I'm pretty much through with baseball. Not playing it (at least my body doesn't think so) but embracing it. It's a sport my father played well, I played well and my son plays very well. It's the one thing that can instantly bond father and son. And, as I've learned over the years, it can break your heart. Sometimes it's just a small hurt, like say when an umpire with a grudge against your favorite team (say Richie Garcia hating on my beloved Orioles) ignores an obvious case of fan interference and gives the Yankees a home run, changing the score and momentum of the playoffs. Or it can rip the heart right out of your chest. Like now. Alex Rodriguez met with the press and told more about his cheating by not talking about his cheating. "I know we weren't taking Tic Tacs" he says. Alex, you said you were injecting yourself with stuff. Was that a Freudian slip, indicating you were also taking oral meds? You throw a cousin (unnamed) under the bus, accusing him of buying your drugs for you and then bringing them into the country and injecting you with them. And you keep bringing up the fact that you "were young...21,22." It's obvious math wasn't your strong suit in high school since you were 28 when you won your first drug aided MVP award. You say you took them because you felt the pressure in Texas. TEXAS?!?! You went from that little state to New York City! No pressure there, right? Liar!
Socks Clinton, White House cat during the 8 year term of Bill Clinton, died of cancer. He was 19.
Dewey Martin, drummer for the Canadian band Buffalo Springfield, passed away from unknown causes. He was 68.
Estelle Bennet, who along with her sister Ronnie and cousin Nedra Talley formed the popular girl group The Ronnettes, also passed away from unknown causes. She was 67.
Kelly Groucutt, former bassist for ELO, suffered a heart attack this week and died. He was 63. Groucutt joined the band in 1975 and appeared on the "Face the Music" LP, which contained the hits "Evil Woman" and "Strange Magic." He quit the band in 1983 and filed suit against bandmate Jeff Lynne and the groups' management team for lost revenues and royalties. He later appeared in various off shoots of the band including ELO Part 2.
VOTE EARLY AND OFTEN
Let me again remind readers of the PCR to make sure you vote for our favorite horror host, Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick)in this years Rondo awards. See Matt's Rail for more information. If I may make another recommendation, give some love for Best Article of 2008 to "Intruding on William Shatner," by Dan Lybarger, featured in FILMFAX #117. An excellent piece by an outstanding scribe.
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1979...
Starring: George C. Scott, Peter Boyle and Season Hubley
Directed by: Paul Schrader
FIRST SEEN: Austin Cinema, Tampa, Florida
FAVORITE SCENE: Jake finally snaps and takes his anger out on "Jism" Jim by way of a table top lamp.
FAVORITE LINE: "Turn it off!" (repeated often). Ironically, the tag line for the film, "Oh my God, that's my daughter" is not uttered in the film.
To understand the story of "Hardcore" is to understand the man who wrote it. The main character of Jake VanDorn, played powerfully by Scott, was based on writer/director Paul Schrader's dad, a Calvinist minister. In fact, neither Paul or his screenwriting brother Leonard, were allowed to see movies growing up and didn't see their first film until they were in college. "Hardcore" is almost like an "R" rated version of the classic John Wayne film, "The Searchers." When Jake's daughter, Kristen (Ilah Davis), does not return to her Michigan home after a class field trip to California, he hires private investigator Andy Mast(Boyle) to try to find her. Months later he is invited to meet the P.I. at an adult theatre where the shamus screens for Jake a short, x-rated film featuring Kristen and two men. As the images flicker across Jakes face he clutches the back of the seat in front of him, growling "Turn it off!" over and over until he breaks down. (Note to the academy: You missed the boat on Scott that year. Of course, with my luck, you'd have nominated him and hosed Roy Scheider on "All That Jazz" so I'm not complaining too hard). Jake heads to California where he begins to search on his own. Only after adopting the guise of a pornographic film producer does he begin to find the clues he needs.
I think what makes "Hardcore" so memorable, besides the performances, is the way it stretched the "R" rating envelope. When Jake first interviews Nikki (Hubley), it is at her job at an adults only club. Seperated by a pane of glass, Jake must continually feed coins into a box to keep a partition from sliding down between them. That Nikki is totally naked, with her legs up in the air, is certainly a distraction that most people don't face in a conversation. Nikki turns out to be more help then Mast in getting the ball rolling. However, in Mast's defense, I would reason that he recognizes a fish out of water and is taking it slowly. "Leave it up to me, Pilgrim," he keeps telling Jake, possibly alluding both to Jakes Calvinistic ways as well as the Dukes favorite nickname, Pilgrim. The further Jake wallows in the filth the more his faith is tested.
