BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XXIII: Between A Rocky And A Horror Place

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

—————————————————

Poss final blog photo dream framev9.5

Ah, after two weeks off I feel… older and sorer. I intended to have small break over my birthday weekend, but after a nasty injury I’ve had to have a few weeks off. Cest la vie.

The last Hollyweird ended with requests for feedback. Any ideas or interests that readers put forward would be considered future instalments. After a stampede of ideas, well, two at any rate, I have indeed stuck to my word. Consequently this entry is based on Debra Coleman’s suggestion… at least to a degree.

Debra asked me if I had written anything about Musicals. In fact I have purposely avoided this topic thus far.

The reason is that there are only a handful of Film Musicals that I have ever seen and liked. Of this handful, none of the musicals that I have access to would be suitable to dissect via Hollyweird. These unsuitable candidates are as follows.

They’ve mis-spelt ‘Hollyweird’. Pff, amateurs.

The first musical that I could potentially write about is Bugsy Malone. Bugsy Malone is a musical featuring children playing the roles of Film Noir gangsters, with all bullets replaced by custard pie-esque projectiles. It is a film with catchy songs, funny one-liners and children acting like wise guys and dames.

However I cannot think of much to write about Bugsy Malone simply because, in my opinion, it is a sheer pleasure. I do not have any fresh take on the unusual nature of this movie, and so I would prefer to leave it in the state of being a simple pleasure to watch.

Scot Baio's career is a shame. He coulda been anything that he wanted to be...
Scot Baio’s career is a shame. He coulda been anything that he wanted to be…

The second musical that I could write about is Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. This musical comes from an age of glorious technicolor (sic) and the bombastic belting of lyrics.

There is no place for subtlety in this film- which is just as well since the plot revolves around seven brothers kidnapping seven women for cooking and cleaning and kissing purposes!

Seven Lawsuits For Seven Brothers
Seven Lawsuits For Seven Brothers

 

Seven Brides… is probably just on my radar due to one of my sisters being rather a fan of it. Consequently many a Sunday afternoon had “Bless my beautiful briiiiide/ Wherever she may beeeeeee!” ringing through my ears.

My personal brainwashing aside, there is an undeniable glee to this movie. It is typical example of the joy that musicals can create. Moments such as the one below sum up the films nature. Witness how a barn-building competition turns into an Alpha-Male showcase that ends in laughter.

However I still cannot write about Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. Any film that- at least in its beginning- seems like a misogynistic wet dream would be hard to write about without possibly tearing it to shreds. Unfortunately the sister who loves this film got all of the Irish genes in the family, so for my own health and safety I’ll opt to avoid writing about it.

Finally we come to my favourite musical film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now this is a film that is already on the worlds radar. The musical has never stopped running and the film still remains screened in Independent cinemas all the world over.

"Super Adventures of Dr Sausage vs Normal Party Poopers: Mega Horror Show!!!!"
“Super Adventures of Dr Sausage vs Normal Party Poopers: Mega Horror Show!!!!”

The Rocky Horror Picture Show also has the slightly dubious honour of being a sort of Cliff notes version of ‘alternative’ sexual-culture.

In fact my fellow Podcaster and Blogger, Craig Ennis (http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/scragg/) often cites a Spaced quote to sum up his opinions towards The Rocky Horror Picture Show. So much as bring up the film or play to Craig, and you’ll receive an automatic response;

betty-blue-movie-poster-1986-1020238154

“I hate it. It’s boil-in-the-bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants and first-year drama students with too many posters of Betty Blue, The Blues Brothers, Big Blue and Blue Velvet on their blue bloody walls.”

-Simon Pegg/Craig Ennis

 

This oft-repeated quote from Craig brings two things to mind. Firstly; he needs to get some new material. Secondly, and more importantly, so what?

If The Rocky Horror Picture Show exists only as a ‘light’ presentation of alternative lifestyles then it is just making these lifestyles all the more valid.

Perhaps it is a good thing if cross-dressing, homosexuality or transsexualism can be presented as innocuous and innocently as possible. Anyone who wants to learn more about these life styles can use ‘Rocky Horror as a starting point. Meanwhile, anyone who is worried about these types of lifestyles moral implication s upon society can see them presented in the a light, sweet, silly fun manner.

With this important point already made, I do not feel that The Rocky Horror Picture Show needs fully covering as its own entry in here.

 Instead I want to use this as springboard to discuss two lesser known projects related to The Rocky Horror Picture Show… and wouldn’t you know it, both of these topics fall rather neatly into the realms of the ‘Holly-weird’.

