Romero & Landau: Two For The Road

We have to stop meeting this way, but so it goes:

night_of_the_living_deadGeorge A. Romero created one of the most influential, essential horror movies back in 1968 with Night Of The Living Dead, a film that still packs a punch on a few fronts. As his feature film debut, Romero’s flesh-eating ghouls would inspire a legion of filmmakers to copy and attempt to improve upon his film’s strengths. Some did, most didn’t. He stayed primarily and comfortably within the horror genre, making six follow-ups to the original along with some solid films such as Martin, Knightriders, and Creepshow.

I can still recall the first time I saw Night on broadcast TV late at night (I think it was ABC that ran it first), the network placed an on-screen overlay during the “news” segments that ran during the film so people wouldn’t think actual dead folks weren’t rising up to chomp on flesh. I forget how young I was, but even in its edited for, the movie had me half under a blanket and that surprise ending gave me nightmares for a few days afterward. A few years later when TV spots for Dawn Of The Dead popped up, I was actually so scared I decided not to try and attempt to buy a ticket. I saved that underage trial by fire for ALIEN, released a year later.

Side note: George lived up here in the Bronx – I believe in the same area I’m in now. Not that it matters much, but finding that out always made me think of another neighborhood guy who did well for himself.

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The ‘Invisible Director’: Jonathan Demme

(Thanks, IIIkidAIII!)
 

Many will mention the frightening, eternally brilliant The Silence of the Lambs today as the late Jonathan Demme‘s best film and yes, you’ll hear about Melvin and Howard, Something Wild, Married to the Mob, Philadelphia, or even Rachael Got Married as other strong entries in his career. While I love all of these dearly, 1984’s Stop Making Sense is probably going to be my go-to Demme flick when I need a fix. Go track down a copy even if you’re not a Talking Heads fan because it may make you one. I saw this probably a dozen times upon its initial release and can still recall packed screenings where the energy in the theater was so powerful, some people got up and danced during a few of the songs.

(Thanks, droehntanne!)
 

In thinking about his body of work, I’ve probably always seen Demme as an ‘invisible’ director because his best stuff looked almost effortless in that way the camera caught perfect, natural or unnatural moments where everything was where it needed to be. Re-watching all the Hannibal Lecter-related films a little while ago showed me that of all the directors who’d made films with the character, it was in Demme’s where he (as well as the other characters) seemed the most human (especially Hannibal… in the most twisted manner, of course). Naturally, that’s also a result of great actors doing their thing. But you can watch much of Demme’s work and see moments where you’re being addressed by a character as if you’re in the same space they inhabit. In addition to movies and TV work, Demme also directed a number of music documentaries about Neil Young that are worth tracking down. In terms of his other music video work, this New Order classic still gives me a charge after all these years, so I’m sharing it for those that may have never seen it:

(Thanks, Rhino!)
 

Back in a bit – this sort of post is a bit draining to write, but it seems it’s going to be a thing as time passes.

-GW

Goodbye, Mr. Warmth

(Thanks, paratrip!)
 

I don’t remember the first time I saw the late, great Don Rickles on TV, but if it was a comedic appearance, I laughed my ass off. I think it was one of his appearances on an episode of The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast from 1974, but I think it may have been a few years earlier thanks to X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes airing on what I think was WPIX’ late, great Chiller Theater. Anyway, Don was the master of perfectly timed insults, the Prince of the Putdown, The Man You Went To See When You Needed To Be Taken Down A Few Notches And Wanted To Pay For The Privilege Of Being Insulted By The Best. Period. That sort of insult comedy was a great deal bigger back when Rickles was playing the circuit, when people were less triggered and more willing to laugh at themselves thanks to a man who could peg you with zingers, moving onto the next lucky or unlucky sap who dared to sit too close to the stage. Don made it work because you knew he was a total pussycat off stage, but once he got up to perform, all bets were off and if he singled you out, you’d better be prepared for the worst with an entire room full of people laughing at you.

(Thanks, ann turkel!)
 

