Come, It is Time to Keep Your Appointment with…

 

the-wicker-man-175

I wonder if I can credit Robin Hardy’s 1973 cult horror film The Wicker Man for initiating my interest folk music, given it constantly stops its own narrative investigation in order to indulge in a festive performance of traditional songs arranged by Paul Giovanni. It’s present to the degree that Hardy himself called the film a musical during production. It’s either that or Yusuf Islam back in his “Cat Stevens” days that brought this in me, but I was more or less exposed to both of them around the same time in high school and The Wicker Man seems the work of art that made a more significant impact on me. For The Wicker Man also initiated my interest in storytelling that focuses within an isolated location or community, particularly when the resultant development is a suspicious eerie atmosphere hidden underneath surface pleasantries with its inhabitants. And it is in that particular aspect that I think it was tough for me to figure out what I meant when I used “cult” to describe The Wicker Man.

You see, The Wicker Man is of course a film that explores the existence of a pagan culture within the fictional agronomical society of Summerisle that sits in the Hebridean Archipelago, based in Celtic history, as police sergeant Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) is sent there to investigate the sudden disappearance of a little girl named Rowan Morrison. So “cult” describes the subject.

But “cult” also describes the object. The film has only slowly developed more and more of that status than the already low-key but unanimously positive reception it had as a rough horror classic in the late 2000s when I first saw it and both of those elements – the reception and the version – are based in the same thing: a mind-bendingly convoluted set of rights disputes and poor handling of the print (sometimes apparently deliberate spite by producer Michael Deeley who famously hated the film, sometimes incidental) that led to the 102-minute cut that Hardy was satisfied with being turned into an 88-minute compromised cut that was released (as a double feature with fellow horror masterpiece Don’t Look Now) and most commonly seen. Meanwhile, a 99-minute version closer to Hardy’s preference was sent to Roger Corman to later be used as the basis of Hardy’s restoration to a Director’s Cut that was a bitch to find back in the day up until a Blu-Ray in 2013 was released of one more attempt by Hardy – whose previous decades of optimism that his original cut was still existent had now been disabused – into a 91-minute Final Cut from all the surviving resources.

I told you it was convoluted. All that combined made The Wicker Man a tough enough find in worthwhile quality to turn it to cult semi-obscurity.

the-wicker-man-239

Having seen the 88 minute, 99 minute, and 91 minute versions, I do feel most qualified to say that any version will easily get you to a significant amount of brilliance. For no matter which cut one watches, you’re still going to get the abnormal slow boil of the Anthony Shaffer’s mystery script coming together real nicely in any arrangement, probably thanks to Hardy being involved in each cut (even in reluctance) and so having an idea of where to deal with whatever’s removed or moved around. And while the Final Cut is my preference – it’s the one where the pacing feels tightest and confident in where it slips away, while also spreading the musical numbers spread enough (with the addition of the brilliantly dreamy “Gently Johnny” to truly pay off in Hardy’s attempts to create The Wicker Man as a musical – I particularly love the idea the theatrical cut had about opening right when Howie arrives on Summerisle in a seaplane without any foreplay in the mainland as in the other cuts. It gets us on quite the disoriented foot with the setting. Though I must say the original opening with Howie performing mass does so much to establish what position he is entering this conflict from.

The second of which he steps out of the plane, he’s given a hard time by the smiling harbor master just for requesting a dinghy. The harbor master tries to deflect as much as possible by claiming the harbor is closed until Howie insists long enough. And so the majority of the movie is witnessing Howie’s fluster as he is continuously directed around in a circle by several individuals or authorities, including being told by the mother and classmates of the child that Rowan never even existed. Howie’s a dutiful and thorough investigator who pushes through the continuous lies and mishandled records – all delivered in the most bothersomely polite manner and off-putting brightness – to find proof of her existence and evidence suggesting a misdeed of some sort. It’s often just enough clue at the end of a scene to augment the frustration out of every interaction Howie is involved in and understand why he must push his bemused way through every misdirect he’s given.

the-wicker-man-127

The direct obstruction of his policework is not the sole thing that takes Sgt. Howie aback. His firm appeals bring him eventually to the leader Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee) who charmingly informs Howie of the island’s pagan philosophies, rooted from his grandfather, as well the fruits of which the island bases its economy and why these two elements are intertwined. And even before Lord Summerisle lays it out for him, Howie has already witnessed strange unorthodox things happening around such as an open air orgy in the night (including an naked woman in a graveyard whose weeping over a grave resembles quiet orgasms), and the attempts of the innkeeper’s daughter (Britt Eklund, dubbed in an excellently weird way by Annie Ross) to seduce him behind the door by singing and dancing naked in a waking trance.

