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"When the rain washes you clean you'll know."
It's hard to explain why, but this coming-of-age story struck me as highly appealing. Some say that it pales in comparison to Judy Blume's novel; since I haven't read the novel, I wouldn't know. It's a simple story: Fresh-faced Kath (Stephanie Zimbalist) has her sexual awakening with the local blonde hunk, only to find that life is slightly more complicated than One Perfect Love, Forever. And that's okay.
When I tuned in, Dean Butler was sweeping Kath off her feet to the tune of "Cherchez La Femme." How many times do you hear Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band on the soundtrack of a movie, let alone a TV-movie? I was locked in place with fascination. Why? Because this movie exemplifies the look and feel of the 1970s in every frame. Shots of the kids playing Pong and doing the Hustle are presented without self-consciousness, not as condescending self-reference, but simply as teenage behavior. The '70s hold a strong appeal for me--the clothes, the music, etc. Forever was made before the world became the uptight, shrill, boring, ugly place it is now. Seeing as I was born in 1983, these feelings might be carry-over from a previous existence. At any rate...
The acting is thoroughly convincing. Zimbalist is likable, but the best turns come from Beth Raines (as her Janis Ian-style best friend) and John Friedrich (as a repressed would-be thespian); also noteworthy is a pre-Mommie Dearest Diana Scarwid as wild girl Sybil. I like the presentation of sex (and sexual responsibility) in a positive light, without any heavy-handed "moral" crap. Nowadays, no TV movie would dare present sex between young people from such a perspective. More's the pity. The wonderful less-than-slick, quasi-verite photography and dialogue are also something you're not gonna see again any time soon. Same for realistic-looking actors who don't resemble surgical freaks or Gap rejects.
Granted, there are moments that will trigger the why-the-hell-am-I-watching-this response in some individuals. For example, when the young couple hike through the mountains as Jennifer Warnes delivers "Right Time of the Night" on the soundtrack, you half-expect to see a frosty bottle of beer superimposed over the action. At some moments, the material seems to have been altered for television, with censor-friendly terms uncomfortably wedged in in place of swearing. There are times when the movie is downright awkward in its sincerity ("I wet my dress," murmurs Kath after setting off a burglar alarm). But the whole story is about being awkward and confused; many would say that adolescence is about being awkward and confused. And you learn from it. And we are left with the EMI logo and the gravel-throated voice of Stevie Nicks.
Written on the Wind (1956)
Dorothy Malone steals the sleazy show!
I had the pleasure of seeing this lurid chunk of celluloid camp on television last night. It's a candy-bright trash-o-rama about a secretary (Lauren Bacall) who marries into a filthy rich oil family only to find a more general kind of filth under the gloss of privilege and public respectability.
Oddly enough, both Bacall (usually the epitome of strength and gravity) and Rock Hudson are given fairly bland roles, always remaining above the hideously dysfunctional quagmire that surrounds them. They're too "good" to be very interesting. The characters at the opposite end of the spectrum are what keep our attention. Once soaked in alcohol, a pre-Unsolved Mysteries Robert Stack is immensely entertaining as tormented, pistol-waving Kyle, upset over his inability to conceive the children needed to complete the little American Nightmare in rich-people hell.
However, this decidedly cracked soap is dominated by Dorothy Malone as Marylee, the boozed-up, fast-driving slut with the temperament of your average cobra. Malone won a well-deserved Oscar for her astonishing, one-of-a-kind performance--all bulging eyes and twitching lips, like a drag queen in heat, spewing acid at the other members of the cast. From her wild mambo of death (!) to fondling a model oil derrick (!!!), she is a hilarious delight. Aren't the bad girls always more interesting? Other reviews talk about her being "reformed" at the end. I, personally, did not see that. Yeah, she's upset...but with someone like Marylee, how long is that gonna last?
Later parodied by John Waters's Polyester, Written on the Wind is a seamy, steamy don't-miss. In gorgeously saturated Technicolor.
Bride of Monster Mania (2000)
Enjoyable celebration of women in horror
Bride of Monster Mania is a thoroughly entertaining TV special. The obvious highlights are the horror-film clips and trailers--including come-ons for The Exorcist, Carrie, Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, and Queen of Blood--that hold everything together. The innocuous narration and interviews with various psychiatrists and women's-group leaders aren't nearly as interesting. BUT THEN...we are treated to a surprising interview with scream queen/Bond girl Martine Beswick! An actress who we don't see nearly enough of, the still-lovely Martine provides her perspective on the sexual power of women in horror cinema, particularly her classic turn as Sister Hyde. If they had dug up more horror goddesses to interview (Barbara Steele, etc.), it would have been a much better program. Still, it's quite pleasing as it is. Watch for it around Halloween.
