Retro Review: A Meanness in This World: Traveling Through Terrence Malick’s BADLANDS at Landmark’s Midtown Art Cinema

Posted on: Feb 20th, 2015 By:

badlandsBADLANDS (1973); Dir. Terrence Malick; Starring Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek and Warren Oates; Tuesday, Feb. 24 @ 7:00 p.m.; Landmark Midtown Art Cinema; Tickets $11; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

If you’re looking for a reason—any reason—to go see a movie, look no further. The Landmark Midtown Art Cinema kicks off its “Midtown Cinema Classics” series with one of the greatest modern American films, Terrence Malick’s debut feature BADLANDS.

Some filmmakers take decades to find their voice. Yet there are others who seem to arrive on this earth fully formed. Orson Welles stormed out of the gate in 1941 having assembled his influences into an entirely identifiable personal style with CITIZEN KANE. David Lynch emerged from the shadows in 1977 with the most David Lynch-iest film ever made, ERASERHEAD. Martin Scorsese captured everyone’s attention with the first example of what can only be called a Martin Scorsese Movie with 1973’s MEAN STREETS (while not his debut, his two previous features were the atypical BOXCAR BERTHA, a project-for-hire under the auspices of Roger Corman, and WHO’S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR?, a short film he expanded over the course of several years into a very different feature). And that same year, Terrence Malick debuted his own idiosyncratic means of storytelling with the brooding, brilliant BADLANDS.

Told from the viewpoint of Holly (Sissy Spacek), a 15-year-old girl growing up in The Middle of Nowhere, South Dakota, BADLANDS examines Holly’s infatuation with 25-year-old greaser Kit (Martin Sheen) as they slowly fall in love. While she obsesses over him romantically as they explore each other’s philosophies on life, his own psychotic and amoral side reveals itself and together they violently remove any obstacle that threatens to stand between them and the life with each other they desire. Based loosely on the real-life murderous exploits of Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, BADLANDS also stands as a poetic examination of life, love and death set against the dusty, sun-baked plains of the Midwest.

Contemplative in tone and deliberate in pace, BADLANDS set the tone for Malick’s further career as he examined such subjects as war (THE THIN RED LINE), the founding of Jamestown (THE NEW WORLD) and the meaning of life itself (THE TREE OF LIFE). Even at this early stage of his career, though, he proves himself a master of imagery and composition and creates an experience that is pure cinema. Painterly tableaux fill the screen and slowly reveal their emotional heart as Spacek’s narration combines with the haunting strains of experimental classical composers such as Erik Satie or Carl Orff. Moments of incredible beauty are carved out of nothing but light, color and shadow. Divorced from attempts to emulate the rhythms and cadences of literature or stagework, Malick’s world can only exist in those rays of light captured by a camera, painstakingly edited into a cohesive statement and then projected onto a screen.

Badlands-104But lest this sound like a movie full of art-film clichés that holds you at arm’s length with its own sense of pretentious self-importance, BADLANDS is instead Malick’s most accessible film and a perfect entry point for those unfamiliar or intimidated by the visionary director’s work. It may perhaps be his masterpiece (with DAYS OF HEAVEN running close behind). Malick’s singular approach is wed to an incredibly compelling story, so that the dynamic of the narrative propels the audience through even the film’s most low-key moments. When you combine this with the career-making performances of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, you have a film that it is nearly impossible to look away from.

Presented as part of Landmark Midtown Art Cinema’s “Midtown Cinema Classics” series, you have the rare opportunity to immerse yourself in one of the modern classics of American cinema in its natural habitat—on a theater screen. Please do not let this pass you by.

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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Kool Kat of the Week: Mike Malloy Rewinds Back to the 1980s Home Video Revolution with His Latest Documentary Feature

Posted on: Jul 15th, 2013 By:

Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Andramada Brittian.

Video may have killed the radio star, or so that ’80s song goes, but it launched a lifelong passion for cult action movies in Kool Kat of the Week Mike Malloy. Now he’s paying homage to the format that revolutionized the way people accessed and watched movies from the late 1970s to the 1990s in the documentary series PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND: THE STORY OF THE ’80S HOME VIDEO BOOM, for which he is seeking funding through a Kickstarter campaignThe timing couldn’t be more perfect with VHS tapes, like 33rpm LPs, enjoying a renaissance among collectors, both old and new.