Watching him in these old clips still makes me laugh loudly and that’s the best medicine for pretty much anything that ails you. I recall working for a guy many moons ago who was a bit of a stingy sourpuss, yet he paid good money to see Don live a few times around the country. Let me tell you, his mood was so much lighter after he returned that he was quite the nicest guy on the planet for a few days. I got a random raise once after one of his trips to see Rickles perform, apparently thanks to an ugly tie I’d given him as a birthday gift and a guy and his wife seated next to him who wanted to switch seats at the last minute. So I own an indirect thanks to the funnyman for getting me more money at one point in my life. Thanks, Don, er… Mr. Rickles. I’d probably not know what to say to the man if I ran into him at Patsy’s here in NYC, but I understand that he was pretty good with fans who approached him. Off stage, he was still a big prankster with his close friends, but treated regular folk just right.

(Thanks, KUSH Comedy!)
 

Now, you probably don’t need to buy both seasons of CPO Sharkey on DVD if you need a Rickles fix (although you should, as it was quite a hilariously wacky show for the era. My suggestion is to grab a copy of the 2007 documentary Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project for a nice and hilarious look at the man at work. Yes, he also did a few dramatic performances and of course, younger folks will remember him as the voice of Mr. Potato Head in the Toy Story movies. I’ll stop here because I need some laughs, and Don would probably give me one of those looks and lay into me something fierce for trying to be too damn sentimental.

-GW

A Few Words On Bernie Wrightson

Well, very few, actually. I was initially going to say some stuff here about meeting Bernie Wrightson at a Creation Convention here in NYC back in 1981 or ’82 where during a rare quiet moment I tiptoed up to his table and mumbled out some great appreciation for his work. He responded with thanks and when he saw me clutching a portfolio, asked if I was interested in drawing comics before humbly pointing me to Graham Ingles and Franklin Booth and a few other names as illustrators to look up when I had the time. But I don’t feel much like retelling the longer version of that story just now.

The internet is chock full of his amazing work, so here’s one link of many to sink into for a spell. Funny that I just ordered a bottle of India ink and was planning to break out the brushes and dip pens to do some de-stressing over a ton of stuff. I guess I’ll have Bernie on my mind at many points, but I won’t even try to emulate his style, as his Swamp Thing and other horror imagery had me hooked in since about 1970 or ’71 and was my primary reason for wanting to draw.

Back in a bit. I was working on something else – well, a few somethings else, but once again, the wind has left the sails.

 

-GW

Bill Paxton: It’s Hard To Forget The Guy You Saw In Everything


 

So, we’ve lost Bill Paxton too. Foo. Rather than run clips or comments of and about the well-known sci-fi/fantasy flicks he was a part of, I’ll just leave two viewing suggestions you may not have seen or maybe have seen but not in a while. Up top is One False Move, director Carl Franklin’s great, kind of 90’s noir about a trio of criminals who commit a series of murders in Los Angeles and escape to the tiny town of Star City, Arkansas. Paxton played the bored and too eager for action sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon who gets more than he bargains for after LAPD detectives roll into town. The film also features Billy Bob Thornton (who co-wrote the story with Tom Epperson) in a key role as one of the killers. I won’t spoil more other than to say it’s a brilliant thriller with a few curve balls up its sleeve.


 

The second film is in my opinion, Sam Raimi’s most perfect movie, 1998’s A Simple Plan. Author Scott Smith adapted his great 1993 novel into the screenplay and we get Paxton and Thornton working together again as Hank and Jacob Mitchell, two brothers who along with a friend of Jacob’s (Brent Briscoe), discover a crashed plane with a dead pilot and over 4 million dollars in cash inside. Yes, the take the money. Hank being the smartest of the bunch keeps it safe, but things go deep south as greed, anger and a bit of murder follow the man and their ill-gotten sack of loot. Both films would make a nice double feature, but feel free to add the excellent, disturbing Paxton-directed thriller Frailty to that short stack (or tall stack if it’s a marathon):


 

Yeah, I said two films, I know. But I think Bill would have probably appreciated the gesture, this going off script stuff. So long, pal – you made the movies you were in a lot better for a good while and will continue to do so each time fans go back and discover or rediscover everything you were part of.

-GW

Debbie Reynolds: Dancing On That Smile Stage One Final Time

(thanks ozabbazo77!)
 

Ugh. No mas, 2016. This one’s both barrels, folks. If you’ve never seen Singin’ In The Rain, please do so ASAP as it’s not only a great introduction the classic movie musical, it’s probably going to lighten even the grimmest mood when all is said and done.

