Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fuchsia hall of famer: A look back at 'Purple Rain' (with special guest Craig J. Clark)

Has it really been 30 years since Purple Rain debuted? The answer is yes.

"They finally even made a movie about it ... Whenever anything important happens in America, they have to gold-plate it, like baby shoes." 
-Stephen King, Carrie

Prince, as crudely illustrated by your humble blogger.
Is it still legal to discuss Prince on the Internet? I'm pretty sure His Purpleness, a public figure notoriously skeptical of the media, issued a fatwa some years ago strictly forbidding the general public from even invoking his holy name on the web. But we believe in taking chances here at Dead 2 Rights, so we are ignoring the fatwa and presenting you with this brave, defiant review of Purple Rain on the historic occasion of its thirtieth anniversary.

Directed by Albert Magnoli (whose sparse, flop-ridden resume includes Tango & Cash and the gymnastics extravaganza American Anthem) and written by Magnoli with veteran TV scribe William Blinn (Starsky & Hutch, Eight is Enough), Purple Rain served as a vehicle for Minneapolis born rock star Prince Rogers Nelson and marked the absolute commercial peak of his lengthy and prosperous career in show business, an odyssey which continues to this day. Made for a mere $7 million, Rain eventually grossed $80 million, becoming arguably the first true blockbuster to be spawned by the rise of the cable channel MTV and its then-cutting-edge music videos. The summer of 1984 was a busy one: this was the year of such iconic flicks as Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Gremlins. And yet, the R-rated Purple Rain managed to find its own niche in the marketplace, succeeding where the summer's other big musical, Rhinestone, failed miserably.

At the time, it looked like Prince had found a potential second career as a screen idol. This notion was dispelled by a series of unsuccessful follow-ups, including Under the Cherry Moon (1986) and Graffiti Bridge (1990), the latter a direct sequel to Purple Rain. Nevertheless, Prince's debut film remains a landmark for many and has inspired some thoughtful tributes on its birthday. So I thought I'd add to the mix by contributing my own thoughts on the film, along with those of my friend and fellow movie blogger Craig J. Clark.

"The movie" is an important milestone in the lifespan of any pop cultural phenomenon, particularly in America. When some comedian, singer, TV show, toy, or fad becomes really popular with "the young people," you can be sure "the movie" will be coming soon. After all, the youth audience is the most desirable demographic in the entertainment business, so Hollywood wants to give these folks movies about whatever the hell they're interested in this year or this month or this week. Preferably as soon as possible ... you know, before they forget. You know how screwy these kids are. One week it's this thing, the next it's something else. Keep in mind, the pop cultural phenomenon in question doesn't necessarily have to vaporize in the span of a few months, but it just might.

Really, if we are being very hard-nosed about these things, we can admit that A Hard Day's Night (1964) and Cool as Ice (1991) were made for the exact same reason: to capitalize on a teenage fad. Some musical act is hot, so let's get 'em in front of the cameras before they cool off. Couple this desire to "cash in" with the fact that pretty much every singer dreams of being a movie star, and you know what you get? Lots of movies starring pop singers. In a weird way, these movies add a sort of permanence to what might otherwise have turned out to be ephemeral. That's why I started this article with that Stephen King quote. These movies really are like the cinematic counterpart of gold-plated baby shoes. Pop stars might fall off the charts and into obscurity in a few months, and they inevitably will age and evolve over time. But those movies never change. They're in the can forever, preserving the stars in amber just as they were during their zeitgeist-capturing heydays.

Diversifying the portfolio.
Of course, it always helps to diversify one's portfolio (so to speak) in the notoriously fickle business we call show. If a singer shows promise as an actor, he or she might have a whole second career going. Who'd have guessed country crooner Reba McEntire would be the star of a long-running sitcom, for instance? Out of some combination of vanity and stubbornness (both of which are prerequisites for stardom, I might add), Madonna, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, and David Bowie have all flogged away at acting careers, to varying degrees of success, over the years. And then there is the case of Prince Rogers Nelson, the scarily talented and often-just-scary Minneapolis R&B/rock musical genius whose public persona seems to be a combination of James Brown, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

Prince was hardly a newbie by the time he got the go-ahead to do "the movie" in 1984. He'd been a successful recording artist since 1978, when he was only 20, and had already released such popular albums as 1999 and Controversy by that point. But Purple Rain was Prince's Thriller moment. The film and (especially) its hit soundtrack album, which was #1 for an astonishing 24 weeks, catapulted him from mere mega-stardom to super-ultra-mega-deluxe stardom. I was a little too young for all of it at the time.

I'd have been eight when the R-rated flick came out, i.e. not really in the target audience. Like everyone else who lived in America during the Reagan years, however, I certainly heard Prince's songs at the time and continued to hear them for years afterward. You couldn't really avoid these tunes when they were blaring from car stereos in all directions. But Prince had a distinctly "adult" vibe to his image and career, much more so than Michael or Bruce or Cyndi. Even Madonna wasn't as frankly and threateningly sexual as Prince was at the time. Just saying his name out loud seemed a little dirty to me. I wasn't really into rock music back in '84 anyway. It would take a couple of years and the discovery of nerd-friendly bands like Devo, Talking Heads, and They Might Be Giants to indoctrinate me into that world.

