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Ted Flicker: ‘Barney Miller’ creator, improv theater innovator, blacklisted by J. Edgar Hoover
04.09.2015
12:08 pm

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This is a guest post from Doug Jones

Twelve years ago I found myself at Cinefile Video in West Los Angeles when I happened to notice a movie poster on the wall for the 1967 film, The President’s Analyst. The duotone pink and green poster depicted James Coburn wearing a `60s mod wig and sunglasses holding two gong mallets in his hand with the tagline, “Is your football helmet crushing the flowers in your hair?” What the hell kind of movie is this? I had recently developed a fascination with James Coburn after discovering the sixties spy-spoof films Our Man Flint, and the sequel, In Like Flint. Perhaps it was due to exposure to late `90s pop culture references like the Beastie Boys album Hello Nasty or the movie Austin Powers (both of which named dropped the character Derek Flint) that Coburn had been embedded into my subconscious at that time.

I went home that night and watched The President’s Analyst. It was absolutely fantastic in the way it ridiculed virtually every important `60s institution—establishment and anti-establishment alike. But unlike most 1960s-era political satires and comedies, it was surprisingly fresh, relevant, and still laugh-out-loud funny in the present age. A man I had never heard of named Theodore J. Flicker was credited as the film’s writer and director. After repeated viewings I began to wonder: who is Theodore J. Flicker? How come nobody’s ever heard of him? How is it possible for someone to make a film this good and then vanish completely from sight? The lack of information available on the internet only fueled my interest, but I eventually learned that Mr. Flicker had been blacklisted from Hollywood. But why, how could that happen? I would end up going to great lengths to answer these questions, including a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico to find Flicker, who spent the last twenty years of his life as a sculptor.
 

Ted Flicker in Santa Fe, Sept 2013. Photo by Doug Jones

After failing to open a theater of his own in New York City, Theodore J. Flicker headed to Chicago in 1954 to check out the improvisational Compass Theatre by recommendation of his college friend Severn Darden. According to Flicker, the Compass was in terrible shape when he entered: the players were unprofessional, wore street clothes, had a lack of respect amongst their fellow performers, and were basically “all over the place.” However, Flicker saw potential in the company and in 1957 he launched his own wing of The Compass Players at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis. Mike Nichols and Elaine May arrived in St. Louis, and Flicker auditioned Del Close who had come highly recommended by Darden despite the fact that he had no previous improv experience. Ted hired Del on the spot after seeing him perform a fire-breathing act from the work of Flaminio Scala. They all felt that the “meandering” Chicago style of improv did not sustain the audience’s attention for an entire show. Realizing that new techniques were needed if improvisation were to transform from an acting exercise into an art form, Flicker began developing a new technique which he referred to as “louder, faster, funnier”… the audiences responded. His goal was to re-create the Chicago Compass without any of the people involved and without the experience of Viola Spolin’s teachings, Flicker wanted to invent his own way. Every morning after a show, he would sit down with Elaine May and examine what went wrong the previous night and then determine how it could be corrected. Through these sessions “The Rules” for publicly-performed improv were formulated, including the importance of the Who? Where? and What? of each scene needing to be expressed, avoiding transaction scenes, arguments, and conflict as they usually lead to dead ends, and playing at the top of one’s intelligence. “We came up with a teachable formula for performing improvisation in public in two weeks,” Flicker said. These new rules differed greatly from the rules of Viola Spolin, who wasn’t a performer and explored improv only as an acting exercise. This was a new era of improvisation.

Following the collapse of The Compass Players, Paul Sills launched the successor troupe “The Second City” in 1959. Nichols and May went on to become a smash hit on Broadway. Del Close moved back to Chicago and spent the rest of his life developing, refining, and experimenting with Ted’s rules. Del became an improvisational guru for three decades with a student roster that included Dan Aykroyd, John and James Belushi, John Candy, Bill Murray, Chris Farley, Andy Dick, Harold Ramis, Mike Myers, Bob Odenkirk, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Tina Fey, and all three founding members of the Upright Citizens Brigade (Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Amy Poehler.) Unquestionably some of the biggest and most influential names in the comedy world, and it all circles back to Flicker. “I never could have done it without the sheer force of Ted’s will and discipline,” Close said.

