Friday, July 16, 2010

HBO/Cinemax Guide - November, 1981

As mentioned in a previous post, I recently secured some well-kept programming guides for HBO and Cinemax.  Here are some scanned highlights from the November, 1981 issue.  Enjoy!

Don't forget, 1981 audiences, you can enjoy HBO 24-hours a day on weekends!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

"Knock, knock..."

I recently purchased a slew of HBO/Cinemax guides (ranging from 1981 to 1985) and, just last night, was perusing through these little slices of nostalgia.  More on the guides in a later post, but I've been on this high all day, thinking about how things used to be, how each film was regarded as an event, although not superficial.  And, whenever I think of early-to-mid era HBO, I think of John G. Avildsen's comedic gem, NEIGHBORS.  A classic and a shame that more people don't regard it as such.  Also a shame that it has yet to see a resurgence on DVD.  Odd, considering that it is John Belushi's final work and you'd think that would be merit enough.

By the time NEIGHBORS came out, I already idolized Belushi, much in the same way that I idolized his fellow SNL alums, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Bill Murray, even though I hadn't seen... er, uh... wasn't yet permitted to see much of their work.  (I was almost five years of age, at the time.)  With Belushi, I had only seen CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, since it was PG and on cable.  I watched it several times and thought it was hysterical, despite the fact that it wasn't all that funny.  Clearly, I didn't know any better.  My only other exposure, at that point, was the first Blues Brothers album, "Briefcase Full Of Blues," that my father owned, which I begged him to play constantly.  (Of course, my folks didn't trust me with the "real" record player... you know, the one in the family room and not the 45-friendly Sesame Street model that I had in my bedroom.) 

When Belushi passed away, I clearly remember being both saddened and confused.  Up until that point, I hadn't experienced anyone's death, nevermind a celebrity.  I couldn't believe such a thing was possible.  One of the reasons I found it hard to believe, was that NEIGHBORS had been released not long before and the memory of it's publicity was fresh in my mind.  "Nah, can't be.  He's still making movies," I thought.

Anyhow, the following TV spot really creeped me out (as well as the two posters for the film), even though it shouldn't have. But, then, anything remotely related to TWILIGHT ZONE creeped me out. Oh, well. Here's the spot already...

A comic nightmare.  Ah, I love it!

While searching for that promo, I came across an appearance Belushi and Aykroyd did to promote the film on THE TODAY SHOW...

Nice dig by Belushi on Gene Shalit's "hairstyle".  Also of note, the project in development that they're discussing is SPIES LIKE US, which was later made in 1985 with Chevy Chase in Belushi's role and John Landis directing (as was originally intended).

Subsequently, here's another interview clip, this time it's Chevy Chase on THE TOMORROW SHOW with Tom Snyder.  Significant because Chase takes a shot at Rex Reed for taking a shot at Belushi in his review of NEIGHBORS...

Great dig on Reed's "performance" in MYRA BRECKINRIDGE!

Piss on Shalit for questioning Steve Martin's version of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN. That film is brilliant.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Love And Menace

BODY DOUBLE is one of my favorite films, mostly because it's a Brian De Palma film, but also because it's the De Palma film that few seem to care about.

It also contains one of my favorite Pino Donaggio scores, which brings me to this remix of the main theme which I found on YouTube. (Initially, I was going to post this on Facebook, but I gotta be careful not to "offend" some of the lamenheimers whom I once considered cool. Don't get me started on the rant.) The visuals in this video suck and it drives me nuts, but the music is the reason to watch(?), so, whatever.

Critically, De Palma took a bit of a swan dive with this one, following his SCARFACE (which the critics loathed at the time), but when I finally was of age to see this, I couldn't believe this film was as lambasted as it had been. Although, I know why it was, that still doesn't make it okay. Critics could not get over the whole Hitchcock influence thing. And, by the time BODY DOUBLE came around, I think they were sick of it. Too bad, as this is a very clever take on REAR WINDOW and a total blast from the '80s.

Another remix...

And, of course, I couldn't leave out Frankie (seems the volume always gets cranked up during this particular scene)...

The above music video is actually the second made for "Relax." This is not a direct port from the film, rather the rare companion music video which is also directed by De Palma. Very cool tie-in, since this incorporates a certain character from the film. Would have been a nice addition to the special edition DVD.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Duke Mitchell: An Appreciation

This past Saturday night, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of GONE WITH THE POPE, Duke Mitchell's previously incomplete, final film.  And, yes, I dug it.  But, truthfully, there was no way I wouldn't.  If the film was an hour and a half of Mitchell going up and down an escalator, I would proclaim it to be greatness.
But, more on that later.

