02. 7.06

Q and A

"Please stay after the show because the director will be available for questions."

The dreaded "Q & A." Always embarrassing and often insipid — I've rarely gleaned anything of interest from these awkward affairs. The two notable exceptions were Vincent Gallo's rants ripping the cast and distributor of "Buffalo '66" (refreshing for its demented candor and the fact that he didn't open the floor for questions), and a comment Terence Stamp made about the making of "Poor Cow" and how Ken Loach would get on his case for pulling up to the set in a Rolls Royce. I don't know why, but the image of Ken Loach throwing up his arms as Terence Stamp parks his Rolls Royce on a run down tenement block makes me chuckle. That and the fact that Stamp referred to his ride as a "Rollie."

With the tact and patience of an eight-year-old who has to go to the bathroom, their arms shoot up dying to burst out with their insightful and engaging questions.

"Why don't they say 'Oy vey'?"

This question was posed to Noah Baumbach after a screening of his film "The Squid and the Whale." The audience member felt that Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney, who play his parents in the film, were not acting "Jewish" enough. Noah responded politely that his parents didn't go around uttering "oy vey". But this didn't placate the man, as he went on to rant about different lazy stereotypes. Perhaps if Jeff wore the prosthetic nose that Alec Guiness donned in "Oliver Twist," this shmuck would be satisfied.

"Don't you think it's ironic that Chris Penn died?"

A lady shouted this classy query to the director and assorted cast of "The Darwin Awards" at a screening at Sundance a fortnight ago. Tragically — for many but apparently not her — Chris Penn died in his home two days earlier at the age of 40.  Why she felt a death from natural causes albeit one accelerated by lifestyle choices was ironic is not clear. He appeared in the film "The Darwin Awards" and now he is dead. Ironic? When it comes to the tricky test of irony I turn to our poet of the north, Alanis Morrissette: "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife." Nope, no irony here.

"I don't have a question, I just wanted to say how beautiful your film is. It really moved me."

At this point she started crying. This was at a screening of "Rush Hour 2."

Ok, the last one I made up, but I have sat through so many "Q & A"s where people just stand up and start spouting about how much they like the film and never actually ask a question. No one gives a shit.

This month you can send all your interesting questions to me after viewing these great films:

"The Magdalene Sisters"

Heartwrenching story. If the Catholic Church was a country, where would it end up on a human rights list?

"Nine Queens"

Exciting caper film. So it doesn't all make sense, I can't fault a film for being too ambitious.

"In the Mood for Love"

A sensual waltz through sumptous images. I cooed like a queen at each fabulous dress Maggie Cheung wore.

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01. 6.06

An American in Prague

No real theme this month on IFC, but plenty of great premieres, including George Washington, Buffalo Soldiers, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Quiet American and Shallow Grave. Also premiering in the month is L’Auberge Espagnol, about college kids bumming around in Europe, which has inspired this little story.

It happened when I was with him in Prague. While walking across the Charles Bridge a couple stopped us and timidly asked Alex if they could have their picture taken with him. He claimed it happened often. With his long, straight black hair parted down the middle and olive complexion, people would mistake him for an American Indian.

He would always nod silently and never smile. After the picture was taken, and they thanked him with great reverence, he would nod solemnly and wait until they were out of earshot before uttering a word. “Why do these fools feel the need for a photo with an Indian?”

He complained about the photo but could barely contain his pride. He insisted on wearing a dirty poncho and sandals every day, hoping the “traditional” garb would garner him more attention.

Alex was older than me, better looking than me, and smoother than me. I met him in Italy; he was from New Zealand and had been traveling for over a year. He captivated me with tales of his adventures in Asia and Africa. His easygoing charm, that initially attracted me to him, had slowly worn down over several days of traveling to reveal a neurotic, narcissistic white guy who thought he was a Native American. Still, it came as quite a shook when he started screaming at me the night our room was broken into.

“You set me up,” he screamed, barreling out of our small hostel room. Behind him my backpack was ripped open and clothes strewn across the floor. Alex was convinced that I, with the help of some cohorts from Prague, staged the robbery so we could steal his clothes and backpack. He had little sympathy for the fact that my camera, 50 CDs, and passport were all gone, deciding instead to accuse me of stealing his dirty laundry.

“And my flute, mate”.

