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Jazz has endured because it doesn’t have a beginning or an ending. It’s a moment.” — Robert Altman, 2004

"The game of life is hard to play" MASH Robert Altman, 1970 Cinematography | Harold E. Stine

“The game of life is hard to play”
MASH
Robert Altman, 1970
Cinematography | Harold E. Stine

A quote that not only offers perspective on the art of jazz, but also provides a key to why so many of Robert Altman’s films carry such power. When attempting to provide an over-all descriptor of this Cinematic Master’s work the word “satire” is the most often used. Other great words would be “psychology” and “humanity,” because I find it difficult to limit the scope of Altman’s filmography to the satirical. Even when he pulls us into soft satire there are equal measures of psychology and human nature that make a film like The Player resonate. I remember being surprised at how much I enjoyed The Player. A meta-film filled with late 1980’s Hollywood insider jokes and pokes that I had already decided that I would not get most of what Altman’s film pursued. I was wrong.

"So, what's the story? The Player Robert Altman, 1992 Cinematography | Jean Lépine

“So, what’s the story?
The Player
Robert Altman, 1992
Cinematography | Jean Lépine

At the time I didn’t fully appreciate many of the jokes/pokes, but Altman managed to pull me into his protagonist’s shoes. Tim Robbins’ Griffin is not an easy character to like. He is most certainly not the sort of character that you expect to root for, but I did. When this iconic movie is over the viewer is fully satisfied, but this was a movie that did not actually end. As I left the cinema that evening my mind drifted back to Griffin‘s situation. Just how far would he go in the next movie deal? The Player never really stops playing.

This sort of “ending” is the type Altman most often relied upon. In this case that ending was open-ended and threatened a whole new twist to a complex situation. Other times Altman simply cut the movie off or have his story forever floating off the screen as the credits began to roll. This often resulted in a sort of gut-punch or lingering melancholy. His first major critical and box office hit, MASH, was satirical as much as was potently human. By the time we come to that moment when the silly antics, raunchy pranks and comedy will conclude — it suddenly occurs to the audience that all of it has been a ruse. These characters have yucked it up not because it sums up who each of them are, but because they are all trying to delude themselves away from the realities of war. It is both innovative and startling to realize that Radar’s voice which has been booming out announcement over the military encampment is actually reading off the movie’s cast credits. Altman’s way of ending MASH is cleaver and hints that we are leaving the movie while the tragedies continue.

MASH Robert Altman, 1970

MASH
Robert Altman, 1970

Robert Altman had been working in the film industry for over sixteen years when he was finally able to make his narrative fiction feature film. He was 43 years old when he arrived in Canada to shoot That Cold Day in the Park. He was no neophyte. A viewer need not know that fact because this seemingly forgotten cinematic gem is handled with a confident elegance. Having managed to secure Academy Award winning actress, Sandy Dennis, to star was a crucial part of his plan. In any other filmmaker’s hands this profoundly odd character study would have been turned into a morbid horror film. Nothing about the way Altman handles Cold Day indicates the creepy place the film is headed.

Sandy Dennis plays her character like only Sandy Dennis can. She is a wealthy but lonely young woman. She lives a mundane, lonely life surrounded by wealthy extravagances limited by a social life structured around older people. It almost feels as if she has being forced into the role of an aging spinster when in reality she is far too young. It is never clearly articulated, but thanks both to Altman and Dennis’ performance we receive several clues that something is very wrong with “Miss. Frances Austen.” When she breaks convention and offers help to a homeless mute “boy” who is actually closer to her own age than others we meet in her life. We hope this is a sign of healthy rebellion and quest for human connection.

But how often does human motivation follow our better hopes? 

"I have to tell you something." Sandy Dennis That Cold Day in the Park Robert Altman, 1969 Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

“I have to tell you something.”
Sandy Dennis
That Cold Day in the Park
Robert Altman, 1969
Cinematography | Laszlo Kovacs

With Laszlo Kovacs’ brilliant cinematography bringing additional emotional levels, one could call this movie a psycho-sexual thriller. The challenge in limiting this surprisingly effective film to that genre is non-sensical. The film is far more concerned with human psychology to allow itself to fall into line with a cinematic trope. That Cold Day is far more focused on human loneliness, lack of connection and the tyranny of societally imposed isolation and alienation. The film is all of these things but Altman’s main pursuit is to slip into a woman’s damaged psyche.

The film is short and fast-paced. Filled with uncomfortable and realistic scenes between Miss. Frances Austen and The Boy, we see the woman open-up to the mute boy who she manages to keep mostly nude most of the time. Altman’s protagonist is dealing with a whole lot more than sexual repression and alienation. The movie’s “twist” arrives shortly after the one we expect. It is the way in which Altman brings about That Cold Day‘s non-ending that sparks this low-budget magic. The deliverance of the story’s true twist shifts the audience chuckle into an unexpected disturbance. What seems comical gradually takes on the perspectives of the sinister and disturbing. This little movie will never leave your mind. Film critics at the time failed to grasp the power and audiences failed to see it. Robert Altman’s true cinematic debut continues to be studied and re-evaluated.

"I want you to make love to me. Please." That Cold Day in the Park Robert Altman, 1969

“I want you to make love to me. Please.”
That Cold Day in the Park
Robert Altman, 1969

Another forgotten Robert Altman gem arrived to cinemas in 1978. A Wedding is structured and filmed in typical 1970’s casual Altman style. It is satire that manages to be both sharp and silly. A Wedding is also surprisingly sad. Filled with rambling sub-plots as two families come together for a lavish post-wedding reception, it is intentionally rambling but stumbles into deep-cutting cultural commentary. A Wedding is concerned with societal ideas around marriage, family, class and loneliness. A Wedding would later inspire a modern opera.

Carol Burnett A Wedding Robert Altman, 1978 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Carol Burnett
A Wedding
Robert Altman, 1978
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

As the wealthy and the middle class mingle and attempt to form a vague idea of familial bonds we see almost every sort of tragedy and mishap imaginable. Altman seems to constantly being throwing the audience off-guard. He seems determined to refuse any specific genre. Intellectual, slapstick, raunchy and introspective, A Wedding stretches use of familial dysfunction to its limits. The end credits arrive with an unforgettable mixture of crudeness and solemn regret. It is a very strange and often dark “comedy” of epic proportion. It failed to connect with mainstream audiences despite an amazing cast list. Part of the reason remains active today. A Wedding is framed and seems to have been set-up as a forgotten chapter of American Cultural Satire documented so brilliantly with Altman’s 1975 cinematic masterpiece, Nashville. A Wedding was never intended as such. It stands alone and has a very different sort of aim.

"You know weddings are the happiest events I could possibly dream of and yet some how when they're over it's always so sad." A Wedding Robert Altman, 1978

“You know weddings are the happiest events I could possibly dream of and yet some how when they’re over it’s always so sad.”
A Wedding
Robert Altman, 1978

The ill-fated ad campaign for A Wedding boasted that the movie contained a great many secrets, but there were no secrets about his earlier movie. Altman took a head-first plunge into the murky waters of dream logic with 1977’s 3 Women. Altman was specifically clear that this entire film was born of a personal nightmare. He was also very gracious in sharing a good deal of the credit with one of the film’s primary stars. 3 Woman is an incredible examination of identity and surrealism was largely formed by the participation of all three actors in the title roles. This is most particularly true of Shelley Duvall.

" I had the most wonderful dream..." Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

” I had the most wonderful dream…”
Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

This wildly experimental dark comedy morphs into one of the more disturbing films you are likely to see. It is full of female energy, but it never feels as if it is trying to make a statement about anything other than these three very specific female characters. Shelley Duvall’s Millie gleefully informs Sissy Spacek’s Pinky, “This is my parking space. It’s the best one!” Later Millie explains, “That’s Dirty Girtie! Pull her bow and she’ll say hello!”  Her delivery of those improvised lines creates an odd and varied response for viewers. Some giggle, some laugh, and many are not sure how to react. There is one reaction that is usually shared: Millie and this dream-inspired film is uncomfortable and induces squirms.

"My leg! My leg! My leg hurts..." 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“My leg! My leg! My leg hurts…”
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

When 3 Women debuted nearly all major critics swooned. In what has inspired a number of debates, Pauline Kael truly disliked the movie. Her negative viewpoint of this film is of particular interest because up until this movie, Kael had been a consistently staunch Altman ally. Her odd dismissal of 3 Women seemed to curse this extraordinary surrealistic movie. When 20th Century Fox released it into cinemas, audiences were either entranced, confused or indifferent. The film flopped and was pulled out of cinemas just a couple of days beyond a week. Over the following two decades 3 Women has not only become a “Cult Classic” — it is now considered one of the most important American films of the 1970’s. Robert Altman’s surreal study of female identity, isolation, loneliness and sexuality is a cinematic masterpiece.

"The Home of Country Music..." NASHVILLE Robert Altman, 1975

“The Home of Country Music…”
NASHVILLE
Robert Altman, 1975

As The United States headed into its Bicentennial and a game-changing election year, Robert Altman’s Nashville provided a satirical assault. This movie is quite often called the quintessential Robert Altman film. I agree with this viewpoint. Everything we know to anticipate from the great filmmaker is present. Overlapping dialogue, lots of characters, rambling plot points, improvisational in feel but clearly mapped-out toward one clear moving image of mid-1970’s US. Country music was shifting into a more mainstream accessed pop sensibility. Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt were both about to take a place on the pop charts. Country Music stardom was no longer limited to The Grand Ole Opry. And as the country headed into a cultural values torn battle — celebrity and celebrities were as important as anything else. Music Row was selling out. Altman and his screenwriter, Joan Tewkesbury, focused on Nashville as the stage to provide a scathing satire of American culture.

Perhaps the most lost is the most knowledgeable.  Lily Tomlin  NASHVILLE Robert Altman, 1975 Cinematography | Paul Lohmann

Perhaps the most lost is the most knowledgeable.
Lily Tomlin
NASHVILLE
Robert Altman, 1975
Cinematography | Paul Lohmann

So much has been written about this exceptional film it seems silly to attempt to add anything worthy of it, but this epic film remains as powerful as it must have been in 1975. It is satire, but it is also realistically grounded within the limitations of its very human characters. It has continued to cause incorrect criticism for depicting the horrors of celebrity stalking. This film is not an inducement, it is a mirror reflection. Looking carefully in the mirror is never easy. An epic film.

In 1971 Altman set out to explore the concept of The American Western. Many have referred to McCabe & Mrs. Miller as a satire of The American Western. I do not agree with that assessment. This artfully shot and realistically acted film feels like it is attempting to more accurately be an American Western. It succeeds.

"...Oh I hope you run into them, you who've been travelling so long. Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control..." McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971

“…Oh I hope you run into them, you who’ve been travelling so long.
Yes you who must leave everything that you cannot control…”
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971

The timing of the story is a key element for McCabe & Mrs. Miller. The film takes place just as the 19th Century is about to progress into the 20th Century. The setting of the film is that place we know as The Old West. Filmed utilizing natural light as if he were painting on a canvas, Vilmos Zsigmond’s work is breath-stealing. I would doubt that Altman had ever worked so closely with his cinematographer to capture the exacting viewpoints so precisely with the film’s. It also had to be a major coup to manage to cast both Warren Beatty and Julie Christie (infamous lovers at that time) on one screen. He makes the most of both movie stars.

Warren Beatty’s sly ‘aw, chucks attitude is transformed into the one of the movie’s two main characters. McCabe may be tough and ambitious, but he is not very smart. I think it is safe to describe Beatty’s McCabe as a seemingly lucky idiot. Julie Christie’s luminously erotic beauty and intelligence bring Mrs. Miller to life. There is a surprisingly realistic love story here: A stunningly beautiful and intelligent woman begins to fall in love with the handsome man who appears to have all the power. The film’s straining question is how far can love grow when two people are so very different. McCabe‘s brainpower and opinions are so dull that it seems to degree a sad fate.

 

"...When you're not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you've sinned..." No. It's not Jesus.  Warren Beatty McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971 Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

“…When you’re not feeling holy, your loneliness says that you’ve sinned…”
No. It’s not Jesus.
Warren Beatty
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971
Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a beautiful looking and sounding film. Leonard Cohen’s songs fill in as much of the movie’s soundtrack. This actually lends a very late 20th Century take on the film’s story. Cohen’s music also adds to the melancholy that pours out from Zsigmond’s photography. This masterful film is not satire. It is reality. Understated and even quiet, this film is truly brilliant. At long last the film has been newly restored and will be issued to DVD/Blu-Ray thanks to the folks at The Criterion Collection.

Going against the beginning of my post, McCabe & Mrs. Miller does offer a true end to the story. And this is a story that continues to speak in a meaningful way.

Julie Christie McCabe & Mrs. Miller Robert Altman, 1971 Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

Julie Christie
McCabe & Mrs. Miller
Robert Altman, 1971
Cinematography | Vilmos Zsigmond

Happy endings are absolutely ludicrous, they’re not true at all. We see the guy carry the girl across the threshold and everybody lives happily ever after — that’s bullshit. Three weeks later he’s beating her up and she’s suing for divorce and he’s got cancer.” — Robert Altman

There was once a time when Madonna presented ideas far deeper than that of “Pop Star.” While those days seem to have past, many of the ideas she presented and asserted remain.

