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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Please welcome to the world … David Ehrenstein Playing the Third String: Weeding in the Garden of Cinematic Delights

 

‘David Ehrenstein was born in New York City. His father was a secular Jew with Polish ancestors, and his mother was half African-American, half Irish. His mother raised him in her religion, Roman Catholicism. He attended the High School of Music and Art (different from the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts) and then Pace College (now Pace University). He now lives in Los Angeles. He is openly gay.

‘His writing career started in 1965 with an interview with Andy Warhol which was published in Film Culture magazine in 1966. Ehrenstein wrote for Film Culture until 1983. During the 1960s he also wrote for December and the Village Voice. In 1976 he moved to Los Angeles with his partner Bill Reed and began work as a film critic and entertainment journalist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and also wrote for Film Comment and Film Quarterly during this period.

‘In 1982 he collaborated with Bill Reed on the book Rock On Film, while continuing to write for diverse publications, including the San Francisco Examiner, Rolling Stone, Cahiers du Cinéma, Arts, the Los Angeles Reader, Enclitic, and Wide Angle. From the Herald-Examiner he moved to Daily Variety and later The Advocate. He also wrote Film: The Front Line – 1984, a survey of experimental and independent film work. He has contributed to Sight and Sound.

‘In 1987 he served as the film researcher and historian for the “Hollywood and History” costume exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In 1992 he published The Scorsese Picture: The Art and Life of Martin Scorsese. In 1998 he published Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1927-1997. As he documents on his blog and website, lawyers representing Hollywood actor Tom Cruise threatened to take legal action against Ehrenstein because he wrote of how Cruise is appealing to both men and women.

‘Ehrenstein has appeared often on The E! True Hollywood Story, specifically for the profiles of Rock Hudson, Sonny Bono, and Bob Guccione. He has also written about the film Brokeback Mountain for LA Weekly. His homepage and blog also contain commentary and satire on various journalists, politicians and figures in the entertainment industry.’ — Wikipedia

 

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Further

David E’s Fablog » Sing Out Louise!
Ehrensteinland
David Ehrenstein @ Facebook
Obama the ‘Magic Negro’
D.E. @ Film Comment
D.E. @ Senses of Cinema
The Tuxedo Theater: On filmmaker Warren Sonbert
D.E. @ The Advocate
The wild inside story of “The Dog”: How one failed bank robber shaped LGBT history
Eric Mitchell’s Underground U.S.A.
Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, and the romance of crime in Band of Outsiders
David Ehrenstein presents … George W. S. Trow Day
David Ehrenstein and Bill Reed on ‘Roger and Me’
Guy Debord: Revolution in the Service of Poetry
Obscure Objects of Desire: A Jam Session on Non-Narrative
Buy ‘Playing the Third String’

 

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Extra


Ody and David Ehrenstein

 

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(Some of) David Ehrenstein’s Criterion Collection Essays

If….: School Days
The Red Shoes: Dancing for Your Life
Black Orpheus
The Hidden Fortress
Seven Samurai
The Last Temptation of Christ: Passion Project
Eating Raoul: Murder Most Delicious
The Killing
Paths of Glory
Forbidden Games
M. Hulot’s Holiday
Vengeance Is Mine
Floating Weeds
Pygmalion
La strada
North by Northwest
The Producers
Shoot the Piano Player
Blowup

 

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David Ehrenstein, Meet David Ehrenstein
by David Ehrenstein

 

It all began simply enough, as extraordinary things often do. About three years ago a friend suggested I Google myself to see which of my articles on film and politics came up. I was delighted to discover that that there were quite a few. But I also found reference to a physics periodical, edited by one David Ehrenstein. Now who, pray tell — or what fresh hell, as Dorothy Parker would have it — was this?

While I suffered a hypertensive stroke back in 1996, my recovery (mercifully brief and total) didn’t leave a Joanne Woodward-style split personality in its wake, an “Eve White” exploring “Brownian motion” and “weakly interacting massive particles” running on a parallel track to my previously acknowledged “Eve Black,” obsessed with Ozu films and Kay Thompson vocal arrangements. Did I have a distant cousin who for some reason my family never told me about? There are, it should be noted, but a small handful of “Ehrensteins” — as opposed to “Aaronsteins” — in the United States to begin with. In fact I’ve spent countless hours admonishing check-in personnel that “It starts with an E not an A.” Had I stumbled onto a “double” out of Edgar Allan Poe? Perhaps some sinister doppelgänger interloper à la Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley had been at work. But why stop at mere garden-variety paranoia? Could it be that there was an “alternate reality” rendition of “me” out there? Briefly visions of a Philip K. Dick version of The Patty Duke Show danced in my head. But then I came to my senses, and dashed off an introductory e-mail to David Ehrenstein, to which he quickly replied.

“I knew of you since the early ’80s in high school when I saw your book Rock on Film in a bookstore and was very startled,” David Ehrenstein recalled. “I later thought I should have bought the book just for the novelty but couldn’t find it at that store. And then I wasn’t sure whether I had dreamed up the whole thing.”

Well, at least we were on the same page on that score. But I’m black, gay, tall and well into my 50s. He’s white, straight (married with two children), a head shorter and well into his 30s. It would take more than Alex Haley to divine our intertwined roots.

“My paternal grandfather, Irving, came to New York City from Latvia at the age of about 2 in 1902,” the other David Ehrenstein informed me. “They were Jewish, though I know he liked ham sandwiches.” Well, in and of itself, that means he would have gotten along quite well with my father, a highly unobservant Jew who came from Jamaica just before World War II. His ancestors hailed from Poland. But that’s not my “black side.” That proceeds from my mother, the last of seven children in a common-law marriage between an African-American man and a white Irish immigrant woman. They lived on the outskirts of Cleveland, Ohio. When my mother came of age she took a secretarial job downtown, and it was there she met my father — who was a salesman for a toy distribution company. They married and moved to New York where I was born in 1947, and raised as a Roman Catholic, as it was my mother’s religion, and the church was just around the corner. Got that? Good.

