[Don’t know about you, but I can’t watch weekly TV anymore—I don’t like having to be on someone else’s schedule; I do that enough at work, y’know? Besides, I prefer to take it all in at once, treating a show’s season like a mini-series or novel— which isn’t too difficult since The Walking Dead and Sons of Anarchy are shows with a definite story arc (they’re essentially mini-series), and while it’s a more “traditional” show, and doesn’t stray too far from the sitcom rule that each episode must be a self-contained unit, Parks & Recreation does build on progression—the slate is not wiped clean every week.]
So for October, it was Thirty-three movies (if you allow the counting of a whole season of a TV show as one movie—and you better!)—the same number of years in age Our Lord was when nailed to the cross….
Not too many Halloween-centric flicks, I’m afraid to admit… But the numbers admit that I could partake in one of those 31 Days of Shocktober blogathons if I wanted to (next year. Maybe). (On the other hand, what do I care? Who do I have to prove my horror movie bona-fides to? I guess I just want to belong, to hang out with all the cool kids….)
It’s an Odd group of films for October, I must say—no real patterns of themes that jump out—except maybe stuff the NYPL’s finally gotten around to shipping to me; or “desk-clearing” the uber-volume of boots passed on to me by good buddies from the gray market. Otherwise, just a typically cinephiliacal month…
What We Watch in October When We Watch Movies in October:
Parks & Recreation: Season Three (2011; 16 episodes)
The Walking Dead: Season One (2010; 6 episodes)
Sons of Anarchy: Season Three (2010; 13 episodes)
Super Troopers (2001) Funny, funny movie that’s often all over the place—but the pre-credits sequence (“Littering, and… Littering, and… Littering, and… Littering, and…”) could be a perfect short film on its own, and Brian Cox as the befuddled, angry but basically sweet commander is a joy. My only gripe? They never used the Abba song on the soundtrack!
Jack, the Giant Killer (1962) I like this more than the flick it rips off, The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad—Jack is faster-paced, it’s crazier, it has more monsters, and while the stop-motion animation isn’t as smooth and balletic as Harryhausen’s, neither is it as pretentious—I always feel like Harryhausen is trying too hard, and misses the forest for the trees: While the effects of Seventh Voyage of Sinbad are “better” (and I do LOVE the dragon and its horizontal spout of flame), Jack’s effects are punchier, weirder—and there are more of them!
Rubber (2010) AWFUL! The post-modern, self-referential bits RUIN what could have been an interesting movie. I mean, what if an old rubber tire came to life with terrible psychic powers and went around killing everyone by making their head explode? Sure, about five rounds out of a cop-issue pump-action shotgun would turn that tire into chucks of carbon black scattered all over the asphalt, but before that? That damn tire could do a lot of damage. This flick is a completely missed opportunity, and far too “clever” for its own good.
Kings of Pastry (2009) Intense foodie documentary—earning/winning the tri-colored collar of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France is frickin’ tough! Some moments are heartbreaking (an elaborate sugar scultpture collapses and shatters moments before the judges look at it), but a good view for food-fans.
Detour (1945) Another flick I’d heard too much about before seeing, and as such couldn’t be surprised or properly entertained. But yeah, it’s way fucked up—absolutely fascinating, and a must-see for film historians or noir buffs.
Three and Out (2008) Great premise given the lamest sit-com treatment. I couldn’t even finish watching it. “Eye wuz dizguztedz!”
A Big Hand for the Little Lady (1966) Fans of gambling/con game movies need to check out this sharp western-comedy that keeps the tension high—it helps that the cast is all master thesps, but especially foxy Joanne Woodward and eternal sly fox Kevin McCarthy. This is a flick I was so glad I watched knowing extremely little about going into it.
The Magician (1958) Beautiful mind games courtesy of Grandmaster Ingmar Bergman
Exodus (1960) Directed by Otto Preminger, and watched as R&D for my Skidoo post. Exodus is… very dated, especially socio-politically, and has a… very quaint feeling about it. The movie is “Shot On Location!” and beautifully so, but it’s also kind of a… snooze: a hotel is blown up, and we’re shown a long-distance shot of a big fireball, but no scenes of destruction. No combat scenes (this IS about the creation of the nation of Israel), although there is a pretty damn neatly choreographed prison break-out scene…
If you like Stanley Kramer’s movies, you might like Exodus.