But what was next for Theodore J. Flicker? In the sixties he wed Barbara Joyce Perkins, television actress and star of dozens if not hundreds of commercials, and the two set their sights on Hollywood. Theodore’s first feature film The Troublemaker, which he co-wrote with Buck Henry, described as an “improvised adventure” and was a moderate success, and the next thing he knew the phone started ringing. He was offered to write a feature film to launch the careers of Sonny and Cher; however, when the project fell through Flicker instead penned a screenplay for Elvis Presley, the 1966 “racecar musical comedy” Spinout.
 

 
It was Paramount Pictures that gave Flicker a chance to write and direct a major motion picture studio film in 1967, the first movie Robert Evans greenlit as a studio executive. The President’s Analyst was a fantastic, on-target satire. James Coburn plays Dr. Sidney Schaefer, who is awarded the job of the President’s top secret psychoanalyst. When Dr. Schaefer’s paranoia sinks in and he realizes he “knows too much,” he decides to run away and the film becomes a fast-paced action adventure romp involving spies, assassins, the FBI, CIA, a suburban family station wagon, flower power hippies, and even a British pop group. An unusual sci-fi plot twist reveals the movie’s most surprising villain: The Telephone Company (referred to in the film as “TPC”).
 

 
Problems began when the FBI got ahold of the screenplay. Robert Evans claims he was visited by FBI Special Agents who didn’t appreciate their unflattering and incompetent portrayal in the film. When Evans denied their request to cease production, they began conducting surveillance on the film’s set. Evans refused their demands, but increasing pressure led to extensive overdubs during the film’s post-production phase: the FBI became the FBR, and the CIA became the CEA. Even the Telephone Company got wind of their negative portrayal in the film, and Evans believed that his telephone had begun to be monitored by either the Bureau or the phone company. Evans’ paranoia would ironically mirror that of James Coburn’s character in the film’s storyline.
 

 
The President’s Analyst hit theaters on December 21st, 1967, the same day as Mike Nichols’ The Graduate. Both films were instant hits and received critical and box office praise. Roger Ebert called The President’s Analyst one of the “funniest movies of the year.” However, two weeks later Flicker received an unsettling phone call from his agent who told him, “You’ll never work in this town again.” Apparently FBI head J. Edgar Hoover had seen the film and was outraged by 4’7” actor Walter Burke whose character name Lux (like Hoover, a popular brand of vacuum cleaner) as the head of the “FBR” was blatantly poking fun at him. J. Edgar called the White House who called Charles Bluhdorn at Paramount, who called Flicker’s agent to inform him they were pulling the movie from theaters immediately. “What the hell are you trying to do to me?” Bluhdorn said on a phone, “But we have a hit!” “What the hell do I care about your hit, I have 27 companies that do business in Washington?” A millionaire at age 30, Charlie Bluhdorn didn’t just own Paramount; he owned Gulf and Western, Madison Square Garden, and Simon & Schuster publishing. As Flicker delicately put it, “The shit hit the fan.” Overnight he was officially no longer part of Hollywood’s A-list. He and Barbara had to foreclose their home and his agent stopped returning his phone calls.

More on the life and times of Ted Flicker after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Stanley Kubrick’s brief career as a union propagandist
04.09.2015
07:56 am

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Stanley Kubrick’s career took a winding path to him becoming one of the great auteurs of cinema history. Before he became a filmmaker, his street photography for LOOK magazine (a job he got at 17 years of age) captured striking, insular moments—the kind that usually go unnoticed in public; his pictures of the NYC subway system are particularly engaging (very Edward Hopper). He made his way to film after discovering how much companies would pay for a short newsreels, and how much profit he could make by doing all the rentals and purchasing himself.

His first film was Day of the Fight, a 15-minute-long documentary about middleweight boxer Walter Cartier. Although he sold it to RKO-Pathé, he ended up $100 in the red, all said and done. Undeterred, he made a second short for RKO-Pathé, Flying Padre, a puff piece about a priest who used a plane to visit his parishioners—again, not a money-maker. His third film however, is the most obscure of his career, and the one that allowed him to raise the money for his first feature, Fear and Desire.