The African flute. Alex had a small flute, carved from wood, that had a hole on one end but the other end was closed. There were two finger holes on each side of the thick flute, from which Alex would coax a nauseating whistle. He bought it on his travels in Africa. Alex claimed losing the flute cost much more than the initial price of the transaction, since the flute was his main source for extra dosh on the trip.

In the ancient and beautiful squares and plazas of Western Europe, Alex would sit Indian style on a blanket and play his African flute for spare change from the unfortunate tourists in earshot. Since he didn’t have any idea how to play the thing, and it only had two finger holes, the tunes were rudimentary and thankfully brief. When he grew bored with the instrument he would place it gently by his side, close his eyes, and chant “OHM.”

The night of the robbery was spent carousing down the cobblestone streets of Prague, drinking large pints of pilsner. I was wearing a bright orange baseball cap, Alex was in his poncho. The city was hopping with bars overflowing with boisterous Czechs. Sometimes they would shout at us. One guy started pointing towards us and yelling in Czech.

“What do you think he’s on about?” I asked Alex.

“He’s a racist. This country is filled with them.”

“How do you know?”

“They think I’m an American Indian. They’re shouting at me to get out of the country.”

“But you don’t speak Czech.”

“No, but I can see the hatred in their eyes. Look. Quick. See? He’s pointing to the flag on his scarf. Fucking fascists. It is so hard to just take it. It’s a good thing I have such a calm nature, thanks to my ancestors.”

Alex smiled peacefully at the rowdy Czechs, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if he went over and blessed them on their bald heads. Instead, he suggested another bar, but I feigned a slight cold and made my way back to the hostel. Alex bravely continued on with a noble grace.

I was sidetracked on the trip back--partying with a Swiss woman and an Australian paramedic who slurred gruesome stories about work-- and by returning home so late gave life to Alex’s theory of the robbery.

Perhaps thinking I would break down and confess, Alex insisted we both file a police report at the local precinct. “But why would I return to the scene of the crime?” I was trying to punch holes in his theory, but he refused to talk to me. So, we sat in the cramped office for two hours, exchanging awkward glances with a large Czech officer, waiting for the English interpreter. The large officer sat under a calendar with a photo of a woman in a bikini sitting on a motorcycle. She massaged the gas tank with long red fingernails as I thought of the flowering of democracy in this new country.

The stocky interpreter scurried into the office apologizing for the delay. Taking a seat in a smaller desk he fed a piece of paper into an old Soviet era typewriter. He looked up at me and smiled.

“You’re quite a brave man, walking around town in that bright orange cap,” he said.

After some confusion, he explained that orange is the color of the Dutch National Soccer Team, a chief rival of the Czech Republic. That night the Dutch had beaten the Czech Republic in a hotly contested match.

“That would explain the crowded bars and all the scarves” I said, looking over at Alex. He stared ahead defiantly, as the interpreter click clacked on the old typewriter.

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12. 5.05

The Man in the Mr. T mask

This Christmas IFC presents Cult Christmas, featuring Tim Burton’s biopic on filmmaker Ed Wood and a pair of John Waters’ films, "Female Trouble and Polyester. Waters and Wood are noted for their low budget underground cult classics. One afternoon, in February 1985, I shot my own low budget classic for the price of one VHS tape. I was 11 years old. The film was untitled.

 

DEVELOPMENT

In the middle of February, Danny and I sat on his cold hard front lawn hashing out ideas for our first feature. We decided that the story would concern a private who returns home from a tour of duty in Vietnam and totally flips out. Danny showed me a rubber Richard Nixon mask he found in his older brother’s room. Nixon’s perma-grin was creepy. He told me to wait outside while he ran up to a second story window. Looking out behind a sheer curtain wearing the mask was sufficiently spooky and we decided we had our opening shot.

Then discussion turned to Chinese stars. Could you kill someone with one? Definitely, if you were a Ninja. However, if you were just a regular guy, we decided only if you got real lucky with the throw. Then Danny assured me that his older brother, although technically not a Ninja, could be lethal with a Chinese star. I didn’t have an older brother.

Our zeal for Ninja weaponry clouded our vision and we completely missed the obvious opportunity for satire. Our protagonist returns home from Vietnam and dons a Richard Nixon mask on his numerous killing sprees.

 

PRE-PRODUCTION

The shoot was scheduled for the following Saturday at Danny’s house. Danny would play Jack, the vet who flips out. I would play the detective investigating the recent spate of homicides in the peaceful suburban community. Various friends and family played supporting roles. My father and owner of the video camera would serve as cameraman.