Lucky for us a female film artist adapted Phoebe Gloeckner's insightful novel for the screen. Kristen Wiig / Bel Powley / Alexander Skarsgård The Diary of a Teenage Girl Marielle Heller, 2015 Photograph | Sam Emerson

Lucky for us a female film artist adapted Phoebe Gloeckner’s insightful novel for the screen.
Kristen Wiig / Bel Powley / Alexander Skarsgård
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
Marielle Heller, 2015
Photograph | Sam Emerson

One of the last times I recall finding myself thinking about something she co-created was her 2000 single:

“Skin that shows in patches.
Strong inside but you don’t know it.

Good little girls they never show it.
When you open up your mouth to speak, could you be a little weak?

Do you know what it feels like for a girl?
Do you know what it feels like in this world…” — Madonna

Aside from being catchy, this pop song did elevate itself more than a little by what it had to say about the ever-mounting challenges and societal/cultural indifference and injustices perpetuated against and projected upon the idea of female identity. Sadly, the iconic superstar chose to have her then filmmaker husband create the song’s vid-clip. The video for this song was crass and violent for reasons of shock-value vs. offering any level of content truly relevant toward a song that seemed tied to a young woman attempting to indicate the cruel patriarchal views to a young male. A missed opportunity to say the least.

Marguerite Duras' novel about a young woman's sexual awakening received a very male-eroticized translation from Jean-Jacques Annard. Jane March / Tony Leung The Lover Jean-Jacques Annard, 1992 Cinematography | Robert Fraisse

Marguerite Duras’ novel about a young woman’s sexual awakening received a very male-eroticized translation from Jean-Jacques Annard.
Jane March / Tony Ka Fai Leung
The Lover
Jean-Jacques Annard, 1992
Cinematography | Robert Fraisse

It has taken a tragic and centuries long tyranny for women to finally make significant strides in the areas of filmmaking. Such recently formed groups like The Alliance for Women in Media have smartly utilized social media to promote, promote and organize female film artists. While the idea of the female filmmaker is not at all new, the voices of these film artists that have managed to gain attention are painfully few. Those voices that have managed to obtain success have largely been built on celebrity [think Nora Ephron, Julie Delpy, Barbra Streisand, Penny Marshall, Elaine May, Susan Sideman, Anne Fontaine, Diane Keaton or Kathryn Bigelow] or controversial films that were either too scandalous or provocative [think Claire Denis, Lina Wertmüller, Patty Jenkins, Liliana Cavani, Lynne Ramsay, Mary Harron, Mia Hansen-Løve, Doris Dörrie or Catherine Breillat] to be ignored.

Note: this statement and the listed artists is not intended toward the quality of work or respective importance. However significant gains have been made in just the last ten years.

One of the most important historic moments in US history is captured by a female director. Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King SELMA Ava DuVernay, 2014 Cinematography | Bradford Young

One of the most important historic moments in US history is captured by a female director.
Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King
SELMA
Ava DuVernay, 2014
Cinematography | Bradford Young

As Film Art moves forward we will be given more opportunities to see female characters written and presented by women. It is interesting to experience the “knee-jerk” reaction of fellow cinephiles when I bring this up. It seems that the majority of people seem to feel it is not all that important or different to have a female vs. male filmmaker. From a technical proficiency standpoint it really does not make a difference. However, good luck at convincing most Big Money producers or film studios that there isn’t. The shift in this perspective is resulting from peer and societal pressures. Sexism and Racism still run the show, but this might be changing. What interests me is seeing how a female filmmaker might be able to bring a more balanced depiction of female characters and their situations.

A great deal more than "a sex comedy" that the film's marketing team led us to believe. Juno Temple & Kathryn Hahn deliver potent performances in a vastly under-rated film. Afternoon Delight Jill Soloway, 2013 Cinematography | Jim Frohna

A great deal more than “a sex comedy” that the film’s marketing team led us to believe.
Juno Temple & Kathryn Hahn deliver potent performances in a vastly under-rated film.
Afternoon Delight
Jill Soloway, 2013
Cinematography | Jim Frohna

Would Ava DuVernay’s Selma have been different if it had been made by a man? A white woman? I suspect so, but Selma was crafted with such a steadfast and sure handed — it is hard to say. Would Jill Soloway’s under-appreciated Afternoon Delight have been different if it had been written/directed by a male filmmaker? I’d say most certainly so. Would Diary of a Teenage Girl have presented themes of sexuality and identity have been handled in a different manner by a male? Would Mia’s frustrations, anger and sexual awakening been explored differently if a man had directed Andrea Arnold’s screenplay for Fish Tank? I’d say most definitely. Or what if we stop and imagine what might have happened if Lynne Ramsay’s husband, Rory Stewart Kenner, had directed their screenplay adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin? Would Michelle Williams’ Margot had received a more typical level of exploration had Sarah Polley not written and directed Take This Waltz? Would a male director had handled Father of My Children in the same way that Mia Hansen-Løve so grimly caring as she was able?

Even brightly painted walls are unable to hide the challenges of a young woman coming of age within a council estate. Katie Jarvis Fish Tank Andrea Arnold, 2009 Cinematography | Robbie Ryan

Even brightly painted walls are unable to hide the challenges of a young woman coming of age within a council estate.
Katie Jarvis
Fish Tank
Andrea Arnold, 2009
Cinematography | Robbie Ryan

If we think back to some of the more controversial European films of the past 50 years it brings up an even stronger concern. Imagine if Pier Paolo Pasolini had directed Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter? …A film that still makes both female and male audiences squirm some 40+ years after it was originally released. Try to imagine if Jacques Audiard had directed Claire Denis’ White Material. Actually this might be the true exception to the rule. I do not think there are any filmmakers who think and film anywhere near to the manner in which Denis approaches her distinctive and intimate films.

An odd sort of buddy film morphs into something very different in the hands of this respected female film artist. And guess what? She secured one of the most interesting American cinematographers working -- who happens to be a woman. Joslyn Jensen / Kentucker Audley FUNNY BUNNY Alison Bagnall, 2015 Cinematography | Ashley Connor

An odd sort of buddy film morphs into something very different in the hands of this respected female film artist. And guess what? She secured one of the most interesting American cinematographers working — who happens to be a woman.
Joslyn Jensen / Kentucker Audley
FUNNY BUNNY
Alison Bagnall, 2015
Cinematography | Ashley Connor

Even so, just think what might have happened. A similar exception might rule for both Catherine Breillat and Josephine Decker — both of whom seem to have a very unique and intimate connection to their work. Decker’s voice is still taking form and I think we are approaching an era where it will be allowed to do just that. The same did not happen for the likes of Claudia Weill and Elaine May. Two incredibly gifted artists who had the unluck of making a flop each. Male filmmakers can make a flop movie and move on, the same has not been true for women.

Sidney Pollack, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Gary Marshall would have simply shrugged and moved on to a new project. However all it took was one box office flop to bring Elaine May's directorial career to an abrupt end. Dustin Hoffman / Warren Beatty ISHTAR Elaine May, 1987 Cinematography | Vittorio Storaro

Sidney Pollack, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and Gary Marshall would have simply shrugged and moved on to a new project. However all it took was one box office flop to bring Elaine May’s directorial career to an abrupt end.
Dustin Hoffman / Warren Beatty
ISHTAR
Elaine May, 1987
Cinematography |Vittorio Storaro

An even more vexing concern for female artists comes up when we do think of all the inaccuracies of treatment for male filmmakers vs. female directors. Men can misbehave. Does anyone out there think that a female artist would have been allowed to put a cast / crew through emotional tantrums thrown by David O. Russell during the making of I Heart Huckabees? You are living in a make believe reality if you do. You would also be in an equally confused reality if you think a male PEO could have gotten away with this behavior on a Hollywood set. Ironically, the artist who paid the price for Mr. Russell’s bizarre behavior ended up being an innocent bystander. Unlike her co-stars, Isabelle Huppert and Dustin Hoffman, Lily Tomlin refused to sit quietly while Russell blasted them with unprofessional rage-fueled insults.

I guess she should have known she had no right to defend herself and the crew against and unprofessional male director.  Dustin Hoffman / Lily Tomlin I Heart Huckabees David O. Russell, 2004 Cinematography | Peter Deming

I guess she should have known she had no right to defend herself and the crew against and unprofessional male director.
Dustin Hoffman / Lily Tomlin
I Heart Huckabees
David O. Russell, 2004
Cinematography | Peter Deming

It was as if the highly respected and skilled actress had made a grave error against Hollywood’s Good ‘Ol Boy Club when she dared to respond to her director’s cruelty. Ms. Tomlin’s film career suffered a great deal due because she was unwilling to sit passively and suffer the indignity of O’Russell’s tyranny. This sad result of a YouTube leak has been little discussed. David O. Russell had already come to blows with George Clooney a few years earlier. Clooney seemed to earn “respect points” for standing up to the bullying. Tomlin did not fare as well. She was largely relegated to playing nightclub gigs. It would take more than a couple of years before she found worthy television / film prospects. Yet David O. Russell continued to excel up The Hollywood Food Chain despite not only his behavior but the box office fail of I Heart Huckabees.

An experimental, disturbing and fascinating independent film challenged all the rules of a male-dominated art form.  Robert Longstreet / Sophie Traub Thou Wast Mild and Lovely Josephine Decker, 2014 Cinematography | Ashley Connor

An experimental, disturbing and fascinating independent film challenged all the rules of a male-dominated art form.
Robert Longstreet / Sophie Traub
Thou Wast Mild and Lovely
Josephine Decker, 2014
Cinematography | Ashley Connor

However, I’ve gone way off point here. There are a slew of amazing films dealing with the psychology of women. Films that are rightly revered and studied. In no way would I want to discount these films, but it is interesting to think about them from the perspective that they were imagined, written and directed by men. Are these depictions any less valid because women were relegated to the role of “actor” vs. creator of these unforgettable cinematic masterpieces? It is an interesting talking point.

A woman plagued by a toxic world or muted oppression? A male director proves he can make films focused on women without error.  Julianne Moore SAFE Todd Haynes, 1995 Cinematography | Alex Nepomniaschy

A woman plagued by a toxic world or muted oppression? A male director proves he can make films focused on women without error.
Julianne Moore
SAFE
Todd Haynes, 1995
Cinematography | Alex Nepomniaschy

I was recently thinking of four films in particular. I don’t pretend to know the full answer to this hind-sighted reflection. For starters I am not a filmmaker, but most importantly I am a white male. These films were made by professional filmmakers — all of whom were white men.

Millie aims for perfection within a man's nightmare... Shelley Duvall  3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Millie aims for perfection within a man’s nightmare…
Shelley Duvall
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

The first film that crosses my mind regarding this line of questioning is one of my personal favorite movies: Robert Altman’s 3 Women. I’m not sure this is a good film to discuss in this vein as the entire film can be ascribed to dream-logic. Altman never made it a secret that the entire film was born of a personal nightmare. It is also no secret that this incredible examination of identity and surrealism was largely formed by the participation of all three actors in the title roles. This is most particularly true of Shelley Duvall.

The battle for identity... Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

The battle for identity…
Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Almost all of the film’s trajectories emanate from Duvall’s Millie‘s actions. Another aspect of this film that more or less eliminates it from this topic is the fact that the entire film does feel like a manifestation of male-based fears about women. This is not to say that 3 Women is not a fully potent vision of identity horror, but it does not actually seem to present itself entirely based female psychology. This wildly experimental dark comedy morphs into one of the more disturbing films you are likely to see. It is full of female energy, but it never feels as if it is trying to make a statement about anything other than these three very specific three female characters.

The second film I think of this respect is a more likely candidate for this type of analysis: John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence. Experiencing a John Cassavetes film often leads the viewer to the mistaken idea that every aspect of what is being seen is an improvised experimental film. This is never the case.

A Woman Under the Influence  John Cassavetes, 1974

A Woman Under the Influence
John Cassavetes, 1974

Cassavetes was an articulate film writer as well as director. He had a very specific story to tell and he told it in his unique visionary way. Certainly not one to run from collaboration and open to ideas — he was nearly always set on how and what he wanted his films to say. He was blessed to share his life with one of the most important film actors to ever breathe, Gena Rowlands. However it is a major mistake to think that as Mabel, Rowlands was free-forming her dialog as she went along. It is both to her credit as an actor and her husband’s credit as a filmmaker that it feels that way. Even Rowlands’s Mabel odd and/or quirky hand gestures and ticks were already thought out in the filmmaker’s head. Do a Google and you will find images of Cassavetes acting out the hand movements and gestures for Rowlands to incorporate into her performance. It is also somewhat crucial to remember that Cassavetes main interest in his film storytelling was the pursuit of love. Yet it would seem difficult for even this great filmmaker to not note that there was something removed from that going on here.

Seeking intimacy and human warmth, but only finding guilt and confusion.  A One Night Stand and Gena Rowlands A Woman Under the Influence  John Cassavetes, 1974 Cinematography | Al Ruban

Seeking intimacy and human warmth, but only finding guilt and confusion.
A One Night Stand and Gena Rowlands
A Woman Under the Influence
John Cassavetes, 1974
Cinematography | Al Ruban

A Woman Under the Influence works on all levels and remains a fascinating and deeply disturbing screen capture of a woman in full-tilt emotional breakdown. How or if she is full able to “heal” and return to life is more than a little ambiguous. What is clear in the film is that she is loved and loves, but this might not be enough for her to survive the life in which she has found herself. And this is one of the primary reasons this 1974 film continues to feel alive and real. The hair styles, the decor, the cars and clothing may all be dated — but the situations all feel profoundly current.