I became a fan of Duke Mitchell, by way of being a Bela Lugosi fan first.  My initiation was the infamous cult oddity, BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, which I first saw as THE BOYS FROM BROOKLYN in either 1985 or '86 on a long-since-defunct Oregon-based local channel which exhibited tons of public domain classic features along with occasional episodes of PERRY MASON.  It was this channel (22 on the dial, but I don't remember the call letters), where I first saw Lon Chaney's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and my first Lugosi film (and, that of the East Side Kids, as well), SPOOKS RUN WILD.

I genuinely like BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA.  'Deed I do!  Masquerading as a spooktacular horror film (think Abbott & Costello or Mantan Moreland), this 1952 Jack Broder production is essentially a starring vehicle for the comedy duo of Mitchell and Sammy Petrillo, considered here as the poor man's Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis for the drive-in circuit.

The audacity of aping (no pun intended) the Martin & Lewis dynamic with a "devil may care" approach, I've always found fascinating.  And seeing Petrillo's uncanny mimicry of Lewis is pretty surreal the first time around.  I couldn't believe this was a real film.  How could they get away with it?  Well, they only did once, thanks to Lewis, but that's another story.

As for Mitchell's performance, I admired that he didn't steal from Martin and really did his own thing.  Sure, he was cool and had an amazing voice, but that's where the similarities end, I think.  Not that they should be compared, but Mitchell's voice was so amazing that he, dare I say, tops Dino.  Mitchell's range took crooning to a whole 'nother level, really.  As much as I love Martin, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, et al, Mitchell seemed to be in a different, advanced class.  To this day, I find his style difficult to describe, almost as if he combined operatics with conventional lounge singing.  A deep, interesting, soulful vibe.  At first, I thought "He's dubbed".  Well, yeah, he is lip-synching himself.  It wasn't until years later, when I came across one of his records, a 45 of the theme from THE CARELESS YEARS (a film, which I still have yet to see), that I put two and two together.

Fast forward to 1991, when upon the introduction of Hollywood Video in my hometown of Corvallis, Oregon, I rented a film based on it's sheer exploitation value entitled, THE EXECUTIONER.  (I should also point out that it was distributed by Video Gems, one of the great, early VHS companies, which specialized in obscure, exploitation fare.  Their brand had a major impact on my decision to pick it up.  I rented as many Video Gems cassettes as I could find.  Ah, I miss them so!)  Looking at the big box, I didn't realize that the Duke Mitchell credited as writer/director could be the guy I knew and actually didn't think twice about it since his acting was credited to Dominic Miceli (his real name).  It wasn't until I started watching the film, when I realized... "Hey, wait a minute!"  Could this be the same guy?  Good luck trying to find any information.  This was pre-IMDB, pre-internet, pre-everything, really, and my only references were video/movie guides (Maltin, Ebert, Crisp... ACK... cetera) which never seemed to (and, probably still don't) mention this film.  So, I was left to draw my own conclusion, which wasn't difficult once I heard his voice.  Wow.  Yes, this was an enjoyable, unapologetic mob picture, but the fact that this has Mitchell all over it, elevates it quite a bit.  A few years later (my first week in Texas, actually), I was lucky enough to find a copy for purchase at a Wherehouse Music that was selling out their VHS rental library.  Nevermind the fact that all their tapes were severely butchered cutboxes, for a mere five bucks, I finally had my own copy of Duke Mitchell's ultra-obscure THE EXECUTIONER and I was happy.

Fast forward again to 1998, when I was lucky enough to catch a midnite screening of Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND, exhibited by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures and Grindhouse Releasing.

Not only was I going to finally see Fulci on the big screen, but there was a slew of classic exploitation trailers prior to the feature.  CANNIBAL FEROX, DEEP RED, DETROIT 9000 and THE EVIL DEAD were all on display.  Oh, and one more... MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE.  To put it mildly, I nearly shat myself.  Here was the trailer to the film I always knew as THE EXECUTIONER and I thought I was the only one, besides those involved, who knew of it.  The crowd was going nuts watching, what was essentially, a reworking of the film's opening scene and I couldn't believe it.  It's always a good feeling when you're in on the joke, and everyone else is just... there.