“I grew up in Bethesda, MD,” the other David e-mailed, “went to college at Oberlin where I helped found the a cappella group the Obertones, grad school at U. of IL in Urbana-Champaign. Post-doc work at NIH in Bethesda, ’94-’97, then switched to science journalism.”

I grew up in the suburb of Flushing Queens, but spent the better part of my adolescence in New York City proper as I attended the High School of Music and Art (no, not the Fame school) where I was surrounded by Red Diaper Babies (the issue of 30s-era leftists) and sang in the chorus. We opened the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center with the Stravinsky arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner.” But I was enthralled by experimental film, and right out of high school published my very first article about Andy Warhol in Film Culture. Still, I was a great musical comedy enthusiast — as was the other David Ehrenstein, who starred as Harold Hill in an all-Yiddish production of The Music Man in high school. “Tsuris in River City” anyone?

“I guess I was struck by how different we are in some obvious ways,” he observed. “And yet we have similarities, too. I’m this nerdy physics guy with essentially no awareness of the Hollywood scene, whereas it’s a major part of your life. On the other hand, we both did choirs and musical theater as kids. Oh, yeah, and we’re both journalists.”

So of course we had to meet — which we did recently when he came to town for the World Year of Physics 2005 event at the Los Angeles Convention Center. No end of fun was had as he introduced me to startled co-conferees familiar with only one David Ehrenstein. (He’d doubtless get the same reaction if I took him to a film festival.) This variation on the theory of relativity led to a discussion of the original at lunch, where I experienced firsthand just how much Albert Einstein is Elvis in the world of physics. David Ehrenstein didn’t know about Nicolas Roeg’s film Insignificance wherein Marilyn Monroe explains the theory to its author via a demonstration involving toy cars and flashlights, but he informed me that in the animated feature The Triplets of Belleville, the formula for Einstein’s second theory of relativity — a reworking of Newton’s theory of gravity — is scrawled on a wall. The first theory of relativity (E=mc²) was confected before Einstein became a “doctor.” Einstein was 26 years old and working as a janitor at the time — a fact that should humble and depress us all.

But David Ehrenstein, the physics guru, isn’t at all depressed. And neither is his son, about whom he recalls, “When we looked at the web page showing your books, he asked if you had written any children’s books, so he could be read one at bedtime sometime.” Now isn’t that a lovely notion? One David Ehrenstein reading the work of another David Ehrenstein to the offspring of the former, surrounding him in Ehrenstein-ness.

Hmmm. Maybe I’ll write something for the lad about that most famous of “weakly interacting massive particles,” Marilyn Monroe.

 

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Book

David Ehrenstein Playing the Third String: Weeding in the Garden of Cinematic Delights
CreateSpace

‘David Ehrenstein’s writing career began in 1965 with an Andy Warhol interview, published in “Film Comment” in 1966. He soon began contributing to other publications such as “Film Culture,” “December” magazine and the “Village Voice.” In 1976 he moved to Los Angeles and began work as a film critic and entertainment journalist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. During this period he also contributed to “Film Comment” and “Film Quarterly.” The Herald was one of the few newspapers in the U.S. with THREE movie critics. (Thus this book’s “Third String” title.) His decade-long association with that paper resulted in many hundreds of film reviews. Many tended to be of the offbeat, “B,” sleeper and Foreign variety. In addition, he wrote many interviews and profiles for the paper. Among those included in “Third String” are Christine Keeler, Richard Pryor, Erté, and John Cleese. He has also published a number of books on film including “Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1928-2000,” and critical studies of such as Martin Scorsese and Roman Polanski.’ — CreateSpace

 

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Excerpt

SCHLOCK PATROL or:
Weeding in The Garden of Cinematic Delights

by David Ehrenstein
Introduced and edited by Bill Reed

 

INTRODUCTION

Everybody’s got to begin somewhere. In the case of film critic David Ehrenstein, it was near the top. Right out of the starting gate Ehrenstein wrote for that most prestigious (and recherché) of journals as Film Culture. One of the very first-ever interviews Andy Warhol ever granted was with Ehrenstein for the Spring 1966 issue. This is the one in which Warhol famously declared (among many inscrutable apercus) that he admired fellow filmmaker Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures, Normal Love) because “He’s the only one I know who uses color . . . backwards.”

During the 1960s Ehrenstein also wrote for such other prestigious little mags as December and Medium, and occasionally the Village Voice. In 1976 he moved to Los Angeles, continued free-lancing and then secured a slot as a film critic and entertainment journalist for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. It was his first ever position as a full-time, salaried staff writer. This is where it all begins to get a little tricky..


Hard it is comprehend today, in the first quarter of the 21st Century, in the previous one there a time when almost any major newspaper could manage to sustain a trio of full-time film critics and entertainment writers. But that was the case with Hearst Corp’s “Los Angels Herald-Examiner” even though it was only managing to run a slightly distant second in circulation to the “Los Angeles.Times.” Both publications were devoted to film and arts-related topics. Thus the papers even managed to throw the occasional “serious” bone in a serious direction, that in the case of the “Herald” Ehrenstein would catch.

Within this triad of “Her-Ex” scribes there was definitely a pecking order. Mike Sragrow was the main man, who— unless deterred by rain, sleet, nor snow (dark of night was okay)— was assigned to review the bulk of the movie industry’s “A+” through “B+” releases. We’re talking Spielberg, Hitchcock, Blake Edwards, et al. Next came Pete Rainer who more or less was assigned to much the same material as Sragow; that the latter couldn’t cover, not being able to be in two places at once as the major releases tumbled out over the course of the years.

Then, bringing up the rear, came Ehrenstein who, with few exceptions, almost always got the leavings and scraps at the bottom of the cinematic barrel In other words he was the third string critic for the second tier L.A. daily. There was never a sense of jealousy on Ehrenstein’s part, along the lines of “mom always liked you best.” Nor was there rancor between any of the trio of writers. For even though he was in third place, Ehrenstein still managed to cover a share of items of genuine cinematic interest amidst the schlock bill of fare.