To be honest, I was still a little afraid of Purple Rain after all these decades. The special edition DVD has, as you'd expect, a lurid purple cover. And there you'll find that iconic image of Prince in his Seinfeld-esque puffy shirt and purple top coat, straddling his obscenely purple motorcycle, as his leading lady Apollonia stands in a doorway at the top of some stairs in the background, looking like a vampire hooker. And there's fog everywhere! Citizens, I won't lie. It looks sleazy. I was more than a little embarrassed to be checking this thing out from the local library. I felt sure the old lady behind the counter was silently judging me.

Despite these obstacles, I did manage to watch Purple Rain in preparation for this article. And you know what? The flick is not entirely bad, and if I squint I can almost see why it was an $80 million hit back when $80 million went further than it does now. As a delivery system for the Thing That Is Prince, Purple Rain more than gets the job done. You say want a tiny, androgynous man humping the stage in front of an appreciative Minneapolis audience? You got it, mister! He's on screen, I'd estimate, 80-90% of the time. And for most of that time, he's doing what he does best: singing and playing guitar on stage with his band, the Revolution (whose members portray themselves with varying levels of enthusiasm).

At least three of the songs in this film, the title track, "When Doves Cry," and "Let's Go Crazy," are among those inescapable, indelible Prince hits I mentioned earlier. They'll be with us forever. Someone's listening to those songs right now, I'll wager, playing air guitar and mouthing the words in front of a mirror. I don't know whether or not Prince would approve of that either. But, anyway, these songs are still striking and richly deserve their vaunted place in the pop culture pantheon.

The familiar video for Prince's "When Doves Cry."
Ironically, though, that massive success is the main reason that Purple Rain pretty much fails completely as a narrative. The film is supposed to tell the story of "The Kid," a suspiciously Prince-like aspiring musician on the Minneapolis club scene. Structurally, this means that Purple Rain closely resembles 8 Mile (2002) with Eminem. Both films supposedly give us the gritty, unglamorous stories (tastefully fictionalized, of course) behind the careers of controversial pop stars. We see their early professional ups and downs in their respective local music scenes, plus plenty of ugly, unpleasant family and relationship drama on the side, too. And through all their tribulations and setbacks, these young men are guided by singular desire: to succeed. They know that music is their ticket to a better life, and they're not going to give up on their dreams. Okay, that's great. But somehow this seems a better fit for Eminem than it does for Prince. For one thing, Eminem's turbulent personal history has always been a key component to his music and has been very widely reported in the media.

On the other hand, Prince has been extremely media shy throughout his career, and his lyrics don't function terribly well as an autobiography. So, really, who even knows or cares what Prince's backstory is? Secondly, Eminem has never been shy about presenting himself in a negative light on his albums, and in 8 Mile we get to see his character, Rabbit, crash and burn as a rapper before finally succeeding. But Prince is too cool a customer for that. He is fully formed when he meet him, both in terms of his music and his fashion sense. He enters this movie on a motorcycle which matches his outfit, for God's sake! He seems more like a costumed superhero who fell to earth from Planet Sexy than a mere mortal rock star. It's hard to take any of his problems too seriously.

Prince is never anything other than Prince for even a second. Even when he's talking to policemen after his abusive father's suicide attempt (by gun) or when he's fantasizing his own suicide (by rope), he always seems like he's two seconds away from posing for an album cover. He's posing all the time, in fact. Throughout this movie, people occasionally tell "The Kid" that his music isn't going to catch on, but it's impossible to believe the naysayers because we know the truth. The soundtrack album was #1 for almost half a year, after all. These very songs were burned into America's brain. When we weren't hearing them on Top 40 radio, we were seeing them on MTV. And we're supposed to believe this guy is struggling to make it? Come on! Who do you think you're fooling?

Here is Prince holding a puppet and refusing to act.
Can Prince act? Frankly, I don't know. I've seen a whole movie in which he's the unquestioned star, and I still have no idea whether the man can act or not. What I can honestly say is that he doesn't act in this movie. It seems like a personal choice. He refuses to act. One of Prince's very rare television interviews was a famously stilted appearance he made on American Bandstand in the early 1980s. If you don't have time in your life to watch Purple Rain in its entirety this weekend, watch that American Bandstand clip instead because it basically gives you the whole "Prince acting" experience in a nutshell. At one point, Clark asked Prince how many instruments he played, and the young musician wordlessly held up four fingers as an answer. In this very movie, the members of his backing band, The Revolution, confront him at one point about being such a paranoid control freak and he responds to their complaints via a puppet. I'm not kidding. A puppet! Where'd he get that puppet anyway?

I'm surprised he didn't use that prop in all his other scenes, like the completely tacked-on, perfunctory, and unconvincing romantic subplot. Yeah, "The Kid" has a supposed "romance" with fellow up-and-comer Apollonia Kotero (also playing herself ... sorta), but their conversations largely consist of Prince barking terse, two-or-three-word orders at her. "Get on!" "Give me that!" "Let's go!" That's Prince the silver screen lover. Rudolph Valentino he ain't. (How curious that Prince should have invoked Valentino's memory in his lyrics for the song "Manic Monday.") I guess there's some kind of point being made here by the writer-director, because we're supposed to see that The Kid has learned all the wrong lessons about how to treat a lady from his abusive, slap-happy musician pappy (Clarence Williams III of TV's The Mod Squad) and has picked up plenty of bad habits from his old man, but I found these scenes neither convincing nor terribly interesting or compelling. The script does provide a rather contrived opportunity for the busty Ms. Kotero to go topless for a few seconds, and I'm afraid that's the only reason why she's here. She brings nothing else to the table. Enjoy those few seconds, horny teenage boys in the audience!

