The TSL’s Grindhouse: Fast Company (dir by David Cronenberg)

Released in 1979, Fast Company is a Canadian film about fast cars and the fast-living people who drive them.  Lonnie Johnson (William Smith) is a veteran drag racer who is so good at his job that his nickname is “Lucky Man.”  He rarely loses a race.  He’s never without an adoring fan or two, though he always remains loyal to his girlfriend, Sammy (Claudia Jennings).  Lonnie is so lucky that, even when one of his cars explodes, he walks away without even a scratch.

Lonnie and his protégé, Billy (Nicholas Campbell), are being sponsored by Fast Company, an international oil consortium.  The money is okay but Lonnie is getting old and he would like to step back and spend some more quality time with Sammy.  Unfortunately, the team boss is Phil Adamson (John Saxon) and the viewers knows that Phil is a bad guy because he’s played by John Saxon and, instead of driving to the races, he pilots his own private plane.  When Lonnie starts to rebel against Phil’s management, Phil schemes to not only replace him and Billy with rival driver Gary Black (Cedric Smith) but he also plots to repossess Lonnie’s prized car!

Okay, so it’s kind of a silly and predictable film.  In fact, there’s really only two reasons why Fast Company is remembered today.  

One is because it was the last film to feature B-movie star Claudia Jennings before her death in a traffic accident. Jennings was nicknamed the “Queen of the B movies” and, over the course of her brief career, appeared in a lot of films about fast cars.  She gives a likable performance as Sammy, even if the film’s script doesn’t really give her much to do.

Secondly, this film was directed by David Cronenberg.  This was Cronenberg’s first time to direct a film that he hadn’t written.  This was his first job as a “director for hire” but, interestingly enough, it was while directing this film that Cronenberg first worked with some of his most important future collaborators, including cinematographer Mark Irwin and actor Nicholas Campbell.  Cronenberg directed Fast Company in between Rabid and The Brood and Fast Company might as well take place in a different universe from either of those films.  To be honest, there’s not much about this film that would lead anyone to suspect that it had been directed by Cronenberg if they hadn’t already seen his name in the credits.  Cronenberg’s signature style is really only evident when the camera lingers over the scenes of the mechanics working on the cars.  In those scenes, there’s a hint of the Cronenberg that everyone knows, the Cronenberg who is fascinated by both the relationship between man and machine and how things work inside the body of both the driver and the car.

For the most part, Fast Company is a typical 70s racing film, one that was made for drive-in audiences and which makes no apologies for that fact.  (Nor should it.)  There’s a lot of shots of denim-clad Canadians cheering as their favorite driver crosses the finish line.  William Smith brings a world-weary dignity to the role of Lonnie Johnson but, while John Saxon is always fun to watch, Phil Adamson is so evil that he threatens to throw the tone of the film out of whack.  The light-hearted scenes of Lonnie, Billy, and head mechanic Elder (Don Francks) don’t always seem to belong in the same movie with scenes of John Saxon scheming to cheat and risk the lives of his drivers.  

In the end, though, the important thing is that the cars are fast and so is this quickly paced movie.  I’m enough of a country girl that I have to admit that I have a weakness for fast cars that leave a cloud of dust behind them.  On that level, I enjoyed the film and really, that’s the only level that matters when it comes to a film like Fast Company.

Lisa Reviews a Palme d’Or Winner: Paris, Texas (dir by Wim Wenders)

With the 2022 Cannes Film Festival coming to a close in the next few days, I’ve been watching some of the films that previously won the prestigious Palme d’Or.  They’re an interesting group of films.  Some of them have been forgotten.  Some of them are still regarded as classics.  Some of them definitely deserve to be seen by a wider audience.  Take for the instance that winner of the 1984 Palme d’Or winner, Paris, Texas. This is a film that is well-regarded by cineastes but it definitely deserves to be seen by more people.

