RETRO REVIEW: TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL Traces a Star’s Journey from Teen Idol to Cult Icon

Posted on: Nov 18th, 2015 By:

tabhunterconfidential-posterTAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL (2015); Dir. Jeffrey Schwarz; Starring ; Tab Hunter, Debbie Reynolds, John Waters; Opens Friday, Nov. 20Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Trailer here.

By Claudia Dafrico
Contributing Writer

TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL opens Friday Nov. 20 at the Landmark Midtown Arts Cinema. This enlightening and wonderfully fun documentary  chronicles the long career of actor Tab Hunter and the struggles he dealt with as a gay man in a time marked by intolerance.

In this day and age, people love to insist that celebrity culture has reached ludicrous levels of influence on our daily lives. They say that Kardashians rule the world around us, and this bastion of scandal- mongering and celebrity worship would never have been seen in “the good old days” before Twitter and TMZ. But as TAB HUNTER: CONFIDENTIAL shows us, that presumption could not be further from the truth. This compelling and charming documentary follows film, television, and recording star Tab Hunter from his highs as a teen heartthrob to the lows of family tragedy and a career crisis, all while being closeted for the majority of his working years. Now in his 80s, Tab gets to look back on his tumultuous experience in Hollywood and remind audiences that the cult of Hollywood was just as prevalent in the past as it is today.

tabhunterconfidential_002_Tab_ShowerBased on his memoir of the same name, the film showcases Hunter’s life from his childhood as the son of a German immigrant and an abusive, absent father, to his early (illegal) entry into the Coast Guard at age 15. After being discharged, Tab spent his time horseback riding, which led to him meeting Hollywood agent Henry Wilson and kickstarting his career in film. He served to be little more than eye candy in his first few roles in movies like ISLAND OF DESIRE (1952), which was lambasted by critics (Hunter himself acknowledges his lackluster performance in the film). He nonetheless continued to work, and eventually found success with BATTLE CRY (1955), a war drama based on a bestselling novel. As he went under contract with MGM, Tab quickly became a household name, and teenage girls became infatuated with him. MGM fueled this obsession by pairing him off with Natalie Wood, another MGM star. The two went along with the charade for their sake of their careers, but as Hunter playfully notes in the film, the “couple” had each other’s backs when it came to secrets: Wood was secretly dating bad boy Dennis Hopper while Hunter pursued his first long-term relationship with PSYCHO (1960) star Anthony Perkins.

Tab Hunter and Allan Glaser.

Tab Hunter and Allan Glaser.

The segment in the film that touches upon Hunter and Perkins’ relationship is both touching and heartbreaking. It’s clear from the way that Hunter reminisces that the two really did share a special connection, but the combined strain of homophobia and competing careers sadly prohibited any possibility of a successful romance. After he was nearly outed by a gossip rag in the height of his stardom, Hunter was put under immense pressure to keep his sexuality under wraps and continued to star in typecast roles for MGM. When these conditions proved to be too stressful for Hunter, he made the costly decision to break his contract with MGM, and his subsequent failure to establish himself in non studio productions led to his departure from mainstream Hollywood. He spent a number of years performing in dinner theatre shows and pursuing his love of horseback riding. He appeared in John Waters’ Odorama classic POLYESTER (1981) opposite the fabulous Divine (who he would later reunite with in LUST IN THE DUST [1985]), a move that brought about a resurgence in his popularity. Hunter met his long-term partner Allan Glaser (who produced CONFIDENTIAL) during the production of LUST IN THE DUST, and the two continue to share their lives together in California to this day.

tabhunterconfidential_006_Tab_SwimsuitThe beauty of Tab Hunter: Confidential lies within its refreshing optimism and the endearing nature of its subject. Even when discussing the struggles of his career, Hunter is joking and cheerful, and the portions of the documentary that touch upon his mother’s struggles with mental illness are laced with love and compassion. Hunter, unlike many of his peers who were in a similar situation of dealing with a homophobic Hollywood, ended up with a happy ending. It’s a real treat to be able to watch him express his love for life and remembrance of the past. And if you still believe that Hollywood is at its most scandalous today, be sure to check out this film to see how little has really changed since Tab Hunter’s heyday.