First of all there is a special Soundtrack and secondly there is a Sequel. Oh yes, there is a sequel you know….

Initially let us look at a special tribute album to the musical. No, not the one the cast of Glee made but something actually worth hearing.

RHPunkRockShow-FrontCover

Back in 1999 Shawn Browning had the bright idea to make a complete Rocky Horror soundtrack using Punk acts. Shawn had some connections to Springman records (quite the nifty little punk label) and by 2001, after a few missteps along the way, the project was finally out to buy.

To quote the (overly sentimental) Liner Notes,

I was a huge Rocky Horror fan back in High School. I went to Rocky twice a weekend for 17 weeks in a row. I loved the whole scene from the crazy punks, weirdos, and freaks who would come out only at night to attend showings of Rocky at the midnight movies to the fact that we could throw stuff in the theatre while shouting back responses to the screen to the great 50’s style punk and roll featured throughout the entire movie…

The midnight showing of Rocky was where some of us fit in back then. There was no mall store to buy your studded wrist bands, we made them. The punk’s hair was done up with glue. No one ever modelled themselves after an MTV video… Somehow we got ostracised, yet deep inside we knew we were just like everyone else… I hope you enjoy this thing and it kicks your tail! Remember, don’t dream it, be it!”

-Shawn “Eddie Migraine” Browning.

Fret not if Mr Browning’s words made you want to reach for a sick bag! The actual music found on this album brings back enough fun and stupidity to balance your brain once more.

That is assuming of course that your brain likes punk of a silly, Ska or pop nature. Fans of Political-punk, Hardcore, Oi, Crusties or in fact anyone who has absolutely no interest in punk would be better served using the CD as a coaster.

 

For those in the mood for Fun, Ska or Pop-Punk, the track listing is:

  1. Science Fiction/Double Feature by Me First And The Gimme Gimmes
  2. Dammit, Janet by Love Equals Death
  3. Over at the Frankenstein Place by Alkaline Trio
  4. The Time Warp by Groovie Ghoulies
  5. Sweet Transvestite by Apocalypse Hoboken
  6. Sword Of Damocles by The Independents
  7. I Can Make You A Man by Pansy Division
  8. Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul by The Phenomenauts
  9. I Can Make You A Man (Reprise) by The Secretions
  10. Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me by Caroline No
  11. Once In A While by Big D And The Kids Table
  12. Eddie’s Teddy by Swingin Utters
  13. Planet, Schmanet, Janet by Tsunami Bomb
  14. Rose Tint My World/Floor Show by Luckie Strike
  15. Fanfair/Don’t Dream It by Stunt Monkey
  16. Wild And Untamed Thing by Gametime
  17. I’m Going Home by The Migraines
  18. Super Heroes by Ruths Hat
  19. Science Fiction Double Feature (Reprise) by The Ataris

RHPunkRockShow-BackCoverL

I myself am not massively into pop punk or Ska punk, but this album coasts through on my stereo very nicely. The upbeat nature of the film is reflected within these version of the songs, as is the free spirited, ‘anything goes’ attitude.

In truth though, any album that gives Sci-Fi loons The Phenomenauts more exposure is A-OK by me.

Coming soon to X-Factor

Should this have intrigued you at all I thoroughly recommend at least checking it out.

Unfortunately that cannot be said of the next project…

The second item of Hollyweird today is the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Shock Treatment.

"Trust me, I'm Doctor"
“Trust me, I’m Doctor”

The word ‘sequel’ is a little bit of a misnomer. Shock Treatment is actually a mix between a tribute and a continuation. It still features the central protagonists of The Rocky Horror Picture Show via brad Majors and Janet Weiss, but they are now played by new actors. Confusingly the majority of the supporting cast from ‘Rocky Horror are still present but all in new roles. This includes the mastermind of the entire musical, Richard O’ Brien. O’Brien also contributes the music once more for Shock Treatment bridging the line of sequel and continuation past the plot and into the form.

Clearly no-can accuse this of being an unconnected cash-in sequel from a studio. Yet confusingly, Shock Treatment also has only superficial links to the original via Brad and Janet’s re-appearance and the remaining cast getting a pay day.

shock_2

Perhaps it is best to view Shock Treatment as taking place ‘another dimension’ where Brad and Janet never did blow a tire or stop by Frankenfurter’s castle as in ‘Rocky Horror. Instead they got married and moved to Denton, Ohio.

Denton may seem like a dull American town, but there is more beneath the surface. As Shock Treatment begins, we are immediately introduced to TV executive ‘Fast’ Farley Flavors. Flavors has it all but he still feels incomplete without a certain woman to share his life with. Flavors is not just a TV executive though, he is practically a James Bond villain. He has bought out all of Denton and turned into one, internal television studio. The whole town is now his set.

