Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cat People (1942)

I had not yet seen the original The Cat People when I watched and fell in love with the remake. I imagine some might find that sacrilege, and for sure there were people back in 1982 who thought it was a crime against cinema to remake a movie as great as the 1942 Jacques Tourneur classic, but I say if a remake can introduce you to a movie you had not known about before, and compel you to see it, then that's the best thing a remake can do.

I only just now put together that the remake came out 40 years after the original. When you think of how different life (and movies) were between '42 and '82, it's kind of astounding. Especially when you consider that the differences between '82 and 2012--30 years--aren't that remarkable, in comparison...

Looking back, I had assumed I had seen it at the Castro or the York, but it looks like it was a VHS rental, and the movie was probably released on video to coincide with the remake.

At the time, when comparing the two, I obviously preferred the remake. But I was definitely able to see that the original had its merits, (merits I was more able to appreciate later in life). What most interested me were the similarities between the two.

There are obvious homages to the original in Schrader's remake, the biggest being the scene in the swimming pool. Fans of the original tend to say the scene is better in the first film and it creates higher suspense because Tourneur never actually shows anything, and is able to create fear with mere suggestion.

The curious thing is, aside from the nudity, the two scenes are very, very similar, and in fact, Tourneur shows MORE than Scharder does (at least when it comes to the cat; not so much in the nipple department). Tourneur's version includes some animated shadows, and at one point, a briefly animated cat shadow. Schrader's version mainly uses darkness and sound. Watch the original scene here, (can't embed it), then the 1982 version below...

Frankly, I think they're both great scenes.

The other scene that's in both films is when Irena is stalking Alice, and Alice gets startled by a bus. Again, a lot of people praise the original, feeling it it works better because the sound of the bus matches the sound of a hissing cat. But I never actually thought that bus sounded anything like a cat. You can watch the full scene here, but the bus shows up at the very end, if you want to skip ahead.

Schrader's version is a bit shorter, and the bus has been replaced by the St. Charles Streetcar, but I've always thought that streetcar sounds more like a panther's roar than that bus sounds like a cat's hiss...(Scene is embedded below at the right start point, and continues on to the pool scene.)

Obviously, I have a fondness for the remake, but I absolutely love the original as well. I think Schrader's inclusion of some clear-cut homages are great updates, and that the movies, as a whole, both deserve praise. Schrader took the violent and sexual aspects of the story that could only be hinted at in the original, and made them the explicit center of his movie. I'm all for subtly and innuendo, don't get me wrong. But sometimes you just want to see a naked lady turn into a cat.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Personal Best

Apparently, on May 26th, 1982, my parents and I went to see Personal Best at (I think) the Serra Theater in South San Francisco, though I find that a little hard to believe, as that was a Wednesday, and I just can't see us going out of our way on a school night to see it...So maybe it was earlier or later in the week, and I wrote down the date wrong...

By the time we saw it, it had been out for several months, (it had opened in San Francisco in March), and was playing at a second run theater. Really, the movie wasn't that important to me in the scheme of things, although it did make think for about five minutes that perhaps I should take up running. (Never happened.)

It was also a bit scandalous at the time because it depicted a lesbian relationship pretty honestly, and perhaps explicitly. I think there was a love scene in it? I can't remember. Also: A lot of slo-mo running.

The only thing about the movie that I really remember is that I had seen a newspaper ad for the film that had a picture of Mariel Hemingway doing the splits, and said something to the effect of "The critics are split over Personal Best," and then listed blurbs from both positive and negative reviews. That was something I had never seen before--and ad that used negative reviews to sell a movie--and it stuck with me.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like that ad ever ran in a San Francisco newspaper. I explored microfilm for the entire month of its release, and this is the only kind of ad that ran:

So, I'm guessing I probably saw the ad in the Village Voice, since my dad tended to get that every week...

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid

For some of these movies, I have to rack my brain to try and remember where I saw them. In other cases, a trip to the library is required to look at old newspaper movie listings. But I remember May 23rd, 1982 with a lot of clarity, and bits of that day come to mind like they happened yesterday.

It was a Sunday, and my dad and I went to a matinee showing of Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid at the Regency III downtown. The Regency III, unlike the Regency I, was a really nice old theater. Small, but with good seating and a pretty good sound system. I would end up seeing some pretty influential movies there in the coming years, including The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Eventually, it turned into a stage theater (and I saw a few plays there too, including Burn This, and something by Mamet--maybe Oleanna?), and is now a nightclub called Ruby Skye. Haven't gone; doubt I ever will. The odor of Drakkar Noir would probably be way too much to bear.