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Retro Review: In ERASERHEAD, Everything Is Fine: A Lynch Classic Lurks into Landmark Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 26th, 2015 By:

MPW-30819ERASERHEAD (1977); Dir. David Lynch; Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts and Laurel Near; Tuesday, March 3 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema continues its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with ERASERHEAD, the debut feature from one of this country’s most iconoclastic and distinctive filmmakers, David Lynch. Though made with an almost non-existent budget and shot over the course of five years, it quickly became one of the defining films of the “Midnight Movie” circuit and established Lynch as a singular artist with a visual strength and innovative storytelling style that must be reckoned with.

First, a summary: The Man in the Planet pushes a lever and things go into motion. Grey, desolate cityscapes. Harsh concrète pulses of industrial noise interspersed with the jaunty organ music of Fats Waller. Flickering lights in the hallway. Henry Spencer, a man with a questionable hairstyle. A family dinner with a bleeding, miniature roast chicken. “They’re new!” A revelation. “They’re still not sure it is a baby!” Something that looks like a goat fetus swaddled in bandages. The Lady in the Radiator. “In Heaven, everything is fine.” Crying. Oh, the crying. The Beautiful Girl Across the Hall. Visions. We have a title. Scissors. Confrontation. Explosions. An embrace. And despite the Man in the Planet’s attempts, those levers will not go back. No way to slow down.

There is no effective way to critically assess a movie like ERASERHEAD. It just exists, monolithic. Even discussing the making of the movie is a faulty way to approach the film. It’s too mundane. Too workaday. Is it interesting that Lynch filmed it while on an AFI scholarship and used their campus as filming locations? That it took over five years to complete and that he shot it around his schedule as a newspaper delivery boy? That star Jack Nance’s then-wife, assistant director Catherine “The Log Lady” Coulson helped fund it by donating her entire salary as a waitress? That nobody will speak of the nature or construction of the baby prop? Perhaps. But none of that is nearly as interesting as the movie itself.

eraserhead2You can try to analyze it and its symbols, but as David Lynch has always been such a closed book when it comes to discussing his own work, that approach depends entirely on what you bring to the table. Is it a horror movie about the terror a parent faces when an unwanted child is brought into the world? Sure! Why not? It’s an easy read of the text. It’s pretty much exactly what you’d say if you were to attempt to summarize the plot in a linear fashion. But try to tie that to a theory that this reflected Lynch’s mindset at the time, and that’s all on you. Lynch isn’t talking, and he’s never going to tell you that you’re right. For all you know, he thought the movie was high comedy. From on-set reports, that’s precisely what he thought about the Dennis Hopper/Isabella Rossellini scenes in BLUE VELVET, and those are freaking harrowing. No, the only way to approach the film on any interpretive level is to take the postmodern stance that the “meaning” of any work of art is dependent entirely on the viewer. And for what it’s worth, Lynch is completely on board with that. You come to it with the baggage you bring, and you walk away from it eyeing your baggage suspiciously.

Universally speaking, and without getting into personal interpretation, the only thing I can do is insist that you undertake this experience without hesitation, and try to relate to you the film’s ugly beauty. The production design is incredible, and Lynch establishes early on that he is expert at bringing on board cinematographers who can translate his inner visions to celluloid. ERASERHEAD is photographed beautifully. What it captures is often bleak, horrifying and miserable, but depicted with incredible detail and economy. Though the film presents incredibly unpleasant themes and sets its sights on incredibly unpleasant visuals, it does so with such a striking aesthetic impact that you cannot help but appreciate the care, passion and technical precision and accomplishment behind every frame. Lynch, trained as a painter, knows how to work effectively within a frame and does so with a remarkable style and uniform visual sense.

eraserhead-645-75What’s more striking, though, is how this single work has come to define David Lynch as a filmmaker. Even more than his many early short films, this is the lynchpin (and may the Man in the Planet strike me dead for making that pun) for all of his subsequent works. The unnerving sense of “is this supposed to be funny?” bubbling up from the depths of the darkest sequences. Trademark visual motifs (figures emerging from shadows, the unreliability of electric light sources), storytelling elements (the blurring of dream and reality, odd chanteuses appearing at crucial moments to perform for us), visual composition (alternating black-and-white set design, long establishing shots, seemingly random inserts) and sound design (ever-present ambient noise, strangely anachronistic musical score) all find their wellspring here. Even in casting, Lynch’s oeuvre is tied together by this film, in which he first cast his most frequently-used actor, the late Jack Nance as Henry Spencer. Nance’s distinctive presence and oddball style made him a perfect choice for many subsequent cult films, and Lynch continued to use him in nearly all of his subsequent features (save for THE ELEPHANT MAN) until Jack Nance’s death in 1996.

