Sunday, August 21, 2011

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)


(March 1920, U.S.)

Just how many times has Robert Louis Stevenson's famous novel been adapted to the screen, stage, television and even a '90's Broadway musical? Too many, probably; too many for me to have seen all of them. So, like DRACULA, I had the challenging task of picking and choosing which ones best speak to me as effective representatives of the story's original terrifying concept and intentions. So, keeping that in mind, let's begin with this silent black and white classic (there were three other silent version before this one, but I've never seen them. I don't even know if they still exist) starring John Barrymore (Drew's grandfather) as the famed doctor.

This legendary story of split personality, shows us Dr. Henry Jekyll, a kind and charitable man who believes that everyone has two sides, one good and one evil. Creating a powerful potion, his personalities are split and he's transformed into Mr. Hyde. That's when abbsolute havoc begins. It's important to note that physical characteristics are particularly key to this film and it's interesting to note that the early part of Dr. Jekyll's initial transformation into Mr. Hyde was achieved with no makeup, instead relying solely on Barrymore's artistic ability to effectively contort his face when necessary.

As a silent film, there is an odd, yet very effective creepiness that comes with not only the grainy black and white picture, but also the menacing organ music that accompanies it. Stare long and hard at Jekyll's transformed physical state as Mr. Hyde and dare to tell me you don't experience just a little bit of the so-called "hee-bee-jee-bees". If nothing else, Hyde's cone-shaped head (a physical characteristic I haven't seen in any other versions) will make you shiver just a bit. Only be sure you're watching this late at night with all the lights out. Anyway, it's for all these reasons that I've chosen this 1920 silent classic as my favorite film version of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Not that there aren't more (two, to be exact) to come...

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sir George Carew: "A man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying its impulses. The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DRESSED TO KILL


(June 1946, U.S.)

Before all of you Brian DePalma fans start losing your minds with excitement, let me be clear and tell that this is NOT his 1980 horror thriller. While I like many of DePalma's films, his DRESSED TO KILL did not do very much for me. I enjoy it right up until Angie Dickinson's famous elevator slashing sequence. After that, the acting goes way down hill and ruins the film. No, what I'm discussing here is a classic black and white Sherlock Holmes film of the same name. It was the last in a long series of films that starred Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. It's a film that I bought on a DVD containing three of the post popular classic films in this series. These films (or most of them) are considered public domain films (look that up), so the picture quality isn't exactly up to today's standards. That's okay, though. I simply turn out the lights and imagine that I'm watching them on late night television back in the 1970s or something, before the words, "digitally remastered" ever existed.

So, in this film, three cheap music boxes (each one playing a subtly different version of the tune "The Swagman") manufactured by prison inmates, are sold at a local auction house. However, a rather sophisticated (and equally dangerous) criminal gang is determined to steal and recover all three of these worthless boxes, even if it means committing murder (which they do). You see, combined tunes of all three boxes is actually a secret code to reveal the location of valuable counterfeit printing plates. The great Sherlock Holmes uses his talented powers of observation and deduction to recover the music boxes and crack the secret code contained in the tune before the gang can get what they want. Basically, the good guys win, the bad guys lose and crime doesn't pay in the end.

Admittedly, I've never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories. However, the exposure I had to the character as a kid and young adult always featured him as the proper, sophisticated English gentleman, complete with the cliche cap and pipe. By this tradition, Basil Rathbone pulls it off perfectly. This traditional character, in fact, made it rather difficult for me to accept Robert Downy Jr's portrayel of Holmes as a rough and rugged action hero type in the 2009 film version. There's also an edge to Rathbone's manner that clearly defines his intelligence and experience. In other words, I don't think I'd want to match wits with this guy. I couldn't stand the humiliation. Regarding Doctor Watson, I can't say that I know too much about what the original character is supposed to be like. I can tell you that Nigel Bruce persistently plays him as a bit of a goofball who can't seem to do anything right...as a dectective, anyway.

Once again, I apologize to any disappointment I may have brought to all Brian DePalma fans.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Doctor Watson (raises window shade and lets in sunlight): "I say, Holmes..."
Sherlock Holmes: "What?"
Watson: "It's morning."
Holmes: "Allow me to congratulate you on a brilliant deduction."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

DRACULA (1992)


(November 1992, U.S.)