 

Whooo! Denton!
Whooo! Denton!

The studio is filled with the former residents of Denton, who gleefully assume their new roles as studio audience members for a 24 hour, live broadcast. This leads to the first, and only catchy, song from the film, Denton, USA.

The sole holdout for the town becoming a TV studio is the white bread star of the original film, Brad Majors (Cliff De Young). Brad’s wife, Janet (Jessica Harper) assures Brad that things will be just fine living inside the Studio, and they take their seats.

shock_1

However, once the audience is fully seated, Brad and Janet are ‘randomly’ chosen as contestants on “Marriage Maze“. This is a game show whose only purpose seems to be committing people to “Dentonvale”, Denton’s very own insane asylum.

Janet is given the opportunity to have Brad committed by the shows host, Bert Schnick (Barry Humphries who never seems right as anything but Dame Edna Everage). Schnick promises Janet that Brad’s experience as a mental patient will ultimately improve their marriage upon his return. Via another song, Janet and Brad lament the state of their relationship.

Janet ultimately decides to have Brad sent to Dentonvale. Upon arrival, Brad and Janet are greeted by the staff. This includes Nurse Ansalong (Nell Campbell- aka Medusa), Dentonvale’s supervisors, the, incestuous siblings of Dr. Cosmo and Nation McKinley (Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn aka Riff- Raff and Magenta) and even Rest Home Ricky (Rik Mayall, aka an angry, UK TV legend).

Recognise that cheeky chappy on the left?
Recognise that cheeky chappy on the left?

Despite Brad’s objections, Cosmo has him drugged, bound, gagged, and placed in a padded cell. Before Janet can sign the papers that will permit the McKinleys to treat Brad however they see fit, Nurse Ansalong tells Janet to wait a day to be sure of her decision.

Meanwhile, Janet’s parents, Harry (Manning Redwood) and Emily (Darlene Johnson), are brought onto Marriage Maze and promised a prize if they offer a psychological assessment of Brad. Convincing themselves that Brad is regressing into childhood due to being an unbalanced orphan, Harry and Emily are awarded a vacation home on another one of the studios programmes.

c/o mgmpluto.tumblr.com

Further plot unfolds involving the financing of a pop- psychology movement by TV executive, Flavors. He orchestrates his new show “Faith Factory” to make Janet the face of Flavor’s “Sanity For Today”movement. Farley believes Janet is a typical ‘girl next door’ and perfect as the spokesperson for his new movement.

Janet moves into Dentonvale under the logic that her new life as the face of a whole movement will make her desirable to Brad once again. However, after Denton TV manufactures Janet into an overnight sensation, the new-found fame goes to Janet’s head. Soon she forgets all about repairing her marriage with Brad and lives only for herself.

The rest of the plot unfurls with even more characters and loops. Cutting to the core of it though a journalist named Betty (aka Ruby Wax. Urgh.) discovers that the McKinleys are in fact actors- and that “Dentonvale” isn’t even a real hospital!

"Hats not my husband!"
“Hats not my husband!”

“Faith Factory” goes on the air, and during the all of the excitement, Brad is secretly rescued from Dentonvale by Betty. Betty then reveals that she has also learned that Flavors is Brad’s biological brother. They were split apart during their adoption process as orphans. Now Flavors wants to destroy Brad’s life out of jealousy. As such, Flavors plans to seduce Janet on national TV as the last part of his evil plan.

Re-invigorated, Brad breaks through the wall of the “Faith Factory” set to confront Flavors. Flavors demands Brad be remanded to the hospital, but Janet is snapped out of her ego-trip by Brad’s new passion. She informs Flavors that she never signed the consent forms.

Carry on Nurse
Carry on Nurse

Enraged, Flavors has Brad, Janet, and the Betty arrested. Maintaining his evil streak, Flavors then invites the studio audience to join his new Psychology show. The audience readily agree and they are all handed straight jackets, leaving the town a giant institution of, to be honest, idiots.

Betty uses a hairpin to pick the lock on her, Brad, Janet holding cell. They resolves to leave Denton behind. With some extra help from a Punk band (don’t ask), Brad and Janet hot wire a car that was meant to be a prize on “Faith Factory”. They drive away from the madness and the glamour of TV knowing that love is all they need…. and probably leaving poor Betty feeling like quite the fifth wheel for that entire journey.

 

Now believe it or not, that really is the concise version of Shock Treatment!

"THAT'S the SHORT version?!?!?"
“THAT’S the SHORT version?!?!?”