Frank Zappa coined the notions of “conceptual continuity” and the “Project/Object,” in which he posited that all of his work—every album, song, interview, etc.—was all part of the same Big Work of Art that he was eternally designing as he went along. In a way, this is true of Lynch’s work as well. You could spend days going back and forth about the concepts of identity in his films and how MULHOLLAND DR. is the feminine flip side to the male-dominated diabolism of LOST HIGHWAY, and how all of that relates to the shifting and blurring definition of “self” in INLAND EMPIRE. You could follow the threads of adultery and its repercussions that pop up with regularity throughout his work. You could focus on the almost religious reverence he consistently devotes to the physically aberrant. And you could easily use any of those examinations to tie all of his work together as one big Project/Object. But you’d be hard pressed to do so without coming to the conclusion that it all comes together perfectly in one spot and flows out from that source: ERASERHEAD.

Or maybe not. It’s kinda up to you.

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

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 20: Don’t Let Us Be Too Bad – Why We’ll Always Be WILD AT HEART For David Lynch

Posted on: Jul 7th, 2012 By:

WILD AT HEART (1990); Dir: David Lynch; Based on the novel by Barry Gifford; Starring Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton, Isabella Rossellini; Sat. July 7, 9:30 p.m.; Co-presented by and featuring a live performance by Women’s Work, come dressed as your favorite Lynch character, coffee and pie in the lobby; Plaza Theatretrailer here.

“I’d go the far end of the world for you, baby!”

“A man can’t ask for more than that.”

“You rope me, Sailor, you really do.”

These immortal lines are exchanged between Lula Fortune (Laura Dern)and Sailor  Ripley (Nicholas Cage), but in 1990, I’d have to admit I would have gone to the ends of the world to see any piece of celluloid created by David Lynch.

If you were a certain type of young person drawn to the deepest darkness but still enchanted by the lure that true romance can exist even if it kills you, you worshipped at the insane, amazing altar of Lynch back then. You saw a college or midnight revival of ERASERHEAD, and your head throbbed with pain while watching it, yet your eyes were glued to the screen. ELEPHANT MAN was even more excruciating because of the toll it took on your emotions, but you knew brilliance onscreen when you saw it. You really, really wanted to embrace DUNE and liked some of the visuals, but …well, but then came BLUE VELVET, and every time you heard that song ever after, it had a different meaning and while you didn’t want to admit it to anyone but your diary, Dennis Hopper made you all hot and bothered ever after. So, of course, you tuned into TWIN PEAKS like an addict desperate for a Lynch fix and told your lover “don’t let me too bad,” hoping just the opposite as you twisted a cherry stem into a knot behind your ruby lips.

Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage) in his iconic snakeskin jacket is WILD AT HEART for Lula Fortune (Laura Dern). Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Into that era of Lynch euphoria arrived WILD AT HEART, perhaps the best example of how behind the violence, Lynch is sweetly sentimental about love. Based on the Barry Gifford novel of the same name (though Lynch changed the ending), the movie didn’t test well with audiences and was not completely critically well-received, but yet walked away with the Palme d’Or at Cannes. In other words, a typical Lynch movie. You either love Lynch or you don’t.

Without giving too much away for anyone who has not seen it before, the plot hinges on a simple love story–boy meets girl, they fall in love, girl’s mother (Diane Ladd) forbids them to marry and hires a hitman to take out boy, boy goes to prison and serves his time, girl picks him up and they hit the road, mom hires another hitman (J.E. Freeman) and craziness, violence – and yes, beauty ensue topped off by a cameo by Glinda the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee, aka Laura Palmer)! Yup, this road movie may be set in contemporary America and include all the requisite stops at seedy motels, but it’s also a fairy tale with heavy references to the Road to Oz.