Mabel is not well. She is losing her grip on sanity. Something that the film never bluntly states but shows is that she is also deteriorating in imposed isolation, loneliness and suffocating within what begins to feel like a sort of familial pathology. The Longhetti Family is not well. The working-class husband / father is over-worked and seems more than a little under-educated. With the exception of a paycheck, he seems to leave all other responsibilities to his wife, Mabel. She is left alone with three children in a sort of lower-middle class hell.

"All of a sudden, I miss everyone..." Gena Rowlands A Woman Under the Influence  John Cassavetes, 1974 Cinematography | Al Ruban

“All of a sudden, I miss everyone…”
Gena Rowlands
A Woman Under the Influence
John Cassavetes, 1974
Cinematography | Al Ruban

She loves and adores her children, but they are all she has in the way of connection to the world. She may or may not be a bit smarter than her husband, but it does not really matter. We can see that she is overwhelmed. We can also see that her husband hasn’t a clue as to why or how to help her. He takes to what can only be described as domestic abuse toward his wife. He ultimately pulls his children into emotionally-damaging situations and allows indulgences into inappropriate behavior as a father. Mabel may not be a reliable parent, but she seems to be trying harder to set a better example than her husband. The 21st Century reaction to Peter Falk’s Nick is to take offense and become angry. However his performance and the film itself is so stunningly human, it is almost impossible to dislike Nick. We know he cares and is simply lost. The resulting film is powerful, sad and oddly inspiring in that it offers us a bit of hope for this woman.

When film acting no longer feels like "fiction." Gena Rowlands A Woman Under the Influence John Cassavetes, 1974 Cinematography | Al Ruban

When film acting no longer feels like “fiction.”
Gena Rowlands
A Woman Under the Influence
John Cassavetes, 1974
Cinematography | Al Ruban

There was and will only ever be one John Cassavetes. A Woman Under the Influence is cinematic masterwork from every angle.

But have you ever wondered what this movie might have been like if a woman had directed it?

Would we be given a bit more information regarding those gestures or movements to understand the pressures of both the inner and outer worlds of Mabel? Would Nick have had more room to understand or even less? Would he have become a savior or more of a victimizer? When it comes to A Woman Under the Influence, one thing that was discussed when it was first released has come much more clearly to the forefront with the passage of time: there is an idea presented which is far less ambiguous today as was back in the 1970s. As viewers we do not really know if it is Mabel who is having the real problem here. Mabel appears to be more a victim of circumstance than one of mental illness. Is The Woman ill or is she simply a experiencing the logical result of a life so severely limited and oppressed? Perhaps it is Nick who really needs help. Mabel just might need to demand more freedom or walk away. Would the entire situation of this family be illuminated in a different way had it been in the hands of female filmmaker? Honestly, I’m not sure I really want to know…

The female psyche deconstructed... PERSONA Ingmar Bergman, 1966

The female psyche deconstructed…
PERSONA
Ingmar Bergman, 1966

The third and final film is also one of the greatest films ever made. Ingmar Bergman’s Persona is a milestone work of art for more reasons than I’d be comfortable attempting to articulate. This largely experimental film is less about the core of Human Identity as it is about the twisted manipulation of identity by one of the two female characters. Bibi Andersson plays Alma. A young and inexperienced Psych Nurse assigned the task of caring for a highly respected stage and film actress played with equal mastery by Liv Ullmann. This is a Surrealist take on human cruelty and ideas of identity. It is also female-centric. Yet as much as it is concerned with female psychology, it is equally concerned with experimenting against the normal conventions of cinematic storytelling. Ingmar Bergman and his legendary cinematographer, Sven Nyqvist are both concerned with conveying ideas through image and editing even more than what the two actors present through performance and dialogue.

Too fragile to handle the world, so maybe she wants to try and manipulate it?  Liv Ullmann PERSONA Ingmar Bergman, 1966 Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Too fragile to handle the world, so maybe she wants to try and manipulate it?
Liv Ullmann
PERSONA
Ingmar Bergman, 1966
Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

We see both women react to their respective worlds and situations. Soon enough we see them react to each other. In uncomfortable silence as her patient has withdrawn from speech and human contact, Alma begins to find herself in the unique position in having a person of note who serves as her private audience. She begins to share her deepest and most intimate secrets to her Elisbet. One doesn’t need a degree in psychology to realize that Liv Ullmann’s character is somehow using her nurse for her own perverse needs and pleasures. We might think that it is the patient who is falling apart, but viewers quickly realize that the character who truly comes to the end of her mental and emotional rope is the nurse.

Silent prey or captive audience?  Liv Ullmann / Bibi Andersson  PERSONA Ingmar Bergman, 1966 Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Silent prey or captive audience?
Liv Ullmann / Bibi Andersson
PERSONA
Ingmar Bergman, 1966
Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

One of the splinters the film that makes is truly jolting, but it is never fully clear as to why. Was this always going to happen or has Ullmann’s Elisabet pushing buttons and limits for her own sick gain? I suspect most of us would agree that this revolutionary bit of filmmaking is at least a partial off-spring from Freudian thought. In fact, it seems that Bergman was playing off Freud’s idea of both primary and normal narcissism. Persona almost seems to be constructing itself off Freud’s self-titled definitions of Demential Praecox and Paraphrenics (sp?) — Elisabet appears to an off-shoot example of Schizophrenia who is incapable of love or loving. Alma is the hysterical woman unable to escape the grasp of a sociopathic woman hellbent on ruining her. It would be irresponsible and lazy to dismiss Persona on sexist grounds as it comes from a very specific point in time and achieved a whole new sort of cinematic language. Persona is still a gut punch to the senses. In many ways, Ingmar Bergman’s film remains ahead of time. However it is firmly grounded in the world of Art Horror or Psychological Thriller. It is not and can’t be weakened by ideas that we now might deem as outmoded.

But it does beg a bit of examination regarding the ways in which Bergman crafted his two female characters? It is possibly unnecessary, but curious to wonder what a female film artist might have done with the ideas of female human beings in this situation. Would a female or a Feminist-perspective have changed this film for the different or better? Would Alma‘s memory of her sexual exploit be articulated differently? Would Elisabet‘s reactions and actions have been different? Would a sickly little boy reach out for the female faces or would he be replaced by a little girl? Would a female perspective lead us further than Bergman’s conclusion?

Sharing secrets turns into a mentally dangerous act... Liv Ullmann / Bibi Andersson PERSONA Ingmar Bergman, 1966 Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Sharing secrets turns into a mentally dangerous act…
Liv Ullmann / Bibi Andersson
PERSONA
Ingmar Bergman, 1966
Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Would it all still break the film strip?

Perhaps of all male filmmakers, Ingmar Bergman was the most interested in female-centric movies. He is not alone. Paul Mazursky, Claude Chabrol, Jacques Demy, Woody Allen and David Lynch are just a few of the white male filmmakers who pursue the stories and even the POV of female characters. Much of their work feels right, but how to know? Can a man really ever know what it feels like for a girl?

Or perhaps more on point: can a male film artist really ever know what it is like to be a woman? …much less even partially understand what it is like to be in her head?

Judging by many films, it would seem more than a little possible.

Intent to harm or heal? Bibi Andersson / Liv Ullmann PERSONA Ingmar Bergman, 1966 Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

Intent to harm or heal?
Bibi Andersson / Liv Ullmann
PERSONA
Ingmar Bergman, 1966
Cinematography | Sven Nykvist

We have yet to have an equal opportunity to experience female film art perspective in equal measure. Let’s hope that we see and hear more from Female Film Artists and Women In Media as we move forward.  It has never been more important to support films made by women and people of color.

Aren’t we all pretty much bored with seeing the vast majority of movies limited to the white male perspective?

Matty Stanfiled, 1.19.2016

 

There are so many films out there that have been forgotten and or lost.

Carnal Knowledge Mike Nichols, 1971

Carnal Knowledge
Mike Nichols, 1971

As we enter the 21st Century, the choices applied by major studios and various production companies often appears to have no grounding in logic.

For instance, Mill Creek Entertainment has US/Canada home distribution rights for such major players as Sony, Universal, Warner Brothers and Buena Vista. These studios and major distributors have historic catalogs of cinema. Yet, Mill Creek is more interested in re-mastering such films as Barnet Kellman’s painful 1992 Straight Talking in which Dolly Parton is romanced by James Woods!

Miami Rhapsody  David Frankel, 1995

Miami Rhapsody
David Frankel, 1995

They also were very quick to get such “cinematic classics” as Another Stakeout, The Legend of Billie Jean, Old Gringo, Playing God, Color of Night and Miami Rhapsody.

Cruising William Friedkin, 1980

Cruising
William Friedkin, 1980

This isn’t some little “deal” that Mill Creek Entertainment has established, it is major. This company works with Sony and Warner Brothers who tend to be the cheapest and most difficult of the major studios when it comes to their respective back catalog. However, Mill Creek has never shown any sort of interest in distributing the films that many would like to see remastered and available.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Mike Nichols, 1966

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Mike Nichols, 1966

Were it not for smaller film distribution labels like Olive Films, Twilight Entertainment, Shout Factory and most importantly The Criterion Collection many an iconic film would still be sitting fading away in the shelf of some disorganized storage area.

Girlfriends Claudia Weill, 1978

Girlfriends
Claudia Weill, 1978

As it is, Twilight Entertainment has managed to get a foot in by agreeing to a limited printing. This means that less popular, but far more artistically valid films that Sony and Warners have denied other offers find a way to a limited restoration and release.

But when Twilight is limited to only 3,000 pressings, the cost jumps up to $30 retail.

Andy Warhol's Dracula  AKA Young Dracula or Blood for Dracula Paul Morrissey, 1974

Andy Warhol’s Dracula
AKA Young Dracula or Blood for Dracula
Paul Morrissey, 1974

And films like Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Purple Rose of Cairo and Crimes and Misdemeanors immediately push close to selling out. Same goes for Steel Magnolias or François Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Black or the iconic Sidney Pollack teaming of Streisand and Redford in The Way We Were. These films are sold for $30 for a few weeks before they start going for as high as $60 or more on Amazon from other sellers. Amazon does not sell Twilight directly.

Pink Floyd The Wall Alan Parker, 1982

Pink Floyd The Wall
Alan Parker, 1982

So, why does Mill Creek Entertainment prefer Mike Binder’s Holy Matrimony to The Bride Wore Black or The Way We Were? The knee-jerk answer is that Mill Creek can crank out 500,000 pressings of mediocre comedies to sell via Walmart, BestBuy or Amazon for as low as $5 to $10 a pop.

Apparently, when shoppers see a Blu-Ray featuring any movie star they recognize, they will pay $8 without a second thought. Easy profits. But that is not always the case.

Blowup Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966

Blowup
Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966d

Reasons can range from obscure licensing challenges for piece of music that Warners or Sony is not willing to negotiate and that Mill Creek doesn’t want to have to pay. Or, from time to time, there is often a more sinister element going on: Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Barbra Streisand and Jane Fondas’ movies will be even more profitable after each’s respective death.

And sometimes it amounts to insecurities about stirring up old wounds of the filmmakers themselves. These wounds can be gushing blood after decades or can be so minor it can be puzzling.

Shampoo Hal Ashby, 1975

Shampoo
Hal Ashby, 1975

But more often than not, the reason that films are forgotten or lost is because no one in positions of power ever think of them.

In recent years Warner Brothers has started their DVD-R printings of more obscure movies under their Warner Archive. This is cool, but limited. A vast number of Warner Brothers films remain unavailable — and many of the ones that are available by order are poorly re-mastered.

Nasty Habits Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1977

Nasty Habits
Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1977

Anyone curious to see the infamously failed film version of Portnoy’s Complaint will discover a muddy pint in which everything within the image has been stretched up/down so that Karen Black and Richard Benjamin are cartoon thin. The entire raunchy movie is there, but presented in a manner reminiscent of pre-cable late night shows when no one knew how to translate big screen films to fit onto TV screens. When Warners does take the time to press a few buttons and get the film to an acceptable aspect ratio, they do not bother to remaster.

Up The Sandbox Irvin Kershner, 1972

Up The Sandbox
Irvin Kershner, 1972

A classic example of Warner Brothers Archive Collection logic is found in the recent release of Tony Scott’s iconic and Cult Film Classic, The Hunger. A movie that features the likes of David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon as well as sleekly applied style and some great music from Bauhaus and Iggy Pop has been transferred to Blu-Ray using an even lesser quality transfer than MGM used for the initial DVD release.

Lisztomania Ken Russell, 1975

Lisztomania
Ken Russell, 1975

Don’t be fooled, Warner Archive did not bother to get the aspect ratio correct. You are not seeing the full picture. And I’m not certain, but I don’t think there has even been a 2K restoration here. The picture quality is not bad, but it is far from great. Worse yet, the audio is lousy. The old MGM DVD sounded better. Of course my DVD died several years back. I was stuck with the Warner released DVD which was actually a bit better than their new Blu-Ray.

They did a similar job with Nicolas Roeg’s co-directing debut, Performance. Yet, for reasons unknown they did actually bother to do a 2K restore for John Schlesinger’s Far From The Madding Crowd to Blu-Ray. It has yet to sell as well as either Performance or The Hunger. 