The Seafarers is a 30-minute, 1953 promotional film for the Seafarers International Union—a labor union amalgam representing mariners, fishermen and boatmen. The short is pure workerist propaganda (my favorite kind), and it’s very well made, for what it is. As per the genre, Kubrick films impressive ships, office bustle, cafeteria meals and even a union meeting, but looking closely, you can still see his fingerprints. In the canteen for example, you see an early incarnation of a Kubrick signature shot, as a slow dolly glides across the busy room of hungry men. Kubrick never mentioned The Seafarers in interviews, and it wasn’t even “rediscovered” until 1973 when a film scholar submitted it to the Library of Congress, but the short most certainly reveals the gestating eye of the great filmmaker.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Peter Lorre promotes ‘Smell-O-Vision’ on ‘What’s My Line?’
04.07.2015
06:43 am

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Peter Lorre almost succeeded in disguising himself when he appeared on panel show What’s My Line? in 1960. As his voice was always instantly recognizable, Lorre answered his inquisitors’ questions by a simple “hm-hm” or “uh-huh” sounds. However, one question about a new movie proved his undoing and Lorre was unmasked as “a sad-eyed, innocent villain.”

Lorre was promoting his latest movie Scent of Mystery, which starred Denholm Elliott, Beverly Bentley, Diana Dors and Paul Lukas. The film was the first “Smell-O-Vision” feature (“First they moved (1895)! Then they talked (1927)! Now they smell!”) that offered audiences the thrill of scratching ‘n’ sniffing various aromas off the back of a card at key moments during the movie’s screening.
 
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Some of the smells available for sniffing were roses, apples, wood shavings, lemon, tobacco, perfume and garlic. Apparently there was no stench of fart or glue—that would come later with John Waters’ “Odorama” feature Polyester in 1981.
 
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‘Scent of Mystery’ soundtrack CD booklet with Smell-O-Vision scratch card.
 
Lorre seemed quite pleased with the finished result, saying he did not normally promote movies but this was something rather special. Scent of Mystery was written by cult writer Gerald Kersh, who rarely wrote anything dull. The film was eventually re-released without “Smell-O-Vision” as the mundanely titled Holiday in Spain, which some reviewers thought only made the movie rather surreal:

... the film acquired a baffling, almost surreal quality, since there was no reason why, for example, a loaf of bread should be lifted from the oven and thrust into the camera for what seemed to be an unconscionably long time…

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Jobriath A.D.’: Fantastic documentary on glam rock’s greatest casualty comes to DVD
04.06.2015
10:22 am

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Jobriath A.D.
 
On April 21st, Jobriath A.D., Kieran Turner’s incredible 2012 documentary on the life of glam rock casualty and gay icon Jobriath, will be released on DVD, paired with an LP’s worth of previously unreleased recordings. One of the cool bonuses on the DVD is a short film of a 1971 Jobriath studio session with a bunch of celebrities—before they were famous—and Dangerous Minds has scored an excerpt for your viewing pleasure. But first, some background for the uninitiated.

Jobriath Boone is a fascinating and tragic figure. His story is one that seems torn from the pages of a Hollywood screenplay. Jobriath’s 1973 debut LP (released by Elektra Records) was a showcase for an intriguing talent—one that mixed classical, pop, Broadway musicals, and good ol’ rock-n-roll—but it went virtually unheard. Jobriath was preceded by incredible hype, with much of the publicity focused on his homosexuality. Jobriath was actually the first rock performer to out himself (David Bowie and Lou Reed merely danced around the issue), but there was a backlash to the hard sell of this “true fairy,” with critics and the public soundly rejecting him. After a second record, 1974’s Creatures Of The Street, also bombed, Jobriath was dropped by Elektra and promptly vanished from the music scene. A few years later, he re-invented himself as the classy lounge singer Cole Berlin, performing in New York City piano bars; he took requests, but refused to play his old songs. Just as this new persona was gaining momentum, Jobriath was diagnosed HIV positive. He died of AIDS in 1983 at age 36, his body found in the pyramid-shaped apartment he resided in atop the Chelsea Hotel.
 

