controversial. 1) Kate McKinnon should be in every movie from now on. 2) The new “Ghostbusters” is like the old “Ghostbusters” in that it gives comic performers who gained popularity on television and in more provocative projects a chance to widen their appeal and increase their earning potential with a mainstream action-comedy. 3) The old “Ghostbusters” isn’t that great to begin with.

Yes. Mm-hmm. Kate McKinnon should be in every movie. And totally. The new Ghostbusters is in many ways like the old Ghostbusters. Right on, A.O. BUT HOLD THE PHONE. “The old Ghostbusters isn’t that great to begin with”? You’ve been a lighthouse of reason and sanity in these dark and foggy cinematic times, A.O. Scott. And now you’re shattering one of the few unassailable truths in my cinematic worldview? Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.

Sky is blue. Grass is green. Rain is wet. Ghostbusters (1984) is great. No? What’s with this sudden reassessment?

Quite frankly its about damn time we saw some proton packs back on the big screen.

Quite frankly its about damn time we saw some proton packs back on the big screen.

Let’s first get a few things straight. I’ll speak plainly so not to confuse anyone. I’ve always been in favor of reviving the Ghostbusters franchise. New actors, old actors. Whatever. The franchise for various reasons was never allowed to reach maturation. The choice to cast all women was a logical and somewhat inspired twist on the formula. Casting Kate McKinnon was the best decision anyone in Hollywood has made this year.

I’m not here to offer a point-by-point comparison between 1984 and 2016. They are different entities. But I will highlight one specific failure of 2016 to prove a point.

 

Now to use Alton Brown to make a random point about screenwriting

The original Ghostbusters screenplay by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis has been heralded as one of the finest examples of Hollywood screenwriting. Every scene contributes to the film’s forward momentum. I argue that not one scene is wasted. But how would I define a wasted scene? A scene that exists for one reason alone. Alton Brown would call them unitaskers and explain why unitaskers have no place in his kitchen. Unitaskers are scenes that hit narrative beats without conflict or humor… or vice versa. Unitaskers are exposition. Find me a scene in 1984 that doesn’t function on multiple levels. A good movie minimizes the use of these one-purpose scenes, but sometimes they’re inescapable. Great movies avoid them altogether.

alton brown unitasker

1984 also benefited from a largely extinct collaborate creative process. The screenplay as blueprint allowed freedom for improvisation. Jason Reitman, son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, confirmed that most, if not all, of Bill Murray’s dialogue was improvised. Outside of Adam McKay, who allows his actors that kind of freedom? To take this one step further, what studio would allow such a thing on the set of a big budget film? The improvisation works within the framework of the script due to the focused momentum hurtling toward a satisfying, logical finale. Modern moviemaking has been castrated by the big business of making movies. Mass appeal. Managed and massaged for  global consumption.

It is precisely this satisfying finale that sets 1984 apart from other frivolous blockbusters and Ghostbusters (2016) in particular. 2016 meanders toward its end. It dwells in scenes that function only as comedy with no forward push. I’m thinking specifically at the moment of the two scenes of back alley gadget trials. 1984 demonstrated proton packs, traps and other gizmos on the job, in scenes that furthered the narrative.

Ghostbusters proton pack elevator

“It just occurred to me we really haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment,” Ray says as he, Egon and Venkman ride the elevator up. Egon switches on Ray’s pack and backs away. While the gadget porn scenes in 2016 offer a fun detour, they contribute nothing to the narrative progress. They’re throwaway bits of comedy.

These wasted unitaskers likely contribute to the long, overblown effects-laden finale (an all too common pitfall of modern blockbuster cinema). Distract with effects and noise and maybe the audience won’t notice that we haven’t earned this ending. The new Ghostbusters resolve their respective paranormal crisis by using a vaguely established nuclear device on Ecto-1. Toss the hearse in the pit and blow it up. Bingo bango. This, of course, functions parallel to “crossing the streams.” Each is treated as a brash, irresponsible last-ditch gesture that threatens humanity should it fail. 1984, however, established the perils of “crossing the streams” way back at the beginning of the film when busting their first spook in the hotel ballroom.

“There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.”

“What?”

“Don’t cross the streams.”