Women In Love Ken Russell, 1969

Women In Love
Ken Russell, 1969

Despite all sorts of grass-roots pushes and a an uncountable number of Film Historians, Film Production/Distribution companies and the request of an entire nation — Yes, Great Britain and the highly valued and respected British Film Institute reached out — Warner Brothers continues to refuse the release of Ken Russell’s original cut of The Devils.

No reason has ever been given.

Britain and the BFI fared best, however they were presented with an inferior quality and edited version of the film which they were only allowed to release in a UK region restricted limited pressing. While Warners did give BFI the choice to issue to Blu-Ray, BFI declined and limited the release to DVD as the quality of what Warner Brothers gave them was too poor to merit the Blu-Ray treatment.

The Devils Ken Russell, 1971

The Devils
Ken Russell, 1971

As The Devils is an historic part of British Film History and an important work of art, BFI wanted to have a full copy of the film secured in their registry.

However, the print that Warners gave had to be returned.

So BFI now has a restored copy of a copy of an edited version of The Devils.

"Birdshit!" Brewster McCloud Robert Altman, 1970

“Birdshit!”
Brewster McCloud
Robert Altman, 1970

In the upcoming several months a number of films are being re-evaluated for restoration and re-distribution. Who knows if any of this which is largely connected to the Film Festival Circuit will have any impact. However if one of these film matters to you, the best thing to do is review the film on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDB.

Oddly, sales from the Warner Archive do not seem to have much if any bearing on whether or not a movie will be restored. But folks who sign up for Amazon.com wait lists have initiated restorations. This was how Warner Brothers came to issue The Hunger to Blu-Ray and the two factors that have made Twilight Time embark on films like The Way We Were and Yentl.

Petulia  Richard Lester, 1968

Petulia
Richard Lester, 1968

A not so great transfer of Roeg’s odd cult film, Track 29 staring a young Gary Oldman, sold very well. This has caused a current “re-visit” of this infamous cinematic error as a possible film for restoration. Yet, the inferior region-free DVD’s of Ken Russell’s The Devils constantly sell out. Warner Brothers does not budge.

Another mystery with Warner Brothers is the poor quality and refusal to restore and re-distribute KLUTE. A film that has a large following, remains valid and of interest. Something similar was going down with Blowup, but that issue might have finally been resolved. Fingers-crossed. Another very popular film which is in theory no longer in print would be Richard Lester’s Petulia. As well as John Schlesinger’s Darling which shot Julie Christie to fame.

Both remain unrestored.

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon Otto Preminger, 1970

Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon
Otto Preminger, 1970

And, then there is the interest in Otto Preminger’s ill-advised 1970’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon which features a young Liza Minnelli facing deformity and trying to find a place among those whom society has labeled misfits. The film is flawed, but there are many a film fan who wants to own this odd cult film. Yet, no restoration or distribution is in sight. But Preminger’s far worse movie, Skidoo, was restored and issued to Blu-Ray. So who knows?

Track 29  Nicolas Roeg, 1988

Track 29
Nicolas Roeg, 1988

But it would appear the most valued currency for film consensus may be moving over to Letterboxd. Register. Review and “Like” reviews of the film or films you want to see restored. Register and make comments on The Criterion Forum.

The Criterion Forum Org

Believe it or not, this information is monitored. All of this might seem futile, but it isn’t.

Welcome To L.A. Alan Rudolph, 1976

Welcome To L.A.
Alan Rudolph, 1976

Alan Rudolph’s early work is being “re-visited.”

This is how we got Rosemary’s Baby, Moonrise Kingdom, The American Dreamer, Cat People, The Werner Herzog Collection, Safe, Black Moon, The Night Porter, Pillow Book, Audition, The Telephone Book, Seconds, Dressed To Kill, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Two-Lane Blacktop, Harold & Maud, The Rose and All That Jazz restored and re-distributed to Blu-Ray and HD.

Often Paramount and Fox are easier for boutique labels to secure deals because the licensing with these studios tends to be a bit less restrictive. A great number of their films were actually independent films that were picked up for distribution. As an example, Paramount had the rights for distribution for Rosemary’s Baby, but it was limited. The film technically belongs to Robert Evans and Roman Polanski.

KLUTE Alan J. Pakula, 1971

KLUTE
Alan J. Pakula, 1971

And of course there is the very much available for restoration and re-distribution film of legend, BOOM!, just waiting for Shout Factory or Vinegar Syndrome.

Keep the faith.

Matty Stanfield, 9.22.15

As the bass, drums and orchestra kick in and we can hear Cher start to sing:

Well I’m hell on wheels, I’m a roller mama. I can slide down places that you never knew. Try me on for size at the roll-a-rama.
If you tie my laces then I’ll follow you. Follow you! Follow you!!!
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want, I’m gonna go after it
See something I like, gonna go for it
See something I want… Let’s roll! Hell on wheels!! Let’s roll! Come on roll with me!
I roll at a quarter till three yeah
Let’s rock! Hell on wheels!  Let’s roll!
Come on rock with me! I’ll make you feel so free! Yeah! Look out!!! “(voice echo effect)

Thus begins the infamous 1979 Roller Disco Movie which promises us “love on wheels!”

Cher croons a warning: "Look Out!"  Linda Blair & Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Cher croons a warning: “Look Out!”
Linda Blair & Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The 1970’s were a strange time. Gone were the revolutionary / political activism of the 1960’s. As our nation crossed over the years of 1969 to 1971, the idea of peace and love were starting to fade. By the time American Culture slipped in the haze of the 1970’s, people were more concerned with giving The World a Coke than offering peace and love. Chairs began to fully form into vinyl sacks filled with “bean-like” substances. Colors that should never have gone together were thought to match. Suspenders were no longer a utility, they were a multi-colored/glittered fashion statement. Men in Southern California and NYC began “perming” their hair. Blow-dyers were not something limited to the hairdresser, by 1974 this item was anticipated to be in every woman’s home. By 1978 every human being was expected to own a blow-dryer. Wings were no longer just for angels — they were for your hair. Your very dry/brittle hair. Drug use for mind-expansion quickly became a tool for fun and escape. Sexuality was no longer an aspect of “free love.” Sexuality was almost required of anyone over 16 as a political state of independence.

"Feels sooooo good. Sooooo good." Donna Summer Giorgio Moroder I Feel Love, 1977

“Feels sooooo good. Sooooo good.”
Donna Summer
Giorgio Moroder
I Feel Love, 1977

The concept of The Sexual Revolution took a sharp left turn toward The Hedonistic. Love and sex became two very different things. The people who came of age in the mid-1970’s had rocks to love. This would be the era when gay men finally took a stand. Many of these men were especially trapped within the confusion of 70’s sexuality. Sex was not just for enjoyment is was an assertion of a human right — And, it was for all the world to see. Despite all the tackiness and odd ideas — Bataka Bats, anyone? Earth Shoes? Male half-shirts? Mini-shorts with tube socksBell-Bottom jeans? Special chain guards for bell-bottom pant wearing hipsters? The Brady Bunch? Battle of the Network Stars? Jeff & Pink Lady? The Bay City Rollers? Herpes?

Battle of the Network Stars

Battle of the Network Stars

Sadly it would take us till about 1982 to fully realize how lame it all was. Not that we aren’t “nostalgic” for some of it, but I’m not sure any of us would be interested in having an elementary school Guidance Counselor make us hit her puppet with the Bataka Bat she kept in the corner of her tiny space. And while it is fun to watch Jeff & Pink Lady or Battle of the Network Stars on YouTube for a couple of minutes, would any of us really want to spend an entire weekend binging on them?

If there were ever a sign that the 1970’s were a profoundly horrible era for all of us it was the advent of a Euro-idea that transformed into what we call “Disco.” In fact, everything started to go firmly downhill after Disco thumped its way into our hearts and collective culture. As the fun offered by the multi-colored flashing floors of the discotheque started to become a bit tired, the situation took a very fast slip into an odd sensation that would sweep not only the US but Canada as well!

At the time it must have made sense. But it would appear that with a simple blink of the eye, Roller Rinks which had been content for us all to skate along with Billy Swan crooning “I Can Help” or Grand Funk Railroad’s reworking of “The Locomotion” suddenly magically became Disco Roller-A-Ramas. I remember being a child at a friend’s innocent Roller Rink Birthday Party when “Disco Duck” and “I Feel Love” began to throb throughout the huge space. The lights dimmed and glitter balls began to twirl. Multi-colors spraying out in all directions. Suddenly, KISS was no longer rockin’ our world. No. It was that quick. Rick Dees, Donna Summer  and The Bee Gees has replaced Grand Funk, The Bay City Rollers, Peter Frampton, Heart, Fleetwood Mac and Dear Sweet God — Billy Swan!!! It only took our little heads a couple of minutes to find our rhythm regain appropriate sway. Our wheels took to this new level of pulse once they began to roll across the throbbing wooden floor.

Roller Disco Dancin' Baby!

Roller Disco Dancin’ Baby!

Soon we were rollin’ and disco’ing our way around the circular run that was our Roller Rink. We were not simply roller skating. No way, Baby. We were Disco Roll-A-Rama Skating. We were 7 and 8 years old hip disco rollers! And, for about 3 weeks it seemed cool.

Now. Before we engage in any discussion of Disco and the sad tilt down the ramp of Disco Roller Skating which would call Hollywood to take up any slack that might be left in our degenerate swag — we must discuss the American Anomaly we all call Cher.

Cher is more than ready to roll... Photograph | Harry Langdon, 1979

Cher is more than ready to roll…
Photograph | Harry Langdon, 1979

Yes, you know who she is. And you are lying if you do not own some music or a movie featuring her unique skill and talent.

Hey! You! Yeah, you! Super Cool Rock Dudes! No! Even you can’t escape the bitter truth!

Think about it. That was Cher on the cover of the now iconic Rod Stewart LP cover. And, take a deep breath, Cher rocked it down hard with Gregg Allman and his brothers. And if you’ve still not fallen prey to the truth: Cher was also gettin’ down with Gene Simons of KISS. If for some reason you refuse to admit any claim to Cher, check with the person nearest to you.

Gene Simmons and Cher ...eating a wiener.  c. 1979 Photographer | Unknown to me

Gene Simmons and Cher
…eating a wiener.
c. 1979
Photographer | Unknown to me

One of the two you have listened, watched and paid for Cher and her follies. They even gave her an Oscar!

One could debate if Cher really understood how “jacked” into the fleeting “cool” moments of our collective culture at just the right times. Back in the day, Cher’s motives do not seem as calculated as her fellow celebrities and artists. But none can deny that some sort of Divine Benevolence has always guided Cher to the epicenter of cool.

Sonny & Cher c. 1966 Photograph | Michael Ochs

Sonny & Cher
c. 1966
Photograph | Michael Ochs

When she cut her own “bangs” and put on an ugly-ill-fitting sort of vest and sang “The Beat Goes On” with her Svengali-like husband, how could she have known it was jet her to a level of fame beyond understanding? Even later in the late 1960’s and very early 70’s as the Sonny & Cher records screeched to a stop, she would follow Sonny to Las Vegas. They made a great deal of money in the “unhip” Vegas. Their style and Cher’s sarcasm turned Vegas toward a new kind of cool. Not far behind them would be the likes of Tony Orlando & Dawn, Diana Ross and Streisand. True, they would make more money — but it is doubtful that they would have made the trek to that Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin saturated world first. Does anyone really think that an early 70’s Streisand went to Vegas because Liberace asked her? No. She and the others flocked there because Cher went there first. It was around this time that Cher would follow Sonny to the land of TV. They were a hit for a quick year or two. She stumbled into Warren Beatty who she decided to sleep with because she had nothing better to do. As Sonny & Cher began to fade and tabloids reported of a tryst with Beatty and her divorce.  Cher happened to meet a

Does Cher's 1974 album cover remind you of Stevie Nick's Belladonna Album of 1981? ...Cher Factor!  Cher  Dark Lady, 1974 Fashion | Calvin Klein Photograph | Richard Avedon

Does Cher’s 1974 album cover remind you of Stevie Nick’s Belladonna Album of 1981? …Cher Factor!
Cher
Dark Lady, 1974
Fashion | Calvin Klein
Photograph | Richard Avedon

then major Power-Broker who had yet to achieve household fame, David Geffen. Sure Beatty just wanted to score and Geffen was about as Gay as Gay gets, but Cher didn’t realize either of these things. No, she simply liked Geffen and he found true fame with her at his side. She also found her way into Studio 54.  At the time, many hipsters of the day doubted Cher had what it took to party among the NYC Elites of Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger and Sylvester. But come on. We are talking about Cher. Her entry into the doors of Studio 54 was at the exact moment it became mainstream noticed. And while we cannot directly link Cher to the drug addictions of Liza Minnelli, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gary Valentine, but many suspect that The Cher Factor is at least partially to blame.

Cher liked Disco music. She deemed it fun and cool. Yet, she would not run to the recording studio to record it. No. She was too busy with Gregg Allman, his brothers, Gene Simons, KISS and toying with idea of staring in some Anti-Vietnam movie called Coming Home and even a remake of A Star Is Born. These would have been logical, sound and smart marketable choices. But Cher was busy. No, not with a TV Show or in a recording studio. She was busy figuring out Aerobics.  This was long before Barbra Streisand, Goldie Hawn and Jane Fonda even put a toe in the gym. Yes, true fact. 

