Wednesday, April 25, 2007

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Dennis Cozzalio

I have to disclose a bias I have toward Dennis Cozzalio: his Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule was the first film blog I ever read. True story, I actually found it accidentally while Googling for drive-in information. But really, what better introduction to the film blogosphere than SLIFR? Dennis has an energetic writing style that naturally spurs conversation, with a broad taste in under appreciated and sometimes unloved movies. That this spectrum of film knowledge was stoked at the University of Oregon in the 1970s should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with that 200-miles-left-of-mainstream community and its history. Dennis has the rare talent to make his posts an event that requires reading and usually discussion -- their prodigious word counts only surpassed by the volume of lip-smacking substance they contain. If you can tear yourself away from the main body of SLIFR, you can practically spend a whole evening exploring Dennis' list of links. Included is an assortment of his favorite blogs, but also worthwhile web destinations for drive-ins theaters, music and the best movie theaters in California and home state of Oregon (though my PDX fave, Cinemagic, is curiously absent).

DEEP SENSES: 'I was 17 and managed to get in to see Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, and for the life of me (being a teenager, still a virgin, who’d never even seen a straight porno before), I couldn’t figure out how this movie qualified in some circles as art. The discussion group, which took place a couple of days later, was ostensibly about the history of the medium. But Senses was new in town and a hot-enough topic that the teaching assistant who ran the group brought the movie up, and for at least 45 minutes we hashed out what it was about Oshima’s movie that made it worthy of serious discussion. I can’t say the discussion convinced me of anything— I wouldn’t have a reasonable appreciation of the movie until years later. But about a month later, when I saw my first actual porn movie, a campus screening of Deep Throat sponsored by a local fraternity (just try imagining that being permitted today!), the difference between it and Senses couldn’t have been clearer to me.'

NEVER SCARED: 'This is another way of saying “I dare you to scare me.” The people I’ve heard make this claim weren’t really movie fans— their capacity or willingness to suspend disbelief, to let themselves get carried away by sounds and pictures and react on a purely emotional level, and certainly on an intellectual level, was just not there. So any movie I would recommend automatically had extra work to do to defeat these near-impenetrable defenses. That said, I would still recommend (with as little build-up as possible) two movies to these stalwart souls, and if they could sit through them, under ideal big-screen theatrical conditions, and still claim they were not ever scared, I’d stand up, salute and send them on their merry way, secure and somewhat sad in the knowledge that nothing so crude as a mere movie will ever get under their armored skin. My recommendations would be Robert Wise’s The Haunting and Neil Marshall’s The Descent.'

YOU DON'T LIKE OLD MOVIES?: '
If they are often put off by simple understanding of language, due to the often marked differences in linguistic idioms and means of expression used whenever the movie was made, I might suggest a movie that deals in that very subject-- Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire, for example. If they don't like black and white, I might search for some of the best examples of the use of black and white as a creative choice (noirs like Sunset Boulevard or Out of the Past ), or conversely, examples of old movies that were spectacular because of their use of color. (The Wizard of Oz is an obvious pick, but maybe also one of Anthony Mann’s westerns, say, Bend of the River.) If, however, they are put off of old movies because they don't like to think about an entire film's cast being dead, and can't help imagining these images captured in celluloid and sound as anything other than ghostly reverberations from a bygone age (my wife feels this way sometimes), well, this one is obviously much harder to deal with. The way my wife got around it was to find a dead star that she was interested in, so even if she would inevitably drift toward thinking of the actors as apparitions, there was always the star’s persona to be involved in, and a good story, presumably, as well. Consequently, two old movies my wife has never complained about being populated with dead people were Red River and A Place in the Sun, because there were good stories and Montgomery Clift right there to distract her.'

THIS ISN'T DALLAS, IT'S ...: 'I made my first "favorite movies" list around 1981, and at the top of that list was a movie I neither liked or understood when I saw it the first two times. The third time, however, was a revelation, and after that I saw it several times in my senior year of college-- three times in one day, at the height of my mania. I just made up a list of my 30 Favorite Movies for a German publication and that movie was still at the top of my list, some 26 years after I first realized how much I loved it. The movie: Robert Altman's
Nashville.'

TOO MUCH IS NEVER ENOUGH: '
I've always tried to see as many movies as my schedule would allow. In college, this meant jamming in as many as five or six movies in a weekend, and maybe even one or two during the week, not counting the films I was regularly scheduled to see most every Tuesday and Thursday night for the four years I was there. Living and learning in Eugene, Oregon in the late 1970s, it was my mission and that of my close friends to see just about anything and everything that came to town. When I moved to Los Angeles in 1987, six years after I graduated from the University of Oregon, I quickly realized that this mission had become an impossible one-- there was suddenly, instead of five or six theaters and a few drive-ins, hundreds of theaters showing far too much for any one person to ever see in toto-- and the last 20 years has been a long tapering off of that ridiculous standard that I set in my giddy, carefree youth. I ended up seeing a lot of movies in the course of my work as a closed caption and subtitle editor, which I will have been at for 20 years this June, and I still do. But ever since my daughters were born, in 2000 and 2002, there has been less and less time to see movies, either on DVD or in a theater. Nowadays over the course of one month, in addition to the ones I see at work (maybe five or six), I'll see maybe 10-12 on DVD and perhaps two or three on the big screen. I have to be much pickier than ever before about what movies I see theatrically, which makes me even more appreciative of all the good information available from the network of smart bloggers that I read and have become acquainted with regarding which ones to schedule in stone and which ones might be well-advised to pass over.'