Brewster McCloud (1971) Altman’s bird-shit crazy follow-up to M*A*S*H, loosely adapted from a script by Skidoo’s screenwriter, Doran William Cannon— Megapost about this wild film and Ivanlandia Favorite in the works—promise!
The Battle of Britain (1969) About 20 minutes too long—especially since the air battles all look the same after a while—although the last one is the best: no dialog, no sound effects, just a stirring score against a brilliantly cut montage of aerial combat, with close-ups of its participants and observers intercut throughout—
The Battle of Britain is often incredibly moving (don’t get attached to anybody), and with the type of massive production scale that “epics” of the time did well on a regular basis. Director Guy Hamilton (of many James Bond flicks) does a great job for the most part guiding the viewer through a complicated tale. And if you’re like me and cannot understand what the fuck those goddamn limeys are yakkin’ about, thank God for subtitles.
Shakedown (1950) Unavailable since forever, but probably not because of some dark secret but because while there are some brilliant moments, occasional flashes of genius, much of the flickis tepid confusion. However, the bootleg I watched was of middling quality, with plenty of glitches—and the flick often has some gnarly scenes, like the lead (a news photographer) “directing” a chick as she attempts to jump out of a building, or telling a guy to wave his hands more—as his car sinks into the river—so the photo’s better. After snapping the pic, the cameraman splits—leaving the guy in the river.
I’ve known about Shakedown since the mid-1980s, when I read about it in the (once very awesome, but now perhaps dated) Catalog of Cool, a book that was, back in the day, many a kids’ bible/playbook for what was needed to be seen, read, heard, worn or left around the house as decoration. Was the Catalog of Cool the Big Bang of our current hipster infestation? Perhaps, but I was glad to have it when I did.
The Satan Bug (1965) Wow, John Sturges really drops the ball here—great Jerry Goldsmith scoreand cool animated titles, though. There’s a good reason this flick has been unavailable since forever….
Whirlpool (1949) More Preminger R&D, and a snoozer
Throne of Blood (1957) Kurosawa’s classic—but why the original Japanese title, “Spider Web Castle,” isn’t used is beyond me; it’s a much better title. I guess it wasn’t “arty” enough; it was too “exploitative,” or something…
Modern Times (1936) Dude, I don’t know why, but seeing Charlie Champlin’s simpering face makes me want to smash it in with a tire-iron. I’ve never liked his brand of silent movie comedy—it seems to be begging “Love Me!” more than making me laugh. Fuck him, the rotten baby-fucker. Give me Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle any day of the week. Paulette Goddard is a stone fox, though, and really is quite fetching as a feral child.
Ned Kelly (1970) After the mind-blowing incredible that was Mademoiselle (a flick that was SAVAGED on its release), Tony Richardson started slipping—first, with the meandering The Charge of the Light Brigade, then with Ned Kelly. While he’s a terrible actor, it’s not really Mick Jagger’s fault the flick’s a snoozer—the script is… dreadful.
My Dinner With Andre (1981) It could be really easy to slam this flick as pretentious, wool-gathering, navel-gazing twaddle—but then the flick acknowledges that its participants are of the moneyed class, and that pretentious, wool-gathering, navel-gazing is kind of what they’re doing—and by subverting that, the film then treats us to some incredible philosophical conversations. I’m surprised it took me so long to see it, though….
Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions (1991; short) Before Henry Selickwas given the go-ahead to direct The Nightmare Before Christmas, he was prepping this as a pilot for MTV. I’m not sure how it would’ve worked as a weekly series, but it’s a kooky, krazy visual delight, with some creepy undertones. Worth hunting down, especially for stop-motion animation fans.