Then I faced what every filmmaker, but especially those working with little money, might have considered a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The day before the shoot Danny called to say he wouldn’t be able to do the movie because he was invited on a ski trip. Undaunted, though, I reworked the script in my head — as nothing was ever written down — changed the location to my house, and, since Danny never dropped off the Richard Nixon mask as promised, used a rubber Mr. T mask that I wore the previous Halloween.

 

THE SHOOT

I envisioned the opening scene in the jungles of Vietnam. Jack, now played by myself, is in a fierce battle with the Viet-Cong. The scene was shot in a neighbor’s backyard on Long Island.

FADE IN

Jack in full cameo gear is running through trees near a Victorian home with a machine gun. He is shouting loudly and firing indiscriminately; he kills everyone in sight. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is playing in the background. (Note: this time the symbolism was intentional). It is snowing. Off camera someone shouts “OK. That’s good.”

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack is now back in the States living with his mother. The handheld camera follows him downstairs for breakfast. When he reaches the living room he stumbles backwards muttering “What the...what...oh crap.” The camera pans to reveal his mother (played by my 8-year-old sister), sitting on the couch with a knife sticking through her skull. Jack regains his composure so quickly that he shakes his head in disappointment as if he just found out the dog had taken a shit in the house. With a bemused expression he drags his mother’s corpse to the basement.

FADE OUT

At this juncture, I should mention a rather salient plot point I neglected to include in the final and only cut. Many people asked me, after their initial 10 minutes of praise, why Jack didn’t immediately call the authorities upon finding his mother murdered in their living room. “Cause when he got back from ‘Nam he like totally flipped out,” was my answer. Thus, he was almost certain that he murdered his mother during one of his spells when he has violent hallucinations and blacks out.

FADE IN

Jack is a resilient chap, who minutes after hiding his mother’s corpse, who he probably murdered but isn’t certain, treats himself to a bowl of Kix. There is a knock at the door. Is Jack jittery? Is he worried it might be the police? People might have heard screams? Hell no! Jack yells, “Come on in,” without leaving the kitchen table. About half a dozen men, played by my 11-year-old friends, shuffle into the kitchen shouting salutations. Some use the name Jack, others opt for Tim. When one of the men asks if Tim is ready for work, the audience learns that Jack commutes to work with a rather large posse and that some people refer to him as Tim.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack/Tim is walking down his suburban block with the posse. When they pass a house on the block a member of the posse peels off the group with a wave. This continues until we are left with only our hero, whose relaxed saunter and content face belies the dark secret he hid in the basement that very morning. As he approaches his back door he stumbles backwards muttering “What the...what...oh crap.” The camera, now over the shoulder of Jack/Tim, pans up and with a very audible whirring noise, zooms to a first story window where his mother stands, knife still in place. Jack screams down the block, alerting the posse, who are all still in front of their homes fumbling with their keys.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

From a long shot down the block we see Jack/Tim gesticulating wildly, and assume he’s getting the posse up to speed with the day’s extraordinary events. Then they all run to Jack/Tim’s house.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack stumbles backwards muttering “What the...what...oh crap.” His mother is no longer standing in front of the window. The posse shrug their shoulders.<

FADE OUT

If I can, for just a moment, comment on the unique style of the film — born from my father’s deft camera work, which some lightweight critics termed pretentious — every cut in the film is a five second fade in and a five second fade out. This editing technique, which lent the film an elliptical nature, coupled with its sparse dialogue, had many established critics comparing my work to Antonioni.

FADE IN

There is a man wearing an oversized army coat and a rubber Mr. T mask standing in Jack/Tim’s backyard. He catches the eye of the posse, who give chase.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack/Tim and posse chase the man in the Mr. T mask around the house.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack/Tim tackles the man with Mr. T mask to the ground and, with a zest for viligilantism that would make even Dubya blush, immediately starts kicking and punching the man for no other reason than he was standing in Jack/Tim’s backyard.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

More gripping action, and with a final knee to the nose the man in the Mr. T mask is knocked unconscious...or has he been beaten to death? It is uncertain. What is certain is that the posse have had enough excitement and they disperse.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack/Tim removes the Mr. T mask. Why, it’s none other than Private Hill, who he served with in Vietnam. Did he kill Jack/Tim’s mother? Was he just stopping by to show off his new Mr. T mask? Jack/Tim looks at the mask in his hand and puts it on.

