Les Vampires

I went to work and didn’t have the best day, but I got a lot done. I returned home and finished watching “Les Vampires,” a silent film serial from 1915. It was a series of ten crime episodes involving a gang in Paris called The Vampires, and the opponent, the reporter named Philippe Guérande. In many of the episodes, barely anything happens, so I don’t think that you want to try to sit through all 440 minutes at one sitting. There are different Grand Vampires through the episode, but there is one constant, who is Irma Vep, whose name is a not-too-interesting anagram of “Vampire.” This is another case of the villain being more charismatic than the hero. There were a few chases that did not look dangerous, and neither side seems overly ingenious. The Vampires, incidentally, are not the type of vampires that are in horror movies like “The Night Stalker.” I didn’t understand why two people trying to avoid the cops would use a rope to go all the way to the ground, which it seemed that they would get hurt. I also didn’t understand why the police didn’t have someone outside the building to see if suspicious people would try to flee the building. This movie seemed like a template for the countless crime and action films that would follow. I liked watching it, although it was really old, with color tinting that wasn’t always effective. It laid out the conventions for the crime film, and Irma Vep was a strong character. There was a lot of action, even if it looks really tame compared to what we see in movies today. I thought about how slowly the train was moving, and I was reminded of Ron Howard’s “Eat My Dust.” Hypnosis was used, and there were car and rooftop chases. Louis Feuillade, the director, made more than 600 films between 1906 and 1924, and he was also known for “Fantômas” and “Judex.” I had to wonder what happened to Musidora, who played Irma Vep. Her real name was Jeanne Roques. She appeared in “Judex,” and she went on to do some writing, directing and producing. She got married in 1927, had one child, and got divorced in 1944. Her last film was “La magique image” in 1950. She died at age 68 on December 11, 1957. Some of the people who died on July 17 include Robert Wiene (1938), Billie Holiday (1959), John Coltrane (1967), Harry Guardino (1995), Geraldine Fitzgerald (2005), Mickey Spillane (2006), Walter Cronkite (2009), and Elaine Stritch (2014). Today is a birthday for David Hasselhoff (66) and Donald Sutherland (83). According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for July 17, Disneyland opened in Anaheim in 1955. In 1965, James Brown released the single “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” In 1968, the Beatles’ animated film “Yellow Submarine” premiered at the London Pavilion. In 1986, 50 people were injured as a result of gang violence outside a Run-DMC concert in Long Beach. In 1991, the state of Georgia honored James Brown for his comeback following a two-year prison term.

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Young Doctors in Love

After I returned home from seeing “Yellow Submarine,” I listened to Robert Hilburn’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Times radio program on KCSN.  He played songs from Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, and Public Enemy.  I watched the news for highlights of the A’s game against the Giants.  They did well over the weekend, winning two out of three in San Francisco after winning three out of four in Houston.  I watched “Young Doctors in Love,” an attempt to combine “Airplane!” with hospital soap operas.  The stars were Sean Young and Michael McKean.  There were some pretty good cast members, like Harry Dean Stanton, Dabney Coleman, Michael Richards, and Patrick Macnee, with Janine Turner and Demi Moore making brief appearances.  As the movie is not very funny, the value of seeing it is to spot the familiar actors in it who were in their younger days.  Some of the attempts at humor directed at women probably wouldn’t play too well with the audiences of today.  I was a bit surprised that someone like Maurice Jarre would work on a movie like this after he composed those scores to David Lean films.  The director was Garry Marshall, who would go on to better films, like “The Flamingo Kid” and “Beaches.”  He died at age 81 on July 19, 2016.  “Young Doctors in Love” was released in the summer of 1982, and so hardly anyone remembers it, as everyone was still seeing “E.T.” at the time.  “Young Doctors” is hardly a movie that you need to see.  You just see “Airplane 3” again

