Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cat and tiny face hugger are friends...

My cat Chip is suddenly obsessed with this little (maybe three inches long) plastic Alien face hugger.

I've had it for years and he never showed the slightest interest in it; it's been sitting on the back of a pottery armadillo I bought as a teenager since I don't know when.

And yet I just took it away from him for the second time today. I really don't think the little plastic face hugger has changed, so what gives?

That is, of course, a rhetorical question... everything cats do is a mystery.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

How Paul Bartel taught me to make smoothies...

Yes, the Paul Bartel, who directed Private Parts (1972, no, not the Howard Stern movie), Death Race 2000 (1976) and many other slyly clever exploitation movies.

I was in Los Angeles in 1990, doing interviews for my book Filmmaking on the Fringe; I had interviewed Bartel before over the phone, but never in person. I was thrilled to be catching up with him, but I was also running late and hadn't had time to eat. I bought a couple of bananas to eat in the car, but I was a new driver and the freeways scared the hell out of me, so I didn't dare take my hands off the wheel.

Bartel was the gracious host personified, and when I asked whether he minded if I ate while we talked he said, "Let me make you something delicious — I learned how when I was at Centro Sperimentale in Italy." And then Paul Bartel beetled off to the kitchen and made me a banana smoothie, which was delicious as promised.

Bartel is gone, but his banana smoothies live on. I've modified the recipe (if bananas, milk and ice  constitute a recipe) by using coffee ice cubes instead of regular ones, but I don't think he'd mind. Coffee and bananas taste great together and that's what counts... I wish I could have shared a banana-coffee smoothie with him.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

And now, a shoutout to the late, great Psychotronic Magazine

I'll spare you the convoluted but not especially interesting chain of associations that led me to visit the website of Michael Weldon's Psychotronic magazine, but I was immediately compelled to flip through the real, live issues — 41 in all — I accumulated between 1989 and 2004, when it ceased publication. They're a treasure trove of trash, which I mean in the best possible way: Reviews of obscure, overlooked and marginal movies of every stripe, along with interviews and sundry features aimed squarely at connoisseurs of the freaky and forgotten.

Yes, the web is full of specialized movie sites, some of them great. But when issue number one of Psychotronic came out, there was no web, just a jumble of irregularly published 'zines that you might just run across if you happened to be in the right book or record store on the right day at the right time.   Michael's 1983 Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film grew out of his own weekly 'zine, an "alternative TV Guide" that singled out the kind of movies that never got a TV Guide spotlight, was the bible of movie fans like me. Michael was a scholar and a connoisseur of trash culture before it was cool, and Psychotronic was where you could find things like this piece on Ron and June Ormond, regional filmmakers/distributors who made exploitation pictures like the astonishing Exotic Ones (1968, aka The Monster and the Stripper until they survived a plane crash, saw the light and switched to making Jesus movie. Great stuff.

So visit the website, check out the Facebook page and buy Michael's Psychotronic Video Guide (the Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film is tough to find and scary expensive): If you're reading this, you won't be sorry.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Best junk email subject line ever

It's not everyday you get junk email that advises: "Don’t let anybody call you homunculus because of the length of your device."

Um, yeah, don't... you might develop neurasthenia or something. So just tell that son of a mandrake root to piss off, and don't even read the rest of the subject line, with its enticing assertion that "the easiest way to become a real dandy is to enlarge your device."

"Homunculus?" "Dandy?" Who in the name of Harry Potter and the Scarlet Pimpernel is writing copy for pizzle-plumping spam these days? And how did the word "device," with its vaguely orgasmatronic connotations, make its way into this riot of antiquated allusions?

And finally, though spam is by its nature a blunt tool (yes, Beavis and Butthead, I said "tool"), you'd think even a broad-sweep filter might recognize that an email address ending "@missflickchick.com" probably doesn't belong to a member (yes, I said "member," too) of the target market for this sort of product.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hot off the presses: Zombie movies reflect cultural anxieties!

