A Movie A Day #235: Twilight’s Last Gleaming (1977, directed by Robert Aldrich)

In Montana, four men have infiltrated and taken over a top-secret ICBM complex.  Three of the men, Hoxey (William Smith), Garvas (Burt Young), and Powell (Paul Winfield) are considered to be common criminals but their leader is something much different.  Until he was court-martialed and sentenced to a military prison, Lawrence Dell (Burt Lancaster) was a respected Air Force general.  He even designed the complex that he has now taken over.  Dell calls the White House and makes his demands known: he wants ten million dollars and for the President (Charles Durning) to go on television and read the contents of top secret dossier, one that reveals the real reason behind the war in Vietnam.  Dell also demands that the President surrender himself so that he can be used as a human shield while Dell and his men make their escape.

Until Dell made his demands known, the President did not even know of the dossier’s existence.  His cabinet (made up of distinguished and venerable character actors like Joseph Cotten and Melvyn Douglas) did and some of them are willing to sacrifice the President to keep that information from getting out.

Robert Aldrich specialized in insightful genre films and Twilight’s Last Gleaming is a typical example: aggressive, violent, sometimes crass, and unexpectedly intelligent.  At two hours and 30 minutes, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is overlong and Aldrich’s frequent use of split screens is sometimes distracting but Twilight’s Last Gleaming is still a thought-provoking film.  The large cast does a good job, with Lancaster and Durning as clear stand-outs.  I also liked Richard Widmark as a general with his own agenda and, of course, any movie that features Joseph Cotten is good in my book!  Best of all, Twilight’s Last Gleaming‘s theory about the reason why America stayed in Vietnam is entirely credible.

The Vietnam angle may be one of the reasons why Twilight’s Last Gleaming was one of the biggest flops of Aldrich’s career.  In 1977, audiences had a choice of thrilling to Star Wars, falling in love with Annie Hall, or watching a two and a half hour history lesson about Vietnam.  Not surprisingly, a nation that yearned for escape did just that and Twilight’s Last Gleaming flopped in America but found success in Europe.  Box office success or not, Twilight’s Last Gleaming is an intelligent political thriller that is ripe for rediscovery.

Music Video of the Day: Breakaway by Tracey Ullman (1983, dir. Dave Robinson)

When I was a kid, all I knew about Tracey Ullman was that she did a show called Tracey Takes On… I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that she did a show prior to that called The Tracey Ullman Show. So all I knew was that she was a comedian famous for impersonations. I most certainly didn’t know she ever did music. Much to my surprise, this video recently showed up in my YouTube feed.

Apparently, she had short-lived music career in the early-to-mid-80s that sprung out of a encounter with the wife of the head of Stiff Records, Dave Robinson. This was the first single off her debut album.

Dave Robinson himself appears to have directed this appropriately 1960s-inspired video for Ullman’s cover of the 1964 song originally performed by Irma Thomas.

It’s quite cheap. It appears to be best remembered for Ullman singing into a brush.

A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, dir. Jack Sholder)

I want to know why there is a plane on top of the building (left) and what looks like a creepy clown head on the top shelf (right).

It’s still catchy, fun, and the editing does draw you in into the song, regardless of it having to use the white dimension several times.

From taking a quick glance at her next video for the song They Don’t Know, her videos got more impressive. But we can’t jump right to the video where we see the Rank Films gong-guy with a package, and Paul McCartney ending up with Ullman. We need to start with her first video.

Dave Robinson appears to have directed around 22 videos.

The video was produced by John Mills and prolific music video director Nigel Dick, who were also the art directors.


Roomful of Mirrors: Orson Welles’ THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI (Columbia 1947)

cracked rear viewer

For my money, THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI is the perfect film noir, a tour de force by producer/writer/director/star Orson Welles that assaults the senses and keeps the viewer enthralled at all times. All this despite the meddling of Columbia Pictures czar Harry Cohn, who demanded Welles reshoot scenes and ordering its 155 minute running time cut down to 87. The version we see today, released in the states in 1948 (it was first run in France six months earlier), is still a brilliant piece of filmmaking thanks to the immense talents of Welles and his cast and crew.

Orson Welles scared the pants off American radio listeners with his Oct. 30, 1938 “Mercury Theatre on the Air” broadcast of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS. Signed to an unprecedented contract by RKO, Welles’ first feature was of course CITIZEN KANE (1941), now considered by many the greatest film ever made. The film didn’t light…

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A Movie A Day #234: The Final Days (1989, directed by Richard Pearce)

Since yesterday’s entry in movie a day featured Philip Baker Hall playing Richard Nixon in Secret Honor, I decided to use today’s entry to talk about a movie that featured Lane Smith in the same role.