From his slicked-back hair to his Retro bowling shirts, Mike looks like he ought to be playing the stand-up bass in a rockabilly band. Instead he’s devoted himself to “playing” tribute to a side of cinema that often doesn’t get a lot of love from mainstream critics. At age 19, he signed his first book contract to write the first published biography of Spaghetti Western star Lee Van Cleef (for McFarland & Co.) Since then, he went on to write articles for a wide spectrum of national film magazines, served as managing editor of fan favorite Cult Movies Magazine, has spoken about movie topics at universities, ghost-wrote several fim books, and served on the selection committee of the 2006 Atlanta Film Festival.

In the past few years, Mike has moved increasingly both in front of and behind the camera. He has acted in more than 25 features and shorts. He co-produced the Western THE SCARLET WORM (2011) and directed the short, LOOK OUT! IT’S GOING TO BLOW! (2006), which won the award for best comedy short at MicroCineFest in Baltimore. But he’s garnered the most acclaim, both national and international, for EUROCRIME! THE ITALIAN COP AND GANGSTER FILMS THAT RULED THE ’70s, a kickass documentary homage to that B-movie subgenre which he wrote, directed, edited and produced.

ATLRetro caught up with Mike recently to find out more about how home videos fired his fascination with film, his unique vision for PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, some really cool incentives he’s lined up for his Kickstarter campaign which collectors will love  and what’s up next for Georgia’s Renaissance man of cult action cinema.

Having written Lee Van Cleef‘s first published biography at age 19, you’ve obviously been into rare cult and B movies since an early age. What triggered your passion for the less reputable side of cinema and why does it appeal to you so much?

I’m a rare guy who’s deep into cult and genre cinema without caring much for horror or anything fantastic. For me, it’s all about a desperate Warren Oates shooting it out in Mexico. Or Lee Marvin with a submachine gun. For some reason, I’m just drawn to gritty tough-guy cinema – which is not necessarily the same thing as action cinema.

How did the home video revolution influence you personally? Having been born in 1976, you can’t really remember the pre-video days, I’d guess, but it must have afforded you access to a whole spectrum of these movies which otherwise would have been hard to track down and see.

And I even missed most of the ’80s video boom, because my parents, in 1990, were the last on the block to get a VCR. But in 1994, I made up for lost time. I had a college girlfriend who had an off-campus apartment, and while she was at work,  she didn’t like the idea of me being on campus, potentially fraternizing with other young ladies. So before each shift, she would take me by the local mom-and-pop vid store and rent me 8 hours’ worth of Bronson, Van Cleef, Carradine, etc. That kept me safely in her apartment, and it put me on the cinema path I’m on.

Videophile Magazine; Jim Lowe and Mike Malloy on the set of PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND.

In Atlanta, Videodrome seems to be the last independent rental retailer still in business and it’s even hard to find a Blockbuster left. And of course, they now just stock DVDs. Now you can order up a movie online and watch it instantly. Do you think we’ve lost something by no longer going in to browse, and was there a particular video store that became your home away from home?

One of our interviewees said something interesting: The mom-and-pop video store business model was based on customer DISsatisfaction. That is, you’d go in to rent CITIZEN KANE, it would be checked out, and you’d somehow end up leaving with SHRIEK OF THE MUTILATED (1974). Being forced to browse leads to an experimental attitude in movie watching. That’s a good thing.

VHS tapes can get damaged easily, the picture and sound quality can’t compare to a bluRay (or often even a regular DVD) and they rarely show a movie in widescreen. Why be nostalgic about them, and is it true that the VHS format, like LPs, is having a comeback?

VHS is experiencing a major comeback. There are about 20 little startup companies that have begun releasing movies to VHS again. A certain old horror VHS – of a film called DEMON QUEEN (1986) – sold recently on eBay for $750.00. VHS conventions are springing up all over the country.

I’ve always thought that the format is superior for horror films. If you watch THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE (1974) on a soft old VHS poorly transferred from a faded film print, that makes you feel as if you’re watching some underground snuff film obtained from a shady guy in a trench coat. Watch that same movie on a pristine Blu-Ray, and you don’t get that same grimy feeling.

Michael Perkins films a scene at Videodrome, Atlanta's last great independent video store.

There have been other documentaries about home video, such as ADJUST YOUR TRACKING (2013) and REWIND THIS (2013). What will PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND add to the topic that hasn’t been covered already?

