Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies

As film geeks throughout the blogosphere well know, an appearance by a director in their own film is a tradition established by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch (or “Cock” as Teri Garr once claimed she called him to Francois Truffaut) had brief but notable appearances in 37 of his 52 films. Obviously excluding those who act in sizable roles in their own films (Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Orson Welles, etc.) these are my favorites of the film maker folks that followed in Hitch’s footsteps:

1. Martin Scorsese in TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Scorsese has had brief bit cameos in a lot of his movies but it’s this appearance credited as “Passenger watching silhouette” that makes the biggest impression. As a nervous gun totting cuckolded husband, Scorsese tells his cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) to pull over and stay parked with the meter running outside the building where his wife is with another man. He talks about his revenge fantasy involving his 44 Magnum in the only scene in the movie in which we are creeped out by somebody other than the title character.

What puts this at the top of the list is that Scorsese actually shows some acting chops and a persuasive presence. His later performances in other’s movies, particularly Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS and Robert Redford’s QUIZ SHOW, confirm TAXI DRIVER‘s hinted at prowess. Incidentally Scorsese can also be seen in a daylight street scene shot earlier in the film.

2. John Huston in THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE (1948) Another American master who appeared in many movies, his own and others’, Huston stole a short but sweet scene from star Humphrey Bogart in this undeniable classic. Bogart’s down on his luck character Fred C. Dobbs makes the mistake of trying to bum money 3 times from Huston as an “American in Tampico in white suit”. Huston reluctantly complies but warns: “But from now on, you have to make your way through life without my assistance.” Luckily this was nothing but a movie line – Bogart and Huston assisted each other on a couple more classics afterwards (KEY LARGO and THE AFRICAN QUEEN).

3. Roman Polanski in CHINATOWN (1974) Perhaps it’s been all the op ed pieces on Polanski lately (Sometimes that have the same screen capture I have here) that helped to inspire this list but whatever the case this is a colossally classic cameo. In less than a minute of screen time, as a thug that Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes dismisses as a “midget”, Polanski convinces us that he actually slices Nicholson’s nose with a switchblade. It’s a moment that’s impossible to forget:

Still not convinced that it’s a classic cameo? Then check out this 12 inch articulated custom figure!

I mean come on! How many cameos have action figures representin’? Well, come to think of it, there is this guy:

4. George Lucas in STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) This is movie director as extra. For a member of a crowd scene in the last STAR WARS series entry (or the third if you’re into the revisionist re-jiggling thing), Lucas got himself decked out in alien garb and gave himself a name: Baron Papanoida. There’s an oddly lengthy bio at IMDb. And yes, there’s an action figure too.

5. Richard Linklater in SLACKER (1994)

Linklater’s role as “Should Have Stayed at Bus Station” sets into motion the stream of self consciousness exercise that he geared the movie to be:

It’s quite a loose likable persona that Linklater affects – one that kicks off his film career and also appears in animated form in WAKING LIFE (2001) – a sort of sequel (or at least spiritual follow-up) to SLACKER.

6. Hal Ashby in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)

Film babble blog favorite Ashby also does the “movie director as extra” thing as a hippy freak at a carnival in his counter culture cult classic. Of course, he was just dressed as usual and it’s not really a cameo; more of a brief shot that captures the director as a random passerby watching a mechanical toy train with Harold (Bud Cort) and Maude (Ruth Gordon). Ashby also shows up doing the extra thing again in a newsroom in BEING THERE (1980) – something I noticed just recently after missing it for years on many repeated viewings.

7. Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)

So he’s the “Director of TV Crew” who barks orders at the soldiers as they run through his shot – is it an exaggeration of Coppola’s ego or the real thing? You decide:

8. David Lynch in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Lynch has done a number of walk on parts in his films but here he gives himself an actual character: FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole who Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) reports to. Lynch’s Gordon appeared on the TV series a few blink and miss them times and his bit for the prequel/origin story/whatever movie is pretty meager. So what gets him on this list? I guess it’s that a normal office scenario is skewed by the likes of David Bowie and flashes of a white faced pointy nosed circus wack job or whatever dancing around and this time Lynch himself is in the midst of it. Welcome to my nightmare, indeed:

9. Oliver Stone in WALL STREET (1987)

Yet another director that has taken bit or extra roles in multiple movies, Stone does a split screen sound bite appearance as a broker on the phone in one of the film’s many frenetic montages. No word whether he’ll reprise the role for the sequel.