Not to be snotty, but anyone who watches a lot of horror movies has already noticed that a.) horror is cyclical — it never goes away, but there are peaks and valleys, b.) horror movies flourish in anxious times and c.) ever since George Romero liberated the zombie from its narrowly defined roots in Haitian folklore, they've become the go-to monster metaphors for fear of everything from the oppressed underclass to nature run wild, global pandemics, mindless fanaticism, archaic disaster response systems, sinister mind control programs and the fragility of social structures and the ties of friendship and family.

Which is not to say that this Freakonomics graph correlating social upheaval and zombie-movie production that just appeared on the New York Times website isn't cool. Just that it's a blinding glimpse of the obvious.

Monday, June 7, 2010

RIP Dennis Hopper, the Madman of Movies (1936-2010)

If you laid all the "crazy Dennis Hopper" stories end to end... well, you'd still be at it next year.

Like the time he got all method actorish on old Hollywood hand Henry Hathaway on From Hell to Texas and Hathaway made him do 80 takes until he goddamned well got exactlywhat he wanted and the 22-year-old actor had been reduced to tears. Or the time John Wayne chased him around the set of True Grit with a gun, apparently because black radical Stokely Carmichael had used the word "f**k" in a speech at UCLA, where Wayne's daughter was a student, and as far as Wayne was concerned, Hopper was to blame for the 60s, period end of report. Of course, Wayne also got Hopper movie work when no one else would (the fallout from that little tiff with Hathaway); what little career he had left was in episodic TV (from Twilight Zone and Naked City to Bonanza, Wagon Train and Petticoat Junction). Granted, Wayne did it at least in part because his old pal, golden-age Hollywood star Margaret Sullivan (then Hopper's mother-in-law), asked him as a personal favor; but he did it, and Hopper always gave the Duke props for resuscitating his moribund career... even if the first movie in which Wayne got him cast was the western The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), directed by, yes, that old bastard Hathaway. Or maybe that made it better... who knows?

Hopper's most regular employer for the next seveal years remains Roger Corman, who put him in sci-fi/horror movies like Queen of Blood (1966), drug movies like The Trip (1967) and biker pictures like The Glory Stompers (1968). But he was back in the game, and in 1969 he drew the card that got him a seat at the heavy hitters' table: Easy Rider

Best Hopper performances:

Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
It's a small part and Hopper's pal James Dean blows him out of the water (of course, Dean blew everyone out of the water), but seeing him in Rebel is nothing short of fascinating because it's all already there -- everything that made Hopper so mesmerizing, in fledgling form.

Night Tide (1961)
Beach bum who falls in love with a carnival mermaid who might just be the real thing in this eerie, atmospheric, low-budget variation on Cat People, directed by Curtis Harrington, one-time protege of avant-garde film pioneer Maya Deren.

Easy Rider (1969)
Not much to say that hasn't been said; Hopper's Billy is the distilled embodiment of the 1960s...

The American Friend (1977)
Wim Wenders' eccentric version of Ripley's Game stars Hopper as Patricia Highsmith's handsome, amoral con artist, and Hopper nails the role -- his Ripley is charming, duplicitous, offhandedly sexy, dangerous, self-centered and in the end, oddly principled, though his principles are purely self serving.

Apocalypse Now (1979)
As the fever-addled photographer mesmerized by Mr. Kurtz, Hopper damned near steals the show from Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen, his blue eyes a blaze as he waxes rhapsodic about Kurtz's keen insights into the deepest nature of the universe. "Do you know," he says to Sheen's exhausted, beyond burnt-out Willard, "that 'if' is the middle word in life?" Simultaneously hilarious and chilling.

Rumble Fish (1983)
Repeat after me: No small roles, just small actors. The proof: Hopper as Matt Dillon and Mickey Rourke's defeated, alcoholic dad in Francis Ford Coppola's hallucinatory adaptation of S.E. Hinton's much-loved young adult novel.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Frank Booth: what is there to say? The friend with whom I saw Blue Velvet said it was like two hours of doing bad drugs with people you don't like, and Hopper is a big part of the reason why.

True Romance (1993)
Ex-cop Hopper vs. Mafia lawyer Christopher Walken, who's "in a vendetta kind of mood:" Imagine the possibilities. Or just take a look.