By the time 1992 rolls around and you've seen Francis Ford Coppola's version of the legendary vampire, you're bound to reach one of several conclusions; one is that you're sick to death of Dracula and vampires in general (but maybe that's just me). Two is that even despite all of his style, grace, charm and gothic horror, in the end Dracula may not be much more than a really pissed-off grieving widower (at least that's how actor Gary Oldman seems to portray him in this film). Third is that based on the many great computer-generated effects and make-up effects that were used in this version, Coppola just may have been capable of directing the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had Peter Jackson not taken it on.

But I'm clearly starting things off here on a negative vibe and you're all likely to think I don't like this version of DRACULA. Clearly, I do or it wouldn't be a part of my film collection, right? No, what I'm really saying is that by this version, I'm of the opinion that a film based on Bram Stoker's original story has taken itself to its maximum capabilities based not only on the modern special effects, but also in the performances of its stars. Gary Oldman not only delivers the romantic charm needed for the character, but the intense horror that's absolutely essential to any story of Dracula. Keeanu Reeves as Jonathan Harker and Wynona Ryder as Mina (whom, by the way, Dracula consideres a reincarnated version of his long lost love, Elisabeta) are just fine, in that I've never truly considered them the most important characters of the story. The real addictive performance in this film is Anthony Hopkins. His rather sick, twisted sense of dramatic humor, in my opinion, makes him the one and only actor whom I feel could possibly portray Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

The man responsible for two GODFATHER films and APOCALYPSE NOW brings the old spook story alive. Dracula is a restless spirit who's been condemned for too many years to interment in crappy, badly acted movies. This luscious film version restores the creature's nobility, giving him his long-needed peace. It's conceptual and visual energy are absolutely fascinating to watch.

So, my friends, after having watched three DRACULA films in a row and also having also never seen any other vampire film since, I've reached this additional and unavoidable conclusion: the character of DRACULA, like William Shakespeare's Hamlet, is one of those literary characters whose story will likely be told on film again, again and again, whether we like it or not. It's just inevitable that Hollywood has nothing better to do than recycle previously-used material as many times as possible. That sucks, doesn't it? A real pain in the neck, isn't it?

Okay, I'm through with bad punning! But let me conclude by telling you that we will not be discussing any more vampire films until we've reached the letter 'N' in my film collection. Have you guessed what it is yet?

Favorite line or dialgoue:

Count Dracula (having just lost his beloved Elisabeta): "Is this my reward for defending God's church?"
Priest: "Sacrilege!"
Dracula: "I renounce God! I shall rise from my own death to avenge hers with all the powers of darkness!"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

DRACULA (1979)


(July 1979, U.S.)

There's somethiing very interesting to note about the year 1979 in that in addition to this version of DRACULA on screen, there was also Werner Herzog's retelling of NOSFERATU and the comic Dracula spoof, LOVE AT FIRST BITE. On television, there was an ABC-TV movie-of-the-week called VAMPIRE and on CBS-TV there a two-part mini-series of Stephen King's SALEM'S LOT. Yes, it's very safe to say that 1979 was, indeed, the year of the vampire!

Ask anyone what their favorite film version of Bram Stoker's legendary novel is and they're likely to either tell you it's the 1931 Bela Lugosi version or F. W. Murnau's 1922 silent classic. Since I'm often in the minority category when it comes to films, I have to be honest and tell you that it's this 1979 version with Frank Langella as the "Count" that always grabs my attention above all others. Perhaps it has to do more with my own personal memories from when I was a kid of just twelve. No, my parents wouldn't let me see this film (or any other horror film, for that matter), but it seemed that I was being surrounded by mentions of Dracula at every end. Even two years prior, I can remember seeing TV commercials about DRACULA on Broadway (also starring Langella). And as mentioned above, by the time Summer of 1979 rolled around, there were vampires coming from all sides of popular culture.

