Overall, and if you've listened to NolanRadio you already know this, I enjoyed this year's Academy Awards telecast. Couldn't really argue with any of the winners (though I will go to my grave maintaining Kate Winslet belonged in the supporting category), though I believe Winslet in the Best Actress category cost Meryl Streep her third Oscar. I ranted enough with Nolan on the handling of the "In Memoriam" tribute section, which, as I predicted to the Academy itself, turned into 28 people and Paul Newman. Congrats to Matt on ALMOST KEEPING UP with me. I had actually chosen "Smile Pinki" in the best short documentary category but second guessed myself by going with the King short, figuring in the year of Obama the academy would go with civil rights. And "Toyland" was a no brainer. When in doubt, always go with the Holocaust film. I've always maintained that if Don Bluth's last "American Tale" film had been "Feivel goes to Nazi Germany," he would have won Best Picture.
Lots of stuff going on this week:
Eddie Murphy is slated to star as his idol (and one time co-star) Richard Pryor in the bio film "Is It Something I Said."
He always said he'd be back. Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to appear in the upcoming action film "The Expendables," written and directed by Sylvester Stallone.. Arnold won't be stretching too much as he will be playing the Governor of California. This is Arnolds way of paying back Sly for his allowing the producers of "The Last Action Hero" to put Stallone into popular films like "The Terminator." Should be a kick ass film, with Jet Li, Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts in the cast.
Stephen Chow is out as director of "The Green Hornet." Producers have now approached Michel Gondry ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") with the job.
Counting on the lustful hearts of pre-teen girls everywhere, Summit Pictures has announced June 30, 2010 as the opening date of "Eclipse," the SECOND sequel to "Twilight." Very bold move, considering "New Moon," the FIRST sequel, has yet to start filming. Also, Drew Barrymore has reportedly been approached to direct "Eclipse" as "New Moon" director Chris Weitz will be in post-production on "New Moon" when the film goes before the camera.
MOVIE RELATED NOTE
"Spider-Man: Turn on the Dark" will hit Broadway in February 2010. The show will be directed by Julie Taymor ("The Producers," "The Lion King.") and feature a score written by Bono and The Edge.
Dorothy Bridges, mother of Jeff and Beau and widow of Lloyd, passed away from natural causes at the age of 93.
Howard Zieff, director of such comedies as "Private Benjamin" and "My Girl," died at the age of 81 from complications of Parkinson's disease.
Oreste Lionello, possibly the most recognizable actor in Italy, passed away this week also at the age of 81. No cause of death was given. It was not his face that made Lionello so popular but his voice. Very few non-Italian films are played in the country without the language being dubbed. Lionello dubbed most of the great comedies of the past 50 years, including films starring Woody Allen, Jerry Jewis and Gene Wilder.
THE OTHER AWARDS
Of course you can't mention the Oscars without giving some love to the Razzies. The "winners" included:
WORSE PICTURE: "The Love Guru"
WORSE ACTOR: Mike Myers (The Love Guru)
WORSE ACTRESS: Paris Hilton (The Hottie and the Nottie)
WORSE SUPPORTING ACTOR: Pierce Brosnan (Mamma Mia!)
WORSE SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Paris Hilton (Repo! The Genetic Opera)
WORSE COUPLE: Paris Hilton (with either Christine Larkin or Joel David Moore)in "The Hottie and the Nottie")
WORSE DIRECTOR: Uwe Boll for three films: "Postal," "1968: Tunnel Rats" and "In the Name of the King - A Dungeon Siege Tale"
WORSE SCREENPLAY: "The Love Guru"
Boll also recieved the Worse Career Achievement award. Hilton's three wins ties her with Eddie Murphy (Norbit) for most Razzies won in a single year. And, I'm sure, for the enjoyment of Mssrs. Canova and Nuzum:
WORSE PREQUEL, REMAKE, RIP-OFF or SEQUEL: "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
AND THE WINNER IS
Who knows how many of these already announced remakes will walk away with the coveted Razzie? Joining the already announced "Footloose" with Zac Effron and "The Karate Kid" starring Jaden Smith, the following films are due to go into production this year:
"My Fair Lady," "Clue," "The Birds," "Romancing the Stone," "Total Recall" and "The Neverending Story."
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1980...
Starring: Al Pacino, Karen Allen and Paul Sorvino
Directed by: William Friedkin
FIRST SEEN:Seville Square Cinema, Kansas City, Missouri
FAVORITE SCENE: The End. Did he? Didn't he? Is he?
FAVORITE LINE: "Hips or lips?"
1981 Razzie Nominations for Best Film, Director and Screenplay.
"I don't make them, I just show them." The previous sentence is the title of my, as yet, unpublished memoirs of my years in the movie theatre business. It's also the words I heard uttered from the manager of the Seville Square Cinema to a group of older women who had just finished seeing "Cruising."
