Wednesday, February 15, 2012

I think I need to see 8 1/2 again

Fellini's 8 1/2 is how I've always fantasized a filmmaker's life--a life completely inside the mind filled with images real or imagined. Very few words expressed. A life of imagination as opposed to reality.

For me, the idea of 8 1/2 is better than experiencing the film. When I first saw it years ago, I found it annoying, long and cloying. It was also fragmented, alluring and visually stunning.

I think I need to see 8 1/2 again.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Nobody's perfect

In the early to mid-1980s I found myself working in a health club. Basically, I worked behind the front desk, greeted people, signed them up for memberships and handed them locks and towels. Far from glamorous, the job had its perks: my co-workers enjoyed a good party and would throw down at any given moment and, for both sexes, there was the occasional eye-candy to keep things moving.

But this was also a time when journalist Aaron Latham wrote an article in 1983 for Rolling Stone called "Looking for Mr. Goodbody," making the claim that health clubs were fast becoming the "new singles bars."

Subsequently, the article's result was that every flabby testosterone stoked dude on the make came waddling through the doors looking for more sex than sweat - which, of course, wasn't even close to reality. Most of the customers joined the club for one reason - they were fat. The club I worked in wasn't even close to those Bally's Fitness Center commercials that showed health club members as hot and hotter.

Walk into my club and the first thing you saw was me, who - at that time - was gangly with barely an ounce of muscle. I wasn't lean, I was like skeletor. I was the polar opposite of the models you saw in those moodily lit, disco-throbbing TV ads that were based on false promises, including the promise to lose your gut.

By the time 1985 rolled around, the health club hype as singles bar was waning. This falling off pretty much coincided with the release of Perfect, directed by James Bridges (The Paper Chase, Urban Cowboy, Bright Lights, Big City) and based on the Latham story. Perfect starred John Travolta as Adam, a magazine writer investigating the "singles bar" scene of bump and grind health clubs. Adam becomes involved with a fitness instructor named Jessie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis who teaches aerobics with a stripper's flair), who wants nothing to do with writers (too pastey). Naturally, as Adam and Jessie fall in love, he starts to lose his journalistic objective point of view and the story suffers.

The movie is ridiculous and represents excessive Hollywood bloat supported by too much money-to-burn and cocaine-fueled studio meetings. What's amazing is how wrong Perfect got it. It was so far from believable that the movie became a Hollywood laughing stock and, while not totally shredding Travolta's career, it certainly slammed the breaks on it - albeit temporarily.

He came back big in 1989 as an out of shape cab driver in Amy Heckerling's popular Look Who's Talking - a film, while a box office hit, that ultimately didn't do Travolta any real favors. After Look Who's Talking, he was sequestered to a couple talking baby sequels and straight-to-video obscurities.

But, not completely down and not quite washed up, Quentin Tarantino found his man in Travolta, who left an indelible mark with his best role as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Strawberry Letter 23

The use of Strawberry Letter 23 by The Brothers Johnson in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown is great.

But its even greater here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I picked up a job in June of 1977 as a lawn boy at a condominium neighborhood in the far west suburbs of Chicago. I'd roll out of bed around 7:00 a.m. and walk along abandoned railroad tracks - about 2 miles - to work.

I'd get there around 7:45 and my first duty everyday, before hauling out the lawn mower, was to skim the community swimming pool - ridding it of leaves and skittering bugs - as well as check the water's chlorine levels. Then I'd make sure the filter was in working order. All of this took about 20 minutes. After, I'd go into the pool clubhouse and grab a few winks on one of the community couches. If I'd had a few too many beers the night before, those few winks easily slid into hours.

When I'd wake up - hopefully by 10:00 a.m. or so, I'd go outside and make my way to the maintenance garage, fill the mower's tank with gas, drag it out to the driveway and fire it up.

The idea was to mow a half dozen lawns a day starting on Monday so that by the time Friday came, all 30 condo units looked crisp and clean. With the mowing, I had to bag the cut grass and edge along the sidewalks. It was hard physical labor.

I hated every minute of it.

By July 1st of 1977, my career as lawn boy was over. I was fired. But I became a free man in the suburbs where the rest of my summer days were spent languidly driving around, playing pinball, goofing off with a crew of buddies, going to the drive-in and drinking gallons of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys.

The drive-in - specifically the Skylark Drive-in Theater in Aurora, IL - was where I began my film education. It was there that we spent weeknights and weekends watching double features like:
The highlight of those drive-in goodies was seeing The Van multiple times. It was directed by Sam Grossman, and starred Stuart Goetz (who's currently a music editor in the movie business) and Danny DeVito. Promoted as "Fun-Truckin'!", the movie made a truck load of promises it couldn't keep. But that didn't matter - like the best cinema of 1977, it was beer-friendly.

And, best of all, its soundtrack included songs by Sammy Johns. The two songs featured were "Early Morning Love" and, of course, "Chevy Van."