A New Documentary Asks WHO Is HARRY NILSSON?


The long silly title of this film obviously pokes fun at the fact that these days not many people are likely to know who Harry Nilsson was.

But if you are a fan of the Beatles, the Monkees, or Monty Python you are likely to have at least a tiny inkling of the late semi-legendary singer songwriter.

Also you may know his Grammy winning cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” (the theme song for MIDNIGHT COWBOY) or his hit singles “Without You” and “Coconut”.

Nilsson’s soundtrack for Robert Altman’s POPEYE (1980) may also be familiar.

This fascinating and fast paced documentary tells Nilsson’s story extremely well taking us from his impoverished beginnings through flirtations with fame and sadly concluding with his despondent later years when his voice was shot and his stock at an all time low.

It was a career doomed by drinking and drugs as well as his being terrified to sing his songs live.

A roster of famous friends including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, the Smothers Brothers, Robin Williams, Yoko Ono, Terry Gilliam and many others appear in interview segments to praise Nilsson as well as bury him with their frank depictions of the unruly talent.

But it’s the music that makes the movie roll. We get a good sense of how Nilsson was a one man Beatles – a notion confirmed in the late ‘60s when a “White Album” era John Lennon named him as his favorite “group”, not “performer” mind you.

Hundreds of photographs and lots of juicy archival footage are hauntingly serenaded by Nilsson’s smooth croon and even in lip synched appearances on TV shows such as “Beat Club” Nilsson’s charisma shines through.

Nilsson’s rowdy friendship with ex-Beatle Ringo Starr is given a lot of weight – their projects SON OF DRACULA and the popular children’s cartoon “The Point” are touched upon nicely.

With its conventional narrative WHO IS HARRY NILSSON doesn’t break any new musical bio doc ground, but with its wealth of great material, focused scope, and loving detail, that’s fine by me.

It’s a purposeful portrait of a jewel in the rough – a tortured artist with an affecting spirit even when he was scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

Sadly this film never made it theatrically to the Raleigh area. Fortunately it is now available on DVD and streaming on Netflix Instant.

More later…

10 Blink And Miss Them Movie Cameos

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I have a fondness for film cameos. Film Babble Blog has featured lists like 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos, The Cameo Countdown Continues, and more recently Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies, but this list is a bit different because many people may not have noticed these cameos at all. They can be difficult to catch as they go by fast but they’re there just waiting for some film geek like me to point them out. So here goes:

1. George Harrison in MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Dir. Terry Jones, 1979) Harrison helped finance this film solely because he was a big fan so it stands to reason that they’d throw him a bit part. He can be seen in a crowd scene and although he is uncredited he actually has a character name: Mr. Papadopoulos. He has one word of dialogue (“ullo”) spoken to Brian (Graham Chapman) as he is introduced by Reg (John Cleese) as “the owner of the mount” they are planning to rent. It’s brief but worth looking for – if only so you can point out to your friends: “Look! There’s a Beatle!” Speaking of the Beatles…

2. Phil Collins in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (Dir. Richard Lester, 1964)

This is kind of a cheat because Collins wasn’t a well known celebrity at the time (he was 13), and you can barely see him in the audience shots of the concert climax but I just couldn’t resist listing it. Collins has often bragged about being one of the 350 teenage extras screaming at the Beatles, especially when he hosted You Can’t Do That!: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” (1995). Though as you can see his visage is impossible to recognize, even when enlarged, he is listed in some movie guides as being one of the stars of the film.

3. Alan Ladd in CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941) This is a pretty infamous one – Ladd is one of the reporters in the screening room after the opening newsreel. It’s a smoke filled shadowy shot but he can be clearly seen, though it took Roger Ebert’s commentary on the DVD for me to identify him. He can also be seen at the end of the film smoking a pipe and even has a few lines.

4. R2D2 in STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)

This cameo/Easter egg was rumored when the film opened last summer (there was even a Paramount sponsored contest centered on finding it) but it was pinpointed by fanboys all over the internets when the film hit DVD/Blu ray last month. It works as a funny little visual joke as well as a shout out from one science fiction franchise to another.

5. Dan Aykroyd in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1984) It may have seemed strange to see the former SNL funnyman hawking Crystal Head Vodka in advertisements that refer to the last INDIANA JONES film, but Aykroyd actually has a legitimate connection to the series. He appears in Indy’s second installment as Weber, a British cohort who arranges a getaway plane for Jones (Harrison Ford), Willie (Kate Capshaw), and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). It’s easy to miss him as it’s a sweeping long shot and he’s such an incidental character but he still makes the most of his 18 seconds in this film.

6. Dennis Hopper in HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) This one is priceless because Hopper looks like he can’t wait to get out of the studio, get on the road and shoot EASY RIDER (Monkees money funded EASY RIDER you see). Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote HEAD, is also in this scene which has the movie break down around Peter Tork with many members of the film’s crew coming into the shot including director Rafelson. When he swoops behind Tork to get to Rafelson I’d like to believe he’s asking “hey man, how long is this gonna be? We gotta get going!”

7. Christian Slater in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991)

I know, I know – another STAR TREK cameo but this one baffled me when I first saw this film. When Slater pops up it’s a dark shot and I distinctly remember the murmur in the theater as everybody seemed to collectively wonder “was that Christian Slater?” Credited as “Excelsior Communications Officer” Slater appears in a doorway, has a few lines, and then he’s gone. What was he doing there? In an interview with DVD Playground he answered that question: “My mother cast that film and needed someone to fill in. Yet even so, that was probably the most nervous I had ever been in my entire career.”

8. Richard Dreyfuss in THE GRADUATE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Again, this might be playing loose with the definition of cameo too, but Dreyfuss’ smart part as “Boarding House Resident” always makes me laugh when I watch this film. Over the shoulder of landlord Norman Fell, Dreyfuss’s delivery is unmistakable on his only line: “Shall I call the cops? I’ll call the cops.”

9. Sigourney Weaver in ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) She only appears in one shot, and it’s a long one, as Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen) very tall date to yet another showing of THE SORROW AND THE PITY but if you ever see this film on the big screen you can see her features better. It was her first film and I bet nobody involved could predict that only 2 years later she would break through big in ALIEN. From “Alvy’s Date Outside Theatre” with no lines to science fiction icon/feminist heroine Ripley is quite a leap considering.

10. The Clash in THE KING OF COMEDY (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982) From the IMDb Trivia section for this film: “In the scene where Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernard argue in the street, three of the “street scum” that mock Bernhard are Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon, members of the British punk rock band, The Clash.” There are many pictures of Scorsese directing RAGING BULL wearing a Clash t-shirt so there’s obviously a connection between the master film maker and “The Only Band That Matters” (as they were billed at the time).

Okay! There goes another patented Film Babble Blog list. If you have any other blink and miss them movie cameos please drop me a line.

More later…

Tweets, The New Grey Gardens, And The Unveiling Of The Wolverine Wax Figure

Just got back from a Vegas vacation – 2 weeks of being blinded by either the sun or intense flickering lights and it was a blast! On the trip I had noticed that Twitter had really blown up in the news so I decided to try and get into it. Sure, it might be seen as lame and trendy to some, but I dived in because I can be lame and trendy with the best of them! I got the Twitter application on my Facebook account and attempted to get a steady stream going of trip tweets. Some of said tweets:

wished David Brenner didn’t hog George Wallace’s spotlight.”

“loves the looks people give him when he’s wearing his Elvis sunglasses.”

“had a good time @ old downtown Vegas despite losing a little money. Now we are having some late dinner at Augustus Cafe @ Caesar’s Palace”

“full of Italian food again from that place (Battista’s) that looks like a mob hangout with multiple Michael Landon pictures on the wall – that damn angel musta ate there a lot.

“is watching Close Encounters (my favorite Spielberg film) on HDNet in this kickass Venetian suite.

just took a shower in a glass shower that looks like some kind of sci fi pod – thought I was going to be cryogenically frozen.

I mean my life isn’t very interesting enough normally to constantly comment on but this trip was full of fun activities so, of course, my friends and family immediately knew when I was going to whatever show – Penn & Teller, the Cirque du Solei Beatles “Love” deal, “O” (also Cirque), George Wallace, etc.), where I was dining, when I met Mary Tyler Moore (@ NAB – Las Vegas Convention Center on 4/20) and, ahem, when I got married (around 8:00 PM 4/28).

So now that I’m back my tweets will be less interesting (mostly just about what movie I’m watching I bet) but you’re welcome to follow them. Just look up Filmbabble on Twitter and sign on.