Morris Day helps lighten the mood occasionally.
I realize I've spent the last few paragraphs complaining about Purple Rain, but the truth is that I more or less liked this charmingly ridiculous film. It's got an undeniable time capsule quality to it that I appreciated, giving viewers in 2014 a chance to see some flamboyant fashions from a bygone era, and the concert sequences are (and I'm not ashamed to use this adjective when it's warranted) electrifying. They're the real reason to watch this movie now. The director may not have been able to tell much of a story, but he was able to capture the dynamism of his star. Since sullen, taciturn Prince is no fun at all when he's not signing in this movie, however, it's up to the supporting cast to keep the audience entertained between tunes.

I have thus far neglected to even mention the movie's flamboyant yet fun-loving villain, Morris Day, who I guess is portraying some fictionalized version of himself in this film, too. A rival funk bandleader who would have both the Minneapolis club scene and the heart of the fair Apollonia for his very own, Morris is a shameless schemer straight out of Saturday morning cartoons. In fact, he and his sidekick Jerome Benton (also apparently playing himself or some parody of himself) reminded me quite a bit of Dick Dastardly and Muttley from Wacky Races. They're among the few characters in this film who seem to notice that Purple Rain is utterly ludicrous and don't even pretend to take it seriously. In retrospect, that was really the wisest approach all along. This isn't rocket surgery, after all. It's rock 'n' roll. And now, my dear readers, I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Craig J. Clark, whose excellent and frequently-updated blog (he puts me to shame in this respect) is a mere click away.

Purple Rain, considered: a blunt appraisal by Craig J. Clark

Prince and his iconic sunglasses in 1984's Purple Rain. 

Kristin Scott Thomas & Prince in Under the Cherry Moon.
I have not had a burning need to fill the Purple Rain-sized hole in my film education, but I have long been curious about the abbreviated acting career of the Artist Who Used To Formerly Be Known As Prince But Now Is Known As Prince Again. After all, Purple Rain was a big enough hit that it begat Under the Cherry Moon (which rather improbably provided Kirstin Scott Thomas with her big-screen debut), Sign o' the Times (his one true concert film) and Graffiti Bridge. Tellingly, all three of those follow-ups were directed by Prince (who also wrote Sign and Graffiti for good measure), but only the last one was an actual sequel to the film that, a quarter century later, remains his one true box-office success. 
Even if I didn't see Purple Rain when it first came out (I turned 11 in 1984, so R-rated movies were still strictly off-limits to me), I was able to get the gist of it thanks to MTV's airing of the video for "When Doves Cry" in heavy rotation that summer. (I would provide a link to said video -- which perfectly encapsulates the themes and much of the imagery of the film -- but as Joe said Prince's people have been on a tireless crusade of late when it comes to expunging his material from the Internet. Unless, of course, it's the man himself trolling YouTube and other sites for fans/flagrant copyright violators to report. Based on his control-freak reputation, I actually wouldn't put that past him.) Coupled with my enthusiasm for the videos for "1999" and "Little Red Corvette," I was quite the budding Prince fan but somehow never got around to picking up any of his albums. Perhaps I knew instinctively that if I did there was a chance my mother would ask to listen to one and be scandalized by the likes of "Darling Nikki" (one of the songs that got Tipper Gore's dander up back in the day). Choosing the path of Hall & Oates and Huey Lewis and the News seemed much safer in comparison. 
Then again, even with as many hits as they had, nobody to my knowledge ever asked Daryl, John or Huey (or anyone in the News for that matter) to star in a semi-fictionalized musical biography charting their trials and tribulations on the way to fame and fortune. (To see how such a thing can go horribly, horribly wrong, check out Mariah Carey's Glitter some time... or don't. Only you know how much your own time is worth to you.) More than likely the mere existence of MTV -- which gave bands the chance to make any of a number of three-minute films, biographical or otherwise -- obviated the need for the film industry to craft as many vehicles around the nascent personalities of up-and-coming rock-and-rollers as it had during the '60s boom. (Did you know Herman's Hermits starred in three motion pictures? Three!) Of course, by the time he starred in Purple Rain, Prince was well past the up-and-coming stage of his career, which is why the inevitable comparison with A Hard Day's Night is both apt and misleading at the same time. 
Defining the Fabs as individuals.
Much has been written about the way A Hard Day's Night helped to define John, Paul, George and Ringo as individuals in the eyes of their fans (much as many aspects of Prince's public persona were cemented by his turn in Purple Rain), but the most important thing about their feature film debut was that it was most emphatically about the present, where Beatlemania already existed, and not the path that led to it. That story would be told on film many times in the decades to come, but it wouldn't star the Beatles. And while it's true that Prince is playing a character called "The Kid," which is how co-writer/director Alfred Magnoli tries to get away with the fiction that he's an unknown, struggling artist, it's hard to believe scenes like the one where he slays the crowd with the title song and then angrily stalks off the stage, somehow thinking that he's bombed, only to return triumphant moments later to sing the two closing numbers, "I Would Die 4 U" (which, as producer Robert Cavallo says on the commentary, feels somewhat perfunctory coming after the cathartic "Purple Rain") and "Baby I'm a Star" (which, in all honesty, was never really in question). 
Since the live performances are the most electric scenes in the whole film, one wonders why Prince didn't simply go the concert film route -- à la Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, Frank Zappa's Baby Snakes or the Rolling Stones' Let's Spend the Night Together -- for his maiden cinematic voyage. Not only was his back catalog deep enough, but he could have easily filled out the evening with unreleased tracks from his vaults and still not broken a sweat. If he wanted to, he could have even kept The Time and Apollonia 6 as support acts, letting them come out and perform "Jungle Love" and "Sex Shooter" the way Talking Heads morph into Tom Tom Club for "Genius of Love" in the middle of Stop Making Sense. As it is, the film opens with The Revolution's blistering performance of "Let's Go Crazy," during which we're introduced to aspiring singer/dancer Apollonia skipping out on a taxi fare and taking a room at a sleazy hotel and Morris Day preening as he prepares for his grand entrance to the club. Then, after the briefest of pauses, The Time jumps straight into "Jungle Love," which unfortunately isn't allowed to play out completely because the film needs to follow Prince home on his motorcycle to look in on his abusive father and wayward mother. (It's almost surreal that his father's biggest complaint about his mother is that she doesn't clean often enough.) 
What follows is a semi-coherent narrative made up of half-scenes and barely functional dialogue full of bald-faced exposition recited by musicians with little to no acting experience who are essentially playing thinly conceived variations on themselves. I'm not sure why Prince would want people to associate him with the character of The Kid, though, since he's kind of a dick. Take, for instance, the scene where he tricks Apollonia into removing all of her clothing and jumping into a freezing cold lake, then keeps scooting his motorcycle away from her whenever she tries to climb on. The Kid is also perpetually late for business meetings and band rehearsals and keeps putting off Wendy and Lisa, two members of his band with songwriting aspirations. (It's after Wendy calls him out on his paranoia, telling him, "You can really hurt people," that he performs his bizarre ventriloquist act.) Overall, though, he saves his worst behavior for Apollonia. 
Apollonia pawns her anklet for Prince.
Apparently determined to top the incident at the lake, Magnoli and his co-writer William Blinn (a TV veteran who wrote Brian's Song and created the series Starsky and Hutch, among other things) draft a scenario where Apollonia -- who, remember, is an unknown who has to stay at a seedy dive because it's the only place she can afford -- pawns her anklet so she can buy The Kid a guitar (which he seems genuinely surprised to get, like it's Christmas morning or something). Then, when she casually announces that she's joining Morris Day's girl group, he belts her one (a real "I learned it by watching you" PSA moment) and then immediately switches gears, inexplicably asking her, "Don't I make you happy? Don't you like the way we are?" Yeah, Kid, I'm sure she's thrilled about getting slapped around by you simply because she wants to have a career of her own. He won't even leave her alone when he's onstage, causing her to burst into tears with the masturbation anthem "Darling Nikki" (which doesn't seem too far removed from her own group's "Sex Shooter" when you get right down to it). Odd, then, that that's the song that inspires the none-too-imposing club owner to tell The Kid, "Your music makes sense to no one but yourself." 
The crux of the matter, psychologically speaking, is The Kid's contentious relationship with his father, a brilliant pianist/composer with anger management issues. I don't know how much of that correlates to Prince's actual family history, and frankly I don't want to know, but I doubt he ever confronted his own father by saying, "I saw Mom up the street. She looked pretty bad. Any idea how she got that way?" That's the sort of line that only rings true to a screenwriter with a tin ear for dialogue. Purple Rain is much better off when it lets Prince's music speak for him.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in a slightly different form at