Based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s follow-up to All The President’s Men, The Final Days is about the final months of the Nixon presidency.  The movie begins shortly after the resignations of Nixon aides John Ehrlichman and H.R. Haldeman and follows Nixon (Lane Smith) as he grows increasingly more isolated and reclusive in the White House.  All the familiar moments are here, Nixon ranting against the Kennedys and the establishment, Kennedy talking about his difficult childhood, and, most famously, Nixon asking Henry Kissinger (Theodore Bikel) to pray with him on the night before his resignation.  The Final Days also focuses on the ambitious men who surrounded Nixon during his downfall and who helped to engineer his eventual resignation, especially Al Haig (David Ogden Stiers).

A lot of very good actors have played Richard Nixon.  Anthony Hopkins and Frank Langella both received Oscar nominations for playing him and Philip Baker Hall probably should have.  Rip Torn, John Cusack, Kevin Spacey, Dan Hedaya, and Bob Gunton have all taken a shot at the role.  But, in my opinion, no one has done a better job as the 37th president than Lane Smith, who bore about as close a resemblance to Nixon as anyone could without a prosthetic nose.  Even more than Anthony Hopkins did in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, Lane Smith captured not only Nixon’s insecurity and paranoia but also his provides hints of the great leader that Nixon could have been if not for his own self-destructiveness.


Music Video of the Day: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) by Eurythmics (1983, dir. Jon Roseman & Dave Stewart)

Like Blue Monday 88, I’m not doing this because of Atomic Blonde (2017). Movin’ on.

Sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree?

Not me with this song or video. But I don’t think the 1985 biopic about Patsy Cline had the right to call itself Sweet Dreams.

It’s riddled with problems from the fact that it doesn’t have a story to tell to something as simple as continuity. It also has no dignity.

Sweet Dreams (1985, dir. Karel Reisz)

Sweet Dreams (1985, dir. Karel Reisz)

Yes, it really does cut directly from that sex scene to Patsy Cline ironing her husband’s shirt with a closeup of his last name–Dick. What a wonderful way to honor her memory. An obviously rushed production made to cash-in on the success of the producer’s 1980 film about Lorreta Lynn, Coal Miner’s Daughter.

I knew about this song beforehand, but I will give credit to the 1996 NBC TV Movie, Sweet Dreams, for reminding me it exists by it featuring Marilyn Manson’s cover version.

Sweet Dreams (1996, dir. Jack Bender)

Sweet Dreams (1996, dir. Jack Bender)

Sweet Dreams (1996, dir. Jack Bender)

Sweet Dreams (1996, dir. Jack Bender)

I do have a copy of this movie where then Tiffani-Amber Thiessen gets amnesia. I spent a decade looking for it after its original airing in 1996, and that 1985 film didn’t help my search when the TiVo was looking for movies with the title Sweet Dreams. It’s not weird!

Neither is the fact that the origin of this video begins with Dave Stewart having a lung that kept collapsing.

In the book, I Want My MTV, he states that he was quite ill at the start of the group because he had a lung that kept collapsing. I don’t want to paraphrase what he has to say about how he came to love mixing images with music, so here’s an excerpt from the book:

I had just gotten out of surgery, and they must’ve given me tons of morphine or something, because my head started to explode with the idea of visual imagery and making music. From then on, I was obsessed with videos.

Just before that, a weird thing happened: I was walking down the street in Australia and stepped on something quite hard. I looked down and it was a solid gold bracelet. I picked it up, and as I turned the corner, I saw a pawnshop. I swapped the bracelet for an 8mm cine camera. From that moment on, I was always filming. I started to understand about putting imagery together with music.

There are two obvious questions that come up when you watch this music video:

  1. Why the cow?
  2. How did they get away with Annie Lennox wearing a matching suit with Stewart?

Jon Roseman, producer: Dave had a tremendous feel for images. People often ask me, “How did you come up with the idea of the cow?” I tell them, “Dave just said, ‘Let’s have a cow.'”

If Stewart wants to be a smoking caterpillar, then he gets to be a smoking caterpillar.

Don’t Come Around Here No More by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (1985, dir. Jeff Stein)

If Stewart wants a cow, then he gets a cow.

It doesn’t matter how difficult it may have been to do so:

Dave Stewart: I presented the treatment to the label, and they could not understand the bit with the cow. The cow was complicated, because we were in London, and the cow had to go down an elevator into the basement. The farmer who owned the cow was really agitated.

Annie Lennox: “Sweet Dreams” was shot in a basement studio in the middle of London. There was an elevator big enough to take the cow down from the ground floor. That was one of the most surreal moments I’ve had–being in a building with a cow walking around freely.

Little known fact, Dave Stewart is a Beastmaster.