We took a little time away from Vegas to drive to Sedona, Arizona which was beautiful. after a full day of looking at art, visiting Montezuma Castle, and walking trails in the red rock country we relaxed in our sweet suite. After viewing too much reportage on the Craigslist killer through much channel flipping I was happy to see the new telefilm GREY GARDENS on HBO.

If you’re not in the know it’s based on the 1974 Maylses bros. documentary (also named GREY GARDENS) about Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale and her daughter Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale who were the aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis. Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, respectively, portray the ladies living in absolute squalor in their rundown mansion in Easthampton, New York. With flash backs to Little Edie‘s New York lavish lifestyle as an aspiring actress before being sucked into her Mother’s Hell hole habitat we get little in the way of true insight but plenty of pleasurable kitsch.

I’ve often thought Lange brings an element of mental unstability often to roles that don’t require it but here she that more than works in her favor. Barrymore hasn’t quite matured acting-wise but since she’s playing a bad misguided showbiz wannabe she seems to somehow pull it off. Jeanne Tripplehorn (Big Love) has a great understated cameo dead on as Jackie O. with Ken Howard
(The White Shadow – oh, forget it, nobody remembers that show) and Daniel Baldwin filling out the small cast as the socialite ones that got away. While this is an immensely entertaining and moving melodrama I must recommend seeing the original documentary first for proper context. A new Criterion version is available which contains the follow-up film THE BEALES OF GREY GARDENS (2006) which I have yet to see. A friend also recommened the musical, in which he said Christine Ebersole was awesome in (comments via Facebook status updates of course), so there’s that too. Whew! Those Beales ladies really get around!

On our last day in Las Vegas we decided to check out Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum. We knew it would be cheesy but we thought it would be fun to see all those famous likenesses; some of which were awful – Springsteen with blonde hair (!) and a highly unrecognizable Brad Pitt for a few examples. What we didn’t know was that we walked in just in time to see the unveiling of the new Hugh Jackman Wolverine wax figure on what they dubbed “Wolverine Wednesday.” I filmed it with my camera and since it was so delightfully stupid I decided to share it with you fine folks:


Now that’s one way to start off the summer season which gets under way with X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE today. Hope the movie is better than that fairly unconvincing statue.

More later…

Clooney Tunes, An Assassin’s Lament, & Lou’s Lost Lullabies To Die For

Time for some more reviews of new release DVDs. Let’s get right to ‘em:

LEATHERHEADS (Dir. George Clooney, 2008)

Its doubtful that anybody will ever mistake this for a comedy classic. George Clooney’s period piece football follies opened last spring to mixed reviews and bad box office and it’s immediately easy to see why. The first few scenes involving a comic contrast between college and professional football in 1925 breeze by setting the lightweight tone with the tried and true jazz scoring. The all too familiar sense of a by-the-numbers conventional comedy is set in place with only Clooney’s self deprecating charm to elevate it. As you should well know, the man is not above cracks about his age (he’s called “old man” and “Grandpa” throughout the film) and his getting punched in the face is a almost cartoonish given so there’s that. There’s more than a little of Ulysses Everett McGill from O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU in Clooney’s Jimmy ‘Dodge’ Connelly – captain of the Duluth Bulldogs who, of course, are cast as lovable underdogs. <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section

Clooney evidently learned a lot from his three-time collaborators the Coen Brothers, with décor and dialogue that echoes greatly of their particular brand of old timey screwball. This also applies in the case of the fast talking quick witted newspaper gal that sets out to expose a “boy wonder” a la THE HUDSUCKER PROXY except that here Renée Zellweger actually pulls it off better than Jennifer Jason Leigh did. Clooney plots to save his team, and pro football in the process, by exploiting the celebrity of a war hero (The Office’s Jon Krasinski) as a new team member. Everybody’s working their own angles in this enterprise especially a sly Jonathan Pryce as Krasinski’s agent who even tries to throw his hat into the predictable romantic triangle of the three leads. As for predictable goes, theres the obligatory bar brawl, much farcical bickering, standard montages of sepia-tinted photographs, and the ole climatic final game that everything hinges on. Yep, weve all seen this many times before.

It helps that Clooney and Zellweger have wonderful chemistry in their snappy repartee and a slow dance in a speakeasy certainly gives off sparks, but this is a forgettable formula film. Its the kind of movie one would watch in a hotel room while going to sleep or glance at randomly while reading a magazine on a plane. Im sure it’ll be playing forever on TBS because its exactly their kind of safe family fare. LEATHERHEADS isnt a bad movie, it just lacks the vital energy that flowed through Clooneys first 2 films as director – the weirdly absorbing CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND and the sublimely supreme GOODNIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK. I doubt many people would seriously regret watching it, I just think theyll feel the same indifference that moviegoers and critics showed on its first run. I know I did.

This also died a quick death at the theaters for good reason:

CHAPTER 27 (Dir. J.P. Schaefer, 2007) Was it really any big deal that pretty boy actor Jared Leto put on 67 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, the deranged murderer of John Lennon? I mean we’re not talking Robert De Niro in RAGING BULL here, are we? Actually, it’s another De Niro movie that CHAPTER 27 wants to evoke and that’s TAXI DRIVER. Much like Travis Bickle’s inner dialogue raged about loneliness, rain washing the streets clean of trash, and personally vowing to rid the world of scum; Chapman’s focuses on the phonies he hates inspired heavily by Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher In The Rye”. Titled as such because J.D. Salinger’s book contained 26 chapters (get it?), this film depicts the three days in December 1980 that Chapman stalked the streets of New York, lurking for long hours at the gate of the Dakota (where Lennon and wife Yoko Ono lived) with evil intent. He befriends a friendly Beatles fan, played by Lindsay Lohan of all people, named Jude – that’s right. Jude didn’t exist in real life and really shouldn’t exist here but it seems that first time writer/director Schaefer decided there had to be more of a dynamic to this dreary material.

That Leto’s work is the best acting I’ve witnessed of his and the film is well made is the best I can say here. I could never get over the question of “why?” Why recreate the incredibly unpleasant pathetic circumstances of such a wasteful tragedy? Doesn’t making Chapman into a tortured dark cinematic character like De Niro’s Travis Bickle romanticize him in a disgusting manner that really doesn’t fit with his pathetic psyche? Never when watching this film did I feel there was any art or worth in dramatizing these events. At one of many absurdly fictitious moments, Lohan introduces Leto to Lennon’s nanny strolling in Central Park with a young boy supposed to be Sean Ono Lennon. It’s an icky offensive scene that defines how misguided this project was in every sense. The real Sean Ono Lennon called this film “tacky” which is a major understatement; CHAPTER 27 is severely unnecessary but worse, it’s an insult. Schaefer should be ashamed.

Whew! Those last few films weren’t very appetizing. Maybe a rock concert film will lighten things up. Oops, not sure that’s quite in the cards with:

LOU REED’S BERLIN (Dir. Julian Schnabel, 2007)

It has been a trend of late for an artist or band to perform a classic album from start to finish. Patti Smith performed her seminal “Horses” for its 30th anniversary in 2005, Sonic Youth not long ago trotted out “Daydream Nation” (1988) to the applause of aging hipsters everywhere, Public Enemy played “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” (also 1988), and Liz Phair was able to raise her ticket prices due to resuscitating her “Exile In Guyville”. But while those albums were undeniably classic or at least huge fan favorites, even hardcore Lou Reed fans have had troubles with “Berlin”. I myself didn’t “get it” back in my youth when going through an extreme Velvet Underground phase and devouring all things Lou. It was too dark and repetitive for me so I opted for “Transformer” or “Rock ‘N Roll Animal” when it came to early-mid 70’s Reed repertoire. So grim that I put it on the shortlist I had of albums to contemplate suicide to you understand? Well, it’s been years since I’ve heard it and like Lou felt now is as good a time as any to rediscover what I originally thought was a very odd and overly orchestrated song cycle.

Schnabel, a huge fan of the album, filmed Reed and a full band including horns and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY over 5 nights in December of 2006. Lou’s longtime guitarist Fernando Saunders and the highly acclaimed Rob Wasserman on stand-up bass make up the band with, most notably, guitarist Steve Hunter who played on the album back in the day. They deliver mighty arrangements for these songs rescuing them from the synthesized chill and giving them much needed warmth, even if it is desperate warmth. Reed looks like he means every word of such weepers as “Caroline Says” (both I & II) and “Sad Song” while “How Do You Think It Feels” as a more straight forward tune (though no less theatrical) is sung with none of his typical detachment.