Unlike the rival “L.A. Times,” which tended to pass over the more threadbare of new releases, , the “Herald,” attempted to review just about everything that came down the pike . . . perhaps a way of currying favor with advertising departments at the various studios and releasing companies. Not just each Warren Beatty film that came along, but every new Pia Zadora juggernaut, as well (see Ehrenstein’s review of Lonely Lady herein). And unlike the more high-toned of studio “product,” the releases that Ehrenstein wrote about were seldom accorded the dignity of a screening room showing. Instead, the ones he shined his critical light upon tended to be available to him only on the first day of public “escape” (as in “It wasn’t released – it escaped”) at City of Hollywood grindhouses such as the World, Vogue and Star Theaters; of the sort that often operated 24/7 and served as much for showing movies as, also, a place for the homeless to crash and, ummm… well, the so-called “raincoat brigade.” Such movie houses were often so poorly maintained, especially their floors and hallways, Ehrenstein joked that he had to spray the bottom of his soles of his shoes with Pam © to avoid falling and breaking a bone or two on the way to his seat.

Not all of the films he reviewed for the “Herald” were sub-par, but the one thing nearly all had in common was that their production costs tended to hover around the annual transportation budget of a newly emerging third-world nation. Every Blue Moon, Ehrenstein got thrown the occasional A item, such as Fatal Attraction, Working Girl and Dead Poets Society. Everybody else must have had a bris or funeral to attend that day. And there was the time he was afforded the opportunity to interview the greatly venerated set and costume designer and “art nouveau” master Erté (Roman Petrovich Tyrtov ); but by-and-large it was Crown International and AIP all the way.

The Herald died on November 2, 1989. Rainer, Sragow and Ehrenstein all moved on and continue, to this day, to write and publish about film; the latter of the threesome for such diverse publications as the San Francisco Examiner, Rolling Stone, Sight and Sound, Film Comment, Cahiers du Cinéma, the Los Angeles Reader, Enclitic, and Wide Angle. From the Herald-Examiner, he moved on to the staff of show biz trade paper Daily Variety and, later, The Advocate. His books include: The Scorsese Picture, Film: The Front Line, Masters of Cinema: Roman Polanski, and Open Secret: Gay Hollywood 1927-1997 and Rock on Film (co-written with yours truly).
It’s possible that, in some instances, Ehrenstein’s review was the only coverage that some of these films received . . . anywhere. Thus, this is this book presented not only for your delectation, amusement, information, but also as an historical document of sorts.

 

1. THE TELEPHONE (1988)

Don’t Bother, Just Let “The Telephone” Ring

1988 is only a few weeks old but already it’s providing us with a new moviemaking low watermark: The Telephone. Make no mistake. There will be “worse” films than this one this year — technically sloppy, conceptually crude, insultingly stupid. But you’d be hard-pressed in any year to find an offering quite like this vapid little comedy-drama about an out-of-work actress addicted to making nuisance calls. Poorly conceived, indifferently executed, The Telephone represents one of the most conspicuous wastes of—presumably—top-line talent in years, especially that of its star Whoopi Goldberg.

If you’ve been following stories in the trade press over the past few months, you’re probably aware of the fact that Goldberg isn’t happy with The Telephone, specifically objecting to the way the film was edited. Editing, however, is the least of the picture’s problems.

The script by songwriter Harry Nilsson and formerly front-rank satirist Terry Southern is so thin as to be transparent, The direction by actor Rip Torn is lethargic in the extreme. And topping it all off is Goldberg herself in a performance so bad as to inspire those spectators who aren’t retreating quickly up the aisles to writhe in their seats helpless with embarrassment.

Goldberg is on screen for virtually every one of the film’s (seemingly endless) 80 minutes. Legendary comic character actor Severn Darden pops in for one hot minute at the start, Elliot Gould and Amy Wright drop in for a brief (stupid, pointless) bit toward the halfway mark, and John Heard has a walk-on at the end. Everything else is wall-to-wall Whoopi. ‘

Because Goldberg began her career as a monologist the prospect of a film entirely devoted to her isn’t necessarily a negative one. But what talent Goldberg displayed in the past for this sort of work appears to have utterly deserted her here.
She makes “funny” faces, she talks in “funny” voices, she prattles to a pet owl and goldfish, she annoys her (unseen) next-door neighbor, and she makes crank calls to supermarkets, the police, a video store and her “best friend.”

The quality of the dialogue she instigates suggests that at any moment Goldberg is about to make that most hallowed of crank phone requests: “Do you have Prince Albert in the can?” She doesn’t do that one but it’s a shame it was skipped— it might have gotten a laugh.

Disasters like this one are never simple affairs, but the reason for Goldberg’s involvement is plain to see. After her debut in The Color Purple she’s done nothing but one dumb action comedy after another.

She obviously saw The Telephone as a way out of a career cul-de-sac. After all it wasn’t a pop potboiler. Sure the script had problems, but an artist of her, caliber should surely be able to turn it into something more. Why, with a little work it could be a “La Voix Humaine” for the ’80s, no? No.

Trying desperately to get back to the roots of her career Goldberg reached for The Telephone as a life preserver, not seeing that it was full of holes. Movie audiences, luckily, are in less desperate straits—they don’t have to reach for this “phone” at all.

The Telephone, directed by Rip Torn, screenplay
by Harry Nilsson and Terry Southern, produced by
Robert Katz and Moctesuma Esparza. A New World
Pictures Release. Rated R.

Vashti Blue…………………. Whoopi Goldberg
Max ………………………………..Severn Darden
Honey Box…………………………..Amy Wright
Rodney………………………………..Elliot Gould
Telephone man………………………John Heard

 

2. THE LONELY LADY (1983)

Pia endures torment in tinseltown. Zadora goes wild as a lady they won’t take seriously

Pia Zadora and Harold Robbins! Like ham and eggs, death and taxes, King Kong and Godzilla, the self-styled sex bomb and the pop-bestseller scribe were fated to be mated. The result, The Lonely Lady, is everything a true trash lover could hope for — and more. Not since Mommie Dearest have words failed to describe the sheer jaw-dropping outrageousness of what transpires on-screen.

