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


Trash Film Guru

briggsland

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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Back to School Part II #4: Summer of ’42 (dir by Robert Mulligan)


Summer_of_'42_POSTER

Originally, I was going to finish up the first day of my back to school reviews by talking about A Clockwork Orange.  I figured that, since the second film I reviewed was Andy Warhol’s Vinyl, it would just make sense that the fourth film would A Clockwork Orange.

But, I don’t know.  As I sat down and started to work on my fourth review, I realized that I’m not quite ready to write about A Clockwork Orange.  Instead, I’d rather hold off on that until tomorrow.  So, instead, I’m going to talk about Summer of ’42, another coming-of-age film that came out the same year.

That’s right — A Clockwork Orange and Summer of ’42 both came out in 1971 but — in content and sensibility — they might as well exist in different universes.  In fact, the only thing that they have in common is that they both tend to show up on TCM fairly frequently and that they’ve both influenced countless other films.

Speaking of TCM, that’s where I first saw Summer of ’42.  I have to admit that I’m writing this review from memory and that may not be the best way to review a film.  I saw Summer of ’42 about four months ago and, at the time, I thought it was a well-done but predictable little movie.  I even took notes for a future review but I didn’t get around to writing that review because … well, at the time, it just seemed like there wasn’t a lot to say about it.  Summer of ’42 is a sweet film but almost everything about it is right on the surface.  What you see is what you get.  I’m not surprised to discover that it was the 6th highest grossing film of 1971.  In a year that saw not only A Clockwork Orange but The Last Picture Show, The French Connection, Brother John, Billy Jack, Carnal Knowledge, Dirty Harry, Harold and Maude, Let’s Scare Jessica To Death, Klute, Straw Dogs, Pretty Maids All In A Row, and The Zodiac Killer, audiences were probably relieved to see a film that was neither violent, morally ambiguous, nor apocalyptic.

Instead, Summer of ’42 is a coming-of-age story that was specifically crafted to appeal to a world-weary audience’s nostalgia for the simple and carefree days of World War II.  This is one of those films where an older narrator continually reassures us that we’re seeing the most defining moment of his youth and all of the pretty images are in soft focus.  Hermie (Gary Grimes), Oscy (Jerry Houser), and Benjie (Oliver Conant) are three fifteen year-olds, all of whom are spending their summer on Nantucket Island.  Benjie is obsessed with sex but he’s nerdy.  Oscy is obsessed with sex but he’s a jerk.  Hermie is obsessed with sex but he’s the narrator so we already know that he’s too sensitive to lose his virginity to any girl his own age.

Luckily, there’s a woman in her 20s who is living in a nearby beach house.  Dorothy (Jennifer O’Neill) is beautiful but she’s married.  However, her husband’s a soldier and it is 1942 so, pretty soon, he’s out of the picture.  Hermie develops a mad crush on her and then, luckily for him, her husband dies and she spends a night teaching him the ways of love.  The next morning, she vanishes but leaves Hermie a note, telling him that she will never forget him and that it’s up to him to decide what their night together meant.

(Hermie never gets around to telling us what their night together meant so I guess it’s up to us to decide.  Personally, I just hope Hermie was careful who he told because, nowadays, a 23 year-old can get in a lot of legal trouble if she’s caught having sex with a 15 year-old.  Maybe things were different in 1942…)

As I said before, my initial response was that Summer of ’42 was sweet but predictable.  And that’s the way I still feel about it.  It was well-acted, well-filmed, and Jennifer O’Neill was amazingly beautiful but there was still something about Summer of ’42 that kind of bothered me.  We never really got to know who Dorothy was.  Her entire character was defined by her one night with Hermie.  Yes, I do understand that was kind of the point because the story was being told exclusively from Hermie’s point of view.  But it still bothered me.  Beyond being beautiful, tragic, and ultimately available, who was Dorothy?

But really, it wasn’t just something about the Summer of ’42 that was bothering me.  Instead, it was something about the coming-of-age genre in general.  I have lost track of how many nostalgic films and TV shows that I have seen that feature a narrator talking about the summer that he “became a man.”  It’s amazing how many awkward teenage boys apparently lost their virginity to a beautiful older woman who promptly vanished afterwards.  If, as has been recently suggested, I spent next summer in a rented beach house, am I going to be obligated to be the first lover of every 15 year-old, aspiring writer who happens to come wandering down the beach?  That could be time consuming, depending on how popular the beach is.

I guess what I’m saying is that perhaps somebody needs to remake Summer of ’42 and tell it from Dorothy’s point of view.

Just a thought.

