Scowl Films Program Notes
Scowl poster graphic by R. Hell
by Richard Hell

Rebel Without a Cause
The Devil Probably
Taxi Driver
The Nutty Professor
Welcome to the Dollhouse
Kiss Me Deadly
Nightmare Alley
Band of Outsiders
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Pickup on South Street
Stranger Than Paradise

presents the anti-social
Scowl film series curated by Richard Hell
Aug 20-Sep 2, 2003

"The Scowl film series is a kind of flickering glower from the direction of the East Village mid-seventies. It's more or less the set of movies that came to mind when recalling life on the Lower East Side at that time, specifically the original music period at CBGB's and Max's (when movie history was fresh to me too). In fact, some of the films actually supplied words and song ideas to the bands -- the Ramones' 'gabba gabba' chant and preoccupation with pinheads came from Freaks, the Johnny Thunders title 'You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory' comes from the Honeymooners episode -- but mostly it's just that the films are ones I associate with that era or its spirit and style. It's a kind of poem of 'punk' made from movies."

[Note for website regarding the program notes: The two week length of the series, with every day a different program, was an intense experience. The preparations were pretty demanding -- scheduling films and introducers and designing the posters -- so I ended up not having time to write program notes until the series began. The drill became renting a DVD or video of the due film, watching it the morning of its screening, writing program notes in the afternoon (which I'd then email to the Pioneer for printing), and then going to watch the movie projected in 35 mm that night. The films started developing relationships to each other in my head. I kept seeing midgets and dwarves (there were one or the other in three of the movies and remarks about them in a fourth ((Taxi Driver))). I noticed how in both The Nutty Professor and Rebel Without a Cause the hero's problems are traced to a weak father dominated by a shrill mother... Etc., etc. After the first few days (Freaks and Rebel and The Devil Probably and Taxi Driver) I found myself feeling continuously irritated and resentful and pessimistic about human existence. But anyway it all went smoothly. The introducers were great and they all showed up on time. Matthew Seig who actually secured the films from the distributors was a marvel. Phil Hartman who organized "Howl!" generously allowed me to do the series the way I wanted to.... I should also mention another phenomenon I noticed in the course of the series. Consistently I'd find myself a little disappointed in the movies when I was writing the notes, I'd feel like they weren't as good as I remembered them; then when I'd watch each one in the theater later the same day I'd be astounded by how great it was and feel like I'd been kind of chintzy and too grudging in my notes. It's because of video/DVD -- a real lesson in the importance of seeing any interesting movie projected via celluloid on a big screen rather than played on a TV monitor. Also, you might notice the notes to the first program are a little scant and impersonal. After the first day I start cutting loose.]

You Killed Me First (1985)
Direction: Richard Kern
Script: Richard Kern, dialogue improvised by actors
Cinematography: Richard Kern
Running time: 12 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
dad: David Wojnarowicz; mom: Karen Finley; punk daughter: Lung Leg; straight daughter: Jessica Craig-Martin

Freaks (1932)
Direction: Tod Browning
Script: Al Boasberg (based on the short story "Spurs" by Clarence Aaron "Tod" Robbins), Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon, Edgar Allan Woolf
Cinematography: Merritt B. Gerstad
Running time: 64 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Phroso: Wallace Ford; Venus: Leila Hyams; Cleopatra: Olga Baclanova; Roscoe: Roscoe Ates; Hercules: Henry Victor; Hans: Harry Earles; Frieda: Daisy Earles; Madame Tetrallini: Rose Dione; Siamese Twins: Daisy and Violet Hilton; Schlitze: Schlitze; Half Woman-Half Man: Josephine Joseph; Half Boy: Johnny Eck; Human Skeleton: Peter Robinson; The Living Torso: Prince Randian; Bearded Lady: Olga Roderick; Koo Koo: Koo Koo; Zip and Pip: Elvira and Jennie Lee Snow

The series was not meant to include NYC super-8 punk-world underground films of the seventies and eighties, but there were a couple that were irresistible: tonight's "You Killed Me First," and Kern/Zedd's "Thrust in Me" (screening Sun Aug 24). (Kern's "King of Sex" or Ela Troyano's "Totem of the Depraved," both starring Nick Zedd, qualify too and might have been used.) Wojnarowicz and Finley, the "dad" and "mom" in the film, would get big notoriety in 1990 when their NEA grants were rescinded because politicians and conservatives objected to their work (art/writing and performance/writing).

The director of Freaks, Tod Browning (1882-1962), ran away from home at sixteen to join a traveling circus as a contortionist and a clown. He became a vaudeville comedian, then a silent film actor, then a screenwriter, and finally made his name as a director of silent films starring "the man of a thousand faces" (most of them disturbing), Lon Chaney. Chaney died before he could play the title role in Browning's Dracula (1931), and the part went instead to Bela Lugosi. The next year came Freaks, which damaged Browning's career because it was regarded as too shocking to be shown. He only made four more films, all in the thirties, the best known of which is The Devil Doll (1936). His retirement was comfortable though.


Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
Direction: Nicholas Ray
Script: story: Nicholas Ray; screenplay: Stewart Stern; adaptation: Irving Shulman from the source story "The Blind Run" by Dr. Robert M. Lindner
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Running time: 111 min.

Cast (Character: Actor): Jim Stark: James Dean; Judy: Natalie Wood; John 'Plato' Crawford: Sal Mineo; Frank Stark (Jim's father): Jim Backus; Mrs. Stark (Jim's mother): Ann Doran; Buzz Gunderson: Corey Allen; Judy's father: William Hopper; Judy's mother: Rochelle Hudson; Ray Fremick (juvenile officer): Edward Platt; Mil: Steffi Sidney; Plato's Nurse: Marietta Canty; Mrs. Stark (Jim's grandmother): Virginia Brissac; Helen: Beverly Long; Dr. Minton (lecturer at planetarium): Ian Wolfe; Crunch: Frank Mazzola; Gene (cop): Robert Foulk; Cookie: Jack Simmons; Harry: Tom Bernard; Goon: Dennis Hopper; Chick: Nick Adams; Moose: Jack Grinnage; Cliff: Clifford Morris

Nicholas Ray seems to like extremes: the color red, the wide screen, questions like "Do you have any idea why you killed those puppies?" And his camera swoons too when the real dramatic things happen. James Dean. Dean can't do anything like other people. He has to do them his "full-body" way. I have to say that the Freudianism of Ray has dated. Still, you do feel that tension of high school and adolescence, but finally it's fairly tame and pat; the "rebel without a cause" being he who can be "gentle and sweet," who is "sincere," and who has "honor" (though he will get drunk because his father's so useless). As sarcastic Buzz, the leading hometown juvenile delinquent puts it: "Well he's real abstract. He's different." It's true though: the person you can trust is the person who's different. There are lots of great lines. Sal Mineo asking about the planetarium lecturer who's describing little doomed earth in the big universe: "What does he know about 'man alone?'" You've got to like Ray, and he keeps things moving and images popping and the sets look great and it's cool the way the whole movie happens in one day, and then there he is himself, in long shot, coming to open up the observatory at dawn when it's all over.

I put a quote from Nick Ray about us on the poster I made for the first gig of my first group, Television, in 1974. My wife revealed recently that she assumed that that was imaginary, a joke, a hoax, but it wasn't. I did actually know him a little in the early seventies (his dates are 191l-1979). My friend Terry Ork who helped us out in that band and let us rehearse in his loft was a movie freak who was hanging with him then. More than once the director, tall, gaunt (he was into speed), much disheveled silver hair, black eye-patch, watched us rehearse our earliest material, when we were pretty frenzied. When I went to make a poster for that first performance we asked him if he could give us a line and he said, "Four cats with a passion." That looked great. It was a very nice present.


The Devil Probably (Le Diable probablement) (1977)
Direction: Robert Bresson
Script: Robert Bresson
Cinematography: Pasqualino De Santis
Running time: 95 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Charles: Antoine Monnier; Alberte: Tina Irissari; Michel: Henri de Maublanc; Edwige: Laetitia Carcano; Valentin: Nicolas Deguy; Dr. Mime (psychoanalyst): Régis Hanrion; bookseller: Geoffroy Gaussen; police officer: Roger Honorat

Bresson was French and born in the first decade of the twentieth century (his birth date's often listed as 1907, but it appears to actually have been 1901), and he died in 1999. Aside from an early short that exists only in fragmentary form, he directed thirteen films. The first two, made in the forties, were relatively conventional, if marvelous. The third, Diary of a Country Priest (1951) began the series of his films that amounted to a rethinking of movie-making, and every subsequent film is a revelation. They can be hard to get into because they don't use the usual cranked-up methods of popular films but speak in the simplist imagery of daily life, but once a viewer succumbs they're inspiring as no other movies. Some of the titles are A Man Escaped (1956), Pickpocket (1959), Au hasard Balthazar (1966), Mouchette (1967), Lancelot of the Lake (1974), and L'Argent (1983, his final film). Bresson was notoriously not only a Catholic, preoccupied with spiritual and moral matters, but a believer at the same time, mysteriously, that life is comprised entirely of predestination and chance. In another seeming contradiction, even though his movies are about the beauties of the ordinary and they eschew "drama," many of them depict central characters who commit suicide. In my opinion The Devil Probably is the most "punk" film ever made. [For more by Richard Hell on this movie and Bresson see his longish introductory talk on site and his short article for the Village Voice.]