It seemed like the perfect movie. Director William Friedkin, who had already done "The French Connection" and "The Exorcist" (as well as the underrated "Sorcerer") teams up with the always popular Al Pacino for a murder mystery. A theatre owner's dream film. Only by the time the film is booked, the owners discover that Pacino is investigating murders in the gay community, with much of the filming being done in the underground clubs. Where as now most audiences accept, and even embrace, such films as "Philadelphia" and "Brokeback Mountain," 1980 was not a popular time for Hollywood to "come out."
The story revolves around police officer Steve Burns (Pacino) who is requested to go undercover in the gay community to find out who is brutally killing men. Steve is picked partially because he resembles the majority of murdered men: dark compection, eyes and hair. Because of the danger involved, he is not allowed to tell his girlfriend, Nancy (Allen), what he is doing. He must live, eat and be seen constantly in the homosexual community, which keeps him away from Nancy for weeks at a time. The longer he is gone, the more distant he seems when they are together. Is the job affecting Steve, both mentally and physically?
A good film with an ambiguous ending, what put "Cruising" in the headlines wasn't the action on screen, it was the action going on behind the action on screen. Trying for realism, director Friedkin filmed much of the film inside real gay nightclubs housed in the meat packing (snicker) district of New York City. Even though a careful watch was kept on set, some pretty graphic scenes made it into the finished film, causing an uproar among audiences who didn't expect to see man on man action behind Al Pacino. Thanks to the uproar, many theatre chains, contractually obligated to play the film, actually ran ads urging the public to avoid it. I caught the film the second week it was out and intstead of a movie poster hanging in the lobby I spotted a large yellow piece of construction paper which read, "Dear Patrons. AMC Theatres is contractually obligated to show the film "Cruising." We do not condone the subject matter nor do we recommend you view it. Thank you for your patronage."
Some movie theatre trivia for you. For years theatre companies and the studios dealt in what was called "blind bidding." The studio rep would call the theatre chains head film buyer and offer him/her their upcoming masterpiece. Example: The Warner Brothers guy calls the AMC film buyer and says "Bill, I've got a smash for you. "Exorcist II." Got the girl back and Richard Burton and a lot of locusts. What do you think?" Bill thinks about it and says, "Hell yeah, we'll play it in Tampa at the Twin Bays." The WB guy wants a guarantee of $100,000 or ten weeks, whichever comes first. "Done!" Bill yells. And that is why "Exorcist 2" played at the Twin Bays Cinema for only 3 of 10 weeks, mostly to empty auditoriums towards the end. Rather then have an empty theatre for another 7 weeks, the people at AMC paid the $100,000 to dump it. Fast forward and the Universal rep tells whoever took Bill's job after he was fired that this coming year Universal has Al Pacino in a murder mystery directed by William "French Connection" Friedkin. And, just to be nice, he offers him the same terms - 10 weeks or $100,000. "Done!" the new guy screams. Then the film opens and here come the protests. Hence the sign in the poster case and the ads in the paper. Due to the extreme controversy of "Cruising," blind bidding was soon a thing of the past. Now film buyers are allowed to see the films before they bid on them, giving them an idea of what their audience may want to see.
A few notes of trivia on the film, the first courtesy of the Internet Movie Data Base:
In 1972, director William Friedkin -- huge after The French Connection (1971) -- is shooting his spiritual/psych-horror The Exorcist (1973) in downtown New York. For a scene requiring mock brain-scans of the possessed lead character, Friedkin films a real-life radiologist and his assistant, Paul Bateson. Flash ahead to 1979. Friedkin is planning an adap of Gerald Walker’s novel ‘Cruising’, inspired by a real-life serial killer carving up leather boys in the city's underground gay-bars and dumping their body parts in the Hudson River, wrapped in black plastic bags. When he learns that his Exorcist radiologist assistant Bateson is currently awaiting trial for the post-coital slaying of gay film critic Addison Verrill, Friedkin decides to pay him a visit to do a little research into the psyche of his cruising killer. Bateson is later imprisoned for life -- for the Verrill murder -- but not before dropping hints while in custody that he was also the body bag killer. The latter cases remain unsolved, but there's every chance that Friedkin had not only inadvertently consulted the actual killer at the heart of Cruising while planning the film, but had also cast him in a film he made years before it.
Pretty spooky, huh.
Secondly, as a throwback to the "French Connection," Friedkin cast Sonny Grosso as a detective in "Cruising." Grosso was the real life cop that Roy Scheider portrayed in "French Connection." Cast as Grosso's partner was Ed O'Neil who, six years later, would be cast in the lead role of the television series "Popeye Doyle." Doyle was the character Gene Hackman played in "The French Connection," based on Grossos' partner, Eddie Egan.
