Cinema Chain Reaction I: The Redwood Edition

There are rarely more than a few minutes each day in which cinema does not inform me,  excite me or speak to me in some way.   I look about and everything I see, in one way or another, reminds me of a movie or a scene or a line or just a single moment.   More often than not, this leads to other thoughts of other movies, other directors, actors and times in my life when each was experienced for the first time.   And I’ve written about that process before, elsewhere, but since the Morlocks is my primary platform for classic movie thoughts these days, I figured why not start doing it here as well.   And so, I present to you the first ever Movie Morlocks Cinema Chain Reaction, the Redwood Edition.

My wife and I ventured into Redwood territory this past week as we took our oldest son to Humboldt State University in Arcata, California where he was recently accepted (no, we don’t live in California and, yes, it’s a daunting commute).   Arcata is, in a word, beautiful.  Here’s another word:  Pristine.  Another: Gorgeous.  Until this past week I’d never actually driven through a redwood forest, of the Woody Guthrie variety or any other for that matter, much less strolled into one and leaned against tree trunks larger than a small truck, but I can tell you it was a moving, spiritual experience.

And, of course, I had to have my wife pose next to a cross-section, point at it and say Here I was born, and there I died. It was only a moment for you; you took no notice,” because, you know, Vertigo.  I mean, what was I supposed to do, ignore that?   Of course, my wife didn’t actually say the line but I still took the picture and sent it to fellow Morlock Richard Harland Smith with an abridged version of the above quote.

Taking such a long trip from the tightly populated Washington, DC metro area to the wide open expanses of the Pacific coast got me thinking of another movie too, Continental Divide, in which Ernie Souchak (John Belushi), hard-nosed Chicago reporter, travels west to the Rockies to interview eagle conservationist Nell Porter (Blair Brown).  That’s the movie that was supposed to usher in the new rom-com friendly Belushi to the masses but due to his untimely death six months later, it never came to pass.   I watched it again recently and it holds up well enough though it does seem to be the most inconsequential of all the movies in Belushi’s short filmography.  Belushi does a decent job as the romantic lead and a few more roles would have definitely tightened up his rhythm and feel for the format.  Blair Brown was very good and it occurred to me I used to see her all the time in movies in the early eighties, or so it seemed.    Continental Divide, Altered States, One Trick Pony.

Am I the only one who remembers One Trick Pony?

I haven’t seen it since it was released but I do remember liking it.   Paul Simon was fairly good in the lead role but I think with time and more experience he could’ve done a lot more with movie acting.  Since he didn’t, I can only surmise he didn’t connect to it and left it behind to stick with music.  But the movie itself told a good story, written by Simon, of a divorced father trying to make it as a rock/folk singer.  He had a couple of hits in the sixties and now was facing middle age with rapidly decreasing options.   Frankly, the ending alone is what sold me on the movie and I’d be curious to know if I’d like it again.

Also, am I the only one who thinks the soundtrack album is, in fact, one of Simon’s best and that Dave Marsh’s three out of five star, ho-hum dismissal for Rolling Stone was kind of unfair?

And finally, was anyone better at playing a soulless business putz than Allen Garfield, or Goorwitz, or whatever he was calling himself at the time?  If you don’t recognize the name (or names), you’ll recognize the face.  He plays Belushi’s editor in Continental Divide, as a matter of fact.   He was also in The Stunt Man, The Conversation and Nashville.  He was a welcome face in any movie and a solid actor.  No one ever walks away from a movie featuring Garfield thinking, “He sure was the weak link there.”  If anything, he is the glue to many movies of the eighties and his scene in One Trick Pony is among the best.  He plays a A.M. radio exec who, after listening to Jonah (Paul Simon), a veteran rock and roll musician,  play a song, not only tells him it has no hook, butexplains what a hook is, as if a pop music veteran wouldn’t know (I found the scene here, for the curious).  His obnoxiousness knows no boundaries and his self-importance is entirely self-perpetuated.