But take a real close look at this version of DRACULA and study Langella's performance. Unlike Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee, his portrayel here has a certain degree of style, grace, elegance and smoothness that other actors, in my opinion, have not given the classic character. The film is a triumph of performance, art direction and mood over materials that can lend themselves so easily to overblown self-satire. So many other portrayels of Dracula have somehow managed to lose the tragic origins of the character among the stereotypical gravestones, fangs and all the black cloaks. Langella's Dracula restores the character to the purity of its first film appearances, even before Lugosi. There's even a moment when he's about to "take" Lucy for the first time where he enters her room sporting a large collar and open shirt revealing much of his chest hair. In short, he strongly resembles John Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977), which was also directed by John Badham (coincidence??).

While generally faithful to Stoker's original story, this version strays in several directions. Most notable is the fact that the characters of Mina and Lucy have been switched (why, I have no fucking clue!). The film also takes place at the early part of the 20th century when electricity and automobiles were already invented. It's actually strange to be watching a story of Dracula and hear one of it's character's say, "I'll get the car." Dracula's death is also reinvented as he is destroyed by blazing sunlight rather than the tradition wooden stake or beheading. I should also point out that contrary to popular vampire lore, the undead Mina mysteriously casts a reflection in a pool of water. But I suppose that's what a truly good remake is; a film that's not afraid to take some chances and change some things.

Let me end with a rather amusing personal story about this film, though it actually has nothing to do with me. It's about my grandfather when I was kid. One of his leisurely activities was go to a movie theater and take a very long nap, sometimes for as long as two or three screenings a film. The man was Egyptian and had almost no concept of American popular culture so very often he wasn't even aware of what movie he had just paid admission to nap by. So one day he innocently goes to a movie theater completely unaware that he's just bought a ticket for DRACULA. Before he could actually fall asleep, he got a small taste of the gory horror and was, needless to say, horrified and mortified beyond words. The poor man left the theater and never got his afternoon nap that day. I can still remember him telling us this story and the whole family laughing at his misfortune. I can still remember him saying, "Dra-koo-la" in his thick Egyptian accent. Sorry, Grandpa!

So, anyway, now you know...the 1979 Frank Langella version is my favorite film of DRACULA!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Count Dracula: "You fools! Do you think with your crosses and your wafers you can destroy me? Me! You do not know how many men have come against me. I am the king of my kind! You have accomplished nothing, Van Helsing. Time is on my side. In a century, when you are dust, I shall wake and call Lucy, my queen from her grave. I have in my time had many brides, Mr. Harker. But I shall set Lucy above them all."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

DRACULA (1931)


(February 1931, U.S.)

The character of Bram Stoker's character Dracula has been adapted and immortalized on film more times than I care to count. However, believe it or not, only a small handful of them are based on Stoker's original piece of literature. The legendary "Count" has been played by the likes of Max Schreck, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and of course, Bela Lugosi. Although not my personal favorite, Lugosi is considered the quintessential vampire (must be that Hungarian accent). Tod Browning's 1931 version is also the film that ushered in the age of the Universal monster movies. If you ever grew up watching late night TV horror such as FRIGHT NIGHT or CHILLER THEATER, then you know what I'm talking about. Believe it or not, it wasn't until Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 version was released that I went out and rented a VHS copy of the Lugosi version and saw the entire film for the first time. While it didn't exactly have the good acting and drama that, say, a James Whale-directed monster film might have had, it was still a great classic that had to be seen.

I won't go into storyline and plot because I'm presuming anyone reading this blog would consider themselves someone who appreciates film...and if you can claim that, then you've surely seen a Dracula film or two in your lifetime. What is surely most noteworthy about the 1931 version is not only Lugosi's style and charm, but also the gothic creepiness that only black and white cinematography can give the story. But it's not to say that all this gothic horror is not without its share of fun. The character of Renfield is played with rather twisted humor and devilishness by Dwight Frye; a repeat performer in more than a few Universal horror films. To make this version of DRACULA truly special, though, you have to fully appreciate the level of nightmarish horror it must have bestowed on innocent movie audiences in 1931. At it's premiere, newspapers reported that members of the audience fainted in shock at the horror they were watching on screen; horror that would surely seem completely lame today, but like I said, you have to use your imagination and appreciation when watching this film, as with any classic film. Oh, and it doesn't hurt if you have the film on DVD and you watch it on a 42" flat screen TV. Ain't nothing like glorious black and white on a TV like that!