So, what did this really mean?  Was this film available in another version I was unaware of?  Nope.  That was the film's original title, but didn't exist on video as anything other than THE EXECUTIONER and no one had released it, in the United States, besides Video Gems.  Years later, Grindhouse Releasing (teases that they are) added the trailer to some of their DVD releases, but alas, still no word of a DVD release.  It wasn't until Mitchell's son, Jeffrey, took it upon himself to get the ball rolling, just last year, on the first legitimate release -- a limited edition 2-disc affair known as "The Family Edition".

Produced, with great care, by John R. Hand in association with Jeffrey Mitchell, I am so pleased to have this DVD.  To be fair, the film's presentation isn't pristine, rather the way we (anyone privy to the Video Gems release) have always known it.  Having said that, it's important to note that it is better than that prior VHS, simply because there are no technical flaws.  After going through two copies on my own (that Wherehouse VHS is nearly unwatchable now) I can honestly say that, for me, this DVD is a sigh of relief.  No more tracking issues, Hi-Fi drop-outs or any other artifacts due to several rewinds and replays.  I'm not sure if Hand and company tracked down the initial Video Gems master (removing the "A Joseph R. Juliano Presentation" logo from the beginning and restoring the MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE title card), but it definitely looks like that's the case.  Or, they at least managed to find a reliable, mint copy.  Whatever the case, I'm just happy to have a clear version that I don't have to worry about.  No more "which VCR will track it better?" and so forth.

The real reason to pick this DVD up is for the plethora of bonus content.  The DVD serves as a tremendous retrospective of Duke Mitchell's career -- one that was not dominated by film, rather a passion for music and the continuous performance of such.  Mitchell was a true entertainer and here we get a rare and welcome glimpse into his legacy.

I cannot go on enough about how much care has been put into this package and, for the measly price of $30 (a true independent release and a limited one of 500 copies), it is well worth it.  The exclusive LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON documentary is worth the price alone.  Not to mention, there's a recording of an entire Duke Mitchell live performance, in addition to individual tracks (by both Duke and Jeffrey... think "Jacknife," folks), PDF files of the film's script (multiple drafts), a trailer to the upcoming release of Duke's tribute to Jimmy Durante and so much more.  Apparently, Grindhouse is preparing a remastered version of the film, which some may want to wait for, but most likely, you won't see any of this supplemental material on their disc.  As a completist, I look forward to their version, but for the feature presentation only.  But, when Jeffrey Mitchell deemed his release as "The Family Edition," he really meant it.  This is the real deal.

Back to GONE WITH THE POPE.  Until a few years ago, I had no idea there was another Duke Mitchell film out there.  When I first saw the trailer (or, should I say "teaser") back in 2005 on the Grindhouse DVD for CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, I was both excited and mystified.  Another Mitchell movie?!  How could this be?  Simple.  It was never completed.  Thanks to Jeffrey Mitchell, who had kept all the film elements, notes, et cetera, it was passed to the Grindhouse boys (Bob Murawski and Sage Stallone) to live another life in a completed state, that is, if they could get it there.  A long-time coming, Murawski has stated that the process took nearly 15 years.  (Read about it HERE.)

So, when I found out that the film was truly getting released, again I was both excited and mystified.  Was this really about to happen?  Finally?!  Having since seen the finished product, I can say that it was definitely a surreal experience.  An experience that, if it were related to me 10 years ago, I'd never believe.  "Guess what, Nate?  There's this film that Duke Mitchell started shooting in 1975, yet he never completed and it will be painstakingly remastered and assembled for your theatrical viewing pleasure in 2010!"  "Bullshit!," I most likely would have said... "Yer bluffin'!"

If I've learned anything about cinema, it's certainly to expect the unexpected, whether it be good or bad.  Thankfully, this is quite a good thing.  GONE WITH THE POPE was everything I'd hoped it would be and more.  First off, it looks amazing, almost like a contemporary film based in the '70s.  And, the plot is both fun and original.  As always, Mitchell's passion and incredible presence overtake the film's constraints (whether it be budget or the less-impressive performances of his co-stars) and proves to be a marvel to watch.  Witnessing a Mitchell monologue is a real poetic treat, and he has quite a few definite gems here.

As for being his final film, it really does smack of a swan song and is relatively bittersweet at times.  All the signature Mitchell elements are present along with touches by Jeffrey (a brief performance towards the beginning and additions to the film's soundtrack, the amazing "Jacknife" included), which make the film very special.

GONE WITH THE POPE may not be groundbreaking or everyone's cup of tea but, as these things go, I think it's rather swell.  Like MASSACRE MAFIA STYLE and BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA, we have yet another catchy-titled Mitchell extravaganza which has to been seen to be believed. Purely by happenstance, an astounding trilogy when you think about it.