FADE OUT

FADE IN

Jack/Tim wearing the Mr. T mask ambles down the street.

FADE OUT

THE END

IFC's Cult Christmas

Sunday 12/25  (all times EST)

  8:00PM   ED WOOD

10:15PM   HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH

12:00AM   FEMALE TROUBLE

  1:45AM  POLYESTER

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11. 3.05

God gave Rock n Roll to you

In honor of Indie Rocks, I give you my illustrious musical career, beginning with my first memory of music at the tender age of three.

I remember walking slowly down the wooden stairs, step, stop, step, stop, Grandpa holding my hand. I remember the dusty paint cans and the stacks and stacks of National Geographic magazines that my grandmother saved lining the walls of the basement. The erratically stacked magazines followed no recognizable pattern — a stack three feet high next to one nearly six feet tall, followed by a mere one-foot pile, and so on... The entire collection resembled the skyline from one of Dr. Seuss’ cities, and looked in very serious danger of toppling over on us.

There was no heat in the cellar of my grandparents’ house, so when my aunt strode to the stand-up piano she was wearing wool gloves. The rest of us — myself, my parents and grandparents, and all my uncles and aunts — stood around the old piano, which had not been tuned in decades, if ever. We were to sing Christmas carols.

They decided to warm up with an easy tune, “Deck the Halls”. My aunt pounded the chipped keys with the carefree confidence of someone who is tone deaf but doesn’t realize. My relatives were smiling and singing, clouds of breath drifting in the cold damp basement. Oblivious. Every last one of them. Why didn’t they realize that “Fa la la la la” in their rendition sounded like an evil incantation to wake the dead? If Roman Polanski had filmed the climatic scene of “Rosemary’s Baby” in a dank basement and dressed the cast in ugly holiday sweaters, the result would give you some idea of what this scene looked like from the perspective of a small boy. I looked around at all the happy faces and thought “this is evil, pure evil.” So I cried. I wailed and wailed until my mother took me upstairs and I was able to play with my Tonka truck under the tree in total silence.

It’s five years later, and I have just told my father that I’m quitting the saxophone. I had never seen him so angry. I’m not sure why he flew off in a red-faced rage. Did he think he would squire a Von Trapp litter of talented offspring and I, as the oldest, had ruined those dreams? Or did he see this as a pattern of apathy and sloth that would repeat itself throughout my life, leading to my still living in his basement well into my 40s. Whatever the reason, I’ve never again tasted that dry reed on my tongue. It was probably for the best, as I was much too young to use the saxophone to its full advantage. You see, in the eighties, all a man had to do was turn up his collar, go out on his fire escape, play a maudlin tune on his sax and every beautiful woman in earshot would come to his apartment and make sweet, sweet love to him.

When I began to show an interest in the fairer sex, I picked up the bass guitar. Not out of any real passion for the instrument, but it was the only opening in the fledgling garage band I wanted to join. Actually playing the instrument properly was an afterthought; I was more interested in how I held the thing, really low below the crotch. However, my parents insisted on lessons, so once a week Anthony would come to our house.

Anthony was a hulking figure, with a great mane of curly teased hair, who was quick to tell you that he once had an audition with Kiss to replace Ace Freely as lead guitar. He was also quick to add that he had a call back and that one of the two founding members, either Paul Stanly or Gene Simmons, was keen to sign him, and one of them was a class act and the other a complete asshole, but he wasn’t gonna tell you who was who ‘cause he didn’t need the Kiss Army on his ass. All of which was quite unfortunate because he was a crap teacher.

His teaching methods were as follows: I would start playing a few notes from that week’s lesson and Anthony, looking deadly serious, would nod along for a few moments. Then, suddenly, he would rise from his chair and ask if he could use our phone. One day, when he found the phone engaged, he asked if I thought my mom would be long. The remainder of each lesson was spent with me fumbling over some generic rock jazz piece and him shouting into the phone. When he finished his verbal assault he would tell me to practice the next piece in the book and leave.

Since it was the only time of the week I actually played the thing, my concentration prevented me from following his conversations, but an oft repeated phrase that I picked up was: “That fucking guy is gonna get himself arrested.”

This arrangement repeated itself for several months, until I complained that I didn’t recognize any of the songs I was playing. The following week he returned with the sheet music to Pink Floyd’s “Money”. I was excited to play something I had actually heard before, and fumbled away. Anthony stood over me for a few moments, enthusiastically sang “Money…get back,” and then walked over to the phone. He didn’t ask anymore. Now the oft repeated phrase was “I can’t believe that fucking guy got arrested.”

