Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breathless 1983

I wrote this piece for an abortive column on VHS collecting a couple months ago. It seems a bit quaint to me now, as the phenomena of watching unwanted Hollywood fare has been increased greatly thanks to my introduction to Netflix streaming. Anyhow, here is a little love letter to a movie that totally captured my heart.

For a great number of VHS collectors, the drive is finding rare titles unreleased on DVD or the often gaudy/beautiful artwork on many horror and exploitation titles. Being obsessed with ephemeral cinema, this was the road that led me into heavy duty VHS collecting. Over the years, amongst all the uncut big boxes of Nightmare House, The Love Butcher and Fantasy Mission Force (treasured possessions to be sure) a different pattern emerged. As daily trips to thrift stores would rarely yield a real rarity, my addiction to shopping would cause me to pick up "normal" movies that I was perhaps only vaguely curious about since I could now possess them for a mere dollar.
This has caused a couple of unexpected patterns in my film viewing practices. All of a sudden, the guy who was obsessed with the most low-budget forgotten films is now making sure he picks up any high gloss erotic thrillers from the 80s' and early 90's. Gaining access to mainstream movies in this way takes em down a couple notches, removing some of the 10 million dollar smirk from their faces. This feels especially true when the film in question was not a blockbuster...from the silver screen to the trash heap...sounds good to me! In fact, I've found quite a few major studio movies that I've absolutely fallen in love with in these dollar bins.
The most recent example of this absolute love is Jim McBride's much maligned 1983 remake of Goddard's Breathless. Although it's acquired a bit of a cult following in recent times, (that Tarantino dude loves it) it was received with a mixture of bewilderment and indifference when originally released. Many Cineastes balked that the most visible film of the French new wave could be re-made by Americans and most other viewers were wondering why Richard Gere (just recently a superstar) was in such an excessive and artsy ummm, stylistic exercise. Breathless is right there with Flashdance in incorporating a flashy music video aesthetic into Hollywood movies. But along with the heavy color saturation, swimming pools and pop music, we also get fake looking rear projection, anachronisms galore (mostly late 50's stuff everywhere), and overblown performances. Not exactly blockbuster material. And it wasn't, but that's okay, because the movie freaking rules.
Gere plays the leading man as an obnoxious user and a dumbass, but plays him with a ferocity and charm that is a true actor's tour de force. Always twitching, always dancing around, singing, fidgeting and smiling, it's like Jesse Lujack, the small time crook who accidentally kills a cop is fighting to get out of Gere's body. It's an intensely physical performance and it's balls-out aliveness is the centerpiece of the movie. McBride really lavishes on the stylistic excess rocketing the well worn story into here to for unexplored territory. And the fact that the plot is old as dirt works in the film's favor. This is the simple and common as this: small time hood gets in over his head when he pushes delinquent behavior and tries a passionate love affair and flight as his doomed salvation. But what plot couldn't seem trite in that this is an American remake and re-imagining of a movie that was a European reinvention and re-contextualization of American gangster film cliche's? And somehow the well worn territory vibes perfectly with the flashy 1980's stylistic indulgences. Amongst all this we get Lujack and Monica driving around in stolen cars, arguing, fucking, running around and being chased. Lujack hustles, Monica sulks, and some cops try to find him. None of this seems really important though, except a tent-pole to hang the film's wild flourishes. The indulgences don't seem intellectual or ponderous like in the original, this film bleeds and oozes with other-worldliness. The L.A. of Breathless seems so familiar and so alien. It feels like an Los Angeles that we could only know from movies. And my guess as to why the movie didn't jibe with a substantial audience in 1983 is because this film was on the cutting edge in it's 80's look. Breathless needed time to gestate and be "of it's time" and live in that time the same way that the original lived in distant gangster film world. As odd as it sounds, Breathless was too new in 1983. Gere looks and acts like a spastic 50's greaser, extolling the virtues of the Silver Surfer (not created until the late 1960's), driving around various classic cars and singing and blasting Jerry Lee Lewis, aka The Killer. Perhaps audiences at the time didn't have the cultural distance to mesh these anachronisms with the trendy early 80's flash of the film and see the beautifully weird amalgamation.
Across the board, the fans and critics of the film single out as Valerie Kaprisky's performance as Monica as the weakest point of the film. I, however believe that her stilted line readings and that sense of her "not belonging" in the movie work wonders here. As much as Lujack is a near-caricature of a juvenile delinquent, Monica is a an abstraction of an object of desire. She is very beautiful, (I had no trouble looking at her for close to 2 hours), sexually free and from a "distant land." She also doesn't have much impact on the plot beyond being desired and yanked about. She doesn't do much aside from being a star architecture student who sleeps with her professor. But this is perceived as more of an obstacle for Jesse to overcome in order to shackle her to his getaway/descent. Why does he need this need this exotic/“exotic” young woman so desperately? Is it just sexual passion? There certainly is a fair amount of rather explicit sex in the film. Or is it that Jessie has seen the movies, and heard the songs, where if he is the hero, he needs a gal on his arm? And, hey, the women in these archetypal stories often are just candy. This is why I think the shallowness of their chemistry works here.
This shallowness is the world that Jessie knows, all two minute songs about sexual come-ons or doomed romance, late night gangster movies and immature rages. Or is Jessie the actual embodiment of the "oldies," the classic American J.D. story? How can Jessie be real? How could anyone expect that rear projection to look real? How can we be expected to believe that actress who can't seem to act to be so good at architecture? Breathless is freed by it's removal of verisimilitude. The theme on the surface is how the gangster wannabe becomes the gangster. But what makes this film really special is that through it's style and Gere's ballsy performance Breathless becomes something else. Breathless is about how a movie becomes "the movies." Oh, and it's not a bore like Goddard's.
So, yeah, it felt perfect and awesome to rescue this VHS tape from a dusty shelf in a junk store, like an old issue Jerry Lee Lewis 45 and watch it come back to life. Back in the day, I think it was probably just a little too "alive" for most people.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Deadly Force (Paul Aaron 1983)

