Art School Confidential (2006)


To view Art School Confidential click here.

Director Terry Zwigoff got his start with a short documentary about an obscure country-blues musician that was titled Louie Blue (1985). In 1994 he hit the big time with Crumb, another documentary but this time one focused on the famous underground cartoonist Robert Crumb. Crumb won countless awards and featured an amazing soundtrack full of “’78s of the late 1920s and early ’30s – jazz, blues, ragtime, and country music.” Continuing on in the liner notes to the soundtrack, Zwigoff adds: “This music seemed to fit the film somehow anyway. I’m glad, because by the time I was through with all the post-production, editing, sound-cutting, mixing, etc., I’d been forced to listen to these tunes hundreds of times each. Glad I started out with music I loved or it would have been sheer torture.” Seven years later Crumb was followed by Ghost World. Two years after that, improbably (and I say that because, really, who could have anticipated it): Bad Santa. Then, in 2006, Zwigoff made Art School Confidential, centered on a fictional art school based on Pratt Institute, and which somehow ties everything together insofar as all three of Zwigoff’s fiction films were written by Pratt Institute alumni.


Sexual Revolution on Campus – Three in the Attic (1968)

Judy Pace and Christopher Jones in Three in the Attic (1968)

“Non-swimmers should never leap bare-assed into the sea of love.”
- Dean Nazarin (Nan Martin) in Three in the Attic

TCM continues their month-long celebration of American International Pictures tonight with a series of films that showcase their efforts to capitalize on the youth zeitgeist of the 1960s. Movies scheduled to air include the original Beach Party (1963) along with more controversial fare such as the Roger Corman’s outlaw biker extravaganza The Wild Angels (1966), the experimental drug film The Trip (1967) which I wrote about a few months ago, and the political farce Wild in the Streets (1968). Tonight also marks the TCM debut of Three in the Attic (1968), a fairly bleak sex comedy that loosely dabbles in gender politics and became the studio’s highest grossing film of the decade. Despite its financial success and popularity with audiences, Three in the Attic has largely been forgotten and has yet to find its way onto DVD.

The film was the brainchild of Richard Wilson (The Big Boodle; 1957, Al Capone; 1959, Invitation to a Gunfighter; 1964, etc.), a longtime cohort of Orson Welles who had produced and acted in a number of Welles’s films including Citizen Kane (1941) The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Macbeth (1948) before he started making his own movies. Wilson’s eighth directorial effort was Three in the Attic and it came about after he spotted an article by author Stephen Yafa in a 1967 issue of Playboy where the writer discussed his recent novel titled Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course. In the article, Yafa humorously explains that he wrote the book “. . . out of venomous contempt for all the claptrap I’d ever seen which presumed to examine the sex life of young Americans and succeeded only in vilifying our lower regions.” Wilson was intrigued by Yafa’s off-color sense of humor and he convinced American International Pictures to let him produce and direct an adaptation of the book retitled Three in the Attic.


Carnal Knowledge


TCM will be highlighting films by Ann-Margret this Thursday. The memory of her basking in a spray of beans and chocolate as she then makes love to a man-sized, hotdog-shaped pillow are so well-seared into any young stoner’s mind that I was tempted to write about Tommy (Ken Russell, 1975). However there is something in the air right now that pointed me, instead, toward Carnal Knowledge (Mike Nichols, 1971). It has to do with a perennial hot-button topic that will never go away as long as humans are around, be it Elvis’ gyrating hips in 1957 or whatever Miley Cyrus is licking right now: Sex. Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015), for example, is currently well on its way toward raking in over $100 million and is getting a lot of ink for Amy Schumer’s portrayal of a sexually liberated woman who grows up thinking monogamy isn’t realistic. It would be nice to think that we’ve come a long way since Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Richard Brooks, 1977), which portrayed the drama of a free-spirited and promiscuous woman (Diane Keaton) as a slippery slope into inevitable tragedy. But it was scarcely two weeks ago that a deranged religious extremist with a gun in Lafayette, Louisiana, picked a screening of Trainwreck for an act of terrorism. [...MORE]

Jim Thorpe, All American (1951): Running After an American Dream

Jim Thorpe, All American (1951) is a biopic that is too easily dismissed as a mass of clichés about race, sports, and the elusive nature of the American Dream for Native Americans. Some might argue that it was old fashioned, even in its day. You can’t help cringing at lines such as “Indian boy got much to learn,” illnesses that are foreshadowed by a beloved character’s mild cough, and trouble in paradise being signaled by a wife who shrinks away when her hubby tries to steal a kiss, but the child-like broken heart at this movie’s center somehow still ticks away on a visceral level, evoking some complex feelings of guilt, empathy and even vicarious pride as a viewer gets caught up in this version of the great Native American athlete’s simultaneously triumphant and troubled life.

In the Loop with The Group (1966)

One of the posters for The Group (1966)

Melancholia! Sex! The New Deal! Alcoholism! Brooding Artists! Swedish Modern Furniture! Psychoanalysis! Contraception! Lesbians! The Abraham Lincoln Brigade! The La Leche League! Cocktail Parties! The Theatre with a capital “T”!

The Group (1966-Sidney Lumet) had it all, dear readers, in spades.

At this distance, the gulf between personal and public faces and the political skirmishes touched on in this movie between Trotskyites, Stalinists, socialists and the battle of the sexes seems even more long ago and far away than it must have appeared in the 1960s. Still, I couldn’t help being drawn into the story, thanks largely to the talented cast and the sometimes uneven but breezy, episodic nature of the movie.


Breaking Away

Poster for Breaking Away

Last week I had the opportunity to screen a 16mm print of Breaking Away (1979) in my backyard. This is the film that inspired me as a kid to get into bicycling. I seem to recall seeing the film three or four times in the theater upon its first release, and then that was it – I left it alone. Now 30 years later here I am watching it again, and maybe just a tad nervous that this movie that I held so dear might reveal itself to be a hopelessly dated cheese-fest. About 40 people showed up and I’m happy to report that the film holds up up to mature scrutiny and even garnered a hearty applause from the crowd as the end credits rolled on by. [...MORE]

All Too Human a Father

John Wayne, looking worried,with good reason, in Trouble Along the Way (1953)“What do you know about love? I think love is watching your child go off to school for the first time alone… sitting beside a sick kid’s bed waiting for the doctor, praying it isn’t polio… or that cold chill you get when you hear the screech of brakes, and know your kid’s outside on the street some place… and a lot of other things you get can’t get out of books, ’cause nobody knows how to write ‘em down.”

~John Wayne as Steve Aloysius Williams in Trouble Along the Way (1953)

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