 

Back To School Part II #3: Lord Love A Duck (dir by George Axelrod)


Lordloveaduck

For my third Back to School review, I watched the 1966 satire, Lord Love A Duck!

Hey hey hey!

I have to admit that, because I’m writing this review in a hurry and because the D and the F key are located right next to each other, I keep accidentally calling this film Lord Love A Fuck.  Somehow, that seems appropriate because Lord Love A Duck is a very odd and subversive little movie that deals with people who are largely motivated by lust and I’m pretty sure that, at one point, Roddy McDowall is seen saying, “Fuck off!” but, of course, we don’t actually hear him say it.  But seriously, Lord Love A Duck is a weird movie.

Hey hey hey!

Roddy McDowall plays Alan Musgrave, a student at a “progressive” high school in California.  Roddy was about 37 years old when he played a high school senior and he doesn’t look like a teenager at all but somehow, it’s appropriate.  After all, Alan is no ordinary teenager!  He’s smarter than everyone else.  He’s wittier than everyone else.  He’s more clever than everyone else.  He’s also totally obsessive and willing to do just about anything to get what he wants.  And you can be sure of one thing: whenever Alan does something borderline insane, you’ll hear a group of singers harmonizing, “Hey hey hey!” in the background.

Hey hey hey!

See, it’s happening already.  It doesn’t matter what Alan’s doing.  He could be kicking a skateboard in the way of a romantic rival.  He could be interrupting the graduation ceremony with a tractor.  He could be going to prison for life.  No matter what it is, it will always be accompanied by:

Hey hey hey!

Anyway, Alan is in love with the innocent, sweet, and constantly flirtatious Barbara Anne Greene (Tuesday Weld).  In fact, almost everyone in the film is in love with (or, at the very least, turned on by) Barbara.  The only person who doesn’t seem to be in love with Barbara is her mother (Lola Albright), a former-beauty-turned-cocktail-waitress whose world-weary cynicism seems to offer a depressing hint of what’s in store for Barbara once she gets older.

Hey hey hey!

But everyone else loves Barbara.  Especially Alan!  In fact, Alan is so in love with her that he swears that he’s going to make sure that she gets everything that she wants.  When she needs 12 cashmere sweaters so that she can join an exclusive girl’s club, Alan helps her to convince her father (Max Showalter) to pay for them.  When Barbara needs a job after dropping out of school, Alan helps her get one as a secretary for the high school’s progressive principal (Harvey Korman).  When Barbara decides she wants to marry the boring but respectable Christian youth leader, Bob (Martin West), Alan keeps Bob’s mother (Ruth Gordon) so drunk that she doesn’t get a chance to reprimand her son for falling in love with a girl from a divorced family.  (As Bob’s mother explains it, she doesn’t believe in divorce.  “We don’t leave our husbands.  We bury them.”)  Eventually, a movie producer decides that he wants Barbara to star in his beach films but Bob says no.  No wife of his is going to be a movie star!  So, of course, Alan decides to murder Bob so that Barbara can again have what she wants…

Hey hey hey!

Lord Love A Duck is a manic comedy that satirizes everything that mainstream audiences in 1966 would have held sacred.  Teenagers, conservatives, liberals, love, hate, murder, justice, marriage, divorce, morality, sex, religion, television, movies — it’s all thoroughly ridiculed in this film.  (It’s not surprising that the film’s director also wrote the script for The Manchurian Candidate, a satire disguised as a thriller.)  To be honest, it’s probably a little bit too manic for its own good.  At times, the film run the risk of becoming exhausting.  But then there’s even more times when the film is absolutely brilliant.

Hey hey hey!

Speaking of absolutely brilliant, Lord Love A Duck makes brilliant use of Roddy McDowall’s eccentric screen presence but, even better, it features one of Tuesday Weld’s best performances.  Weld was a talented actress whose performances often revealed that a fragile soul is often the price that is payed for great beauty.  (There’s no greater insecurity than wondering whether people are responding to who you are or to how you look.  Would you still care if I was ugly is not a question we’re supposed to ask but it’s one that we’ve all wondered.)  It would have been far too easy to make Barbara either totally innocent or totally manipulative.  Wisely, the film does neither.  Barbara may occasionally be manipulative but she always means well.  It’s not her fault that everyone around her is either idiotic or insane.

Hey hey hey!

Though Lord Love A Duck is obviously a time capsule of the culture of mid-60s, it’s also a film that remains relevant even today.  Culturally, we’re still obsessed with fame, youth, and beauty.  In many ways, the satire of Lord Love A Duck still feels more extreme that anything that any contemporary filmmaker would dare to attempt.  I can only imagine what audiences in 1966 thought as they watched this subversive teen film.

