Posted by Greg Ferrara on April 25, 2012
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.
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