Tuesday, November 30, 2010


(Rod and Chip Go To the Movies, Part 2)
The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The events depicted are real…sort of.

Sometime during the 80’s…

My friend Rod and I were looking forward to seeing tonight’s double feature at the Peachtree Street's Silver Screen. We had seen many double features at the Peachtree Battle Shopping Center theater, but Satyricon and Sebastiane came equipped with an Adults Only label. It hadn’t been hard to convince Rod to come with me to see this one.

At arrival, we were a bit surprised at the long line outside the theater, but we shrugged and took our place. On the other hand, the guy ahead of us was getting a little impatient.

“They need to pipe some disco music out here, “we overheard him say to his friend.

The voice sounded familiar. He turned and looked at us.

“Hey!” he said. “Didn’t I see you two at Night of the Living Dead a couple of weeks ago.”

“Oh, yeah.” Rod said. “Your were dressed as Frank-n-Furter. Yeah. How are you?”

“I’m a little cold,” Frank –n-Furter said. “Oh, this is my partner, Bruce.”

“Oh.” Rod said. He pointed at me. “This is…the guy I go to school with.”

“How do you do?” Bruce said to us.

Why did he feel the need to emphasize the first do? I thought.

Before I puzzled on this any further, the line began moving and we headed in.

“Hey, Rod.” I said quietly as we moved to the theater ticket booth. “There’s a lot of guys here. A lot of guys that look like they’re…together.”

“You worry too much. You have to expect a little of that. This is Atlanta. No worries,” Rod said as we went inside.

2 hours later, after our viewing of Fellini’s Satyricon

“Well, my first Fellini movie is in the books now,” I said. “I wonder if they’re all as odd as that one”

“Sheesh.” Rod added. “No wonder Rome fell! And I’m wondering why they didn’t just hand out hits of LSD at the door so we could get a better grasp on what the hell that movie was about?”

“Ascyltus, my sword is blunted!” I said

“No, Ascyltus, my sword is much more blunted than yours!” Rod said in return.

I laughed and shook my head. “I would think a movie with hermaphrodites, albinos. quadruple amputees and hunchbacked dwarfs would be right up your alley.”

“It’s all about hunchbacked dwarfs with you. It always comes back to HUNCHBACKED DWARFS!” Rod said.

“I can see where Frank ‘n Furter and his friend would like this movie. There was a little bit too much of mano e mano affection for my tastes,” I said.

“Yeah, kind of like that Rock Hudson movie you love so much, Pillow Talk.”

“Yes, yes. Hunchbacked dwarfs and Pillow Talk. You really got me figured out! Ha Ha!”

Rod waved both hands at me indicating he wanted a truce. He came closer so he could whisper.” Let’s move on, shall we? This second movie, Sebastiane, is why this is adults only. They put in Satyricon as a prestige film, which gives them the leeway to shove in the hot and heavy adult second feature. I can just picture Frank-n-Furter and his boyfriend running screaming from the theater as soon as they show a naked breast.”

I gave Rod a thumbs up. “I think its about to start. Let’s go find our seats.”

“After you, sweetheart.” Rod said fluttering his eyelashes.

“Oh, shut up,” I said as we went in.

1 hour later, midway through Sebastiane

Rod and I stumbled out to the lobby. He glanced in my direction, but just as quickly looked away.

“I’m not sure what to say,” he said.

“I-I-I,” I can barely speak,” I struggled to get even a few words out.

“Let’s just call this what it is. That’s a gay porn flick!”

“No! Let’s not jump to conclusions. The scene where...”

“What scene? What scene could you possibly be talking about contrary to what I just said? Are you going to try to spin this into something it isn’t? There’s St. Sebastiane taking an outdoor shower. There’s a guy leering at his naked body. Pan back to Sebastiane taking a shower. There’s the guy watching him again. Pan back to Sebastiane. A close-up of him washing himself, thoroughly…I mean all over. And then…I can hardly go on.” Rod rubbed his forehead in anguish.

“Oh, God. I know! What about the scene with those two guys? What were they doing?”

“I closed my eyes through a lot of that one. They were naked and grabbing each other. Why were they doing that…that way? Rod asked.

“And in slow motion. Why did it have to be in slow-motion? I thought it would never end. And with an aria from Carmen playing in the background,” I said.

“I think that was Verdi playing in the background and God I’m real uncomfortable discussing opera right now! I’m even embarrassed my name is Rod at the moment!”

We both noticed Frank-N-Furter coming to the concession area. We turned away from him and shielded our eyes. He didn’t notice us as he quickly bought his Good N’ Plenty and head back into the theater. After he scurried past us to his seat we looked at each other again.