Thus, when facing Gozer and the team of paranormal exterminators has run out of available options to close the dimensional portal, “total protonic reversal” has already been established. The audience recognizes the logic, feels as if they too could have come to the same conclusion. The most effective resolutions are the ones that the audience *would* have expected if they weren’t too busy being entertained. Meanwhile when 2016 tosses the Ecto-1 into the abyss and lights the radioactive fuse, this choice comes from nowhere.

The screenplay in Ghostbusters (2016) completely breaks down during the final third of the film. This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. I don’t mean to single out Ghostbusters (2016) as some sort of anomaly. How many movies have you seen in the last year alone that fall apart while trying to conclude a narrative? It’s a screenwriting failure that can be traced to the scenic level. Plant the seeds for the ending in Act One or early in Act Two. Harvest in the finale. When that doesn’t happen, however, the quick fix is misdirection through effects and noise. I’m oversimplifying the screenwriting process, but this lesson was cribbed directly from the lecture I received on the second day of my undergraduate Screenwriting class.

 

I forgive you A.O. Scott, but I won’t forgive the nostalgia-shaming trolls.

Too many writers. Too many ideas. Too much interference from studios. There are many reasons that even great  scripts fail between conception and reaching the screen. If it were easy, every movie would at least portray a sense of narrative competency and Ghostbusters (1984) wouldn’t be a quintessential piece of Hollywood escapist filmmaking. It’s actually 1984 that remains the anomaly. And yes, A.O. Scott, it is that good. I’ll let your momentarily lapse in judgment slide.

Ghostbusters is also an inextricable part of my childhood. It is actually perhaps my most vibrant slice of personal nostalgia. Remakes, reboots, spinoffs cannot change that — but don’t you dare troll 1984 by casting unwarranted derision because you want to set yourself apart, to elevate your opinion above mine by using my nostalgia against me.

Lewis Tully possessed ghostbusters

It just makes me so mad.

I’ll admit that nostalgia plays a role in my affection for Ghostbusters (1984), but appreciating Ghostbusters does not require nostalgia. Sure, some of the matte effects look dated, Gozer’s dog puppets are comically rooted to the floor, and maybe the gender politics seem slightly questionable… but don’t you dare doubt the reasons that 1984 remains excellent entertainment. Nostalgia is not a dirty word. It’s also a legitimate reason that someone can enjoy a movie. No one’s frame of reference is less important than yours. If you care to read more, I wrote about Nostalgia and moviewatching in my #Bond_age_ essay on Moonraker.

Oh and a few more truths.

The 1980’s f’ing ruled and Ghostbusters remains one of the best things ever. If you disagree, I wouldn’t open my fridge tonight if I were you. Someone might get the munchies.

zuul dana's apartment ghostbusters

 

 

5 Desert Island Classic Movies for #NationalClassicMovieDay

Monday, May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. As if some of us needed more reasons to watch or celebrate classic movies, now we have a whole day dedicated to classic movies. It’s our civic duty to watch old movies. Don’t let me down.

we want you to watch classic movies 30hz

Okay so it’s not actually a government holiday. It’s just a day conceived by Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe as a way to dedicate a whole day to classic film. I’m sure that most of you don’t need an excuse to watch more movies, so this might be superfluous. Aye. Maybe it’s just a reason to watch two movies instead of just one on Monday, May 16th. Rick celebrates this day by hosting a classic movie blogathon. The theme for this year’s fiesta is “Desert Island Classic Movies.” Being the fan of High Fidelity that I am, this challenge resonates.

The premise is simple. You are to live out the rest of your life on a desert island with only five classic movies. (Because this challenge was inspired by May 16th as Classic Film Day, the choices should be of the “classic” variety. I’ve decided that anything pre-1970 qualifies for this specific endeavor.) Five movies forever. Some smartass is out there challenging the notion that we could have a desert island that contains the ways and means to project these five movies. It’s called suspension of disbelief. 5 movies. 1 island. Unlimited popcorn.

You must choose wisely.

choose wisely desert island classic

I have a movie collection of oppressive size. I consider them all treasured films in some way or another. Asking me to pick merely five is like returning my 2000 word essay and telling me to cut it back to five words. I might fantasize about slapping your stupid, insubordinate face. Not that I’d actually slap you or anyone’s stupid insubordinate face for that matter, but this is my fantasy so I’ll make with the slapping. The slapee, would have Tweety birds floating around their head. 5 classic movies for eternity. This is masochism.