The full film is surprisingly long and heavy. This may be one reason that it never found the audience of its predecessor. Whereas ‘Rocky Horror had a lot to say in a fun, loose and joyful way, Shock Treatment seems to have a lot to say in a dull, extended and melodramatic way.

Given the film is not simply a cash in, and it is taken a lot of pot shots at things that now are even more relevant (Pop psychology on TV, Reality shows etc) Shock Treatment genuinely does have its own merit. But without flashy turns from the likes of Tim Curry or catchy melodies, it all feels like a bad School musical.

Shock Treatment is not really worth watching but it is quite a curiosity for Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. Ironically the film seems odder than ‘Rocky Horror due to its strange juxtaposition of dullness with insanity. This makes the film a chore to watch, but at least it exists as a film that stands on its own two feet as a unique experience.

Next week I’ll be writing about… well, Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about supplying any further clues.

Thanks for reading,

MJ

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XXII: … Do Argento’s Dream Of Electric Synths?

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

—————————————————

 

Let us get this startling revelation out of the way: I think that Dario Argento is overrated.

I have seen half a dozen of his films and I have been equally bored by most of them. These dullards include Deep Red, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tails, Suspiria, and, the sole exception that I enjoyed, Tenebrae. In each case I found the dialogue atrocious, the acting poor, the plotting ludicrous and the production values overblown. To my mind, these titles are just slightly better dressed Troma films.

‘Super Dario Bros.’ never had the same ring to it

Allow me to also state for the record that I do recognise Argento’s skills as a film maker. I do actually respect that he has developed his own style of film making. His signature traits often include an over saturation of primary colours, complex camera movements, first person kills and pulsating soundtracks.

I believe that this focus on the hyper-real is great in principal, but in execution I think that far too often Argento’s aesthetics make his films seem like a badly shot acid trip from an anti-drugs video, rather than an unsettling experience that heightens terror.

The fact that Argento may want to ram his techniques into the audiences mind rather than letting the suspenseful/horrific events speak for themselves is his own choice of expression. Even if I do not like his style, it does not mean that I believe him to be a hack. In fact, I even intend to give his alleged-masterpiece, Suspiria, another chance one of these days. Yet the fact is that for all intents and purposes, I am unimpressed with Argento’s work.

D.O.I.L.L.I.G.A.F?

Now, with that all laid out, for those of you paying attention at the back will have noticed that I wrote that I have seen half a dozen of Argento films. Yet I only listed five. This is because my most recent Argento viewing was only a week ago – and I am not sure if the evening counted as watching a film or experiencing a frontal lobotomy. Why, I was even forced to rewind moments to ensure I was had not fallen asleep and dreamed up plot points.

So unique was this Argento movie that I knew I would have to ponder him and his films as it simply had to be discussed here in Hollyweird. Ladies and gentlemen, this… is… Phenomena.

 

Phenomena opens in Switzerland. A Serial Killer claims a young, female victim. This is from the killers perspective and features a girl being stabbed- anyone familiar with his Giallo movies could rightfully say, ‘so far, so Argento’.

Cut to a few months later and a young American girl called Jennifer, conveniently named as she is played by Jennifer Connelly, is arriving at an all-girls Boarding school in the same area.

Jennifer is a sleepwalker, and on her very first night at the school she ends up wandering the grounds at night. This results in her unfortunate witnessing of a fellow student being murdered by the mysterious Serial Killer.

Trapped in a Labyrinth of her own mind….

Fleeing, Jennifer ends up at a world renowned Forensic Entomologist Dr McGregor’s house. McGregor is confined to a wheelchair and played by a Scottish-accented Donald Pleasance. Luckily for Donald though, despite not being able to walk, what he does have is a helper Chimp.

So to recap the film so far; Somewhere in Switzerland, a sleepwalking American has become a murder witness, and has subsequently befriends a Scottish, paralysed, expert in Insect-based crime in, and fantastically there is a Chimp-assistant.

Now if the opening few scenes of Phenomena sound a little unusual, then just wait for the next bit- McGregor explains to Jennifer that she is having a strange effect on the insects in his Study. Consequently, he informs her that she must share a telepathic bond with insects.

 

“How Pleasance to meet you”

Returning to school, Jennifer deals with bullies via her newly discovered power to control flies. Such a talent could be useful for enjoying picnics, one would imagine. Slightly less enjoyable for Jennifer though, her new room-mate is murdered that same night by the Serial Killer.