Knowing that Reed isn’t Mick Jagger and wouldn’t work the audience or cameras in any way Schnabel incorporates film footage that is shown on a screen behind the band and also is intercut through-out. The footage, filmed by Lola Schnabel, depicts the doomed lover characters from the album mostly Caroline (Emmanuelle Seigner – Roman Polanski’s wife!) in purposely blurry artsy scatterings. LOU REED’S BERLIN may not be the most compelling concert film (that would be Jonathan Demme’s STOP MAKING SENSE) but it may prove to be the most haunting. It’s not for the casual fan in that there’s no “Walk On The Wild Side” or “Satellite Of Love” and the long moody pieces may being boring city for some less loyal Lou fans. However just about everybody should appreciate that when savoring the power of the band punching out a furious version of “Men Of Good Fortune” behind him early in the film, Reed actually sports a big smile. And that really is saying a lot.

More later…

Blasting Bogdanovich & 10 Definitive Rockumentaries

Who knew Peter Bogdanovich could rock?

This guy – the refined ascot wearing autuer who directed THE LAST PICTURE SHOW but is best known to the masses as Dr. Melfi’s shrink on The Sopranos not only can rock but he can rock for a long ass time. 4 hours in fact – the length of his new rock documentary TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM.

I made it through the whole thing and loved it (I hope my review below won’t take 4 hours to read) and it got me to thinking about other great rock documentaries, or rockumentaries if you will, so yeah – I made another official Film Babble Blog list. First though let’s take in Bogdanovich as he goes off on a Tom Petty tangent:


“Marty took 3 hours and 40 minutes to tell 6 years of Dylan and I figured, if that’s the case, why shouldn’t we take 4 hours to tell 30 years of Tom Petty?”
– Peter Bogdanovich on Sound Opinions (broadcast January 7th, 2008)

A big package this is – 4 discs, 2 of which are the 4 hour 15 minute director’s cut of the documentary, the 3rd disc is the complete 30th Anniversary Gainesville, Florida concert from September 30th, 2006, and the 4th is a soundtrack CD featuring 9 previously unreleased songs. Whew! Hard to claim to be just a casual Petty fan after absorbing all of that. Bogdanovich’s film even at its bloated length is engrossing and never lags.

Framed by footage from the before mentioned concert we are taken through the history of the band with interview segments spliced with photos, fliers, home movies, TV appearances, grainy videotape material, and every other source available. The ups and downs are perfectly punctuated with Petty standards – the punchy pop bright Byrds influence that brought forth the break-through single “American Girl” captures the band on a television stage young and green while the promotional video for “Refugee” shows them freshly on the mend from battles with lawyers and declaring bankruptcy.

Of course there are unavoidable rockumentary clichés that are as old than THIS IS SPINAL TAP – recording studio squabbles, the trials of transporting drugs over the borders, and the “Free Fallin'”-out of the band when they aren’t on the same page but they are amusingly displayed in a knowing manner that transcends the usual VH1 classic fodder. It’s hard not to think of Scorsese’s landmark Dylan doc when putting in disc 2 of RUNNIN’ DOWN A DREAM for the most obvious reason – as Part 2 starts the first words uttered, by Petty, are “Bob Dylan, I don’t think there’s anyone we admire more”. So the collaboration with Petty and Dylan begins – there is great footage from the HBO special Hard To Handle. Bob thrusts his hand behind him while playing his harmonica on the intro of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” to stop the band from coming in too soon and it’s an amazing moment – the greatest songwriter ever (as Petty and I call him) directing the best working class Americana band of the mid 80’s and beyond.

Tom and Bob’s collaboration led to the Traveling Wilbury’s – the ultimate supergroup filled out by former Beatle George Harrison, legend Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne of the elaborately Beatle-esque Electric Light Orchestra. Petty’s approach was forever altered – which we see as certain band members have to cope with his new direction. Especially former drummer Stan Lynch, (who refused to be interviewed for the film but is presented in archive footage) who says bluntly of Petty’s biggest selling album “Full Moon Fever” – “there were more than a couple songs I just didn’t like.” Through the 90’s up to now we see Petty and the Heartbreakers weather grunge (Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl played with them on SNL right after Lynch left), a death of a long time but still considered “new kid” bassist Howie Epstein, and the competition from a world in which “rock stars were being invented on game shows” all with their self declared “I Won’t Back Down” spirit.

Though you ordinarily wouldn’t think of him in the same company as Orson Welles and John Ford, this masterful showcase of material makes a solid case that Petty is indeed in the pantheon of those previous subjects of Bogdanovich’s. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam, who seems to show up in every rocumentary or rock related movie these days (even WALK HARD), appears at one point to sing a duet with Petty on “The Waiting” at a recent concert. When the song ends and the giant audience erupts Petty says to Vedder, “Look at that, Eddie – rock and roll heaven.” He’s right – for 4 hours and 15 minutes it sure is.

So since Bogdanovich’s Petty opus joins the ranks of great rockumentaries and because this year new docs ’bout U2, Patti Smith, and Marty’s huge Rolling Stones project will be unleashed on the market it’s time to appraise those ranks. So here’s:

10 Definitive Rockumentaries

1. A tie – DON’T LOOK BACK (Dir. D.A. Pennebaker, 1967) /NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2005)

Despite the fact that I hate ties this shouldn’t surprise anyone, I mean have you met me? D.A. Pennebaker’s document of Bob’s 1965 British tour coupled with Marty’s wider scoped portrait of Dylan’s rise to fame are equally essential so I could not separate them. The Bob shown in these docs, with the wild hair, sunglasses and mod clothing is the same Bob that Cate Blanchett portrayed in I’M NOT THERE – the one most caged in his persona and held to the highest levels of scrutiny. Incredible concert footage flows through both films and hits its pinnacle in May 1966 when Bob faces a hostile crowd and a historic heckler – “Judas!” is shouted from the darkness one night in Manchester. “I don’t believe you – you’re a liar!” Dylan sneers before launching into a mindblowingly rawking “Like A Rolling Stone”. Scorsese and Pennebaker both capture lightning in a bottle and leave us with glorious glimpses of the greatest songwriter ever in his prime serenading the world even when most of the world wasn’t quite ready for his weary tune.

2. I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002)

Not a career overview but a capsule of one particular plagued period when a great band – Wilco – made a great record (“Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”) and it was rejected by their record company. Chicago critic, and co-host of the great NPR show Sound Opinions Greg Kot puts it best: “It’s not a VH1 “Behind The Music” story. It’s a not a drugs-groupies-celebrity kind of story at all. This band’s story is the music. 20 years from now their probably going to get more of their due than now.” Well let’s get them their due right now because this a compelling black and white film full of great music both in the studio and on stage. Key scene: leader Jeff Tweedy and guitarist Jay Bennett have a tense awkward argument over a crucial edit while mixing the album that shows how far they have drifted apart as collaborators. Indeed Bennett was asked to leave the band while the film was being made. The band grows stronger and gets a label and has a hit album which gives this rockumentary a happy ending and a nice second placing on this list.

3. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT (Dir. Jeff Stein, 1979)

Sure there’s that new more extensive and correctly chronological AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO but this hodgepodge of Who with its odds ‘n ends, warts ‘n all, kitchen sink approach is much more exciting. In the first five minutes explosives go off in Keith Moon’s drumkit from a performance on the Smothers Brothers Comedy Show then we zigzag around to such ’60s shows as Shindig and Beatlcub, seminal gigs like WOODSTOCK and the Monterey International Pop Festival and then conclude with specially shot for the film footage from Shepperton Film Studios mere months before Moon’s death in ’78. We don’t get narration or anything in the way of historical context – none of the bits are titled and nobody is identified and it is all out of order – but the collage effect satisfies and everything jels together like one of best movie mixtapes ever. Key scene: The Who blow the Stones off the stage on their own TV special with a ferocious “A Quick One, While He’s Away”.

4. GIMME SHELTER (Dirs. Albert Maysles, David Maysles & Charlotte Zwerin, 1970)

The 60’s dream died here, or so the tale goes – just ask Don McLean. That fatal night at Altamont Speedway where Hells Angels acted as security for a free Rolling Stones gig made what could have been just an assembly line concert film (see LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER
for that) into a piece of true crime documentation that could play on MSNBC as well as VH1 Classic. The Stones had shed psychedelia and were getting back to their roots so in 1969, touring with Ike and Tina Turner and we get a good sampling of a Madison Square Garden concert (also featured on the album “Get Your Ya-Yas Out”) and a stirring performance of “Wild Horses” at Muscle Shoals Studio in Alabama before proceeding to the scene of the crime in California. We see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards watching the Altamont footage in the editing room and they freeze the image of a knife in the hand held above the fighting crowd and it is one of the most chilling images in cinema that has ever been seen. I don’t know if Satan was laughing with delight like McLean sings in “American Pie” but he was sure smirking.