Howie, we learn extremely quickly, is Christian of a conservative and pious sort, establishing an impossible-to-miss battle of ideologies deep within the film. Shaffer and Hardy, to their incredible credit, deliver this fight in a difficult complex manner: Howie is there to investigate a potential murder and everybody in the island is throwing him the most uncannily suspicious sensation in all their twisting grins and lackadaisical attitude to learning of a child in danger. And yet Howie is also imposing of his Christian judgment onto the citizens of the island, at one point forcing a makeshift cross over a grave regardless of whatever religious beliefs the deceased may have had and outright calling Summerisle’s religion fake to the Lord’s face which is taken with the same unstressed casual receptiveness as anything else thrown to Lee’s face. Lee has long had glowing love for the performance he gave here, almost single-handedly keeping the film’s memory alive while it was essentially lost in the 1980s, and it shows with the clear amount of fun friendliness he exudes in perfect foil to Howie’s disgusted sobriety. It’s affecting to have the closest thing we have as a direct antagonist (as opposed to the entire community) such a welcoming air about him.

It’s off-putting to have such an intolerant character we are forced to align with by our moral sense of what he’s trying to do and yet this very island is so queer – personably as well as visually in flat focus, which is uncomfortably close for a setting so based in stone and trees dressed by a handicraft and populated by faces that look like they’ll squeeze your hand until you show them your teeth – that it’s just as much a natural orbiting to Howie’s point of view despite the aggressiveness of his rhetori. It’s miraculous that Hardy’s direction is able to frame Howie in such a way as to really pull out muted contempt for the character yet still treat his ultimate fate as utterly tragic (which I’d assume you know if you’ve even heard of the film, but if not I’m gonna go ahead and wave a big ol’ SPOILER WARNING up in here). It is indeed a strange land that the stranger has entered and sometimes what’s most familiar is what we’re going to gravitate towards.

the-wicker-man-492

About that strange land: I’m not sure, with a wide variety of Scottish Isles and cities in which it was shot, one can say The Wicker Man subscribes to Werner Herzog’s ideal of the “voodoo of location”, but for someone like me who was totally ignorant of the geography of Scotland at the time and to this day have never actually experienced the country firsthand, The Wicker Man feels transporting. Indeed, Lee in his autobiography Lord of Misrule appears to suggest that their experiences within those distinct areas of Scotland “stitched together a plausible island” and it’s believable enough to fool me. And what gives it that further out-of-place vibe as a setting is Harry Waxman’s vibrant whites making the place seem so overexposed in an eerie way. A visual approach that further provides menace and trepidation to how unfailingly cheerful Summerisle is as a community.

About the culture: well, the very handworn element of the costumes and the festivities leaning into the imminent May Day celebration that the film’s climax takes place (and of course, if you have heard of The Wicker Man, you know how it ends just about as well as you know how Planet of the Apes ends but I repeat SPOILERS once final time if you are of a lucky sort.) are of an uncivilized sort, even by the means of a culture portrayed as tying naval strings to graves and such. The costumes and instruments of their celebration are introduced in one of the latest montages of investigation, strewn together in earthy ways from earthy materials. But not least of all the Wicker Man himself, revealed to us at the last possible moment as a towering madness of straw that really calls attention to the inhumane sacrifice to be made inside of it. And when it dawns on Howie what their plans are for him and his helplessness, the film intensifies rapidly into a more unambiguous horror than everything that preceded it. In a way, the point of the ending of The Wicker Man is not what happens but how it happens and by the mood of Woodward and Lee in this climax is where the complex battle of ideologies has to introduce ambiguity to the final notes of their performances: Woodward as Howie goes through several modes of disbelief and terror in the knowledge of what waits for him and how easily he was manipulated for all his steadfast authoritarianism and trying to declare his faith with various levels of dubiety invited of the viewer, landing on a moment of truly cracking prayer before the flames that will take his life in seconds and undermine by the pained shrieks and cries of the animals dying with him. Lee as Summerisle, meanwhile, is confident and self-satisfied by his plan working as expected until Howie suggests a potential turn of events that knocks that perennial smile off his face and suggests his own level of ambivalence to the practices he mandates of the isle’s people. Shaffer as a writer pulls out all the possible stops with this final turn of events, amplifying the cheeriness of the people at their most religiously violent with their final chant “Summer Is Icumen In” battling with the cries of the animals for dominance on the soundtrack while this ends up being – now that the secrets are all spilled out – the moment that Waxman and Hardy opt for an overcast set of shots as we watch the titular construction burn and collapse to reveal the setting sun.