Sure to leave moviegoers of all stripes gasping for breath (while gagging on tears of laughter) this screen adaptation of Robbins’ fanciful view of torment in tinseltown represents a real breakthrough in movie versions of steamy/seamy page-turners. There was always a disparity between the classy craftsmanship showered on the likes of Valley of the Dolls and The Betsy (lush settings, attractive costumes, slick camerawork) and the dime-store sentiments contained in such films. In The Lonely Lady, form follows function: It’s cheap and tawdry in every conceivable way.
Silent production partner Meshulam Riklis (Pia’s multi-millionaire spouse, represented in very small print in the credits as “KGA Productions”) has spared every expense in bringing this story to the screen. Though set in Los Angeles, “The Lonely Lady” was shot principally in Rome in what appear to be motel rooms, convention halls and cocktail lounges. It’s surprisingly appropriate for the demented view of Hollywood high life the film portrays.

Sashaying through the action in what appear to be Rudi Gernreich castoffs, Pia Zadora shows she hasn’t been resting on her laurels since she won the 198l Golden Globe award for “Newcomer of the Year” over Timothy Hutton, Elizabeth McGovern and Howard E. Rollins. She’s perfected a style of vocal delivery that’s ideally suited to her part — somewhere between an “easy listening” DJ and an airline stewardess. And what a part! As Jerry Lewis said of the role played by Anita Ekberg in Hollywood or Bust: “It’s the story of a woman who’s searching, searching, searching!”

All that Jerilee Randall (Zadora) wants is to be a serious writer. But it’s clear from the start that she’s going to have a hard time being taken seriously. She wins a high school creative writing award. But at a wild party after the ceremonies, one of her classmates assaults her with a garden hose.
Still, luck is on Jerilee’s side. The father of one of her other classmates, famous screenwriter Walter Thornton (Lloyd Bochner) rescues her from the attack. Soon he’s proposing marriage. And why not?

After all, this is a girl who quotes Hemingway and Pushkin!

But happiness eludes Jerilee. The writing bug won‘t leave her alone. Hired by her husband to retype a script he’s shooting, Jerilee just can’t resist shortening a lengthy graveyard oration scene to the simple word “Why?”

Why indeed, one might ask of The Lonely Lady at this point. But the film scarcely gives one pause to reflect. Jerilee’s marriage is now on the rocks. Walter is unable to deal with her professional competition and perky/pouty sexuality. “Is this more your speed?” he asks, brandishing the same garden hose she’d been attacked with in the first reel.

Soon Jerilee is reeling from one bed to another. She’s abused by a narcissistic actor (Jared Martin). She‘s exploited by a nightclub owner (Joseph Cali). But Jerilee refuses to give up her artistic ambitions. “Gee, you sure don’t look like a writer!” people keep telling her—often the same people who want her to engage in hot-tub orgies. Madness takes its toll—Jerilee has a nervous breakdown. (You can tell she’s cracking up. It’s the only scene where Pia takes a shower with her clothes on.)
But she bounces back quickly enough to triumph over her adversaries in the end. Winning the award for best screenplay, Jerilee tells them all off in a speech as full of emotion as Scarlett O’Hara’s “As God is my witness!” scene in Gone With the Wind. To find out exactly what she says (words that surely can’t be reproduced in a family newspaper), interested parties should repair to theaters playing “The Lonely Lady” without delay.

THE LONELY LADY, directed by Peter Sasdy. screenplay by John
Kershaw and Shawn Randall, adaptation by Ellen Shepard, based on
the novel by Harold Robbins, produced by Robert R. Weston, a
Universal Pictures release. Rated R, At selected theaters.

Jerilee Randall …………………………..Pia Zadora
Walter Thornton……………………Lloyd Bochner
Vincent Dacosta……..……………Joseph Cali
Guy Jackson….………………Anthony Holland
Dr. Baker………………………………… ..Ed Bishop
Veronica Randall……………………..Bibi Beach
George Ballantine…………………..Jared Martin
Joe Heron…………………………………….Ray Liotta

 

3.CHU CHU AND THE PHILLY FLASH (1981)

Burnett plays a Chu Chu, Arkin’s the Philly Flash
Film’s comic misfits are a matched pair

Perhaps the best thing about Carol Burnett’s old television show was that with its tight pacing, even when a mediocre sketch or comedy bit came on, you could always count it ending quickly on and (likely as not) being followed by something really choice— like one of her wonderful movie parodies. But in Chu Chu and the Philly Flash (now playing citywide), the great comedienne is trapped in a whimsical bummer that seems to go on forever. Because of Burnett (and co-star Alan Arkin), this limp moist little comedy about a down-and-out dance instructor and a reformed wino stumbling onto some stolen government documents never becomes quite as bad as it threatens to— but that’s not saying much. It’s still a waste of talent and money.

Written by Arkin’s wife, Barbara Dana, Chu Chu and the Philly Flash bubbles over with that maudlin view of “little people” (sugar-coated renditions of misfits and outcasts) common to certain strains of show business. If you’ve ever cringed when a knockabout comedian pulled in the stops to crawl about mournfully in an outfit of artfully sewn-together tatters, you’ll know what’s involved here.