5. LET IT BE (Dir. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, 1970) Actually the 60’s dream died here too. The break-up of the Beatles with their final public performance on a rooftop in London is a tough sad watch but one that’s vital in understanding exactly how the mighty can fall. Unfortunately because as producer and former Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall said recently “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues” – the film may not see the light of a DVD player anytime soon. That’s too bad – even though it’s not the Beatles at their best it’s them at their most human and as uncomfortable as George Harrison’s studio squabble with Paul McCartney is (George: “‘ll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won’t play at all if you don’t want me to play, you know. Whatever it is that’ll please you, I’ll do it.”) we still somehow feel the love in what they were trying to make. And in the end isn’t that what they were trying to tell us all along?

6. DiG! (Ondi Timoner, 2004) Though most haven’t heard of either of the bands studied here – The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre this tale of the sometimes friendly rivalry will make people listen up. Billed as “a real-life Spinal Tap” DiG! follows these bands with their retro rock through a few years of touring, arguing, getting wasted, busted, and getting up to do it all again. Despite the fact that DW frontman Courtney Taylor narrates, BJM member Anton Newcombe steals the show over and over with his asshole antics and crazy talk like “I’m not for sale. I’m fucking Love, do you understand what I’m saying? Like, the Beatles were for sale. I give it away.” Maybe the funniest rockumentary on this list.

7. TIME WILL TELL (Dir. Declan Lowney, 1992) Bob Marley’s story is pretty glossed over in this doc but that is okay because it is so full of great footage with many full songs represented. Interview footage doesn’t really provide insights – except that Marley was always stoned – but footage from the One Love Peace Concert and various 70’s TV shows (particuraly the footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test, BBC 1973 pictured left) is worth many repeat viewings.

8. MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE (Dir. Alek Kekishian, 1991) I’m sure there are those who will scoff but I added this not just because I realized that this list was too much of a sausage party but because it’s seriously a notable rockumentary. There sadly aren’t many docs about female artists so this will have to some representin’. This follows Madonna on her controversial Blond Ambition tour and has the backstage bits in DON’T LOOK BACK-esque hand-held black and white while the concert sequences are in color. We do actually get some amusing insights like when Warren Beatty, who briefly dated Madonna during the filming of DICK TRACY, says of her when she’s having a dental appointment filmed: “she doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing? ” None I can think of.

9. THE LAST WALTZ (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1978) Sure Marty and the Band (they were Bob’s band in 1965-66 under the name The Hawks) were both represented at the #1 spot on this list but this film deserves to place on its own. It’s a doc wrapped around a seminal concert film – the farewell performance of arguably the greatest Canadian band ever who play an incredible set helped out by their friends – including ace work by Eric Clapton,Muddy Waters, Joni Mitchell, Ronnie Hawkins, Ringo Starr, Neil Diamond (!), and their old bandleader Bob Dylan. The interview segments with Scorsese sitting casually around for conversations with Band members Robbie Robertson and Co. were parodied by Rob Reiner as director Marty DiBergi in THIS IS SPINAL TAP and they set a precedent for rockumentary etiquette. But for my money, the sequence in which Neil Young sings “Helpless” with The Band and accompanied by the beautiful backup singing of Joni Mitchell in the wings is one of the most infectious pieces of musical celluloid ever presented. That Marty had to visually edit a nugget of cocaine hanging off Young’s nose by rotoscoping in post production only adds to the affecting edge.

10. STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN (Dir. Paul Justman, 2002) This film provides a great service – it shines a light on the largely unknown supporting players on some of the greatest music of the 20th century. The Funk Brothers provided the backing for literally hundreds of hits that defined “the Detroit sound” – the memorable melodies behind Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, The Supremes, and many others. This film gives us interviews with Bandleader Joe Henry and various other surviving Funk Brother members and we see new live performances where they play with such soul notables as Me’shell Ndegeocello, Chaka Kahn, and Bootsy Collins. An incredibly entertaining and emotional experience with a band that should be grandly celebrated for, as narrating actor Andre Braugher tells us, “having played on more number-one records than The Beatles, Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys combined.”

Postnotes: I tried to focus on wide-ranging documentaries not straight concert films hence the ommision of the Jonathan Demme’s amazing STOP MAKING SENSE (which would place high on a list of straight concert films) and other worthy films of that caliber. Some other honorable mentions:

THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON (reviewed on filmbabble Oct. 11th, 2006)
GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS) – A great doc about They Might Be Giants, a band who many left behind in college but is still part of our Daily Show lives.
THE BEATLES ANTHOLOGY – If you ever have a day to kill you could do much worse than watching this 674 min. production.
METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER – This hilarious doc about a once mighty metal and going into therapy is the real-life Spinal Tap IMHO.
THE FIFTH AND THE FURY– Julien Temple and the Sex Pistols – need I say more?
THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILISATION This and its 2 sequels which cover the history of decadent underworld of punk and metal are as essential as rockumentaries can get.

Whew! Okay, that’s enough rockumentaries for now. If you think I’ve left out your favorite – that’s what the comments below is for.

This post is dedicated to
Brad Renfro (1982-2007)

He appeared as Josh in one of my all time favorite movies – GHOST WORLD (2001). At least he fulfilled that old maxim to die young and leave a good looking corpse. Sigh.


More later…

Pop Culture 101: Today’s Class – WALK HARD

What better way to celebrate the holidays than to have another lesson in pop culture provided again by Judd Apatow and his cronies? Their new movie WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY follows the trajectory of a dramatized career overview and hits many familiar targets so it’s a perfect professor for our forum. First up – A review of said film:

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (Dir. Jake Kasdan, 2007)

Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly) now joins the ranks of The Rutles as well as the Christopher Guest cinematic concoctions Spinal Tap and The Folksmen: that is fictitious musical entities created not just to satirize specific artists or styles but an entire sweep of eras and cultural contexts. Of course it’s obvious by the title alone that the chief model of mockery here is WALK THE LINE – the fine but formulaic Johnny Cash biopic. The riffing on the tried and true formula of the modern music biopic (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY, LA BAMBA, COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, THE DOORS, etc.) is the name of the game here and for the most part it’s well played.

From his meager beginnings, oh you know the story – he grew up on a farm with a stern father (Raymond J. Barry) and a loving doting mother (Margo Martindale) and a brother (Chip Hormess – later played as a ghost by Jonah Hill) who he accidentally cut in half with machete, Cox discovers the blues and quickly becomes a star with his hybrid brand of jukebox glory. Just as quickly he is turned on by his drummer (Tim Meadows) to marijuana – “it’s not habit forming!” then over the years every other drug known to man. Also just as fast he meets the woman of his dreams – back up singer Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer from the US version of The Office). He marries her before divorcing his first wife – the nagging Kirsten Wiig (SNL) and when found out is left by both women. This ushers in his dark period and we know this because Cox exclaims “this is a dark fucking period!” So I need not go on plotwise – from darkness to redemption, you get the picture. John C. Reilly carries the movie wonderfully – his singing on the sharp song satires is very strong, his wide-eyed airhead gusto is authentic, and his delivery of lines like “I’m locked in a custody battle right now. Custody is being enforced upon me which I don’t think is right” is dead on.

WALK HARD is very amusing but not roaringly hilarious – the tickling my funny bone got amounted to a series of chuckles though they were plenty enough to keep me smiling. I appreciated its tone and take on the smart-dumb kind of comedy, one that has more heart than those the smarmy scatological joke-a-minute SCARY MOVIE series that’s for sure. One of many running jokes is that there isn’t any subtext – everything is said out loud like in these random lines:

“Dewey Cox needs to think about his entire life before he plays.”

“The 60’s are an exciting and important time.”

“That was early Dewey, this is middle Dewey.”

WALK HARD continues Apatow’s winning streak (yes, I know he didn’t direct but he co-wrote produced and it’s being promoted as his enterprise) and gives us what we’ve been waiting for all these years – a full out John C. Reilly showcase (okay, maybe I’m the only one’s who’s been waiting). Take that, Joaquin Phoenix in WALK THE LINE! Eat it, Dennis Quaid in GREAT BALLS OF FIRE! In your face, RAY! Y’all gonna have to stand aside because though he surely won’t take home an Oscar for this (and that’s a damn shame) I predict that Reilly’s lampoon will have a longer lasting effect than their earnest yet often bland biopic offerings.

