How R. Lee Ermey Made AP History Fun

Years ago, during my senior year of high school, my AP History teacher taught us about Vietnam by bringing in a movie.  He explained that the movie featured some “adult language” and was not always easy to watch.  He also said that it was the most realistic portrayal of basic training ever put on film.  Seeing as how he was a former Marine himself, we took his word for it.

That movie, of course, was Full Metal Jacket.  The class loved the movie, though not in the way that our teacher was hoping.  He was hoping that we would pick up on the film’s anti-war theme but instead we were all obsessed with Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann, the tough-as-nails drill sergeant played by R. Lee Ermey.  It didn’t matter that Hartmann probably wouldn’t have welcome any of us into his beloved corp.  (The majority of the class may have had Private Joker’s wit but they also had Private Pyle’s physisque.)  From the minute that Hartmann started yelling at the recruits, the class thought he was the coolest and toughest sonuvabitch of all time.  We were supposed to be learning that war was Hell and dehumanizing but we just wanted to listen to Hatmann yell about Mary Jane Rottencrotch and her pink panties.

Looking back, I feel bad for my teacher.  He wanted to show us the horrors of Vietnam and instead, he ended up with a bunch of students who wouldn’t stop chanting, “I don’t know but I’ve been told/Eskimo pussy is mighty cold!”  Every class debate, there was always a chance that someone would respond to an opposing argument by saying, “You wouldn’t even have the common courtesy to give him a reach around!”

I won’t even get into the number of times that, for the rest of the year, the term “skull fuck” was used in class discussions.

Full Metal Jacket is an anti-war film.  The first half may be dominated by Sgt. Hartmann turning the recruits into “perfect” killing machines but the second half features those machines being picked off, one-by-one, by an unseen sniper in a bombed-out building.  All of Hartmann’s words about the brotherhood of duty are meant to ring hollow as we watch one teenage girl gun down Marine after Marine.  Perhaps they would have if Hartmann had been played by anyone other than R. Lee Ermey.

One reason why Ermey was so believable as Hartmann was because he actually had been a drill instructor.  In 1961, R. Lee Ermey was 17 years old and had two arrests for criminal mischief on his record when a judge told him that he could either go to jail or he could join the military.  Ermey chose to enlist.  He served in the Marines for 11 years, getting a medical discharge in 1972.

He began his film career as a technical advisor to Francis Ford Coppola during the shooting of Apocalypse Now.  This led to him playing Sgt. Loyce, a drill instructor in The Boys of Company C.

(The shooting of Apocalypse Now was so drawn out that The Boys of Company C actually ended up getting released a year before Coppola’s epic.)

Originally, Ermey was only hired to serve as a technical advisor on Full Metal Jacket.  It wasn’t until Ermey put together an instructional video for Tom Colceri, the actor who had previously been cast as Sgt. Hartmann.  When Full Metal Jacket‘s director, Stanley Kubrick, saw the tape, he replaced Colceri with Ermey.  (Colceri still appears in the film.  He plays the helicopter door gunner who brags about shooting 50 water buffalo.)

Kubrick not only gave Ermey his most famous role but he also allowed Ermey to improvise much of his dialogue, something that was practically unheard of on a Kubrick set.  Kubrick also said that it usually only took 2 or 3 takes for Ermey to give him what he was looking for.  That was a high compliment from Stanley Kubrick, the man who, during the filming of The Shining, made Scatman Crothers do over a hundred takes of one scene.

Ermey’s performance as Hartmann was so iconic and so quotable that it has become the standard by which all other film drill instructors are judged.  It also made Ermey a much-in-demand character actor.  Many of the roles that Ermey played were designed to capitalize on his fame as Hartmann.  He played the a ghost of a drill instructor in The Frighteners.  He was the voice of Sarge in three Toy Story films.

In a few films, R. Lee Ermey got a chance to show that he was capable of more than just playing variations on Sgt. Hartmann.  In Prefontaine, he played the legendary coach and Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.  He was a police captain in Se7en and the father of a murdered girl in Dead Man Walking.  In the two remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he was Leatherface’s equally depraved uncle.

R. Lee Ermey died yesterday at the age of 74 but his performances will live on forever.

RIP, Sarge.  Thank you for making AP History fun.