Luckily Carol Burnett has enough smarts to know that audiences can take only so much of this “lonely lady on the carousel” routine before marching out to the lobby for a good stiff shot of absinthe. As Emily Laedecker, “self- styled “dance instructor to the stars,” she manages to cut through the syrup with a hard, brash form of line delivery learned from studying many an Eve Arden movie long hours into the night.
Arkins, for his part, muddles through just as admirably, but to slightly different effect. In the early ‘60s, when he was part of the original now legendary “Second City“ comedy revue, Arkin and Barbara Harris did a sketch about the meeting of two misfits (a beatnik and a spinster) that started out in “Chu Chu”’s tone but quickly turned dark wit intimations of modern alienation and paranoia. As the Philly Flash, however, he’s allowed no more depth than Jackie Gleason’s poor soul.
When this self-proclaimed “ex- baseball player” meets Burnett’s raggle-taggle vaudevillian while she’s performing her Carmen Miranda routine in the street, it’s easy to see where the plot will end up (comic misfits are invariably “made for each other’). Likewise, when they fall upon a suitcase containing secret papers, the chases, mix-ups and confusions pretty much write themselves.

Back in the ’30s a script like this would have been perfectly acceptable material for a B-comedy with Marie Dressler and Polly Moran. Today it’s more the stuff of a made- for-TV feature with one eye looking out for a sitcom. That’s the style that director David Lowell Rich has largely adopted. The pratfalls and line readings are competent, but no more. It’s a long way from the contemptuous shoddiness of Gas-s-s-s; Gorp or any of the other recently thrown together Animal House rip-offs, but it still a disheartening experience— made all the more so by the obvious talent of its stars.

Directed by David Lowell Rich, written by Barbara Dana from a
story by Henry Barrow, produced by Jay Weston,
a Twentieth Century Fox Release. Rated PG

Flash……………………… Alan Arkin
Emily…………………….Carol Burnett
The Commander……….…Jack Warden
Johnson…………………..Danny Aiello
Charlie…………………… Adam Arkin

 

4. HANGAR 18 (1980)

Bad movies aren’t like the good old days

Sunn Classics productions uses a winning combination of marketing knowhow and computerized research skills to cater to the broadest possible cross-section of the American moviegoing public. After such dubious G-rated delights as Chariots of the Gods and The Adventures of the Wilderness Family, they are entering the (more lucrative) uncharted waters of PG-melodrama with Hangar 18.

Reworking “Chariots” half-baked crackpotism into fictional form— a sort of cut-rate “Close Encounters” with an overlay of right-wing paranoia— they’ve come up with the exact filmic equivalent of the stories that have been tabloid journalist’s bread and butter since time immemorial. The only trouble is you can glance at the “Enquirer”’s nonsense while standing in line at the super market. The film wastes 90 minutes and costs five dollars.

Two astronauts whose mission partner was killed when an in-space satellite launch they were staging collided with a UFO find themselves blamed for the accident when this same alien ship (for reasons too boring to explain) comes into possession of (hostile liberal-type) government officials. As they try to clear their name and find out the truth, scientists in the army hanger of the film’s title discover all the usual nonsense about the master alien race’s past involvement with earth as they study this saucer (with an interior that looks like pieces of leftover sets from All That Jazz) and the bodies of its (for reasons again too boring) dead occupants— a pair of bargain basement coneheads.

Actually if you take out the right-wing emphasis Hangar 18 isn’t all that different from that beloved 1950s stinker Plan 9 From Outer Space. But “Plan 9″ had such buoyant personalities as Tor Johnson, Vampira. Bela Lugosi and Criswell. All “18” has got is Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughan, Joseph Campanella and their ilk staring in stone-faced two shots, grimly muttering lines like, “We’ve got to keep a lid on this” and “Do you realize what this means?” not to mention the ever popular “Here are those reports you wanted, doctor.” All it does is leave one longing for “Plan 9’s” Gregory Walcott and his immortal, “Ahhmm rnuzzeled bah armuh brass!” They’re just not making bad movies like they used to.

HANGAR 18, produced by Charles E Sellier Jr. Directed by
James L Conway. Screenplay by Steven Thornley. Story by
Conway, and Tom Chapman. A Sunn Classics Pictures release.
Rated PG

Harry Forbes…………….…Darren McGavin
Gordon Cain………….….…Robert Vaughan
Steve Bancroft………….………Gary Collins
Lew Price…………….……. James Hampton
Frank Lafferty……………Joseph Campanella
Sarah Michaels…….…….. Pamela Bellwood

 

5. BEYOND THE REEF (1981)

Lovable Naivete in ‘Reef.’ It was once called Shark Boy of Bora-Bora

To criticize a bubbleheaded South Seas romance like “Beyond the Reef” (playing citywide) would be as unseemly as bawling out a toddler for drawing left feet on all the figures in a crayon sketch. Shot several years age under the more descriptive (and poetic) title Shark Boy of Boa-Bora, this Tahitian movie was made in the belief that its star, Dayton Ka’ne would set teen-age hearts aflutter after his tanned and muscled appearance in Hurricane. But as a Polynesian John Travolta, Ka’ne was strictly a non-starter, and Hurricane was washed away in a tidal wave of public indifference..

Yet Universal sensed Blue Lagoon potential in this luau lulu and brought it up for air. Looking like a cross between an “After-school Special“ and an “Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” episode, Beyond the Reef may not attract the crowds that flocked to see Brooke Shields without her Calvins, but lovers of South Sea Island movie “camp” should take it to their hearts“ After all, how long has it been since you’ve heard lines like “Come! Now it is time to dive for the sacred pearl!”
Though sacred pearls may be at stake, Beyond the Reef is remarkably light on plot. Childhood sweethearts (played by Dayton’s brother, Joseph, and little Titaua Castel) grow into teen-age lovers (Dayton and Battlestar Galactica’s Maren Jensen) under the watchful jaws of their pet shark, which they’ve raised from a tadpole. All’s well in Mondo Ka’ne except for the trouble caused by girl’s greedy brother, who wants to turn the island into a Miami-styled resort. But just as things start to to get complicated, they’re dropped with unprecedented nonchalance, as boy, girl and shark swim off into the sunset together.

But with a film like “Beyond the Reef,” there are more important aspects than: photo consider— like guessing how many people did it take to make the holed-up-in-a-hotel-room sound-effects record, or trying to figure out if the tatoo on Ka’ne‘s arm is an inscription “Mother” in Polynnesian? or a design. Then there’s all that great underwater footage with Francis Lai’s score of elevator music washing over it, turning the screen into a stereophonic lava lamp.