Hey hey hey!

Back To School Part II #2: Vinyl (dir by Andy Warhol)


vinyl1

For my next back to school film, I watched the 1965 underground film, Vinyl!

Now, admittedly, Vinyl does not appear to take place in a high school.  Then again, maybe it does.  All of the action takes place in a cramped corner of a room and we’re never really told, for sure, where the room is located.  All we know is that various characters keep wandering in and out of the static frame while the film’s action unfolds.

The center of the film is Victor (Gerald Malanga) who appears to be in his late 20s but who insists to us that he’s a “J.D,” which stands for juvenile delinquent.  He does what he wants, whether that means lifting weights or enthusiastically dancing.  Victor may be a murderous teenager with a bad attitude but he truly loves rock music.

While Victor dances and occasionally stumbles his way through a monologue about being a J.D, there’s an ever-present audience in the background of the scene.  Occasionally, they seem to be interested in what Victor is saying but, just as often, they seem to be bored with the whole thing.  Sitting off to Victor’s right and smoking through nearly the entire film is the iconic and tragic Edie Sedgwick.  Occasionally, she dances but, for the most part, she’s just observes with an enigmatic half-smile on her face.

Eventually, some men who we assume are the police get tired of Victor dancing and boasting about being a delinquent so they grab him, tie him to a chair, and force him to wear bondage gear while they beat him.  It’s a new, government-sanctioned rehabilitation technique and it’s guaranteed to turn Victor is a responsible member of society.  While they torture him, they play vinyl records in the background and Victor, possibly to his horror though, due to Malanga’s out-of-it performance, it’s often difficult to surmise what’s going on in Victor’s head, realizes that his beloved rock music is now being used to torture him.

All the while, Edie watches from the corner of the screen.  She smokes a cigarette.  She dances.  Sometimes, someone will refill her drink.  She holds a candle for a while.  As a viewer who is more than a little obsessed with the tragically short life of Edie Sedgwick and who relates to her on a personal level, it was occasionally difficult for me to watch because, even in a non-speaking role, Edie’s star power was obvious.

Edie!

Edie!

Of course, Edie isn’t the only person watching as Victor is tortured.  Many people wander in and out of the frame.  (Vinyl lasts 70 minutes and features exactly three shots.)  For the most part, the majority of them regard the torture happening in from with a studied detachment.  In fact, they’re very detachment and they’re very refusal to act in any sort of expected way becomes rather fascinating.  Vinyl goes so far out of it’s way to defy our expectations of what a movie should be that it becomes one of the most watchable unwatchable movies ever made.

Vinyl was directed by Andy Warhol.  Reportedly, it was filmed without any rehearsal and without multiple takes.  Hence, when Malanga stumbles over his lines or occasionally turns his back to camera, the moment is preserved.  When Edie Sedgwick breaks character and laughs, the film keeps on rolling.  When another actor accidentally drops his papers and has to spend half a minute picking them up and trying to get them back in order, it’s saved on camera.  And, because it’s in the final cut, Gerald Malanga forgetting his lines becomes as much a cinematic moment as Humphrey Bogart telling Ingrid Bergman to get on that plane or Clark Gable saying that he didn’t give a damn.   There is no editing and, as a result, there is no protection.  Instead, we just get a group of eccentric outsiders in their amateur glory.  Yes, it’s self-indulgent and deliberately alienating but it’s also undeniably fascinating.  (It helps that, while he may not have been a good actor, Gerald Malanga had an absolutely fascinating face.)  When one watches one of Warhol’s underground films, the question always arises as to whether he was a genius or a con artist.  Vinyl would seem to suggest that he was both.

(“What’s the point of all this?” some viewers may ask.  The point is that it was filmed and now you’re watching and, because he’s at the center of a static frame, Gerald Malanga is now a movie star.)

Though you might have a hard time realizing it from just watching the film, Vinyl was also the first cinematic adaptation of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.  Victor was a stand-in for Alex and Alex’s love of Beethoven is replaced by Victor’s love for Motown.  Six years later, Stanley Kubrick would release his better known adaptation of Burgess’s novel but Andy Warhol, Gerald Malange, and Edie Sedgwick all got there first.

ANDY-WARHOL-VINYL-3

Back to School Part II #1: Teenage Devil Dolls (dir by B. Lawrence Price, Jr.)


(a.k.a. Teenage Devil Doll)

(a.k.a. Teenage Devil Dolls)

Hi, everyone!

