I’ll be writing an article on MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, specifically as it represents one of the few films to successfully adapt Poe to the big screen. Join the festivities with The Nitrate Diva.
So I watched Premium Rush again last night and I had some thoughts…
Time for a rant.
We’ve become so jaded and serious in moviewatching and moviemaking. Movies like PREMIUM RUSH are breath of fresh f’ing air because they aim to make pure entertainment without pandering to the lowest common denominator. Premium Rush is implausible cheese of the highest order ripped straight out of the Hackers, late 80’s/early-90’s mode of filmmaking (which was in turn largely derived from B-movies of the Golden Era of filmmaking) . I’ve encouraged many people to watch this movie. Most have come back with backhanded compliments that often begin with “It was dumb, but…” But is Premium Rush dumb? Or has writer/director David Koepp calculated perfectly the visceral pleasure of watching JGL go head-to-head with Michael Shannon (doing his best Christoper Walken impersonation) at 40mph? How often do filmmakers succeed at low(ish) budget, thrills-a-minute B-pictures? #1: They don’t get made because they have no chance of being big hits. #2. They’re generally not treated or handled with respect by the filmmakers for the potential entertainment value.
The phrase “pure entertainment” has been given a bad name by the summer blockbusters. Money/effects/big-name actors do not mean entertainment. The third Transformers film cost $195 million. $195 million. PREMIUM RUSH cost $35 million. How much money did Premium Rush’s studio spend on marketing the film. Did anyone actually see a trailer or a TV spot? I remember one or two at best. I went because of the very positive review in the New York Times by Manohla Dargis, a reviewer whose opinion I shall forever respect for giving Premium Rush the time of day. She concludes her review with the following line that does justice to the nature of this brand of filmmaking:
“Working from a loose, casually funny script he wrote with John Kamps, Mr. Koepp has found the right balance here between genre seriousness and un-self-seriousness to turn the disposable into the enjoyable.”
B-pictures (when B-pictures were a real entity until the end of the 1950’s) by their nature were considered disposable entertainment tacked onto a big-name film for a theatrical double-feature. They were low-budget commercial motion pictures that were not arthouse (or pornographic to be more precise). The filmmakers who directed B-movies relished the opportunity to make a movie for pure entertainment value with the meager budget they were given. It was their livelihood and many thrived on the fringe of Hollywood. But as the industry evolved to worship the spectacle film, the art of the B-movie slowly disappeared. B-movies just became synonymous with failed big-budget enterprises. In the process of marginalizing, I feel like we (as a collective moviegoing public) have also lost some of our ability to simply enjoy entertainment. We’re skeptical of a movie that doesn’t aim to make $100 million dollars or win an Academy Award. If it aims for neither, it must just be a bad movie the studio wants swept under the rug as quickly and quietly as possible.
And there’s something inherently wrong with that. It means we’re as much at fault for the dearth of creativity in modern filmmaking as the studios. Movies like PREMIUM RUSH fail to find an audience but GROWN UPS 2 and GI JOE: RETALIATION make more than $120 million each at the box office.
So I’m going to keep telling people to watch PREMIUM RUSH because I don’t think people really truly go to the movies to watch derivative, lifeless spectacles. I think people want to see these movies but they’ve been brainwashed into believing that dumb can’t also be fun… and that pleasure has to be “guilty.” Just enjoy watching movies again, goddammit. It’s really not that complicated.
We recently renegotiated our relationship with our living room furniture. Mostly we just moved a bookcase, but it looks like a drastic change. The bookcase was essentially a room divider and swapping it from one side of the room to the other flipped everything on its head. This move also had the effect of making more of my books visible. Two books in particular now stand out in the room that had previously been obscured by the other bookcase.
A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I can’t exactly put my finger on why these two books are linked, other than their newfound visibility in the room, but it seems like there’s something portentous there. There has to be right?
