Saturday, August 08, 2009

Movie stuff

Some interesting items on line about movies the last few days:

In New York magazine critic David Edelstein offers a complex rather than sentimental look at John Hughes' work, one I agree with. Almost thirty years ago when I wrote my two serio-comic novels about alcoholic film reviewer Tobin Edelstein was decent enough to let me ask him questions about his process as a reviewer, where did he see screenings etc. I've followed him since then. He's in the New Yorker most issues and is well worth reading.

"I was in my early twenties when Sixteen Candles opened, and I’ve always wondered if my adolescence would have been different somehow if I’d seen The Breakfast Club as a young nerd instead of one whose personality was already—for better or worse—formed. Instead, I often found his films difficult to watch. I didn’t buy the relationships, and I couldn’t get past the self-pity and anger.


"The emotional hook of The Breakfast Club—and so much of Hughes’s work—was the indifference, incomprehension, and cruelty of parents and other grown-ups. That was the point of connection among those disparate kids, what allowed them to look beyond their superficial differences and unite against a hateful teacher, against all the adults in their lives. There were one or two exceptions to the Grown-Ups Are Soul Killers rule, like the hangdog working class single dad Harry Dean Stanton in Pretty in Pink. But he was an outsider himself, and impotent; he couldn’t begin to help his daughter (Molly Ringwald) fit in.

"At the height of his success, Hughes got strange, and stories abound of his unpleasantness. (I interviewed him once for a Rolling Stone story I decided not to write and found him neither nasty nor nice—not indifferent, just … neutral.) Films like Planes, Trains & Automobiles boasted child-men and homosexual panic. The movie of Hughes’s that haunts me is Uncle Buck, which looked in the ads like a broad comedy about the invasion of a slob-ola relative (John Candy) and turned out to be a mournful, minor-key quasi comedy against a background of illness and death in Chicago at its wintriest. Here was an opposite perspective: Kids left to their own devices needed a grown-up to set rules."

For the rest go here:

WILLIAM LUSTIG------------------------

William Lustig is best known as writer-director of such down market Bs as Maniac Cop and its sequels. I've always liked his movies and have to admit that a few of them scare the hell out of me. The Village Voice published the following article which I've excerpted here:

Wlliam Lustig's 'Buried Treasures' at Anthology
Presenting a '70s hit list where the results aren't pretty
By Nick Pinkerton
Tuesday, August 4th 2009 at 2:46pm
William Lustig Presents: The '70s Buried Treasures
August 7 through 14, Anthology Film Archives

"Also very present is the psychic blowback from Southeast Asia. Co-scenarist Paul Schrader translated Taxi Driver to Tex-Mex with 1977's Rolling Thunder, in which Major Charles Rane (William Devane, impenetrable behind aviator shades) touches down in San Antone, after 2,555 days as a POW, to a wet-blanket countrypolitan theme song, a wife who didn't wait, and a USA that can't manufacture convertibles. It's a boon when some psychopathic home invaders give his life fresh purpose—tracking and killing, with bleary honky-tonk angel Linda Haynes and a bullnecked young Tommy Lee Jones, still looking fit to play tackle.


"Performances are made crystalline through a sixth sense for camera placement and curt cutting from director John Flynn, whose 2007 passing was little noted, though his no-BS way of laying down a story is a rare commodity in any era.
If the genre man, per shopworn cliché, is a good utility ballplayer, Flynn was Rance Mulliniks. His 1973 The Outfit, which comes no closer to sentiment than communion over a thermos lid of coffee, is Best in Show (this hard, efficient director is the perfect adapter for the hard, efficient "Parker" books by Donald Westlake—another recent R.I.P.): Pridefully taciturn Robert Duvall has a gauntlet to run to exact revenge on kingpin Robert Ryan, but gets on top of every situation with bright-eyed singlemindedness. An ineffable gallery of supporters includes Karen Black, Sheree North, Elisha Cook Jr., Timothy Carey, two ex-heavyweights (Archie Moore and Roland La Starza), and slow-grinnin' bruiser Joe Don Baker. Baker's leading-man viability faltered with the Southern drive-ins, when the Dairy Queen demographic got bumped straight-to-video, but he sure sells the small-town detail of Richard Compton's long-fuse explosive Welcome Home, Soldier Boys, playing a country buck back from Vietnam distinctly failing to readapt to stateside living ("Gonna be strange goin' back to white women").

"The whole of Lustig's lineup of films was better accepted by double-bill burners than cultural gatekeepers on their first run, their legends kept alive in late-night-TV purgatory. When The Times' Vincent Canby brushed off The Outfit as "a 30-Year-Late B-Movie," he didn't realize that the "B" springs eternal."

Ed here: A few points about the Lustig piece:

1. I think Rolling Thunder is mostly a mess but it captures the insanity and rage of the 60s and 70s about as well as any film I've ever seen. It is a disturbing movie and worth hunting for.