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND will be a three-hour series, spanning six half-hour episodes. Those others just have a feature-length running time. So if mine isn’t the most definitive word on the subject, I’ve really screwed up. I’m sort of glad those docs exist as companion works, because it frees me up to explore some of the weirder corners of the phenomenon I find fascinating. Things like video vending machines and pizza-style home delivery of VHS tapes.

You’ve got a pretty interesting line-up of interviewees, not all of which are big names. Can you tell us about a few of them and how you went about selecting them.

Right, many of these people are very significant without being instantly recognizable. We have Mitch Lowe, the founder of Netflix (and later a CEO of Redbox). We have Jim Olenski, owner of what is considered to be the first-ever video store. We have Seth Willenson, a Vice President at RCA who oversaw their failed video disc format. That’s just several off the top of my head. They all have that level of significance. And we interviewed a bunch of cult filmmakers, because working at the cheap extreme of the video boom was where some of the craziest stories were. Further, we were glad – er, glad/sad – to have been able to document a closing video store in Toronto during its final month.

Gary Abdo and Mike Malloy. Photo credit: Jonathan Hickman.

Moviemakers, and artists of all ilk, have always seemingly been ripped off by others who pocket all the money. What distinguishes the video era in that regard, and are there any lessons filmmakers can apply to the current wild west of digital camerawork and online distribution?

I think the potential for ripping off artists is greater when an industry is in upheaval, when the rules and the financial models are unclear. And you’re right, VOD and streaming have caused the same type of upheaval that the videocassette did in its day. So I love all the anecdotes we captured of swindled ’80s filmmakers fighting back against their underhanded distributors. And I hope today’s filmmakers realize that distributors are now becoming largely unnecessary at all. For instance, I hope Vimeo OnDemand – with its 90-10 split in favor of the filmmaker – is a total game changer.

You obviously went into this project with a lot of background, but did you find out any big surprises or delightful unexpected moments during your interviews/research?

I went into the project feeling proud that I was going to cover not only VHS and Beta, but all the failed video formats – like Cartrivision, Selectavision (CED) and V-Cord II. Turns out, they were just the tip of the iceberg. I now probably have about 15 different also-ran video formats I can touch on.

Left to right: a video vending machine; Mitch Lowe, founder of Netflix.

How different would the world be today if Cartrivision had caught on instead of VHS?

Well, Cartrivision was an early attempt at rights management for movies. The Cartrivision rental tapes couldn’t be rewound at home; that could only be done at Sears, where you rented them. It limited you to one viewing per rental. So it would’ve started the concept of video rentals off on a very different attitude and philosophy. I think part of the reason the ’80s home video phenomenon was such a boom was the freedom associated with it – you could rent a movie of your choosing and watch it at a time of your choosing. You could watch it a number of times before returning. Hell, you could use your rewind button to watch a jugsy shower scene over and over.

Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How’s it going and how are you going to use the monies raised to finalize the film?

Since ADJUST YOUR TRACKING and REWIND THIS both successfully kickstarted, I knew this would be an uphill battle. My only chance was to turn what is normally a beg-a-thon into a reward-a-thon. So I created a $75 level for the collectors where they could get so much more than just a copy of the documentary. The very first expense I’ll cover, if I get successfully funded, will be an 8 terabyte hard drive. I really can’t cut another frame until I get it.

PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND tells it like it was: Mike Malloy deals videos out of his van.

You’ve got some mighty cool incentives for donors, including actual vintage VHS cassettes. Tell us a little bit about them.

Not only have many of our filmmaker interviewees donated signed VHS and DVDs of their movies (to say nothing of rare, unused artwork and such), but a lot of these new startup VHS companies have also donated rewards. I’m feeling very supported.

Unlike your Italian-centric EUROCRIME documentary, you’re trying to involve Atlanta as much as possible in PLASTIC MOVIES REWOUND, aren’t you?

Local documentarian Michael Perkins (THE BOOKER) is my second-unit director, and Atlanta-based musician/engineer Matthew Miklos is my primary composer. His ’80s synth sound is so authentic. An associate producer (Jonathan Hickman) and at least one interviewee (filmmaker Gary Abdo) are here too. Videodrome has been very cool about letting me shoot re-enactments in the store. I tried to document the closing of another Atlanta institution of the video-rental industry, but it didn’t work out.

Anything else on your plate right now or next as a writer, director, producer or actor?