Pennies From Heaven, another Steve Martin movie, was the first movie I featured on this blog. As I mention there, I was a huge Steve Martin fan growing up. There were two big comedians in the late 70s and early 80s: Steve Martin and Robin Williams, and despite liking "Mork & Mindy" just fine, I didn't dig Robin Williams as a comedian much, (still don't, frankly). I was a Steve Martin gal all the way, so much so that I was a member of his official fan club, (oh yes), and would end up having a lifesize cardboard Steve Martin advertisement for The Jerk in my possession for more years than I care to admit to.

So, I was excited about Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid because it was Martin's return to comedy after the bleak Pennies From Heaven. And I can thank Dead Men... for offering a big introduction to the genre of film noir and all those Hollywood classics. The movie is a noir spoof that edits Martin into scenes from old movies, creating a new plot, and some very funny moments. It's not seamless, but being that it was all done old school, with no computer enhancements, it's damned effective, and in fact, I find it a lot more convincing than more recent things that try to bring old stars to life, (like that weird Charlize Theron commercial that features Marilyn Monroe.) It helped that Edith Head was the costumer on the movie, (and in fact, it was the last movie she ever worked on), and she was able to match wardrobes perfectly.

Here's a pretty clever bit that utilizes dialogue from a movie, (totally drawing a blank on which one), in a hilarious way:

The company my dad worked for did merchandising, and I ended up with some stuff related to the movie, including posters, pins, and this plastic coffee mug, which still sits on my desk.

The "Famous Java" label is in reference to Martin's Rigby Reardon character's coffee, which is a very unique blend. He starts to make a batch for Burt Lancaster in this scene:

The movie is readily available on DVD, (unfortunately not on Netflix Instant, though), and is well worth a watch. It's pretty silly, of course, but it's also a lot of fun.

After the movie my dad and I ate at a restaurant on the corner. I think at the time, it was a Miz Brown's Country Kitchen, (it eventually became a Max's, which recently shut its doors as well), and part of the dining room was sunken, so that if you looked out the windows, they were above you, and all you could see were peoples legs and feet as they walked by. We ate and talked about old movies and movie stars, like Alan Ladd, (my dad has the same first name), and how Ladd was considered short for movie stars of the time, and was therefore perfectly paired with Veronica Lake, who was teeny tiny...It was a fun day.

I would eventually start to watch all the movies that were featured in the Dead Men..., and read about all those old stars, (Lauren Bacall's autobiography was a personal fave), in large part because of this silly satire starring Steve Martin. Which ain't such a bad thing.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Cat People ²

As I noted in my previous entry about the movie Cat People, I was a little obsessed with it, and on Sunday, May 22nd, 1982, I went to see it again, this time at the York Theater. I'm not sure if I went alone, but I do know I didn't see whatever movie it was paired with.

One of the things I love about the movie is its New Orleans setting. Even if it isn't very realistic, it utilizes the city's foreign feel perfectly. New Orleans isn't like any other city in America, so it lends itself well to a spooky tale about an otherworldy family's curse, and sexual animals.

I love this bit featuring Kinski walking around a completely empty Jackson Square in the French Quarter, (and anyone who's ever been to New Orleans knows that square is never that empty), visiting a groovy looking church, before finally making it to the zoo, (which, at one time, was indeed a dump, but is now a first class zoo).

In looking around the Interwebs for stuff about the movie, it was nice to find a few posts from people who seem to like it as much as I do.

This is a nice review from Kindertrauma.

Only In Cinema's post is a bit more critical of the movie, but still comes out liking it, despite its flaws.

Finally, any fan of Nastassja Kinski should take a look at Nostalgia Kinky, the best fan site out there.
It's an exhaustive look at all of her movies, and it includes over 20 posts about Cat People alone....

Thursday, May 17, 2012

1982 Rules! Every Other Year Drools!

If I had started keeping track of my movie viewing in any other year than 1982, it's likely I wouldn't have decided to start up a blog about it many years later. Because, you see, 1982 was an incredibly good year for movies, and it's a happy coincidence that it was also the year that I started to take my film fandom seriously.

Here's a brief article from an LA Times blog that talks about that banner year. Most of the movies mentioned will be (or have been) featured here, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


There were about five movies that came out in 1982 that I would end up seeing again and again over the next few years, eventually own on LaserDisc, and then DVD, and would continue to revisit multiple times as the years went on. Barry Levinson's Diner was one of them, though you wouldn't think it from the absolutely horrible trailer seen above.