One is about a brave, new “World” and one seeks to explain nearly everything in this old, damn world. One has the word “world” in the title and the other has a big ass picture of the world. We’re told that there are no such things as simple coincidence and so I must infer meaning in the supposed coincidence. I’m more than willing to conjecture wildly, as I think I’ve established in prior posts on this damned bl-g. So, let’s do that.
I’ve reached a point in my adulthood that the things to which I clung to as a young man are fading. I’m not even speaking here of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a chronic virus that can never truly be escaped. Every time we long for a measure of our youth, of the way things used to be, that’s nostalgia chipping away at your heart with a tiny, but painful, rock hammer. I’m thinking again about identity. (Yes, again.) I’m thinking about the way we face the world, the ways in which we divide our personalities to conquer the days and weeks and months that slip the cracks in our trembling hands.
I’ve got James Bond on the mind lately, if you hadn’t noticed (#Bond_age_ project going in full swing now) and so the imagery from the title-sequence from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service sticks in my head as I discuss the passing of “time.”
Of course, if you’ve seen OHMSS lately you’ll recall the final line from the film, uttered by James Bond (George Lazenby) as he watches he newly wedded wife die in his arms, murdered by Blofeld’s assassins. “There’s no hurry, you see. We have all the time in the world.”
If you haven’t seen this film, it’s a profoundly moving scene in the context of a Bond film. James Bond. He who supposedly has no personal feelings but love for queen and country, mourns. Lazenby is not an actor per say (he’d only done one chocolate commercial prior to this fleeing gig as Bond) but the way he plays this role — happy accident or not — speaks to how we mourn the inevitable passage of our own time and our own worlds. With distance. Bond is out of body here, removed from the horror he’s experiencing. The repetition of the time motif in OHMSS sets this James Bond movie apart from all the rest and thus, perhaps, makes this moment that much more powerful.
Does it speak to me because there’s a timelessness to James Bond? A timelessness that this scene interrupts? 50 years after Dr. No, James Bond is still jumping motorcycles onto trains. At the same time isn’t that why many of us are fans of 007? Interminable youth? Yet, here we are in OHMSS taking that notion and just stomping all over it. In terms of Bond, OHMSS should have represented a “brave, new world.” The first new Bond. A new, more personal direction in the series. But audiences did not warm to new Bond. They didn’t take to the more somber, personal tone of the film.
Isn’t that natural? To avoid our reality? I’m getting a little glum here. And I apologize. But I’m spewing notes and ideas culled from the intersection of James Bond, Bill Bryson and Aldous Huxley. Something weird was bound to happen. The producers of the Bond series of films immediately abandoned the James Bond burdened by feelings and retreated to pure escapism. They brought back Sean Connery (at GREAT expense) and ventured forward, undaunted by the brave, frightening new world of the 1970’s. Audiences agreed. They flocked back to Bond, making Diamonds Are Forever (a certifiable stinker of a motion picture) a great success compared to the lackluster return from the much better OHMSS.
So, with all that said, I’m looking at these things in front of me and I’m noticing a change in myself. For the first time in many years. I’ve always feared the moment that I took stock of my life and said, “Well, that’s what it is.” But just recently I looked around and said that very same thing. House. Wife. Two kids. But I wasn’t afraid of recognizing limbo. I wasn’t afraid, not right now anyway. Because I’m looking at everything and I’m thinking “I have all the time in the world” with equal measure James Bond-inspired melancholy and hope.
Are you ready for the deus ex machina wrap up of this mindless ramble? Here goes.
I’m looking forward, but not with pervasive fear. And now that I’ve come to terms with where I am in this world. I indeed see the potential of the time I have, the “brave, new world” at my fingertips. Nothing will ever be the same, but, at the time time, my short history of nearly everything suggests that I don’t necessarily want it to be. I’ve struggled with mental health and doubt and misplaced anxiety. I want not to do that again. I want to embrace time. Because as James Bond has taught us, the time we have left is all the time in our world. I might slip back into depression, succumb to my fears and anxieties tomorrow. I never really know. But I never did. I just know that I’d always prefer to watch On Her Majesty’s Secret Service rather than Diamonds Are Forever. And that, clearly, means something.