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Sorry to Bother You

I awoke and watched CBS Sunday Morning with segments about The Killers and Jennifer Garner.  I walked over to Pacific Film Archive and saw a group of about 150 people gathered around a big TV screen watching the end of the World Cup soccer game between France and Croatia.  The score became 4-1, but soon 4-2 on a foolish mistake by France’s goalie.  After the crowd dispersed, I took a last photo of the screen and went on to Barnes and Noble to look at the selection of Criterion Collection Blu-ray discs.  I decided to buy “Tom Jones.”  I caught a showing of “Sorry to Bother You.”  I wished they hadn’t dubbed the voices that were the so-called “white voices.”  I wished Michael Winslow of the Police Academy movie could have appeared since that was the case.  I was glad to see Danny Glover in this movie.  I don’t really want to remember him in the Lethal Weapon movies with Mel Gibson.  I didn’t have the greatest amount of sympathy for the plight of Cassius, even though he lived in a garage, because he went down the path of telemarketing.  I had to wonder about the future of this type of telemarketing because of the prevalence of robocalls.  If using a “white voice” led to financial success, then I had to wonder what using an Asian voice or a Latino voice would do.  Some of the scenes reminded me of Fellini and Eugene Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros.”  Quite a few people were anxious to see this movie on this afternoon, and they reacted to it with a lot of laughter.  I laughed at the part where the crowd urges Cassius to rap.  I’m not eager to see all these movies dealing with racial issues.  I kept thinking about “Hollywood Shuffle” as I was seeing this movie.  That was about thirty years ago.  When I looked up some biographical information about Boots Riley, I was surprised at his age, which is 47.  I was thinking that he was a bit younger than that.  He’s received a massive amount of praise for this first film of this, so it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.  I feel that I’ve seen white people satirized enough in my lifetime, so other people are anticipating his next movie more than I am.  I can’t say that he is boring.  He work does show a purpose.  I left the theatre feeling a little bit tired.    Some of the people who died on July 16 include Harry Chapin (1981), Heinrich Böll (1985), Herbert von Karajan (1989), Nate Thurmond (2016), and George A. Romero (2017).  Today is a birthday for Barry Sanders (50), Will Farrell (51), Phoebe Cates (55), and Jimmy Johnson (75).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for July 16, the movie “Topper” with Cary Grant was released in 1937.  In 1966, Tommy James and the Shondells reached Number One on the singles chart with “Hanky Panky.”  In 1982, “Young Doctors in Love,” starring Sean Young, Harry Dean Stanton, Dabney Coleman, and Patrick Macnee, was released.  In 1993, “Free Willy” was released.

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Whitney

I went to work and worked a quiet shift.  I talked about “Three Identical Strangers” with one of the women.  I returned home to have something to eat, and then I walked over to the theatre to see “Whitney,” the documentary about Whitney Houston.  I never knew much about her.  I heard some of her hits on the radio, like “Saving All My Love for You” and “The Greatest Love of All,” and I did see her sing the national anthem before the Super Bowl in 1991.  I remember her skin and bones appearance on the Michael Jackson special in 2001.  I heard the news of her death as I was returning home from the Chinese New Year Parade.  She hit one of the peaks of her career on January 27, 1991 with the Super Bowl performance, and a year and a half later, on July 18, 1992, she married Bobby Brown.  On November 25, 1992, “The Bodyguard” was released, and its success, along with “I Will Always Love You,” was the source of friction in the marriage.  Cissy Houston was a key interviewee for the movie, but one person who is missing is Robyn Crawford.  The family certainly didn’t like their relationship.  I thought that Al Sharpton’s labelling her as “Whitey” was terrible.  Black singers can’t sound too white, or else they get booed at the Soul Train Awards.  The reaction from the crowd was terrible, too.  It’s like they approve of segregation.  Whitney’s childhood was supposed to be idyllic, but there is a bombshell involving Dee Dee Warwick.  The family has all sorts of flaws, like the father’s money dealings, the mother’s involvement with a pastor, and the brother’s departure from a basketball career.  How much money did Whitney have near the end?  It seems hard to believe that she was on the verge of becoming homeless.  As her life crumbles, I thought there were similarities with “Sid and Nancy.”  I thought of Elvis Presley near the death at Graceland, too.  Everyone praises Whitney’s voice, but I have to take issue with the use of that voice sometimes, with the overwrought mannerisms and inflections and the generic pop songs that she chooses.  There is a scene in which she dismisses the recordings from Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul.  Someone should have told her to focus on songs that were substantial and meaningful.  Someone also should have intervened during those years of drug abuse.  At the rate she was going, it was practically a miracle that she lived for more than ten years after that infamous Michael Jackson tribute performance.  Perhaps the biggest tragedy is what happened to Whitney’s daughter.  What kind of life was she going to have from the first day?  “Whitney” is not a movie that everyone has to see, but most people who see it will find it powerful.  Whitney Houston would have turned 55 on August 9.  She sings a little bit of “You and Me Against the World” in one scene.  There was a shot of her eating an ice cream cone.  I remembered details like that.  I don’t think I wanted to hear the answers about her sexuality and the family members who were on the payroll.  The movie has a lot of power, especially to those of us who remember the 1980s.  Some of the people who died on July 15 include Anton Chekhov (1904), Paul Gallico (1975), Margaret Lockwood (1990), Bert Convy (1991), and Celeste Holm (2012).  Today is a birthday for Forest Whitaker (57), Ariana Huffington (68), and Linda Ronstadt (72), and Millie Jackson (74).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for July 15, Elton John reached Number One on the album chart with “Honky Chateau” in 1972.  In 1983, “Staying Alive” was released.  In 1988, “A Fish Called Wanda,” starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline, was released.  In 1994, “True Lies,” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jamie Lee Curtis, was released.