“Well, what should we do?” I asked.

“We could leave now. But if there are women in the second half of the movie, we would have stayed through the gay half and left before the naked women came to the island or whatever. I’m not comfortable with that.” Rod said.

“It’s a risk. It can’t get any worse than it’s already been.”

“Let’s go,” Rod said.

We proceed back into the theater with a little hope.

1 hour later, after our viewing of Sebastiane

After the movie ended, the lights came on. Before anyone else got up to leave I looked at Rod. I yelled at him. “Let’s get out of here!”

Rod took my cue and hurdled past me and headed out the front door of the Silver Screen. I scampered behind him. As we sprinted to our getaway car, we both turned to the sign that said The Silver Screen and cursed it.

“We are to never talk about this again,” he said.

“It never happened. It never happened.” I replied.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


(Rod and Chip Go to the Movies, Part 1)
The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The events depicted are real…sort of.

Sometime during the 80’s…

The feel of Halloween was everywhere as we entered the Rhodes Theater off of Atlanta’s historic Peachtree Street. Rod and I were especially looking forward to tonight's double feature. We plunked down our money for Ms. May, the ninety-nine year old ticket taker with the fire engine red hair, to scoop up. She gave us a smile that we returned as we headed over to purchase a snack.

"She's a legend," Rod whispered to me.

I nodded in agreement as we got a big tub of buttered popcorn to share. It was definitely a popcorn kind of movie night.

We came across a man dressed up as Tim Curry’s character Frank-N-Furter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

"Hey, you guys are going to love the second feature. It's got soooo many old people," he said. He flipped his hand out at us to give extra emphasis to the word soooo.

We gave him a hesitant thumbs up as we entered the theater.

Frank-n-Furter was talking about Motel Hell, a 1980 horror film starring Rory Calhoun, which was the second feature on the bill. We were going to sit through it all right, but it was Night of the living Dead, the first feature that we were really there to see, it being Rod's favorite movie and all.

Night of the living Dead! Night of the living Dead! Night of the living Dead!” Rod repeated the title three times and smiled in anticipation as he took his seat with the big box of popcorn.

"And on the big screen." I said for emphasis as if this special moment for Rod wasn’t significant enough already. “But, I wouldn’t say it was my favorite movie.”

Rod scoffed. “So what’s your favorite movie? Pillow Talk or something? Maybe you and Frank-n-Furter can watch next weeks Doris Day-Rock Hudson double feature together. I think there going to show The Glass Bottom Boat-”

“All right, shut up about it already. I should have never told you I liked Pillow Talk!” I said.

Rod put a finger to his lips for quiet as the lights began to dim.

It was then that we heard someone behind us noisily struggle to their seat. The guy behind us cackled and hooted after he finally sat down. You can always tell when someone sitting near you in a movie theater might be trouble. And this was trouble.

Rod looked worried.

The lights went down and the movie came on. Rod’s eyes sparkled as he watched the title flash before us on the screen.

Maybe there wouldn’t be any trouble after fall. I thought.

My relief was short lived as the dude behind us yelled ‘Woooooooooo!” As the credits rolled across went the screen. Rod looked at me with a barely restrained expression of outrage.

The guy behind us (who we quickly labeled “the dude”) didn’t make noise constantly throughout the movie, or else I’m sure that he and Rod would have come to blows.

There were, however, some disturbing incidents, most noticeably in the scenes whenever an older zombie would descend upon the house and the dude kept repeating, “Get it Granny!”

3 hours later

By the time of the end credits to Motel Hell, Rod looked at me. “That movie was alright. Love that Elaine Joyce. Glad it ended happily. But my God, our friend here slept through all of Motel Hell. Why couldn’t he have slept through Living Dead instead?”

We noticed the dude stretching as he got out of his seat when the lights came on. He looked at us. “Movies are over already? Damn, I must have tied one on.”

I looked worriedly at Rod’s bloodshot eyes, fearing there might be trouble.

“Let’s go Rod. Let's just get a beer at Jaggers,” I said.

“No, Chip. I got to say something here.” Rod said.

“Hey dude,” he said to the dude. “You know what you need?”

The dude heard the question, but just stared back at Rod with a vacant expression.

“Better material.” Rod said.

The dude looked confused, but Rod continued. “We’re going to our neighborhood bar. You want to join us?”

I was surprised at this olive branch of peace, and even more surprised when the dude (whose actual name was Dan) accepted.

At Jaggers, we began drinking a pitcher of Stroh’s Lite, when Dan brought up the subject again. “What did you guys mean when you said I needed better material?”

