Back to School Part II #6: Jeremy (dir by Arthur Barron)


Jeremy

After I finally finished working out my thoughts concerning A Clockwork Orange, I continued my back to school reviews by watching a 1973 teen romance called Jeremy.  I have to admit that it was kind of a shock going from Stanley Kubrick’s confrontational masterpiece to this rather gentle and sweet-natured film about two nice kids who fall in love.  But that’s one of the things that I love about reviewing movies.  You get to see all sorts of things.

As for Jeremy — it’s a film that tells a familiar story but it doesn’t quite go in the direction that you’re expecting.  15 year-old Jeremy (played by Robby Benson, who was apparently the Justin Bieber of his day) is a 15 year-old student at a private high school in New York City.  He’s a brilliant but painfully shy student.  He’s very serious about learning the cello, even though his teacher (Leonardo Cimino) tells him that he’s good but he’ll probably never be great.  He’s also really into horse racing, though he never bets himself.  Instead, he just likes to pick the winner and is content with the knowledge that he was right.  Jeremy is largely ignored by his parents and has only one friend but he seems to be okay with his largely solitary life.

That is, of course, until he spots Susan (Glynnis O’Connor) practicing ballet in a classroom.  Jeremy is instantly attracted to her and it’s obvious that she likes him as well but, because of his pathological shyness, Jeremy cannot bring himself to ask her out.  (In fact, he even forgets to ask her name the first time that they meet.)  It’s not until Susan compliments him on his cello playing that Jeremy is able to work up the courage to ask her out.  It’s not that Jeremy is arrogant or stand-offish or any of the other stuff that people regularly say about shy people.  It’s just that talking about his cello gives Jeremy the courage to be himself.  It’s rather sweet, actually.

Jeremy and Susan go out for three weeks and, in a tastefully handled scene, even end up making love for the first time.  However, Susan’s father has been transferred to another city and Susan is about to move away.  Even when Susan and Jeremy say that they’re in love, all of the adults ignore them.

At this point, I was expecting Susan and Jeremy to enter into a suicide pact but it didn’t happen.  That’s not the type of film that Jeremy is.  Jeremy is a very sweet but ultimately realistic film about first love and first heartbreak.

As for the two lead performers, they apparently dated for a while after making Jeremy and they both display a very real chemistry in the film.  Admittedly, there’s a few scenes where Benson goes a little bit overboard but, watching him, I could tell why he was a teen idol in the 70s.  There’s not a threatening or dangerous thing about him and when he’s insecure or sad, you just want give him a big hug.  Glynnis O’Connor brings a bit of an edge to Susan (there always seems to be a poignant sadness right under the surface when it comes to Susan) and it contrasts nicely with Benson’s performance.

In the end, it may not add up too much but it’s heartfelt and nicely done and I’m glad that I watched it.

Back to School Part II #5: A Clockwork Orange (dir by Stanley Kubrick)


It may seem strange, at first, that I am including the 1971 best picture nominee, A Clockwork Orange, in a series of Back to School reviews.  Certainly, Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s novel is not usually described as being a film about juvenile delinquency but that’s exactly what it is.

Many viewers tend to forget that Alex (played by Malcolm McDowell, who was nearly 30 at the time) and his three droogs are all meant to be teenagers.  (Only Michael Tarn, who played Pete, was actually a teenager at the time the film was shot.  Warren “Dim” Clarke and James “Georgie” Marcus were both in their late 20s.)  There’s even a lengthy scene in which Alex is interrogated by a social worker, P.R. Deltoid (Aubrey Morris).  Viewers are usually so surprised when Deltoid suddenly grabs Alex’s crotch that they forget that the whole reason Deltoid even came to the flat was to find out why Alex had been skipping school.  (“Pain in my gulliver,” was Alex’s oft-quoted excuse.)

So, make no mistake about it.  Among other things, A Clockwork Orange is a film about both the problem of juvenile delinquency and the continuing debate concerning what the authorities should do about it.  Stylistic and philosophical differences aside, A Clockwork Orange comes from the same cinematic family tree that’s given us everything from Rebel Without A Cause to Bully to Spring Breakers.

Of course, that’s not all that A Clockwork Orange is about.  It’s a Kubrick film, which means that there’s several different layers to work through and multiple interpretations for what we see on-screen.  For those who may not be familiar with the film, it takes place in a recognizable but futuristic England.  (One of my favorite theories is that A Clockwork Orange was about what was happening on Earth while David Bowman was becoming the starchild in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)  It’s a violent world, one where there appears to be significantly fewer people around than in the past.  The streets are deserted and bombed out.  Occasionally, when Alex returns to his home, he passes a mural of idealized working men creating a new world.  This rather banal work of Socialist realism has been defaced by obscene drawings and mocking graffiti.

