Friday, January 30, 2015

Remembrance of L.A. movie revival theaters past.

I'm partway through reading Patton Oswalt's SILVER SCREEN FIEND--his memoir about becoming immersed mostly in the Los Angeles revival-house culture (chiefly the still-in-operation New Beverly when the late Sherman Torgan was manager) to enjoy/study films for a hoped-for future career as a director.  The immersion turned into an extended fever which finally broke when Oswalt--like many other viewers--discovered in 1999 that THE PHANTOM MENACE wasn't STAR WARS.

Cued by a review of Oswalt's book, I started at the appendix section where he lists all the films (old and then-new) he saw in 1995-99, as well as the theaters he attended.

Here are comments on now-departed cinematic venues he mentions:
CHAPLIN THEATER AT RALEIGH STUDIOS: the Melrose Avenue home of American Cinematheque during part of the 1990s (Raleigh's just across the street from Paramount).  Oswalt and I were in the same audience for a double bill of JAMES ELLROY: DEMON DOG OF AMERICAN CRIME FICTION and the 1950s B-film DADDY-O with Dick Contino (Ellroy wrote a story about Contino that appears in HOLLYWOOD NOCTURNES).

TALES BOOKSTORE: a now-long-gone bookstore on La Brea near Wilshire which served a niche market for people who wanted to buy short-story book collections.  Tales, on weekends, set up a screen in the food/snack area and ran 16mm copies of film noir and B-grade juvenile delinquent epics.  I remember watching the lesser Bogart film DEAD RECKONING and the Albert Zugsmith B-camp-classic GIRLS TOWN with Mamie Van Doren and Mel Torme.

MELNITZ THEATER AT UCLA: the university's on-campus predecessor to today's Hammer Museum Billy Wilder Theatre for running various film retrospectives by director/genre/country.

NUART THEATRE--by the time I moved to SoCal in 1988, the Nuart was transitioning out of its all-revival programming to running primarily new-release independent films.  But the occasional retrospective series continued into the 1990s (e.g. Preston Sturges, Charlie Chaplin, 30s pre-Code films, 1970s Blaxploitation).

FOUR-STAR THEATRE LOS ANGELES CA: Mid-Wilshire Miracle Mile venue closed and turned into a church; I attended on occasion during the early-to-mid-90s.  Favorite double bill was DELIVERANCE/THE ROAD WARRIOR, both in 70mm prints.

And here are brief comments on other venues I remember from the 80s and 90s:
STATE THEATRE PASADENA CA: Before closing in the latter 90s, this venue served as both revival house and Hong Kong cinema (if I recall correctly, the State ran John Woo's THE KILLER before Woo and Chow Yun-Fat became Household Names).

VAGABOND THEATRE LOS ANGELES CA: the Vagabond (now the plays-revues venue Hayworth Theatre) was a tiny theatre west of MacArthur Park; my first revival-theatre experience--I was a regular customer into 1992.

BING THEATRE LOS ANGELES COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART: still running films, almost scuttled years ago since Michael Govan had little interest in the revival-theatre ethos until Martin Scorsese talked Govan out of it; I went there mostly from 1988-1993 when Ron Haver was the programmer and host--if Haver were still living today, he likely wouldn't have tolerated Govan.  My favorite double bill at the Bing was part of a series of Haver's favorites scheduled after his death: Hitchcock's VERTIGO and Powell/Pressburger's BLACK NARCISSUS.

CINEPLEX ODEON FAIRFAX THEATRE: Gone now, but in 1989-90 it had a Sunday morning old movies program.  If I recall correctly, the work print of BLADE RUNNER (released in theaters during 1991-92) had its first screening at the Fairfax.  Also, I remember seeing a 70mm Australian roadshow print of THE WILD BUNCH (with some violence deleted by the Australia censor board) with Bo Hopkins and Sam Peckinpah's son Matthew in attendance.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rod McKuen and poetic snobbery.

Sad to read about the passing of poet/musician Rod McKuen, who successfully crossed over to mainstream audiences in the 1960s via albums with backing from the Anita Kerr Singers. McKuen reading his poem "The Sea."

Now, the floor will be turned over to New England-by-way-of-Orange County poet Victor Infante, who found a way to diminish McKuen (an acquired taste, if one remembers his song score for A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN, but someone who lived in an era when spoken-word recordings on major labels were a little more acceptable than now) in the context of eulogizing Maya Angelou last year in the litizine RADIUS:

When Maya Angelou died Wednesday, I told a story to my co-workers that I don’t think I’ve ever told before: That in my early teens, I read my way through the Laguna Beach Public Library’s poetry section. In retrospect, it wasn’t a very large section, not in the early to mid ’80s, but I would sit on the floor near the section and just read, sometimes flying through two or three books at a time.
This was my first exposure to numerous poets: Ginsberg, Byron, Shelley, Eliot, cummings, Plath .. and yeah, Rod McKuen. Some of the poems I loved because I could easily understand them – such as McKuen – and some of them I loved because they were totally opaque to me, because I thought that was cool. Thankfully, I grew out of both opinions eventually, although I should note I keep a McKuen poem pinned to the inside cover of one of my poetry notebooks. Just because.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Feedback on works-in-progress: advice that works for film or literature.