Taxi Driver (1976)
Direction: Martin Scorcese
Script: Paul Schrader
Cinematography: Michael Chapman
Running time: 113 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Travis Bickle: Robert De Niro; Betsy: Cybill Shepherd; Wizard: Peter Boyle; Iris Steensma: Jodie Foster; "Sport" (Matthew): Harvey Keitel; Charles Palantine: Leonard Harris; Tom: Albert Brooks; concession girl: Diahnne Abbott; tall Secret Service man: Richard Higgs; Iris's timekeeper: Murray Moston; street drummer: Gene Palma; Andy (gun salesman): Steven Prince; passenger talking about killing his wife: Martin Scorsese; personnel officer: Joe Spinell

It's funny to have this movie programmed the day following The Devil Probably. Taxi Driver was scripted by a man who had written a worshipful book about Bresson (Transcendental Style in Film: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer), and who did a famous interview with him as he -- Paul Schrader -- was passing through Paris on his way to Cannes where Taxi Driver was competing (it would win the Palme d'Or as best picture) and Bresson was preparing to shoot The Devil Probably. Both films are about young men who can't stand the world, leading, in The Devil Probably, to its teenage main character's suicide, in Taxi Driver to its main character's commission of multiple murders (though he does try to shoot himself finally too). The interview is remembered though for the way Bresson rejects all the assumptions about his work that Schrader bases his questions on. The two movies are very different too. Schrader does say in the interview, "I wrote an austere film and it was directed in a very expressionistic way." (Though also, "I think the two qualities work together. There is a tension in the film that is very interesting.") Not much of the austerity remains in Taxi Driver, unless you count Travis's breakfast (sugar, peach brandy, and cornflakes). The reptilian slithering camera maybe... The magnificent music by Bernard Herrmann (composer for Welles and Hitchcock) contributes a whole lot to the moods. It's interesting to look at Taxi Driver in contrast to Bresson who rejected nearly all the means Scorsese revels in. Bresson used no music that didn't originate in the action. He would not show violence in his films because he refused to fake anything; and for the same reason he wouldn't allow his actors to display any facial or vocal expression. Taxi Driver is all about showing violence, and, above all, acting. Bresson uses only one lens and only the most discreet camera movement, Scorsese is always finding new ways to have the camera underline emotion by viewing things in ways the human eye can't. But the thing is, ultimately, both directors are distinguished for the extreme realism of their great movies. The thing that remains so breathtaking about Taxi Driver is the fidelity of it to the life of where and among whom it takes place. The people are more real than in most movies because Scorsese values the kind of improvising from his actors that makes reality in the relationships of the characters possible. Many locations are real. That's such a great thing to get from a movie, that feel of a real place as it was at a certain time, and, weirdly, hardly any movies give it to you. In a funny twist, once it's done the artist kind of owns it. I still always think of Taxi Driver when I see steam rising from a manhole (though doubtless Scorsese manufactured the movie steam). Something striking is the fear and loathing of black people in the movie. It's extreme, but I think that probably the reason it's not as objectionable as it might have been, is that you know it's true to the milieu he's depicting. I didn't mean to get sidetracked like this into a comparison of the methods of Taxi Driver and Devil. Sorry. My time's up. The Clash were way into Taxi Driver (a lot of Travis's voiceover's quoted in "Red Angel Dragnet" from Combat Rock, and then there's Strummer's mohawk...). A whole generation and a half were. It's unbelievably good. What's up with how much more at ease Travis seems at the end of the movie once he's killed everybody?


Thrust in Me (1984)
Direction: Nick Zedd and Richard Kern
Script: Nick Zedd
Cinematography: Richard Kern
Running time: 8 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
male and female: Nick Zedd; bearded dude: Don Houston; arguing girl: Margot Damien; pedestrian: Dee Finley

The Nutty Professor (1963)
Direction: Jerry Lewis
Script: story: Jerry Lewis; script: Jerry Lewis and Bill Richmond
Cinematography: W. Wallace Kelley
Running time: 107 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Professor Julius Kelp/Buddy Love/Baby Kelp: Jerry Lewis; Stella Purdy: Stella Stevens; Dr. Hamius R. Warfield: Del Moore; Millie Lemmon: Kathleen Freeman; football player: Med Flory; football player: Skip Ward; college student: Henry Gibson; Mr. Elmer Kelp: Howard Morris; Mother Kelp: Elvia Allman; Dr. Leevee: Milton Frome; Purple Pit bartender: Buddy Lester

The series was not meant to include NYC super-8 punk-world underground films of the seventies and eighties, but there were a couple that were irresistible: tonight's "Thrust in Me," and Richard Kern's "You Killed Me First" (screened last Wed Aug 20). (Kern's "King of Sex" or Ela Troyano's "Totem of the Depraved," both starring Nick Zedd, qualify too and might have been used.) Zedd outdoes himself here.

