A Movie A Day #264: The Cotton Club (1984, directed by Francis Ford Coppola)

The time is the 1930s and the place is New York City.  Everyone wants to get into the Cotton Club.  Owned by British gangster Owney Madden (Bob Hoskins), the Cotton Club is a place where the stage is exclusively reserved for black performers and the audience is exclusively rich and white.  Everyone from gangsters to film stars comes to the Cotton Club.

It is at the Cotton Club that Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) meets everyone from Dutch Shultz (James Remar) to Gloria Swanson (Diane Venora).  Shultz hires Dixie to look after his girlfriend, Vera (Diane Lane).  Swanson arranges for Dixie to become a movie star.  Meanwhile, Dixie’s crazy brother, Vincent (Nicolas Cage), rises up through the New York underworld.  Meanwhile, dancing brothers Sandman and Clay Williams (played by real-life brothers Gregory and Maurice Hines) are stars on stage but face discrimination off, at least until Harlem gangster Bumpy Rhodes (Laurence Fishburne) comes to their aid.

The Cotton Club was a dream project of the legendary producer, Robert Evans, who was looking to make a comeback after being famously charged with cocaine trafficking in 1980.  Having commissioned a screenplay by his former Godfather collaborators, Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, Evans originally planned to direct the film himself.  At the last minute, Evans changes his mind and asked Coppola to direct the film.  After working with him on The Godfather, Coppola had sworn that he would never work with Evans again. (When he won an Oscar for The Godfather‘s screenplay, Coppola pointedly thanked everyone but Robert Evans.)  However, by 1984, a series of box office flops had damaged Coppola’s standing in Hollywood.  Needing the money, Coppola agreed to direct The Cotton Club.

Evans raised the film’s $58 million budget from a number of investors, including Roy Radin.  Roy Radin was best known for putting together Vaudeville reunions in the 70s and being accused of raping an actress in 1980.  Radin and Evans were introduced to each other by a drug dealer named Lanie Jacobs, who was hoping to remake herself as a film producer.  During the production of The Cotton Club, Radin was murdered by a contract killer who was hired by Jacobs, who apparently felt that Radin was trying to muscle her out of the film production.

While all of this was going on, Coppola fell into his familiar pattern of going overbudget and falling behind schedule.  This led to another investor filing a lawsuit against Orion Pictures and two other investors, claiming fraud and breach of contract.  When the film was finally released, it received mixed reviews, struggled at the box office, and only received two Oscar nominations.

With all of the murder and drama that was occurring offscreen, it is not surprising that the film itself was overshadowed.  The Cotton Club is a disjointed mix of gangster drama and big production numbers.  As always with post-Apocalypse Now Coppola, there are flashes of brilliance in The Cotton Club.  Some of the production numbers are impressive and visually, this movie has got style to burn.   However, among the leads, neither Richard Gere nor Diane Lane seem to be invested in their characters while the talented Hines brothers are underused.  The supporting cast is full of good character actors who are all in a search of a better script.  A few do manage to make an impression: James Remar, Bob Hoskins and Fred Gwynne as veteran gangsters, Nicolas Cage as the film’s stand-in for Mad Dog Coll, and Joe Dallesandro as Lucky Luciano.  The Cotton Club is sometimes boring and sometimes exciting but the onscreen story is never as interesting as what happened behind the scenes.


A “Marvel Legacy” Of Mediocrity

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

You may as well buckle in, because this one could take awhile —

It doesn’t take a genius to see that Marvel Comics (as opposed to their Hollywood arm, which is really the tail that’s wagging the corporate dog now) is in a bad place these days. Sure, they’re still the number one publisher on the Diamond sales charts most months, but you should take that as literally as possible — they’re well and truly the number one publisher, as in, they publish the most stuff. They crank out, on average, 20-30 more periodicals per month than their nearest competitor, DC, and therefore they sell more units, and take in more dollars, almost by default. But when you look at things a little bit more closely, the news for Marvel is almost all bad:

For the last several months running, for instance, Marvel hasn’t had a single comic book or…

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Music Video of the Day: Stayin’ Alive by Bee Gees (1977, dir. Bruce Gowers)

It’s hard enough when there are multiple versions of a video. It’s tough dealing with videos–officially posted or not–disappearing. This is a new one on me. Count it off!

1. The official beegees YouTube account posting:

2. The Rhino YouTube account posting:

3. The BeeGeesVEVO YouTube account posting:

They’re all the exact same video–no difference in runtime or quality. And yes, there is a second version of Stayin’ Alive as you might have gathered from the title of the VEVO account posting.

As for the content of the music video…this is a really upbeat song and the title is Stayin’ Alive…have them wander around abandoned sets at MGM Studios??? It reminds me of the video Gowers did for The First Cut Is The Deepest by Rod Stewart except there it made sense for him to be isolated on a staircase. They were probably just opportunistic since they filmed this video on the sets that were next-door to where Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978) was being filmed. At least that’s what Wikipedia says.

I do like that whatever the reason, the video is showing us the opposite of what comes to mind when you go to put this video on. Also, it’s a testament to Gowers’ talent as a director. Back in the 1970s, he could do something for the Bee Gees, Journey, The Rolling Stones, and he’s the one who did Bohemian Rhapsody for Queen. Cut to the early-1980s and you can still his style at work. Sometimes it made for a funny, but memorable video, like Eye Of The Tiger by Survivor. Other times you got Separate Ways (Worlds Apart) by Journey. I’ll talk about that video at some point since that also brings in ABBA, a famous Italian director, and Bohemian Rhapsody–at the very least.