Retro Review: A Meanness in This World: Traveling Through Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 20th, 2015 By:

badlandsBADLANDS (1973); Dir. Terrence Malick; Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and Warren Oates; Tuesday, Feb. 24 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

If you’re looking for a reason—any reason—to go see a movie, look no further. The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema kicks off its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with one of the greatest modern American films, Terrence Malick’s debut feature BADLANDS.

Some filmmakers take decades to find their voice. Yet there are others who seem to arrive on this earth fully formed. Orson Welles stormed out of the gate in 1941 having assembled his influences into an entirely identifiable personal style with CITIZEN KANE. David Lynch emerged from the shadows in 1977 with the most David Lynch-iest film ever made, ERASERHEAD. Martin Scorsese captured everyone’s attention with the first example of what can only be called a Martin Scorsese Movie with 1973’s MEAN STREETS (while not his debut, his two previous features were the atypical BOXCAR BERTHA, a project-for-hire under the auspices of Roger Corman, and WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?, a short film he expanded over the course of several years into a very different feature). And that same year, Terrence Malick debuted his own idiosyncratic means of storytelling with the brooding, brilliant BADLANDS.

Told from the viewpoint of Holly (Sissy Spacek), a 15-year-old girl growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, BADLANDS examines Holly’s infatuation with 25-year-old greaser Kit (Martin Sheen) as they slowly fall in love. While she obsesses over him romantically as they explore each other’s philosophies on life, his own psychotic and amoral side reveals itself and together they violently remove any obstacle that threatens to stand between them and the life with each other they desire. Based loosely on the real-life murderous exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, BADLANDS also stands as a poetic examination of life, love and death set against the dusty, sun-baked plains of the Midwest.

Contemplative in tone and deliberate in pace, BADLANDS set the tone for Malick’s further career as he examined such subjects as war (THE THIN RED LINE), the founding of Jamestown (THE NEW WORLD) and the meaning of life itself (THE TREE OF LIFE). Even at this early stage of his career, though, he proves himself a master of imagery and composition and creates an experience that is pure cinema. Painterly tableaux fill the screen and slowly reveal their emotional heart as Spacek’s narration combines with the haunting strains of experimental classical composers such as Erik Satie or Carl Orff. Moments of incredible beauty are carved out of nothing but light, color and shadow. Divorced from attempts to emulate the rhythms and cadences of literature or stagework, Malick’s world can only exist in those rays of light captured by a camera, painstakingly edited into a cohesive statement and then projected onto a screen.

Badlands-104But lest this sound like a movie full of art-film clichés that holds you at arm’s length with its own sense of pretentious self-importance, BADLANDS is instead Malick’s most accessible film and a perfect entry point for those unfamiliar or intimidated by the visionary director’s work. It may perhaps be his masterpiece (with DAYS OF HEAVEN running close behind). Malick’s singular approach is wed to an incredibly compelling story, so that the dynamic of the narrative propels the audience through even the film’s most low-key moments. When you combine this with the career-making performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, you have a film that it is nearly impossible to look away from.

Presented as part of Landmark Midtown Art Cinema’s “Midtown Cinema Classics” series, you have the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the modern classics of American cinema in its natural habitat—on a theater screen. Please do not let this pass you by.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

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Grindhouse Meets Art House in FLESH GORDON, or When Is the Last Time You Talked to Your Mother About Porn?

Posted on: Apr 24th, 2013 By:

FLESH GORDON (1974); Dirs: Michael Benveniste, Howard Ziehm; Starring Jason Williams, Suzanne Fields; Cineprov Presents on Sunday April 284, 7:30 p.m.; The Plaza Theatre, Trailer here.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

When is the last time you talked to your mother about porn?

Yeah, OK. That’s a weird question. Let’s back up for a little context.

This Friday, the Plaza begins a run of one of the weirdest relics of the 1970s, softcore porn spoof FLESH GORDON. If you’ve ever doubted the commitment and film credentials of the new Plaza ownership, it may be time to suspend your disbelief, because I honestly don’t know another theatre in the city brave enough to put a softcore title on the screen just because they can. And GORDON is more than just a silly porno. It’s a genuine oddity, a movie with a unique role in film history and a gateway into that bizarro time in the 20th century when it was cool to watch porn.