Allen Garfield/Goorwitz was also in Get Crazy, a 1983 film that I saw about ten times on cable in 1983 and probably scant few people remember its existence at all now.  It’s a pretty raucas and energetic send-up of the whole post W00dstock rock-event scene and features Garfield in the Bill Graham/Don Kirschner role and Lou Reed playing a kind of spacey, loopy folk/rock singer from the sixties, still hanging on.  Reed was in One Trick Pony, too, by the way, as a kind of Phil Spectorish producer.   I guess getting Phil to play a sardonic version of himself was out of the question.  Playing the coke connection in Easy Rider was perfectly acceptable though and probably the first time I ever saw Phil Spector.

It also happened to be the first time I saw Jack Nicholson.   Not really (I watched One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Chinatown first) but it was the first time I really saw Nicholson.  In Cuckoo’s Nest and Chinatown, I was more taken in by the movie’s themselves but with Easy Rider, a movie I did like when I first saw it, I was overwhelmed by Nicholson instead.  To put it another way, I liked the movie, I loved Nicholson.   I still remember being both shocked and a little angry that they took him out of the picture so early.  I wanted him to lead Captain America (Peter Fonda) and Billy the Kid (Dennis Hopper) to their salvation but it wasn’t to be.  Nonetheless, when I hear how Easy Rider set Nicholson on his way after years of paying his dues working for the hardest working man in cinema, Roger Corman, it makes perfect sense.  There’s a presence he has in that movie that announces itself the second he walks on the screen.

It’s a presence he didn’t have in his early career.  These things take time and work and patience and Nicholson in something like The Raven is perfectly suitable while also underwhelming.  Frankly, the talent around him (Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Hazel Court) is simply too much for a young actor to overcome so I don’t exactly hold it against him.   But even in roles where he wasn’t matched up against the best, like his masochistic dental patient in Corman’s Little Shop of Horrors, he seems more forced than natural.  He’s good but it feels like he’s trying too hard to act kind of crazy and manic whereas later on, that kind of thing flowed more naturally for him and you couldn’t see all the gears and pulleys in motion.   Which reminds me, I’d like to commit heresy now and say I think Bill Murray did a much better job with the same role in the musical remake.  He’s just funnier to me.  But I probably like the original movie better.

I also like Steve Martin a lot in the remake and he’s the reason I watched it again a couple of months ago.  You see, the youngest is a huge Steve Martin fan.  She’s seen most everything he’s done and loves the early absurd comedy the best, from King Tut on SNL to The Man with Two Brains (“Get that cat outta here.”) but when we watched Little Shop of Horrors, it was a bit of a letdown.  Turns out, I liked it much better when I saw it upon release than I did over twenty years later.  She wasn’t too wild about it either but it had good moments for both of us.

Seeing a movie again that you previously liked and being slightly disappointed is the reason I sometimes avoid reliving a movie memory, like One Trick Pony.  Who knows, I may really hate it this time around and since there are so many other movies I still haven’t seen, why ruin a good memory when you can make a new one?  Of course, then I’ll go back to Humboldt, wander into a redwood forest, think of Vertigo, glide over to Continental Divide which will bring me to Allen Garfield which will in turn bring me to One Trick Pony and I’ll think, “I should see that again.”  Oh well, it’s a long commute.  I probably don’t have to worry anytime soon.

0 Response Cinema Chain Reaction I: The Redwood Edition
Posted By Adam Ross : April 25, 2012 9:06 am

That’s also the area where they shot the Endor scenes in RETURN OF THE JEDI, but you didn’t have the urge to burn a Darth Vader mask in the woods?

That’s actually my neck of the woods, my family’s from just across the Oregon border. He’s not too far from Crater Lake or the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Posted By Adam Ross : April 25, 2012 9:06 am

That’s also the area where they shot the Endor scenes in RETURN OF THE JEDI, but you didn’t have the urge to burn a Darth Vader mask in the woods?

That’s actually my neck of the woods, my family’s from just across the Oregon border. He’s not too far from Crater Lake or the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 10:53 am

you didn’t have the urge to burn a Darth Vader mask in the woods?

