Tuesday, July 29, 2014

     As some of you may be aware, I've been away from the helm for a bit. Life happens and All That Jazz. But, sooner or later, like Bob Fosse the eternal showman said in his late masterwork: "It's showtime, folks!"

I've still been watching and revisiting some favorite films (most recently the late, great Paul Mazursky's underrated tear-fest Harry and Tonto, Francis Ford Coppola's Valentine to the S. E. Hinton novel The Outsiders on Blu-ray and Paolo Sorrentino's awe-inspiring The Great Beauty -- which I hope to write about soon in great detail); reading more than ever (Jane Smiley's Charles Dickens: A Life, Robert Trachtenberg's On Cukor and John Masefield's The Box of Delights among others); writing this and that (songs, poems and various marginalia); and collecting many original albums including Munch conducting Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, Dusty Springfield's seemingly elusive Dusty in Memphis, Aretha's Lady Soul in glorious mono and Bobbie Gentry's seminal Ode to Billie Joe

It's been a profitable period of hibernation for me more than anything. Making new friends is usually something I abstain from. However, I seem to be fairly good at it. I was recently reminded of who my real friends and partners in crime are. Yes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

This brings me to the correspondent you are about to read now -- an old friend, muse, mentor and fellow lover of all things truthful and exquisite who just happened to migrate South for the Winter one year and decided to stay. The piece she graciously chose to send back North is about another one of those perennially modish gems that seemed to fall through the cracks for some inexplicable reason. Thank God the '80s weren't a total blur to all of us...

Timeless Angst and the Struggle of Desire: 1984’s Reckless 

by Connie Rice

     A bolt of lightning recently took out my wifi, and because I don’t subscribe to cable, that act of nature also took out all my streaming television choices as well.  So I was inspired to connect my barely functioning VCR to my big beautiful flat screen and watch a few of my personal favorites on tape. 

Whenever I am relegated to VHS for any reason, as much as I would like to say I take a long time making my selection from my odd collection of classics (Apocalypse Now, Hardware, The Hunger, Breaking the Waves, Animal House, etc.), a difficult choice is actually never the case.  That’s because I have a copy of the amazing yet obscure teenage love story released in 1984 called simply: Reckless. 

To anyone reading this, I would be surprised if even five percent of you are aware of this film.  It didn’t win any awards, it has never been remade, and it took an incredibly long time to be released on DVD.  One of the more notable facts about this movie is that it starred the then unknown Aidan Quinn and not very well known at the time Daryl Hannah in the starring roles.

And they are both very, very hot. 

But I digress.  Also worth a mention is the soundtrack of that time period’s most perfect songs, which now would be considered “alternative” but back then were the videos being played on another new star rising on the horizon, MTV. Think “The One Thing” by INXS and “Kids in America” by Kim Wilde, not to mention the new wave hook up anthem, “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void.

The latter is the song that plays during the seminal scene of the entire movie, a hypnotic yet brief dance between the main characters, Johnny and Tracy, filmed in a Scorsese style circular spin at the high school homecoming.  The atmosphere is shadowy and the colors of the scene are murky shades of dark, but for the stunning red of Tracy’s dress.

He is an outlier, a misfit with a destructive streak, and she is the popular rich girl.  Her shy interest in him and his stark attraction to her meld rhythmically to become the basis for the rest of Reckless, in just two and a half minutes of punk rock dancing to lyrics that explain the situation with unabashed clarity: I might like you better if we slept together…

Reckless is an interesting piece of art because although it was created in an era that is so easily mocked for its dated style (big hair anyone?), somehow the film escaped the curse of being stuck in another time.  Johnny and Tracy could be teenagers today, because their angst is timeless and the act of falling in love and struggling through a desire that cripples your sensibilities has no set boundary.

We’ve all been there, in other words.

And Reckless brings us right back to that element of danger, of the unknown that someone like Johnny brings to the table.  The romance maintains a level of eroticism that is incredibly real, with one interaction comprised of a smoldering red lit encounter that may be one of the best sex scenes in cinema. You are left with the undeniable fact that Johnny is nothing if not hella good in bed. 