When film projectors were invented over 100 years ago, the first bulb wasn’t cool before people found a way to use it for porn. Many of the earliest films we know about were skin flicks and erotica, because, then-as-now, that’s where the money was. But porn was always an outsider in the entertainment business, buried and segregated by strict, sometimes-draconian interpretations of obscenity laws. Porn was the film industry’s dirty secret, the seedy cousin nobody wants to talk about.

An unusual and powerful combination of events radically reshaped the porn industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Sexual Revolution of the 60s became a point of cultural pride for the many young people living through civil unrest, a way to fully distinguish themselves from the conservative generation of their parents. For some, freer sex equated to progress, and that notion led to some strange experiments in the name of moving forward. This shift in the culture caused a general relaxing of local and federal obscenity laws, which in turn opened the door for wider distribution of porno publications and, eventually, the opening of theaters exclusively and proudly devoted to pornographic films. All of those screens needed content, and a batch of eager filmmakers rushed into the new market, filmmakers with big ideas inspired by a larger trend of European art films which happened to be arriving on American shores at about the same time, sexy films like BLOW-UP (1966), PERSONA (1966) and the arthouse thrillers of Roman Polanski. Those films had blurred the line between smut and art in a way that seemed to point to a number of possibilities: if films with sex could be art, well, then sex films could be art, too!

This resulted in an extremely brief, but intensely weird trend dubbed by some as “porno-chic.” The trend began in 1970 with Michael Benveniste’s MONA THE VIRGIN NYMPH, the first major narrative hardcore porno film, and the first porn movie to receive widespread release in America. The success of MONA brought more attention to porn, and within two years, the genre had its first real “masterpieces” and mainstream box office smashes with BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR (1972) and the phenomenon DEEP THROAT (1972). As if the world hadn’t gone topsy turvy enough, porn films became the talk of mainstream film critics and big-city intellectuals, and many felt as if they couldn’t keep up with the water cooler conversation unless they were up to date on the latest stag flicks. Some porn stars—most famously Marilyn Chambers—threatened to break out of porn and into Hollywood.

It was into this environment that FLESH GORDON arrived. FLESH was an attempt at a big, mainstream porn comedy, co-directed by the father of porno-chic himself, MONA director Benveniste, but by the time FLESH was released, the trend was already slinking back into the shadows. FLESH takes as its target the original FLASH GORDON serials of the 1930s (not the more-famous FLASH GORDON film, which came six years after its porno progenitor) and places its hero on the planet Porno Mongo, ruled by the evil Wang the Perverted. Flesh’s mission: to stop a sex ray that could turn all of Earth into sex fiends. (A similar story, it turns out, to 1968’s BARBARELLA.) To give you a window into the film’s sense of humor, when Flesh and his crew arrive on Porno Mongo, they are attacked by a large, throbbing monster. It’s called, of course, a Penisaurus.

So it’s not high art, but FLESH GORDON is more of a pleasure for film fans than a pain. While we may look at porn parodies today as hopelessly cheap and shlocky, nobody told the FLESH GORDON crew that they weren’t making a real film. The movie has a goofy sense of humor that gets it through the creaky plot, and it features incredibly-cool and inventive special effects, including a series of stop-motion critters designed and executed by future industry legends like Mike Minor (STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE [1979]) and one of the all-time great movie monster makers, Rick Baker. FLESH GORDON exists at that one narrow crossroads in film history where porno ambitions met mainstream talent, and it provides a glimpse into a different direction that American movies might have gone. Despite the tendency of porn to exploit its stars, there’s nothing mean-spirited in FLESH GORDON’s softcore spirit. The film is packed with nudity from end to end, but often feels more like admiration than exploitation, more Russ Meyer than Chuck Traynor.