 
So, this is a sad saga, yes, a cautionary tale on the perils of fame and what can happen to those that break ground before the world is ready. But it’s also an account of a talented artist lost through the cracks of time that has been waiting to be told for decades. Kieran Turner does an incredible job of finally telling his story and does so in a definitive manner. Interviews with fans and many of the people who populated Jobriath’s personal and professional universe are interspersed with photos, footage, and even a few nicely done animated sequences, resulting in a compelling and well-rounded documentary that does his legend proud. And Jobriath is a legend—you may not know it yet, but you will after watching Jobriath A.D..
 

 
The demos and rehearsal tapes for his musical Popstar make up the contents of the previously unreleased LP. Though some elements of the musical were lost, it’s a gift to be able to hear any previously unreleased Jobriath tunes, and these recordings are the most intimate to emerge to date. It’s obvious that Popstar was based on his own brush with fame, and the re-writing of the facts was likely a form of therapy for Jobriath. Unfortunately, Popstar, like his later show, Sunday Brunch, wasn’t produced.
 
Jobriath in the studio
 
The 1971 session for a Jobriath song called “As The River Flows” took place the evening of August 24th at Electric Lady Studios in New York (with producer/engineer extraordinaire Eddie Kramer behind the board). In the film of the session, Jobriath can be seen directing a chorus of singers through the paces of the track. This chorus was largely comprised of Jobriath’s friends and cast mates in the musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, including future disco queen Vicki Sue Robinson (“Turn The Beat Around”) and everyone’s soon-to-be favorite bartender, Issac, a/k/a Ted Lange from The Love Boat. But the biggest star on the horizon there that night was Richard Gere, who was brought along by Robinson. “As The River Flows” was placed on Jobriath’s 1972 demo tape, but the song remained unavailable to the general public until last year, when it was included as the title track of a compilation of Jobriath outtakes. Jobriath looks positively ecstatic in the film of the session, which, aside from a few brief segments in the documentary, hasn’t been seen since. Our preview of this charming short can be seen below.
 
Jobriath live
 
Check out the Jobriath A.D. trailer and pre-order the DVD/LP set here, or get it on Amazon.
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Behind the scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’
04.06.2015
07:02 am

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“We’ve become a nation of peeping toms,” says Thelma Ritter to James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). It’s an ironic comment in light of the events that follow—as well as offering a critique of the voyeuristic nature of cinema. Stewart plays L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies a photographer laid-up with a broken leg in his Greenwich Village apartment. He is attended to by his nurse (Ritter) and then his girlfriend Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly). Stewart spends his time spying on his neighbors watching their lives unfold. He becomes obsessed with one neighbor, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), who he soon suspects of being a murderer.

Based on the short story “It Had to Be Murder” by Cornell Woolrich, Rear Window is considered by some critics as Hitchcock’s “greatest film”—“possibly his most clever, his most ingeniously organized and poetically suggestive,” as John Fawell described it in his book Hitchcock’s Rear Window:

Rear Window offers an example of Hitchcock’s art at its best, when the batteries were really charged, when form and ideas, entertainment and art, all synchronized in a particularly harmonious whole.

Hitchcock considered Rear Window (along with Psycho) to be one of his most successful experiments in “pure cinema.”  The “possibility of doing a purely cinematic film,” was part of the reason Hitchcock had been attracted to Woolrich’s story, as he told French New Wave director François Truffaut:

You have an immobilised man looking out. That’s one part of the film. The second part shows how he reacts. This is actually the purest expression of a cinematic idea.

[Soviet film director Vsevolod] Pudovkin dealt with this, as you know. In one of his books on the art of montage, he describes an experiment by his teacher, [Lev] Kuleshov. You see a close-up of the Russian actor Ivan Mosjoukine. This is immediately followed by a shot of a dead baby. Back to Mosjoukine again and you read compassion on his face. Then you take away the dead baby and you show a plate of soup, and now, when you go back to Mosjoukine, he looks hungry. Yet, in both cases, they used the same shot of the actor; his face was exactly the same.