One day Anthony arrived with his guitar and amp. I could barely contain my excitement — I was going to jam with a guy who was almost in Kiss! He plugged his red Kramer Voyager into the amp and with a pick in his mouth pointed to me to start. Nervously, I started to pluck away. Soon he joined in, bending each note with a great flourish. I felt we were really rocking, so I was disappointed when he placed his large hand over the neck of my bass. I stopped playing. At last he was going to teach me something. I waited for his instruction but he said nothing. I looked at him puzzled. “Guitar solo,” he muttered.

For the remaining twenty minutes he closed his eyes and forgot. Forgot about Kiss, forgot about his phone calls, forgot about my lesson, wailing away on his bright red Voyager. That was my last lesson and the end of my musical career. February 13, 1988.

Every Saturday night this month we celebrate the movie soundtrack. All times Eastern.

Saturday November 5th

10:00pm Reservoir Dogs
11:45pm Dogtown and Z-Boys

If I were a rich man, I would hire Steven Wright to introduce each song on my iPod, maybe he could even do some fake weather reports and station IDs. Essential soundtrack — Tarantino proves he is equally adept at finding hidden pop gems as he is at ripping off obscure films.

“I got a Rolls Royce because it’s good for my voice.”
-T-Rex

Wicked tune. After I saw Dogtown and Z-Boys, I went home and downloaded this song. As you would expect, the soundtrack doesn’t contain all the classic tracks played in the film, but it’s a nice starting off point with some choice cuts.

Saturday November 12th

10:00pm Swingers
11:45pm The Last Waltz

Although I never got into the whole swing dancing scene of the late 1990’s, who doesn’t like to listen to a little Dean Martin once in a while, especially after your third Martini at lunch?

Saturday November 19th

10:00pm Velvet Goldmine
12:15am Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Velvet Goldmine has an interesting soundtrack, with a cover by Thom Yorke.

Saturday November 26th

10:00pm SLC Punk!
11:45pm Punk Attitude

Lots o' punk. I already wrote something about punk that can be found in the bowels of The Captain’s Blog.

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10. 2.05

The Wicker Man

In the early 1970’s Rod Stewart was an international rock star at the height of his most creative period, fronting the band Faces, releasing seminal solo albums and dating young beautiful women. One such woman was Britt Ekland, whom he went on to marry and subsequently divorce. Britt starred in the controversial British film The Wicker Man, about pagan rituals in a small Scottish town. Rod Stewart attempted to buy the negative of the film and destroy it because Britt Ekland appears nude in the film. In the early 1970’s I was born.

In the early 1990’s Rod Stewart was an international rock star trying to find that rich creative vein after a rather indifferent decade, getting back together with Ron Wood of Faces for MTV Unplugged, and dating young beautiful women. One such woman was Rachel Hunter, whom he went on to marry and subsequently divorce. She has appeared in several small roles in dire films. I’m not sure if Rod Stewart minds if people see Rachel Hunter naked. In the early 1990’s I was a college student, big fan of The Wicker Man, and about to break out of one of my longer slumps by going on a date with a beautiful woman of my own.

The double date began in earnest Saturday afternoon, in the parking lot of Great Adventure, with me squinting in the bright sun, on the lookout for overzealous parking attendants, and/or curious park goers, as the other three did lines of coke in Ed’s Taurus. Cocaine became a running theme of the date. Although I didn’t partake in the drug use, I didn’t mind overlooking a little cocaine abuse for a little action. Tonight I was going to get some.

We bonded over a shared interest of electronic music, still an underground scene in early 1990’s suburbia. The thudding 4/4 beats and bleeps, with all its fetishistic sub-genres – Detroit Techno, Acid House, Tribal House Breakbeat- had us talking for hours. So for the second part of the date the striking raven-haired Chloe and I went to a club in Manhattan. Oh, and Ed and his girlfriend Lisa came along.

After a somewhat awkward spin on the dance floor--I’m not at my most graceful sober-- Chloe found she was out of coke. Unfortunately Josh, the resident drug dealer and, not surprisingly, Chloe’s good friend, was also out of coke. She was pissed. However, I knew enough about the drug not to tell her she had had enough today and just relax and have some fun. So I furrowed my brow and looked concerned.