I started to say something, but Rod broke in. “What I meant was, if you are going to interrupt the greatest movie of all-time you better come equipped with your A-game.”

“What do you mean?” Dan asked.

Rod cracked his knuckles. “Ok, son. Heckling 101. For example: Don’t you think it is weird that they kept killing zombies? You might have said off-handedly to no one in particular, ‘Isn’t killing a zombie redundant?”

“What do you mean?” Dan asked again.

“Zombies are already dead. Why do you need to kill them?” I said.

Dan thought for a moment and then laughed. “Hey, that is kind of funny.”

“And you know how some of the zombies walked like Elvis Costello? What do you think you should say there?” Rod asked.

Dan thought for a minute as he took a drink from his beer glass. “I know. You’d say that zombie looks like Elvis Costello.”

“That’s okay, but wouldn’t it be better to say, “Ladies and Gentleman, Elvis Costello! as he walks by,” Rod said.

“Say it like you’re an announcer at a rock concert. And some of those zombie were exhibiting a lot of Joe Cocker movements. Use that too” I said.

“That’s good, Chip.” Rod said. “But you don’t want to overdue the Cocker references. After one or two, it gets stale awfully quick.”

Dan was very interested now. “I like it. You got anymore?”

“I have one.” I said. “When the zombies were marching to the house and appeared to be in unison you might start singing The Jets song from West Side Story.”

Dan looked puzzled. “I don’t know that one.”

Rod pounded his fist onto the table. “Danny, boy. You’ve got to work on getting a handle on common frames of references. Casablanca, On the Waterfront, and the entire Billy Wilder catalog are good places to start. Movies with lots of memorable quotes.

Dan nodded in agreement and actually pulled out a pen and started writing the suggestions down on a napkin.

“Comment on any repetition.” I said.

“What do you mean?” Dan asked.

“You know how they endlessly argue about whether to stay in the cellar or not? Just blurt out something like, ‘The Night of the Living Dead drinking game, one shot every time they say the word cellar.’” Rod said.

“Guess you’d get pretty drunk if you took a drink every time they said cellar.” Dan proudly observed.

“He said cellar!” I shouted and downed my drink, as did Rod.

Dan hesitated, but then smiled and chugged his beer.

“You remember how the guy is boarding up the house and keeps asking the girl to help him and she doesn’t do anything for the longest time and then after about twenty minutes she finally brings him a couple pieces of wood? Maybe talk as if you are her and say, ‘Here’s a couple of pieces of wood, can I go now?’ And don’t forget to be whiny as if you are talking for her,” Rod said.

“In her voice? Yes, that would be better.” Dan said as he scratched his chin.

“And don’t forget what I call the absurdist comparative paradox, where you come up with something totally unrelated but relevant to what the characters are saying. Like when the character says ‘Murder victims are being partially devoured by their murderers,’ you say something like ‘like what Elizabeth Taylor does with husbands.’” I said.

“Chip never misses the chance for a Liz Taylor reference,” Rod said. “But like the Joe Cocker thing, don’t overdue it.”

I shrugged at Rod’s slight rebuke. “Let’s hear yours then, Rod old man. What’s that speech the radio announcer says?”

Rod put his hand up to his ear as if he is Gary Owens from Laugh-In.
"From Washington-‘It has been established that person's who have recently died,have been returning to life and committing acts of murder.The unburied dead are coming back to life and seeking human victims.’ And then to contrast in the same announcers voice say…something like… in the lighter side of the news,lets take a look at Freddie the news chimp on his magic tricycle.”

“I get it! Because if zombies were taking over, there wouldn’t be any lighter side of the news.” Dan said.

“Yes, Danny. Yes.” Rod said, proudly praising his star pupil.

“I remember that radio announcer going on and on. Would it work with that?” Dan asked.

“Yes, when he drones on and advices to kill the brain, kill the ghoul. Say that, hesitate and then excitedly say, And on tonight’s episode of Fibber McGee and Molly…yadda yadda.”

“I think Fibber McGee and Molly is a shaky reference. Our generation may not have ever heard of Fibber McGee and Molly.” I said.

“Chip, you disappoint me. I’ve heard of it. You’ve heard of it. We don’t have to actually have to know what an episode sounds like. We know it’s an old radio show reference. We understand the reference enough to use the joke!”

I didn’t want to register my disagreement with Rod, so I let the point pass. We were in teaching mode after all and I had to admit Rod was on a roll.