As mentioned above, there are many film versions of DRACULA. For myself, the task of picking and choosing exactly which versions were good enough to be in my collection was surely a challanging one. So stick with me, people, and you'll find out which ones made the cut...

Favorite line or dialogue:

Count Dracula: "Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make."

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS


(January 1986, U.S.)

As a general rule, I tend to stay away from American remakes of foreign films (the original play was first adapted back in 1932 by French film maker Jean Renoir). Rest assured, though, that when I first saw DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS back in 1986, I had no idea it was such a film. To be honest, I only found out recently, which should give you some idea of how long it's been since I've watched this film. So I'm afraid I'll just have to plead ignorance on this one.

Another thing I'll mention right away is that I think the Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" is one of the silliest songs I've ever heard. The fact that this film begins with that song during the opening credits should immediately tell you that you're in for something very silly. The film is about rich and dysfunctional couple David and Barbara Whiteman (played by Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler) who save the life of suicidal bum, Jerry Baskin (played by Nick Nolte). In a way, the entire premise of the story thrives on cliche and predictability. Jerry's presence in the lives of these people will, predictably, not only turn the household more upside down than it already is, but will also bring about his rather twisted sense of wisdom and free-spiritedness that they all desperately require in their lives. You've probably also seen the cliche in films that the filthy rich are spoiled, clueless, pathetic morons. The film does not disappoint on that level either because they ARE! How many people do YOU know (rich or not) who get a psychiatrist for their fucking dog?? And is it just me, or do films only tend to portray rich Americans living in only Beverly Hills, New York City, the Hamptons and perhaps parts of Florida? That's only three out of fifty states. That should give you some idea of our economic status in the rest of the country...on film, anyway.

Richard Dreyfuss has always been one of my favorite actors. Serious, dramatic roles in films like JAWS (1975) and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) are unforgettable. His comedic performances in STAKEOUT (1987), WHAT ABOUT BOB? (1991) and this film are priceless. There's almost nobody else I can picture frantically running around a huge house yelling, "Call 911, call 911!"

One last comment...question really; would somebody who grew up during the 1980s PLEASE tell me what the big craze about Mike the dog was all about? Yes, he had some funny moments in this film, but he hardly achieved any legendary canine status that would make him another Toto, Lassie or even Benji. I don't get it.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Daniel "White Feather": "My Indian name is Na-Na-Ta-Che."
Dave Whiteman: "Na-Na-Ta-Che-Ta?"
Daniel: "Yeah, it means, "He who lost his American Express card and don't give a fuck"."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

DOUBLE INDEMNITY


(September 1944, U.S.)

When I was a kid in the 1970s, one of the local TV channels was still airing reruns of MY THREE SONS. I didn't care for the show too much and I thought actor Fred MacMurrary was one of the biggest dorks I'd ever seen. Never would I have imagined that decades earlier he'd played a "not very nice" guy in what I consider to be one of the greatest American film noir classics of all time, Billy Wilder's DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Barbara Stanwyck portrays perhaps THE quintessential representative of the femme fatale (even in her badly chosen blonde wig), namely the kind of woman you want to fuck as soon as you meet her and the same kind of woman who will ultimately fuck you (and not in a good way!) in the end.