Later this year, I’m acting in HOT LEAD, HARD FURY in Denver and BUBBA THE REDNECK WEREWOLF in Florida. I wish someone would cast me locally so my pay doesn’t keep getting eaten up by travel expenses!

Editor’s Note: All photos are courtesy of Mike Malloy and used with permission.

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30 Days of The Plaza, Day 10: A Picnic of Peckinpah and Wild Oates for Memorial Day as The Plaza Says BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA

Posted on: May 27th, 2012 By:

 “This is one of the original balls to the wall crazyass movies. We saw that we could screen it through Tugg.com, so we had to.”

– Alex Orr, Fake Wood Wallpaper

BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (1974); Presented by Fake Wood Wallpaper; Dir: Sam Peckinpah; Story by Peckinpah andFrank Kowalski/screenplay by Gordon Dawson; Starring Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber; Memorial Day Monday; 9:30 PM; $9; Plaza Theatre. Trailer here. Advance tickets here.

Innocents will suffer. Holy ground will be desecrated. And 25 people will die. So announces the trailer for BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Whether you’ve just seen THE WILD BUNCH or are a diehard follower of Sam Peckinpah, the seminal director who redefined ultra-violence and realism in the Western and action film genres of the 1960s and 1970s, the chance to see a 35mm print of a Peckinpah feature on the big screen is a rare treat – so you shouldn’t have to think twice about walking out of that cookout your family or friend throws every year. Sadly given the studios’ mad race to all-digital, it could be your last time, too. Not to mention a swell test to see how many bullets and blood your new squeeze can take. [Editor’s note: I once complained that THE WILD BUNCH wasn’t violent enough. Score!]

That being said, the under-rated ALFREDO GARCIA is pretty much universally dubbed as the most surreal and gruesome of his cinematic ventures. Set in contemporary Mexico rather than the Old West, the premise is pretty basic, a hit is out on a man named Alfredo Garcia, with a million dollars reward, and yeah, the title is literal – the proof of death is in the head. The man contracted to accomplish the bloody task is Bennie, a ne-er-do-well bartender and alcoholic with a penchant for not being afraid of dishing out ultra-violence if it means revenge and retribution, played perfectly by Warren Oates who had previously teamed so well with Peckinpah on THE WILD BUNCH. The Badass Hall of Fame calls Oates their “Patron Saint,” and while they wax about his swagger in THE WILD BUNCH, they dub ALFREDO GARCIA “his masterpiece.”

Warren Oates in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

We could tell you more like there’s a sexy woman Elita (Isela Vega) with the misfortune of being along for the ride and in love with Bennie to boot, much tequila is consumed, and there will be slaughter. But if we told you too much, we’d spoil that wild ride. So instead, how about some fun facts to whet your appetite for art and violence. Yeah, you heard us right. We said “fun facts” …so what ya gonna do, shoot us?

– Peckinpah considered BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, shot in Mexico with an almost total Mexican crew, a snub on his enemies in Hollywood and his antipathy for Richard Nixon and the direction the U.S. was heading in the 1970s.

– Peckinpah also considered James Coburn and Peter Falk for the role of Bennie.

– Oates based his performance of the drunken protagonist on Peckinpah himself, even stealing his director’s trademark sunglasses for the role.

– Oates didn’t like the movie and told folks not to see it. While back then, reviewers agreed, they don’t any more, and the white suit and sunglasses Oates wears in GARCIA have become his iconic look.

Kris Kristofferson plays a biker in the movie.

Emilio Fernandez as El Jefe in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA. Photo credit: United Artists, 1974.

– Mexico film director, Emilio Fernandez, who plays El Jefe, was rumored to have killed men in duels. According to screenwriter Gordon Dawson, “Emilio would take out his .38s and start blowing the art off the walls.”  (He also played Mapache in THE WILD BUNCH)

– Frank Kowalski, who shares story credit with Peckinpah, wanted to write a movie that brought together two concepts. The first was  bartenders who “lead the most colorful lives going. They live fast and get broads, and, the next thing they know, they’re 45 or 50 and it’s all over. It’s a strange life cycle, like a moth.” The second, inspired by the real life case of Caryl Chessman who raped women at gunpoint and whose death penalty conviction caused controversy, was what would a man do if forced to watch another rape his lover. Shoot the hell out of him, of course, while she watches!