My Criteria for “Desert Island Classic Movies”

At first I thought this would be a breeze. I can pick my five favorite movies in my sleep. Write up a little ditty for each. Bingo bango. But then the seriousness and oppressive finality of those decisions set in. Sure I could pick my five favorite classic movies, but I’d leave out Cary Grant, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Alfred Hitchcock, Peter Sellers. Federico Fellini didn’t stand a chance. And I love me some Fellini! There’d be no horror, no musicals. No westerns! Can you imagine a world with no horror, musicals or westerns? I wonder if there’s a catch-all horror/musical/western starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy and directed by Alfred Hitchcock? Have I just overlooked the greatest film ever made? The answer, of course, is I hope so. Because how amazing would that movie be?

So the horror music comedy directed by Hitch and starring Cary Grant and Myrna Loy notwithstanding, I decided I couldn’t just pick my favorite five classic flicks. It would be far more difficult than that.

Certain genres, certain stars or directors satisfy needs. Just as we crave certain foods, we crave specific genres or individual movies. These movies might not immediately come to mind as an essential Desert Island Classic Movie, but in the context of complete and total deprivation of DVD collection, streaming services, etc., they become goddamn necessary.

Which stars? Which directors (if any) would emerge from these soul-searching meditations on life and death and mortality and the films you’d have to pry from those lukewarm, dead, sun-starched, dehydrated fingers of mine?

 

 

duck soup desert island classic films

Choice #1: Hail, Hail the Absolute Essential

Groucho, Harpo and Chico are coming with me. Even Zeppo. Why the hell not? Without the Marxes brand of anarchy, there’d be no joy on my island. This is the greatest comedy ever made. Duck Soup contains Groucho’s finest wordplay. “Hail, hail Freedonia.” The brothers’ most elaborate comedic bits at the height of their talents.

The Marx Brothers were also my gateway drug into classic film. Like many others, I’m sure. I was about 7 or 8 when my dad first sat me down and showed me Duck Soup. I didn’t get most of the jokes, but that didn’t matter. On screen lunacy translates at any age. Not only is it the greatest comedy, but it’s also a sentimental choice woven inextricably into my affection for classic film. I’ve never been without a copy of Duck Soup and no damn, dirty desert island is going to stand in my way now.

 

from russia with love desert island movies

Choice #2: Calculated Visceral Pleasures

Some of you may know me as “the #Bond_age_ Guy.” If you know me as “the #Bond_age_ Guy” there’s also a decent chance you’ve heard me discuss my favorite Bond movie, From Russia with Love. (If you haven’t had the pleasure I submit the My Favorite #Bond_age_ essay that showcases my affection in great detail.) This is Bond at the vibrant, youthful peak of his powers. Free from self-reference. Blissfully free from the on-screen blasphemy of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Sean Connery. The women (Tatiana Romanova, Sylvia Trench, the gypsies). The villains (Grant, Kronsteen, Rosa Klebb). Train combat. Cat and mouse with Robert Shaw. It’s also the most ersatz Hitchcock — only remove the inferior connotations from that term.

And I know I mentioned the women briefly already, but Daniela Bianchi is my classic movie mistress. So she was technically only in one certifiable “classic” movie (this one), but no matter. I’d argue that Special Mission Lady Chaplin deserves classic status as well, but only a few blessed #Bond_age_ fans would back me up on this. Ken Clark, you guys!

The dark underbelly of picking From Russia with Love is that it precludes the consideration of North by Northwest. The films share many of the same cinematic elements. But NxNW was going to be my Hitch, my Cary Grant. Back to the drawing board. Don’t weep too much for the also rans. They never really stood a chance against my love of Bond and From Russia with Love.