So yes, the staying power of The Wicker Man may be the loves it brought to be in folk music and quietly unsettling horror movie atmospheres. But it also delivers them in a remarkably intelligent package, mapped out by one of the best writers working in Britain in the early 1970s and executed by two terrifically polar performances by actors at the very peak of their abilities. It’s one of the earliest cases of a movie I watched truly sticking in my head and making me consider what I just watched beyond the hard genre shocks it delivers (it may be a foundational part of my atheism, if I’m being frank), in an unassuming way that does guide me on WHAT to think. And it’s probably based on that that The Wicker Man had the sort of longevity that get it being restored and worked on to be introduced by generations further on alongside me as I constantly engage with its rewatchability.

Like I said, it takes a really great movie to work wonders on people when the most popular thing about it is its ending.

The Shallows

289084559-2

The full disclosure first: it is no-big-secret that Bradley Cooper’s 2018 directorial debut A Star Is Born happens to be the fourth version of that very same storyline told by that name, arguably the fifth version of that storyline told overall depending on how closely you think the 1932 George Cukor film What Price Hollywood?, which predates them all, hews closely to them*. I happened to see Cooper’s film after a back-to-back-to-back-to-back refresh of all four previous films and it may very well be the case that I might have been burnt out from that story by the time I reached Cooper’s telling. I highly doubt that and don’t see myself being in the mood to rewatch it and test that theory anytime soon: it might just as well be the case that I was simply unimpressed with a fairly average piece of artist’s struggle Oscarbait. Plus, when it comes to watching it shortly after enduring the godawful 1976 Barbra Streisand vanity piece, Cooper’s film has all the juxtapositional advantages it could possibly have and ends up looking rosy.

In fact, the subject matter of Cooper, Eric Roth, and Will Fetters‘ screenplay apparently tries to make right the new direction Frank Pierson‘s film tried to take: as opposed to the first three films’ focus on movie stars, the ’76 and ’18 versions of A Star Is Born focus on musicians now and both of them seem to choose country as the genre of choice. The beats are otherwise uniform all throughout and Cooper’s character, burnt-out substance abuser Jackson Maine, has regained the surname of all the previous iterations outside of the ’76 version. Maine randomly discovers the remarkable musical talent of Ally (Lady Gaga) and coaxes her into becoming a viral phenomenon after he arranges an impromptu duet performance of a song she wrote during one of his concerts. The two become very quickly enamored with each other while Ally’s star begins rising, Jackson is being shut out as a liability and it’s causing him to relapse into his vices in a manner poisonous towards himself and potentially Ally’s career.

124538

There’s another toxic side to Cooper‘s story that I feel might not be as intended but the film slips towards regardless: Ally’s rising fame lands her with a more pop-oriented image that Jackson transparently disapproves of, an attitude the movie doesn’t have as much objection to so much as the cruel fashion that he expresses it, particularly when he is at his drunkest. That this is absent from the previous films (in which the male lead is unconditionally supportive of what direction the female lead wishes to go) is, I think, no accident.

But enough of comparing Cooper’s film to its predecessors, for “maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”, as one of Maine’s songs (written by Jason Isbell, the soundtrack has a general revolving door of writers with Gaga being the major constant and the results being mostly mixed with “Maybe It’s Time” and the much-marketed “Shallow” being the best) go. What about A Star Is Re-re-reBorn as a film unto itself?

