Saturday, October 25, 2008


He came home 30 years ago today

By Edward Copeland
The credits perfectly set the mood. A black screen with just a creepy jack-o-lantern, lit by candle from inside, as the camera moves in tighter and tighter, accompanied by John Carpenter's brilliant and memorable score. Halloween turns 30 years old today and though it spawned countless awful imitators and its own terrible sequels, the original remains great and unsurpassed in the slasher genre.

Looking at Halloween again, it's amazing how little blood it displays. Only four murders occur on screen and one of those is in the 1963 prologue, with its shocking dénouement that reveals the slasher as a 6-year-old boy.

Carpenter's film follows fairly standard cinematic rules, emphasizing voyeurism much as Hitchcock and others did. He also creates suspense from the simplest things such as blowing laundry, ringing phones. For me, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis separates Halloween and even most of its awful sequels from dreck such as the Friday the 13th series. That way you not only have the same bad guy in Michael Myers but the same person dedicated to trying to stop him. As Loomis tells the Haddonfield sheriff about Michael, he spent eight years trying to reach Myers and then the next seven trying to keep him locked up. Jamie Lee Curtis, with her fine genetic history as Janet Leigh's daughter, remains a solid presence as the principal baby sitter who becomes one of Myers' targets. Carpenter also includes bits of dry humor, such as the little girl who seems to do nothing but stare at the horror films on the TV. (Is she a Myers in the making?) Then we also get to see Loomis having perhaps a bit too much fun scaring kids away from Michael's old house.

One of my favorite oddball moments comes from the quizzical way Myers cocks his head back and forth like a dog after he impales a teen on a kitchen door. Of course, you still have to wonder why a killing machine wastes so much time setting up bodies so they can spring out and be discovered or why — after Myers hasn't died after about the third time Curtis thought he was dead — she didn't think to try to dismember him by hacking his head off with that butcher knife. Still, who cares? Halloween remains one of the best horror films ever made and did I mention that John Carpenter score?

Labels: , , , ,


Thursday, October 23, 2008


Indignation by Philip Roth

By Edward Copeland
Philip Roth was born in 1933 and his first novel-length fiction, Goodbye Columbus, was published in 1959. Nearly 50 years since its publication, Roth continues to be one of America's most prolific and greatest novelists and as evidenced by his latest work, Indignation, neither his output nor his talent shows any sign of slowing down.

What's even more amazing than Roth's output is that he doesn't seem to repeat himself. Indignation is basically the first person 1950s coming-of-age tale of one Marcus Messner, navigating the path from child to adulthood and fleeing the nest as his father grows more unbearable to attend his second year of college at a formerly religious school in Winesburg, Ohio, far from his Jersey environs.

However, the story is more complicated than that: About one-fourth of the way through the novel, Roth reveals that Marcus is telling his tale from the afterlife, where one's life passes in front of you for eternity.

Even removing that aspect and the time-specific setting though, people of all ages will recognize what Marcus is going through, that time when all sorts of oats must be sowed, when principles must be tested, even when they come at a cost.

The cast of characters populating the 1950s college campus will probably be familiar to anyone who has gone to college at any time.

What's also new about Indignation when compared with other Roth works is an underlying sweetness. This isn't the vulgar comedy of a Portnoy's Complaint, it's a short, taut and touching tale.

Labels: , ,


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Let them write the history, let the pilot fly the plane

By Edward Copeland
After some fellow fliers mocked Gus Grissom (Fred Ward) following his landing mishap, test pilot extraordinaire Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) silences them by saying, "It takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially when it's on TV." It takes a special kind of filmmaker to make a film as great as The Right Stuff, even if Philip Kaufman never has come close to equaling it again 25 years later.

It seems as if too many films these days are too long which makes it all the more amazing to re-watch The Right Stuff and feel how fleetly its 3-hour-plus running time flies by. It's a remarkable feat that its pacing holds up so well for someone pushing 40 and watching it on DVD from a bed as it did when he was 14 and saw it in a theater.