This poster hangs in my basement “lair.” I refuse to use the term “man cave” because that term needed retiring before Tony Siragusa had his own home improvement show. It’s one of my favorite things. It’s less a bauble than a thing because a bauble, to me, must be something that collects dust. This is too vertical. I’d been on a Ghostbusters soundtrack kick lately because my daughter really enjoyed dancing to “Cleanin’ Up the Town” by the Bus Boys.
I’m pretty pumped that I bothered to check for the Bus Boys’ video. Man. If you haven’t seen it or don’t remember, do yourself a favor and watch it. Just pure fun. They get to drive the Ecto-1. I’m jealous. Plus stop-motion drum kit assemblage.
But, as always, I digress.
As I was putting the record on the turntable one day, my daughter says, “You have that downstairs.” Of course, I’m like, silly three-year old, I have no record player downstairs and therefore you are mistaken. “No,” she repeats. “You have that,” she taps her finger on the sleeve, “downstairs.” It dawns on me she’s referring to the poster flanking my TV. The three-year old has called out her father for underestimating her keen powers of observation. They remember everything. Every minute of every hour of every day. They have nothing to do but remember. Even if they can’t verbalize exactly what they’re thinking, they know.
And this sets me to thinking about a life-fact that I’d considered after she was born. But it hits me harder now than it did when she was a newborn, when it was merely an observation, because she’s a walking, talking human being with opinions now. She likes the Cars and Foster the People and the Black Keys and the Ghostbusters soundtrack but she definitely, violently dislikes the Reverend Horton Heat.
My observation is this: Ghostbusters came out 25 years before she was born in 2009. I don’t remember a time before Ghostbusters. I remember vividly seeing it four times in the theater in 1984. I was not yet six and I covered my eyes each time Ray Stanz charged the librarian ghost in the library. Last Halloween, I documented my first time seeing it in the theater since 1984 with this post. Consider a movie that came out 25 years before you were born. What’s your first thought about that movie? Okay. First let’s do mine.
The Top 5 most memorable (a subjective determination) flicks that came out 25 years before 1978.
- From Here to Eternity
- Roman Holiday
- Gentleman Prefer Blondes
- House of Wax
- I Vitelloni
And the first thing I think? My gawd. Those films seem really old. Next thought. My gawd. In my daughter’s frame of reference, Ghostbusters is going to seem as old to her as From Here to Eternity seems to me. Of course, this does not take into account that black and white movies have an extra aura of oldness. But then again, Ghostbusters, boasts rotoscope mattes and stop-motion animation — advanced special effects techniques for the 80’s, that probably look a little “hokey” to kids raised in a post-Terminator 2 world. By the way, if you care to read more about the Ghostbusters effects, this is a pretty interesting article I found on Spook Central (a Ghostbusters Companion site) that was published in 1984 in a magazine called Starlog.
How does one necessarily assimilate this idea? I fall too often into the trap of considering my daughters an extension of my own frame of reference. It’s haunting to think how quickly the years pass, to think that my dad perhaps considered From Here to Eternity the same way I think of Ghostbusters now. I find myself thinking of my parents and wondering what they over-analyzed when they were my age. And what loves did they once hope to pass down to me before I spurned their attempts or misunderstood their intentions to offer me a piece of themselves? The more I observe my oldest daughter, the more I understand that, like myself, she too, will eventually come to dismiss these frivolous pieces of her father, her most-of-the-time stay-at-home-caregiver, in favor of the new and the now. Sure, eventually she might rediscover (or uncover for the first time) these things, but they won’t, like the Ghostbusters soundtrack now, be the impetus to run and dance and laugh with her dad. The music, movies and movie posters she recognizes now as an inextricable part of her early years will become something old, they will become other, as she, and eventually her five-month old sister, venture out into the world to find their own loves and revelations. They must find their own nostalgia.