There’s some confusion as to the different versions of FLESH GORDON available to the public. For many years, the only version of the film available was a heavily-edited 72 minutes long, and rumors persisted of a longer hardcore cut. But when the restored, uncut version appeared years later, it remained softcore. (This uncut version is the one playing at the Plaza) Co-director Howard Ziehm has stated that there were hardcore scenes filmed, but that they were nabbed by police in an obscenity-law sting and have been permanently lost. This is probably for the best. Part of the fun of FLESH GORDON is the way that, despite its rampant nudity and bawdy sexuality, the film somehow retains its gee-whiz innocence. Penetration tends to ruin that illusion.

The moment of the mainstream porn film was basically gone by the time FLESH GORDON arrived, but the film’s legacy is still felt today. GORDON was the first porn spoof, and its success in, frankly, getting away with it blazed a trail for decades of porno spoofs that have become the most famous version of the form. If you’ve ever sat around wondering what the “porn name” of your favorite mainstream film would be, you owe a debt, however small, to FLESH GORDON. Sadly, today’s pornos have give up on the clever titles and funny rebranding in favor of just putting “parody” right in the name. I know it’s porn we’re talking about here, but come on. “Batman: The Porn Parody?” Where’s the fun in that?

So how did I wind up talking with my mother about porn? Well, I realized that Mom would have been in her 20s at the peak of porno-chic. Surely she knew about it. Was she aware it was going on? Did she *gasp* see DEEP THROAT? I approached the subject with some caution and, after some explaining, she agreed to answer my question. She looked me right in the eye and said, “Son, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Thank you, Mom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game writer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He writes at www.thehollywoodprojects.com and hosts a bimonthly screening series of classic films at theaters around Atlanta.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 10: A Picnic of Peckinpah and Wild Oates for Memorial Day as The Plaza Says BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Posted on: May 27th, 2012 By:

 “This is one of the original balls to the wall crazyass movies. We saw that we could screen it through Tugg.com, so we had to.”

– Alex Orr, Fake Wood Wallpaper

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974); Presented by Fake Wood Wallpaper; Dir: Sam Peckinpah; Story by Peckinpah andFrank Kowalski/screenplay by Gordon Dawson; Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber; Memorial Day Monday; 9:30 PM; $9; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here. Advance tickets here.

Innocents will suffer. Holy ground will be desecrated. And 25 people will die. So announces the trailer for BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Whether you’ve just seen THE WILD BUNCH or are a diehard follower of Sam Peckinpah, the seminal director who redefined ultra-violence and realism in the Western and action film genres of the 1960s and 1970s, the chance to see a 35mm print of a Peckinpah feature on the big screen is a rare treat – so you shouldn’t have to think twice about walking out of that cookout your family or friend throws every year. Sadly given the studios’ mad race to all-digital, it could be your last time, too. Not to mention a swell test to see how many bullets and blood your new squeeze can take. [Editor’s note: I once complained that THE WILD BUNCH wasn’t violent enough. Score!]

That being said, the under-rated ALFREDO GARCIA is pretty much universally dubbed as the most surreal and gruesome of his cinematic ventures. Set in contemporary Mexico rather than the Old West, the premise is pretty basic, a hit is out on a man named Alfredo Garcia, with a million dollars reward, and yeah, the title is literal – the proof of death is in the head. The man contracted to accomplish the bloody task is Bennie, a ne-er-do-well bartender and alcoholic with a penchant for not being afraid of dishing out ultra-violence if it means revenge and retribution, played perfectly by Warren Oates who had previously teamed so well with Peckinpah on THE WILD BUNCH. The Badass Hall of Fame calls Oates their “Patron Saint,” and while they wax about his swagger in THE WILD BUNCH, they dub ALFREDO GARCIA “his masterpiece.”

Warren Oates in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

We could tell you more like there’s a sexy woman Elita (Isela Vega) with the misfortune of being along for the ride and in love with Bennie to boot, much tequila is consumed, and there will be slaughter. But if we told you too much, we’d spoil that wild ride. So instead, how about some fun facts to whet your appetite for art and violence. Yeah, you heard us right. We said “fun facts” …so what ya gonna do, shoot us?