The People Vs. George Lucas (2011) There but for the grace of God go I…. But y’know what? Back in 1977, I saw a movie named Star Wars, not Star Wars Episode Whatever: A New Pooper-Scoooper. That movie, the one that was released into theaters in May 1977, I loved--and still do--and I actually prefer to not think about any of the sequels, including the one that everyone loves but that has no ending, Empire Strikes Out.
Star Wars was a fun spoof of action comics/Flash Gordon serials, and was also really the best stoner movie ever: medium level intellectual stimulation (no “what does it all mean” headaches like with 2001) with plenty of eyeball kicks.
The Black Marble (1980) A bit too “shaggy dog” and Romantic Nowheresville for my tastes, but this mature, bittersweet romance-drama-thriller is a fascinating flick where the parts (especially every scene with Harry Dean Stanton) are better than the whole. The unclassifiable nature of this flick makes it very much part of that 1970s New American Wave/Whatever movement that included Scarecrow, Night Moves and The Late Show. But man! Is Paula Prentiss hot! (And brainy! Mrow!)
Kill Baby… Kill! (1966) Dude, Fellini TOTALLY ripped off this flick when he made Toby Dammit. Mario Bava should've sued.
High School Confidential! (1958) Sex, drugs, beatniks, 1950s rock 'n' roll, hot rods, hep talk, beat poetry, people too old to be teenagers playing teenagers, dope, reefer, smack, The Big “H,” and best of all: Check out Mamie Van Doren! Va-va-VA-VOOM!
Dinosaur (2000) I got smashed and watched some well-designed Disney computer-cartoon dinosaurs. And liked it. So sue me.
Jabberwocky (1977) Terry Gilliam’s first solo directorial effort—and it shows: he hasn’t figured out how to balance comedy and misery properly yet, and Michael Palin’s character is a bit too much of a saccharine dim-bulb—I prefer it when Palin plays someone sharper or more menacing (see “Ken Shabby,” or one of the Italian gangsters he’d regularly perform on Monty Python or “Jack Lint” from Brazil).
Promised Land (1975) GOREHOUND ALERT! About an hour into Andrzej Wajda’s quasi-epic about the construction of a factory in late-1800s Poland and the corrupting influence of capitalism, there’s a scene where a factory engineer and the company owner get into a fight because the boss has been shtupping the engineer’s teenage daughter for kicks. The two men argue violently, struggling near some big machines (with those BIG iron wheels spinning round and round, so hypnotically…), then they topple, falling into the gears—the two disappear inside the enormous metal contraption, and then… SPLOOSH! Fuckin’ blood and body parts and gory chunks everywhere. It looks like a sheet of stripped flesh is being splashed against the wall! Arrrrrrrrgh… As the scene ends, the gnarled head of the boss (I think it’s him) pops out of the wheel housing, wobbling about.
The whole scene is so damn fucked up, it’s brilliant. I love heavy-handed metaphors when they are drenched in blood.
Willam Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet (2009) Uhhhhh… This is only for Shatner completists, only—really. No, really. Unless you show up at BBQs wearing a Mr. Spock shirt.
Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (2011) Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop Whining, you mean—turned off in disgust after 20 minutes. What a creep.
Skidoo (1968) Produced and Directed by Otto Preminger Written by Doran William Cannon (with, uncredited, Otto Preminger, Elliott Baker, Stanley Ralph Ross, and others, including Mel Brooks and Rob Reiner) Original Music and Songs (Harry) Nilsson Cinematography Leon Shamroy Film Editing: George R. Rohrs Art Direction: Robert Emmet Smith Costumes: Rudi Gernreich (who also created the costumes for the first season of Space: 1999)
Starring: Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Alexandra Hay, John Phillip Law, Frankie Avalon, Cesar Romero, Groucho Marx, Austin Pendleton, Mickey Rooney, Arnold Stang, Michael Constantine, Frank Gorshin, Richard Kiel, Peter Lawford, Burgess Meredith, Fred Clark, George Raft, Doro Merande, Slim Pickens, Thomas Law, Roman Gabriel, Harry Nilsson, Donyale Luna.