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Three Identical Strangers

I stayed in bed for a long time and wrote and thought about things.  I watched “The Great Train Robbery.”  I walked over to the theatre to see “Three Identical Strangers,” a documentary about triplets separated at birth who find each other at age 19 in 1980.  Their reunion is joyous, although there is darkness underneath the surface with the Louise Wise Adoption Agency and a psychologist named Peter B. Neubauer.  The great story that unfolded in the first half of the movie bogs down in the second half, reflecting the three lives of the principals.  It was hard for the second half of the movie to be compelling because it’s about hidden information and academic research, hardly the most inspiring material for a movie.  It seemed that it would be impossible for three people who were strangers to each other for the first 19 years of their lives could be thrown together and be best friends for the rest of their lives.  The three men not only smoked the same brand of cigarettes, but they also suffered from depression.  The Nature vs. Nurture question naturally is brought up, and one of the women said that she believed that nurture could overcome nature.  I think that even the greatest mother in the world couldn’t prevent some things from happening.  The filmmaker doesn’t get around to question the value of the psychological research.  How exactly were conclusions going to be made about human behavior, which is so inconsistent and illogical and contradictory.  People have trouble with basic questions involving reasoning.  How are they going to come to any meaningful conclusions about examples like these triplets?  You have to wonder about the people who weren’t interviewed for the film, one of the prime individuals being Neubauer.  He died on February 15, 2008 at age 94.  What would he say if confronted by the parents and the children?  This film is scary when you think about lives being affected by decisions you have no idea about.  One of the questions is what kind of life these triplets would have had if they hadn’t been separated.  It would have been better or three times worse with one set of parents to deal with depressed kids.  The triplets were born on July 12, 1961.  They were interviewed by Phil Donahue, Jane Pauley, and many others, and they were in a scene with Madonna in “Desperately Seeking Susan.”  They opened a restaurant called Triplets Roumanian Steakhouse in 1988, which closed in 2000.  The most chilling moment in the film was the people at the adoption agency breaking out the champagne, bringing to mind a scene out of “Rosemary’s Baby.”  This movie has the feel of a private detective story, like Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown,” finding out that events are being controlled by people with too much power.  As a movie, “Three Identical Strangers” isn’t great entertainment because it’s happy and funny in the beginning but takes a sad turn.  We leave the theatre not feeling so good.  It does give you something to think about and talk about.  The elderly couple who sat in my row had strong feelings about what they saw.  One of the sad aspects is that the triplets lost the happiness of their youth, which possibly would have happened in any event.  Even these guys were going to change as they got older.  I had questions about the editing, as we see some of the television footage twice.  Two of the people who died on July 14 include Billy the Kid (1881), Adlai Stevenson (1965), Meredith MacRae (2000), and Mark Oliphant (2000).  Today is a birthday for Jane Lynch (58).  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for July 14, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Torn Curtain,” starring Paul Newman and Julie Andrews, was released in 1966.  In 1977, Elvis Costello and the Attractions played their first live show at The Garden in Penzance, England.  In 1979, Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” was the Number One single.  In 1996, “Nine Months,” starring Hugh Grant and Julianne Moore, was released.