Teenage Alex spends his nights hanging out with his friends (or, as he calls them, droogs), Pete, Georgie, and Dim.  They drink at the Korova Milk Bar and wear obscenely oversized codpieces, signifying this society’s obsession with outsized masculinity. When they speak (and when Alex narrates the film), they do so in a rhyming slang called Nadsat.  Under Alex’s sociopathic leadership, they spend their nights raping women, beating the homeless, and fighting with other gangs.  When Alex is not with his droogs, he enjoys lying around the house and listening to Beethoven (or “Ludwig Van” as he calls him).

After being betrayed by his droogs (who have tired of Alex’s cockiness), Alex ends up imprisoned for murder.  However, Alex is offered an early release if he’s willing to take part in the Ludovico Treatment.  For two weeks, Alex is drugged and forced to watch violent and sexual films while the music of Beethoven plays in the background.  As a result of the treatment, Alex grows physically ill at the thought of both violence and sex but he can also no longer listen to Beethoven.  Arguably, as a result of being cursed of his anti-social tendencies, he has lost the only non-destructive thing that he enjoyed.

Over the objections of the prison chaplain (who argues that robbing Alex of his free will is not the same as rehabilitating him), Alex is sent back into the real world and he quickly discovers that he now has no place in it.  His parents have rented his room out to a boarder who is now more of a son to them than Alex ever was.  The streets are full of men who were previously tormented by Alex and who now wants revenge.  In perhaps the film’s most brilliant moment, Alex discovers that his former droogs are now members of the police force.  Though they may now be wearing uniforms, Dim and Georgie are still as destructive and dangerous as Alex once was.  The difference is that Alex was caught and cured whereas Dim and Georgie discovered they could do just as much damage as authority figures as they did as juvenile delinquents.

In fact, the only people who now care about Alex are the political dissidents who hope to use Alex to discredit the government.  However, the dissidents aren’t particularly worried about Alex’s well-being either.  He’s just a prop to be used for their own ambitions.  Even worse, for Alex, is the fact that one of the dissidents is Mr. Alexander (Patrick Magee), a writer who lost both his ability to walk and his wife to an earlier assault committed by Alex…

(Interestingly enough, Mr. Alexander’s boyguard is played by David Prowse, who later become the ultimate symbol of government oppression when he was cast as Darth Vader in Star Wars.)

A Clockwork Orange is a brilliant film but it’s one about which I have very mixed feelings.  On the one hand, you can’t deny the power of the film’s imagery.  How many times has just the opening shot — of McDowell staring at us while wearing one fake eyelash — been imitated on TV and in other movies?  How much of the film’s dialogue — from “pain in my gulliver” to “the old in-out” — has lived on long past the movie?  Regardless of how many times I’ve seen A Clockwork Orange, the film’s electronic score (from Wendy Carlos) never ceases to amaze me.  Finally, it’s a film that argues that free will is so important that even a sociopath like Alex must be allowed to have it and that, as the chaplain argues, true goodness comes from within and cannot be manufactured or regulated by a government agency.  (It’s also a film that suggests that the government would be just as quick to use the Ludovico Treatment not just on the evil Alexes on the world but on anyone who dared to dissent from the party line.)  As I’m something of a “Freedom of Choice” absolutist, that’s a message to which I responded.

(At the same time, A Clockwork Orange does not argue that Alex’s actions should be free of consequences.  If anything, the film’s message seems to be that things would have been better for literally everyone if the government had just left Alex in jail, as opposed to trying to “fix” what was wrong with him.)

And yet, I have mixed feelings about A Clockwork Orange.  I guess my main issue is that the film doesn’t always play fair.  Malcolm McDowell is allowed to give a charismatic and well-rounded performance as Alex but nearly everyone else in the film is directed and written as a one-dimensional caricature.  Whereas Anthony Burgess’s novel emphasized the very real damage that Alex did to his victims, the film tends to surround Alex with comedic grotesqueries.  By both making Alex the only fully developed character in the entire film and then casting the energetic and charismatic Malcolm McDowell in the role, the film seems, at times, to come dangerously close to letting Alex off the hook for his worst crimes.  It also leaves the film open to the oft-repeated charge of glamorizing sex and violence.  (According to Roger Lewis’s biography of the author, that was Anthony Burgess’s opinion of the film.)  For the record, I don’t think A Clockwork Orange is an immoral film but I understand why some people disagree.

For that reason, A Clockwork Orange remains a controversial film.  In fact, I’m somewhat surprised that this subversive and deliberately confrontational film was nominated for best picture.  It was only the 2nd (and last) X-rated film to receive a best picture nomination.  Though it lost to The French Connection, A Clockwork Orange continues to be a powerful and controversial film to this day.  Perhaps the biggest indication of A Clockwork Orange‘s success is that it’s still being debated 45 years after it was first released.