10. Sam Raimi in THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY (1981-1992) As documented by AMC Filmsite, Sam Raimi appeared:

1981: as a Hitchhiking Fisherman and the Voice of the Evil Force
1987: as a Medieval Soldier; and
1993: as a Knight in Sweatshirt and Sneakers, who assured Ash (Bruce Campbell): “You can count on my steel”

Peter Jackson pulled the same stunt by appearing in all 3 LORD OF THE RINGS movies.

Anybody else? I know this list is just a drop in the ocean so bring on your own favorites! You know where to put ’em.

More later…

IN BRUGES & More Film Babble Follow-up Fun!

In the spirit of continuing the pre-Spring cleaning I started last post I thought I’d go through my email bag and follow-up on some past threads but first let me tell you about another fine film that is in limited release and unfortunately being overlooked:

IN BRUGES (Dir. Martin McDonagh, 2008)

When I saw the trailer I feared that this would be one in a long line of Quentin Tarentino/Guy Ritchie ripoffs – you know wisecracking pop culture savvy figures of the underworld caught up in a series of crafty quirky possibly silly scenarios but IN BRUGES is so much better than that. Sure, it does have those elements but the restraint in flash and the edgy funny screenplay fuels a sweetly character driven piece that expertly balances dark comedy with a solid suspense yarn. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are two hitmen who after botching a job in London are sent to the medieval city of Bruges in Belgium to lie low. Gleeson makes the best of the situation to take in some of the local sights but Farrell, in one of his best performances as the daft put-upon Ray, grumbles “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” He even remarks: “Maybe that’s what hell is, an entire eternity spent in Bruges.” As they wait for further instructions from their boss Harry (an energized and hilariously intense Ralph Fiennes) their lives become intertwined with a few colorful characters including French actress Clémence Poésy as Farrell’s love interest and Jordan Prentice as a racist dwarf actor named Jimmy *.

*an uncredited Peter Dinklage (THE STATION AGENT, DEATH AT A FUNERAL) also as an “Dwarf Actor” appears briefly.

It would be wrong to spill any more about the plot – the swift surprises in the film’s crafty construction should not be spoiled. Everything seems to have nicely aligned in every department for this sure to be a future cult film. Even the score by Coen Brothers regular Carter Burwell should be noted as exceptional. It is incredibly encouraging that a new filmmaker can take the tired stale crime caper and reinvigorate it into something as satisfyingly fresh and vital as IN BRUGES. As the new to the scene writer/director Martin McDonagh is definitely a name to remember. I’m sure that as word of mouth spreads his next movie-film will have a much wider release. You would have had to grown up on a farm or be retarded to dismiss this as another PULP FICTION wannabe or a LOCK, STOCK… look-alike – this is no such pretender.

Okay, so now it’s time to look back over Film Babble Blog past and follow-up on some of those much commented on lists.

In my post 10 Movie Moments That Broke The 4th Wall (August 22, 2007) I told by many fine film loving folk that I missed a really crucial and much loved Movie Moment:

HAROLD AND MAUDE (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1971) I can’t believe I left this one off! It’s one of my favorite films ever and it’s such a wonderful example of “breaking the frame”. Harold (Bud Cort) having successfully scared off another computer dating candidate by staging another of his phony suicide attempts looks directly at us in a “see what I just did?” manner. His sly satisifaction is short lived however as he recoils into timid submission upon turning and see his Mother’s disapproving glare. The passionate piano plucking intro of Cat Steven’s “I Think I See The Light” perfectly punctuates the shot and takes us into the next scene. Just about as good as film making gets. Ah, Ashby – you’ll never be forgotten.

I got a lot of feedback about my post 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos (June 5, 2007) – so much that I already did a follow-up – The Cameo Countdown Continues (June 20, 2007) but there was one delicious guest appearance that a bunch of people have called me on – Frank Zappa in the beautifully bizarre Monkees movie HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968). It’s another favorite of mine so boy is my face beet red! After Davy Jones’s “Daddy’s Boy” dance number Zappa, who for some reason is walking a cow on a leash, appears (credited as “The Critic”) from out of a crowd of extras on the studio back lot to offer his comments: “That song was pretty white.” Davy responds: “So am I; what can I tell you?” Zappa continues “You’ve been working on your dancing though…doesn’t leave much time for your music. You should spend more time on it because the youth of America depends on you to show the way.” To this, Zappa’s cow with an imposed cartoon mouth says in a weird accent: “Monkees is the craziest people!” That aside was to the camera so the scene counts as both a cameo and a moment that broke the 4th wall. Thanks to Sarah R., Stephanie W., Tim Murcer, George F., and especially Everette K. for not letting this issue go!