And while Ms. Fonda marketed Aerobics & Fitness to the masses and made millions. It was because her two pals, Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn were discussing politics over odd bodily contortions. But Streisand and Hawn only showed up to the Aerobic Studio because Cher was bending her body in positions that remain a thing of un-photographed legend. Tragically, these career opportunities were just for fun for Cher. She didn’t make any real money from these things.

Putting up the Cher Take Me Home billboard.  LA, 1979

Putting up the Cher Take Me Home billboard.
LA, 1979

When Cher finally turned away from the sound of Rock and California-Country-Rock toward the Disco she had been playing within, she was a bit late in recording it as her sound. It would be in the mid-point of 1979 before Cher would find her way into Bob Esty’s Disco Studio. She scored a hit single with Take Me Home plus Barry Levine captured her in Bob Mackie designed “Cher Disco Armor!” on an album cover. That album didn’t sell badly, but it didn’t sell great. But her one single sold.

Cher Bob Mackie Disco Armor! Take Me Home, 1979 Photograph | Barry Levine

Cher
Bob Mackie Disco Armor!
Take Me Home, 1979
Photograph | Barry Levine

Cher was the Secret Pioneer, but she was no marketing/selling match compared to Barbra Streisand’s The Main Event single or far less compared to the infamous and iconic Power-Diva-Duel that would become the Streisand/Summers’ massive hit, No More Tears (Enough is Enough.)  We have no real way of knowing if Cher was bothered. I mean Donna Summer was sitting on an old-fashioned Radio and Barbra was soaked Wet and looking more than a little bit confused. Just as audiences had rushed to see Jane Fonda in Coming Home and Streisand in A Star Is Born, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt secured the concept of country-pop-rock and translated them into big hits. And of course, it would be Jane Fonda who would whisk past Cher as well as Streisand/Hawn to Aerobic Glory.

I must apologize. I have just taken us into the 1980’s.  OK. Let’s kick it back a couple of years. Cher has already decided she should endeavor to make a Disco record, but it would have to wait a few months.

Why?

Well, Cher was far too busy having fun. True, her second marriage wrecked in under several weeks, a new baby arrived, an eager young daughter and a frustrated Gene Simons simply refused to join her. But she left one issue and three individuals with the Nanny(s) and took off to Brooklyn.

Why would Cher skip over to Brooklyn and out Studio 54? And you must remember:  just Studio 54 was really only heating up with the Ride of The White Horse. And things between Debbie Harry and Truman Capote/Andy Warhol were forming into Art as Jessica Lange wedged her way between Mikhail Baryshnikov’s coke spoon and an increasingly frantic yet dazzling Liza were catching the public’s interest.

Why bother with Studio 54? Cher Brooklyn Disco Roll-A-Rama, c. 1976 Photographer | Unknown to me

Why bother with Studio 54?
Cher
Brooklyn Disco Roll-A-Rama, c. 1976
Photographer | Unknown to me

You see, in early 1977, one had to go to Brooklyn to Disco Roller Skate in true style. Cher rolled out a whole new type of fashion into her excursion into The World of The Roll-A-Rama Disco! Skates had to match the outfits and the outfits had to be sexy, fun and provocative! Bob Mackie was her real friend and was more than happy to assist. She owned that rink in all her see-through glitter costumed glory!

Cher Boobies by Cher Dress by Bob Mackie Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher
Boobies by Cher
Dress by Bob Mackie
Photograph | Harry Langdon

The only reason her agent and Bob Esty was able to drag Cher out of that rink was because she had heard —  in what one can safely assume was presented in the form of a plea to her — Cher finally admitted that she was Disco Roller Skating Fanatic. Bob Esty worked like a speed-freak with Michele Aller to compose a song called, Hell on Wheels. It only took the mention that they written what they considered a true Disco Roller Skating Anthem to get Cher and her family back to LA to record that song. She also ended up recording enough songs to fill two albums which were largely fueled by the Disco Sound.

Cher is Disco-Rollin' with un-named friend. The Disco Boobies and the Disco Skating that would inspire a Hollywood Marathon Sprint!  c. 1977 Photographer | Unknown to me

Cher is Disco-Rollin’ with un-named friend. The Disco Boobies and the Disco Skating that would inspire a Hollywood Marathon Sprint!
c. 1977
Photographer | Unknown to me

One problem: This was now 1979 and the Anti-Disco Movement was building momentum. Cher barely had time to squeak out one hit. This now leads us away from Cher directly to an atrocity that her Factor helped to fuel in The Land of Hollywood. However, in all fairness to Cher — she probably knew nothing of the impact of her actions and Disco Anthem.

Hollywood had no problem with grabbing onto Disco Culture, but the subculture of Disco Roller Skating would allude their radar. The executives should have been paying better attention to The Cher Factor. But to be fair, none of us did. The Cher Factor is usually so far-ahead of the Cultural Curve that it is only obvious with the gift of hindsight.

Irwin Yablans had been an instinctive film producer. He was inspired by Cher’s sheer Disco Roller Skating Boobies images and got wind that she was about to record a Disco album! Irwin Yablans, in some ways is like Cher. He didn’t really need to put on the skates. The bump, grind and jiggle of Cher’s meshed boobs was all he needed for cinematic inspiration.

The single that failed to chart until Roller Boogie which it would help to inspire.  The Cher Factor Cher Hell On Wheels, 1979 from the Prisoner album Photograph | Harry Langdon

The single that failed to chart until Roller Boogie which it would help to inspire.
The Cher Factor
Cher
Hell On Wheels, 1979
from the Prisoner album
Photograph | Harry Langdon

 

Remember, the world of film would not have John Carpenter’s Halloween had Yablans not suggested the idea of a babysitter serial killer slasher movie to the young director. So when Yablans suggested the idea of a Disco Roller Disco movie to screenwriter, Barry Schneider, he quickly wrote what became Roller Boogie. There seems to have been a brief period when the Yablans’ project was stalled. Apparently, Schneider wanted the male lead to be a struggling song-writer and the lead actress to be the solid Disco-Rollin’ Mama. For whatever reason, this idea didn’t suit Irwin.

He was also not particularly easy in appealing to “the R-Rated Adult Audience” demographic. Kids. Irwin wanted to pull in and do it for the kids. And to do that the leading man would need to be an instant winner and cool.

When they were ready to, um, roll, Linda Blair was their first and only choice for the Leading lady.

Linda Blair Hollywood, c. 1977 Photographer | Unknown to me

Linda Blair
Hollywood, c. 1977
Photographer | Unknown to me

Linda Blair had instant name recognition, she was hot but not too hot and she could be had on the “cheap.” This had nothing to do with her talent or her fame. This was because she had recently laid claim to negative  “infamy.”  Yep. Poor Linda had strayed from the world of Demons and Rick Springfield and had found her way into the world of real rock, via Lynyrd Skynyrd and cocaine. I’m not quite clear on how that band came into play, but it did. There are a number of photographs from 1975 to 1977 that feature Linda with Ronnie Van Zant. Anyway, poor Linda had gotten into some trouble. But she was no Lindsey Lohan! She got it together pretty darn quick.

I'm not sure any of us want to understand how Linda became close to this dude and his fellow-brilliant musicians. But it was probably not a very good idea... Linda Blair and Ronnie Van Zant c. 1975 Photographer | Unknown to me

I’m not sure any of us want to understand how Linda became close to this dude and his fellow-brilliant musicians. But it was probably not a very good idea…
Linda Blair and Ronnie Van Zant
c. 1975
Photographer | Unknown to me

For Irwin Yablans and his limited budget there was only one choice for his Leading Man. True he did initially agree to Linda Blair’s request that he cast her then boyfriend. But by the times the cameras were ready to roll, she had kicked him to the curb. So there was only one choice. On paper, it would make sense to cast Jim Bray in the leading male role because he was a big deal within the Roller Skating World an “artistic roller skating champion,” but in reality it was probably a poor choice. It still puzzles me why they didn’t pull Jimmy Van Patten from out of the supporting cast and into the lead. Jim Bray was able to skate, but he wasn’t particularly great-looking and was — well — kind of scrawny with no real charisma. Jimmy Van Patten is clearly dying to jump to the head of the class, he was well built, better looking and just cooler.

The other issue with Bray in the male lead is that he just seems “small” next to Linda Blair.

Let's Roll! Let's Rock! Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Let’s Roll! Let’s Rock!
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It is here that I find it essential to contradict something to which people always refer: Linda Blair was not fat. She was not the slim, in-shape beauty she is today — but, seriously, Linda Blair was not fat. She was seriously hot. Even in The Age of Disco, most straight dudes would have gone for Linda over any 3 of the Charlie’s Angels.

Why? Because she was naturally hot and nothing seems “high-maintenance” about her. She is accessibly hot. However, when Mark L. Lester has stand her next to a 95lbs guy like Jim Bray — it looks “off.” This is why there are so many shots of both by themselves or shots together are carefully framed so that Bray’s skinny physique is not interacting with Blair in obvious ways.

A tender moment... Jim Bray / Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

A tender moment…
Jim Bray / Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But then again, Jim Bray is one of the odd-fitting pieces that help to make the Cinematic-Taint we all love called Roller Boogie. Had the equally hot Jimmy Van Patten played opposite Linda Blair, Mark L. Lester and Yablans probably would not have felt it important to cut “the not quite R-rated sex” scene. This was not cut because it would have gained an R-rating — it was cut because I think we can all admit it would have been “uncomfortable” to think about Linda doing the deed with Jim Bray. Poor Jimmy Van Patten. It would be his younger brother, Vincent Van Patten, who would get his day in the sun with Linda Blair in the R-rated Hell Night. Wait. Maybe we should feel more sorry for Vincent.

Back to focus:

Production of Roller Boogie went fast. It had to. Just as they went into production — Columbia Studios was financing a bigger budgeted Roller Disco Movie staring Scott Baio, Marcia Brady, Ruth Buzzi, Playboy’s Dorothy Stratten, the screen debut of Patrick Swayze and the sought-after prize that was Flip Wilson. This movie was called Skatetown, U.S.A. As it turned out, this turned out not to be a problem.

Skatetown USA Cinematic Error Trust me, the poster is the only entertaining thing to be found in this movie.

Skatetown USA
Cinematic Error
Trust me, the poster is the only entertaining thing to be found in this movie.

Columbia and Rastar did beat Yablans to the screen by 2 months, but Skatetown, U.S.A. was DOA upon arrival to the cinemas. There was also a great deal of pressure to get the production filmed before Poor Linda had to be in front of a judge in Florida to face the music for her post-Exorcist II: The Hertic-Lynyrd Skynyrd-Cocaine Adventure of 1977. Production completed just in time for Linda to catch her plane and Jim Bray to visit Studio 54! Roller Boogie might have not arrived until December of 1979, 2 months after Skatetown, U.S.A., and more than several months after the Historic Disco Demolition Night — but Linda Blair and Jim Bray in Roller Boogie were a hit. Skatetown, U.S.A. was a major flop and only sounds good-bad fun. It is actually just very bad.

Still much disco work to be done through 1981. Disco had a slower death than many expected. Andy Gibb After Dark Magazine

Still much disco work to be done through 1981. Disco had a slower death than many expected.
Andy Gibb
After Dark Magazine

And while Disco Demolition Night did have some significant impact, Disco Culture was not quite done yet. Disco would not fully die until early 1981. Just in time for the ULTIMATE big-budget Disco Roller Skating Movie, Xanadu, to arrive. Xanadu’s soundtrack sold well, but the movie tanked.

Here is my challenge: The Notorious & Much-Beloved Roller Boogie was recently restored and re-issued to Blu-Ray by Olive Films. I was asked to review it. But you know I think I can sum up Roller Boogie fairly fast. Almost as fast as The Disco Roll-A-Rama Fad.

Linda Blair cruising with her best friend, Big Tits. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair cruising with her best friend, Big Tits.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair is a classically trained flutist who doesn’t really appear to know how to play the flute. Her mastery of the flute reminds one of another oblong thing. Linda Blair gently massages her flute while teasingly gently blowing upon it’s head. Get your mind out of the gutter! The head of the flute! Linda’s flute-ing appears to be “sync’d” in. Anyway, her mom is the Step Mom from My Three Sons. And she is stressed-out! Linda’s Daddy is really rich. He gives Linda everything she wants except her freedom to really get her roll on! She has two friends: One is female. I can never recall her friend’s name. I call her Big Tits. Her other friend is a an early version of geek+Yuppy.

"Hmmm. Should I let it slip a little further down?" giggles. "NO!" Linda Blair in her closet Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“Hmmm. Should I let it slip a little further down?” giggles. “NO!”
Linda Blair in her closet
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda contemplates the weary challenges of being rich, forced manipulation of a flute and best friend, Big Tits, who claims to be her age but is probably lying. Linda is pretty sure Big Tits is pushing 30. So it is time to change clothes and do what she needs to do!

"Outfit. Check. Skates. Check." Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“Outfit. Check. Skates. Check.”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

"OK. Hot enough!"  Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“OK. Hot enough!”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

"I'm outta here!" Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

“I’m outta here!”
Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda gets fed up and drives her sleek and way-cool car that has a telephone in it! She goes where all wealthy Beverly Hills girls go to rebel and be cool – Venice Beach!