Jaws Meets Mad Max: Razorback (1984, directed by Russell Mulcahy)

Deep in the Australian outback, a young child named Scotty goes missing.  His grandfather, Jake (Bill Kerr), swears that a giant boar (“a razorback”) broke into his house and ran off with his grandson.  The locals don’t think it was a boar.  They don’t even think it was a dingo.  Instead, they charge Jake with killing his grandson but, because there’s not evidence to convict him, Jake goes free.

Two years later, a nosy American reporter named Beth Winters (Judy Morris) mysteriously vanishes shortly after arriving in the Outback to do a story on how kangaroos are being hunted to the point of extinction.  Women and children are vanishing in the Outback?  This sounds like a job for Lee Majors but the best this movie can do is Gregory Harrison.  Harrison plays Beth’s husband, Carl, who comes to Australia to search for her.  At first, he thinks that she may have been kidnapped by the moronic Baker brothers (Chris Haywood and David Argue) but then he meets Jake and a comely pig expert named Sarah (Arkie Whiteley).  Jake tells Carl about the razorback and later comes across Beth’s wedding ring in a pile of boar shit.

Razorback was probably pitched as being “Jaws meets Mad Max.”  Just as in Jaws, the authorities refuse to accept that people are being eaten by a giant boar and it is up to an inexperienced American, an old timer, and a scientist to try to stop it.  Also, like in Jaws, the boar is that star of the show even though it does not get much screen time.  When the boar does appear, it bears a distinct resemblance to Motorhead’s War-Pig.  Just as in Mad Max, every Australian in Razorback drives like a maniac.  Whenever the Baker brothers tear across the screen in their truck, it’s easy to imagine Max Rockatansky and Goose in hot pursuit.

Along with the boar, the other star of the film is the Australian outback itself, which the film treats as almost being an alien landscape:

If Razorback makes the Australian outback look like an 80s new wave music video, that might be because it was directed by Russell Mulcahy, who started his career directing videos for Duran Duran.  Before one boar attack, Duran Duran’s New Moon On Monday is even heard playing on a radio.  (Ironically, New Moon On Monday was one of the few early Duran Duran videos that Mulcahy did not direct.)  Both the boar and the film look great but all of the humans get overshadowed by the visuals.   Not that it matters, since they’re only there to serve as razorback food.

Despite the strong visuals and the amazingly cool monster, Razorback got only lukewarm reviews when it was first released.  Critics aside, it was a hit in Australia, where it won Australian Film awards for both editing and cinematography.  (Cinematographer Dean Semler later won an Oscar for his work on Dances with Wolves.)  It only found cult success in the United States.  One admirer was Steven Spielberg, who reportedly called Mulcahy to ask how he achieved some the film’s visual effects.  Two years after the release of Razorback, Mulcahy directed his best-known film, Highlander.

Flaws and all, Razorback is the best movie ever made about a wild boar eating people in Australia.


60 Years Ago, My Grandfather Took This Picture Of Elvis Presley

On March 24th, 1958, 23 year-old Elvis Presley reported for his induction into the army.  It was a day that the press and his fans dubbed as being Black Monday.  Shortly after being inducted, Elvis and his fellow recruits were transported to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas.  That’s where my grandfather, Raymond Ellis, took this picture.

Unfortunately, the copy above is not a great scan.  (When my Dad got his first scanner in 1995, the Elvis picture was one of the first things he scanned.  I just happened to come across it a few weeks ago while I was gong through some old 3.5 floppy disks.)  Hopefully, I’ll be able to get my hands on the original and share a better scan in the future.  As far as I know, this picture of Elvis has never been published anywhere else.

As for Elvis, he served in the army for two years, getting promoted to sergeant and receiving an honorable discharge in 1960.   He spent most of his army career in West Germany, where he met the woman that he would eventually marry, Priscilla Beaulieu.

Music Video Of The Day: Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) by Pink Floyd (1979, directed by Gerald Scarfe)

38 years ago today, Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) started a four week run at No.1 on the US singles chart.