Jerry Lewis can't do anything right, but he's an egomaniac anyway and his confidence never fails. So he makes movies full of mistakes about a guy who's completely inept but whom everyone somehow finds irresistible. In a way Lewis is the ultimate anarchist. He does everything wrong, but he does it "on purpose." His favorite thing is pre-adolescent silliness. As Julius Kelp admits in The Nutty Professor, he's "accident prone." Jerry's jokes are rarely funny but they're so elaborately conceived and done with such assurance that you're stunned, aghast, you have to laugh. More than any of the movies in this series with all its freaks and loners and lonely, sometimes violent, outsiders, Jerry Lewis's movies are alienating. You can't figure out where he's coming from. He knows almost as little about how people relate to each other as Travis Bickle. You watch the movies and try to figure out what they're supposed to add up to and again and again your take is subverted. There's something exhilarating about it. This movie is by far his most coherent, but still it's full of incongruities and tedium. Your mind wanders, almost like the movie is some kind of filmic muzak, and then all of a sudden something riveting happens. The colors are amazing of course. His idea of the sex appeal of a Frank Sinatra "Rat Pack" type (I think Frank more than Dino) is so bizarre for the guy's completely snotty, condescending, self-absorption... I could watch Julius dance forever though.


Frankenstein (1931)
Direction: James Whale
Script: novel: Mary Shelley; play: Peggy Webling; adaptation: John L. Balderston; screenplay: Garrett Fort, Francis Edwards Faragoh, Robert Florey, John Russell
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Running time: 71 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Henry Frankenstein: Colin Clive; Elizabeth: Mae Clarke; Victor Moritz: John Boles; the Monster: Boris Karloff; Dr. Waldman: Edward Van Sloan; Baron Frankenstein: Frederick Kerr; Fritz: Dwight Frye; Herr Vogel (the burgomaster): Lionel Belmore; Maria (the child): Marilyn Harris; Ludwig (peasant father): Michael Mark

The first half of this movie is truly spooky: the grim cemetary opening scene, the theft of corpse-pieces from a medical school, the thieving scientist's huge tower of technology, the implacable weather... Even after all the ways that the images have been warped and re-cycled and diluted and mocked, here they still feel like morbid death and the existential elements (and the dangers of messing with them). I couldn't help thinking too that all these people, Colin Clive (is he God?), Dwight Frye (who'd just played Renfield in the Lugosi Dracula), Boris Karloff (who, like Frye, never would rescue his career from the horror casting), Mae Clark, Frederick Kerr -- all these people who seem like they come from another age, and do -- but whom we respond to in this movie, are dead themselves. Frankenstein is kind of James Whale's monster made from them. I love the moment where Fritz pulls up his sock. That's like out of Chaplin, as is the throwing of the child into the lake in its way. And the monster is actually scary and actually moving. The New York Dolls asked, "Do you think you could make it with Frankenstein?" I don't know why they asked that exactly. Are they saying beauty's only skin deep? But Frankenstein is innocent. Monsters 'r' us. Is God (Colin Clive)? The things the movie stirs up (much of which it got from Mary Shelley of course, and she from her predecessors) will never die.


Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)
Direction: Todd Solondz
Script: Todd Solondz
Cinematography: Randy Drummond
Running time: 87 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Dawn Wiener: Heather Matarazzo; Lolita: Vicki Davis; Cookie: Christina Brucato; Cynthia: Christina Vidal; Chrissy: Siri Howard; Brandon McCarthy: Brendan Sexton III; Jed: Telly Pontidis; Lance: Herbie Duarte; Troy: Scott Coogan; Missy Wiener: Daria Kalinina; Mark Wiener: Matthew Faber; Kenny: Josiah Trager; Barry: Ken Leung; Ralphy: Dimitri DeFresco; Mrs. Grissom: Rica Martens; Mrs. Wiener: Angela Pietropinto; Mr. Wiener: Bill Buell; Steve Rodgers: Eric Mabius; Mary Ellen Moriarty: Stacey Moseley; Mr. Edwards: Will Lyman; Mrs. Iannone: Elizabeth Martin; Ginger Friedman: Zsanne Pitta; Mr. Kasdan: Richard Gould; Steve's girlfriend: Beverly Hecht; Police Sergeant: Teddy Coluca; Tommy McCarthy: Tommy Fager; Mr. McCarthy: James O'Donoghue

I've seen this movie a few times now and I still always picture it as being in black and white, though it's in sugary color. Is that because the movie is so black and white? I mean it's very black., funny as it is too. Everyone in it is cruel. In some ways it's not as ambitious as most of the other films in this series. It's about the meanness and pettiness of everyone and not much else, but it does say a lot of things better and more funnily than other movies. It's kind of like a late-in-the-century Billy Wilder movie, like an Ace in the Hole. It's relentless: the victims of meanness in it always take every chance to blow off steam by being mean to whomever else they can. To like it is to be a jerk, but what can you do? It's a lot about its script, which keeps surprising you ("You get raped. Be there." And she is.), but the photography is perfectly-concocted too. The first time I saw it I was just amazed that someone had gotten that angle on suburban school days so well and hilariously. Solondz may be overbearing at times but he's some kind of genius.


Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Direction: Robert Aldrich
Script: novel: Mickey Spillane; screenplay: A.I. Bezzerides
Cinematography: Ernest Laszlo
Running time: 106 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Mike Hammer: Ralph Meeker; Dr. G.E. Soberin: Albert Dekker; Carl Evello: Paul Stewart; Eddie Yeager: Juano Hernandez; Lt. Pat Murphy: Wesley Addy; Friday: Marian Carr; Manager: Marjorie Bennett; Velda: Maxine Cooper; Carmen Trivago: Fortunio Bonanova; Christina Bailey: Cloris Leachman; Lily Carver: Gaby Rodgers; FBI agent: Robert Cornthwaite; Nick: Nick Dennis; Sugar Smallhouse: Jack Lambert; Charlie Max: Jack Elam; Horace's (super's) wife: Jesslyn Fax; Sammy: Jerry Zinneman; girl at pool: Leigh Snowden; Doc Kennedy: Percy Helton; nightclub singer: Mady Comfort; Ray Diker: Mort Marshall; Henry Wallace (truck driver): Strother Martin; Horace (building super): James McCallion; mover: Silvio Minciotti

This movie is one of those that's too good to be true. You're stopped alone at a motel somewhere in the desert late at night dead tired but you can't sleep so you switch on the TV... and there's a near-teenage Cloris Leachman running towards you moaning and sobbing in the darkness too blond and naked to believe. But there she is. What a world. Ralph Meeker speeds up in a Jaguar! Nat King Cole warbles on the radio. Cloris is named after Christina Rossetti! It's 1955. She's a bitter feminist escapee from a mental asylum. And it just gets better, all the way till after the last second. Along with the action, corruption, sadism, and sex (when the blond in her car who happens to be behind Mike Hammer when he pulls in a driveway is immediately compelled to press herself against him and kiss him in a frame with bulging taillights from the fin of the forward auto, somehow it's sexier than the porniest pornography), the photography (mise en scène) would make this movie immortal alone. It's the kind of movie that makes me laugh at the notion of "art" photography. A few thousand frames from this one film would make a better life's work in photography than any artist has yet created. Cindy Sherman has a right to a living like everyone else, but Jesus... Nicholas Raymondo ("Very Smart. Very Bright. Very Sad.") was "sad for the way the world is," but Christina tells us

... if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile

[from "Remember" by Christina Georgina Rossetti] [Misquoted thusly in the movie: "Remember me when no more day by day you tell me of the future that you planned. Only remember me, you'll understand, but if the darkness and corruption leave a vestige of the thoughts that once we had..."]


Nightmare Alley (1947)
Direction: Edmund Goulding
Script: novel: William Lindsay Gresham; screenplay: Jules Furthman
Cinematography: Lee Garmes
Running time: 110 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Stanton Carlisle: Tyrone Power; Molly Carlisle: Coleen Gray; Zeena Krumbein: Joan Blondell; Lilith Ritter: Helen Walker; Ezra Grindle: Taylor Holmes; Bruno: Mike Mazurki; Pete Krumbein: Ian Keith; Addie Peabody: Julia Dean; Clem Hoatley (first carnival owner): James Flavin; McGraw (final carnival owner): Roy Roberts; town marshall: James Burke; fire eater: Maurice Navarro; detective: Leo Z. Gray; captain: Albin Robeling; geek: George Beranger; Mrs. Prescott: Marjorie Wood; Mr. Prescott: Harry Cheshire; farmer: Edward Clark; old farmer (friend of J.E. Giles): Eddy Waller; Charlie: Mike Lally; waiter: George Davis; delivery boy with records: Hollis Jewell; worried mother in Spode Room: Nina Gilbert; friend in Spode Room: Jerry Miley; husband in Spode Room: Gilbert Wilson; maid in Grindle house: June Bolyn; masseur: Gene Roth; bellboy: Charles Flickinger; Jane (Lilith's housekeeper): Florence Auer; hobos: George Chandler, Oliver Blake, Emmett Lynn, George Lloyd, Jack Raymond; radio announcer: John Wald; stage manager: Clancy Cooper

This seems like an extreme example of a Hollywood studio "factory" picture -- an assembly line production -- that transcended its origins. A kind of opposite-side-of-the-coin Casablanca in that respect. "Opposite" because it's one of the coldest, most cynical stories ever shot in Hollywood, and it failed at the box office. "You're going against God!" Edmund Goulding was a journeyman director. He had a reputation for working well with actors and he'd made big movies -- Grand Hotel with Garbo and Barrymore for instance -- but his direction didn't have a personal style. Tyrone Power liked him -- Power'd acted for him in the successful Razor's Edge -- and it was Power's idea to do this story. Apart from the source, a realistically sleazy novel, maybe the people who brought the most to the project were the screenwriter and cinematographer, who'd both worked with von Sternberg on Morocco and Shanghai Express. Somehow, anyway, everything falls together to create the least "Hollywood" of Hollywood movies. Or the most Hollywood. "It gives you a kind of superior feeling... As if you're in the know and they're on the outside looking in. It's kind of hard to explain but I like it."


Band of Outsiders (Bande à part) (1964)
Direction: Jean-Luc Godard
Script: novel: Fool's Gold by Dolores Hitchens; screenplay: Jean-Luc Godard
Cinematography: Raould Coutard
Running time: 97 min.