Sources: The Badass Hall of Fame and BLOODY SAM, THE LIFE AND FILMS OF SAM PECKINPAH, by Marshall Fine, Primus, 1991.

 

 

 

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Retro Review: Hillbillies, Hobos, Cockfighters & Bandits, Oh My! Invade the Starlight Drive-In This Sunday

Posted on: Sep 1st, 2011 By:

By Philip Nutman
Contributing Blogger

It must be Labor Day weekend when hillbillies, hobos (getting sledgehammered; no shotguns), cockfighters and bandits in sports cars invade the Starlight Six Drive-In. Yes, it’s time once again on Sun. Sept. 4 to load up the truck with lawn chairs, coolers and portable grills to hit the low end of Moreland Avenue and get down with the World Famous Drive Invasion 2011.

In addition to an afternoon/evening of cool bands, headlined by the legendary Roky Erickson of The 13th Floor Elevators fame (see end of this article for full band list), this year’s movie line-up is a rootin’, tootin’ rough and tumble grab bag, from the silly to the Southern sublime. Where else are you going to get to see HILLYBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE, the late, great Warren Oates in the very rare COCKFIGHTER, Ernie Borgnine and Lee Marvin smashing the $*#@ out of each other, and relive the high octane fun of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT?

HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE (1967) is a ‘60s country store full of old school horror star cameos (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., Basil Rathbone), country and western (let’s hear it for Merle Haggard!), spies and general craziness. En route to Nashville, a carload of country singers with names like Woody Wetherby, Boots Malone, and Jeepers break down and end up in an old haunted mansion. But in addition to ghosts (oh, yeah?), the house is full of spooks of another kind – spies! Forget the plot, this flick’s really a musical showcase, and not a particularly good one, either, but it’s the right kind of silliness to get the movie party started.

COCKFIGHTER (1974) is a striking, unusual, little screen Roger Corman production directed by existential cult fave/cool dude director Monte Hellman. Hellman started out with THE BEAST FROM THE HAUNTED CAVE (1959), but is beloved by movie geeks like Tarantino for the weird Jack Nicholson westerns, RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1964) and THE SHOOTING (1965); but is most famous for the 1971 road movie TWO-LANE BLACKTOP. Based on an off-beat novel by Charles Willeford (best known for his Hoke Moseley detective novels), which won the Mark Twain Award way back when the novel was published, COCKFIGHTER is a bleakly fascinating character study with Oates as a man obsessed with winning a cockfighting award and who’s vowed not to speak until he does. But, hey, his best friend’s played by Harry Dean Stanton who more than makes up for Warren’s silence.

EMPEROR OF THE NORTH (1973) is one of director Robert (THE DIRTY DOZEN) Aldrich’s most interesting and brutal movies – some of the violence is hard to watch as Ernest Borgnine (coincidentally in town this weekend as a Dragon*Con guest), as Shack, a sadistic railroad conductor, uses his sledgehammer on hobos who dare to ride his train. Loosely based on a Jack London short story, the movie’s a battle of wills between Borgnine and Lee Marvin’s “A” Number One, a famous derelict and rail rider who is intent to be the only man to ride Shack’s train and live to tell the tale. Great photography, riveting performances. It’s an ATLRetro favorite!

SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977). Really, what needs to be said? Burt Reynolds, cool cars, a great cast – Sally Field at her cutest, kick-ass Jerry Reed as his partner Cledus, Paul Williams as Little Enos…and Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice! Time to put the hammer down and burn some rubber…a car chase movie that always leaves a good taste in the mouth thanks to former stunt driver-turned-director Hal Needham’s snappy, slick direction.

 

WORLD FAMOUS DRIVE INVASION, Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011; Gates at 10 a.m.; Adults $25 Presale / $28 Gate, day of; Kids 3-9 $5; Tickets here.

Includes Silver Screen and Gasoline Car Show sponsored by Garage 71!

Performers: Roky Erickson (headliner), Jack Oblivion & the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Dex Romweber Duo, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, Gargantua, Hot Rod Walt & the Psycho Devilles, The Disasternauts, Ghost Riders Car Club, Burt & the Bandits, The Marques, Dusty Booze & the Baby Haters, Spooky Partridge

If you missed our ATLRetro features on Hot Rod Walt & the Psychovilles, Ghost Riders Car Club and Burt & the Bandits, read ‘em here, here and here!

 

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