In the same way, let’s take a close-up of Stewart looking out of the window at a little dog that’s being lowered in a basket. Back to Stewart, who has a kindly smile. But if in place of the little dog you show a half-naked girl exercising in front of an open window, and you go back to a smiling Stewart again, this time he’s seen as a dirty old man!

Indeed Woolrich’s story suggested many of the set-pieces contained in Hitchcock’s movie—from being focussed on the central character’s point of view, to his observations of the neighbors across the way. Woolrich’s biographer, Francis M. Nevins, considered the film as “simply a translation of the story’s material in visual terms.” He also described Woolrich and Hitchcock as “soul brothers” (though author and director never met) claiming both were haunted by their Catholic upbringing and shared a sense (as Nevins puts it) of “humans as creatures trapped in the habits of their existence.”

Rear Window was shot entirely at Paramount Studios, where the set of an enormous apartment block for Stewart’s neighbors was built that (as Truffaut described it) offered “intentionally or not… an image of the world.”  Hitchcock agreed:

It shows every kind of human behaviour—a real index of individual behaviour. The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What we see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.

This fine selection of photographs shows Hitchcock on set directing James Stewart and Grace Kelly in one of cinema’s greatest voyeuristic thrillers Rear Window.
 
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More behind-the-scenes photos from ‘Rear Window,’ after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Bennett’ lets off some steam about his ‘Commando’ character’s sexuality: A chat with Vernon Wells
04.06.2015
05:56 am

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Mark Lester’s 1985 film Commando, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, is arguably the greatest action film of the ‘80s—or more arguably “the greatest film of all time,” depending on how many drinks you’ve had.

Commando brought us one of the most unusual villains in action cinema, “Bennett,” played by ultimate ‘80s bad guy, Vernon Wells, who was previously known for his portrayal of “Wez” in The Road Warrior and “Lord General” in Weird Science.
 

The transition from playing “Wez” to playing “Lord General” was quite a stretch.
 

The Bennett character is Wells’ most notorious role, due to the fact that he seemed such an improbable foil for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “John Matrix.” Any discussion of Commando usually leads to a discussion of Bennett’s look, which was described by Andy McDermott in Hot Dog Magazine as “Freddie Mercury Casual.”

His silver mesh tank top, worn with a belt over, black leather pants, bike chain necklace and pornstar mustache give him more of the appearance of a Tom of Finland character than your typical action antagonist.
 

Commando costuming director’s inspiration for Bennett’s look?
 

Perhaps it’s the character’s visual presentation, or something more, that has caused speculation for 30 years over Bennett’s sexual orientation—whether or not he was homosexual, and whether or not he was secretly in love with John Matrix.

IMDB devotes an entire section of their Commando FAQ to an examination of Bennett’s sexuality. Much of this discussion is fueled by McDermott’s Hot Dog article:

McDermott goes on to argue that whilst Bennett always calls Matrix by his first name, suggesting affection and familiarity, Matrix always calls Bennett by his surname, suggesting distance. This leads him to hypothesize that perhaps Bennett was kicked out of the unit by Matrix, because Matrix discovered that Bennett had become sexually attracted to him; “all he wanted was a little love, and instead he got fired. No wonder he’s mad.” McDermott also attaches great metaphorical significance to Matrix’ line at the end of the film, “Put the knife in me. Look me in the eye and see what’s going on in there when you turn it. Don’t deprive yourself of some pleasure. C’mon, Bennett. Let’s party.” The image of one man putting something in another man and then turning it, McDermott argues, has obvious homosexual connotations. He also points out the significance of the fact that Matrix’s knife is bigger than Bennett’s, thus causing “knife envy” in Bennett, prompting him to attack his “love/hate object”. McDermott also comments on the irony inherent in the fact that although Bennett seemed to be in love with Matrix (and presumably wanted to have sex with him), it is Matrix who penetrates Bennett at the end of the film, albeit with a steel pole in the chest. Which probably wasn’t what Bennett had in mind.

 

“What’s wrong, Bennett? Can’t take the pressure?”
 