I didn’t but I did have a hover-cycle chase and, later, managed to knock out the shield generator protecting Eureka.

That’s actually my neck of the woods, my family’s from just across the Oregon border.

So what you’re saying is, they’ll handle his commute, put him up, give him food and pay his tuition. Awesome! Thanks, Adam!

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 10:53 am

you didn’t have the urge to burn a Darth Vader mask in the woods?

I didn’t but I did have a hover-cycle chase and, later, managed to knock out the shield generator protecting Eureka.

That’s actually my neck of the woods, my family’s from just across the Oregon border.

So what you’re saying is, they’ll handle his commute, put him up, give him food and pay his tuition. Awesome! Thanks, Adam!

Posted By Tom S : April 25, 2012 1:50 pm

I always think of Chris Marker’s La Jetee when I see that scene in Vertigo, and thence either to Sans Soleil and A Grin Without a Cat and then, I don’t know, The Battle of Chile (both as part of the cinema of the left just after the left was slaughtered and also because Marker had a personal hand in getting Guzman’s movie made), or to 12 Monkeys and there to Seven (roughly the same time and one of the other great, dark Brad Pitt performances from early in his career.)

That scene might be the most resonant, memorable scene in all of Hitchcock- it’s not really vital to the plot, and it has an eeriness that has nothing to do with his normal mode of tension. I like Hitch in general, but Vertigo is a world apart.

Posted By Tom S : April 25, 2012 1:50 pm

I always think of Chris Marker’s La Jetee when I see that scene in Vertigo, and thence either to Sans Soleil and A Grin Without a Cat and then, I don’t know, The Battle of Chile (both as part of the cinema of the left just after the left was slaughtered and also because Marker had a personal hand in getting Guzman’s movie made), or to 12 Monkeys and there to Seven (roughly the same time and one of the other great, dark Brad Pitt performances from early in his career.)

That scene might be the most resonant, memorable scene in all of Hitchcock- it’s not really vital to the plot, and it has an eeriness that has nothing to do with his normal mode of tension. I like Hitch in general, but Vertigo is a world apart.

Posted By swac44 : April 25, 2012 5:54 pm

Funny, I still have Continental Divide and Get Crazy on VHS, and have a soft spot for both. I remember the former as being slight but likeable, and showed that Belushi had promise in atypical roles, promise that was never fulfilled. Blair Brown sure was cute, wasn’t she? It’s weird watching her now on Fringe as the helmet-haired of the mysterious corporation Massive Dynamic. But now I want to watch Altered States again (and sensory deprivation tanks also play a big part in Fringe, just like in A.S.).

My favourite thing about Get Crazy was how every act on the show within the movie performed a version of the blues classic Hootchie Coothie Man, including hardcore band FEAR. I’m guessing music rights are what’s keeping the title off DVD these days; I have the soundtrack LP which included a then-rare track by the Ramones called Chop Suey (I think it shows up on one of their compilation CDs now).

Funny I’ve never seen One Trick Pony (although now I have Late in the Evening stuck in my head), but that shot of Lou Reed and Rip Torn makes me want to see it. Too bad Paul Simon didn’t pursue acting further, imagine a musical version of The Odd Couple starring Art Garfunkel…

Posted By swac44 : April 25, 2012 5:54 pm

Funny, I still have Continental Divide and Get Crazy on VHS, and have a soft spot for both. I remember the former as being slight but likeable, and showed that Belushi had promise in atypical roles, promise that was never fulfilled. Blair Brown sure was cute, wasn’t she? It’s weird watching her now on Fringe as the helmet-haired of the mysterious corporation Massive Dynamic. But now I want to watch Altered States again (and sensory deprivation tanks also play a big part in Fringe, just like in A.S.).

My favourite thing about Get Crazy was how every act on the show within the movie performed a version of the blues classic Hootchie Coothie Man, including hardcore band FEAR. I’m guessing music rights are what’s keeping the title off DVD these days; I have the soundtrack LP which included a then-rare track by the Ramones called Chop Suey (I think it shows up on one of their compilation CDs now).