Luckily, they had a plan. Chloe would go with Josh to buy more drugs and I would be left in charge of Josh’s candy stand, having made a good impression as a lookout earlier in the day. Josh, in a nod to irony, or as a way to earn a few extra bucks, sold his drugs out of a large display box of candy in the back corner. I could sell his candy, but he hid the various other drugs in a back room. When they left, the DJ was playing DBX’s “Losing Control”. It sounded like this:

“A moose on patrol. A moose on patrol. Amooseonpppatroool.”

I caught my reflection in the mirror, sitting there Indian style in front of the box of candy, a childish grin on my face reminiscent of my smile holding the 4th grade class sign alone, no need for help, James Thoms, thank you very much. I was content because I was going to get some tonight. It was a certainty, an absolute certainty.

It didn’t bother me that…

“Josh will be back in a bit. I’m not sure, Twenty minutes”.

…she was uptown participating in a drug buy.

“That will be a dollar. Sir, sir, You haven’t paid for your Razzles”.

Or that sweaty club goers would swear at me and then steal candy. Or that Ed didn’t like me because I didn’t laugh at his K-hole story. None of that mattered because she would be back shortly and I would convince her to head back to my place. My place also being my parents’ and sisters’ and brother’s place.

But then he arrived. The leather faced, kinky haired Scot. What was he doing in a club spinning Detroit Techno? Why was he alone, eyeing up everything that moved? I thought celebrities traveled with details of security and sycophants! And why was a coke addled club kid so impressed? Chloe, who had just returned from the buy in quite a state, was star-struck.

“Is that Rod Stewart?” She giggled to Lisa. The first time she acknowledges Ed’s girlfriend since we arrived at the club. “He’s cute,” Lisa proclaimed.

I tried to explain to them what a great movie The Wicker Man was, and how could someone try and destroy such a cinematic gem. But they were unmoved. Although it wasn’t obvious to me, we had been drifting apart with each line we spoke and she snorted. She got higher and higher and I, a college student faced with $10 drinks, was sober. She had become aloof and I was facing my biggest challenge: an international rock star.

“What’s with the leather pants?’ I tried.

“I think they make his butt look cute,” she countered.

He turned and went into the VIP room, while the DJ dropped a tune Chloe loved, the one that sampled Max Romeo’s “Chase the Devil”. Good. Soon we would be hopping along and that old Scot would seem like a coke-fueled apparition.

“I’m gonna send him to outer space, to find another race”

But amongst my foot stamping and flaying arms, Chloe received a tap on her shoulder from the very large bouncer who manned the VIP entrance. She turned and followed him without even a glance in my direction.

A sudden strike to my abdomen knocked the breath out of me and a heavy fist to the chin sent me to the ground. The bouncer seemed pleased with his work, able to silence the steroid demons for a moment. As he yanked me off the floor of the VIP room I shouted at the pair “You might have gotten Chloe, but you didn’t get The Wicker Man.”

Several weeks later, reading the New York Post, I came upon an article on Page Six about a loser (their term, not mine) who was club hopping in Manhattan pretending to be Rod Stewart. Ah, my little coke fiend, whom I have never spoken to since, left me for a Staten Island plumber with, it must be said, a pretty damn good Scottish burr.

Several years on still, I learnt that Britt Ekland used a body double for some, if not all, of her nude scenes in The Wicker Man.

The Wicker Man airs Saturday, October 29th at 8PM (eastern) and 1:30AM (eastern) as part of Indie Screams.

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09. 7.05

Spaghetti West

Not an elegant smoker, Carlos grubbily pinched his cigarette, damp and limp with saliva, and, choosing not to exhale, let the smoke slowly dribble out of his mouth and nose.

“Look, Tim,” he gasped, pointing out yet another important vista, as his yellowed finger stabbed at the smoke.

We had just left Mini Hollywood, a set built in Almeria, Spain, as the town of El Paso in For A Few Dollars More and countless other Spaghetti Westerns. It was quite surreal to walk through the streets where bounty hunters Monco and Colonel Mortimer watched as Indio’s gang cased the The Bank El Paso. And, just like meeting your favorite action hero in person, the town is a lot smaller than you would expect.

Now we were putting along, heading towards “Cortijo Del Fraile”, in a Franco era clunker with an AC that according to the two Spaniards worked, but was really like someone with bad breath sucking on an ice cube and blowing on you. So, sitting in the backseat, I would perspire and wait for the car to hit another bump, which it did with an ever increasing frequency, allowing the ceiling, which was crumbling, to unleash its powdery substance, asbestos perhaps, that would rain down and cover me in white silt, easily sticking to my skin, which was already wet with sweat. And the radio didn’t work.