I've already established that I was (and still am) a sucker for movies set in the late 50's and early 60's, so it wasn't really hard for me to like Diner. The thing is, while it's set in 1959, it feels firmly planted in the 1950's, and isn't as...bright as other movies set in the era seemed to be. (The 80's version of the 50's invariably involved a lot of chrome and pink.) It's kind of dark, in a way, both literally and figuratively.

I can understand why the movie was a hard sell at first--there's no real plot to speak of: It takes place in Baltimore the week between Christmas and New Year's, with six friends in their 20's gathered for a friend's New Year's wedding. They hang out a diner a lot. They talk. A few very minor adventures occur. It ends. (There are two great articles that look back on the film's creation, and how hard it was to get it released initially: One is in Vanity Fair, and the other, from the Baltimore Sun kind of piggybacks on the VF article.)

What makes it memorable is the dialogue, and the ensemble cast's perfect chemistry. I'd venture to say all of the guys in it have never been better, before or since. This scene is a good example of that, and contains a bit of dialogue ("You gonna finish that?") that my parents and I would quote for years.

You can see more of the scene, which includes an awesome and completely real spit take, here. (For whatever reason, it's not embeddable.) The scene also highlights Mickey Rourke in a role that just solidified the crush that began when I saw him earlier that year in Body Heat. Bad skin? Greasy hair? Didn't matter. He was hotness.

And while the guys are the center of the movie, Ellen Barkin is terrific and kind of sad in her role as Shrevie's wife, Beth. This is probably the most famous scene she has in the movie, when Shrevie finds out she's been playing his records. (It's too bad I can't find a clip of the follow-up scene--in which Rourke's character, Boogie, shows up at their place right after the fight, and she breaks down crying into his arms--because it's really heartbreaking.)

And here's something amusing: Barry Levinson has said the characters were based on guys he knew in Baltimore, or were at least composites of different guys. So here's a clip from a 1989 news broadcast which features some of the "real Diner guys." Whether they actually are or not is, I guess, up to some debate, (though Levinson does make a brief appearance in the video), but it's worth watching just to hear some genuine Baltimore accents, which, aside from one character ("Bagel"), aren't really on display in the actual movie. It's a great accent; kind of sounds like a Philly accent with a bit of a Southern twang.

As for where my parents and I saw the movie: It was a Sunday, and we saw it at the Alexandria out on Geary. It was in the main theater, not one of the tiny balcony screens, because if it had been in one of those, we would have gone somewhere else. Sadly, that theater is still sitting out there on Geary, awaiting some kind of renovation plan that never seems to happen.

Finally, here are two things I did not know: There was a TV pilot based on the movie, shot in 1983, but I don't think it ever aired. Michael Madsen was cast in Mickey Rourke's role, James Spader in Kevin Bacon's, and Paul Reiser was the only one who reprised his role. (Of course.)

And there's a Broadway musical in the works, with songs by Sheryl Crow, and it's scheduled to have previews in San Francisco in October, which, well...if you don't have dreams, you got nightmares.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

House of Wax (1953)

This one's a bit of a puzzler. I'm pretty sure I saw The House of Wax in a theater in 3D, but I couldn't find a listing for any local theater that was showing it on May 5th, in 1982. Perhaps it was somewhere outside of San Francisco?

Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the first time I had seen the movie, as I recall being really creeped out as a younger kid after seeing some of the moments featuring wax figures ablaze and melting.

Of course for me, the most memorable scene, and its most silly, is the paddle ball sequence. And to this day, I firmly believe that every 3D movie should be required to have at least one scene featuring a paddle ball. (Or, at the very least, ping pong.)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Escape From New York

A few weeks ago I reviewed a movie that was a complete and total ripoff of Escape From New York. I actually kind of liked the movie, but it reminded me how awesome the real thing is, and I eagerly took an opportunity to rewatch it.

Escape From New York came out in 1981, and I couldn't find any theater listings showing it was screening anywhere on May 1st, 1982, so I am assuming this was another VHS rental. Which is a shame, because like most of John Carpenter's movies, Escape is very widescreen, which means until I saw it on LaserDisc many years later, I had never actually seen the "entire" movie.

I loved everything about Escape on that first viewing: John Carpenter's self-composed synth score, (I would listen to it on my Walkman many times that summer); the cheesy but still impressive effects; Kurt Russell's Clint Eastwood impersonation; (although I don't think I completely realized that was what he was doing until I watched Eastwood's Spaghetti Westerns a few years later); and most especially, this guy:

What was probably most significant about this movie at this time was it made me realize I really, really liked John Carpenter movies, and really, really liked Kurt Russell in them. And I knew that in a few months, I would be treated to another of their collaborations in The Thing, and I. Could. Not. Wait!

Let me end this post with one more fave moment from the movie. Words to remember.