Part of this can be attributed to Kaufman's approach to the material. In an extra on the DVD, Kaufman says he attempted to adapt Tom Wolfe's stylized nonfiction book with a similarly stylized film (going so far as to hire an acrobatic comedy troupe as the slapsticky press corps). It's easy to forget what a cast the movie has, especially if it's been awhile since you've seen it. Fans of Robert Altman's Tanner '88 will enjoy seeing Pamela Reed and Veronica Cartwright interact as astronauts' wives years before their work in the great HBO series. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum provisws fun comic relief as NASA recruiters. It's difficult to forget Donald Moffat's LBJ, shaking his limo in anger because John Glenn's wife won't cave to his PR desires. "Isn't there anyone that can deal with a housewife?" LBJ shouts in frustration. Of course, there are the movie's version of the Mercury astronauts and pilots themselves. I'd forgotten Lance Henriksen played Wally Schirra, though he has few lines. Ed Harris works wonders as John Glenn, seemingly imbued with a light and decency seldom seen in Harris' subsequent roles. Dennis Quaid oozes charm as Gordo Cooper and Scott Glenn lends a solid presence as Alan Shepard.

Watching The Right Stuff now, you can't help but compare it to Apollo 13. Ron Howard's fine film thatlacks so much depth when compared to Kaufman's movie. The astronauts of The Right Stuff ccertainly come off as heroic, but they're also multidimensional — human and flawed, prone to hard drinking and hard living. You also get a sense of the manipulation and politics surrounding the Mercury program that's completely absent from Howard's film. One thing both films do have in common is the amazing ability to create suspense out of real-life events whose resolution the viewer already knows. Both films also amaze when you think that we were ever able to get into space with the technology available at the time.

However, of all the great aspects of The Right Stuff, to me the real star remains cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Deschanel belongs on the short list of great directors of photography, yet amazingly he doesn't have an Oscar despite five nominations (in addition to The Right Stuff, he earned nods for The Natural, Fly Away Home, The Patriot and The Passion of the Christ. Other credits include Being There, The Black Stallion and the forthcoming Abraham Lincoln Vampire Killer as well as directing the films The Escape Artist, Crusoe and several episodes of Twin Peaks). Deschanel should have won here, though it's hard to argue with Sven Nykvist's win for Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Sunday, October 19, 2008


We interrupt this blog for political rambling

By Edward Copeland
You all have been warned, so read no further if you are prone to get mad with political talk that you might not agree with. Besides, the impetus for this post is more about my own sadness about having to break with a friend, not because he's for McCain and I'm for Obama, but because his change saddens and frightens me.

He unleashed a rant that was unbearably close to some of the wackos at the McCain and Palin rallies who would shout "Terrorist" or "Kill him" about Obama when my friend expressed anger at McCain for daring to show respect for Obama and say nice things about him. He felt it amounted to a McCain endorsement of Obama by calling him decent and telling one of his supporters he had no reason to be scared of an Obama presidency, a comment that got McCain booed by his own crowd. My own friend wants McCain "to tear (Obama's) head off" with extraneous attacks such as Bill Ayers, even though all evidence shows that the tactic is working against McCain. While the McCain did tone done their act a little (no more "palling around with terrorists") they continue to use the line of attack through robocalls and mailings. When Colin Powell endorsed Obama today, he cited the negative tone of the GOP and the campaign as one of the major reasons.
"You know, I've spent my entire lifetime separating the Right from the kooks."
William F. Buckley Jr.

The late Buckley, one of the patron saints of the modern conservative movement and founder of the conservative bible National Review, said the preceding quote to his son Christopher, who recently gave up his column in his father's magazine after the angry response to his endorsement of Obama. Another conservative columnist, Kathleen Parker, who suggested that Palin was hurting McCain's chances was deluged with angry missives suggesting that her mother should have aborted her -- and this is from the pro-life party. Political discourse in this country has grown completely out of hand, but I never expected my good friend of more than two decades to turn against intellectualism.