Annie Lennox: During the scene where Dave is sitting at a prototype computer, tapping the keyboard, the cow’s head came really close to him.

Annie Lennox: I could see that happening and I thought, Oh shit, what is the cow going to do? It was almost nudging him. And Dave is so intuitive, he just rolled his eyes, so it looks like there was some kind of understanding between him and the cow. Like the cow had been told, “Right, so you do this and then Dave’s gonna do this. And…ACTION!”

Look into the eyes of Dave Stewart!

Lennox explains the purpose of the cow:

In a way, the video is a statement about the different forms of existence. Here are humans, with our dreams of industry and achievement and success. And here is a cow. We share the same planet, but it’s a strange coexistence.

As for how Annie Lennox got away with wearing a matching suit with Stewart:

Dave Stewart: “Sweet Dreams” prompted a big argument with the record company. They were pissed off when Annie and I turned up in matching suits, with Annie’s hair cropped off. They wanted her to wear a dress. They were like, “We don’t understand. Annie is such a pretty girl.” Then MTV got the video and it just went mad. It didn’t look like anything else. Annie’s hair was so different, and the colors in the video looked amazing. It was shot on 16mm film, but it was very rich. It became a phenomenon.

It’s not mentioned in the book, but I’d like to think that the ending was inspired by the ending of Jacques Rivette’s film, Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974).

Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974, dir. Jacques Rivette)

After that, Lennox is shown waking up in bed with a book on her nightstand with the same title as the song. It goes to black when she turns off the light.

Celine And Julie Go Boating cuts back to the beginning of the film where Celine wakes up, and she and Julie have now switched places. It’s Celine who ends up following Julie after she drops a book in a park. Before, it was Julie who followed Celine after she dropped something in the same park.

If Going Back To Cali by LL Cool J was inspired by the likes of Godard, Chabrol, and Antonioni, then it’s not a stretch to think that Stewart saw that movie, and thought to mimic that shot which shoots us out of the film to simply repeat the same movie with the characters switched. Much like you can imagine that Lennox is going to sleep to end up back in the same dream she just had, based on what she read in the book–the cover appearing to show one Annie reaching out to touch another Annie.

Chris Ashbrook produced the video.

Enjoy! And for all of us who have misheard lyrics at one time or another: Sweet dreams are made of cheese. Who am I to disagree?

30 Days Of Surrealism:

  1. Street Of Dreams by Rainbow (1983, dir. Storm Thorgerson)
  2. Rock ‘n’ Roll Children by Dio (1985, dir. Daniel Kleinman)
  3. The Thin Wall by Ultravox (1981, dir. Russell Mulcahy)
  4. Take Me Away by Blue Öyster Cult (1983, dir. Richard Casey)
  5. Here She Comes by Bonnie Tyler (1984, dir. ???)
  6. Do It Again by Wall Of Voodoo (1987, dir. ???)
  7. The Look Of Love by ABC (1982, dir. Brian Grant)
  8. Eyes Without A Face by Billy Idol (1984, dir. David Mallet)
  9. Somebody New by Joywave (2015, dir. Keith Schofield)
  10. Twilight Zone by Golden Earring (1982, dir. Dick Maas)
  11. Schism by Tool (2001, dir. Adam Jones)
  12. Freaks by Live (1997, dir. Paul Cunningham)
  13. Loverboy by Billy Ocean (1984, dir. Maurice Phillips)
  14. Talking In Your Sleep by The Romantics (1983, dir. ???)
  15. Talking In Your Sleep by Bucks Fizz (1984, dir. Dieter Trattmann)
  16. Sour Girl by Stone Temple Pilots (2000, dir. David Slade)
  17. The Ink In The Well by David Sylvian (1984, dir. Anton Corbijn)
  18. Red Guitar by David Sylvian (1984, dir. Anton Corbijn)
  19. Don’t Come Around Here No More by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (1985, dir. Jeff Stein)
  20. Sweating Bullets by Megadeth (1993, dir. Wayne Isham)
  21. Clear Nite, Moonlight or Clear Night, Moonlight by Golden Earring (1984, dir. Dick Maas)
  22. Clowny Clown Clown by Crispin Glover (1989, dir. Crispin Glover)
  23. Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden (1994, dir. Howard Greenhalgh)
  24. Total Eclipse Of The Heart by Bonnie Tyler (1983, dir. Russell Mulcahy)
  25. Harden My Heart by Quarterflash (1981, dir. ???)