But I had the music of Morricone playing in my head, as I looked out over the familiar bald mountains of the Tabernas Desert. The surreal soundtracks of braying horses, hoofbeats, cracking whips, whistles and yelps competed with Carlos’ interesting but ceaseless lecture on the genre.

“With Sergio Sollima you got leftist politics veering towards Communism. Now, that is really subverting an American myth.” He laughed. The driver, Santiago, remained silent, gripping the steering wheel tightly. It seemed he had heard his tales many times before. Oh good, Santiago, I thought we were going to miss that pothole, but you swerved just in time to hit it straight on. I cleaned the asbestos from my glasses.

Carlos lit another cigarette, with smoke pouring out of his moving mouth.

“When Corbucci made Django it was big hit. So everybody made a movie with Django in the title, even though there was only one official sequel. It is an example of how they cannibalized the genre. Django the Bastard; Django, Prepare a Coffin; Django Kill…If You Live, Shoot; Don’t Wait Django…Shoot!; Django Shoots First; Halleluja for Django; Few Dollars for Django; Django Defies Sartana; Noose For Django; One Damned Day at Dawn…Django Meets Sartana!”

“Joder!” Santiago shouted, but I won’t translate it, as it is not a polite word. I was hoping he would continue and tell Carlos to shut up, but the man had great patience with his traveling companion. No, he was cursing at car trouble. With Carlos chain smoking we had not noticed that the car had overheated and smoke was coming from the hood. Standing on the side of the dusty dirt road, I was able to escape Carlos’ smoke and add a layer of red dust, kicked up in a gust of wind, to the white silt.

It was hot, the car was done for and Carlos was eerily silent, when salvation rumbled up the dirt path in the form of a large van filled with pensioners on their way to “Cortijo Del Fraile”. They kindly gave us a lift.

As part of our Spaghetti West tour we had set out to the large Andulisian villa “Cortijo Del Fraile” to see the Friary where Blondie recovers from his near fatal journey through the desert in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. However, I learned that the villa had a rich history when our new companions, who had little interest in Leone, told me they were heading out to see the “Cortijo Del Fraile” that inspired Federico Garcia Lorca’s play Blood Wedding. This prompted Carlos, unable to smoke and chomping on his nubby fingers, to launch a nervous tirade about Lorca’s murder by a Nationalist firing squad, Lorca’s relationship with Salvador Dali and, with his usual bravura, to generally lecture a group of people in their late seventies and early eighties about life in 1930’s Spain.

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08.12.05

Programming and the Wrath of Herzog

We, at IFC, pride ourselves on our innovative programming. From art house to grind house, we believe we have a rather eclectic slate. However, as I found out on a recent vacation to Peru, we have nothing on the curator at the Victoria Cinema in Cusco. For it is there that I saw what must have been the strangest triple bill in the world. Yes, I’m one of those people who travel thousands of miles from home to experience a new culture, and still manage to go to the movies.

I’m also one of those film freaks that can’t simply appreciate the beauty of something without framing it in the context of cinema. So while we were drifting down the Amazon in a canoe, and my companions were gawking in awe at the majestic fauna and exotic wildlife of the jungle, I was wondering “Is this the spot where Werner Herzog pulled the steamship over the mountain in Fitzcarraldo? Is this where Klaus Kinski floated downstream with hundreds of monkeys in Herzog’s Aguirre: The Wrath of God?”

Whether from too many Pisco Sours or rapid changes in altitude, I started to obsess about Herzog, so much so that our guides began to sound like him. I started to wonder what it would be like to work with the master: Would we get along? Would he like me? How would he narrate my wedding video?

While in the following tale, any mention of Herzog is purely a product of my demented mind (or perhaps a defense mechanism, due to the fact I was traveling with my in-laws); I swear to you that the triple bill is true, as I’m certainly not clever enough to invent such a line-up! If you don’t believe me, and have a good long distance plan, here are the particulars: Victoria Cinema: Prolongacion Manoc Capac 931, Cusco Peru Tel: 23-3272.


Crying?


I was not crying.