Jennifer is now the main suspect within the school on the rather flimsy grounds that she is ‘weird’. The headmistress, Frau Brackner, does what any respected authority figure would do. She agrees to have Jennifer locked away in a Mental Hospital without bothering to inform Jennifer’s parents or the Police.

Seeking to avoid being unfairly locked up, Jennifer escapes back to McGregor’s house. McGreogor suggests Jennifer head off with a special fly that is attracted to carrion. The plan is that if Jennifer can find the bodies of additional victims, she may find also find real perpetrator, clearing herself in the process. As with Frau Brackner, McGregor also does not bother to alert Jennifer’s family or the Police that he is sending out a teenage girl to hunt a killer. Perhaps Europeans really do look down on Americans.

Later that same night, the Chimp gets locked out of McGregor’s house just as the Killer attacks. McGregor is slain in a Stair-lift incident that sadly pales in comparison to the mightier effort in Joe Dante’s Gremlins. Enraged at McGregor’s death, the Chimp chases the killer. A high-speed car chase occurs, which yes, including the Chimp, but the Killer escapes.

The next day, Jennifer has hit the road with her new, carrion-sniffing pet. After a slanging match with an OAP on a bus for no particular reason, she ends up checking out a cottage that the fly is attracted towards. Finding a phone, Jennifer calls her father’s lawyer. Not her father mind you, just his lawyer. The lawyer then calls Frau Brackner and informs her of Jennifer’s location.

Brackner tracks Jennifer down and offers to put her up for the evening and before taking her to the airport in the morning. Once Jennifer agrees, Brackner promptly knocks her out and locks her in a broom closet. Jennifer manages to tunnel her way out (seriously) and ends up in Brackner’s underground lair. Here Jennifer finds a chained up Police Officer who had popped up briefly earlier in the film.

The officer’s appearance was so brief in fact that I purposely did not bother to mention him.

Frankly any film with a sleepwalking teen, chimp-car chase and telepathic insects has more than enough going on without ‘Johnny Law’ getting involved, too.

I know how she feels- half-way through my head hurt too.

Brackner appears and throws Jennifer into a slurry pit of corpses to drown a nasty death. Brackner laughs maniacally whilst the Police Officer secretly escapes his chains. He seemingly beats Brackner to death whilst Jennifer escapes the pit and flees.

Escaping the carnage, Jennifer stumbles across Brackner’s son. Brackner’s son is a deformed, flat-faced mutant boy, and it turns out that he is as keen to kill as his mother was.

Thurston Moore: The Early Years

He attacks Jennifer with a pike- the medieval weapon, not the fish- and he ends up chasing her out of the secret lair altogether. They end up tussling on a small power-boat. Now out at sea, Jennifer uses her powers to call a swarm of flies to devour the boy whole. Panic sets in -induced for the boy and an accident leads to him roasting alive as the boat explodes and Jennifer swims ashore.

To be fair to Argento, this is a pretty terrifying image!

Once out of the water, Jennifer is relieved to spot her beloved father’s lawyer- not her beloved father, mind. The lawyer is decapitated by the not-really-dead Frau Brackner, who intends to repeat the process on Jennifer. Just as the heroine is about to be slaughtered though… the amazing, unstoppable chimp re-appears with a razor blade!! He hacks Brackner to death and saves the day in the way that only a homicidal Simian can.

I do not need Miami Vice or the craggy faces of faded Rock Stars to convince me that Cocaine ran rampant in the 1980’s. I have Phenomena for that. The sheer insanity of the film is not my issue why I dislike it though. In fact that lunacy should be what I love about it. Given the general theme of this blog, it should be clear that I can certainly appreciate films with unusual scenarios.

My issue with Phenomena is not with its level of insanity, but rather that even with all this insanity I still found the film very, very dull to sit through.

 

As already explained, I find the handful of Argento film that I have seen to be generally united through bad acting, over-powering colours, and Synth-heavy scores. Consequently is may be easy to assume that the reason I disliked Phenomena would be due to these same elements. However this is not true as Phenomena tactually has more variety to it than the other Argento films that I have seen.

Phenomena notably features rocks songs by Iron Maiden, Motörhead and Bill Wyman. Combining these artists songs with the Synth-Score offers some aural variety to an audience missing from his other outings. So automatically the film is not as a-typical to my ears as Argento’s other films.

Um…?

In regards to bad acting, Phenomena actually features the two respected Thespians; Jennifer Connelly and Donald Pleasance.

Admittedly Connelly is incredibly young here, and her performance is limited to hitting her spots whilst looking pretty. I also suspect that Pleasance was doing the bare minimum with his part. It is undeniable though that Connelly does have an air of innocence that suits her role and is certainly game for a lot of animal and gore-based scenes, whilst Pleasance somehow brings an air of dignity to the role of a crippled-Chimp assisted-Bug- scientist. The acting here is certainly better than the c-grade script deserves.

