Friday, June 01, 2007

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Johanna Custer

At once a personal journal and a deep look into film, Johanna Custer has made the lone revue into one of those rare blogs where it seems like she's conducting a conversation with the person reading it. Johanna recently concluded a hugely successful project of looking at seven different films (and seven distinct themes) through the aid of the book Film Art. Johanna managed to keep the seven films widely varied (Badlands, My Favorite Wife and Modern Times, to name a few) and the posts themselves hugely informative and interesting. Johanna also keeps us abreast on her professional film life, which has taken her to Greece and Montana recently. She also finds time to give us her own take on some of the classics, notably Gone With the Wind, Double Indemnity and 8 1/2.

LET IT OUT: 'Sometimes I think it's more embarrassing to pretend that a movie isn't making me cry when it is, so I've stopped trying to hide that. I've felt a lot better about that sort of thing since I just decided to let it go. I guess there was something about being manipulated that hurt my pride, but sometimes crying during a flick has nothing to do with the filmmakers' intent, but rather the life you've led and I try to keep that in mind when I'm not watching a movie alone.'

BETTER THAN FOOD: 'I only buy two kinds of movies: the kind that I won't mind selling back to my local used exchange and those that I wouldn't like to sell even if I hadn't eaten for three days. With the former, it has to be something I really enjoyed as a kid or something that I know from reviews that I should at least see once but can then part with relatively easily. With the latter, it has to be an absolute timeless piece of spiritual craft. Andrei Rublev or Mouchette. It also helps if it can be watched over and over again, either because it can be studied ad nauseum without getting old or because it's absolutely, charmingly addictive like Before Sunrise and Before Sunset are. Also, if I have a bit of spare change, an old Tom Baker Dr. Who never hurt anybody.'

UNCLEAN. UNSHAVEN.: 'I have this thing for About Schmidt and pretty much every movie that has a male everyman character who is just this total slob of a man, lost and unable to connect with anything around him. when I'm bummed and I feel like looking for something that's on my emotional level at the moment I pop in a movie like that. Bill Murray movies tend to be good for that too, as do Wes Anderson flicks. When I was younger and channeled my emotions more physically, I think I would have responded with something sillier, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Life of Brian or Army of Darkness.'

... AND SLAVE DUDES, TOO: 'The fight scene between Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus both raises goose flesh and makes me cry, too, incidentally. I have yet to really sit down with it and figure out why, but I probably should one of these days. Also, several romances leave me exhilarated.'

WISEMEN LIKE BOB DYLAN AND CHRISTIAN SLATER ONCE SAID: 'If I do pick up a quote these days, it doesn't stay with me for more than a couple of weeks. I tend to value wisdom over comedy, but there are a few quotes that have little to do with movies that use both that will always stay with me, and that require more careful usage. If you pull them out too frequently, they lose impact. Bob Dylan's "... you can fool some of them people some of the time ... but you can't fool all of the people all of the time ..." speech is one such instance. When I was in my late teens, though, I seem to remember over-using many a Heathers quote. It was just part of the survival gear at my high school, as I'm sure it was for many others.'

FIENDISH FILM LOVER: 'Every once in a while I'll get so busy that the idea of watching a film or even reading a book is ludicrous. I couldn't concentrate on it if I tried, you know? And I really treasure times like those, which can last for a couple of months or longer. If I spend all of my time watching the steady, never-ending stream of films that is my Netflix queue there's be no intervals of any kind -- no rests, no changes, no time for reflection. When I do watch films, I'm a fiend. If I really love a film I'll watch it two or three times back-to-back just to test its watchability ... I did that with City Lights the first time I saw it. Conversely, I do that with films I don't like so much at first. Many a Fellini film has had to undergo a few brisk repeats before I finally started to see something I could really glom onto. Amacord and 8 1/2 were definitely not easy first watches for me.'