The past couple of months one of the main things I've been scanning for when thrift shopping for VHS is the name Wings Hauser. I had seen Vice Squad a couple of years ago, and oddly, the singularity of that amazing performance didn't send me on the hunt for more Wings. It was like, how could anything even come close to that tour de force of actor/character insanity? So I didn't really seek anything out. Street Asylum (Gregory Dark 1990) appeared on my doorstep recently, and I couldn't resist...I mean G. Gordon Liddy as the bad guy? I'm in! This film puts him in a role as nutty and intense as Ramrod, but unfortunately it's not the fine piece of work that Vice Squad is. So, luckily I have a lot of stuff to wade through as our big grinning nutjob has had quite the busy career in films and television.
So after Street Asylum (which set off my need to start finding more) , I have moved on to Deadly Force, which I've had on VHS for a while, but never bothered watching. Well, it's not without it's charm.
We get a little prelude where the first of many innocent victims is killed in a quick and tossed off manner. Actually now that I think of it, aforementioned victim is tossed off of a balcony after having her throat slit. Somehow this murder comes off as rather tame and reminiscent of something from an episode of Hunter. Then we make it to Stoney Cooper.
Yes, Wings plays a guy named Stoney; a guy who dribbles a soccer ball and is pretty good at rat roulette (is this a real thing?). He also is a piano playing guy who seems to be drinking away his responsibilities at some dive bar. Or is drinking because he doesn't like flying and he has a plane to catch? Anyhow, this is the first of an endless parade of details that don't really attain clarity.
So, Stoney gets a call from somebody about diffusing a situation with a revolutionary strapped with dynamite. He agrees after negotiating a $20,000 cash payment, putting on his LAPD bullet proof vest in an NYC cab with Estelle Getty plays the sassy taxi driver. They talk about this "X" killer that has been terrorizing LA, killing people at random. So that's established.
Stoney goes to this warehouse, attacks the guy threatening to blow the place and talks him out of not detonating his chest strapped dynamite. This unfortunately is the only scene where Wings really lets that unhinged lunatic thing loose, prefiguring the Lethal Weapon crazy-cop thing by a couple of years. It's also not really up to snuff, considering Wings' ability for convincing the viewer of potential loose screws. By normal cop movie standards it's pretty entertaining though. This scene does feature the first of a lot of casual racist remarks about Latinos, which seems out of place and certainly irritates. Do we really need to hear condescending shit like "buy a quesadilla, amigo?"
And as the plot progresses we get into serious "normal cop movie standards" territory. Stoney is of course flying to L.A. cuz he used to be LAPD and his old buddy needs help finding the "X" killer. After Stoney lost his badge to the "by the book" captain (angry black guy, of course), part of the deal was that he'd never come back to L.A., but here he is and he's interfering with official police business!!!!! Oh, lord. It does feel strange that we aren't witness to the loss of badge scene as it is the most easy to mentally picture thing in the world at this point.
Stoney also has a estranged wife he is still in love with who is a TV reporter also investigating the case. They fight, they flirt, they investigate...they investigate very inefficiently with the help of Sam, the "old friend" who's granddaughter was the girl who got thrown off the balcony.
It's montage time as everybody goes around shaking down hoods and TV reporting and hitting dead ends and meandering like lost dogs. This seems to take forever, and it's a sad state of a movie when this kind of thing is interrupted by random violent murders and it's still a bore!
Luckily it's all so unrealistic and silly that entertainment is there for those masochists like myself who sit through this stuff. One thing I found really amusing during all this dross was the music, which is really over cooked and does not seem like it belongs at all. Most of the cues sound way more dramatic than appropriate for the action on screen (Wings walking down the street? Heavy riffing guitar solos all the way!), and often doesn't really time with what's happening. Could it be library tracks? Not sure.
Amidst all this, a skeezy self help guru convinces a crowd that they are not losers, and is interviewed by Eddie, the TV reporter estranged wife. I wonder if this seemingly unrelated stuff has to do with the plot? It takes another 45 minutes to find out. And that's the rub, the pacing of this movie is all screwy. We get these long periods of what seems like inconsequential dead end nothing and crammed into the last half is a whole giant mess of a plot that comes so fast that it also has no meaning! This one's really lacking in the "sense" department.
There are some little details that are whacked out enough to make this an enjoyable diversion if you are into that sort of the mob boss (I think?) asleep while his gal watches lesbian porn (Stoney chuckles and says "They're gay") and a cheap hooker hanging out in a church. Also, many of the performances are quirky and gnarled enough keep things interesting. And Wings is always good to watch...I mean, he does chew the scenery, just not as much as he could and should. Sigh... And for those who have the hots for him, you get an overlong scene of him getting shot at while he covers his junk with a towel and (duh) a sex scene with him and wifey. Otherwise, it's rather disappointing even for a low rent action completist like myself. We'll be okay though, we always are. There just better be better Wings movies waiting in the wings.