Well, for one thing, it looks almost exactly like the sort of film I imagine Clint Eastwood would have made (Cooper having worked with him on American Sniper and The Mule) with its classically worn look to itself whether against the blinding lights of the concert stage, the busy domesticity of Ally’s home (inhabited by characters that Woody Allen would have repeated his “standing out here with the cast of The Godfather” line towards headed by a sleepily against-type Andrew Dice Clay), the sterile white of a grocery store in the middle of the night. There’s one major exception to Cooper’s Eastwood influence: an early scene in a gay bar during a drag show, where the color red completely washes over the film but refusing to have sharply defined lines so as not to lose its faux-verite sense and one of the better scenes of the film for this fact. In general, there is very little about Cooper and his work with cinematographer Matthew Libatique that implies they don’t know their way towards giving a setting a lived-in feel but an overreliance towards the crutch of close-ups as the one major way to communicate our characters’ thoughts, though there is one moment where a close-up, on top of the one great cut by otherwise sluggish Jay Cassidy, is juxtaposed to another with a usage of focus that amplifies the spaced-out distance Maine is feeling towards Ally’s career trajectory. It sucks that such a moment is utilized in that objectionable manner, but it’s great to see the close-up used at least once in the movie to tell us something that one shot of an actor’s face couldn’t.

124536

And to be sure, the lead actors do a mighty fine job among them as well in conjuring a chemistry between themselves that sells a sincerity to their co-dependent relationship, even despite all the knowingly toxic and antagonistic elements. I wouldn’t call either performance great acting as individual elements (Gaga herself doesn’t have much of a path when she takes scenes emotionally from 0 to 100 and Cooper’s attempts at wounded masculine emotion is wildly overshadowed by Sam Elliot’s best work as Jackson’s older brother Bobby, making an otherwise fine performance look like cheap mimicry and having “Then why did you steal my voice?” as a line does not help). Perhaps another thing that Cooper took as a director from his previous collaborators was David O. Russell’s trust in actors to create their own rhythm and let the film be crafted around them, but it pays off enough to make A Star Is Born extremely interesting in the moments up until a boisterous early climax as Ally performs “Shallows” to a crowd with Jackson for the first time and at least maintain watchability up until the end.

Beyond that, the truth is the movie just wasn’t interesting to me. It doesn’t help that I happen to think Ally is a more interesting presence that Jackson and the movie seems to totally disagree with that (as it would when Cooper is star AND director). It maybe helps less that I’ve seen it all before done better and anything that this film tries to try anew just doesn’t compel me as melodrama. It certainly helps the least that the last half of the film is filled with bet-hedging towards its judgments with Ally’s musical style (including songs that I’d swear were deliberately written to sound bad if one of the writers didn’t deny this) and the amount of random strands that are picked up and dropped often (like Dave Chappelle’s character or Maine’s hearing issues). If it weren’t for the certainty of this movie’s presence in the awards race, I’d have no trouble forgetting about it. But it’s hard to deny that it shows promise for Cooper and Gaga in their respective newfound roles as filmmaker and movie star. This just ain’t it yet.

*It is this writer’s opinion that is very close.

lady-gaga-and-bradley-cooper-in-a-star-is-born

25 for 25 – Seaside Rendezvous

1215

Before the year 2014, I would have hardly been aware of the existence of Jacques Demy and yet came that year that I went to Cannes and had the privilege of seeing The Umbrellas of Cherbourg in all of its marvelous glory in a 50th anniversary screening at the Palais and now I am utterly in love with the man, prone to rewatching and revisiting every amount of his work if I’m just lounging and relaxing. It’s also perhaps the single biggest reason that even so late in the game of being a cinephile I found myself a born-again lover of musicals, both on the stage and on the screen. It’s also almost certainly the biggest reason I am a bigger fan of the Left Bank crew of French New Wave filmmakers (which also includes Demy’s feminist widow Agnès Varda, the experimental filmmaker Chris Marker, and the innovative and political Alain Resnais, all among my favorite filmmakers) over the Cahiers du Cinema clan (Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, all also among my favorites but lower on the list than the others). So there’s that I owe to Demy’s films.