Beyond the Reef is no pearl, sacred or otherwise, but its lovable, clunky naivete makes it a rare rhinestone of a movie.

BEYOND THE REEF, directed by Frank C. Clark,
screenplay by Louis La Russo II and Jim
Carabatsos, based on the novel “Tikoyo and His
Shark” by Clement Richer. Produced by Raffaella
De Laurentis. A Universal Release. Rated PG.

Tikoyo …………………………………………….Dayton Ka’ne
Diana……………………………………………. ..Maren Jensen
Milly…………………………………………….. Kathleen Swan
Jeff…………………………………………………..Keahi Farden

 

6. CARBON COPY *
7. CASUAL SEX yes
8. CHANGE OF SEASONS *

9. FIRST FAMILY *
10. GORP *
11. OH, GOD! BOOK II
12. THE SEVEN BROTHERS MEET DRACULA *

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. For today, or, rather, for the course of this entire weekend, DC’s has shaped itself into a gateway between you and the honorable Mr. David Ehrenstein’s new and very fun, smart, amusing (see: excerpts) book. Which I hope you will investigate via the post and even purchase, best of all. Enjoy in every case, and thank you, Mr. E., for allowing this place to be an entrance. ** David Ehrenstein, And there you are! Thank you very much again but this time “in person”, sir. ** Jamie, Hi, speedy. Thank you. The move was chaotic and had its dramatic moments, for sure, but I am ensconced in the blog’ new headquarters which, excepting the fact that it’s very drafty and the heat and stove and hot water aren’t working (yet) and that there are nothing but boxes everywhere to unpack, is okay, I think. Have a sweller than swell weekend, my friend. Love from the 4th etage, Dennis. ** Steevee, Hi. I’m trying to figure out how self-conscious raw, bad-ass-ness could be successfully pulled off, and I can’t. I tried out the Spectres album the other day. It seemed very throwback/hybrid-y to me on first listen, and I wasn’t very taken, but I’ll try it again. The move was, yes, quite a hassle, but now it’s … well, certainly not over since my new place is like a storage room until I unpack everything, but it’s getting there. I’ve heard very good things about ‘Beach Rats’. And now I’m seriously intrigued, I’ll see it by whatever means thank you, Steve! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. My fingers are still crossed, if you need them. We auditioned two actors. One of them I thought was very good, but Zac didn’t agree. We both liked the second one, but it seems doubtful that he’ll be able to do it due to his heavy schedule. So, unfortunately, I think we’ll need to do another round of actor auditions, which sucks because that’ll take time, and the time we have is very tight now. My new place is okay so far, but, as I told Jamie, there’s no heat or hot water for reasons I can’t figure out, so I fear I’ll have a chilly weekend with icy showers until I can hopefully get that fixed. Otherwise, it’s okay so far. Have an excellent weekend! How are you spending it? ** _Black_Acrylic, Thanks a lot, Ben. ** Misanthrope, Hey. Yep, that’s why I procrastinate on installing updates sometimes until they’re so outdated there are new updates to replace them. Oh, yeah, I read about the snow. Normally I would be all green with envy, but my new apartment has no heat for unknown reasons, and I’m shivering to the point that I almost wish it was summer, unbelieveably for me. ** S., Hi, S! Is that your blog or someone else’s? I’ll go read it in any case. ** Kier, Hi, Kier! Jesus, that’s such a painfully slow process. Is that just how healthcare works in Norway in general, or is it deliberately slow in this case because they have a control-freak idea that people who want the operation are only serious about it if they’ll willing to survive bureaucratic torture to get there? Like Mr. E said, stay tough. The apartment is okay, a bit odd, and, as I said above, has no heat or hot water for reasons I don’t understand, so I’m not hugely enjoying it yet. My views are of a courtyard on one side, and the side of a building out the other. But they’re both very French looking in a way I like. We didn’t find our Tim, very unfortunately. We have to keep looking/auditioning, which really sucks because we’re already so busy. But oh well. In English they say “green thumb”. I don’t know why “thumb” is the special finger. Korean skincare, interesting. I didn’t know Korea has a skincare expertise. I’m so, so happy to hear that your bff has pulled out of the substance abuse mess. Wow, it’ll be really great for you guys to be together now and celebrate in a non-abusing way! “The proto-Mississippian death cult of the 1200s”! That’s exciting! Now, of course, I’m going to go investigate the hell, as it were, out of that cult. Thanks, pal! Have a stupendous weekend! ** New Juche, Thanks, Joe! It’s getting there. I just need some heat. Brr. ** Jeff Coleman, Can Xue: hm, I’ll check that out. I haven’t read Darnielle’s books either. I hear he’s one of those very rare musician/writers who actually is very good at both. ** Tender prey, Hi, Marc! How very, very lovely to see you! I’m freezing “to death” due to unpleasantly unexpected no gas/heat, but I’m okay. It’s in the 8th. Next to Place Madeleine. Not an area I would have chosen to live in if this apartment’s owner hadn’t been the only one who accepted my application. But it’s alright. Yes, I’m trying to get to the gallery this evening to see your and Paul’s project. It’s a bit tricky because I am otherwise engaged by force (work), but I think I might be a able to swing it. I’ll do my utmost. I’m glad you liked the Hannah Weiner. Yeah, pretty singular. I loved the last Maddin film a lot, so I do highly recommend it. Thanks, Marc! I really hope I’ll have seen your and Paul’s work by tomorrow. If I can’t, is there another way to see it? Big love, me. ** Okay. Onwards. Give your attention and homages to David’s new book until Monday, please. Thank you. See you then.

30 Comments

  1. Merci Beaucoup, Dennis!

    And if y’all have any questions (and I hope you will) I’LL BE RIGHT HERE!