Rod turned away from me and looked Dan squarely in the eye. “Dan, the whole yelling out ‘get it granny’ thing. About the third time you yelled out ‘Get it granny’ when the old zombie tries to grab them. I almost climbed over my seat to punch you.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Oh, no permanent harm done. But next time make it interesting. Say something like ‘Who said there aren’t any good roles for older actresses in Hollywood?'”

“Or at least Pittsburgh.” I interject. “Remember, it’s set outside of Pittsburgh and was shot there.”

“And Danny boy, what did you say when the naked zombie was headed to the house?”

Dan looked down in shame. “I think I just shouted out ‘Owwwwww.’”

“Can you think of anything better?”

Dan scrunched his brow in thought. “Maybe I could have said like I was talking in her voice and ask if this is the way to the zombie playboy shoot.”

Dan had a proud look on his face as we clapped for him.

“The fact that the posse needlessly shoots a black man in the last scene is an attempt to make a commentary on the unjust way that blacks have been treated in American society,” Rod said.

“What’s the punch line?” Dan asks.

“There is no punch line.” I said. “That’s Rod’s overall take on this movie.”

Rod nods. “Yes, Danny. Jokes aside, this is still my favorite movie.”

Dan stands up and throws some money on the table. “Guys. I want to thank you for giving me some things to think about.”

We shake hands with Dan and he departs.

“I think he has potential.” Rod says.

I nod in agreement.

Coming soon: Rod and Chip Go to the Movies, Part 2Where Rod and Chip go to a high-brow X-Rated movie…thought it turns out to not be the kind of movie they thought it would be.


Riget (The Kingdom)
You would think I’d have something to say one way or the other about Lars Von Trier’s five-hour Danish mini-series, which has been aptly described as Twin Peaks meets ER and doesn’t even resolve itself, even after 280 minutes! Like I might question why this was included in the 1001 movie book in the first place, but I just can’t quite put any of these thoughts into words. So instead for your reading pleasure or displeasure (whatever the case my be), I present my award* winning 500 words or less short story, The Choosers because I just don’t know what else to do.


He paced…and paced…and paced.
“Jerzy! You are making me crazy!” Felicia spoke sharply to her husband.
“What the HELL am I supposed to do?”
“If you keep using foul language like that it won’t matter, because they write you off if you talk like a low class swabie!”
Jerzy slumped into the greenroom portaseat. “I need some Coffea arabica!”
“No, love! Let’s save the genetic enhancers for another time They are probably watching us.” Jerzy put his arm around her and gave her a look that let her know that she was the most important thing in the universe to him. She instilled in him a feeling of comfort that showed that life would go on no matter how this meeting went.

A large pink-hued woman in the traditional red and black cape came out and told them they were next. The woman's namingplate read Sasha, though more than likely that ID was given to her once she became a part of the organization.
Jerzy quivered as he took Felicia's arm and followed Sasha through the sterile, impersonal bioways leading to the Choosers facilitation station.
There were usually two animatroid units surrounding all Choosers stations and Sasha gave them the couples’ DNA samples. The animatroids took only a parsec to compute the samples, which lit up, opening the door to the Chooser’s station. The units took the couple by the arm, as gently as animatroids were able to and led them inside.
Once inside a medium sized man with a hookline scar and an eye shield leaned over his platform. "Welcome Mr. And Mrs. Franklin, I've been looking forward to meeting you!"

The animatroids led the Franklins to the station portaseats where Jerzy tried to take the measure of the man before them. The man scratched on a protomag that had settled on his hookline scar as he reached and gave Jerzy a firm handshake. This Chooser reminded him of spare parts dealers he used to deal with in the Delta region. His expectation of what a Chooser had been was somewhat higher than the backhoed con jobber before him now.

“The results are in and Mr. Franklin.” The Chooser beamed. “You have been accepted!”
Jerzy extended his hands skyward, “Praise Fatima!”
His wife stood and hugged him with tears in her eyes as the Chooser spoke again. “Oh, And Mrs. Franklin…you have been rejected.”
Felicia fell onto the landing missing her portaseat completely. Jerzy’s first instinct was to comfort her, but he saw the Chooser sign with his thumb and Jerzy grabbed a sideblade from one of the animatroids. Without further hesitation he plunged it into the chest of his unsuspecting wife. The instrument retracted back into its casing after making an opening that went completely through her. Her lifeless body dropped to the floor as he handed the weapon back to the unit. Jerzy scratched his head, not knowing what to feel.

“Smile, Mr. Franklin”, The Chooser said. “We’ll find someone more suitable for you next time.”

*Golden Peabody Short Story Award of 2002 or something like that.