Though released in 1984, Paris, Texas opens with an image that will resonate for many viewers today.  A dazed man stumbles through the desert while wearing a red baseball cap.  Though the cap may not read “Make America Great Again,” the sight of it immediately identifies the owner as being a resident of what is often dismissively referred to as being flyover country, the long stretch of land that sits between the two coasts.  Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) is lost, both figuratively and literally.  After he stumbles into a bar and collapses, he’s taken to a doctor (played by German film director Bernhard Wicki) who discovers that Travis has a phone number on him.  When the doctor calls the number, he speaks to Travis’s brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell).  Walt has not seen Travis for three years and the viewer gets the feeling that Walt spent those years assuming that Travis was dead.  Walt agrees to travel to West Texas to retrieve his brother and take him back to Los Angeles.

When Walt retrieves his brother, he’s annoyed that Travis refuses to explain where he’s been for the past three years.  In fact, for the first fourth of the film, Travis doesn’t say anything.  He just stares into space.  Finally, when he does speak, it’s to tell Walt that he wants to go to Paris.  Walt tells him that going to Paris might have to wait.  Travis elaborates that he wants to go to Paris, Texas.  He owns an empty parking lot in Paris, Texas.

It takes a while to learn much about Travis’s past.  Like many of Wim Wenders’s films, Paris, Texas moves at its own deliberate pace and it features characters who tend to talk around their concerns instead of facing them head-on.  What we do eventually learn is that Travis has a son named Hunter (Hunter Black).  Travis’s wife, Jane, (played by Natassja Kinski) disappeared first.  Travis disappeared afterwards, leaving Walt and his wife (Aurore Clement) to raise his son.  At first, when Travis arrives in Los Angeles, he struggles to reconnect with Hunter but eventually, he does.  He tries to be a father but, again, he sometimes struggles because, while Travis has a good heart, he’s also out-of-step with the world.

As for Jane, we eventually learn that she’s in Houston.  She’s working in a tacky sex club, one where the customers and the strippers are separated by a one-way mirror.  The customer can see and talk to the stripper but the stripper can’t see the customers.  It’s all about manufactured intimacy.  The customer can delude themselves into thinking that the woman is stripping just for him while the woman doesn’t have to see the man who is watching her.  There are no emotions to deal with, just the illusion of a connection.

Even as Travis begins to make a life for himself in Los Angeles, he finds himself tempted to return to Houston to search for his wife….

As I said, Paris, Texas is a deliberately paced film.  With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, it feels like it’s actually three films linked together.  We start with Travis and Walt traveling back to Los Angeles.  The second film deals with Travis’s attempts to bond with his son.  And the third and most powerful film is about what happens when Travis finally finds Jane.  It all comes together to form a deceptively low-key character study of a group of lost souls, all of whom are dealing with the mistakes of the past and hoping for a better future.  The film’s most memorable moment comes when Travis delivers a long and heartfelt monologue about his marriage to Jane.  Beautifully written by Sam Shephard (who co-wrote the script with L.M. Kit Carson) and wonderfully acted by Harry Dean Stanton, it’s a monologue about regret, guilt, forgiveness, and ultimately being cursed to wander.

Despite the heavy subject matter, Paris, Texas is an undeniably joyful film.  In a rare leading role, Harry Dean Stanton plays Travis as someone who is full of regrets but who, at the same time, retains a spark of hope and optimism.  Life has beaten him down but he has yet to surrender.  Once he reaches Los Angeles and Travis starts to fully come out of his fugue state, there’s a playful energy to Stanton’s performance.  The scene where he dresses up as what he thinks a dad should look like is a highlight.  For Travis, being a responsible adult starts with putting on a suit and walking his son home from school.  Stanton’s excellent performance is matched by good work from Dean Stockwell and, especially, Natassja Kinski.

Visually, the film is all about capturing the beauty and the peculiarity of the landscape of the American southwest.  Like many European directors, Wim Wenders seems to be a bit in love with the combination of rugged mountains and commercialized society that one finds while driving through the west.  In the scenes in which Stanton wanders through West Texas, the landscape almost seems like it might consume him and, later, in Los Angeles and Houston, the garishness of the city threatens to do the same.  Wherever he is, Travis is slightly out-of-place and the viewer can understand why Travis is compelled to keep wandering.  At times, it seems like Travis will never fit in anywhere but the fact that he never gives up hope is comforting.  In many ways, Travis’s own journey mirrors Stanton’s career in Hollywood.  He had the talent of a leading man but the eccentric countenance of a great character actor.  He may have never been quite fit in with mainstream Hollywood but he never stopped acting.