The flute can wait! I gotta learn how to disco roller skate! Linda Blair on what I believe is an early form of a cell phone attached to her fancy car. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1976 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The flute can wait! I gotta learn how to disco roller skate!
Linda Blair on what I believe is an early form of a cell phone attached to her fancy car.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Here she happens to notice a Totally Hot Stud, Jim Bray!,  who we have already had the benefit of seeing — but as he rolls up, Linda is unable to escape his boy-ish charm. He lives in a seedy hotel! (only we the viewers seem to be aware that Jim Bray is most likely a rent boy who skates to peddle his ass, but this may not really be true) — Anyway, Linda works her permed-giggly charm on Jim. She had him at her  brief confusion determining if he is her leading man and not some gay hooker who rolled up on the set.

Whoa! Wait. Is that the leading man? Oh, yes. Well he is ONE HOT HUNK OF A MAN!!! ...in mini-shorts, tube socks, skating around Venice Beach. No worries.  Jim Bray doing his best Roller Boogie Marl L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Whoa! Wait. Is that the leading man? Oh, yes. Well he is ONE HOT HUNK OF A MAN!!! …in mini-shorts, tube socks, skating around Venice Beach. No worries.
Jim Bray doing his best
Roller Boogie
Marl L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

One thing leads to another and Jim teaches Linda how to Disco Roller Skate. He really had to — she already had all of the wardrobe and the skates. She just needed the skill. In truth, I think Linda was just using the Disco Skate Lessons as a ploy. She wants him. She clearly knows how to dance. The real “training” seems to be in this frail hustler’s ability to “lead” and “lift” anything above 30lbs.

So far so good. Now Jim, turn and hoist Linda above your head!  Jim Bray / Linda Blair Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

So far so good. Now Jim, turn and hoist Linda above your head!
Jim Bray / Linda Blair
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But he masters it. Linda’s friends and family do not accept her interest in pursing this Cher-like lifestyle. She has to go to Juilliard and sign with some classy classical music label to play the flute! Jim’s friends, who are all a way lot better-looking — especially the Van Patten boy, all like Linda and Big Tits!

Jim's pals!  Little Jimmy Van Patten in yellow. Are you sure he is not Linda's leading man? Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Jim’s pals!
Little Jimmy Van Patten in yellow. Are you sure he is not Linda’s leading man?
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

But they worry that she is going to crush his heart. Also he’s not bringing in his share of the sex bread. He is spending way too much time skating around with Linda. And she’s not paying! Jammers is Jim’s Disco Roll-A-Rama of choice. Cue Audience: “Of course it is!”  But Jammers is about to go down due to some shady deal to build senior housing. Senior Citizen’s don’t need housing on Venice Beach! Not when the kids need Jammers! Comic mayhem ensues! It all comes to a head and a happy conclusion at the Big Jammer’s Roller Boogie Competition!

And, Hoist! The Winners! Linda Blair/ Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

And, Hoist! The Winners!
Linda Blair/ Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda & Jim want to win! And all of Jim’s pals and Big Tits cheer them on. They win! And Jammers beats the evil attempt to take away their Disco Roller Fun!

In the end, Jim and Linda take a sunset walk. Yes. A walk. Not a disco roll. They love each other, but they need to take care of few personal issues first. Linda has to achieve Flute control and fame in NYC. And, Jim explains to her that he is going to take his Disco Roller Skating skill to the US Olympics!

Time to put our roller disco love on hold. Linda Blair / Jim Bray Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Time to put our roller disco love on hold.
Linda Blair / Jim Bray
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

They kiss. Linda drives away. I searched the disc for that Easter Egg feature that would at last allow me to see Linda discuss all of this with Big Tits. I could not find it! But I am fairly sure I know how Barry Schneider wrote it.

Final Scene: Airport Gate

Linda leans on Big Tits.

Linda:  I’m going to miss you sooooo much, but I’m going to miss my Jim more!

BT: Just fly him out to NYC. No major.

Linda:  Oh, no! I couldn’t do that to him. He’s on his way to disco skate for the US Olympics!

BT:   Like, Oh my God! Linda? Disco Skating is not an Olympic Sport. I mean, like, it’s barely a “thing.” As if!

Linda:  Oh, no! I need to let him know! He took the Roller Boogie prize money to get to the Olympics!”

BT:  Look. Jim is a man-hooker. Ok? He took that Roller Boogie prize money to buy some new mini-shorts.

Linda: Oh, no! Don’t be so silly! You are such a goof, Big Tits!

BT:  Look, Kiddo — you just focus on mastering the flute and the real men will be crawling to you!

Linda:  K! Byyyyeeee!

The End

Jimmy Van Patten, Coke-Fueld-Disco Skate Fan & Big Tits give a hand for Linda & Jim! Well, Van Patten is more upset that he's not skating with Linda, but he's doing his best.

Jimmy Van Patten, Coke-Fueld-Disco Skate Fan & Big Tits give a hand for Linda & Jim! Well, Van Patten is more upset that he’s not skating with Linda, but he’s doing his best.

Cue formerly failed Cher disco single.

The way I see it, if you haven’t already seen the incredibly bad-good fun that is Roller Boogie. You need to. Go on line, but the Blu-Ray or the new DVD from Olive Films. It’s cheap! You will not regret it. I think one of the main reasons Roller Boogie remains so much fun to watch and re-watch is that it is the extreme opposite of movies like Saturday Night Fever and also far better than lame movies like Skatetown, U.S.A. There is nothing “realistic” about it.

Jim laces Linda up! Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Jim laces Linda up!
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It embraces only the fun and innocent side of things. There is plenty of room to project and talk back to the screen if you feel the need. The comedy and subplots are so very bad — they become fun. By the way, a sequel was planned, it was to be titled Acapulco Roller Boogie. Tragically, this film never came to be.

And there is The Cher Factor going down. The producers were able to use Hell On Wheels for the movie’s theme song. It was included on the mildly well selling soundtrack album.

The soundtrack for Roller Boogie featuring "a song by Cher"

The soundtrack for Roller Boogie featuring “a song by Cher”

However, Hell On Wheels was not recorded for the movie. This is mistake many make. This was a track off her second Disco-oriented album called Prisoner. It had been released as a single as shown far above in this post. But Roller Boogie gave the song a “re-visit” and it became a minor success. A very early Cher music video for Hell On Wheels started to gain some air-play. Even with a broken arm, Cher skillfully Disco Skated with the aid of holding onto moving cars! The vid-clip was not made for Roller Boggie. If you look close, you can still find it on YouTube. Wait. Now that I think about it. Cher’s disco vid-clip might ever very well inspired Olivia Newton-John to use video to promote her Physical album. Well, that’s The Cher Factor.

Linda Blair requests some new laces for her skates. Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Linda Blair requests some new laces for her skates.
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

It is not clear if Cher is even aware of this movie. No one knows and no one is going to ask her. Don’t go there. Just a friendly warning.

But were it not for Roller Boogie, Cher’s Hell On Wheels would have been lost forever. …sort of like that “punk” rock album she made which was actually more like pop attempting to be New Wave.  Black Rose, anyone? It doesn’t matter. Something made her curious about this thing that used to be called Broadway. She sort of fell into a role for a Robert Altman play that became a movie. Then she “hung” out with Mike Nichols and Meryl Streep and on her way to Vegas, she took a brief stop and made a movie called Silkwood. She would have to put off her plans for Vegas for a while. She ended up making a lot of movies that made a lot of money. She had sex with Tom Cruise but rolled her eyes at the idea of Scientology and hooked-up with this cool dude who made bagels in NYC.  She won an Oscar on her way to a party Madonna was giving. She recorded some really big-selling albums in the late 80’s. She called David Letterman on his shit. Then she got bored.

The LAPD is always trying to crash the fun... Roller Boogie Mark L. Lester, 1979 Cinematography | Dean Cundey

The LAPD is always trying to crash the fun…
Roller Boogie
Mark L. Lester, 1979
Cinematography | Dean Cundey

Flights to Vegas were booked. So she went back to LA. She directed an acclaimed Pro-Choice HBO movie. This dude talked her into recording a pop album that used this odd microphone that changes the human voice. He was gay and kind of cute so she listened. The music reminded her of Disco and all that fun she had on skates. Several publicists explained this was not “disco” music. This was “club” or “dance” music — like Madonna only without the sex. For Cher, this was a good thing because, well, you know She was tired.

She was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. She dealt and kicked it’s ass. While the cause of this illness is still debated, I suspect we will eventually learn it is caused by being too fucking cool and independent. She did several — no, wait. I’m not sure. She did a lot of Farewell Concert Tours. She wrote a book. She did a lot more Farewell Tours. She supported her daughter when she realized that she was a he. Cher had always been generous with a buck, but made her philanthropy well known once she saw the shit with which her son had to deal.

Cher Believe, 1998

Cher
Believe, 1998

She turned down leads in everything from Thelma & Louise to War of The Roses to a cinematic re-make of the musical Gypsy. Streisand was to direct Gypsy. Probably can’t blame Cher for turning that one down. But it does seem strange that she turned down the other two. Interestingly, as far as I am aware she has only one professional regret: An infomercial for a pal’s hair product. Yet, even this one Cher’s regretted mistake:  Her infomercial is the thing of legend.

Cher is still tired. 

Cher is not bored.

She is “creeping” about the Internet. So you better watch your ass!  I’m not kidding. She will take you down. Don’t be giving Cher shit.

Cher c. 1981 Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher
c. 1981
Photograph | Harry Langdon

Cher stopped taking shit after they took her Disco Roller Skates away.  Never underestimate The Cher Factor. Seriously, you will regret it.

Somehow Cher is always correct. And Roller Boogie remains a very fun watch!

 

Matty Stanfield, 8.8.15

 

 

 

 

Please Note: The validity of the information I’ve translated in the following post must be viewed as conjecture. Time and emotional perspectives seem to distort, amplify and confuse “fact” into varying degrees of truth, unfairly skewed opinion, and incorrect analysis. Sadly, old grudges, resentments and jealousies can lead  “logic” to “mythologic.” The fact is that a number of people who were directly involved in a specific situation often remember it differently. What they have adapted to “truth” is sometimes little more than gossip. It is a challenge to determine how to look back in cinematic history. I’ve done my best to “filter” through the questionable to include what is most likely true. Please be aware that my “filtering abilities” are very limited in scope. It is not my intention to play into or further tighten untruth. 

“Gossip is the opiate of the oppressed.”  — Erica Jong

In the Robert Altman’s 3 Women, Shelley Duvall gleefully informs Sissy Spacek, “This is my parking space. It’s the best one!” Later Duvall explains, “That’s Dirty Girtie! Pull her bow and she’ll say hello!” …her delivery of those lines creates an odd and varied response for viewers. Some giggle, some laugh, some are not sure how to react, but many viewers feel the need to squirm.

"1 woman became 2/2 women became 3/3 women became 1" 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“1 woman became 2/2 women became 3/3 women became 1”
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

When 3 Women debuted, nearly all of the major critics swooned. But the most powerful Film Critic of the day, Pauline Kael, truly disliked the movie. Her negative viewpoint of this film is of particular interest because up until this movie, Kael had been a consistently staunch Altman ally. When 20th Century Fox released it into cinemas, audiences were either entranced, confused or indifferent. In 1977 there was no Internet. There were no cell phones. While many people took the time to read serious film criticism, access to “Art Films” was largely limited to major cities like Manhattan, Boston or Los Angele. Before any sort of “word of mouth” regarding Robert Altman’s surreal experimental film had the chance to spread, it was pulled out of circulation within 8 days. Over the following two decades 3 Women became not only a “Cult Classic” but was largely considered one of the most important American films of the 1970’s.  Yet only a very few had ever actually seen an uncut or clear presentation of the film.

Shelley Duvall improvises Millie Lammoreaux with an mid-mix of comedy and looming horror. Welcome to Robert Altman's dream turned to film. 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Shelley Duvall improvises Millie Lammoreaux with an mid-mix of comedy and looming horror. Welcome to Robert Altman’s dream turned to film.
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

Robert Altman’s study of identity, isolation, loneliness and sexuality is pure cinematic magic. Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek are pitch-perfect. The cinematic experimentation employed is fully realized. Altman had a strange dream. He then brought it to life allowing his two key actors the freedom to improvise and create their individual visions which could blend with his. Sissy Spacek is outstanding in the film, but it is Shelley Duvall who remains the film’s vital core.

"You're the most perfect person I've met." Sissy Spacek prepares to take aim. 3 Women Robert Altman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“You’re the most perfect person I’ve met.”
Sissy Spacek prepares to take aim.
3 Women
Robert Altman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

If you’ve not seen it, prepare yourself for a film completely different and oddly disturbing. Were it not for the help of Altman and the dedication of some folks at Criterion, 3 Women might have been forever lost in an abbreviated and muddy form of a memory. In 2004, just two years prior to Altman’s passing, it was finally properly restored and placed within the correct ratio. There are more than a few people who hated it when it was released for brief week in 1977 who now find it hard to believe that they didn’t like it. Most interestingly, a lot of viewer’s who parodied Shelley Duvall’s carefully articulated “Millie” discovered there was a great deal more to her artistry than realized via YouTube and scruffy VHS tapes revealed.