So the thunderstorm comes and the wireless is fried and I’m watching what is possibly my favorite film of all time blown up big on my modern day TV screen and I make a startling realization that bums me out immediately: so much of Johnny’s behavior is totally unacceptable by today’s standards of how a woman should be treated by a man.

Case in point: there are points in the film where our ultra rebellious hero engages in stalking behavior towards Tracy, as well as a scene where he forcefully enters her home after being told by her to go away.  Most disturbing of all is when Johnny physically assaults her (drawing blood even) when she disagrees with his plan to run away together.

But Johnny is misunderstood right?  His traumatic upbringing and recent life events have justifiably taken away his self control and given him a pass to be a little more on the wild side than the rest of us, a big part of his allure…or is he really just a fucked up narcissistic sociopathic abuser?  I’ll let you be the judge.    

Quite honestly, I was surprised when I saw Reckless with such a different perspective than I have had for all these blissfully ignorant years of viewing.  I would venture to chalk it up to my own recent life experiences, or maybe I was just in a bad mood because my fucking wifi was down.  But I’m not going to lie: I don’t think it would be possible to live happily ever after with Johnny, or any man like him.

That being said, I will never stop watching Reckless and I’m going to continue to study its details and its nuances, because I’m an artist and that’s what we do.  We think too much, we look too hard, we escape reality too willingly.  Johnny and Tracy and their freight train collision at the high school dance represent something so fleeting and so beautiful in this life of imperfection and loss, an intoxication that some of us chase our whole lives.
As for whether loving this film is wrong, one must remember the title of it after all: it’s called Reckless, and that’s exactly what it is.  Reckless means the sex isn’t safe, motorcycles are ridden without helmets during snowstorms, deliberate fires are set, the characters get perilously close to dangerous cliffs, and lovers commit acts of violence.  But it’s only just a movie anyway – not a guide for how to live your life.  Right?   
Connie Rice is still beta testing her music writing site Stereogenic.com and is working on a collection of very dark short stories that may actually see the light of day at some point.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

rant of the day

     It's a forgone conclusion for most Gen-Xers that everyone born after 1977 has seen the single most important movie that defines the mythology of their lives -- Star Wars (1977).

This is just not the case. In fact, there seems to be throngs of people walking the Earth at this very moment who only regard the original film and its subsequent franchise with nothing more than a vague notion.

Obviously, there isn't a person alive on this planet (at least in the Western hemisphere) who hasn't heard of it, but ask someone uninitiated about certain details and you'll quickly find yourself in self-imposed nerdville in less than twelve parsecs.

Ever since The Walt Disney Company purchased Lucasfilm for 4 billion dollars in early 2013, a new hope quickly began circulating amongst die hard Star Wars purists that the original trilogy (1977 - 1983) may finally see the light of day in all its high definition glory.

above left: Joseph Campbell; above right: Akira Kurosawa

Long before the words: "Episode IV" and "A New Hope" were added to the opening crawl and the term "Special Editions" became derogatory, there was a movie that mined the philosophical teachings of Joseph Campbell and the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa called simply Star Wars. Aside from a few highly sought after Japanese LaserDiscs (ported over and relegated to bonus discs on one official U.S. DVD release), the film and it's two classic sequels in their theatrical forms have never been appropriately restored.

George Lucas himself has vehemently stuck to an obviously false claim that the original elements of his space saga were in such bad shape that they didn't warrant the jump to hyper space in terms of an anamorphic DVD or Blu-ray release. We have all the Essanay and Mutual Chaplin shorts (dating back to 1914) beautifully preserved (and soon to be released on Blu-ray) but nobody sat the original film cans of Star Wars in a cool, dry place?