BUMPIN' CHAPPELLE: '
As someone who has only the mildest tolerance for hip-hop, I ended up dutifully staying for Dave Chappelle’s Block Party when it unspooled as the late-night second feature at a drive-in last spring. I’ve never been so happy to be surprised and disarmed by a movie, and the music featured within it, as I was by seeing this one. I cranked my car stereo system up to 11 and the movie ended up on my year-end best list for 2006.'

BACK TO SCHOOL: '
It wasn’t central to my decision to pursue a career as a teacher (a career path upon which I am just now embarking), but seeing Nicholas Philibert’s �tre et avoir (To Be and to Have) a couple of years ago helped to rekindle a dormant interest I had in teaching that has now fully reawakened. I want to see this movie again very soon.'

DR. BROWN ON LINE ONE: 'Being of the generation that I am, I would find it almost impossible to resist the opportunity to be transported back to the opening nights, when no one really knew what to expect, of Psycho and The Exorcist. Imagine being the first to be completely gutted by Janet Leigh’s death 50 minutes into Hitchcock’s picture, or trying to refuse the impulse to run away from seeing Linda Blair (and Mercedes McCambridge) do and say things more horrible than you’d ever imagined, let alone thought could ever be portrayed in a movie. I’m assuming, of course, that your question implies an erasure of all of my own awareness of the movies as well, so I could experience the fear of something new, of a new fault line forming in the history of horror movies, along with their original terrified audiences. '

ONE FOR THE BOYS: 'Bad movies can be fun, but they can also get tiresome. However, bad movies that transcend their innate awfulness and become, over time, movies that we actually like because of their deficiencies, well, that seems to me another matter. The premier movie in my experience that went from bottom-of-the-barrel bad to, through repeated pay cable (and video, laserdisc and DVD) screenings, is Franklin Schaffner’s The Boys from Brazil. There are pleasures worthy of guilt in just about any genre you can name, and some, like The Boys from Brazil, are prime examples of strange genre subsets all their own—what other movie so clumsily and without conscience warps historical and political tragedy into the rich narrative manure of pulp science fiction and cheap suspense? James Mason minces about in a fedora and scarf as a Nazi commandant coordinating the post-war cloning experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele (an ossified, shellacked Gregory Peck), while impish Nazi hunter Ezra Lieberman (an Oscar-nominated Laurence Olivier) tracks him down. This is a Sir Lew Grade international prestige production, where all English seems phonetic and overdubbed, so nobody has much of a chance of coming off looking good. But the one who comes off worst is little Jeremy Black, hired to portray at least four of the boys from Brazil, the little Hitler clones who would, if Mengele’s darkest machinations were to see light, each repeat the circumstances of the dictator’s youth and similarly flower into the charismatic power of his tyrannical adulthood. The Internet Movie Database assures me that this is the only time Black’s talents were ever put to use on film, and connoisseurs of Wretched Performances, Youth Division ought to mourn this particularly cruel turn of cinematic fate and regularly revisit his one lasting piece of acting fury. His may be the most astonishingly witless and thoughtlessly unshepherded performance by a child actor in the history of movies. Black’s nasally congested rejoinder to Mengele’s climactic delineation of the nefarious genetic goings-on into which he is inexorably entwined—“Oh, man you’re weird”—is a hallmark of the involuntarily deadpan, and the only sane response to someone who loves this movie as much as I do. When my friends and I saw The Boys from Brazil on its opening weekend, we couldn’t believe it was as bad as it was. Now, all these years later, I’m eternally grateful it was as bad as it was, because it has, for me, become a completely unique creation unto itself, a production whose badness is inseparable from its goodness, whose pleasures would be nonexistent if everyone had done good, solidly crafted, by-the-numbers work. (The one who did, composer Jerry Goldsmith, created a genuinely memorable score.) The Boys from Brazil certainly looks by-the-numbers. But underneath its internationally pedigreed armor beats the heart of a movie that might have been designed and made by authentically unhinged talent. It’s probably the silliest movie on the resume of almost everyone involved in it (well, everyone except Steve Guttenberg), but it has a place in my heart as one of my favorite movies, for every reason, good and bad, that comes spilling off the screen.'

BETTER DAYS: 'On the worst day of my life, date and day and year of which are etched clearly in my mind and forever will be, no movie could have consoled me or taken me away to a place where my concerns could take a back seat to those of the characters on screen. But on everyday bad days before and since (days which are all much less bad than that one was), I yearn to laugh, so either Horsefeathers, 1941 or Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life will fill the bill. Recently, at the end of a very stressful week, I looked at the outtakes on the Borat DVD and felt the pressure virtually melt away. Great comedy should never be undervalued, even though is so often is.'

Contact DVD Panache if you are interested in contributing to Friday Screen Test.

4 comments:

Damian said...

And here I thought I was the only one who liked (or even remembered) The Boys From Brazil! Nice to know I'm not alone! Thanks you, Dennis! Keep fighting the good fight!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Right back at ya, Damian! For the longest time I thought the good fight was in trying to FORGET that movie, but through circumstances and everything else it simply wouldn't go away. I feel I had no choice but to submit!

Adam, thanks so much for the invite to participate in this terrific series you've got going here. And such kind things to say about SLIFR too. I really appreciate your encouragement and your readership, and my wife loved the phrase "prodigious word counts"! All good things to you, sir! Oh, and I am unfamiliar with Cienmagic, but don't think I won't go and investigate it right now!

Dennis Cozzalio said...

You're probably unfamiliar with Cienmagic too, but certainly not Cinemagic. Stupdi figners...

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