Back in a bit.

-GW

Carrie Fisher: Our Princess Is In Another Castle*

cf
 

“Hey Mark, It’s Carrie. Where are you? We’re waiting for you… hurry up!”

So, back in 1983 (I believe it was during midsummer), Carrie Fisher mis-dialed a phone number and called the place I was staying at on West 95th Street to leave that message. Everyone I played it back to recognized the voice and through a bit of deductive reasoning it was figured out she may have been ringing up Mark Hamill. At the time it was believed he also lived somewhere on the West Side (I recall he was a frequent West Side Comics customer), so it was entirely possible his phone number started with that popular 864 exchange and Carrie got one or more of the last four numbers scrambled. There were no cellphones back then and I don’t think you could have an operator redial from an answering machine, so this was just another NYC thing to us. Celebrity sightings were commonplace back then with a walk up or down the West Side in any weather often yielding some pleasant surprises (yes, I have stories. No, not now, please).

Anyway, that tape was a hot thing for a while among friends until interest faded and we moved on to whatever life slipped our ways. But every so often I’d want to pop up at one of her book signings and ask my one question or I thought about just writing a quick note (or much later, email) to find out if she recalled mistakenly calling me. Of course I never got around to it, supremely trivial matter that it was in the grand scheme of things. Today’s yet another not good one, particularly as I’d been very much avoiding the internet for its rolling out of crappy real news, really fake news and a Pandora’s Box of all-too predictable downhill results of a rather unbalanced political season.

Here’s a funny – I’m also in the middle of replacing or updating important to lesser bits of my movie collection, so I only have Star Wars episodes 4-6 on VCD. As in Fox’s official overseas box set from VideoVan circa 2000. Ha and ha-ha. Well, I think I can run them on the laptop. Either that or go through a few bins looking for my Magnavox CD-i system. Or, hell… maybe I’ll just watch The Blues Brothers for the what, 30th or so time? Yeah, sure… that’ll do.

(thanks, rumblingthunder!)
 

*Or, that damn Empire. It loses all the time… but always wins over the long run, doesn’t it? Boo.
-GW

Something About Three Kings Lost Makes This #TBT A Lot More Wistful


 

“Sometimes it snows in April.” Thanks to not sleeping last night (working on a few projects for the site plus tackling a small freelance job) I was quite out of the loop today and only heard the news that Prince died when I walked in the door. While I wasn’t a die-hard super fan like a few friends, the fact that he did just about EVERYTHING on his studio recordings and was so prolific that it made me wonder if the man ever slept. That sort of work ethic has always impressed me, but it’s always sad to see someone so talented leave so soon. Anyway, I’ll just leave this clip here (it’s been circulating the internet like a satellite today). In a way, I feel sorry for the kids today who never got to see any of these legends live or don’t know of how much they all changed the music and entertainment scene. All were human and had human problems, but on stage or on whatever you listened to them on, your brain and body were moving to beats that still resonate and motivate when the need arises.

Back in a bit. My favorite Prince song? Wow. Much of Purple Rain aside, I guess this one because it made me laugh (that dancing in the video is awesome but amusing) and even more so when it was covered by an icon from a previous era whose career got a massive boost afterwards.

Odyssey of the Oddity Concludes Somewhat Abruptly

I can actually recall the first time I heard Space Oddity on the radio. It was sometime after its 1969 release and if memory serves me correctly, it almost made me miss my school bus. Between the haunting acoustic guitar work and the otherworldly sounds emanating from the clock radio in my room, I was transported into that tin can floating in the void. Instant David Bowie fan from that point on and what and education that was.

Suffragette City made me look up that word (the first one, silly!) and in doing so before the age of the internet, got me checking out the dictionary and then a few encyclopedias as that rabbit hole opened up as I discovered other issues related to that word. Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, union organizing, women’s rights (which I don’t think were listed in much detail as far as 70’s educational tomes were concerned) and other mind-expanding bits and pieces were in the process of being uncovered. One teacher I had noted my research and gave me a few newsletters to peruse from her college days. Of course, at that age (I was about ten or eleven at that point), most of that reading material was way above my brain grade but I absorbed them anyway. Continue reading