The skewed logic seemed to be that with advancements in technology, more changes were possible and inevitable. Imagine every two or three years a new release of Casablanca (1942) or Gone with the Wind (1939) featuring new characters, or different dialog and settings ad nauseam. Ted Turner was very nearly lynched for sacrilegiously colorizing Casablanca (among other timeless classics) in the late '80s. Thankfully, those abominations are mostly extinct today.

When the original Star Wars trilogy was finally released on the Blu-ray format in the late Summer of 2011, it was naturally these never-ceasing augmented versions with even new ponderous tinkerings (like Alec Guinness' weird churdle as he scares off the Sand People and the total removal of at least two original actors from very integral scenes). Still, for most of us, it was the reason we bought into the high definition craze in the first place. Star Wars is what Blu-ray players and flatscreen panels were made for. Right?

Lucas seemed adamant in denying his most sincere fans what they pleaded for all along -- unaltered versions of the films they grew up quoting and reliving almost every day to some degree, in the best picture and sound quality possible.

Lucas the pathological
He even went as far as to childishly mock his own devotees and gentle critics by brandishing a satirical "Han Shot First" t-shirt; designed only to remind George that people still remember the original versions he kept needlessly modifying (defending his dubious and reprehensible actions by stating he always intended them to look and sound that way) all along.

For anyone unfamiliar, Han shot Greedo first in the Mos Eisley Cantina, but this was inexplicably altered in later versions on home video to make Han (the roguish space pirate) seem less like a...well, roguish space pirate.

Like a petulant child who had been denied certain freedoms by the studio, Lucas probably felt that once his franchise was an unprecedented success, it was his sole right to do with it whatever he pleased. Strangely, in an act of transference, his own fans replaced those interfering studio heads he battled not so long ago, and he'd be damned if he ever gave into anyone else's creative interference (or insistence) ever again.

It was apparent that Lucas was suffering from some form of severe pathological behavior. A filthy rich pathological no less who enjoyed telling the people who made him rich to take a hike. After all, George was simply asserting his place as lord of the manor, and reminding everyone who continued to purchase his films over and over with each new release on every format (scraps from the master's table) that they were his commoners.

Now it would appear that Disney may have indefinite plans to give nerds across the galaxy what they never dreamed possible. Star Wars, the original theatrical versions, on Blu-ray. Unaltered.

To that, I only have this final thought to say...


Dan Dorman

PS: George...kiss my grits.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

even cowgirls get the blues

As the dog days of Summer are almost upon us, here's a tribute to some of my favorite gun totin' gals from classic Westerns.

in no particular order:

Barbara Stanwyck in The Furies (1950) and The Maverick Queen (1956)

Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954)

Raquel Welch in Bandolero! (1968) and Hannie Caulder (1971)

Betty Hutton in Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Carla Balenda in Outlaw Women (1952)

Joan Leslie and Audrey Totter in Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

Ella Raines in Tall in the Saddle (1944)

Joan Bennett in The Texans (1938)

Kim Darby in True Grit (1969)

Jayne Mansfield in The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958)

Dorothy Malone studio publicity still circa 1948

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory (1949) and Fort Dobbs (1958)

Gene Tierney in Belle Starr (1941)

Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky (1948)

Rosalba Neri in Johnny Yuma (1966)

Rosanna Schiaffino and Patty Shepard in The Man Called Noon (1973)

Brigitte Bardot in Shalako (1968)

Claudia Cardinale and Brigitte Bardot in The Legend of Frenchie King (1971)

Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953)

Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (1946)

Jane Russell in The Outlaw (1943) and The Paleface (1948)

Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again (1939)

Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou (1965)

Grace Kelly in High Noon (1952)

Friday, May 16, 2014

time for a rant

     It's a well known fact that every generation thinks it's greater than the one before or after it (their parents and kids generations). This is usually accomplished by a childish act called generational bashing. The current record holders for this petty practice are the baby boomers, or the people born post-WWII through the early '60s.

This is the generation that produced not only Steve Jobs but also Jimi Hendrix (as they are so fond of reminding everyone) while branding their descendants "generation x" and chastising them for never leaving the nest or family basement. Of course, what they always conveniently forget to mention is that their esteemed generation made it virtually impossible for a single young person to survive on their own in this Country having a car, dwelling and gargantuan student loan debt.