2. I know that Don Westlake liked the movie of The Outfit. He thought Duvall was very close to his own take on Parker and he enjoyed seeing all those great B movie actors in his film. Except for Point Blank it's my favorite of the Stark films and really is much closer to the books than is Point Blank. I see that there is some talk about the film adaptation of the Parker novel Slayground. I think it's even more of a mess than Rolling Thunder. But the first ten-twelve minutes are the closest I've ever seen the tone, the pace, the soul of the Parker prose translated to film. I remember saying that to Westlake. I don't want to misquote him here but I do remember him saying that he know exactly what I meant. Unfortunately when this baby goes off the rails it plunges five thousand miles to instant death.

3. As the article points out director John Flynn's passing was barely noted back in 2007. But he was for me one of those action directors who could give you real human beings while pumping up the adrenaline. I'll take his body of work over all the action big shots of the day including James Cameron's (The Terminator being the only exception; a very Flynn-like movie).

4. I'm old enough to have suffered through the NY Times' years of movie reviewers Bosley Crowther and Vincent Canby. Whenever they reviewed a B I had to call for Animal Control so I could be restrained with a six or seven shots of bear tranquilizer.

For the rest go here:


pattinase (abbott) said...

Re: John Hughes' portrayal of parents. I don't know if it started with him, but I have seen few, if any, favorable portrayals of parents in the last 30 years. They are the easy target for jokes about senility, silliness, annoyingness, narcissism, hatefulness, and almost any other negative attribute you can name. The strange thing is most of us become parents and thus suffer this same fate. Parents are there to provide comic relief or take blame--nothing more. Our societal dread if not hatred of old-age is evident in our movies especially.

Todd Mason said...

Well, as with the daddy issues that seem to predominate in Hwood, a whole lot of "creative" types are both alienated from their parents and not overly mature, all of which, particularly in the youth-crazed movie market, encourages this kind of pandering.

Ed Gorman said...

Per what both you and Patti said, Todd, I wonder if Hughes' contempt for parents wasn't both a matter of class and generations.

As I've said all too often, I grew up in the working class in the late forties and fifties. Certainly there were kids who hated their parents but there weren't many of them that I remember. Most of us were aware of how much of a struggle it was for our parents to give us shelter and food. There wasn't any real sense of security. I think this helped most of us see our folks as human beings. This didn't mean we agreed with them--and we certainly resented them sometimes--but even at our angriest and bitterest we had to acknowledge how hard they had to work to make a decent life for us.
That''s the economic part of it. It forced us to accept their complications as people even if we didn't want to.

The social part changed with the Sixties. Like the middle class and the upper class the working class kids turned against their parents, too. I saw that at college and I was never comfortable with it.

I've told this story before. Since my brother was in Nam I had mixed feelings about the anti-war protests though I was very much against the war. I remember how my two cousins were treated after they had finished two tours in Nam and came back to get their degrees. They were dog shit to most people.

A girl I was seeing at the time convinced me I needed to go to an SDS meeting. My best friend was a member and he'd been pushing me too. Well I went. The two people conducting the meeting were seniors. They were Ken and Barbie as hippies. Seriously. Their speechifying was numbing. I laughed out loud when they talked about how "we'd" run the country. "We" couldn't have run a one-pump gas station. Two or three of people who asked questions managed to rip into their parents at the same time.

Afterward when everybody was repairing to drink wine and smoke dope my girl friend introduced me to the leaders. Over the course of five minutes of total nut job bullshit they allowed as how they'd been at some vacation resort over spring break. Yeah, just like Trotsky. Then they went out and got into this brand new Chevy van. Very spiffy. And the largesse no doubt of daddy's checkbook.

This is what I saw over and over. Mixed in with all this rage against their parents.

I never understood it. Like Edelstein, when I saw those Hughes movies I thought a) I don't particularly like these kids and b) you mean of all the parents that flit past the camera there's not a single decent human being among them. I just didn't buy it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My brother-in-law suffered similarly. Horrible story.
At any rate, using parents as comic relief or worse, much worse, dominates every movie and TV show. Witness the parents on The Closer for instance. Or the ones in AWAY WE GO, from what I hear. To have parents portrayed sympathetically would be revolutionary by now. I think this constant negative portrayal has actually influenced behavior by now.

Todd Mason said...