This week I'm happy to share the stage with two guest contributors who have graced these pages in the past. First up is PCR regular ED Tucker:
I remember Hardcore very well for no other reason than because my family got HBO around 1978 and it wasnít more than a year or so later that this film turned up. You could always tell the really ďgoodĒ movies because they would never show them before 10PM at night. I had to catch this one late one Saturday night when I was supposed to be watching Saturday Night Live. This was a great sleazy expose on the underground world of pornography and, in retrospect, itís a great snapshot of the period when you could still see items like 8mm films lining the shelves of the stores and the models were not all surgically enhanced. It also happens to be a surprisingly good film. After my adolescent mind had had itís fill of nudity, mainly from Season Hubley, I really found myself caught up in the story. George C. Scott goes from an uptight conservative middle class father to a pissed off bad ass by the end of the film. The scene where he is reunited with his daughter is a real shocker when she reveals that it was the strict home life he put her through that drove her to run away in the first place. By the end of the film you are certain that everyone has learned something from the experience and that you need a shower!
Thanks, ED. Your last lines really ring true...I'm curious if the message you took home was the same one Schrader wanted to get through to his father.
Next up is Greg Van Cott, whose contributing piece to my story on "The Exorcist" is still the stuff of legend at the PCR.
THE HARDCORE LIFE
By Greg Van Cott
The 1970ís were a highly volatile and intense period for not only those who lived through them, but for the era of cinema as well. The Sexual Revolution kick started in the 1960ís by the James Bond films, The Graduate, and Midnight Cowboy reached its peak in the 70ís with the emergence of the porn industry bringing forth their most infamous releases such as Behind the Green Door and Deep Throat. By the end of the decade, the world had been exposed to many documentary-esque, graphically potent films of the American hard life with The French Connection, The Deer Hunter, and Taxi Driver. Screenwriter Paul Schrader, who came up with the idea and blueprint for Taxi Driver, eventually came to make his break as a director in the late 1970ís with the Richard Pryor/Harvey Keitel drama Blue Collar, but it was Schraderís second directorial effort that made the biggest impression on what the 1970ís in its entirety seemed to represent.
Schraderís film, Hardcore, starts in a quiet and solemn town in Michigan during the Christmas season. Every inch of Grand Rapids is peppered with wreaths, shiny bows, and heavenly snow peppered as well with playful children. Within George C. Scottís characterís home is a shining example of Calvinist values. Schrader, a Calvinist too in his youth, became fascinated with the darker aspects of life as he grew older and became engrossed by it more than anything in his bright, innocent upbringing. That being said, the film takes you on an interesting journey between the safety and religion of lead character Jake Van Dornís world and juxtaposes it with the dangerous debauchery of Los Angelesí immense seedy industry. What people have to remember is that the porn industry of that time was not as mainstream as it has become in the 90ís and 00ís, thanks to the advent of VHS, DVD, and the internet. It was lot easier for people working in that industry to become involved in something extremely dangerous or criminally related, which often resulted in jail time, hospital time, and even death. This was the basis for Schraderís script, which examines the journey of a Calvinist father who discovers his daughter has run off and become involved in something he cannot dare to watch (George C. Scottís performance of Van Dornís breakdown and realization that his daughter has become involved in pornography [she is also underage, but that is not the main point] is absolutely heartbreaking). Despite all the innocent surroundings and seemingly innocent people within this town, everyone including Van Dornís own daughter has some interest in sin and sexuality confirming that once you know the rules, people love to break them. As Jack Nitzscheís gospel organs slowly transform into electric guitars and overwhelming synthesizers, you get the impression that the world is changing with the music.
Even in 1979, Schrader was essentially making a cautionary tale about an industry that had become commonplace. Back in 1961, Edward D. Wood Jr. even made a cautionary tale that warned of a supposed porn industry with his film, The Sinister Urge, so Schrader was not the first to discuss the subject of extremes in sexuality. He however might have been the first to tell such a tale from the point of view of someone who grew up in the conservative early 20th century who is then thrust into the darker aspects of the late 20th century to bring his daughter home. This creates a certain amount of irony that surrounds the story. Van Dorn hires private investigator Andy Mast played by the ever sympathetic, Peter Boyle, who seems at best a gentle, understanding man who dislikes what he sees happening around him, but ironically finds the porn industry and its women highly appealing. Once Van Dorn tires of Mastís lack of progress, he himself dives into this world of distortion, a visual motif Schrader constantly uses by focusing on mirrors that stretch people when they go near them. Here, Van Dorn takes himself to his own extremes and limits by taking on the persona of a porn film producer just so he can get closer to those who might know the whereabouts of his daughter.