As I said before, I wouldn't care if he was for McCain, what disturbs me is that he sounds like the loons who think Obama is a Muslim terrorist worthy of death, even when McCain's own polls show that it is a losing strategy for him. As a conservative/libertarian friend of mine backing Obama said, my former friend should try to be "more conservative and less Republican." This is a man who used to pursue all sorts of philosophies and ideas: Now he believes the Swift Boaters were right. I've literally cried wondering what happened to the guy I used to know. Now, while he swears by the right wing, he disdains the conservatives who come to their conclusions through a thought process. I seldom agree with George Will, but I respect him because you usually can tell how he reached his conclusion, even if you disagreed. In a way, it reminds me of Pauline Kael. She's my favorite film critic even though I seldom agreed with her but I loved her writing and could see how she got there. David Brooks, another conservative my friend dislikes, recently wrote about what he's seen happen to his party.
"Modern conservatism began as a movement of dissident intellectuals. ... Driven by a need to engage elite opinion, conservatives tried to build an intellectual counterestablishment with think tanks and magazines. They disdained the ideas of the liberal professoriate, but they did not disdain the idea of a cultivated mind. ... But over the past few decades, the Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts. ... Over the past 15 years, the same argument has been heard from a thousand politicians and a hundred television and talk-radio jocks. The nation is divided between the wholesome Joe Sixpacks in the heartland and the oversophisticated, overeducated, oversecularized denizens of the coasts. What had been a disdain for liberal intellectuals slipped into a disdain for the educated class as a whole. The liberals had coastal condescension, so the conservatives developed their own anti-elitism, with mirror-image categories and mirror-image resentments, but with the same corrosive effect."

Now, it is entirely possible that I overreacted but as I alluded to in an earlier post, the past five months for me have not been good ones. It's hard to write about this because it's so personal and there is no way for it to not sound like I'm just feeling sorry for myself. I have been essentially bedridden since May, first in hospitals, at home since the end of August. This post alone took me more than a week to write because I can't sit up that long without getting worn out. I've caught up with many movies on DVD, but I haven't had the energy or inspiration to write about them. I'm depressed and why the hell shouldn't I be? I'm dependent on my aging parents to care for me (and when they're gone, I'm shit out of luck) and few of my friends bother to call me and even fewer come by to see me. I don't blame them. I wouldn't see me either if I could help it. I can't even pet my dog. So now I've dumped one of the few people who did call me sometimes because my misery and pain were too much to be able to tolerate his growing madness, madness which can only get worse if Obama wins. I miss my friend, but he's vanished from existence.



Monday, October 06, 2008


Centennial Tributes: Carole Lombard

By Josh R
So well-enshrined is Carole Lombard’s reputation as one of the funniest women ever to appear in films that it is easy to forget she was also one of the most beautiful. With vaulted cheekbones made for catching shadows, pencil-thin eyebrows and shimmering white-blonde hair, she photographed as divinely as either Garbo or Dietrich – in publicity stills, she was every inch the goddess.

It is yet another example of the great and delicious paradox of human genetics (or, if you prefer, testament to the notion that The Almighty is not without sense of humor) that such pristine features should be assigned to someone with the freewheeling, improprietous imagination of a hyperactive class clown, born to exasperate the teacher and foster a spirit of anarchy in the schoolroom. In spite of Hollywood’s drab insistence that external appearance reflect character and personality, as if by some cosmic prank a dirty-minded satyr had wound up with the face of an angel. Lombard was never insensible to the ridiculousness of the situation, and in film after film, she ran with it. If the whacked-out universe of screwball comedy was the domain in which she felt most herself, what else was there to do but treat her beauty as the ultimate joke? It was almost as funny, if just as improbable, that such a rare bird would be given so prosaic a birth name as Jane Alice Peters.

The general axiom in show business has always been that broad physical comedy — making faces, taking pratfalls, etc. — is the province of those who can’t get by on looks alone. The Bert Lahrs, Fanny Brices and Carol Burnetts go in for exaggerated characterization, accompanied by a lot of mugging, because that’s their way into an audience’s heart. If they were knockouts, all they’d have to do is stand there and look gorgeous — simply put, if you have the looks, you don’t have to sweat. If that was really ever the case, then Carole Lombard never got the brief — and even if she had, she may well have crumpled it up and tossed it in the trash before the message had had the chance to make a dent in her consciousness. Other comediennes of the 1930s could be just as funny, but never with the same degree of unflagging manic energy or off-the-wall outrageousness as the woman dubbed The Daffy Duse of Comedy. Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Rosalind Russell and Jean Arthur played similar roles, but they did it without bouncing off the furniture, squawking and squealing like deranged pigeons fighting over breadcrumbs, or generally carrying on like they’d just been sprung from the nuthouse. Pauline Kael summed up the singular performance style of Lombard best: “She threw herself into her scenes in a much more physical sense than the other women did, and her all-outness seemed spontaneously giddy. It was easy to believe that a woman who moved like that and screamed and hollered with such abandon was a natural, uninhibited cutup — naturally high-spirited.”