Hollywood Boulevard (1976)
In the autumn of 1975, Roger Corman set out to make the fastest, cheapest drive-in movie in the history of New World Pictures. This wild, uproarious cult classic is the result. Candice Rialson is Candy Hope, a starry-eyed Midwestern beauty hoping to make it big on that street of dreams, only to find that the glitter is just glass from broken liquor bottles. Instead, she ends up as a contract starlet with Miracle Pictures, a prolific B-movie factory grinding out sleaze epics for the passion pits of America (sound familiar?). Dick Miller is her agent. The always-fantastic Mary Woronov is Mary McQueen, the studio's Amazonian leading lady who has no patience with the new crop of upstarts ("You get your boobs in front of a camera and you're ready to jump into the cement!"). Everyone is shipped to the Philipines to shoot Machete Maidens of Moratau, with Paul Bartel as the director ("Your motivation is to massacre 3,000 Asiatic soldiers."). The film is pieced together with stock footage from other New World masterpieces, particularly Death Race 2000, with Candy donning David Carradine's famous leather mask. A kid at a drive-in cries out for more sex, while his parents deride the movie as "sick" and "worse than television." A drive down Hollyweird shows the famous Pussycat Theatre and various adult bookstores and massage parlors. A romantic interlude is serenaded by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, belting out a raucous, dirty country tune. Mary's name is superimposed onto the poster for Untamed Mistress. Robbie the Robot refuses to do nudity. B-movie in-jokes come thick and fast, including a girl stabbed to death on a bed frame a la Snuff. The whole thing looks great, especially for $60,000, and is consistently hilarious--especially Mary, complete with cigarette holder and the vocabulary of a sailor. A bona fide drive-in classic. And remember..."If it's a good picture, it's a Miracle!"
Multiple Maniacs (1970)
"Think about the Stations of the Cross!"
Possible minor spoilers.
Many people would describe John Waters films as horrific (and rightly so), but Multiple Maniacs is the only one that really approaches the horror genre. The title, in fact, is a nod to Herschell Gordon Lewis's cult classic Two Thousand Maniacs.
The plot finds the Cavalcade of Perversions pitching its tents in Baltimore. The exhibits include a man orgasmically fondling a bra; a girl going down on a bicycle seat; a pornographer snapping pictures "as his slut of a girlfriend exposes her sacred reproductive organs"; "two actual queers kissing each other like lovers on the lips"; and the Puke-Eater ("He laps it right up for ya--he love it!"). The show climaxes with the appearance of psychopathic Lady Divine, robbing and murdering the patrons (look for bewigged Mink Stole, Cookie Mueller, and Mary Vivian Pearce among the victims). But Divine is highly unstable ("My nerves are cracking!") and controls boyfriend Mr. David (Lochary) with claims of his involvement Sharon Tate's final party ("He did something to the most beautiful girl in Hollywood!"). However, when she learns of his ongoing affair with a blonde bimbo (Pearce, known to friends as Bonnie) who like to "perform acts" during screenings of Inga...well, the camel's back is broken, and she can't let them live another minute. But it doesn't end there.
Maniacs is admittedly choppy and talkier than most of Waters's work (this was his first film with synched-up sound, and he takes advantage of this fact), but underground film fans still have plenty to grab on to. The Dreamlanders are a treat to watch, particularly the glorious Divine. She's sort of a massive Joan Crawford, complete with black wig and exaggeratedly huge lips. Shots of her feverishly stabbing with a butcher knife and rampaging through Baltimore with a sledgehammer wield an undeniably creepy power. Edith Massey makes her debut, playing herself (a barmaid at Pete's Hotel) and the Virgin Mary (complete with towel on her head); she doesn't have much to do, but she's always a delightful presence. Cookie has a bang-up entrance, holding onto a pipe and dancing topless to "Jailhouse Rock," and Mink contributes to one of the most blasphemous sequences in cinematic history. With a great no-budget credits sequence (set to what sounds like the intro to "Endless Sleep") and a see-it-to-disbelieve-it cameo by Lobstora the 15-Foot Broiled Lobster, this may be amateurish, but it displays more energy and creativity than any of the multiplex slop clogging up the film world.
"You're a maniac! A maniac who cannot be cured!"