Diane Ladd as Marietta Fortune in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Like Woody Allen, Robert Altman or Quentin Tarantino, Lynch has been a genius in assembling an intriguing ensemble cast, and WILD AT HEART is no exception. It may be hard to remember now but Nicholas Cage was once a fine actor and just weird enough to make him a perfect Lynch leading man. In those days when he put on a snakeskin jacket and impersonated Elvis, he was sexy, not creepy. Pretty but still real-looking Laura Dern brings just the right mix of passion, forthrightness and stroppu Southern accent to pull off Lula without turning her into a cliche. Casting Laura’s mother, Diane Ladd, as her domineering, disapproving and crazy-as-a-Lynch-movie Marietta Fortune, though, was pure brilliance. At the time, Ladd was at that middle age where she wasn’t getting many great roles, and this one proved a comeback that earned her both Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The supporting cast also includes Harry Dean Stanton as a private dick and Marietta’s boyfriend, a scary-toothed Willem Dafoe as a psychotic gangster hired to kill Sailor, Crispin Glover as Lula’s cockroach-eating cousin (isn’t insect-dining a David Lynch movie prerequisite?!), Lynch favorite Jack Nance as a loony rocket scientist, a gone-blonde Isabella Rossellini (then still Lynch’s lover) as a gangster moll, and a cameo by Sherilynn Fenn (Twin Peak’s Audrey and then every Lynch-boy’s fantasy and every Lynch- girl’s role model) as a car crash victim.

Sheryl Lee (TWIN PEAKS' Laura Palmer) as Glinda the Good Witch in WILD AT HEART. Polygram/Propagada Pictures, 1990.

Sigh, because I’ll only be there “In Dreams.” Nope, I won’t be able to take that wild ride with Sailor and Lula tonight because I alas already am committed to other plans. So all I’m going to say is I hope you’ll go in my stead and fill up the Plaza as it should be for a special screening like this (come early and see STAND BY ME for a double feature if you can! If you missed Plaza Day 19, catch up here). If you haven’t seen WILD AT HEART, you should and encourage all your friends. If you haven’t seen it in a while or even more if you’ve never seen it on the big screen, this is a rare opportunity and another reason why Atlanta needs The Plaza.Remember, your ticket and any concessions purchases help keep Atlanta’s longest-running, locally owned historic independent cinema and Retro treasure alive!

 

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Retro Review: THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2: The one with Dennis Hopper…

Posted on: Jun 13th, 2011 By:

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Blogger

Splatter Cinema Presents THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986); Dir: Tobe Hooper; Starring: Dennis Hopper, Caroline Williams, Jim Siedow, Bill Moseley, Bill Johnson; Special Makeup Effects: Tom Savini; Tues. June 14; 9:30 PM; Plaza Theatre; Trailer here.

The original THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was a groundbreaking achievement of mood and drawn-out tension, the third one was mostly crap, and the reboots are soulless in the way horror movies tend to be in this post-HOSTEL era. But THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is funnier, grosser, weirder and better than most people remember.

Dennis Hopper plays a former Texas Ranger named Lefty who’s been tracking the “chainsaw killers” who attacked his brother’s kids some years before. They killed his nephew (Franklin, the whiny guy in the wheelchair) and completely effed-up his niece (Sally, the one that got away) in the original film. He enlists a radio DJ named Stretch in the hunt which climaxes (of course) in the killers’ lair.

This time around, the tone is lighter. The film seems to halfheartedly satirize the genre (as well as the 1980s), and there is plenty of humor in the script. We learn, for example, the cannibalistic clan’s surname is “Sawyer” (seriously!). Also, Leatherface, the most famous, if not the most charismatic member of the family falls in love and creams his Dickies while giving credence to a “chainsaw as phallus” reading of the series. It’s not a comedy per-se, or even a “black-comedy,” but the heavy-handed gloom of the original is missing.

There is still plenty of squirm-inducing weirdness and tons of gore (way more than the original) thanks to special effects maestro Tom Savini. In fact, a scene featuring a face-peeling, a peeled-face-wearing and some forced dancing is as grotesque as anything released by a major movie studio in the mid-’8os. Rest assured, with Hopper and the rest of the cast, the chainsaws aren’t the only thing chewing up scenery. Jim Siedow (as “Cook”) and Bill Moseley (as “Chop-Top”), in particular, bring their characters to life with over-the-top gusto. And the two guys in the Mercedes are so obnoxiously annoying that their (Spoiler!) gruesome demise early on will likely bring on a round of high-fives.

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 is best enjoyed on a big screen and the perfect movie for Splatter Cinema.

 

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