Friday, July 14, 2006

Camera Obscura - Making Movie Memories

Movies are as much about You as they are about what's on the screen, they way we first saw a movie dictates our memory of it, or perhaps who was with us when we watched. A simple for instance - I saw the dubious "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" while in vacation in Florida in 1977, and the eerie poster of an nameless and unlit roadway disappearing into the distance was much like driving on I-75 in Tennessee and Georgia in the wee hours of the night as our family made the trek to the Fabled Florida. The theatre I saw that movie in was also the same theatre I watched "Saturday Night Fever" in a day or two later. So those movies are oddly linked in my Watcher's Mind.

A journey of movie memory and movie magic, of odd connections and into Hollywood's past and present are expertly captured and expressed in the book "Comfort and Joi" by writer Joseph Dougherty. The book, subtitled I Spent A Weekend With A Hollywood Starlet, examines the career of actress Joi Lansing and the memories of the Narrator in a weekend of remembrance.

I knew Joi, though it wasn't until I read the book that I realized I knew her. She is there in the shadows in the most talked-about and longest single-tracking shot in a movie, "A Touch of Evil" by Orson Welles. She is a passenger in the car which the audience, but not her, sees a bomb being placed, the car driving through ill-lit streets to the border with Mexico. Her lines "I hear this ticking!" are barely spoken before the car explodes offscreen and Joi disappears from the movie.

She was also there in the deeply strange and odd "Queen of Outer Space", but her lengthy movie career starts in an uncredited part in "Singin' In The Rain" and ends in the 1970 movie "Bigfoot", with many TV stops along the way, including playing the wife of Lester Flatt in several episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies" and was even famous enough to appear as herself in the "I Love Lucy" series.

To say Dougherty's book is exhaustive is an understatement, but it's also a quick and fast read thru Hollywood history. Dougherty is a producer/writer/director and actor with credits from "thirtysomething" and "Judging Amy".

His book, he says follows his "low-grade obsession" and "obsessions sneak up on you, like snowdrifts." Not exactly a star, though certainly a witness to Hollywood history - from MGM to the Rat Pack to the Nashville adventures of "Hillbillys In A Haunted House."

I highly recommend the book. The official web site is here, and you can order the book directly here. A movie fan will utterly identify with the Narrator's weekend survey of his movie soul. My thanks to Joe for sending me a copy - be sure to get one for yourself!

A gritty and broken future battle between Good and Evil based on a science-fiction/fantasy trilogy by Russian writer Sergei Lukyanenko, "Night Watch" is also the first of three movies, the second is nearing release and the third film will be shot in English rather than Russian. Think "Harry Potter" in the Third World and you'll be close to tone of this movie which shattered box-office records in Russia.

A decidedly low-tech "Matrix" of magic and vampirism, the movie is frenetic and at times nearly incomprehensible. Too Hollywood said some, too weird say others. I found myself needing subtitles for the dubbed version -- however I was never bored. It's nothing like the contemplative science fiction films by Andrei Tarkosvky like "Stalker" and "Solaris".

The superhuman "others" of the Good side are the Night Watch and the Evil others are the Day Watch. Oh and there are vampires and shapeshifters and a Potter-ish Owl-Lady. The world is jagged and broken and locked into this conflict, a perspective on modern day Russia, yes. As a movie -- from the Vaderish Father Syndrome and The Other Who Will Tip The Balance -- much of this is very familiar as a story -- the visuals, however, are striking and compelling and I'll follow it to the sequel before I can say whether or not the Trilogy is worth the effort.

Quick Takes
"A Scanner Darkly" is in Knoxville at the Downtown West -- sorry AT. It may run two weeks at best, one at worst.

"True Blood" comes to HBO, the new series from "Six Feet Under" creator Alan Ball and based on Charlaine Harris' novels of vampires in Louisiana. (Hat tip to Reel Fanatic for this info.) Alan Ball says in a BBC interview:

..the vampires "decide to make their presence known, hire PR firms, and sort of ... come out of the coffin. A lot of churches are horribly against them, but they are very wealthy, and contribute a lot of money to Republican politicians so that they can legitimise their holdings." He had fun with subtexts: "Vampires are a great metaphor for minority groups that struggle for rights and recognition, but also for Republicans, in that theyƂ’re vicious and bloodthirsty and will destroy anything that gets in their way."

Sounds like I'm keeping HBO.

On Wednesday of this week I watched the first of four weeks of Stephen King's "Nightmares and Dreamscapes" on TNT. It was fantastic stuff, worthy of comparison to classic "Twilight Zone." Especially the first entry, "Battleground."

It was a wordless script - though there were some commando howls - as a cool and efficient hitman (William Hurt) becomes the victim of a special delivery of a foot locker full of toy green Army men who blast their way through his calm and his apartment to exact revenge for killing a toy company CEO. This was simply brilliant on every level. (plus it had that reference to the little doll from the original "Trilogy of Terror" TV movie by Richard Matheson since his boy scripted "Battleground.") I am eager to see the next Wednesday night installment of two episodes (and "Trilogy of Terror" hits DVD this week).

For the most and best roundup of everything on the horror movie market, it's hard to beat DVD Stalk for accounts of the new, the ancient and the just plain cheesy and bad movies in stores or theatres near you.

Next week a special report on "The Garden" and the other horror releases from Anchor Bay.

Go make some movie memories until then. I will.


  1. Well, shit. Here I was fantasizing that I might finally be able to get rid of HBO now that Deadwood is in its final season and the final season of The Sopranos is coming up next year. Oh, but then there's the new season of The Wire this fall, too. And I really do like Entourage. Shit.


  2. hey, Tits - it also helps somtimes to look at the sky overhead and yell out really loud:

  3. Dude. Every day. I do that every day.

  4. heh heh. it's fun, isn't it?