Sunday, April 13, 2008
A Better Class of People
Friday night at the New Beverly for the Dante’s Inferno festival began with standing in line chatting with Clu Gulager. I told him that I had met his grandson back in October but did not mention that just earlier that day I had quoted one of his lines of dialogue from INTO THE NIGHT. (“I’d say you’d fall into the ‘or what’ category.” Try it sometime, it’s a fun thing to say.) Once inside, I found myself sitting in the aisle directly behind the one which contained Joe Dante and Dick Miller. I was also several rows behind Edgar Wright and Diablo Cody. What I’m saying is, it was a fun crowd to be in.
The double bill on hand was a night of 70s exploitation. HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, directed by Dante and Allan Arkush for Roger Corman’s New World Pictures and Jonathan Kaplan’s TRUCK TURNER in which Isaac Hayes stars as a bounty hunter who basically kicks a lot of ass. What I’m saying is, it was a pretty cool double bill.
The infamous HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD began as an attempt by Corman to mollify trailer editors Dante & Arkush by letting them direct their own film, on the condition that it be cheaper than any other New World picture that had been made by that point. Since the two men were very familiar with all of the New World footage, they fashioned an idea centered around a New World-type studio called Miracle Pictures (“If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle”), which would give them plenty of excuses to use lots of stock footage. It’s fairly enjoyable and holds up better than plenty of other New World films that I’ve seen, but really on an in-joke kind of level more than anything. It almost goes without saying that it obviously works best if you’re acquainted with that style of filmmaking or even the Corman-method of doing things back in the wild and wooly 70s. Having spent some time in what was the version of this world that existed in the 90s, I can say that there is a kernel of truth to the humor here. And it goes without saying that it’s also extremely sleazy and exploitive. Having seen it multiple times by now, I can safely say that it’s actually a more enjoyable movie to watch it with the DVD audio commentary. Featuring Dante, Arkush and producer Jon Davison, it’s one of the very funniest audio commentaries that I’ve ever heard and is highly recommended. Without it, the 83 minutes the film runs for can feel a little long. But with some of the attitude Dante and Arkush would develop in their subsequent films already in place, the amount of laughs that are in their make it an improvement over some of the other New World films of the period and is probably much of the reason for the film’s cult following today. Ultimately, even within all that 70s sleaze it’s too likable and funny a movie to not get a lot of enjoyment out of. And getting to see the film on the big screen provides a reminder just how talented the late, great Candice Rialson, the film’s lead, really was. Having the likes of Dick Miller, Mary Woronov and Paul Bartel in there certainly help a great deal as well. There’s also a ROBOT MONSTER joke which got one of the biggest pieces of applause of the night. It’s that kind of movie. It’s not anything I would show to someone who isn’t already into these movies but for a film that was pulled from 42nd Street after two days, as Dante claims, it isn’t that bad. Much of what was discussed in the post-film discussion with Dante, Arkush, Miller and Jonathan Kaplan (who appears in the movie) can be heard on the commentary, but it was fun listening to them talk about it nonetheless. One new bit of info revealed was that Stanley Donen, of all people, attended a preview of the film and walked out. Exactly what Stanley Donen was doing there seems to be a mystery that none of them have the answer to.
Kaplan was also there for the screening of TRUCK TURNER (made fourteen years before he directed Jodie Foster to her first Oscar in THE ACCUSED) which screened second. I’m not enough of an expert on blaxploitation films to say exactly where it ranks in the genre, but it has to be somewhere in the top half. Continually exciting, it feels like it adheres to the old Howard Hawks rule of three good scenes and no bad scenes. In addition to Hayes in the lead there’s a terrific supporting cast which includes Yaphet Kotto, Nichelle Nichols, Scatman Crothers and (again) Dick Miller, along with a dynamite score provided by Hayes. The nature of the plotting allows a few minor characters to build in importance in the second half and it’s particularly fun to hear Nichols say the type of things that would never come out of Lt. Uhura’s mouth. And there's one death scene near the end which is given a huge amount of weight to it, extremely surprising considering the type of film it is. There’s also some location work that provides an interesting look at the Los Angeles of the time, even if one car chase seems to go from Long Beach to downtown L.A. to a sewage plant down near LAX in a surprisingly brief amount of time. I did not ask about those issues in the post-film Q&A. There’s a minor hitman character named “Joe Dante” as well.
Not much analysis needed for either film but it was an enjoyable night at the New Beverly as it was a thrill to be in the presence of some of those who showed up. I also get the chance to tell Allan Arkush that I’ve long been a huge fan of his sadly underappreciated film GET CRAZY. A long time ago the people who made that movie seemed a world away and now I get to go up to them in the lobby of the New Beverly. It's hard not to appreciate the thrill which that brings. And, in looking forward to the rest of the festival, there's still more to come.