The passage below is quoted from an article on the filmmaking blog MENTORLESS about Quentin Tarantino's experience at the Sundance Lab in 1991 developing RESERVOIR DOGS (difficult to imagine now, since more recent developed-at-Sundance cinema tends to lean more towards middle-of-the-road ennobling and/or redemptive storytelling).  It can be easily transposed to poetry or literary workshop situations.

Link to the complete article:

What to Keep in Mind When We Ask for Feedback

A lot of people are not aware of the distinction between emotional and constructive feedback and think that giving their emotional opinion is a feedback.
Maybe they don’t have the tools to verbalize or point out to specifics, and then it means that we asked the wrong person to do an impossible task. So, the first step to enhance our chances to get constructive feedback is to ask people who have a certain skill-set and/or knowledge that we think might be helpful.

What to Keep in Mind When We Receive Feedback

I believe that when we receive feedback, we need to ask ourselves what type of feedback we are actually given: are they emotional or constructive feedback?
If we are receiving constructive feedback, then whatever the note, it needs to be acknowledged and considered, even if it hurts, and/or might ultimately been ignored for the purpose of the project we make.
If it’s emotional feedback, then we need to remember that this doesn’t say anything about our ability to tell a story, our work simply didn’t connect enough with the person to ignite constructive feedback.

What to Keep in Mind When We Give Feedback

When we give feedback, we need to put aside our feelings about the piece, and try to use our skills -whatever those skills- to give constructive feedback. That can be offering solutions, that can be giving perspective, and that always imply reminding the other person that those feedback are only suggestions made to inspire and can be ignored. (In other words, it’s not about our ego)

Also, It’s Very Hard for Everybody

It is hard to be honest and give good notes to someone. It is much easier to say that you loved whatever they did, point out to three things you liked and moved on.
And it is hard to receive notes gracefully, even if you know these notes are good notes, a part of you might have hoped to hear that everything was perfect (I know I’ve felt that several times, even though I knew it was not good enough.)
I believe that our job as a community is to help each other out by trying to be generous and genuine while offering constructive feedback, and by being brave enough to share our work with people who can give constructive feedback, and take the result gracefully. It all comes back to being vulnerable.

Monday, January 26, 2015

From entertainment site THE WRAP: latest commenter dialogue on Bill Cosby's misdeeds.

Selected comments following THE WRAP's article
on the latest accusation of Bill Cosby as rapist (this time from Cindra Ladd, wife of former Ladd Company studio head Alan Ladd Jr.)
I'm sorry but note to these ladies your 15 minutes is up. I do feel sorry for whatever might have happened, but the career of Bill Cosby is officially over and there is no need for more women to come and tell their stories 30 years after the event. Let's move onto something else please.
I actually disagree. The more people like this, who come forward protect and support the other allegations. Clearly, Cindra Ladd doesn't need money or fame or attention. She's coming forward to support the other women and it needs to happen.
He is still performing. People still greet him as if he has something to offer the world
It's truly disgusting. His whole persona was built to drug and rape women.
That's true. In spite of a celebrity's proven loathsomeness there's always a lingering rabble of diehard fans: brutal cynics, cold-blooded skeptics, and clueless idiots. But what kind of fan base is that?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Regarding Johnny Depp.

As expected, there are several what's-going-wrong entertainment media articles on Johnny Depp's affinity for payday jobs in would-be franchise starters like THE LONE RANGER (which would have been immeasurably better if Depp and Gore Verbinski created a lower-budget, non-Disney/Bruckheimer product feeling obligated to hit familiar PIRATES marks) and MORTDECAI (haven't seen it, but marveling at how Depp passed on Wes Anderson's GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL to work for David Koepp yet again).

The only upcoming Depp projects that hold interest for me are the Whitey Bulger biopic (though it's being directed by the I-love-Formula Scott Cooper) and Depp's own still-in-the-works Keith Richards documentary.

Then it's back to the safety of being acceptably eccentric in two more PIRATES sequels and a sequel to ALICE IN WONDERLAND (the low point of the Depp/Tim Burton collabotations).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I took a good look around my hometown
of vacant lots and empty buildings
but drove too slow and a policeman followed me
in a police SUV up to a stop sign
where the driver to the right
ran through another stop sign
and the policeman didn't chase that driver
but turned right after we turned left
we then drove to the family home
after passing by junior high
turned into eight-year school
because someone persuaded the town
to close the elementary school
and build what looked like converted trailers
on the junior high property
the billboards on the highway
paint my hometown
as a cozy place
where tourists can exit
and spend an hour or two
once upon a time,
until around 1969,
it qualified as that place
now take a good look around
then see the policeman behind you
and prepare to maybe get a ticket
so the town can have money
to keep breathing

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Final list: Best Films of 2014.