Cast (Character: Actor): Odile: Anna Karina; Arthur: Claude Brasseur; Franz: Sami Frey; Madame Victoria: Louisa Colpeyn; english teacher: Danièle Girard; Arthur's uncle: Ernest Menzer; Arthur's Aunt: Chantal Darget; pupil: Michele Seghers; pupil: Claude Makovski; pupil: Jean-Claude Remoleux;légionnaire: Georges Staquet; doorman at school: Michel Delahaye; narration: Jean-Luc Godard

The director of this movie credits himself as Jean-Luc Cinema Godard. In the five years since his first movie, Breathless (1959), until the completion of this one, he'd made seven films, including A Woman Is a Woman, My Life to Live, and Contempt. There'd never been anything like him in movies and there still hasn't. My first choice for this series was actually Pierrot le fou (Belmondo/Karina, color, poetry, Vietnam/Algeria, runaway roadtrip, suicide...) but we couldn't get a print. My second choice was My Life to Live (Karina, prostitution, black and white, Dreyer, Bresson, death, Paris), but Danny wanted Band of Outsiders and any of them works fine: Godard could do no wrong in this period (and arguably forever) and any of the films would fit. As so often in Godard, characters in this movie come to a bad end. He sure has a deep fatalistic, despairing streak (Truffaut, who wrote the story of Breathless, described how when at the end of that movie Belmondo is shot, Godard wanted one of the cops who's responsible to shout to the other "Quick, in the spine!" -- but Truffaut persuaded him it was excessive...), but what's really striking about this movie is the sheer thrill of life in it. It's so pretty and overflowing with life it hurts. Even when the director's boring or a buffoon it's moving, it's happy. You feel like he wants you to come out and play with him. The way a guy could have his grasp of cinematic "language" and then just say "to hell with it" and do whatever he feels like: run away to the south, start dancing, turn the sound off: it's completely inspiring. Its spontaneity and its mixture of sophistication and glibness, humor and sadness, and its mastery altogether of its medium, remind me of the poet Frank O'Hara more than another filmmaker. [Trivia: Quentin Tarantino named his production company after this movie. I also want to add one point regarding Godard and "punk." Another thing about the director that was inspiring to me as a rock & roll player, was that he was a man working in a mass medium who wasn't afraid to cop to being an intellectual. He flaunted his love of literature, philosophy, art, and film, and he flouted the cheesy fear of a "popular" artist's admitting to self-consciousness and intellectual sophistication. I think the meaningful definition of "intellectual" is one who is interested in trying to understand causes, one who analyzes what's going on, and I don't think that conflicts with the aims of good work in any medium, whether "punk" or genre movies...]


The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Direction: Tobe Hooper
Script: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Cinematography: Daniel Pearl
Running time: 83 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Sally Hardesty: Marilyn Burns; Jerry: Allen Danziger; Franklin Hardesty: Paul A. Partain; Kirk: William Vail; Pam: Teri McMinn; the hitchhiker: Edwin Neal; Drayton Sawyer (old man): Jim Siedow; Leatherface/Bubba Sawyer, Jr.: Gunnar Hansen; Grandfather Sawyer: John Dugan; window washer: Robert Courtin; bearded man: William Creamer; storyteller: John Henry Faulk; cowboy: Jerry Green; cattle truck driver: Ed Guinn; drunk: Joe Bill Hogan; pickup driver: Perry Lorenz; narrator (voice): John Larroquette

Oh man. This movie is hard to take. I remember first seeing it in 1974. I wasn't a follower of horror or gore or splatter movies but I heard this film was good and when I saw it I wasn't disappointed. I'd never seen an extreme, a "pure," exploitation movie that was so smart and full of imagination. I recommended it to everyone I knew. I thought about it. I bought a still of Leatherface from it. I think most people pretty quickly outgrow any focused interest in movies the main intention of which is to viciously horrify. I really didn't like Hannibal in 2001 for instance because I thought it treated me like meat, and as I watched TCM (as they call it) recently, I felt the same way: I didn't need to get my nose pointlessly rubbed in screaming pain, rotting flesh, and the mind-set of death-pleasure. It's something kids are into, like the high school kids in Rebel Without a Cause are into "chickie runs," but eventually you don't have to seek that out anymore -- it's everywhere. But as I watched the movie, I appreciated it more and more. This movie is much better than Hannibal or Se7en. From the point where the guy in the wheelchair meets Leatherface, and the girl-chase is on, it's amazing the way it feels like a nightmare the tension of which just gets ratcheted up further and further. It has so many ideas and it takes them to that point you want where they're so outrageous they're funny at the same time as they're horrifying. (Se7en wasn't funny -- it was just sleazy and obnoxious.) The technical effects -- camera and editing and lab effects -- can get arbitrary, scattershot, but most of them work and it's great to have the director care enough and have the chops he does. There's no question that the story gets some of its power from being inspired by the real life case of Ed Gein whose biography also suggested the books and movies Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (the serial killer "Buffalo Bill" in that). Gein's house when police discovered it in 1959 looked like the Sawyer place in TCM: a headless, gutted, woman's corpse was hanging upside down from the beams; a bowl was the top of a human skull; and lampshades, wastebasket, and chair upholstery were human skin. There was a belt of nipples, a box of dried vaginas, and an entire suit made of human skin. Gein would dress up in female body parts. In another odd congruence of this film series, Gein supposedly owed a lot of his psychological makeup -- as did Jim Stark (James Dean) in Rebel Without a Cause and Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) in Nutty Professor -- to a childhood influenced by a domineering mother and a weak father. One of the first Ramones songs, "Chainsaw," was inspired by this movie.