This one came from a recent email from Michael E. of Illinois referring to a post I did last summer called Those Damn DirecTV Movie Tie-In Ads – Offensive To Film Buffs? (July 19, 2007). Michael alerted me to a new DirecTV ad that features Kathy Bates reprising her Oscar winning role as Annie Wilkes from MISERY. Depicting the setup to the most horrific scene in the movie – the one where Bates cripples James Caan (who only appears from the original footage) with a sledgehammer – this commercial is the most misguided by far. Bates must have felt some hesitation to exploit her breakthrough performance for a satellite dish outfit. I guess on the other hand it was just another day’s work and one that most likely got her an awesome high def TV hook-up.

For my post 10 Self Referential Moments In The Films Of George Lucas/Steven Spielberg (Oct. 18th, 2007) I really missed a doozey! In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK on the wall in the background of the Egyptian temple that Indian Jones finds the Ark in you can see C3PO and R2D2 illustrated in Hieroglyphic form – like Club Obi Wan in TEMPLE OF DOOM this definitely ties together the…hey, wait! I never did a post about self referential moments in Lucas/Spielberg movies! Hmm, maybe I should. That new INDIANA JONES and the long ass title nobody will use * is going to be out soon so it may be a good idea…

* Actually INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – but c’mon! Nobody is gonna to use it – it’ll be like “2 tickets to Indy 4.”

More later…

The Beatles Music In The Movies (Not their own movies, mind you)

“My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done, such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above the temperature of 38 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s just as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs!” – James Bond (Sean Connery) GOLDFINGER (Dir. Guy Hamilton, 1964)As it has been well reported all over the internets the soon-to-be released ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2007) is fully comprised of Beatles music – all cover versions sung by the actors who all have names (Jude, Lucy, Lovely Rita, Jo Jo, Sadie, etc. – wait where’s Michelle?) based on Beatles songs in scenes thematically suggested by Beatles material – yep, the Fab Four through and through. I know Beatle fans who are opposed to the project – and yeah it looks like it could be cringe-inducingly cheesy but I’ll reserve judgement for now. In the meantime let’s take a look at the Beatles music as it has appeared in soundtracks in the almost 40 years since they disbanded.

The catalogue is mostly owned by Michael Jackson who after famously outbidding Paul McCartney for ownership of ATV Music Publishing in 1985 has angered hoards of Beatle purists time and time again. First with his licensing of “Revolution” for the Nike spots of the late 80’s and most recently for the currently running “All You Need Is Love” Luvs diaper ads. The use of an original Beatles recording in a movie can be incredibly expensive – that’s why so many covers have appeared throughout the years. Even the Simpsons had to resort to using a sound-alike cover band for a HARD DAY’S NIGHT parody scene. Actual Beatles music has appeared sporadically over these last several decades but that have been some notable uses in the movies starting with :

SHAMPOO (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1975) Set in 1968 with a soundtrack full of 60’s gold (Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel) 2 major Beatles tracks appear – “Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”. I guess the rights weren’t as expensive pre-Jackson era. Either that or Warren Beatty and Hal Ashby had more clout than previously believed. Check out this Shampoo Montage somebody made on YouTube to get some of the flavor of said film.

I WANNA HOLD YOUR HAND (Dir. Robert Zemekis, 1978) There’s more than a little of that coming-of-age in a single day AMERICAN GRAFFITI thing going on here. With the premise that the single day in question is February 9th, 1964 – the Beatles’ Ed Sullivan American TV debut. An ensemble cast of teenage fans (including Nancy Allen, Wendie Jo Sperber, Bobby Di Cicco and Marc McClure) all scheme to get into CBS-TV Studio 50 to see the historic broadcast. The soundtrack of the film contains 17 Beatles songs (including “She Loves You” twice) and since, of course, none of the actual Beatles were involved – stand-ins were used as Wikipedia best puts it :