The DEET was burning my eyes. The bottle warned not to apply the repellant to one’s face, but the mosquitoes were incessant. Not that Werner Herzog would believe it. He thinks it was because he slapped me, shouting that I was insolent and mad with Yellow Fever. But it was he, ordering Ewok suits off of e-bay for a final musical number he scribbled on tree bark, who was losing ground to a creeping madness. So I left.

On to Cusco, far above the Peruvian Amazon, I went, and tried to forget it all: the disastrous shoot of Fitzcarraldo 2: Electric Bugaloo, the insects and the heat. But what I tried to banish to the farthest recess of my memory was his voice. Oh, how Herzog’s charming accent used to fill me with warmth. The steady thrum of his voice was calming and reassuring, and for that reason I have a rather interesting gift for my wife on our anniversary, as I asked him to narrate our wedding video. But now each deliberate phrase echoing in my head was like a paper cut to my heart.

For one evening I was able to quell Herzog’s haunting voice, thanks to some inspired programming in Peru. I was stumbling through the narrow cobblestone streets of Cusco, Herzog smugly mocking me, clouding my thoughts, when I heard some loud voices, not coming from my head, but a small hall. The door was ajar, so I peeked in, thinking it might be a play. On the small stage was a man gesticulating wildly and shouting, “Praise the Lord!” to a crowd of about eight people, mostly women, who had their arms raised and were shouting back to the man things I did not understand. When I caught the eye of a woman sitting near the entrance, I quickly retreated to the adjacent building. It was a cinema. Perfect.

The screen was large, but the sound was awful, fading in and out. I remembered what a professor once said about student films: “Just make sure it sounds good”. He told us that people will look at anything- if it’s too dark or bright or scratchy they’ll think it is artsy, but if the sound is off they will start to get uncomfortable. In addition to a shoddy sound system the walls were quite thin, and I could hear my friends next door still finding their Savior. But I didn’t mind; I was out to experience new things, like the guinea pig I ate the night before, and this would be my cinematic adventure.

Unfortunately, Saw the first film of the triple bill ended five minutes after I entered the theater. The houselights went up momentarily and a few people got up to leave.

Up next was a Bollywood film. I apologize for not remembering the title, but I did make a desperate plea to the usher for a proper ticket, program or any such document to commemorate the experience, to no avail. I was left with a simple “Admit One” red ticket--the type you receive at raffles.

The film was about an orphaned young woman who falls in love with her cousin. A Hindu comedy which, like Steve Guttenberg having a film career, I didn’t get. Of course, being a Bollywood movie, it was very colorful, with plenty of music and dance numbers, including a lovely little ditty during an aerobics class.

The denouement to this stirring triple bill was the pornographic film Anal Vengeance, which I believe is of Eastern European origin. A quality picture for sure, but, if I were to nitpick, the second woman in the film’s final threesome looked quite a bit like Michael Caine in Dressed to Kill, although, to be fair, we thankfully see very little of her as she busies herself servicing others. Although the sound was as shitty as in the first two films, the shouts of ecstasy of the protagonist finding herself, double teamed with the shouts of ecstasy of those next door finding salvation, made for the most exquisite Surround Sound experience. Had he been in the audience, I’m sure George “THX” Lucas would have wept.

So, with the help of a Bollywood musical, an independent horror film, and a hardcore porno I was able, for a few precious hours, to forget the German director who haunted me. Thus is the power of cinema!

But my respite ended all too soon, and for reasons entirely of my own fault. As I mentioned I used to be tickled by Herzog’s Teutonic drawl, and at one point thought it would make an interesting 5th Wedding Anniversary gift if I got Werner to narrate over the action of our wedding DVD. We hadn’t looked at the thing since we received it, so I figured it would be nice to revisit the day -- The Criterion Collection Wedding DVD if you will.

When I arrived home from my ill-fated journey the DVD was waiting for me. Some highlights:

Werner narrating over footage of my wife and I climbing the stage for the civil ceremony:

This marriage will end in tears. His tears. He is a coward and cannot please her. She is afraid and found someone even weaker than she. But she will soon grow bored and discard him and he deserves it for he is afraid to live.

While the camera pans over relatives and friends dancing to “Who Let the Dogs Out”:

Look at this silly ritual. Their grotesque movements to a shrill pop song sicken me. Who let the dogs out indeed, for the Hounds of Hell will hungrily feed on whatever shred of dignity these fools possess.


Werner Herzog’s new documentary, Grizzly Man, featuring his renowned voice over, is now playing in selected theaters. Coming Soon: Spaghetti Westerns.

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