Originally released in 1968 by Paramount Pictures, in July 2011 the film was finally made available in DVD and Blu-Ray formats by Olive Films
Released in 1968 to almost-universally scathing reviews, the film Skidoo was never released to VHS, and shown rarely in cinemas— a screening at NYC’s Film Forum in the late-1990s used a work print of the movie because copies are so rare (although the MOMA had a beautiful print just a few years earlier)— and TCM’s miserable pan & scan presentation (at 2am on a Sunday into Monday!) a few years ago was pathetic, a new low for an ill-treated film—TCM of all people should know that Preminger’s films, with their exquisite use of the widescreen Panavision frame demand letterboxing!
Yes, the widely and unfairly reviled Skidoo is one of my favorite films, right up there with 2001: A Space Odyssey (released the same year as Skidoo—something was in the air!)—another flick that still has too many detractors!
Kubrick has been a favorite filmmaker of mine since I was a kid seeing 2001 for the first time in a 1975 re-release. And although I’ve loved Skidoosince first seeing it in the mid-1990s, lately, in search of cinematic kicks, I’ve been checking out more and more of Otto Preminger’s flicks—
And I must say that I have been very pleasantly entertained by several of them (sometimes for the wrong reasons, I’ll admit, like Michael Caine’s wonderfully ill-advised Southern accent in Hurry Sundown (1967)—as well as the brain-smashing awesomeness of seeing sexy Jane Fonda fellate a saxophone!), disappointed by others (while recognizing their status as classics or sentimental/audience favorites, like the used-to-be-always-shown-on-WOR-Channel-Nine-during-the-Jewish-holidays Exodus (1960)), and others are just plain dopey, like 1949’s Whirlpool, where The Preming reunited with Laura star Gene Tierney— and worse than the ridiculous script, he makes her unsexy! Sheesh! If you’re a fan of Brooklyn’s own Gene Tierney, or think she’s hot—check out 1945’s Leave Her to Heaven: in it, she’s a fucking incredible Nietzchean goddess too willful to live in “our” world of busybodies and feebs. She even drowns a crippled boy to get closer to the man she loves: niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice!
Don’t forget: As dated and lumbering as Preminger’s flicks may appear today (Does The Cardinal (1963) really NEED to be over three hours long?), they were EVENT movies back in the day—just like Big Stanley K.’s flicks became since the mid-1960s.
But with the exception of his noir films (like the classic Laura), Preminger does not seem to be too well remembered these days— Perhaps because his “style” was so…invisible, so quasi-documentarianistic—yet so completely “Hollywood.” The obvious epic, perhaps? “Skidoo! Skidoo! Between a one and three, there is a two!”
Honestly, it is kind of hard for me to explain how or why I love SKIDOO—but every time I watch the flick, I am amazed—almost stunned. Perhaps even flabbergasted. But so far every time I’ve screened the flick (and now thanks to The Missus, I own the legally-released DVD!), I feel joy as well—the movie is a total and complete source of enjoyment for me. (And I feel a bit of vindication: in the late-1990s, I found out via conversation with filmmaker/photographer and all around swell guy Richard Kern that Skidoo was also one of artist/writer David Wojnarowicz’s favorite films.)
Because Skidoo is one of the greatest movies ever made. Perhaps it’s an insane mess, but it’s an insane mess I LOVE.
Why do I love Skidoo? One man’s meat is another man’s poison: all I can say is that the combination of ingredients that comprise Skidooall synergistically connect with those influences that create my sense of taste (or lack thereof, some may say) and we find ourselves in cinematic nirvanarmaggedon: a joyous meltdown.
(Another more sinister theory as to my Skidoo-love is that since I have no love for the hippies, that specific era or Baby-Boomers in general, the film isn’t a “violation” of anything that I hold sacred.) If I may quote Christian Devine, world’s greatest Skidoo fan—a man with whom I agree on Skidoo: “Skidoo is always entertaining, never boring, with some terrific performances, an infectious Harry Nilsson soundtrack “The tonal shifts are positively kinetic as each scene manages the impossible feat of being more bizarre than the previous one. Just when you think Skidoo can't get any stranger, it does, all the way until the transcendent final shot, one of the greatest in Hollywood history.”