Now, of course, it is the year 2017 and in the aftermath of Damien Chazelle’s wonderful La La Land, every halfway cinephile knows Demy’s name and so I don’t really have to give much introduction to the man’s works. And of course, because The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is the more opera-based, more canonical, the more dramatic, and the big Palme d’Or winner out of Demy’s output, that’s obviously the one that most find to be his best movie and I will not argue against that. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg feels like a more accomplished work of art than anything he ever made and it’s an unimpeachable showcase of craft with some of the best music ever made for film.

But it’s not my favorite Demy film. There is just one movie in his output that wows me more and perhaps sits most comfortably as my favorite musical of all time and that’s a relaxed two hours spent in a seaside town by the name of The Young Girls of Rochefort, which I saw the year after Umbrellas in 2015*.

1615

There’s a lot of stories in this town of Rochefort: a pair of twin sisters Delphine and Solange (played by real-life sisters Catherine Deneuve and Françoise Dorléac) teaching music and dance longing for a life outside of there. Their mother Yvonne (Danielle Darriuex) managing a cafe next to a popular convention site as she reminisces on the fiancé she left behind over the embarrassing last name of “Dame”. Maxence (Jacques Perrin), a regular at the cafe preparing for discharge from his duty in the Navy by writing poems and painting and dreaming his “feminine ideal”. Etienne (George Chakaris) and Bill (Grover Dale), a pair of motorcycle salesmen, arriving with their girlfriends and troupe to promote at the upcoming fair happening right at the grounds outside of Yvonne’s cafe. And those are just the one’s we focus most on. There’s the new music store clerk Simon (Michel Piccoli) that Solange is excited to indulge in songwriting talk with, not knowing that he might have deeper connection to her than she knows. There’s the news in the background of a serial killer attacking blondes, something the movie is way too light and frothy to give even the slightest gravity to. And Gene Kelly is in town! Well, obviously it’s just his character composer Andy Miller, but the movie is absolutely happy to show off Gene Kelly (and essentially everybody else in the cast, having grown into icons in one field or another but Kelly was THE international face of musical cinema by the 1960s) and frankly it feels like when Kelly isn’t directing and choreographing himself (here provided by Norman Maen), he’s a lot more relaxed and having a great time.

Relaxed… sigh… That’s the thing that makes The Young Girls of Rochefort so easily rewatchable to me: it’s not in any rush to do anything but dream and thus indulge in the dreams of its characters and it takes great Hitchcockian glee in letting the audience know just how close the characters are to what they’re looking for (ie. absolutely nobody is fooled into knowing that Yvonne and Simon are each other’s ex-betrothed they miss so dearly) while Michel Legrand’s score is so lofty and sleepy and lax beyond the opening song number for the twins “Chanson des Jumelles” which is bouncy and brass-y enough to interest you in the two sister actresses and find them so very capable of holding the screen when they’re on (which is probably why the closest thing to a climax this movie gets is the girls doing a small showcase for the motorcycle salesmen singing “Chanson de Maxence” about seasons in all of their romanticism).

film_717_younggirlsrochefort_original

Even while the movie is just cruising within two hours, it’s not boring. Maen’s choreography is balletic in a paced and visually impressive way (I think Chakaris does it best, but the dude has poise for days!) and the very opening scene is just a languid boat ride where the occupants have nothing to do but dance and it’s dazzling before the story even gets a proper start (with a stopped truck on the boat to signal that the movie isn’t going anywhere). Demy doesn’t want to shake you with excitement, they just want to divert us for a little while with the beautiful town shot that cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet’s camera shines brightly on, lightly popping summer colors on the costumes by Jacqueline Moreau and Marie-Claude Fouquet, and all the song and dance your heart could desire with just enough undemanding romantic melodrama in between to skip us from number to number adequately. And if some asshole wants to try to ruin the fun by killing people in the background, Demy won’t even trip.