Walter Neff (played by MacMurray), a seemingly innocent and perhaps even dull insurance salesman first meets the sultry Phyllis Dietrichson (played by Stanwyck) during a routine house call to renew an automobile insurance policy for her husband. A flirtation develops, at least until Phyllis asks how she could take out an accident insurance policy on her husband's life without his knowing it. Neff realizes she's contemplating his murder, and he wants no part of it...not for the moment, anyway. The term "double indemnity", by the way, refers to a clause in certain life insurance policies that doubles the payout in cases when death is caused by accidental means. This is, of course, more than tempting for two "not so very nice" people who ultimately want to plot the murder of the woman's husband and collect on his insurance. Their carefully-planned scheme has left nothing to chance and seems to go off without a hitch when they finally execute it. Only problem is they have an insurance claims adjuster named Keyes (played by the great Edward G. Robinson) on their ass whose job is to find phony claims, and he's definitely one stubborn, persistent son of a bitch! But even stubborness may not prevail because the guilty person is standing in front of Keyes the whole time and he's just too close (to Neff) to realize it. But if you've watched enough film noir in your time, you can often expect that the scheming couple will likely double-cross each other in the end and both end up dead. In the end, crime doesn't pay but you almost wish it did because you've come to enjoy the chemistry, heat and murderous antics between a couple who are "not so nice" to watch on film.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY is cited as a paradigmatic film noir and as having set the standard for the films that followed in that same genre. Its black and white photography helps to develop the noir style of sharp-edged shadows and shots, strange angles and lonely Edward Hopper-type settings.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Phyllis Dietrichson: "Mr. Neff, why don't you drop by tomorrow evening around 8:30. He'll be in then."
Walter Neff: "Who?"
Phyllis: "My husband. You were anxious to talk to HIM, weren't you?"
Walter: "Yeah, I was. But, uh, I'm sorta getting over the idea if you know what I mean."
Phyllis: "There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff; forty-five miles an hour."
Walter: "How fast was I going, Officer?"
Phyllis: "I'd say around ninety."
Walter: "Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?"
Phyllis: "Suppose I let you off with a warning this time?"
Walter: "Suppose it doesn't take?"
Phyllis: "Suppose I have to whack you over the knuckles?"
Walter: "Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder?"
Phyllis: "Suppose you try putting it on my HUSBAND'S shoulder?"
Walter: "That tears it."

This kind of dialogue by 1940's standards would probably have been considered a strong form of sexual foreplay. You see - even THEN, there was plently of fucking on film, only in much more subtle forms.

Friday, August 5, 2011

DO THE RIGHT THING


(June 1989, U.S.)

I suppose I'll start out by making one thing very plain, and that's this - twenty years ago, if you'd asked me what my single favorite film of the 1980s was, I'd have told you DO THE RIGHT THING. Ten years ago, if you'd asked me what my single favorite film of the 1980s was, I'd have told you DO THE RIGHT THING. And if you came up to me on the street tomorrow and asked me, "Hey, Eric, what's your single favorite film of the 1980s?", I'd still tell you "DO THE RIGHT THING"...and that's the truth, Ruth (that was corny, but effective!)!

If you know even just a little bit about Spike Lee's third film, then you know there's lots to talk about. First, take it's release into consideration; a small slice-of-Brooklyn-life film released during a summer dominated by the likes of Batman, Indiana Jones, James Bond and Star Trek. How it ever even got noticed during such a mix of blockbuster material is beyond me. On a more personal level, it was not an easy film for me to take it because it was around during a time when I was going to school in Brooklyn, and frankly, absolutely miserable in that city. Then, of course, there's the obvious controversy surrounding its racial content, which doesn't exactly rear its ugly head from the very beginning. It's a little more gradual than that. Spike Lee, in addition to director, plays Mookie, young man living in a black neighborhood in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn with his sister and works as a pizza delivery man for the local pizzeria. Salvatore "Sal" Frangione (played by Danny Aiello), the pizzeria’s Italian-American owner, has owned it for twenty-five years and has never had any trouble with the locals. His older son, Pino (played by John Turturro), "detests the place like a sickness" and holds racial contempt for the neighborhood blacks, which he's constantly referring to as n-- (I won't say it!). The streets of this Brooklyn neighbothood are filled with distinct personalities, most of whom are just trying to find a way to deal with the intense summer heat and go about their regular day-to-day activities. There's a very non-linear style used to learn about who each of them are and the social attitudes they have toward each other and other races in general. There's an unforgettable montage which depicts selected members of the community voicing their racial anger toward a specific group with an onslaught of successive insults hurled at the movie audience watching them. The montage abruptly ends when the local radio DJ, Mister Senior Love Daddy (played by Samuel L. Jackson) orders them to just stop. It's actually quite a brilliant thing to watch.