Yes, in 1968, it was an almost revolutionary act to end a film with Groucho Marx, a Legend of the Old Square Hollywood, wearing monk’s robes and smoking a joint, sailing away in a psychedelic sailboat—scene co-star Austin Pendleton’s joy at getting stoned with Groucho is OBVS—especially when that expensive movie is financed by Paramount Pictures, which was, at the time, a unit of scary mega-corp Gulf & Western.
“While AIP movies like THE TRIP had to show Peter Fonda's head crack open in the final freeze frame and run disclaimers to appease nervous producers, SKIDOO sets sail with God on a candy-colored sailboat tab on tongue... pro-LSD down to its prison-striped socks,” wrote Erich K. of Acidemic, and I agree!
Is a synopsis of Skidoo even necessary? A detailed one is pointless, but the film is “about” Tough Tony Banks and his family—he’s an ex-mobster, his wife’s an ex-whore and his daughter’s a teeny-bopper dating a hippie.
The Mob wants him to rub out Mickey Rooney (in a brilliant cameo) because Tony is his best friend, and the only one who could get close to him. But Mickey’s in prison—
To force Tony to do it, they (The Joker and Annette Funicello’s boyfriend) shoot Top Cat’s Voice in the face.
An opera singer confuses the guards, and Tony sneaks onto Alcatraz where the Riddler speaks but doesn’t move his lips and Richard Kiel looks like he’s still serving man.
Introducing righteous & groovy Austin Pendleton as a hippie—he’s smuggled a bunch of LSD into prison because that’s what you do. The Principal from Room 222 wants to rape you. Jackie Onassis Minnesota Fats Domino takes a trrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiipppppppppp. And y’know what? I think it gets it more “right” than a lot of “hipper” and “cooler” flicks do— —The extreme close-ups of Jackie’s face when the acid is kicking in are perfect!
—Watch Preminger-regular Burgess Meredith’s hands when he’s tripping: They add so much to the performance!
—The mindfuck of a gangster playing a god named Groucho! (Uhhhh…)—and if interpreted in a religious manner, nearly ever mention of “God” is blasphemous!
—And the flick is certainly disrespectful towards then-Governor Reagan of California!
And synopsis-synapse overload-wise, I haven’t even gotten into Carol Channing’s Whorey McWhoring around; Preminger’s patented-long-take scenes of hippies that spill into documentary territory; optical printer overload with massive solarizations; Harry Nilsson’s songs; Harry Nilsson’s cameo (put that tongue away, boy!); THE TRASHCAN BALLET (!!!); the kitchen sink (literally!)—and MORE.
A lot of the hatred Skidoo had heaped on it on its initial release, and by snooty snobs since then, stems from, I think, the film’s pedigree—that it’s a grand Hollywood production of the Old School taking a look at what should be the sole province of the young.
“A very expensive major studio version of a three-dollar AIP beach blanket Psych-Out Easy Rider money train,” is what Acidemic has called it, and from a description like that, you can see why both young and old avoided Skidoo.
Had the flick been made in, say, somewhere in Eastern Europe in a foreign language, I think it would have been much better received at the time (and more fondly remembered today). Think bourgeois middle-brow Dušan Makavejev.
Skidoo’s also part of a zeitgeist: the sympathetic—or at least curious—squares taking a gander at the counter-culture: The Love God?(another of my faves); Ann-Margaret in The Swinger (imperfect but worth a peek—still on Nflix Streme, I believe), and Riot on Sunset Strip (which I need to see again, but remember fondly).
Like I said: “zeitgeist”—a term Vienna-born Preminger would appreciate: “1968 in fact was a big year for acid movies,” wrote Millie de Chirico for TCM. “Psych-Out, Wild in the Streets, Alice in Acidland, Mantis in Lace and others were released in the wake of Roger Corman's The Trip (1967)— and Easy Rider (1969) was just around the corner.”
While Reverse Shot’s Leah Churner is a bit of a snob regarding the film, she does make some interesting points— Skidoo, she writes, “may also be seen as a middle-aged, bummer-trip version of Bob Rafelson’s Head (1968)….” —which I think sounds incredible, like this film is a bloodbrother with something like The Swimmer or Seconds— “…[and] the disturbing consequence of Otto Preminger left too much to his own devices.”
