Thursday 30 September 2021

Streaming - John Baxter revs up with a look over some fine examples of the hot car movie - VANISHING POINT (Richard C Sarafian, USA, 1971), TWO LANE BLACKTOP (Monte Hellman, USA, 1971), THE DRIVER (Walter Hill, USA, 1978), DEATH PROOF, (Quentin Tarantino, USA, 2007)


            Maybe it’s because driving has become so routine that we relish the image of The Driver, a freeway buccaneer, pedal to the metal, mill roaring under the hood, speedometer creeping past the hundred, eyes fixed on that ever receding spot where road meets horizon. 

Ralph Meeker, Kiss Me Deadly

            Petrolheads didn’t show up on Hollywood’s radar until the fifties, and when they did, it was usually someone like Nick Cravat in Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, a man in grimy overalls crawling around under battered Fords and Buicks, muttering “VaVaVaVoom!”  Mickey Rooney played one such in Drive a Crooked Road, suckered by a gangster’s girl into driving a cross-country getaway car, but “sensuous” and “visionary” are not adjectives his performance brings to mind.  

            The true harbinger of auto chic was Tom Wolfe. His 1965 celebration for Esquire of Nascar champion Junior Johnson tagged this former moonshine runner The Last American Hero. “Cars, miles of cars, in every direction,” Wolfe wrote breathlessly of Johnson’s milieu, the world of rural stock car racing, “millions of cars, pastel cars, Aqua Green, Aqua Blue, Aqua Beige, Aqua Buff, Aqua Dawn, Aqua Dusk, Aqua Malacca, Malacca Lacquer, Cloud Lavender, Assassin Pink, Rake-a-cheek Raspberry, Nude Strand Coral, Honest Thrill Orange, and Baby Fawn Lust cream-colored cars are all going to the stock car races, and that old mothering North Carolina sun keeps exploding off the windshields.”  Well, all right!

Angie Dickinson, John Cassavetes,
Ernest Hemingway's The Killers

            Don Siegel’s Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers helped Hollywood catch upcasting John Cassavettes as the racing driver gone bad and Angie Dickinson as the luscious bait, but it took Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop to pinpoint an emerging sub-culture of drivers for whom there was no reality but the road. 

            The film’s James Taylor and Dennis Wilson are ascetics; Zen devotees, without name or history, and no life beyond the pursuit of automotive perfection. Warren Oates’s GTO , however, embodies a new arrival, the amateur, seduced by “muscle cars” and their paraphenalia. A dispiriting answer to the question “What kind of man reads Playboy?”, they know the James Bond books backwards, and believe Ian Fleming’s fantasy that a woman, after a sustained drive at speed, loses all will and can he lifted from the passenger seat, tremulous as a bird, and laid down on the grassy verge, helpless to resist. Soon, Debbie in American Graffiti will be fondling the Tuckahoe upholstery of Terry the Toad’s borrowed wheels and murmuring “Peel out. I love it when guys peel out.”

Ryan O'Neal, Isabelle Adjani, The Driver

            1978 brought Walter Hill’s The Driver. Ryan O’Neal, struggling to embody Hill’s concept of the samurai wheel-man, Melvillian,  taciturn, entire unto himself, was upstaged by Isabelle Adjani, the accent grave of whose smouldering presence trumped O’Neal’s attempt at the more irregular verbs.In the hands of someone less languidly cherubic, his character might have trademarked the new genre. Instead, that distinction went to Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point, and an unglamorous Barry Newman whose wild man of the highway ignited  a generation of car junkies. 

Barry Newman, Vanishing Point

             The script for Vanishing Point by Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, writing as Guillermo Cain, is as stripped down as any stock carNewman’s Kowalski, first name and last, ferries cars for a living, speeding across the American west, high on amphetamines and the rock and soul of isolated radio stations run by such fellow outcasts as the blind Super Soul (Cleavon Little). Occasionally he veers  into the desert, encountering snake-handling mystic Dean Jagger and a blonde Gilda Texter cruising nude on a motor cycle.

Gilda Texter, Vanishing Point

            Fragmentary flashbacks establish Kowalski’s sorehead credentials but for this existential fable motivation is an optional extra. A run-in with the road police ignites his fuse and for the next hour he evades their increasingly impotent fury until, in a one-horse-and-a-dog town - perhaps the Bumfuck, Nevada of legend? - they offer apotheosis in the form of two bulldozers set, blades out, across the road. Following a brief dalliance with the Angel of Death in the person of Charlotte Rampling, the world’s least likely hitch-hiker, he revs up the Challenger and casually slams it into them for a fiery consummation. 