Well, down here in Richardson, Texas, today was the first day of school!  That’s right, all the kids are going to be back to school and movie theaters are about to become a lot more pleasant.  Now, you may remember that, two years ago, I observed the first day of school by launching a series of Back To School reviews!  I reviewed 80 films about being a teenager and high school life.  I had a lot of fun doing it and our readers seemed to enjoy it!

So, I figured — why not do it again!?

Now, as much as I’d like to, I’m not going to do 80 films this time.  Instead, I have decided to limit myself to reviewing 56 films over the next 14 days.  If I maintain a schedule of reviewing 4 Back to School films a day, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Can I do it?

Well, we’re about to find out!

I decided to start things off by reviewing a melodrama from 1955!  I have to admit that, when I decided to review Teenage Devil Dolls, I didn’t know anything about the film.  I just saw the title and I assumed that the whole film would basically be tight sweaters and juvenile delinquents.  I figured it would be good and campy fun, something along the lines of Ed Wood’s The Violent Years.

Well, it turned out that Teenage Devil Dolls does feature some juvenile delinquents and a few tight sweaters but otherwise, it really wasn’t what I was expecting.  For one thing, it turned out that the film didn’t have much to do with high school.  And though the main character was described as being 19, she was played by an actress who appeared to be in her 30s so it really didn’t matter.

It also turned out that Teenage Devil Dolls featured absolutely zero dialogue!  This is one of those films that was specifically made to be the second part of a double feature and, apparently, it was made without much of a budget.  On-set sound recording was apparently a luxury that could not be afforded and, as such, the entire movie is narrated by a hard-boiled cop.

The cop tells us the story of Cassandra Leigh (Barbara Marks), who was an innocent 17 year-old until she started hanging out with the wrong crowd.  We know that her new friends are the wrong crowd because they ride motorcycles and some of them wear leather jackets.  They also smoke weed (or “reefer cigarettes,” as the cop calls them).  At first, Cassandra turns down their persistent offers of marijuana but eventually, the peer pressure get to be too much.  Cassandra doesn’t want to be a big ol’ four-sided square so she starts smoking the weed and her life quickly falls apart.

Not only do her grades suffer to such an extent that she barely graduates high school and loses any chance she ever had to attend college but Cassandra also ends up frequently running away from home and getting hooked on heroin.  (If all this seems a little bit extreme, it should be remembered that Cassandra was previously seen smoking one of the biggest joints to ever appear in a movie.  Though, in all honesty, she didn’t appear to be inhaling.)  Cassandra marries a boring guy but the boring life is not for her!  Not when she can make so much more money by becoming a drug dealer…

You know, it’s easy to be dismissive of a film like Teenage Devil Dolls, what with the low-budget, the hard-boiled narration, and the alarmist portrayal of marijuana as literally being the root of all evil.  But honestly — whether intentional or not — there’s an intensity to Teenage Devil Dolls that makes it oddly hypnotic.  Perhaps because they were filmed without sound, almost all of the actors give the type of over-expressive performances that one would typical expect to see in a silent movie.  The contrast between the laconic narration and the theatrics on-screen creates a surrealistic and dream-like atmosphere.

Along with the narration, there’s also a few sound effects on the soundtrack but none of the effects really seem to sync up with the action on screen.  A dog shows up and opens its mouth but the barking sounds like it’s coming from somewhere else.  When a police car drives, the jarring siren doesn’t seem to fit the image.  Most hauntingly of all, a chilling ringing sound is heard whenever a junkie starts to go through withdraw.  At times, the film almost feels like a fever dream.

Teenage Devil Dolls (or One Way Ticket To Hell as it is also known) is an unexpectedly odd film.  And you watch it below!

Music Video of the Day: I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister (1984, dir. Marty Callner)


“Hello students.
School has begun.
The summer is over.
I am in command.”

According to my old high school’s calendar, it is the first day of school. If your teacher happens to look like the jilted husband/boyfriend from Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), then…

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

be careful because the guy might be able to lift cars.

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

After We’re Not Gonna Take It worked out so well with actor Mark Metcalf, we got a repeat of his amazing performance. Also, with this and 1987’s Here We Go Again, director Marty Callner has directed at least two music videos that have become legends, not because of the band or the song, but because of someone else in the video.

I Wanna Rock is the riveting tale of Mark Metcalf trying to destroy fun by being funny himself while getting flung around a school through the power of rock. It’s also about choosing what you want to do in life, and not what somebody else tells you to do. The music video is not as good as We’re Not Gonna Take It largely because the song isn’t is as good. The music video is still fun though, and showcases Mark Metcalf’s talents as a comedian.

If you haven’t seen this music video, then it is essential. I’ll explain the story of how Metcalf wound up in these music videos when I get around to We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Enjoy!