McDermott’s article sums up the character’s vibe thusly:

Bennett is a walking, talking, stereotypical embodiment of the macho, puritanical Reagan era’s utter terror of homosexuality, gripped with the fear that the slightest chink in the masculine armor will instantly result in a trip to the YMCA and a purchase of a pair of chaps and a tube of KY jelly.

Commando director Mark Lester, however, flatly denies that Bennett is gay, stating in the DVD commentary:

I don’t know what people are saying when they say that to me. He seems to me like the most macho soldier or person you could think of.


Others who worked on the film have suggested that they aren’t so sure. In the 2007 DVD featurette, “Commando: Let Off Some Steam,” screenwriter Steven E. de Souza mentions that “the wardrobe on Vernon Wells has led to a lot of conjecture that Vernon had a crush on Arnold’s character,” and Commando co-star Rae Dawn Chong is upfront about the homosexual undercurrent:

They’re like lovers. The outfit they had on him, I mean, HELLO, he looks like one of the Village People. Arnold is the ideal, and you know, if you can’t be it and can’t love it, you want to kill it. That really confusing sexuality comes through and it manifests in violence.

 

 
The Wookie Wednesday blog chimes in on the debate:

There’s plenty to point to that suggests that Bennett and Matrix had a relationship deeper than friendship. For example, this line: “I really love listening to your little pissant soldiers trying to talk tough. They make me laugh. If Matrix was here, he’d laugh too.” The part of the quote in bold is delivered by Bennett with a sigh, as if he was a lovesick teenager.

In the film’s climax, Bennett warns Matrix: “I’m not going to shoot you between the eyes, I’m going to shoot you between the balls!” Is it reading too much in to think that Bennett may have wanted to destroy the one part of Matrix’s anatomy he was most upset over being denied?
 

“I’m going to shoot you between the balls!”
 
We recently had a chance to sit down with Vernon Wells, Bennett himself, and ask some burning questions about his Commando character.

Wells tells us that he was originally rejected for the role, but was called back in from Australia, six weeks into Commando production, as a replacement. He further explains that, with the production being under-the-gun, he was not afforded a proper costume fitting and that his costume was a bit small for him. We’re not sure that that explains the leather daddy look, but it might explain why he appears a bit out of shape—the clothes were ill-fitting!

On the topic of being in shape, we noted that many have suggested Wells seemed a bit mis-matched against the massive Schwarzenegger, an insinuation which Wells quickly dashed, claiming he was “perfectly matched” against his opponent. He relates a story about the beginning of Commando shooting where he was holding back in rehearsals and Schwarzenegger suggested to producer, Joel Silver, that Wells was “a bit of a wuss” and that he was no good for the character; but when the cameras rolled, Wells gave a performance so maniacal, stating “I was virtually up his butt with this knife,” that Schwarzenegger recanted, telling Silver, “nevah give him a real knife!”
 

“The first scene I did was where I had him tied to the table and had the knife to his throat, telling him what I wanted to do to him… and we did the scene and I was virtually up his butt with this knife…”
 
We asked Wells if Bennett had a first name, because THAT’s a thing we’ve always wanted to know: “I’m sure he did but nobody ever told me.”

Curious about character motivations, we asked what the motivation was behind Bennett’s wardrobe. Wells diplomatically replied that Bennett “liked to be different” and was an “individual” and his dress reflected that. When asked if Bennett may have been a Freddie Mercury fan, Wells speculated that Mercury was looking down on Bennett, shaking his head and saying “oh my God.”
 
Continues after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Jimmy Cagney’s poetry: From bad to verse
04.03.2015
07:43 am

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When I was a child, summer holidays meant Jimmy Cagney movies on TV: White Heat, The Public Enemy, G-Men, Each Dawn I Die, Angels With Dirty Faces and so on. Cagney never looked like he was acting, he became whatever character he played, which explains why he was once asked, “Well, did you turn yella that time you went to da electric chair?”

Orson Welles once told chat show host Michael Parkinson that he thought Cagney was “maybe the greatest actor who ever appeared in front of a camera.” I tend to agree with this—as no doubt did Marlon Brando and Stanley Kubrick who were both major fans of the brilliant, diminutive Irish-American.