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ed Wood Wednesdays, week 44: An avalanche of Ed Wood!

It's raining Ed! Hallelujah, it's raining Ed!

: It had been my intention to review Ed Wood's The Vampire's Tomb (2013), a film by Andre Perkowski, today. However, I have been inundated with so much exciting Ed Wood news lately that I felt I simply had to devote this week's entire article to it. The Vampire's Tomb will just have to wait until next the next installment of Ed Wood Wednesdays on August 6. Sorry, Andre.
In what I can only interpret as a sign of the massive success of Ed Wood Wednesdays, a dizzying variety of Ed Wood-related material will be hitting the marketplace with a Genghis Khan-like vengeance in the next few months. This is clearly an endorsement of my work. What else could it be? Consider the evidence: after many years without any significant re-releases, other than the Big Box of Wood DVD collection in 2011, the Wood-ian floodgates have finally opened, my dear readers! We're talking movies, books, and even a fancy-schmancy New York film festival. The works!

Naturally, I'm very excited about all of these events, and I want you to be excited about them, too. In all seriousness, I think it's just a happy coincidence that all of these things are happening at once. Maybe the stars have aligned perfectly. Maybe something got into the water supply. Whatever it is, it's happening, and I could not be more pleased. But what specifically are we getting and when? Let's dive into those all-important specifics, shall we?