Finally, the colours in Phenomena are split between tonal blues and greens for Exteriors, and whites and browns for interiors. They are still bold, but compared to the reds of Deep Red or the bright lights of Tenebrae, the palette here is more subdued. So once again I can see that this movie does differ in its own right.

Colour's just a state o'mind, yo
Colour’s just a state o’mind, yo

So even by my own, limited exposure to Argento’s repetitive film work I can still recognise that Phenomena does have its own traits to some extent. Conversely though, this is why the film’s utter dullness is such a shock to me. I cannot blame the things I generally find frustrating in Argento’s other features, and certainly nobody can accuse Phenomena of lacking action.

Instead the problem seems to lie with the sheer sincerity of it all.

At no point does the film suggest there is something jovial or fun about telepathic insects, mutant children or armed and dangerous chimps. Instead everything is presented so straight that Phenomena has a certain pomposity to itself.

I would argue that film this loaded with lunacy needs just the tiniest amount of self-awareness to keep an audience on board with it, or at the very minimum to be gleeful in its many ideas. Instead Argento presents this work in the same tone as his more dramatic Giallo movies and I think Phenomena actually comes off the worse for it.

And it was all Giallo

Incidentally, I am aware that Giallo and Argento’s supernatural films are somewhat silly. Indeed, many people like this camp aspect of silliness played straight. However Phenomena is just too nuts to pull it off. I was left sighing at every line or action rather than simply enjoying the ride.

I do not mean to attack Dario Argento on a personal note. Having filmed a Q & A with Dario Argento earlier this year, I can say that in person he seems both humble and intelligent. I also am not dismissing his whole body of work, as I have seen a relatively small sample amounting to 6/23 films that he has directed. I have enjoyed an Argento film and I am certainly open to trying more of his movies. But at the end of the day, when a horror movie containing Jennifer Connelly and a killer chimp leaves me checking my watch, it’s a disappointment all round.

Phenomena is just more proof to me that Argento’s work is over valued, and that not even an excursion into Hollyweird-territory could prove otherwise.

Next time- well, maybe there will be no next time!!

I’m actually curious to find out if there is anything that anyone wants me to cover. It could be specific films, genres or you can ask for my opinion on something.

Leave some suggestions under today’s entry and we’ll just see what happens next time. No suggestions just means a nice easy week off for me…

Thanks for reading,

MJ

 

BLOG: YTC_Hollyweird: Episode XXIV: The Man With The Golden Charm

Follow me on Twitter: @You_Total_Cult.

In the short term, the YTC podcast can currently be found at http://www.chrisandphilpresent.co.uk/blogs/youtotalcult/

BLOG PIC

The blog below was under an older name of Hollyweird. I have kept the numbering the same so that I could keep track of my posts, but this is where it all begin back in the heyday of 2012…

—————————————————

Poss final blog photo dream framev9.5Throughout ones life, one may hear the question“Are you a Beatles or an Elvis man/ woman/ transgender?” I’ve never thought this question to be fair- although for the record, young Elvis all the way.

In fact there exists such a myriad of styles and genres that this exact question is frustratingly limited. This question may just as well be do you prefer Love or Sex? UK or USA? Clean Hair or Slicked Hair? Quiet walks or Burning rubber? It is simply not a wide enough list of options.

Perhaps a fairer question would be “Are you a Mozart or a Sinatra or an Elvis or a Beatles or a Dylan or a Pistols or a Carpenters or a Hendrix or a Brown or Pistols or a Metallica or an NWA or a John Zorn man/woman/ transgender”?

This question is, of course, still pretty unfair. However it does allow for a more rounded answer.

Look over those names of musical legends again though and curiously enough, out of the list only one performer had a very successful second career within Hollywood- one Mr Frank Sinatra.

Young Frankie
Young Frankie

 

OK, OK, technically Elvis and Ice Cube both have a large back catalogue of appearances under their belts, with Ice Cube also an established Director. Bob Dylan and Sid Vicious have been in big releases, and without George Harrison there would be no Monty Python’s Life Of Brian.

poster__man_with_the_golden_arm_the_02_0However, out of these acts only Frank Sinatra had ongoing Cinema success over four decades, ranging from the 1941 to the 1984. In fact he even won an Oscar in 1953 as best Supporting Actor in From Here To Eternity. Yet it is a project that Sinatra followed that up Oscar win up with only two years later that is under the Hollyweird microscope today. In 1955, Sinatra starred in rather an unusual film about Heroin addiction called The Man With The Golden Arm.The The Man With The Golden Arm opens with a crackling score by Elmer Bernstein and a simple but distinctive title sequence by Saul Bass. Already the film has a classy feel despite its grimy topic matter.