Friday, July 15, 2011

VHS Memories part one

At some point in 1985, my father brought home our first VCR, along with two rented VHS tapes. The thing was a top loading monster with a remote control attatched by a wire (!!!!) and a ton of little nobs for fine tuning that I never touched. The two rented titles were Purple Rain for the parents, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute for me and my sis. In a round about way, this is how I learned about sex as a concept, as before Purple Rain, I thought the only reason why little kids like myself couldn't watch a movie would be because of it's scary content. And since we all dug Prince (at least casually, my sister was only two at the time), I couldn't figure out why we were banished from the viewing. How could a Prince movie be scary? Well, Graffiti Bridge aside, I think something had to be explained to me...I guess it was the concept of "Adult Situations," if not the act of sex itself. I was seven, and I would get some full on exposure to sexy stuff after watching a rented copy of Police Academy with my friend Pat's family only (I think) a few weeks later. Awesome.
Never a family for home taping (yet), we, like so many Americans, got caught up in video-rental-fever. Honestly, I don't know how we were able to afford the VCR in the first place, but I was happy to be right in the mix with the rich kids for once. For these early years, our rental joint was also our corner store. The Little Store, named after it's cramped-assness. In fact, The Little Store was/is so small that there were no videos on display, only a 3 ring binder with a print out of the titles. If memory serves, there was no genre division, purely alphabetical. I'm pretty sure they squeezed a small deli in the 12x12 space in addition to the corner store stuff and the vids. A few of the big releases would have their boxes on display behind the counter. I stared endlessly, fearfully at box for Poltergeist. Transfixed, concentrating, worrying. I have the vaguest memories of seeing the trailers for said film on television and being absolutely scared out of my wits. The idea of a TV (my best friend, essentially) sucking in a little kid was essentially the root of me anxiously running away from horror movies (or anything tense or grim) until I was nine or ten years old. This may not seem like a big deal since I was so young, but it seemed that anything my peers talked about horror movies, and it also tranferred over to any movie that could possible be "scary." Totally tried to talk my way out of seeing the Goonies in the theater. "because it has skeletons in it." What a pussy. Good thing I was convinced.
I don't really recall my parents rental choices, but I'm sure that I just rented Empire Strikes Back, and Superman I and II over and over again. I never really bothered with Star Wars too much as I loved Empire with a burning passion...still do.
My pal Pat's family went to a store one town over in Salem called Video Voyage. I'm not sure if it was convenient for them in some other way, or there was no other video rental spot in our town of Marblehead, but the selection at Video Voyage seemed way more impressive. Going with the three brothers and a babysitter to pick out a movie was my first time in a Video Store proper, and it was pretty cool. I didn't venture into the horror section, I think not out of fear, but just cuz I didn't know such a thing could exist yet. So yeah, the boxes were on display and I was a tad overwhelmed and just let Michael and Pat and the babysitter deliberate (Darby was too little to do much arguing). The choices were Jaws, First Blood, and Altman's Popeye, all three of which they had seen, I had seen none. Michael had quite a lisp and now anytime I think of First Blood all I can here in my head is this kid a couple years older than me emphatically repeating "First Bwood! Wet's went First Bwood! C'mon wet's get First Bwood!"
Jaws was the selection and I honestly can't believe I stuck around for that ten minutes before I snuck out of there basement TV room and walked home. Normally I would have not even been in the same room with a scary movie, but I'm pretty sure the promise of a naked girl in the opening moments kept me around. After relishing that voyeuristic shower scene in Police Academy, I was a 7 year old horndog. A bonerless horndog, who still didn't know what sex was, but still, I wanted to see naked girls as much as possible. My Dad rented me Revenge of the Nerds when I was home sick with the chicken pox in second grade....what a guy....naked girls on hidden camera and under pie plates...I was in heaven.
Soon we got cable (with Showtime!) and the renting subsided for a little bit. The Little Store's selection may have lost it's appeal and there were a couple of store bought videos that started the kid-vid library. One of those Golden Book cheapo talking story book ones, and some Berenstein Bears thing, but damn.....cable. I watched a LOT of cable. With the diminishing rental action a lot of my "repeated VCR" viewing needs were met by my Aunt, Uncle and cousin, who were serious home-tapers and filled blank GE tapes with 3 movies apiece taped off of HBO on their GE brand VCR. Me and cousin Mike spent tons of time together, and a bunch of that time revolved around watching his parents' tapes. Watching many scenes over and over and over. I must have seen the girl get sucked out of the chimney in Weird Sciene 500 times. This practice, and that particular VCR lasted until the mid 90's.
At home though, it was mostly cable. A sort of sequel to the mistaking a sexy movie for a scary movie came one night when Bachelor Party was about to be on Showtime (I can still see that "Up Next" title card in my head) and my dad shooshing me off to bed. I was convinced that his veracity in getting me to bed had to do with HOW SCARY this movie must be...and cuz Bachelor really sounded like Butcher...but anywayssss.
Around this time I became really good friends with a rather well off kid named....well, I probably shouldn't use his real name, but it's just too good, and I won't say anything slanderous, so I'm just gonna do it. His name was/is Barron Butler. Him and his new-agey mother lived down the street in a rather modern 4 story house. I gotta tell ya, I grew up in a rather ritzy town called Marblehead, renowned for lots of things, but primarly for it's snootiness and it's yachting culture. My dad grew up there when the town was only half ritzy, the other half being more of a fishing community. So I got to grow up thinking I was poor, when I most certainly was not. Being friends with Barron and his endlessly generous mother really exposed me a lot of the "finer things in life" I must say. One of these things was a camcorder with a top loading VCR component that Barron often had set up in his room! In case you didn't know, most camcorders up until the late 80s required hauling a small VCR on a strap in addition to the actual camera part.
Mary (Barron's mother) would take us another Video Voyage to rent tapes for us to watch all the time. This is how I saw The Karate Kid and Ghostbusters (was too scared to see this in the theater...sigh) and many more showings up Superman. I think on these visits to VV, I started to maybe glance around with an eye out for the horror section. Though I was still scared to death of even the IDEA of horror movies, they were starting to intrigue me more and more....from a distance. This video store was also the first I ever saw that rented video games; NES, but at this point I still just had Atari. This was 1986.
In 1987, the house we lived in was sold without us knowing, and we had 30 days to get out. The only real option was moving into my Grandparents' tiny house in blighted Lynn, two towns over. Lynn is a very different place than Marblehead, and since I was unable to make annnnnnnnnny friends in this new city, I had even more time to watch TV. Since most of our lives were still back in Marblehead, my Dad did a lot of driving back and forth, and right in the middle of the route was Photographics. Photographics was my introduction to the kind of video store that would in some respects, rule the rest of my life and dreams. This place had built itself around the BOOM that was home video rental. The impression I got was that Photographics had a lot of capital and used it to buy every tape they could, regardless of what it was. And what that meant was a huge horror section. This was the first time I ventured into the dark mysteries of the mom and pop video store...well, ventured is probably too strong a word. More like skirted the borders of the land of big boxes with grotesque covers. I had heard of the controversy of the "santa slasher movie," but instead of weird murmurs, here was the thing itself. Silent Night, Deadly Night, with Santa's axe wielding arm descending a chimney...yikes....way scarier to me than the movie ended up being. And why was the box so goddamned big? But what fucked me up even more was ANOTHER Christmas horror movie, Terror in Toyland that I had never heard any parents scoff about.
In fact, I had never heard anyone say much about any of these movies. Well, the titles I could make out as I quickly walked passed. One odd thing about Photographics was that it was the only videostore I ever went to where the boxes had velco on the back and the shelves had cloth backing that it stuck to. Me and sis usually ended up choosing the one dollar "Disney World tour video" tapes. My dad did rent me Fast Times at Ridgemont High one time, even though I didn't ask. I think he just wanted to watch it himself. I think he let me watch some of it at least. But I had a LOT of my T&A desires fulfilled with our continued subscription to Showtime...thank god.
Around this time I saw my old music teacher from Marblehead looking for a movie. I went up to Mr. Sano and asked him what he was doing, and he responded by saying that he was having friends over and needed a good movie. I recommended Secret of My Success without knowing anything about it outside of the commercial and the video for the Night Ranger song of the same name. Always trying to impress the elders with how sophisticated I was...He said he had already seen it and liked it. Mr. Sano had bright orange hair, was probably in his early 50's and all the kids said he wore a wig to conceal his green hair.