As to what happened next to cast and crew, Al Pacino continues to work steadily, often appearing as the only good thing in bad movies. In 1992, on his eigth nomination, he finally won an Oscar, Best Actor for "Scent of a Woman." Karen Allen works steadily as well, though usually only one project a year. After a four year layoff she returned to the big screen last year reprising her role of Marion Ravenswood in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."
Since "Cruising" director Friedkin's work has been rather hit and miss. He had a few critical, if not financial, successes with "To Live and Die In L.A." and "Blue Chips," and most recently adapted the stage play "Bug" to modest reviews. His last credit was a 2007 episode of televisions "C.S.I."
And now, a few words from my friend Greg Van Cott.
By Greg Van Cott
Many elements in our culture have changed over the years, and movies have become the perfect time capsules to preserve past eras. When mentioning a term like ‘cruising,’ many pre-Baby Boomer folk would say the term was synonymous with a 1950’s and 60’s obsession of driving and racing in top-of-the-line or custom-made vehicles as depicted in Rebel Without a Cause, Two-Lane Blacktop, and American Graffiti. This type of cruising culture was even depicted on the water, as described by pre-Baby Boom screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, in Jaws 2. But many people born during and after the Baby Boomer era associate the term ‘cruising’ with a completely different meaning. Jump cut to 1980 where Academy-award winning director William Friedkin of The French Connection and The Exorcist is adapting Gerald Walker’s controversial mystery-thriller novel, Cruising, to the screen. The film depicts not only a different time consisting of a different language, but essentially the complete opposite to the squeaky clean, original usage of the term and its time frame. Many words and terms in various languages often change meanings over time—just as people and societies change over time. And yet, there is always an era of ambiguity that exists between one common, initial usage of a word and the later popular usage. When this happens, extremes unfortunately reveal themselves either to avoid or ironically imply double entendre. The Flintstones’ last lyrics don’t seem to have the exact same meaning in today’s culture for example. Therefore, joking about it reveals the two extremes in definitions.
William Friedkin’s Cruising is a film of full of double entendres, extremes, and ambiguity. The story follows a New York City cop played by a very subtle Al Pacino (before he became typecast for seething flamboyant characters of the 1990’s) who goes undercover to find a serial killer who is murdering young men who all happen to be homosexual and all happen to be associated with the S&M underground subculture (not the mainstream gay community). What audiences have to remember is that this particular time capsule shows a particular point of time, like Paul Schrader’s Hardcore and its depiction of the criminally influenced porn industry, that is described by historians as a very specific post-Stonewall, pre-AIDS period where this aspect of ‘nightlife’ was quite popular. As Pacino’s character of Detective Steve Burns dives deeper into this unusual world, the only two people keeping him grounded in his original life are his girlfriend Nancy (played by cute-as-a-button Karen Allen of Raiders of the Lost Ark fame) and boss, Captain Edelson (played by a very sympathetic Paul Sorvino) who try successfully and unsuccessfully to keep Burns’ morale level up. To counteract the possible perception that this nightlife is all that exists and none other, Burns meets Ted Bailey (played TV actor/director Don Scardino to great sobering effect) who is an everyday guy wanting to do great things in his life like write plays and be more involved in the theatre. The fact that he is also gay is not meant to be as alienating in comparison to the ‘nightlife’ for which he has no involvement.
One of the most interesting casting/directorial decisions in this film is that Friedkin has our serial killer played by multiple actors. The only things that keep him looking consistent are his black curly hair, sunglasses that reflect panoramas, intimidating chains, leather jacket, and a rather pleasant sounding voice. The director did this deliberately to keep the villain ambiguous. The fact that this killer could be anyone and disappear amongst anyone or even be multiple people assuming the same identity is quite disturbing. James Sutorius supplies the voice of this nameless serial killer who, like many serial killers in history, destroys what he admires or loves. Friedkin constantly keeps the story and audience in check by using one extreme to balance out another extreme to create aforementioned ambiguity and double meanings. For example, one of the other extreme ironies revealed in the film is the killer’s rather innocent lullaby he sings before carving his victims. The ambiguous thing about it however is how commonly known this lullaby can be. Any number of people could be singing it on the fly and our hero’s real question becomes: does Burns’ eventual suspect sing it whenever he is stalking his prey or this just a common little song? Another example is the revelation that a steak knife is being used to kill the victims—a steak knife commonly used at one of the ritzier restaurants in New York City. The risqué double entendre with this knife is that not only is it being used to carve steak and people, but it is obviously very phallic as well. Friedkin uses subliminal imagery during these stabbings, similar in method as used on The Exorcist, to get the message across without spelling it out in a loud fashion. One of the more unusual examples is during the interrogation scenes when a large, practically naked man in a cowboy hat enters the room to beat up the suspects (including Burns to create the illusion for the case’s first suspect that Pacino’s character is as well a suspect). This image is obvious in meaning at first glance, but humorously there is also that mythic Western, almost conservative ‘classic cowboy beats up bad guys’ extreme made popular within old literature as well as movies of the John Ford-John Wayne days to act as an opposite. You now get the obvious double meaning, but the reason why the cops have this fellow detective “dress down” to do this is very ambiguous. According to Friedkin and fellow technical advisor and cop Sonny Grosso (also partook in advising on The French Connection), this was an actual method of intimidation used by NYC cops.