It’s so easy. And not in a patronizing way, Demy and company just really love this town the same way Spielberg loves Amity Island or Lynch/Frost love Twin Peaks and would clearly spend as much time here with these characters if they could. But Demy also loves them too much to not grant them their greatest desires by the end of the film and send them on their separate ways and the sincerity behind that charitability to its characters makes me long for one day being able to make cinema this charming and complete. It’s in clear opposition to Umbrellas‘ tragedy, but sometimes I just want to feel good watching a movie. And that’s when I return to Rochefort.

the-young-girls-of-rochefort-1_large

*2014 may have been the year I was turned on to musicals, but 2015 is the year I was absolutely affected to re-aligning my whole life on musicals. Not only did I see The Young Girls of Rochefort on a whim at the IFC Center in Manhattan (the morning after seeing Moulin Rouge! in the very same theater), I volunteered at the Adrienne Arsht Center and the Actors’ Playhouse seeing so many musical productions that made me desire to be on stage, I saw The Sound of Music for the first time, witnessed a stage production of my favorite all-time musical Les Miserables, the Hamilton soundtrack was released leading me to discover my dream role in Aaron Burr, and I began doubling down on working in as many musical productions as I could as either actor, stagehand, or musician. So yeah, The Young Girls of Rochefort may be a spearhead for one of the many journeys I undertook in my life.

Thanks for reading. Oh what’s this? A Patreon page? If you enjoyed my writing and would like to support it, share this post and tell your friends bout Movie Motorbreath on facebook. If that ain’t enough and you really want to give us financial support, go on that Patreon link and get you a bad stick figure of your favorite movie!

25 for 25 – We Accept the Challenge to Fight and Never Lose.

rock2bn2broll2bnightmare2bvest

This movie is going to be a conglomeration of things I had earlier explored and now bring full circle. I already came down on some of the best of Canadian cinema – as provided by the National Film Board itself. Even earlier, I took a look at some slasher culture. And even earlier than that came the look at movies that I deemed part of my fascinating trinity of inadequately produced ego trips, with our particular subject today flat-out mentioned as the last end of that. There was Miami Connection which was essentially Y.K. Kim’s attempt to leave a wise self-gravitas-granting message of peace and love sincere yet completely contradictory to its violent content. There was The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s warped and twisted life fantasy that allegedly provides him with a blanket of company he couldn’t find or reasonably match in his film that gave him lifetime adoration that may not be what he’s looking for. And now, we close that trinity off with Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (although it is credited within the film as The Edge of Hella title much less descriptive and absolutely not applicable at all to the film it is attached to). Now, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is much shallower than the previous films in its intentions. Produced and written by its star Jon Mikl Thor (the director John Fasano mainly had his career as a script doctor) – a Canadian bodybuilding Mr. USA and Mr. Canada champion who later took a dip into heavy metal music under the his last name as the mononymous Thor – The Legendary Rock Warrior! – all Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare really wants or tries to do is make Thor look really awesome and cool and badass.

It does not make him look cool or badass. It frankly makes him look silly.

rock-n-roll-nightmare-pic-3

That is obviously bound to happen when your film starts with the bloodless death of a family by an unseen evil monster from the kitchen oven in their apparent farm home in the middle of Nowhere, Ontario. Following such an underwhelming overlit, broad daylight “massacre” of footage with the title card The Edge of Hell is very confident of them. And then once the credits are done, inexplicably, a band and their girlfriends somehow deciding this farm was a good place to record their new album and develop material for themselves despite the very obvious Horrible Over Monster Event That Happened Ten Years Prior to the Movie Proper (which just makes me think of how Trent Reznor made The Downward Spiral in the house where Helter Skelter happened and the sensationalism behind it kind of spills over to this) and Thor (the character is actually named Triton, but it’s so much easier for me to square with Thor as a character himself)’s trying to tell us Toronto is a culturally nourishing place to be making arts at. They’re not in Toronto. They’re on a farm that ain’t Toronto. Might be close to it geographically, but…

Anyway, the band also brings their girlfriends because this is essentially trying to be a slasher film and so we need gratuitous scenes of attempted shower sex while the actors waltz right into that shower in an insanely cartoonish amount of make-up making them look like extras from a Whitesnake video only randomly pulled together for the most softcore porn video you could ever imagine. Hell, most of the things this band does are pretty clean for 80s metal stars, they put in a good name for hair metal after Penelope Spheeris’ Decline of Western Civilization portrays all the sexual promiscuity and drugs in the culture, but heck away these guys just wanna make music and be with their own girls.