NO SHOWING AT LONE REVUE CINEMA: 'I would dig up the forgotten women filmmakers of the Nouvelle Vague, and those that the movement influenced elsewhere, like Vera Chytilova, and try and recreate what happened there. I like the French filmmakers in general and especially love and esteem Truffaut, but I don't understand why it is that Agnes Varda and other later women filmmakers who were essentially Nouvelle Vague apprentices paid their dues only to be all but completely forgotten and not dealt their share of the limelight. So I would plan the week to sort of proportionally represent the creative evolution that was the Nouvelle Vague, and allow people to get a better sense of the history of that particular era.'

'CELEBRITIES' ARE PEOPLE TOO: 'I was once in the Squirrel Hill Blockbuster that isn't there anymore and Sinbad came in to take a break with his kid while shooting House Guest. I had my kid brother with me, all of perhaps 11, and he's always been quite the gregarious little urchin, so he goes up to Sinbad and introduces himself, shakes his hand and all of that and asks him to sign something. The poor thing had spent the entire day camped out in Oakland just trying to get to be an extra on his set, but to no avail. So Sinbad signs it, but the whole time he's cursing under his breath that all he wanted to do was get away with his kid for a little while, you know, and not even looking my brother in the face. I just remember thinking that a guy who made such stupid films could use a lesson in manners.'

DO THE RIGHT THING: 'The first film I walked out on was The Bodyguard. You might ask what the hell I was doing going to see that in the theatre in the first place, but the truth is I don't remember. I just remember the feeling of triumph that I not only had chosen to exercise my right to NOT watch a film I had paid for but to find something better to do so that I didn't waste the rest of my time with the date complaining about what an awful piece of crap the movie we had picked had turned out to be. Later on, I remember feeling more relief than triumph when I walked out on Reindeer Games in the middle of Gary Sinise's somewhat psychotic rant. It was a good call. And it's probably no mistake that all of the films I've ever walked out on weren't my choice of film to see in the first place; likewise, I've also been to a few with larger groups of people that I would've loved to have walked out on, but it would've meant making too much commotion. Troy was one of those.'

THANKS, DAD: 'My family didn't get a VCR until 1988, so that opened up a whole new world living in the small backwater that we did. My Dad started loading us up on all the films that he had loved (or ones based on books he had loved) that he thought we would love or at least thought we should watch. I was about 12 and we just blitzed through all kinds of films the existence of which I had never thought possible, like A Clockwork Orange, Dune and old martial arts films like Enter the Dragon. I learned quickly what I did and didn't like but I kept an open mind that has kept me in good stead for the most part. That was the year that I discovered Aliens and I developed a deep and abiding love of the first two films in that set that's fairly unshakable. That was also the year that PBS, which was one of about 4 channels we got using our old rotator for the rooftop antenna, started showing classic cinema like Casablanca, Citizen Kane and every Hitchcock film that it could on Saturday afternoons. I pretty much haven't been the same since I saw The Birds. Caw .... caw.'

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

6 comments:

johanna said...

...And Slave Dudes, Too

If I decide to change my blog name later on, I may just grab that as my avatar : )

Thanks, Adam, for working your magic.

Adam Ross said...

Glad to help ;)

I love your Sinbad story. I think it's safe to say that Sinbad would probably kill for someone -- anyone -- to ask for his autograph nowadays.

johanna said...

Lol. Probably very safe to assume.

I had such aspirations once to comb the net looking for indie filmmakers for that project I was thinking about, but at some point just got too bogged down with work. Go figure.

But I still think it's a good idea.

Do you mind if I ask where and how you get the mainstay of your interviewees? I mean, do you rely mostly upon people to contact you directly? (It sounded like you do from a comment a couple pages back, but I wasn't sure.)

Adam Ross said...

It's an unscientific process. I try to stay a month ahead and send out a few batches of invitations every month or so. It's no sweat for me -- I used to write for a dead beat small town weekly where I had to make a 350 word story about a random local person every week, and they usually had nothing interesting to say -- so something like this comes easy.

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