Funny I’ve never seen One Trick Pony (although now I have Late in the Evening stuck in my head), but that shot of Lou Reed and Rip Torn makes me want to see it. Too bad Paul Simon didn’t pursue acting further, imagine a musical version of The Odd Couple starring Art Garfunkel…

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 7:52 pm

Tom, I love that scene in Vertigo so much. And I agree, the whole movie stands apart from his other works although both Psycho and The Birds stand out in their own way too. They’re all different than the usual suspense thriller mode he operated in. True, they’re suspenseful and could certainly be called thrillers but they have a much different quality than the Notorious/Strangers on a Train/Rear Window type movie I think he’s more associated with.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 7:52 pm

Tom, I love that scene in Vertigo so much. And I agree, the whole movie stands apart from his other works although both Psycho and The Birds stand out in their own way too. They’re all different than the usual suspense thriller mode he operated in. True, they’re suspenseful and could certainly be called thrillers but they have a much different quality than the Notorious/Strangers on a Train/Rear Window type movie I think he’s more associated with.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 7:56 pm

swac44, I saw Continental Divide at the theatre when it opened and remember thinking specifically, “Belushi’s in the mainstream now. He’ll start making romcoms and then maybe inch his way into drama and move up the ranks.” Then, so soon after, he was gone. I also figured Blair Brown would get more roles after seeing her in the movies I mentioned but, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. She’s a fine actress but Hollywood has a long history of not knowing to do with so many actors, it’s never surprising when yet another one falls away.

Now, as for Get Crazy, I watched that movie again and again on cable. I already said that in the post but man would I love to see it again on DVD. So many performances I want to see again. Here’s hoping.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 25, 2012 7:56 pm

swac44, I saw Continental Divide at the theatre when it opened and remember thinking specifically, “Belushi’s in the mainstream now. He’ll start making romcoms and then maybe inch his way into drama and move up the ranks.” Then, so soon after, he was gone. I also figured Blair Brown would get more roles after seeing her in the movies I mentioned but, for whatever reason, it didn’t work out. She’s a fine actress but Hollywood has a long history of not knowing to do with so many actors, it’s never surprising when yet another one falls away.

Now, as for Get Crazy, I watched that movie again and again on cable. I already said that in the post but man would I love to see it again on DVD. So many performances I want to see again. Here’s hoping.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : April 25, 2012 11:52 pm

Not only do I remember <b<One Trick Pony, but I remember seeing it in a double feature with Stardust Memories when I was in Pasadena for the weekend.

As for Get Crazy, a somewhat personal connection as I vaguely knew Allan Arkush at NYU, and went to concerts at the Fillmore East, which served as the inspiration for the film.

Posted By Peter Nellhaus : April 25, 2012 11:52 pm

Not only do I remember <b<One Trick Pony, but I remember seeing it in a double feature with Stardust Memories when I was in Pasadena for the weekend.

As for Get Crazy, a somewhat personal connection as I vaguely knew Allan Arkush at NYU, and went to concerts at the Fillmore East, which served as the inspiration for the film.

Posted By Tom S : April 26, 2012 1:19 am

Greg- one of the reasons The Birds stands out is that unlike Notorious and Strangers on a Train, it’s bafflingly poorly acted and generally kind of wonky. It’s honestly the only Hitch I’ve ever seen that could be legitimately called a work of camp.

Posted By Tom S : April 26, 2012 1:19 am

Greg- one of the reasons The Birds stands out is that unlike Notorious and Strangers on a Train, it’s bafflingly poorly acted and generally kind of wonky. It’s honestly the only Hitch I’ve ever seen that could be legitimately called a work of camp.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 8:11 am

Peter, what a great double feature. Stardust Memories is a great and way underrated Woody Allen pic. I wouldn’t have thought to put those two movies together but both deal with artists, one celebrated, one half-forgotten, dealing with mid-life.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 8:11 am