And my word… the music is catnip to a bad hair metal deviant like I. Hair metal is emblematic of nearly everything I think is silly and stupid about the 1980s and why I’m so lucky to have missed out on it. Big and loud and monotonous, but running like the train that could in high voices screeching voices and obviously Scorpions and Ratt inspired guitar riffs. And they’re earwormy in the worst ways, like hook worms, bruh. Every once in a while, “We Accept the Challenge” and “Energy” keep popping over and over in my head and I need the tunes from Miami Connection to save me.

rock-n-roll-nightmare-band

By the way, I’m not bothering elaborating on the characters or cast names beyond Thor because much as I ironically love Rock n Roll Nightmare, it’s a movie so bad I’d rather retain my dignity by only affording it cursory research because got damn, but from what I understand an unusual amount of it is made up of Assistant Directors. In any case, the only really distinguishable person is the drummer who starts off with the fakest most-Spinal-Tap-sounding Australian accent and somehow it gets dropped halfway through thus making him wholly anonymous amongst the other band members.

Anyway, this being a slasher film, they all get picked off in complete darkness with their deaths usually witnessed by a monsters that looks like color-coded versions of Beaker the muppet, except with an eye removed. There’s never any tension or horror because Fasano is simply not a good filmmaker with this roaming around and Thor clearly didn’t shell out too much for his glamor flick, but even if this were a well-shot and edited film… how on Earth can you see these creatures and not laugh? Are these the motherfuckers that were in the oven? What were they doing there?

Well, I’ll tell you what they are and this is unfortunately going to be SPOILER ALERT for a film that you’re probably better off EXPERIENCING THIS FIRST HAND so if you can hunt a copy of Rock n Roll Nightmare (which frankly tough for me but doable), GET ON IT.

But for those who stay….

rock-n-roll-nightmare-demons

The events of this movie didn’t happen. It is a punch-drunk version of Six Characters In Search of an Author. Nobody who died (apparently not even the ten years ago family) ever really existed except as creations of Triton, an archangel, in order to lure and entrap the killer The Devil (or maybe the exhaustive laundry list of names Triton elaborates on when they finally come face to face) so that Triton can grab his 30 dollar Halloween decoration looking ass (which he seriously does look like the most expensive prop in the whole movie. Definitely less expensive than the metal makeup. And yet cheaper than my work shoes.) and bring him back to hell. And obviously this does not happen without a heavy metal battle, so while the music by the band never existed blasts as Thor suddenly Super Saiyans himself and wrassles with those Beaker muppets attaching themselves to his swollen pecs as he struggles.

It gets at its most pathetic Triton explains he was inspired by slasher movies as though he knew only the Devil could possibly be a fan of them. It’s an attempt to be self-reflexive that ends up having the movie trip and fall all over its face. And the moralistic (?) Christianity probably explains why the hair metal band is all into clean monogamous drug-free fun rather than actually acting like Poison or Warrant. Anyway, it’s ambitious of Thor, that’s for sure and the fact that he wanted himself to be at the center of this is hella braver than punching the Devil right in the face.

This is why I love the movie so much as trash and am willing to show it to as many people as possible. It’s insane, it’s bizarre, and it’s all in some shallow way that’s much less demanding than the psychoanalysis that seems imperative with movies like The Room and Plan 9 from Outer Space. And now that I wrote it out, maybe it does make Thor look cool now that I think of it. I wish I could look that constipated wrassling muppets.

rrnightmare8


Thanks for reading. Oh what’s this? A Patreon page? If you enjoyed my writing and would like to support it, share this post and tell your friends bout Movie Motorbreath on facebook. If that ain’t enough and you really want to give us financial support, go on that Patreon link and get you a bad stick figure of your favorite movie!

Get the Hook

broadway-melody-2

WHY THE FUCK WOULD YOU POSITION SOMEBODY BEHIND A POLE AND THINKS IT’S GOOD FRAMING?!

Even after we’ve already squared the “First Best Picture” discrepancy, the Oustanding Picture slate for the 2nd Academy Awards is quite tricky. Movies get lost. That’s simply what happens. We can (and should) push for preservation of our art in this industry, but despite our best efforts, we might lose prints completely. And so it is a common tragedy that The Patriot, one of the nominees for Best Picture in that very ceremony, has no complete print remaining in the world and we might never see it ever again. I can’t speak to its quality, but given that it’s directed by the brilliant Ernst Lubitsch, I like to imagine it worthy of standing amongst the masterpieces in his career. At the very least, I like to hope it’s a good movie.