After 9 long months in Lynn, we found an apartment in Marblehead closer to the downtown area, giving the more independent me of 1988 access to two video stores. I don't know if Videoscope and Video Attractions were new at the time, but I didn't know about them until now, and I was fucking psyched. I was mostly so excited cuz both places rented NES games, but there was something about VA that started to haunt me. Both stores were wayyyy smaller than Photographics and thus had a much smaller library. This meant I was a lot less intimidated by size of the horror section at VA and I got my bravery up enough to look at some of the boxes up close. The shelf with the 30 odd horror movies was set way in the back hidden by other shelves, and considering the low foot traffic I was afforded a lot of privacy to confront my fears. I had just recently seen my first ever horror movie, Maximum Overdrive on Showtime, and there was no turning back, even if I was still terrified. It still is one of my all time faves, and I thank god I started with something gory but silly, to ease me into this stuff. Watching this scene in my Grammy's rec-room basement is perhaps the moment I really fell in love with horror movies:
I became fast friends with my new neighbor Ian, who was two years younger than me and a big fan of horror movies, so I knew I had to get over this fear pretty quickly. This consisted mostly of getting his babysitter to rent the Nightmare on Elm Street series for us at Videoscope.
One of the things that really increased the appeal of renting R rated movies from these two stores were that they were both run by two different middle aged pills who openly disapproved of our tasteless selections. In our favor we not only had the of-age babysitter renting for us, we also had permission from Ian's mother to rent R rated movies. This didn't stop these women at both stores from calling his mom to express disgust...heh, heh, heh. Ian's Mom, to her vast credit, really stuck by her guns in these situations. Maybe it was a little weird at the time that a nine year old got carte blanche with movie stuff, but this eleven year old wasn't complaining. I gotta say, that I don't think we'd get away with renting R rated sex comedies or whatever, but for whatever reason, my too young horndog side subsided for a bunch of years. Yes, the years that constitute puberty...I don't know what the fuck was wrong with me, but I was much more interested in Hip Hop, Metal, Horror Movies, Star Wars and Cartoons to care about sex...hmmm.
But even with me and Ian (and his little, little brother Eric) watching the mainstream cannon of R-rated horror and action movies for the next couple of years, some of those video boxes at Video Attractions still freaked me the fuck out. Because nobody had heard of these movies, and because the artwork looked so amateurish, this had to be the "really hard stuff," right? Although some of the movies that I was looking at might have had crueler or gorier stuff going on, it was more of a "hard" degree of scariness or creepiness that I was imagining. Truth of Dare: A Critical Madeness was one such video box. How could an embossed cover with a razor blade and dripping blood and a back cover featuring a chainsawed little leaguer be anything but the scariest movie ever? Of course, having seen this flick in later years, I saw how utterly unscary the movie is. Crazy and gory? IN HEAPS. Scary? Last word I'd use to describe it.
I never rented it back then because I was too frightened, but moreso I didn't want access to a world I was not ready for. In my estimation, there was perhaps evil, or spiritual darkness in these videos, and though I know better about the movies themselves, I still link places like Video Attrractions with that sort of feeling. I still dream about it occasionally, actually. But in my more spooked younger mind such unspeakable things should not be let out in such an unassuming little store. It was a well lit glorified cabin with shelves, not a place where the dark spirits of the universe could safely exist!
And this is what was push/pull. this was what kept me going back to rental places and studying movies I would never rent. I wanted the darkness, but I was too protective of the keeping of appearances. Though I relished pissing off the owner-women when renting something they found tasteless, I didn't want to be seen tip toeing into a world that was unsafe or tasteless in MY opinion. I knew I was not ready, I wonder if those ladies ever picked up those same boxes and looked a little too closely and freaked themselves out? Kinda funny how the me and the store ladies are going on the same basic misinformation when deciding on the merits of these films.
The first time that I really dipped my toe in that nameless evil pool was a few years later when me and my only friend from school dared to rent Last House on the Left from Videoscope. This was the mostly uncut version released in the 80's with the image of the woman lying in the huge hand. By this time I had started reading Fangoria (which of course mostly dealt with the gore effects of contemporary films) any other scant info on horror movies I could find. I was a BIG Wes Craven fan at this point (Shocker was another favorite rental for sleepover parties), so one of the films I ended up reading about was LHOTL. And fucking christ, I knew I was doing something bad when I rented that. Texas Chainsaw Massacre had a similar "bad" feel, but at least that had the name recognition and less grungy sequels.
LHOTL was secret, and honestly I don't think the pill at Videoscope would have rented this one out had she known what the fuck she had in her own fucking store. One of the few things that made renting this rape-revenge classic was I Spit on Your Grave staring at us from the shelf above. That had to be much worse, as it had "MUST BE 18 to RENT ID REQUIRED" prominently scrawled on that big-box-cut-down-to-clamshell case. I had also read that scathing "zero star" review that Roger Ebert had in his Movie Home Companion. If I Spit on Your Grave was so deplorable that you needed ID, then Last House on the Left must be sorta acceptable right? I mean, this was Wes Craven, who, at the time, was sort of respected for Serpent and the Rainbow...remember this was long before horror films became a widely regarded genre. If a horror movie was going to be liked by "regular people" it just got rebranded a thriller.
So yeah, we take this movie home, and I cannot express how it made me feel. Well I can't express it without using a long list of adjectives: fascination, disgust, self loathing, hilarity, fear, exhilaration, but still that doesn't quite cover it. This is really the first movie(and now amongst maybe only 4) that really bothered me after I finished watching it. Scarred me, I guess you could say. In a good way, even if a big part of me didn't want to accept that I could ENJOY being so disturbed. But I guess this is what I had been dancing around ever since I saw those Poltergeist commercials: that there were these things out there designed to terrify you, and people LIKED it! What I didn't understand at the time, since I saw no horror films for so long, was that these movies rarely even came close to what my little kid self would imagine as far as the sadistic element goes. When I finally saw Poltergeist, I thought it was "cool" and maybe a little scary, but nothing like the images I concocted when the movie was described to me. So essentially, Last House on the Left was the first crack in the dam, and now I was searching for things movies that were gonna match that feeling.
Where was I gonna find it though? Even though Video Attractions had a few years left in them after I saw Last House, I still too self conscious to try and rent Truth or Dare, or the few other nasty titles, though I would go to rent more normal movies there on occasion. Incidentally, in addition to the horror, there was also a porn room which no one was ever in, probably cuz no one would want to rent X-rated movies from that fucking lady. You really have to wonder about these people who open up stores where they try to profit from stuff they public anyway.
The solution lay in Photographics, which was one town over but still bikeable and overstuffed with sleazy vids. Even better they had a "rent 5 movies for 5 days for 5 bucks" deal, which really sealed it for me, considering the lack of easy access to the place. This was my early high school education...forget friends, parties or girls, it was stacks of horror movies, punk rock and Star Wars....I guess not really that different from before, but having STACKS of movies made a big difference...especially since they were weird titles not available in Marblehead.
Around this time however, a defector from Video Attractions opened up Chet's Video. Chet was a cool guy and had a little bit more of an arty sensibility than his old employer. This meant that when Reservoir Dogs came out, I rented it from him.....and all the stuff that came in it's wake. Of course a lot of it was god awful, but damn, so happy that my dad gave Chet the go-ahead to rent Bad Lieutenant at age 14.
After a couple of years of this intensive movie watching, I finally found myself a girlfriend, and our rather intense relationship kind of put the movie obsession on hold for a while. I got most of my kicks reading Film Threat (a magazine that in retrospect could only have seemed okay to an idiot-know-it-all 16 year old like myself) and the few books on horror films I managed to find. The Overlook Encyclopedia of Horror really blew my mind apart and started me on the path of reading tons about movies I could never hope to see, cuz they were obscure Italian gore films or whatever. Little did I know what was in store for me once I hit college.
...and that's part 2......

