“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975) dir. Jim Sharman, scr. Richard O’Brien and Jim Sharman

It’s Halloween time and I guess it’s now appropriate to talk about “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the most famous “Midnight Movie” of all-time.  The term “Midnight Movie” will likely be alien to anyone born after 1975 or so, but in the days before cable TV, VCRs, DVD players, Blu-Ray, streaming, etc. … most people could only see movies in actual movie theaters.  And many theaters would host special midnight screenings of certain films that weren’t playing during the daylight or early evening hours because the special nature of such films would bring out a certain crowd of (mainly young) night owls looking for fun on a Friday and Saturday night.  These films were often ones that would not appeal to either older adults or young kids … they were aimed at teenagers and hip young adults.

“Rocky Horror” may not have been the first “Midnight Movie” blockbuster, but it was the most famous.  It was a film adaptation of a very popular British rock musical from the early 1970s called “The Rocky Horror Show.”  A Broadway adaptation in the mid-1970s flopped, but a version staged in Los Angeles at Lou Adler’s Roxy Theater was a big success.  Based on the popularity of the LA version, Adler convinced 20th Century Fox to pony up for a film adaptation.  With the exception of LA, the film flopped just as badly as the original Broadway version.  But … something curious started happening in New York City.  The film was booked into some midnight screenings in NYC after its main theatrical run and a small, but devoted group of fans started coming to screenings every week.  They became so familiar with the film that they started having fun with it … talking back to the screen, dancing in the aisles during the frequent musical numbers, and ultimately, dressing up like the characters.  Word started to spread about this phenomenon and more people started to attend screenings not just in NYC … but in every major city in North America.  Soon, 20th Century Fox had a major hit on their hands.  Over the past 40 years, the film has grossed … adjusted for inflation … the equivalent of $447 million, according to Box Office Mojo, making it the 73rd most popular film of all-time, behind “Lawrence of Arabia” and … ironically … before “Rocky.”

I finally saw “Rocky Horror” in the fall of 1985 at the Naro Expanded Cinema in Norfolk, Virginia, a terrific venue for seeing the film because unlike other theaters in the area, they let people throw rice, shoot water pistols, dance in the aisles, etc.  The only rule is that no one could throw anything at the screen, but otherwise … anything went.  The experience was a blast and I wound up going back at least 4 more times, including a very memorable Halloween screening in 1987 where … I kid you not … a black man wearing a full Ku Klux Klan outfit strutted to the front of the theater … which had everyone convulsing in hysterics.

As fun as those screenings were … it was a screening a few months later that ended the fun for me.  In retrospect, it was a stupid thing to get sour about, but it was an event that put a damper on my enjoyment for many years.  As I was shouting things at the screen with the rest of the audience, some “Rocky Horror” “fan” in the other aisle started loudly criticizing me for what I was shouting out.  I guess I was saying things that were no longer “cool” at a “Rocky Horror” screening because … well … my life didn’t revolve around the film as much as it did for this person.  And it was at this moment that I thought “I may not be cool … but I’m much cooler that this nerd” and that, my friends, was that.  I never attended another screening and it was years before I watched it again on video because I held the film and its “cult” audience in contempt for being as elitist as the people they escaped from every Friday and Saturday night to have some fun. I later realized that I was letting one fascist geek ruin a genuinely fun event and I warmed to the film again when I picked up a Special Edition DVD at Target for a ridiculously low $5.

My feelings about the film today?  It’s not a great film, by any means.  There’s many rock musicals that are much better, specifically the gender-bending rock art films “Velvet Goldmine” and “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.”  Yet as much as “Goldmine” and “Hedwig” are better films than “Rocky Horror,” they aren’t nearly as much fun.   “Rocky Horror” is still playing midnight screenings in the US and while I don’t know what’s allowed and what’s not at such screenings these days (I can only imagine the screenings are much more conservative), I would love to take my kids to a screening because I’m sure it’ll be way more fun than any theater experience they’ve ever had.

If you’re a fan … or curious about the phenomenon … you are encouraged to check out the terrific, nearly 4-hour podcast about the film from The Projection Booth at the link below:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/10/special-report-rocky-horror-picture-show.html

And here’s some links to some of the more memorable songs from the film:

“The Time Warp”

“Sweet Transvestite”

“Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”

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“Best of Bob and Doug MacKenzie” from SCTV

For your consideration … here’s 20 minutes of Bob & Doug MacKenzie clips recorded for various “SCTV” episodes during the early 1980s.  The origin for the MacKenzie brothers came from the Canadian government who insisted that “SCTV” broadcast two minutes of exclusively Canadian “content.”  SCTV producer/writer/performer Dave Thomas was flabbergasted at such a demand, so he decided to give them the worst stereotype of Canada he could possibly think of.  Thomas and fellow SCTV cast member / writer Rick Moranis gave them two dumb drunk Canadians who talked about nonsense for two minutes.  Thomas said that all of their clips were made up on the spot and because they were recorded at the end of the day when everyone went home … they took full advantage of this time to … well … to unwind … meaning that beer they were enjoying was real.  I think that’s called method acting, eh.