New DVDs from Alpha Blue Archives.
A company called Alpha Blue Archives, which specializes in "vintage adult movies," will be releasing four out-of-print Ed Wood-scripted adult films on DVD on September 1, 2014. It's a series they are calling the Lost Sex Films of Ed Wood. All four of these movies seem to have been released originally in 1971. Here is a link to the trailer. The Alpha Blue site is taking pre-orders now. The discs, each sold separately, are $24.95 apiece. However, Alpha Blue offers a couple of discounts for larger orders: five DVDs for $75 or ten for $99. It's actually cheaper to buy five movies than four, so if you're planning to purchase the Ed Wood movies, you might as well pick something else out from the Alpha Blue catalog and save yourself some cash. The discs are available at Amazon as well, of course. Individually, the titles are as follows:

  • The Undergraduate (1971) - Produced by Jacques "Jack" Descent, who also produced the Wood-scripted Operation Redlight (1969), this film stars Suzanne Fields, Eve Orlon, Carmen Olivera, and Alice Friedland. Based on the trailer, The Undergraduate seems to have a pseudo-documentary, quasi-educational slant to it, which aligns it with Glen or Glenda? and many of Eddie's paperback books as well. Alpha Blue says it's about "bell-bottomed teenagers exploring with abandon their budding sexuality." I'm guessing it's softcore. This will be my first opportunity to sample the work of Jacques Descent, which makes me especially keen to see it. Also included on the disc are The Lost Films of Suzanne Fields, three rare 16mm features (Ward Sex, The Young Model, and The Sex Spa) starring Ms. Fields, an actress probably best known as Dale in Flesh Gordon (1974). In the 1970s porn world, by the way, a typical "feature" lasts just under an hour. 
  • Necromania (1971) - Of course, this is a film I have already covered as part of Ed Wood Wednesdays, but it's nice to see it get a brand-new DVD edition with a "new digital transfer," plus special features. Directed and written by Ed Wood himself, Necromania is a supernatural sex thriller starring Rene Bond and then-husband Ric Lutze as a frustrated couple who seek the services of a necromancer to solve their bedroom problems. Since there are two versions of the film, Alpha Blue Archives promises to include "the complete softcore version as well [as] all of the alternate explicit scenes." The disc is rounded out by The Lost Films of Maria Arnold. Alpha Blue has rounded up a trio of Maria's semi-forgotten 1970s films (Pleasure Between Heaven and Hell, For Love of Money, and the delightfully-titled Oakie Maid, which also features Rene Bond) for our collective enjoyment. 
Casey Larrain and Ed Wood in Nympho Cycler.
  • Nympho Cycler (1971) - You wanna talk obscure? According to Alpha Blue, Nympho Cycler is "Ed Wood's previously lost sexploitation biker flick." The IMDb currently lists Eddie as the writer, and he even acts in the film -- in drag, no less! The official plot summary: "A young motorcycle-riding wife (Casey Larrain) hits the road to escape her old, cross-dressing husband (Edward D. Wood, Jr.) when she tires of him pimping her out. On the road she encounters lesbian drug addicts and wild biker parties while attempting to evade a violent gang of thugs sent by her husband to rape her." I'm glad that Alpha Blue is tacking on The Lost Films of Casey Larrain (Caught in the Can, Scent of Love, and Hedonist Hypnotist), since Ms. Larrain is an actress who has intrigued me in her other Wood-related films, Love Feast and Take it Out in Trade. Speaking of which, this generous disc also includes an excerpt from Love Making USA, the porno-doc that repurposes Ed and Casey's scenes from Love Feast
Alice Friedland
  • The Young Marrieds (1971) - Alpha Blue calls this "Ed Wood's XXX erotic swan song" and trumpets the participation of actress Alice Friedland, who worked in adult movies for the better part of a decade, occasionally showing up in more mainstream fare like John Cassavetes' The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976). Alpha Blue says that The Young Marrieds, which is not to be confused with Married Too Young (1962), "triumphs as an explicit sex flick due to the frisky innocence of Alice Friedland in one of her few hardcore roles." Naturally, the disc is fleshed out with The Lost Films of Alice Friedland. The three Friedland rarities they've conjured up (Kiss My Analyst, Analyze Your Sex, and The Adventures of Flash Beaver) sound like fun. 
  • I was personally alerted to the existence of The Young Marrieds by erotic film collector Dimitrios Otis, who stressed to me that he is "not associated with this release" and that "the official release of The Young Marrieds will be through Alternative Cinema." Indeed, the Alternative Cinema website has its own page for Ed Wood's Dirty Movies, a three-film collection coming to DVD on November 14, 2014 and comprising The Young Marrieds, Nympho Cycler, and Shot on Location. This retails for $29.95 and will contain a trailer gallery and liner notes by Dimitrios Otis. The site also points out that all three titles will be available separately on "supporting digital platforms."
Alternative Cinema has its own plans for the 1970s catalog of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

Folks, I am eagerly awaiting the release of these new DVDs. Once I get my greasy mitts on them and thoroughly review their content, I will report back to you in the manner to which you have become accustomed. The Alpha Blue discs have a "street date" of September 1, but I doubt that many retailers are going to be stocking vintage porn films from 40 years ago on their shelves. Maybe you live in an especially cool neighborhood. I don't. So I suspect that most of us are going to be relying on the United States Postal Service for these. That's what I'm doing.

In the meantime, what of Ed Wood's 15-year literary career? Sure, it's great that Alpha Blue Archives is releasing a whole slew of Eddie's old movies, but is anyone curating his books and stories? Funny you should mention that, because it brings us to the second big announcement.

BLOOD SPLATTERS QUICKLY: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr.

A new compilation of Ed Wood's short stories is coming our way soon.