One of the most interesting characters in the film is the ďsometimesĒ porn actress and ďother timesĒ stripper Niki played by Season Hubley. Van Dorn hires her to help him find specific people who might be involved with his daughter. She believes in reincarnation and he believes in ĎTULIP,í an acrostic that represents Calvin beliefs. She is more of a pacifist in comparison to Van Dorn who tends to get frighteningly violent when he cannot get his way; an interesting detail that may change the audienceís point of view of him. As she helps him, questions start to emerge that stay with the audience even after the film is over: will Van Dorn change some of his ways and beliefs in order to better communicate with his daughter when they get home? Will anything good come out of the friendship between Niki and Van Dorn? Is Van Dorn a completely changed man now? Schrader doesnít attempt to answer any of these questions and perhaps it is best that he never did as he obviously wants the audience to draw their own conclusions. The closest he gets to giving the audience closure on some deliberate ambiguities in the film is by decorating the surroundings of the characters with continuing ironies and fascinating symbology: as Van Dorn looks out a window, we see an ad for Star Wars, which is immediately replaced in the next shot by an advertisement for Hustler on a billboard. When Van Dorn enters a brothel, one of the exotic dancerís very young son is present in the lobby. Other examples include a scene showing terrible miscommunication between a producer and a director on a porno (not much of a surprise, but twisted in the fact that red tape still matters despite the utter simplicity of the production), light saber wielding strippers dance away on stage, a dangerous man involved with Van Dornís daughter dies right next to a theater called the Garden of Eden, and as Van Dorn explains the philosophy for ĎTULIPí in another sceneóa travelogue poster for Las Vegas/Sin City sits behind him.
What is obvious from Schraderís storytelling, beyond the ambiguous nature of what is good and evil in this film, is the lesson that some people belong in two separate worlds and this point is confirmed with the final shot of the film, which is the complete opposite of the opening shotóa dark, vile street in the less publicized parts of San Francisco. Van Dorn and Paul Schraderís ultimate question given to the audience is essentially this: after all that has happened, could you or would you still have faith?
Thanks, guys. I'm amazed that we all took home with us the same message about faith. You know what they say about great minds!
Most of the talent involved with "Hardcore" continued on with very succesful careers. Schrader still writes ("The Last Temptation of Christ," "The Misquito Coast") and directs ("Affliction," "Auto Focus"). I was stunned to learn while researching this piece that he has NEVER been nominated for an Oscar for his writing. I guess "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" just showed up one day on Scorsese's doorstep. Jeesh! Scott spent the next 20 years continuing to chew scenery when required. I had the genuine honor of seeing him on Broadway in "Inherit the Wind" (also his last performance, available on home video) opposite Rip Torn. Two giants dueling it out a scant 30 feet in front of me is a memory I will cherish forever. After the show we waited at the stage door hoping to grab an autograph. When Scott emerged (a giant of a man wearing a Detroit Tigers baseball jacket) I could only hold up a photo and a sharpie. "Not tonight, thank you" he said softly and got into his limo. No signature but another memory to store away. Hubley, who had earned rave reviews for her portrayal of Priscilla Presley in John Carpenter's television film, "ELVIS," continued to work in small roles in film and television, but nothing to match the one-two punch of "ELVIS" and "Hardcore." Like Scott, her last acting gig came in 1999. Boyle went on to win new fans with his portrayal of Frank Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond," earning an incredible seven consecutive Emmy nominations for his work. In 1996 he did win an Emmy for his guest appearance on "The X-files." One question of casting that is always discussed concerns the character of "Jism" Jim Sloane, the young porn actor that Jake is looking for. Many people, myself included, thought the role was played by a pre-"Dukes of Hazzard" John Schneider, though it is credited to Will Walker. I actually asked Schneider about it when I met him after a show and he replied that he gets asked that question at least once a week from older fans. However he maintains it's not him. But, as always, the plot thickens. "Hardcore," made in 1978 and released in April 1979, is the last credit I can find for Will Walker. The first on screen credit available for John Schneider is "The Dukes of Hazzard," which premeired in September 1979. Can you say "Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?"
Next week we'll stay in the adult underground and take a look at a film that changed the way films are distributed, William Friedkins' "Cruising."
Well that's all for now. Don't forget to submit your vote for Dick Bennick. You don't even need to vote for any other category (though I should suggest you write in "Masters of Horror" for best web site or I won't hear the end of it) but please help honor a man who meant a lot to many of us. Have a great week. See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.