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Altered States

“Altered States” was a movie that I remember people talking about when it was originally released, and I caught parts of it on television a couple of times over the years, but I never sat down to see all of it until last night.  The director Ken Russell was known for his excessive style, with religious and sexual imagery, which you do see in this movie, too.  It’s hard to believe that this film was from the same director who made “The Boy Friend.”  The ideas come from the work of John C. Lilly, involving isolation attacks.  Throw in some Mexican hallucinogens, and you have a variation on “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  William Hurt is a Harvard professor named Eddie Jessup, and he attempts discover deeper meanings in all of this.  Blair Brown is his wife Emily, also an academic.  Bob Balaban is Arthur Rosenberg, who assists in the experiments.  The science fiction does go into the unbelievable, as Jessup experiences some type of genetic regression.  He turns into an ape-like creature and runs around, sort of like the gorilla in a low-budget movie doing the old doors in the hallway routine.  There was a bit of the Incredible Hulk in there, too.  The story makes a statement about the power of love, too, although it’s more of a loud and colorful spectacle than a tender statement.  This was William Hurt’s first film.  I’m not sure that he was a great choice for his role.  He internalizes as the character does, but I don’t think it is in the way that a great mind does.  Blair Brown is very likable, although it seemed that her role should have been bigger.  I don’t see how Emily could have stuck with Eddie for as long as she did.  Ken Russell fought with Paddy Chayevsky about the movie.  Arthur Penn was the original director but left after a dispute with Chayevsky.  John C. Lilly liked the film, according to an interview in Omni magazine in January 1983.  He said that the final scene was something straight out of his book “The Dyadic Cyclone.”  When you look up the Wikipedia listing on Lilly, under “In popular culture,” you will see references to “The Day of the Dolphin,” the Sega video game “Ecco the Dolphin,” the Japanese animation series “Serial Experiments,” and the Oysterhead song “Oz is Ever Floating.”  Lilly died of heart failure at age 86 on September 30, 2001.  Even though the science part of the story is unconvincing as Chayevsky tells it, I liked his audacity in trying to get to the meanings of the deepest, most basic questions you can ask.  Ken Russell gives us a show.  I followed his movies for several years after this one, through “Gothic” and “Salome’s Last Dance.”  I didn’t see “The Rainbow” and lost track of his work.  He died on November 27, 2011.  I looked at the Roger Ebert review of “Whore.”  Maybe someday I’ll track down some of these movies and watch them.  According to the Brandon Brooks Rewind radio segment for July 13, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York, was released in 1977.  In 1984, “The Muppets Take Manhattan” was released.  In 1988, “The Dead Pool,” the fifth Dirty Harry movie, was released.  In 2006, Red Buttons died at age 87.

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Hannie Caulder

I went to over to Barnes and Noble and discovered more Criterion Collection Blu-ray discs on the shelves. I decided to buy “Boyhood.” I took the bus over to the Grand Lake Theatre. A change in their schedule caused me to miss the beginning of “Ant-Man and the Wasp.” I returned home to take a nap. I walked over to the record store and saw that Bootsy Collins was there for a signing. Back at home, I watched “Hannie Caulder,” the Western starring Raquel Welch. Part of it was a revenge story, with Hannie determined to hunt down three men who killed her husband and raped her. There is also the love story between Hannie and Robert Culp’s character, Thomas Price, a bounty hunter who helps her. We also see the inept bank robbers, the Clemens brothers, played by Jack Elam, Strother Martin, and Ernest Borgnine. Also in the cast were Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, and Stephen Boyd. I thought this was one of Raquel Welch’s better films, as it shows her to be pretty strong, something like what she was in “Kansas City Bomber.” The story covers a bit of ground we would see in “Unforgiven,” meaning that it isn’t quite so easy to shoot and kill another human being. Watching Hannie practice her shooting, she didn’t seem to be paying attention to Price’s instruction. She was supposed to move after shooting in order to make herself a more difficult target. Most of the time you don’t hear the thought that the other person is going to shoot back. I guess there were traces of “True Grit” in this story. I can see how this movie inspired Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill.” Both movies have an expert weapon maker. Here it is Christopher Lee, who makes a pistol for Hannie. Bandidos attack Lee’s house, and Hannie can’t kill a man face to face. I kept thinking of how vulnerable Lee was in this house and wondered how he could survive after Hannie and Price leave. There were a couple of things I found hard to believe towards the end of the movie. Price confronts one of the brothers but is completely oblivious to the possibility that the other two might be nearby. Price is supposed to be an experienced and feared bounty hunter. Then there was the moment that Hannie’s hand was creeping towards a gun hidden in her sling. It seems that even a fool like one of the Clemens brothers would have shot her without hesitation. Borgnine gave the movie a bit of the feel of “The Wild Bunch.” Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch were both in “Fantastic Voyage.” There were some unconvincing moments, like Hannie and Price telling each other that they are both bad liars, and Price’s voice running through Hannie’s mind at the critical moments. The movie didn’t do so well the box office. Maybe movie audiences weren’t ready to accept Raquel Welch as a gunfighter. Still, I liked the movie, although I have reservations about revenge stories going back at least to “The Crow.” The director, Burt Kennedy, also directed “Support Your Local Sheriff.” He would go on to write and direct “The Train Robbers.” He worked on Clint Eastwood’s “White Hunter Black Heart,” and his last credit was for the TV movie “Comanche” in 2000. He died on February 15, 2001 at age 78, and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Some of the people who died on July 13 include Arnold Schoenberg (1951), Frida Kahlo (1954), Red Buttons (2006), George Steinbrenner (2010), Richard D. Zanuck (2012), Thomas Berger (2014), Hector Babenco (2016). Today is a birthday for Cheech Marin (72), Harrison Ford (76), and Patrick Stewart (78).

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