A Movie A Day #233: Secret Honor (1984, directed by Robert Altman)

Disgraced former President Richard M. Nixon (Philip Baker Hall) sits alone in his study.  He has a bottle of Scotch, a loaded gun, and a tape recorder.  He is surrounded by security monitors and paintings.  All but one of the paintings are portraits of former presidents, all of whom are destined to be more fondly remembered than Nixon.  The only non-presidential painting is a portrait of Henry Kissinger.  Over the course of one long night, Nixon drinks and talks.  He talks about his Quaker upbringing and his early political campaigns.  He rails against all of his perceived enemies: Eishenhower, the Kennedys, the liberals, the conservatives, and everyone in between.  As he gets drunker, he starts to talk about the real story behind Watergate and why his resignation actually shielded the country from a greater scandal.  As Nixon explains it, his resignation was his greatest act of patriotism, his secret honor.

A mix of historical fact and speculation, Secret Honor was one of the filmed plays that Robert Altman directed in between the flop of Popeye and his comeback with The Player.  Secret Honor is a one-man show, with Philip Baker Hall and only Philip Baker Hall on screen for the entire movie.  Though he looks nothing like Nixon, Hall gives an amazing performance.  Hall’s Nixon is bitter, angry, full of self-pity, and occasionally even sympathetic.  Altman’s stagey direction makes no attempt to hide Secret Honor‘s theatrical origins but it is impossible to look away from Hall’s mesmerizing performance.

(Secret Honor was made long before Hall found fame as a character actor.  It was his fourth feature film and his first major role.)

Secret Honor will probably not change anyone’s opinion on Nixon.  Nixon haters will find more to hate and Nixon defenders will find more to defend.  But everyone will agree that Philip Baker Hall gives a great performance as one of America’s most controversial presidents.

Music Video of the Day: Blue Monday 88 by New Order (1988, dir. Robert Breer & William Wegman)

I turned on this video in order to write about it for Monday, but became so hypnotized by its imagery that I couldn’t write till today.

I felt it was critically important to watch several forgotten early-90s thrillers in order to write about this video.

I felt it was better that Lisa do it because of Tobe Hooper’s passing.

Or I’ve been having difficulty eating and sleeping, which really caught up with me on Sunday afternoon.

Unfortunately, it’s the fourth one, and it’s still going on as I write this, so I may be in and out for awhile. We shall see.

Anyways, Lisa jumped in yesterday and spotlighted the one music video I’m aware of that was directed by Tobe Hooper–Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol.

If I had to wager a guess as to how he ended up directing that video, then I figure it probably went one of two ways:

  1. He was a fan of Generation X (Idol’s band prior to going solo), and ended up getting in contact with Idol to film the video. Then he brought on the cinematographer who shot The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and did uncredited camerawork on The Funhouse (1981)–Daniel Pearl.
  2. Or it went the other way, and prolific music-video cinematographer Daniel Pearl suggested they hire Tobe Hooper.

No matter what the reason, I’m sure Hooper and Pearl having collaborated before had something to do with it.

How they ended up shooting it on a set from a production of Ann Jellicoe’s punk rock-themed play The Sport Of Mad Mad Mother is a mystery to me.

Something else that’s a mystery to me, is how and why there are at least four different music videos for Blue Monday made in 1983, 1984, 1988, and 1995. Not versions of the song. Actual videos made for those different versions. No, I am not going to try and track them all down right now.

I could embed an okay-at-best cover version of this song that was done by HEALTH for the movie Atomic Blonde (2017) to try and tie it to something recent, but I’d prefer to embed the video of Orkestra Obsolete playing Blue Monday using nothing but instruments from the 1930s. I find that much more interesting, and by doing so, I won’t be lying by implying that movie is the reason I’m doing this video.

For me, the dog is the biggest selling point of this video.

I’m not sure if I want to know how it got so good at balancing.

The dog’s name is Fay Ray. Not only can this dog balance on a chair that is balanced on another chair, but she was able to catch the tennis ball her mouth.

Lead-singer Bernard Sumner couldn’t do it.

Yes, I’m sure they pulled it away at the last second. Nevertheless, it did appear to nearly hit Gilbert, so there seems to have been a fair amount of randomness to that part of the video. I’m kinda disappointed that he didn’t snatch it out of the air with his mouth.

Director and photographer William Wegman owned Fay Ray along with three other dogs named Batty, Chundo, and Crooky. They would all go on to teach kids the alphabet in 1995’s Alphabet Soup.

Wegman did sketches for the video, and the other director, Robert Breer, is the one who did the hand-drawn animation.

While I’m not sure I want to know about the training Fay Ray went through, I am curious as to what Gillian Gilbert is looking at in this shot.

The only other thing I have to say about this video is that I am completely perplexed as to why it appears to be comparing the dogs ability to balance with her ability to balance.

Maybe you’ll have better luck figuring out the video than me.

Maybe you’ve read Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut–where they got the title from.

Or maybe you’ll just sit back and enjoy it as I do.

Information on the song, and it being re-invented over and over is easy to find on Wikipedia and Songfacts.