The film itself never visits Paris, Texas.  Travis just talks about the fact that he owns an empty lot in the town and that he would like to see it.  Still, I like to think Travis eventually reached Paris and I like to think that he did something wonderful with that lot.

AMV of the Day: Madness (Castlevania)

It’s Dracula Day, so how about a Castlevania AMV?

Anime: Castlevania

Song: Madness (by Ruelle)

Creator: Arclight Sama (as always, please consider subscribing to this creator’s YouTube channel)

Past AMVs of the Day

Scenes That I Love: Peter Cushing Confronts Christopher Lee in The Satanic Rites of Dracula

Today is Peter Cushing’s birthday.  Tomorrow is Christopher Lee’s.

What better way to celebrate than by sharing a scene that I love that features both of them?  1973’s The Satanic Rites of Dracula was one of Hammer’s final Dracula films and, with the action somewhat awkwardly moved to the modern day, it’s also one of the weaker entries.  But it does feature Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, playing Dracula and the latest Van Helsing, and it’s worth watching for that reason.  

Though they often played enemies onscreen, Cushing and Lee were best friends offscreen.  Lee often said that he never really recovered from Cushing’s death in 1994.  Cushing may have spent his career playing villains and obsessive monster hunters but he was said to actually be a kind and rather shy man, an old-fashioned gentlemen who unexpectedly found his fame in horror.  Whereas Lee was a serious student of the esoteric, Cushing preferred to spend his time gardening.

In the scene below, Cushing’s Van Helsing confronts Lee’s Dracula and it’s just fun to watch these two old friends go at each other.  One gets the feeling that Cushing and Lee had a few laughs after the cameras stopped rolling.

Ray Liotta, R.I.P.

I was stunned to just hear that Ray Liotta, that massively underrated actor who appeared in some truly great films and who always brought a dangerous but intriguing intensity to every role, died today.  He was 67 years old.

I’m going to share two scenes in honor of Ray, I’m sure that others will have more to say.  The first scene is from a favorite of Arleigh’s, Field of Dreams.  Ray doesn’t say much as Shoeless Joe Jackson but he’s already got that trademark intensity.  The second is the final scene from Goodfellas, which features Ray Liotta’s best work of the entire film.  The small moment when he briefly acknowledges the camera while getting his newspaper is brilliant.

RIP, Ray Liotta.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Pam Grier Edition

4 Or More Shots From 4 Or More Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, the Shattered Lens wishes a happy birthday to screen icon Pam Grier!  It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Pam Grier Films

Coffy (1973, dir by Jack Hill, DP: Paul Lohmann)

Foxy Brown (1974, dir by Jack Hill, DP: Brick Marquard)

Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983, dir by Jack Clayton, DP: Stephen H. Burum)

Jackie Brown (1997, dir by Quentin Tarantino, DP: Guillermo Navarro)

A Blast From The Past: John Wayne For The American Cancer Society

Screen icon John Wayne was born 115 years ago, on this date, in Winterest, Iowa.  

Best-known for his appearances in western films, Wayne spent the last decade of his life battling cancer and serving as a spokesman for The American Cancer Society.  He made his final film appearance in 1976, starring in The Shootist as a veteran gunslinger who was, just like Wayne, facing his own mortality.  The film not only provided a capstone to Wayne’s film career but the footage of Jimmy Stewart (as a doctor) informing Wayne that he didn’t have long to live was used in one of the commercials that Wayne did for The American Cancer Society.

Of course, in the commercial, the footage was followed by Wayne encouraging viewers to get tested and also threatening to “take you apart” if they didn’t.  Three years after the release of The Shootist and this commercial, Wayne would succumb to cancer but his efforts would lead to more people getting tested and more cancers being detected early.

Here, from 1976….

Happy Dracula Day!

Today is the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula!  Since 1897, Dracula has ruled supreme as the king of the Vampires.  In honor of this day, here are some of the way that Dracula has been imagined over the years.