"...a fiery consummation" Vanishing Point

            This indifference to character and motivation had the car community buzzing. It didn’t hurt that the legendary Cary Loftin, veteran of Duel and Bullitt, ramrodded the film’s stunts. He had the idea to tow an explosive-packed shell of a car into the blades, hoping it would somersault over them. Instead it stuck upright, a fiery exclamation mark, terminating an illustration of James Agee’s dictum that “Action is the natural language of the screen, and the instant present is its tense.”

            A well-meaning 1997 remake of Vanishing Point with Viggo Mortensen as Kowalski strove to impose Significance on his character, draping him and his adventures in quasi-Christian symbolism – events take place between Good Friday and Easter Sunday – and offering motivation in the form of an ailing wife whose demise convinces him he has nothing to live for. (Typically, the nude motor cyclist of the first film is given a back-story, and clothes.)  Imagine a grease-thumbed Hustler calendar replaced by a Hallmark greeting card.

            For the real deal, look no further than Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino’s hommage to Roger Corman’s girlfriends-in-peril fantasies - Candy Stripe Nurses, Street Girls, Summer School Teachers -  with Kurt Russell as an ageing, embittered and homicidal stunt man preying on some Texas bad girls who spend their time cruising Austin, talking trash and drinking in a bar run by Tarantino himself. 

            Russell meets his comeuppance  at their hands, or rather feet, stomped to death by, among others, New Zealander Zoe Bell.  Co-opting a 1970 Dodge Challenger similar to Kowalski’s, Bell climbs out onto the hood at speed to sprawl above its throbbing 440 Magnum engine. Casting Bell reaffirms Tarantino’s admiration for antipodean road movies, articulated at length and with passion in Mark Hartley’s enormously entertaining documentary Not Quite Hollywood.  

            The in-jokes of Death Proof – artfully scratched shots, “missing” frames, cue marks of smeared marker pen – can irritate more than they amuse, but it has more than usual interest as an early sketch  for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.  Stuntman Mike with his outdated resumé of forgotten TV shows  is  Rick Dalton in embryo and its girls a foretaste of the Manson tribe. 

Real Crash, No CGI, Death Proof

            Insiders of the action film like it more as a valedictory for the days before CGI, when such drivers as Cary Loftin comprised an understated aristocracy, reticent, dryly humorous, gifted with the kind of knowledge that comes only with experience. In such a world,  Mike might not have turned deadly predator but at least have aspired to become, as Super Soul says in his epitaph for Kowalski, “the last American hero, the electric centaur, the demi-god, the super driver of the golden west.”






Monday 27 September 2021

Streaming on Netflix - Barrie Pattison discovers THE CHAIR (Amanda Peet & Annie Julia Wyman, USA, 2021) and harks back to some other educational institutions

Sandra Oh, The Chair

I have tried a couple of episodes of Amanda Peet and Annie Julia Wyman’s streamed Sandra Oh series
 The Chair and found it was notably relevant to the Australian scene. Sandra is heading up the English Department on a campus where funding problems make them plan on cutting down in favour of more saleable courses. Scott Morrison upping the fees for the humanities anyone?

The Chair registers intermittently. New Board Chairman Sandra is making a pitch for the dignity of classical education with the edit to Jay Duplass, one of her key lecturers, stealing a luggage cart to get back to base or the glimpse of Sandra and senior lecturer Holland Taylor (Two and a Half Men) looking at the gym where half-naked jocks work out. The basement there is where her office has been relocated.


Jay Duplass, The Chair

One of the key plot streams has Duplass doing a Nazi salute in class to make a point, with the smart phone coverage going viral. When they try to reign him in, Duplass breaks out in a chorus of “Springtime for Hitler”, a culturally significant choice. The more politically correct students turn into a lynch mob.


It’s not the first time we’ve been here. The Good Girl episode of  Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin’s excellent Richard Dreyfuss University-set series The Education of Max Bickford  (2001-2002) has a girl student who’s done a centerfold. One of the more religious-minded of her classmates feels she has violated moral standards and urges shunning. Dreyfuss has to hose down this one saying “Shunning is a seriously bad idea.” Not even injecting Peter O’Toole into the series saved it.