Its absence from the world means that we filmgoers are left with four nominees from the 2nd Oscar ceremony and bruh… they’re all fucking bad. If I were to group the nominees of the first ceremony of the Oscars to be broadcasted (on the radio) and count their collective redeeming features, I’d be able to do it on one hand and spare fingers. So, in this lost cause, I’m not sure we could do worse than the actual winner of the evening The Broadway Melody (itself having a lost Technicolor part), but I’ll tell you something… we could do much much better.

anitaandbessie

In retrospect, it’s easy to see why The Broadway Melody was selected to take home the top prize: it’s about show business, it had the powerful Irving Thalberg of MGM producing it (Thalberg had another nominee within the slate – the variety special Hollywood Revue), but the most obvious one is a matter of historical precedence: The Broadway Melody is not only the first sound picture to have won the top Oscar prize, it is also the first all-talking musical (The Jazz Singer obviously predates it as the first sound musical, but is mostly made up of silent soundtrack-less moments).

There is one thing that is certain: it didn’t win that shit with merit. The Broadway Melody is one of only three movies to win the Best Picture Oscar without receiving ANY other Oscars at the ceremony (the others are Grand Hotel and Mutiny on the Bounty; also no film won more than 1 Oscar at this ceremony) and that says quite a lot.

The story is cookie-cutter showbiz, even as early as 1929: The Mahoney Sisters – Hank (Bessie Love) and Queenie (Anita Page) show up in New York to rendezvous with Hank’s fiancé Eddie Kearns (Charles King), who also happens to be a singer, songwriter, and their potential in on the Broadway stages. Indeed, they try to show off their nonexistent talent to producer Francis Zanfield and are barely able to get their approval to be in the play when the three of them make their appeal (Queenie having the most influence). The very number they try to show off to Zanfield is a good synecdoche for the quality – the girls’ voices of the screechiest quality and barely able to keep tempo, their dancing even clumsier and that’s even when them holding on to each other in the most boring fashion, the song (which I honestly don’t think I can identify) was hokey in the worst way, and the performance keeps getting stilted by the piano’s malfunction. “I’ve seen enough,” Zanfield eventually declares and he made it through the performance farther than I did. I hate to use a better movie to dig on something that already is poor on its own merit, but The Broadway Melody until this point basically promises the same type of backstage making-of-a-show drama that was more less perfected in 1933 with 42nd Street. While it tries to stick to the sameof structure in which dialogue scenes go long and far between poorly sung musical numbers (almost all composed by legendaries Nacio Herb Brown and lyricised by Arthur Freed, who have both obviously seen better days), things get more melodramatic but only less interesting.

broadwaymelody2

During their lucky break on the show, Queenie – whom practically nobody can pass by without commenting on how beautiful she is – gets the attention of rich playboy Jock Warriner (Kenneth Thomson), to the dismay of Hank at the potential of it breaking the duo up and Eddie as he slowly discovers that the empty air between him and Queenie must mean that the two of them truly love each other, since he has even less chemistry with Hank. In the meantime, the two girls’ Uncle Jed (Jed Prouty) keeps offering Hank a part in his 30-week traveling show and Hank considers it for longer than necessary. This all comes ahead to the most protracted and unengaging climax of shouting and manly punching with the sense that it’s more dramatic than it is (the wikipedia summary makes the ending sound more cynical than the vanilla film bothers to present it). I’m not sure if I don’t prefer the bad singing to the melodrama, since at least the terrible show performances have inadvertent humor in them. The first big revue we watch is the most laughably simplistic modeling of New York to the titular song where it’s just the flattest full frame shot director Harry Beaumont could come up with of Eddie and the girls finding their way around it (and filling it up later with a chorus line didn’t miraculously help). Its hilarious incompetence is the closest this gets to entertaining.

I’m not sure I can recommend this to even completists about film history, that it spawned a franchise to rival the Gold Diggers is a sham, and there’s much better movies that revolutionize musicals and sound within the same era (and without the poor sound quality of scratches and volume inconsistency either, but innovation means flaws with happen). It’s morbid mistake of the Academy to award such a film on their second year, but they got it right the following year, thankfully…

the_broadway_melody_3