Remember Bob Blackburn, Kathy Wood's friend during the later years of her life? He was instrumental in getting some of Ed Wood's books back in print in the 1990s and helped arrange for Eddie's languishing screenplay, I Woke Up Early the Day I Died, to become an all-star motion picture extravaganza in 1998. And now, Bob has given his blessing to a brand-new book that compiles over thirty of the short stories Ed Wood wrote back in the 1970s. Blood Spatters Quickly: The Collected Stories of Edward D. Wood, Jr. is set to be released "in August" by O/R Books, an independent New York publishing house named for its two founders, John Oakes and Colin Robinson. The company, best known for releasing a 2009 parody of Sarah Palin's autobiography, sells its wares directly to the public from its own website, thus avoiding bookstores, wholesalers, and sites such as Amazon. O/R Books is currently accepting pre-orders for Blood Spatters Quickly. You can choose the paperback ($17), the e-book ($10), or both ($24). Here's an appetizing excerpt from the promotional blurb:
Perhaps the purest expression of Wood’s théma—pink angora sweaters, over-the-top violence and the fraught relationships between the sexes—can be found in his unadulterated short stories, many of which (including “Blood Splatters Quickly”) appeared in short-lived “girly” magazines published throughout the 1970s. The 32 stories included here have been verified by Bob Blackburn, a trusted associate of Kathy Wood, Ed’s widow. In the forty years or more since those initial appearances in adult magazines, none of these stories has been available to the public.
A newsstand special
Apart from the three short stories included in Muddled Mind: The Complete Works of Edward D. Wood, Jr., this is an aspect of Eddie's career that is unknown to me. According to Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, Wood wrote "literally hundreds of short stories," both under his own name and pseudonymously, during the last ten years of his life. These were generally published by Bernie Bloom's Pendulum Publishing Co. (aka Calga or Gallery) in magazines like Hot Fun, Deuce, Woman's World, Wild Couples, Beavers, Wild Cats, Freaked Out, Gold Diggers, Belly Button, and Two Plus Two. Occasionally, Pendulum would publish newsstand specials with multiple Wood stories, including Monster Sex Tales and Horror Sex Tales.

You can find some titles of individual stories in both Muddled Mind and Nightmare of Ecstasy, but I'm going to refrain from speculating which particular tales will or will not be included in Blood Splatters Quickly until I actually have a copy of the book in my hands. I wouldn't want to promise anything that I couldn't deliver, and I believe the lineup was still being finalized recently. If you'd like to learn a little more about Eddie's experiences at Pendulum, I refer you to my article for Necromania. Rest assured, once Blood Splatters Quickly is in my possession, I will give you a thorough account of its contents.

And the hits just keep on coming...

(September 11 - September 18)

Manhattan's Anthology Film Archives is devoting a week in September to showcasing Ed Wood's film work.

One of Rudy Grey's albums.
I have already written that it was a movie marathon in 1992 that really made me an Ed Wood fanatic. But that was relatively small potatoes: four films in one night on the campus of a small Midwestern junior college. The 10th Dimension: Edward D. Wood, Jr. is something much more grand.

Anthology Film Archives, a movie theater and center for international film study located on Manhattan's fabled 2nd Avenue, will be exhibiting Eddie's movies on the big screen for an entire week, beginning on September 11, 2014. And we're not just talking the famous movies either but also the really obscure, hard-to-see, out-of-print, not-in-general-circulation stuff. In short, there are some movies even I haven't seen, and I've spent a year of my life studying this man's career.

As expected, most of Eddie's feature films from 1953-1960 will be represented, both those he directed (Glen or Glenda?, Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bride of the Monster, The Sinister Urge), plus a couple directed by others (Adrian Weiss' The Bride and the Beast, William Morgan's The Violent Years). Necromania is also included in the lineup, as are two of the movies from the Alpha Blue Archives series above: Nympho Cycler and The Young Marrieds. The first of the true mind-blowers is the appearance of Take It Out in Trade, Ed's softcore detective flick, which is currently available only as silent outtakes.

And the whole festival concludes with another mind-blower: a program called Rudolph Grey Presents: Short Films, Home Movies, and Other Miscellanea. Besides two rarely-seen and essential short films, Final Curtain and The Sun Was Setting, this "once-in-a-lifetime" show will include "home movies, advertisements, and other odds and ends." Yes, its host is the musician and author behind Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr., the book that served as the basis for Tim Burton's Ed Wood and is still the only Wood biography on the market.

According to the Anthology Film Archives website, Mr. Grey is working on "a revised and specifically expanded edition" of Nightmare of Ecstasy that "will soon be reissued." This is indeed welcome news. Dimitrios Otis is specifically thanked on the AFA website as well, and he informs me that he and his company "are presenting the 10th Dimension: Edward D. Wood, Jr. with Rudolph Grey." The complete schedule for the festival is as follows (all times Eastern):

  • Necromania/Nympho Cycler (September 14 at 6:15 PM)
  • The Young Marrieds (September 14 at 8:30 PM)
  • Rudolph Grey Presents: Short Films, Home Movies, and Other Miscellanea (September 17 at 7:30 PM)
One title that appeared and then mysteriously vanished from the listings is Misty, an "unfinished" film directed by Joe Robertson (of Love Feast fame) and featuring Ed Wood in drag as an actor. Whether this movie will resurface or whether it has been relegated to the "Miscellanea" program, I do not know. For whatever reason, it no longer appears on AFA's calendar for September 2014. Nevertheless, readers, I would very much like to attend this film festival, if only to see Take It Out in Trade as well as Rudolph Grey's show. But obviously, the entire lineup is of interest to me. Whether or not this will be possible, I don't know.
Next time for sure: Andre Perkowski's Ed Wood's The Vampire's Tomb. Good lord, that's a lot of possessives.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My (brief) thoughts on the Monty Python finale

Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland, Terry Gilliam, and John Cleese together for the last (?) time.