So now onto the Pop Culture 101 Schooling:

Warning: Many Potential Spoilers

Like I said above, of course the life and legacy of the late great Johnny Cash by way of WALK THE LINE provide the film’s narrative arc and it’s most evident in the first act with Cox’s clothes, mannerisms, his first hit record (the title song), and the dead brother all borrowed from the Man in Black. However the winning over of skeptical African American music purists comes from
THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY and Buddy Holly appears briefly played by Frankie Muniz (Malcolm In The Middle). Muniz actually has a more accurate physical appearance than Gary Busey did to Holly in the 1978 biopic and he establishes a Cox tradition of calling celebrities by their full name as in – “I’m awful nervous, Buddy Holly.”

The only exception to the full name is Elvis portrayed by Jack White of the White Stripes. The blatant mis-casting is part of the joke here as White does an exaggerated cartoon version of the King’s swagger – “look out! I could chop a man in half!” Elvis also had a dead brother – a twin that died at birth and as legend has it haunted him his whole life so there’s that too.

After his first dance with cocaine (of course provided by Meadows) Cox inadvertenly invents punk rock. Dave (Matt Besser), Dewey’s guitarist, protests “ain’t nobody gonna listen to music like this. You stand there playing as fast as you can looking like some kind of… punk.”

Cox’s Dylan period is pretty defined as well – in a bit made to look like mid 60’s grainy black and white press conference footage an interviewer even puts forth – “people are saying that your new music sounds a lot like Bob Dylan”. Cox responds “well maybe Bob Dylan sounds a lot like me!” We get a few other DON’T LOOK BACK-esque shots of Cox in Bob mode – singing lyrics like “mailboxes drip like lampposts in the twisted birth canal of the coliseum” (written by folk singer songwriter Dan Bern) and another has him wearing the same Triumph motorcycle t-shirt under a mod emblemed dress shirt just like Dylan wore on the cover of “Highway 61 Revisited”.

During the short time that WALK HARD shared the theatre I work at part-time with I’M NOT THERE (at the end of its run) I noted that both twisted anti-biopics have 2 sets of actors playing The Beatles. They are just briefly seen extras in I’M NOT THERE but they are all name cameos (to some degree) in WALK HARD. Paul Rudd (on the left) plays John Lennon, Jack Black does a horrid yet still aptly amusing Paul McCartney impression, Justin Long (the Mac guy from those commercials) does a passable George Harrison, and Jason Swartzman does an odd constipated clinched teeth take on Ringo Starr’s heavy Liverpudlian accent.

After witnessing their bickering Cox remarks “it seems like there’s a rift happening between The Beatles.” He drops acid with the fab four and has a animated YELLOW SUBMARINE derived hallucinatory experience. “We’re the trippy cartoon Beatles” Ringo (I think) says in case we didn’t make the connection.

A Brian Wilson descent into madness (complete with paisley attire and Wrecking Crew style accompaniment) follows as Cox attempts to make his highly orchestrated masterpiece that none of his fellow band members understand – i.e. the ill-fated “Smile” sessions. Inspired by Wilson’s outrageous recording methods (right down to the use of barnyard animals for sound effects) and friction with the rest of the Beach Boys, Cox’s resulting song – “Black Sheep” is, though ridiculous, a pretty groovy track.

A decade later Cox has a TV show which is most certainly based on The Johnny Cash Show but there’s also a Sonny and Cher/Laugh In variety show element to it too. His version of David Bowie’s “Starman” done with an astronaut outfit and dancing space girls is taken from many embarrassing attempts by outdated acts in the 70’s to crossover and connect with younger audiences on the small screen. The disco-fied version of the title song also drives the point home.

Late-period Dewey has him finding out that his music has been sampled by rapper L’il Nutzzak (Jacques Slade) which is perhaps inspired by Ice-T’s defense during the “Cop Killer” crisis of ’93 – “When people criticize the lyrics of rap music, I tell them to listen to ‘Folsom Prison’ – “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.” I’ve never heard any rap song that hard-core.” In general though it’s just a comment on the younguns yet again co-opting the old guard.

Lastly let’s look at the promotional materials – the poster picture (on the left) is based on the famous “Young Lion” photo of Jim Morrison taken by Joel Brodsky in 1967 (on the right) though the film itself has little DOORS spoofing except in a general ‘a rock star gets trashed way’. This is right in line with the posters for THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP – all you have to do feature a large close-up of the goofy looking protagonist and the crowds are sure to flock to the multiplex. Don’t know if the image of John C. Reilly’s mocking mug is going to put bums in the seats but I still find it funny.

The advertising campaign for WALK HARD includes a joking attempt to get the film nominated for an Academy Award – as Apatow said “our movie is the dumbest movie to ever beg for an Oscar.” Imitating iconic Johnny Cash’s famous giving the Nashville music industry the bird pose in an infamous ad in Billboard Magazine*, Cox makes his position well known. I do think the soundtrack is award worthy but against such competition as HAIRSPRAY and SWEENY TODD I seriously doubt that it will get any gold.

* The shots scanning up a page of Billboard charts to see the artist’s record hit #1 – (usually lit up) is a music biopic cliché from Hell! I can’t think of a film in the genre in which that doesn’t appear.

Now I’m sure I’ve missed many individual pop culture points and just about every trailer or TV spot I’ve seen has material not in the movie but I thought it was best to just concentrate on what’s in the theatrical release. When the DVD comes out I may do a revised edition of this Pop Culture 101 entry.

More later…

Just Some More New Release DVDs – No Big Whoop

Yep, some more recent DVD viewings are now blog-worthy:

RESCUE DAWN (Dir. Werner Herzog, 2006)

“Inspired by true events in the life of Dieter Dengler” so says the credits at the beginning. After some basic-training back story, this film wastes no time – on his first tour of duty in 1966 Vietam Dengler’s (the yet again reliable Christian Bale) shot down over Laos within the first 10 minutes; 15 minutes in he is captured by the enemy. He refuses to sign a war criminal document and is dragged, literally, to a Viet Cong camp to be held captive. That’s what the bulk of this story is about – his and a few other fellow inmates (including the dead on and almost dead looking Steven Zahn and Jeremy Davies) tortuous imprisonment where there thoughts of escape are discouraged as futile from every angle. Dengler doesn’t think so and plots to overcome all obstacles. Obviously this story wouldn’t be told if he didn’t do just that – so no accusations of spoilers please. With its gripping storyline and clarity of vision RESCUE DAWN has a lot going for it but is bogged down with unconvincing dialogue and Herzog’s choice of fast fades that make this choppy where it should be fluid. “The quick have their sleepwalkers, and so do the dead” Bale says early on in his captivity and it falls flat – really not provoking much of a reaction. Perhaps because this film seems to sleepwalk all too quickly into oblivion.

HAIRSPRAY (Dir. Adam Shankman, 2007)

It would be hard to dump on this one. Though I have friends who are big fans of the original John Waters 1988 movie and its soundtrack, then the 2002 Tony winning Broadway musical adaptation and its cast recording, I didn’t understand why a new film version (with its soundtrack) was necessary – I mean wasn’t this pretty much covered? But this movie is so damn cheery – earnest and smiling right at you without a cynical frame on any of its reels that questioning or dismissing it makes one feel like a Blue Meanie. The most enjoyable of the cast is Nikki Blonsky (who fits into Rikki Lake’s shoes perfectly) as Tracy Turnblad. Blonsky is a triple threat who she out-sings, out-dances, and yes, out-acts everybody here. As the perky beyond belief Tracy she causes a stir on a local Baltimore American Bandstand type show in 1962 when she exclaims that “everyday should be Negro day” (the show only had one day a month that black kids were allowed to dance on the air). With her angsty-acting friends (Zac Efron, Ellijah Kelley, and Amanda Bynes) behind her, they plot to take over the program to sing the praises of progress and integration.

The supposed trump card here is – taking over the part from the legendary Divine – John Travolta in drag (including a fairly realistic looking fat-suit) but he and husband Christopher Walken as Tracy’s parents never rise above the level of SNL sketch caricatures. Travolta, who looks ridiculous and has an awful weirdly accented voice, is never believable as a woman but his shenanigans somehow breeze by. Queen Latifah fares better with some of the most sincere soulful singing here on some of the best songs though like the movie itself most of the set-piece musical numbers go on too long. In a movie where just about every older face is familiar (Michelle Phieffer as the villainous TV producer, and in incidental roles – Paul Dooley, Jerry Stiller and Allison Janey) it’s really the youngsters show – especially Blonsky and Kelley. If you love musical romps you’ll love it. Me, I have a mild aversion to romps but I have to admit that HAIRSPRAY is adequately amusing.