“Stand-in Beatle-look alike doubles, dressed in identical attire and holding the same type of musical instruments in a similar manner, were seen mimicking the group’s performance of the song from that show while being shown on the stage floor, albeit from a distance so as not to see their identities, while the actual footage of The Beatles on The Sullivan Show of 02/09/1964 was revealed from the camera operator’s point-of-view. These two elements were combined together, along with reactions from the studio audience to recreate a brilliant moment in time.”
A brilliant moment in time indeed. Sorry, just became James Lipton there. Incidently the IMDb doesn’t give credit to the stand-ins but this cool UHM post revealed that the “George” was filled in by monster mask-maker (he designed the Captain Kirk mask used in the HALLOWEEN movies), actor, and horror-movie director Bill Malone – seen above between director Zemekis on the right and an unknown “Lennon” on the left.

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP (Dir. George Roy Hill, 1982) In the opening credit sequence as “When I’m 64” plays a baby is bounced upwards into the clear blue sky in slow motion. McCartney’s soothing nursery rhyme vocal is perfectly suited here to the baby’s (Infant Garp credited to Brandon Roth – not to be confused with Brandon Routh – the new Superman) happy expressions. This may be the best and most original scene in the canon of Beatles-synched cinema. But, wait what about :

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986) After somehow commandeering a parade float in downtown Chicago to lip synch to Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen” Ferris (Matthew Broderick) gets down to the Beatles cover of Phil Medley and Bert Russell’s immortal “Twist And Shout”. The entire crowd dances as a marching band provides horns that weren’t on the original recording. Despite the fact the song re-entered the charts at #21 that summer (also because of its use in the Rodney Dangerfield college comedy BACK TO SCHOOL) McCartney criticized the addition of horns to the track. Pretty picky Sir Paul – I mean it was a parade!

WITHNAIL & I (Dir. Bruce Robinson, 1987) Now is a good time to bring up George Harrison’s Handmade Films. Formed in the late 70’s to back Python related projects, Handmade made a handfull of interesting films in the 80’s and 90’s. One of the best was WITHNAIL & I – a hilarious cult classic mostly taking place around a country cottage with Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann at their tawdry best. At one point a portion of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is heard – it’s safe to assume that since George was one of the producers it seems like this was probably given some kind of significant discount.

(Dir. Michael Moore, 2002) Can see why Moore would pay the extra buck to get the original song – no other would do the same job. As I wrote in a post about Moore’s movies as a baby-boomer era hit song “The Beatles’ ‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ made an obvious point”. Lennon’s vicious vocal snarls in such a manner that benefits a montage of kids with guns, a blind man with an assault rifle, and a smattering of public execution-style killings.

Some Other Honorable Mentions in the Beatles Music in the Movies Sweepstakes :

COMING HOME (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1978) – “Hey Jude” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.

MASK (Dir. Peter Bogdanavich, 1985) Although the soundtrack in this under rated biopic about Roy L. “Rocky” Denis (played by Eric Stoltz) who suffered from a cranial enlargening disease was dominated by Americana like Springsteen, Bob Seger, Gary U.S. Bonds, and even 4 Little Richard songs – there were 2 seminal Beatles standards present – “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Girl”.

FIVE CORNERS (Dir. Tony Bill, 1987) “In My Life” plays during the end credits – again, Harrison’s Handmade hook-up helped out. He was executive producer to be more exact.

PRICK UP YOUR EARS (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1987) – “A Day in the Life.”

(Dir. Steve Rash, 1987) Can’t remember what song was featured in this one but man I bet it was effective!

A BRONX TALE (Dir. Robert Deniro, 1993) An impressive – obviously Scorsese influenced (as if that’s a bad thing) soundtrack to Deniro’s directorial debut includes the Kinks, Wilson Pickett, Miles Davis, various Rat Packers, etc. But the inclusion of the original “Come Together” gives it full cinematic cred.

So – that’s all for now. One day I’ll get around to the Beatles covers in the movies – especially since ACROSS THE UNIVERSE adds to the universe of soundtracks full of Beatles covers like the infamous flop – SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (I’ve given many shout outs to the Nathan Rabin’s Year Of Flops series but particularly his entry on Sgt. Pepper’s should not be ignored) and I AM SAM – a horrible movie but a good Beatles cover oriented soundtrack all the same.

More later…