– Peckinpah considered BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, shot in Mexico with an almost total Mexican crew, a snub on his enemies in Hollywood and his antipathy for Richard Nixon and the direction the U.S. was heading in the 1970s.

– Peckinpah also considered James Coburn and Peter Falk for the role of Bennie.

– Oates based his performance of the drunken protagonist on Peckinpah himself, even stealing his director’s trademark sunglasses for the role.

– Oates didn’t like the movie and told folks not to see it. While back then, reviewers agreed, they don’t any more, and the white suit and sunglasses Oates wears in GARCIA have become his iconic look.

Kris Kristofferson plays a biker in the movie.

Emilio Fernandez as El Jefe in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

– Mexico film director, Emilio Fernandez, who plays El Jefe, was rumored to have killed men in duels. According to screenwriter Gordon Dawson, “Emilio would take out his .38s and start blowing the art off the walls.”  (He also played Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH)

– Frank Kowalski, who shares story credit with Peckinpah, wanted to write a movie that brought together two concepts. The first was  bartenders who “lead the most colorful lives going. They live fast and get broads, and, the next thing they know, they’re 45 or 50 and it’s all over. It’s a strange life cycle, like a moth.” The second, inspired by the real life case of Caryl Chessman who raped women at gunpoint and whose death penalty conviction caused controversy, was what would a man do if forced to watch another rape his lover. Shoot the hell out of him, of course, while she watches!

Sources: The Badass Hall of Fame and BLOODY SAM, THE LIFE AND FILMS OF SAM PECKINPAH, by Marshall Fine, Primus, 1991.

 

 

 

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RETRO REVIEW: GONE IN 60 SECONDS Smashes Up Cinefest with the Greatest Car Chases in Movie History

Posted on: Aug 21st, 2011 By:

By Dean Treadway
Contributing Blogger

GONE IN 60 SECONDS (1974); Dir: H.B. Halicki; Screenplay by H.B. Halicki; Starring H.B. Halicki, Marion Busia and Jerry Daugirda; Thurs. Aug. 25; 35 mm print; 7:30 p.m.; Cinefest at Georgia State University. Trailer here.

If you’re looking for the greatest car chase movie in history, Georgia State University’s cracking theater Cinefest has got it, and will serve it up on glorious 35mm for a one-time-only showing at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 25. Now we’re not talkin’ THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS or BULLITT, neither THE ITALIAN JOB or THE SEVEN-UPS. And it’s not the crappy Nicholas Cage remake that bears this movie’s title. It’s H.B. Halicki’s 1974 drive-in masterpiece GONE IN 60 SECONDS. It is a smashing movie.

The title refers to the time it takes for this movie’s thieving crew to get into and steal someone’s ride. Their task here is to steal 48 cars of varying makes and deliver them to a South American buyer in a short amount of time. That’s nearly all you need to know about the plot. Character and dialogue run a distant second to action in GONE IN 60 SECONDS and that’s the way it should be. Somehow, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced remake from 2000 screwed this simplicity up, giving away precious car chase time for a ridiculous, boring family-revenge plot involving Cage and his brother, played by Giovanni Ribisi. (Why, I ask? Why?)

One of many high-speed car chases in GONE IN 60 SECONDS, Copyright H.B. Halicki Mercantile Co., 1974.

The original GONE IN 60 SECONDS does contain some family strife plot elements, yes, but it’s more concerned with seeing how Halicki—who plays lead stunt driver AND lead car thief Maindrian Pace—plots to nab the final and most coveted buggy of all: a 1973 orange Ford Mustang Mach I code-named “Eleanor.” This effort serves as the backbone for the film’s centerpiece: a nail-biting, 50-minute car holocaust that was often staged on the real highways of California with barely a notice given to police, onlookers, and uninvolved fellow drivers (there’s one smash-up involving Eleanor and a light pole that was really an accident—one so hairy that the production had to be shut down while Halicki healed up).

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