When most people think about the video for Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2), they probably remember the scenes from Alan Parker’s Pink Floyd — The Wall, with the school children marching into the tunnel and being dropped into the meat grinder.  However, the “official” video came out shortly before the release of the Parker film.  It was directed by Gerald Scarfe, who was responsible for the film’s animated scenes.  (Clips from Scarfe’s animation for The Trial and Waiting for The Worms are prominently featured in the video.)  It also features the teacher puppet that was used whenever The Wall was performed in concert.

The children in the video are not the same children who sang on the track.  The children on the track were all students at Islington Green School.  When the track, with its chorus of “we don’t need no education/we don’t need no thought control,” was released, it proved to be so controversial that the head teacher at Islington Green forbade the students from performing the song on Top of The Pops and from appearing in the video.  In fact, the members of the chorus heard in the song did not even receive any royalties from its success until 2004.


Music Video of the Day: Everything Zen by Bush (1994, directed by Matt Mahurin)

Is Everything Zen by Bush the worst music video of all time?  Let’s break it down:

0:06 — For some reason, this shot of the birds taking off from the rooftop was one of the most overused shots of the 90s.  It means nothing.  Birds perch on building and then they fly away.  That’s what they do.  In this case, I think the birds are saying, “Let’s get out of here before Gavin starts singing.”

0:20 — The only shot that was a bigger cliché than birds flying off a rooftop?  The one of the woman standing at the end of a tunnel.

0:27 — Bush makes their first appearance and already they’re trying too hard.  Bush was not the first band to rip off Nirvana and Pearl Jam, they were just the most obvious.

0:31 — Gavin Rossdale sang something about getting something to eat so here’s someone in a pig mask, holding a fork.  Literal representations of Bush’s lyrics only serve to remind us of how stupid they are.

0:40 — In the video, Gavin sings “psycho brother.”  In the actual song, he says “asshole brother.”  I guess his asshole brother lives in Los Angeles and wears a pig snout.  In real life, Gavin Rossdale doesn’t have a brother so already he’s lying to us.

0:46 — This is where I really get pissed off.  There’s only one good lyric in this damn song and they stole it from David Bowie.  And no, saying “Dave’s on sale again,” doesn’t make it okay.

0:53 — The woman’s being carried away by someone.  We’re getting edgy now, folks.

1:00 — I can’t understand a word that Gavin’s singing and while I could look up the lyrics, I won’t.  Compare this part of the song to literally any Nirvana song.  Kurt Cobain’s lyrics were cryptic but still meant something.  Bush’s lyrics sound like they were cribbed from a 9th grader’s notebook.

1:11 — One of Bush’s trademarks was that, whenever they couldn’t come up with any new lyrics, they would just repeat the song’s title.  What does “Everything zen” even mean?

1:25 — Along with birds flying off of roofs and women standing at the end of tunnels, intense backlighting was another 90s music video cliché.  This video makes sure to touch all the bases.

1:31 — A mask and an exposed rib cage?  Is that zen?

1:35 — Gavin sings “demigod” as if he got the lyrics a half hour before recording the song.

1:45 — “There’s no sex in your violence.”  We’re getting even more edgy here, folks.

2:05 — Gavin’s back to repeating “everything zen.”

2:10 — The birds are back, still trying to escape the band.  That guitarist isn’t going to let them go that easy, though.

2:13 — Why were bands in the 90s always playing in abandoned warehouses?

2:24 — Leave Elvis out of this, you wanker!

2:34 — He really wants us to know that he doesn’t believe Elvis is dead.

3:06 — Back to “There’s no sex in your violence.”  If he doesn’t believe that Elvis is dead, why should we listen to him about anything?  Maybe there is sex in your violence.

3:28 — I always hear this lyric as “Trust you once, wagah.”

3:36 — Some dude wearing an animal skin.  Does he think Elvis is dead?

3:48 — The woman is back but, in another 90s music video cliché, she disappears while running away.

3:53 — Chill out, Gavin.

4:06 — It’s that final, anguised “zen!” that makes me want to punch the wall.

One final note: Bush was British but they were never big in the UK.  This is all on you, America!

Music Video of the Day: Doctorin’ The Tardis by The Timelords (1988, directed by ????)

Today’s music video is for the song that Melody Maker called “”pure, unadulterated agony!”