Thursday, June 30, 2011

I do to youtube what UHF used to do to me.

It seems that youtube, a website you may have heard of, is a kind of spiritual successor to what low rent and late night television was pre-informercial. Well, at least the way I use it. Seems to me the only way to really indulge that time-wasting URL is with open ended mazes of related clips of old glitchy ephemera. Essentially anything recorded originally on video tape, then converted to digital. Most other shit I don't care about, but if you get into the good stuff, it's maze like . And what kind of stuff was originally taped by video enthusiasts and then posted on da web? Some home videos, but mostly weird shit from TV! And their used to be a lot of weird shit on TV, sometimes right in plain view, other times squished to the margins. And generally, the odder the airtime, the odder the programming. I'm pretty sure it still so happens that most television channels switch to a block of paid for advertisements in the wee hours. That or a repeat of the daytime programming. I don't have cable, so I'm basing this on my visits to the abode of the 'rents and their 500 channels. I wonder what the Bruce Springsteen of 89 would have thought of 559 channels and nothin's on, but I digress. Back when broadcast television was the norm and cable was the exception, most stations (broadcast and cable) went off the air. Preceding and following that nothing was another weird sort of nothing. This was television for the not-worth-it. And so the cheapest programming available was the standard of late night broadcast television. Late night movies became synonymous with the forgotten or unsellable. "The Late Show" and "The Late Late Show" were cultural signifiers of the insomniac, or the obsessive movie fan who needed to see that old piece of celluloid that no one sane cared about anymore. Movies were sold to stations in packages, with more tantalizing titles at the top and the unsellable tacked on the bottom. when else to show Zontar but when no one but miscreants were watching? This seems akin to the current cultural idea of the late night internet rat. Y'know, nerdy, sleepless and lonely. The main difference, obviously was that it was a oneway info-feed.
"The Late Show" as it was popularly known, was a format used by network television to provide affordable filler for said insomniacs and movie buffs. Affordable=cheap! CBS called this "The CBS Late Movie" which ran from 1972 to 1993, being a network and all, the programming tended to be a bit classier than the smaller stations. Along with the expected horror films (including The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, The Valley of the Gwangi) current TV movies and reruns of contemporary prime time CBS shows. The other networks left these "Late Show" programs in the hands of affiliates, with varying names e.g. The Bedtime Movie in KTTV in Los Angeles.