Shelley Duvall has been the victim of gossip and collective mythology. Duvall is not insane. Rest assured she is not wandering around the heat of Texas trying to runaway from UFO’s. People actually believe these ridiculous rumors. The truth is that Shelley Duvall just tired of the pressures of the business.  After a great deal of success creating a television series that artfully retold fairy tales, she decided to focus her attentions

"I had the most wonderful dream..." Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall Robert Atlman, 1977 Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

“I had the most wonderful dream…”
Sissy Spacek / Shelley Duvall
Robert Atlman, 1977
Cinematography | Charles Rosher Jr.

to the care and promotion of animal rights. As the 1990’s came to a close, she relocated permanently back in Texas. She likes her privacy, but she is not a recluse. She remains an endearingly eccentric but highly intelligent woman. It would have been interesting to gain her perspective regarding the production and  her experience of  3 Women and subsequent reception. It was out of respect for her wishes to go under the radar of “celebrity” that she did not take part in Criterion’s restoration or release. But Shelley Duvall will always hold a fascination of the collective consciousness. 3 Women and The Shining remain her most studied work. You would be hard pressed to think of two more oddly-effective performances in two films that hold a great deal of power in film lore.

What is it that pulled you up into that cinema screen?

What is it that pulled you up into that cinema screen?

It is challenging to even attempt to articulate how difficult it often is to secure these “lost” or “forgotten” films. My reaction to the stubborn dedication to find these films: “Man, it is really cool she loves this movie so much she is willing to devote several years trying to secure the rights to restore and distribute it.” At the same time, I do get it.

The logic is found in answers to questions like: What draws us to movies? What is about a particular movie that makes it important? Why do some important works of Film Art fail to gain notice when first released? How do important films get lost? What makes you want to watch a movie more than once? What is in this movie that resonates for you? What lost cinematic treasure would you be willing to pay $30 to own on blu-ray?

And then, come the questions from the organization that needs to fund the pursuit: What makes you think that a re-master/re-transfer of this movie will yield profit? Are we sure that the people who made this movie are willing to encage or revisit the failure of this movie? What makes you think that this person wants to remind people of this movie flop? Don’t you know that the person who needs to be involved in this re-issue is incredibly difficult? Are you not aware that this person is insane? Why do you think anyone in this century would be interested in those filmmakers? If this movie is important, why haven’t I heard of it?

"Well, here we are on the road." "Yup, that's where we are all right." Two-Lane Blacktop Monte Hellman, 1971 Cinematography |  Jack Deerson

“Well, here we are on the road.”
“Yup, that’s where we are all right.”
Two-Lane Blacktop
Monte Hellman, 1971
Cinematography |
Jack Deerson

Long out of circulation and “non-distributable” because of disputes over music rights, all it really took were several people who loved Two-Lane Blacktop to swerve around obstacles and navigate challenges with the kind of dedication the two lead characters apply to drag racing.  But this amazing film was eventually transferred to HD/Blu-ray via The Criterion Collection. Monte Hellman’s film is so effortlessly brilliant, it is hard not to wonder if he had any idea that what he was filming would result in a cinematic masterpiece.

What at first appears to be a vague character study of two dudes drag racing their way across the country slowly develops into a surprisingly insightful art film. In truth, the movie offers only 2 characters: The primer-coated / souped-up ’55 chevy and the lonely landscape of late 1960’s America. And of the two, only one of these is fully formed. The only reliable thing “The Driver” and “The Mechanic” have in life is their powerful American car and a shared need to speed.

"You can never go fast enough..." Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird and Jame Taylor Two-Lane Blacktop Monte Hellman, 1971 Cinematography | Jack Deerson

“You can never go fast enough…”
Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird and Jame Taylor
Two-Lane Blacktop
Monte Hellman, 1971
Cinematography | Jack Deerson

Monte Hellman captures a country sad, detached, lonely and half asleep. With the gift of hindsight, it seems as if Hellman’s US is falling asleep as culture slips into a stew of sexual experimentation, identify assertion, self-absorption and paranoia. As we ride alongside these two half-formed men and the free-willed woman they have picked up — we see a world of loneliness, suspicion and isolation. It is all very minimalist in approach, but unbelievable in power.

The challenges involved in securing music rights often appears impossible to resolve. But that worry seems easy when encountering other concerns that greet the initial decision to pursue acquiring the rights to remaster, adjust and transfer a film to the 21st Century HD formats. If the initial line of questioning is met and a firm decision is made to fund the pursuit — a whole slew of new obstacles come up that will lead to a dead end.

While a major studio may have owned distribution rights in the film’s era, it usually has no has valid ownership today.  But the majors have the power and the influence. Even though former and infamous studio leadership is long gone, there can be resentments and very real grudges that are still seething just beneath the surface. Sometimes, power never forgets. But most often the biggest challenges arrive in securing the trust of some or one talented key artist(s) who have not only secured the rights to some of their own films — they often have one of the very few near-pristine mint copies safely sealed away.

"The earth is my body; my head is in the stars." Harold and Maude Hal Ashby, 1971.  It would not be until 2012 that Criterion was able to get this film re-issued in the quality it deserved.

“The earth is my body; my head is in the stars.”
Harold and Maude
Hal Ashby, 1971.
It would not be until 2012 that Criterion was able to get this film re-issued in the quality it deserved.

A more challenging situation is when the key artist(s) are no longer living and control has been handed over to an individual, an estate or some other entity. A wide spectrum of potential problems arise. The family of the deceased artist(s) have unrealistic expectations of monetary value. Or for one reason or another is unwilling to discuss the topic. This situation is almost hopeless unless another “key” player in either the film’s history or is somehow “connected” to the individuals not interested is willing to step-in and put in a good word.

When looking back at the restoration and re-distribution of many films, the use of then popular songs playing in the background of a scene is particularly difficult. To provide a fictional example: If Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach plays for over 20 seconds, an agreement much be reached with the artist or company who owns the rights to the original recording. While it might seem a minor detail that a filmmaker chose to play 65 seconds of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach in a movie. For the filmmaker and to the fans of the film, those 65 seconds of Madonna’s pop song are vital. Unless the artist or the publishing company is willing to cut a break this can grind the whole process to a stop. In truth, the reality is usually that if one of the individual’s pursuing the film is able to connect with either the artist or someone close to that artist. The problem can often be resolved.

While some artists are truly difficult and unreasonable, most are not. And it is usually the artists who have been most often labeled “difficult” or “unreasonable” are often the easiest and logical people you will encounter. The mythology of gossip is more important to perception than reality. Chances are Madonna has no idea that a few seconds of an old song are blocking the release of a movie. And why would she? The real challenge? …finding a way to contact Madonna without causing her alarm.

Yet something within these films requires the lover(s) of film to push in pursuit of creative ways to secure the opportunity to restore/reissue the movies. Even when everyone and everything tells them “No Way!” There are always individuals who refuse to give up the pursuit. But sometimes the pursuit almost seems like an exorcise in self-torture. Some “challenges” can’t be predicted or expected.

Your hairdresser does it better... Shampoo, Hal Ashby Cinematography | László Kovács

Your hairdresser does it better…
Shampoo, Hal Ashby
Cinematography | László Kovács

A highly respected and sought-after film released over 40 years ago remains a “soft spot” for some of the artists involved. This important 1975 movie still stirs powerful feelings among several powerful senior members of The Hollywood Machine. The importance of Hal Ashby’s contribution to Film Art is not to be underestimated. He was a master of capturing his era with no concerns regarding the problematic aspects he might discover. This is one of the many reasons his films have retained power. Ashby had the ability to turn the camera on his era, the characters roaming within it and the odd logic applied to choices and actions. His films never manipulate or hold the audience hand. They simply roll out in vivid simple complexity.

And now I enter the void of “filtering” information. I hope what I have come to understand is accurate, but it is very important to note that several artists of note have wildly different perspectives of a film to which they are tied. That being said, I doubt that much of this will be news to many people who have wondered why this film has never been treated appropriately.

When Warren Beatty hired Hal Ashby to take on the role of director for Beatty and Robert Townes’ incredibly smart script in 1974, he knew what he was doing. The film that would become Shampoo was a serious examination of ambition, sexual opportunism, misogyny, politics, fear, rage, loneliness and ultimate self-loathing disguised as a sex comedy. At this point one can only theorize why Beatty/Townes decided to set the movie in the Hollywood of 1968. It would seem obvious. When it comes to modern history, 1968 is one of if not the most important years that Post-WWII United States has ever experienced. Shampoo could most certainly be viewed as a realistically scathing study of that moment in time. However, it might be more likely that the decision for setting it in 1968 was a bit more personally complicated.

Julie Christy as Jackie. Her career seems to have stalled. So her hairdresser reminds her of erotic pleasure and gives her new "do" to hopes of propelling an image change. While true to late 60's glam, does it not remind you of a certain movie star's early 60's "do"?  Shampoo Hal Ashby, 1975 Cinematography | László Kovács

Julie Christy as Jackie. Her career seems to have stalled. So her hairdresser reminds her of erotic pleasure and gives her new “do” to hopes of propelling an image change. While true to late 60’s glam, does it not remind you of a certain movie star’s early 60’s “do”?
Shampoo
Hal Ashby, 1975
Cinematography | László Kovács

The origins of Shampoo‘s plot have always been a bit sketchy. Dependent upon which “sources” you feel are more accurate, Shampoo takes an oddly superficial motivation. The filmmakers, or a few of them, have stated that the story was “loosely inspired” by two notable hairdresser of that time. Discussion regarding this matter has always been approached cautiously. It is more than likely that one particular hairdresser is being parodied. And, more than a few people of influence in the early 1970’s were referenced within the characters. While several individuals who suspect that they were hidden inside “characters” no longer care if this was true or not. Some very much do still care. As for the hairdresser who may or may not served as the inspiration for Warren Beatty’s character — it’s a problem. But it is best to not go there.

Shampoo achieved a great deal of success. Both a critical and box office hit, the movie also secured an Oscar for Lee Grant. And Grant really rocks the screen in Shampoo. Interestingly, Grant’s further career pursuits seem to have instantly become limited after she received the trophy. Like many supporting actors honored with the Oscar, she sort of fell off the map. The success of Shampoo was more than earned, but it did cause some panic within the rank and file of 1975 Hollywood. More than a few “important” people felt that they were seeing themselves portrayed unfairly. Whether they were correct in that feeling is not clear. But for a movie of such success and esteem, it seemed to take a very long time to find its way to VHS and even longer to make it to DVD. When it was released to DVD, it was given the barest of transfer improvements. Actually, the only improvement was to present it in “letter box format” It didn’t look much better on DVD than it had in an already lazy transfer to VHS. Columbia Pictures/Sony no longer own the distribution rights. However, Sony still retains a vested interest in Shampoo that is difficult to clearly define. It has never been restored and transferred to HD/blu-ray quality. Note: It is not for lack of trying. It is unclear if Shampoo will ever be pulled out of the complex mire that keeps it restrained. Yet the pursuit pushes onward.

Another film from the 1970’s which has slowly began to be “revisited” from a Film Theory / Cinematic History perspective is far more obscure than Shampoo. This other film was released in 1972. It was independently financed by a very powerful actor/singer who wanted the opportunity to make a film which more personally expressed the ways in which the cultural/societal ideals of rigid Feminism were causing a confusion of female identity. This artist was and remains one of the most misunderstood public figures in entertainment history.

Barbra Streisand at 27. Photograph | Steve Schapiro, 1969

Barbra Streisand at 27.
Photograph | Steve Schapiro, 1969

Barbra Streisand was not yet 30 but was already labeled “iconic” and “superstar” and she was the actor/singer.  The movie she wanted to make was Up The Sandbox. It was based on Anne Roiphe’s 1970 novel. Up The Sandbox is a particularly interesting example of the way unexpected obstacles block the ability to secure distribution rights and release in HD quality to blu-ray. Once again, it is here that it is often hard to sort out “truth” from “distorted opinions” and tacky old gossip.

In the late 1960’s many bankable film stars began to feel the major studios were consistently limiting their artistic abilities and interests. It was then super-agent, Freddie Fields, who came up with an idea for for Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman. He suggested that the 3 iconic artists join together to form a new kind of film production company which would give all 3 creative power in the films they chose to make.  As all 3 knew each other fairly well, Freddie Fields felt that each of the four actors trusted each other’s individual visions. They agreed.

Film Icons McQueen, Streisand, Newman and Poitier join together to form First Artists. Hollywood, 1969.  Photographer | Unknown to me

Film Icons McQueen, Streisand, Newman and Poitier join together to form First Artists. Hollywood, 1969.
Photographer | Unknown to me

Streisand/Poitier/Newman all had the shared goal of controlling their film carriers. In less than a year, Steve McQueen joint the 3. A bit later Dustin Hoffman joined them as the 5th. McQueen/Hoffman also shared the same opinion that the major studios “did not get” who they were or what they could do as actors, producers and directors. Each of them would take on the sole responsibility for each of his/her respective film(s) that they would co-jointly fund. They also committed to produce three films each. There appear to have been other details involved how the partners would reach a consensus to “green light” each project. But I’m uncomfortable in assessing the validity of the information related to this aspect of the artists’ agreement. But it does seems to have been more of a “safety net” that these 4 movie stars secured a co-deal which made First Artists a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interestingly, Warner Brothers seemed hesitant to serve as the distributer for films made by First Artists. National General Pictures was a new distribution company that initially distributed the first several films. Within barely 2 years, NCP was cited for Anti-Trust infringement and was shut-down. At that point WB started distributing First Artists Productions films.