Pickup on South Street (1953)
Direction: Samuel Fuller
Script: story ("Blaze of Glory"): Dwight Taylor; screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Cinematography: Joseph MacDonald
Running time: 80 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Skip McCoy: Richard Widmark; Candy: Jean Peters; 'Moe' Williams: Thelma Ritter; Capt. Dan Tiger: Murvyn Vye; Joey: Richard Kiley; F.B.I. agent Zara: Willis Bouchey; F.B.I. agent Enyart: Jerry O'Sullivan; MacGregor: Henry Slate; Dietrich: Harry Carter; police clerk: George E. Stone; Fenton: George Eldredge; police commissioner: Stuart Randall; Lum: Frank Kumagai; Lightning Louie: Victor Perry; peddler: Maurice Samuels; bum: Emmett Lynn; headquarters communist in chair: Parley Baer; Mr. Victor: Roger Moore; Det. Winocki: Milburn Stone; microfilm library clerk: Jay Loftin; nurse: Virginia Carroll; lean man: Clancy Cooper; driver: Wilson Wood; F.B.I. agent Ray (in Candy's apartment): Ray Montgomery; coffin boat captain: Ralph Moody; customer: George Berkeley

I remember being baffled by the first Sam Fuller (1911-1997) film I saw when I was in my late teens or early twenties, a revival at the old St. Mark's theater on Second Ave. The audience was guffawing and cheering and I thought it was really stupid: some kind of condescending intellectual slumming. I can't remember which film turned me around. The Naked Kiss? That's a great one. My first choice for a Fuller for this series was Shock Corridor, but we couldn't get a good print. Pickup on South Street might be a better pick anyway. What makes Fuller so popular with highly educated cineastes is Fuller's unpretentiousness, not because it's naive, but because it makes him a purer example of filmmaking talent: since there's no subtlety, no subtext, no self-consciousness, it means that to enjoy it you've got to enjoy it for the pure, abstract, methods of film as film. Famously, his roots are in two environments, tabloid journalism ("pulp") and World War II (where he saw a lot of action with the infantry); in a scene at a party in Godard's Pierrot le fou when he's asked what cinema is he replies "Film is like a battleground: love, hate, action, violence, death. In one word: emotion." And that's the way his films feel: like they're emotion, the way music is. They're not about ideas at all (though they're "hardboiled" and there's lots of tabloid/sensationalist irony). His fight scenes are thrilling and like no one else's; you can recognize them in a second. His style altogether is distinctive. Everything is in your face. Lots of closeups, lots of tracking in for closeups, long takes with plenty of camera movement. It is like pulp journalism, like a fluid Weegee. Emotion. As corny and cartoony as she is, Thelma Ritter's last scene in this is really moving. She actually got an Academy Award nomination for supporting actress for the role. The closeup smooching of Widmark and Jean Peters can leave you breathless too, even though the sessions usually end with him mocking or slapping her. In 1974 when I was first singing my song "Love Comes in Spurts" at CBGB's, I sometimes used to introduce it with the line that comes when Widmark's kissed an eager Peters and she's told him she really likes him and he sneers, "Everybody likes everybody when they're kissing."


The Honeymooners: "Better Living Through TV" (1955)
Direction: Frank Satenstein
Script: Marvin Marx, Walter Stone
Cinematography: Doug Downs
Running time: 25 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Ralph Kramden: Jackie Gleason; Ed Norton: Art Carney; Alice Kramden: Audrey Meadows; Trixie Norton: Joyce Randolph

Stranger Than Paradise (1984)
Direction: Jim Jarmusch
Script: Jim Jarmusch
Cinematography: Tom DiCillo
Running time: 89 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Willie: John Lurie; Eva: Eszter Balint; Eddie: Richard Edson; Aunt Lotte: Cecillia Stark; Billy: Danny Rosen; man with money: Rammellzee; airline agent: Tom DiCillo; factory worker: Richard Boes; poker player: Rockets Redglare; poker player: Harvey Perr; poker player: Brian Burchill; girl with hat: Sara Driver; motel owner: Paul Sloane

This is one of the funniest Honeymooners. I can't remember exactly what years but for a long time back around the seventies channel eleven would run a Honeymooners episode every night at 11:00 or 11:30. There weren't that many episodes made so you'd watch them over and over. As mentioned, Johnny Thunders got his "You Can't Put Yours Arms Around a Memory" song title from this one. (That song, incidentally, was featured prominently in Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead in 1999.) It would have been nice to run a Bowery Boys short in this series too. Or maybe the original 1937 Dead End, the movie that introduced the roles of the New York youth gang that would eventually trickle down to become the funky clown Bowery Boys posing as kids twenty years later, but it didn't make the cut...