The riddle of Lombard’s onscreen persona — exactly how such a pretty girl could comport herself with such unbridled lack of decorum — only begins to make sense when you take into account who she was when the cameras stopped rolling. As both an actress and an individual, Lombard was blissfully unencumbered by anything ressembling a filter. She pretty much said and did whatever sprang to mind, without stopping to consider whether or not it was proper, polite or even within the bounds of good taste. The most famous quote ever attributed to her is nothing she ever said on onscreen, but a rather a comment she made about her second husband, Clark Gable: “My God, you know I love Pappy, but I can’t say he’s a hell of a lay.” Her on-set antics were as infamous as they were novel. When Fredric March began making aggressive advances towards her on the set of Nothing Sacred, she dealt with the situation by drawing him into her dressing room for a what he presumed would be a moment of passion. The actor stormed out a minute later with a stricken look of shock upon his face, after his co-star had lifted up her skirts to reveal a prosthetic appendage obtained from a novelty store of questionable reputation (the prop was, in every respect, at odds with the gender of the person wearing it). Her lack of tact reverberated in ways probably never even intended, and laid the groundwork for at least one of Hollywood’s great inside jokes. The actress’ most significant contribution to history of motion pictures came by virtue of a film in which she never even appeared, nor was in any way directly involved with; it was she who spilled the beans to Orson Welles about William Randolph Hearst’s pet name for a certain part of his lady love Marion Davies’ anatomy — “Rosebud.”

As entertaining as the lore surrounding Lombard’s private life is, it doesn’t match the value of her public works — namely, what she accomplished onscreen. She probably appeared in more great comedies of the era than anyone save for Cary Grant, and her best films haven’t lost a fraction of their appeal with the passage of time. I fully intended to revisit some her best-known flicks before writing this piece — unfortunately, an unyielding schedule has prevented me from doing so (when my ship comes in, I’ll cease to work and watch movies all day). Still, there are moments which stand out with such immediate clarity they require no reinforcement: on her back in silk pajamas, flailing her legs in the air to fend off a wild-eyed John Barrymore in Twentieth Century; explaining the pointlessness of scavenger hunts to William Powell in breathless, stream-of-consciousness fashion in My Man Godfrey; being repeatedly pushed down onto her deathbed in Nothing Sacred and popping up each time like a red-faced jack-in-the-box; feigning ecstasy after locking lips with a Nazi in To Be or Not to Be and offering up a ridiculously rhapsodic fascist salute in tribute to his kissing skills. There were other, lesser comedies in which she was just as delightful — particularly Hitchcock’s Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Leisen’s Hands Across the Table — while a handful of dramas did manage to catch some of her spark. Serious, straight-forward roles failed to engage her impudent sense of mischief; before finding her calling in farce, she more often than not seemed bored by the earnest ingenue or suffering lady roles she was required to play. It’s worth noting that, as a great beauty, she wasn’t really allowed to be funny for several years after she’d already achieved stardom; after so many bland roles in so many bland films, she was probably given to wonder why she’d been cursed with so striking a countenance. Her prettiness became the punchline once she’d figured out exactly what her true gifts were, and where they could be best applied.

It is one of the sadder ironies in Hollywood history that so celebrated a comedienne should meet with an end so tragic in nature — Carole Lombard died in a plane crash during a war bond tour a few months shy of her 35th birthday. She left behind a devestated Gable and legions of grief-stricken fans, none of who seemed able to comprehend how so mirthful a presence could be taken away in seemingly so cruel a fashion. For those who loved her — and those who love her work — her legacy of laughter and high spirits remains undiminished by the circumstances surrounding her death. Lombard’s genius lay in the fact that she never set limits for herself, or sought to put a cap on the mayhem she so enjoyed being at the center of; she seemed only too happy to go off the deep end when something struck her as being as funny. That fearlessness, along with the peerless ingenuity with which she was able to wring laughs from even the flimsiest of setups, provide an infinite source of pleasure to anyone and everyone who has or will sample her work. Ultimately, it was her talent that was the true thing of beauty.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Follow edcopeland on Twitter

 Subscribe in a reader