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Tall (Tales) in the Saddle: THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE (RKO 1938)


crackedrearviewer

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Cowboy star Harry Carey had been around since motion pictures were knee-high to a cactus. He made his first film in 1908, working with pioneer director D.W. Griffith. He was already one of silent film’s biggest sagebrush stars by the time he made 1918’s STRAIGHT SHOOTER, the directorial debut of John Ford. When the  talkies rolled around, Carey was over fifty and his leading man days were behind him. He transitioned into a fine character actor, and his talents are given a good showcase in the low-budget Western THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE.

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Carey is champion liar Bill Barker, a charming rascal who spins tall tales of his bravery fighting bloodthirsty Indians. The old windbag gets himself thrown out of New York circa 1881 when he tries to run a con on Wall Street tycoon Sam Kent. Not even his ex, a former saloon girl now passing herself off as continental singing…

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In Memory of Steven Hill


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When I was younger, I was really proud of my Adam Schiff imitation.  I would sigh with resignation and then say, in my best weary, old man voice, “This case has got loser written all over it.  Take the deal, Jack.  Take the deal.”

Of course, I later discovered that every fan of Law & Order could do a perfect Adam Schiff impersonation.  Even in the 1990s, Law & Order was known for its high cast turnover but, for the first ten seasons, Steven Hill’s Adam Schiff would always be the show’s constant.  It didn’t matter if the main prosecutor was played by Michael Moriarty or Sam Waterston or if the senior detective was Jerry Orbach or (God help us) George Dzundza.  We always knew that the Adam Schiff would be the district attorney and that, 40 minutes into the show, he would order either Stone or McCoy to “take the deal.”

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Steven Hill played many roles before he was cast as Adam Schiff.  He was even the original lead on Mission Impossible, until he left the role because the show’s producers were not prepared to accommodate his adherence to the Sabbath.  After leaving Mission Impossible, he did not act for ten years and when he returned, he made a career out of playing no-nonsense authority figures.

But, for people my age, Steven Hill will always be Adam Schiff.  Hill brought gravitas to every line he spoke and, as New York’s veteran district attorney, Hill came to represent the type of unimpeachable integrity that we all wished we could see in real-life public officials.  For many of us, Steven Hill was Law & Order and the show never recovered after he retired from the role.

Steven Hill died earlier today, at the age of 94.  Thanks for the memories, Mr. Hill.  Thank you for bringing Adam Schiff and so many other characters to life.

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Music Video of the Day: Pressure by Billy Joel (1982, dir. Russell Mulcahy)


I’m really not sure what to say about this other than to watch it. It is one of the best music videos I have spotlighted so far. That shouldn’t be a big surprise since it is Russell Mulcahy directing a Billy Joel music video. For whatever reason, Billy Joel’s music videos are some of the best I have seen. Russell Mulcahy is an excellent director of music videos. It’s a winning combination.

I guess there are two things I want to make particular note of in the music video. First, is that it uses a modified version of the training montage from The Parallax View (1974) at the beginning. The second thing is that I love how Mulcahy used water and liquids in general as something that not only builds up pressure when attempts to contain it are made, but also as something that can consume you if you cannot handle pressure as the song says. It is much like the television that winds up capturing the kid within it since it is also a source of pressure along with magazines and other mass media.

This is another one of those music videos where we know more than just the director.

Andrew Dintefass was the cinematographer on Pressure. He shot a few other music videos with Russell Mulcahy, some other music videos, and did a few other things as well.

Doug Dowdle edited Pressure. He also edited, directed, and wrote a few music videos.

Keith Williams wrote Pressure. He wrote over 60 music videos, which includes a bunch of Russell Mulcahy ones. I found an IMDb entry that I am pretty sure is him and includes numerous producer credits.

Jackie Adams was the producer of Pressure. She seems to have exclusively produced music videos directed by Russell Mulcahy.

I love when I come across a music video that has this much documentation available.

Enjoy!

“Briggs Land” Is Made-For-TV Comics At Its Best


Trash Film Guru

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For as long as I can remember, Brian Wood has been one of those writers who has — to his credit — shared copyright ownership on all of his various projects with the artists involved and, in the case of the just-concluded Image series Starve, even the colorist. So if you’re an indicia-reader like myself, the “Copyright 2016 Brian Wood” in the fine print of the first issue of his new Dark Horse-published title, Briggs Land, is something of a surprise. We’re used to the artists being cut out of the action over at Aftershock, but why was Mack Chater — who does a bang-up job on this book, as you’ll see in the art reproduced below — not given co-creator credit here?

Well, the answer to that is simple : this comic has already been optioned for television and is, in fact, being developed simultaneously on the…

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