The first things a person notices about Stranger Than Paradise are its humor and its artful photography. All of Jarmusch's movies have both. The humor in it is like a weird mixture of Beckett and Scorsese, even down to the way the main characters dress: sort of clown bums with a slightly old-world or pimpish street-sharp touch. Jarmusch's dialogue seems to anticipate Quentin Tarantino sometimes too, with bits like the TV dinner scene in this movie. It's strange how strongly the flick evokes the late-seventies/early-eighties on the Lower East Side, even though there're not a lot of actually recognizable views, and only a third of the movie takes place in NYC anyway. While at the same time the "world-view," the sensibility, of the movie seems kind of nineties, with its young slacker-type cast who seem aimless while dryly funny (not tortured), things all ironic. The movie is unusual in a way typical of Jarmusch too in its feeling of world-citizenship: it's about Hungary as America, as, for instance Down by Law features an Italian in Louisiana, Mystery Train shows Japanese visiting Memphis, Tennessee, and A Night on Earth takes place in Helsinki, Rome, and New York. Frankly I never even noticed that each little scene is one take. Jarmusch's movies often seem like they start from stoned film-student ideas. It's great to have someone smart who can actually get films like that made. Note that Tom DiCillo, the cinematographer (who also plays the airline agent), would later become a writer/director, responsible for the hilarious movie about independent filmmaking, Living in Oblivion (1995).


Un chien andalou (1929)
Direction: Luis Buñuel
Script: Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí
Cinematography: Albert Duverger
Running time: 16 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
man: Pierre Batcheff; woman: Simone Mareuil; man with razor: Luis Buñuel; seminarist (on right, pulled with piano): Salvador Dalí

Gummo (1997)
Direction: Harmony Korine
Script: Harmony Korine
Cinematography: Jean-Yves Escoffier
Running time: 89 min.

Cast (Character: Actor):
Bunny Boy: Jacob Sewell; Tummler: Nick Sutton; girl in car: Lara Tosh; Solomon: Jacob Reynolds; Darby: Darby Dougherty; Dot: Chloë Sevigny; Helen: Carisa Glucksman; skinhead #1: Jason Guzak; skinhead #2: Casey Guzak; Huntz: Wendall Carr; cowboy #1: James Lawhorn; cowboy #2: James Glass; Ellen: Ellen M. Smith; Eddie: Charles Matthew Coatney; boy on couch (with dwarf): Harmony Korine; "midget": Bryant L. Crenshaw; Jarrod: Daniel Martin; Earl: Nathan Rutherford; Cole: Max Perlich; Cassiday: Bernadette Resna; Solomon's Mom: Linda Manz; albino woman: Donna Brewster; Tummler's father: James David Glass; chair wrestler: Mark Gonzales; grandmother: Berniece M. Duvall; deaf woman: Kristi Faye Randolph; deaf man: William Dickinson; bald guy: Bill Evans; Terry: Jeffery Baker; Phelipe: James Baker; woman in bed: Rose Shephard

Buñuel (1900-1983) and Dalí (1904-1989) were Spanish and met as students at the University of Madrid. This movie was more or less the pair's application to be accepted by the surrealists in Paris. It's intended to undermine convention and to disrupt the reason's automatic attempts to draw conclusions from it. It has a lot of information though and is handsomely conducted and the associations it provokes are educational. It's a marvel. Dalí would go on to be a profiteering multi-national corporation, while Buñuel never ceased to care for nothing but provocative, transcendent, amusement. As he wrote of this film in his 1983 autobiography: "I suggested that we [the surrealists of 1929] burn the negative... something I would have done without hesitation had the group agreed. In fact I'd still do it today; I can imagine a huge pyre in my own little garden where all my negatives and all the copies of my own films go up in flames. It wouldn't make the slightest difference."

There's nothing like a movie that takes you to places you're aware that exist but that you've never seen given star-treatment. Gummo is the culture of Harmony Korine's determination to present it. One moment it's very cold, one moment it's a joke, one moment it's brain-damaged, but it's always pretty and disorienting. In the hands of people who really get it, no medium is as rich as movies. There are so many things going on at once in this one. It's the best first film since Breathless or Citizen Kane. It's deeply scary -- or at least confusing, which is a certain kind of "scary" -- for the way it makes boredom and ugliness so pretty. And then it has plenty that's purely happy too. That scene of the girls kissing Bunny Boy in the pool in the rain to Roy Orbison is worthy of Mozart. In a way, you could also say this is the movie Deerhunter should have been: these are the people who are the backbone of America.

© 2003 by Richard Meyers


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