Like many of the characters he played, Cagney was tough. He was born into a poor working class family in New York’s Lower East Side in 1899. He worked hard, held down several jobs, and was always ready with his fists should the need arise. His fighting skills were such that family, friends and neighbors came to Jimmy to knock out any troublemaker. But Cagney was also disciplined and assiduous. He was a vaudevillian, a song and dance man first and foremost, who learnt his trade working up through chorus lines and repertory companies before being spotted by Al Jolson in a play with Joan Blondell and cast in a movie Sinners’ Holiday. Cagney went to Hollywood for three weeks’ work, but ended with a legendary career that lasted over 31 years.
 
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I’ve been reading his autobiography Cagney By Cagney (which I recommend) and in amongst his tales of career, family, early left wing politics—he was considered a communist because of his support of the unions, and was the target of a planned Mafia hit until actor and friend George Raft put a stop to it, though he switched allegiances to Reagan in the 1980s—his deep love of the country and concern for the environment and his fine talent for anecdote, Cagney revealed his liking for writing poetry. To be fair, some of it is okay—funny, amusing, enjoyable—but then there are those poems—like the one on the passing of friend Clark Gable—that maybe should have stayed in the bottom drawer:

The King, long bled, is newly dead.
Uneasily wore his crown, ‘tis said;
Quite naturally, since it was made of lead;
On those who gathered about his throne,
Y-clept Mayer, Mannix, Katz, and Cohn
He spat contempt in generous doses,
But whatever he gave, they made their own.

Unhappy man, he chose seclusion,
To the unremitting crass intrusion
Of John and Jane whose names meant dough
To Louie, Eddie, Sam, and Joe.

This is a small slap to the Hollywood producers “who controlled his destinies.” Cagney hated the exploitative nature of the Hollywood system.
 
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Cagney began writing in his Broadway days in the 1920s—“a habit triggered by reading Stephen Vincent Benet’s magnificent John Brown’s Body.” He was also influenced by William Blake and Robert Burns, who gave “food for thought” for when he tired of Hollywood and Hugh Kingsmill’s Anthology of Invective and Abuse, which inspired his putdown of a Tinsel Town ass-kisser:

Where once were vertebrae is now a tangle,
From constant kissing at an awkward angle.

Throughout his autobiography, Cagney dipped into one of poems whenever he felt like it. Though he claimed few of his verses were ever written down, he had “quite a number stored in [his] memory.” These ranged from:

A pheasant called in a distant thicket,
And lovingly my old friend said,
“I hear you, I hear you.”
And he loved that bird, till he gunned him dead.

To:

A lady spider met a fella
And made all haste to date him;
She loved him with a love sublime,
Up to and including—
The time, when in ecstasy,
She ate him.

Of course Cagney was just enjoying himself—relishing the pleasure of words. But his poetry often dealt with serious issues, like the poem he sent to the Irish Times under the pseudonym Harley Quinn on the damage industry was doing to the environment:

You want to see the Shannon like the Hudson
Or the Liffey just as filthy as the Seine?
Bring in the arrogant asses
And their garbage and their gasses—
The pollutants plunging poison down each drain:
Killing everything that’s living
For which nature’s unforgiving,
And the punishment will certainly fit the crime.
Where man, the creeping cancer,
Will have to make the final answer
As he smothers ‘neath his self-created slime.

 
More on Jimmy Cagney and his poetry, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Starring William S. Burroughs as Dr. Benway
04.01.2015
10:24 am

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This remarkable footage comes from Howard Brookner’s Burroughs: The Movie from 1983. In this scene, two modes of address are skillfully intercut, Burroughs himself reading the hospital passage from early in Naked Lunch, which becomes the voiceover for an actual filmed enactment of the same scene, starting Burroughs as his memorable creation Dr. Benway, described by one observer as “the high priest of manic irrationality.”

Warhol superstar Jackie Curtis is tasked with embodying the nurse, a task she does admirably—the mind practically invents a cigarette for her to puff on between lines, so world-weary and seen-it-all is her nurse. I couldn’t figure out the name of the fellow playing Dr. Limpf. Of course, Roy Scheider played Dr. Benway in David Cronenberg’s 1991 adaptation of the book.