My favorite among the David Kelley shows was Boston Public (2000 to 2004). They showed teacher Nicky Katt bringing a gun to class to make an (anti-violence) point and the repercussions on that one keep several episodes running. When Katt’s character later leaves the school (and the series) principal Chi McBride watches him go and says “I’ve lost my best teacher.” 


We can even consider Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000) where the 1993 Ep. Something in the Air has Tori Spelling facing the prospect of being suspended for getting drunk on Prom Night and the students turn out to do a “Donna Martin graduates” demo.


Going even further back there’s the 1967 The Rebels episode of  Brodkin’s Coronet Blue, Larry Cohen series (with then unknowns Candice Bergen and David Carradine) where the Fugitive-like central character gets himself mixed up with Campus radicals.


Holland Taylor, The Chair

Freedom of expression, which rarely gets a mention in these, mixing with student activism is a potent formula. It protrudes from the surface of such wider ranging, not otherwise related efforts too often for it to be an accident. You can ask whether it had been a frequent life shaping experience for the writers and showrunners or whether it was something they picked up in their contemporary societies.


However, these swim against the tide. In the sixties and seventies in particular, TV was thought of as a way to reach older family members sitting about in the home to watch it, while protestor friendly films, like Stuart Hagmann’s 1970 The Strawberry Statement or Rob Cohen’s excellent 1980 A Small Circle of Friends catered to younger people who used the cinemas. Karen Black got action representing youth in both markets, being sexy-sympathetic in movies and a crazed fanatic on TV.


Well that was then and this is now. The thing which will draw me back to The Chair is seeing the way they resolve the Duplass protest plot more than Sandra Oh’s sex life or penury in the English department. It’s unsafe to draw conclusions from single examples or even a small number but it is an indicator. Are we going to detect a shift in attitudes?

Sunday 26 September 2021

Nostalgia Time - Remembrance of Publicity Past - How Universal did it in the 30s

Thanks to David Donaldson for bringing this to attention, a publication specially produced by Universal for Australian exhibitors with a Foreword by the legendary Herc McIntyre. As part of his job at Universal Australia, McIntyre was responsible for backing several films by Charles Chauvel.

If you  CLICK ON THIS LINK you can scroll backwards through the whole publication.

Streaming on MUBI and on Vimeo on Demand - Janice Tong discovers THE LITTLE TAILOR (Louis Garrel, France, 2010) and MONSTERS TURN INTO LOVERS (Yann Delattre, France, 2015)

Louis Garrel and Léa Seydoux at the premiere of
The Little Tailor

I caught two lovely and sweet short films at the online My French Film Festival back in early July during the first part of the Sydney lockdown, (which I feel is making my life feel more and more surreal - there's no delineation between work and home; and my social mores have eroded to such an extent that I back away when I see friends on the street, rather than greet them with the customary peck on the cheek). When this festival comes around again next year, it is definitely worthwhile checking it out.


I’ve always loved Louis Garrel’s acting and here he scripts and directs this uplifting black and white short film, Petit tailleur /The Little Tailor  which in 44 mins explores a world of language, acting, learning a traditional craft and of course, love. Arthur Igual plays Arthur, a young tailor still learning his craft and his way in the world. I could even go as far as to say that he looks to be the alter ego of Garrel’s film characters at that time; in that Arthur is stubbled, with a mop of unkempt dark curly hair, and his constant uniform of a black coat echos the trademark style of Garrel’s film characters during that period.  

Garrel’s treatment of the film mixes poetry (in dialogue and stiller moments) with a vitality and energy - I especially loved the running sequence (Arthur and his friend sprints through the streets of Paris to get to the theatre). His character actually runs a lot in the film: grasping that feeling of liberation and being carefree with you’re young. 

The Little Tailor - The exhilaration of liberty

A meeting follows a theatre performance of Kleist’s La Petite Catherine de Heilbronn with Marie-Julie (Léa Seydoux) who was Catherine in the play. Arthur and his friend take Marie-Julie and her friend out for supper. Arthur becomes besotted with Marie-Julie, and who wouldn’t, when she quotes Chekhov to him as he walks her home that same evening: “To me loving you means dreaming up ways to cure your anguish and following you anywhere. If you’re in heaven, I’m in heaven. If you’re down, I’m down with you.” 