I have just returned, my lovelies, from the local cineplex, where I paid $18 for the privilege of seeing a group of paunchy, jowly, sagging septuagenarians shuffle through some ancient sketch comedy for three hours (with a half-hour tea break in the middle). I would not have missed this opportunity for the world. These affable old-timers, you see, were the five surviving members of Monty Python, and the occasion was the British comedy troupe's "farewell" performance, which was staged at London's O2 Arena and then simulcast to movie theaters around the world. The rapidly-deteriorating comedians tell us that this is "it" for the team. Monty Python is no more. Bereft of life, you might say, it rests in peace. Or in pieces.

So how was the big finale? Was it worth $18 of anyone's money? Oh, sure. I laughed throughout the entire running time, which felt good to do even though I'd heard most of these jokes dozens of times. I even got a few chuckles from the 30-minute intermission, during which the screen went blank apart from a clock counting down the minutes and seconds, because the movie-going audience had not been briefed of this in advance and thought for a few minutes that it might be some kind of high-concept prank. (It wasn't.)

An ad for the concert
As for the rest of the program, it was quaint, sentimental, and nostalgic. The innovators and provocateurs of yesteryear are now the established old guard, and this was a chance for them to cycle through their greatest hits and bits. Some of these golden oldies were conflated: "Vocational Guidance Counselor" became "The Lumberjack Song," "Dead Parrot" melted into "Cheese Shop," etc.

The fact that the show was the brainchild of the group's hammiest and most mercenary member, Eric Idle (the self-described "Greedy Bastard"), was plain to see. This was a slick, Broadway-style revue with a heavy emphasis on production numbers and fit, lean chorus girls and boys leaping and tumbling around the stage as the doddering oldsters watched in appreciation.

For me, though, the highlights of the show were the quieter, more intimate moments when the five surviving Pythons (Graham Chapman died a quarter-century ago) simply took pleasure in sharing the stage with one another. The venerable "Four Yorkshireman" sketch, in which a quartet of wealthy old geezers try to outdo each other with outlandish tales of childhood suffering and poverty, has a special resonance in 2014 because the comedians performing it now really are the age of the folks they're parodying.

As you'd expect, the show ended with a group rendition of "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Life of Brian, and I can't have been the only one who got a little misty-eyed during that. After all, Monty Python has been a huge part of my life since the 1980s, when I first saw their BBC sketch comedy series in reruns on MTV. This really felt like a way of saying goodbye to the boys, plus Ms. Carol Cleveland, the honorary female "seventh Python." Perhaps now, they can be packed up in crates and shipped off to that warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Norm MacDonald pays tribute to his late 'Screwed' costar, Elaine Stritch

Norm MacDonald, Sarah Silverman, Dave Chappelle, and Elaine Stritch in Screwed.

Screwed on DVD.
The 2000 movie Screwed has not exactly engendered a great deal of affection over the years. Written and directed by the team of Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander, whose previous collaborations include the script for Tim Burton's Ed Wood (1994), the film earned only $6 million on a $10 million budget and current rates a miserable 13% at Rotten Tomatoes, where it is described as "tedious and painfully unfunny."

But 14 years after its original release, some good has come from this little-loved motion picture in the form of a series of tweets by one of its stars, comedian Norm MacDonald, who took to Twitter in order to pay tribute to late actress Elaine Stritch, who also appeared in Screwed.  Norm had previously appeared in the Karaszewski/Alexander-written biopic The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1996), but this collaboration proved less fortunate. Unlike MacDonald's previous vehicle, Dirty Work (1998), this forlorn kidnapping comedy has failed to attract any kind of cult following.

When read in succession, MacDonald's tweets about making this movie form a lovely little short story about show business. Self-effacing and unpretentious as always, Norm dishes on his own lack of acting ability and the entire cast's lack of faith in the screenplay, but he also takes the time to reminisce fondly about his experiences with Stritch and with fellow stand-up comic Dave Chappelle. The line that really sticks with me is a quote from Elaine herself: "Every time I make a film, I think I am making someone's favorite movie." And now, I think I'll let Norm take over. Enjoy.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So, basically, I'm super-famous now... no biggie... whatevs.

Joe Blevins and Jeff Bridges in The Achievers. Photo by Matt "Slug" Brown

Netflix knows who I am. This can only be a good thing. I feel like Steve Martin as Navin Johson in that one scene from The Jerk where he gets his name in the phone book and freaks out over what a big deal it is. Following that logic, it should only be a matter of time before M. Emmet Walsh tracks me down and starts taking shots at my carefully-stacked cans of motor oil. Seriously, thanks to Matt Brown for forwarding this photo along to me. If nothing else, it "proves" that I was in a Jeff Bridges movie. Yep, me and beloved, Oscar-winning actor Jeff Bridges, the best of buds, hanging out by the craft service table, talking about our lives and our careers. That's how it was on the set of The Achievers. We were in white terrycloth robes and had cucumber slices over our eyes. So good for removing dark circles. So good.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I love watching people fail

An attempted hit goes wonderfully, wonderfully wrong in David Lynch's Mulholland Dr.

I don't know who you are, but I'm probably rooting against you. I realize how that sounds, and it's not something in which I take pride. But it's true nevertheless. If you exist and you're not me, I kinda want you to fail and fail hard. Wow. That sounds so ugly. It's not something I can control about myself. That's just how my brain works. Keep in mind, there are limits. I don't wish disease, death, or dismemberment on anyone. I don't want you to get pancreatic cancer or lose an eye in an explosion. I'm a monster, sure, but I'm not that much of a monster. When I say "fail and fail hard," I mean stuff like unemployment, divorce, and bankruptcy. Oh, and public humiliation's always good if it's happening to someone else. I wouldn't want you to get terminally depressed over it, because then we're getting into "disease and death" territory. But your team losing in the quarter-finals or your son flunking out of college? Oh, hell yeah. Sign me up for some of that.