But the initial spirit of United Artists became muddled fairly early in. It seems clear that McQueen liked all of his fellow partners, but he did not agree with their strongly shared political left-wing opinions. McQueen  great deal of trouble securing “buy-in” or “agreement” for to pursue the scripts he wanted because they did not reflect what the other 3 artists felt their shared films should reflect. Later on, Dustin Hoffman ran into challenges with not only McQueen but Paul Newman over several projects he wanted to pursue. It is almost impossible to know what actually happened, but one of the aspects of First Artists that continues to surface, Streisand often calm situations. While strident in her political and civil rights concerns — she didn’t seem to feel the need to make that an essential aspect of the production company. It has been noted that of the 5, Streisand had the most logical business approach: The individual artist should be granted more control, but the bottomline had to be met. In other words, she might not have been particularly interested in seeing McQueen’s The Getaway, but she understood that McQueen knew what he was doing and that his film was likely to be a hit. A clear pattern seems to emerge that Streisand had a clear understanding of the reality that First Artists had to turn profits. Freedom of control would not amount to much in the big picture if monetary success was not achieved. It seems that both Newman and Poitier understood this, but were less concerned.

One of several logos employed by First Artists in the 1970's.

One of several logos employed by First Artists in the 1970’s.

Unlike many of the film production companies that would spring up throughout the late 1980’s/1990’s, this was not a “tax write-off” or a way for actors to make more money on any film in which he/she stars. This was a legit attempt at taking control of their “individual” and “shared” artistic “visions.” First Artists managed to create minor box office hits, but only three significant money-makers:  Steve McQueen’s The Getaway was the first major hit earning an initial $37,000,000 and later approaching $50,000,000 with worldwide distribution with a budget of only $4,000,000. Both the budget and the box-office earnings were challenged, but it seems those numbers are most accurate. McQueen’s film directed by Sam Peckinpah is now a cinematic classic, but it is not clear that it did big business during its initial release.

"Punch it, Baby!" The Getaway Steve McQueen Sam Peckinpah | 1972 Lucien Ballard | Cinematography

“Punch it, Baby!”
The Getaway
Steve McQueen
Sam Peckinpah | 1972
Lucien Ballard | Cinematography

As it would turn out, Streisand was the only of the 5 artists who was able to deliver major commercial hits. Despite an epic pan by critics, her 1976 A Star Is Born earned $80,000,000 and continued to higher profits via world wide distribution. Though it is difficult to fully know what a film earned back in the 1970’s, it is thought that A Star Is Born earned well over $100,000,000 by the end of 1977. With a budget of 6,000,000 this would be the only “blockbuster” First Artist would ever produce. Her 1979 movie, The Main Event, once again escaped film critic’s disdain when it earned $43,000,000 with a budget of only $8,000,000. Once again it would earn closer to $50,000,000 via world wide release and had secured “blockbuster” status by early 1980. With only three major hits in eleven years, First Artists folded by the end of 1980.

The first two films released were from Paul Newman: Pocket Money and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Both of these films were released in 1972. Pocket Money failed to make money and was greeted negatively by the critics. The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, directed by the great John Huston, initially failed to make money, but critics quite liked it. It also earned an Oscar nomination for “Best Song” and several Golden Globe nominations. This would help it to eventually earn $7,000,000 in 1973. However, the actual budget for Judge Roy Bean remains a mystery. For reasons related to concerns over who would direct, First Artists ended up paying what was then termed “a record price” to secure the rights to John Milius’ script. It must have been a true record price because First Artists and Warner Bros. viewed it as a box office loss.

Up the Sandbox would be Barbra Streisand’s first venture into the world on the other side of the camera. It would also be the third film First Artists made and released. Up the Sandbox would actually earn some of the best reviews Streisand had yet to receive from serious film critics — most importantly, Pauline Kael. Similar to Paul Newman’s Judge Roy Bean, Streisand’s first venture started out with a modest budget. Once again, sorting truth from fact is difficult.

"If this is what being a mother is like, I turn in my ovaries!" Barbra Streisand  Up The Sandbox Irvin Kershner,1972 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

“If this is what being a mother is like, I turn in my ovaries!”
Barbra Streisand
Up The Sandbox
Irvin Kershner,1972
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Streisand wisely asked Irvin Kershner to helm as director. He was her first choice and he accepted immediately. Streisand had a deep respect for Kershner and he for her. As the two began to plan and work with Paul Zindel and his adaptation of the novel to screenplay, Streisand was pressed to increase the budget. The actual truth is not clear, but it appears that Kershner’s vision was more ambitious than Streisand’s. He felt it was important to treat her character’s reality and fantasies in the same way. In other words, he was interested in applying a higher level of Surrealism than Zindel captured in his original draft. Among Kershner’s ideas was to film several scenes of the movie in Africa. During post-production, the expensive African shoot was hardly used in the final cut. He also agreed with Streisand that Gordon Willis was the best cinematographer working. Willis’ dance card was full at this time and he wasn’t just any cinematographer. But he accepted the offer and was hired. Eventually Streisand increased her film’s budget to $5,500,0000.  Streisand fully supported her director and their cinematographers’ instincts. And it bears noting that she still agrees today. She appears to have no regrets regarding Up the Sandbox. But it would be her first cinematic flop. Sandbox earned only $3,500,000. The fact that her film flopped had a more potent impact on her “cred” than the even more substantial losses suffered by her business partners. This is most certainly fact. It can’t be disputed. Hollywood’s infamous “Boy’s Club” was less forgiving toward Streisand than her male business partners. Thus ended Streisand’s attempt with experimental cinema.

Fantasies and Mundane Reality merge   Barbra Streisand (without a wig or a net) Up The Sandbox Irvin Kershner, 1972 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Fantasies and Mundane Reality merge
Barbra Streisand (without a wig or a net)
Up The Sandbox
Irvin Kershner, 1972
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Up the Sandbox is dated, but it is an exceptionally interesting surreal experimental film. This not a typical Streisand film. Zindel and Kershner approached the line between realism and fantasy in ways that create a disarming sense of disorientation. What at first appears to be a fairly clear way of fusing reality into fantasy gradually becomes unclear. It is becomes difficult to know when what we have seen is real or fantasy. As the mid-point of the movie arrives, the viewer begins to suspect or wonder if what was “perceived” as a fantasy at the beginning of the film might have actually been “real”

Streisand and her lover head out to express political anarchy through terrorism. Up the Sandbox Irvin Kershner, 1972 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Streisand and her lover head out to express political anarchy through terrorism.
Up the Sandbox
Irvin Kershner, 1972
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

This is achieved by slightly changing the “style” when it comes to some outlandish fantasies and applying an almost passive focus to other fantasies. The character’s reality veers into several shifts of style as well. By the time the credits begin to roll, the audience is no longer sure what has been “real” and what has been “fantasy” This intended confusion actually becomes stronger when the viewer has a bit of distance from the film itself. Irvin Kershner crafts the film in a manner that compels repeated viewings.

There was a strong and often confused political stance regarding Feminism of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Many of the Feminist Goals seemed to have applied pressure on many women for whom these goals were not always the optimal choice within the context of daily everyday life. Up the Sandbox‘s main character is bored and constantly trying to determine where she stands in a world filled with political and sexual revolution. She is feeling uneasy and confused by a growing level of cultural pressure and expectations regarding her own female identity. Her decision to put her “career” on the back-burner to stay at home and raise her children turns a quite valid decision at odds with the culture she navigates. With the gift of hindsight, the main character’s conflict with The 1970’s Feminist Movement blended with the cinematic experimental style makes Up the Sandbox seem like a very odd career choice for Barbra Streisand both as a producer and a highly politicized public person. It also adds a distinctive underlined power to the movie.

Film critics met the movie with mixed responses. Some loved it. Some were confused. But only a handful of critics disliked it. Perhaps most significant of this era, Pauline Kael gave Streisand praise for taking on and succeeding at playing a character so far from public perceptions of Streisand. First Artist Productions and National General Pictures were equally conflicted about how to market the movie. The decision was to promote the movie as a “comedy” utilizing a Richard Amsel illustration of a pregnant Streisand tied to a baby bottle on the cover of Time Magazine declaring Streisand to be “The dust mop of the year!” It was an odd and misleading choice. By the time it reached cinemas Streisand fans were expecting an R-rated version of What’s Up Doc? — instead they found themselves watching an experimental film featuring a version of Streisand they had not seen. There were few wise-cracks. There was no glam. Streisand had not worn a wig for What’s Up Doc? but Peter Bogdanovich ensured that her hair was well appointed for each scene — as well as make-up. Up the Sandbox presents Streisand without a wig and the benefit of constant grooming and Gordon Willis applied a natural lighting when he shot her. This was Streisand “acting” and she is believable as an upper-middle class housewife of a middling academic with two children. There were very few typical funny scenes. The humor most often takes the tone of Absurdism. The marketing error is that this was film for Art House Cinemas and it should have been marketed to express that. However, even Pauline Kael’s positive assessment wasn’t enough to make Film Art supporters believe they should bother seeing the movie.

The film also fueled anger from the left. Vito Russo, a crucial Gay Rights Advocate, was very quick to criticize a liberal with strong ties to the gay community for allowing her character to say a line during what turns out to be a potential lesbian experience. Streisand’s repressed character’s response is still disturbing. Feminist were angered by this scene and were also frustrated that an ally of The Feminist Movement would even hint at playing a character who is conflicted by anything related to Feminist philosophy. But the mainstream had already ignored the movie before any of these controversies were discussed.

Are we sure she is actually seeing that? Barbra Streisand Up the Sandbox Irvin Kershner, 1972 Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Are we sure she is actually seeing that?
Barbra Streisand
Up the Sandbox
Irvin Kershner, 1972
Cinematography | Gordon Willis

Streisand over-saw the remaster of Up The Sandbox to DVD and Warner Bros released it as a part of DVD box set in 2004. It features a commentary from Streisand as well as Irvin Kershner. Streisand’s commentary is not particularly insightful. The main “take away” is that this film was very important to her, she remains proud of the movie but seems genuinely “bruised” by its failure. As she provides her commentary it almost seems like we are hearing a tired mathematician trying to determine the answer to a difficult equation. Irvin Kershner’s commentary is more relevant. He touches on the fact that at the time they were filming, friends warned him to not to share some concerns he began to have in mid-production. He took that advice. Long after the film was completed and released, he shared this with Streisand. Both commentaries make it clear that the two were and had remained friends. Kershner discovered that Streisand was hurt that he hadn’t trusted her enough as the producer to bring his concerns to her attention. The experience of this film’s commercial failure would forever change the way Streisand approached projects. It also resulted in over 2 years of unemployment for Kershner.  As he once stated, “It’s not so easy to be the only filmmaker to direct a Barbra Streisand movie that flops.”

The other 3 DVDs initially only sold as a set with Up the Sandbox were soon offered for purchase individually. Up the Sandbox was the lone non-seller of the set.

Over the past decade this movie has started to gain the attention of number of Film Theory and Film Historians. It seems potentially posed for critical re-evaluation and an ideal time to properly restore the film. It would seem the current challenges are more tied up in confusion about distribution rights and a general mistrust that anyone would buy the blu-ray or HD stream. So the current situation is making the case for  Up The Sandbox as a valid and important film. It is a great snapshot of a woman caught in the unique Cultural Web that was spun out of the 1960’s.  I recently received an email from one of the people most vested in getting this film restored. She wrote: “The film actually feels more French than American. And yet it is filled with idiosyncratic use of ‘nameless’ iconic pop culture figures…”  She is referring to Up the Sandbox‘s odd assortment of easily recognized but somehow forgotten actors. Most of the minor supporting roles are played by soon to become key players in some very iconic television. Much of TV’s The Jeffersons, Electric Company, Laverne & Shirley, One Day At A Time and other soon-to-be-famous 1970’s TV show actors are present. Most notably, this was Stockard Channing’s film debut. It does sort of add an additional aura of disorientation.

The other “selling points” are that the film speaks to the skill of Irvin Kershner, a great filmmaker who never gained the respect he deserved. He was very much apart of the whole new American filmmaking era that gave us such artists as Altman, Ashby and Arthur Penn. History has largely relegated Kershner to being the director who got into arguments with George Lucas as he directed sequel to Star Wars. Apparently Kershner’s idea of adding “a bit more depth” was a daunting challenge for the director of Return of the Jedi. He was an odd pick for that movie and it seems strange that this is the film for which he is remembered. Additionally, Gordon Willis added his brilliance as cinematographer. Up the Sandbox appears to be a lost, forgotten and under-appreciated cinematic curiosity. But it has several key players in the world of film restoration trying to find ways to secure distribution and they are determined.

The whole world of The Film Art Restoration/Release and that of the Boutique DVD/Blu-ray fascinates me. It has also holds a seductive power. I’m intensely curious why certain movies mean so much to people. This is one of the many magic aspects Film Art. It is subjective, but is seems to stir an incredible level of passion. I find it inspirational to see that initial individual  who starts the initial journey to restore a film and manages to succeed. And usually even if I’m not particularly interested in the movie, their commitment to these films resonates for me.

Matty Stanfield