The irony, of course, was that this throwaway bit, done with as little preparation as possible, wound up becoming “SCTV”‘s most popular recurring segment, leading to a Top 10  album in the US and a feature-length film for MGM in 1983 called “Strange Brew.”  I’m sure any similarity with the creation of the MacKenzie Brothers and Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” is purely coincidental.

If you’re at all interested in the MacKenzie Brothers, “Strange Brew” or SCTV in general, you’re encouraged to check out the mammoth 4-hour podcast from the Projection Booth about all of these things.  The podcast is hosted by Mike White, Skizz Cyzyk, and actor Craig Bierko (“The Long Kiss Goodnight,” “Cinderella Man”) and features interviews with Thomas, screenwriter Steve De Jarnatt, actress Lynne Griffin (“Pam”), and author Jeff Robbins.  It’s a beauty, eh.
http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/09/episode-182-strange-brew.html

“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

“Milius” (2013) dir. Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson

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Today, John Milius is probably most famous for being the inspiration for John Goodman’s character Walter Sobchak in the Coen Brothers’ 1998 cult classic “The Big Lebowski.” But Milius was arguably the first of the so-called “Hollywood Brats” of the 1970s to score big in Hollywood. Milius went to USC film school at the same time George Lucas (“Star Wars”) and Randall Kleiser (“Grease”) did and became one of the most in-demand screenwriters during the 1970s. His larger-than-life, gun-toting, right-leaning persona startled, but also fascinated many aspiring talents of the period, including Steven Spielberg, Paul Schrader, and Martin Scorsese. Milius has been credited for creating the “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?” line from “Dirty Harry.” But he’s probably most famous for penning the script for Francis Ford Coppla’s legendary 1979 Vietnam epic “Apocalypse Now.”

Milius also became famous for directing the cult surfing film “Big Wednesday” as well as the box-office hits “Conan the Barbarian” and “Red Dawn.” However, despite the box-office success of “Red Dawn,” the film arguably also led to a reversal of fortune in Hollywood due to “Dawn’s” right-wing political leanings (the film’s political stigma alienated many in Hollywood). Coupled with an accountant friend who looted Milius’s vast earnings, Milius was eventually reduced to asking for a staff writing position on the HBO show “Deadwood” in order to pay for his son’s law school. “Deadwood” producer David Milch gave Milius the money and was shocked when Milius paid the entire amount back. Milius had a comeback of sorts creating the HBO series “Rome,” but then had another setback in 2010 when he suffered a stroke. Milius has fought valiantly back and was able to regain his mind and his writing abilities which he hopes to realize with his long-gestating “Genghis Khan” project.

Regardless of where you stand politically, “Milius” is one hell of a documentary about a true Hollywood character and survivor. The fact that so many famous people agreed to be interviewed for this documentary (including Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese, Coppola, Schrader, Oliver Stone, Clint Eastwood, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Charlie Sheen, George Hamilton, and many others) only demonstrates how much love and respect he has generated over the years. The one common denominator everyone praises is Milius’s gift for storytelling, which apparently hasn’t been destroyed by his stroke. Directors Joey Figueroa and Zak Knutson do a splendid job of telling one of the most fascinating true Hollywood stories you’ll ever see. It’s now available for viewing on Amazon Prime.

You can also hear an interview with Figueroa on the excellent “Projection Booth” podcast:

http://www.projection-booth.com/audio/Epx31-Milius.mp3

“God Give Me Strength” (from the 1996 film “Grace of my Heart”) dir. Allison Anders

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This film appears to be based on Carole King’s life … but not exactly.  Because writer-director Allison Anders did a very smart thing when she came up with “Grace of My Heart.”  Instead of going the straight biopic route … and getting raked over the coals for fudging details of what actually happened to keep the story moving, she fictionalized her account.  This way, she could create composites of people, tell a compelling story, and keep people focused on her film.  And, instead of trying to buy the rights to all of the great songs from the Brill Building era (which would have been cost-prohibitive), she hired the composers of that period (Burt Bachrach, Gerry Goffin, etc) and teamed them up with Elvis Costello and others to write new songs.  This was another incredibly smart move, because not only are the new songs terrific in their own right, but having the old songs would have further distracted audiences from the narrative.

Anders script and directing are terrific. There’s loads of great actors in this film (Eric Stoltz, Matt Dillon, Patsy Kensit, Bridget Fonda, John Turturro), but Illeana Douglas towers above them all in the performance of her career as the lead, Edna Buxton.  She should have copped an Oscar nomination for this.  Unfortunately, even though Martin Scorsese was Executive Producer, the film was released by Gramercy Pictures (the mini-major created by Universal Pictures and Polygram Films), who botched the release of a lot of terrific films of the period (“Dazed and Confused,” “Mallrats,” “Bound,” “Kalifornia”) that are now considered classics.  When they had the occasional hit (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Fargo”), it seemed purely accidental.  But I digress …

This is the musical highlight of the film, in my opinion.  “God Give Me Strength” was written by Burt Bachrach and Elvis Costello and is sung by Kristen Vigard (Douglas is lip-syncing).

If you want to hear a great podcast about this film, check out The Projection Booth’s episode on this film.  It’s really terrific.

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2012/04/episode-60-grace-of-my-heart.html