There are certain cinephiles – and I’m proud to call myself one of them – who take pleasure in the savory low-hanging fruit known as bad movies. This is my seventh (and most likely final) installment in my Worst Movies series, and I believe it to be an opportune moment to discuss the semantic differences between a bad movie and a shitty movie. A bad movie invites an unintentioned hilarity. A bad movie accidentally reveals the fishing line holding up the rocket ship, spills an unlikely twelve gallons of blood from a victim’s abdomen or demonstrates an extraordinary aptitude for stilted, unnatural dialogue.
A shitty movie either sets out to be a shitty movie from the start, or else it has no pretentions whatsoever. Making a bad movie on purpose will inevitably result in a shitty movie. Take a gander at the insufferable (but sincere) madness of Manos: The Hands of Fate, an exercise in bungled horror, then sit through last year’s Sharknado. Yes, the latter is bad. But it knows it’s bad.
Sharknado, and indeed the bulk of films released by The Asylum, a film studio that specializes in ‘mockbusters’ and monster movies that pay an almost Mystery Science Theater-esque tribute to the monster flicks of the 50s and 60s, are shitty movies. It’s hard to find enjoyment in sitting with friends and making derisive jokes about these flicks when the creators, cast and crew of the films have probably already made the same jokes.
The mockbusters genre began with movies that would almost certainly fit more snugly into the ‘bad’ category than the ‘shitty’ one. Unlike the modern direct-to-cable excursions into over-the-topsville, mockbusters were legitimate attempts to ride someone else’s box office coattails into a modest profit. When The Creature From The Black Lagoon became the go-to monster epic of 1954, a couple of contract employees at Universal – one of whom was Jack Kevan, the guy who had designed the aforementioned Creature’s costume – decided to produce a knock-off called The Monster of Piedras Blancas. Read more…
Despite being physically nothing more than distortions of light and shadow on a few reels of tightly-wound celluloid, a movie can possess the power to frighten free the literal turds from viewers’ backsides. I was eleven or twelve when I first saw Poltergeist, and I remember clearly the electric squirms it blasted through my vertebrae.
I’ve since grown to find I’m more a fan of comedies, documentaries and films involving talking badgers than horror flicks, mostly because I find the tropes of the horror genre to be repetitive. Who dies, who lives – that’s the central question a typical slasher pic makes its audience ask, or in the case of the torture-porn subgenre (the Saw movies and their ilk), how grotesque can the human imagination become when there’s a multimillion-dollar budget at stake?
But some horror films are truly glorious in their ability to capture the human psyche and scare the ever-lovin’ bejeebus out of it. The Exorcist is one; The Ring is (for me) another. And I’ll drop Poltergeist into that column too, despite the fact that I can still only see the film through my eleven (or twelve)-year-old eyes. But there was a lot more to the weirdness of the movie than what we saw on the screen, which is why today it gets a kilograph of its own.
For starters, we can’t even say for certain who directed this thing. Tobe Hooper (in the middle) gets the official credit, and if you ask him, he’ll swear it’s his picture. The guy had made his bones in the horror game, with the gore-fest Texas Chainsaw Massacre under his belt, as well as 1981’s The Funhouse. But if you compare the shot composition, the framing and the overall aesthetic of Poltergeist to those films, it just seems… different somehow. Read more…
If I were to venture west (okay, mostly south and just a little west) to stake my claim on a Hollywood career, I might end up as Channing Tatum’s body-double (or, more likely, Danny DeVito’s), or if I’m lucky, as Steven Spielberg’s on-set beard-groomer. Either way, I’d be looking at professions that have existed for decades – hardly anything original.
But when Jack Foley moved west to Los Angeles, he couldn’t have possibly foreseen the mark he’d have on the industry, especially since the industry as we know it didn’t technically exist yet. There were movies being made, but none containing the element for which Jack would come to be known: sound.
I think most people are aware by now of the existence of Foley artists – those inventive folks who stomp in gravel pits and slap cuts of steak in real-time in order to sprinkle our movies with legit-sounding effects. This sounds like a job that should be streaked with sepia, a faded relic from a time when Mothra destroyed model cities and spaceships still sported a thin line of fishing wire as they cruised through the stars. But despite the omnipresence of meddling computers, these guys still exist. And they still function behind the scenes as some of the most inventive and unheralded geniuses in the movie game.
And it’s all because of this guy:
Jack grew up in Yorkville, New York, attending public school with James Cagney and Arthur Murray. He moved to California with his wife for the same reason most people did – the weather. He hooked up with the movie business for the same reason so many Californians did – it was the most exciting thing going at the time. Well, that and necessity. When the farmers of Bishop, California sold their farms to the City of Los Angeles for water rights, Jack helped to save his local economy by promoting the area as a sweet location for shooting westerns. Jack had his first film career: a location scout. Read more…
A spoiler for today’s article: it may shatter your innocence, lay waste to your humbling yet lavish optimism regarding the spirit of humanity, and rend into tatters your perceptions of Hollywood studio executives as upstanding, honest and forthright folk. If this won’t be a problem for you, read on.
The movie business is all about money, as evidenced by the fact that any film that coughs up some modest box office returns seems to get a sequel, or by the fact that Tyler Perry and Martin Scorcese technically have the same job. But beneath the big sparkly numbers earned by flicks like Avatar and Titanic lies an even more impressive act of CGI than those frolicking blue cats – they call it Hollywood Accounting.