For UHF stations the daytime was cruddy enough as these were independently owned stations without powerful broadcast signals and little money to spend on what was beamed to the masses. They had their own package movie programs for Prime Time and Weekends which was where the top their stuff went, so you can imagine what was put out on air in the early morning or late night, when only lowlives were watching. (Of course this ties in with the phenomena of the local Horror Movie Hosts which is covered in depth in the great documentary American Scary. I also wasn't exposed to such hosts back in the day (UGH) so I won't go into that here).
Sign offs, test patterns and static filled the wee-est of the hours, but bottom of the barrel flix after the main feature and rubbish cartoons at 6am book ended the negative zone with hard to trace ephemera. All of these stations had a sign off time which made the return of SOMETHING, ANYTHING to be special. When you can't sleep at your friend's cableless slumber party and the television does nothing but throw snow at you, you are gonna be pretty fucking happy when any goddamned thing comes on the air. And thus, when something did finally show up on that cathode ray, you watched it. Or I watched it, at my friends' slumber party, in league with some angry loners and unemployable folk. This often meant (especially on Sunday) local public affairs shows. Not fun to watch, but I sat there anyway. Sort of reminds me of the way I sit and stare at my computer screen sometimes looking for some abstract digi-human contact.

Any connection with something alive felt good when all of your annoying friends were snoring with cheezball induced bellyaches 10 feet from you. You might also come across sitcoms you weren't aware existed or cartoons that seemed to have originated from another planet. This kind of seemingly interplanetary cartoon exposure might have blown me away had it not been for the fact that cartoons from who-the-fuck-knows populated most of the morning and afternoon blocks of the local UHF stations...along with public affairs programs and old sitcoms. It was just that at 6am, the otherworldiness was bit more extreme. The beauty of UHF was that it was semi batshit even in it's prime hours. This is how I grew up, watching Boston's WLVI 56, WSBK 38 and WFXT 25 (and that mysterious channel 66). Being a young clueless kid in the 80s, I didn't realize that a lot of my favorite shows were from the 70s. I dug the hot current live-action shows like Knight Rider, Diff'rent Strokes and A-Team but I connected alot more with the re-runs being played on the UHF stations like Three's Company, The Brady Bunch and Good Times. In contrast to how those shows and others from the 70s became linked to a specific nostalgia, I had no idea they were old or incongruous with current trends. This lack of recognition of the period of origin of fave showz was even more intense with cartoon reruns. A big part of this was that many of the hottest new cartoons were playing in syndication on UHF channels completely in the mix with "picked up for cheap" relics from the past. In this way you the viewers cultural collage was picked out for them. This stream of consciousness folded in on itself with the airing of Looney Tunes and Rocky and Bullwinkle which were fast paced mind fucks on their own! What was a young mind to make of all this besides revel in it? Well, revel in it, I did...thank god.

This also worked with the movies, as I was lucky enough to be a viewer of the weekday afternoon program "Creature Double Feature." This was WLVI's double feature of late-night monster movies, but aired just after the network Saturday Morning Cartoons ended. In other words it was the perfect schedule for young couch potatoes like myself. I was scared out of my wits 6 year old watching Japanese rubber suit monster movies and creaky old mummy movies, and it was fucking great. Again, I had no idea that these movies came from another time or another place beyond that mysterious realm of weirdo TV. It was a twilight zone, essentially. Weird how they use a little of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Toccata" for the theme. Did they get permission?

With state of the art televisions being out of the price range of many American families, a lot of us non-cable households were stuck with dials and no remote control. This meant that changing channels required dedication and a sense of purpose. And when you have only 6 other stations, channel 56 is probably gonna be your best bet anyway. So we were fed our stimuli, and we (or at least I) thoroughly absorbed it. The scattershot images received, from refracted and nebulous origins helped create a neurological hive of ghostly transmissions. I'm freely willing to admit that my exposure to such stimuli was in my formative years and so, probably a bit inflated in the contrast to anyone other than myself, but whattayagonnado? The strangest phenomena of all in the realm of UHF for me personally was the use of Public Service Announcements especially by the aforementioned WLVI 56. FCC regulations of the day required a set amount of time set aside for public service, a standard that has been eroded to nearly nothing once the Communications Bill of 1996 was signed into law. Broadcasters had usually dealt with this regulation by relegating the public service programming to a time when they knew very few were watching, a la "The CBS Late Movie." This is why we had locally produced public affairs shows playing out on early Sunday morning as I mentioned earlier. WLVI seemed to take a different tact, which was to play PSA's during their mid-morning and afternoon cartoon block. What made this so strange was that a few of these spots were contemporary, most were recycled from the late 60s and onward. This created a stark contrast when some puppets shot in grainy late 60s style were telling you to save electricity during a commercial break from the latest episode of The Transformers. Many questions abounded the head of young WLVI viewers...who were these puppets? Where did they come from? Why are they telling me to shut off my record player before leaving the house? Why does this look so different from Masters of the Universe adverts? The stealthiness of these relics was of course increased when they existed amongst such contemporary PSA action like a break dancing werewolf telling you to eat school lunch and robo-anthropomorphic foodstuffs teaching nutrition. What was new and what was old? And more importantly; what does it mean to be modern and what does it mean to be old? Watching the old cartoons amidst the new (and still digging them!) made you wonder why kids at school weren't carrying Herculoids or Mr. Magoo lunch boxes. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that the episodes of the Bozo the Clown show that I watched so feverishly as a tiny person were actually taped in 15 years before I had seen them, though my envy of the kid contestants as they fought for the treasure chest full of toys and giant Tootsie Roll was as in the moment as the quickly soggifying bowl of cheerios in front of my 3 year old self. The blend of the new and the ancient made for a certain delicious combination that sets a fire my belly all these years later.