Annnnnnnnnnd maybe that’s a good thing!
Critics of Skidoo should compare it to the craptastic The Big Cube (1969), where Lana Turner is repeatedly dosed with LSD to drive her to suicide, for an inheritance. The Big Cube uses LSD as a gimmick for a crime thriller, sort of like in John D. MacDonald’s Nightmare in Pink, but not near as smart or cool. It’s too bad the script isn’t up to it, more fit for some third-rate overwrought telenovela.
However, I did like The Big Cube’s old school attempts at psychedelica via optical printer, and various location scenes and outdoor shoots showing off modern Mexico City.
For me, Skidoo works because it is sincere, especially in its treatment of hippies. Preminger may not understand them, but he sympathizes.
Meanwhile, the gangsters are all clowns (many of whom were cartoonish villains on the Batman TV show—just like Preminger, who played Mr. Freeze). But basically all the adults in the film are gangsters—thus clowns. What is Preminger saying?
Now, I’m not completely sure what Preminger is trying to do with this film—but Big Otto is trying to do something: he believes in this project, and it shows. (“…the disturbing consequence of Otto Preminger left too much to his own devices...”)
He’s now a True Believer—like Jodowrosky or Coffin Joe or Timothy Carey or Brando when he made One-Eyed Jacks… He’s created a personal symbology—and Skidoo could only have been better if Otto himself played Jackie Gleason’s part— Or Carol Channing’s—or even better, both.
The film is weird and inappropriate and “off” at times—but in its “failure,” Skidoo catches the LSD experience on a metatextual level—things appear “normal” but everything is “off”—a sense of giddy disquiet. Christian Devine says: “To understand the LSD experience in the script, the 60-year-old German director took acid under the brief tutelage of Timothy Leary, who later appeared in the Skidoo trailer. During his trip, Preminger had a vision that would be used for Gleason's. He recalled, ‘My wife appeared very, very small. I told her, “You are so little, so charming.” ' ”
(BTW, Sammy Davis Jr.—who had appeared in Preminger’s Porgy & Bess (a flick that will probably never get a proper release in any home format, thanks to the George Gershwin estate)— also appeared in trailers for Skidoo, referring to the flick as a “the gassiest, grooviest, swingingest, trippiest movie you’ve ever seen!” And Sammy, God bless him, is right.)
And the whole movie is all “off” on a big budget—sets are tacky but elaborate. Churner thinks she’s griping, but she’s really giving a compliment when she writes that Preminger “recreates [Batman’s] singularly grotesque Pop Art camp. Throughout, Skidoo has the dull gaudiness of so many LBJ-era sitcoms, with a ‘jazzy’ score of flutes, bongos, xylophones, and occasional sound effects from the Hanna-Barbera library. (Stang bumps into Gleason: “BA-WOING!”).”
(I don’t really see the problem…)
The film is also a collision (mélange?) of different cinematographic styles and tricks: split-screens; B&W herky-jerky silent movie style footage; TV channel visual salad courtesy of a War of the Remotes; I think the Trashcan Ballet could be a short film of its own…
I especially am taken with Mickey Rooney’s scenes, where he’s “speaking” with Tony through an electronic gizmo—and Mickey is staring right into the lens of the camera—speaking to Tony, but at us, with some particularly menacing dialog. "No, I never watch films on TV…. They always cut them to pieces.”
As New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby wrote about Preminger’s style in his review of Skidoo (published March 6, 1969), “Whenever possible, he shoots his films on location; yet his films, despite their often marvelous mise en scène, are as unmistakably Hollywood as anything ever turned out by Monogram Pictures.”
(Dude, that’s a good thing! Sheesh!)
The director became famous for widescreen frames—there are hardly ever any close-ups in his flicks from the 1950s and 1960s—Skidoo is a notable exception— And loooooooooong takes—two minutes without a cut is amazing—especially these days— and Preminger was doing this routinely in his “Epic” flicks, staging frighteningly complicated scenarios, with big chunks of dialog, pushing his big Panaviz Kamz alongside—stuff that’s brobdingnagianly complex!