The boomers were able to stay in college for eight years while working part time as a waitress or shop boy and still make it on their own; the generation before theirs had yet to run the economy into the ground and destroy the middle class. Then the boomers told their spawn how awful it is out there in the real world (they should know) and encouraged them to work as baristas despite having earned that degree in art history.

Funny isn't it? The boomers will also tell you that their generation was directly responsible for the new direction films began to take in Hollywood toward the end of the '60s and into the '70s (arguably the greatest decade for mainstream American film). Movies like The Graduate, 2001: A Space Odyssey and MASH were all products of their collective brilliance.

Hmmm. Well, let's look at those three revolutionary films for just a moment. The Graduate (1967) was written by Buck Henry (born 1930) and directed by Mike Nichols (born 1931). 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) was co-written and directed by Stanley Kubrick (born 1928). MASH (1970) was directed by Robert Altman (born 1925).

Those films may be products of the boomer era, but they were not conceived by baby boomers. 

Come to think of it, Hendrix was born in 1942, just before the Second World War ended. Exactly how are these cultural pioneers baby boomers again? When listing their various accomplishments, they also tend to throw in the whole Civil Rights Movement as well. Most of them were 2 at the time.

Ah, it's nice to see that good ol' cognitive distortion isn't just a byproduct of all the antibiotics and antidepressants the boomer generation is responsible for doling out. It's true, by the way, that their parents and their parent's parents (the "Greatest Generation" and the babies of the depression) did have it harder. And for the most part, they were harder on them as a result.

Still, it was the boomers who virtually created this culture of materialism that we find ourselves drowning in today. It's the boomers who crippled the very thought of our basic institutions (Wall Street; government) and let the environment go to shit. I doubt the real reason is because they simply refused to grow up (Peter Pan syndrome).

I guess as long as we have Purple Haze to jam to and our iPhones to fart with as we're stuck in rush hour traffic due to urban sprawl and that new casino being built next to the gym & racquet club, everything is gonna work out fine in the end.

If the boomers have taught me anything it's that life, after all, is a state of mind.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

top five dads in bad movies

Father's Day is exactly one month away. This is probably one of the more subjective lists I've done recently, though all lists are based customarily on opinion. These movie dads neither have to be good nor bad (like my recent movie mom lists here and here) nor from the '80s, they only have to be a dad in a bad movie to qualify. Again, I'd like to apologize in advance if one of these flicks happens to be a favorite of your own (though I wouldn't want to hang out with you if that were the case...only kidding) as I personally get a kick out of watching a flick that doesn't quite know how awful it really is.

no. 5
John Ritter as Ben Healy in Problem Child (1990) and Problem Child 2 (1991)

John Ritter was truly an underrated actor. His unexpectedly genuine performance in Sling Blade (1996) was about as perfect as it gets. I came of age watching his Jack Tripper on TVs Three's Company. You can imagine my surprise (and chagrin) when the Problem Child fiascoes finally rolled around. I'm not sure what to say about these movies. Of course they aren't high art, but they sort of make the Martin Short comedy Clifford (1994) when Short played an actual 10-year-old boy seem like something out of Jean Renoir's oeuvre. I will say this, they are perfectly bad, and Ritter does play a dad in both of them. Two requirements for this list. Ritter played a dad in another '90s comedy, Stay Tuned (1992), but unlike this terrible twosome, that film is actually watchable for me, even with the Salt-n-Pepa musical vignette. What can I say? I have my standards.

no. 4
Ted Danson as Raymond "Ray" Gleason in Getting Even with Dad (1994)