As cable became more popular, the stream of consciousness became much more in the hands of the viewer. The cable box and it's companion remote control was for me and most everyone I knew the first way in which a viewer could sit on a couch and aimlessly switch around stations. Yes, a big appeal of cable was the leaving behind of the knobs and surrendering the large console to the tiny box with buttons and a digital display. Now, this is really where the youtube comparison comes into play. I don't know about you, but when I go on that there website, I get sent on a mystical journey not so much determined by purpose, but by a flow of images. I look up one thing, and then tempted by another image on the sidebar I click, sent on another voyage. Now in parallel with other UHF stations needing cheap programs, such is the case with a lot of cable stations. The difference being that with cable, you had a viewer guide channel that would tell you what you were watching and what was up next, and what was on all the other channels...if you had the patience to sit and watch the slow text scrawl. In the daylight hours, one could generally use this information to center yourself: "Yes, I am paying for a children's station called Nickelodeon and they are playing a pretty weird British Sci-Fi show called 'The Third Eye.' Seems odd, but I will look for something more suited to my taste." Once the nighttime comes, the viewer is on his/her own, a voyager amidst the detritus of human entertainment. In the daytime and prime-time, you knew your fellow man was awake also basking in the glow of the warming box. But at 2am, what a creep you are! Trolling for softcore porn and only finding nudity in low rent drama's or teen sex comedies, you are the leaky crust of humanity and you feel alone and disturbed. This isn't like the old days where the networks and the UHF stations signed off! Some of these cable stations stay on all night, and what the fuck is this movie playing? Often at night, the channel guide scroll wouldn't be too accurate or complete. WTF, awesome! And just like UHF on a large scale you had a cavalcade of old and new shows that first and foremost forced the "WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?" question.

Most exciting though, was the USA Network's program Night Flight which unfortunately I have only experienced recently on tape and on youtube. The late night show ran for long blocks (four hours for a majority of it's run) from 1981 to 1988. A syndicated version ran in the 90s, but I don't recall seeing it in any of the stations in my Cablevision package. Night Flight took an underground approach to twilight TV, playing oddball animated shorts, cult films (like Fantastic Planet!), new wave and punk videos, and tons of the other stuff all mashed together. It's a real trip and I highly reccomend checking it out. When it left the air, it was replaced by USA's Up All Night which was my source for weird/crappy movies when I was a teenager throughout the 90s, which was a real boon to me, but I really wish I saw Night Flight as a runt.

Well, of course what happened was that the cheapest available programming for anyone was programming that paid to be there, which where infomercials came in. Back when these things first started appearing I watched them often, laughing at how suckers must be born every nanosecond if the sales pitches were working. But I must have been right about the nanosecond thing, cuz these half hour shit-spiels filled vast amounts of programming space. And shit, it was the same couple of fucking product pitches over and over. Where once was the untraceable, was now the homogenized.
This is youtube, or at least how I experience it. All alone, late at night, looking at images that seem to have been ignored for decades. The mouse is the remote control to the cable box of sad mysteries and grainy educational puppets. Sneaking upon the hidden domain of film-making efforts forgotten with reason. Forgotten because they wanted to be forgotten. They live in the late night like ghosts haunting a castle hallway. Creeps like myself keeping the memory alive by continuing to look. Does the element of control in the hands of the viewer take away or give more to the experience? I'm not so sure. It definitely seems less magical in a way, but I'm sure that a lot of this has to do with my age, being an old codger of 32 now. But the magic is lingering. Maybe it's just that I choose to look at such things on this here website that gives me the same feeling, but hell, when I'm on here I'm possessed to look at such things. In fact I often find myself on the computer in the dark lonely hours, looking at the PSA's that were the staple of WLVI. Maybe I'm just the crazy one.
T hat being said, I'm still try to keep the magic alive, as are the freaks who take the time to digitize and upload their old tapes to the web. Even I'm too lazy to do that! And I have a lot of tapes!