CIVIC DUTY (Dir. Jeff Renfroe, 2006)

Peter Krause, best known for playing Nate on Six Feet Under (HBO 2000-2005), is a downsized accountant who thinks a new neighbor (Khaled Abol Naga), whom he refers to as “that Muslim guy”, is a terrorist plotting destruction from his tiny apartment. Effectively crisp and creepy first half but the second half desolves into a worn out scenario – i.e. a hostage situation. Krause is a lot like his former character Nate – only more of an asshole; likewise Richard Schiff as a unsympathetic FBI agent is playing only a slight variation on his cynical Toby Ziegler part from The West Wing. What could have been a sharp cinematic study of post 9/11 paranoia is just another regular guy goes crazy and alienates all of society plot. I’m sure somebody has said this before but I liked this movie better the first time – when it was called ARLINGTON ROAD.

Now, this is more of my kind of romp:

HELP! (Dir. Richard Lester, 1965)

Superintendent (Patrick Cargill): “So this is the famous Beatles?”
John (John Lennon): “So this is the famous Scotland Yard, ay?”
Superintendent: “How long do you think you’ll last?”
John: “Can’t say fairer than that. Great Train Robbery, ay? How’s that going?”

A seminal film I saw many times in my youth reissued yet again – this time in a 2 disc DVD edition in fancier packaging than before * and it’s nice to have. Though the extras are inessential – the 30 min. documentary is fine but who’s going to watch a featurette about the film’s restoration process more than once? The movie does look better than I’ve ever seen it – sharper with much more vivid color. Colour (British spelling) was pretty much its only original gimmick – The Beatles now in full colour! Their first feature, black and white of course, A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is widely regarded as a classic, one of the best rock ‘n roll movies ever, blah blah blah while HELP! has been almost lovingly dismissed. I’ll say this – A HARD DAY’S NIGHT may be the better film but HELP! is a lot more fun. It captures the group right before they discarded their cuddly mop-top image and became another entity all together and it makes a strong case for their oft overlooked mid-period music as well.

* It is available also in a collector’s edition with book of the screenplay, lobby card reproductions, and a poster that all retails at $134.99!

The plot? Oh yeah, some ancient mystic religion hunts down laconic but wacky drummer Ringo Starr and his mates because he happens to be wearing their sacrificial ring. They hunt him across the globe with locations in Austria and the Bahamas (simply because the Beatles wanted to go there so it was written in). Along the way they play (or more accurately lipsynch to) a bevy of great songs – the title track, the Dylan influenced “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, “Ticket To Ride”, and George Harrison’s unjustly underrated “I Need You” among them.

Watching it again I remembered why I loved it so much as a kid – it displayed a fantasy version of the Beatles’ lives in which they all lived together in a groovy connected townhouse flat that had grass as carpet in one section and a neat bed compartment sunken floor that John slept in, it has moments of comic surrealism like when Paul McCartney is shrunken to cigarette size (“The Adventures Of Paul On The Floor” the subtitle calls it), and has a silly James Bond spoofing plot that doesn’t matter at all. If you haven’t seen HELP! it’s one to put in your Netflix queue or on your Amazon wish list – if you have seen it before you should really re-discover it now because of how splendid this new remaster looks and how funny it still is. Or you could wait a few years ’til the next reissue or whatever the new format’s version of it will be.

Post Note: Another bonus that this new DVD set has is an essay in its booklet by Martin Scorsese. He writes “Everyone was experimenting around this time. Antonioni with BLOWUP, Truffaut with FAHRENHEIT 451, Fellini and Godard with every movie – and HELP! was just as exciting.” I would’ve never thought to put Richard Lester’s work on HELP! in that class but if Marty says it is – it is.

More later…

Pop Culture 101: Today’s Class – KNOCKED UP

I finally got to see Judd Apatow’s hit comedy KNOCKED UP (newly released on DVD) which I really regretted missing last summer in the theaters. I thought it was very funny though it was more of a James L. Brooks style drama than I expected – the 2 hour 13 min. running time should have tipped me off. What really got to me about this anti rom-com about slacker stoner Ben (Seth Rogen) unintentionally impregnating way-out-of-his-league Allsion (Katherine Heigl), is the incredible amount of pop culture referencing going down. The abundance of name dropping, bad impersonations, and snarky wise-cracks would put Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarentino to shame! It’s almost like without these media touch points these people would have nothing to talk about at all. Since I would have nothing to talk about without them let’s take a look at the cinematic schooling KNOCKED UP provides us in pop culture profundity:

WARNING : Many Potential Spoilers

A large percentage of the riffing comes from Ben’s room-mates (Jason Segel, Martin Starr, Jay Barachel, and SUPERBAD‘s Jonah Hill – who all use their real names in the movie). They all have a what they call “the dirty man competition” – a bet that air-headed Martin can’t grow his hair and beard without cutting or shaving for a year. If he lasts that long they have to pay his rent for a year – If he caves and shaves he’ll have to pay all of their rents for a year. So they hurl insults relentlessly at him – calling him SERPICO, Charles Manson, Chewbacca by way of Jay’s horrible impression, and Jonah asking him if he had a hard time changing his name from Cat Stevens to Yusef Islam. Martin: “yeah, it was awkward.”

The gang has a website in the works – Ben’s pitch: “only at fleshofthestars.com * will customers be able to find exactly into what movie their favorite stars are exposed”. It seems to be a premise created soley to riff on Jamie Lee Curtis’ infamous full-frontal in TRADING PLACES, Julianne Moore’s pantless appearance in SHORT CUTS , we actually see them watch the Denise Richards/Neve Campbell lesbian love scene in WILD THINGS on TV, and Meg Ryan’s nude scenes in IN THE CUT. To their later dismay Pete (Paul Rudd) tells Ben there is already a celebrity nudity website called Mr. Skin. Ben rationales – “Good things come in pairs you know? VOLCANO, DANTE’S PEAK. DEEP IMPACT, ARMAGEDDON, right? WYATT EARP, TOMBSTONE.” To which Jay adds – “Panda Express, Yashinoya Beef Bowl.”

* Yep, it’s a real site now.

Random Reference Riffing :

Shortly before Ben and Heigl meet, the guys discuss Speilberg’s MUNICH – all agreeing on its awesomeousity. Ben : “Dude, every movie with Jews we’re the ones getting killed. MUNICH flips it on its ear. We’re capping motherfuckers!” They all drink to Ben’s proclamation – “if any of us get laid tonight it’s because of Eric Bana in MUNICH!”

Paul Rudd’s character Pete is a A & R guy for some never named record label. Photos of him with Elvis Costello and framed album covers (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Damn The Torpedos” can be seen a few times) decorate the walls of his suburban home. Pete does a number of impressions throughout the film including Robert Deniro (not bad) and in the deleted scenes – Austin Powers (awful). He and Rogen disagree on music – Ben: “If I ever listen to Steely Dan, I want you to slice my head off with an Al Jarreau LP!” The most defining straight-forward statement that Pete makes of course is encased in pop culture – “marriage is like that show, Everybody Loves Raymond but it’s not funny.”

Pete and wife Debbie (Leslie Mann – Judd Apatow’s real-life wife) have kids (played by Apatow’s daughters Maude and Iris) who argue over whether to listen to the soundtrack to “Rent” or the band Green Day from the back seat of Allison’s car on the way to school. Not far from the tree obviously.

Of course you’ve got to have a “boy loses girl” 3rd act conflict development with both couples spliting temporarily. Ben and Pete take a trip to Las Vegas in which they plan to take mushrooms (acquired by Pete from a roadie for The Black Crowes no less) and go see Cirque de Soleil quoting SWINGERS all along the way – “you’re so money!”

On a hotel room TV a scared Ben, tripping out of his mind on those Crowes roadie ‘shrooms, watches CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN (we see shots of Steve Martin running around surrounded by his kids’ wacky shenanagins) and remarks “He’s got 12 kids…that’s a lot of responsibility to be joking about. That’s not funny.”

When Ben starts getting his life together and moves out of what was essentially a clubhouse into a respectable apartment he replaces his framed Bob Marley smoking a big ass spleef poster (obviously pictured on the right) for a ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND poster which he hangs in the soon to be nursery.

Dr. Kuni (Ken Jeong) who delivers the baby angrily tells Ben in the hallway – “if you want a special experience go to a Jimmy Buffett concert!” In the bonus features there is a line-o-rama feature that has dozens of alternate lines for many scenes. There’s an amusing run with trying out variations on the Jimmy Buffett line – some examples: “go to Disneyland”, “go to freaking Busch Gardens”, “go to Korea”, and “go to my apartment, it’s phenomenal.”

Another run on the line-o-rama has Jonah Hill saying “Mr. Skin is like the Beatles and we’re like the Monkees” and “Mr. Skin is like Alec Baldwin and we’re like Billy Baldwin.”