    • what fun! i knew david-critic long before i knew david-person…when i moved to LA in 1979, for two years in america that lasted for 22, i came from a daily newspaper in ottawa, ontario where – in addition to working first as a reporter and then as an editor and then as a columnist, i was also the paper’s second-string film reviewer…lots of hammer studio horror films, every so often something more first-runnish. so when i landed in california, i of course read both the ‘times’ and the ‘herald-examiner’ – and though i appreciated the (then) grandeur of the former, i enjoyed more the feistier, scrappier, almost-tabloid sensibility of the latter. plus: david’s film reviews, which, before i knew he was gay, i read as “gay.” i’m not sure when print david evolved into flesh david for me, but i do know that in person he was as engaging and eclectic (and opinionated) as he had been as an ink-stained abstract. when i moved back to canada in 2001, his blog became an almost-daily read (as is dennis’s). if i were still reviewing books, Playing the Third String: Weeding in the Garden of Cinematic Delights would be at the top of the pile. (and, happy to hear you have a new home, dennis!)

  2. How did Pia Zadora win that Golden Globe?

    What new rock music made by people under 35 is out there which isn’t a throwback or, at best, a hybrid on some level? It feels like it’s been years since I’ve heard some. I thought Spectres at least brought their set of influences together in a very creative way that didn’t recall any current bands.

  3. Congrats David and good to find out all about you! When I was a chauffeur, I drove Pia Zadora for a while (with her boys in the band) – and we had some fun, until her rich husband got jealous of our good times and asked not to send me anymore. I’ll never forget Pia’s question to me (I was an actor then): “Why aren’t you out pounding the pavements?” (duh, I had to make a living, Pia!)

    Dennis, so glad about the new chez toi, hope you get your heat and hot water soon!

  4. I can tell David’s book is a must-read, and will get it. For one, my brain is trying to fit in with the idea that Harry Nilsson and Terry Southern worked together on a film script that got produced. How did that happen? With the additional talent of Rip Torn! Congrats David is getting this book out. Are you doing any events for the book?

  5. I know this is going to sound incredibly self-indulgent and deals with issues perhaps I only care about, but I’m starting to feel like I’m going through a mid-life crisis as a critic. When I started out writing about film 20 years ago, “political criticism” meant to me, essentially, trying to view the world of cinema as one world with Hollywood as a small but obviously significant part of it. Around that time, I wrote a lot of Rosenbaum-influenced things like criticizing Miramax for cutting, dubbing, editing and simply not releasing their library of foreign-language films, mainstream critics like David Denby and Roger Ebert for panning TASTE OF CHERRY, and distributors for ignoring filmmakers like Hou Hsiao-hsien, Leos Carax and Edward Yang. My priorities have shifted a bit since then, but Hollywood has become even more of a monolith even as the quality of its films has grown worse. To almost all Americans, “cinema” means sequels, reboots and comic book adaptations, because that’s all they have a chance to see. While the demand for racial and gender diversity within American cinema has gotten louder (and last month’s Oscars suggest someone is listening), it seems to me that it should go hand in hand with a demand that Americans should have access to a wide range of cinema from around the world – in theaters, if possible. (It may be two years since the last new African film played American theaters, although films from Chad and South Africa are slated for 2017 release.) The country’s growing inward, even its arthouses. At base, I feel the idea of a cinematic “rootless cosmopolitanism” has gotten lost amidst all the tweets calling MANCHESTER BY THE SEA white supremacist. Anyway, it looks like one of the Iranian cinema series I wanted to help organize may get off the ground, although it’s in the very early stages. I view it both as a chance to show great cinema and a middle finger to Trump’s regime and America’s many Islamophobes and xenophobes.

      • Well, press screenings are rapidly disappearing – I’d estimate that I watch 75% of the films I review on my laptop, and in many cases, it’s obvious that I’m missing a huge amount (as with the Albert Serra film I saw a few days ago). It also seems like people in general are becoming lazier about going out, perhaps because moviegoing is so expensive now, and think that only the kind of spectacle represented by AVENGERS is “cinematic.” (To them, documentaries are best suited for viewing on Netflix or the TV stations that funded them.) But I don’t think cinema itself is disappearing or dying. 2017 isn’t even 25% over, and I’ve already seen 4 films that are strong contenders for the year’s top 10 list. (For what it’s worth, I saw all of them in a theatrical setting, if a small private screening room counts.) I just feel very alienated from contemporary film culture.

  6. Hey David E

    Congratulations on the book. Nice to see what you look like too. You’ve sold me on Beyond the Reef. I’m also intrigued by the John Cleese and Christine Keeler interviews, especially the latter – what did you talk about? What was she like? Can you throw some bait my way on this? For now I’ll read your criterion articles on If and 7 Sam.

    Hey Dennis

    Glad you’re in and the hard part’s over! Hopefully fixing the boiler shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange. The views sound nice. What sort of area is it? What floor are you on?

    Have a good weekend both

    Joe

  7. Hi!

    Shit. It’s so tough with this one. Do the actors know anything about the roles when they apply? I mean, do they at least know that you’re looking for someone for a main one? It just seems so weird that people go to auditions and then can’t actually take the role because they’re too busy.
    Well this sounds… a lot less than ideal… This water-and-heat situation. I’m really sorry. I hope it gets solved as soon as possible and you won’t have any more problems apartment-wise! Otherwise, I’m happy that the place itself seems okay!!

    I just arrived home from our second self-help group session and it went really well! The whole atmosphere was way friendlier and more spontaneous than the first time so I feel like it was a success.
    And tomorrow, I’ll meet my writer friend and we’ll finally watch Trainspotting #2! I’ll tell you about it!
    I hope that – despite the obvious difficulties – you have an amazing weekend! What happened?

  8. Congratulations on you new book, David Ehrenstein! Looks great. I like a nice scathing review and there’s a couple of them above that pleased me a lot. Can I be cheesy and ask for your favourites, as in films, directors, actors and reviews that you’ve written? I’m looking forward to reading the articles linked to in the post as well. Thanks!