Well, there was a smarmy tendency in the pop culture of the latter '50s, again largely a pandering tendency (and perhaps a bit a coded hostility to the Reaganoid Establishment in Hwood which was eager to be lapdogs to McCarthy and his slicker but similarly opportunistic colleagues) to produce films of a sort that all tended to end with, as Mort Sahl once put it, one parent standing up at the parents' meeting and saying, "I don't know about you, but I'm going to call my kids right now and ask their forgiveness." A palpable sense that You Kids Will Be Responsible For Bringing About The New Frontier of Society seems to have been spoonfed, and certainly the involvement of youth in such things as the civil rights struggle did nothing to dampen that sense of both responsibility and hubris. Which, of course, led (or led in part) to such things as the Weather Underground and Chicago '68 and the NeoConservative movement. And, frankly, the Hughes movies were always shallow, if no less shallow than those of his peers, but he made more of an effort than most to portray the kids as relatively complex creatures, rather than the one-note horndogs or smartasses of most the other films coming out, even if they were no more complex than, say, AMERICAN GRAFFITI characters or DEGRASSI HIGH SCHOOL's...that still put them ahead of the competition. I'm not kidding about the immaturity of Hwood folks...are there more trophy wives and such anywhere else? Is there more coddling of infantile behavior in a big-money context at all levels of any other industry, including music?--as opposed to the mutual coddling of at least infantile self-gratification at the boardroom level.

Todd Mason said...

I'm sorry to read of your relatives' bad treatment upon return from the war (or relatives in law, I guess, in your case, Patti)...I'm not sure I understand that, though of course I do understand another aspect of the generational revolt...the growing sense at all levels of society that the Vietnam War was a stupid waste, and yet you kids need to suck it up and do as your told, particularly you poorer ones who can't college your way out of the draft. (I liked Mike Royko's analysis--that the Korean War vets such as himself were the younger siblings of the WW2 vets, so were in no way likely to be indulged by their immediate elders, but that at least some of WW2 vets were eventually at least more willing to admit the awfulness and uselessness of the Vietnam War chewing up their kids.)

So, all these legacies, including the fact that more kids still go to movies than their parents do, even with the demographic bulges (and very few of the older folk go multiple times, as the kids might to their favorite explosion movies or, of late, Apatow comedies) all tend to augur toward the folks as deadwweight evil schemers or otherwise horrible burdens. But, like Paul McCartney's uncle, at least they might be clean.

Todd Mason said...

The AWAY WE GO parents are simply self-absorbed, but so are their kids...but the kids are our slacker-acting, but actually extraordinarily busy, heroes. And, to be fair, all their peers are at least as unappealing as the John Krasinski character's parents are, by design (Maya Rudolph's character's parents are conveniently dead, in at least one plot sense for the film). The film is a tribute more to Dave Eggers's artistic self-indulgence (and that of his life partner) than to much of an argument about intergenerational hostility...Our Heroes are about to become parents themselves, after all.

And I've had my share of arguments with Revolutionary Communist Party types with $300 sneakers over the years...being belatedly made aware of the injustices of the world leads to all kinds of magnolious bullshit in response, eh, Mr. Bin-Laden?

Juri said...

The writer of the article Ed quotes points out Hughes's homofobia. His later films from the nineties, like BABY AT LARGE (or some such, I forget the exact title), are full of scenes where manly genitals are being tortured. I noticed this at the time, and thought, vow, there must be something wrong with this guy.

Ed Gorman said...

Well Juri I'm not sure that's what David Edelstein interpretation (and I stress this is mine only) is that in Birds Trains & Whatever Candy and Steve Martin are forced to sleep in the same bed together they roll next to each other in their sleep. They leap out of bed and start talking about football and other macho things to clear the air of any sexual intent. This is what I THINK Edelstein meant--homosexual panic being your fear of your own possible latent impulses. I assumed that's what he was talking about, which is pretty innocent and common. I wasn't aware of genital mutilation (I got tired of Hughes long before the nineties). Now that's a whole different matter and a much more serious one as you point out.

Todd Mason said...

In PLANES, TRAINS..., the first truly awful Hughes film I saw, Candy's character accidentally slips his hand between Steve Martin's character's buttocks (how one might do this is unconvincingly suggested), leading to the big scare. Certainly HOME ALONE and such were big on the sack-punching.

Compare and contrast with "My Vagina" and other early NATIONAL LAMPOON work...

Juri said...

I think these two separate things must have something to do with each other.

Anders E said...

Apparently there was a biopic in the making:

"He took affairs of the heart very seriously, and no other director gave teenagers that sort of treatment at that time"

Sigh. This is simply not true, Hughes was neither the first to make non-raunchfest teen movies, and he certainly wasn't the best. Both FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and BREAKING AWAY predate Hughes' directorial debut SIXTEEN CANDLES and both are much better than anything Hughes ever made.

I really don't understand why Hughes' movies should be considered more noteworthy than, say, VALLEY GIRL or CAN'T BUY ME LOVE or SECRET ADMIRER.

Todd Mason said...

Or as noteworthy as VALLEY GIRL, which is a fine little movie with greater characterization than any of Hughes's.

Anders E said...

Todd, you are right about VALLEY GIRL. The thing is, you won't see anyone writing essays about how it changed lives and shaped a generation or any such nonsense. Today it is probably mostly remembered for co-starring a young Nicholas Cage (wearing the kind of hairstyle that could only have been worn in 1983), which is too bad.

Here's another take on Hughes that I basically agree on. Not surprisingly, it has generated comments that are just... Ah, see for yourself.