Léa Seydoux looks incredibly young in this film. It must have been shot close to the time of Christophe Honoré’s La belle personne (2008), her manner, the way she holds herself and tilts her head, and even her heavy bangs and long hair reminds me of the other film throughout.


The Little Tailor - The young lovers, Arthur (Arthur Igual) and
Marie-Julie (Lea Seydoux) are wonderful on screen

Arthur is in love, but plagued by a decision he seems unable to make: between leaving his aging mentor (wonderfully portrayed by Albert Igual), who has said he would leave the atelier to him and whom Arthur feels indebted to; or to follow Marie-Julie on tour - to design costumes for the show. One would be to live the life that has been paved for him; and the other would be to chase the unknown, and perhaps discover oneself along the way. An entire world has to be crossed for him to make his decision. 


The Little Tailor is exhilarating to watch, and it’s black and white cinematography suits the mood of the film perfectly. It has a nouvelle vague feel to its loose way of threading the story together; raw and fresh - it captures an esprit rather than being weighed down by dialogue or narrative. 


Monsters Turn into Lovers

Jeunesse des loups-garous/Monsters Turn into Lovers is one of those surprising films which discards conventional hallmarks of rom-coms to create a fun, endearing and modern tale of love. Nina Meurisse is Julie, she works as one of those food samplers, walking around the street dressed in a bear suit and offering samples of food. She’s just a young person trudging through life making some money to pay her bills.  

Her co-worker Sebastian has fallen for her, badly; he’s so sweetly played by Benoît Hamon that you can’t help but side with him immediately, (plus Julie’s boyfriend is a bit of a, you know, d***k, who underappreciates her and undermines her very presence), but Julie is completely oblivious to this. Will she wake up to his declaration of love?


There are many wonderful moments in this charming short film. It’s showing as part of a trilogy called French Touch: Mixed Feelings on vimeo on demand right now; so catch this short film when you want a little pick-me-up.


Monsters turn into lovers - Sebastian(Benoît Hamon) and
Julie (Nina Meurisse) regard each other in their bear costumes

#filmfestivaleveryday #filmoftheday#jandnfilmfestival

Friday 24 September 2021

"Hidden reservoirs and incredible dramas" - Tom Ryan talks to Jonathan Demme (Part 2) - On working across all forms of film-making, Hollywood, radical documentary, working with young directors and lifelong cinephilia

Editor's Note: This is a second part of an interview with the American film-maker Jonathan Demme. It was recorded by Melbourne film critic Tom Ryan in 2005 as the basis of a feature article for The Age. The first part devoted to Haiti and documentary film-making can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE


LisaGay Hamilton says of you, “The first thing I learned from Jonathan Demme is that you can never plan a documentary. I mean, you just kinda go with it.” Is this a fair description of how you’ve approached your documentaries over the years?

 Yes, it is, especially if it’s about an individual. But I feel that if you the filmmaker find a person or a situation of exceptional interest to you, if you’re beyond fascinated, if it’s easy for you to get consumed by the subject, if you don’t know how it’s gonna end, you don’t know how it’s even gonna begin really, you just wade in, you start filming, and your footage begins to speak. 


When we did the Mandela documentary [Mandela, 1996, directed by Angus Gibson and Jo Menell], we had the framework of an upcoming election. So, in that situation, we did have a final scene: he was either gonna win or lose the election. We were confident he was gonna win. But there was a wonderful clock ticking…

With the other ones, though, especially with the portrait ones that aren’t about someone running for office, you just enter their world and you learn more about their world. You’re learning on film and one situation triggers another. You also have to know when to stop filming and walk away from it for a while until something interesting happens again. 


When I did the portrait of my cousin who’s a radical minister in Harlem [Cousin Bobby, 1992], we didn’t know where the heck that was gonna go. And the more we talked to him, the more he revealed aspects of his previous life. It led us to hidden reservoirs and incredible dramas about his involvement with the Black Panthers and the police murder of a Black Panther who he’d become very close with. So you just gotta start diggin’. 

Beah Richards, Beah: A Black Woman Speaks
Dir: LisaGay Hamilton

I mean with Beah Richards [Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, 2003, directed by LisaGay Hamilton], that was amazing because the reason I gave LisaGay a camera was because she said to me, “Jonathan, when I visit Beah, she’s saying the most extraordinary things and it’s a tragedy that this woman’s wisdom isn’t being captured for posterity.” And so I said, “Well, go ahead. I’ll give you a camera and you go ahead and do it.”