Jim Jarmusch and Tom DiCillo, who together did so much to define American independent film in the 1980s, both worked on Burroughs: The Movie. Jarmusch’s masterpiece Stranger Than Paradise came out a year later, of course.

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Mind-bogglingly awesome sketches for Jodorowsky’s ‘Dune’—done in his own hand?
03.30.2015
11:16 am

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John Coulthart at his blog {feuilleton} has discovered an absolutely marvelous find that is currently on eBay. There is an auction that ends in a few days with the intriguing title “Alejandro Jodorowsky’s DUNE Script EARLY DRAFT? Giger ILLUSTRATED Original Art.”

Yes, that’s right. It appears to be a full script for Alejandro Jodorowsky‘s Dune, however, “It is NOT the ‘phone book size’ script as seen in the documentary ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune,’ but appears to be an earlier/shorter version. There are about 300 pages in total, including illustrations.” At present there have been 15 bids on the script, and the price is at $710.

For those who don’t know, in the 1970s there was a concerted effort to bring to the screen an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi mega-bestseller Dune. In 1984, of course, an adaptation by David Lynch was released; while it’s a remarkable piece of work, that version is widely seen as a failure. In 2013 Frank Pavich’s movie Jodorowsky’s Dune documented the abortive first attempt to make the movie.

Here’s the cover of the script, as well as the title page:
 

 

 
Despite the title of the auction, the description indicates that the images “do NOT appear to be by Jean Giraud/Moebius, or Giger, but by an unknown artist.” Certainly at a glance they seem completely dissimilar from all of Giger‘s known output; I am a little less certain in the case of Moebius, but probably more dissimilar than similar. Coulthart convincingly suggests that the drawings are by Jodorowsky himself (interestingly, the eBay seller does not venture a guess), pointing to his 1967 comic Fabulas Panicas. Here’s Coulthart:
 

No artist is credited but the naive style rules out both Moebius and HR Giger (who arrived late to the project in any case). Best bet is either Jodorowsky himself—in 1967 he was writing and illustrating a comic strip, Fabulas Panicas—or Jodorowsky’s colleague from the Panic Movement days, Roland Topor. In the early 70s Topor was working with René Laloux on the animated SF film Fantastic Planet.

Many of the conceptions differ radically from the more graceful designs that Moebius produced later on. Also of note are details such as the anal entrance to the Emperor’s throne room, a Harkonnen orgy and an insemination scene viewed from inside Jessica’s vagina. By the time Giger joined the production team the instruction was not to create anything too erotic or adult since the film needed to reach a large audience.

 
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Super 8 ‘digest’ versions of Frankenstein, Dracula & Wolfman movies, the home theatre of the 1960s
03.30.2015
06:10 am

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In the 1960s, Castle Films released a series of Super 8 “digest” versions of Universal horror classics such as Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman. Each Castle digest only lasted around about four to ten minutes but each movie was carefully and expertly edited to keep the best of the action without losing out on too much of the storyline. They were the original “trash compactor” or supercut videos in a sense, distilling the “essence” of the films to the barest bones. I mean, who needs 9/10ths of most movies, anyway? Too much acting!

Castle Films started in 1924 distributing 16mm newsreels, documentaries, and sports films primarily to schools. The company was founded by Eugene W. Castle with an investment of $10,000. By 1936, the company started selling their films as home entertainment. By the late 1940s, Castle had obtained rights to produce “Soundies”—short one reelers of performances of three or four musical numbers. The company then moved from music to comedy, editing and producing highlight packages of Abbott and Costello, W. C. Fields and cartoons like Woody Woodpecker.
 
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The shift to Universal classic horror films started when Castle released a Super 8 digest of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This digest film’s success led to the release of a whole back catalog of Universal movies featuring monsters ranging from Frankenstein to the Creature. Eugene Castle died in 1960, so never saw the great success Castle Super 8 digest films had during the 1960s and 1970s, when they were advertised in countless comic books, nostalgia magazines and, of course, the pages of Forrest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland.
 

The Return of Frankenstein
 
Many more Castle Super 8 horror films with Karloff, Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
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