Lola rennt (1998)
This German adrenaline rush is like nothing I've ever experienced before. Franka Potente is fantastic as the hyperkinetic Lola of the title, with crayon-red hair and a cut-off tank top, on a twenty-minute mad dash to find the 100,000 Deutsch marks that will save her boyfriend's life. The sequences of Lola running through Berlin, accompanied by a pulsing electronic soundtrack, would be invigorating enough on their own, but the tension keeps piling up. The film shows terrific visual imagination, with a great title sequence, animation, split screens, and what appears to be videotape photography (the dialogue scenes with Lola's dad and his mistress look like a daytime soap). Combining a challenging examination of the fate that we ourselves create with a fantasy-versus-reality structure and setting the whole thing at lightning speed, it's hard to pick up on all the material in a single viewing. Never conventional and always fascinating, Run Lola Run is an arthouse triumph.
The Touch of Her Flesh (1967)
"I got the right kind, baby!"
Possible minor spoilers.
First came the nudies--harmless fluff flicks with the cast bouncing around in various stages of undress. Then came the roughies--rape, dominations, whippings, BD/SM. And then...there were the ghoulies. And no one did the ghoulies better than Michael and Roberta Findlay, the all-time king and queen of the New York grindhouse circuit. I must say that this Flesh surprised me. I expected some shaky, cheap-thrill blood-guts-and-boobs epic...and I got a surprisingly professional, highly personal endeavor that comes dangerously close to the realm of Art. I am not kidding!
Michael is Richard Jennings, a middle-class man with the archetypal Madonna-whore complex. When his wife turns out to be the latter, crippled Richard seeks vengeance against the sex industry and the women who populate it; viewed today, it eerily predicts how Bully Boy would destroy much of the vibrant, seedy world that allowed for the creation of this film. In a fantastic psychedelic discotheque sequence, a cute black go-go girl receives a poison rose and after some lengthy topless gyrations (go-go fans take note), drops dead in mid-freakout. A stripper slithers around in what turns out to be her last show. But the ultimate target is unfaithful wife Claudia (Claudia Jennings? Is this where the drive-in queen got her inspiration?), a busty blonde dubbed in Roberta's distinctive New Yawk tones.
This is a steamy, seamy walk on the wild side from the people who did it best. Michael (as Robert West) turns in an excellent performance as the star psycho. The dialogue is minimal and dubbed (quite well in Richard's case); some of it is very funny--"My dear Claudia! Let me see those breasts of yours! Those breasts that he was fondling!" With a little gore, plenty of female skin, and an atmosphere thick with gritty vitality. Sadly, the film is a time capsule of a by-gone era. The Findlays are gone now (Michael has passed on, may he rest in peace; Roberta has disappeared from sight); the seedy vitality of Times Square has been replaced by soulless corporate fiberglass. If your mindset is outside the mainstream...if you think that sleaze is not necessarily a bad thing...you owe it to yourself to see this hour of monochrome madness. We miss you, Mike.
Double Agent 73 (1974)
Doris Wishman followed up the immensely successful Deadly Weapons with this all-you-can-eat lunatic buffet. Ivan Toplar and his gang are flooding the market with bad smack. Who is the only secret agent with the stuff to bring down these slimebags? Burlesque grotesque Chesty Morgan, the girl who makes Candy Samples look like an ironing board! As Jane Genet, Agent 73, Chesty has her vacation at the nudist camp (!)--dig the hilarious cuts between literary-minded Chesty and a puppy--interrupted by this little assignment. So she puts on her red-and-black rhinestone-studded platforms and hits the streets, eliminating the bad guys and taking photos with a tiny spy camera (complete with flash) implanted in her humongous left breast. The deaths are violent, and the victim's last sights are shaky, blurred shots of Chesty's mountainous mammaries. What a way to go.
This violent, uproariously crazed excuse for Chesty to unsnap her bra and maul those monsters (FLASH-CLICK!) is like Deadly Weapons ratcheted to new heights of inanity (if such a thing could be possible). Who better to carry out a top-secret mission than the most conspicuous person in the world? And if her physical appearance weren't eliciting enough looks, the peroxide-wigged Miss Morgan's wardrobe is even frillier and sillier than before--the prime offender being a white-on-red polka-dotted number straight from Clarabelle's closet. Chesty's dubbed voice has a slightly harder edge this time around, but her acting has, thankfully, not improved. Her face is expressionless for ninety percent of the running time; occasionally she smiles, as if being ordered to at gunpoint, and Band-Aid removal brings a grimace of vague bewilderment that must be seen to be disbelieved. Though the dialogue is mostly in sync, Doris Wishman still indulges in her trademark cut-aways and obsessive close-ups of feet (giving us great views of the star's endless arsenal of platforms and spike heels). Then, in an unexpected "poetic" shot, backlit Chesty holds her ruffled robe aloft and whirls for no discernible reason. And of course, the car chase, where Chesty and her pursuer drive the legal limit as the film is sped up.