Final listing of best (and otherwise) 2014 films I've seen as of today:
Disappointments From Major Directors: GONE GIRL, LUCY, THE ZERO THEOREM
Overrated to Severely Overrated:

Monday, January 5, 2015

Critic Glenn Kenny on the overrated WHIPLASH (contains plot spoilers).

Yes, Damien Chazelle's problematic-but-overpraised-by-many WHIPLASH is well acted--particularly by male leads Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons and Paul Reiser.  But, as illustrated by the Glenn Kenny quote from his blog SOME CAME RUNNING below, it's a film that wants to have it both ways (thinking back to WHIPLASH's sort-of-spirtual-father, the 1977-released Robby Benson-tormented-by-coach-G.D. Spradlin basketball "story of a winner" ONE ON ONE), having the martinet teacher (who curses and throws out homophobic epithets, unlike the humiliate-in-public band directors I experienced in elementary school, high school and college) torment the student, who then has to show he's Good Enough to impress the Master Tormentor.

Here's the passage from Glenn Kenny--link to the complete post comparing WHIPLASH with BIRDMAN:

Birdman made its positive impression on me because it swept me up in the contrivances of its world. Damien Chazelle's Whiplash did not. On leaving the screening I attended, I thought, "It's not that the movie gets jazz wrong—although it does—it’s that it gets LIFE ON THE PLANET EARTH wrong." (The aforementioned Mr. Brody has written most trenchantly on how it gets jazz wrong.) There's a lot of dynamic filmmaking on display here, most of it in the service of utter horseshit. 
First there's its near-Randroid vision of artistic excellence and non-compromise. (The fact that this is coming from a Harvard graduate kind of stoked my own largely dormant but slightly unpredictable feelings of class resentment, but never mind.)  Much is made about martinet music teacher Terence Fletcher’s speech in which he derides the phrase “Good job,” but more stressful and possibly significant is actor J.K. Simmons’ fake-chirpy delivery of the instruction “have fun.” None of the musicians portrayed in Whiplash are seen to have fun—these guys, and they’re mostly guys, play music, but they don’t play. They’re not seen interacting outside of practice; they don’t get to articulate their ideas about the material they’re playing. Which is all fine, arguably, if the whole jazz thing in the movie is just a pretext for a metaphor anyway. But still. The calculus of the metaphor wants to have things two ways—making art is an exalted thing and it's hard work and it also makes you a bad person, and YOU don't wanna be a bad person—and in that sense, the movie lords it over its audience unforgivably. "Professional. Do Not Attempt."
Some say that all great art flirts with ridiculousness; at the end, Whiplash goes far enough so as to achieve it. The idea that a respected musician would deliberately sabotage a performance of his own ensemble out of spite against a single player, and do it in front of a packed house at Carnegie Hall,  does, I have to say,  test credulity. As does the idea that, after haplessly fucking up on account of an omitted chart (wait, wasn’t this the guy who memorized the “Caravan” chart?) that single player would stalk off the stage of Carnegie Hall, continue to the stage door exit, get hugs from his personification-of-agreeable-mediocrity dad...then go back to the stage and blow the roof off the place. Imagine if in Raging Bull Jake La Motta took that beating from Sugar Ray Robinson, got dragged from the ring, chewed out by Joey... and then returned to the ring, called Ray out and beat him. Yeah sure. 
Also: “the bus gets a flat tire” is seriously the “dog ate my homework” of plot machinations. ALSO: the whole climax of the movie is built around the idea of " 'Caravan' with a drum solo," which is likely to cause profound giggle fits in anyone conversant with early Frank Zappa.

Friday, January 2, 2015


[The following was written last spring.]

I can remember long-ago Friday nights
when people I knew at the American Film Institute
were either watching screenings of old movies
at the theater on the top of the hill
or getting the jump on their first-year video projects
by doing some surreptitious shooting
on the fire lane above the theater
five days to capture on tape
then to the editing room
from there to morning class
Antonio Vellani would screen
the finished product and ask the class
"Do you have any comments on the piece?"
Mr. Vellani again asked for comments
and the students (called fellows)
would gradually speak their minds
>Cut to a quarter-century later
where the AFI students
active in the Industry
display their completed project
and the comments emerge from
legitimate critics (an endangered species),
fanboy websites
and gossip columnists
tweeting, blogging, snarking
without the momentary pause
of film/video students
organizing their thoughts
well aware
of all the push-boulder-uphill work
and what went wrong--and right--
in the preparation
of the cinematic meal.