And I did like Riget (The Kingdom), it just seems like an odd inclusion for the 1001 canon.

Monday, November 22, 2010

EASY RIDER (1969), Z (1969, ALGERIA)

Tonight we’re going to party like its 1969!

“Nobody Knows Anything,” is the famous (or at least semi-famous) quote from screenwriter William Goldman on Hollywood’s inability to determine what is going to be a hit and what’s going to be a really big hit.

Peter Bart explores this topic in his book Boffo: How I Learned to Love the Blockbuster and Fear the Bomb.

The idea for the film Easy Rider (explored in Bart’s chapter Kaleidoscope of the 60’s) began with a stoned Peter Fonda wanting to make a motorcycle movie in response against an edict by Jack Valenti, who wanted Hollywood to make more wholesome Sound of Music type films (There is a chapter on The Sound of Music in Bart’s book, but that’s another story).
So Fonda got an unproven director (friend and co-star Dennis Hopper) and wrote the film with Hopper and Dr. Strangelove writer Terry Southern. They also brought in a B-movie actor for an important supporting part (some guy named Jack Nicholson). They managed to get it produced and backed by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson (the folks that brought you the unusual Monkees’ epic Head). Easy Rider got made on a very tight budget, but became one of the biggest hits of the year.

Watching the movie again today, one might be prone to label it as being dated. Possibly, but I don’t see that as necessarily being a bad thing. It is definitely a product of its time. I don’t think it would have worked coming out in 1967 (too soon) or 1971 (too passé). To use an unfortunate cliché, it caught the zeitgeist of its time (I again apologize for using this phrase).
Many of the scenes, such as their time at a commune (featuring a memorable full circle camera shot of the communers by cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs), the Mardi Gras acid trip and of course the famous café scene filmed with “real” hateful, redneck non-actors are classic. But my favorite scene is still Jack Nicholson smoking his first joint (Peter Fonda: No man, this is grass. Jack: You mean marijuana?) and rambling on and on about extra-terrestrials that are living among us.
Lets also not forget about the great soundtrack (Dylan, Hendrix, The Band and, of course, the classic “Don’t Bogart That Joint my Friend.” by The Fraternity of Man.)
And if you’re looking for a movie that represents the zeitgeist of 1969 (Damn, there’s that phrase again!), I don’t think you’ll find a more fitting one than this one.

I looked over a list of other movies released in 1969. Here are some that didn’t make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice-A big hit at the time, I’m sure this rather odd wife swapping movie would also be dated, but I fear not in a good way. And does anyone remember when Elliot Gould was a really big star?
2. Goodbye, Columbus-based on Phillip Roth’s novella, this feels to me like a more Jewish version of The Graduate. Though not as good as The Graduate, not a bad film in its own right. And does anyone remember when Ali McGraw was a really big star?
3. If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium-Three things I remember about this American tourists traveling by bus through Europe movie: 1) The theme song was catchy. 2) It had a slew of 60’s and 70’s character actors in it (Michael Constantine, Norman Fell etc.) 3) Suzanne Pleshette looked gorgeous.
4. The Love Bug-How I did love this movie as a kid. Rock on, Buddy Hackett!
5. The Magic Christian-Like Easy Rider, another screenwriting credit to Terry Southern. This strange, trippy move has Peter Sellers adopting Ringo Starr or something and I remember something about Laurence Harvey stripping and Raquel Welch dressed as a Viking and what was this movie about again? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, I guess. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service- James Bond finally gets married and Bond has to be played by George Lazenby? Sounds like grounds for an annulment to me.
7. Take the Money and Run-Woody Allen’s first starring role, this semi-documentary of a criminal is definitely one of his “early, funny ones.”
8. Alice’s Restaurant-Arlo Guthrie’s famous twenty-plus minute song translated into a movie. Dare I say this movie might be dated if viewed today?
9. Paint Your Wagon-Gotta love Clint Eastwood, but I really could do without hearing his rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.” What next? Charles Bronson singing “The Farmer and The Cowman Should Be Friends?”
10. Winning-The only memorable thing to me is about this Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward racing pic is the theme song, to be forever played in years to come on Wide World of Sports.
Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh-Duh Duh-Duh-Duh
Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh Duh-Duh-Duh Duh-Duh-Duh…

And finally, another entry that is in the 1001 Movie book from 1969 is the Costa-Gavras thriller Z. The 60’s, of course, had many high profile political assassinations and this film recreates this by showing the mechanics of the assassination of a charismatic Greek politician and the political conspiracy that lies underneath it. The details of the plot are a little hard to keep up with, but Z is well worth the effort.