Little did any of us know that while the filming was proceeding over the course of several months Beah’s health would decline, that she would choose to sell her home and return to the state of her birth, that she would have her final acting opportunity and win an Emmy. These were things that, had we known them, it would have been a different thing. You have to have faith in your subject.


Who is Patricia Benoit and how did she finish up making the documentaries on Haiti that you produced? I know she also directed a segment of Subway Stories, on which you were involved. I read somewhere that she’s 78.


Patricia Benoit

No, no, no (laughing). That statistic is wrong. Patricia’s probably 45, and she’s a very, very gifted Haitian filmmaker on the activist circuit. I looked at some of the things she’d filmed and thought they were terrific, and it was exciting for me to help create opportunities for a younger director, especially a Haitian director, especially a woman director. It was great to meet someone who I thought was very, very gifted and with whom I could collaborate on expanding the audio-visual literature on Haiti, which is pretty scant.


I understand that you’re a founding member of the Organisation of Artists for Democracy in Haiti as well.




Which was established when?


Well, that was established at the time of Aristide’s coup. And I guess I pretty much started that. I took the initiative and reached out to many people because I was convinced that many, many people in the arts, in film, in music, if they knew what was going on in Haiti, would be concerned. So I felt that an organisation like this could help people who would care about this to form a sort of ad hoc lobbying group. We all wrote letters first to Bush and then to Clinton, and to the coup leaders. And we let the people who were calling the shots know that we knew what was going on in Haiti. That we knew that the United States foreign policy was corrupt in Haiti, and we demanded that that foreign policy be changed. And we were quite relentless. 

I’m not sure how much this works any more with our current President [in 2005, that was George W. Bush] because this guy seems to be just a stone wall. Actually I’m being too cynical, because I do believe that the process continues, that it does have an effect if enough people call up, if enough people write letters. They have to respond one way or the other. They have to acknowledge at least the situation and explain themselves. So that was exciting: I really enjoyed calling up Bob Dylan and telling him that we still hadn’t received his signature yet. 

I saw him last night, by the way, in concert at the Beacon Theatre here in New York. I think he’s coming to Australia.


I loved his book [‘Chronicles, Volume One’].


Me too.


Anyway, do you feel like “a man who leads parallel lives” (as a number of commentators have described you), or do you see there being a continuum between your Hollywood films and the documentaries you make and produce?


Melanie Griffith, Jeff Daniels, Something Wild

I’m gonna think out loud because I was actually musing a little bit on that, when I knew we were gonna speak. I feel that when I started directing in the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s I was a director trying to establish himself. Up to Something Wild in ’86 or ’87. 

And then my little tiny company expanded and it gave me the opportunity to do two kinds of things at once. The company could be actively involved in the motion-picture industry and produce films that I directed or helped produce, and meanwhile we could always be making documentaries. And, from the mid-’80s to the mid-’90s, that was what I was all about: having a company that provided me the opportunity to do all that. 

Then I started wanting to scale down in the late-’90s and to not produce any more and only to direct and I think what I’ve turned into, Tom, is… I like to see myself today as an independent filmmaker who, from time to time, gets the chance to do a Hollywood script of very special interest. Like The Manchurian Candidate, which I think is a unique Hollywood project and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to go to Hollywood and make that. 

Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber
The Manchurian Candidate

And previously, it was not entirely successful on a number of levels but I felt I had a unique opportunity to go to Paris, France, and do a film that was a homage to the nouvelle vague [The Truth About Charlie, 2002]… If only that film had starred Will Smith, as had been originally envisioned, instead of Mark Wahlberg, who’s a good actor and has done good work on certain kinds of things but didn’t provide what that film really needed to succeed. 

And before that I did Beloved, another extraordinarily unexpected Hollywood film. 

I’ve taken a year off to reflect on all this stuff, so that’s why I’m able to glance back to do this kind of analysis, spend time with my kids and empty my big old office and shrink down to the tiny one that I entered today. And I’m planning this summer, if all goes well, to shoot a concert film with Neil Young performing live with an exceptional band of country musicians at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee… [that turned out to be Neil Young: Heart of Gold, 2006]


Which’ll be the second time you’ve worked with him.