Peter, what a great double feature. Stardust Memories is a great and way underrated Woody Allen pic. I wouldn’t have thought to put those two movies together but both deal with artists, one celebrated, one half-forgotten, dealing with mid-life.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 8:13 am

Tom, we usually agree so much on movies I’m sorry to have to say it but I couldn’t disagree more on The Birds. I’d write more but it’s probably easier to link to this piece I wrote a couple of years ago. And you can read through the comments too, to get an idea of the consensus opinion.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 8:13 am

Tom, we usually agree so much on movies I’m sorry to have to say it but I couldn’t disagree more on The Birds. I’d write more but it’s probably easier to link to this piece I wrote a couple of years ago. And you can read through the comments too, to get an idea of the consensus opinion.

Posted By Qalice : April 26, 2012 6:42 pm

“One Trick Pony”! I haven’t seen the movie, but I love the soundtrack album. And the clip you showed included Joan Hackett, whom I’ve always considered one of the loveliest women in film. I don’t know if Paul Simon could ever have made it as an actor, but who cares that “one trick is all that horse can do” when it’s such a good trick?

As for The Birds, the Alex Film Society in Glendale, CA is playing it on Saturday night with Tippi Hedren in attendance and I’ve already got my tickets. I pity people who don’t get moved or frightened by this movie.

Posted By Qalice : April 26, 2012 6:42 pm

“One Trick Pony”! I haven’t seen the movie, but I love the soundtrack album. And the clip you showed included Joan Hackett, whom I’ve always considered one of the loveliest women in film. I don’t know if Paul Simon could ever have made it as an actor, but who cares that “one trick is all that horse can do” when it’s such a good trick?

As for The Birds, the Alex Film Society in Glendale, CA is playing it on Saturday night with Tippi Hedren in attendance and I’ve already got my tickets. I pity people who don’t get moved or frightened by this movie.

Posted By Jerome Wilson : April 26, 2012 9:24 pm

It looks like I’m one of the few other people who has actually seen One Trick Pony. I remember it as a solid look at the life of a rock musician from both the business and personal sides with Paul Simon and Blair Brown both being very good. There is one shot of Simon and his band (Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Tony Levin and Steve Gadd) walking through an airport, each one a different physical type, that I still recall to this day.

Posted By Jerome Wilson : April 26, 2012 9:24 pm

It looks like I’m one of the few other people who has actually seen One Trick Pony. I remember it as a solid look at the life of a rock musician from both the business and personal sides with Paul Simon and Blair Brown both being very good. There is one shot of Simon and his band (Eric Gale, Richard Tee, Tony Levin and Steve Gadd) walking through an airport, each one a different physical type, that I still recall to this day.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 11:05 pm

Qalice, one of the reasons I write about movies (well, practically the only reason) is to talk about them and talking about One Trick Pony has now taken me from sort of wanting to see it again to definitely wanting to see it again. I’ve fallen away a bit on my music reviews (I’m a music critic too, here and there, for swag and crumbs) but I’m tempting to convince someone to let me review One Trick Pony’s soundtrack. It’s as solid a Paul Simon album as there is and deserves a much better reputation.

As for The Birds, I don’t know if you clicked my link but I find it a haunting and mesmerizing film. Very jealous you get to see it with Ms. Hedren in attendance.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 11:05 pm

Qalice, one of the reasons I write about movies (well, practically the only reason) is to talk about them and talking about One Trick Pony has now taken me from sort of wanting to see it again to definitely wanting to see it again. I’ve fallen away a bit on my music reviews (I’m a music critic too, here and there, for swag and crumbs) but I’m tempting to convince someone to let me review One Trick Pony’s soundtrack. It’s as solid a Paul Simon album as there is and deserves a much better reputation.