As mentioned, the hottest day of the summer starts off pretty standard. We know who these people are and we know which ones are filled with anger and hate. As the day wears on, the anger begins to manifest itself into more detailed circumstances and confrontations, particulary over a series of pictures of Italian-American celebrities that hang on the wall of Sal's. A local young man is demanding pictures of black people on the wall, too, since all of Sal's customers are black (personally, it doesn't sound like such an unreasonable request to keep peace with the neighbors). By nightime, all still appears to be normal in the neighborhood and it looks like Sal and his family may just close up for the day without incident. That is, until two angry young men storm into the pizzeria voicing their demands about the pictures. Anger turns to shouting, shouting turns to fighting, fighting turns to street brawling and street brawling results in the police choke-hold murder of a young man named "Radio" Raheem (played Bill Nunn). Even more frightening than the neighborhood riot that breaks out as a result of this is the moments of pause and tension before it actually starts. The residents are angered and outraged, and for a short time, we're not entirely sure of what they're going to do. One can almost assume or predict that they'll all get past this peacefully until the moment when Mookie picks up a garbage can and hurls it through Sal's pizzeria window. That's it! Civil humanity has just come crashing down and all Hell's about to break loose in the streets of Brooklyn. Whether it's justified or not is completely up to you. Perhaps you'll recall Howard Beach in 1986. Spike Lee does.

Finally, one particular question at the end of the film is whether or not Mookie actually 'does the right thing' when he throws the garbage can through the window, thus inciting the riot that destroys Sal's pizzeria. It can be argued that Mookie's action actually saves Sal's life by redirecting the crowd's anger away from Sal himself and onto his property instead. It can also be argued that Mookie's action is irresponsible encouragement to enact the violence that ensues. The question is directly raised by the contradictory quotations that end the film, one by Martin Luther King advocating non-violence, the other by Malcom X advocating violent self-defense in response to violent oppression.

I'll say it one final time - I consider Spike Lee's DO THE RIGHT THING the single best film of the 1980s!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Mookie: "Dago, wop, guinea, garlic-breath, pizza-slingin', spaghetti-bendin', Vic Damone, Perry Como, Luciano Pavarotti, Sole Mio, non-singin' motherfucker!"
Pino: "You gold-teeth-gold-chain-wearin', fried-chicken-and-biscuit-eatin', monkey, ape, baboon, big thigh, fast-runnin', high-jumpin', spear-chuckin', three-hundred-sixty-degree-basketball-dunkin' titsun spade Moulan Yan. Take your fuckin' piece-a-pizza and go the fuck back to Africa!"
Stevie: "You little slanty-eyed, me-no-speaky-American, own-every-fruit-and-vegetable-stand-in-New-York, bullshit, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, Summer Olympics '88, Korean kick-boxing son of a bitch!"
Officer Long: "You Goya bean-eating, fifteen in a car, thirty in an apartment, pointed shoes, red-wearing, Menudo, meda-meda Puerto Rican cocksucker. Yeah, you!"
Sonny: "It's cheap, I got a good price for you, Mayor Koch, "How I'm doing," chocolate-egg-cream-drinking, bagel-and-lox, B'nai B'rith Jew asshole!"
Mister Senior Love Daddy: "Yo! Hold up! Time out! TIME OUT! Y'all take a chill! Ya need to cool that shit out! And that's the double truth, Ruth!"

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

DOORS, THE


(March 1991, U.S.)

We're entering a new level of film here in that whether or not you like Oliver Stone's THE DOORS (or any other musical biography) would depend greatly on whether or not you like the original music of the artist or not. Let's face it - if you prefer the music of Lady GaGa over The Doors, well first of all, I greatly PITY you! Second, the movie THE DOORS is probably not for you.

Back in 1991, when I was still attending college, the release of THE DOORS practically took on biblical proportion for me. It wasn't just another movie. It was an immortalization of the great Jim Morrison that had been absent from the screen for too damn long. I ended up seeing it three times. I even made a rather lame attempt to dress up as Jim Morrison for a Halloween college party many months later. Yes, it's pretty safe to say that I love The Doors and the legacy of music they left behind. Even today, when I hear their music and discover how energetic and fresh it still sounds, it's hard to believe that Jim Morrison has been dead for 40 long years (40 years to the date exactly one month ago, actually). Now while I love The Doors, I'm hardly a die hard Jim Morrison fanatic, so I can't really tell you which parts of the film are hard fact and which parts are pure cinematic fiction, and frankly, I don't care. Stone's direction and editing, and Val Kilmer's portrayel of Morrison take you deep into the era of The Doors music and the revolutionary turmoil that defined the late 1960s, fact versus fiction seems almost irrelevant. We may never really know exactly what Jim Morrison did do and what he didn't do, whether or not he was an out of control sociopath, and Stone may come under fire for the rest of his life for any historical innacuracies regarding The Doors. The point is to enjoy the story of the band and the musical impact of their songs, to enjoy the wild antics of Jim Morrison (accurate or not), and to remember that quite often history is usually a matter of one's perspective and not what actually happened. After all, this is the story of the most popular rock band ever to come out of the state of California, so it was all good for those of us who love The Doors and have never forgotten the great Jim Morrison.