Frankie Machine (Sinatra) is a skilled card dealer and one-time heroin addict. Released from a Prison that contains a ‘modern’ Rehabilitation Clinic, Frankie has fully kicked his heroin addiction.

Frankie arrives back in his home town, an unnamed borough of New York. Here Frankie meets up with his old friend Sparrow. Rather oddly for a man named after a bird, Sparrow has a con-business based around selling dogs but he also looks uncannily like a turtle. Try that one on for size, Dr Moreau!

I met this lil' fella in a Texas Aquarium and he was walking around like some kind of Ninja...

 

Unfortunately whilst saying hello to Sparrow, Frankie also runs into two people he does not want to see again. These are his old drug dealer, Louis and also his old boss Schwiefka. Schwiefka ran an illegal card games where Frankie was an expert- but always honest- card dealer.

Louis immediately tries to tempt Frankie back onto the Junk, but Frankie cannot be tempted. Now a reformed man, Frankie wants nothing to do with either Louis dope or Schwiefka’s illegal card games.

Come Light With Me
Come Light With Me

 

Instead Frankie wants to become a musician. Against any assumptions of stunt casting if this were the characters attempt to become a Singer, Frankie instead intends to become a Session Drummer.

Whilst serving his time, Frankie became a smooth jazz-drummer as a part of his rehabilitation. He has even been set up with a prestigious job interview via his clinic.

Keith Moon's younger brother
Keith Moon’s younger brother

 

Whenever the The Man With The Golden Arm shows Sinatra drumming it is in a medium close-ups. This is presumably so that the audience can see it really is Ol’ Blue Eyes playing the drum kit. Frank’s actually perfectly good at keeping a rhythm, which is all the more impressive since he is delivering his lines of dialogue at the same time. However, since he always plays the same para-diddle, it is hard to actually buy into him as some hotshot natural player that will be in much in demand in the New York scene..

Frankie aims to go straight so to be able to support himself and his crippled wife, Zosh. What Frankie does not know is that Zosh is not actually crippled at all!

"You're tearing me apart, Lisa!"
“You’re tearing me apart, Lisa!”

 

Zosh only pretends to be paralysed in an effort to control every part of poor Frankie’s life. She has actually been healed for some time, but so far as the world is concerned she is wheelchair-bound within their apartment.

In fact, Zosh is so obsessed with Frankie that she has turned any sense of love into a twisted torment of him. She mocks him and shoots down his drumming ambitions so that he will never leave her. Frankie stays strong minded though, brushing off her comments he sorts out his big audition for a club band.

Through arranging the audition, Frankie also has a brush with his old flame Molly (Kim Novak). A spark is still there between them both, and coincidentally Molly lives in the same apartment block as Frankie and Zosh. However she now lives with an alcoholic and abusive husband of her own.

Kim Novak don't need no scrubs
Kim Novak don’t need no scrubs

Throughout the film, Frankie and Molly’s share a mutual sympathy for their situations. It connects them even more to one another. This sets Frankie up under a lot of pressure as the joy he has with Molly parallels his unhappiness with Zosh. Still, Frankie feels that he can never leave Zosh without destroying her. I’m sure we’ve all been there, though possibly without drums and heroin. (Or possibly with- I’m not here to judge my readers).

Being that this film was shot I the Fifties, Frankie realises that he needs a good suit to seem a professional musician. Skinny jeans and Converse trainers wouldn’t do in those days, and I doubt even Frank could have pulled that look off.

hat
Frank is looking a bit Tom Waits here

Frankie asks his old friend Sparrow to help out. Sparrow, being a con man by trade, ends up with a stolen suit that he passes onto Frankie. Before he can even make the audition, Frankie is picked up by the police for the suspected theft of the suit and misses his interview.

Frankie former employer Schwiefka hears the news and offers to bail Frankie out of prison. At first Frankie baulks- he wants nothing to do with Schwiefka. But a few minutes spent in the company of a junkie within the holding cell Frankie realises that he’ll fall to pieces if he stays put. Unhappily he accepts Schwiefka’s offer. Unfortunately his debt to Schwiefka can only be paid off one way; return to becoming an expert card dealer at the illegal Poker games.