As for The Birds, I don’t know if you clicked my link but I find it a haunting and mesmerizing film. Very jealous you get to see it with Ms. Hedren in attendance.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 11:07 pm

Jerome, I also love the scene in the car where they’re naming dead rock stars and the last guy says Elvis and they all kind of stop, perhaps because it still hadn’t sunk in (the movie was made just two years after Elvis died) and Simon says, “Yeah… he’s dead.” Definitely going to give it another look.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 26, 2012 11:07 pm

Jerome, I also love the scene in the car where they’re naming dead rock stars and the last guy says Elvis and they all kind of stop, perhaps because it still hadn’t sunk in (the movie was made just two years after Elvis died) and Simon says, “Yeah… he’s dead.” Definitely going to give it another look.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 27, 2012 7:56 pm

One Trick POny does sound interesting. I wonder if American Hot Wax is as good as I remember it. I don’t know how many times I saw that movie when I was a kid, but it was alot. The first time I remember seeing Jay Leno hosting The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson I said, “Hey!It’s that guy from American Hot Wax! The beginner’s joke!”

I’m certain that Melanie, starring Glynis O’Connor and Burton Cummings (Yes! He of The Guess Who!), isn’t nearly as good as I remember it, huh? Burton’s song was pretty darn good though. I still remember it after more than 25 years.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 27, 2012 7:56 pm

One Trick POny does sound interesting. I wonder if American Hot Wax is as good as I remember it. I don’t know how many times I saw that movie when I was a kid, but it was alot. The first time I remember seeing Jay Leno hosting The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson I said, “Hey!It’s that guy from American Hot Wax! The beginner’s joke!”

I’m certain that Melanie, starring Glynis O’Connor and Burton Cummings (Yes! He of The Guess Who!), isn’t nearly as good as I remember it, huh? Burton’s song was pretty darn good though. I still remember it after more than 25 years.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 28, 2012 6:57 am

I haven’t seen American Hot Wax in forever either and I’ve never seen Melanie. Hell, I’ve never even heard of it. And I see it’s got Don Johnson and Paul Sorvino as well. I wonder how Burton Cummings came to act in it. It’s his only acting credit listed on IMDB. Plenty of song credits, but that’s the only acting one.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 28, 2012 6:57 am

I haven’t seen American Hot Wax in forever either and I’ve never seen Melanie. Hell, I’ve never even heard of it. And I see it’s got Don Johnson and Paul Sorvino as well. I wonder how Burton Cummings came to act in it. It’s his only acting credit listed on IMDB. Plenty of song credits, but that’s the only acting one.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 28, 2012 10:39 am

I’m not sure how he got to act in it, but as I remember he did alright: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR6szB3wNQE

Posted By dukeroberts : April 28, 2012 10:39 am

I’m not sure how he got to act in it, but as I remember he did alright: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BR6szB3wNQE

Posted By swac44 : April 28, 2012 3:55 pm

I’ve seen Melanie, but the only thing I remember is a scene of Burton sitting at a piano, drunk, and singing “I’m in the nude for love…”

Posted By swac44 : April 28, 2012 3:55 pm

I’ve seen Melanie, but the only thing I remember is a scene of Burton sitting at a piano, drunk, and singing “I’m in the nude for love…”

Posted By dukeroberts : April 28, 2012 4:19 pm

And don’t forget that he was naked and snorting coke.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 28, 2012 4:19 pm

And don’t forget that he was naked and snorting coke.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 8:26 am

Ah, the ’70s.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 8:26 am

Ah, the ’70s.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 8:27 am

Actually, when I saw it, it was on Canadian TV, so the coke part might have been edited out.

Posted By swac44 : April 29, 2012 8:27 am

Actually, when I saw it, it was on Canadian TV, so the coke part might have been edited out.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 29, 2012 4:49 pm

I’m not so sure I want to see it anymore.

Posted By Greg Ferrara : April 29, 2012 4:49 pm

I’m not so sure I want to see it anymore.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 29, 2012 10:37 pm

Why not, Greg? It’s good times. Actually, it’s kind of depressing. And sappy.

Posted By dukeroberts : April 29, 2012 10:37 pm

Why not, Greg? It’s good times. Actually, it’s kind of depressing. And sappy.

Posted By swac44 : April 30, 2012 7:38 am

Just like Canada!

Posted By swac44 : April 30, 2012 7:38 am

Just like Canada!

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