Even after 20 years, when I watch this film, I still anticipate with great affection the Death Valley desert sequence that slowly leads into The Doors performance of "The End" at The Whiskey-A-Go-Go. Kilmer nails Morrison's voice perfectly, in my opinion and the performance is hypnotic and captivating. It's also my favorite song by The Doors. What's not to love?

Let me end by dedicated this post to my friends Greg and Daniela, who were both just crazy enough to go see THE DOORS with me each time I wanted to. Thanks, guys!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Jim Morrison: "Close your eyes. We'll see the snake; see the serpent appear. His head is ten feet long and five feet wide. He has one red eye and one green eye. He's seven miles long. Deadly. I see all the history of the world on his scales, all people, all actions. We're all just little pictures on his scales. God, he's big, he's moving, devouring consciousness, digesting power. Monster of energy. It's a monster. Kiss the snake on the tongue. Kiss the serpent. But if it senses fear, it'll eat us instantly. But if we kiss it without fear, it'll take us through the garden, through the gate, to the other side. Ride the snake...until the end of time."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

DOG DAY AFTERNOON


(September 1975, U.S.)

Ladies and gentlemen, once again, we now return you to my favorite actor of all time, the great Al Pacino, as he entertains us all by screaming out the one word that's made him just as famous as his character Michael Corleone..."ATTICA!".

For the benefit of those who don't know, the events of the late director Sidney Lumet's DOG DAY AFTERNOON are based on an actual bank robbery that took place in Brooklyn on August 22, 1972. To fully appreciate the circumstances surrounding the robbery and those who perpetrated it, one must consider the time at which it happened; an era of thick and extremely heavy opposition to the Vietnam war and a general "anti-establishment" position by many American citizens. Like Pacino's Sonny, the real bank robber, John Wojtowicz, was, in fact, a homosexual and was, in fact, robbing the bank in order to pay for a sex change operation for his male lover. By today's standards, all of this might seem about as shocking as Saturday morning children's TV, but back in 1972, one can appreciate how horrifying it must have sounded and how much twisted fun the media must have had with it. There is also an incredible point of irony in that the real John Wojtowicz had based much of his plan for the robbery from having just seen THE GODFATHER that very day. Three years later, it's star Al Pacino would play the lead character of Sonny. Wow.

But I think I've discussed enough of the facts. Let's move on with fiction. Al Pacino (particularly in his younger years) is exactly what you would expect in this film - a commander of intense drama and dialogue, and yes, we get to hear him yell quite a bit, too. And as I've previously mentioned more than once, nothing puts a big smile on my face more than listening to Pacino yell his head off. But when you study his character of Sonny carefully, you can see that despite taking on the role of criminal, he possesses a longing to not only love as best he can, but to occassionally try and do the right thing, too, whether it's pizzas for his hostages or trying to release the one with diabetes. As bank robbers, Sonny and his partner Sal (played by the late John Cazale) seem like complete incompetent schmucks compared to those you might watch in today's modern heist films. Lumet seems almost less interested in showing us the bank robbers here and asks us more to concentrate on the men themselves, particulary Sonny's ability to compensate for his incompetence by shwoing off his unexpected folk-hero charisma. It works for me because I do concentrate and I can feel the anguish these men are going through. Because as Sonny repeatedly puts it, "I'm dyin' here!".

Favorite line or dialogue:

Sonny: "Kiss me."
Sgt. Moretti: "What?"
Sonny: " Kiss me. When I'm being fucked, I like to get kissed a lot."