That’s why huge stretches of his films feel so much like a documentary to me—Preminger has planned this to the nth degree—and then sets the camera back, somewhat distant—and lets it roll. I’m referring especially to how Preminger shoots in Exodus, The Cardinal, Hurry Sundown, In Harm’s Way (an underrated flick) and somewhat in Advise & Consent.
The very long takes and semi-elaborate camera moves are also there in The Man With the Golden Arm (a film I actually don’t like), Bunny Lake Is Missing (also underrated—it’s Preminger’s William Castle movie: beautiful B&W cinematography accents a super-creepy paranoia-thriller only spoiled by a conclusion that needed a rewrite from Robert Bloch to spice it up), Anatomy of a Murder (a classic, nuff said) and Angel Face.
[BTW: Angel Face (1952) is an insane noir with Robert Mitchum being given the Big Headache by jailbait sweetie Jean Simmons—fans of 1940-1950s melodrama or noir need to see it. Angel Face is also a flick Destructible Man simply MUST do a posting on—sometime in the next decade, if possible—there are TWO wonderfully nasty car-over-the-cliff crashes in this movie, and in both, the dummies/victims splay about in such obvious—but brutally horrific—manners that the scenes required multiple rewindings. Chillingly brilliant!]
Meanwhile, Preminger gave a LOT of work to Saul Bass, too. Gotta love that. (The director gave Bass his first Hollywood gig, hiring the designer to create the poster for his Carmen Jones (1954), but, according to The Title Design Project, “an initial commission to produce a poster design for the film developed into a title commission after Preminger was impressed by Bass’ initial work.”)
Suffice to say, I’ve been enjoying discovering Preminger’s body of work—once you realize that he makes MASSIVE soap operas, you’ll be fine—his films are melodramas through and through, unrepentantly so—and why not?
For YEARS, he was the tits as far as Hollywood was concerned: his flicks came in on time and under budget; they garnered press; they were prestigious productions, aimed at BIG, IMPORTANT THEMES—and most importantly: They reaped boffo box.
Until Skidoo. “It's a great, big, beautiful blob of nothing!” Skidoo was also the first film that Preminger had made in a long time that wasn’t from an already established source, like a best seller or a hit play-- Is this where he went “wrong”/“right”?
I think Dave Kehr hits on something, even when it’s for a review of Such Good Friends, Preminger’s 1971 follow-up to Skidoo: “Preminger is drawn to the new freedoms but also unsettled by them: they create clutter, not clarity, a circle of endless possibility in which there is no satisfaction and from which there is no escape.”
And I think this schizophrenia was there during the making of Skidoo—as open-minded as Otto was to the youth culture, old men tend to be reactionary, although it might be only subconsciously so… (“…the disturbing consequence of Otto Preminger left too much to his own devices...”)
[A Kubrickian aside since we’re on the subject of Youth Culture Movies and zeitgeists— While Stanley’s 2001 in 1968 may have been the apex of the “ACID” movie, while solidly being the creation of another genre, his follow-up was born out of the fallout of Youth Culture flix. According to John Baxter’s Kubrick bio (and as memory serves), Warner Bros.’ deal with SK was heavily reliant on his tackling a more commercially viable product, preferably in the Youth Culture genre/market—or one that could be marketed that way. Big Stan the K. subsequently delivered A Clockwork Orange.]
Looking at Otto’s resume, you can chart topical subjects regarding civil rights, government, sexuality, race, religion, and so on. With LSD in the news, and the counter-culture exploding—especially in well-off Hollywood/Los Angeles, no wonder the producer-director took an interest.
But the brother of actor John Phillip Law convinced the director that many more people had had positive LSD experience than negative.
Screenwriter Doran William Cannon (who had worked on pre-production for The Graduate) had initially been hired to adapt Too Far To Walk. Preminger had already read Cannon’s spec script Skidoo, and after his “conversion,” he wanted to buy it.