The opening credits sequence shower scene from CARRIE is viewed by Ben and Allison for further fleshofthestars.com research.

Loudon Wainwright III plays Dr. Howard and also contributes the songs “Daughter”, “Grey In L.A.”, and “Lullaby” to the soundtrack.

One of the deleted scenes has Jonah spouting out a hilarious rant about BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN which he says “was made by, like, fuckin’ homophobes in my mind!” He drags MASTER AND COMMANDER and Bruce Willis’s full frontal in COLOR OF NIGHT down into his profanity filled diatribe.

Harold Ramis makes a nice (albeit too brief) showing as Ben’s father. He attempts to console his son in an extended scene with an Indiana Jones analogy – “So, he could be like little Indy and you could be Sean Connery.”
Ben: “Or, I could be the guy that got melted when he looked in the Ark.”

Uncredited cameos by obvious Apatow and Co. friends Steve Carrell, James Franco (plugging SPIDERMAN 3 which was released at the same time as KNOCKED UP and is mentioned several times), and Andy Dick are brief blips on the reference radar – helped by Heigl’s character being a reporter for E! Entertainment Television. That definitely hooked up the attitude-infused Ryan Seacrest appearance. Also swift bit parts from SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig and Bill Hader should be noted too.

Whew! That’s a lot of TRAINSPOTTING for one movie. I didn’t even mention the mentions of Robin Williams, Taxicab Confessions, Martin Scorsese, Cartman from South Park, Doc Brown from BACK TO THE FUTURE, Ben’s Mr. Bill T-shirt, Pete’s Tom Waits “Rain Dogs” T-shirt, Vince Vaughn, Matthew Fox from Lost, Fellicity Huffman from TRANSAMERICA, as well as Ben and gang’s posters of Pink Floyd, Hunter S. Thompson, and Fraggle Rock. Okay, now I ‘ve mentioned them.

There will be a test on all this so I hope you took good notes.

More later…

Toronto By Stone

<!– D(["mb","G.I. during WWII who had a one night stand with \nJude's mom in England back in the day. So Jude finds him, he's a janitor AT \nPRINCETON ( so, OK), where Jude befriends Max, a Princeton student, whose sister \nLucy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes Jude's love. Jude becomes an artist, Max gets \ndrafted, Lucy becomes involved in anti-war protest and radical politics. They \nall end up in NYC sharing an apartment with hard rockin;' Janis Joplin type, and \na Jimi Hendrix type guitar type just in from the heartland. Of course it's hard \nto make a movie/musical that contains 33 Beatles songs, vietnam, civil rights, \nprotest, assassination of MLK, psychedelia, and rock and roll in one big \npackage. And sometimes these bits might seem a bit.. forced, a song or two might \nseem randomly inserted… BUT the music is honored and performed with energy and \nimagination, the cast is uniformly excellent, and many of the production numbers \nof the music are amazing….. for example, Joe Cocker as a bum, as a Wolfman \nJack style pimp performing Come Together… or Bono as a Ken Kesey/Tmothy Leary \ntype singing… or Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, or the remarkable number at the \ninducton center where all the young inductees in their briefs are poked and \nprodded and tested and measured by square jawed Army drill instructors .. \nuntil the inductees become g.i.'s tramping throught the jungles of Vietnam \ncarrying the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders, singing "She's So Heavy"– \n the audince at Toronto gave huge ovations, thunderous applause after each \nof these scenes. Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude, has bits of the Beatle look, the \naccent, real presence and and a terrifce voice. His performance of Revolution is \na showstopper. And Evan Rachel Wood holds her own, singing effectively and \nplaying the suburban ingenue who becomes radicalized and swept up in the world \nof a Weatherman-style Svengali. Overall, a wild ride, amazing eye candy , good \nmusic, and an effective if sometimes thI asked Bruce Stone – a local writer and former teacher of mine who with his wife Mary Jo owns and runs the Chelsea and Varsity Theaters here in Chapel Hill, NC to tell Film Babble about this year’s Toronto Film Fest (Sept. 6th-13th) which they regularly attend. So Stone has the floor :

The 32nd annual Toronto International Film Festival offered up over 350 feature films from around the world with the usual hits and misses and buzz busters, with something for almost every taste. The TIFF has become one of the two or three premiere film fests of the world, certainly the largest in North America, and probably the most comprehensive in that it offers up not only the biggest and juiciest of the Hollywood prestige titles, but also the best of the indie fare, exotica from around the world, documentaries, first time breakout directors, Canadian homegrown films (gurk!), edgy crazy midnight madness slasher fanboy fare and everything in between.

<!– D(["mb","\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>and everyone gets to trade movie gossip, compare \nnotes, eat tofu paninis, or just watch the bushy tailed black squirrels of \nCanada play tag on the grassy lawns and stately trees of the manicured urban \nwild spaces.\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>\u003c/font\> \u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>Toronto is a large, cosmopolitan, welcoming city, \nswarming with… Canadians, of all things, and many others. I t also a favorite \nsite for Hollywood productions seeking out locales with a good urban feel, \nfriendly tax incentives and professional film production types who can get the \njob done. This year it was impossible not to notice the buzz of activity humming \nalong Yonge Street ( Toronto's Broadway??) as miles of power cables twisted up \nand down Yonge and snaked arount the side streets. Then the cherry pickers \nrolled in, transforming a modest storefront tatoo and nail parlor \ninto Harlem's Apollo Theater, hoisting up a huge APOLLO sign against three \nfloors of the building's facade, and then later wrapping the front of the \nbuilding in a marquee that later proclaimed the appearance of the "HARLEM \nGOSPEL CHOIR" . And suddenly a fleet of taxis , 30-40 taxis, parked in a lot \nacross from the Delta Chelsea Hotel, and two city bus "extras", one of them \ntwisted and mangled into a burned shell of a bus skeleton, clearly a before and \nafter slotted for a future role in some cataclysmic crash and burn vignette. And \ntrucks unloading lights, and huge property trunks on wheels, and more cables \nand……. one marveled at the days of preparation, the detail, the staggering \namounts of money all this STUFF must cost. And so one asks…. what the hay is \ngoing on here….. and one is told they are preparing to shoot ( get ready) THE \nHULK…. THE HULK? SON OF HULK? HULK REDUX? MR. HULK GOES TO \nWASHINTON?\u003c/font\>\u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>\u003c/font\> \u003c/div\>\n\u003cdiv\>\u003cfont face\u003d\"Arial\" size\u003d\"2\"\>But enough… let's go to the \nmovies….",1] );

The TIFF serves many purposes: it is the fall launching pad for all the hopeful awards season Oscar bait titles, it is a market place for many small and independent films that come to town without distribution, but mostly it is a feast for film lovers from Toronto and around the world who converge on Toronto for a week and a half of gorging on films from morning to midnight for 10 straight days. Toronto is a great movie town and all screenings, even for the most marginal of films, are remarkably well attended. Ticketholders wait in one line, those without tickets queue up in a rush line hoping to snag tickets for the few remaining seats, and everyone gets to trade movie gossip, compare notes, eat tofu paninis, or just watch the bushy tailed black squirrels of Canada play tag on the grassy lawns and stately trees of the manicured urban wild spaces.

Toronto is a large, cosmopolitan, welcoming city, swarming with… Canadians, of all things, and many others. It also is a favorite site for Hollywood productions seeking out locales with a good urban feel, friendly tax incentives and professional film production types who can get the job done. This year it was impossible not to notice the buzz of activity humming along Yonge Street (Toronto’s Broadway??) as miles of power cables twisted up and down Yonge and snaked arount the side streets. Then the cherry pickers rolled in, transforming a modest storefront tatoo and nail parlor into Harlem’s Apollo Theater, hoisting up a huge APOLLO sign against three floors of the building’s facade, and then later wrapping the front of the building in a marquee that later proclaimed the appearance of the “HARLEM GOSPEL CHOIR” . And suddenly a fleet of taxis , 30-40 taxis, parked in a lot across from the Delta Chelsea Hotel, and two city bus “extras”, one of them twisted and mangled into a burned shell of a bus skeleton, clearly a before and after slotted for a future role in some cataclysmic crash and burn vignette. And trucks unloading lights, and huge property trunks on wheels, and more cables and…one marveled at the days of preparation, the detail, the staggering amounts of money all this STUFF must cost. And so one asks…. what the hay is going on here….. and one is told they are preparing to shoot (get ready) THE HULK…. THE HULK? SON OF HULK? HULK REDUX? MR. HULK GOES TO WASHINGTON?