Hollywood Accounting has nothing to do with the studios scamming the government to avoid paying taxes. I’m sure like any massive business they employ accountants to help them with that cause too, but specifically Hollywood Accounting is the insider method by which the movie studios can pilfer money from the very artists who concoct their revenue. It’s an ugly side of show business, but one that every aspiring actor, writer and director should be aware of.
To illustrate, let’s talk about this guy:
That’s Art Buchwald, whom you might remember from his Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated Washington Post column, or, if you’re under 50 you might not. He was a brilliant wordsmith though, which is why it was strange that Paramount Studios was unable to transform his treatment into a full-blown feature. His concept – entitled “King For A Day” at this point – was about an arrogant and wealthy African potentate’s visit to the United States, ensuing in wacky hijinks and goofy hilarity. It would have been a perfect fit for Eddie Murphy, who was under contract with Paramount at the time. Read more…
While an inherent nobility may lie in ‘art for art’s sake’, occasionally we should lease a dollop of contemplation for art for the sake of someone else’s art. Film posters serve the purpose of sufficiently piquing our minds (and wallets) to lure us into a theatre. But the best of the medium can take on its own artistic statement. I grew up watching the cartoonish caricatures of the Animal House and American Graffiti casts mounted on my wall, carrying on like the inhabitants of an unusually clean R. Crumb illustration. Luke Skywalker’s intense stare behind the barrel of his blaster nudged me to our Betamax almost daily for a re-airing of my childhood’s holy trilogy.
A brilliant film poster should shimmy the soul. Despite the fandom’s collective verbal vomit of scorn eventually spewed upon George Lucas’s prequel trilogy, we all let loose a squeal of unfettered anticipation when we saw the teaser poster for The Phantom Menace. A movie poster delivers more than a glamorous depiction of our favorite stars and it should do more than inspire our hunger to see the film it promotes. A great movie poster can legitimately aspire to be a piece of art in itself, much like the pinnacle of any room in the grand old house of advertising.
Alternately, it might elect to simply show Matthew McConaughey leaning against someone. He does that a lot.
Throughout the golden age of cinema, film posters were intended for theatres and no one else. Fans weren’t slapping promotional material for Chaplin’s The Kid on their living room walls, and one had to leave their homes to swoon at a life-size photo of Douglas Fairbanks. The posters were all produced by a company called the National Screen Service, and when a theatre was done with a film, the posters were to be returned along with the prints. Movies stayed in circulation for years at a stretch, so when Cleveland had had its fill of Casablanca, the posters would travel with the film reels to Pit-Scratch, Kentucky for their next run. Read more…
In an effort to make this weekend’s topic of automobiles more relatable to a lifelong non-car-guy like myself, I’m going to draw a simplistic parallel to the world of movies. The majority of what the big auto-makers put out are akin to the majority of big-studio movies that populate our theatres. The boring sedan is the formula rom-com, the minivan is a cliché-ridden kids’ movie, the SUV is your typical political thriller, and the jacked-up pickup truck is the brawn-heavy, brains-light action flick. Oh and your Hummer? That’s a soulless Michael Bay CGI piece of crap.
But concept cars are the one-off studio epiphanies – the brilliant films unlike anything that had come before. These are the Inceptions, the Dr. Strangeloves of the auto world. The difference being that we can all experience those movies, while concept cars are out of reach to everyone, apart from inviting puddles of drool at auto shows. Hey, even a half-decent metaphor can only be stretched so far.
But I’m not interested in the big-studio one-offs; I wrote about those yesterday. A movie fan has to keep one eye on the independents, just as a car-lover should keep track of what folks outside the corporate sphere are cooking up. Today I’m throwing the spotlight on those innovative forward-thinkers who don’t have corporate backing fuelling their fingers.
The Rinspeed Presto, which is really fun to say, emerged from Switzerland in 2002. With the push of a button, this two-seater stretches its innards (and its outards) and becomes a four-seater. It boots around like a roadster, but as with most concept vehicles from this century, the focus is on fuel efficiency. The Presto makes the most of this with an unusual 60/40 diesel / natural gas power system. Read more…
In the vast history of advertising, very few brainchildren have endured. Nobody cuddles with a stuffed Energizer Bunny anymore, and I’d be surprised if there’s a soul remaining who still gets mileage from their California Raisins album. And for an advertising campaign to become a protected national landmark, that almost never happens.
The Hollywood Sign is perhaps iconic because it represents the place where people have pursued their dreams and chased their ambition, before landing in a defeated clump in some guy’s one-bedroom apartment in the San Fernando valley, shooting a soft-core porn that will never see the light of Cinemax. Hollywood is where the beautiful people drink their beautiful drinks at their beautiful parties, celebrating the fact that they spend all their days looking glamorous and glorious beneath the perpetual California sun.
And even though very little actual production takes place in Hollywood, and even though most movie stars prefer the quieter seclusion of Beverly Hills or Bel Air, that sign still tells the whole story in nine letters.
Developer H.J. Whitley had made use of a bold sign to advertise his Whitley Heights development between Highland and Vine. His buddy, Harry Chandler, who ran the L.A. Times and was to Los Angeles real estate what Mr. Potter was to Bedford Falls, took Whitley’s suggestion to do the same for his new Hollywoodland development. Hollywoodland was to be a snazzy but affordable neighborhood in the hills just north of Chinatown. The sign was to be big, bold, and most of all, temporary. Read more…