Soon Frankie is working all hours at card games, putting up with constant belittling from his wife and his suppressing own desire towards Molly. Over a various segments of the film this pressure builds and builds until Frankie cracks like Humpty Dumpty attempting a tightrope walk. Frankie gives in and heads to Louis’ to once more to get back onto Heroin.

Damn you, Louis!
Damn you, Louis!

This is perhaps the key scene in the entire movie. It shows just how unusual this role selection was for someone with Frank Sinatra’s reputation.

Sinatra was a beloved family entertainer. In an age before Rock ‘n’ Roll, he was someone for Grandparents, parents and children to all listen to together. He was also an established screen star with his Academy Award only two years previously. Then in this one sequence we see a sequence that plays against all the respect that Sinatra has built up in the real world.

Frankie is led limply back to Louis’ apartment. He is a silent, broken man who looks at the floor in defeat- a complete opposite to the optimistic charmer who first got off the bus straight from Rehabilitation.

Bleugh. Vile stuff.
Bleugh. Vile stuff.

Frankie eagerly rolls his sleeve up. The camera focuses on Louis as he delivers a monologue about how ‘the monkey can never be thrown off your back. It just waits’. Lois simultaneously fills a needle with the dope. The camera tracks along with Louis as he walks back over to Frankie/ Just as the needle is about to pierce Frankie’s vein, the camera pans straight into Frankie’s eyes and holds there. He squints as the needle hits home and Elmer Bernstein’s score kicks in at full blast. Frankie is once again a puppet.

Sadly, if anything this scene is actually a little too over the top due to the score. The squealing brass notes hammer the importance of the scene with the subtlety of a bullet to a baby’s head. Yet Sinatra’s wounded eyes still successfully tell the tale of a failed man in a rough world.

Honestly, this is not something you expect to see Mr. Sinatra doing!
Honestly, this is not something you expect to see Mr. Sinatra doing!

The rest of the movie concerns Frankie further descent into the abyss. In short, he agrees to fix a card game which is one thing he had formerly never agreed to do. After dealing all night, a tired Frankie is caught in the act by the gamblers and soon has to slap his way to safety. Yes, slap. Not punch. The Fifties must have been a strange time for bar fights.

"I said no high fives, ya mook"
“I said no high fives, ya mook”

Still, Frankie does not have time to dwell as he has managed to get one more chance at his coveted drumming audition. Now back on the junk but exhausted from the card-game mishap Frankie gives a terrible performance and blows his last chance at the job.

No longer able to deal cards or to become hired as a session drummer, and living in a loveless marriage Frankie is falling to pieces. He reaches enough of a low that Molly convinces him to go cold turkey. The rest of the movie features a beating, a murder, a suicide and a mixed-happy ending- but hey go watch it for yourself to learn more. It’s well worth a watch to viewers who like a snapshot of Film Noir-esque melodramas. Besides which the whole thing is on Youtube.

Directed by Otto Preminger, The Man With The Golden Arm is a simple, but claustrophobic, tale based on a novel. It plays as a tense character study within a small location and shot in Black and White. In fact if it wasn’t for several nice tracking shots, the film could almost seem to be a filmed-play. If the lack of variety of locations and the relatively simple plot sound like hinderer, they are not at all. In fact the simple plot and staging of The Man With The Golden Arm actually serve to enhance making the central character as the focus of the piece. So the movie actually works well for its simplicity. All of this is completely anchored by the competent cast and the superbly charismatic Sinatra.

A man of extremes
A man of extremes

 

Frank Sinatra has left a somewhat conflicted legacy. Read any biographies on the man and you will find him to be both incredibly loyal friend and liberal man, as well as somewhat of a vengeful bully. He was both angel and devil depending on how he regarded someone.

However in acting terms Sinatra has left behind quote a mighty sum. Clearly there remains his Academy Award winning performance in From Here To Eternity. Yet there is also his strong lead role in the political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, and his starring inthe underrated and snappy Sixties detective film Tony Rome. Oh, and of course he and his Ratpack spearheaded the original Ocean’s Eleven. Not a bad body of work at all, but as if that was not enough for man whose second career was acting, Sinatra also combined his acting and singing to feature in two very highly regarded musicals; both On The Town and Guys & Dolls.

Beyond all that success though, to myself the cinema of Frank Sinatra will always hang on his risk taking thanks to his headlining of The Man With The Golden Arm.

 

Finally, let me add a final note about Mr. S. Frank’s final film was Cannonball Run II. It may not be a good film like the first one, but his actual cameo is easily the best part of it.

Next Time I’ll be looking at a comic book movie worse than Catwoman and Elektra combined. Ponder my suffering… and ponder just what it could be.

Thanks for reading.

-MJ