Monday, June 27, 2011

For Clarence

I never thought it would be like this. I always joked that I better go to a Springsteen show sometime soon, cuz the guy obviously was gonna keel over from a heartattack after the umpteenth marathon show. Umpteenth is probably the wrong word...countless? Infinite? Time was running out, and though Bruce is one of my favorite artists in the history of histories, I've never seen him. In fact, I've only been to one "real concert" in my whole life, and that was AC/DC at the Boston Garden in 98. That was an incredible show, but I'm just far too much of a cheapskate to throw around money on these big concerts. I'm more of a house show kind of guy through and through. But I still needed to see Bruce. That's how I referred to him, just Bruce...though in my mind, that was the complete package. Bruce was the E Street Band also...I guess I just didn't think of the individuals in the band that much. And I had some reason, Max Weinberg always struck me as kind of a dork, Little Steven could be hard to take seriously and a bunch of the others I don't know anything about at all. I loved Clarence, but I vaguely put him in "guilty pleasure" category as it was the Big Man's sax that I had to deal with anytime I got into one of those "a friend dislikes Springsteen conversations." It was always "I just can't deal with the sax" or the "I just can't deal with all the U.S.A. lyrics." Of course the latter is easily attributed to the mainstream perception of Bruce overtaking the actual meaning of his work, but the sax thing was harder to contend with...Clarence's Sax is bigger than life and sort of coexists with the supercorny urban sax thing(which I love in another way, but that's another story), but it's different. I always tried to explain, but I'm always having these conversations with NOISE DUDES, and it just doesn't connect. And I get it, cuz well, I'm a NOISE DUDE and I have been for many years. Getting into experimental/noise/actuallyunderground music kind of prefigures that you have a distrust of popular music. Sure, I like tons pop music, but there is a certain separation. I love it for it's production quality, audacity in pandering, and it's power in affecting people/myself despite all this. This is also how my friends relate to pop music, but I have another little thing. I have Bruce.
Sure, I've got Neil Young and Prince. Those guys also get me right in the heart and the brain and the spirit, but there's a difference. Neil and Prince are WEIRD. They are experimenters, they are oddballs, they send you juicy curveballs to absorb. Bruce is NOT WEIRD. If he's a little weird, then the rest of the E Street Band possesses not one atom of weirdness. So what grabs me? I don't know...realness and hope, I guess.
Yeah, my relationship with the music of Bruce is completely unique to me. The way I relate to Neil Young and Prince is similar but not close. Bruce has a piece of me, and it's a secret piece and it's a precious thing. I don't listen to him unless I'm in a very specific and special mood. There's a good reason for that: most of the fucking songs bring me to tears. Why? The only thing I can say is that rascally aforementioned realness, the obnoxious, hard to deal with hope stuff. That's my theory anyhow, I just don't know.
I'm a cynic and sarcastic bastard by nature and I have a hell of time just fucking FEELING y'know! It's painful to really FEEL, because to do that you need hope. You need a sliver of humanity, a grain of belief. I'd tell you on any fucking day of the week that belief is a folly and faith is annoying. I'm into being as good a person as I can be, cuz that is what makes life livable, but if I attached it to some grand belief or faith in the fate of the human race, I'd kick my own ass for being such a stooge. But yeah, every once in a while, I will bust out those E Street Band LPs and feel like a fool, but a hopeful fool...and it's painful and hard for me to deal these feelings don't have much to do with how I actually live my life. But it hits me somewhere in the core of my fucking heart. I don't know. The musical voice that is Bruce is always searching, begging for meaning. The various characters, no matter how beaten or carefree are trying to understand and trying to feel as deep as possible. It's unintuitive to identify with that, especially as a disgruntled 32 year old!
As you may have noticed from the way I write about this music, my focus was on BRUCE/THE BOSS. And this is why I was so sideswiped by the loss of The Big Man 9 days ago. I didn't know it was coming, and I didn't know what it meant. But I knew immediately, that he was irreplaceable and he was gone. Sax styling I thought needed defending before were now revealed to me as inimitable. Anybody else playing like him could only sound like parody. The only antecedents that made sense to me were Jr. Walker and King Curtis, and that was still something different. Clarence was his own, but he was also half of a pure partnership.
As soon as I read that Clarence Clemons had passed, I knew it was the end of The E Street Band. I knew I would never see that band play. Incompleteness was like a void rushed upon my heart. I never knew how important it was to me...what they were. Bruce and Clarence. As soon as I read that he died I just fucking google image searched him to put up an acknowledgement on that Facebook thing and the first thing I saw was the "Born to Run" cover shot. That partnership, that teamwork, that friendship, that fucking LOVE evident in that photo brought me to tears. I always looked upon it with a fondness, but FUCK. This man is GONE. This pillar. I had always focused on Bruce but Clarence, Clarence was almost like his reason for being there. I knew that Bruce and Little Steven had a close personal bond, but they were more like equals. Clarence was more the yin to Bruces yang, or whatever. The rest of the band lays a foundation...and those two are like the fucking twin towers. Fuck the cynical youth if it thinks The Big Man's sax is too corny, I don't care! I feel it like anvils on my chest!
And maybe it's not yin and yang, maybe it's something stranger, more least musically. The way I see it, it's like Stevie, Max, Roy, and the rest of the band create the world...Bruce becomes the creature...stalking the world, reaching for meaning, or reaction, or salvation...and Clarence is the spirit world, like a god, sending his rays of beauty to light up the world and give salvation to the the man a soul. You listen to "Jungleland" and you'll know what I'm talking about. Really, just listen to it. But now, this spiritual combination is broken, at least in the physical realm. But will the spirits of the night be broken? Will my hope be lost? That's kind of the thing I've always feared; that the me I become when I allow myself to be so affected by this music, is my real feeling self, stifled. I know it's too late to experience this salvation in the flesh (why am I such a fucking cheapskate), but hopefully (there's that "hope" word) that part of me (and potentially YOU) didn't die with the body of my my friend Clarence Clemons.
I love you though I never met you dude, RIP.
DJC 6/28/11 2:42am.

90's Drowning girl Anti-drug PSA

Okay, for anyone else out there who is a nut-job, I found something pretty awesome. The anti-inhalants Partnership for a Drug Free America PSA which includes the shot of the drowning girl's face. All the versions I've found on youtube in the past bunch of years are considerably toned down with that shot missing. you have to go to the 1:26 mark.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Old Zines/Comics pt. 9

Stoners and Boners issue# 8 1/2 x 11 w/ George W. Myers circa 2003

Stoners and Boners issue #8 1/2 x 11 2a (big) w/ GWM circa 2003

Stoners and Boners w/ GWM circa 2006