 

rio bravo desert island movies

Choice #3: The One Western to Rule Them All

After only two selections I found myself neck deep in the bet hedging. There are a bunch of classic genre movies I can’t live without. I had to stare long and hard into the abyss of my Top 100 and beyond, considering which of the genres needed official representation, and which of my favorites in those genres were truly essential. I surprised even myself with this pick because I honestly thought I’d turn to the Horror genre for my first lifeline. Instead, I went with the Western because of all my favorites from the Horror/Musical/Western genres, John Wayne was the guy that grabbed me by the shirt collar and said, “Pick Rio Bravo will ya, partner? And I’m not making a suggestion. I’m tellin ya.” And then Dean Martin offered me a martini while Ricky Nelson serenaded me on the gueeee-tar. Oh you melodious, crooning fool.

I would never have singled on John Wayne as an actor I needed for the forevermore, but Rio Bravo stands out as one of those classic genre films that offers me a little bit of everything I need. Humor, music, shootin’ and rustlin’. It comes with the added bonus of keeping Dean Martin in my Classic Five — one of my favorite personalities. If I can’t bring my cocktail set and a life’s supply of gin, I may as well live vicariously through Dean Martin. I wouldn’t have worried, normally, because I’d have just packed up the The Thin Man for my vicarious libations… but at this point, I just can’t be sure that William Powell is going to make the cut. And that burns, like that jalapeño martini I tried to make the other night. Oof.

 

singin in the rain desert island movies

Choice #4: Cinematic Couch Therapy

And quite honestly no movie makes me happier, perhaps, than Singin in the Rain.

If you’re stuck on a goddamn deserted island with nothing but anthropomorphic coconuts to keep you company, I can think of no better companions than Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor. It’s as simple as that. Like Rio Bravo, Singin in the Rain wasn’t among the first movies that I scribbled down as an obvious desert island movie selection. But as the five selections rounded out and I took stock of my imperative need for unbridled cinematic joy and happiness… my essentials revealed themselves more clearly. Left to my own devices, I’m not exactly a beacon of positive energy. I find that positivity from outside sources. From family, music and movies.

Harvey would have been my alternate choice here and the thought of not picking Harvey feels like shiv in my spleen. I still haven’t found opportunity to include Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant. Two fellows I don’t think I can really live without. The need for genre variety has pushed individual actor choices toward the periphery.

 

the philadelphia story desert island movies

Choice #5: The Catch All-ish

Reason dictates that this slot belongs to Harvey or Casablanca. Or even Rear Window or Vertigo. Dr. Strangelove even. There are literally a dozen other movies that I wrote on my initial “from-the-top-of-my-head list” that weren’t The Philadelphia Story. The Philadelphia Story wasn’t even listed. This is the brutal reality of an honest Desert Island Classic Movie list. After a couple of obvious essentials, the choices become labored, based on notions that have nothing to do with  movie-on-movie violence and relative superiority.

I picked The Philadelphia Story because I nabbed Jimmy and Cary and Katherine in one jazzy selection. Plus, I can walk around my little island imagining I’ve constructed a boat and mumbling “My she’s yar” over and over and over to soothe my boat-hoping soul. I simply couldn’t fulfill Jimmy without Cary. Or Cary without Jimmy. It’s not my favorite, but it’s good… great even. I will watch The Philadelphia Story whenever its on, yet it still causes me great distress to choose this over many others. I will live with this. But only for Cary Grant’s chin dimple. I’m picking this for you, Cary.

 

*****

Even now, my choices firm, I’m reflecting over my egregious errors in judgment. Rethinking the entire Desert Island roster. Could I live in a world without Harvey? The movie that’s brought me happiness in some of my darkest moments? Or Bogart in Casablanca? Goddamn, I do love Casablanca. HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO LIVE LIKE THIS?

Okay. Okay. Okay. I’ve talked myself down from the ledge. I’ve made peace with my selections and it’s time to shove off on an ill-fated cruise. Now that I’ve suffered through that exercise, why don’t you try it for yourself. I’d love to hear your Desert Island 5 Classic Movies. If you don’t plan to participate in the blogathon, drop your 5 in the comments. Leave a note detailing your suffering. I like to know that others have made painful choices as well. Classic film misery loves company. Visit the Classic Film and TV Cafe to see others’ lists… and do make sure to celebrate classic film today.

Thanks to Aurora and her Gin Joint for making me aware of this blogathon. Here’s her excellent entry that inspired me to contribute my own.

 

National Classic Movie Day - Desert Island movies

 

 

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