I cannot tell you how much pleasure I got from the utter collapse of Brazil in the World Cup. I'm far from alone in this. We wouldn't have that marvelous world schadenfreude otherwise. Or Fail Blog. Or most of what's on TV right now. That's pretty much what comedy is: laughing at the other guy's misfortune. Once we enter the realm of fiction, all bets are off. Since the characters don't really exist and aren't truly suffering, it doesn't matter what happens to them. The worse the better, as far as I'm concerned. And that includes disease, death, and dismemberment. Take David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001) as an example. In one of the movie's best scenes, a surfer-dude-looking blonde thug named Joe Messing (Mark Pellegrino) pays a visit on his giggly, long-haired, low-life pal Ed (Vincent Castellanos), who sits behind a cluttered desk in the most pitiful, decrepit office building in Los Angeles. Neither of these guys is very bright, and both are worthless sleazeballs to boot, so what happens to them in this scene is especially delightful.

Here, take a look for yourself. If you haven't seen it, you're gonna love it. If you've already seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it again:

So good, right? So much delicious failure in such a short amount of time. And I love how whiny Joe gets. "Oh, maaaannnn...."

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Tommie, look at me! Tommie, over here!

If you already know who Tommie is, no explanation is necessary. If you don't already know who Tommie is, no explanation is adequate. Either way, there is no point in my annotating this image any more than I already have.

Friday, July 11, 2014

One Song at a Time: "Mind"

Talking Heads around the time they recorded the Fear of Music LP.

Song: "Mind"
Artist: Talking Heads
Released: 1979

Cheery cover, no?
I lived at home until I was in my mid-20s. I didn't plan it like that. Just sorta worked out that way. And I wasn't a layabout slacker, a la Ben Katz (H. Jon Benjamin) from Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist, either. I went to college, and I worked as a customer service rep and a substitute teacher. But all that time, I was living in my bedroom from high school.

Hell, still to this day, I have the same exact bed that I've had since I was 13. I'm writing this article from it now. Same dresser, too. And on top of that dresser, the same goddamned boombox. But, anyway, let's go back to the early 1990s. Specifically 1992-1993. My senior year of high school. That's the time when you're supposed to be getting your shit together -- applying to colleges, trying to get scholarships, picking out a career, all of that garbage. I knew I was supposed to do that stuff, but I just never got around to any of it. My mom's cancer-related death took a lot of the fight out of me back then, and I turned into the reclusive, bitter weirdo that I still basically am today.

My dad took my mom's death even worse than I did and became a a rather sad and depressive person. I don't know if he's totally recovered, twenty years later. My sister, wisely, moved away and started a family of her own. Me, I stayed with my dad in my hometown. It was just the two of us in a house that was much too large. I'm not gonna lie to you, folks. Those were shitty, shitty years. (Did you see Crumb? Remember Charles Crumb and his mom? It was kinda like that. Not quite as bad, but definitely getting there. It was like the prequel to that.)

My low point was when I took that customer service job, during which I worked in the world's most depressing phone bank in the basement of an auto parts plant. You descended this dimly-lit stairway to get there, like descending into Hell. All day, you had to absorb the negativity of the callers. Between calls sometimes, I would rest my head on my desk and sob. About eight or nine months into doing that, I went through the medicine cabinet at home and took everything in it. Wound up in the intensive care ward for three days. Not fun. Then went back to the parts plant to be a customer service rep again. Even less fun.

Cut to a few months later. Out of the blue, and I mean the fucking Papa Smurf's ass blue, I got a job offer to teach at a middle school near Joliet, IL. Even better, I was at my desk at the parts plant when it happened. I immediately took it, no questions. Quitting that customer service gig was one of the Top 5 happiest moments of my life. (I can't even think of the other four.) My father was not thrilled. He made me feel very guilty about the whole thing, and I don't think he's ever gotten over it. I felt then -- and I feel now -- like an ax murderer for moving out of his house and into my own apartment in another state, even though I'd definitely be dead today if I hadn't.

That was 2001. That middle school was where I was when the Twin Towers fell. It was the day before my 26th birthday. I don't think I taught those kids in Joliet a damned thing. Someday, I'll write about my horrendous experiences as a teacher. (Short version: if you hate and fear people, especially teenagers, don't go into teaching.) But I certainly learned a valuable lesson that first year "on my own."

I thought that the move would somehow magically fix everything and that my personality would just naturally smooth itself out once I was in Illinois. Didn't happen that way. I was the same asshole there that I was in Michigan. All my hang-ups, hatreds, insecurities, and inadequacies were still there in Illinois. That's what I think about whenever I hear "Mind" from the Fear of Music album by Talking Heads. Most of the lyrics are about the things that "won't change you": time, drugs, science, money, religion.

I don't know if David Byrne was directing this song at himself, at the listener, or at somebody he knew. But I'll be good and goddamned if it isn't all true. I can add a few items to his list, too. Xanax won't change you. Therapy won't change you. Welbutrin won't change you. In the chorus, Byrne sings, "I need something to change your mind." Amen, brother. I'm still looking for that something.