Third, actually. In the sense that he provided a very, very beautiful song for the ending of Philadelphia. And I also did a short performance piece called The Complex Sessions with him. But, yes, this is the third and for me it’s a kind of fulfilment because the Grand Ole Opry is a very special American institution and Neil Young is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the giant American songwriters – North American, of course, because he’s from Canada – of all time. Right along with Cole Porter and Stephen Foster and whoever else, he has got to be in the Top 10 all-time songwriters, composers. 

So it’s an incredible opportunity to do something very, very special with his new body of songs which he’s just completed, which is called “Prairie Wind”, very much in the “Harvest” frame of mind, beautiful country-and-western songs, evocations of his childhood and of transitions in North American culture over the past century and reflections on mortality. Emmylou Harris is on many of the tracks and the music’s phenomenal.


I realise I’m taking a lot of your time. I’ve just got a few more questions...


You’re gonna have to wake up soon [it’s about 12.30am, my time].


This is a pleasure for me, so…. (laughing)


Thank you so much (laughing).


And this is not intended as a loaded question, but, now, which of your films are the ones that matter to you the most?


Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Beloved

Um, Beloved matters to me beyond calculation. Racism, the legacy of slavery in our country, is such an overwhelmingly important fact about America, in the country’s life, that to be able to make a film that shamelessly addresses that in a very creative way was a phenomenal opportunity. It was great to work with Oprah Winfrey. It was a perfect filmmaking experience. So that stands out very, very strongly.

Stop Making Sense also stands out in a very, very strong way. That was the first time that I worked directly with music on film and I had the good fortune of that experience enabling me to work with arguably the finest band of the moment with the most exciting singer/songwriter of the day: David Byrne. That was a very, very thrilling thing.

And Philadelphia stands out for me as well as a very, very special thing. We wanted to make a film that would contribute to getting the country behind a concerted effort to vanquish AIDS and we got to make that film and that was incredible. 

I also treasure working with the great actors that I’ve worked with: Jodie Foster, Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. The joy of working with people like that is, in a way, bigger than the films that the work was done on.


Tell me, is it difficult to be an artist working in America at the moment?


I don’t think it’s any more difficult… On the one hand, it would seem to be a little more difficult to work on material that strays from predictable formulas. On the other hand, with the opening up to digital and through documentaries becoming films that are actually shown in the cinemas now – which has been a movement that I think Michael Moore has been responsible for – now the possibility to make your own film however you want to make it outside the confines of the corporately mandated filmmaking is probably greater than ever before. 

Until the film was done, there was never any corporate involvement in The Agronomist. Nobody was making any money – it was a labour of love for everybody. The digital technology permitted me to shoot very, very inexpensively and I was able to make that film exactly the way I wanted to outside the corporate realm. And then finally we entered the corporate realm a little bit, or at least the business realm, by getting advances from distributors that helped us pay for the very high price tag on the archival footage that’s in the film. 

So I can start making a new film this afternoon if I’ve got a subject that interests me.


Just a couple of other quick ones. Is there any truth to the story that there’s a bootleg copy of your version of Swing Shift floating around?


Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russell, Swing Shift

Well, you know, there did exist some videotapes of the original version of Swing Shift. One copy even fell into the hands of Sight and Sound magazine who did a wonderful review of it to set the record straight [see Steve Vineberg,  “Swing Shift– A Tale of Hollywood”, Sight and Sound, Winter 1990/91, pp. 8 – 13]. And there were a couple of other things too. But, you know, these were tapes made in the ’80s and if any of them are still around I don’t know where they are. It was famously re-edited and re-conceived, and it was a movie that was famously taken away from the director and chopped to ribbons and there was all this new stuff imposed on it. So there certainly wouldn’t be any interest on Warner Bros.’ part in (laughs) participating in the restoration of a film that would prove they’d made a horrendous blunder previously. 


Is it water under the bridge for you or do you still have hard feelings about it?


No, it’s finally… When you raise it, I note that I don’t have any of that spontaneous adrenaline in my chest because that whole thing has been conjured up…  No I’ve made my peace with it and, you know, it’s very interesting because my experience on making Swing Shift really made me a very tough guy. From that moment forward, if I wasn’t gonna get final cut I wasn’t gonna do it. If I could work with exactly who I wanted to, and if I didn’t have complete trust in every single person participant on either side of the desk in the making of a film, I wasn’t gonna do it. If I smelled the slightest aroma of any disruptive force that might threaten the integrity of the film, I was all over it. 