Recorded in 1988, Doctorin’ The Tardis was produced by Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, who would later be better known as The KLF.  The song is a mash-up of the Doctor Who theme music, Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll (Part Two), Sweet’s Blockbuster, Steve Walsh’s Let Get Together, and the famous Dalek war cry.  The song was Drummond and Cauty’s attempt to write a number one hit single, as opposed to the more esoteric and socially conscious work for which they were better known.

As Drummond explained it,  “We went into the studio on a Monday, thinking we were going to make a house track, a regular underground dance house track using the Doctor Who theme tune… [but] we [then] realised it was in triplet time and you can’t have house tracks in triplet time. The only beat that would work with it was the Glitter beat. By Tuesday evening we realised we had a number one and we just went totally for the lowest common denominator.”  Drummond also later said that Doctorin’ The Tardis was, “the most nauseating record of all time.”

While the critics may have agreed with Drummond, the music-buying public loved the song and Doctorin’ The Tardis spent a week as number one on the UK pop charts.  Drummond and Cauty responded by writing a book called The Manual (How To Have A Number One The Easy Way), which was advertised as being a guide to how to have a number one hit record without having any musical talent whatsoever.  Among The Manual‘s advise: Be on the dole and, if you’re already a musician, stop playing your instrument and sell it.  The Manual also warned that all of its advice will be obsolete within twelve months.

The video, which cost £8,000 to make, was filmed in Wiltshire and features Cauty’s 1968 Ford Galaxie police car being pursued by some poorly constructed Daleks.


This is what a real Dalek looks like, son.


Bronson One Last Time: Death Wish V: The Face of Death (1994, directed by Allen Goldstein)

To quote Geoffrey Chaucer, “All good things must come to an end.”

Death Wish V: The Face of Death marked the end of the original Death Wish franchise, concluding the violent saga of Paul Kersey 20 years after it began.  It probably should have ended sooner.

After the box office failure of Death Wish IV and the subsequent bankruptcy of Cannon Films, future plans for the Death Wish franchise were put on hold.  After the collapse of Cannon, Menahem Golan started a new production company, 21st Century Film Corporation.  In 1993, needing a hit and seeing that the previous Death Wish films were still popular on video, Golan announced that Paul Kersey would finally return in Death Wish V: The Face of Death.  Charles Bronson also returned, though he was now 72 years old and in poor health.  Death Wish V would also mark the end of Bronson’s feature film career.  He would make appearances in a few television movies before subsequently retiring from acting.

Death Wish V finds Paul in the witness protection program.  His latest girlfriend, Olivia (Lesley-Anne Down), just happens to be the ex-wife of a psychotic mobster named Tommy O’Shea (Michael Parks).  Throughout the entire franchise, the Death Wish films argued that crime is so out of control that no one was safe and that Paul had no choice but to pick up a gun and shoot muggers.  But, judging from Death Wish V, Paul just seems to have incredibly bad luck.  What are the odds that a mild-mannered architect would lose his wife, his maid, his daughter, his best friend from the war, his next two girlfriends, and then end up dating the ex-wife of New York City’s craziest gangster?

The district attorney’s office wants Olivia to testify against her ex-husband so Tommy gets his henchman, the dandruff-prone Freddie Flakes (Robert Joy), to kill her.  Looks like it’s time for New York’s favorite vigilante to launch a one-man war against the Mafia!

The only problem is that New York’s favorite vigilante is too old to chase people down dark alleys and shoot them.  He has to get creative, which means using everything from poisoned cannoli to a vat of acid to take out his targets.  One gangster is killed by an exploding soccer ball!

With both Bronson and Lesley-Anne Down giving an indifferent performances, it is up to the supporting cast to keep the movie interesting.  Appearing here after his bravura turn as Jean Renault in Twin Peaks but before Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino introduced him to a whole new generation of filmgoers, Michael Parks is flamboyantly evil as Tommy O’Shea and injects the movie with what little life that it has.  Speaking of Twin Peaks alumni, Kenneth Welsh (who played Windom Earle in the last few episodes of season 2) plays this installment’s understanding police detective.  Saul Rubinek plays the district attorney who is willing to look the other way when it comes to killing gangsters.

Dull and cheap-looking, Death Wish V was a box office bomb and it brought the original franchise to a definite end.  Will the Eli Roth/Bruce Willis reboot of Death Wish also lead to a reboot of the franchise?  Time will tell!