“He Don’t Believe in Anything” – Mr. Freedom

MrFreedom1969_5 copy2

To view Mr. Freedom click here.

There’s a scene in Arthur Miller’s American Clock, a lesser known and not very successful later work of his, where a father and son go to a government office during the Depression to try and get the son a work voucher since the father won’t let him live at home. The government worker doesn’t believe the son needs assistance because he doesn’t believe the father would keep his own son out of his house. As the father becomes more agitated, explaining that he, the father, makes only a tenth of a cent per sale at his job, the government worker asks, “So you won’t let him in the house?” “I won’t let him in my house!” the father screams, “He don’t believe in anything.” The father walks away and the son gets his voucher. I thought of this scene while watching Mr. Freedom (1969) and I may be the only person in history that thought of that scene while watching Mr. Freedom (hell, I might be the only person in history who’s actually seen both!). Mr. Freedom is the satire written and directed by William Klein that critic Jonathan Rosenbaum called “conceivably the most anti-American movie ever made” before also stating it was “hilarious.” Clearly, Mr. Rosenbaum and I have very different concepts of hilarity. But more importantly, is it the most anti-American movie ever made? Not really. Mainly, it’s just the most childish.

[...MORE]

Memphis: Last Stop on the Mystery Train (1989)

MYSTERY TRAIN (1989)

To view Mystery Train click here.

Several years ago, I was visiting Memphis during Elvis Week, which is a week-long series of events in mid-August that commemorates the life and music of Elvis Presley. I made the travel arrangements for me and a companion, booking a motel near downtown. The famous Peabody Hotel was definitely out of our price range, but I wanted to be near the newly revitalized Beale Street area, so I selected something that did not seem too far from the city’s night life. When we arrived in Memphis, it was well after dark, but it was clear that I had selected a rat-trap on the proverbial wrong side of the tracks. I walked up to the check-in window with the bullet-proof glass, while a party of mammoth proportions was underway in the parking lot. I remember hoping that the very loud party-goers were not guests of the motel.

As we walked toward our room on the second floor, we noticed most of the doors were missing the doorknobs. You could see into the rooms through the holes in the doors where the knobs used to be. Once inside our room, there was a couple of deadbolt locks and a door chain; fortunately, our door did not have a hole in it, though our outside knob was missing. Inside, the rug looked so greasy that we refused to take off our shoes, and some of the wallpaper was peeling off near the ceiling. And, gosh, was that a gunshot amidst the loud music, or a car backfiring? My companion suggested we stay the night, then look for another motel, though our options would be limited because, after all, it was Elvis Week. We searched for the phone book to start making the calls, but there was no phone book—until I noticed it was being used to prop up the broken leg of one of the beds.

[...MORE]

Still Money After All These Years: Swingers Two Decades Later

SWINGERS (1996)

To view Swingers click here.

That’s right, Swingers is twenty years old. Ouch.

Anyone who’s been in Los Angeles for more than a day or two can tell you it’s impossible to go anywhere without meeting people who want to be in “the business.” It’s a charming trait of the city when you first move here and try to make new friends, as you sort out who’s on the level about their ambitions versus those who are, well, completely full of it. No film captures that feeling better than Swingers, a semi-autobiographical film from 1996 that put several names on the map including writer and star Jon Favreau (whose experiences when he moved to L.A. inspired the script), director Doug Liman (who went the indie route to keep the writer and his friends attached) and a supporting cast including an almost unsettlingly young Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston and Heather Graham. [...MORE]

What’s it all about, Monte? The Shooting (1966)

SHOOTING, THE (1967)

His horse rears up his head and looks around, as if something is amiss. The horse’s rider, Willet Gashade, looks around too and as the first notes of a flute make their way into the viewer’s ears, a wave of disquiet has already inundated the surroundings. Something’s not right. Things seem… off kilter. Uneasy. Unsure. The rider makes his way to his destination but soon enough will realize it’s only a starting point to a journey that may or may not end with any sense of meaning or purpose whatsoever. Thus begins Monte Hellman’s extraordinary 1966 film, The Shooting, one of the best films of the 1960s, or any decade, really.

[...MORE]

The Curse of Eternal Life: Cronos (1993)

CRONOS (1993)

Guillermo del Toro was still in his twenties when he wrote and directed Cronos (1993), a horror movie, yes, but also a movie about time and age and what it means to live forever. One might think 29 too young an age to tackle such subjects but when it comes to horror, in particular, and moviemaking, in general, del Toro could easily be the subject of Count Dracula’s famous response to Van Helsing, “For one who has not lived even a single lifetime, you are a wise man.” Since then, del Toro’s reputation has grown and his movies have become blockbusters at the box office but his first one out might still be my favorite.

[...MORE]

Is It Ever Really Easy? Blood Simple (1984)

BLOOD SIMPLE (1984)

It seems hard to believe, but the Coen Brothers made their debut film well over thirty years ago now. In 1984 they put together their own trailer, a trailer for a movie they hadn’t even made, and went about getting the financing to make the film come true. The result was Blood Simple, a crime thriller that was also a showcase for some of the best talent in the movies at that time, talent that, to this day, has never gotten its full due. But it also stands as a testament to how artists change, how they view their work and whether any of it matters in the final analysis.