So they say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, or something like that. That’s what happened there, although, that said, I was profoundly depressed at the time and wondered if I had the courage to actually go back through that process. And you know, come to think of it, Stop Making Sense was made at exactly the time of the Swing Shift debacle, so that, even as I was experiencing the lowest possible experience that can happen to a filmmaker, I was also experiencing the highest possible one, working with a bunch of brilliant people and making the film the way we wanted to. So that kept me in the ball game.


So you’ve actually had final cut ever since?


For better or worse, I’ve had final cut from Something Wild on.


Are you still as hooked on the movies as you were earlier in your life? I know you started off writing reviews…


I did and I am. Yes, I’ve been a movie nut since I saw Treasure Island  in 1954 at age 10. And now I get to see films with my kids and I get to see crappy stuff at the mall in the guilty pleasure realm that I would never waste my time on but I get to be with my kids so I go. And I get to drag them to films that I have loved previously or found incredibly interesting. That’s the price they must pay. If they go to the mall to see the crap, they’ve gotta balance it by seeing something they otherwise might not see.


Fair enough too. (laughter)


In fact, we’ve got a wonderful, wonderful film centre in a community about 15 miles from where I live that’s called the Jacob Burns Film Center in the amusingly named community of Pleasantville in New York [at 364 Manville Road in Pleasantville, NY, in fact, centrally located in the heart of Westchester County]. They have great, great stuff there. I’ve got to know the people there and next month will be the beginning of Demme’s Rarely Seen Film Festival.

I get to pick something that’s really off-the-radar and whoever dares to show up will watch it and then we’ll talk about if afterwards.


Well, your off-the-radar work for me is Who Am I This Time? which turned up here on TV 20 years ago. I happened to tape it and I just loved it.


Hey, that’s a Kurt Vonnegut concept. Kurt Vonnegut wrote that and Susan (Sarandon) and Chris (Walken) were so charming. That was really fun.

But I want to clarify something: the Demme’s Rarely Seen Film Festival aren’t rarely seen films made by me. They’re rarely seen films that I have loved made by other people.


Tell me what they are.


Chappaqua, (Conrad Rooks, 1966)

Well the lead-off is a film called Chappaqua made by Conrad Rooks back in the late ’60s, photographed by Robert Frank. A very independent American film that’s for some inexplicable reason sort of just vanished and they’ve tracked down a print for me. Then we’re gonna show Alain Resnais’ Muriel, a film by Glauber Rocha, Antonio Das Mortes, from Brazil.


That’s your favourite film of all time according to the ‘Sight and Sound’ poll in 1992.


Have you seen it?


Oh, yes.


It’s dazzling, isn’t it?


It is. 


And in America nobody has seen it any more…


That whole ‘cinema novo’ movement was just so exciting…


So exciting. There’s a little section in The Agronomist where we show about a minute of a film that was very important to Jean Dominique called Anita that was directed by Rassoul Labuchin. That is gonna be our second film in the Rarely Seen Film Festival and I’m gonna bring Labuchin up from Haiti to talk about the film with us. 

I’m sure you know, there’s that thing where at a certain point in your life you’re always trying to get your friends to come back to your place to play them the new music you’ve discovered. This is a version of that. (laughter) It’s just like: come to this movie theatre and look at a film that I think is worth rediscovering.

Thursday 23 September 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare recommends DRUGSTORE COWBOY (Gus Van Sant, USA, 1989)


William Burroughs (above), no less, with Matt Dillon (below) in Gus Van Sant's second indie feature Drugstore Cowboy (1989).

It comes three years after his first feature, mostly in black & white, a great gay odyssey into spit and vaseline, Mala Noche, which later led to Gus' career being revived in the nineties by MK2 in France, which ended up producing among other things his still undervalued "death trilogy", Elephant, Last Days and Paranoid Park.
He is seemingly missing in action these days although his hand is always in there somewhere, still a photographer of very great distinction, and a frequent mentor to budding indie/queer talent like Kelly Reichardt and the beginnings of her feature career with Old Joy in 2006.
Gus is as far as you could get from a red carpet Hollywood type.
Matt Dillon,Drugstore Cowboy