But enough… let’s go to the movies….

THE SAVAGES (Dir. Tamara Jenkins, 2007)

Clearly a prestige title from Fox Searchlight for the holidays. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney star as brother and sister suddenly burdened with a father slipping into dementia in Sun City, Arizona. Hoffman is a (typically) rumpled single English professor in the academic backwaters of Buffalo, NY, while sister is a writer from NYC. Together they travel to Arizona’s empty sterile sundrenched retirement hell and return their father to cold snowy dreary Buffalo, where they find him a nursing home and bicker about what is good enough and what isn’t. Hoffman’s character is cynical, hardbitten and grimly realistic, believing that any home is good enough for the dad, as he is so far into dementia he doesn’t know the difference, while the sister frets about the nursing homes, fusses about finding the father the best possible care, accusing her brother of indifference.

Questions unanswered… they haven’t seen or contacted their father in 10 or 11 years… why not? There seems to be some unsettled score.. but what is it? How can such a schlumpy father sire two such semi-accomplished literary children? And why do these indie movies always have artsy literati types without questioning anyone’s credentials? And notwithstanding all these questions – this is a very affecting film, warm, funny, bittersweet film, beautifully acted by the three principals with a wonderful script. And we got to see the director, Tamara Jenkins, and Laura Linney, for Q and A.

ACROSS THE UNIVERSE (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2007)

Eager to see this one, but approached with a certain trepidation, knowing the downside could be considerable, hokey, cheesy, a defilement of the Beatles and so on. Julie Taymor, the director was there to introduce the film, very open and informative and forthright about the film.. gracious and proud, and for good reason. A huge eager audience. And the movie…. a simple boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl again love story strung togther with 33 Beatles songs against the backdrop of the 60’s with all the attendant Sturm and Drang of the era, at least invoked through music and action. Jude is the boy, a Liverpudlian dockworker who comes to America to seek out his American father, a G.I. during WWII who had a one night stand with Jude’s mom in England back in the day. So Jude finds him, he’s a janitor at Princeton ( so, OK), where Jude befriends Max, a Princeton student, whose sister Lucy (Evan Rachel Wood) becomes Jude’s love. Jude becomes an artist, Max gets drafted, Lucy becomes involved in anti-war protest and radical politics. They all end up in NYC sharing an apartment with hard rockin’ Janis Joplin type, and a Jimi Hendrix type guitar type just in from the heartland.

Of course it’s hard to make a movie/musical that contains 33 Beatles songs, Vietnam, civil rights, protest, assassination of MLK, psychedelia, and rock and roll in one big package. And sometimes these bits might seem a bit.. forced, a song or two might seem randomly inserted… BUT the music is honored and performed with energy and imagination, the cast is uniformly excellent, and many of the production numbers of the music are amazing….. for example, Joe Cocker as a bum, as a Wolfman Jack style pimp performing “Come Together”… or Bono as a Ken Kesey/Timothy Leary type singing… or Eddie Izzard as Mr. Kite, or the remarkable number at the inducton center where all the young inductees in their briefs are poked and prodded and tested and measured by square jawed Army drill instructors .. until the inductees become GIs tramping throught the jungles of Vietnam carrying the Statue of Liberty on their shoulders, singing “She’s So Heavy”- the audience at Toronto gave huge ovations, thunderous applause after each of these scenes. Jim Sturgess, who plays Jude, has bits of the Beatle look – the accent, real presence and and a terrific voice. His performance of “Revolution” is a showstopper. Evan Rachel Wood holds her own, singing effectively and playing the suburban ingenue who becomes radicalized and swept up in the world of a Weatherman-style Svengali. Overall, a wild ride – amazing eye candy, good music, and an effective if sometimes thin love story. Check it out.

ATONEMENT (Dir. Joe Wright, 2007)

More bigtime Oscar bait, this is director Joe Wright’s ( Pride and Prejudice) adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel about a doomed love.Keira Knightly is Cecelia Tallis the daughter of a genteel British family, who falls in love with a son one of the family’s servants. As played by James McAvoy, Robbie had been sent to Oxford through the generosity of the Tallis family’s scion, with plans to go on to medical school in a year. One summer some years before WWII the couple fall in love, but a younger sister Briony sees the couple in moments of intimacy, moments of awkwardness, and sets on a campaign to destroy this relationship out of jealousy and young girl’s caprice. This younger sister Briony is precocious, literary, willful, and destructive. Her childish petulance sets of a sequence of hurtful events that changes lives and loves … and only as an adult, seeking atonement for her youthful actions, does she fully understand the consequences of her actions. A beautiful, lyrical, almost painterly film with real emotion and deeply fely performances across the board.

LARS AND THE REAL GIRL (Dir. Craig Gillespie, 2007)

One of the breakout hits of the festival, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL is a wry, droll human comedy about a small town Minnesota misfit , so withdrawn that his first real girl is a life sized love doll ordered over the internet. Yet Lars (played by Ryan Gosling) is a gentle courtier, escorting the wheelchair bound Bianca around town, introducing her to friends and relatives until she becomes….. accepted as, well, one of the community and Lars’ special friend. But when Bianca takes ill, Lars has to confront the realities of mortality and love and loneliness…. a sweet sad hopeful ending that takes a quirky conceit and builds to layers of meaning. Bound to be one the most-discussed films of the fall.

NAISSANCE DES PIEVRES ( or… WATER LILIES) (Dir. Celine Sciamma, 2007)

A little French film about 3 teenaged girls involved with synchronized swimming…. but a powerful artfully made film about the yearning of youth and a entree deep into the secret pains of being on girl on the cusp of adulthood, sexuality and all the rest. Floriane is the star, the blonde diva of the team, yet friendless because resented by her teammates for her beauty and her precocious sexuality. She takes as her “protege” the lanky, younger, tomboyish Marie, awestruck to be allowed into Floriane’s world.. unitl she learns part of her role is to serve as a “cover” for Floriane’s nightly assignations with a young stud form the men’s swimming team. Their relationship becomes a tortured dance of dependency, attachment and sexual attraction as an escape form the world of men. Anne is the other girl, Marie’s everyday friend, tall, heavy, doughy faced but edgy and perceptive, and filled herself with yearning for the boy of Floriane’s secret nights. The dynamics of jealousy, envy, desire, friendship and the pain of youthful longing fill every scene.. the three girls are a revelation, the dialogue is minimal, but the aching and emotion are real. A small special film, but one worth watching for if it ever sees the light of day.

NIGHTWATCHING (Dir. Peter Greenaway, 2007)

A Peter Greenaway film about Rembrandt’s creation of his masterpiece Nightwatch. Shoot on a soundstage, but with detailed costumes and props, but stagy, talky, full of clever but arch and brittle dialogue, more an intellectual exercise than a movie…. At over two hours, we ankled after 40 minutes. Love Rembrandt, hated the movie.

THE WALKER (Dir. Paul Scrader, 2007)

Another stinker form Paul Schrader, of all people. Woody Harrellson plays a gay, aristocratic Washington, D.C. “Walker”, that is, one who escort women of a certain age to society functions when their politician bigwig husbands are otherwise engaged. Harrelson affects a syrup thin Southern accent to suggest his patrician Virginia lineage, but it’s all too bogus and fey. Lauren Bacall, Krisitin Scott Thomas and Lily Tomlin (!) portray the society dames and politician wives with whom he consorts. But about a third of the way in Krisitin Scott Thomas’ secret lover is killed, Woody is suspected, and the whole movie turns into a dreary, slowpaced and talky murder mystery that makes sense, especially if you are falling asleep half the time. Something about the Vice President being blackmailed… or maybe not, who knows?

(AKA – A GIRL CUT IN TWO) (Dir. Claude Chabrol, 2007)

French master Claude Chabrol brings us this overheated love triangle. A hot young TV weather girl becomes smitten by a lecherous writer, married and much praised for his art… and he “educates” the young girl in the ways of love… sort of. And professes his love, but walks away when she gets too clingy. At the same time, a petulant wealthy young horndog pursues the girl, out of attraction, and partly because he resents the older writer who has settled in the same provincial town. He cadges abnd cajoles, and pleads and whines until the girl marries him… and then rails at the older horndog writer for having corrupted her (when he wanted to corrupt her exclusively for himself!). So anyhow, the writer shows up in town to receive an award and do a public reading. And the younger guy shoots him at the lectern.. and of course, kills… for corrupting his young bride. Ans is sent to jail. And refuses to see his bride ever after. Coulda been a juicy farce, but sadly wasn’t… enough.
Bruce Stone (9/2007)

Thanks for the Toronto report Stone! Don’t be a stranger.

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…