Cannon had been inspired to write Skidoo after reading a newspaper article: “I saw an article about two prisoners who had escaped in a hot-air balloon. I thought, ‘Oh, that's so neat.’ That's how it got started,” Cannon said to Christian Devine in an interview.
Advised by Francis Ford Coppola, Cannon sold the screenplay for $75,000 (!). At TCM, Cannon is quoted as saying his script “delivered an important message of peace and love at a time when America was engaged with the war in Vietnam.”
After buying the script, writes Christian Devine, “Preminger immersed himself in the world of the hippies with a paisley vengeance,” including taking LSD (as already mentioned), and “wearing Nehru jackets, too,” Cannon said.
Supposedly Preminger was drawn to Skidoo’s script because of its “irreverent vibe,” wrote TCM’s Millie de Chirico. However, “Cannon's script was, in fact, written in earnest.”
Although seeing it as a comedy, Preminger wanted to up the mayhem and violent quotient, but Cannon, a pacifist, refused and was shown the door. Others, including Preminger and Elliott Baker (author of A Fine Madness, made into a film by Irvin Kershner), Mel Brooks (who quit after a day) and Rob Reiner (hired because he was a hippie), took stabs at the screenplay, and eventually songs were added. About halfway through shooting, Preminger brought in Stanley Ralph Ross, former writer for Batman, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Monkees, to add jokes.
[The NYPLhas some of Cannon’s original scripts and I’m trying to get ahold of them for further R&D. Cannon also scripted the Ivanlandia favorite Brewster McCloud. Directed by Robert Altman, that film has a similarly twisted screenplay history. Cannon and Brewster McCloud are subjects for a forthcoming Ivanlandia post, please be patient…] Just as the LSD was probably opening up all sorts of strange emotional memories and feelings in the 63-year-old Otto Ludwig Preminger, he meets the 22-year-old son he never knew he had!
Churner writes, “According to the screenwriter… Preminger revised the story to emphasize Tony’s paternity anxieties, arguing that the character needed more of a ‘realistic’ psychological motivation.” Then throw in that grotesque cast! Really, such human abominations hadn’t been together on the screen like this since Tod Browning’s Freaks….
Cannon said: “I told Otto if he directed Skidoo the way he directed a serious drama like his In Harm’s Way (1964), that it would turn out to be very funny. He couldn't get that. Comedy is subtle; comedy is timing. Otto's Germanic persona just couldn't do it.”
Well, Big Otto rewrote most of the script as he went along—with further tinkering, I’m sure, in the editing room—and voila!
One of the greatest movies ever made: Skidoo. It deserves our love.
(“…the disturbing consequence of Otto Preminger left too much to his own devices…”)
“I'm an angel! I'm a goddamn angel! Hallelujah!”
However, I will heap scorn on Olive Film’s art department for the awful cover art they’ve chosen for the DVD/Blu-Ray release—
It’s a mediocre photoshopped pic of Gleason looking haggard! Using that instead of the original poster? Ugh… Or at least try somethingsomewhat psychedelic! Or how about at least colorful? Are you trying to sabotage your own release?
Is this history repeating itself? When a befuddled and confused Paramount released Skidoo in 1968, it had no faith in the movie, and put it on a double-bill with another flick the studio resented/despised, Jules Dassin’s incredible Up-Tight! (1968), a brilliant social commentary disguised in a quasi-blaxploitation crime thriller.
As you might have guessed, The National Film Board of Ivanlandia LOVES Up-Tight! and would have killed to see that double-feature back in the day— Although SkidooandUp-Tight? Whew, my joy would’ve caused my head to explode. And YES, if you count, this is now officially the 200th post of The United Provinces of Ivanlandia! Huzzah!
That was my original idea for the title of this blog, a sort of summation of nearly everything I'd ever wanted cinematically: regularly playing on the ABC Channel 7 4:30 movie--or on WOR-TV Channel 9's 4 O'Clock Movie--the greatest monster movie in the universe, and incredible combo of miniatures, men in suits and stop motion, with entire continents destroyed!
But then there was a coup d'etat, and Tzar Ivan I of Ivanlandia took charge.