By 1994, Macauley Culkin's cuteness factor had already worn off like a chunk of corroded feces. Let's face it, it was probably over and done by the end credits of Uncle Buck (1989). I'm not going to hate on Culkin. I think he's taken his place as this generations Shirley Temple in stride, and thankfully kept himself out of the pop culture spotlight since his post-teen years (in addition to surviving sleepovers at Neverland Ranch). Ted Danson on the other hand just won't go away. In fact, aside from playing a very funny version of himself as a recurring character on the very funny Curb Your Enthusiasm series (and a great run on HBO's Bored to Death) he just isn't capable of being taken seriously. Here he tried to play a New Yawk-accented wiseguy ex-con with a faux ponytail. Yeah. That's about as believable as Michael J. Fox playing a Serbian gangster. Okay, now that would be something worth sitting through.

no. 3 (tie)
Charles Grodin as George Newton in Beethoven (1992) and Beethoven's 2nd (1993)
Judge Reinhold as Richard Newton in Beethoven's 3rd (2000) and Beethoven's 4th (2001)

With currently more entries than the Rocky franchise, the Beethoven films (with their cutesy insistence on emulating classical music compositions: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, ad nauseam) are to family dog movies what Michael Bay is to the science fiction genre; in a word...pants. Grodin held on for two exasperating paychecks and was replaced by Judge Reinhold (they play brothers), who really hasn't done anything of actual value since Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). It's as if we weren't supposed to notice that they switched dads midstream. I'm not sure who is worse and in which chapter. To be perfectly honest, I don't think I've ever managed to sit through an entire one from start to finish. Not because I don't like kids movies (Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3: Dog Days is really enjoyable, and Steve Zahn plays a great movie dad in that series) but because once they get going I'd much rather watch a Benji movie instead.

no. 2
Tim Allen as Luther Krank in Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

A total pile of crap. It's like the characters don't even live in the same dimension as the rest of us. Jamie Lee Curtis goes mondo bizarro when she finds out her daughter is coming home from college along with some ultra-tanned boy toy she plans to marry. Tim Allen basically plays the same role he plays in every other bad movie he's ever starred in except he's probably the most sympathetic character here; mainly because he's sick and tired of the gregarious effort his psychotic neighbors put into the holidays. There's even a kindly old neighbor suffering from Cancer. To put it another way, this film is about as entertaining as watching a sick, elderly woman die. The movie isn't just bad, it's egregious. I've sat through A LOT of bad Christmas movies in recent years (Surviving Christmas; Deck the Halls) but this one takes the fruit cake.

no. 1
Chevy Chase as Norman Robberson in Cops & Robbersons (1994), as Jack Sturgess in Man of the House (1995) and as Clark Griswold in Vegas Vacation (1997)

A triple threat. Let me just begin by saying that I can always watch Cops & Robbersons. It's a guilty pleasure for me. For starters, it has Jack Palance in a late starring role, so it can't be all bad. I actually hadn't given up on Chase yet either, even though by the mid '90s it was all steadily going downhill. The National Lampoon's Vacation films are an institution, but Vegas was way beneath their collective talents. That brings me to Man of the House. Essentially a vehicle for the up and coming child star of the TV show Home Improvement, Johnathan Taylor Thomas (or JTT to some), the film is an endurance trial to say the least. Chase actually looks like he's in physical pain throughout most of it. The budding teen idol has about all the charm and requisite acting skills of a baked potato, and Chase is morbidly unfunny as a result. This film was purely a marketing ploy aimed at preteen JTT fans. Okay, so The Partridge Family was too in its own day (taking advantage of David Cassidy mania), but at least Reuben Kincaid was actually funny.

honorable mentions:

the fathers of The Twilight Saga

Twilight had lotsa dads. Twilight is lotsa bad.

Steve Martin in ANY remake of a beloved family comedy

Steve Martin always excels at playing the lovable weirdo (Roxanne) or wacky guy (The Jerk) but sucks at playing the schmaltzy father. I know Father of the Bride (1991) has its fans, but Martin is no Spencer Tracy. And Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (2005) are also gratuitous remakes. I prefer my Martin with a banjo, or slightly nefarious, like in Little Shop of Horrors (1986) and The Spanish Prisoner (1997).