A number of polar opposite set ups occur in the film such as Sorvino’s police captain character showing a profound sadness (never explained, though Edelson’s noticeable limp seems to play into it) throughout most of the film is balanced out by Scardino’s playwright character’s optimism. Allen’s character of Nancy seems genuinely concerned for Burns throughout (it is amusing to note that Friedkin never gave Karen Allen a full script, so she in actuality had no idea what Burns is going through just as Nancy never does) whereas the inverted aspect of that is the playwright’s roommate, a mean-spirited and vicious reflection of Nancy who is very unsupportive of Bailey. The roommate turns out to even be a possible suspect later in the film when Bailey is found murdered. This roommate is even shown holding the exact type of common steak knife the killer uses, however he is not Burns’ primary suspect. The opposite of Burns’ is this inflexible, humorless college student (interestingly enough is also a fan of theatre) who oddly enough seems to be having “occasional conservations” with his dead father. Upon searching his suspect’s apartment, Burns finds numerous unsent letters written to this father describing ‘violently beautiful’ images throughout the city and that this would make his father proud. From a directing perspective, it is interesting to note that the dead father’s image carries the same voice of the killer. This older man who apparently disapproves of his son seems to represent the true villain in the film: the intolerant destroyer. And since it is ambiguous that this older man may or may not exist and that his son may not even be the actual killer (his voice is NOT dubbed by James Sutorious until one moment when he says: “I never killed anyone.”), it is simply this destructive spirit that may inhabit a number of these people to kill. There is even an insinuation in the story that Burns may have gone too far in this alienating world and has killed Bailey, which is a terrifying possibility in Captain Edelson’s eyes at the end of the film. Since Friedkin had explored the concept of possession (anyone is capable of becoming this killer) in his earlier work, this idea is not totally out of the ballpark.
For a film that is so direct with its extremes, it is amazing that Friedkin was able to preserve a certain amount of insinuation and innuendo in his imagery. Fairly amusing examples include a moment when Edelson drops his chalk while playing pool, and as Burns bends down to reach, it causes Edelson to step backwards briefly out of some homophobic fear; eventually followed by a scene where Burns is lifting weights on an orgasmic level. An interesting bit of irony comes when Burns enters a club promoting ‘precinct night’ where patrons can only enter if dressed like a policeman. Of course, Burns is an undercover policeman, but refuses to walk in wearing his uniform and yet comes close ironically to wearing one when he puts on a policeman’s cap (part of the usual precinct night garb) when he finally meets his prime suspect. Probably the most startling idea is Friedkin placing what appear to be curvaceous women turned away from the camera in a number of the Men Only, S&M club scenes. The result is understandably confusing and once again, ambiguous, but is certainly clever in getting the point across that the lines of gender seem to blur in these worlds.
Despite this film’s tremendous ambiguity and obvious extremes to balance it out, Cruising is no doubt an unusual film, and even in comparison to Friedkin’s other unusual works, it is probably his MOST unusual (his second most unusual choice was to make a Dr. Strangelove [don’t get this title confused with the subject material you’ve just read] inspired comedy after this film called Deal of the Century). Audiences were obviously not prepared for this film in 1980 and many are still unprepared. The ambiguous nature of this film reaches a peak when Pacino’s character washes off his face in the mirror at the very end of the film. He stares at himself for a while and eventually turns his eyes into the reflection to break the Fourth Wall. Is he still the same person or has he changed over time? And will this audience he is staring toward change as well? Looking outside this time capsule, the answers can be clear. For all the film’s ponderous extremes within its story, it is interesting to note that an antonymous extreme was also favored behind the camera. When French Connection producer Philip D’Antoni originally had the rights to the novel (he eventually let go of the project when Friedkin initially balked at the idea of making this film; producer Jerry Weintraub later took it on), the first choice for director was Steven Spielberg, a filmmaker justifiably comfortable in the innocent usage of terms.
Next week we hit the discos of Brooklyn with John Travolta in "Saturday Night Fever." Can you dig it? I knew that you could!
Well, that's all for now. Look for an earlier Rant next week as Mr. Matthew and I will be heading for Beantown on the first steps of fame and fortune. 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.