[...MORE]

A Relic from the Past: Gas Food Lodging (1992)

GasFoodLodging_1992_gasfl06h

When people think of old movies, they think black and white, grainy, studio-driven and set bound. It’s a common go-to for most casual movie fans but for a film lover, there are no old movies, only classics. There are, however, relics. Movies from not just a different time but a different state of mind, and for me, the independent films of the 1980s and the 1990s are now the relics of cinema. Movies made decades before them seem less dated, movies made just a few years after them seem a century ahead. But I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. For me, the movie most representative of what I’m talking about is the 1992 independent feature Gas Food Lodging, directed by Allison Anders and starring Brooke Adams, Ione Skye and Fairuza Balk. Filled with promise, it went nowhere and the cast, with the mild exception of Ms. Balk, got no real boost from its acclaim. Shortly afterwards, independent movies starting getting higher budgets, bigger celebrity star turns and technology put them on the same plane as the studios.

[...MORE]

Elvis & Nixon: A Match Made in Pop Culture Heaven

blogopenerElvis & Nixon opened over the weekend with little fanfare but with a barrage of unconstructive, ineffectual reviews. Liza Johnson directed this slice-of-Elvis-lore, which chronicles the time that Presley flew to Washington, D.C., on the spur of the moment to meet President Richard Nixon. Their meeting resulted in a famous photo of the two iconic figures shaking hands, which is the most requested image from the National Archives. Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey star as Presley and Nixon.

The movie prompted me to go back to my collection of Presley bios and resources to reexamine the incident. I checked in All Shook Up: Elvis Day by Day, 1954-1977, which is my favorite reference because it objectively and succinctly chronicles Presley’s actions on a day by day basis. I also reread parts of Peter Guralnik’s definitive, two-volume biography. I offer a pared down version of the event here, not to accuse the film of inaccuracy but to provide a proper backstory. On December 19, 1970, after an argument with his family about overspending for Christmas, Elvis boarded a commercial flight in Memphis bound for Washington, D.C. He checked into the Washington Hotel as Jon Burrows, one of his aliases. That night, he boarded a flight to Los Angeles, arriving well after midnight. Jerry Schilling, a former member of Elvis’s Memphis Mafia, met him at the plane with a limo. After dropping off at least two stewardesses, whom Elvis had promised a ride, he and Schilling arrived at Presley’s house on Hillcrest Drive. The following morning, December 20, the pair flew to Washington, D.C., with Elvis using the alias Dr. John Carpenter (his character’s name in his last film, Change of Habit).

[...MORE]

‘Midnight Special’ Coming Your Way

blogmidnightspecialThe 18th annual Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) has wrapped, and, as usual, I have mixed feelings about the event. But, I am always glad to attend because of the opportunity to catch indie, foreign, and documentary films that will never be widely released in theaters or touted by reviewers. Some of these titles may find outlets for distribution, but if they don’t get any buzz in the media, viewers will not know to look for them.

Such are the conditions of film exhibition and consumption in America. For example, way too much attention has been paid in the press to that clunker of a comic-book flick that shall remain nameless. The stars worked the talk-show circuit; the film’s opening made the news; and, even its box-office disappointment generated Internet headlines. Meanwhile, I have seen very little buzz for a far superior film, Midnight Special, which premiered at South by Southwest and played opening weekend at SFF. Directed by one of my new favorite filmmakers, Jeff Nichols, this slice of sci fi tells the story of a gifted boy named Alton who is on the lam across the South with his father and a family friend. Alton, who is played by Jaeden Lieberher, knows way too much about secret codes and satellite coordinates, and he has unusual powers that are gradually revealed. Small wonder that various government agencies, who have not lightened up much since E.T., are pursuing them.

[...MORE]

Flickering Florida: The Sunshine State on Film

blogposterOver the weekend, I participated in a conference called Flickering Landscapes, which was organized by Bruce Janz and Phil Peters of the University of Central Florida. The conference focused on the representation of Florida in film and television as well as the state’s extensive cinema history. Florida is unique in the way that its distinctive landscape has affected the state’s identity and image in popular culture. In addition, tourists, vacationers, and Hollywood image-makers have played a major role in shaping that identity—something native Floridians have learned to live with.

I thought I would share some of the history and ideas that I learned at the conference.

I recently wrote about Florida’s role in early cinema history after I discovered that director George Melford had been part of an effort to launch a film industry in St. Petersburg. (See October 26th  post.) I expanded on this piece of Florida history for my part in the conference, and I discussed two other attempts to establish film production on the Gulf Coast. In the mid-1920s, a real estate investor built a beautiful film studio half way between Tampa and Sarasota. Dubbed Sun City, the production center was considered a movie colony, which was supposed to include housing for actors and crew members, a school, a church, a city hall, a power plant, and other facilities necessary to be self-sustaining. The secretary-treasurer of the Sun City Holding Company decided to plat out the streets, pave them, and name them after famous movie stars of the era. He sent maps of Sun City to every Hollywood movie star with a street named after them, hoping they would relocate to Sun City to make films at the new studio. Unfortunately, the land bust caused by rampant real estate speculation destroyed any chance for Sun City to become successful, and the studio never produced a feature film. The only vestiges of this film colony are the town’s streets, which are still named after stars of the 1920s. I am sure current residents have no clue.

[...MORE]

Streamline is the official blog of FilmStruck, a new subscription service that offers film aficionados a comprehensive library of films including an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign and cult films.