    Hey Dennis! Glad that you got the move done and dusted and I hope you get that hot water/boiler situation worked out quickly. How was your weekend?
    I got sent the animatic (voice-track over mildly animated storyboard) for our first episode and it freaked me out! I thought it was like a car crash. But once I got over the lack of music, colour, proper movement and the fact that the character whose voice hasn’t been recorded yet was dubbed by an emotionless robot voice, it was kind of alright. Really one of those harsh moments though, where I realised that I need to do a lot of learning.
    Boiler fixing love,
    Jamie

  9. Congratulations on the new book, David. That’s quite a lineup of review gems. I may have to hunt down that Sharkboy movie.

    Hope the unpacking and heat-seeking (?) is going smoothly, Dennis. I get the week off after a grueling one, will try to be a little less silent.

    Bill

  10. David E – I’ve really enjoyed dipping into the reviews and love the idea of collecting them together: the tone and style and pace of the writing is so distinctive. There’s also something really alluring for me about the somewhat mythical world (of low-rent movie theatres, LA journalism and Hollywood characters) this all opens onto… As the intro proposes, a historical document, but also conjuring up a kind of cinematic milieu in itself… at least for those like me who’ve only ever encontered this world through movies and fiction. Anyway – congratulations! (the article about ‘The Dog’ is fascinating too).

    Dennis – hiya again and no sweat obviously if you didn’t make it on Saturday! I put out the word very late and I know how crazy busy you are at the moment. It was very nice just to exchange words on the day of the occasion – I woke up yesterday morning and it felt important somehow to say hi as that piece wouldn’t exist without you and this place. I’m hoping there’ll be more screenings (it’s also showing next Saturday in London as pat of a day-long event). I originally made the video in 2014 to function on repeat in dialogue with 2 gif-length non-durational, looped pieces on separate screens within an installation. But I tested it out more recently during talks about my work to a sit down audience and it seemed to do something interesting to me that way too, so it’s got a second life, and I added titles and credits earlier this week for that purpose. I’d love you to see it and could share the file with you somehow if you like… it’s a short piece (am a bit hesitant about putting it up online).
    I hope your heating and hot water situation is resolved! I know the area you’ve moved to a bit, and my image of it is kind of grand apartment buildings of a particular type… and maybe more residential generally than the bits of Paris I know well? I remember gong to see a (very beautiful) show of medieval paintings in a kind of palace the first time I visited with Wolf, so it has good assocaitions.
    Hope to catch up soon!
    love, M x

  11. @ David, congratulations on the completion of this project! I’m due a £150 Amazon voucher from BT for buying my iPhone from them and when that arrives, your book and much else will be scored for sure. I also cannot wait to devour the If….: School Days essay on my coming day off.

    I’ve been a little shy of the blog lately as I was having some minor laptop angst. I was unable to click on the trackpad and it was as if I’d had a limb removed, not being able to navigate online properly. But now I can press the number 5 on my keyboard and it kind of works like a surrogate click so it’s all fine… ah first world problems, right?

  12. I’ve been listening obsessively to early Cheap Trick lately, especially the first album, and as you saw from my Facebook post today, I’m ready to dive past DREAM POLICE. I haven’t had a chance to listen to ONE ON ONE or NEXT POSITION PLEASE yet today, but I will do so later on.

  13. Hey Dennis/David,

    This is absolutely wonderful. Kudos on this, David. Will be revisiting after quick comment but I just wanted to say at the outset I’m loving this quite a lot.

    Dennis, I wondered if you’d received my email re GAG. I asked John Trefry, the book’s publisher, to get in touch as well about possibly sending you a physical copy. I’m very excited for you to be able to read this one, as I tried something pretty different from anything I’ve written before, and I think you’ll enjoy it very much. Also, Marcel is being reissued by Dostoyevsky Wannabe, so I’ll be happy to send a copy of that your way as well.

    All best, and again David, will write more in a bit here,

    Grant

  14. Shit, also, wanted to say how excited I am for New Narrative conference in the fall. I was invited to attend, but I also wrote a proposal for a brief talk on The Letters of Mina Harker/REAL, and I saw that you might be in attendance, which would be amazing!

    Best, and more soon,

    Grant

  15. david E, thank you! that’s my plan. your book looks great! i love your reviews, they’ve got bite.

    hey d, the death cult is usually known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, this article about the caves where drawings from that culture have been found is an exciting read. the slow ridiculous process at the hospital is not what the health care system here is like, it’s exactly like you said, you nailed it. what’s the oddness of the apartment? how many cold showers have you had to take by now?? i hope it’s already fixed, i’m cringing in sympathy thinking about it. korea is actually known for having skincare that’s ahead of what the rest of the world is doing, and it’s cheap to boot, it’s really saved my bacon so to speak. i think that expression is so funny, but awful, but funny haha. do you know where it comes from? as an american. i think it must be american. what’s on your schedule for to(mon)day? great huge love

  16. Mr. Ehrenstein,

    Congratulations on the publication of your new book! I kind of view you and *steevee as the Siskel and Ebert of DC’s … I’m just not sure who is who. I figured you for Siskel and steevee for Ebert… perhaps I’m not too far off? I figured with a name like David Ehrenstein perhaps you were a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn?? But Flushing Queens, that is where my other half is from! Such a small world.. And someone mentioned Sharkboy, did I miss it somewhere? If I were in los angeles I’d pop over to book soup to buy a copy of your new book, but it looks like Amazon is the winner. I’ll actually be in California this coming Monday, however I will be in the ultrawhite, ultraboring County de la Orange, so…. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

    Anyway, congrats again Mr. Ehrenstein, this is very exciting and I am happy for you! 🙂

    Dennis, wow my friend, that sucks on the apartment… I hope the heat and hot water issue is soon rectified. Other than that, your view is nice? I looked at the Place de la Madeleine, fancy digs! Hoping your new week finds hot water and warmth aplenty. At least you have the film work to take your mind off the domestic troubles. 🙂

    Much love,
    James

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