A third Chesty epic was planned but never made, since Wishman found the star unbearably difficult to work with. Even more unfortunate is the fact that, after working with Fellini, the Polish sight gag--I mean, STAR--never made another film, and has since completely disappeared (how could she hide?). Some say that Chesty (Lillian) is now living in Florida, but...who knows? O Chesty, where art thou?
Deadly Weapons (1974)
Cheap Mafia movies are a dime a dozen, right? Not when your heroine is Chesty Morgan, the Polish peeler with proportions preposterous enough to give Russ Meyer pause. Billed as Zsa Zsa (as in "The Zsa Zsa Gabor of Burlesk"), she smothers any of the viewer's misconceptions during the title sequence. As the credits roll and the great theme song blasts, we see the jiggling title artillery distorted (okay--more so) in a series of convex mirrors. Please note that this film is not erotic in the least. Rather it is one of the most unintentionally hilarious pieces of dementia ever to hit the screen!
The amazingly ridiculous plot finds Chesty is Crystal, a "Hard Selling Woman" who is deeply in love and wants to get married. Unfortunately, her gangster boyfriend is rubbed out by his associates after a backfired double-cross. Hell hath no fury like a monstrously huge-breasted woman scorned, and Crystal takes it upon herself to dish out retribution. How? With her gargantuan just-over-six-foot bazookas, of course! Clad in pantyhose and girdle, she raises her arms--cue the thunderous crash of bowling pins--and closes in for the kill! As you may guess, sense is not the movie's strong point. But who watches Doris Wishman movie expecting sense?
Chesty comes off as a complete boob, with her clunky, elephantine breasts as her only assets. Sporting a (supposedly self-supplied) platinum shag wig and a hideous ruffled wardrobe, she lumbers around on mile-high platform shoes, staring blankly at her gaudy surroundings. She does two striptease acts, which consist of her walking around a bit, losing her top, and manhandling those frightening things. Throughout the course of the film, she looks and acts like someone just dragged her out of bed.
Still, despite her awesome inability to act, Miss Morgan has an undeniable screen presence and is consistently fascinating to watch. She and Wishman have created a style of what, in other hands, might be considered simple ineptitude. Everything about the film is so delightfully, wonderfully tacky and ridiculous that you can't look away. It's as if Chesty herself is merely the pinnacle of the greater camp aesthetic. The final dollop of Cool Whip is that THIS WAS INTENDED IN ALL SERIOUSNESS! See it now!
The Panic in Needle Park (1971)
Blistering tale of love and pain
This afternoon, the Fox Movie Channel ran the trailer for The Panic in Needle Park. I was intrigued, and when the movie followed (uncut--accept nothing else) I watched. I am still stunned. This livid, documentary-style look at a faction of society that most people prefer to ignore of simply lock up is a brutal and powerful piece of cinema.
It is a film devoid of simple black and white categorizations. Bobby and Helen, deeply in love and deeply addicted to smack, are not bad people; rather they are people in a very bad situation--screwed up, screwed over, strung out, and doing whatever they can to survive. We watch as they go from "just chipping" to crippling, $80-a-day dependency. They steal, deal, hook, and shoot the profits into a scarred vein. A tone of bleak, tragic inevitability infuses their lives and the film. We care about them, but all we can do is watch; there are no offers of help, no outstretched hands. In an extremely telling moment, Helen says she wants to move out of Needle Park, to which Bobby simply responds, "It's where I live."
Panic has such a natural, improvisational feel that those existing on a diet of super-glossy cash-cow cinema may be put off. It is only slightly more polished than Andy Warhol's Trash, which it resembles by turns--from the camera that loses focus and trembles ever so slightly to the close-ups of needles sliding into veins. The gritty city is perfectly captured, with a tremendous atmosphere of desperation and misfortune. As Bobby, Al Pacino is marvelous (as usual), but I was really impressed by Kitty Winn in the role of Helen. I'd only seen her in The Exorcist, where she was mostly relegated to the background. Here, her portrayal is gut-wrenching, courageous, and unforgettable. I can say without a doubt, Needle Park is a must-see. It may not be pretty, but it's life.